Tiny pink tulips arranged in rows, wound through with green ribbon. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat.
This was the pattern of the wallpaper in my bedroom of our hundred-year-old farmhouse. I memorized the pattern of that wallpaper, stared at it for countless hours as I tried to fall asleep to the sounds of crickets chirping and the breeze rustling through the tall tassels on the cornstalks just outside my window.
Growing up on a farm was a lonely experience for me. Even though I was an introverted bookworm, I always wanted neighbors. People whom I could greet on the street and who would keep watch over my house at night. I wanted to know what life was like beyond those cornfields for people who were different from me.
Besides the wallpaper, I often stared at the back of my bedroom door, which I had plastered with the names of places I had cut from the headlines of the Travel section in each Sunday’s Chicago Tribune. There, in bold letters, I read and re-read the names of places I longed to see.
“The Swiss Alps”
“Copenhagen is for Lovers!”
The back of my door was covered with place names, dreams that would carry me through turbulent high school years.
I remember the deep sadness I felt the day I removed those words just before I left home for college. Peeling tape from the door and crumpling up the paper pieces, I wondered, would those dreams die? Would I ever be the traveler I wanted to be? I so admired my grandfather who had a wanderlust that would only be squelched by illness in his eighties; he had traveled the world many times over, and I wanted to emulate him one day.
During the summer between my junior and senior years of college I had the opportunity to study in England with a group from my school. This was my first time overseas, and suddenly I felt a freedom like never before—riding the Tube, biking through the cobblestone streets of Oxford, hiking the fells of the Lake District. I finally got to see people and have experiences much different from those I had known on the farm.
I felt, for the first time, fully me.
What I also noticed in England, however, was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on—was it sadness? a longing? a lack of passion?—in the eyes of people I’d pass on the street. Here were the void and vapid faces of world-weary folks who just needed to rest. After several weeks of this, I began to realize that here were people who just needed Jesus. Simple as that.
And I realized something else. Just as I had been a lonely child, here were other lonely people. Just as I had longed for another place, here were people with longings as well. Our deepest desires, our dreams, our hope for a better place—these are not as uncommon as I might have once thought. We all have them. We all feel a longing for home.
But ultimately, home is not here. Ultimately, I cannot fill the longings I carry. C.S. Lewis once famously said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
Every time I come home from a trip, I drop my bags near the front door and breathe in rest, for that’s what coming home means. Coming home means reflecting on what I’ve seen and experienced. Coming home means appreciating what I’ve got, yet longing for something else. It’s a longing for heaven when all things will be made right, loneliness will be no more, and grief will not have a name.
Shelly Wildman is a former writing professor who grew up among the cornfields of Illinois. She holds degrees in English from Wheaton College (B.A.) and the University of Illinois at Chicago (M.A.), but her most important life’s work has been raising her three adult daughters: Kate, Caroline, and Julia. Shelly is married to her college sweetheart, Brian, and she loves to cook and travel in her spare time. Connect with Shelly online at www.shellywildman.net where she writes about the adventure of parenting and a life of following Jesus.