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.”