I drive across the train tracks past an old community every Tuesday morning just north of my neighborhood to have coffee with Joan. It’s a weathered stretch of homes down the little highway that has seen better days. Several of them have been vacant for years; weeds creeping in and rotted board dangling over stoops. I imagine how adorable a few of them would look gutted out and spruced up with a little garden and laundry line in the backyard but I’m sure for most prospective homeowners it couldn’t possibly be worth the time and money. I pass those abandoned houses every week, some days I imagine what they could be and other days I imagine what they were at one time. My favorite house is a tiny two-story white farmhouse with lots of little windows, a yellow door frame, and a snug front porch. I’m a southern gal through and through and I love nothing more than lounging barefoot at the end of the day on a porch listening to katydids and watching lightning bugs. I think about that looking at that mess of a house. The siding is peeled off and some of the windows are busted through. The roof is curving upwards on the edges, like a sticker a sweaty-handed child has handled too long. At one time that house was a home and it was given care and it sheltered life.
Sometimes I wonder about all the small deaths of hopes and dreams in our lives that take our little homes that our spirits are encased in that wear us down; when our ideals and taste do not match our expectation or ability. Or further still, I think about all the small, unnoticed secrets and undisciplined areas that we allow in our average day-to-day business that spread and grow in dark, hidden places. I think about the whirlwinds that rip apart our lives, from foundation up, without warning or consent and we’re left alone deciding where to start picking up the pieces.
The way I see it, we’ve all been given land, a space in time that our experiences begin to lay the foundations of our homes, where we grow and dwell. For some of us the foundations are already there, for others we start with shoveling dirt. How our homes are shaped determine the strength of them. I think about those homes on HGTV that are beautiful but when they have an inspector take a closer look, there’s a sagging beam in the attic or a termite infestation that only the contractor can see. Ultimately it will bring it to the home’s ruin but on the outside, everybody wants it. I see myself in this way sometime, in the seasons I want to keep people at arm’s length for fear they will truly see me as I am, imperfect and at the center of my universe. I think about the secret sins that are easily masked to others but eat away at me on the insides. And then I think about the sturdy homes, the ones that have seen a lot of life and need constant maintenance, that have maybe lost its luster. I think about the people who feel far too established in who they are and where they are to have hope for change, and the tedious day-to-day work it takes just to keep it all running leaves them feeling bleak and directionless. I think about parents of little ones, or those struggling to make ends meet at a less than satisfying job, or those putting in extra effort to revive those burned out marriages, or barely hanging on in chronic pain or illness. And then I think about the myriad of homes that have been utterly destroyed and the lives that they leave to pick up the pieces after abuse, death, and other devastations.
When I think about my life, I don’t always see a home or debris. I see my little patch of earth. Sure, I have family and friends, but I haven’t really found my niche in work or career and I don’t have a place that I consider my home and most of that is symptomatic of my season in life, which makes me think about the alternatives. I think about other people’s lives and wonder how I’m doing in comparison, which is usually a terrible idea as I usually succumb to a tiny heart attack. I think it’s why I’m drawn to the little white farmhouse that’s falling apart on Highway T. I like the idea of fixing something, taking something established and making it new (and cute). I long for that establishment and rootedness. I think about all the times Abraham picked up that tent and kept moving, settling, and building alters to Yahweh. How exhausting that must have been! I moved five times in less than two years in college and I remember swearing I wouldn’t move for another two years after that, which I subsequently broke less than a year later.
Here’s the thing: anything worth something requires hard work, doing the right thing, and denying ourselves for the sake of our little homes our soul longs to dwell in. I can point to the home shattered in a million bits and say “no thank you,” but who can control when disaster strikes and how can I believe that too will not also be my lot? I can point to the established home and say “yes, that one” but I cannot see the routine work and effort that must be pumped in everyday, whose strength and vitality has been built over time and careful attention and weathered many storms. I cannot point to the beautiful home on the best piece of property and say “I want what they have” because if I only knew the sort of decay happening to its foundations and structure, my home would not stand long.
God is our master builder, our designer, contractor, inspector. He knows us and loves us each unlike we’ve ever known we could be loved and cared for and what we’ve been given and what we go through is not some terrible mistake. We were plucked out of eternity and placed in time, on our little bits of earth, and he has given us hard things to carry out while we’re here and he has given us the tools to accomplish it. You are not alone. The Lord tells us in Jeremiah that he has good plans for us, plans that give us a future and a hope. In Psalms 90, the psalmist wrote, “Lord, through all the generations you have been our home.” The whole psalm is incredibly beautiful and encouraging -it goes on like this:
Lord, through all the generations
you have been our home!
Before the mountains were born,
before you gave birth to the earth and the world,
from beginning to end, you are God.
You turn people back to dust, saying,
“Return to dust, you mortals!”
For you, a thousand years are as a passing day,
as brief as a few night hours.
You sweep people away like dreams that disappear.
They are like grass that springs up in the morning.
In the morning it blooms and flourishes,
but by evening it is dry and withered.
We wither beneath your anger;
we are overwhelmed by your fury.
You spread out our sins before you—
our secret sins—and you see them all.
We live our lives beneath your wrath,
ending our years with a groan.
Seventy years are given to us!
Some even live to eighty.
But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble;
soon they disappear, and we fly away.
Who can comprehend the power of your anger?
Your wrath is as awesome as the fear you deserve.
Teach us to realize the brevity of life,
so that we may grow in wisdom.
O Lord, come back to us!
How long will you delay?
Take pity on your servants!
Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love,
so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.
Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery!
Replace the evil years with good.
Let us, your servants, see you work again;
let our children see your glory.
And may the Lord our God show us his approval
and make our efforts successful.
Yes, make our efforts successful!
I didn’t know this until just a week ago, but this is widely regarded as a psalm of Moses. That’s right, the baby who was found floating on the Nile River, raised by royalty, killed a Egyptian guard oppressing his people, ran away, married a Middianite, returned to Egypt to free the Israelites, and wandered in the desert for FORTY years before being denied entry to the land that was promised to his people. Moses knew a thing or two about what home was and what it wasn’t. And here he has found God faithful in all the chaos, in all the change, and unbelievable work required of his life. I love this prayer so much in light of the life he lead. Moses knew the time he had was short, he saw awesome and horrific things and here at the end of his life, he has found the Lord to be his home. Oh, that our sights would be set on that! I pray that my heart would be fixed not on what is unfolding in other people’s lives but that I would be fixed on the Lord, who establishes and rules over it all.
So here I am.
This is my lot.
I am looking out at my field and my sleeves must be rolled up. There is a home waiting to be built, a soil that must first be turned up, a blueprint that must be followed, just as some of you must begin to pick up the pieces of what was and begin again, others must ask for help to pluck out the decay, and others still must continue in the grind of maintenance, faithful that all the small acts will withstand decades more of shelter. Here we are. Let’s do hard things.
Lord, make our efforts successful.
Be our home.