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August 10, 2016

changing places

The late May air hangs heavy around us as we drive down a dirt lane in the shadow of live oaks. We're back at the place where the deer skitter in the bushes and the squirrels reign over the treetops.  Our visit at my in-laws' is full of reminders of old times for my husband: we eat some of his favourite meals, visit all his immediate family members, and sort through old books and papers. Standing on a chair in his former bedroom, my husband dusts and throws out a row of faux gold sports trophies from his younger years. "Sometimes I forget what a champion I was," he comments wryly. Between trips to the bank to do paperwork and attending a nephew's birthday party, I ask him if being at his parents' home again makes him wish he still lived there. "Not really," he says, "I just have memories here. It's not really my place anymore." But where is his new place? Sometimes we're not sure.

In early June we find ourselves in my brother's home. My brother is also my former housemate, and although he no longer lives in the house we shared, in nearly every room of his apartment I notice things that used to be mine. There's my knife set sticking to a metal strip in his kitchen, a towel that was mine in the linen closet, and my unsightly broken iron sitting on a shelf. In his spare room I find the berry crown I wore for our wedding photos and a tablecloth a dear elderly lady stitched pink roses into for us. Near the end of our trip, I search through dusty boxes in friends' farm shed for a blanket that holds memories for me; I want to take it to Europe.

Europe—my stomach flip flops when I see a picture of our new apartment—I am not sure I am ready to go back. 

(I have a lot of questions: Will I ever learn to express myself fluently in German? Will I ever feel at home in Europe? What would it be like to have and raise children in a place that will always be foreign? When will I find honest yet gracious answers to questions like, "Do you like living here?" or "What's different about living here?")

Ready or not, the tickets are already bought. We return to Europe and I stand in my kitchen, looking at my garbage can and reminding myself: that's what my garbage can looks like. After a few weeks in old places, I'm in a bit of a daze. How many housewares have I bought, thrifted, sold, given away and re-bought in the last five years? I'd rather not think about it. I sort through piles of stuff, and a week later a kind friend ferries both us and our belongings to our new apartment.

We've been in our latest home just over a month now. A few Tuesdays ago, a perky friend of a friend came over, and between bites of sushi she asked about our adjustment. She used a typical German verb: sich einleben, which literally means to "live yourself in". Have you lived yourselves in yet? My husband said, "Not really, I think it's going to take some time." She pressed, "Oh, do you miss people from your last city?" referring to the town 150km down the road where we last lived. I answered, "Yes, them too, but we sort of just miss...the rest of the world." It took a few weeks to organize most of our belongings, but it takes longer to organize our souls.

My transient soul has been tired lately, and at just the right moment,  I came across Psalm 84. It came alive again when I realized that it's all about where we live—about places, homes, nests and houses.

How lovely is the place where You live, O Lord.
My soul longs and even faints to be there with You.
Even the sparrow has found a home, 
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young—
Even Your altars, O Lord of hosts....
Blessed are those who dwell in Your house;
They will still be praising You. 
Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, 
Whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the valley of weeping,
the rain covers it with blessings.
They go from strength to strength;
Each one appears before God...
One day where you live, O God
is better than a thousand elsewhere.  
I would rather work as a doorkeeper at your house than spend my days where the wicked people live...  Blessed is the man who trusts in You.

Someday this old European apartment with its big windows and many doors may feel like home. Someday I may start voluntarily cooking hearty meals of pork, potatoes and sauerkraut (though I doubt it). Someday I may have German conversations that go deeper than how many siblings I have or how long I've lived in Europe. Someday, if we stay long enough, I may feel like I've mich eingelebt here, like it is my place. (Let's be honest, Western Europe isn't really a "hardship posting"—there are many lovely things about living here, too.)

But I'm not sure I want that eingelebt day to fully come after all. This unique ache of not having an earthly place makes me like the Psalmist—longing for a place near the Lord. Not having family or friends' homes to run to makes me realize that His house is my true house. 

Blessed am I when I make my home where He is.
Blessed am I when I make a nest for my young at the altar of God.
Blessed are we when we prioritize raising citizens of Heaven above raising citizens of a certain chunk of land in the Americas or Europe.
Blessed are we when we live each day in anticipation of our last repatriation...that final changing of places.

"and...we shall always be with the Lord.
Therefore comfort one another with these words."

"...The heavens will disappear...
the elements will be destroyed...
and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroy in this way,
what kind of people ought you to be?
You ought to live holy and godly lives, 
as you look forward to the day of God...
in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to
a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells."


  1. Love getting a glimpse into your life, Julie, and the verses you shared. God bless you in your new home

  2. Hope you are settling in ok. I know my stomach always does a flipflop before I venture into something new. I love your line, "Not having family or friends' homes to run to makes me realize that His house is my true house." Thanks for the reminder. :)