“Nothing is perfect.”
Those words cut me. They always have. I don’t care if they’re true because everything in me wants them to be untrue. Everything in me longs for perfection though perfect is as cold and distant as the morning star.
Yet here is the lesson I keep learning over and over again: when perfection falls to earth it veils its light in imperfection.
This house is my perfect dream come true, but Lord-have-mercy it is a mess.
Half the windows can’t be opened, whole chunks of molding are missing near the roofline, there is an ominous bulge in the plaster wall along the stairs, and please do watch your step on the porch. You never know when your foot might crash right through.
I wrote these words in Roots and Sky, though I did not know how true they would become:
“… I picture this house, this hilltop, cracked open. Torn right open. And everyone invited to come in. In this picture, it seems that something precious has been emptied out and is being passed around. It is a frightening, exhilarating vision.”
The thing about a broken, imperfect house is that we cannot live in it alone.
When I met Dr. B (“doctor of old houses”), he told me he had prayed God would bring him another old house to work on.
When I called J about our windows and gave him my name, we both held our phones in a state of shock. Apparently, he had purchased Roots and Sky for his wife only the day before.
Jonathan and I always hoped that this place would be a blessing for many beyond our own immediate family. We glimpsed how that could be true our very first Easter when one hundred neighbors joined us to hunt eggs on the lawn. We sent those invitations to a neighborhood of strangers because we were lonely.
I called these local craftsmen because our house is broken.
Perfectly, beautifully broken.
Praise be to God for broken houses, broken hearts, broken bodies, and all the other precious broken things.
Praise be to God for hands that heal and hands that make things beautiful and whole.
Praise be to God for roses.
Praise be to God for thorns.
On Thursday, we said thank you around the table.
We passed the big bowl with potatoes like mountain peaks. We passed the medium-sized bowl with its cranberry jewels. We passed the tiny, wooden bowl. Three times we passed that particular bowl, and three times we tipped in our little kernels of corn. With each kernel came a thank you.
I said thank you for friends, and books, and old maple trees. The little boy said thank you for toys. The bigger boy said thank you for Jesus.
And so we entered Advent on a tidal wave of gratitude, every thank you deeply meant.
But now it is so dark, and gratitude has slipped through my fingers.
Every good gift from this past year seems to have its tarnished edge, and I am weary. Weary of sifting good from bad, blessing from burden.
This old farmhouse is a promise fulfilled. We wandered, but He brought us home. But … the pipes leak, too many old maples were lost in a storm, and this is farming country – some days I can’t breathe for the manure in the air.
The baby is a good and perfect gift. Beautiful. Much loved. With her came depression. Two months of panic and tears. Now I tremble remembering those days and pray God, don’t let that darkness ever come back. And my heart is broken for all who live within that fog for years.
So many dreams are coming true, but they are being realized in dust and dirt and darkness. And some part of me knows the bigger story. It begins in a stable but ends with streets of gold.
There are no streets of gold in my neighborhood. There’s a diaper pail. A filthy chicken coop. Kitchen scraps left to rot.
But I am done with sifting.
Done trying to untangle the knots of good and bad, done naming one thing a gift, another a curse.
I am dust myself, but I breathe with God’s own breath, and I am using that breath to say thank you.
Thank you for all of it.
The mess. The smell. The compost under my nails, and the dishes in the sink.
I say thank you because our God has never despised the dirt, and he once wrapped himself in dust.
He is our God with dirt under his nails, and he is near.
God with us.
I began to love stories when I was tiny (my father told a serial tale about a little girl and her many exotic pets). That love has only grown. It makes perfect sense to me that I would want to measure my days with the Story. Walking through a year with the liturgical calendar is, essentially, living the story of my faith from its beginning to its triumphant end.
Epiphany has past, and we are headed into the season of Ordinary Time. As has happened to me before (and likely always will, for this seems to me the point of living the story), my own spiritual life is mirroring the spiritual life of the larger church, at least as it is expressed in the calendar.
To put it plainly: my days are ordinary.
Ordinary Time seems somehow outside of story. There is no drama, no central narrative. It isn’t Advent, Lent, or Easter. The meaningful intensity of those periods is lacking. Though time passes, it doesn’t feel as if we are on any kind of journey. The days simply are.
I find it easy to wish these days away. I like the excitement of storytelling. I like to know that I am quickly moving from point A to point B, from introduction to conclusion. I like that in books, I like that in church. I like that in life.
I suppose I could make an argument that we are never, truly, outside of the story. We never actually pause in our journeys, as humans, as communities. However, it doesn’t feel right to me to push these days into the narrative mold. It’s dishonest, I think, to dress these days up as more meaningful and significant than they are.
Perhaps they aren’t significant in terms of the story. But could it be this lack of significance that makes them so amazing?
They are gloriously excessive. They are like the galaxies, the uncounted stars and planets that have been created yet remain unseen by our eyes. What are they for? Why did God make them, anyway? For the joy of it?
These ordinary days don’t matter all that much, but they’ve been given to us. God gives the extraordinary – the birthdays, the graduation days, the holidays, the days spent on the mountaintop, and the days endured deep in a valley. As if these weren’t enough, God gives us more. He gives us the ordinary.
The blue-sky day in a month of blue skies. The hand-holding day in a decade of holding that child’s hand. The sunrise and the sunset, always and again. My husband in the kitchen making breakfast for all of us, not because it’s Mother’s Day, but because it’s morning.
revised and reposted from the archives
Their minivan is stuffed with children and luggage, all the paraphernalia of a Christmas well celebrated. The late December sun is too weak to soften the wind’s bite so we rush inside to wave goodbye from the window.
The kids and I wave frantically, and it is as if we are saying goodbye to good friends, to Christmas, to this entire year.
In a few more days I will look ahead, but now is the time for saying goodbye. For looking back. For remembering.
In one year everything has changed.
One year ago, I had three children and little hope of more.
One year ago, I lived in the south and grieved the loss of northern winters.
One year ago, I dreamed of a farmhouse with room for chickens and vegetables while my single, potted tomato withered in the Florida sun.
On year ago, we spent the holidays alone and wondered if we’d ever again spread a feast across the length of our dining table for a crowd of friends and family.
This year is dying, but it has left me with these gifts: four children, an old farmhouse, a large garden, and the perfect spot for a chicken coop.
And this: hospitality, community. We now live within driving distance of our dearest friends. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear from someone we love: “We’ll be in Pennsylvania. Can we come and see you?”
I live in a Victorian farmhouse with several acres of land, but the fields all around have been parceled into home sites. Now that the leaves have fallen I can look out of my windows and see houses. I don’t yet know who lives in them, but one day I will. One day, their children will run up the hill and through the break in the fence to play with mine. One day, I will wave hello through the line of trees with an invitation to help pick blueberries. Or apples. Or tomatoes.
One day, one day, one day …
This is the greatest gift of this year: I have been brought to a place with a future.
In other words, I have been given a home.
“I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.”
Jeremiah 32: 40-41