A couple of weeks into my deputation, I saw a tweet by someone … a priest somewhere … someone I don’t know in real life … but whose words resonated deeply: ‘Home is where you are loved’.
I wrestle with the question I am often asked: ‘Where is home for you?’ It’s usually posed in response to my accent, which is most definitely American.
But as I move from country to country, the answer has become longer and longer:
‘Do you mean, where was I born? Then England.’
‘Do you mean, where was I raised? Virginia.’
‘Do you mean, where are my roots? Scotland … mostly Edinburgh.’
‘Do you mean, where do I live now? Israel.’
If you’re asking, where am I loved? Then all of those places.
There’s that old saying: ‘Home is where the heart is’. My heart resides in many places. In three countries. On three continents.
And, of course, St Augustine’s prayer: ‘Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’. I am human and flawed and still in search of that perfect rest.
I arrived back in Israel in the wee hours of the morning Thursday morning and caught the first glimpse of the sun rising over the Sea of Galilee as a friend drove me from the airport to Tiberias. I breathed the warm air deeply and knew I was back where I belonged.
I should have come back yesterday, but for reasons personal and professional, I changed my flight. Something in my gut told me I needed to be back. ASAP.
A couple of hours after I dragged myself out of bed after too few hours of sleep Thursday morning, I got a call. A member of staff at the hotel had died … tragically and too soon.
The funeral was yesterday, and I’m still reeling from the news. We all are. I feel his absence in the bar where he served and in the staff dining room where he and I would often eat dinner together. Many of his circumstances resonated with my own.
I will miss him — do miss him — hugely. I wish I could have told him how grateful I was for his friendship. I wish I could have told him how much he meant to me. I wish I could have told him he was loved.
The thing is, I have had some dark, dark moments over the past months. Heartbreak. Loneliness. Shame. Disappointment. Regret. I know the deep soul-wrenching pain all too well. I know what it is like to want it to just go away because it feels too much to bear.
I have known numbness too. The lack of feeling that comes with depression and mental ill health. The total disconnection from everyone and everything.
And knowing how it feels (or doesn’t feel), I ache to know another felt it too, because I would not wish it upon anyone, and I would give all I have to remove that burden from another.
As I looked at the gospel reading for tomorrow and read the words of Jesus to his disciples, ‘and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward’.
I’ve been reflecting on that simple act of giving a cup of cold water to one who is thirsty. It’s not just hospitality; it’s an insurance of survival.
And over the past days, I’ve thought about all of you who have offered me cups of cold water during the past year. They may have seemed like tiny gestures to you, but your 3-line emails assured me I was being prayed for. Your Christmas cards reminded me I was not forgotten. Your visits told me I was not alone. And on deputation, all your warmth and generosity and welcome brought deep refreshment.
The adage ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ comes to mind in situations like these. I’ve always hated it. Because God’s grace is there for all of us. In equal and abundant measure.
But as someone wise said to me recently, sometimes the landscape of our lives changes, and sometimes, those changes are so great, it’s like moving from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere. It’s the same sky, the same stars, but it takes time to learn the new placement of the constellations.
And that’s how it feels with God’s grace at times. We need others to point it out, to help us understand the sky which now seems so huge and unfamiliar.
On my final deputation visit, I was at Dunfermline Abbey where I was presented with a banner covered in colourful fingerprints. It was made three years ago, not originally intended for me to be its recipient, but it was given to me as a visual reminder of all who now know me and are now praying for me.
I’ve hung it in my apartment, and as I look at it, I remember the hands of the people who have offered me cold water when I was thirsty. I see the fingers pointing towards God’s grace, which is not always recognisable. I know that wherever I am, I am home, because I am loved. And that love sustains me in the work I do, as I in turn offer cups of cold water, point to God’s grace, and try to reflect God’s love here in this wonderful complicated land.
And so I am writing this long and rambling post simply to say what I do not say often enough: That you matter. Your words matter. Your love matters. And you are loved in return.