Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Journey for Home

I remember the first time I walked into my new house in Minneapolis. I was 3 years old and we came in through the back door. Right ahead of me were the steps to the basement – kind of scary looking but I was determined not to be afraid. We lived in this house until I was 15 years old and it was my home.

The back yard had a large old elm tree that dropped a massive number of tiny seeds. Our yard was separated from our neighbors on both sides by a white picket fence. There was a detached garage, complete with a basketball hoop, set on an alley that ran parallel to the street. Being in Minnesota, the car often got stuck in the icy, snowy ruts that formed in the alley during winter. Neighbors always helped push each others’ cars to freedom.

Both the front and the back yard had plum trees – but the plums were small and sour. The trees were good for their blossoms in spring and for the change my brother and I earned each summer, picking up the rotten plums. Both the back and front yards were makeshift baseball diamonds in the summer where we played catch with my father or annoyed neighbors by hitting balls into their gardens. It was home.

After moving to Ohio just before my 16th birthday, I found myself in a suburban ranch style house in Columbus that did not suit me at all. Though I quickly learned to call it “home”, it never had the same feel to it. When I have driven by my old house in Minneapolis, decades later, it still calls up that feeling: home.

I’ve been reflecting on home – what it is and what it isn’t. I’ve often inwardly bristled when hearing someone say that they are going to “buy a new home”. A home, I have thought to myself, is not something you can buy. A house, yes; a home, no.

I  know many people who are homeless. A few of them literally had no place to live. However, many of the “homeless” I encounter live in nice enough apartments or houses. They do not roam the streets or sleep under bridges. Yet, deep in their hearts and souls, they are homeless.

Though my childhood in Minneapolis was certain not perfect (no one’s is), the “home” I experienced there was the safety of a stable, predictable family and neighborhood. My father went to work and came home again. My mother cooked dinner and we all sat down together to eat it. (No ice cream if you didn't eat your vegetables.) My brother and I could go out to play and not be afraid. We were expected to come home on time. We went to school and church down the street. We had chores and a small allowance.

There was no screaming and swearing. There were no beatings or berating. I never saw anyone in my family drunk or on drugs. I had a bed of my own to sleep in and no one violated it. No one read my diary (as far as I know!) or stole my privacy. If I had a recital or event at school, I never had to wonder if my parents would show up. I wasn't coddled - I was expected to help out – but neither was I made into a maid or substitute parent.

Perhaps you can understand now why I say that I know many people who are homeless. I was blessed to have a home built into my heart by parents who had enough resources and inner strength to carry out the task. So many people have not had this. Perhaps you are one of them. For those who are homeless, life often feels like a perpetual journey to search out a place of safety and security and love.

For those not having had a home built in to their heart as a child, this journey for home often involves many wrong turns as one tries to figure out what safety, security and love really are. Sometimes the one who appears to offer love turns out to be an illusion – or worse, a trickster, preying on the homeward-longing soul. At other times, love is found but then snatched away by death or deceit so that homelessness seems the only fate one is allowed.

One of the things I try to do in longer-term psychotherapy is to be a home-builder. Though we may have only an hour every week or two (or three), I offer my space, both physical and spiritual, to try to create a sense of safety and security and – yes, love. (Not love in any weird way that violates professional boundaries, but love in the sense of true and genuine caring that completely respects boundaries.)  As we build the home within, the terrors of homelessness begin to diminish and fewer wrong turns are made. Gradually, the journey begins to lead somewhere…

Yet there is a catch. I am but a human being. In my humanness, I may hurt or disappoint. Even if I miraculously avoid that, however, I am time-limited. Fear not, I’m not announcing that I am ill – just that I am mortal. Hence, my home-building skills are limited and I cannot promise forever.

And forever is what we all yearn for.

All of us, even me with my white-picket-fence childhood, are homeless in yet another way. Our souls, our deepest selves, search and long for a true home, an eternal home that cannot be snatched away. We want to be able to surrender ourselves to a Love that will not die. But often we are afraid. What if this One they speak of – this Creator among us as Savior – turns out to be but another hoax? Another promise broken?

And what is the promise? How will I know if I can trust it?

Here are just a few of the words of promise:

“Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
I will never forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15)

“I will heal their defection, says the LORD,
I will love them freely;
for my wrath is turned away from them.” (Hosea 14:5)

"I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him." (John 14: 19-21)

In a word, the promise is Love: unconditional and eternal, with all wrong-doing completely forgiven.

There is, however, no promise that all suffering will cease. Indeed, suffering is predicted – at least for a time in this world. But the promise – the promise of this love is so great, that any suffering felt during this Journey for Home will be no cause for sorrow. In fact, it will be there, alive in the very heart of the eternal Love itself.

(9/11/13: I have removed the audio player and lyrics from this post, in accordance with my agreement with the publisher who kindly allowed this copyrighted material to be posted here for free for 6 months.)