Chances are, if you are a female who was born and raised in Canada after 1985, you’ve probably read, watched, or at the very least are familiar with with the series, Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. For those who have not yet enjoyed the privilege of experiencing her work, the story is about a widower farmer, along with his two young children, living in the U.S. Midwest. He writes an advertisement requesting a mail-order bride to assist with the daily challenges of farming, parenting, and his desire for companionship. Sarah, an ocean-loving woman from Maine, feeling like a burden to her brother and his new wife, answers the ad and travels to the hot, dusty farming plains to meet Jacob, Anna, and Caleb to see if she can help. In the end, as all good love stories go, Sarah and Jacob do fall in love and marry.
But there is always one part in the second film (because I don’t enjoy reading) that tends to cause a lump in my throat and I find myself fighting back unwanted tears. As Sarah starts settling into married life and learning the new “ropes” of farming, a severe drought begins. The wells dry up and long-time generational farming families start leaving all they have known, due to the severity. Sarah struggles to make sense of the desperation and eventual choice of some of the farmers to leave their homes and land. Jacob had stated in past conversation that the Wittings (his family) would never leave. “We were born here. Our names are written in this land.” And so, when the barn catches on fire, Jacob chooses to remain at the farm – his home – and forces Sarah and the children to return to Maine for a visit.
After arrival in Maine, the children’s eyes grow wide when they see the ocean for the first time, and when Sarah steps near the cliff edge of her aunts’ home, the ocean comes into full view. In that moment, a knowing smile comes across Sarah’s face – this is home. After some time passes, rain does come and Jacob embarks on the journey to Maine to surprise Sarah and the children. As they return to the prairies, they all take in the beautiful sites of the farm, the new barn, some of the animals that Sarah had named and turned into pets, the blue skies, and the miles of wheat fields that surrounded them. After the others turn to chores and unpacking, Sarah breaths deep, slowly surveying all she has come to know, picks up a long stick, and leaning ever so delicately, she inscribes her name in the dirt.
“Home” was with Jacob and the children.
Insert ugly cry. Every. Single. Time.
When I moved from the Maritimes to the middle of Canada over 12 years ago, I never dreamed that these flat, seemingly endless fields, would be the place I would one day call “home”. I originally came to Saskatchewan to complete a 4-year degree. One week after graduation, Brent and I were married. He was still attending school here and following our academic careers, we moved to the first place that offered a job – the middle-of-nowhere, northern Saskatchewan. Needless to say, although we firmly believe God called us there for that time, it was far from anything we had expected, and one year later we moved to Saskatoon – one of the two major cities in Saskatchewan. Saskatoon does have the Saskatchewan river that runs directly through the center of it, similar to the St. John river in Fredericton, NB. I found it incredibly helpful to find a similar “home” away from my hometown, as I was beginning to miss New Brunswick immensely, but Saskatoon was (is) still in Saskatchewan. And if you are as terrible at geography as I am, I’ll share this tidbit of information with you: there are no oceans anywhere near this province. Surprise!
But “home” is so much more than location, isn’t it? Home is where the heart is. Home is where the people you love, the people you have known all of your life and who have known you, reside. Home is your family, your friends, your culture. Home is what you have known most of your life. So how do you learn to be home when all you have known – location, family, friends, culture – is nowhere to be seen, even if you do search for it past miles of open wheat fields?
You stop. You observe your surroundings. You study the new family, friends, location, and culture in your midst. You ponder. You reflect. You realize that you want to return to what you know. And when you realize that you and your spouse apply for numerous job postings that are ANYWHERE near what you consider to be home. You receive no reply, no interviews, no call-backs, and ultimately, you start to lose hope.
After doing this for a few years, you then realize that perhaps the feeling of lost hope may not actually be due to a lack of qualifications or even available jobs within the entire East Coast of Canada, but rather, something more. Something higher. Perhaps it is a way that is not your way. Perhaps there are thoughts in play that are not your thoughts. Perhaps, just perhaps, there is a plan; one that is vastly different from any plan you could ever have imagined.
And perhaps to be fully happy, fully content, and fully at peace, at home, you choose to stop fighting, and instead to willingly embrace God’s ultimate will for your life. And that is probably the most difficult thing you will ever do – willingly let go of all you have known and all you have so deeply, achingly desired, to be where God wants to you be and to do what God wants you to do.
As difficult and tough and long as the fight is, letting go completely, fully, and submissively of whatever it is that you hold onto so dearly, results ultimately in a peace that transcends all understanding. (Phil. 4:7) You may, at this moment, experience a waterfall of tears. I mean the doubled-over, your-stomach-aches-in-places-you-didn’t-even-know-existed, sickening-kind-of-sobs-along-with-hyperventilating, kind of tears. But they are not a result of your decision to do God’s will and be where He wants you to be. They are from grief over the loss of something you never really had, but thought you did. Grief over the loss of control over your life, which you thought you had, but never really did. Grief over the unknown, the what-could-have-been, the never-will-have, the distance from your dream, and what you think God’s plan for your life should be.
For Brent and I, this realization came over the last 6 months-ish. After applying (again) for numerous jobs that we were qualified (and even over-qualified) for, with no response, we chose to believe that God was asking us to stay in Saskatchewan…for good. After trying (unsuccessfully) to sell our house over the past two years, even lowering the price numerous times, having offers – only to have them fall through at the last minute, God miraculously sold our house with a possession date of less than 1 month! We knew that the next house we would purchase would be our long-term home. The house that was absolutely perfect for us, in a neighborhood that we could not have afforded less than a year ago, only came on the market in July – following after the decision we made to not only listen, but to embrace God’s will for our lives.
After being our new home for less than 2 weeks, our family spent some time in beautiful British Columbia to celebrate my father-in-law’s 60th birthday. The 45 minute drive from the airport to our resort was completely parallel to the waterside. Homesickness immediately took over. But God in His wonderful mercy, made my phone ring twice and that entire drive was spent with our children sleeping in the back seat, while I answered questions and assisted my temporary replacement from work. (Oh, did I not mention that on top of God asking me to give up “home”, He also asked me to give up my job simultaneously? Perhaps we’ll review that topic another day.) Otherwise, the entire trip would have been a sob-fest. But God IS merciful. From our private patio at the resort, you could see the waterfront and even hear the waves. Just steps away from our room door, was the beach. To be blunt? It hurt. A lot. But instead of seeing what I missed, what I thought “home” should look like, I saw God, mercifully granting me a precious gift just weeks after choosing to follow His will.
Upon returning back to Saskatchewan a week later, after delayed flights, missed connections, exhausted children, and missing family from our vacation already, we had a very uncanny sense that we had returned “home”, really for the first time since returning from any vacation in our married lives.
Along this journey I have come to realize that for a follower of Jesus, there can only ever be 2 homes in your lifetime. The first home is here on earth. Regardless of location, our true, earthly home is in the will of God. Even if the ocean was within my sight for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t be happy, nor would I possess peace. Because that is not where God has asked me to be. For this time, God has placed us in a very small town, with little considerable amenities, in the beautiful province of Saskatchewan. There may be things, people, views, and even cultures that I miss from time to time, but here, there is peace.
The only other “home” for a Christ-follower, is heaven. Last week as I sat in my happy place at the end of a pier, watching the boats bob in the waves nearby, and hearing the seagulls call, I had to wonder if my next home might possess something similar. I imagine seeing the reddest leaves in Fall, the clearest, crystal water, and the sounds of birds calling, perhaps even species I have yet to view, surrounded by family, dear friends, and the most wonderful friend of all – Jesus. Now that is a home worth waiting for.
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
– Colossians 3:2
For today? Brent and I share a dream to one day retire on Grand Manan Island in NB. But that is all it will remain – a dream. I will not fight my way there. If God wills it, then you’ll know where to find us – just look for the old couple, coffee cups in one hand while we use our free ones to hold each other’s, sitting on a two-person bench, toes dug into the sand, watching the waves roll in.
But if that is not what God wills, you’ll find the same thing, in Saskatchewan, on the edge of wheat fields, watching the combines during the harvest season. Or maybe God will have a completely different plan by then and we will be in the slums of India, or my most-undesired place to be – Istanbul – or maybe God will have taken one of us to our heavenly home before we had the chance to experience old age, but we will be happy…and peaceful – because, regardless of sights, regardless of location, regardless of the people that surround us, we will be in His will, and not one place else.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
– Joshua 1:9