finding “home” wherever you are

It’s been awhile since I took up pen and ink to write. (And still, you might say, I’m taking a shortcut by returning to screen and keyboard.) But – anyway – what I mean to say is that I am starting (again) to write. And you have to start somewhere when you’ve neglected a space and a place for a season. 

I’ve been thinking about “home” a lot lately. Obsessing over it might be a more accurate description. Because my family doesn’t have a home of our own right now. And after 11+ years of dwelling-in-our-own-home, it’s different. We originally thought it would just be a few weeks, maybe two months, tops while were in transition from Virginia to South Carolina and waiting for our home to sell. But this stopgap arrangement is now approaching half-a-year total – and we are still waiting.

homeSo how do you make “home” for a family of four while sharing your parents’ home? How do they expand their “home” to fit the demands, noise, delights, etc, of a family-of-four-with-two-7-year-olds?

I could do a few how-to blogs for sure, co-authored with my parents, on all the ways to make it work or things to avoid. But y’all know I’d rather not get too detailed in this space. I like to reflect on the ideas (or ideals?) and parallels and lessons and meaning found behind – above – around – among the details. And what strikes me are two things: (1) “home” is many places and (2) you can always make your space your “home” (even if it’s not entirely-or even partially-yours).

Returning to my hometown hasn’t been as much like coming to “true home” as it once was. Like when I visited home that first Christmas break during college, or when I moved back after college graduation, or even when I came back to get married. My husband and I have made “home” in two places at this point in our 11+ years of marriage – Philadelphia and Norfolk, Virginia. We were in Philadelphia for 5 years total (two of them married); and Norfolk for 8 years. Norfolk’s the only home our twin daughters have ever known. So coming back to South Carolina – while certainly familiar for me and wonderful in the aspect of being close to my family again – is not our home as a family. It will become that.

But that’s the key – the process of a place becoming home takes time. You can’t speed it up, no matter how much you try or how many people you start off knowing or how familiar a geographical location is.

So what do you do in the meantime? You have a lot of “first conversations.” You know what I mean – the basic get-to-know-you-and-your-story-and-your-job-and-your-family kind of conversations. And you have many similar conversations with many different people. Co-workers, friends at church, neighbors, parents at the soccer field, moms in the classroom, etc. It’s essentially the same conversations over and over again. And of course it gets old after awhile. But there are no shortcuts to relationships or community. You keep remembering that all of your tried-and-true friendships (the people you miss in the other homes you’ve had) started the same way. And over time, similarities emerged. And/or difficulties brought you together. And there will be shared tears and laughter that births true community. 

While you’re doing this, you’re also trying to establish a physical “home” that resembles the one you left. Which is extra-challenging when, for example, you don’t actually have your own place yet. But we do have two bedrooms and bathrooms and a hallway-turned-office, and a few weeks ago I hung up twine and paper-clipped our Christmas cards to the hall bannister and pretended it was like our fireplace mantle. And something small like that made this space we’re sharing feel a little more like our own. I try to focus on cultivating gratefulness, which isn’t hard to do most days because of my parents’ generosity and love, and the fact that I have a God in Heaven who arranges even details of my address in order to help me seek and worship him. But there are those days when I obsessively view homes on Zillow that I’d like to live in. And days I just wish I could look at our pictures and eat on our dishes and have a whole roof to call our own. For those days, I’ve written these words so that I can return and remember and gain perspective.

For all of you who are in those in-between-home days, too, I hope these words help you know you’re not alone in the ups and downs of the process. And I’d love to hear from you. What has helped you when you’ve been in a similar place? How do you find home wherever you are?



day 16: Virginia

VirginiaIt turns out that Virginia has been the best place for Seth and me to live. With its position halfway between New Jersey and South Carolina, it’s been equidistant to both sets of families, and the culture has reflected this blend of both Northern and Southern enough to make us both feel partially at home. One is tempered by the other. The driving isn’t too aggressive for me; the tea isn’t too sweet for Seth.

And it’s the birthplace of our daughters, and the home of the church where we both work and the people we have come to love. Plus here is where we’ve bought our first home, amidst a neighborhood of other young families we feel like we are growing up with together.

Virginia has everything – the metropolitan DC area in the Northeast of the state, breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains to the west, and the coast in the Southeast. For us beach lovers, it’s been the best place to put down roots. Plus Virginia has a stateliness inherent in its distinct status as a “Commonwealth” that is compelling. As much as my husband is a Jersey boy and always will be, and I am a Carolina girl forever, we are both proud to raise our daughters as Virginians. 


Part of a 31-day writing challenge. Read the rest here.

day 15: South Carolina

greenville 1Blue mountains set the background of the horizon as green hills stretch out into my hometown. Born a Georgia girl, I was raised a (South) Carolina girl. It is home. It will always welcome me as no other place can each time I drive down I-85 into that comfortable not-too-big-nor-too-small city of Greenville, SC. 

South Carolina cradles all my memories of childhood. Playing in the backyard of our Sugar Creek house with my younger brothers; exploring downtown as it gradually became less sketchy during high school years and beyond; discovering the first and best coffeeshop entitled appropriately, “Coffee Underground.” First dates. First job. First friends. First faith. All happened in South Carolina. greenville2

Family still dwells there, and they welcome me back with open arms, a glass of mint sweet-iced tea, and a good ole “y’all” thrown in with a few “Dang it!”‘s for good measure. And I know I’m home. These are my people, this is my land. It doesn’t have to explain itself to me or I to it. I’ve changed in my travels, and so has my fair city. We’ve both grown up. And I couldn’t be more proud to be a Carolina girl.

Liberty Bridge in Falls Park, Downtown Greenville

Liberty Bridge in Falls Park, Downtown Greenville


Part of my October writing challenge/movement: 31 days of five minute free writes. Read more here.

day 14: New Jersey

new jerseyIt’s called the “Garden State,” but I grew up thinking of New Jersey as the epitome of everything “Northern.” And I hate to admit it, but as a Southern girl, that was not a flattering adjective.

Then I met a real-live person from New Jersey, and I found myself inexplicably drawn to his candor and – when he took me home for the first time – to the unexpected beauty of his state. Yes, New Jersey is more than turnpikes and industrial zones (what most see as they drive through on their way to NYC). There is beauty there. Wildlife, greenery, and people who are truly and deeply kind. My parents-in-law and all of their friends, for example.

There is a loyalty with someone you become friends with from New Jersey. They will be your friend for life, through thick and thin. Now, of course I’m biased since I’m married to a New Jersey man. And I do think God must have chuckled when he saw the younger version of myself making fun of New Jersey accents/etc. He must have been saying – “Just wait … just wait!”

So New Jersey? It’s home of the best tomatoes and blueberries and it holds some of the kindest, most candid, and most loyal people I’ve ever met. Plus it really is  beautiful. Don’t believe me yet? I’ll include a few photos as proof. If you dare, take an exit off the turnpike and visit one of the many charming towns – and you might think you’re in small-town America, not the big industrial New Jersey you’ve always imagined it to be.

IMG_0153 IMG_0157***

This is part of the 31 days of five minute writing series I’m participating in for the month of October. Find more here.

day 9: New York City


IMG_4251I lived 23 years before visiting “the Big Apple,” and my first steps off the subway in fall of 2004 were literally breathtaking. And not just because of the stale air stench of the inimitable underground, but I had never seen so many people before and felt the energy of this place so tangibly. I told my college roommate who’d brought me there to go to the US Open with her, “I feel like I’m in a movie!” IMG_4161

New York City still holds that same kind of awe for me, made all the more poignant because its famous Bow Bridge became the scene of our engagement and we celebrated in a rotating restaurant on the top floor of one of its massive skyscrapers. There is an energy that can’t be described but only captured. I always feel exhilarated and exhausted after a day in NYC. (And I’ve never visited for more than a day at a time.) In the 10+ years since my first visit, I’ve returned dozens of times to soak up this city – taking in Broadway, the Rockettes, Christmas (!!! no place like it !!!), summer in Central Park, ice skating, Ground Zero, cafes, and of course our favorite family-style Italian restaurant, Carmine’s.

[disclamor: I’m now past my 5 minutes but I must go on] My favorite trip by far was introducing our then three-year-old daughters to the magic that is NYC at Christmastime. They were appropriately wide-eyed with wonder at the charms of this city – the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular, the horse and carriage ride through Central Park, Rockefeller Center’s gigantic Christmas tree, and “allllll of the people, Mommy!” They have a 20-year jump start on me on exploring this city, one I hope that they will take great advantage of with their parents as their tour guides.


day 8: Philadelphia

Five years of life in this city that too often falls prey to ill repute. And I know why when I remember the crazy aggressive drivers I encountered when I first moved there the fall of 2004 to begin seminary. The culture has sharp edges and the people can, at first, seem harsh (especially to one accustomed to the genteel South). But of all the places I’ve lived, this one draws me in like none other. Maybe because it’s where I met my husband; where I met some of the best lifelong friends; or perhaps it’s the cheesesteaks from Jim’s (better than Pat’s or Gino’s) and the “LOVE” statue and the art and the culture and the dozens of amazing restaurants we took a self-guided tour of while we were dating.

I love this city of brotherly love because of the love I found there. Not only through dating and our first three years of marriage, but also through my fellow seminary students at Westminster Theological Seminary, and the family we found at Cresheim Valley Church, and a friend named Lauren we met because we frequented the restaurant-cafe where she worked while she was in school.

Philadelphia, I’m sending my love to you through these words and realizing that I need much longer than five minutes to capture this city most fully. Philadelphia

day 7: Haiti

Forty-eight hours before the youth mission trip to Haiti departed, I was asked to join since (a) I had a passport and (b) I was a youth leader volunteer the summer of 2004. So I took a deep breath, said yes, and went to get all of my shots and my malaria medicine.



As we drove to our destination, the poverty was unbelievable. Mounds of trash, dirt shacks, make-shift homes for the poorest of poor. Each morning I would hear drums from the witch doctors in the distance. The children hung on us in their tattered decades-old donated American t-shirts. We collectively repented of our Banana Republic discontentment and materialistic attitudes.

But the joy. That’s what I remember clearest. The joyful sharing of all that they had (which wasn’t much). The glad singing (for hours) on Sunday morning in church. The hope that filled their faces, spilling over into ear-to-ear smiles. The love they had for each other, for us, and for their Savior who was bringing them Home.

For they knew what I often forget. Home was not the temporary shack on the dirt road they walked back to, but Home awaited them at the end of this pilgrimage of life, tears, suffering, injustice, and poverty. The people of Haiti showed me true riches.



day 6: Ireland

photo from

photo from

Green everywhere. Rocky cliffs with the spray of the sea arching above them as I sit and pray and worship a God more beautiful than I’ve ever seen before. As part of World Harvest Mission’s summer internship, I spent two months in Ireland studying the culture and serving Irish pastors and church planters in their often exhausting and fruitless work of tilling the spiritual soil that is far from verdant like its rolling hills. The contrast I wrote about after my summer was of intense spiritual darkness against the backdrop of stunning creator-gleaming light. Beauty of the gospel at work in my heart and the hearts of those I met amidst the desolate environment of a people disenfranchised by the church due to its widespread abuses. A substitute of religious superstition for real faith surprised me.

Ireland held a world of contrasts. The bustling city of Dublin with its cobblestone streets and busy pubs and the lazy countrysides stretching for miles and miles of green with only a solitary pub here and there and barely roads big enough to pass. Two months of backpacking from coast to coast and I barely scratched the surface of this place. I felt as if I knew it less than when I started – and so it was with God and with my own heart. Ireland opened up a journey of messy grace at the intersection of sin deeper than I wanted to see and love more abundant than I dared to believe. (If you’re intrigued, check out the Sonship discipleship course at Serge, formerly known as World Harvest Mission, or even better – go on one of their trips!)

day 5: Mexico

Guadalajara, Mexico, in summer of 2000. I was there to take my Spanish to the next level and to assist missionaries in their outreach to college students. Both happened quite differently than I expected, and both happened in the context of a country unexpectedly beautiful.

photo credit:

photo credit:

I pictured poverty and cardboard shacks and drug cartels, for that’s the Mexico we often think of in the USA. But what I found was extravagant wealth, beauty in the hospitality of the people who were patient with our very broken Spanish and who embraced us because we came to love them. I found a land rich with break-taking sunsets, tropical foliage, and markets bursting with handmade goods of talented artisans. Of course, there were also the pockets of poverty – of a family of 6 living in a room smaller than my dorm room, of the black market CD’s and movies that we just didn’t ask too many questions about as we purchased them. How is this movie already out here when we haven’t even seen it in the theaters back home? 

I remember ear-to-ear smiles of the people whose church we helped to whitewash. I remember the generous Mexican family who invited me and a few of my gringo friends into their home. I remember the waiting and the waiting for dinner as our stomachs growled and we tried to be polite in this Latin take-your-time culture. (I don’t think dinner was served until 9:00pm). I remember that I really knew Spanish by the end of that summer because I had conversed in it and built relationships through it, which became a lifelong motivation to continue with it. guadalajara

Will I return to Guadalajara? I don’t know. But it will always stay with me – the loveliness and hospitality that I hope to emulate to others among us who don’t speak my language or call the US their first home.


[to read the entire series of 31 days of five minute free writes in 2014, click here]

day 4: Chicago

It’s September of my freshman year of college, and this is our first weekend to take the Metra into the city. It’s also my first time to ever venture into any city. I step out of the train station and feel awed by the height of the buildings around me. Man-made mountains dwarf me and exhilarate me. There’s an energy about this Windy City that is echoed in the stiff breezes rushing through the alleyways.

photo by Heather Nelson

photo by Heather Nelson

Chicago would be the city-scene of my college years. An easy weekend train ride away with destinations including the Sears Tower, the majestic John Hancock, the crazy Wacker Drive underground streets, Navy Pier (and a date or two), and always, always the shore of Lake Michigan as the setting of this inviting and austere midwest city.

Chicago means deep dish pizza and Ed Debevic’s and symphonies and plays and culture, culture, culture like none other. Now it also means cleanliness (compared to the other cities I’ve visited since then). Architecture that’s clean and pristine. Michigan Avenue (window) shopping at Christmastime. The second floor of a Borders where I’d study and people watch and chat about deep things over a mocha. Grant Park and the El.

Oh, Chicago!