Our house and our life have been in a certain measure of chaos for some weeks now as we renovate our den/family room/TV room downstairs, which has involved completely gutting the room, raising the entrance hall ceiling, knocking down some walls to open the space up, laying new wood floor and stairs, and creating beautiful window seat storage. It’s wonderful! The chaos of house and life stems in part from the dust, noise and dirt of the renovations, but also from the furniture and trappings of the emptied den now piled high in other corners of the house that do not have the space to adequately contain them, as well as simply – I confess – from the fact that when my home is not working the way it normally does, I just can’t find the energy to pick it up!
Since this is the first real renovation we have done in any house (while living in it) I have long watched others in the boat we are now cast adrift in, and not understood the stress they experience. “They should be excited not stressed”, I have thought in my inexperience. “They know it won’t last forever, so why fret and fuss over temporary inconvenience?” But now I know how it feels from the inside, I get it... and we may never renovate again! (Until perhaps, like a woman who decides to have another child 18 months after a labour she loathed, we forget the ‘pain’ and skip blithely into another season of stress for the ‘aesthetic joy set before us’!) I am amazed – and this is a great learning curve for me – how life just does not work that well and doesn’t feel ‘quite right’ when the space we inhabit does not work and isn’t quite right. What creatures of place and habit we are – so desperately in need of beauty and order, space and light, rhythm and flow. And how the lack of these can curb energy and strangle spirits as surely as any more purely relational or emotional disturbance!
Now of course we were excited to begin this project, we still are excited to see it all fall into place, and I know we won’t regret the decision and will SO enjoy the results; but there has been many a moment when I have found myself wondering why we decided to do this, and if it is really worth it. It almost feels as if we have survived rather than fully lived the last two months, and I regret the lack of energy and creativity for things I care about, especially those carefully crafted moments of family connection and hospitality to friends, which are so enabled and enriched by the space in which they take place. I feel very keenly the tension between, on the one hand, wanting to improve and beautify these spaces in order, hopefully, to improve and beautify what can take place in them, and on the other hand missing out on what I most love and value because of the ‘improving process’. I also wonder how much I miss out on what could go on in my house because I am not yet happy with quite how the space looks or feels or ‘works’... So I sometimes question if it would have been better to be content with the room as it was... and then really LIVE in it, and in the rest of the house, with gratitude and enthusiasm.
Such paradoxical thoughts and lessons I am taking from this experience, this process... Firstly, I take gratitude for the many different spaces I have lived in, and a greater awareness of how each one has deeply affected – for good or ill – how I live and experience life and relationships. I recognise more clearly that part of the relational strain my family experienced as I grew up truly did stem from four humans of over 5’11’’ sharing a small ‘trailer’ home (though as a WW1 era wooden caravan it had some added appeal and ‘cool factor’ that the word trailer cannot convey!) with very little opportunity for space or privacy from each other. Likewise, the happiness of the first four years of Amelie’s life were beautifully enabled by a house whose living space flowed well, by the big kitchen/dining room where it was so easy to be together, cook, play, and hang out with friends and family, and by those unnecessary but wonderful luxuries such as two bathrooms, a laundry room, an open fireplace, views of the estuary, and the incredible stainless steel, seven burner gas hob with double electric oven (yes, I admit I miss it!). I do think that the changes to our den will better facilitate our life as a family in this home. However, a beautiful space doth not a happy family make, and the other paradoxical thought that’s playing inside me is that I don’t want to limit the energy and creativity and enthusiasm and commitment I give to life, to family, to God, and to others, due to the space I inhabit. Aware that beauty and order, rhythm and flow, are important to me, I nevertheless don’t want to serve them, but instead ensure that they ‘serve’ me and those things that hold higher value for me. When they are lacking, I don’t want this to needlessly put my life on hold, until everything is ‘just so’ again! And, above all, I want to be able to be content with and grateful for how things are NOW, not always jumping ahead in heart and mind to how things could be; I long for this sort of ‘presence’ with my home and in wider spheres of life too.
So I’m thinking I could probably extend Jesus’ Matthew 6 teaching – “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” – to ask “Is not life so much more than the space we live in?”. Tonight, I love that this comes out as a question not an emphatic statement, because although I believe this to be true, quite what it means still eludes me as I pace the newly varnished floorboards, remember the manky carpet they have replaced, and long for the furniture to be moved back in so that life can begin again in this room...