If you have have you ever driven along Interstate 80, and found yourself heading through the flat western part of Indiana, you probably noticed, as you neared the state's border, a few passing signs for the cities of Gary and Hammond just before you reached the exit to head north for Chicago. You may have struggled with depression, with a slight sense of empathy for the poor souls who obviously lived in those homes that seemed to spread for many grey miles in all directions. Well, if you've been there, that's where I'm from: an unimaginative city-type town that grew out of the steel mill boom along the southern shores of Lake Michigan. A place that is now a cookie cutter metropolis of dying small town main streets, 1950's ranch house neighborhoods, and Target Centers every 10 miles just to give the people something to do.
After high school, I left that place, yearning to travel far and breathe fresher air and landed first out in the Teton Mountains of Wyoming, then on to finish college in the city of Philadelphia. It was there I met my husband and we connected with a small community there where we fellowshiped and worshiped together, vigorously tripping over our love for and failure to one another. We birthed two boys, and then began to think of taking a step we had talked frequently of... moving overseas to teach.
In the summer of 2007 we sold off all our thrift store attained goods, gave anxious and heartbreaking goodbyes to our family and dearly loved friends, and boarded a plane for China. And that is where we now live, continuing to add children to the mix, and working out almost daily what it means to have left a place and made a new one our home. It's a life lesson isn't it... one that doesn't end with the learning of a language or becoming settled. It's a physical outworking of a spiritual reality too, for us, who live in the world we were created for, but yearn for the redemption of it and to be with the One who is our truest Home.
Back to that town off the Interstate. My parents still live there, as do many people who have and always will, because it's home and there are people there, just like here: people to love and care for, to live and die for. I didn't shake the dust of that town off my heels (not much dust really, just steel mill pollution) when I left. It sits in my bones, runs in my blood, and growing up there with with my parents, who remain devoted to that place like it was a generational farm in one of Wendell Berry's novels, made imprints in my soul that can never be washed away. Home. It's a theme I may never get away from.
Some blogs you read will say lovely and welcoming things like, "If you were here we could share this over a cup of tea!" or something similar. I would like to say a similarly gracious line here, but the truth is that though I love to sip hot beverages and talk fervently with friends, I am a much better communicator on paper than in person. So for now we can be thankful we meet here, and not at my dining room table, though it is a lovely table, and I'm sure I would like it if you sat there.
You can read more about some of the people and places that shape words I write, here:
The Far and Away Life
Ode to a Piano Teacher