I recently returned from my first trip back to the States. I went for my home church’s 150th birthday as well as to visit family, friends, and partners. For this trip, it was just myself and my middle son. It was a great trip back, for different reasons.
First, because for the first time in a long while, things were similar again. I didn’t have to expend a lot of mental energy each day navigating transportation with 1 car and a heavy reliance on public transport around school drop-off, work meetings, kids’ activities, and making sure we had basic, daily necessities. Some might say, that’s the same thing we do here. That is the point. The same things we did in the States take so much more time, effort, energy, preparation in France. We get through the day in France and feel it was successful if we got our basic needs and plans met. It was nice to be back in an easy routine for a little while.
Second, for me, yet very important, it was great to be connected to baseball again. Just having an MLB game on at night, talking college baseball regularly, and even going to an Ole Miss game to sit and watch with friends was refreshing and rejuvenating. I’ve missed it greatly, especially this spring. On top of that, I got to spend two whole afternoons practicing with my nephew – an up and coming ballplayer – the fundamental drills of hitting, fielding, and pitching. It was a great gift to share some tips and see him make progress.
Going back to the United States allowed me to reflect on cultural differences for the first time as well. “It feels weird” is what I wrote on texts and shared with Linda and the kids back in France, our new home. How is that possible, especially when you are returning to our old home in the United States, or even home as we think of it?
There was no need to speak or think in French for awhile. With that, there was a lack of motivation to continue my present studies. And I did miss my language class and the challenge. Everything was bigger all of a sudden immediately evident by the airport we flew into. = Bigger shops, bigger restaurants, bigger people, and bigger voices. It was even different in feeling like I could fit in immediately again, while at the same time, I didn’t fit in completely.
There’s a comfort in being back to things as they were and there’s a healthy resistance too. Because as much as similarities and comforts abound, you realize you’ve changed, and they’ve changed too. And it’s alright. It’s okay to live in the uncomfortable middle.
You realize not one place fully makes or defines a person. There are different places that bring different personalities out of all of us. I believe that’s true of all of us. Part of being yourself is to own all the different places you’ve called home, even knowing one place is never fully home.
Driving down streets I’ve driven thousands of times, going past houses I’ve lived in, parks where I’ve played with my children, and favorite spots we’ve hung out with friends brought forth nostalgia, sadness, and happiness. It’s important to think about those times and feel the emotions they bring forth. We move on, but we don’t just move on. The good and the not so good, you realize they’re all part fo the great gift we have called life.
As a Christian, it’s important to be attached to a place, but not too attached. Because the truth is this world is not our true home. Yet we do have a home within it. I’m reading a biography right now on John Calvin. I’m reading it for a church conference in Geneva (more in an upcoming blog post).
So far in the narrative, it talks about Calvin’s emphasis on home for the Christian being in a relationship with Christ. Calvin was many things, but he was also an exile having to flee his home country of France. Perhaps that’s why he placed such a priority of one’s home being with Christ, wherever you find yourself.
I know missionaries who live reality while wrestling with it at the same time. You’re from a place, yet no longer feel like you fully belong there. You serve another place, yet don’t fully feel you belong there either. I’m an American. As much as I learn French, read French history, acclimate to big city Parisian life, and try to learn the sports teams here, I’ll never be fully French. And the longer we stay here, the more attributes and perspectives I’ll acquire that are different from Americana. The roots here will only go so deep while some roots from back there will be uprooted. That’s why it’s so important to intentionally grow deeper roots in things that will last eternally.
Finally, the most challenging part of being back was thinking about our kids. Obviously they have come with us and in leaving the United States to spend their childhood in France, there are things that I got to experience growing up that they will not. They will have, and are having, an altogether different experience of childhood. I grieve this, even as so many people say what a wonderful opportunity this is for them. Yes, I say in response, yet in my mind I think – “but…”.
Maybe the best gift we’re giving them is what I’m only learning now. Every home this side of heaven is temporary. The most important thing about such places, and “places” can be in a myriad of spaces, is the people within them. We can enjoy each season, celebrate the communities around us, move freely into new spaces, yet never feel completely lost or alone.
Because deep down, our kids will now know their true, real home, the home they can always live in and the home that will never reject them or disappoint them, is with a Person.
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