This letter has been a long time coming, I guess almost five years in the making. I not going to lie, I guess if I was to write this letter about two and a half years ago, it would have sounded more like, good riddance. But it's not that. At all.
You see, I was so excited to move here, you were a brave new world for me and my new husband. Your mystery and promise for a new life for Tim and I, and the fact that you had four malls withing twenty minutes of each other, lured me in, I took the bait. And at first, things were great, I guess. But then, reality started to set in...hard.
It started to feel like that you were transient, many came and went, few stay to settle down. I mean, lets be honest, we very rarely meet those who are born and raised from Orlando, they even joke about having a club for themselves. There was the never ending search for something that looked like a "suburb". Orlando, you have no perimeter, so you just keep going. I mean, literally, I can drive for over an hour and STILL BE IN ORLANDO... what is that!?! For some reason, stucco houses are everywhere... everywhere... And I mean, seriously, it's hot here, so... why don't people plant more trees?? I know, hurricanes come through, so trees are bad in that instance. So, for the remainder of the HOT year, we are punished with no shade because a tree might fall on you if there happens to be a tropical storm/ hurricane? And why does it seem Brighthouse is the only provider for cable/internet? Do you actually make people submit to a driver's license test, or when they turn 16 or come to this country from another one (that doesn't believe in any kind of road rules) you just hand them a license? Is that why the lines in the DMV are not that long? And, instead of pulling me over for failing to use my blinker, why don't you pull over the idiot that is weaving between lanes going 80mph during rush hour? It also seriously seems like white women between their 20's and 30's seem to disappear, or are just swallowed up by Central Florida. When I moved here, it seemed monthly women were disappearing. What do you have against young women, Central Florida? Tolls. NO. I hate them... why? And really, what's with being called "The City Beautiful" that's kinda vain...
You were annoying. That's what you were, a pain in my side. And with each passing day, I wished and dreamed for the soft mountain breezes, and seasonal changes of my beloved Georgia. When I called my family and they were having an impromptu get-together, I would inwardly cringe and cry, and hang up the phone really fast. Birthdays of my niece and nephew kept having to be missed. I missed April's 30th birthday EXTRAVAGANZA. As much as we both wanted to be around for all events that happened, we had to financially prioritize what was important. And anyone who lives away from family knows that not only is that painful, it gets personal, and someone's feelings always get hurt, always with yours as well. It's hard.
So, I didn't like you, and I prayed, and I prayed. And slowly, things happened step by step that slooooooowly started opening me up to you. Maybe it started with my job. Not only did I end up working with an AWESOME group of women who were not only as passionate about child welfare and advocating for the safety of children, but also they were just plain ol' great friends and co-workers who cared and supported each other even when we were not at work. It was working with these women who were so diverse, not only culturally, but in our faiths, relationships, how we were raised, and many countless different other ways that I really learned and practiced that you really CAN truly love someone and support them, even if you don't necessarily agree with them on different issues.
It was at work that I was forced beyond my comfort zone. I went into houses, apartment complexes, trailers, ghettos. I had a client whose pitbulls chased me as well as started to fight each other right at my legs. I prayed for the safety of children that was certain would not be safe at night. I kicked a wife-beater out of his house. I made a young hispanic girl's mouth drop when I read her inappropriate love letter she wrote to her boyfriend in spanish. I literally watched a 17 year old child run away from me. Just straight booked it out of her sister's apartment. I was present when a mother has a psychotic break in my car. I remember talking to an older child and having to tell her it was really not her fault she was sexually assaulted by her cousin, but I was there the day that she walked in freedom away from such wrong thinking. I worked with a 17 year old that was shot while trying to rob a drug dealer who would never walk again. And yes, I did visit a mother in an apartment complex that a triple homicide has occurred recently at the time. (No worries though, I only wen there during the day!)) My favorite would be my older kid who was going on her second baby by the time she was 17, she was such a leader if she put her mind to it! Honestly, the people frustrated me, they made me mad, I screamed at some of them, I thought some were sick, some did frighten me, but mostly, most of my cases were just plain sad. Because all these people were doing was living in the chains and the cycles of crud that they only knew how to live in. They didn't know any different. It makes me so so sad, knowing how much I love my daughter, to know there are so many people who long to love like that, but don't know how, because they were never shown such kind of love. Orlando, I walked behind your closed doors. I talked to your hurting, your drug-addicted, your abusers. I don't hate you because of them, you showed me there are people out there beyond what my eyes would just like to see, and you challenged me to help them.
And then Orlando, you showed me your fun side. We adopted our dog and you showed us your dog parks, Fleet Peeples being my favorite. We met so many dog people, and had so much fun taking Riley to new parks and being his charming self. We discovered fun places that were NOT Disney, like Lake Eola on a Friday night, and the Farmer's Market in Winter Park in Saturday mornings. And there is almost always some type of festival coming through Winter or College Park every other month. We found places to walk around that made us loosen up and not feel so wound up by the city itself. And Orlando, I've got to hand it to you, you know how to eat. Dexter's, Bosphorus, 310, K, Ravenous Pig, 4Rivers, Fuji Sushi, White Wolf Cafe, Ghiarbaldi's... Basically any place off of Park Ave or College Park, and then a million places in between. Tim and I have eaten VERY well in your city, and you have proven to house the finest cuisine from many different countries and cultures. So, we blame you for our weight gain...
And then Orlando, although I really, really, really, really love fall. Everyone who knows me knows its my favorite season. So, for the longest time, I kinda really, really, really hated you when it was fall time. You showed me something. The pleasure of having no winter, like at all, rarely! I mean, there was that one year, where for some reason you thought six weeks of cold weather was funny. But, other than that, I mean, I kinda love you in December. When the rest of the country is freezing their rear-ends off and going through depression cause they haven't seen the sun in a week, you show up with 80 degrees, balmy, and a nice breeze. I can walk outside in shorts and feel refreshed. I must say, it is a nice touch. So, yeah, I'd say you made up for your lack of season change, with giving me five good years of no winter, whatsoever...I don't know what to think about that.
Orlando, it is here that we joined First Baptist of Orlando. Wow. What can I say? I guess I could go on and on about what an amazing church it is, but that would be taking away from the Creator of all churches. The Lord Jesus Christ put us in your city, and lead us to this church. I loved being apart of a congregation of all types of colors, backgrounds, countries, even growing up in different denominations. Where people go to honestly worship the Lord, study His Word, and participate in the community to love on people and share Christ's love. The church that believes it's not enough to give to those who have nothing, but to know their names, invite them to dinner, and love on them as if they have everything. Where I look out and there is not one set color of people. Where we are all learning to get past our comfort zones, and trust that each are coming in their own personal way before the throne of Jesus, no matter the language, culture, hurt, habit, or hang-up. I have loved feeling so at home with people who are so far away from their "homes." Learning that "home" is such a transitive word, because "home" is wherever God wants us. Because I have a family here, Orlando. So many people who do not like you, ended up here with me. We all loved having the same gripes together! But that is a side note, Commissioned is here in Orlando. They were/are my family. It took a little bit, we had to get past the newly-wed stage. The stage of looking like we had it all together, that we all loved our mates 100% of the time. We had to get past that to cry with each other, to share our struggles, to pray for each other, to carry our burdens. When our spouses didn't have jobs for years, when our family members died, when our spouses had health issues, when we were going to the mission field, when we had pregnancies, when we had miscarriages, when we had preemies... We had EACH OTHER! There was much laughter, and many tears. We didn't agree on some things ourselves, there was some inner turmoil, but we LOVED each other... I mean I LOVE them now and forever. I remember one of my friends reaching down and squeezing my hand one time during a prayer, cause we both wanted to have children, and both were not pregnant... It was the simplest act, but just to know, someone understood. They are the only ones beside my blood family, that know how much and how easy it is for me to cry, and they understand and do me the favor of pretending like it didn't happen. They give real hugs. And with each new friendship formed in my class, Orlando, I came to treasure you more. There is not an area I can go to without knowing someone I love, so there are wonderful memories all over your map.
Then we moved to Lake Killarney. Side note, if anyone has not seen where I live, you should, it's beautiful, I'm not bragging about where I live, I'm just saying, for the past two years, I have rounded a corner that looks over one of the most beautiful natural lakes, and my house has the most calm and serene view in the evenings. I loved it so much, I hated leaving it for work. So, I quit work. A long walk to talk to Jesus over looking the lake and calm so many nerves. Thinking about this not being my home anymore breaks my heart. But then after we moved to Lake Killarney, we got neighbors. Not just neighbors that live next to you, no, the Blackwells live two streets down. But neighbors all the same. That short five minute walk between our two houses has been our life line for the past two years. We have partied much, laughed much, cried much, prayed much, but most importantly loved much between these two houses. The depth of love and loyalty I feel for the Blackwell clan is very deep. But they know how much they mean to us. We were both here for the past two years. Being able to confidently walk into someone's home unannounced and them letting you in despite the condition of themselves, their children, or their house speaks volumes about the relationship you have with that person. So instead of gushing, I'm just going to let the past two years as neighbors speak for itself between the two of our families. But Orlando, you will always be the city with the lake, that holds those memories between our families.
Then, we had a baby. We didn't just have any baby either, we had Karis. Have you seen how much I love my child? Do you know how much she means to me? Have I not made you a little annoyed at the amount of pictures I send to you or post on facebook? I recently described her as winning the lottery. Every. Day. And I had her here, in Orlando, in one of the best hospitals I could have asked for. I'd say overall, the pregnancy/mother experience has been pretty awesome. Orlando, we took Karis out for her first stroll here. We have pictures of her at Lake Eola, Winter Park, church, all over the map, you name it. She rolled over here, she sat up her, she smiled for the first time here, she babbled her first unintelligible words here, and pulled up here. I do think you will not get the pleasure of having her take her first steps here. Sorry. But, as much as I will try to raise my daughter to be a sweet Southern Peach, she was my Florida Sunshine first. She'll always be my Florida baby. She may even get confused at some points in her life and ask, why was she in born in Florida, and I'll smile (yes smile, or half smile) and tell her about our life here. Playing in grass on our lawn, walking around the lake, laughing and playing in the malls...So, you get the Orlando. You own the early days with my daughter.
So, Orlando, here we are. In five days, you will not be our "home" anymore. You will be the place on the map, where somehow, I will look on you fondly?!? I will try not to talk about you too much to people I meet because they will probably just think "Well, if you like it so much why did you leave?" And that would be awkward, cause people down here, have heard me voice my disapproval of you... well, lets just say, more than some;). What do I tell you? I can't really, thank you for all my experiences, because ultimately, it was God who sent me all these beautiful people and places in my life. But Orlando, you house these people, my memories, my places. What do I do with you? Orlando, you be good to my people. Continue to be the city that holds the hopes and dreams of these beautiful people. Because, Orlando, you can have all the theme parks in the world, beautiful weather, and good times, but what really made me love you was the people you hold. They have all come together to place an Orlando-shaped tattoo on my heart. I leave with one of my favorite quote from one of my favorite Broadway musicals: