I cried myself to sleep last night. Ugly cried. That kind of crying where you can’t breathe through your nose anymore and you wake up with your eyes swollen shut. That kind.
I received the news late last night that my grandparents’ home burned down. My grandparents are both with Jesus now; their home is now home to another family, and I’m so sad for their loss. But I was selfishly crushed by the thought of the most important earthly monument in my life in ashes.
I know I seem dramatic. I usually am. But today I’m so unapologetic about my overwhelming sense of nostalgia and sentimentality because that home genuinely served as my haven for the better part of my young life. I memorized every nook and cranny. I know the sounds and the cracks and the secret hiding places. I can close my eyes and see my Memom at the stove canning, the kitchen table covered with newspaper and fresh black eyed peas waiting to be snapped. I see her baking bread for the neighbors who moved in, had a baby, lost a loved one. I see Granddad, hands covered in oil and grease and dirt, walking back in from the barn for a big glass of iced tea served in his favorite yellow glass. That thick sturdy glass that they don’t make anymore. Granddad always smelled like hard work - grease or fresh-cut grass - and I loved it. Next to the sink I see the container of Crisco filled with scraps for the chickens. I hear peacocks outside and the sound of “Wheel of Fortune” inside. The sight of canna lilies in the front yard and lantana in the back is as fresh in my mind today as it was in 1979. Sunday lunches - everything from scratch - centered around the pot roast that came straight from the butcher, wrapped in white paper, labeled in black marker, and stored in the deep freeze until Saturday night. I can close my eyes and transport myself back to the east bedroom where Granddad would sit and tickle our backs until we - or usually he - would fall asleep. The blue glass table in the living room - how old was that thing? Coke floats, orange sherbet, that rotary phone in the front bedroom with the phone books and the long cord that reached into the kitchen.
That house, originally built in 1898, held the full lives of the people I loved most. Sixty-one years in the Petree family. I know that it’s someone else’s home now, and my heart breaks for them. How much did they lose? How many memories are now ashes for them as well? Are they being surrounded by community and love during this terrible event?
So today, instead of mourning (though I confess I did that for a while as well), I decided to practice what I preach. I often encourage others to focus on the praise instead of the problem, so I better do it myself. And I did. I thanked God for every little thing - the safe haven that it was for me, the home devoted solely to the Lord. I praised God for every prayer lifted up in that home. He answered them. I know that because God used my Memom and Granddad (and their prayers) to build a foundation of Christ as our rock in each of our lives. I thanked God for the beautiful examples of marriage and family and community that they provided in that home. I praised God for the imagination that flourished in me as a child thanks to the garden and the clothes line and the peach trees and the cistern. I thanked Him for using His people to teach me the ways of a farm - pride and hard work. I praised Him for the generation of people who cherished opened Bibles and home-cooked meals and Sunday lunches and Friday night sleepovers with the grandparents. I praised Him for the gift of grandparents who loved us so deeply, for Granddad’s patient and steadfast spirit, for Memom’s doggedness and vigor. I hold every single memory of that house and all that was in at as dear.
And as I praise and thank my God, my spirit lifts. It’s extraordinary. Miraculous, really. Praise in the storm changes me. It does for me what I cannot do for myself; it restores my soul and gives me hope. And a heart of thanksgiving. His mercies are new every morning.
I’m still sad. Really, really sad. But I am thankful for a God who knows my sadness, meets my needs, and restores my soul to gladness.