I’m not sure why I keep doing this, driving by my childhood home. What am I expecting to see or feel? What am I looking for?
I feel compulsive and conflicted as I drive by the house . . . but I tell no one that I’ve done it again. I drive slowly one way, then I turn my car around and slowly drive back from the opposite direction.
I was three years old when my family — shrouded with violence and plagued by my father’s alcoholism — moved into this house, right on through the back door. The house looks nothing like it did sixty-three years ago. The once-open carport is now enclosed. The yard is cluttered with outside lawn items. Several trees that were in the backyard are now gone — huge oaks from long ago, under which I found sanctuary from the violence that engulfed my little, scared life inside the house.
I fight the urge to stop, to knock on the door, and ask if I can look inside. I wonder how many families have lived in the house over the past sixty-three years, and I pray that the hostility left when we moved out.
I look at the windows of the rooms residing on the other side of the outside walls. The window above the kitchen sink holds memories of my mother standing, washing dishes with her hands in soapy water, seemingly symbolic of a need to wash away the chaos. Her transfixed eyes looked longingly toward the light, maybe daydreaming of a tranquil life she had never known, not even in her childhood.
I see the double windows in the dining area which, when open, released the “hard to breathe air” that seemingly stagnated above the table where silent, nervous children and parents sat. My eyes move to see the triple window in the living room — a room that holds memories too painful to name. This window reflected the live Christmas tree each year, stuck in a bucket of wet dirt and adorned with multicolored lights that reached toward the ceiling, reminding us all to look up at the star’s holy light.
Sometimes, I think if I continue to drive by this heap of devastating memorabilia, I’ll metaphorically turn into a pillar of salt, just like Lot’s wife. I feel cursed to be living within ten miles of this house. But then, before I give in completely to the sadness, I make another turn at the end of this neighborhood street and head toward another house — a church house.
I stop in the parking lot of the church and I gaze at the stained-glass windows. I remember the colorful Sunday morning light that reflected on the golden, oak pew where I sat beside my mama. I see the white double doors where my small feet — wearing shiny patent leather shoes — crossed the threshold each Sunday to a sacred space that saved my life. I recall the faces of individuals who sat around me, many of whom, unbeknownst to me, knew of my silent pain.
If I listen hard enough, I can hear the hymns being sung. But then . . . I remember the here and now, and I find myself back in real-time. Filled with unexplainable peace, I circle the parking lot and head back to my present-day home — a home where I belong.
The irony of these periodic “drive-bys” is that I presently have a wonderful life. I remain a strong follower of Jesus Christ. I am surrounded and supported by a body of believers and my current house is calm and serene. However, I live with a form of PTSD. When life becomes stressful, my childhood emotions are replicated and unexpected memories erupt. The stress of giving care to my ninety-six-year-old mother (who suffers from dementia) has triggered memories from my troubled childhood.
Thankfully, I am slowly learning how to manage stressful triggers, and my instances of “looking back” are getting farther and farther apart.
We can only speculate as to the reasons why Lot’s wife defied the instructions to not look back. Some theological commentators agree she was looking back with a longing to return. In her willful disobedience, she gazed where she no longer belonged, and her life ended.
Like Lot’s wife, I no longer belong where I once lived. But, unlike Lot’s wife, I found belonging where the Lord brought me. Though I can’t return to my childhood home, I’ve found belonging with the church family that loved me unconditionally during my childhood pain.
If you find yourself looking back where you no longer belong, call on Jesus Christ who brings hope and healing amid all your longing.