Home. Not my home in Springfield. Not my church in Greenfield, but my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As I write this I am in my hometown, working with my sisters to empty the house of my parents’ collected belongings so we can sell my sister’s house. I’m not in my childhood home; that was sold many years ago. In fact, I had only visited in the home where we are working. But still, I am home.
What makes a house a home? What is it that brings you back, year after year, time after time, to that place you call “home”? In all truthfulness, I have lived just about the same number of years in Springfield as I had in Pittsburgh. In Springfield I have, with my husband, built a home where we are raising our two children. I love this home and the Ozarks, and no doubt my children will look back to this home when they are living elsewhere. But what brings me back?
One of the blessings of this week at “home” was a family gathering. One of my cousins opens her home on a monthly basis so the Baker family (my mother’s side) can get together to strengthen the ties we hold in common. I didn’t want to leave! We laughed and cried. We talked about our childhood experiences, both good and bad, and celebrated over a table overflowing with food. Since it was the November gathering, Kathy asked those assembled to share something for which they were thankful. As each person spoke about the reason for his or her thankfulness, we laughed and cried, uttering an “Amen” or two around the table. One thing was consistent: In everything God has brought us through both good and bad, both blessing and struggle, both gain and loss, and in everything, we have found a new level of God’s mercy and grace.
Too often we look back and disregard our pasts because of the negative part of the equations mentioned above. We complain about our lost jobs, our bad relationships, our skinned knees and broken bones. We find ourselves unable to, as Paul admonished, be thankful in everything. “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
About twenty years ago, I found myself having trouble remembering positive experiences from my childhood, especially concerning my father. I wasn’t abused by him in any way, but he was hard to please. My father had high expectations for his children, and when we achieved, he would often ask why the score wasn’t higher. Over the years I allowed my father’s seemingly unreachable expectations to have the emphasis in my life, so that I couldn’t access the memories of Dad’s gracious giving, his care for others, the times he did laugh with us. I didn’t thank God in all circumstances, and because of my anger and disappointment, I had a skewed view of my childhood. And then one day I bowed before God in our trailer on CBC’s campus, asking God for healing and to enable me to see the full picture of my life, that I could recognize God’s hand in everything in my life, so I could see my father for whom he really was, good and bad.
Life isn’t perfect. No matter how we visualize our dreams, reality often falls short of them. God gives us hopes and dreams and faith, but in our earth-based interpretations of these, we forget Paul’s statement in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We might believe in the “fairy-tale” gospel, that everything will be perfect, easy, with no conflict. But that isn’t the whole story. God works through all things to bring about the good in our lives. God prepares us in thick and thin for the future and purpose that God has prepared for each of us.
In a few weeks we will celebrate Thanksgiving. Some will gather around large tables, as I did last week, filled with friends and family. Others might sit at table with only their immediate family, while still others will go out to a restaurant to mark the occasion. However you celebrate Thanksgiving, why not take some time to consider the things in your life that have brought you to where you are today. A favorite song by Carole King says, “If you want to feel complete, don’t you know that you’ve got to take the bitter with the sweet.”
So look back, my friends, and ask God to remove the blinders of hurt and pain so you can serve God in all things. Thank God for the negative as well as the positive, because God does have a plan for you, and it is only fulfilled through the good and the bad as we seek to be like Jesus.
Mary Kay Glunt, Pastor
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church