“Wait, you live where?!” Blank stares. Confused looks. Awkward moments. I get asked this question once every so often, but rarely have I stopped to really reflect on my response to this question and what it means. For those of you who do not know, I’ve been living in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul (the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in St. Paul and also the area with highest rate of poverty and unemployment) for the past two years through a program called Urban Neighbors. When I explain where I live most often than not I encounter several of the gestures described above, along with an occasional pause and a “oh wait, you are serious?!”. A white, female college student from the ‘burbs is typically not the person people imagine to be living in a place of St. Paul referred to as the “hood”.
Lately, since I’ve been at my parent’s house with my family over the holidays I’ve been reflecting on what it means to call a place one’s “home”. My first home, in Waconia, has left me with wonderful childhood memories of lazy days swimming in the lake in our backyard, ridiculous neighborhood plays such as our own rendition of “Star Wars”, and incredible friendships that have lasted since my years in preschool. Even after I left Waconia and had lived on-campus for a year after my freshmen year of college I still felt my parent’s house was the one place I could call “home”. Up until my sophomore year of college, I always thought the definition of what “home” was and what it meant in my everyday life was clear. “Home” was where I grew up and it was always a place I could return to when I was in need of some rest, some family time…or simply needed to do some laundry 🙂
Now, I’m not so sure anymore what or where to call “home”. A semester in Guatemala, and now nearly two years living in Frogtown, has left me questioning what to tell people when they ask me where I am from. I often feel conflicted when people ask where I am from, where I live now, or where I have been because I feel like they are missing a piece that helps make sense of the larger picture that is my life.
According to a definition from an online dictionary the definition of home when it is used as a verb is: “to return by instinct to its territory after leaving it”. While this definition is supposed to be used for geese or other animals as they are migrating or “homing”, I feel this deep longing and pull that can only be described in a similar instinctive manner towards each of these three places (Waconia, Guatemala and Frogtown) that have deeply shaped who I am and where I am going. Just as those who were native to each of my “homes” have been left deeply scarred by the wounds my ancestors have created in the name of “manifest destiny”, “ousting communism” and “economic progress”, I too have struggled with reconciling my white, upper middle-class background to the places in which I call “home” today.
While each of these three places which I call “home” have suffered or committed great injustices, I feel a deep sense of belonging in each of them. In Waconia, I felt understood by my closest friends despite my somewhat awkward, yet hilarious, adolescent years; in Guatemala, I felt accepted as familia by my Guatemalan host family, language teachers and ministry partners; and in Frogtown, I have felt loved by my roommates and my Burmese refugee neighbors who always remind me “yah eh nah” (“I love you” in Karen). I think German poet Christian Morgenstern hits it right on the mark when he says, “Home is not where you live, but where they understand you”.
While I don’t live in Guatemala anymore and I’m not sure if I will be living in Frogtown in a year from now, I know that these places will always be a place where I felt understood, accepted and loved, and for that they will always be my “home”.
Yet, I can’t deny that at times I do still feel conflicted. If the old saying “home is where the heart is” rings true, does that mean that my heart will forever be torn; always with the comfortable lake home where I spent all of my summers as a young girl, yet simultaneously feeling the tug of my heart on a busy street corner amidst Frogtown’s sweet aroma of Southeast Asian, East African and soul food cookin’?
As I continue to ask myself this question among many others, I am reminded of what Christ had to say about what a “home” is and where he belonged. In Luke chapter 9 Jesus is heading for Jerusalem when he walks through a Samaritan village and is left unwelcomed. In response to this, James and John ask Jesus “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heave to destroy them?” (v. 54). Instead of telling his disciples James and John to condemn the village who did not welcome him, he rebukes James and John for not responding in a loving way, and instead returning the same hostility and judgment as some of the people in the Samaritan village. Not long after this incident, a man approaches Jesus along the road and says that he will follow him wherever Jesus goes. To this Jesus replies, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (v.58).
I believe the actions and response Jesus gave in these situations can serve well as I navigate the difficulties, and often awkward moments, of explaining to people where I live. When I explain to people where I live currently, I am sometimes met with what could be described as sentiments of subtle hostility and anger for not living where people, mostly from privilege, believe I am by all social norms “supposed to be living”. At times, I want to respond to snide remarks about Frogtown directed towards me out of the same of fear and anger; my sinful self wants to make some snide remark back about their ignorance, privilege, etc.
But as I look back on my own history and my own journey (that will be a continuous journey for the rest of my life!) from ignorance to continued awareness of the role power and privilege play in the places we call “home”, I recognize how eagerly I have called out to Jesus from the side of the road just like that man, telling him I would follow him anywhere, yet not fully realizing the difficulties that would come with living in the tension of calling many different places “home”. Only by the grace of Christ will I continue to be transformed to a lifestyle where I can have no one place to call home or to “to lay my head”, but finding peace in calling many places “home”; places where I can communicate, belong and be understood. I’m unsure where God may lead me next in life, but I can find peace and rest in a Messiah that was a sojourner, a wanderer and a hitch-hiker. I can’t help to think that if Jesus was here in the flesh he would be “couch-surfing” his way across the world, from one continent to the next! 🙂
And so, I go. Unsure where my next place I will call “home” may be, but certain that in the tension of being asked where I call “home” Christ is right beside me, pushing me more and more out of my comfort zone to experience a greater glimpse of the Divine.