Restoration Man

It’s called “Restoration Man”, and it’s my new favorite show.  Set in Britain, the show follows couples that bravely take on renovation projects that most wouldn’t even consider. So far, I’ve seen an old water tower, a 100-year-old windmill and a long-forgotten school-house transformed into incredible homes.  The vision the renovators have is nothing less than awe-inspiring.  They look at these old derelict buildings and something inside of them is stirred.  It becomes all-consuming and they find themselves sacrificing everything to bring life back to what seems a crumbling mess.

What adds to the show’s fascination is the work of the host (not to mention his delightful accent) to research each building, delve into its history and present the full story behind each brick and beam.  In his initial meeting with those heading the restoration, he reviews the plans and makes suggestions as to how they might be improved and also offers advice on how to ensure the historical significance of the building is respected.  I’ve found it so refreshing that each couple that takes on one of these projects comments on the responsibility they feel in preserving the dignity of the building and honoring the original purpose and use of the space.  They aren’t looking to raze the buildings, but rather bring new life and new use to what once was, all the while taking into account the many stories encompassed in its history.

January is a big month for taking stock on one’s life.  Our bad habits sit around us like the rotting wood struggling to hold up the forgotten building.  As the end of December rolls around, we look toward January with excitement for all the possibilities it seems to hold. We are inspired by the thought of a new beginning and are quick to mark the first of the month as the beginning of what is sure to be a better life.

We’ve all heard the saying, “we make plans and God laughs”.  I often think of that as I’m meticulously planning out my day, my week, my year.  I am humbled in the reminder that I am not the master architect here and there may be alterations, additions and/or subtractions to my plans that will help me lead the life I am meant to live and bring out the beauty of who I was always meant to be.  I am forced to put down my pencil, sit back and allow for some reflection.  What does God want me to build this year?  What does He want to shed light on for me? What joys does He want me to pay forward and what struggles does He want me to use to help others?  Once again, I am gently reminded that I was never meant to be in control and the only real dependable plan is to hand it all over and strive to remain open to God leading me down whatever path He has chosen.

One of the many challenges people face in these restoration projects is the demand on them to use as much of the original materials found in the building as possible.  Materials are stripped, reconditioned and replaced with painstaking effort and detail. I’m always left amazed at the amount of usable material found in these building that look like they are just begging to be torn down. Interestingly enough, the same might be said for all of us.  I’ve found that so many of my lessons learned in these short forty years can be used for good if I allow God to show me how.  Just last week I sat with a cherished friend and relived much of my own journey with anxiety as I listened to her current struggles with this debilitating condition. I know that the simple fact that I understand exactly where she is at is more comforting than anything else I could offer her.  I feel the same way when I speak to other couples that have experienced miscarriage.  The gift in the struggle is the understanding I can offer to others experiencing similar crosses.  And that is God’s way of restoring me.  I love that.

The year has just begun and we all have our own personal plans and goals mixed in with fears and worry.  There are moments when I truly wish I could see the plan for me drafted neatly on a piece of paper.  I wish I could review them, make the changes I saw fit and give them my stamp of approval.  Of course we are all well aware life just doesn’t work that way.  I have yet to see a restoration project that didn’t encounter one or many major challenges once the work began and problems were revealed along the way.  I also have yet to see an episode where the restorers succumbed to the challenges and gave up on their dream.  As we delve deeper into 2016, I pray for the strength to remain always open to the true architects plans, (whether they match mine or not) and am truly comforted by the knowledge that God never tires of His role in restoring each one of us piece by precious piece.  In true British fashion, I dare say that’s just “brilliant”!

Charlie Balch,

Charlie Balch,

What Mold?

I wish I had video footage of the scene as it unfolded.  I can just imagine the look on my face and the various contortions it went through as I processed what was before me.  We were visiting with my in-laws and I was helping my mother-in-law get dinner ready.  She had pulled out a block of mozzarella cheese to use for the pizza she was putting together and I could immediately see the mold through the package.  The growth was rather abundant.  It would have made for a perfect lesson on the various stages of decaying matter and the pervasive way mold takes over what was once edible.  I fully expected her to head straight to the trash and dispose of the atrocity, yet she saw something in this hairy, green/black mess that I would have never even thought to look for.  

Unfettered by what lay before her, she grabbed a knife and sloughed off what was easily a half of an inch of cheese from each side while I stood beside her paralyzed with the realization that she was in fact hoping to use this on the pizza I was supposed to feed my children.  After a few moments, she turned to me with what remained of the cheese post-surgery and held it before me with a look of pride, much like that of a child showing off a prized art project.  And there we stood; waste-nothing meets OCD.  I smiled meekly and she immediately knew it was time to think of something else to put on the pizza.  We both laughed a little and fell into that rare and beautiful place of understanding and acceptance.  

With the start of the new year, people across the globe are formulating personal resolutions that they hope will create within them a renewed sense of being, a better self. I’m curious how those resolutions might change for the better if we were to look outside of ourselves and ask God how those around us could help us become the person we were created to be.  Each one of us is a unique and intricate creation of all the people that we have shared our lives with; those that have crossed our paths briefly and those that have walked with us for the long haul.  

At the risk of being too “cheesy”, I’ll ask that you bear with me in seeing this comparison through. Fact is, we can all be compared to that block of mozzarella.  Each one of us starts out a perfect, unmarred creation and, as we grow, we are heavily influenced by our relationships and contact with the people in our lives.  Some relationships bring out the true flavor of who we are and do much to shape our well-being and success in life.  Others weigh heavily on our souls, misdirect our steps and before we know it, the mold begins to grow.  So often we are left to question how we can create anything positive out of the hand we have been dealt.  We have a choice; throw it all away or hand it over to God who is perfectly and wholly capable of sloughing off the mold and using all of our experiences, be they good or bad, for positive personal growth.    

From Thanksgiving through New Year’s, our lives have recently been filled with family and friends, those closest to us that have had a part, be it small or large, in defining who we are as individuals.  We’ve enjoyed many visits,  some too short and some too long. Conversations have been abundant, some with healing and others with resolute defiance that things will ever change.  Many gatherings have been joyous with the joining of family and friends that don’t often enjoy the blessing of time together and other gatherings felt the deep sadness of loved ones lost.  

There’s a lot of “de-briefing” that takes place after the holidays.  We are quick to comment on how Aunt Bertha’s weight continues to fluctuate like a yo-yo, how cousin Jimmy has grown into such a nice young man after some turbulent teenage years, how much Uncle Ed has aged since the last time we visited.  Too often we get so caught up in our opinions, we fail to absorb the richness of the diversity around us within the personalities of our family and all those God places in our lives. There is much God wants to teach us and, if we let Him, He will use those around us to gently whittle away misunderstanding or harsh judgments, refine our patience and increase our acceptance.  On the flip side, it’s so important to remember that we are gifts that God can use to do the same for others.  

In the end, I have to give my mother-in-law credit where credit is due.  She dug deep and sure enough, she found the purity left within that marred block of cheese.  I know it wasn’t easy for her not to use it on the pizza, but she respected where I was at and loved me anyway.  And, in case you ever need to know, parmesan cheese makes for an excellent substitute on pizza.

Copywrite, 2016, Nicole Johnson, Dominik Schraudolf, CCO Public Domain, Dominik Schraudolf, CCO Public Domain