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?