Leaving Rockford Illinois on the way through Normal and then on to friends in Indianapolis, I began to reflect on all the places we’ve seen in recent weeks and months. From Kenya to France to a place that feels a little like home in New Jersey. We packed the little white Volkswagon to the gills and pointed it south, and later west. So far west we almost touched Idaho. Ten thousand miles later, looking at Renee in the seat next to me as I drive, I notice that she looks weary as we enter the homestretch of our journey.
I think the transitory nature of the missionary life can be harder for a wife and mother than it is for her husband. God gave women more of an innate desire to settle, make a home, and build relationships and memories rooted to a place. I have some of those same leanings, but they are less dominant than my will to simply toil—the curse we inherited from Adam’s rebellion—toil to provide and protect my family, and now in the grace of a redeemed life, toil for God’s Kingdom and His glory. Where I land does not seem to matter as much as it does to Renee, something that is palpable as I look at my lovely wife across the front seat of an automobile that contains but a piece of our life while another piece is back in New Jersey, and yet another in Africa.
Renee and I have had many a long talks, and some tears, about these things. Where and what is home? Will we ever feel like we’ve arrived there? Is it OK to feel homesick while at the same time certain God has called you to a place far from home? What will it look like when God calls us to another place?
I’m not sure I have the answers to those questions, but God did give me some insights over the course of our travels this furlough. We have had the unique joy of visiting many, many great people along the way. Long-time friends, family, and even some new faces. We’ve stayed in their homes, shared meals, and listened to their stories. The stories are so different, but a common thread of faith runs through them. Rich or poor, young and looking forward or old and looking back, comfortably settled or barely holding on, the people we have sat with and laughed with and prayed with are all, in some way, still searching for that place that is home—much like we are. It comes out in various ways—in irrational and extravagant generosity, in the longing we so often express to see God’s purposes borne out in our lives, in the difficult circumstances that remind us how relationships are infinitely more valuable than our job or our house or our plans.
In Genesis 3 we learn that mankind was expelled from the Garden, and sometimes it seems as if we are trying to get back in on our own terms. Our culture tells us that we can essentially rebuild a kind of Eden right around us—with so many comforts and securities—and so achieve a lasting happiness. And if we somehow can’t achieve this on our own, our government can do it for us. It is an empty promise, and deep down we know it. What made Eden a paradise was not the place, but the Person. Adam and Eve walked with God—literally walked with him in a selfless, loving, unshakable friendship of the sort you might see in an old married couple walking hand-in-hand in the park.
While we were visiting down south this furlough, we spent a lot of time with the church where Renee and I met and were married. I spoke there on a Sunday and a Wednesday and we were, as always, showered with ridiculous amounts of love and support. One evening before VBS got started, Renee and I were standing in the fellowship hall in pretty much the same spot where we stood receiving guests at our wedding reception 16 years ago. We had taken a step back to watch everyone chatting and eating. We just stood there quietly, leaning against each other slightly, looking still very much in love. An elderly man stood up from one of the tables and walked over to us, grabbed Renee’s hand and began to talk. He told us how he and his wife used to sit a couple rows behind us in church many years ago when we were dating and how they used to smile as Renee and I inched closer and closer to each other over the length of a sermon. He went on to tell us that his wife passed away just a couple years back and how much he missed her. They were married nearly 60 years. And in his eyes, slightly wet with tears, I could see him looking past this world—looking homeward.
A home is a good thing, one of the mercies of God given to us in the blessings of shelter, community, family, and all the accompanying joys. And for Renee and I, there is sometimes a small sense of loss that we have perhaps missed out on some of these things because of the path God has taken us on. But I am reminded that when we are truly looking homeward, we are not looking at a lifestyle or a physical structure or a place on earth. We are looking at our heavenly Father. None of us are ever so close to home as when we are walking with Him.
As we pack our lives into boxes again, board that plane and land in Africa again, jump back into ministry again, pray for us to keep in step with God—no matter what comes our way.