We've heard all the famous quotes like "All hearts go home," "Home is where the heart is" and "You can't go home again." That last one can be confusing or a little scary. As warm and fuzzy as thoughts of childhood, family roots and past joys can be, some things may be best forgotten. But home tugs at us, especially when it's been a long time since the last visit.
Recently my wife and I decided to take a weekend trip back to my hometown of Rockford, Ill. This month marks 35 years since we bravely moved westward to San Diego, a couple of young newlyweds eager to begin a new job and raise a family. We've gone back occasionally over the years, but it's been a while.
As we drove around the old neighborhoods and pointed out the sights, I caught myself saying things like, "There's where such-and-such company used to be in business, but it's been closed for years." Or, "My high school is now a middle school" and "look how rundown things have gotten around here." As much as I loved growing up in that city, in the late 1950s and '60s especially, I always had a keen sense of anticipation. I imagined great new additions and opportunities. Recessions and other pressures put a stop to those dreams and reality set in.
Rockford still has many fine attributes, but the side of town where I grew up is looking increasingly forgotten. Still, the empty buildings and landmarks reminded me of the life they once held and good memories gone by. Cities rise and fall, plans fizzle, but the spirit remains.
This visit touched me in ways I didn't expect, and I suspect it has to do with the issue of mortality. The city is older and needs more care and attention. So do our family members. My parents are aging, still youthful and vibrant, yet the years don't lie and the aches and pains come more frequently. Hey, I'm feeling them, too.
I kept thinking of time and relationships, remembering loved ones who are now gone, though seem connected to me every day.
Blessings and restoration
Visiting my Dad at Lake Geneva, I again recalled how far we've come since he and my Mom split up. We stay in touch more than ever, and I love that. God does great work, restoring us… if we are tuned in to needs and let him do it.
My stepdad stepped in and married my mother at a crucial time in our lives, and for that we're always grateful. He's worked like a warhorse over the years and now his body hurts and doesn't perform as well (though he often works like he's still 27). The good news is that he's tenacious enough to live many more years, Lord willing. And Mom has guided us more than she'll ever know.
Going back brought me home to the fact that my parents are pushing 80 or a little past it. And I'm 55 with adult kids. My uncle (another important father figure in our family) took me aside one evening and said something about counting on us to take it from here. In other words, our generation needs to become venerable next-in-line family leaders as the seasons of life change.
Time of reconnecting
During our visit, my Mom wanted us to visit her Sunday School class before the worship service—but not until we dropped by the First Evangelical Free Church's "Special Ministries" group, ministering to those with disabilities.
There was Grace, the group leader, longtime church drama writer and wife to Glenn Johnson. When I was a kid in that church, they were ministering to Americans working for a big oil company in Saudi Arabia, where Glenn was a chaplain. I always looked up to them, and do today. I also thought of other missionaries who inspired me through those years, serving in exotic places like China and Africa. We should all strive to have their passion for service to God.
In the Sunday School class, the average age was around that of my parents. So many of their friends have passed on now, but several familiar faces took me back to years gone by. Some folks I hadn't seen in 20 or 30 years. Faces have changed, but their spirit demonstrated they are more alive than ever, as evidenced by stories being shared and prayer requests that were offered. These were the personalities woven through the early years of my life, and I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for the roles they all played in making me who I am today. I remain so encouraged after hearing them sharing what God has done in their lives, through the good times and bad.
Seizing the baton
Going home again can be a matter of going through the motions to please others, or it can be a time of reflection, reconciliation and renewal.
As we headed for the airport in Chicago, I couldn't stop thinking about how it's now "our turn" to take the baton from our elders in this life on earth, helping to start easing their loads. Through the process, I pray to have their energy, sense of caring and an ongoing connection to God, making it possible to keep striving for the goal and to finish the race, strong.
Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. He can be heard daily in San Diego on KCBQ 1170AM from 6 to 9 a.m., and on KPRZ 1210AM from 2 to 4 p.m. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published, June 2011