Last Thanksgiving, I slipped out of bed early, and seasoned an enormous turkey, wrangling it, with the help of our son, Jacob, into our new electric roaster oven. We circled the salt and pepper shakers, grinding them generously over the raw bird before placing the lid on top, covering it with a dish towel, and willing it to cook up juicy and tender in this new contraption. Our son brewed a steaming pot of coffee, pouring us each a generous cup, and splashing it with half-and-half as we set to rolling out the apple pie and crumbling the crisp. Lauren soon joined us, and together we chopped and diced and chattered and laughed and sang along to some favorite tunes that we told Alexa to play.
Slowly, our home awakened as the sun brightened our bustling kitchen. Caleb and his new bride appeared, so happy, his wedding band shiny on the small of her back. As my husband set up folding tables and chairs, our daughter-in-love’s family rang the doorbell, with yet more casseroles, after-dinner-mints, and hugs all around. Soon, our home was ablaze with family and friends, conversation, delicious aromas, good will, and laughter.
We lined up the pretty platters beneath the window of our swarming kitchen. I delighted to see our sons sampling the fare before our feast began, nodding in pleasure to no one in particular. My heart was full, with this gift of expanding family, this glorious feast; the togetherness of it all. The beauty of that moment only matched the joy of the people in our home. It was a cheer to the future, and I felt the presence of God in our kitchen, as we thanked him for this one precious life; his kindness and goodness stretching towards us in both the good and the hard.
I wanted to hold on to that precious day; it felt like a sliver of heaven.
I sailed away to a conference recently, driving alone for miles through the foothills of our state. This respite from the mundane was something that I have often neglected, due to good things crowding out soul things. Those stretches of highway, navigating the winding roads through violet hues of mountains, cattle grazing slant on hills, old chipped farmhouses nestled into the land, chimney smoke swirling, opened my heart to our Creator.
I was entirely unprepared for the soul places that were pierced during this conference. As Christians shared their craft, their burdens, their good and failing habits, I scribbled fast notes. It was a steady stream of experience and wisdom; flashing sparks of clarity: that sense C.S. Lewis spoke of when he said: Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”
Although I did not befriend anyone, (it was not that type of interactive setting), there were many What? You too? moments. Writing is a solitary habit, dwelling in a distant mental space that takes on a entire kingdom of its own. It is good to remember to occasionally swing open the door and return to solid ground; linking arms with living, breathing people.
The richest moment happened when one author moved to the podium, and read an entire chapter from his own book. It was memoirish in its unfolding: his sentences were haunting, lovely, and true, all swirled together, falling softly upon fertile soil. I know this because I was not the only one dabbing my eyes. I cannot even remember the last time I have been the grateful recipient of such winsome words. His story carried familiar pain, and his scars spun golden beauty on the page, thoughts that I am still gathering and turning over in my mind. He shared of his elusive longing for home.
He also spoke of a time when a mentor urged him to pay attention, to heed those seemingly trivial moments in life that bring tears or a throat lump: whether while watching a movie, or reading a book, or listening to music. Those tender spots just might be the very places that God longs to heal. How often do we rush past these emotions, rather than understanding them to be maps? Maps leading to all sorts of unfinished business. It is good to be still, to be quiet and alone with the Lord. To ponder these things while reminding ourselves that He is God and we are not (Psalm 46:10). An invitation to pay attention to what God is choosing to do in and through us; in our ordinary days that often slip by without our full attention.
In soon to be twenty-seven years of marriage, we have held many addresses. While this sounds adventurous and perhaps romantic to those filled with wanderlust, it lodged and settled: a mountainous ache within. Something I continually tripped over.
I lived my childhood remembering only two homes, and for the first twelve years of my life spent in that old New England farmhouse, flush with four, sharp, brilliant seasons and outdoor beauty, romping and reveling with my brother in this outdoor realm, place was magnificent. God used his creation to draw me to himself: his handiwork on display in the fresh country air, baled hay in our back field, burning foliage, stone walls, ripened raspberries and apple orchards, ponds, and tall, heavy snow drifts. These things spelled home, and even as a little girl pedaling my bike up the road to deliver a shiny apple to our neighbor’s horse, I remember sensing that my heart might just burst at the goodness of God’s creation. I thanked him for it as I smiled big and pedaled on, tousled hair blowing in the breeze while I pumped my bicycle. I would have been deeply embarrassed to share this unbounded joy with anyone, as it all sounded rather dramatic. Yet those unbroken waves of worship were soundlessly unbridled.
When Jon and I married, I held fast to a two-pronged wish: to live in one place forever, and for that one place to have seasons. God said No.
Part of that No had to do with the fact that my husband’s job was in the far south, which clearly excluded a changing of temperature. I acclimated, growing accustomed to a nagging longing, much like an annoying mosquito buzzing about my face every single September, without fail. Shielding my eyes from the scorching sun, I vainly scanned the horizon for any inkling of autumn.
We had been entrusted to raise four beauties, were blessed with friends, and were fostering the growing roots of community within our church. Eventually, we purchased what was to be our forever home. I had plans, which would not include buying soft sweaters or winter coats, but involved some dreamy garden schemes, a solid fort for our children, extended walks around the community lake, spying alligators and Great blue herons, and who knows? Maybe one day, we would even add a swimming pool to our backyard.
What I did not know, was that within a year, we would hammer a For Sale sign in our front yard and hike across the country, to a space with wide open sky minus those four spinning seasons, a rootless place with no established community. We were beginning all over again, and I was tired. While all of this was unfolding, I bore a deep sorrow for failing our children. They would never know the joy of standing firmly in one spot, tending to one specific patch of earth, diving headlong into community that remained constant.
Of course, now, in hindsight, I am able to poke all kinds of holes in my faulty thinking: communities change, God has different plans for our children than he does for us, and we must learn to be joyfully open to the Lord’s direction in our lives. But honestly? I still wish I could have given our now-grown children the gift of singular place. It is a thorn in my flesh, this longing for a forever home, a splinter that disappears and returns, unexpected.
As our keynote speaker read his own words, he shared of his nomadic pain as a pastor’s son. He had loved his home, his neighborhood, and those four clear seasons. When his father accepted a pastorate in the South, it crushed him, in all kinds of ways. In time, as a man gazing back over the landscape, he was able to see God’s magnificent redemption woven throughout his story. He recognized that he had regrettably kindled his disappointment and ache for what was into a steady blaze of anger, which blinded him to the goodness to be found in the today; to all of those things he might have learned.
I appreciated his humble admission that he still longs for that elusive home on earth. Acknowledging this, rather than pretending that everything ended up just so, sang of both credibility and vulnerability to this audience of strangers seated before him. He knows that his heart beats for eternity with God, yet he simultaneously lives in an aging body, as we all do, full of memories and broken dreams. The beautiful truth is that one day, all things will be made new. As Christians, we know that our story, through Jesus, ends in absolute perfection and joy, but even with this comfort and this hope, life remains hard.
A lump rose full in my throat as it stirred up that yearning for one place; for that permanent zip code. It was suddenly quite clear: this ache of mine is a map leading to my heart’s ultimate cry: for heaven, where Jesus has gone to prepare my forever home. He will take me safely there, one day, to be with him, forever (John 14:2-3).
I drove back from the conference, retracing my path through the winding, anchored mountains which appeared lovely, yet different in the still of evening as the sun fell, tossing long shadows. I was going home.