These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. ( Hebrews 11:13-16)

A few years ago, some friends of mine decided to sell their house and move to New Brunswick where they grew up. The husband had a one-year paid hiatus from work due to circumstances I won’t get into here. His workplace in Ottawa had a second location in his hometown in New Brunswick, and he was very confident that he could obtain a transfer to work there. He applied for the transfer and off they went.

They bought a large fixer-upper they absolutely adored in the town they both grew up in. The house was so large they were able to designate a whole wing as a Christian used book store, thus fulfilling a longtime dream of theirs. With much care they set up the store and filled it with their large collection of books accumulated through years of scouring thrift stores and sales.

But the year of fulfilled dreams ended. The transfer did not materialize. They needed money. The husband made his way back to Ottawa and returned to his old job. I guess he couch-surfed at a friend’s house. The wife and kids stayed behind in new Brunswick. Dad visited on weekends and continued to apply for jobs closer to their home. Months passed. The family needed to be together. They got an apartment in Ottawa and an extended family member took over running the store in their absence.

Our kids were friends with theirs and their apartment was about five minutes away from us by car so we started getting together regularly. They were blessed to find a really large apartment within their budget that had three bedrooms and two floors. Their main level was on the ground floor of the building and their back door led straight outside to a large playground. When we visited, the kids and I followed a well-trodden path from the parking lot to that back door and straight into their apartment. It felt more like entering a house than an apartment. However, once inside, the furnishings were rather sparse. They gradually picked up some free and nearly free items to get by. Some family members continued to sleep on the floor though.

When one of my children got a new bed, I offered them the old one. My friend’s reply has stayed with me for many years now. She said, “Oh no! We don’t want the bed. Just the mattress will do. Our home is in Bathurst, New Brunswick, and we want to be able to pack quickly and leave to go back there at any time.” I was surprised because things weren’t really working out for them to go back, yet they had a nice home here.

I can’t remember how long they stayed. I believe it was over a year. They never lost sight of their first goal and eventually they were able to return home. For me it was a powerful illustration of the Christian’s call to be a stranger and pilgrim on the earth. We know that this is not our real home. We are just here for a time, until everything is in place for us to go home.   We shouldn’t get caught up in the cares of this country as though we were citizens — we are staying here for now, but we have our hopes fixed on a heavenly country. The things people need in this country don’t always apply to us — what about my cell phone? …what about my bed? …what about ____________? We can make use of many material things even as pilgrim wanderers but there are times when we need to cast off things that are getting in the way. We need to be able to pack quickly and get home.

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