In December, I went with my school choir to sing in a woman’s correctional facility. We entered the red brick building, surrendered our licenses, got stamped, and walked through the metal detector. From there we were taken from one locked room to another and dumped out into a yard surrounded by high, barbed-wire-topped fences. Walking through the cold wind, we passed inmates in burgundy, broad cloth uniforms. Then, we entered the building we were to sing in, signed papers, warmed up, and found a standing arrangement. The ladies began to pour in, and they were so beautiful—pixie faces, curly hair, warm and tired eyes.
I wondered then, as I wonder now, why I got to be on this side of the fence. Why did I get raised in a home with healthy fences that helped me to make good choices? Why didn’t they?
We sang many songs that night and most of them were arrangements of carols. “In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.” We sang songs of peace “Sleep, sleep, sleep, sweet Jesus softly sleep” and “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed.” Their tears started falling than, smudging mascara around those tired beautiful eyes. What memories did these strains stir? Did they ever have a real home?
What does it mean to them, these words? “Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay Close by me forever and love me I pray.” I walked away from those sisters behind bars, and they had to stay. I went home for Christmas—that bungalow at the end of the street with a fireplace and large kitchen table and a bed that’s mine. I wonder if they found some home there. Do they feel safe and loved, with the freedom to be crabby and know that they’ll still find love when they cheer up?
It’s an incredible gift, this thing we call home. One friend talks of the warm stove she and her siblings raced to sit on in the mornings, and another tells of rising early to lay by their woodstove and listen to his dad pull his boots on. Others talk about their people—the brother who teased them and the mother who sang folk songs to them. It’s all warm and tender and ordinary.
Except in a world with a broken heart, it’s not ordinary at all.
Is a home a place or the people there? I say both. It’s a place where we know where to find all that we need (the place with leftovers in the fridge and a well-worn pillow). It’s a place where we come trusting that it’s safe to be ourselves. It’s a place secure from the world for she’s cruelly lashing out of her broken heart. It’s a place where people live who love us with an undeserved faithfulness, and we love them to. For me, home has an address in a little town, too small for even a post office. Yet I’m also realizing in my life as an international student that home can have temporary addresses. It’s the simple comforts and people that make it home.
I want to be a person that people “come home to.” I want people to know I’ll forgive them for being cranky and irrational. I want people to be able to trust me enough to tell me all or to just be silent with me. Most of all, I want people to realize that the home they see in me only reflects the work of the Father Who is calling us all home.