When It’s Time to Go Home Again

When It's Time To Go Home Again

Years ago, in 2008, I quoted Donald Miller in a blog post about leaving home. It’s still one of my favorite pieces of writing on life and finding its meaning and finding its adventure. It ends with this: “It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out. I want to repeat one word for you: ‘Leave.’ Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.”

On Tuesday morning I’m going to pack up my car and drive from middle Tennessee to South Texas. I’ve not driven that bit of highway since I moved to Nashville five years ago. This time, I’ll drive it in the other direction. I’m not moving; I’m just going for a little while. I’m just going home, for a little while.

The desire hit me two weeks ago. I was sitting at my desk, writing and suddenly, I needed to take a road trip and that road trip needed to be to my home state and it needed to last longer than a week.

Traveling, wandering, exploring—that stuff has always been a part of me, but usually in the way that takes me away from home. Now, I’m desiring for the wandering and exploring to bring me back home.

I’ve always thought life had two options: settle in or near my hometown or move far away, far enough that I could only afford to return on major holidays. I’ve taken much pride in doing the latter, the type of leaving I quoted above. I’ve studied overseas, lived overseas and have lived a few states away for several years. And now, I can’t wait for Tuesday to get here. I can’t wait to see the familiar things and faces. It’s like I just want to sit in Texas’ lap and curl up in it for days. Odd imagery, but it’s how I feel. It’s how much I’m needing home.

I think my extreme ideas of life and where it should be lived are trying to find middle ground. I think I put “leaving home” and “coming home” at odds with each other when really, I should let them work together. The Bible says He has put eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and I’ve become really fascinated with that phrase. If eternity is truly in our hearts, then we’re longing for home, yet, we are longing to leave. Maybe our pull toward and away from home is simply an echo of this desire that is in us. Maybe we should give ourselves grace to be where we need to be when we need to be there, whether that be far away or close by.

They say you can’t go home again, but sometimes you have to. For me, I know it’s a job transition and a bunch of change around me that’s beckoning me back for a taste of familiarity. For others, it’s a tragedy or hardship or a celebration that’s making them long for the place they call home. I think it’s important to go (if you can) when you feel those longings. It’s important to remember those places and to reconnect with people you’ve slowly been letting go. Sometimes it’s time to leave and sometimes it’s time to go back.

Pity Parties on an Airplane

exhausted traveler

Do you know what it’s like to be on that last leg of a long journey? When you’ve forgotten how many flights and layovers you’ve had? All you know is that wherever you’re going, it is taking a really long time to get there? It’s always the very last, brief flight the gets me. Not the hefty, ten-hour one or the three-hour one after that, but the final one- or two-hour flight from Dallas to Nashville or from Atlanta to Nashville or, like yesterday, from Detroit to Nashville.

This Delta Detroit flight was a whopping one hour and eight minutes long, but before that flight was a 4.5-hour one and before that a 5-hour one and before, after and in between those was walking through terminals like a zombie looking for coffee and a grouping of chairs I could spread out on and contemplating asking a complete stranger what city, time zone and state I was in.

By the time I boarded my Detroit flight around 3pm, I had been flying traveling since 10pm the night before. I was in a state. Not only did I not want to talk to the people sitting on my right and my left, I didn’t want to look at them. I had no energy to acknowledge the existence of other humans. I was tired, I was hungry, I was achy and I refused to engage in the lighthearted attempts next to me to make conversation. I spent my hour and eight minutes with my eyes closed pretending to sleep and hating my life. If only the guys next to me knew how exhausted and ready to be home I was. I had been away for ten whole days.

When I don’t speak to those around me, I get very caught up in my own head. My problems become the worst problems anyone anywhere could ever have. I have the worst pain. I am the most tired. I’ve been traveling the most. I want others to know my story, but I do not want to hear theirs. So for one hour and eight minutes I blew up my tiredness and problems in my head until I was most certainly the one on that aircraft suffering the most and I believed everyone else should be catering to my needs and feeling sorry for me.

Because I refused to speak to the men next to me, I didn’t learn until we were landing that their exhaustion was actually worse than mine. The guy to my right had been flying for 23 hours (ten hours more than I had) and the guy to my left had been on the road for 18 days straight, was about to be home for two days, then hit the road again for another 18 days. Because I refused to speak to the guy on my left, I only overheard this information as he, without complaint, detailed it to another passenger. I only heard about the guy on my right who had been flying for 23 hours because he made a second attempt to engage me in conversation as we were landing, and I finally listened. He had come all the way from Manila, twice as far as I had come, and was in Nashville on business. This wasn’t even home yet for him.

This is what always gets me in trouble. I would rather sit and wallow in my pain than go out and listen to someone else’s story. As long as I don’t hear it, mine is worse, but every time I break out of the pity party—every time—I come out of myself, just far enough to get perspective on my “difficulties” and “hardships” that seem much less difficult and hard after I’ve listened. It’s not about comparing your problems with another’s; it’s about seeing yours in a different light, a more realistic and less doomsday shade of light. I wonder if the solution to our problems isn’t fixing them, but instead, is putting others’ stories before our own. I wonder how our perspectives would change if we began to listen less to the voices in our heads and more to the voices of the real people around us.

Would I Still Be a Christian If Most of My Friends Were Not?

A few months ago I promised I had more “Would I still be a Christian if…” questions coming down the pike. I think I’ve been subconsciously avoiding writing about these questions despite my promise to. You see, they’re difficult and make me question my dependency on religion and I can’t handle that type of questioning every week. But between the last post about still being a Christian if I were not born into a Christian family and now, I think I’ve mustered the gusto.

Would I still be a Christian if most of my friends were not? Sadly, there has only been a small time frame in my life when I could say the majority of my friends were not Christians: my first several months in Oxford. And even saying the majority may not be accurate, so let’s say the people I was getting to know best and felt closest to were not Christians. This perfectly coincided with the period I felt the deepest doubt in my faith. Until then, I had always considered myself a “doubter.” But in those months I realized I had never seriously doubted God. Even when I claimed to, I was still evaluating the life around me as if He existed. Spending so much time with my new friends who were either agnostic or atheist allowed me to feel, for the first time, what it would be like to not believe in God at all.

It was dark. It seemed empty. Yet these friends had a capacity for love that I did not expect. They were the type who would do anything for you, just like my Christian friends back home. And slowly I began to understand how I  could love someone without the belief that “someone first loved me.” And that love was so fierce, because it was all they had, all they had to live for and they knew they didn’t have many years to do it.

Ultimately, I made close friends with people I went to church with in Oxford, spending the majority of my time with them. And that coincided with a type of reviving of my faith–an even deeper belief in it than before.

But what if those Christian friends had not come along? And my understanding of living without faith continued to make more sense as I spent most of my time with my agnostic/atheist friends? And what does that mean about Christianity if it can’t stand alone? Or what does it mean about me, if I can’t believe on my own?

And now it will be another several months before I ask a “Would I still be a Christian if…” question.

Am I Working, or Just Wasting Time?

I talked to my mom yesterday about a conference she and my dad attended at my younger sister’s church in Waco, Texas. World Mandate is a weekend focused around missions and urgency and from talking to my mom, it was a weekend they won’t soon forget.

One of the speakers they heard was Christine Caine. I’ve decided I need to get to know this person. Or at least hear her speak. Christine’s passion lies in ending the injustice of human trafficking and apparently she convinces people they should move to places like the Amazon immediately. And start spreading the gospel. I think I would like someone who could convince people to do such things.

I also heard one comment she made–almost as an afterthought–was that we sit around writing and reading books about love languages, our gifts and passions from the Lord, etc.,  instead of acting. Doing something. Actually fulfilling what Jesus told us to do: make disciples of all nations… We’re stalling. And why?

I remember a moment when I was in Zimbabwe and we were sitting around in a circle eating lunch, I think, while working at an orphanage. All month we had been following around these two vocational missionaries from Oregon. They had lived in South Africa (Zimbabwe before that) for eleven years and I remember looking at them as we sat in that circle and thinking “There really is no greater job, is there? Than being a missionary. There is no greater purpose to fulfill.”

Despite that revelation, I am not a missionary. I came home from Africa and haven’t gone back. Some may make the “I’m a missionary in my workplace, in my school, in my current environment” argument and I agree. People need to know the gospel here as much as they do there but can my life be dedicated to it here, where I have a day-job and it’s not evangelizing? Are we wasting time and making excuses for the laziness?

He said to all nations. But I’ve spent the majority of my life in one.

I do believe, but I’d like to be more certain

by guest blogger Dylan Malloch

There’s a great moment in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where, close to reaching the fabled Holy Grail, Indiana has to take a leap of faith.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwMdb9YZkcw&feature=related)

He’s on one side of an enormous cavern and needs to reach the other side.  The only problem is, there’s no path… that he can see.

After a moment or two’s hesitation, Indie steps boldly out in faith and miraculously lands on an invisible path.

The fact the path existed was, scientifically speaking, never in doubt.  It existed, it was just invisible.

However, from the perspective of a mere mortal, all indications were the path didn’t exist, because you couldn’t see it.

It may sound crass, but this is very similar to one of the biggest obstacles I faced during what I refer to as my “Christianity Exploration” phase.  Ironically, the biggest obstacle I faced, was that I was certain God didn’t exist.

In my books, religion was just something people invented because they were scared of dying.  I pictured cavemen saying, “Hey, what if there was another world I could go to so I never actually died?  Awesome, right?”

I won’t go into my entire investigation process, but out of all the objections and tough questions I pondered as I investigated Christianity, the question of “did God really exist?” left them all in its wake.

You see, I could understand why Christians thought the way they did on issues like abortion, same sex marriage, euthanasia, etc, because they were starting from the perspective that God exists.  Once you believe in God, your entire world changes.

However, trying to believe in a being I couldn’t see or reduce to a formula (like x+y+z = God) to prove its existence was nigh on impossible.

When I was investigating Christianity in my late teens/early twenties, I read a ton of books.  I interviewed experts from both sides of the argument.  Ultimately I concluded, 1: There’s evidence Jesus existed.  2: Christians weren’t all stupid.  3: The fact that suffering exists didn’t prove God didn’t exist.

Yet I kept coming back to the fact that, ultimately, I’d have to make a choice: whether to take a leap of faith.

All my Christian friends were so certain God existed, yet I still had doubts.  In fact, it’s probably my biggest weakness as a Christian to this day – I still sometimes have my doubts that God exists.

Not often, I should add.  But sometimes.

In some ways though, I think it’s a good thing.  By constantly re-examining my faith, I’m making it stronger.  Even if it is a little painful from time to time.

It also helps in Mark 9:24, a man asks Jesus for exactly the same thing – “I do believe; help me with my unbelief.”

I feel like saying that to God all the time.  “God, I do believe you exist, but please help me believe it more!”

About the guest blogger: Dylan Malloch lives in Sydney (area), Australia and works in public relations. We “met” via Twitter, and when I found out more about his faith story, I begged him to share it on my blog. So thanks, Dylan! You can visit his website at DylanMalloch.com.

Why Do I Have So Much While They Have So Little?

Khayelihle Children's Village, located outside Bulaweyo, Zimbabwe. Where we spent the majority of our trip.

I remember the most malnourished children I’ve ever seen. I was 19 years old in Zimbabwe somewhere between Victoria Falls and Bulaweyo, the second largest city in the country. Our bus had broken down so we were hanging out with the natives on the side of the road, as you do, as someone repaired it. Most of the kids we met there weren’t wearing shoes (Zimbabwean kids don’t like shoes) but they had clothes and looked relatively healthy and energetic until two small kids, one girl and one boy, arrived. They were acting odd, almost crazy. Their hair was reddish colored, clothes barely held together, and stomachs protruding. It took me a minute but after observing I realized these kids weren’t acting a little crazy because they were ADHD. They were acting crazy because they were starving.

After playing with them for a little bit, our group leaders started serving our lunch on the broken down bus. I couldn’t eat. I was wallowing in guilt and confusion over what I had just witnessed in those small children. I kept asking God why I had so much when they had so little. God did not seem fair or loving in that moment. In fact, during that entire monthlong mission trip, God felt very distant. Probably because I kept pushing Him aside, so upset that He had allowed the suffering I witnessed in Zimbabwe and South Africa, where we also traveled.

I now realize how unproductive my response of not eating lunch had been that day. Though I was focusing on the poor and needy around me, I was also very self-focused, allowing guilt to be my dominant emotion. My parents had warned me against this feeling before. Growing up in a mission-minded church, I had opportunities o’plenty to do out of country mission trips. After these trips, I would come home and cry to my parents about the fact we have a.c. and walk-in closets and indoor plumbing. Before I could threaten to move into the backyard and live like the community I had just spent a week or so with, my parents would intervene with the wisdom of long-term missionaries: guilt is not a feeling from the Lord and, therefore, feeling guilty is not the purpose of those trips. Instead, turn the guilt into a desire to do something about people’s dire circumstances.

Stats like 925 million people are hungry in the world today can make us feel really bad about our full refrigerators. But get over it. Why do we have so much and they don’t? I don’t know; we just do. So let’s make use of our resources.

Is Christianity Merely Comforting?

I just don’t know how non-Christians do it. Live, that is. You would have to be a very strong person within yourself to not simply give up after your first heart break or death of someone close to you. So many difficulties I face I can only face because of the belief of God inside of me. Take the below image as an example. The same street photographed soon after the March 11 earthquake in Japan and then again in June after major clean-up:

Published in the Daily Mail, full article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2001984/Japan-tsunami-earthquake-Pictures-recovery-3-months-later.html

If this destruction had hit my street, and I did not believe in a loving God or in hope that came in the form of Jesus Christ, I would not clean it up. I would walk away. “What’s the use? Another tsunami/earthquake may come tomorrow. This is a hopeless situation if I’ve ever seen one and if everything I’ve worked for and toward can be demolished by ripples  under the earth completely beyond my control, why ever work for or toward anything again. I give up.”

This is why those without my faith amaze me. They have no comfort yet live on and even rebuild. I have comfort and seem to barely scrape by at times. As much as I hate this question, I must ask it: Is that all faith is? Believing so that we can pacify the crumbling world around us? I had a friend describe my Christianity to me that way once. And ever since, his words have haunted me. Christianity is a very comforting thought. It assures this life isn’t it. There’s more. It keeps going after so I don’t have to feel leveled by my everyday circumstances. It is often the desperate times that bring people to faith, isn’t it? When they need comfort most?

But for something so comfort-giving, Christianity is also incredibly uncomfortable. We are asked to do things like love people hard to love and forgive people who don’t deserve forgiveness, in our humble opinions. We’re to abstain from drunkenness, sex outside the confines of marriage, and fighting back. What’s so comfortable about that?

So the belief is comforting, but the maintaining of the belief? Not so much.

Is “Patriotic” a Bad Word?

I don’t know if it’s just me, my entire generation or maybe just the others who took that world lit class with me in college, but the word “patriotic” seems to be losing its positive connotation. At least in my own head, I often equate it with “obnoxious,” “prideful,” “quick to defend and/or fight.” But thinking about this July 4th and this blog and my recent experiences, I’ve realized I’m probably more patriotic than I think. And that’s ok with me because I’ve redefined it for myself.

Last weekend, I visited Texas for a friend’s wedding. Texas is where I’m from. I lived there from age 1.5 to 22. While in town, I got to spend time with friends who either live outside Texas now or did for a few years and have since moved back. We all agreed the time we are most patriotic about our own state (If you’re confused by the idea of being patriotic about your own state, visit Texas. You’ll understand almost immediately.) is when we are not living there.

This does not mean we parade around our new states wearing Texas-shaped sunglasses (Yes, they exist. Again, just visit and you’ll understand.) and reciting the Texas pledge of allegiance (yep). For me, it means Texas feels a little warmer, a little sunnier and friendlier here in Tennessee where I currently reside than it ever did when I was living in Texas.

This happened to me in regards to the U.S. while living in England. I tried to not draw too much attention to my Americanness–apparently the entire world does not consider the U.S. the greatest invention of all time–but inside me I finally realized what I loved about the country I came from. At the same time, or maybe a few months later, I began to understand that just as I loved the little things that made up the big thing that was my country that was home, so did my English neighbors love the little things that were the big thing that was their home that they graciously shared with me for a brief moment.

I became more internally patriotic by becoming more understanding of others’ patriotism. Feeling patriotic fills, at least momentarily, that universal desire for a home. Since we all yearn for a place of belonging and a sense of self, we are all patriotic.

So my fellow Americans, whether you like the sound of that word or not, today we will be patriotic because today we celebrate home.

The Gap Year: Why Haven’t We Caught On?

“I tapped the cold window with my index finger, ‘squashing’ dilapidated track-side farmhouses as my eyes focused then unfocused on each structure the slow train eased by. I leaned the side of my head against the glass watching my finger tap, tap, tap. There was a book in my bag, but I didn’t reach for it. I didn’t have to read it. I only had to read it if I wanted to, and I didn’t want to. So I gazed and wondered who lived in the large old farmhouses in this particular region of France my train wound through. I had plenty of time to learn–a year in fact. A year felt as long as the train as I was on. I knew where it begin but who knew where it ended. It didn’t matter and neither did the book in my bag. I was on the cusp of the infamous and much anticipated Gap Year.” –an excerpt from my Gap Year journal, if such a journal existed, if I had ever had one.

But I didn’t. A Gap Year, that is. No. Instead, I, as most of my American friends, applied like mad to colleges throughout the first several months of my senior year in high school. Began four years of undergrad the fall after my spring high school graduation. Applied like mad to various grad schools throughout the first few months of my senior year in college. Began grad school the fall after my spring graduation from college and began working my first real job before I even had my thesis results. I believe I took a ten-day break between handing in that beast of a paper and day one of the new job.

I forgot something: to take a breath. The Gap Year has been embraced by the culture I so frequently allude to in this blog. It occurs between one’s final year of high school and the first year of university, if one so chooses to attend, or a career. In my experience, it is more common in England to take a gap year than to not. Seventeen and 18-year-olds choose to spend that year in different ways: traveling, volunteering, aid work. The point is to experience a bit of life before throwing yourself into studies, which as it turns out is not real life.

What would this country be like if we all took a little time off to figure ourselves out in those oh so formative years of age 17 and 18? How many would ultimately decide to attend culinary school instead of a big state university? How many would live in another country and stay there to help out a while longer? How many would realize they actually want to major in art, not finance?

We might be a little happier, a little more at peace, a little more understanding of the world around us. Is it too late?


Me, really far away, in Norway during Study Abroad (a great second to the Gap Year)

English Lesson to End All English Lessons

I’ve reached the one-year mark of my return to this side of my heart: the American side. It’s probably time to stop writing about my English lessons now (some time has elapsed since the last one) though I’m not certain I ever will.

Because I am convinced nothing compares to living as an alien for a while. Nothing in my life has been more profound or affecting as traveling outside my citizenship’s safe, thick and high walls. And I know its effects will slip into my writing from now until always. Significant life experiences tend to do that. They stealthily and delicately change your perspective while you’re in it and not until you are fully out of it, do you look in the mirror and notice a difference.

If I learned one lesson from my many in England it’s this: No people on this earth speak the same language. No matter how similar it seems on the page or sounds to the ear, we speak our surroundings and upbringings. Our food, our weather, our societal habits and quirks. We speak what we were taught by our parents, political leaders, friends, pop star idols and grocery store clerks. We are a large and spread out Tower of Babel. And I suppose we were intended that way.

I for one prefer the confusion.