November 11, 2012

Contentment... Again

I once had the privilege of meeting one of those "Titus 2" older women whose faith I had been admiring from a distance. I shared with her my greatest passions and highest aspirations, then asked for her wisdom on how to live gracefully while waiting for those opportunities. I expected practical advice on how to prepare for them or how to be patient while waiting. What she instructed me to do has turned out to be so much more difficult.

She told me, "In every season of life, you will be impatient for the next. While unmarried, you will long for a husband; you will think that once he comes along, then your heart will be content. But once you're married, you will dream of motherhood, and your life will seem empty while you wait for God's blessing of children. Then when the children come along, you will find yourself deep in the wonderful trenches of home education, discipline and nurture, and putting food on the table; and you will long for the unique freedom to serve the Lord alongside your husband, that comes when your children are grown. 

"There will always be a dream unfulfilled. There will always be some level of longing for the next season. What's important is to embrace every season as God's will for you in that moment. Live each season of life to the fullest in light of that.

"Also know that God is sovereign and good no matter what. You must be surrendered to His will enough to accept the possibility that what you long for next may never come." 

Here I am years later, nowhere near peace with that possibility. I don't like to consider that what I long for next may never come. It's been my dream forever. I truly have believed it's my calling. It's how I think and what I read and it influences life decisions. Part of my identity already feels lost in the long years of waiting and praying and hoping. I have no idea who I would be without that hope entirely. 

It's difficult even recalling this mentor's advice and typing it out. I know that she was right.

But contentment is so much easier said than done. 

Maybe I'm not the only one who struggles with being content

October 17, 2012

Reality Check

You know how you can see someone at church week after week  dressed in her flawlessly coordinating outfits, her hair blow-dried and shaped exquisitely, and her happy little family lined up in the pew beside her with perky smiles on their faces and you inadvertently form the assumption that her life is perfect? I think the same thing happens with blogs.

I love reading blogs about other people’s adventures in marriage, homemaking, minimalism, healthy living, and being thrifty. But one of the pitfalls of blogs is that they present only a partial view of one’s life. Like seeing someone only one day a week, in her Sunday best, reading a blog is viewing that person’s life only in the moments she’s willing to share, solely from the perspective she cares to present. I don’t think many bloggers intentionally portray their lives through rose-colored glasses; it just happens.

The result is that sometimes I read blogs and start to feel this creeping notion that my life is inadequate. The only photos I see are carefully-selected glimpses of the stylish parts of her home just after a major cleaning; therefore, it must follow that her whole house is impeccable. All I read about are the happy marriage moments; so I assume that the blogger’s relationship is perfect. She only writes about life’s trials after she’s emerged from them, processed them, and learned from them; so it seems that even her darkest days are gloriously surreal growing experiences. By the end of this carefully culled, narrow view into someone else’s life, I realize I’ve grown a bit bitter about my own. Why isn’t my life perfect like hers?

I know I’m not the only one who experiences this phenomenon, because sometimes I get comments from people who seem to feel this way after reading my blog.  

In the interest of being genuine, I’d like to let you in on a few secrets.

My world is mostly not cute and color-coordinated.

I do love those blogs that are easy on the eye. Some people have a knack for design, and they draw me into their little watercolor world. Every image gets Photoshopped into soft hues that blend well with their blog’s theme. I view those blogs enviously and think, “Wow. Her life is a work of art. Everything in her world is earth-toned! Even her husband! Even her kids! Even her 99-cent thrift store sofa!”

Here’s my reality: There are a lot of ways to be frugal and stylish at the same time, but sometimes being thrifty or more natural means you go with the option that isn’t chic. Don’t let all those cutesy blogs out there fool you. It takes a lot of creativity (read: hard work) and skill with PicMonkey to make frugality look classy.  

And the real world is not Pinterest (thank goodness). Some people are going to hear about your making your own laundry detergent or sewing uber-cheap burlap bag curtains, and instead of hitting the “Like” button, they’ll tell you to your face that you’re crazy. That’s okay. Life’s more fun if we’re all different.

My marriage is not a fairy tale.

The anecdotes I share about my sweet husband are completely true; however, they are not the whole story. The sweet moments are only possible because of the tough moments, when he and I are at odds. In those times, one or both of us must die to self and choose to serve the other. That’s real love. Those stories aren’t always easy to tell, they’re really personal, and they’d probably be boring in a blog post. But it’s those mundane, unpleasant, untold times of sacrifice that make our relationship so sweet overall.

My house is not perfect.

Despite my obsession with minimalism, we still have a few corner cabinets stacked with wedding gifts we don’t need now, but that might be useful someday. Even though I love homemaking, sometimes I feel overwhelmed by it and procrastinate on ironing all those dress shirts. And while the rest of my home may be beautifully clutter-free, if you visit me unexpectedly, the door to my bedroom will be closed and will stay that way.

We are not punctilious about our home, health, and entertainment preferences.

And we don’t look down on people who make different choices.

Even though we love simplicity, frugality, and whole, healthy foods, sometimes we splurge and enjoy doing it too!

I put a lot of time into milling our wheat at home and baking fresh, whole wheat products for our everyday meals. We raise our own free-range eggs, and we buy organic produce from a local co-op whenever we can. We do our best to drink only water and the occasional glass of milk. We never buy refined sugar or white flour. To save money we use cloth napkins, and we dry our laundry on a clothesline most of the time. We're pretty rigid with our budget. For the sake of our relationship and our finances, we don’t own a television; we also don’t have Netflix or any other kind of viewing subscription.

We get interesting comments when folks find out about some of these choices.

But we are not fanatical about this stuff. (I chuckled a few days ago as a friend handed me two books on healthy eating while we were standing in the middle of McDonald’s.) We drink refined sugary sweet tea and HFCS-sweetened cola when we’re dinner guests in others’ homes and we love it. I choose white flour tortillas instead of wheat when we visit our favorite burrito joint. Sometimes I grab one of those expensive paper towels to clean up a particularly difficult mess. If it’s cloudy outside or I’m just extra busy, I skip the clothesline and put our laundry into the dryer. As careful as we are in budgeting, occasionally we share a peach milkshake on impulse. And not having cable doesn’t stop us from watching “Once Upon a Time” together on Hulu.

Preferring to do things a little differently from our neighbors most of the time doesn’t mean we’re snobby or perfectly consistent in these choices.

All my dreams have not come true. 

I love the life God has given me, but there is much I still hope to do and be for Him. Just because I rejoice in and write about answered prayers doesn’t negate others that still weigh heavily on my heart. Everyone has unfulfilled hopes and dreams, and always will have some of those no matter how marvelous life is. No one ever "arrives." 

I'm learning to not allow a Sunday glimpse of someone else's life to fool me into being less satisfied with my own.

October 15, 2012

About My Best Friend

Let me tell you about my best friend.

Since I live with him, I know him pretty well.

He’s a busy man. Every morning while I’m teaching online, he waves goodbye and mouths “I love you” as he walks out the door to go to work. Some days he comes home on his lunch break; those days are the best.  The day goes by faster and life feels lighter when I get to see my sweet friend in the middle of the day. He works hard and returns home again tired in the evening. But all afternoon I look forward to the hug and kiss I’ll get when he walks back through the front door. Because he is an extraordinary chef, we often cook dinner together. Tandem cooking with him is one of my favorite things in the world. After dinner, some evenings he has to do homework for his college courses. Sometimes he must practice long hours for worship team on Sundays. Some nights he pours over his Bible and study resources in preparation for teaching Bible study on Thursdays. But he always manages to have time for me.

He has grown in many ways in the past year and a half. He has become more patient, more courageous, more mature. He has developed adeptness in home maintenance, budgeting, and even meal planning. He has learned much about nutrition and has made commendable changes based on his findings. He has successfully tried his hand at restoring old furniture, gardening, and raising chickens.

In one Saturday, he can make our large yard look like a well-kept wonderland.

My youngest niece adores him, and he loves her about as much as I do. (With this pair, consider my heart officially stolen and irretrievable.)

He can do anything but the dishes with a MIDI controller, a MacBook, and Apple Logic.

He speaks to me with kind words, in a loving way.

Early in our marriage, when he found out that vacuuming is my least favorite chore, he took it upon himself to keep the carpet vacuumed. I've never had to do it since.

He is a phenomenal songwriter. Other people only hear the few songs he feels ready to share; I get to hear most of them as he writes them. They are heartfelt and creative. They will make you laugh or cry or stand in wonder.

He enjoys good food. So do I. Together we have a frightening enthusiasm for cuisine. We talk about places we’ve eaten and dishes we had years before. We compare notes. Late at night, we lie in bed fantasizing together about restaurants we want to go to someday and foods we’d love to try.

He listens to me when I speak. When everybody else is too busy, or when my voice gets lost among the many louder ones, he hears me.

He’s almost always game for spontaneous dancing.

Upon request, he can extemporaneously tell the silliest, most clever and original bedtime stories, flawlessly.

He reads voraciously. I love that.

He’s not afraid to be goofy to make me laugh.

He knows the dreams and desires that I hold too dear to talk about with anyone else. He makes me feel like they are important and valuable and maybe even possible.

He gets me. When I feel like I have to explain myself to everyone else, he just understands.

I am thankful for my sweet friend and for the fact that he is my husband.

September 21, 2012

Clutter and Eternity

I have strong feelings about clutter. It affects my consciousness of eternity.

I've noted before how I'm learning that having an impeccably clean house is only beneficial if it serves the family living there. In the same way, the material things that fill our homes are only valuable to the extent that they serve their stewards. If objects in my home are simply taking up space, they're actually hindering me as I endeavor to make home a place of purpose.

You can organize your clutter, if you want; but organizing only goes so far. My favorite way to avoid clutter is simply not to own it. There are good thoughts on this in Organized Simplicity and at Small Notebook.

I like to joke around that getting rid of stuff makes me happy. It's actually true. Having a cleaner, more open, less cluttered home makes me feel calmer, freer, less burdened. I've thought a lot lately about why having fewer possessions is so important to me. Why does a weekend feel successful if I've eliminated rather than accumulated material things? I've been making a list of reasons. Some are very practical. Some are spiritual, and they reveal the link I see between clutter and eternity. Here's what I've got so far.

Having as few possessions as possible:

  • Makes cleaning easier.
    The fewer items I have to clean, the better. The fewer items I have to move in order to clean the bathroom or to dust, the better (and the more likely I am to actually get around to dusting...).

  • Is more conducive to hospitality.
    I'm far happier inviting someone into my home when it's uncluttered and clean. My home is more likely to be uncluttered and clean when there are fewer possessions inside it. Simple enough.

  • Makes life more efficient. 
    If I own fewer things, there's a lower chance that the items I do need will be lost under a pile when I go looking for them. If my kitchen counters are bare, it's easier to quickly get started making supper. Maneuvering around the office or kitchen is faster and more productive when nothing is in my way except for what I'm currently using.

  • Costs less. 
    Having fewer electronics uses less electricity. Not having a television means no cable bill and no remote control batteries to replace. Having fewer items to clean costs less in cleaning supplies. And maybe this one is a stretch, but I've been in homes where the number of possessions posed physical danger. Clutter scattered in the floor and stacked in every corner contributes to the risk of a fall. A bad fall may consume band-aids or produce medical bills. It might sound far-fetched, but falls are the number one cause of accidental injury deaths in homes.

  • Ensures that I steward well the things I do own.
    When a bathroom cabinet is overflowing with cosmetics, cleaning supplies, or bath products, everything seems to blend together. I open the cabinet doors, and instead of seeing each individual product, I just see a mess. When the same cabinet holds only a few items, I notice each one. I know exactly what products I have, and I can use up those items before they expire. The same goes for the pantry in the kitchen.

  • Helps prevent me from depending on material things for my identity, confidence, or comfort.
    I must find those in Christ, and in Him alone. When I possess fewer things and hold those things loosely, it's so much easier for me to keep Christ as my focus. Recently, I have parted ways with some things I truly loved, things that were very hard to give away. I had realized how tightly I was holding onto those things. I felt uncomfortable at the thought of going without them. That's when I knew they had to go. They had begun to compete with Christ as a source of identity, confidence, and comfort for me. Eliminating those items brought me great freedom and joy.

  • Helps me value relationships, experiences, and memories more than the possessions associated with them.
    Ironically, the fewer items I possess, the more loosely I find myself holding them. I think it's because once I experience freedom from a material possession that formerly weighed me down, I am eager to experience that freedom even more. I previously had a large collection of wooden nutcrackers and toy soldiers.There was a time when I guarded that collection with a fervor. No touching! At some point I realized that the dear children who begged to play with those toy soldiers would enjoy them much more than I would enjoy seeing them collect dust on a shelf. One by one, my toy soldiers lost wooden arms and hats and noses and swords. But as the collection crumbled, wonderful memories were built in its place. I recall receiving bright smiles every time I retrieved a nutcracker to serve as an energetic child's most coveted doll. Exuberant hours were spent playing together. To me, those memories and the relationships they nurtured are much more meaningful than the collection itself ever was.

  • Reminds me that there is more than this life.
    I walk around my home in a state of evaluation. What can I eliminate today? What deserves to be here? Why should I keep this in my home? Do I really need this? I pull a piece of home decor off a shelf, and as I tuck it into my "give away box," I think of the children who could've been fed for a day with the dollar that purchased that trinket.

    Being intentional about my possessions has caused me to think more deeply about them. I don't really possess them after all, do I? Even the items of sentimental value hold little or no eternal value. I have them for a little while, here on this earth. Then when my 70-something years are over, who cares what becomes of them?

    I wish that I could convert all the non-necessities — the dust-collecting decor, the unused Christmas gifts, the drawer full of accessories that feed my girlish vanity — into resources for eternal endeavors. For translating the Bible into languages that have yet to hear or read it. For keeping a hungry child alive for another day. For sending missionaries, with that Bible, to that child and her family.

    Keeping fewer possessions keeps me aware that there is so much more than this current life. 

    Maybe it's extreme or radical. Maybe it's just a passing phase. I hope it's not.

September 6, 2012

Six Rumors I Heard Before Marriage

I am no marriage expert. In fact, I am a marriage rookie. But I have learned some lessons over the past year and a half that no one could have taught me before I was married.

I thought of titling this post "Six Things I'd Like to Tell My Newlywed Self."

But the truth is that I had been told and had read these things before I got married. I just didn't really learn them until I lived them. Before I was married, it was as if these were rumors I'd heard whispered. But now that I've experienced the consequences of taking them seriously or not, I've seen with my own eyes that the rumors were true.

I'm still learning these lessons. Putting them into writing helps me stay accountable to live them out.

I list them in honor of the girl who walked down the aisle just a bit more naively but no more happily in love than she is now. They are Six Rumors I Heard Before Marriage (but didn't really get until I experienced them).
  1. Respect your husband, especially when he doesn't deserve it. 

    Men thrive when they feel respected and wilt when they don't. In order to be the biblical, different, holy man God is making him into, my husband needs my respect. He needs to feel it in the way I talk to him, how I talk about him, how I look at him, how I treat him. My tone of voice, my words, my body language, and my attitude work together to communicate respect.

    This is hardest when he isn't acting like a big strong man of God, but it's also most rewarding at those times. Happily, I've found I'm always ultimately more pleased with my husband when I've chosen to respect him through the hard times. It sometimes takes a while, but it always pays off.

    If for no other reason, I should respect him because God tells me to.  My husband recently posted about respect on his own blog. Check it out.

  2. You will probably discover things after marriage that might have been considered "deal-breakers" if you'd known them before marriage. That can actually be a blessing. 

    Unmarried girls, don't lower your standards of what a potential husband should be spiritually; but don't expect perfection in all areas. The best man in the world will have a personality quirk, annoying habits, a weird family situation, odd fashion choices, less-than-ideal hygiene, or something equally disturbing. Before I experienced how joyful and wonderful marriage is, I might have allowed such an idiosyncrasy to cause second thoughts about marrying my man. I'm glad I didn't know about some things beforehand.

    Sometimes God hides the "deal-breakers" from you until you're married, and it's a good thing He does. Once you're married, there's no breaking the deal. Instead you get the privilege of loving that man even though he isn't perfect. (Incidentally, he gets to do the same for you.) You get to experience what marriage is all about: God making us holy. You get to choose to love and thereby to be more conformed to the image of Christ.

    That sounds terribly unromantic when you're single; but it's truly incredible when you live it.

  3. Bearing responsibility for the spiritual and financial leadership of the household weighs heavily on him. That doesn't make him less of a man.

    God did indeed ordain for the man to be the spiritual leader of and provider for the home. However, those roles don't always come easily to him, any more than submitting and respecting come easily to his wife. It's not a sign that he is a less capable man when his leadership roles weigh him down; it simply means he takes them seriously. Be grateful for that. Even in the most stressful of circumstances, he does not need (or want) his wife to take over these roles. He does need her gentle support and encouragement then more than ever.

  4. Your dad has had a whole lot more practice at being a husband than your beloved has. Don't compare the two of them.

    If you've been blessed with an exceptionally wonderful father like I have, you may know what I mean. Your dad always spoke lovingly to your mom, paying the bills was no big deal to him, he could fix anything, and nothing scared him. Then you marry a man with at least twenty fewer years of experience than your dad; and you wonder why he isn't always the confident leader who knows just what to say and how to solve things.

    Marriage is just as new to your husband as it is to you. I would even suggest that in our current culture, men have less encouragement and fewer mentors in their Biblical marriage role than women do. Cut your man some slack.

    He's probably going to disappoint you more than your father did, partly because as the wife you're now privy to some of the fears and struggles that the man of the household faces. You both have a lot of growing to do. You have the privilege of watching your husband grow, of seeing God transform him into a mature, confident leader over the years.

    He's not your dad. Even in the future, he will never be your dad. He's not supposed to be your dad. You are your husband's helper in a way that you never were for your dad (that was your mom's job). So you're going to see your husband's struggles and fears. Your role is to love and help him through those. And never, ever to compare him to Daddy.

  5. Sometimes, he just needs space. 

    My man likes to play his keyboard. I like to walk up behind him and sneak a kiss while he's playing. But I have to remind myself not to be offended if he only responds with a grin, or even if he doesn't acknowledge at all. It doesn't mean he's upset with me, feeling distant, or uninterested. It just means he's focused on the task at hand.

    Another application: The silent treatment from your sister or best girlfriend might indicate that she's not happy with you. She probably wants you to prod and ask what's wrong, until you pry her feelings out of her and the two of you work it out. The silent treatment from your husband may just mean he's got something entirely unrelated to you on his mind.

    I've found that if I ask "What's on your mind?" once, that's enough. He usually wants some space to think it through. Later, when he's got his thoughts in order, he might suddenly open up and tell me all about it. But jumping to conclusions about our relationship based on his silence is a self-centered, immature move. So is bugging him for verbiage when he'd rather think than talk.

    As girls, we often think in words out loud or in writing. I've had to learn that my man isn't like that. He thinks inside his brain. When he's ready to talk, what he has to say will be worth the quiet wait.

  6. Physical intimacy is important to him, but only if his wife enjoys it. 

    Some books and some women will tell you, in essence, to "grin and bear it." Seriously? He really doesn't want to just be tolerated. You've got to truly enjoy it and let him know that you do. And you can truly enjoy it.

    That's all I have to say about that. :)

A few other miscellaneous lessons I'm learning:
I'm loving this pursuit of a marriage that honors God and blesses my husband. I hope that a year from now, I've learned at least twice as much.

August 25, 2012

Obstacle #3: Rebellion

The title of this post sounds harsh.

I've never been considered a rebellious person. My personality makes me naturally more compliant than insubordinate, more accommodating than demanding. But I have been rebellious within my marriage. In this post, first I'm going to explain what I mean by rebellion. Then, I hope to show how I've identified rebellion as one of the obstacles that prevent peace at home.

Using the term "rebellion" assumes that there is someone or something to be rebelled against. Merriam Webster defines rebellion as "opposition to one in authority." Whether or not that authority is deserving, just, or good does not alter the fact that opposing the authority is rebellion.

In God's order for the home, the husband is that authority. The wife is commanded to submit to him. This order is reiterated in Ephesians 5:22-32; 1 Peter 3:1; Colossians 3:18; and Titus 2:5. The Biblical  husband-wife relationship is a big, beautiful, and sometimes controversial topic— indeed, a "mystery" according to Ephesians 5:32. Wise Bible expositors have devoted lengthy books and sermon series to helping us understand it. For purposes of this post, I simply want to point out the basics of what I believe about God's design for the home: "Men lovingly are to lead their wives and family as women intelligently are to submit to the leadership of their husbands" (

Failing to submit to my husband's authority is rebellion. Against my husband and against God.

Here's how I rebel.

There is an issue on which I have very strong, sort of radical convictions. I believe my stance on the issue derives from truths and principles throughout the Old and New Testaments.

At some point in our first year of marriage, I realized my husband has come to a different conclusion on the issue. Despite my best persuasions, he stands firm in what he believes and hasn't come to view things the way I do. Because this particular issue is one which daily affects a person's actions, I have to choose very consciously to submit to my husband's decision rather than my own.

But I've got to admit, there are times I rebel against his leadership in this area. I try for a thousandth time to persuade him. I whine. I complain. I nag. I make snarky remarks. Though I submit to his authority in deed, I oppose it in thought and word and attitude. However good my intentions may be, that, my friend, is rebellion.

Personal convictions must take a back seat to the black-and-white command to "submit to your own husband" (Eph. 5:22). Though I believe my convictions on this issue are applications of Biblical principles, they are not black-and-white commands of scripture. I may feel just as strongly about these ideas as I feel about the Bible's command to submit to my husband; but ultimately it is more important that I follow the crystal clear instruction to submit. Unless my man's leadership contradicts another absolute command of scripture, I should speak my heart and then rest my case, submitting to his authority. I must trust that what my husband believes, how he leads, is God's best for me. After all, God is the one who ordained this man to be my leader. On top of that, I am blessed with a husband who studies the Bible for himself, who communes with and is led by God.

When I am in rebellion against my husband's leadership, there is no peace in our home.
He is miserable, obviously. Wouldn't you be miserable if I were nagging you and doubting your ability to be led by God? He feels belittled, mistrusted, disrespected.
I am miserable. When I'm rebelling, I'm taking leadership and its responsibilities, its burdens on myself. I'm exhausted, trying to wrestle the steering wheel from the strong hands of the helmsman for whom it was specially designed.

That's why rebellion is on my list of obstacles to peace at home:
#1: Selfishness (Masquerading as Perfectionism)
#2: Discontentment
#3: Rebellion

Rebellion has an opposite: submission. Though a wife's voluntary submission is part of God's wonderful and orderly design for the family, it is not a natural response. It is a Spirit-enabled response. Sometimes it's hard, even for those of us who usually have docile personalities.

I know, because I am one of those people and I rebelled just last night.

If you know me, will you help me remember not to rebel? Will you encourage me to submit to my husband?

My home, my life, and my heart are so much more at peace when I do. 

July 28, 2012

When Surrender is More Beautiful

Valentine, by George Lundeen, located in Decatur, Ga.

When I was a teenager, I used to hear women complain about their husbands leaving dirty clothes on the floor every day. I felt so frustrated when I heard them go on and on about this endless battle in their homes. At the time I thought, "If that's the worst thing they have to complain about, they should be thankful!" Later, as an unmarried young adult, when I heard the same kind of complaint from married friends, I would think, "She should be thankful just to have a husband."

Fast forward to 2011. I was a newlywed, learning to manage a home and still trying to figure out just how one shares a bedroom with a man and all his strange belongings. In horror I noticed that some of those belongings liked to find their home on the floor just outside the laundry basket instead of in it. This occurred day after day after day. Despite the fact that my husband is one of the most intelligent, neatest, most organized people I know, every day those dirty clothes would show up on the floor, right beside the basket. It continued even when I asked him very nicely to please put his dirty clothes into the hamper. What kind of slob have I married?? Why can't he toss the clothes six inches further and ring the basket? And why must his shoes live in front of the dresser, just where I need to stand in order to style my hair? My selfishness masquerading as perfectionism reared its ugly head again. I did the very thing that used to so irk me in others; I complained. 

Sometimes I expressed my frustration to my husband (who, incidentally, still did not pick up the clothes). Usually I bottled it up inside. For months, this annoyance with him caused tension between us. Maybe he was aware of it, or maybe not. But I was not at peace, all because of some clothes and shoes in my bedroom floor.

I decided to "be the bigger person" and to pick up the clothes for him. How selfless and serving of me, I thought. Instead of being a nagging wife, I'll put his clothes into the hamper for him. Then we'll both be happy. Wrong. Apparently, he has a system. Sometimes some of the clothes in the heap on the floor can be re-worn. But I shouldn't try to be helpful by putting them back into his drawer, because sometimes some of the clothes really are dirty and need to be washed. And he has a system for knowing which ones are which. Or something like that.

One day I was complaining about the situation to my mama. "Oh, Missy," she said, "Some fights are just not worth it." I thought about that. Was my determination to conquer this dirty laundry habit worth the resentment I felt against my husband? Providentially, around that time I also came across this verse in my quiet time: "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all" (Romans 12:18). If I'm instructed to do whatever it takes, within Biblical standards, to be at peace with everyone, shouldn't I extend even more grace to the man God has called me to be one with, as a living example of Christ's unity with His Church? I was reminded of my teenaged self, and how I used to feel when other women complained about their men: "If that's the worst she has to complain about, she should be thankful!" For every little man-habit that might annoy me, Steven has a hundred honorable qualities that make me fall  in love with him all over again. And yet for months, I camped out on this one tendency of his not to ring the hamper. 

Finally, though not without a fierce struggle of the will, I surrendered. This battle was just not important enough to cause strife between us. There are man-clothes in my bedroom floor even now, as I write. And you know what? It's okay. The world doesn't end when I walk into my room and see clothes in the floor. If unexpected company pops in, nobody seems offended when, to block the view of a littered floor, I close the door to that room. Inside, I feel peace now between my sweet man and me. Every time I see the heap of clothes or stumble over his shoes, any initial frustration is countered with the remembrance of how blessed I am to have a husband whose biggest flaw is missing the basket.

I know I'm going to need this reminder again sometime. I rarely master a lesson the first time around. Something else will annoy me in the future, and I'll need to learn to "live at peace" again.

I hope then I will recall that my mama was totally right. Some fights are not worth it.
And in my experience, sometimes surrender is more beautiful than winning.

July 23, 2012

"Just Wait Until..."

On a regular basis, my husband and I get told that we look like we're in love with each other. People say pretty frequently that we look at one another with "starry eyes" and that we act like we're still dating. I like hearing these things! Yet, almost without fail, there's a follow-up.

"Just wait until you have kids. All that lovey-dovey stuff will change."

Or sometimes it's
"Just wait 'til you've been married for [any number of] years. Trust me, you won't be googly-eyed then."

This cynicism isn't unique to my situation. For every person out there experiencing happiness, it seems there's someone else with a few more negative experiences under their belt, ready to quell it.

I've heard glowing mothers of newborns informed, "Just wait until she hits the terrible two's. You won't think she's so angelic then."

To a college grad excited about his first real job: "Just wait 'til you've been chained behind that desk for a year or two. You'll see how it really is."

To the aspiring author exuberant about the pure joy of writing: "Just wait until your manuscript gets rejected by the first dozen publishers."

To a young pastor who delights in shepherding his flock: "Just wait until you have your first church split."

To the young lady who loves to cook: "Just wait 'til you have to put food on the table every night for a family of five. You'll be sick of the kitchen then."

Why do we feel the need to put a damper on others' joy? Does it make us feel superior to express our bitterness to the happiest among us? Are we attempting to set ourselves up to someday say, "I told you so!" to these same folks? Does it simply comfort us about the lack of joy in our own circumstances?

I try to assume that people don't really have negative intentions when they make "just wait until" statements. I've said similar things before. I wish I hadn't. I don't know exactly why I have said those things. But I've decided to stop.

If I ever have genuinely helpful wisdom to pass along, informed by experience, I hope to frame it in a more positive way. Because a "just wait until" statement usually comes across as acrimonious. It's often condescending. And in making that statement, I am certainly not "rejoicing with those who rejoice."

Joyful seasons of life come and go and make way for different joys too quickly as it is. Let's allow others to bubble enthusiasm for wholesome and pure and lovely things for as long as they can, even if especially if our own experience leads us to believe it won't last forever.

On her tongue is the law of kindness. Proverbs 31:26

July 9, 2012

Why I Love Laundry: Simple, Frugal, and Beautiful

This may sound completely insane, but laundry is one of my favorite activities.

It wasn't always this way. Laundry used to be a dreaded chore. But now, I think I've discovered a laundry routine that suits me. I've fallen into a rhythm, and I look forward to doing laundry. I think it's because I stumbled into this laundry ritual that syncs with everything else I love in homemaking: it is simple, frugal, and beautiful.

And just in case it might inspire someone else to love laundry, too, here's what I look forward to on laundry days:

  1. Using homemade laundry soap

    I love how easy it is to make. I love how inexpensive it is. I love how it smells. I love the satisfaction that I made it myself; I sort of feel invested in its success.

    I love the fact that it is also the best pre-treatment I've found. If an article is stained, I simply pour a bit of the laundry soap on it, smear it in, and let it sit anywhere from five minutes to twenty-four hours. Then I toss the treated item into the laundry and wash it as usual. This has worked for me better than Shout or Spray 'n Wash. I love the simplicity of having only one laundry product.

  2. Prepping the laundry for the clothesline 

    I usually spin our laundry in the dryer for five minutes in order to knock out wrinkles, soften the clothes, and begin the drying process. I watch the clock rather than setting the timer on my dryer, since I don't want my clothes to spin on the "cool" cycle that occurs in the last ten minutes of my dryer's regular settings.

    The laundry has already been sorted once, when it was sorted into loads. But as I remove the laundry from the dryer after the five-minute spin, I sort the items within the load. I want them to be hung on the line in groups: all my t-shirts together, all my husband's t-shirts together, bath towels together, kitchen towels together, etc. This makes it easy peasy later when it's time to take the dry clothes down and put them away. So as I pull our laundry items out of the dryer, I group them. Then I lay them in the basket in the order I want them to hang on the line. (This video demonstrates.)

    Oh, this is also the point at which I separate "unmentionables" from outerwear, towels, and linens. Anything I wouldn't want blown into my neighbor's yard in the event of a huge and unexpected windstorm, I hang on a short clothesline inside my laundry room. I refuse to have undergarments flapping in my backyard breeze!

    I love prepping the laundry for the line because I get to play inspector. I make sure I've caught and treated all stains and that they are now gone. This is also when I notice any holes that must be mended, loose buttons that need attention, or frayed towels ready to become cleaning rags.

  3. Wearing my clothespin apron

    You have permission to laugh. I feel so official when I tie my clothespin apron around my waist. Carpenters have tool belts. Cops have holsters. Look out, world; I have a clothespin apron.

    I love having the "tools of my trade" very handy when I start to hang the clothes. Both my hands are free to lift the clothes out of the basket and fold them over the line, but my clothespins are right at my hip when I need them.

    My view of my clothespin apron, while I'm hanging clothes:

  4. Hanging whites in the pure, bright sun

    I find it extremely relaxing, maybe even therapeutic, to methodically hang my laundry. With the sorting already done, all I have to do is go down the line attaching the clothes. It's the kind of mindless work that allows your thoughts to wander. And in the sunny, windy weather that creates the best laundry days, my thoughts are happy. I like to pray while hanging the clothes.

    It's also exciting to me to anticipate that my row of white towels and t-shirts, and even my husband's one white dress shirt, will be a brighter white when I return later to take the laundry off the line. Nothing bleaches whites quite like direct sunlight. When it's time to collect the whites from the line after they've been exposed to the sun, their color is even, pure, and a bit blinding at times.


  5. Though I want my whites to get as much direct sunlight as possible, I don't want my vibrant red sheets to fade. I try to hang richly-colored articles during times of the day when they will be shaded by the trees or when the sun simply isn't as bright. Sometimes, though, I end up hanging colored clothes in the sunshine; and when I do, I hang them inside-out, fronts facing away from the sun. 

  6. Experiencing the smell of sunshine

    Aside from beautifully bleaching whites, another lovely benefit the sun imparts to drying clothes is the smell. I sniff every item as I take it down from the line and fold it. I would like to know why sunshine seems to have an aroma that can only be detected by the human olfactory senses after it has been absorbed into fabric. I just can't figure it out. But this I know: it smells like health and wholesomeness and fresh air and a hint of nectar and the kind of cleanliness that is supposedly next to godliness.

  7. Knowing that I've been a good steward of our resources and enjoyed the process

    If I bought a 172-oz. box of Gain powder detergent
    on sale at $29.99, and if it lasted the advertised 150 loads, I would be spending about $105.00 per year on laundry detergent for our household. As it is, with our homemade laundry soap, we spend less than $10.00 per year. This is our only laundry product, since we don't use dryer sheets or fabric softener.

    Further, when I previously used my clothes dryer "full-time," it consumed a huge portion of our household electricity. I haven't been able to calculate exactly how much our switch to line drying has saved us, because since we made the switch, several other variables have come into play that also affected our electricity bill. For the average couple, however, the clothes dryer is "the second-biggest electricity-using appliance after the refrigerator, costing about $85 to operate annually" (
    source). A few real-life conversations and a quick look around the web will reveal that many who switch to line drying save between $50 and $100 per year.

    Finally, clothes last longer when they're not tumble-dried. In the past I would pull fistfuls of material out of the lint trap and comment that I was losing a washcloth's worth of fabric every time I dried a load. That wasn't far from the truth! A dryer is just rough on anything that gets tossed into it. I like the fact that my line-dried clothes feel thicker and look less worn than they did before, when they used to tumble in the dryer for 45 minutes. 

So there you have it: six things I love about laundry. Is that so crazy, after all? 

January 28, 2012

Obstacle #2: Discontentment

Back in the day, when my husband and I were first becoming acquainted, he asked me the monumental question, "So what do you want to do with your life?"

Pensively, I told him my list.

#1. Be a mother.
#2. Wholeheartedly devote myself to something, without reservation.
#3. Be content.

That third aim might not seem very ambitious. Be content? As in, happy with where you are, not striving for improvement? "I like my life exactly as it is, thanks. I have no goals at all."


Contentment is not complacency. Being content means "feeling or showing satisfaction with one's possessions, status, or situation." It means that, though I have God-given aspirations toward which I steadily work and pray, I am satisfied - I am happy - right now. In this situation, I find joy. For these current possessions, I constantly give thanks. I am at peace with my current status, not pining for something else. Dreaming, hoping, praying for something else, maybe. But not unhappy, not fighting tooth and nail for "possessions, status, or situation" that God has not yet seen fit to bestow.

Not complaining about unfulfilled dreams, because I am satisfied in the here and now. Not jealous of others, because I am overjoyed with the blessings that are mine. Not anxiously scheming ways to obtain more, because I am too busy giving thanks for the here and now. 

In reality, contentment is a very high aim. It is radically different from American culture and human nature. Our culture pines over every billboard, commercial, and internet ad we encounter. Our human nature doesn't even need the allurement. We are perfectly capable of finding something to be discontent about even when we don't know what else we'd prefer in its place. It comes quite naturally to complain, to envy others, and to simply overlook the innumerable gifts in our own lives right here, right now.

Contentment is rare. Like joy, sometimes you have to fight for it.

See why contentment made my short list of life goals?

Its opposite, discontentment, is second on the list of obstacles I encounter in making home a place of retreat.  (The first obstacle was selfishness masquerading as perfectionism.)

I want my home to be a peaceful place, happy place, a retreat. As the woman of this home, my attitude sets the tone here more often than not. The vibe of my home will not be peaceful and happy unless I am just that. Content.

When I'm content, my words express joy in our circumstances instead of dissatisfaction. My actions display gratitude and good stewardship of our possessions, instead of complaints. My contentment says of God, "He is enough for me. This home He provides, the food in our cupboard, the work He has entrusted to me, the folks in my family- they are extravagant gifts from Him. And I am satisfied."

"Better is a little with the fear of the Lord,
than great treasures without content."
Proverb 15:16