Of Cardboard Boxes and Moving Vans

A Review of Rebecca VanDoodewaard’s 'Uprooted''

VanDoodewaard’s tone is gracious, but she is not tentative in pointing out the sins that often accompany homesickness: grumbling, laziness, bitterness, discontent. And, in a refreshingly counter-cultural perspective, she admonishes readers to “exert yourself in controlling your emotions” (p. 45,) freely acknowledging that how we feel is our responsibility.

 

VanDoodewaard, Rebecca. Uprooted: A Guide for Homesick Christians. 2012: Christian Focus. ISBN 978-1-84550-964-4.

On the front door of our Mississippi home, my husband and I pay tribute to our Northern origins with a small sign: “Yankees always welcome.”

Yankees? Our African friends asked yesterday. Like the baseball team? No, we explained. See, there was this War. And, well, now it’s complicated.

This weekend, we joked about taking our lives in our hands, simply walking up to the movie theatre ticket window and stating, “Two for Lincoln.” ‘Round here, those are fighting words.

In the past fifteen years, I have lived in six different homes in four different towns.  And, even after ten years in Mississippi, when autumn rolls around, I feel again the separation from the familiar. I’m still a little homesick.

Rebecca VanDoodewaard addresses this subject in her new book, Uprooted: A Guide for Homesick Christians. VanDoodewaard is the wife of pastor and Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary professor, William VanDoodewaard, and her experiences as both a military kid and pastor’s wife inform her practical advice for anyone with a moving truck in their future.

VanDoodewaard’s book addresses all kinds of migration: students headed to college, singles transferred by their job, families called to foreign missions.

Her thesis is thought-provoking: “It is alright to feel homesick in an earthly sense—to miss family and friends, even places and houses—but if that is where it ends, it will simply be a bitter and empty thing. But when, through prayer and reliance on God, we use our homesickness to remind us of spiritual realities, it can actually be a blessing. The very things that are so hard about moving and living far away are the same things that can, by grace, be catalysts for spiritual growth and development.” (p. 13)

From there, she moves quickly to practical steps for smoothing transitions in a godly way. She offers suggestions for preparing to move, for moving with kids or when married to a pastor, and for making a visit back home after you have moved.  Each section is filled with bite-sized wisdom that would help even the most overwhelmed Christian.

I appreciate especially VanDoodewaard’s emphasis on the importance of the local church in acclimating to a new location. She gives multiple examples of how God’s people have welcomed their family at the end of each move.  But she doesn’t stop with receiving care; instead, she says, newcomers ought to practice hospitality themselves because it “focuses your attention and energy on others, allows you to serve, accelerates getting to know people, and even spurs you on in making your house a home as you organize, clean, and cook for your guests.” (p. 49)

VanDoodewaard’s tone is gracious, but she is not tentative in pointing out the sins that often accompany homesickness: grumbling, laziness, bitterness, discontent. And, in a refreshingly counter-cultural perspective, she admonishes readers to “exert yourself in controlling your emotions” (p. 45,) freely acknowledging that how we feel is our responsibility.

She also addresses very contemporary issues like technology use. I once heard a veteran missionary complain about young people on her field. In her opinion, these newer missionaries were wrongly enamored with Internet access and their communication with family and friends. She had a sort of “missionaries ain’t what they used to be” attitude.

VanDoodewaard, by contrast, cautions readers against becoming too dependent on past relationships while still giving a place for social media. She compassionately encourages responsible use of Facebook, Twitter, and Skype to connect with distant loved ones.

Her text is peppered with quotes from those who have experienced homesickness in drastic ways. There are hidden gems in this book: the words of women like Ann Judson and Maggie Paton who long ago experienced a complete separation from familiar people and places in a way that few of us in the 21st century will ever do. These women set a godly example of honest struggle framed by reliance on the Lord.

Her quotations from historic letters and manuscripts maintain a continuity between today’s homesick Christians with God’s people from all eras who have suffered the same trial.

Moving is rich theological territory. The first move was Adam’s expulsion out of the Garden, and humans have been moving ever since. Christ himself moved from heaven to earth, and, while here, lived without a place to lay his head. And His disciples are continually on the move, taking the life-giving gospel to earth’s end.

Without sin there would be no pain in moving; without Christ there would be no purpose in it.

Uprooted is short: purse-sized and a mere 106 pages (but, then, if you’re moving, you probably don’t want another tome to pack.) Its brevity allows VanDoodewaard to make practical suggestions accompanied by Scripture verses but sometimes precludes her from connecting her points to their larger theological framework. For the most part, she has to assume that her readers already have the necessary doctrine in place.

One area where she does ably combine big truths with practical advice is in her chapter “Homesick with Kids.” Here, she urges parents to let go of their cultural preferences and allow their children to embrace the culture of their new home.

VanDoodewaard explains, “Moving to a new culture with kids can cause you a different kind of pain, as you see your children growing up as members of a society that still feels foreign to you, but is home to them. . .My natural tendency is to fight this, and keep them in a cultural bubble. . .Instead, I need to create a distinctly Christian culture in our home, so that no matter what foods they enjoy, or what accent they have, citizenship of the heavenly kingdom is primary.” (p. 59, 60)

This brought a wry smile to my face.  When one of my children says “y’all” I am quick to tell him that “We only speak Northern in this home.” I’m joking—a bit—but VanDoodewaard’s chapter convicted me. Even if it means letting my kids speak Southern.

Uprooted is a book I am likely to purchase in multiples and give to friends when the Lord providentially directs them to move. Accompanied by a casserole, VanDoodewaard’s work will be useful to anyone who is surrounded by boxes and uncertainty.

All whom the Apostle Paul calls aliens and strangers are going somewhere. It will have no cultural barriers or tears or separation. It’s called heaven.

This week’s New Yorker features a cartoon with three slug-shaped extra-terrestrials in the cockpit of their UFO. A shadowed planet appears large through the window, and one bug-eyed creature opens his mouth to ask: “’When we’re home, are we still aliens?”

The answer, of course, is “no.”

© Copyright 2012 Megan Evans Hill – used with permission

Megan Hill is a PCA pastor’s wife and regular contributor to The Aquila Report.

 

 

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