On Living in Tents and Longing for Home

I had become tired of the constant movement, of the unsettledness that was paired with joy and adventure and trust, but at the same time, had been slowly wearing down body and soul. It struck acutely the night I drove through the eerie dark of a lonely road headed into the heart of Florida. Irma was coming, and after the evacuation order, I was the only one naïve enough to be heading south. An hour away from my parents, I cringed when the radio reported that the eye of the storm had shifted to my destination. There was denial and fear and a realization that I couldn’t go back. Gas everywhere had run dry, and I would have to keep heading toward the storm.

I think I saw the sign for Palatka then, but I didn’t give it much thought.

~

In a whirlwind summer, I had graduated and gone to abroad, moved out of my parents’ just-sold house, and set up camp with friends while the future was a blank page. When I was just about to run out of money, Georgia called. After a few idyllic days in upstate New York eating raspberry chocolate ice cream and exploring trails and laughing my heart out with a best friend, I was sucked into the deep South. My body was in Savannah. My belongings were in Maine. My heart was in another country.

Like so many times in my life, I was in many places at once. And it ached.

~

On the drive back to Savannah after the storm, I noticed sign after sign for Palatka. In Florida, it was the name of a town, but in Russia, it was the word for tent. And with each sign, I was reminded of the theme that God had been writing into my life since I was 12 years old. Just a few months before, with ecstatic joy, I stood in front of the people who spoke the language I loved and read to them from Hebrews 11. I read that Abraham left to follow the Lord, how he didn’t know where he was going, and that that was how my journey had started too, a journey that had led me to them. Those words had so often shot me with strength as a foreigner. But I was beginning to long for an end to the wandering, an end to the loneliness.

I longed for a place that would feel like home. And as the year went on, this feeling grew, and simultaneously, so did the taunts of guilt.

~

Being in this new place, this new culture, brought me again to the mountains I had climbed in Russia: loneliness that I struggled through daily and a job that drew on every last reserve. The difference here though was that this was permanent. I imagined year after year stretching out before me in this unsettled, exhausted state, fulfilling my calling, but wilting by the day.

~

The idea first came in February. My best friend and I were talking on the phone for the thousandth time about how things would be so much better if we were just in the same place. To encourage each other, to support each other in this often perplexing stage of life. And for the first time in years, it struck me as a real possibility.

But as soon as the hope took shape, the guilt that has subtly prodded me for years voiced its thoughts. One of my greatest fears as a Christ-follower is complacency, of becoming so comfortable that I turn inward, cozily ignoring those who need Him while enjoying a life of ease. And my black and white mind reasoned that since the reality I was currently living was anything but comfortable, that staying where I was must be the only way to fulfill my calling. In a mind that is so often uncomfortable with nuance, I had leaned into an almost ascetic viewpoint, the binary being that either I was miserable, lonely, and serving God, or complacent, superficially happy, and ignoring Him.

I longed for a place that felt like home, but I feared that having a home would blur my global vision.

I longed for a family of my own, but the words of Paul haunted me, making me fear that receiving this desire would numb my devotion to Christ.

On one of many nights processing all these thoughts with my Dad, something he said challenged my narrow perspective. “Hope,” he said, “I think you have more freedom in Christ than you realize.”

~

He was right. Absolutely right.

Following Jesus is so much bigger and freer than the way I was living.

As I prayed, discernment came as to what was self-imposed legalism and what was actually His calling on me in this season. And although I firmly believe that God often calls us to specific places at certain times (#russia!), I sensed from Him a beautiful freedom to take a step toward a place I never thought I’d be.

~

I recently was reading Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Jerusalem, and I noticed something early in chapter 29 that I never had before. Although the Israelites were in exile, God commanded them to settle down where they were and to live life in the midst of the imperfection: to plant gardens,  to seek the peace and prosperity of the place they were exiled, to get married and to have children. Far from telling them to live in sackcloth for 70 years while they awaited their freedom, God showed care for His people’s physical needs and compassion for their humanness.

Even in tents, even in a body and soul that groan for more, the Lord gives rest and friendship and the Holy Spirit within us. And I am convinced that as I look forward in joy toward this big move, that this joy is from God. This is the first time in longer than I can remember that I have been so full of hope and passion for the unknown callings ahead of me. So in less than a month, I’ll be packing up my tent in Savannah and pitching it in upstate New York. I suspect that this won’t be my last move. Knowing me, I’ll continue to end up in places I never imagined I would be 🙂 But for now, Burnt Hills sounds a lot like home.

 

Destination: Unknown

Ten years ago, I sat huddled inside a bus with dingy drapes, the steady beat of potholes jarring my head as I tried in vain to rest against the cold window. As I shivered and peered out the glass into the darkness of a Russian night, two questions circled, “where on earth am I going, and what have I gotten myself into?” I sat scared and vulnerable, my mind’s projections of my destination making me wish I could turn the bus around. Fettered by the unknown, I had no idea that I would be swept up into an adventure that would radically change the direction of my life, that I would meet people who would leave indelible marks on my heart, and that I would experience God’s faithfulness with a beauty and depth I had never known. No, all I could see that night was darkness.

In the same way, these last four months have felt similar to that dark night as a twelve year old on my way to Russia for the first time. Anxiety loves to feed off the unknown, and these past four months have been a constant tug-of-war between feeding the indefinite to my anxiety or to my God.

In the waiting, the voice of fear has been a constant attacker, tainting the joy that should be bubbling over. Fear loves to make me turn inward and focus on me and my abilities: “What do you think you’re doing? Who do you think you are? What do you know about teaching? You are inarticulate and will fall flat on your face.” Fear loves to fill my mind with the soundtrack of human approval:  “What if you don’t live up to the university’s expectations? What if everything you do is met with frustration and misunderstanding? What if your students don’t like you?” In short, fear loves to get my mind off God and onto the idols of self and others.

Fear wants to make this adventure smaller; it wants to tame it into something manageable and shaped like me. Fear wants me to lose sight of the vastness of God’s plan and have me settle for something comfortable and controllable. I serve the God who not only created the universe, but redeemed me from my sin, and I don’t want to spit on the sacrifice he made for my freedom by acting as if I were still a slave.

But right now, I feel just as blinded to the vastness of God’s plan as I did when I was on that bus ten years ago. I have two choices in this blindness: fear or faith. When I submit to fear because of my lack of sight, I begin to feel like a shell of myself. Instead of adventurous, I feel apprehensive. Instead of full of life and enthusiasm, I feel bottled, restrained and cold. Instead of joyful, I feel depressed; instead of active, I feel passive. But when I choose confidence in the unseen because of the God whose hand I do see, my anxiety is exchanged for joy, freedom, and perspective.

So in this period of the “night bus,” while my vision is foggy and my mind tempted to fear, I want to walk confidently into the future as Abraham did, who, “by faith…when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)