“One of these days I’m goin’ home if I have to do it in a pine box—which I probably will!”
The following is a piece I wrote years ago at the request of an editor friend who was collecting 1,000-word articles for inclusion in a book of personal religious experiences. I later withdrew it from publication because it is so candid that I was afraid it might jeopardize my career as a Tulsa-based religious copyeditor. I think you will see why I felt that way.
Note that the ending is now different since I no longer feel that I will one day “go home again”—at least not in this life.
Occupation in Exile,
Deliverance in Time
When I was home in Arkansas, God came to me and said, “Jimmy, I want you to move to Oklahoma.”
I said, “Lord, let me think about it.”
About a week later He came back and said, “Well?”
I said, “I’ve decided I’ll go if You’ll go with me.”
His response was, “Let me think about it.”
About a week later He came back and said, “Well, Jimmy, I’ve thought about it.”
“I’ve decided I’ll go with you as far as Fort Smith.”
That was the last I saw of Him—which is why I have to go home every so often to get my bearings; otherwise I lose my marbles.
To be honest, I “borrowed” this quotation (at least the part about being sent by God from Arkansas to Oklahoma) from Dr. Daniel Grant, who freely granted me permission to use it because it was actually told about him to describe his move from Tennessee to Arkansas to become president of my alma mater, Ouachita Baptist University. According to the Dr. Grant version, God agreed to accompany him only as far as Memphis.
The part of the quote about going back home to get my bearings to avoid losing my marbles is mine—and quite true. It is a tiny excerpt from my own voluminous writings, which I only half-jestingly refer to as my “Oklahomian Exile Literature.”
Some of this nostalgic, humorous, and often poignant outpouring of my soul has been published in newspapers and journals in my beloved home state, which I was forced to leave for purely economic reasons: to take a job and support my family.
Whether that move was the leading of the Holy Spirit, I have never been able to say. What I can say is that it is a move I would never have made if I had had any viable alternative. As I freely admit, “If ever a man put his hand to the plow looking back, it is me.” (Luke 9:62 KJV.)
Using biblical analogies to describe my “wilderness wandering,” and my regular “pilgrimages [back] to the Holy Land” from whence I came, seems only natural for me. After all, the job that brought me here in 1977 (or as I say, in scriptural terms, “in the year that King Elvis died,” see Isaiah 6:1) has been primarily religious in nature.
The truth is that as a contract editor for several Tulsa-based Christian publishers, despite the fact that my work has kept me (barely!) alive for all these years, I have never really felt “at home” with it—or with where it has taken place.
[Southern editor/writer/publisher] Louis Rubin wrote, “Great writers are exiles, either spiritually or geographically [both, in my case!]. The impulse to write is the desire to give order and definition to one’s world, and that impulse can arise only out of need.” Someone else has noted that in the life of a writer there are no extraneous experiences.
I fully identify with both these statements and many others I have accumulated over the years on the subjects of home, exile, and the writer. [I will share some of these quotes in a later post.] I have also composed many of my own quotations on these three subjects [which I will also share later], all of which are of great concern to me both personally and professionally.
For example, I have been quite honest, even with my Christian publishing clients, that “I edit to feed my body; I write to feed my soul,” and that “rather than being a religious editor in exile, I want to be a Southern writer in residence.”
Yet, despite my burning desire as an exiled Arkie to return to the land of my birth and upbringing from which, like Scarlett O’Hara, I draw my strength (and inspiration), and despite my urgent need as a frustrated writer to get back into contact with the scenes of my past, with what Marshall Frady called “the primary pulses and shocks [the writer] cannot afford to lose,” all my efforts to “return to Paradise Lost” have been in vain.
For years I have struggled with the feeling that, although the Lord seems to promise His people a glorious return home, for some inscrutable reason my ongoing efforts to effect that return have been thwarted at every turn—surprisingly, by God Himself!
Obviously, any knowledgeable believer will say that the home spoken of in the Scriptures is not geographical but spiritual, and that, like Paul, I should learn “in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11 KJV).
All through these long years of forced exile and labor, I have tried, with a total lack of success, to convince myself of those truths. It seems that, unlike Paul, I have no capacity to be content without (a significant play on words!) if I am not content within. And I cannot be content within, if I am not allowed to be who and what—and where!—I was created and destined to be. As the writer of Psalm 137:4 NIV asks, “How can [I] sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”
My philosophy is that “where you’re from is who you are.” And, like Jesus, I am not from here; I am from another place, a place called “home”—to which, seemingly, I can never return.
Someone much more wise and knowledgeable than I once observed that the quest of every living soul, whether realized or not, is to get back home. That is certainly true for me, though for almost a quarter of a century now that quest has not been realized.
Yet through it all, I have been both driven and sustained by an enduring and undeniable inner conviction that some how, some way, some day I will—I must—eventually get back home.
Meanwhile, in anticipation of that glorious day, I am obedient (if not indeed content) to do as Jesus told the disciples in Luke 19:13 KJV, “Occupy till I come.”
“Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20 KJV). And when You do, Lord, please take me home!