It’s not the promised land, but it’s pretty close. I can’t stop telling him all the things I love about here. The river. Autumn’s last pop of the brightest green. The Honey Crisp apples we’ll pick this week. The bookstore whose corners I know better than any department store on earth. And the people. The people. Here I have been more loved and more known than any place on earth. They knew the rawest form of me, the me who still didn’t understand the love of the God and the grace he’d given me if only I’d see it. When I come home here, brimming over now with the most beautiful gifts of the gospel, I hope it makes up for the years of begrudging giving I did here. I know it doesn’t, but I hope it does. I didn’t understand giving could be beautiful, but mostly because I didn’t understand the Giver of all this beauty.
We arrive, road-worn and travel-weary—three almost full days on the road with a busy conference schedule in between. Thank God for audio books and Radio Lab and sitting beside the man I love for 28 hours. In the early morning still dark hours I hear him say in my ear, “I hear water running.” I smile to myself because he thinks it’s a toilet or a sink or some other problem, but I know there’s water falling over the dam less than twenty yards from our open window. I cannot wait to share this place with him.
I think of Psalm 50, “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.” This place isn’t the promised land and in many ways I felt more taken from than given to in the years I lived here. But I come back here, full of the love of God and the grace I know, and see the heavens proclaiming the work of their God and the trees clapping their hands with praise. The Milky Way last night brighter and brighter as the moon slowly closed its white eye.
I know it has always been here for me to see, the veil just hadn’t been torn. I wish it wasn’t that way. I wish I had known then what I know now about the character of God and my incapable heart. He was telling me in a thousand ways: through the love of people, the beauty of this land, the goodness of the local church, in the corners of bookstores, and the piles of apples that taste sweeter than any sugared candy ever could. Every common bush was aflame with His beauty and wonder, I just didn’t see.
It’s easy to be distracted by all we believe is Zion. The best of what God has given here on earth, the land of milk and honey. It comes through in many forms and ways: idolatry never looks like idolatry until we see it’s just overlaid gold leaf on a wooden form—rotting away from the inside out. All through the scripture God tells his people: All of this points to me but isn’t me. Look up! Look up!
And the promise is true and the same to us today: whatever captures our eyes and keeps our hearts, if it isn’t Him, it isn’t the perfection of beauty. Coming home reminds me of that. It’s beautiful here, and I’m loved and I love, but it all just an exercise in faith. Love calls us to the things of this world by calling us first to see the maker of it.