On Renovations, Both Home and Human

It’s a hell of a thing to rip up your flooring to find a sizable joist cracked right in half.

Late in the COVID-19 quarantine, my wife and I decided to start a much-needed home renovation, planning to do the work ourselves with some help from my dad, who’s a lifelong carpenter. After eight weeks of doing as little as we could manage, we opted to begin repairing and replacing the floor in our kitchen, living room, and hallway. Right around the same time, my boss at the coffee shop called me and asked if I’d like to return to work, seeing as the air started to clear and Tennessee began to reopen. Because I love my job, and because I was starting to get fatigued from reading sci-fi books all day, I said yes. Suddenly, and in stark contrast to the week before, I found myself with much to do.

Having grown up a carpenter’s son, I was well aware of the high chance of running into issues and delays with a project like this, and thus, I was prepared to take any such problems in stride. Starting with the kitchen, we ripped up the floor to uncover the rot that prompted the whole process. It was bad, but expectedly so. The worst part was the failure of the previous owners to alert us to the issue. The sink had leaked for a while and wasn’t properly dealt with. Their choice to lay down new flooring over the old, squishy hardwood proved to be a very big band-aid over a more serious problem. But we knew this would be the case, and we weren’t too bothered by it. We even managed to save part of a joist, which I plan to make into a small table, seeing as it’s pre-Industrial Revolution spruce underneath our hundred-plus-year-old house.

With me being back at work, we had to take up the living room floor in four-foot sections, laying down a temporary subfloor. Each day, we uncovered more as-yet-unknown problems with the joists. We’d seen the patching in the hardwood but thought little of it. By the time the first weekend rolled around, we had found the full extent of the damage. Much like the kitchen, there was an unresolved leak, this time from the fireplace. When we went to cut out the old joist, it broke in half. To add insult to injury, our neighbors, who have lived in the adjacent house as long as I’ve been alive, told us about the people responsible for the “repair” to the living room floor. They were former employees of my dad’s, ones from whom he took no small joy in distancing himself due to their lack of concern over the quality of their work. The news about the house came as a bit of a shock.

And so goes the work of deconstruction and reconstruction, both in the physical and spiritual sense. Some issues are apparent, and some are less so. With so little to do during the quarantine, I was able to devote time to dive deep into my own psyche and begin work on a host of issues I’d known about but put off. As it happens, some problems are more deeply rooted than others, obscured by the detritus of patches and band-aids hastily applied, riddled with extra nails and bits of wooden framework that fail to support like they ought.

Like many people my age, the spiritual and religious deconstruction I’ve faced in my late twenties has been deeply painful. This season of life has taken me from being pretty certain that there’s no god to the realization that God is far bigger than I’d considered, and that the previous picture I’d held was such a small idea of what a god could be. Finally paying attention, I came to know the pain I’d wrought against myself and others, and how antagonistic I’d been to my own soul. Broken bones that have healed incorrectly, never having been reset, do little rejoicing.

Our house was unsafe, and we didn’t know it. As inconvenient as it is to not have a living room or kitchen for weeks on end, it would have been far worse to discover the issue by falling through the floor. Indeed, the confidence of knowing with certainty the strength of the ground beneath you far outweighs any ignorant bliss. While the construction should wrap up soon, the deeper work of parsing through dogma and truth doesn’t have that same pleasant sense of nearing completion. My house looks very different now, and so do I. And so does God.

Don’t let these waves wash away your hopes This war-ship is sinking, and I still believe in anchors Pulling fist fulls of rotten wood from my heart, Oh, I still believe in saviors. — “Wooden Heart,” Listener (feat. Dan Smith)
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