I positioned my right foot on the edge of the lower bookshelf and grasped the rail of my upper bunk with my left hand. I hoisted myself up and flung forward, letting the momentum deliver me directly to the pillow. I nestled my cheek into its softness and pulled my blanket up to my nose. Curled up in a ball, I closed my eyes and began to drift. From the sound of the groans below me, I could tell my cabin mate was seasick too. All of this twisting and turning had most of the ship’s crew laid out in their cabins. On deck, it was a ghost town. Only the seasoned sea farers survived this kind of weather without succumbing to vile queasiness.
After a few months on board I became accustomed to the constant hum of the ship’s engines and the incline from stern to bow which made me feel like I was walking uphill all day. I was even used to the steady sway beneath my feet as small waves and currents brushed the ship’s side. But not this. This watery roller coaster with corkscrew twists and turns made me long for solid ground.
Like a horror movie in slow motion, images of the Doulos being swallowed by the monstrous waves as the white, foamy swells crashed onto the bow, ran through my mind. I heard her bottom smack the surface of the ocean as she sailed over the swells. I squeezed my eyelids tighter as the walls of my cabin creaked along with the motion of the boat.
Over 90 years of sailing, as old as the titanic, held together by paint, almost decommissioned, barely meeting maritime standards…
Less than comforting facts about the Doulos played over and over in my mind like a scratched CD stuck on my least favorite song.
I could only pray that the weather would settle and the seas would calm. Odds were not in my favor. We were sailing from Croatia to England; an area notorious for rough waters. This was day three of an eleven day voyage; the longest I’d been on thus far.
Please God…I want to go home.
Thoughts of my cozy sofa in the living room of my childhood home flooded my mind.
6 Ludlow Way… Oakdale, New York.
The only home I’d ever really known.
I missed it.
I was born there, took my first steps in the kitchen and uttered my first words while roaming the halls in my tiny walker. I played in the backyard, made snowmen on the front lawn in winter and ran through the sprinklers during summertime. I walked through the same front door every single day after school for 15 years. I knew where my mom hid the cookies, what time dinner was and where I could find my parents before I went to bed.
It was safe.
Life was predictable.
It was home.
Now, I was on the other side of the world floating above a fathomless sea staring at a dirty ceiling two and a half feet from my face with a roommate I hardly knew and two hundred other strangers in the surrounding cabins. Not even one of them could tell me everything would be just fine.
Please God, I want to go home. I’m a stranger here and I’m scared. Ship’s life isn’t for me. Please…
Jennifer, find your home in me.
I am your home.
Truth, like a floating feather falling gently to the ground, settled softly on my heart. I reached for it and held it close, feeling its profound security and resting in its comfort.
Lord, you are my home. I am secure in You alone. You offer rest to my soul. You never leave…no matter where I go. You are God over these waters and this ship.
Home really wasn’t a place but a presence…His presence.
I became ok there, suspended above fearsome waters. For He was with me.
Peace stilled my troubled mind and I slept.
Several months later, while working in the program planning office, I saw an email come through on the computer screen in front of me. I eagerly opened a message from my family. It was a short greeting with a request for me to view the attached photo. One simple click and there it was… My childhood home with a for sale sign on the front lawn.
I exhaled and stared fondly at my house as memories swirled in my mind.
I closed the screen.
It’s ok Lord, home is where You are.
God had prepared me for that moment.
And for so many future moments.
I never did return to my childhood home. In fact, since leaving the ship over 10 years ago, I’ve lived in 10 different apartments in 3 different states. I even spent one year sleeping on a blow up bed in someone else’s living room.
I’ve longed for home many times since that day in my cabin but I’ve always remembered the one place I can truly find comfort and rest: in Christ alone.
Today, I’m thinking of our next move. If everything goes as planned we will be headed to our fourth state and 11 th apartment soon.
I’m sad because I love my home here in Chicago. My kids grew here, friendships flourished and Wouter and I worked hard, together, to keep our family close through many challenges.
But I’m also hopeful that what God has in store for us will be just as beautiful as the dream I’m currently living.
When my kids long for the home they’ve known for the past four years, I’ll have deep empathy for them. I’ll also have the privilege of saying, “Makaio and Mikayla, home is where Jesus is!”