When we first got married, we moved a state away. I had lived in one place my whole life. I had traveled a lot, including spending time every other week at our family’s farm. But still, I am a homebody by nature, and I love my hometown.
Everyone who heard where we were moving had something critical to say about it, so I went into it with a closed mind. We moved to a hot city. It was hotter than our trips to the beach, but there was no beach. One food blog called it a hellscape, and I couldn’t help but laugh. I longed for a different place, a place with less football and more mountains. I languished for a while, kept afloat only by the busyness of a first-year teacher. But during our first spring there, I read this passage in Jeremiah:
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:4-7, ESV)
Now I know that this passage is specific–Jeremiah’s message from God to the exiles. I was not an exile, and the prophetic messages in the Old Testament can’t just be lifted up and applied to my life willy nilly. But I do find it fascinating that when the Israelites find themselves in a place they do not want to be, a place far from home, God doesn’t say, “Just survive until I bring you back.” Though their situation was temporary, they weren’t allowed to waste it.
I realized that if the Israelites were called to seek the welfare of this city, which had captured them, then I was surely called to love the city God had led us to. So I planted a garden on our balcony. And it became symbolic for the idea of putting down roots and abiding. I opened my heart to all the good and I found lots of joy. The warm weather meant a garden that lasted a long time and some flowers that never died.
Since then, God has brought me back to the place I really call home. At least for now. I love everything about it here–the way the birds sing, the specific bushes and trees that grow on the sides of the road, the way the sunshine feels. But I also wish I hadn’t waited so long to fall in love with that city. It was the city where we spent the first two years of our married life–alone, away from family, discovering places all by ourselves. We grew and changed and ultimately thrived there.
In the stillness of the night, I sometimes think longingly of our little apartment and our life there. I miss our favorite restaurants, the drive to church, and all the things we wanted to do but never found time to do. Mostly I miss those students–so different from the ones I was used to. It took them a while to become the standard, but now I measure all other kids by them. I feel homesick for the place I thought was so terrible, so temporary. It is good to feel this sadness; it shows me that I learned to love.
There’s a lot involved in calling a place home, but through the months I wasted pining for something else, I learned that wherever we are, we can learn to trust, abide, and dwell, planting gardens, praying, and seeking the good of the place we live. In seeking its good, we often find much more.