I know a handful of people going through major, cross-country moves right now. Just thinking about it causes my emotions to agitate like a washing machine. Two years after our move back to Michigan from Florida, I still get teary when I think about uprooting our family and starting over.
One friend getting ready to make a 1,000 mile move recently asked me, “So how do you make new friends?” It’s exciting and scary to pull into a new town in a new state not knowing anyone. It’s like a blank book waiting for you to write an exciting new adventure in. That’s exactly what we did in Florida.
When I think back over that transition, there were a few things we did right, that made starting over a little easier.
1. Reach out. Before we moved, we started researching churches online. We knew absolutely no one in Tampa, other than the man who hired Ked at the University. We knew that getting connected to a church needed to be our first priority when we got there, so we did a google search “cool churches in Tampa.” I kid you not. That is exactly what we googled. We are so spiritual.
But wouldn’t you know, God can even use a silly google search! A church came up at the top of the search that looked like a good fit for us. We wrote down the information and two days after pulling into town, and before any boxes were unpacked, we went to church. We had prayed over this move, specifically that God would lead us to good friends to help ease the pain of being so far from family.
We were working our way through the crowd towards the front door that first Sunday when a man stopped us. He asked us if we were new. We smiled and said, “Just moved here a couple days ago!” He held up his hand and said, “Don’t move. There are some people you need to meet. I will go get them.” It turns out he was the senior pastor and he was very good at connecting people. He brought over several couples who were in a small group together. They introduced themselves and invited us to their group the next week. We went, and the rest is history. They became our closest friends and Florida would not have been the same without them. I still cry when I think about how God led us to them and what a blessing they were to us over the years. We had babies together, brought meals to each other, and made lots of home made pizza. They changed our lives. But we had to be willing to reach out – to look for a community and be willing to go to a stranger’s home and say, “Hi, we’re new in town.”
When you’re new in town, be willing to reach out to those around you. Find a church. Get in a small group. Meet your neighbors. Join a Bible study. If you have a hobby, find a local meetup for your hobby. You have to be willing to reach out your hand and meet new people. Most importantly, pray for God to lead you to new friends.
2. Get out. It’s easy to get caught up unpacking and settling in and before you know it, months have passed and you still don’t know your new town. I made it a habit to keep my eye out for free and cheap things to do. We regularly played tourist in our new town. There were so many new places to explore, festivals to experience, and in Florida – great beaches to find! Eventually you’ll find your routine of favorites, but at first, try everything you can. We swam in springs, picked up shells on old beaches, and walked boardwalks where we saw alligators go fishing (can’t do that in Michigan!). We went to free concerts as varied as the orchestra in a park to a local Latin band who sang all in Spanish. (One day our Cuban neighbors were blaring a song in Spanish, and I asked Ked “Why do I know this song?” He then reminded me that it was played at one of the free concerts we went to!).
Every town has a local news website or chamber of commerce that has a really good community calendar. Find it and check it weekly, then post things on your personal calendar so you don’t forget about them. You’ll soon discover that you know more fun things to do in your new town than the “locals” do.
3. Workout. We know that exercise is good for us and helps with stress and so forth. Actually doing it is another story. Taking care of yourself is so important during a major move. We discovered that the first year that we moved (both to Florida and back to Michigan) we were sick a LOT. I don’t know if it was allergies or our bodies getting acclimated to the new climate, but that first year we caught everything there was to catch. Keep your immune system strong by exercising 3-4 times a week. When we first moved to Florida, we found a path that we enjoyed nightly walks on. We joked that it was our “nightly walk with the bugs.” By the time we were making the return trip to the apartment it was dusk and all the big creepy crawly bugs joined us on the sidewalks! When we moved back to Michigan I started running with a friend, and I am certain running kept me sane during those stressful months of waiting for our house to sell in Florida and looking for a new on in Michigan.
4. Wait it out. Transitions like this take time, and patience. Even when you are certain you have done the right thing there will be days when you wonder what in the world you were thinking. When I look back over my life it’s so interesting to see where my closest friends came from. Nearly all of them came completely unexpected, and from times when I had got out and reached out.
About a year after we moved back to Michigan, I was feeling pretty blue about making new friends. We were still living with Ked’s parent about an hour from the town we would eventually live in. Being so far away from our future town made it hard to get involved and make new friends. Ked kept telling me to be patient (he says that to me a lot!). He encouraged me to attend a writing conference in town. I prayed about which classes to go to, because there were so many good ones to choose from. The very first class I debated whether or not to go to because I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the topic. For some reason, I felt very strongly I should go anyway. I sat down behind a gal about my age, and she turned around and I smiled and said, “hello.” We struck up a conversation before the session started and she moved to sit next to me. It turns out that out of a conference of almost 2,000 in a class I almost didn’t go to – I met a gal who was also in the midst of a major life transition. Part of that transition included attending a new church. The one I attend. A year later, we sit together with our husbands in church, every week.
God will provide just the right friends at just the right time. Just wait. You’ll be amazed.