Saturday, September 1, 2012

The many houses that feel like home

Psalm 122:6b-9 (NIV)

“May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
   and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
   I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
   I will seek your prosperity.
As I sit down to write tonight, I am in my mother-in-law’s living room. I have been coming to the house for nearly 14 years at this point. Aside from some cosmetic changes — and the fact 4-year-old Kyle is now 18 and enrolled in college — it’s virtually the same place. (This stands in stark contrast to the house I grew up in; my parents have lived there since 1978 and it is almost entirely unrecognizable from when they moved in.) I love the familiarity here. Granted, I tend toward favoring the familiar in all cases. But here, especially, I relish the sameness.

One of the best things about this house is how it also feels like home to me. I attribute that in part to the many visits while I was still in college. I may have felt like an adult at 19 and 20, but I certainly was not. I absolutely relished feeling mothered — having another lady in my life who would plan a special meal just because I was in town, or who wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if I brought along some of my own dirty laundry, who wouldn’t let me head out of town without a little gas money — was a treat I hadn’t quite expected when I fell in love. At some point I wasn’t just committing to Kristie, I was joining an entirely new family. Luckily for me, it was a family that not only embraced me, but one I was happy to embrace in return.

Surely a big part of the reason this house feels like home is because this town feels like home. We only lived in Fulton itself for eight months, but when you add our time in Clinton (just across the Mississippi in Iowa), we lived in the area for four and a half years. Much like our current setup (sleep in Gurnee, work, church and extended family in Libertyville) we spent a large amount of time in Fulton. Kristie worked in the school system here for three years. I joined a church in Fulton. We played in the handbell choir, I directed elementary school kids in a hand chime choir and for 12 months was the interim leader of the high school youth group. We were in a small group and I was on the search committee for a full-time youth leader. After Kristie left her teaching post I stayed an extra year and a half as a volunteer high school drumline instructor. Kristie worked at an insurance agency in town. In short, we were invested.

Naturally, we spent a great deal of time at Kristie’s parents’ house. When Kristie went back to school after Jack was born, he came here. I was supposed to pick him up when I got done at the newspaper mid-afternoon, only I didn’t always get done when I expected, or Jack was asleep or we had a rehearsal at night or Kristie had a band commitment. Dinner at How’s House? You could count the number of times we rejected that offer on two hands.

Moving into our first house in Clinton, Iowa, in March 2003.
That’s not to say we didn’t spend any time at our own house. I think we’ll always have incredibly fond memories of that little red-brick bungalow on Melrose. At first it was just us, the young, married kids with two incomes, two stupid cats and our hearts set on forever. Then along came Jack and life could not have been more perfect. I watch Charlie now and see how easily he captures the attention of everyone, and I remember sitting in the living room of our first house just marveling at toddler Jack and how wonderful it was to have him in my life. There were plenty of moments where I felt such deep satisfaction with everything surrounding me I would happily have stayed n the moment forever.

Obviously that’s not the way it played out, and clearly I knew at the time growth and change were inevitable. We’ve gone through plenty of ups and downs and a few inside-outs since then, and the added blessings of Max and Charlie, each so incredibly amazing in their own ways, have enriched our family beyond all comprehension. I wouldn’t trade any of this, and I look forward to what the future holds.

But here I sit tonight. There is a show on the TV no one’s watching. There is a boisterous card game in the living room. The pantry and basement fridge are stocked with all manner of things I’d never buy at home but seek out the moment I come inside. My actual home is three hours away, but this house feels almost as comfortable. I don’t even need to close my eyes to picture our old routine — put Jack in his car seat, pop it in the base strapped into the back of my Buick, drive slowly over the South Bridge and listen for the snores, pull into the driveway and carry him inside, still asleep, and drop him in his crib in the front bedroom. Such a tiny house comparatively. There’s no way it would contain the traveling circus we’ve become. But it was a home, our home, and in my heart it always will be.

I fell in love with my son at that house, and with the idea of being a dad. It’s no less special than the Coe College Victory Bell, under which Kristie and I sat the weekend of our first dates, talking aimlessly about anything, just being together. Or the church where we promised each other forever. Or any number of landmarks that immediately trigger powerful memories of the milestones in our young lives where we grew closer together, evolved from individuals into partners and became who we are today while also establishing the foundation for the hundreds and thousands of tomorrows yet to come.

I bet if I went through all the entries for this project and counted the words I used most, blessed and blessing would come close to the top of the list. On nights like this, it’s easy to understand why. I feel so incredibly loved and lucky — to be a son, a husband, a brother, a father, a nephew; to have in-laws who love me as their own; to know and understand the way God has moved in my life and to open myself for ways God might move going forward; to be healthy, happy, secure — sometimes all I can do is turn to God in gratitude.

This was a perfectly average day, beautiful in its simplicity. This is the life I chose, and around every corner was confirmation of my choices. I wish everyone could experience this degree of peace.

A prayer for September 1:

Lord, thank you. I am grateful beyond words; may my thoughts and actions also reflect the gratitude with which I accept the many blessings in my life. May I be a blessing to others I encounter, extending to them a taste of the peace I have in my heart, peace provided through the safety and security that comes with your love. Thank you for the many reminders of a life worth living. Amen.

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