Bring your scattered people home.
When we sing our heritage hymn Bring Us Home, I cry. Maybe not as much as Pastor Tim, but I cry. I first sang the song at Seattle First Baptist years ago with a stirring accompaniment and descant written by organist Dick Woodruff. These days I look forward to singing the song on Homecoming Sunday. Jim G and I chose to sing it at our wedding. And every time we sing it, I cry. Why?
Perhaps it’s because I’ve struggled with the concept of home my entire life. It has so many layers of meaning. At times it’s been no more than the spot where I currently am sleeping – I’ve even referred to our tent as home when we’re out backpacking. It can mean the place I live, like my first house on 35th Avenue in West Seattle. Initially I thought of that place as home, but ultimately couldn’t stand the noise and the location. No tears were shed when I sold it and moved on.
My struggle might be due to never feeling truly at home as a child. I was born in Montana and we moved to rural Washington State when I was nine years old. I never liked our house there – located on a state highway and surrounded by agricultural businesses and potato fields. I moved to Bellingham to attend college, and never even considered moving back.
My parents also seemed to struggle to find home. They were married in Minnesota and started their family in a farming community there, but after 10 years they packed up and moved to Montana. The reason isn’t totally clear. Some say it was for Mom’s health. Others claim she couldn’t stand her mother-in-law. And some point out that those two reasons are not incompatible with each other. Whatever the reason, they moved, and a decade or so later they moved west again to Washington.
My parents finally found home after all us kids moved out. They bought a small house in town and were happy living there for nearly 20 years - longer than anywhere else. Mom especially loved it. It was her sanctuary, her place of belonging, her home.
But one day it couldn’t be any more. Mom’s dementia was to the point where she needed near-constant supervision, and Dad, already in his 80s, couldn’t keep up with her any more. He could no longer prevent the burners being left on, the pumpkin pie made with salt instead of sugar, the casseroles with too many or too few ingredients and then burned forgotten in the oven. At Dad’s insistence they sold the house and moved into an assisted-living apartment nearby.
Mom was never at home again. She grew to tolerate the apartment, but she always talked about moving back home to her house. As her dementia worsened she needed even more care, and when she died it was in a small room in a locked ward. Not at home.
So what is home anyway, and why do I cry when we sing about it?
For me, home is not necessarily a physical location. It’s more of a convergence zone or a state of being. It’s where I find welcome, acceptance, freedom, safety, and most of all love. Home is where I can be honest about who I am, even on days when I’m not exactly sure who that is. Home is where I belong, no matter what is going on around me.
I’ve certainly been scattered during my life, physically, psychically, and spiritually. But these days I am thankful that I often feel at home. I am at home in the house I share with Jim G and our dog Otto. I feel at home at Seattle First Baptist. And some days I am even home while hiking through a mountain pass or riding bike on a quiet country road.
I am home when we sing together:
Bring us home on love’s renewing tide
To the place of our belonging
Bring us home to your redeeming side
Bring your scattered people home.
I have to stop writing now. I’m having difficulty seeing with these tears in my eyes.
Note: Bring Us Home by Rodney R. Romney is one of Seattle First Baptist’s heritage hymns.