In my life, no time has been more formative or painful or rewarding or joyful than the five years that our family lived in Orlando, Florida. In 2005, Will and I had a one-year-old baby, a beautiful brick Colonial house, family nearby, and good jobs as a laser engineer and a tax accountant while living in Kansas. Then we decided to chuck it all and move to Florida to each get our PhDs. The first night we spent in Florida by ourselves, in our moldy apartment, I cried to Will that we had made a terrible mistake and we needed to figure out a way to move back.
And I was so very wrong. Because five years later, when we moved back to Kansas, two PhDs in hand and with a beautiful then six-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son, I had learned more about myself than I ever thought possible.
What it is Like to Know No One
There is nothing that makes you feel Alone in the World more than the dreaded Emergency Contact Form. Okay, maybe you are only Alone in the Area, but it feels like the world when you realize that you don't know a single local person for emergencies. It is humbling and makes you want to reach out to help anyone you can who is new to town in the future.
What it is Like to be Intellectually Alive
I have never felt as intellectually alive or challenged or pushed as during my PhD program, particularly during coursework where I was constantly exposed to new ideas and models and ways of thinking about the world. The only thing that remotely comes close was being part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program in high school, but as it turns out, getting a PhD is even more intellectually stimulating than any high school program.
What it is Like to Live with Uncertainty
Our time in Florida was marked with so much uncertainty. Would Will pass his qualifying exams or would he be kicked out of the program? Would I pass my comps? How many years would it take for us to finish? Would we finish at the same time? What would happen if we didn't? Where would we go when we were finished with school? I felt so much uncertainty while we lived in Florida, that I had to learn to just trust God that it would all work out. He had in His plans that Will would pass with flying colors, as would I. We didn't end up finishing at the same time (it took me four years and Will five years) but He provided an amazing group of people in accounting that funded me for another year while Will completed his program. And only God knew that we would end up at our alma mater upon graduating. This challenge to trust Him brings me to...
What it is Like to Have a Church Family
In Kansas City, Will and I had attended the largest United Methodist church in the country, which had fabulous programming and a pastor with the best sermons we had ever heard. But it felt more that we attended church rather than we were part of a "church family." This all changed in Florida. We met some of the best lifelong friends we have ever had, were welcomed with open arms to the choir and bell choir family, met more incredible people while leading a parenting Bible study, and discovered that we had a whole community of people who loved us and had our backs. What an incredible feeling.
What it is Like to Live in a New Culture
Outside of several moves to Seattle as a child, Will and I had spent our lives in the Kansas/Missouri area. Living in the South was eye-opening and has given me so much more empathy for regional differences. It has also helped me articulate better what I do and do not like about certain regions. I came to truly love and appreciate Florida - its eternal optimism, the sunny disposition of both the weather and its people, the use of "Coke" for any soft drink, the rapid shifts in both the economy and the government, the melting pot of diverse cultures and races and regional backgrounds. I am thankful that our daughter had many of her formative years in this environment.
What it is Like to be Stripped Bare
Living in Florida taught me that so much of our lives are strongly influenced by the people around us. It is when we have no family and no friends and no built-in support network around us that we learn who we truly are. Our incredible family visited frequently - from Nonnie, who made over 20 trips during our five years in Florida, to my mom, who came several times a year, to Julie and Charlie, who regularly visited every year - but we learned what it was like to truly be a family unit with just ourselves and how we could make things work on a daily basis. Being stripped bare is scary but also incredibly freeing.
What it is Like to be Poor
Oh my goodness, learning what it is like to be poor was one of the most humbling and embarrassing and memorable parts of our time here. As an example, when our daughter's private insurance did not cover her 4-year-old vaccines, we decided to go to the local health department to get her immunizations. While there, we were recruited to be part of a study targeting "lower-income families" who could learn the art of "better marriage communication" (with the assumption that those who were poor did not know such things). I still want to cry from the embarrassment I felt and at the feelings that I experienced - that those who are poor are lazy, or dumb, or a failure. I am also thankful for this experience because it was incredibly eye-opening to witness the challenges and attitudes that so many people face every day.
What it is Like to Lack Prestige
Oh gosh, another humbling experience. I did not realize that Will and I had professional jobs that afforded us a level of respect that is not typically accorded to those who are merely students. My experience was a bit different since I was viewed and treated as a peer in the accounting department, but Will had professors who had been wining and dining him, hoping to win funding from his company, who would not even look at him while walking down the halls a few months later when he was a student. But again, I am so thankful for this experience because it has helped shape the type of person I hope to be.
What it is Like to for Friendships to Run Deep
Some of the best and closest and deepest friendships of our lives were formed in Florida. From my advisor and best friend, Donna, who paid to have my hair fixed after a disastrous home-dye job, to my foxhole-for-life buddy, Anna, who supported me through and shared so many of my parenting struggles, to our best friends Thomas and Dana, whose amazing wedding ceremony we witnessed on the beach, to our best family friends Cindy and Brian, and their children Taylor and Savannah, who matched up so perfectly with our own family, to so many others too extensive to name. We were blessed to have formed lifelong friendships that prove that blood is not always thicker than water.
What it is Like to Live with Purpose
I truly believed while we were in Florida that we were following God's plan by being there. I had wondered before when we were living and working in Kansas City if that was all there was to life. And God had an answer: a resounding NO! For us, there was a whole new journey awaiting our family. And I wholeheartedly believe that feeling you get when you are living with purpose and meaning, whatever form that takes, is truly one of the best feelings in the world.
So sometimes, when you are in the thick of it, pushing through the dirt, it can feel as though God has forgotten you or has called you to do the impossible. Growth can be hard and scary and dark and make you feel as though you are all alone. But if I learned anything from my experiences in Florida, it is that sometimes all you can do is keep pushing through the dirt. Because what awaits you on the other side may be more beautiful than you ever imagined.
Amy spends her days as the world's most unorganized accountant professor, and her nights chilling with her crazy, equally unorganized family. She is blessed to be part of a wonderful church family both near and far who pushes her, challenges her, and loves her. Amy loves chocolate, reading, running, and ignoring the dishes.
You can enjoy more of Amy's incredible writing on her blog 4 is More. (http://fourismore.blogspot.com/)