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Forty-three and a half years ago on a hot Phoenix afternoon, I guided my 1974 baby-blue Ford LTD north on the Black Canyon Freeway. Jennifer, my new bride, was snuggled up next to me on the bench seat. Three hours earlier on that July 8, we were married at Central Christian Church in Mesa, just east of Phoenix. The church is a half-mile north of a Mormon temple, and the temple is one mile east of where Jennifer was raised.

A campus ministry position awaited us at the University of Illinois 1,600 miles away. For the next two hours, we ascended from 1,200 feet above sea level in Phoenix to 7,000 feet by the time we reached Flagstaff.

At Flagstaff, we turned east and spent the next 10 days meandering our way across the country, stopping at my parents’ home in Colby, Kan., and at my tiny one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, Kan.

In Manhattan we picked up a U-Haul, which we drove to Champaign-Urbana, towing our Ford LTD. We had a hide-a-bed, a small oak table and chairs, a box spring and mattress, and a few boxes. Pushing east, we held hands as we passed Kansas City, St. Louis and finally pulled into Champaign-Urbana.

I thought the Sonoran desert was hot, but the day we pulled into Champaign-Urbana, it was 95 degrees with high humidity. When we stepped out of the truck, Jennifer said, “I can’t breathe.” Those who have lived through late July days in East Central Illinois understand.

We moved into our first home, the empty church parsonage of the Webber Street Christian Church on East Elm Street in Urbana. The church was a financial supporter of the campus ministry where I would serve, and the church elders offered us the two-story, four-bedroom parsonage. After we got our belongings in the house, it looked almost the same as before we moved in — empty.

The first week we arrived, I started walking all around campus. I loved it. I was 23 years old and raring to go. I thought we would have a long campus ministry — probably five years, maybe even six or seven.

Well, we stayed five years all right. Plus 38 more. Champaign-Urbana became our home, and we became townies, even with thousands of people coming and going every year. Finally, last summer, we did what we had seen people do for 43 years. We moved. All the way back to the Sonoran desert, where Jennifer was raised and where we were married on July 8, 1978.

We arrived in Phoenix on Aug. 10. Every day now, I read both the Arizona Republic and the News-Gazette online.

Sitting in our Tempe, Ariz., condo (on the southeast side of Phoenix), on this early January morning, I can’t help but reflect on the ride Jennifer and I have been on since July of 1978, when we pulled that baby-blue Ford LTD out of the valley of the sun and headed north toward Illinois.

But there is a time for everything, and this past winter, Jennifer and I decided to make the move and return to the valley of the sun. I brought my counseling and mentoring ministry to pastors with me. So far, I’ve met more than 50 pastors. With hundreds of churches in the valley of the sun, there are so many opportunities.

Jennifer brought her retirement with her. After teaching for 30 years at the University of Illinois, she retired to do “friends and family.” That means pickleball with old friends she grew up with, reading, and exploring the mountain trails surrounding Phoenix she grew to love as a kid. Since my daughter and her family live out here, we spend LOTS of time with our granddaughters, who get an extraordinary number of votes on what we do next.

I used to tell my mom late in her life that home is where you are. Now that I’m here in Phoenix, I try to follow the advice I gave her. Taking a walk a few mornings back, I realized that my heart was at peace. When that happens, I can be at home anywhere.

So here I am. This is home. And this is the verse I try to keep in the forefront of my mind: “Teach me to number my days carefully, that I may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

Don Follis counsels pastors and consults with a wide array of churches. He blogs at, where you can subscribe to his posts. He can be reached at

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