More Room Than We Think: On Housemates, Unfinished Basements, and Refugees

Until yesterday, I had been living with three men.  Yesterday, the really tall one (as opposed to the tall one, and the not-at-all tall one) moved out. I will miss him.

You may wonder how I ended up with three men living in my house.  The first I married 12 years ago.  The other two are a bit more of a story. This week I realize the story is rather relevant to a lot that’s going on in the world right now, so I’d like to share it.

We live in what I would consider a big house.  Many in the world might consider it a mansion. Our house has four bedrooms, a living room, dining room, eat-in kitchen, and large den/play room.  On top of this we have a huge basement, mostly unfinished.  In this basement were two spaces (without walls when this story began) that we really didn’t use.  One we made a sort of catch-all “office” and the other became a room where the kids did art.

There are four in our family, plus one small dog.  After a couple of years living in our house, I became really aware that we had more space than we needed.  It felt greedy to have so much space in our house that we didn’t need.  I mean, seriously, do kids who have their own bedrooms PLUS a playroom PLUS a big backyard really need their own art space?  I think “no.”

Dallas and I had each also been very thankful for the hospitality of others we had received in our lives.  As an undergraduate student, I used to come every single weekend to stay at relatives in Hamilton who I had not even met until moving to Ontario.  They would not only welcome me, but each weekend I was coming they would buy my favourite cookies and – wait for this – LEND ME THEIR CAR so that I could get to my job on the other side of the city.  A couple years later, I lived with them for a year.  Dallas and I had also each lived with older siblings during seasons of transition.  We could see looking back how important these seasons were.  We had always tried to live the lessons they taught us about hospitality.  When we had a one bedroom apartment, we once had someone stay on our couch for a month after a break-up.  In our first house, our good friend lived with us for a year, also after a bad break-up.  And now here we were with an entirely unused empty basement with no one living in it?  It just felt wrong.

So in the winter of 2014 we talked to a friend, who would soon be graduating from McMaster and wanted to stay in Hamilton. We told him that he could turn one of the downstairs spaces into a room and stay with us until he transitioned into whatever would be next.  We put up some drywall to separate the two rooms, and in May 2014 he moved into our “basement suite” –  which was really very flexible of him as he is 6”6.

I have to say that I was surprised at the reactions that a lot of people had to this scenario.  Many people were just plain shocked that we would share our space like this.  Common questions were: “Does he EAT with you too?”  (Yes and no.  When he was here, he ate with us.  But he’s in his mid twenties, so he often ate out with friends).  “Does he, like, HANG OUT in your living room and stuff?” (Yes).  “Doesn’t it bother you having someone else in your space?”  (Once in a while, but mostly – no).  The biggest question was: “Why?”

Why would you want someone else to live with you?

Why wouldn’t you keep your space to yourselves?

Why would you inconvenience yourselves like that?

Our answer was always the same:

“We have more space than we need.  Why wouldn’t we?”

I can’t pretend that it was always perfect, or easy, on any of our parts, but I will tell you that there was far more gained than was ever lost during the sixteen months he lived here.

    We gained a family member.  

All of our family lives far away.  Now, we had another family member who lived WITH us.  After just a couple of months, our kids would tell people that our family had five people in it.  They would draw him in family pictures.  He was the tall one.

    We gained a friend.

Yes, he was already a friend, but now we had another friend with us all the time.  Our kids had someone who would play Rock Band with them.  I had someone who would watch Community with me, which my husband hates to watch.  Also someone who would order wings with me.  We talked about life and ministry and shared books and resources.  When we needed one, we had a live-in babysitter.

   We gained perspective.

Having someone else in your life teaches you. Like living with any roommate, you have to learn how to communicate and understand each other.  You have to make space in your heart for differences.  You have to be considerate of others in a different way.  These are great things to learn for us, and for our children.  (ie.  “Kids – stop stomping so loud!!  Someone is sleeping downstairs!!”).  

So there we were, with a really-tall guy in our basement, in un-used room number one when in February 2015 Dallas comes to me and says that he’s told another guy we know that he can move into un-used room number two.  “Only for a month!” he assures me.  “Just until he finds an apartment!” he tells me.  

Well.

I admit – it felt like things were getting a little out of control.  

“Dallas,” I said, “I really think we are doing our part here.  I don’t think we have room for anyone else!”  

“It’s just for a little while,” he says, “And we do have room.”

And of course we did.  

Within a couple of weeks our kids were telling people there were 6 in our family.  And it was great.  7 months later, tall guy still lives here.  I’m so glad – it would be really sad to go back to just the four of us now that the really-tall-guy has moved out.

Where am I going with this?

Like many of you, my heart has been breaking over the past few weeks as I learn about the refugee crisis in Europe. Once again I am often surprised by the comments I hear about it.  Most people want to help, but there is fear.  One person I heard commenting on the radio said:  “It’s sad but we have to be careful that we get the right people living here.”  Another “We don’t want to take away from Canadians.”  

I do get that it’s scary to open our hearts and our lives to others, but let me tell you what I’ve learned these past 16 months: We always have more room than we think.

We have room in this country – it’s completely ridiculous to suggest that we don’t.  We have room in our hearts and our lives to make space for people who need somewhere to go.  It may be complicated and messy – isn’t life always? – but when it comes to the question of why we should address this problem, I can’t help think of the answer I’ve given so many times over the past year when asked why we opened our home:

“We have more than we need. Why wouldn’t we?”

These are real people.  These are the world’s children.  AND WE HAVE ROOM.  So often, we just don’t realize it.  We get mixed up and start thinking that we NEED a room where we store overflow office junk.  We’re afraid it will get awkward having to share our space. We’re worried there won’t be enough food for dinner if we have to share it.  And it’s just not true. 

Really-tall-friend, we’re going to miss you. There will always be a place for you at our table, and in our hearts.  Tall friend, stay as long as you need.  Thanks for buying the kids slurpees.  Sorry they’re still so stompy. We’re working on it.  Not-at-all tall husband  – thanks for the push to make space for “just one more person.”  It was a great call.  

This week I read and shared a quote that I love.  Here it is:


I couldn’t say it better with a whole blog post.  

1 comment

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  1. C. Baker

    Great topic. Very encouraging to hear about making room for one more. Fostering is like this. There is often room for one (or 2 or 3) more in our homes, but also our in our lives and in our hearts.

    Liked by 1 person

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