It was a year ago this month, when my car, packed to the max with all sorts of odds and ends that didn’t (or couldn’t) make it onto the moving truck, including our aging golden retriever and a very high-maintenance Betta fish (who has since passed), pulled into this damp, blustery Pacific Northwest town. As I reflect on those first few days after my arrival, it seems all I can draw up from memory are slow-motion images and a stirring of confused and disoriented emotions. Everything around me felt new, unfamiliar, different, and odd. Quietly, within the confines of my own mind, the question, “What just happened to my life?” played on repeat. I remember waking up that first, freezing cold morning as my husband was preparing to leave for work and having a slight sense of resentment toward him. He had somewhere to go, familiar faces to see and a routine already built into his days. I did not. He was important and needed. I did not feel needed or important in the least. Overnight, it seemed, I went from busy to quiet, scheduled to unscheduled. Every minute of my days back in California was filled and here, before we had the keys to our house, all I could do was wait. I created reasons for outings…even if it was as simple as taking a spin through the drive-thru at Starbucks. I used to know my way around and almost always ran into people I knew wherever I went. Here I was a stranger surrounded by strangers.
In the days, weeks and months since our move, I’ve been struck by the strength and force of my need to make “home” here. On the day we officially moved into our house (December 16), I received a text message from a dear friend in California who knows of my obsessive love for all things Christmas as well as my unrealistic, some might say border-line insane, need to deck the halls—which she was certain was guaranteed to be on overdrive considering the transition we were going through and my severe nesting instinct in play. She offered, “you may want to give yourself permission to not set up a tree this year…you have enough on your plate…” to which I responded only with a picture of the eleven foot tree we had cut down in the woods nearby which was now proudly displayed in our otherwise practically empty new home. Following the holidays, I moved through our home with a paintbrush as though my life depended on covering our walls with the best that Sherwin-Williams had to offer, convincing myself that a different color palate would awaken my sense of being settled and home. I started a book club where I force-fed the handful of gracious ladies who agreed to regularly meet with a practical stranger their second dinner of the night because I had a strong drive to nourish others with the food I prepared and served at my table. I routinely invited people over to dinner I had only met once. We hosted countless friends from California. We started a small group at church. We explored the trails, saw the sights, ate the food and drank the drinks for which Oregon is famous. I was a home-nesting force to be reckoned with and I willingly and wildly did whatever I thought necessary to make this place feel like “home.”
What I have found, however, in this year of making home here, has surprised me. At some of the most unexpected and unlikely times, I have been struck by how wonderfully and strangely familiar Oregon has felt to me. When I’m walking my son back to our house from the bus stop and a carpet of red and orange leaves hides the road beneath our feet, I am home. When I’m hiking through the wooded trails along the Columbia River Gorge and the smell of fir trees overwhelms my senses, I’m home. When I’m sitting quietly in my room cupping a warm mug of coffee in my hands watching and listening as the rain gently falls, I’m home. Watching the seasons turn, life always following death…I’m home.
While of course, I will always miss and love the people and the familiarities that made California home to me, I’m beginning to see that home isn’t something we leave, it is something that we increasingly find, discover and experience. Coming home is a process that takes a lifetime. Each new place and experience offers a broader, richer, clearer picture of Home. In his book, Falling Upwards: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Richard Rohr says: “We are both driven and called forward by a kind of deep homesickness, it seems. There is an inherent and desirous dissatisfaction that both sends and draws us forward, and it comes from our original and radical union with God.” When we encounter beauty that cannot begin to be captured in a photo or find ourselves in a moment where words fail to describe the depth or holiness that surrounds, we have caught a glimpse of Home, the underlying mystery and fulfillment of life eternal, the Good News. Among other things, beauty is a mark of home and when I see it, I recognize where I came from and where I am going.
What I left, among other things, was an identity, the loss of which I have grieved. Leaving the familiar initiated within me a process of being stripped of my identity and sense of worth and has gently and quietly invited me to evaluate what was false and what is true about who I am. I have had to sort through, one-by-one, the pieces of myself that I have clung to and labeled, “me.” Though I am a long way off from finalizing my answer on this one, I am now more at home within myself than I have ever been. So, in Richard Rohr’s terms, I was “driven from” a few false perceptions of myself to a more truthful version of myself. Truth is also a characteristic of home, so, in this way, I have and continue to come home.
I have learned that at Home, there is always enough to go around. Initially, I had this sense that I was betraying my friendships in California by establishing new and meaningful friendships in Oregon. I have, however, discovered that by pursuing both breadth and depth of friendship my understanding of Home has become more accurate, more solid. It does not have to be one or the other. Home is filled with ALL of the faces, hands and feet who have in large and small ways encouraged, inspired, laughed with, grieved with and shared life with us. There were those who sent me and now there are hands to receive me. This is holy. This is home. This year, that circle has grown and there is enough to go around.
Finally, I have found home to be a place of peace. To be abundantly clear, the journey homeward isn’t easy, nor is it pain-free, but peace is the guide, the compass. I’ve wrestled and struggled and fought throughout the journey from the second the departure became a possibility until now. Even this morning, I shook my fist in the air and cursed the struggle of the journey. But in and through it all, I have been steadied and calmed by a quiet peace assuring me that this is the way and to walk in it. The foundation of Home is peace.
I was sent from a place where friendships were rich, laughter was abundant and my community supported and surrounded me beyond what I could have ever imagined. I have been drawn to a place marked by beauty, quiet and transforming truth. So, today, I am grateful for this wild journey and I am certain that I am more home today than I have ever been before.