As long as I can remember, I have held a passport and traveled quite often as a child. My favorite places to travel are locations with beautiful, sandy beaches and crystal blue waters. I love the idea of going to new countries and experiencing other cultures. Simply planning the trip is exciting and the anticipation of a great vacation builds with each new adventure on the itinerary. When we travel, we not only hope, but expect sunny skies, great weather and calm seas. Even though, we know that the weather is uncontrollable and sometimes unpredictable. Wind and rain can hurl down unexpectedly on anyone at any time and in any place. Then we have to adjust our itinerary, manage our disappointment and develop new plans. Isn’t that just like life? It is just as uncontrollable and unpredictable as the weather.
Sometimes, we treat our lives like a well-planned vacation expecting only sunny skies and undeterred plans. Unfortunately, life isn’t that controllable. As a matter of fact, at any given time our plans can be altered by an unforeseen event, tragedy or traumatic experience. Not only will your life plans have to change, but the act of navigating through that place is painful and often unbearable. Times such as these will usher you into an unexpected and unwanted place.
Perhaps you know this place to which I am referring. It is that place that you never visited before and didn’t know much about. It is a place you often wished could be erased from the passport of your life. In that place, there aren’t any fragrant and beautiful flowers to adorn your neck when you arrive. A concierge is not available to address your accommodation concerns. You do not even receive a welcome brochure detailing the daily activities and excursion highlights. The most frustrating part of this place is that you do not have the opportunity to make the reservations nor approve the itinerary. All you know is that one day it was sunny, clear skies and warm temperatures, and the next day, you are “There.” If events in your life have ushered you to that place called There, you are not alone.
Stranger in the Land
Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law in the book of Ruth, also found herself in that place called There. She was married with two sons and lived in Judah until a famine caused them to relocate to Moab. During early times, for a woman to be married and bear children it was the equivalent to being wealthy. The social status of a woman was at the bottom of the barrel next to the poor. Widows, orphans and immigrants were placed alongside the poor, but in many occasions would be treated as less than them. Women did not even have the same opportunities as the average, poor, adult, male Israelite. In this patriarch social structure, widows were dependent on their fathers, husbands or in the absence of both, the obedience and kindness of others.
Consequently, manpower was needed for sustenance and usually the male was that source of provision as well as the covering. Without the male, the woman was left extremely vulnerable. Having children in this culture was imperative to carry on the family lineage and in most cases to contribute to the family’s economic stability.
Therefore, being married with children, led to a stable ‘happily ever after life.’ Presumably, Naomi was living that life until the time of the famine. Ruth 1 records, that while in Moab, her husband died. Naomi and her two sons lived in Moab for ten years, took wives for themselves, and then they both died there as well. Now, Naomi was a widow, childless and a stranger in the land.
When I relocated from the North to the South, the most frequently asked question I was asked was “How in the world did you get from New York to Mississippi?” Everyone wanted to know why I would leave the big city and move to a small town in Mississippi. I was asked if I had family there or if my job relocated me? For a long time I evaded those questions because I did not know how to answer from an honest place without revealing the painful reality of my journey.
The reality was that New York was not my home; I was born and raised in Connecticut. New York was the place I went to so that I could live out my dreams. It was the place I obtained my college education. It was the place where I got married, had my first child and bought my first house. It was the place that I stayed for 18 years and had the life that I wanted until it was all gone.
It was now the place that my husband died, I became a widow at 35, single mother looking at foreclosure and receiving food stamps. It was the place where I found myself There. There, is the place where you never expected to be. It is the place where you are suddenly drowning in a sea of despair and tidal waves of hopelessness crashes into your prayers and faith. There, is a place of darkness. There, is a place of brokenness. There, is a place of pain and grief. Instead of white sandy beaches, cliffs and valleys fill the landscape. Instead of light blue skies, darkness and muddy slopes create a new horizon. No one wants to be There, but unfortunately, some of us will either visit or become an involuntary resident, like myself, Naomi and countless others.