My family and I have always lived in rural – some remote – places, but we made the difficult decision to move to town ten years ago, when the two youngest boys were finishing high school, in college, working and active in our church and community. My husband was working in the city, too. When we did the math, we realized that the four of us were driving a combined total of 1000 miles per week. We moved to town.
They dragged me, kicking and screaming and sulking, away from the farm with my chickens and goats to a lovely Victorian farmhouse in a very nice part of Burlington. There was no space outside; it was on a corner lot, and there was a parking lot on the other two sides of it, but it was a beautiful place, big enough for our ever-changing family and frequent houseguests. I hosted a ladies’ Bible study, and there was room for all of their little ones to run around and play while we studied. I had a large sewing studio and office, four bedrooms, a living room and dining room, a sitting room off the master bedroom, a large attic and basement, two bathrooms and a big kitchen. We lived there for ten years, and even though it was a rental, it felt like my own. We took care of it and decorated (and redecorated) it with the seasons and our changing lives. I thanked God every day for that house, and I always asked him to help me hold it loosely, because I did not want it to become an idol to me.
And then, after ten years, we had to leave it. And guess what… I realized that it had become an idol to me, at least a little bit! Because it was unexpected, and we had become complacent there, we weren’t sure what to do. In the end, without any other options, we moved to staff housing on the 1000-acre campus of my husband’s workplace, in the country, very private. We have the downstairs apartment in a (pseudo) Tudor castle. It has a large kitchen and living room, and a laundry room, but it only has one bedroom and one bathroom (accessible only through that bedroom). Right now we have a lot of our life’s “stuff” in storage and I still feel crowded. There are two apartments upstairs, and a guest apartment across the foyer from us, which can be used for those frequent houseguests. No sewing room!
The castle was built around 1926, at least twenty years younger than our house in town, but the architects went to great trouble to make it as authentic as possible. It’s a maze of doors and rooms and open spaces, a basement and the third floor which is currently uninhabited. It’s even more confusing now, after it was cut up into apartments. There are servants’ quarters, a dumbwaiter that goes from the attics to the basement, plenty of fireplaces, chutes for laundry and coal and garbage and fireplace ash. There’s a bell-pull/intercom system. There was originally a tower and also a 3-story conservatory wing that fell into disrepair and were torn down. Our attached garage has lead-paned bay windows that match the rest of the house.
A writer friend came over to help me clean before we moved in, and the two of us explored the unoccupied parts of the castle. It was fascinating and a little spooky. The upstairs rooms are tiny, probably for the serfs, but they have a much nicer bathroom than I do! Becky and I agreed that this was the perfect place for me to write. How could I fail to find inspiration here? Besides, I have no sewing room.
The problem is, I am really only inspired to go outside. The setting is incredibly beautiful. Ninety years ago, someone created formal and informal gardens and paths, fish ponds, and special places. It has an iron fence around it and pillars at the start of the driveway. The first owner kept a pet bear in a den just outside the grounds. There is the shell of an in-ground swimming pool. The rock well is completely filled in, safe for the grandchildren! There is an archery target, a fire pit, a deck where the conservatory used to be. Flagstone paths meander in odd places, sometimes ending abruptly for no apparent reason. There are a wide variety of deliberately-planted trees and shrubs.
Some residents, over time, have made efforts to restore the landscape, but some of it has gone wild. I enjoy watching birds, so I’ve had my binoculars and field guide out every day, watching the overgrown yew shrub community outside my living room window. It was once a garden spot, but I don’t plan to disrupt that habitat. Instead, I put a little rock house in it. In fact, I plan to add whimsy with fairy gardens and other accents all over the grounds. No gnomes, though.
I have a fine writing place here in the sunroom end of the livingroom, but I might need to move my computer to the kitchen table instead, because I can’t concentrate on writing with a view like this. I overlook the fish-pond-turned-garden and well, with their rock path and peonies. The symphony of birdsong calls to me. There is a gingko tree on the left and this giant horse chestnut tree in front of me. I had never seen one of those before. I had my husband stand next to it, for perspective.
It’s hard to be further from our church and family members, but I no longer miss my house in town at all. I may feel confined in the winter, but right now I just want to be outdoors, planting and weeding and digging. Today, I planned to write for two hours and then reward myself with some time in the garden. Instead, I went outside and pulled all the deadwood from what was once a formal garden spot. I want to do something interesting there.
Before and after:
God is more than just good to us. To say that his provision is abundant and lavish is an understatement. Like David, I can say that my boundaries have always fallen in pleasant places. I certainly don’t deserve a home like this, in the kind of setting I love most. It’s all grace and love, poured out on me. That knowledge keeps me humble. My current book is a Christmas novella set mostly in a Chicago homeless shelter. I’m writing about people trapped in poverty, in the winter in a big scary city. And God has set me here, in this jewel of a place.