Closet Gnomes and Mud Pies

I have a gnome in my basement. She lives in the walk-in closet of one of the downstairs bedrooms. Her name is Claire, and most people know her as one of my daughters, but around the Mayer home, she has also become known to all of us as The Closet Gnome. Claire is now living out one of her dreams, years in the making, of sleeping on the floor of her closet. Do I have your attention yet?

When Warren and I moved into our home in early 2005, Claire had just turned nine. As she explored the house, with all its nooks and crannies, she announced very early on that the walk-in closet downstairs was “big enough to be a bedroom!” She implored us to let her make that space hers. Unfortunately, the closet was attached to her older brother’s bedroom, and he used that space to hang his clothes and store all his stuff, oddly enough.

Over the last five years, the closet-turned-bedroom idea has resurfaced a few times, but always as more of a pipe dream than anything else.

Years have lapsed; our oldest son has moved out and is attending MU. This past summer, Claire, our youngest daughter at home, finally got to join “the big kids” downstairs, and now this bedroom – and its closet – are finally hers.

Around Christmastime, through a “random” series of circumstances, Ga Yeoun, the South Korean student who lived with us for the 2008-2009 academic year, was given the opportunity to finish her high school degree here in Columbia, and we offered to let her stay with us for the five months this would require. In talking as a family about where she could stay for those few months, Claire once again found an opportunity to resurrect her long-held dream of living out of the basement closet. She offered to share her bedroom with Ga Yeoun by not only sharing her living space, but by “donating” the bed altogether…and throwing a mattress into her closet for herself.

As you might imagine, this idea spawned all sorts of interesting conversations within the family, and multiple nicknames were generated both for the space (Hobo Cove) and its inhabitant (The Closet Gnome). Claire’s older, Harry Potter-loving sister was delighted to think she might actually be able to use the phrase, “Claire…go to your cupboard!” and have it be reasonably accurate.

I need to make another point here. Remember Claire’s bed, the one she was so quick to turn her back on in favor of sleeping on a twin mattress in an unheated space under the clothes racks? It’s a king-sized waterbed, with seven comfy pillows, bright, colorful blankets and a soft, hand-stitched comforter. It’s warm, comfortable and inviting, abundantly more space than one person would ever need.

If you think about it, though, this is a great picture of how we as humans are constantly tempted to eschew the great and amazing gifts offered us by God in exchange for the junk that happens to catch our eyes, convinced that what we want will be better, more fun, more interesting, or – somehow – more deeply satisfying. And we all do it. What God has in mind for us is a large, king-sized bed complete with a down comforter and huge, fluffy pillows. We look at what God is offering us, and instead we dream of “sleeping on a concrete floor,” convinced that that is really where it’s at.

As I think about this funny teenage vision of an exciting living arrangement, I am reminded of a C.S. Lewis quote I’ve often heard repeated at The Crossing:

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
“The Weight of Glory”

My heart, in this way, is exactly like my daughter’s, though perhaps in far more subtle ways. Surrounded by kids and run ragged by their activities in this season of our lives, I often dream of what it will be like when my husband and I are living alone, just the two of us in a quiet home with lots of time to complete sentences or finish books. We may not always say it, but I think we are both regularly guilty of thinking that we’re just “getting through” busy days and weeks, waiting for a time in life when things will be easier…our schedules will settle down more…our careers will be more fulfilling…our bank accounts will be more full…our cars will run more reliably. I think we’re far too often guilty of missing God’s great blessings right in front of us; we’re too busy longing for what we think will make us happier. We are “at the beach” right now, feeling the warm sand between our toes…and yet we’re often standing there longing for mud pies.

Someday we may well have that quiet house, as all our kids will one day move out and (by God’s grace) live out productive lives on their own. And I will miss the bickering, the piles of shoes by the door and the plastic dinosaurs in between the couch cushions. This realization is what helps bring me right back to a deep, deep gratitude for what God has given me in the chaos of my life today.

Surrounded by children, surrounded by homework projects, surrounded by mountains of laundry and dirty dishes in the sink…God’s grace abounds in the gifts He has given me, right here, today. There are gifts all around me that I all too often take for granted as I dream of days that are cleaner, neater, quieter.

Our daughter’s dream is now her reality. She sleeps on a twin mattress in a cold clothes closet, an inch or two above the concrete (though carpeted) basement foundation. She continues to be happy with this interesting arrangement, and so for now I am happy to allow her to live out this dream. In fact, I find there a sweetness in how much she delights in being silly. However, I am convinced that one day she will tire of sleeping on the floor of her closet; I suspect come springtime, she’ll begin to peer out of the doorway of her storage space, longing for the day when she can reclaim her comfy king-sized bed as her own. Perhaps then she, like her mother, will find herself deeply grateful for that which she had all along.

Philippians 3:7-9
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

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