1. The Gift of a House: Where Is Your Treasure?

December, 2012

Sometimes I wonder how we ended up with two houses. We still mostly live at the city house. It’s where work is. It’s where the mortgage is. It’s where old friends are. But it isn’t necessarily where the heart is.

I wonder about that because I miss seeing friends. We just resigned from our church–our life for eight years–because we are never there on weekends, and it is a loss. And neighbors–I’m never in the yard working with my flowers or in my garden, so I don’t see them anymore.

The city house is really much more beautiful than the country house. It’s a stone Tudor cottage with character; the wildish flower garden in the front yard was one of my joys. It was the house of my dreams when we bought it eight years ago. I still love it. But my heart isn’t there anymore.

The country house has a long, storied history. In the 1930s my grandfather wanted a house in the country where he could live on weekends with his family. During the week he was a county school superintendent in town; on the weekends he was a farmer with a cattle farm, a peach orchard, and an apple orchard. He built this humble two-room-cottage (with an outhouse in the back) on the edge of the apple orchard. It was a place where the family spent weekends in the summer; it was a place where the city cousins came to spend weekends in the country to work on the farm and in the orchards. 

Later after the orchard became established and successful, rooms were added here and there: a bathroom was carved out, a garage attached, a bedroom and partial basement added. My grandmother’s brother and his wife lived here for twenty years, caring for the orchard, selling apples, and raising their son. My sisters and I spent time here also, grading apples in the barns, selling cider, riding in the back of Pa’s pickup truck, and probably generally getting in the way. Though no one ever told us so. 

In the mid-seventies my not-yet-husband’s parents, Joe and Clara, bought the orchard from my grandfather who was eighty-two and wanted to officially retire from farming. They remodeled the house and lived here together until Joe died in 1995. Clara stayed on as a widow in a house that soon became too much for her, an older woman alone.

As Clara got older she couldn’t manage living in the country anymore, and the house sat vacant for several years. Her good neighbors kept an eye on the place and mowed the grass. When it seemed obvious that she would never go back to the house, it was set to be auctioned on July 12th to pay for her care. 

Clara died on Friday night, July 8th. (Some have thought that she died then so she wouldn’t have to hear about the house being sold.) On Saturday morning my now-husband and I sat up in bed, looked at each other, and simultaneously said, “We don’t have to sell the house anymore…” To cancel the auction we had to write the auctioneer a check for $5200 (that was a hard check to write…) but all in all, it was a small price to pay for a house with such a story. We buried Clara on the day that the auction was supposed to take place. I think she is smiling…

It’s an amazing story, really, and it has always seemed so to us, that this house—with connections to both of us—came to us in such a way. I can’t wait to move; yet the ties that bind me to my old city life are not yet cut.

I am fractured sometimes; split down the middle. Anxious to go, yet hesitant to make the move. We didn’t put up a Christmas tree this year. Where would we put it? The house where we are? Or the house where we aren’t? So I have pine at both houses… Yes, I pine at both houses.

Thankful for these blessings, I try to be mindful of them and not see any of it as burdensome. Yet the details are exhausting sometimes. We are always on the move, not here, not there. And we always forget something. Or two somethings. And often that tool, the piece of clothing, or that cooking pan we want is at the other house.

As I am reading this story about the beginnings of our adventure, I have the advantage of hindsight; this was originally written eight years ago. The city house has now been sold and we are years into living here full time at the cottage. We are settled, we have a new church, new friends… and rereading this is exhausting; yet something else jumps out at me.

I am reminded by Matthew that where my treasure is, there my heart will be. (Matthew 6:21—I checked the citation in my Bible and discovered it quickly; it was underlined in red pen.) But the beginning of this paragraph tells us: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20)

I never wanted to make an idol of this cottage. I’ve tried to guard against it from the beginning, and I haven’t always been successful. I love beauty, and I love surrounding myself with beauty, and that in itself is not a sin. After all God made this amazing world and filled it with beauty for us to enjoy. But when one is rehabbing a house, and the starting point is gutting almost every room (it was vacant for several years and very much in need) there’s a whole lot of money that has to be spent. And a whole lot of time deciding how much to spend. And what can be bought secondhand. And what can be splurged on. And…And…And…

Sometimes I just got caught up in the whole world of Houzz.com, decorating blogs, and Pinterest. (Thank goodness we never got the HGTV channel!) I un-followed blogs when I became disgusted at the materialism; yet at the same time, here I was spending hours trying to decide what color I wanted the kitchen to be painted. Beauty? Yes; a treasure on earth? Yes, to that as well. I fought the idol and sometimes I won. Sometimes I didn’t.

We bought all our kitchen cabinets at secondhand places; we sanded, primed, and painted them, and gave them new hardware.  The lighting was mostly secondhand too; we bought every old schoolhouse light globe we could find, as well as the metal hardware to go with them. We bought the cheapest flooring we could find (black and white Vinyl Composition Tile) and refinished the pine floors that were under layers of carpet and linoleum in the living room. Floor tiles and doors were purchased at the Habitat for Humanity ReStores. (We haunted them for several years on a weekly basis.) Our kitchen island was bought for $100 at an antique store, but we splurged on the kitchen countertops and the kitchen faucet. There’s a chapter in this book on the kitchen faucet. 

It’s a battle I am still fighting because our bathroom has not yet been redone. Oh, it works. There’s a toilet, a sink, a shower with plenty of hot water, a place to store our towels, hooks to hang our clothes, and a place to store toilet paper. What else do we need? It’s plenty more than most of the world has. But it is really ugly: chipped and cracked plaster walls of different colors where wallpaper has been peeled off; a seventies moulded plastic shower stall with moldy caulking that just won’t come clean; and a ceiling that sheds clumps of paint and plaster. It certainly isn’t a treasure on earth. 

All of us who live in the first world need to guard against making idols of our things. We have so much, and others have so little. How do we balance looking at our treasure as  gifts from God, yet easily let that same treasure go if necessary? That is probably why it is so difficult for us rich folk to get into heaven. (Matthew 19:23) We allow our stuff, our treasures, to become more important to us than God. Yet that same paragraph in Matthew ends with the disciples asking in discouragement, “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25)

Jesus answers with one of the most beautiful affirmations of grace in scripture—“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

Richard Foster writes about the gifts of God in his chapter on Simplicity in Celebration of Discipline. He writes:

“The majority of western Christians have never seriously wrestled with the problem of simplicity, conveniently ignoring Jesus’ many words on the subject. The reason is simple: this discipline directly challenges our vested interests in an affluent life-style.”

I might add, it directly challenges what we treasure. Do we treasure our stuff, our idols, our worldly gifts? Or do we treasure God, his wisdom, his love? Jesus speaks over and over of our hearts, and how little God cares for show, for money, for human power. Instead the servant who gives all will be elevated over those who love things, pretense, and show. Jesus devalues money, and instead puts value on our hearts. Lord, make us willing to give and share and not care so much about those worldly treasures that moth and rust destroy…

For further study, read 1 Timothy 6:6-19 and Mark 12: 41-44

Questions to think about: 

  • Where is your treasure? I read once that if you think about what makes you happiest, what makes you angry, and what you fear the most, then where your answers intersect can point you toward your treasure or your idols. My own test is this: Lot’s wife was told to leave and not look back.  She failed. What would I have to take one last longing look at before I left it behind?
  • Our treasures can be things, but it can also be persons or family or fears and worries. What are you most prone to make an idol of? How do you fight it? (See Colossians 3:1-3)
  • How can we guard our hearts against the world’s temptations to lay up treasure for ourselves?
  • Our treasures occupy our heart (Let’s face it–God designed us that way, and every good and perfect gift is from Him) so how can we best submit our treasures to God to care for, instead of stubbornly keeping a tight grip on them?
  • It occurs to me that we can fight our idols by being willing to give them away–or as Richard Foster says, share them freely with others. Would this work for the particular idol you are wrestling with?
  • Paul writes to Timothy, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” This is much more specific than Matthew’s command to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” Any thoughts?