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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Planting roses

Ok, remember that quasi-New Year’s resolution about blogging more? Yeah. Total fail.

Lately I have been soaking in life and not writing about it. Sometimes it’s nice just to live and not think about how you will tell someone else about what you did. Facebook and Twitter like to whisper in my ear that things aren’t real unless you put them on the Internet — which is total nonsense. But they also aren’t less real if you put them on the Internet, which is what some pretentious young men in tweed will tell you. So here I am, writing.

Today was a delicious day. The sun was shining and warm. I went on two walks, reveling in how happy the world seems when you can go outside without a coat.

It was so warm that I decided I should plant these roses, given to me by a wonderful boy on Valentine’s Day.

Marieke’s generous mother gave us the beginnings of a garden last year. I confess I haven’t done the best job of keeping it up, but I’m determined to change that. I pulled out all the vines and winter weeds today, and I’m excited to do some spring planting. Our bulbs planted last fall are already poking through the dirt. There’s nothing like planting in the earth to remind me of my utter dependence on heaven. I can’t make anything grow on my own.

The dirt felt good in my fingernails, and reminded me of this passage from Candide:

“‘All events form a chain in the best of all possible worlds. For in the end, if you had not been given a good kick up the backside and chased out of a beautiful castle for loving Miss Cunégonde, and if you hadn’t been subjected to the Inquisition, and if you hadn’t wandered about America on foot, and if you hadn’t dealt the Baron a good blow with your sword, and if you hadn’t lost all your sheep from that fine country of Eldorado, you wouldn’t be here now eating candied citron and pistachio nuts.’
‘That is well put,’ replied Candide, ‘but we must cultivate our garden.'” 

Hillsdale

All week long I’ve been trying to think of something I could say to adequately describe my trip to Hillsdale last weekend. I came up with nothing clever or profound — just that it was so, so good. The familiar faces and buildings and trees did wonders for my soul. In just a few days, for whatever reason, I was not only comforted, but inspired and filled with confidence for the future, which was an answer to prayer. And I know I’ve already reached my limit on cheesiness, so I’m just going to leave you with this passage from one of my favorite books from one of my favorite authors (you can probably guess who…), a passage that gives off the same sort of magic that Hillsdale gave me last weekend.

“I’m going to tell you something that you may or may not understand, and I want you to memorize it and say it to yourself now and then, until, someday, you do understand.”
“Is it long?”
“No.”
“Go ahead.”
“Nicoló,” Alessandro said.
“Nicoló,” Nicoló repeated.
“The spark of life is not gain.”
“The spark of life is not gain.”
“Nor is it luxury.”
“Nor is it luxury.”
“The spark of life is movement.”
“Movement.”
“Color.”
“Color.”
“Love.”
“Love.”
“And furthermore…”
“And furthermore…”
“If you really want to enjoy life, you must work quietly and humbly to realize your delusions of grandeur.”
“But I don’t have them.”
“Start to have them.” 

Dr. Smith’s Last Lecture

One of my avid readers requested more from Dr. Smith’s Last Lecture (a Hillsdale tradition, in which a professor gives a lesson as if it were his last). So below I have typed out my notes. It’s not possible that they would do justice to the lecture — a friend and I left the Heritage room weeping and had to go home and lie on the couch and think about our lives. It was the most beautiful and moving speech I have ever heard. If any of you remember any more of the wonderful things he said, feel free to add them in the comments. 

“Letter to my sons”

Given life again, I would waste it for you.

#2 Consider often the work of Providence.

#3 Study tempests in times of calm.

#4 Never try to give and withhold yourself at the same time.

#5 Examine your own eyes. Think about your way of seeing. You can live only seeing yourself, and it’s terrible. Ask God to heal the eyes of your heart.

#7 Beware of complaining and offense-taking. They are often nothing but sound and fury. Once a bitcher, always a bitcher. Learn to govern your tongue.

#9 Don’t be a slave to tequila. Love freedom. Bear fruit. Have courage; have an education in it; see its beauty.

#12 Wonder. Let the passion of seeing your own ignorance move you to seek truth.

#13 Let the arrows of beauty pierce you.

#14 Treasure your reason. And remind it that it is never the measure of all things.

#15 Fulfill duties. Esto vir. Be a citizen of citizens.

#17 Some books are worth more than great cities. Find a guide you can trust.

#18 Love the Word of God passionately. Only take care to read it in the right spirit. You must adapt to it.

#19 Say “bullshit” to anyone who says he doesn’t have a conscience.

#20 Confess your sins. Examine yourself every day with brutal sincerity and courage. Love truth and the crises it creates.

Never let it be said that you talk to the guy at the coffee cart more than you talk to your own brother.

#21 You have a vocation — ask for light about this.

#22 Love your work. What folly it is to moan and groan. Convert the prose of life into beautiful verse.

Hamlet was wrong: The undiscovered country is not death, but life.

#23 Pray, and give alms.

#24 Make good friends and keep them in good and bad times.

Risk your life for love. Struggle to be holy.