I moved around a lot as a kid: Houston, Dallas, Seattle, Los Angeles. Then, at last, to a redbrick Georgian Colonial—230 Aldenshire Place in Atlanta—the house I assumed would always be home.
A few days after we unpacked, a hot air balloon landed in the front yard. Our picture was in the newspaper and I took that as a good omen; surely no one leaves a newsworthy address.
I spent many afternoons in the backyard of Aldenshire Place playing under the willow tree. My little sister and I would take turns pretending to be brides, walking through the long graceful branches to our imaginary grooms. When we weren’t planning fairytale weddings, we were roller-skating in the basement amongst mom’s pickled cucumbers.
My favorite memories, though, are of course from the kitchen. One December my grandmother came to visit from Texas. We were making frosting for Christmas cookies but I made a mess of the task, transforming pretty reds and greens into a stale and sludgy brown. I cried and cried until Memaw said, “My stars, honey! You’ve invented a new color! It’s ‘muckily-dirtily’. That’s my favorite of all!” She always knew how to turn loss into wonder.
I loved that street. When choosing soap opera names, mine has, and will always remain, Gayel Aldenshire.
When dad turned forty, the neighbors put a flashing neon sign in the yard: “Lordy, Lordy, Larry’s 40!” But as the sign was taken away, so was dad’s job. We were forced to move once again, this time to a two bedroom apartment in another part of the country — One Memorial Rd, Unit 305, Oklahoma City. There was no willow tree, no roller-rink basement, not even one hot air balloon in the yard.
On the long drive to Oklahoma, mom cried all the way to Birmingham. My sister and I were silent, not mature enough to understand mom’s grief, but sensitive enough to know her tears needed space to unfurl. She cried even more during our first winter in that rundown apartment when a pile of snow crept under the sliding glass backdoor, covering part of the living room.
My best friend sent me a Mean Girl letter declaring that she could never be associated with someone who lived outside of Georgia. I held her hurtful words and the returned, halfhearted Be-Fri necklace in my hand. It was my turn to cry.
Eventually Mom rolled up her tears and sleeves. She made curtains, hung paintings, found a favorite grocery store. My parents bought us a puppy. Mom rented my favorite movie – License to Drive – over and over again. For the first time ever, we were allowed to hang posters in our room. My sister and I made the most of our shared space, drawing an invisible boundary line down the middle. It’s still a family joke, “M-o-m, she’s touching my side with her toe!”
Mom and Dad took us to something called “Sunday School” for the first time. “We used to go to church when we were growing up,” they explained. “And with this move, we’ve started to wonder if God wants us to come home.”
Over time I fell in love with the starry Oklahoma night sky, the local church, and with this Jesus-guy I was hearing so much about. I was baptized in my parents’ church and eventually walked down its aisle to my non-imaginary groom. And I moved once more, with my husband to his hometown of Chicago.
Our three children have lived in only one community. We’ve planted a church in our neighborhood and we intend to dig deep roots here. But I’m well aware that this might not always be possible. At the end of the day, houses are like hot air balloons, lifting and landing when you least expect them.
If I’ve learned any lesson from my changing addresses, it’s this: Lost is not necessarily when you don’t know where you are; it’s when you can’t find your way back home. As many houses as life ripped away, God faithfully poured home back in. He gave my parents a map and guided us back to himself in the process.
And so for me, the concept of home will always be a “muckily-dirtily” thing – a wonder-filled surprise in the midst of life’s losses.
Aubrey Sampson is the author of Overcomer: Breaking Down the Walls of Shame and Rebuilding Your Soul (Zondervan, 2015), a blogger for MOPS International, an event speaker, and a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. Aubrey and her husband Kevin live and minister in the Chicago area with their three crazy sons. In her spare time, Aubrey is likely to be found at home in her pajamas drinking entirely too much coffee.