Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, LORD Almighty, my King and my God. —Psalm 84:3
My son and daughter-in-law are in the process of buying a house—their first.
It reminds me of our own experience buying a house 35 years ago, when that same son was still a baby. It was frustrating and exhilarating at the same time. A leap of faith, really. Will we be happy here? Will the neighbors welcome us and our kids? Will our jobs last long enough to cover 30 years (!) of mortgage payments? Oh, and that orange shag carpet—what were they thinking?
We’re still in that same four-square on Hope Street that has sheltered generations of families for over a hundred years. Its broad front porch has been the space for countless conversations and cups of coffee, the site for digesting Sunday newspapers or dozing in filtered light. Back in the late ’90s and early 2000s, kids like mine could be found on neighborhood porches just like ours reading the newest Harry Potter tome, hot off the press, cover to cover. One year the kids made a tin-can phone linking our porch to the neighbors’ with a strand of twine.
It’s a house, but it’s so much more than that. The sturdy oak floors and wide crown moldings bear witness to the former plenitude of hardwood forest in our Midwestern state. The formation of ice dams in winter taught us more than we wanted to know about the physics of warm air meeting snow and cold on a roof. The occasional bat—and once even a small squirrel that must have come in through the basement door—provided moments of creative problem solving and a little bit of horror, at least on my part.
The neighbors on our block taught us about hospitality, about looking out for each other, about borrowing an egg or half a cup of flour or providing a spare key at a moment’s notice. When we needed to leave in the middle of the night for the birth of our fourth child, our next-door neighbor spent the night at our house to be with the other kids.
Our house isn’t really “ours.” We’re temporary caretakers of a home that will stand, Lord willing, long after we’re gone. Other families will come and live out their own stories after we leave. I wonder if the echoes of our lives will somehow persist in these walls and floors and foundation.
These days, the kids are all grown up. The house feels pretty big for two people. Only occasionally, when they all come home for holiday get-togethers, do the rooms get filled. I’m starting to think it might be time to pass on the caretaking of this good old house to the next family. But maybe there’s no rush. Meanwhile, I’m filled with gratitude for a home that has created a shelter for our own story to unfold. And I am looking forward to the next chapter.