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How my kitchen remodeled me: Eileen Knoff found the "change orders" that came during a kitchen renovation weren't just for her kitchen.

Groans, sighs, and remarks like "Never again? greeted me when I told friends and colleagues about undertaking kitchen remodeling.

"Double the cost, add a third, and double the time estimate," warned our financial planners.

"Consider this a lifestyle choice," our accountant advised. "You won't get the investment back."

At the point of no return, a friend offered reassurance. "Think of it as having a baby. You'll forget the pain once the new kitchen is delivered."

The truest and hardest-earned wisdom of all came from our next-door neighbor: "Watch out for the change orders!"

Nineteen change orders later and 60 percent over budget, this remodeling has taken a physical and spiritual toll. I am left dazed, wondering how this process came to have such a deep impact when we simply wanted a layout that would offer a warmer welcome to our guests and more effective cooking space for our family. Little did I know that what began as remodeling my kitchen would end up remodeling me.

As I recollect, it began with conversations among ourselves and a decorator about reshaping an intrusive peninsula and extending a small eating nook. Perhaps some minor upgrades of counters and appliances, some cabinet refacing. Not too complicated; Our builder thought it could be done in three months.

It ended up taking six.

Since our extension required moving an outside wall, the law demanded we hire an architect and apply for a permit. Before we could blink, he had nearly convinced us to knock down and rebuild a supporting wall to allow for a huge island in the center of the kitchen. As cost estimates climbed near the price of a new house, we resisted the temptation to go so far out on a limb. We scampered back to our original concept of a slightly reshaped counter and extended eating area.

Too late for that now. The extended eating area had turned into a small dining room, the work triangle had been stretched out three feet and cabinet refacing was now cabinet replacing. Granted, the plan exceeded our original budget, but it still lay well below the cost of the architect's scheme. And it moved us toward the goal of a more inviting, effective living space. So we told the builders to build it, and they came--at 7 each morning.

Almost at once change orders started stacking up: The foundation around the new dining area needed to be dug deeper than calculated, window frames required modification to fit wall depth, and plumbing had to be upgraded to meet code. When additional roof venting became essential, we decided to add storage space above the garage. A skylight would direct more light into the front hallway, and French doors could impart just the right feel to the dining room. Need I go on?

The changes certainly did, inexorably, heading through rooms we'd never planned to remodel toward the center of my body and soul. That shift happened just after old walls and ceilings were removed. Pipes and wires stood exposed, and half-packed boxes filled every room in the house. The only space on the main floor somewhat protected from all this chaos was a small sitting area near a bay window where I prayed daily. It had become my haven. I had tried to guard it from the disarray, but lately the contents of the kitchen cupboards had begun to creep dangerously close to my pile of reflective reading. I could barely squeeze between boxes and books to sit down each morning.

Precisely at this point, with the house's disorder encroaching on my prayer space, my inner back muscles gave way. Too weak to stand, sit, or walk comfortably, I lay flat on the floor, lamenting what seemed like incredibly bad timing. The schedule mandated that I should be emptying old cabinets. In reality my only option was to let go and trust others to take over.

They did. So I turned my attention to my innermost back muscles. Recovery required biweekly visits to a physical therapist. I learned new ways to support my spine with carefully planned movements and religiously performed exercises and stretches. My strength and flexibility gradually returned in full just as we were completing kitchen reconstruction.

The physical therapists tell me I need to continue such self-care for the rest of my life or risk losing my core muscle strength again. I am listening to the message of this change order. I want to maintain the freedom to stand up straight and walk where I need to go. One direction I need to go on this matter is inward.

As a pastoral minister and spiritual mentor, I am aware that physical weaknesses can often have parallels in the spiritual world. Just as I had let my inner muscles atrophy, so too had I been leaning for too long on others in my decision-making, often ignoring my own priorities as I strove to try satisfy as many as I could. While caring for others is a great ministry, my concerns left me hesitant to claim my own power, reluctant to step into roles where my gifts could best be used and my call honored.

The inner remodeling underway since my back collapsed has called me to hold fast to the faith and hope I have in Jesus Christ as the source of my strength. It has called me to risk making decisions based on wisdom that arises from deep within. It has urged me to commit myself to the tasks most central to who I am, and to say no to the peripheral ones. It has prodded me to step forth to lead with confidence and trust, speaking truth with love to those I serve--whether they have authority over me or not. In the course of this remodeling I have been called to exercise leadership. That has meant some losing of myself to find myself. It has been worth the struggle.

While our kitchen remodeling required much adding on, this inner remodeling means just the opposite. I am drawn toward letting less become more. I've been particularly conscious of letting go of expectations from those who seek a specific response from me. Instead I try to listen to God's love speaking to me in prayer, scripture, and the wisdom of those who support my staying true to God's call while seeking to do the same themselves.

As I permit less to become more, love acts as a master builder in my life. It arrives early and remains quietly focused during the day on redesigning me through the people I encounter and the beauty I notice. It transforms my understanding and heals my emotions. It motivates me to accept rather than judge, to understand rather than fix. Gradually I become like my remodeled kitchen--more inviting to others who enter my life. I become far more effective in my work as a lay minister.

There's no denying the remodeling stressed us out. Somewhere around month five my spouse and I were so tired of it we solemnly pledged never to undertake such an extensive remodel again, and then we shook on it. The process required too many decisions, too many delays, too much money, and too many people on our doorstep too early in the morning. While I am grateful to have achieved our primary goals of creating a more welcoming and effective kitchen, I am equally grateful to close the books on this project.

I am ready to turn more attention to God's ongoing remodeling project in me and those I serve. Though the way is not easy, I am reassured In knowing God never runs out of energy and patience to keep at this task. No amount of chaos and confusion we throw in the way can stop the power of Jesus' spirit from working faithfully to transform us with open hearts into a church that is strong and true, into a world that is loving and just.

EILEEN KNOFF serves as a spiritual director and board member for the Cabrini Pastoral Care Ministry, a Seattle-based program that trains laity for pastoral care ministry.
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Author:Knoff, Eileen
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Date:Jul 1, 2003
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