#TellHisStory: This Old House

October 29, 2014 | 30 comments

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 peopleBut 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.

So, what’s your Story?

A #TellHisStory is any story that connects your story into the story of God.

You’re invited to tell that story right here, in community with us.

Share your narratives, your poems, your Instagrams tagged with #TellHisStory, … your beautiful hearts. You are the chroniclers, the people who help others make sense of the world with your words and your art.

Story is how we know that, no matter what happens, we can get back up again.

Visit someone (or two) in the link-up to encourage with a comment. Then, Tweet about your posts, and the posts you visit, with the #TellHisStory hashtag. Come back on Friday to visit our Featured #TellHisStory, in the sidebar.

A final note: This is a safe place to tell your stories. You don’t have to be a professional writer to join us. Story is built into every single one of us. Your story matters, because it’s part of God’s story down through history, not because you punctuated everything correctly. Deal?


For more details on the #TellHisStory linkup, click here. Share the love of story by visiting someone else in the community!

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by | October 29, 2014 | 30 comments


  1. Hazel Moon

    After all three of us left home, my dad decided to invest in a 4 plex, but it meant tearing down our home place where we kids grew up. I took a movie as the big ball as it crashed our house to bits. My dad had already removed windows and doors and good wood to build a mountain cabin with. Lots of memories in those old houses/homes.

    • dukeslee

      Thanks for sharing your story, Hazel.

      If you were trying to link up, the linky is now operational. I was having some issues. 😉

  2. Cheryl Smith

    OH, my, Jennifer! This is so touching…I had read your letter before, but it touched my heart anew. I think that is SO neat the way God allowed that girl’s path to cross yours so you would know that your dear homeplace is being loved and cared for like this. What a gift! If the walls could talk, think of all they could tell! Thanks for sharing your heart.

    • dukeslee

      Thanks so much, Cheryl. It was a pretty cool moment to get that Facebook message from the college student yesterday. So confirming and affirming.

      If you were trying to link up, but were unable, the linky is now working!

  3. KristinHillTaylor

    I have chills. What a beautiful story and a sweet reminder about where we belong.

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Kristin!

  4. JViola79

    Jennifer, what a beautiful story. And to think God showed you that your house will have a new family to love & who will love it back. You gave me chills this morning. But I guess the sentence which spoke deeply to me was this one … “They grieve because they loved.” As much as grieving hurts so deeply, I will take the pain as I want to love deeply. This reminder means so much this morning/ Blessings, friend!
    PS – I couldn’t link up this morning as I couldn’t find the linky. Perhaps my tears got in the way 🙂

    • dukeslee

      Thank you so much for dropping by, friend. Ok. So I had two issues going on… my blog broke this morning, and something goofy happened with the linkup. Both issues have been resolved now! Come back and link up! I’m really eager to visit a lot of your blogs this week. I haven’t been able to visit many in the last few weeks due to illness and other ministry obligations. Thanks for your patience!

  5. Karrilee Aggett

    I love that that sweet girl took the time to not only write you a note, but send you ‘proof’! What a gift! And you know me and picking favorites… I have many of growing up in our family home, from holidays and birthday parties to summer evenings in the garden or neighborhood games outside… it was the 70s after all and it seems we were much more neighborly then. Mostly, I love the memories that hold me and my sisters all under one roof! How much do we, as kids, take that for granted?

  6. Kris Camealy

    Wow, Jennifer, your old home is stunning. And I can so appreciate this, even though I never had a real place to set down roots. As a military child, we moved every two years and so my roots were shallow, and I never got too attached to any home. I imagine, it will be different for my own children who have all been born and raised where we are now, this will be there childhood home cemented in their memory. I LOVE that she took the time to let you know that your home is well loved and cared for–God just amazes me!! What a beautiful gift that is.

  7. Kim Adams Morgan

    Having just moved across the country (literally) and left the home we designed and built, this brought tears to my eyes. We were not there as long and we still do own it, but I don’t know if we will ever return. Home is about the people, the memories. You take them with you and you leave behind the best of what that home offers for the new family to love. I got a chance to see the new family settled into our home before we departed for the West Coast. It was filled with kids. It made me very happy. Blessings, Jennifer.

  8. BlessingCounter - Deb Wolf

    Jennifer, I loved this. We’ve lived in several homes and each time it is hard to leave. We moved into this house 10 years ago thinking it would only be for a few years. But we fell in love. What started out as a home out of necessity turned into our favorite of all. The reasons we moved fell apart, but God birthed joy and contentment in the place He chose for us. Blessings!

  9. Anita

    I’ve moved (both with parents when I was a child and during my life as a wife and mother) 24 times in 48 years, so I’ve never gotten to really KNOW a house–I’ve ALWAYS gotten to move with the people I love, though. How cool that you got to know the ‘rest of the story’ on the house you loved and knew for so long :).

  10. Katie Kump

    What a treasure. I’d forgotten banisters were made for sliding down. Thank you for the reminder, Jennifer. I’ll never forget moving out of the house my parents built when I was three. At age eleven I touched every wall the night before we moved. Every big one, every small one, all the corners and crevices of closets I could reach. But you’re right. It was more about the people who had touched my heart. Where I heard the news of having a baby brother, where we cried and prayed the morning my grandmother passed away, the game of hide and seek where I told my brother Jesus would never leave him. All dear memories of p e o p l e. So much love, kk

  11. June

    Great letter, Jennifer & how like God to comfort you with the knowing that the place you loved, is still being loved in return! Gosh, I have so many memories of the 17 years I spent growing up on our little family farm in VT. The memories seem to be coming more clearly and more often now. Maybe they’re trying to tell me something? Thank you for sharing this – have a blessed week!

  12. saltshakmk@msn.com

    This really hits home – pun intended. We have recently said farewell to my grandparent’s home, built by grandpa in 1937. Yes – many tears shed. Long ago we waved goodbye to my other grandparent’s farm house. I eagerly look for it when we take the long drive in the country and pass it by – the old fir tree still out front, even though the new family has remodeled it a couple times. Still it’s the 1960’s and grandma’s making Sunday dinner. Dad still lives in my childhood home. I know the day will come when I will be packing it up into cardboard boxes. I feel those future moments even now – bitter to know I will have to one day say goodbye and sweet for all the memories. Houses ARE special things – gifts from the Lord. A repository of human activity. A caretaker of growth. A record keeper – those secrets hidden in secret places. Thanks for your tender thoughts today. This sentimental gal cherishes the gift thoughts of “home” bring.

  13. Susan

    Love the letter. We’ve been in our current home for 26 years and it is the only home our two grandchildren know us being in. We put it up for sale twice (never sold) and each time they pleaded, “Mimz, PopPop, please don’t sell our house!” Memories fill every nook and cranny. xo

  14. Pam

    What a lovely, lovely post, Jennifer! That warm photo of the staircase grabs my heart! I think because I’ve been drawing home portraits lately and dreaming of capturing the inside places too. And this photo with all it’s light and dark makes me itch to do something with it on paper! Your “letter” also reminds me of an old 40’s (or maybe a few years earlier) movie I once saw with David Niven and Theresa Wright. Can’t think of the title, but it was told from the voice of the house remembering all the loved ones who had grown and loved and lived there… Thanks for sharing this… and your “answer to prayer” note and photo!

  15. Nancy Ruegg

    I have lived in fifteen different homes. Saying good-bye tasted bittersweet each time. But in my mind I can see each one, and in my heart I lovingly remember each one–not because of the architecture or furniture, but because of family and friends who blessed every home. I thank God upon each remembrance. And thank you, Jennifer, for such a heart-warming post. SO love the way you express yourself in such creative ways!

  16. Megan Willome

    I’ve been wanting to move, to make new memories. It could be next door–honestly. I think it will happen, but probably not before Thanksgiving. 🙂

  17. Christie

    My great-grandmother bought her home brand new in the 50’s and now 5 generations, including my son have lived there. I couldn’t imagine it not being there. It’s where i discovered so much, including my great-grandmother’s prayer journals and devotionals. Mementos and pictures she had from her various travels. I understand being attached to a house but like you have had the reminder that it is people, not a building, that make you feel at home.

  18. Elizabeth Stewart

    I love how God cares so much for us. The fact that He made sure you found out about the new owners of your parent’s house is such a sweet act of His love.

  19. karyn

    Your house is lovely. I love it.
    Thanks for sharing your life with us all.

  20. Dawn

    I had the privilege to be the granddaughter to a memory-making grandma. She was a momma to 7 and our family gatherings were always filled with love. So many memories revolve around her, her house, her garden, her kitchen. I was blessed to inherit her measuring cup, which is really just a tea cup that holds 1 cup of whatever I want to measure, but it is beautiful to me. Good Story, Jennifer.

  21. Kimberly Sullivan

    Places have always been sacred to me. Holy things happen in places and the residue seems to hang in midair. I don’t believe in hauntings, but I do believe that love leaves footprints just as tangibly as fear and hatred can. I have been mulling this over for years now…and I am relieved to find a kindred spirit about the way I feel about home and other significant spaces. Loved this!

  22. Jillie

    Hi Jennifer! I absolutely LOVE this post! Your words touched me in the deepest place. I am reminded of the time following my mother’s death. My father had moved on and he was ready to clean out the old house we all shared together. This house was nothing in comparison to houses today, in fact it was shabby. But it was ours. And we were together. In the process of sorting through, discarding, saving, I felt overwhelming sadness. We’d had a rough time in that house, a time when everything just sorta fell apart. But it was my mother’s home, our home, and clearing it out and selling it was like clearing HER out. It was all so final.
    My sweet, soft-hearted husband went through the same thing when his family home was emptied and sold. It’s the only home he’d ever known. We often drive by, just to wave, or for him to complain about the way the new owners manage the place. 🙂 His fondest memories still reside there.The weekend everyone gathered to give their “nay” or “aye” on possessions stored there, he went out to the yard, sat under the huge willow tree, and cried like a baby. No one in his family understood…but I did. They said, “What’s his problem? It’s ‘just’ a house!” No, “we grieved together, because we loved.”
    Today, he and I live in this fixer-upper, our home of 36 years. New life, new memories of raising 2 kids to adulthood, good times, difficult times. Even down to the dogs we’ve had here.
    I loved your letter to your house. What an amazing story of the student who pieced it together that someone in her family now lives in your old home, loving it, caring for it! And the photos! I can see you on that staircase. I can see you ‘etching’ words in those secret places. This just might be one of my favourite posts…ever!

  23. Caryn Jenkins Christensen

    Oh goodness! Just catching up on my email now after Allume and reading this brings a lump to my throat. The home that brought the best and most special memories to me was that of my great-aunt’s. Her home was built in the ’20’s and had wood floors, crystal doorknobs and there was a certain scent to it that was welcoming. It represented love in every sense of the word to me because it was hers. Without realizing it, when my husband and I were searching for a house, I kept looking for those same qualities. The day we found our now current home was like walking back in time to her house. The wood floors, crystal doorknobs and chandelier are comforting reminders of my great aunt. 🙂

  24. Becky Keife

    Yes, I do know how you can know a house and a house can know you and you can love each other dearly like unconditional friends!

    I grew up in the home my great grandfather built. His workshop above the garage was our clubhouse. The built in storage spaces and nooks at the back of closets were our hiding places. It was a gathering place for friends and family. A home marked by years of laughter and later years of tears.

    My parents divorced when I was 10 and my mom, sisters and I stayed in the house until shortly after my 18th birthday…the time my parents had agreed to part financial ways completely and sell the house. It was devastating. But through it God also showed me a greater picture of His love and where I really want to call home. For my high school senior project I wrote a song about saying goodbye to my home. It too reads like a prayer. 🙂 You can read it here if you want… http://www.beckykeife.com/music-the-memory-keeper/

    Thank you for sharing this tender piece. It is precious to my heart to read.

  25. Sandra Heska King

    The house I grew up in was teeny tiny–like a little cottage. Two bedrooms, a bath (without hot water when we first moved in–maybe none at all), a combined living-kitchen area, and a screened in porch. We didn’t have much, but there was lots of love. I have a lot of wispy memories… perched on the counter mixing milk and water in a glass and declaring to those sitting at the table (relatives? hunter friends?) that it was my medicine and nobody else could have any. Then there was the time I rented out a motel room while my parents snored away… I’ve gone back a couple times. It’s even smaller than I remember. 🙂



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