by Janis Menke Leal
This door handle’s home, my childhood home, was once called “The Menke House”
Door handles have stories. This one is tender yet powerful, and sweeter than words can convey. Its story began in the 1920’s when a house was artfully built, the house in which I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, starting in the early 1960’s, and it continues today because the handle, now a symbol, is mine again – truly my own in a way it never was before – because it was given to me recently by the current owner. The masterfully orchestrated, beyond-natural “connection” the current owner and I made is a story of restoration by the Redeemer who gave me that day a hug and kiss I’ll forever cherish.
This door handle’s home, my childhood home, was once called “The Menke House” (my maiden name is Menke), and it and the pastor’s house next door were parsonages, owned by a church and school called… Redeemer. My father served there as principal, teacher of two grades, organist, music director, etc., and my mother taught first grade for a good while. Out our back door, past the backyard, was my “extended home” – the church and school. People would stop by our house, sometimes needing keys to get into Redeemer, sometimes just to say hello or visit. Sometimes they didn’t knock but just walked right in, both the back door and the front door, graced with this hefty, beautiful handle that had to be embraced to enter into living and lives. It was life in that house, the Life this door handle knew well.
In the front, out the arched front door adorned with this handle, was our street in the now historic neighborhood surrounding the beautiful high school now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Many younger people are now moving into the neighborhood to restore these older homes of unique architecture. After we five children grew up and moved out, and my parents moved in the mid-1980’s, my heart broke as I felt a lost connection to my childhood home, yet the church continued to use The Menke House for ministry purposes.
Feeling a bit better knowing it was still purposed for Life and Love, I later asked the new pastor I met to please let me know if the church ever planned to sell the property (which didn’t seem likely at the time), as I might be interested, or at least in acquiring one of its unique features like the old-fashioned telephone niche, or some of the unique tile, or one of the now-antique glass door knobs, or something… some piece of Love from this beloved place.
Unfortunately, through grave, unforeseen circumstances during the decades following the 80’s, the spiritual community dwindled and the school building was sold, lost. The pastor’s parsonage was sold, lost. Then, “my” house, The Menke House, was sold, lost… and I was so sad to see the downward spiral of the once seemingly glory-filled, love-filled, Spirit-filled place pass into death-like detriment. Would it be cared for and stewarded, would the warm light of Life and Love be restored? Could it?
As years went by I always wanted to go back, just to see, just to feel, just to pray for the people and those places… but I just never did. A few years ago my father died, moving on to live in his eternal home, then last year my mother followed him there. It was then, months ago, I felt the stronger, undeniable urge to return to the place of which they were so much a part, a place of which so many, too numerous to mention, were a special part… so last week I did. But how I did was by God Himself, a story in itself which would take much longer to tell. This door handle is the crowning kiss from God, the tangible token of Love who orchestrated it all.
And its intimate tale today, a memoir of Love’s many-colored gifts and multi-faceted restoration, involves my traveling to San Antonio last Wednesday for more business-type reasons that would require most of the day. Yet a dim thought sparked that morning, a thin thread of hope to just “stop by” my childhood home… but I didn’t believe it could happen.
But God…. in the greater story yet untold, had different plans. After entering town, crying to God for memories and losses, somehow all the day-long “business” miraculously fell quickly into place, in only minutes not hours, “coincidentally” freeing half the day to fulfill the stirrings not to be denied, to get myself to my Redeemer and my childhood home. The place beckoned me to go through necessary heartache – the grief of losing my parents and the “lost” places once full of life. I had to go, I had to know, and to pray for the people and places, and…. something else God had secretly, smilingly planned, waiting in the right place at the right time.
After walking around the property -- the many-windowed school with many windows boarded up, the abandoned, stripped, weed-filled school playground, the “blacktop” parking lot facing the undestroyed, constantly-communicating stained glass church window depicting the Godhead of God, the broken steps my father regularly walked to practice the organ, and more, all sprinkled with my tears of grief mixed with intercession for what was and what through only faith can someday be – I ventured to drive to the front of my house on North Drive.
I imagined walking up to the front door, knocking, saying this was once my home, asking if I may see it… but the image left my mind instantly, for belief (or unbelief?) in the unlikelihood of such a romantic notion. No, just driving by would have to do. I’d still cry and pray, but without knocking on my front door, now someone else’s, but always God’s front door, with a handle to embrace….
Then I saw her in the yard…. the woman to be God’s angel that day, the current owner named Laura, who had just moved back to reside in that house last year…. She was digging in the dirt, planting…. planting Beauty never seen there before, planting Joy from within yet beyond herself, for those besides herself, including me. But the beauty, joy, and restoration had just begun, as what followed was our meeting, a special connection indeed. She asked, without my asking, for me come into the house -- our house and His – to look around, even take pictures, which I did profusely. She freely offered, not knowing the heart of Love’s surprise that day, hiding in the garage, waiting….
Her two young daughters, with hair that reminded me of me at their age, occupied my brothers’ former bedrooms upstairs, and waved to me from the restored dormer window before I left. I waved back with a lighthearted new light inside…. But before I left she gave me a gift I cherish more than any material possession I have – the original front door handle that was once removed but for “some unknown reason” she kept stored away in the garage, waiting….
It was God’s gift, with a hug and kiss, just for me, yet not just for me…. because the Redeemer, of Redeemer Church and of my own life, is the same Redeemer of all, who restores what’s been lost, or stolen, or what was never had but should have been, yet He returns even more and better than the original. For that’s the heart of Restoration, like new flowers at my house, now Laura’s house…. but always God’s house, our home.
I believe door handles have memories -- of love and words and life -- just like people, and probably more so. And my handle tells more to me than I can say.... I believe in miracles, and in renewal of places, people, beauty, and more. I believe the Redeemer bought back and continually gives, in connection, restoration, timeless never-dying, priceless surprises, including door handles.
Life’s doorways of major change have doors opening and closing by handles to be grasped and clasped in the process of passage. Our part is to simply, trustingly, gratefully receive and embrace the door handles God offers in the transition from Here to There, ever toward a newer newness of Life and Love.
So I will embrace, and enter in.
Note: Warm thanks to Laura who asked me in, who, as I did, also wrote on Facebook today about this encounter, and we didn’t even know at the time that the other had done it.... Just another of God’s artful touches to make us wonder, and smile, and wholeheartedly embrace what He gives.
I had a fantastic encounter this week while gardening in my front yard. A woman driving through the neighborhood stopped and asked if I lived here. She told me she grew up in the house. We knew our home was owned for many years by the Lutheran Church directly behind us, but we were never sure who lived here. Her father was the organist at the church and the principal at the attached school.
I learned we once had a stone well in the backyard. When I brought her inside she explained the old floor plan. My groovy peach and green tile on my bathroom floor had matching peach tile in the tub and shower area. The shower is now white. I would give my right arm to see it the way it once was. It was so lovely learning that our home was bustling with an active family, community friends, energetic children, and so much love. I've only ever felt good vibes from this old place and her visit confirmed my intuition was dead on. Thank you Janis Menke Leal for giving me a peak into the past. So grateful for your visit.