I walk the rectangle of our neighborhood in the middle of the morning, and I hear the birds tweeting, flitting back and forth from tree to tree. I smell the early scent of spring — all the flowers waking up and stretching in the warmth of the sun, pouring their fragrance generously into the wind. I notice tiny, purple flowers growing in the cracks of the asphalt, and I bend down to see them up close, marveling at life’s tender resilience to bring itself forth in the midst of hard circumstances.
It’s a quiet, suburban neighborhood, and years ago, I felt trapped in it. I felt trapped by the endless amount of houses, the sameness of everyone’s routines and goals in life, the comfort and convenience of suburbia that dull the senses. After nearly a decade away, I had come back to live in a place I had sworn never to live in again.
I had been raised overseas as a missionary’s kid with dreams of becoming a martyr in a third world country, and everything about this place was far from it. I pushed against any assimilation to it, and I scoffed at and internally judged those who had fallen drowsy to suburbia’s siren calls.
The problem was that I lived here. My home was here. My children went to school here. We were building a life here. And it wasn’t long before the tensions of hating the place I lived in with the reality of living here came to a head. I had to reckon with why I loathed it, where the underlying resentments came from, and how to learn not only to live here but to love it for what it was.
And thus began the deep inner healing work of readjusting expectations and dreams, of uncovering buried bitterness, of confessing pride in thinking I was better than the place I was in — than the people around me, of discovering God to be everywhere.
I began by looking low to the ground and paying attention to the small things: the neighbor’s unkempt rose bushes that bloom even when neglected, the perfect sliver of moon shining at night, the love given and shared in our multigenerational home. I recognized my arrogance in positioning myself above those around me, as if I were holier or more enlightened. We were the same — simply learning to live well with what we’ve been given.
I started to see how our location matters and that there is good to be found right where we’re at, even with its issues and problematic values. We are in our neighborhoods, our cities, our towns for a reason — even if it’s not by choice — and it’s in those specific places that God is there, that God is working, that God is creating life, that God is redeeming the people and the place toward His kingdom come.
We often idealize and even sensationalize places far removed from us. We’re quick to give to efforts halfway across the globe because it’s less complicated. We can easily see a before-and-after, a life made better through our donations. But we only get a two-dimensional rendering of the people; we don’t get to see the nuances of their lives. While knowing and loving the people in close proximity and being rooted in the location we live in brings with it all the dimensions of relationship — ups and downs, disagreements and joys, the complexities and simplicities of being human. It’s in those finer details though that we get to experience God’s presence, live out our faith, and love as we’ve been called to love.
I think about how Jesus came down from heaven to dwell in a specific location, within a specific ethnic community. He did His work locally, as far as His feet and a boat could take Him. He focused on the people right around Him, healing, preaching, and walking with them. And yet, what happened there changed the world.
Yes, God is in the far-off places, but God is everywhere — even here. He is alive and moving in every suburban, urban, or rural area. So wherever your here is, look for Him there. See how He is moving and engage with Him, co-create life with Him there.
In the evening, I take another walk around the neighborhood. I listen to the rustle of leaves in the gentle wind, and I realize I don’t feel trapped anymore. Instead, this place that I once despised has truly become a thin place in which to meet God. And at last, I’m finally at peace.
Wow. You put it so eloquently.
Betsy Wisler says
Thx. I’m 81, moved to Florida at 17 as as a senior in HS against my will. I had my life”planned “ but obviously not God’s plan. Circumstances have kept me here and still struggle at times with missing my home state of Maryland and change of seasons. This truly helps me finally accept my place in God’s big world, God bless you and yours
Grace P. Cho says
Oh, I’m so glad to hear, Betsy!
Elizabeth (Betsy) Hall says
I have moved a lot! Big cities, small towns, country living and now in a metropolis. I didn’t want to be here. I must agree, though, God is everywhere and He works everywhere. I am adjusting after 8 years. Now God has seen fit to have me home bound due to chronic illness. It has been 4 years. He alone know why. I pray for others in my church. I feel it is time to pray for the neighbors that I do not know. God teaches us many lessons.
Grace P. Cho says
It sounds like there’s been a lot of transition in your life, and now you’re seeing life from a new perspective. I love that you feel that it’s time to pray for the neighbors you don’t know! May God create connections there!
Oh Grace how this is so personal for me. It is such a story, too long to go into, but I find my self living where I do not want to be (a 55 and over condo – ughh). Life is not how I pictured or wanted. I am trying to make the most of it and see the positive- I am now 15 minutes from my daughter, have made a few good friends, found a church, but my heart is elsewhere. I am trying to be “fulfilled”- my word for the year; I am trying to be grateful and some days I am ok, and others not so ok. So thank you for sharing your struggle. I truly get it.
Grace P. Cho says
Yes, that’s okay that there are days we struggle with being rooted where we’re at. I hope that today you can find fulfillment in the little graces around you.
We married and moved after college for my husband’s job. Although we liked this place for (many) years we dreamed of moving back “home.” But God had other plans. We raised children moved from condo to house and 30 years has gone by. It has become home; I’ve now spent more of my life here and I am grateful and blessed.
Cheryl Hopkins says
Grace, your name complements your words. I needed to read this. So often I have blamed where I am for what I am. I am humbled.
Grace P. Cho says
Oh that’s good — “So often I have blamed where I am for what I am.” I’ve been there too!
I too have struggled with being content in the place where I am planted. It takes digging in and finding God’s goodness right where we are. And you have done the work and you’re still doing it! Every day. Well done!
Reading what you’ve written here is like receiving manna from heaven for me today, Grace. I want/need to increasingly live in that thin place, where God is as real, where his Presence is as real to me as the couch I’m currently sitting on. — I’m struggling with having to accept unwelcome and scary changes in my life which I can’t control. — Being reminded that He is present, working and creating life *even here* helps calm my heart and mind. Thank you so much for this, Grace.
Grace P. Cho says
Yes, even here. Even here. God is here.
Ruth Mills says
Beautifully said, Grace. And again you prove you were appropriately named! Blessings dear one!
Beth Williams says
Suscinctly put. God has plans for each of us. He knows what lies ahead & has good reasons for putting us where we are. Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. He has you right where He wants & needs you to be. No matter where we are God is there with us. He is guiding our steps. One day we will all see & realize His plans for us.
Our family has moved 15 times in 40 years of marriage. I’ve never gotten over ever having to say I’m home. Now after living in a New England state with the largest non Christian population in the U.S
it’s been difficult. New England people are prideful folks. Very hard to break down the walls of communication. Your message was spot on. I believe that we will always be restless until we enter our forever home in heaven. A place God has prepared for His beloved people. Be blessed Grace!
Pearl Allard says
Grace, I loved this so much. Love the reminder that Jesus, Himself, stayed in a relatively confined area yet changed the world. So much hope in realizing that God is even in the places we don’t want to be in. Thank you!
Grace P. Cho says
Yes! He is present and moving everywhere!
Grace, thank you for this! It’s something I have struggled with for a very long time. We mo ved so many times that I have never had a place I called home. I have lived here (a place I NEVER would have chosen) for 30+ years and it doesn’t even feel like home. I have learned to be happy here with a great church, church family, and wonderful friends. As Pear Allard so wonderfully said above “ So much hope in realizing that God is even in the places we don’t want to be in.”.