When You Can’t Return

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ruthie johnson -can’t return3

I’ve always been drawn to the prophets in the Bible. Moses. Esther. Abraham. Deborah. Joseph. (I consider him one.) Each one with such unique stories, woven into the fabric of the history of our faith. I wonder if they knew their journeys would be so lasting. Did they know their struggles and miles would carry me through mine?

Sometimes I imagine talking with them, comparing notes on wandering.

“When you left home, were you scared?”
“At what point did you realize you needed to be all in?”
“How boring was that desert?”
“What did your family think?”
“What did your coat look like? Did you know they would write a musical about you?”

I find these questions renewing in my soul as I look ahead. They are as endless as the miles I’ve logged. The dust on my feet is well worn, settled into the crevices of my heels and toes. It’s made itself home over the years. See, this isn’t my first time leaving home.

The first time I left home, it was in a basket. Like Moses, I was sent off from home, in hopes of survival. I journeyed on an airplane to a new family waiting for me in another land. A land that would eventually be home, one way or another. Although I’m constantly asked “Where are you from?” my soul knows better. My journey has formed me into a being that exists between two worlds. I’m neither here, nor there.

Another time I left home was a little later in life. College. Although this transition is more common, at 17 I started college in a new state, far away from anything familiar. I’d grown up in Miami, and now, was trying to figure out what “home” meant in Minnesota. A land so different than what I knew. This time it was the spirit of Abraham I resonated with. Setting off not knowing where I was going. I just knew I wouldn’t be going back to Florida.

In my early twenties transitions became more constant. I lived in basements and spare rooms and house sat—whatever it took to keep a roof over my head. It was here I got to know Joseph, Esther and Deborah. I shared sacred moments of understanding with each one. With inconsistent housing and employment the calling of a prophet was becoming clear. I challenged policies and questioned systems, I had dreams and visions, I lost relationships and experienced betrayal.

“Where did you find your bravery?”
“Did you ever wonder why?”
“What promises did you cling to?”

Each question grounded me, reminding me I was on a sacred path. I was slowly realizing that the wandering was part of the calling.

It’s easy to idolize the prophets, their guts and courage. It’s tempting to glamourize their stories and cling to the big moments of revelation and victory. But what I have found is that the calling of a prophet is revealed in the dark, in the long obedience between the victory and resolution.

It is saying yes to the mystery. Setting off, not knowing where you are going and being ok with the loneliness of knowing you can’t explain. It’s a resilience that trusts beyond what you understand. It’s being brave enough to face rejection. It’s the isolation after you speak the hard truth. The calling of a prophet is in the moment you know you can’t return. Things never go back to how they were.

Jesus knows the journey is long and hard. He tells his followers they will be hated, that family will reject them. He reminds them this path will put them on trial before judges and kings. These exhortations are echoes of the tales of their sisters and brothers who came before them.

His words settle into my soul like the dirt on my feet. “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.”

As I look back on my journey, I know I can’t return. I’ve made many places home, for however long I was called there. And when the time came, I spoke the truth that needed to be said, I made the unpopular choice. I did the costly thing. I kicked the dust off my feet and moved forward. The prophets give me hope that my journey is a longer road than I know, and a bigger story than I can image.

Wherever this journey leads me, it a sacred delight to know that although I can never return, home will never be the same and neither am I.

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Ruthie Johnson
I’m a kid at heart who found a great job in higher ed doing what I love— crossing cultures & teaching others how to be Jesus through their ethnic identity. I have a Master's in Communication Studies and focus on critical race theory, postcolonial theory/theology & identity studies (yah, I’m a nerd). I believe in God’s multiethnic kingdom (for the now and the not yet). I believe that it takes collaboration from people of all tribes, nations and languages to work towards shalom & reconciliation. When I’m not hanging out with students, I write, read, cook and art. Join me as I navigate the blurry lines of multi-ethnicity and try to find a little Jesus in the midst of it.
Ruthie Johnson
Ruthie Johnson

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Ruthie Johnson
  • Oh, your last thought: “It is a sacred delight to know that although I can never return, home will never be the same and neither am I.” Such wisdom, Ruthie!

    • I also thought this was stunning — and I’m finding out that even if we do “stay home,” home changes all around us, and if we are wise, we allow ourselves to be changed in the process.

  • I’ve moved around more than I would like the last several years, and I’m a few weeks in to my newest transition. I’ve been bemoaning starting all over again, all over again–as though settling in a place forever is the only ideal. Thank you for this much needed perspective.

  • Mel Li

    I was thinking just today that I can’t go back or return to where I have come from. A few years ago my mom had a picture of me about to step on a tight rope. I had to go forward on it. I couldn’t turn back. Then she saw Jesus take my hand and help me walk across. Marriage is my latest glorious, sometimes hard, transition. Thanks for giving permission to wonder and ask questions. It is those questions that lead to answers and breakthrough.

  • Pamela Rapelje-Trapp

    So thankful for this writing. So many points I could highlight that held my heart. I come from a different background, but so resonate with the same answer to the mystery, the call to bravery, facing isolation and rejection. I may not be able to return to where I came from, but I can return to this powerful piece of writing that has now found a place in my soul. Thank you for sharing this wisdom.

  • Kelly Christian

    sighs…………..yeah. thank you. God keeps adding to my much needed encouragements as we have moved across the country. we think we are supposed to be here but so many doors are closing and i’m disillusioned all is a blurry wreck. but. still the Spirit keeps speaking. this is one more.