I have very few vivid memories in my life, but possibly one of the most defining moments that I will never forget was when God called me to attend UC Merced for college. This story starts with a feeling many Central Valley natives are familiar with… a burning desire to leave the second they get the chance.
I remember that burning desire to get out of my little town as soon as I could leave for college. I had dreams of attending SF State. Dreams of a dorm, life in a big city, living in a new town. I was so set on this dream, that I left no room for God to speak life into my future plans. So it took Him firmly telling me that I was staying at UC Merced for me to finally get it. I remember feeling that moment so strongly that I immediately started crying where I was, and I remember crying for days afterwards, not because I was “doomed to stay in Merced”, but because struck by hearing God that clearly for the first time in my life.
So I stayed. For three years, I established Merced as my home, redefining it with eyes of someone beginning to explore what it meant to be a young adult. Family, community, education, familiarity, and my home church were all places I invested my roots into. It was there I experienced deep seated joy and brokenness for the first time in my life. Those first two years, God really pushed at pulled at my faith and identity while growing and shaping me.
It was the summer after my second year that I first experienced a challenge that would shake my view of home. I studied abroad for a summer in Europe. I had little responsibility, no adult supervision, and whole new side of the world to explore. I had just wrapped up an extremely painful sophomore year, so I was dying to breathe new air. For once, I was sick of my little town… sick of the pain that I had felt that year, and frankly, sick of myself. So I ran away to England. Thankfully, I didn’t go crazy, and while I loved the adventurous and free spirit I didn’t realize that I had in me, I wanted to go “home”.
So back to my little cow-town I went, for my final year of college. I felt older and wiser (I laugh looking back now at myself now) and I was ready to finish up my college career. Being back in Merced was comforting, and I loved being back in safety and familiarity, but home was different this time.
My senior year I entered into my first romantic relationship, and this time, home became a person. I had found comfort, familiarity, and stability in a person I loved, and to me, that was home… a place (really a person) that I could fully be myself around. This new definition of home lasted for about a year, until the relationship ended, and that definition of home crumbled. I remember describing the feeling of breaking up as the floor disappearing from under my feet, but I look at it now, and realize that feeling was more like suddenly no longer having a roof above my head. I was, for lack of a better phrase, “homeless”.
My time since then has been like that of a hitchhiker, wandering from place to place, just trying to find the next place to lay my head down. I live in a new town, in my own place, with a cat I adore. But it doesn’t feel like “home”. My childhood home isn’t far, but when I go back that feeling of home isn’t there anymore. I visit friends and community often, going from Turlock to San Jose to Sacramento and back… I’ve memorized the streets of those cities like the back of my own hand, but home isn’t there either.
There were so many times where I’d get an itch in my soul, so relentless that I would trek two hours to be with community thinking that would relieve me… only wanting to go back “home”. I’d been frustrated so many times, trying to figure out what home means to me now.
My mother tells me I will always have a home with my family in Merced.
My close community tells me that I will always have a home with them and a place to sleep anytime I need it.
They’re not wrong.
But it’s also just not quite what I’ve been looking for.
So on nights like tonight, I come home feeling unsettled… My extroverted self is full from seeing people I love, but I’m also simultaneously even more exhausted. I’m happy, but empty. I’m not lonely, but I also feel alone. So I slip my overnight bag from my shoulders and slide to the floor, attempting to decode this reality of feeling unsettled that has become my norm.
What is home?
I wish I could say God answered me like He did when He directed me about where to go for college, but He didn’t. His answers have been coming to me piece by piece. I’ve seen His truth lining scripture. I’ve seen it during the times I’ve fought the itch to go on an adventure and instead have redirected that restlessness towards finding rest in the arms of my Heavenly Father. I’ve seen snippets of this in the still evenings I spend with my Bible and journal spread out in front of me. I see it in the times I’m driving in silence as I pour my longings out to Jesus. My mind is slowly wrapping itself around the truth that I will probably always have that itch for home…. an itch that won’t be satisfied until God’s kingdom comes to pass.
This world is not my home. Merced, my family, Turlock, my church, England, Thailand, my significant other, San Jose, Sacramento, my community, my little apartment… none of these are the “home” that will satisfy this deep, deep desire of belonging that is aching to be fulfilled.
Rather, Jesus has already gone forth to prepare that home for me. For now, I’ve learned to see the things I mentioned before as little snippets, little windows into the home that I will eventually settle into (hopefully not for a while yet).
I’m laughing because, once again, nothing has really changed. Rather my perspective on reality has changed. I will always feel restless, I will always feel like I don’t belong, or there’s something else for me out there, or that I don’t feel like I have a home… my home is with my Father. And that home that I so desperately long for is a little far at the moment… but He’s not, and I forget that SO OFTEN. So I’ll learn to be content with what God has placed into my life, a lot of “little homes” or small windows of the home I’m longing for.
My family that loves unconditionally, my home church whose support is unrelenting, my friends who are so understanding… and finally my Father who is so forgiving. In Him, whose presence I crave more than anything I could ever ask for… whose presence I often take for granted, but is unwavering and overwhelming… these are my windows from a world that I will never feel fulfilled in.
It took a lot to finally get to the place I’m at now. It took a trip to Thailand, where a desire to serve there sparked… only for God to tell me Thailand wasn’t for me yet. It took my heart breaking into a million pieces. It took friends I trusted abandoning me. It took several trips to different places. It took a billion-and-one disappointments, and watching dreams fizzle and disappear. It took all of my worst fears coming true, and so much more… for me to finally hear God whispering that I was looking at things the wrong way.
What if my greatest disappointments, or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise?
Scripture that helped me in this process: Hebrews 13:14, 2 Corinthians 4, and John 14.
-Soli Deo Gloria