On Cancelled Trains and Unanswered Prayers 

 “Our need to be in control, to orchestrate the perfect scenario for every journey of our lives, breeds anxiety in our hearts.” – Emily Ley

“There’s no train at 12:57.” 

“Yes…. Yes there is. I saw it on your website.” 

“Nope. No train at 12:57. There’s a train at 12:44 to London.” 

“But I don’t need to get to London – I need to get to Huntingdon.” 

“ Well… there’s no train from here that will get you there. At least not before 3 o’clock.” 

“Okay…” Deep breaths. Don’t cry. Just take your ticket and go to the information desk. This was the only advice I could give myself as I stood at the counter, frustrated with Trainline and with myself for wholeheartedly believing a website. 

I made the first train. An overly kind assistant at the information desk made up for the experience at the ticket counter. I stepped off the string of carts to make a connection – only to discover this journey was far from simplified. 

“All trains to Peterborough are cancelled.”

“But I need to get on a train in that direction to get off in Huntingdon.”
“All trains to Peterborough are cancelled, please stand with the other stranded travelers.” Only in England would missing your train from one county to the next qualify you as a “stranded.” I took my place amongst my fellow sojourners and we made quiet inquires. “Oh headed there. Very good. Be sure to call ahead.” 

“At least it’s not raining while we’re waiting.” 

I don’t think anything bad happens in England unless it is raining – because if the weather is dry you can always fall back on the cheerful caveat “Well, it’s not raining.” What a sadly optimistic reality. 

For me, I wouldn’t have cared if it had been storming. No ounce of water would have made me grumpier or more stressed. I had perfectly timed this journey to arrive in Huntingdon with 42 minutes to spare before an interview for a master’s programme. If I had 42 minutes to spare I could grab a coffee, find the office, sit down, use the loo, take a calm breath – I could be in control. But, the Great Northern line had other plans for my afternoon.

 We waited on the curb of the train station and watched busy workers in yellow jackets talk to bus drivers and cabbies. They piled people into taxis, pulled some out, rearranged themselves, crossed stuff off a clip board and threw furtive glances to the growing crowd of strays. Eventually, I was also piled into a private taxi with a slightly disgruntled driver. Apparently the rail system was having a week of melt downs that resulted in a high taxi bill for their travelers. At that moment, I honestly did not care about the railroad woes. I was in the taxi with two other ladies and I knew mine was not the first destination. We still had some time though. I could make it with maybe 15 minutes to spare – if there was no traffic. 

There was traffic. There was a lot of traffic. I didn’t know the Fens had the potential for so much congestion. We trucked along at a miserably slow pace. We dropped the first lady off, she gave me a sympathetic look and trotted off to her bus. We turned back onto the motor way. Maybe we weren’t that far off… maybe my stop was just ten minutes or so beyond this one…. As much credit as I give GPS systems they are frightfully brutal in their delivery of bad news. Once we were on the motor way the driver’s phone robotically told us my stop was 47 minutes away. Gutted. That would put me about 35 minutes late for my interview providing there was no traffic and assuming I knew how to get to the office. Fitting with the afternoon, there was plenty more traffic. 

I was losing it. I was sitting in the back of a strange man’s car inching along on the A1, late for an interview, hungry, thirsty, with my well-timed plans in tatters. If I didn’t have tears crawling down my face I would have been laughing. The absurdity of the situation was so thematic with the rest of my life and still so disappointing. I felt sorry for the driver and the other passenger. It wasn’t their fault some poor girl was falling apart in the back seat. It wasn’t the driver’s fault there was traffic. It wasn’t anyone’s fault the trains failed us. I wish I could have explained to them what I was feeling and why but I think I’ll just be an odd story for them to tell now. 

I was so desperate for control. This was the first event in ages I felt I really had well planned. My husband is looking for PhD funding. We don’t have it yet. I have applied for a nursing license and have waited and waited. I don’t have it yet. Neither of us have a job, neither of us have income, and we’re steadily using our savings. Neither of us know what is about to happen. We could stay in England with a fully funded PhD. We could stay in England with my husband working as an engineer and me as a nurse (eventually). We could move back to the states – to California, to Texas, to Arizona, to Washington D.C. – for my husband to work there. We could be stuck paying off student loans for the rest of our lives. We could be given $100,000 tomorrow. My eczema could flare up or it could go away for years. We could live to we’re ninety-nine and never have a cent more than we do now or we could die tomorrow and be in Glory. There has been so much out of our control. There has been so much uncertainty in our lives recently, all I wanted in that moment was to accomplish something according to plan. I had applied for a masters in family health. I had been accepted for an interview. I looked up times and directions, made plans, picked an outfit, practiced questions. I called my oldest sister for advice on the British education system. I read articles on the issues plaguing families across the country. I was prepared. The trains were not. 

So, I was sitting in the back of a very kind man’s car, crying, thinking about all the events I could not control – all the bits of my life that were floating haphazardly around me – and bitter that this was now going their orbit. Then, quite distinctly, the Lord gave me peace. I am not a particularly charismatic person but I do believe the Spirit is ever-present and has great influence on us. Sitting on that vinyl seat, listening to poorly chosen radio music and smelling an overwhelming amount of car freshener I was reminded of how perfectly fine my life truly is. I don’t have a job, but I have a passion and many dreams. We don’t have an income, but we have been blessed by our savings and we have a faith that extends beyond our human need. We’re not always in perfect health but we know these earthly bodies will pass away. We do not have a plan for the future – I don’t even know where we will be three months from now. That could be a terrifying thought – or it could be an exciting one. Let’s make it exciting. We don’t have any idea what tomorrow might hold but we’re fortunate to have one another and two families who love us dearly. I don’t have a career at the moment but I have a wonderful husband, a safe flat, and a faith that is growing daily. I don’t have any control but I have a constant reminder of Who is in control of my life. I have a choice to either be anxious about my lack of control or to surrender to His will. 

Let me tell you – anxiety tries to win 8 times out of 10. It usually has a good head start. Bad dreams, break outs, ulcers, fatigue, anxiety settles its symptoms right into my life and it could easily take over if I were to let it. The daily battle is against anxiety. The struggle every hour is feeling the sense of powerlessness and desperation grip my shoulders yet being able to shrug it off in confidence of my Savior. Whatever the issues is, He is in control. I know my problems seem small to many people. There are far worse issues than debt, unemployment, and loneliness. Many people face homelessness, persecution, terminal illness, loss of loved ones – in comparison what I’m facing at twenty-three is child’s play. Yet, the lesson is universal. The anxiety, the desperation, the need for control is well-known to all of us, and the call to rest in Him is for all of us.  This earth is but a withering field. These troubles are but specks of sand in the scheme of eternity. A father who cares for the sparrows will care for His children too. Regardless of our struggles, our mismatched plans, our failures, our situations, His love is secure. It does not change. It does not relent. His salvation is sure. If I lose all else in this world I can still cling to that truth – and it will be enough. He has a perfect plan and I choose to rest in that truth – even if the perfect plan means sitting in the back of a taxi for two hours, late, laughing, crying, and enjoying unseen English countryside.

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On Being Broken

 

We’re all broken. We’ve all been broken. 

You. Me. Him. Her. 

All of us.

We’ve all been crushed, pressed. At some point, we’ve all turned into our dark corners and just cried. We’ve all been hurt, we’ve all been betrayed, disappointed, lost, lonely, isolated. We all know these feelings to some degree. It’s an insult to our own humanity if we say we’ve never felt these things – these terrible destructions. The deformations of happiness, corruptions of our peace, perversions of our true selves. 

And yet, despite being unwanted, brokenness seems to be more human than any other phenomenon. More than happiness, satisfaction, hunger, fear, it seems brokenness is the most universal and the most useful. The realization and acceptance of brokenness is what allows us to come to terms with our own frailty, our own mortality, and our vast capability to care for others. Brokenness forces us to realize there is weakness. There is a problem that needs a solution. It encourages us to turn to He who has been repaired, causes us to hope for our own wounds to heal. It also reveals to us the brokenness in others, which in turn can create compassion, empathy, love, healing, even peace. We cannot solve our own brokenness without also looking around us and seeing the cracks in everyone else. He’s been hurt too. She’s been lied to, she’s been talked about, he’s been hopeless. They’ve been marginalized as well. He knows loneliness. She knows regret. We all know brokenness. 

These are some ill-written observations I’ve made over the past few weeks about my own frailty, how it affects my faith, and how it should inspire my own change. I hope, maybe, this will be an encouragement to someone else who might also be struggling. 

Originally I wanted to speak to the vast amount of brokenness around us – it’s in our food, our bodies, our politics, if you’re in Great Britain right now you can see the brokenness of the National Rail system (Great Rails are coming in 2020!). Oftentimes it seems the world is simply falling apart, but you know that. I know that. So we don’t need to read more about it. Maybe we all just need a reminder to be raw, real and honest with ourselves and our loved ones. No one plans to be broken do they? We all wake up hoping for the best – great successes, noble reputations, immense satisfaction. Yet, some time after that first cup of coffee the reality of living in a fallen world sets in and brokenness emerges. We have to come to terms with it, with an eternal perspective and an immense amount of hope. 

When I was working in a hospital we would have patients who tried to convince the staff they were not ill. “I’m not sick, I’m fine, get me out of here.” “Well, sorry sir but you’re in the hospital, connected to a Pleura-Vac and some very unnatural fluids are coming out of your body – you’re sick.” Why do we try to pretend our bodies are impenetrable? Why do we try to deny that we have aches and pains and in some cases chronic ailments? Who does that benefit? It certainly does not help those who are trying to care for and love us. It does not make the discomfort vanish – it just makes us lonely, tired, and, frankly, liars. Conversely, we cannot depend on our brokenness for our identity. Just as we had patients who were adamant about their health we had others who were convinced they were knocking on death’s door while they had no abnormalities whatsoever. Our ‘malfunctions’ do not have to brand us. We must learn to see all things through the lens of Hope. Paul makes this quite clear in his letter to Corinth, 2 Corinthians 4:16 – 5:1 (NIV) states “ Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” Our physical brokenness is nothing compared to the immense joy we will feel in His presence. Even our earthly homes, everything we put our faith in on this planet – our finances, our degrees, our cars, our success, our power – if we lose it all we can only rejoice for what waits in Heaven is far greater. I say “if we lose it all” but I should say “when” for everything on this earth passes – even the brokenness and the discomfort. 

I have chronic eczema. If you’re unfamiliar with that condition it’s simple. My skin cannot make a complete barrier, the tiny cells cannot build a strong defense against outside particles. This leads to intense dryness, allergic reactions, and many, many moisturizers. My eczema flared when we moved to England, largely due to stress I believe, and it has since become manageable. When I was in the middle of huge flare ups I would return to the passage above and beg for a heavenly body now. The itching, the discomfort, the constant fear of being red or looking ugly were overwhelming for me. I put so much faith in having a working body, in being the whole picture of health – I forgot that this body is on earth for but a second and this spirit is in Heaven for eternity. A rash, however frustrating, is not much compared to endless time with my Creator. Physical illnesses, disabilities, inconveniences are serious and should be treated – but they should not rob us of our joy, our hope, or our identity. 

It’s easy, maybe, to discuss corporeal brokenness, find hope, dismiss the topic and move on. We see the body broken during every communion so we know this is what bodies are made to do – whither, crack, waste away. Looking to heaven we can see the promises of new, perfect bodies and it seems manageable to be content with our malfunctioning ones. I find it’s much more difficult to parse out the brokenness of our minds, our spirits, and our relationships. So many of us are plagued by darkness, anxiety, resentment, or despair and we seem so unwilling to discuss it. Why? Why are we poisoning ourselves by constantly swallowing our words of sorrow, pleas for help, cries of distress? 

Along with eczema I have depression. Have depression? Suffer from depression? Am chronically depressed? I’m not sure what the correct term is, it’s just my reality. Similar to eczema my depression is heightened during periods of great stress, there are good days and terrible days, and it is most likely a life long issue.. Unlike my eczema I have not had depression since I was a child and there is no amount of Aveeno cream I can apply to cheer my thoughts. Also, unlike eczema, depression is difficult to talk about. My eczema is very obvious – most people will kindly ask about the aggravated red rash on my arm. I reply. They’re sympathetic. We move on with our conversation. But we don’t always see depression – I don’t see it when I look in the mirror. I certainly don’t always see it in other people even if I know they are struggling. We are adept at keeping depression stuffed deep inside of us. There it can fester, latch itself onto our organs and begin slowly sucking our liveliness. What happens when it all comes tumbling out? What happens when we’re so desperately broken we can’t breathe? What happens when we’re despairing – and I don’t mean the dinner is burning kind of despairing – I mean the sitting on your bedroom floor with a sharpened knife sobbing and trying to remember how you got there and who you are and why your husband is there kind of despairing. Broken. What do we do then?

We’ve all had bedroom floor moments. We’ve all experienced loss, fear, disappointment, regret. We’ve all tried so hard to hide our own brokenness. We’ve all denied one another compassion, honesty, empathy, companionship. Why? If I had found a cream that really worked for eczema and met someone else who had it I would’t hesitate to give them my cream (or at least tell them about it!). But if I meet someone with depression or anxiety or someone who is just in a particular fragile state, I’m much more cautious about sharing my own story, and much less willing to help. Why? Why are we so afraid to show our brokenness? Why are we so unwilling to help others overcome their own struggles? We see public figures exposed for their sadness and sorrows after they’ve taken their own lives – when it’s too late. Why are we afraid to expose ourselves while we have breath to speak?

In April I had the opportunity to visit Israel. I was able to stand in the Garden of Gethsemane. There I was gently reminded by the Lord how much He understands us. We are not only shown Christ’s victory on Calvary. We don’t skip in the gospels from miracles to resurrection. No, we see Christ’s broken body and hear his desperate prayers. This is part of our salvation story – a Savior who went to great lengths to defeat sin. I think we see all of this plainly written for many reasons. It allows us to grasp the severity of Christ’s sacrifice and the solemnity of his crucifixion. It also allows us to gaze on Christ’s humanity and see how well He can relate to us in our own despair. Christ was in anguish, He was in pain, He was broken and humiliated. Nothing we feel on this earth will compare to the torment He felt on our behalf – but it does mean He understands. He is not lofty when it comes to human pain and suffering. He is the tender father who sits with a tortured child, speaking truth against the lies, bringing healing amidst the darkness. 

So, let us be more like Christ. Let us look at one another with compassion. Let us be the friends who know brokenness, who see it, who vow to help it. Let us not be the ones who say “toughen up” “Have more faith” “Pull yourself together” Let us be the ones who sit on bedroom floors, praying and pleading for peace. Let us be the ones who open our hearts with empathy, the ones who understand that issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc are real and active in people’s lives. If you truly wish to know more about such conditions please read this blog written by a friend, https://noggybloggy.com/2018/02/06/mental-illnesses-suck-so-we-must-talk-about-them/ – he spends a lot of time and effort de-stigmatizing mental illness and offering resources to the public. He does this so that we can be a people who offer help – not condemnation. It’s not a guarantee that we will make it through life without tragedy or ailment but it is certain that we are not without hope. Let us be the ones who know we are broken and are still determined to share our hope with others.  

waiting, again.

Deep within me.

Deep beneath the catatonic

smile.

Depths below the placated 

tone

There, I find them. 

Deep chasms. Great shifts. 

Wells of simply brokenness

Insatiable caverns, hidden within my 

frame. 

Gasping, deflated fleshy lungs flop lifelessly. 

Begging for a breath I cannot give them. 

Desperate for a hope I cannot provide 

Endlessly breaking. Endlessly waiting 

for it all to endlessly carry on. 

– M. I. R.

On Losing Control

I close my eyes. Water surges up to the doorstep. Wind howls outside, trees are ripped up from the ground. Branches beat brutally on the weak frame. The waves outside push against the window, glass shatters. I run up to it and press my bare hands over the broken glass. Stay put, please stay put, don’t break, don’t break. I plead with the forces of nature. Too late. I blink and water is flooding in, rising past my ankles, knees, waist. I blink. My family is floating all around me, rushing past, pulled by the uncontrollable water. Stop! I scream and scream for the water to stop. I blink. I’m crashing into the walls myself. The water carries me onto the freeway, lorries and cars race past me, skidding on the massive puddles. They all collide, cars topple, bodies fall out, people scream and cry and beg. I’m swept away, unable to help anyone, unable to even help myself. I open my eyes. The living room is in one piece. My husband is reading in a chair. Rain falls ever so gently on our windows, drops racing one another down the glass. No flood. No crash. No need to be afraid.

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” – 2 Cor 1:8-10 (NIV)

At times anxiety can be crippling. It often creeps into my life just like the above story, I’m unassumingly going about my day and suddenly scenarios beyond my control (and at times beyond possibility) grip my mind. As a child, a vivid imagination was my best friend – now it’s a haunting picture book of horror. Slowly, with God’s immeasurable grace, I’m learning how to come to terms with anxiety – but when you prefer to be in control any thought or situation that boots you out of the drivers’ seat is unwelcome.

Recently, we’ve been through a long, difficult, exhausting season of uncontrollable circumstances. My husband, Jeremiah, was accepted into a graduate program for Edinburgh University in January last year. We were preparing ourselves for one year in Scotland. I have a sister and brother-in-law in the same city and was looking forward to spending some time near my family. Come early May, Jeremiah, received an offer for a four-year program in Cambridge. After some consideration he chose to take the offer from Cambridge. We were then preparing ourselves to move to a city to which neither of us had been and in which we knew no one. To say I was disappointed about the change is an understatement. My home town is only an hour and a half from Edinburgh – I was relishing the dream of being so close. I would be able to train up for a weekend to run familiar trails, have dinner with family friends, and be surrounded by a recognizable place. It would be vastly different from the past four years of making the unknown city of Jackson, TN into a home filled with friends. I was gutted at the thought of moving to England instead but what was there to say? No loving wife is going to tell her husband to turn down a PhD from Cambridge University?

We rallied after the change of plans were set. We spent several weeks having friends over, sharing last meals and final glasses of wine. Boxes were bought and filled, then unpacked and repacked, time and time again. Jeremiah spent hours working on his visa, only to find out we had the wrong paper work several times. There was no way to expedite the process – visas are objectively sticky. I worked on switching my U.S. nursing license for a U.K. one but soon found that it was nearly impossible to work, pack, say good-bye and plan for nursing exams. We moved all our belongings from Jackson, TN to Laurel, MS in a last-minute UHAUL. Jeremiah’s younger brothers helped arrange everything we own into a neat corner in his parents’ basement. We waited for the visa. Grandparents were visited, aunts and uncles were seen, siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins – all hugged goodbye. We waited for the visa. My father took Jeremiah to a consulate in Houston for a meeting. They returned just hours before Hurricane Harvey hit. We were in my grandmother’s Huntsville home – no electricity, no open roads, and no visa. We waited.

In that suburban home, nestled next to a golf course, I was struck with the reality of how little control either of us had. We could not even turn on the lights, much less produce a visa for Jeremiah, money for tickets, or a job for me. While I wanted to hold every task in my hand, line them up in neat little rows and knock each one down as we completed it – I could not. Not only was it nigh impossible to complete our tasks, at that moment I did not know the extent of our to-do list.

I did not know that when we finally arrived in Cambridge, after receiving the visa on a Thursday, flying on Sunday, quick good byes to siblings, and a long drive from Scotland, it would be lonelier than any other experience. I could not have prepared my heart, with all the task lists or post-its in the world for the sense of total loss, confusion, and despair that were to come.

Pridefully, wrongfully, I had believed being an MK would have prepared me for another move. I thought I would excel at transition by now, my adaptation would be stellar and I would be able to comfort Jeremiah in all his inexperienced despondency. I was incredibly wrong. Rather than enforcing my ability to accept change, this move illuminated all the changes I have not embraced. Through it Angola resurfaced, the move to the Middle East, each good-bye from boarding school, each good bye from university, each manipulation, however slight, to my life over the past 23 years was brought to the surface with overwhelming force. England is lovely. A bit dark but charming nonetheless. I have no reason to fear this change other than the fact I haven’t dealt with the previous ones. Why?

I want to be in control.

I want to be the one calling the shots, cueing the lights, writing the lines. I want to be the one in the know – and I’m not.

And what a relief it has been, after sleepless nights and anxious days, to finally realize this truth. I am not in control – but I believe in the One who is. I am not privy to tomorrow’s realities – but I pray each morning to the One who’s mercies are new, the One who holds my path, the One who has ordained my days. So often we find ourselves trying to over prepare our earthly lives for the next great change instead of preparing our hearts to serve Him fully. I could wear a bullet proof vest, carry two hand guns, own a garage of dry goods, and wear a N95 mask and still I would not govern my next breath.

He does. He always has and He always will. The moment I stumbled on that blessed reality the clearer my life became. Once I can let go of my pride, I can enter more fully into His grace. Once I can relinquish my selfish desire to be in control I can enter more fully into His sovereignty – what a blessed, lovely thought.

C.S. Lewis writes in The Weight of Glory “The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.” On reading those words I palpably felt my heart ease, my very spirit relaxed. Far too often I spend my days thinking how I will accomplish something – whether it is motherhood, a career, continuing education – whatever it may be, when I should spend my time praising the Lord for the trials He has already brought me through. So much of my day is spent begging for grace for tomorrow instead of looking at today and seeing that He has already provided for me, why would I doubt His provision for tomorrow?

As we find in 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 times of uncertainty or troubles, are brought upon us so that we may rely fully on the Lord’s provision – nothing else (Paul was speaking of troubles much greater than moving to England). In these months of change I have had everything I relied on stripped away. I no longer have a steady job, my friends are in a different country, the pastor who married us is in Tennessee, and though this is trivial, I really miss having my own car. These cornerstones of my life in Jackson have been removed, leaving me with my husband and my faith. The past few months have pushed me to the brink of loneliness and anxiety – requiring me to seek solace in Christ with a fervor I never had before. It has been wondrously frightening to feel my faith in the Lord strengthen with each day I spend in His word. I shudder to think what would have become of me if I had carried on as before – never allowing the Lord to shake me, move me, deliberately force me into His Presence so He could work on the very intricacies of my heart. He has been gracious to me and allowed me an opportunity to develop faith I did not know I lacked. I can only imagine the amount of growth in store for the years to come.

And you? You also could carry all the guns in the world and never be safe from violence – or death. You also could take all the vaccines (or take none!), follow all the right diets, always wash your hands and still you will not be free from your broken, fallen body on this earth. Only death, the death which leads to life, will draw us into a perfect eternity. Until then, we can only live our lives day by day – in faith that He who is the God of Jacob is also the Lord of our lives now. And isn’t it much better to live resting in His hands than fearfully fighting with our own?

On Love and Loneliness

On Love and Loneliness

I am a nurse. Often this means my days are long, busy, and exhausting. I am on my feet running from room to room with cocktail cups of drugs while alarms echo in the fluorescent lit halls for 12 hours. Most days, that is the extent of those twelve hours. I go to work, give medicine, chart, turn people, lift people, talk to doctors, chart again, and leave. Some days, though, are much more trying. Some days, like this past Sunday night, I sit beside a dying man and his family. Two weeks prior this man was up and talking, making jokes with me, and telling me his oxygen cannula was in his way – and that he really didn’t need it. Then, he got worse, and I spent the next five shifts caring for him and his family, along with my other three patients. He had been my friend, his family knew me by name, they made sure I was their nurse when I was working. It’s a strange thing to be wanted by a family experiencing death. During the early morning hours, after a long night shift, this man’s son came out to find me. He was crying. I knew. I knew I would have to go in and listen to a hollow, empty chest. I knew I would have to feel for a pulse that was not there. I knew I would have to page the on call doctor, who did not know this patient, so he could sign a piece of paper saying “Yes, death happens.” As we waited for the doctor the patient’s son said to me, “Thank you for being here. I know you have to deal with this all the time. That must suck. I’m so sorry.” His words broke me a little. He was apologizing to me because I have chosen a profession that handles the whole spectrum of life. He was sorry for me that I was young, watching people die, and crying at work.

I replied, “We see a lot here. We see death and healing and we see a lot of families. Watching your family has been a blessing. I don’t often see families who love each other so well. Families who have been loved and have reason to mourn. Thank you.” I had to leave the room to take care of paperwork, he was left alone in a room of solitude and grief.

Nursing can be a lonely job, but it has been teaching me so much about the power of love. Love observed, love given, love rejected, and love returned. Yet, as I learn about love I am realizing it is a lonely endeavor at times. There is much to glean from being lonely and much more to glean from being loved.

Recently a friend recommended Lysa Terkeurst’s new bestseller “Uninvited.” She walks through the lies of loneliness, rejection, and defeat to bring the reader back to His Truth. Using personal hardships and revelations Lysa teaches the reader the struggle of loneliness, how it is perpetuated by the sin in this world, and how the Truth combats it if we’re willing to seek Him. Halfway through the book Lysa talks about the gift of loneliness. She states,

This [being lonely] will develop in you a deeper sense of compassion for your fellow travelers. But in addition to the blessing of compassion being developed in me, those lonely times also seem to be when Jesus lavishes His most intimate compassion on me. (pg. 111)

How true is it that in our moments of deep loneliness, deep darkness, the Lord brings forth great blessings? One example Lysa brings forth of this compassion is the Samaritan Woman. If she had not been alone, outcast from her town, she would not have been approached by Jesus at the well. They would not have had a private, intimate conversation in which she was blessed, convicted, forgiven and loved. Often, in our loneliness, we have time to build up lies and shame to keep compassion at bay. We can tell ourselves we don’t deserve love, we’re not good enough, we’re too different, too screwed up. We can simultaneously tell ourselves we’re too good, we’ve done too much good to repent, we’re too strong to open up, we’re too solid in our faith to admit our flaws.

We’re too solid in our faith to admit our flaws.

I’ve said that to myself before. I’ve told myself all of those lies, time and time again. I have in the same day said “I’m not worth His time or His grace. He will forget me” and “I’m too good to get down on my knees. I know too much about the bible and theology to admit my own sins to anyone else.” The first lie is easily discounted. The Lord loves. That’s it. He loves and He forgives the repentant heart. He loves to comfort and console. He loves to hold the broken heart and make it whole in Him – because that’s the only place it can be healed. The second lie is pride with a lot of fear. When I tell myself that lie, I’m terrified if I start to admit my sins I’ll suddenly realize I’m not saved at all, my sins are too great. I’m terrified people who listen to my struggles, people to whom I confide, will doubt my faith. They will doubt my knowledge of God and His grace. So I keep my sins to myself, do good works, and keep everything in line.

And the loneliness grows.

A few weeks ago my husband and I went to visit some relatives in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. The setting is always lovely and welcoming, and this visit was particularly gracious. It has been a rough season in our lives. We’re constantly battling our own sin as we try to fight for the other’s good. We find ourselves exhausted, and exhaustion leads to miscommunication which leads to tears (on my part) and frustration on both sides. We needed a space to be vulnerable, to be honest, to be messed up, and to be loved. The Lord provided that for us. We were given such good counsel. The most poignant piece of conversation for me was, of course, a Harry Potter reference. As a friend and I were discussing different lies that cloud my mind and make life nearly unbearable, she brought up the illustration of Ron Weasley stabbing the Horcrux with the sword. When the heavy, evil, toxic locket opens a Horcrux Harry and Hermione appear. Ron’s worst fears and greatest insecurities are laid out for him in dark poison. He lifts Godric’s sword, stabs the locket fiercely, and obliterates those false images. She encouraged me to, in a similar fashion, use the Sword of Truth to stab at the lies that feed my loneliness. The devil’s loneliness says you are not loved, not able to be loved, and not at all good at loving others  – and that statement should be stabbed with the tender, honest truth. To wash yourself in His Word is to bring yourself into His presence each and every day – and in the presence of our Maker, with the promise of eternity, how can our hearts long for more?

With battling loneliness comes generously giving love. I’ve always been a huge proponent of the idea of love – you can ask any of my friends from high school and they’ll tell you I was in favor of love. As I’ve grown older I like to think I’ve grown wiser but I never want to reach a level of cynicism that keeps me from loving others, and loving them well. Unfortunately, I think I have much to learn in the area of loving. My husband loves me well. He loves me well because he refuses to let me turn my dejection and loneliness into bitterness and anger – which I do more often than I really want to admit.  When I’m rejected, hurt, or slighted, I all too often bottle up my victimization. It shows its nasty, putrid self during outbursts of vile anger. When I’m hurt and lonely and all too consumed with my sin I say the most terrible things. My husband doesn’t stand for it. He doesn’t address the issue I say I’m angry about, he asks me what’s really wrong, what’s hurting. And then I fall apart, the loneliness, the scars, the refusal to accept grace all comes tumbling out of my trembling mouth. He holds me close – a reminder of God’s grace never letting me go. He loves well.

We all need that. We all need the space to be a sinner, because that’s what we are. We all need someone firmly reminding us that we are broken but we are also forgiven. We all need a mountain top garden to feel vulnerable and safe. I tell my husband frequently, if I had control of any room at any given moment I would tell people to recognize that we are ALL sinners, we have ALL been hurt and we have ALL hurt someone else (probably in that same room), we are ALL recipients of the same love, same grace, and the same command to give that love freely. No strings. No expectations. No bitterness. Just love. Of course, I don’t think I’ll be brave enough to stand on a chair some day and make people talk about their issues and then make everyone bond over the intimacy and closeness that comes with honesty and a strong pot of tea – but if I do you can bet I’ll write about it.

Love is hardest when it involves the people in the same room. It’s easy to love strangers – or it should be. It should be easy to look at the world of broken people and love them, because we too are broken and loved. It should be easy to love those so vastly different from us – politicians, the ‘other’ side, radicalists, whoever – because they too are people. They aren’t just figures on our screens. They are plagued by Satan’s attacks day in and day out. Some have given up fighting for good and have been taken by the world. Weep for them. Pray. Love.

It is much more difficult to consistently love those closer to you – your friend who’s been hurtful (or even hateful), your spouse when life isn’t too peachy, your fellow church members who don’t know you, or those family members you don’t know how to bond with very well. It’s too easy to say “Of course I love them! They’re family/friend/etc.” It’s even easy to hug people and say “I love you” and walk away with no commitment. It is gut wrenchingly difficult to look at people’s hurt, their sin, their past, their loneliness, their struggles with Satan’s lies and share your love with them. It’s desperately hard when you feel rejected, ignored, or dismissed. But we must keep loving. We were created by a loving God to be a loving people.

Jesus looked on those close friends who would desert him, deny him, betray him – all much worse than anything I’ve ever experienced – and He loved them. He didn’t hug them, give a thin lipped smile and say “Yeah, love you.” He gave His life for the ones throwing rocks in His face. He loved us so that we might love others. He loved perfectly so that we may learn how to love well. He loved in the midst of heartache and loneliness so we might know we are never too hurt, too discouraged, too exhausted, too rejected to love others. He is infinite love. He loves us infinitely, when we seek that Love we have a source that cannot be depleted – it must be shared.

Now, I’m not an expert. I’m not in seminary. The bible classes I took at university were required, and they weren’t very interesting. You might read this and think to yourself that I know nothing of love or life or faith. You may be right. I’m only twenty two, I’ve only been married ten months, I’ve only been a nurse for a year. I have so much to learn about love, forgiveness, and the Lord. But please don’t dismiss all of this because of my age or inexperience. I know loving others does not fix them. Love will not bring back my patient or fill his void. Forgiving your friend doesn’t mean she’ll call you back. Reaching out to family does not mean they want a relationship with you. Being honest does not mean you will be liked. But loving people is obedience to the Lord. Loving people well is a reflection of His great love and mercy.  I write this only as reminder that while there is much to do, much to accomplish and much to say in this world there is nothing greater than love.

I love thee Lord, but with no love of mine,

For I have none to give;

I love Thee, Lord; but all the love is Thine,

For by Thy love I live.

I am as nothing, and rejoice to be

Emptied, and lost and swallowed up in Thee.

-Charles Spurgeon

On Brave Melancholy

melancholy

what the sun does warm,
is only external –
the surface of rocks upon which
i slither –
a falling forwards,
a call hither which i can only
respond to with –
weak movements, half hearted
as what could i commit this hear too?
i find solace,
in closed eye reverie,
and detachment through ink
splashed upon the blank page
a single line of text which
does compensate –
rather than the nauseating
surge of all as a wave ,
constantly crashing upon my mental shore
and above all of this –
an agnostic hope, that there is
something more

– phil krell
@travelinonpoetry

“What word would you use to describe your mood?”
“Melancholy?”
“Really?”
“Yes.”
“Interesting, that’s not what I would think from just glancing at you.”
“I know… which maybe adds to the melancholy – that constant struggle of balancing how I feel inside and how I need to portray myself in order to cope in this world.”
“I get that.”
“Yeah?”
“Yeah – sometimes people read my poems and say ‘hey man, that’s a sweet poem’ and in my head I’m thinking – they have no idea how much i cried over those words, they have no idea how many nights I couldn’t sleep until I was able to write down those deep, sorrowful moments.”
“Exactly! And we’re caught in this struggle of wanting to express ourselves but not knowing exactly how or even what other people will accept.”
“Right, so if you could act how you feel most of the time, what would that look like?”
“mmm, ha, well I would cry a lot more… and I would write a lot… and I wouldn’t talk to as many people.”
“Okay.”
“But I can’t do that because… you know work and stuff.”
“haha right, okay, give me a moment.”

This conversation led to the above poem. On a weekend trip in Asheville, NC I met a traveling poet. He had set his typewriter up on the sidewalk, sat cross legged behind it, with a sign propped up saying “Poet for hire.” When I approached him he was reading Emerson, and then he was engaged in a conversation with another traveler about the philosophy of nihilism and Pablo Neruda’s contribution to his inspiration. I was both entranced and terrified. I was desperate to ask this man to write a poem for me, and I was simultaneously frightened of two possibilities. I was scared he would write words so true they would sting, words I didn’t want to hear about my insecurities or weaknesses, and I was just as afraid his work would be disappointing – some paltry attempt at rhyming on a typewriter with words just long enough to be considered eloquent. Nevertheless, I was determined to be brave and try something new – so I walked a block and a half in a strange city to find an ATM, withdrew a crisp $20, and went back to the poet on the street. Our conversation could not have been farther from what I was expecting. His refreshing honesty, his instantaneous acceptance, his very self was so against what I had preconceived in my head. As I sat on the cold, dirty sidewalk and listened to his typewriter clack away a medley of words, I thought – how brave this man must be. I had just told a man who writes poems on the streets for money that I don’t express myself freely because I have a job. I laughed at the irony, and also silently thanked him for not judging me. He typed, paused, typed some more, then read the above poem. Surprisingly, I didn’t cry, I was in so much awe that he captured the essence of how i feel day to day – without making it sound despairing or overly dramatic. I feel the sun’s warmth along with the overwhelming sensations in our modern world – sound, news, noise, busy – sometimes it is too much. Eyes have to be closed, deep breaths have to be taken, just to carry on.

And there is always hope. Perhaps my favourite word, in his poem and in the spoken tongue, melancholy does not mean void of Hope.

Later that Saturday evening, a friend asked “Are you okay being melancholy?” there was no preface of “Wouldn’t you rather be happy? Cheerful? Sanguine? Choleric?” No, just – are you okay?

My answer was a brief version of this. Yes, I am okay with being melancholy. Was I always okay? No.

Last spring I had renewed my prescription for sertraline, a run of the mill antidepressant. It would have been six years since I had started taking that little blue oval if I had finished that script. I didn’t. Now, I have nothing against sertraline or medical mood stabilizers. If my high school counselor had not been able to prescribe something for me I would have spent my junior and senior year in an insomniac state. If my university did not have a nurse practitioner who was encouraging and supportive of the medicine I doubt I would have made it through nursing school. It helped me sleep, it helped me focus, it helped my mind sift through what was important to think about and what could be discarded. It did not, however, help me feel. While previously my emotions had run from one extreme to the next, sertraline kept them steadily muddled in the middle. No outburst of joy, no breakdown of sorrow, no overwhelming anxiety. No reason to feel alive.

So I stopped taking them. I asked my nurse practitioner at the time to help me lower my dose (as a nurse I have to emphasize you cannot stop these things cold turkey, it can be extremely hazardous to your well being) and after a few weeks my mornings were sertraline free. I cried every single day for a month. Of course, this a week after graduation, three months before getting married, and most of my friends were moving away but I was so relieved to cry about all of it. I had been so afraid of feeling I forgot how it helps one process life. When one of my closest university friend moved with her husband, I sobbed and sobbed, and it was good! It proved I had cared, I had worked for strong relationships and they were true. When I got married, I cried for six days. I cried for the sanctity of the choice we had just made, I cried for the grace the Lord had given us – to find a friend and lover all in one. I cried that my family wouldn’t see our first few months of marriage, I cried that we were alone in this journey. I wrote morose poetry, I spent hours reading, I gave myself time to feel all that had changed, all that needed to be felt. And it was all good.

Being happy isn’t equivalent to being content. For so long I believed this. I believed if I was not always deeply happy, ready to laugh and giggle and engage in frivolity I would be seen as stiff, depressed, or just plain wrong. I was afraid people would doubt my faith if they knew I didn’t always feel like singing songs of praise. I don’t know where these assumptions came from – unless they were residue of past remarks. If you’re prone to feeling blue I’m sure you know the cringe worthy phrases “Smile, you’ll feel better!” or “How can you be sad? You’re a believer aren’t you?” Oh, how that last one grates on me. How can we not be sad as believers? As we look around the world and see how far we have fallen from Eden? How can we not mourn our own sin and see His Grace with a reverence that brings us to our knees? How can we not weep for those who do not have our hope in an eternity? And how… how if we know the intricacy with which God created us can we ignore the deep wells of emotions He has given us? Did He make us to be expressionless? Stone faced and somber or with consistent painted smiles? Or did He makes us to feel the spectrum of humanity – and show it all when needed?

I’m no expert on this. I am trying to be more upfront with myself, with my emotions, and with others. Brave melancholy, to me, means knowing what you feel, knowing how to express it, and not being afraid. Brave melancholy means knowing that not everyone feels the same way you do. Some people are indeed continuously happy, rejoice with them. Do not slight people because they don’t feel the same way you do – what humanity would that show? Brave melancholy means I am able to recognize it, feel it, express it, and leave it there. Leaving it is easier said than done. On many days my own melancholy overwhelms me. I have days where I think maybe Sylvia Plath knew what she was doing, maybe that’s the only way. Those are bad days. Those are the days I forget the deep set hope in my heart. The Hope we share with other believers. The hope that this world has much to mourn, and much to rejoice. This world, this temporary residence of our corporeal bodies, is not the home of our tender hearts. No, they are with Him, where weeping is only from joy.

Don’t be afraid of your own heart. Be afraid of stifling yourself in a box prefabricated for you by strangers. I wish I had the words to say all I want on this matter – there is so much more to be written. But I’m at a loss. So I’ll end it the same way it began, a poem, written by a man, about the raw sensitivity of simply feeling human.

‘keep being sensitive.’
the mountains tell me.
the flowers.
the drink.
the stranger.
the music.
‘keep being sensitive,’
life screams.
delicacy is
a forgotten art.

– Christopher Poindexter

On Being a Woman – Tender and Fierce

Before I dive deep into the quirks of being a woman I must first assure you all of something. Though I wish I did not have to preface this post at all, I know the world to be misunderstanding and at times, cruel. So, before I write a long post empowering women, let me remind you I am happily married to a kind, loving, and gentle man. I will not insult his masculinity, his intelligence, or his place as a husband. I do not expect him to fit any sort of mold for a man. I expect him to be the God fearing man he promises to be every day – a faithful servant, a seeker of peace, a generous giver, and a devoted husband. I expect the same from myself – to be faithful, respectful, supportive, generous, and kind. With that being said hopefully you will know that as I write about women role models and share stories about high school I am not discrediting the male gender.

Some eighteen years ago, I was a small, tan little child running up and down the coasts of Portugal. We were there for a single year of language training. It was beautiful. In my room I had a carpet with roads and houses on it. I drove my little cars around the map, right next to the barbies who lived happily on patches of greenery. My sisters had chosen to live together, which they later told me was a plot to not let anyone live with me, and it was a bit lonely in my room. It soon filled up however, with my dreams and make believe games. There was no one I could not be, no hero who’s shoes I could not fill. At four, I was unstoppable. If you look at pictures from that year you will most likely see me wearing a dress up veil. That veil was worn for about a six solid months. I don’t know why, my best guess is that we had watched The Princess Bride too many times and I fancied myself a new Buttercup. Whatever prompted the veil, it wasn’t disputed. My parents were not particularly bothered that their daughter was wearing an embarrassing headdress. No, they were more concerned if I was being kind and compassionate to other children. There is unfortunate footage of my four year old fist punching another child, and I can assure you that incident received much more grief than any piece of dress up clothing I wore. My parents were not concerned whether I played with dolls or cars or reptiles or teacups.  When I begged for a doctor’s kit for my birthday another missionary bought it for me and I was overjoyed – I could be a doctor now. Some days I was a doctor, some days a pioneer, some days a scientist, some days I was just me, playing with some other kids. My parents never tried to reel in my imagination, they never stunted my dreams or tried to fit me into a box. I can never remember being asked “Why are you not like your sisters?” I can never remember my parents asking me why I was not someone else. Their love for me, knowing all my flaws and seeing first hand my sin, is what gives me the courage to share these posts.

Little girls eventually grow up. While we don’t always want to leave our make believe games behind, there is a time when whispering conversations to yourself is no longer acceptable. For me, that time came when I went to high school. I’ve mentioned before that high school is a gruesome place for even the most stoic of people. It is, though, absolute hell for dreamers. Unless you have Robin Williams teaching your English classes, you’re forced into cramped rows of wooden desks, a strict list of dos and don’ts, and an overwhelming amount of scrutiny. I did of course have friends in high school, but only one of my friends would appease my need to play make believe. I’m not sure why I had an insatiable imagination even then, but I know it fueled in me a belief that things, this earth, these people could be better. It’s not wise to be caught up in dreams, and forget reality (Thank you Dumbledore) but sometimes, they’re the only way of making it. So, with this sensitive belief that people will always be good and kind, I walk into high school. Brutal. Quickly I learn – not everyone is nice.

The next three years are a blur of speaking out in class and getting shut down, being called too quiet, too loud, too bossy, too enthusiastic, too dramatic, too weak. While dating is in general messy business, I think dating at boarding school is particularly destructive. Rather than healthy guidelines or mentors we were given rules. Girls who dated, or girls who were outspoken, girls who thought a little differently, girls who wore blue in November 2008 were all given stern talks and daily warnings. These years were filled with fleeting friendships ending abruptly. They were filled with the dread of going to class, and being surrounded by people by whom I wanted to be known. A particular nasty memory of being called naive and shallow in front of my entire class resurfaces daily. And while we know class superlatives are not definitive, I was absolutely horrified at being named the class flirt. It was a reminder that I had either not been true to myself, or was entirely misunderstood. I was not shy around boys, I felt I had every right to be included, as every other girl did. That superlative hung over me for two years after graduation. I was terrified to talk to boys at university, wondering if they would presume something or the girls would judge me. The superlative also bothered me for a different reason. During my third year of high school I was locked into a racquet ball court by two of my classmates. They were boys. One had a cast on his arm – he used it to hit me. I remember walking away, being called weak, and I remember reading that superlative, wondering ‘who in their right mind in this school thinks I enjoy being around these boys?’ By the fourth year of high school I remember shutting down during classes. I just stopped listening, stopped debating, stopped commenting. It was easier to be silent than disputed. It was easier to be apathetic than told I cry too easily. It was easier to be invisible than to defend myself.

Again, I did have several wonderful friends at school. I am not discounting those friendships at all, but the nature of my high school did damage the spirit. Imagination withers when it is consistently told it’s too much. I believe someone more resilient than me may have walked into high school with the same dreamy determination and walked out just fine, but resilience wasn’t my strong point then.

So I arrived at university, distraught and confused. I knew who I had been as a child, but that girl was not adequate for this world. She was too weird, too emotional, too head strong. All of these were traits I had been told were not for a woman. I kept quiet during my first semester. The second semester introduced me to Honours, a class where I was surrounded by outspoken and quiet women alike, all intelligent, all diverse, and all willing to speak their mind. It was a terrifying breath of fresh air. Through these classes I met one of my closest friends (looking at you Lauren), and one of the first words she used to describe me was fierce. Fierce. Me. No. Over dramatic maybe. Overly passionate perhaps. Bossy yes. But fierce? Fierce was too empowering, too positive. Fierce made me think of a lioness, she prowls for prey, hunts and kills then returns to gently bathe her cubs. It took over a year of running with this friend, and her continuous use of the word, for me to eventually embrace it.

Yes, I am a woman, and yes I am fierce. I am not powerless or distraught. I am also not emotionless or all assuming. I cry frequently, because I feel fiercely. These were truths I had not questioned as a child, but had lost sight of as a young adult. It took ages for me to be okay with being the flawed, passionate, sensitive woman I am. I am no longer afraid to cry freely, to have a strong opinion, to be silly or weird. I am no longer afraid of being called ‘too girly’ when I dress up or ‘too tough’ when I work out. My identity is not in the labels given by others but in the freedom of Christ’s atonement. When I think about the chances I had to encourage other girls or women and didn’t I am ashamed with myself. We, as women, can either be a network of support or a force of destruction. I hope to invoke you to be kind to one another, as our friend Ellen persistently says. Men may always make inappropriate remarks and be unchallenged. Some of them mean every word, and some are just ignorant to how women feel. But we have no excuse. We know the daily struggle against doubts, insecurities, and fears specific to women. We know the constant pressure to fit into a certain picture – whether it’s the athletic girl, the pageant girl, the academic girl – whatever our label becomes we feel we’ve failed if we don’t maintain it. We know, and with our knowledge we should relentlessly encourage one another. Whether we march for women or not we must be kind. We who march must remember that we are taking steps for all women regardless of age, colour, religion, or position in life. We must remind one another that there is hope, strength, and dignity within every woman.

In ending I would like to share a story about a most remarkable woman, a true role model. It’s not Audrey Hepburn or Blake Lively or Michelle Obama. When we lived in Angola we had a housekeeper come to our compound twice a week. Her name was Bibianna. She came to help my mum clean the house, this was so mum had time to spend all day teaching her children. Bibianna was a mother, a wife, a worker. She had birthed 7 children. She and her husband had taken in their special needs family member to care for her. They had all lived through a devastating civil war yet remained faithful Christians and avid evangelists. You would think Bibianna would be callous, toughened by the bleak circumstances of Angola, but rather she was tender. I remember listening to her sing praise songs around the house. Often I would come inside for lunch to find my mum and Bibianna doing laundry together. Bibianna would be sharing a story about a tragedy in their family, or their neighborhood, or their church. She would be crying. My mum would be crying. These two grown women would be crying while working, then they would encourage each other, pray, and carry on with the day. It was an exemplary picture of friendship and vulnerability. Bibianna helped my mum start a bible study for teenage girls in our neighborhood. We would sit on the floor together, carefully stitching “Maranata” into cotton squares while Bibianna led us in songs of hope, songs of strength, songs of persevering after faith. All of these images bring back the comforts of being in our little cement home, but by far the favourite story took place in the midst of the Angolan jungle. Bibianna often went with my dad and other pastors to the interior. She made the long, grueling journey to translate for them and to lead women’s groups. One trip, the car lost a tire. It fell off the road into the gulch. Another missionary tried to pick it up but he could not. So, Bibianna went down and hauled the tire back up to the road. This incredible strength was not limited to her physcial ability – it was shown daily in her faith, her ferocity, her tenderness, and her hope in a country deprived of opportunity. I wish with all my heart I could visit her, to thank her for being a steadfast example of a woman for 12 years of my life.

Women, I plead with you, in times of opposition or discouragement – be true and tender with your words. Be fierce with your love, your compassion, your hope. Be ferocious in your faith. Be courageous in the face of adversity. Believe in your strength. Embrace your emotions, whether you’re a weeper or a stoic. Embrace your dreams, your imagination, your pursuits, your goals. We may not all be meant to be doctors, or writers, or comedians, or athletes or mothers – but we are all indeed meant to be kind, to be loving, to be strong, to be tender, to be fierce.

On Going Home

Earlier this week a friend asked me when I was going to take Jeremiah to see my home. They were speaking of Scotland, naturally. They were asking when I was going to take Jeremiah on romantically historic trails. When were we going to sight see ancient castles and survey the vibrantly green countryside? When were we going to sit in quaint tea shops eating our soups and sandwiches while the rain lashed charmingly outside? When were we going to visit the land full of quiet houses and a surprisingly uproarious population. This is what they meant when they asked me about home.

And I cannot blame them. If one has to be named, Scotland is home now. It is where I worked during my university summers. It is where I return for holidays. It is where my parents own a flat. In all respects, it is home.

But the answer that immediately sprung to my mind when the question was presented was a simple “never.” Jeremiah will never see my home.

 

When I think of returning home to Angola, I’m overwhelmed with the amount of childhood memories I have from the sub-Saharan country. In this incident I vividly remembered the chickens.

In our second compound, we moved there within two years of living in Angola, there was a consistent hen and flock of chicks. I adored these animals as a child. I would chase them incessantly, running alongside the hen who angrily flapped her earth bound wings. I would laugh with glee at the sight of new yellow chicks tumbling over themselves in an effort to keep up with their disgruntled mum. In the mornings, before I had to study math or science, I would check on new eggs, huddled safely under the cargo containers we used as car garages. There I would lie, tummy down, head poked into a dark, dirty cavernous space. Mother hen would squawk and ruffle. But I just wanted to watch. I just wanted to be with them, and for them to belong to me. So I spent hours in the dirt, inhaling the feces infested dust, collecting feathers, counting eggs, and loving chickens that were not mine.

These chickens, of course, did not have momentous lives ahead of them. They were not nursery rhyme chickens, set out on great bread making missions. No, they were scrawny African chickens, destined for the coal heated pan from birth. I don’t remember being traumatized by the fate of these chickens. Maybe my parents remember some awful realization I’ve blocked from my mind. But I remember just knowing, some days there would be less chickens than the day before, and that was okay. The chickens didn’t belong to me, they belonged to the street, to the guards’ families. They were not entertainment, they were food. And though they kept me company for many years, eventually they were all gone, and that was okay.

Jeremiah will never meet those chickens. He will never lay on his stomach in ashy red dust and watch as angry hens cluck under a MAERSK container. But that is a memory I call home.

Home, home is waiting for that light on the guardhouse to switch on so your mum will stop worrying about the freezer. Home is begging your dad to turn on the generator so you can have coke, pizza, AND an episode of MASH on Friday night. Home is turning off the telly to listen for gun shots. Home is the acrid smell of burning rubbish wafting over a cement wall, a scent I would give all the Glade candles in the world to smell again. Home is always being a different colour, and never really belonging but not knowing anything else. Home is having malaria and fitting in with everyone else. Home is long, bumpy car rides listening to a Walkman full of Billy Joel and Dixie Chick CD’s I took from my sisters’ room while they were at boarding school. Home is melting gingerbread houses, tangled mosquito nets, and a furry, loyal watchdog.

Home is the place no one can go. My home, the house, the compound, the country that sprung to my mind after that question is a place to which I will never return. On the off chance we were to procure visas for Angola, there is no guarantee that house in Graffanil is still there. There is no way of knowing about my dog, or the guards, or the church. There would be no more chickens, and it wouldn’t be my home.

 

So here I am, with a wedding in the imminent future, waiting. People shower us with gifts and cards. Phrases such as “it’s so exciting to make a home for each other” hit hard. How am I supposed to make a home for someone else, when I can’t go back to mine? How am I supposed to make this tiny, university owned flat a home when it’s in a country foreign to me? How am I supposed to make meals, home-style dinners, when going to the nearest Kroger is still overwhelming? How am I supposed to invite people over to “our” home when I feel like a stranger in its walls? How am I supposed to make this space a home for Jeremiah, when I don’t even belong in it?

 

This thread of questions keeps me up late at night, wakes me in the early morning, grips me at work. These attacks on my future fatigue me, they call for me to give in, to put the ring back in the box, say a polite good bye and move on to the next place. But I can’t. I can’t leave. I can’t give power to the lies saying I’ll never have a home. I can’t give truth to the lies saying it’s better to run. I can’t give in. I almost do. Really, ashamedly, I’ve taken my ring off more times than I would like to say. I have come so close to pulling out old suitcases and packing them with new clothes, ready to board a plane and leave a life I don’t understand. What stops me is my question – where else will I go? Where, within this universe, can I go and say I will feel like I belong?

 

I do not have a home on this earth, and I never will. I do have a home, in the heavenly realm, with the perfect Father. I have a home free from turmoil, I have a home secured. I have a home overflowing with love. But it is not here. No, here I will not belong – not just in America or the UK, but on this earth. I will not belong. It is terrifying to know that, to think that there is no place my parents can conjure out of brick and mortar that will make me feel at home. It’s daunting to realize that daily I will walk alongside co-workers and find them complete strangers. I will not belong, but I will not be alone. Each day I will come back to Jeremiah’s waiting arms. Each night I will sleep folded in with one who loves me deeply, one who loves me well. Each morning I will wake wanting to know him more, and he will wake wanting the same. And we will go through our lives, day in and day out, not belonging to this world, but belonging to one another, and looking ahead to a heavenly, heavenly home.