We All Want to Go Home

I didn’t plan to talk to my children about terrorism or the Syrian refugees, but my children are older now and I have less control. Sometimes, I thank God I have less control.

When my daughter said her school had held a moment of silence to remember or pray for Paris, my older son asked why.

I spoke a few words about the terrorists and those who died at their hands. I mentioned the millions of children who have lost their homes and are searching for new ones.

My younger son interrupted us, impatient and eager to clear away this heavy conversation.

Sweeping his arm toward the rest of our house, he asked, “Why can’t they just stay here?”

We only stared at him.

For a moment, it was completely silent in my kitchen.


I wrote Roots and Sky because I wanted to explore questions I had been asking for years. I wrote it because I knew I wasn’t the only one asking them.

Why do I feel such longing for a home?

Is that desire a distraction from my commitment to follow the One who had no place to lay his head?

Is it even possible to feel at home this side of heaven? 

As I wrote, I discovered the answer to this last question is yes.


With all the recent talk of immigrants and refugees, I have had a few terrible words lodged in my mind.

Go home! Go back to where you came from!

That has been the taunt for generations, hasn’t it? I imagine a few of my own ancestors may have heard it. Perhaps a few of yours, too.

But today, in my imagination, I hear a refugee voice crying, If only, if only, if only I could.


As I wrote my bookI encountered my own refugee roots.

In the beginning, our spiritual father and mother called paradise home. That home slipped from their grasp and there was no going back. Whether we call that ancient story myth or history or wisdom poetry, we all know the shadow of that loss.

Soon we will celebrate the good news that while we still wandered, heaven came to us. God’s message of peace and goodwill to all men was once a refugee baby in Egypt. The message wasn’t some spiritual abstraction. It was flesh and blood. Mary sheltered good news in her arms.

The story of Roots and Sky is the story of Jesus’s promise to come to us and make his home with us (John 14:23). In my life, that promise has been fulfilled in the old bricks and crumbling plaster of a farmhouse called Maplehurst. If his banner over us is love, my own particular banner is three stories high and a bit ragged around the edges.

No wonder my heart breaks for the homeless.


I have two spare beds in my house. There is a big bed in our guestroom and a little bed tucked against the wall in my office. Those extra beds are often full but not always. We are grateful for the young woman who lives in another spare bedroom. When we began looking for an old house, it was always because we wanted room for others to live with us. Her presence here is another of God’s promises kept.

Maybe if I lived on the front lines of this humanitarian crisis, I could invite homeless families to share my home. Like this man did. For now, I am seeking out other ways to help.

That incredible man and his family remind me that doing good is not complicated nor is it abstract. Rather, it is very hard and very simple.

The good news is also very simple. It might be food. It might be medicine. It might even be a large chest of drawers, hauled up too many flights of steps. All of it given, with no strings attached, in the name of Jesus.

It is in Jesus that I have found my way home to God. That is why I will leave the door of this old house open. That is why I will say what’s mine is yours.

It isn’t safe. It isn’t smart. But it is the right thing to do.

Because I am not the only one who wants to come home.


Open Door

This Beautiful, Complicated Story

I shared a special photograph on facebook this week.

My son, a small smile, and a slice of warm, wheat bread.

After nine years with no bread or pizza crust, no pasta or ice cream cones, our boy successfully completed a food challenge for wheat at the children’s hospital.

No more allergy.

I started baking bread the very next day.


First Bread


There are other allergies. More severe allergies. There will be more food challenges. But this is something new. Something wonderful.

Something delicious.


I once wrote about my son and his allergies for the website Deeper Story. It’s one of my favorite things.

I’m sharing it again, and on my own website, because the truth I was trying to discover then feels even more important now as we navigate this change.

We haven’t arrived at the end of this story, but we have begun a new chapter.

The full story remains complicated. A little bit beyond my grasp. I am comforted to remember that the very best stories are never the easy ones. Not the easy ones to tell. Not the easy ones to hear. Certainly not the easy ones to live.

Here is that old, still continuing, story.


“Finally, the lessons of impermanence taught me this: loss constitutes an odd kind of fullness; despair empties out into an unquenchable appetite for life.”

- Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces

I know two ways to tell this story.

The first way follows a trail of brokenness. Like a mountain path marked by rubble.

I don’t like to tell it this way. It feels so negative, even somehow un-Christian. But I do sometimes tell it like this, especially when you ask me directly about my son’s food allergies.

The twin themes of this story are loss and fear.

This is the story of eight years with no bread or pizza. No ice cream or cheese. No peanut butter-and-jelly, no granola bars. No yogurt. No mac-and-cheese or fish fingers or chicken nuggets. No birthday cake at the parties of his friends.

This is a story about epi-pens and calls to 911 and too many visits to the E.R.

I might leave out the details of that one mother-son date when I forgot the epi-pen. No happy ending (in this case, a stranger with a pediatric epi-pen in her purse) can erase the horror of five minutes spent listening to death rattle in your little boy’s throat and knowing it is entirely your fault.

The central episode of this first story might be the year my son spent eating lunch alone at a table on the stage of the school cafeteria. The only kid in the “nut-free” zone.


The second version of the story is more positive. You might call it pie-in-the-sky. Or, possibly, head-in-the-sand.

I’m not sure the story told this way is any closer to the truth, but it is easier to tell and easier to hear.

Highlights of this story include the gluten-free bakery only ten minutes from our small Pennsylvania town. They make pizza crusts and hamburger buns and even cupcakes without wheat or dairy or nuts. The pizza crusts are a little sad, but I will leave that part out.

This second story will make your mouth water. I will tell you about our special fried chicken and meatballs made without bread crumbs. I will tell you about a little concoction we call “pizza rice.” I will tell you how much my son adores his seaweed snacks. I will tempt you with my recipe for pumpkin bars.


Neither story gets it right. Neither one touches the heart of our experience these eight years. The first points out all that is missing. All that is twisted and wrong. The second tries to distract you from the brokenness with a pile of deliciousness.

Both versions leave me hungry for the truth.

I think the true story follows a third way. As so many of the best stories do.

I’ve been feeling out the contours of this other way for years, as if searching for a secret place. The place where loss is still loss but is also, somehow, gain. The place where grief remains grief but where it is also the color of joy.

How do you tell a story built on contradictions?

I can’t send my son to summer camp, but my son lacks no good thing.

I pray every day that my son will be healed, but I believe the answer I’ve long been given: he is already healed.

Our family table is ringed round with fear and loss. Death and sickness. We never sit down to eat without noticing those shadows at our feet. And yet the food we eat at this table is good. Each bite tastes like a gift.

How can I ever account for the wonder of a table prepared in the presence of my enemies?


When my son tells the story of his old school, he tells it like this:

“Mom, remember when I ate lunch on the stage in the cafeteria?”

“Yes,” I say. “How could I forget.”

“I was all by myself. It was like eating on top of a mountain! It was so quiet there.”

Watching him tell his story, I see a far-off gaze. I see something around his mouth. It is like the memory of a smile.

As if he’s glimpsed some other, hidden world. Some truer place.

Life Right Now

Has turned a corner and is picking up speed.

The trees are racing to drop their leaves. Everything is sunset colored. Only the evergreen trees stand still and unchangeable. They do not rush about seizing the day.

I do rush about but mostly regret that by nightfall. Strange, how all the hurry never seems to amount to much other than a headache.

The Maple Avenue in Fog

Now the days end in sudden darkness. We light a candle every night at dinner. We read Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, and we eat pumpkin chili or an orange lentil curry.

I ordered a stack of new fiction from my library before realizing I am really only in the mood for gardening books. Like this one. Or this one.

My good friend Amy served me this tea recently. I do not exaggerate when I say that the taste is astonishing. It’s a cup of tea even a coffee drinker would love. A steaming cup is a very good antidote to hurry.

Tell me, what’s slowing you down these days? It may be lovely (like tea), it may be awful (like autumn allergies or the way young children pay no attention to the new time on the clock), but I hope that, together, we can say thank you.

For this dark month is for saying thank you.


I am grateful to be sharing my words in new places. Today, I am at The Laundry Moms writing about motherhood and calling. You can read it here.

Have you read  Wild in the Hollow, the beautiful new book by Amber Haines? I recently shared a few words about church for her “Wild in the Hollow” blog series. You can read them here.

Why I Am Grateful For Halloween

I wrote these words exactly one year ago. Today, we will carve pumpkins, adjust costumes, and pull the old decorations from the basement. The boys made a scarecrow last week, but he still needs a pumpkin head.

The kids are so much taller, and Elsa is old enough now to refuse the costume we chose for her. But so much is the same. These words are still true.


My friend looks up toward the trees and says I had forgotten how graceful dying can sometimes be.

I follow her glance and know that she is right. I, too, have forgotten. I remember autumn through snapshots. Which means, I remember the brilliance of that one sugar maple down the road. Or, I remember the startling red of a Burning Bush shrub against a deep blue sky.

The snapshots help me to remember true moments, fiery moments, but they do not give an accurate picture of the whole.

Autumn, taken as a whole, does not look like clear, bright brilliance. Here in my corner of Pennsylvania, it is gentle. Faded. It is burnished gold and copper. It is gray clouds and wet pavement.

This autumn world does not rage against the dying of the light. It smolders, quietly.


Autumn Elsa

Christians like to talk about Halloween on the internet. I have usually abstained from those “conversations.” So much depends upon context. Like the context of our own memories. Like the context of our own communities. Often, the internet is a conversation without a context.

Here is a bit of mine. In the church of my childhood, Halloween was ever-so-slightly taboo. We wore costumes, but we wore them to collect candy at our church’s “Harvest Fair.”

As new parents, we discovered the great adventure of escorting a temperamental two-year-old ladybug down city streets. We stole her candy when she wasn’t watching, and we hugged our neighbors. We tried to catch the eye of their over-tired  Dorothy or Scarecrow. To tell each one we had no idea it was them.

Still, decorating my home for Halloween always seemed like a step too far. Until we came here. Now we live in the farmhouse on the hill and how else can we entice our neighbors and their children to climb our hill, to receive our gift of love and candy, but with a few smiling ghosts and candle-lit pumpkins?

Context. It changes things. Changes us.

Autumn Elsa 2

We live in a culture that largely ignores death.

Our children no longer walk to church through churchyards dotted with graves. Our own church is that rare thing with its own cemetery, but it is all the way around by the back door. My children often ask to walk that way, but I am in a hurry. Another time, I say, as I rush them through the front door.

I am sorry for this. And so, this year, I am grateful for Halloween. I am grateful for the space it opens up. I am less grateful for the gory zombie poster set at a child’s eye level at the local Wal Mart, but mostly I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about death. About dying. About our baptism and what it might mean that we have already died with Christ.

Which is, to say, we will have a conversation about living.

Soon, we will bring out the plywood grave markers my husband made last year. Our kids painted them gray with black crosses and the letters R I P. We will tuck them near the crumbling stone foundations of the old farm buildings, and we will drape them with twinkly lights.

As we outline a path for candy-seeking neighbors, my daughter will ask me again about those letters R I P. And as darkness settles, and the lights begin to flicker and gain strength, she will tell me, It’s beautiful.

So beautiful.

Autumn Elsa 3