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‘Home’ is a funny word, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s an idea that brings us comfort, warmth, and anticipation. It reminds us of a place we long to go back to that holds warm memories and feelings of familiarity. We often associate ‘home’ with a certain physical location, maybe the town we grew up in or a house we’ve lived in for a long time. But then when seasons of transition or sudden change arrive (like what many of us are experiencing right now with COVID-19), and we find ourselves spending an extensive amount of time in the place we call home, we realize that our idea of ‘home’ might not have been everything we thought it would be. It’s much more complex and unsettling than what we remembered or hoped for. It causes us to begin longing for a different community.
Ever since I started college, the concept of home has become transient. At the start of my freshman year, my hometown in Wisconsin was my obvious home, and Indiana Wesleyan was my temporary one. It was simply my place of education. I would look forward to long breaks where I could see my high school friends and family and spend time in the Northwoods. However, over the last few years, as I’ve gotten more involved and rooted on campus and at my church in Marion, Indiana Wesleyan has become my main community—a place where I can be known and loved—my home. I have started using the phrase “going home” to mean both ‘home’ in Wisconsin and ‘home’ at IWU.
This has become apparent during this season of isolation, as I find myself unexpectedly back in my hometown, spending a lot of my time longing for the community I have at Indiana Wesleyan. Being home in Wisconsin doesn’t feel the way it used to. I have grown and changed so much during my time at college that the person I am now no longer seems to resonate (as easily) with my ‘home’ in Wisconsin. My friend group has changed, my church community is no longer the same, and even the dynamics within my family are not what they used to be. The community where I currently feel most known and loved is 600 miles away.
But this time of social distancing has also made me realize that my time at Indiana Wesleyan is coming to a close sooner than I’d like to admit. By the end of next year, I will be leaving Marion with my diploma in hand (hopefully), heading to the next place which I will call home. This leaves me in a place of tension and uncertainty: my old community no longer feels like home, but college—which has become my home—is only a temporary space.
I sometimes feel like I’m living in what author Jeff Manion calls “the Land Between.” It’s a season of wandering, where the comfort and stability of the life I’ve once known slips away, but the resolution of the next place, the next feeling of home, is vague and uncertain. I feel lost, lonely, anxious, and hurt—caught in the wilderness, in the land between, unsure of how to navigate the terrain.
I think it’s important to recognize these feelings; to lament that which I have lost. The pain is real and there are so many things happening that I could never have expected. However, though so many things feel out of my control, I still find that I have a choice in how I choose to posture myself during this season. This space of wilderness is a space where I can choose to either root and grow with the people around me in the soil placed before me, or I can turn inwards upon myself, clenching onto the things I wish I had, and shrivel up. If I keep my fists clenched, holding tightly only to the familiar or ideal (the people and places that make me feel comfortable, or the idea that something or somewhere else is always better), I can grow resentful, bitter, and stagnant. But this only causes the soil I am planted in to become dry as I choose to focus solely on myself and the things that I have lost. However, if I choose to let go, to open my hands to receive whatever is next, the land between can become the fertile soil which allows me to grow and transform in ways I never expected.
I can see this narrative played out in the desert wanderings of the Israelites, as they made their way in the land between slavery in Egypt and the hope of the Promised Land. As they journeyed through the desert, the people of Israel were faced again and again with the choice to turn back to what they knew (that which was “better” in Egypt) or to see the ways in which God was providing for them and transforming them into His holy people. Even when they could not see it (and often didn’t), the Lord was revealing Himself to the Israelites in ways they might never have seen in the familiar.
I’m starting to realize that I don’t need to limit my idea of ‘home’ to a specific place or community. While there are certainly physical spaces that hold deep memory and value for me, God is everywhere, and there is beauty, grace, and transformation to be found in any space I find myself in. ‘Home’ is less about the place and more about the people—those who truly make me feel known and loved. In this land between, I need to make sure that I remain in contact with those who know me best (even if we are far away from one another) and continue to let my cup be filled by those people. As I transition into different seasons of life, my friendships and relationships might not look the same as they have in the past, but what will consistently stick with me is the way that those people have shaped and formed me into the person I am today.
I have found that being in the land between is hard sometimes because I don’t feel like I’m being filled as often. But maybe the seasons of being filled (and the relationships and events that have helped me flourish and change) are there to prepare me for a season of being poured out. What if being ‘home’ in Wisconsin, right now, is my opportunity to be that new, transformed person? To love my old community, my old home, even better than I could before? Finding community in the land between requires me to open my heart to the people that God has placed in front of me right now, in the space that I’m in. I could choose to hold onto the things I’ve lost in my old community (my friend groups, my church, my social circles) and remain stagnant. I could sit and wait for the ‘perfect’ community that I might have someday. Or, I can choose to invest in the people and community that stand before me today. And as I turn my eyes from myself to those around me, I’m able to see the grace and joy that have been available to me all along. I’m able to find ‘home’ in every moment of my life.