Attending school in rural Pennsylvania, the “house on wheels” was introduced to me for the first time. Warehoused in tiny, tight rows or planted solemnly in the center of sprawling fields, these factory-produced, moveable abodes seemed so primitive and so, well, so hick-like. An eager, self-important, snobby college student raised in suburbia, I vowed to never, ever be caught dead living in a trailer.
Oh yes, I could get my roommate’s argument that the trailer was a convenient source of housing for the less than well-too-do budget conscience dweller, but still I wasn’t going to be anyone’s Double-Wide Queen (or Single-Wide Princess for that matter). Not on your life.
Aside from teaching me never to say never, God would use the next decade+ of my lifetime to humble me and redefine my ideas of worth.
Fast forward about eight years, a marriage, four apartments and three states later and I was living in my own trailer. Those prefabricated walls, tied down with steel rods, offered our growing family a secure homestead on our own piece of land, but still I dreamed of more. The plan was to live in our mobile home just long enough to earn the money to build a “real” house, the kind pictured in magazines.
Sure I tried my best to make that trailer into a welcoming habitation, covering the walls with hand-selected decorations and arranging the furniture so as to maximize space and invite guests to sit and stay. The fact that we were surrounded by other mobile homes didn’t necessarily mean I was actually living in a trailer park, or so I reasoned.
Having only two bedrooms, it quickly became apparent that our family was fast out-growing that little starter home. Not to mention my itch for bigger and better was inspiring me to push ahead in our plans for the real deal. However, after looking into the cost involved to build an ample-sized house on our land it became apparent that it was more economical to buy something already firmly established on a foundation.
How many houses we looked at, I can’t remember, but I’ll never forget the day we discovered THE ONE. Driving aimlessly around an unfamiliar neighborhood, we spied a For Sale sign planted in the front yard of a white with black trim, corner bungalow. The house appeared vacant, so we used the opportunity to mount the long, southern porch and peer through the windows. It was a dream come true – tall ceilings, expansive rooms, hardwood floors, a fireplace and all the windows I could hope for, not to mention that porch.
This was it, we had no doubts. After arranging with our realtor for a viewing of the interior, we were sold, or rather this seemingly perfect house was.
The next seven years were spent in that house growing our family. We relished the chance to fill it with auction-won furniture and decent hand-me-downs. The walls met the end of many of my brush strokes and our dining room was the scene of so many large dinner parties and school lessons. It met our needs in so many ways and satisfied my notions of worth to a good extent, at least for a while.
Unfortunately, having had little experience in home ownership, we’d chosen a neighborhood that was slowly sliding downhill and the pace of that downward slope seemed to become more rapid each year we remained. Suffice it to say, we witnessed a few frightening moments and knew it was time to retreat.
While I’d envisioned growing old and gray in that house and hosting my grandchildren in that dining room, I began to recognize that plan needed to change. Slowly, I started to notice all those little imperfections that you miss when first you fall in love (like the upstair’s sink that was stained blue and the crack in our bathroom that we’d never managed to find the time and money to fix). Something better might just be in store I decided, but in truth that gave me only small consolation. I had formed an attachment to that house. It was my house, my dream house.
Even if my domicile wasn’t really perfect, it had inspired lots of compliments. And that is when I had to come face to face with my vanity, my idolatry of sorts. I defined myself by that house. It was a status symbol in my eyes. When the time came to completely separate myself (to accept that I had to leave behind the nursery with my hand-painted murals, the hardwood floors I so regularly mopped and the big kitchen in which so much of life revolved) my heart hurt.
God allowed me a little assistance in breaking free. The buyer’s realtor did her best to avoid all protocols of southern hospitality. So by the time the deal was said and done, the taste in my mouth was as sour as a bag of lemons; and I simply wanted to get as far away from town and that house as possible.
But just to make sure I was really getting the message, the move into our new
house was fraught with stress and disappointment. From our dogs attacking the goats (they came with the house) on moving day, to kitchen cabinets lined with mouse droppings, I quickly saw every imperfection. The bathrooms needed to be scrubbed with super-human strength elbow grease and nearly every light switch cover had to be replaced. Add to those stressors the fact that our third son was making his First Holy Communion the next weekend and out-of-state company was scheduled to arrive to share in the celebration.
The tears fell in great big drops and I prayed I could call the whole deal off. How was I ever going to get my house guest-ready and uphold my personal idea of perfection? How could God have led me here? Why now? Hadn’t I been a good enough wife and mother to merit something better? Didn’t I work hard enough to earn something more flattering?
The readings right now are about Moses and His call to lead the people out of slavery in Egypt. How happy they were initially when the Lord provided for their safe passage, but then it didn’t take very long for the grumbling. Oh, they
complained why did you lead us out here to die; the food isn’t good enough; where’s that Moses because he’s been gone too long; we want an idol to worship, etc. Here were God’s beloved chosen ones, who’d witnessed the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, ate their fill of manna in the desert and yet they still weren’t satisfied.
Well, by week’s end the house was as ready as it needed to be. Not perfect, but perfection wasn’t required. Family came to share in the joy of our son’s sacrament, not to evaluate the party locale. We’ve been here nearly seven years now and at present it seems we’re meant to stay a while longer. This house hasn’t fulfilled my dreams, but my dreams never should have revolved around a stick edifice.
This place is a home, not because of its facade or its square footage. It is a home because of the people who dwell within its walls. The Lord has provided us shelter from the storm, met our needs, what more could I ask for? These walls do not define me, but my love for the people within them will.