This is the letter I would have written to you eleven years ago, when you started framing up the walls of our home, if I knew then what I know now.
Remember how I fussed over whether to lay tile or wood floors, whether to paint the kitchen that dark Georgia brick, or one shade lighter? We talked a long time about room dimensions, and light fixtures. Birch versus maple. All that.
Mr. House-Builder, We love our house, and we thank you for your good work, but everything you’ve done is starting to show its age. That’s not your fault. Like the Good Book says, moths and rust will soon destroy.
These wood floors are scratched now. I dropped a mayonnaise jar on that floor one Thanksgiving Day, leaving a deep groove by the refrigerator. The walls are in serious need of a paint touch-up.
We live on a farm, after all, not in the Louvre. We have actual people living here, not mannequins.
We had to replace the oil-bronzed knob on the backdoor this winter, all of us having opened and closed that door thousands of times as we dashed off to school, church, the backyard, the garden, to water the cats, to feed the baby calves, to go for a sunset walk, to get fresh air when we needed a break from mama-meltdowns.
The cupboard hinges keep breaking. And the overpriced carpet that I picked wears the wounds of a few dozen toddler mishaps and slumber parties.
You built us a lovely home, kind sir, but I have slowly begun to learn that you didn’t build our dream home. We did.
We are building our dream home, not with two-by-fours, but with love and tears and laughter and messes and sick-days and no-power days and in the midst of winter doldrums and hurt feelings and kissed foreheads. We’ve built a house at the piano bench and the kitchen sink and that bedside prayer spot where we aren’t scared to ask for big things from an even bigger God.
This house became a dream home, not when you handed us the shiny keys, Mr. Builder, but over the course of years and memories, when it started to get dinged-up and loved-up.
This is a house that love built–
The bruises and scrapes are the souvenirs of a life lived fuller and messier and louder than we ever dreamed.
And that’s how a dream house is built: Somewhere between the spilled Fanta and the night we chipped the baseboards trying to smack down that crazy mouse with a broom. The dent from the “Great Mouse Massacre of 2005” is still there, and it makes me laugh every time, remembering how I wanted to scream at midnight, but my husband shushed me so we wouldn’t wake the baby.
I have come to appreciate the house for what it has become: a storyteller. This house carries a long-term memory all its own, reminding me of all the life I might otherwise forget.
Look. You won’t see our scattered socks on the pages of House Beautiful or Southern Living. But I find my dream home in these places where drawers yawn open, because I know that someday, the girl who made the mess won’t live here anymore.
We’ve got this table, you see, and it’s one long scratched-up rectangle where there’s always an open seat for someone. We love to have all of our feet under the same table. Here, the mid-morning sunlight slants in through the picture window, pooling in the nicks and scrapes and fork tines. Years ago, our youngest daughter pounded in the wood; it was her first time using a “big-people fork.” I ran my hands along the marks this morning, each fork-tine holding a memory.
Our dream home has kept a running record of the important messes, like a spreadsheet of what really matters. We’ve made spaces where we can string yarn and beads, where we can fling paint onto canvas and where we stretch dreams onto young souls.
The house is a diary, and I re-read it every day, even as we add daily to its pages.
Dishes stay on counters longer than they should. Books are stacked high on bedsides and in baskets. I find a child’s fingerprints memorialized in dust.
Some of the decor has gotten a bit outdated, and yes, we do “messy” well. But that’s OK. Because it won’t be long until the rooms echo an old, unrepeatable story.
When that day comes, you might find me standing inside the echo, reading the diary of an old house. I’ll be looking for the fingerprints and the fork-tines and the dreams on which a house is really framed up. And I will thank God for even the broken parts, because that’s where the dream came true.
The Happy Owner of a Dream House