To say we spent 6 months planning our summer visit to the UK (our first trip back after a year away), we managed to make it look as though no one, at any point, had put any thought into it.
For weeks, we talked dates and locations. We booked and cancelled Air BnB’s on a daily basis, kept family on their toes with weekly updates of our changing plans and then changed them all again once we landed.
It should have been a slick operation but by day 8 of our trip, we’d slept in 5 different beds, eaten too many carpet picnics and moved our travelling circus of kids and cases across London innumerable times, eventually holing ourselves up in a hotel when everyone refused to move another inch.
Whilst feverishly planning our trip, it only occurred to me just before we flew that my logistical anxieties were really masking a deep need to identify home. The Middle East is an adventure but it’s not home. We would be visiting family in London, where I lived for 20 years, but it’s no longer my home. We would be visiting my brother and his family in Sheffield, the place where I was born, a place that stirs memories and affection, but that’s not my home either.
As a military family, we don’t have our own family home and so there is no building we can point to as our base. Living out of suitcases on our nomadic journey from London via Hampshire, the Cotswolds, Sheffield and then Scotland, packing, unpacking, repacking, I felt very aware that we don’t have a place to call our own.
Ironically, what served to deepen this anxiety was that we hoped to house hunt whilst we were in the UK. After almost 13 years of itinerant living, going where we are sent, living where we are told, we have decided we want to put down roots. But where is home? We would love to plug the gap if only we knew its location.
You don’t need to be in the military to puzzle over this question of home. People the world over, from those who are homeless or refugees, those from split families, people who grew up overseas, those in care or with family they don’t connect with, people with no family, people with masses of family spreadeagled about- there must be lots of us who wonder where we belong.
Over the years, my compass points, my North-South-East-West, have become defined by four beliefs.
The first of these is the belief that home isn’t actually a place of bricks- it’s a place of relationship. Our UK church makes a distinction between the church, which is its people, and the building where we meet. The church is ‘The Vine’ and ‘The Vine’ meets in an old school building. But we could meet in a field, a community centre, a traditional building with a spire- it’s the people who matter, not the fabric of our meeting point.
Beneath my house-hunting worries, I know that my home is made up of my husband and my children. When we’ve moved between quarters, county, country, I have reminded myself that my home is wherever they are.
Not everyone has a family, though, so this can’t be a complete answer to the conundrum of home. My second belief goes a layer deeper. It’s my belief that our ultimate home is heaven- that whether we live in a palace or on a park bench, we all came from the same place and we are all being called back there.
But heaven is a future home. What about now? My third belief is that God knows we need a home, even in this temporal life. Jesus said of himself:
Once Jesus started his ministry of teaching and healing, he became itinerant, moving from place to place with nowhere of his own to lay his head. This statement speaks of the sacrifice he made in order to share the message of God’s love. And if it was a sacrifice, then he must have wanted a home too. It seems he understands, first hand, the universal need for a home.
If Jesus had been fully God but not fully human, maybe he wouldn’t have understood our physical and emotional needs in this way. But because he was fully human, he has experienced them himself.
And this bring me onto my fourth belief- that because Jesus is also fully God, he is able to provide the answer to this longing for a home. Though there is the precious promise of heaven, we aren’t told to muddle through life with spiritual platitudes and no practical help.
As a military family, we’ve needed to be itinerant. It’s been right for us. We made the decision a long time ago that we would move around together. But lately we’ve all experienced a stirring to have a place of our own. And as we wrestled our bags along the length of the UK this past 3 weeks, we felt God whispering that he would help us.
We told friends we were house-hunting and they kindly rallied round, sending us details of various place. We had half a day to look at them and could only get one viewing lined up. We drove past a house that the agent wasn’t free to show us and discovered it was empty. Walking around, with our faces pressed up to the windows, I turned the door handle. And it opened.
We rang the agent to ask if we could look around unsupervised. He agreed. The house was bare except for the walls, which we were covered in pictures of aircraft. They seemed to say ‘Come fly with me,’ an irresistible invitation for a pilot.
We loved it. It seemed perfect. We spent hours discussing what to do. We have a little rental flat we’ve been wanting to sell for years as it’s brought us no end of trouble. We thought we’d prayed about the decision to buy it but, looking back, what we actually did was choose it, then pray about it. A whole story in itself. But God has lovingly taught us so much through it.
It has been nearing completion for months, refusing to submit to any reasonable conveyancing timeline, a wilful, obstinate property that seems even crosser than us that it’s not worth what it was when we bought it just before the 2007 crash. We wondered if we could make the sale of this thorn-in our-side dovetail with the purchase of a dream home…
As we sat doing the sums, it seemed impossible. £50,000 impossible. But on the day we viewed the house, our daily Bible reading was Revelation 1, with its awesome description of Jesus. It is possible to spend so much time focusing on Jesus’ humanity, the part that makes him relatable, that we forget that he is also God. Powerful, mighty, awesome.
These verses unearthed a memory of a talk I heard nearly a decade ago, when our pastor reminded us that this is who hears our prayers. Not simply a man broken to save us from our past and present but a God who defeated death to secure us a future. When we send up those ‘if you’re listening and you have time, might you be able to…’ sorts-of-prayers, we need, our pastor said, to picture the Jesus who is the First and the Last, who holds the keys to death and Hades.
As we reflected on this passage, I got a sense that God was reassuring us he would not be defeated by £50,000. It wasn’t a reassurance that we would get the house, rather a reassurance that if it was right for us, he would get it for us.
We tried not to rush. Through songs and Bible verses lately, the message has seemed to be consistent: wait. So we did. We waited when we were told that others were interested in the property and we waited when we were told someone else had made an offer.
Three days later, our Bible reading was the story of Sara having a baby when she was years past child-bearing age (Genesis 21). A story of significance for us because the story of Abram and Sara featured heavily in our decision to leave the UK- to leave the familiar and the prospect of home for an unknown land.
It was a timely reminder that with God, nothing is impossible. So that day we made a heavily reduced offer. The agent told us it was less than the other offer.
We had to wait 5 days for the vendor to reply. When he did, it was to say that our offer wasn’t acceptable. We would need to offer more. Should we? Could we? We waited.
Then 2 days later we went to Refuel- a Christian conference in Scotland. It was one of the most powerful things I have ever experienced. We sensed God saying over the course of a day of talks and prayer that we would be moving into a new season, with new beginnings. It felt tempting to ring the agents on the way home.
We spent the evening praying with my sister and brother-in-law. And we waited. We told the agents we would let them know our final offer by Friday, 3 days later. And we prayed we might get some sort of indication about how to proceed.
Out of nowhere, our solicitors emailed the next day to say that our problematic, feisty flat had finally submitted to the conveyancing process and would be ready for exchange and completion on Friday. We didn’t hold our breath but true to the promise, the money pinged into our account at 1pm on Friday.
That same morning, my friend in South Africa (she knew nothing of the house hunting) sent me the image below. It felt like the confirmation we had prayed for, with its reference to the open door, like the open door of the house when we viewed it without a viewing. And there was the poetry of one door of home ownership closing the very same day we were considering pushing on a new door.
And so we made a second offer, still not the full amount. We waited.
Last night the answer came through by email from the seller himself: ‘I accept’.
It seems we may soon have a place we can call home! Or it may be we have misunderstood. The new beginning and open door we have heard so much about may mean something else. Sometimes the true meaning of these things is only revealed with time, in the waiting.
But in the process of the search, I feel so in love with Jesus that I have come full circle and moved into its centre. I still want a home but I realise I have already found it. He is the centre of my compass. He is my home.