Sunday, March 24, 2013

Heart of a pilgrim

Last weekend, Nate and I took a brief trip to Hong Kong. We left our goose down jackets and face masks at home and boarded the plan for a three hour trip south. Upon landing, we practically skipped through the airport to beat the masses at customs. Thirty minutes later, I found myself in a taxi that drove on the opposite side of the road thanks to Hong Kong's 150 years of former rule as a British colony.

I traded in our Chinese money for the Hong Kong dollar and considered it a joy to work with multiples of seven instead of six in terms of converting against the US dollar.

Beautiful park 
For those of you who haven't been to Hong Kong, I regard it as a union of LA and NYC, condensed. Skyscrapers abound to such an extent, that if you are down below in the concrete jungle, it is hard to find that blue sky. Individuals in Beijing lack the practice of personal space, but in Hong Kong, it is not even an option. The island demands to be walked if you want to capture the alleyway boutiques, captivating art galleries and incredible food. The city is a winding maze of steep hills, street-side fruit markets, and inundated with a lively young professionals scene. Grab some fish balls on a stick, stinky tufu or pineapple buns and go explore. We opted for crepes, tacos and roasted chicken instead.

Street in the Soho district

Our final evening there, as weariness from the day's worth of stair climbing walking through the city beckoned me to sleep, tears began to quietly fall to my pillow. My silence clued my man that something was wrong.

I was smack in the middle of a mini-vacation, but for the first real time, I was homesick. And my heart ached.

Perhaps it was that I experienced yet another cultural shift. I'd just become used to the Chinese yuan and now I was handling another currency. Perhaps it was that I'd just wrapped my mind around some Mandarin sentences and now I was hearing Cantonese on top of Mandarin. Perhaps it was that I was becoming accustomed to being rejected by taxi drivers in Beijing while here in Hong Kong they drove on the 'wrong' side of the road.

It was a lot of change all at once. Again.

And it made me want the West. I wanted to be understood. I wanted to have knowledge that a restroom (with an actual toilet even) would be in proximity. I wanted to go to dinner with our friends back home. I wanted to sit across the table from one of those rare girlfriends where knowing the other is a mutually shared privilege. I wanted salsa, not diced tomatoes.

Love this door. And that man.
I wanted home.

On that day, the East reminded me with an intense emotional gravity that I was not at home. I was here, not there. 

When we landed back in Beijing, a heavy blanket of smog greeted us on the tarmac. As I took a deep breathe still inside the airplane, deciding recycled germ-filled cabin air would be better than what I was about to walk into outside, the truthfulness of it all soaked in my bones.

Ever so tenderly in my spirit, I was reminded that I am not at home. That the West nor the East will every truly satisfy my longing for dwelling.

Because I'm made for something more. And so are you.

That you too look forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God, whether you are cognizant of it or not. A residency of perfection, where you are fully known and community flourishes, held together by the Godhead. A place where the unknown becomes known and the shadows become breathtaking light. Pain is gone: decay, death, loss, and tears are no more.

I could not keep from staring at these roots

You've searched for home too. Amid the joyous moments and comforting belly laughs of friendship, you've wondered. Settled in to routine and content in your season, your spirit has whispered quietly to your soul. Right there in your apartment. Right there in your beloved house of 20 years. You've observed the surrounding hurt and pain against the backdrop of a ticking clock and somewhere, deep down, you ache for something more. Something greater.

As you should. Because you aren't meant to feel too comfortable here. This Earth and its beings aren't meant to go on and on, void of imperfection or difficulty. It's meant to remind you that you're a pilgrim here. It's meant to be so blatantly obvious that this is temporary. It's meant to admonish us for emotionally responding as if this is it.

We're pilgrims here, feet called to walk the soil of this Earth, but hearts bent towards something upward. That innate longing is a beautiful propensity to discover the God who does not change, the One whose kingdom is in heaven.

Our very existence here points to our having purpose on this Earth and plans for His glory. I sure don't want to miss that. Our time here is of paramount significance and weight.

But in the meantime, on those days where I'm tired of fumbling with my chopsticks or fail grotesquely in my Mandarin pronunciation, I'll recall, unspeakably grateful, that a better country awaits (Hebrews 11:16).

Thank you Hong Kong for the reminder that I am but a pilgrim...
PS - In case you were wondering, I am no longer aching for the West...

A few more pictures from the trip:

You have to get used to this sight. Or run from them like I do.

My man at Victoria Harbor.
Brief pause b/c of steep hill for photo opp
Arches. Can we please incorporate them more into American architecture?


Anna said...

This is beautiful, Shelly.

The Windhams said...

Beautiful! You certainly have a way with words, my dear. Thanks for sharing your life and your perspective! I was touched by this more than you know! Janna

The Windhams said...

Beautiful! You certainly have a way with words, my dear! Thank you for sharing your life and perspective. This touched me more than you will ever know.

Holly said...

Oh Shelly.... longing with you. For Home. Til then darling one, know you are ever in my prayers. Love, Holly

Ashley Jackson said...

Missing you - Ash :)

Nicole said...

Beautiful and heartfelt. Love you!

Heidi said...

So well said. I read it to my husband (I know, I have a husband!), who is experiencing homesickness himself. Thanks for such lovely words to describe what our hears are really aching for, my friend!

Profbaugh said...

Been following your adventures in the East. Just wanted to stop by and say hi. . . sending you some St. Louis--good old Midwest love!

Much love,

Brandon and Whitney Nall said...

AMEN!! I have been processing a lot of the same feelings lately too after our most recent move. We are truly longing for our heavenly HOME!!! Love you, SHELLY!!! Thanks for sharing :)

Jane said...

Your blog is really wonderful Shelly! We had Nicole home for the week and showered her with some Jersey love. We wish you safety and love in your travels! Happy blessed Easter!