This post is an adapted version of this week’s episode of The Next Right Thing: Episode 91 and you can listen to it right here. If you want even more help with discernment and decision-making in your own life, grab a copy of The Next Right Thing book. Affiliate links are used where books are mentioned.
It’s 2013 and I sit in the back seat of an airport shuttle on my way to speak at a writer’s conference in Austin, Texas. In the ride with me is my friend and, at the time, assistant Melissa, and author and pastor, Mark Batterson. This is the first time I’ve met Mark in person, though I’ve read at least one of his books by this time, The Circle Maker, and he endorsed one of mine, A Million Little Ways.
We are essentially strangers, but we fall into easy conversation around common ground: writing and ministry. As we ride from the airport to the hotel, I end up sharing with Mark about the transition John and I are in at this stage of our life. I tell him about John leaving youth ministry after 12 years, just a few months earlier. I tell him about how John has for now chosen a stay-at-home life, the changing sheets and doing laundry and planning meals kind of life, and how he’s good for now, but he’s open and listening for what kind of work might be next.
I tell him about how I love writing books and sometimes speaking, but I’m not sure what that means five or ten years from now. And really, I could do that kind of work from anywhere.
So what does that mean about where we call home?
And even though from what I’ve just said, it might sound like I’m telling him everything, if you can believe it, I still have questions I’m not asking out loud. He seems to know this. He seems to hear the silent questions that I’m not asking and he smiles before he says this line that I never forget.
“You’re in the ellipsis.”
Immediately two things happen. Number one, I know he’s right. And number two, I don’t want to be here, in the ellipsis. I want to be in the middle of the paragraph, in the middle of the book where I know the title and the subtitle and the back cover copy.
In that moment I realize how desperately I want my life to be written in ink, filled out, formed, and finished. What in the world is next?
(If you want to know more about that season of our life in 2013, when we had way more vocational questions than we had answers, check out chapter five of my book, The Next Right Thing, or listen to episode 24 of The Next Right Thing podcast.)
Back in the shuttle, I listen as Mark begins to tell his story and he says how he’s been at the same church for seventeen years and he hopes to stay there until he retires. This is a foreign language to me. Up to this point, we’ve never felt this way about a church, a home, or a job. Here in the seat of an airport shuttle next to Melissa and our new friend, Mark Batterson, I realize for the first time that I want to feel about our life and our work and our home the way Mark feels about his life and work and church in D.C.
I want to be so committed to a local church and a job and a home that I could say with confidence, “I could stay here forever.” That ride from the airport to the hotel with Mark and Melissa, that was six years ago. And while I still have questions, here are a few things I know for sure.
I know that being confident about what you want does not guarantee you’ll get it, any more than being unsure guarantees you won’t.
I know that it’s possible to be rooted, even if we’re in motion, just as it’s possible to be scattered, even if we’re staying in one place.
I know that having doubts and questions about what you want to do and where you want to live does not mean you don’t have a home.
I know that finding where we belong is not a one-time decision and uncovering your calling is a slow, important work.
Last week I sat on the porch of our cul-de-sac home where we’ve lived for over 10 years, reading a book called Placemaker by Christie Purifoy, the book that inspired the title of this episode. In her book, Christie writes these words I’ve underlined.
“Home is never a threshold you cross. It’s a place you make and a place that might make or unmake you.”
Christie Purifoy, Placemaker
What I longed for in that airport shuttle was surety, rootedness, and a promise that I had found my place. What I’ve discovered and am still discovering in the six years since is that even though it goes against everything we’ve learned about plants, roots are something we can take with us wherever we go.
Home isn’t something we have to wait for. Home is a place we can make.
I’ve been paying attention to how this can look in my actual life. It might sound unimportant, but when I’m feeling small, scattered, or disconnected, I’ve found placemaking to be a grounding practice.
I’m paying attention to my everyday spaces, like the place where I type on my computer at my house, like the closet where I record my podcast, like the second drawer in the bathroom where I keep my makeup.
For ten years our back bedroom has been a guest room and half of that time it’s doubled as my office. But guests don’t stay with us very often. And I realized I was squeezing into the corner of the room with a too small desk that I used every single day in order to make space for a guest room bed that was used twice a year.
So we took out that bed and we made a place for my work in that guest room. I turned it into an office because I decided to take a second look and be honest about what was really going on here and what was the place I really needed to make.
For two years I’ve recorded my podcast in a tiny closet and it’s worked just fine. But I took a second look and I realized that the bookshelves in there that were crammed into the corner weren’t really being used and the walls could handle some soundproofing.
After a few orders on Amazon and a few days of work, John and I made a place for the recording of this podcast. It’s in the same place it was in before, but now it has more of a purpose. It’s not fancy and it’s certainly not expensive, but making that space in the guest room and in the podcast closet felt like a declaration: “This work is important. You’re in this for the long haul.”
That’s not to say we’ll be here forever. It is to say we’re here for now, so let’s make a place for the work we’re called to do.
I’ve been paying attention to more than just workspaces. I’ve made a place in my bathroom drawer for the things I use every day. We created space in a corner of our kitchen for coffee, tea, and our black and white mugs because we use this space every day and it deserves to be organized and accessible.
We’ve made space in our sunroom for real plants to grow in pots. Every Saturday I carry these plants outside, including other plants from around the house. I gather them all together and water them all at once. Spread out all over the house they aren’t as impressive as they are gathered all together, but each one has a job to do in helping to make a place for us.
Again, I know it might seem small to move a bed out of a room, to clean out a bathroom drawer, to gather up the plants to water on a Saturday morning, but each of these small actions have been a way of making a place for peace, for belonging, for home.
As I sat on my front porch, the gift of placemaking rose up to meet me. Because long ago in the backseat of an Austin airport shuttle, I longed for the rootedness I heard in Mark’s voice; the surety, the face set like a flint in the direction of home of a people and of a place. And now I see how the answer to that longing from six years ago is all around me now. It didn’t come swiftly and it didn’t come all at once and, to be honest, there are some things I’m still waiting for. But, it’s important to notice and to name what’s here, what has come, and how grateful I am.
At one point in her book, Christie describes in detail about the work she and her husband Jonathan put into their Chicago apartment years ago. She writes in a lot of detail about the subway tile and the porcelain sink in the bathroom. She writes about the edge glass mirror and the shiny chrome faucet, and she writes about her friend Laura, who was often a guest in that Chicago apartment.
Years later, after they moved away, she asked Laura what she remembered about the apartment and surprisingly her friend Laura didn’t mention anything about tile or tubs or shiny chrome faucets. Instead, Laura remembers how Christie would light a candle when the sun went down, how she always had cloth napkins clean and ready for use, how she poured maple syrup into a glass jar before putting it on the table.
All of these things surprised Christie. You mean you don’t remember the fish pattern bathroom tiles, the porcelain sink with the porcelain legs, the pretty color painted on the walls? Yeah, that’s not what Laura remembered. She remembered the spirit of the place. The peace embodied in the simple liturgy of laundering napkins and lighting candles and pouring maple syrup into glass jars.
Christie and Jonathan were placemaking when they remodeled the bathroom, but the little things counted too, and that’s what their friend remembered.
When we have 35,000 decisions to make every single day, I wonder if being a placemaker would lighten the load a little bit? Because there’s nothing like the in-betweens of life to bring decision fatigue on fast and furious. When you feel like you’re waiting for something beyond your ability to manage or control, decisions can feel both overly important and profoundly unimportant at the same time. What does it matter what I decide? It won’t make a difference anyway.
Might I introduce a new narrative?
While we may not be able to change the whole story, perhaps we can still impact the plot point. That means in hardship, joy is still possible. In disappointment hope is still available. In uncertainty faith is still a lifeline.
Instead of thinking things have to be a certain way before we can enjoy them, what if we dare to enjoy them even in their imperfection?
What would it look like to make a place right where you are? Does it look like a candle, a cloth napkin, or a jar of maple syrup? Does it look like a cup of coffee, a long walk, or an arm around her shoulder?
Does it look like delivering a bag of groceries to your neighbor, a load of laundry for your daughter, a plant on the corner of your office desk?
If you’re in the ellipsis in your own life right now, it’s true, you might have more questions than you have answers. You might have more furrowed brows than nodding heads.
But there are some things you can still choose, like making a place where your roots are lacking, like believing for sure that God is with you, like doing your next right thing in love.
Learn more about Christie and the places she’s made right here. Grab a copy of her book, Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace.