About a month ago, I arrived alone to my small group after a tantrum filled, no-nap day with a toddler. Everyone was tied up in their various conversations, and I took a seat on the far side of the room to take a breath and just be. A newer family walked in right then, and I thought about how we only had two months left here. Not enough time to connect with this family, to get to know them well, to develop a friendship. Not enough time left to have those relationships with anyone. I thought of moving to our next place, and how we’d only be there for a few months before moving on again to something new.
“I don’t belong anywhere,” I thought. I felt tears coming, restricting air. I got up quickly to leave, grabbing my keys to make it look like I had forgotten to lock my car, but really I simply went down the walkway, turned to come back, and sat on the front porch crying alone. A room full of people on the other side of the window, not noticing.
We have reached our last month in Davenport. Finally. Already.
As we leave, I’ve been reflecting on all the drafts of unshared work I’ve written. I have over ten posts saved, unfinished, all on what it’s like to be a “temporary transplant” in a community. To be both new and leaving.
Most anyone who has uprooted their lives to move has felt an intense loneliness for months or even years afterward. It is hard to leave your family and friends for a completely new place (even if you looked forward to the adventure), and harder still to make connections with people who are already engrossed in their own communities and busy with their own lives. This is no different for Christians, even though we have the opportunity of searching out and joining a church. There, we’re able to find connection, or at least some weekly guidance and sustenance, but being part of a church isn’t an automatic “fix.”
I so wish I had the answers.
Our first year here I was pregnant and struggling to find a job, my husband had just started school, and we visited a different church every few weeks before finally settling into one after Clarabelle was born. It took another year to feel we were making some solid friendships, and then we only had a year left here.
It’s hard to connect with new people in a deep way when you already know your time together is limited. Being new and on our way out at the same time brings a vulnerability to relationships. We can’t put down roots, but still we need soil.
At the same time, we had literally nothing to offer. The reality of grad school is that it takes you hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt, and especially when you have a family, that financial burden isn’t only immediately felt but extends uncertainly into the future. Our small apartment doesn’t offer much for entertaining, and a chiropractic school schedule coupled with a stay at home mom with no reliable babysitters or nearby family to help left us feeling a little trapped within our own lives.
As we move and settle into a new place, I hope that my family is eventually able to extend the opportunity of friendship to others. To recognize newer families, couples, and singles, and invite them into our home and out with us. And to extend that invitation over and over again even if occasionally turned down. To make meals, to buy lunch, to show up without being daily hampered by nap schedules and bedtimes. Because we know what it’s like to be new, to be temporary, to be far from family and support, to long for something familiar.
I so hope to become something familiar in a new place for future friends. To fulfill the call to love the sojourner in our land, even if they only come from the next state over.
I want to nestle into life here. Buy a house, open its doors, go to birthday parties and raise my babies with these people. But it’s not our time for that yet.
I’ve had the strongest sense these last three years of not belonging. Maybe some of that is in my head. After all, I suffered severe depression and anxiety just after my daughter was born, and mental illness is a liar. It tells you all kinds of things that drag you down, and part of overcoming is facing those lies and calling them what they are. But on the other side of that, I’ve come to terms with a feeling of not being home. This isn’t home, here.
I’m not home.
Maybe I feel a sense of being foreign because my soul truly is foreign here on earth.
And that means, no matter where I am, I have work to do. And the work I do, what I diligently put my hands to, is sufficient because it’s from God. Sometimes that work will be more internal. In this season, God has been doing quiet and slow work within me. In other seasons, it’s more outward and the fruits of those quiet seasons of growth are produced. I look forward to the day I see the fruits of this growing season. In this life or after.
The writer of Hebrews talks about the patriarchs (plus some women) of the Jewish and Christian faith. He says they were strangers and exiles on this earth, seeking a homeland that was not the land from which they came (Hebrews 11:13-14). This is encouraging to us who find ourselves in strange and foreign places. We don’t need to make this place home, we need to trust God in his work here and remember where home ultimately is.
And maybe we won’t see all that God is up to in these places. Maybe we will never know. But Hebrews ends with such a marvelous comfort to us who trust God’s work in each season, that “God provided something better for us, that apart from us [his plans] should not be made perfect” (verse 40).
You may not feel at home here. Maybe you don’t feel effective in ministry. But God’s plan for you is so much greater than you can see in this immediate life. Wherever you are, you have a purpose, and he will fulfill it in you. His kingdom waits for you.