Home for the holidays.

I have been thinking a lot about houses and the idea of home for the last month. Moving from Michigan to Virginia at age 62 has stimulated introspection. I am no longer at home in Goshen, IN, the place where I spent most of my adult life, or Kalamazoo, MI, the place that nurtured us for the last six years. For fun, Stuart and I added up all the places we have lived since our marriage. We were amazed to see 16 houses, two continents, and five states pop up on our list.

People ask, “Have you settled in yet?”

It’s hard to answer that question. Today as I drove from Gift and Thrift to the Food Lion and then back up the hill, I kept saying, “This is home now.” When Stuart and I finished assembling the two little open bookcases for the library, I felt the electric thrill of having completed one more room.

The Library

The Library








We lived in Harrisonburg 1966-72 while going to college and then for the first two years of married life. Things have changed since we left! As we return, we want to find ways to contribute some of what we have learned in other places as well as learn from our new community the special gifts it has to offer the world.

We spent the last 21 days preparing every room and organizing every shelf, drawer, and closet. Ask me where something is, and I can tell you! Last time we moved, it took us months to get to this place. Moving at Christmas has sped the timetable. We focused on getting ready to host Stuart’s family and our own adult children. Nothing reorients “home” more quickly than immersion into Christmas week with children.

As I pulled out tree ornaments, some of which are 40 years old, and placed the 50 scrapbooks and countless journals I have made for our family in their places in drawers and shelves, I relived many happy and a few sad days from the past. The new house contains other people’s memories which we want to bless, and now we have added fragments of memory from those 16 other houses in which we have lived. Once we have told the Christmas story together and opened our presents, the house will be baptized!

So, our house is becoming a home. And yet no physical space, no matter how beautiful, can contain all that the word “home” can carry. I asked my Facebook friends what meanings they attach to this word. Here’s a summary of comments:

From Chris, who grew up in Malaysia:  “I have a very difficult time with this word. I have two homes—9,000 miles apart. I feel a definite split between the two. Our heart home is here. Our soul home is across the seas. Also, when I’m here, it doesn’t totally feel like home. Likewise, when I am over there, I feel the same. I don’t think there will ever be a solution, except to visit both often.”

Sally, who lives in Minnesota, thinks the windows of our homes, wherever they are, “frame the pictures of our live.”

Karen from Michigan says,Home is a space in my heart, a deeply serene place in my soul. Home is the place where objects support me-ness and embrace my need to settle. Home is a state of mind I seek when I am not at home.”

Another Michigander, Idene, says, “Home is a place of safety, peace, freedom, connection … inside and out.”

My Kalamazoo neighbor Chin says, “Home is where your family is wherever they are. I’m ‘home’ when I’m with them wherever!”

Sherry, also from Kalamazoo, defines home this way: “wherever you feel a sense of unconditional LOVE and all warm & fuzzy…right now it’s being w/three little grandsons who think you are a rockstar!”

Karin, a former student of mine at Goshen College, now lives in Bangladesh with her husband Matius and two young children. Karen says, “Home has been a recurring theme for me  (in fact my dad’s sermon at our wedding revolved around that idea of home and welcoming.) I have come to understand that for me home is not a geographical place at all, because these places change and move. Home must be a constant, something I can return to with confidence and know I will be welcomed. Like Chin, I must say that home is the rootedness that I feel when I am with my family. The geographic place where I am…where I put the photos up on the walls and create a welcoming space…that is my Nest.”

Her husband Matius added, “This is a blog you will need to send to Habitat for Humanity Shirley. The physical home–or house is easier to digest than the affective side of home–or heart. They say here during Eid 60% of Dhaka is empty because people go ‘home.'”

Blessed to have friends with such insight spread all over the world, Stuart and I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas–from our home to yours!

Shirley Showalter


  1. Jim Juhnke on December 24, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Shirley, your “houses in which we have lived” theme reminded me of the fine memoir by Leland Harder, The Houses I Lived In: Memoirs of my Life (2008). Leland describes twenty-seven domiciles, and memories connected with each. He includes photographs of most of them. Leland now lives at Kidron-Bethel retirement community, 2908-A Ivy Drive, North Newton, KS 67117.

    • shirleyhs on December 26, 2010 at 2:03 am

      Merry Christmas, Jim. I am glad to know about Leland Harder’s memoir. I like the concept! The idea of a house representing the psyche is a classic one. Thanks for the tip. Now that I’m in Harrisonburg, I’m hoping to finally read the group memoir books we talked about several months ago. Hope we can re-engage on some of those issues, also.

  2. Catherine Mumaw on December 26, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    I remember being in Somalia in a refugee camp in 1982 when I observed camel caravans — movement of pastoral people from one location to another. Their “rondavels” were dismantled and riding on the camel’s back. Home for those people was a place where they could pitch their rondavels and meet the challenges of survival with their families and their people. That gave me pause – and a lot to think about.

    • shirleyhs on December 29, 2010 at 8:22 pm

      Wow, Catherine. After having just spent so much time arranging spaces that we hope are permanent, this comment also gives me pause. We’ve tried to downsize and simplify, giving away thousands of books and other items, but we are far from being able to carry our house on our backs. Perhaps, however, it is possible to carry home with us always, even if our houses are far too big. Thanks for sharing this memory. I remember when you measured all your trash and tried to reduce it to as little as possible. As always, you are a good role model.

  3. Brenda Bartella Peterson on December 26, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Shirley, Thanks for this post. I have struggled much of my life to define “home.” My memoir (which WILL be published in 2011) deals with the effect of a chaotic childhood. I never saw a Christmas tree in the same place two years in a row until I was 26 years old. I have finally come to define home as the place where you receive unconditional love. I think one of your Facebook friends went this direction. And I love the distinction of your house being your nest but home is where I receive the love.


    • shirleyhs on December 29, 2010 at 12:32 pm

      Hi, Brenda. Congratulations on having your memoir published soon! Wow, you had a lot of disruption in your childhood. So glad you have written your story. Sounds like one that will be very helpful and inspiring to others. I’m off to check out your blog!

  4. Becca on January 3, 2011 at 2:39 am

    In my 54 years, I’ve lived in only three homes. My husband has lived in only one – we bought our home from his parents, who built it in 1952. My son, who is 30, is already moving moving to his fourth home just this week.

    No matter how long you’ve lived in it, home is the place where you feel safe and loved. I’m so lucky to be able to say that about mine.

    • shirleyhs on April 21, 2011 at 7:38 pm

      Becca, how could it be that I never responded to your kind comment on this blog post? I opened it for another purpose, and there was your comment, hanging lonely, at the end. I hope this Easter week finds you in your cozy home, surrounded by friends and family. Sorry to take so long to respond.

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