Shelter is Not a Thing, It’s a Person

Over the course of my childhood, my family moved three times. My dad grew up as a military brat and always thought he’d settle in one spot, but that’s not what happened. We moved, then moved again. Like my dad, I also thought adulthood would lead to mooring, but then I grew up and moved overseas and—well, the rootedness that comes with that life could fit inside my carry on.

Since I graduated from college 12 years ago, I’ve moved 11 times (not including home leave). Three of those 11 times were moves to Asia: immediately after graduation; after spending a few years in the States following marriage; and after a painful one-year hiatus due to visa issues. After all of that time, energy and effort put into moving overseas, I’m back in the States, this time for the foreseeable future.

I’m sure many of you could tell the same tale. Each move brought with it hope that this was it; that this time, we’d stay; that this time, our roots would grow deep. And yet, although I’ve never had the permanence of a mortgage or years of memories within the same walls, I’ve never been without a rootedness that goes beyond a collection of stuff I call mine. I have always been sheltered and hidden in God, my strong place, my rock who covers me from the storm.

Shelter is a place where we are safe when the world around us is not. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “something that covers or affords protection.” It’s no great mystery why this is something for which cross-cultural workers long. Particularly overseas, our surroundings can be confusing when we aren’t in the culture in which we were raised, it’s tough to understand what is happening around us. Even after years in a new culture, even when we may intellectually understand what is happening, the need for respite from it all remains.

I was in my mid-twenties when I moved to Asia for the second time, for what I thought was the next 20 years of my life. This move more or less coincided with the rise of Pinterest. I gorged on beautiful pictures of curated interiors and artfully photographed parties. I tried to recreate that in my own life, the life which was much more “rat smeared up the steps of your 4th-floor walkup” and much less twinkle lights at dusk.

I spent hours making beer bottles into vases and hot-gluing leaves onto wire to make a homemade wreath. I don’t regret that—God gave me a love of beauty and exploring my creative side taught me much about our imaginative and lovely Designer. But while my desire to create a space where Dwell magazine readers would want to camp out was ultimately frustrated, I found unchanging safety in the arms of a God who doesn’t ever move, even when I’m in constant, twirling commotion.

Ps. 91:4 reads: “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.” Why is God’s shelter better than the permanence of a 10-year visa? Because, unlike governments who alter their country’s laws, and unlike homes that crumble, God is steadfast. He is always there. Always!

Shelter is not a thing, it’s a person: God. He is our home, and knowing him means we are always safe, always secure, always hidden from the worst the world can do. Because even when the worst comes, our true home is unchanging and above, and nothing in the world can tear it down.

When my daughter was one, we returned to America somewhat unexpectedly and spent just over a year in the States—sometimes with family, sometimes in church housing, but the bulk of it in a garage apartment of a very generous family in Atlanta. In the evenings, I would take my daughter to area playgrounds, and struggle to answer the queries of other parents: we don’t really live here, we’re just passing through temporarily… no, we aren’t renting, we live with another family who is sharing their home with us for this year… We hope to go back to Asia but aren’t sure of the exact location… what we do may be changing… and on and on.

I felt burdened by our lack of permanence and crippled by my desire for security. It was in this season I came to treasure God’s call to Abram (back before he was Abraham) in Gen. 12. There, God told Abram to leave his country and family and go to the place God would show him. Did you catch that? He tells Abram to start walking, but didn’t say where! More than a call to or for a specific location, God is calling Abram to trust in him. It is more important we trust in God as the revealer of truth than that we set our hearts on a certain task, people, or way of life. God calls us to himself, then shields us as we go.

I write this, as I mentioned above, from America. I’ve planted a garden this year, and I hope I’ll still be sitting on this porch a few years from now, admiring how the flowers have multiplied. But the truth is I don’t know. And while I’m not exactly okay with that, I hope I’m learning to trust that his ways really are better and higher than mine.

In what ways do you seek to construct your own shelter? How have you seen God reveal himself to you as all the shelter you need?

6 Comments

  1. Elizabeth June 28, 2017

    “Shelter is not a thing; it’s a person.” Thank you for this.

    Sounds like our searches for rootedness mirror each others’s. And I think we are always walking that line of finding shelter and security in God while also letting Him call us to a place He will show us. It is hard to do, because we are living in two realities: our spiritual reality and our physical reality. And those realities sometimes intersect with each other, and they sometimes struggle with each other.

    I’m glad you shared so much of your story here, Beth. You certainly have kindred spirits here.

    1. Beth Gregory June 28, 2017

      Thank you, Elizabeth! I always enjoy reading your thoughts (on whatever, really!) and this is no exception. That fine line you mention above–finding shelter in God and venturing out where he leads–truly is the issue. I like your point about how the tension lies in the struggle and intersections of our physical and spiritual realities.
      Thankful for kindred spirits all over this globe.

      1. Beth Gregory June 28, 2017

        Also–embarrassed by the huge picture above. Can’t figure out how to delete it but I didn’t mean to do that!

  2. Heather Henson June 28, 2017

    After a rugged yesterday in this transition my husband and I are travelling, I awoke this morning asking God—my Daddy—who he wants to be for me at this time. We’re new in this European country and nothing seems certain—except that Jesus’ promised that He’s with us. When I was quiet listening for His answer (which I knew would come), a picture of an umbrella came to mind. It was big and colourful and strong and completely sheltered me. Then, not so much later I checked out the email inbox… and there was your article! Thank you.

    1. Beth Gregory June 28, 2017

      I love that image of an umbrella. He does indeed shelter us: completely!
      Praying you experience Emmanuel, God with us, in your new country.

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