This summer was a busy one, which culminated in moving into our new home. It was a long time coming, and it has been so fun making it our own.
As this new season of homeownership opens, it leads me to look back on our previous season. The last few years have been more difficult than others. Now that I feel like we’re through it, it’s easier to reflect on those experiences with some clarity. Hindsight is 20/20, and although it might sound cliché, I — like Flannery O’Connor so wisely said — don’t really know what I think until I write it down. Going through this season of uncertainty and continual frustration changed me, and I hope for the better. I feel wiser, calmer, and more mature, but that growth was hard-won.
One of my favorite poems is Anne Bradstreet’s “Verses Upon the Burning of Our House,” which is an autobiographical poem about losing her home in a fire. She writes:
And when I could no longer look,
I blest His grace that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust.
Yea, so it was, and so ’twas just.
It was his own; it was not mine.
Far be it that I should repine.
I am continually moved by her words. We did not lose our home to a fire; however, in many ways Chris and I did lose our security and our sense of home during this recent season. I had to mourn this loss and eventually come to terms with it. It was hard. It was ugly at times. And I’m so thankful for those who stuck with us and who affirmed and loved us through that darkness.
We experienced other losses as well. People who we thought would support us kind of . . . disappeared. In one particularly painful conversation, I mentioned that it had been a hard year only to hear, “No it hasn’t” as a response. It was a wound that cut deep. The most applicable lesson I learned was that empathy requires love, respect, and sacrifice, and I wanted to make sure I was empathetic when others shared their difficult life experiences — I wanted to respond with love, kindness, and support.
C.S. Lewis uses this great analogy in Mere Christianity of having rats in one’s cellar. He says that provocation shows us who we really are, that our “rats” or our prideful character is always there, but is easily hidden away until we come in contact with that part of ourselves quite suddenly. He says it better:
Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in the cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way, the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.
During the past two years, I came face to face with the rats in my cellar. This season opened wide the door of my heart and what was inside was really ugly. I’ve read a lot. I’ve prayed a lot. I’ve gotten really angry. I’ve also learned to be thankful. I’ve had to create emotional boundaries to strengthen relationships that are edifying and build fences to distance relationships that are pernicious. I realize now, only now, that I put so much faith in myself. I believed that if I only tried hard enough or said the right things I could bend the world to my will. Not so. My girl Flannery O’Connor wrote that even though we all resist grace, “Grace changes us and the change is painful.” Amen.
At the end of last year, I still felt uncertain about where life would lead us next, but look where it led us: right here. In a home: a house, but also in a community with those who love us, challenge us, and support us. We have so much to look forward to, which will include other seasons of both joy and grief. But my hope is that no matter the season, I am always open to grace.