(This article is from Lynn's moving book entitled Longing for a Homeland: Discovering the Place You Belong.)All these people ... did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. (Hebrews 11:13-14 NIV)
It's Christmas and I want to go home. I miss my folks. The nostalgic song "I'll be home for Christmas" is sung not about a "place," but about our people. Come Holiday Season, most of us spare no expense to get with our family around the tree.
Like most people I "go back home" to see family as often as possible. Yet strangely, each visit seems less and less like "going home."
First, my siblings and I felt our life-paths growing ever further apart. Different circles. Different life issues.
Then Mother left us. For two year's Parkinson's had left her staring into space. But that last morning in her hospital room she partly emerged from the fog and even laughed with us. Great moments. But at noon a nurse called saying Mom was gone! After that, "going home" was never quite the same.
But we still had Dad. At eighty, people took him for sixty. Then, cancer struck, moving from lungs to bones to brain, leaving stroke-like symptoms. So Carolyn and I packed hastily and set out from Texas for Saskatchewan, Canada.
This was two and half weeks before Christmas.
We spent those weeks at my father's bedside. I am his only son, so although Dad could not speak his eyes followed me constantly. His condition remained unpredictable. Christmas drew closer and our grandchildren were expecting us in Colorado Springs. We felt torn, not wanting to disappoint either Dad or our kids. Finally we decided to rush to Colorado for Christmas, and then hurry back to Dad. I awkwardly attempted to explain this to him. But Dad shook his head and finally mumbled, "I won't be here." "Of course you will Dad," I assured. But he turned his face away, as I kept repeating, "Only a few days."
Oddly, the last words I said to my father, I spoke to the back of his head. We loved each other enormously, but I was leaving him and he was leaving me. Home was slipping away at frightening speed.
Obviously, I am not alone in this "homesick" feeling. It is the story of the human family from generation to generation beginning the day Adam was driven from his splendid garden home. Ever since then all the sons and daughters of Adam have been "away from home." Homesick.
I hear a tent corner flapping in the desert wind. Hear the murmured prayers of old men, far from home. Adam. Abraham far from Ur. Moses far from Egypt and Midian stumbling alone up Mount Nebo. "These all died in faith, never having received what they had longed for." As will the lot of us. Wandering. Searching. But never finding the homeland.
Whole nations become collectively homesick. Europeans leaving family embraces and sailing westward, homeless. Africans torn from loved ones to live homeless among strangers. American Indians herded from vast homelands to holding pens called "reservations." Israeli settlers dragged from the Gaza Strip.
Fact is, of course, staying put would not heal this universal grieving because Home is not a people! No human relationship lasts forever. And not all Christmas home-thoughts are happy ones.
The dreaded call reached me in Colorado Springs the day before Christmas. My father had passed away. I felt dead and torn. In one moment grateful for children and grandchildren around me. The next moment, guilt ridden that I was not by Dad's side at his last hour.
The day after Christmas, Carolyn and I climbed in the car again for the two-day drive back to Dad's funeral. The first day, beautiful weather. The second day, ominous clouds formed, a north wind rose, and the temperature fell 60 degrees in two or three hours. By the time we reached the Canadian border, we were driving into an old-fashioned blizzard. Yet we drove on. After all, Dad's funeral was set for the next day.
Night settled in as we checked into Canada. Snow grew thicker. Wind rose steadily. Temperatures kept falling. Visibility near zero. Our car radio warned travelers off the highways. The storm was to last for days. But, since "home" was now only a hundred miles up the road, we crept urgently along between those lines where the edge of the dark pavement met the vast whiteness. Periodic flurries wrapped us in total white out. Eventually the dark pavement disappeared under a layer of slick whiteness and I drove straight into the ditch, high-centered in deep snow!
With the highway now closed no help was likely to come along. And we were miles from anything. Even worse our light clothing could not begin to protect from such savage weather. We would not likely outlast our half-tank of gasoline by more than a few hours. It sounds melodramatic in retrospect, but Carolyn and I actually began trying to shape our good-byes to each other.
Then out of the lethal white fury, a large freight truck appeared. At risk to himself, he hooked a cable to our car and snaked us back onto the pavement.
By now our only alternative was to drive on. However, ice had gathered on our accelerator cable, freezing the car at only two speeds: wide open and off! So we would yank the car into gear, gather speed to fifty miles an hour, then coast in neutral to a near stop and repeat the process.
We limped along like this for several miles, till through the blur we spotted the glow of a light, which turned out to be at the cross-street of a little village. We could see no buildings, just the circle of whiteness surrounding that pool of light. But out of nowhere a car pulled up beside us. A window slid open and a young male voice said cheerily, "You'd better get off this road. We have a heated implement shed for your car and my mother has a hot supper on the stove."
Next morning, snow had let up a bit, the highway was freshly plowed, but the temperature was now thirty-five below, with wind gusting to thirty-five miles an hour. However, our car now ran perfectly, so, we thanked our "angels" and pushed on to Weyburn, Saskatchewan, in time for my Father's funeral.
By the time of Dad's death, the town of Weyburn had shrunk and my parent's once thriving church had dwindled to a remnant. A mere handful of people braved the brutal weather for the funeral service. So in my soul-numbing grief, this depressing town felt morose beyond expression.
At the cemetery, winds blew between the tombstones with such cruelty that even the family did not leave the van. And as soon as the pallbearers set Dad's casket on the lowering device, they scuttled for cover. The funeral director and I stayed a few minutes. When he tripped the switch to lower Dad's casket, the frozen lowering device would not budge. He fumbled with the mechanism, but I saw the waxen frostbite claiming his face. So I urged, "You can come back and finish this when the weather breaks. Dad is all right. He always loved a good blizzard anyway." Then we both sprinted to the warmth of the hearse, leaving the casket exposed in the vicious cold. I still sometimes dream that I see the body of my father dressed in a suit with no overcoat, lying out in a blizzard.
Two days later, the skies still gray and the temperature still brutal, Carolyn and I loaded up and drove out of Weyburn southward, in gloomy silence. Eventually, I mumbled, "I don't think I ever want to come back here again." I felt as disconnected from any known permanent sense of belonging as I have ever felt in my life. Homeless! I was coming to the devastating discovery that as precious as our families are, home is not a people. People just won't stay with us. Nor we with them.
Oh, how I longed for a home. Still do. Especially at Christmas I smell the smells, taste the tastes and hear sounds of that home, with Mom and Dad, like it was when I was a child. But, we all leave each other eventually. No human relationship is permanent. None.
What is infinitely more sobering: even if people could stay, no human relationship is ultimately fulfilling. Not the warmest parent child relationship. Not the closest friendship. Ah yes! Even in the most intimate and "ideal" marriage we are still destined to a certain degree of loneliness and homesickness.
Where oh where then is home?
Here, I believe, is the answer: Home is where God is. Only our heavenly Father stays permanently. And only He fulfills completely. "Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations." (Psalm 90:1) "How lovely is your dwelling place, Oh God almighty. My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God." (Psalm 84:1-2) Only with God are we fully at home.
And Christmas reminds us that the one who is the Christmas story, left his home at the Father's side and became "homeless." "The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." (Luke 9:58) Immanuel he is called, "God with us." (Matthew 1:23) Identifying with our homelessness. But mysteriously, at the same time this Homeless One is the way to the Father's house. "I am the way home," he said, "No one comes to the father except by me." And "I will go and prepare a place for you among the many mansions of my Father's house." (John 14:2-6)
So, with you, Oh my Heavenly Father, "Surely goodness and love will pursue me all the days of my life." (Psalm 23:6) So I have made a decision. And I am resolved. "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." (Psalm 23:6)
Take me home for Christmas