“We used to watch deer eat in that field before they built your family’s house there.”
That was the first conversation I had at the church I visited across from my dad’s new home. His development fit in with the rest of the homes being built in the area: over-sized, suburban homes that felt like a slice of heaven to a former city dweller after slaving away in the concrete and grit of the city where “houses” were built on top of each other.
I celebrated a few milestones in that house, graduating from high school and celebrating my engagement, but I had mixed emotions when the house went up for sale last month.
For all of the good memories I can piece together, there are other stories that make me want to leave the house behind. Where I expected sentimental reflection, I caught myself leaning toward “Good riddance.”
During a particularly difficult time in my teens, that house became my refuge. Few people know all of the details, and I’ll just say that I was hurting and confused.
After another tumultuous visit with a psychiatrist, I laid in bed at night with my headphones plugged into my boom box where In Utero by Nirvana spun away, giving me all of the shouts and growls that I dared not utter.
In a moment of Damascus Road like clarity, I saw that this music had been my medicine for the pain I felt, but it wasn’t making anything better. If anything, I was stewing in my anger, egging it on, and asking it to fester.
I needed a clean break, and that night I dumped all of my CD’s in the trash.
This wasn’t a rejection of “secular” music per se. Rather, I was throwing out a drug that had become harmful at that season my life. It was just the kind of thing you’d expect a rash, hot-headed teenager to do.
My room became a haven of peace after that.
Yes, “Christian” music. I’m as guilty as anyone for thinking that Audio Adrenaline and Newsboys were “rad.”
More than my music change, I started to read and journal on a daily basis. I didn’t consider myself a writer, but some key parts of my foundation shifted into place back then. I don’t see how I could have laid that foundation without the peace and security of my room.
Kneeling on the floor of my bedroom four years later, I wept for joy over the grace and mercy of God as I finally understood that the Gospel meant I didn’t have to make myself perfect before God to be accepted. That was something he had done already.
I carried the freedom of that evening back to college for my sophomore year, and over the following years I began to detach myself from that house and my room. I had other rooms in other places that I now called home.
When I returned home after college and started attending seminary, the house started to feel less and less like a refuge. I no longer needed a refuge from hard times and toxic relationships. I didn’t want to live in the space where I’d fought those battles.
On our last visit to the house before it went on the market, Ethan had been learning how to fall asleep on his own. We’d surrounded him with pillows in my dad’s bedroom and took turns holding his hands down as he drifted to sleep, lest he startle and whack himself in the face.
By the time we were putting our baby down for his nap in the old house, which was still quite new, I hardly remembered that teenager who had once laid in the next room over, stewing in anger and resentment. Those aren’t memories that I can erase forever, but stepping away from the place where I’d felt that pain has added a distance that I’ve long craved.
Even if Ethan remembers nothing of that big house with its large living room or the basement that my family had finished after a busted drain pipe got a huge insurance pay out, he felt the one thing I want to remember about that house: drifting off to sleep in peace and security.
He may have several homes throughout his childhood, but I pray that he’ll never need a refuge like I did and that he won’t have to drive away from bittersweet memories that are best left forgotten.