by Christie Purifoy
I have a stack of mystery novels on my bedside table. Each one is bookmarked with a paint chip, those paper strips in graduated tints you can find in any hardware store. Lately I’ve decided that my paint chip bookmarks aren’t the random, utilitarian choice they appear to be. A good detective never forgets that a suspect’s choice in wall color might reveal something significant about his or her deeper nature. Even the mystery board game Clue is populated by colorful characters like Mrs. White and Professor Plum.
If it seems ridiculous to look for meaning in the colors of artificial worlds, consider how often we admire a sunset and marvel at God’s palette. The world God has made tells us so much about God himself, after all “the heavens declare” his “glory” (Psalm 19:1). It isn’t such a stretch then to admit that the colors I choose for my walls or the sofa I found at a Florida thrift shop might tell you a little something about me. But even if we acknowledge that the places we make reflect something of ourselves, we are left with questions: should we spend precious time, money, and energy on our homes? Do things like curtains and sofas matter at all beyond our desire for privacy in the evening or a soft spot to sit? And what if our home is temporary? Though in answer to that last question I am tempted to add: aren’t they all?
I’ve been asking questions like these for most of my life. As a girl I hot-glued tiny wooden shingles onto the roof of my dollhouse. As a college student, I rearranged furniture in an already crowded dorm room to make space for the friend with roommate troubles. For the first few years of our marriage, my husband and I hopscotched from one rental to another. After our fourth move, I did something wild: I painted a wall. With the landlord’s permission, I painted an accent wall in our dining “nook,” promising him I’d paint it white again when we moved out. I worried it was wasteful to spend money on wall paint for a home I didn’t own and would leave in a year or two. Then I doubled my worry by making a mistake in my paint choice. I saw neutral brown but didn’t notice the lavender undertones. In the evening, our wall turned from brown to purple. My small indulgence became a bigger one after a second visit to the paint shop for a can of true brown. I’ve been collecting paint chips and guilt ever since.
Seven years ago, I moved into an old, crumbling farmhouse, and my guilt was slowly replaced by a sense of responsibility. This house was built with care by Pennsylvania farmers almost a century-and-a-half ago, and the work of their hands blesses my life today. The care I take in its restoration will—I pray—bless not only my family and our many guests but generations to come. Though my collection of paint chips is still growing, the guilt I once felt about my love for making spaces pretty has not only disappeared, it has been replaced by the sure sense that our homemaking matters. It isn’t a frivolous distraction. Done well and wisely, it isn’t an indulgence. It is a holy calling, one more way of leaning in to the creativity and hospitality that is our birthright as image-bearers and children of God.
Like the God to whom we belong, we are placemakers. The God who made a garden, and a Promised Land, and taught his people how to build a temple, also made us and welcomed us into those places. We are like him, then, when we take the raw materials of this created world and shape them into spaces that comfort, nourish, and sustain. The world will indeed know us by our love, and one way we can demonstrate that love is by caring for all the places where people dwell.
The home I am making today is the fruit of every home I have ever made—no matter how small, no matter how temporary. When we keep and care for our places, God can use those places to care for us in return. “Thy kingdom come,” we pray (Matthew 6:10). And here and there, in the color of a wall or the clean sweep of a floor, I have glimpsed an answer to that prayer.
Christie Purifoy is a writer, gardener, and the author of two books, most recently Placemaker (Zondervan). Connect with her and find out more about life at a Victorian farmhouse called Maplehurst on Instagram.