The Journey of a Joyful Nomad

Posted in: Stories

Written by Karen Jacobs

Being the new person in town, I want to curl up in a protective ball. (Insert dramatic sigh here.) It is that sinking feeling every time I have to fill out new patient paperwork, visit new churches, try out new hair salons (get scary haircuts), explain to people that we are living in the Navy Lodge for six weeks while looking for housing, reassure our two boys that we will not be homeless, and introduce myself for the thousandth time. It is that sinking feeling that no one knows me.

God has given us so much through the military, but regular Permanent Changes of Station (PCS) make me battle weary. My husband has been in the military for 20 years. For the first seven years of marriage, he was in the SEAL Teams where he frequently traveled, but we did not move. Then, he decided to leave the Teams and become a doctor, which is a long road! While he completed school and started residency, he remained active duty, and we became a part of the “Big” Navy community. Ten years and five cross-country moves later, here we are! 

Is Normal Necessary?

Several moves into my journey of unknowingly becoming a “joyful nomad,” God began to reveal to me that I needed to let go of “normal,” build a portable life, and keep my heart soft and open to what He was doing in my life. Currently, my husband still has 15 years of military service owed for school. I can either dig my heels in, resist, and be miserable; or I can dig my teeth in, become flexible, and choose to be a joyful nomad.

But it was not easy to let go of “normal.” I assumed the first two-thirds of my marriage would have normal relationships, a normal schedule, a normal living situation. Normal meant having a personalized “forever” home. It meant having a community and building on a purpose. It meant having a feeling of history in one place, which brings a sense of continuity. 

Underneath, I felt frustrated because relationships, purpose, and personalization take TIME and PERMANENCE! How is this possible when we move frequently? Several moves into our nomad life I asked myself a key question: “Is normal necessary?” No! God had a plan for our life, and it didn’t depend on “normal.” We had to discern what God wanted our lives to look like. To be a joyful nomad, I had to let go of “normal” and embrace the life to which God was leading us.

Building a Portable Life

I got to work building a portable life. We released our idea of owning “forever” houses. Most things we purchase now (especially furniture) are portable, travel well, and can be used for many purposes and in many different styles and sizes of houses.  I began to homeschool our two boys. We learned to travel well. We plan fun stops, which include national parks and visiting friends along the way. It means not driving 24-hours-a-day, not powering through, and definitely planning ahead with good audiobooks, music for everyone, and snacks! 

We are still improving our portable life.  Our next move is coming up, so we replaced our car with something with more room as our boys are growing. We are also strategizing about better ways to pack our car. We have found luggage and storage bins that can be easily taken in and out when we stop for the night, which happens nine to ten times during a cross-country trip. And we plan for inevitable delays in moving in or out. There is often a transition period before and after when you do not have access to all of your personal belongings. 

Building a portable life also means knowing your family “team.” What gives them life? Is it working out? Playing with Lego bricks? Having art supplies? Playing board or video games? I make sure to have these things available during transitions. 

Cultivating traditions and history are also important to building a portable life. They give a sense of history and connectedness and do not have to be tied to a location. They can be as fancy as holiday traditions or as simple as movie night. Even though I have never been a person to hang family pictures on the wall, I began to see how I need visual reminders of the history of my marriage and my family. We also treasure photo albums and collections of mementos from our travels. Even though we are in new places frequently, we still have history. 

Finally, staying connected with friends from previous duty stations is important. I am an introvert and having a large network is not something I do well. Generally, I pick a select group of friends and try to contact them regularly. God has brought many great people and loyal friends across our paths. I have learned so much from them and find value in having people who know me. 

The Life God Designed for You

You have to figure out what works for you and your family. Building a portable life means a shift in your mindset, traveling well, knowing your team, cultivating traditions, remembering your history, and staying in touch with family and friends. 

Although frequent Permanent Changes of Station can feel like wandering alone in the desert, it is where we must stay open to what God is doing. In the Bible, God often brings people to the desert to mature them. 

Intuitively, when I am here in the desert, I want to disengage, isolate, and stress bake. But I know in the desert, I am where God speaks, where God leads, where I am stretched.  When I stop fighting what God is doing and lean into what He is teaching me, I can see our life from a new perspective. I have learned many spiritual lessons during our moves.

The most important point to remember is that life is not formulaic. My path might have similarities to yours, but there is no “normal.” We must discover the life that God designed for each of us, and live that life well. Join me! In my joyful nomad journey, I would love traveling companions. 

Karen Jacobs is a military wife of 17 years as of July of 2022. Her husband, a Navy SEAL for 11 years, later trained to be a medical doctor in the Navy. She is a homeschooling mom of two boys, a USA Swim Deck Official, and loves to read, cook, and practice hand-lettering. Karen and her family currently live in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.