I am charmed with Tsh Oxenreider’s new book, At Home in the World, and it has got me pondering about where I feel at home. As an army brat I lived a lot of different places, but the most familiar place to me is the one where I have spent the most time — central Texas on the edge of the hill country.
When I live in or visit different places, I have a heightened awareness of my surroundings when I go out of doors. The flora and fauna and the style of the buildings affect me, and I am ever conscious of the setting. I am blown away by mountains, especially, and have always enjoyed when they are part of the landscape. The Colorado Rockies are especially familiar, and I am alert to their presence when visiting whether out shopping for groceries, watching my kids on a playground, or hiking amidst their beauty. I even had the privilege of being in Zurich for a few days with the magnificent Alps ever visible in the distance. The experience is surreal, like I am living in a postcard.
Just after we married, we spent a few years living and working in a western suburb of Chicago. I loved the colonial style homes, the unfamiliar mixture of grasses in the lawns, the colors in the fall, the snow in the winter, the tulips and daffodils in the spring. It was our home, yet it always felt exotic and unfamiliar.
In the Thailand chapter of At Home in the World, Tsh loosely translates a phrase used by vendors in Chiang Mai to answer whether the brand name of an item is valid: It is, and also, it is not. This is how I feel about certain places I’ve lived or visited. It is home, and also, it is not.
A place that never feels exotic or unfamiliar to me is the place I have spent the most time in my life. It is home. After having our first baby in Illinois, our thoughts turned toward getting back to central Texas, close to family. It took a year, but we made it. I felt at home for the next twelve years, but it took having to leave again for me to appreciate it.
We had moved into our central Texas home with one child, and packed up twelve years later with eight children and another on the way. We were moving to southeast Texas for a clerkship after my husband finished law school. We rented a house on the edge of a forest preserve just west of Beaumont, and I would look out of the window and think, “The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places.” (Psalm 16:6). Yet there it is — the unfamiliar and exotic, in the form of tall pine trees. I love the pine forest, yet it is not home. I miss the flora and fauna of central Texas. We make lifelong friends, but I miss my old community.
After a year in exile, we returned home with our nine children in the sweltering heat of August. We sold the house we had long outgrown and rented what we called “the mansion” on five acres near the gateway to the hill country. I was doing some pent up decorating, and found a framed print at Garden Ridge (now At Home – how fitting). The print looked like home to me. It looked somewhat like the property we were living on, and somewhat like the view out of the car window on trips to Johnson City or Kerrville or Fredericksburg or Blanco. I bought it to hang over the fireplace mantel. I look at it, and I am glad to be back home. The print is called “Bulverde Fence Line,” by artist is Greg Glowka. The blue sky, brown grass, green live oaks and ubiquitous cedar are familiar and homey. I now have a constant awareness of these surroundings that I never had before I moved away. The grass especially amazes me, not the grass on our lawn, but the native grass, changing from bright green in the spring to a straw color with burgundy hued seeds by late summer. The many shades are indescribable, although at a glance it is just tall, brown grass. I wonder if my new appreciation has to do with being back in my community of friends and family. My heart feels at home, so my senses follow.
We rented “the mansion” for a little over a year, then bought a house closer in to shopping, activities, and friends. The print moves around, sometimes over a couch, now back in place over the mantel. We live just on the edge of development, and home is all around me. A park nearby is one of my favorite places to get out of the house and get grounded. It looks like home, and I feel at home there.
The funny thing is that I had a friend that did not want to move from southeast Texas to central Texas because she loved the tall pine trees. Another friend wants to move from central Texas back to southeast Texas where she has family. A few years ago I met a family from Oregon and Alaska that was struggling to feel at home in central Texas. They missed the forests and the food where they had come from. I wonder in all cases if community was involved — fear of losing community, wanting to get back to community, and struggling to find community. Maybe home is wherever our heart’s needs are best satisfied, and we are filled enough to be able to serve others also. The gratefulness and contentment in our heart become associated with the plants, flowers, birds, trees, sky, and even buildings that surround us when our needs are met and we are reaching out to others. I wish everyone could experience this sense of home. Where do you feel at home?