We Bring Each Other Home
by Aubrey Sampson
Ours is a surprise third pregnancy. We cuddle our youngest son and name him Nolan, meaning “champion,” but have no idea that he will be forced to live up to this, his heroic namesake.
During Nolan’s earliest days, our home becomes an unexpected place—the children’s hospital in downtown Chicago. A giant humpback whale mama and her calf hang overhead from the ceiling, and they make him smile. The fish tanks in the upstairs lobby are his big brothers’ favorite spot to visit. MRI’s are Nolan’s naptime. Medical tests are his playtime. The hospital hallways become my husband’s and my home gym—the place where we pace, wring our hands, cry our tears, pray our prayers, work out our fears, and beg God to bring us home. Eventually, spinal cord surgery is the bedroom where he rests a while before waking to days of recovery, months of lying flat on his back, and years of in-home therapy.
Although we’ve been silently pleading for this day, we’re scared to leave our safe little surroundings at the hospital, the place with doctors and nurses and experts who know things and know how to do the right things related to spinal cords and babies. But we, who are definitively not experts, know we have to face life outside of these walls somehow. So we bite our nails, pray some more, and tentatively say goodbye to our hospital home.
We return to our real life house, only to find that a small tornado has blown through our street, blocked our front door, and taken our electricity with it. We are powerless in more ways than one. Nolan’s second home becomes a hotel where his big brothers swim in the pool and he, our champion, strives to recover.
When I was a child, my mom and dad moved around a lot—Dallas, Seattle, L.A., Atlanta and Oklahoma City—so for me, the concept of home has always been a series of streets and cities, losts and founds, packings and unpackings. At one of my favorite childhood homes, just a few days after we moved in, a hot air balloon landed in our front yard. A picture of our house was in the newspaper and I took that as a good omen; surely no one leaves a newsworthy address. But a few years later, we packed up once more.
If I have learned any lesson from my childhood of changing addresses it’s this: lost is not necessarily when you don’t know where you are; it’s when you can’t find your way back home. Somehow with their love and presence, my mom and dad always brought us home, even when all was unknown, scary and new.
I tell my champion this story—about my various childhood houses and the hot air balloon—as I look into his eyes and keep one of my legs propped over him to prevent him from crawling and walking and doing all the things a little boy is supposed to do. We are back in our real life house now, but he’s still not allowed to move for some time. His back is not ready or able or strong. These are our long, hard days at home.
But a year or so later, a light day arrives. With the help of therapists and leg braces and family and big brothers and love and presence, Nolan takes his first steps. And this motley tribe of his—all of us are crying, snapping pictures, Facetiming, sharing the joy on social media. Nolan stumbles and giggles and falters and steadies himself again and again, but never gives up. Our boy is indeed a champion.
And now, nearly five years to the day since leaving his first home in that hospital, my son is standing on a stage, with no props or helps. He is singing songs and reciting verses about God’s love. He is supposed to be serious through it all, but he loves to make people laugh, so instead he is playing air-guitar and air-drums, all to his teacher’s chagrin. He struts across the stage and graduates from preschool. Next year he will begin a new chapter, a new home of sorts: Kindergarten. His days will be filled with bus rides and recess and homework and new friends, and eventually high school, then adulthood. But one thing at time, I have to remind myself.
This morning I asked him if he remembers his beloved whale in the hospital lobby or his temporary home at the hotel. “Of course not, Mom! I’ve never lived in a hospital or a hotel! Mom! What are you even talking about?” He replied, laughably exasperated with my question. “I’ve always lived with you, Mama. I have always been at home with you.”
Nolan’s tribe gathers, this time to celebrate his graduation, and once again we cry and clap and cheer. He basks in our excitement and pride, but has no idea the significance of it. I don’t think he needs to understand the weight of it all quite yet. He is our five-year-old precious boy for now, and I want him to be five as long as he can.
I have always been at home with you, Mama.
Yes, I think, that is true.
In the end, home is like that hot air balloon, lifting and landing when you least expect it. But through all of life’s celebratory soarings and its agonizing groundings, we champion each other. We bring each other home.
Aubrey Sampson is the author of Overcomer: Breaking Down the Walls of Shame and Rebuilding Your Soul (Zondervan) and an upcoming book on the topic of lament and hope with NavPress. Aubrey and her husband Kevin and their three sons are church planters in the Chicago area.
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