With our boys spending a week at a summer day camp, my wife and I recently dove into a substantial (for us) home project – installing a new laminate wood floor in our kitchen. Like the true DIY go-getters we are, we did every bit ourselves. And, like the absent-minded handyman that I am, the project proceeded in fits and starts over the better part of four days as I measured, cut, laid the planks, re-measured, re-cut, tossed ill-fitting boards out, and rubbed my sore knees and my wife’s sore back, all in the hope of a fresh, clean kitchen for our family to enjoy.
It’s a task I’m not sure I envisioned eight years ago when we bought this house, our first as a married couple after several years of the renting life. When we moved in, we insisted to anyone who would listen that this house was a “starter home.” Though it was a perfectly lovely three-bedroom with good bones in a quiet village here in Western New York, positioned on a modest half-acre with a mature maple shading a bricked back patio, we felt the itch common to our generation, I’m told, to keep moving, stay for a few years, then move on out, onward and upward.
But something happened along the way, as the years went on and we moved further into the role of homeowners.
We got planted.
More specifically, as I think back over the years, and projects that we’ve set ourselves to, we made one move after another aimed at cultivating this little piece of earth God has gifted to us. Of course, we didn’t think of it as cultivation at the time. We saw dingy carpet in need of tearing out, only to discover gorgeous walnut hardwood underneath. And what to do with old hardwood? Why, sand and stain it, of course. We saw a side door that could be taken out to be replaced with another living room window, to let in the afternoon light. We saw a section of the backyard perfect for a raised garden bed. And so on.
Obviously, it’s far more than I anticipated tackling when we walked across the threshold of this little old house eight years ago. But it’s been one of the most fulfilling joys of my adult life – turning this home bit by bit into something that suits our unique family with its unique needs, adding beauty here and there, and finding ways to make order out of chaos, so to speak.
God created for the joy of it, but then He did something remarkable with His creation: he invited man to be cultivators of it, to tend, watch, nourish and nurture, and to aid in the daily flourishing of His creation. It’s often said, thanks to Tolkien, that we are “sub-creators,” and part of this act of sub-creation is cultivation. Taking care of the little plots of land that are given us is a supreme act of love. We cultivate our little part of God’s creation, hoping the light it brings is good and lovely.
And, what’s more, our cultivation isn’t limited to our physical space. We are cultivators of every good gift given to us. Our own gifts and talents, our possessions, and, of course, our family. These two little boys who run back and forth over these newly-laid laminate floors, whooping with joy as they slip and slide on their socks, or leave little piles of Legos beside the new lamp in the living room – they’re little parts of creation in need of cultivating, too.
All these things we’ve been given to cultivate are far from perfect, and each day brings fresh reminders of how far we’ve left to go in the process of cultivation. But, we don’t have to look very far to see ways in which we’ve come so far. And we should celebrate those victories by laying markers, literally or figuratively, of the progress. You probably need only take a quick glance around your home to see some of those markers.
Today, we laid the last piece of laminate wood flooring into place, sawed the last piece of baseboard moulding, and nailed the last threshold into place. And on the little chalkboard on our hutch, I wrote this quote from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: “The quality of mercy is not strain’d;/It droppeth like the gentle rain from heaven/Upon the place beneath:/it is twice blest…”
God’s mercy is not measured, not strained. It falls daily like rain to nourish our lives. And what better reminder of God’s daily mercies than our home? It is a little mercy of its own, a daily reminder of the grace of God to cultivate a little piece of His creation, to provide a haven for His truth, beauty and goodness to thrive.
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