Imagine yourself as a living house.
God comes in to rebuild that house.
At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing.
He is getting the drains right
and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on;
you knew that those jobs needed doing
and so you are not surprised.
But presently He starts
knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably
and does not seem to make any sense.
What on earth is He up to?
The explanation is that He is building
quite a different house from the one you thought of –
throwing out a new wing here,
putting on an extra floor there,
running up towers,
You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage:
but He is building a palace.
He intends to come and live in it Himself.
~C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity
Whether bunker or cottage or palace,
when I seek shelter, safety or simplicity,
it is not enough.
I am not a dwelling for God
until His remodel project is finished~
He puts down His chisel, hammer and saw,
sees what He has salvaged from the junk heap,
looks me over
and declares it good.
My father’s treehouse is twenty seven years old this summer, lonesome and empty high up in the black walnut tree in our front yard. It remains a constant reminder of my father’s own abandoned Swiss Family Robinson dreams.
Over the years, it has been the setting for a local children’s TV show, laser tag wars, sleep overs and tea parties, even my writer’s retreat with a deck side view of the Cascades to the east, the Canadian Coastal Range to the north and Puget Sound to the west. Now it is a sad shell no longer considered safe to visit, as the support branches in its century-old tree are weakening with age and time. It is on our list of farm restoration projects, but other falling down buildings must be prioritized first.
My father’s dream began in February 1995 when our sons were 8 and 6 years old and our daughter just 2. We had plenty of recycled lumber on our old farm and an idea about what to build. My dad, retired from his desk job and having recently survived a lymphoma diagnosis and treatment, had many previous daunting building projects to his credit, and a few in his mind that he was yet to get to. He was eager to see what he could construct for his grandkids by spring time. He doodled out some sketches of what might work in the tree, and contemplated the physics of a 73 year old man scaling a tree vs. building it on the ground and hoisting it up mostly completed. I got more nervous the more I thought about it and hoped we could consider a project less risky, and praying the weather wouldn’t clear enough for construction to start any time soon.
The weather did clear just as my father’s health faded. His cancer relapsed and he was sidelined with a series of doctor’s appointments, hospitalizations and treatment courses. He hung on to that hope of getting the treehouse going by summer, still thinking it through in his mind, still evaluating what he would need to buy to supplement the materials already gathered and piled beneath the tree. In the mean time he lost physical strength day by day.
I decided his dream needed to proceed as he fought his battle, so I borrowed library books on treehouses, and hired two college age brothers who lived down the road to get things started. I figured if my dad got well enough to build again, at least the risky stuff could be already done by the young guys. These brothers took their job very seriously. They pored over the books, took my dad’s plans, worked through the details and started in. They shinnied up the tree, put up pulleys on the high branches and placed the beams, hoisting them by pulling on the ropes with their car bumper. It was working great until the car bumper came off.
I kept my dad updated with photos and stories. It was a diversion for him, but the far off look in his eye told me he wasn’t going to be building anything in this world ever again. He was gone by July. The treehouse was completed a month later. It was everything my dad had dreamed of, and more. It had a deck surrounded by a protective railing, a trap door, and staircase up the trunk. We had an open tree celebration and had 15 friends and neighbors up there at once. I’m sure dad was sipping lemonade with us as well, enjoying the view.
Now all these years later, the treehouse is tilting on its foundation as the main weight-bearing branch is weakening with age. We’ve declared it condemned, not wanting to risk an accident. As I look out my front window, it remains a daily reminder of past dreams fulfilled and those yet unfulfilled. Much like my father’s body, the old walnut tree is weakening, hanging on by the roots, but its muscle strength is failing. It will, inevitably come down in one of our frequent fierce windstorms, just as its nearby partner did a few years ago.
The treehouse dream branched out in another way. One of the construction team brothers decided to try building his own as a place to live in his woods, using a Douglas Fir tree as the center support and creating an octagon, two stories, 30 feet off the ground. He worked on it for two years and moved in, later marrying someone who decided a treehouse was just fine with her, and for 20+ years, they’ve been raising five children there. The treehouse kids are old enough to come work for me on our farm, a full circle feeling for me. This next generation is carrying on a Swiss Family Robinson dream that began in my father’s mind and our front yard.
I still have a whole list full of dreams myself, some realized and some deferred by time, resources and the limits of my imagination. I feel the clock ticking too, knowing that the years and the seasons slip by me faster and faster as I near the age my father was when he first learned he had cancer. It would be a blessing to me to see others live out the dreams I have held so close.
Like my father, I will some day teeter in the wind like our old tree, barely hanging on. When ready to fall to the ground, I’ll reach out with my branches and hand off my dreams too. The time will have come to let them go. Thank you, Dad, for handing me yours.
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2 thoughts on “A Decent Little Cottage”
C.S…and YOU, dear Emily!!
What a way to begin this day, or any day.
Looking back on my 89 years, I believe that
I have always been a ‘work in progress,’
a remodeling job that never ends — always
seemingly missing ‘something’ or ‘someone’ —
until my ‘house’ pleases Him as each
room, each corner, is pure, dust-free, devoid of
imperfections. It is then that I can unlatch the
door to my soul and welcome Him in –as I run to meet
this long-awaited permanent GUEST with open, loving arms.
The precious idea of ‘living out one’s dreams by others’ after we have gone, for me,
is part of the critically needed continuity within family and friendships that we hope to leave for those whom we have loved and known during our brief earthly Journey. Not ‘things’ that are valued in an earthly, temporary sense — but sacred, lived values (moral road maps?), beliefs, hopes for a better world than the one we are leaving….
Thank you for sharing your dearest, poignant (and even bittersweet) memories with us, dear Emily.
(Now my family know why I keep a large Kleenex box next to my computer….)
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Full circle indeed…now the children of the young man who actually built your father’s dream are working on your farm. The many “coincidences” in our lives are so telling of God’s mysterious and surprising plans. (I do not like to think of you losing another beautiful old tree!)