It’s been a hard few days. The past few days…maybe two weeks…have been some of the most difficult of my life. This will be a very revealing post and I am doing it because the spiritual lesson is worth the cost of the openness it takes to express it. Deep down, I’m okay. So please, no concerned phone calls or emails. I’m really okay.
Four and a half years ago, in the height of the mortgage industry collapse, I lost my home. It wasn’t fancy but it was exactly the home I wanted. Large enough for me and Morgan, acreage, a large garage / workshop for my hobbies. A big garden like my uncle Franny has, a country setting 20 minutes from town. It was what I’d always wanted. We had two Springer Spaniels, and a cat, and Morgan had a pony. It was the only thing since my divorce that brought me some real happiness and a sense of achievement.
In my second book, “Nowhere to Lay My Head”…I answered the question “What is a Home?” in this way.
“Have you ever been on a vacation or an extended business trip and been away from your home for a long time? Do you remember that feeling when you walked through the front door after a long absence? The feeling that your home actually greets you somehow.
Later, when you turn down the sheets on your own bed and climb in and bury yourself beneath your covers, and smell the signature smell of your pillow, you know you are truly home. I lost that emotional connection when I lost my home to the mortgage meltdown.
It wasn’t an investment gone awry. It was my home. It was a safe haven for my daughter and me. It was where I could find my way around in the dark because I knew it so well.
It was where my heart could pull into a safe harbor and anchor until the hurricane passed. That is what I lost. …and that is what I hope to convey.”
I opened that book with that statement, and I am referring to it today because I am thinking about those days again. I lost that house on January 27, 2007. I had lived there almost four years. It was my safe place. It was where I could go to escape from the pressures of the world…and the memories of a broken marriage and the failed dreams that come with that. It was were I was rebuilding my life again. It was where I could hear the click of the latch when I walked in at night and the sound somehow meant the wolves had to stay on the other side of the door…at least for the night. I could sink down into my favorite chair, turn on the TV or read a book…or write one. I could tend my garden or tend the horse or photograph deer and turkey or go for a walk in my woods. It had nooks and crannies I could find in the dark. My kitchen smelled like my grandmothers “red gravy” and my clothes smelled like fresh air…because I am probably the only 6’ 4” 250lbs former college hockey player who likes to hang out his laundry.
It was my one special place in Tennessee. I have special places back home…Battery Park, The Vet, CBP, Beaver Valley, Ocean City MD, The Chesapeake…but in Tennessee, after (at that point) 10 years of residence…this home was my only “special place”. That was enough for me. I loved my workshop, where I made furniture or tuned up my car. I loved those two Springers dearly. I loved Giacomo…the cat that convinced me that cats were cool. I loved having Morgan there on alternate weekends and making popcorn on Friday nights and watching Cartoon Network, strawberry pancakes on Saturday mornings, and Nonna’s gravy on Sundays. The only time I didn’t love that house was Sunday night when I came back after dropping her off at her mom’s.
I loved spending two hours cutting the grass on my riding mower. I loved doing repairs and remodeling. I loved that garden. I think I’m a little like Uncle Franny in that way. Mostly…I just loved having a real home. A place where I was safe and could be myself.
That was gone on January 27, 2007.
In the four years that have come and gone, I rented for one year and then when my former company reduced their branches and I got closed down, I couldn’t renew the lease and I was homeless. That was May 2008. In the 3 and a half years since then…40 months…I have slept in my car about 20 of them. It’s more humiliating than I can express to you. It’s a wounding thing and it takes your pride and your self esteem. You pretty much have to lie about it to avoid the embarrassment.
It’s fair to ask “Where were your friends?” Well, it’s like this. (A) You’d have to tell me how you define friendship for me to answer that. As I define it, I don’t have that many here. I won’t even attempt to explore that. But it’s not strictly because people are unfriendly. (B) I had offers from people to “crash on the couch” but the problem is, everyone will tell you “You stay as long as you need to” but the economy being what it is, and jobs being impossible to find for so long…that can be a very long time. I knew I wouldn’t want someone crashing on my couch for months on end…so I politely refused the few offers I did get. If it was dangerously cold I would do it for a day or two. But mostly I just did what I had to do to get through it alone. I’m not going to be delving into this any further because this post isn’t about any of that. But I wanted to set the stage…
I returned to the carpentry business recently. It was out of necessity but I am very happy that I did. I love the craft. I am happy in a job where I can create and then see the finished product. I have been staying with a friend so I haven’t been truly “homeless”…not in the conventional sense. I am going apartment shopping this week. It’s not my house and five acres in the country…but it’s going to be home for the first time in four years. And that’s the real topic today…
Jesus said “Birds have nests, foxes have dens…but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head”. (Luke 8:9) That’s where I took the title for my second book from. I remember when I was first homeless and sleeping in the car…it hit me that Jesus was homeless too. Only He had chosen this lifestyle. His Father’s plan was for Him to be a wanderer and a vagabond. He was really homeless.
Go back and re-read my description of homelessness and then picture, (if you can) the Son of God living like that. Sleeping in a fishing boat shivering in the night, wrapped in stinky fishing nets to try to stay warm. Sleeping where he could, eating what He could, bathing when he could. That was God.
I don’t like to be where I am staying, except when I go to bed. I’m just weird that way…I feel like a guest and I don’t like that feeling. So I am up at 5AM, I go to the rec center to workout and shower, I go to Fedex office to do my homework and then I am on the jobsite by 8. I work until dark, go to the rec center to shower again (sawdust is irritating…but manly) and do homework until about 10PM. On rainy days…when I used to be sitting in my living room reading or writing or watching TV or even taking a nap…I drive around, looking for a place to go to kill time. I get homework done, but what I really want is to put my feet up, make a cup of coffee in MY kitchen, watch MY TV or do whatever. I want a safe haven. And I don’t have one.
Neither did Jesus. In his 3 and a half years of ministry, he had no place to call home. The verse I quoted translates “The Son of Man has no place to take His rest”. That’s what a home is. A place to rest. To recharge. To repair your broken dreams or celebrate your victories. A place to hear the snap of the latch and know in your heart you are safe for the night…the problems of the day can’t come inside. Home is the smell of your pillow on your bed. I haven’t slept in my own bed in four years. I don’t even own one anymore. I moved into my dorm at age 20, into my own apartment at 23 and never lived at home again, except for one 6 week period. In 25 years of owning my own beds, I never thought about it once. Now I think about it all the time. I was in Sam’s club about 3 months ago and they had mattresses on display right up front. Normally they are off to the side, but they were running a sale and they were moved to the front of the store. I was walking around just absorbing the air conditioning on a hot afternoon and I came across those mattresses and in a split second I had hot tears burning in my eyes. I was in tears before I even understood why. Then it hit me…mattresses. I want to sleep in my own bed again.
Maybe it’s knowing that I am almost in a place of my own again…I don’t know. Maybe it’s the feeling that some of this horrible nightmare of the last four years is finally ending, that makes it safe to touch the things I’ve buried in my heart since it began. But the past few weeks…maybe the past few months…have been overwhelming. I’ve felt all the losses I had been denying or ignoring. I drove past my old house a few weeks ago. I had to pull over and cry. That was my home. I don’t have one anymore. I haven’t had a kitchen in 4 years. (It’s one thing to rent a room and have “kitchen privileges” but it’s another to be a gourmet cook and have them. It’s like owning a boat and having “bathtub privileges” you can take a bath but you cant put your boat in there) I haven’t had a refrigerator or that Bunn coffeemaker I keep in storage. I haven’t seen those dogs since August of 2008 when I gave them up along with the cat. And I haven’t tucked Morgan into a bed in my house since then either. I feel so lost without a home base. It has made me miserable and grouchy and sometimes even vicious. If you got caught in that grinder I apologize. If you are one of those who would try to spiritualize the way I handled my suffering, and told me I was doing it wrong…I have words for you that I can’t print here.
Now that I’ve painted this picture for you, let’s return to the unbelievable, incredible, unfathomable fact that Jesus chose to live as I have lived. And while I spent four years trying to find my way out…He purposefully remained there. He lived this lonely, isolating, tiring life. Make no mistake…there is no rest when you are homeless. There is truly nowhere to lay your head. You drift and wander and it is tiring, because you can’t stop moving. Jesus lived like that. Jesus…God in the flesh…roamed and wandered and survived. When he needed friends, they mostly failed him. When he needed solace and solitude, He was hemmed in by the crowd most of the time. When He needed sleep, He collapsed in the bow of a boat and was so tired he slept through a turbulent storm that had his disciples…all experienced fisherman…scared out of their wits. He was often hungry…often dirty…probably smelly from time to time…and He was restless. He had no “favorite place” No comfortable chair to sink into at the end of a tiring day. No favorite glass for his iced tea or mug for his coffee. He couldn’t get up in the night and get some food from the refrigerator. He couldn’t stay inside on a rainy day and think and rest and recharge. He had to roam and wander and keep moving…because He had no home.
Before the more spiritual amongst you reminds me “He had a home in heaven…” I will tell you that is true…but Jesus was a man as much as he was God. And the man Jesus needed a home like we all do. That’s why he referenced his homelessness to that rich young ruler. Brennan Manning calls this “The loneliest verse in the Bible”, and it is. Jesus did this so we would understand that He understands. I have been overwhelmed lately…and I mean overwhelmed, swept away in a tsunami it seems…of hurt and grief for all that I lost four years ago. Maybe God permitted me to be tough and hard about it until now, just so I’d survive it. Maybe He let me “go into shock” and have huge sections of my heart go numb, so I could get all the way through it. This summer…when a job finally emerged after 3 years and then when it became a reality that I will graduate college in May, and now that I will be able to get my own place again…the scab came off and the wound reopened. I have lost four precious years of overnight stays with Morgan…years I can’t get back. I have shivered in the dark more nights than I can remember. I have lied about where I was living to avoid my embarrassment, in those days before I even had a room to sleep in. My heart has aged more than my 48 years. I have seen a lot and I am tired. Thankfully I will have somewhere to rest very soon. But Jesus…the very Son of God…never did in all his days on earth. He died a homeless man and was raised a homeless Savior. He ascended to His rightful home in Heaven, but here…he had none. He was a man of no reputation, and He chose this life for me…and you. If you fear Him, or you are threatened by some misconception of His posture or his personality…remember He was a homeless vagabond who found no rest at all while he lived in this world. So he understands that so many of us are just like that…even if we do have a place to live. He understands the pain we feel and the sorrows that go along with living on earth. And when those hurts of humanity ganged up on Him and he would have liked to have gone inside and shut the door and propped his feet up and relaxed for an afternoon, He never once had that option. He slept out in the open, or in the Temple courtyard or in the olive grove. He knew how people could disappoint each other and hurt each other and at the end of a long day, when you and I would be going home to leave it all behind until tomorrow…He had no place to do that. He had nowhere to lay His head. And He did this on purpose. The next time you are wary of His presence, remember he endured this humbling, crushing, lonely life of ours to a degree many of us never will…and he did it just so we would understand, that He understands. Come as you are…to the man of no reputation.