A few weeks ago, Will and I drove our family to Kentucky to see my parents. I forgot just how good it felt to be home, where the smell of my mother’s fresh whole wheat bread welcomed us and wrapped around us comfortingly.
I walked through my mother’s garden with her, enjoying her presence and marveling at the perfect tomatoes and long rows of green beans set atop a green Kentucky hill.
The children ran and played in my parents’ large and gracious yard full of flowers and trees. They took a boat out on the pond and once they reached the middle of the pond, hopped off one by one into the water like frogs. My brothers set up a four-square game in their new shed, and we played until we were breathless in the heat. I taught my ten-year-old how to play ping-pong. After dark, even the adults ran around the yard screaming and laughing in a game of Kick the Can.
We sat at a long table laden with home-cooked food and ate and talked while the little ones banged their spoons and dropped morsels on the floor. Every meal was ended with singing together before the children ran off to play.
The final evening of our stay, all of us went boating on Nolan Lake. The evening was cool and clear and achingly beautiful.
The weekend was so surreal, the kind of simple joy and abundance and friendship that I had almost forgotten about. It made me want to go back to my roots.
My life now is so different from how I was raised. It’s been five years since Will and I bought a house in town and began the process of leaving the comfortable and familiar behind to follow Jesus, and since then have lived through a succession of painful losses and unimaginable gains.
I cannot understand God’s ways. They are both too hard and wonderful to understand.
We have helped people nobody else wanted to help, offering housing and appliances and money for utility bills simply because the love of God was in us and we wanted to help. Sometimes those people took advantage of us in ways that hurt me more than I want to admit.
However, there was the time I was in the check-out line at Dollar General when I received a message from a friend. “God has put in on my heart to buy you a new Bible,” she wrote. I struggled to hold myself together while buying my laundry soap and toilet paper. I didn’t want to explain to the clerk why I was crying over a pack of toilet paper!
I feel a constant gnawing loneliness and longing for my birth culture. I think my old friends have mostly forgotten me, but they are so much busier than I am so I can’t blame them. But I wish I knew that they still thought of us, just once in a while, and sent up a prayer to Jesus for us all.
But I also feel a constant sense of awe and gratitude at God’s provision through His people in our town. I had a minor surgery recently, and didn’t think of telling anyone about it. Somehow, ladies from the local church squirreled out the truth and meals started showing up at our door. We received the food with gratefulness, tasting their love and care in every bite.
How could God call one Mennonite family out of so many. Just one? Two big people and four little people out of hundreds and hundreds? Why should we be singled out while the rest enjoy a life of overflowing abundance?
Yet I know the warmth of love from my diverse ladies’ group. I know how it feels to pray, to cry, and to love across lines I did not know I could cross. I know what it means to bless and even more what it means to be blessed.
I do not understand God’s ways. Maybe I will never enjoy the things I grew up loving, things like getting together with family or friends Sunday evenings for ice cream, or growing a huge, productive garden, or having a haven in the country with animals to care for and dirt to play in. Maybe we will always be the ones who plant the fruit trees that someone else picks and the ones who go to places nobody else wants to go.
I don’t feel critical of the people living an idyllic life, or the people in town who took from us and ran. I mostly feel curiosity tinged with longing. What is God up to?
I don’t know. I don’t understand His ways.
But He knows me, and where He is leading our family.
Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
Job 23:8-10 (ESV) emphasis mine