Twenty-eight years ago, Keith and I were renting a home in the northwest part of Houston hoping to buy something we could raise our family in. Neither of us had sophisticated taste nor did we particularly trust those who did. I write those words with a grin. My grandmother never trusted people of means. She had endured the Great Depression and was just certain (inaccurately, of course) that anyone who lived this side of it with money most assuredly possessed ill-gotten gain. A permanent, living fixture in my home of origin throughout my childhood, you can imagine that my beloved grandmother, Minnie Ola Rountree, had a great influence on me and, bless God, in so many positive ways. She did, however, leave my thinking somewhat distorted regarding possessions. It has taken most of my adulthood to shake the bone-deep belief that having anything beyond the merest essentials roused the terrible displeasure of God. And, since we Westerners all have more than the merest essentials, I’ve spent much of my life confessing what I possessed as sinful (and, make no mistake, appropriately at times). Of course, there’s balance in all of that and few of us would argue that the prosperity gospel so prevalent among us in this era isn’t cause for earnest repentance. But that’s a discussion for another time and another post and, come to think of it, one we have in fair depth in James: Mercy Triumphs.
In 1983, Keith and I were mostly a one-income family unless you call the pocket change I made teaching aerobics at my church a viable profession. My man was a residential plumber and a pretty new one at that. We had a four year-old and a one year-old that I utterly adored and so desired to stay home with that, prior to my hire at the church gym, I took on a paper route for a whole day. We very much liked the house we were renting but it wasn’t for sale. One day driving around a suburban neighborhood, we passed a French Provincial up for sale that nearly put us in a spell. It was beyond our means and well beyond our personalities. Still, we were mesmerized. Keith said, “Baby, I can get this house for you but only by the skin of my teeth. We won’t be able to buy a single new piece of furniture for it. Are you good with that?” I promised that I was and we put money down on it. We were beside ourselves. A few weeks later, just before we were to close on it, Keith walked in our rent house and sat me down at our kitchen table. “Honey, I withdrew our offer on the house.”
“What?? But we put money down on it!”
“Yep, we did. Money we couldn’t spare and won’t get back but we’d have had to spend nearly that same amount of money every single month on a house payment. It’s beyond us. It’s not our house.”
I cried for about 45 seconds and then was so relieved I could have done a freedom dance. I knew he was right and I was pained but so very thankful he pulled the plug. A number of months later as the bottom dropped out of the oil industry, leaving Houston in one of the biggest buyer’s markets of its history, we came upon a house going into foreclosure. It was still a lot for us to spend but we bought it.
And lived in it, fought in it, made up in it, prayed in it, swore in it, ate in it, sobbed in it, laughed in it and tucked children into bed in it for the next 27 years. We were deliriously happy in it. We were woefully miserable in it. You don’t live that long anywhere just one way. Long life happened there, meaning that those walls saw all manner of good, bad, and really ugly. But it snuggled us and hid us and harbored us for nearly thirty years. I hung my children’s baby pictures on those walls, then their school pictures with no front teeth. Then pictures with mouths full of braces, then pictures in their volleyball uniforms, then, be still my heart, their wedding portraits. Then I hung frames on those brittle walls with grandbabies’ pictures captured within.
For years I planted petunias in the flowerbeds in late Spring and, when I needed an emotional outlet, pulled up weeds with a fiery vengeance. Keith or I one dragged big ugly trashcans to the end of the driveway every Monday and Thursday then back to the garage when they were empty.
I parked a brown and beige station wagon on the broken concrete beside that house when we moved in and didn’t replace it until the wheels and doors threatened to come off.
And I loved it. It was home. As one who has nursed a lifelong aversion to change, I declared over and over again that I would never leave that house and that, when I died, Keith would have to dig a hole in the small back yard and bury me in it. At that very front curb, I waited for the school bus to pick up my girls in the morning and bring them home in the afternoon. At that very curb, my daughters’ boyfriends drove up to get them and a few hours later kissed them goodnight with me peeking through the mini-blinds. At that very curb, the postman dropped decades of utility bills – many overdue – and credit card bills that Keith Moore insisted we pay off in full every month no matter how little we had left. And now I’m so glad but then it seemed a tad restrictive for a mom who loved to take her girls to the mall.
That same house could tell terrible tales on me. Oh, what grace God has lavished on us. What mercy and forgiveness! But, amid the roller coaster that has always been Keith and me, and the tears and regrets, oh my word, the prayers that have been prayed in that house are too many to estimate. And certainly not just my own. Many of my girlfriends remember the years when we had monthly prayer breakfasts in that simple home. We’d all meet first in the den where I’d share a devotional then we’d break up in small groups and invade every room in the house and intercede for our loved ones and pray for our own needy hearts, all too often crushed by this or that hurt. I am convinced down to my marrow that God used prayer to spare my marriage and family. Keith believes it, too. I was a wreck in so many ways – still am in certain respects – but Jesus had convinced me early on in my adulthood that I’d have to have Him to survive with any sanity or life satisfaction. Any victim of early childhood abuse at the hand of a trusted family member will either have copious doses of Jesus or defeat. Plain and simple. No gray for folks like me.
I held stacks of journals in my lap two weeks ago and flipped through some of them and found a number of entries so painful that I could not even read them. I tore out numerous pages and wept before the Lord and thanked Him for His faithfulness and repented again, but wouldn’t have needed to, for such waves of stupidity and faithlessness. I also reminded myself to buy a shredder. Grin. Tucked into many of those journals were pages that also made me smile. Sometimes even laugh out loud. And then I’d cry again for the pure joy of Him.
Jesus has carried me in His own two everlasting arms. Me. Keith Moore. Amanda Moore Jones. Melissa Moore Fitzpatrick. He has carried us and His rock-solid biceps often took the form of brick, mortar and wood there on Blazey Drive in Houston, Texas. We’d think we’d come against something we couldn’t overcome, then He’d scoop us up and carry us kicking and screaming to the next season. Not fast enough to suit us, mind you, but eventually. Keith and I would look up and another year had come and gone and we were still married. Only once can I remember us coming to an anniversary where we did not so much as speak. And it was such a short time ago that you’d find it shocking. But, once again, Jesus took a needle and thread and sewed us loop by painful loop back together again. We’re so glad He did.
Then three years ago, I asked Keith if I could tell him something just once and he’d never remind me of it again because I was sure I’d change my mind. He said yes but he lied and we both knew it.
“I might someday consider moving.”
Keith’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline and he grinned ear to ear. He’d wanted to get off that busy highway near us for years.
“I said I might. But probably not.”
There were a number of things that brought me to that willingness. Keith had retired from the plumbing business and the ministry had moved to the very north edge of Houston. Our house was no longer close to our places of work. Our center had shifted. The biggest thing that changed was something unexplainable and almost irrational that finally just unraveled. The less sappy of you will need to skip to the next paragraph. Or maybe just end your reading right here. Goodness knows it’s gone on long enough. For those of you enduring this epitaph, I had this thing deep inside of me that insisted we stay in the same house so that the boy we’d had for seven years could find his way home and we’d all live happily ever after and all that confusion would be explained. Please understand that I knew it was unrealistic at the time but I couldn’t shake the idealism that it had to all work out some way – my way – and that we’d have to get a second chance so we could do a better job.
I’m so happy to tell you that I am in touch with that young man. He is darling just like he was the first time I laid eyes on him. But the fog began to clear several years ago and I was finally able to accept that the picture I had in my head was pretend. It was from a storybook etched in the mind of a romantic. Not real life. He was an adult and God had different plans for him and for us. Plans that I have to believe are for the good. We see him on occasion and I’m so thankful for the open door but we seem not to be meant to reestablish those same exact bonds.
Keith took that one tiny confession – “I might someday consider moving” – and jumped on it with both size 13 wides. It would be several years before we’d get his parents settled in the country and make arrangements to join them.
On December 14th – just 12 days ago – a moving van pulled up to my house of 27 years. Amanda, Annabeth, Melissa and I watched them empty those busy, busy rooms one box at a time. By the time that abode was back to the hollow shell we’d seen all those years ago when we first walked through it, Amanda had gone home to pick up Jackson from school and only Melissa and I were left. It was the breakfast room that got us. We stared at the spot where our dining table used to be and both burst into tears. Then each of us (crying audibly, mind you) went around the house and closed the shutters one by one and then we turned out the lights. Melissa walked on out the front door and I lagged behind for just a moment and got on that floor one last time. Face down. For the 15 thousandth time.
And I thanked God.
He did not abandon us there. Not for one minute.
We are happy out here in the country. This morning two deer were in our back yard…and lived to boast about it. Keith has promised not to kill anything here but roaches and rodents and I intend to hold him to it even though we did find wild hog tracks not far from our front door. That husband of mine has labored with all his might for months on end to make this a home for his wife. He is not a man who finds it easy to express his love with words. He expresses his love through works. And I receive this new season of our lives together with joy and with tears drying. But the thing is, I didn’t want to rush right in and start jabbering to you about the new. Not until I paid proper tribute to the old. It wouldn’t have been fitting. It deserves the dignity of a decent good-bye. It cradled a half-crazy family for nearly thirty years like it was happy to have us. Thank you for offering me the space and patience to pen so long a so long. I needed it in the worst way.
By the way, I’ve already told Keith that this is the last time I’m ever moving and that he might as well dig his boots in this dirt. After all, I’m no math-wizard, but in 27 more years I’ll be, let’s see, 81 years old. That is, if the Lord has withheld me a glimpse of His face.
And I’ll let you know how I feel about moving then.
By way of benediction, and just in case somebody’s heart needs to hear it, this place doesn’t completely do it for me any more than the one I drove away from on December 14th. One of my new appliances is already broken and the dogs get ticks out here. It’s so wonderful out in these sticks but it’s a long shot from perfect. I have a longing for something I still haven’t found. My guess is that you do, too.
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city.