And Coming in 2016....

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden," to be published by Cranberry Quill... an allegory for children of all ages, beautifully illustrated.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Houses and Homes

As I sit here, amazed that it's already the afternoon of the Monday of a very busy week, I am also amazed that I'm calm. In a few days, we will close on the sale of the home we bought two years ago after returning to south Florida from almost six years in central North Carolina. When we moved into it, we fully intended to stay there, my husband and I, our daughter and her two children.

Things change.

When my husband decided we should put our house on the market and downsize, we didn't know how long it would take. A couple relocating from the Gulf coast of Florida came over, liked the house, and presented their situation. They were renting here temporarily but needed to be out by a certain date. Could they lease our house until their west coast house sold? It would mean our finding temporary housing quickly, but the terms were good for both parties, and we agreed. Biiiiig move, most belongings into storage at my husband's parents' home and our grandson and us into an upstairs apartment. Daughter went to her own place with granddaughter...then to another place, with granddaughter moving in with great-grandmother. Lots of changes.

My sister helped us unpack boxes at the apartment, saying she was always impressed with how quickly we turned a place into "home" with pictures on the walls. It reminded me of what our base director in India had said when the whole group of us relocated during our year there, back in 1987. She came in while I was putting up curtains. "I knew you would be doing that first," she said. "It already looks homey."

No curtains were put up at the apartment, however, and it's just as well there was no need, with the vertical blinds. We've only been here a few months, comfortable months in which we've enjoyed the quiet neighborhood, the lack of mowing in the Florida heat, the amenities of pool and gym nearby. And now we're moving again.

Our buyers' home on the west coast sold in record time. David's father passed away. His mother and sister decided it was time to downsize, move into a condo with no maintenance, less stress and strain. The timing was good, and it feels right to be buying their house, a house that has been the scene of so many happy celebrations over the last two decades, keeping it in the family.

In a few days, we close on the sale of our house and on the purchase of the family home. A few days later, my mother-in-law closes on the sale of the condo. She's excited, says it felt like home when she walked in, a place she could be happy in. My sister-in-law likes it too, although there is a concern about whether or not the HOA will allow her dog. We are all praying, all of us except our dog Angel, who likes Twiggy very much, I think. (Angel is currently living there, while we are in the apartment, and won't have to move at all.)

Which has me thinking about what makes a house a home. Curtains? Pictures on the wall? Belongings set about just so, accumulated over a lifetime? Beloved pets underfoot?

In one sense, I have moved so often that I've become skilled at acclimating myself quickly. I've had to give up things, extras we didn't need and couldn't pack, in the 25+ moves I've made in my lifetime. the 20+ in our marriage. I've gotten good about, as my sister pointed out, getting photos up and knickknacks around to give a just-moved-into house that "lived in" look.

But I've also learned to detach. It's not about the house. What I thought would be the last house we ever built or bought...finally!...has never lasted, in fact. So I've given up on the idea of a dream home, the one with the master bathroom just like I want or the perfect neighbors or all the grandchildren growing up together on the same land.

At the same time, the idea that it isn't where I live that's important has settled into my heart.

If you're thinking that I am about to say it's all about who I'm with that's the key, you're wrong. That's important, obviously, but I'm learning to get even more personal than that.

My contentment with being in this apartment or that house, or THAT house, is not where I am or even with whom I live on a daily basis, but how I live. I've learned...and it took a long time...that I have a responsibility to myself as well as to others. Maybe it sounds pious to say we should always put others first, but I disagree. Only if we truly love ourselves do we have the ability to love others. Jesus said it, not I! Loving God is always the number one focus, but after that, he said in Mark 12:31 that we must love our neighbor as ourselves.

You've probably heard the cliches: JOY means Jesus, Others, You. Put others first. Etc. Etc.

Note that Jesus put the order differently. God is God, so those of us who acknowledge his existence must also acknowledge his preeminence. After that, yes, we love others but only to the degree that we love ourselves. "AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF." That "as" is important. Jesus put us second, not third. Out of our awareness of God's love and work in our lives, we are equipped to reach out to others.

Unless we love ourselves, we lack compassion for others. We lack the confidence to realize others need our input and communication. We lack the humility to recognize our need for them. Without a healthy, godly love of ourselves, we set ourselves up to be used, abused, manipulated, disappointed, drained dry emotionally because we gave, gave, gave, and didn't stop to think that we don't have a bottomless well. It has to be filled before we can offer anyone else a drink.

So I've learned a little bit about staying filled. Spiritually, it's a lifelong process. We never arrive at spiritual maturity, and if we think we have, we'd better watch out. Something or someone will soon come our way to set THAT little misconception to rights! We pray, we praise, we read, we study, we learn, we grow closer in relationship to the Lord, we fall away, we sin, we repent, we pray, we praise, etc. The cycle continues until we die.

Physically, we need to take care of ourselves. No one else can do that but us. What we eat, what we think and read, how we spend our time and energy, whether we exercise enough or not...these are things over which we have complete and sole control. No one else is to blame that we're overweight or not taking our medication properly. No one else will see we get enough sleep or rest or activity.

Emotionally, what each of us needs to be healthy will vary. The main thing is to realize that we can't depend on one person or one thing to provide every drop of what we need to stay afloat. I heard one man talk about having lots of baskets. Maybe you like the "baskets" of crafts and fishing and having several close friends as well as your family. Or you're a performer who gets affirmation and gratification from hearing the applause in addition to staying physically fit and nurturing a few close relationships.

Perhaps your career is your main basket, meeting many of your emotional, as well as financial, needs. Whatever works for you....but don't expect what works for you to be what works for someone else. And don't expect to have a line of people waiting to rave about your particular methods. This is what YOU need. If you're understood and supported 100 percent, great! If not, sometimes you have to gently remind others that "this is what I need."

My husband and I were talking about this not too long ago. There is pressure all around, especially among Christians, I think, to fit someone else's concept of the perfect couple, or the perfect marriage. We take the ideals of the Bible and think (1) they are attainable and  (2) we need to impose them on others. Ideals are ideals. If we could be perfect out of sheer willpower and the desire to achieve, we wouldn't need Jesus! Our kids aren't perfect! Our grandchildren aren't perfect! Our lives aren't perfect!

We do the best we can with the needs we have, the gifts we have,  the circumstances we have. We don't have to answer to anyone else for what that looks like, either. To put it bluntly, ain't nobody's business.*

So, I'm gearing up for the current move, and feeling content in the midst of boxes and vacant walls. I have some old-fashioned notions about the woman of the house working to make her family's environment attractive, peaceful, and pleasant, and I've got my work cut out for me with this move, just as with previous ones. But while I'm at work, I will be scheduling plenty of things along the way that will take care of me. The happier I am, the more at peace I am, the more fulfilled and satisfied I am with life in general, the better able I will be to do what I need to do for others, turning a house into something more than a house. A home.



* Which reminds me of a Wittenburg Door interview some years ago. The Door was a Christian satire magazine that's no longer around, unfortunately, and I don't recall who they were interviewing, but Dr. James Dobson's name came up, to which someone, either the interviewer or the interviewee, commented that he wished Dobson and his organization would "focus on your own damn family." Since then, I've seen the phrase advertised as a bumper sticker or catch phrase for telling Christians and Christian groups to stay out of peoples' lives and let them live as they please. I find great merit in this suggestion. We'll never convince someone to change, anyway, unless they want to change. Beating them over the head, judging, and telling them they have to do things our way will never work. Never.