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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Category: Home

Home is (NOT) where the heart is

jenmichel@me.com

When Alison Hodgson wrote for my guest series, “Home: Musings and Memories”, she talked of the fateful night when an arsonist entered her garage and set her house on fire. “Who, when making a home, imagines it could ever be a ruins?” When Joe Dudeck wrote of home, he described the experience of several failed adoptions: “While standing at the doorway of parenthood, we discovered the welcome mat would again be pulled out from under us.” In another post, Aubrey Sampson wrote to remember her father’s job loss and their family’s move from a beloved house: “There was no willow tree, no roller-rink, not even one hot air balloon in the yard.”

For many of us, home represents loss. 

For many guest writers in this Friday series, home symbolizes wanderlust, leaving, and change. For Aleah Marsden, home “is the place I’m always leaving behind.” Karen Beattie recalls ambivalently that she is “the first generation to leave the land, to become unmoored from place and family and community, and part of me feels like we are betrayers. Or pioneers.” Or, as Kate James writes with a familiar surprise, “And [God] sent me here, to a big yard, and a white house and maple trees in the summer.”

For many of us, home represents the place where we unexpectedly arrive. 

In so many of these stories, home has offered more change than stability, more promise than fulfillment. As Christina Crook so eloquently names, it’s a “blood and bramble world,” and home is meant for reprieve, the “gift of welcome,” writes Ashley Hales, that “beckons: come and see, come and see.” “Nowhere I’ve lived has ever fully been my home,” writes Michelle Van Loon of growing up as Jewish girl in a Gentile neighborhood, living the millennia-long story of diaspora. Home is the invitation to make something of life as we have it, even if it’s not exactly life as we once had wanted it. “I expected to be married and own a home. The Lord, however, had other plans,” writes Bethany Jenkins.

Home is one small corner of the world we hope to tame and call our own. “Always we longed for one special place. Our own promised land. Our own little Zion,” describes Christie Purifoy. But sometimes it is its own place of weeping. In the house built by the “broad shoulders” of her husband, Meadow Rue Merrill lost her adopted daughter, Ruth.

What is HOME?

When I invited these gifted writers to contribute to my series, I asked them to write about home in the concrete, rather than the abstract. I wanted to hear about home as people and place and the lived presence of God—because that’s what we see of home in Genesis 1 and 2.

First, home is a place: in the beginning of time, home was a garden, and at the end of time, home will be a city. This means that God intends for us to be a rooted people, connected in real ways to the land. That’s why our geographical change is usually attended by sorrow. Although our culture tends to cherish mobility, selling change like a shiny bauble of promise, in reality, we wear instability like a wound that won’t heal. This is one reason that I open each chapter of Keeping Place with a physical address and a reflection of home “in place.” I want to rid ourselves of all the silly platitudes like, “Home is where the heart is.” No, home is where your feet are.

Second, home is a place with people. It’s not enough to say that home is a place. We have no vision of home that’s as solitary and secluded as Thoreau’s cabin on Walden pond. Rather, a biblical home is a place filled with the company of others. In the garden, God recognized that it wasn’t good for any of us to be alone. For Adam, he makes Eve as a companion and helper. But as we see in the new Jerusalem, we aren’t all paired off as husband and wife. Rather, the table of God’s feast is seated with a new family: the church. We can’t make home apart from deep communion and connection with others. Which is to say: forgiveness and feasting, worship and work—in the local church—helps us to practice home (if not yet fully have it). Finally, home is filled with the presence of God. Let’s not be fooled: we can have the loveliest of places, the warmest of friendships, but without God, no place is home. As Saint Augustine has said, we have restless hearts until they find their ultimate rest in God and God alone. The fullness, the welcome, the permanence, the peace of home we all long for: it’s not about marriage and minivans, houses and domestic happiness. It’s a promise so much greater, so much more lasting than that.

“Homelessness ends in the new Jerusalem, where God keeps place for his people. By the light of the Lamb, home is made luminous, and it is a light to banish gloom and darkness, death and despair.

Behold, God says. I am making all things new” (Keeping Place, 211).

Ernie Johnson and the Art of "Housekeeping"

jenmichel@me.com

We've have recently bought a couple of devotionals for our family: One Year of Dinner Table Devotions by Nancie Guthrie (which is a great fit for the age-range of our kids, 9-16) and The Radical Book for Kids by Champ Thornton. The first, we're trying to read and discuss together at dinner; the second, I'm trying to read with our twin boys whenever we can. (Ryan reads the Bible with them at bedtime.)

Although we've just begun The Radical Book for Kids, I'm finding it to be both thoughtful and accessible, and I especially love, in the first chapter, how Thornton distills the biblical story of creation-fall-redemption into one easy, memorable sentence: "God made it, we broke it, God fixes it." 

I never understood the arc of God's story as this kind of three-act drama as a young child growing up in the church. (We can quibble about the fourth act of "consummation" if you want, but let's not.) Yet I think there's a lot to be said for understanding the Bible as a cohesive story. It's not as if the New Testament is a dramatic departure from the Old, but rather a fulfillment and continuation of God's story begun in Adam, continued with Abraham, carried through Christ.

A Story of Place

As I began writing Keeping Place, my pastor gave me his copy of Craig Bartholomew's, Where Mortals Dwell, for my research. Bartholomew takes the creation-fall-redemption framework and retools it through the language of place. Creation is the act of "implacement." God gives humanity a place—a garden. Fall takes us into the middle act of exile and the judgement of "displacement." And finally, redemption anticipates God's act of "reimplacement" when God will, once again, make his dwelling place with humanity. In other words, God's story begins and ends at home, and we're living in the middle act, one characterized by homesickness.

This is the three-part structure that I originally had for Keeping Place: God made home, humanity lost home, and God is remaking home. But several months into the project, I realized the structure was NOT working. I needed more room for the middle act. I didn't just want stories of exile. I wanted some sort of framework for talking about what we're supposed to be doing in the in-between.

In the not yet.

Housekeeping

Hence, the housekeeping—a word for talking about the work of the middle act, this way we take up the work of our places in light of our home story. "Housekeeping points toward the thin places of daily life: where work, however monotonous and menial, becomes worship, witnessing to God's kingdom coming, and his will being done, on earth as it is in heaven." It's work that men and women do—in their homes and neighborhoods and cities–to love God by loving their neighbor. Or, as Marilynne Robinson says (much better than I ever could), housekeeping is "a regime of small kindnesses, which taken together, make the world salubrious, savory, and warm. I think of [these] acts of comfort . . . as precisely sacramental."

I recently came across an interview with a man whose story and faith embodies this idea of "housekeeping," and I wanted to share it with you. Ernie Johnson is a sports broadcaster and a man of deep faith. I was introduced to him by this video after the presidential election, which stunned and inspired our 14-year-old son.

[embed]https://youtu.be/ayU5kw7Kf5U[/embed]

Then just this week, I heard an interview with Ernie on Donald Miller's Building a Story Brand Podcast. Ernie talks about his love for his wife and his six children, four of whom he has adopted and one of whom has muscular dystrophy. But it's not just his family his loves. He sees his entire life as a call to service. "I want to serve. I want to be walking out the door, after having served [my son] Michael in the morning, and have my antenna up. So that I notice the people who need to have somebody to talk to.”

In other words, Ernie is a man committed to the housekeeping—committed to the humble, everyday acts of love that image the incarnate God who pitched his tent in the middle of the Roman Empire more than two thousand years ago.

I look forward to reading (and having my son read!) Unscripted, which Ernie talks about here in this Q&A.

And I would encourage you to listen to Donald's podcast interview with Ernie!

Formed by a story called home

jenmichel@me.com

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.

On following - and finding - Home

jenmichel@me.com

In 2011, God led our family to Toronto. We came, counting on two or three years of adventure. The kids would learn French. We’d live in the city. For a little while, we would more fully live into the vision of Psalm 67, which the pastor had read at our wedding: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” We left, not knowing what was ahead.  As I’ve come to understand, the life of faith is best understood by acts of memory. We can’t ever really know what God is doing when he moves us out. We don’t know what the future holds when he says, “go.” I think of the Israelites as they traveled through the wilderness, following the pillar of cloud by day that stopped and settled at whim. They were not planning life, but following it. Following Him. I wonder how many days it felt that they had just gotten comfortable when the cloud began to move and they’d had to hurriedly pack it all up for another day’s journey of uncertainty.

Six years ago, the cloud moved, and the seven of us moved with it. We left the suburbs of Chicago for the city of Toronto. I can remember the first weekend in our first rental house. It was the hottest May on record, and we had no air conditioning. I cried when Ryan left for work on Monday.

Our first summer in Toronto, I started to think about writing more personally, even about starting a blog. The cloud was moving, we were moving with it, and I wanted to keep record of the journey. I wanted a story to tell the children, wanted to give the gift of memory that the Israelites had sorely neglected.

I began writing about that journey here.

Eventually, a blog became a book. And a book became another book.

What a surprise.

A gift and a joy.

Today is the release day of Keeping Place, this second book. In it, I’ve kept my own story: places I’ve lived, people I’ve lost. And most importantly, I’ve followed the longing for home to ask where it leads.

That cloud leads into the arms of Christ.

As I write at the conclusion of Keeping Place, “The ancient Israelites were commanded to recite a liturgy when they entered the land of promise and offered to God the gifts of their first harvest. I imagine taking it up in chorus as we enter the gates of the new Jerusalem—the moment homelessness and all of its attendant grief will be laid to rest:

A wandering Aramean was my father.

He went down into Egypt and sojourned there, and the Egyptians treated us harshly.

But the LORD brought us out of Eygpt with a mighty hand.

He brought us into this land, which flows with milk and honey.

 

This is a song to make sense of life’s lament and longing, peril and promise. And it’s the song we’ll be singing when we fall into the sojourning, suffering arms of Jesus.

 

I declare today that I am finally home.


Believe it or not, Amazon is sold out of Keeping Place. But you can order your copy at ivpress.com. Get 30% off the bookebook or DVD series when you use the code READKP. Offer expires on May 31st, 2017.

How I Titled Keeping Place

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Keeping Place releases tomorrow! When asked how I’m feeling, I try for breezy nonchalance. Book, schmook! And truthfully, I do feel considerably less anxiety about this book than the last—not because I’m convinced that it’s better, but because at least this is recognizable terrain. Familiarity is a big consolation. Still, it’s also true that as time creeps closer to the actual release date, I can sometimes feel like a large animal has just curled up on my chest, making it difficult to breathe. He’s heaviest in the dark of the morning when fear comes calling.  But alas, this post is not for probing the emotional tumult of launching a book. Instead, I wanted to tell you a little bit more about the title of the book. (There’s always a story behind titling a book.) When I submitted Keeping Place in proposal form, the book was titled, Making it Home. I loved that title for the way it conveyed the idea of journey. I also loved that it conveyed the work of making home for others, which is a large part of my book. But wouldn’t you know: some wonderful author has already snatched it up for her book. (I’ve forgiven her for it, just in case you’re wondering.)

Back to the drawing board. I turned in the first draft of Keeping Place and had it titled as, The Witness of Home.

Yeah, that’s what my editor thought.

I then came up with some other titles, none of which she liked: Everything in Place; In Sight of Home; A Place Called Hello, The Way Home, Home Life.  She suggested other titles, but none of them grabbed me either. I think that we were really struggling to find something that suited a mixed audience—something that didn’t scare away the men. We both knew that was the risk of putting “home” in the title. I also wanted something that was multidimensional, something that invited a little more curiosity. Eventually, my editor and I jumped on the phone to brainstorm various possibilities. We decided that “place” seemed a more neutral word to feature in the title. After we hung up, I had the idea of “keeping place,” which she floated to her internal committee at the publishing house. They loved it!

On the one hand, keeping place is a noun. It’s where you safeguard something valuable. And isn’t that the very way we think about home—as a place where we are kept safe? As I write in chapter 11, “The longing for home is associated with memory: a paradise was in fact lost. It also looks ahead, inspiring our hope for inhabiting the eternal city of God. Redeemed humanity has a keeping place.

On the other hand, keeping place is a verb. It’s something active, something to convey the work we’re all called to do in our neighborhoods and cities. And it’s not the work of mothers in aprons, heels, and pearls. It’s the work of all God’s people. In the preface, I use Jane Addams as an example of someone who “kept place” in her city. “Though her legacy was not explicitly Christian, Jane Addams, a social reformer in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, . . . founded the Hull House in Chicago in 1889, sensing that the industrialized American city had failed in the measure that it lacked ‘domesticity.’”

Just as I had hoped, the title is multi-dimensional. The trick now is figuring out where to put the stress. If you go Keeping Place as a noun, it’s KEEPING place. But if you prefer the concept of the verb, you’ll need to say it keeping PLACE.

Home - A poem

jenmichel@me.com

When you write about home, both as longing and loss, you can't help but bump into the story of Abraham. He is, of course, the man that God calls to leave home in order to find home. But as you read his story in Genesis, you can't help but see that there's no real permanent home that Abraham ever finds, at least not on this earth. In fact, reflecting on his story centuries later, the writer of Hebrew concludes that Abraham died "not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that [he was] a stranger and exile on the earth" (Heb. 11:13).

The most troubling episode in Abraham's life is the story of Genesis 22, which people call, "The Binding of Isaac." God has asked Abraham to do something much harder than leave home. He's asked him to take his son, his only son, the son he loves, and sacrifice him on an altar.

If you thought that the Bible only recorded sweet, saccharine stores, you have missed Genesis 22. It's a hard story — and yet it's a story that prefigures another Father and another Son, the God-Man Jesus Christ.

I've written about Genesis 22 in a poem, and I'd love to share it with you here.


Home

Like tent stakes, I pull it up,

Load my beast with the longing to stay put.

They don't know

Go is a hard word.

Three days he carries us;

I, with child, yielding mute yes.

Go is a hard word,

Take, harder still.

“Third days are for resurrection.”

I'd like to believe them, imagining myself

Come back again.

“Here I am,” I’ll shout, son in tow,

Laughing, with relief.

Keeping Place: Author Q&A

jenmichel@me.com

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 ivpress.org. 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 ivpress.org.

Ruby Slippers

jenmichel@me.com

"Ruby Slippers" is the title of the final chapter of my book, Teach Us to Want, and I'm often asked about the significance.

Just last week, I met with a small group from my church who had recently finished reading the book, and several people wanted to make guesses about the meaning of the ruby slippers. One interpretation was particularly clever.

"The ruby slippers were taken from the feet of the Wicked Witch of the East when Dorothy's house fell on her. Dorothy puts them on, but the Wicked Witch of the West chases her and wants to kill her. So the ruby slippers represent the potential dangers of desire and how desire might possibly lead us astray."

Um, no. But really good try!

Because the subtitle of chapter 10 is "commitment," I really meant ruby slippers to represent the journey of desire—and all that's required for that journey, especially courage and resilience. It's a risk to examine our desires. What might we discover about ourselves in the process? It's a risk to admit our desires to others. What will they make of us? And of course, it's also a risk to pray our desires—not because God can't be trusted with our vulnerability, but because in praying our desires, we're also surrendering them to the possibility of divine interruption and change.

But before I clarified all of this for this particular group, another man ventured his guess. I had never met him before.

"Well, Dorothy puts on the ruby slippers so that she can get back home. And I think that's where desire is always leading us. Home.

We want home more than anything else in this world."

Um, HELLO?! Did you know that I've written an entire book about the longing for home?

Teach Us to Want was published in July 2014. I certainly had no plan for my second book, Keeping Place, which releases in two weeks. But maybe "ruby slippers" is the giveaway that when I took my own journey of desire, it would lead me to longings for permanence. Longings for safety and stability, for rest and refuge.

For home.

I'm going to tell you a little bit more about Keeping Place in the next couple of weeks here on the blog. I'll be posting an excerpt from the preface and some behind-the-scenes looks at the writing of the book. I'll even share with you some original poetry that I've written. I hope it's helpful to you in some way, and as always, thanks for reading along!

 

#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.

Jen

Ft. Portal-Budibugyo-Lamia Rd., Nyahuka, Uganda (Guest Post by Tish Harrison Warren)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for This is a story about how Lyle Lovett and Jesus ruined my life plan.

I sat on the couch, alone in a room, staring at a handwritten sign barely legible in the candlelight.  I was in my early 20s and teaching English in Uganda for a few months, living at the boarding school. The scrawled sign was a quote from Rich Mullins: “I’m home anywhere if you are where I am,” written about God, a statement of worship and trust. At the time, taping his words on my plastered wall felt adventurous and daring.

I came from a place of deep, deep roots. My mom and dad were living within a mile of where my mom was born in the small town where generations of my family members have tilled the land, sat in city council meetings, and eaten watermelon on their porches. I had chosen to leave Texas to go to college out of state and, later, to go to Africa; both decisions had scandalized and worried my parents. This scrawled sign was simultaneously defiant, naïve, and faithful.  I now see more than a little narcissism in my wanderlust. Full of youthful swagger, I was after some wisdom and good stories, and didn’t have much to lose. But this sign was also a confession of faith, however fumbling or feebly, that “home” was not a place but a person, the person of Christ. And that following him meant that I had no idea where I might end up.

I ended up moving back to America and eventually married a graduate student, whose professional pursuits have moved us to five different states in our twelve years of marriage. With each move, the loss of home felt sharper. “Home,” which once felt confining as I longed for more risk, now seemed like something I lacked and desperately needed. I would tear up reading Wendell Berry, longing for his vision of stability, eager for a lived “theology of place.”  I missed my deep roots. I wanted to plant a garden and watch it grow, to have friends who I walk through different stages of life with, and, once we had kids, I longed to give my children the gift of rootedness, history, and community that I was given. I ached for that place where everyone knew who my dad was, where I could bump into someone with my mom whom she introduces as a beloved distant cousin, where I know how the air smells in the late fall and a back way shortcut to every place. So, eventually, we moved back to Texas. The prodigal daughter returned, and fatted calves were killed and slow-roasted in a Texas barbecue.

Three years later, I sat in the passenger seat as my husband Jonathan drove through the open ranchland near my parents’ house. It was a gorgeous day with evening light on early autumn hayfields and the sky stretched out to eternity. But the air was tense. I was trying to convince Jonathan that we shouldn’t move away from Texas. Both newly ordained priests, we’d received a call out of the blue, asking us to move across the country to be associate pastors at a church. We had fretted, prayed, and met with our community for guidance. They prayed, listened, and told us, lovingly, to go, and I wept. This call to the church and to my marriage was, I realized, a bit like signing up for the military-- I had given my life over to a mission that was bigger than me. I knew God wanted us to serve the church as priests. But I desperately wanted to stay in Texas.

I’d hatched a plan to showcase the glories of Central Texas to my husband, roots and culture, hayfields and sky. As we drove, I decided, we’d listen to Lyle Lovett—because you can’t get more Texas-glorious than a slow drive with Lyle singing about flour tortillas or whiskey --and we’d watch the Texas sunset. And there’s no way, after that, that we’d ever choose to leave. But when I put my plan in motion, a song came on that I’d never heard before.

It was a hymn that I pictured Lyle pounding out on an old piano in a plain-faced church:

“Lord, keep us steadfast in thy Word; Curb those who fein by craft and sword Would wrest the kingdom from thy Son And set at nought all he hath done.

Lord Jesus Christ, thy power make known, For thou are Lord of Lords alone; Defend thy Christendom that we May ever more sing praise to thee.

O Comforter of priceless worth, Send peace and unity on earth; Support us in our final strife And lead us out of death to life.”

Again, I wept. Despite my hopes, I somehow knew in that moment that we were leaving Texas again. We were going to go learn to be priests in a new place, a foreign land, far from home.

And I remembered that sign on my wall in Africa, but read it differently. Back then, the reality of Christ as our true home felt somehow triumphant and exhilarating. Now, it came with some pain. If Christ alone is our true home, no other place ever quite is and in this fallen “meantime” on our old earth, we never quite belong. Any swagger, any thrill in being a rolling stone, was gone.  If God calls us to himself, he may call us anywhere, and there is goodness but also heartbreak in that.

Deep roots and a long-time home is a gift, one I still long for. But I now see that both wanderlust and rootedness can become idols and that neither can be what ultimately guides us. Some are called to stay; some, at times, are called to leave. And, whichever the case, home is ultimately the place where Jesus meets us, where he calls us, where he is.


Tish Harrison Warren is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America. After eight years with InterVarsity Graduate and Faculty Ministries at Vanderbilt and The University of Texas at Austin, she now serves as Co-Associate Rector at Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh, PA. She writes regularly for The Well, CT Women (formerly her.meneutics), and Christianity Today. Her work has also appeared in Comment Magazine, Christ and Pop Culture, Art House America, and elsewhere. She is author of Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life (IVP). She and her husband Jonathan have two young daughters.


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.

Jen

Sleeping in the Purple Flowers (Guest Post by Bronwyn Lea)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for 10 Churchill Street, Witbank, South Africa

It was an ordinary school morning with its clamor of backpacks and lunches and the drama of finding a matched pair of socks before running out the door to find Mom, already waiting in the car, engine idling. As we pulled out of the driveway, I spotted my dog, Cuddles, sleeping in an unusual spot. He was curled up in the agapanthus flowers: a cotton-white tuft nestled between green and purple. Cuddles had been lost-and-incredibly-found just weeks before (the story had made the local newspaper), and I was still joyous at our reconciliation. I waved at his curled up little form and headed off to school.

It was an ordinary school morning in class, and an ordinary trip home. I would have lunch, play with Cuddles, and then tackle the challenges of my fourth grade homework. Except, Cuddles was nowhere to be found. Not under my bed, not in the basket, not in the back yard, not in the flowers where I’d seem him earlier. I enlisted my sisters’ help to find him. No luck.

Some blurred minutes later, I called my Mom at work. I can imagine her now: closing her office door and removing one of the red, plastic clip-on earrings she’d received for Mother's Day and faithfully wore, pressing the receiver to her ear. I remember fragments:

My baby, Cuddles is gone…

… hit by a car…

… found him in the agapanthus…

… buried under the apricot tree…

…I’m so sorry…

I don’t remember much after that.

***

That was more than thirty years ago, and I have since made a trip back to that town, that street, that house I grew up in – jam-packed with memories fading with each year. There is a fence around the house now, and the wisteria above the garage door has been trimmed back so that no one has to duck underneath it for fear of losing an eye. The avocado tree is twice as tall, and the weeping willow we once danced under is now gone. But the agapanthus are still there, and even though it’s been three decades, as I drive slowly past the house with all there is to take in visually – my eyes still go there first: to that clump of green and purple, just as they did every morning after Cuddles’ death for the remainder of the time we lived there. I can’t not look. Even after all these years.

Cuddles was not the first pet I’d lost, but it was the first grief I remember. Years later, when I read the account of Lazarus’ death in John 11, Jesus’ words jumped out at me. “Lazarus has fallen asleep,” Jesus said, “but I am going there to wake him up.” (John 11:11) The disciples were confused: why was Jesus going to wake him up? If he slept, surely he would get better? But, as John explains, Jesus was speaking of the sleep of death, not the sleep of slumber: both states he was equally able to awaken his friend from.

I had thought Cuddles was sleeping the sleep of slumber, when in fact he was in the deeper, longer sleep of death. Like the disciples, I was confused. Like the disciples, I was grieved and unable to wake my beloved one from this latter, darker sleep. Like the disciples, it boggled my mind that Jesus-Himself the resurrection and the life (John 11:25)- is able to wake us up from the sleep of death.

I don’t know whether dogs go to heaven, or whether Cuddles will participate in the life to come, but this much I do know: whenever I see agapanthus flowers I think of our home on Churchill Street, and of my sleeping dog, and the grief I felt. I remember that one day I will sleep the sleep of death, too, and on that day – I have entrusted myself to the One who has overcome death. He will take me by the hand and say “Talitha, koum” (which means Little Girl, get up! – Mark 5:41), and on that day, I will awaken, and He will take me Home.


Bronwyn Lea is a South African born writer and speaker, making her home (in this life) in California with her husband and three kids. She writes about the holy and hilarious in faith, family and culture. You can find her words on her blog, various other great publications on the web, and connect on Twitter and on Facebook.


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.

Jen

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 www.edcyzewski.com 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.

Jen

Memory of Home (Guest Post by Marilyn Gardner)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for Murree Christian School P.O. Jhika Gali, Murree Hills, Pakistan

I can picture the scene as if it was yesterday.  I am lying on the top bunk in my dormitory. The louvered windows allow a mountain breeze to come through and the sun shines brightly through pine trees.  It is springtime in Murree and I am seven years old.  In the distance I hear the sound of musical scales in major and minor keys being played on old pianos, slightly tinny and out of tune. The players are disciplined, but clearly young with limited skills. Pungent smells waft through windows from the large kitchen two floors below alerting me that today our lunch will be curry and rice. The sounds of Urdu, Punjabi, and English meld together, a kaleidoscope of diversity unrealized until I am older. As the memory returns, I close my eyes and I am completely content.

Two distinct places come to mind when I think of the place and concept of ‘home.’ The first is that of several different cities where my parents lived in Pakistan during my childhood. The second place is the more constant: My boarding school near the town of Jhika Gali, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayan range of mountains in the country of Pakistan.

My memories are strong of the place that shaped me, that formed me into who I am today. I was six years old when I first went to boarding school. I could barely tie my shoelaces; much less navigate the sometimes cruel environment of an institutional setting. But it was in the institutional halls of boarding school where I encountered the God who I would grow to love.

For three months at a time, I would share a bedroom with seven roommates supervised by a housemother struggling to meet the needs of 20 to 30 little children. Children, who needed to eat, brush their teeth, bathe, dress, study, and sleep. Along with the practical needs were the emotional and spiritual needs. These are the unseen needs that satisfy the deepest of human longings; namely love and belonging. It was a seemingly impossible task, but we would not know this until much later in our lives.

The first night away from home, I was always exhausted and sleep came quickly. I woke early in the morning, disoriented and unsure of where I was. When I remembered, the blur and taste of hot, salty tears clouded my vision and lingered on my tongue. I dared not show my tears; it was not safe. We were all small, all facing separation and loss, all experiencing the first of many times of homesickness. We were surrounded by others as young as we were, by others with the same tears and fears, the same deep sense of loss.

No one heard or saw my tears; instead, they fell silently, invisibly.  Soon others would wake, and happy chatter would overshadow the sad. We were already a family of sorts, complete with the aunts and uncles who served as our dorm parents. But each time I entered boarding school, the early morning scene would repeat itself, from the time I was six until the day I graduated from high school.

A cold, metal-framed bunk bed and the living God were my only witnesses. The one captured my tears, the other comforted them.In that tiny, private bunk bed space my first fervent prayers for comfort went up to an unseen God in a Heaven that seemed far away, and I experienced his comfort and presence. It was in a bunk bed that this unseen God responded, an invisible hand reaching out to comfort a little girl far from her parents who held fast to a stuffed animal.

My boarding school years are long past and, like many others who grew up globally, many places in the world have become home for a time.  Indeed, for me a recurring life-theme has been on place and home. But those early memories of boarding school still evoke in me tears and a deep sense of gratitude.  There have been many places where my faith grew, where I met the big and hard questions of life. One of those places was surely a boarding school bunk bed, an icon of sorts, a solid witness to a faith that is written on my heart by God’s hand.


Marilyn R. Gardner is an adult third culture kid who grew up in Pakistan and then lived as an adult in Pakistan and Egypt. She birthed 5 kids on 3 continents, and went on to raise them in Pakistan and Egypt before moving to the United States. She currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 15 minutes from the international terminal where she flies to the Middle East & Pakistan as often as possible. She is the author of Between Worlds: Essays on Culture & Belonging © Doorlight Publications, July 2014 and her newest memoir Passages Through Pakistan: An American Girl’s Journey of Faith ©Doorlight Publications, February 2017. Because of her passion for the Middle East, 50% of all royalties for any purchase of Passages goes towards refugee work there.  


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.

Jen

Home (Guest Post by Alison Hodgson)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for Red Cedar Drive Grand Rapids, MI

Years ago, in the wee hours, an arsonist randomly set my house on fire. My husband and I, and our three children, escaped with the clothes on our backs. When the fire was extinguished, half the structure and its contents remained, but everything was destroyed. Who, when making a home, imagines it could ever be a ruins?

My family settled into a rental just down the road from our property, which was convenient, but it meant we drove by our burned-out house every day. It was like viewing a corpse, day after day, week after week, month after month, and it only increased our sorrow.

We had to wait for the building estimates to be made, the inventory created, and every requirement from the township met before they would issue a demolition permit. People complained. When was the eyesore going to be removed?

The day of demolition was bitterly cold, and a layer of snow covered everything. I was so eager to have it all gone and yet anxious to see it one last time. It was like a strange breakup that had dragged on far too long. The ruins had become a common sight, but I tried to pay special attention. I went to the front door and looked in. Yet again, I was struck, even more than by what was gone, by what remained. The door itself was destroyed, the knob twisted and partially melted. Two bookcases flanked the front door. Part of the roof of the entry had burned to nothing, but both bookcases were still standing. One was leaning forward, and I had the strong sense of two soldiers, bloodied but unbowed. The top shelf of the case on the east wall had held my set of Shakespeare. They slipped off when the bookcase pitched forward but had fallen together and formed a sort of stepping-stone.

How did the fire go through and over all those books and yet they didn’t burn? Every time I visited the house, I would peek in the front door and look at them—artifacts of a life long gone. As time passed, they weathered and aged, and more fell.

Waiting for the excavator to arrive, I walked around the house then I made my way to my perch on the hill, where I waited as one might to watch fireworks.

The demolition began at 10:33 in the morning with a gentle tap to our black Lab, Jack’s, doghouse, which caused it to crack and then fly apart like a house of cards.

I had never seen a building torn down and had imagined it would be loud and, well, destructive, but it was a surprisingly delicate operation. The scoop of the excavator gently knocked and nibbled its way through the structure. It was like a hand carefully plucking and rearranging, but instead of straightening or fixing, it was tearing apart.

It was strange seeing familiar things fly to the surface and land on the top of the pile: the antique metal box I used for storage on the bathroom counter, a vintage housecoat my girls wore for dress-up, Lydia, my older daughter’s lavender parka, the granite on my island, one of the living room chairs, a green cereal bowl.

It was a little like watching a slideshow at a funeral, where, for a moment, you forget the loss and simply remember.

It was finished fifty-seven minutes later, after a delicate pull at the southwest corner of the laundry room. The walls came down, and then they were pulled up and added to the top of the pile. The ivy that grew along the foundation was pulled up too and, still attached, trailed along.

The house had stood for more than fifty years, and we had lived in it six. It took less than an hour to demolish. Isn’t that the way of things? Destruction can be done so quickly; it is building or cleaning up that takes our energy and time.

When only the laundry room stood—even its roof was gone—I found myself sitting up and leaning forward, like at the end of a movie, but there wasn’t any suspense, just the sense of something long awaited finally coming to an end.

Taken from The Pug List by Alison Hodgson. Copyright © [2015 by Alison Hodgson.] Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.


Alison Hodgson is the author of The Pug List: A Ridiculous Dog, a Family Who Lost Everything, and How They All Found Their Way Home. She is a Moth StorySLAM winner and a regular contributor to the design website Houzz.com. Her writing has been featured in Woman’s Day magazine, on Forbes.com, Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog, and the Religion News Service, and her essays have been published in a variety of anthologies. Alison lives in Michigan with her husband, their children, and three good dogs.  


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 next year, I’m publishing a book called, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, Spring 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.

Jen

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.”

“True…..”

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, Patheos.com, 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 AleahMarsden.com. 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 catherinemcniel.com.

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 www.michellebergradford.com and follow her on Instagram: @michelle.radford.

Where I Shed My Dragon Skin (Guest Post By Dorcas Cheng-Tozun)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for Flat 2, 24th Floor Tower F, Chengzhongyayuen Shenzhen, China

Each morning my husband and I were awoken by the chants of schoolchildren, twenty-four stories below us, doing their morning exercises. I would look down at their tiny blue-and-white uniformed bodies, stretching and twisting and jumping in the stifling humidity, and wonder how they felt about the industrial city we all lived in. Did it feel like home to them?

I had certainly never felt less at home. My face and body resembled the faces and bodies around me—the first time I had ever lived in a place where I was part of the ethnic majority. Yet everything else about me stood out, in a culture and society in which standing out is one of the worst things one can do.

My daily commutes with my husband—walking from our apartment building to the subway station, cramming our bodies with the rest of the masses on the subway cars, then walking again to the office building—became exercises in anxiety. Who would yell at me next? Which of these people would resent me if they knew how Western I really was on the inside?

Nowhere in Shenzhen felt safe for me—except our starkly white, cement-tiled two-bedroom flat.

The place came with its own colorful history. Its previous occupant was the mistress of the Hong Kong-based owner, his "second wife" who was about forty years his junior. When she moved out, she left enough food to feed an entire infantry of cockroaches. They eagerly welcomed us from every room the day we moved in.

When the complex social dynamics of living in China became too overwhelming for me, I escaped to this flat. I burrowed into the gray-and-white houndstooth sectional sofa, watching bootlegged versions of American movies and TV shows. I jerry-rigged American meals—scrambled eggs and toast, spaghetti, garlic bread, burgers—with the ingredients I could find. I listened to MP3s of U2 and Coldplay with full-throated nostalgia, dancing across the cold tiles with abandon, the air conditioner blowing on full blast.

In this flat, my true ethnic identity—as a second-generation Chinese American—was on full display. I felt safe and free within that one thousand square feet, floating a couple hundred meters above the ground.

Yet, even then, the concrete walls of the high-rise building strained against the pressures of life in a totalitarian state. Everyone took it as fact that our phone lines and email communications were regularly monitored. I heard rumors that the central government tended to bug apartment buildings just like ours. I worried that the Christian locals I was discipling would suffer because of their association with me.

Eventually, I buckled under that pressure. I refused to leave our apartment for days at a time, unable to face the oppressive environment outside. I grumbled and lamented and wept before God, asking what he was doing in the midst of my misery.

Only three things kept me from becoming unmoored during that time: my faith, my husband, and the flat that was the closest thing to home I had available.

I didn’t know it at the time, but God was breaking the stranglehold that my compulsive needs to people-please, to achieve, and to be perfect had on me. Like Eustace, the surly and prideful character in C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I needed God to reveal the depth and hardness of my dragon skin—and I needed God to tear that skin off, even though it hurt my very soul to do so.

About a year into our stay in China, two friends visited us from California. They listened to my anguish; they counseled me; they prayed over me. And that concrete, barren apartment became holy ground.

My healing journey, which eventually took years, began as I wept in that twenty-fourth story flat in China, confessing my weakness and desperate need for God. Only then could he tear down the smaller life I had been stubbornly pursuing. Only then could he make space for something grander and far more beautiful.


Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is an award-winning writer and editor. She is a columnist for Inc.com and a regular contributor to Christianity Today, The Well, and Asian American Women on Leadership. Her book on marriage and entrepreneurship is forthcoming from Hachette Center Street in fall 2017. After living in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Kenya, she is now residing in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and adorable hapa son. Visit her at http://www.chengtozun.com or follow her on Twitter.