Big Wheel, Keep on Turnin’

The last few years of my life have been quite an adventure. I’ve seen a good deal more of the world than I’ve ever seen before and worn the soles off my shoes trekking through both literal and metaphorical mile markers. I’ve seen Europe—East, West, and Central. I’ve visited in the Middle East. Played in the Mediterranean. I’ve been stretched to breaking point and put back together again by a loving Heavenly Father. Back in the States I went to the West Coast, reveled in the peace of the backwoods of Oklahoma, traveled back to Europe for a month, and moved to the East Coast for an indefinite period of time. I have loved the journey the Lord has taken me on, but it has definitely changed me.

The most noticeable change is that I rarely feel settled. I don’t take for granted that I have a place to lay my head every night. But the word ‘home’ will always be traced in quotation marks now. So many places now are the scene of my formative experiences. I can feel ‘at home’ in many places, and most often in those places where I find family, or friends. But something has shaken loose, and nowhere feels exactly like home any more.

Most people decorate their desk in paraphernalia of home—knick-knacks to ground them, and show who they are and where they belong. My desk holds a stuffed elephant from Zambia, a scarf from Oklahoma, a lamp from Texas, mugs from Bulgaria, a cuckoo from Hungary, a lotus pad dish fashioned after those in Cambodia, and seashells from Greece. And for the moment, a few chocolate wrappers, reading glasses, and a giant book that smells of desperation and deadlines, if those have smells. Apparently the world is my oyster. I live in North Carolina now, and some days it feels like home. But some days it feels like a temporary stopover until the next place. I’m learning that home is just where I do life for the time-being.

About two months ago I was enraptured by that beautiful wagon wheel in the picture. I found it in a little woodworking shop in Bulgaria when I went back this summer. As I stared at it, my mind started turning and I realized I’d finally found a symbol to root down all the floating ideas in my head—to give me words to express feelings that sometimes felt overwhelming and inexpressible.

I learned a lot from my time with the Roma people, not least of which was incredible hospitality when they may hardly have a home from which to offer it. But I had also unknowingly picked up a small vestige of their transitory lives. I went back this summer to find several friends had moved away to England or Finland or Greece for work. They many not travel in ‘Gypsy caravans’ anymore, but the nomadism in their blood hasn’t died. They follow work, or opportunities, or family, or sometimes just a whim.

I was a little anxious about my reception, after having been away for months without means to contact them. But I needn’t have worried myself. I was greeted with warm smiles and running hugs. There was no reproach for the lost months—even from those I couldn’t track down to say goodbye to before I left. There was only gladness for the current moment of reunion. No one seemed surprised to see me, though I gave no warning I’d be back. And no one showed grief when I told them I’d only have a week in their neighborhood.

This time back in Bulgaria I finally understood why there weren’t many tears when I left. Roma people don’t part in sorrow at the end of a visit. They’re grateful for the present moment, and they part in hope of the next time you’re passing through. The Roma understand that your roads may wander, and you may be gone for a while. But home is wherever your wagon wheels park. And someday you may be at home with them again.

On my recent visit, the Roma helped me come to terms with my lack of one single home. It’s okay to not feel settled because you know your wagon wheels will move on soon. Take in the days as they come, and live them to their utmost. My Roma friends also helped me to realize that I have a little gypsy in my soul now. And every time I see a wagon wheel I think of the exhilaration of adventure and the nomadic life I’ve claimed.

I’ve mediated a lot recently on Hebrews 11:13-16.

They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

This passage speaks of the heroes of the faith. Their bravery and adventure was in seeking a future home—one they would stop at nothing to find. They looked for the home of their birthright through their Father, the King. They knew no earthly home was better than that far kingdom they awaited. And because of that, their GOD was not ashamed of them. He didn’t just accept their wanderings as a cultural value or a necessity or put it down to restlessness. Their ‘homelessness’ was the very thing that made God proud of them, for it was the expression of their faith, and their refusal to settle for anything less than the Lord’s country.

I want to be like them. And whenever I feel a longing for any of my homes, here or abroad, I want to remember that it’s a wonderful thing not to feel settled. Let the big wheel keep on turning. May I wear out many more shoe soles in my adventures. And I hope my gypsy soul never loses its tremulous thrill at the sure hope of my future eternal home.