Dear Lewis House,
When I last wrote, I didn’t expect we’d meet again. Sure, I thought I’d give a dramatic wave, a final goodbye from the street corner. Yet to pace your grey-carpet hallways again? To wash my dishes in that orange kitchen? To watch Netflix in the Girls’ Flat? I didn’t think so. On returning to New Zealand from the Himalayas, I found out that YWAM Newcastle still eats dinner in the Hall. But even when I arrived back to Australia, I wasn’t prepared for the torrent of flashbacks just in something as simple as a meal. I know, Kara’s kitchen isn’t finished and we do live right next door. It was okay if I kept seeing you– I already let go, right? Instead, I’ve been shocked that I still needed time to say goodbye.
My first week back, I wasn’t living in Kara but stayed at my brother’s house. That meant I didn’t face the transition, not yet. Why should I? The new hallways echoed, smelled like chemicals, and most of all, they were empty of memories. There was no familiar “Dining Room” or “Hub”– I just wanted to hang out with you. You remembered. Your hallways were like overstuffed pillows, every space crammed with memories. I simply looked at a door frame and remembered what God did in a room, the moments I first felt I belonged somewhere. I glanced at a patch of carpet and remembered my brothers who stood there, the moments I felt at home after a long time. Yes, your dining room was empty– which unwillingly made me choke up– but every room still screamed of stories.
Stories like these… After the dust of our own DTS had settled, Lia and I sat on the front porch (or is it called the back?– we never did confirm that), quietly watching the flying foxes arrive at the banyan tree. I suddenly asked, “What kind of beds do bats sleep on?”, and before Lia could answer, I was cracking up at my own joke: An air mattress! (Lia still tells it, might I add). There’s other moments, too, on that same porch, like when Amy and I caught up on four years and realised the lyrics of our lives were the same: Hearts are soft and squishy. So we wrote a song, that became the anthem of our DTS, sung on the streets of Amsterdam and India. But there’s even further back, when David first led me up those steps when I was thirteen, or at sixteen when I, with sparkling eyes, met the girls who became my sister-in-laws. Stories, countless stories, that all whispered: Kayla, you belong. You’re home. They never end.
But one recent evening, as bats arrived to the same banyan tree, your stories screamed louder than usual. As I waited for Lia, I finally let myself pace the abandoned hallways, let my fingers trail along your painted walls, let my feet tiptoe into the old bedrooms. My heart was hushed as if I stumbled into an empty cathedral– yet my brain yelled out flashbacks like Taco Bell orders at midday. Why am I looking at what I already let go? I wanted to cry. No, I wanted to collapse on the carpet and sob. Instead, I found my old floral handkerchief on top of a dresser in my old room, and clung to it closely. How can I really leave? I wondered, as I held on to it tighter. I don’t want to forget.
That was it, my dear Lewis House. I didn’t want to forget. In this past month, I was shocked so many tales could lay undisturbed for so long, and be startled awake so quickly. In case you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a sucker for nostalgia. The thought of forgetting you– all the aching history within you– freaked me out. My ache hit its climax that same evening. Even though I’d already moved to Kara, it was way more normal to watch White Christmas in the Girl’s Flat with Lia and Niki. Halfway through, I popped into the downstairs bathroom. You know, just a two-minute trip, and then back to the 50’s musical, I planned. But suddenly I was an unarmed solider in no-man’s land, bombarded by every rifle of memory, unable to defend myself. Don’t you remember the hilarious fun, the heartbreaks? The disappointments, the tension, the dreams restored? Remember belonging here– your home?
But then– a calm voice pierced the gunfire, and shot my aching heart clean through.
You know you have to let go Lewis House, right?
In a moment, I knew it wasn’t your stories that meant the most to me. I remember those easily if I look back through my journals or even Facebook photos. Oh, what always meant the world to me was the home that those stories created. In the mess of moving, I started to think that home in Australia, even belonging in YWAM Newcastle, was confined to your brick walls, nowhere else. Deeper still? I was afraid of being forgotten– because of my choice to live somewhere else. But looking back over the past decade, wasn’t it the people here who welcomed me home, regardless if I lived in Newcastle or not? It was always the people who loved me well– and during this trip, they’ve loved me as well as ever, if not more.
I know I have to let go Lewis House. I finally answered through the gunfire. It’s just hard to say goodbye.
Later that evening, I cried in Lia’s lap. As Hannah Brencher writes, “We were both gathering proof, and all sorts of evidence, to back a truth that no one ever warned us about: life is a series of letting go moments.” (If You Find This Letter, p. 48). “I let go,” I whispered. In three little words, my fears were laid bare, lies annihilated, and a burden released. The new, echoing, mystery-odour hallways were quiet– just our fan whirred, crickets chirruped, and the fairy lights twinkled. But I could swear Kara, ignoring my accusations, winked at me and whispered back:
You belong. You’re home.
It’s what you always told me, I know– I know.
I’m just starting to believe it.
The Norris Girl
(Still most commonly called Kayla-Norris)