The Best Place: The One Where You Belong

July 3, 2009 | 20 comments

I drove down main street, past the hardware store, post office and city hall, then steered west into orange sky — toward home. The girls were buckled in, nestled in — looking through half-open eyes out gravel-dusted windows.

Our week has been packed with parties for a 125-year-old friend.

Born in 1884, the honored guest — and host — is our hometown. In return for her years of raising farmers and factory workers, schoolteachers and soldiers, we gave her a party this week. There’s a fancy word for it: “quasquicentennial.”

We’ve had a car show, a luau and a lawnmower parade through town. We’ve cruised her streets in old Mustangs and hayracks and shiny firetrucks. We’ve serenaded her with a cantata and sock-hop songs. We’ve scooped root-beer floats and eaten pork sandwiches, which were flipped on a streetside grill by men who grew up under her grooming.

We wore prairie dresses and big-brimmed bonnets, while men scratched at bushy beards that will be gone by Monday.

This is what Iowa folks do when their towns grow old.

After all these years, you’d think the Old Girl would be tuckered out. She’s showing signs of age, but on this night, she would stay awake for more. She’s in the spotlight, you know, and she’s dressed in flags and red petunias.

My girls and I, though, packed up and headed home past chest-high corn and rows of soybeans.

“Mommy,” came the voice. “Did you know that we live in the best town in the United States, maybe even the whole world?”

“Is that so?” I responded. “What makes ours the best?”

“I don’t know. … The pool?”

“Could be,” I said, careful not to bruise her hometown pride by reminding her that our pool is in serious disrepair.

She considered more reasons. “Oh, and God is in our town,” she said. Then again, she figured, God is probably in every town.

“Yes, Lydia,” I offered. “He probably is.”

A pause …

I looked in the rearview mirror.

“I don’t know why, Mom, but it is the best,” she said.

“If you don’t know why ours is the best town,” I asked, “how can you say it is?”

“It says so on that big sign by the church,” she said.

Sign or no sign, Lydia said, it was true. She also said she’d probably feel the same way if she lived in Orange City, or Des Moines or somewhere in California. The way Lydia sees things, the best place to be … is where she is.

We all want to feel like we belong where our feet are planted. God made us that way. Each one of us came out of our mothers’ wombs screaming for someone to love us, hold us and assure us that we were a part of something bigger than ourselves.

We all long to belong. And with belonging, comes contentment. Growing up, I always imagined I’d find both in the city.

Surely, it would be easy finding companionship among millions of beating hearts. But it’s here — in a town home to no more than 900 souls — where I found a place to belong.

Call me a hick. Call me a northwest Iowa redneck. But I have found community here:

* At the curb, watching a Fourth of July parade roll by, with candy-throwing politicians, church floats on flatbeds and high school marching bands.

* In a town with no streetlights, one bar, no grocery store, and two places to fill up with gas.

* On the bleachers of our town’s only park, cheering on 40-year-olds who haven’t swung a baseball bat in years.

* And under a black curve of sky, decorated with sparkling diamonds, waiting for a Fourth of July show against Heaven’s jeweled backdrop.

We’ll oooh, and
we’ll aaaah,
and we’ll fold up our lawn chairs
and all go home talking about what a great week it was,
how we ought to do this more often
and how we surely live in the finest place on Earth.

As you celebrate freedom this weekend, may you find that the best place you could possibly be …
is right where you are.

by | July 3, 2009 | 20 comments


  1. Runner Mom

    Love this!! Thanks for sharing about the best town in the U.S.!!!
    Happy 4th!

  2. Lyla Lindquist

    Had me going there for a sec, wondered how on earth your 125-year old friend was tolerating so many parties (and who kept putting her through them). We just celebrated #100 with my granddad and he could only handle a couple of big shindigs without a big nap.

    We don't boast "best town in the USA," but we have a similar sign insisting "you'll like Milbank." I have city roots and thought I'd always live there, but find here in the "quiet of the small" I'm as content as ever. Lydia's off to a great start learning to be content where she is. That'll come in handy.

    Great story, and happy birthday to Inwood.

  3. RCUBEs

    When people appreciate the simplicity of things, then you know that they have contented hearts. No one seems to be rushed but has time to be acquainted with each other, to celebrate with each other, yet also there to lend a helping hand if needed. Your "friend" must be proud to be inhabited by her folks who were humbled by life's experiences. Then, that makes her the BEST!

  4. Deb

    I like the sense of nostalgia that your post evokes. It makes me think of an old song that either Bruce Springstein or John Mellancamp sings. (I don't remember which one; I always get them mixed up).

    Happy 4th!

  5. Billy Coffey

    I swear I'm putting a For Sale sign in our front yard tomorrow morning and moving there.

  6. Anne L.B.

    Jennifer, it took me a little while and a lot of homesick to understand that home isn't back in Colorado, it's the place where my heart is. God's given me peace about living anywhere, as long as it's in His will.

  7. Angie Vik

    Ah, you're making me miss Lyon County and their summer celebrations. City slickers have a hard time comprehending an entire town taking the day off to PLAY. Young and old, farmers and town dwellers, German and Dutch, Lutheran and Reformed all having fun together. This will be our first fourth in Ashland and I'm sure there's no way it can be as fun as the annual celebration in George.

  8. Redeemed

    like the way you write..
    thanks for sharing

  9. Alleluiabelle

    Hi Dear Friend,

    I always love your thoughts.

    I'm right along there with you. I live in a small town, one grocery store, one gas station about three miles away…can take a ride around the town in all of five minutes of less and I call it our little Town of Mayberry (as in Andy Griffith's old show), but you know what? I've lived here all of my life and I like the slow pace of life. I guess you could call me a redneck if you want.

    Love you,

  10. Sarah Dawn

    Right where I am, and right where the Lord is leading. That's the best place to be. Thanks for the gentle reminder. Your words flooded me with His peace.

    Besitos from Costa Rica,
    Sarah Dawn

  11. Andrea

    Jennifer, what a beautiful post! I am always, and I do mean always, so blessed by my visits with you!

    It is past midnight here in Alabama. I am so behind with blogging, and how I have missed my dear friends!

    Thank you for your prayer and concern for my dear husband. He is doing better, yet we are still awaiting drs. visits and tests. I will have more to share soon.

    I do know now, this present moment, that God is in control, that He is sovereign, that He is working. I rest in that knowledge.

    I appreciate you and your friendship. I thank God, for I am a richer person because of you and others. I praise Him for allowing me to "meet" so many kind women of God. I have found so many treasures in Christ from opening up blogger one day and deciding to try to post and follow.

    Do take care. Many blessings as you embark on the Lord's Day.

    In His Love,


    P.S. I love your town, too!

  12. Carol

    Inwood really does a wonderful job with making everyone love coming home! The Midwest is so special. You can leave your keys in the car. You can leave your wallet in your car. You might even run in to pay for gas and leave your baby safely strapped in the car. I would not want to live anywhere else! Happy celebrating! I will be coming to pick up the crocodile dock things this week. We are revving up for our celebration on July 19! Thanks for your help!

  13. Mama D.

    How special is that to be so content with your life in Inwood..Great place to raise those little girls in all their contentment. Brings tears to my eyes AGAIN as I was part of a community just like that as a girl and still live in a small town..Thanks for those beautiful words…Inwood needs to see them!!

  14. journeyman

    'Tis the gift to be simple
    'Tis the gift to be free
    'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be

  15. Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought

    It's encouraging to read how much you feel at home where you live. We've moved so much, I find it takes time to "get to that place."

    I have a tribute for you over at my blog today…thanks for your inspiration!
    ~ Wendy

  16. lynnrush

    Nice! This was great!

  17. Greg C

    Wow, wonderful writing. I grew up in a town like that but it is no longer that way. Your post made me remember those lazy summer days growing up.

  18. gblcht

    Jennifer, I came on your blog looking for another entry that I have yet to read, but I'm glad I stopped to read this one. It literally brought tears to my eyes. I'd really like to talk to you more about this. If you still have my cell phone number, give me a call when it's convenient for you. Otherwise, I can probably send you a message on facebook or something. Thanks for all your advice and encouragement in the past year that I have known you!

    The Rook
    Gabe Licht

  19. elaine @ peace for the journey

    I grew up in a small town a lot like this in KY. As a clergy family, we move occasionally. I hunger for roots and for the grounding of my youth. I want my kids to know it; still and yet, it's not mine to give them, not really.

    The giving belongs to God. And by his goodness and grace, everywhere we've "landed" we've found our footing and made a way for our hearts to root their also.

    We are all but pilgrims on this earth; like Abraham and the saints of Hebrews 11, I'm longing for a place of permanence with my Father. It won't be long when I'll be saying, "I live in the best town in America. Maybe even in the whole world."

    Thanks for taking me back, Jennifer.


    PS: My hometown has a parade on the 4th every year, complete with lawn-mower brigade. I thought we were the only hicks who ever did that!


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