Longing for Permanence 

“The shifts of time unearth our longing for a permanent residence, unshakeable, immovable, wholly given and wholly ours. Scattered across this great globe, now and then, we stumble across gifts of happiness from a God who, kindly, with an absolute patience that the trees themselves were taught to imitate, guides us up into the security of his own life”

Laura Merzig Fabrycky

Recently I have been longing to purchase a home. For a long time we did own, first in a small town in Massachusetts, then in the city of Phoenix. I loved those homes. They were our spaces, places where  we could share our lives. One was an old Victorian home with 36 windows, five bedrooms, and a side porch with a doll house and wicker furniture. Our children climbed the trees in the side yard in the summer and fall and sled down a small hill in the back yard in the winter. We would order and stack chopped wood each fall to use in the wood stove in the living room, where we would gather each evening after homework to drink tea and talk.

The other was a much younger southwest home with archways and tile, cool stucco and high ceilings. Fans whirred most of the year and the diving pool was in constant use. A large back yard faced the desert and the famous Phoenix sunsets brought on quiet beauty and longing almost daily. We created a large patio at the far corner of the yard, and spent hours sitting, talking, and listening to our teenagers hone their guitar skills. In those completely different venues, we created space and place so that any guest or stranger would know the space was undeniably ours.

Growing up we never owned a house. We went from mission house to mission house and each one I loved. There were similarities in all of them – ceilings taller than 20 feet, archways, small windows just below the high ceilings called roshandons, often made of stained glass that helped to circulate air, and fans hanging from the ceilings with 12 foot thick wire. Salts crept up the walls causing them to bubble and crumble, but they were home. Courtyards with dusty Bouganvillea and Hibiscus grew wild with brilliant color, a sharp contrast to the dust of the ground and walls. The flat roofs allowed us to look across houses and trees, mosques and shops giving us a birdseye view of whatever city we lived in. They were all home. They were, above all, safe.

As an adult I’ve called four countries home and always welcomed the challenge of creating beauty out of odd colors and spaces, of transforming kitchens and living rooms into places we could call home. With all their warts and impermanence, we still called them home.

We’ve rented now for many years. I don’t think we set out to rent. I think we didn’t think about it, and the next thing we knew, prices around us had risen and owning was far out of our affordability. This worked out well when a dream of being back in the Middle East became a reality and we rid ourselves of seventy five percent of our posessions, taking on a journey that would have us fall in love with a place and people more than we’d ever imagine.

But, as those who read my writing know, that ended and we found ourselves back in the Boston area rebuilding what we had left, grieving even as we moved forward. Six months into our move, the world stopped, borders closed, and we experienced limited movement like we’ve never had before. It was soon into this closure that a longing for a house began in me. While we have our beautiful cottage in Rockport, it is too small to host our kids and our guests, and I long for something that can create memories for this next stage of life.

In recent weeks, its reached a feverish level of longing. Almost before my prayers in the morning I look at my realestate app. I try to imagine living in places that I don’t even like, and then shake my head in frustration. Why has it reached this sort of longing? Why is my heart so aching for place?

I’ve written a lot about place. And indeed, I want my next book to be about place. From Paul Tournier’s A Place for You to Wendell Berry’s Port William series, I read words that remind me place is important. We are created for place. Our longing is not misplaced so much as it is affected by our limited vision of what place is and where it fits in our spiritual and physical journey.

I don’t know what will happen with this longing. I don’t know if it will be fulfilled. Even as I write this, I know how incredibly fortunate I am, how I do not wonder where my next meal will come from or where I will sleep tonight. I am warm. I am safe. I have place even as I long for place. This longing is real to be sure, but it is not like the longing for a child, an empty womb and hands a continual sword in the heart. Or like the longing for a close one who has died. But longing is longing, and telling myself it’s minor is like slapping myself.

That God meets us in our longing is something I know in my bones, but even as he meets us, we are flesh and blood. We ache and long for permanence in the impermanent; in a world that can’t possibly deliver. As I wrote several years ago: We are tethered to earth with hearts made for Eternity. Surely Christ, who experienced the impermanence of place and a human body on this earth knows this. In the quiet of my heart I sometimes feel his whisper of the permanence that awaits me, more glorious than I could imagine, but seemingly so very far off.

In Wendell Berry’s novel Hannah Coulter, he writes poignantly of place. And whether place is rented or owned, there is something in the keeping of it that matters. I grab onto this on this day, a day when I looked yet again at the real estate app, desperately searching for something. As I grab hold, the words settle into my spirit. I sigh, close the app, and bake a lemon blueberry cake. It is enough for this moment.

There is no ‘better place’ than this, not in this world. And it is by the place we’ve got and our love for it and our keeping of it, that this world is joined to Heaven…

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

4 thoughts on “Longing for Permanence 

  1. So thought provoking as are all your musings Marilyn . Having one permanent hm growing up and feeling secure, my characteristic that marked me seemed to be ‘flexible’ in my mid twenties through the mid 80s. We had moved so often, countries not just States or various towns. It didn’t bother me. I was on another adventure!

    Twenty four unexpected yrs in Cairo, however, I felt very settled and truly enjoyed my ‘place’ provided by the Univ.

    With retirement (retreading) we came back to the US. Our dear parents passed on and we purchased our first home being married almost 50 yrs!

    I believe, Marilyn, being settled those first 22 yrs of my life allowed me not to bulk at our dwellings, ‘places, needing to belong to me.
    Making each dwelling ‘homey’ for my family was my important task.

    I have always, in whatever location we have been together or visited, felt engulfed with your creativity and decorative ability without spending a lot of money. Creating charm and a cozy, hospitable atmosphere is your gifting. How I Love You my Dear…🌹🌷

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  2. Marilyn, There is so much of the essence of this piece that I can relate to…as always so beautifully written and raw. Thank you. I am sending the agenda to our Vibrant Wise Woman’s Circle …The topic might resonate with you. You are a wise woman I’d love to know better and have deep conversations with. The group is open…some are regulars, some are passing through…most have lived globally mobile lives, some have stayed put. Some I know well; some I know very little about except their hunger to connect on a profound level. I hold this space monthly for those yearning to connect in a meaningful nonjudgmental way. We use some ritual (a candle, a bell, a predictable format and agreements) to create a sacred (as defined personally in the hearts of each woman)virtual space.

    So, look for two emails from me—an agenda and a 2nd with the zoom link. It’s this Saturday at noon your time.

    I also wanted to tell you you’ve been in my thoughts as the anniversary of your dear Stan’s, death recently passed. I’ve never had a sibling to know what it feels like to lose someone who has known you from the beginning, but I lost a dear friend in 2019 and I know what it’s like to feel the anniversary every month, until it becomes a year, and then how that little stab to the heart starts over again. I know about the yearning and longing, the clinging and relinquishing, the sad letting go, and the joy in knowing you can love like that. I just want to acknowledge that the passing of time, especially on anniversary days, can stoke the fire of grief rather than soften, like people always say. I think of it like stoking the fire of love. Everyone in your life is so very lucky to be around a love like yours. Sending hugs, Carolyn

    Marilyn posted: ” “The shifts of time unearth our longing for a permanent residence, unshakeable, immovable, wholly given and wholly ours. Scattered across this great globe, now and then, we stumble across gifts of happiness from a God who, kindly, with an absolute pa”

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  3. I understand this. We moved so many times as missionary kids and I hated the impermanence of it all. I always longed for just one place, one station, where we stayed for more than a year or two. Our last station we were there for FOUR years and felt like home. Then the coup came and we were forced to leave the country I called mine and the half of the duplex I called home. Since my marriage, we’ve mostly bought our own houses. I lived in my last one 20 years, and then we moved to Hawaii where we rented. We rented in Australia, then came to the Oregon Coast where we’ve been renting for over six years. April of 2019, needing permanence, we bought a 135 year old house in Michigan. It needed renovation (during Covid, of all things) and now it’s our lovely little farmhouse in the small town of Hillsdale. I love this place, love my house, love the Community I’ve formed around me. I wish that for you, too.

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  4. I totally get it- we moved 7 times- all fairly local & owned by us houses! We just love to move🤣- 2 years ago we put our house on the market- to move nearer my eldest daughter & help her with her newborn son. For a year our house had little interest & when the pandemic erupted we decided we didn’t want viewers & took it off line. So 2 years on we are still here- in our beautiful home- still desiring to move but not under present restrictions- we can only believe we are here for a reason & I am content. So much of life is waiting ( hate it) but trying to be at peace in the wait. Don’t look so often at real estate- I had to stop🤣- feeds that longing ☺️It will happen for you- at the right time 🥰🙏🏻

    Sent from my iPhone

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