How often do we have to be told ‘there’s no place like home’ before we believe that it’s true? And once we leave the welcome mat on our front doorstep for good, looking for our own windows to hang curtains in, what do we really lose?
Most of my friends left home for college at about eighteen. They didn’t only move out from under the roof they grew up under, but away from the churches and communities they grew up with. Transplanted into entirely new surroundings, they start over, making new friends and entering the next exciting stage in life.
I never left for college – I got my A.A. from a school ten minutes away from my house, so I stayed home after graduating high school. When I finally “got out on my own” – and believe me, I was aching to spread my wings a little – I was surprised to find the things I missed most from home weren’t my friends or my siblings or Little Caesar’s five dollar pizzas. I missed my parents, the women from my Bible Study, and the families in my church who provided me so much encouragement as I struggled to make this mission trip to Prague a reality. I yearned for the continual springs of wisdom and encouragement I was blessed with in San Diego. (Jerry and Marilyn have been incredible in this area and I go to them almost as much as I would go to my own parents – though I think they appreciate that I don’t flop into their room at 11pm and say things like, “I just can’t handle this anymore!” …Mom and Dad, you two deserve sainthood).
What I’ve also discovered is that there are people who will help shepherd, comfort …and feed you wherever you end up! So about once a month, I visit one such family who’ve been good enough to open their arms and their fridge.
An hour and a half via bus, metro and then bus again, and I find myself in the cutest little village outside of Prague. Fields brown from autumn harvest are lined by trees red and gold from autumn chill. It’s not yet eleven o’clock when the bus drops me off at the last stop and I start the fifteen minute walk through the town square, down narrow streets and finally onto a crooked lane that leads to a developing neighborhood in a field. (I say developing because like three new houses go up every time I visit and it makes it hard to remember which street is which).
In through the white front door, off with my old coat, on with a pair of house slippers from the family’s shoe closet. And then into a kitchen that is warm with the smells of lunch and cozy from the laughter of three children having a good time on a Saturday morning. All at once, it feels so much like I’m home.
I feed the youngest (I think she’s a year old) mashed-cauliflower and listen to the four and six year old chant English songs to the computer screen they’re learning from – oh for the days when homework was exciting enough to do on a Saturday morning…
All the while, the mother juggles lunch preparation and steady conversation with me. She and her husband both have very good English which is a relief because my Czech is elementary (I know this for a fact – I just took an assessment test). We eat and talk and clean and talk some more.
They go to a church in a neighboring town and are starting to homeschool their oldest. I have questions about the Church community in the Czech Republic and they have questions for me about home education. We swap recipes, “growing up” stories and book titles.
And then I play with the little guys for the rest of the afternoon. Trampolines, hikes, books, puzzles, pretend games with dinosaurs. All of these I’m very good at because I’ve had years and years of practice being a kid. Samik knows enough English to cover for me when I lose track of what we’re doing but he’s good about teaching me too. So if anyone wants to play dragons with me I can narrate all of it in Czech.
The thing about Czech is that you can twist endings and make whole new words that people will understand without them having to be explained. He took the word for fire (or fire-breathing? I don’t know, comprehension wasn’t perfect on that one…) and changed the ending to a name. So he was literally “Fire-breather.” I only know a couple words so I became “Vlakničko” which literally is something like “Little Train.” Hear me roar.
The husband works in the garden, only interfering when it becomes pathetically obvious that neither child understands enough English to get, “No guys, let’s not bite. Dragons don’t bite.”
Finally, we pile the kids in the car, the mom hands me something for the road (a box of goodies, chocolate, a bunch of flowers, etc.) and we take off for Zbraslav. It’s only a half hour ride back and while the little guys fall asleep in the back, the dad and I talk about Prague under communism, religion in Eastern Europe and Mel Gibson films. By the time the autumn sky pulls away the last of its light and releases crystal stars onto the pale horizon, I’m waving goodbye to a car full of people I have come to love.
I’m going to try to ramble less in this post and just get to the point: I think people my age – any age, really – need to consider who they include in their new nests, the ones they build themselves. As we all spread out and start living adult lives, are we including real adults who can mentor us? I’m not just talking about a professor you see in the hallway or an elder you say hello to at church. I mean, have you adopted a family? Are there people who will ask you how your life has been going and what you’ve been struggling with spiritually? Who will feel comfortable asking you to keep an eye on their kids for a few minutes because you feel comfortable dropping by their house for a few hours on the weekend? Who is ready to give you a warm meal and a challenge to read more, pray more and study scripture more?
You see, I don’t think life was meant to be lived alone, and although there are a number of godly Christians who have been called to pilgrim in solitude, I think God has blessed most of us with other people who we can be dependent on. The problem is, especially for young people who are ready to “get started,” we tend to not want to be dependent anymore. Sitting down and explaining your problems to adults is not the same as collapsing on a couch and venting those problems to friends who will give you chocolate and nod sympathetically.
But that’s it, isn’t it? That’s why God gave us parents and pastors and adults who will love us like their own kids. Because we need to sit down and talk. We need to grow up. And we need to do it the right way. And I don’t just mean college students who find themselves far away from home. This is for the newly married who have moved out of town, or the single working people who are out on their own. This is for every Christian man or woman, husband or wife, mother or father. We are always growing up. We will always need a home.
If our true home is heaven, then the closest place to home we will ever find on earth is with the people of God.