Home has always been a complicated concept for me.
Moving to new places every few years was a constant given for our family during my childhood. Because of that transience, I often longed for the days when I would be able to settle in one place for a long time. In particular, I dreamed of returning my beloved Oklahoma, a place that is essentially my childhood home, or to Minnesota, where I was born and still proudly claim as a part of my heritage. More recently, I imagined a life where I would stay at my alma mater for the rest of my days, working there and continuing to engage with the university’s traditions. Today, I’m not so sure about any of those dreams for my long-term future home.
Six months ago, I faced two moves at the same time. I moved back to my alma mater for a new adventure in graduate school, and a day later, my parents (and my brother) moved back to Oklahoma. At last! Two dreams come true! Back to OklaHOMEa, back to my university! A return to two of my sweetest homes, like I always wanted!
Now, so much good has come out of this double move. But to say the return to my homes fulfilled my expectations perfectly would be absolutely false. The idealism didn’t last long.
For starters, it was emotionally difficult for me to return to my alma mater. I still struggled to rise out of the slump and isolation my gap year had put me in. Also, I knew my closest friends from undergrad would no longer be at the university. Yet I knew this school, knew this town, and found comfort in that familiarity. It placed me in the weird predicament of starting over socially in a place where I already felt so settled. I didn’t expect it to be difficult at first. My university was home, after all! But I soon realized that it wasn’t the university itself that had made it home for me. The traditions, the buildings, the spirit of the school—all cool aspects of my alma mater. But home there was created by the people: the mentors who believed in me, the students I interacted with, and the friends I made. So, to make my alma mater feel like home again, I would have to work at building more relationships with those around me.
I faced another hindrance to my ability to adjust back to my alma mater: I really wanted to go back to Oklahoma with my family. Months before my parents had decided to move, I had actually considered moving there myself. Not only was it slightly hard to watch my family live that Oklahoma dream of mine, but it was also hard to leave them, too. They are home to me.
I struggled with idealizing Oklahoma as well. I visited my family the day after they closed on their new house for about a week. That week was perfect: me and my brother and our friends, living it up and spending most of our waking hours together. Reunited, at last! Living the ultimate dream! Why couldn’t I live here too, and make it home again?
When I visited again a couple of weeks later, the rosiness of it all faded as reality set in: my friends, my brother, and I aren’t kids anymore. That early July week was special—and rare. I also said good-bye to my best friend, sending her off on her own adventure to Iowa. Without her there, I wasn’t friendless, but there was something missing. She had made Oklahoma home, too.
I discovered that Oklahoma could never live up to my former expectations of home. The home I craved to return to existed in the past, back when life’s responsibilities and struggles weighed less heavily upon us. No, just like my alma mater, Oklahoma couldn’t be home again, not in the same way it had been ten years ago. Just as with my alma mater, home needed to be redefined.
This Christmas season, after reflecting for half a year on this concept of home yet again, I find myself unresolved. I don’t know what home looks like, at least not on this Earth. I don’t know where home is. I’m not even sure whether to call Oklahoma or my university home. But I do have some hazy notions of what home is and what home means.
Home isn’t a place, it’s the people. A building can’t make you feel accepted. It can’t give you a sense of belonging. Sure, when I see the buildings of my campus, I feel a swell of familiarity and nostalgia. But those feats of architecture are mere symbols of home. The joy I feel when I look at them is only because of who lives or works there. Certain places trigger my memories of others: moments of laughter, deep conversations, or even just studying together. Those memories of friends and mentors remind me how and why my alma mater became my home.
Today, in graduate school, I am grateful to have a new community who have made my alma mater feel like home again. My sense of settledness didn’t come back with the football games, going back to class, or walking around the familiar campus. It’s my new friends—my new family at the university—who rallied around one another in mutual support as we tackle this crazy thing called graduate school together. They made my alma mater home again. They are a part of my home.
Home isn’t constant, it changes. If I spent all my time trying to recapture the homes I once had, it would be time wasted and energy spent in vain. Admittedly, I do spend a lot of time “capturing” my past homes through my writing, but both Our Company of Fools and The Queen of Imagination do address that the past cannot be returned to. I write through my past to process and move on. To let go. It helps, but I still struggle. Memories mean a lot to me. It’s why I scrapbook. Recently I’ve discovered that the act of scrapbooking—of laying down memories through pictures—actually accomplishes the same as my writing: it helps me process and move forward.
I’m still struggling to move forward now. It gets easier as I become closer with my graduate school friends. As I settle into the new rhythms of life. As I rest with my family over breaks. But it is somewhat frightening to let go of the familiar past for the uncertainty of the future. I’m letting go of the concepts of home I once dreamed of recapturing. In its place, I must embrace a new idea of home—an idea that is still ill-defined and unformed. I don’t know where in the world I’ll be drawn to after graduate school. It’s the first time in my life where I’ve had no clear idea of where I wanted to settle in the future. Maybe I won’t want to settle anywhere for long at all.
For Christians, Home isn’t in this World, it’s with Him. Exploring the concept of home has been a constant of mine, yet it seems to be a repetitive lesson. I think it’s because I long for stability in my life. And I need a frequent reminder that the Christian walk is one towards an Eternal Home, and any semblance of home that I find in this world is a mere reminder of the more lasting one I’m heading towards.
I thought I had learned that and internalized it. But returning, for the first time, to settle in familiar places—it’s shown me that I’ve often put my hope in places that can’t fill me like my Heavenly Home. They are merely mirrors, pointing me towards that promise of peace and rest and wholeness found in Christ. My earthly homes are only temporary—just like any feeling of settledness I have in a particular place. Even people will come and go in my life. Only Christ remains.
So, this Christmas, as I celebrate in Oklahoma, as I catch my breath from a wild semester, as I reflect on the birth of the Savior, I am in awe of His gift to us. He left His Home to open the doors to us. He entered into our world to give us a Home. I wonder if He felt out of place at times in this world. I wonder how deeply He longed to return to the Father as He lived here. And yet He persisted in His ministry to welcome us lowly sinners in, to give us a lasting Home. What a gift He has given us!
May you see a glimpse of our Eternal Home in your celebrations with family and friends this holiday season. Merry Christmas!