"unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain." ~ psalm 127:1
labor. i know this word. i know it as a woman who labored long and hard in four sweaty, slow births. i know it as an adoptive mother who labored, even longer and harder, through a year of paperwork and pleading. i have worked for my children - each and every one of them -- toiled hard, in fact. but, i can tell you, the bringing of them was nothing in comparison to the keeping of them.
i understand labor as a mother of five who gets up early and stays up late and still feels her work here is never done.
there is always one more load of laundry to throw in or one more load of dishes to take out. there are beds to make and floors to wash and children to feed every day -- nope, no holidays in this home. there is toothpaste spittle in the sink, grime growing in my garden tub and unmentionables found hiding in old containers from the fridge or underneath beds. labor day or leisure day, you can count on it!
and some days this toiling mother is just plain old worn out and overwhelmed. some days this weary woman wants to sit down in the middle of it all and cry. i love my life and i even love my mess (for the most part), but every now and then i feel the urge to stand up on my sticky countertop and shout "calgon, take me away!" except there's the issue of that grimy garden tub...
the wood floors of our house are covered with scratches. dog feet and children's feet and roller skates (i never once gave them permission). there's a large dent in the family room floor from the great end table and lamp crash of 2009. on the front stairs you'll find the perfect shade of candy apple red nail polish, compliments of little-miss-help-myself-girl. and if you look closely you'll notice the back stairs host a residual throw up stain, compliments of the cat. there are splotches and smears and cracks and creases all over this house. it is a home. and it comes with all the markings and makings and utter mayhem of a family.
we love it and we labor in it every single day. oh, how we have labored over our home - almost not a square inch of it left untouched. much of the work we've taken on ourselves. sometimes it has ended well and sometimes it has ended with a desperate call to a professional. thankfully, it has never ended with a trip to the emergency room--but we've come pretty darn close.
|boy in tree|
|man in tree|
|cooper, bella and me --- supervising (praying).|
and i wondered to myself what would we do without a home and a yard and a whole bunch of children? i can't tell you how many times in our marriage rick has said to me, "what in the world did we do before kids?" it is such a funny thought to us both. we really can't quite remember.
the year after we bought this house so much went wrong: hot water tank replacing, electrical system failing, phone line malfunctioning, deck rotting, sinks leaking, showers leaking, roof leaking, air conditioning not cooling, sprinkler system exploding...it was quite a year. (so much for that thorough home inspection)! when we were first considering whether or not to purchase this place on buttercup, i did my very best to convince rick the house needed "only a little TLC... only some cosmetic updating." only a little carpeting and paint was needed to make it our dream home.
he would tell you today to beware of a woman who claims a house needs only a little cosmetic updating.
and so we dug in and moved in and then, guess what? the roof caved in. do you remember the 1986 movie "the money pit" with shelley long and tom hanks? that was us. though rick and i were only in our junior year of high school and hadn't even yet met, i'm pretty sure (somehow) they based that movie on the mcnatt family. you think i'm kidding? go ahead and ask my husband. on second thought, please don't -- that subject matter puts him in a terribly ugly mood.
one morning, i was so distraught over the various grievances in our home, i got up early and sat on the couch pleading with God. i cried out and asked Him to intervene. in the middle of my pleading (and whining), i decided what i needed to do was to pray over every item in our house -- every surface -- every thing i could think of. i prayed blessing and protection over the roof, the walls, the floors, the plumbing, the electrical, the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the garage, the driveway, the yard...all of it. literally, i walked around from room to room praying fervently. praying passionately. i prayed like a woman on the edge ... like a woman insane. i was a woman insane.
i had no sooner finished my fervent praying when, walking back into the kitchen, i felt something wet hit the top of my head. i stopped and looked up at the beam separating the family room from the kitchen and noticed a nice bead of water dripping from its painted lip. at that same moment my sock covered feet connected with the puddle below. it was a perfectly sunny day and my roof was leaking. i knew right then we were in some serious trouble. i looked up that beam and looked up at the Lord and cried, "okay, that's it God, i give up!"
i am still not completely sure what He was telling me - teaching me. if i had to guess it would have something to do with my need to surrender. yes, that's been such the theme of this blog -- from cancer to kids to chaos. i am being taught to unclench my fists and unfurl my fingers. i am (slowly) learning to release the white wrapped knuckles of my lists and my laboring. i am finding that unless God builds it, unless God is in it, i will labor in vain. whether it is updating my home or training up my children -- if He is not in it, i am chasing the wind. and all my toil and talents will return empty. void. in vain.
i don't pretend to know the mind of God. but i do know that the next year, He prepared our hearts to go to thailand and to prayerfully consider mission work. i know the year after that He opened our eyes to the possibility of adoption. and the year after that he brought bella home. and well, this year, cancer came calling. i am not trying to wrap up all of these messy things in a tidy little package, but i do know each year God has brought us something which has required us to surrender and submit. whether it be our kids or our homes or our health ... God desires us to release them to Him, to His hands.
our homes and families take so much of our time and energy. and what blessing can be found in both! i believe, very much, i am supposed to be right where i am working, laboring, loving. there are always projects to be completed and there is always building and work to be done. but, as a mother with a long "to do" list, i need to remember what kind of building really counts. i am pretty sure God isn't all that concerned about the color of my walls or the cleanliness of my carpet. this summer i came across this verse in haggai,
"'what you brought home, I blew away. why?' declares the Lord Almighty, 'because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.'" ~ haggai 1:9
God chastises the israelites for being too focused on their own homes and not working on the building of His home - the temple.
i don't know about you, but that makes me pause in my tracks and ponder a bit: what am i building? where am i laboring? what is taking up my time, my energy, my focus?
something to think about on this labor day ... something to consider for those of us with our long "to do" lists and our many hours of labor.
definitely something for me to think about.
"Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country."work isn't a bad thing. God created us to work ... to even take pride in our work. paying tribute to the contributions of those who have labored hard for our country is a great thing. we have much to celebrate. but we can't forget, whether in our country or in our homes, who we are working for and what we are working toward.
"whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ." ~ colossians 3:23-24
"why spend your money on what is not bread, and your labor on
what does not satisfy? listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. " ~ isaiah 55:2