Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Refreshed by Contentment

It's been over a decade since we've seen each other. And two decades since we've spent any real time together. But the unfortunate event of her mother's passing last week allowed me a long-overdue visit with my dear friend, Shannon.
As my mom and I entered the funeral home last Thursday evening, Shannon's eyes spilled over with tears.
"I'm fine until I see my friends," she said, enveloping us in big hugs.

With her precious mother's body displayed in the open coffin just a few yards behind her, I admired Shannon's poise and gentleness as she greeted people she barely knew. An only child, she and her mom held a close relationship. But about the time Shannon married and moved to a small, west-Texas town, her mom also married and made a new life in a new community. So throughout the visitation, many of the people filtering through the funeral home were strangers to Shannon and her husband, which of course worked to my advantage, as I had more time to visit than expected.

Corbin and I met Jeremy, Shannon's husband, about thirteen years ago. We got together one evening for dinner, all recent college graduates and newlyweds, and we oohed and aahed over their newborn son, Ridgdon. Jeremy and Shannon have since added four more children to their family, and we've shared several phone conversations over the years, encouraging each other in the arduous tasks of disciplining and training our children. Of course "baby" Ridgdon now towers over me, standing nearly six feet tall. It was a bit shocking to see him all grown up - I don't suppose I'll ever get used to the startling passage of time.

I knew that Ross Ann, Shannon's mother, was sick, that she had only days to live. So when my mom and I drove to Arlington to be with Shannon last week, my intent was to provide comfort in the form of a few hugs and words. But as often happens, I was the one comforted, refreshed and reassured. The forty-five minutes spent in Shannon's company has had me thinking all week.  

First, and most striking, Shannon is content.
She lives in a small (tiny!) town, married to a fifth-generation Roby, TX farmer. And she loves her life. Loves her husband. Loves her children. Doesn't own a computer, which means no email, Facebook, or iphoto. I cannot imagine the time she saves not sitting in front of a screen. As for online shopping, she has no need to keep up with home decor or clothing trends, as it's just not part of her world. And here's the deal - if she looked like a country bumpkin, I'd relegate her lifestyle to a "different world" altogether, and not even see my life through her lens. But she's beautiful, intelligent, and a wise mama. Did I mention beautiful? She'd give any Fort Worth woman I know a run for her money.

As for motherhood, Shannon is overjoyed, and just plain grateful to get to get to spend her days with those Terry children. Her first three are about a year apart each (14 to 11), and the last two babes are a toddler and newborn. She and Jeremy both said they find this "round two" of parenting enjoyable and refreshing, because they know how quickly it goes. They're more relaxed, laugh a lot, and in Shannon's words, "I actually let them get dirty!" The older kids laugh constantly at the little ones, and I can see in Shannon's countenance a deep gratitude for getting to live and spend her days with these children.

As we hugged goodbye in the parking lot, Shannon held onto my mom for a few seconds and said, for the second time that evening, "Claudene, you just don't know what your home meant to me growing up. You just don't know. Being in your home, going to church with your family, it transformed the way I saw family life. Growing up, I thought my childhood was normal. Because looking around, so many of our friends' homes were just like mine, I didn't know any different. But your home really was the different one - it changed me."
After her little soliloquy, Shannon looked at me and laughed, "You too, Tonya, you were a good friend to me, too."
But her words were meant for Mom. For the one who opened her home to all kinds of kids, all kinds of families. Who let me spend the night at Shannon's small duplex across from our high school, even as her mom would stay out until all hours of the night. Nevermind that my clothes and hair reeked of  smoke when I came home. And in turn, Mom let me have Shannon spend the night even on Saturday nights with church the next morning (often after staying over Friday night as well). Mom, who drove us all around town from one cheerleading event to the next, often shuttling not only Shannon around, but any other friends whose parents were unavailable to pick up and take.

In fact, when I consider the friends who spent the most time at our house - the friends who became like siblings - they weren't from Christian homes with a set of Christ-minded parents. They were simply the ones who needed that home. And Mom (and Dad!) never blinked, never had to make a choice to "let" those kids be a part of our lives.
As Mom and I drove from the funeral home that evening to catch part of a baseball game, I asked her how she felt comfortable letting me spend that kind of time with families "not like ours" - staying at their homes, spending the night, even going on vacations. Mom shrugged her shoulders, glanced over at me, and said, "Ton, I trusted you. You made good decisions, and I trusted the Lord would protect you."

I've been touched all week, thinking of the Lord's work in Shannon's lovely heart. Even in a home where she wasn't directly taught of God's perfect love for her, Shannon, in time, came to know Him in a deep way, as did her mom. He provided friends, mentors, high school youth leaders, and a fantastic college experience with Christian friends and Bible studies to cement her faith. And then a gentle, loving husband to love and work alongside in raising five fun kiddos.

Thank you, Lord, for Ross Ann's life, which in turn gave us Shannon's life, which in turn touches so many with your love. I'm grateful to you for this friend, for what she teaches me of your ways.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

House plans

We're doing some work on our house. We've been in the design phase for awhile, arranging and rearranging some of the spaces in our home. We've changed our minds so many times, in fact, that yesterday as I was logging expenses, I asked Corbin if what we've paid our architect is "normal."
"Sure it's normal," he said. "Normal for three sets of house plans."

In this stage, our biggest questions have centered around, "What do we need in the coming decade? What kinds of spaces do we desire for our family, our marriage, our kids?" But along with the physical planning, I find myself doing some relational planning. It's not just what kind of home do we want build, but what kind of environment do we want to create? Corbin and I both grew up in "open door" homes. Pretty much anyone and everyone was welcome. Full rooms, full of people, and usually full of good food.

And as I think back on my own childhood home, it wasn't overly spacious nor was it impeccably furnished. I think every valuable vase was broken by the time we were introduced to a soccer ball. I remember getting new sofas in junior high, not realizing at the time how long my mom had patiently waited to replace the faded olive green and gold tapestry furniture. Our carpet showed a worn path from the sliding glass doors to the hall bath, as thousands of footprints wore a trail running from the pool to the bathroom. And back. And then our bedrooms. Every now and then Mom would declare our rooms a toxic war zone and send us to clean them up. But she decided early on that she didn't want to spend her time nagging us, and since she had to walk past our rooms multiple times a day to get to her own, she simply closed our doors. Problem solved.

Our home was simple, but it overflowed with love and beauty and joy. Mom is a gardener, a do-it-yourself landscape architect, and intentional with long-term planting. In the nearly three decades my parents lived in our Wren home, the backyard pool and lawn inhabited hundreds (thousands?) of kids and families. When it sold just a few years ago, the single mom who bought it communicated her appreciation for the beautiful backyard.

My brothers and I hosted a zillion sleepovers, much to Dad's dismay. We'd stay up all hours, watching movies and talking in the one living area our home afforded, not far from the master bedroom. Since my father usually worked early on Saturday mornings, he made one, simple rule: If you wake me up, you go to work with me in the morning. And we did. Yuck.
Not only did it quiet us down, but it motivated all of us kids to avoid careers in painting and remodeling.

Anyway, as Corbin and I plan and think and dream about changing our home and yard, I am convinced that my heart yearns for an open home. A place that welcomes people and peace, not perfection. A home where I make daily decisions to value my children over my china. Where worn carpet and smudges on furniture simply represent the people who live and relax here. In light of choosing paint colors and fabrics, I hope to be less concerned with what's in our home than who's in our home. 

I love beautiful things as much as the next person. And I probably value order even more than the next. In fact, it's the lack of order and cleanliness that gets me. I struggle with resting in the midst of the "fullness" of our home - stacks of papers, piles of shoes, closets that beg to be organized - again... And as much as I tell myself I'm just wired that way, that I need for everything to be in its place, I recognize that my children are going to enjoy their Mom a whole lot more if I learn to let it go.

So how do I foster an "open, full" home, without going nuts from the chaos it breeds?
I don't know the whole answer, but this song helps.
Allen Levi's words in are a salve to me, not only in thinking ahead, but even now, in our much-loved, far-from perfect, very lived-in home. It reminds me of all the things that make our home truly lovely, and all the things that don't. Enjoy -

Here is a song about two houses side by side on Baxter Street
One's always a little bit messy, the other is perfectly neat
One house is a landscaping legend, it's a pristine example of class
The other has bikes in the driveway, and the ballgames have killed all the grass.

1412 is a magazine cover, 1420 is covered with kids
One's just a picture postcard, but the other's where real people live. 

1412 is the house of a lawyer - a ghost with two kids and a wife
It's been said that they really do live there, but it's hard to find flickers of life.

1420 is a study in chaos, every year on the 4th of July
When the kids fill the pool for the big bar-be-que and the neighbors are sure to stop by

1412 is a magazine cover, 1420 is covered with kids
One's just a picture postcard, but the other's where real people live. 

Now my house a curse or a blessing? Does my house have the warmth of a home?
Does my door say "Please enter - you're welcome?" Or does it say "Leave me alone?"
We can keep our worlds free from intrusion, we can keep our lives neat as a pin
But just how can we love our neighbors if we don't let our neighbors come in?

1412 is a magazine cover, 1420 is covered with kids
One's just a picture postcard, but the other's where real people live.
One's just a picture postcard, but the other's where I'd like to live.

1412 - 1420 which will it be?