When Peter and I purchased This Old McHenry House in 2005, we did what most wise home buyers do. We hired a home inspector to go over the place with a fine-tooth comb and tell us what needed to be fixed.
The garage door didn’t close properly. The brick patio was crumbling. Among other things. She was 84 years old after all. But the issue that concerned us most was the cracks in the foundation. Four rather large crevices running from the basement ceiling almost to the floor.
A previous owner had tried to patch them on his own. Had slathered black tar up and down and all around. But this was our foundation we were talking about, so we called in the big guns. One of those fancy waterproofing companies with a website and a reputation and a promise. Their representative spent a long time in our basement, then emerged with a plan. Two, really.
Plan Number One. For a small fortune, the company would fill the cracks in our basement and guarantee them not to leak any longer.
The problem with Plan Number One? The representative explained that the placement and size of our cracks meant that one third of our house was quite possibly sinking into the ground.
So he recommended Plan Number Two. He showed us a slick and scary video to prove his point. For thirty-something-thousand dollars, our right arms and left legs, the company would excavate the entire perimeter of the house to below the foundation. Then they would install piers at regular intervals. These piers would be hydraulically driven into the ground until they reached bedrock. And This Old McHenry House would be gently lifted back to level.
We chose Plan Number One. And the basement has been (mostly) dry ever since.
But sometimes, when TOMH creaks and groans under the stress of bearing our lives, an image flashes through my mind. The image of the front of our house dropping right off. The image of the LOML and me, lying in bed, suddenly exposed to the elements as our bedroom wall falls to the ground.
If this happens one day, we can’t say we weren’t warned. Right there on their website, the waterproofing company says it all, clear as day.
“Many homeowners are unaware of structural foundation problems that are affecting their home. Typically, a homeowner does not become aware of the problem until the symptoms begin to affect the main floor and upstairs living environment. The tendency is to treat the symptoms without rooting out the cause of the problem. Of course, this leads to remedies and patches that create a much more expensive repair later. It is important to know the signs of structural foundation failure.”
“The signs of structural foundation failure.”
Know the signs.
If only I had.
If only any of us did.
Last night I spent some quality time with my 22-year-old self.
I put the kids to bed, made a cup of tea, and curled up in the beanbag chair with several old journals that I found in a bin in the basement.
I admit. I was nervous. I wasn’t sure what I would find. Or who. Wasn’t sure what memories or emotions those old confessions would stir up. And I wasn’t sure I would like her very much. That 22-year-old me.
It was a roller-coaster of a read, for sure. Up and down and all around. And as I watched her ride—this time from afar—I one moment cheered, and cringed the next. Knowing what I do now. Knowing the tunnels, the hills, the drops, the corkscrew turns. Knowing full well where the rails go next.
When I was 22, I moved into a flat in a decrepit house in downtown Wheaton. A six-month roommate situation had deteriorated, and I needed an affordable place of my own. The second story of Gertrude’s house fit the bill. It was old and quirky and filthy when I first saw it. A tiny one-bedroom with horrible wallpaper, a Pepto-Bismol pink kitchen, severely slanted floors, and—one redeeming feature—a clawfoot tub. Gertrude was only asking $300 a month though, and thankfully she agreed to let me paint. So I did. Every inch of that place. Floors. Ceilings. Walls. Even the tub. My compulsive painting habit was born in that space. I decorated with inherited antiques and flea market finds and made myself a cute, cozy home.
When I was 22, I was enjoying my independence and my fledgling ministry career. I had moved to the Chicago area right after college for an editing job at a Christian publishing house. They hired me to create a new curriculum product for kids, and the project was off to a good start. My boss believed in me, expanded my responsibilities, and gave me space to create.
When I was 22, I was also still riding the high of my first overseas missions trip to Romania. I had seen God work there in new and surprising ways. And I wanted to go back. Wanted to serve the people there. Wanted another adventure. Wanted to do great things for God. And to know more of Him.
So when I was 22, I enrolled in Trinity Divinity School, seeking a seminary education—and, truthfully, a seminary man. I also threw myself into ministry at my church. Sang in the choir, taught Children’s Church, volunteered in the youth ministry. Became extra busy about God’s work.
To the casual observer—to the homeowner unaware—the structure that was my young adult life likely looked strong.
But if I had done a thorough home inspection at that time. If I had allowed God to excavate the entire perimeter of my life. If I had known the signs of structural foundation failure. I might have seen the cracks. I might have drilled down to bedrock much earlier on. I might not have resorted to remedies and patches. Ephemeral fixes. And I might have avoided some of the very costly repairs that had to happen down the line.
We sometimes call it our Worldview. And we all have one. It’s what we believe—sometimes without realizing it. It’s what drives our every thought, every decision, every move we make. It affects how we relate to other people and what we feel.
When we break it down into parts, we can talk about the following: Our understanding of God. Our understanding of Man. Our understanding of Truth. Our beliefs about the Future. What we Value. And what we believe to be Real.
We come by our Worldview quite honestly. We were helped in its construction. By our family, our friends, our teachers, our experiences, our faith.
And, when we are 22, it is upon that foundation that we build.
When I was 22, I knew a lot about God. I had already studied Him for years. And I had Him figured out. My theology was sorted. It had hardly been questioned or challenged or truly made my own. God still fit in the nice God-sized box I had been handed and then set on the shelf. He was holy and sovereign and on down the line, but He was also good and wanted good things for me. If I delighted in Him, He would give me the desires of my heart. On demand. That was the Deal.
When I was 22, I knew a lot about myself. I knew I was a perfectionist. I knew that I had to perform. To keep it all together. To control my well-ordered world because if I didn’t make things happen, no one would. But digging just below the surface, I also believed that I was horribly alone. And horribly unloved. That I didn’t measure up or have anything important to offer. That I really wasn’t good enough. No matter how hard I tried or how many good things I did. I was driven by emotion and full of fear.
When I was 22, I valued comfort over Christ. Activity over intimacy. Pleasure over purity. Ritual over real life change.
Signs of structural foundation failure. All over the place.
The cracks are there, if we know what we are looking for.
I get to work with college students. And I love them. So much. I admire them too. Their passion. Their energy. Their minds. Their creativity. Their authenticity. And so much more.
I get to teach them how to write and how to speak. How to create and express. And when I’m extra lucky, I also get to listen as they tell me about their lives. I’m sure that I too often give them remedies and patches. We rarely have the opportunity to excavate to below the foundation.
And then, every May, I don cap and gown and watch as another five hundred of them cross a platform, accept their diplomas, and walk out into the waiting world. We buckle them in and send them off. On the ride of their lives. I am equal parts proud and nervous. I cheer and I cringe. Knowing what I do now. How life will take them up and down and all around. The tunnels, the hills, the drops, the corkscrew turns.
Of course they don’t know their own structural foundation failures. Few of us do at 22. Few of us do, until the walls are already crumbling down.
But every May I pray that—as soon as the cracks become evident—they will choose the more thorough, albeit more costly, plan. That they will do what I did not. That they will call in the big guns—the experts, mentors, parents—those who can detect what they cannot. That they will excavate the perimeter of their hearts and minds. That they will examine their foundation carefully. And that they will drive those piers all the way down to bedrock. To Him who is certain and solid and immovable.
If you are 22 or so, do you detect any cracks?
If you are, well, older than that, what would you tell your 22-year-old self?
What cracks have become evident in the foundation that is your worldview?