The Gypsy Life!

Life is fluid. Just when you think you have it figured out, it shifts and changes direction. Blessed are the flexible; they will bend but not be broken!

After nearly a year of life in Tennessee, we are moving again. We became Snowbirds and spent last winter in Florida, then became “Half-backers” when we moved half-way back to Michigan and tried life in Tennessee. Despite loving my position as Connections Pastor in Sweetwater, my body did not do well with Tennessee weather. I battled sinus infections all summer and lived on antibiotics and steroids. Once cold weather moved in, my asthma kicked up and I had to go back on the drugs! Enough is enough! You can’t live where you are sick all the time when there are other options.

Our options are many. My husband has retired now, so we are not locked into a location based on a job. We can go anywhere! We revisited our original plan of moving to Florida, and brainstormed over doing something wildly different for a season. We have chosen the wild way!

Our son’s family is in Michigan, and we have a house there. We will use it as a summer retreat and a place for the family to gather for the holidays. This way we can still be involved in our grandchildren’s lives and the lives of our parents and siblings who live in the Frozen Mitten.

Our daughter lives in Virginia so we will buy a condo there. Lots of people in Michigan have a small cottage up in the north woods for vacation get-aways. Our “small cottage” will be near our daughter and we will spend spring and fall in Virginia. And, we have the option to take the RV to Florida for the coldest 6 weeks of the winter and camp! For this season of life, we will be gypsies, traveling cross country, following the spring. We realize that this is for a season; someday we will be too old and feeble to chase the sun and will need to make a decision on a residence for our final years, but not yet!

The down-side of this plan is the inability to serve full time on a church staff, but we are trusting God to faithfully open up doors of ministry where ever we may be. It is the dawning of a new chapter and a new adventure. Life with the Lord is never boring!

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God’s “Suddenly”

A recurring word throughout the Bible is “suddenly.”  When God opens doors, and blasts you through them, it feels very much like  a “suddenly.” 

After three months of Snowbird life, God “suddenly” opened a door with a job offer and I found myself en-route to a new position and life in Tennessee.  We broke camp in Florida and headed north, eager to begin the next chapter of our lives.  

When God opens a door it doesn’t necessarily mean you will have smooth sailing. If the devil can’t close the door, he will try everything he can to slow your progress and distract you.  We almost made it to our destination trouble free, but all that changed about 15 miles out.  We heard a funny noise in the engine and, as my husband and I were speculating on the cause, we “suddenly”  heard a noise resembling gremlins  banging on pots and pans under the hood.  We limped to the nearest exit and started making phone calls. 

After a long evening of waiting for a tow truck, quickly packing a few days’ worth of clothing, unhooking the car from the dolly, and transferring valuables and the cats from the RV, we were on our way again: the RV towed to a shop and us to a pet-friendly hotel.   The repairs were not quick, easy or inexpensive.   Essentially, a belt in the motor broke and the cascading effects caused major damage throughout the engine; repairs took longer than we expected, and cost more than we expected.  My husband kept saying, “We must be doing something right! Look at the opposition.” 

A few nights spent in the hotel did not delay me from starting my new job and beginning the search for a place to live.  Plans were to live in another campground inside the RV until we found an apartment. Living in a campground while working is possible, especially if you don’t mind sharing the showers with 80 new friends, but it makes an apartment feel like a luxury! 

Apartments are few and far between around here, but God came through again.  We spent a day driving around the surrounding communities and happened across a for rent sign.  This unit was not advertised in the paper, and we were fortunate enough to drive by and spot the sign.  A few phone calls later, we did a walk-through and assessed the potential of a year long lease. 

The rooms are big, it is in a safe area, and has quiet neighbors, but the carpet and woodwork felt very 1980’s, and the appliances were horrific.  I struggled  because of the kitchen, but after looking for other options, I figured it was better than living in the RV and signed the lease.  God (and our landlord) surprised us again by blessing us with new, modern appliances, which significantly improve the overall quality of the apartment.

We are leaving our house up north fully furnished for when we list it  and decided to buy a few strategic pieces of furniture for the apartment.  God has faithfully led us to unexpected sales and the place is starting to look like a real home. 

I have experienced a “suddenly.”  Within a week I left Florida, moved to Tennessee, started a new job, found furniture, and moved into an apartment.  We are nearly unpacked and even have some pictures on the walls.  The week has been a whirl-wind, with meeting many new people, learning a new community, apartment hunting, furniture shopping, and the demands of a new job. Some days it has felt as if I am trying to drink from a fire hydrant, but God continues to graciously bless and surprise me.  And I look forward to being at the point where the only thing I have to focus on is my job! 

 

A slice of life and morning coffee….

Since beginning our snow birding adventure, I am often asked about how the cats are adjusting to life in the RV. They are indoor animals and now, instead of having a big house to roam and a screened in room for fresh air, they are as cramped as we are in these tiny quarters. Surprisingly, they have adapted very well, possibly easier than we humans. Here they are allowed on most of the furniture and have their people underfoot at all times, answering to their every need. It is hard to forget to feed the cats when they trip you and yowl when they are hungry! There is no escape! They are here, there, and everywhere!

We share our RV with two cats; Boots and Buster. Boots was my daughter’s pet in her childhood and is the sweetest, best natured animal I have ever met. Now at 18 years old, he sleeps most of the time and weighs only 6 pounds, a purring, grey tiger and white fur-covered skeleton. His favorite spot tends to be anywhere that I am sitting, quickly occupying the space as soon as I stand up. Consequently, I have learned to look before I sit down, to avoid landing on him!

Buster is a 17 pound, red Maine Coon. He is still a kitten by Maine Coon standards, and acts like one, despite his size. He is a bundle of energy; jumping, pouncing, climbing, and leaping. These are all highly entertaining activities unless your living space is roughly the size of a hallway in a standard suburban house. His favorite spot is perched on the dashboard, stalking the squirrels that torment him through the glass.

Because of their age differences, the cats do not play together. Boots tolerates the kitten, but remains the boss. Buster is not allowed to sit in his cat bed, nor usurp which ever spot he happens to be enjoying at the moment. Despite this, they get along with one another and never fight; sometimes it feels as if they even work together to accomplish Boots’ goals.

For example, this morning I poured a cup of coffee and sat down at my laptop to read my email, my daily Bible devotion, and check Face book. Our space is restricted so the dinette table is stacked with books and electronics, including my laptop, I pad, phone, camera, and headphones. Buster decided to join me for coffee this morning, wanting to perch on the top of the pile, like Snoopy pretending to be a vulture on the corner of the doghouse. I don’t like cats on the table or the counters so I tried verbally shooing him off, and was ignored. After telling him, “Down” several times I picked up a pill bottle and shook it, commanding him “DOWN!”

Buster startles easily and did not expect to hear the rattle. He EXPLODED in a scrambling flurry of orange fur; feet clawing the air in every direction as he frantically tried to regain his balance. Books flew off the table, knocking over my full cup of hot coffee, and soaking everything! My husband and I sprang into action, scooping up soggy electronics, mopping up coffee, and rescuing books, the dinette cushions, and carpet below.

Buster retreated to the safety of the dashboard and Boots immediately hopped into my now vacant seat and began to purr.  Mission accomplished.

Doing the Splits

We moved a lot during my husband’s career. He was utilized as a plant launch specialist and when his company wanted to start up a new factory, he was THE guy for the job. During the ten years of my children’s’ education, we moved seven times, living in five different states.

After one relocates a few times, the brain tends to switch to auto pilot. There is a mental check list of notifications, closet cleaning, and good-byes. We generally had a two week window to wrap up life in one location before moving to another. During those two weeks, we would pack up our computer, schoolbooks, and a survival wardrobe and move into a furnished apartment while house-hunting in our new location.

Notification of transfer usually came mid-December; January would find us in a new apartment, and we generally closed and moved in to our new house in early May. That left about 4 months of “doing the splits”- living with a minimum amount of stuff, away from those things that make our day-to-day life more enjoyable, easier, and fun. Inevitably, I would think I had something essential with me, would tear the apartment apart looking for it, only to conclude it must be a the other house.

I have been in Florida since January and did “the splits” this morning! I woke up with my mind made up on what I want to wear today. (Doesn’t everyone do that, or is it just a “girl-thing?” ) The object of my search is a print cotton cardigan. It has a brown and tan and orange pattern and would go great with the brown Capri’s, orange belt, and white polo that I am wearing to work today.

I tore apart all of the storage bins under my bed, my limited closet space, and even dug through the bins in the back of my van. I am convinced it is still at home in my closet.

Not having the sweater is a minor frustration. It is just a reminder that I am “doing the splits.” My life is currently split between Michigan and Florida, and will remain in transition until God opens up a firm direction for our future.

As a Christian, I should be used to “doing the splits.” I live in this world, but am not of this world. My real home is in heaven; I am just a sojourner on this earth. Someday, I will finally get to go home.

Here, in the present, living between Michigan and Florida, I am searching for my sweater.  I know that when I go back to my home in Michigan and will retreive it.  But, during our time here on earth, we spend our lives in a state of searching – searching for that illusive happiness and peace. 

The missing ingredient in life is Jesus Christ, and many of us spend our entire life searching for true happiness in all of the wrong places. It cannot be found in parties, drugs, or possessions.  There is a peace and joy in Jesus Christ that our world here cannot give.  Behind all of our searching, is Jesus.  He is what our broken, empty hearts are ultimately searching for.    He is waiting for all who seek Him.  Call out to Jesus and find that true peace.

I am the Beverly Hillbillies…

I love taking long drives with my husband because they allow us to spend hours in the car together uninterrupted by phone calls and business meetings. It gives us opportunity for great conversations while discovering places that we have never visited.

While driving around the Florida countryside on one of these get-aways, he turned to me and said, “I have something to tell you. Please don’t take this the wrong way.” ANY statement prefaced with “Don’t take this the wrong way” piques my curiosity. We don’t get many opportunities to get away from work and spend time together; what deep insights did he want to share?

Chuckling, he declared, “I’ve been thinking about this, and I have decided that YOU are the Beverly Hillbillies.”

“Which, Beverly Hillbilly, I asked.” (I have been negatively compared to Granny Clampet by my children when attempting to knock out a cold with a home-brewed remedy, but Ellie Mae is pretty, so that might actually be a compliment.)

“Not just ONE Beverly Hillbilly,” he snorted. “You are ALL of them!” He then elaborated that I am like Jed Clampet because I am frugal and down-to earth and don’t mind the idea of wild game dinners. I am like Granny Clampet because I gardening and canning and use home remedies. I like animals, so I am like Ellie Mae and her “critters” and I am like Jethro Bodine because I am always learning things and watch NASCAR! The only thing missing is striking oil on my property!

The oil companies are drilling all around our ten acres in Michigan but haven’t tried sinking any wells on our property yet, although there are new active oil wells on neighboring farms. I think it is time for me to grab my shotgun and go rabbit hunting to see if I can hit some “bubbling crude.” I hear the “Hills of Beverly” calling my name!

Learning Contentment

Several of my Northern friends have been asking me how I like living in Florida. I have answered, “It depends on the day. Weekends are great; weekdays, not so much.”

Living in a place is very different from vacationing in a place. On a vacation, there is relaxation, a step out of the ordinary routine of life, and usually a planned change of environment. There is a suspension of normal chores and dedicated time spent with one’s family or spouse. I like vacationing in Florida. What is not to like about palm trees, sun, sand and surf? When one lives in a place, however, life’s demands continue. There are meals to prepared, laundry and cleaning, and work. You get to do the same things you normally do, only you get to do them in a different place. And the sun, sand, and surf become nice weekend activities.

We are something of a hybrid in the Snow-birding world, being younger than all of the people we have met and at a different life-stage. They are truly retired and living on their savings and pensions, no longer punching a clock or having work dictate the hours of their days. The rhythm of their days is much different than ours.

My husband is still employed, and works remote from our motor home via the internet. His workdays are long, absorbed by meetings and phone calls, spent seated at his “desk,” interrupted only by three-step trips to the coffee pot and table for meals. He has made this sacrifice for me, to relocate me to a warmer climate and avoid more cold-induced asthma episodes from Michigan’s frigid winter weather.

My days have changed from full-time employment to having vast stretches of time on my hands – for study, for reading, for writing and whatever else I choose to do from the confines of the park, providing it is quiet and does not interrupt his workday.

Weekends feel much more like being on vacation. The laptops are put away, and we spend time together exploring the area, poking around antique shops, visiting the coast, and making the necessary weekly grocery run.

Do I like living in Florida? Not as much as I like vacationing in Florida. I miss my house, my family and friends, my job, and my life. But, the warmer climate is very nice and I love the freedom of being outside without needing to wear a cold-air mask; February in the Panhandle feels much like June in Northern Michigan. We have discovered a great Spirit-filled church that feels like “home,” and I am now volunteering some of my free time working at a local non-profit agency.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11 “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” I am sure he didn’t like all of the circumstances in which he found himself , but he learned to be content in them. I hope, like Paul, I am learning the secret to contentment during my tenure here in Florida. I would like to be able to echo his sentiment, that I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

A Twist of Fate

I have been battling homesickness on this Snowbird journey, so I was elated when my husband announced that we needed to spend the following week in Michigan for an important work meeting. A week of living in a real house, seeing my friends and family and doing laundry in my own (free) machine was definitely worth a two day drive with drugged cats. My week’s activities were quickly planned and I was terribly disappointed when the meeting was suddenly cancelled.
That cancellation meant that instead of being on the road, we would now be spending the weekend in Florida and I didn’t like the weather forecast. The weatherman called for severe thunderstorms, gale force winds, and tornadoes. The thought of riding out a twister in a trailer park made that two day drive on winter roads all the more appealing.

Authorities tell you to go to a safe place in case of a tornado, only there are no safe places here. There are no basements because the water table is very high, and ditches quickly fill up with water, snakes, and gators. The desk attendant at the RV Park told us the standard procedure for dealing with tornadoes is “get in your car and try to outrun it.”

So, we prayed for God’s protection and sat and watched and waited. The sky turned black in mid-afternoon and the tall trees began to whip from the wind. The RV began to rock and shimmy. The torrential rain was so strong we couldn’t see outside of any of the windows.

At the peak of the storm’s fury, the RV sprung a leak. A seal on a stationary window gave way and water poured in and down the wall. It soaked the floor in the front third of the RV, including everything stored under the sofa and in front of the driver and passenger seats. We moved what we could to higher ground and went to bed.

The next morning we bought a shop-vac and pulled at least a quart of water from the carpet, washed the towels, and tried to dry out. We have been running electric heaters, the air conditioner and a small dehumidifier to dry out of the flooring before it grows mold and mildew. The window is now resealed and survived last night’s rainstorm, but the carpet is still damp three days after the flood.
I can only imagine the mess we would have walked into, had we followed our original plan and returned to Michigan for the week. The storm and flood would have hit on the first day of our absence. Outside temperatures are ranging in the mid seventies, which would have turned the inside of our soggy RV into a mold and mildew breeding ground. Chances are, the interior of the unit would have been destroyed.
Now I look at the cancelled meeting with grateful awe at God’s protection. Not only did He protect us from the storm itself, He protected us from the property loss that would have ensued had we been away.
And it makes me wonder how many times our plans don’t work out because a merciful God was protecting us from very unpleasant consequences. Yes, I am disappointed that my week at home didn’t happen, but I am ever so grateful for God’s providential intervention on my behalf!