My Sweet Boys,
Four months ago, we moved out of the only home you had ever known. Yesterday that home was torn down. It needed a lot of work…and the church is growing and needs more parking space. When I saw pictures of that house being leveled, my heart hurt. I cried…like a lot. Not because it was such a nice house (guys, it was in pretty bad shape) or because we’re not happy where we are. My heart hurt because of the sweet memories. When I saw the pictures, scenes from those years of our lives flashed before my eyes. There are things I don’t want to forget…and that I want you to know.
When Daddy and I moved there, it was just the 2 of us (and Gunther!). Isaiah was due to be born in a month and was running out of room in Mama’s belly. We had no idea what life would look like for the next 6 years…but we were excited. We had no clue how to be parents…but we wanted it more than almost anything. Some of our greatest joys and best memories involve bringing the 3 of you into that house and learning how to be a family together.
Isaiah James, you came into the world 8 days before your due date. We had lived in the house less than a month and our friend Dave was working on putting dry wall up in the dining room. Things were still a mess. We weren’t really ready for you. But you came anyway…and you came fast! (And you haven’t stopped moving ever since.) When we brought you home, you didn’t follow any of the “rules” or go by any of the baby books I had poured over for months. Your sleeping (or lack of it) drove me absolutely bonkers. We paced those floors with you. We rocked you in that nursery. We got on our knees beside that crib. The first months of your life were hard…but they were also so rich and you brought us so much joy. I can’t begin to tell you how much God used you to refine me and strip me of my pride. That house reminds me that I’m not in control, but I have a loving Father that is.
When you were 2 years old, Mama had another baby in her belly. We were so excited to give you a sibling. But God turned our world upside when that baby’s heart stopped beating. After 4 days in the hospital delivering our Heaven baby, we dreaded going back into that house…the home we were supposed to bring another baby into. When we pulled into the driveway, we saw our garage door covered in cards and notes from the teens and college students that Daddy ministered to. Grief washed over us later, but for the first hour, reading those cards helped give us such peace. When we moved 4 months ago, there were still tape marks on that garage door from those cards. They were daily reminders of the love poured out on us when we were so very sad. We wrestled with God in that house over that baby’s death. Boys, He met me there. He carried me through those dark months. He showed me more of Himself and He used that baby to change me from the inside out. That house reminds me to hold things loosely, that God is sovereign, and that heaven is near.
Toby boy, oh, how we begged God for you. When we found out you were growing in my belly, we stood in that kitchen so happy and yet so terribly scared. Daddy held me and we prayed. We were so afraid of losing you, too…but were so overwhelmed with gratitude that He gave you to us. You filled that house with such laughter. You brought us such healing. You taught me how to trust and how to not fear. You made happy messes and kept me on my toes. Every day with you in that house was an adventure. That house reminds me that, whatever our circumstances, God is so very good.
Jack-Jack, you only spent 4 months of your life in that house and every one of them was part of our transition and major life change. You were ready to join our family on Mama and Daddy’s wedding anniversary, but I was in denial. I played outside with your brothers and went grocery shopping. I tried to eat dinner and laid on the couch in agony, determined that you wouldn’t be born that day. But it was a good thing the hospital was just minutes away from that house because we almost didn’t make it in time! We brought you home to a house full of noise and chaos and packing and emotion and change. You just rolled with it. You helped me enjoy those last few months there. God used you to bring me peace when I was really scared of the future. That house reminds me of God’s abundant grace upon grace and His gentle shepherding of our hearts.
Boys, over the years that house became the Grand Central Station of our ministry at Martinsburg Grace Brethren Church. It was regularly filled with people…so much so that you would often wake up asking who was coming over that day. When you were a baby, Isaiah, Mama taught Jr. and Sr. High Sunday School classes in our living room while you napped. The girls loved to see you and you absolutely loved being the center of attention. After you went to bed on Sunday nights, teens would come over for Bible study. They regularly crammed into our living room to study God’s Word…and then spread out all over our house to pray together. I loved walking through and hearing them talk to God…and looked forward to the day that you could, too. Toby, by the time you came along, every Sunday morning our house was filled with college students and young adults. We read the Bible together, talked about the gospel, and prayed for God to change us. You couldn’t wait to see “the big kids” each week and they couldn’t wait to see you – regularly fighting for your attention (smart phones usually worked best ;-)). They were even there, Jack, the Sunday after you were born – marveling at how beautiful and tiny you were and imagining who you were going to grow up to be. Guys, you were so loved. They absolutely doted on you. In fact, I’m pretty sure that a lot of the times that they came to see Mama and Daddy they really were just coming to play with you. You were so lucky to have so many outstanding young people to look up to. That house reminds me of how grateful I am for the people that have poured into your little lives.
There were knocks on the door late at night. Phone calls early in the morning. People dropping by to talk to Daddy, to ask him a question, or to pray with him. Daddy’s intern, Ben, spent MANY hours with us in that house. Isaiah, the second he walked in the door, you had his utmost attention. You’d steal him away to play drums or blocks or cars or read books. He made you laugh and you made him smile. Jenny worked with Daddy for a few years at the church and became our dear friend and Isaiah’s favorite baby-sitter. She fed your imagination and turned that house into a circus ring, the jungle, and outer space. It was just normal life for you boys to have 20 young adults around your dining room table. They knew where our dishes were and where I kept the hot chocolate. They saw us be a family. Watched Mama and Daddy handle conflict. Saw us discipline you. Heard my exhaustion and my desperate need for Jesus in this mothering gig. They saw us on our good days and our bad days…and it was quite humbling. Dusty, Ryan, and Laura, Jared and Janae – they spent many hours there hanging out with us – with you. They became a part of our family. Almost like your big brothers and big sisters or aunts and uncles. Every year different engaged couples would also come into our living room and sit on our couches while they prepared for marriage. We loved it – and they were great reminders of how beautiful and hard and fun and challenging marriage is. I sat on our backyard swing many different times with many different girls – though I remember each of them by name. We talked about life and boys and figuring out what it looked like to follow Jesus. They challenged me and brought me to my knees and I loved it. That house reminds me that discipleship is up close and personal and involves sharing your life with others.
Though Daddy was a pastor and our house was the church’s, your Daddy was so good about stepping back and making his family his first priority and most important ministry. He played with you, made you special breakfasts, prayed with you and over you, and took you for bike rides in the parking lot. Sometimes that meant saying “no” to things that people expected him to say “yes” to. Sometimes that meant shutting off his phone or not answering his emails. Sometimes that meant leaving town on his day off to protect his focused time with you. Sometimes people criticized him for it or talked behind his back about it, but it didn’t matter – YOU were that important to him. That house reminds me that our first calling is to shepherd and disciple YOUR hearts…and that you have a really awesome dad.
So many friends came to visit us in that house. Friends from Ohio, Indiana, Chicago, Africa, and France (to name a few). Before he was married and had a family of his own, our friend Jeremy stayed at our house so much that Isaiah called the guest room “Jermy’s room”. Our friend, Jack, once spent a whole month with us and there were months when our friend, Seth, was there every weekend. Ruthie and Casey drove to be with us right after our baby died and the Irvings came for several holidays. There were many pots of coffee made, many board games played, many prayers prayed and tears shed, many hugs given, and many, MANY laughs (mostly because of your Daddy). That house reminds me that long-distance friends can still be friends for life.
You made friends of your own in that house. Keith and Annika, Cade and Carter and Colton, Eva and Brittian, and many others. We piled waaay too many toys in that sunroom and it was almost always a mess, but you had so much fun. I can still see you dressed up like cowboys or ninjas or animals, still hear your sound effects and giggles and stories, still smell the cookies being baked and popcorn popping, still taste the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and popsicles, and still feel the squishy hugs and tiny high-fives. That house reminds me of how blessed it is to share.
For those 6 years, we were less than an hour away from your grandparents and aunts and uncles. Everyone would congregate in that house for your birthdays and Easter and for brunch on every Christmas Eve. We loved that you could know your Papa and Nona and Pappy and Grammy so well and that they could visit (or babysit) whenever they wanted. Papa chased you in circles through the house and pushed you on your swings. Nona took you for walks and rocked you to sleep. Pappy played his guitar for you and fed you sugar. Grammy read you books and snuggled with you on the couch. They helped with so many projects – fixing things or making things or painting things. That house reminds me of how special it is to have family.
That house was far from perfect. The basement constantly flooded until it was closed off. The ceiling leaked over our bed and over the kitchen sink until it was fixed. The bathrooms were quirky, the carpet was stained, and before we left we didn’t have any heat. That house reminds me that “stuff” doesn’t last and that this world is not our home.
Daddy and Mama didn’t just have to figure out how to be parents there – we also had to keep learning how to be husband and wife there, too. There were misunderstandings and times when we sat on the couch staring out the front window in silence – not knowing exactly how to enter into each other’s worlds. We had to learn to say “I’m sorry” and practice forgiving over and over. There were hard, discouraging, and painful trials that we had to walk through together – times I had to listen to Daddy be angry and confused or watch him hurt and cry when he faced discouragement in ministry, and times when Daddy had to literally pick me up off of the floor while I grieved or talk me down when you boys had threatened my sanity. But there were also times of such joy – such deep love. Your Daddy and I talked for hours, giggled like we were kids, danced in the kitchen, and kissed…a lot (someday you’ll appreciate that). That house reminds me of how passionately I sure do love your Daddy.
Oh, Isaiah, Toby, and Jack, I remember sitting on our swing in the back yard almost 7 years ago, belly bulging with a growing baby Isaiah. I rocked back and forth and prayed and imagined a little boy running around that yard. Lilttle did I know, that one day I’d get to watch THREE little boys play in that yard. There are so many memories, so much fun, and so much love. We really were (and are) so very blessed and that house we lived in for 6+ years is a sweet reminder of that.
The house wasn’t anything special in and of itself. It was imperfect, outdated, and inefficient. It wasn’t worth much. We could have done whatever we wanted to make it look better on the outside, but it still wouldn’t fix its brokenness. (“You can’t polish a turd,” your Daddy would say.) But it was what happened on the inside of that house that gave it life. What made it worth remembering. As I looked at the pictures of the house being demolished – roof caving in, inside walls becoming outside walls, making room for something new – it reminded me of my own heart.
Boys, there is nothing particularly special about me. On my own I am broken, sinful, and terribly weak. I could dress myself up and parade around my talents and “good works” and self-righteousness, but none of that would matter. As God continues to tear down my walls and crucify my flesh, it’s Jesus that fills this shell. He is what gives me life. Makes me new. Determines my worth. Breathes in me purpose and meaning and joy.
That house in Martinsburg will soon be forgotten. And boys, I’m sure we will eventually be forgotten, too. But the Jesus that filled those walls and filled our hearts is what I want you to remember. What I want you to cling to…no matter where we go.
I love you to the moon and back,