The treehouse. It’s the treehouse that really gets to me.
You see, last summer my stepdad got some wood together and formed somewhat of a rectangular frame, on which he placed a platform. He cut a hole in the bottom for a trap door entrance, attached a ladder to the opening, and boom–incredible treehouse.
It was a labor of love for the kids he loved. My kids. His grandkids.
Having been completed near the end of the summer, many of the precious few sunny days in Oregon had long passed, and so my three children weren’t able to use the treehouse as much as any of us had hoped. Soon, school started, the rains came, and the hardly used symbol of summer stood alone in my parents’ backyard.
And despite a milder-than-normal winter, the treehouse sat empty for months, until the late winter rains gave way to an early summer. The treehouse was open for business again. My kids climbed up top, armed with markers, and put their artistry on the walls and floor of the treehouse. They brought blankets up top, ate meals up there, and begged us to let them sleep up there (we wouldn’t because they’re too young and could fall down the ladder in the middle of the night if they had to pee).
Anticipating the rains that would return oh-so-soon, my stepdad added a roof to the treehouse, creating some semblance of shelter that hadn’t previously been there.
He predicted the rains, but he couldn’t have predicted another major change of season.
On New Year’s Eve 2014, my wife and I were sitting in the rooftop bar of the Hotel Oregon in McMinnville, playing that Heads Up game on our phones and dreaming about the future. We discussed the things we felt like were ahead of us in 2015. Together, we easily arrived at two things: sell our house and adopt through the foster care system.
I’d been talking about selling our house for years. We live in a townhouse adjacent to one of Sandy’s only east-west roads, and across the fence from hundreds of apartment units. Our yard (if you’d call it that) died after our first autumn there in 2009, and parking is really kind of a joke.
But more importantly, our kids are getting older, and we see the importance of having a place with ample public spaces where they could bring friends. Things like a living room, a bonus nook, bigger rooms and even a no-kidding back yard. We also want to host friends, bible studies and yes, that adopted child, and our current space didn’t suit those desires. Add to it the fact that we had, for five of our six years at our house, dealt with the excessive noise, wafting tobacco and marijuana smoke, and foul mouths just feet away in the apartments across the fence.
Add to mix a hot housing market and the ability to, once and for all, end any and all debt we’d accrued (including student loans, our cars and yes, some stupid unsecured credit card debt), and it seemed all the pieces were coming together to sell. In late Spring we started boxing our stuff, throwing things away and making improvements to our property–the kinds of improvements we always wanted to make but never made the time for–in order to get our home ready to sell.
And true enough, with the help of a good friend, we accepted a full price offer on our home less than two days after it went on the market. Then the big question came: NOW WHAT?
Really, the question had always been more like, “NOW WHERE?” And the answer to it, at least in my view, was always rather simple in my mind, but probably ridiculous in others’ eyes. We were either going to stay in Sandy, where we’d lived the past 10 years, or we were going to the Boise area.
My wife had even brought up the possibility of looking in the Redmond/Bend area for housing, but I was against it, believing that wherever we moved next had to be relationally driven. We had to know some people there, for some level of support. And from my view, it was either in the community we’d brought our family into, or it was the place where my job, wife’s extended family and lower cost of living could be calling.
Boise has always been a bit of a mythical glory land for my wife. I saw a home movie of hers once from when she was a tweener, where she received a plane ticket to Boise. She was overcome by the gift to the point you’d think someone handed her a winning Powerball ticket. She was crying, hugging people and repeating thank yous. It was a special place for my wife, and that love was infectious.
And during our 12 years of marriage (14 of dating), we’ve gone there a number of times and have had great family gatherings and fun outings before and after kids, and we’d sometimes fantasize about relocating there someday. I even said out loud a few years ago that it wasn’t a matter of “if” we’d be going there… it was when.
But… Sandy. I came to this town a decade ago, one year out of college with just a year of cub reporting in North Tillamook County under my belt. Still quite green, still very untested with much to learn. At 23, I was the youngest newspaper editor in the state, and while I was a fast learner, much of my first year on the job was spent with eyes as wide as saucer plates as I handled coverage on a teacher’s strike and the divisive aftermath of a police shooting–at the same time.
Controversy and headlines aside, my three-and-a-half years at the Sandy Post gave me an “in” to my new community that most folks will never get. I knew the police officers who patrolled our streets. I asked the Mayor about her grandkids. I served beer at the Chamber of Commerce beer garden in the summer and performed a rap song in the Mountain Festival parade (winning first place, I might add).
I met a lot of great people, wrote a lot of fun (and not-so-fun) stories that did more than communicate facts and figures to people; it relayed pieces of who Sandy was as a community, one person at a time. And I was the beneficiary of having become a student of my neighbors.
That relationship changed quite a bit when I left the newspaper business and worked at my church, East Hill Church in Gresham as the Communications Director. I became what many of my neighbors actually were: bedroom community members. That’s not some freaky Portland term, mind you, but it just means that the only real time you spend in your town is when you’re sleeping. You spend most of your waking hours somewhere else.
Despite being glad for my new position at the church, I remember feeling as if I’d lost something special in my city. Still, casual nods, hugs and “how are yous” at grocery stores, special events and other public places assured me the connection was still there, albeit awkward and undefined.
Fast forward five years. Now with three kids, a house in Sandy and a new full-time job at Christian music site NewReleaseTuesday/Today that allowed me to telecommute, I was finding myself working at coffee shops (OK, really just Starbucks) to have some kind of connection to people that you lack when your social interaction at the workplace happens through a monitor screen.
And then, through a series of tough, but totally God-orchestrated events, I found myself accepting a position at a new church–Abundant Life Church–as its Sandy Campus worship leader.
Leaving the church I’d been part of to some degree for the prior 11 years–and on staff for five–was excruciating. It was one of those things where there was no good reason to leave except for the fact that God said “go.” I sensed God was calling me deeper into my worship calling, and I had to comply or I felt like I’d explode.
It was brutal to leave behind the connections I had, the friends and mentors I had, the ministry I was part of and the years of history we’d amassed there. And although we struggled relationally and yearned for the sort of depth of friendship we’d previously enjoyed, what made being at Abundant Life easier for me was looking out on those first few Sunday mornings and seeing faces that I knew.
Faces like the Fire Chief who always was good for a smile, a hearty handshake and a laugh–a guy whose wedding I attended. Faces like former attenders of my old church who supported our shared vision of Spirit-led, flowing worship. Faces like those of people I knew from writing articles or from Chamber meetings or even from my high school graduating class.
The connections I made years before were starting to make sense as they translated from this reporter-to-source relationship to a pastor-to-congregation relationship. It was a totally different context this time around, and I loved it even more.
Although I longed for close, compelled friendships, I many times found myself smiling as I’d drive westward on Dubarko Road towards the church on Sunday mornings, looking at my city as I drove through it, beaming with thankfulness for the ability to lead people in worship. As is the case with every worship leader, it wasn’t always that way, but many times, especially during my second year as the Worship Sherpa (that’s the title I was given), I marveled at how God had given me a voice into my neighbor’s lives again, but instead of showing the community who they are, I got to show the community who God is, and who they are in light of God’s goodness and grace. Major upgrade.
It’s funny; I could picture myself always living here. I imagined yard signs with my name on them as part of running for Mayor someday. I envisioned my daughters making the Mountain Festival’s Five Generations Court and my son serving as their escorts. I thought my kids would finish out at Kelso Elementary, go on to Boring Middle (yes, that’s the actual name) and then I’d watch my son play Sandy High basketball while watching one daughter in the high school musical and the other on the dance team.
But there was this strange thing that came to mind when I took the position as the worship leader in Sandy. I had a sense of a two year mission. I was a missionary to my own community, it seemed, but like all missions, there was an expiration date. I didn’t know what it meant at the time, but it was always there in the back of my head.
On Monday, I drove 25 minutes to Clackamas to sign away my house. The house, while imperfect for all the reasons I previously described, represented–REPRESENTS–so many memories of my family’s life. We watched our house be built from the ground up. We toured it when it was little more than a wood frame. We prayed over each room.
All three of my kids have no memory of any other place (because one wasn’t quite two when we moved, another was five months old and the third was just a twinkle in our eyes). As for me, in 33 years on this earth, I’d never lived in a place that long. Six years was a record. Ten years in a town also a major record.
In faith, but with a number of practical reasons too, we sold our home, fully believing that the market would yield something of promise before school would start. But things didn’t get better or even level off in the housing market; they got worse (or better, for those sellers out there). Soon, it became clear that we’d have to downgrade ourselves in terms of square footage, rooms or both–AND pay more–if we wanted to stick around. And we’d probably not be able to pay off that debt we wanted to (you know, a big reason why we sold in the first place?).
This is about the time we started asking God what He was up to. And that’s also the time where the Boise Question resurfaced, complete with a “feels like now or never” provision. Cheaper, bigger houses. Working in my company’s main office alongside my boss (a real person, not behind a screen). Better weather. Savannah’s extended family. The promise of incredible ministry at a church with which we’d connected. Lots of pieces lined up.
The problem with asking God questions is that He’s likely to answer them. And you’d best be ready for Him to answer them, even if He doesn’t give you the answer you want–or in my case, not sure you want.
I love my family. I love seeing my mom about once a week. I love our loud, crazy family dinners and doing silly things with my stepdad like throwing oversized styrofoam airplanes in the street. I love how my kids treat my mom like a celebrity and spend precious, all-too-fleeting time with both of my grandmas who live nearby.
And so, to tell them that we were taking a house-scouting trip to Boise was gut-wrenching–even if it was somewhat expected by an early May trip my mom and I took to the area to check out the market. It was a trip that was highly emotional for both my mom and I–perhaps the firstfruits of a decision that had yet to be made.
After that trip, as my stepdad made improvements to that treehouse, I later heard that he said to my mom, “I just feel like I’m building this treehouse for somebody else.” That remark broke my heart.
And it haunts me now, as today we just learned that an offer on a beautiful blessing of a house in South Boise has been accepted. While I look at the five-bedroom, 2,600 square foot house that’s priced under $200,000 with incredible excitement and awe, I can’t help but also think about that treehouse at the same time.
It seems kind of funny–but I’m crying even as I’m writing this–because as I dry heaved in the past month over whether or not to place an offer on a house in a new city in a new state, all I could think about was my stepdad’s remark and that treehouse. I almost wished it didn’t exist. I can’t help but think about it sitting empty day after day, serving as some kind of sad wooden monument that we’re gone–that I took my children/their grandchildren away from them.
We’re moving to Boise. Even writing those four words feels completely surreal because I learned in the difficult-but-right decision to leave East Hill for Abundant Life that saying “yes” to something always means saying “no,” too–and the bigger the gain, the bigger the pain can be, too.
I’m going to a place where I won’t know the police officers’ names, details about the Starbucks baristas’ wedding plans, or anyone who would invite us to a birthday party. I’m going to a place where the only thing I have is God, my family and a bunch of open doors.
I’m going to a place where there’s no treehouse. Not yet, anyway.
We all have treehouses to some extent–monuments to lives that changed dramatically and are no more. For some, it’s a dresser full of clothes left behind by a recent high school graduate going off to college. For others, it’s anniversary photos of a spouse long gone. For others still, it’s old greeting cards or Facebook posts that signaled certain relationships when they were at their peak.
Until we’re living in a new Heaven and new Earth, we’re living in a Kingdom of Change. And the path each of us walks is littered with the monuments of transition–ebenezers of various times of our life. But we have to keep walking. We feel the pain of change, but we pursue the greater gift of building God’s Kingdom on the Earth and seeking Him wherever He leads us.
A friend of mine sent me a text today with a word from the Lord he sensed in his heart. He shrugged it off earlier in the day, but the Spirit burned inside of him until he shared it with me.
“Have no fear. I am the one who is preparing your path. Lay your burdens down and rest in my peace, for I am in the midst of all that is happening, and in control.”
Praise God for that. Though the way of Jesus is filled with sacrifice, suffering–and yes, goodbyes (or “see ya laters”)–He made the path. He’s walking with me on it. He is with me, and you. He is the reward.
I’m excited about what awaits our family one state over. I’m grateful for the provision we’re experiencing. I’m blessed to have direction. But I feel so many emotions at the same time, simultaneously picturing two buildings: my new home, and a solitary treehouse. A promising future and a sobering reality of what has passed.
Here’s to the past. Here’s to the future. Here’s to the God that’s in both places, in the treehouses and the new houses, in the pain and the excitement, in the irreplaceable memories and the dreams we can’t shake.