God is so exceptionally clever in how He made us complex creatures. I often wonder what His reactions are to our responses and emotions to the challenges and joys of life. I was giving Him ample opportunity to encounter mine, as it is move-in day and they are all over the place.
Last night I had lingered longer outside for our new puppy, Gracie’s, final potty excursion, and trust me they are an excursion. I could outline an entire novel in my head by the time that dog does her business. The air was balmy and held every kind of beginning of summer feel. You know that beachy kind of feel. Our neighborhood has that anyway. Houses snuggled together. Bikes swirling around. A little town center for evening custard and neighbor chatter. A grocery store nestled in the middle. And I felt my heart grieve as the reality, I am leaving home, settled on me. The movers had ransacked the house over the course of the day and vestiges of our lives now sat inside three large moving trucks.
I woke early this morning. My mind filled with racing thoughts of excitement and tasks. Pack coolers. Feed Gracie. Potty Gracie. Watch Gracie. Shower. Go to vet to get Sophie. Don’t forget Maggie.
So, I had a great deal to remember to pack before we headed out. And I still had to go pick up Sophie from the vet, where they had graciously kept her for me since her death a few months before. When I was about to walk out the door, Philly was up. Gracie had just pooped in the kitchen, after I had spent fifteen minutes with her outside chewing her leash and chasing every whisper of a sound, so I was a little flustered and agitated and sad.
“You okay babe?” He asked as he shuffled into the kitchen.
This never really means, “Are you okay?” This means, “Are you angry? Did I do something?” We both have memories where anger was a little too present. We know full well that anger is not a volume, it is an energy that can take an atmosphere hostage quickly. We have never known anger or frustration with each other until Gracie came into the picture. And because we were now sleep deprived and stressed out by an ever-growing and co-dependent puppy, (at least that’s what the trainer informed me she and I already were) we had encountered the foreign soil of agitation. So, this question had been asked more in the last four months than had ever been asked in our marriage.
“No, all good.” I said as I got in the car and headed to the vet to get my girl.
As the vet tech carried her to my car, I cried as she carefully placed her in the cooler I had prepared for her transport.
“Am I crazy?” I asked her.
For some reason, I ask this question a lot. I must have a deep-rooted awareness that I am a little off-center. I talk about Jesus all the time. I feel things on a very deep level. And I am about to drive my two dead dogs and six-month-old puppy five and a half hours across state lines. It seems like a legitimate question.
She laughed as she closed the trunk lid. “No, you are not crazy. My parents told us recently they are thinking about moving and I freaked out and told them they couldn’t because all our dogs are buried there, and it is where I want to bury my dogs in the future.”
I grabbed her and hugged her. “I’m so grateful you are crazy, too.”
With that I climbed in my car and cried. I just cried. (I am truly discovering how much I cry…) I cried with gratitude for having my girls with me. I cried at the thought of leaving my people. I cried when I passed the CVS I always shop at, and the Publix. I waved to my dry cleaners and favorite McDonald’s, thanking them for the joy they brought me and the clean pressed shirts of Philly’s that saved me hours of ironing. I blew a kiss to my alteration’s lady, and sang three stanzas, with their chorus, of Great Is Thy Faithfulness as my heart bid our church adieu. I was a hot mess when I arrived home.
Okay, now, you cannot judge me in what I will tell you next. I mean you may, but if you are a dog person and can be honest with yourself, you have to admit you may do this, too. My first pup, Maggie, was buried in the backyard of the home Philly and I lived in for ten years after we married. He had buried her by the large tree that held the kid’s swing. I didn’t want to leave her there when we moved, but he wouldn’t dig her up. (That was the single, only time I had kind of wished I believed in cremation.) When I realized our new home only had a courtyard, I knew I couldn’t bury her there anyway, so I surrendered. But now, we were moving to our hopeful forever home, and I could bury her there.
So, unbeknownst to Philly, I texted the owner. We had talked a few times before. I nervously shared my extreme request to come dig up my Maggie, to which he responded immediately, “Of course you can! My dog is sitting on my desk in an urn. I would want my dog too!” (See, I am not the only one…) Philly found out my brother was going to go help me, because I wasn’t even going to ask him after he had abandoned her there. But with his manhood on the line, he immediately declared that he would be the one going with me, only to reveal to me on the drive over that he had not actually buried her in the plastic tub I had put her in, because the roots to the tree were too big. So, he had just wrapped her up in her blanket and laid her in the earth. I was mortified! Had I had any idea of that ten years ago I would have freaked out.
So, here we are. I’m serious, this will go in a novel one day. We arrive with a shovel to our old home. The new owners meet us. They have just sold the house and are about to move themselves. So the owner graciously helps Philly shovel, right around where they have planted new azaleas. We talk about our families while Philly realizes we would have to dig up their yard to find Maggie, as he just isn’t sure where he placed her. I stand there in my heartache, but ultimately know I cannot massacre these people’s yards looking for my pup. I surrender my desire. Philly begins to shovel the dirt back over the hole he has created when his shovel hits something. With the sound he remembers.
“I put bricks over where I buried her to mark the spot. I think I just hit one.”
My heart leaped!
In just a few moments we retrieved her fully intact blanket and brought what we could of her with us to finally bring her home. The sweet family left us, or me, to cry for a few minutes by myself, knowing my heart was so grateful. I mean so grateful. Then we hugged them goodbye.
Philly was waiting in the garage to pack the car as my friend from childhood, Joan, flitted around the house with last minute items. In a few minutes we were leaving the rich dirt of Tennessee for the red clay of Georgia. The excitement gradually overtook the sadness with each mile marker of that journey. I know this journey by heart now. Mostly by bathroom stops. First, as we make our way through Murfreesboro and Manchester and begin our crest up Monteagle, there is a rest area. We make our way down the mountain and into the curves of Chattanooga, and right when I-24 merges into I-75 there is another rest area. I-75 graciously offers you three lanes until you get to Atlanta, and the OK Cafe provides southern comfort food and a potty break. From there I’m usually golden, but if all else fails, right after the southern pine trees start to line the interstate of I-20 and I feel like I’m home in South Carolina, another rest area presents itself just in case. And when we cross the lake, I know I’m almost there.
The last year and a half of traveling these roads had carved out their own memories that I would forever cherish. The anticipation of each visit. The awe at how each new piece of our home looked. The stops in Atlanta to go to market or the design center as we finalized fabrics and furniture. The conversations with Packer and changes we’d make in our minds that the builder would then make on our home. The discoveries of my husband and his heart. The joy in watching his joy. The gift of seeing everything in my heart come to life before me, and knowing this was the final drive to make this our home. Our home. The home God gave us for reasons we thought we knew, and reasons I knew we yet had no idea.
As we made one of the last curves before our street my heart began to race. It always does there. It’s almost like that spot is on speed dial. My watch always tells me to breathe. Joan asked, “Are you so excited?”
I was. The “Goodness of God” was playing over the speakers in the car as it was the next song on my playlist. It all felt so fitting. Now, I had always pictured this moment like it would be a big reveal on Extreme Home Makeover or Fixer Upper. We hadn’t been in three weeks and there was so much then that wasn’t finished. The driveway. The painting. The landscaping. The brick floors. The countertops. The plumbing fixtures. I mean, so much. So, I imagined this moment when we’d finally get to drive down our driveway. Park in front of our home. Walk into this immaculately clean house, now dressed and ready to accept our furniture.
I started recording the moment on my phone when we turned down the street and it wouldn’t take long before every imagined scenario vanished. I wasn’t even going to get my car close to the driveway. There must have been seven or eight trucks in the driveway and on the lot next to us. Workers were everywhere and smoke swirled through the air from masons cutting stone. Those poor guys had been cutting stone for a year and a half.
My builder had texted me that it was a battlefield. I had thought he might be exaggerating. I did not know I would leave with battle scars. We parked in the middle of the still gravel cul-de-sac; confident all our neighbors officially hated us for the chaos we had put them through. The builder confirmed that they truly weren’t exceptionally happy with him right now.
As we began to walk up the driveway, I must be honest, it was hard to see much beauty in it because it truly was chaos. The shingles around the door still weren’t painted. The stone retaining wall wasn’t finished, and the landscaping and grass looked like it had held the worst blows of the war. My watch was going to blow my wrist up. We walked in and there were still people scurrying everywhere. They were working frantically to get all the boxes out of the house so they could get the pine floors covered before the movers came the next day.
On top of that, not one bedroom that was supposed to have carpet had carpet yet. The carpet installers were just starting in the first room downstairs. No bathroom was finished completely, and only two actually had working toilets and faucets. Most didn’t have plumbing fixtures, or drawers to the cabinets, and a few toilets were missing altogether. There were no bathroom mirrors. Wallpaper was missing on entire walls. Places still needed to be painted. There was still a missing window covered with plywood in the middle of the breakfast room, and the house was filthy. Thankfully the cleaners had just arrived.
Somewhere in the mayhem, I stood in the laundry room and looked at Philly and my childhood friend, Joan, who had come with us and said, “How in the world will this be ready when the kids get here in two weeks?”
They apparently saw the panic and ensuing tears and Philly didn’t hesitate. “You can’t do that now.”
“No, stop it.” Joan said.
I wanted to say, “No! Y’all stop it!” But, I sucked them back and tried to gather myself. When our builder finally found us, he said, “Do y’all hate me?”
Mumm, I was thinking a lot of not too pretty thoughts that were neither Christian nor southern, but I offered what truth I could muster. “No, we don’t hate you. Just a little overwhelmed at it all.”
He began to tell us who all would be coming in the next day. I blacked out somewhere between the AV guys and the plumber. There’s this point where your body just tells you enough is enough. My body was saying, “Adios Niecy!”
We decided it was best to go eat and come back when everyone was gone. Remember, we had two dogs that had to get to their resting place quickly, if you know what I mean. As we sat at dinner with chunky guacamole, I just kept popping chips in my mouth like a PEZ dispenser while Joan and Philly formulated a game plan. When we arrived back at the house all was quiet.
The lake was lapping. The driveway was empty. The house still looked war zone-esque, but it was more what my heart had pictured originally, the lights illuminating the house from the inside.
I got Maggie out. Philly carried Sophie and his shovel. We found the perfect spot, right at the edge of the water, where I will one day put a bench that will have this lovely view of the lake. The red earth was tender and welcoming, and Philly was able to dig easily. I wanted them together as they had loved each other so. Sophie had brought Maggie’s old ornery soul back to life. We buried Sophie’s blanket and baby first, and then Sophie, and then Maggie wrapped in her blanket. I couldn’t watch. And then as the earth was laid back over them, I sighed the deepest satisfied sigh. I had done my job. I had kept my word. God had answered my prayer. And they would be the first ones to sleep here on this piece of land that was now our home. I would rest well knowing my girls were home. Even though they’ve been at their real home for a while now and will be waiting on me when Jesus finally lets me come, too.
The movers met us early the next morning, while the carpet installers continued installing carpet and the cleaners continued cleaning. We unloaded our lives, and boxes took up most nooks and crannies. As furniture was unwrapped and put into its place, I began to watch as all of the pieces and parts of the last two years of creating this home took their places. Just as I had pictured in my heart. The velvet green sofa nestled perfectly across from the fireplace. The long custom-made dining table, that would hold our kids soon, flanked the large back windows and couldn’t have been more perfect. The round breakfast table with the Lazy Susan cozied up against the banquette that still had not been upholstered, and was at this moment, nothing but wood beneath your bum. Each drapery, each piece of furniture that God had so graciously allowed me to discover and decide and design became faith made sight.
When the movers had unpacked the last box and left us to ourselves, we lowered our exhausted bodies into the rockers on the upper back porch. We took in the magnificence of the sunset, realizing that view of the lake was now ours and to the best of our ability, realized we were home. I did not know all these walls would hold. The memories, the healing, the ministry. But I knew God knew. I knew that He would hold my heart in its hurt until it could feel at home here. I was grateful He understood that obedience isn’t always easy, and that He was okay with my grief in the middle of such joy.
“We did it.” I said to the two sitting beside me.
“Yes, we did.” They confirmed.
“There are ten gazillion boxes in there that have to be unpacked in less than two weeks.”
I reminded them both.
“But not tonight.” Philly reminded me.
When I finally crawled into bed, I laid there in the strange familiar. I had studied every line of that room for over two years. The shade of the stain on the ceiling. The length of the wall to make sure it would hold the bed and side tables. The placement of the small circular window and what pieces of furniture needed to go where. The carpet that held our toes. I whispered to my Father’s heart in the darkness. “Thank you for this gift. Thank you for allowing me to do this. All of this. Help me steward it as You want me to.”
I felt Him smile. I’m not sure if He answered, because I was asleep before He had the chance.