Sitting watching the World Cup in an Irish pub in the Montreal airport, the man next to me strikes up a conversation. After confirming that yes, I was cheering for Germany (Özil is my favorite), he asks a seemingly mundane question: “Are you travelling somewhere or going home?” I must have stared at him for an awkwardly long time before answering, “Yes.”
You see, home is a complicated thing for an expat. I gave him the short answer, “I live in Morocco but I’m back home in the States for the summer.” What I didn’t say was that Morocco feels like home even when I’m homesick for America. Or that I was leaving an apartment in Casablanca that would never be the same home again with two roommates gone, and that the next semester would be a long one making the same apartment feel like home again. Or that I was going home to Wheaton but not home to my brother’s house since he had moved to Wisconsin, but home to an college apartment that would feel empty and not like home at all until all my classmates came for homemade pancakes.
I didn’t tell him that sometimes the airport almost feels like home.
You see, home is a complicated thing for an expat.
When I first moved to Ghana, I made a conscious choice to call Accra home. It was a rough time, so I had to embrace where I lived as a way of countering my desire to be elsewhere. But somewhere along the way I started saying again that I was going home for Christmas. I couldn’t deny that Kansas would always be a special place. After all, there’s no place like home.
Slowly I shifted from having two homes, to many. Ghana, the US, and Morocco. My house, my parent’s house, and my brother’s house. Then the Billy Graham Center, Heathrow Airport, and my favorite café in Madrid. Eventually any place that held familiarity or familiar people instantly became home.
But sometimes, the many shrinks down to none. There is no one person who has been with me in all of those homes. There is no one place where I feel no homesickness at all.
That deep longing for home is relentlessly persistent.
I listened to a podcast recently in which the speaker addressed the deep desire we each have for home. Some may desire home in the form of a spouse plus 2.5 kids and the American Dream. Others in the form of a community in which they feel accepted. Expats may desire home in the form of familiar language and food. Many desire home in the form of time with loved ones over the holidays.
The problem is, as wonderful as all of these homes may be for those who are blessed to experience them, in the end there is still a longing.
In the podcast, Jen Pillock Michel reminds us that these homes are “good gifts, but are not ultimate.” I don’t know about you, but none of these homes has yet to satisfy my homesickness.
But the story doesn’t stop there.
Christ becomes Immanuel. God with us. He makes his home with man so we can be at home with him. He leaves his home so that he can identify with me in my homesickness. With you in your homesickness.
And then, he goes back home to make a home for us.
As long as I live abroad, I will be homesick. But whenever I move back home, I know the longing won’t go away. And yet one day all those homesick tears will be dried and I will be welcomed home.
“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” CS Lewis