How did my little 4-year-old legs climb all those stairs through the courtyards of Windsor Terrace apartments from Ingersoll to Grand Avenue? I remember my mother, my sister and I climbed up that steep hill home from the bus when we lived on Lincoln Court during the first few years of my life in Des Moines, Iowa. I climbed those many stairs again the last day of my journey home from Colorado and Nebraska. Why did I want to climb those stairs? The little bungalow is no longer there. The land is now part of Des Moines University. I guessed students now lived in Windsor Terrace.
Why does one look for, long for, "home" when even the house no longer exists? I have been on the road for eight weeks now, spending March teaching in Sweden and during April lecturing, preaching and leading workshops in many congregations in Colorado and Nebraska. Long drives allow one to count and take stock. I figured I have lived 17 places during my lifetime. And then I counted that the various places I have stayed these past two months added up also to the number 17. I can see each one of them in my mind's eye. Each in their own way was "home" if for 15 years or for only a night or two.
I lived in only two different places until I was 11, when my father died. And then we moved around a bit. By the time I left "home" (meaning my mother's house) in Mason City, Iowa, after graduating from community college, there had been six. We had owned none of them, always renting a bungalow, duplex or apartment. And then there were the young adult years of Valparaiso University, my first call in St. Louis, graduate school and Burton's first call, back teaching in Valparaiso: five more. During Burton's many years of pastoral ministry we have lived in six homes, three of which were church parsonages, and three of which we owned ourselves. Does that add up to 17? I think so. Oh, I could very well add the apartment at Iliff School of Theology in Denver where I lived for six months during my Ph.D. residency. That was actually the only place I lived by myself. I think it's important to do so at sometime in one's life, to discover who one really is.
Are the houses and apartments where you have lived still there? Can you see them? Do you recall feelings of joy and loss, struggles and accomplishment while you lived there? Whom did you love? Who loved you? Who is no longer alive? Who shared your life for a brief time? A long time? Who sat at your table in those places you called home? What strangers did you welcome there? During these past two months we stayed in Swedish hotels with Scandinavian decor a school/retreat center, and in a l000 year old parsonage. (Burton traveled with me.)
In Colorado and Nebraska I stayed 8500 feet high in Vail where homes are measured in the millions and out in the country in a parsonage of a four-point parish in rural Western Nebraska. I, traveling alone, was privileged to visit Wartburg Seminary graduates I have taught 5, 15, 20 and 25 years ago. And I learned at their tables, the tables in their kitchens and the tables of the altars in their churches. In each place people are "at home" whether the congregation has 2000 members or 25. I can see each one in my mind's eye. I heard about joys and losses, struggles and accomplishments. I, the stranger, was welcomed and loved. I give thanks for Christ who welcomes us all to each of those tables and in whom we find our home. And, as I go home to my office at Wartburg Seminary, where so many people through the years continue to "find Norma" I give thanks for that home, and for Christ's call that leads me, and all of us on all kinds of journeys. I have learned much in these past eight weeks. And I also hear the voice of Pastor Randy Fett, as I completed my last speaking engagement, "Norma, continue to teach."