California, Here We Are!

After many months — too many months! — I write with wonderful news: Mike and I have moved back to California! Today, Christmas day, we celebrate seven months here and 67 months since Mike’s injury.

It’s been quite a year, apart from the pandemic and all it has wrought. Our visit to Berkeley in summer 2019 started us thinking about how much we love this city. At the same time, we had a real sense that the work God had called us to do in Florida (seminary, Immanuel, child rearing) was done, and that maintaining our home was becoming too much. We began praying for the Lord to make us useful for his Kingdom, and as an aside, told him that we would like to be useful in Berkeley. 

The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.

Deuteronomy 1:30-31

After a trip to Sacramento in October, joining my sisters to clean out our parents’ home of 50-plus years, I knew it was time to start downsizing, no matter where the Lord might take us, and I changed my computer password to whereyouleadIwillfollow. I got busy sorting and sifting our 23 years of accumulation and, with the help of my amazing neighbor and a few friends, held garage sales in November, January, and March and gave away or sold to anyone I could persuade to keep something. We eventually pared down 3,500 square feet of belongings to a 16×8 moving pod, just one in a series of miracles! 

In the meantime, the Lord our God was indeed carrying us, and a jigsaw puzzle of at least a million pieces was being slowly assembled, starting with Melissa, my college roommate, having a conversation with her Berkeley pastor who proposed a job for which she immediately nominated me. I laughed it off, sure I would never want to work in a church. However, visiting Christ Church Berkeley while there for Christmas softened my heart, and Mike and I walked the neighborhood streets asking the Lord to make us useful in the city we loved so much. A small circle began praying with us over this outrageous idea, a group we came to call the Berkeley Prayer League. In March I interviewed for the part-time position at Christ Church, just as the novel coronavirus Covid-19 was starting to shut down our world.

Both Stetson University and Mike’s adult daycare closed shop, and Mike and I found that we did well working from home. The flexibility allowed us to get the house ready for market, greatly aided by amazing friends who pitched in with crucial weekend projects. More puzzle pieces were coming together, but not enough to form a definite picture. Our wonderful realtor, Carla Ecoff, had been part of the Immanuel crew that moved us into our home in January 2001, and she was the one who positioned our living room furniture and brought us dinner for our first night. The house listed on the day that shelter-in-place orders took effect in Florida, yet cases were low in our area and house hunters came, masked and gloved. (My colleagues might have seen a potential buyer walk into my office during a video meeting I accidentally left on when we quickly evacuated for a showing!)  

A few weeks later, on the very day we had a finalized contract on our house, Christ Church offered to make the 20-hour job into a 30-hour job including full benefits. From there, our scheme to get back to Berkeley really took momentum. We worked with all our strength, but we felt as if we were being carried on eagle’s wings (Isaiah 40:30-31). The Lord gave us enough information to do the next thing, and though we couldn’t see the whole picture, we felt more and more sure that he was advancing a good plan and caring for us in each small detail. Several members of Christ Church live in a former convent, which through another miraculous turn of events became a viable housing option for us. Long term fiscal feasibility was examined with my advisor at TIAA, our accountant, and friends smart about finances, and that was a green light too. Luke found a solid living situation and moved out two weeks before us, another feat impossible without such helpful friends. What we didn’t know far outweighed what we knew, but it was enough to keep us inching forward, even in the midst of a pandemic.

Scenes of packing, above — a few of our farewells with beloved friends, below. (I’m so sorry to the many people we didn’t see due to covid and time!)

Friends continued pitching in with packing, and goodbyes were said on the driveway and back porch or by Zoom. On Saturday, May 23, friends gathered again to load the pod, with an incredibly thoughtful gift of professional movers to pack it. After still more goodbyes, we locked the door for the last time on our beloved, memory-filled home on  Covered Bridge Drive. We spent the weekend at the beach with dear Dan and Dru Fridsma, and I just kept  saying, “I can’t believe that all got done.”

Honestly, I still can’t believe it. On May 25 — Memorial Day and the fifth anniversary of Mike’s injury — we flew to California to start a new life!

The seven months since arrival continue the story of God’s great faithfulness to us. Lydia picked us up from the airport and brought us to a lovely and miraculously provided Victorian home in north Berkeley for our two weeks of quarantine, where we were met by Mike’s sister and husband, a dear colleague with a welcome box and banner, and dinner from Melissa. God provided in so many thoughtful details, like that colleague’s neighbor selling just the right car at just the right price. I had already been participating in Christ Church staff meetings via Zoom, and my new colleagues laid out a covid-safe red carpet of welcome. Melissa, the college friend who got me the job at Christ Church, came over with her husband and emptied the pod on the one day all summer he had unexpected free time, and others from church loved us with hands and feet and food. We began settling into the convent, seeing family and friends (outdoors and masked), transferring the Florida guardianship to a California conservatorship, and eating the elephant of transition one bite at a time. 

As I write and picture all of this, my mind is filled with pictures of all the amazing friends who walked and worked with us this year, tears are streaming, and my heart is overflowing. Truly, God parted the Red Sea and we have seen how the Lord our God carried as, as a man carries his son, all the way that we went until we came to this place (Deuteronomy 1:30-31), and I am so grateful! 

We give thanks for:

  • The many marvelous people whom the Lord used to bring us to this place (the pictures don’t begin to show it all!)
  • Living less than 30 minutes from Lydia and from Mike’s sister Kathie and family, an hour from my twin sister Kristina, and 90 minutes from Mike’s parents and other relatives in Sacramento
  • A wonderful new church family, pastors, colleagues, and community group, including three men who are Mike’s weekly walking buddies
  • A fantastic job as Assistant Director of Ministry at Christ Church East Bay and terrific colleagues
  • Life at the convent: great location, great price, great bay views, and great Christian housemates! We have two small rooms and a bathroom to ourselves and share large common areas, a backyard, and a garage for storage. I would never have guessed that we would live in community, but I love having seven other adults and a baby to share life with, especially in the pandemic, Sunday evening suppers together, and many bonuses like the chapel with an enormous roll-down screen for livestream church and Netflix.
  • Reconnecting with old friends (we’ve only just begun)
  • Conservatorship in California instead of guardianship in Florida, which means no more having to submit an annual accounting and personal plan or the ongoing associated legal costs 
  • Distance from the tragedy of what Immanuel became when untethered from truth and the Bible (a story for another day, Luke 12:2-3)
  • Bay area weather, hiking, food (especially bakeries), culture, etc.

We miss (and give thanks for): 

  • Florida friends (so many lovely people we’ve known through our 23 years there, but especially those who stuck with us these past couple years) and Mike’s amazing team of regular helpers (true miracle workers)
  • The Stetson School of Music community (a real family to me), the wonderful music they shared with me, and all the ways that being there daily enriched my life, as well as many others across campus 
  • Mike’s regular routine of adult daycare and helper/miracle workers
  • New Smyrna Beach and our weekly walks there, with stops at the Wake-Up Cafe for breakfast and Aldi for cheap groceries

Please pray for:

  • Settling in: we have come a loooooong way, but we are still in a new state, new living situation, new church, and new job — while the pandemic rages and complicates our transition
  • The speedy reopening of adult daycare centers so that there would be more diversity in Mike’s days (and mine)
  • Mike’s adjustment and health: he can mostly find his way around the convent and usually remember our housemates’ names, but it’s hard work! He still struggles with random pains and has begun an additional medicine for headaches, and that’s hard too. Please keep praying for his full and complete recovery.
  • God to use us here, as we’ve prayed, and for us to be a blessing to our housemates, Christ Church, local friends, and especially our family here in the Bay Area / Northern California
  • Our children: Madeline in New York, Luke in Florida, and Lydia here in San Francisco. It hasn’t been easy on them (with the pandemic, Lydia never got a last visit to the only childhood home she really remembers), and we are very far from Maddie and Luke while the pandemic rages. We are so proud of them! May the Lord hold them fast.

Thank you for reading this far and for all your prayers and love! Our Christmas prayer for you, with much gratitude:
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21)

Maria for the family

P.S. I hope to get back to blogging regularly in 2021, but in the meantime, I highly recommend the top sermon on the “Favorites”, The Joy of Your Master, part 2, on the parable of the talents.

4 thoughts on “California, Here We Are!

  1. Thank you for sharing this Maria! While we weren’t close on a daily basis in FL, I always enjoyed seeing you and catching up, even if it was just at the mailbox. Your family is special and I’m tearful reading this as I am so happy that you are where you need and want to be. Sending love.

  2. Jennifer

    What a beautiful story of hope, perseverance and faithful obedience! Y’all continue to spark encouragement in us by sharing your journey.

  3. Mike Marathon - A Story of Big Hope

    I feel the same, Linda! I love following what’s going on with you and your handsome guys. Congratulations on 10 years of MeStrong, and may the Lord bless you and keep you!

  4. Joyce Carley

    Hi Mike and Maria
    It is so good to hear that you’re doing well. We miss seeing you at Immanuel and continue to pray for you all.
    Blessings for your continued health.
    Mike and Joyce Carley

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