Where I Ought to Have Been Born

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

We’re probably all familiar with this CS Lewis quote. I’ve heard it and read it probably a hundred times, turning it over in my brain, listening to the vibrations it stirs in the soul, and I have to be honest: heaven isn’t the first place that springs to mind for me (not Iowa, either). For me, that place has never really been one place at all. It’s always been somewhere, or even “anywhere but here.”

But there’s another Lewis quote that gets me in the feels, that encompasses that otherworldly desire, the homesickness for a place we’ve never really seen:

The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.

Lewis wrote that in Till We Have Faces, his final novel, the last act of love for his late wife Joy. In it, Psyche is torn between familial love and a calling from the divine. I can’t read these scenes without tearing up.

The longing for home…

The place we ought to have been born…

When I read that passage, I do think of heaven, but I also think of Eden—that gloriously perfect garden. A world within a world. The place we should have all been born, the country we are all searching for.


Last Thursday I flew over the Atlantic with two passports in my pocket. One for the US, the country of my birth; the other for Ireland, the country of my choice.

For me, Ireland always represented a bit of that first Lewis quote, so much so that I felt slightly ashamed that heaven didn’t make the cut. When I first landed here: 23, green and dewy, with very few responsibilities, I felt like I was made for this world here. I mean, it was green and dewy, too. Dark and lovely, rolling and feisty.

I felt God call to me in the wind, and I would spend the next 7 years just trying to get back.

Many moons and children and ministries later, we signed a pledge and swore fidelity to the Irish nation. We are one of the lucky ones who came here by choice, who can claim two nationalities and the rights (and responsibilities) of two countries. And we stood shoulder to shoulder with thousands of new brothers and sisters, refugees and migrants, all full and equal members of Irish society, entitled to every benefit under the law.

But since that epic day, I’ve had a bit of an identity crisis. My worldview for so long has been as a foreigner, a wanderer. Someone on the outside looking in, walking alongside but never leading the way. Am I still an expatriate, a foreigner, a blow-in, a transplant, and now an immigrant?

I don’t know. This Irish girl is still brand new.


Becoming a citizen of a new country, retaining citizenship of the old country, and trying to live responsibly and intentionally within those two identities and communities is a tricky dance along a barbed wire fence. We live in one while still engaging the other.

Even as short or long-term cross-cultural workers and ministers in our particular contexts, we feel the jagged barbs. On one side we are the leavers; on the other, the joiners. We forsake mother and father for nations and tribes.

And yet, this is just the next stop as we ascend towards the mountain’s summit. There’s more climbing to be done.


When I feel myself split in two, my twin selves – a Kansas girl, an Irish mother – duelling it out for pride of place, I come to another Till We Have Faces quote (this book is filled with them!):

“No man can be an exile if he remembers that all the world is one city.” 

We may feel like exiles from time to time, but we are all under the same skies, walking the same lands, within the same hands of the Father who built them.

We’ll sit and rest here awhile, plant gardens and raise families like the children of Israel in Babylon, united in our shared calling beyond these hemispheres: to a home we’ve not yet been to, but will return to all the same.

How are you able to “reside as citizens” no matter where or how long you are able? What is God teaching or telling you about “the mountain” and our heavenly home?

Photo by Markus Voetter on Unsplash

1 Comment

  1. Elizabeth Trotter June 25, 2018

    Oh Karen, my Karen, you get ME in the feels when you talk Till We Have Faces! (But you knew that already, didn’t you?)

    “It feels not like going but like going back.” Yes, that is what home is, the place we know we’re going BACK to, even if we’ve never been there. We recognize it as home. It’s what a lot of the songs in The Greatest Showman are really talking about (in my opinion — others may not think so, but I think those songs are deep!).

    “There’s more climbing to be done.” Yes. Always. On every journey: Grief, Trust, Assimilation. Sometimes I think I could “belong” anywhere. Close enough anyway. And then there are moments when I am quite certain I will never belong anywhere again. Moments where I look around at what everyone else is saying and thinking and I think, “I don’t believe that anymore.” They are lonely thoughts and lonely moments.

    Or I think I’ve “conquered” anxiety and then I turn around the bend and find it a more formidable foe than I ever remembered it being. There is indeed more climbing to be done. But if all the world is one city, then I guess we climb the mountain together.

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