2019 was not an incredible year. We suffered the loss of my dear friend, Anne after a long battle with brain cancer. After Anne’s passing, we fought (and kinda succeeded) to build a non-profit in her memory. 2019 was just not an incredible year. However, when placing it under scrutiny next to the year 2020, if an optometrist were to ask me “Better 2019, or 2020?” I might actually pick 2019.
2020 has brought with it tremendous loss, isolation, and intense division across the country. Since mid-March, Gideon and I have both been working from home, having converted our guest bedroom into a make-shift office.
In order to keep our families and communities safe during this ongoing pandemic, we’ve been hyper-vigilant about limiting travel, exposure, and general interactions with the outside world.
Living with MS, the medication I take to suppress/stave-off flares also modifies my immune system’s capacity to fight off illness and infection. So our efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 are both in service to our neighbors and, to be frank, an act of self-preservation.
In this weird world and constant negotiation of how to do daily life, we’ve made the tough decision to spend the holiday season here in Virginia, away from the family and friends we typically share these milestones with.
The intense longing I’ve felt for my family (particularly my 5 nephews) is only amplified by this knowledge, and yet, I am heartened by this significant piece of news: I’ve recently been offered and have accepted a teaching position at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in Rice Lake, Wisconsin!
When Gideon and I started dating back in Wisconsin in 2015, he knew that I had accepted a teaching position in Virginia at James Madison University. Instead of being scared off, he was super interested in the idea of someday living out in Virginia. And so, for nearly the last 6 years (5 together and 1 apart), we’ve lived out here in the beautiful and historical Shenandoah Valley, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, just two hours outside of our nation’s capital.
Our time here has not been without its challenges — we typically make 2-3 cross-country commutes to see our families each year– and our direct support system here, while strong, is tiny. Beyond this, we’ve struggled with the complex realities of working for a university bigger than the cities we lived in growing up. So in many ways, our vision has always been to move back to Wisconsin eventually. The COVID pandemic has made that “eventually” speed up & slow down simultaneously.
When JMU announced pending (and devastating) budget cuts going into the Fall 2021 school year, it was uncertain whether I would even have a job out here next fall. So I began to look for positions back in Wisconsin, applying for most anything I was qualified for, knowing full-well that the likelihood of a Wisconsin institution being interested and ABLE to hire an out-of-state candidate during a pandemic was pretty damn slim. To be sure, I’ve applied for positions in Wisconsin now and then over the last few years, and have even interviewed in-person for a couple. But, the urgency and exigency to find something stable was never really there, because ultimately I had a reliable job working for JMU. But then, pandemic. (And yes, that is a complete sentence).
In what felt like an intensely long-shot, I interviewed for a Communication Instructor position at a tech college an hour north of Eau Claire, where I went to college about a decade or so ago. Now, I don’t call this a long-shot to undermine my credibility for this role. I’m a good teacher, I work hard, and I know that I am qualified for this job. That being said – WHO IN THEIR EVER LOVING RIGHT MIND WOULD HIRE AN OUT-OF-STATE CANDIDATE IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC?!
But God, being rich in mercy and grace and all the good stuff even amidst the bad stuff, has blessed us with a small needful fact: the pandemic inspired a long-time, beloved Instructor to retire. Simply put, she wasn’t planning on it just yet, but teaching online indefinitely changed her tune. And that tune just so happened to perfectly harmonize with my own melody to find a new job back home in Wisconsin. So the timing and the tuning, has all sort of perfectly concertinaed up into this way back to our home place.
While I’ll start teaching for WITC in January, because of the pandemic, my classes will be entirely online. Which gives us the opportunity to move slowly and intentionally — finding a home and planning for our relocation to a new city, just 2.5 hours from both of our immediate families. Gideon and I have always lived in apartments since we got married. The cost of housing out here has priced us out of even imagining this as a possibility, and so looking at properties back home has ALREADY sparked a great deal of excitement about the notion (soon to be reality!) of having our own home.
Now, Gideon will tell you that he is not in love with the idea of owning property again. And yet, we’re on the same page in the realization that back in Wisconsin, its more affordable to own a home than it is to rent one. Which gives me all the domestic jitters, thinking about decorating, painting, adopting a dog and kids, (in that order!), and having a place that truly belongs to the two of us.
All this to say, our vision of what 2020 might’ve looked like has radically shifted, but with the isolation and grief that this time brought with it, we’ve also seen God’s abounding love and grace for us, for our loved ones, and for the least of these. We will both celebrate and mourn the closing of one chapter of our lives out here in Virginia– but we will hold those feelings in tension and balance with the knowledge that in just a little while, we’ll be just a little ways away from the people and places that gave us our start.
If you’d like to join me (Sarah) in dreaming & scheming about this next chapter, take a look at my Pinterest board I’ve created to brainstorm decorating ideas for our someday (soon) home.
And, if you’re feeling particularly generous and spontaneously wealthy, take a look at my dream Amazon wishlist for this someday-soon house-to-be. I’m taking a much-needed break from social media, so feel free to keep up with our journey home here and reach out to us via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Til then, love & light, y’all (for our Virginia fam) / yous guys (for our Wisconsin fam)
-Sarah & Gideon