Monday, May 2, 2011

A Stranger

I am pondering what it means to be a stranger.

Today I learned that Osama bin Laden has been found, killed, and buried at sea. I learned all this through the posts of friends on Facebook. I have subsequently watched US news reports on the Internet, but I am fairly certain that if it were not for Facebook, I would still be unaware of these events. There was not a word about it in the French papers today, and there is certainly no rejoicing in the streets. It's just another day in France. And I am a stranger here.

Chandler has just finished reading Ted Dekker's Circle Trilogy, a series that I, too, have read. On the way home from school we discuss the rich metaphors and allegories that are woven throughout this series of novels. We talk of sin and redemption and faith and evil and angels. We consider the implications of  fictional parallel universes and ponder the mysteries that were left unsolved at the end of the third book. Suddenly I realize that I am having an entirely adult conversation with my baby. And I am a stranger here.

Graham has been closely following the evolution of his favorite band, Skillet. They have recently replaced their lead guitarist. Graham was trying to figure out how he could audition for the spot. I ask David privately, "Is Graham actually good enough to play lead guitar for Skillet? Is he even qualified?" David assures me that Graham is indeed capable. Pride mingles with humility as David admits, "Graham is already a better guitarist than I am. He has the passion, the talent, and the drive. I would not be surprised at all if he goes pro. Perhaps not now with Skillet--he's only 15! But someday." I face the reality that my son wants to be a rock star. He is starting to follow his own dreams, to find his own destiny. And I am a stranger here. 

David and I have spent practically every minute of the past 10 months together. We go to school together, we eat together, we sleep together. We are tying to imagine what it will look like to work together, to aid in the planting of churches together, to join in God's vision together. We both tend towards independent. We both cherish our own creativity, our own ideas, our own insights. I begin to understand more and more the need to die to self. And I am a stranger here.

Back in the States one nephew prepares to marry, while another conducts a youth orchestra in the playing of his own composition. Eldest niece will soon graduate from law school, littlest niece sports pink cowboy boots, and middle nieces hold tea parties. Extended family plans a tri-annual reunion. One dear friend packs for a cross-country move, another registers for a half-marathon. Sister pierces nose. People I love are living life to the full, and for that I rejoice. But  I am a stranger there, too.

In the midst of this alien life I am living, I do not feel alone. In some ways I feel closer than ever to the one who left the throne of heaven for the stench of a stable. The words from I Peter keep running through my head, " your lives as strangers here..." I memorized that verse a few years ago, but I am certain that at that time I did not fully understand what was being asked of me. I probably still do not fully understand it, but I have been slightly enlightened.

When you live as a stranger, you don't quite fit in. Not here; not there. When you live as a stranger, you always feel off-balance, so you learn to accept wobbling as a way of life. When you live as a stranger, you are quick to listen. Listening becomes intentional. You are slow to speak because you are keenly aware of how little you know.You mostly ask questions. You are eager to learn. Everything you say takes monumental effort. You and your sentences are often meandering and sometimes lost. When you are a stranger you are on alert, using all of your senses all of the time. Sounds are louder, colors are brighter, smells are stronger. You experience time differently because your life now spans multiple time zones and multiple generations. In this way you glimpse eternity. When you are a stranger, you begin to understand and fully appreciate the concept of  "home."

Today, decisively, I embrace my role as "stranger." In each arena of my life where I am a stranger: in my marriage, my parenting, and my callings; I am discovering new territory. To grow, I must become a stranger. To be changed, I must be willing to go to unfamiliar places. As a stranger, I exercise my faith, I learn compassion, I experience Jesus.

To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Washington, Oregon, Texas, Indiana and France, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. I Peter 1:1-2 (sort of)


  1. Great insight Jen, it makes me think of the great contrast between those who are adopted into Christ’s family and those who's hope is elsewhere when we finally recognize the absurdity of this world.

    The realization that everyone of us are strangers to every other, that we are truly aliens and alone - isolated in our own minds, brings a disguised but deep loneliness and purposelessness.

    Consider Meursault from L'Etranger - Albert Camus.
    "For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate." --

    Whereas Christ brings purpose - Christ is purpose.
    "To live is Christ to die is gain"

  2. Jenn,
    Mind if a borrow a paragraph of your blog--the one starting with "when you live as a stranger"?? I want to use it in our final training session with the team leaving for Kenya on June 8. You did a masterful job of summing up what it feels to dwell in another culture. . .such as this world!
    Much love to you,

  3. Excellent description of the life of a cross-cultural worker. Praise God that you know WHY you are a stranger and that you know where/WHO is your place of belonging. Blessings!