Our twin Valais-cross wethers, Kilian and Kaspar, are hanging outside the horse barn fence, watching me sweep bits of hay, shavings, and dried mud off the concrete patio. I don’t know about you, but I do a lot of sweeping around the farm. Sometime I use an old-fashioned straw broom that’s also my weapon of choice for knocking down cobwebs. Other times, I opt for the red-bristle push broom that covers a lot of territory and whose stiffness makes short work of the big, junky stuff. And then there’s the petite, kitchen-style broom that has soft, angled bristles that get into the darkest and sharpest corners. Oh, did I mention the other push broom that has silky bristles that glide across the surface and capture every speck of dust? You might say I’m a broom connoisseur. But it’s not really about the sweeping. It’s about what’s being revealed.
I find I do my best thinking—and praying—with a broom in my hand. It may sound crazy but oftentimes a broom is my prayer partner and my theology teacher. I learn (and listen) best when my mind is empty and the swoosh of a broom creates a rhythm that soothes the savage beast in me and gives me a fighting chance to hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit. If you have a farm, a house, or a barn to keep tidy, I know you know exactly what I mean.
This morning, I’m thinking about my recent trip “home” to New Jersey to celebrate my mom’s 92nd birthday. I’m not gonna lie. I love New Jersey. Every exit. Every beach town. Every mountain meadow, cornfield, diner, and shopping mall. Most of all, I love my tribe, the people who “get me” and “see me.” I’ve live in Tennessee for a little over three years now but I’m a born-and-raised Jersey Girl who has no shame about it. But what I do have, I realize as I wack the cobwebs that have reappeared in my absence, is regret. Not regret that I left New Jersey and moved to Tennessee. I had one very (very!) good reason to leave and now four very good reasons to stay.
Rather, the regret I feel is that ever since moving here I’ve been secretly (or not so secretly) pining for “home.” Like the lambs on the outside of the fence looking in, that’s how I’ve spent the better part of the last three years, with a certain hardness and barrier in my heart toward my new zip code. Returning to Tennessee from this last trip home has made me realize that “home” is really a rather existential concept that exists outside of geography. My little flock of Valais-cross sheep, the ponies in the barn, in fact, all the residents of our farm, have welcomed me back in the sweetest and purest of ways, making me realize that I am "home" to them. I think having the lambs born here this spring has been monumental in helping to soften and show me that there’s a “new” and blessed life to be had on this farm…and that indeed, home is where the heart is.
As I sweep the darkest corners and root out the hidden dust, the Holy Spirit reminds me of the promise of Ezekiel 36:26: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” As it turns out, the heart God provides is soft, pliable, and expansive enough to defy boundaries. The heart of God, in whose image we are made, transcends time, distance, and geography. My heart can really and truly be in two places at the same time. There's tremendous peace in this certitude.
What's more, Jesus also proclaimed: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21) There’s treasure all around me in this broom-swept barn, in these rolling pastures, in our cozy farmhouse on the hill. There are hidden treasures in the people and places I’ve yet to discover here. And there’s treasure embedded in the memories and realities of my childhood home, friends and family. It isn’t a matter of shutting one or the other out, leaving them, so to speak, on the other side of the fence. Maybe it’s a matter of being able, in my heart, to embrace both/and instead of either/or.
As I stop sweeping long enough to photograph and admire the ridiculous cuteness of Kilian and Kaspar, I realize we all have an invisible broom at our disposal. It’s the broom of gratitude that enables a God-ordered life; in my case, it's one that allows me to create a clear, clean path for the blessings God has in store for me here in Tennessee. For starters, I'm deeply thankful for a “welcome home” committee that includes these two woolly ambassadors of joy.
What are you grateful for?
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts…And be thankful. (Col 3:15)