There is a country song that has been with me the past few weeks – The House that Built Me by Miranda Lambert. Now, I’m not necessarily a huge Miranda Lambert fan. I like some of her songs, but I probably wouldn’t name her as one of my favorite artists. Yet there is something about the song that sticks with me, because I, too, have a house (or a place) that helped build me…and really soon, I won’t be able to go back again.
Tonight, I begin my last trip to Grandma’s farm. After my grandmother’s death on the last day of 2012, I have known this day would come: the farm has sold and it is time to move on. Yet in that long period of “in-between,” it has been hard to let go. This is where my mother grew up, from the age of 2 onward. This is where I came for visits in the summer and on holidays. This is where I spent all but two Christmases in my life. It’s where I learned to shuck corn and string snaps from the garden, go fishin’ in the pond, and peruse old picture albums from the comfort of my granddaddy’s recliner. More than that, though, this is where I ate grandma’s cooking, played with my cousins, and learned as I grew up to have adult conversations with my aunts and uncles. For me, this has been one of a few central places that have shaped me and grounded me.
And now…it’s gone. In January, the family found out that someone was interested in purchasing the farm from the estate. Although we knew this needed to happen, it brought home that there was a ticking clock on our time with the old farm. So we began the tasks that we had to do to prepare…at least physically. My aunts and uncles started going through the clothes and household items. My cousins helped clean out the cellar, sorting through years’ worth of produce from the garden, faithfully canned and preserved by my grandmother and my aunt. All of us children and grandchildren helped move furniture and tag items for the estate sale and clean out the smokehouse and pack barn. We did the things we had to do to get the farm ready.
In the process, I wonder if we – if I – have done the things we need to do to get ready emotionally. I am the youngest grandchild, with a mere 31 years of memory in this place. What about my oldest cousins, with 50 or so years? My aunts and uncles and cousins who still live in the neighborhood, who have literally grown up on this plot of land? Have all of us really recognized the way that this place has shaped us, and have we recognized both how the sale of this land will affect us, and how the mark it left on us will never really fade?
The Scriptures tell us that place matters – particularly a place that includes encounters with the divine. There is a sacredness that can become a part of any land. Why? Because it has been a place of deep, loving relationship, a place where God instilled his presence into the collective memory and experience of those who met in that location. Sometimes we know it’s a sacred place from the beginning…but often we don’t until we are looking back. Sometimes, we are there with Jacob awakening from a dream, sitting bolt upright and stammering, “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!” (Gen. 28:16) The next day, Jacob left that place…but not before doing something to mark the significance of that location in his memory.
This afternoon, I begin the last visit I may ever make to my grandmother’s house and farm – certainly the last one I’ll make before it stops being “ours.” I pray that I’ll be able, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of preparations for tomorrow’s sale, to drink in the sacredness of this place. Grandma’s is a place where I experienced the love of my Lord and the joy of sharing life with family. That is something to remember, and something to carry with me as I leave this sacred place – because while God was and is in this place, he is not bound to it. He will be with me and with my family as we leave that place behind and step forward into a new day, strengthened by the memories and shared experiences of doing life together.