Owning a piece of earth

We found the house taking a long detour home from worship on Sunday. When we turned on the street I thought, “I could live here.” Maples, the first in leaves, lined the street.

When we stopped outside the house, I thought, “I feel as if I already live here.”

An hour later, as we waited for the realtor to unlock the door, I felt my heart beat in my throat. Louisa was on my hip; we’d woken her from a nap to see this place, and she was groggy and her fist clung to my shirt. And inside, I kept saying, “Dave. This is it.”

They flipped light switches and pushed garage door buttons, and banged the side door open and shut going in and out, claiming the house with their informality. “Are we going to live here?!” the girls asked as they ran around the back yard. Louisa’s grogginess morphed into hyperactivity.

“I think we are,” we said.

This place is going to be home, God willing. 

I’m ecstatic: I’ve had dreams of running again in the mornings on sidewalks, and biking to church. The kids might walk to school. Plants are coming up from the ground and I didn’t plant them. A bird feeding station hangs in the middle of the yard: dear Jesus, may there please be hummingbirds?

I’m in awe that a thing we’ve prayed about is happening: rooting, staying, belonging. I’m beginning to say goodbyes to this wild place we’ve rented for about three years, and I’m dreaming about where furniture’s going to go in the new one. This has been a long process of praying and waiting, and asking to be planted, and then asking if we really wanted to be planted here, and then saying yes, yes. Why not? Why not start?

Tp leave the place where we’ve worked this out is bitter and sweet: Places are ripe with meaning and memory; they’re our settings and sometimes they take on a character of their own, where the flamboyant crab apple and the kind neighbors and the industrious birds were so quiet in drawing us forward to watch, and in making me ask if it might be all right to settle in this city instead of looking for the next best thing.

I’ve thought: If place is important, I want to be in one long enough to know why, and feel why. And: if we feel compelled by the story of the God who “moved into the neighborhood,” (John 1:14 MSG) then perhaps we ought to, too. I did this thinking in a place, daydreaming while watching outside the window, and wondering.

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When we commit to a place long term, answers don’t come right away: I’ve not yet figured out which school we’ll go to, for instance, though I’m wondering about the neighborhood one, as we’re intentionally rooting in this place near our church. I’m not sure, but we’ll visit and see. I’m not sure, either, about how not to replicate the anonymity we felt in a neighborhood in Oshkosh.

I’m not sure how often we’ll make it back to see Nancy, or how my heart’ll hold up when we visit and I spy the yard my kids now trample all over, or the river I’m leaving, this wild place. Maybe we’ll have them over for dinner instead for a while.

But all these pale to the peace I felt standing in that new kitchen, my kids piled into a tall cupboard to see if they all fit (pro tip: they do). This is going to be pretty great, I think.

***

Three hours before dawn, a barred owl called to her mate from the tree right outside our bedroom window. I lifted back the sheet, quietly, to stand and hold open blind slats with my fingers, quietly. All I saw was a single star above the maple and indiscernible shadows, but I kept watch. Her cry was so piercingly lonesome, and loud. After ten minutes or so, I laid down and listened. I could’ve spent all night listening to her through the open window, and her mate’s reply, softly echoed across the road, trying to remember it.

What a wild, lonesome place this is!

What a wonder it is, to have been here. What a wonder, too, to leave, to turn from this quiet place where things grow and live and cry, to a place where, God willing, people will know us as neighbors and we’ll grow and live and probably cry, too.

What a thing to happen when the leaves are limp with newness and strikingly verdant. What a thing.

What a thing when we say we want to stay, and God says yes. What a God.

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