“And he dreamed that there was a ladder …” Genesis 28:12
His older brother was hot on his tail. He hoped he could make it to the stairway before he felt the hand grip his shirt collar. Little did he know …
Four and a half years ago we moved into this house – the first home we are living in that we actually own. But this isn’t just any home. This home is where my wife’s mother grew up with her sister and brothers. This home has some history.
We don’t know when or why, but at some point many years ago almost every lick of woodwork was painted. Some of it was painted white, then green, then white again. Beneath the paint there was varnish. Paint over varnish doesn’t stand the test of time, especially in the curves and turnings of the wood. It begins to crack, then chip. And then your choice is to strip it down or throw on more paint.
He made the turn and was headed down the stairs. Eight steps to the first landing, a quick turn to the right, three steps, another landing, and then four to the bottom. He could take the first eight in three leaps, holding fast to the banister. He could easily make the turn on the fly, timing it just right to do the three steps down to the second landing in one jump. Mid-air he knew he was home free. In a stroke of uncharacteristic genius he had slammed the door closed at the top of the stairs just before taking those first leaps. That would slow his brother down …
When we moved in my wife and I had to make a decision – paint, or strip.
They climbed the steps to the meeting room. Their prep work was paying off. Indeed, the entire editorial staff was meeting. Today is the day the divine would be avenged. One step, one life at a time …
Twelve doors with their casings; the ornamental carvings at the top corners of the door on both sides; yards of baseboard with its curved ribbing all along the top; two archways …And then there were the windows. All fifteen of them, including one decorative window with multiple panes of glass each framed by wood – all painted white. Paint … or strip.
He turned the corner even before he hit that lower landing, ensuring that he would be at the bottom before his brother had opened the door and cleared the first eight steps. But he had forgotten one critical component … his two sisters. Seeing them as he was about to hit the floor he knew it was too late. They were on him. He would try to reverse and take his chances with the one brother, pounding up those steps …
Let’s not jump to conclusions. The steps to true expression of the faith have nothing to do with murder, with revenge. “Deity does not require human sacrifice,” shouted one Muslim over my radio.
The story about the children running around the house is pure fiction. Did those four McKenzie children chase each other around? Is it their shoes that left all those marks on the stairs? We pulled the rug and have begun stripping the old layers of paint and varnish, and all the while I am wondering if my wife’s grandparents – Gerald and Mildred – would approve. Who would paint over such beautiful wood? We have asked ourselves this question over and over again. The paint makes the wood disappear – the knicks and imperfections, the wear and tear of the children – all invisible under carpet and coats of green and white. It seems to us as if the story this house wants to tell has been kept under wraps, the way you put sheets over the good furniture. With every bursh stroke of paint removed we are exposing a history the details of which we will never know. But we can imagine.
For the first time in my life, after living in church-owned residences, I truly feel as if I am a steward. Odd, really, that I would have to “own” before coming to this deeper appreciation of the fact that I own nothing. Why should I care what Grandpa and Grandma MeKenzie would think? What does it matter what any of those four children might say were they to see what we have done to their home?
We haven’t yet completed the stripping of the paint on the stairs; but we already hear the creaks as we climb them, their sound no longer muffled by carpet, their scratches no longer hidden beneath paint and rug.
Did those folks gathered for the meeting hear their assailants coming up the stairs?
Did the children try to sneak around late at night, thinking they might pull one over on Mom and Dad, and then …. ccrrrrrrreeaaaaaaak …. the wood gives them away!
I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude for this old house, for all the memories it holds that are now unavailable to me because of the passing of time. But with every window sill liberated from paint, every floor board emerging from the tomb of the carpet, there are signs of the Spirit, of past life, of children on the run, of a family that prayed, ate, drank and dreamed together.
I say let us hear the creaking of foot on step. Let our presence be made known and let it be that we can hear each other coming. Let the cool of wood be on the soles of our feet. No more sneaking around, plotting against each other. Climb – toward peace. Stairs are for getting us closer to heaven and reminding us we are earth-bound. You don’t use one to escape from the other; rather, you begin to realize that the steps – the provervbial ladder – serves the purpose of keeping us tethered to both God and each other.