Words by Annie F. Downs
Photo by Cary Norton
The Downs family always and only lived on Ebenezer Road. It’s where my mom grew up and where I grew up, and as country as it sounds, it’s just our family land. It’s where we always were and what I always knew. Just ask any of my friends from elementary school—everybody knew our driveway with the double mailboxes and white gazebo covering the fresh-water well that my grandfather dug half a century ago.
There’s hardly a corner of those 18 acres that my bike tires didn’t cover at some point in my first 18 years. I never learned to skateboard or roller-skate at home because there was no paved sidewalk or driveway—just grass and gravel. Ask my right elbow; the scar still lines it to remind me. Every Christmas was there, sisters wrapping gifts, cousins coming in and out, grandparents coming over, Mom making chocolate cookies, and Dad dancing down the old barnwood floors to “Feliz Navidad.” The biggest fish I ever caught lived in the pond out back (he’s still hanging on the wall in the house posthumously), and my bedroom was always my bedroom.
Until last summer when my parents, after almost 40 years, moved to a new house. And though it had been half my life since I lived on Ebenezer Road, I wondered if I had lost home.
. . . . .
My counselor says the house on Ebenezer Road—the actual structure—is a character in my story. A safe one. A protector. And I hadn’t realized that until boxes were being packed and I found myself crying to the guy I was dating about what I was losing. I wasn’t just losing an address known by all my friends for all my life, I wasn’t just losing a place, I was losing someone I don’t know how to explain how that was true, but I know it was. And it was good for me to mourn the loss of the place that housed my childhood, to not shift “our family home” to the new beautiful house where my parents now live. That is their house—and I love it for them—but it’s not my home. In that move, I lost something that will never come back.
But I didn’t lose home.
. . . . .
Just a few months after my parents moved, I bought a house across town in Nashville. I lived there for more than a decade but had never purchased my own place. The house on Mayfair Avenue, though, was as close to permanent housing as I had ever had (besides Ebenezer Road). Six and a half years on the same street, in the same room, with the same furniture and the same mistletoe hanging year-round in the dining room because I’m nothing if not a hopeless—and hopeful—romantic.
I loved that Mayfair Avenue house. It was always full. Full of love and loss, friendship and heartache, movies and meals ordered in, snowstorms and summer nights. But when it was time to move to my new house, Mayfair Avenue was empty too fast and I didn’t even have time to think about what I was losing or gaining.
Maybe I was just too busy the week I had to move. Maybe I didn’t sit and think about it enough. Maybe I just threw things in boxes and taped them shut and let college dudes working for minimum wage haul them from one side of town to the other. Whatever the reason, I was surprised at my lack of emotion. I was prepared to feel deeply, but I felt barely.
But I think that’s because of Ebenezer Road.
I think that’s because less than a year ago I had to rediscover what home meant to me. I had to let go of the long understood definition of home and ask myself if, by losing my childhood home, had I lost home forever.
. . . . .
I hadn’t. Even as the last few boxes get unpacked in this cute condo that I own but is still foreign to me, I am finding that it does feel like home. But that’s not because of the memories building up or the time passing or the art hung on the walls. It’s because I’m redefining home.
I am discovering a better truth: I am home.
I don’t mean I’ve found a place called home. Or a spot that will ever replace my childhood home. I mean I am my own home. In me. I am home.
I’m figuring out what it is like to be fully present in me and with me. To trust myself, to trust my heart, to trust what God is doing in me and around me, and to appreciate right where I am today. Even on my worst days, even when I have more losses than wins, even when I make mistake after mistake, can I still find home here? In the imperfect and up-close and cluttered version of a life that can look so put together in public? That’s the challenge, that’s the gift, that’s the beauty of wrestling to find home in the body and heart God has already made. But I’m working at it, I’m working for it, and I’m finding it. Home. Right here.
So no matter where I live, I will build a home and make it feel like home because I am home. Once I discovered the simplicity of that kind of love, the love of being safe with yourself and protected by God and loved no matter what, the Ebenezer Road house changed, and so did Mayfair Avenue. And so will this new one, with the Jacobean stained floors and blue velvet headboard. While still important in this story I am living, they are no longer powerful characters. They are just scenes. Just beautifully designed sets where home now happens.