My Father's House

by Joanie Butman

I have a new pastime – researching available real estate in town and going to open houses. I’m not interested in joining the small army of real estate agents in residence. I’m just looking into simplifying our lives as we approach empty nesting. I may be an anomaly, or maybe like-minded individuals don’t share honestly, but many women in my community dread the new vacancies in their homes. I am not one of them.

It’s not that my husband or I are in a rush to ‘get rid of our offspring,’ but we’re excited for all of us as we embark on a new and exciting stage of our lives. After many years of parenting, we’re beginning to see the fruits of our labors as our children blossom into young adults. No longer having to be the dreaded watchdogs, we see hints of a new and different relationship developing with them.

The first thing people ask when I mention moving is, “How do the kids feel about it?” To be honest, I didn’t really think about asking them. They will still have their own room even though they will probably never live at home again for extended periods of time, we will still be in the same town so they can see their friends, AND they will probably end up with their own bathrooms – a dream come true. It never occurred to me that they would be sentimentally ‘attached’ to this house. In fact, my daughter enjoys looking at potential homes as much as I do. Never underestimate the attraction of your own bathroom.

During a conversation this week with a few women who are at a similar juncture in their lives, one of them told a story of when she was a recent graduate from college and her mother remarried a man with children of his own. Her mother’s new house didn’t have room to accommodate overnight visits – she felt displaced. She shared how hurt she was that she could no longer go home.

Losing one’s home is a devastating experience. We see it played out all the time: foreclosures, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods. Or maybe it’s a displacement through divorce or death, where you are left adrift trying to regain your bearings. Aside from the physical reality, there’s more than one way to be homeless. I know plenty of people in lovely homes and some not-so-lovely homes who are searching for that elusive sense of belonging. Whatever your situation is, I can’t think of a more important time to choose to cling to this verse and probably a slew of others, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

My parents have moved a number of times and with the exception of leaving Brooklyn when I was a teenager, their location never determined the feeling of coming home. Home was always wherever they were. It’s never been a place to me, but it is being with the people I love. My parents held onto their big house for many years so that they could accommodate everyone during the holidays. Little did they know we’d follow them wherever they went and make room. We used to vie for the closet ‘bedroom’ in their townhouse because it was the darkest and the quietest. Same in their Florida condominium, into which my mother managed to fit a banquet size dining table for all of us and enough chairs for a small symphony.

Even in my parents’ assisted living apartment, I know I am home the minute I walk in the door because I am in the company of the two people who have known me the longest and love me unconditionally. Plus, many of the other residents have become a sort of extended family. I derive great comfort knowing my parents’ door is always open and regardless of space constraints, they will always find room in their home and their hearts for me and everyone else in our family, as well as a myriad of strays that have always found a place at our table.

Not only have I been blessed with a loving family, I’ve also married into one. My husband’s parents (and siblings) offer the same gracious open-door policy, and their beach cottage is the hub of our summer social life, even at 96 years of age. There, too, I find a place of loving acceptance and an abundance of shared laughter and sometimes tears.

Sadly, with both sets of parents aging, life will eventually take its course, and they will pass the baton as we carry on their legacy of love. Hopefully, our children will feel the same about us wherever we land. It will be bittersweet for all of us to leave their childhood home where we’ve shared so many happy times and celebrated so many milestones. It’s more than saying goodbye to a house, it’s saying goodbye to a season of life.

I feel enormously blessed to have been given the gift of a happy home because not everyone has that. And even if they have, the death of a parent(s) leaves a gaping hole never to be filled again. Even so, we can all choose to become a child of God where there is space and love enough for everyone. We all have access to the One who can make anyone feel like an only child, the One who will be with you always, the One yearning to share your laughter and tears, the One who is always waiting to welcome us home with a loving embrace where we can rest in the comfort and safety of His everlasting peace.

Our heavenly home is available to everyone right here.The challenge is finding this home where we are. Christ is waiting to offer a place where you can feel safe, happy and at peace. We just need to choose to create a sacred space for Him to fill. That ‘space’ isn’t necessarily a physical setting but a stillness of being. It might be by the ocean or the kitchen sink, in your most comfortable chair or on your knees in the garden, or maybe even in a church. He isn’t confined to a location as my devotional pointed out last week, “Anywhere you are can become a dwelling place where you can meet the Lord and know His peace.”

If you’re having trouble finding God amongst busyness, consider Thoreau’s comment, "It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?" Choosing to be still is the first step in feeling God’s presence. Not that being busy and being with God are mutually exclusive. I feel closest to God when I am busy creating, whether it be designing, beading, writing, or gardening. It is at those times that I can feel His creative energy flowing freely through me. Each of us has his or her own God-given talents that, when exercised, produce a stillness and peace, a feeling of being one with God, a feeling of being exactly where you are meant to be, a feeling of being home. Dorothy was so right, “There’s no place like home.”