We closed on a house at the end of August. It’s our first, and it’s the product of a ton of love and generosity from a lot of people. Buying real estate in southern California is no joke, and we couldn’t have done it on our own.
The same week escrow closed, a dear friend from my first pastorate in Wisconsin texted me pictures of a house fire. The manse (church-owned house for a pastor) that Daryl and I resided in three years ago was burning.
Needless to say, we experienced a whole variety pack of emotions.
Elation over closing on our house. Grief over the beautiful home in Wisconsin that may never again host a pastor’s family. Joy at finally owning a home of our own. Exhaustion due to moving and unpacking. Relief that our housing search had come to an end.
Our new house is a blessing and a miracle and we love every little thing about it. But change–even good change–brings mourning, too.
As we closed the door on our condo for the final time, my eyes welled with tears.
Daryl and I had brought baby Wilson home from the birth center up those stairs.
We’d read Lincoln a million books in his little bedroom.
We’d had hard conversations about vocation and the dissertation and ministry and marriage at that kitchen counter.
Our neighbors were gems, and driving away from them for the final time was difficult indeed.
As we were saying goodbye to our condo, we heard about the manse fire. We scrolled through photos of smoke pouring out of the rooms where we’d hosted youth Christmas parties and out of town family and church board celebrations. We gasped at pictures of flames shooting from the kitchen I’d baked in and the living room where Lincoln had learned to walk.
Then we learned it was arson.
I don’t know all the details – it’s been years since we lived there – but the feeling of watching our former home burn, of knowing that people set that fire, of witnessing the tragedy, even from afar . . . it shook me.
T. S. Eliot, in his famed “Ash Wednesday” poem wrote that “place is always and only place,” but I’d argue that place is more than only place. Walls hold meaning and memories, even if they’re just made of wood and stone.
I grieve for the loss of that home, for the dear church that gave me my start in ministry and is now faced with achingly difficult decisions about whether to rebuild, what to do with all their raw emotions, and how to find God amidst it all.
I have had to remember that home is, at its core, wherever God calls me, not simply the four walls in which I reside.
We celebrate our new home. It already feels like home. It’s every bit as lovely as we had wished a home would be, and even more. As Daryl said a couple of weeks ago, “This is one of the very few things in my life that’s been as good as I’d dared to hope.”
[Then there was this long, awkward pause before he followed that with, “Except you, of course, dear wife!” Lol.]
But all change, even good change, brings grief.
To my friends in Clinton: I love you. The loss of the manse is great indeed. It should be mourned. I mourn it, too. I have no doubt you are angry over such a senseless, cruel act. I’m angry, too.
But even as you grieve, remember that a home is much more than four walls. The home you create for your pastors is far more than a lovely farmhouse. It’s your love for Jesus and your joyful willingness to serve him.
To our old neighbors in Ladera: We miss and love you. Our backyard is your backyard; visit anytime! And you’d better believe we’ll be by for some pool parties.
If home is where the heart is, then I’m forever thankful I’ve given my heart to Jesus and my boys and my family and my friends and my neighbors and my coworkers and my congregation. Buildings don’t last forever; people do.
As C. S. Lewis once put it, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations, [houses!] – these are mortal… But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry… Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”
What does home mean to you?