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

Digging My Hope Out of a Snowbank

As I heard a weather forecast today and learned that more snow is covering a nation already groaning under the winter of discontent, I particularly appreciated this post on hope by Robynn. What about you? How is your winter going? 


Winter is the most deceiving of the seasons. You look outside the window. The sun is shining. The trees beckon to you, inviting, calling. A few birds flit by. And so you think, okay then, I should go out. A coat, because logic demands it, gloves, they just make sense, and out you go! Whoosh! The wind immediately mocks. The sun sticks it’s tongue out. The imaginary birds have vanished. Winter wins! Her deception has tricked you again and you, the seasonal fool, have fallen for it again!

This winter has been particularly sneaky, long, cold and white. It’s been wearisome.

I find that in the midst of winter my sense of hope takes flight too and all but disappears. Or perhaps she’s buried under the snow bank. Maybe she melted into the grey slush. Whatever the case she’s gone. She’s done.

I’m determined to hunt her down. There must surely be shreds and shards of her left. Surely hope cannot have all been rendered shrapnel in the explosions of season and snow? Finding her has proven difficult. Despair and darkness cloud my vision. Depression drifts build up. Superficial and shallow comments salt the wound-roads. Trite talk ploughs through, wreaking havoc at the end of my pathways. The search has been hard wrought and I am sad to say, I have really only caught glimpses of hope hiding…Hope hasn’t jumped out to get me. Unlike young children playing hide and seek, she doesn’t seem to want to be found.

This week has been especially dismal.

Still my brief sightings of hope have birthed in my sorry soul an expectation that she is still out there. Like the pearl of great price, hope does linger in my town. I want to find her. I need the energizing motivation she trades for my well-worn weariness.

Yesterday I met a friend at Grace’s Asian Fusion café. Piano music met me at the door. I looked around for the speakers and much to my delight realized the music was live. In the far corner of the room stood an old upright piano and sitting upright on the stool was a gentleman even older than the piano. He gently, gracefully, invited classical tunes filled with emotion and energy to come out of that ancient instrument. And out they came, and filled the room, sweeping it with joy…. And dare I admit, a little hope!

My friend joined me and we tried Miso soup and some interesting sweet dumpling-bread. We ate cold sesame noodles with vegetables and peanut sauce. And we talked. She’s hit a wall in her faith experience. Everything programmed in her is being questioned and reexamined. She’s rethinking religion and rules; structures and systems. But we talked about Jesus and his wide wonderful mercy. I firmly believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father… But I have come to think that there are many paths to Jesus. And we talked about that and a bit of hope surfaced.

Today I drove to Wichita to watch our seventeen year old sing with his high school Chamber Choir at the Kansas Music Educators Association Convention. I drove through the Flinthills and across the prairies. Yesterday’s hay bales still scattered last season’s fields. However through the grey grasses bits of green were starting to shimmer. Hope is sprouting softly through the (hopefully) waning winter.

One of the songs the Chamber Choir sang was a Wendell Berry poem (The Peace of Wild Things) set to music. The music was written by a local composer, a KState Professor, and a father of the one of the students. It was filled with expectation. And it was contagious. Hope filled the auditorium together with the voices of the young singers who sang with strength and optimism.

My spirit has been snowed under. I’ve been physically ill for a month and my soul has caught the infection. I’m bowed low. The weight of winter wears me out. But I’m determined to protect my Hope. If I don’t have hope I will spiral deeper, darker, lower. Hope protects the soul from despair. Hope preserves moments of pure joy in the midst of great sorrow. Hope guards, redeems, rescues. I firmly believe that hope is not seasonal. It’s eternal and certain.

I don’t know about you but for me hope is not natural. I’m not normally inclined to being hopeful on my own…. I have to work for it. I have to hunt her down. I have to dig her out. What little energy I’ve had these past couple of weeks I’ve tried to dedicate to finding hope! A text message early in the week from a friend said, “Robynn just sitting here reading and I’m reminded that Christ in you is the hope of glory. Take courage sweet Robynn, he has overcome all that you are facing.” It was another push toward hope. Miss Cindy gave me courage to hope-search. Hope was in me—the Christ of Glory…. It’s a quest for the Super-natural. Hope has been elusive but in looking around, I have seen her. I’ve experienced her gently. I’ve been graced with her small moments.

“When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.” Psalm 94:19

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace…” Rom 15:13

The Peace of Wild Things

By Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

*photo credit Stefanie Sevim Gardner

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