Part 2 Misconceptions: New Builds vs. Fixer Uppers
2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
I am one of the many women afflicted with the DIY obsession. I absolutely love when shows like Property Brothers, Fixer Upper, Good Bones or Rehab Addict, take old, broken down uninhabitable houses and turn them into truly beautiful works of art that become a family’s sanctuary away from the hustle, bustle, and pressure of the outside world. I love to take old things that have been deemed useless and make them into something with a new purpose or just give them new life with a few well thought out design enhancements. You may remember from my “Pandemic” post that I was painting aluminum food cans to turn into lanterns? I like reusing things instead of throwing them away. I don’t have much knowledge on plumbing, and I will stay far away from anything electrical, thank you very much. I can, however, take old broken down bifold doors and create a set of hanging privacy screens for my porch. I can take old t-shirts and turn them into really cool blankets. I can repurpose oddly shaped furniture into seating for kids or a dog hotel room. I just have one of those minds that looks at something how it could be instead of what it is or used to be.
I don’t tend to like new builds very much, unless my sons built them. They lack history and character. They feel somewhat “lifeless” to me. You ever heard the saying, “If these walls could talk?” New builds don’t feel like they have anything to say. This pattern of taking old, broken things and giving them new life has become a prominent repetition in my life. I never really thought too much on it, but I started to see a link in my thought processing.
We tend to think of ourselves as new builds when it comes to how we see life. We operate under the misconception that we lay our own foundation and we construct walls and then install our own plumbing and electrical systems. I did, anyway. Then God decided to show me a different way of looking at things.
We don’t come into the world as a clean slate. We have our parent’s DNA and even before we are born, we have certain characteristics that belong to people in our families. We aren’t made up of “brand new parts”. We are a collection of both our mom and our dad and the extended members of our family. Hereditary genes such as alcoholism, cancer, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are already built into us by the time we make an appearance.
I spent much of my life being angry at people for tearing me down as a “new build”. What I failed to realize is that my parents weren’t new builds either. They gave me the information that they had and whether it was right or not, it was what they had used to get them through life. They built the beginning of my life on their knowledge of a foundation. They were fixer uppers from the houses their parents left them with. I wasn’t getting a house my parents built. I was getting a life my parents had fixed up, or left to deteriorate even further, from my grandparents and their parents before them.
If you ever watch one of those home renovation shows they spend the time before the commercial break choosing a fixer upper to purchase. We don’t get to shop around; what we get is what our family already has. The show spends about three to five minutes showing us the broken, worn out parts of the house. All of its worst problems are put on display and that is what makes the transformation at the end so incredible. They miss no dusty, cobwebbed, moldy corner when they are filming so that when the house is done, we can marvel at the incredible work that the contractors did.
I am not able to go back and ask my grandparents, but I know that some of the things my parents built within me were old ideas based on old thinking and old beliefs. I know this because some of my older, extended family members struggle with the same issues. I have heard stories about my grandparents, mostly my grandmothers, that I can see myself or my mom in. I can see myself and my parents in my kids and how they respond to people and situations.
I never thought about this kind of thing before I was a mom. I never really thought about it until my oldest son, Corbin, graduated. In the post, The Devil’s Storm, I talk about the day he was born and how much my loveless life was changed by his arrival. I loved Corbin with everything I had. I truly believe, even now, that I had no clue what love was before my son was given to me. He was the best gift I had ever received. Everything he did was incredible, and I loved to watch him grow and experience new things. It was almost like I was experiencing joy for the first time right along with him. Everything that hurt him cracked my whole entire heart because I was supposed to be able to protect him from it all. After all, I was not my parents. I was going to do this right. I let Corbin, and the rest of my kids, grow up to have opinions and to experience things. I didn’t push them into things, and I let them lead the way when it came to the things they were ready to do on their own. I taught them things, but I let them pick their own interests and I allowed them their own personalities. I marveled in the things they learned and especially with Corbin, I watched him like a hawk to make sure I was a good mom.
When Corbin graduated high school, we were in the middle of being thrown out of our home for the fourth time in 8 months. I was done, the kids were done, and we were all homeless. Mom offered to let us stay with her, but she lived 45 minutes away from my job, my extra job, the kid’s friends and baseball parks, and it was just too much to stay with her. Mom and I didn’t exactly see eye to eye on a lot of things and her help always came with a price I never wanted to pay. I felt like we couldn’t stay with her and keep away from the things my sisters had experienced when they lived with her as adults to “help” them out. My sisters ended up resenting Mom for her constant intrusions and the way that she was always telling someone how they were living was wrong, even though she had a ton of problems in her own life. Mom just seemed to enjoy finding fault or defects in us and was incessantly berating us for what she deemed bad choices. I couldn’t handle her. I had no boundaries and even when I did, Mom was not okay with them. They were all wrong to her unless they were in line with what she thought. It also felt that when they were in line with what she thought I had to pay for those too. It’s hard to pay the bill when you don’t know what the price tag was…and with Mom there was always a price tag.
We ended up staying with my ex in-laws for 8 weeks. My five kids and I shared their spare bedroom until the house that Zeb and I had found was ready to live in. Corbin wasn’t about that at all. He decided to go stay with his girlfriend. I couldn’t tell him he couldn’t; he was 18, about to turn 19, and had graduated high school. I made sure he knew that he could come back any time he wanted, but his grandfather held quite a bit of animosity that I hadn’t forced Corbin to come with us. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to do that, since Corbin was legally able to do whatever he wanted. Zeb was a great source of comfort and he understood a lot more of my uneasiness in this time than anyone else. I’ll be blunt. I was sick of old people telling me what to do when they had no idea how to make their ideal situation happen either. I couldn’t say anything really to defend myself since I was afraid that if I went against what they said, they’d kick me out and try to keep my kids. I just kept my mouth shut and let them say whatever they wanted.
When we finally moved into our new place, I was so excited to get Corbin back. He and his girlfriend were going to come and live with us and we would all be back together again. Life had other plans. A few weeks after we moved, I was working a third shift job at a hospital (which as you know I am terrified of, but I needed money). Zeb was working a summer construction job through school and Corbin was working for Dad’s construction company. We should have been doing okay money wise, but it was hard to catch up, having to come up with $3000 to move into the new place out of thin air and then trying to replace the things we needed that had been broken in the war of the break up.
Zeb and I got in a huge fight one morning after he called and said he needed a ride home from work. I asked him to find someone else to take him since I had to be up for work in a few hours and he got an attitude. Angrily I went to go pick him up, sacrificing even more time that I hadn’t gotten any sleep to go to a job I hated. It didn’t help any that I hadn’t slept in 3 days for more than an hour or two at a time. It also didn’t help that I was drinking a lot. I picked him up and he called me some pretty nasty stuff when I told him I was tired of having to do EVERYTHING for these grown up kids. It escalated further until he told me that he was a better adult than me and he knew how to handle money and not get in relationships where he was getting thrown out every month. I lost my mind. I through his lunchbox out the window of my car, screeched to a halt and told him to get out. After everything I had given up for him and his brothers and sisters I felt beaten down and attacked and tired.
Zeb moved in with his grandparents for the summer which angered me even more. They never bothered to call me and see why Zeb and I were having issues. I was too tired to fight them or him and I had no motivation or energy to even try. I was hanging on to being a functional adult with very little left. Corbin picked that day to drop the biggest bomb of my life as a mother. He always did have insanely bad timing. And I have always been incredibly terrible at getting any sort of life changing news. You couldn’t have asked for a worse combination.
I got home from my mini war with Zeb and tried to lay down. It was hot, we didn’t have air conditioning, and I was laying on a mattress on the floor of my room. My back was killing me, and I was too wound up in anger to be able to fall asleep. A few minutes after I finally started to doze off, Corbin knocked. He cracked my door a couple of inches and said he needed to talk to me. I told him it could wait. I had to try to sleep so I could go to a job I hated even more than the insurance job I’d had so many years before. I was exhausted and miserable. I did not feel like talking. He said, “Mom, me and Kirsten got some stuff to figure out.” I said, “GREAT! Go figure it out with her and then come and talk to me. Right now, I NEED to sleep Corbin!” I was struggling to hang on to any remnants of controlling my annoyance that was quickly turning into rage. He closed the door a little bit and then I heard, “Mom, Kirsten’s pregnant.” I lost my battle with annoyance and rage and practically screamed in words I won’t repeat that my son should run because he was about to lose his life. I ripped my covers off and tried to stand up. My back froze and I heard a bunch of banging on the stairs. Corbin had run full speed, falling down the stairs and out the front door of my house so fast he hadn’t even bothered to close the door. It was wide open, and I got to my front porch just in time to see his truck peel off down the street. I went back up to my room and cried until it was time to go to work.
Corbin called me four days later and asked if I was still going to kill him. I said yes. He said, “Okay, I’ll call you in four days.” He hung up on me. He called back four days later, and we began a very sketchy, very fragile attempt at reconciliation. The next year was a struggle for Corbin and I. We fought about everything. I tried to just shut up and let him make his own choices. I didn’t want him to feel like my mom had made me feel, like everything I did was wrong.
After my grandbaby was born and I became a Noni, I fell in love with watching my son be a dad. He was great at it. He didn’t talk to me much, but I got to see Braxton as much as I wanted. The summer after Braxton turned one, I quit drinking. I started working three jobs and took Brax overnight when the kids needed a sitter. We weren’t great but we were together still. Right after Braxton turned two, we were all having dinner at my house and talking about how things had changed for us as a family. To my horror, Corbin made a statement that completely filled me with pain, regret, and a dumpster full of pain. I heard him say, “I’m the bad kid of the family. We didn’t talk for so long because you told me I was stupid for having a baby so young.” I had nothing to say. I knew for a fact I never called my son stupid. That day was the first of many days that I felt God’s hand cover my mouth. Instead of arguing who was right, I heard my son express his pain in what he thought was my rejection. It had been my fear. He said, “I was scared. I had to learn how to do it on my own. I lost my mom and became a dad in the same situation.” I listened to his pain and not the words he used to describe it. I had felt that pain. I had lost my son due to a circumstance I had no control over, and it had cut parts of my heart that had never been hurt before. I didn’t know that he felt like he lost me. I just thought he was mad that I had finally left the guy we’d been living with.
What amazes me most about that time, is that even in his anger and hurt at my reaction and partly because of his own insecurity, I saw a part of someone I never expected to see. Up until this point, I had only seen my kids’ dad as an empty shell of a person. An example of what life does to you when you drink too much to be of much use to anyone, even yourself. In Corbin’s words I heard his Dad’s pain. In that moment, I felt such a loss for the people they had set out to be. What I saw for Corbin that I hadn’t been able to see for his dad, was the huge promise of the person he could be.
While my reaction to my son and his announcement and the way that life happened for us for those 2 years makes me cringe still, I see what God did in that moment. My son felt alone so that he could grow on his own as a dad and as a supporter to his son’s mother. My son is wonderful with both of them. He is not perfect, and he is very opinionated and headstrong like his mother, but his ability to provide for his family and his resolve to be there as a father has intensified as Braxton gets older. I see that God used my break in spirit to keep me from taking over and not allowing me to steal the experiences of being a parent that would create that resolve for Corbin. I love my kids, but I have a hard time allowing them to experience the pain of their own circumstances. I would have pushed Corbin out of the way and done all the “mother” things that would have taught Corbin how to ignore his duties as a parent. I would have stolen something from him and in stealing that from him, he would have no confidence in his ability to keep trying even through struggle. While I will never be proud of that time of my life, I am able to take comfort in the knowledge that Corbin is a good dad because God allowed circumstances to occur that made it so I had to butt out.
In processing all of this, it helped me to see that no matter how much we love our kids and how much we see them as new builds, they are not. We are just giving them a different version of the fixer upper our parents gave us. It may not look the same and it may have been renovated so that it looks pretty, but they still have hidden mold, electrical and plumbing problems lurking behind the walls. There are still cracks in the foundation. Those came even though I did everything I could think of to make that a nonexistent factor in my parenting. I had done it right, and they came anyway.
We aren’t new builds. We aren’t fixer uppers because our parents were terrible people and decided to give us a falling down rotten house to sabotage us, although some may very well do that. We are fixer uppers because no matter how much we love our kids, we are not perfect, and we are not contractors. God showed me that even if I had done things all the way right in the areas I missed, Corbin’s own insecurities about situations I had nothing to do with would have caused cracks in his foundation. I wasn’t abusive to my kids and I didn’t neglect them. I wasn’t perfect, but I had never not been there for them. Even tired and broken I had still managed to give my kids as much as I could. And that had caused cracks in them and in me that we would not be able to repair at the same time together. I had to leave my son with the explanation that I had done the best I could. I gave him everything I had. It was never going to be enough. He had to be okay with that. And I had to stop beating myself up for not being good enough to figure out how to give him a new build and a perfect life. That was a misconception I had about life and parenting.
I like the reveals of the home shows because it shows how much work they had to do in order to get the house to where it should have been if it had been taken care of and updated “properly” . I can’t see inside the walls of my house any more than I can see inside myself to find problems. Even if I could, I know a lot about construction, but that doesn’t mean I know how to fix everything that lurks in between the plaster and lathe of a 75-year-old house. I can’t look inside myself and find where problems come from unless something happens that uncovers the problem and even then, I have no guarantee that I am going to know how to fix them. What I do have is God’s promise that he works everything together for good for those that love him, even when we don’t know how to love him.
The verses at the beginning of this post are important to me because God used this situation with my son to break me but also to give Corbin a gift at the same time. God knew what was going to happen even when I didn’t and when I couldn’t even talk to him about it. He knew I wasn’t ready to understand what Corbin felt about how I had reacted until the moment that Corbin said he’d lost his mom that day at family dinner. Before then, I had not done the work necessary to understand Corbin’s feelings and I hadn’t been able to forgive my own parents for not giving me a “new build” site kind of life. Before then, I hadn’t asked for God’s understanding and God’s grace in my own shortcomings, therefore I wouldn’t have been able to look at Corbin’s pain instead of his words.
I am filled with gratitude to God for showing me that I couldn’t control the world and I was letting the world control me. I was letting the weight of the world crush me and I didn’t have to. I could have just asked for understanding. I didn’t, but God was gracious and allowed me to see it when he knew I would be able to understand it. God’s timing is perfect and mine was not. He was loving and I was not. He was perfect and I had spent the last 19 years trying to prove that I was just as perfect as he was. I was arrogant and I refused to look at anything from anyone else’s perspective. God allowed me to see how wrong I was, but he did it in such a way that I felt pain, but I also felt his grace and forgiveness. I felt his love. I felt why he said we don’t have to “lean on our own understanding” (Proverbs 3: 5,6) God says that we can trust in him with everything…even when we finally figure out we are fixer uppers and that no matter what we do or how we love, our kids will be fixer uppers too.