The Lifegiving Home: a review


The rain was coursing in rivulets down the windows of my den, pounding on the roof with a rhythm that only emphasized the coziness within. Sarah Clarkson and I were on our second pot of Yorkshire Gold, accompanied by the boon companions of candlelight and good books. Our flow of conversation, suspended only for another sip of tea or another slice of Stilton and sharp apples from the plate near at hand, was punctuated with much laughter and many “Yes! Me, too!”s. We were plotting our Hutchmoot session, which was basically a formalized version of our all-over-the-place chatter about ideals and authors and homes and art, and Sarah was taking notes, reigning our thoughts into order. We were both so excited, so passionate about our topic, but there was one fundamental difference between us: I was heart-poundingly nervous at the very idea of standing before an audience delivering a talk, even on ideals I valued as highly as the ones under discussion. And the poised, sweet, eloquent Sarah was not.

Sure, Sarah’s parents faithfully prepared her and her siblings to present in public, which is an inestimable gift. And Sarah knew what I was to learn: speaking to a roomful of kindred spirits on things that kindle your soul awake is a wholly joyful and energizing experience.

But that day I was just nervous. I kept tripping over my fear as we talked, losing my train of thought in sudden fits of mental paralysis. I looked around the room, at the tea tray, the pretty china, the candlelight warm on the face of my friend, and knit my brow.

“I just wish we could take all of this with us!” I suddenly exclaimed.

Sarah cocked her head.

“You know,” I went on, “the coziness, the tea, the feeling that this is just a stimulating conversation between friends! If it were more tea party and less presentation, I think I could get over myself.”

Sarah smiled.

“I know what my mother would do,” she said.

And in that moment, though I hadn’t yet had the joy of meeting Sally Clarkson, I did, too.

Well, we did it: when we departed for Nashville a couple of days later, I had a basket packed with my favorite teapot, a creamer and sugar, two Blue Willow cups and a couple of starched linen napkins. During the delivery of our talk, we even had an embroidered cloth on the makeshift tea table before us. And though I’m still a bit dazed at the audacity of consuming a whole pot of tea in front of a roomful of tea-less people, it worked. Just as Sarah knew it would, and Sally, too, had she been there. For what we took into that session, what strengthened my heart and calmed my nerves, was more than just caffeine and china: it was the reassurance of all that is familiar, comforting, safe.

I had taken my dear Brown Betty teapot and my grandmother’s hand-monogrammed napkins to Nashville. But what I’d really taken was Home.

It was what Sarah would call an incarnational act: a gesture demonstrating, if only to ourselves, that things like tea and friendship and beauty and rapturous conversation and candlelight matter as conduits of eternal realities. All these intangible ideals we were talking about that day had been verbalized within the very tangible context of my den. This is not to say that a good conversation can’t happen in a sterile environment, but that the physical spaces we claim and craft around those we love feed the life lived within them.

This lovely, lost notion is what Sarah and her mother Sally celebrate, champion and articulate in their new book, The Lifegiving Home. It’s a beautiful read, affirming so many of my own ideals about what a real home is meant to be. Looking back over their journey as a family, Sally and Sarah share their memories and traditions as a very personal story built on a universal theme: home is an image of the ultimate “at-homeness” in Christ we are made for. Ideally, it is the place where identities are known and named; where hearts are tended as well as bodies; where dreams are born and cultivated, and from whence faithful lives are launched into the world.

I think the Clarksons would agree with Kahlil Gibran’s statement that our homes should be “not an anchor, but a mast;” not a burdensome showplace filled with things we don’t really need or want, but a lovingly crafted setting for God’s untamable story of our lives, crammed with memories and precious treasures of “each-otherness”. In such an economy, the simplest things come bearing gifts of very real, touchable grace: from a warm meal at the end of the day, to a safe place to refuge when the world turns a cold shoulder.

Although, they might gently add, home is an anchor. Home—the kind of home that Sally and Sarah describe in their book—is a place from which we soar into our own stories. But it is also a place to which we can always return, a shelter of ‘us’ from which we’ll never be turned away, no matter how tattered our wings might be. In this sense, home is infinitely more than a place, or even blood ties. But disembodied ideals don’t do flesh-bound humans much good–we need practical pegs to hang our convictions on. We’re made to incarnate the things we believe: the value of life and the redemptive pattern of love. Bread is good because it feeds our bodies, but if it is presented as a palpable expression of kindness and care, it nourishes our souls, too.

“The Incarnation,” writes Sarah, “takes the stuff of material existence, the physical world God made to nourish and delight and reveal Himself to us, and redeems it back from just stuff to an embodiment of God’s love, His uninhibited generosity.”

I couldn’t agree more. I am so glad that Sally and Sarah took the time to bring this book into such a heartsick, homesick world as ours. From the complementary perspectives of a mother who had a vision for home, and a daughter shaped by the home thus created, this really is a special look at the ways a family can embody their truths with the elements of everyday life. From feast days to ordinary days, life is meant to be lived with meaning, intention and purpose, and The Lifegiving Home gives us a lively and vivid picture of just how this might be accomplished. In the spirit of Edith Schaeffer’s great sacred-homemaking manifesto, Hidden Art, The Lifegiving Home is a celebration of all that it means to sanctify our spaces with love.

I had the chance to interview the Clarksons for The Rabbit Room earlier this week, and you can click here for an appetite-whetting taste of what their book is all about.

And it’s my great pleasure to be able to offer a copy of this wonderful book as a gift to my readers. Leave a comment describing the one thing about your place on earth that most speaks “home” to you, and I will draw a winner on Friday, February 12th at 12:00 pm EST.


36 Responses to “The Lifegiving Home: a review”

  1. Truly a soul-filling article. Your words always bring life. Love you, my friend.

  2. Long before we found our homeplace, I had a vision of an apples, which symbolized God’s love and blessings bestowed. Of course, my dream came true! We found two scruffy apple trees in the corner of our acreage, and our first year here we have doubled our orchard with two more saplings. I hold onto hope that Love, and apples, will richly supply our lives with sweet-tangy, crisp, nectar for years to come, the occasional worm notwithstanding.

    I simply can’t resist one more! We live on the edge of a windfarm with 24 towering turbines on our horizon, and I can’t help but think of Quixote’s dragons. Thus, our home is gatekeeper against those perilous windriding beasts.

  3. Oh, I just love reading your thoughts. The only thing that saddens me about this post is that you were in Nashville! My home! And I couldn’t hear you speak! This book sounds so helpful — what I love most about my home are the stories in every detail I see. I look at the beam between our living room and our kitchen, for example, and I remember two summers ago when my husband and his best friend were holding up a temporary beam with smiles on their faces, working to support the ceiling of a wall we’d torn down. I look at the upholstered gray chairs and remember how we found them on Craigslist and hauled them here on a truck. The kitchen table is one my husband built for me, again with his friend, as a gift when we married, brought from our first house to this one. The books, the frames, even the rug on the floor are all parts of the life we’ve built together, and this fills my heart with thanks.

  4. Mary Horst says:

    My south east facing large patio window lets in shafts of morning sunlight. My comfortable recliner sits just inside the window. It is such an ideal place to read my newspaper and watch the street traffic outside; hurrying school children, someone with a baby stroller heading to the nearby toy filled play centre, and others walking dogs or a myriad of other activites.

  5. Emily says:

    The coziness of having our three brown-eyed little people tucked in their beds as we snuggle in for the night at a ridiculously early hour is what most speaks home to me in my season of life with three children under 5.

  6. Isabella says:

    Thank you for this review! I can’t wait to read this book and have hinted to my husband that it would make a good birthday gift…(too bad April is so far off!)

    It’s hard to describe what ONE thing most speaks home, because when I sense homeness when we arrive back home after a day away, it’s a combination of many, many things. So I would perhaps describe it as a sense of “collectedness” — all the sundry things (such teapots and cups on display, shelves of books, pictures on the walls, jars of kombucha and rows of spices on the kitchen counter, patterned curtains on the windows, a bird feeder and garden outside) that have been gathered together and arranged and rearranged until they are in some sort of order that keeps the home living and breathing. They aren’t permanently fixed — tea must be drunk and teasets dirtied, books must be taken off the shelf and read, spices used and disarranged, gardens die back and must be recultivated — but seeing those things gathered in their place, however temporarily, assures me that they are waiting to play their small but crucial role in the composition of home.

  7. Ali says:

    Oh, this a hard thing to define. I think a certain peace and acceptance and belonging amongst the people and surroundings is a large part of it for me. I am single (though I always wanted a family) and after house sharing for years and years I now live alone, but home is now more of a refuge for me, where I don’t have to contend with different people living different lives (that might sound a bit selfish, but house-sharing can be a very different thing to family when everyone is trying to do there own thing from the same space) and where I can arrange my things as I please. I love my books and sundries and there is only one new piece of furniture in my living room (a bookshelf) – the rest is comfy old second-hand odds and sodds I collected along the way and painted etc, with artworks done by friends (and this amazing old tapestry I found in a charity store of sheep walking along in the afternoon light that’s called “returning home” – sheep returning home is a metaphor I like!).

  8. Nancy says:

    I always carried an imaginary home in my mind, a perfect Currier and Ives scene or a perfect page from Southern Living magazine, especially during the holidays. As much as I wanted to recreate those scenes, I never quite achieved that perfect look of warmth, coziness, glowing candles, warm fire, and a beautiful holiday tablescape of delicious food. I now realize that I had the perfect home all the time. Wherever my dear husband is, wherever my sweet son and daughter are, wherever my Lord is, I am home.

  9. Judy says:

    What one thing about your place on earth most speaks “home” to you?

    I have pondered this all through the day and am a bit surprised by my conclusion. I have settled on courtesy and kind speech. Creating a lovely, if simple, physical space is a kind of food for my soul, and I assumed first, that I would reference a particular room where our life together is shared, or a quiet corner I call my own, but as I considered my early ideals of mothering (to my now young adult children), I realized that modelling gentleness and patience to them, and for them, with each other, was an over-arching tenet in all our daily rhythms – during play, over meals, and though long evenings of conversation. I am beyond grateful for the way it marks our family life today. Too often rudeness and vulgarity in language mark our culture, and were it to enter our home, I fear all the surrounding loveliness in the room might be reduced to nothing more than a kind of vanity amidst the discord.

    Thank you for asking such a thought provoking question and for the opportunity to enter a draw for Sally and Sarah’s new book.

  10. Gail Bird says:

    When I step into my home cherish the warmth of the wood fired furnace which keeps me cozy through the long Minnesota winter. Yes, maintaining live able temperatures solely with wood demands a huge commitment of time and energy, but the heat, the exercise, the faint smoky smell are well worth the effort. That is my home.

  11. Suzanne says:

    Hello Lanier,
    Oh my did your post resonate with me! You see, a friend of mine , Stephanie, is very good friends with Sarah and Sally , and she asked me to speak at a conference she was putting together that had Sarah as keynote. I was to speak on using real books in the home and home school. I agreed, but was as nervous as a cat! What does one add when Sarah is the one most are coming to listen too. Well, all turned out alright and my nerves repaired:-)

    I must agree, this new book is a splash of fresh wisdom on home and making home that sacred place where one lays their head down at night. I have been reading Sally since I was a young Mum and now I am reading her , still, as an older Mum.

    Please don’t enter me as I already have a copy of the book:-)



  12. Esther says:

    The one thing that most speaks home to me is my stash of Twinings Irish Breakfast tea, waiting to be measured out into a Blue Onion teapot with the silver dessert spoon my grandmother won as a girl over a hundred years ago, engraved with her maiden name on the front of the handle and “First Prize, Housekeeping Class” on the back.

  13. Linda says:

    I feel most at home wherever there are people who are “grace-oriented” and we can experience a restful love together and be refreshed in one another’s presence. Matthew 11:28-30 comes to mind. We can be a shelter to people we don’t even know and be a place where they can taste and see that the Lord is Good so that they will want Him to be their dwelling place, too, and be at home with Him in a “grace-based” relationship.
    You and Sarah are people that make others feel at home…you are salt and light , and cups of cold water as you pour out what has been poured into your souls. You each have such a beautiful way of expressing tangible ways to express our Savior’s love to others no matter where we are.
    Each of you are a “watered garden” and a place that many want to visit often for the refreshment offered in Jesus’ Name. I know that He will bless each of you in ways beyond what i can think to ask ….. “She who waters will herself be watered !”
    Thank you for sharing the Joy of a Lifegiving Home !

  14. Gina says:

    Ahhh…just your description makes me feel the warmth of home.

    One thing that speaks “home” to me? A candle. The warmth of firelight, either in a fireplace or a meager candle, gives me coziness of warmth and light. Most winter days, I light a candle soon after I wake up. I remember my mom doing the same thing.

    Looking forward to seeing the book.

  15. Maggie S says:

    The thing that most says “home” to me is my husband’s glasses on various surfaces. When they’re off his face, he is never far away and that reminds me that home is wherever we’re together

  16. Rebecca says:

    I can hardly wait to get my hands on a copy of this book! A lecture-turned-book that you might enjoy is _Laundry, Liturgy and ‘Women’s Work’_ by Kathleen Norris, which is a thoughtful exploration of housekeeping as a spiritual discipline.

    Home to me is putting apples in the hand thrown pottery bowl with the splash of cobalt blue glaze my father made. Home is putting clean white sateen sheets on our four poster bed. Home is putting folded clothes away. Home is putting up my feet after a long day, with a cup of tea in hand. Home.

  17. Julie says:

    One thing? Oh, my. How can I choose? Funnel cakes. Right now, as I type, my grown children are in the kitchen making homemade funnel cakes together. Can you smell them? They’ve made regular ones with 10X sugar, some with brown sugar and cinnamon, some drizzled with honey. They keep bringing me luscious samples. Home for me – at this very moment – is love, laughter, joy, creativity, warmth and yummy goodness right out of the frying pan.

  18. Lanier, please don’t enter me in the book giveaway. But I had to leave a comment to say what a beautiful bit of writing this is. Your words bless me, every time, even when you’re “just” writing a reflection on someone else’s words. (Also, I listened to that Hutchmoot session of yours and Sarah’s years ago. I didn’t know you’d led it from a tea table. Imagining that makes my heart happy.)

  19. Lauren says:

    Home is sitting on the front porch–no matter what the season–catching up with those I love and reconnecting. It may be with family after a long day apart or friends after being separated for months. The porch offers shelter from the broken world while still affording a view of this temporary place Our Father has us for now.
    A pillow at my back, feet propped up, a dog at my side, a beverage on the side table, laughter, and the smell of tea olive wafting across my yard–these mean I’m at home on my porch.

  20. Axon says:

    Oh, I so love your blog, and your beautiful writing! Thank you so much for sharing with us! Home, to me, is a cup of coffee in the early morning hours, surrounded by books and sitting across from my husband. It is a cold beer on the porch after a long afternoon of gardening. It is snuggling with my babies on the couch in our pajamas in front of the fire. It is an evening stroll around the place, picking up and tidying and tending. It is a longing to actually be a Home, someday. I am so grateful for all you kindred spirits who help me remember these things! Thank you again…

  21. Kathy says:

    Home is a mix of quiet and music. At home, I can sing without self conciousness, snippets of anything and everything that come through my head, over dishes and coming to the table and as I wake up and when I’m just happy. All of us are introverts and tech and book addicts to varying degrees, so when we’re all together, we’re fairly quiet unless we’re at the table. Then the puns come out, and the references to movies and lines from things we’ve read, and the outragous silliness. Home has never been without music, and for that I am profoundly grateful. We sing the doxology for our Sunday lunch prayer, and it’s building more grace for me with the years. I treasure Lewis’ thought that Heaven will be music and silence.

  22. Candace says:

    Hello Lanier,

    I truly enjoyed this beautiful post today! I love the way that you take a personal story and weave it so effortlessly together that I sigh with happiness when I finish reading.
    Home for me means family. I know that where ever I might find myself, if my family is there, I am at home.
    Besides that, home to me also means our old, worn and wobbly kitchen table, my stacks and stacks of books, my harp and my antique bed. These are the things I most treasure and look forward to seeing again when I come home from being away or traveling.

  23. Sarah says:

    Home is the people within, the good Lord, tea and fresh baking, a roaring fire and books, many, many books!

  24. RobinP says:

    Home is so many things to me. My small town community where I’ve lived all my life, my rambunctious boys wrestling in the floor, my Jersey cows ambling to the barn to be milked, sourdough bread in the oven. The love of God and family.

  25. Valerie says:

    What makes my house my home? Even though my home is not my “dream home,” it is where God has placed me at this time in my life. He has given me a little haven from the craziness of the world that surrounds us. That is enough to make me feel content, secure, safe and at home.

  26. Esther says:

    P. S. I have just come across a poem called The Shelter from the Storm, by Ivor Gurney, on a poetry blog I frequent. I do believe this poem is about you, though apparently it was written in 1926. Perhaps you are already familiar with it. It has your sheep. It has your books. And, of course, it has storm and shelter. HAS to be about you!

    • Lanier Ivester says:

      Esther, I’ve never read that poem, and a quick internet search proved unfruitful…but I’ve put Ivor Gurney on my list for my next stop at the library. Thank you! 🙂

  27. Mary Kathryn says:

    Oh, where to I begin to begin? Home is my room, especially reading Little Women on my flower printed bed while the curtains blow the breezes in. My home is also when my siblings come back, when laughter fills the rooms, and no matter where I turn, love surrounds and abounds. But Home is wherever Christ is, and I can see Him clearly when I meet another grace-filled child of God, we can just look into each other’s eyes and breathe a small sigh of relief, “Oh, you know Him too!” Thank you for being this kind of person, every time I leave your website, I always breathe a little deeper into the Home we live.

  28. Anna says:

    Lanier, Thank you for such a lovely review! Currently, I am writing a paper on the “gospel of homesickness – longing for our eternal home.” So, this review was well-timed for the things going on in my own heart and mind. Though there is the reminder to hold the things on this earth loosely in light of our eternal home, I would say that what makes home, home to me is the people that inhabit it.

  29. Meaghan says:

    This sounds lovely! The most “homey” thing about home to be might be that I know where everything belongs. Plus the couch and my own crocheted blanket.

  30. Steven's Wife says:

    Home is the growing hum and warming headlights of my husband’s van pulling up beneath our Poplar. Running out to greet him, and welcome him into our tiny wee home, the smell of dinner on the air, relieved sighs after his long work day… He doesn’t need to say anything, his weary, happy smile says “…home” to me.

    This book sounds like a deep draught of springwater, on this scorching summer day! I shall add it to my wishlist forthwith.

  31. Kristen says:

    This is beautiful, Lanier. (And your L.M. Montgomery tea party was one of the highlights of Hutchmoot 2015 for me!) I’m looking forward to reading this book.

    It’s family heirlooms passed through the generations and artwork made by friends that speak home to me. I love being surrounded by things that remind me of the people I love dearly.

  32. […] « The Lifegiving Home: a review […]

  33. Home, when I was little, was going to bed, listening to the adults play banjo and guitar music out in the living room. Even though I am a classically trained musician, folk is Home to me and I love playing with my dad!

  34. Angela Petry says:

    Lovely post! Can’t wait to read The Lifegiving Home!

    Home is when I feel completely myself without having to think about it… like when I’m with my family and friends, when I enter a fully stocked kitchen, or when I sing worship music, to name a few situations.

  35. […] pleasure to announce the winner of the drawing for a copy of Sally and Sarah Clarkson’s new book The Lifegiving Home: Linda, who describes “home” as a shelter of “grace-oriented” relationship […]

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