When it comes to the subject of home, I suppose my family and I have had a different perspective than the traditional one in recent years. As I’ve transitioned careers, going to seminary and then through my first couple of appointments, we’ve moved enough to understand that a house is not a home.
Our middle child, my son, Charlie, has a particularly acute sense of this truth. At 19, he’s just old enough to remember every house we’ve lived in as a family, and just young enough to have experienced all the moves. (Our youngest child, Bonnie Rose, has no memory of Georgia and little memory of our seminary time in Kentucky. Our oldest child, Pollie, was living on her own before this last move.)
I asked Charlie not too long ago what place he thinks of as home. He puzzled over the question for a moment and said, “I guess wherever you all are.” He shares with military kids and gypsies that transitory view of home.
Home really is a state of mind, I suppose. We moved just a couple of times when I was a kid, always in what was basically the same town, and when asked I will tell people that Jonesborough, Tenn., is my hometown. The odd thing is, none of those houses really serves as the location of home in my head.
The place that seems to have wired itself into my brain is my maternal grandparents’ house in Bristol, Va. Until my granny passed when I was 14, I spent a lot of time there—weekends, summers, holidays. My strongest, clearest memories of childhood are of that house, on Bristol View Drive, a high hill overlooking the mall. When I was a child, the families in the houses around us were kin to my grandmother, a Johnston by birth. (My grandfather seemed to be very aware of being surrounded by in-laws.)
Everything about this split-level house was compact: the covered narrow front porch, the entryway running straight to the stairs that went down to a tiny den, the sharp left into the living room, the sharp right up the polished wooden stairs to the bedrooms and bathrooms. My grandparents’ bedroom had a neat little wrought-iron balcony looking into the woods.
I can dream about events that have nothing to do with my grandparents or childhood, but the dream will be set in that house, as if it’s now some sort of empty stage where my mind can process matters large and small.
One vivid dream more than 22 years ago played out in front of the house. Connie (my wife) and I drove up the hill, and as we turned into the driveway, it was all lit up, every room aglow like a house in a Thomas Kinkade painting. I looked at Connie and said, “Well, we’ve come full circle.”
The dream ended suddenly because Connie woke me up. “I’ve got something to tell you,” she said.
“You’re pregnant,” I sleepily responded. She had just taken her home pregnancy test, and wanted to surprise me with the positive result. I guess the dream spoiled the surprise. By the way, that child, my daughter Pollie, is named after my grandmother, an honor we had planned for a daughter before my dream.
That place is burned into my mind not because of the house itself. It’s there, I think, because I learned in that house so much about what it means to be loved. My granny was one of those people especially gifted in showing people love, and needless to say, her grandchildren, of which I was the first, got the full dose. Her house is a symbol for me of what we all crave most, unconditional love.
I bring all this up because today is homecoming at Luminary. For many of Luminary’s members, homecoming evokes all sorts of memories, many of them set in a building we no longer occupy as a church, having built a new building on a new site 11 years ago.
I’m guessing your best church memories, while tied to a place, are actually rooted in an experience of unconditional love. You saw such love in people around you, many of them no longer here. You experienced that love directly from the Holy Spirit, perhaps while singing, or during a baptism, or maybe while hearing the word of God very clearly for the first time. I pray you really sensed it when you first understood the message of the cross, and realized Christ died on the cross because of his love for you.
I do sympathize with what we feel when special places change or go away. I got to go through my granny’s house a few years ago; I was next door visiting my cousin as he dealt with his parents’ failing health, and the current owner asked me to come in and tell her what was original and what was not. Houses change, particularly when people want to tear off little wrought iron balconies and replace them with large wooden decks. Houses of worship change, too, even when you don’t change locations.
But that’s okay, isn’t it? The love that comes straight from God remains despite what changes in this world. It imprints itself on us fully. And not only that, the love we feel now points us toward what we will experience with God for all eternity. And that love will never change. Nothing will ever be taken away.
In fact, what we have lost here we will find there, in our real home.