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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Love and toilets and such

As you may have read, Homère loves Valentine’s Day. Like really loves it. All the standard V-Day things that some people loathe, he embraces wholeheartedly. And I have decided I am super OK with that.

This year had roses. photo1 (1)

And a fancy, delicious dinner out.photo3

And a gift of Bananagrams.photo1

And even a gift from me!

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But mostly this year’s Valentine’s Day was special because it will be forever remembered as the Valentine’s Day of the Troubled Toilet.

You see, because we had been doing this a lot this winter…

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…we got to send each other Valentines like this:

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To make a long story short, our toilet and bathtub backed up 7 times this winter; our sewer line is full of tree roots; DCWater is currently digging a 16-foot hole in our yard; I have an especially violent dislike for the automated phone menu of a certain home warranty company; and the night before Valentine’s Day, Homère spent scooping gloppy brown water out of our bathtub, lest it overflow and make us even more sad. Please note that I am married to a man, who, on his first solo babysitting gig, decided it would be best to take off his shirt to change the baby’s diaper, as well as use an entire bath towel for protection while burping the kid. He really hates germs.

The plumber finally came a few hours before we left for our Valentine’s date. We had to clean and disinfect everything (no, really, everything. The plumber made a huge mess), but we got it all squeaky clean right before we left for Bistro Bis.

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And when we got there, Homère said to me: “This night is about you… and celebrating our bathroom.”

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Because he cleaned up our apartment nearly every time this sewer backup thing has happened, and because he just looked like he wanted to die while emptying our bathtub of who-knows-what the night before, my heart was filled with a special love for Homère this Valentine’s Day. I still really don’t get why he likes me and wants to get me roses, but even more, I am completely bewildered that he would do things like bucket out sewer water.

Marriage is fun. Marriage can be really difficult (though, let’s be real, we’re newlyweds — we’ve heard this is true but hey, I still think he smells good all the time).

But mostly so far, marriage is beautiful and so, so humbling, as it is filled with daily reminders of God’s grace that I don’t deserve.

Reminders such as roses, delicious dinners, and overflowing toilets.

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Ah, Valentine’s Day

Undeservedly and unexpectedly, I ended up with a man who l-o-v-e LOVES Valentine’s Day. Not a bad deal, my friends, not a bad deal.

So last Sunday, when a friend of ours mentioned like she knew that Homère was coming into town early on Thursday, and when he tried to cover up quickly by saying, “Nooo, Friday,” I figured he was coming early on Valentine’s Day to surprise me. I liked this idea. It made me happy. But then I started worrying, and asked later, “Homère, how many classes are you allowed to skip?” Bad move. He started thinking, “Oh, she wants me not to skip class.”

… You guessed it. We had our Gift of the Magi moment and on Valentine’s Day he wound up wishing he weren’t in a western Virginia library and I wound up heartsick and eating leftovers. I cried just because I was expecting to see him and didn’t. LOVE IS CRAZY, PEOPLE.

And that was even though he sent me roses at work and silly Valentines texts throughout the day. What a guy.

ImageBeing the Valentine extraordinaire that he is, the next day he picked me up, gave me THREE red rose arrangements (I love him. But I’ve clearly tricked him somehow) and MORE presents (he went on etsy! etsy!!!). By the way I deserve absolutely none of this… you can tell because this is what I got him… heart-shaped brownies.

ImageAnd then he took me to a schmancy, delicious dinner. I need to learn to cook potatoes like that.

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So, yeah, he’s crazy. And I L-O-V-E love him.

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Right now

And the winner of this week’s Best Fiancè In The World award goes to….

Homère!

I had a hard week at work (read: much weeping), so he risked Frankenstorm’s future wrath to come give a hug and a delicious falafel. Right now he’s making flashcards of complicated contracts laws across from me, while I stare at him with a brain absolutely full of lovey mush and doodle about our wedding.

Life is good.

 

Wedding!

Ok, not mine, but my friend and former housemate Hannah‘s! That’s right, folks, marriage has stolen an excellent roommate from me. The Kentucky wedding was this summer, but I was waiting to let her write about it (which she did with grace and humor hereherehere, here, here and here) before I posted this. (Oh, and new site design! It was late, and I couldn’t sleep.)

And here are a few of my photos from the reception.

As you can see, Hannah’s wedding had beautiful details. Sarah, my other housemate, and I had the noble, prestigious and very important job of guarding all these details in the hours leading up to the ceremony. But as you can see, we got distracted with a photo shoot:

And then…. a nap. What’s this? Asleep on the job? Sorry, Hannah.

Who’s this handsome couple?

Here are a couple more handsome couples:

I wish I had more pictures of the bride and groom. But maybe my favorite shot of the night… Hannah’s new siblings-in-law:

The ceremony was beautiful, and I loved watching Hannah walk down that long aisle, hearing the children’s choir, seeing both her father and grandfather at the front leading the service, and watching two of my good friends vow to love each other forever. What a great combination of beauty, family, joyful ceremony. And the reception: it had snow cones. Need I say more?

Much love and fond friendship to Hannah and James, the happy couple.

Happiness

It’s hard to know where to start.

Homère is always cheerful. But he was especially cheerful Saturday. I had my suspicions, but that didn’t stop me from weeping uncontrollably with happiness and shock when he asked me to marry him on the steps of the Library of Congress.

I said, “Yes, of course.”

Being engaged has made me a fountain of tears, by the way. I’m crying right now. I feel so happy and thankful.

After the tears were dried and the ring was on and a few more pictures were taken (thank you, Shannon Odell!), he took me out to Alexandria for fireworks (I’ve always wanted fireworks), a symphony orchestra and cannons. All that was ostensibly for the city’s birthday, but of course we knew they were celebrating us. Then we went to dinner at Chart House on the Potomac.

I’m excited about my wedding and getting married and this sparkly diamond that I look at 10 gazillion times a day, but mostly I’m excited to spend the rest of my days on this earth loving and being loved by this excellent, kind, warm, hospitable, happy man. Christianity teaches that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church — that a husband is supposed to love and sacrifice for a wife like Christ loved and sacrificed himself for the church. I know I want to marry Homère for many reasons, but one of them is that he’s shown me the love of God so clearly. He is always excited to see me, eager to serve me, so good at encouraging me, even when I’m stressed, bitter or irritable. No doubt we will face trials and disappointments in life, but I think I’ll be able to weather them better alongside him.

No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness, not for haste,
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will,
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still —
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to
oar.
{Robert Frost}