She looked at me, tears welling up to the brim, about to overflow, and she said, “I just want to go home, but I can’t get back there.”
“Well, where is home?” I asked.
“New England,” she said, her eyes gleaming with delight at just the name of this magical land. “I still call it home, even though I left when I was 15 to get married. I raised my kids in Florida, and I’ve been in Texas for the longest, but I would never call this place home.”
The topic came up every time a new person came to join our conversation. She couldn’t afford to live in New England, the cost of living is too high, her government pension wouldn’t cover the cost. She’s stuck in Texas, and she’s lived here the longest, and she hates it.
What was it about New England that captivated this woman’s dreams and fantasies? What colors and places danced in her mind after maybe 60 or 70 years since her future husband whisked her away from “home” to start her life?
Since the last time she’s been able to get “home,” she’s sprouted four more candles on her birthday cake. What is it like to close your eyes and make a wish—every single year—that you could just go “home”?
The night before we went as a group to visit the senior home down the street, we stayed up late to watch the movie, The Gospel of John. This three-hour movie moves word-for-word through Jesus’ life here on earth. The hope was to stay up late, engulfed in the words of Jesus, and go straight to bed to wake up early and still be entrenched in His words, His habits, His love. We gathered for breakfast together, huddled in prayer around grapes and eggs and warm steams of coffee. Charged for the day, charged for the journey down the street, charged to visit—just visit and be there and be still and listen.
Listen to the cries to go “home.” Listen to the deep ache and longing for this vision of “home”—a place of youth, wonder, and beauty. A place of lakes and freedom in brisk air.
I felt how sad she is with every word. Her doctor told her she is depressed. Her eyes were so sincere that I almost wanted to put her in my car and drive her to New England and pay whatever the price to get her “home.”
But I have this feeling that when she got there, when she reached “home,” it wouldn’t live up to her colorful dreams.
The scene from the movie that lingered with me through the night and into the hush of the morning was the healing at the pool. John 5: 1-15.
Jesus sees a man by the pool, wallowing in his pain, crying out and aching, unable to get into the pool. His legs were moving, but more like squirming, and he couldn’t do anything but squirm them around and complain and complain about the deep, aching pain.
Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
The sick, crippled, aching man doesn’t answer the question. He replies that there’s no one to help him into the pool. He tells Jesus that his squirming is him trying, but there’s always someone who gets ahead of him.
I have read this passage before, and I have seen how Jesus says to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” And the man is healed.
But, don’t you see, this is exactly what I want to say to the elderly woman about “home.”
Instead, I came to listen.
“Do you really miss the cold in New England?” I asked.
“Well, no…” she said. “But I learned to survive it. I could do it again.”
Stubborn. Stuck. Squirming in pain. Crying out for help.
The healing path strays away from the roads that lead to denial and despair. The healing path paves a new way, a crying out for help.
I can’t help her up because I’m stuck in my own wallowing. Stubborn and squirming, I have no one to help me. Everyone is a step ahead of me. My desires are not bad. As His precious child, He desires to give me many things, many good things. The best irony: my visions of “home” are in this woman’s deepest regrets. I long to be whisked away from New England, to raise a family in Florida, to make a new home in Texas. It isn’t about New England, or Florida, or Texas. She wants to run away from the moment she was whisked, and I want to be whisked.
Visions of her youth dance in her head. Visions of my future dance in my head.
Jesus is slow to anger, not boiling in a fit of rage by my constant wallowing. He sees me squirming, but he is gracious and compassionate, hearing my cries for help and offering a chance to get well. He is abounding in love, giving us visions of “home” that taste like the sweetness that is to come. And these tastes of “home” are meant to be sweet and deep and rich and comforting.
The path to healing is in the honest crying out, “I want to go home.” The path to healing is on the road to communion, the taking care of the rose bushes that we have right now in front of us. The path to healing is figuring out what to do with the visions of New England that haunt us daily with the life we once had, the life that is gone, the life that we can’t get to, the home that has vanished—and what to do with the rose bushes that we can learn to care for right now. Today and not tomorrow. Saddened, but not wallowing.
The only time the elderly woman stopped talking about New England, complaining about the colorful and beautiful life that she couldn’t get back to, was when she stopped to sing with us, “How Great Thou Art!”
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art!
Her arms flew up in the air, exclaiming a gasp of joyful surprise like a child finding a lost someone in a game of hide & seek, and her eyes fixated on the sky. She beamed with joy because she knew the words to this song, deeply knitted in her soul.
She sang of His awesome wonder, seeing the stars and hearing the rolling thunder. His power throughout the universe displayed.
This is home. He is our home.
Oh, sweet woman, will you wander with me through the woods? Listen, we can hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees! These trees, right here, swaying in our own gentle breeze.
Consider all the world that He has made. Just look at the gigantic, towering buildings. We are doing it. We are here. Every morning, look over at the big skyscrapers and remind yourself, we are doing it in this big city.
New England is a distant memory. Cheerios and band-aids and tree forts are gone. The puddles we danced on have dried up and the rocks have skipped to the bottom of the lake.
Oh, sweet woman, will you learn to care for this rose bush with me?
Don’t you see we all want to go home?
When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
See, you are well again. Stop wallowing, stop squirming, stop complaining that no one will help you get back. Cry out to me, trust me, and get up and walk.
Stop trying so hard. When you are resting, that is when I will heal. “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”
I came to listen and play Bingo. So we played Bingo instead of talking about how she couldn’t get back home no matter how hard she tried. No one would help her get home—I heard it again and again, her entire being focused ahead on what she left behind.
We both only played with one Bingo board, not four like the others. One board filled with so many numbers was more than enough to handle.
She smiled with delight when she won a round. What are the odds? Here, in this delight in this new game, sweet woman—this is the way home.