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How do you define home? Is it the result of the neighborhood you choose, the messages and furnishings you fill it with, or the love you provide? In part, certainly all of these matter.

But can you follow a step-by-step method to create the dwelling you want for your children? Not quite. My family’s home is complex; it has been molded by a million moments in time – by sweat, hope, tears, laughter, dirt and concrete in New York, California and Connecticut. It has come to life in its own unique way, on small and tall hills, in hot and cold spaces, where children have rolled and sledded and kicked balls through groves of all sorts of trees.

Years ago, our home first began to take shape. It cupped wood walls together like a heart, pumping energy inward for me and my husband to grow together. During our first two years of marriage, our rooms grew muscles. We discovered that three babies can be born three years in a row, an infant’s heart can be rearranged in an operating room, and moms and dads stop sleeping when times get tough. But even in hard times, light enters the home’s windows, and it flourishes.

Eventually our house pumped joy outward, while witnessing that children are much like brick souls, expanding a dwelling with hope. Their smiles and dreams decorate hallways, their laughter sings in the walls, their resilient bodies and spirits shock grownups into renewed faith; reaching for better through hard days.

At times our house deflated again, folding over our oldest child with unique differences labeled: ADHD, PTSD, maybe Asperger’s, eventually depression. He couldn’t find a school, a church or a community to embrace him. Our home shuddered through darkness and sadness that poisoned its rooms, taping doors shut, trapping a mom and dad inside, afraid of losing their child. Our house softened late at night when a mother sometimes cried whole bathtubs of sorrow, and cleaned them up quickly before sunrise.

Then our house grew again, as my husband and I found our ability to write, to speak, to reach out and ask for help. Our home found that hands and voices can function like steeples, calling good people inward to find doors. And light comes in; and hope springs up; and new enormous, invaluable wings on a home are created.

Meanwhile, the usual parts of our house served their purpose. Our kitchen met every morning energetic, smelling like mint leafs on some days and hot cider on others. Lined with finger-marked windows, a mom prayed there sometimes, seeking out the sun over the treetops. Our kitchen learned the names of bullies and the value of a trophy. It fretted about jobs ending, about moving trucks, about making new friends and saying goodbye. It giggled at young fingers scampering to find chocolate chips at six in the morning. It sighed at a mama tired of sweeping the floor.

In the background, our living room sat lonely. It once believed families were fancy – that they perched upright in rows, having important conversations while children sat cross-legged stroking well-mannered pets. But in reality, children’s messy laughter was far away from an overly designed life. (Who concocted the myth that families flourish in rooms filled with tailored, designer pillows, beneath bottoms holding still, anyway?)

Meanwhile outdoors, our yard unrolled a rejoicing carpet of grass green, leaf gold and snow white at times. The tattered roses cheered when our back door swung open; when a girl, two boys, two dogs and two cats leapt into the woods; when a lizard or spider was admired for a few minutes before returning to its home.

Finally, an endless rooftop of sky embraced our home, accepting that a household doesn’t belong to one point in time, to one territory. The sky sheltered my home faithfully, no matter where we were – it held my home beating inside its atmosphere, my rows of kale beneath drifts of clouds and flapping wings. The stars lit my house, my neighbors’ homes, in all sorts of spaces and seasons and points of growth. The moon reminded me, on quiet nights when I had time to ponder, that my house is shalom – it is peace given, it is grace, not created by me. My house is heaven and light flowing in, during snippets of time, no matter its imperfections, no matter my efforts. It is beautiful.

My family’s home is a moment together, and it is a lifetime together – in the wide, gracious, colorful earth. Thank God our home is here.

AmyChallenger_x125Amy Aves Challenger is a writer and artist focusing on topics relating to the marginalized, families and children. She has been published regularly in The Huffington Post and also in The Washington Post,, and Brain, Child Magazine. Her poems and a short story will be published in an upcoming anthology by Kind of A Hurricane Press. Amy lives in Fairfield, CT where she runs a support group for special needs mothers and also leads a writing workshop. She is writing her first novel about a child with special needs. Her poetry can be read daily on twitter @amychallenger.