I found myself immersed in an experience a couple weeks ago, one that has since rang persistent on my mind. It started off simple, my husband and I were to meet our new acquaintance, Eddy, at one of his properties to take some old barn wood off his hands. He said there was an old house, barn and a couple outhouse buildings he needed to tear down. “Whatever you can pry loose is yours,” he generously said. We called up some friends, loaded the chainsaw, some work gloves and pry bars into our truck and followed Eddy out to the property.
This forgotten home built in the early 1900s was in poor condition…actually “poor condition” is an understatement. See past the dirt and cobwebs, I reminded myself. This was difficult to do. Which dirty boards could become something more? While the guys started prying away at stubborn lumber, I walked the property to see what else I could find. The whole time I had an uneasiness about me. Was I a bit spooked being in this old home of leftover things? Nervous perhaps about encountering a rattlesnake? Or grossed out by the dirt and bugs? All valid, but I wasn’t quite convinced.
I couldn’t put my finger on the uneasiness. Carefully I placed each step on supported boards and rummaged through a pile of filthy rags. It was then I spotted a shoebox filled with old letters. Her cursive writing was perfect, meaningful notes and cards saved over time all signed ‘with love.’ I understood. It was like putting on night vision goggles, now I could see. This was someone’s life laid out before me in crumbles. At one time this place meant something deeply to someone, and yet here I stood. I had to first appreciate their lives before I could see the beauty beyond the filth.
The walls were made of tongue and groove hammered, no doubt, by hand. A tin roof still protected, old windows not budging from their posts, and a beadboard wrap around porch over-looked the barn and overgrown pasture. My guess is hard work, a sweaty brow and committed hands built this place. Board by board, he made a home for his family.
Inside, two beautifully aged, freestanding brick fireplaces stood as strong anchors to the now open living space (once this was likely a formal and an informal living room). A dining room opened by way of what I imagine was once a swinging door into the small kitchen. This tiny room was packed with mason jars of all sizes. It was here she made fresh preserves from the orchard she maintained.
The old piano she used to play stood near a bookshelf of used Sunday School lessons and sheet music. I could tell she was an organized lady and put much care into the upkeep of her home. Everything had a place and each place she knew. Reading books that had been read a time or two with handwritten notes in the margins. Board games that were pulled out on rainy days. Her favorite Sunday dress and yellow sweater still on the hanger. At one time this was the dwelling place of a family. At one time it was beautiful, handcrafted, perfectly decorated and marked with meaning. She was a homemaker and here sat the remains.
I drove out here to get free barnwood, and yet the Holy Spirit met me with a box of old letters. He kindly reminded, “value is in the eye of the beholder.” As a homemaker myself, I felt the value in every dirty thing I touched; part of me wanted to save it all. How devastated I would feel to know my home had come to such ruin; yet the reality is, at some point, it likely will. A former memory verse weaved through my thoughts:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”-Matthew 6:19-20
Once upon a time there was a craftsman and a homemaker, and while I don’t know how their story ended, or how they wish it was told, her handwritten notes indicate she knew this home was temporary, just one stop South of Heaven. She was a good steward of what she had been given, took pride in her home, loved her friends deeply, and she yearned for the day she would hear Him say, “Welcome Home.”
I sunk my thoughts into her shoes for a moment and asked myself what would I have wanted. That answer was easy. Should a young couple stumble upon our loved space, see beauty and desire to restore, well I would be thrilled. From one homemaker and a craftsman to another…we gathered some barnwood, a section of the entry wall, old Christmas cards, Sunday School books, bed springs, mason jars, some old Bingo playing cards, a twin sized bed frame and a reminder that what is most important is not the home itself, but the life lived inside it. This is most valuable.
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