There are sensations that stick with you for life. When I recall my earliest memories it is of the blue/brown/green mix of shag carpet in our living room. I would spread bare toes into it and lie on my back, ceiling fan whirling overhead. When the weather snaps cold I crave the thick tomato base of my mama’s vegetable soup. When the dogwoods stretch wide their petals I want her cold chicken salad on a piece of soft white bread.
There is an ever present need in my life to get back to that place. The place where soup bowls were endless, made from the love of my mama’s hands and the eternal depths of her big enamel pot. That place represents safety in my child heart and my grown-up heart.
If you have served overseas for a hot second then you have felt the gift of uncertainty that comes along with the territory. From rushing to make flight connections to the middle of nowhere to wondering how you’ll ever navigate the open air market with its haggling and smells…oh the smells. Maybe for you it’s fantasizing about a commute that involves a car and short drive rather than the three buses, one taxi and a camel ride. Could be a burning desire for something that resembles an American cheeseburger. It could be just a simple conversation with someone without feeling like a zoo animal being studied.
We all have those comfortable spaces and places. Even if they only live in our memories, they are very much alive. Some of us have even turned the unsafe spaces in our memories into places we dwell and find security in. For years, unknowingly, I made my identity “the girl with no parents.” You see my obsession with hot soup and cold chicken salad is more about my grief than just wanting something that fills my belly. I’d toss jokes around about being an orphan because that insulated me from fully feeling the weight of it all. Fast forward to my wedding day and then further to my children’s births and all of my safety fell apart as the dam of grief broke over me.
I once heard someone say “Be careful what you choose to remember.” I’ve rolled this sentence around in my mind a hundred times and I find it to ring true in my own life. Our memories can deceive us. I’m sure the shag carpeting isn’t exactly the shades of blue/brown/green I recollect in my mind’s eye. If I really remembered my mama’s cooking so well then maybe I could recreate it, but I am yet to find my way into that mythical wardrobe and unlock the secret to her soup. I sure do wish I’d find the recipes tucked somewhere in a forgotten trunk, but alas, no.
Life on the field can be full and empty all at the same time. It’s easy to look over our shoulders and think what we had is better. Jesus warned against this, didn’t he? He told us that looking back, when our shoulders have turned to the work ahead, would mean we aren’t fit to serve the Kingdom. Those are bold words. Those words scare me. I look back an awful lot. Call me a pillar of salt because I’m right up there with Lot’s wife when it comes to looking back.
When we look ahead our horizon may be stormy and anything but well mapped. It is understandable why looking back might be appealing. In retrospect things almost always seem simpler than in truth they were. Perhaps you are struggling in this space right now. Are you looking toward the end of your term? Are you wondering if you could just go home and back to life before the good-hard-unexpected of life overseas?
When Jesus breaks bread he says “This do in REMEMBRANCE of me.” When we are building the Kingdom, we are remembering. We are remembering the safest of spaces. We are remembering the thing that gives us the surest of futures. I used the phrase “gift of uncertainty” earlier in my ramblings here. That is a gift of God. The gift of not knowing the future, but of knowing Him and His unconditional, boundless, time transcending safety. This is why we can go forward unafraid. This is why we can endure three buses, one taxi and a camel ride just to move boldly into the place He has called us even if that place is a long way from where we started.
How has uncertainty been a gift in your life?