That old House

My parents have just put their house on the market.  It is the house I grew up in.  My earliest memories include playing in the dirt piles as the house was being built.  We moved in just before my brother was born in 1963.  There were horse farms and chicken farms on that part of Long Island then and lots of woods in which to build forts and play cops and robbers.  The expressway didn’t come out that far yet, and our hamlet was the last regular stop of the Long Island Railroad.  My grandparents lived next door, and my Dad was born in the old hospital there only a couple blocks away.  I lived in that house for 16 years before going away to college; then I’d come back to visit at least a couple of times a year.  Over the last 40 years, that community changed from small town to New York City suburb; I moved to Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Texas.  And in the midst of all that change, my New York “home” was the pride and stability in my life.  Now, as my parents prepare to sell the house and move to Texas, I feel pangs of grief.  Usually, I’m one who embraces newness; I get bored with the same old same old.  But that house has always been there just as it was, and it hurts to think of losing that tangible source of security.

I have a sense that’s how so many of us feel about our churches.  Life whizzes by us at ever accelerating speeds, and our church offers us stability through it all.  Our church stays the same when jobs change, when kids grow up and move away, when we get ill or when loved ones die.  Through all of life change – Church keeps us steady.  So, when a pastor suggests that we change our order or worship, the music we sing, or even move to a new building, we feel pains of grief and anger.  No!  It’s like selling the old house we grew up in.

Stability in faith doesn’t come from meeting in the same building, worshipping with the same people, or singing the same hymns.  Real security doesn’t come from holding on to the past, but from surrendering to the winds of the Spirit as we move into the future.  At a conference recently at Grace Presbyterian, Reggie McNeal reminded us that God is already planning for the future.  God is already at work ushering in His kingdom in new and changing ways.  The question is – is the church willing to go where God is leading?  Do we have enough faith to give up the old and allow God to create the new?  Can we really trust that if we let go and let God, God will provide for us?

On the day my parents signed the contract to build a new house in Pflugerville, we shared dinner at The Melting Pot in Austin.  As we dipped our bread into the cheddar cheese fondue, I looked across the table into my father’s eyes and asked, “Are you really ready for this, Dad?”  And with an uncanny sense of both human vulnerability and spiritual strength, he looked back lovingly and confidently, “A year ago I would never have believed I would be moving away from my life-long home, but I have a strong sense the Spirit is in this.”  He went on to explain that if he stayed, he felt his spiritual growth would become stagnant and, in effect, his life would be done.  He is confident that God is leading him into a future filled with possibility, growth, and a new life.  “Are you scared?”  I asked.  “Of course I’m scared.  I just signed a contract on a $250,000 home without having sold the old house yet.  But I’m sure that God is in this, and that gives me a deep peace about it all.”

I am so proud of my Dad and my Mom.  I don’t need a house on Long Island to give me strength … I have my parents, and they have me.  And, together, we rely on God, and we live confidently into the future God is unfolding and we help shape together.

This will be printed in the April 2006 issue of Connections, a publication of the Presbytery of New Covenant.