I entered a beautiful, well ordered, nicely set out home. It had all the modern things that we consider a house needs; a fully equipped kitchen, lounge with two big TVs, in a safe neighbourhood. The rooms were nicely furnished and everything was in its place. The bed was very nicely made with a welcome note on the bed and a few lollies left for me from the owner.
The owners were away, yet they graciously allowed me to stay there for three nights, which was a blessing. There were two boarders living there, and while friendly when we occasionally crossed paths in the hallways, they pretty much stayed in their own rooms behind closed doors. My schedule was busy so I spent very little time at the home, but I entered and left most days with all the rooms in darkness, hearing very little voices or life in the house...certainly no laughter. Of the two encounters I had with one of the boarders, one was to ask me to turn down my iPad while in my room as the sound of what I was watching was disturbing her in her room. The other was to make sure I put my glass in the dishwasher after I had a drink.
Everything in the environment encouraged me to stay in my room, when there was a perfectly lovely lounge room, spa out the back, a lovely kitchen to cook and eat in. But the whole time I was there it was dark and closed up. I felt like it would be wrong the turn the light on and enjoy the spaces, even if it was by myself.
It was a beautiful looking house, but it was like being in a hotel, which in some ways was what it was for me. While for this trip it suited my purposes, it made me think how I couldn't live like this, and it made me wonder how many people actually do?
As I left on the third morning heading toward my loud, crazy home that is filled with people and noise and laughter, I appreciated more than ever before what really makes a home. See, I too have two boarders so I understand this living arrangement. We regularly congregate in the kitchen for long, fun conversations, the lounge room is rarely vacant, and there is laughter, activity and life. We insist on eating together as regularly as we can, we create environments where we do things together yet respect that everyone needs their own space. But I realise this happens because there is intentionality in our home to make it this way. It takes setting a tone of how we want to live in community, or at least how what living together in our home looks like. If we didn’t I could imagine how easy it would be for everyone to migrate to their rooms and only pass in the hallway occasionally.
Another encounter I had with the other boarder was when she let me into the house. I asked her how long she had been living there. She said over a year, and continued on by saying she loves it when the owners are there, because there is always lots of family around. I know for a fact that it would have been a very different experience for me it they had been home. As the stewards of their home, they have the ability to create an environment that is either a home or a hotel and I know that they do that. Anyone however can be a part of making this happen. It is a matter of choosing it.
I know that my husband and I work hard at this, mainly because it is how we want to live together. But, I pray we are also able to model to all who live or stay with us in the short or long term, or for those who simply visit our home, that a home can be a safe, fun, empowering and life-giving place to do life with others.
A home is the people, not just the well planned floor plan: it's the personal interaction, not just the modern comforts : it's the love and shared life, not so much enough space that we can choose isolation. Maybe more than anything it is the choice for all in the household to be intentional about sharing the space. While that means our shared spaces get messy at times, sometimes “chaos” is apparent, lights and noise fill most spaces, the kitchen is full of smells and activity...my prayer is that people feel welcome, accepted and that when they enter our house, they have a place to call home.
By Tammy Tolman