“A wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.” This is how Dictionary.com defines the word “nostalgia”, but a look at the original Greek roots behind the word give us an even better glimpse into the idea of nostalgia and home. The earliest origins of the word can be traced back to two ancient Greek words – “nostos”, meaning to return home, and “algos”, meaning pain or ache.
In one of the recent sermons at my church, one of our pastors shared this information behind the world “nostalgia”, and as you might imagine, it has stuck with me tremendously. Given what my life has been for the last (almost) year and a half, knowing that – at least at some point in time – people have recognized homesickness to go far beyond a “feeling”, that people have seen the deep grief and ache that it can cause for a person… in a strange way it has actually brought some comfort.
Since 2019 I have on occasion developed my own succinct catchphrases to describe either a calendar year or a particular season, and a phrase I have for the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 can reveal why learning the origins of a word like “nostalgia” brought so much comfort.
“I never knew just how much the human heart could break for little reason beyond being lonely and missing home.”
Part of the reason why leaving home has been so hard on me? I didn’t just “leave home” or “move out”. I didn’t even just move from California to Virginia. In the blink of an eye, all that I had come to know about life, everything that was just there as I knew it… it was all gone.
What most of us faced last March when COVID-19 halted life entirely for all of us – that feeling of disbelief, of not knowing what “normal” is anymore, of deep grief for things and places and events that were suddenly no longer there… I think you get the idea…
Well, that’s exactly what it was for me as well – in October of 2019.
When I moved from California to Virginia.
When my parents moved from California to Idaho.
When I no longer shared a home and everyday life with two of the people I love the most.
When my parents were no longer serving the Lord at the church that had been in my life for as long as I can remember.
… when everything about life as I knew it essentially ceased to exist. Just like that.
Now, for someone who even by that time in 2019 had begun to see extensively that living life on God’s terms – and NOT our own terms – is really the only way to truly live… it’s been a hard reconciliation and adjustment.
If I’m being entirely honest? It’s still hard. It’s still really, really hard.
But what’s tricky here… the idea of nostalgia and of longing for home… it can become dangerous.
If we get so hung up on the life that doesn’t exist anymore, the life that we would give anything to have back – we’ve begun to idolize our past. And if we imagine our life as driving in a car (yes I know, God is always in the driver’s seat, but bear with me here), I think we all know that we need to spend most of our time looking forward through the windshield. That an occasional glance in the rear-view mirror is okay to make sure we remember the past for what God has done can be – and should be – a part of our lives, but that anything more than that begins to become harmful.
A thought and question that I have in my notes from that recent Sunday morning…
“Nostalgia becomes harmful when we are discontent with our present circumstances, when we idolize the past… do we even know what we truly long for?”
The short answer? No.
The not as short answer? Also no, but God does – for our home in heaven, yes, but also for here on earth.
And the moments when that nostalgia threatens and begins to morph from just a soul ache and into even more darkness, more pain, more physical afflictions… those are the moments when God steps in to do His thing. As only He can do – beautiful, miraculous, and perfectly timed.
Let me take you back to just a couple of short months ago, when God proved Himself faithful yet again to provide perfectly, even when we don’t even know ourselves what we need.
I had just cooked my first Thanksgiving a few days prior… Thanksgiving entirely for one, because I had a fever and needed to self-isolate just in case it was actually COVID-19. Over the weekend I thought I was clear… then I still had a fever, so more COVID tests and urgent care visits… regardless – I was exhausted. Worried about needing to work the next week, because even if I didn’t have COVID, I was in no shape to try and work four 10s out on the ramp. Not with the way life had been… since July…
Monday morning I woke up to yet another difficult work situation, and after getting in touch with my mom, she asked if I had thought about transferring, maybe seeing what else was out there.
“Like… you mean moving? Like MOVING moving?”
“Yeah. Dad and I have talked about it, and especially since you’re going to work part time and take classes full time, the work need and opportunity that brought you to RIC isn’t necessarily there anymore.”
“Okay… I mean, I could. I could look. But I just don’t know. It’s moving again, plus I don’t even know if people are hiring with all of the furloughs that just hit.”
“Well, it wouldn’t hurt you to look.”
“Okay. Fine. I can look, I’ll let you know if I see anything interesting.”
It was fairly early on the day on Monday, and I had no idea what was about to happen. But – I don’t have to know, God did. He does. He always knows.
After looking on our company website, I saw two intriguing possibilities. One of them? Peoria, IL. PIA. I had known our company has the contract here, but it’s a small airport, so true full time could be tough. But now that I needed part time…
I called my mom to tell her, because if this really was true, that PIA was looking for people… we might have something.
Some context: much of my dad’s extended family is still in the area here. He grew up here. I grew up visiting grandparents and relatives here, I grew up visiting their church with them. There was already a certain… nostalgia…
She and I chatted about it, and later that evening we chatted along with my dad. And two weeks later, my mom and I pulled out of my apartment complex, headed to Illinois.
But it’s something that happened in that first day or two of discussing the potential move here that speaks to why God knew I needed to come. It speaks to the idea of nostalgia, to the idea of home.
For much of my time in Virginia, it was hard to know where home was. I was able to create some kind of a home there, yes, but it was so hard to do that in a brand new place. And when you can’t even tell people where “back home” is… when your hometown and everything familiar and all you hold dear is in one place, but the two people who have remained your constant and closest friends are in a whole other place… it messes with your sense of home. When I visited California at the end of October, I was getting there. I was coming to terms with what home is and what it isn’t. But upon traveling back home to Virginia life just continued to throw me difficulty after difficulty, so by the time I made it to early December… I was exhausted. Defeated.
I was ready to have some sense of home again.
Sitting on my couch during the day that Monday, I had sent the thought via text to my mom. But after waiting for a little while to hear back, I called her… the thought was too beautiful to wait any longer, I wanted to share it with her.
“So… you know how California doesn’t feel quite like home right now, cause I’d be there with everyone and everything else but where’s my house and where are my parents… and you know how Boise wouldn’t feel like home right now cause here are my parents but why are they in this strange city…”
“Well. I don’t know it THAT well. We visited more when I was younger. And I haven’t ever had the chance to get to know the family there SUPER well. But it’s familiar people… still in the familiar place… I don’t want to get ahead of myself, we’re just talking about the possibility… but mom, moving to Peoria/Washington… it just might feel like going home.”
… you know when you have those tears that are from deep in your soul, the ones that are full of heartache and pain but that are the very first tears after that first glimmer of hope and relief?
Needless to say, the move was official just a few days later.
Between those first conversations about coming here and when I got the official word from my work, I discovered a song by JJ Heller (“You Already Know”) that so beautifully and perfectly captured the season of transition for me. It has become a reminder that we don’t have to know or have it all figured out… God knows, and He has us in His perfect plan. I can’t tell you how many times it brought me to full tears (not just the wet eyes we get when there’s some “dust” in the room but nearly UGLY cry) in the two weeks between my first inquiry about PIA and actually leaving town.
“Everything around me seems uncertain
My weary heart can’t take much more surprise
I wish there was a point on the horizon
Something I could see with my own eyes
“I need to tell you that I’m scared
I feel completely unprepared
And nothing’s what it was two weeks ago
“But you already know
You already know
Everything I’m scared of
Everything I hope
You hold my tomorrow
And all tomorrow holds
You already know”
This four-letter word and the ideas behind it have come to mean so much for me over the last year and a half. God has taught me so much about Himself, His perfect timing, and His perfect plan. Has it all been easy and pain-free? No. Would so many things have happened differently without COVID? Probably. But as a friend from Virginia described it shortly after I arrived in Illinois… Richmond was a diversion, but now I’m at my destination.
The thing about diversions? Sure, they’re a pain for everyone – the ground crew who gets the phone call. The passengers who arrive late to their destinations. The inflight crew whose schedule gets all thrown off. The crew schedulers and flight ops and airport ops personnel that have to adjust as a result of the diversion. But… diversions don’t just happen because somebody feels like it. They are always intentional and deeply necessary.
So, after I began looking at everything that way, I began to see it.
And as people would ask me how I liked Illinois, how I liked being here…
The answer I gave (and will still give!!) is one that I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to give again. In my final few months in Virginia before moving to Illinois, the hopelessness of ever regaining even the slightest sense of home had really snuck up on me.
Thank goodness we have a God who knows our hearts, our needs, and who loves to come in and sweep us off our feet with the gifts we never knew we needed…
“So, Mary, how do you like being in Illinois?”
“It’s really great. Honestly… it’s just so wonderful.
“I’m finally… I’m finally home.”