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To Dwell in the In-Between

Updated: Jun 7

The sounds of bicycle bells, car horns, and rickshaw motors are my constant companion. They intermingle with the clanging of construction in a city that always seems to be expanding and the Call to Prayer five times a day reminds us that we are in an unfamiliar place. As foreign as these things feel, these aren’t the reasons I feel out of sorts.

More than anything, the chaos I feel comes from the inability I feel to dwell in the in-between. In this place of not yet, I still feel like a stranger.

Perhaps I should know it well by now. We moved out of our house nearly three months ago and lived with friends. We settled into a borrowed home and a new routine just in time to pack up again. We’ve been living out of suitcases for a couple of weeks now: first in my parent’s house in the States and now with friends in our new home country.

Everyone asks how we’re getting settled in here after a few days. Settling isn’t the right word. Not yet.

We are learning our surroundings and how to get around, but we are still living as guests. This is not yet our home.

The person whose guest room we have invaded is shopping and cooking for us, cleaning up after us. Once we get our own flat, maybe we’ll start to understand just how lost we are in this place. Already I feel like a baby, so dependent on others for translation of the language, for interpretation of a culture that is so deeply different than my own. Yet I know I have yet to reach the depths of unknown that waits for me here.

As we prepared to leave the U.S., I turned often to the words in Exodus. I identified with the Hebrews as they stepped out on newly dry land, trusting God to keep the waves from crashing down upon them. For months we walked a Dead Sea Road toward a life we could not yet imagine.

I shouldn’t be surprised that I now feel like those same wanderers as they stumbled around in the harsh newness of the wilderness.

Reading the books of Moses today, we have the hindsight to know that the Hebrew people would spend forty years wandering. But as they journeyed, they lived with total uncertainty, never knowing when they would feel settled or if they ever knew what it meant to feel at home.

I wonder if some held their breaths and stopped living while they waited for a Promised Land they might never behold. Were they so consumed with the life they left behind in Egypt or the unknown that lie ahead that they could not be present in their very lives in the desert?

Did others find ways to make their homes in the in-between, and make their peace with the wilderness? Certainly, life went on there in the wilderness. Labor pains still produced new life. Love still blossomed. Death still came for the sick and the aged.

We’re trained to look for an arrival, the end to all our striving. Stability reigns supreme. Tasks to be marked off the to-list and goals to be achieved motivate our days. What happens when there is no end to our wandering in sight? How do we find a way to keep living when we’re living in limbo?

Life doesn’t stop in these shaky middle places. When a loved one is wasting away or that promised job hasn’t come, we don’t get to check out of life. We still must put one weary foot in front of the other in the dusty, desert lands.

So, how do we dwell in the place between bondage and the land flowing with milk and honey?

“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently,” Moses told the people in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 4:9), “lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.”

Maybe the secret lies in embracing the meaning we can find in the wilderness instead of fighting against it. We can’t wish our way out of these barren lands. Can we ground ourselves instead in the faithfulness we’ve seen before, even if we have no promise that life on the other side of the Jordan will ever belong to us?

I shimmy my arm into a borrowed local dress. I don’t even have my own clothes in this new place yet, and the fit is tight across my chest. But I wrap the scarf around my shoulders anyway and smile as I notice how the turquoise is just the shade of my favorite color.

I itch to feel like I have a purpose as the empty space of the morning opens before me. I don’t have anywhere to be until the afternoon, and I feel trapped in this borrowed room. So, I slowly sip cool water and notice how it eases the heaviness of the warm tropical air. I pick up my journal and whisper a prayer of thanks for the stretch of time to take in the strange and stunning sights of my neighborhood outside my window, to learn the Magpie’s song, to remember the miracles God wrought in our favor to bring us to this dream of life in South Asia.

I speak to my parched soul and remind her what it feels like to be satiated with enough Manna for today.

Right here, in this moment, can the fact that I don’t walk alone through this wilderness be enough?

*Originally published November 11, 2017, at The Mudroom, two weeks after we arrived in Bangladesh. Republished with edits on June 5, 2024, when we find ourselves in other wilderness spaces. I am still learning these same lessons, preaching to myself again that meaning can be found in the in-between and that life can't stop being lived because the next steps are unclear.



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