A magical thing happens every day, all around us, and probably without much notice:
A once-empty house, four walls and a roof, becomes a home.
Thanks to my mother, who taught (and continues to teach!) so well the importance of making a home and creating a haven where life can gently be nurtured, I am somewhat aware of this magic taking place in my own house, which I saw as empty with my own eyes 8 years ago, and which we have filled with much life and living every day since. I have worked hard and labored daily to make it so. I have waved my magic wand of dishcloth and Oxyclean, kisses for boo-boos and bed time stories, Christmas carols and paper hearts and lazy summer picnics. But I don’t think I really believed the same thing happened at my childhood home until last week, when I walked through the door and saw the topsy-turvy chaos of a home being packed up and moved out.
I didn’t really believe it could possibly have ever been an empty shell, because the magic happened there so fully, so deeply. It seemed that perhaps we had grown up in a truly magical place, where the haven of love infused with the energy joy had simply always gone on and on.
How strange to see with my own eyes the emptying of rooms, with price tags attached to memories.
(How glad I am that the house will not long stand empty, but will be promptly filled again with the magic of another skillful and loving mother and father.)
And so, a house is just a house, and we take the magic with us — that greater-than-its-parts thing called family.
And here I pause these days, taken aback by how strongly I am feeling that “but.”
It was just a house, and we all still have each other and the memories that live on in our hearts and in the stories told and the inside jokes laughed loudly at over family dinners. But it was our house. It was part of us. We were never young sisters apart from that gabled room, and the best play happened on those pine boards. That pile of gravel and sand still belongs to us, our scraped knees and Mama scolding us again about playing in sand. No one else will enjoy the open kitchen but know deep in their hearts that what it really wants to be is paneled and small with red lace curtains. My mama’s cool hands on my feverish head belong to that house. My daddy came home to that driveway, and we waited eagerly for him on hot afternoons, on the porch with our swimsuits on and sunscreen applied and towels ready to GO! I suppose my birthdays would have happened every year no matter where we were, but the fact is, we were always there, in that dining room. I learned to cook there, to rock a baby to sleep up in that little nook, and those gardens growing are planted in the soil that I turned, one spade at a time, under the hot summer sun. My dad told me to rinse the dishes with cold water so I wouldn’t cook the traces of egg yolk onto the surface, and we stood side by side at the peninsula. He sat by me on the piano bench and taught me how to play “Celebrate Jesus Celebrate” in the key of F while Mama called from the kitchen, “I want her to read music, too, Ricky!” And speaking of music, won’t we always just laugh and laugh at how Jamie and Julia would stand on the porch and practice their fife tunes, serenading the entire town.
In that front room, we had evening devotions and I watched my mom and dad sing with enraptured faces to the Jesus they knew so intimately, and I wanted that, too. Up in that bedroom, I knelt by my bed and asked Jesus to love me, too. I remember a lunchtime when my mom and dad were at odds, and I remember so well my mother standing by the telephone on the wall and saying, “I’m sorry, Ricky,” and him kissing her and all was well again. In that downstairs bedroom I met a brand new brother, held a birthday-gift sister. A chubby baby girl arrived there, too, fast and dramatic. In that house I cried with my mother over miscarriages. Then there were wedding showers and baby showers, and six wedding mornings when the house was filled to bursting with preparations and joy and gowns and flowers and togetherness. We bore sorrows together, we dealt with sin together, we weathered storms and persevered through growing and stretching and learned to hope in God together. And all under a red roof that was home.
I’m not sure how you say goodbye to something that is a part of you. I’m surprised by the layers of emotion that overwhelm me these days. But this I am sure of: Not everyone grew up with a house jam-packed and overflowing with the blessing of a family who loved and grew together in the atmosphere of the Holy Spirit’s presence — and so I count even my tears as a blessing. And I also know this: the magic that happened there was a bit of heaven itself, the Kingdom of God being worked out in our hearts, and what I really and truly long for is the home that is awaiting us in eternity. Music and food and parties and quiet and joy and fellowship will abound there, and we will at last be satisfied.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.