Home: A Place of Welcome
I arrived home this past Christmas at the end of a rather grueling journey. The process of any flight from the UK to CO is quite an undertaking to begin with (bus, multiple airplanes/airports, then shuttle, all with huge and heavy suitcases in tow since I’m forever trying to shift a bit more of my library overseas), but this one had included stopovers in odd places, late flights, and a blizzard that stranded me at the Denver airport after arrival. On top of this was the sense of twilight zone disconnect from self and place that modern travel and jet lag produces in a weary mind. Wendell Berry has written of airports spaces of great anonymity - something that rings truer to me every time I travel alone, feeling myself unnamed and isolated in the great crowds and strange places. All this combined meant that by the time I stumbled through the foot of new snow up to the door of the Clarkson home, I had a frayed soul, exhausted body, and a mind that felt like a whirlwind out of which I looked out upon the world.
But as I stood upon the doorstep, I glanced to my left and saw something so eminently familiar I’d almost missed it: the old, chalkboard sign hung by my parent’s front door on which the name of every new guest is scratched. Welcome home Sarah. This time it was my name, and in the instant of spotting it, the storm in my mind began to subside. Out of the frantic, hurried, grey hours of the past days, I was pulled into the particularity of that place on earth, where people who knew my name and my story were waiting to greet me.
Then the door opened and arms were thrown round me - two pairs at once. I felt the soft familiarity of my mother’s touch and the tangle of my sister’s hair. I was drawn into a space prepared and lit especially for me. Having hugged each member of my family, I set down my bag and looked around the home waiting to greet me. Christmas lights tangled with the green of the tree, my grandmother’s Christmas dishes lay waiting on the set table, candles were lit, the old family favorite music played and I was drawn into the living room where a cup of tea (for oh, we love strong tea, we Clarksons) was waiting to warm my weary bones.
As news was exchanged and stories told, I settled into the place that had been prepared for me and marveled at the way that a home where one is loved and known, even in the first moments of welcome, can repair and restore the lonely exhaustion of the soul. To be known, remembered, desired, and to come to a place where those qualities of love have been enfleshed in food and candlelight and comfortable rooms is what it means to come home.
Home is the place where we are known, where love has prepared a room for us.
Home is the place where our stories our remembered, our griefs comforted.
Home is the place to which we can return from the wild storm of the outer world, to heal, to rest, to remember who we are and what it is we were meant to be.
But homes like that are only present by the grace of those who keep, prepare, and enrich them.
I knew, on that Christmas arrival day, that every candle had been lit, the rooms cleaned, the food made, by hands driven by love. I knew the amount of work it took to welcome me back, because I had done it many times before for other returning Clarksons. Often, in my teenage years, I questioned the amount of preparation we invested for each person who came to our home. Now, as the guest myself, I knew, in the moment of rich, prepared welcome, why we did it, and what it meant to those who returned.
The world is roamed by lonely, homeless people. We live in an age that isolates, a time that drives us to hurry and harried living. We live, often, in the fractured pain of broken relationships, of broken homes, with the feeling that we cannot return to a place of beauty or love. But home can always be built anew. All it takes is a single heart given in willingness to love, create, and keep. I have had to begin anew in every place I have moved as a single adult, but the creation of beauty, the formation of friendship, the lighting of a candle… its always possible. The home my parents have built, the family home to which I have the grace to return, began with that willingness to create a place of belonging in student housing, a tiny apartment, or one more new house as they moved yet again. It was built by years of love and grit, but it became a place of belonging because of the faithfulness that undergirded it.
I tasted that long-given love as I walked in the door at Christmas and was embraced by the sense of belonging, of welcome, of love. That is what home truly is. As you read, as you love, as you give in your own lives, may you too both find and keep the beauty of home.
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