It was a tall wooden house, two levels high, painted yellow with white trim around the windows. It stood on the corner of two streets with a huge backyard that stretched out behind it, an apple tree with branches that stretched up and flopped over on the sides from the weight of the fruit. We called it The Yellow House, and it was our home in Stockholm, Sweden for two years. There were French doors, an open fire place, high ceilings, a huge kitchen, a foyer that opened into a library. Our books stuffed the shelves.
It was my perfect home.
And in it I lived an open life, people I didn’t know piled in when we had been there for only a few weeks. We made pizza and ate it in at a table that was too small, voices echoed in the room because there wasn’t lots of furniture and nothing on the walls. A few weeks later, our backyard was full of more people we hardly knew, enjoying the late autumn light, drinking warm apple cider and connecting with each other. It was easy to live a hospitable life in a home I loved.
And then it was gone on a late August day last year, we handed the keys to our landlord, watched the light filter through the glass one last time and drove away. An Emirates flight carried us across Europe, the Middle East and most of Asia, across Australia to its eastern shore, and we land in Melbourne, Australia on October 22.
We started looking for a new house, and I could feel my loss in every doorway. The tree would have been full of fruit. Applesauce would have bubbled on the stove while a fire burned. It should be dark and cold.
It is too long a story to tell, but within weeks we found our home in Melbourne. It is short and brick and wide, and I took three steps inside of it when I knew it was the house for us. I loved it after thinking I could never love a house again, but there was still a series of hesitations.
There isn’t enough storage space. I need more shelves. There are no bookshelves. We will have to buy some. There is no fireplace. The house had limitations.
It wasn’t the only decision we had to make in those few weeks. We looked for work, a church, kindergartens and eventually schools, and with every decision we ran into a wall of limitations. The worship is great here but the teaching is awful, we love the preaching but no one talked to us, the school teachers seem unhappy, they play too much, they play too little and on and on and on.
I’ve seen my limitations as a wall to breakthrough or a hurdle to cross. On the other side was my promise, the place where I would be free to live the way I wanted or the work in a way that is blessed.
Limitations were something to remove, adjust or work around.
I’m guessing you’ve got rooms in your home you wish were different, perhaps a different part of town would be better. Maybe it’s the energy you lack for the day ahead of you or the behaviour of friends, children or spouses that make you think you can’t do what you want. Maybe your work consumes you and keeps you from dinners with your neighbours and friends.
You long to create a life of meaning, purpose and hospitality but it is not here. Here is where children make messes in every corner, here is where there is no time for the longings of your dreams, here is where your space and your life confine you.
As I walked around our new house, different in almost every way from The Yellow House, I could hear God asking, What if your limitations are leading you to a new way of living? What if I want you to live within these limitations?
Our lack of storage space became an invitation to have less things. The lack of a fireplace meant I could create coziness in a different way, with candles, books and laughter. These were the simple adjustments, but as this attitude spilled over to our other decisions, we stopped looking for a perfect church, school or community and we looked instead at the ways each would limit us.
The limitations became boundary lines not road blocks, and within these lines we are finding the life we are to build. I do less now when people come over. I make a big salad and keep it simple with a barbecue. I set a timer and pick up the house in 15 minutes, I make piles of un-put-away-things in the guest room.
We pray that people who are not like us will feel at home and welcome here. We keep a Sabbath and enter the rest of God so that we may have more for each other.
We all know that there is no such thing as a perfect home or community, but we can still be motivated to build toward or search for perfection. Limitations have become my freedom, a reason to revel in what I have now, I celebrate when I run into the boundary line instead of curse because I see the way the lines are marking out my home.
*Images courtesy of Devi