I turned 42 this past Friday, and I got a house for my birthday. After more than twenty-two years of marriage, I finally had a threshhold to carry my bride across. There wasn't a lot of time or opportunity for celebration, but I did buy myself a new crucifix for the living room wall, and my family and friends sang "Happy Birthday" to me over a nice salmon dinner that we ate in the midst of moving, and I took a break in the evening to enjoy a beer with my good friend and colleague, Pastor Grobien. With or without the birthday, however, I'm feeling my age more than ever at this point. On Sunday morning, I was actually aware of the process of formulating my thoughts and articulating them into words. My body and brain have been exhausted and sluggish, more so than I can remember feeling in a very long time.
The entire past month or so has been a whirlwind, and I am more than ready to catch my breath and get my bearings again. There was the district worship workshop in mid-September, than the Lenten resource for CPH, the paper I wrote and presented on Paul Gerhardt in New York, the pastors' conference in southern Indiana, the hymn festival and then the fundraising dinner at Emmaus. Along with all of that, we made an offer on a house in early October, went through that whole process, had the inspections done, negotiated the deal, and closed on the 30th of the same month. I was already tired by then, but the real work had yet to begin.
There's no way we could have accomplished this move without my amazing wife, LaRena. And even with her persistence and hard work, there's no way we could have managed it without the help of many good friends. It is staggering, the extent to which others have gone out of their way for us, and bent over backwards to help us, and pitched in their time, treasures and talents toward the goal of getting us into our own house and home. An awful lot of the work that has had to be done is of the sort that I have very little ability for or experience with. My lack of know-how and my inability to do more have been frustrating, discouraging and embarrassing, though no one has said or done anything to make me feel that way. It is just the reality that my skills and vocations typically exercise a completely different set of muscles than moving does.
We weren't as well prepared for the actual move as we might have been, either, but that was largely due to unforseen circumstances. In a way, the whole move was unforseen, as we had not anticipated that all of this would come together so soon or so quickly. After all these many years of renting, and after more than a year of looking unsuccessfully for a house that might work for us (in size, condition, location and price), I suppose we might have thought it would never happen. Now that it has, I'm still a bit breathless from the experience: both from excitement and from the fact that I'm out of shape and getting old (funny as it sounds to say so).
There were two things, in particular, that put us off schedule for the move. We closed on the 30th, but the contract allowed the previous owner three days after closing to wrap things up and get moved out. Apparently that has become standard, but I don't think it is typically abused as it was in this case. When we went to take possession of the house on Friday the 2nd of November, we discovered an absolutely chaotic mess. Words do not suffice to describe the disaster we encountered, nor do photographs do it justice. There were piles of trash in the basement and the garage. There were pieces of furniture in various rooms throughout the house. There were cat boxes in several places, dirty dishes left on the stove and in the sink, cupboards and drawers full of junk in the kitchen and laundry room, toiletries and other personal items left behind in the bathrooms, and miscellaneous odds and ends everywhere we looked. Several of the supposedly working appliances proved to have gone beyond their last legs, and they were filthy besides. It would be hard to decide the single most appalling thing about the condition in which things were left. The consequence was that we (with the help of several friends) spent the better part of three days cleaning up the new house, so that we could begin the process of moving ourselves into it.
The other thing that happened was the death of a dear, long-time member of the congregation, which meant a funeral between closing and moving. Obviously, I don't begrudge such a thing, not at all, but it did mean that several days I would have spent packing were spent preparing for the funeral. When it came down to it, the things I really needed to do before we tried to move had to be happening in the middle of moving day. All things considered, I suppose that I should not have taken the time to attend the Good Shepherd Institute this past week, but it meant a lot to me to be there, and I was well-served by the papers that were presented. The highlight of the institute was the paper on Franzmann's life on Tuesday morning. I was really struck by the way in which we got to know the man as a child, a husband and a father, within the context of his family, and in relation to his friends, instead of simply as a theologian and hymnwriter. It occurred to me that we rarely get to know the leaders of the church within their familial context. Which means, I think, that we probably pull them away from their families more than we should, on the one hand, and that we don't really know them at all, on the other hand. But I was given the privilege of getting to know Martin Franzmann last Tuesday, and I am profoundly grateful for that. I was also very pleased for the opportunity to visit with a few of my dearest friends, and to chat with them about things of importance that I might not otherwise have had the chance to discuss.
Now, for the time being, I am altogether spent. Both my mind and my body really are ready for a break. I am thankful to have a colleague who is ready, willing and able to give me that chance, because I need to recharge my batteries: both for my own sake, and for the sake of those I am called to serve. My wife and family need my help and assistance on the home front, besides, and I am more painfully aware than ever of my finitude. I cannot even begin to put into words how deeply and profoundly grateful I am for the brothers and sisters in Christ who have done so much to serve and support us through this move; and not simply to get the job done, but to help us make our house into a home for our family. They've assisted us (or we've assisted them!) in ripping up the ratty old carpet and finishing the hardwood floors underneath, putting in a new kitchen floor, painting the walls and ceilings in almost every room of the house, replacing the stove and refrigerator with new and more adequate appliances that actually work well, and thoroughly cleaning everything.
I may be getting old and too tired to move any more, but the joy and satisfaction of my family make it all worthwhile. My little Frederick has cheerfully dubbed our new home his "Happy House," and it has been clear that he and his siblings really are very happy about it. Justinian, bless his heart, has several times come up to me and given me a big hug and said "thank you" for buying the house; that probably meant as much or more to me than anything else. My one regret is that DoRena and Zachary have not gotten to be a part of this milestone adventure in our family's life. I've missed having DoRean around to help organize, coordinate, and clean; and I've missed having Zach around to help with the lifting and loading and hauling about of stuff. But mostly I've missed being able to share this occasion with the two of them, and I regret that I never had the chance to provide them with a house they could really call their own. It seems very strange, and kind of sad, that they will be visitors rather than residents of this new house; although I was rather surprised at how much of their stuff we still had to move, as it was.
Already in less than a week, we've made a number of special memories with good friends in our new house and home. I expect there will be many more as the years go by, and hopefully most of them will not be quite so exhausting! If I never have to move again, it will be too soon, but I cherish the treasures of friendship I have experienced so tangibly in the course of this move. It seems to me that providing a house for my family and sharing it with friends is what makes it into a real home, for which I am truly grateful.