Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Home: A Destination, not an Origination

Shortsinwoods ... in snow.
I've been looking forward to the 29th edition of "January Blog-a-Day," because the assigned topic is "home." Home has a special meaning to us.

Darlene and I met in Upland, California, in 1973 when by the "coincidence of God" we attended the same church and high school. My family was moving to a new home. She had lived in her home all her life, and her family had helped begin the church when she was very young. So, it was all she had ever known.

We married during the summer after my first junior year at Biola, and we started life together in a nice home in La Mirada, on a hillside overlooking the Orange County basin (where you could see fireworks from both Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm each evening). Nonetheless we were eager to move back to our "home" community of Upland after we graduated. We purchased a small condo there, where our first child, Nathan, was born. (Well, not in the condo; but you know what I mean.) A few years later we sold the condo and moved to a larger home in nearby Rancho Cucamonga.

Actually, Nathan and Mandy both were born in the same hospital where Darlene was born. She worked there when they were both born; just as her mom and worked there before her. Darlene had deep roots in the community.

That's why it seemed shocking to me that she was willing to pick up and move away from everything she knew, her parents and sibling included, when World Vision asked us to relocate to the Pacific Northwest. I had moved frequently, all around Southern California, so for me a move meant an exciting new chance to meet new people and discover new places. But for her, it was more like a faith step into the unknown.

And it was a big step. We moved to a new home in Puyallup, Washington, which we quickly discovered was subject to frequent flooding (something unknown to us as Southern California natives). Every time it rained (as it does frequently here in Western Washington, we spent our days and our hours, whether in gray daylight or black of night, pumping water from our yard and trying desperately to keep it out of our home.

While our purchase decision had not been sufficiently deliberated, we did make another decision which proved to be much wiser. The first weekend we were here we asked that God would lead us to a church that we could call home. The first church we attended, Elim Evangelical Free, welcomed us with open arms and we never looked back.

It also provided us with a solution to our dilemma. One of the elders, Larry Nelson, was an outstanding real estate attorney who helped us negotiate a way out of the legal maze of freedom from our purchase decision. He discovered proof that the builder who sold us our home knew of its problems, but failed to disclose these during the course of the sale. We sought to negotiate; he at first refused. We filed suit and then, the day before the jury trial was to begin (the jury had literally been seated), he showed up on our doorstep, willing to talk.

We negotiated an arrangement whereby he paid to move us from the flooded home, into another house of our choosing. The new house was slightly larger and nicer so we kicked in a little cash for that.

Meanwhile, the couple who had so warmly welcomed us to Elim became close friends of ours throughout this process. J.C. and Di Williams lived in a custom-built home in the forest, just a mile or two from where we had first moved. Each time we visited them, we left saying to each other, "Didn't that just feel like home?" It was uncanny. It seemed to both of us like a destination, somewhere we longed to be.

Because of this intense longing which neither of us could explain, on the day that J.C. approached me privately and said, "Larry, we're moving. Are you interested in buying our house?" I immediately said, "Yes, of course!" without even the need to consult Darlene about it. No price was even discussed. I went home and told Darlene. We were both ecstatic.

We sold our existing home then moved into the home which we later dubbed "Shortsinwoods" in February 2002. Nathan had turned 18 and moved out shortly before we did so; Mandy was still living at home at that point. Later that summer, we held the first meeting of Elim's young adults group, which is now called "Pulse," in our living room.

Our home is such a blessing to us it's difficult to describe. A long gravel driveway winds through the woods so that you can't even see it from a public street. (There's one way in and one way out, and everyone who comes down our driveway is on security camera, which is just one of the reasons we feel very secure here and have never had any problems with theft.)

In the summertime, when the woods are thickest, you really can't even see another house from our yard. And in the winter, when the deciduous trees drop their leaves, our neighbors are revealed. Our neighbors are gracious and kind and for the most part know how to pull together. We have a little under an acre of property, with much of it in the woods, so the grass only takes about 45 minutes to mow.

The house itself is custom built, two stories and covered in all cedar shake, with a country-style porch in the front and a large deck in the back. When the weather is nice we can sit on both and toss apples to the deer who wander in and out of our yard, or be entertained by the antics of gray squirrels or jays who swoop in to fetch peanuts arranged for this purpose on the railing.

During the past 10 years, Pulse has grown dramatically and many times barely fits into a very comfortably sized house. We meet here for Bible study and prayer each Friday evening, and young adults are here for various reasons throughout the week. Nathan and I, with the help of my dad when he was alive, built a self-contained studio apartment above our garage, which is often rented to young adults in temporary need of housing. So, we have been blessed to have been spared any sort of "empty nest" syndrome. Our home is always a full and a happy place.

But is it "home?" Does it have the feel of a final destination? Darlene and I have often thought we would thoroughly enjoy retiring here, and even plotted how we could move all our living arrangements downstairs when we are no longer of an age where we can safely negotiate the stairs. Neither of us know for sure whether the Lord will keep us here (where we would of course be entirely happy) or move us somewhere else (where we would be excited to see what new thing was in store). We do realize the reason He so obviously arranged for us to live here, at least temporarily, was because of the ministry assignment that He wanted us to fulfill. So, perhaps more is in store than we can yet know.

And I think that has become my perspective on what "home" means. "Home" is not something you return to -- a point of origin. It is, rather, a destination -- a place you are heading toward. There is a saying, "Home is where the heart is," which is in one sense true. I also often think of Christ's words in Matthew 6:21 -- "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

For now, our home is here in Shortsinwoods, because we have invested our treasure (our time, our energy, our obedience, even our money) in the ministry that God has for us here. Our hearts are here, as a result. But in a broader sense, that treasure is invested in God's Kingdom ... and our hearts are ever leading us onward and upward to a final destination that we can truly call "home." As Hebrews 11 recounts of saints of old:
13All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
When I was a kid, we used to sing an old hymn: "This world is not my home, I'm just a-passin' thru ... my treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue." My mom and dad are both there now ... HOME. I look forward to the day when I will be there too, a destination "beyond the blue." Things have been promised me, which I have received a down payment on, but have not yet fully been fulfilled. A mansion has been prepared for me there, the Master Carpenter Himself has said.

Much better than this old cedar-shake country home in the woods, I'm sure!

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