How Do You Write Your Name in the Land?

by Elizabeth Trotter on July 24, 2014

The streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia are littered with garbage. The garbage stinks, and the open sewers reek. The construction on my street can be deafening, and I sometimes tire of all these sights, sounds, and smells.

But in the middle of this assault on my (admittedly sensitive) senses, I catch a glimpse of perfection: palm trees, right in the middle of the city. Green and graceful, the most beautiful trees in the world.

Often, at the end of a long and draining day, all I can manage is to shovel a spoonful of hummus into my mouth and plop myself down on the corner of the couch that has the best view of the palm trees across the street. What happens inside my soul is beyond words.

Even better than my living room view is the view from my roof. It’s a little slice of Heaven, especially as the clouds roll in, the winds blow, and the afternoon rains start falling. The air is delicious up there, and the palm and banana trees are larger and leafier on that side of the house. And even though I’m so familiar with them by now, some days I just can’t tear my eyes away.

So why do I share my love affair with palm trees? Well, because, in a very real way, palm trees sustain me.  There is a power in their beauty that lifts my spirit, calms my anxiety, and releases me from the stress of all the rotting streets and invasive noises. What would I do without my daily dose of palm trees? They’re a green paradise in an otherwise concrete jungle, and when I look at them, I stand in awe of my Creator.

They’re how I write my name in the land. The idea of “writing your name in the land” comes from the movie Skylark, one of my favorite American pioneer movies. Skylark is the sequel to Sarah, Plain and Tall, another favorite of mine. (I have a lot of favorite pioneer movies.)

Sarah, Plain and Tall tells the story of a woman from Maine who moves to Kansas as a mail-order bride for Jacob, a widower with two children. Jacob and Sarah fall in love, and by the beginning of the movie Skylark, they’ve been married for a couple years.

The people of Kansas are now facing a drought. The prairie dries up a little more each day, and it has truly become a “dry and thirsty land.” But Sarah comes from a place by the sea — a cool, wet place, where drought is unknown — and she’s never experienced a season like this before.

When the wells run dry, the people of the community travel to the river, hoping to find water there, but the river is nearly dry. In desperation, Sarah’s closest friend Maggie, and her husband Matthew, tell Jacob and Sarah that they are considering leaving the prairie and settling somewhere else. Sarah is so frustrated by this possibility that she blurts out:

I hate this land. No, I mean it. I don’t have to love it like Jacob, like Matthew. They give it everything, everything, and it betrays them. It gives them nothing back. You know, Jacob once told me his name is written in this land. Well, mine isn’t. It isn’t.

Maggie replies in a thick Scandinavian accent:

“You don’t have to love this land. But if you don’t, you won’t survive. Jacob is right. You have to write your name in it to live here.

Maggie winces at the severity of her own words, and Sarah walks away, not yet able to accept this truth. By end of the film, though, we watch her take a stick, bend down, and literally write her name in the dust of the land. Her heart has taken up residence in a place that is both overwhelmingly good and harsh. And she has planted herself in it.

 

I still cry when I watch those scenes. Do I love the strange land I find myself in? Have I scrawled my name in it? I still get annoyed by daily life. I still struggle to understand many of the East/West cultural differences. I still get discouraged by the sin problems inherent in an exceedingly corrupt society.

But I love this land.

I love the rice fields in the rain, verdant and green. I love the banana trees, oversized and leafy. I love the palm trees too numerous to count – a sight that never grows old. I love the clouds, large and billowing, and the sunsets, pink and orange.

So what sustains you in your host country? How do you plant yourself in the place God has called you to serve? When the earth under your feet seems to crack, when your life is dry and scorched, what do you hold on to? When the soil starts to disintegrate and your well dries up, where do you go?

When no rain falls, when the crops wither away, and there’s no harvest, what do you do? What is your anchor, and where are your roots? Where have you put your signature?

How do you write your name in the land?

About Elizabeth Trotter

Elizabeth loves life in Southeast Asia, something she never imagined was possible. Before moving to Asia with her husband and four children in 2012, Elizabeth worked in youth ministry for ten years. She loves math, science, all things Jane Austen, and eating hummus by the spoonful. Find her on the web at www.trotters41.com and on Facebook at trotters41.
  • Jennifer Humiston

    Wonderful post. This phrase will stick with me. The question we are trying to answer is “where is our land?”

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      May God be with you as you seek land to settle in, and may you know He is with you as you settle in it.

  • Marla Taviano

    I love this. And I love Cambodia. We’re hoping to be back in January. Would love to meet your fam!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Thanks Marla! Cambodia is a beautiful place, isn’t it?? Never imagined I’d love the tropics like I do though! Also, we got your email and will be in touch. :)

  • Richelle Wright

    I was never able to write my name on the land… until after some of her people wrote their names on my heart and carved a space into my life. And it was those people and God’s grace that held me anchored in the hard times. It happened in W. African, by God’s grace and so now I trust that it will happen again as we start anew elsewhere.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      This is beautiful, Richelle, I love it. And I’m believing with you that it will happen again!

  • Kristin

    Elizabeth, do you know the Kula family?

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Hi Kristin! Yes, we do, a little. Both of our families homeschool, so we occasionally meet at homeschool events :)

      • Kristin

        It is such a small world. I love this blog and have been reading it for a while now. We did part of our mission training (for a month) with the Kulas when they lived in Poland. They are a wonderful family! I loved your post, by the way :)

  • Marilyn Gardner

    I just wrote a long comment and it was deleted but I love this post. And of course I see it with my TCK eyes. So many of us had our names written on the land from birth. And the challenge is to have our names written on the lands of our passport countries if that is where God has us living. Or perhaps the more realistic is to have our names written between worlds. I loved Sarah, Plain & Tall but had not heard of Skylark. Right now I am in a Heaven of sorts, in a beautiful spot in Colorado with others whose names are written on the land of Pakistan– it is a gift! We are from all over the world and yet gathered here to enjoy each other, God, and amazing memories of a land we love so deeply.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      (I am so sorry it got deleted, Marilyn, I always want to hear everything you have to say :) If you remember any more of it, please do add it in another comment.)
      Thank you for mentioning the TCK perspective, because I hadn’t thought of it that way — where you’ve been planted in the “foreign” land since birth, and what’s more difficult is writing your name in your passport land. And of course I know that’s true, and it’s hard, because I’ve read parts of your story before, and can only imagine.
      P.S. I’m glad you’re enjoying Colorado, I saw some of the pics!

  • Anna Wegner

    Palm trees do it for me, too. :) I walk across our hospital compound, sometimes multiple times a day. When I’m turned away from the buildings, and towards the palm trees against the sky, it always lifts my spirits. And in the evenings, we have some great sunsets. :)

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      So glad we share a love of palm trees! I think there will be lots of them in Heaven :)

  • Rebecca Barlow

    Elizabeth…I LOVE this post. Being a fellow homeschool mom, I remember us reading & studying Sarah Plain & Tall AND Skylark and watching the movies when my kids were little. It’s SO true…and something I would have NEVER thought I would ever have applied that story to in the future. Back then I could never have dreamed that we’d be living in a 4th world country, in HAITI…where life is HARSH and complex. I’ve just spent the past 5-6 weeks working with moms & babies in a more remote area here. The hardship & DANGER of childbirth for these women has broken my heart afresh…and yet they hurl themselves forward into motherhood just the same, sometimes by choice, quite often even against their own desires. But they are BRAVE and STRONG in the midst. I’ve been training the FIRST ever postnatal nurses here to provide follow up care, catch lethal infections, identify breastfeeding issues that could lead to malnutrition, water borne diseases in newborns & death. We’ve discussed postnatal treatment for the rampant hypertension here…and it’s already working. Babies have been referred to higher care that would have been unidentified & gone home & died. So while what often DOES sustain me IS the beauty of this land…YES, I am a palm tree lover too and the SKIES, the mountains, the sunsets…nature has always FED my soul, My answer is found though in the eyes of a mom looking down at her new babe…and praying to God for safety. In feeling the arms of a malnourished child grasping my neck as if holding on to life itself, as I sing to her. In the soft touch I must give to a family member who has lost their loved one.
    THIS is where & HOW – despite being completely overwhelmed at times by the raw & unforgivable sides of this country – I DO find myself writing my name in the land….

  • susaninguatemala

    Volcanos, I can sit in awe of them for hours and then God puffs a little smoke and I’m awestruck all over again . Great post, love this blog!

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