Restoring Broken Things

By Sam Jolman | November 12, 2008

You may have noticed my unofficial sabbatical from doing any writing whatsoever for the last few months. I know. I’ve committed the chief of all blogging sins. So here’s the story.

At the beginning of the summer, we purchased a historic home with the hopes of renovating it and restoring it to its original Victorian Lady charm. Its old, 116 years old to be exact. Old. Like back when horsepower meant the actual horse hitched up in your back yard. And the first owners of our home probably did have horses in the backyard. But all these years have taken their toll on this antique homestead. Sagging wooden floors, plaster falling from ceilings, out of date wiring. Add to this all the unkempt years of neglectful renters. Our Victorian Beauty needed some lovin’!

We started this whole venture awash in romanticized sentiments that restoring an old home is like a really fun hobby. Or some symbolic spiritual pilgrimage. I grew up pumped full of This Old House episodes with Bob Villa and still love that show. But they make the process seem so laden with excitement and effortless progress. And not a single worker on that show ever breaks a sweat or dirties their clothing. Somehow I imagined our weekends being full of similar restful energizing work.

At some point several weeks into our project, amid so much dust and detritus and 16 hour work days, I finally let myself admit I had lost all romantic ideals about our renovation project. I was now just plain afraid. I was standing in an expensive pile of rubble. In the name of change and restoration, we had produced one grand mortgage backed mess. Here we had gone and dismantled a perfectly good home. And without any prior experience at this, I really feared that we might never emerge like we hoped and planned.

That fear is surprisingly familiar to other areas of my life. Change seems to carry a romantic sense to it. But eventually the idea of change melds into the harder, sometimes downright discouraging work of changing. Yes, I want to love my wife more courageously. Yes, I want to be more in shape. Yes, I want to listen to God more. And then its 30 degrees out when I get up to run. Or a time of pursuing my wife crumbles into an all out fight. Or I spend a whole hour with God daydreaming about something we have to do on our house. I start to wonder if I’ll ever change. Fear shouts its resounding, “No!”

Take something like counseling. I hear so often in my office the sighs of relief from folks who have finally taken the step of getting counseling. The hope of change wafts in with them like fresh spring air after winter. And then we get to work… for a couple months. And that’s expensive. And will it actually work? Will it pay off? And I’m reminded so often of that Garth Brook’s line, “This is how it seems to me. Life is only therapy. Real expensive and no guarantee.” And I have to tell my clients change does not come in pill form. Change is a process you just have to trust sometimes. Trust.

Well, we’ve emerged from our house project. And it looks really good. Those wood floors have a beautiful sheen to them. The stained glass chandelier hangs magnificently in the dining room. My wife can often be heard sighing with relief and exclaiming, “I can’t believe this is our house!” Indeed. How did we make it? We had to learn to trust the process.

We did get our spiritual pilgrimage.

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