The first time I can recall seeing this word in print was in the italicized typewriter script of the Wednesday night prayer bulletins at the church where I grew up. The word homebound was followed by the names of older, mostly female, church members who were too frail to leave their homes to attend church services. These invisible people were the recipients of our prayers, occasional pastoral visits, and handmade cards at Christmas and other major holidays.
Now I am homebound.
I don’t match the mental image of a homebound person I formed as a child.
- I am not in my eighties.
- I do not have white hair.
- I do not use a walker or a cane.
- I do not knit (yet) or have hard candies gathering dust in a glass dish beside my sofa.
But I do have a broken immune system.
My immune system is no longer able to accurately distinguish friend from foe, attacking me with prolonged allergic reactions and crushing fatigue instead of protecting me from invading microbes.
The past year and a half has been a roller coaster of illness, isolation, and periods of recovery. After a leave of absence and a brief return, I had to give up classroom teaching in the middle of last school year. I’ve limited my visits to public places, attuned myself to my body’s need for extra rest and healthy foods, and have used an astonishing amount of hand sanitizer.
And I still got sick again. Another antibiotic, another allergic reaction. And so, for the last 137 days, I have not left my home, except for monthly visits to the immunologist. This is, he says, for my protection while my immune system tries to heal again.
If printed prayer bulletins were still a thing, my name would be listed in the homebound section.
It’s not all bad news.
It turns out that homebound is a compound word which, according to dictionary.com, has two distinct meanings:
- confined to one’s home, especially because of illness, and
- going home.
I am confined to home. I am fighting what is now a chronic illness. The end of my confinement is not in sight. Friends ask if I get stir crazy, but that would mean that I have the energy to stir around at home enough to make myself crazy. Honestly, some days I don’t even have the energy to leave my room.
I do get lonely and sometimes bored and ridiculously thankful for an internet connection and even the shortest texts, but I don’t get crazy.
Why? Because of the second definition.
I’m going home. In fact, my heart is set on it.
Home isn’t just the physical place where my body lives. Home is, as the saying goes, where the heart is. Home is where we focus, where we put our hopes, our longings, and heart’s treasure.
Home is where we are going.
Paul explains it this way in his letter to the Corinthians:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
1 Corinthians 4:16-18
I’m learning to not lose heart, to fix my eyes on heaven, to keep going home.
On days when the health roller coaster takes a downward plunge, I am learning to remind myself that my hope is not in healing, but in the Healer.
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. Psalm 62:5
…this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his [her] life. John 9:3
On days when I don’t have the energy to leave my room or even to read, I am learning to remind myself that my identity is not in what I can do, but in whose I am.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” Isaiah 43:1-3a, 5a
Illness can keep me from leaving my house, but illness can’t keep me from home. In fact, like all broken things on this planet, it can remind me that I’m not home yet.
This is the homebound paradox.
Homebound, yet going home.
Confined, but free.