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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Category: Guests Posts/Interviews

#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.

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 www.KristenLeighKludt.com.

 

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 (www.KeyholeMarketing.us) and his photography business (www.Joetography.us) - 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.

Homesick — 54 Church Street (Guest Post by Dorothy Littell Greco)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for I was only eight years old when I first experienced homesickness. After our Brownie troop set up our belongings in the primitive campground, located the outhouse (major grossness), and had our first meal, I felt an incredible heaviness descend on me. It was palpable. Throughout the week, tears flowed easily and often.

At that young age, I didn’t know there was such a thing as homesickness. The term was not in my vocabulary. My home life was stable. My parents marriage was intact. We had a large extended family and my sisters and I frequently spent hours with my many cousins. Our town was small enough to allow everyone to know everyone else’s business which, for all its down sides, did have benefits.

54 Church Street meant something more than the grey stucco house that my grandfather had built for his wife in the late 1800s. It meant more than a place for letters to arrive or a place for the evening dinner. It rooted me in time and space. It provided boundaries and a sense of safety.

I didn’t know this until I left but the house could not give me what I truly needed: a sense of self. An identity. Since I lacked internal scaffolding, I relied on the physical structure of our home to hold me up and hold me together. When I went off to camp without my family, it shook something loose. It pried the lid off my neediness, leaving me exposed and frightened. There were no books, no rituals, and no homemade bread to comfort me. Lying under the canvas tent in an open field with seven other girls and one grumpy counsellor, I experienced an unfamiliar emptiness. I needed something—though I could not articulate what.

When camp ended and I returned to 54 Church Street, homesickness came with me. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, there was no turning back.

Because my family was religious but not spiritual, I could not name what I needed. The only prayer I knew was, “Now I lay me down to sleep...” which is certainly not the most helpful bedtime incantation if you happen to be afraid of death. Yet in my own childish way, I was beginning to seek God. I often cried out to something/someone greater than me. In response, He wooed and comforted me through his creation. The wooded area behind our home, the small brook around the corner, even my cat all seemed to whisper, “Come further up and further in.”*

In the years that followed, though I did slowly move toward that still unnamed God, the gnawing need continued, perhaps even deepened because of the growing relational chaos in our home. My grandfather died and our extended family fractured. Nearly all the cousins, aunts, and uncles moved out of state. Left without employment or the siblings who had always been there, my father turned to liquid spirits to ease his ache. Their marriage slowly fractured into a thousand sharp shards that could never be glued back together.

As the walls of our home came crumbling down, the object of my need gradually came into focus. Jesus. It was Jesus. The more I learned of this man, the more I came to feel what Andrea Palapant Dilley beautifully describes in Faith and Other Flat Tires:

To me, longing for God was like hearing music from an open window on the street or seeing mountains off in the distance. The yearning felt almost like grief. A cry born into my heart before the human heart ever existed. A desire so deep and far back that it seemed almost prehistoric. I sensed the imago Dei, the image of God within me. . . . I was a homing bird traveling with my outspread wings, carried by an innate compass and crossing a thousand miles to get back to the place where I began.

I began with Him and now ache to return home to Him. It’s still a great distance off but my homesickness propels me ever forward.

*C. S. Lewis, From the The Last Battle


Dorothy Littell Greco writes about how life with Jesus changes everything. She lives outside Boston, MA, with her husband, one of her three sons, and her fluffy companion Leo. Her first book, Making Marriage Beautiful, will be released by David C Cook on January 1, 2017. She is a member of Redbud Writers Guild.

 

The Ministry of Spongy Wallpaper and Cramped Hospitality (Guest Post by Ashley Hales)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for 1/5 Leith Walk BMT, Edinburgh, UK

We wore our wool coats in the middle of a southern California summer, waved goodbye to our mothers, and boarded a plane to Scotland a year after we said our “I do’s.” We touched down in northern Scotland a day later, bleary-eyed and discombobulated watching a foreign countryside fly past on the wrong side of the road.

When we made it south to Edinburgh a fortnight later, we were struck we didn’t know what “BMT” stood for — the ending to our first address as expat postgraduate students in Britain. It was the basement and when we’d creaked open that peeling paint of the blue main door and walked down the stairs, we realized why our rent was so cheap. We’d imagined all sorts of exotic sounding appellations for BMT with no idea that it meant a “basement” flat with one tiny window to let in the light.

We didn’t know enough to be sorely disappointed. We hadn’t yet puffed ourselves up with multiple children and proper jobs to feel we were entitled to a better habitation. It was sufficient. It was what we could afford. We could walk the several miles to university and back. We could make it work. There was enough love and tea to go around. And plenty of books.

That was the flat with spongy wallpaper, a textured sort of wall covering that would leave the mark of your finger’s indentation when pressed. We’d covered it in a neutral cream paint hoping to erase some of its garishness. We had to duck under the water tank to make it to the too-small toilet. Our “bedroom” was small enough that my new husband slept against the cold wall in our double bed and we both trudged along the small path between the other wall and the red carpet. Day after day.

Plopped into a different country, into a world of postgraduate studies where our American dollar didn’t stretch far and everything from our clothes to our voices showed we were foreigners, we kept our heads down and did what we came for. We studied. We had made friends, we were a part of a church, but these were ancillary to our primary purpose. That first autumn we traded a life for books. We left Leith Walk early with scarves and umbrellas up over our necks, our thoughts to ourselves, our lives on a mission that curved from university to work to home. There were moments, of course, when my thoughts and visions strayed — to what I was reading, to the way the waning light hit Arthur’s Seat, to how Edinburgh Castle stood sentinel to a city steeped in history, to how all the philosophers I read about walked about in this same northwesterly wind as I did. How we were all kin.

But on the whole, my husband and I were there to be present for degrees, for knowledge, for all that scholarships and living overseas provided two, young expats.  So when my husband’s sister-in-law asked about what fun we’d had, we looked confused.

The cinderblock walls were chilled. The move to northern climes meant the world grew dark during mid-afternoon tea time. After that first semester, with our minds enriched, but our bodies and souls frail and flailing, we vowed a different life.  We’d had no fun. A too-small, too-cold place would turn into a home.

We’d paint those spongy walls. We’d burn candles over good conversation. We’d buy cheap wine and whisky and invite new Scottish friends over for a homemade meal even if their knees bumped against ours under the table. All it took was an open door, a willingness to be present and offer what little we had. We practiced cooking in a kitchen where each limb could touch a cabinet, fridge, sink, washer (yes, in the kitchen), or oven. We burned tapers down. We laughed. We feasted on leftovers from the French cafe I worked in, we tried our hand at cooking Indian curries, we shared our half bottles of wine, and cupped mugs of milky Scottish Blend tea in chilled fingertips.

When we moved out of that first flat two years later, our Canadian friends commented they hadn’t imagined we’d stay that long in that little basement flat — the one with spongy wallpaper and the dank mustiness and darkness of a basement. It was true, it was cramped and cold; it felt inadequate, especially in light of the new flat we were moving into courtesy of my husband’s seminary. Yet it was there in those cramped quarters where we learned not only to be a married couple, but how hospitality blossoms like the gospel. We had nothing to give each other, or new friends that could bridge the distance of cultural difference. Yet, when we place what little we have on a small table with our knees bumping, and give it as a gift, it grows. The place itself is no longer the center. In hindsight the spongy wallpaper became dear, not because of its quaintness to reimagine like a romantic artifact, but because it is ugly and small. Just the same, it’s offered as a gift of welcome. It beckons: come and see, come and see.


ashley-hales-profile-pictureAshley Hales is a writer, mama to 4, and a wife to a church planter. She received her Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, much of which was completed living in the spongy-wallpered flat. She lives in southern California and is now writing a book on the suburbs with InterVarsity Press. 

Daire 3, 5 Blok, Vitol Cikmazi, Moda, Kadikoy, Istanbul, Turkiye (Guest Post by Beth Bruno)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for It seemed fitting to live in the largest neighborhood of the largest city in the largest unreached nation. Principle had drawn us here, with our one-year-old in tow and adventure at our backs. It was not a sacrifice. We were young and seeking purpose. And we were planting a flag with the apartment we chose: this would be the haven for our team, the space in which hearts would change.

The day we trudged up the hill with lights and curtains tucked under our arms, preparing the apartment for our move, our new electrician friend pulled us anxiously toward the TV in his shop. While our son played with electrical outlets, we watched planes fly intentionally into towers. We moved into our new home days later amid shock, fear, and grief. Our first team meeting included an angry call with a father in America: he wanted his young daughter on a flight immediately, safely out of the middle east.

Our home was christened with tears.

Months later I ordered a turkey from the butcher and opened canned yams from the black market coming off the military base. We celebrated Thanksgiving with 25 people, only half of whom were American, and shared a little bit of home with new friends. The first of all our wedding gift wine glasses broke that night as young teammates helped in the kitchen. A few stayed late to binge watch Alias thanks to a VHS tape received in the mail.

Our home was anointed with laughter.

That summer we shocked the neighbors with an inflatable pool on our roof and a naked two-year-old swimming with his mom. Aunties constantly asked what I fed him when he scaled park equipment and all the shopkeepers rushed to squeeze the little blond boy’s cheeks. The painters shook their heads when I showed them the dark red color I wanted. Culturally adapting and completely shedding your own are two different things.

We said goodbye to one team and welcomed another. Not long after, they huddled in our living room watching a bombing unfold, this time near us. A few weeks later, a synagogue, and another, and then I remembered my son’s preschool was next door to one. Rushing through the streets that day evoked a panic I have never felt before nor since. Our apartment became home base when foreigners needed to lay low. We watched more Alias. I cooked.

The night I waited for my husband to return from the first student meeting in which he was teaching in Turkish, I was sitting on the floor with my pregnant belly. He called and sounded eerily measured, told me he had been stabbed. Time froze as I waited for teammates to come stay with our sleeping son and I taxied to the hospital. Over the next few weeks, our living room became a recovery room and we wondered in fear what had happened that night.

The great adventure began to wane a bit. Standing alone, each bomb, each team fail, each uninterested Turkish student was a chance to trust in God.  An opportunity to put our faith in him again. To expect his grace. To pray harder. Assaults like stabbing? Well, why would the enemy bother with us if he weren’t threatened. But cumulatively, our hope began to waiver.

Was our home still inhabited by God? If things were this difficult, were we in the right place?

I moved into Moda a girl full of idealism. A young wife, a young mom, a new calling, with God on my side. I was so sure of everything. Until I wasn’t.

Unknowingly, I was finding my story in those red walls of my Moda apartment as God worked out my character. I thought it would be a space where hearts were changed. It was. And quite unexpectedly, it included my own.


bethbruno

Beth is the founder of A Face to Reframe, a nonprofit whose aim is to prevent human trafficking through participatory arts, training and community building. She now serves as the Manager of Domestic Anti-Trafficking with the U COUNT Campaign and the co-founder and facilitator of the Larimer County Anti-Trafficking Community Response Team. She holds a certificate in Transformative Arts and Restorative Practices and is the co-author of END: Engaging Men to End Sex Trafficking. She regularly speaks, trains, and writes about ways in which we can stop human trafficking in our communities. Find her on her blog at www.bethbruno.org.

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.