Growing up, I was never from a particular place, as we never lived anywhere more than three years. We learned to associate “home” with where our little family happened to be; home was more a relational concept than a locational one. I grew up without ever feeling connected to a hometown and occasionally felt envious of friends who actually had an association with a physical place and context However, my home was always connected with my parents and sisters and whatever friends happened to gather wherever we happened to be living at any given time. The house was full, and my parents were charismatic and generous; they attracted people to themselves like a flame attracts moths. I thought this phenomenon was normal; it never occurred to me that it was unusual.
When I married, I was attached to my husband and did not care one bit where we lived; however, after giving birth to three of our five children in Norway over the course of over seven years in that breathtakingly beautiful land, it was a challenge for me to move back to the States. Moreover, I didn’t feel very “at home” in the tiny Texas town to which we were transferred. As a result, my sense of “home” remained relational rather than physical — connected to my husband, children, and parents (who always were several states away from us).
We set about building a sense of home, rooted in traditions but designed to reflect our personality as a couple and as a growing family. Over the course of decades, we have hosted hundreds of people in our home from all manner of nations and backgrounds. After all, that is what I was taught to do! As wanderers, we included other people as a matter of course, people who were different from ourselves.
Ultimately, my parents retired and moved to the Rocky Mountains, where they personally shared some history. They built a beautiful home on six acres of land — their dream home after decades of moving around the country — and welcomed us and whoever else wanted to visit them. Unfortunately, my mother began an arduous downhill spiral not long after their much-anticipated move to the Rockies. It seemed one affliction struck her after another, and soon the family gatherings were tainted by her pain and our collective concern about her health.
Through all the challenges, my father remained resolute in supporting my mother in word and deed. When her infirmity became psychological and neurological, he did not waver. Much later, we finally realized that she had been tormented for years with progressive phases of dementia; after several trying years, Dad reluctantly admitted he was no longer able to care for her, and we assisted him in placing our mother in an assisted living facility two miles from the house they had so excitedly built together. There were many tears, and our father was left alone in a hollow house replete with memories, yet with the love of his life absent.
Undaunted, my dad visited my mother faithfully every day; he was resolute and unwavering in his devotion. When he entered her assisted living apartment, she would briefly snap out of her doldrums and beam in recognition. As she weathered the trials of a fractured hip and a broken femur, as well as multiple bouts of pneumonia, he was always at her side, only returning home at night to eat and sleep in the empty house that echoed with the memories of long-evaporated dreams. During this time apart, he adjusted to Mom’s absence and the sense of distance created by dementia, and he faithfully cleaned the house, learned to cook for himself, paid the bills (always my mother’s job), and grew familiar with a life of relative solitude that revolved around his daily visits to Mom.
Recently, the time came when Dad could no longer live alone, despite his valiant attempts to manage everything himself. His own health had deteriorated, and my sisters and I suggested that perhaps he should join our mother in her apartment. He could no longer drive and spent his days fretting about how he could visit her, worrying about how she was faring, and desperate to be with her. Ultimately, an emergency situation prompted his physician to recommend he not be left alone in the house any longer. Reluctantly, he relinquished his independence and chose my mother in her little apartment over the beautiful home full of memories and majestic mountain views.
When the day came for the transition to her apartment, he worried she might reject him. He wondered where he would sleep. We assured him there was plenty of room in that apartment for the two of them, and, intending to comfort him, we reminded him that Mom had been sleeping in the recliner of late. He responded wistfully, “I wish she would sleep in the bed with me.” That statement brought tears to my eyes.
The first night after installing him in the apartment with our mother, the two of them slept together in the bed they had shared decades before, on the same sides of the bed we remembered them sharing when we were children. It was as if they had not missed a day together, and the four-and-a-half year gap when they had been separated by Dad’s inability to care for Mom at home simply evaporated. Now they are together every day, all day. Although Dad is a bit bewildered at times by what is happening with the physical property that was their home for twenty-five years, he is not looking back. He has clearly chosen our mother over their physical house. He belongs with her, and he does not question that.
Nothing means more to me than watching my father gaze admiringly at my tiny mother (who is gradually losing her teeth) and proclaim, “You look so pretty today!” Sixty-five years of absolute devotion, commitment, respect, and admiration far exceed any physical house anyone could ever build. My father has chosen well, and he loves my mother unconditionally and forever, whether she speaks his name aloud or not (and sometimes she does). Instinctively, she knows he is home; and HE knows he is home. And I know that I have inherited matchless treasures. My heavenly Father is revealing His Kingdom to me, this side of heaven! “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 (NIV)
My father chose well — his treasure was in relationship, not in any building or possession. Just as Mom had left many friends and houses behind when Dad’s job repeatedly required re-location over the course of their life together, he forfeited all for her and never looked back. May I be as devoted as he — first to My Savior, and second to my earthly husband! Thanks, Daddy, for an invaluable heritage and your priceless example!