On my living room wall in Kandern, there are three maps.
(We have lots of maps, actually. An old map of Germany, a Metro guide to Paris, maps of Europe and the world that we bought at the grocery store a while ago. We live in a house of maps.)
These three, however, take center stage in our living room, occupying a long and well-lit wall between the window and the stairs. And unlike the other maps, which mostly tell us about the continent on which we live, places we’ve been or want to go, these maps tell our stories. State maps of Washington, Minnesota and New York march from west to east along the wall. We’ve started to surround them with pictures from home, people and places we love linked back to locations with bits of red string. Accompanying each, ticking a cacophonous trio, is a clock, telling the time “back home” for each of us.
The string and map idea is hardly a new one, especially for missions. Before I knew the terms “mission field” or “furlough,” I’d peered up at huge world maps, photographs of families linked back to continents I’d never heard of. The strings put faces to locations, so that if I knew nothing else about these smiling families, standing by large-leafed trees, I knew that they were far, very far, from where I lived.
As of a few hours ago, I have lived in Europe for one year. I arrived at Tauernhof in Austria this evening, for a second summer serving as an Upward Bound instructor. This has been a year of growth and surprise, a year in which I’ve been delighted to witness God’s faithfulness in ways that I’d never have imagined, much less expected. I’ve been blessed with two closely-knit communities and with friends who delight and inspire with their love.
And yet, thankful as I am for the new life that God has built here, tonight I’m thinking of the strings on my Washington map. Thinking how this map is the opposite of the missions map in the church hallways, telling me how far away people have gone. This map, surrounded by faces of people I love, reminds me how close home remains. Along with the great joy that each new day brings, I daily bring along these friends and family who’ve shaped and loved me. I see them on trails and in street signs, hear their voices in a turn of phrase or an old song. After a year, the string that links me back to Seattle hasn’t faded away, as I remember when I talk to friends on Skype, or my parents arrive in Kandern for a visit. That’s still home, too.
I’m grateful for this. As grateful as the surprise of learning, when I moved “away from home” for the first time in my life, that homes don’t end or close when I leave them. That while I sometimes grow weary and overwhelmed at the thought of “starting over” with new people or new places, the love of Christ is expansive, multiplying rather than substituting, love upon love.