Sorry, but we are packing boxes and probably annoying you with photos of random pieces of art accompanied by, “Do you want this?” May 24th is coming and then we’ll stop.
We bought our little french cottage in February of 1991 and when we took your great-grandmother to see it she said, “Oh what a lovely little bungalow.” We thought it was a mansion and pretended we weren’t insulted. Every room except our bedroom (painted a disgusting shade of dark brown) was light blue so we came out to the suburbs on the weekends for two months, ate Dominoe’s pizza on the patio and fixed it up. Our first Valentine’s Day dinner was spent in an empty new house, eating asparagus pasta salad by candlelight on the floor. We tried to make a fire, but didn’t know how to open the flue. We smoked out the interior and ended up wrapping ourselves in a quilt after opening every door and window to air out. Of course, we drank champagne, but it was cheap champagne, Freixenet, which is actually a Cava.
Your dad and I count it an unbelievable blessing that we raised you on this humble and beautiful corner in a God-fearing town that hasn’t changed much. We still have the same neighbors who adore you after 28 years and ask us about you each time we cross through their Liberty Drive gate. Your “kids club” in the backyard still has the red, white and blue picnic chairs inside the center of that hollowed out trinity of trees. And now it’s time for you to make your own homes without the safety net of this faithful corner. I know a permanent displacement is hard, I still drive and walk by my house on the Fox River where I grew up at least once or twice a year. So, as you grow into life without your pastoral anchor, here’s some intangible truths that you’ve learned for safe keeping in your hearts:
Plant a garden – Two decades of spring have passed with seeds sprouting on windowsills which we hardened off and ultimately planted in your “kids garden.” Getting your hands dirty is a virtue, watching the earth embed into the cracks of your index finger so deeply that you can’t wash it out means that hard work should yield a harvest, but some things will forever be beyond your control. Don’t let those unexpected forces get you down, devilish squirrels and August storms are a part of life and the sun comes out again, a new day is made and fall Kale tastes as good a spring sugar snap peas.
Dream big, live small – Live where you can hear the floors creak, where you know when each other gets up, goes to bed, flushes the toilet, creeps downstairs in the middle of the night for a glass of water or microwave popcorn. Intimate living where the rhythm of life is shared in the sacredness of the everyday equals closeness. We know Jessie spent nights up late organizing her closet and dancing pique turns across the wood floor, so we called her the “night-stalker.” We know Nathaniel couldn’t stay up long past dinner and always went downstairs to play drums when the dinner table “conversation” became too heated and Caleb constantly stayed awake looking at his globe late into the night wondering, “Where is Afghanistan?” or, “When will I climb Mount Everest?” All of you grew up empowered by your dreams and we shared those dreams close in, with all their sorrows and joys and we will keep doing that even when this home belongs to another family.
Invite others to inhabit your world, share – Probably more than ten people lived in our home and basement: grad students, our foster daughter, aimless college grads wondering what to do with their lives, those who fell on hard times. With one bathroom upstairs this wasn’t always easy. You sacrificed your precious teenage shower time and if someone who didn’t know better flushed the downstairs toilet during your shower, screams echoed through the walls because somehow flushing the cold water meant you lost the hot, (why? I never figured this out.) You grew up in a family of extroverts so maybe that made sharing our small space easier, but now you all LOVE people. I see a burning compassion in your eyes for the person on the street with nothing. I remember recently eating lunch in an outdoor cafe on Michigan Avenue and a homeless man approached our table, leaned over the canvas barricade and asked one of you for money. You reached into your pocket and gave him everything you had, $20.00, without blinking an eye. Keep living and loving with that kind of fearless abandon and say “yes” to pets. My old friend Ed Homan from the Danada horse barn always said, “You can tell how a man is gonna treat his wife by how he takes care of his animals.” Based upon how your dad has treated our animals, that is true.
Be faithful and find space to take deep breaths – Life gets hard, tax bills increase, pneumonia threatens our Nutcracker ballet performances, cramps shut down our State Cross County meet winning aspirations, flu attempts to overtake our final season in the high school musical pit orchestra, (another evening wrapped up in blankets and gutting it out:), but God is faithful. Keep trusting in Him and his boundless love. You are never alone. His plan for your earthly home may change, but his eternal definition will always stay the same; “Jesus answered him, ‘If a man loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him.’”John 14:23. Wherever you live, find the space that is your go-to for recharge. A forest preserve, a river, a prairie view from a bridge, a tall sand dune— nothing fancy, but a vista that’s real, set apart, and imprinted on your mind. Breathe in this place and know that home resides there as well.
You are grown up and the world desperately needs your gifts, your light, your spark. No longer do you exist on “blue box” mac-n-cheese. Today, you are literally calling me on the phone asking how to cook ratatouille for a gathering of ten, (say —what?) We’ll keep making home together, but now you’re equipped with everything needed to create your own. Store up in your hearts what you’ve learned on our cozy corner and if you don’t, well, count on me to write it down for you:)
Peace and always, love…
p.s. While typing this, our neighbor kids are practicing their marching band competition routine in Nick’s backyard to the BLASTING strains of “God Bless America.” Despite all the swirling, twittering fury that is America today, kids still play baseball in the street and parents do tuck their kids into bed at night. Never lose hope, because this country is your home too.