I’m blessed to be a parishioner in a church whose shepherd travels home often to South Carolina to visit his eighty plus year old parents who live in the same home and small town he grew up in. He enjoys time with family and friends from his high school days. He worships in his same little home church with folks who have known him his whole life long. How I envy him those lasting ties to “home.”
I have no such place to go. I’m nearly sixty-six years old, and embarrassed to say that knowing I have no “home town” makes me very sad. My parents left their families and homes in Kentucky to move north when my father answered the call to full time ministry, so there were no cousin birthday parties, no families gathered together every Sunday to over eat and argue over Jesus and Vietnam. We were adrift in a sea of other folk’s families.
Add to that geographical relocation this cold hard fact-preacher’s kids move. A lot! And sometimes in the “wisdom” of bygone days they were either forbidden or discouraged from looking back, almost like we would all turn into pillars of salt like Lot’s wife. I always felt that woman got a bum wrap, she really just wanted one more mournful look at the home she was leaving. I understand her need in the deepest part of my soul.
In spite of the long ago “wisdom” of my elders I now know that we all need a place to fly to when life gets us down, or life is so wonderful that we need to share, or we seek the warming comfort that only the familiarity and sameness of a consistent “place” brings. I have strived diligently to provide that “place” for our children and grandchildren. The grands have often asked for reassurance that we will “never move” from the home their parents grew up in, and the place that seems unchanging, steady, and warmly welcoming to them. But I have no “place.” No hometown. No place to run to and seek that warm comfort.
And so today my mind has gone wandering back to my first Ohio home in Appalachia where mournful longing for heaven in hymn singing was almost a weekly requirement for worship. If I close my eyes I can hear the melodies of those hymns, like I’ve Got A Mansion Just Over the Hilltop. Just between you and me, I had no clue what a mansion was, let alone if I was ready to die to get one!
Back then our lives were fully immersed in Christian training almost twenty-four seven. (Thank God for The Mickey Mouse Club on our grainy little black and white TV screen.) Dad started early to try and save our rotten souls. We stood and sang to his demanding level of perfection as our Mama plunked out those old country hymns for what seemed like hours on end. My older sister was an early reader, so Dad cherry picked this verse for her to teach us. “In My Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not true I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you .” Dad and Mom were good singers, and their voices blended well together as they got misty eyed singing “this world is not my home.” Some days those deeply emotional voices made me feel as though the bus was leaving for heaven at the earliest possible time!
Today has been a long and emotion filled day. I have spent time with two people close to me who are near the end of their journeys here on earth. One is a younger man, only fifty years old, with young sons. The other is my father, who at age eighty-eight years old has lived a good long life. The younger man has stage four cancer, fully invasive, and gut wrenchingly pain-filled. He entered hospice today and is valiantly attempting to limit his pain medication so that he can be alert enough to say goodbye to his loved ones. He has fought for over four years to stay here with his family. I want him to have more days!
My father lies unmoving in a bed, at times in pain, but mostly not. He’s unable or unwilling to fight to get better, and at eighty-eight his body is stronger than my fifty year old friend’s. Why? Why God? I just don’t understand.
I’m not wise about how God chooses times and places and circumstances for taking us home to dwell in his “house of many mansions.” And to my shame I sometimes think I know when he should and when he shouldn’t. I know that God’s ways are far wiser, but in my frailty and sorrow for my young friend and his wife and sons, I stumble into my prideful thinking.
I’m just hoping that as we say goodbye and “see you later” to these kind, God loving men, that I can keep my mind fixed on that place of comfort and peace and safe familiar belonging that waits for us there, in God’s house, where Jesus is.