Cleanliness.

A couple of summers ago I sat outdoors, nursing a baby at The Wilds, while my family puttered around the gift shop.

A middle-aged woman at the table next to me engaged in discussion with a younger couple, probably her children, about how another woman kept house.

“She doesn’t even keep her stove clean.  I clean my stove every time I use it, I deep clean each burner every week, you know, that’s what you’ve gotta do to keep it clean.  I just don’t know what to do with her.”  On and on this lady described the shortcomings of another’s housekeeping and how angry that made her.

How, with an amazing view of God’s glorious and beautiful land right in front of her, could she be spewing such hate?  Did she even notice the rolling hills and blue skies?

I wondered if this is how everyone else feels, because I certainly do not wipe my stove every time I use it and do I ever really scrub those burners?

Today a friend was telling me how dirty her house was.  I could see the look of despair in her eyes, of realization that she can never get it as clean as she would like.  She’s a new mother, an amazing one, and she reminds me of the early days of motherhood when suddenly I cared about keeping the house clean but no longer had the time or energy to do so.

“Sometimes I look at the big beautiful houses around the park, and instead of admiring their architecture or gardens, I think about how clean they probably are inside,” she told me.

Your house says a lot about you, but it doesn’t say everything about you.

My favorite houses are those that let me in, no matter what lies behind the door.  They don’t clean up for me, cover the holes in the walls or the dishes in the sink.  They say, “Come on, come in, we’re so happy to see you.”

One of my best friends is an inviter, quick to have me over even though her house is just as chaotic as mine; full of noise, kids, animals and toys spewed about.

What I see is exactly that, fullness.  She has a life full of love, friendship, andfamily and she spends her days giving herself to others instead of worrying her house will get dirty.

Brad told me that he likes when I visit her because I come home relaxed.  She’s not a poor housekeeper, in fact she has white couches and small kids (crazy, right?!), but she’s doesn’t try to hide the fact that messes are made and things get broken.  Her honesty and openness encourages me to present a more humble and honest view of myself to others, knowing that my warts can help others to feel more comfortable with their own difficulties.

A few years ago, we were watching fireworks in a church parking lot.  We met a family with two little boys that took a liking to Theo and while we chatted with their parents they ended up playing in our van.

One of the boys, about four, boldly told me my van was a mess and I should clean it. Annoyed and defensive (I’m an adult, I don’t have to clean it) I stammered something about knowing that it was a mess and we should clean it.

Did a four year old just call me out?  Did it make me feel bad?  His observation bothered me for a while until it occurred to me there was probably a lot of pressure placed on cleanliness in his household.  I thought, I would rather have old french fries in the crevices of my van than children that point out other’s dirt.

A clean house can probably be fun, but I know for sure that a messy one is.

Twelve years of adventure.

When we met at a party in his dorm room he made a big deal out of getting me a beer, obnoxiously and dramatically pushing people out of the way so he could get to the mini fridge.  I didn’t think much of him at first with his long blond hair and jokes until the one night everyone left and we sat on a crappy futon talking for hours.

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It was fall and we were at a backyard soiree near our sophomore dorm.  He pulled a promise ring out of his pocket and we knew that forever was on the horizon.

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We secretly looked at apartments together, knowing in Athens you need to sign a lease a year in advance.  We walked into the biggest dump with wood paneling and saw a place of freedom and beginning.

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Christmas day I drove to Grove City after the most incredible ice storm.  He ran out to intercept me in the driveway and took me on a walk through the woods where pink roses lined the path.  He got down in his knee in a clearing by the creek and asked me to marry him.

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I stepped into the heat of the evening, took a deep breath and walked arm in arm with my dad toward the big old tree across the bridge.  My skin started to break out in hives and I found him standing at the end of the aisle waiting for me.

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A year later we drove up to an apartment on a little street on the outskirts of German Village.  It was half a house with big windows, beautiful brick and dreams.  College life was traded for city life.

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At the neighborhood Roosters, in the corner booth near the window we toasted our Bud Selects to buying a shabby pink campervan off Ebay. The adventures that awaited us were unknown, but because we were together with God, they would be good.  We left jobs, our families and the beautiful little brick house to search for the Truth.

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Years of dirt crunched under our feet as flashlights shone into the dark corners.  My heart pounded in a real estate office as we handed over $10,000 and they handed us the keys to a broken house.  Daffodils pushed through the barren ground as we visited our first home.

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I walked our newborn son, freshly born, into the living room and cried on our pink plaid couch.  He took a picture of me, seeing new life amongst the old.

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The summer our second son was a baby he dug an anniversary fire pit for me.  The broken house started to feel like home with gardens lining the front and a family swinging on the porch.

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Driving home from Zanesville when the leaves turned golden, our third newborn son in the backseat, we talked about moving into my grandparents’ house.  He didn’t think much of the idea at first but I persisted in discussion.

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On a rainy spring day our friends showed up to pack the moving vans.  Kids were throwing up and our power was out.  For the last time, we pulled out of our driveway and drove to Zanesville through tears.  Our new living room felt foreign, yet so familiar.

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We threw a big party for our 10th anniversary.  I had been dreaming of a anniversary party in the backyard and was enthusiastic to have this new space for it.  Our favorite people surrounded us, ate with us and talked about how they couldn’t believe it had already been 10 years.

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On a lake in Michigan we jumped off a raft into murky warm water like kids.  Little did I know I carried our first daughter in my womb.

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It was mid afternoon when we collapsed onto our bed and slept, snuggling our newborn daughter.  The exhaustion of the previous 31 hours was behind us and we spent two blissful hours enjoying the newness of life.

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Life is better because of him.

Love, self-awareness & Craigslist.

The other night while lying next to Brad I remembered one of my first moments of self-awareness.  I recall playing in the field near our crick (hello, I’m Appalachian and a crick is a small creek) thinking about how I could have been born anything, a frog or a butterfly perhaps, but I was born a human.  Not only that but I was born a specific human to a specific family with a specific set of emotions, feelings and interests.

This is a little mind blowing as a kid, but also interesting to think about the possibilities.  What if I had been born a frog?  What if I had been born someone else?  What would that look like?

I became aware that this inner dialogue is all mine, and that it’s only mine.

I imagine Theo is getting close to this age and it excites me.  I look forward to my children aging and learning and experiencing the stages of life.  Even though it tugs at my heart to see them growing so big I certainly don’t want them to stay little forever.  The world is ripe for exploring.

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On Instagram the other day (yea, so much for my social media fast) I noticed how many comments on famous pages would say something like “I LOVE your page, great content!”  or “I love your purse, hat, shirt, etc.”.  It occurred to me how adulterated the word love has become and how I am absolutely part of the problem.  Every time I use the word love in a context other than the intense affection God has for me or I for someone else I essentially deem it meaningless.

I’m trying my best to reserve love for something more than a handbag or a shirt.

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I got to use a machete yesterday and it was way better than a weedeater.  I highly recommend it.  Wielding a giant knife seems dangerous but it was in fact quite satisfying and quickly destroyed the pokeberries that are everywhere (things that worry me: stray toddlers ingesting poisonous berries).

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A few weeks ago, Sunday service was held in the front room of our church where floor to ceiling windows look out over the river toward downtown.  It was such a great experience not only to sing in a smaller, more intimate setting but also to be actively praying for our community as we watched cars go by.

It was a windy day and every time it gusted I imagined the Spirit of the Lord moving in this town, blowing out evil and making space for his Kingdom to grow.

To God be the glory.

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After reading my post the other day Brad told me that I’m a good writer.

I responded with a stupid “What do you mean?”

He retorted, “you can accept it or not, but you know what I mean.”  Well, that meant a lot coming from my publisher husband.

After that I felt joyful and happy and I’ve probably let it go to my head.  Everything I know about writing I’ve learned from Brad.

The main lesson: less is more.

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A couple of years ago my grandma gave me a pack of fly tape as a gift.  There’s no better way to make someone feel like crap than to hand them some fly tape for their kitchen.  I can see the flies, I know they’re there and if I wanted I could certainly buy some fly tape of my own.

Naturally, I threw it in a drawer and scoffed at the idea of dead flies hanging around.

This summer when I had finally had enough of these pesky flies I dug through drawers until I found the fly tape.  It turns out this stuff is magical, especially with three boys, chickens, and screen door that doesn’t shut all the way.

I put a new roll up this morning and 3 hours later it had caught 10-15 insects.  It works and it’s chemical free.  Thanks Grandma.

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Brad went on a craigslist run this afternoon so he texted me the address on his way.  I knew the house was out there but after an hour and a half with no response I was officially freaking out.

I couldn’t stop wondering, at what point do I call the police?

So, I did the worst thing you can do in this situation: I googled “Craigslist murders”.

Turns out, Brad spent an hour and a half at this guy’s house, prayed for him, chatted with him and then DIDN’T buy the damn window because it wasn’t the size it was supposed to be.  He also taught him how to properly measure windows.  Oh, and all of this was outside of cell range.

I’m glad he’s OK, but he should definitely never do that again.

The smell of life.

The boys are outside and Winnie just started crying in her room.  I’m neglecting the chores, deciding instead that I will embrace this quiet moment to write.  Naturally, my quiet moment has now been interrupted by the aforementioned crying baby and the middle boy coming in yelling at the top of his lungs for me.  The door has again been left open, leaving our kitchen a safe haven for the flies.

A drink of milk and 10 minutes of rocking later, I sit here again in the quiet.  The air conditioner is running, but it smells like a dead mouse is trapped somewhere in the duct.  A reminder that our house is old, smelly and falling apart.  Not that I need that reminder, I think about it every day.  In fact, it is such a concern for me that it causes me great anxiety, especially in the warm months when everything grows out of control, smells are more pronounced and boys are dirtier.

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I remind myself what a gift this house is.  The summer we first moved here, aside from difficulties that come from being in a new place, it felt magical.  Everything was beautiful and this house even in its “as is” state was much nicer than our previous one.  Many evenings I ran outside at the sight of a golden sunset, marveling at the beauty and our fortune to call this home.

What has happened to me over the past two years?  When was the last time I dropped the dishes and ran out to a sunset, or walked down over my precious hill to spend quiet time with God?

Why did I allow life to suck me dry of all courage to live a joyful life?

I feel it seeping back into my bones.  I feel like I can take back my life, that I can submit myself again to God’s will and to stop giving the devil his foothold.

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I just turned around, it looks like the rain is about to start.  Our basement is a moldy, musty mess, and the last thing we need is any more water in it.  We threw out bags of stuff this past week, not important things (of course, there aren’t a lot of things we deem important enough to get upset over), but things nonetheless, ruined by the deluge of water that ran into our basement.  Our house smells musty, and my constant headache and allergy symptoms lead me to believe it is indeed making me sick.  My anxiety is having a real field day with this house right now.

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Earlier this week we ran away and spent the night with my in-laws.  It was a good respite for the boys and I while Brad spent the day in meetings.  I came home less tired than I had left, which is pretty good for a night in a strange bed.

As soon as I got home, though, I felt even more anxious and worried about the state of our house than before I had left.  My in-laws have this beautiful house, and my mother in law is great at cleaning and keeping tidy.  Her house is lovely, her gardens are lovely and it is a peaceful place to be.

The contrast to our house which is full of chaos, noise, dirt, building materials, and weedy gardens just about put me over the edge.  Will I ever be adult enough to keep our place under control?

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My writing is different today and words are flowing freer than they have for quite a while.  I’m reading the “The Crosswicks Journals” by Madeleine L’Engel, and her beautiful words has inspired me to just write.  Usually, I think of a topic that has been on my mind and try to fit a succinct blog post around it.  My stash of half written documents tells me that method is complete crap.  Today I prayed that the Spirit would lead me to write something because I was feeling so joyful from L’Engel’s book.  I do feel like He came through and is here with me.

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I had to go close the kitchen door again (hello flies!), and caught sight of all three boys playing intently in the garage.  Theo is building something out of a giant box, Ira is watching, and Sol is riding his trike.  I think they are the most wonderful children even though they can seem like such monsters at times.  Their frustrations and anger make me so much more aware of my own anger and how I frequently act as ridiculous and irrational as my two year old.  I never expected children to make me confront my own humanity, my own being, and my own emotions in a way that would force me to better myself.  I certainly don’t want to teach them more bad habits than I already have even though I know I will.  I am flawed and human, but I always strive to apologize after an outburst and explain to them that I was not acting my best.  I hope that they have a better understanding of their emotional selves as they grow than I did.

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It feels like we have had so much change this past year that I’ll burst if anything else changes.  Except that I’m longing for change because what we are doing now is so exhausting it’s not sustainable.  We are to the point where I think we are going to work ourselves, especially Brad, to sickness.  We sat in our new addition last night, supposedly my grandma’s room if she ever decides to move in, and talked about our options, about our future and what might lie ahead for us.  It felt lovely.

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This is a lovely day.  A lovely, ordinary day.  Thunderstorms are darkening the skies and for the first time in a week we don’t have to leave the house.  I’ll never understand why there are “days in which the whole world seems like a rose garden and days in which our hearts seem tied to a millstone” as Henri Nouwen wrote, but I know God is with me in both.

Life.

Not a lot of time for writing, but at least we have photos.  Life has been full.  Full of late nights building rooms, paying bills, dreaming and worrying, my birthday, music on the patio, a (super) mini vacation, witnessing public prayer, swimming and holding babies.

I take pictures because they remind me of the good.