From my portion of the Hutchmoot 2016 session “In Search of Home,” a conversation about roots, restlessness, and making peace with our place in the world.
“Nobody tells you when you get born here
how much you’ll come to love it
and how you’ll never belong.”
—Rich Mullins, “Land of My Sojourn”
If you knew me just five years ago, you’d probably think I was the poster child for staying put. I spent the first thirty years of my life in Fruitland Park, a little “blink-and-you-miss-it” town in Central Florida. Now usually, if I say I grew up in Florida, people think white beach paradise or Disney World. Thanks to the Internet’s love for wacky news stories, they might just think life was one long interesting string of machete wielding weirdos and alligators wandering through my backyard.
It was hardly that exciting. My hometown is small in the most quiet and normal sense. North of us is the Ocala National Forest, thick, scrubby woods where the brave folks (unlike me) could go hiking and camping. Just across the town line a is large, meticulously groomed retirement community that seemed to spring up overnight, spreading faux Hacienda architecture, shopping complexes, and golf cart roads closer and closer to my neighborhood.
My quiet street became a major traffic route once Super Walmart opened a mile from my front door. Before then, we were an ordinary little community—mostly ’70s block houses with the same floor plan. Over time, small businesses appeared in those houses, and in my last years living in my family home I woke every morning to the yappy clients at the dog groomer next door.
To get to anything resembling a city (other than the retirement park), you drove southeast until you hit Orlando, directly south if you wanted to visit the pseudo-city Walt built on the remains of orange groves.
As I grew up, life grew away from my roots. I began living the commute life, first to college in east Orlando, then to a job an hour away. That’s when the wanderlust hit—my town wasn’t good enough, my goals too big, my friendships too far away, and the ten or more hours a week on the road drained my energy. I fantasized about moving, though every attempt to do so was thwarted by financial reality. And I remember during some particularly angst-filled years writing in my journal, “I want to move. Anywhere. Somewhere. There has to be more than this.”
Does this sound familiar? I wish I had known then what a gift roots are, how precious it is to truly know a place. I wish I’d appreciated the funny nuances of this life more while I was living it.
A disclaimer: I’m not going to extol the virtues of staying in one place forever and tell you a perfect world is where everyone sticks to their hometown. That’s impossible, and I cannot in good conscience fully advocate that kind of life, because moving to New England two years ago has been, in many ways, one of the best adventures of my life.
But in the past two years, as I’ve gone from the thrill of discovering a new home to late nights struggling through deep homesickness, If I try to decide what is better, movement or staying put, I find there are no simple answers. I know some people who grew up moving from year to year, never given the chance to put down roots and build relationships, and for them staying in one place for a lifetime can feel like a beautiful ideal. For those who keep missing attempts to escape a dead end town, the freedom to choose your place is the American Dream.
There are healthy kinds of wanderlust—the acknowledgement that in some sense, we live our lives in perpetual longing. Displacement began in Eden, when the restlessly rooted were given the things they most wanted: freedom, knowledge, autonomy. And now we all find ourselves living through a sort of holy discontent.
But what if really we are all supposed to be home-makers wherever we are? I’m not talking about lives that revolve around cooking and cleaning and such, merely maintaining a residence. That’s vital too, but in a deeper, creative way. There’s something beautiful about making home a central place in your life, even if — especially if — the world outside feels like a foreign land.
You can be a student, a commuter, a full-time worker, but still make home. You could be a nomad and embrace hospitality wherever you go. You could be between places, knowing a move is imminent. But make home anyway. This is how we do the work of renewal.
…to be continued.
Jen Rose Yokel is a poet, freelance writer, and spiritual director. Her words have appeared at She Reads Truth, CCM Magazine, and other publications, and she released her first poetry collection Ruins & Kingdoms in 2015. Originally from Central Florida, she now makes her home in Fall River, Massachusetts with her husband Chris, where you can find her enjoying used bookstores and good coffee.
I look forward to reading part 2! My husband and I moved our family from home in Alabama to North Yorkshire, England to help with a new church plant, and I feel the exact tension of making a new home in a completely different culture and missing the deep roots and simplicity of living in the land of our birth.
Thank you for your thoughts, it was a sweet reflection. As a pastor and father of 3 children (soon to be 4), my wife and I often long for substantive relationships that come with “roots.” Yet, as we live in a small town in the middle of the plains for going on 3 years now, the loneliness of ministry haunts our longings at times. Especially, as our children attempt to find acceptance in a place where communal and familial “roots” are already entrenched. It is difficult to watch your child go and sit down at a table of girls at a church function, to only see the other girls get up and leave at the presence of the “stranger,” and to see your daughter hunker herself into yet another book, where at least there is some level of “acceptance.” My children, my wife and myself feel like outsiders at times seeking hospitality at the city gates. Wondering if anyone will open their doors. Don’t get me wrong, we are respected, even valued as a pastor and family, and yet “lonely” as most of the hospitality that happens, comes from our own “open door” invitation. At the root of hospitality is the acceptance of the stranger, for we have all been the stranger. Although we have had “success” in ministry fulfilling our calling out on the plains, it is recognized that roots are often more than a location on a map, but a place where the “stranger” is accepted. Hospitality is a vulnerable place where we can hang our hat, leave our facade at the door, and be who we have been created to be, even with all our “strangeness.” It is in that environment that the “familiar” seemingly thrives, and street names, local restaurants, ballparks, book stores (if you can find one), and a whole host of other things become an “altar of familiarity.”
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