My first place I called home after college was also called The Hedge among those in my college Christian fellowship.
I’ve lived in many places and had the freedom to decorate many bedrooms over the years–my pink and white frills in elementary school, my high school room with a Rapunzel window high up in the lofted ceiling above the living room (my family called it the Zugspitze after the tallest mountain in Germany), my first college dorm room.
But The Hedge was a place I had complete freedom to pick. Some would question the wisdom of that decision. It was a spooky Victorian mansion painted gray with black trim and surrounded by an intimidating 10 foot hedge. The landlord told me not to look at the wiring and if a fire started, to just run. My mom cried when she came to visit, before I and my roommates had cleaned it up.
Clean it up we did. Previous tenants had left trash mouldering on the back porch. The walls needed cleaning and touching up. The windows had decades worth of spiders’ webs between the inner and outer glass. The garden was a mass of vines and bamboo.
But it had a huge mantled fireplace and bay window in the living room, 14 foot ceilings, crown-molding, and enough character for 10 gothic romance novels. The buried garden had a stone bird bath, flag stone paths, and rose bushes. All I could see was possibility and the year I lived there, I sewed poet’s blouses and long skirts, listened to Vivaldi, and was adopted by an abandoned blue Siamese kitty I named Earl Grey. Every night he would take a running leap from my bedroom doorway to my bed, curl up and go to sleep.
The house came to life at Christmas. In Bellingham, there was never need to buy pine boughs. Just wait for a wind storm and take a walk on Sehome Hill with a trash bag, Mother Nature never failed to provide ample branches. I decorated the windows and mantle and we had a party. The house was loved and it shone again with warmth and magic.
Since The Hedge, I’ve done similar things with many different homes.
A basement Seattle apartment with a lovely window to a secluded garden. It boasted the most, and largest, spiders I’ve ever seen outside a zoo and required three hours of vacuuming just to see the color of the carpet. Once it was clean and decorated, I loved the evening light on the windowpanes, shining through the hedge rose bush.
The Howe House, a lonely, but lovely Craftsman, right next door to and owned by Bethany Presbyterian–oh, the fun of those years!
A little studio on Queen Anne which I waited 9 years to live in.
A 200 year old house in Massachusetts with crazy wallpaper that nearly knocked me over with it’s busy pattern.
An urban studio above a bar in Boston. I called it The Anchorhold after Julian of Norwich and her small cell right at a noisy, major (for medieval times) intersection .
And the list goes on.
I learned this home-loving skill from my mom. Over our years moving with the Army, she was a master as taking a tired, drab and spiritless place and making it a home.
Now, I live in a 1962 apartment, the first official Contemplative Cottage, and while it does not boast a century-old pedigree, it has become one of the most gracious homes yet.
The past two weeks we’ve been considering Contemplative Living–paying attention to the present moment, and engaging with how God might be present in life right now. We’ve practiced listening and looking, taking Sabbath rest and coloring, single-tasking and the pomodoro technique, now I’d like for us to reflect on our environment, and specifically where we live.
Practice: If I tell you that your home is alive, you might think me odd, but for just a moment, look at your house or apartment with the eyes of love, as if it was a living, breathing companion in your life. What makes you smile? What areas draw you? What areas drain your energy? No need to make any changes, just notice. Walk through your home and take some notes about what your see, feel, hear, sense. While you are at it, pray for each room and that God would reveal himself in this gift of shelter.