Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Beauty Instead of Ashes

Today I have an unexpected day off of work and I'm simultaneously feeling grateful, guilty, and lazy in response. I really need to start packing, but I'm avoiding it. Straight up in denial about the fact that we need to be out of this apartment in 11 short days.

We bought a house a few weeks ago. I'm so NOT invested in it. This is actually a good thing! Because if I were involved in the nitty gritty I'm just not sure how I would handle the cascade of problems we've experienced in our short time as home owners. I have to give MAJOR kudos to Ross, who has totally stepped up to own every single thing about this house, from the mortgage paperwork to the physical renovations. Again, I feel bad that avoidance is my coping mechanism right now. But man, this guy is really in his element.

In the meantime, I started reading a book on grief that my friend recommended. So far, it's really good. The book is about the ways people respond to catastrophic loss, and it's taking me a while to read through it. But in the first chapter, the author also acknowledges those smaller losses that are a part of every life, and he really put into words a lot of the thoughts that have been swirling around in my head and heart recently.

All people suffer loss. Being alive means suffering loss. Sometimes the loss is natural, predictable, and even reversible. It occurs at regular intervals, like the seasons. We experience the loss, but after days or months of discomfort we recover and resume life as usual, the life that we wanted and expected. The winter's loss leads to the spring of recovery. Such losses characterize what it means to live as normal human beings. Living means changing, and change requires that we lose one thing before we gain something else.

Thus we lose our youth but gain adulthood. We lost the security of home but gain the independence of being on our own. We lose the freedom of singleness but gain the intimacy of marriage. We lose a daughter but gain a son-in-law. Life is a constant succession of losses and gains. There is continuity and even security in this process. We remember the losses that lie behind us, and we look forward to the gains that lie ahead. We live suspended between the familiar past and the expected future. The scenery we enjoy today gradually faces into the background, finally receding from sight. But what looms ahead comes nearer and gets clearer, until it becomes the scenery of the present moment that fills our vision.

Don't get me wrong, I'm so excited for this next phase. The idea of saying hello to a house and a baby in the next two months is completely crazy, and almost too good to be true! But the nature of life is that saying hello to this stage means saying goodby to the last one, and I've always had trouble saying goodbye.

Last night, Ross got home from working on the house for a few hours and he showed me the latest progress pictures of the kitchen. Our grand plans for an addition fell through when we found out our home inspector totally gypped us and we had to spend thousands of dollars replacing basically every major thing inside the house in the first 2 weeks. So we figured redoing the kitchen was still better than nothing.

I do feel a little spoiled, but the old kitchen just wasn't great given the amount of time I spend in there. Besides being ugly, the cabinets were filthy, the kitchen layout was awkward (have you ever seen a house with the furnace in the kitchen, just taking up room next to the fridge?), and while there was a dishwasher, it didn't really fit anywhere in particular, and it had to be hooked up to the sink faucet with a hose when you wanted to run it. Truly, none of these are life-threatening issues and I'm not complaining. But I am very grateful that we are able to redo the kitchen before the baby comes.

Ross the architect has tackled the project with gusto. I really had no idea what to expect, except that every day when he comes home and says, "we got so much done!" my non-architect mind hopes to see walls and a ceiling in place because it always seems like surely that's the next step! But that just hasn't been the case. Stripping away whats ugly, what's old, and what's rotten takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of work. It's a little painful. The dust is so thick it's hard to see clearly sometimes. And this morning it struck me, as maybe it's struck anyone who has ever seen a home renovation: redoing an old house is a great metaphor for life.

How often are we content or even complacent with where we are, reluctant to change? When it's your life, and you can only see things from inside the thick of it, it's sometimes painful when change starts to take place. Even if you know it's supposed to be a change for the better! The old roots are ripped out. The reasonably shiny facade that you've pieced together falls apart to reveal mold and decay. You think, how can this possibly be good for me? I thought things were supposed to get better, but they're worse than ever! You say the finish line is closer, but things look even more desolate! It struck me this morning that often in our own life, we just can't see the other side and we chose to cling to what we know, even if it's not what's better. We lose faith in the dark before the dawn.

With a home renovation, it's easier to keep the faith because you can envision the end product. Okay it's taking longer than I thought, but it WILL be worth it! (I'm aware I'm saying all these things as an observer, totally not the one putting the work in. Again, infinite thanks to Ross. I'm baffled that this has been FUN for him!) What would it look like if I placed my faith back in God during this time of transition in my life? Instead of feeling like I'm leaving the known and entering the unknown which, no matter how wonderful I'm hoping it will be, is still the murky unknown? Because it's known to God. These moments existed before I ever set foot on this earth. And walking forward with God will always lead to beauty, even amidst chaos and dust.

Yet lately these thoughts scare me a little more than they comfort me. After all, God knew how my Grandma Ginny would die before she was even born, and it's not the ending I would've written. At all. While I'm not mad at God, and I'm certainly not going to pretend that I know better than He does, I'm a little confused. I know in my head that he calls his own back to him, and he does it in a way that can only glorify him, but I feel like we haven't seen the end of my grandma's story yet. Something in this has yet to come to fruition, though I do love the glimpses I've had so far. God has been gracious.

Hows this for a jumbled post? Basically, sometimes in the thick of it, when the past is known and the future is scary, it's good to know that God's promises are still true. When he says he will "provide for those who grieve in Zion-- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor," he WILL do it (Isaiah 61:3).


  1. That book is really good, I'm glad you found it! I had the privilege of taking some courses taught by Jerry Sittser in undergrad!

    1. That sounds awesome! What a cool opportunity!