In two days, it will be 10 years since I left my beloved Springfield, Virginia and made the hardest move of my life to Tampa, Florida. I cannot believe I have lived in this state for a decade and I must say, this is a huge event in my life because prior to moving to Florida, I had never lived in any city or state for longer than two years. And now, after ten years, I find myself still here in Florida, but am happy to announce that this will be my FINAL year in Florida.
Growing up a military family, I never knew what it meant to have roots somewhere or feel like a certain place was “home.” Everything in my life was temporary — my house, my friends, my school, my dad’s job, and the place we lived. Every two years, I got a fresh start and a new chance to make friends and experience a new place. This never bothered me when I was younger, probably because I never knew any better. I never knew what it meant to be “from” somewhere (and to a degree, I still don’t; I do not consider myself “from” Florida) and what it meant to really love where you live. That is, until we lived in Virginia. I was blessed to live there first when I was 10 and 11 years of age, and then a second time when I was 14 and 15. While getting off to a rather rough and awkward start in high school, it wasn’t until my sophomore year that I realized I truly loved my life, had made life-long friends, and felt like I had the world by the tail.
But then there was that dark possibility, and extreme likelihood, that this would be my final year to experience my life as I knew it (in Virginia) and loved it. I didn’t want to believe even the mere thought that everything I knew and loved in my life could be taken away so quick and so soon. Besides, even if I was given the news that our family would be, once again, moving, I would just stay in Virginia and live with a friend for my final two years of high school. Totally plausible idea, right? People do it all the time in towns that are saturated with military families. That is, until the county decided to make a new rule — you cannot attend a public school in this county unless you reside with your parent or legal guardian. Meaning…my parents would have to give up legal guardianship of me and I would legally no longer be their child. And my parents were not about to do that because they “weren’t done raising me.” Rightfully so.
Then the news came. April 2003. I arrived home from lacrosse practice and my mom sat me down in our formal living room and broke the news. I can still hear her telling me, to this day, “Taylor, we’re moving.” And in slow motion almost, I hear her say, “To Florida.”
Most kids would be thrilled to move to Florida. After all, it’s where Disney World is, it’s home to all the theme parks, beaches, and cruise terminals. Oh and it never snows? It’s sunny nearly every day of the year? How perfect could life possibly get for a child?
Well, in my eyes, my life already was perfect. No amount of sunshine or Mickeys or beaches or roller coasters could add to the perfection. Why? Because I already had what I had wanted all along — a place I loved and that I truly called “home.”
I fought it hard. I fought to stay in Virginia and live my life the way I had been living it and for once not have everything turned upside down. But it didn’t work. We were leaving, and that was that.
Suddenly my life went from this:
“This is now officially a new chapter in ‘My Life.’ The cycle stops. ‘Can miles really separate us from being with friends? If we want to be with someone we love, aren’t we already there?’ -Richard Bach”
I was devastated. Absolutely devastated. All I knew to do was write. But I didn’t even know what to write. I just sat in my room on my twin bed while listening to music and pulled out a pen and this notebook given to me by a friend as a going away gift. Little did that person know what a therapeutic and helpful gift they had given me.
When this journal is opened up, right on the opposite side of the title page, is a “Miss List.” I created a list of the names of everyone that I missed. This list was two columns and one page long. See some of it below.
Though I don’t have a picture of it, I also made a huge bulletin board of pictures of all of my missed friends and wrote their names in paint around the border. It was also another therapeutic activity I did to help me process everything that was happening.
Here’s the first page of this journal, and when I read it, even to this day, I can feel the pain I felt when I wrote this. I’m not sure if that’s something that can be felt by anyone reading this passage, but let me tell you, it was there.
Okay, so hopefully you get the picture. I was lonely. I was upset. I didn’t understand. I never thought my life would be the same…ever. And since I’ve never been known to be dramatic in my life, I want to reiterate a small picture that I had placed on the title page of my journal. I felt like a complete and total loser:
So the point of this is not to talk about how miserable I was, or how lonely I felt, to make anyone feel pity for me because that is not my intention. To me, as I reflect on the last 10 years I’ve spent in this, as I called it, “Gosh-forsaken state,” I see it as the biggest growing period of my life. And quite frankly, quite possibly the biggest blessing of my life. It’s so true when they say that sometimes it takes “coming out of your box” to grow as an individual. And that is exactly what has happened to me in the last 10 years.
I was thrown out of my box, frankly, and hit the ground hard, alone. But I learned how to rely on not only myself, but on God. He had a plan and that plan was far greater than any plan I had for myself. (Like staying in Virginia and making my parents give up guardianship of me…for what reason? So I could stay in my box.) God knew that I would be provided with new friends. It wouldn’t be easy for me to break in, but I did.
He knew that when I was in Virginia, I was on the road to not getting in to any public university because my grades were that bad. He knew that through moving to Florida, with some of the worst (read: easiest) school systems in the country, I’d be able to pull my cumulative GPA high enough to get into not just one, or two, but three public universities in Florida. Not only that, but I was also able to get three-quarters of my tuition paid for by the Florida Lottery. (Something that is no longer offered, unfortunately.) And though I didn’t know it at the time, the university I ended up attending (which I soon regretted for reasons not stated — but now do not regret) was the university where my now husband was waiting for me. (Never in a million years would I have believed if you told me that I’d even be married in this life, let alone that my husband was waiting for me in Florida!) It would take three years after I started college for us to meet, but when we did meet, it happened at the perfect time in both of our lives. God knew that there was a precious little animal that He created that needed to be rescued from death. This dog was just waiting for me to rescue him and God knew that in 2003 when he brought me to Florida. This dog has brought more joy to my life than I could have ever imagined. (And I never considered myself a dog person prior!)
I could continue to list the many blessings that I’ve received in the last ten years, but I’m not here to boast or bore. I’m here to say that though I would never wish the military life on anyone, not even my worst enemy, I can say that I believe I am a better person for it. Though moving here was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, I can’t say I would have it any other way because clearly, I was meant to be in Florida. Even though I thought I had my life all planned out in Virginia, God had a greater plan for me. It took me many years to see that, and while at times I doubted God’s reasoning, now I know that He had His hand in it the entire time.
I’m excited to take my two biggest blessings, my husband and my dog, with me to the next place. And I hope that once I leave, I won’t have to return, but I can look back on this place and see it as a place of growth and gifts. Not as a place of misery and loneliness like it was for so long. And I hope that somewhere out there (hopefully California, but as we know God sometimes has different plans than I) is a place for me and my little family that we can all love and truly call “home.”
And in that place, my own children can live a life of stability and have roots in a place they can be “from” and truly love.