"Snippet" -- a small piece or brief extract
1992 -- the house we now call home was up for sale to be moved. We had only been married 3 years. Financially, we were struggling. It was not the time to buy a house. It was certainly not the time to buy a fixer-upper that had to be moved. It was definitely not the time to buy a fixer-upper that had to be taken apart to be moved -- and then put back together.
However, as sure as we were in love with each other, we fell in love with this house. Built in 1882, she was sturdy and full of character and beautiful architectural detail. She had 2 floors and was being used for a real estate office. She was just around the corner from the library where I was working. Shane met me there during lunch maybe? I honestly don't remember. I do remember when I opened the door, I had visions of Christmas. . . .the door opens directly into the stairway and the living room, so when the door opened, I could see (in my mind's eye) -- beautiful garland cascading down the mahogany stair rail. And as the stair wall angled to the left to carry one up, it left a beautiful angled wall that begged for a piano. It was perfect (in my mind's eye. . .) A huge kitchen and big bedrooms, a gorgeous room with a bay window would make a perfect library. . . .Shane was just as smitten as I was, and the cost? A mere $2,000!!!!!! This was the fodder of dreams!
My parents came and looked at it and tried to talk us down with all the talk of hours of work and labor and hardship and idiosyncracies of old houses -- with the talk of cost of moving the house and putting it back together and so much more. We were not to be talked down. We were in love -- with each other, with the house and with the bright future that was waiting on us. Young, naive, and idealistic -- yes, that was us.
Shane's aunt had us pegged to receive about a $20,000 inheritance when she died, and she was in her 90s at the time. So dear Aunt Earle gave us our inheritance early so that we could purchase this home of our dreams.
Dreams became nightmares over the next 3 years as we strove -- largely unsuccessfully -- to put the house back in working order. They had to literally take their chainsaws and cut the whole upper half of the upstairs off. They also used chainsaws to disconnect my kitchen from the rest of the house! She was roofless and in pieces. . . . When they moved the house it was rainy season and the house literally bogged down in the field that would become our yard. The corner of my sweet house sat jutted into the road for a few days until it dried enough to continue the move. As a 2300 sq foot house, she was not designed as a mobile home, and she had already been moved once when she was a much younger house. We barely had enough money to purchase, move and get the roof back on the house. We struggled over the next few years, making improvements as we could afford to -- which was negligible. It was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. There were so many challenges.
October will make 28 years ago that we bought this beautiful old home and made her ours. The struggle has been so long and so real. This spring brought the pandemic and stay at home orders. It brought the cancellation of a few trips for us. It brought stimulus checks. It brought anxiety and stress, but it also brought forced time at home and extra money in our bank account. So we have spent the Spring and Summer and all the money we didn't spend in gas and travel and eating out in addition to the stimulus money and we have gotten so much done. It has felt so lovely and promising and this is the first time in 28 years that our upstairs will be a finished living space instead of unfinished storage.
There have been moments -- and hours and weeks and years when we wished we had done things differently. There have been challenges right and left (You can read about some of them in my earlier post about keeping a level head). It has been hard on levels that Mama and Daddy didn't even KNOW to tell us (in addition to all the ways they were right. . . .) It is not the path most would have chosen. It has not been an easy path -- more like one of those winding, climbing mountain trails where you have to fight for every step and help each other along.
There is still more work to be done. It may very well NEVER be finished. It will perhaps always be a WORK IN PROGRESS. However, through it all, I think I still would have chosen just the same -- for all its unlevelness, idiosyncracies, character flaws, and challenges, I would still choose this sweet house that we have made into a home, because that is what LOVE does. It chooses -- over and again -- in spite of difficulty -- in spite of hardship. It chooses to love every day in spite of it all.
Marriage isn’t easy. It requires a lot of you, and it takes a lot out of you. But in my experience it gives back all that and more! There’s nothing like someone having your back no matter what. There’s no better feeling than coming home to a house that you have created together. There’s nothing like being held by someone who knows you inside and out.
It takes a couple of things to make a marriage successful. It takes GRIT, and it takes GRACE!
In psychology, grit is combining passion and perseverance to achieve a long-term goal, and I love this simple definition of grace from Paul Zahl, “Grace is unconditional love toward a person who does not deserve it.”
If your marriage doesn’t have grit and grace, it will never make it! You have to be willing to persevere -- that is why the vows state, “for richer or poorer,” “in sickness and in health,” “forsaking all others” -- those phrases show that marriage requires GRIT! You have to combine perseverance with passion. Some people go into it with lots of passion, but no perseverance. It requires effort -- it can be hard. People who want their relationships to be free of chaos and conflict probably shouldn’t get married. There will be times of conflict and times of chaos. We’ve had times where Shane slept on the sofa while we were working through some really challenging issues. We’ve experienced multiple miscarriages. We’ve had health issues and conflict with in-laws. We’ve gotten 2 undergraduate degrees and 3 post-grad degrees while married. . . talk about conflict and chaos! It’s life, and you have to persevere. You’ve got to have grit.
Grace is unconditional love toward a person who does not deserve it. We’ve all been there... those days when I’m the one that doesn’t deserve it. Days when I’m unloving and unloveable, when I’m quick to get my feelings hurt, when things don’t go my way and I don’t handle it very well. . . . Those are the days I need his grace. There are other days where he is grumpy and tired, when he’s having a temper tantrum, when he takes everything personally. . . . Those are the days he needs my grace. We must be willing to love when it’s hard and undeserved -- if our marriage is going to work and be successful.
This week, Shane and I celebrate 31 years of grit and grace!
Honestly, not all those days have contained equal measures of passion, perseverance and pure love. Sometimes, it’s been more like the grit inside the oyster shell. Others, it’s been like the “grace” before a meal (like my friend Randy says, “Lord, please DO something with it.”) Some days when I needed his grace, he chose not to give it. Some days, I chose not to. Some seasons, we had grit and some seasons, the grit of life had us. But, thankfully, marriage is a marathon, not a sprint. And grace can cover the past as well as the present and the future. And thankfully, the oyster uses that grit to make a beautiful pearl. I hope we can do the same in our marriage.
It’s been 31 years of richer and poorer. 31 years of sickness and health. 31 years of forsaking all others. I pray we get 31 more years before “til death do us part” takes its toll, and I pray that God will help us continue to show grit and grace for the next 31!
This summer and the Covid-19 pandemic have given us opportunity and funds to delve into much-needed home improvements. For those of you who may not know, we live in a house built in 1882 and moved twice (quite a feat for a 2-story, 2300-sq. foot house). She is not exactly a mobile home, so the two moves have taken their toll on her. . . .and now, she's a bit -- unbalanced . . . unlevel. When you are in the midst of home renovations, this brings some (ahem) UNIQUE challenges. My husband has stepped up to every challenge with bravery, math skills, growing carpentry/DIY capability -- and he has done some amazing work in less-than-ideal circumstances! Whew, but there have been moments. . . .have you ever been there? Maybe not with home improvements. . . maybe in life. . . suddenly, things are unbalanced, unlevel, not right and not easily fixed? How do you handle that? Now, listen -- no judgements here, because the truth is -- those are hard times! And we're very human in our house . . .maybe yours, too?
Sometimes, Shane has been upstairs working while I was writing or on a webinar and I would hear growls, choice words, or the slamming of whatever carpentry project he was working on with a bit of extra power and vehemence. . . We don't always handle those unlevel challenges well. We want the corners of our life to match up. We want all the parts to match where they are supposed to. We don't want our holes exposed. We don't want anyone to see we are unbalanced. We want to be able to put the level or the plumb line to our life and see the bubble in the middle of the window. Unfortunately, oftentimes life isn't like that at all. That bubble bumps the right end of the window or the left! Sometimes there's a big 'ol gap in the corner that you're going to have to do some extra work to fix. And sometimes, there are problems that happened WAY BEFORE you that YOU CAN'T FIX! (Anybody ever heard of Adam and Eve? Hello!) Some of these house issues were not created by us and we can't fix them all! Some of them we simply have to live with or work around.
The scriptures give us some great tips for handling life when it gets unbalanced. Jesus tells the parable of the wise man and the foolish man who were building a house. His message?
1. Make sure you have a good foundation! That is the first really important thing. What are you building your life on? I Corinthians 3 says it this way (Message translation) Or, to put it another way, you are God’s house. Using the gift God gave me as a good architect, I designed blueprints; Apollos is putting up the walls. Let each carpenter who comes on the job take care to build on the foundation! Remember, there is only one foundation, the one already laid: Jesus Christ. Take particular care in picking out your building materials. Eventually there is going to be an inspection. If you use cheap or inferior materials, you’ll be found out. The inspection will be thorough and rigorous. You won’t get by with a thing. If your work passes inspection, fine; if it doesn’t, your part of the building will be torn out and started over. But you won’t be torn out; you’ll survive—but just barely.
Psalm 127:1 (NIV)
Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.
2. Look to God and Jesus when things are unbalanced and unlevel.
Hebrews 12: 1b and 2a And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.Psalm 1211 I look up to the mountains--
does my help come from there?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!
The psalmist wasn't always so confident. There are laments throughout the book of Psalms. There were times of doubt. There were times of struggle. There were times he couldn't fix whatever issue he was facing. Somedays he railed at God. My friends, God is big enough for that, too, and NOTHING you say or do catches God by surprise. He loves you NO MATTER WHAT, but His desire is to help you achieve your best -- to be the best version of yourself. He wants to build you into a Mansion -- if you'll let Him.
Sometimes, others have harmed us until we are so unlevel and unbalanced we are unrecognizable. Sometimes, we've made bad choices that have turned our life topsy-turvy, left holes in the drywall, tiles missing, ceiling boards drooping, water damage. . . .luckily, our Savior was a carpenter :-) He knows all the tricks of the trade and if you surrender to Him, he can begin making those changes to help you shine -- He's got the joint compound to fill in the holes. He's got the sandpaper to smooth the rough edges. The nails that put Him on the cross can put you back together in His hands.
If you're feeling unlevel and unbalanced, I urge you to cry out to Him. Build your life on Him and fix your eyes on Him. The Master Carpenter, the Creator of the Universe can build you up into everything HE knows you can be.
We've surrendered, but that doesn't mean all the days are rosy and perfect. We still find those unbalanced places, those unlevel spaces -- in our house -- and in our heart. And when we do, we have to surrender all over again. We have to do our part and allow Him to do His part. It's a journey -- much like renovating an old house. It will always be a work in progress.
Proverbs 17: 22 A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.
My parents have had a difficult couple of weeks.
Daddy is one of the most loving, kind, patient, and dear men I've ever known (and no, I'm not biased -- but, even if I were, the truth of it remains :-) He tends to get a little down in the dumps when things are continually hard. There's a situation that really tears at him, and he had a couple of extra-challenging days recently, so he's been a little grumpy and negative lately. This is hard for us to watch when he has been the positive-thinking guru of our family for my whole life.
Today, my family sat down to a game of Mexican Train (dominos game). It was light-hearted from the get-go. My niece, who is 9, pushed the train whistle every time she played a double and did a little dance. Pretty soon, we were all doing it, including the little dance -- even my husband, who is super-tired from tons of home renovations and day after day of long, hard work -- even my mom who is 74 with COPD and congestive heart failure and is on oxygen 24-7 -- even my dad who is 77 and feeling extra grumpy. . . we all danced and listened to the train whistle and "chugga, chugga, choo, choo" as we played. Laughter rang out in the dining room of my parents' home.
We got into a conversation about how my mom is a bit obsessed with killing mosquitoes (or other insects) and were joking about how Mama will look at you with a very serious expression and say, "Don't move" and we all hold our breath because we know she is getting ready to smack us to kill whatever beastly insect is nipping and nibbling at us. We all dread the look, the tone -- and if she ever gets the fly swatter? Look out! Daddy was laughing and teasing her about how he thinks sometimes she just pretends there's a mosquito so she can smack us :-O A few minutes later, we look at my daddy and he is just snickering big-time. We looked at him quizzically and he explained that the conversation got him thinking about his favorite movie -- HOME ALONE. (We watch it every Christmas -- but really we watch my daddy watch it because he laughs so hard and it brings us such joy!) If you've seen it, you know the scene where the spider is loose in the house and is perched on "Marv"'s chest. and Harry says, "Don't move. . . " just before he whacks his chest with a crowbar to kill the spider. . . .well, Daddy made the comparison with my mom and her, "Don't move" and it turned his giggle box completely upside down! He laughed until tears were streaming down his face, and he could only get out a few words here and there because he was laughing so hard. My niece made out a reference to Home Alone in the chaos, and Daddy laughed harder. We made out "spider" and "Marv" and "don't move" and pretty soon we were all laughing uproariously. . . .. This isn't really that unusual for my sister and me -- or for the kids. Even Shane (hubby) and I have moments. But for my whole family (minus one) to be sitting around the table laughing so hard is such a precious moment. Mama laughed so hard she could barely breathe even with her oxygen pumping. . .she declared, "No more laughing. I'm going to be so sore now . . . ." and we tried to comply, but it just ended with more giggles, more giggles, and more giggles. Eventually, we settled back into a mode of fun, but not TOO much fun. The laughter subsided for the most part.
Hard days will come. Grumpiness won't go away forever. Grief will visit -- unwanted. Life will intervene -- unwelcome. Satan will throw darts -- uninvited. But laughter is both weapon and balm.
Days are tenuous. Mama's health is tenuous. Life is tenuous. Age is tenuous. Laughter is so, so good for the soul. I am incredibly thankful for today, and I pray that when grief comes and hard days knock on the door of my heart, that I can think back on this day and remember a day of laughter and utter joy -- to extreme. What an incredible blessing today was, and I hope that God will call it back to my memory as often as I need to be reminded:
22 A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.
I've been a teacher of K-3 students for over 20 years; I'm also a writer of poems, short stories, devotionals and picture books. I'm wife to an amazing husband and mom to Sparkles the kitty. I love reading, writing, singing and listening to music. I enjoy nature, Bible study and spending time with friends and family!