[Enjoy this guest post from Emily Chaffin on what she learned and how she and her family adapted when they moved from the Bible Belt to the Sun Belt.]
“Where are you from?” I have asked this question more times in the past nine months than I ever have before. That’s because last June, my husband, two kids, and I moved to the Phoenix area to plant a church, and we quickly found out that not many people are actually FROM here. We are a city of transplants. That is foreign to me, because I grew up in small-town Arkansas in Bible Belt, USA, as did my family back to at least two generations before me. And usually if people aren’t FROM small-town Arkansas, they have an insta-family upon walking in the church doors on any street corner.
It’s just different here in the Valley of the Sun.
What we quickly have found out is that this lack of roots and connection so prevalent in our new city has led to big-time isolation. Sometimes this isn’t an accident. Some people want to get lost in the crowd, to “find themselves” in a new place. As someone who tends to be introverted and grew up with practically no privacy because everybody knows EVERYBODY in a small town, I get that to an extent. I even tried it when I moved off to college, but it didn’t work for me. Wherever you go, there you are, or something like that.
But not everybody’s isolation here is a conscious decision. Sometimes it just happens when you move 1500 miles across the country, suddenly finding yourself cut off from your family’s traditional birthday and holiday parties, the summer reunions at the old family homestead, and the church potlucks and small groups. The loneliness can be overwhelming and paralyzing. At least it was for us. Ironically, our family who moved to the valley to help create a community found ourselves in desperate need of one.
And God noticed, as He usually does. He came to us in Cathy, the CPA from Wisconsin, who quickly became an adopted grandma to our kids who were missing their Granny and Pappaw. He came to us in Annie, a Texas native who “just happened” to meet me at the playground while our kids were playing, the same morning she had been searching online for a church home. He came to us in Cindy, who has provided us with amazing child care while my husband and I work. He came to us in Jill and Chris, who have opened up their beautiful home for our little community to use for worship and 12-step groups. I could list more, but I’m sure you get the picture.
The point is, I have sinned.
I have taken community for granted for most of my life. In this city of transplants, God is showing me the way of repentance through not only the lonely and isolated, but also the hospitable and nurturing. As leaders, it’s easy to get the idea that we are always the givers, the blessings, the creators of community. It’s humbling, but also freeing, to realize that we are totally dependent upon God and others for community to work.
Since my little epiphany, I’ve looked at certain scriptures with a fresh eye, especially the ones regarding hospitality and community. As I was reading 1 Peter 4 recently, verses 9-10 caught my attention:
“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
I realized that my family, friends, and church back home may never know the impact they will have on people living thousands of miles away. By filling my cup with a lifetime of love and support, they were extending God’s grace to me. They have shown me what hospitality and love and grace look like, and now I can be an extension of that for someone else, a faithful steward of God’s grace. It’s a cycle of receiving to give, blessed to be a blessing. Now it’s time for our little garden of transplants to slowly but surely take root here in the desert, working together for truth through the blessing of hospitality (3 John 1:8).
Sometimes it might look like the messiness of hosting a recovery group, or the cat-herding of coaching soccer teams made up of 4-year-olds. Other times it might just look like the calmness of a cup of coffee and conversation, or the comfort of a shoulder to cry on.
It might not always look pretty, but that’s the price you pay for the beauty of community.
Emily Chaffin is an Arkansas native who has recently moved to the Phoenix metro area for a church-planting adventure. She has a Master’s degree in English with a concentration in Modern and Postmodern American literature and has taught college writing classes for the past four years. She loves to travel and take photos of the beautiful American Southwest, which she enjoys exploring with her husband and two young children. If topics like gender equality, 12-step recovery, and theological deconstruction experiences interest you, check out her blog Springs in the Desert, or find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.