“Home.” There are few words that evoke in me the kind of passion that is in that word. I realize that not everyone gets warm fuzzies at the sound of that word, but isn’t there a deep longing in every heart for the warmth and safety of a place called home?
Our Creator, knowing this longing, promised us through the ancient prophet Isaiah: “My people shall dwell in peaceful dwelling places, in safe homes, in undisturbed places of rest” (Isa. 32:18, NIV).
Not long after we moved to Wenatchee, Washington, my family and I met a few friends at the nearby Waterville County Fair for a Mark Schultz concert. One of his songs, “When You Come Home,” really spoke to me. In the chorus, Mark’s mother speaks these soothing words:
When you come home
No matter how far
Walk through the door and into my arms
Here one is loved
This is where you belong
And I’ll be here
When you come home
It was the fall of 1955, and an eager four-year-old was peering over the dashboard of a pickup truck roaring west through the hills of central Massachusetts. The truck was loaded with all the earthly belongings claimed by his mother and three brothers. Bernie, a college student and family friend, did a good deed. After all, this family whose goods he was transporting consisted of a single mother of limited means and her four boys.
I was the 4 year old sitting high enough in the seat so I could see through the windshield of the truck that took us from South Lancaster to South Athol, Massachusetts about 40 miles west. My mother Marian had sought and found a home that she knew would be a suitable place to raise her adolescent boys.
A place called home
Bernie had barely pulled the emergency brake when I bounced off the running board and sped toward the front door. We were all eager to explore our new home in the country. It seemed so much bigger and nicer than the Quonset cabin we had left behind. Mother’s prayer had been very specific. “Dear God, help me find an affordable home that has enough space for a garden. Let it be near a place where we can go swimming.” She grew up near the Columbia River in White Salmon, Washington and loved to swim. “And, Lord,” she continued, “let it be near an Adventist school where my boys can visit you and learn about you from the Bible.” She believed, without a doubt, that the Lord was bringing her to the house Burnham, snuggled in the village of South Athol, having granted every wish expressed in her prayer. It turned out to be a great place for me and my three brothers, Tim, Wes and Mark, to grow up.
The address was 5568 South Athol Road, the place I would call home as a child and into my adult years. I would swim in a nearby lake, skip rocks in the pond, attend the church school three miles away, and do my part to keep the weeds in the garden under control. And it should be the place where mother lived for 62 years until she went to her rest at the age of 94.
Judy and I met in the fall of 1974 while attending Atlantic Union College in South Lancaster. She grew up in Melrose, Massachusetts, just north of Boston. Although our surroundings were quite different, we both had enjoyed the stability and security of our home. She had lived at 45 Cleveland Street for about as long as she could remember, just as I had lived at 5568 South Athol Road.
The two story house that Judy and her sister Jackie grew up in has been the family home since she was two years old. It was the home of her parents, Ron and Carolyn, for more than four decades until they moved to their lakeside home in Maine in the late 1990s.
Judy and I were married in 1976 and moved into our first home at 25 Wright Street, about a mile from New England Memorial Hospital, where we were employed.
Since then, the road to “a place called home” has taken some twists and turns due to my calling as a minister. “Home” has become an elusive concept for me and our family. Judy and our three children, Adam, Lindsey and Ronilea, share the same sense of ambiguity. Let me suggest a few reasons why.
With a few pieces of furniture from our respective houses, some donations from friends, and help from Judy’s father with the renovations, we were able to “set up” our house. Judy had the ability to transform a simple apartment into a welcoming place. She would do just that many times over the following years. Our vows included “for better or for worse,” but little did we know how quickly and how often we endured the stress of moving.
Our landlords, who lived directly below us, would repack our trash when they thought we were using too many bags and enter our apartment when we were gone without asking our permission. There have been other similar invasions of our privacy. For a newly wed couple, it was not a “nothing works at home” experience and a move became necessary within a very short time. In terms of longevity, we’ve had a less than ideal start.
In the years that followed, we experienced the challenges of being part of a ministry that is inherently travelling. Long-term housing was not always readily available in our new area, so something temporary had to do. These were times of joyful anticipation to see what God has in store for us, but also times of emotional and physical distress. Finding housing, enrolling the kids in a new school, transferring checking accounts, and finding a new medical team all took patience. I admire Judy for navigating these stressors with strength and dignity.
In 1998 we lived in Melrose. We loved the people and our service at Greater Boston Academy, but as a family we were ready for a new adventure. When I received an invitation to serve as a youth and family pastor in Wenatchee, Washington, we accepted!
A new adventure
After moving to the Northwest, our family made occasional trips back home to the East Coast. However, after a few years, we found that we were saying, “We’re going home,” not when we were going east, but when we were going west. We would laugh at that as for a while we didn’t know where our home was and which direction! Hence the incomprehensibility of “home”.
One day, while talking to our teenage son, Judy asked, “Where do you consider home?” He quickly replied, “Home is wherever you and dad are.” We liked his answer. Isn’t our home the place where we can be with those we love? Jesus clearly longs for us to be at his home.
“And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3, NIV).
Our nomadic journey, while challenging, has resulted in some great blessings. Where we pitched our tent, for example, we discovered a lot of great people. They are prayer warriors, familiars, fellow adventurers. They are beautiful and they are broken people like us and they are valued more than they know. If we had put down deeper roots and raised our children in one place there would probably have been some benefits, but I can’t imagine life without the many truly remarkable people we now call friends.
We were also blessed to experience the beauty and diversity of the cultures and areas we saw. In Boston we experienced history on the Freedom Trail. On the rocky shores of Cliff Island, Maine, we felt the salt water splash on our faces. In the Pacific Northwest, we crossed the Strait of San Juan de Fuca and spotted whales while white-crowned peaks loomed in the distant Olympic Mountains. From our home in northern Idaho we could see moose, deer, bear and other wildlife. These adventures were only possible because we were willing to step out of our comfort zone.
The ultimate blessing that has come from the many transitions we have made as a family is found in this reality: As a pastoral family, we have often been reminded that this world is not our final home. Our home is in heaven. This thought is expressed in another song:
My home is in heaven, just waiting for me
And when I get there, how happy I will be!
My home is in heaven where the rent is free
Because Jesus paid for it on Golgotha!
Longing for our true home
I can identify with old Abraham, who often had to “pull down stakes” as the shepherd’s life was also a wandering life. Moving his family from place to place in search of water and pasture for flocks and flocks was not an easy life.
“By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a strange land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise with him; for he waited for the city having foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:9, 10).
Deep in Abraham’s heart was the longing to trade the temporary dwelling of a nomadic shepherd for a permanent home.
When Jesus comes and it’s time to go home, if we’ve remembered all along that our earthly home is temporary, then “drawing up stakes” won’t be difficult at all.
Does the chaos and conflicts erupting around the world make your heart ache and make you yearn more to be with God? The Bible is filled with the hope that we will experience this reality.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God’” (Rev. 21:3, ESV).
The Greek word Metawhat is translated “with” or “among” is used three times in the above passage, which I think emphasizes how much God longs to be with us.
The ultimate reason for wanting to go home to heaven is that Jesus himself will be there.
In the final words of Schultz’s song, I see our heavenly parents waiting to welcome us home.
When you come home
No matter how far
Walk through the door and into My arms
Here one is loved
This is where you belong
And I’ll be there when you come home.