Sometimes there is crying after crossfit, but never before.
But as I walked into the back stuff-dumping room of my box (Crossfit’s name for their gyms) the other day, there was a small gathering of women consoling one of our crying friends.
“Shari, I need to tell you something,” said the friend in distress, when she saw me through her glassy eyes. This rather shocked me, since: a) I don’t yet know this friend that well, and b) I couldn’t remember interacting with her in a way to cause crying.
“I was told your family is in the market for a new home right now.”
“Well, yes…we think we may build just outside of town….”
“Listen. I have the perfect home for you. My home. Eight acres, gorgeous home, three car garage, apartment above it, nanny suite. It’s a 1.2 million dollar home going up for auction today at noon on the county courthouse steps. The bidding will start at $435,000.”
“Oh, my. I’m so sorry….”
“Well, I’m going to see who gets it. I would just rather see someone have it who will take care of it; not some real estate shark who just want to flip it.” She wiped her eyes and looked directly at me.
While secretaries and courthouse clerks shuffle and stamp paper-house piles, this woman was still trying to care for her home.
I know that feeling. I stood on courthouse steps one time and watched my home be auctioned out from under me. It was the spring of 2005—the peak of the housing market boom—in Montgomery County, MD. On paper it wasn’t mine; we were only the renters.
But it was my home.
My husband chose it, against my protests. It was a mess when we first saw it. The walls were dirty, windowsills moldy, carpet stained. The kitchen was tiny and hadn’t been updated since it was built, which must have been during the height of the women’s liberation movement when no women cooked in their kitchens, for there was one, twelve-inch wide counter space for preparing food and a pantry of the same dimensions. My objections got me nowhere. We were moving from Texas (the land of plenty big) to D.C. (the land of over-inflation) with two small boys, one more on the way, and a salary the size of the rental’s kitchen counter-top.
It was no use.
So, I made that dirty wall, moldy windowsill, stained carpet house my home. I tore down rooms of wallpaper (which is why I’ve never bought a house since with wallpapered walls), painted every single room (a different color), and steam cleaned the carpets…all while seven months pregnant. Superman cleaned the mold out of the windowsills and allowed me to splurge on a vacuum cleaner eight times more expensive than we’d ever paid for a vacuum before (unless you add up the cost of the three vacuums we’d owned during our first six years of marriage). Then he went to work at his residency where he was paid nearly slave-labor wages but satisfied at least he’d provided his wife and young children a house.
Meanwhile I toiled on, turning that house into a worthy home.
We had lived there for two years when we received the certified letter—I remember it was just after Easter break on one of those rare days when Superman was not at work or sleeping until he went to work again. The letter was addressed “Resident” and we almost didn’t open it, because it came so officially. Surely this was private legal business for the homeowner, and we need not pry. But for some reason—I don’t remember why—we did open the letter. Thirty days later I was standing on the county courthouse steps exactly at noon—alone amidst a small crowd of interested buyers in the “Vineyard Haven house”—waiting for the auctioneer to start the bidding.
And at the same time—lunchtime at that Vineyard Haven house–my babies were eating sandwiches and playing happily with their Little People. In their home….our home…my home.
I brought my third infant son home to the room across from my own. I painted it sea-green and furnished it with a Cracker Barrel rocking chair in which to nurse him during the middle of the night. I began home educating our oldest son in the little yellow sitting room off my tiny kitchen. Superman built some makeshift shelves for a corner wall, built out of old cabinet doors that I’d salvaged from my great-grandparents turn-of-the-century, Midwestern farm house. I took one of my crackle-painted blue antique doors (from the same farmhouse) and had Superman bolt it onto the wall of my master bedroom as a headboard—it was my favorite headboard, and after he got it bolted to the wall, Superman swore he’d never do it again. He’s made good on that promise.
In that home I learned (not fully, but at least the beginnings of) how to release my husband from my expectations and meeting needs he can never fill because they aren’t his to fill in the first place. On the back patio I confessed private struggles to friends while children climbed on the jungle gym gracing our backyard—it was a nice backyard, especially after my parents and I ripped up and replanted all the haphazardly placed hostas and liriope, and added a butterfly bush and some hydrangeas to anchor its corners. I had women over to pray in that home. One time we filled all the main level’s rooms, asking God to guide the hands of surgeons who were removing a tumor from the brain our pastor’s daughter—it was on her pituitary gland, culprit behind her lack of growth.
I know I’m not supposed to chase after material things here on earth. I understand that a home is not only four square walls with a roof overhead—boy, do I ever understand that—and to leave one place isn’t to leave the memories, goodness, and gifts of that place; it’s only to leave the place. After all, it’s all tinder and kindling in the end, so why become attached?
But as I stood in that back room without a fitting word for my friend who was about to lose her home, I couldn’t help but wonder at the world’s economy. How sticks and stones are a man’s commodity to be bought, sold, traded, and auctioned; while at the same time a woman stands within those same four stick and stone walls wrenching and pouring her whole self all over its insides.
But maybe even this truth—and even more so in the loss—is somehow, mysteriously, grace upon grace.