I recently returned from a month and a half stretch in the states. After 12 years living overseas, I had the coming-and-going routine down pat. It started with a mad rush the day before the flight to do all the last-minute shopping. Then I started packing the duffel bags, which involved weighing and reweighing, and stuffing things into my carry-on bags.
When I arrived on the other side of the ocean and went through passport control, jetlagged and travel weary, I not only showed my blue passport but I also took out my pink resident card that had been tucked safely away since I left.
But coming back wasn’t as simple as showing my resident card and walking out into the bright Moroccan sunshine. Or driving to the house and unpacking all the goodies I brought back with me.
My body might have arrived, but my mind and my heart had to catch up. For six blessed weeks I heard and spoke nothing but my mother tongue. No one honked at me when the traffic light turned green. I didn’t have to watch for someone making a left hand turn from the right lane. I ate no couscous, drank no mint tea**. I heard no call to prayer. I didn’t read Tel Quel**. There were no billboards for mobile phone plans.
You’d think over the years I’d find it easier to get back in the groove but I don’t. I go through a cultural adjustment every time. So even though it’s been a few weeks since I put the last duffel away, I am still cranking up my appallingly rusty French and Arabic. I’m still discovering new traffic patterns and restaurant closings [farewell TGIFridays].
It’s hard to keep two worlds, two ways of life, in my mind:
That wasn’t the only way I had to get reconnected. The truth was that while I was away, my relationship with God suffered too. I was immersed in the world of family and small children, and vacation and work and travel. When I could grab a few minutes to be alone with God, my head wasn’t there. I had a hard time praying and a hard time listening to God’s word. It felt like everything was out of focus spiritually.
By the time I got back to Morocco, I felt unsure about spending time with God again. It seemed I had been away so long. I was surprised to feel that even after all the years I have been walking with Him, I wondered if I was going to feel at home again.
I’m thankful–very thankful– I can say my relationship with God is coming back to life, again. He didn’t change while I was away. He didn’t get irritated waiting for me to return. When I turned to Him, He was right there ready to give encouragement and counsel and peace. Slowly but surely, I’m getting back to the state of grace. Or as they say here, shweeya b shweeya. Little by little.
Paul expressed it perfectly:
I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it. [Philippians 3:12-16, The Message]
I remind myself that I’m God’s beloved and that one day I’ll take my final journey and arrive home where I belong. But for now the tension remains. I am constantly straddling between two worlds. To keep my heavenly citizenship in mind, I am working on paying attention to God during the day. I’m trying to train my ears to hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit as I go through my to-do list. I’m trying to train my eyes to see the people around me as He sees them.
What keeps you focused on your heavenly citizenship during the day? How do you keep your heart tuned to God’s channel? I’d love to hear from you.
You might also like these posts from an unintentional series on homecoming:
Links and Notes
**Of course, you can get couscous and mint tea in the states, especially if you’re my friend Elizabeth who knows many people from this part of the world,
** Tel Quel, Morocco’s answer to Newsweek and Time