What a "Fixer-Upper" Taught Me About My Family

I have owned three houses in my lifetime. The first was a brand new starter home that my wife and I got to witness being built from the ground up. The second was our house in Ft. Worth, TX: a 30 year old ranch with lots of wear and tear. The third house is where my family of currently lives in Atlanta.

Let's compare the first two.

We spent nearly five years enjoying house number one: a pristine, new, fully-functional home. Though it was small (and cheap), we had the comfort of knowing that everything in it was new and reasonably reliable. We never worried once about it falling apart or something major breaking.

In contrast, there were many nights in our older Ft. Worth house that I was confident something vital to our home’s existence was going to break as I slept. As sure as I was that the alarm clock was going to buzz at the start of my day, I was pretty sure that I’d wake to a leaky roof, a door that refused to close, a clog in the sewer line or a freak accident involving a family of possums taking up residence in our eaves. That could be quite problematic, in that I had no idea what my eaves were or where they were located in my house. But given my track record, the possums would figure it out, moving all their little possum friends and relatives into the “Eave Inn and Suites,” creating a full-featured rodent condominium, complete with a pool, party room, and wide screen TV. 

Needless to say, getting used to this older house was quite an adjustment. In the eight years we lived there, I learned a great deal about home maintenance, as well as the first names of most of the employees of my local Home Depot.

Jen and I took pride in our home and wanted to make sure that we were comfortable living in it. We also wanted the neighbors to like us. Thus, in the eight years we lived there, we were highly motivated to transform our aging, neglected house into a comfortable, livable home.

How I Became A "Do-It-Yourselfer"

So how did we do it? By paying contractors and renovation experts and skilled guys with names like “Nick” and “Butch” to do the labor? Of course not. I’m way too cheap. Plus, I really don’t like the way those guys look at me with that condescending expression on their faces as they walk through my house, evaluating my problem. You know, the look that says, “You’re the most bone-headed homeowner I have ever met.” I don’t need that sort of humiliation. My desire to both save a buck and save some face led me to tackle most of my home improvement projects by myself.

I would love to be able to say that I learned all the necessary and important “do-it-yourself” skills from my father, but I did not. In reality, I learned close to nothing of this nature from my dad. This is utterly tragic, but not for the reasons you might think. It would be moderately tragic if I had grown up with an unconnected, workaholic dad who didn’t have time for his son, and I had spent much of my adult life searching for a father-figure to fill that void. Certainly, that’s tragic. But my situation is utterly tragic because my dad is both a loving, concerned father and a truly gifted “do-it-yourselfer.” 

My dad can do anything. Over the years, I have watched him install just about every type of light fixture, flooring and faucet, design and build a two-level, 1,200 square foot barn in the backyard, totally repair our plumbing system after a major pipe ruptured, as well as fix just about every broken or imperfect thing that a house might have in its lifetime. But though I watched him do all this, I confess that I watched him from a distance…a great distance. The utter tragedy is that I lived for 21 years with this man, and I didn’t learn a thing.

Every time Dad would work on something, my mom would suggest I go watch him. Her thought was that I would need to know how to (insert miscellaneous home-maintenance job here) when I became a grown-up. But every time I would insist that I didn’t need to worry about it. When I became a man and a homeowner, I reasoned, I would instantaneously know how to do everything there is to do.  This logic sounded completely accurate to my self-centered, fourteen-year-old brain. Naïve as I was at the time, I came to discover that I was partly right.

The fact is that I did learn a lot about home maintenance as the owner of a high-maintenance house.  I surprised myself sometimes with what I was able to accomplish. Through asking questions, following instructions, and carefully reading the fine print on the products I buy at my trusty Home Depot, I have become a fairly functional handyman. I do not know how this happened except that I learned out of necessity, and the value of my house increased because of it.

What My House Taught Me About My Family

As I tackled various home maintenance tasks over the years, I started to see parallels between the house that I was fixing up and the family that God was building under its roof.

Just as I have never had any instruction or training on home repair, I have never received a single lesson on being a husband and a father. And yet, through a desire to learn, a dependence on God, and the occasional trial and error, I have found myself to be somewhat capable in these roles. God has somehow created in me the ability to lead my family, even though I had no previous experience in that role. He’s done the same thing with all of us who have been called into a family situation that is seemingly “over our heads.” If we will simply be teachable, dependent, and willing to step out on faith, God will make us sufficient for the task. It’s amazing to think that my house had to teach me that!

So what were some of the lessons learned?  Here are a couple…

1. Humble yourself from the very start.

When I tackled my many home improvement projects, a healthy portion of humility went a long way.  It forced me to take the problem seriously, knowing that, if I was careless, I could make a bad situation even worse. (Been there and done that.) Likewise, the family issues and challenges you are likely to face will be overwhelming at times. If you are overconfident or glib in your approach, you might regret it later on.

2. Take advantage of those who know more than you.

Some of my favorite people in the world are the semi-retired old guys in the orange aprons at Home Depot. If I took my aforementioned humility to them and explained that I had no idea how to do something (but that I was willing to learn), they were always willing to walk me through a project step-by-step. In the same way, there are people more experienced than me at doing marriage and parenting that I can learn from. I just need to seek them out. Ask God to show you who might be a wise, experienced person in your life who might be able to provide some ongoing coaching in the family issues you face.

3. Be okay with good (but imperfect) results.

I knew when I installed new countertops in my kitchen that it wouldn’t be a professional quality job.  Looking back on my work, I’d give it a B+ at best. But I got it done and saved a fortune. (G.K. Chesterton’s words come to mind: “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”) As I lead my family, I can be easily paralyzed by doubt. What if I lead wrong? What if I fail? This can often result in me being a worthless leader. As we face the challenges in our family, we must be willing to prayerfully make the best decisions we can based on how we feel God is directing us. It may not always turn out perfect, but the alternative is to do nothing. And that is usually unacceptable.

4. Have confidence in yourself…but only if it is based upon your confidence in God.

I love Home Depot’s old tagline: “You can do it…we can help.” It is a tremendous confidence-builder for the do-it-yourselfer. We might twist it around and apply it to how we operate with our families and say: “You can do it…God can help.” It reminds us that anything of lasting value in our lives will be birthed by God. He will bring it to pass. All we have to do is get on board with his agenda.  He will then use us as He sees fit to bring about His will for our families.

So self-confidence is only worthwhile if it is rooted in God-confidence, and that comes from walking with Him day by day. In John 15:5, Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” We must remember that apart from Christ, we can do nothing of value.

The next time you face a significant (or even minor) home improvement project, ask God to remind you that you are building the elements of a legacy every day of your life. May we put the same effort and intention to building up our families as we do in fixing up the houses in which we live.

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