fruitful emptiness: the house on East 11th

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

This weekend, I helped my parents move out of their home of 15 years into a new condo unit. Their new place is amazing; it’s on the 14th floor of a high rise in the middle of the bustling Collingwood neighborhood in Vancouver, boasting 270 degree views of the mountains and the city. It’s less than a block from their church community, where they have a lot of friends and are very active. It’s also a much better size for them. Less clutter, less maintenance. Overall, a good move.

Last night we stopped by the old house on East 11th and I found myself getting very emotional. That house has seen me through ten Christmases and New Years, six bouts of stomach virus infections, four wisdom tooth removals, three serious boyfriends, two years of missionary work, and one wedding. It was the house where my grandmother spent the majority of her last year in life. Countless songs written, countless friendships built, countless band practices filled with music and laughter, countless prayers uttered and answered. The cobalt blue walls of my old bedroom had heard hours of phone conversations between me and the boys I thought I would marry, and then even more between me and the man that I did marry. The blue paint has been painted over but the Jabez prayer that I wrote in Sharpie by my door frame still shows through the new paint, just like the memories that cling to every nook and cranny.

More importantly, and unknown to me until that very moment, this house had been my last tie to my old life in Vancouver. It held all the memories, all the beautiful memories that I left behind when I moved to Washington. I still had a key to it, and I guess in the back of my mind I knew that I could always go back there and open it up whenever I needed. But when that house is sold, which I know will happen very soon after it hits the hot Vancouver real estate market, my key will no longer open that door. The memories will have nowhere else to live but inside my mind, which I fear is not big enough to hold them all. In my mind, these memories can no longer be touched, seen, heard, breathed in and out. And while I know that I will do my best to remember them all, to hold them all close, I also know that the mind eventually needs to change in order to keep living and moving forward. So in order for me to keep living and moving forward, I will have to say goodbye.

I thought I had said goodbye a long time ago, but maybe by way of providence I had been given a five year reprieve. I was given a chance to first build the beginnings of a beautiful new life, to start a family of my own (a family of two, but a family nonetheless), to build new friendships, to write new songs, and to dream new and bigger dreams. I was given the rare gift of being able to reach for the future while holding a key to the past. And now, it’s time to grasp the life ahead of me. Not with one hand, but with two hands, two arms, and all the corners of my mind and heart.

So last night I put my arms against the old walls of our living room. “Goodbye, housie,” I said. “Thanks for everything.” They say that home is where the heart is, but sometimes a home finds its way into the heart. Sometimes, even when we stop living in the house we have come to call home, the home continues to live in us, even as we change, even as we keep living, even as we keep moving forward. I haven’t lived long enough to know if this is true, but there’s only one way to go and one way to find out.

So we left the house, I got in the car, looked at my husband and said, “Well, that’s it. You’re my only home now.” He smiled and reached for my hand, his eyes set on the road ahead. Moving forward, I thought. As we drove off, I took his hand in mine. And I held it with both my hands.


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