‘I remember, I remember,
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in at morn –
I remember, I remember,
Where I was used to swing,
And thought the air must rush as fresh
To swallows on the wing –
I remember, I remember,
The roses, red and white,
The vi’lets, and the lily-cups,
Those flowers made of light!
The lilacs where the robin built,
And where my brother set
The laburnum on his birthday,—
The tree is living yet!’
The divorce was finalized last week. Not something really to celebrate, although the relief was enormous.
Now the mighty wheels of change are beginning to grind forward. The For Sale sign went up in the front yard on Tuesday and down to its very bones the house was spruced up by yours truly for picture-taking on Wednesday.
Losing the house is a particularly harsh consequence for my two. Their lives have been framed by its walls from the moment they came home from the hospital. I have a different story.
It was our first and only home as a married couple. We had been living in Santa Monica in his house after we married. Then on December 23rd 2002 – me heavily pregnant with our firstborn – we were told by new owners that they would pay us to leave our rent-controlled nest by the end of January. This placed me way too close to the Nativity story for my own liking.
There was no way we could afford to buy a home. And yet, through God’s extraordinary timing and economy, we found this sweet house. On account of my morning sickness, we asked God to show us a house on our first day of looking. And He did! I walked into this room and was overwhelmed by the light and space.
However, surely it couldn’t be sensible to plump for one on the first day without looking around at other options? All prayer instantly forgotten. So we passed and it immediately got snapped up by brighter people.
Three weeks later and realizing with every passing day what wallies we had been – the house was truly the diamond in the coal heap of our price range – it miraculously dropped out of escrow. The couple passed for one of the very reasons we loved it – so many families in the neighborhood. We made an offer within the hour and someone made another shortly after at a higher price. Again miraculously, the owners who were Christian decided to take our offer of asking price. There is no explanation for this kindness other than Kingdom living.
I was in heaven. We had very little to do inside the house before the baby came. Looking back now it had so little decor or personality, but it belonged to us and so I thought it was glorious.
We stumbled through several years of mortgage, paying by hook or by crook. However we went under threat of foreclosure in 2007. And there we stayed for five years. Five whole years.
During that time, I kept saying to the Lord, “Anything but the house, Lord. Please don’t let us lose the house! I can’t handle two small children with no home to handle them in. Please no.”
Then three years into the five, I was sitting in church when the Pastor said, “What in your life have you not surrendered to God?” And it hit me like a brick: “The HOUSE!” I thought. “I am holding on with all my might to the house. As if to keep the house would somehow keep us safe.”
In that moment of revelation, I could also physically feel the amount of emotional energy draining out of me by holding onto it with white knuckles every single day. “God’s got us, Josie,” I counseled my weary self. “Wherever you are in Him, you’ll be OK. You can trust Him. You can let it go.” So I did. And the relief was tangible.
After five years, without any possible explanation other than divine, the bank granted us a loan modification (we had been through three applications right up to the point of signing, and then told to start over. God.) On paper there was no way we were eligible. They also forgave us almost a quarter million in debt. Why? No earthly reason. Watching ‘The Big Short’ last Christmas drove this truth home to me even more sharply.
Over the past two years of separation, I have prayed and tried to find ways not to uproot the kids by leaving the house. My bedrock assurance has been that if we were meant to stay here, God would make a way. He had done it so many times before.
But He has not this time. So I stand on the consequent truth that He is indeed moving us on. The children and I are being called to carve out a new start. Which can only be a good thing and one for which one may be grateful, no matter how poignant the leave-taking.
[The hand painted numbers which seemed like such a great Color Me Mine family project. In theory.][My ducks from Godmother Quill that have followed me all the way from Glasgow.][Stu’s puppy picture remains in pride of place.][Me and my brother, David.]
For over thirteen years, this home has housed all our laughter and many of our tears. Christmas mornings and caroling suppers. Endless summer birthday parties with games in the garden, and celebrations at long tables under the sun-slatted/twinkle-lit patio roof. Hammocks and swings, Easter egg hunts and learning to ride bikes on the front lawn. Dinner parties and barbecues and firepits and yard sales. Beloved dogs, puppies, hamsters, fish, butterflies, mice and – for a short season – uninvited rats. Possums have run along our wires and squirrels have woken us squabbling outside our windows. Birds have nested in our honeysuckle and daily choose to congregate on our cables for their social hour. I think they love our hedge of bougainvillea. When my English mother thinks of our home, she can hear the birdsong in her mind.
[My Mothers Day gift. Hummingbirds constantly hover in the honeysuckle.][The honeysuckle were planted two weeks before Sarah Jane was born.][Stuey’s memorial garden.][The hammock that broke my back – and then God healed!]
I have planted roses and fruit trees, and found a biblically blossom-less fig. We’ve had vegetables, wildflowers and herbs. We’ve done swing sets, trampolines (briefly two at once), badminton and frisbee. Who knows at this point how many boomerangs, balls, bears, shuttlecocks and possibly a kite nestle amid the honeysuckle on our roof?
And I have painted. Over the years I have painted every single room in the house – several more than once. The kids got their blackboard walls and I finally got my rosy-apple-red front door. Only last summer I painted golden stripes on the living room wall that continue to give me endless enjoyment every day –I mean, come on! Who can’t love a stripey wall.
[Me and my sister, Jinny.]
The pictures show how I have made the house over the past two years. I gave the children their own rooms and my bedroom also became my office. I ripped out all the carpets to reveal the gorgeous original wood floors.
[Where the coat rack fell out of the wall after an overpacked backpack proved its nemesis.][The bluebirds I painted for SJ to keep her looking up.]
[Minecraft green. Obv.][The loft bed Guy and I put together with only half the instructions from IKEA.Then cut the legs off.][Blackboard doors!]
[The red hallway I let the kids paint with their paintbrushes after Picasso.][The bed where I lay for months in 2013 listening to the birds outside.]
Every object in the house has a meaning and a story. The only thread that pulls all the styles together is…er… me.
[The kitchen with archaic oven and stovetop where I cooked 473 jars of chutney in 16 days before Christmas in 2007. So began Josie’s English Kitchen.][My Yale degree above the washing machine to remind myself in the toddler years that I had had a brain. At some point.][The Queen never stops waving…][A chart left over from homeschooling days.][‘Go DWILL help mewhen’ became a family catchphrase.]
For those of you who have visited us here, I hope every inch shouted, “WELCOME!” And you know that you were wanted, loved and invited into our lives. I love that it was a house where people kicked off their shoes to put their feet up on the sofa.
Now we shall take our home with us, and look forward to welcoming you into our next that God will provide. I know He will, because he’s done it before and He doesn’t change.
In the meantime, as for me and my house?
We’ll continue to serve the Lord.