The Year of Discovery: A partial manifesto

(By Alys)

Alys & family-3715-web

Over the past six months, we have quit our jobs, sold our house, pulled the kids out of school, and bought a VW van. We think we have enough money saved to last a year on the road.


By any standard, we have a very comfortable and satisfying life right now. We have more money than we need. We are safe and well cared-for. We work a reasonable amount of hours per week that allows us a good amount of time together as a family. We have a strong community that has seen us through some very hard times and some incredibly joyous ones. The kids are thriving. There’s nothing to run from, and many good reasons to stay right here.

And yet… we have been feeling a steady and persistent call to something different, something that we can’t imagine yet.

A wise friend once told me there are two ways to think about the future. You can think of the future as a direct result of all your planning and decisions. From this point of view, the future is like a bank account – what you have at the end of the journey is determined by what you put into it over the years, with very few surprises.

But you can also think about the future as a mystery that is walking toward you all the time. The details only become clear as it reaches you in the present moment – everything else is fuzzy and amorphous in the distance. This is how Danny and I choose to see the future, as a mystery that God is creating for us all the time, full of surprises we never could have anticipated and blessings we never would have imagined for ourselves.

Over the last year as we have started to talk about this with friends, we have gotten a lot of questions about the future. Where do we think we will end up? How long will this journey take? Where are we going to visit on our Year? No doubt these are important questions that will need answers at some point. But they are part of the future, and they have not come into our line of vision yet.

What are we going to do on our Year of Discovery?

Now, I am just going to admit I don’t like this question much. I’ve always been Type A, high-achiever, and I always have a project. I’ve got three to-do lists (gotta-be-done-today, should-be-done-this-week, and things-to-do-if-I-finish-what’s-on-the-other-two-lists). I’m not kidding.

Living in the fast-paced world of our nation’s capital the last eight years, and New York City the previous six, I received all kinds of social encouragement for this behavior. I got promoted at work. People really wanted me on their committees. And, I was often sick, tired, annoyed, and waking up at night blurting out random lists of things I was trying to keep track of (School permission slip! Tomatoes! Team meeting!)

Well, folks, I’m taking a break. We are taking a break. This Year, the only things on our to-do list will be:

Family Time: At present, our family gets up in the morning, eats breakfast, and then we go four completely separate directions until dinner. I have never spent as much time with my kids or husband as we are about to spend together.

We can only guess what this will be like. There will be little privacy and few people to buffer our conflicts. When Danny and I argue, it will be in plain sight of the kids. When we make mistakes, there will be no hiding them, or at least not for long. No doubt there will be at least one knock-down, blow-out fight where some or all of us will scream that this was all a huge mistake and we need to go right back ‘home.’

We have lived long enough to know that God is intensely present in those moments of despair and conflict, and we hope our faith will sustain us and bring us closer through those times. Alternately, we may vote someone out of the van.

Stepping back from the noise. There is a lot of noise in our life right now. We have two demanding jobs, four (often conflicting) social calendars, school and homework, sports activities, church, and the list goes on. We have embedded ourselves in many relationships and activities during our time in Washington. That has brought us an incredible community, and it also has made us very busy people. Lots of voices call for our attention. On our Year, we hope to find space to be still and listen closely to God’s voice.

Learning, learning, and learning. In many ways, we have felt for a while that going to work and school every day is getting in the way of our learning things that we really want to know. For example, I would love to take a course in orienteering so that next time we go hiking I can lead us back to the path when Danny gets us lost. Nico wants to learn how to build stuff.

And we want time to ask the big questions. One question we have in particular, is how are different people and communities envisioning a sustainable future in the face of climate change and all the challenges our world is up against, and how are they ‘making it work’ as they journey toward that future? Surely other families have asked themselves the same questions we are asking. What answers have they found? We expect to do our own version of snowball sampling, learning about different projects and ways of living as we go.

We’ll be writing about what we find here. Except when we don’t feel like it, because we are busy hanging out or enjoying the stillness.



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