I was 5 years old. It was one of those moments when I was quite certain I was going to die. During my early childhood, there are only two times I can remember feeling as if death was looming. One was when I accidentally mistook my father’s tube of Head & Shoulder’s shampoo for toothpaste. Right before going to bed I loaded my toothbrush down with a generous glob. After a few scrubs on my pearly whites, I realized this paste didn’t have that familiar refreshing minty flavor of Crest. I was horrified! Not so much because it tasted bad, but because I was sure that I had lethally contaminated myself. I was convinced that at any moment the “poison” from the shampoo would quickly travel from my mouth, attack my brain, and leave me writhing and convulsing on the floor until my life ended in sudden and certain death. Concerned that my parents would be shocked and stricken with grief upon finding my dead body, I considered getting up and writing a note to explain my demise. However, instead I chose to lie as still as humanly possible. Consumed with fear, I tried to call out to my parents but my voice was not capable of producing a sound. I tried not to blink or to breath as I was utterly panic stricken, certain that even the slightest movement would further transport any residue of poison from my mouth to the rest of my body. It all felt so unfair. I was much too young to die!
The other time I thought I was near death was when I was six, in fact, during my sixth summer. There are certain childhood memories that continually mark us, ones that call us back in order to be more deeply noticed, better understand, and further reminisced upon. For me, one of these memories was when my Grandmother, Dobbie, decided it would be a good idea for the two of us to venture off together to Des Moines to visit my Great Grandpa Butchie and my Great Grandma Zula. This was to be my first real trip away from my parents, from home, from what I knew and loved.
As we packed up the car, there was a rush of “Thelma and Louise” freedom and excitement. It was just the two of us, my grandma and me, on this journey from Illinois to the Hawkeye state. There was a carefree bliss I felt as we drove together and talked and laughed while munching down egg salad sandwiches and windmill shaped cookies. My grandmother even packed foaming vitamin C tablets which, when plopped into a jug of cold water, instantly transformed it into “fizzy orange pop”—a true miracle to behold. The car was hot, so I rolled down the window and invited the wind to dance and twist about in my long blonde hair. On the highway ahead, the heat from the pavement rose in mysterious waves of wonder. “Knee high by the fourth of July. That’s what they say. The farmer’s will most certainly be pleased with the corn crop this year, “ noticed Dobbie as we drove through endless miles of green, wide open space. Pink cotton candy clouds formed a blanket that invited the sun to snuggle up and tuck itself in after a long day.
Des Moines was filled with relatives who had faces of strangers. “Missy, this is your great Aunt-so-and-so, and here’s your great Uncle such-and such”. Each relation was friendly, gracious and hospitable. Most had glorious silvery white hair, which, to me looked distinguished next to their large, black, horn-rimmed glasses. They were happy to be together, engaged in laughter, telling the folklore that had, no doubt, been repeated over and over again throughout the years: how Great Grandma Cornelia was so tough that she actually smoked a corn cob pipe right there, in the open, on the front porch of her Southern home. Or, about Great Uncle Dewey and the business he had of installing lightening rods on top of roofs and how tragic it was when the neighbor kid he had hired fell to his death. Or about Great, Great Grandpa, Green Barry Burton, who, while driving his stagecoach through Kentucky, was robbed by the outlaw, Jessie James. The stories went on and on that evening, happy and sad, as if each narrator was throwing colorful snippets of people’s lives into the air like confetti, creating a celebration of what is known, what is true, what is home.
That night, we slept at Great Grandpa Butchie’s house. As I laid down in bed, my mind replayed the stories I had heard about people who were new and unfamiliar to me. Suddenly, without warning, a wave of intense longing whisked over me like a summer’s breeze that catches sheer curtains and tugs aggressively at them through an open window pane. I looked around the dark room for something to soothe the aching that was beginning to well up profoundly inside me. I didn’t know this space, this room, these people, or this home. I clung to my pillow as tears began to fall, to flow, to pour. Sobbing shook me, causing me to trip and stumble over the natural rhythm of my own breathe. Somehow, my child’s heart sensed deep loss and desperate wanting. I didn’t want to be there, or anywhere else for that matter. I wanted to be home.
For three horrible days, homesickness came to me in waves of unexpected, uncontrollable sadness. My heart was so broken and hurting that I honestly questioned whether I’d be able to survive the entire weekend visit. Once again, a part of me feared that I just might die. As a shy, obedient child, the last thing I wanted to do was make a scene, and yet that’s exactly what I did, over and over again. Great Grandpa Butchie tried to comfort me. In fact, one afternoon he took the car and left the house. I assumed he needed a break from the constant torture of a 6 year old’s continual state of weeping. I didn’t blame him. I mean, who wouldn’t need a break? However, he returned with an elegantly wrapped box, complete with a flowing tulle bow. Inside was the most gorgeous dress I’d ever seen, adorned with pink and white stripes and layers of crinoline underneath. It was a dress that truly beckoned me to dance, to spin and twirl as it’s puffy under layers gracefully flowed upward and outward just like a ballerina’s. Wearing the dress did help alleviate my homesickness ever so slightly, and not just because I felt beautiful in it, but perhaps even more so because it was a symbol of kindness, compassion and love. However, the pangs and the tears still flowed unexpectedly and freely throughout the rest of the visit. And when they did, my great grandpa would do all he could to try and comfort me by saying, “No, no, Lovely. You’re okay now. Everything’s going to be just fine. Here, little lady, take my hand and dance!”
I’ve thought about this memory often over the years and most especially over these past few months since my youngest brother recently died from a heartbreaking battle with cancer. Certainly I can relate to some of the classic stages of grief. However, when asked how I’m doing, I often describe my grief by comparing it to how I felt as a homesick six year old. Even now, the quivers of emotion move unpredictably and freely. I still find myself longing for what I once knew, for what felt safe, for my brother’s presence, for my family to be the way it was when he was alive. I’m charting new, unfamiliar territory, and as I do so I realize how truly homesick I am for what once was. Interestingly, this word—homesick—has somehow grabbed my heart and tattooed its calligraphy onto my soul.
Now, more than ever, I find myself thinking about how to create “home” in every aspect of my life. Part of this process has been redefining my definition of home. To me, home is no longer simply a place to decorate and make beautiful. It’s not just a place to sleep, play, work, or gather. Home is a verb. It is a way of living; a conscious way of being. I’ve been on a journey to discover what actually feeds the soul of our home: connection and conversation, music, laughter, forgiveness, honesty, humor, time to dream and explore, authenticity, spiritual growth, engaging in work that is centered around passion and purpose, affection, healthy and nurturing food, pets, nature, prayer. This is what is calling me. This, to me, is home.
Maya Angelou says, “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” On a universal level, I believe the world as a whole feels this chronic aching. Somewhere deep within the very core of our existence, together we’re suffering from an intense feeling of homesickness. Even those who have been raised in highly dysfunctional homes, have an ideal held within their imaginations that drives them to experience what it would be like to know security, protection, warmth, connection, happiness and true belonging. We all desire to make a home for our hearts. It’s how we’re wired. It’s who we are.
It’s been said that home is actually a metaphor for our soul, for our spirit finding it’s true place of belonging. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I’ve thought so much about being homesick as a child. This memory haunts me, begging me to pay closer attention to the longing God has placed on my heart to be truly at home with Him. Thomas Moore says, “There is a God-sized hole in all of us waiting to be filled.” This may be the very key that unlocks the door of meaning; to recognize that our hearts are always, always searching for a way to house our creator. It’s crucial to pay attention, as “home” is, no doubt, one of the basic needs of the soul. In fact, the experience of being at home is so intrinsic that when we taste it our hearts instantly crave more. When we finally arrive home, we can release our loneliness, our homesickness allowing our deepest longings to be met.
Recently, for the first time, I’ve felt a nudging to pray daily for my home. Early each morning, I bless the physical space, the shelter of my family’s daily life. And even more importantly, I pray that those who enter our doors will experience a deep sense of being “at home”. I bless these walls that contain us with peace, comfort, laughter, life, safety, joy, growth, meaning and belonging. It’s amazing how often guests comment that they feel so at ease here, and that they wish they could stay longer to bask in the “warmth” of our home. A few have even joked that they wish we would seriously consider legally adopting them into our family!
We live in an old 1920’s renovated dairy barn that stands on eighteen acres. We bought this property to create a “retreat house” from which my husband and I could do our personal and corporate life coaching. In our home, we also invite others to journey with us on spiritual and personal growth weekends. One of the minor challenges was to decide upon a name for our home. After considering countless options, we agreed upon “Turtle Creek Acres” as there is a creek that runs through our property that is the residence of box turtles and an occasional snapping turtle. For some time, I wondered what the deeper meaning was in the name we had chosen for our farm. Suddenly, it hit me that we’re all like turtles who carry their homes with them wherever they go, wherever they choose to venture. Truly, we never must quest far to find home. If we’re aware enough, we’ll realize the profound truth that home is always with us. Home is part of the true essence of our being. Home, soul, spirit, place—whatever you choose to call it—will always guide us to ultimate belonging, to heartfelt meaning and open-armed acceptance.
On the front door of our home hangs a sign that reads, “The Timberlake Family”. Underneath that, hangs another plaque with the phrase “Home at Last!” Often when I read it, my spirit skips a little with a sense of comforting relief and happiness. Ah, home at last, home at last! This is also my prayer of blessing for you. Wherever your journey has taken you, whatever your heart is facing today, may you realize that home is truly in the deepest recess of your soul. Welcome home.