I apologize for not posting as regularly as I should have. My life has been rather crazy lately, full of uncertainty and confusion but also hope and possibility.
My husband and I moved to Portland right after we got married. We hoped that Andrew’s highly stressful job wouldn’t be so stressful in Oregon, and we hoped that grad school would lead to many wonderful job possibilities for me. It didn’t quite work out the way we planned. I dropped out of grad school, and Andrew’s job only became more of a burden on our relationship and his peace of mind. We missed our family and friends. We realized that Oregon was not the place we wanted to be, not the place we wanted to raise our kids or find a community. Not that it wasn’t good for us—we definitely realize that being in Oregon was a necessary step in our life. But we couldn’t stay.
So, this week, we moved back to California. I once again reside in the land of In-n-Out and sunshine and Disney and crazy traffic. It’s not perfect. We traded rolling green hills and forests for hot dirt and palm trees. We traded $3.89 per gallon for $4.39 per gallon. But at the same time, I feel I am more aware of what I’m getting into. I didn’t know what it would mean, what it would take, to live in Portland. At least in California we know what to expect, and we have family to support us.
We haven’t yet found our home—a physical space for us to be, a house where we can raise children and host Christmas and turn our garage into a storage unit. Growing up, I didn’t realize how hard it would be to have a house. I took for granted my parents’ modest two-story on a quiet cul-de-sac. I expected that if I went to college, I would be able to get a job. And if I got a job, I would be able to buy a house. I expected it. I even felt I deserved it. That’s what people do, isn’t it? That’s what happens when you grow up. I didn’t understand that home is not guaranteed. I didn’t know that to have a place you have to fight for it. I didn’t understand when Gerald O’Hara in Gone With the Wind said, “Land is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything, for ‘tis the only thing in this world that lasts….‘Tis the only thing worth working for, worth fighting for—worth dying for.”
Some people blame the economy or the 2008 stock market crash or the various presidents we’ve had. I don’t know what has happened, but I do know that our land—a house, our physical security—has become infinitely more precious to many people, including myself. I know so many people in similar circumstances: barely scraping by, working as hard as we can, trying to find a job, and another job, and another job—searching after one thing: a place to call home.
I’d like to say that I don’t care about a physical place, that I could be content anywhere. But it’s not true. Often verses like Philippians 3:20, which says that our citizenship is in Heaven, are interpreted to mean that Heaven is some place outside of earth, and that earth itself is evil. That the land you see underneath your feet doesn’t matter. Some people have the luxury of being like Liza Hamilton in East of Eden: “She had no love of places. A place was only a resting stage on the way to Heaven.” But I’m becoming increasingly more like Samuel Hamilton, who felt he was “plung[ing] a knife into a darling” by leaving his land. Samuel said, “Somewhere in my dust heap there’s a richness.”
I actually think that this tendency to love a place has been given to us by God. He made us stewards over the earth. How well can you take care of something if you don’t love it? If we interpret verses like Philippians 3:20 and John 18:36 to mean that everything that is on earth is irrevocably evil, completely unredeemable, why should we pursue the protection of endangered species? Why should we bother weeding the grass or planting trees if we don’t expect—or even desire—them to last? What was the great blessing God gave to the Israelites—what they had to fight and work to maintain? The Promised Land.
To love a place means to hope for it. As NT Wright writes in Surprised by Hope, imagining Heaven as an only-“spiritual” (whatever that means), non-physical place is Gnosticism. Heresy, in other words. As Christians, we should actually look forward to the redemption of the whole earth—all of God’s creation. Wright says, “As in Philippians 3, it is not we who go to heaven, it is heaven that comes to earth; indeed, it is the church itself, the heavenly Jerusalem, that comes down to earth. This is the ultimate rejection of all types of Gnosticism, of every worldview that sees the final goal as the separation of the world from God, of the physical from the spiritual, of earth from heaven. …It is the final accomplishment of God’s great design, to defeat and abolish death forever—which can only mean the rescue of creation from its present plight of decay.” The Promised Land is no longer a place in the Middle East reserved for the Israelites. Christ’s death changed all of that. Salvation is for every person, Jew or Gentile, and redemption is for the whole earth.
The hope we have for earth’s restoration is our motivation for treating it well, for taking care of it. Earth will last. It will be transformed. And we are called to be part of that. So, that’s how I see this move back to California. God put California in my heart because of the memories and the people here. I choose California as the place where I will witness and take part in God’s redemption of His people and the earth. And later, if God calls us somewhere else, so be it.
But right now I definitely feel as Samuel Hamilton did when he described California: “Somewhere in my dust heap there’s a richness.” And here I’ll make my home.