Learning to Live in the Incomplete

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“You just can’t see it yet like I can,” she said, gesturing toward the kitchen counter she promised would boast a pantry big enough for all our needs once the project was finished. She was right; all I could see was the room of storage boxes and suitcases, tools and paint cans piled high in the corner. My friend whose basement apartment was slowly being transformed into our new home had a vision of what the place could be; I could only see endless days of unpacking and building.

My friend has a gift. She can walk into a space, strip it down to the bare bones and clearly picture its potential. She is perfectly comfortable ripping down walls to find every nook of space that can become a new shelf, building barn doors to create new rooms, and dreaming about projects that will continue to transform the imperfect space into the picture she carries around in her mind.

Me—I am one of the unbelievers. I feel the panic rising in my chest at the sound of the saw ripping through the flesh of the wood that means living in the incomplete a little longer. I despise the feeling of living in a construction zone, of my already shaky hold on normal being upended. The pantry project lead to a laundry room remodel, new counters and a sink. My husband promised it would be completed by summer’s end, but I didn’t believe it.

I can’t see what might be; I can only sit in the rubble and lament the mess that currently exists.

It’s not remotely a stretch to relate these feelings to the rest of my life. The way I feel about my external space is a laughingly clear reflection of the battle going on inside. If I can keep every room in my house sparkling clean, I can avoid the reality that my insides are a jumbled mess of contradictions that constantly confound me.

The two renovations that are occurring simultaneously are God’s real life object lesson to me. The ever-slow learner, I don’t like the lessons. I want the knowledge without the pain it takes. I want the perfect home without the construction: inside and out. Just as one home project bleeds into the next, Jesus constantly peels back the layers of my heart that is too small to house the expansive life he’d rather give me.

I spent the entire summer begging for completion, impatient at the interruptions to the progress I want to see. My self-imposed deadline passed and my husband and I still didn’t have jobs. The income from the international non-profit we just left ran out and there was none to replace it. Our family is still deep in transition mode and don’t understand how we fit back in a country, family, and life that has changed irreparably in our year-and-a-half absence while living in Asia.

“I just can’t see it like you can!”

I want to scream at the Architect of a life I can’t imagine yet.

“We want to understand and grasp and move on,” says Catherine McNiel in her book All Shall Be Well.“But control is an illusion more fleeting than the spring mist rising along the lake, a phantom vanishing in a moment. We don’t like to hang suspended; we prefer to arrive. But if we can prefer to summon the courage to linger and look, mystery may captivate us—and offer exactly what we need.”

***

This morning broke with a flurry of activity. Backpacks were thrown into the car and the kids were dropped off at school. I returned to a silent, empty house that is still a work in progress. The dark grey pantry is beautiful now, big enough that I haven’t even filled it yet. The half-finished laundry room door my friend created from scratch is on the kitchen island. She let me join in the work that was more art than building. We glued small pieces of wood in a herringbone pattern, covered them in a color as blue as the Georgia summer sky above.

With each stroke of the brush and our shared laughter, I tried to be present in the process and trusted that her vision was good. She can see what I cannot—the beauty that will come. As I held onto the paintbrush, I tried to let go of my need for easy answers. I tried.

It takes a lot of renovation to tear down almost four decades of grasping for control.

I cling to Jan Richards’ words from Blessings from a Whole Heart, the poem I claimed as mine for the year months ago. I couldn’t picture a whole heart then and I still can’t now. I recite the words again, willing myself to believe them:

who you are
is here,
every shard
somehow holding
the whole of you
that you cannot see
but is taking shape
even now

I run my fingers over the grain of the herringbone, noticing the gaps and inconsistencies in the pattern. Even the completion of the project won’t bring perfection. The paint is already chipping in some places. Summer has passed and the door has not yet been hung, the new wood countertops are still stacked in their boxes behind our couch.

Something is always incomplete. Today there is more work to be done, more progress to be made. And then tomorrow, we will begin again. We cling to hope; we have to. Somehow we must trust the vision of the One who can see the perfect home that is to come and how, in the process of building it, we become whole.

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Nicole T Walters
I am a writer who lives somewhere in the tension between wanderlust and rootedness.I currently make my home in Georgia with my husband and two children but have lived in and left parts of my heart in the Middle East and South Asia. I write to help people create space to listen to God, learn from others, and lead lives that love at NicoleTWalters.com. I have authored essays in several books and my writing has appeared in places like CT Women, Fathom, Red Letter Christians, and (in)courage. I am a regular contributor at here SheLoves Magazine and The Mudrooom and am a member of the Redbud Writers Guild.
Nicole T Walters
Nicole T Walters

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