Finding a place to live is about more than lot size, square footage and resale. It's about finding your way home.
As my husband and I drove through the Columbia River Gorge I gazed at the red clay cliffs, the evergreen forests and the wide Willamette River. Despite Oregon's startling beauty, my heart sank.
We were headed to a city where we didn't know anyone, and our housing was still under construction. We were to spend our first few weeks sleeping on some lady's hardwood floor, nursing her sick kitten while she worked long hours and whispering into the wee hours about whether the Oregon move had been a good idea.
That first year I couldn't stop crying. Part of it was the huge learning curve — suddenly married, only 19, living in a new city and attending a college that wasn't a good fit. I had never lived away from home, and I never guessed how much courage and energy a cross-country move would require.
In 10 years of marriage, we've planted our tents on both the West and East Coasts and now in the Midwest. I can't say where we'll settle, or even if we'll settle. When people ask where I'm from, I have to think about it. That question just keeps getting more complicated. I jumble zip codes and phone numbers and feel weary each time I make a new friend, thinking, How long will I have with this one?
* * *
For several years I've had a reoccurring dream. John and I are walking through our apartment, yet it is oddly transfigured. Plain walls have miraculously grown fireplaces — we discover several, and they're all ablaze. And there are puppies scampering about. "How cozy," we say to each other. "Funny we never noticed the fireplaces before — or the puppies, come to think of it."
I used to interpret this dream literally — that I really wanted a fireplace and some puppies. But now I think the dreams illuminate a deeper desire — to recreate the comfort, warmth and security of my childhood home.
In his book The Longing for Home, Frederick Buechner writes about this quest. Often, quite subconsciously, we try to integrate the best of our childhood homes into our adult homes. Even if our childhood homes were unhappy, we draw inspiration from our dreams of what home could have been.
Because no one's childhood home was perfect, it's comforting to know that the work of home-making points toward our final home with God. "I believe that it is the same peace and charity that we dream of finding once again in the home that the tide of time draws us toward," Buechner wrote. "The first home foreshadows the final home, and the final home foreshadows and fulfills what was most precious in the first."
* * *
In our eighth year of marriage, we finally had the chance to take on the joys and burdens of home ownership. After so many years of living in white rented spaces, we got giddy with paint. Our living room is painted a color called "Copper Mountain," Anna's room is a tulip pink and spring leaf green combo, and I'm angling to paint our bathroom a cappuccino hue.
We've also got the headaches of home ownership — our tub is sinking, which means big bills, big changes and big decisions. Now, I'm up nights envisioning the tub tumbling into the bathroom downstairs. During those midnight fits I try my best to banish all thoughts of that old Tom Hanks' movie The Money Pit.
The bathroom crisis is part of a series of unfortunate events related to our home: break-ins in our building and the one next door, a power-line running hauntingly close to our bedroom windows, furry unwelcome guests, and explosive condo board meetings. Each day as I climb the 55 steps leading to our apartment, with Anna tugging one arm and Freda's leash yanking the other, I can't help but think the learning curve has been steeper than I anticipated.
* * *
I've heard people say that first-time homebuyers often make shortsighted decisions. That fateful day of purchase, I saw the red bud tree blooming in the courtyard, the late-afternoon sunlight pouring into the living room and decided I was home. My mother warned me that there were a lot of steps, but me no comprendo. All the comprendo came later, as I made my twice daily climb up Mount Everest.
John and I are contemplating moving again, and this means that our days are full of a fresh set of wide-open questions. We don't know for certain where or even if we'll move. It's an emotional decision for us, and it makes me feel jittery and anxious and excited at the same time.
Recently, part of Psalm 23 caught me off guard: "He makes me lie down in green pastures." I'd never noticed the word "makes" before. It's not "He gently suggests." The image that comes to mind is the Shepherd putting His heavy hand on His sheep, saying, "Lay down." Even our most restless seasons contain green pastures — moments of rest in God — if we have the eyes to see them. The psalm promises us that we shall not want, or more likely, we don't need to live in want because of God's unending care.
I've struggled to grasp this concept, and I relate to George MacDonald when he writes, "Because we can easily imagine ourselves in want, we imagine that God is ready to forsake us."
My experience, however, has shown the opposite. Although I can tumble into want at any moment, the Shepherd's care startles me out of it.
* * *
The desire for security seems to be especially strong in females, and my sense of security collapsed after Sept. 11, 2001, when I was trying to make sense of the terrorist attacks as well my new role as a mother. For the first time in my life, I was responsible for a newborn, and at the same time, the illusion that I could keep her safe was gone.
We were living in New York at the time. When Anna was a week old, I took her through the quiet streets of my neighborhood, flags flapping in the wind. She slept against my chest, while thousands of bodies-turned-ash rested beneath twisted steel less than 20 miles away. I wondered how I could one day help Anna make sense of life in this dangerous world.
The only answer that seemed to make sense was, "This world is not our home." We are pilgrims and strangers, just passing through, on the way to our homeland which will make even our best moments here seem shadowy.
Our ultimate home is with God, but each good earthly home contains the seeds of paradise. Still, no matter how "right" our earthly homes are, there will always remain some dissatisfaction. We'll continue to yearn for the real thing — our true home at which our earthly homes only hint.
C.S. Lewis believed that even our yearnings can be joy-filled if only we realize that they point toward something. "All joy ... emphasizes our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings," he wrote.
Copyright 2005 Jenny Schroedel. All rights reserved.