It takes a year to make a place home. I am not talking about meeting people, putting pictures on walls, or knowing the streets and stores of town. What I am talking about is a sense of belonging.
When I first move to a new place, I work to get to know the place. I start by putting my own fingerprint in my house; I make a kitchen workable, put art on walls, and grow plants of beauty. I want my house to feel like a home and a place of peace. I wander the streets of town by car and on foot; I hunt for my staple foods, the treats, and the restaurants. I want to know where to find things before I actually need them (though not always possible). I hunt for people worth getting to know; I go to coffee shops and dinners and parties whenever I can (though I am an introvert). I want to find people to invest in and hope that they will invest in me. I hunt for a church – not a building, but a group of people. I want a church family and a place to worship. It is an exhausting process but one that is worthwhile because it lays a foundation for building a home. I try and approach it all with a sense of adventure and discovery; most of the time it works.
That is the foundation upon which a home starts to be built as it is the beginning of knowing a place and the people within it. It is also the beginning of building patterns and making memories. Every time a place is revisited, it becomes more cemented as a place that is known. Each memory made with a person builds a friendship as a common history is created. Every time you leave and return, you discover that there is a different type of contentment in the return because you know more and are known by more. The foundation becomes stronger and a home is built.
This is why I say it takes a year to make a place home: it takes just over a year to repeat a season and to repeat a holiday. Seasons feel different in different locations. Holidays look, feel, and taste different. The first year you are not quite sure how to decorate, who to be with, or how make (or find) those special foods. It is in the repeat that you are able approach the holiday with the assurance of having done it once before. You might not do it the same way (maybe it was a flop the first time or maybe you want to try something different), but you have the choice to do something different. And in that choice of repeating or changing, you have crossed over to knowing. In building on history from the previous year, in creating the holiday foods and decorations, and in gathering with people with whom you have made memories, you belong and a home has been made. It is never a perfect thing, but it is a rich thing.
It takes a year to make a home, and that is why I am so thankful to be celebrating Thanksgiving here in Rwanda. For the second time I am helping dear friends host a crowd. This year I know where to get the ingredients and what substitutions work well. I have already made memories with many of the people coming, so tomorrow we will share a history, not be starting one. Together we will create a memory and a shared history. Together, we will make this place a little bit more home.