Destination: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Over the past couple months, I’ve been slowly sharing with friends here in Silicon Valley about the decision Kaile and I have made about moving back to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Here is a bit more about that decision-making process.

the Willard avenue home. Kaile is holding Silas

Taking a look back at our 2016 move to the Bay Area, it was probably the best decision we have ever made. It was so clear we were supposed to be here, a God-directed step. A meaningful job was available for me, a graduate program in therapy for Kaile. On top of that, we put our house [pictured here] on the market during a February, 2016 apartment hunting trip to San Francisco. It sold within 24 hours after a brief bidding war, and we downsized to a 450sq foot apartment in downtown San Francisco.

Once we arrived, it was joyfully challenging. Culture shock was one aspect, sticker shock another. Urban energy, pacific breezes, and incredible views of the city and bay from our 15th story window inspired us. Meaningful interactions with folks at the church I served confirmed how we could make San Francisco home. Bike rides and walks I’d take with Silas and Kaile made me feel like at least a portion of every day was vacation. We made more, spent more, felt like imposters some of the time, and gradually adjusted to our new setting.

The grit and grind of city life felt right. No longer living in the shadow of Detroit or Chicago, we now lived in one of the country’s best-known cities, with all its opportunities and pain, all its beauty and all its brokenness. We were so palpably aware of our newness yet so ready for whatever awaited us.

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Tragically, after a bad financial giving year at our beloved church, I was let go along with several colleagues. Ouch. Somehow I was back at it after about six weeks, in God’s grace.

It felt like background information at that dynamic time, but before we ever moved out west, we had made the decision early on [winter 2015] that for Kaile’s graduate program, she’d gear the entire academic and professional experience toward the pursuit of eventual licensure not in California, but in Michigan. Here in the United States we do not have a federal accreditation system for therapists, so the choice had to be made.

That decision put us on some kind of timeline for how long we would stay in California.

Would it be a 3 year thing? Maybe. 5 or 7? Maybe. But probably not 10, we thought. 

As it turns out, about 4 1/2 years will be the duration of our time in this excellent corner of planet earth once we move in late July.

Here’s the situation we faced in February:

*Kaile was soon giving birth to our third child [Junia joined us on February 27th]
*Silas [5] would be starting kindergarten in the Fall
*Regardless of where we would move, three kids guaranteed that we would move. We would either stretch our budget to get into a 3-bedroom apartment or, well, Michigan.

All of that on the table, it became rather clear that we were bound for Michigan. The timing was right. We prayed a lot. We talked it through. And we decided this was the time to move.

I’ll miss a lot once we’re back in the Mitten State:

*Our kind, Jesus-following church family [Palo Alto Vineyard Church may be the most generous, grace-filled, and spirited-led I’ll ever serve]
*The church friends and neighborhood friends group and we developed and did life with
*Year-round biking
*A large percentage of people from East and South Asia and other places [Grand Rapids and its surrounding boroughs have another kind of diversity – black folks, latinx people, lots of refugees – but far fewer Asian-American folks]
*Mighty redwoods, California poppies, the majestic Pacific Ocean

All of that said, we won’t miss heavy traffic and $2300/month for a tiny, poorly-managed apartment.

I am looking forward to:

*Friends [and family, of course!] who have known us for a decade or more
*Living in a cozy Dutch Colonial house in a part of town we like. If we do things financially right, it might well be paid off in just 10-15 years
*Lake Michigan, the Grand River, and ten thousand other bodies of water, plus the familiar flora and fauna of my home state: forests, meadows, beaches
*My brother Phil living two blocks away, in-laws just a little farther than that, friends all over town, and an intricate web of connections in West Michigan and the upper Midwest
*Winter/snow – and the change of seasons in general. Yes, winter gets old at some point but I am one of those crazy people who loves the cold and snow.

I am sad, excited, nervous, and grateful, always in varying doses. There will, I think, be a layer of reorientation in order once we’re in Grand Rapids. We have been on our own journey for these years in California, and so have all our excellent friends in Michigan. What will have changed in us, that they will soon notice? What will have changed in them, that we will eventually witness?

We are bound to experience some culture shock, seemingly in reverse, since both Kaile and I grew up in West Michigan. We are asking God for courage and a fierce determination to grow, develop, and contribute as we lean into this change. We left Grand Rapids a long time ago, and a lot has changed.

Silas, Kaile, me – early 2015, in the Willard house

We have had the time and liberated emotional space to be the us we are discovering ourselves to be. We have grown spiritually as we discover ourselves caught up in the sweeping journey God has invited us through Jesus and the indwelling Spirit.

My personal convictions have evolved from that younger seminarian’s cerebral, big-picture cosmic theologies of God and the great story of redemption. Those narratives are the backbone yet I now experience the heart and guts of my faith to be the myriad ways in which this works out in real life and in real relationships. Because of the work of Jesus within me, the gap between my head and my heart is in the process of diminishing. Clearly this is the work of a generous God.

Speaking of God’s generosity, God has generously given us two of our three children during our years in the Bay Area: Maelin was birthed in the warm waters of a hastily drawn bathtub at the San Francisco Birth Center, and Junia would have joined us at Nightingale Birth Center in San Mateo, but she couldn’t wait that long! We instead stopped at El Camino in Mountain View where Kaile promptly delivered within minutes of our arrival.

And speaking of kids, the most emotionally challenging aspect of our process thus far has been saying goodbye to our sons, Silas and Maelin. For some reason, seeing them go through their goodbyes has been terribly sad for me. We met up with friends we know through the neighborhood recently, and when we were waving goodbye Silas said, “wait, River! I have something for you!”

Silas then raced over to River, who was on her bike. He placed a tiny gift in her bike basket and said, “goodbye River, I’ll miss you!” RIP MY HEART OUT ALREADY! He has such unfathomable love to share with the world he is coming to know.

During their last evening, I was saying goodnight to them and telling them I’d miss them a lot. Soon I was flooded with tears. The next thing I knew, both boys were smothering me with kisses and hugs, telling me “it’s okay daddy.” Maelin repeated a couple times, “I’ll give you more hugs tomorrow, daddy.”

These little beings are now safe with their Opa and Mimi, Kaile’s parents. They’re headed to Grand Rapids in the Tesla, stopping to charge every so often – a perfect excuse to do mini adventures. They’re doing National Parks, hotels, camping with Kaile’s uncle and aunt in the mountains in Colorado. Though they’re young, they may remember this trip in the years, even as we miss them terribly.

Kaile will be getting on a morning flight to Grand Rapids in just over two weeks. The next day, my parents, along with my brother, Phil, and his delightful girlfriend, are headed this way on July 22nd, and we’ll drive the big moving rig – a 1997 Isuzu NPR box truck – and one or two of our other vehicles, back to Michigan.

the big turbodiesel – look at the HUGE windshield

There will be a lot to see on the way. We’ll drive the I80 corridor through much of northern California and Nevada. We’ll go through Salt Lake City and over the mountains and plains of southern Wyoming. Farms and fields in Iowa and Nebraska will wave their grainy hellos, then we’ll slowly find our way into Chicagoland before we finally make that northeastern turn through the upper corner of Indiana to Michigan, better known as America’s high five.

Then we will finally arrive in Grand Rapids, furniture city, the overlooked gem of the upper Midwest, my beloved former place of residence from 2009 through early 2016, home to friends, to family, to familiar places and the powerful Grand River.

arial view of downtown GR from the southwest

We’ll have a house, too, a little Dutch Colonial structure in the southeast corner of the city not far from MLK Park. The house turns 100 in 5 years, so she will have her share of projects from time to time. We’ll have a backyard, a front porch, TWO bathrooms, and a rear-facing balcony off the master bedroom [from which to keep our kids accountable!].

We’ll have joys, challenges, ups and downs and everything in-between. We’ll have one another. We’ll have our Michigan people around us, but we’ll also have numerous Californians living within us through the relationships we’ve built here, for our human souls cannon help but carry small pieces of everyone who makes an impact there.

Conscious or unconsciously, we are forever changed in the beautiful pilgrimage that life with God is, by default.

We’ll have what we need.

I’ll close with a simple prayer by Thomas Merton, one of my spiritual influences. My own spiritual director, Russ Ikeda, sent this prayer to me after our last session together. Our monthly meetings over the past three years have helped me grow closer to Jesus, and he has helped me see how God is continuing to heal, transform, and redeem me.

Here is the prayer, from Thomas Merton’s work, Thoughts in Solitude:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.


3 thoughts on “Destination: Grand Rapids, Michigan

  1. Nice post, bro! I will pray for the current travelers, the soon-to-be travelers, and for the Lord to bless you all, and in all. Grace and peace. -Daniel


  2. Thanks for inviting us into the journey, Ben! We, too, are in a similar spot, albeit not a cross-country move, but I found your words encouraging and the Thomas Merton prayer fitting for words that have been circulating within my soul for a while now. Blessings to you and Kaile as you pack and travel back to the Mitten!


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