You don’t think of your own home as a destination, an “oh the place you’ll go,” unless you’re homesick, or unless it’s the place that used to be your home. I envy friends, and a few relatives who have a definitive “home place,” a house that has been their family home literally all their lives. Rare in our mobile society. Of course, there are profound sayings about what was home as a destination. “You can’t go home again” (Thomas Wolfe?), or better, “The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time” (T.S. Eliot).
I’ve always had this curious itch to drive by and even try to get inside houses where my family used to live. When I returned to Savannah in my 30’s, where I’d not been since I was 7, some gyroscope in my head directed me to Fernwood Drive and that 4th little house on the right. Littler than I’d remembered. For a year we lived in a trailer out on Wilkinson Boulevard here in Charlotte; that same inner gyroscope tells me “It was right here,” even though there are no trailers in sight now.
Lisa and I have crept by her childhood home on Macon Avenue near the Grove Park Inn. And my own children have detoured through Davidson to find our old parsonage there – with puzzled commentary on what our successors have done with the yard!
Most memorably, I was visiting a friend in Columbia, SC, and took a short detour to 1700 Cofield Drive. What a steep hill, which drew a crowd when we got ice or snow; and I was 1 of only 2 kids I knew who could pedal a bike from bottom to top. In the curve was our house – my parents’ “dream house” they’d saved forever to build. It was a bit of a nightmare, as they never declared a ceasefire in the war that was their marriage. Much tumult inside that lovely ranch style with a basement – but it was home, if not for them, then for me from 5th grade until I went off to college. Like every kid, I needed home, and this was it.
I stopped the car, stared, and finally got out to snap a photo with my phone to send to my sister. I tardily noticed a woman standing in the door, probably thinking I was a criminal or a weirdo. I waved, and spoke as I walked toward her, telling her my name, and that I’d lived there as a kid. “You’re a Howell?” “Yes ma’am.” “We bought this house from your folks, been here ever since.” Then my quirky wish came true: “Would you like to come in?” Would I?
It wasn’t much changed, the garage, kitchen, dinette, family room. As I gazed around, and back a few decades, I heard this kindly woman say what I’d heard my own mother say too often: “Why don’t you go to your room?”
But it seemed not to be punitive but inviting – so I made my way down the hall and into what was my room. My host, with stunning graciousness, asked me, “Could I bring you some milk and cookies?” I laughed out loud – and embraced her. And then she asked me about her husband, whom I’d hardly noticed as I swooped past the family room, where he was seated, not interacting: “He has congestive heart failure. I believe you’re a pastor. Could you pray for him?” And, of course, I did.
Here I was, standing in the home of my troubled but cherished childhood, praying for a man I didn’t know, but cared for, not merely because he lived in my home, but because we were connected across time as fellow citizens of a house that was just a house, but not really: it was a home, a place of belonging, not merely to my family or his or theirs, but to God’s, even if we only dimly comprehended such things.
“Home” is such a prevalent and powerful biblical and theological theme. God wired us with a yearning for home. We find a home here or there, although that longing is never fully satisfied until we find our home in God and with God. But the good gift of a home, not necessarily the house, yet often in a house, is itself a great grace, stirring an awareness of belonging and safety, even in homes that are less than ideal. Maybe this is the deep reason we pray for and work for those who are homeless, or immigrating, or coping with disaster.