The licorice jar was gone. As I walked into Bel Shore Liquors in Long Beach, California, a wave of nostalgia crashed through the busyness of my schedule. I had not been here since 1979. The store was smaller than I remembered. What was once sprawling in the wide eyes of a five-year old child seemed paltry now. As a five-year old, I could only see the glass jar of red licorice on the counter, a jar my father would open and give to me whenever I came. Now the licorice jar was gone. I could only see the rows of Absolut Vodka and Jack Daniels behind the counter.
Our family left Long Beach around 1979. My father had just become a Christian, and he sold this liquor store to begin seminary. The Cambodian family that bought it from him still owned it. Their picture is here. The liquor store was about two blocks from our house. I would walk there with my mom and two older brothers to visit my dad. I also visited the Liquor Locker a block down. We used to be neighbors with the owner of that store.
She had a son, Frank, a year older than me and a year younger than my brother Hubert. He now works in Silicon Valley. She directed me to our old home, so I stopped by there as well. The odd thing is that I don’t remember that home at all. But I still remember the red licorice from the liquor store.
I wondered what would have happened if I had grown up in Long Beach. What if my father never became Christian, if he achieved his dream of becoming a millionaire, if I never lived in Japan or became a pastor. A friend mentioned that they were surprised that I was a California boy. They thought it made me cooler. I think I need all the help I can get.
I had been formed by this place. I have lived in so many different places since then. Irvine. Nyack, New York. Tokyo. Thousand Oaks. Arlington Heights. Wheaton. Warrenville. Naperville. Each of these places have formed me. I wonder how effectively I formed them. From the beginning, we were called to form and reform the places we live (Gen. 2:15). Even when God’s people were dragged as prisoners to Babylon, they were to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city…because in its peace, you too will find peace” (Jer. 29:7; my translation). Our peace is found in the peace and flourishing of our place. We are formed by our place, but we must also form our place.
Hm. I want some red licorice.