At the conclusion of our own Series of Unfortunate Events, we hoped things might calm down a bit around here as we settled in to our new roles, in our new home, in our new state. But as I unpacked box after box in our temporary, already furnished residence, I felt a war of confusion and discontent waging within me. I am innately a homemaker. Wherever I go, I want to make it “home” for us, whether it is a tiny, rundown, Chicago apartment, a beautiful home on the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, or even a small bedroom in someone else’s home. But a part of me also holds back. We have moved so many times since we were married nearly ten years ago. A cynical voice in my head whispers, “Who knows how long you will be here? Probably not long. Don’t waste time settling in and creating home for your family. Don’t get too close to anyone, because you or they may be ripped away again. Don’t pour yourself out here, because you may only be here awhile, and then you will have wasted your time.” As we prepared to move across the country, I became all too aware that the whole time I had lived there, I held myself back, just waiting to have to move away again. Sure, I decorated and unpacked and made friends, but it was always only partway. Always aware that we probably wouldn’t be here long, so why even bother. But when my husband accepted the position of pastor, the calling we had prayed for for years, I knew this was it. This is what I had been waiting for. Now I could truly create “home.” With every box I packed, I thrilled at the opportunity to create “home” again in our new place. I imagined where I might hang this picture, or display that figurine. I bought window treatments and storage devices for our new place and could hardly wait to unload and unpack and begin creating “home” for us in a new world of total unfamiliarity.
But all of that had fallen apart and we had suddenly found ourselves homeless a week after arriving with all our worldly goods. By God’s grace, we were offered a mission house that was sitting empty, but only temporarily–and we weren’t really sure whether temporarily meant a couple months or a year. So as I looked around at the stacks of boxes in a kitchen that was not mine, in a home already decorated with things that were not ours, I fought against a despair at being able to make this place home for us. Sure, I knew we were only here temporarily, but I desperately wanted to make it feel more like home by being able to decorate and strategize about how to improve each detail of the house. I knew I was going to have to come up with a balance–an ability to create a homey atmosphere even in a place that was not our home, and we didn’t know how long we would be here, nor where we would end up when our time here was over.
Balance is not something I have ever been good at. I am an all-or-nothing person. And I often find myself completely paralyzed by the fact that I cannot do something perfectly, or all the way right now. So I just don’t do anything at all. Or I plan and scheme exactly what will create perfection and then set about to accomplish it and it gets interrupted two dozen times. Or destroyed by sticky, chubby fingers. If I can’t start and finish something in the same instant, I feel I have failed. And, let’s face it–life with Littles is comprised of all things started and never finished in the same sitting. And when I don’t do everything right, I beat myself up over it for months, thinking and re-thinking what I could have/should have/would have done differently. I wrestled over how much time and energy to invest in this place to make it “home,” wondering if I would regret the time spent if we had to move shortly.
And then, in the midst of my confusion about how to make a short-term home feel like “home,” we got our answer on how long we would be in our temporary home–only two months. Much shorter than we had expected, but again, we knew going into it that this place was only available short-term. If you understand the housing market in our little town on the edge of a blossoming city, you would know that housing is at a premium. Our town is currently two hundred roofs shy of what it needs. As soon as anything–house, apartment, townhome, goes on the market, it is snatched up. As soon as we found out what our deadline was, we picked up the phone and started calling places in town to see if there was openings. No, there was nothing open until end of September/October–oh wait, unit is suddenly opening up next week in a townhome right in town. God’s provision, once again. We are giddy to be moving into town, to be near the church (Stephen will walk across a meadow to work each morning), to be able to pile everyone into strollers and baby carriers and walk the streets of our new hometown. But we are not giddy to be moving again. Now suddenly, I am packing everything back up that I just unpacked…and I’m still confused. I am asking God, “Lord, why did our original housing have to fall through in the first place? It would have been perfect! It still would be perfect! Much better than what we are getting even. And then why did we have to move to a different place only to move again to another place two months later? I know you have all things work together for good, but I am having a really hard time seeing how all of this is ‘good.’ Other than it building character and sanctifying us all. Hopefully.”
But those two parts of me that were at war when we moved in here are still at war. Part of me wants to make our new home our home. To put up our pictures on the wall and make it ours. But another part of me is tired. And cynical. That other part of me still says “Why even bother? Who knows how long you’ll be here before you move yet again? Don’t waste time investing in making yet another temporary residence a home.” For years I have thought, “Surely, we are nearly old enough to ‘settle down’ and be some place permanently and have everything just the way we want it and have it stay that way–right??” I know in my head “This world is not my home, this world has nothing for me,” but in my heart, I just want to feel at home in this world–someplace. I am so tired of waiting to “arrive”. I am so tired of holding myself back from feeling free to truly live wherever God has currently placed me.
I recently picked up a book entitled “The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful.” The title instantly grabbed my attention. I have been longing to create “home,” to create beauty wherever we are at, no matter how long we may or may not be there. But my inner struggle for perfection has been paralyzing me. I feel that if I cannot do it perfectly, and have it stay perfect forever, it is not worth doing it. And lately everything I do comes undone and even if I achieve perfection, it is immediately tainted by real life. So I grow weary of the struggle and think perhaps I should just give up and not even try. But my soul seems to shrivel up and die if I do not at least attempt to create beauty. I believe God caused me to stumble on “The Nesting Place” at just the right time to help me understand two things: Wherever we are, that is where home is. And it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. In fact, my striving constantly for perfection may be deterring the very thing I long for–a restful, welcoming, life-filled home.
One of my favorite lines in “The Nesting Place” sums up pretty well how I am feeling. Myquillin Smith writes, “I’ve finally figured out that almost no one is living in their dream house. And I don’t know anyone whose life has gone exactly like they would have planned. You make the best choices you can at the time with the information you have, and then you deal with the consequences, and that’s the part where your life happens. Every major decision we’ve made involved prayer and advice from wise people, but there was no guarantee that it would turn out the way I wanted, with a little white house and a picket fence.”
I’m done waiting for perfection to arrive in order to start living fully. It never will. And requiring perfection in order to live fully only paralyzes me from living at all. Tomorrow we will sign papers and receive the keys for our new home. How long will it remain our home? Who knows? Only God knows for sure. Despite our best intentions, plans, hopes, and dreams. And our hopes and dreams are that we can call it home for a couple of years while we save up and wait for a home that will better meet our growing family’s needs. But while we are there, I plan on being grateful and living fully. I intend to make it a respite–not only for us, but for everyone who walks through our doors. I pray that God will grant me the wisdom to live in the balance of “already and not yet”–in the reality that this world is not our home, and yet we are called to make it our home for however long God has us walk this earth. But our homes here on earth ought to ultimately point us and others to our eternal home. And in our eternal home, there will be perfection. Done things will not become undone again. We will not be uprooted again and again. We will finally have truly arrived.