At least, that’s how it felt. Twenty years later, I’d convinced the new owner to let this scraggly-headed six-foot stranger step back into my childhood home. As I walked back through those once-enchanted walls, I was struck by one thing: It’s so SMALL!
I felt like Alice in Wonderland, descending into a shrunken world.
In reality, I grew up in an average size home. All was up to code, the ceilings an appropriate height. But my memories were forged in an age when my legs were still sprouting from their trunk, my head rose a few feet shorter, and my arms not yet grown to reach for the stars.
My earliest memory: bouncing a large, red ball against the garage door with my mother. She was the epitome of comfort and joy through the trials and tribulations of being the “last kid picked” in the ensuing years—called nerd and dork, rejected by girls, afraid of my father, and struggling to feel accepted.
My mother was amazing, but only human—we bounced that red ball in the same driveway where, a decade later, she would drive over my teenage leg with a Volkswagen van.
In the years between, we rode bikes for miles on the back dirt trails, built forts in the trees of our backyard, and came in drenched from the Oregon rain for blankets, baths, and books. I was an avid reader, pulling other worlds from our bookshelf and diving into the geography of their pages from within those vaulted walls.
Our home was an enchanted castle—with roof beams high above like a canopy, stretching before the highest heaven, seeming to render the world full of wonder. In this earlier era, I was Indiana Jones, an adventurer ready to explore the world and discover its rich diversity. I was Michael J. Fox, set to hop on my skateboard and ride back to the future, charting a new course for history.
And eventually, I did.
Somewhere along the lines, the world grew smaller. That map of the continents that hung on my wall was filled in, as I moved away from home and traveled the globe. I encountered new faces and true friends, with joys to be sure, but also struggles:
*Indigenous leaders in Thailand courageously combating the trafficking of their children into the sex trade.
*African pastors in the aftermath of genocide and midst of war doing the hard work of reconciliation and community-building.
*Navajo elders continuing to fight for their land against multi-billion dollar international mineral corporations.
The heavens didn’t seem so high anymore.
I came back to town for Thanksgiving and my father abandoned my mother, walking away from the family table we’d grown up around together. I visited my best childhood friend, our next-door neighbor, to find he’d sunken like a ship into addiction and apathy, living in the same ‘hood whose wonder now seemed to recede beneath the waters.
As I walked through our home and looked back at that map upon the wall, the world had grown smaller, its mystery evaporated.
We all seemed to be constantly bumping our head against the ceiling.
Then Jesus tore a hole through the roof.
Christmas is that time when God broke through the ceiling, entered the impoverished walls that our crumbling imaginations had let grow weary. The child is born into the home of our disenchanted world—shrunken by sin, alienated by our autonomy, and creaking under the weight of rebellion we’d placed upon its rafters.
Jesus will grow as a child from within our faltering walls—but unlike us, his messianic legs will sprout, arms will stretch, and body will grow with head held high toward the expansive sky we’d lost sight of, with eyes upon the Father who fills and floods the air with majesty and mystery.
This baby is the Grand Renovator, destined to tear the roof off our shrunken world, expand the walls beyond the neighborhood boundaries, and vault the ceiling upon the sky, in a home renovation project that makes room once again—for all with faith like a child, eyes to see, and lungs to breathe the breath of heaven’s enchanted air that floods our earthen home once again.
Joshua Ryan Butler serves as pastor of local and global Outreach at Imago Dei Community (Portland, OR), and is the author of The Skeletons in God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War, and the just-released The Pursuing God: A Reckless, Irrational, Obsessed Love That’s Dying to Bring Us Home. Joshua oversees the church's city ministries in areas like foster care, human trafficking and homelessness and develops international partnerships in areas like clean water, HIV-support and church planting. Joshua's wife Holly, daughter Aiden, and sons Torin and Jake enjoy spending time with friends over great meals and exploring their beautiful little patch of the world in the Pacific Northwest.