About three years ago, a moving van pulled into the driveway of my childhood home. The old house exhaled itself into cardboard boxes. And we were left in the echo of her emptiness on the last night.
That night, I stayed up late. I wrote a letter to that old house.
The house was more than a house. It was a friend. The house was a silent witness to my first teetering steps, first fumbling prayers, first teenage crushes. I remember standing at the top of those wide wooden stairs at age five, in pajamas on Christmas morning; at age 18, with a mortar board bobby-pinned to my hair; at 23, dressed in white satin.
Writing a letter to a house seemed like the most foolish and sensible thing I could do. But it’s all I knew to do. I’ve published that letter, below, and looking back on it, I think that it reads like a prayer.
But before you read that letter, I wanted to tell you what happened today.
I received a note this morning from a college student who sat in the audience at an event where I spoke earlier this week. She heard me refer to my hometown, put a few pieces together, and then told me that a member of her family had purchased our house. As proof, she sent a photo of the house, with those wide wooden stairs that I’d ascended and descended thousands of times.
I gasped when I saw it:
Then she wrote this:
“I’ve moved a few times and I know how it’s so hard to leave, always hoping someone will love the house the same way you did. I can assure you that (my family) adores the house and it will always be filled with love! … They will be moving in, and starting a family of their own.”
Her note felt like an answer to prayer. You’ll see why …
A Letter to My House
(Written in 2011)
Hey old friend,
I’ve never been good at goodbye.
But time has a way of forcing these things, and even as I tap the keys, the clock on your wall ticks a steady march toward the inevitable. The moving truck comes tomorrow.
Right now, I find myself back in the place where we first got to know each other: the nursery. The crib’s long gone. Mom and Dad turned this room into an office many years ago. But it seems fitting that this is where I write my goodbye letter to you, in this corner room where our friendship began.
Thirty-nine years, we’ve known each other. We know each other’s scars — your chipped paint and my skinned knees. I know the secret places where I’ve etched my name into your wooden frame. And you’ve etched a bit of yourself into me — and into all of our family.
On the driveway Sunday, one sister wept her farewell. She and I hugged long, and we reminded each other that a person doesn’t grieve a thing they despise. They grieve because they loved.
And we loved you. You loved us back. Which may sound funny to some people, I suppose. Maybe it’s a you-had-to-be-there thing. I don’t know.
Just this morning, I looked in my bedroom mirror and the reflection staring back at me was an older, lined version of the child you knew. But you always make me feel like a kid when I come back here — no matter how I’ve aged.
I remember how you invited the breeze to whisper through your windows, and maybe that was your way of singing me a soft summer lullaby.
I remember crawling up on your lap, that big roof above the porch. I’d haul my library books up there and read my favorite passages aloud to you. I’ll always remember your ladybug tree, and your grand wooden staircase, and your stained glass, the way the whole noisy family would pile into the living room on Christmas Eve. I felt closest to your heart sitting there, with family in the glow of Jesus’ birth.
It was perfect. And it was home. And just today — for the first time ever — I heard an echo in the living room, emptied out. Everything is in a cardboard box now. Weird.
But you know? I’ve been thinking about what home really is. Home isn’t a place. It’s people. But even more than that, it’s a Person. Just the other night, my oldest daughter said she thinks Heaven might be a bit like this old house. Did you hear her when she said it?
Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that we’ll be leaving here tomorrow, and we’ll turn out the lights one last time, but we know that we take the best parts of you with us.
And you? We aren’t leaving you to die. We’d never do that to a friend.
Some new family will be here soon. Some new little girl will slide down your banister, and daydream on your lap, and want to get to know you — to really know you. Maybe she’ll find the message I left for her in that secret place that only you and I know.
And if you don’t mind, old friend, I might swing by once in a while. Just to wave hello.
So long, old house.
Do you have a special memory from a childhood home? Share in the comments.
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