Embracing New Identites
Finding an Austin native is becoming increasingly rare as Austin expands into one of the nation’s top “move to” cities. Such a transient community creates a unique space for creativity, ingenuity, and business growth. But it also presents incoming Christian leaders with certain challenges as they relocate. With relocation comes a season of reorientation.
It is not as simple as moving offices, or switching work spaces. Many leaders find themselves in Austin for work opportunities, but can forget to attend to the change in community, routines, traffic patterns, daily shopping, new doctors, new church families…when you are the new kid on the block, work is not the only space you may wrestle with the unfamiliar.
How do you cultivate shared identity among other city leaders when you’re faced with a sea of brand new identities to share?
Yes, there are the practical steps. Get plugged into a local church community. Get out and discover your surroundings. Look at what local chambers and other organizations have to offer. Lean on social media, or neighborhood pages, to connect. But perhaps the most important discovery for me as my family relocated to Austin was that my new identity as an Austinite had to be grounded in something more if I ever wanted to truly feel established or settled.
Close to three years ago my family had an opportunity to move to Austin, TX. My husband received a job offer from a local company and after prayer and many tear-filled “see you laters” we were here. At first there was a level of excitement. I had worked full time as an ordained pastor for over eighteen years, and this move gave me a chance to take a break, regroup, and reimagine what my career path might look like. I told people, “I am hanging up my robe.” And while this literal thing (I actually did hang up my robe) was more a metaphor for retiring from ministry, at that point I had calm about the unknown of what lay ahead for me in terms of work. However, it turns out, I don’t “not work” very well. I also missed ministry more than I could have imagined. As months rolled on we did all those helpful resettling logistics I mentioned above. I joined the bible studies, I went to the groups, I tried connecting, but things were not quite clicking. I started volunteering at a couple of nonprofits. People were so wonderfully nice. The glaring state pride aside, Texas is full of kind and welcoming people. Still, I found myself in a space between not quite homesick but not quite home.
One afternoon a friend from the community we had just moved from ended up in the midst of a family tragedy. This added to the list of moments I felt like I was missing. There were weddings, showers, graduations, funerals, job struggles, marriage issues, friends hurting, family fussing…all things I was missing. Things I had been so deeply tangled in prior to moving. Time and doing life together had grafted me to a community; we had vats of shared identity to draw from. This event happening, coupled with my own feeling lost and isolated in Austin, resulted in a frustrating conversation with the Lord:
“I just don’t understand. I am trying here. I am trying to connect. But nothing. And back home, if I could be there, I would at least be doing something. I could make a meal. I could sit with someone. I could offer something. I would be worth something, I would bring value. Here I am worth nothing.”
“I am trying to teach you that you have value and worth without any of those things. Without any of the things you do. I am trying to teach you that I love just you.”
Thankful for that tender whisper over my heart, over the next few hours, as I moved about the house, ugly crying in various locations, I tried to allow that truth to wash over me.
Until my identity is rooted and established in Him, it will be much more difficult to bloom where I am currently planted. Since that moment, God and I continue to have conversation about what it looks like to cherish where we moved, from while honoring where God has placed our feet right now.
There are moments when shared identity is discovered through present circumstances. There is a belonging that comes from connecting with others that have the same struggles or share the same interest. But there is a facet of shared identity that develops over time, and that is accompanied by a willingness to be open. One foot stuck in one location, with another foot planted elsewhere does not make for easy walking.
The reality is, knowing and embracing where you are currently located is not always an easy task. Still, building community and cultivating shared identity is best done on a foundational understanding that your core identity stands alone, and stands simply. Remove the new job title and the new address, pause and step outside the “what things should be” and the “how they were,” battle the tendency to hide and isolate, and leave your heart and mind open to fully accept all that arrives in this new season. Allow God to introduce you to new places and new people. He is always shining light on moments of potential shared identity. The challenge for us will be to remain present and be active participants wherever He has placed us. Let Him unfold the story and lead you to discovering your part in your current community, the unique role you play in keeping Austin just weird enough.