How To Build Your Dream House

May 6, 2013 | 18 comments

Dear House-Builder,

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

by | May 6, 2013 | 18 comments


  1. Stephani

    Lovely post Jennifer. I’ve never built a house, but I am building a home even if it’s just the two of us, and suddenly the mud my husband tracks in from gardening and hunting and fishing, doesn’t look quite so bad! The pantry shelves and the freezer are full and his heart is happy!

    • dukeslee

      I’ve got a hunter/fisherman in my house, too. Scratch that. We are fisherMEN. I love catching walleye or bass Up North, at some of our favorite Minnesota lakes.

  2. Linda

    Ah Jennifer-I love the way I can wrap my heart around your words – all comfortable and warm and encouraged. Thank you for sharing from your heart.
    Love you dear one.

    • dukeslee

      Hi Linda … I love when your wraps in with mine. Always a delight to see your smile here in the comment box, friend.

  3. bluecottonmemory

    My uncle is a tour guide for a historic house – and he starts by pausing before he opens the door, saying, “The next time you come, this house will remember you” – I love the house you built – and the joy it remembers you with!

    • dukeslee

      Oh … I LOVE that. What a beautiful greeting to anyone who passes through any door. I’ll remember that one.

  4. Lynn Morrissey

    Oh Jennifer…..I’m wide-eyed. Could this be the best post you’ve ever written?! (Why do I keep saying that)!! When our little (and very old 1912) dream house, which I’d dubbed Linden Cottage, was falling down around our ears, and kitchen-floor tiles were loosening faster than we could nail them down, I didn’t thank God, but rebelliously complained. I won’t wax on, but simply say that through a number of life-lessons and memories etched into the walls (I think they really did listen and speak), I came to love Linden Cottage–so much so that I lamented its loss (it was razed) like the loss of a good friend. We all say good-bye to our homes someday. And it was then that I realized when we moved. filling box after box with memory after memory, that the essence of LInden Cottage–its beauty, its warmth, its love–could not be destroyed. They are treasured forever in our hearts. It was the people, iafter all, who lived and loved at Linden Cottage, that really made it the dream house it had become–much like what you say here. Oh, Jennifer, you are so wonderful! Thank you for sharing!

    • dukeslee

      Lynn, What a lovely reflection about Linden Cottage. How sad that it was razed. … We recently moved my parents out of my childhood home. I told the story about that over here.

      I grieved over the loss of the house. It was the only house I knew, growing up.

      I still feel pretty sentimental over the whole thing. The old phone number for that house is still programmed into my cell phone. I can’t bear to delete it, though I’ve never gotten the nerve to dial it. Because I know it would tell me the number is disconnected.

  5. Diane W. Bailey

    I think you live in my dream house as well! Or maybe mine is very similar to yours. Septic Tank, you did not mention the septic tank that must be repair at least once a year! The rooms here echo the laughter of days gone by, and of Doc and I laughing as our bodies begin to behave much like the home we love. Love this post, Jennifer.

    • dukeslee

      Diane … “our bodies beginning to behave much like the home we love.” How.I.Love.That. 🙂

  6. Floyd

    As the guy who designs and builds other’s dream homes, I remind them that their home is the book mark of the chapters of our lives. The scooter that dug out all the epoxy filled spots in the stone and the fingernail polish of all three girls who’ve spilled it, two of which are now flown, are the dog ears in the chapters of our lives and are the real gifts from God that remind us of such.

    I’m with you, Jennifer. It is the heart that makes it home…

  7. Karmen

    I just adored this. This was so dear. I sent it to a friend who is fighting zoning boards and town councils in building her dream home. Yet I get it too as I have cleaned all day and yet, the house is so lived in, still it doesn’t seem clean. I don’t want to hurry the day it will. Thanks for the reminder!

  8. Elizabeth Stewart

    This touched me deep. Our home was a miracle provision of God. It is the first home we owned since we were very young, after years of living in parsonages. We’ve lived here 14 years now, and it’s of the age where we are having to fix quite a few things. But, I’m so thankful for home and, most of all, for those I share it with.

  9. Sharon O

    so beautiful. I regret moving from the house our ‘children’ loved. But we do have memories in our minds and some of the same furniture. But it is basically all different except for the people who live here and come to visit.

  10. Nancy Ruegg

    Our ability to remember, to still see images in our minds, is a precious gift God has given us. The older I get, the more I appreciate my memories. Another gift: the lenses of our rose-colored glasses become thicker with each passing year! Thank you for this heart-touching post, Jennifer.

  11. Jillie

    Oh Jennifer…I have to agree with Lynn…This may be the best post you’ve ever written! Very rich. We have been in “This Old House” (I dubbed it as such after the old PBS program) for 35 years. The siding and roof are shot, we have regular flooding in the basement, the ceiling in the front-hall closet is giving way, the livingroom needs updating…again, there’s a loose hinge on a kitchen cabinet. The basement is full of my husband’s tool collection. The spare bedroom that used to house our daughter, now houses boxes she’s left behind in one of her moves. They’ve been there for 5 years.There’s even a bedroom door upstairs full of dent marks where our daughter kicked furiously, more than once, when her brother refused to let her enter his room! I’ve come to accept the fact that I’m not getting out of here alive. But “This Old House” is OUR old house, earned by years of my husband’s toil as a single wage earner. And its HOME, until we reach our mansion in Glory.
    My oldest and dearest friend once sat at my kitchen table, over coffee, and told me, “There is a “peace” in this house.” That was the greatest compliment I’ve ever received, because I knew where and from Whom the peace flowed.
    This was truly touching, Jennifer. I shall store it in my ‘archives’ file, and pull it out and read again and again whenever I’m tempted to whine and complain about this old house.
    Cherish every moment with those “messy” girls of yours, amen?

  12. Being Woven

    How fine, Jennifer. My husband built our home 19 years ago. We will be married 20 later this month. The moments all fill albums of our hearts and we know that we have a home here. We think we may sell one day and that is hard to contemplate. He built this home for us with his own hands, yet God builds our home wherever He is. I just love this post for it reminds me and will remind me of what is important. Caring through Christ, ~ linda

  13. jerralea

    This was a very poignant read – my mom is in the midst of negotiations of selling my childhood home. I’m inspired to think of all the moments that house saw and experienced with my family.


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