Could She Let Go of the House She Loved?

The stages of life and the changes they brought were often a challenge for her, and never more so than now.

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Posted in , May 26, 2022

Michael Paraskeva's illustration of Shawnelle's house

My husband, Lonny, and I sat in our car, gazing at the house we’d called home for 16 years. The Victorian looked more beautiful than ever—stately, inviting, the kind of house they don’t build anymore.

In half an hour, the sale would be final and the keys turned over to the new owners. It felt as if we were saying goodbye to a beloved family member.

“It’s hard to believe she won’t be ours after this morning,” I said. “Every room is special to me. I know which floorboards tilt. How the wind howls under the front door in the winter. Where the sunshine streams in.” Lonny and I even had a name for how the light seemed drawn to our Victorian. We called it Magic Hour, a moment in the late afternoon when sunlight would pour through the house like a river of gold.

Lonny took my hand. “I know this is hard for you,” he said. “How everything’s changing. How the boys are growing older and we don’t need that big of a place anymore.”

Letting go. I’d struggled with it my whole life, struggled to accept the end of one stage, while trying to embrace the next. It had helped that with a big family—we had five boys—there was always another child coming up through the ranks. But now our two oldest were on their own. Our middle son had left for college two weeks earlier, and his younger brothers were close behind.

It felt as if just yesterday they were all running around this big yard together. Climbing the trees with branches that reached like arms to hold them. Playing pirates with red bandanas on their heads.

I wanted to believe God was as much in the new as he was in the old, but why did everything feel so unsettled? No wonder selling a house is considered one of life’s biggest stressors.

The crazy part was, we’d actually moved away two and a half years earlier. We now lived in Iowa, across the Mississippi River from where we’d raised our family in Illinois. After years of my homeschooling the boys, we’d decided to enroll the three youngest in public high school, and the schools in LeClaire, Iowa, were a better fit.

Our new home was only three years old, designed in an Arts and Crafts style—spare, simple, the very opposite of our ornate 1864 Victorian. There was an open floor plan and a modern fireplace. Lights flickered on automatically when you walked in a room. Though beautiful, it still didn’t feel like home.

The boys were often at after-school activities or swimming and baseball practice, all the opportunities we’d wanted for them. But that meant I was usually puttering around the house alone, without even memories to keep me company.

Old homes need constant work, and we made repairs the entire time ours was listed. We visited weekly, sometimes more. Lonny and the boys rebuilt the front porch. We pruned some bushes and replaced others. After our work was done, we’d swim in the pool. Some days I made the drive on my own, just to sit on the porch swing.

For a couple of years, there was hardly any interest. The third winter approached. We planned to take the Victorian off the market and list both homes in the spring, knowing the new house would sell fast.

That’s when the offer came.

After the initial negotiations, the buyer had complications and the sale fell through two days before closing. We negotiated more, and the contract was extended. For another two and a half months, things were uncertain. I’d lie awake at night asking God to help me feel settled with the outcome.

One night, he spoke to me through the promises of the Psalms. I will be your dwelling place. I’ll go before you. You don’t have to be afraid. I thought that meant we’d go back home to our beloved Victorian. But then things came together for the buyer, and I knew that this time there was no turning back.

Our lawyer was at the closing. Soon the new owners would have the keys.

“Can we drive over and say goodbye to her one last time?” I’d asked Lonny just after breakfast. Now that we were here, sitting in the car wasn’t enough.

“I need to go inside,” I said.

“Shawnelle,” Lonny said. “You’re making this harder. Why?”

I didn’t know what to say.

Lonny relented. “Okay,” he said. “Just a quick walk-through.”

The sun porch door whined its familiar greeting as I pulled it open. Lonny twisted the knob of the door leading to the kitchen, the one we’d always left unlocked, and we stepped inside. I thought of all the baking I’d done here. I could almost smell chocolate chip cookies hot from the oven.

To the left was the schoolroom, with its many windows, some with panes of leaded glass, that looked out over the yard.

I turned toward the dining room. There was the arch where we had taped a battered Happy Birthday banner year after year. Past the living room was the grand staircase. Those stairs sang a different song to the footfalls of each son. A soundtrack that had felt like a joyful reminder of who I was, a mom, nurturer to these young boys. Without all this, Lord, I’m not sure who I am. Lonny was right. I was only tormenting myself.

My hand slipped inside my purse. The day before, my oldest son had come to visit, knowing how difficult the sale would be for me. After he’d gone back to his place, I discovered a gift he’d left for me, a vintage coin purse. Inside was a handwritten note: “Mom, I filled this with sunshine from Magic Hour.”

Now I slid my fingers over the tiny gold beads hand-sewn onto the fabric, wishing I could hold on to everything wonderful about this house and our life here.

Outside, a car door clipped shut. “Shawnelle!” Lonny said. “That could be the new owners. We have to get out of here.” I nodded, and we hustled to the kitchen.

“I’m going to turn on the schoolroom fireplace for them,” Lonny said. “It gets so cold back there.”

I followed. The room looked so barren without the worktable, the bookcases. The walls—once filled with maps and a Wright brothers poster that said Work, Work, Work…Fly!—now bare. Even the floor had been littered with projects, puzzles, block towers, robots.

I stood, staring at the emptiness. Everything that had meaning for me in this room was already gone.

My eyes followed a ray of morning sun streaming through the window, across the floor to...a rainbow created by a prism of leaded glass. Reds, greens, blues, yellows spilling everywhere, forming smaller rainbows. A symphony of colors. Different from Magic Hour yet no less beautiful.

In all the years I’d spent in this room, I’d never seen this before, not with the boys’ things blocking the view. All those projects and toys I hadn’t wanted to let go of. It was only by saying goodbye to them—letting go—that something new and beautiful had been revealed.

Maybe I just needed to look at things differently. Focusing less on the past I was afraid of losing and more on the brand-new life that awaited me, bright with God’s promises. He would be my dwelling place. He would go before me. I didn’t need to be afraid.

“Lonny, look,” I said, pointing at the rainbows.

He pulled me close.

“Are you going to be okay?”

“Absolutely. Let’s go home.”

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