At the local Starbucks a few months ago, in an effort to fit in, I said in my most American accent, “May I have a coffee, please.” The Barista’s response was, “Are you from Johannesburg?”
I realized then that I fitted out.
I am a stranger in a strange land. I’ve lived in the United States for 15 years, but I will always be an outsider. I do not get the humor, the sports, the customs, or the lack of cappuccino machines in every restaurant. I’ve come to terms with driving on the wrong side of the road, but I’ll never understand Imperial measurements. I love this country and this people dearly, yet I will always be foreign. Every time I open my mouth, someone asks me where I’m from. I don’t know the answer to that anymore. It’s not something I want. It just is. We do not share a common history. My schooling, family and worldview are all different, shaped by forces unknown and unknowable to any who do not share them.
If you think that’s bad. It’s worse when I go back “home” to South Africa. The only thing drawing me back is love of family. I could never return permanently. Can you imagine living without Amazon guaranteed two-day delivery! There, politics also would be a huge issue. South Africans have been so steeped in socialism; they do not even know what conservatism actually means. For them, a conservative is a Konservative – a racist, white socialist who hasn’t moved on from the Apartheid past.
So, my husband and I remain strangers in our country of origin as well as in the country we love. We have moved so often, our roots are too shallow to ever feel that something is permanent. We love Denver dearly, but were we to move from here, hardly anyone would notice our passage. A few friends at church might wonder, but we would be truly missed by none.
I long for a sense of belonging, a sense of family. I long to be missed by others. But, at the same time, I am too worn out to re-explain myself yet again. To drag up a past that with normal friendships would be a given – to explain why I am why I am, the pains and hurts, the successes and delights, the family structure and pecking order. All this. Just to be seen as I am.
Wanita! Why the pity party? You have a wonderful husband and three sweet, lovely children.
Good question, and thanks for the admonition. I'll tell you why. My daughter cried on Independence Day this year because we don’t have family to go to or invite for Holidays. In consoling her, I cried too.
But, I cannot leave it there. I have to take it back to my faith. Yes, I am a stranger, but there was One who was also a Stranger. He should not have been. He was of the Seed of David, of the Tribe of Judah. They knew Him: His roots and promise were rich and deep and stretched all the way back to the garden of Eden (Gen 3:15). Yet, this is what we read about Him.
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11-13 ESV)
Here was One rejected and despised by people (Isaiah 53). Even His own family and the villagers He grew up with treated Him as a pariah (Mark 6). Such pain and sorrow He must have felt. You can get a sense of this in His lament,
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37 ESV)
What were these people thinking?
They saw the miracles – the blind got sight, the lame walked, lepers were cleansed, madmen were made sane. They heard the wisdom – give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, Love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself, a sparrow does not fall without your Father knowing of it. They experienced the wonders – water become wine, He walked on water, He fed thousands with just a smidgen of food, He raised the dead, He fulfilled all scripture. Yet, they rejected the God of the universe and sentenced Him to death. He suffered not only physical anguish, but for that time of death, He was forsaken by God in order to fulfill the scriptures (Psalm 22, and Matt 27:46). He drank that bitter cup to the very dregs.
Oh, Man of Sorrows acquainted with grief, how can I worry about my own little problems when I see the rejection and pain You have been through? Yet, You concern yourself with my sorrows. You are the High Priest who was tempted just as we are, but You did not sin. You call me, one weary and heavy laden, you promise me an easy yoke and a light burden. You come to seek and save the lost. You are the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep.
You are the One who calls on us to welcome the stranger. Oh, the irony, that One so rejected would call for the very thing that You never received. Blessed Stranger, we are strangers no more. You are our God and we are your people.
We remember our Father Abraham who was also a sojourner in a strange land. We too have a hope and a future and look to the city whose designer and builder is God in a kingdom not of this world.
And I know, from scripture and all that He has already brought me through, that this is indeed true.