Suffer the Children

Making a house a home

Mother kissing baby

We had just moved into our dream home after 19 years of marriage. It was newly finished, spotless, perfect. Did I mention that we brought our six children with us, ranging from an 18-year-old high school senior to a five-year-old kindergartener? They were active and lively, and although enthused about the new house, they weren’t nearly as awed by it as their parents were.

My husband, Bob, didn’t start optometry school until his late twenties, so we emerged from that with three kids and a large debt. In the next few years we struggled to build a practice and had three more children. Finally, everything fell into place. We found an enormous lot, a perfect house plan and a contractor who would work with us to get everything just right.


The finished product was all we had hoped for. We loved the huge kitchen with space for our family and friends. It was wonderful to have a room for our books; it was very small, but we called it “our library” anyway. Perhaps best of all was the “sunshine wall” in the living room, with floor to ceiling windows. Bob went from room to room admiring the oak trim, rubbing it as he passed.

The first week, Craig, the oldest, tried negotiating the stairs without turning on a light. He misjudged their position and fell, breaking a polished oak spindle and cutting his chin. I’m afraid he didn’t get much sympathy for the chin, but the spindle got a lot of noisy notice.

Mom kissing daughter

A couple of days later, Kristen, our bright-eyed petite 14-year-old, was pressing a blouse when someone startled her and she backed against the ironing board, knocking off the iron, which left a nasty gray gouge on a once beautiful white wall. This too was noticed in a hurriedly called and definitely heated family conference.

Before the month was out, Eric and Mark, eleven and nine, had put a large dent in the wall of the family room while trying out some karate moves that they had seen on television. Their father had developed a permanent expression of discouragement, and was heard to mutter that it appeared this house would self-destruct before we made our first mortgage payment. Not to be left out, I lectured about ungrateful children until six pairs of eyed glazed over.

baby fingers

Still, it wasn’t more than a week before I entered my bedroom/bathroom to see the “baby,” Brittany, swinging on the oak-mounted towel bar – and to hear it tear out of the wall leaving a gaping hole. Never mind her protests that she just wanted to “be a gymnast like Kristen,” I lifted her ungently and carried her to her bedroom where I dumped her unceremoniously onto her charming white and brass bed, for which her father and I had worked so hard, and for which she obviously had so little appreciation.

The pattern was set. No scratch was too tiny, no mark too insignificant to occasion an inquisition, where parents glowered and children cringed.

Mom kissing son

Can help be on its way?

It was about this time that a lesson in Relief Society (the women’s organization in the Church) talked about a “Christ-centered home.” It struck me that although our deepest feelings were rooted in our faith in the Savior, a stranger entering our home would find no clue to tell him or her that. Unless the visitor chanced to glance at the books lining the shelves of our little library, he would know more about our taste in colors and furniture than about the single most important factor in our system of values.

Jesus Christ

Bob and I talked it over and began searching for the perfect picture of Jesus to hang over our mantel. And we began planning a dedication service for our new house. We wanted a meaningful ceremony, and yet didn’t want this plea for a blessing to be interpreted as pride in the brick and mortar, so we chose to have just the children and ourselves. My husband gave a prayer thanking God for this home, offering it as a place where the gospel could be taught, and pleading that the Lord’s Spirit would make it a haven against the world.

As parents we each expressed the things we hoped would happen in this home: that our children would grow in love for each other, and for God. Then we gave each child a chance to say what he or she hoped for here.

Family playing together

Two or three remembered happy times from our old home and wished for more of the same. One echoed the parental wish for love and peace, one stammered and couldn’t think of anything “important enough” to say at such a special occasion. Finally, only Brittany was left. Her little face was all seriousness and it was obvious that she had given her speech much thought: “I just want to say,” she whispered, “that we should always keep the windows a little dirty so no birds will run into them and get killed.”


The words should have brought to mind a tiny bird fluttering lifeless to the ground behind spotlessly shining glass, but all I could see was a tiny girl huddled in the middle of her bed, crying like her heart was broken because of a broken towel bar.

Years have passed since then and the house is surprisingly whole. Our children had never been purposefully destructive and we should have realized even then that the appalling damage done in the first few weeks was only a series of unfortunate coincidences. The repairs have been made and scarcely a trace remains, but the lessons stay in our hearts.

There are things more precious and more fragile than a little bird, and it takes more than a picture of Jesus to make a Christ-centered home.