I'm quite sure I have cried more in the last 11 months than much of my cumulative life before last May.
I am not a crier. Not usually.
But that was before this journey. Before almost everything in my life turned upside down and inside out. Before the diagnosis of my depression. Before I lost my dad. Before my husband and I were unemployed. Before we said goodbye to a church family. Before we put our cat to sleep. Before Shamus had a name.
…and before we started packing up all our belongings.
In 5 days, we will empty out a house that has been our home for nearly 19 years. We have 120 hours before we leave the residence I have lived in for almost half my living - the longest I’ve lived anywhere. In less than one week, our children will say goodbye to the only home they’ve ever known.
And I am a weeping wreck as I box it all up.
It’s not the stuff that leaves me saddened. It’s the thought of departing from a physical space that has become a large part of who we are. A tangible place that has represented an emotional and spiritual adventure into adulthood. It’s the life that’s been lived within these walls that leaves me grieving.
The front door has swung open wide for friends and family through the years. It’s served as a gateway between us and those in our community who have needs. It’s been the visible symbol of how we have found our own hearts opened to a city that’s put down root in us. The entryway has been that sacred place of countless excited hellos and tearful goodbyes. The place where conversations extend between friends because there was one more thing to say…and then one more…and one more.
Our living/dining room is painted in “Mexican Sand” brown, and in the space of those walls Paul and I learned how to be husband and wife. We cut our grown-up, marriage teeth in their midst - away from family, starting ministry, and unabashedly idealistic. That room saw far too many furniture rearrangements; and the worn out beige carpet has cushioned first steps, massive blanket forts, and the knees of a couple facing difficult times and important decisions.
The kitchen is still decorated with apple tree wallpaper that was hanging when we first arrived. I thought it was divine providence, as I had registered for an apple clock. That’s the room that taught me how to cook more than a frozen dinner; where I roasted my first Thanksgiving turkey, prepared birthday meals for friends, chicken soup for upset stomachs, and made cookies with my kids. It’s also the room that Paul and I seemed to have the most arguments. We (not so) lovingly call them our “kitchen conversations.”
Our bedroom on the main level started out as our guest room. We were so proud to welcome our parents. Proud to have a place prepared just for them, complete with a forest green area rug decorated with mauve roses. When we decided to move our room downstairs, we never dreamed we would sleep for another 15 years inside those walls. Those walls that have comforted us late at night, when the gun shots are heard or neighbors are fighting, and we are acutely reminded that our neighborhood is changing. Those walls stood guard as we’ve soothed scared children or snuggled in close to take read aloud to our littles. Those walls have held the deepest, most intimate, most vulnerable moments of our marriage.
There’s the small bedroom at the end of the hall too. That room that has gone from office to craft space to nursery to school room. That 90 square feet has kept vigil with sleep deprived parents, heard lullabies and prayers sung for babies, and has gathered the struggle of a new mom trying to nurse her infant. Those walls have felt painted pink stripes two times over because we were having a girl; and the first pink reminded me of Pepto Bismol and this child was our first and everything had to be perfect. Those same walls would be painted a light tan three years later because we were now having a boy…and Paul wasn’t painting stripes again.
There are the 13 stairs that curve up into the second floor. Carpeted stairs that have felt the tumble of children, the frustration of a tween, the excited feet of friends that have come for a sleepover. Stairs that have carried us up to our children after long days so we can tuck them in. A stairwell whose walls have been covered in countless pictures and drawings hung up in proud display.
And the two bedrooms upstairs? Those are where our kids carved out their own space. These are the field of imagination where they’ve been growing up (literally). These are the rooms that have constituted their comfort zone; where hours of play have helped them learn, where books helped pass an afternoon, and where serious talks about hurt feelings and getting older have happened. Nightly, within the safety of these rooms, our children have been nuzzled, hugged, kissed, tickled, and prayed for, sung to, and loved beyond measure.
On the outside of these walls, lay a mixture of grass and concrete making up hours of leaf raking, bike riding, light saber duels, and birthday parties. In the front yard, with the old oak tree as a backdrop, we took Easter, Halloween, and First Day of School pictures. We stayed up late, stood in that yard and gazed at a blood moon. The back yard is filled with the echoes of child’s play and the faint scent from the lilac tree we planted there nearly a decade ago. The back porch has been a kind of sanctuary for me where I met with God time and again through the soft spring breeze, the thunderclouds rolling is, the heights of the pine trees in the distance, and the blazing sunsets splashed across the sky.
On a piece of property less than a quarter of an acre, inside a house just over 1600 square feet, I have been changed. The person that will be closing the front door for a final time in less than a week is not the same person who opened it up for the first time 18 years ago.
An inanimate object has come alive and wrapped itself around us like the familiar embrace of a confidante. The stone and siding and shingles have helped construct a life for which I am immensely thankful For us, the sweetest, safest place on earth has been has been in FLINT of all places?
I knew we had made a house into a home over the years. I know we can do that again in another residence. What I didn’t know was how hard the goodbye would be; how deep yet another loss in this last year would affect me.
Is it possible to box up the memories made between four walls? Or bubble wrap a heart that is breaking? Will a U-Haul hold the essence of what a home becomes? How do we leave the place but take it with us? How does an empty house hold so much? What's the square footage of a tear?
That is, in part, why the tears have flowed so freely. While I take memories of this house with me, I also feel I am leaving a piece of myself behind. A part of my journey that I connect with most readily within these specific walls and rooms.
I am not usually a crier, but as our family prepares for another significant goodbye, the tears have been close to the surface.
So, I will pray that my salty tears will prepare the ground for the seeds of new beginnings. I will pray that the stirring up of a myriad of emotions will be used to till the ground of my heart. I will pray that with this difficult goodbye there is also a resurrection hello to come. Something new. Life from death. Beginnings after the endings. Joy from mourning.