I’ve been thinking about “home” a lot lately. Obsessing over it might be a more accurate description. My family doesn’t have a home of our own right now. And after 11+ years of dwelling in our own home, it’s different. We originally thought it would just be a few weeks, maybe two months tops, while were in transition from Virginia to South Carolina and waiting for our home to sell. But this stopgap arrangement has become nine months of living. It will be a full school year by the time this season comes to a completion.
So how do we make “home” for a family of four while sharing my parents’ home? How do they expand their “home” to fit the demands, noise, delights, etc, of a family-of-four-with-two-7-year-olds? I could write a how-to article, co-authored with my parents, on all the ways to make it work or things to avoid. But that would miss the more important way God’s been teaching me about “home” while living in this unique season — like what it means in this time of home-of-our-own absence to know the Lord as my true dwelling place.
I am learning that “home” is many places and that I can choose to make whatever current living space my “home” (even if it’s not entirely or even partially mine). This current transitional season began last fall when our family moved from Norfolk, Virginia, to Greenville, South Carolina, for my husband to pursue full-time doctoral work. Greenville is my hometown — it’s where I was raised from the time I was two-years-old and it’s where I returned to live my first few years out of college. Yet returning to my hometown with my own family in tow hasn’t been as much like returning to “true home” as it once was.
My husband and I have made “home” in two places at this point in our 11+ years of marriage—Philadelphia and Norfolk, Virginia. Norfolk’s the only home our 7-year-old twin daughters have ever known. So coming back to South Carolina— while certainly familiar for me and wonderful in the aspect of being close to my family again— is not yet our home as a family. That’s because the process of a place becoming home takes time. We can’t speed it up, no matter how much we try or how many people we start off knowing or how familiar a geographical location is.
Working to Create Home
So what can we do as we wait for a location to become “home”? We have a lot of “first conversations.” You know what I mean— the basic get-to-know-you-and-your-story-and-your-job-and-your-family kind of conversations. And we have many similar conversations with many different people: co-workers, friends at church, neighbors, parents at the soccer field, moms in the classroom, etc. It’s essentially the same conversation over and over again. And of course it can feel tiresome after a while. But there are no shortcuts to relationships or community. I keep remembering that all of my tried-and-true friendships (the people I miss in the other homes I’ve had) started the same way. Over time, similarities emerged, and/or difficulties brought us closer. There will be shared tears and laughter that birth true community.
While I’ve been doing the relational work of making a home, I’ve also been trying to establish a physical “home” that resembles the one we left. Which is extra-challenging when we don’t actually have our own place yet. But we do have two bedrooms in my parents’ home and a hallway-turned-office, and a few months ago I hung up twine and paper-clipped our Christmas cards to the hall banister and pretended it was like our fireplace mantle. And something small like that made this space we’re sharing feel a little more like our own. I took down a few of their pictures and put up some of our’s instead. We unpacked as fully as we could with the few possessions we brought with us.
I’ve also sought to focus on cultivating gratefulness, which isn’t hard to do most days because of my parents’ generosity and love, and when I remember that I have a God in Heaven who arranges even the details of my address in order to help me seek and worship Him. (Acts 17: 26-28) There is so much to be grateful for in this season. We get to see my parents daily after over a decade of living multiple hours-drive away; we share meals and cooking responsibilities; we have less house to clean/manage; and we get to enjoy their beautiful home practically rent-free while we wait for ours to sell.
Being in this temporary home has reminded me of the reality that our time on earth is all a sojourn. None of us will find a perfectly fulfilling home until we dwell face-to-face with our King and Savior (Hebrews 11:13-16). This is a stark contrast to the promises made by endless Zillow searches and hours of HGTV— what I’ve seen my heart gravitate towards on the days I’ve longed for home and forgotten God’s daily sufficient grace toward me. This relationship of grace is where the Lord says not only that He is my dwelling place, but that HE has chosen to dwell within ME. Even when I struggle to be content and long for what He is not giving, He makes His home in me. He chooses to settle in, live there, and spend His days with me. It is this Love that transforms any physical dwelling place into a place I can call home.
About the Author:
Heather Davis Nelson
Heather Nelson lives in Greenville, SC, with her husband, Seth, a pastor in the PCA who is currently pursuing his Ph.D., and their twin daughters. She received her Masters of Arts in Biblical Counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary, and spent a decade as a counselor serving local PCA churches at their former homes in Philadelphia and Virginia. She is the author of “Unashamed: Healing our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame” (Crossway, 2016), and occasionally blogs at heatherdavisnelson.com. She enjoys rediscovering her home town with her family through bike rides on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, self-guided tours of the redeveloped and up-and-coming downtown Greenville, and involvement in a PCA church plant in the Poe Mill area of the city.