an unfinished house

There is a lot about my house that is unfinished. The dining room floor needs to be sanded and stained and part of the living room needs to be re-stained. A significant number of transition strips between floors need to be purchased or created and installed. There are two rooms that need flooring and three that need trim and four that the Lord truly… well anyway. 

It will be a long time before there are no more boxes in the house and maybe longer before I feel settled. At this rate it could be forever before this place is home. But that’s a pessimistic and unfortunate view of everything packed or unpacked, and I don’t choose it. I choose to just keep swimming (hello Dory, I see you there.) 

Keeping on doesn’t look big, which is a bummer. Sometimes it feels bigger than it looks, which is helpful. Today I moved eight paint cans out of the corner of a room and laid down a small braided rug and arranged a delicate heap of six pillows. I found two old quilts of mine, one that I made and one that my aunt made for me. My toddler and I counted the star pattern squares in the quilt I’d made (there are nine, if you were wondering) and then we folded the quilts next to the corner and now one more part of the house is closer to finished, ready, unpacked, home. I did it, the keeping on, this morning. It didn’t look big, especially since I had to move a large TV screen from one unfinished room into another just to try to finish that corner. It felt like rearranging work without making any progress. But the pillows were progress. I pulled them out of a large black garbage bag and dug the blankets out of a trunk in my bedroom and now one corner of the house has been transformed. What used to be temporary storage for a rotating fan and some paint is now a reading nook under a window, and even if hanging the curtains has to wait another day or month or two, we’ve made progress. 

Part of the reason that keeping on looks so little and feels so big is that a lot of it is outlet and light switch covers that I need to put back on in rooms that we painted. You’d think there’s nothing easier and you’d be mostly right, except that apparently the motivation required to move eight paint cans, one rotating fan and a large-screen TV is less than what’s required to take the outlet cover from the mantel and fasten it to the outlet two feet to the right. I may not be the brightest and best with math but there’s something unbalanced about that equation. 

But now it’s afternoon and afternoons are for baby naps and then long walks with the toddler, and I don’t have the energy on top of planning dinner to reattach outlet covers. This is why there is a choice; it’s not a choice so much of what happens, because four out of four people in this house need to eat before bed tonight. It’s an attitude choice. I get to look around at the unsanded dining room floor and the outlet covers that are beginning to get mismatched and moved around, and I just get to choose one small thing to do, and then choose joy. 

Joy is shy. She’s always coming to the door but Dissatisfaction knocks louder. Use the peep-hole, or the doorbell camera if you’ve got one. Dissatisfaction will pelt you with the outlet covers until you have square-shaped bruises, but Joy will wink at them and ask if you’re serving ice cream or chocolate cake for dessert, because that pile of brightly colored pillows needs to be celebrated. Joy will pull up the window shades and ignore the dirty dishes and let the kids play outside barefoot in January because they’re having fun and really, it’s just mud. Joy will painstakingly count the nine patchwork stars on that old lap-quilt you made a dozen and a half years ago even though it’s already past naptime, because the three-year-old loves his new star-blanket and Joy wants to witness it. 

Lean in. Choose joy. Keep on keeping on one paint can, one throw pillow, one patchwork star at a time. It’s worth it, because a home isn’t made by choosing the perfect trim and deciding yesterday which floor to lay in the bathroom. Home lives in the outlet covers that float around on the mantel while you create a reading corner for your babes, in the mud you brush off their shoes after they’ve played outside in the warm afternoon. It’s in the cup of coffee you enjoy while they nap and the friends who eat around the table even while the floor under them is rough around the edges. Home is not the finished house that’s kept you awake at night working, but the unfinished house you’ve really lived in. Live in it, darling, and watch the house become a home around you.

a dichotomy of boxes

A note of context: I wrote this before Christmas so it’s about Christmas, but it’s still true because there are still boxes everywhere. *shrug* Enjoy!

There are a lot of boxes in my living room right now. Some are under the tree. Wrapped and taped, and tied with twine or ribbon or that shiny ribbon-like stuff that only appears at Christmas because it’s easy to curl when you run the blade of a scissors down one side. There are also costco boxes. And diaper boxes. Hello Fresh boxes (I don’t subscribe but thank goodness my friend Michelle does: I needed those boxes.) We moved a month ago. Almost exactly, actually. I’ve unpacked just enough to find the ribbons and ribbon-like-things and to realize that we ran out of wrapping paper. And because all seasonal things were in the garage, I found the Christmas ornaments faster than I found Wuthering Heights buried in a box in the basement – which is currently a catch-all box. But the tree is up and at least half of the boxes in the room are intentionally placed under it. The other half I’m still unpacking. 

It’s a weird dichotomy. Christmas decorations are probably the single most homey thing I would name. You plug in the string lights and hang the ornaments and it creates an entire atmosphere. Old Christmas songs, hunting down scotch tape and tissue paper for a cozy gift-wrapping session on the floor of your bedroom. Hot chocolate, snowmen rolled out of sticky, misshapen snow, sitting by the fire after you come inside. The smile on your brother’s or sister’s or toddler’s face when you got a gift just right. All it takes is a tree to fill my head with happy thoughts. And a single half-empty moving box with packing paper spilling out one corner is enough to make me feel unsettled, not at home. 

I haven’t really lived through Christmas in this odd sort of tension before. Sure, I’ve moved plenty of times and celebrated Christmas on a yearly basis, as one does, but I haven’t been just-moved-in and celebrating Christmas all at once until now, and it’s unnerving. Against one wall is the tree all lit up and piled with gifts for babies and siblings and parents and friends, one big beacon of hominess topped with a sparkling gold star. Against the other wall is a box of pictures I haven’t hung and knick-knacks from the catch-all counter at our last home that I still haven’t found space for. No scotch tape; I checked. There’s a box upstairs in my daughter’s closet with all my high heels and combat boots (yes, I wear both and no, I don’t think I’m crazy. Thanks for asking.) There’s another box in the master bedroom full of bathroom things, and about fifty-eight thousand boxes in my son’s room that are all full of cars. The odd train or dinosaur tossed in for good measure. He has a toy preference, I can tell you. 

The boxes declare that we are new here. That our things are new here. That we and our things haven’t figured out how to belong yet. And if you asked me how I plan to arrange the living room, you’d agree with the boxes. I haven’t figured out how to belong in this space yet. Oh I’ve got curtains hung and there’s a certain step in the back yard that lends itself to gazing dreamily at the mountains. I have the kitchen mostly arranged, although there is some dispute about where the silverware truly belongs. But generally, we’re still new here. We’re still unpacking. We still don’t know what stories these walls are going to tell in ten years or twenty years, or in two months. The story of settling, unpacking, belonging, I hope. And until then I just look across the room at the Christmas tree. 

When I sat down this evening to ponder the types of boxes and their purposes in this house, I began to realize that this is the reality of advent. It is a dichotomy – we celebrate a God who came a long time ago, and we’re celebrating while we’re still waiting for him to come back again. God, the shining, light-filled tree that makes a home anywhere he is, and God who’s moved into the world through us, however awkwardly we do it. God who invites us to belong in His space when we couldn’t ever figure it out on our own. God who says to the half-empty boxes of our past life that the true, unboxed gift of Jesus is the one that matters most; more than the diaper box full of old pens, an empty water bottle and a half-used notebook. 

It’s true, I sometimes think if I have to look at the Hello Fresh box with its crinkly insulation one more day, I might toss it out, contents and all. But when I sit in the armchair that may or may not stay in the corner, when I sit there and look at the tree instead, there’s a sort of home-atmosphere that comes in despite everything else, silverware be damned. We’re leaving to celebrate with family in a week, and there’s no way I can unpack probably even one more box by then. But maybe that’s ok. Maybe I will sink into the tension of home and not yet, and let it remind me of the not-yet I’ll move to when this life is all said and done. Maybe a dichotomy of boxes isn’t just my unsettled new home; maybe this is the place where Jesus lives too.

looking for rest

This is one of those weeks where all the challenges circle around like the steps on the stair climber at the gym. No matter how long you climb or how fast or slow or how tired you are, they just keep coming at a steady and predictable rate. Being consistently tired and having tough mornings or minutes or months isn’t even taking you by surprise anymore.

I told myself this month would be crazy. I wanted the advance warning, so I looked at the calendar and took myself by the shoulder and said, “Yeah. It’s going to be wild. October is a long ways away. So instead of looking at the busyness, look for the rest. Don’t wait until next month to sit down, read a book, admire the mountains, invite someone over for dinner. Look for the rest this month, right now.” I wasn’t mistaken about the schedule. We’re five days into the month and the best summary I can think of so far is that yesterday when I gave up my one unscheduled hour to pack for the week, a container lid fell on my nose and scraped it hard – the only reward for my labor. Oh well.

I’m not good at resting. Anyone who knows me can tell you that. I like to achieve things. I like to have worked hard for a long time. I like to have the dishes washed and the high chair clean and the laundry done and the packing finished. I like to sit down only when I can survey my little domain tidy and comfortable. September doesn’t get to be that way.

In the effort to savor what I have instead of wishing for what I don’t, I’m looking around for the things I’ll miss next month, back in the city. I’ll miss the mountain, with our drive-by view of Pike’s Peak’s profile, misted over today, with snow on the rocky slopes running down towards the trees. I’ll miss the way the aspens are turning so slowly. Already the bright green leaves that blanketed the hills are turning to rust and gold with the cool breath of fall. I’ll miss the wood tones of the furniture in staff housing. Our home will be lovely in the Springs, but less woodsy. This is the month to lean into the things I could overlook too easily.

I’m asking myself, too, whether this month is bad or just hard. Bad things happen; car accidents, illnesses, crime, injury. This isn’t one of those. This is living farther away from friends, parenting longer hours while Grant works, balancing our life between a storage garage, a suburban basement-home and the spacious housing at camp. It’s challenging to cook without my kitchen appliances or wonder which box that needed item was put into, and when I’ll find it again. But it’s not bad. It’s just a hard thing, and it will end.

Beyond all those things, truth is the anchor I need most right now. I opened Psalm 27 today, wondering how I could go for so many weeks missing out on the social occasions that I crave, introvert though I am. Is this loneliness just going to pervade the rest of my life? Will I always feel a bit purposeless, a bit alone, a bit worn out while I chase a toddler around and have nobody to talk to? But Psalm 27:1 says “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

My courage and joy don’t depend on friends, on being walking distance from a good coffee shop, on getting to sleep in while somebody else gives Erik a bottle and his first diaper change of the day. My life is held in the strong grip of God. Verses 13-14 of the same Psalm say, “I believe I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; Wait for the Lord!”

I do believe it. I do believe I can find rest, here in the Aspens shedding their summer summer colors for a short-lived autumn glory. I will wait for the Lord. I will make my heart take courage. I will look for the rest.

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crazy days, lovely days

The days are crazy here. I may look back on this conclusion someday and wonder what I thought was so crazy about them, but it still seems true now. I live more unplugged, since taking my phone out of the house means losing reception instantly. I play more with Baby E. We play hide-and-seek around and around the large comfy chair in the living room, or wrestling games, or chasing games. We play upstairs on the porch with the others, although Erik is a bit of a loner so far.

We walk downhill to the dining hall once or twice a day (which means uphill back and we mamas all groan the whole way.) When Erik naps I put the monitor on the front patio and walk laps around the driveway to staff housing, checking the monitor every five minutes when I pass through. Sometimes we all walk down to the beach together, or up to the gate to see Pikes Peak. If I’m feeling energetic and adventurous, we’ll hike the “mother loop” which feels 90% uphill, or walk out on the trail towards Halfway Meadow.

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There’s a trail up to the Cross I haven’t explored yet, since it’s too steep to take Erik up, or to hike without a radio connection. There’s a trail to the Raven’s Craig where I’ve only discovered the trailhead and the first few yards of the narrow, winding track. There’s a bike track that stretches out past where another trail meets the road. The lake is surrounded by a trail that rides up over the damn. There are burn scars and wildernesses waiting at our doorstep. Overall there’s a lot of walking. I barely drive anywhere.

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I’m learning to find beauty in the repetition. When I walk laps around the willow marsh during E’s naps, I look for new wildflowers blooming, or study the few aspens that rise above the willow brush more closely. There are new birdsongs to be heard, new shades of green to be discovered. I try to look with fresh eyes every time I walk around it.

I’m trying to see God the same way, new and deep and beyond what I could ever comprehend, yet always revealing more of himself. I try to look deeper and more closely at the scriptures I’ve read so often. There is more to be found, understood, absorbed, applied – if only I can learn to see it. God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow but his mercies are new every morning. I cling to these thoughts and passages and look for the new mercies of God in the old, old words he gave us, just like I look for the newness of leafy aspens and blooming wildflowers in the narrow marsh below our front door.

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walks that don’t go anywhere

The first year I fell in love with long walks I was only an awkward, sincere teenager. I discovered sometime that summer a large stick I liked to walk with and it was replaced in the fall with a slender stick captured in the Boundary Waters by a friend who sympathized with my wanderings. My sisters teased and called them my “Moses Sticks” but I enjoyed my long rambles too much to mind them.

I grew up from then spending hours walking the gravel roads – roads that could not get me to any destination, but that took me out of myself, gave me the chance to breathe deeply and think quietly and wander widely. Even on a dreary day, I could walk a half mile to The Corner and it would suffice, somehow.

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I often thought desperately that I’d love to live in town, so that my rambles could take me somewhere; and I do enjoy being able to walk to favorite destinations, but I was surprised to learn that I missed my solitary rambles through the empty countryside. I walk to destinations less and less lately, opting to wander through the prettiest streets and past the bloomiest yards. I crave the solitude, the emptiness that turned me to entertaining myself with my own thoughts. Those long walks supplied me with time to think and reflect, and create. I miss that most – the creativity that was born of quietness.

I don’t know why it has taken me nearly two years to catch up with my own needs. I am walking more now, trying to make space for reflection and inspiration. Urban life still feels crowded, as if anytime I stretch my arms out I will bump something that is not mine, or be noticed by somebody who does not understand. I must stretch though, must keep my elbow room somehow, must find the space to breathe. So I keep walking.

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