Make Room(s)

I WAS WATCHING THE WATCHER THE OTHER NIGHT, because a lot of people I like said they liked it. By the time the ferret met its violent death in episode one, I was done. But, before I freaked out I was thinking about how big that family’s house was. And that got me to wondering why they wanted such a big house for only four people (I think four, I had my hands over my eyes a lot). And then that got me thinking about some of the big houses back in New Jersey. Some of my kids’ friends had big ol’ houses, yet few of the parents were home enough to really make them feel lived in. No shame, I am simply wondering, Why don’t we use all the rooms in our house?

This can be a literal or metaphorical question, of course. Like I think about my faith tradition and the discourse around using one’s gifts, the things God has provided. There is much admonition, in all sorts of fashions, not to leave our gifts up on the proverbial shelf. (Or under the tree, perhaps, what with the Holidays-writ-large upon us). We are, instead, to accept those gifts — things like Prophecy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Giving, Leadership, and Mercy according to Romans 12:6–8 — and then unwrap those gifts and put them to use, by serving others. But we don’t always do that, do we? Or maybe sometimes we think we tried to use one of our gifts, but then decided it wasn’t really ours to use — or not actually a gift at all. Or perhaps that gift caused just a little too much commotion and we hurriedly put it back on the shelf before people started noticing.

I was an actor for a number of years in New York City. I don’t know that I thought I was especially gifted then, I just really wanted to do it. When I think of actors today who blow me away — like Wendell Pierce or Viola Davis — it occurs to me I really did not have a gift for acting. But what I think I might have is an acting-adjacent gift! I mean I’m pretty good at public speaking, whether in the classroom, at a professional conference, or during a community meeting. I think that means I just didn’t read the directions carefully on that particular gift after I opened it. No regrets though because, well, how many people can say they were a body double for Ally Sheedy and then met Alan Alda all in one day?!

In scripture, Jesus is to have said to his disciples, “In my Father’s house are many mansions…” (John 14:1). Bible commentaries often explain these mansions as abiding-places, homes of rest, sites of peace. As in, there will likely be lots of space for chilling in the hereafter, and it will probably not be related to square footage. So I’m thinking, when people desire homes with lots of rooms, lots of floor space, are they thinking these places will offer them multiple opportunities for relaxing, playing, fellowshipping with friends and family? Do some simply want a big house because of investment purposes? And are there a few mansion-owners who just enjoy the appearance of big-house ownership? I’m trying to figure out, when folks don’t use all the rooms in their house, then what are those rooms there for?

My mother had extra rooms in her last home. And I really wish I had asked her, when she first bought the house, what her intentions for those rooms were. How did she foresee them being used? Why were they there? Was what eventually became a guest room intended for scads of friends visiting from out of state, or her grandchildren’s regular sleepovers? Because neither of those events were especially common occurrences. And what about that room next to it, the one you could only enter sideways because the door wouldn’t open all the way due to all that stuff stored in there. Was it, perhaps, going to be an art studio? Did my mom envision getting back to her painting, having a dedicated space just for that? Because that did not really happen either. And what about that finished attic? Do we have plans for our rooms — our gifts — but then sometimes just start piling things on top of them such that we end up forgetting our intentions, no longer able to see the possibilities in front of us?

There are so very many humans on this earth who have fewer rooms than the number of people living under that roof. When I think of my apartment it seems majestic, the way I can glide from room to room, undeterred by any other human. I grew up in a medium sized, rambling home. Rooms were plentiful but their uses changed a lot. Like just when I thought a room was my bedroom, it was turned into my father’s study; and then the bedroom that I subsequently shared with my sister became the guest room, and so we were moved upstairs to the attic. Maybe our family was searching for our gifts in these rooms, shaking the packaging to find out just what they were. At any rate, I was convinced I had no gifts for a while. But I’m glad to report that is not the case anymore.

The Netflix description of The Watcher is, “A family moves into their dream home, only to be plagued by ominous letters, strange neighbors and sinister threats.” Apparently this is based on a true story that took place in Westfield, New Jersey. I know that town well, and I can see how scary stuff would happen there. But I wonder if maybe that family was put through the ringer because they didn’t use their rooms, didn’t employ their gifts. Or maybe they were using other people’s gifts and calling them their own. We know that never ends well. I have no intention of watching the rest of the series, so I won’t learn how the story ends. But I am pretty sure it’s not happily. On the flipside, I have come to understand that when folks use what they have, when they take advantage of their gifts and notice the possibilities presented to them, then their stories end up scary-good.

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