Yesterday morning, I stood next to Tim in our kitchen and stared at the wall behind where our refrigerator had been minutes before. We silently stood there, our shoulders slumped, absorbing the reality of a leaking hose, a puddle on the floor, and water damage that had spread up the drywall and soaked the cabinet next to it.
We’ve lived in our home for a little over three months. Located in a quiet neighborhood in the outskirts of Atlanta, this house is my dream—the place I would have described if you’d asked me as a kid what I wanted my house to look like when I grew up. Last night, as a crew tore out waterlogged drywall and hardwood flooring, I sat upstairs and listened to the sound of banging, trying to wrap my head around what the next few weeks will look like.
First, there’s the loss. Our kitchen and dining room share a wall. So not only is the kitchen damaged, but the dining room is in shambles as well. The first time we walked into our home, I knew I wanted to fill our dining room with friends. In three short months, we’ve gotten to do this on several occasions. Saying goodbye to the walls that held in our conversations feels like letting go of a piece of something special.
But in the end, it’s just a house. The walls, the floors—they’re just stuff. There will be new drywall and the opportunity to pick out a fresh paint color. We’ll choose new flooring. I loved what was there already, but that’s okay. Maybe we’ll find a style that fits our family even better than what we had.
I wasn’t really looking for a chance to start over. But sometimes starting over requires the removal of a dream you thought would last longer than it did.
Last week, I stepped down from a job I loved. Like our house, this role was the culmination of things I’d hoped would happen for so long. But then, over the past few months, it’s like there was a small leak in the walls of my heart. At first, it was nothing—nobody even noticed. But over time, I couldn’t hide it anymore. Like the cupboard shelf that collapsed, clueing us into the fact that we had a problem, things began to fall apart inside me.
It was time to remove something I loved to make space to start over.
After the meeting in which I resigned, I came home and sat down to sort through a box of old letters and cards (because nothing says job transition like the sideways energy of organizing your childhood correspondence). In the box, I found a wedding card from one of my mentors. He loves drawing cartoons for people, and had included one for me on the inside of the card. The caption read, “To a great copy editor!” Looking at the card, I began to cry. Our wedding was eleven years ago and I’d long since forgotten this little note. All I could think was, “How did he know I’d need this?”
Eleven years ago, I was in undergrad studying counseling. A few months before, he’d sent me a 500-page manuscript containing a novel he’d written. He asked me to read it, look for inconsistencies, and provide feedback. Every evening for a week, I sat cross-legged on the bed in my college dorm room and flipped through it, page by page. A short time after sending him my thoughts, a check arrived in the mail. It had a note attached that said, “Dear Stephanie, thank you for proofreading The Earth Is Not Alone. Please cash this check and add ‘published proofreader’ to your resume.” I was 20-years old, planning to go into counseling or student ministry, and found this addition to my resume to be completely unnecessary. I had no idea yet how much I loved words.
I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer and editor until almost a decade later, when we moved to Atlanta, and it became apparent it was time to try something new.
Starting over isn’t easy. More often than not, there’s loss involved. Sometimes it takes a crew of people looking for things you can’t see yourself. It might even require the removal of what’s been damaged in order to replace it with something that fits you better. Like a simple note written years before it would make sense, starting over doesn’t happen all at once.
But you can’t live in a damaged house, not matter how much you love it. Eventually it will crumble into pieces around you. And sometimes, if you want to keep your dreams intact, you have to be willing to start over.