How places sink into your soul

When we were first married twelve years ago we lived in a little apartment in Pasadena. In that place was my whole new world. With a teeny tiny galley kitchen and fresh and new linens and an apartment of hand-me-down furniture. We cooked, spent way too much money, loved our church and dreamed of where life would take us.

A year later we moved all our possessions into a spare room at my parents’ and flew to Scotland to find our next big adventure. With a bevy of winter clothes so unfamiliar to California natives, we boarded a plane with a few suitcases and moved to Edinburgh. I so clearly remember those first disorienting and jet lagged weeks where we stayed with Bryce’s sister and family just north of Edinburgh. Edinburgh is a magical city with spires and jutted hillsides and craggy hills upon which an ancient castle stands and from which you can see the Georgian regularity of the New Town and the charming (once squalor-filled) Old Town. There are views all around. At first annoying, the circuitous pathways that wove around the city became walking liturgies to an expat life. Where Indian food became the new go-to, where learning to not stick out or look like an American became second nature and spending hours reading, writing, researching and discussing big, new ideas as we worked our way through three degrees between the two of us. We took public transportation and walked miles a day; we could jet off to London or Greece or Prague or Italy (and we did). Edinburgh will always be magical and a home, and those daily paths I walked encircling crags and university and libraries and churches have ingrained themselves into who I am, wherever I am.

After three years overseas, we moved back to California for work, back to Pasadena in fact. And then a year in San Diego. Those years, though they meant real work and were filled with having babies and all the requisite changes that that makes to a young couple, seem less ingrained on who we are then our Edinburgh years, and our Salt Lake years. We moved to Salt Lake City with a toddler and an infant just 19 months apart for another adventure — this time for Bryce’s work. (He was starting a college ministry at the University of Utah through RUF). We’ve now lived in Salt Lake for 5 years, the longest we’ve ever lived anywhere as a married couple; we’ve had two more babies here. And we’ve seen people come and go, we’ve been in one place long enough that it’s not always us moving for the next thing. We bought a house full of renovation dreams in the following decades and have put our boys on skis for the first time in Utah. The changing mountain views are incredible. From their snow-capped peaks that arch like dinosaur backs to their bright green spring clothes, they have become an oasis from the heat of summer in the city, a place to laugh at the sheer joy of experiencing fresh powder and a reminder of God’s faithfulness to me. For oftentimes as I drive down the interstate I remember the Bible verse, “I lift my eyes up to the mountains. Where does my help come from? It comes from God, maker of heaven and earth” (Psm 121). I’m in love with the amazing foodie restaurants, fun bars, and the architecture of our downtown library. We have an amazing park a block away with a large pond, aviary, cycling paths and playgrounds. The peace in the city, found either at the park or at the botanical garden, brings so much refreshment to the daily ins and outs of exhausting motherhood. We’ve traded meandering paths for a definite grid but there is much that is magical here in this relatively undiscovered mountain town. It’s sunk into our souls — in our daily rituals up and down the stairs of our home, how the kitchen is its beating heart; in our walking around our neighborhood and driving downtown, and in the wonder of winter and the fresh breath of spring.

It’s kind of amazing to a girl who didn’t move from the house she came home from the hospital until going off to college, how many places have become a part of me, have imprinted themselves onto who I am. My tendency is to mourn the loss of each, and the relationships built in each one, but I’m choosing to see each as gifts for a time and I’m realizing how my life is built from beautiful moments (whether in California, Scotland or Utah). It becomes a choice to appreciate the now instead of longing for “then” or “next.”

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5 Comments

  1. This really resonated with me. So many dear places in my soul, almost every place we have lived — save for the one city where we lived in suburbia and never really caught the love. It’s good to let place sink into your soul and to love places, even if you don’t go full Wendell Berry and live there for the rest of your life.

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  2. Yes so very true. And I think we can feel like we aren’t living truly if we move around a lot, as you say “go all Wendell Berry.” Wonderful phrase. For me the hard part is not the moving (which is exciting) it’s the uprooting. Or seeing the past as better than the present.

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  3. Love this Ashley! I am SC born and bred, and it took tries in San Diego for me to find out how it could become a part of me. 🙂 We have friends moving to Edinburgh and love to think how its circles will comfort them too. Thank you.

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