Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life

Our starter house, 22 years later (theology of place)


I had no intentions of staying in this house for very long. In my mind, it was the guys’ place, where they had set up a weight room in the dining room and taped posters of pro athletes on the walls. My future husband, John, rented his living space in this house from his friend Mark. It was the stereotypical but legit bachelor pad.

But Mark received an amazing job opportunity in Costa Rica just as John and I were looking for a place to live. So, Mark sold the 1970’s-era ranch on Ironkettle Road to us, and after our honeymoon I moved in, temporarily I thought.

Almost 23 years later, the “starter house” on Ironkettle is still our home.

We put it on the market once, thinking that it was time for us to move onto a bigger and better place. There was this house I longed for, which was for sale on Porch Swing Lane, with brick, two stories, a front porch, a garage even! But nothing happened with our own house, not a hint of interest. I couldn’t blame the potential buyers who made an appointment for a showing but then decided that they didn’t even want to walk in. John and I didn’t know much about curb appeal, especially since I wasn’t emotionally invested in this space. And there was no HGTV back then.

So, we took down the “for sale” sign, and we’ve never considered trying that again. Although years later, we could probably sell easily. Our little home has a new roof, new siding, new windows, new shutters, established perennials and trees, new kitchen, expanded master bed & bath, and is a neighborhood school for the highest-rated schools in our city.  With my parents’ assistance and my brother’s talents for building and carpentry, our “fixer-upper” looks pretty good for a 1970’s house.

But still, I have struggled with mixed sentiments about this place for 22 years. Somehow, we landed in a section of our city where the average income is high. Our humble and older street, which exists without a neighborhood association or a pool or clubhouse, shares a zip code with country club neighborhoods and million-dollar homes. When we visit the homes of friends we’ve made through church or our daughter’s school, I just struggle. As Theodore Roosevelt wisely said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Those houses, after all, have the space and the shine which we lack. I return home, and the house feels tiny and worn and dated. For all our efforts to fix her up inside and out, she is what she is.

These feelings are relative, of course, and cause a messy tension between contentment and longing and guilt within. Because we have also returned to the house on Ironkettle from our travels to some of the poorest places on earth, and we understand that our family possesses abundance well beyond our needs. We have what we have, and it is very good.

Even if we could afford to move, we’ve decided that our starter house is our keeper home, Lord willing. This little home on Ironkettle houses our most cherished memories. Our daughter took her first steps here. Sometimes when I look out at the backyard, I can still picture her little feet stomping in the mud at the bottom of the slide. Every first-day-of-school photo is taken where the sidewalk meets the driveway, in front of the lantana. Daddy’s knack for fixing anything is evident throughout these rooms. We planted the crepe myrtle which now stretches far above the roofline. Inside and outside, my brother crafted all the trim by hand. Somewhere between the carpet and the baseboard, I’m sure you could find pine needles from 22 Christmas trees. We have celebrated and cried hard within these walls.

For all the joys we’ve experienced within our little home, we’re increasingly aware that God is up to something on the outside too. Our pastor calls it “theology of place,” based on Paul’s sermon recorded in Acts 17: From one man God made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’

This Scripture assures us that the house on Ironkettle is our divinely appointed home. Of course, we can’t presume that He will always keep us here, but for now we see “the boundary of our land” as an opportunity gifted by God. Through our current circumstances and in our hearts, we sense Him telling us to stay and let these roots grow deeper. We are called where we are, until God moves us.

It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching. (2)

Except for the first 6 years of my life and 4 years of college, I have lived in two homes – my parent’s home and my present home. Both addresses are one street off of Providence Road. I think this is sweetly providential and reminds me that “theology of place” ordains each context with divine purpose and ministry.

Looking beyond this “starter home,” as I did for so many years, diminishes the sacred importance of what’s happening on Ironkettle. I started to realize this, not long ago, when my next-door neighbor mistakenly thought that we placed a “for sale” sign in the yard.  Turns out that her vision is not so good, and it was just a garden flag.

But she told me that she had a moment of panic, thinking that we were leaving. And it occurred to me that perhaps we really do matter, in this house, on this street. These neighborly relationships are where, by His grace, God is teaching us to see Scott, not just as the guy who mows his grass every Sunday but as a soul, an image-bearer of God who is created for His saving love and redemption. Just as freshly-strewn seeds of grass occasionally take flight on the wind and land amongst our neighbors’ yards, we believe that God has entrusted our family with grace to spread.

It takes courage to go and talk to Scott. We’ve been to China, the Dominican Republic, and Albania to share the Gospel and yet we pause over the prompting to cross the street. This is where our faith is most stretched. Yet God is stirring up our love for Scott and his family. We know that Jesus loves them and can use any person and any means He wishes to bring Scott to Himself. But what an incredible faith-building blessing we could miss if we choose to look the other way, grab the mail and retreat, and not say yes to the opportunity to be God’s messenger.  And we don’t know … tonight could be the night that Scott’s car doesn’t ever return to his driveway.


And so, our starter home is the place where God is starting His new work in my heart, that I might seek what He is doing in my ordinary, ordained mission field. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I march across the street and whip out my carefully-scripted Gospel presentation on Scott. But it starts with valuing and engaging my neighbors. It begins as I stop making excuses about the stains and the square footage and I choose a spirit of hospitality, opening my home in an effort to serve and to love. As my pastor likes to say, “The Gospel moves at the speed of relationship.” To me, this means that in the daily rhythms of life we look for ways to talk with people, to prayerfully discern where the Holy Spirit is moving in this context, and humbly display a life of dependence on Christ, being ready and obedient when He tells us to move –

– as we stay, on Ironkettle Road.


image courtesy of Holley Gerth



Need a pick-up? Holley is writing today on “gratitude when you’ve got an attitude” (like I have sometimes about my house!) She’s also hosting a link-up for writers who are sharing words of encouragement, Coffee for your Heart {here}.

Author: Renee Ratcliffe


10 thoughts on “Our starter house, 22 years later (theology of place)

  1. Oh, how beautiful and touching. You have a lovely home! And you are so hospitable and welcoming and warm. No excuses needed! Nor tolerated! You are definitely blooming where you are planted and your neighbors are the beneficiaries!
    Blessings to you all! Keep the good words coming!

  2. So well said by my bride, who is the one I share this address with and make new memories with every day! Love you sweetheart!

  3. After living in our home for more than 20 years, the Lord has stirred us to do more than downsize (which we were ready for.) He is moving us halfway across the country to a place we’ve never liked. But our family is there, so our hearts are already there. As He makes the steps so much easier than we ever could have imagined, and we find ourselves past the “just accepting the change” place to the “looking forward to it” place, my curiosity increases about what more He has for us there than “just” family. For I know He does. At the same time, our dear neighbors and friends who have shared our lives on our beautiful cul-de-sac these years will be sorely missed. Yet, we didn’t know any of these people when the Lord moved us here in 1996, either. We have shared joys and losses, watched our children grow up and move away, and prayed for one another many times in many difficult life situations. He knew that ahead of time.

    So I know He has more precious people to be loved by me and to love me (even if it’s not always mutual 🙂 ) in a place I never wanted to call home. Truly, home is where He is, no matter the address.

    Obviously, your post inspired me. Thanks, Renee!

    • Kay, I’m grateful for your trusting perspective in the midst of your move. Your new community will be blessed to have you. God goes before you, and I love your words “home is where He is, no matter the address.” Yes – thank you!!

  4. Hi Renee,
    Visiting from Coffee for your Heart and I so enjoyed this post! (I might have missed it but wondered which state your house is in!) Your thoughts about your neighborhood and your house are so nicely shared and it’s interesting, isn’t it, how you thought it would be just a place to start but turned into a place to call home? I thought I wanted to live forever in my hometown of Pittsburgh but three states and nearly 10 moves later, I’ve found I rather like moving on to a new place! Loved reading this post and I look forward to visiting often! 🙂

    • Thank you, Valerie! We live in North Carolina, and I’m learning that home is the address of God’s sovereign plan. I’m sure your experiences with moving give you a unique perspective – obviously, God has plans for you to touch the lives of many people! Thanks for stopping by. Your site is lovely, and I’m grateful for the eternal perspective you shared in your latest post about God’s bigger story.

  5. I understand your story! We never thought we would stay in our first home more than a few years, but we were there for 12. Our current house is nice, but it is definitely easy to compare to everyone around who has more. I try to compare myself to those who have much less, those who I try to help. It is a daily thing!

    • Yes, true perspective is that we will always have less than someone else and we will always have more than someone else. But I’m learning that God supplies the portion we need. Thank you, Sarah, for reading and relating. Wishing you a blessed Thanksgiving!

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