“Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain…” (Psalm 127a:1 NIV).

These are the opening words to Psalm 127, penned by Solomon, son of King David. One of fifteen songs of ascent, it was sung as people climbed the hill to God’s house in Jerusalem. Psalm 127’s overall theme is–

“Life without God is senseless. All of life’s work–building a home, establishing a career, and raising a family–must have God as the foundation” (from Life Application Study Bible NIV).

Solomon knew a thing or two about building a house–God’s house in particular. In fact, his father David had at first planned on building the temple. In his own words–

“Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent” (II Sam. 7:2 NIV).

David’s intentions were to begin construction on God’s house, but the Lord spoke to the prophet Nathan, telling him to proclaim–

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Are you the one to build Me a house to dwell in?… I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over My people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone… Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth… I will also give you rest from your enemies'” (taken from II Sam. 7:5-11 NIV).

Nathan continued his exhortation, telling David it wasn’t him who was to build God’s house but, rather, someone who would come after him.

“When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for My Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever…” (II Sam. 7:12-13 NIV).

When we read these words from Psalm 127 it brings whole new meaning to the joy behind the bold statement–

“Unless the Lord builds the house….”

Bill and I experienced some of the emotions surrounding this “unless” years ago, as we prepared to move ahead on plans for an addition to our then nearly 75-year old home. We’d spoken with a number of architects–all with lofty degrees and experience under their building belts. Still nothing seemed quite right. We felt our efforts, not to mention quite a bit of money, were spent in vain. The plans they offered just weren’t right.

And then we spoke with Dakota. Not yet two decades, with no college degree in architectural design, he was our niece’s boyfriend. This young man quietly came to us extending an offer–to draw up plans according to our desires for an addition that would keep the natural “farmhouse” look while adding ample space for our growing family.

He wasn’t forceful, wasn’t pushy. Though he had no professional experience, Dakota Meissner had lots of personal experience, having worked for his dad for quite a few years on web design projects and building plans. Furthermore, his mother worked in real estate, and Dakota, like her, had a keen eye for both interior and exterior beauty.

In the end, we ended up entrusting the job to him–the one who would later become our nephew-in-law. Dakota and niece Khristina married in December 2008, the same year our addition was finished.

We’ve occupied this space–what we call the “new” part of our 1932 farmhouse–for thirteen years this month, having moved in this exact week all those years ago. Our first Thanksgiving in our new kitchen was spent gathered around the farmhouse table with family and friends, only weeks prior to Bill undergoing extensive surgery, having been diagnosed with a rare and often fatal disease called retroperitoneal fibrosis.

The remaining days of 2008 were spent recovering from this surgery, and much of 2009 brought one medical issue after another as Bill suffered from ongoing complications from this disease–including failing kidneys leading to high blood pressure and the effects of that.

Furthermore, despite the passing of days, I never failed to recognize the empty chair at our table–the one we’d hoped a girl named Kristie would occupy. Having made all the arrangements to adopt her, having spent over a year with her, she was to have a new room in our addition, a place to call her own. When the adoption was never finalized, the decision of her grandmother, that space ended up a library. There I taught upper elementary math to our sons who were almost ten and eleven. Their giggles and curiosity helped ease the pain of loss, but we all missed Kristie.

Walking the streets of Batey Nuevo–a sugarcane community in western Dominican Republic.

Serving others, too, helps heal broken hearts, and 2010 was the year of a family mission trip. We knew we’d come to really love our home when it hurt to say goodbye, but the severe poverty and hardship others face in the bateys of the Dominican Republic made us thankful for our many blessings. It reminded us, too, to hold loosely to material things. We returned home from that 10-day trip changed, and while we’d missed our home on Stevens Creek, it seemed immensely large after experiencing the cramped conditions of even the nicest dwellings in Batey Nuevo.

2011 was a year that held another loss for our family. My maternal grandma–Helga “Betty” Simonson–had upswings and down turns throughout those months. As the year drew to a close, we knew, void a miracle, she wouldn’t be with us much longer. I’ll never forget visiting her at Autumn Care. It was December, and she wore a pink and white gingham blouse, with pink fingernails to match. She won a quarter, me calling out “Bingo!” on her behalf because she could no longer speak. She beamed, handing me the prize, and I squeezed it tightly in my hand, as though I was holding tight to her too. I knew our remaining days were few. Grandma passed on a chilly night–December 13th–after mom and dad, as well as my sister Katie and I and our families, gathered to say goodbye. We sang hymns and Christmas carols. Occasionally she’d smile until, finally, her eyes closed, opening in Heaven.

Still, I miss her.

2012 had other losses, but it also held a beautiful addition of another kind. Our Grandma Betty Gabbard passed away in late February that year, and then, only weeks later, Allie joined our family on a bright, sunny Saturday. The remaining days of 2012 were full of the things of life with a toddler, with two brothers–by now almost thirteen and nearing fifteen–who adored their sister while still making time for fun “guy” things, like dirt bike riding, snowboarding, and hanging with friends.

The years since that milestone year–2012–have passed quickly, with more losses, more gains. We’ve shed tears and shrieked with laughter more times than we can count. Boys have moved out, and new members have been added–most recently, Ian’s daughter. Sweet Emory Wren was born on September 28, 2021.

The other evening we were blessed with a visit from our family from Idaho. Becky and Khris Locker, with whom we shared life on Selah Farm for over a decade, from the time we all moved to NC in 2002 until their move westward, to follow Khristina and Dakota, in fact, were in town. The noise of happy conversation filled the kitchen and dining room from floor to rafter, and my heart, too, was happy. I held Emory Wren, who, at only 7-weeks, is just beginning to show expressions of her own happiness.

For a few moments, I sat tucked in a corner with Emory and thought about all the years that have passed, nearly twenty, since we first called this home ours. I reflected on the challenges of coming up with just the right house plans, how the Lord worked it out perfectly–taking our dreams and my husband’s thorough pencil sketches, then allowed the God-given talents of a young man to blossom even more. After all our trying in vain to find the right architect, he was right there, just the right one for the job.

This framed collage hangs in the corner of our dining room, on the original brick chimney we left exposed, a reminder of days gone by.

November is National Adoption Month, and as I prepare my heart for Thanksgiving–more than a dozen in our completed house–I can’t help but also think about all the Lord has done to build our family too. Where I’d have had it my way many years ago, I discovered His way is so much better.

So much more beautiful!

As I sat in the rocker holding my precious Emory, watching aunts and uncles, great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, cousins, and siblings, I smiled. And I whispered to my dear grand baby–

Yes, sweet Girl–unless the Lord builds the house, as well as the family that dwells within its walls, we labor in vain. But just see what God, in His abundant grace, has built! He’s the foundation.

Emory listened intently, taking in her Mora’s joy. And I think, for just a moment, she smiled, seeming to understand that the One who’s the Architect of all our beautiful families, no matter how they’re built–whether biological or through the miracle of adoption–was right there among us.

And my song of ascent lifted heavenward with gratitude and praise–

“Children are a reward from Him” (Ps. 127:3b NIV).

Dakota Meissner–himself from a blended family, with 4 adopted sisters–and his wife, our niece, Khristina, as well as their three children, now reside in Paris, Idaho. Dakota stays busy as a full-time architect. See some of his work at Meissner Design.
  • Do you have a story of trying in vain to achieve something, only to discover that doing it God’s way worked so much better?
  • Do you have a special story of how God built your family?

Thank you, Jesus, for being the One who builds perfectly, bringing all things together most beautifully in Your time. Amen!