When we decided to come back home, I fearfully whispered to my husband, “Aren’t we giving them the exact same?”
The Exact Same was what we both had, growing up in that town. Would it be OK for our offspring, as it had been for us? I was worried that we weren’t doing it right — parenting is when you give your children better than what you had, right? Going home was like going backward.
So it felt to me, as I drove around town those first few weeks — the scenery flashed by me, dreadfully familiar. Previously, I had ached to go north or south, and believed that bigger and further away surely meant better. I did not foresee that God would bring me back, along with two little ones.
My daughter watches the same scenery now, but she doesn’t see what I see. Blaring road signs that say: First Failure. First Kiss. First Hope. First Baptist. First Wreck. First Love. First Disappointment. First Friend. First Goodbye.
My town felt littered with ME — me and all of my raw, white-knuckled firsts. And I knew, that soon, my children would see their own firsts on the same horizon.
At first, I felt out of sorts, and rightfully so.
Barely three months postpartum with my second, I felt like I was in no shape, physically or emotionally, to return to this place, still brimming with what I had left behind. The self that left was strong, determined, toned, and clueless. The self that returned was tired, humbled, definitely not as toned, and thankfully, with some clue about the rest of the world this time around.
What was I supposed to do here? And mostly, what did God have for me here that He didn’t before?
When my littlest doesn’t nap these days, I find myself buckling my children in the car for a ride to get a cold drink and begin my search. I visit my old hangouts, cruise around a tiny church parking lot, and troll streets that previously didn’t exist. My baby falls asleep in the sticky heat of the car, and I start telling my firstborn my stories … stories of what happened here, how I walked to school there, where I learned about God, where I found my best friends, and even where I got lost.
In Joshua 4, Joshua piles twelve stones next to the Jordan River and tells the Israelites, “In the future, your children will ask, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them. ‘This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground'” (Joshua 4:21, 22).
My town may be a map of my firsts, but it’s also where my journey as a Christ-follower began. With a new heart, 18 years prior, I began a close walk with Christ, unknowingly leaving breadcrumbs behind for my unborn children. What I saw as litter around my hometown are now actually remembrance stones. I pray that they stick, these stories told on hot, boring summer days. I pray that these stones burrow into the hallowed ground of their faith so that they can all but trip over their mama’s spiritual hallmarks while making or breaking their own on this same soil.
And of course, when it’s time, they may buck at the chance to leave this place, and I will understand. They can leave, my strong, determined, toned, and clueless ones … but I know the stones will tether them to their story — the one God began with mine and their daddy’s redemption here at home.
They will conquer the world; my children will. And while they do, I will keep the stones, running them over each other, placing them rightly just so, polishing, smoothing them over. I will try my best not to pray them back home with their own little ones, but whenever they visit I will be ready to tell them — show them even! — how God redeems The Exact Same.