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FIRST-PERSON: Home for the holidays

DEL CITY, Okla. (BP)–Some time ago, my wife and I drove down to Warren, Ark., where I preached my aunt’s funeral, saw the old “home place” and did a lot of reminiscing. That’s where I started out at my first church, and it was in that family environ that I learned the important lessons of life regarding faith, truthfulness, work, honesty, perseverance and loyalty. Now only one of the 11 children remain alive; one more library is closed up forever to this world and heaven is more real than ever. But I can say with my mother who remarked when she saw her home place shortly before her own death, “There’s that place I love so much!”

We went out to the cemetery where all my kinfolks are buried and there we placed my aunt’s earthly tent back in the soil from which it came. Her grandparents were the first to settle the area. We wandered around, straightened the flowers on my mother’s grave and tried again to breathe in a renewed appreciation for our heritage. But as we drove away, leaving the red clay and tall pines behind, I had a certain sense of sadness. My own grandchildren know only of that place through the stories I tell.

After the graveside service, we drove the few miles back to Emmaus church where most of my kinfolks worshiped, attended brush arbor meetings the second week in August, tarried down at the mourner’s bench and found Christ. When I say most, I am referring to at least four generations including my own mother and her sister whose funeral I was conducting.

Actually the church as I first remember it is now gone. It was situated in the fork of two dirt roads, with its large windows and high steps leading inside, where it was lighted originally with coal oil lamps and heated with a pot-bellied stove which was removed in the summer. My grandfather was almost totally deaf and would place a ladder-backed chair about five feet directly in front of the preacher, cross his legs and hold his hand up to his ear. Pretty intimidating to those young preachers, I’d think, because he was a true Bible scholar. The tall oaks in the front have become enormous and no longer anchor the rough boards which comprised the table for dinners on the ground.

Now they have a small brick auditorium and an air-conditioned “fellowship hall.” And there’s no need to fix the revival date for the second week in August in order to fit in with the revival schedules of the surrounding churches; most of those churches have long since been closed, boarded up or torn down, with timber groves crowding out the evidence of their former glory. All that remains are a few weed-covered and sagging fences behind which are a few gravestones.

Years ago, the home place was sold to a relative when my aunt moved to a retirement center. Actually she asked if I wanted to buy it, but I didn’t have the means back then. Anyway, it stood as the center of our lives for so many years, and I lived there for weeks in the summer and again on weekends while I pastored my first church in a nearby town. All 10 of my mother’s brothers and sisters were reared there, not a cull in the bunch, all serving God as are their own children to this day.

After the funeral meal, Jeannie and I left early telling folks we had a long trip back home. But we couldn’t leave without turning down that meandering dirt road, past where the sorghum mill once stood, then past the blacksmith shop which has since tumbled down. Turning the corner where the Sanders lived, the house came in full view under the giant oaks and sweet gums down the road. Yes, there was that place I love so much!

As we were making our way back to the highway, I was surprised to see several carloads of my cousins turning down the same road. They were doing as we had done, driving down to the home place to get another glance and pay respects at the shrine where so many of their memories were born. I started to go back with them but I had already done my share of crying for the day and our own home was calling.

It was a strangely silent seven-hour drive home. I was lost in my thoughts most of the time. It occurred to me that what really made that home place so special was the family that lived and worked and prayed there. Now they are in another home. I haven’t even seen it, but it is becoming a growing attraction to me. I know that one day, in a blink of an eye, I’ll turn the corner and say “There’s that home I love so much!” And when I get to the end of that road, the house will be filled with my family members. And the reunion dinner and the fellowship will just go on, and on, and on, with no one saying, “Well, we better head out. It’s getting dark and we’ve got a long trip ahead of us. You kids kiss everybody goodbye.” No, there’s no trip ahead for any of us. We’ll all be home.

In the meantime, Jeannie and I want our home to be a blessing to our family just as my mother’s was to hers. And there’s no better time than the present to make it so. Why not determine that, this Christmas, you will do everything necessary to make yours a home filled with the joy and love of Christ. It won’t cost you anything but the effort. And your family will never forget it. I promise!
From Tom Elliff’s soon-to-be-released book, “Seven Pillars of a Kingdom Family.” Elliff is chairman of the SBC Council on Family Life which, in conjunction with LifeWay Christian Resources and the SBC Pastors’ Conference, is hosting the Kingdom Family Rally Monday night, June 16, 2003, in Phoenix, just prior to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

    About the Author

  • Tom Elliff