Travelers that we are, we all have a good sturdy backpack and high-quality carry-on.
When packing for our Home Assignment in December we all giggled at each other from inside our closets. What kind of clothes could we pack from our now completely tropical wardrobe? I kid you not, we had no jackets, no long-sleeved shirts or clothes that would keep heat in. Our wardrobes consist of light, airy materials that hopefully don't cling when the sweats inevitably come on every day. Our bags were quite light, and we looked forward to feeling cold. We also didn't know that we would experience a Spring, a Summer, and possibly a Fall on this home assignment.
I have hesitated to write this blog post for months. Like everyone, we had plans for 2020. It seemed silly to write about the plans we had when everyone had hopes that were crushed at the same time. However, hope is contagious. It fills us with longings we may not have even known existed in our souls. I feel compelled to share this hope, but for the sake of the journey first, walk with me in the valley.
We arrived in December 2019 excited to see our family and friends for a few months before returning to our lives, our ministry, and our dog in Colombia. Most days I am still confused about where we are and why. I know many can relate to that.
It's bizarre. Why am I here? What are we to do? Where will we be in a month? A year?
We busy ourselves with schooling, yard work, neighbor's yard work, hobbies, reading, and studying. All the while the questions float around and we try to acclimate to life back in the States after three years living abroad. But should we acclimate? At first, we hesitated to unpack our bags including our Christmas gifts already packed to enjoy in Colombia.
I am not a stranger to feeling like I don't belong. Having lived most of my life in a country not my own, no matter how hard one tries, you don't ever quite "fit", especially when you are blonde and almost 6 feet tall. It has been intriguing to watch our family feel that here in the States now as well. The reason? Our hearts are forever set on pilgrimage.
Sometimes you don't realize you are in a valley because you've been simply putting one foot in front of the other. Furthermore, clouds move in and disorient the path.
Just a few weeks ago I stepped fully out into the elements from the covered garage. It was surprising to feel a gentle breeze in contrast to the stifling humidity of Georgia in the summer months. I looked up into the cloudy evening wondering if it would rain. After glancing confidently at the weather app and seeing no rain or storm in sight, I set out to walk the 4-mile loop of my in-law's neighborhood.
Within 10 minutes big droplets invigorated my walk, but then a nearby flash lit up the sky followed by the loud warning: KABOOM! Immediately turning around, I began to jog back to the house. Realizing just how far I had already walked, the jog turned into a sprint as the rain began hitting me sideways. It felt like a monsoon had come in with a fury. My heart pounded and I was surprised to find a smile on my face. Exhilarated, I contemplated the storm undetected by radar.
Three weeks ago, I found out my mom's cancer is back after a 21-year remission. A week later as we wrapped our heads around what that meant, she began cancer treatment. Meanwhile, my daughter broke her radius and ulna in her forearm. I knew we were in a valley, but the storm caught me unaware.
Everyone is facing challenges and feelings of displacement in 2020. You may be in the same home as 2019, but the world around you has shifted, knocking you off balance.
The truth is that we have been displaced. The valley is not our home. Storytellers have been hinting at this longing inside each of us of movement throughout centuries. Think of the most epic stories in history and what they have in common. These epic stories are a journey of some sort. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Homer's Odyssey. Swift's Gulliver's Travels.
"My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord." Psalm 84:1
Do I long for the home in Colombia that we made? It isn't our home.
Do I yearn for things to go back to normal? There isn't normal.
It is so tempting to look back fondly at different places and spaces in time with rose-colored glasses. It is wonderful to have memories and joy for the times and places I have lived. However, each time and place has had unique life challenges. Whether I can believe it right now or not, I will look back on 2020 remembering the closeness of our family resting together more than anything else. Do I feel that every day now? No. As scary as the storm was that caused me to sprint home, I recollect with fondness the surprising smile the experience brought me.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.
Psalm 84: 5-7
So what do we do? We set our hearts on pilgrimage. We look up anticipating a movement forward. We may be in a valley but look around. Look for the springs that sprout up in the valley. Drink, yet continue to set your eyes ahead. We receive our strength to strength every moment in the valley. It causes us to be open and to receive. We wait in expectation.
Give me eyes to see, Jesus. I need your eyes to see things the way you see them. I need your vision. I can't see anything from this valley filled with storm clouds. You haven't left us hopeless. You have set our hearts on pilgrimage. The journey is the story. The journey IS the process you are using to grow me. Take my life, Lord. Consecrate this valley for Your Glory. I am blessed because my strength is in You.