Minnesota and longing for home

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Unless you count the summer I lifeguarded there during college, I have never actually lived in Minnesota. As a result, I sometimes feel silly professing a deep love for it. But I have more strong emotions about that place — a deep heart-tugging, if you will — than any other.

I think it’s because I feel that if I were to belong anywhere, it would be there. My dad’s side moved around a lot. My mom grew up mowing hay and picking rocks out of fields in Hinckley, Minnesota.

Minnesota, where my great-great grandfather, Jan Albert Sikkink, started a farm on a road now known as Sikkink Road. Where my great-grandmother made her screened-in porch and dinner table famous by her hospitality. Where my great-grandfather was the county sheriff. Where he bought the land for Grindstone Lake Bible Camp, which every member of the family thereafter attended and where I and many others first remember wanting to follow Jesus.

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I remember teeter-tottering on my grandparents’ swing set, still to this day one of the oldest-looking swing sets I have every seen, rusty and well-used. I remember playing in my great-grandmother’s playhouse, pulling dishes from the little cabinet, and returning to it one day and realizing how tall I’d grown as I could no longer really fit inside. I remember three-legged races in the woods at my great aunt’s Fourth of July party. I remember fireflies. I remember cold swims in a lake cut deep by a glacier ages ago. I remember horses and fields and cows and pine trees. I remember sledding on ice and snow down into the gravel pit, the same pit that saved dozens of lives during the Great Hinckley Fire.

My grandparents have a sign on their house: “Welcome to Poverty Flats.” How’s that for understated, self-deprecating humor? And the Os! The long, beautiful Os in their words.

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I think the attachment I feel to Minnesota is the closest I can come to feeling, in this modern technological age, what the Bible says the Israelites felt about their land. I’ve been reading Jeremiah and Lamentations, and the ache of exile is haunting me. “Weep not for him who is dead, nor grieve for him, but weep bitterly for him who goes away, for he shall return no more to see his native land.”

I often wonder what life would be like if my mother had not felt the pull of ambition (the same pull I feel) and left Minnesota for college. Would I now live on the same road my mother, grandfather, great-grandfather grew up on? Would we get together every week for cookies and Rook? Would I drop in and see how the cows are doing? Wouldn’t it be some sort of beautiful agrarian ideal? I’m sometimes so envious of people who have everyone they’ve ever known and loved in one place. As my sister once said to me, as best I can remember: “What is this dumb system where people have to grow up and move away from their families?”

But I’m not Minnesotan. I would have made the same choice as my mother. I make it now, by living in Washington, D.C., far from my parents, far from any sort of ancestral home. And as I realized recently, were it not for a chances, risks, decisions, happenstances of the past, my family would also not be Minnesotan. I dug into history a little bit on our most recent trip to Hinckley and found that many of my mother’s ancestors who immigrated (mostly from Holland, but also from France, England, Scotland) first settled in New York, Wisconsin, Iowa. Some of them made their way to Minnesota; some of their children did. But they had no special attachment to the state. They were wanderers. Their families became as spread out as mine. They left native homes with far more personal history and heart-tugs to cross an ocean to come here. More than Minnesotans, they were pilgrims.

Christians (and the Bible) talk often about pilgrimage and home. We are meant to be pilgrims in this world, longing for the better home of heaven. Perhaps God gave me a love for Minnesota so that I can know that longing for a homeland.

And certainly I can ask “What if?” all I want, but if my family had not spread out so much, I probably would not have met my husband, the best gift in my life, who himself came to America as a toddler and has his own sets of questions about home and longing and identity. Perhaps it is best to know I am really only a Christian and a pilgrim, and as Betsy ten Boom said: “There are no ‘What ifs’ in the kingdom of God.”

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Home and apple butter

I went home this weekend. And it was wonderful, of course.I love being surrounded by familiar, domestic things. Such as the gazillion vegetables my father picked from his garden. This is only a small portion of them.

Going home made me excited to make my own home with Homère next year. (He even has “home” in his name — bah, how perfect. You can laugh at me but I don’t care.) On the way to go wedding dress shopping (and yes! I bought one! and it is the most beautiful thing ever! I’m so excited to wear it! I’m sorry I can’t show you), I bugged my mother and grandmother for registry tips. Just what is a soup tureen, anyway? They are full of knowledge; I’m grateful to have them.

We also made lots and lots of apple butter for favors for my wedding. When I say, “we,” I mean mostly my grandparents, who were visiting from Minnesota and brought apples from their trees with them. I’m not quite sure how I coaxed them into doing it, but all I know is I got home from the airport and they already had 80 jars of appley goodness made.

 

Grandpa did most of the squashing of the apples. But I helped, and in between all the other chores he decided to do around the house (he almost never stops working — “No rest for the blessed,” he says), he got a break to read The Killer Angels.

yummm….

 

 

 

Life lately

Life lately has been a blur. So much has gone on, and I have done so little blogging, that it’s difficult to know where to begin.

So you’ll have to settle for a picture tour….

This is my family. Aren’t they great? I went to visit them two weekends ago. Please note that my brother couldn’t be bothered to put down Hayek for the picture.

My little sister is growing up fast. And since I’m finding it harder and harder to remember what it was like to be 12, I find her very, very cute and interesting and funny. She wants a Kindle for Christmas, and when I teased her about wanting to read electronic books, she replied with this:

“My dear loving sister, Let me explain. As you know I love reading books. I love the smell of the books, the sound of the books’ pages. However, carrying around books on a car trip is not very fun, and takes up space. Also, you can buy books on Amazon for a Kindle for a lot less. Those are my reasons. PLEASE DON’T DISOWN ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Gosh she’s great.

I thought D.C. autumns were supposed to be drab, but our street proved me wrong. Our ginko trees turned a brilliant yellow last week, and a rainstorm blew most of the leaves off in a single night, so that I walked to work on a yellow carpet for several days.

I covered the consecration of the new Episcopalian bishop for the Diocese of Washington last week. It was a very odd ceremony. Parts were beautiful and solemn: The organ and choir echoing in the National Cathedral are heart-stopping. And the pageantry — the hats, the colors, the banners — was gorgeous. But other parts were just strange: The sermon included the word “kickass,” and in addition to African and Native American and Cuban and Gospel music, there was a rather painful piano-guitar rendition of Sufjan Stevens’ arrangement of Come Thou Fount. There were also several awkward points in the ceremony when the audience just erupted in laughter.

Not that I have anything against Episcopalians. I interviewed the bishop-elect one-on-one the day before the ceremony and liked her very much. She’s intelligent and articulate and was patient with me as I bumbled around with my recorder.

My friend Naomi visited last week. This photo is from the Kennedy Center, where we went to see the National Symphony Orchestra. But more on her visit later….

The view out my middle window this afternoon. Two important things to note: 1) The leaves are gone. 2) The air conditioner that used to sit in this window is gone. I removed it myself. Huge gold star for me.

And that’s life, lately. Or at least some of it. Life is so much more than daily events. But more on that later. I’ll leave you with a totally unrelated but provoking thought from Dorothy Sayers, as quoted in our evening sermon at church:

“In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair, the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.”

Family

I went home to see my family this weekend. I don’t have vacation days at work yet, so it was a very short trip. While saying goodbye to my dad at the airport today, I thought of an analogy: Family is like coffee, and if you have it every day you come to depend on it, you begin not to notice it. But if you don’t normally have it, it’s a shot of energy to your system.
My heart felt awakened this weekend. But the analogy breaks down now as I sit and wait for my plane, because I don’t usually have to fight back tears when leaving coffee.