When houses become homes

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.

Saying Thank You

We, like all good parents, are training our children to say “thank you”. It has been interesting to see them slowly but surely pick it up. It started with external behaviour and gradually it’s beginning to become an internal reality. It is becoming something they understand; starting to know ‘why’ they should say thank you, not just doing the ‘right thing’. They don’t always get it right but they are becoming thankful kids, not kids who can just say thank you.

It’s always two steps forward, one step back, and I’m thankful for their progress. But as they’ve matured in thanksgiving a strange thing has happened: it has become more challenging for me. Why? Because it reminds me to ‘practice what I preach’. Literally!

As we’ve trained our kids it’s reminded me again that what I’m training them in is something that needs to be real to me – both inside & out; both mind set & behaviour. God has been helping me to have “thank you” as both an internal perspective and an external posture.

It’s been a challenging but life-giving journey for me. I have had many, many opportunities over the past few years. There’s been times when it’s been easy and a joy to be thankful and times when it’s been through gritted teeth or sheer determination. To “know” something is easy; to believe and live it out through every circumstance is hard. Frequently, over the last season, we have reminded each other that ‘God is good’;  reminding ourselves of who He is, His character, His promise and His good purposes. This has helped a “thank you’ rise in our hearts regardless of our circumstances.

“Thank you” as an internal perspective and an external posture.

thank you, sign, wall, neon, light

It’s easy to try and ‘do it’: to do the right thing or to engage in the right behaviour. But the problem is if your posture is right but your perspective is wrong it feels disjointed, heavy, dutiful and falters when you run out of energy and effort.

I am an external person; it is easy for me to try to do something without letting it penetrate beneath. I’ve found that a good jolt helps me! Here are a few things that I’ve found helpful to be jolted – to be reminded that ‘the One who calls us is faithful’ and that He is bigger than today’s circumstance and that He is the same God, yesterday, today and forever. As I remember Him it puts who I am in perspective.

# Look at the big picture – A leader I respect recently shared that when he’s struggling with a circumstance he stops & steps back and thinks “what will this look like in a week, in a month, in a year and in a decade and how will I feel in a week, in a month, a year and a decade?” It has been helpful for me to set today in context & to change my perspective on today.

# Look to others – Sometimes we don’t have the answers. Sometimes we don’t have the faith. Sometimes we don’t have the capacity and ability to put one foot in front of the other. That is where God’s voice comes through community. It’s where community really comes into its own. We look sideways – not to compare or compete –  but to raise faith and to see God at work. It helps to see others, the way they hold themselves through trial, under pressure or in battle, and to see how God is present and at work in that place with that person reminds me of His presence with me in my circumstance. To be encouraged, uplifted, cheered on by others helps me to keep going, slowly but surely in the right direction with the right perspective.

# Look at what you’ve got – the world pushes us to feel we need more, to know more and to understand more. It pushes us to look sideways at what God is doing somewhere else or in someone else. It’s much more life-giving to look at what we’ve got; to look at what God has given you, what He is doing and where He is at work.

# Look at the bible – I am always struck that the Heroes of the faith written about in Hebrews didn’t receive their prize. Yet. What God spoke to them about and set before them they didn’t receive in full. Yet. We have an opportunity and challenge for our names to be written alongside those great heroes. Those heroes mentioned in Hebrews are not the only ones that inspire faith & produce perseverance in us. We see throughout the Bible many of God’s people who struggled, journeyed and  lived with a ‘thank you’ through all the ups & down’s of following God.

Life is tough. We have various questions, challenges, ‘moving parts’ in our life. We know many people who are struggling at the moment. We know many people who are in pain, are ill or who have loved ones who are ill. In the midst of questions, battle and adventure how do you have a ‘Thank you” that’s secure in your heart and expressed through your life?

My Void

Anna wrote last week about The Void. She talked about how in the space she has, with the quiet and echo of silence, she hears God afresh; that the silence and space is a gift to be received not a struggle to survive.

My Void is different. Anna & I have committed to a season where I am travelling for the ministry God has given us. There’s a lot that we do locally & together but the season we’re in also involves some travel that involves me “going” & Anna Continue reading

full

These recent days have been full. Full of goodness, light, and joy.

Light fills our room a little earlier each day. The grey of winter is fading, shedding its scaly skin, making way for new life.

And I feel full.

Full of salvation joy

Full of special bedtime prayers

Full of happy memories of recent adventures

Full with a loving, faithful husband

Full with healthy, happy chablings

Full of anticipation

Full 

And I am thankful, celebrating this God-given season. Seasons come and go. But He is the same, yesterday, today and forever.

I am no longer my own, but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,exalted for thee or brought low for thee.

          Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine.

So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.

Amen.

 

IMG_9891

ta very much

I’ve noticed a few people on Facebook taking the month of November to daily express what they are thankful for. I like that.

I think as Brits we can be prone to grumpiness. Come to think of it, the people of God in the Bible were prone to grumpiness. Remember how God provided manna for the Israelites in the desert? Remember how they managed to complain about his provision? It says in Numbers 11:

Then the foreign rabble who were traveling with the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt. And the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. 5 “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. 6 But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!”

Contentment is something we seem to find a bit difficult. When God provides for us we seem to want more.
When we express thankfulness to God we are choosing to both acknowledge his goodness to us and our dependence on him for all that we have:

He gives breath to everyone,
life to everyone who walks the earth (Isaiah 42:5)

My husband is one of the most grateful people I know. Honestly, I hardly ever hear him complain or grumble. And I think I’m beginning to learn his secret.

He has a thankful heart.

He is thankful for what He has, and he makes the most of what has been given to him. He has taken up the discipline of thanksgiving and it has become a habit and now a lifestyle.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says

Always be joyful. Keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

There are some bible texts that are a bit tricky to grasp but I don’t think there’s much room for mis-interpretation here – if we belong to Jesus it is God’s will for us to be thankful. God knows that our hearts change when we are thankful.

So here’s some of my thanksgiving for today:

3 happy and healthy kids

Chicken Korma for dinner

A great husband and some wonderful friends

How about you? What’s your thanksgiving for today?

posted by Anna