At 9:00 AM last Friday, I signed the closing papers on the house my wife and I owned for nearly eleven years. Immediately after, we signed the papers to purchase our next home.
The movers were at the old house, loading our life into the back of a truck. They did it quickly as if the memories each piece held were light as air. We celebrated in an empty kitchen with a styrofoam container of Panda Express. Minutes later, we were gone: I to meet the movers at the new house, my wife to pick up the kids from their last day at the beloved school.
No move is easy. Ours especially wasn’t. We lost a contract, fixed a structural issue, and had to push every step of the way. But God was kind and gave us the house we consider a blessing and give to him for his glory for as long as we live there.
We worked out a deal with the buyers of our old home to lease it back for three days. That meant we had until Monday at 7:00 PM to get everything out and the house cleaned. I did most of that work Friday and Saturday and left a little bit to do on Monday. Our kids wanted to play with their neighborhood friends one last time. So on Monday around 3:00, we drove to the old house one last time. There was a fridge to clean, trash to throw away, a few things to take to goodwill, and a few to pack. We did it all as quickly as we could, knowing our time was short. All the while, the kids played like the old days, running through the yard, hiding behind the fence, shouting and laughing as only kids can do.
Around 5:00, I walked back into the empty kitchen to find my wife in tears. The house we came home to after our wedding, the house we carried three newborns into, the house we rebuilt after a flood, the house where so many memories were made wasn’t ours anymore. We were saying goodbye.
I knew I needed to take one more walk around each room, just to make sure we didn’t leave anything behind or anything in disarray. For the past two years, I’ve loathed so many things about that old house. For one, I hated the squeaky floors. I knew all the spots. When we lived there, I avoided them, not wanting to hear their cry. But on this final trip around the house, I found them all, stepping on each as I surveyed the room. It sounds weird, I know, but it was as if the house was saying goodbye to me as I was saying goodbye to it.
When we first bought it in April of 2008, we were just kids full of dreams. Eleven years later, we’re aged—parents of three boys and a little girl on the way. We’re not old, but we’re not young anymore. When you’re young and just married, life looks more whole than it is. Like a house, it takes years to really settle. When you do, the cracks that form show not only who you’ve become but who you always were. Like a house, we’re all more broken at the foundation than we imagined we were. Like a house, we’re more beautiful that way. A new house has an outward appeal, but only an old house has grace. Only an old house has the symphony of squeaky floors living within. Like us, an old house is one that’s seen life as it really is and stood to the test of time.
I lingered in each room, soaking it in one last time. I walked downstairs and saw my boys outside playing with the neighbors. I gave the ten-minute warning, they groaned as they always have, and ran off to play a little longer. My wife was outside by the van, trying to keep it together. She snapped one last picture, wiping away the tears.
Our neighbor stood on the edge of his front yard, our conversation continuing as it had for so many years. But this time, I found words hard to speak. He understood. He just took my hand, looked in my eyes, and said, “I’m still holding on to that offer to watch a baseball game and have a beer on the back porch,” referring to an offer from last summer that never came to pass. Friends don’t need to hear the goodbye. They can say it with their eyes.
Two of my kids got dutifully in the van. My oldest was stuck in the neighbors’ garage, unable to leave knowing he wouldn’t come back tomorrow. Soon, though, he and his friends went to the end of our old driveway, as they did so many days leading up to this. I heard the oldest among them say, “One last group hug.” I told my two van-sitting children it was group hug time and they jumped out to join.
One last group hug. When you leave a place that meant so much, a group hug from neighbors is the perfect ending.
But it’s not the last group hug because our move wasn’t far. It's twenty minutes on a slow day, and the neighbors are coming for dinner next week. But it is the last of that kind of group hug among those friends. The last of the after-school playtime on cold winter evenings extending into the dark. The last of the “dinner is ready” calls to come in. The last of the see-you-tomorrow type.
Why did we move from such a beautiful place? I ask myself that from time to time. At one level, the answer is simple: our growing family needed more space. We’re welcoming a baby girl in April. At another level, the answer is more complicated, because all of life is. The were multiple variables. Life isn’t a simple equation. Even the most brilliant mathematician gets stumped. We get close from time to time only to find it doesn’t add up. So we trust God has something else for us to do in another part of town.
We had a wonderful life there but as good as any chapter is, the next one must come. And it’s time for us. My wife and I knew it. We can cherish the memories while expecting the future.
Our new house is amazing. I wake up every morning barely able to believe it’s ours. It’s not an Air BNB, I say. It’s our house.
No, it’s more than that.