The New. The Familiar. Home.

My dad was a local church pastor. The house we lived in during my elementary and middle school years was the only building the church owned for many years. His office was in the basement and our home phone was the church’s phone. So, in order for my dad to enjoy vacation we had to leave town—literally. Fortunately, mom was a teacher which meant that her schedule changed along with ours with the close of the school year. Our summer months were full of travel to new places, returning to familiar ground and the peace of returning home.

The New

Thanks to the pop-up tent camper that we owned, we were able to explore new places each year. From Vermont to Colorado, Minnesota to Florida, northern Ontario and many other states in-between, we explored the beauty of the geography of each place. Since the only entertainment on the drives over long distances was conversation, the car radio and the art supplies we could fit into our designated lap bins, I remember the hours of watching the scenery as we drove for hours on end. My imagination would be free and I would write books in my head, design clothing or houses and wonder about the life of the people who lived in the houses and towns we passed by.

We would visit museums and forts and travel on historic trains to learn of the history of the areas we visited. We hiked up mountains and waded into oceans and streams appreciating the new-to-us natural environments.

We learned how to be a “guest” in new places as we were taught how to be respectful of traditions and foods and accents in different regions. We navigated by way of paper maps, TripTiks from AAA and handwritten notes about when to turn and how far to go.

My father had an innate sense of direction and could find his way to the ice cream shop in just about every town we visited. I too learned to pay attention to directions and my surroundings—a skill that has weakened in the past years as I have relied more heavily on my smart phone map apps.

There was a sense of excitement about going somewhere we had never been before.

The Familiar

But the new places were balanced as each summer we also returned to familiar places. We often landed at my grandfather’s home on a small lake in northeastern Ohio several times each summer between Memorial Day, July 4th or Labor Day weekend. There were rituals that we rehearsed in that place. Motorboat rides on the lake and riding on a tube in the boat’s wake. A chance to paddle the canoe, provided the weather was good and the lake was not too crowded. Playing sardines in the house on rainy days and eating fresh corn on the cob—my grandfather would travel to multiple roadside stands and only buy corn that had been picked that very day!

We also returned to a camp and conference center each summer in western New York state, Dunkirk. My father had attended as a youth and when I was 4-years-old, we began the trek to that shoreline along Lake Erie. Except for a few years in college and seminary, and then COVID, this is the spot on the earth that I have visited for well over 50 years. Our children were “raised” here. And even in the years when I have been unable to take vacation time to attend the family camp that the Long family has directed since 1971, I have returned for at least a few days each summer. The shoreline is not the same as it was in my childhood. Trees blow over in winter storms and new ones are planted. The cabins get upgrades even as they stay the same. It is interesting to note the changes in that place along with the changes in my own aging self.

And the memories are so numerous, it is difficult to separate out one year from the next. It is only pictures that can conger up recollections of who was present in which year. In fact, it is only on a slide that we have the proof that the year we were in the 4th grade, both Dave, my spouse, and I first met at that camp. We have no recollection of each other. But it was also a part of several of his family’s summer adventures as well.

There is something special about having a relationship with a place over time.

Returning Home

I often feel a sense of release then after these adventures, when we return home. The ability to choose different clothing from those items that had been packed in suitcases. The feeling of falling asleep back with the bed and pillow in the room that is mine. The checking on the garden plants to be sure they survived our absence and tending once again to their care. Even appreciating the ability to spread out after having spent together time with the family during the trip.

There is a sense of relief of knowing that this is the place that welcomes me and where I am safe. I don’t have to be a guest anymore. My ear relaxes as I can understand the accents of those who live around me. There is often a silence as each member of the family gathers their things and returns them to their places in the house. And even with returning to work or school, there is a bit of relief of returning to the familiar routines that come with ordinary life.

Ultimately, when I reflect on summer, I appreciate the opportunities in these months that pull me out of the ordinary. I relish the time to learn and explore new places, to return to ground that is sacred to my family and upon returning, I come to a new appreciation for the home in which I live the rest of the year.

For Reflection (either individually or with a group)

Read the blog. Read it a second time, maybe reading it aloud or asking someone else to read it aloud so you can hear it with different intonation and emphases. Invite the Divine to open your heart to allow the light of new understanding to pierce the shadows of embedded assumptions, stereotypes, and ways of thinking so that you may live more abundantly. Then spend some time with the following questions together with anything or anyone who helps you reflect more deeply.


  • What do you most enjoy about exploring a place you’ve never been before?
  • Do you have a special place you often return to, such as a place far away or someplace more near like a local park, body of water, or any place where you might feel a sacred connection?
  • For you, what is the best part about returning home after being away?


Download a pdf including the Reflection Questions to share and discuss with friends, family, or members of your faith community small group.



About the Author

Rev. Beth Long-Higgins, VP of Engagement and director of the Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging

Rev. Beth Long-Higgins is the VP of Engagement and director of the Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging with United Church Homes. She is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, musician, amateur birder and fiber artist. Travel with her spouse, Dave, to visit their adult children and beyond brings her great joy.

View all articles by Rev. Beth Long-Higgins, VP of Engagement and director of the Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging