What Makes a House a Home?

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What makes a house a home?  What turns mortar, 2x4 pieces of lumber and rough  shingles into a palace filled with love … joy … peace … and wisdom?

Although I am not a perfect mom or a perfect wife, all of the addresses under my watch resounded with laughter and celebration.  The addresses at which the family known as McLeod lived, ate, slept and grew were not known for gourmet meals, immaculate floors or an abundance of creature comforts.  However, each house that we called home echoed with a lifestyle of unreserved joy and contagious faith.

Here is my heartfelt blueprint of how to build your home into a place where memories are made, the flame of faith is fanned and where grown children long to come home to again … and again … and again.

1 – We laughed.  Make sure that every day is a day of unrivaled joy. 

Tell jokes at the dinner table every night. 

Giggle with the little girls and snort with the boys. 

Watch funny movies and read humorous novels together.   Who doesn’t love, “Green Eggs and Ham”, “Pippi Longstocking” and “The Muppets Take Manhatten”?!

 Give everyone a nickname that does not mock but is filled with the wittiness of humanity.  “Toast-Opher”, “Jo-Jo”, “Angel-Face”, “Mr. Man” and “Boo” were among our family’s favorites.

2 – We established family traditions

On Thanksgiving Day, before the family blessing, we went around the table and had everyone share something for which they were grateful.

In January, we read through the Christmas cards and prayed for the families by name who had sent the Christmas cards to us.

On April Fools’ Day, I served green beans and baked potatoes for breakfast and then served pancakes and eggs for supper.  What fun!

On St. Patrick’s Day, I made green mashed potatoes for dinner.

We always, always watched “White Christmas” the Saturday after Thanksgiving while we carefully hung the decorations on our Christmas tree.

On New Year’s Day, we set goals for the coming year and then gave everyone an appropriate Scripture verse for the year.

On New Year’s Eve, we found such pleasure in looking at the ending year’s goals and rejoicing in what our family had accomplished.

3 – In our home, everyone was a builder and not a destroyer. 

I raised a large family, and, let’s face it, siblings can be hard on one another.  However, in our home, unkindness was simply not allowed.  Profanity was not allowed.  Name-calling was not allowed.

If there was friction between 2 children, they were trained to work it out quickly and with complete and immediate forgiveness.  I raised my children to be friends and not enemies or competitors.

Our children learned that sharing was more fun than selfishness and that the word “mine” was not part of our family vocabulary.

4 – Birthdays were celebrated with gusto and delight.  Every year of every child’s life was a reason for intense festivities and grand ceremony.

Although we were never able to spend voluminous amounts of money on a child’s birthday, we always spent immense amounts of creativity and time.

The year that Matthew and Christopher, our two oldest children, were turning 4 and 2 respectively, I had no money for gifts.  Their birthdays were 2 days apart and I couldn’t even buy them each a matchbox car!

And so, I looked at what I had in the craft drawer.  I had different colors of construction paper, markers and glitter.  I made nearly 50 signs and hung them around our 1,000 square foot home.

  • “Matt is 4!”
  • “Chris is 2!”
  • “Mama and Daddy love Matt and Chris!”
  • “January 29, 1981”
  • “January 27, 1983”
  • “Matt is incredible!”
  • “Chris is awesome!”

Well … you get the picture. 

You don’t need designer birthday parties to celebrate well.  All you need is time, ingenuity and devotion.

5 – In our home, we tried to teach our children the absolute wonder and treasure of serving Jesus.  I never wanted my children to falsely believe that being a Christian was a horrific list of “do’s and don’ts” or “rights and wrongs”. 

I wanted these little people, who had been given to me by the Father of all fathers,  to know in their very souls that being a Christian is a grace-filled way to do life.

I longed to communicate to my children that being a Christian means that forgiveness is valued and that love is deep and rich.

When my babies were fresh from the womb, I would place their little hands on the Bible and say, “This is the Bible.  We love the Bible.”

The first song I ever sang over each little life was, “Jesus loves me, this I know.”

We taught our children, above all else, that the Bible is our guidebook for how to treat each other, how to know God and how to find reason and purpose for living.

We taught our children, above all else, that the Bible is the final authority on all truth and that none of us has a better idea than the Bible.

All the theology that my children ever learned, until they were 10 years old, was that Jesus loved them unconditionally and that life is at its finest when children obey their parents.

I never wanted my children to believe that being a Christian was boring or mundane but that the finest men and women in all of history chose to serve Christ and His Kingdom.

We studied not only the heroes and heroines in the Word of God but also the life stories of people such as Eric Liddell, Elisabeth Elliott, Darlene Rose, Hank and Betty Stam, Corrie ten Boom and Robert LeTourneau.

6 – We loved.  We loved one another deeply and sincerely. 

We loved in spite of messes and not because of perfection.

We loved on bad days and good days.

We touched one another with affection.

We endeavored to serve one another without complaint.

When it was hard to love, we did it anyway even though it may have been imperfectly.

And when life was difficult … and games were lost … and tests were failed … and tears were flowing … we loved harder and deeper.

A day was never complete until I looked at each of my children’s faces, from babyhood … to toddler … to teens … to young adult and said, “I love you completely.  There is nothing that you could ever do to make me love you any less and there is nothing that you could ever do to make me love you anymore.  I love you completely.”

What makes a house a home?  It is the daily choices made between the four walls of that home.

It is the words spoken underneath the roof of that home.

It is the forgiveness that flows, the love that is expressed and the joy that is celebrated.

“By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.” – Proverbs 24:3&4

Emily T. Wierenga, award-winning journalist and author of 4 books, has released her first memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look. They say the book is like “Girl Meets God” meets “Wild” meets “Eat, Pray, Love.” I say the book is inspiring. You can grab a copy here.