Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Who are "we"?

"We've had the inspection and appraisal, so hopefully we can close in the next few weeks!" I said this at work today to someone who inquired about my current home purchase. Even as I spoke, however, I was thinking, "Why do I always say 'we'?"

No matter who I'm talking to about this house, I have noticed that I use the plural pronoun to describe the process.  You might think that by "we" I mean myself and the sellers, or perhaps myself and my Realtor, but I have heard myself say "we" when referring to a decision I and I alone have made.

So who are "we"?

In part, "we" are all the people who have helped me with the practical aspects of this project: my mother, who enthusiastically scoured listings for houses I might like; my friend (and soon-to-be neighbor) Grace, who spent a Saturday morning visiting properties with me; my house-builder friend, Randy, who lent his professional eye to the house before I made my official offer; my friends Emily and Jenn who gave me questions to ask and ideas to consider.

And certainly, "we" are guests for so many promised or possible friends: students who can come for a quiet place to study; faraway friends from Texas, Indiana, or Tennessee, relatives who will gather in the summer, or at Thanksgiving.

I cannot help believing, however that "we" includes more hearts and faces than I can yet name. When I imagine this house, I seem to hear voices in all the rooms. Who might they be? A companion, one who rents a room and says a prayer with me, breaking bread and taking evening walks? A husband humming in the kitchen? Children, adopted or born, laughing under the live oak tree? Students yet-to-come singing hymns in the dining room? These are not voices I remember, but voices I hope to hear.

For some weeks I have been speaking of this unknown plurality only half-consciously, but even after recognizing the habit, I don't think I'll stop. I am thankful for the stability and resources that enable me to buy a house on my own, but as in all good things, I don't really want to do it alone. So as long as anyone asks, I know my answer:

"We're buying a house. We're making a home."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

We are Made for Love

“We are made for love -- and in vain we strive to pour forth the streams of our affection by the narrow channels which the world can give -- and well is it if, stagnated in our hearts, they turn not to bitterness.”
-George MacDonald 
Of the 29 Valentine's Days I have witnessed in my life, I have had a boyfriend for only two of them. He was a very good boyfriend, thrilling me with roses and dinners and shy proclamations of affection. However, I loved Valentine's Day long before he came along, and I have continued to love it in the years since.

For many single men and women, Valentine's Day can feel like an insult, as if all the greeting-card companies and jewelry commercials have conspired to exclude them from a shimmering holiday. If I wished to criticize Valentine's Day, I would start with George MacDonald, and point out that popular concepts of romance tend to offer a few channels for our love. We long to love someone, but if we don't have a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife, who will receive our love? And who will return it? So much of the bitterness I hear regarding Valentine's Day reeks of the stagnation MacDonald describes, and of jealousy for those who are blissfully floating down the narrow channels of romance.

As Christians, we ought to be excavating deep and wide channels where all men and women can pour out the love they were made to give. I'm thankful for the many ways my parents and friends have done this. For example, from first grade through my senior year of high school, my father would take me out to lunch each Valentine's Day. Leaving school for an hour, eating at a restaurant, and having my father's undivided attention made the day special long before I cared about the holiday's romantic possibilities. As an adult, I have done my best to use Valentine's Day to celebrate all the people I love. Some years that means giving homemade caramels to everyone in my office. Sometimes it means piles of handmade envelopes and cards. This year it meant stitching little hearts for a few of my most faithful correspondents.

However you celebrate Valentine's Day, pray that your festivities will challenge the world's narrow picture of love. If you are happily married or dating, delight yourself in that romance, but consider also sending a card (or better yet, flowers) to a friend who is single. If you are single, defy bitterness and pour your heart into those you love: mothers, children, colleagues, friends.

How will you celebrate Valentine's Day this year? 

A few of the tokens I made for  Valentine's Day this year.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Travel safely

"I know the roads are wet, so travel safely." My friend Darcy left this message on my phone as I began my trip north last week.

"Travel safely." The words might seem ordinary, but they are a loving injunction. Travel safely....because I care for your welfare. Travel safely....because I would not have you come to harm. And why should Darcy say such a thing to me? This visit was to be the first time I had seen her since college, when she, her husband John, and I were all students together. We have stayed in touch though Facebook glimpses and snapshot messages, but we have not known one another's deepest stories. We do not trade serious news or heart-concerns. We are not responsible for one another.

Or are we? "Travel safely," she said, and I smiled, understanding. If the road I take leads to her home, then I have entered the ken of her care. I have taken a thousand trips down a thousand roads, over oceans and under mountains, and she has never known. But this road comes to her door, and somehow that matters.

Hospitality demands that we venture our hearts on on roads we will not travel and journeys that are not ours. By allowing someone to be at home with us, we become vulnerable to the perils of the roads they have yet to travel. We can't go with them. Perhaps we can walk alongside one, or two, but even the nearest companions must part eventually--for years, or hours, or one bright eternal moment.

Some hosts, no doubt, issue these commands--"Travel safely"--merely out of courtesy, and I know some travelers ignore the benediction. I never will. Maybe the words are customary, but they carry the weight of ancient and noble ideals of hospitality, echoing the the Old Testament, or the Odyssey, in which a host turns all his resources to welcoming a guest and making that guest a friend.

Among my Texas friends, the prayer book many of us used for corporate and personal devotions provided strong words for protecting someone as they leave home. Each morning prayer ends with the following valediction:
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you;may he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm;may he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;may he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.

When several in our Sunday School class prepared to leave Texas for new works and new homes last spring, our friends spoke those words over us. When I moved, Katie wrote the blessing out by hand and framed it for me. The same words closed a letter I received from Josh last month. When Audrey and I talked through Skype yesterday, I saw how she and her roommates had painted the words and hung them on their walls. They are good, thoughtful, careful words, but they are not the only words that will do. For those who have ears to hear, the same care lies behind so many of our customary, glorious, ordinary, generous commands:

"Let me know when you get in."
"Take your time. Enjoy the road."
"Travel safely."

In other words, "I love you."

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Dreams of Home

After visiting several houses last Saturday, I have spent the last week considering whether to move forward with one place I really loved. Many doors and signs have opened in that direction, and today I returned for a second visit. If I feel the same peace Monday I feel today, I may be ready to make a formal offer.

I am beginning to allow myself to be really and very excited about all of this, but today has been heavy: not stressful, exactly, but intense. Talk of bids and bonds, down payments and mortgage insurance, escrow and warranties and offers -- these are good things, for they shall bringeth unto me a house, but they whelm me. I have many good advisors, but in the end I must make all these decisions alone. While I thank God that I am happy enough in my job and secure enough in my finances to buy a house, the end-of-the-day solitude of this process only adds to my disorientation.

Consequently, I am ending this very long day by making a list of all the joyful things I wish to do once I buy a house. For many of these activities I will invite or require company, so let me know in the comments where you wish to join in!


Once all the books are on the shelves and the plates in their cupboards, I will throw open the doors and ask friends to come bless the house with their joy. I will serve homemade ginger ale by the gallon, and we will go from room to room, praying for each.

Open Sabbaths 

Several of my Texas homes became gathering places for Sunday rest and reflection. My dear Kt came over nearly every week to sew, talk, and sit, and I loved inviting others to come and share our rest. When my friend Audrey was exploring the idea of keeping a Sabbath, she once came over with a book and pajama pants, and spent the afternoon reading and napping while I sewed nearby. I want my house to be a place where we teach one another to rest.

Foxfire Fridays

In Waco, the local Mennonite church would host free or nearly-free seminars in skills such as cheese-making, knitting, baking, canning, and other traditions skills and crafts. They called these sessions "Foxfire Fridays" after the Appalachian Foxfire project (read more about that here). I've looked in vain for a similar gathering in Alabama, and I've finally decided I should just start one myself. We may begin with a few friends gathered for knitting lessons or jam-making, but eventually I would love to use  my house as a meeting place for people interested in sustainable living.


Hopefully, my first project upon moving will be to establish gardens. In addition to vegetables and flowers, I have dreams of gardens that grow natural dyes, herbs, and other useful flora.

Square Dancing 

This is risky, considering I've only ever square danced once, and I have no idea how to teach anyone else to do it.  Nevertheless, if I have a spacious yard, I would really enjoy finding some old records and gathering some people to laugh and swing and dosey do.

Rocking Chairs 

Special kinds of conversations happen in rocking chairs, just as supper tables, road trips, and Christmas trees all inspire their own precious forms of conversation. I hope to acquire a few rocking chairs and put them somewhere we can hear crickets in the summer. We'll rock and talk late into summer nights.


Mobile is nearly equidistant between my parents and my uncle's family, so there is a good chance my house will become the meeting point for that side of the family. I love hosting holidays--especially Thanksgiving and Easter, so I look forward to becoming the the host not only for my family, but for anyone in this city who finds themselves in need of a home on a holy day.

Making this list has been a happy exercise. I'm feeling far more cheerful about all the decisions I'll need to make in the coming weeks. Please keep me in your prayers as I move forward with this project.

What do you think I should do with a house once I have it? How can I be a good and creative steward of a house?