February 08, 2018

When You Leave a Place

There was a giant of a magnolia tree in our backyard in Hattiesburg... limbs reaching out in at attempt to cover the whole yard like a mother hen. We hammock swung there and it shaded the boys' clubhouse. Andrew took a ladder out each spring at my request to pull off those perfumed flowers that filled our whole house with the smell of Mississippi. And I feel like I know what it's like to be that tree; I stared at it with knowing eyes... my feet starting to get heavy and I could feel them getting all knotted up in the ground. My roots were taking...

I remember taking this picture while weeping... filled with love for our home and that tree

When you love a place, everything gets personified. Our house... it felt like a child and a parent and a best friend. I knew which places to lunge over in the hall when a baby was sleeping, and we knew exactly at what spot and what time the peep hole will make a rainbow in the entry way, a gift to my children who waited expectantly for it every morning. "Can I hold the rainbow?"

little chubby Charlie hand... 

I can close my eyes and feel the familiarity of walking up those porch stairs and into our entry, the room warm with the light from the hanging pendant Andrew got me for Mother's Day. We stood in that entry saying hellos and goodbyes to so many dear to us... lingered there for sometimes an hour more when we meant to call it a night, because the company was just too good. We zipped jackets there and probably had a few arguments over lunch boxes and pine straw and where IS that left shoe.

We gutted that house and filled it up with us. Painted walls. Cultivated gardens to bring forth hydrangeas and kale and our own little Eden.

On Day One of our move-in we started reno on the kitchen

The house that knows us. That gave the background to our biggest celebrations... that kept our feet steady during days when our knees buckled under the weight of sorrow, that knew our hot breath and tears when we couldn't stand upright. We hid in its clefts during tornados and laid in the sunspots of its screened-in porch on those warm days that stretched from eternity to eternity.

And of course it wasn't just that house that was hard to leave... but it was the most surprisingly hard thing to leave. I didn't know how much my heart would cleave to it. How I would long for our car to find its way back to the driveway and to feel "home" when we are home.

Our precious neighbors getting salutations from my boys every time they left from and returned to their house
I know that we are pilgrims in this world and that journeying through different places and peoples is good for our hearts in that way- it's good that we are being trained to not anchor ourselves down to temporal things. But it's also not how it's supposed to be, either. We are pilgriming to an eternal land... with finality and rest. And so our hearts long for that, too. We burrowed ourselves down in Hattiesburg and our hearts and souls practiced eternity there. It was a hard thing to pick up our bags and say, "Not yet. This is not home yet."

So here's a long overdue homage to our Mississippi folk... you were our home in a way that no other place will ever be a home.

Slow life and neighbors ending up unexpectedly on your front porch

You lived up to your reputation to be the most hospitable and giving state in every sense of the word. Gave us Sunday-lunch tables to sit around and opened up your doors for playdates. You showed me how to value beauty in everyday things- like those magnolia blossoms in the church hallways or a little piece of pottery in your kitchen window sill.

You taught me how to be a mother, how to slow down and play with my babies in the backyard. How to turn on the water hose and eat watermelon on front porches with friends. You showed up in dark corners of our lives by leaving a milkshake on our front porch when I miscarried our second baby, coming by to weep with us on those same steps when our house contract fell through.

You were family to us when we had no family near, coming to Easter lunches and birthday parties and piano recitals and baptisms.... and all you precious, precious people who babysat our children just because! Just because you are so dear, and because you love so deeply and without borders. You Mississippi people do that the best.

Student becomes friend becomes family
Rosemary wearing Allison's baptism gown

Your children became my children and my children became your children... and we watched them grow by measuring them by the tiger mural at the zoo. We went from days sweating bullets at the lemur cage to driving our babies to their first day of kindergarten together... how did it happen so quickly?

Too tiny. Impossible. 

The mamas in the mirror making my heart swell
We sat in those pews together, Mississippi friends, and I learned to love church with you in a way I hadn't before. To long to be in those pews more than anywhere but heaven itself. We gave side glances and squeezed hands when I knew we were singing a song you had to choose to believe, when you had one of those weeks and your mouth had to plead your heart to heaven-- I pled with you. You pled with me.

You worked by our side in ministry, bringing the good news of hope to students on campus. You were those students that we loved dearly.... you came in our home and shared life with us and maybe you heard the true gospel for the first time there, maybe we had the incredible privilege of taking you by the hand and leading you to Jesus's throne of grace. You prayed for us and gave and gave and gave of yourself to put wind under our wings. Mississippi people will never let you do ministry alone--you made sure we knew you were with us.

We started traditions together-- Trick or Treat in Innswood and Easter egg hunts in the Bentons' backyard. You came over on Christmas Day and we shot bottle rockets on 4th of July.

This picture always takes my breath I love it so so much.
We rode up S 21st to have a coffee at T-Bones or veer off to Kamper Park to meet. We would stop and talk to our neighbors in their yard, or wave to Toby who walked his dog past our house every day and became the mayor the week after we left. Ordinary days, brimming with grace. We didn't have the eyes to see the holy grounds we were treading.

Car-pooled with these boys for nearly three years, lots of excitement on these rides including a knocked-out tooth!
When you leave a place and people like this, you don't really leave. You wonder--despite all your good theology--if your shadow stretches back 400 miles because surely your life doesn't make sense outside of the borders of that world you left.

Our heart aches and grieves even eight months later for home. And yet we know... we know that this short feast in Hattiesburg-- that truly felt like our whole lives-- was the most profound gift to us. The fact that it had a beginning and an end gives time a frame so that we can hold it in our hands. We can grasp it tightly to our chest and we can give thanks to a God who let us practice eternity there.  

I will always be from Kentucky. But I think our family will always be from Mississippi... we were grown there. Breathed to life there.

Mississippi-- you are dearly loved, dearly missed, dearly appreciated for the ways that you made us into a family. 

How we came
How we left... sad to lose Samford and sad about W's face in this pic

Charlie asks to go back to his "City House" (what he calls our Hattie house for some reason) at least weekly... Wilson told us at Christmas that it didn't feel like Christmas because we weren't in Hattiesburg. It's hard to ache for a place but even harder to watch your children ache. It's made me wonder how our Heavenly Father looks into our weeping eyes... 

On our last night at church we sang "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand"--and through my tears, I think I understood. He must know that every longing in our heart is really us casting that wishful eye. I know He aches with us as we ache, but I also know He wants to teach our hearts to sing-- we are bound, we are bound, we are bound for the promised land! If our Mississippi home is but a shadow... what a promised land it must be.

No comments: