My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you (Psalm 84:2-4).
Home can be a futile heart concept this side of Heaven. God has called us to be “strangers” on this planet. Still, each of us longs for a place called “home” where we are surrounded by loved ones and are meshed in peace and love. Our concept of “home” often depends on what we learned about this abode in the past. If home life was difficult and painful, achieving peace and love in our current circumstances can be a struggle.
God wants to heal every dark place of our heart, bringing us understanding and wisdom of His overall goal in this world. God designed each step of our life in the script He wrote for us before the world was formed, as outlined in Jeremiah 1. The synergy of our individual screenplays is sometimes best achieved when we wind back down the road of our memories. The effort is a “meet and greet” of the memories of our past in order to heal pain that may still lurk inside our hearts.
Over the healing years of my life, God has often told me to say “hello” to the Sydna of my past. While that girl was so young, I can still see, feel and hear the pain of her tortured past. Long ago, with God so specific in this leading, I knew that if I addressed these memories, I could possibly bid this pain farewell forever. God would lead me to the point of synergy of viewing the entire picture of my life and the fulfilled promise that He would turn “all things together for His good” (Romans 8:28).
For me, Michigan is a wonderful place to be FROM but many love it. During my childhood there, I had longed for the day that I could leave the entire state behind. My future simply couldn’t belong to the cold bitter place where so many painful memories existed. This mindset was one of the reasons I chose abortion. In my youthful mind, having a baby could lock me into that state forever. Other states would host the title of “home” to me over the years – California, Arizona, Colorado, Florida and currently, Arkansas.
The name of my childhood home sounds desolate still — Plainwell. The memories triggered by that title involve my days as a preacher’s kid, then my journey through my parent’s scandalous divorce, supporting my mother emotionally until she remarried, and an eventual crisis pregnancy that ended in abortion. The final point of my life in Plainwell was my husband’s face asking me to choose between this town and being with him. There was no hesitation in my heart in taking his hand. Up until this point, I have never looked back.
God had healed these remembrances through the phases of my growth in Him. But a big step still stood before me, involving physically walking the bases through my past, to reclaim what the enemy had taken from my life.
I had avoided Plainwell for twelve years. Such an excursion could never be rationalized simply to attend a high school reunion. My mother and adopted father moved to Florida in 1988 so our vacations were always with them. After helping these precious people die in 2007/2008, God moved my heart to go back to Michigan. He put hope in my heart that in my intense grief over their deaths, Plainwell could be a comfort to my heart.
When a nearby pregnancy center invited me to lead a training seminar there, I knew I had no other excuse to stay home. Soon afterwards, I touched down into the place that had once been listed as my home. God had successfully led me back to other places to redeem recollections so I had great hope. My heart was open and prayer coverage secured. This “second” family welcomed me as their guest. Nona and Mike Stafford’s home was a haven to mark this process. A good firend, Nancy Knowlton, joined me to assist in the training. Nona and Nancy were pillars, keeping my heart light in the wonder of what God had in store for this time in my life.
The first encounter was a with two high school friends that had married long ago – Pete and Kim Loftus, and their young son, Ian. In an evening reminiscent of Billy Joel’s song, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, we traipsed back through the years over dinner. Reflections of our youth. Pete joked that I had been entirely “too brilliant and smart” for anyone to compete with in elementary school. He and Kim remembered me, in a detailed way, in the days before the pain set in.
Pete jokingly asked me to, “Do that thing with your tooth,” for his son. I complied and the table was filled with laughter at the young boy’s astonishment. Pete told his son, “She used to do that to me in the middle of third grade. I’d always have a shocked reaction that would get me into trouble for disturbing the class while she sat there innocently smiling.” I giggled in the mental image of Pete’s youthful shock at my suddenly strange smile. I was immediately comforted by the companionship of friends who have known me so long. Only a handful actually know about my “tooth trick.”
During the early 70’s, my parent’s divorce had been one of the first Christian family separations in our small town. While divorce is common today, it was rare back then. Because my birth-father had been a Baptist preacher, involved in an extra-marital affair, the break up had been particularly painful and scandalous. That understanding intensified my recollection of the humiliation and scorn my mother and I had endured in those days in such a small town.
I shared with my friends about my plans for the next day – to walk through the parsonage where I had lived as a child. The Loftus family felt they should be offered the same opportunity and wondered why you had to live somewhere else to be able to visit your childhood home. Suddenly I realized that I had indeed been offered a rare opportunity to touch my past in having an open door at my childhood home.
The next morning’s visit to my former church and home was set for 10:00 a.m. I had never been allowed to say goodbye to this abode. My biological father had sent my mother and I to visit family in Europe in 1972. While we were gone, members of the church had moved us out of the house. When I arrived back from Europe, I was truly homeless and alone. My birth father had purchased a new home nearby but for some unknown reason, I was not allowed to live there. Instead, I had been sent to live with my mother’s best friend, dear Nona. This was the same dear woman who stood at my side on that day.
We started with a tour of the church and a discussion of the various construction projects over the years. When the gym door opened, there was a picture of Nona’s deceased husband, Dave Hoard. Seeing his face brought fresh grief to my heart. While the sanctuary remained unchanged, the rest of the building was vastly different. As their pastor’s wife opened the door to her home, I felt a rush of mental images of scenes that had occurred there. God stood with me while I was removed from the present and sent quietly back into the past.
I could nearly touch my mother’s face as I visualized the memory of her doing dishes at the kitchen sink. There was that distinct smell of cinammon rolls that she used to bake for the congregational members living in the nearby nursing home. The twig she had planted in the backyard, in memory of her departed father in 1968, was now a huge tree. The living room where I danced to the music of the Partridge family and the Carpenters was unchanged except for furniture. I climbed the stairs to my old room where I was often afraid on those final days of their marriage, with only my Siamese cat to comfort me. I listened once again to the voices of my parents arguing below. The sound of items being broken as they were thrown across the room, and doors slamming shut as my father left the house, were close to my heart.
Soon we found ourselves around the dining room table where I remembered the various missionaries who had been welcomed into our home. I realized the roots of hospitality that had been instilled in me during those moments. My mother had carefully trained me in the art of making strangers feel welcomed — what she called “hospitality.” As my companions talked among themselves, I asked if I could visit the basement. “Sure. Don’t mind the mess,” the pastor’s wife said.
The basement held the toughest memory. I was eleven and my mother had just come home from a summer long hospitalization at a mental clinic. My father had committed her because she had threatened to file for divorce if he did not end his relationship with the woman that had captured his heart, soul and mind. To avoid this, and prevent further harm to his ministry, he had told the hospital she had experienced a “nervous breakdown.” It took her three months to prove herself “sane” and be released. She had just arrived back home.
The “movie” of that scene stood before me in that basement. It was the moment I realized my father’s mental issues. He was calmly informing us that we would be on a plane bound for Ireland the very next day. I was being pulled out of school for six weeks to accompany her. He was giving us 12 hours to pack. Mother was pleading for more time to pack. She was tired but had agreed to go. She was looking forward to the emotional support of her Irish family members. There was relief when he agreed to an extra two days and departed to return to the home of his eventual second wife.
Mother had then hugged me. Clearly she was encouraged. She said that my father was a good man and that Europe would be a good experience. When I brought up the subject of school, she spoke encouragement by saying, “Sydna, you won’t miss anything. You will catch up easily. Going away will be good for both of us and you will learn about your cultural roots.” It had been a tender moment between us, full of love and bonding. I had been so afraid in her absence that summer. Initially I had been left all alone until Nona called to relay she needed a babysitter that summer and felt I was perfect for the job. I had only seen my father from afar – on the pulpit on Sunday morning – during those months.
Suddenly the “movie” moved to the next scene. I stood by the new tenant’s ironing board in the same spot where my mother’s used to work. Now I was the same age my mother had been at that long ago moment. I saw in my mind the feet of my birth-father barreling down those stairs. He seemed to have experienced a change of heart. Now he was yelling and demanding that we pack as he had changed his mind. We were leaving the next morning as originally scheduled.
The male voice emanating from his chest was not my father’s voice but that of a stranger. My youthful mind had dysfunctionally understood why he had left me alone so much of the summer. I was no one that he thought was important enough to deserve his time or attention. What I could not grasp was why he was treating my mother so badly. He had always been attentive to her. Then, as quickly as he came, this angry man left us alone again. He returned to the woman who was running all our lives at that moment.
I couldn’t remember what my mother had said then. She could not speak but fell into a heap in front of the washer. It was then that I started my existence as her sole comforter. I bore witness to her husband’s transformation and he never held the spot of “parent” in my life again. It was the last evening my parent’s would ever share the same roof.
In realizing that memory, tears rolled down my face and I grieved my mother’s death once again. I missed the woman she had been before the pain and I grieved the elderly person that had recently passed so gracefully into heaven. I was assaulted, once again, by anger for this man who had done so much damage to her heart. God reminded me that these were unhealthy emotions that had no place in this moment in my healing process. I asked my Creator to help me to once again forgive this birth-father. Peace surrounded my heart and the anger dissipated.
As I emerged from the basement, I stopped and said goodbye to this house of my childhood. It would never again bear the memories of the past in my recollections. Those emotions had been put to death and resolved with God’s help. The light conversation of my companions was suddenly a comfort. Forgiveness was in place again and I was ready to move ahead to the next step of my healing journey with Christ. We walked down the block and around the corner until I was satisfied that the heart work had been finished. Later we would meet two individuals in the church parking lot who had also loved my mother. Their condolences were unexpected blessings and a healing balm.
Why does God take us back to places and times where pain occurred? Often it is because healing needs to take place. Unresolved memories can bind us to anger, bitterness and unforgiveness. Grief can draw out unresolved pain which can lead to destruction. These emotions can inhibit the work Christ wants to achieve through our lives on Earth. In walking through these memories at a physical level in Plainwell, God reminded me that He had used each event to build His heart within mine. None of my pain has ever been wasted on this life’s journey. He helped me forgive and grieve again, using both to build my faith and draw me closer to Him, preparing me for His next step in this work.
In “touching home” in Plainwell, I’m also encouraged by II Corinthians 5:6-10: Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
Thank you, Lord, for leading back to the fountain of your love and restoring my heart once again. I’m looking forward to coming home to Glory in Your time…
Sydna A. Masse