Vapor and Ashes

It’s as if we were living in a house and it burned to the ground. I’m not sure I ever stopped to make a list of what was left in the house, of what we lost. We moved into a new house, fully furnished — it was easier just to pretend everything was normal,” I processed out loud with my mentor. Learning of many friends who have also been displaced from their homes for an indefinite amount of time had pricked a sore spot in my heart. It was making me wonder if I had ever really grieved properly for the home — a whole world, really — that simply disappeared, vanished into vapors except for 6 suitcases and a handful of emails and text messages.

Photo by Vlad Bagacian on

The world exists now only in my dreams and flashbacks or in the Instagram feeds of the friends that still lived there (until recently). Once, I had a dream so vivid that we’d purchased tickets to return and were preparing to go, hopeful we could find another apartment in the neighborhood we shared with wonderful neighbors, that it wasn’t until I was sipping my coffee and sleep’s fog began to lift that the truth began to sank in:

We don’t have visas. We don’t know if we would be able to get them. We probably can’t. We’re not going back.

That place that we called our home for 7 years, to us, is gone. Poof. 

What is in the ashes? What if I could get into them and excavate more of the loss?

Among others …

The dream we had to live and work cross culturally, to love our neighbors, to raise our children as TCKs.

The community of Believers — expat and otherwise — that makes each other brave, that learns how to be vulnerable and become intimate, because it’s so clear that Jesus has made us Family.

The expats around me, particularly the ones in my neighborhood, who pursued me and my family, taught me, shared their time and resources and expertise with me, and chose to love me (and my family) unconditionally through some really rough times, personally. 

The grandpas, the aunties, the waitresses, the shirtless cooks, the babies with their little booties peeking out from their split pants — the beautiful people who shone the image of God, with their smiles and greetings, their concern and delight in my babies, their curiosity about us as outsiders. The truth is, the Spirit had given me a strong premonition that our time overseas was coming to a close and this — smiling eyes and friendly greetings, wrinkled skin and methodic fans swatting mosquitos away, organized neighborhood dancing and tai qi — this often made my heart swell with love and joy and preemptive grief. The joy of being immersed in such a beautiful culture, made my heart long for heaven where we will fully see and enjoy how God made all peoples to reflect his beauty.

I loved that place. I loved living there. I adored its people and culture. (And sometimes things there made me so angry and violated and confused that I felt I hated it all. Both are true.)

That place as our home, the world as we inhabited, is vapor and ashes. 

It is sad. 

It is also a very hard and normal part of this fallen world.

“For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3:19

So much a normal part of this fallen world, that the reason I am thinking so much about this right now is because a similar thing is happening again right now.

This year is a year of transition for us —knowingly stepping into housing and jobs and community all for about 10 months. Now, we do the job from home, see the community only virtually, and Jubi may never need to step foot in her school again (though the thought that we could is a comforting one). A whole season of life, albeit a short one, vaporizing before our eyes. Again. 

It’s disorienting and heart-breaking. It is right and good to grieve.

But we do not grieve as those who don’t have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The God who formed us in our mothers’ wombs, re-forms us through Jesus. In Jesus’ name, the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the Good News is preached to the poor (Matthew 11:4).

Not only do we hope in the day God makes all things new and death, sickness, and loneliness will be vanquished, we have an Emmanuel God who is making us new right now (yes, even right now). He understands what it’s like to leave his home with all its comforts, to feel isolation and loneliness. He is near and He is the friend for whom we all long. 

Here, our homes eventually turn to ashes, as do our dreams and our bodies. But the God who made it all from dust, his word, and breath stands forever and works all things for his glory and our good until the day He’ll re-make us to live forever out in Heavenly home. Until then, He holds us by the hand, directs our steps, delights in every detail of our lives (Psalm 37:24).

Photo by Nadi Lindsay on

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