Saturday, July 08, 2017

A lament for home and humanity

When we put our house in Michigan up for sale last week the one thing I didn't anticipate was the bitter sting of rejection. We would never say that our home was perfect, but there is no denying that it is lovely, even after three years of a rental occupancy. Apparently, though, the majority of prospective buyers have no "scope for the imagination," as Anne of Green Gables would say, and can only see what is before them. They see the scuffs and marks in paint (which may not be a color they like), the kitchen floor that needs repair because of a dishwasher leak we've just discovered, the few loose outlets and missing towel racks, the massive furniture of the tenant that dwarfs each room, the scum left in a sink that hasn't been scrubbed down, and the carpets that need to be cleaned. To the uninspired buyer, it doesn't make any difference that as soon as the tenant moves out, all of these defects will be fixed. Prospective buyers also see the cracks in the walls of our unfinished basement and unfortunately they don't have a civil engineer with them (reason #152 why I married Kraig) to let them know this is typical for Michigan basements, and that there are no structural issues, nor are there leaks or mold. Little consideration is given to the solid roof, the energy-saving windows, three-year-old sink faucet and dishwasher, or the two-year-old microwave and stove. New water heater? Who cares? The furniture takes up too much space and the tenant's packing boxes are beside the front door. This house "does not show well."

I feel like crying a bit--or fuming.

I think of the home we bought in Texas last year, and all of its idiosyncrasies. It has a lot more work that needs to be done than our Michigan home will ever need, but I love it. We are friends with the woman who grew up in that house, and I learned about her parents building it, and a little about their lives there. Neighbors speak of the previous owners with fondness, and we reap the pecans from the trees planted by them. There are so many stories we will never know, but it is a home that was consecrated by love. It is also full to the brim with potential, and in our first year there we have already stocked it with new stories. Rooms are slowly given a fresh coat of paint, windows will be replaced, kitchens and bathrooms updated. It will take time, but in the process we will live and love and work, and sometimes pull our hair out with frustration. This is life. Homes require work.

When I look at our home in Michigan, I see its lovely qualities and all of the layers of memories.

I see the way the light pours through the many windows even on gray January days.

I admire the sunset through the kitchen window, and the view of my neighbor Barb's gorgeous perennial garden through the bay window in the dining area.

I remember Keren and Ev playing on the floor in the kitchen while we worked to get the house move-in ready in the winter of 2008. The only room in the house that didn't need paint and carpet was the kitchen, so that became the safe zone while we worked. Clare, at two, helped paint...a little! I remember writing Philippians 4:6-8 on our plywood floors before the new carpet was laid and believing every word of it even in the struggles. I still hold those words close.

I remember family parties.

I remember our final Christmas there with Keren, when Jon was just beginning to be a new family dream.

I remember the cold, snowy January day when my sister Carrie watched Clare and Ev and I rushed Keren to the hospital, not knowing she would never come back to that home. I remember the house full of family and friends surrounding us with so much love in those months that followed, and the dance between pain and joy as we grieved Keren, but laughed over Clare and Ev's antics, and looked forward to Jon's arrival.

Keren's dogwood
I remember bringing Jon home and the joy of watching him grow and seeing the new shape that our family took with all of its complexity.

I remember the pleasure we had in forming our vegetable garden, and how each spring our neighbor, Barb, would hand me some perennials and say, "I'm splitting these, so feel free to plant them. They bloom at such-and-such point in the summer."

I remember the first days of school for each kid, the playdates with friends, and the neighborhood tribe of kids that played around our court and through our backyards.

I remember the slow process God took Kraig and I through toward a new life, a life that would take our family from this dear home to a sunny apartment and new friends in Guadalajara, Mexico, and then two years later, to a shady, rambling ranch house in Longview, Texas. I know now the hope and prayer that we will be in Texas for a long time.

Our new home in Texas
Life is an adventure, and our houses are a part of that. They are integral to our lives, whether we live alone or have big, crazy families that fill spaces to the limit. But houses are what we make of them; they are not simply what they appear on the surface. They are so much more than a limited first impression. They are homes.

We're praying that a family will walk into our home and realize that, not just because we want to sell the house, but because we want others to have the chance to build beauty there.