I left home on Thursday...and will never go back. I may return to that house sometime...but it will not be my home, ever again.
In my lifetime, I have lived in 22 houses (counting my new one in Mattoon.) Not all of them were "home." But the house at 2508 South Cottage Grove in Urbana was home for me, for 15 years, the longest tenured house/home I have ever had. As the movers were loading our beds and stuff onto the truck, my daughter Mindy stopped by to hang out just a bit. And she started to cry a little. Dang daughter...there's all this work to do...and she wants to pause and be thoughtful about the occasion. And since daughters have uncanny powers over their fathers, my own eyes got a little misty. Maybe I'll just tell the movers that I have allergies. I told Mindy that I remember seeing my mother cry whenever she had to move out of the parsonage in East Jordan. It was the home where she saw all four sons become teenagers, grow up, and leave to make their own homes.
Odd: Initially I didn't want to move to that house in Urbana...back in 2001. My home had been at 67 Glenwood Drive in Glen Carbon, for 13 years. It was home! Houses are just houses...until they get filled with stories and secrets, scares and giggles and fervent prayers. When a house gets saturated in soul stuff, it becomes a home. When I was a kid I couldn't wait to leave home. But as an adult, leaving home has become traumatic. So when the bishop told me I had to leave my home in Glen Carbon and move to Urbana, I was grief-stricken. I moaned to my daughters, "I'm going to miss the robins and blue jays and mocking birds and killdeers." One of my daughters (can't remember which one) said, "Oh Dad, knock it off. Your new house in Urbana will have birds. Duh." (Oh yeah, I recognize the tone: that would be my daughter Alison.) And sure enough, she was right.
I was newly single when I moved to Urbana, and it was really hard on me at first. Mindy was away at college and Alison stayed back in Glen Carbon with her mother to finish up her senior year. I told the congregation that I was going to start a weekly healing service...partly for myself...and they were welcome to join me if they wished. Many of them did.
And so...richly loved by both my family and friends and church, the house where I slept and shaved started to become a home. Oddly: it had birds, and squirrels, and rabbits...and one year, even a family of wild turkeys.
I delighted in the perennial flowers left by my predecessors and added my own plants. It felt good to mow the grass and get sweaty and see something actually get finished once a week. (Sermons and Bible studies are never finished!) I cleaned toilets and floors a thousand times over the years, washed a jillion dishes, baked hundreds of casseroles and loaves of bread. I put together furniture and tried to figure out how new kitchen gadgets worked.
In the living room, I watched the planes crash into the twin towers on 9/11. I saw W get re-elected and I cried when the first African American president-elect greeted his country from Grant Park. I watched all the West Wing episodes from that living room...twice. And each year there was a Christmas tree, and now all the holiday memories are squeezed into a tight ball inside my heart...where they are safe and treasured and all tangled together, indistinguishable.
I sat in the dining room in 2005 and signed the marriage license after Jie and I got married. I paced between the living room and dining room, talking on the phone in 2010, as the doctor informed me I had prostate cancer.
I sat by the fireplace, year after year in the cold months, sipping my coffee, reading books, glancing at whatever beauty adorned my backyard.
Mindy and I would pull lawn chairs into the garage and watch thunderstorms together. Alison and I would walk around the neighborhood and talk about relationships. Scarlette and I moved her furniture from the green bedroom to the blue, as she sampled both her departed sisters' old haunts. Jie and I used the whole house to argue, and then make up, and then repeat...repeatedly.
When all the furniture was finally removed from the building, we found 12 milk rings (off the plastic milk jugs) that we'd lost in playing "fetch" with Earl-the-Cat.
So as I left my home for the last time, Thursday night, I noticed myself humming: Bless this house O Lord I pray. But then I forgot the words. So I made up my own words: and make it safe for Ben, Darlene, Abraham, Daphne, and Jonah. The words didn't fit the song's meter...but they fit exactly the sentiments in my heart for the house's new residents!