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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Category: Family

Marriage as Partnership: and the debts we owe one another

Nothing says Sabbath like whipped cream.

Hot breakfast has been a long-standing Sunday tradition in our house. When I am most feeling most ambitious, most generous, I produce a leaning tower of homemade waffles, standing over the waffle iron for almost two hours before church. My kids eat them as quickly as I can make them. What’s left of the batch that I’ve sextupled (!) is wrapped and frozen for the week ahead. They might last us through Tuesday.

On my least ambitious Sundays, I make muffins. (Borrowing a word from Mary Berry, I’ve recently discovered an especially “scrummy” recipe here.) Because Sunday morning always promises something as delicious as waffles or crepes, pancakes or muffins, on Saturday night, it’s not unusual for one of the twins to ask as he’s crawling into bed, “What’s for breakfast tomorrow?”

Nothing says Sabbath like whipped cream.

Last weekend, however,  I crawled into bed at 1:30am on Sunday morning, finally home after leading a women’s conference in Northern California. I had asked Ryan to let me sleep late, and to my complete astonishment, I rolled over to glance at the clock at 8:30 a.m. It was going to be a no-waffle, no muffin morning.

Except that when I came downstairs, I noticed the griddle on the stove, the syrup on the table. Ryan, only VERY occasionally the cook in our house, had made French toast. It was not the soft cinnamon bread I usually by from the neighborhood bakery—but it WAS French toast!

This wasn’t the only happy surprise of the morning. When I reached into the refrigerator for cream for my coffee, I noticed the shelves had been wiped clean and STOCKED. My husband had gone to the grocery store in my absence, replenishing the staples of milk and yogurt and bread, even thinking ahead to what we’d have for dinner that night. “Pasta and broccoli?”

I understand that my astonishment betrays our traditional domestic arrangement, and it’s true that our marriage has worked according to a very typical gendered division of labor. Ryan’s career has been and continues to be especially demanding, which means that I have been the primary parent and housekeeper. Truthfully, I don’t usually mind it because I enjoy domestic tasks—that is, apart from the dreaded task of packing lunches (see page 111 of Keeping Place).

Nevertheless, one thing has changed in our marriage in the twenty years we’ve been at this: I no longer believe the home is entirely my responsibility. In fact, I think our marriage is growing as we both look for ways to help each other become and do all that God has called us to, even apart from our roles as spouses and parents. To put it even more strongly, when I didn’t look to Ryan to help support me in my calling to write and speak, trying instead to do it all (at home) seamlessly and independently, our marriage did not reflect the biblical vision of two becoming one. I was stealing from him opportunities to be Christ to me: to lay something down for the sake of love. On this particular Sunday morning I’ve written about here, he laid down sleeping in. He laid down his morning run. He laid down waffles. (Or at least muffins.) He served me, but he also served the 110 women who attended the conference I led. In essence, he served the greater church by taking up a little bit of the housekeeping.

I’ve recently begun reading Fleming Rutledge’s much-acclaimed The Crucifixion, and of course, I started with the acknowledgments. (Because that’s where writers like to begin—with the network of family and friends and colleagues who make the work possible.) Like many writers, she customarily thanks her husband at the very end of the acknowledgments. But her gratitude was certainly not perfunctory. What I heard in her words was the sense of debt she owed to her husband’s partnership, the sense that her work on the book (comprising 18 years!) would have been impossible without him. She talked about his financial support, which paid for her theological education. And then, “on his own initiative...he went out and searched for an office where I would be protected from distractions. He found the perfect one, and paid the rent for nine more years after [my grant] ran out.”

Rutledge continues: “But his financial support was the least of it. Who can count the dinners prepared and eaten alone, especially during the last six months? . . . Who can calculate the management of problems like a broken refrigerator and a flooded garage, with no help from me, during those critical last months?” (Who can count the measure of the housekeeping?)

Finally, Rutledge concludes: “But none of that can compare with the precious gift of a lifelong companion who truly knows and loves the Lord, and who serves the Lord’s church with total devotion. I just don’t know how to even begin to say what his partnership has meant to this book and to our marriage.

May God be praised for all his bountiful gifts.”

I love that. No work of God is a solitary endeavor. In the kingdom, there is always partnership, even if one isn’t married.

Today, I’m thanking God: for whipped cream, for French toast, and for Ryan, my partner in making God’s good gifts of home and vocation possible.

Formed by a story called home

My favorite book from childhood was a Little Golden Book. It begins like this: “This is my house and I am the mommy. My children are Annabelle, Betsy, and Bonny. They are good little children and do just as I say. I put on their coats and they go out to play.” The 1967 picture book, Little Mommy, is a celebration of 20th century domesticity—and its reigning monarch. The narrator, in her smocked brown dress, waves goodbye to Billy “who works in the city. He has a new car. Isn’t it pretty?”

She happily does the dishes and sweeps the floor, wiping “the fingerprints off the door.” To read it now, Little Mommy is both jarring and consoling. Because even if I might have different ideas about gender roles and responsibilities, I am not unlike the little girl in the smocked brown dress. I have my corporate Billy—even my Annabelle, Betsy, and Bonny. Every day there are floors to sweep and doors to wipe. In ways both predicted and surprising, besides being a writer and a speaker, I am also a little mommy, central to the drama of my home.

It’s curious to think about the books that we take into our bones, especially as children. What makes us choose them from any others, begging for them to be read again and again? Why was I, for one, lured by the illustrated scenes of domesticity in Little Mommy, tamed into reverie by its easy jingles about the housekeeping? “I wash the clothes in my washing machine. I scrub them with soap and rinse them clean.”

However it happens, we all choose books to love, and those books unwittingly form us—because stories exert power.

We are storytelling creatures. This is what it means to be human. We tell stories to chase the shadows of despair. We tell stories to birth hope, to remind us of all that remains true and good and beautiful in the world. Our stories teach us to recognize ourselves, even our shared humanity with strangers. But what seems elemental to every story is longing. Because stories let us imagine the world differently, ourselves different in it.

I suppose, then, that it is not at all strange that the first story I loved so well should have been a story about home, both its welcome and its work. Because home is central to the story of life with God, as the Scriptures tell it. At the very beginning of time, humanity had a warm, dry place play to lay its head. Unlike other ancient creation myths, which conceive of a world birthed by violence, the Genesis accounts tell us that the Triune God made the world out of generous hospitality. Six days he worked, preparing for the arrival of his children. Six days he labored to make the world habitable for his guests. The very first homemaker was God himself; he was the reigning monarch of the cosmos.

Sadly, however, only two short chapters at the beginning of Genesis are dedicated to life at home with God. Then the drama lurches toward exile when Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden and God’s presence, cast out to wander with their innumerable children. If to be human is to long for home, as Genesis 1 and 2 tell us, to be human is also to be terribly homesick. This is the aftermath of Genesis 3. Today, how many of us sense our terrifying dislocation from place? We have moved too many times to count, and there’s no lived history at the address where our bills arrive. But it’s not only dislocation from place that is our loss of home. Like Adam and Eve, we are alienated from one another. Our closest relationships are marked by disappointment; they are finally severed by death. Home, as represented by family and friendship, suffers the imperfection and impermanence of this fragile world. And finally, if home once represented the unrestricted access we had to God himself, the unbroken company we kept with him, what do we have now but episodic glimpses of this? God has generously invited us to commune with him through Christ and his indwelling Spirit—but this abiding, abundant life is fractured in the everyday by our own idolatrous pursuits and everyday distractedness.

What yellow brick road do I follow to find my way back home?

I suppose that’s the pressing question I’m trying to answer in my second book, Keeping Place. I want to say that the desire for home is real, that it is in fact central to what it means to be human. I even want to say that home is central to the promise of salvation as we have it in the Scriptures. Our salvation, through Christ, repairs home and its broken promises of place, of community, of communion. In Revelation 21, when the curtain closes on this world and opens on the next, we know that death and disease will be done away with. God will hush the groaning of creation and the aching of our own hearts, declaring, as his kingdom descends to earth, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”

Home is the fundamental story that the Scriptures tell, and it has power to explain human despair and inspire longing for a better world. I wonder if this isn’t why Jesus situated some of his most important parables at home, including the story of a lost son, who, by his own foolishness, left for the far country, taking his inheritance with him. When he returned home—hungry and broke—he certainly didn’t presume to be received back into the family with all the rights and inheritance of sonship. But we know the story well, don’t we? He was met on the road by the embrace of his father.

Welcome home, his father whispers, his cheeks wet with relief.

I’m beginning to think there won’t be better words than these.

Keeping Place: Author Q&A

My second book, Keeping Place, releases next week!

If you have been curious to learn more, here is a Q&A that I've put together to give you a glimpse into the intent behind this book.

If you're interested in buying a copy, save some money! You can pre-order a book at Get 30% off the book, ebook or DVD series when you use the code READKP. Offer expires on May 31st, 2017.

Why write a book about home? Is it your experience as a wife and mother that most informs this book or something else?

There’s no doubt that my experience of making a home for my family these past twenty years has informed the writing of this book. But Keeping Place isn’t only meant for wives and mothers. In fact, I think the longing for home is a human longing. It’s not particular to women. Men feel it, too—even if they might characterize that longing in different ways.

I’ve spent my entire life searching for home. Partially this is because I’ve experienced so much loss in my life: the premature death of my father, the suicide of my brother, a sometimes emotionally distant relationship with my mother. It’s also true that home has been elusive simply because I’ve been so geographically mobile, somehow ending up in Toronto as an American expat.

These life experiences springboard a Scriptural exploration throughout the book. I want to hear what God has to say about the longings for and losses of home.

What’s the challenge of writing a book about home for both women and men?

I recently had coffee with a young woman from church, and at the end of our conversation, she said that she looked forward to my book on “homemaking.” Later, I couldn’t help but wonder if she imagined a book of recipes, table setting ideas, and the best way to organize a linen closet.

I think that’s the fear: that men will see a book on the topic of home and immediately think it’s a book meant for their wives or mothers or sisters. That’s why the history of home is a really fundamental part of this book (chapter 2). I want to trace how home was once a shared space for residence and commerce and industry up until the Industrial Revolution. That historical analysis might sound sort of heady, but it’s really meant to provide a backdrop for the way that we read the Bible, which never talks about “home” as something which women are solely responsible for.

What books have influenced you to keep a wider perspective in your home-keeping?

I really do see Keeping Place as having resonance with a lot of the great work that’s being done on theology of place. In particular, I really appreciated the early chapters of Craig Bartholomew’s Where Mortals Dwell, because it makes the case for God’s good gift of place. I have also loved books like C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison’s Slow Church, which I believe help us see the role that the local church can play to “keep place” in our cities. And a perennial favorite is also Kathleen Norris’s The Quotidian Mysteries. Beyond that, it’s always been important to me to read outside of my own experiences: books like Kent Annan’s Slow Kingdom Coming and D.L. Mayfield’s Assimilate or Go Home would be two examples.

How do you combine motherhood, writing and speaking? How does your home-making life practically work in the day-to-day?

A lot of my day is taken up with the practical care of my family, especially because I’m the primary parent for our five kids. And even though I’m the first person to try and find help when I need it (I pay someone to clean my house, someone else to do virtual assistant work for me), there’s also something irreducible about the labor that love requires. I have five kids and a very busy executive husband, which means that my work life is sometimes more constrained than I would like it to be because of my responsibilities at home. I can’t accept every speaking invitation I want to. I can’t write on every topic that interests me. I can’t stay connected on social media (even if truthfully, I don’t really want to). But I think this is what it means to be human. We are limited.

Who do you hope is reading this book, and what do you hope they will gain?

I suppose it’s fair to say that women like me will probably read the book, and I hope that they’ll come earlier to the realization that their home is a shared responsibility with their husbands. This “sharing” benefits children, for sure—who need both mom and dad fully engaged at home. It also gives women permission when other God-given callings sometimes call us away from home.

But I hope it’s not just women like me reading the book. I’d love to see women and men who aren’t married, who aren’t parents, find ways they can have and make home today, especially in their local churches and communities. I’d like for people to catch a vision for justice in the world—to see that the gospel isn’t solely a spiritual endeavor to save souls but that it also inspires practices of caring for physical bodies and environments.

And if I could just dream a bit, I’d love for someone on the margins of faith, maybe even on the outside looking in, to read this book and start making sense of the life and death, resurrection and return of Jesus Christ. Sadly, when we get to telling that story, we often use a vocabulary that people are not familiar with. But what if we could talk about the promises of the gospel through the lens of home?

Last question: isn’t there a DVD video series to accompany the book?

There is! It’s meant as a teaching companion to the book, and what I especially love about the videos (and something I can claim NO credit for) are the personal stories shared in each of the five sessions. Women talk about their dreams for home, their disappointments of home. I think it makes it really relevant to our everyday lives. You can watch the trailer here or buy the DVDs at

#2B, The Praetorian, Waco, Texas (Guest Post by Preston Yancey)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for We were, as Hepburn had hoped, “very married.” We were very married well before we were ever formally married by minister and by priest, under the sun on the east lawn of the grounds of her old high school, ringed by a cloud of witnesses whose combined vowed years totaled close to a millennium. We were very married when we first met each other in person for the first time, after years of emails and blogs and texts, the apocryphal voice of the Spirit saying to each, “Behold, your spouse.” Was it really like that? Or is that the story we have told so often that it must be? Apocrypha is perhaps most generous in this way: the details are soft and shifting, but the truth of a thing remains.

The apartment, our first, is apocrypha. It was one of those places that all newly married people believe they deserve to move into. Open floor plan. A modest but somehow lavish kitchen overlooking a living room space. A half-wall behind concealing a bedroom, bath, closet. The longest wall, brick from the mid 40s, dotted with massive windows. In New York, you live in this apartment if you’re licensed clinical therapist who takes house calls. In Waco, you live in this apartment when one of you is in grad school. Funny, how that works out.

For a year, we built our life toward together from previously apart. In the high hot summer, the air conditioning failed and our cheap stock of wine slowly roasted in its bottles such that it demanded drinking as quickly as possible. A boozy run of midsummer dotted our foundation. We stayed up too late watching movies and making French onion soup when all the grocers were closed and there was nothing much left in the cupboards. We learned each other, our limits and our loves. We learned prosody, the meter of one another, bodies returned to Eden.

This, as much as the day we formally married, was a work of vow-making. It was a work of weaving into one another. The cool of the concrete floor and the bitter dust of the exposed brick: these are the offering on the altar of memory, the most significant gift God sent the outcast creation into the wild of the world with. Again and again the call in the Scriptures is to remember and again and again it is startling to realize that we can. We’re just not often wont to.

But it was in that apartment we learned we were pregnant. It was pressed to the cold of the concrete we learned the first part of the diagnosis, leaned against the brick the second. I’m not sure where we learned the third, the fourth, or where we looked at each other and knew we could not live there anymore. Our child had needs the cozy flat in the quiet downtown could not meet.

I said we were very married, even then, but we have become ever more still. I am too young in years and in marriage to give advice about it. I am too aware of the differences carved into the soul of each of us to say my experience is universal. But I can say something, perhaps, of what the apocryphal apartment did for us.

We don’t have many boozy midsummers anymore. But we do have the foundation of their resiliency. We have the altar stones of what we’re about, what it means that we are joined and entwined. Those two tangled together, half-watching a movie and slurping soup, are the same who trade off doctors calls and insurance claims and Medicaid hearings. It’s not nostalgia. There’s no want to go back. Our son is radiance and joy and he makes in and with us a new foundation, a new place to call home.

But there will always be that apartment. There will always be those midsummer nights. In the still of our bed now, just past midnight when neither of us can sleep, there will be the snort of recognition of how fraught an air conditioning failure seemed then, how good it is to be who we are now.

Once upon a time, Preston Yancey wrote books. Now, he helps manage and onboard nonprofits with Pure Charity. He likes to cook, binge-watch esoteric TV, and mostly eshews social media these days.


keeping-place-11Welcome to a guest series I’m calling, “Home: Musings and Memories.” I’ve invited writers from all over the Internet to share their stories from home—in part, because later this year, I’m publishing a book called, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, May 2017). I believe home is our most fundamental longing, homesickness our most nagging grief. Most of all, I believe that the historic Christian faith has something to say about that desire and disappointment.

The story of Jesus is a home story.

Thanks for joining me and these other fantastic writers in the months ahead in our search for home—and the God who makes its hope possible.


Transforming Loneliness into Hospitality and Community (Guest Post by Ed Cyzewski)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for 48 W. California Ave. Columbus, OH

They say that the home where you raise your kids is the hardest one to leave. Our former home in Columbus was excruciating to leave, but the pain of leaving wasn’t just because our kids were born there.

Our moving day was a complete disaster. The movers never showed up. When we found a different company to load our truck, they didn’t have enough time to get everything out of the house. A few friends showed up to help us finish loading and cleaning, but by the time we were ready to hit the road, it was past 10 pm, our young children had spent the better part of three hours literally crying for attention.

After a final check upstairs, I walked down the steps to find our older son sitting on the bare wood in the empty living room where the couch used to be. This was his favorite spot, a cushy corner in the room where he could see out the large front windows or turn to see our dining room table where my wife so often worked on her dissertation with piles of books lining her towering bookshelves.

On our moving day, he sat on the rough, old wooden floor with its narrow, weathered boards. In his own quiet way, he was reaching for something familiar and grounding as everything was thrown into upheaval around him. Most striking to me in that moment, he was coping with the disruption to his life and facing it all alone as we rushed around to finalize our move. That devastating loneliness swept over me too as I looked on from the landing into our empty house.

How did we reach that point where we struggled so mightily to find enough help on one of the most challenging days our family had faced? Our life season didn’t make it easy to invest in friendships with my wife in graduate school, my own freelancing work, and the challenges of raising small children. As we drove off into the night, willing ourselves to keep awake, I thought of how I never wanted to experience that crush of loneliness again.

Our new home in our new town isn’t much, especially compared to the one we left. The floors are a cheap laminate. The walls in most of the living spaces are a rough textured off-white affair that we wouldn’t dare to paint. The best part of the house may be the patio and large back yard, namely, the things that aren’t the actual house itself.

Regardless of how unspectacular our home is, I’ve made a point of routinely inviting people over. We started with inviting other new families over for dinner, then colleagues who dropped by for drinks after our kids went to bed, and then I started inviting families over on Thursdays for an informal playgroup.

My one guideline for inviting people over is this: I looked for people who appear to need community as much as I do. I could come up with plenty of reasons why my home isn’t the best place to host this group or why I’m not the best person to have a house full of kids, but the reality is that my past loneliness makes me especially qualified to see the urgency for showing hospitality.

As I faced my own loneliness and isolation, I found that there was a path forward through my pain. When we read in the scripture that we are supposed to cast all of our cares on God, that’s really only half of the story. The other half is that God takes our pain and isolation, and then offers a path toward transformation and healing. Today, I have found tremendous fulfillment in offering hospitality to others. The cement patio in our back yard that is littered with balls, sand, and bubbles is holy ground as more families join our little impromptu gatherings.

When the playgroup is over and the last kid has been hauled out of our home, our oldest son settles into his favorite spot on our new couch. In this moment, he is alone, but this loneliness is the good kind. After a morning spent building with legos, kicking soccer balls, and serving meals to his stuffed sea turtle alongside his friends, he recharges in contented silence, knowing he’s not alone.

Ed Cyzewski is the author of A Christian Survival Guide and Coffeehouse Theology. He writes at and is on Twitter and Instagram as @edcyzewski.




keeping-place-11Welcome to a guest series I’m calling, “Home: Musings and Memories.” I’ve invited writers from all over the Internet to share their stories from home—in part, because later this year, I’m publishing a book called, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, May 2017). I believe home is our most fundamental longing, homesickness our most nagging grief. Most of all, I believe that the historic Christian faith has something to say about that desire and disappointment.

The story of Jesus is a home story.

Thanks for joining me and these other fantastic writers in the months ahead in our search for home—and the God who makes its hope possible.


Longing for Home (Guest Post by Leah Everson)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for140 S Morgan St Denver, CO

“What’s wrong with it?” My husband and I look around the sunlit living room and at one another incredulous.

I can’t help question whether this house is listed at the right price. 8 weeks pregnant and perpetually nauseous, I had spent hours in the cab of our realtor’s truck visiting foreclosed and short-sale homes. We visited house after house, looking, we soon realized, not for the home of our dreams, but for one we could merely afford. Afford and not have to renovate beyond our budget.

There was the house that smelled like wet dog, urine, and mildew.

The house with the convex living room floor.

The long skinny house with no hallways, but one room leading to another to another to another. Bedroom, dining room, kitchen, living room, bedroom.

The house we backed out of, because the hole in the basement floor was the smallest problem as the foundation surrounding it cracked and crumbled.

With each house we visited, I became more discouraged. The truth was, I didn’t want to live in Denver anymore. I felt that God had called me to serve Him there and I willingly said, yes. But I couldn’t help feeling that He had sent me far from my Minnesota home and forgotten about me.

I did not know if He even cared enough about me to provide a house beyond just a livable space. He may not give me a snake when I ask for a fish, but maybe He would give me a catfish. Ugly. Tough. Edible, yet unappetizing. To strengthen me in character and further my reliance, lest I become too comfortable.

The measly options we had seen leading up to this house only served to confirm my suspicions – God would call and I would jump, but there was no pleasure in the jumping. No guarantee of safety in the landing.

Except, this house. This house had been loved. Cared for. This house had been a home. Sunlight filtered through the large front picture window. Wood floors and intricate white trim provided the base for the main living spaces, while accent vines climbed the corners of the dining room walls. One bedroom, perfect for our boys, was adorned with a mural of trees and multicolored dragonflies. The kitchen could have used some work, but the finished basement, the large family space complete with built-in shelves and the character only a home from 1939 can possess delighted us.

My husband and I stood in the living room, jaded from weeks of disappointment, but just daring to hope that maybe – maybe this place could be ours. Tears stung my eyes as the pain of disappointment and the ache for hope filled my heart. Could you really be giving this to us?

He did.

Forty days later we closed and celebrated as a dozen friends moved us from our apartment to our first house – our home. My girlfriends protested my pregnancy if I lifted a picture frame or bulletin board as we made the trip up and down those two flights of apartment stairs. Packing the old to be brought to the new.

That first night, tired and happy, as we got our 2-year-old ready for bed the aged floorboards creaked under our feet. I cringed, concerned about bothering our neighbors downstairs before I remembered – there was no one downstairs to hear us!

At once, relief filled my body. I grabbed my son’s hands and began jumping up and down, “There’s no one downstairs!” My husband joined as we laughed, jumped, danced, and rejoiced in the generosity and gracious provision of our Heavenly Father.

He gave us more than just a roof over our heads. He gave us a home.

Leah D Everson is a Minnesota girl, a darts rookie, a book addict, and a messy mama. She divides her time between encouraging new mothers in their walk with God, empowering women out of poverty through her work with Trades of Hope, and taking care of her own busy boys. Loved by Jesus, Leah is learning to rest in Him. Leah received her MDiv from Denver Seminary and was the founding director/teacher of The Scum Study Center at Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, CO. Leah is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and a Compassionate Entrepreneur for Trades of Hope.


Vandalia Drive, Adelphi, Iowa (Guest Post by Karen Beattie)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long forI haven’t lived in Iowa for over 20 years, but I have always considered it home. My family roots run deep there, laid down by Scottish farmers and sunk into the dark fertile soil through the decades by their ancestors in a small town called Adelphi.

I now live in Chicago, but when I visit my family in Iowa, I cross the Mississippi River from Illinois into Iowa on Interstate 80 and I sigh and drink in the scenery along the stretch of highway that takes me toward Adelphi. The neatly trimmed ditches and the red-tailed hawks sitting on the fence posts next to the road, the deep green corn fields, the silky white clouds against the blue sky—these details wrap around me like my mother’s arms, and I remember all of the hundreds of times I’ve made this trip, the rhythmic thumping of the tires hitting the seams in the highway ticking off the miles until I reached home.

There is one stretch of rural highway within a half-mile of the “old home place”—the original 80 acres where my ancestors first settled—where you will find a row of houses set a few acres apart each. These houses hold my childhood memories.

On one corner is the house where my great aunt and uncle lived. Then up the hill is the brick bungalow where my grandfather lived when I was growing up—a widower after my grandmother died of cancer a few months before I was born. Next to that house is a white four-square farmhouse where I lived until I was 12.

All of these houses have now been sold and no longer remain in the family.

I drove down this strip of road a few weeks ago when I was visiting my father. I’ve often dreamed of going back there to live. To buy back either the white farmhouse or my grandfather’s bungalow—which has an awesome slant-ceilinged attic that would make a perfect writing studio.

But I could barely see the houses through the thick oak trees that were obscuring the view. They were like a fortress that had grown around my memories to shut me out—telling me that too much time has passed. “Move on, there’s nothing to see here.”


My husband, David, and I talk about moving back. We always talk.

“Do you think we could live here?” I ask him.

“You’d get bored,” he replies.

“No, I think it would be an easier life.”

“Maybe. But we’d miss our friends. And Lake Michigan.”

“But we’d be closer to family.”


I don’t know if it will ever happen. But even if I moved home now, it wouldn’t be the same. I’m not sure if I would find what I’m looking for—community, comfort, peace.

Home isn’t as much a place as a period of time. A time before we all moved away. A time before my mother died, when all of my siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles lived within one square mile. When neighbors or relatives would show up at our house, open the front door without knocking, and yell, “Anybody home?” When we’d sit around the table and talk and laugh and eat pie. When my dad would take us for a drive down the road on hot evenings to visit his cousin and get a bottle of pop.

We are the first generation to leave that land, to become unmoored from that place and family and community, and a part of me feels like we are betrayers. Or pioneers.


Shortly after our daughter, Desta, came to us as a foster child when she was two and a half, she was eating pasta at the table when out of the blue, she put down her fork, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, “Where is my home?”

I pointed to her bedroom and her bed with all of her toys, and said, “Your home is here. You are home.”

“Oh,” she said simply, and went back to eating. After that, every chance I got I told her that she was home.  That she belonged with us. That we were her family.

But even as I reassured her, I was wondering the same thing. Where is my home?

At the time, we lived in a small condo on the north side of Chicago. We had lived there for 11 years—a speck of time compared to the 150 years my family lived on the same land in Iowa. When I first moved to Chicago, I never thought I would stay. But I have lived here for 20 years. In that amount of time, roots are bound to grow, even if it’s through the cracks in the concrete city sidewalks.

As David and Desta and I drive back to Chicago after a long weekend in Iowa, we hear the thumping of the tires on the seams in the road that tick off the miles until we get back to the city. And with each passing mile the thoughts of moving back to my childhood home grow dimmer.

Maybe the trees in front of my childhood home weren’t saying “Move on, there’s nothing to see here.” Maybe they were really saying, “Move on. You have grown beyond this place. It’s up to you to build a new home. Put down roots elsewhere, and you will thrive.”

I think of this as I take Desta to the beach, and to the farmer’s market, and drive the city streets and put her to bed at night. We are sinking into it. Into this place, but also into these memories and community and our combined histories. Where is our home? It is here. Right now. With each other.

Karen Beattie is the author of Rock-Bottom Blessings (Loyola Press, 2013), which won an Excellence in Publishing Award from the Association of Catholic Publishers, and A Book of Grace-Filled Days (Loyola Press, forthcoming in the fall of 2017). She has an MA in Journalism from Drake University, and has been published in America Magazine,, Aleteia’s For Her, and Christianity Today. She lives on the West side of Chicago with her husband and 7-year-old daughter. Connect with Karen on Facebook or Twitter.


Birdtree Street, Vacaville, California (Guest Post by Aleah Marsden)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long forWanderlust has pulsed in my inner life, leading me to reach for new places and experiences, since at least the third grade. That’s the first clear memory I have of the euphoria of anticipating a trip. My aunt and uncle had invited me to join them and my younger cousin for a weeklong visit to southern California. Southern California. I remember naming the place as if it were exotic, telling anyone who would listen about this fantastical locale I would be visiting. A place of beaches and the world renowned San Diego Zoo. A place, in fact, only seven hours away by car down I-5, but seven hours is an approximation of eternity for an eight-year-old.

With each new year of my life the longing to be away has lingered. In high school half the fun of youth group was going away to camp or leaving the country for the first time on a short term missions trip. I fantasized about going away to college, which would turn out to be for naught. Instead I honeymooned with my husband, deeply in love with him and the moonlight we shared over the Pacific. In the midst of childbearing years, overwhelmed by the necessary but often stifling grip of my place, I marked time by our family trips to Disneyland. Each new year as I survey our calendar, travel is still at the forefront of my mind; where will this year take us?

This longing has made home a complicated concept for me. Home is the place I’m always leaving behind. Home is the liminal space of return before going away again. It’s the place to hang your hat so you can grab it on your way out into the wide world beyond the lintel.

The problem with wanderlust, like it’s root lust, is that it implicitly never reaches fulfillment. It’s always one foot out the door, ready to take off the moment the wheels touch down. Wanderlust is ever-searching, ever-seeking, an ever-moving target, but through this chase I am learning the necessity of home. There is no leaving without a starting point. Planes need hangars. Ships need harbors. Humans need homes.

A few years ago I decided to redecorate our front room. This was a big deal for me as I’d never had much interest in interior design. I would much rather put that money elsewhere—toward taking us elsewhere, actually. But a strange thing happened as I invested in bringing beauty to an otherwise somewhat barren space. I began to find my place in it, right here among pictures and trivialities of our travels. I placed the vintage children’s atlas of South America I used to read at my grandparent’s house on top of a freshly painted (and artfully distressed) armoire. I hung a framed map of Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise above a small wooden shelf, which holds a jar of sand dollars I had collected on Pismo Beach.

Like the rest of my life, this room is always in-progress. As is the rest of the house the beautification project eventually spilled over into. I am learning that I need a place to belong, and so does my family. My utilitarian view of home as a space to keep my place between adventures robbed me of much present joy. My hyperopic vision, with eyes always trained to the horizon, made me blind to the fecund soil beneath me, the taproots of the little lives digging in around me. Home wasn’t trying to tie me down and bind me to the crumb-covered, sticky floor. Home was inviting me to deepen my own roots. Wanderlust feels as much a permanent part of me as anything, and I’m learning this desire to be away isn’t inherently wrong, but it can’t be at the cost of the great treasure within these walls. There are countless places I’d like to visit, but I get to live here.

Aleah Marsden is the Communications Director for Living Bread Ministries and handles social media for Redbud Writers Guild. Her writing can be found in publications like Christianity Today and Books & Culture, as well as a handful of devotionals in the NIV Bible for Women: Fresh Insights for Thriving in Today’s World (Zondervan, 2015). She has spoken at numerous women’s events, moms’ groups, and retreats. She blogs about life, faith, and her travels at Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter (which is her favorite).


Riding Home (Guest Post by Catherine McNiel)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for N Franklin Street Stanley, Wisconsin

I close my eyes and, effortlessly, I’m a child again, sitting in my parents’ blue Plymouth Reliant, riding in the dark along WI-29.

Heading home.

Everything is perfectly still, except for the rhythmic thunk…thunk as our wheels speed over the seams in the road. My eyes are closed — I’m thinking as always — but I open them every now and then to see the trees, the yellow lines racing by, the moon holding her steady course; and my father, whose reflection I can make out in my window pane. I take it all in with the trusting passivity of a child who has not yet learned to fear.

As my father guides our car to the exit, I close my eyes and keep them closed. This is the game I play: holding in my mind the things we pass, testing to see if I arrive home in my imagination at the same time our car pulls into the drive. There’s the stop sign at the end of the ramp. Over there’s the greenhouse where we get our Christmas trees. We’re turning now and there’s the IGA, the Tasty Freeze, the Hotel, the taverns, the park, the bank — everything silent and still in the night. We turn again and there’s the library, the hospital. Now we’re on our street and I can imagine the houses and the trees — I know each one. We slow, turn, and I hear the slow crunch of tires on our driveway. There’s the slam of my parents’ car doors, their voices in hushed tones, their feet on the pebbles and cement of the garage.

If I’m very young, my parents carry me into the house by way of the front door. This is the best feeling in the world: asleep enough to be carried, awake enough to be conscious of being cared for. There’s the key in the lock; here’s the lights flickering on. We’re home.

If I’m older I open my eyes and walk with my family, stopping in the driveway to gaze at the starry sky. The North Star is just above my window, which leads us to the Big and Little Dippers, and Orion and his belt over the garage. There’s the tree I planted with my dad, now grown higher than our house. We enter through the back door, going through the pantry with its cacophony of smells. There’s the lights flickering on. We’re home.

Almost 30 years have passed since I last drove this road, since I saw, touched, or smelled any of this. But since I traveled it so frequently with my eyes closed, so intentionally drawing it to mind, I have no difficulty calling it back from my memory still today. I would have no trouble getting myself back home.

And yet, I don’t. The doors of space and time slammed hard and locked when I left; I was not offered a key. The path I still travel so easily in memory no longer exists anywhere else. Steps can be retraced but there is no turning back the clock. As surely as the houses, trees, and businesses have changed, so too have I. There is no more dozing trustingly in the backseat. There is no way to really go back.

I know my home as only a child can, learning the world for the first time, taking everything at face value. I close my eyes and feel the carpet weave. I hear my mother in the kitchen, find the torn corners of wallpaper, trace the textured wood fixtures. Do you ever know so deeply as you do the things you know first?

In the present, my own children hover just on the brink of memory. What will they see years from now, when they close their eyes? I pray they will grow in faith and wisdom, yet I know too that suffering and loss are essential ingredients for both. What I bring to their lives is only a portion of all that life itself will offer them, yet for my part I long with all my soul to bring as much joy and safety and trusting as their little hearts can hold.

And to give them Home.

Catherine McNiel is the author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress 2017). She writes to open eyes to God’s creative, redemptive work in each day—while caring for three kids, two jobs, and one enormous garden. Connect with Catherine on Twitter, Facebook, or at

Weaving a Home (Guest Post by Michelle Radford)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for 127 Belle Avenue Greenville, SC

I never planned to chafe against domesticity. I subscribed to interior design and architecture magazines throughout high school and college and planned gourmet meals to cook for my family on the weekends. I helped with chores around the house and loved the idea of making a home of my own some day for the husband and children I prayed I would have.

I married Paul while I was attending grad school and became pregnant with our daughter the year after I graduated. Almost two years after she was born, I gave birth to twin boys. Gone were the days of rearranging the objects on my mantle and trying new and exciting recipes. In addition to my job as a college professor, my days were an endless treadmill of baby care along with dishes, laundry, scrubbing body fluids out of carpets, and putting away items my two-year-old had unearthed from closets, cabinets, shelves, and baskets.

I was exhausted and frazzled, not only from the lack of sleep, but also from the constant repetition of domestic tasks that would only be un-done in a moment. In addition to this, I wasn’t making any art, a source of guilt for me as I taught college students how to paint and encouraged them to throw themselves into their artwork.

When my twins were six months old, I re-entered the studio, unsure of what I would make. My former work, landscape paintings in oil, was out of the question due to the scarcity of large blocks of time. I told a friend, “I don’t know what I’ll make, but it will have to be something I know.” All I felt I knew now were stacks of dishes in the sink, piles of towels in the hallway linen closet, and baskets of toys. Without much thought to their meaning I began gluing antique hand-made linens to wooden panels, using their decorative designs as a starting place for my new mixed media paintings. I liked the idea of salvaging the work of women who had come before me, and the softness of the textiles was comforting to me. I had accumulated boxes and bags full of crocheted doilies, hand-embroidered hankies, table linens, hand-woven table runners, and a christening gown.

The epiphany happened when a friend pointed out to me that the linens I was using in my work were a result of repetition. Crocheting is a series of knots, repeated to make a pattern. Weaving is the repetition of over-under, over-under, over-under. Sewing pulls a thread up-down, up-down through the fabric. For millennia, after women have retreated from their domestic repetitions of cooking, cleaning, laundering, they have taken up needles and yarns and threads and applied their tired hands to other kinds of repetition to unwind from pressures of the day.

These repetitions of sewing, knitting, crocheting, embroidering, and weaving reflected in a visible way the invisible repetitions of making a home. It had been hard for me to see the repetitions of cooking, scrubbing, and laundry as beautiful; the processes had become strictly utilitarian. I was struggling, seeing my efforts to straighten up and beautify my home swiftly negated by the people I loved the most. My domestic work didn’t seem to matter as no progress was visible. I was feeling split in half as I tried to be an artist and homemaker at the same time.

Seeing both my art and my household duties as life-giving repetitions began to tie these two parts of my life together. While I was doing the dishes, I was thinking of new ideas for my artwork about domesticity, and while I was in my studio I was sorting through my thoughts and feelings about home and family, praying over them, surrendering to God the parts I feared were impossible.

I now have a visible reminder that though my efforts around my house sometimes have little originality, though they seem to move forwards and backwards, though they loop around endlessly, they are creating life-giving patterns that will one day be visible. They are leading to an end, and meanwhile these repetitions bring comfort and beauty to my home and the lives of those I love most.

Michelle lives in Greenville, SC where she is an artist, college professor, wife, and mother to three rambunctious kids. For the last several years she has organized her studio practice around the concepts of home, repetition, care, and motherhood, and she’s passionate about helping other women find their creative voices alongside their other vocations of care. You can find her work at and follow her on Instagram: @michelle.radford.

Placemakers (Guest Post by Christie Purifoy)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for Maplehurst 101 River Road Little Grove, Pennsylvania

My husband and I have always been placemakers, though it is only since moving to Maplehurst that we have settled on a name for this thing we do. Maplehurst is as imperfect as any place we have ever called home, but it is also the fulfillment of the hope we invested in every one of our many homes.

In our first apartment, we covered the brilliant 70s orange of our laminate countertops with wood-patterned contact paper. We only lived there four months, and we made terrible food in that tiny kitchen, yet I still remember the culinary achievement of the spring salad dotted with strawberries I served to a friend. The table I laid with such care was so rickety it didn’t survive our next move.

In twenty years, we have moved and moved and moved. And though it has never made financial sense, or any kind of sense at all, we have left each house or yard a little more beautiful and a little more loved. Yet always we longed for one special place. Our own promised land. Our own little Zion. A place to cultivate and share with faithfulness, with no plans for moving on. Four years ago, we found it.

I first saw the house on a day of record-breaking heat. I suppose we never choose the day when our dream will come true. Just as we do not choose the precise place our dream will carry us. This Victorian, red-brick farmhouse did not look like the home of my dreams. That first, terribly hot day, it did not feel like it, either. But my dreams began rearranging themselves almost the moment I stepped across the smooth, worn stone of Maplehurst’s threshold.

Back then I didn’t know a thing about keeping an old house cool in the summer. What I knew was the artificial hum of the central air-conditioning in our Florida split-level and the surprisingly detailed dream that began to visit us in that lonely place. We called it the farmhouse dream, but it was always about so much more than a house. It was a vision of growing roots, cultivating beauty, and opening the doors to neighbors, wanderers, and pilgrims – near and far. It was a vision of home.

Built in 1880, Maplehurst is a square, red-brick farmhouse wrapped in a white-spindled porch. It sits at the top of a Pennsylvania hill surrounded by a small island of land. Once long ago, the wavy glass of the home’s old windows framed a view of fields. Today, where crops once spread in cultivated rows, we see only builders’ homes and polished sidewalks. A long, looping, split-rail fence separates what is left of the farm from our neighbors’ newly seeded lawns.

On that first day, I felt my dream of home become reality as I touched the warm wood of the banister’s graceful curve. I stood on the stairs trying to catch my breath, the humid air too heavy for my lungs, and I should have known. I should have recognized the moment for what it was. I had arrived at both the beginning and the end of a journey.

A few weeks after moving in, one of my boys slid belt-buckle down and carved a deep scratch the entire length of that beautiful banister. Somehow I most clearly grasp the living reality of my dream come true when I touch that scratch or remember the miserable heat of that first day. We live in a good world shackled by decay. A world that always seems to fall at least a little bit short of its own promise. Yet glory dwells here too. Heaven and earth meet in scratches and scars. In broken banisters and in a Body broken for us.

What is a placemaker to do? I polish the scratched wood. Jonathan smooths the splinters in the old oak floor. I grow my own strawberries now, but I still serve that strawberry salad. And in these small and ordinary ways, we cultivate our own patch of earth that it might better reflect a heavenly reality.

Christie Purifoy earned a PhD in English Literature at the University of Chicago before trading the classroom for a farmhouse, a garden, and a blog. Her book Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons is available from Revell. Connect with her and discover more about life in a Victorian farmhouse called Maplehurst on her blog or on Instagram.

A Life of Longing (Guest Post by Kristen Leigh Kludt)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for I don’t belong in California. Sunshine is overrated. There are few thunderstorms, no fireflies. The pace is too fast—there are no months of bad weather to slow us down.

I may not belong in California, but California is my home.

During a recent visit to Wisconsin, I flew through the crystal blue skies above my hometown in a tiny airplane. My three-year-old son sat next to me; my dad sat up front with the pilot. Three generations curved above the sparkling lakes, peered down at the capitol dome, watched the houses grow small like a Mr. Rogers episode. "There it is!" I caught a glimpse of a brown roof tucked into the trees behind the elementary school: my house, the land I grew up on, my home. As we circled back over the city, I remembered— this will always be my hometown, but it isn’t home.

I love Wisconsin fiercely. Some might consider the summer humidity oppressive, but the wet air is easy on my lungs. Everything is green. I grew up next to a lake; sunsets were glorious. Winter brought welcome months of hibernation: fires in the hearth, family game nights and hot cocoa. We spent our afternoons sledding in the schoolyard, walking home in the pinkish glow of a snowy night. Each year brought a competition—who could be the first family member to clock another with a snowball? Once my sister and I made a batch of snowballs on a cookie sheet and bombarded my dad from the upstairs window. I picture those days, and I long for similar memories for my children.

When we married, my husband and I moved to California “for three years.” That was ten years ago. Every year we agreed to one more, because of jobs, friends and a church we loved. Two years ago, we decided to stay in California for the long haul. Today it’s home, with its golden hills and palm trees. And so, I live with unmet longing in my gut. I waited ten years for a call to leave, and I was called instead to stay. This is my reality. How do I live it well? If I do not find contentment here, I will never find it anywhere.

Living well with unmet longing is a dance of gratitude and grief.

Some days I give into the grief. I make lists of loss. I long for weekly runs with my mom and mochas with my dad, for my boys to play in the quiet beauty of the Midwestern woods. My sons do not live close enough to raise caterpillars with their Papa, from egg to butterfly. The distinctive squeak of fresh snow underfoot will be more memory than reality. I mourn the loss of everyday memories with our extended family built over years, especially for my children. Tears come. Living my grief is harder than ignoring it, but better. I am softened by my tears.

Living well also means cultivating gratitude. My life here holds much joy! There is nothing like a California strawberry. In my decade here, I have become blind to the flowers lining the freeways, but I remember them in spring when the scent of jasmine permeates the air. We have deep soul-friends in California, friends who are starting to look a lot like family. I make joy-lists, reminding myself of all I love about this place.

On hard days, I give in to grief. On good days, I live in gratitude. On my best days, I hold both in tension, acknowledging my sadness while running toward joy.

Today I bought a “California Love” cap, because I do—I love it more every day. That love is complex, holding both joy and unmet longing, like most of my deep loves. My love for my children is colored by the knowledge that to raise them well means to teach them how to leave me. My love for my husband is richer for the reality that one of us is destined to outlive the other.

There is no love without loss, no gratitude without grief. We live better when we live both.

Kristen Leigh Kludt is a contemplative Christian writer and spiritual guide. Her first book, A Good Way Through: My Journey with God from Disappointment into Hope, will be available February 21, 2017. Mother to two boys, she lives, works, and plays in San Francisco's East Bay, where her husband is a pastor. She is growing daily toward a life of integrity and love. Read more or say hello at


The Hug of Home (Guest Post by Joe Dudeck)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for A hug. As a 40-year-old male born and raised in the 20th century and living now in the 21st, it can be difficult to embrace that three-letter word, much less the act. We’re still not a culture who feels like it’s a socially acceptable expression for men to give and receive. Even now, despite my greatest efforts to bunk the mainstream flow of culture, it’s with some timidity that I use that word to describe my feelings of the home in which I live today. And yet that’s just what it is.

My home is a hug.

Walking across the threshold feels like walking into a full, wide-armed embrace. Like standing at the center of complete submission. Like free falling into complete trust and total dependence upon the giver.

My wife and I first felt the hug of our home, after the first of three unsuccessful adoptions in 2010.

It wasn’t what we expected to be walking into that day. After multiple miscarriages, as well as several failed fertility treatments and surgical procedures, we thought we’d finally found our path to parenthood. Adoption would be the way. And at first, it all seemed undeniable. With no hurdles in the paperwork process, sufficient money in the bank, and a quick match with a birthmother who was due in three months, all signs pointed toward a simple adoption process.

But in the waning hours of our waiting—while standing at the doorway of parenthood—we discovered that the welcome mat would again be pulled out from under us. Our birth mother decided that day not to place her child for adoption.

And there we sat, after swinging wildly from elation, joy, uncertainty, anxiety, anger, and sadness, in utter disbelief. And to home we later returned, from an empty hospital room and with an empty car seat. And into a hug we entered.

And it lingered.

For the next three years, we stood, collapsed, fought, kicked, and surrendered inside that hug. It would not withdraw. And more than we knew at the time, it was just what we needed.

We needed it to linger through two more failed adoptions, and through all the emotional stress that followed. Through the therapy we both leaned into, and the messy work that it required.

We needed it when the cracks started to appear and expand in our marriage. We needed it when the thought of divorce first appeared to me, through the wrestling with the idea, and through the eventual acceptance that I did not need to be destined to continue my family’s lineage of marital breakups. Through the hope that my marriage could survive and maybe even thrive again.

And we needed it when the fog began to lift. When our broken spirits had mended. When the hope for parenthood returned to our hearts. We needed it when we decided to find a new adoption agency and put ourselves out there again. When we got matched with a birth mother again and then returned to a hospital with transformed souls.

We needed it when we first met the baby boy we hoped to call our son. When we looked into his eyes — the need in our hearts meeting halfway in those shared glances. We needed it that night in the hospital, through the feeding, changing, and snuggling.

And we needed it the next morning when we woke, when the adoption paperwork was finally signed, and when we officially became united!

What is that hug of our home?

It’s the greeting of thoughts and prayers promised for us by friends and family. It’s the memory of our own petitions. It’s a reminder of past embraces surrounding our joy, pain, sadness, disappointment, and hope. It’s the very real embrace of the spirit of God who loves us always.

It’s a tight clasp of the known while waiting in the unknown.

Presently, I pen these words from a hospital waiting room, while my wife undergoes surgery to remove more endometriosis inside her body. We don’t know what awaits us on the other side. We’re not sure the severity of its invasion or the full scope of treatment needed.

And so I sit in that unknown right now, thankful that hug will be awaiting us when we return home.

A husband to Lindsay, dad to Quinn, wearer of flannel, donner of hats, and grower of a red beard, Joe Dudeck resides just outside of Indianapolis and tells stories through his content marketing consulting firm ( and his photography business ( - which he operates out of his home.

A Hole in the Roof (Guest Post by Josh Butler)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for My head almost bumped the ceiling.

At least, that’s how it felt. Twenty years later, I’d convinced the new owner to let this scraggly-headed six-foot stranger step back into my childhood home. As I walked back through those once-enchanted walls, I was struck by one thing: It’s so SMALL!

I felt like Alice in Wonderland, descending into a shrunken world.

In reality, I grew up in an average size home. All was up to code, the ceilings an appropriate height. But my memories were forged in an age when my legs were still sprouting from their trunk, my head rose a few feet shorter, and my arms not yet grown to reach for the stars.

My earliest memory: bouncing a large, red ball against the garage door with my mother. She was the epitome of comfort and joy through the trials and tribulations of being the “last kid picked” in the ensuing years—called nerd and dork, rejected by girls, afraid of my father, and struggling to feel accepted.

My mother was amazing, but only human—we bounced that red ball in the same driveway where, a decade later, she would drive over my teenage leg with a Volkswagen van.

In the years between, we rode bikes for miles on the back dirt trails, built forts in the trees of our backyard, and came in drenched from the Oregon rain for blankets, baths, and books. I was an avid reader, pulling other worlds from our bookshelf and diving into the geography of their pages from within those vaulted walls.

Our home was an enchanted castle—with roof beams high above like a canopy, stretching before the highest heaven, seeming to render the world full of wonder. In this earlier era, I was Indiana Jones, an adventurer ready to explore the world and discover its rich diversity. I was Michael J. Fox, set to hop on my skateboard and ride back to the future, charting a new course for history.

And eventually, I did.


Somewhere along the lines, the world grew smaller. That map of the continents that hung on my wall was filled in, as I moved away from home and traveled the globe. I encountered new faces and true friends, with joys to be sure, but also struggles:

*Indigenous leaders in Thailand courageously combating the trafficking of their children into the sex trade.

*African pastors in the aftermath of genocide and midst of war doing the hard work of reconciliation and community-building.

*Navajo elders continuing to fight for their land against multi-billion dollar international mineral corporations.

The heavens didn’t seem so high anymore.

I came back to town for Thanksgiving and my father abandoned my mother, walking away from the family table we’d grown up around together. I visited my best childhood friend, our next-door neighbor, to find he’d sunken like a ship into addiction and apathy, living in the same ‘hood whose wonder now seemed to recede beneath the waters.

As I walked through our home and looked back at that map upon the wall, the world had grown smaller, its mystery evaporated.

We all seemed to be constantly bumping our head against the ceiling.


Then Jesus tore a hole through the roof.

Christmas is that time when God broke through the ceiling, entered the impoverished walls that our crumbling imaginations had let grow weary. The child is born into the home of our disenchanted world—shrunken by sin, alienated by our autonomy, and creaking under the weight of rebellion we’d placed upon its rafters.

Jesus will grow as a child from within our faltering walls—but unlike us, his messianic legs will sprout, arms will stretch, and body will grow with head held high toward the expansive sky we’d lost sight of, with eyes upon the Father who fills and floods the air with majesty and mystery.

This baby is the Grand Renovator, destined to tear the roof off our shrunken world, expand the walls beyond the neighborhood boundaries, and vault the ceiling upon the sky, in a home renovation project that makes room once again—for all with faith like a child, eyes to see, and lungs to breathe the breath of heaven’s enchanted air that floods our earthen home once again.

Joshua Ryan Butler serves as pastor of local and global Outreach at Imago Dei Community (Portland, OR), and is the author of The Skeletons in God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War, and the just-released The Pursuing God: A Reckless, Irrational, Obsessed Love That’s Dying to Bring Us Home. Joshua oversees the church's city ministries in areas like foster care, human trafficking and homelessness and develops international partnerships in areas like clean water, HIV-support and church planting. Joshua's wife Holly, daughter Aiden, and sons Torin and Jake enjoy spending time with friends over great meals and exploring their beautiful little patch of the world in the Pacific Northwest.

Muckily-Dirtily Things (Guest Post by Aubrey Sampson)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for I moved around a lot as a kid: Houston, Dallas, Seattle, Los Angeles. Then, at last, to a redbrick Georgian Colonial—230 Aldenshire Place in Atlanta—the house I assumed would always be home.

A few days after we unpacked, a hot air balloon landed in the front yard. Our picture was in the newspaper and I took that as a good omen; surely no one leaves a newsworthy address.

I spent many afternoons in the backyard of Aldenshire Place playing under the willow tree. My little sister and I would take turns pretending to be brides, walking through the long graceful branches to our imaginary grooms. When we weren’t planning fairytale weddings, we were roller-skating in the basement amongst mom’s pickled cucumbers.

My favorite memories, though, are of course from the kitchen. One December my grandmother came to visit from Texas. We were making frosting for Christmas cookies but I made a mess of the task, transforming pretty reds and greens into a stale and sludgy brown. I cried and cried until Memaw said, “My stars, honey! You’ve invented a new color! It’s ‘muckily-dirtily’. That’s my favorite of all!” She always knew how to turn loss into wonder.

I loved that street. When choosing soap opera names, mine has, and will always remain, Gayel Aldenshire.

When dad turned forty, the neighbors put a flashing neon sign in the yard: “Lordy, Lordy, Larry’s 40!” But as the sign was taken away, so was dad’s job. We were forced to move once again, this time to a two bedroom apartment in another part of the country — One Memorial Rd, Unit 305, Oklahoma City. There was no willow tree, no roller-rink basement, not even one hot air balloon in the yard.

On the long drive to Oklahoma, mom cried all the way to Birmingham. My sister and I were silent, not mature enough to understand mom’s grief, but sensitive enough to know her tears needed space to unfurl. She cried even more during our first winter in that rundown apartment when a pile of snow crept under the sliding glass backdoor, covering part of the living room.

My best friend sent me a Mean Girl letter declaring that she could never be associated with someone who lived outside of Georgia. I held her hurtful words and the returned, halfhearted Be-Fri necklace in my hand. It was my turn to cry.

Eventually Mom rolled up her tears and sleeves. She made curtains, hung paintings, found a favorite grocery store. My parents bought us a puppy. Mom rented my favorite movie - License to Drive - over and over again. For the first time ever, we were allowed to hang posters in our room. My sister and I made the most of our shared space, drawing an invisible boundary line down the middle. It’s still a family joke, “M-o-m, she’s touching my side with her toe!”

Mom and Dad took us to something called “Sunday School” for the first time. “We used to go to church when we were growing up,” they explained. “And with this move, we’ve started to wonder if God wants us to come home.”

Over time I fell in love with the starry Oklahoma night sky, the local church, and with this Jesus-guy I was hearing so much about. I was baptized in my parents’ church and eventually walked down its aisle to my non-imaginary groom. And I moved once more, with my husband to his hometown of Chicago.

Our three children have lived in only one community. We’ve planted a church in our neighborhood and we intend to dig deep roots here. But I’m well aware that this might not always be possible. At the end of the day, houses are like hot air balloons, lifting and landing when you least expect them.

If I’ve learned any lesson from my changing addresses, it’s this: Lost is not necessarily when you don’t know where you are; it’s when you can’t find your way back home. As many houses as life ripped away, God faithfully poured home back in. He gave my parents a map and guided us back to himself in the process.

And so for me, the concept of home will always be a “muckily-dirtily” thing – a wonder-filled surprise in the midst of life’s losses.

blogphoto1book-coverAubrey Sampson is the author of Overcomer: Breaking Down the Walls of Shame and Rebuilding Your Soul (Zondervan, 2015), a blogger for MOPS International, an event speaker, and a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. Aubrey and her husband Kevin live and minister in the Chicago area with their three crazy sons. In her spare time, Aubrey is likely to be found at home in her pajamas drinking entirely too much coffee.

1337 Ontario St. (Guest Post by Erin Wasinger)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for 1337 Ontario St.

Erin Wasinger

Thousands of times I must’ve written as my return address 1337 Ontario St., Oshkosh, Wis.

For eight summers we walked the dog around the block of our old neighborhood. Seven winters, we shoveled snow to free the van. Three times we carried brand-new babies nestled under blankets and set their carseats on the kitchen floor. Then every two days or so we’d put their shrieking bodies in bathwater that we’d checked five times for the right temperature.

And every night we’d tuck them into beds or cribs and pray they’d sleep the night just this once. Around 2 in the morning, one would cry and I’d hold them in the dark, my toes pushing into blue carpet of the baby’s room to rock us both back to sleep.

No one had to teach us to number our days: we realized each was temporary since we weren’t Wisconsin natives. When I think about those three babies in their sleepers, nuzzling my neck in the darkness, I need to remember that the basement was wet every spring and that night a bat flew around the living room. I need to remember that the garage would’ve held a small pony (maybe) and the backyard was swampy in the spring. A chipmunk had moved into the basement. The neighbors were strangers.

My daughters don’t remember any of this. The oldest has blips of memories of the old house -- it was blue, she says. “There was a porch swing. And I had a bedroom with a little white bed.”

The younger two girls marvel at her divining this information from the ether: they were just babies when we moved to Michigan four years ago. No, I and my husband are the memory-keepers of our family’s genesis years: only we really remember what the red dining room looked like in the sunset, sitting on the deck with friends and burgers -- a million other transient moments.

Only we, Dave and I, labored under leaden chests as we pulled out of the driveway for the last time and moved to a house six hours away for his new job. It was then that some Pavlovian response to any random Ontario Street memory lodged itself in my days like a stone inside a shoe. Impossible to avoid, I’d wince with every step, knowing the pain was part of moving forward, forward toward the next place I could call home.

Home, that elusive thing that meant something between cookie dough-scented kitchens and dirty socks under the couch. It’s part watching a movie in the basement, part lying on the couch on a rainy day. The place we pray and rest and eat and talk. Sidewalks to stroll with the dog; long dinners with friends and beds with growing children in them. Neon blue toothpaste in the sink and laundry in the machine and mail in the box. Chocolate hidden on a shelf higher than the kids can reach and library books in the basket.

And then, too, home is also something I can’t define: that longing we feel when, even if we have all these things, something else in us still wants. Something still swivels like a compass point, drifting toward something beyond what’s possible now -- we’re longing for a place we’ve not yet been.

We brought with us some of these things from Ontario Street to Waverly Road -- but they lacked color because, ugh, that stone in our shoes. Still, I pieced together a semblance of home in that rental house: I filled bookshelves with familiar novels and picture frames with photographs (all taken in Oshkosh); I brought my bible; I had my God, our children, our dog. I baked the same sweet breads, stirred the same kinds of soup to fill the new space with the same spices that wafted from the kitchen in Wisconsin. But something, that ever-changing litany of characteristics I need to feel at home, was always incomplete.

And to this, the prophet Jeremiah said, “plant gardens and build houses.” (All in a place where the ground was frozen. Good one, Jeremiah.)

Instead of seeds we planted ourselves: we found our church. We introduced ourselves to new friends and shared that soup and bread over dinner. When our church moved to Lansing from just outside the city, we moved to Lansing from our rural rental. We started calling it home and it became the place we wanted to be when we weren’t there. That’s home, really. The place we want to be when we’re not there.

And in planting ourselves, we felt hints of permanence.

And then we planted gardens. Jeremiah smiled, I’m sure.

And then we ate the produce, sharing the tomatoes with neighbors on all sides of us.

Somehow, amid all these small things, I lost the nagging sensation of loss.

How could we, when our feet were in this dirt? Plan to stay, Jeremiah wrote. So we do. Write these things down, he wrote: remember these things. So we do. And in that we keep all the places we’ve been before while we live wherever God’s placed us.

Maybe all together they make a complete picture of home. Maybe.

erinfacebookyear-of-small-thingsErin F. Wasinger now calls herself a Michigander by way of Ohio, Kentucky, and Wisconsin. She lives in Lansing with her husband and three daughters. Her book, The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us, co-authored by Sarah Arthur, releases Jan. 31; more at

When Martha Stewart Came for Christmas (Guest Post by Margaret Philbrick)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for When Martha Stewart Came for Christmas

Margaret Philbrick

You might remember it, the Martha Stewart “Living” craze. Decking the halls with handmade boxwood garlands grown in your backyard while the family gathers around the kitchen table, toddlers cutting wire and weaving a holly laced masterpiece for your banister. Or, perhaps you bought a few chickens and built a coop only to be told by police that suburban farming is forbidden on plots of land under an acre. I fell in love with Martha Stewart’s perfect image of home in 1996 and I paid the price one Christmas.

After studying my reservoir of “Living” magazines during the fall prior to my in-laws coming, I knew this would be our most beautiful Christmas ever. My mind was swimming in gourmet menus, elaborate decorations and enriching holiday activities suggested for family fun.  I knew I couldn’t execute this grand vision alone so I enlisted my husband to “help” in the evenings for two full weeks leading up to their arrival. They were his parents after all. We forced ourselves to stop at 1:00am each night/morning after drinking pots of echinacea tea, praying that Martha’s vision of beauty would keep us healthy until Christmas morning.

During those two weeks we spray painted gold all our dried hydrangea and made garlands for the dining room, filled the fireplace with dozens of forced narcissus bulbs, dipped chocolate onto styrofoam cups until it formed a perfectly pure, white chocolate cup which we stuffed with mousse and garnished with a holly leaf, from our yard, of course. Take a deep breath, we were just getting started. By Christmas dinner, fresh goose with reduction sauce and phyllo dough wrapped mushroom “presents” graced each plate, my mother noticed me dozing off at the dinner table. It all looked grand, but exhaustion kicked in. Martha’s magazines never explained how to combat fatigue while executing ideas which she supported with a massive staff at her multiple homes.

After the guests packed up and headed home in a snowstorm, I knelt by the side of my bed and cried out my confession. “Lord, how did I lose you this Christmas? Please forgive me for making the external appearance of our home more important than your humble birth in Bethlehem. I ask for the strength to keep you at the center of our home celebrations, that your light and truth might shine  brighter than the lights on our Christmas tree.” What a mess I’d made of Christmas by cowering to the ways of the world and seeking Martha’s glory instead of the glory of God. I left behind the empty boxes, strands of Christmas lights strewn across the living room floor and stepped out into the crystalline beauty of fresh snow and tart winter air. With every crunch underfoot He reminded me, “Though your sins are as scarlet I’ve washed them white as snow.” Isaiah 1:18.

I’ve never invited Martha back for Christmas. Instead, willing myself to forego the temptation of creating the perfect outward Christmas appearance and allowing him to “Come and make our home with us.” John 14:23. Let the events unfold in the Holy Spirit this holiday season with a flexibility, grace and ease that only comes when Jesus keeps His place at the head of the table and in the heart of our home.

philbrick-5Margaret Philbrick is an author, gardener and teacher who desires to plant seeds in hearts. She writes novels, poetry and essays and blogs at  Currently, Margaret is working on a video curriculum for the best selling book, Messy Grace by Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach.  

Sometimes It's Good to Be Wrong (Guest Post by Lindsey Smallwood)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for 4025 Freesome Street #82, Boulder, CO

I never wanted to live here. Colorado? Yes. Boulder? Absolutely! In the family dorms on campus behind the football field? Definitely not the dream.

We had a deal. My husband received a sweet fellowship to follow his dream of working in Physics research. I was supposed to get a cute little house on a tree-lined street in the suburbs where I would stay home with my babies.

Except the boss moved the research lab to Michigan. So the house fell through. And suddenly we found ourselves thousands of miles from anything we knew with no place to call our own and an uncertain professional future.

Well, not no place. The university housing office offered us a spot, 840 square feet of linoleum floors and concrete walls with neighbors on every side. I knew I should be thankful. There was the nagging voice in my head, reminding me that our new home on campus was more than enough to meet our needs, more than many have the world over.

But I’d been telling myself a story. After living in dorms and apartments for nearly 15 years, I wanted a home. I wanted paint chips and flooring samples. I wanted space for a piano and room to entertain. I’d convinced myself I deserved those things.

It’s a spiritually dangerous place, living as though you’re owed something.

As I settled into our little spot on campus, I began to see how not getting what I wanted was turning into a sweet mercy. Sure, we couldn’t invite more than 3 people over at a time without taking turns standing. And there was no space for the cushy L-shaped sectional sofa of my dreams. But there were new neighbors from around the world who understood what it’s like to start over in a new place with tiny children. We found a church a few blocks away where I connected deeply and ultimately was asked to come on staff. Evenings weren’t spent commuting to the suburbs or completing home improvement projects, instead we ended each day with walks by the creek, dinners together around our fits-just-right card table, time for cuddles and stories.

God, in His grace, turned my bitterness and disappointment into gratitude and joy as I learned to love these concrete walls and linoleum floors and all they represented.

It’s been nearly two years since we hung our first picture in this little dorm apartment. Somehow it’s become home in ways I didn’t think possible when we were bringing in our suitcases that first day. My family has grown here, literally – adding a new baby last month, and physically, relationally, spiritually, each of us and all together. More than anything, I’ve seen how surrendering my dream in order to embrace God’s unexpected provision has been delightful, surprising, and, I can see now, better than the things I thought I needed to be happy.

This time next month, we’ll be gone.

Seeing the truth written there, that sentence in black and white brings tears to my eyes. Our family’s headed north to Michigan, as my husband continues his Physics research. Even though I didn’t think I wanted this campus apartment behind the football field, now it’s hard to imagine giving it up, saying goodbye to what’s become a beloved home to us.

I couldn’t have imagined how much I’d come to love this place that’s held us as we launched fully into our years of raising young children. I’m a big boo-hooey mess when I think about closing that big metal door, hearing it echo for the last time, and turning in the keys. I think that sadness tells me that this place mattered.

I never wanted to live here.

I’m so glad I was wrong.

lindsey-headshot-new-copyLindsey Smallwood works and writes in Boulder, Colorado where she hopes to leave a legacy of good relationships and bad dance moves. After careers in campus ministry, special education, and circus arts, she’s currently chasing her little boys and serving on staff at her local church. Read more by Lindsey at, including a sample chapter from her latest book, Ecclesiastes: Life in Full Color, an eight-week study for small groups.

1209 Pennsylvania Ave., Denver, CO (Guest Post by Heidi Wheeler)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for I’ve lived at 23 different addresses in my lifetime, but 1209 Pennsylvania Avenue in Denver, Colorado was the separating residence—between childhood and adulthood, dependence and independence, dreams dreamed and dreams realized. It was the first and only home where I lived completely on my own; there were no parents, roommates, spouses, or children with which to compromise. 1209 Pennsylvania had little to do with the actual dwelling, and everything to do about learning to be at home with myself. How I ended up there is my story of falling in love.

I spent most of my childhood in the Midwest, but headed West as soon as possible; I had longed for the adventures assured by visible mountain silhouettes. Following graduation from nursing school in Michigan, I moved to Denver with my anthem, the Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces, blaring from the CD player and pulsing in my veins.

My first year in Colorado, I lived with a group of roommates with whom I never felt quite at home. Missing the community of college, I assuaged the loss by both working and playing hard. A full-time nursing job meant only three required 12 hour shifts a week, so I spent ample free time in nature—skiing, hiking, trail running, camping, white water rafting, and climbing 14ers. I was living the life I’d dreamt of for so long, adventurous and independent, but loneliness settled over me like a cloud; I wondered constantly if I’d find a partner with whom to share these fulfilled dreams.

One evening I received an unexpected call from a college friend, Josh, inviting me to join him on a backpacking trip. He was heading west from Michigan and would be passing through Colorado on his way. With a flexible schedule, a love for all things outdoors, and a complete naiveté to his intentions, I agreed to accompany him.

The trip was platonic enough, but small flirtations surfaced as we made our way along miles of  trail in the cold May mountains. I decorated our nightly campsites with plants and sticks, he drew our initials in the dirt with a heart around them and played with my hair. A promising rhythm of life together surfaced as we cooked over a fire and fell into conversations about God, gender roles, and what makes a meaningful life. At the completion of our journey, we admitted we were romantically attracted and agreed to start dating long-distance. After five months apart, Josh moved to Denver to be near me.

We weren’t ready to get married, but knew we were serious about each other. Cohabitation wasn’t an option, but we figured out how to have the proximity our young love required with a creative loophole—we decided to rent separate apartments in the same building. Enter 1209 Pennsylvania Avenue.

We found a vintage brick and stucco building in an up-and-coming neighborhood that advertised two vacancies, just blocks from downtown Denver. Josh took the 350 square foot studio on the 2nd floor, I took a 500 square foot 1-bedroom.

Neither apartment was glamorous, but even now we look back and comment wistfully about how they were, “all we needed,” a framework hard to maintain with the expanding incomes and sophisticated tastes we often develop as we age.  It was freeing to live simply, I didn’t have a computer, cell phone, cable, or i-anything.

Because I had dreamed since girlhood about the opportunity to live alone before marriage, I spent hours figuring out my systems of adulting in that apartment. How to pay the bills, how to organize my groceries, what to do with my free time. As a new nurse, my $15.50 an hour salary seemed a fortune. It was enough to cover the lease of my Subaru Outback, my apartment rent, and my school loan repayment, with enough leftover to buy outdoor gear.

My relationship with Josh progressed, he proposed, and as our hearts began the work of weaving into one, we continued to enjoy the closeness of being two floors apart. I surprised him with a stocked pantry when he was low on money, he put the ring back on my finger in middle of the night after a fight where I’d thrown it at him. We packed our gear in tandem before shared mountain adventures and we walked to neighborhood coffee shops hand-in-hand. 1209 Pennsylvania was the backdrop for our engagement drama, wedding planning, and verbally vetting out what we thought it meant to make a lifetime commitment of forsaking all others.

As we packed up our meager belongings a year and a half after moving in, we delivered them to the first of 10 addresses we’ve jointly claimed in our 14 years of being husband and wife, but I will always think of 1209 Pennsylvania as the beginning of our happily-ever-after. I’m still decorating with sticks, we’re still talking about gender roles, and we just got back from a five day backpacking trip in Colorado together. The concrete walls of my first apartment on Pennsylvania Avenue provided the space for me to grow into my own, with the security of true-love near-by. And that’s how it’s been ever since, no matter the address.

1918080_10154092270492498_562635706468497828_n-2Heidi loves to be in community with other women, mutually encouraging each other to health and wholeness of mind, body and spirit. She tries to balance a full plate (and sometimes fails) - mothering four young kids, being married, working part time in healthcare, organizing concerts to help infuse art into faith, and too many other interests. Her work can be found a variety of places throughout the internet, and she's a regular contributor to the MKE Moms Blog, the content coordinator for her town's local magazine, and blogs about faith and family at

All are Welcome Here (Guest Post by Jamie Calloway-Hanauer)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for As a diehard introvert and perfectionist, sharing my daily space with someone who really, really likes to know what I’m writing, what I’m reading, where I’m going is a drag. Especially when that person is not the neatnik I hoped for. And marriage usually leads to kids, who are some of my favorite people, but more work than you’ll ever know until you have them and by then it’s too late. 

Sharing space also means sharing decisions. Decisions about daily tasks, future careers, about how that space is used, or not used, and if the latter, what space will replace it.

To wit, someday you might just give up your $250,000 law degree from one of the nation’s top law schools to stay home and clean someone else’s pee off the toilet. And on yet another day, you might move your household of six + one dog 3000 miles away, single-handedly no less, so your spouse can pursue what he or she wants to do, even though it’s pretty much dead last on your list of desires and it means you can probably never practice law again, or eat a monthly meal at your favorite restaurant, and even causes you to lose all your editing clients and go without publishing an article for five months while you recover from the agony of a solo parent move while your husband—I mean spouse—stays at a friend’s place across the country, watching late night TV and reading Grantland. You know. For example.

After two years of sharing that 3000-miles-away space, you may realize that your two years of anger and resentment have melted into the realization that the new home, the home you were forced to have, is something that you’ve come to love. Because in this home, this giant monstrosity of a home, your new community has been built.

Parties have been thrown, pizza eaten, baseball watched, cake sliced, and children loved more times than you can count.

No doubt: our homes are our own. They are our places of privacy and pajamas and make-up free days with coffee dribbled down our shirts.

Home is sanctuary.

But home is also an invitation to community. A place to which you can open the doors and say, “Come on in. I will make my safe space vulnerable for you, because you are someone I want to know, and because I love you already, even without knowing you.” It’s an invitation to have monthly dinners, at the first of which you try to channel Jesus, serving what you know is too-little soup, but just knowing God will make it stretch. But then God won’t and everyone will leave hungry, but come back the next month anyway, by which time you’ll have realized no one can channel Jesus and so you’d better plan for contingencies.

And then later, maybe even while retelling the soup-shortage-story, you’ll realize that it was in the repeat customers to the monthly meal that God’s provision came. You should have known.

But let’s face it: home is nothing more than a material object. A treasure to cling to too tightly when it should be held loosely. An opportunity to show off airs, obsess over throw pillows, spend money that really should have gone to charity. But how we use our homes … that makes all the difference.

Home is a ministry.

A place for teaching babies, both yours and those of others, to grow into adults. To cry over coffee with a friend who just “stopped by,” but ended up staying for two hours when her heart broke wide over something you must have said but you can’t even imagine what. A place where material objects can be used to set a beautiful table that brings joy into guests’ heart because someone cared enough to make things special. A place where it’s okay to serve friends on paper plates and out of bags and Tupperware.

How ridiculous I was, those two long years ago, when I thought home was based on location and decoration and remodeling efforts. My broken heart and lingering resentment were nothing more than a hard but necessary lesson learned: home is not where our hearts are. Instead it is a place where the heart of community first learns to beat.

jamie-calloway-hanauer-photo Jamie Calloway-Hanauer is a mother, wife, writer,  recovering attorney, and M.Div. student. You can visit her at her at her blog, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.