Yesterday afternoon I took the 75 mile drive from Kent, Ohio to Grove City, Pennsylvania. I was on my way to visit some of my dearest friends for Greek burgers and peanut butter pie and good conversation on their front porch. Due to construction along the drive, I ended up taking a route through the back roads through the towns I spent my childhood, teenage, and college years — West Middlesex, Mercer, and Grove City. They join the list of nine places that I’ve lived in my twenty four years: Greenville, Williamsport, West Middlesex, Mercer, Grove City, McKeesport, Troy Hill, Nashville, and Kent. Less places than some people, but a whole lot more than a lot of people.
I drove past the church park in West Middlesex where we’d have summer picnics, past the grassy hill where we’d sit and watch 4th of July fireworks, along the rolling roads with worn-down ruts from Amish buggy wheels, and into the town of Grove City. It was a drive I hadn’t taken in many years, and one that I didn’t know I needed.
My whole life, I’ve always felt like I didn’t have the right answer to the question of where my home town was. Adulthood has only heightened that feeling as my social circles expanded as life whisked me to new cities and new jobs and new churches with people who didn’t know anything about me. I have a standard answer when people ask me where home is: “Western Pennsylvania.” Admittedly, when asked that question of where my home is, I wanted respond: “Nowhere.”
It is true that a sense of displacedness accompanies me almost everywhere I try to name “home.” Each town I’ve lived in never feels the same when I go back to visit it as what I thought it felt like to live there. And no new place ever feels like what you thought home felt like in the place you were before you went to your new home. You sit at home dreaming of the past while craving something entirely new, too. You feel sad for what was and excited for what could be.
Home is complex; home is bittersweet.
As I drove through those three small towns yesterday, I realized my answer to the question “Where is home for you?” was incomplete. When you’ve lived nine places, nowhere and everywhere feels like home. Every place I’ve moved to and away from has its markers of feeling exactly like home and nothing like home simultaneously. Each place has markers of displacement, listlessness, and even loneliness, but each place also has markers of God’s provision, planning, and purpose, markers of memories of the moments that made me into who I am today. Greenville, Williamsport, West Middlesex, Mercer, Grove City, McKeesport, Troy Hill, Nashville, and Kent.
During my last week in Nashville, my good friend there pointed out that moving sort of feels like leaving a little piece of your heart behind in each place you go. While to some leaving a piece of our heart behind sounds like a negative thing, but the way she was sharing it, I felt it to be a beautiful sentiment. To realize pieces of our hearts are scattered is a sign of surrender, of vulnerability to love and be loved in places we know we cannot remain, in places that we will know will pass away, disappoint us, even break our hearts in the process. But as you drive through those places were your heart has been scattered, the beauty in those places is magnified. Faithfulness is evident.
I guess that’s why the drive on those country roads meant so much to me. As my second month in my newest home in Kent, Ohio, begins, I can’t help but thank God for the chance to drive through my old homes, my old stomping grounds, my monuments of memories. In doing so, I realized that nowhere and everywhere feels like home — and that is a grace in itself. Monuments of faithfulness abound. Sign posts of hope are all everywhere. It isn’t merely nostalgia; it is something bigger breaking in.
My friend Nate wrote such insightful and helpful words on this in an article for Mockingbird titled “Memories from the Future: A Word on Abandoned Houses, Nostalgia, and the Hope of the World.” His thoughts were so helpful to me in putting into words something I’ve often felt but could not name about why home is such a complex thing for me to process.
He writes, “God places in our hearts a longing to come home because there really is a home to which we can return. When we move past the curated Hallmark narratives of romantic pining over the past, we see that the longing is for the thing that those moments in time were ultimately pointing us towards: the hope that we can one day be united with God and delivered from the bondage of our sins. The memories which nostalgia brings to the forefront of our minds are so meaningful to us because they contain fleeting temporal tastes of the joy of unity with God, which we were created to enjoy eternally.”
We do have a home. I do have a home. Home is a mystery, but one day all will be revealed. Until then, I will pay attention to the monuments, the road signs, the markers of faithfulness in every town before and every town to come. Hope and grace have a habit of following me where I go. Hallelujah, amen.