A few weeks ago I found myself driving past an old house where we once lived – where I once lived. In its prime it was a picturesque farmhouse surrounded on all sides by prosperous cotton fields. The outside was bricked with beautiful stone and the inside was finished with cedar trim, cedar cabinets, and wool carpets. We rented the house when Justin, our first child, was a baby and moved into that big old farmhouse with four bedrooms, a small study, two living areas and two dining areas– just our little family of three. It had been vacant for several years before we moved in and was already showing evidence of age and disrepair, but I loved that old house with its big spaces and empty rooms. I was a young wife and a new mother and we owned little with which to fill that big house, so I filled it with daydreams as I roamed the empty upstairs rooms and looked out onto the branches of big old elms and across rich fields. I spent summer days exploring the old out buildings, the chicken coop, and the big barn with a hayloft that still contained dusty old hay. Inside I carefully cleaned rough wool carpets, wooden paneling, and glass chandeliers and wondered what it was like when new. I looked at the measurements, names, and dates of growing children etched into the wood trim – children older than my parents who had long since grown up and left – and wondered what it would be like to grow up in that lovely home. I wondered what memories it might hold for those children and why none of them or their descendants cared to keep the old home. But the reasons didn’t matter; I dreamed of buying it, fixing it up, caring for it, and raising my own children there.
However, my dreams faded when a new job and the long dirt driveway that became impassable when it rained forced us to move. It was never rented again and today, 25 years later, it stands in ruins – a hollow and empty stone shell on a crumbling foundation, unkempt, unloved, and abandoned to time – a house I seldom pass and had forgotten was once a home.
Passing by that day I was reminded of a recent visit to a nursing home and I couldn’t help but liken the old house to those I had seen whose faces haunted me. They were faces that bore the marks of age with sorrowfully hollow eyes and bodies that were empty frames of who they once were – people… living souls who also appeared to be unkempt, unloved, and abandoned to time. While others, despite physical and/or mental disabilities, were obviously well cared for and loved dearly. I couldn’t help but wonder what made the difference. Was it the lives they lived and the people they loved, or was it circumstance and providence that left them to the erosion of time? Were those hollow eyes home to a soul that claimed nothing here but vast treasures elsewhere? I wondered about the foundations laid down during the lives of those dear saints. What foundation was laid by those that were abandoned to time and paid staff? What about those who obviously had loved ones to come and tend to those earthly frames with loving hands and thoughtful gifts? Were their foundations similar or were those caring hands maintaining a foundation of love that had once nurtured them and would continue to stand for generations to come?
I thought about my own home and the home in which I spent the last years of my childhood and where my parents have now lived for over 30 years. Those houses are simply earthly treasures subject to decay and ruin and should that be their fate, those that have inhabited them would be sorrowful for their demise just as it saddens me to see a house that was once a home now in ruins, but in light of eternity they are nothing.
However, when I think of the earthen vessels still inhabited by living souls left to decline and physical ruin, my heart grieves far more. I am pricked and reminded that just as a young woman I deemed that old farmhouse worthy of care regardless of why it was abandoned by those who once called it home, those beautiful souls are far more worthy and deserving of time, care, and attention. I am grieved that I have forgotten that they were there simply because I have not passed that way.