Making Spirits (& Spaces) Bright: Our Home Renovation (and Heart Restoration) Tour


When we sat down to do our Yates Family Vision session in January of 2020 (an annual tradition since our first year married), we held a handful of dreams.

One dream was to watch our little girl finish Kindergarten and start 1st grade at her dearly loved school. Thankfully we did get to celebrate her finish to Kindergarten (maybe a little extra), because it was after months of being the only kid in her class with me as her teacher…

Two other dreams consisted of planned family trips: one to Disney World, and the other the trip of a lifetime to Hawaii that included my mom! Our girl was so excited (we all were!), she was chomping at the bit to learn about our beautiful floating state. The house was brimming with luau music all winter long while we were blissfully unaware that every season this year would be spent largely listening to music in our house!

But another dream, a big and beautiful dream, came to us unexpectedly, as a miracle really, just a couple weeks into 2020…

This was taken over 8 years ago when we set out for 2 simultaneous adoptions – both on an international and a domestic track. Our international adoption ended up being happily disrupted by the most beautiful baby girl we’ve ever seen, our lovely daughter. She means more to us than 1000 children, and was a source of joy for us even as we faced multiple failed adoptions and fostering ups and downs in our parenting journey. We always wondered if God had another child in mind for our family…

…we were approached about adopting a baby due in July of 2020.

For half of 2020 we carried this private joy — the hope of a miracle child and answer to many prayers, especially those of our little girl for a sibling. As much as we tried to not get our “hopes up” (my husband is much better at this than I am), it is nearly impossible for a woman who believes she is “expecting” to resist imagining a new life in her heart and home — even after multiple losses in this area! As we arranged logistics with lawyers and the year went on I pictured the Fall and Christmas season sweetly adorned with our girl enjoying a new baby brother or sister. It would seem the crib I couldn’t bring myself to tear down — in “the baby room” — would actually hold a little wiggly one again.

It felt too good to be true, and I wondered over how Abraham and Sarah must have felt receiving the gift of a baby later in life. Even as we navigated the challenges of Covid-19 rationing toilet paper, managing virtual school and sitting for all the Zoom calls, the hope of goodness ahead filled my soul with laughter because I was reminded that we serve a God who can bring life from death, light to darkness, and babies to barren people!

Now I’m going to pause this story for a moment, I’ll pick back up with it later because I want to weave in our home renovation here. I know it feels strange to take such a turn, but in so many ways this creative endeavor became a tangible form of hope for us as we moved forward trusting God with us. Our renovations were not just about making our spaces shiny and new. With infertility, adoption, and fostering it can often feel like you have no control over the fullness of your womb or home. This is simply not the case for the believer in Jesus, though coming to this understanding takes soul work. So let’s look at the renovation process for our home now, and I’ll show you how God has used it to do a deeper work of restoration for our hearts, and still is, before we go, ok?

Why we chose to renovate in 2020…

Let me start by saying these renovations had been on our Yates Family Vision worksheets for many years. We had even planned to start them several years ago, but family plans changed and our finances were redirected which, at the end of all things, is just fine with us. We held a dream of attempting them in a few years, but then the virus changed everything, which in this one area of our lives was actually a good thing! We learned our trip to Hawaii, and pretty much everything else we had planned for months, was canceled. We also wanted to channel our mixed emotions about the possible impending adoption into something constructive — and designing beautiful spaces in our home has been a therapeutic healing for us in times past. At the same time interest rates took a dive making home projects financially do-able. Since we already designed the projects (in our minds), had weekends completely free to oversee the work ourselves, and had traveling savings, we realized the perfect storm of Covid-19 at least presented this window of opportunity to roll up our sleeves and get our home ready for a (hopefully) new season of gathering — whatever that would mean!

A list of projects we tackled:

The other day I walked by a room and realized, “Oh yeah, we totally changed this room too!” We had so much dust, upheaval and tarped mazes for so long, by the fifth month (the total “reno season” was from April to November) I was losing track of what stage we were at in our crazy transformation journey! This is how growth, and grief, is sometimes. Things can turn into such a state of mess, it’s hard to see where you were before or imagine how you can ever be whole again. It is tempting to despair in this place, if we believe we are in chaos. I had to continually remember though that chaos is when there is no plan or order, and with God we always have hope of an ultimate order for all things. But to bring a little perspective to our epic renovations, here is a list of the projects we tackled in just 8 months:

  • We built a treehouse. This is how it all got started!
  • We changed the entire exterior of the house and garage
  • We put up brand new porch beams, rails, fans, lighting, door bell
  • Our single-style front door became double farmhouse doors
  • Our land shape-shifted to serve our new home layout
  • We repurposed our kitchen cabinets and appliances in the garage!
  • We got a new farmhouse side door
  • We renovated our wash room! (My new favorite room!)
  • We busted out our kitchen back wall and built our dream kitchen!
  • We busted out a wall partially separating the kitchen from the dining room, and painted it to match with the kitchen!
  • I designed bar stools and dining room chairs to go with our new aesthetic (one of the trickiest design challenges for me)
  • I designed a custom booth for our kitchen island, and worked with a local young lady for upholstered seating
  • We removed an old gas tank (eye sore) and buried a new one
  • We renovated our guest bathroom (paint, sink, lights, hardware)
  • We painted all the trim in the house white (from cream)
  • We changed all house hardware to pretty farmhouse black handles
  • We changed out the front entryway light fixture (very dated)
  • Thanks to air ducts in the upstairs playroom, we added built-ins and changed the layout for that space too (it’s so “big girl” friendly now)
  • We “ordered” new exterior door hardware — it has yet to arrive — only 7 months later — but who’s counting?
  • We added sidewalks around the perimeter of the house (wheelchair friendly!)
  • We ran a new internet line through the field (cut by tractor, oops!)
  • We added a pool! (Griswold family inspired)
  • We added landscaping
  • We added exterior ground lights (it use to be scary dark outside)
  • We refreshed and built a mount for a family heirloom outside: a beloved family dinner bell that has been in our family for 5 generations and will hold the family names down to our daughter (my favorite piece!)

Let’s take a breather for a moment, ok? I need to take a nap.

Writing down all the things that HAPPENED in a year (or a week even) is a healthy exercise because often we can feel like we have accomplished nothing in our lives. Truth is, God moves in and through us in ways we forget or don’t notice, and it’s honoring to both Him and our souls to go back and name all the wonderful works in our lives.

But we aren’t talking about that stuff right now, we are on a home renovation tour! If you need a soul-healthy way to move forward from 2020 though (or any miserable season) consider my New Year’s post and be sure not to miss it by signing up for my newsletter.

Now, let’s get on to the home tour!

If you were coming over for coffee, I’d greet you outside first. So let’s start here!

First, let me officially say Welcome.

I’ve had this welcome mat for years, it didn’t change. But the brick and sweet little toes touching it sure did!

Welcome, I should clarify, to the shadow of our home. I use that phrase as a reminder to my own soul that this too, as lovely as it is, is still not our Home. Our real one is still under construction in the Heavenlies…and will hopefully have a view of the sea!

On the Outside:

When we got married our home had a tan vinyl siding, red brick front facing, a single front door with partial sidelights, tan rails and what seemed like (when cleaning them) a thousand balusters (spindles). We daydreamed of peeling off the vinyl, painting the brick, sealing the garage (not seen here) and making it all coordinate together in a modern white farmhouse aesthetic, but we did just the essentials for years.

Where “we” started!
November of 2008
One update years later was to at least brighten things up by painting all the railings and balusters white, and our front door a soft red shade (hard to see here). This was how it remained, until 2020!
December of 2013
Our side entrance (before) was closed in at the top, so we wanted to open that up more. Also, the stairs before leading up to the side porch were oddly formed, and led to many a fall. So new concrete steps went in there too. Construction projects…one project can quickly turn into ten!

Style inspiration…

I first started decorating my own home space in the 90’s, and quickly became a fan of the “shabby chic” style. I loved the bright, soft colors and textures, and the distressed look in general. I wanted to feel cozy at home, reminded of beauty and goodness, and for me personally this did it for me.

Later I married this love for whites, brights, soft textures and distressed surfaces with the modern rustic feel, which especially worked well since I found myself married to a boy who lived on a hay farm.

We decided that “someday” we would try German smear on the red brick, peel off the vinyl on the house and try a board and batten design, to coordinate with our garage that already had a tight version of a similar pattern.

So “Welcome” again, but now to the new look:

See, the same mat!

In order to off-set the all-over bright white, we talked about warming it up with modern rustic beams, and stainless steel cable railings. (It was so hard to see out sitting on the front porch for all the white spindles, the cable makes it nearly see-through!)

Jonathan also had the brilliant idea to carry the warmth of the wood up onto the ceiling, both off our garage, at the side entrance, over the back basement entrance and on our front porch. It makes a huge impact! Throw in new black iron lighting, fans and a doorbell (not seen here but Ring is so great!)

Before I show the finished look though, these are some of our messy moments along the way…

We also had to break off the top layer of brick on our stairs to lay smooth concrete. The paint wouldn’t work well for high traffic, wear and tear would leave us with crumbs.
We have a new farmhouse door here at the side entrance too, which we love! But look at that portico opened up and finished with those stained boards now! My husband’s shoulder may always feel sore but it was worth it!
I love these thin profile wood-carved floral wreaths handmade by my Mama with Happily Ever Blooming — I’ve had several made for my doors and they stay put and pretty all season long!
Years ago I was told by one gentleman I would not be able to get double farmhouse doors in here. I begged to differ, but he was rather insistent.
I sure would enjoy welcoming him through them now!
We are still awaiting our hardware though…maybe 2021?
We carried the modern farmhouse theme over to the garage, painted the doors and metal roof (to save money), added shepherd hooks and the warm wood beams
We finally have lights out on the farm, so even the darkest night now feels lovely. In fact, nighttime may be when she shines all the more!

Before we go to the backyard, let’s go inside!

Our Wash Room

This room has gone from the saddest to the cheeriest in the house, even our girl delights in doing laundry chores in here! I don’t know how I forgot to take pictures of the “before” in here, but this image pretty much sums up how pitiful it was with it’s dated wallpaper trim along the top and a bulkhead that accomplished nothing for us (we already removed it before I remembered to take before photos!)

The blurry caption does this space justice, it was pretty much the same on the other side with a washer, dryer, and dingy fluorescent ceiling light that served as a dead bug cemetary
First things first, we put in a farmhouse door at the side entrance to maximize on all that beautiful light, then carried the new flooring from the entrance, through the washroom and into the kitchen
Last we stained barn doors to get all the access space in the washroom we could get, and painted all the doors, walls and trim bright high gloss white!
Inside we removed wallpaper trim, repaired sheetrock, painted walls the same high gloss white and added a funky light fixture from Lowe’s! The finishing touch was my personal favorite part: gold palm frond decals by Urban Walls. They took me time to apply, but it was actually therapeutic and not that hard.

The Kitchen

Now I definitely remembered to get “before pictures” of the kitchen!

Our original kitchen, sweet and cozy but with very little light or view of the beauty surrounding us on all sides. We also had 3 different kinds of counter tops and were packed tight during gatherings, which we love hosting!
We had a partial wall separating the kitchen from the dining room
We bought this beautiful Jonathan Charles Alexander puzzle piece expanding dining room table early in our marriage when we expected to have lots of kids…but being just the 3 of us we usually only ate here when we had company
We painted the dining room with black chalkboard paint when I stepped away from ministry to raise our daughter and heal. Ironically, the dark backdrop actually helped our voices stand out brighter! These walls helped me remember truth and created space for us to remember God with us in our home.

So again, before I reveal our current and new kitchen reality, you need to know how awful things were in here…for what felt like the rest of our days:

This booth was one of our special design ideas inspired by none other than The Waffle House. But seriously. We love sitting in booths in that fine restaurant watching the cooks, and ordering “extra bacon” on demand. Our girl loves this booth as much as we do, and runs for it as soon as she is home from school. She also loves asking for “more bacon” any chance she gets! In this house, who doesn’t?
This table centerpiece is another custom wood-carved floral design by @happilyeverblooming and the table was my husband’s design. He used two separate pieces from Wayfair that didn’t know they’d belong so well together with a little carpentry!
The partial wall separating the dining room is no longer, and we can see outside in every direction now on the farm
I’m keeping the walls bare for a while longer, we have art in mind that means something to us but I just wanted to let the rooms breathe first
This faucet took a minute to come in (try 6 months), but it fits in so nicely! And look at our views!
Still waiting on hardware, but you get a sneak peek at some of the transformation happening out back now too! The sidewalk allows for handicap access into the kitchen, so hopefully we can keep baking until the Lord calls us Home.
A gas stove! I had no idea how wonderful gas was until now!
The most difficult design element for me was deciding on barstools and dining chairs. I didn’t want to introduce another metal, color or pattern, or wood stain other than what we had already. I ended up pulling from our budget in other places and designed these using performance fabrics for easier clean up then prayed they would turn out well! Yikes! Many thanks to Lenoir Empire Furniture for letting me borrow fabric samples to practice dropping make-up and all the things on them first!
Our favorite pastime: watching The Great British Baking Show and then trying our hand at something culinary in the kitchen together. We say often, “Can you believe we get to cook in here?!?” It’s been good for us to remember all we can do in this life, rather than all we cannot.
Our booth is the perfect spot now for a more intimate around-the-table meal for our little crew, and is the best spot for all the games we like to play!
This spot between the dining room and kitchen was begging for a live Christmas tree!
At night our Christmas twinkle lights remind us that Jesus came to bring the Light of eternal hope when all felt dark and small and gloomy. Truly, He is always at work making all things new, whether we see the finished beauty or not.

A Guest Bathroom

The washroom wasn’t the only room I forgot to get a “before” picture of — our deep wild cherry guest bathroom with a pedestal sink and silver mirror also got the cold shoulder. It was time to bring in a lighter feel for our guests, especially as they sought a little private sanctuary! To tie in the more natural tones we were bringing in to our modern farmhouse, we added some deep evergreen as an accent, continued our high gloss white, and updated the sink, hardware, mirror and lighting! Voila, a place for any passerby to take a deep breath (without a mask!)

So every space tells a story, we have our Bear Brothers family displayed in this one. You never know when a guest will be interested in customizing and driving their own restoration project!

A few other indoor touches…

As if that wasn’t enough renovation for one year, for one home, we actually had more indoor renovations that I’ll summarize briefly here. We changed out entryway lighting, painted trim throughout the house bright white, and added built-in bookshelves to the upstairs playroom (to hide A/C duct work for the kitchen, but hey, we love it and use it so it’s all a part of the design process!)

Heading Back Outside — An Empty Field

Especially now that we had a new treehouse on one side of our property, we never went to the basement side of our property. In fact, since it tended to stay marshy after rainy days, we rarely even went to that side of the house, unless it was Easter and an Easter egg hunt demanded creative new spots.

So after much consideration we decided that while we had the yard all torn to pieces, and family could gather more in the summer with the help of a heated pool, we took the big plunge to put a pool in too!

To flow from the back to the side of the property we had a retaining wall built with stair steps added. Concrete and installation took a long time, but our hope is to use it for so many years, we’ll forget it use to be a marshy empty field we never visited.
One night when it felt like we would never be finished with the mess, and I was struggling to believe God would provide peace for my weary heart, we saw this beautiful reminder of God’s faithfulness in all seasons.
To make sense of the new layout of our backyard, including this new overlook space, we pebbled in a firepit for all the s’mores roasting!
Our magnolia tree kissed us with beauty half way through our pool renovation when all was disaster zone. Beauty was cheering us on to keep moving toward our finish…

Back to our Heart Restoration journey…

This last part of our story is what has kept me from sharing this post for over two months. I have been stuck with the ending, looping a pitiful one that felt hopeless and honestly, bitter. After much prayer, lamenting, attempting to write but feeling still bitter in my heart — I have chosen instead to listen quietly, post less frequently, and have been waiting for God’s perspective in how this 2020 story ends.

Afterall, I may have authored these books, but He is the Author of me!

What would we do without artist friends like Michelle who help us not look as frazzled as we can feel?

God’s next plot twist in our 2020…

As you can probably guess, at some point close to the baby’s delivery others’ minds — and all the plans — changed.

We were not going to bring a baby home.

Not only that, instead of celebrating a little bundle of joy we experienced a newly revived round of hostile correspondences related to our adoption story. I was heartbroken. We made the decision to limit our exposure on social media as I resisted fear that dark clouds were reforming over our lives.

It felt cruel, to be honest. Like a kick when we were already down.

Ironically, the next day I had plans to board a plane for Little Rock, Arkansas, to do a podcast interview. FamilyLife Ministries invited me to share about my newest book, A Mother of Thousands…all about God’s hope for us when we experience broken dreams in motherhood. (You can find links to the 3-day podcast series here!)

Little did I know when I agreed to do the interview months before, I would be speaking truth to my own broken heart as I shared this motherhood message. In hindsight, I’m actually glad I didn’t know. One day’s concerns ended up being plenty, one day at a time living was enough. We needed to learn to grow slow, and I see it better now. If I knew too much I’d be tempted to rush myself. Do you tend to hurry God along with your own healing? We’ll have a lot to share together around a table in Heaven — and we won’t be wearing masks!

I had a full day in a hotel room before the interview by myself to wrestle with God. I burned with questions, raw pain and fragile faith that I ultimately submitted again to Him. I felt His peace flood my heart not a moment too soon, and as I spoke the next day I felt Him continually washing that peace over me. Grief wouldn’t really hit me until the Fall, as I felt the season marching along without the baby I imagined. As we put the finishing touches on a playroom, with no baby for the crib. Then again God’s timing proved to be by design: the podcast series aired, and I came back again to remember our story.

I kept remembering God’s goodness, His beauty, the way He has moved in our lives and brought us through other seasons of darkness, back into light.

I grieved, and I remembered with gratitude His goodness in the midst of my sorrows.

I grieved, and I remembered with gratitude how He is still the God who brings life from death, light to darkness and babies to barren couples.

Remembering God with us in our story reminded me of why Jesus had to come. The world is dark. Hearts feel it, you feel it don’t you? We all long for light, goodness, beauty, everlasting life!

So, God sent Him. The One we long for but all-too-often forget.

This month God has reminded me too how He brought a baby to this Earth that no one ever expected, that no one could ever conceive without Him, and one whom no one deserved.

God showed me the end of our story was not with a failure to bring a baby home. The end of our story, and every human story, can end and then really start with a baby being born to us, for us.

God is helping me see Jesus this month, born to me, for me, at Christmas.

I may not be able to hold a new baby in my arms, but I can hold the real hope of Jesus born in my heart in a new way.

I love everything about this Christmas card from my Dad this year

How my home is teaching me to trust God with us…

If you’ve stayed for this whole journey, I commend you, and would offer you a cookie if you were here.

Somehow moving from dark to light in our home aesthetic, creating open spaces for light to flood us and draw us to see the beauty surrounding us always, in every season, is helping me see the work God is doing in our hearts, too. I have felt every stage of the process this year in my soul, the disaster zone feeling especially delayed.

Especially this year it has been easy to see what is broken, falling apart at the seams and what is in desperate need for repair. It’s true of our world, but my goodness, it’s true of my world, too. What is hard to notice, and easy to overlook, is what is surrounding us still. It may be that our view is blocked, and we need to bust some walls first. I’m seeing how good Jesus is at this, and how much I need His help to do the work.

We may need to open spaces wider to take in more beauty — maybe writing our gratitudes, singing them out, chalking them on our walls…whatever we can do to make room for celebrating what is still good.

I’m learning with Jesus how to dismantle walls of bitterness, how to extend room for forgiveness and let in hope for new joy in a lighter space where He floods my heart with His goodness again.

Like our once empty field, where it was wild and neglected, I feel hope rising for more life ahead, in all forms. I think of this verse that comforted me so many times during hard and heavy days longing to become parents:

Then the wilderness will become a fertile field, and the fertile field will yield bountiful crops.

Isaiah 32:15b, NLT

I don’t know what a “fertile field” can look like in my life. I am getting some glimpses by what I see happening on our property — relationships growing closer, conversations moving deeper, children laughing and etching memories of joy from their childhood, and adults playing again like in their youth.

And I don’t know how long we will get to live here, in this shadow of our home. But I know this: we don’t live here alone.

We live here with God with us.

We live in a dark world where we can shine with Jesus, making spirits bright.

We have a baby, here, this Christmas, in our home, in 2020.

We have Him in our hearts.

And we have Him in our stories, forever, and ever, Amen.

Merry Christmas friends, may your new year be “bright”!

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