Safe At Home

A title like “Safe at Home” sounds more like a commentary on life in the midst of the 2020 pandemic.  Not exactly.  Keep reading.

It was the bottom of the ninth in the seventh and final game of the 1992 Major League Baseball’s National League Championship Playoff series.  The Atlanta Braves, hoping to return to the World Series for the second consecutive year, were locked in a heated battle with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  With the series tied at three wins apiece, the outcome of the seventh game would determine the National League Champion and who would make the trip onto the World Series.

Things were not looking good for the Braves.  Going into the bottom half of the ninth, they were down two runs as the Pirates led 2-0.  A sacrifice fly and two outs later, the Braves had cut the lead in half. Pirates 2, Braves 1. With runners at second and third, all hopes rested on a pinch hitter, a relatively unknown journeyman player, and third-string catcher named Francisco Cabrera.  Standing on third base was the tantalizingly close tying run in Braves speedy David Justice.  But, more importantly, hopes of another World Series was standing at second base in the slow-footed Sid Bream, who many thought couldn’t outrun a one-legged drunk.  Nevertheless, the city of Atlanta, yea, the entire Southeast, sat on the edge of their seats watching each agonizing pitch.

Legendary Braves announcer, Skip Caray, called the play-by-play on radio.  How could he know that his call of the final pitch would be re-broadcast thousands of times in the following weeks and live forever on YouTube?

There is a lot of room in right-center.  If he hits one there, we can dance in the streets. The 2-1 (pitch).  Swung, LINE DRIVE LEFT FIELD.  ONE RUN IN. HERE COMES BREAM.   HERE’S THE THROW TO THE PLATE. HE ISSSSSS SAFE! BRAVES WIN, BRAVES WIN, BRAVES WIN! BRAVES WIN, BRAVES WIN!”

Bream, to the astonishment of the baseball world, and the relief of Brave fans everywhere, chugged around third and slid across home plate just ahead of the tag.  He was safe at home.  And yes, there was dancing in the streets, bars, and living rooms across the Southland.

I love how baseball labels their bases.  There is first base, second base, and third base, but the fourth critical stop is not called fourth base, but rather home plate.  Every baseballer longs to be safe at home.  And so do the rest of us. This classic heart-stopping finish to the 1992 MLB’s National League Championship series served as a refreshing reminder that all of us long to be safe at home.  Pandemic or not.  

Throughout my working career, home was always a sanctuary, a safe environment to be refreshed and renewed.  There were periods when the pressures of work were overwhelming.  I knew a few guys who took their work home.  By that I mean, they allowed the frustrations at the office to affect their lives at home.  If the boss yelled at them during the day, they took their anger home, kicking the dog, yelling at the kids, or worse…

Fortunately for me, I married a woman who made our house a home, who always welcomed me with a kiss, and made it quite evident that she was delighted to see me walk through the front door.  For me, returning from a chaotic day at the office, I found it easy to close the door of all things work-related as I entered the oasis of my home.   Home was a four-letter word I cherished.  It was a safe place where I felt loved, respected, and welcomed.  It was a daily routine for me to grab a glass of iced tea and listen to my wife catch me up on the activities and antics of our five children and what was happening in her world.  Those daily conversations were like a hot shower after a hard day’s work.  Refreshing, renewing, calming my spirit in a way that could only happen in the sanctuary of a home.

In 2011, when I lost my beloved wife to cancer, coming home took on a different meaning…or did it?  In my book, Walking Through the Valley of Tears, I recalled that feeling of coming home to an empty house.

August 25, 2011: Going Home

For thirty-eight-plus years of married life, I always looked forward to returning home after a day of work. No matter what kind of day it had been, driving home and knowing Tootie was there was something I looked forward to each evening. After dealing with five kids all day, I think she looked forward to my coming home too! I always left the workday behind me when I walked into the house. A hug, a kiss, and a conversation about the day’s events were soon followed by dinner. Even after the kids were off on their own, coming home never lost its attraction. 

Home was the place I felt loved. I felt safe. Maybe that’s why, no matter where we were, as long as we were together, we both felt “at home.”

Coming home this year has been a roller coaster ride of emotions. Entering an empty house, eating alone, and sleeping alone in a house filled with her pictures is a constant reminder of what used to be. This was a home filled with her presence. Now, it is a house that only echoes her absence. I soon found that focusing on the pain only made things worse with each return trip. Depression awaited with open arms. 

My earlier decision to develop a thankful spirit and a heart of gratitude has begun to pay dividends. This house, this home, is still a place filled with joyous memories. The more I cherish Tootie’s memory, the more thankful I am for the blessing of my wife, and the more this home has become a sanctuary instead of a torture chamber. 

Make no mistake: The tears still flow daily, and my heart aches with a pain difficult to explain. Nevertheless, the joy of the Lord is my strength, and memories are something death can never take away.

Thank you Lord for the grace that memories give—moments to ponder my blessings of the past. How can I not rejoice in all that You have done? Tootie is now home with You. And in a blink of an eye, I will be going home too. Your open arms await, and once again, I will feel safe and loved. Amen!

In 2017, I remarried. My new bride, Patrice, reflected no physical resemblance to my late wife.  Their personalities are different too.  But the one thing they have in common — other than being in love with me and being loved by me — is in creating a home where I feel loved, respected, and welcome.  Though I am now retired, whenever I walk through the door of our home, it is a sanctuary still.

As I mature as a man and as a Christian, it occurs to me that my earthly home is but a temporary place, one that offers a foretaste of what is to come.  One of my favorite hymns is titled Beulah Land.  (Especially the version sung by Casting Crowns.) The opening lyrics reminded me of the home we are all longing for, whether we know it or not.

I'm kind of homesick for a country
To which I've never been before.
No sad goodbyes will there be spoken
For time won't matter anymore.
Beulah Land, I'm longing for you
And some day on thee I'll stand.
There my home shall be eternal.
Beulah Land -- Sweet Beulah Land
I'm looking now across the river
Where my faith will end in sight.
There's just a few more days to labor.
Then I will take my heavenly flight.

In 1992 Sid Bream stood on second base in the bottom of the ninth, hoping, praying for a hit to the outfield. Yet knowing how slow, bumbling, and awkward a runner he was, he still longed to be safe at home.  Today, knowing how slow, bumbling, and awkward a believer I am, I long to finish this race when my faith will be sight, and I will be safe at home.

I expect to be dancing in the streets then too.

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