My default has never been to stay. I am a seed, but I am not a tree. Yet.
“Thirty years ago, a woman hit that pine there with her car. Knocked it right over. The ground was so wet, though, that we just stood it straight up and look at it: you’d never know it,” my neighbor said. “And the ones next to it? Sometime, oh, I think it was in the ’70s, a bad wind storm twisted a couple right around. Just, swoop, this side that was facing west, now it faces east.”
What would knock me over; what impact would leave me down in a way that I can’t bounce back like these trees? Honestly, it wouldn’t take much now. Fourteen months after our most recent move, I don’t have the root structure.
Compelling: that’s what it is, to look at that tree; all the trees around this property — hasn’t our homeschooling nature study observations trained more than my kids’ eyes? God’s an allegory lover, too, I think.
My soul’s craving stability and roots. Our family dreams involve getting earth under our fingernails and chickens; as God told the Israelites in Babylon to plant gardens, I think this is a chronic symptom of people looking for stability. Home, community; tomatoes and squash.
In the last 10 years I’ve graduated college, moved in with a guy I later married; lured him to Wisconsin to a new job, a career. Bought a house, got a dog, had three children. Decided to get serious about this Jesus business. Quit the career, moved to Ohio, then Michigan. Sold the Wisconsin house; rented this one.
That doesn’t even cover the intense friendships forged and kept, or sometimes broken; the homeschooling, the staying-at-home.
From a pink bedroom in the ’80s to the beige rental in 2014, I’ve inherited a seven-year itch. Seven years: the longest I’ve lived in one place. Fourteen months into living in Michigan, I see a mosaic of my former geographies in our lives; it’s gorgeous. But I’m dreaming of dirt and chickens and people to do this with. I’m in Babylon and tired of asking how long I’ll be staying; I want to plant something.
So in steps this voice that says “Stay.”
I can’t explain it: when my body wants to leave because this new place looks too rigid, or because relationships take too much time to develop; I hear “stay.” When I’ve become disgruntled over my time in a way that sounds less grateful than I’m aiming for … “Stay.”
Sometimes, leaving is easier. Leaving offers a grieving period and a celebratory period, a grace period. A period of hope. A new place — a new job, a new house, a new church, a new city — all offer me hopes for something better. Staying is hard.
“As participants in a mobile culture, our default is to move. God embraces our broken world, and I have no doubt that God can use our movement for good. But I am convinced that we lose something essential to our existence as creatures if we do not recognize our fundamental need for stability. Trees can be transplanted, often with magnificent results. But their default is to stay.”
― Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, “The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture”
Stay. And we’re not to stay and mope. We’re called to plant and eat and build and be and become, too.
Stay. How am I learning to stay?
My neighbor’s giving me some starts from her flowers; my mom’s bringing over her hostas. It’s a rental, but fostering beauty is free.
Stay. As a few meetings and to-dos make requests for my time, I’m pushing to make room for more staying; more invitations for guests; more welcoming. More time staying in the woods. More time alone with these four and our guests. Home is where we fill ourselves up; mold each other. This staying-season requires large chunks of staying home; planting ideas, traditions.
And if this is just dressing for my soul, I’ll allow us this indulgence, because my soul needs to be reminded the work we do to lay down seeds and bulbs gives way to the divine magic of roots forming and new greens and flowers peeking through later. And if I never leave this empire for whatever promised land I can imagine, maybe I’ll eventually come to find we’ve been living in the promised land all along.
With these slow days with my girls, with Dave, with my neighbors and those hostas from Mom, it’s a start.
…. I could be happy filling a lifetime this way.