We’ve had a long stay at home this past week, shut in by a stomach bug and by snow.
Upstairs Little Jo is snuggled under her baby elephant quilt as she naps, and downstairs Lucy is reading Winter Days in the Big Woods to herself in a whisper while various stuffed and plastic playmates stand sentry in some mysterious order.
Over these past few days we’ve been surrounded by everything I love about home in wintertime: soup simmering on the stove, quilts and pillows in welcoming profusion, tea and coffee, small faces clustering around storybooks and jigsaw puzzles, even Christmas music (it seemed right, somehow, with the icy wind rattling the windows and wrestling our storage closet to the ground outside).
How thankful we are for this house.
And yet, as we work together to fill it with warm, clean beds and filling meals, I read headlines and wonder — not for the first time — why any of us do this at all, and what it is about home that we find so important. If the One we follow had no place to lay his head and sent his followers out with nothing, what then are we trying to accomplish in this home-space for ourselves, and for our children?
I’m not sure there is a simple answer, except the overarching one that says the making of homely houses also comes under the “all” we may do to the glory of God. We may not always have this blessing, but when we do…
In the face of the toddler who was so happy to return home from vacation this summer, and the hopeful glance of the little girl who asks in the mornings if today can be a stay-at-home pajama day, I’m beginning to see two things Y and I are trying to weave into our days with our children: the capacity to recognize what is good, and the capacity to embrace what is better.
1 | The capacity to recognize what is good
Here in these rooms, so many of the creature comforts are also symbols.
The puffy coats hanging in the closet are evidence of someone’s forethought to provide protection from the coming cold. The food packages in the cupboards and the milk jugs in the refrigerator are a guard against the growl of an empty stomach; the books and toys in the living room, a provision against empty minds.
In these things, we are striving to help our children experience wholeness in a broken world. When you are hungry and without a roof over your head, it’s very difficult to think of something besides food or shelter. Our love as parents leads us to provide what we can, in part because that’s simply the nature of love, and in part because we believe our children will love others better if they first see, hear, and taste what it is to be loved.
At the same time, we aren’t intent on creating on such a picture of wholeness that they can dwell in it forever. What we are giving them is a working knowledge of Home, where they see what “home” is meant to be: a place of safety and refuge, of fellowship and hospitality. Our daughters are grasping these things now, but they have an equal need for something beyond them as well:
2 | The capacity to embrace what is better
Not so long ago, Little Jo was an infant in a high chair, hesitantly swallowing bland spoonfuls of fruit and vegetable puree. Now she sits at the table holding her own utensils, and she delights in the mixture of spice and flavor at mealtimes. “Mommy, tastes so good!” is a high compliment, indeed.
Yesterday we watched “Little Women” as the snow fell; today Lucy and I curled on the couch to read the book, fat with stories unmentioned in the movie, and she loves what she understands of it so far.
“Taste this.” “Look at that!” We call our children’s attention to countless things outside of their current knowledge. Listen to your mother humming a strain of melody, and then, girls, open your ears to the sound of a full orchestra playing a sweeping score. Even in seemingly prosaic work: see the beauty of order in another’s gift of organization, and the ever-unfolding scope of comprehension in someone’s research, and the deepening of relationships when people resolve conflicts well.
There is an art to everything, it seems, and the more I see, the harder it is not to be drawn to the Creator whose glory is in each craft. I want so much for my girls to experience the creativity that makes life something to rejoice and revel in, never afraid to welcome — to the expansion of their souls — what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and excellent. If we succeed in this, we will have contributed something vital to a world under siege by a Foe who wishes at all costs to hide the radiance of God.
So we begin here.
For Christians, the reasons to make homes from houses — and other spaces — are as numerous as the people around us who long for warmth and welcome and belonging.
Home is where we set up shop for them, our children included, to taste what is good, and to delight in the unfolding of what is better. These oft-washed quilts, simple dishes, mugs of tea, and tattered books are humble but tangible out-workings of love, wrapped around the invitation to meet Love Himself: The Christ.
Of His kingdom, theologians say, “Already and not yet.”
And this is well, because our homes are poorly fit as eternal dwellings, but they can shine like a string of beacons in the night for travelers looking for direction. Our most beloved homes share an essence that leads us on to a place we haven’t seen yet — but which we’ll know by its rest, and by its full-bodied answer to the longing we’ve felt in every “stab of joy” that ever called us out of our earthly doorways.
Most of all, we’ll know our Home by the Lord who bids us enter. Our dwelling place will be with the One who prepared it for us, and us for it.
Then we will say, with all the certainty of the ages, and the gladness of love made whole, that there is no better place to be.