Moving day has come again, but this time I’m not the one moving. Today we said a sad goodbye to my son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. They are moving to the East Coast tomorrow and are so excited. I’m excited for them too – well, actually, I was excited for them until today came and the reality of their leaving hit me full force.
I’ve moved a lot in my life so I’m pretty much a pro at this whole upheaval thing. After more than 30 moves, I’ve decided that it’s much easier to leave than to be left. If I move away there are new adventures waiting for me, but if I’m the one left behind, then all I have to fill the crevices of someone’s absence are my memories of the times we shared together.
Yes, I’d much rather leave than be left.
Earlier this week a former student posted this picture on his Facebook page. I’m not sure if it was the picture, the title, my son’s move, or the fact that I’ve been living in a Colorado hotel for three months, but his picture has captured my spirit and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
Almost home. Will called his photo, Almost Home. The afternoon he took this picture, Will was flying between Colorado where I sort of live, and Portland, Oregon, where his home is, and my home used to be.
Where is home? Where is my home? Is this freeway off-ramp hotel going to be my home forever?
My mind drifts back to a nighttime rainstorm in Germany during the summer of 1967…
Spotlight. Night sky. Churning winds cough up dirt from the roadway and spew it all over the windshield of our Opel station wagon. Rain blows in sideways blurring our vision. The kilometer signs at the side of the road are barely visible as we speed by looking for the Air Force Base. We’re lost. Dad took the wrong access road and now, we’re lost. He drives frantically through the German countryside searching for the base. Rain furiously pounds the windshield and now we can barely see between the wipers. It feels very much like the flash floods they have in Tennessee, and I am afraid. I just want to go home.
A searchlight paces back and forth in the darkness, awaiting our arrival. Dad drives toward the light. It’s searching for us just as desperately as we’re trying to find it, but like hunting for the end of a rainbow; the light eludes us. Every turn we make to chase it down, is one more turn of disappointment. Wait! There’s a guard-duty station ahead. My brother, Randy, sees a pole. The spotlight illumines the pole. It’s got a flag on it. We all strain to see its nationality. German? American? It is…it is…American! Wiesbaden Air Base. We made it!
Strange how one minute I am a foreigner lost in a foreign country, and the next I am an American on American soil even though I’m somewhere in the middle of Germany on an air base I’ve never even seen before. That’s one of the great things about being an Air Force Brat. No matter where I am on the planet, whenever I enter an American military installation; I step onto sovereign United States soil and am instantly “home.” Beyond the gates, I am an outsider. I represent all that is America to others and am an ambassador, but inside these gates I’m “home.”
* * * * *
Christians talk a lot about heaven being our eternal home and the concept that we’ll never really be “home” until we’re dead. (that comes from 2 Corinthians 5:8) It’s usually said when someone is trying to offer comfort to another who is grieving. I’ve never really been comfortable with the concept, actually. I believe it can strip my earthly years of purpose, and disconnect me from God. My time on earth cannot just be a plaza en route to somewhere else. It cannot be just a place to accumulate relationships, things, and accolades. My life has to be more, it has to offer more; it has to mean more.
“God, can I ask you a question?” I asked him one afternoon. Like God didn’t already know what was coming.
“You want to know where home is?”
“I’ve been looking for more than fifty years, Lord, and haven’t found it yet. Everyone else has a home but me.”
“Stop looking,” he instructed.
“Are you going to tell me that I won’t truly have a home until I get heaven…that I’m just “a passin’ through” like the old gospel song said? I’m so tired of that…”
“Stop and listen.”
“There’s a place for us, somewhere a place for us,” suddenly runs through my head.
“It’s from West Side Story, Lord. It’s a movie.”
Does God really need my lesson on American pop culture?
“Listen,” he gently chides.
“Are you tormenting me?”
“No, not to the song. Listen.”
I quiet my heart and God draws near again.
Home is not a place, and it doesn’t have an address. I can’t Google “home” and have it plot out a map with directions. Home is something so much greater than that – so much bigger than my fixation on having a house. As I sat in the stillness the Lord and I carved out that afternoon, I realized that my “true” home is simply those beautiful moments of intersection with the God that I so deeply love. When Jesus draws near and traverses my life, I am more at home than I will ever be. In John 15 Jesus says he will come and make his abode with me, his home with me, and he certainly has.
Home is the pond in Colorado Springs where I would go talk with the Lord when high school got too much for me to bear. Home is the hospital corridor where I paced back and forth while my son, Bryant, battled epiglottitis and youngest son, Steven, later fought against “failure to thrive” syndrome. Home is the rehab center where I sang to my mother-in-law just before she passed away. Home can appear in my car when I take off to chase a sunset. Home is the upper room of a coffee shop where I go for inspiration, Arlington National Cemetery talking with soldiers just back from war, the back wall of my church’s sanctuary where I often stand during worship, and the floor of my bedroom where I spend my early morning hours alone with the Lord. When I need a bigger view of God, home is standing in the waves at the Oregon Coast feeling the power of the ocean and the pull of the tide. Home is a late afternoon dash to the grocery store only to look up during checkout to see a breath-taking sunset over the Air Force Academy Chapel set against the Rocky Mountains. “Home” also appeared in the snow-filled gully near Omaha when I was just four years old. Trapped in a waist-high snow bank, Jesus drew near and whispered his reassurance to me for the very first time. These are the places of divine intersection in my life; these are the places of meaning; these are the places I call “home.”
Longing for home is a universal desire. Troubadours and songwriters throughout the ages have attempted to capture that longing, and some of the most memorable songs of all time explore the emotions of coming home. Homeward Bound by Simon and Garfunkel, John Denver’s Take Me Home Country Roads, Home by Michael Buble, Daughtry’s song of the same title, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, and If You’re Reading This by Tim McGraw all express that deep-seated desire to get home after a long hard journey, after a separation with loved ones, or even after war. We all long to experience the warmth and safety that is “home.”
Because I grew up military, home has never been a place or a location. Home for me has always been the shared experience of world events and the intersection of the military sub-culture. One of the most enduring of those shared experiences was the daily bugle calls on base which always ended with the playing of “Taps.”
Day is done, gone the sun.
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky.
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
God is nigh. I know it’s a military bugle call. I know the Girl Scouts sing it at the end of their troop meetings. I know it’s played at funerals. I know it’s more cultural than spiritual, but I’ve always found a great deal of comfort in that last line because I know that if Jesus is drawing near to me, then “home” is just around the corner. When I sense the Spirit of God hovering nearby, I know for certain that I’m almost home; that my agony and my ordeal is almost over.
I don’t know what you’re facing today, but I know where God is in your trial; he’s right there with you. Maybe you’ve just found out that your son or daughter is addicted to drugs; God is nigh. Maybe you’re pacing the corridors of a hospital waiting for word on your baby who has been taken to ICU; God is nigh. Perhaps you’ve been working three jobs to take care of your kids, but there’s never enough money to cover their needs; God is nigh. Maybe your spouse has asked for a divorce; God is nigh. Maybe it’s been six days since you’ve heard from your soldier husband serving in special forces and you’re worried about his safety; God is nigh. Maybe your son and his family have just moved across the country and taken your grandchildren with them…
All is well.
God is nigh.
© Copyright, 2013 by Donna Tallman.