Friday, June 30, 2017

Looking for home

Today's post was written by my dear friend, Katie Jo Otte.  I love her reflections about "home," and the ways it changes over the years. What comes to mind when you think of "Home?" How has it changed over the years?

by Katie Jo Otte

It means so many different things to different people at different times in their lives.

      For about twenty years, home was a two story farmhouse in the midst of the most trees you will find in most of Central Illinois.  It was dirt and bugs, hay sweat and sunsets, crafts, dress up clothes, stuffed animals, and two loving parents who made themselves available to support whatever I set my stubborn mind to doing.  Home was two church families and knowing all the “neighbors” for miles around.  Home was a Methodist church full of neighbors, with a dove in the domed ceiling, sun shining through stained glass as my brother and I proudly carried the light in and out for the candles, gaining confidence singing with my choir buddies, and an old pipe organ that rang through the beautiful sanctuary and beyond.  It was a dimly lit but beautiful Lutheran church with “old ladies” who watched me grow and old men whose joy was contagious.  I did a lot of learning and growing, laughing and serving in two damp church basements that felt like home.  Home was also being involved in just about everything the community offered, many of which my parents helped facilitate; 4-H, Girl Scouts, LWML, church, choir, cantata, plus most non-athletic (and even some athletic) activities possible at the school.  School never really felt like home, but about 5th grade, I found another home.  East Bay Camp, and later Girl Scout Camp Peairs, became homes, as well.  They were places I could test myself and push my boundaries, in atmospheres of support and perceived safety, despite risk. 

In high school, I found home in the choir room and on a beautiful wooden stage.  I found home driving in with “little brothers” at 6:00AM for Madrigal practice.  Home was a heavy, old, “wine and smoke” colored, velvet dress, two of my mentor altos wore for Madrigals before me.  For a while, I found home at a boyfriend’s house, where he and his grandparents made sure I was fed, despite my hesitancy to eat.  I found home at a Bible Church youth group, with people to listen and embrace me in my “existential angst.”  I found home strumming my guitar and asking deep questions of a youth pastor who always made time for us. 

I tried to return to my camp home, after high school, but there was no longer a place for me.  Home went South, to a sweet director with a Southern drawl, some good old country boys, and my first experience with (lots of) ticks.  Hot and sweaty, crawling with ticks, twisted ankle, fast convertible rides, plentiful deer, camper insults, camper triumphs, facing fears, pushing boundaries, all became my new home.  Those good old boys, along with the rest of the staff, became my family for the summer, and oh, what a summer it was.  One of those good old boys became the man who would define my “home” for the rest of our lives. 
         It took me a while to find home in college.  I found it at an old friend’s house, after he drove me out in the country, where the tightness in my chest relaxed, and I could breathe, again.  I found home in his family’s generously welcoming me, and feeding me, whenever I needed… and I still do.  I found home with an atheist roommate who listened to me read the Bible and struggle.  Eventually, I found home at Wittenberg Lutheran Center, as I had dreamed I would.  It took a new Vicar and his wife, who became my protectors, comforters, and confidants, as they did for all of us.  I found home, with them, then, as I do whenever I go back. 

My good old Indiana boy convinced me to make my home at a different camp, the next summer.  Our summer at Lakeview was rocky for me personally, and for our relationship.  I had some run ins with injuries, conflicts, and disappointment.  I also made some great friends and finally learned to ride a bike! My camp home migrated, again, after this summer, from trying something new, and because there wasn’t a place for me, anymore, once again.  It was a painful time of growth, for me.  Sometimes home is like that.  Camp Peairs was home for a summer of physical and emotional growth, getting Lifeguard certified and obtaining the title “Safety Luna” while gaining confidence playing and testing myself “in the wild”.

The next summer, Luke came home on leave to start building our home together.  We were married June 5, 2010 at the church we hoped we would be able to call home, some day.  We started putting down roots at White Creek, knowing they would have to hold long distance, if at all. 

Home in the military is where you make it.  In the best of times, home is where you can be together.  You make friends, you make connections, you find ways of being “you” wherever you are.  Home in the military meant driving out to New Jersey, the week after our wedding, with just what we could fit in an old Jetta with no air conditioning.  It meant staying in a hotel and doing my first married cooking in a microwave with a big Pyrex measuring cup we dug out of the back of the car.  We home searched, then, driving around, checking to make sure base housing and temporary lodging were really not options for us…  Looking at neighborhoods for the first time and wondering about the “for sale” signs and the commitments that would come with them.  Thankfully, it meant taking a break, getting to a “random” Lutheran church “accidentally” an hour early for the service, and meeting a sweet couple who had recently downsized…  and were looking for a family to rent their beautiful home at a price that was a steal for the area.  It meant long nights awake, alone, waiting for Luke to get off of 16+ hour shifts, so we could finally sleep together in our home.  I slowly got to know a bit of the neighborhood, timidly, as I had no vehicle, and had to walk wherever I explored, knowing Luke wouldn’t be home for hours.  We kept the house boiling in one of the hottest summers locals could remember and 50-55 degrees in an extra cold winter, with electric heat, and some of the highest electric bills I could imagine.  Home is finding family where you are.  We got involved in that little, old, Lutheran church, Rose of Sharon.  The organist, and her husband, our landlords, became our best friends.  We were mistaken for mother and daughter, multiple times, but we told people we were “soul sisters…” the truest term we could find to define our friendship, mentorship, relationship.  They welcomed us into their church, the choir, their Bible studies, and both of their homes.  We had a home there, for a while.

Before long, though, home meant hearing his voice or seeing his writing when I was in my original home back in Illinois, while student teaching and his deployment to Qatar.  It meant getting into a strange new normal in a place that had always been my normal.  I was home under my parents’ roof, but the head of my married household was halfway across the country, then halfway across the world.  It was lovely to be home, but it was a complicated balance for all of us.  I was back in my home churches, where they prayed for my husband with “those serving our country,” and I was so proud.  I melded right back into many of my community roles, almost as if I had never left...  I even went back to my home camp, East Bay.  It was good to be back, but so much of me changed when I became a wife.  Some of that home was better and more secure than ever, but oh, how I missed him. 
After deployment, we hoped home would be that big two story house we moved out of, when Luke deployed.  It was not to be.  Though the friendship remained, we had to find a new place to stay.  Home became an experience of base housing with friends we vaguely knew.  …and then knew better and better…  Some days we knew each other better than any of us wanted, but home remained with them.  We participated in parties more enjoyable than what we imagined we missed at college age (him in the military, already, me studying too hard and too conscientious to party, anyway).  We had campfires, community friends, my first roughing it camping trip, ballerina time, shared meals, lots of weed whacking, intense workouts, cat sitting, creative possession stacking, Christmas light hanging, and much more.  Again, home was a complicated balance, as two young married couples each tried to develop the dynamics of head of household and submission while sometimes stepping on each others’ toes, and still remaining friends.  Home also became a new church community, Holy Cross Lutheran, unlike any Missouri Synod church I had experienced.  Challenges and opportunities galore met us, there.  I was still dependent on Luke to drive me anywhere farther than the work I biked to over the summer.  We shared in helping with youth group, providing meals to the hungry, singing and doing sound for praise band, lots of drama and feelings, and some wonderful friendships.  Home at Holy Cross looked like Pastor’s family taking us in for Christmas and his wife providing me a personal retreat when Luke was TDY to Africa over our second anniversary.  It looked like support, even when my presence made waves.  It looked like a family taking us out for the most expensive meal I had ever had before Christmas Eve service, because they had military family and wanted to make us feel at home.  Home was also the sweet “senior members” I talked to about Hymns, who reminded me of my LWML ladies growing up. 

Home was the draw that helped Luke sign separation papers from the military.  There was a house, and a job, and family waiting back home in Indiana.  Home was full of promises, for Luke, and I committed to follow him.  This homecoming was not what we had hoped.  Things fell through, moved out of range, changed direction, when we showed up.  The physical home he had dreamed of, that was promised to us, was unavailable at the time.  Thankfully, his parents welcomed us into their spacious, woodsy home, which smelled of lavender laundry and wood smoke.  Home became a treacherous tightrope walk of living with his boss/father.  Though they had generous good intentions, it was all too much to balance and for too long.  Home was briefly a summer of lake living, where I got to kayak to work at camp, but outside stress and conflicts almost beat the life out of our marriage. 

A new home in this place meant new church membership.  We began attending the church in which we said our marriage vows, the church we always intended to come back to.  We met new family at St. John’s White Creek.  I finally met the Pastor’s wife I had read so much from, whose children’s names I had memorized, as I tried to learn their personalities from words on a screen.  She opened her home to me… to many women and families.  She taught through words and actions, with Grace.  We studied God’s word, talked about things we could not, elsewhere, cared for each other and each others’ children in the midst of the coffee and chaos of Bible study and Thursday mornings that often turned into Thursday afternoons…  I learned preschoolers are actually interesting.  She was one of the first to hear when our family was growing.  I got to experience chasing a toddler while pregnant with my first.  Though they are at another home, now, that parsonage and that family will always hold fond memories of one of the places I first brought Jimmy home.
About that dream we were waiting for…  the cozy farm house with the beautiful trees and inviting barn…  It was more than we bargained for.  We planned our first overnight visit for the day I took my first pregnancy test.  The home wasn’t ready to move in, but we wanted to anchor this memory in the home where we hoped to raise our children.  We were scared.  We were elated. It was 90+ degrees, the air conditioning did not work, we had no fans, and I was nauseous before the wood roach crawled across my leg.  At about 3 in the morning I convinced Luke we had to go back to his folks’ house.  After months of nausea, work, stress, and expense, for both the owners and ourselves, we moved January 2, 2014.  I was 5 months pregnant.  Remember those New Jersey electric bills?  They paled in comparison to our new winter bills. 

A property that has been unoccupied for over 20 years has more needs than an outsider can imagine.  More than that, a property full of multiple people’s dreams and memories holds more blessings and obligations than I can describe.  We had a 90+ year old man visit and cry telling me how he wished he could show his momma what we did with the place.   We had three sisters visit at different times and share their stories.  There were tears over memories of time spent at the kitchen table, just looking at and imagining where it was.  We heard from another brother and sister of their memories, as well.  Pride, joy, regret, hope…  life happened here for so many, in so many different ways.  Surprisingly, we all had so much in common, despite the changes that have happened in the physical building and property through the years.  We heard stories of God’s faithfulness, as parents prayed for returned health for a dying child (the 90+ year old about 80 years earlier), listened to children saying prayers, taught them to embrace family and hard work… It made the place even more dear to our hearts…  Another positive pregnancy test, another baby brought home, fed here, kept safe and loved, here, and this home will always hold a place in our hearts.  The tears, laughter, prayers, memories and lessons will always be a part of this house, but we are learning they, and we, cannot stay here. 

As I learned with camps, God is not limited by location.  Before this world had form, and long after these walls, these trees, this ground has passed away, He says, “I AM.” 

We are looking for a new Earthly home.  The path is unclear.  We have hit some road blocks, just as we were building up speed.  We pray God directs us and puts a “hard stop” in the way of anything not according to His will.  Sometimes answered prayer can be disappointing, in the moment.  We pray for continued trust His knowledge and goodness, which are not limited by time, space, finances, or human understanding.     


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