Where Do You Hail From?

Ask a Third Culture Kid, “Where are you from?” and in response you might get a deep sigh or a quizzical look . . . or a quick, simple answer that staves off more questions. There are other ways to ask for the same information. There’s “Where’s home?” A better question might be “Where have you lived?” Or if you’re a fan of quizzical looks, you could ask, “Where do you hail from?” Hmmmmm. What does that even mean?

Ask no more. (I’m referring to the question, “What does that even mean?” not “Where are you from?”)

According to Douglas Harper of the Online Etymology Dictionary, hail is a

salutation in greeting, c. 1200, from Old Norse heill “health, prosperity, good luck,” or a similar Scandinavian source, and in part from Old English shortening of wæs hæil “be healthy.”

The dictionary goes on to say that around the same time the verb heilen appeared, meaning “to call from a distance.” Then it tackles to hail from, referencing The Dictionary of Americanisms, which, in 1848, called it “a phrase probably originating with seamen or boatmen . . . meaning to come from, to belong to.”

The same entry gives the date of origin for to hail from as 1841. But I did some searching of my own, using Google Books, and found an occurrence (same wording, same meaning) from March 27, 1832. It was spoken by US representative Franklin E. Plummer of Mississippi, during a House debate on a bill concerning the sale of public lands:

Who are the citizens of the old States, that they should be envious of the growing prosperity of their younger sister States? Are we not from the same common stock and origin; and ought not our interests and feelings to be the same? We participated equally with the present population of the old States in the battles of the revolution. It is not the gentleman from New York, nor his constituents, to whom we are indebted for the achievement of those glorious victories of which he so loudly boasts, and of which we all have reason to be proud. It was not the gentleman on my right, [Mr. Briggs,] who hails from the ancient commonwealth, and represents my native district, that fought those battles which secured to us that independence and that liberty which we all in common enjoy; but it was his grandsire and mine, who fought, side by side, at the memorable battles of Lexington and Bunker’s Hill.

The 1841 date comes from the Oxford English Dictionary, which is one of Harper’s sources. Does that mean I’ve scooped the OED? Is a Netflix movie with the title The Publisher and the Blog Guy in my future?

I doubt you’ll get the reference, so let me explain. I’m thinking about the 2019 film The Professor and the Madman, starring Mel Gibson and Sean Penn. The story, based on true events, goes like this: In the late 1800s, James Murray (the “professor”) became the editor of a work that would in time grow into the OED. In order to tackle the massive project, he enlisted volunteers to scour English literature to find the oldest usages of words. One of those volunteers was an American, William Chester Minor (the “madman”). Minor had been a surgeon in the Union army during the Civil war, moved to England, and, suffering from mental illness, shot and killed a man. He was deemed insane and placed in an asylum, and it was there, surrounded by his collection of books, that he became one of the OED‘s major contributors. He was befriended by Murray, and their story became the subject of Simon Winchester’s 1998 novel The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness, and the Love of Words, later published as The Professor and the Madman.

I’m thinking that Steven Spielberg could direct my biopic, highlighting my new efforts in updating the OED. And Tom Hanks would probably do a decent job portraying me. My story wouldn’t be as dramatic as Minor’s, but who knows what Spielberg and Hanks could do with some poetic license. Yes, I can almost smell the popcorn. . . .

Well, maybe not. It’s awfully hard to imagine floating among the cinematic stars when others keep pulling you down to earth. There’s Douglas Harper, for one. I found an interview he did with the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education, in which he says “I can go trace modern words and usages (post-1700) using digital archives.” Hey, that’s what I did! And then he puts me in my place with “I can back-date the OED 5 times in 10 minutes.”

OK, OK, he’s got me beat . . . by a long shot. I guess I’ll humbly step aside and let Harper be the subject of the next blockbuster movie on word etymologies. But I still went ahead and sent in my finding to the OED, using their online submission form. And for that I received the following message:

Thank you for submitting your word or evidence!

Yes, it was in red. And, yes, it ended with an exclamation mark.

If that isn’t encouraging, then I don’t know what is. I’m not giving up yet. I hail from a long line of dreamers, after all.

Douglas Harper, “hail,” Online Etymology Dictionary; John Bartlett, The Dictionary of Americanisms: A Glossary of Words and Phrases, Usually Regarded as Peculiar to the United States, Bartlett and Welford, 1848; Register of Debates in Congress, vol. 8, part 2, Gales and Seaton, 1833; “Q&A With Douglas Harper: Creator of the Online Etymology Dictionary,” IMSE Journal, June 18, 2015)

[photo: “Land Ho!” by anoldent, used under a Creative Commons license]

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What’s Your “Fancy Like . . .”? [—at A Life Overseas]

If I were to say that I was “fancy like Applebee’s” you might make some assumptions about me. For instance, I might be an American, not the richest guy in the world, and someone who listens to country music in his pickup truck.

And if you don’t fit into all those categories, you might wonder what “fancy like Applebee’s” even means. If that’s the case, two step over to YouTube to hear Walker Hayes’ top-ten country-western song from last year. In “Fancy Like,” Hayes sings that his “low maintenance” lady is usually content with eating at Wendy’s, 

But every now and then when I get paid
I gotta spoil my baby with an upgrade

Yeah, we fancy like Applebee’s on a date night
Got that Bourbon Street steak with the Oreo shake
Get some whipped cream on the top too
Two straws, one check, girl, I got you

Similes (those “like” and “as” phrases) show what we know. They reveal what we identify with and how we use that to describe the things around us, things that are new, or old things that we want to help others see in a new way. Sometimes they get it. Sometimes they don’t. That’s the way it is for country-music stars, and for cross-cultural workers, too.

So if you’re fancy like Applebee’s, it might be because that’s where you go for a a Bourbon Street Steak during your once-a-year trip to the city to get your documents approved or to make a supply run. Or you could be fancy like Swedish meatballs in the IKEA cafeteria. Or fancy like a hotdog combo, with extra sauerkraut, at the Costco snack bar. Or fancy like a Caffè Mocha at the window table in Starburks, (yes, I do mean Starburks).

That’s how we do, how we do, fancy like . . .

In that spirit, here are a few similes I’ve come up with. Some are based on my own experiences overseas, and some I just imagine might be true for others. I hope they make sense to you, but more than that, I hope they inspire you to come up with your own. Give it a try. . . .

See the rest of my post at A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “Applebee’s,” by Mike Mozart, used under a Creative Commons license]

Don’t Just Missionary On [—at A Life Overseas]

Onward, Christian soldiers.

Soldier on, Christians.

These don’t mean the same thing, at least not to me.

Paul uses the word soldier to describe someone faithfully acting in obedience to God when he exhorts Timothy, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3 NIV). It’s a good thing to be Christian soldier.

But when we use soldier as a verb, such as in soldier on, it can take on a different meaning. Around the early 1900s, to soldier on the job was introduced, meaning, oddly enough, to act as if you’re working hard while only putting in minimal effort. And then the mid 1900s gave us the shorter to soldier on, which means to keep going in the face of difficulty or trouble.

In this latter sense, soldiering on, too, is a good thing. But that’s not how the phrase often comes across today. When I hear “soldiering on,” I think of a joyless trudge, just putting one foot in front of the other without resting, without taking time for reflection, without asking questions, without sharing heartfelt emotions, without asking for help or relief or sympathy or grace.

That’s how the best soldiers do it, right?

To read the rest of this post, go to A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “boot,” by eltpics, used under a Creative Commons license]

Sing Along with Me: How Long? [—at A Life Overseas]

Returning to the States after serving overseas was a hard time for my wife and me. We were grieving our losses and were struggling with the difficulties we’d already faced and those we saw ahead. We prayed and prayed but didn’t receive clear direction from God. In our spiritual malaise it was hard to slide back into a church service and cheerfully sing praise songs. So we often stayed seated while others stood, and prayed silently while others sang.

While we didn’t hear the audible voice of God in answer to our prayers, we did read the words of David in communion with our prayers:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? (Psalm 13:1-2a NIV)

We still sometimes find ourselves sitting and praying during our church’s worship service, and we still sometimes call to God with the opening words of the 13th Psalm. So when I saw syndicated columnist Terry Mattingly’s post at On Religion last month, “Open Bible to Psalms: What Messages Are Seen There but Not in Modern Praise Music?” it caught my attention. And then as I read on and saw him quoting Craig Greenfield, a past contributor to A Life Overseas, I was pulled in.

In his essay, Mattingly discusses Michael J. Rhodes’ analysis of the 25 top Christian worship songs (from a ranking by Christian Copyright Licensing International). Rhodes finds that in their lyrics, justice appears only once, enemies “rarely show up,” and there is no mention of the poor, widows, refugees, or the oppressed, even though those are common themes in the Psalms. “Maybe most devastatingly,” he writes on Twitter, “in the Top 25, not a SINGLE question is ever posed to God.”

Craig, who has spent years living among and working with the poor overseas, responds by lamenting the lack of lamenting in our worship, the absence of mourning with those who mourn over the state of a world that’s “all messed up.” He writes, “Sometimes it’s a broken, evil place and His Kingdom has not yet come in full.”

The Psalms often express lamenting in blunt questions posed to God, questions such as “How long?”

Go to A Life Overseas to finish reading my post. . . .

(Terry Mattingly, “Open Bible to Psalms: What Messages Are Seen There but Not in Modern Praise Music?On Religion, July 25, 2022; Michael J. Rhodes [@michaeljrhodes], Twitter, September 14, 2021; Craig Greenfield, “Worship Music Is Broken. Here’s What We Can Do about It.Craig Greenfield, September 17, 2021)

[photo: “Broken Mirror on Mass Ave,” by essygie, used under a Creative Commons license]

Because There Just Aren’t Enough Words to Describe the Overseas Experience, Here Are a Few More for Your Lexicon [—at A Life Overseas]

The following is a compilation of several posts that I wrote for ClearingCustoms.com. I gathered them together to publish them at A Life Overseas:

Over the years I’ve created a collection of new terms for old things—things that are common to traveling and living overseas but that haven’t had common labels. Most of them have come to me while I’m in the air, looking out the window or thumbing through an inflight magazine.

I’ve posted these before on my blog, but I’ve yet to hear anyone use a single one in casual conversation, so I’m thinking they need a broader audience. I hope that some of these can make their way into your vocabulary. I’ll keep my ears open.

bait and glitch
You find a cheap plane ticket online and go through all the steps to buy it, double and triple checking all the details, and then when you select “confirm,” you get that encouraging message that says, “The fare you’ve selected is no longer available.” Maybe it’s because the search site wasn’t up to date or because someone else recklessly grabbed the last seat while you were prudently making up your mind. If it’s the latter, it just proves the old standard, “Time flies when you’re choosing flight times” (or something like that).

direct flight to the dog house
This is what you receive after you proudly show the money-saving itinerary—that you just booked—to your spouse, and said spouse points out that it includes a 14-hour layover (also known as a “wayover”) and that you and your four children will need to collect all checked baggage between each of the five connecting flights. Travel to the doghouse does accumulate frequent-flyer miles, but they can only be redeemed for undesirable trips, such as to overnight stays on the living-room couch.

metapacking
Carrying a suitcase in a suitcase so that you can bring back more stuff than you take. This can be as simple as a duffle bag inside another piece of luggage, but in its purest form, it is a checked bag precisely fitting inside another checked bag. The term metapacking can be extended also to encompass using a cheap or broken suitcase to transport items one way and then disposing of that suitcase after you arrive. Seasoned travelers always keep a broken suitcase lying around.

eurekathing
Something you find inside your luggage when you start packing—something you haven’t seen since your last trip. Discovering it brings out such responses as “Oh, that’s where that is,” or “I do have one of those.” A wad of ten-dollar bills is eurekaching, a piece of jewelry, eurekabling.

tetrisness
The feeling of accomplishment one feels after packing every necessary item just right in a suitcase. A landmark study out of the University of Gatwick-Hempstead shows that tetrisness activates the same portion of the brain as when one successfully folds a fitted sheet.

TSAT
The TSAT (pronounced Tee Ess Ay Tee or Tee-Sat) is an oral exam in which family members yell questions and answers from room to room concerning Transportation Security Administration regulations:

Is it the 3-1-1 rule or 1-1-3 . . . or 3-2-1 or 9-1-1? Does deodorant count as a liquid? What about wet wipes? Or snow globes? Or chocolate-covered cherries? Can I take nail clippers in my carry-on? What about tweezers? Duct tape? Scotch tape? Chopsticks? Toothpicks? Javelins?

fortnightlies
Countless requests—for coffee, a get-together, or a meal—made by friends who have just realized that your departure for a long or permanent stay is only. two. weeks. away.

vontrappish
How you feel when you’re ready for bed the night before a morning flight, with all your luggage placed neatly (more or less) next to the door—lined up like the von Trapp family ready to sing “So Long, Farewell.” You may have mixed feelings, and you may or may not sleep. In extreme cases, you hear yourself humming the tune.

flotsam and jetsam and thensam
The abundance of things that people give you and your children right before you leave for the airport or get on the plane. This includes gifts, souvenirs, snacks, word-find and sudoku books, coloring books with a four-pack of crayons, and those faces with metal shavings that you form into a beard with a magnet.

disafearance
Leaving your tightly locked up (?) house thinking you might have left the iron on (even though you don’t remember having done any ironing) is one thing, but watching your hand zip your passport into the front pocket of your backpack and then just two minutes later checking to see if it’s actually there because you’re afraid that you didn’t in fact zip your passport into the front pocket of your backpack but instead, due to a muscle spasm, may have opened the car window and tossed your passport onto the shoulder of the highway—or what if it just spontaneously combusted, leaving no smoke or ashes? That’s disafearance.

duffling
Upon hearing the counter agent at the airport say that your checked bag is three pounds overweight, you feign frantic action by grabbing zippers, patting your pockets, turning in circles, and saying things such as “I could . . . ,” “Well, I . . . ,” and “What can . . . ,” hoping that the ticket agent will take pity on you and say it’s OK. Be careful that your duffling isn’t too aggressive or the agent will actually let you follow through on solving the problem.

terminal fowliage
Birds that have somehow gotten into an airport and fly around amongst the rafters and indoor trees. Birds stuck inside a place where people come to fly. Sense the irony?

flaggle
A flaggle of tourists is a group of middling to senior travelers, led by a tour guide with a flag and bullhorn. The flag is akin to the kind I and my friends used to bolt onto our banana-seat bikes when we were kids. Oh, if only we’d had megaphones, too. You can tell that the flaggle is on the return leg of their trip when you see them bringing home food and souvenirs packed in large, branded gift bags or boxes with tied-on handles.

making a this-line’s-not-for-you-turn
After standing patiently in an airport line for fifteen minutes and realizing that it doesn’t lead where you need to go, you nonchalantly walk away—as if standing in lines is simply your hobby and you’re now looking for another place to queue up for more pleasant amusement. (Aren’t you glad you came early?)

shuftle
The standing-room-only shuttle bus at some airports that shuffles passengers on the tarmac from plane to airport terminal (or vice versa). This word can also be used as a verb.

Sadow-Plath effect
Happens in the moment when you accidentally kick a pulled carry-on with your heel and it flips onto one wheel and mo.men.tar.i.ly balances before flipping completely over or wobbling back to both wheels. This brief pause at the top of the carry-on’s arc is actually a tiny breach in the space-time continuum, caused by the rapid upturn of the luggage in combination with the forward motion. The effect is named after Bernard D. Sadow, inventor of the wheeled suitcase, and Bob Plath, creator of the rollaboard.

glizing
Glizing is the act of experiencing the wonderfully smooth exponential forward motion as you stride confidently on an airport’s moving walkway. This only happens when you’re not in a hurry, in part because, as studies show, the walkways do little to speed you up, and often slow you down.

BlackNSquare
When you try to describe your piece of luggage at the lost-luggage counter, all you can remember is that it’s part of the BlackNSquare line made by the Yuno company. Question: “What Kind of luggage do you have?” Answer: “Yuno, BlackNSquare.” Yuno also makes the upscale models BlackNSquare with Handle and BlackNSquare with Wheels.

preseating
To sit down, with plenty of time before boarding, able to relax because your bags are checked, you’re definitely at the right gate, and a quick look shows that your passport is right where it’s supposed to be. You take a deep breath and contemplate the hopeful possibilities of your trip. You can charge your phone, read, or people watch. You’re free to walk about and might grab a cup of coffee, browse the bestsellers in the bookstore, or window shop expensive luggage and watches . . . and on the way, you can go glizing.

passenger of imminent domain
This is the person directly in front of you on a plane who, upon sitting down, immediately pushes their seat back as far as it will possibly go. Intuiting that something must be hindering it, they try to force it back farther, again and again. There. Must. Be. Something. Keeping. The. Seat. From. Reclining completely flat (possibly your knees). Finally, leaving the seat fully back, they lean forward to watch a movie.

chipillow
The bag of snacks that you bring from home that bloats up once you reach higher altitudes. With care, it can be used to rest your head on, due to the fact that it’s in the same food group as the neck croissant.

FASL
Flight Attendant Sign Language. Includes such specialized hand maneuvers as indicating the exits by extending the arms to the side, palms forward, pointing with two fingers, Boy Scout style, and mimicking the pulling of life-vest inflation cords using the crook of the thumb and first finger with the other fingers fanned out, subliminally showing that everything will be “OK.”

single-entré seating
The rows in the far back of the plane where you no longer get a choice between the brazed beef medallions over a wild-rice pilaf and the broiled fish and mashed potatoes. You get the fish.

cartnering
This is the act of hovering next to the food cart as it’s making its way down the aisle. Timing a trip to the bathroom with the distribution of meals is truly an art form, and it is best done passive-aggressively (such as by wearing a smile while dancing from one foot to the other).

Silent Gotcha Port
The “SGP” is the small screw hole on the seat armrest that looks as if it must be the place where you plug in your earphones.

Queen Ramona’s Veil
The dark mesh curtain that separates business class from coach. Its main purpose is to protect those in the front of the plane from projectiles thrown by the riotous mob behind, who are known to catapult dinner rolls at each other using slingshots fashioned from their airline-provided sleep masks and who sometimes divide into teams for prolonged games of ultimate Frisbee. In small planes, the curtain, only a few inches across and resting next to the cabin wall, is known as Queen Romana’s Veilette. Its purpose is purely psycho-social.

The term “Queen Ramona’s Veil” comes from the name commonly used for the wood-and-iron gate employed by the overly paranoid and little-known British Queen Ramona II to separate her highness from the filthy hordes sometimes present in the steerage portion of her royal sailing ship. Mention of the barrier is made in the English dirge “The Death of Queen Ramona at the Hands of the Filthy Hordes.” (Can you tell that I rarely get to fly business class?)

seatemic (pronounced see-uh-tehm-ic)
Your connecting flight is delayed and you have no time to spare so when it lands you run as fast as you can (and by “as fast as you can” I mean a combination of running, jogging, speed walking, walking, stopping, and wheezing) across the airport and arrive at your gate just as they’re closing the door and you speed down the gangway and board the plane and force your carryon into something close to an available slot and find your seat and quickly strap in so the plane can take off. . . . Now all you can do is sit still, sweating, with your heart racing and your veins coursing with adrenaline. Your body is in a fight-or-flight response but something tells you this is a different kind of flight. If you are suffering from these symptoms, you are seatemic.

no-watch list
Movies on this list are not allowed to be shown in-flight. The list includes Red EyeAirborneNon-StopFlightplanSnakes on a PlaneQuarantine 2: Terminal, and Plane of the Living Dead. And, yeah, some of these shouldn’t be shown on the ground, either.

altivism
Gazing out of an airplane window, seeing the new landscape below, and feeling joyfully overcome with the real and imagined possibilities.

post-ping che-klatches
The sound of seatbelt buckles popping open the instant the plane stops at the gate and passengers hear the OK-now-you-can-get-up tone. This allows those in window seats to immediately grab their carryons, put them where they were just sitting, and wait, hunching under the overhead bins.

welwelwel-ke-come
This is the glorious sound of the immigration agent thumbing through your passport looking for an empty page—and then adding the stamp that says you’re free to enter.

dyslistening
The condition by which your over preparation for answering an expected question in another language overwhelms your auditory senses and you answer the query you’ve anticipated, no matter what is actually said, as in responding to “How many would you like?” with “Yes, but no ice, please.”

visatrig
The act of trying to predict which agent in the office will be the most likely to give you your visa or other important document and then conducting complex calculations concerning the number of people in line in front of you to see if you will get the agent you hope for. A domestic version of this is sometimes encountered in the DMV.

unchewing
The physical and mental reaction that occurs when you realize that the chocolate-covered, cream-filled donut that you just took a bite of in your host country is in fact not a donut and that’s not chocolate and the filling might very well have gristle in it.

[photo: “Fight over Slovenia,” by (Mick Baker)rooster, used under a Creative Commons license]

Night, 2, 3, 4

“The Polar Night Is the Blue Time in Northern Norway”

Imagine nights that last 20 hours, and weeks without seeing the sun. That is real life in large areas of Northern Norway. And just imagine, many people who live in the north think that this is the finest time of the year, with fantastic skyscapes and magical lights. A visit during the dark months is a warming experience!

. . . . .

The Polar Night can last days to months depending on your location.

On the North Cape, the sun remains under the horizon for more than two months, while in Tromsø the phenomenon lasts for six weeks or so. In Lofoten, the dark period is short, just under four weeks. From Bodø and farther south, the sun does actually appear even in the deepest mid-winter, lighting up the winter landscape briefly around midday. At the other end of the scale is Svalbard, where the sun disappears completely for almost four months!

(Northern Norway)

[photo: “|1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|,” by Gerry Dincher, used under a Creative Commons license]

Hiding Abuse Does Not Protect the Mission [—at A Life Overseas]

The mission. The mission. The mission.

What could be more important to missionaries than the mission?

But talk about the supreme importance of the work of the church can be used to silence those who would expose sin in the church. Russell Moore pointed this out last month, writing in Christianity Today about Guidepost Solution’s investigation into sexual-abuse claims, and allegations of coverup, in the Southern Baptist Convention. Guidepost’s findings include an email sent by the executive vice president and general council of the SBC’s Executive Committee, in which he comments on those bringing accusations against the SBC:

This whole thing should be seen for what it is. It is a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism. It is not the gospel. It is not even a part of the gospel. It is a misdirection play.

This line of thinking has played out on the mission field, too, as can be seen in published reports on the treatment of victims of child abuse overseas. For example, in 1997, the Christian and Missionary Alliance’s Independent Commission of Inquiry reported on claims of abuse at Mamou Alliance Academy, a boarding school in Guinea run by the C&MA from 1950 to 1971. About the students at Mamou, one missionary mother told the commission,

They were never allowed the freedom of expressing their hurts, their problems, their emotions to us. Each week the obligatory letter was not only read but censored, and forced to be rewritten if it appeared at all negative. This destroyed a vital link that could have helped maintain a fragmented family bond. They were repeatedly told not to share adverse happenings either by letter or by word on vacation with parents, lest it upset the parents and interfere with the work they were doing for God. The hidden message to the child was that God was more important, work was more important to the parents that [sic] one’s own child.

The commission summarized the reasoning behind censoring letters as “Children were advised not to upset their parents, lest their ministry to Africans be compromised and Africans left to their pagan ways.”

In 2010, GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) reported on its findings concerning New Tribes Mission’s Fanda Missionary School, in Senegal, which boarded children from the mid 1980s to 1997.

Continue reading my post at A Life Overseas. . . .

(Russell More, “This is the Southern Baptist Apocalypse,” Christianity Today, May 22, 2022; Report of the Independent Investigation of the Southern Baptist Convention, Guidepost Solutions, May 15, 2022; Geoffrey B. Stearns, et. al, Final Report, Independent Commission of Inquiry Regarding Mamou Alliance Academy (C&MA), November 15, 1997)

[photo: “Padlock on Red Door,” by Andy Wright, used under a Creative Commons license]

Closed Doors, Opened Windows

During debriefing after leaving the field as a cross-cultural worker, I had questions: How can we deal with the guilt of turning away from a God-given opportunity? How can we walk away from an open door?

I found comfort in learning that open doors aren’t the same thing as commands from God. In fact, Paul, himself, at least once didn’t take advantage of an opportunity that God had laid out before him.

Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia. (2 Corinthians 2:12,13, NIV)

And nothing in the verses that follow shows that God was displeased.

While at debriefing I was also reminded, “When God closes a door, he opens a window.”

I can’t say for sure if the door for ministry in Taiwan was still standing open for us, or if it had been closed, but what I could say for sure is that, either way, I and my family had already moved back to the States.

A while back, my wife and I were watching Many Beautiful Things: The Life and Vision of Lilias Trotter, about the missionary to Algeria in the late 1800s to early 1900s. In it she is quoted as saying, “In all the withholdings of this year, God has been opening a door where he closes a window.”

Hmmmmm. With the help of Trotter’s biographer, Miriam Rockness, I had earlier traced “Don’t forget in the darkness what you have learned in the light” to Trotter’s “Believe in the darkness what you have seen in the light.” So I contacted Rockness again for more information on the door/window phrase, and she wrote that Trotter penned her version on May 6, 1904.

So was Trotter the first to come up with the idea (though not exactly the same wording)? Simply put, no. In fact, she’s is far downstream from the source on this one.

One of the first clues that I found for its earlier existence comes from Edward Tyas Cook, writing in 1907 about the artist and author Francesca Alexander. Because of failing eyesight, Alexander had turned from drawing illustrations to collecting and converting old Tuscan stories into rhyme. Of her change in focus, she writes that

it must be that when the Lord took from me one faculty He gave me another; which is in no way impossible. And I think of the beautiful Italian proverb: “When God shuts a door He opens a window.”

There are other references to this phrase being from Italy, but what I find most interesting about this one is its appearance in the introduction to The Works of John Ruskin. Ruskin was Alexander’s editor, and, as is shown in Many Beautiful Things, was also Trotter’s artistic mentor.

Expanding my search to phrases that replace a window with another (as in “When God shuts a door, he opens another”), yielded several examples predating 1900. One comes from The National Sunday School Teacher, where, in 1877, M. C. Hazard applies the saying to Paul’s missionary endeavors recorded in Acts 16:

Paul’s earnest words found a lodgment in the heart of one Lydia, of Thyatira. Thyatira was a city of Asia, where Paul was forbidden to preach. The fact is suggestive. When God closes a door it is not always that one may not enter, but that another and better way may be opened. The best way to preach the gospel in Asia may be to begin in Macedonia.

From over 150 years earlier, I found evidence of the phrase’s Italian roots in Prattica per Confortare i Condannati a Morte (or Practice to Comfort Those Sentenced to Death), written by the Reverend D. Ignazio Sorrentino in 1712. Below is the relevant passage in Italian and English. (Please forgive any errors in my Google-aided attempt at translation):

Conf. Sentite, N. si fuol dire , che quando Dio chiude una porta, n’apre un’altra ; mà alle vostre figlie ne aprirà cento ; poiche se la vostra morte le priva dell’industria delle vostre poche fatiche, colle quali s’aveano d’alimentarsi, ed accomularfi te misere doticelle , Iddio Benedetto toccherà il cuore di più persone caritative à fomminiftrarli , e pe’l vitto , e per le doti .

Comf[orter]. Listen, N., it is said, that when God closes one door, he opens another; but to your daughters he will open a hundred; since if your death deprives them of the industry of your few labors, with which they had to feed themselves, and accumulate miserable gifts, Blessed God will touch the hearts of more charitable persons to provide for them, with food, and with gifts.

Looking back even further, my search came up with the following in the writings of the British Nonconformist minister Oliver Heywood, dated 1673:

on munday October 13 73 we had a private fast at John Stancliffs house, but it was not such a good day to me as ordinary I haue had : I begun the day, and my heart begun to be affected, but afterwards in the same duty I struggled and tugged, but found much deadnes, distractions, and could not get the work forward, wch wn I perceived I cut short : the Lord humble me for it, and shew me the cause, he is infinitly wise and righteous :

friday octob 24 at a private fast in my house god graciously helpt—and several other times in secret—the day after,—being alone, and munday being alone, oh wt melting seasons had I in my study : and on wednesday octob 28, in Warley god wonderfully helped both in praying and preaching—Blessed by my god :

I cannot but take notice and exceedingly admire gods providence that wn one door is shut up, god opens another for service and employment : by an observable call I was brought to one Mrs Brookes at New-house, to keep a fast upon a special occasion, Nov 18 73 and indeed I haue very seldome found such inlargemts and meetings of spirit, it may be god hath some design of good in that very ignorant place, the old woman was carnal, I fear, her daughters civil, Mr Gill the young gentleman that marryed the one keeps a Kennel of hounds, yet much affected, al of them very thankfull, gratifyed me—oh wt a mercy if god would work!—

And lastly, I came across one more instance of note: In 1868, Adalut Khan translated, from Persian into English, portions of Sa’di Shirazi’s book of poetry The Bostan (or, as Khan renders it in English, The Pleasure-Garden). One of the poems tells of a rich man who refuses to help a beggar, berating him and telling his slave to chase him away. Over time, the rich man becomes poor, and the poor man becomes rich, even taking the cruel man’s slave into his household. When their paths cross again, the newly rich man tells his slave to help the one who earlier showed him no kindness, saying,

I am he whom he drove that day from (his door), but the revolution of the world placed him in my days (place).
Heaven again looked towards me, and washed off the dust of grief from my face.
Though God with His wisdom shut a door, yet with His mercy and kindness He opens another.
Many poor and needy became contented, and oftentimes the business of the rich became topsy-turvy.

If this is a literal translation, it would date the proverb, at least in Persian, to the 1200s, when Sa’di was living. Or maybe Khan used poetic license in translating Sa’di’s poetry, paraphrasing the idea of the line into something more familiar to his readers. Whatever the case, it is clear that the thought behind the adage has been around for a long, long time.

With all that longevity behind it, is “When God closes a door, he opens a window” true? I guess that depends on how one sees the world. In my opinion, it’s perhaps proverbially true but not absolutely true. I prefer Trotter’s usage, making a statement about what she has experienced in the past, not predicting what is sure to occur in the future.

Sometimes God closes windows and doors. Sometimes he opens them. Sometimes the two are even matched together . . . but, I think, not always.

To all that I say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (And I know where that comes from.)

(Miriam Rockness, in a comment (March 6, 2022) for “The Documented Life,” Lilias Trotter, February 28, 2022; E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, “The Works of John Ruskin, George Allen, 1907; M. C. Hazard, ed., “Notes and Comments,” The National Sunday School Teacher, Adams, Blackmer, and Lyon, 1877; D. Ignazio Sorrentino, Prattica per Confortare i Condannati a Morte, 1712; Oliver Heywood, “Experiences,” The Rev. Oliver Heywood, B.A., 1630-1702; His Autobiography, Diaries, Anecdote and Event Books, vol. 3, J. Horsfall Turner, ed., Bingley, 1883; Sa’di Shirazi, The Bostan, or The Pleasure-Garden, Adalut Khan, trans., Baptist Mission Press, 1868)

[photo: “A Window and a Door” by mhobl, used under a Creative Commons license]