He carried half of our house on his broad, twenty-something shoulders, one concrete cinderblock and stack of framing boards and bundle of roofing shingles at a time. To the twenty-by-fifteen foot crawl space he’d dug with his dad earlier that summer.
It was our first house, a snug New Englander on half an acre in Bath, Maine’s smallest city. My husband, Dana, built much of it himself, adding rooms to fit our growing family the way a snail builds its shell, winding a layer of soft calcium around itself to make room for its budding body. Two boys and a girl—that had always been my dream. Then someday we would adopt a beautiful brown baby from Africa.
The Thanksgiving we moved in with our energetic nine-month-old son, our lives were just beginning. We’d been married four years and were eager to discover what God had in store. Our 1,200-square-foot house was small—two rooms downstairs; three up. But our dreams were big, and so the following summer we began adding on.
We thought we’d have the full two-story addition done in a couple of months. But the work took so much more time and money than we expected, Dana finished the upstairs bedroom nearly two years later, just in time for me to give birth to our second son.
By the time our daughter arrived three years later, only the downstairs hall remained unfinished. Two boys and a girl. My dream had come true. And then—miracle of miracles—we met Ruth, a beautiful brown baby born in Uganda, abandoned at birth, and diagnosed with cerebral palsy. After spending much of her first year in a children’s home, Ruth arrived in Maine for six months of physical therapy. We met her through friends and decided to adopt.
The day the social worker arrived to complete our home study, only a patch of flooring was unfinished. Had we not begun six years earlier, we never would have had room to adopt. The original house would have been too small for the needed number of beds. But God knew. Just as he knew that ours was the right home for Ruth, with active, older siblings to bring her toys, read her stories, decorate her wheelchair like a carriage and pull her all over the house while she squealed in excitement.
We ended up welcoming two more children into that home, vastly exceeding even my expectations for our growing family. But Dana had built our shell well, with enough chambers for everyone. We celebrated birthdays and anniversaries and first-steps and holidays. We welcomed friends and family, and struggled and fought and endured grave disappointments and then a sudden, devastating loss. To survive, we had to move.
I loved our home, our neighbors, our city. I loved the memories we had there, but for some wounds to heal, it is necessary to withdraw, to seek sanctuary, to rest deep. Without warning, Ruth had been taken away by a condition that neither we—nor most of the doctors who treated her—had ever heard of. The same broad shoulders that built our house, held me in bed each night as I wept. Desperate to protect what remained, we found a little fixer-upper in a nearby farming town. Two rooms downstairs, three up, with lots of work to be done.
“If we don’t like it, we’ll move,” I told Dana.
“I don’t know if I have another move in me,” he said.
And I knew what he meant, not the actual moving, but the hammering and hauling. The striving to make it fit. My husband is as faithful and hardworking as they come. But he is tired. We both are tired. Hearts worn thin. Souls stretched to breaking. That is why I take such comfort, knowing that even while we are struggling here—with our needs and our dreams, with our losses and our griefs, Christ himself is working on a home for us.
“If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also,” Jesus said in John 14:3.
That where he is—that where Ruth is, and others we have lost—we’ll be together again. Such a coil of rooms it must be, not formed of fragile calcium or concrete blocks or easily shattered hearts—but of love, spiralling out to eternity.
Meadow Rue Merrill writes and reflects on God’s presence in her ordinary life from a little house in the big woods of Mid-coast Maine. Her memoir, Redeeming Ruth, releases in May 2017 with Hendrickson Publishers. Find her at www.meadowrue.com.