I’ve been thinking about home a lot. By “home” I mean the concept of home. You see, I just moved from Tennessee to Washington. My husband and I recently set up the apartment and we placed decorative letters spelling the word “home” on a shelf. Most of our things remained in boxes, the walls were bare, our nostrils were filled with that newly washed carpet smell, and yet we put “home” on the shelf. We were very careful to make sure that every letter was straight and we cocked our heads to the left and right to double check. Is Washington home?
I’m from Florida and in fact, four years ago, I moved from Florida to Tennessee. Whenever I visit Florida for special occasions—graduations, weddings, babies, Christmas—my siblings text me things like, “I can’t wait for you to come home tomorrow!” I’m greeted on Sunday mornings at church by surrogate grandparents who hug my neck and say “Glad you’re home!” Is Florida home?
As I struggle to locate my roots, I recall a home-less man named Frank with whom I spent extensive time with as a chaplain intern during CPE. Frank was a palliative care patient with terminal pancreatic cancer. Frank’s hospital stay was longer than the average palliative patient because he didn’t have a place to stay or someone to take care of him as he approached death. Frank was one of the success stories of the church. He was baptized and became a Christian months before his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and his church was very supportive. In fact, an entire wall of his hospital room was covered with cards and flowers from the church and the Nashville community, accompanied by 12 packs of Sprite Zeros and piles of word searches, two of Frank’s favorite items.
I visited Frank often and he became a part of my chaplain routine. And when Frank started feeling better, because doctors had stopped chemo and radiation, he would walk downstairs to sit next to me during our weekly chapel service. It became tradition for us to share a hymnal and for me to trace the lyrics with my finger so that Frank could sing along. As time when on, the hospital needed more palliative care beds, and a hospice representative came in to meet Frank the day before I left Nashville and moved to Washington. I happened to knock on Frank’s door during the initial meeting with the hospice representative and she said that Frank would be leaving the hospital within 24 hours. When I made my way to exit, not wanting to interrupt such an important conversation, Frank like a vulnerable little boy, furrowed his eyebrows and muttered “No!” So I sat back down next to him to offer a familiar presence in a discussion of the unknown. After the hospice representative left, I knew that I needed to be with Frank, so I offered to help him pack.
As he went to the bathroom to throw up, I muttered to myself, “I just can’t escape packing, can I?” I meticulously took down the cards from his wall and I asked him if I could read some of the cards as I packed them away. He didn’t mind and began packing some of his things on the other side of the room. Besides the plethora of cards from his church, Frank had received a number of cards from 4th grade students in a science class.
In the midst of the cliché “Get Well Soon” cards, I came upon a folded, tattered piece of notebook paper. “My mom died of cancer and I was really sad. I’m sorry that you have been homeless and that you have cancer. But God already has a home for you in heaven.”
In all of my questioning about “home,” this sentence from a 10-year-old stranger struck me. Perhaps “home” is the space that God has already prepared for us, not just a place in heaven, but places on earth where we know we are dwelling in God’s space which God has prepared for us beforehand.
The deeper concept of “home” is where God places us for a called purpose, whether we’re comfortable with that space or not. Exodus 13:21 tells us that when the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, God went before them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It goes on to say, “Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people” (v. 22).
Frank packed up his belongings, left his hospital home and moved to hospice, and I packed up boxes from Tennessee and moved them to Washington. Frank and I shared the movement of wandering into a new wilderness, trusting that God would lead us into our next “homes.” God had already prepared a space for us, regardless of our furrowed eyebrows and our childish “No.” In that moment I was reminded that wherever God leads us next, from Washington to heaven, God is the provider who ultimately runs before us, preparing space to give us a “home.”
So as I continue to admire the perfectly positioned letters that spell “home” in my living room, I remember Frank and the 4th grader who remind me that “home” is the space where God has guided us. May you be attuned to the spaces in which God has made clear God’s purpose for you and may you feel at “home” most when you’re reminded that it is God in whom we find ultimate hospitality and rest.