Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A place called home

When I was a few years younger, I'd joke about having some gypsy in my blood. Call it the product of growing up moving every three to four years. I learned at a young age how to let go, say goodbye, and start over. It never got easy, but it did get easier with time and practice. In fact, I don't remember envying those kids who grew up in the same town, in the same house, their whole lives. As I got older, I felt grateful, and perhaps a little prideful, that I felt so capable of embracing change. I assimilated this into my identity, like the gypsy in my blood, aware that along with the freedom of not having roots in one place also came the handicap of not allowing myself to fully attach myself to anyone, anywhere. The rose came with some thorns.

As a young adult, I inherited my father's restless dreaming of "other" lands. There was always someplace else I wanted to live. I didn't want to be tied down. My perfect life, I thought at one point, would be living in one place for six months, then moving onto another place for six months or a year, and then another - for as many years as I wanted - never calling one place home. I dreamed of England, Australia, Montreal, Vancouver, B.C., New Zealand, Scotland, Italy, Boston, Austria, Brooklyn, Ireland, San Francisco, Kenya, Rwanda, Liberia, wherever the winds would take me. I lived with one foot in the place I was and one foot out the door - or, at least in my imagination.

I never thought anything would break me of that. I never thought I needed to be broken of that mentality toward life. But my dad's death did it. When he died, I had one foot in Seattle and one foot out the door, ready to head to my new home in Minneapolis. From there, I hoped to finally leap frog my way to Africa, full time. It didn't happen. I watched those dreams wash away, like water down a drain pipe, along with a piece of my identity. Part of me was sad while another part of me felt deep, unexpected relief. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I felt, I was staying in Seattle for longer than my several year stint, and I was relieved.

Over the past several years, I've found myself opening up more to the idea of having a home, of putting down roots in a place, and I've got to admit, it's strange. It's the warm, cozy feeling of familiarity and belonging, and it's also the frightening feeling of vulnerability because you need to have that place of belonging. The very thing I never wanted to happen, in some regards, has happened. I'm really attached to this place, to the people here and to the city itself.

While I was in church this past Sunday, the pastor delivered a powerful message, reminding us all that this place is not "home." We can love and invest in this place, but always remembering it is not home, not even close. We must not become too comfortable here, not love it too much. I tasted the sober reminder and it was bittersweet. In some very good and healthy ways, I have allowed myself to finally invest in a place, to be fully present in my home town instead of dreaming of the next move (ignoring my recent dreams of moving to Mexico). I have allowed myself, finally, to rely on people, to need relationship with them, to attach to them. The frightening part of this shift for me is that I have grown so comfortable here. I know the city, in some ways, like the back of my hand. It's going on ten years that I've been here. I know it better than I've known any place, and I love that. But the longer I'm here, the harder it becomes to think of leaving - the very sentiment I've tried so hard to avoid.

Perhaps that's not such a negative thing. It's another thorn in the rose, and roses are worth the thorns. Investing in people, in relationships, in a place and in community, is worth the thorns of pain in saying goodbye, if need be. Like loving, it comes at a cost, it comes with risk, always. But it's worth it. It's what colors life with rich hues and forges depth in our character. The challenge for me is to know the difference between loving a place and loving it too much. When I love it too much, I treat it as if this is all there is. As if this place is the only home I've got, the best one I'll ever know. When I do that, I suffer from nearsightedness, unable to see beyond the present to my eternal home. To the treasure that is mine, not in a place, but in a person. In Jesus. I suppose that will always be a challenge, especially when the home I have here is so beautiful to my eyes, when I have it so good in so many ways, it's easy to forget that this home is only a speckle of light in the shimmering ocean of eternity.

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