Good to Be Home?

It’s always the same, coming home from a vacation–that last block before our house.

We drive up the hill, and turn under a canopy of locust trees. On our left, there’s the big rhododendron bush, the vacant duplex with the colorful window frames, two red brick rentals, and grass. On the right, there’s trash tucked into the undergrowth, and sometimes a neighborhood deer, nosing through a discarded fast food bag.

“Boo!” I might say to the deer. And if the leftovers aren’t that fascinating, the deer might even look up. City deer are never afraid; I could yell, “We’ve been away! For weeks. We were really far away. Didn’t you miss us?”

And if deer could roll their big doe eyes, she just might. But instead we drive on, pulling up in front of our house.

Home! Finally, we’re home. But how can coming home feel so familiar and so surreal, all at the same time?

* * * * *

Several years ago we made the adventurous (or foolish) decision to drive to New Orleans with a three and a five year old. There and back again, with overnights at a friends’ house in Charlotte and a cabin in the northeastern Alabama woods, it was about thirty-five hours of driving.

And after thirty-five hours of the Veggie-Tales CD, let me tell you, we were ready to come home. But as we drove that familiar last block (no deer that night), waved to our neighbors, and greeted our black cat, something wasn’t quite right.

It was as if we had never left. But we had. After two weeks and two thousand miles, our eyes were now accustomed to new sights and unfamiliar places. I felt uneasy in the old and familiar.


But there wasn’t much time for reflection. Instead, there were tasks–get the girls in bed, empty the cooler, take off the bikes. Home quickly became a to-do list. Our room was the aftermath of our two-weeks-previous packing tornado. The girls room was worse. A Goodwill trip, perhaps a dumpster, was in order. I suddenly became nostalgic about living out of suitcases.

It was home. It was really overwhelming.

5861512547_e3e80f63b3_oTime had passed, things had changed, but the same skirt that I had rejected while packing was still sitting on my bed. I regarded it as a foreign object–the North Carolina mountains seemed nearer. Was it only a week ago that I biked the streets of New Orleans? And that lovely cabin in Alabama… I could almost smell the pine trees. Were all of these places and moments just postcards and photographs now?

I threw the skirt off the bed and lay down.

* * * * *

The next morning I had some coffee in the backyard. The chickens were doing their chicken-y things in the run, the kids were swinging under the magnolia tree,  and the sun was shining through everything green.

It was good to be home.

Eventually I slowed down enough to remember one of my favorite quotes. From G.K. Chesterton. The words rippled through my head as I sipped from my warm mug, stilling me.

The fatal metaphor of progress, which means leaving things behind us, has utterly obscured the real idea of growth, which means leaving things inside us. 

Ah… here was a key. I took another sip.

The thing about coming home is that it is work. Good work. But it is not only the work of unpacking, laundry and trying to find the darn cellphone charger. It’s not just returning to my email inbox, catching up at the office, or purging excess stuff. Coming home is also the work of figuring out what my experiences of far-away places will mean in my close-to-home places.

Coming home is allowing myself to be different than I was, and giving the left-inside things room to grow. And as I sat there, under the same magnolia tree, surrounded by the same neighbors and the same city deer, gearing up to clean my room, I sighed and smiled.

“There’d better be some new things in there,” I thought, laying a hand on my breastbone as if I might feel something move. “Two thousand miles is a long was to go for some postcards.”


Postcard picture by Else-Marla Tennessen 

Winter Road

Here is something I found to be true: You don’t start processing death until you turn thirty. I live in visions, for instance, and they are cast out some fifty years, and just last year I realized my visions were cast too far, they were beyond my life span.” – Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts

I’m not quite at thirty yet. I turn 27 in May. I’m not exactly contemplating death, but is has become less of an abstraction. A sound I didn’t think would accompany my 20s is a constant companion: My day is filled with the hiss of air. Not a cold blast blowing down from the Blue Ridge Mountains, but a purer kind of winter air, the kind run through a rubber tube to my father so he can breathe easier. The constant hiss of the air being pushed into his lungs is a reminder—a tangible metaphor of the end that is approaching us all.

Like many of my peers, I am out of college, unemployed and living at home—though my situation isn’t quite the norm. Instead of spending my days job searching, I sit at home and goof off on the internet. (Ok that’s typical of people in my situation.) At least that’s what I do until my father gets up and I roll his oxygenator into the living room and remind him to take his pills, check his blood sugar and then get him breakfast.

I don’t know many in their twenties who have to confront the mortality of a parent, at least not in the way I do. My seventy-nine year old father sits in his chair pretty much every day now and reads and watches TV. We are at opposite ends, he and I. I’m longing to be fully into the summer of my life, waiting for a career, a wife and perhaps a family; while he sits near the end of his life, his career gone and his family scattered around the country.

I worry about so much these days. It’s a suffocating feeling to be trapped in a space you feel you can’t get free from. My father feels much the same way, especially being stuck inside for the Winter Roadwinter months because of the cold. Yet, he doesn’t worry like I do. “God has a plan,” he says. “Maybe, I don’t know if I trust it though,” I reply. If I were in his position I would not be as calm and trusting in God. But throughout it all my dad has kept this serenity about everything, despite age and health conspiring to bring him down.

It used to be I thought thirty was old. Now I look at people in their fifties and think, that’s not so bad! I worry about my next fifty years and what will happen, and it’s then I remember that if I should last that long I’ll be almost the same age as my father is now. I look at him and wonder if my life will follow a similar script. We are alike in so many ways; both of us a bit stubborn and yet willing to discuss and debate everything. And yet, I wonder if I will be as serene when my own winter comes.

It was at thirty-eight that Robert Frost wrote, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.” At that age, he was just 20 years before the end of life expectancy for people of that time. Looking out his window, he knew that the spectre of the end was creeping up on him. But at a time when most of us would be in a mid-life crisis, he was less concerned, talking about his promises to keep and miles to go before he slept. It was just six years before he wrote “The Road Not Taken,” which ends like this: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

As I sit on the couch I look at my father, knowing he’s tried the road more traveled by, a life without God and supposedly without consequences. He returned to the narrow lane when he returned to his faith. I have to agree with Frost: It has made all the difference—for him and for me. Without it, this last phase of his life would be much colder and more of a struggle.

I think when you’re younger the road more travelled seems like the best option. I’ll admit I think about taking it instead of the narrow one. But when I look at how calm the winter of my father is I know it’s the wrong choice. Taking the narrow road will always be unnerving. There are more obstacles in your way, sometimes you must choose between honesty and success, your integrity or comfort. But if you’re lucky, the weathered signposts will be there—the ones put up in the winters before you, with the handwriting you know so well. That is how you know you’re on the right path.

* * * * *

10387502_685529957081_2815207386496696502_n“Winter Road” was written by Michael Hadley. Most of Michael’s time has been spent migrating between Chattanooga, TN for college and Asheville, NC where his parents live. For a semester he lived between the communications department, Starbucks, and Barnes and Noble; his addiction to books and coffee is what drives him. Currently he is freelancing in Asheville, NC and Chattanooga, TN hoping to find a “real” job. His work can be found at and his wit on twitter @MCHadley

What to wear to the mall

Moving South is unbecoming on me. Or it is my becoming. I’m not sure. For the first time in my life, I care about what I wear to the mall. I make sure to wear matching socks. I make sure I wear make-up. I make sure I have something not too wrinkled on. Sometimes. Most of the time.

I hate the mall.

Or I hate that the people at the mall from whom I am trying to buy goods treat me like I am from the wrong side of the tracks who has no business being in their shiny, ridiculously expensive store filled with things from origins unknown and created by unknown people. What factory did that sweater originate from? Asia? Central America? Do you think it came overseas on a ship and airplane, on a semi? Hello, salesperson, don’t ignore me! Oh, there she goes. She is ignoring me, again.

I live in Durham, North Carolina. It’s quirky, retro, and trying to relive the 90’s in hipster style. Think: the more tattoos and mohawks and vintage clothing the better. Local artisans, food trucks, and community gardens are where Durham pours its resources. It’s hip, it’s entrepreneurial, it’s grungy.

And I fit in. In fact, I’ve mastered the hipster grunge look. I am a mom of two young kids, so I’ve haven’t slept in five years. You might think the “she looks like she just got out of bed” was on purpose, but no. I probably forgot to brush my hair because I had to chase my daughter around the house in order to brush hers. Except when I go to the super suburban, high end shopping mall twenty minutes south of the gritty, brick, tobacco warehouses called Downtown Durham, then I try to brush my hair, brush my teeth, and wear my Sunday best.

I grew up outside the Washington, DC area where BRAINS were what always mattered, not whether you wore Lululemon or Kate Spade or Tory Burch. Growing up, I was told, “who you are” is more important than what you look like. And so I cower, when women at the make-up counter with flawless but obviously overdone makeup say things like,”I treat anybody who comes in here the same. No matter what they look like.”

IMG_3197Are you talking to me? What are you talking to me about? What impression am I giving you as I try to keep my four year old from trying on every single lip-gloss? Do I look like a strange hobo? Is there a reason you are pointing out your graciousness? Do I look that bad? I did not try on purpose. Honest. Umm, here, please take my hard earned money, and give me some tinted moisturizer for sensitive skin. Hush. Please don’t talk anymore. You are giving me a complex, over-dressed salesperson.

The mall makes me vain. It makes me feel inferior. Perhaps that is the marketing strategy: Make people feel so unfabulous that they have to buy fabulous, unnecessary objects to make them feel better. Except, I just I feel unworthy. The mall has become a place where I feel my unworthiness. And it’s unbecoming on me. I turn into a grouch, my neuroses and angst come out, then in defense I become a snob. They judge, so I judge. It’s a terrible game.

So I am here, on the border of the conservative south, where the mall is located, and a liberal academic town, where my favorite coffee shops, farmer’s markets, and community spaces are. In one, I am secure and know myself. In the other, I am puzzled by my insecurities and apparent weakness for vanity.

And then there is God.

I hear Him and his strong sturdy voice, reminding me He is the God of every place. He speaks, almost with a chuckle, “Child, you are my child. Let those microaggressions roll off your back. The mall is not my kingdom. It does not recognize you as I recognize you. I am the source of all you need. The mall, the mall is mammon. You don’t need to worship at its throne. Durham, Durham has it flaws, too. You know that. You know that the world is filled with people in need…of Me.”

And later, on the car ride home with my bags of materialistic items from China, Mexico and Haiti, I realize that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable at the mall. I should feel different. I should feel like an outsider and befuddled and an imposter. Because that is what I am. I was not made for that world—I don’t want it to “become me.”  And I don’t want Durham to “become me,” either.

I want something else to become me.

I want grace to become me. I want God’s grace to become me. I want to wear that no matter where I am, whether I am enjoying a beer with tatted friends or buying a pair shoes with people decked out in Burberry. God is the God of Comfort and Discomfort, and the power of His grace is found in the tension between them.

*   *   *   *   *
Photo on 4-19-14 at 3.52 PM“What to Wear to the Mall” was written by Sarah Hudspeth. Sarah is a mom of two kids full of life and mischief, a wife of a grad student, and a middle school math teacher to students with learning needs. Coffee is her favorite, as are books, Twitter, and any day spent outside. Sarah lives in Durham, North Carolina, and eats extremely well due to food trucks, her garden, and the eat-everything-local movement.