Leaving Home, Taking Home

Sunset in Seattle from Safeco Field, 2009

If I travel all my life
and I never get stop and settle down
long as I have you by my side
there’s a roof above and good walls all around.

Well I’ll never be a stranger
and I’ll never be alone
wherever we’re together
that’s my home.

Billy Joel, “You’re My Home”

I’ve never moved away.

I’ve moved, of course.  Like many young adults, I’ve spent much of the last eight years drifting around Seattle from dorm to house to apartment, punctuated by family visits.  Every time was much the same: trolling Craigslist for leases likely to please us, cardboard-boxing our lives and then settling into a new home, unpacking and hanging pictures, breathing a settled sigh of relief as we ate pizza and watched a movie in our unfamiliar new home.  And though the homes have changed, the view outside hasn’t, much.  The grey skies and green trees follow me around the city, and I’m still surrounded by layers of water and mountains, whose outlines I can trace even when I’m sleeping.

But none of these moves were away.  I came to Seattle with my family when I was eleven, and since then have stayed.  I’ve always stayed.  And now I’m going.

I reflected on this change this morning in an interview with the Bethany mission committee.  The chairperson asked me what God was teaching me.

“I keep learning the same things,” I replied.  “Learning to trust God with the future, timing.  It’s always the same trust, everywhere I go.  Trusting God for what is the next step.  The next step has always been staying in Seattle.  Now I’m learning to trust when it’s not.”

At every juncture of life since high school, I have wondered if it was time to leave Seattle.  Like my parents, I am a traveler, interested in meeting new people and hearing their stories, curious to see the world from all sides.  Yet it’s never been time to go.  I graduated from Ballard High School with the conviction that the financial security of attending SPU, where my mother works, outweighed the glamor of going to a similar East Coast university.  I remember looking out of my first dorm room on Moving Day #1 and seeing my high school, smiling genially at me from across the Canal.  Four years later, as I contemplated teaching internationally, it still wasn’t time to go.  I had a sister I was just getting to know, a youth group to whom I’d committed for another three years, and a job offer at a public high school in Seattle.

For me, the lesson of young adulthood has been how to appreciate the beauty of investing in the community around me.  Not used to long-term residence or relationships, I’ve been learning to trust God in the indefinite termlessness of young adulthood.  What does it mean, I used to ask, to stay somewhere and to love it?

It means a lot.  It means renewing leases a few times, with a sigh of relief that we could put off moving the piano for another year.  It means growing up with people, sharing the triumphs and sorrows of many stages of life.  It means watching friends and family graduate from high school.  It means returning home, so many times, stepping off of planes or emerging from freeway tunnels to mountains and rain and grey, loving it more each time.

And now I’m letting go.  Firmly grounded in the love of this home, I am moving away, packing up my room on a Sunday night and listening to silly Owl City’s “Hello Seattle” while the miraculous May sunshine reveals how much dusting is still to be done.

I’m still a wanderer, still thrilled by the thought of riding a train to a town I’ve never seen, ready to love kids I don’t yet know. Yet, as I contemplate leaving home for the first time, I am see that God is still teaching me.  Stay, He’s told me, when I longed to keep running.  And now, Go.  I’ll be there, too.  So it will be home.

My Teachers

Stopping to enjoy the last of fall during the Seattle Marathon

On a warm May Saturday evening, we sit down around the table in my parents’ dining room.  Five couples, the parents of my friends and peers, they form a small group at Bethany Community Church.  On Saturday night, they welcomed me as a guest speaker, giving me the floor for a few minutes to share about my upcoming ministry to students at BFA.

We pass barbecued chicken and salad, a spring breeze from the open window mingling with snatches of childhood reminiscences.  Conversation is the ping-pong table banter available only to long and affectionate friendships.  Soon enough it is my turn to speak, and after only a few words about my plans to teach at BFA they begin asking questions.

Dozens of questions, actually.  What excites you about this ministry?  What worries you?  How have you seen God preparing you to take this step?  They are questions of care and curiosity, designed to encourage and not to badger.  I am grateful for their curiosity, happy to talk about this next step.

I served as a high school small group leader for several of their now-graduated daughters, and as I speak about the needs of students growing up in Christian homes, I realize that they’ve given me a passion for kids raised in the church.  Not as I met with their daughters over four years, but by teaching me, even earlier.  There is continuity at this table, a circle of loving adults who have taught me, as a community sharing both joy and sorrow, what it means grow in Christ through life’s many challenges.  As I look around the table, I recall ninth grade Bible studies, childrens’ choir tours, camping trips and barbecues much like this one, in which each of these people invested in me as a young person.

We need this.  Mentorship gets a great deal of attention in adult relationships at our church, but sometimes I fear it gets taken for granted how much our children need extra adults around.  Even coming from the best family I’ve seen anywhere, I have benefitted richly from the presence of these friends in my life.  As I prepare to teach in a Christian setting, I am excited to take a more active role in faith mentorship with my students than I’ve been able to do so far.  I pray that I can begin to serve my students in the same way that this group continues to serve me, teaching me with their lives what it means to live for God.

History in Skagit Valley

The still grey valleys–Snohomish and Skagit–grow smaller as we keep driving.  It’s Sunday morning, early, and Holly and I are on a quest.  We’re searching for history.  History in general: as we drive east along Highway 20, towards the closed Washington Pass,  towns built a century ago still bear the faces of their youth.  History in particular: ours.

We are going to Concrete, Washington, site of Concrete Community Bible Church, where I am speaking in the 10:00 AM service about my upcoming sojourn as a missionary teacher at Black Forest Academy.  It’s the church I attended sporadically as a child, mostly for Vacation Bible School and Christmas pageants.  The memories I have of this town are linked mostly to this church; my life in Skagit Valley, which I left at the age of eleven, took place 15 miles further down the road.  I recall youth group ventures and choir rehearsals, vague Bible-related endeavors in the basement whose floor plan echoes back from childhood.

It is the liability of the pastor’s kids to always take their pastors along with them.  Since I have always attended my father’s churches, at any given moment only one of the three can exist as I knew it.   Island Community Church is full mostly of strangers.  Alaythia Fellowship remains in memories and friendships only.  Though I have always been happy in the communities that surround me, there is also a sense that I’m erasing history from behind me as I go. No one in Seattle knew me prior to adolescence.  Until Sunday, I forgot that anyone did at all.

We arrive at the church in time for Adult Sunday School, and Pastor Rob immediately rushes to greet us.  He marvels at how grown-up we are, as it’s been a decade since we last attended church here, and declares excitement for what I’m about to share.  I’m excited, too, though I haven’t yet inherited my father’s nonchalant public speaking skills.

The church is warm and small, and just as I remembered it down to the banners that hang on the walls.  (I found myself staring at the same red heart scribbled across a crucifix that held my eight-year-old attention through sermons I didn’t understand.)  Before the service starts, several members of the congregation greet us genially, recalling our days at Alaythia.  We are anomalies, the girls who left the valley and now travel the world, but even so we’re received, after all these years, with an easy hospitality that inspires me.  I don’t feel like an outsider here–just a long-gone insider.

The speaking goes well, and as I stand in front of the church I realize that my strongest passion for teaching at BFA comes from the fact that the students there are the children of ministry families.  It’s a position I know well, the knowledge about faith without necessarily a personal understanding.  And as I speak to this church, seeing people who mentored me in faith as a child, I realize the deep importance of teachers–Sunday School and otherwise–in bringing up the next generation of Christ-followers.  I realize that there is a deep appropriateness in beginning my support-gathering ventures here, at the beginning of my calling.  These are the people who invested me, just as they continue to invest in the young people in their community, and I’m inspired by both the past and the present as I speak to them, as they welcome me.

After a long lunch with old friends, a scenic drive through the greenest valley, Holly and I deemed the quest a success.  We came with words and curiosity; we a reminder that we are part of Christ’s body, linked together by history and, more importantly, the Lord we serve together.