So we’re not strange, but we can be eccentric sometimes. And this land isn’t entirely unfamiliar to us.
Years ago, I wrote a sermon based on Jeremiah 29 called “Strange People in a Strange Land.” In this passage, the Israelites are in exile in Babylon. They were away from the Temple in Jerusalem, away from home, away from all that was familiar and comfortable. False prophets had told the Israelites that this exile would be short, that they’d be home in a couple of years. Yet, God’s prophet, Jeremiah, had a different message: Get comfortable. Build houses, plant gardens, give your children in marriage to each other, and pray for things to go well in Babylon, because that will mean things will go well for you.
We’re in exile, and we’ve been here for over a week now. It feels like much longer.
Ours is a weather-imposed exile; Hurricane Florence made our county’s emergency manager call for a mandatory evacuation. We’re in a semi-strange place, a home not our own. It’s one we know in an area with which my husband and I are very familiar, but it’s not “home.” As conditions at home are improving slowly, we have chosen to get comfortable, to make ourselves at home. I unpacked my bag and placed clothes in drawers and closet. My own homemade soap, razor, shampoo, and conditioner all have space in the shower. Food we brought and have stored has found its temporary home on the counter, in the refrigerator, and in the freezer. Despite my frequent admonitions to “pick up after yourself,” there might be a shirt here on the floor, a pair of shoes there. In other words, we’ve sort of made this house “home” for us. However, just as homes and gardens left behind at the end of the Babylonian exile would make Babylon better once the Israelites were gone, so will we make this place better than we found it when we leave.
Sometimes, we find ourselves in strange places, places that aren’t home, places where we’d really rather not be. We are away from friends, family, and church. Our situation prevents us from helping others in ways we can and would like to. What do we do when we’re strange people in a strange land?
First, get comfortable. No one actually likes living out of a suitcase, and you certainly can’t live on fast food for weeks at a time. Pad around barefoot and sit on the floor to play games.
Two, make others comfortable. By Day 4, tempers were short and we were all totally over this evacuation. The girls and I were scared and worried about our home. (I think my husband was, too; we were just more vocal about it.) My youngest was in tears and said, “I just want to go home.” Give hugs. Empathize. Give assurances. Let the children know that they are not alone in their feelings and that their feelings are OK. Be present to the feelings the other adults are experiencing, too.
Three, make the best of it. We pretty much lucked out in our place of evacuation. There’s a lot of cultural opportunities around us. We have ample places to shop (grocery, particularly). And we’re within minutes of museums and the offerings of top state universities. So far my girls have browsed the stacks of a huge undergraduate library and are excited about a pirate festival at our state’s Museum of History this weekend.
Four, do what you can. Since we home educate, lessons can travel with us. All the aforementioned really awesome places serve as field trips. Experience new things. For me, it’s as simple as the spice blend my mother-in-law has that I sprinkled on turkey salad. For my husband, it was his first trip to Rocket Fizz. Allow the place where you are to remind you of what you love about the place you live. The drivers around here make me miss the insanity of tourist season back home. Service professionals here are awful about not providing the high quality service to which we’ve become accustomed at home. Everything about this evacuation is making me say over and over, “I miss home.”
After this, I will be more patient with the tourists that migrate our way for months at a time in the spring and summer and with the college students that fill the city summer to spring. I’ll have a greater appreciation for the first responders who have worked long, laborious days on little sleep and limited resources to rescue and care for people. Those same police officers and deputies also patrolled newly cleared streets, keeping an eye open for those who would take advantage of the situation and kept our homes safer.
When circumstances cause you to find yourself far from home, take time to, as Mr. Roger’s said, “find the helpers.” Also be sure to find reasons to be grateful.