I remember many years ago reading an old copy of “My Utmost for His Highest”, by Oswald Chambers. The introduction to it is what has stuck with me for all this time. A biographer tells about Oswald and his wife moving to Egypt during WWI for him to be a chaplain at an army camp.
“In the desert Oswald supervised the construction of rock-lined walkways and a myriad of flowerbeds. Some critics said it was a waste of time, but Chambers believed that if physical improvements were not made and new touches occasionally given to the huts, it would reflect slovenly care, unpleasing to God. ‘A grave defect in much work of today,’ he said, ‘Is that men do not follow Solomon’s admonition, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do with all thy might” The tendency is to argue “It’s only for a short time, why trouble?” If it is only for 5 minutes, let it be done well.'” (My Utmost for His Highest)
He beautified an army camp. In Egypt. Clearly not home, not a place to be forever. Not even comfortable. Why, then, would he waste his time on this seeming frivolity? In essence, by making it beautiful, he was giving it more value in his heart and letting himself settle in.
And boom. This one paragraph, before the famous devotional ever even started, was a game-changer for me. It is for this reason that I make every place I live as cozy as possible, as quickly as possible.
In my 20’s, which are nearly over, I have moved about 15 or 20 times. Even here in Port Alsworth, I have moved to 4 different houses before settling in with the Wardells for this past year. I have stayed places for a few weeks, months, and years. Every move I view as an opportunity and a personal challenge to settle in as quickly as possible.
I unpack every box and suitcase within a week, and store whatever extra I can in closets and out of sight. I hang up photos (or at least put the framed ones on my desk) of my mother, nephew, and people I love. I hang up cards or quotes pulled from magazines on the mirror to encourage. And I find flowers. Gladiolas, hydrangeas, dried wildflowers. My space must be made “mine”, even if it clearly belongs to someone else. It is the only way I can let my guard down, rest, and fully engage those around me. Plus, it is so good to have a bit of refuge wherever I am living.
My decorating tastes have changed over the years, 5 or 6 times. When I first moved out of my mother’s house in California and into my first apartment in Avon, Colorado with Jamie many years ago, I loved dark greens and white furniture. One move inspired only garage sale furniture that I painted bright colors, and a big chair that I covered (an experience which ended badly, and I’ve committed to never buying a second hand armchair again) Later on, when I lived in Denver, I went completely Ikea, dark dark furniture and hung up a ton of white paper lanterns all over the place. In Alaska, I’ve been all about the pallet furniture, and I think for this season it has been my favorite. I love bright colors, yellow as an accent, clean white sheets, lots of books, and strings of Christmas lights regardless of other taste changes.
Some people think it unnecessary to go to the lengths that I do to settle in. But I am certain–I must make it “home” so that I can engage in the world around me.
As I slowly begin the process of downsizing once again for my move to Costa Rica, I look around my room at what can stay and what can come. Truly, things are just things, and they can be “set free” at any time. Many of the books are like dear friends, and will come with me. Paintings from friends will leave Alaska with me, but I don’t know if they’ll eventually fit in the suitcase. Photo of Mom when she was 25–that goes with me everywhere. It’s a bittersweet process, every single time I do it.