After 4 years of marriage Ben and I joined staff with The Navigators. We moved a small, half-empty U-Haul and two babies to Madison, WI to begin our training.
After 4 years in Wisconsin we packed up a slightly larger U-Haul because now we had one more kiddo and a little more furniture, and moved to Northern Illinois University to pioneer a work there.
After 4 years there, we moved to join the staff team at the University of Illinois. We packed up the largest U-Haul we could find and moved with our 3 elementary aged kids.
After 4 years… just kidding. We are still at the University of Illinois!
But, this last transition was by far the most difficult. One night, our oldest wondered aloud why God had led us to move again. She was lonely, struggling to make new friends, and feeling disconnected.
That was so hard to hear. But, it was the motivation I needed to continue the work I fondly call “Web Building.”
In each new town we’ve landed in, it hasn’t taken long to get the boxes unpacked. But in our family, we haven’t felt at home until the family “web” has started to go up.
Our family web is anchored by relationships at school, church, through sports, and in our neighborhood. The myriad of other smaller but key connections are figuring out the library, how to register for sports teams, finding “our” bakery, “our” pizza place, and “our” favorite park to name a few.
These connection points build a “web” around our family that provide stability, friendship, and support. They set us up to be able to minister and pour out on the campus.
Web building takes a lot of time! I’ve found that spending the majority of our first year in a new town creating that web is enormously helpful for our family. That has meant easing into my role alongside Ben on campus and making web building my highest priority initially.
Here are a few other Web Building Tips I’ve learned along the way…
1) Connect to the best place, not the first place
Ben and I have backed out of several small groups at various churches. It’s always been worth a little awkwardness to find a community we could confidently anchor to for the long term.
When we moved to Champaign, our kids ended up in a school situation that was very difficult and they weren’t coping well. After 6 months of blood, sweat, and tears, we sent them to a different school, which has been a great anchor connection for us all.
I’ve learned it’s OK to be picky, especially about those anchor web connections. It’s easy to pick a new pizza place but painful to remain connected to schools and churches that aren’t healthy places to set an anchor.
2) Coffee, coffee, coffee
I’m pretty shy naturally, but moms who are “in the know” are great web-building resources. When I notice a mom who is well connected at school or church, I ask her to coffee. This has helped me get a sense of the community – what the challenges are, what families are going through difficult things, what teachers to ask for, what sports teams might be a good fit for my kids, etc.
I’ve had many one-time coffee dates with moms where there hasn’t been a great friendship connection. That’s OK! It’s still nice to know their names and who their kids they are connected to. But more than once I’ve gained a dear friend and have had many opportunities to give and receive encouragement.
3) Walking Prayers
Most of us in campus ministry have walked and prayed around our campuses. I love doing the same thing as part of my web building. I start in the house, then walk the neighborhood, the schools, and often pray while I’m driving around town.
Psalm 16 is a favorite of mine to pray. Verses 5 and 6 speak of God placing us within boundaries that are good for us.
Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup.
You make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places,
Surely I have a delightful inheritance.
When I pray, I envision the borders of my new town as that “good boundary.”
Prayer also reminds me to use discernment and to listen to Him as I build my web. I want it to be connected to people and places that will bring stability, support and friendship and I need His wisdom in that work.
We hope to stay for a good long while in our new community, but we know that the nature of our work requires us to be ready to consider the needs of the greater mission. May God bless us all with the grace to continue to connect and invest in every place we go as we live and labor among the lost.