Finding Home Again

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I suppose lots of angsty high school seniors dream of moving far from home after graduation. I certainly did. I couldn’t wait to get out of St. Louis – not because I disliked the city where I grew up, but because I felt like it knew me too well. Like my entire history was imprinted on the city’s walls – a sort of visual prison that kept me from becoming the person I wanted to be. 

So I chose to attend college in Southern California. 

I fell in love with California – I loved the forever sunshine and beaches, of course, but also the feeling that I could be anyone I wanted to be in that fresh, clean canvas of a place. Most of my college friends couldn’t even point to St. Louis on a map, and there was something kind of liberating about that. I’ve heard it said that Californians are cliquey and self-absorbed, but I found the opposite to be true: I was welcomed into home after home, and the friends I made in college are the kinds that last a lifetime. California truly became home for me. 

In one of my college creative writing classes I wrote an homage to St. Louis in the style of Joan Didion’s “Goodbye to All That.” I meant it as a kind of “goodbye forever” letter to my home city.  

Because I never imagined that I would move back. 

Unlike Didion’s essay, though, mine is corny and shallow. It covers all the St. Louis clichés: gooey butter cake and frozen custard and toasted ravioli, loyalty to Cardinals Baseball and St. Louis Bread Company, facts about the St. Louis Arch and how to fry eggs on the sidewalk in July.  I tried to add complexity by describing broken windows in buildings downtown, and by including a story about how I witnessed a man pickpocket my mom at the grocery store. But, ultimately, the piece falls flat in more ways than one. 

Over the years, I’ve tried again and again to revise that essay into something worth sharing, but I haven’t been able to make it work. I have never been able to articulate my relationship with St. Louis in a way that means anything to me or anyone else. 

Eight years after that creative writing class, I had fully established the life I always wanted in Southern California. I was teaching writing at my alma mater university; my husband and I had a cute little apartment with tons of windows; we could walk to the beach and to Trader Joe’s; we had a garden that bloomed all year long; we had finally settled into a church that we loved; our California friends had become our second family.

We were exceedingly content. 

And then my husband got a call about a job opportunity in St. Louis.

He prayed about the decision and encouraged me to pray too. He sought advice from friends and family. Meanwhile, I did absolutely everything I could to avoid thinking about the decision altogether. I was afraid to open up a line of communication to God because I knew that if I did He might tell me it was time to leave my comfortable, sunny life – a life I had worked so hardto establish. But I didn’t have to hear the audible voice of God to know in my heart that He was calling us back to my home city. 

In retrospect, I can see that I struggled over that old college essay because my St. Louis story is not yet over. Since we moved here three months ago, I have already seen how partial and naïve my childhood perception of the city was. St. Louis is certainly gooey butter cake and frozen custard and Cardinals Baseball, but it’s also a city with deep, open wounds: systemic poverty, racism, violence, and despair. Yet, in spite of these issues – or more likely because of them – St. Louis is also a place where God’s work among people is incredibly visible. We have witnessed God moving in the Church, especially, to bring healing to the lives of hurting people, which has been both encouraging and faith-sustaining. 

At our church here in St. Louis the pastor ends every service with the words, “You are loved by God, and you are sent by Him.” Those words are a such comfort to me. I cannot know precisely why we were sent to St. Louis, but I do know that the Spirit has been stirring in our hearts since we arrived. I know that we have been sent here for a reason. I know that we are home.

Christopher and me in front of our new-to-us old house in the city.


I have always struggled to belong. Born and raised on an island in the middle of the Pacific ocean, my early memories contain crystal blue ocean, ethereal sunsets, and a profound sense of being a fish out of water.

My beautiful island home, O’ahu

I am a blonde, white, German-descent haole, and on the island of O’ahu, we are the minority. Throughout elementary and high school I loved experiencing my friends’ cultures. Being invited over for homemade chicken adobo from my Filipina friend’s Lola, attending lavish baby’s first Luaus, and learning the Japanese language and heritage from my Sensei (teacher) remain some of my favorite memories. However, at the end of the day, they weren’t my culture.

One of my favorite cross-cultural culinary delights: Manapua

My father is a Missouri Synod Lutheran Pastor (another island minority), and his congregation mostly serves the large military population. Once again, I loved experiencing my friends’ culture: learning the different military ranks and exploring base life made for fun afternoons, but at the end of the day, I was a civilian and they would PCS (move) to another military base within three years.

My brother-in-law feeding my son to a “dinosaur” at Jurasic Park.

For college, I chose to attend Concordia University Chicago (CURF, CTC) and thought that finally I would find my place. Instead, I struggled to find belonging in a culture where 8a.m. classes actually started at 8:00 (instead of 8:06…like island time). And my homeschooled past (which I wouldn’t trade for anything) kept me from understanding some of the “‘cool” social cues (i.e.: no one sits in the front row or raises their hand to ask questions and participate, especially in basic classes, especially when it keeps class from getting out early!) However, slowly but surely (after some awkward cafeteria encounters), I found my “tribe:” people who loved Christ and celebrated their mutual weirdness. Senior year, during finals week, my friends and I celebrated by attending “dollar beer night” at a popular local bar. Surrounded by real friends and constantly enjoying visitors to our table from other college seniors I felt a sense of arrival. I belonged here. On May 12th, 2013 my class threw their caps in the air (I had to wait another year, until after my required one-year internship), little aware of how much our worlds would soon shift.

By the time I returned to campus for the midyear internship conference in January, the magic was gone. Who were all these babies on campus? And although my dearly loved friends still loved me and one another, we now lived scattered across the United States and irregular Skype meetups replaced face-to-face vulnerability.

My college tribe.

Dear friends in Christ, if any part of this story sounds familiar, my heart hurts for you. But let’s pause there and walk for a moment looking at the word belong. Merriam Webster lists as the first two meanings: “to be suitable, appropriate, or advantageous,” and “to be in a proper situation.”

Many of the times in my life when I feel like an outsider, I am actually in a proper situation, or even advantageous and suitable for the group of people. So, what keeps me from having that “belonging feeling?” My guess is the little voice in my head. The little voice that has plagued me especially this past year with the thought, “you don’t even belong in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

How is that little voice (the voice of The Enemy) robbing you of belonging?

Fast-forward to March 2019. I am living in my fourth residence (and third state) since college, and once again am slowly working my way into a sense of belonging. A few weeks ago my husband and I attended the school auction. On one of the tables laid a school mascot sweatshirt: soft, unbelievably cute for spirit wear, and in the perfect size. I put in a modest bid, but as much as I liked the sweatshirt, didn’t intend to put in more. I am not a teacher at the school, just the principal’s wife, and even our oldest son is only in part-time preschool. “Another person is surely more deserving of sporting Blue Jay pride,” I thought.

But at the end of the night, my sweet husband handed me the sweatshirt. “I knew you wanted it. Happy Birthday,” he smiled. Even though I had given up, he had returned and followed the bidding.

As I wore the sweatshirt for the first time that Monday, I had one of those “aha” moments. Although I didn’t feel as though I belonged enough to the St. Paul’s community, my husband did, and had welcomed me into it by purchasing it for me. Sound familiar yet?

The Enemy whispers into my heart, “You don’t belong in the Kingdom of God. You haven’t done enough good yet. You raised your voice to the kids again. You haven’t studied your Bible enough, trusted enough, given enough, opened your home enough…” The guilt goes on and on. But my sense of belonging is not based on how I feel or what I do. My belonging is based on the one who purchased it for me. Hebrews 12 puts this so eloquently:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God….Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:1-2, 28-29)

Jesus didn’t belong on earth. He is so far beyond and above our human existence and

yet he chose to dwell among us. Overjoyed by the future, he endured the ultimate suffering, being cast aside as an outsider, and in a strange turn of events, gave us belonging in his eternal kingdom. We may find family and friends who give us love, comfort, and joy, but we will never really, truly belong.

And the voice in my head that says we can’t earn a place in his kingdom? Colossians 3 tells us that our lives are hidden in Christ. He brought us into himself through his death and resurrection. His death served as our death, and his resurrection into new life served to bring us to new life. He didn’t belong on earth, so we no longer belong on earth. We belong in an eternal kingdom because of Jesus’ actions.

Knowing that my ultimate belonging is purchased by the one who is seated at the right hand of God, I am striving to push past the voice that tells me I don’t belong, and instead am focusing on worshipping the God of belonging by welcoming others into his joy. Join me?

At the Lamb’s high feast we sing

Praise to our victorious king,

Who has washed us in the tide

Flowing from his pierced side.


Now no more can death appall,

Now no more the grave enthrall;

You have opened paradise,

And your saints in you shall rise.


At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing, office hymn, 17th cent.

Hymn # 126 from Lutheran Worship

Author: Bohemian Brethren

Welcome Molly!!

Molly, Zadok and Titus… and baby #3 on the way!

We knew we HAD to meet long before we ever did. It seemed that no less then 12,000 people knew both of us and all the things that would connect us… and we just HAD to meet. “Have you met Molly yet?” messaged a college friend on FB. “No – not yet, I promise I will reach out!.” “Ok – because you just HAVE to, you’re going to love her.” Another message from my sister in law in California , ” Have you connected with Molly yet – I’m friends with her parents – and she is really great – you HAVE to meet her!”

And the inquiries kept coming. Maybe not 12,000 but …

quite a few.

So who is Molly? and why did I need to meet her??

Molly Poppe is so many things .

Director of Christian Ed. Teacher. Runner. Wife to Nate ( our new grade school principal) and mom to Zadok and Titus and sweet baby number 3 on the way.

Warm, friendly, kind, welcoming. Loves teenagers and Jesus and introducing the 2.

I was drawn to Molly initially because her current life story looked so much like mine did 20 years ago. Young mom, new at the full time stay at home gig, married to a church worker. At their home in Colorado Molly had served as the Director of Christian Education and teacher while parenting her 2 littles. Her move to our town last summer gave her the opportunity to be full time stay at home mom. I made this exact same transition from the exact same career … one that was both rewarding and challenging and a whole bunch of other things. My heart loved Molly because even though I didn’t know HER, I could 100% relate to her season.

How blessed I’ve been since I FINALLY met Molly. We serve together to lead a weekly fellowship experience for our High School International Students and I fell in love with her writing as I enjoyed her poignant, truth filled facebook posts. I knew she had to be a guest at our fire.

SO ….. here she is! You get to FINALLY meet her! Welcome to the fire Molly… we’re so glad you’re here!

The Poppe Family – We just love them all!

Blessed Assurance

Note from Beth: I am grateful to have Jim Lange visit as a guest storyteller and even more so for the many days God has blessed us with his life – 90 years this month! Enjoy!

Uncle Jim loves to tell a story

A remarkable incident happened to me years ago that assured me that my God was not a God who was far off, but a God who was very near. It occurred early in my career while I taught at St. John’s Lutheran School in Glendale Long Island, New York in the late 1950’s.  For a number of years Grace and I attended the Atlantic District Teachers Conference at Pocono Crest, a facility of the Atlantic District LC-MS in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. The conference was held for Atlantic District school teachers in the latter part of October, and we were always delighted that we could take such a break from school teaching and participate in the Conference with fellow teachers. 

Jim’s beautiful Bride Grace of 61 years and one of his great nieces, Louisa.

In one of those years, when a Thursday afternoon session ended, there was still time before the evening meal for me to take a walk. I intended to follow a path that the main lodge displayed on a map of the area. I donned my raincoat  because of the misty weather to follow a path that was pictured as going  around a small lake before returning to the lodge where it  began. As I walked it seemed like the lake was much further away than I had assumed it would be, but I kept walking, following the path. Darkness was beginning to settle in. I considered turning back, but I reasoned that a shorter distance would be after I reached the lake. Finally, I did get to a small lake, but it was also where this path ended. I had been on the wrong path and I was at the wrong lake! I had to return the way I had come. Time passed as I walked and I realized what a distance I had come!  As I walked darkness set in, though the sky was still visible.  In darkness, I could tell I was on the path because nothing obstructed my progress—until; until I came to an area where I ran into nothing but branches of the evergreen trees that bordered the path. I pushed back at the obstructing branches, but nothing gave way to reveal a path. I had badly erred and knew I was paying for it. As I continued to seek the path, I was able to make out a large rock positioned at that place, sat on it and talked to God. “O Lord, if I have to stay here till morning light, I will, but stay with me and give me courage to endure it.” As I sat, I continued in thought and prayer.

After a little while, I felt I should be doing more, so I started poking around at the place where I thought the path should continue. Behold, branches gave way and the path was before me!  I was elated. Though I couldn’t see it, I could feel the path because it was paved; a misstep onto something unpaved would be easy to recognize. With a joyful heart I walked faster, and soon heard the sound of my feet crossing a footbridge over a small stream that signaled I was in the vicinity of the lodge. I did not see the footbridge, but did not even consider a misstep that might land me in the water. After my prayer, it seemed the Lord was controlling my movement and all I needed to do was to be extremely glad and thankful. I was smiling when I got back to my room and explained to Grace why I missed supper. My Lord and my God had just vividly shown me that he exists and that he responds to needs. This experience has been a constant assurance that God loves and cares for me—and for all who call upon him.

Psalm 50:15: Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.

Welcome Jim!!

On the rare occasion our family drives to church, we park in a lot where this weeks guest storyteller spent his teen years. Jim Lange was 12 years old when his widowed mother and 7 siblings moved from Norborne, MO to Concordia, MO. (Yes – the very same Concordia where our family now resides) His mother Selma determined that her sons should attend St. Paul Lutheran High School. As a single mother of 8 children she could not afford the room and board fees for this private, residential school so she relocated to their home on Main St. almost directly across the street from SPLHS. All of her sons ( it was an all male school) graduated from SPLHS, as have many of their children and now grandchildren. It is this connection to Concordia and SPLHS that brought our family here to live and work when God closed our doors in Michigan 3 years ago.

I have heard tales of this incredible woman, Selma Lange, and her 8 children since before I was officially a Lange. Not only did she have EIGHT children but 7 of them were boys and the youngest was still in the womb when her husband Alvin died from complications with a boil. Jim was the second oldest son behind Bill and before Robert – my beloved Father in Law, Tom’s dad. One of my favorite activities at Lange Family reunions is to sit and listen to the stories surrounding the challenges, joys and shenanigans of this family. Each sibling has their own twist on what happened as well as storytelling style.

Today, In honor of Jim Langes 90th birthday, we invite him to the fire to share a small piece of his story of God’s faithfulness. I am amazed at the unwavering faith of this family that endured tragedy at such a young age. Their lives display a deep level of not only knowledge but love for their heavenly father that gave them all they needed despite their lack of an earthly father.

Welcome to the fire Uncle Jim… we’re so glad you’re here.

402 Main, Concordia, MO. On the back of the summer kitchen was a basketball goal and the Lange boys made use of it – even on Sundays.


The picture above was shared with me by my father in law several years ago. He had just purchased a new smart phone and had uploaded this to it. He was so excited to share this fun gadget with me and its ability to hold pictures! Apparently he added text when he shard it with me and it saved. When I added it to the blog the text he added showed up under the picture. Why is this a big deal? Dad Lange passed away 2 years ago which means I haven’t had a written message from him in at least that long. To see his words pop up in this blog written about his older brother seems just about right… don’t you think?

Who is your #5?

Not long ago, we had a very exciting day at our house. We had the opportunity to celebrate our 17-year-old son Caleb for being chosen for the all-league team for basketball. Now, if you knew this kid, you would know his heart has always been bigger than his height, and we were of course bursting with joy for him. His whole life, he has been that kid who had a ball in his hands–never legos, never toys–just a basketball. From the time he could walk, he could dribble. And his hard work and dedication definitely played into this celebration.

Caleb (center right) with his Lutheran High North teammates at the celebration game


This post isn’t really about that.

My husband and I were sitting DIRECTLY behind the bench of Catholic Central’s bench as they played for league champion.  None of our own kids were playing in this game, so it was super NON-STRESSFUL. I had a chance to get an up-close view at the emotions on the bench during a super close game.  CC was losing, but at each time-out, I was drawn to #5.

#5 sat at the very end of the bench. His shoes never touched the court. His hands never touched the ball. He wasn’t sweaty. But #5 was INVALUABLE to his teammates. At one time out, he said to the starters who were exhausted from a hard-fought game, “Just a little more!! They are ready to give up! You can’t give up now! They are just about to  break!!”  

At that  moment, I wanted to hug #5. He could have been upset that he wasn’t in; he could have sulked; he could have simply not cared. But he chose to lift up and encourage his team. Loudly, Boldy. In their face.

Every team (and classroom and school staff and family and workplace) needs a #5.  Who is that person that cheers you toward your goal? Who gets in your face to keep you focused? Who helps you see that you can reach the end, even when you are positive you can’t? Who reminds you that you ARE capable and worthy and important? That person is your #5. Thank them for that.

Who are you #5 to in your life? Every single player on that team has a role– someone shoots 3 pointers from outside the arc. Someone rebounds in the paint. #5 shouts encouragement for the entire 32 minutes of playing time. They have a role. YOU have a role. You are #5 to someone– don’t take that role lightly. In the crunch, they need you to whisper, shout, remind. Do it, regardless of who is listening. Do it, regardless of the score (because you know we all keep score for everything in life.) Do it, because they need it. 

2 Corinthians 13:11 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

So, #5, I see you. I see what you did for your team. I see your role. And I thank you for reminding me of my role. And to the #5s in my life, thank you. I need you – during the easy games and during the hard ones. Keep shouting to me; I promise I am listening.

Back to Caleb– while yes, I am proud of him for those big shots, the way he plays offense or defense or whatever basketball term I should know by now, my biggest hope is that he KNOWS who his #5 is and that in return, he becomes #5 for others. 

My same challenge is for you, friends. Find your #5, and become a #5. After all, we all can use some extra cheering these days.

Welcome Karla!!

The Hardies Family of 5

We knew OF each other in college. She was the smiling face at the front desk of the student center of our Alma Mater – Concordia University River Forest or CURF. Always happy and fun loving, I’m sure I would have loved her friendship during that season but our circles just did not over lap. I’m thankful that in God’s great orchestration of life – he put us in the same state, pursuing the same small business for a smidge of time. When Karla walks – sunshine follows. She is always the first to encourage and is generous in praise for anyone in her space. Her colleagues, her fifth grade students, her family are better people because she is in their lives… me included. She has a fantastic sock collection, is known to wear a Tu Tu to her classroom and she has a beautiful way of seeing God in the life around her. I love having friends in all stages of life and I also love the ones that are in the thick of what I am.. the ones that can look at you and you know… they get it. Thats Karla. We’ve each launched 2 children and are each 1 year away from an empty nest. When Karla writes I feel like she’s in my head and my heart…taking what Im feeling about this stage and putting words to them. I know you’re going to love her. Pull up a seat for a pause and a listen.

Welcome to the fire Karla… We’re so glad you’re here!!

Perfect teacher attire