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living in new territory

I like to joke with people about where I was born and raised.   My usual line is, “Peoria is a good place to be from” — with the emphasis on “from.”  But all joking aside, I’m very grateful for where I was raised.  And to be fair, I was born in Peoria but actually raised in East Peoria — emphasis on East.

Growing up in Central Illinois grounded me with Midwestern sensibilities.  It certainly shaped my sense of community, values, and perspective.

This lesson came home to me when I graduated high school and headed south to Tennessee for college.

In East Peoria, as in much of the Midwest, girls were friendly but too friendly (At least back in the 1980’s).  There was a certain aloofness between boys and girls that helped you measure the romantic meter.  In other words, it wasn’t common for a girl to run up and just give you a hug.  Shoot, they might not even smile at you and yet they still might like you.

When I arrived in West Tennessee, it didn’t take long to become very confused.  Girls I just met would give me a hug.  In class, out of class, it didn’t matter.  With a big smile and friendly “hello,” you’d be hugged.

For the first week or so, this excessive hugging inflated my ego.  Then the truth popped my bubble: Girls in Henderson, TN, hugged everyone — even a skinny, pimply-faced geek from East Peoria.

I was receiving a crash-course in how to navigate different cultures.  Just because a girl smiled at you and hugged you didn’t mean she liked you.

Whenever you move from one region to another, or travel oversees, you quickly learn that not all signs and symbols translate the same.  In fact, part of the journey is to learn the language and customs so that you can find your way without offending a native or doing harm to yourself.

Something happens when you give your life to Jesus: you’re transplanted into new territory.  Now, your physical address might not change — it usually doesn’t.  Your pimples don’t magically go away.  If you’ve never been fluent in Spanish, it’s unlikely that you will be immediately.  But, make no mistake, you are now living in new territory.  It’s called the Kingdom of God.

Part of our challenge, if not the greatest challenge, is learning how to live in this new territory.  It comes with a new language and customs; you even get new neighbors and family members.

Philippians 2:1-11 is about how to navigate new ground.  What begins at the moment of salvation takes a lifetime to develop and mature.  It’s a bit uncomfortable at times.  Maybe even feels unnatural.  But it’s completely normal.