5 Newton Street – a Love Story

5 Newton Street,

Cambridge, MA 02139

It was ten and a half years ago when I first walked through your front door. I will never forget the day – December 18, and Boston was experiencing the worst winter they had had in five years. Snow was piled high around you – your porch barely passable – and it was so cold.

My oldest daughter, who had moved to Boston a couple of months before, came running out your door, capturing me with one of her famous hugs. She hugs like she means it, like she’ll never, ever let you go and it is bliss.

And then I walked through the white painted door and into your long hallway.

You and me….we were an arranged marriage of sorts. You had good bones and I had a good family, and we grew to love each other.

We met each other, shy at first, neither of us were sure of each other. After all, we found each other on Craigslist, and all I knew was that you claimed to be “sunny and bright”. I was moving from Phoenix, Arizona to a bitter cold Northeast winter. You had no idea how much I needed bright and sunny. That first night I think you sized me up and decided that I would do. Admittedly, it took me a while longer.

I traded in a large, open floor plan, designer paint, and a sparkling, blue pool for a city condo with noisy upstairs neighbors. Our oversized, Arizona furniture cramped your style; our massive candle sticks had to find another home. I fought with you for more space, cursing your small corners, but you didn’t budge.

But we began to live together and slowly, like an arranged marriage, I began to love you.

I began to love your location, so close to everything! With you I could walk everywhere! Grocery store, pharmacy, subway – even the beautiful Charles River with its banks that changed with the seasons. I painted your walls and hung pictures that made you shine. I draped white lights on your porch, a bright beacon in the sometimes dark nights of life. I plumped pillows on couches and put furniture in your rooms.

And we began to live, really live within your walls. You began to know our family and your halls and walls heard our laughter and held our tears. Thanksgivings, Christmases, and Easter celebrations brought people from all over the world into your safety and joy. We played games and discussed politics; dyed Easter eggs and carved pumpkins; brought Christmas trees from the Boston Tree Company, and lit candles amidst holiday sparkle. You gave space for graduation celebrations and expanded as our family grew.

It wasn’t all sparkle. You heard sadness and witnessed anger; sometimes our tears were more than we could bear and you held us in safety when we couldn’t let the wider world know what was going on. But still, you and we held on.

And now, we are taking you – our home – and turning you back into a house. If I wasn’t so busy, and if I didn’t know that this next step is a good and important one, it would break me.

You, with your old wood floors and your non updated bathrooms, hold the magic of Home. And you are being stripped of that magic by me – your nomadic love.

I’m so sorry. You’ve been so good to us. You have loved us well through over ten years of life. You have been a place of safety, joy, and laughter.

Your walls will hold our family stories forever and, like a dear and loyal friend, keep them safe.

Your windows bear the marks of our noses, pressed against them looking out onto the world.

Your hallway and stairwell will echo our footsteps, like ghosts coming back for one last look.

And your porch? Your porch will carry the magic of late summer night laughter and conversation, the sounds of the city a musical background.

You have loved us well dear house. You have loved us well.

And now, I say goodbye. May the joy and grace that has held us be passed on to those coming through your doors.

Goodbye 5 Newton. I will always love you.

That Magic Word – Home

My younger daughter was recently in Toronto at the wedding of a friend. On return she had some difficulty with her ticket and had to go early to the airport in order to clear it up. As she was talking to a woman in security, she said “I just want to get home.”

Responding with wisdom, empathy, and an accent that indicated she knew the truth of her words, she said: “Somehow I understand that magic word – ‘Home’”

Throughout childhood we hear this word, used in various ways and forms.

Are we home yet?”

“How long until we get home?”

“I can’t wait to get home!”

“I hate leaving home.”

“It’s so good to be home!”

And then adulthood comes, and home becomes more complicated even if you don’t mean it to be. Is home where you grew up? Where your parents live? Where you now live? Where you are raising your family, or all of those combined?

You return home and home has changed, as have you. You leave, unsettled and discombobulated, happy to be leaving and sad that you are happy.

As life moves on, you become the one responsible for creating home, and in that space, home sometimes loses its purity and its magic. When we were little, magic and home happened. When we’re big, someone has to create it. Yet somehow along the way, most of us figure that out. We learn that home and what Wendell Berry calls “membership” are an incredible privilege, and we grow to protect that privilege. We learn that our connection to place matters, and our keeping of that place is vital for mental and physical health. Home may no longer feel like magic, but it has become so much more.

It is our anchor in a world that is fickle and our bridge that equips us to cross over to the outside.

Home. That place where we learn our first stories, where we lose teeth and grow inches, where we play and fight with siblings and grow nostalgic over time. For some, it is geographic; for others it is people, memories, and events that span the globe.

And one thing is sure–there is never more magic in the word then when we’ve been away, and we get to go back.

Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”*

*Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye

A Life Overseas – Creating Place

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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!

Parenting and the Power of Place

Doors 2 with quote on home

“It was the landscape, in other words, of unfiltered experience, of things felt rather than thought through, of the world in its beauty absorbed before it is understood, of patterns and sounds that lodge themselves in some indelible place in the psyche and call out across the years.”*

Wherever we moved in the world I knew three things: We would always drink tea, my mom’s small painting of a New England winter scene would be on the wall, and mom would read to us every night. In moving from Massachusetts to the Sindh desert of Pakistan, my mom was faced with the daunting task of creating ‘home’ and ‘place’ for children who would be at boarding school six months of the year, in a borrowed space for three months in the summer, and ‘home’ for three winter months.

Mom did an amazing job. Some of the things that lodged in my memory were boiling hot cups of chai made with full cream buffalo milk and poured from china cups into saucers to cool off; the smell and taste of hot curry or dahl and rice, making my eyes water and bringing a tingling to my tongue; the sound of my mom’s voice reading books of all sorts to us during winter break; the sound of the call to prayer, echoing in the evening hours. For me these sounds and experiences formed the landscape of my unfiltered experience, my “world in its beauty absorbed before it [was] understood.”

Paul Tournier, a well-known Swiss Psychologist, has some profound insights on place and home in his book A Place for You. He says that to be human is to need a place, to be rooted and attached to that place. We are “incarnate beings” and so when those places are taken away, we suffer from a “disruption” of place. If the disruption goes beyond our ability to adapt it becomes a pathology – Tournier calls this a “deprivation of place.”

In Robynn’s excellent series, I Love Where I Live, she quotes Alicia Paddock, a woman who is studying the idea of sacred space: “Space is an abstract concept and needs an identity, memories and certain behaviors attached to the space in order to change it to ‘place’. “

I think one of the tasks of a parent is to create place out of space.  It is a particular challenge for the global parent. Through traditions that are not confined to geographic location, through family memories and jokes, through special items that will always be there, whether they be framed pictures, candle holders, or books, we can create ‘place’. My parents have lived in more homes than I can count, but when I walk into their space, whether it be a 4-bedroom home in the woods of New England or a house with stained glass windows and a 30 foot high ceiling in Pakistan, there are certain things that speak to me of ‘home’, of ‘place’. A small painting of a New England winter, Daily Bread on the side of their table with all their mail, my dad’s desk, filled with books and papers with his characteristic hand-writing — all of this embodies ‘place’, creates a feeling of ‘home’.

Physical space may change more than we might like, but the ability to create place and home is a gift we are given as parents. The gift is given to us so that we in turn may teach our own children how to create place. I have come to believe that it is not the failure of a parent that makes their children want to leave home and create a home of their own, but rather their success. For if we have accepted creating place as a gift, we can exercise it and pass it on to our children. Their homes may look completely different than ours, but it is because of us that they have the freedom to move and create homes of their own.

If we show our children that the world is a mansion, they may well want to explore the many rooms in that mansion before they claim one as their own. Though they may occasionally feel as though they are in exile, people who are stateless and without a home, we can remind them that home can and does move. While a country may be left behind forever, home can be recreated in another land. We have the power to create ‘place’ from ‘space’ and as we do so, it becomes home.

These are some of the thoughts that I have had as I once again explore the notion of home and place. Even as I write, I wonder what memories my own children may have of the many places and spaces that they have called home and realize that with all my heart, I long for those memories to be good.

*In Search of Home

Wrapping up the Week – 5.25.13

This weekend in the United States is Memorial Day Weekend. Practically speaking, in the U.S this means we have a 3-day weekend bringing some extra rest and fun. The weekend always brings about nostalgia for two reasons: When we moved to the United States from Cairo, we would celebrate this weekend with my cousins. Even if we hadn’t seen them all year Memorial Day would find us at a (usually) cloudy but delicious barbecue and playing killer croquet with my Great Aunt Lottie. Aunt Lottie died some time ago, and we moved, and my cousins and the Scuzzins (cousins kids) moved.

The second reason is that 26 years ago today we welcomed our second child, first-born son to the world on a hot day in Islamabad, Pakistan. You can read more about that in my post An Expat Lady and a Ramadan Baby. So nostalgia reigns today as I think of life as it was, breathe a sigh, and embrace life as it is.

On to the wrapping up the week.

On Memorial Day: A Life Overseas posted an excellent essay on Memorial Day. Called “God Bless the World“, it captured much of what many of us who have lived overseas feel about this event. Take a look and see what you think. One of the quotes that stood out to me was this:

A life led overseas often reveals the enmeshment between our faith and our nationalism.  And we begin to ask questions that we may not have considered, questions that we might not like the answer to.

On Place: You can’t hang around Communicating Across Boundaries for long before there will be a conversation around identity or place.  These things matter. Place matters. Place shapes us. Place is used in our lives, for good or for ill. I found a short op-ed in the NY Times particularly poignant this week. It’s not about third culture kids, or global nomads, or expats. But it is about Place. Because everyone can relate to Place. The quote that shouted out to me was this: “Place is not meant to be eulogized. I don’t want to think that my place may have to be.” And yet many people have had to eulogize Place. My husband’s childhood home was razed to the ground to build a parking lot for a zoo in Miami. Places where many of us vacationed in Pakistan have been droned, and a eulogy rises creating further conflict between two countries who don’t “get” each other. The specific place in this article is Seaside Park, NJ – severely affected by Hurricane Sandy. I’d love to hear your thoughts on place and eulogizing place. Here is the article called Seaside’s Last Summer?

On the blog: There was great conversation on prejudice and bigotry on CAB this week! One of my favorite comments was from Jenni:

“I grew up in urban Australia, under the influence of my father’s extreme prejudice against indigenous Australians. Before going to live in an Aboriginal community as an adult, I confessed my prejudice & asked my church family to pray that I would learn to love “Aboriginal people”. I didn’t. I learned to love June and Stephanie, Peterson and Wurrip, to be disgusted by the behaviour of others, (some of them friends), hurt by some, to ache for the children and love little Jethro (though not so much when he taught my son how to turn a frog inside out) – I learnt relationship”

Also – There’s a new look on the blog….take a look and see what you think! 

On my bedside stand: A great new read called Americanah about a Nigerian immigrant who returns to Nigeria. It’s about identity, place, culture and so much more that I am not doing it justice. Stay tuned for more on this book.

What about you? What did you read, see, hear this week? Would love it if you shared through the comments.

And a Very Happy Birthday to my son Joel!