I long for God to show me where I belong,
where my home is in the world, and my smallness in it.
* * *
The summer I finished the 7th grade, my family took a trip to my mom’s hometown in Louisiana. During those few weeks, Monroe, Louisiana became home base, as we travelled to Florida, Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi. Touring the grounds of Vicksburg, Mississippi is an all-time favorite memory. My granny’s southern drawl rang loud and clear as she shouted from the back of the van to my grandfather that she had to go pee, and could he please stop at the nearest gas station as soon as possible.
In Vicksburg, we drove and walked through the battlegrounds of the infamous siege of the Civil War, and eventually stopped in the gift shop, where I discovered my infatuation with a good map, be it old or new. That summer I started collecting maps and decided I was supposed to see the world.
Tsh Oxenreider, founder of The Art of Simple, along with her husband Kyle, made the gutsy decision to schlep their children around the world for nine months. She documents their time, their adventures, and her spiritual discoveries in her most recent memoir.
At Home in the World is a thoughtful book about finding the balance between one’s need to belong, with the all too common disease plaguing many of us, we aptly title, wanderlust.
This is our grand idea: we’ll circumnavigate the earth in one direction, kids in tow, for an entire school year.
We’ll show them what it means to get lost in the world.
Each country visited, turns into chapter titles, as the Oxenreiders fly off to China, head over to Hong Kong, land in Thailand, drift over to Singapore, and then fly to Australia. They make a pit stop in Sri Lanka, then jump over to New Zealand, and head off to Africa, where they visit Uganda, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Morocco. They spend their final months trekking across Europe beginning in France, make their ascent over the Alps into Italy, then onto Croatia, Kosovo, into Turkey, a place they once called home, and wind back to Germany, and ultimately finish their travels in England.
Mostly written in first person, present tense, Tsh Oxenreider doesn’t just travelogue her way through the world, she also opens her heart and writes about her spiritual journey.
I have embarked on this year of travel, at age thirty-seven, feeling less confident than I did a decade ago about what I believe to be true, and how that truth intersects with who I am. I am weary of game playing and formulaic answers, and the evangelical-Christian hat that I have worn daily with every outfit since I was fourteen feels too small, headache inducing.
“You live in a world of noise,” Oxendreider’s spiritual director, Nora, said. “Your work is noisy. Your home life with three kids is noisy. God speaks to us best in silence, in nooks and crannies when we’re willing to ignore the cacophony.”
As the Oxenreiders make their way across the map, Tsh slowly finds her way on her spiritual path, and eventually realizes that while she might need a new grid for her evangelical faith, perhaps a new denomination, or a even different paradigm for her walk with God, her faith is still in tact. Her rich life with God remains the heartbeat of her life. Likewise, at the heart of her journey, she recognizes that her need for travel and her longing for a place to call home, are two sides of the same coin.
Wanderlust and my longing for home are birthed from the same place: a desire to find the ultimate spot this side of heaven. When I stir soup at my stove, I drift to a distant island. When I’m on the road with my backpack, my heart wanders back to my couch, my favorite cup of coffee. My equal pull between both are fueled by my hardwired desire for heaven on earth. And I know I’ll never find it.
When I first started reading At Home in the World, I wondered if, as a fellow ex-pat and world traveler, I’d be disappointed, or even worse, if I’d feel the painful sting of jealousy. Her overseas adventures turned out so differently than mine. My particular life circumstances are different from anything I ever imagined for myself.
Despite my worries, instead of jealousy, I found myself feeling solidarity, and a sense of near companionship. My life circumstances do differ. I have two children, not three, and I have not traveled the globe with my kids in tow from one country to the next. But I do know the all familiar feeling of wanderlust, I have schlepped my kids across distant lands, and I’m familiar with the bone-deep longing for a place to call home. I also recognize the shift that takes place in one’s faith as we make our way through the great inner landscape of the soul, and come face to face with the most poignant and honest questions imaginable, questions we alone are able to answer.
When we pause and pay attention, the truth is right there for the taking: our deepest longings reveal the inner workings of our hearts.
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