Home of the Heart by Penelope Swithinbank

No Place Like HomeI’m delighted to welcome Penelope Swithinbank to the “There’s No Place Like Home” series. I knew of Penelope before I knew her, for she and her husband arrived at my former home church in Virginia shortly after I moved to her native England. They now run a gorgeous-looking retreat centre that I long to visit in the beautiful English countryside. We most often “see” each other online now, and I so appreciate Penelope’s wise and gracious insights. Her post had me smiling and tearing up.

“Shrimp for supper,” I announced to my hungry husband. “Same recipe as that one I tried in the States last week.” I think he started salivating. We had visited our American grandsons in America, and I’d found a new recipe which we’d loved: skewered shrimp. Now I wanted to recreate it in Wiltshire, and had eagerly pounced on a packet of shrimp I’d spotted when shopping.

Time to cook; I’d soaked the bamboo skewers in preparation and slit open the defrosted packet. Out tumbled tiny, tiny pathetic pink things. Not the large succulence I was expecting; these were miniscule. Lots of them to be sure, but far too small to be threaded on to skewers.

And then I remembered – we are two nations divided by a common language. What England calls prawns are what America calls shrimp, and they are huge in the States and tiny in the UK. I should have looked for ‘jumbo prawns’ or ‘tiger prawns’ in England. At least I had remembered that zucchini are courgettes and summer squash merely the yellow ones.

We ate shrimp and courgette risotto for supper. It was edible (just) but not what was expected, and a poor substitute.

IMG_2263Same word but different meanings. And I had forgotten my translation skills. The years we spent living in the States should have reminded me of the need for interpretation. I used to dread using some word in a sermon that might be perfectly normal and acceptable in English, but have an entirely different and unsuitable meaning for my American congregation.

“Let’s make a list of differences,” Patti exclaimed enthusiastically, as we told each other about trunks and boots, pavements and sidewalks, bonnets and hoods. A gloriously correct Southern Lady, Patti found paper and pen and drew a line down the centre (center!) of the page. She wrote at the top of the left hand column: “English” and listed trunk and sidewalk and hood. Her pen hesitated at the top of the righthand column and she turned back to me. “So what do YOU speak?” she asked, bewildered.

Two nations divided by a common language, said George Bernard Shaw.

And then there’s “home.” Where is it? What is it?

American granny.

American granny.

When we lived in Virginia, despite the fact that we were ‘having a blast,’ and following the Lord’s calling to minister there, I often had moments of overwhelming grief. I would wander into my elder daughter’s bedroom and stand there sobbing, knowing that she was thousands of miles away in the UK at university and that my son, also in England, was now married and would never join us to live in the States.

It wasn’t place I was missing, but people, family. When we were all together, whether in England or Virginia, that was ‘home.’ Eating together, laughing, sharing memories, sharing griefs and joys. Enjoying one another’s company.

And now, with family both sides of the Atlantic (the younger daughter married a Virginian!) I have one foot each side of the Pond. Where is ‘home?’ And whichever side of the Pond I find myself, half of me is missing what, or rather who, is on the other side. I miss the company of my family.

English granny.

English granny.

Cue a sermon illustration, of course. My preacherly mind wonders which one to pursue – the language of heaven, the homeliness of heaven (oops, homey-ness for American readers) …

But it’s people, family, relationship, which impacts most, I think. Home, for me, is both America and England. I want to live in both, at the same time, holding all those I love around me forever. I could happily live in either – or both. Wherever my family is. I long for their company. But two-thirds live in London and a third in Virginia. When I’m in one place, I long for the other.

12321125_1354507351320861_7219847649783684369_nAnd what about heaven? Do I long to live there too? With my church family, with the communion of saints, with the Lord forever. Do I long for the company of heaven? Com pane: with bread, eating and sharing in the feast that will be ours in heaven.

“And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master. So reassure one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:17–18. The Message)

Bet the prawns – or shrimp – are larger there, as well.

198b2f766493faf1a3cefecd1944f17d12392014_10204452113176744_854142529839352345_nPenelope Swithinbank is the Director of Ministry for Ministries by Design. She is an ordained Anglican priest and a trained Spiritual Director. She is married to Kim and they run the Vine at Mays Farm, a Christian retreat centre in Wiltshire. Penelope and Kim have 3 grown and married children and 6 grandchildren. She loves reading, the theatre, walking the dog and looking after her grandchildren on both sides of the Atlantic.

6 Responses

  1. Philippa Linton

    “Bet the prawns – or shrimp – are larger there, as well.”

    I bet they will be! 😀

    Thanks for this, Penelope. It must be very hard to live so far from your loved ones (I can’t really imagine it, since it’s never been my experience) but cross-cultural experiences are also enriching (if painful and disorientating at times).

    Fancy you and your husband ending up in Amy’s own church – it’s a small world!

    (I’ve put your retreat house on the list of Places I Should Visit Where and When Possible. I don’t live near Wiltshire – such a beautiful county – but one never knows .)

  2. Audrey

    Yes, thank you for your feelings on being parted from family, Penelope, and the results of trying to live in two places and with different words in the same language!
    We have a similar experience too, since we now live in England (Just, as of November!) after 32 years in USA. How we would love to live in Hong Kong near our two grandsons as well as near our daughter, as we do now in England. We also find ourselves missing all those wonderful friends in America.
    At the moment we are in Samoa, which sounds exotic but we have just escaped “Winston”. Richard has work here and is on his last trip. In good weather it is a lovely place to be and has been restful after packing up and unpacking etc.

    1. We miss you both, dear Audrey! Prayers for you as you make a new life this side of The Pond – it can’t be easy after so long in the States. You are definitely my pin-up for a gracious way to live WHEREVER the Lord calls! God bless you both.

  3. Alison Kitchen

    I notice you didn’t use MY list of faux pas in your blog:-) I am remembering a very funny dinner with you red as a beet and Kim egging me on! Loved your article Penelope.

    1. Ha ha! Thank you for that ‘happy’ memory, Alison! I sometimes think it’s as hard to have family spread out across the States as to have them in a different country, with the distance and time differences.
      God bless – hope to see you both again one day!

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