We couldn’t wait to get here. A gale force wind seemed to blow us across the Illinois border. Everything fell into place, even our dog loved her new life on Langdon. What dog wouldn’t love finding discarded pizza slices lying on the ground with every morning walk? Today she trotted out a blueberry muffin between her jaws from beneath a tree. Our street, filled with sorority and fraternity houses a.k.a. party row is loud, which means Sunday and Monday are the only nights we don’t sleep with a fan cranked on high to drown out the street noise. We are definitely “not in Kansas anymore,” or “the Shire,” our nickname for our former home and town of 29 years. So how is it going? What have we learned in these short few months?
Adults get homesick – Returning to our condo after a blissful July vacation in the Northwoods, left me standing at midnight in our tiny linen closet searching for pajamas. With no working light, I fumbled around in the dark for the hooks and my familiar T.S. Eliot nightshirt. Nothing felt like it was in the right place, our new home didn’t smell like home. I’d forgotten where I’d put things and nothing owned a designated spot. Were the pajamas in the linen closet or in a box or in a drawer? A sick feeling of longing for familiar places and spaces overcame me. I wanted to see our Portuguese tile in the kitchen, listen to the creak of the stairs underfoot, stand in our tiny shared closet and know that my p.j’s hung on the same hook as my robe. All of our kids lived through homesickness at summer camp and now it was my turn, but this wasn’t camp and home sat on a corner 159 miles south of here.
I don’t like flannel shirts – This city has a penchant for flannel in all seasons of the year. Some people like comfort food — these crunchy folks love comfort clothing. I imagine they sleep in flannel sheets and pad around in flannel slippers with badgers jutting out from their toes. Long ago I slept in my husband’s flannel shirts, but now menopausal Margaret melts just looking at the tried ‘n true plaid fabric. Our youngest son nicknamed me M.P. M.P. (meno pausal margaret philbrick) and my slightly fancy, artsy wardrobe is not in step with the sorority girl shredded black jeans and tied-at-the-midriff flannel shirts. I’ve never thought I looked old until I moved onto this street.
Deck gardening comes with benefits – Our Halloween forecast called for freezing cold and several inches of snow. Yet, our lovely deck continued to burst with red and white begonias and red hot pokers, channeling U.W. colors. My heart wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my little friends. It takes time to make new friends in a strange city, but plants extend a welcome handshake and smile, even when no one on our street makes eye contact as we pass by. So in about 30 minutes I’d carried all our pots inside and filled our kitchen with their life-giving oxygen, but also spiders. In late fall it used to take all day to cut down our garden and put it to bed, now numerous pots nestled throughout our condo in less than an hour.
Tending a baby (church) brings joy – My sweet husband often turns to me whenever we walk in the front door and says, “Welcome home.” The problem is, a place that feels like a European airbnb doesn’t resemble home. There is no history here, no roots. It’s like looking at the pretty leaves without the rest of the tree. One Sunday he turned to me and said, “Welcome home” in church and I physically felt a secure, tangible sense of home seeping into my bones. Our barely one year old church plant feels more like home than any other place in this college town. Why? Jesus’s house is our home and when we are there we’re one step closer to our heavenly home. Most of our new friends for the most part attend this church as does our baby goddaughter, who is an angelic bundle of smiling fun. These people in this gymnasium form our communion. Serving this baby plant keeps us supple. Every Sunday we meet new people, every Sunday we bend in new ways.
My different to-do list – A good friend recently shared this illustration with me: “When I was in Rwanda, our guide said, ‘Africa will always be poor because the man who goes out into the country every morning to tend his field stops along the way to talk to a neighbor. They spend about an hour talking about his farm and family and then he walks on. After another mile he stops and talks to another neighbor. After an hour he moves on and arrives at his field about noon. He tills his soil for a few hours and heads back home. He stops and talks to several other neighbors along the way. For the African farmer, life is more about talking to his neighbor than tilling his field.’” As we sat by the fire, I thought to myself, this is my new to-do list…people along the road, not projects. God used this dear friend to illuminate for me the dramatic shift in my to-do list. I’ve been suffering from a dearth of what was normal, i.e. papers to grade, kids to drive, overgrown tomato and basil plants to harvest and turn into pesto and marinara sauce. My friends words brought fresh energy and perspective to the reality that this season in our new city is about people, not projects.
Yes, we are thankful for change and challenges. In the words of one of our favorite worship bands, United Pursuit, “Though the seasons change. your love remains, your love remains.” Without his divine love, we can do nothing.