A Sojourner in a Foreign Land

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The sound of the waves has faded into memory by now and the story of deliverance threatens to dissipate right along with it. Free from bondage, witnesses to miracles beyond belief, we thought we’d be settled by now. As our feet dig circles in the burning sand we understand why. We are still living in exile. When will we finally be home?

***

A year ago everything about our path was unknown. Jobs in one country had fallen through but we pursued opportunities in another, little known to us. We were selling our home without another yet in place. We didn’t know when or where we’d land. It was in the words of Exodus that I found courage, believing God would part the sea for us.

I recently sat down at the prompting of a spiritual director via an online retreat I attended. We were instructed to map the last twelve months of our lives. We were to mark the high and low points in our journey. That was easy enough to do. But then as part of this “peaks and valleys” exercise we attached a color to each experience, representing an emotion. In each moment were we angry, scared, excited, sad, happy, or tender towards God, others or ourselves?

My sketch looked like the plummeting hills of a roller coaster, the kind that makes your stomach plunge into your throat with each startling twist. The last marker, like the “you are here” on a map was a low point, a blot of black ink indicating fear. I realized as much about our lives is as uncertain as a year ago. We thought, like the Hebrews, that past the sea we would find freedom. We found more questions instead. Six months into life in a new country we ask: When will the language start to make sense? When will we stop feeling so lost, make a friend who really knows us, feel settled or fulfilled, have expectations met? How long will we stay? A thousand questions remain and home seems an unattainable dream.

In full color, all the tiny transitions of the last year became a map of my journey of fear and faith. We were prompted to ask, “When have I felt this way before?” as we looked at our experiences. The green of new life and excitement contrasted with the dark points of fear and I realized in both excitement and fear, joy and sadness, we’ve been living in the wilderness. Yet sometimes I found joy in the dessert of the unknowing and others I retreated into despair. What was the difference?

In the moments of excitement I saw closeness to God and a trust that He would carry us through, that the things we didn’t yet know didn’t matter as much as the One we did know. But in the moments when I was frightened of what could happen I had forgotten His deliverance. Like the grumbling children of God in the wilderness I saw my hunger and forgot the sea behind me, all my enemies vanquished underneath the waves.

We spent part of the retreat reflecting on Exodus and I saw my old familiar friend Moses anew. For the first time I realized that he spent his entire life as an exile. He was a stranger in the palace of his childhood, a foreigner in the hills of Midian, an outsider among his own people who he didn’t grow up among, and a sojourner in the wilderness. He never found a place to settle. His entire life was spent in transition from one place to the next.

In his life of wandering he lived among the peaks and valleys, too. Moses named his firstborn Gershom meaning “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” I imagine he felt lost at times too with a longing for just a moment of rest. Would he ever know the comfort of settling? Yet he didn’t forget who was with him in his life as an alien, naming his second son Eliezer, “My God is help.”

In a lot of ways, I’ve chosen a life of constant transition. We’ll always be part of a rotating expat community. My kids will see friends come and go and part of them will never feel at home in their own culture having lived in South Asia. We will rely on visas to keep us in our home and always wonder when our circumstances could change. We’ll always be foreigners in this land even if we were to become fluent in the language.

But I don’t know that I’d be any less a foreigner in my passport country. I never felt settled there either and I think that’s why I’m drawn to Moses all along. This life is but a series of peaks and valleys on our journey home. The lens with which we view them determines our outlook on life. Will I live in the fear of the unknown, unsure where my bread will come from tomorrow? Or will I look at this ever-wandering life with the eyes of faith, remembering the Parter of the Sea, the Giver of Manna?

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Nicole T Walters
Though my family’s roots run deep in the soil of the Southern United States I, along with my husband and our two little ones, am learning to love hot milk tea instead of sweet iced tea as we make our home in South Asia. I hope to help others create space to listen to God and others and to lead lives that love at A Voice in the Noise {nicoleTwalters.com}. I have authored essays in several books and my writing has appeared in places live CT Women, Relevant, and Ruminate. I am a regular contributor at here at SheLoves, The Mudroom, and READY Publication and am a member of the Redbud Writers Guild.
Nicole T Walters
Nicole T Walters

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