There’s something about the Holiday season that makes us treasure home a little more. While the summer is filled with plans after plans to get as far away from home as possible or spend the most amount of time outside or at a friend’s house, the holidays bring us back. We decorate, adorn, nestle in, and find a cozy spot on the couch next to the tree. The holidays make us recognize what’s around us, sometimes reflecting on what’s changed in the year, sometimes being grateful for another year. It makes us see home as a place and a part of us, rather than just part of the mundane of life. It sheds a little light on why our ordinary is actually special.
This idea of home, especially around the holidays has changed for me a good deal in my lifetime. I grew up in one house I can barely remember until I turned 4 then we moved into what I consider my “childhood home”. It was an old house built in 1900 on a street in southern Virginia where trees that filled the median were each dedicated to local WWII heroes. There was even a cannon at the end of that road, Mount Vernon Avenue. Our house was brick, three bricks deep actually in each and every wall. It had blue shutters and lots of little quirks because of its age that were just normal to me like having a small kitchen attached to the kitchen called a “butler’s kitchen” and an extra cellar attached to the unfinished basement (note: this was where we stored our gallons and gallons of water to prepare for Y2K, but if you’re reading this, you probably don’t even know what that was.) The upstairs hallway of that house was so wide we called it “bowling ally” and we loved to run and slide down it in our socks. Occasionally, though, nails would come up out of the boards in the floor, yet at only 6 or 7 years old this didn’t phase me. It was normal for me to pick up the hammer we kept at the top of the stairs for this very reason and hammer that nail back down.
221 Mount Vernon Avenue in all of its quirkiness and grandeur was home. It was where parents of friends dropped me off and I never had to give them directions. All of our neighbors called it “the Dalton house” and it was. It was the porch where I took pictures before my first dance recital dressed as a bumble bee, it was the back yard where I learned how to play basketball, it was the driveway where my brother infamously made it onto America’s Funniest Home Videos, it was the back deck where my birthday parties were held, it was the laundry room where I learned how to do laundry. It was home. But then it wasn’t.
Then there were moving trucks and boxes. There was newness and change and so much to be done. That was November and Christmas came quickly. That Christmas just felt different and I knew all the ones to follow would be different. I didn’t live at home anymore. I didn’t really know what home was anymore. We transitioned from that house full of history to a brand new one and as I think about that was pretty symbolic of the move my family was taking. Both my mom and dad’s families had lived in that small town of Danville, Virginia for as long as anyone could remember. My parents and their parents and theirs had a deep history in that town, a name for themselves, deep deep roots, and we were beginning totally new. It was kind of earth shattering for my little 11 year old heart. That Christmas was the hardest.
I went up to Virginia a week early to spend time with friends to muster up the closest feeling of home I could find, but it just felt like it was gone. I remember deeply resonating with Cindy-Lou-who on How the Grinch Stole Christmas singing, “Where are you Christmas? Why can’t I find you? Why have you turned away? My world is changing. I’m rearranging. Does that mean Christmas changes too?”
Yes, Cindy-Lou-who. It does.
It felt like Christmas lost its magic and in a way it had. Because when you don’t have a sense of home, you don’t have a place to wake up excited for the magic of a special day. We were barely even sure which room to have our tree in. It didn’t feel right to not have my cousins who lived around the corner come over around lunch so we could all play with each other’s toys. If anything, Christmas just made it all the more real that the home I had always known would be gone.
But somehow things changed as they have a way of doing. And the new house in South Carolina became home. I missed having the comfort of being known and having grown up with people my whole life, but I began to feel at home. Somewhere between club volleyball tournaments, chorus performances at school, mission trips at church, and all the times in between, the friends I made here became home for me. The small group of girls I met with each Sunday night from 7th-12th grade on a couch where someone was always drinking coffee. Home. The school where I became friends on my first day with a girl who had cried and prayed for a best friend the night before. Home. The girls ministry associate at my church who I soon realized I had everything in common with and soon became my sister. Home.
But as things have a way of doing, it was time for change. So I found myself again moving south to a tiny little town called Rome, Georgia. The largest college campus tucked far up in the hills of Georgia had captivated my heart. There were building that looked like castles and I knew I would one day call it home. But that scared me. I knew what it was like for home to change. But once I was there touring on campus, my fears of college went away and I knew it was where I was supposed to be.
I quickly made friends on campus and loved my school but never imagined the way that little town could wrap its way around my heart. Rome doesn’t have too much to it and it’s often hard to find a place if you haven’t been there forever, but I love it so very deeply to the point I have to stop myself from reading the Newspaper in line at the local coffee shop when its my turn to order. In my first few years, I always imagined Rome to just be a transition. I knew it would always be special to me, but I never knew what it would become. Home.
I began working with girls at my Church and my advisor from Berry also went to my Church. I remember the first time I went to an event with other girls at that church. It felt like the first time I could stop being a student, stop trying to be cool, and just let my guard down. Though it was my very first time in that beautiful loft apartment downtown that once belonged to Mary Magoni I knew the feeling that met me there- home. And it hasn’t left.
Last week I hosted a baby shower full of ladies from that very church. I sat in my living room- the living room of a house I am able to rent because a couple from that church moved to Kenya to be missionaries that own that house and all of the ladies filled my home. Ladies whose daughters I had known while I worked in youth and would often see as I would sit by myself in church, but ladies in the past few months who have come to feel like family to me. The room was full of laughter and celebration that my friend Mary who first made me feel at home was about to welcome baby Claire into the world. There was food and coffee and games but I was just overwhelmed with that feeling. That familiarity. That fullness. That sense of home.
I’ve known since I was 11 that home isn’t a place. I think I got it when I learned that the “Church” wasn’t a building. And that feeling has met me in the oddest of places.
One in particular is in my favorite TV Show- Gilmore Girls. I remember the first time I ever watched an episode of Gilmore Girls. It was the episode when Lorelai is making Rory’s prom dress and the mannequin she is working on falls on top of her. It was one of the first times I found myself instantly lost in a show. I had seen 2 minutes of it, but I was instantly laughing out loud and deeply invested. This love continued on a daily basis. I would come home from school and work on homework while watching Full House, but at 5:00 I knew Gilmore Girls would come on. I started receiving the DVD sets for each Christmas and would watch all the episodes in order as I was falling asleep every night. I sometimes feel like I know Lorelai and Rory’s stories better than my own, as I would revisit them every day and spend any sick days or mental health days doing the same- watching Gilmore Girls. I remember when I first came to interview for the WinShape College Program at Berry and I walked into the room where I would stay for the night with a girl that would later become my small group leader. “You have Gilmore girls!” was maybe the fist thing I said. And I knew I could be at home with them.
This year, 8 years after the show’s last season, Gilmore Girls came back together to make 4 episodes. As the music played, the sights shown of Stars Hollow, Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel’s banter became audible, and cups of coffee were poured I began to cry because something about those seven seasons in Stars Hollow and the bond between Lorelai and Rory were that very thing for me- home. They had seen me through the transition from Virginia to South Carolina, from South Carolina to college, and through my life crumpling to pieces for the last year. That’s what home is. It’s constant. And in an ever changing world sometimes home takes on a very strange from- like a TV Show.
But this sense of home met me in an even stranger place. In a hospital waiting room on what I think was a Monday night. We were sitting in the Critical Cardiac Unit lobby and most of the other patient’s families had gone home or been transferred to the heart floor but we were still there and had been since the Wednesday before when my Dad had his heart attack. He had been unconscious all week and we had stayed closely by his side, praying for his every breath, pulse, rhythm, blood pressure, and whatever I could muster up the strength to understand and pray for. It was traumatic, exhausting, heart wrenching, and just made it feel like time had stopped. We had tried to take him off sedation and wake him up the day before, but it didn’t work. So on this day, we were doing brain scans to hear back essentially whether or not I had my Daddy anymore, if it was just a responding body on a ventilator with no brain activity or if it was a long road of recovery ahead if my Daddy’s brain was in tact. They had done the tests and we were waiting for a neurologist to come and tell us the results. This honestly should have been the hardest time of waiting in my whole life, but that feeling met me there again.
We sat in the lobby as the sun set outside the window, a window I hadn’t really noticed at all before that week. Someone had brought us dinner and we ate well. We had been so blessed that week. I watched as friends who are really family from our church and various other friends sat around with us in various pockets. I was with my friend Emily Wyatt and our friend Tonya Bryson. Our youth pastor was there. Andrew’s high school best friend was there. Countless people. People we didn’t have to be anything with but just loved us and the air was light. It just felt warm. My youth pastor took a video panning the rom because there was just something about it. I kept saying it felt like Sunday lunch after church with all of your family because that was really what it was like. It was a little piece of home.
If I have learned anything, it’s that home isn’t a place or a person and it’s not just one place or one person. It’s not a place where everything is right or magical or easy. It’s a feeling and a presence. It’s a warmth amidst the hardest days and a safe place amidst the scariest. A real home isn’t somewhere you post on Pinterest about how well it’s decorated. A real home is somewhere you are always met with undeserved warmth and love of being seen and known. A real home is a sense that you belong, you’re safe, and things will be just like this for a little while, amidst a world where our plans disappoint us and let us down. And that home becomes real for us, when we first allow ourselves to need it.