Monday, November 22, 2010

Where thou art - that- is home

--Emily Dickinson

We're getting ready to put our house on the market. Its 1200 square feet, which seemed like so much space to own after shared dorm rooms and a small apartment, are now growing tighter and tighter. With two boys and baby #3 on the way, we are fast approaching three little people in a vaguely rectangular room with one dresser, one bookcase, one rocking chair, two beds, and only one closet. I don't know how long we could sustain this 3:1 ratio, especially if baby #3 happens to be a girl. Then there's the issue of the living room. I don't so much mind all three kids playing in that relatively small space, but since we entertain a lot, there's a certain point (about 6 people, maybe 8 if they're children or very friendly) at which everyone else is just going to have to sit on the floor. I know in college, this was the kind of thing that made for great parties--everybody crammed into one tiny, probably crappy space--but as we look toward our 30s, I'm not sure this is the kind of situation our friends and family are really digging. Then, in addition to the issue of capacity, there's the glaring issue of the fact that this house is currently valued at about 37% of what we paid for it. Keeping this house long-term would likely mean decades, which, with our family and some other factors, is simply not a possibility.

Still, it's been a difficult decision to make, whether or not to move. It's heartbreaking, in some ways. Despite its limitations, this house has held so many memories, hopes, and firsts that I picture them all ballooning up, filling the vaulted ceiling and spilling out through the chimney. Our First Place. When we bought this house, it was being rented by a couple in their 70s who apparently thought all the original fixtures and decorating from 1984 were A-OK. We threw ourselves body, soul, and bank account into remodeling, repainting all the peach walls and ceilings (yes, peach ceilings), removing every scrap of rattan, and completely overhauling the kitchen. Once we had kids, we closed off the loft to make a nursery and put in grass in the yard. We used to sit in the gazebo in the yard at night and just behold our home, illuminated. We would say to each other, "Can you believe we own this place?" And now, as surely as our things begin to get packed in boxes and bags, packed inside this house are five years of dinners around our table, of crying babies, of White Elephant Christmas parties. The thought of someone foreign owning OUR house and calling it home warps my brain.

Eventually, though, I knew we would be leaving this place. Somehow I just held to the illusion that when you own a home, it's truly yours, forever. To marry the concepts of "own" and "home" provides a profound sense of security--like pretending this is heaven and not earth. Like anything is really permanent; like a good thing would never go and change on you. And it's funny, because I know that leaving this house is the best choice for our family. It's another, different good thing--a better thing, even, than staying would be. But it's that famous C.S. Lewis sandbox vs. beach analogy. If it feels comfortable, it must be best, and la-la-la I'm not listening! I don't want to think about what else out there might actually be better!

So now we're in that surreal stage of looking at our home with different eyes: potential buyer eyes. I'm asking myself how long that applesauce stain has been on the wall and whether people will notice the postmortem-style outline on the ceiling where the kitchen cabinets used to be. And now that we're trimming stock and taking names, I'm also asking myself why I ever thought of a gold and black sequined shirt in the closet, But I might wear it someday, or why I still can't part with the quick-drying camping towel I used on European backpacking trips. (We haven't gone camping in 6 years.) But at the same time, looking around here, I think, Wow, these people kinda have it together. The lighting is ambient; all the furniture fits in all the right places; there's a color scheme; and (at least since I finally took out the trash yesterday) it doesn't smell like diapers and old salmon. And those are the aspects of home we'll take with us anywhere we go (can't promise on the diaper smell). We've come this far in five years, turned this hodgepodge ode to the 80s into a place comfortable and inviting. Wherever we go from here, I know we will carry that same spirit and create a home where we can continue the life of our family.

So if anyone tries to feed some cheesy line like "Home is in your heart" or "Home is where the heart is," I'm going to shoot them now and ask questions later, but secretly…..

… know what I mean.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Thanksgiving and Lent: What Feasting and Fasting Have in Common

I'm starting to view November as a holy month. That might sound odd, as the one event most of us associate with this month is a festival of gluttony unrivaled during the rest of the year, but go with me on this one…It started in an unlikely place: my three-year-old's preschool calendar. Along with the shape of the month and clip art of cornucopias, the calendar exhorted parents to discuss with our child things that they're thankful for. In our family, we have a Thanksgiving notebook that we all write in on Thanksgiving day (well, those of us who can write--those who can speak just tell us). We jot a couple of pages of all the things we find ourselves grateful for this year. I love this tradition--I love that we have any Thanksgiving tradition that pertains to the actual giving of thanks. But Gabriel's preschool calendar started me thinking about taking the entire month of November as a devotion of thanks to God. I've heard of people doing this before, and it always sounded a little cheesy and overdone to me, but really, what could be wrong with being more thankful? So every day I am trying to call to mind and give thanks for the innumerable blessings and gifts God has so graciously poured into my life. And once I purposed to do this, I began to realize how such an exercise could prepare me even more fully for the Christmas season.

Christmastime, as we all know, seems to begin in a headlong rush to the mall no sooner than the giblets have been wiped from the good china. (I know, I know, the cliche of Christmas commercialism is rivaled only by the cliche of our bemoaning that commercialization.) But truly, as much as I love the season, it can be at times a going-through-the-motions that leaves me feeling more weary than worshipful. But my hope this year is to turn my November, as Lent is to Easter, into a pre-Christmas preparation of heart. By focusing every day on the things I am thankful for, I believe I am readying my heart for the great gifts the Christmas season holds: gifts of time with family, material gifts (not gonna lie!), and of course the gift of the child in the manger. If I can train my heart and mind now, maybe I will also even be better prepared to weather the storms of stress and strain that are also bound to come with the Christmas season. If I can begin to shape my own attitude, maybe I will be more likely to bless and less likely to curse the people that inevitably cause some of that stress and strain.

As a Catholic, I am (sometimes painfully) familiar with the value of Lent--that time of abstinence and sacrifice that whittles the soul into a shape of humility for Easter. Though it's a time of fasting, I think it parallels with this time of feasting. Both are powerful activities that draw us nearer to God. Both are instructed by and practiced in God's Word. Both prepare us to receive even more abundantly of His goodness. And interestingly, I noticed yesterday that Philippians 4:6 (which is basically the biblical recipe for peace) includes thanksgiving as a key ingredient: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." I hope this path of thanksgiving will lead (bonus!) to an increased peace in my life.

And if it does, thanks be to God!