I’m at A Life Overseas today talking about creating a sense of place and home. I would love it if you joined me!
In recent years, authors have released a plethora of Christian books about home and place. From Jen Pollock Michel’s Keeping Place to Tish Oxenreider’s At Home in the World, many have a lot to say about roots, feeling at home, and stability.
I read these books with both appreciation and cynicism. I’ve lived in 28 houses on continents and can’t count the hours I’ve spent moving or in airports. So I appreciate that writers take time to explore home and place, but I also read with skepticism. Do they really know what it’s like to be uprooted? Do they really understand what it is to be separated from family and friends by oceans and continents for long periods of time? Do they honestly know what it is to try to create home when everything ‘home like’ is gone? I’m well aware that this is arrogant, that to long for home is human, but there are times when I still feel it.
The ALOS community knows all about pulling up roots, transplanting, and working to feel at home where we don’t belong.
In truth, I believe that one of the most important things we can do overseas is create place and home. Living as if this world is not our home may sound good in a hymn, but it neglects the important truth about who we are as humans. In the words of Paul Tournier, we are incarnate beings and to be human is to need a place, to be rooted and attached to that place. Spending years in borrowed housing, eating from borrowed dishes, and living on borrowed furniture is not healthy when our goal is to enter a community overseas. If everything around us shouts “temporary”, it’s hard for us to feel rooted.
But how do we do that? There are two areas that I want to discuss: The first is a theology of place while the second is a purely practical look at how we might physically create space.
Theology of Place:
First off, I think we need to recognize the importance of place and home. We can’t create a home if we don’t think doing so is important.
A year after I graduated from college, I decided to go overseas to work as a nurse. It was summer and I was living in the city of Chicago. Since I was leaving for Pakistan in September my roommate and I decided to get rid of most of the things in our apartment in June. We blithely rid ourselves of all the things that we owned. Down came curtains; out the door went furniture; into the hands of friends went dishes and precious items. It was a horrible summer and I ended up in tears in a counselor’s office. As we talked, the counselor began quizzing me on my living situation. When she discovered that I barely had a bed and a few dishes, she gently informed me that this was one of the problems. I had assumed that getting rid of all my earthly belongings three months before I left was the best way for me to prepare. I was wrong. I lived as a temporary, friendless person that summer. My disconnection from place was profound and I suffered because of it.
In coming to us through the Incarnation, Jesus attached himself to time and place. He was a human who lived during a specific historic time period. He was son of Mary and Joseph, a carpenter. He was John’s cousin and he lived in Nazareth where he inhabited a physical home. I like to imagine that Mary delighted in creating earthly space for this son of hers; the one who was present at the creation of the world when God the Father created our physical home; the one who would dramatically bridge the gap between heaven and earth for the rest of us so that one day, we would have a permanent home.
In an interview with A Life Overseas, Jen Pollock Michel writes: “At the beginning, Genesis 1 drives toward this idea that God is making a habitable world for his people. ‘It is good’ is a way for God to say, ‘It is homelike. People can live here.’ And then of course in Revelation, we see God bringing heaven to earth and welcoming his children to dwell with him.”
I think it’s easy for us as Christians to disavow the importance of home and place; to perhaps see ourselves as more spiritual because we live in rented homes, or serve in far off places and aren’t as tethered to place as the friend with a five bedroom house and full basement. But perhaps that tethered friend has something to teach us about creating space. In leaving homes and families to work in communities that are different from we are, it is important to write our names in the land and learn how to live well in those places. One of the ways that we live well is by creating home and place.
While this earth may be temporary, in creating us God called us into a particular space and time – we honor that when we create place. Place will change, but the character of God will not. He will always be a God who values home, who invites us to his eternal home. This understanding is foundational to using the practical tools that follow.
Join me here at A Life Overseas to read the rest of the piece!
One thought on “A Life Overseas – Creating Place”
I moved into a haphazardly furnished apartment at MCS in Pakistan. I could not refurbish it right away, but over the years I did make changes and made it more comfortable. But there were 3 things I learned late my first year, after shedding lots of tears I didn’t understand, to make me more comfortable.
When I first arrived, I was told to only turn on my water heater when I was going to shower or wash dishes. I got chilblains, which were miserable. Then a couple told me to lower the temperature setting of my water heater and just leave it on. I turned the thermostat down from a too-hot 60 C to 48 C, and was able to wash my hands in lovely warm water that made a huge difference to me.
Second, I bought myself a bottle of Heinz ketchup, because I found I could not stand the local version, which has a lot of sugar and no vinegar at all. And finally, I started buying myself imported cheese, because I could not stomach the cheap local stuff the school kitchen used.
Those 3 things made me feel much more comfortable in a place hard for a single woman to live, and my second year was much easier, and all the succeeding years (except the year of the attack).