To the Displaced and the Exiled
I get it.
You sit in a crowd of people and you feel your mouth go dry, the bite you just took from your scone chokes your throat. How can you be this lonely in a crowd of people? How is it possible that your passport country feels so alien?
You were excited to return, there were many things you were sick of in your adopted country. You were tired of the dirt. You had enough of the chaos. You had to boil water one time too many and you had forgotten to soak the vegetables in iodine solution resulting in a visiting guest getting dysentery.
Your household help, who you love, was complaining and asking for more money and you simultaneously felt angry and guilty. You have so much. She has so little. But it’s not that simple.
And you were feeling so alien in your other world. The last few weeks have been chaotic and hot. So many people to see, so many projects to finish, children to prepare, suitcases to pack. You could hardly wait to go to a coffee shop and order coffee in your own language, not tripping over verbs and adjectives. You read an article on burn out and knew immediately that the article described you.
But as you look around , you let out a soul-deep sigh. You pictured all this so differently. You thought it would be so good, such a rest, such a time of peace.
You had barely arrived when you realized that life had gone on in this, your passport country. You call your best friend. She squeals with delight and then says “I’m so sorry. Can’t talk now! Heading to a work party. Gotta get the kids ready for the baby sitter. And next week we’re swamped! Kids are getting ready for camp, we’ve got church stuff. Can’t wait to catch up”.
And your siblings. Oh. Your. Siblings. You so want to be able to sit down with them, to share life. But two of your brother’s have wives that are not speaking to each other and the idea of a fun family dinner is just that – an idea.
So there you sit. All of this going through your mind. And you feel one hot tear trickle down your face. You brush it away impatiently. But there’s another. How can you escape and just let all the preceding weeks and the now fill up your tear ducts and fall freely, a red sniffley nose and all?
You are displaced. You feel you are in exile.
You’ve no home to go to. You’re not fully at home there, but neither are you here.
You make it to the car and sit. It’s begun to rain and the rain blocks the windows, sending streams of water down and hiding you from the world. It has been a long time since you’ve seen rain. Your tears fall like the heavy raindrops. You sob like you will never stop.
There is no one to hold you. There is no one to offer tangible, concrete comfort.
Slowly the sobs swallow you up. You begin to feel such relief, the relief that comes only from a cry so deep you can’t explain it.
And somehow you know that God is there. The God you cried to for weeks before making the move, late at night when all were sleeping so you would upset no one. The God who was with you when you held your 2-year-old in a steamy bathroom, far from good medical care, praying that the croup would go. The God who was with you when you first arrived on the soil of another country, looking out-of-place and oh so tired. The God who you prayed to when you went off the road in a car accident in the middle of nowhere and suddenly help was available.
The God of the Displaced and the Exiled is with you. Here and Now.
You recall the verse given to you by an older woman, one who knew what this nomadic life would hold – knew the good and knew the hard. You breathe. Slowly.
You say the verse aloud, your voice raspy, knowing you are at the end of your human strength. “Blessed are those whose strength is in you; whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, until each appears before God in Zion.*”
Softly you repeat the words “Strength to strength” and you start the car.
In January I had the extraordinary privilege of going to the countries of Lebanon and Jordan to work with refugees. One of the days that I was there, we went to the Bekaa Valley, now home to thousands of Syrian refugees. Historically, the Bekaa Valley is known as a valley of weeping, a valley of lamenting. As I sat with refugees in their tents, I thought about this, about how the valley has witnessed extraordinary pain and grief in the lives of these refugees, staying true to its history.
But the verses I quote above from the Psalms change the picture.
The person of faith walks through this valley on their way to worship. And as they do so, the valley of weeping became a place of springs, a place of blessing.
I don’t know what is going on in your life today, but my prayer is that if you find yourself in the valley of the weeping, that God will make it a place of springs. That you will go from strength to strength, knowing your God is big enough.
This article appears in the Goodbye section of Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging
[photo credit: Stefanie Sevim Gardner taken in Jerusalem looking out over the Old City.]