“Welcome home,” a friend greeted me when I got back to Beijing from my travels. It was a good feeling, to be welcomed back to this place. Through my travels I’d been thinking about the concept of home. Growing up, “home” was not a fluid concept for me. I was born in the same town as my parents (well, technically my mom was born in another town but they had moved back by the time she remembers). All four of my grandparents were born there, too. Most of my great-grandparents got there start there, too. I understand the Chinese concept of laojia, “old home” or “hometown.” When I would ask students (especially adult students) where they were from, they would often tell me their laojia in a distant province, even if they had been living in Beijing for 20 years. I have a laojia, too. Its home. It will always be home. Its the place where my grandparents and great-grandparents are buried. Its the place where you can walk down tulip lanes and along some of the prettiest beaches in the world. It is the place where I learned about God and family, grace and love.
But during my adulthood I’ve learned that you can have more than one home. You can even have more than one home at the same time. It does make things more complicated at times. While I was on vacation in Thailand I had several people ask, “where are you from?” The answer I settled on is “I’m from the United States, but I live in China.” Its true, and they are both home. Leaving Beijing for awhile helped me to think of this place as home, too. It is also a place I hold in my heart. It is the place where I spoke my first halting Chinese sentences (many years ago when I was a student here). Its the place where ancient and modern rub up against each other constantly. It is a place where I am finding my way and meeting people that will, I trust, eventually become part of the family that I choose for myself. Its the place where I have figured out how to pay bills and register at the police station and other life skills in a foreign language and foreign method. It is a place where I learn about God and myself; trust and grace.
I learning to be a person with two homes, a person with two places I love. I wonder if the exiled Israelites ever felt this way. Through Jeremiah God told them “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you” (Jeremiah 29:4-7). They were to make Babylon their home. But they were still longing for the promised land, for the place that they left that was also their home. Learning that home can be a fluid concept also reminds me that ultimately, my allegiance and comfort doesn’t come from my home. It comes from belonging—in body and soul, in life and in death—to Jesus. This broken world isn’t my final home; my true home is united with Christ in the new heavens and the new earth.
Overall, becoming a person with two homes is a good thing. But on a day to day basis it has challenges. I want to invest in people and relationships in both homes, to be rooted in two places. But that’s really not very practical since I haven’t learned the secret to being in two places at once yet. And so I’m figuring out how to have roots and wings, investments in two homes and still be a whole person. In this moment I’m glad that right now, I’m at home.