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The master contractor: What a childhood home renovation taught me about God’s role in reaching my potential

by | Oct. 31, 2020

Following a long and painful battle with cancer, my mother recently passed away. After her funeral, we helped my father pack up his belongings and move across the country to live closer to family and receive the support he needed. My childhood home, which my parents had lived in for nearly 45 years, was emptied, cleaned, and placed on the market. It sold quickly to a local contractor. And just like that, the setting for decades of my memories, especially those tender last moments with my mother, had suddenly disappeared.

Some months later, my father alerted me that the house had been remodeled and was back on the market. I was hesitant to look at the real estate listing online. How would it feel to see a place that was so much a part of me, now completely different? Our house had been well-loved and lived in. Most of the carpet, vinyl flooring, and wallpaper were original to the home, which was built in the 1950s. In that constancy, there had been familiarity. I knew every worn stair, every creaky floorboard, every crack in the vinyl kitchen floor. After so much painful loss with my mother’s death, I wasn’t sure I could stand seeing how our home had changed.

But I gave in to the temptation and pulled up the house listing online. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. The contractor had made major renovations and the interior layout had changed significantly—I could hardly recognize the home where I had grown up. For several minutes, I clicked through the pictures again and again, letting it sink in. Finally, I turned off the computer and tried to process my emotions.

I expected to be sad, but I wasn’t. I expected to feel a loss, but I didn’t. Instead, I was filled with unmistakable joy and gratitude. The house, now open and light and modern, was beautiful. The contractor who bought and renovated it had seen something that we never had—a hidden potential. He made considerable changes to the house, but in so doing, he allowed the best parts of the home to shine through.

I’ve thought about the renovation of our home often during these past few months. I see in it an analogy for our lives. The master contractor—our Heavenly Father—has a mighty work He wants to do in each of us. He can see what changes are needed because His vision is eternal. If we give Him space and trust to do His work—and as we are involved in the process—we can become much more than we are or could even imagine.

Clearing Out the Clutter

As we began to prepare for my father’s move and the sale of the house, one of the first things we had to do was empty the home of a lifetime of belongings. My father was moving from a spacious four-bedroom house into a modest one-bedroom apartment. We packed up the furniture and essentials my father wanted to keep and carefully wrapped the treasures—photo albums, journals, heirloom books, family history papers, my parents’ wedding china, and my mother’s art. We made sure that my father set aside all the things that he loved and needed. Then we set about the difficult task of sorting through the rest of the house’s contents and eliminating the clutter which had accumulated over the four decades we had lived there.

As the moving trucks pulled away, we looked around the empty house. It seemed so much more spacious and open. Although it made the house seem somewhat unfamiliar, eliminating the clutter allowed us to see its features and structure more clearly. Suddenly, we had a new perspective regarding its possibilities and potential. The contractor who bought the home saw this too—a space that had been cleaned out and made ready for the changes he knew would increase its beauty and livability.

We humans, like my old childhood home, accumulate things over time: knowledge, memories, habits, passions, relationships, and even our testimony. We fill the shelves and drawers and rooms in our minds and hearts with beliefs, thoughts, and feelings. Many of these are tender, positive, motivating, and bring us joy. They are what make our lives full and fulfilling—and they are what will become our treasured heirlooms and legacy to share with beloved family members and friends.

And yet, there is also clutter—things that metaphorically pile in the corners and closets of our hearts, which no longer bring us happiness nor have a purpose in our lives. They are the boxes and bags of negative thoughts, disappointments, regrets, and self-doubt. Hidden in the very deepest and darkest spaces are shame, bitterness, hatred, anger, and pain.

Our Heavenly Father, the master contractor, knows that these feelings and emotions keep us from seeing ourselves and our potential. He has invited us to clean out all the clutter holding us back and preventing our happiness. Knowing it would be overwhelming, often painful, and impossible on our own, He gave us a Savior. Jesus Christ is the only way and the only one who can help us. His power can heal our heartache, provide perspective to our trials, soften our anger, and restore our confidence. His grace makes our weaknesses strong. Through His mighty Atonement, we can repent of our sins and be clean.

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,” Christ invites us in Matthew 11:28, “and I will give you rest.” The mess and weight of our emotional clutter were not meant to be carried alone. As we humbly ask for help, let us share our burdens with the Lord, who will help us clean house in preparation for the mighty changes and blessings He has in store for us.

Trusting the Contractor

I never met the man who bought and renovated my childhood home. At the time of the house sale, I certainly wasn’t ready to come to terms with the drastic changes that he would make. There’s no way I could have imagined the outcome. But he could. His was a masterful perspective. His education and experience gave him valuable insight and wisdom so that he saw the potential in an old, tired building. His plan emphasized the best parts of the house—the three distinct living levels, the original hardwood floors, the dramatic angles created in the attic rooms by their dormer windows, and the gorgeous views of the surrounding forest.

The changes to the house’s floor plan would create a better flow and contemporary living space. The contractor had a vision for which walls needed to come down, but he also knew which walls were load-bearing and should remain. He observed that the house lacked natural light, so he strategically placed large glass sliding doors in the dining room and family room. He added features that the house had needed for years—more counter space in the kitchen, central air conditioning, an interior door that opened into the garage, and an enclosed laundry room. In the aesthetic details of paint colors, floor varnish, tile, and appliances, the contractor fundamentally increased the beauty and value of the home. The breathtaking result was a house that had been remodeled with care and intention.

Just as it would have been impossible for my father or me to plan for or carry out such a massive home renovation on our own, we human beings are dependent on our Heavenly Father to guide us through the changes necessary to reach our individual potential and live our best lives. As fallible mortals with limited eternal vision, we lack the understanding and depth of perspective to see the big picture.

Our Heavenly Father, along with his son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, know us intimately and they love us profoundly. Motivated by the desire to see us live joyful, righteous lives, they will guide us toward the changes, additions—and sometimes even demolition—that must take place within us as we strive to become more than we currently are. An essential step toward our personal spiritual renovation must be to trust the master contractor, seek His guidance, and follow the blueprints He has given to help us progress. As we do so, we can experience an incredible transformation to become more holy and complete.

Restoring What Is Broken

For as long as we lived in the house, its floors were covered with a golden-yellow carpet in the living and dining room and a speckled tan carpet in the halls and on the stairs. We vacuumed and occasionally steam cleaned the carpet, but we never quite got around to replacing it.

Imagine my surprise when I looked at the renovated home’s pictures and saw the beautiful hardwood flooring that had been hidden under carpet for all those years! I don’t know what condition it was in when the contractor pulled out the carpet and padding to expose it. Likely, he had to sand the wood down, repair, restore, and refinish the floor. But what a difference it made!

I believe most of us have bits and pieces of our hearts that could use a little more attention or polish. Have our testimonies started to sag under the wear and tear of the daily grind? Has our commitment to righteous living worn thin because we are so busy or focused on other things? Unless we are committed and careful, it can be relatively easy to neglect those small and simple steps that help us maintain a close relationship with our Heavenly Father. Given enough time and distraction, we may lose the companionship of the Holy Ghost. We may even doubt or forget a once strong testimony.

Let us give proper attention and priority to restoring and then maintaining our relationship with our Heavenly Father by renewing our commitments and covenants, shaking off the figurative dust in our lives, and remembering the value of the gospel. Just like the lovely hardwood floors in my childhood home, these beautiful aspects in our lives are always there—sometimes we just need to uncover and rediscover them.

Knocking Down the Walls

When you entered through the front door of my childhood home, you walked into a narrow hallway. A long wall separated the hallway and the living room, running the length of the house past the dining room and kitchen and stopping at the back wall of the house. A doorway and several openings in the wall allowed access to the various rooms. This floorplan divided the house neatly into segments and rooms, but it also made the space feel boxy and compartmentalized and made it clear that the home was older; modern homes trend toward open, flowing spaces that invite families to dwell together.

Removing that long wall was one of the biggest changes made to the house when it was renovated. In fact, the contractor removed all of the walls that divided the foyer, living room, dining room, kitchen, and hall. It is now one large, open space. The new sliding glass doors allow natural light to stream in and the entire area is bright and airy.

Sometimes in our lives, there are walls that need to come down in order to facilitate change and make room for something better. Often, these alterations are drastic and devastating. Unlike the process of clearing out clutter, which can feel liberating and enabling, demolition and rebuilding frequently creates feelings of anxiety and helplessness. These changes can be thrust upon us as we face trials, suffering, loss, and grief. Walls are not knocked down easily; they are toppled with great force. So, too, it feels overwhelming when we face life-altering events that transform us forever.

In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis referred to these mighty life changes when he wrote, “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, making courtyards. 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.”

In the Book of Mormon, Alma the Younger underwent a stunning transformation. Rejecting the teachings and testimony of his father the prophet, he dedicated his life to destroying the Church, leading away many people. However, one day Alma was visited by an angel of the Lord, who reproached him and called him to repentance. Astonished at the heavenly visit, Alma fell to the ground and did not regain his strength for two days.

When at last he spoke, Alma’s words revealed the powerful change which had occurred within him. “I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit,” he declared. “After wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God. My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more” (Mosiah 27:24; 28–29).

Truly, Alma’s transformation from wicked sinner to converted believer was life-changing. In order to accommodate that tremendous swing of the pendulum, Alma had to first pass through a painful, humbling period of spiritual demolition and reparation. Only after he had struggled mightily could Alma become a devoted missionary who preached the gospel and brought many souls to Christ. The walls that were knocked down were the walls of his heart.

Letting the Light In

Of all the changes that the contractor made during the renovation of my childhood home, none had so great an impact as the way he enabled natural light to flood into every room. The space is now open; all its corners are clean and bright. Isn’t that what the Savior’s light does for us, as well?

As His love reaches into us and His power transforms us, we become open, clean, and bright. Our spirits become larger. The possibilities unfold before us. We begin to see ourselves and our potential more clearly because His light allows us to do so. We discover that by clearing out the clutter, trusting the contractor, restoring what is broken, and knocking down the walls, His light can shine through us. Our true value, which He has known all along, becomes more apparent to us after we have undergone a spiritual renovation.

My childhood home sold only a few weeks after it was placed on the market. I like to imagine that there is a loving family living in it now—a mother, father, children, and maybe a cat or a dog. I hope that they will treasure that house as I did, that they will relax to the sound of the rain tapping on the dormer windows every spring, that they will appreciate the breathtaking beauty of the magnolia tree as it blooms in the side yard every summer. I hope they will open the sliding doors wide and breathe in the earthy scent of the brilliantly colored leaves every autumn, and that they will place a festive decorated tree in the front picture window every Christmas.

I am grateful to the contractor, whoever he is, that saw the beauty and value in an old, tired home and masterfully brought it back to life again. Let us afford the same opportunity to our Heavenly Father, so that He can work a mighty renovation in each of us.

Featured image courtesy of Jendalyn Nye
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