the braver choice

In October, I applied for an apartment in Charleston, South Carolina — a move a long time coming.

Last fall, I was a year removed from losing my job. I was running my own business, which meant I was completely mobile. I could literally go anywhere, so long as it had a reliable WiFi connection, and I decided Charleston was the place I wanted to be.

 
 

After months of stops-and-gos, almost-but-not-quite situations, circumstances out of my control, and a move date that had been pushed back on four separate occasions, the dream I had been holding onto so tightly for so many months was finally coming to fruition.

I’d found the dream apartment in the dream location at the dream price, so I submitted the application and all I had to do was wait.

Three and a half weeks later, I got the email I’d been hoping and praying for for months — my application was approved and I could put a Charleston move date on the calendar.

Except, two days prior… I’d decided I wasn’t moving to Charleston anymore.

The “why” question was frequent in the initial days and weeks that followed that decision, and for good reason, seeing as the move is pretty much all I’d talked about for the whole of 2018.

So what, exactly, happened?

When I first applied for the apartment in Charleston, I was excited. There were a lot of exclamation points, excited GIFs, and emojis sent back and forth in text messages between myself and friends.

I waited… and waited… and waited. The longer I waited, the more my anxiety increased. Pretty soon, it wasn’t the nervous excitement kind of anxiety, but the panic attack and tears kind.

I was walking my neighborhood in loops, praying through tears because, after months of feeling so confident about my decision, I started to wonder if it was the right choice.

I begged Jesus for a fleece — something to tell me what decision to make, what direction to go — and was met with silence. As the anxiety and silence both persisted, I started asking questions.

Why did I feel anxious about leaving? Why was I starting to feel peace about staying? Why did I believe I had to go and why did I believe I couldn’t stay?

I pressed in deep to each of those questions and came to a startling realization — nearly all of the reasons I felt I had to move were founded false beliefs, rather than based in reality.

One by one, I began to dismantle the lies. And bit by bit, I had fewer and fewer reasons to go and more and more reasons to stay.

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WHERE YOU LIVE DOESN’T MAKE YOU MORE LEGIT

I’ve been running my own business for nearly 18 months now. It’s a dream I honestly never thought would become a reality for a lot of reasons that had nothing to do with the move

There are a lot of wonderful things about being an online business owner and there are a lot of struggles that come with it.

A major one is imposter syndrome — this belief that you’re forever faking it and you’ll never truly make it. That your clients or customers or readers or followers are eventually going to figure out that you really just do not have what it takes to be doing the thing you’re doing.

Coupled with this is the feeling that the life you’re living or the wardrobe you’re wearing or the apartment you’re renting isn’t cute enough, isn’t social media worthy enough. It’s too boring or ugly or mundane for your chosen profession.

The entire time I’ve been running my business, I’ve lived in someone else’s home. First it was my sister and brother-in-law’s and, right now, it’s my parent’s basement.

And guess what? Living in your parents basement or your sister’s spare bedroom is not sexy. It’s not aesthetically pleasing. It’s not the cute, light-filled, perfectly curated home you see on Pinterest. Honestly, it’s not what my own home would look like or has looked like in the past.

But temporary living spaces have been my reality for the past 20 months and they’ve also been a huge part of what’s made my business a reality.

When you take imposter syndrome and the cute life/home struggle and put them together, you wind up with an even bigger lie — that if we could buy the cute wardrobe, rent the adorable apartment, reside in the Instagrammable city, and live the adventurous life, it would somehow make us more legit.

If we could change all the external things about our lives — our clothes, our homes, our bodies — it would translate to an internal change where we finally arrive as a writer, entrepreneur, or whatever it is you call yourself.

Imposter syndrome and I have hung out quite a lot in the last year and a half, and I bought into the belief that if I moved to Charleston — the beloved city with its pineapple fountain, pastel row houses, amazing food, and adorable shops — I would finally be the entrepreneur I wanted to people to think I was.

I bought fully into the belief that my success was predicated on my zip code and my income was dependent on how “worthy” my office space was of a Pinterest or Instagram feed.

But here’s the truth: where you live does not affect who you are. No matter what social media tells you, the external beauty or lack thereof in your life does not make the person the Lord created you to be any more or less legitimate, worthy, or successful.

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HARD TIMES CROSS STATE LINES

I’ve never been a person who handled change particularly well.

When I was little, if my mom wanted to rearrange the furniture in my room, she’d talk to me about it for months beforehand… otherwise I would freak out.

It’s a bit ironic that for someone so opposed to change, my life has been filled to the brim with it in recent years.

From the outside looking in, my life has been… a little all over the place, well, basically since I graduated from college. I haven’t lived in the same place for more than a year since I first went off to school and my living situation or job has been up in the air, consistently, for five years straight.

And from the inside looking in, my life has felt extremely all over the place.

Whenever I thought about the possibility of staying in Virginia, all I could think about was how fraught with instability and difficulty the last several years had been. How exhausting — emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. How I just wanted a break, for things to feel easy for once.

The instability and difficulty of the last several years became so closely tied with my living in Virginia that I struggled to separate the two. I came to believe that I just had to shake the dust off my feet, as it were, start fresh somewhere new, and all the instability and difficulty of the last several years would remain behind me in that old, less cute zip code.

It seems laughable now, but I thought it was true. Or maybe I just wanted it to be.

But as much as I hate to admit it, you cannot leave instability and hard things in life behind just by changing zip codes. Life is, by its very nature, an unstable thing. As my mentor reminded me last year, the only stability in a broken world that’s ever changing is not something, but Someone.

No matter what you go, life may be unstable and there will certainly be seasons full of some extremely hard things. You cannot leave those behind by packing a moving truck and crossing state lines. The way you make it through is by grounding yourself on the One who is stable, no matter what is happening and no matter where you are.

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SOMEWHERE NEW DOESN’T EQUAL SOMEONE NEW

For a long time, I’ve had a picture in my head of what I wanted my life to look like. The problem was, I didn’t know how to bridge the gap between what life was like now and what life was like there… in my head.

Living somewhere like Charleston was part of that picture. And the Charleston me was many things current me was not. Yes, I had the cute apartment and the successful business, but I also had a smaller waistline, cuter clothes, better hair, and I’d somehow magically shed all the bad habits I have and traded them for better ones.

In short, Charleston me was the dream, perfect me. Also known as the me that currently doesn’t and never will exist. Perfection will not be a reality this side of heaven and a simple change in scenery isn’t what brings me closer to it.

It’s a rare thing for a nonfiction book to be my favorite of the year, but it happened in 2018. In her second book, Come Matter Here, Hannah Brencher says this:

I think we worship these stories of leaving it all behind and going somewhere new, but I’m beginning to see that every one of those stories has the same truth holding up this romantic idea of leaving: The stuff you’re not facing will follow you. It will get in the car too. It will pack a bag too. Leaving isn’t the key, changing is. I’m learning that life isn’t about the destinations we can boast about getting to; it’s about all the walking in between that feels pointless when you try to take a picture of it because no one will understand it like you do. It’s the in between stuff that fleshes out a story—gives it guts and transformation. It’s not about the scenery changing or the person you say good night to. The traveler must be the one to change. That’s what makes the story good.

Earlier this year, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about the fact that I was running my own business. Really running it and making it happen. For the entire calendar year of 2018, I financially sustained myself purely with income from a business I started and that was completely mind boggling to me.

Somewhat incredulously, I asked him how this happened. How did I become a person who was running her own financially successful business?

He answered in the most practical way possible — I’d had a dream, I’d set the goals, and I’d done the work to make it happen. I laughed it off, because, yes, that’s technically how it happened, but that wasn’t what I was really asking.

But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized he, just like Hannah, is right.

Change happens when we put in the work. Change happens when we lay aside the lies that we can’t be someone new, different, or better and take up the truth that the Lord is constantly at work in our hearts and minds to mold and shape us into the people He created us to be.

In the same way that hard times cross state lines, all the things you wish were different about yourself will follow you when you move, too. Whether you’re here or there, you have to make the choice to put on the fruit of self-control, to discipline yourself, to do the hard work and make the you you want to be and the you God created you to be a reality.

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YOU’RE ALLOWED TO CHANGE YOUR MIND

Three days before I got the notice that I was approved for an apartment in Charleston and 24 hours before I made the decision I wasn’t going to move, I sat in the family room with my mom, sharing my anxiety about what I may or may not hear from the apartment complex in the next 24-72 hours.

“You know you don’t have to move,” she said. “Even if you get approved for the apartment, you don’t have to move if you don’t want to.”

The statement was simple, but the weight it released was monumental.

In a world where we make declarations in public for all to hear, it’s easy to feel like a social media post announcing something etches it in stone. We told everyone we were going to do the thing, so we have to do the thing, even if circumstances or desires changed.

This is what I’d begun to believe about Charleston.

Even though I hadn’t made any kind of public declaration online, for months I’d been telling people in conversations that I was moving and soon. When that “soon” kept getting pushed back and the questions started turning into, “You haven’t moved yet?”, the internal struggle increased.

After I’d applied for the apartment and the anxiety became such an intense reality, even as I dismantled lie after lie about why I felt the need to leave, I still felt like I had to go… simply because I’d said that’s what I was going to do

But my mother’s words gave me permission — permission to rewrite the story, permission to walk down another path, permission to change my mind.

There is value in sticking with something because you say you’re going to do it. Consistency and commitment are elements of character that are often overlooked in a society that’s always on the go. But sticking with a previously determined declaration isn’t always the right answer.

Sometimes the right answer is to realize what seemed like the right answer was actually the wrong answer, and to have the strength and courage to admit it to yourself and to others.

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YOU HAVE TO LET YOURSELF BE KNOWN

Growing up, my family and I listened to a radio program called Adventures in Odyssey. And I always wanted to live in Odyssey.

This is partially because I wanted the local hangout of Whit’s End to be actual thing, but more because I wanted to live somewhere I was known.

Having spent the first 12+ years of my life as “the new kid” every few years, I wanted nothing more than a place I called home — a place where people knew me and my family, knew who I was and who I’d been, had known me since I was “so high,” and could remember the ways I’d grown and changed.

At war with this desire was a fear planted into my heart in high school — that I was not truly worth being known or loved. That if people ever truly knew me, they would never love me and they would always leave.

In Come Matter Here, Hannah Brencher says, “If you stay, you eventually have to let someone in. If you let someone in, you eventually have to drop the facade. If you stay, you eventually have to unpack your suitcases.”

I didn’t realize it at the time, but it turns out years of instability in my life allowed me to feed the fear of being known. They allowed me to hide, to never fully put down my roots and pack my bags and high tail it out of there when things started to feel uncomfortable.

While there’s a lot that can be scary about moving somewhere new, it wasn’t scary like it used to be. I’d done it before, I could do it again. I could find the church, make the friends, do the thing. The unknown had become the known and the norm.

But for all my supposed desire of an Odyssey in my life, it turns out embracing it was a whole lot harder.

When I stopped and looked around, I realized… I had it. In the midst of the hustling, bustling DC metro area, I’d found my Odyssey in my church, in the place that had seen me grow from an awkward 6th grader to the woman I am today. There are people in that community who’ve seen me through the entirety of the last 18 years… who’ve seen me, who know me, and who love me anyway.

Realizing that was a beautiful and terrifying thing. Choosing to stay would mean choosing to go deeper into the friendships that already existed — the friendships where I couldn’t fake it, where I would be called out on my sin, where I couldn’t smile and pretend like everything was okay, where I couldn’t be someone I wasn’t.

At the end of the day, it was a choice between being here, being known, and allowing myself to be loved, or continuing to run.

I can’t say for sure what kind of change would have happened if I’d moved to Charleston. It’s possible it would have turned into a place where I put down roots, I became the person I wanted to be, and I unpacked my suitcases — literally and figuratively.

Or it could’ve been another place where the bags remained packed, where the masks remained firmly in place, where I ran when the superficial conversations had run their course. At this point, there’s no way of knowing.

But what I do know is this: Sometimes the braver choice is to go. But sometimes the braver choice is to stay.