As I step outside on this spring day, my eye catches the transforming landscape across the way.
For as long as my family has resided next door to Ray, the small strip of land between our driveways has given witness to the hand of our Creator. On Summer days, my first glance captured the vibrant multicolored blooms lining my black tarred driveway. Further up the strip, tomato plants, zucchini, cucumbers and giant sunflowers towered over anyone standing in their midst. Often our home was blessed with portions of this majestic bounty.
Ironically, as the fruit blossomed, his health withered. In the last five years, the strip of beauty gradually shrunk to a small rectangle. Patches of Earth spawning bits of grass spread where blossoms once lived. But not on the whole piece of land. Despite Ray’s fragile health, his passion for producing a bountiful harvest remained. His adult children now took on his role.
Once again, the symbols of Spring emerge. Traditionally, speaking, planting activity along his side of the driveway should be visible. But it isn’t. A few weeks ago. Ray died.
Much will change this summer. The blooms and the outdoor conversations will cease between us.I have written previously about those unfiltered moments between he and I. Ray resisted the longing arms of his Creator. Yet, God’s voice continued to speak-through the colorful display of nature dotting the land between our homes-and through neighbors. I’m not sure what decision Ray made at the end. We will never know.
Though death has occurred, God’s hand is still working.
Today, there is new movement across the way. Yes, the evidence of death lies blatant. His voice no longer calls to me as I venture out to get the mail in my bare feet; an act for which he would chastise me. “You need to tell your husband to buy you some shoes,” he would say with a slight smile. His blue chair in the driveway appears lonely. But the ceasing of one rhythm in my life has given way to a new one.
Laughter, the aroma of bbq, footsteps, and machinery compose the new beats. An audio soundtrack accompanies the visual changes. His son and grandson inhabit Ray’s home now; moving forward in steps of restoration and healing. The deterioration of health coincided with the deterioration of his home. Although his son, lived there, Ray resisted any transformation of his home. I suppose whatever bits of feisty independence remained were reaching to exert control.
Now, a beautiful new landscape develops. Outside, large machinery reshapes overgrown, dried, brush. New colors and textures emerge on a three dimensional canvas. One which flows inside as well. Fresh coats of paint bring life back into these old walls. Brokenness begins the journey to restoration. Both in things and in relationships.
As I gaze out my window this morning, I watch a neighbor transport tree trunk sections on a dolly across the street to his home. Until yesterday, the trunk, rooted in the ground, supported death. Life had ceased in the body attached to it. What will become of it now?
And then my mind made the connection: The hands of my neighbor, a skilled sculptor, will carve into the wood. Beauty lies beneath; anticipating it’s birth.
Tomatoes and blooms yield to new. different. hopeful.
“Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?” (Isaiah 43:19).
The master hand of the Creator is at work. That which is created takes new forms. The process is not yet complete. But what a privilege it is to watch it unfold.
Last year, something exciting happened around here. After living here for nineteen years, we bought a new back door! It is a beautiful white door with a small window. No scratches or marks of age. New.
As a child, I could have never expected a door to be a source of fulfillment. But once you reach adulthood, you set your eyes on different “toys.” A new dishwasher? Yippee!
Our home is small and quaint. Originally we bought it as a “starter” home but due to a lot of factors since then, we are still here. And truthfully, we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. This is the place our stories have unfolded. We have hosted Bible Studies, birthday parties, dinner parties, brought new babies home. These walls have witnessed despair, sorrow, hope, celebration. God has weaved our lives together here.
The distance between the back door and the front door is fairly short. Yet, as you know, there exists a cultural nuance about house entrances. Typically, the front door is used formally and the back door for more intimate relationships. Things like:
The neighbor coming over to ask to borrow a cup of sugar (yes, we are fortunate to have those interactions in 2016!)
My kids’ friends looking for a playmate
The dogs, coming in refreshed and a bit calmer after some time in the backyard.
The Summer parade of kids going back and forth between the inside for refreshment and the outside for watersports (hopefully not dripping). The glorious breeze and the waft of grass coming in with them.
Because our home is small, there is not a lot of space for storage. Coats and shoes find their place on hooks and a shoe bench immediately after entering the back door. And it opens right into my kitchen. Let’s just say there is always something “cooking” in there.
I’d like to say that the “mudroom” was always organized but it wasn’t.
Once I even lost a bike helmet there in plain sight !
In the summer, flip flops, packages of sparklers left over from fourth of July and swimming goggles are stored (loosely!) in this space.
In the winter, it becomes cluttered with boots. Not just our boots. The boots of those who grace us with their presence. Whose interactions are woven into our life stories. Which brings me to what I have learned from my back door.
You see, I used to be embarrassed for guests to use it. Even if I tried to cue visitors to use the front entrance, which is so much more elegant and clean, people still chose to use the back door.
Sometimes, my father-in-law would pop over on a Saturday morning to have coffee. There would be a knock on the back door. Yikes! Pancake batter adorned my counters. Dirty breakfast dishes stacked in the sink waiting to be bathed in the dishwasher. I tried to be gracious but inside I was swallowing my pride. He was seeking relationship with his son. I was focused on logistical details.
And then there was the next door neighbor girl, seeking a place of refuge from the insecurity in her own home. There would be a knock on the back door. I saw the door opening to the array of boots and coats strewn about. She didn’t focus on that. Our back entrance provided affirmation that she had value and was loved unconditionally.
So last year, when we bought a new door, there was a feeling of accomplishment on our part. Everyone likes to make their home more appealing and welcoming. We saved and bought a door that added aesthetic value as well as heat efficiency. It was nice to have something new.
But nothing else about the “back door” has changed. Except my perception of it and what it means for us.
I have learned that when people use that door, they feel comfortable. Intimate. Our front door is for people like the UPS carrier, a girl scout selling cookies, trick or treaters, or guests with whom we haven’t developed much of a relationship.
The back door crowd sees us in all our “nakedness”, and still choose to enter our home. And I need to let down my guard and accept it.
For, despite what my door may look like, it represents something beautiful.
What area of your home has become your unexpected place of hospitality?