Winter finally arrived in Texas last week. And with our little snowstorm came school closings, various cancelations, and for some (according to my Facebook feed), a touch of cabin fever.
Texans aren’t used to being snowed in, even if for only a few days.
But I was happy to stay close to our fireplace. My husband is an adjunct professor, so with his classes cancelled, he stayed home as well. We pulled out our puzzles and games and books, and we savored what has become our natural habitat—home.
I used to teach at a boarding school that offered free dinners as an incentive for faculty to join the residence students at mealtime. Countless evenings I worked until 6:00, picked my daughters up from the on-campus Child Development Center, then traipsed over to the dining hall to eat with the “big girls,” as Ellie called them. The students welcomed us (I had taught or was currently teaching many of them). Often a group of girls would play with Ellie, while I talked with a colleague or tended to baby Evy. We have several fond memories of those dinners.
Yet when we finally walked into our empty, unloved house twenty minutes before bedtime, reality and guilt took over. A staleness filled the air. This was the place where we slept and showered, the place where I woke up early to prepare for another long day. But it was not where we lived. It was not a home.
Over the next year, I watched as my loosely woven threads of family slowly unraveled—a daughter bullied at school and (at three) having an emotional breakdown, an infant devastated by the daily drop-off and refusing to bottle feed in any form, a workload increasing due to added responsibilities, a marriage nearly falling apart.
Last week we spent hours in front of our fireplace. We played games and watched movies. My husband and I passed a book back and forth, reading it together. We cooked good food. Then ate left overs. The house got messy. Then we cleaned it up.
Home. Why did it take so long to find?
When we married, much of our relationship was based on our mutual sense of adventure. Within our first few years, we had explored Europe together, ultimately living in London where my husband earned an International Relations degree. We were planning a life of travel. Nothing tethered us down, and in many ways, we were like nomads.
Dallas was intended to be a pitstop in our journey. It was close to friends and family; it was a place where we could teach for a couple years before going on our next adventure.
Then, on a bold whim, I applied for my “Dead Poet’s Society dream job,” and to my great surprise, I got it. This was our fourth year of marriage; I was twenty-five.
Life continued, as it inevitably does. We started graduate degrees. We bought a house. We had children. We worked hard in separate worlds. We normalized. Or so we thought.
Last week in front of the fireplace, I discovered home. The old cliché about home and the heart turned out true after all. And if home is where the heart is, while my heart is inexorably linked with my life’s treasure (Matt. 6:21), then it’s safe to assume that my heart has changed. Some unraveling will do that, I guess. Once I carefully picked up the threads and wove them together again—more tightly this time—a new pattern emerged, and there I found my treasure, my heart, my home at last.
It seems ironic that I make this discovery in a season of uncertainty. After five long years in a grueling PhD program, my husband is finishing his dissertation and applying to university jobs across the country. We may be leaving Texas soon, untethering again, finally embarking upon our next adventure.
Our so-called pitstop lasted a decade. And this has taught me something.
It is up to us to claim home. Whether we are in a place for six months or twenty years, whether we own or rent—home is a thing much bigger and deeper than the space in which we live. Home is a thing that must be nurtured.
My house is far from perfect. Much of the time, it’s a lovely lived-in mess, but even then, it’s bursting with life and love (and hopefully) grace. So it’s where we want to be.
“Tell me honestly,” I asked my husband last week, “Does it bother you that the house got so messy and that we basically hung out for two days?”
“Nope,” he replied while looking up from his book. He then stood and placed his coffee mug on the mantle, his gaze shifting from the light within the hearth to the giggles that trailed out the playroom door and down the hallway. He smiled in that direction as he spoke. “It doesn’t bother me at all. I love my home.”