29 years ago, I left home. I was 17, had a fresh passport, and was ready to put my pin in the map. Candor, New York was the place of my birth, where my family lived, and where I had my own key to the Candor Free Library, courtesy of Librarian Peggy Stickle. I had bagged groceries and sliced deli meat at LaGeorge Foods for practically every one of the 917 residents of the hamlet and had lived in the same storefront apartment all but one year of my life.
People there had watched me grow up. Deanna Banana let me hide her umbrella. Rita of Side Hill Acres named her first goat after me. Althea sent me with a hand-made journal when my family traveled internationally in my 10th year. They cheered me on when I traipsed to Papua New Guinea at the age of 15 and listened as I narrated a slide show of my jungle experience for the Travelogue at Library. The ladies as the Tioga State Bank sent me a care package when I went to college in Israel. A pastor forgave me when I hit his car on the way to my driver’s license exam. Candor was/is an idyllic Small Town in Mass Society--and it was home, sort of–but not.
College and grad school took me to New Jersey, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. Then I moved to Alaska as a missionary. Not one of the places I had lived in captured my heart like Alaska. The rabbis used to say, “He who has not seen Jerusalem has not seen a beautiful thing.” But let me tell you something, the rabbis had never seen the late-night sun glowing on Lion’s Head Mountain as it towered over Berner’s Bay! The temple may have been beautiful, but the glory of God’s display in the Last Frontier puts it all to shame. I fished and camped, hiked and wrangled horses. I worked with kids at camp, kids at church, and kids in the schools. I still plead to the Lord for Carrie and Gene and Delilah. I’ve visited Sondra on the mission field in Thailand and just this morning got a prayer letter from Cathy in Turkey. As I write this, I’m sitting on an airplane headed to Alaska. My Juneau family welcomes me home to drink coffee and sit in the hot tub, and I soak it all in–the eagles, whales, trees, icebergs, crab dip…Alaska was home–but not really.
And 20 years in California? I’ve been there longer than any other place. I don’t enjoy the traffic, the drought, or the pace of life–and I don’t think many of my neighbors do either. But I’ve learned to appreciate the play of the shadows on the hills and the pinhead flowers. California has plenty of beauty to go around. The smell of lemon blossoms is enough for me to offer worship of thanks to the Creator. And the people! God has kindly granted me more love than any one individual could reasonably expect in a lifetime. I am blessed in California–but I’m still not home, not yet.
It is not beauty that our hearts long for, or quiet, crab dip, or love. We were made to be in relationship with our Creator and will be restless until the day we are ultimately in His presence. This is what our hearts long for–to be with our God, unhindered by sin, unlimited by human frailty, unbroken by goodbyes. We were not created to rest in the comfort of familiarity, not the familiarity of walls or people.
6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord,
7 for we walk by faith, not by sight.
8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. – 2 Corinthians 5:6-9
Even though we are pilgrims, ambassadors for another country, He gives us here beauty to enjoy, people to love and be loved by, and good rest to better work hard for His Glory.
And in the end of it all, we are not home yet because He will bring us home and He will be our Home.
Courage, fellow pilgrims! Godspeed.