“I’ll just take my suitcase upstairs and find something to change into from these clothes I’ve been wearing all day long on the plane. I’ll be down in a minute.”
But when I unzipped my suitcase and flipped up the cover, nothing looked familiar. A gray T-shirt? As I searched through the contents I discovered more of the same. A man’s personal bag containing numerous medications; men’s blue jeans and shirts; men’s workout shorts and shirt. What were these things doing in MY suitcase? Something was definitely wrong.
It took me a few moments to snap back to the reality that I had someone else’s carry on bag. It sure looked like mine… same color, size, and make. But the handle was slightly different. And there was no identification tag stating my name and address.
It turned out we had quickly grabbed what we thought were our suitcases from the overhead bin in Chicago; however, my suitcase traveled on to Washington, DC, where the mix-up was discovered by a then unknown gentleman who soon became my frequent texting partner for the next several days.
I used to enjoy wandering in the woods, looking for the unexpected, finding treasures in nature. There were times when I found myself on paths that were exciting but unfamiliar. The thrill of adventure could quickly turn to fear, though, when I glanced around for anything familiar. What relief to follow a path back and discover a certain tree or rock that pointed me in the right direction. Of course I’d never admit being lost to my mom. She might have put a stop to my explorations.
When my husband and I travel in new areas or to places we visit infrequently, I make it a habit to notice landmarks and signs. That way, if we need to retrace our steps we can look for familiar objects. There’s nothing worse than wandering aimlessly when nothing looks familiar… when we’re sure we are lost. Have we come this way before? And how wonderful it is when someone finally spots a recognizable building or road sign!
When we truly are in strange or new situations, whether it’s a new country or a new job or school, we seek out anything that looks or at least seems familiar. We’re lucky if we see a familiar face or hear a voice we recognize. But often foods, sounds, sights, or even a routine can be so new and different that we feel like Alice in Wonderland, dealing with a world of nonsense.
We could actually, however, be just looking for a fresh start in a new school or new city where no one knows us… where, thank goodness, we aren’t familiar to anyone.
And then sometimes, like Alice, we are bored with our life, our surroundings, our routines… and we deliberately seek out the unfamiliar just for fun or a diversion. That’s what vacations are all about. Something different from the day-to-day.
It doesn’t take too many days or weeks, though, to start longing for the comfort zones of our ordinary lives… the expected, the welcomed everyday.
I know I have trouble in some church services when I’m not familiar with the format or liturgy or even the hymns. I struggle to find the right page. I think I know a hymn, but the tune isn’t familiar or some of the words are different. And then there are the brand new hymns that I can’t even join in singing… the ones with no reference to a style I’m used to… the ones that often times are just words on a screen.
Now, I could just stand there, or sit there, without any connection to the song. But I soon realize that it’s not totally unfamiliar. The message isn’t foreign to me. I do recognize my Savior in the lyrics. I hear about His saving grace. I really can absorb meaning from the moment, mouthing the words… even though I would rather be lifting my voice in praise.
I sometimes think about my father who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for many years before his death. I came to understand the confusion and even panic he felt when nothing looked familiar to him… not even his own reflection in the mirror. He had no landmarks or signs or comfort zones. Although he kept searching, he couldn’t get back to the familiar.
Yet it was his Savior that kept reaching out to him… in hymns that still were tucked away in a corner of his mind… in the familiar psalms and prayers he had memorized as a young boy and that now refused to abandon him in his last days.
It’s a comfort to me to know that my dad was well taken care of by my Lord. It’s a comfort to me to know that I too am being well taken care of by my Lord.
After all, I know from Psalm 139:3 that He is familiar with all my ways. That carries a lot of implications. I know He’s been watching me for a long time… forever! We’ve had a long association… we have an intimate connection, even when I haven’t always taken the time to nurture that relationship.
And He knows exactly what I’m up to. I’m sure sometimes it makes Him laugh, “There she goes again!” But I know at times it also grieves Him.
But Satan can be like that misidentified suitcase… so close to the actual but containing nothing useful or helpful. And if I’m not careful, I’ll drag that bag of useless taunts and regrets around for no reason… thinking I know what I’m doing… but not really.
I don’t need to keep that grief and sorrow close to me. After all My Savior was the one who was intimately familiar with pain (Isaiah 53:3). Not only the physical pain He suffered from the scourging and the cross. But also the pain of loss… separation from His Father… sin that engulfed Him… death.
Because He was acquainted with all of this, I don’t have to be friends with any of it!
When I’m traveling life with my Lord Jesus I can truly relax knowing nothing is new to Him. And I have both the comfort zone of the familiar and the excitement of daily adventures He plans that fill me with joy.
After all… I’m with the One who has the familiar voice… the familiar love… and that familiar, understanding forgiveness.