From the time I was born until I graduated high school, I lived in three different houses in the same rural county in west central Indiana. It was the same county my mom grew up in and was just one county over from my dad’s growing up place. We were surrounded by extended family members, and even after my parents divorced when I was 11, remarriages brought additional family members, many also from the same area, into my life.
For all its apparent rootedness, home offered little stability, or rather the stability home offered failed to appeal to the wanderlust that had burrowed itself in my heart. When I left home for college, rootedness was the last thing on my mind. I spend each summer during college in a different place. After college, though I moved home to start a new career and save up money, three weeks later I got my own place. A little more than a year later, I moved three states away to the Atlanta, Georgia, only to return to Indiana seven months after that. I spent two and a half years in Indianapolis, living in two different apartments, plus a month or two of intentional homelessness while house sitting and waiting for a new roommate to be available. And for several years after that, those two and a half years comprised my longest stint in any one place. Job opportunities and the nagging sense that anywhere would be better than “here” kept me on the move. During those first 10 years after college, I worked at 10 different jobs, enrolled in three different graduate programs, and lived in 14 different houses or apartments across three different states, twice spending a month or two with friends while I was between homes. I was a rolling stone.
A health crisis finally slowed me down, but it took two more apartments and eventually homeownership before I began to wonder whether my search for meaning in new places had been misguided. Maybe stability is what I really longed for.
In the chapter called “Border Crossings” in her book Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home, Jen Pollock Michel talks about the transient life like the one I’ve led. Based on her research, the average American will move 11.7 times in their lifetime. If I count moving to college only once out of the four years, I’ve moved 22 times in my life, nearly double the average. But my rate of moving is more in line with a previous generation of Americans from 1948-1971, when the rate of interstate migration was double the 2011 figures. Still, Americans move around more than anyone in the world.
While some of us move for opportunity or upward mobility (and others move just to survive or have a chance at a decent life), transience comes with a cost. “When humans become geographically unmoored, either voluntarily or involuntarily, they put themselves at risk of losing not just connection to their history and its people, but recognition of themselves.”
I’ve experienced this throughout my life, adapting my accent, my tastes, my relationships, even my attitudes based on each new locale. Many of my moves were brief enough that the impact of not belonging was negligible. At other times, I’ve settled in long enough that it seems like I should feel at home, yet don’t.
Even now, I live in the same state in a similar community as the one I grew up in. We have the same weather, eat mostly the same food, even share many of the same customs. A drive in the country in my current county looks a lot like the same drive would in the county where I was born. But despite the similarities, I’m not connected to this place, not like I was to my first place. And if I’m honest, I’m not connected to that old place anymore either. From the first moment I decided to leave, home would never be the same.
“To lose our places is to lose our place,” Michel writes. But all hope is not lost. “It is to this grief of the loss of place that the gospel of a homemaking God speaks, and stability is part of the eternal hope for the people of God.”
As citizens of God’s kingdom, we’re all strangers and aliens now, even those living in the house we were born in, and though we “carry estrangement as our oldest habit, we are destined for a better country, a city prepared by God himself—home.”
And like our Old Testament mothers and fathers heading toward the promised land, every stop along the way becomes a foretaste of our heavenly home because God goes with us. Across every state line, with the signing of each new lease, and over every threshold we cross, God’s enduring presence becomes our rootedness. As Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove writes, “God offers us stability in the only thing that cannot fail—God’s faithfulness itself.”
Discussion Questions for Your Consideration from chapters 4-5 of Keeping Place
1.) How connected to you feel to the place you currently live? What contributes to your relative sense of belonging or dislocation?
2.) What evidence of restlessness can you identify in your life? What invitation to stability might you receive?
3.) What experiences have taught you about the fragility of life? Describe how life’s fragility inspires either fear or faith.
4.) In what ways are you tempted to confide your hope in an earthly home and family? What might it look like to receive these good gifts while yet recognizing them as temporal?
I’m thrilled to lead a book discussion of Jen Pollock Michel’s Keeping Place here on my blog during the month of June. Look for posts each Wednesday (or Thursday!) of June where we’ll talk about three chapters a week. If you want to write about the book yourself, please make sure you slip a link to the article or post in the comments section each week.
Need a copy of the book? You can use this 30% off promo code (READKP) at ivpress.com.
I hope you’ll join me in discussing what home means. This isn’t just a book or a discussion for women. According to Jen, “The message of Keeping Place is bigger than gender roles and responsibilities. It’s about the human longings for and losses of home, the human labor and love that’s required for God’s people to ‘keep place’ in the world until Christ comes.”
*I received a free preview copy of Keeping Place from Intervarsity Press. Any comments or opinions about the book are mine.