If Home is …
Where the heart is. Home. Late last summer my mother-in-law tripped walking up the concrete stairs just outside her home. Instantly she knew something was wrong. An innocent trip became the tipping point for a major and significant life change. Her fall against the step resulted in a slight crack in her tibia just below her knee. Although a seemingly minor break, she would spend the next two months in a rehab facility before moving into assisted living. Unable to bear weight, in a wheelchair she never returned was able to her return to her home of more than sixty years. She slowly recovered and is learning to be comfortable with the steadiness a walking stick from REI provides. In November the house sold and shortly thereafter my husband’s parents moved into an independent living unit.
The day after Christmas my family walked through the house that had been home for us and for my children. My son, Philip wrote this reflection when it was time to say goodbye,
“I know that in life you’re not supposed to take things for granted, but I took this house for granted. My grandparents house has been, realistically the most constant thing in my life. It’s always been there. And on the day after Christmas its will not belong to my family. New people will inhabit it, the memories of my family won’t exist to these people. They won’t know how the smell of that house makes me feel like I’m being enveloped by a warm blanket. The sound of my grandparents clock chiming on the quarter hour, half hour, and hour. The people that filled that house for my grandma’s annual Christmas brunch, friends of theirs who are gone now… A house of memories. A house of warmth. A house of love. A house of friendship. A house of tradition. A house of family. I’m not afraid to say I lament the sale this house. I wish it were going to stay in my family for generations to come, but that’s not the way of things. To me this house deserved us and we deserved it… It was always there for my family and hopefully it will always be there for another. I hope they respect it, I hope they like how it smells, and I hope the furnace room scares their kids.”
Gill Valentine in his work on Social Geographies: Space and Society reminds us that our homes are much more than a residential address. In the comings and goings of morning awakenings, meals at the table or on the run, evening quiet (or not so quiet) we begin to recognize and form the depth of connection. Something happens within us, “our homes—perhaps more than any other geographical location—have strong claims on our time, resources and emotions.”
I felt that claim this week. I traveled down to Portland for a workshop. Not wanting to get up and on the road before 5:00 a.m. I took advantage of a more leisurely three-hour drive (well sort of, it rained pretty hard) the day before to visit with my sister and brother-in-law, Pat and Karl. Karl, with colon cancer is my one of two brother’s-in-laws receiving chemo. In our conversation that day there were two references to my dad. He has been gone for twenty years and yet in that conversation I yearned for home, for the familiar sights and sounds. I yearned for my parents. Home in this sense extends to the roots well established and in some respects roots that still remain in West Linn, Oregon. My dad was a mill foreman for Crown Zellerbach Paper Company. I had to once again see the place where he worked. To see again the Willamette River that was such a part of my growing up years. Roots provide us with a place to belong. Home in this sense provides and helps to form identity and aids in creating meaningfulness. “It is somewhere we feel we belong, and to which we return. Indeed, the home often becomes a symbol of the self.”
In the June 2015 issue of Runner’s World magazine Mark Remy writes of the listlessness he has experienced since making a planned move from Pennsylvania to Portland, Oregon one year ago. Being a runner and making your living as a writer about running it might seem surprising to admit that you no longer feel inspired to run, but that is what Remy confesses. The adjustment was more than east to west coast, it was in all manner of things – where to go for coffee, new neighbors, new places to shop, new places to go to. It took planting a dogwood tree for Remy to ask his own lingering question, “How long before it [the tree] stops feeling like a transplant and starts feeling like it belongs?” Remy realized that what he no longer had were those things he had taken for granted – friendships, familiarity, accountability. He discovered (thanks to Colorado State University) that transplanted trees need up to three years before they are fully accumulated, during that time you are encouraged not to prune the tree, allow it to grow and develop without restraint.
I watch as my in-laws adjust to loss and find how to live within a much smaller space. There has been the discovery that home can change, that the “idealized meaning” may not be a reality or even one that lasts forever. Sometimes amid change the dynamics of family life are more clearly seen. “The home is the key site where spatial and temporal boundaries in relation to domestic and public space are negotiated between household members.”
There is another side to this, something I recall as I returned to my roots this past week. One of the places I returned to was the Willamette River. What I saw was different and yet so familiar. What I am reminded of is that we can hold the memory of the past, even the unpleasant ones with grace and mercy. It takes work; I know it is not easy for many. Yet this sense of “home” – of belonging has not left me, all these years later.
As I reflect upon this I wonder what the sense of “home” might mean for those that have left the Church. Has belonging been severed? What has been the impact of spatial boundaries? Did they sense any difference in how one might be received in a public Church space and how that might have been “negotiated” in other church spaces? What has happened to identity? What has happened to belonging? If home is where the heart is….
 Gill Valentine, Social Geographies: Space and Society (London: Prentice Hall, 2001), 70.
 Mark Remy, “Transplanted” in Runner’s World (June 2015): 24.
 Valentine, 85.
 Ibid., 92.
8 responses to “If Home is …”
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Carol, thank you for sharing. Your post reminded that there is nothing we can take for granted in this world. Like you say, we continue to hold the memories of the past with mercy and grace. You ask great questions in the end to reflect on. I think leaving one’s ‘home church’ might mean different things to a different person. For instance, if a person has been through the church doors without having the opportunity to engage and become an integral part of the church family when she leaves she may not have that sense of belonging. So, it is important for the church to create a welcoming space for members to engage, worship and fellowship with one another. Blessings!
Thinking about what you have written here and your words written on your post. Welcome extends to those we are expecting we know and those we do not.
Great post. Too many people fail to find a church “home” or a place where they can belong. I believe there are many factors that contribute to this, so there isn’t one answer towards fixing the issue. However, one of the primary goals of a church should be to help people find belonging within the community of Christ.
Carol I enjoyed reading you blog. I liked that I could totally picture the place you’re referring to from the drive to Portland, West Linn, Oregon and Willamette River. You highlighted how memories and symbolism are part and parcel of people’s feelings about home, place and space.
I also like the questions you raised because that where I sorta went with Gill’s book. I found myself reflecting on immigration in the US as you did with Church migration. You ask, “… I wonder what the sense of “home” might mean for those that have left the Church. Has belonging been severed? What has been the impact of spatial boundaries? Did they sense any difference in how one might be received in a public Church space and how that might have been “negotiated” in other church spaces?”
Thank you for inviting me to reflect on those questions.
The same to you my brother.
I don’t know that I have any answers to the questions, but I know in raising them that I will think differently, that (hopefully) my awareness will increase.
What a lovely, helpful post. Thanks for sharing so candidly.
Reading your post made me think of how I, like your son, realize how much I sometimes take for granted. When my wife nearly died a couple of years ago, my heart was changed in several areas. That incident did a lot inside me that had to do with gratitude, particularly for her, but also for everything around me. When you almost lose someone who is most dear, something happens. At least for me, stuff became less important; relationships became more important.
As my wife and I are now approaching our maturing years, we are thinking about downsizing — and that means moving. Ugg. I hate moving. One thing we talk about is what we would miss about our present home. Funny, it is not necessarily the house we would miss but the experiences and memories we have had there. These memories would be hard to leave. Our coffee times together in the mornings in the same seats, holiday meals, summer afternoon brews in the backyard, chats with neighbors, our garden — flowers and veggies. The list goes on. Are we ready to give up these memories? This is a hard question. And, as your son points out, others will not have the same memories of that space. These are sad but inevitable realities.
Thanks for taking me down memory lane and for helping me to get in tough with my mortality.
Still waiting for that interview. 🙂
My husband, Steve and I are thinking along the same lines. But I also am realizing that in thinking about moving — my heart is stretched, in a good way, I hope.
And Yes (!) there is an interview that needs to happen. I will be down for more than a day in early June …. perhaps then?
Carol, making up some past comments that I have been behind on. Really appreciate your post here. I can see this being published in a magazine that speaks of memories, home, transitions and the like. Really appreciate your son’s letter and the memories that he cherished. Very touching. I love the way that you brought it down to belong in church and how perhaps many have lost the home feeling of local church life. Your sympathy and empathy for those outside of church comes out in your writing. I look forward to reading your dissertation. I still think a great book for you to write would be entitled: McLaughlin, Carol. When the Church no Longer Smells Like Incense: Why Many Have Left the Church and How Christ Still Loves Them. Portland, OR: IVP. 2017.