About Me,  Catholic Spirituality,  house reno,  sin,  temperaments

Radically detached and slightly unhinged

Maybe we should get a kitten.

We’ve been in our new house a week and a half now, and as the floors are slowly covered with clean, shining new surfaces to scratch and scuff and sully, I find myself sucking in pained breaths of First World air, agonizing over the new damage wrought almost immediately upon installation. I remember learning in earth science or some class that all of life is essentially in a constant state of decay, the microbes and bacteria at war with the material universe in a continual cycle of reclaim and recycle.

I could see that with mine own eyes as the kindergartener dragged a waylaid dresser across the new living room floor, gouging a cut in the surface my husband and sweated to perfect only 12 hours before. The walls are almost literally crumbling around us as we shift and juggle and apportion furniture to different rooms, scraping and arranging against new and unfamiliar walls.

A little to the left crash no let’s try that wall, scraaaaaaaaape, no maybe back there was perfect crunch.

I joked to my babysitter this morning that I would have made a terrible nun because material detachment is so painful for me, before I stopped and wondered aloud to her (bless her heart, she puts up with a lot between me and the kids) if actually, maybe motherhood is a little tougher for my personality type, at least, because the detachment is less of the bandaid-ripping surrender all your worldly goods and don this habit, and more of the for the rest of your days, you will see furniture destroyed, walls marked, and floors savaged. Prepare your heart to love the people more than the place. 

I am not a graceful detacher. I am more of a strangle-holding controller. My really lucky husband and my darling children are benefiting from a front row view of the disassembling of my fragile, Type-A psyche under the assault of motherhood and early childhood. This morning as we shoved my precious leather couch through the front door, my heart sinking as we punctuated the backside with a fresh laceration, I noticed a tag I’d previously overlooked: “Durablend: 17% real leather.”

That’s so nice, I thought, beads of sweat dripping onto the scratched laminate floors we did not install but have managed to really bring to rustic perfection in just over 1 short week. I’m glad it’s not real.

All this to say that I am as much a work much in progress, as is my slowly-beautifying and simultaneously-necrotizing house. For every wall I finish painting, stepping back in satisfaction to sigh and set paintbrush aside, 15 more improvement/repair projects pop up in the resultant vacuum.

I’m kind of like that too. For every layer of bad habit, pesky personal shortcoming and outright sin that I allow the Lord to peel back, I am rewarded not with a static, serene panorama of progress, but with a fresh jolt of “Look at all that garbage! man there’s still a lot of work to do.”

During this summer of shingles and signings and strips of packing tape being applied and removed, I have become more and more humbled by my utter incompetence to weather any actual stress, and by my husband’s incredible fortitude under pressure. I’ve marveled over my kid’s flexibility while marking my own fragility in wonderment, scarcely recognizing that the woman who scaled mountains in her twenties and now bursts into tears over first days of school and flooded basements.

I don’t feel like I’m going backwards though, not exactly. It’s more like the Lord is revealing, through the circumstances of my very ordinary life, my actual position in the universe: weakness.

And there seem to be two choices; either I allow the weakness to overwhelm me and I scramble to deny it, wrapping my fragile heart in material comforts and conveniences and surface-level stuff, or I embrace the weakness and transform it to receptivity, looking expectantly to God to make up for what is clearly lacking.

I have thought often enough this summer that if I just had more help or more money or more energy, everything would be fine. Which is a lie. Because it’s never enough. The human heart is an endless chasm of desire, and no amount of material striving will fill it.

In fact, some of the most memorable moments of providence have been from moments of abject need: friends rallying with meals and helping hands while I lied in bed, to sick to tend to the kids. My parents and in-laws swooping in with power tools and muscles and moving boxes to transplant us from one house to another while I cried paint-streaked tears of overwhelm and gratitude, huddled in a too-hot bathroom at 11pm with a roller brush and 3 opened cans of primer.

Every time I’ve shown Him my real weakness this summer, He has overwhelmed me with a blanket of grace, covering my metaphorical nakedness with such generous care that I could not help but acknowledge my littleness and His bigness. And that has always been a little hard for a choleric go-getter. I don’t like to need, I prefer to be needed. But He waits patiently, allowing me to follow my delusions of grandeur to their natural conclusion. And then He rescues. He delivers. And I am ashamed and relieved and resolved all over again.

And then I find another wall to paint.

Home renovation and holiness is the work of a lifetime. And that is why I suspect we should find ourselves a cat, to hurry along the progress of perfection.

(Dave, if you’re reading this, you know I want a little calico, and that the kids want to name him Peyton Manning.)




  • Camille

    You and I are like twins separated at birth. That’s not creepy at all, I’m sure. We just got a grey tiger kitten named Betsy Ross. Home decor is my jam.

  • M.T.

    I am so amazed at the perfect way you have a painting a eloquent picture of exactly how I am under any itty bit of stress of the home upheaval category. Oh my. That part about every hard-resisted layer peeled back… And no progress. My humbling cross too. I wonder how many thousands of layers there are… God bless you, Jenny!

  • jeanette

    Detachment from one’s material desires can be put into perspective: It is always a noble thing to make your home a beautiful place in which to live, because beauty is something that helps to nourish the soul. However, it is so much more important to allow God to create beauty within your soul, and that will pour out within your home and gleam more brightly than anything else we can do to our living space. Many a home can shine with material beauty and still have miserable occupants, because the home is only the SETTING for the living out of your family life. Always seek to strike the balance.

  • Emily

    Hi Jenny… Great essay. I copied down a few passages on little notecards.

    In my former career in the art world, a colleague confessed that he ONLY ever bought distressed furniture. He just couldn’t handle the scratches otherwise. So, yes, cat excellent idea.

  • Caroline

    There’s nothing like a cat, lying on a sunny spot on the hard wood floor, snoozing. It brings peace and calm to the room. Calicoes are the best.

  • Maggie McT

    Though a calico will almost certainly be a girl cat! I’ve had cats all my life and I can’t imagine life without them. They definitely help with humility too, being the superior animal.

  • Katie

    But! There will come a time when most things in the house are done, and that is a nice thing, too. Maybe the kitchen isn’t super-pinterest-y and the fixtures in the house don’t all match each other, but when the furnace, roof, and flooring are all repaired, and the walls are painted and the deck is demolished for a patio, the house will seem livable and acceptable in its imperfection. Have hope!

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