Home…they say that home is where the heart is. For the most part, I guess I’d say that’s true. But I also think that it doesn’t capture the real essence of what a home is.
Most of us think of ‘home’ as an actual house, and I suppose that’s pretty accurate, from a certain point of view. But what makes that house, which is essentially just a physical structure/shelter from the elements, an actual home? What are the intangibles that transform a house into a home?
My answer is this: It’s the collective of the hearts and souls of all who live there and the memories they make together.
Home…it’s a place where we come together at the end of a long day at work or school.
It’s where we fellowship, celebrate birthdays, holidays and break bread over a meal.
It’s where we sing, laugh, cry and grow together.
It’s where we wrap up the days events and settle in for the evening.
It’s where we end the day in the same place where we started it.
Those of you who have kids know the routine: bath time, brushing teeth, pajamas on, followed by a bedtime story and then the good night prayers.
Home…it’s where the world’s smallest social group, called the family, gathers and lives. It’s where we feel safe…or at least we’re supposed to.
As of June 17th of this year, my family and I call Texas home. We’ve bought, moved into and now call our new house: Home.
But this is not the first time we’ve had a house that we called once called home…there was another place.
In the very first entry of the Deck Log – a Virtual Diary, I talked about the strange and unusual way that we sold the last house, before moving to Texas.
(By the way, if you haven’t read that one yet, stop and click here: https://chartedlife365.com/2018/08/06/the-invisible-hand-an-introduction-on-how-we-came-to-texas/)
Now I’ve explained before, that moving around a lot, is part being a military family. House to house, state to state and even country to country. It all comes with the territory of wearing the uniform.
Each one of those moves always presented themselves with their own unique set of challenges.
Most of the time, they’re the usual logistical headaches: movers coming to pack-up your stuff, timing the move to coincide with temporary lodging (usually a hotel), making sure the hotel accepts pets, figuring out any last minute school arraignments for the kids, figuring out where to eat (because all your kitchen stuff is packed up)…you know…the usual stuff that most people take for granted.
Once again, we were embarking on the military move. We call it PCS (Permanent Change of Station). The last time we had to do a PCS was almost eight years ago, when we had moved from Hawaii to Virginia, in late summer 2010.
When we first got there, we linked up with one of the top local realtors and bought our first house. It was at that house that a home was formed.
I’ll never forget that place. As I explained in the first Deck Log entry, this house was a big deal to us. We were the first ones to ever buy a house in our immediate family (parents & siblings). My wife and I were so proud of ourselves and excited about making this place truly our own.
A lot happened there during the course of almost eight years we were there, but what I really want to narrow the focus on, is the last weeks and days in that house.
Putting aside the unusual and, quite frankly, Divine touch to the entire process in which that house sold, there was still a lot of emotions wrapped up and triggered by selling that house.
After losing Elizabeth in 2015, I couldn’t wait to get out of that house. What was supposed to be our home and safe place, had become the last place where I would ever see my daughter alive and then see the morbid aftermath caused by her loss.
After the tragic and painful day of her passing, everything about that house was an eery reminder of what had happed and that she was no longer with us.
There were nights, too many to count, where I would wake up crying in my sleep, tears caused by nightmares from what I had seen that day. For the first several months after Elizabeth’s passing, I was haunted by both those horrific images and the vacuum left by her sudden and violent departure from this world.
Elizabeth’s passing had completely changed the tone and climate of that house. It wasn’t until October 2017 that a spark of life and hope was rekindled back in that place. It was then, that a new life was brought into that house. My son…Marcus John Mattera. A baby boy, full of promise and life. But this particular part of the story is best saved for yet, another time…so more to follow on this.
Anyways, after being in that house for almost eight years (a place where we had made so many memories) we were about to leave. Even though Elizabeth had left us a few years prior, there was still so much of her essence still there. I don’t mean essence in a spooky ‘hocus-pocus’ kind of way. I’m talking about the little things, that had the fingerprints of her memory.
Things like a closet door we had used to measure the kids as they grew. On the door post, we had marks with dates to show how tall they were on that particular day. Places in the yard where I knew we had worked together as a family to plant flowers or had many a barbecue, not to mention, every birthday and holiday. All of these were memories we had made in that house.
Probably the biggest memory we were going to have to carry with us, was the memory of that house being the last place Elizabeth would live in this world.
She had been with Erica and I since she was a little baby, born in San Diego, California. She had traveled with us to Guam, Japan, Hawaii, Virginia and more specifically, to the house in North Carolina. That house was the last place we’d see her, in this life.
It hurt, because this time, when we moved, she wasn’t coming with us. Her last earthly stop was North Carolina.
So, despite the pain that came with living there because she was gone, there was also a pain of leaving. As if we were somehow leaving her behind. It was a hard thing to process and overcome.
So, in order to find some type of closure, we chose to actually say goodby to the house. As corny and ridiculous as it may sound, the night we closed the door for the last time, we stood in the doorway and literally said:
‘Goodby house…a lot’s happened here. A lot of good things and some really sad things. Thanks for being a good house. You kept us dry when it was raining, warm when it was cold outside and cool in the hot summer. We’ll never forget you…goodby house.’
There we were, all huddled up with tears streaming down our faces, saying goodbye to an inanimate object and actually crying about it. But for us, it wasn’t just a building. It was a place we had built years before and raised a family. It was the place we had lost our oldest baby…and now it was time to say goodbye.
In some ways, the reality of moving out really didn’t kick in for me, until the last box was packed up by the movers.
I’ll never forget the night they came and took all our stuff away. It’s a very vulnerable moment.
Imagine all your worldly possessions…beds, tv’s, clothes, pots & pans, furniture, toys, pictures, trinkets…everything…being stuffed into a tractor-trailer truck. All you have left is the clothes on your back and what you’ve set aside, to live off of, until your next house…when ever that is. You’re essentially homeless (albeit temporarily) and left with just a few pieces of luggage full of whatever stuff you’ve deemed of vital importance.
The moving truck didn’t finish getting loaded until almost 9:30 pm. The sun had set almost two hours prior and there were still several items to load into the truck. The moving guys had to load the last few pieces of furniture and boxes with the help of a flashlight and the assistance of my pickup truck headlights.
Finally the doors of the moving truck were shut, and I signed the transport & storage authorization paper work. Destination: San Antonio, Texas.
Our stuff was going to get there before us…well before us…3 months ahead of us in fact. Even though our stuff was packed up and headed to San Antonio that night, my orders didn’t have us departing from the local area until mid-June.
This is because the Navy was sending me through an advanced training course, which was required for me to perform my duties at my next assignment in San Antonio.
Fortunately, for my family and I, this training was going to be conducted in the same local area where we were already living. It proved to be convenient on so many levels. At least my 10 year old daughter could finish 4th grade with her classmates and at least we could still stay connected to our local church family at Wave Church.
The moment of finality was when I saw the moving truck pull away and drive down the street. I pulled ahead and rounded the last turn, before pulling onto the main road. Looking in my rear view mirror, I saw the truck take a left and head south. All our stuff, everything we owned in the world, including the clothes and personal possessions left behind by Elizabeth, were loaded in that truck – stuff that she hadn’t used in almost three years.
Everything was boxed up and hauled away; awaiting our eventual arrival to Texas.
The pack-up and move-out took place the last week of March. Once the house was empty, the next couple of days were spent doing final touch-ups and clean-up. It was a mad-dash to the finish line. Honestly, those last 10 days of being at that house, was one of the most stressful times for my family and I. Everything leading up to that point was already stressful enough, but when you factor in a compressed move-out and house sale, it just compounded the stress.
At the time, we didn’t seem to notice it. My wife and I just kept our heads down, kept a stiff upper lip, and pushed through. It wasn’t until several weeks later, that the reality the last three years finally kicked in.
I’ve been told, by experts, that the human mind is resilient. It’s able to process and absorb massive amounts of information and experiences. Some of this stuff gets filed away into a psychological ‘miscellaneous’ pile, just to be sorted and archived later.
But other pieces of information, especially those which are of major significance (such as trauma and other stressors) can linger around and take up space, until there is no more room for anything else, and then you’re forced to deal with it. These are the times when, it can even start to take a toll on physical health.
For us, the symptoms of fatigue became evident. Both my wife and I started having unusual pains, phantom numbness and migraine headaches. Think about it: we had experienced, in the span of three short years, what most people don’t even experience in a lifetime. It was only a matter of time before the mental and emotional stress started to manifest their weight through physical symptoms.
Our guiding hope and light through it all was (and still is) the assurance that God has been close with us every step of the way. Lots of prayer and linking up with our Brothers an Sisters from church were the key elements in navigating those last several weeks, prior to coming to Texas.
One lesson we’ve been learning is to be patient with ourselves and pay attention to the subtle signals our bodies send us when we’re feeling tired or stressed, and to know that it’s ok to rest in God and rely on Him. We learned that a big part of what we were feeling was caused by a major seasonal shift that was taking place in our lives. We were stepping into our years long dream of moving to Texas, but also saying goodbye to a place where we’d made so many memories at the same time. It was a place where so much had happened: so much was lost and so much was gained.
Home…It’s the place where your heart feels safest and you’re surrounded by love.
No matter where I am; God is always there. His love and comfort transcend location and circumstance. He uses (if you let Him), wherever you’re at, to work in your heart and soul.
Each point and place is an opportunity for Heaven to intersect and act in the affairs of humanity. It’s a strange thing for the natural human mind to understand.
The naked, un-aided eye will miss these nexus moments almost everytime. It requires a heart and mind, willing to see through the lens of faith, to be able to truly see that wherever and whenever I am, God is there.
And where God is…there is my Home.