The Old Brown House


I am a little obsessed with an old brown house that I pass every day on my way to work. It sadly sits on the end of a row of other houses, dilapidated. Tired. Old. Every once in a while, I notice a pile of new lumber or a large trash bag on the porch, and I feel a surge of hopeful excitement, wondering if someone is going to repair this home. When I notice that some shrubs have been cleared or a window has been replaced, I am always aware of this deep longing inside of me for transformation. I so want that house to be fixed. I want to drive by one day and see that the roof is no longer caving, that the siding has been replaced. I want to see fresh paint and potted plants and newness. I see the houses next to this brown house and notice a new fence or new windows or the cute color scheme that reminds me of the house from the movie Up, and I just want “my” brown house to start looking that way too. As I sit at the red light, I find myself searching for any tiny piece of evidence that things are changing for this house, that someone really is doing the work and one day it will be just as I imagine it could be. I often have a fear that one morning I will drive by and the whole house will have been demolished. That the owner will just say, “I don’t have the time or money for this place. It is too much work and I am done.” And I think about how the other homeowners along the row will rejoice when this happens because let me tell you, that brown house has not been helping with the whole “location location location” axiom of real estate. Finally the neighbors can celebrate how cute and functional and great their little neighborhood is. I mean, who wants to look at the mess? (Ok, this row of houses sits right along one of the busiest streets in the city, but I digress.)


I have to confess that the brown house taunts me a little bit. It taunts my own desire to be changed and transformed and more than who I am. It reminds me of my brokenness and my struggles and all the things that I wrestle with on a daily basis that just don’t really go away. It reminds me of how often I have asked myself if I really see any transformation in my own life.


Lately, it feels like that poor brown house has been forgotten. The roof seems to be collapsing in places, windows have been boarded up, and yesterday my heart sank a bit when I noticed two yellow pieces of paper taped to the front door. To no one in particular I said, “Uh oh, that’s not good.” My daughters asked me what was wrong and I said, “I’m just wondering if those papers are announcing the end to the brown house.” From the back of the car I heard, “Why are you so obsessed with that place?”


Good question. I just hoped that over the course of this school year that we would have the privilege of watching the broken house transform into something beautiful. Instead, it seems to be mirroring what happens a lot of times in life when change just doesn’t seem to happen. Where is the hope in that?


I have two thoughts about this.


As I sat staring at the broken house, I heard, “You aren’t seeing the whole picture when you look at that house.” I sat and thought about that for a minute and later googled the address of the house. In my search I learned that this busy street was once a quieter street, and the brown house probably didn’t have as much traffic passing by every minute of every day. From what I can tell about the houses on this row, they have been there for over one hundred years. I smiled as I thought about all of the life that has probably happened in that house and knew that there must be so many stories. I realized that this home could very well be nearing the end of its life and that’s ok. Just because all I see right now is brokenness doesn’t mean that there was never life there. And in thinking about the whole picture and the whole story, I feel a little more peace when I pass that house every day. I still feel sad, but sadness with gratitude and respect feels different than hopelessness.


But what about when we aren’t at the end of our journey? When we haven’t walked through a hundred years of life and might be in the first steps of a painful struggle? The brown house represents that for me too and reminds me just because all we see is brokenness and mess does not mean that the story is finished. In Philippians 1, Paul writes that “He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” I cling to the promise of that verse. Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus ever say that He is done with me or anyone because we are too much work. To use the house analogy, He doesn’t say, “Look. I put in new windows and you broke them. I am definitely not investing in a new roof. I just can’t afford to keep putting money into this. The repairs just cost too much.” No, instead He promises to finish the work He started and says we are worth the cost. So much so that He gave his life just to finish the work.


This hope does not negate or dismiss the excruciating pain that you or someone you love might be experiencing. It doesn’t pretend that the struggle is easy nor does it promise that everything will always make sense.  As Hannah Anderson beautifully writes, “Time does not heal all wounds. But I have hope in Someone who does. It’s a hope that doesn’t always see and a hope that doesn’t always understand, but it is a hope that is real and beautiful and life-giving. And it is a hope that ultimately rests, not in my ability to endure the pain, but in His power to bring me back to life when I cannot.”


I want to stop cringing when I see broken things and remember to seek Him instead. I really believe that it is in the brokenness that we often see Him the most clearly.


“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” –Frederick Buechner