These Painful Renovations (Or, Our New Life in the City)


We are slowly, slowly finding our rhythm here in the city. The mornings are quiet and cool now, and the traffic creeps past on James Street. Our neighbor Paul sits quietly on his porch doing a crossword puzzle, watching people walk by, sometimes taking a nap. To the other side, our neighbors are renovating the old, neglected row house, filling up dumpster after dumpster with plaster and lathe and old counters and rotten floorboards. Broken sinks and chipped tiles. It is a complete emptying so that they can begin new, from the foundation of each room.

Maile schools the kids in the morning and then the afternoons are filled with activities: co-op and art class and Latin. Nearly every evening, we walk the couple hundred yards to the local Y. The kids play, Maile goes to exercise classes, I swim. We walk back through evenings that are increasingly dark, under bright city street lights and past the neighbor two doors down who is giving his front porch a facelift.

I get my hair cut across the street. There’s a tattoo parlor on the corner and an egg roll place across the street. The kids love it when, previously unannounced, we say, “Let’s go to Souvlaki Boys!”, the Greek restaurant on the corner of Queen and James. We walk for ice cream or to the park. My aunt lives a few blocks away, and she walks up to babysit or to join us for dinner.

On Sunday we walk to church, to St. James which is so different from any church we’ve ever gone to. It’s an Episcopal church, so for this boy who grew up in the Evangelical circles, it’s different. But our kids love the children’s program, they love taking communion every week (as do I), and they love the walk. Those Sunday morning walks are quiet. Few cars cruise the streets. Few people sit on their porches, but those who do look up at our passing crowd, seven now, with Sam usually riding on top of the stroller and Cade and Lucy up ahead, chatting.

“Good morning,” we all say.

“Good morning,” they say back to us.

And there is something holy about that, your family passing by a stranger on a quiet Sunday morning in the city, saying hello, and being spoken to.

And it seems to me that even in the midst of this beautiful new routine, there have been hard weeks: when our car was hit-and-run; when I was hospitalized or diagnosed with Crohn’s a few weeks later; when we decided to find a new home for our dog. These things are difficult. But then I hear, through the walls, the renovations going on next door, and I’m reminded that the best transformations always begin with a complete stripping away of the old.

Enlighten the darkness of my heart, I pray along with St. Francis, and a layer of plaster is pulled away. Sunlight shines through the empty space, filtering through the dust. These renovations are painful ones, but the transformation to come will be breathtaking.

5 Replies to “These Painful Renovations (Or, Our New Life in the City)”

  1. I love how I can see your city, your neighbor’s renovation, your kids running ahead as you walk your city streets. And yet I’ve never been there. Thank you for using your words to make things come alive, and to make my heart contemplate these truths of stripping away the layers. Painful, oh yes. Here’s to continuing to hope for beauty ahead. Thank you, Shawn.

  2. Search me and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. I think the testing may be a getting down to the foundation of the renovation. Wonderful thoughts – thanks!

  3. I really love this post. I happened upon your blog a few days ago and you write just beautifully and I have found your posts to be a great encouragement. You really help to show that there is beauty even in times of pain and sadness.

    This post reminds me of the way that my wife and I are trying to live our lives with our children, in our city as well.

    God bless you!

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