A Liminal Short Story about Moving from Oregon to Pennsylvania

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Moving from Pennsylvania to Oregon was one of the craziest and most unsure things that Melanie and I have done together. In this “liminal” space, we learned and grew like never before.

If we dare to embrace them, liminal moments are ripe with potential for growth and grace.

The word “Liminal” means: “that space in-between where you are now and where you want to be in the future.”

Everyone goes through a liminal time in their lives.

It’s a weird space.

It’s unsettled.

It’s uncomfortable.

Far too often, it’s downright painful.

You know you are not where you want to be. Sometimes you don’t even know where you hope to end up.

One of the most liminal moments in my life came when Melanie and I realized that it was time for me to stop being a pastor.

After 14 years of being part of the leadership of an amazing little community, we knew — because God made it abundantly clear — that it was time for us to move on.

After 13 years of marriage, this led us to the most liminal space in which we have ever found ourselves.

We knew something was. Next, we just didn’t know what it was.

We knew we didn’t necessarily need to stay in the Philly suburbs, but we had no idea where we were supposed to go.

A series of seemingly random circumstances led us to consider moving to Portland, Oregon. I was working remotely at a fantastic company, and this new gig allowed us to say, “We could live anywhere in the USA… so where do we want to live?”

All options were on the table.

The fact that both Melanie and I had personal connections and a potential network of support made Portland, OR, an exciting option, but one that also felt insane.

The oldest of our four boys was entering middle school in the fall. We knew the window to make a decision was tight. We either needed to move in the next eight months or stay until our youngest (three years old at that time) graduated high school. We wanted our kids to start middle school and end high school in the same community if possible.

So, we did what everyone else does when they are looking to move; we started looking for a house – which is a challenge when you live 3,000 miles away.

In May of 2014, miraculously, we were able to find affordable, last-minute tickets to visit Portland. We had a free place to stay and just under four days to find a house.

No pressure, right?

Those four days did not go as planned. We looked at 20+ homes but found nothing that made sense for our family. But at the same time, we fell in love with the city. We went home asking, “what does this mean?!”.

Shortly after this trip, our realtor called us and said, “I think I have found your house.”

Not understanding the housing market in Portland I said, “Great! Should I book a flight and fly out next week?”

He laughed and said, “No, you do not understand. It goes on the market today, and you need to make an offer by this evening.”

We quickly called our friends in Portland. We asked them to call us on FaceTime and walk through the house while taking tons of pictures. We stalked the house on the satellite view of Google Maps. We researched the neighborhood and the schools, and the community. We wrote a sappy letter to the sellers and hired our friend’s contractor to ensure the house wasn’t falling apart. In short, we did the best we could to make the most informed long-distance decision we possibly could.

And then, we went with our gut and offered that night.

The following day, I was standing in the kitchen when our realtor called to tell us that the sellers had accepted our offer. We had just agreed to buy a house that we had never seen in person!

We arrived at our new home in Portland, Oregon, three months later. I drove a moving truck across the country while the rest of the family hopped on a cross-country flight. Somehow, we arrived simultaneously and walked into our new home together – hoping we hadn’t just made a colossal mistake.

We hadn’t.

For us, the last six years have been the most formative years of our lives together. Things have not been easy. Building new friendships can be difficult. Saying goodbye to old ones is painful. Getting to know a new city feels strange.

But, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that our move to Portland made us stronger. The growth that we experienced cannot be replaced or underestimated.

And that, my friends, is the point of this whole story.

Most of us crave stability. We crave the familiar. We long for things to be normal.

In case you have not noticed… 2020 is not stable. It is not familiar territory. It is not normal.

This time, this liminal space can spark our most significant growth.

In this liminal time, we have a choice.

We can try to ignore the changes and seek to avoid the struggle. However, this attempt to maintain the status quo will almost certainly fail. Change is inevitable, and the status quo keeps us stuck in the past.

Or, we can embrace this strange new world. We can choose to walk forward with boldness and courage. We can courageously commit to what we believe God is calling us to.

If you choose courage, you will be met with profound work. This is where the real growth is.

If we are willing to let them, liminal times can provide our most significant moments of growth and grace.

I say, let’s embrace it.

Todd Hiestand

Todd has over 20 years of experience as a leader in the nonprofit sector. He has served in a wide variety of roles, guiding digital marketing, technology, fundraising, eCommerce, and communications strategies. His expertise in developing systems and processes has helped launch organizations and sustain growth over time.