Home for the Holidays
I’d never been homesick until I entered my freshman year of college, but boy howdy did I catch the bug, and I thought it was going to kill me. I missed my family so much that the four months before Christmas break seemed like an entire lifetime stretching out before me.
Because I was having a hard time eating in the cafeteria and then throwing up when I did, a close friend made me go see the nurse.
Mrs. Betz closed the door behind me and asked me to sit down. She didn’t pull out a thermometer or take my blood pressure. Instead she settled into a chair behind her desk and started asking a bunch of unrelated questions.
“Where are you from, Laura?”
“Um hm. Do you have brothers and sisters?”
“So you’re having trouble eating?” She switched the subject.
“Yeah, I feel sick every time I try to eat.”
“Are you homesick?” She switched the subject again.
As soon as she asked if I was homesick, tears started trickling down my face. “Yes,” I said, “but I don’t understand what that has to do with me not being able to eat.”
Mrs. Betz pulled a handful of soda crackers from her drawer and standing walked around the edge of her desk and perched on the front of it. She leaned forward and handed the crackers to me. “It’s called homesick because if you have it bad enough, you really do get sick,” she said. “Try eating crackers and small meals until you feel better; and you can come see me anytime, ok.” She hugged me before I joined my friends in the hallway. I explained to them that I was going to be fine because there wasn’t anything wrong with me; I was just homesick.
That first year was tough. I missed my family all the time, and as Thanksgiving loomed, I tried to steel myself for a holiday without them. In my mind I pictured the whole day – hearing the oven door creak open early in the morning and knowing that mom was already up and working on dinner, peeling potatoes, chopping celery, and cubing bread for the stuffing. Delicious smells would waft throughout the house as all of those wonderful things went in and out of the stove. The family would gather around the table, and we’d laugh and talk and eat, eat, eat. In the afternoon when the dishes were done, I’d go into the basement and take a nap next to the wood burning stove. Oh I missed home.
I spent Thanksgiving with my aunt in Iowa, and although not quite like home, it was nice. My cousins (all boys) dragged me outside for their annual Thanksgiving Day football game, and new memories were made.
Shortly before break finally came, I sang in my “away from home” church musical called “Home for Christmas.” During the last practice, I visualized myself being home. I could see everyone coming out onto the porch to greet me, saw myself stepping through the door, and felt the warmth of hugs from people who really loved me. Once again, the tears started dripping out of my eyes. I longed to be home.
These many years later, those homesick memories are oddly comforting and beautiful. My heart belonged to one place, and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. But four years at college changed things. I wasn’t as anxious to go home because I’d established a new home away from home.
The years tumble along faster and faster, and now I’m homesick for lots of places. I miss friends in places I’ve never even lived, and a little piece of my heart is still stuck back in Iowa. Seems like the longer I live, the more restless I feel, never quite satisfied with where I’m at.
Every now and then, I end up singing songs like “Homesick for Heaven” or “I’ve got a Longing to Go,” but I feel fake when I sing them. I’m not really missing heaven the way I should. In the honest depths of my heart, I like being here with my family and friends.
My brain has a tough time understanding how sublime heaven is going to be, and being homesick for a place I’ve never been isn’t the way our human minds are wired. We don’t fully understand how at peace we’ll be and that once we arrive, we wouldn’t ever go back. Every emotion will be completely fulfilled, and we will have no longings to be elsewhere. When we finally enter heaven’s gates and see Jesus for the first time, we will be finally and forever 100% home.
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” John 14:3