My husband and I are in the process of moving to the East Coast to be near our daughters and grandchildren.
I say “process” because it’s harder to buy a house here than it was in Anchorage, Alaska, or Omaha, Nebraska, two cities where we’ve lived previously. Costs are higher here than in the Midwest — that coastal effect — and in the area we’re moving, the inventory is older. Inspections are important and lawyers get involved.
Buying a house during two quick visits or over Facetime proved impossible. Luckily, a friend of our daughter’s — a Jesuit Volunteer connection — had parents who graciously offered to rent us a beach house for a few months while we search. It’s a summer rental, but normally sits empty in the winter months.
This was appealing, and at first glance seemed like a retreat. Quiet, with coffee shops nearby and a pristine beach just down the street. What a great spot to get in lots of reading, walking, writing, praying, with occasional drives into the towns where we’re house hunting.
But the unknown is challenging. Like most people, I like clear, unambiguous results. I don’t react well to living in suspension, wondering if an offer will be accepted, unsure about the choices, wondering what an inspection will reveal. I constantly question what this new life holds in store.
As I write, we’re still in Advent and the whole point, I remind myself, is waiting. Living with ambiguity, mystery, the unknown: that’s demanded of all of us. It’s what faith demands. But darn, waiting in the unknown is hard. Anxiety, or trust in the God who is mystery? Why do I find the choice so difficult?
My spiritual director suggested that when reading of the Magi’s visit to the newborn Jesus, we must notice their interaction with Herod. Tricky, duplicitous Herod, who wanted them to return on their way home and report what they’d seen. Notice that Scripture says the travelers, to avoid Herod, “returned home by a different route.”
It’s important, my director said, to understand that the journey we are on with God leads us in ways we may not plan.
We try to listen for God. But the most intense discernment can’t guarantee we know what tomorrow brings. I’ve written about a friend who has been diagnosed with serious cancer. She and her husband spent months praying over a move overseas where he would teach. They sold their home, packed their things, all the while listening for God. And then, the diagnosis.
God wasn’t tricking or misleading them. God didn’t cause this cancer. God is simply continuing to be with them on this journey, going home with them by a different way.
One day when we were packing up in Omaha, I glanced at the patio where we were sorting stuff. There was my statue of St. Francis of Assisi, but somehow he’d been slightly moved from his usual spot by the patio wall. Inexplicably, he was facing another direction.
“All who wander are not lost,” goes the saying, so perhaps I should trust that, if Francis is a bit askew, it’s OK if I am also.
The Magi were probably men of science, perhaps astronomers. They expected a king, and instead found a child born into poverty. To rational men, this probably seemed challenging and topsy-turvy. Like us, they had to deal with ambiguity, with the mystery that often accompanies us as we travel through the uncharted territory of this life.
Who knows what the new year will bring. We trust that the Lord who told us, “I go before you always,” will know the way.