Several months ago—on a night when I couldn’t fall asleep, a night my wandering thoughts would not be still—my mind began to retrace its steps through every room in my childhood home. Doorway by doorway, hallway by hallway, and room by room, I entered those once-real places that have since become only fixtures of my girlhood memories.
During those late hours of the night, my thoughts stilled and the memories resurfaced with joy. But every image my mind conjured up felt a little too hazy. As soon as I remembered the nostalgia and delight of those ancient spaces, I began to recognize how many of the small pieces that made them I had already started to forget.
Did we keep a chair at that built-in desk in the sunroom? And which corner of the living room housed the ficus tree? Which one held the lamp? What year was it when we covered up the periwinkle paint in my bedroom with a soft green?
My parents sold that home only a handful of years ago and I was astonished at how my memories of it had already begun to dissolve. Fifteen years of bedtimes, birthday parties, family dinners, and lazy Saturday afternoons shrank into the cracks of my rememberings, crowded out by new rooms and doorways and spaces.
The details of those rooms had begun to fade, but the years they had cradled within their walls still simmered with life. I realized the places and spaces we’re living in are so fleeting and small that, in a few short years, they’ll start to escape our memories. Yet these ordinary windows and walls envelop an extraordinary kind of glory they can’t quite contain.
The dichotomous nature of our earthly dwelling places bewilders me. They are temporary, yet they are treasures. We’re so quick to move on from the spaces we’ve outgrown, and our memories of them grow dim. We’re so quick to chase after bigger and better places. Yet there’s something sweet and sacred to be found in the now—in the too-small apartment, in the fixer-upper, in the most imperfect and unlikely places.
Not long after that night of treading dreamily through my old house, I went in for work at my church office, which was underwhelming to say the least. The building was old with sand-colored tile and cracked blue-grey paint spread over the walls. A crooked window AC unit labored loudly near my desk. That morning when my pastor walked in, he took a long, thoughtful look around my office. Then he looked at me and said the words I still haven’t stopped thinking about.
“Today is the day we’re going to do something about this.”
Someone had recently moved out of her rented office down the hall and left behind some furnishings for the church to use. We found a plump blue linen couch, a beautifully patterned area rug to match, a mosaic-tiled coffee table, and a couple of ornate lamps. One by one, we carried the items down the hall and slowly brought my office back to life. While it only looked marginally prettier, it felt cared for and completely transformed.
That room remained my office for only another handful of months, but I’ll always look back and say, “That space mattered. This one must matter too.” When we learn to cherish even the worn and tired spaces around us, we take part in the act of redemption and reflect the heart of their creator a little more deeply.
That day, I learned to look upon earthly buildings and rooms with the wonder of a child, for they offer us a holy space for our labor and our celebrations and our laughter and our tears. Every day, they are helping us create a life and a legacy.
Windows and Walls
Now in our mid-twenties, my husband and I live in a quaint two-bedroom rental while we save to purchase our first home. The hardwood floors are stained and worn, the walls are a dull shade of tan, and most of the windows don’t have blinds installed. I often daydream about improvements that would make this space that isn’t ours feel lighter, cleaner, airier, and crisp.
But then I remember the memories here that are ours. I remember the large, tree-filled backyard. I remember how it smells of honeysuckle in the spring, how it has held space for our echoed laughter and conversations on cool summer nights. I remember that even while we browse listings for something better, a more perfect home, this is still a place where we laugh, dance, and splatter smoothies on the kitchen walls. There is untold beauty in the life that we have forged here.
Today this house might feel like our everything, but forty years from now it will have been just the first of our dwelling places. Our feet won’t remember the slope of the lawn. The oatmeal-colored walls will have started to fade. And though I know this house isn’t ours—though we’ll be moving on soon—I’ve realized that I have never felt more at home, and there is a part of me that never wants to leave.
There are no ordinary places. What a strange and wonderful mystery it is.
Cover image by Barry Woodhall.