A House of Belonging

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We have a friend who falls asleep on our sofa every time he comes over. He sits down and we chat and we snack and we turn on the tv for a game and at some point in the evening, inevitably I look over to find him snoozing with his bare feet resting on the coffee table.

The first time it happened, I was confused. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, choosing to believe he finds us fascinating, and he shows it through some form of pleasure-induced narcolepsy. The second time I felt slightly offended. The third time, my husband stuck peanut m&m’s up our friend’s nose and took photos. I keep these pictures as proof that one’s early thirties are a time of extreme exhaustion from parenting small children, but still an appropriate age for indulging the inner child in all of us.

We’re in our forties now, and after many years of glancing over mid-conversation to find our friend asleep on the sofa, I choose to take it as a compliment.¬†Our home is where he finds rest. We are his place of belonging. He knows he can put his bare feet up, rummage through our kitchen looking for a snack, leave his kids in our care, and fall asleep curled up next to our dog on the sofa.

As a rule, I wig out about before hosting guests. I worry about serving the right food or cleaning the bathrooms or making sure everything is just so before inviting people over. When I feel my inner Martha (of Mary and Martha fame) start to kick in, I remind myself what I really want to offer friends and family who walk through my front door. Do I want to offer a stressed out version of Pinterest perfection, or do I want to offer them rest? Do I want to offer them a host who is breaking down into fits of madness before opening the door, or do I want to offer belonging?

Offering others a place of rest and belonging doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m so grateful I have friends and family who don’t give me the option of holding onto my desire for order, and who refuse to indulge my crazy. They come over and put their feet up. They spill wine and eat the special treat I saved for later. They crush popcorn into my carpets and feed my dog table food when I’m not looking. They fall asleep on the sofa during special occasions. They see my carefully constructed house of cards, and they tap it gently until it topples over. They help me rebuild it into something infinitely better, a home with an open door and a comfy sofa–a place of belonging.

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Do you have friends who feel this comfortable in your home or vice versa?

This post is one in an ongoing series I’m writing about belonging. Meet me here weekly-ish for more. Thanks for being here today!

Home at last

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A friend mentioned her daughter wants to attend university overseas, and she wants my daughter, her best friend, to attend school in Europe with her. In spite of all our moving around, her daughter and my oldest girl have been besties for almost eight years. I didn’t have the heart to tell my girlfriend that I plan for my daughter to live at home forever and ever or, if pushed, I might allow her to attend school one state over. Maybe.

The desire to keep my kids close is universal to motherhood, and yet I know her independent streak will get the best of us in the end. No one explains the downside of raising children who know how to make a home wherever they land. We raise children who leave us. They see the world as an open book and they want to turn the pages. I understand this urge. I’ve experienced my share of page turning, and while I still possess frequent wanderlust wishes, I want the book to gather dust for a while.

My husband made an off-handed remark recently about moving to another location at some point in the future, and I whipped my head around so fast I almost gave myself whiplash. For the first time in a decade, I feel well and truly settled. I don’t hear the incessant clock ticking away deep in my belly, counting down time until our next adventure in moving. I don’t think it’s gone entirely, but the clock sits in snooze mode indefinitely.

Last week, we removed all the metal poles supporting the foundation of our house from the basement. First, the construction company placed a steel beam the length of our house to support the weight of it, and then they removed the poles one by one. When the last pole gave way, the entire house gave a deep sigh, and relaxed into the settling. This season of life, feels exactly like the deepest, most comfortable sigh. I too, feel myself falling into a settling. This year, my soul exhaled one great big breath, as if to say, Home at last, and this constancy continues to surprise me.

In the past eighteen months, since our move to New Jersey, I find one pole after another knocked out from under me. Some of our friendships, our church location, place in this town, family goals, and even our own desires no longer provide the same structural support they offered since living here previously. The ones that no longer support our family gave way to something better. The ones that have gone the distance with us as a family, have become more precious, more supportive, more life-giving. They are the backbone of steel in our family’s foundation.

I am infinitely curious of what it means to put down roots, and to commit to truly living, not just existing somewhere. This doesn’t come naturally to me, but I feel myself adapting to the idea of Home at last, with a solid foundation in the making.

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What kind of foundation have you built around your home and your current season of life?

This post is part of an ongoing series. You’ll find me here writing about Home every Monday. To receive these posts straight to your inbox, sign up below. As always, thanks for reading!

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Memory making

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She lives alone, but when you open the cupboards they’re filled with reminders of a growing family. They’re stocked full with jumbo size snacks and enough ziplock bags to last a growing family multiple lifetimes. Her kitchen, closets, and garage sit full of items gathering dust. They had purpose in their past life, before time ate the years away, before everyone moved on, leaving the house one by one.

We spend a weekend, all of us, hauling one thing after another from the garage and attic and basement. She wants to see every single item before making a decision if it should go or stay. Someone asks if we should invite the reality show Hoarders to join us, and we laugh and shake our heads, knowing all the while it is more than just stuff we heave into the dumpster. It is a lifetime of memories wrapped up in every tiny fiber, every broken toy, every collectible she saved from her own mother’s house.

In her home, we find boxes the mice have eaten away. They leave droppings and a shredded mess of newspaper and everywhere. I want to light my filthy clothes on fire when we finish. We survey the dumpster with shock at how much we threw away. Rubbish, all of it. She mourns it all, every shredded piece, every item that no longer works and serves no purpose. She mourns as if the memories have been torn like skin from the bones of the house.

When the weekend is over, and we return to our home, I see it all with new eyes. Everything we own supports the life we live right now, but it won’t always be so. Someday, the children will go and make homes of their own. The need for jumbo size snacks and kids books and board games will follow them right out the door, and I see how tempting it is to continue living as if they will come back. As if saving a closet full of their clothing will fill the beds again.

I want to live free of things, free from stuff upon stuff. The house will carry the echoes of our life here, but I want to build the memories into my own skin and bones–build them right into my flesh. I know the memories can’t reside where moth and rust will lay waste, where mice will eat away and destroy. I can’t relegate them to the attic and the basement. I must make room for them inside me. The memories must make their home in a corner of my heart, a place where no one will ever tear them away.

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On Mondays, I write posts around the theme of Home and belonging. I hope you’ll join me. For regular updates, sign up below to have posts delivered straight to your inbox.

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Leaving the light on for you

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For most of the 3.5 years we lived in Switzerland, we did very little entertaining. Our home was small. I cooked in an oven the size of an easy bake. We had exactly six chairs to sit on and five people in our own family. My husband travelled constantly, and when he returned home after a long week away, we hunkered down. We baked and lit candles and made fires and watched tv. The kids and I decided, for better or worse, time with Daddy was too precious to share.

And while this is an unpopular opinion, especially in an online world that celebrates entertaining and hospitality, I don’t regret it. I don’t regret that our home became our safe place where we kept the candles flickering and the home fires burning and each of us had a place to sit. It was a season of gestating, of hidden growth in our protected, family space. We filled our weekdays with friends, activities, and the constant turnover of travel. By week’s end, we just wanted to be together, to be us, to unravel the chaos and negative influences of the week and knit something tighter and of heavier weight between us.

Now, we are Home with a capital H. We live in our old town, closer to family, and within shouting distance of friends we’ve known for over ten years. We have more chairs and more than enough room to pack the people in. Side note: I do not miss my easy bake oven. After the initial settling in period, we talked about how we want this next season to look for our family.

My husband travels less, and after our years abroad, we feel like our family grew in all the healthy ways we wanted. It’s time for our kids to grow some roots and flourish. Returning home also means exploring how we fit in here, and embracing a deeper sense of our place in this community. We want our neighbors, friends, and family to know they have a place with us, just as we have a place with them. This means, in spite of my previous allergy to entertaining anyone other than my very best friends, I’m learning how to open the front door.

In a move that surprised everyone, especially me, I discovered I like it. I like being a soft place for people to land. I like that inviting people into our home doesn’t mean there is less of my family for me, it means we offer ourselves and our home as a gift, and we do it together. I know I will never be the woman who loves the grocery store runs or planning all the cooking. I’m the antithesis of Martha (Stewart, not Martha of biblical fame. I’ve been known to go a bit bananas when I’m in the same room with a Mary). But, I have other things to offer. I have a dog who will sit on your lap and let you love him. I have a husband who will spare you the awfulness that is my cooking. I have kids who will welcome you in, look you in the eye, and ask about your day. As for me, I’ll light the candles and pull out an extra chair. Come on over, I’ve left the light on for you.

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Every Monday, I plan to write a little bit about “home”, exploring the idea behind what it means to belong. Does this resonate with you at all? Would you like to follow along? Fill in your details below for posts delivered straight to your inbox.

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Shifting dirt

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Outside, the back yard is a hive of activity. Flashes of orange and yellow construction vehicles jerk past my window, and I sit transfixed by the controlled chaos. My yard is a wasteland of dirt and mess, but every day I see a little more progress. The men arrive in the morning, cigarettes dangling from their lips, and they leave exhausted, streaked with dirt and sweat, taking one last puff on a ciggie. I wonder if they go home patting themselves on their bent backs for a job well done, or if they simple sink into bed, all of their energy left sitting on the dirt in my back yard.

Some days it looks like no work is done despite the frenzy of activity and the cavalcade of trucks. It looks like they shift dirt from one pile to another. But slowly, this project takes shape and I begin to see the form emerging from the mud. I have a drawing of the predicted end result, and it takes the foresight of a prophet to see how these hills of dirt and stone will rise up and become the ink and paper vision.

Someone told me recently that we need to discuss my twenty year vision. (For my life, not my back yard) And I’ve never been more sure of what I want the end result to look like, I can see it in my mind’s eye as clear as an architect’s final draft on paper. What I can’t see, is how I will get there. I feel like I’m shifting piles of dirt from one place to another without visible signs of progress, without the form rising up from the dirt, taking shape. It’s frustrating. I’m no prophetess, and I don’t know if the vision will come to pass.

In my head, I know I need to put one foot in front of the other, do the work, inch forward towards the goal. But in my heart, I wonder if the draft papers need revising. How do you know when it’s time to adjust the vision, or when it’s time to dig deep and leave all of yourself sitting out on a heap of hard work?

The truck pulls up. The men stumble out. They look tired before the day begins, cigarettes lit, tools in hand. They’re ready to move some dirt.