life lessons from a kitchen reno

            It all started with the oven.  I don’t know why it took me so long to figure out that the reason our chicken was regularly undercooked and our cakes were not fluffy was that our oven was not working properly.  It felt hot enough, but when we finally purchased a cheap oven thermometer—a week before hosting Thanksgiving—we discovered that our oven was off by 150 degrees!  For the holidays we cooked everything at 500, but one frosty night in January, we knew that our oven had partially cooked its very last meal.

            The previous owners of our home had chosen a built in oven with a separate cook top which turns out to be a very expensive option.  When we realized we were going to need to cut through the Formica countertop to replace the oven with a single oven/range unit, I have to be honest: we were not disappointed.  The countertop was purple.  We had always dreamed of remodeling our kitchen, and this seemed like a good reason to take the plunge.  We didn’t go crazy with the reno—no gut job or knocking down walls.  We had our cabinets professionally painted white, had bamboo flooring installed and traded our purple Formica for honed granite in Absolute Black.  A few more touches like an under mount sink, new cabinet knobs and drawer pulls, new lighting and a subway tile backsplash, and our kitchen looks like new.  We hired professionals to do the big jobs (acting as our own “general contractors”), and my husband taught himself an awful lot by watching videos on YouTube, and enlisted the help of a friend or two to tackle some of the smaller projects.  So I’ll bet you think it was all pretty easy, right?
            Wrong.  It was not easy.  It was more stressful than we could have imagined.  From the beginning chaos of figuring out exactly what we were doing and how much we were able to spend, to all of the decisions along the way, this project sucked up every spare drop of energy and time over a two month period.  Most nights Bernie and I were either painting, sanding, staining, installing something, or visiting the good folks at Home Depot.  My daughters could have joined a gang or dyed their hair green—I would not have noticed. 

            Now that the kitchen is finished and I have time to reflect on our experience, I’m finding some lessons from the renovation that ring true in life:

·      Have a plan/vision.  Whether it’s a kitchen or a family or a business we are trying to create, we need to have a plan and a vision.  I found a picture that I loved in a kitchen magazine, and it inspired many of the decisions we made in our renovation.  The end result is not identical to the magazine and it shouldn’t be.  But you can see the inspiration.  We do the same in our marriage and family.  We have an idea of what we are trying to create, and we are inspired by others who have done the hard work of building relationships that last a lifetime, of repairing the places that become broken, and of persevering when things become difficult.  And most importantly we hold up God’s Word which shows us how to live and love in community, how to forgive and extend the mercy that we have been given, and how to find strength and hope in Christ.  Our family is unique and definitely not picture-perfect.  We are always a work in progress.  But we know what we are working towards—a family that loves each other well, cares about others, and honors God.

·      Be willing to adjust your plan.  If something isn’t right, figure out how to make it right.  Be willing to change your plan and admit when something is not working.  We had a space-saver microwave over our range (that the previous owners had installed) and we replaced it with a new one.  It took us over an hour to install, and we just about broke our backs in the process.  It was a beautiful stainless steel model that matched our other appliances.  My husband loved it.  But I knew almost immediately that it was too big for the space.  We had taken down the old microwave a couple of weeks earlier, and I had grown fond of the open space over the cook top.  The new microwave hung even lower than the old one, and it was right at eye level, about 15 inches over the stove.

       For about twenty minutes I kept walking past the kitchen, trying to see it differently, trying to convince myself that it was OK.  It took me that long to muster the courage to tell Bernie that it was too big for the space.  And when I did, he did not agree with me.  So I waited until the next day and then I told him again.  Even though he loved how it looked, even though he had already peeled off all the plastic, even though we had gone through so much to install it, he finally agreed that it was too large for the space.  He took it down, returned it, and bought a smaller one.  Then we brainstormed ideas for where we could put it.

    Sometimes it’s hard to admit when something isn’t working.  We may believe in a certain type of discipline for our children, but then discover that it’s not effective in certain situations.  As a parent, at times I have been more flexible than I ever thought I would be, because sometimes if you don’t bend relationships break.  It takes courage to swallow your pride, to admit that what you are doing is not working, and to seek out a better way.  Often times it is costly and inconvenient.  But the end result is worth it.
·      Most conflicts are not about right/wrong issues.  They are about different perspectives and preferences.  Recently we heard a speaker say this at a marriage event, and I thought it was profound and true.  Very few disagreements are black and white/right or wrong.  Usually we have conflict because I think my way is right and you think your way is right.  So we clash.  We disagree.  We hurt one another because we only see things from our perspective. 

           Bernie and I had our share of disagreements during this renovation.  We had different opinions, different preferences, and selective frugalness.  In other words, when something wasn’t important to one of us we argued for the least expensive option, but when it was something that really mattered to us, we threw out the “When you are going to buy something that you only need to buy once, buy the best you can afford” quote.  I had to remind myself several times that my way is not the “right” way.  Some friends of ours like to ask, “Do you want to be right, or do you want relationship?”  Relationship happens when we listen and seek to understand the other person.  When we are able to say, “Huh, that’s a different way of looking at it,” we are on our way to deeper connection and richer relationship.  Our kitchen is full of compromises, just like our marriage.  Both of us are represented in the design and function, and that’s how it should be. 
·      Don’t focus on imperfections.  I am a perfectionist.  I pay attention to details, sometimes to a fault.   After each project was completed, my initial thought was that it looked great. However, after closer inspection I inevitably found some imperfections:  a slightly crooked drawer pull; a spot that the painter missed where a piece of trim had been removed; an irregular grout line on the backsplash.  Some things can be fixed, and some things cannot.  But one thing is certain:  focusing on faults steals joy.  Rather than see the beauty in the finished product, my critical eyes see the less-than-perfect places.  I hate to admit that I do the same thing in life, sometimes with my circumstances, and sometimes with the people I love.  Too often I focus on the things that could be better instead of taking in the beauty all around me.  In these moments, I need to zoom the lens out and take in the big picture.  God has blessed me with more than I deserve, and He gives me new mercies every morning.  I don’t have to be perfect, and neither do those around me.  When my heart is filled with gratitude, I can relax and enjoy the space I’m in and the people I’m with. 

·      Sometimes we need to deal with the mistakes of the person before us.  The granite guy didn’t measure quite right.  He cut the granite a little too short around the stove.  He cut a new piece for the left of the stove, but to correct his mistake on the right, he pulled the L-shaped slab out from the wall a bit so he could get a tight fit around the range.  When we asked about the gap between the wall and the back edge of the counter, particularly behind the sink, he told us that the wall was bowed and the backsplash guy would fix it.  He assured us, “It’s very common, and it’s no problem to fix it.”

           The backsplash guy didn’t think it was so easy.  He had to go get a quick drying mud for the wall and build it out so the tiles wouldn’t fall through.  He did a great job and when he finished, you would never have known that there had been a problem.  His work was exceptional, except that he ended the tile at the end of the counter/cabinet, smack dab in the middle of an outlet.  And by the time we noticed it he had already left.  Good thing we have a handy carpenter that was working on the corner bench…he fixed it with a piece of white trim.
But it got me thinking—this is just like real life.  We are often forced to deal with consequences from other people’s choices.  We sometimes have to clean up messes that we didn’t make in order to move forward with our lives.  We are in relationships with people with varying degrees of brokenness, and we are broken ourselves.  The people who love us have to deal with the ways we have been shaped and sometimes hurt by other people’s actions. I saw this quote recently, and I think it's a worthy goal:


·      Most projects take longer and cost more than you budget for or expect.  Everyone told us this and it’s absolutely true.  Similarly, at times I have found marriage and parenting to be harder and more demanding than I expected, but both are also more rewarding and fulfilling than I ever dreamed. 

·      You can do more and learn more than you ever thought you could, but know when to call in the professionals.  We can learn just about anything we set our minds to.  We are capable of more than we realize.  And yet there are times we need to ask for help.  We need a doctor, a plumber, a therapist, a pastor. We need to reach out to someone and ask for prayer, for a meal, for a helping hand.  Although it would be easier if God would just instantly fix every problem we encounter, He seems to prefer to include His children in the process of healing and restoring those things that are broken.  He gifts each of us uniquely, equips each of us with skills and knowledge, and then He uses us to build one another up, to repair what is damaged, and to support those who are weak.  We are wise when we honestly assess our limitations and seek help and guidance when we are in need. 

This is the before picture (bonus Claire)
I am grateful for all the workers that helped renovate our kitchen, making it a functional, beautiful space.  And I am even more thankful for all my friends and family that help me and support me in more ways that I can count.  They have hugged the hurt, kissed my brokenness, and left me better than how they found me.  They make me (mostly) functional, and they make my life beautiful.

cozy nook
after (minus the microwave)
the microwave's final, functional resting place :-)