January 2, 2017

Two Empty Houses

Today was a day of two empty houses.

 Today we left our beloved home of 17 years, packed it up in one fell swoop and were gone.  Just like that.

Today, also, my beloved father died. 74 years of age, wracked with Lewy Body Dementia these past four years.  Gone too. Just like that.

I took photos of our empty house today.  And, yes, it feels like a house again, not a home. It feels like it is; empty.  Here is a photo of our lounge, once home to fun, arguments, coffees, hundreds of small group Bible studies.  Love, laughter, tears.  I remember sitting here with beloved church people when I was ill some seven years ago, praying that God would spare me.


I took photos of that other empty house today.  My dear father.  His body lying there in his bed, small, wizened waxen, empty.  His mouth half open, his eyes shut. I stroked his thick, owlish eyebrows, something I probably haven’t done since I was five.  I stroked his sideburns.  It looked like him.  Sorta. “My dear, dear Dad,” I said, as my brother looked on.  But more than looking like my dad it looked empty.  Just like my house did.

I didn’t make it to be with Dad as he died this morning.  I wish I had. We had to move house today, it was our only window and my amazing church community kicked in to help get it done quickly.  Time was of essence.  “Go! Go!” they said, “We can finish it.”  So I went, but not before I got the phone message in the car to say that Dad had died.

Dad’s body wasn’t empty last night. He was unconscious, but breathing in that rattly way you do (we do) before you die. We were grief-stricken.  He hadn’t been able to speak for several months, but his eyes would light up when we came to visit.  He would smile in the mornings when he had the strength. No more.

Jill and I sat and dabbed his dry lips with impossibly large cotton tips dipped in water.  He had not eaten or drunk for two days, so it was just a matter of time. We left, exhausted, to pick up the kids and try to get some sleep before a 7am arrival for the house removalists.

It was just a matter of time. It’s just that I thought I, or he, had a bit more.  But no, by the time our house was empty, his was too. His removalist came earlier than we had thought.

2 Corinthians 5:1 tells us:

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

Tents just don’t stack up compared to buildings do they?  They don’t last, don’t have the structural integrity.  And a tent built by hands, by human effort, compared to a building built by God?   Not in the same ball park.

Yet we try and pitch this tent in better and bigger houses.  We moved today from a little 1920s wooden cottage to a five year old brick house that is three times the size. Very modern, very tastefully done.  Yet no matter how often we do that in our lives, it’s this tent, this body of ours that really matters.

Whether it’s a hovel or a palace we actually live in. Whether our earthly tent is fit and svelte, or saggy and cellulitey,  we will all one day leave this tent, this home, and that’s the removal day that really matters.  And it’s on that day that we will need a new home, a true home, an eternal home.  To be left without one would be unthinkable.  Too horrific to contemplate.

Dad left his tent today.  By the time he did so it was so tattered and battered that there was relief in the grief for us watching him.  But here’s what we know: he has a building from God reserved for him.  It is coming one day; a building for Dad that will not break down, not be prone to sin, not be open to disease and dementia.  And for that we are grateful.  For that we have hope.

When you leave your home here one day, will there be a better one, not built by hands waiting for you?  I pray there will be. Don’t leave this tent without a home to go to.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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