I pushed open the front door and felt an unnerving emptiness. No pattering feet rushed to greet me from inside, no jostling elbows pushed me from behind. I tried to brush away the lonely feeling. This was, after all, a unique chance to get some cleaning done without my customary “help”. I couldn’t ignore the opportunity. But the quiet seemed unnatural.
It has been almost two weeks since we packed up the boys and a big mattress and a few days’ worth of clothes in laundry baskets and headed to my parents’ house for a sleepover of unknown proportions. Call it adventure. Call it desperation. Our family has grown large for our quaint little two bedroom house. I was pregnant with our first child when my husband and I accepted the terms of our mortgage. A decade, 6 kids, a mountain of toys and clothes and diapers, a wheelchair, and thousands of Legos later – we know it is time to do something about space. My parents graciously offered to allow us to come stay with them in their larger home while we made ours more sellable or rentable or larger with an addition. So we took them up on it.
We have tried to sell our little house off and on for the past 7 years. Well over a hundred strangers have walked through it; a handful have made offers. But for one reason or another, they each fell through. And we stayed. We considered renting it out, but for various reasons, we couldn’t do that either. We half-joked about simply walking away from it. But, albeit small, it was still a house. Our home. A warm shelter, decadent by the standards of most of the rest of the world – I should not thumb my nose at it. I am blessed and I know it with a good marriage, a growing handful of boys, wonderful friends, and a great God. Having little personal or storage or counter space are all minor details in the grand scheme.
But perspective can be hard to maintain when you’re nearsighted. I remember about two years ago sinking low into a pity party about feeling so stuck in our circumstance. It was Christmas Day, and it had been long. After a busy day filled with visiting both sets of grandparents, my husband drove our car, heavy-laden with toys, sugar, and very tired children, back into the driveway. As the tires crunched on the frozen gravel, I looked up at our home and noticed the curtains billowing from our second story window. I questioned my sanity, wondering if I had managed to leave a window open wide all day at the end of December in New England without knowing it. My husband (and resident hero) went in to investigate. Apparently the window had simply decided to fall out. How nice. He put it back in and turned up the heat. As we carried exhausted children to their crowded bedroom and unloaded boxes of new toys into my literally-falling-apart house, the emotions of an over-stimulated holiday season overwhelmed me. I did NOT like that house anymore. But like weight that refuses to shrink even after diet and exercise, it remained mine. Last Christmas (or three days before it), the fridge died and we ripped a whole in the side of the kitchen to get it out and replaced. There was also the time the basement flooded. And we gave up our bedroom to the children because we couldn’t squeeze another bed into theirs. Then a bat flew by my head as we were trying to sleep on the pull-out sofa in the living room… It has been a daily struggle to always be thankful for my humble abode.
Now, I know that difficult doesn’t equal wrong. Biblically, difficult is the season when God does what is most right. So we decided it was time to step it up a notch and make life more difficult by moving the family to the in-laws’ house so we could work on ours. I know that my children are safe and loved at my parents’ home, and have been handed the rare opportunity to build deep relationships with their grandparents. Here is a safe and comfortable haven for my family so my husband and I have the ability to work on little house projects that prove challenging with my regularly employed spastic, eager, sticky-fingered volunteers. Already I’ve pried army men out of radiators, vacuumed innumerable legos from between floorboards, and spent far too long debating with myself whether the discovered ninja turtle figures should go live in the guy box or the animal box of toys. I’m getting stuff done. My husband has spent a long week mostly being a bachelor at his own house tearing apart the kitchen and putting it back together. I did say he was the resident hero, didn’t I?
But it is hard. Adding a young family of eight to an older family of three (my adult sister lives with my parents too) naturally turned routines on their heads. My husband went from the head of the household to a shadow in someone else’s house who appears briefly in the morning and evening before bedtime. And I lost my sink-central command post when we moved to someone else’s kitchen. My parents’ household sleeps at different times, eats different things, and puts the toilet paper on the other way around. I miss my husband. Our world is askew.
I find myself missing our old normal life. True, old normal meant no personal space, not all fitting around the dining room table, teaching math while extracting crayon wrappers from baby’s mouth, juggling doctor appointments with homeschooling, and vacuuming at 10 p.m. But even while my normal life was breathlessly challenging, being stripped of normal rubs a raw hurt on my heart. I miss the days of small things. Of small house. Never thought I’d say that. In my current season, all my boys still come to mama with their worries and their boo boos, their joys and pet earthworms, their hopes for their future and of what they want for dinner. I’ve always known where they were since there was no space to get away from each other (and they aren’t old enough to drive yet.) Exhausting and exhilarating at the same time, the pulse of my whole household has always flowed through me. A great deal of life has happened between the walls of our small house, and I have always, by necessity, been in the center of it. To move all that life to someone else’s house really changes the flow. Hearts depend on pressure to keep life moving, after all. The squeeze is necessary.
But this upheaval is for a purpose. It is cleaning time. I thought that meant fresh coats of paint and a new kitchen ceiling. But I’m realizing it goes deeper. (Doesn’t it always?) I wiped the counters around my empty crock pot a few days ago and remembered that I hadn’t rendered lard recently. (See, I’ve grown domestic in my decade as a kitchen-owner.) Nasty pig fat gets cooked down till the good clean lard rises to the top. Good lard is pure white. There’s nothing “piggy” about it. It’s so clean you can make it into perfect flaky pie crust without even a hint of bacon. The cooking process is called rendering. It’s long and hot. It separates the impurities from the pure final product. The end result is so good, I’ve actually slathered it on my cheeks as a face cream. (True story – but maybe for another post.) I realize fat gets a bad rap these days, but historically the fat parts of meat are considered the better ones. Even holy. (Leviticus 3:16 “…All the fat is the Lord’s.”) After all, bacon. What’s not awesome?
This is my own separation time. The imperfections of my home for the past decade have occasionally overwhelmed me in the last couple years. (No. Closets. For. Real.) But separated from it, I find a growing affection for my cozy humble home. Perhaps it wasn’t as bad as I often thought. At least I was stuffed in there with the people I like most in all the world. And pizza delivery is quick when you live in the middle of the city…
Separated from my routine, I can see how important it was. Everyone in my family has gotten physically sick in the transition of the past two weeks. Routine is mundane, but how vital! Maybe boring wasn’t such a bad plan after all.
The separating of our family life has been hardest. It’s neither wise nor safe to have little ones around a construction zone. So I am torn. I can stay with them while my industrious husband does the grunt work alone, or I can work with him while my capable parents spend time with their grandchildren who have been taking turns being sick. I’ve done some of both. Go… Stay… It is lonely in the middle. I’m not accustomed to the feeling, which makes me turn introspective. And grumpy. That brings me to the greatest division…
This world is not my home. I forget so easily. What I do now impacts eternity, but it is not eternity. I’ve been given the chance to step back from my nearsighted tunnel vision and see more clearly. Moving to bigger walls or higher ceilings isn’t a panacea for my real homesickness. I miss heaven. I just haven’t been there yet.
When Jesus came to earth, I wonder how He dealt with the smallness of everything. The lack. He didn’t even have a place to lay His head. At least I have a pull-out sofa. His own family, his own country, rejected Him. At least mine still invite me to stay a while. He was killed to try to force Him to stay in the smallness, the insignificant, the lack. But even in this humble place, this dirty, messy, small-minded little world, He never lost sight of the big prize. He came for me. For us. He came to our little home to invite us back to His. When He left, Jesus said He was going to get to work on a place to share with me. Forever.
I don’t think my forever home will have closets either. But I won’t be needing a place to store baggage when I get there – or extra toilet paper, homework folders and tax files, wheelchairs, laundry, legos, or the next size of clothing.
Maybe my current home is closer to heaven than I realized.
“Do not fear, little flock; it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32