No Matter How Far We Fly, We Always Belong to Our Family

A home is built over moments and years, in ways often hidden behind the imperfections and mundaneness of it all.

‘Nest’
‘Nest’ (photo: Bachkova Natalia / Shutterstock)

The excitement in the house was palpable from the moment the kids first woke up in the morning. My daughter was flying in from Michigan that afternoon for Thanksgiving break, after having been away for three months, the longest we’d gone without seeing her. People sometimes assume that kids get lost in the shuffle in a large family but that has not been my observation in our home. From the day my daughter first left for college last year, she was missed and thought of each and every day.

So needless to say, by the time my daughter arrived home from the airport, a “Welcome Home” sign had been carefully and lovingly made and taped to the door by her 7-year-old sister, and my 2-year-old son had spent his day running around the house saying, “I so excited Anna coming home!” Even my 19-year-old son had texted me while we were en route to the airport to say he was so excited to see his sister.

These reunions are truly one of the sweetest parts of a particularly bittersweet aspect of motherhood — having grown children who spread their wings and fly away. One moment everyone is piled onto the couch with fruit snacks watching The Wiggles, and the next you’re planning some of their favorite meals for a rare and precious visit home. Those days of sippy cups and visits to the zoo and the library seem, in some ways, not so long ago — but in other ways, they seem like an eternity. Where has the time gone? my friends and I ask ourselves as our kids, one by one, slip (or charge) off to do other things. We live in that tension of being ever so happy for them and proud of their accomplishments, but at the same time missing their daily presence in the home.

Earlier this fall, I hosted a salon for my parish on this very subject — the Theology of the Home. (I was thrilled to have been invited to do this, because it’s something I’ve thought about a lot in recent years, particularly as my children have gotten older and my home has become a hub of activity for them and their friends.) So, over charcuterie and sangrias, we discussed all things related to the practice of hospitality, the need for beauty, and the gift we offer to God and the world when we seek to cultivate a warm, comfortable and life-giving space to welcome others. In our increasingly isolated, fragmented and digitally dominant culture, presence and conversation are so desperately needed and longed for. The bonds of friendship and community must be forged and strengthened over time spent face-to-face, in person.

And I think about this a lot — this incarnational approach to life where I can choose to make a conscious effort to be not only present to people, but to draw them into my very world, with all its domestic chaos (think small, noisy kids and busy teenagers perpetually going every which way) and real-life-ness. Doing the work of making the home a welcoming and inviting place, both aesthetically and relationally, is not superfluous, nor is it something for the subset of people who enjoy watching HGTV. On the contrary, it is a holy and worthwhile endeavor, with perhaps the greatest ramifications for our very own families, and especially the children who have set out to find their place in the world and are therefore here less, children who no longer live here full-time but who now, instead, “come home.” 

In her book This Beautiful Truth: How God’s Goodness Breaks Into Our Darkness, writer Sarah Clarkson refers to this attempt to create beauty and cultivate community as an act of “holy defiance” in a dark and broken world. This is, I think, true. When we look around and wonder how we might make an impact on the world around us, and when we feel so small and helpless, we must remember that God calls us to love and serve him right where he has placed us: within our community, within our parish, and most of all, within our own family. Through our small and simple efforts, we can create a home that is a place for growth, healing and grace, where love and laughter and beauty are present amid life’s troubles and setbacks. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus, serving one another and making a space that will endure long past a child’s high school graduation.

Within minutes of my husband and me picking my daughter up at the airport, I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. Over the obligatory on-the-way-home-from-the-airport lunch at In-N-Out Burger, we couldn’t share our respective stories fast enough, her with tales of friends we don’t know and school and us with the goings-on at home. Then there were the big hugs between siblings once we got back to the house, and she got to get her little brother up from his nap, and he wouldn’t let her out of his sight the entire time she was home. If there is one thing that was clear from her visit, it is that she still very much has a home and a place, and people who love her, here.

That is, I believe, what we all long for in the end. Enduring community, enduring love, enduring connection. We want to belong because, ultimately, we want to be deeply known. This is the long, slow, quiet work of being a family, the day-in-day-out tasks and duties and interactions, the seemingly meaningless greetings and encounters punctuated by occasional deeply connected moments, but which all somehow amount to a life lived together. A home is built over moments, days, years, in ways you absolutely cannot see at the time for the imperfections and sheer mundaneness of it all. But then one day you’ll get a small glimpse, when your daughter comes home for the first time in three months and suddenly appears at your 2-year-old’s crib side, and he looks up in awe and says her name.

Cardinal-elect Víctor Manuel Fernández was appointed by Pope Francis on July 1, 2023, to become the next prefect for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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