I love a good cull. Right now, laid in our hallway are five bin bags crammed with stuff to chuck, recycle or send to charity shops.
And I’ve only just begun.
Since Rich and I have been married we’ve lived in so many different houses that culling has just been part of life. We’ve lived in our current house for nearly five years, and it’s by far the longest we’ve lived in any one house. I’ve learnt to never say never… BUT we’ll probably never live in a house this big again. So with years of accumulated stuff and the likelihood of downsizing, this cull is going to be the cull of all culls.
As I’ve been culling I’ve also begun a process of reflecting on houses and homes. One thing I’ve learnt with houses is that’s all they are: houses. A home is a completely different thing. A home is a place where memories are made. Home is a place where you love and you are loved. A home is a place where you are free to be quiet or loud, to laugh or cry. It’s a safe environment to fail, and fail again, and then to keep trying. Home is a safe place to dance, without judgement, to MC Hammer in the kitchen. At least, in our home it is.
This particular home has had visitors from India, Burundi, Holland, America, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Australia, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, South Africa, Poland, Germany, and all over England. And I’m sure many other places I’ve forgotten! It’s been a family base, not just to our nuclear family but to our extended family. It’s a place where we’ve loved God together, grown together and has been a place where those without family are welcomed in.
As I start to declutter and sort through our things I realise that we don’t get so much attached to the buildings as we do to the memories we associate with those places. And this home has been a beautiful shell to house those memories. I love the wooden floors, and I love the colours on the landing as the early morning sun shines through the stained glass windows. I love the roaring open fires on cold winter days, and the large kitchen with views to the distant hills.
I feel blessed to have lived in a home of aesthetic beauty. But it’s our memories of home that we take with us; our memories of all that God has done in and through our family in our time here.
Early on in our marriage God taught us a valuable lesson about houses and homes. It was our second year of marriage, and we bought our second house. It had been lived in by one couple for 50 years, and needed some tender loving care. With the help of his dad, Rich spent the best part of a year gutting and restoring it. We loved that house.
Just shortly after we’d finished gutting it we took a trip to India; our first trip together since my year there in ’99. It was a surveying-the- land type trip where we were asking God if he wanted us to serve as missionaries over there.
I was desperately hoping we’d get the green light to “go”; hoping at last that God would have come round to my way of thinking. Strangely enough, He had different plans. We’d only been on our trip for a couple of days when I clearly heard him say “Why wait to be missionaries?” And in that moment I saw the city of Sheffield. It was a defining moment for me. And it turned out to be a defining moment for the culture we would create in our marriage and in our family.
Why wait to be missionaries?
Our response at that point was to move to a deprived area in Sheffield to live as incarnational missionaries. We made a pig’s ear of it in so many ways. And there were also lots of breakthroughs. But that’s a story for another time.
But the move to the deprived area meant leaving behind that house we’d lovingly restored. Somehow, if we’d been moving to India, it might have felt easier to leave behind. But leaving that house to move across the other side of the city felt like one of the most costly decisions we ever made. I know that as we made that decision, something inside of us was nailed to the cross at that point too. We realised that houses were just houses, and homes could be created in any place we gave our hearts to.
A missionary life means accepting the call to ‘Go’. Sometimes it means we go somewhere more aesthetically beautiful, sometimes not. That’s not our decision to make. Our decision to make is whether or not we hear and obey the call to ‘Go’.
We’ve had the privilege of living in a beautiful house these last five years. But through that journey that God took us on all those years ago, I’ve learnt that there’s something much more important than a beautiful house. I love nice stuff. I love things to be aesthetically pleasing. I love to make a home feel creative and welcoming. And I will always try to do that, whatever type of home we have. I used to somehow feel ashamed of liking nice things but I’ve learnt that’s part of the way I’m made, and I think it’s a good thing.
But what I also know is that a home is so much more than beauty and aesthetics. It’s the memories we create in that home that are important: they are the things we take with us. And a beautiful house should never make us so comfortable that we can no longer hear, or no longer want to hear, the call of God to move us on to something or somewhere else, when the time is right.
When we moved to our current home I can remember thanking God for it, and saying “God, this is your home. We receive it as a blessing for this season. It’s yours to take whenever the time is right.” I knew that I needed to say that prayer out-loud at that point, because I never wanted to get to the place where the house would trump the calling. I know how easy it is for that to happen, ever so subtly.
And now that time is approaching. The calling has come.
And as the culling increases, so will my memories and my thanksgivings for the time in this home.
It’s been a beautiful shell to house many, many precious memories.