Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Illusions of Stability and Instability

A few weeks ago, our family reached a major milestone when after only a month and a half apart, we were able to reunite together in Texas. The fact that this came to pass could only be explained by the grace of God and the tenacity of my wife, who to her credit managed to work with our relocation specialists to have our house sold in a span of a couple of weeks. Surely we were aided by a red-hot housing market in our previous location, but in retrospect, getting the family down to Houston in such short order was quite a feat. And while we're cooped up cozy in a two-bedroom apartment, it's awfully nice to be able to hug the wife and kids every night (well, sort of, but more on this later).

Of course, having our family together, while wonderful and uplifting, didn't and doesn't completely eliminate the sting of being away from extended family and good friends. What also didn't help is that within 36 hours of arriving in Houston together, I had to fly out for a week-long business trip to Ohio. While out of my control, it certainly had the bad appearance of, "Family, it's so great to have you here... now please excuse me as I leave..."

The truth of the matter is that I had spent quite a bit of time on the road over the past few weeks. For a ten day period, I was in Houston, then Chicago, then New Jersey, then Houston, then Ohio, then Houston. I suppose there's a silver lining in my United MileagePlus account. Part of this is due to the nature of my job, part of it is due to some specific dynamics of my current position at this time and part is due to the current transition. It's almost as if I entered a time warp and have returned to my management consulting days. Well, not quite not that bad. But it's not the clockwork daddy's-home-at-6:30 life that we used to have.

So with the family now more or less settled in our temporary apartment, we're in a better place than we were a month ago when we were living apart with me in my apartment and the rest of the family shuttling between my parents' house and a chaotic house in the midst of being sold. My wife's hyper-organization got the kids registered for elementary school within the first two days, and they were in swimming, baseball and math enrichment activities within the second week. That being said, things are far from stable. We still don't have a house, and it's conceivable that we might have to transition to a new town, school district and activities when all's said and done. And with my company suffering a terrible blow two weeks ago (a loss of a major customer which caused our stock price to plummet 8%... to the pain of my stock signing bonus), it's not out of the realm of possibility that my unit can get shut down, spun off or I could get canned in a drastic cost-reduction move. So while it might seem like a good time to sit back with hands behind head and smoke a victory cigar, there's still a ton of uncertainty.

On a more deeper level, what exactly is instability? If we recognize our role as sojourners in this world who base our security not on our bank account, house equity or even the supposed "stability" of a home, a permanent address or a stable job, are our lives any less stable than they were a year ago? God hasn't changed. God's character hasn't changed. God's love for our family hasn't changed.

So it behooves me not to fall into the same trap as the Israelites as they grumbled to Moses during the Exodus, questioning God with, "Why have you brought us away from New Jersey and family and friends to Houston to be miserable and die in this wilderness? There are no jughandle turns! There are no good Italian restaurants!" Levity aside, it's good to constantly remind myself of the truth that I am not in control, and it should be well with my soul that God is in control, and under His steady hand He leads this family. There is no better "stability".

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Yearning for Home

I think it’s safe to say that every member of the human race who has undergone some sort of transition in which there’s a change in community and family dynamics can relate with the phenomenon of homesickness. Child and adult alike has lamented either in thought or voice, “I want to go home.” But what exactly is home?

It’s more than a house, apartment or condominium. There are things about a particular building which may represent good memories of joy and reverie, but the structure plays a relatively minor role in those memories. It’s more than a geographical location, even though like a given house, a city or town may be the backdrop for moments which capture the happiness and comfort of being “home”.

Many people would say that “home” is people. There’s a lot of merit to that, given that family and friends play such a central role in a person’s comfort and happiness. One proof point for this perspective is that the preschool version of “I want to go home!” is “I want my mommy!” Clearly the company of certain people who help us to feel “at home” is a big part of the core.

I personally think that “home” is a state of being, one where we are safe, accepted and not alone. In some ways, I think “home” is the place directly opposite of “loneliness”. In loneliness, you feel isolated, unsupported, misunderstood, unaccepted and on your own. At home, you feel safe in community, fully accepted and embraced and celebrated with those who have you back.

In my own recent feelings of homesickness, I’ve tried to challenge myself and be introspective around the sadness of leaving family and friends from whom I’ve received many of the positive vibes above, such as community, acceptance, love, loyalty and camaraderie. I think there are two key findings that have emerged.

First, I can be confident that I will find a similar sense of “home” in Houston, but it will be different. Not better, not worse, but different. It would be an insult to my friends and family in New Jersey and my friends to be in Houston to assume that blessings of community will be identical. Friends aren’t replaceable and interchangeable like auto parts. Because each individual has been wonderfully and uniquely fashioned by the hand of God, my serious, casual, social and playful interactions with new friends will be very different than friends I’ve had for many years. And there will be learning curve which at times will be frustrating, but largely exciting and fun. I am confident that over time, there will be a sense of “home” that exists in Texas in the same way that I currently identify New Jersey as “home”.

But more importantly, neither New Jersey nor Texas will or should be the pinnacle of the feeling of home. If home is the place where we feel safe, accepted and loved, our laments of “I want to go home” is more accurately translated to “I want to be with Jesus”. Hebrews Chapter 11 captures the right perspective around home. After the author recounts people of faith who trusted in the promises of God and uses their lives as an example waiting patiently for that which eventually would be fulfilled in Christ:
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
Here the faithful are referred to as foreigners and strangers on earth. Other passages and translations refer to the faithful as pilgrims and sojourners. The premise is clear: as much as we may try to make ourselves comfortable and find peace in joy in our lives (which is not necessarily a bad thing at all), this world is not our home. Rather, it is in our relationship with Jesus Christ where we are most safe and accepted and where we are in that place of security when we look out to a scary world and not be afraid - for there nothing that this world can take away which isn't infinitely outweighed by the power, love and providence of God.

The trials which cause us to long for home is wonderfully redemptive. It reminds us that we're just passing through and while it's all well and good to devote ourselves to hospitality, fellowship and healthy and happy friendships - the ache of disappointment and sadness that these things will never bring total perfection is mercy which points us to the place - or more accurately, the Person - where that perfect peace lies.