It was on my fourteenth birthday that my parents told me they had been offered an opportunity to serve at a church in Oregon. This information was quickly followed up with an assurance that they weren't going to take it. It was just to let me know that there was this option out there. My grandmother was suffering from dementia. It might be necessary for us to be closer to her. This church was available. There were options.
Three months later we were moving there. Blodgett, OR. Sounds like budget (money has always freaked me out.) A smudge on the map. A hodgepodge of unpleasant imagery. There was nothing inspiring in the thought of living in such a place.
Horse Creek, CA, with it's population of 115 people, might not sound like much to most people, but it was the only home I had ever known. Our house was snuggled up next to beautiful mountains. All my friends were there. All my memories were etched into the forest, the house, the bends and turns of Highway 96. My sister and her precious baby boys were just a short drive away. Basically, this was my paradise, and I had no desire to leave until I was 18 and finished with high school and ready to travel the world.
I will never forget one of the last days we were in our house. My room was barren, all except for the bed. I curled up there and let my eyes run around and around the walls, memorizing every square inch, even though it was already solidly in my heart since earliest childhood. There were people from the church helping us pack up. A lady came back to the room and asked if this used to be my room. Her words hit me with as much force as if she had physically hit me. "No," I told her. "This is my room."
I haven't thought about these events for quite some time. I have lived so very many places since then. I have cried tears over parting ways with friends, family, countries, and cultures. A six hour move doesn't look like much from this vantage point, and yet the memory of that first big move still has an impact. There was so much love and loss, joy and pain, discovery, friendship, and even fear experienced there. A home like that, a room so poignantly experienced, is never forgotten.
I wrote a letter to my fourteen year old niece this week. She is moving, leaving the only home she has really known. It is the closest thing I can give to her. I know it will not erase her pain, and it will not make the prospect of moving seem brighter. I can only hope that it will remind her that she is not alone, that she is deeply loved, and that there is hope, even in the midst of the heavier emotions. And just maybe, when she does find joy in her new home, she will be able to embrace it without feeling guilt, and she will hold her love of the past, and her joy in the future, together in her hands with a full heart.
My advice to anyone who knows someone who is 14 (or a plethora of other tender ages) and moving, is to let them mourn, let them rage, give them hugs (even if they stand there for them like stiff boards) and share in each one of their new joys with total abandon.