Brothers and Sisters…

Yesterday, the North Carolina Pride Parade took place in downtown Raleigh. I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to pride parades most of the time, even though a business appointment landed me smack dab in the middle of Market Street for San Francisco’s largest pride parade ever last year, two days after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. Usually, though, I just see them on the news. After the parade yesterday, one image was shown over and over on the local news and on social media: a man standing on the sidewalk, holding a sign screaming: “You Deserve Hell.”

Way to spread the gospel, dude.

Not to say anything whatsoever about the righteousness of anyone’s behavior, but I wished I had been able to walk up to that man and say, “And so do you. And so do I.” The Bible is full of references to the fact that we are all sinners, even if we’ve only fibbed about taking a cookie from the cookie jar. We’re all flawed creatures right from the start, so finger pointing is a laughable practice. This picture made me grieve—grieve for those who were hurt by it, grieve for the soul of this man who could be that arrogant, grieve for all those who would turn away from Christ because of it, and grieve for the church that suffers loss every time one of us responds to the world in hatred instead of love.

This morning, our pastor preached a timely sermon on responding in love. Since he is an expository preacher, he works his way through the Bible verse by verse, so the passage in Matthew 5 that deals with turning the other cheek and loving your enemies just “happened” to come up this week. In it, Jesus recalls the passages in Leviticus that instruct Moses on the importance of impartial judges, loving your neighbor as yourself, and doing good to the “sojourner among you.” It is not a matter of someone else’s sin; it is a matter of the content of our own hearts.

The word “love” occurs in the Bible over 500 times in modern translations. (Older translations use the word “charity” some of the time, but that word does not have the same meaning as it did in the 17th century.) The word “peace” is also used hundreds of times. John tells us, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8.) Paul tells us, “Let love be genuine…. As far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:9 & 18.)

Why can’t we get this? If God so loved the world, why do we hate so much? I’m not just talking about yesterday; just pick a topic on the news or in your neighborhood any time. The world is on fire, and we’re throwing gasoline. The church in the United States seems to believe that it is a political party, waving the flag and acting as if America used to be the Promised Land and we just need to get back to those times. But this was never the New Jerusalem. We were just a nation blessed by God, and now, perhaps, not so much. I understand that Christians in America are afraid of losing our freedom of religion, and fear can cause people to retaliate against anyone perceived as a threat. Decisions made in fear, though, are rarely our best decisions. Our scriptures tell us to repent and pray. Sure, as American citizens, we can and should work for better laws and for freedom of thought and conscience for everyone, but when God says that his people should repent and pray, he means us—the church—not “them.” We should repent. We should pray. Oh, my soul, we should pray.

Brothers and sisters, we can be righteous and loving at the same time. We can wage peace and be strong at the same time. We can be humble and stand up for the weak at the same time. We can love people who are not in our “group,” just as Jesus did when he shocked his disciples by hanging out with the Samaritan woman at the well. The gospel needs to be declared, truly, more than anything else, but screaming hatred toward the world is not the way of Jesus.

There is so much sin in the world, and we are called to speak the truth in love at all times, but if you want to take on a project of reforming a terrible sinner, go look in the mirror. Start there.

_______________

And can I find that horrible sign again? No, of course not, even though I’ve done some Google searches that I’m sure will put me on the map with all of those folks who keep track of who’s doing what on the internet. So sorry. It really does exist.

My Naked House: Step -1

Before we could put a new screened porch on the back of our house, we had to remove the narrow, ugly porch that was already there, and as much as I wanted these beautiful renovations, this was the step that terrified me most. It was so final. Once they start ripping your house away, there’s no going back!

Now that our septic tank was in the right place, our contractor texted me: “Thursday will be demo day.” I had visions of Chip, from Fixer Upper, yelling “Demo Day!!” About halfway through Thursday, David texted me that he had left home for an appointment, and that the guys had arrived and were removing the shingles from the porch roof. Removing the shingles? We weren’t keeping the roof, so why were they being so careful with the shingles? Just remove the whole roof!

open-rafters

By the time I got home, it was raining, and I could see that we still had a porch floor and roof trusses. I began to worry aloud that our contractor didn’t understand the project and was going to try to use our old roof for the new project. My husband assured me that Greg knew what he was doing, and that he was being careful to remove everything by hand in order to keep our house in good shape. “It’s not like HGTV, hon, where they come in with a backhoe and rip the porch off the house.”

Oh. I thought it was.

Anyhow, the porch railings and the plywood over the trusses were gone, so when I walked out to take this picture above, raindrops were falling on my head. It took me a minute to figure that out, since I had walked out onto that porch a thousand times, and I had never been rained on before. Habits are stronger than the evidence before us, I guess.

It was still raining on Friday, so we lived with half a porch for a few days. When I came home from work the following week, there were two guys working in the back yard, and no porch! At all! They were laughing as I came into the back yard with my hand over my mouth, saying, “Oh, my gosh!” over and over, staring at my naked house.

naked-house

Then I had to ask the question I’d been dreading ever since I had thought about a renovation: “Is everything alright underneath?” At first, they didn’t know what I meant, probably because they don’t watch enough renovation shows on TV. For every hour of HGTV shows like Love It or List It or Property Brothers or Fixer Upper, there are several disasters. Asbestos ceilings, termite infestations, carpenter bees, drain lines that drain under the house, black mold, or electrical systems that are so outdated it’s a wonder the house hasn’t already collapsed in a raging inferno. My realtor husband goes nuts at these plot twists, yelling, “There is no way they would have bought that house without an inspection!” I was ready for the worst.

But no. Everything was fine. Nothing infested except for a wasp’s nest that they had already taken care of. No mold, no moisture, nothing. I even asked whether birds wouldn’t fly into my house through the open bit of roof that they had had to leave over the kitchen bay window, but they said no, of course not. There was a wall behind it. I felt as if a great weight had been lifted. I had dreaded the unknown and had taken a bright flashlight to it, but there were no monsters.

Alrighty then, ready to move on.

So now, my house is naked in the back. I’ve locked the back door from the inside and hidden the key, since it’s a long drop! Good thing, as both of us have walked purposefully to the door in the living room, only to stop at the last minute and say, “Oh!” Habits, again.  I am so eager to see something in the back of my house again! But we have to go down before we go up.

Next step: Footers!

The MEK Memorial Screened Porch: Step -2

green-grass
The grass is always greenest over the septic tank– until they rip it up!

In the Myers Briggs personality assessment test, I am a J. I’ve taken it three times, and that is by far my strongest personality trait. For those of you who are not clued in to this newfangled way of casting horoscopes, J is for “judging,” although I’m not sure why, and it means that you like schedules. J’s start projects in advance and pace them out. J’s are not spontaneous; they are orderly, and they expect things to be done properly. This can be a problem if, say, you live on earth. However, God is good to me, and has not left me in my boring little world. He married me to a P, the exact opposite trait. P’s are freewheeling, easy-going people, not bothered at all by surprises and procrastination.

The Lord has also given me ample opportunities to develop patience, and home renovation is just the latest on the list. Waiting is very difficult for me, and renovation projects involve a whole lot of waiting. Before we started this, I thought you picked a contractor, told him what you wanted, and he eagerly jumped to it. I am such a dreamer.

First of all, I Googled contractors in my area, and found a bunch of them listed on HomeAdvisor.com. (This is not a recommendation. At all.) I looked at the reviews, and chose four. All of them came out to look at the project for bidding. During this time, we had architectural and engineering drawings done, which took a few more weeks. Then we gave the contractors an opportunity to tighten up their bids. Most of them came back within a few thousand dollars of one another, with just one outlier.

Once we chose Greg, we entered into the Land of Governmental Oversight. I was under the impression that a permit was just a way for the government to get money every time you wanted to do anything to your house. The government is under the impression that you have to pay them money every time you want to do something to your house, and then they get to decide whether or not you can do it. You just think you own your house. We had paid our fees, and everything was chugging along nicely, when a couple of weeks later, just as we were ready to pick up the permit, the inspector said, “What about that septic tank?” Greg told me this on the phone, and of course I argued. “We’re not putting in a bathroom! We’re not even putting in an extra sink! Why do they need to worry about the septic tank?” It turns out that you can’t have a septic tank within five feet of a structure. We had to make an appointment for a septic inspection. After another week went by, Greg and the inspector came out to our house to find our tank, and—you knew it—it was two feet away from our proposed porch footer. (As a side note here, I will interject that “water witching” is a real thing! The inspector found the line by walking with two thin metal rods in his hands. When they turned toward one another, that meant there was water underground. I thought that was just in novels about witches!) Everyone said that the best option would be to move the tank for “only” $2,000.

I snapped, “Forget it. I won’t build the porch, then.” Over the next day or so, I comforted myself with visions of the gorgeous kitchen cabinets I could now buy that I hadn’t been able to afford under the porch plan, and now I would even have extra money sitting in the bank at the end! My husband reminded me that the original goal had been to have space for people to come over, and that I would regret this decision. Greg agreed with him. Men. Teaming up.

They were right, of course. I recalled my longtime dream of sitting on the porch with David after a hot summer day, clouds building up in the late afternoon, breaking into a spectacular thunderstorm, rain beating down on the porch roof, breezes blowing the heat of the day into the cool of the evening. I could never get that out of pretty cabinets.

So, we called the septic company, who fit us into their first available slot: two weeks later. Now, I have had a septic tank for most of my adult life, and it’s rarely been an issue. We compost all of our non-meat food scraps, so we don’t need a garbage disposal, and the system does its thing, and all is well. Now, however, I am extremely knowledgeable about replacing and installing septic tanks.

old-tank

First, they find the old tank by pushing a rod into the ground until they hit a solid object. Then, the guy with the backhoe digs above the area until the old tank is revealed. After they drain it, they hit it with the backhoe until it breaks and collapses in on itself! This shakes the entire house for about twenty minutes, during which I prayed that our foundation was solid. They fill in the hole with dirt, move to the new location, and dig a huge crater for the new tank, which very much resembles a concrete coffin for an elephant. Afterwards, they hook up the line and bury the new tank.

new-tank

At the end, they left me with a vast area of red clay where we used to have the nicest grass in the yard. The good news, though, is that I now have a brand-new septic tank that I didn’t need, and it only cost me an additional two thousand dollars! No, wait. I’ll get a grip on my attitude here. The good news is that we can now have a back porch. Yes, that’s it.

red-clay-backhoe

Of course, we need to tear off the old one first. Stay tuned!

The Margaret E. Kelly Memorial Screened Porch and Kitchen Extension

Somewhere during the year after my mother passed away and before probate finished watching over her little bit of money, I decided to use my third of the inheritance on something that would have made her deliriously happy: home renovations. My mom loved her house. I can remember living in three of my parents’ houses, the last one for a very short time during college vacations before I got married. Mom went on to build two more houses in rapid succession after my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the second of which she stayed in for almost 20 years.

Every house my parents lived in underwent extensive renovations, usually by my father’s own hands. My sister and I were talking just last week about the resurgence of copper in the kitchen, and we recalled our house in New Jersey, with terra cotta appliances, interior faux brick walls, and copper trim. Oh, yes, it was the ‘70s and colonial times. Mom somehow squeezed 27 eagles into her décor on the first floor alone. My father poured a flagstone patio out back by the pool that led to many a skinned knee when our wet feet slipped on the slick flagstones. Daddy also turned the basement into a prototype Man Cave (he was ahead of his time), with red shag carpeting and black Mediterranean furniture. No one went down there during football games.

The earliest house I remember was in Milledgeville, Georgia, where my mother took such pride in her pink kitchen. In the ‘60s, knotty pine walls and Pepto Bismol pink were all the rage. Mom had a pink stove, pink wall oven, pink sink, and even a pink phone on the wall. In the adjoining family room, she had a pink and black sofa and a black wrought iron table with a pink top and pink ice-cream parlor chairs. You’ve seen the nostalgic ads of housewives wearing starched cotton dresses and heels to mop their floors? That was Mom.

When my sister and I were older, my parents moved to South Carolina, and we both married when they lived in that house. Karen decided that she wanted her reception to be in the back yard. Good thing she had a long engagement, because my father embarked on the patio to end all patios. Working outward from the sunroom he had already added, vast areas of intricate brickwork began to appear, including a dance floor-sized patio, walkways, and brick flower boxes. Daddy loved plants, so he had all kinds of flowers blooming all around the yard. Later, he had a separate garage built, and then turned the old double garage into a study and a bedroom. They never stopped.

In her last house, Mom had to hire contractors to do her renovations, but she never ran out of ideas—or energy. I can remember her in her seventies using a post-hole digger to plant azaleas in the rock-hard clay soil.  She fenced the yard, added more and more hardwood floors, and changed her exterior light fixtures even before I knew that brass was “out.” She had her cabinets redone when they yellowed and kept up the wall colors to more fashionable hues regularly. Her weaknesses, though, were magnolias and fat little naked cherubs. The whole house was infested with them, but she never let them go.

When we came to visit, she looked forward to sitting outside on her back deck, especially in the evenings with my brother. He took the opportunity to have Scotch and a cigar, and Mom took the opportunity to stop moving. It was rare for her to sit down, but the cool of the evening and the companionship of quiet talk could convince her to relax.

before-porch
Our old, dried-up, useless porch. This will be the exterior “Before” picture.

David and I live in a secluded subdivision out in rural North Carolina. Our yard is full of deer and owls, but we rarely have a chance to enjoy them, because we have no outdoor spaces. The porch on the back of our house has a roof, but only enough space to put three chairs side by side—not the best arrangement for conversation. Inside the house, we only have room for company meals in the dining room. Our kitchen’s eating area is so small and poorly designed that, even with our little table, when someone  pulls out the chair behind the table, it hits the air conditioning register, and if someone pulls out the opposite chair, it hits the island counter, and no one can walk through. We would love to have more folks over to eat with us, so we need space!

table
An impossible situation!

Last April, we asked several contractors to give us a bid to add a screened porch to our house and to enlarge the eating area of the kitchen. We had hoped to get new kitchen cabinets, as well, but the funds could only go so far. We will be able to put hardwood flooring throughout the downstairs, though, which will be so wonderful, since right we now have developer-cheap hardwood, stained carpet, and worn-out vinyl. It is now early September, and we just started last week! We have had architectural and engineering drawings made, chosen a contractor, and hit some roadblocks, but we’re on our way!

Next time: I’ve learned so much from HGTV, and some of it is wrong!

Welcome to TheReaderWrites!

This is the daughter blog to my EatReadSleep.com, which I have maintained for four years now, but which really needed to become a blog that was all about book reviews. I have so much more to say, though! As a result of my desire to share even more with you, I have decided to launch this blog, which will be all about life, the universe, and everything. Anything you read below this post has been copied from EatReadSleep.com, but anything after this is new, original content.

Not that we will not talk about books! For me, though, as an avid reader and librarian, books are often both a jumping-off point to new ideas and a way to dig even more deeply into my passion du jour. Come with me and join in!

My obsession of the moment is home renovation. We have just begun a project to add a screened porch to our house and to enlarge our current kitchen. It is terrifying and thrilling. Let’s get started.