Today marks one year since my husband and I arrived in Dayton, Ohio, with the ink still drying on our marriage license and everything we owned thoughtfully stuffed into a U-Haul truck. We’d traveled through 12 states in one month; although we were happy to finally be in one place for a while, those feelings were countered with a dim reality: This isn’t home.
Even though we would be unpacking our belongings and settling in to this new town, it really wasn’t home—not immediately, anyway. That first night in Dayton, we bought a blanket from Target and slept on the floor of an acquaintance’s empty condo. We knew we had signed up for an adventure and were making memories together, but I’d be lying if I said fear and anxiety had no place in our days during that time. The task of beginning somewhere new—finding a new home, establishing in-state residency, starting new jobs, and meeting new friends—was daunting. Familiarity became a distant loved one as we took the “one day at a time” approach to journeying through this transition. Slowly, this place is becoming home, but there have been countless times when I’ve closed my eyes and pictured myself under a table in Australia . . .
Just over eight years ago, I touched down in Australia for a five-month discipleship program. I was 24-years-old and healing from a traumatic break-up, so I made the decision to distance myself from familiarity in an effort to rest, process, mend, find myself, and get reacquainted with God. It was a pretty risky move and, looking back, I’m surprised I was so bold as to travel to the opposite hemisphere in order to find what I knew I needed, spiritually and emotionally. I still remember walking through the airport in Australia with two suitcases and the address of my destination. I knew no one and hadn’t a clue what to expect, but I felt remarkably at peace. My fear wasn’t bigger than my excitement, my anxiety wasn’t bigger than my anticipation—I just knew I was where I needed to be.
I ended up staying in Australia for two years, teaching and leading students in the discipleship program I had attended. Australia was a safe place for me. It is where I felt useful, loved, and seen in the eyes of my peers, my God, and myself. Months after my time in Australia came to a close, I was feeling painfully lost and lonely, unsure of where, exactly, I was headed. I longed for the peace I felt in Australia. In a moment of crying out—trying to make sense of where I had been, where I am going, and where God is in this new season of life—I had a very clear flashback, bringing me over two decades back in time. What I saw was a familiar space, underneath a table, where I had felt safe and secure.
The year I flashed back to was 1989; I was five years old and a Kindergarten newbie.
I can still remember my Kindergarten classroom as if I just walked through it. I could show you the paint stations and where I kept my larger-than-I backpack. My separation anxiety was not overt in Kindergarten, but it thrived beneath the surface. So, if you were to visit my classroom, the first place I would show you is the little space in the room where I spent much of my time.
Underneath a decorated table were oversized pillows, blankets, and books. The little fort was cozy and comfortable; in it, I felt protected from separation anxiety and the Kindergarten bully. My close friends and I would sit in there, read books, and talk about the things 5-year-old girls talk about. In my flashback, over twenty years after I last crawled into that favorite place of mine, I suddenly remembered that my teacher had named this magical spot she had created underneath the table. There was a sign for it, attached to the side of the tabletop, declaring the location of this sweet haven: “AUSTRALIA.”
“Of course,” I thought, when this Kindergarten memory came back to me. I don’t have to literally be in Australia to feel the safety and comfort I am longing for—I could be in the Southern Hemisphere or under a table or in Dayton, Ohio. God is showing me that I don’t have to live Down Under in order to experience excitement over fear and anticipation over anxiety. I was safe and joined in my Kindergarten classroom’s Australia, I was safe and joined in actual Australia, I am safe and joined now—and have been during every moment in between. Australia could be anywhere because God is everywhere.
This has been one of my most significant understandings in this past year of daring, trusting, and settling. What Australia represents to me—God’s presence, protection, hope, and comfort—is available wherever I am. When I am feeling overwhelmed or missing my old friends in this still new-to-me place, I remember Australia. I remember the ways God revealed Himself to me in that place, and I am reminded that the God I knew in Australia is the same God with me today.
I wonder, what is your “Australia”? What are the places, words, or experiences that boldly remind you of God’s presence and protection? How do you bring those things with you, wherever you are?
I often recall what it felt like for 5-year-old Mallory to crawl underneath the table and feel at peace. It changes things to know that no matter how scary the task or anxious my heart—in the process of beginning life in a new place or bravely living in the midst of other big changes—Australia reminds me that the God of Peace is here with me.
My Darren: Cheers, mate! One brave year of newness and Bengals fans!