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Folding our tent

Taking memories with me as we left our treasured home

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Our lives changed forever this fall, when we sold the house that had been our home for almost 25 years.

Was I ready for it? I’m still not sure. Two weeks before the move, on a Sunday, I sat in the living room and cried. Are we doing the right thing? Will we leave too much of our hearts in this quiet, cozy home in the country? Will our new place be too noisy, too cold, too strange, and are we too old to adjust? I did a lot of crying in September. My husband was sympathetic but had no answers. With his dementia he can’t grasp the present, much less the future. Technically it wasn’t too late to call an abrupt halt, but momentum was churning.

At the end of the month we left our home, that quirky century-old house with its contrivances and weird angles, with its wavy floors and creaky stairs and startling sunrises, with its frustrations and sighs and walls that could speak volumes; where we lived for almost half our marriage and experienced that marriage’s near-deterioration, and argued, and grew apart, and reconciled; where he lost his memory and I lost my complacency; where I faced my greatest fears and greatest disappointments and experienced that peace that passes all understanding; where our children left and our grandchildren arrived; that place, ingrained with the memories of joy and hurt, achievement and failure—

Left behind.

We’ve left many houses in our 52 years together—21, to be exact, many of them rented during our footloose early years. With children came more stability, along with mortgages, longer residencies, and greater nostalgia when turning out the lights and locking the door for the last time. “There are places I’ll remember,” as John Lennon wrote, and they all had their moments. I’m grateful for all those houses and locations I still can recall, but we left them while young and upwardly mobile, headed toward new adventures.

We left this house because my husband has a disease that will kill him, most likely, in three to five years, and we’ll need proximity to medical facilities and church support. Instead of accumulating, I’m divesting as fast as I can. Instead of long-term financial planning, I’m calculating finances on a fixed income. We’ll be OK; our funds are sufficient and the Lord isn’t going to cut off the provision He has always supplied. But I have a lot of catching up to do regarding home-health services, Medicare Advantage, and the labyrinth of the American healthcare system. I guess we are officially old.

Paul writes of folding up his earthly tent (2 Corinthi­ans 5:1), meaning his frail physical body, traded in for a vibrant and glorious one. For baby boomers and Gen Xers who came of age in the late 20th century, the metaphor could also apply to real estate and abundant “stuff.” My sister is getting an early start: She sold her large lake house (where she took in homeless cats and humans for 15 years), sold or gave away most of her possessions, and now lives in a 23-foot travel trailer. As our generation dies off amid burgeoning estate sales, I suspect overstuffed sofas and china cabinets will glut the market. Perhaps even the landfills.

Possessions can’t cross the boundary between flesh and spirit. “You can’t take it with you” implies that you’re going someplace your wealth can’t follow. But your memories can.

When I locked the door of our country home for the last time, I took my memories, untidily stored in mental shoeboxes. A song or scent will bring them to mind, trailing regret or nostalgia or gratitude. They are a ­testimony to the many ways the Lord ordered my steps and shaped my character. I believe, when we reach our ­permanent home, we’ll be able to look back over the tapestry of our intertwined lives and see His mysterious ways. Those places we remember were always in His mind, and will remain in ours.

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD’s annual Children’s Books of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.


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