The gist of the series is to give a complete face-lift to the homes of families who are incredible givers, but are financially strapped, have lost spouses, been wounded in wars, have children with handicaps, or any other series of unfortunate events. They are given a huge influx of charity, and for those of us watching the show from our own apparently mediocre residences, it's a roller coaster ride of emotions. In the end we see the structural face-lift is more deeply realized as a "faith" lift for all involved. Including us.
Our hearts first break with sympathy for the family then explode with jubilation at the gift of the community towards them. It truly is a Cinderella story every week and every season promises buckets o' tears and mountains of tissues. Unlike many reality TV shows today, this one focuses on the good in humanity. It looks to that God-inspired desire deep down in all of us to help the downtrodden, to lift up and encourage one another.
I'm sure we all have dreams that our own homes would have such stellar makeovers. I'm sure we've all imagined, perhaps once a week, how we would breathe easier if Ty Pennington came knocking at our door. But the amazing thing about this show is that many of the people being gifted aren’t thinking of themselves in this way. They have no such “selfish” motives. The winners the EMH crew descend upon are in fact already winners; selfless out of work moms, disabled dad coaches, volunteer veterans down on their luck; these are real community minded people whom the community really wants to see blessed. Many times the families are “nominated” by their neighbors.
There’s a kind of social justice at work here. Ty and the Gang from EMH give the givers a gift. And it's more than a new home; it's a place where their selflessness can truly expand and express itself back into the community with more ease than before. This show is good enabling!
As impressive as the posh living rooms, the fancy couches, and stunning stainless steel appliances are, I think we can say with assurance that there's a deeper beauty under the surface. Sure, they get carried away a bit. "Hi Jimmie, you like horses?" Suddenly the kid's got a corral with 3 live mustangs in his bedroom. "Soooo you girls like fashion?" Bam! There’s a catwalk snaking through the second floor with lights and wardrobes sparkling all around them. (OK, the first was me, but the second was an actual episode). For the most part, this show offers an Extreme Soul Makeover. The living quarters are just an outward sign of our inner life. The two are often connected, aren't they? EMH simply outfits big hearted people (or those with big holes in their hearts from suffering) with big homes to match their hearts.
The home is the symbol of the interior life. Didn't St. Theresa of Avila show us this in her classic work "The Interior Castle"? Have you ever seen the connection yourself? A cluttered room often reveals or even creates a cluttered mind. Pack rats are invited to "let it go" and "it" is usually much more than brown paper packages tied up with string. It’s spiritual, emotional, relational baggage. By turning a pit into an overnight palace, some of these families get a once in a lifetime chance to get out of that rut and into a place of freedom. It’s like St. Therese saying she couldn’t manage the long arduous climb up the mountain of sanctity. She asked Jesus if she in her “littleness” could take the escalator. Sometimes you get what you pray for!
Just one final thought. Say you don’t win the new house. You’re surrounded by a swirl of bills and half-baked plans, always yearning for a way out. You watch the show and dream, but Ty and the Extreme Makeover crew never come to call. Fear not! You’re blessed in a way that Reality TV can't imagine.
The ancient prophet speaks of God Himself desiring to come to us in all of our weakness and poverty, even our mediocrity, right where we are, here and now. Here He comes to be with us, as we bear the weight of a heavy mortgage and the chain of bills on our backs.
"What kind of house can you build for me; what is to be my resting place? ...This is the one whom I approve: the lowly and afflicted man who trembles at my word."
- Isaiah 66:2
That's good enough for me! God offers a makeover of grace that will outlast the finest of fixed up houses on any street. "Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain who build." (Psalm 127)