One of my favorite Christmas movies is the 1994 version of Miracle on 34thStreet. The movie centers on the Santa Claus, hired by Cole’s, the fictional department store that sponsors the yearly parade in New York City on Thanksgiving Day, and a little girl who must be convinced that Santa Claus is real. Near the end of the movie the main characters arrive at a charming house in the country. Susan Walker, the six-year-old daughter of Coles’ director of special events, runs inside to find a perfectly decorated home, complete with a tree covered in beautiful ornaments and tinsel, and Christmas presents stacked eye level. Her mother tells her this is their new home, as her eyes sparkle with delight. The house exudes warmth and the façade of a perfect life.
My all-time favorite movie and its house is quite the opposite. Beaches was showing in theatres in January, 1989. We were in Charleston, South Carolina waiting for our daughter, who was arriving on a plane from Guatemala, making our family complete. Due to a delay, we had several hours before her appearance. The title of this movie beckoned us inside, unaware of the emotional wave about to hit. While the movie has a poignant ending, the friendship between the two main characters is sacrificial and faithful. The two friends retreat to a beach house as one of them prepares to die. This house is my vision of the perfect beach setting. The one-story cottage, with wraparound porches, draws me into the story, leaving me with the desire to sit, and breathe in life, even as death is lurking. Simple furnishings convey a laid back, homey feel.
My choice in home atmosphere will always be simple living, rather than magazine worthy perfection. Natural hardwood floors that forgive footprints cast a golden glow. Long, bare windows invite sunshine to brighten the interior on cold, winter days. Spring breezes wafting through open windows are more appealing to me than heavily draped windows.
My desire is that guests are greeted by the luscious scent of freshly baked scones, and flowers that remind you of your grandma’s garden. A warm greeting will be remembered more than the first impression of a perfect room.
The table decorations may be lovely, but is there lively conversation where you feel known and loved? Listening has more value than fussing with details in the kitchen, though details prepared beforehand speak volumes.
What is the temperature of your home, and I don’t mean the degree you set your thermostat? Is it calm and peaceful, or loud and stressful? Our home has been all these conditions at one time or another, but I strive for calm and peaceful.
If your children are still living in the home, are they comfortable inviting friends over? Is your home the “go to place,” or is it too much work hosting young people?
I can tell you from experience, my children won’t remember how the house looked, but they remember how our home made them feel. In a culture where children are often stressed over cultural issues, and the need to fit in, home should be a sanctuary from a troubled world.
Are you present with your family members? Huddled together in the same room, each one’s attention buried in some form of technology is not being present. Conversation that involves listening and sharing communicates your presence, your availability.
We need to extend grace to one another, and remove the superficial tone of the perfect house, or life. The Biblical story of Mary and Martha sitting at Jesus’ feet is as current today as it was 2,000 years ago. Martha complained that Mary was lazy, and she was left to do all the work. Each of us can claim being Martha's or Mary's in a busy world.
Jesus said, “Mary has chosen the better thing.”
I want to choose the better thing as well. In a world of busyness, and the lust for perfection, I want to choose simplicity that breeds joy and freedom. I want my home to say, “Welcome, I’m happy you’re here.”
The two houses mentioned in the beginning are very different from one another in both style and temperature. The Miracle on 34thStreet house was a catalog home, decorated to sell Christmas. Life was make-believe until the new owners moved in. The Beaches house was filled with love, friendship, joy, pain, and grief.
Isn’t that what makes a house a home? The normal rhythms of life ebb and flow; seasons of pain and sorrow are followed by exuberant joy. As life happens, the good, and not so good, be sensitive to the atmosphere you allow. Pay attention to the subtle hints of your family and adjust the temperature to one of comfort and joy. It will cost you little in dollars, but the result is priceless.