During my freshman year of college, a short, honey-colored girl named Cara was my R.A. She sliced her afternoons in half to make sure we knew where the toilet paper was and didn't die of homesickness-even though she was elbow-deep in her senior thesis and didn't have time. She committed other acts of motherhood: told us when our skirts were too short, prayed for us.
One morning Cara sat on her bed, leading us, her new freshmen, in worship. She looked with a level eye at college, the place that first stretched many of our loyalties beyond their known limit. "God must be your home," Cara said.
When I first left for college four summers ago, my creaking country church cried for me. "Don't you dare go marrying a man from another state and never come back," they said.
How could I promise such a thing? A better question: What kind of lunatic 18-year-old, when given an alternative, leaves her bedroom stiff and empty, and her dearest friends choking back tears?
During that season I remember longing to repay Robert Frost for those words he gave the world in "The Road Not Taken":
"knowing how way leads on to way / I doubted if I should ever come back."
Goodbye, orange cat and black dog. Goodbye, laughing brother. Goodbye, best-friend-since-Sunday-school. Goodbye, grandparents. Goodbye, out-of-tune piano and yellow house.
Everyone said I must go to college because it would stretch me. But what if I came home so stretched out I didn't fit anywhere I used to?
Over the past three years we've proved Cara right. In this place we've been little girls. We've valiantly pursued bedtime without ever catching it. We've had hard times, we've experienced that crisis in which we first called college "home" by accident. And partly because of Cara's counsel we've met the crisis by racing to the threshold of heaven and pushing all our hopes under the door crack. For though we could not cling to the orange cat, the black dog, the grandparents, or the yellow house-we would always live with God.
Now I've returned for my senior year, having lived all summer between Virginia, Manhattan, North Carolina, and New Jersey. I was a parade of rolling luggage. My clothes and my books were stashed in three different states. I feel stretched beyond limit. But where is my home?
I now have the bed Cara once slept in, and have inherited her R.A. duties. As I watched the bright-faced freshmen on move-in day, and heard the big dorm doors that shut behind them like lips smacking, and talked to their nervous mothers-I hope I can tell them the same thing Cara told me.
I hope more that I can remember the truth myself. My heart, that idol factory, always looks for heaven on earth. Even while the moths are chewing and the rust is corroding and the thieves are breaking in. Despite my weakness the truth holds: I will always live with God.