Renovation Lessons: God is God, I am not.

Greetings from the land of dust, fumes, and noise. It’s been a while. I know. I’m sorry. It’s been a rough few months, though, filled with delays, setbacks, and unexpected problems (and lots of writing to pay for those unexpected problems). I haven’t blogged about it all because I figured you people have better things to do than listen to me whine. Today, though, in celebration of our mantles and bookcases getting installed and the picture rail going up, I thought I would do some whining with a theological point (and a few progress pictures, thrown in for good measure).

For starters: The Mantles (still in need of finishing trim, but in place at long last).

There will be more pictures later. For now, though, let’s get to that whining. I’ll begin by stating the obvious: I am not Saint Catherine of Siena.

This comes as a shock to exactly no one. Over the past couple of months, however, as I’ve worked on a new study about Catherine’s life for Endow, I’ve been reminded daily about how vast the expanse of goodness separating me from the Virgin of Siena actually is.

Consider my attitude last night, when I was washing dishes in the small pedestal sink in our bathroom. Besides the shower and the clothes washer, this sink is (and has been for some time) our only source of running water in the house. If I were Catherine, this would not have fazed me. I would just have joyfully envisioned myself washing dishes for Jesus and all His saints in some gold-plated, diamond-studded sink in heaven.

Instead, I had some choice curse words for the faucet, the sink, our contractor, and whoever made our wine glasses with such ridiculously long stems.

There also was our discovery last week that some yahoo uninformed person, had insulated the attic incorrectly, trapping all the hot air up there, and turning our house into a 3000 square foot brick oven, that gets hotter and hotter with each passing day. If I were Catherine, I would have offered up my suffering for the good of that yahoo’s uninformed person’s soul.

But I had some choice curse words for him too.

Again, I am not Catherine of Siena. With all the renovation-induced suffering there is to offer up around here, she would have helped redeem a few dozen small countries by now. Me? I’ve just developed a bad case of stress laryngitis. Who even knew that was a thing?

The kicker in all this is that I’ve lost my voice (and most of my sanity) over a stupid house. This past year, I’ve watched various friends watch cancer return, almost lose their newborn baby, lose their jobs, have their unborn child diagnosed with a heart defect, and watch loved ones succumb to mental illness, cancer, and strokes. Comparatively speaking, having a backyard that looks like an Appalachian construction circus is absolutely nothing.

Likewise, for as annoying as doing dishes in a pedestal sink may be, at least I have a sink. And four walls, windows, and a roof…leaky though it is. I get that what we’re putting up with, globally speaking, is really small stuff. We take for granted things that would be the height of luxury in vast spans of the earth. I am spoiled. Super spoiled.

That combined knowledge, however, only adds a thick layer of guilt to the annoyance, frustration, exhaustion, and constant worry about finances that I’m already feeling. Yay team.

The one good thing in all this (besides my mantles, refinished floors and newly installed range hood)…

… is that it’s helping me to understand more clearly the words God spoke to Catherine in The Dialogue: “I am that which is, and you are that which is not,”

Meaning, God is God, and I am not. He is the Creator, the source of all love, all life, all goodness, all being. I am just a creature, created out of nothing. No matter how strong, how smart, and how capable I think I am, without him, I’m nothing. I can do no good apart from him. I can accomplish nothing apart from him. All really is grace.

Technically speaking, I know this. Like a lot of people, though, I tend to get so caught up in doing stuff that I forget it’s not really me doing anything at all. It’s God giving me the grace to do. It’s God giving me the strength to do. It’s God giving me the intelligence, the skills, and the virtues to do. It’s all God. All the time. In every way.

Success can make that hard to remember. Failure, however? That makes God’s grace impossible to forget. And I am failing left, right, and center these days. I’m failing to be patient. I’m failing to offer up my suffering. And I’m failing to do the basic things I need to do to keep myself alive: eat, shower, sleep. I’m also failing to meet deadlines, remember phone calls, and pay bills. My brain is full of renovation-sized holes, and all the details I normally keep track of with ease are falling through those holes en masse.

And yet, as Catherine keeps reminding me daily, from an eternal perspective, all that failure is actually a good thing because it’s helping me to see my nothingness clearly. It’s helping me see that on my own, I don’t have the strength to breathe, let alone deal with the stress of living in a dirty, noisy construction zone, where the cost of making everything clean and safe is roughly equivalent to the GDP of Namibia.

Even more importantly, my failing is a good thing because it’s helping me to see God’s greatness clearly. It’s helping me to see the amazing Love that would give itself for a creature as weak and selfish as me, and it’s helping me to see the amazing grace poured out on me every single day.

These days my constant prayer has become an echo of Catherine’s. “You are that which is. I am that which is not. Thank you, Lord, for teaching me how much I need you.”

It helps.

So too does the knowledge that someday the house is going to be finished and that it’s going to be beautiful (although, of course, now I’m worrying it’s going to be too beautiful and people are going to judge us harshly for that…it’s like I sit around looking for things to worry about). Regardless, judged or not, Chris and I have high hopes that this house will become a home that blesses many people, and that we will use it to serve our friends, family, and the Church in Pittsburgh.

And, in the twisted ways of God’s, it’s off to a good start. It’s blessing me by breaking me.

Only, please, don’t say that to my contractors. They don’t need to help God bless me any more. I’ve got a family of six showing up one week from tomorrow, two whole floors of the house that still painting, and a kitchen that’s not yet functional. Pray for us…and if you’re in Pittsburgh, feel free to come by this weekend with a paint brush. You won’t be turned away.

P.S. Last month, I took a brief respite from construction dust to go film an episode of “The Journey Home” with Marcus Grodi. We talked about my conversion and reversion, all the healing graces that came from that, and “The Catholic Table.” It airs this coming Monday, June 26, at 8 pm EST, if you’re interested.

20 thoughts on “Renovation Lessons: God is God, I am not.

  1. Wendy says:

    There are many graces to be had during times like these but I often find myself telling God “I would rather go back to handling this my way and not need the graces.” I suspect this may be a modern day version of how God makes Saints. Praying the graces will be abundant and that the surrender to God peaceful.
    I once read that worrying is a misuse of the imagination. Praying that your imagination can turn back to productive thoughts. Your home will be beautiful and will bless the lives of many!

    I saw that you were going to be on the Journey Home and can’t wait to watch your story!

  2. Michel says:

    Lynn and I are feeling your pain these days too! We are beginning our big renovation project this week. But let us, together, remember, that feeling irascible emotions, those negative ones, is not itself sinful. Feeling irritated, impatience, exhausted, even angry is not sinful in itself. It only becomes such when we will and do evil on account of those feelings. Sometimes we can mistakenly believe that virtue excludes these feelings from our hearts. The saints had unpleasant and very human feelings too. Yet their transparency of frailness under duress, even while not sinful, allowed the light of divine mercy to shine through–and that was the source of their underlying joy. Mother Theresa is a prime example.

    Blessings on the coming week! We will pray that all comes together well before those guests arrive. Peace, Michel

  3. Alice Aguilar says:

    Thank you for the update and for the reminder of God’s message to St. Catherine (all of us).
    I’m sorry it hasn’t been easy. I hope your voice returns soon! (Who knew!?)

    I hear you about the guilt thing. We have a fixer upper are about to install new flooring. I have so much guilt about spending money on the house and I wish I could reconcile it with my desire to have clean non-asthma inducing pretty floors.

    I love seeing all your updates, so feel free (in all your free time, haha!) to just throw up a picture here and there. The process is so interesting and I can tell it is going to be lovely!

  4. Apple Hill Cottage says:

    I have twelve similar essays for a book entitled: Faith is the Hammer, Grace is the Nail: lessons learned from an old house.
    Keep writing. Maybe we can be joint authors. 😀Your kitchen is gorgeous.

  5. vsm says:

    Renovation dust breathed in over long periods causes irritation that can trigger laryngitis. Hope you’re wearing a mask as often as possible!

  6. Ashley says:

    My husband and I enjoy seeing how your renovation is coming along. 🙂

    Your words resonated with me so thank you for sharing!

  7. vsm says:

    You were warm and lovely on The Journey Home last night, Emily. Hope you enjoyed giving the interview as much your fans did watching it!

  8. Meg says:

    Lovely reflection. Thank you! Also, where are your drawer pulls from . . .from one gal about-to-do-a-kitchen-reno to another

  9. Laura says:

    Checked in this morning, since it had been awhile–oh my! How lovely the progress!! Not so noticeable when you’re there day after day in the midst. The floor is gorgeous, and I’m loving what I see in the kitchen too!

    Congrats, too, on your articles in the Franciscan University news. :-). I will look for the archive of your interview with Marcus.

    Thank you very much for the prayer–and hang in there!! All will be good, and your home will be a blessing to many <3

  10. Shocked says:

    Well I visited almost what year later to see if you’re complaining and whining ceased. And much to my shock it has not! I really cannot believe you kids see that you are complaining and whining and crying out to God without giving thanks …true thanks for all the things that you have! Your taste is high end.

    You have every right to find things without a doubt! What I’m calling you out on is the share underlying ungrateful attitude that you have! Everything’s a drama at your house is beautiful give thanks. This post is more about about greed. Try just a bit of Catholic asceticism! And do not pass it off as if you’re truly suffering you have to get lentils and can afford orange juice come on !
    Have you could sitter taking financial management course?

    Congratulations on the baby! but now a major fund raising for this! Please people are starving, single mothers are trying to put food on the table and praying that they could just afford the lentils that you are priviledged to have!

    I’m sorry but please open your eyes so what the real world looks like! Go work with the poor for a little bit

  11. Shocked says:

    Go ahead and laugh at all the mistakes. Voice to text butchered it and I went in and fixed and for.some reason it did not accept my changes. I dont care to have this shared anyway. But honestly this is damaging your.beautiful.soul.

    • Vicki says:

      This is in reply to “Shocked”: It is now Lent — an especially fruitful time to examine the state of our own souls before judging and criticizing what we assume to be the state of the souls of others. I pray that God will help you do that, so that your anger will lift and be replaced by peace of heart.

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