My husband and I are in the middle of a house renovation. Our third one in four years. We have no grand ambitions of flipping houses or “putting our own stamp” on a fixer-upper, yet somehow, we keep ending up in the flooring section of Lowe’s.
The first renovation was simply to enable us to sell our home in the days before you could get multiple offers on a house just by thinking about listing it. Years of deferred maintenance, while we raised four kids, meant that we had to do all the projects we wished we could have done for ourselves – updating the kitchen, tiling the shower, replacing the nail polish-stained carpet in the girls’ bedroom because covering it with furniture was no longer an option… all for someone else to enjoy!
The second project was the one that got away from us. A classic tale of attempting to make room for a dishwasher in a small 1980s kitchen that ended in the construction of a two-story addition on the opposite side of the house. You know, for balance. Most expensive dishwasher ever.
Our current project, though, is the most beloved of them all. My husband’s parents died earlier this year, and the house they lived in for over 60 years has since been entrusted to us. The house that Wes grew up in. The house where his grandmother and great-grandparents lived in the early 1900s. The house has never changed over our whole married life, except for moving the couch from one wall of the den to the other every few months and an occasional new bathmat.
So often, we measure the value of a house by bedrooms, bathrooms, and square footage we can count, by high end finishes and appliances and features that shine. The things we can put in a listing and say, ‘Here, look at me! I’m worth something.’
Truth be told, there are some days we long to measure ministry like that, too. To count something, anything, to quantify value and take pictures to show others that it matters what we do in our little corner of the world. Or maybe just to show ourselves. But most days ministry feels more like this unassuming farmhouse with a bowing front porch foundation, in desperate need of power washing.
It’s a strange feeling to stand inside a house you know well that has all but been taken down to the studs. Once the wave of grief subsides, what appears empty begins to reveal a fullness that can be missed in the clutter and expectations of daily life; a story to be told like rings on a tree stump.
Looking around, I had to smile.
At the layers and layers of kitchen flooring and bathroom wallpaper that my mother-in-law insisted on installing and hanging herself.
A beautiful second ceiling covered in beadboard that my father-in-law always told us was hidden above the tile.
The fireplace uncovered behind the drywall, scars of a mantel fire charring some of the brick.
The temporary bathroom walls that someone was supposed to finish but never did.
The removal of the metal awning now floods the past with light, bringing the beauty of the land where the house sits into a much wider view.
Zillow could not begin to capture the worth of this space, this shelter for generations of celebration and sorrow and struggle and perseverance. A place that reminds me I am part of a story that is bigger than me.
And so, too, it is in ministry, or any area of our lives where we wonder if we’re enough, if we’ve we made any difference at all.
Be kind to yourself. Some mantels have trophies, and some have family photos. Some mantels have been burned and need extra care to be restored.
Embrace your story. You may wish your house had hardwood flooring throughout. But all those layers of linoleum and peel-and-stick tile reveal decades of hard work and reinvention; of consistently and persistently leaning into what was needed in the moment with the resources and creativity available.
Don’t lose imagination. There really may be a ceiling above the ceiling yet to be discovered.
Let go of the clutter. Not just the stacks of paper and old emails and the VHS curriculum kits that take up way too much shelf space. Let go of hurts that squander valuable space in your soul, and expectations of who you think you’re supposed to be that keep you from embracing and enjoying who you really are. We filled two dumpsters with stuff that seemed really important once upon a time.
Fix what needs fixing. Even if someone else should have done it years ago. Forgive.
Get rid of what’s blocking the light. Let it shine and give warmth to what is. Don’t fade in the shade and the shadow of the lie that you are not enough just as you are. When the window is wide open, it may reveal realities you’d rather ignore, like a fresh coat of paint in the room really wouldn’t hurt… but it will also open your spirit to the beauty that is all around you, that you get to be a part of.
I love these words of Mother Teresa. “We are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful.” We are part of a story that is bigger than any one of us. May we count it all joy that we get to steward This Old Ministry House.