“Home for the Holidays”?

I woke this morning to the sounds of “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays” playing on the radio. That has been my dilemma for a while now. What is home? Where is it? Is it a place, or a feeling?

For many people, “home” means where their family is. My parents died almost twenty years ago, and the rest of my family isn’t kind. I tried spending Christmas with my aunt for a while and that just didn’t work out. I was always the “Tennessee cousin” – always in the way, always left out. I felt like I was crashing a party. There were a few members of the family who made space for me and seemed to understand who I am, and for them I am grateful. But it wasn’t enough to make it worth the drive, and the constant travelling to visit every other member of that extended family on that day was overwhelming to me.

Now that I’m married, “home” could mean my parent’s in law. I’ve faked it for years, but it just isn’t what I need. They mean well, but it isn’t quite the gathering that makes me feel the peace that I associate with the birth of Christ.

This past month it has been extra awkward, and if you’ve been following along you’ll know what I’m talking about. Just thinking about going over there is bringing back that old feeling that I’d almost forgotten – dread. I thought that my hernia was acting up – but no, that’s the feeling I get in my stomach when I am very anxious about something. It is a sharp, scary pain. It is the kind of pain that curls me over into a fetal position. It is the kind of pain that stops me in my tracks. The last time I had it was in my first year of college. I was away from home, in a dorm room, no friends, no car, no idea what I was doing.

That was about as un- “home” as possible.

If “home is where the heart is” then if there is no heart, no love, no peace, then that feeling crops up.

I’ve been meditating on this day for a month, after the whole Thanksgiving fracas. I talked to my spiritual director about this, and her take on it is that maybe God put me into this family to bring healing. Maybe I’m the Christ-bearer – that I need to bring Jesus into the situation. This doesn’t mean to preach to them. It means to be like Jesus. Calming. Peaceful. Compassionate. Loving.

The line from the 23rd Psalm has started coming to mind in the past few days. “You prepare a table for me in the midst of my enemies.”

This is not a vision of “home” that is particularly appealing. “Home” and “enemy” should not be in the same sentence. For many of us, it is. For many of us, “home” isn’t a place to run to, it is a place to run from. For many of us, at the holidays we remember why we left home in the first place.

So what is “home”? Home to me is where I can be myself. Home is where my husband is. It is where I can spend all day in my jammies, making jewelry or reading, stretched out on the couch in the sunlight. Maybe a nap will be involved. Maybe a walk around the block. Home is peaceful, and quiet, and calm. Home isn’t full of sound and noise and people. It certainly isn’t full of drama.

I’ve been doing the math on Christmas this year and trying to figure out what I can handle if I go over to my in-law’s house. Go, but leave early? How early is too early? Don’t talk about certain topics? Put on a brave face? Don’t talk to a certain family member who always likes to argue, especially about faith?

I really can’t handle being around someone who speaks ill of my faith on my holiday.

I can handle it any other time. I understand. I have a lot of the same issues with Christianity. I dislike the hypocrisy. I dislike the fact that the church has become something other, something where I can’t see Jesus for all the administration and bureaucracy. Sometimes “church” is more “crazy” than Christ-like. But on Christian holidays I really can’t take the criticism.

It is like I’ve invited someone over to my house, shared my special toys with them, and then they throw them down and stomp on them. It is rude. It is childish. It is thoughtless.

So, “Home for the Holidays”? I’d rather stay at home. But I’m expected to be at the in-laws. I don’t want to. I don’t want to play the dutiful wife. It was easier, way back when, when I got stoned for the holidays. Everything blurred into a nice warm glowy blob. Now that I’m sober it is all spiky and strange.