Over the weekend, I had a surprise package in the mail from my friend, Melissa. She and I can’t go more than a few minutes without talking about books, and when we were in Dallas last month she had gushed about The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo. I added it to my to-be-read list, and imagine my delight when it showed up in my mailbox this weekend. Can you imagine a better surprise?
It’s the story of a young orphan, Peter, whose father died on the battlefield and his mother after birthing his sister. Peter had been told that his sister was stillborn, but somehow, he has always sensed that it must not be true. A fortuneteller tells him that, indeed, his sister Adele is alive, and that Peter must look for an elephant, who will take him to her. Lo and behold, in a magic trick gone very, very wrong, an elephant suddenly appears in town that day.
Over the course of the story, the elephant grows increasingly heartbroken that she can not get home. That is Peter’s problem, too. Neither of them remembers their home, necessarily, but they know what they’re looking for.
This week marks one year since we moved to Michigan. Over the past few days, I’ve shared some of the lessons I’ve learned. Writing those lists was like free therapy for me (as writing often is); it helped me weed through my muffled, conflicted feelings and take stock of the good gifts we’ve been given this year.
One year in, I’ve been asking myself the question so many people have asked me over the past twelve months: does it feel like home?
I don’t like living in the shades of gray. I like certain, black-and-white, clear answers. I want to say, “Yes! Yes, Grand Rapids feels like home,” but I feel less certain than I’d like to be, one year in. The real answer is that Grand Rapids feels like home sometimes, but not always.
But how can that be, I wonder? It’s either home or it isn’t. Right?
Homesickness hits me like a freight train some days. It’s like grief: I can’t control when and where it pops up, and I can’t rush the rate at which I progress through it. Some days, all I want is to go somewhere and see someone who knows my story, who maybe knew Evan and me before we were parents. Even the grocery store still feels unfamiliar. I see Instagram pictures of the places we would surely be and the stories we would surely be a part of, if we were back in Florida, and it feels like we aren’t yet a part of any story, here.
Other days, I have a great conversation with a mom at the library. A neighbor and I exchange book recommendations. The boys and I head somewhere and have a great time. Evan has a good day at work, we enjoy our time together as a family. We are learning and playing together. Our house feels cozy and comfortable. Connection. Comfort. Growth.
Subconsciously, I’ve been acting as though one day, with the flip of the calendar page, Orlando would no longer be home and Grand Rapids would be. But it’s not so black and white.
I’ve learned that home isn’t so much a place. Because yes, Florida is home, and yes, Michigan is home. Both. Together. All at once. We’re beginning to understand that for the rest of our lives, we are going to have more than one home, and not just because we’ve lived in more than once place. In Orlando and Gainesville and New Port Richey and Land O’ Lakes and now in Grand Rapids, we have loved and been loved. We have grown and been challenged. We have found our people and our places and put roots down.
I was listening to a podcast recently (I can not for the life of me remember what one), and the host and guest were talking about rest. One of the women said that she was choosing rest, rather than chasing it. I love that. I am choosing the same approach with home: I’m choosing it, rather than chasing it. While I expected to feel differently one year in, 365 days is sort of an arbitrary timeframe. I’m trusting that God is still at work building home within and around us.
As the elephant in The Magician’s Elephant wishes for her home, DiCamillo writes that “She was working to remind herself of who she was. She was working to remember that somewhere in another place entirely she was known and loved.”
All that is still in progress here; the best stories have yet to be told.
In the meantime, I’m seriously considering putting a Great Lakes window decal on our car. When in Rome, right?