By Thom Hunter
Did you leave things un-opened in dusty old attics way back down the road somewhere
In boxes you sealed and callously labeled “open only if you really dare?”
Did your words slip away, unspoken and wasted, and your thoughts vanish into the air
When you turned on the car and drove away crying, thinking no one still there would care?
Throw open the attic of yesterday and re-fill with the hope of tomorrow
Re-label the box and tear off the seals that for too long have held hidden sorrow.
Let flow words of peace, re-claim thoughts of love, cover each memory with grace
Through healing and growing, repenting and seeking, return to a different place.
Even though “over the river and through the woods” has, for many — at least this year — been replaced with a walk through the scan and a pat down, it isstill Thanksgiving, and for most of us that means going home. To tell the truth, the invasiveness of the TSA is just a precursor of the closer examinations that will take place during dining table discourse and in recliner-crowded conversations between snores and during commercials. Going home is not always easy, whether it is a slow drive over leaf-covered country roads . . . or a cramped ride in a cattle-car jet. Neither route overrides the memories of past travels to and fro.
It takes more than a smile and slice of pumpkin pie to make some things all right. Pack an extra helping of healing for the hurting.
I think of Thanksgiving as perhaps the strongest of the holidays because it is built on yearning. Not wanting, like so much of Christmas, not haunting like Halloween, not flaunting like Valentines, or even vaunting like the 4th of July. No, Thanksgiving is that holiday that yearns for all to be right and real, whole and good, restored and reclaimed, life as we remember it, or as we want to. On this day, we timidly bring our self as the gift and we hesitantly take the gifts of others in the grand exchange. There’s little tinsel or flowers or fireworks to glamour up the who-we-ares. Yet, linger still the masks of Halloween and the who-we-want-to-bes.
It’s just so hard to go back home sometimes, wondering who will look older or act wiser or walk slower or talk lower. We want to be noticed for all the right reasons and left alone for all the wrong ones. What hard knocks have left their marks? Who has soared, achieved, and risen? Anyone stumbled? Is there a recipe of revelation waiting to be tested?
There’s something constant about the inconsistency of Thanksgiving. Jello salad colors change, but Jello it still remains. Turkeys roast or turkeys fry but you still save room for favorite pie. It rains . . . it snows . . . it’s awfully dry . . . but the leaves on the way to the door still crunch. Grandpas die and babies cry yet there’s always the same big old bunch for the lunch.
Sometimes, it takes a lot of courage to go home. All too often, home is not only where the heart is; it’s also where the hurt is, where the process began that led to the brokenness. For some, it was a distant dad, an abusive uncle, an overbearing mother, a bullying cousin, a generous broken relative all too anxious to share his brokenness and pass it on to you. These stereotypes can, of course, be mixed and matched.
For others, Thanksgiving is loneliness in the middle of the many, time alone on a back-porch step listening to the laughter from the other side of the door while pondering the pain in his own heart or the clouds that encircle her mind. The annual gatherings amplify the solitude of protection that holds the secret that cannot be shared and passed around like a limitless green bean casserole. It is your single secret helping. For the ones who struggle with a secret sexual brokenness, they may be home, but feel not so, and each annual trip down the autumn road just reinforces the wall. “I am one of them, but only because they do not know me.”
Still, the potential for “home” always pulls us, the everlasting hope that this is where we will be truly and forever loved, our imperfections accepted by our fellow imperfect. The longing for possible love is always greater than the threat of potential pain.
In college I came home with smiles and tales of accomplishment and likely bored the tolerant listeners. In early marriage, I came home with a wife who added her smiles and casseroles and won the hearts of the generations. As a young father, I came home in a van loaded with five little ones, pinging back and forth from poutiness to endearing rowdiness. As an older dad, I came home with grown-up sons and, year after year, an added daughter-in-law and then their little ones. Ever-adapting to the changes around her, my one daughter, eager for a few days away from school, put up with the traveling and the family trauma, reveling in her singleness. Post-revelation — with my sexual brokenness poured out in public as my children fled the scene — I still went home, with a wife still smiling, casseroles still bearing, wounds healing, our honesty concealing as we wondered for two years how to explain that our children were all suddenly too busy to come along.
Two year ago, in an evening conversation in an empty hotel cafe, still stuffed from the Thanksgiving feast, I shared with my mother the personal brokenness that had emerged from its secret hiding place inside me and shattered my family, challenging my marriage, ripping my reputation to shreds and separating me from all of my children. Knowing enough to not let the silence linger, she brought out the main dish we long for when we hit the road for home: love.
Now, everyone knows. Brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, cousins and assorted in-laws. You. Transparency does that. And, because they know, I know I can go home without looking longingly for the back-door steps. And because they know where I have been, they can rejoice at where I am and we can move on to football and photos.
Often, those who are broken hide not just their sins, but themselves. Even when in a stage of healing, progressing toward restoration, the struggle is buried deep within. The divisions that result, the distances that grow, between us and the ones we love, are sometimes so deep that going home — in the real sense of heart and mind — becomes a dwindling dream. Oh, we go there — “Happy Thanksgiving!” — but we don’t really go there. The menu is enticing, but we’re afraid one important ingredient might have been neglected. Love. It’s what we’re all really there for. It’s okay to burn the rolls, or forget to turn on the oven, or, heaven forbid, bring only the whole-berry cranberry, but don’t forget the love. Bring it home.
Interestingly, Jesus, when He healed people, did not tell them to “go start a new life somewhere else.” He said, in essence, “go home.”
Jesus told the paralyzed man, whom He healed, to go home:
But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.
— Luke 5:24-25
Jesus told the bleeding woman, whom He healed . . . not to run away . . .. but to go in peace:
And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind Him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
“Who touched Me?” Jesus asked.
When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against You.”
But Jesus said, “Someone touched Me; I know that power has gone out from Me.”
Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at His feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched Him and how she had been instantly healed. Then He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed You. Go in peace.”
— Luke 8:43-48
Jesus was not a run-and-hide kind of guide. He called Zacchaeus down out of a tree. Why? So He, Jesus, could go to stay at Zacchaeus’ home. Yes, thatZacchaeus, the well-known local sinner and tax collector. Oh, for shame? Oh . . . for love!
When Jesus reached the spot, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed Him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
— Luke 19:5-7.
Still, even with Jesus’ example, it sometimes takes a little courage to go home alone. After 35 years, I’m doing that myself this year. While my wife stays back here at our home because her mother cannot travel, I am going on alone . . . home. I will, no doubt, spend the hours on the road thinking of the days of the crowded van, the crying babies, the endless potty breaks, the teenage fights over music on the radio, the legs too long for the backseat, rolling eyes, bad jokes, spilled drinks, last-minute tearful tangle-removing as Lisa would prepare Lauren for the grand entrance and the rounds of “we’re here” hugs. I will find myself wondering how these people I know, who now really know me, are anxious to see me. And on my way home, I will be thankful for old memories of sleeping, exhausting children splayed throughout the van, and for new memories of my original family that has learned to see each other the way Jesus saw Zacchaeus in the tree. He welcomed him gladly. Can you imagine how thankful Zacchaeus was to come down out of that tree?
Our years are filled with pain and gain, with joy and loss, with cheers and tears, warm hugs and cold turning-aways, with victories, defeats, heights and depths, the coming-ins and the going-outs. And yet, we give thanks. Always.
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
— 1Thessalonians 5:18
Be courageous. Don’t ignore the pain of the past, but don’t let the pain of the past push away the promise of the day, which, by the way, the Lord has made. Rejoice. Be glad. Laugh. Get fat. Go home.
We will have pain in this world. Just ask Jesus about that too. But what did Jesus do after he endured all that pain?
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
— John 14:1-4
He went home.
To His Father’s house.
To fix your room for you.
We will always be able to go home.