I sold my house.
It was the first house I ever owned. I had lived in an apartment for four years and was tired of it. I wanted my own place with my own driveway without all the noise from neighbors coming and going through the breezeway or clomping around on the floor above me. I just wanted a private space that I could control.
So in 2009, I bought my first house…
…with my first wife…
…who died more than 3 years ago.
Kristen and I had been married since 2005 and were ready to take the plunge into real estate. Our daughter was 14 months old at the time and had just started walking a few months earlier, so we were starting to imagine her running around in the yard and playing with other kids. We got a realtor and started to look for a home. We didn’t have a lot of money (we were barely adults back then), which limited our options, and after looking at eight or nine properties, we thought we’d never find one.
One day we drove through a neighborhood to look at a foreclosure (this was soon after the housing market crashed). I remember noticing how calm and peaceful the area was, how the trees towered over the ground and the sky seemed bluer than normal. The house we looked at was a mess, but we liked the neighborhood so much that we wondered if anything else was available there. It turned out there was. We had actually passed a “For Sale” sign on our way in. We pulled up to the driveway and waited for our realtor to get permission to show us the house. Apparently, it had been vacant for several months. The guy who owned it had rented it out for a while, but now he was ready to sell. We took one step inside and knew it was the place for us.
Being homeowners was like a dream come true. We actually had our own little plot of land where we could raise our daughter and grow our little family. We didn’t seem to care that the house required so much of our time (or money). We were just happy, you know, like we had finally made it as adults. We felt like we were on top of the world, and the future looked bright.
We spent a lot of spare time in our house. We were just getting into our careers, so we worked all the time. When we weren’t, we retreated to our home to take a break from the rest of the world. Our home became our refuge. It was where we enjoyed each other’s company, whether we were sharing a meal, playing a game, or talking about our day. Every day was an adventure, especially since I was a relatively new parent and didn’t have a clue how to be a father. I’m the youngest in my family and didn’t grow up around younger kids, so I didn’t know how to take care of another human being. It was hard, but we had each other as we went through the growing pains of becoming responsible parents and adults. Life was good, even though it was hard.
One of my favorite memories came around 2010, when we hosted a party for the teenagers from our church. We must have packed more than 20 kids in that place as we carved pumpkins, played games, and ate more pizza than we probably should have. It was so much fun, just being together. I wish we would have done that more often, but neither Kristen nor I possessed the gift of hospitality. Our house always needed a good cleaning before anyone could come over. So we rarely let anyone visit our Eden, our little paradise where we were free to exist without shame.
We thought we’d live in that house forever. Settle down, grow old together, have more children, advance our careers, do good in the community. I think everyone feels that way with their first home. Most people don’t stay long, though. The dream won’t last forever. It can’t. Eventually, everyone wakes up. Eventually, we all come down from the clouds, take off the blinders, and face a reality that is rarely what we envisioned. And that’s only if we’re lucky.
I was not.
My dream transformed into a nightmare, as my home became a breeding ground for grief and agony. Kristen’s health became unstable one afternoon when we were at home, and I had to rush her to the hospital to find out what was wrong. (You can read more about that here.) But we were too late. The damage had already been done. Kristen was dead just a few short days later.
In an instant, my home became my hell. It was the last place I wanted to be. I actually stayed with my parents after Kristen’s funeral because I didn’t want to be in our home without her there. I didn’t need constant reminders of her absence. So I shielded my soul and stayed away from there.
But after a few days, I knew I’d have to go back home, if not for me, then for my daughter, who was in preschool. And I realized I was running from my grief, which just didn’t seem like the right thing for me to do. So I packed up my kids and went back. At first it was miserable. I could barely keep my eyes dry. Everything in the house reminded me of her, of the home we had bought together, of the memories we had made, and of the loss I was now enduring. I had to go back to work just to escape the pain. Little by little, though, I found myself functioning a little better. Sometimes I was on autopilot and couldn’t really remember specific details of each day, but that was OK. I think that was my brain’s way of coping, and I’m honestly glad I don’t have too many vivid memories of those days.
The house I bought with Kristen would always be an intimate reminder of her. That seemed like a nightmare at first, as I grieved her death intensely for more than a year after she died. Then it became comforting because I wanted to feel close to her, and being immersed in the house we bought was an obvious way for me to maintain that emotional connection. But after I started dating again, and especially once I met the woman I would later marry, the house became a burden. In order to move forward with my lovely fiancée (who is now my wife – I love you, Lauren!), I knew I’d have to sell my house and get a fresh start somewhere else, with a home that would be unique to us. I had always heard that a man needed to leave his father and mother before he could be joined to his wife, but I never thought I would also need to leave behind the house that represented the love and loss I once shared with my late wife. So I put the house on the market and hoped for the best.
Three weeks later, my house was under contract.
I mowed the yard for the last time this week. I can’t say it made me too sad. I was never a great landscaper, and I probably annoyed my neighbors when the weeds came up to my knees. But it was still strange knowing that I would never take my mower around the yard again. That had been my grass. Those had been my trees that I planted and bushes I trimmed. I spent 7 years of my life making that place my home.
Now it belongs to someone else.
And that’s OK.
There will be more bushes, and trees, and grass. Those things don’t make a house a home. What matters to me is forging a new life with Lauren. GOD brought us together, gave me new life, and redeemed a part of me that was frail and broken. The least I can do is be grateful for all He has done and all He is going to do.
After Lauren and I were engaged–and even more so after we married–I felt I was standing at a crossroads. I could continue down the path that was familiar and comfortable, a predictable route that would ensure some level of security, but one I knew would never allow me to flourish. Or I could take a risk, be bold, step out of my comfort zone, and embrace a change that I knew I could not control. That’s what following GOD usually entails, and that’s what I knew I needed to do if I wanted to be obedient to His will. It was like GOD was standing there waiting for me to make a decision, but all the while telling me that I needed to go.
So I went.
I don’t know where He will lead me or what’s coming next, but I know life with Him will be far better than life without Him.
I’m going. Moving on. Starting over. Whatever you want to call it. Lauren is my wife, and the two of us are forging a new life for ourselves as one flesh. Maybe I can’t go home again, but I can build a new home with Lauren and the LORD, and that’s a dream that excites me.