(Photo of my gutted kitchen showing part of the original frame of the house)
(Originally written for Daily Episcopalian, March 14, 2012)
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
--Psalm 139:14-16 (NRSV)
Sometimes, I think, "Fearfully and wonderfully made," means "I can't believe it held up this well, all things considered."
Such was the case when my kitchen was gutted for Phase II of The Never Ending Story of My House Remodeling.
"Come here, you gotta see this," my contractor called out to me.
Now remember, as best I know, the original parts of my house were built during the Depression. Most folks could not afford new lumber--so in those pre-building code days, they just sort of framed a house with what they had. In the case of the original occupants of my house, it was "extremely used boards." The original west side of my house was framed with wood scrounged from old pallets. The original east side (which ends at the kitchen--my living room was added in 1995) was framed with boards that looked considerably older than Depression-era, with big notches cut out of them, and nail-holes galore, along with a few old handmade square headed nails sticking out in odd places. They had reinforced the notched out parts by flanking them with smaller boards. Some of the boards looked like they had been exterior boards. Some were splotched with tar.
My first thought was, "How in the world has this house stayed in one piece? It should have blown over in a thunderstorm decades ago." I had been entrusting my life and my safety, night after night, in a house literally framed with scrap wood. But as I examined it, I realized that they had been rather ingenious, all things considered, in how they did the best they could with what they had, at a time in our history when no one could afford anything. It held up well enough until the day came my contractors would re-frame it.
The very physical and experiential process of remodeling my house continues to take on metaphorical aspects. As I stared at that old lumber, I realized I was staring at a process that many of us can speak to at the beginnings of the second half of our lives. Many of us, like my old house, were not framed in ways that would "pass code" now. Too many of us spent our growing up years in some form of dysfunction or family turmoil, and like my kitchen wall, we used wood that shouldn't have been used, or used wood full of holes and notches, and we patched and spliced things together so that, from a distance, it looks like as sturdy a frame as any. Then we covered it up with siding and drywall, and perhaps layer after layer of wallpaper and paint over the years. We begin our relationships with God and with other people using this frame.
Then, at some point, we know in our hearts that this frame cannot go the distance, and to be at that next place in our lives, we turn to the process of mending our insides. The problem is we have to live inside of it while this is going on--we can't just level it and start over. We see things in this process that make us shake our heads in amazement that it should have ended in catastrophe. Almost everyone who takes on remodeling a house makes choices that make it more functional--things like easier to clean floor coverings and more counter top space. Likewise, when we mature as spiritual beings, we tend to choose actions and behaviors that simplify our lives.
As I studied one of the boards, I got to thinking about how the God of Genesis was into leveling things--the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Noah and the Flood immediately came to mind--but then Jesus came along and changed that, by introducing us to a God who will work with us, even when our faults are exposed bare.
Interesting he chose a carpenter for the job, isn't it?