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Starting Point

Home in Annie’s sacred space


It was love at first sight. My husband and I, newly married, waded through the waist-high grass to get to the front double doors of the empty church. Mounting the cement steps and heaving the heavy doors open, we stepped into the vestibule, which led to another set of wooden swinging doors. Dusty sunlight filtered in from the arched window high above the door. The place was silent and as peaceful as a tomb.

Walking into the main part of the church, which was cluttered with debris and old furniture, we looked up at the gorgeous, tin-sculpted ceiling and hanging white-globe light fixtures, filled with bullet holes from vandals, as were most of the eight large cathedral windows. As we approached the altar at the north end of the building, our tennis shoes squeaked on the pine floorboards. Holding hands and descending stairs to the church basement, location of so many church dinners, we found more debris, leaves, dead animals and cobwebs.

I shuddered a bit, but as we slipped outside and sat on the steps and gazed at the blue sky and the village main street just a block away, a dream was born in me: to own the old church and make it our home.

We were able to purchase it for a song, and the work began. Oh, how we underestimated what it would take to transform the old church into a home! Now the amber light from the restored cathedral windows filters onto the black and rose Victorian carpet, and we often sit and reflect.

More than 30 years later, it seems a wonder to us that the years have passed as they have. Annie has housed our hopes, dreams, tears and joys as we raised our three sons. Before we bought our home, it was steeped in prayers of many kinds as its congregation held funerals, weddings, baptisms and services. Now, Annie is steeped in our family’s love, memories and nurturing care.

It has been a journey of transformation as we designed and remodeled Annie’s space year after year, all the while experiencing the same process within our own hearts as we found our way and adjusted to life’s many challenges. When a ramp and railings had to be added when I lost my health, we adjusted and made the changes, as did Annie. We planted flowerbeds around the ramp and made it look like a bridge, actually enhancing the look of our house rather than detracting from it.

I learned to allow my illness to teach me things, to enlarge my heart. As the years went by, we began to realize that a house can be a world within a world, where its people can find serenity, beauty and consolation. This was never more apparent to us than when we lost our youngest son, he whose laughter filled this house for 17 years. In a small alcove, his picture now hangs, and we light a candle under it when we are lonely for him.

The sacred space we create in our homes is an important act of the soul. Through the intimate design and use of color, balance, texture and play of light and shadow, we create a world in which our families can grow, stretch their horizons and live in faith. Learning to understand this has been a gift. We are aging and so is Annie. It is a blessing to see that early, young love grow old, familiar and deep.

Joni Woelfel, author of Tall in Spirit and The Light Within (ACTA Publications), lives in Seaforth, Minn. Her support Web site for teen/adult depression and suicide prevention can be visited at www.geocities.com/ micsmessage/index.html

National Catholic Reporter, February 8, 2002