After being chased all day by work deadlines, kid drop-offs, online and in-person misunderstandings, and perpetual obligations, I just want to go Home.
Jen Pollock Michel, in her new book, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home writes, “we are hardwired for place and permanence, for rest and refuge, for presence and protection” (p. 33). That’s how I feel when I pull in the driveway for the the last time each day–it’s like lunging for base in game of tag.
I’m safe. I’m Home.
I experience the hardwiring for Home in 6 different ways, some temporary, some satisfying, some internal, some external, sometimes all of them all in one day.
1. Home is Where I Keep My Stuff
That’s the first layer – my stuff. It’s the collection of what I need, want, and what’s important to me. My bed. My special pillow. My selected foods put where I like in my cabinets. My wedding album. My books. My boxes of my kids’ keepsakes tucked away in the basement. My guest room where I can invite you to leave your home and stay in mine. Home is where I keep and protect all that’s precious to me. I feel content and in control.
On long trips growing up we joked that “Home is where the majority of your underwear is.” On those trips I also had my favorite clothes, books, music, and makeup, so a hotel room, Gramma’s house, or friend’s basement could also be Home, the base to catch my breath, while we were away.
In Keeping Place, Jen Pollock Michel doesn’t talk much about Home as Storage Facility and Control Center. She takes us far deeper, past the stuff, and into the longing: “Biblical words related to home can denote a physical dwelling, family household, material possessions, as well as geographical and social connections, but these words only hint at the emotional dimensions of the English word home and it’s cousins in German, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic, and Dutch. In these languages…home also describes an emotional state of being” (p. 28).
I might feel happy and safe at home, but deep down I know I need more.
2. Home is My Address
Home is literally where I live. The first line in my GPS, the center pin on my map. The place I receive amazon boxes and Christmas cards. What I type into evites for birthday parties, holiday meals, and lip sync competitions. When I give you my address, I’m telling you where you can find me.
Addresses are also an shortcut to knowing someone’s presumed status. Anyone can type my address into google for an aerial and street view of my house, the value of other houses on my street, the closest schools, and the nearest grocery stores. They might use that information to inaccurately determine my family’s worth and identity.
When a new friend is on their way over I sometimes wonder what they’ll think of my address. Will they think I’m too poor, not good enough, for us to be friends? Will they think I’m too rich, too snotty, for us to be friends? It reminds me of Lorde’s classic, Royals:
“And I’m not proud of my address, in the torn up town
No post code envy
Bloodstains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams…”
In Keeping Place, Michel begins chapters and sections with specific addresses. I love this device. I love inside scoop into an author’s real life. Especially when I’ve been in or near the same places, like Illinois, Ohio, and Canada. I can instantly know if it would snow there, how tall the trees get, how early the sun goes down. The quick sense of place grounds me and loops me into the story. (If I chose to google those addresses maybe I could see her old houses, and make snap judgements about her parent’s income or what kind of education her kids might have, but that’s never been my thing.)
3. Home is My Child
I think I might be in the minority with this one, but my Home is like one of my kids. When we buy a house I name her, like I name my houseplants (Mickey), and major appliances (Rosita) and our golf cart (Lil’ Wayne). Once I figure out my Home’s personality I give her my attention and affection. I think about my Home when I’m away and pick out souvenirs for her along with my kids: what might my Home like and need? who might she become someday, with the right amount of love, preparation and investment?
Keeping my Home costs the same as raising a child, if not more. A new roof is the same cost as braces and ongoing retainers. New windows are equivalent to a year of college. Our second house, named the Bluebird, was a 105 year old Sears Home. She was like a pretty elderly woman humming in the corner. I loved freshening up her lipstick and buying her new clothes. But she was also a bit mischievous, wetting her pants when it rained, and often needed major medical attention from the plumber, electrician, and handyman. I loved her anyway.
Keeping Place refers to God as Homemaker. As a woman, equally embracing and despising that role for myself, I was delighted. Imagining for a moment God vacuuming, doing laundry, setting the table, and checking the roast expanded my understanding of his intimate care and my importance in our Home. I delighted in the Bluebird and in the family and friends who worked, rested, and played there.
Michel made the creation stories in Genesis come alive in new ways. First, the Homemaker God makes the world “as joyful preparation for [His] children, who arrive at the threshold of the world on the sixth day…he created an oxygenated world–because it suited us” (p. 64). This happy anticipation reminded me of my nesting seasons, repainting the nursery and organizing tiny diapers in rows. And it reminded me how my mom buys our favorite foods, makes up the beds, and puts fresh cut flowers on our nightstands when we fly out to visit. God was intentional and excited to prepare a place just right for us.
Then Michel hones in on God “putting” things in places. “Much like we put our shoes in the closet…God put Adam in a garden” (p. 65) In Genesis 2:8 and 2:15 the Hebrew word represents “rest” or “safety” (p. 66). When I’m preparing for friends and family I put things in their place, in anticipation of my guests’ likes and dislikes. I put the fragile vase up high and the safety gate up with toddlers are coming over, I put a towel on the floor for wet boots, I put extra blankets in the guest room on cold nights.
Receiving the intimacy of God as Homemaker makes me more grateful for his love, sovereignty, and care.
4. Home is When I Feel Loved
I remember flying Home from college and standing on my tiptoes to see my dad waiting for me at the gate (back when you could do that). I was finally done with finals, the long plane ride, and the interminable taxiing to the gate. When my Dad hugged me, and took my dark teal messenger bag off my shoulder and onto his, I was Home.
Then I fell in love and got married. That amazing man and I made our Home in each other, and every day was like greeting each other at the airport. Decades later, when I see my husband across the room, hear his voice on the phone, or stare at him from the passenger seat, I know I’m Home. Thanks be to God.
Several years into our marriage I found the old Billy Joel song, “You’re My Home.” (If you don’t like Billy Joel you’ll think this song is cheesy.) The sheltering love my husband offers makes me feel safe and warm, understood and delighted in, welcome and wanted:
“Long as I have you by my side
There’s a roof above and good walls all around
You’re my castle, you’re my cabin
And my instant pleasure dome
I need you in my house
‘Cause you’re my home
You’re my home”
– Written by Billy Joel • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group
Once again, Michel takes the idea of Home=Love much further in Keeping Place. She reminds us, “The nuclear family cannot bear the full weight of human hope and expectation, struggle and need. It’s too fragile and human and entity” (p. 137). That’s both disappointing and a tremendous relief. I’m deeply thankful for my husband (and kids), whom I adore, but we’ll never get all we need from each other. We’re not supposed to. Michel’s descriptions of the role of church and marriage remind me that that Home is far bigger than anyone can rent, tithe, or marry.
5. Home is Myself
St. Catherine of Sienna, the 14th century Italian mystic, said, “Make for yourself … one actual home … and another spiritual home, which thou art to carry with thee always.” When I recently re-read this I felt unsettled. Do I feel at Home with myself, my true self? Do I take care of myself as well as I take care of my house? Am I more welcoming to people that are not me?
I’m working on everyday acceptance of the person God made Aimee Fritz to be. I’m thanking God for my personality, gifts, talents, mind, spirit. And body–the external part being Home with myself. It feels rebellious and exhilaring. I don’t look 20 because I’m not 20. I look exactly like who I am, a suburban mom in her 40’s who likes to cook and have people eat over more than she likes to run. When I look in the mirror these days I laugh remembering this wonderful story from Anne Lammott:
“I was not wearing a cover-up, not even a T-shirt. I had decided I was going to take my thighs and butt with me proudly whenever I went. I decided, in fact, on the way to the beach, that I would treat them as if they were beloved elderly aunties, the kind who did embarassing things at the beach, like roll their stockings into tubes around their ankles, but whom I was proud of because they were so great in every real and important way.” – from Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
This self- and body-centered idea isn’t a part of Keeping Place, but it is an important part of my own understanding of Home. In Michel’s chapter “Perished Things” I resonated with her intentional decision to visit the places she grew up, where her father died, and where her brother committed suicide. She went to remember, learn, and grieve. It brought her healing, understanding, and redemption.
The prelude to my journey of self-acceptance, receiving with joy the gifts God purposefully gave to me, is all the moves I made growing up. It’s not as horrific as death, but it was traumatic for teenage me. Four different states and five different schools in six years caused me to question, experiment, re-invent, celebrate, and sadly sometimes loathe the woman I was becoming. I didn’t rest. I didn’t feel at Home with myself for a long time.
But I do now. I’m thankful for Christ’s continual healing work.
6. Home is Jesus
With this newfound freedom and boldness I feel even more hospitable than my generous parents raised me to be. If God made me, loves me, forgives me, and heals me, then who really cares what everyone else thinks? I want to hug more people. I want to have them around our new table (that extends to seat 16 comfortably, 20 not as comfortably). I want to hear their stories. I want to serve them too much Thai take-out and too many of my daughter’s homemade desserts.
Our Family Compassion Focus this year is “Create Refuge” – for our friends, classmates, colleagues, grandparents, refugees, neighbors, and each other. We want our Home to be a big umbrella to rest under when the questions, inconveniences, and tragedies of life come pouring down. We want to be bridge to love, understanding, and God.
Home is not just where we live and are loved. Home is what we offer, especially as Christians. I’m going to give you all the love I’ve got as a friend, but that’s not enough. You’ll need Jesus to fill in the gaps. I’m going to give you all the food and free place to sleep in your travels, but let’s admit that God provided it all. I’m going to listen to your worries and secrets, but the only hope I can offer, that I’m certain will work, is Jesus Christ, the Savior of Your Heart and the Whole World.
This is the primary message of Keeping Place: God has created a Home for us, because he loves us. We live in that Home, celebrate it, keep it, and invite everyone we can to live there with us, with Him. We do that through church, marriage, feasting, and resting. Michel writes:
“Our redemption story is bound up with the housekeeping of a table. In our homes we keep the feast by offering God’s welcome to others: not only family and friends, Jesus said, but the needy stranger (Mt 25:35-36). Around our tables we feed Christ himself, and our shared feast-keeping is sure measure of our love for him.” (p. 165)
Where’s Home for you? How do you get there? Is it when you’re surrounded by your favorite things? When you order your first return address labels? When you learn to keep house? When you fall in love? When you like yourself?
I pray you revel in each kind of Home, because they all are pointing us toward our true Home in Jesus.
* * * * *
My reflections about Home were ignited by Jen Pollock Michel’s beautiful, thoughtful, new book, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home. It is rich with profound but accessible ideas about the physical, relational, and spiritual Homes we make.
I wrote about the increasing depth on my own understanding of Home in this post, and Michel will take you much farther. In her book you will learn about nostalgia, grief, women’s rights, church, marriage, sabbath rest, and heaven.
I have many ideas scribbled in the margins of my copy of Keeping Place. I need to spend much more time praying and writing about them. For now I can only imagine writing them in a journal, because Home is a deeply personal. My list of things I need to explore to re-order/redeem my thinking about Home:
- My 11 Addresses – What roots have I dug up and transplanted in each Home? What have I left behind? What have I lost? What can be found again to make my current Home thrive?
- Can Home be more than one place? – Will my kids say they are from Georgia when they go to college? Or will they always say they’re from Wheaton, Illinois? Have I finished grieving my (almost 2 years ago) move away from our Wheaton Home?
- Can I honestly say the Lord is my Home? That all my stuff, my identity, my love, and my service all fits into and under my relationship with the God who loves me?
- How can I make my Homemaking more worshipful as a creative, steadfast, and welcoming woman with generous service and firm boundaries? What new things can I try? What old things could I stop?
I enjoyed quietly reading Keeping Place by myself, carefully answering the study questions in the back, and praying through the tough answers. It also would be great for small groups, with or without the DVD. I’d love to hear your thoughts after you read it.
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To purchase Keeping Place – Amazon, IVP
**[Keeping Place is already out of stock on Amazon. Here is a 30% off code to buy the book (and DVD) at IVP – code is READKP]**
To read more – Jen Pollock Michel’s Q&A about Keeping Place
To learn about the author – Jen Pollock Michel’s website
To read other book reflections and author interviews: Slow Kingdom Coming, Long Days of Small Things, Still Waiting, 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations, Redeeming Ruth, and Seeking Refuge
[Note: I received an advanced copy of Keeping Place from InterVarsity Press in exchange for an honest review.]
©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2017.
This is lovely, Aimee. I too struggle with the concept and actuality of “home”. I need to read this book! Thanks for your thought-provoking words. I’m sure I’ll revisit them! I may have already told you this, but last year my kids did a “test” in school to determine what area of the country their accent is most like. Davis’ test said he was most like Alabama into Mississippi and Texas. His teacher asked if that’s where he had lived most of his life. He answered, “Let me crunch some numbers for you.” So, if they’ll let themselves think about it, they’ll have this same struggle at some point.
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It’s so tricky! I pray it’s always pulling us closer to Christ, that longing.