A Place to Call Home

My family summer vacation this year was superb.  It had all the bells and whistles a person could ask for.  My wife did a great job planning the excursion, and even went so far as to outline each day's events on an excel spreadsheet.  We had decided to travel by car across country to Virginia and Washington D.C.  The scenery was breathtaking as we traveled through the Appalachian mountain range.  God knew what He was doing with the American landscape in this part of the country.  I suddenly felt very grateful to be alive.  In fact, I remember one day where we followed a looming thunderstorm in it's early stages of development, all the way to our first hotel.  The reflection of the setting sun against the tall, billowing cloud was like something out of a National Geographic magazine. 

Our stay in Virginia was also picturesque.  Only an hour away from the ocean and boardwalk by car.  Not to mention some plush accommodations in the resort itself.  From there, we turned the car toward our nation's capitol.  The whole family was excited.  There were monuments to visit and photos to take.  Once we arrived at the hotel in downtown D.C., it was time to unload and get checked in.  Up until that point things had gone very well.  Probably a little too well.  It was time for a good vacation story;
time for one of those Chevy Chase moments. 

You see, when you travel to a large metropolitan city from rural Iowa, you forget that buildings are often constructed in a way that focuses on conserving space.  We had now exchanged the solace of wide open mountain ranges for the concrete jungle.  And from this point forward, I would become intimately acquainted with the hotel's underground parking garage.

From the moment the gate went up and I pulled the car in, stress and claustrophobia took hold.  There was barely enough room to maneuver my mid-sized SUV around the corners, much less fit into one of the parking spots.  It felt difficult to breathe.  The painted lines were practically stacked on top of each other; or so it seemed.  Most of the signs read 'compact vehicles only'.  Oh to be driving a Volkswagen Beetle just then!

Things became worse as I met another vehicle attempting to exit the garage.  The driver had the same panicked look on her face as I did.  "Lucky people" I thought to myself.  They were allowed to leave this underground shop of horrors.  I estimated maybe two or three inches between our cars as we glided past each other - too afraid to make eye contact.  And then soon after, the sound of people arguing followed by a loud crunching noise that rang out from the other bay.  No doubt one of the other vehicles over there didn't quite make it around the bend as safely as I did.  Did I mention it was hard to breathe down there?  

The pinnacle of anxiety came when I finally gave up and tried to exit the garage, only to find that there was no way out.   You heard me correctly ... it was a dead end at the very back of the ramp.  In order to leave, you had to turn your vehicle around completely or go in reverse out of the gate.  I tried twice to do this but my car was too big.  I had to admit defeat and eventually pulled over into a corner next to a stack of wooden pallets.  I cannot remember the last time I had felt so out of place.  There were literally (and figuratively) no available spots left for my white SUV.  No safe recourse available.

I think many of us have a story like this from our past.  One that we can whip out at a party or some similar gathering of friends and family.  One of those "you should have been there" type of stories that becomes more and more embellished upon each re-telling.  But the feeling stuck with me, even after my family and I returned home to Iowa.  That feeling that something isn't right, I don't belong here.  No safe place.

Famous author and philosopher C.S. Lewis wrote often about the notion that the physical world points to the more celestial (yet still very much existential) plane of existence.   If we are hungry, there is food to eat.  If we are tired there is sleep to renew us.  So in this particular case, Lewis may well have argued that if people don't feel like the world they inhabit is quite right ... then it may just be because we aren't home yet.  Not our real home at least.  Our hearts give an inner testimony to the fact that there is something greater beyond our current existence.  A place where the thin painted yellow lines of a parking garage don't overlap the spot next to it.  A place where we will finally feel like we belong.  An ultimate safe place to come home to.

I remember vividly a job interview I once had years ago with a large factory.  I was applying for the job of on site technical trainer, and the human resources person was very excited to have me that day.  From the moment I entered the building, however, I knew it was a bad fit.  They were interested in hiring someone who would drive a forklift and wear a hardhat.  Instead, I write articles and work with computers.  I remember being taken on a tour of the plant that ended very abruptly once they realized I wasn't wearing steel toed boots.  I wasn't allowed beyond a certain area without them.  I was out of place, and we all knew it.  There was something not quite right ... that feeling of being displaced began to surface once again.  

Job interviews and parking garages are one thing, but what happens when these feelings give rise to something a little more serious?  What happens when people allow that feeling of being lost to turn into feelings of hopelessness and despair?  It is easy to do I suspect.  On facebook for example, everyone looks so happy all the time.  They show photos of vacations and grand kids and new cars and big houses.  Only occasionally does real life sneak in, and someone posts something about a tragic event or an addiction they are struggling with.  I believe it is often the same way with churches.  People who are hurting and feeling lost may show up seeking after something, only to look around and see the Sunday morning facade of well dressed, upper middle class people singing and smiling.  "No one here is struggling the way I am" they might think.  After the third or fourth song about God's glory and spiritual renewal, this same person may feel like turning around and running for the door.  They don't fit in here, something isn't quite right.  They thought church would be more ... real.   They had hoped people would show their brokenness a little more openly.  They had hoped to fit in.



So what does God say about preparing a place for you and I in this world of displaced hope and fear?  John 14:1-4 relates some of the most comforting Scriptures out there.  It says, "Do  not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father's house there are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going."    

These are beautiful words, and the world needs to hear them.  Not only does Jesus tell us that he has a place for us, but he has also provided a road map on how to get there.  It is the gift of salvation offered freely to anyone who wants it.  An important stop marked on this road map occurs in the book of Romans, chapter 10 and verse 9: "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."  

We live in a world where we can feel things aren't quite right.  We often feel out of place, alone, or displaced.  The Bible identifies this truth and then God provides an answer to it.  Something you and I can cling to in times of difficulty.  His offer stands to anyone who seeks after Him with all their heart, mind, and soul.  A mansion with many rooms awaits those believers who take seriously God's road map, and who listen to the command in the book of Romans.  No one stays lost in the parking garage unless they want to be.  It's better to follow the map.

After my failed attempt to park my vehicle underneath the hotel that day in Washington, I had decided to walk back up the ramp to the lobby and ask for assistance from the front desk.  I am perfectly aware that men don't ask for directions or for help when driving, but this situation called for me to swallow my pride and become humble.  The gentleman behind the counter was nice enough to leave his post for a moment and accompany me down into the coffin-like expanse of the garage.  It took us about twenty minutes, but we finally got the car parked.  I managed to squeeze into a spot next to one of the support beams that looked just big enough for a skateboard.  We even had to fold my rear view mirrors inward against the car doors in order to fit!

It appeared that asking for help and having a little faith was exactly what the doctor ordered.  I believe that the same prescription applies to the world we live in as well.  We need never feel alone or hopeless.  There are people in churches all around us willing to listen and help.  There is a God who loves us and who has prepared a place for us in Heaven.  A place to call home, where we will finally feel a sense of eternal belonging.  A place where we can finally find our way out of the parking garage.  A mansion with many rooms.  

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