canaan (and california) bound

16 Aug

Every time I move, I listen to the same song.

I lay in my bed about seven years ago at the Mennonite Central Committee retreat center, trying to sleep. I pressed play on my Discman (yes, my Discman). As the rolling hills of Lancaster County slept, Andrew Peterson crooned, “Sarah, take me by my arm, tomorrow we are Canaan bound, where westward sails the golden sun and Hebron’s hills are amber-crowned.”

The next day, I would fly the wrong way around the world. To London and then Beijing, to teach for a year in Southwest China, a place where I knew no one and about ten words of the language. I felt a bit like Abraham and Sarah, loading up all that I couldn’t leave behind, following a whisper and a promise.

I listened to the song before I flew home to the U.S. again, crying at the thought of losing the burn of the Sichuanese food from my tongue and the Chinese language from my lips.

I listened to it as I moved to Durham, to follow a calling that, then, was no more than a whisper–to maybe (maybe) be a pastor.

I dug out my earbuds from my purse and listened to it again on Monday. The car was packed to the brim with (nearly) everything we own in the world. We’ve sold about 200 books, taken two carloads of clothes and old wedding crinolines and sweater dryers to the thrift store, packed up and cleaned our apartment in Durham. And I am going again to a place I’ve never been before, following a whisper and a promise.

This time, more than ever, it feels like we are Canaan bound.

For four years, my sweet husband has worked from 8-5 at a clerk’s job while I’ve gone to seminary. He printed transcripts, processed forms, talked to angry parents of college students. It’s drudgery for anyone, but for a creative with a master’s degree and a whisper in his ear that he is supposed to teach, it feels like hell. In February, when he got an acceptance from University of California, San Diego’s program in literature, we clutched each other’s shoulders and jumped up and down. Screaming. In public. We didn’t even care who heard.

Full funding to his first choice school. Professors who study literatures of the Muslim world, of Africa, of Russia, of Latin America, the things that make his heart beat quick. A chance to study with people who love talking about literature and religion and the world and ideas. A chance to teach college students again–this time not technical writing but the great world literatures. I put San Diego on my weather app and looked at the 73 degree temperatures whenever I got tired of 100 degree Durham heat. It sounded like milk and honey to us.

I started calling it the Promised Land.

“So bid your troubled heart be still,” Andrew croons. “The grass, they say, is soft and green. The trees are tall and honey-filled, so Sarah, come and walk with me…”

It’s started to feel less like Abraham and Sarah and more like the Israelites leaving Egypt, to be honest. These have been hard years. Not slavery in Egypt, but hard still. We Craigslisted the things we could sell and gave away the things we couldn’t, said our goodbyes. We left with only what we could carry in our little Buick.

And as we pulled out of Durham, as the sun dipped on the horizon, the sky was ablaze like a pillar of fire.

“So bid your troubled heart be still, the grass, they say, is soft and green,” Andrew sings. “The trees are tall and honey-filled, so Sarah, come and walk with me.”

There are no perfect places. And all beginnings are hard. I will cry because I have no friends, freak out because I have no job, have a meltdown because gas-is-expensive-and-where-is-the-grocery-store-and-we-can’t-find-a-church. There is no guarantee that we will not fall flat on our face.

But there is a whisper. A promise. A voice that sounds like love and thunder.

The piano plays. Alison Krauss’ voice joins Andrew Peterson’s. They sing, “With love he means to save us all, and love has chosen you and me.”

We’re driving across the country, wandering. Not for forty years. Just three weeks, through Tennessee and Alabama and Mississippi, Louisiana and all the way across Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, before we make our way to the coast, to our new home. The Buick is packed with the dishes and the mixer and our clothes and the cat. I’m going to be blogging our journey out West. It’s no book of Genesis, no Exodus.

But journeys deserve to be remembered. They deserve to be shared. So feel free to share ours.

The song draws to a close. Andrew sings the last line: “Take me by my arm, tomorrow we are Canaan bound.” And I close my eyes and sleep.


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