This is the place where He meets us. This home. Within walls and without walls. Where we suffer together and alone. With people and without.
A sanctuary. A prison. A refuge. A catastrophe.
A place of connection. A place of isolation. A place of community. A place of loneliness.
Nine years ago, my eldest son asked why our house is so small, why we don’t have a big yard.
We had just spent the previous evening with our friends who live in the hills on a large piece of property outside of town. While the parents chatted, the six kids got to climb trees, race mountain bikes across the large back and front lawns while playing hide-and-go-seek, and plan spy missions in the huge oak tree over the vegetable garden, where the zip line was going to connect with the tree house to be built soon. We spent summer afternoons swimming here, jumping on the trampoline, helping feed the chickens, and playing with their adorable dog–which reminded my three kids each time how much they wished they had a dog, and why don’t we have one, too? (Well, we did get one the next year.)
When my son asked me that question, we stood in the dining room, in the middle of our old house, the room that speaks of over 90 years of meals, of conversations of multi-generations with the light spilling through the two windows on the side. The floors creak in a few places here, and this is where I don’t tread in the early mornings when I fear to wake up the house and disturb the quiet. But I love the ache of this wood floor, the unspoken stories of the feet that have tread over these beams. There is a history here that my family gets to step into and live and breathe–God’s plan unfolding to us over these now 13 years we’ve been here, our youngest a baby. This is the house where God came for this family, and we will remember.
When my husband and I first got married, we got our living situation all wrong. We had spent years living in city apartments on the East Coast, and so when we moved back home, to California, we were eager to live in a house. The problem was that housing rents were sky high; but, in our determination to not live in an apartment, we paid a lot of money in rent to live in a real house, with unshared walls, and we did that for three years. A lot of money was poured down the drain, and, with us feeling new to the area, not a lot of people came over. Crazy. Soon it was time to move on.
When our first baby arrived, we finally got some sense and decided we had better start being more responsible with our money, more frugal, and we moved into a 900 square foot cottage for a year, and then a condo in our sleepy little downtown–three kids on the top floor. Soon, for the sake of our neighbors below — and because we were bursting at the seams — we knew it was time to try and look again. And that is when God showed us our home.
Due to the high prices of houses in the California Bay Area, we didn’t know if we were going to be able to stay here, despite Justin’s job making it necessary, then, for us to stay. It was years of planning — hoping — yet knowing our hearts needed to stay present, wherever we were, with Him, the provider of all. And then, on the way home from a visit with our realtor to another house that we could possibly afford but would need to spend tons of time and effort to fix up, God brought us home.
Our realtor had a surprise for us, he said. Just when we thought we were heading back to his office, he pulled into the driveway of a gray arts-and-crafts bungalow that I had seen listed six months ago but was not even close to our price range. A house forgotten.
With hearts beating fast, my husband and I walked onto the porch, one step in the door, and locked eyes. We didn’t have to say a word. This was our house. This was what He was giving. And with each new step in, we felt His hand guiding us, His joy, His child-heart’s delight, in showing us the details only He knew we would love.
The story of how the house sat here, with no offers, for six months, weeds growing in the yard, when there were no problems in the fine print of any of the inspections, flummoxed the neighbors, who didn’t like a house sitting on their street for so long without being sold. The price jumped down after a few months, then again, and then it went off the market for a while and was bought by the company of the previous owners, who then began to mow the lawn, made the inside look cute, and lowered the price once again. And when it came on the market again, after sitting for months and the price being lowered to a crazy number, God grabbed our realtor’s hand and drove us to the driveway of our house. We were home. This was the house He gave. We didn’t have to see the whole house to know His heart.
This is God’s house. This is the house He gave and for which we are so thankful. And we try to hold it loosely, like He asks us to hold our hearts loosely with Him, and offer them up. It is our house for His children, for His children to be let in.
And they came in clusters on Monday mornings to gather, and they came as a circle on Tuesday afternoons to pray. They came with toothbrushes for sleep-overs and pink swirly skirts for fairy parties and torn-knee jeans for play dates after school. They came as couples to gather in the studio in the back on Thursday nights; they came in small groups on Friday and Saturday night for dinner and gathered around the table. We opened the door to be fed by Him. This is His house He gave for us to give.
And so I stood there, in the room He built, and I told our son it is not yet time for us to move. I sympathized with this boy with energy bursting, his 9-year old body wanting greater freedom to move, to make long arches with a football, to build a tree house to climb up into, read in and dream. And I reminded him of the story of this house, the house God gave, and how we may never move, we may never have a big yard (although it was impossible to convince him we might never have a dog), and that is good. We are blessed. He is good. And we remind him of Kuffa and Kahlid, the boys we stay connected to in Ethiopia, and Troy in Chinle, Arizona, and Javier and and Andrew from Mexico, of the children God loves and provides for–and how He gave us this home to serve, to love, to worship Him with what He has given, with what He continues to give.
And now, during this pandemic, with just the five of us (and the dog) within these four walls for many months, I ask God to continue to define Home. In the struggles and joys of being together. In the desire, sometimes, to also be apart. And almost all my writing, my poems, have been written here. A grounding place to ask God what He is doing, what I pray He still does in my heart.
We’ve talked about home as a topic for poetry. But let’s do it again. As a topic, it will feel different now. Because you are different now.
Perhaps revisit what you wrote a month or so ago, at the beginning of your sheltering in place. Consider what new thoughts and feeling you have about being home. Describe your house or your home. Share how you are being stretched or frustrated, how you are growing or you feel stuck. Tell a story about what home used to be like and what is it like now. Let yourself go deeper, surprising yourself with a new realization about yourself or how you think about home.
When you have written your poem, share it as a comment below and/or share it on social media using the hashtag #looppoetryproject. Invite us into something new. We can’t wait to read what you discover.
To Build a House that Stands
I want to make sense of what doesn’t
if I let my mind roam
around for a bit,
cling to its collecting of all the forgotten things
they will matter—
I will make them matter.
I am desperate to make them matter.
As if fragments of mental pictures
depend on me to sort them,
make sense of chaos
and I can’t
always make it work.
And this is the moment
when all falls away,
when I mourn the death of possibility
when we all belonged:
working together to create a home.