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It Takes a HOME
And Other Lessons from the Heart
By Nancy Parker Brummett
David C. CookCopyright © 2000 Nancy Parker Brummett
All rights reserved.
A Home Defined
Home interprets heaven; Home is heaven for beginners.
—Charles Henry Parkhurst
What is home and how do we get there? Developers would have us believe it's a brand new house with a three-car garage. Those who live under a bridge might call a cardboard box home. But because a home is so much more than its physical structure, the word home holds connotations for each one of us that are defined by our hearts, not by the real estate sections of the local newspaper.
Whenever I hear the word home I think of the white, two-story frame house in Tennessee where I grew up. This is the house my parents brought me to as a newborn. It's the house where my sisters and I played dolls under the dining room table and where I talked to my friends on a black, rotary-dial telephone in the hallway.
This is the house where I chatted with my grandmother on the back porch while she snapped beans and dropped the pieces into a big aluminum bowl that seemed molded to her lap. We had our best talks on those lazy summer afternoons, and whenever I snap beans today, I'm immediately transported to a calm place in my heart and reconnected to her love and wisdom.
I consider the fact that I have such a home in my memory to be one of the greatest blessings of my life. My mother is in her eighties now and still lives in the same house, so it's possible for me to go home in a very real sense. I could still slide down the banister and climb the maple tree in the side yard if I wanted.
I've had many other homes, of course. As a young Army bride with babies, I created a home for my family in the temporary quarters in Germany—mail-order curtains, government-issued furniture and all. More apartments and five houses followed, including the one that sheltered my two boys and me during the seven years I was a single mom after my divorce.
The house I live and work in now is the brick rancher that my second (and last!) husband, Jim, and I moved into as soon as we could sell the homes we each owned. It was important for us to have a new place to begin life with our blended family. Since Jim had two teenage daughters and I had two teenage sons when we married, it was also important to find a house where the boys' bedrooms were as far away as possible from the girls' bedrooms! The walk-out lower level of this house provided the perfect male retreat, and put the boys on a separate floor entirely.
All four kids are married now, and six little trees are planted in the backyard in honor of the five precious granddaughters and one precious grandson who have joined our blended family. After serving as headquarters for graduations, weddings, Christmases, and Thanksgivings too numerous to count, this house has history—something very precious the second time around.
Sure there are cracks in the driveway, some of the windows don't shut quite right, and there's lots of redecorating I'd like to do someday, but I can see the sun rise over the prairie from one window and the moon setting behind the mountains from another. Since 1989, we've lived, loved, and grown through all the changes in our lives right there. This house is home.
When you close your eyes and think of home, I hope it doesn't take long for a kind memory to come back to you. Maybe it's the smell of Sunday pot roast, the rickrack on the edge of the curtains at the kitchen window, or a front porch step where you used to sit and wait for the school bus. Whatever your memories, cherish them.
It's heartbreaking to think that so many people don't have a single pleasant memory of a place they called home; a place where they could hang their hearts along with their hats.
I'm blessed and I know it. Maybe you are too. But those of you who haven't had the blessing of a home to love should take heart. It's not too late for you to create a home where you are now. And besides, our earthly homes are shanties compared to the home we will someday have in heaven.
Our Heavenly Home
For believers in Jesus Christ, home has an eternal definition. Since we are, as Paul wrote, only aliens here on earth, we don't have to be bound by earthly definitions of home.
"In my father's house are many rooms," Jesus told his disciples. "If it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2). In other words, we already have a home so glorious it would astound the architects of the world's most opulent palaces.
Someone sent me a refrigerator magnet that reads: Memo: Gone to Father's house to prepare your place—will be back soon to pick you up.—Jesus. What a great reminder that we're only passing through, and heaven is our real home. He who had no home of his own on earth has gone to prepare our eternal one. And those who live in mansions now may be in rooms next to the homeless people they drive by every evening on the way home from work.
People with disabilities or in chronic pain here on earth seem more focused than most of us on their heavenly homes to come. "Suffering hurries the heart homeward," Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic since a diving accident in 1967, writes in her book Heaven: Your Real Home.
Reminding readers of all the glory to come, Joni says, "Let's not get too settled in, too satisfied with the good things down here on earth. They are only the tinkling sounds of the orchestra warming up. The real song is about to break into a heavenly symphony, and its prelude is only a few moments away."
Until then, however, we will continue to establish and live in earthly homes. What makes a house a home, of course, are the people in it. And the kinds of homes that exist are as varied as the rooftops we see as we look down from an airplane flying over any city in America.
Homes with Heart
Some houses are home to more than one family and some, though they may be only temporary, are homes for the heart. I was privileged to be a part of the community group that established a Ronald McDonald House in Colorado Springs, Colorado. There are now over two hundred Ronald McDonald Houses in twenty countries providing a "home away from home" for families with sick children in nearby hospitals.
My long association with this organization taught me a lot about what makes a house a home. The Ronald McDonald House is known as The House That Love Built[TM]. Indeed, it takes the love and dedication of an entire community to make a Ronald McDonald House a reality. Once the doors are opened, distraught families come inside to discover love, acceptance, comfort, and the protected, safe environment that truly defines home.
In the big kitchen of our house, it's common to see the grandmother of one sick child comforting and advising the young mother of a premature infant over a cup of tea. Related by circumstance only, these strangers soon form a nurturing, intergenerational bond so often missing in single family homes today.
After I left the board of the Ronald McDonald House, I decided the Lord was leading me to take what I had learned and help a struggling non-profit residential facility for single moms and their children. Family Life Services is a ministry housed in a stone and frame house built in 1905. Surrounding the main house are nine separate apartments.
Some of the moms and children who come to live at FLS for up to two years have suffered a lifetime of abuse and loss. Even the smallest children seem to carry scars of confusion and rejection. But the counseling and love they find at FLS is like a salve to their wounds. Used furniture from an attic storeroom, some fresh paint brushed on the walls by church volunteers, and soon one of the tiny apartments is once again transformed into a home for a hurting family.
In the big yard outside, you can always hear the laughter of children playing. Nearby, their moms gather to share life stories and empathize with one another, creating a real sense of belonging. Again, it is the love, the acceptance, and the protected environment that makes Family Life Services feel like home.
I'm sure there are similar houses in your community—or in your memory. Only people who have never entered the doors of such sanctuaries could think of them as less than real homes.
Cultural Changes in the Home
But what about the homes you and I live in? How do we make them homes with a heart instead of just so much brick and mortar? Our task is made difficult because we no longer live in a totally home-friendly culture. With both Dad and Mom often out of the house earning a living, and evening television distracting families from genuine communication, the potential demise of the American home is more than gloom and doom.
Sociological shifts occurring over the past half century provide us with insight into changes taking place in the American family and in our traditional definitions of home.
Attendees at the FamilyLife Marriage Conferences hosted by Campus Crusade for Christ from coast to coast are given a workbook for the three-day seminar. An outline in this workbook defines the changes in American culture from the 1950s to the 1990s, providing critical insight into what's happened to the home. It explains how America has shifted from a rural culture to an urban one. Where the family was once the primary influence over children, it is now one of many competing influences. Likewise, our culture has moved from being God-centered and others-centered to being man-centered and self-centered. The traditional model for a family—once composed of a mom, a dad, and their biological children—has changed. In the 1990s the traditional family model has come under attack and given way to a myriad of other models.
The roles of family members within the home have also changed dramatically. Marriage roles once clear and unchallenged have become confused. Fathers were traditionally serious providers and present in the '50s, but became passive providers often absent by the '90s. With the passing years, stay-at-home mothers, once valued and esteemed by society, have seen their roles demeaned and downplayed as women with careers became more visible and valued. Even the value placed on having children has shifted. Children were anticipated in the '50s, and childhood was protected. But by the '90s, children were considered optional, and childhood was hurried so parents could get on to other priorities.
In short, the traditional family of the '50s was imperfect but intact. Sociologists prone to pessimism see the family of today as imperfect and disintegrating.
Yet there is hope when we refuse to hand our families over to the "village" and hand them over to the Lord instead.
God's Plan for Homes
"Despite the blows it has taken over the decades, the home persists," writes Mary Farrar in her insightful book Choices, written for women seeking God's will for their lives. "It lives on as the heart of our nation. It stands ever-central, as the pivotal environment in which lives are shaped."
Why is the home still standing when so many wolves are huffing and puffing in an attempt to blow it in? Because God wants it to stand. This isn't a new idea with Him. In Genesis 1:28, his concept for home was already in place when he made Adam and Eve copartners in fulfilling his great mandate. We read, "God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth, and subdue it.'"
In Genesis 2:24, we see more of God's plan for marriage and family when he commands, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." From this union comes both the sanctity of marriage and our first glimpse at the home management team God put in place.
As discouraged as we may get about the future of the American home and family, we can find hope in knowing that God wants families to stay together, and he will do whatever it takes to keep the wolves away. God loves homes, and he loves the families who live in them. He will also give us the power we need to fight for our families when a battle is at hand.
"I believe we are not embroiled in the most pivotal battle of our generation, the fight for the soul of America," says Dennis Rainey, co-founder of FamilyLife. "This battle demands courage—the courage of husbands and wives who will turn from the seductive voices of the culture and make their marriages work; the backbone of dads and moms who will reject the poisons of materialism and shape the conscience and character of the next generation ... There is hope! With God's help, we can get there from here."
Yet even with God's support our families will never be perfect because they are made up of fallen people living in a fallen world. God knows that, which may be why he chose to show us some very nontraditional, even dysfunctional families in the Bible.
Worried about the way your two little boys roll around on the floor punching one another? Think about Cain and Abel's sibling rivalry! Wish your husband were as wise, poetic, and romantic as Solomon? How would you feel being one of thousands of wives?
There were other nontraditional families. The blended family Abraham oversaw included his wife Sarah, her son Isaac, her handmaid Hagar, and Hagar's son Ishmael. The family Jesus most loved spending time with was composed of two single sisters and their bachelor brother—Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. And we could even surmise that Aquila and Priscilla, a ministry couple known for their faithfulness to the early church, may have suffered the pain of childlessness. Yet God made the stories of all those families part of his eternal Word.
As believers, we know that our sanctification, our growth in Christ, will continue until we are with the Lord in his glory. Only then will we be perfect. The same is true of our families.
In the Christian home, we have the opportunity to establish what Charles Henry Parkhurst called "heaven for beginners." Our homes are not, and never will be, ideal. But just because we are incapable of achieving perfection we mustn't stop seeking God's purpose for the Christian home in the world today. He can use our imperfect families to spread his Word just as he used the less than perfect families of the Bible.
We must continue to allow God to use the families he has created to his glory—and he can use them all. To listen to the world's messages about marriage, raising children, and home life is to rob our society and our children of the only hope we have for living lives with eternal value.
What are these deceptive messages we hear that threaten our homes and families? The first is that marriage is a 50-50 proposition in which an individual spouse's "rights" are more important than a child's right to grow up in a family with both parents. The truth is that each person in a marriage has to give much more than 50 percent to make a relationship work. Anyone who's been happily married more than ten minutes can attest to that fact.
A second deceptive message is that strangers and institutions can raise your children as effectively as we can. The truth is, caring for children without caring about them sends all manner of sharp arrows into their delicate self-images.
It takes a home with parents who are committed to their marriage and their children first—far ahead of their professional goals and material desires—for children to feel valued.
Different Homes to Love
And it doesn't take a mansion to instill a feeling of home in any of us. If you've ever gone camping, you know the feeling you get after returning to the campsite after a long hike. From a distance, you see your familiar, old blue-and-white checkered dishtowel waving in the breeze from the makeshift clothesline. You see the sagging green tent that you tossed and turned in the night before, and you know that, at least for now, you are home.
Even a church can be a home of sorts. Author Anne Lamott, in her book Traveling Mercies, tells about the church that became a home for her and her son as she made her way as a single mom.
"When I was at the end of my rope," she writes, "the people at St. Andrew tied a knot in it for me and helped me hold on. The church became my home in the old meaning of home—that it's where, when you show up, they have to let you in. They let me in. They even said, 'You come back now.'"
When a home falls apart, it takes a lot to put it together again. This is when the church can make a difference. So can secular institutions. I don't have a problem supporting those organizations in our communities, our "villages," that come alongside to help. I just balk at the idea that the primary responsibility for the health of a home and family belongs to third-party groups rather than to parents.
Excerpted from It Takes a HOME by Nancy Parker Brummett. Copyright © 2000 Nancy Parker Brummett. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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