This is my first Gazette article. Another first, I think, is that I may be the only pastor to have served churches in southern Florida and Southern California, and then chose to move to Ohio! I find it more than amusing that so many folks with bewildered eyes ask, “Why would you leave there to come to here?” Let me give you three reasons, all of which have spiritual lessons that I get to live out every day.
First, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. No matter where I’ve lived, so many people are dying to “get out.” In urban Miami where I first served a church, the dream was to leave the chaos of urban life and find an affordable suburb. In SoCal, everyone wanted to find a place with lower prices, lower taxes, and a water source! In the greater Columbus area, folks dream of living somewhere with better weather, more mountains, more oceans, etc. No matter where I’ve lived (which also includes Seattle, Chicago, New Jersey and Germany), what stays the same is that everyone is looking for something more than what they have. Discontent pervades every locale, and I’ve learned that there are deeper, better ways to find peace and joy than switches in geography. In my opinion, so far, our area has as much or more going for it than anywhere else. I’m happy here because the love of God follows me and leads me wherever I go.
Second, seasons. I remember someone saying, “You know you’re a Floridian when it’s a beautiful day outside but you don’t feel any pressure to go enjoy it.” In other words, you’re used to it. Where I lived in San Clemente, California, they claimed to have the “best weather” on the planet (seriously, they even had license plate covers bragging about it!). Yet, if the temperature varied +/- 3 degrees in any direction, it was as if a winter blizzard or summer heat wave had appeared.
Just the other day, it was unseasonably cold on a Sunday morning at church and I asked the staff, “So, do less people come on a freezing-cold day like this?” If it wasn’t where I had to be since I was the pastor, even I might have stayed home and cuddled up by a fire. But, to my surprise, the people came! It was as if winter was just winter, it wasn’t the end of the universe. The seasons build a toughness, a sense of anticipation, and even a sense of community as we suffer and celebrate together. It’s hard to appreciate something that always stays the same. The seasons of this area are one of the ways God shapes us and shows us what only God can do … bring new life out death and remain faithful through it all.
Third, people. At the end of the day, what makes a place worth living in is the people who inhabit it. Even Eden was a lonely place without Eve there, too. What ultimately makes a place worth staying in is the people you get to love and be loved by. Whenever I look back on a place that I have lived, what I remember are the people far more than the places. I don’t want to diminish the significance of place or the sacredness of creation, but relationships, divine and human, is the reason the world exists. All places find their purpose when they are inhabited by loving relationships, like a canvas just waiting to be inhabited by intentional and beautiful markings of paint.
Any place is the right place, ultimately, if God calls you to it. If God has a purpose for you, even the cross becomes a something worth running toward. I can’t express enough how thankful I am that I discovered early that all places are sacred, that you can find peace anywhere, that even hard things are often the best things, and that people matter most of all.
Rev. Dr. Chris Atwood is the senior pastor at Liberty Barn Church in Delaware.