The Lifegiving Home

The ache for home lives in all of us,

the safe place where we can go as we are

and not be questioned.

 - Maya Angelou -

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Inspired by the beautiful, almost ethereal word pictures painted by mother-daughter duo Sally and Sarah Clarkson in their book The Lifegiving Home, I set out to create the ideal dining experience for me and my three-year-old daughter. Warm candlelight flickered and soft strains of classical music filled the house as I embarked on what seemed a simple enough task: simmering a big pot of soup accompanied by a loaf of homemade peasant bread for an all-too-rare homecooked meal.

Fast-forward three hours later. The long-anticipated bread is gummy in the middle, the fragrant soup too thick. Unexpected guests show up for dinner, lured by visions of homemade feasting, and I have no choice but to serve them the subpar fare. Worse, three-year-old Elissa – who helped choose the soup recipe! – now refuses to eat a bite of it. I sink into my chair, exhausted and disappointed. This, I now recall, is why I’ve all but given up cooking – because it doesn’t turn out right, and rarely tempts my child to venture beyond mac and cheese or peanut butter and jelly.

But I am far from throwing in the towel on the quest to create my own lifegiving home. The Clarkson ladies paint a tempting, palatable, and yet realistic picture of home life in all of its unique rhythms and seasons. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of their story is that each of the four grown Clarkson children – after traveling far and wide around the globe – cannot wait to come back home again, to the place where they are fully known, accepted, and loved. The place where they each belong. At one point Sally remarks that she and her husband could never have imagined that their children would each grow into their kindred spirits. As adults, the bond of friendship between parent and child is stronger than ever.

As a single mom tasked with raising my daughter alone, this is the hope held closest to my heart: that my daughter will grow into a strong, unique, and independent woman and friend. Sally and Sarah hold out the hope that by God’s grace this is an achievable goal; that home can be just the place of nourishment, encouragement, and affection that a child needs to find themselves and their own purpose in life, and yet always return to be wholly affirmed and cherished.

Long before I finished this book I had begun putting new habits into action. Flickering candles have appeared in all sorts of nooks and crannies, filling our big, drafty house with fragrant warmth and light. Music – worship, classical, or the soothing melodies of Kenny G – often fills the silence that we two girls can tend to rattle around in. You see, I haven’t always had a vision for our home. Becoming a widow at age 26 and realizing that our perfect nuclear family would now be a family of two was the death of all my dreams of being a wife and homemaker. For a long time I couldn’t stand the thought of being home, confronted by the emptiness, the hush at the dinner hour when Nathan should have been coming home from work. The word “home,” once associated with love and light and warmth, became synonymous with dread. Foreboding. Grief. All I could think to do was escape.

I am so thankful that I read the Clarksons’ book at the start of a new year. For me, it signifies the start of a new season. A Lifegiving Home has called me to dream again, to put my dormant creativity and love of beauty to work in making a space where my daughter and I can live in comfort and at peace, inviting others in to join us who need a respite from the chill and bitterness that life can bring. I am taking baby steps, to be sure. My once robust passion for cooking has stagnated, and I find myself a novice in the kitchen. Many of the possessions Nathan and I collected during our marriage have been lost or broken in the numerous changes and variances of our life. I alone am at the helm of my life, with no husband to follow – no mission to sign onto save that which God lays out for me. There is much that is terrifying about the unknown – and yet, for the first time, I am tasting a sense of adventure that I thought had died along with the hope and dreams for my marriage.

Where this life will take us, and what we Farlow girls will accomplish on this unexpected journey remains a mystery. But one thing I know for certain: wherever the road leads, and whatever places we inhabit, I am committed to crafting warmth and love and beauty into the very fabric of our dwellings. Be it a big old farmhouse or a cozy apartment, the home I create for my family will be one where the weary can rest, the hungry be nourished, the senses delighted by beauty in all its forms, and souls commune with one another and with God. Thank you, Sally and Sarah, for breathing fresh vision into my concept of home. In the words of Andrew Greeley, I will seek to “treasure wisely this jeweled, gilded time/ And cherish each day as an extra grace.”

The Most Generous Man in the World

I wrote a little story for my dad's birthday, and wanted to share it here so everyone can know how amazingly generous he is. Happy Birthday Dad, I love you!

Once upon a time there was a man with a wife and six children. They lived in a little house and were very happy. One day, the man decided to sell the little house and move to a big, beautiful house up the road. His children played games in the huge yard, slept in spacious bedrooms, and explored the comfortable neighborhood. They were even happier than they had been in the little house. The man worked very hard in the big house. He kept the lawn cut, the trees trimmed, and the pool sparkling. He threw massive parties for his children and their friends. Everyone loved the big house. Everyone loved the man's parties. 

But the man didn't stop there. He wanted his children to see the world, and so he would pile them into a big gray van that he had bought, brand new, and take them on spontaneous trips. They traveled up the coast to Canada. They traveled down the coast to Florida. The man bought his children things and memories. But that wasn't the most important thing. He gave them the gift of relationships, that couldn't be bought with money. He liked to have his children sit up front with him and talk. He spent time with each of the six children, listening to them, learning about their hopes and dreams. And when the man spoke to his children, it was with wisdom and understanding. He taught his children about God. He showed them how to love God and each other. The man raised six children who became best friends. 

When it was time for the man's oldest child, a daughter, to go to school, the man let her choose where she wanted to go. He took her to visit the school, and when she was accepted, he sat down and wrote a check for the first semester, and for each of the semesters after that. Sometimes the man ran into hard times financially. Often his children never even knew. He did everything he could to give them the best life possible. After the oldest daughter graduated from her expensive school, she planned an expensive wedding. And the man worked harder than ever before. He worked long, long hours all of the months before the wedding so that he could walk his daughter down the aisle in the setting of her dreams. 

Three years passed, and the man gave his second daughter a wedding just as exquisite as the first. He sent his third daughter to an expensive school. And he worked harder than ever to make it all possible, to make his children's dreams come true. At last, it seemed, life began to slow down for the man. The full nest began to empty as, one by one, his children set out to make their own way in the world. Then, terrible tragedy struck. The oldest daughter found herself alone in the world with her newborn baby girl. And the man once again made a home for her. He moved to the basement of his own house and gave his bedroom to his daughter. He found furniture and pretty things to make her smile. He bought her crepes and coffee and listened to her when she was confused. He loved her baby girl like his own. 

Every year brings the man closer to retirement age. Every year, the man works harder than ever. He brings his mother into his home. He drives to North Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, and Canada to visit his children. The man does not stop working. He does not stop praying. He does not stop loving. He does not stop giving. He is the most generous man in the whole world.