The air has changed. I can feel the weight of it when I step out of the car. It is not hot but my skin cannot breathe the thick, damp air. Where are we? It could be anywhere in rural Kansas. Everything is nondescript. A farming store, a hometown bank, six churches, and a Subway restaurant. There is always a Subway.
Four and half years prior, we had limped out to the Wild West, bearing wounds from a difficult pastorate in rural Missouri. I had expected drab brown potato fields but was instead greeted by the wonder of the high desert: snow-capped mountains, rocky crags with scrub brush clinging to the edges, mountain lakes and evergreen forests. And the air. It was cool and light. Each breath felt easy and free, a balm on my raw insides. I did not know a place could heal.
As the daughter of a pastor, and now a pastor myself, I have lived in many places. We never chose the location; the location chose us as my parents responded to the call of God to various churches. When we were children, my mother gave herself over to the task of creating a home wherever we landed, in towns both big and small, in houses that belonged to us and houses that belonged to the church.
But, in a way I could not name until adulthood, I never felt truly at home. I watched with envy as my friends sat with their grandparents during church and spent holidays with cousins who lived two streets away. Family intertwined in a singular zip code.
What must it feel like to have roots in a place? Roots that reach down into that particular soil in that particular place, generations deep? What must it feel like to know where you will be buried when you die?
I had hoped that small Idaho town, with its easy air, would become our very own, that it would somehow become our soil where our roots would creep ever deeper into the earth, grounding us to that particular location. And for a season, it was. I settled in.
But, the call came. An unsolicited request, to pastor not a church but a university. In Ohio. Even as my heart awakened to the call and a new vision enlivened my mind, my body revolted. My lungs tightened at the thought of leaving the nourishing Idaho air. My stomach knotted, my hands clenched. Even my hair seemed to droop at the thought of returning to the Midwest with its humidity.
But the call of God cannot be denied without doing damage to your soul. So, here we are, on the road. I am a sojourner, a traveler in pursuit of obedience.
We drive across the country once again, this time, East. I cannot deny the beauty of this place. My eyes drink deeply of the lush green that cannot be contained. Hostas grow to unfathomable size and wave their abundant leaves in my direction. Wildflowers bloom in yards, in fields, even ditches. The river rumbles by, not clear like Idaho rivers, but full of life all the same. Instead of clusters of mountain pronghorn, a dainty white-tailed deer appears, trailed by her timid speckled fawn.
Ohio, can I love you? In loving you do I betray all the places I have loved before? Do I betray Idaho, the land of my healing? Do I betray Kansas, the land of my childhood? Is there space in my heart to love another place? I feel the stretching within me. I hear the creaking of my soul expanding. It hurts, but yes. Yes, there will be room. Abundance always greets obedience generously.
And yet. Ohio will never fully be home, in the same way Idaho, Missouri, and even Kansas never were. Even before we settle into our new space, I know this new town will not quell the ache.
Some say that home is where your family is. While I find rest and peace in the gentle eyes of my husband, I know he cannot bear the weight of my need for home. His arms, no matter how tightly they hold me and assure me of my belonging, cannot satisfy my hunger for home. I am coming to see that to ask that of him, or of any place, is idolatry.
In Psalm 90, Moses declares, “Lord through all generations you have been our home.” Even before their wandering in the desert, the people of God were people without a place, slaves in a land not their own. Sojourners before that. And yet, even as they had no place to lay their head, no fields to farm, no gardens to tend, they were home. Home in the presence of the God who went before and behind them, the God who made a way for them through the sea, the God who invited them into a good future.
Might it be true for me, disoriented as I am both by the grief of leaving a place I loved and by the call to love yet another new place? Unsettled as I am by the thought that no one will know where to bury my poor remains when my wanderings are through? Could it be that I am home even now, in the presence of this God who has called me?
Perhaps I have been home all along.
Stephanie Lobdell is a pastor and author of the book Signs of Life: Resurrecting Hope from Ordinary Loss. Her work has also been featured in Christianity Today, Women Leaders, Mutuality, Holiness Today, and Missio Alliance. She graduated from MidAmerica Nazarene University with degrees in Christian Education and Spanish and holds an M.Div. from Nazarene Theological Seminary. She serves as the Campus Pastor at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Lobdell lives in Ohio with her husband, Tommy, and two children, Josephine and Jack. Connect with her at www.stephanielobdell.com.
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August 30, 2019
I can’t fully convey to you how timely and poignantly this reflection has reached my mind and heart. Thank you.