On Third Avenue in New Westminster, British Columbia – the Royal City – I remember berry brambles in the back alley. Smears of homemade blackberry jam on toast laced with butter. I remember gathering chestnuts across the street in enormous Queens Park, methodically prying the prickly shells from the smooth interior, sitting crosslegged under a canopy of leafy green oaks with my big brothers.
I remember the Hyack Parade which happened right outside our doorstep. Shuffling two blocks down to park ourselves on the cement curb to watch the floats and cheer the marching bands. I remember the wooden frame my father constructed around our enormous trampoline, complete with stairs. I remember the hose and the sensation of half dozen kids bouncing in a pool of ice cold water in the sunshine. Us and the water dropping in perfect rhythm. Ker-plunk. Ker-plunk. Ker-plunk. This was my first home and the memories of this place lay deeper than the rest.
At Buntzen Lake, British Columbia, a frigid lake up in the mountains, I remember my little sister Kristen and I wandering the beach during the church picnic – my sister shadow. At two years younger she was custom-built for shadow life when I was around.
The New Westminster Christian Reformed picnic was a yearly highlight. I remember Dairyland vanilla ice cream cups with wooden paddle spoons. Soapy slip and slides. Adults acting like kids, throwing off the Dutch work ethic and letting loose. Barbecues chalk full of burgers and wieners. Ketchup faces. Sandy, dirty feet and damp bathing suits.
The day was growing late: adults collapsed on metal frame flower-print fabric beach chairs, children running in packs. Life at its grandest. A sweet interlude for hurried parents and children destined for the Monday morning rush.
It’s Sunday. I can smell the air: smoky, with a cold cut off Buntzen’s deep waters.
I’m barefoot. Kristen in over worn spongy sandals. My hand-me-downs, probably.
Buckets have been filled and dumped. Swims have been swam. We’ve eaten our fill. Our friends have packed up into station wagons and our parents are lingering.
We are eying new adventure, and then we spot it! A sandbox. How could we not have seen this before? I see it first and plunge right in with six-year-old brava. Sister-shadow only a step behind.
Just as our hands are about to dig into the silty treasure, the pads of our feet, the paper-thin skin separating toes – those tiny pieces of flesh register the burn.
There are signs everywhere reminding lakeside visitors to pour water over their coals before departing for the day. These fire pits litter the property. Our small bodies found the lone lit pit of the day.
I do not remember screaming. Though, as I write this, my body still registers the panic.
It is unclear who found us, but found we were and – by some genius – tossed into the lake where, over a few minutes time, our screams lessened to a whimper.
I recall the stillness of the lake and the calm of dusk closing in around us as I sat in the lake on a fold-up chair eating a popsicle while my dad and stepmom presumably cobbled together a plan.
The seven of us kids were probably there. I only remember Kristen and me. Maybe I don’t remember Kristen. Maybe it’s because I’ve been told the story so many times that I’ve written her in.
I later remember her at the hospital with our feet soaking in bedpans, using our plastic syringes to suck water up and aim it back between our toes, nestled in our father’s thick tanned arms.
“For this world is not our home” and yet it is. This place. This blood and bramble world.
Home is in the thick of peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding. And home is also in the throes of pain and discomfort as sojourners cheerfully share their homes and gifts with those who need a meal or a place to stay. Home is sitting around the summer campfire with in-laws and siblings, telling hard truths one moment and rolling over with laughter the next. Home is in the midst of my husband’s current hospital stay, reading pages of Scripture in the unlikely evening quiet, as he recovers from surgery. Home is seeing life as a gift.
None of us is promised a perfect home: an unchanging physical place with well-worn features and well-adjusted cast of characters.
What we are promised is Him. God. Our refuge, home, dwelling place, rock of habitation. “He makes us lie down in green pastures.” He makes us.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
I have been memorizing Psalm 23 and transfixed by that line. It is not an invitation, nor a command. He simply does it. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He makes me home.
Christina Crook is a TEDx speaker, essayist and author of The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World. She Fights the #FOMO, raises three children and makes her bread and butter speaking about technology, relationships and joy with digital leaders, Jesuit priests, university students, and major media. She, author Julie Kraulis and Jen Pollock Michel have followed in C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien’s footsteps, forming the modern-day Inklings, a community fostering curiosity, spiritual discernment, literary excellence, and sheer good fun.