We moved into our home a little more than a year ago, and it feels like we’re finally getting to know it. The floorboards creek fiercely at the end of the hallway, something you may not notice in the afternoon, but when the whole house is fast asleep you may as well have dropped a box full of china. There’s a railroad line right across the street. Big freight trains pass through every couple hours. This was certainly something we were aware of before we purchased the home, but you don’t know it know it until it rumbles through a few hundred times. Rather than the annoyance it could be, the deep growl of it has become a source of comfort, a reminder that things keep moving.
Older homes in particular require an extra level of patience in learning what makes them tick (and creak, and groan, and make all manner of noises), and a certain amount of diligence in maintenance, including the patching of every minor crack and hole to keep it from becoming a hostel for field mice. But even with all of this attention and care, there are bound to be surprises, some minor and some major. After all, this home has seen a lot of life and a lot of lives, having been around longer than most people I know. Some of the people who have lived here have been tender, I’m sure, and some have been less so.
A couple of months ago I was entering the living room when I noticed a little patch of paint missing from the white trim around the doorway. The spot was just a little less than a foot off the ground. The paint underneath was yellowed and glossy. I assumed that whoever last painted the trim hadn’t prepped the area well beforehand, and with two little ones bumping toys and bodies into all things at all times, I wasn’t exactly surprised.
A couple weeks later I passed by the same spot, and it had grown just a bit. I may have cursed the painter under my breath. I can’t be certain.
Another couple weeks went by, and the spot had grown even larger. This time I bent over to really inspect it, and I noticed a few chips of paint lying along the baseboard. I had my suspicions.
When a few more days had passed and the spot had become even larger I called Finnden over to me. Given that the spot in question stood just outside his bedroom door, he seemed the most likely culprit.
“Finnden, have you been peeling away the paint from the doorway?”
I took him over to the spot and pointed, “Here. Is this your doing?”
“You’re sure? I won’t be mad.” (I was mad.)
“Mm-hmm. It wasn’t me, Dad.”
I took a deep breath and decided to let it go. I couldn’t prove it was him, so I chose to trust him.
A few days later I got home from work, and Finnden was playing on the floor of the family room while Karen was making dinner. She looked up from her cookbook. “Finn has something he needs to tell you.”
“Oh really,” I said as I hung up my coat. “What’s that?”
Finnden looked at me briefly, and then back at his Legos. “I’ve been picking at the paint.”
“He told me today,” Karen said. “He didn’t want to tell you. He was afraid you’d be mad.” (He was right.) She went on. “He does it during nap time. When he can’t sleep, he sits just outside his bedroom door and picks at the paint.
“I’m sorry, Dad.”
I sighed deeply before answering. “You’re forgiven. And you won’t do it anymore?”
A week later he and I were on the couch in the living room reading a book before bed. He was squirming terribly until he finally stopped my reading and told me he had to go to the bathroom. “It’s a ‘mergency!” I shooed him off to the restroom with a promise that I wouldn’t read ahead without him, but my eyes flicked to the spot on the trim as he passed by. It had doubled, nay tripled in size!
What had once appeared as a medium-sized abstracted seashell was now an entire scene. A seahorse now appeared to be kissing the shell. There was no mystery this time. And I was mad.
I stared at it. Glowered, really. I began to formulate the stern words he’d receive when he returned. Thank goodness that kid takes forever to wash his hands.
Those were the first words that came up out of the fog of my fury. What do you mean that’s me?
“He does the same thing you do. You pick. When you think no one is watching and no one will notice, you pick.”
I suddenly recognized that voice. And He was right.
I have marks on my soul. I have wounds that haven’t healed, and spots that tend to show. We all do. The shape and color of mine may be different, but in a way they’re all the same because they mar the us the Father makes us.
When I get scared, or bored, or tired, or stressed, or distracted I start to pick. I pry at the edges and reopen old wounds. And I hope no one will notice. I hope that maybe the spots are just inconspicuous enough that they’ll be glanced over or given other, easier explanations. But my Father knows. He knows, and he still looks at me with love. He sees my compulsion and still regards me with compassion. He looks at me with understanding and a deep desire for me to know the me he sees, whole and spotless.
When Finn finally returned we had a very different conversation than the one we might have had if he didn’t think a running faucet were so worthy of fascination. We’re a lot alike.