Contentment

Home Contentment Series Part 1: Clean house!

home-contentment-1What if I told you that contentment and happiness with your home is possible with just a few simple steps? What if I told you a clean house is a happy house?

You’d think I was nuts, probably. Right? Because how are you supposed to be content and happy with this pile of junk that’s supposed to be your house? Nothing matches, the carpet looks like the apocalypse happened on it, and there are possibly crushed Cheerios in all the corners of all the rooms.

Plus, maybe something smells a wee bit horrific.

There’s no contentment to be found, you’d tell me. Look at this place.

Trust me, I have absolutely experienced what you’re experiencing now. We’ve lived in ugly apartments with avocado appliances and terrible wallpaper. We’ve had unspeakable carpet and no budget to replace it. We’ve had ugly bathrooms and floorpans that made no sense, and through it all we had friends and children running rampant. My very soul felt like it had been sucked out of me and crushed into the filthy carpet pretty much every day.

I had to fight my way out of my despair bit by bit, and now I am here to help you out of your despair. We can do it, I promise. You can find a new joy and contentment with your home, even if you have no extra money, no ability to replace anything, and no magic genie waiting in his bottle.

Our five-part series begins right now. And it begins with a clean house!

I can feel your un-enthusiasm from here. I can tell you’d rather have your dentist drill all your teeth out. Trust me. I’m not wrong. I believe there are a few people in the world who don’t mind grime, crumbs, or stickiness. But I don’t believe those people would actually read a blog post about home contentment, either. Their central nervous systems literally register contentment in any home situation as they crunch across crushed crackers all over the floor.

The rest of us will feel better, happier, and more content in a clean house. Let me help you get there.

First, the obvious things:

  • Vacuum the carpets. (You may have to pick up and/or throw out a lot of things first, like magazines and toys.) ((May the Good Lord be with you.))
  • Sweep the hard floors.
  • Mop the floors that can take the water (vinyl and tile). Gently spot clean the floors that can’t get drenched (laminate and hardwoods).
  • Open the windows to let in fresh air. Even if it’s winter. Especially if it’s winter. A clean house needs to smell clean, which means you might need a lot of old air to get sucked out.
  • Start a few loads of laundry. Don’t forget the towels, the throw rugs, and the blankets you keep in the living room.
  • Clean the toilets, bathtubs, showers, and bathroom sinks. Pay careful attention to the floor around the toilet. And use the wand on your vacuum to go around the perimeter of the room, where all the hair collects. Don’t forget to clean the bathroom mirror and counter around the sink.
  • Attack the kitchen. Here’s a blog post with a lot of instructions if this is going to be an all day job.
  • Dust. I know, it’s the worst chore ever. But maybe our homes would feel less like mausoleums if we dusted once in a while.

That should give you a good head start on feeling better about your home. But maybe you’re  in need of an advanced cleaning suggestions because something still doesn’t feel right.

Advanced options

  • Choose your favorite cleaner (Windex, Mrs. Meyers, or simple white vinegar), get a rag, and start scrubbing. I often miss things like my windows, the hand rail on the stairs, and all that grime that accumulates around the light switches and door handles. If you have short people living in your house, get down at their level and scrub those tiny handprints off.
  • Use the wand on your vacuum (or just get really good at using your cleaning rag and solution) and pay close attention to all your baseboards. They’re probably dusty and sticky and covered in hair.
  • Ditto for your ceiling fans and light fixtures. Get the dust and the spider webs.
  • Vacuum under the furniture, behind the furniture, and under the cushions. (My friend Josie just did this and found her wedding ring! It had been missing for a year!)
  • The windows should still be open to let in that fresh air.

clean house

Super-Advanced Ninja Cleaning Options: for when you’re really, really about to lose your mind:

These suggestions are not for everyone. They may be a little controversial. But I’ve found them to be helpful in my own home, so use them at your own discretion.

  • Train your kids (and their friends) to eat in the kitchen. Also train them to wash their hands before leaving the kitchen. The end. Banish snacks and sippy cups from the rest of the house. (One day I’ll tell you the story of when my mom found a cup of Pepsi in my brother’s room. The pop was so old the liquid had fermented and we had a potent stench that nearly put me off soda for life.) Be kind, but be firm and consistent. Your furniture and carpet will thank you for it. You’ll have fewer sticky fingerprints, fewer crushed crackers, and less stinky milk soaking into your textiles.
  • Consider your pet situation. I hesitate to bring this up because I know that pets are considered family in a lot of homes. However, we just had to move our cat out of the house and into the garage this very week, and I can’t believe the difference it’s made for us. The carpet is less hairy, there aren’t spots of litter all over the floor, the whole house smells better, and NOTHING HAS POOPED ON MY CARPET FOR SEVEN DAYS. I feel like I have a new house! The cat is furious, but he should have thought of that before he spent three years acting like a drunken frat boy around here.

Obviously you know your own situation better than I do, but those are two areas that might make a big difference.

Don’t despair if your house is clean but you still feel like it’s an awful pit. The next four parts of our series will get you closer, inch by inch, to loving your home without taking a bulldozer to it.home-contentment-banner

 

Home Contentment Series: The Prelude

home-contentment-series-headerContentment and happiness with our homes is important to us, right? We want to feel comfortable and safe in our places. We want them to represent who we are and what we offer to the world. But so many of our homes fall short of that ideal, leaving us cranky, anxious, and unsettled. We want something better.

I don’t think this is wrong. I think that human beings instinctually want to improve their places in the world, and that’s a very good thing (think back to the Garden of Eden, when God told Adam to go out and take care of everything he saw).

But I am furious at the standards that have assaulted us, especially recently. Home decorating has always been a thing, but the current level of TV networks, shelter magazines, and the internet have pushed our standards way, way, WAAAAAAAAAAYYYY past what most of us can afford or pull off. These unreasonable standards have to be challenged.

So sit back and let me tell you little story of many years ago when I was a young social worker in rural Michigan. One day I was assigned a home visit in a really poor area, and when I pulled up to that trailer in the wilderness I felt glued to my driver’s seat. By that time I’d been a social worker for only two years, but I’d been in about every kind of filthy, cluttered, dark, claustrophobic home you can imagine. Oh, the smells. The grime. The general air of despair and neglect.

Like this. I was in a LOT of homes like this, but instead of the desert, imagine a Michigan forest. (Photo courtesy of flickr.com/roadsidepictures)
Like this. I was in a LOT of homes like this, but instead of the desert, imagine a Michigan forest. (Photo courtesy of flickr.com/roadsidepictures)

I knew I was headed into a metal tube of despair and neglect, and I was wondering how long I could hold my breath while I conducted business like an adult. (Not long enough.)

The elderly couple greeted me at the door, I took a last snootful of fresh air, and stepped over their threshold. I blinked. I blinked faster. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a 1960s trailer, exquisitely maintained. It could have been bought new and furnished yesterday, not forty years earlier.

Nothing was new. Not the carpet, the couch, or the paneling on the walls. I don’t know how they’d kept that carpet in such good shape for decades, but it was perfect.

I decided to breathe, just for the sake of not passing out in front of these sweet people.

BACON.

The air smelled like bacon, and exactly like my own grandmother’s house. We headed to the kitchen where (of course) the appliances were ancient. But they matched the dining set, the floor, and the cabinets. The dishes were done and the counters wiped clean. I would have eaten anything they offered me, and for a social worker, that’s saying a lot.

I’m going to guess that this homemaker probably didn’t actually choose to live in a time capsule. I’m pretty sure she was forced to keep what she had because that’s all they could afford. But her choice to lovingly care for her home has spoken loudly to me for more than fifteen years.

She loved what she had. She kept it clean, decluttered, and fresh.

Home doesn’t require trendy appliances or the perfect floor. We could bulldoze our house and start over, and still be miserable if we don’t learn to care for what we have. What we buy today will be outdated in a decade or five minutes, so we have to learn to find contentment in something other than just buying a new thing.

fiesta coffee cup
I love Fiestaware. It’s beautiful, but it’s also been in style since, oh, MY GRANDMA BOUGHT DISHES back in the day. Timeless!

This Home Contentment Series will help you do just that.

We’re going to look at five areas that will slowly increase your happiness with your home. I promise none of it will require going into debt. It will require some work on your part and a new perspective on your home, but I think we can all manage that just fine.

And when your own home discontentment creeps up on you, just close your eyes and imagine an old, metal trailer full of an elderly couple’s possessions. Imagine all the surfaces buffed to a shine, an immaculate kitchen floor, and a cozy place to nap on a funky brown couch. Think of how contentment has nothing to do with what the trend of the moment demands of us.

Let’s look for something better.

home-contentment-banner
Here’s the link you need: http://eepurl.com/cjCx6P

Two Simple Ways to Corral Your Wandering, Restless Spirit

We all know the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. But that doesn’t stop us from wanting to see that other grass up close, examine it, and possibly buy it for ourselves. Right?

irish-cow-2
Mr. Moo-moo Cow would like to assure you that the grass isn’t greener over there, and he’d really not appreciate being corralled. So tone it down, Louise. No more fences. (Ignore him. We need a corral.)

Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something within my spirit that’s always wandering, restless, wanting something new or different or better.

There’s always a different house I’d like to live in. A different kind of car I’d like to drive. A new place I’d like to visit or a new restaurant I’d like to try. A new career that might be way, way easier than the one I have at the moment.

Can you relate?

I like change. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing, because life is always bringing something new. Change is less agonizing when we’re eager to see what’s coming. I love watching my children grow to a new stage, I adore new seasons and new weather patterns, and I will be super, duper, double-dog happy when skinny jeans go out of style and something reasonable comes back in.

Please, Lord. Let it not be crop tops again.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Now that we’ve addressed our fashion needs with the Almighty, let’s look at a few simple ways I’ve found to corral this wandering, restless spirit of mine. Maybe you can find some help here, or suggest other things you’ve learned.

Numero Uno: Make a permanent decision. If you’re a serial dater and getting sick of that scene, maybe it’s time to pick a partner and put a ring on it, as our pop star so profoundly encourages us. I’m a serial house-lover, meaning I moon over any and every house that a carpenter has ever put on the earth. I love them all. I could drive my family crazy by moving us to a new place every few years, just to see what my coffee pot looks like on a new counter. But Eric and I have decided to stay in our current house, and to make the decision final we refinanced our loan to accelerate our payoff.  There’s something about signing a bunch of papers or having a big ceremony that settles something deep in our hearts.

fiesta coffee cup
Notice the coffee. Notice the steam. Appreciate the caffeine that slowly seeps into your veins and brain cells. See? Isn’t this fun?

Numero Dos: (Are you enjoying this international counting today? It feels zany and fun from this point of view.) Notice where you are right now, and train yourself to be thankful for what makes this place and this time good. What about this delicious cup of coffee? What about this safe, warm room? What about these delightful people God has given to you as family? Sometimes we’re two steps ahead of ourselves, worrying about the future (worrying about things that might not even happen!), and we miss what’s right in front of us. Bring the restless spirit back to the present and be thankful for it.

There are times when the only thing I need to do is recognize that my spirit is getting all wound up again, looking for contentment in places that can’t offer it. Just acknowledging this truth wins half the battles for me, honestly.

So now–what about you? Where does your heart wander away, looking for greener grass? What do you do about it?

 

 

You simply don’t have to live like everyone else. (Permission slip granted.)

Why does everyone think they can tell me how to live? How do I get permission to make my own choices?

Today on the blog we’re handing out permission slips.

They’re exactly as you remember them from your school days. They’re pink and sort of gritty and smell weird, like carbon copy paper always does. You’ll love them just as much as you used to, because you can wave them in the air wildly whenever an authority figure questions your location or motives or general life choices. “See? See right here? I have permission. Here’s my slip.”

permission slip for adults

Hopefully we’ve outgrown the need to get a slip to go to the bathroom, but I swear adulthood doesn’t feel much different some days. All we’re trying to do is live our life, but all these people have all these opinions.

No more! Today we’re deciding to do what we want.

You, over there. The woman who wants to have ten children and then homeschool them in the wilderness? Here’s your permission.

To the man who wants to learn to surf even though he lives in Nebraska? Even though he’s about to turn 65? Fine. Go for it, fine sir.

Start an organic farm? Go into ministry? Go to college? Drop out of college because you’ve realized you’ll never be able to pay it all back and actually live your life?

Have one child, have no child, get married, travel the world alone in a sailboat. We’re fine with all of that.

Permission granted. You simply don’t have to live like everyone else.

You simply don't have to live like everyone else. Permission slip granted

Now, cranky Great-Aunt Gretel might have a problem with that. And she’s likely to tell you all about her opinion of your life choices, and this is where you’ll need the permission slip. Print it out and hand it to her.

We’re all adults here.

We know our loved ones mean well. And let’s be honest, the status quo was pretty much developed because it’s quite nice to have warm, safe shelter and food on the table. When we run after our dreams, sometimes those dreams don’t come with things like stability or paychecks or health insurance. Great Aunt Gretel just wants us warm and fed and also not living in her house.

We can’t blame her for that.

And this is why we’ll be gentle with our responses when she comes at us. We’ll remind her that we really have thought it through, and we’re really sure this will eventually be a blessing. A weird blessing, maybe. But a blessing none the less.

I understand what might happen here, okay?

Because we’re adults we understand the consequences of our actions, and we have no desire to leave our loved ones in danger or despair. We’re trying to manage the dream and the reality, right?

Right. And that’s why we get our permission slip. This is going to be fantastic.

You can do it, I promise. You can make the changes needed to live your calling and your dream. And maybe one day Great Aunt Gretel will look around at all you’ve changed and smile a little, tiny bit.

We can always hope.

How to get a clean kitchen and make your loved one very, very happy.

clean-kitchen-header
An alternate, and perhaps more truthful, title.

Desperate for a clean kitchen? Are you looking around with wild eyes, realizing the place is a mess and you’re about to get in serious trouble for it?

Look, now’s not the time to point fingers, alrighty? It doesn’t matter how your kitchen got to this state. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been sick or busy, or cooking up a storm, or if you’ve been intolerably lazy since the day you were born.

None of that matters now. What matters is that you have a bombed-out kitchen and need to get it clean before your spouse/roommate/soulmate/parental unit loses it again tonight when he or she walks in the door.

I’m here for you. We can do this. You can absolutely get this place cleaned up and make your loved one happy and glad and joyous. You want a happy house, right?

Here’s what needs to happen:

Step 1A: Summon your will from the deepest, strongest place in your guts. This next hour is not for wimps. But you can take this place from gross sanitation hazard to sparkling, Grandma-approved glory. It just takes guts, that’s all. And some hot water and soap and a dishcloth, also.

(Step 1A2: Please go get some soap and a dishcloth if you do not own these things. Dear heavens.)

dishcloth-drying

Step 1B: Determine if you have an appliance known as a dishwasher. If no, skip to step 3. If yes, determine if this is a crappy appliance that only swishes lukewarm water over the dishes, or if it’s an actual appliance of quality that can blast crud off your dishware. If it’s the crappy kind, no worries. We can totally work with that too. You’ll just have to rinse off the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher, or run it a few times. What matters is that you have a handy box to hide the dirty dishes while they get “clean.”

Step 2: Find your sink and empty it out. Pull all the dirty dishes out and pile them on the counter. While you’re doing this, rinse them off. Scrape off the crud with a spatula or a spoon or something (be careful not to ruin delicate surfaces if you have fancy stuff).

Travel around the kitchen (and the rest of the house while you’re at it) and gather up the rest of the dirty dishes, pots, pans, and what have you. Now that the sink’s empty, you can rinse and scrape those as well. Pile everything on the counter near the sink.

I realize this seems like a stupid step if you’re trying to clean the dishes– why not just wash them right away? Scraping and rinsing dishes will keep your dishwater from turning into a disgusting swamp immediately, that’s why. And it gives your dishwasher a fighting chance if you have seriously gunky dishes to put in there.

clean kitchen

Neatly fit all the dishes you can manage into the dishwasher. Big plates go together on the bottom, the silverware all needs to be put into the basket, and then cups and things that will melt in the drying cycle (like those cheap plastic containers for leftovers) go on the top, away from the heater. Make it look like an army general lined up his troops. That will get the water swished around the best, therefore you’ll get the cleanest dishes. Fill the soap dispenser (do NOT use regular dish soap– use dishwashing detergent) and turn the blessed machine on.

Do not lose your will to live just yet. We’re halfway to a clean kitchen!

Step 3: Clean your sink. All that loosened food is probably sitting in the basket at the bottom, plus the sides are disgusting. Empty out the baskets on both sides and wipe down the whole sink. Now you’re ready to actually wash the dishes that didn’t fit into the dishwasher.

Step 4: Half-fill the sink with hot, soapy water. Take the dishcloth or scrubber and get at those dishes. This will take the proverbial elbow grease. Rinse each dish off with hot water, check to make sure it’s actually clean, and then rest it upside down to drain out. You can lay the dishes in a rack or on a clean towel on the counter.

When the dishwater turns gray and the bubbles disappear, it’s time for fresh water. Drain out the nastiness, empty the basket, replug the sink, and start with new soap and new water. Trust me, you can’t just add more soap to the gross water. It’s still gross water. You may have to replace your water a few times if you have a lot of really dirty dishes.

If you have a dish that truly won’t come clean, throw it in the trash. Ha! Totally kidding. You can squirt a little dish soap in, add some really hot water, and let it soak.

Step 5: Wipe down all the counters and the stovetop with a wet cloth. Wipe the crumbs into your hand and throw them in the trash. Scrub the sticky and gunky parts until clean.

Step 6: Sweep the floor and then scoop up the dirt. Throw it into the trash.

Step 7: Take out the trash. Put in a fresh bag.

Step 8: Decide what to do with those drying dishes. If your loved one has really high standards, show them a little extra love and actually dry them and put them away. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it. If they’re a little more relaxed, they probably won’t mind a tidy pile of drying dishes.

clean dishes in a clean kitchen

I figure that God invented evaporation, so why should I hurry his process? I let the dishes air dry.

Step 9: Finish scrubbing any of the dishes you had to let soak. Rinse them. Add them to the happy, clean kitchen pile of joy and delight. (Maybe I get a little too excited about this?)

Step 10: Clean out the sink again. Drain the water, wipe down the sink sides, and clean out the basket into the trash. Rinse the sink. Wipe down the faucet and the area on top of the sink to get rid of hard water stains. Rinse out the cloth and spread it out over the faucet or the sink partition to dry.

Now take a look around and give the room the hairy eyeball. Do you now have a clean kitchen? Does it smell fresh? It should feel better. Rooms that have been lovingly cared for always feel better.

But let’s think about this on a deeper level

I’m not sure why, but there’s a connection between the physical act of caring for something and how we feel about it. We can’t control much in life, right? We have job problems and relationship trouble and money challenges. But we can control how we care for the spaces we live and the things we own, and that care can change our entire outlook on our situation.

A clean kitchen means we’re doing the best with what we have. We don’t have to have luxurious homes with the fanciest things– our grandparents often had simple, old, basic kitchens but cooked wonderful meals and made loving memories. They knew the value of caring for what they had.

I hope this silly little blog post helps you do the same, and grow a little more content in the process.

And…ahem… Gentlemen, wives often really appreciate a clean kitchen. Wink wink, nudge nudge. That’s all I have to say about that.

Encouragement for Young Wives and Mothers: You are doing a great job. You’re not goofing this up at all. Pinky Promise.

I’m here to give encouragement to young women of all kinds.

I write to all of you, whether you’re married, single, up to your ears in children, or not.

You have this in common: you’re twenty-something-ish,  you’re a female, and you’re quite, quite sure you’re making a huge mess of everything.

Your romantic life and/or marriage feels like it’s in a shambles. Every day is full of irritations and possibly screaming fights. Or maybe it’s full of…nothing. Mr. Perfect has not yet made his appearance. Something must be wrong with you.

Your career is nothing like what you thought it would be. Instead you have a gazillion dollars of student loans hanging from your neck while you sit in a gray cubicle too many hours a week. Or maybe you’re home with the children and the student loans hang around your neck, which is a super terrible combination to endure. You must have gone wrong somewhere.

Your home is absolutely coming apart at the seams. The carpet is old and dirty, none of the appliances match, and you can’t find where that smell is coming from. You really should be better at this. 

Your children appear to be hooligans in the making. You are fully convinced your efforts to parent are wasted, because obviously if you were doing it right you’d have angels and happiness and possibly unicorns dancing in and out of rainbows all day.

encouragement for wives and mothers

 

Dear friends, you are wrong about all of this. This is the encouragement you need.

I’m willing to guarantee that you feel like a mess and a failure, but in reality you’re doing just fine. 

I’m about to turn forty in a few weeks, and I had the luck to come of age when Pinterest wasn’t a thing. I wasn’t assaulted with perfect images of clean houses or twenty-nine crafts to do with my toddler on a rainy afternoon.

When it rained my toddlers and I muddled through the day, watched a lot of Baby Einstein, ate some crackers, and took a nap.

Guess what– those toddlers are now 13 and 11 and they’re becoming truly wonderful people. They were not emotionally stunted by my lackluster crafting schedule.

I didn’t feel like my house needed to look like a showcase, because Instagram wasn’t reminding me sixty-two different ways of how beautiful a home can look when actual people don’t live there.

Waaaaay back in the day, Facebook was used for fun things like pregnancy announcements and requests to borrow a chainsaw. We finally all got smartphones and then things got ugly, when we could show the world our children’s perfect Halloween costumes or how matchy-matchy our living room sets were. Date nights turned into an opportunity to prove how deeply, madly in love we are with our partners.

Welcome to my real life. This is how my coffee table looks most days.
Girls, I’m forty years old and my coffee table looks like this every day. We never get it all together. NOR DO WE NEED TO.

Let’s blame the smartphones

I think that’s when things began to go seriously downhill. I blame the smartphones for it all.

And you, my sweet sisters, are doing the hard work of becoming adults with a constant assault of this nonsense in your faces all day long. No wonder you feel tired and ashamed and mismatched.

What you need is a double dose of encouragement, right?

You’re doing great, I promise. You’re loving your family, you’re taking great care of your home, and you’re working really, really hard. Show yourself some grace and choose some reasonable standards instead of that nonsense on the screen. Go find an older friend and inhale her perspective like the breath of fresh air it will be.

Tell her you’re going crazy and you need some help. She’ll remember how hard early girlyhood can be, and she’ll help you straighten things right out.

And if all else fails, don’t forget to nap and eat some crackers when it rains.

Young moms– I wrote a book just for you! There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse is chock full of ridiculous stories and encouragement to get you through your days. Plus, there’s a ton of biblical advice in there, too. Click here to buy from Amazon!Encouragement for moms! There's a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse

Why we need to rethink wedding costs and find realistic expectations for the big day

We attended a lovely anniversary party this weekend. Eric’s uncle and aunt have been married for fifty years so their sons and daughters-in-law threw them a bash to celebrate. One of the granddaughters had lovingly pieced together over four hundred old family photos to make a scrolling slide show, which I happily plopped down to watch when my small talk skills grew lame.

Out of control wedding costsI was enjoying the retro photos (bouffants! poofy dresses!) when all of a sudden I noticed a few odd things in the reception pictures. Things like heating ducts and a concrete wall. I turned to my father-in-law. “Did they have the reception in the church basement?” I asked in a tone that was meant to sound curious but probably came out astonished.

They did. They did indeed. Heating ducts and tiny windows and concrete walls and all. They somehow managed to greet guests, nibble cake, and open gifts below ground level. And from those humble beginnings they moved forward to build a life together. They had good careers, invested in their community, raised their sons, and traveled the world.

What the heck has happened to wedding standards, good people of the world? Cake and punch in a church basement just isn’t done any more. It was good enough for our parents’ generation, but not for us.

I ventured this thought to my father-in-law, and he (ever the teller of truth) shrugged and said, “Eh. It could have been nicer.” I laughed out loud, because he was probably right. There’s probably a happy medium between the basement and needing to rent a lesser French estate and flying 200 people across the Atlantic, which is probably what our daughter will want when she gets married.

I did some in-depth research, and by in-depth I mean that I quizzed our moms. Eric’s parents were married in their church and then had the reception right there, but not in the basement. They also served only cake and punch. Cheryl reports that by the time she got married (in 1973) that tradition was falling out of favor and more couples were having larger meals at their receptions.

Later that same year my parents were married in a Catholic church, had the reception at a little hall, then moved the party to my grandmother’s home where she and the Polish Aunties had prepared a traditional Polish feast. Also, my father’s Ford Pinto was loaded to the gills with booze he’d brought from across the state. The merry making was quite, quite merry, I’ve been told.

Picture these guys, but in 1973 suits and hair.
Picture these guys, but in 1973 suits and hair.

Contrast that with this week, when my sister’s getting married. She and her fiancé quickly determined that wedding costs are out of control, especially if you want to have something nice for guests. Who knows if it’s even legal to drive a Pinto loaded with hooch across county lines any more, what with their tendency to explode at any moment (plus I think most of the Pintos have actually exploded and it’s hard to find them anymore), but I do know the places Beth wanted to have the wedding wouldn’t have allowed such a thing.

Grown up guests expect a nice meal and a nice bar, and those things do not come cheaply. If Beth walks down the aisle and guests are directed to the basement where streamers hang from the heating ducts, eyebrows would lift.

Because Gary and Wilma were in full party mode this weekend, greeting their guests and politely feeding each other bites of cake, I didn’t have a chance to ask them about their wedding. But I can venture this guess– the wedding was exactly what they could afford. They didn’t borrow money for it like so many couples do today. Cake and punch in the church basement was what they and their families could afford, so they joyfully celebrated with what they had.

I think that celebration might be pretty much perfect.

Could we follow their lead? Is it possible for us to change the tone of modern expectations?

The wedding is just one day, the beginning of a life together. Could we as couples, but also as family and guests, help lower the standards to a more reasonable tone? A lot of the current standards are just plain dumb (Pinterest, I’m blaming you), but so many of the brides and grooms don’t want to disappoint their guests.

Maybe it’s time to give them more reasonable options. Maybe it’s time to tell them the church on the corner has a lovely basement and the concrete is quite cool in the summer. Maybe it’s time to suggest a potluck dinner or take out from the Lebanese place across from the gas station.

I just want to celebrate with them, knowing the fun isn’t going to put them or their parents in debt for ten years.

Thoughts? I’d love to hear them.

 

Finding contentment in renting

On Sunday we helped a young family from our small group move into their new townhouse. While we moved boxes from their old apartment to their new, larger home, I thought deep thoughts.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I thought a lot about ice cream because the day was hot and I was really sweaty. But I did think a few deep things before the sweat shorted out my brain cells.

I stood in their apartment-sized kitchen and looked around with fresh eyes. I’ve spent the last few years thinking about simple living and minimalism, so I pretended we were moving into that very apartment. It was a very exciting mental exercise, and I think I could have found a spot for almost everything we need in the kitchen. Easy? No. Possible? Yes.

Considering that I spent the first years of my marriage desperate for a real house with a real kitchen, this means I’m either mentally unstable or I’m actually learning something from all the simple living blogs I read.

While we can’t discount my probable mental instability, we can at least agree that it’s fun to look back at life and think about all the things we could have done differently. I wonder what would have happened if we’d chosen to move into a larger rental like our friends just did. They considered buying a house, but realized it’s not a good time for their family to be making long-term housing solutions. So they found an affordable option with a yard and a washer and dryer, and decided to be content with renting for the near future.

finding contentment in renting

I’m proud of them. When we were their age I thought we had no other option but to buy a home. I think we could have saved ourselves a lot of hassle over the years if I’d been content to rent a while longer.

But try telling that to a hysterical mother of a five-month-old who has to drag her laundry to the laundromat every week. Between the laundry and hauling the groceries up the stairs, I wanted a house and I wanted it RIGHT THEN. So we bought one. And we catapulted ourselves into taxes and repairs and the world’s ugliest bathroom, coupled with the world’s dumbest floorplan. Also, the house had the world’s most dangerous stairs.

Renting a while longer probably wouldn’t have been that terrible, is all I’m saying. We certainly could have solved the laundry problem without catapulting us into an ugly bathroom problem. I wish I would have at least looked at other options and calmed my nutty self down.

I’m sure there would have been other problems if we’d rented longer, because no choice in life is ever perfect. We would have been throwing money down the tubes in rent, but guess what– after we bought our house the market plummeted, so we just threw our money down a mortgage tube, instead. So even that huge point has been wiped out by the cold, hard truth of our experience.

I’ve learned a lot of things through the cold, hard reality. And that’s why it’s so fun to watch our young friends make their own decisions. I encourage them with this thought– it’s all sort of a giant crapshoot, really. You’re always benefiting somehow, and losing out somehow. Everyone gets to decide what benefits and sacrifices mean the most to them, and go from there. The best decisions can be wiped out in an instant from circumstances beyond your control.

So if you’re living in a tiny apartment, be thankful for the good parts. If you’re living in your starter house, be thankful for that. And if you’re almost forty and have already made a lot of your big life choices, watch your younger friends and offer a few words of encouragement when you can. That time of life is so hard, and every choice feels so important, and they need an old person to tell them it’s all going to be okay.

Because it is,  you know. It’s all going to be okay.

Why I’ve let go of my dreams for a tiny house

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ll be acquainted with my love of tiny houses. I can’t explain it, I understand it’s totally unreasonable, and yet I love them anyway.

 

why I've let go of my dreams of a tiny house

But sometime this last winter I finally let go of that dream because:

  1. Eric and the kids thought I was insane.
  2. The reality of a composting toilet for four people finally sank in.
  3. A private bedroom is good for married couples, and sharing a tiny house with teenagers makes that nearly impossible.

I finally acknowledged the tiny house wasn’t going to work, but then I just moved my sights slightly higher– three small bedrooms and a real bathroom. I just needed to find one close enough to the kids’ school.

My friends rightly pointed out that we’d moved out of a 900 square foot house a few years ago. I was going crazy in that place– what on earth would make me want to go back to another cramped house?

I understand my desire to downsize makes no sense. We truly did move out of a small house three years ago, and I couldn’t wait to escape that place. The day we moved out was an endless Happy Dance.

I couldn’t quite explain it, even to myself. I busied myself with some projects in our new home, and that squelched the desire for a time. But then, burning somewhere deep (possibly next to my spleen) was the constant and burning desire to downsize. I wanted less house and more available money. I wanted to be able to give wildly and generously, and to travel far and wide.

This is the closest explanation I can find– you know how some couples decide they’re done having children after their second baby? They give away the baby clothes, sell the crib, and get some surgical intervention. And then, beyond all reason, five years later they find themselves ready for a new baby. They get the vasectomy reversed or start filling out adoption paperwork.

It’s a desire deep inside that drives them, with no logic involved. They remember the sleepless nights and how difficult two year olds are! They haven’t lost their minds, but something deeper compels them.

And that’s how it was with me and downsizing. I hear the stories of people in Haiti and India. I realize many people are living in huts with metal roofs while monsoons rage in 100 degree heat. How can I continue living with two bathrooms and central air? Am I supposed to go on landscaping my yard in this planned community while a missionary school in India can barely afford to pay their teachers?

I finally asked Eric and the kids to pray about it with me. They weren’t totally on board, so I could see how this was possibly a new version of the tiny house ordeal. I was quite sure that after some prayer at least Eric would come around, because of course God was on my side. This desire fit in with the biblical ideals of sharing with those in need, so God and I held the holy cards.

I even had real life stories to back it up. My friend Amelia Rhodes did the same thing last year– sold a comfortable family home because of a simple desire to downsize. (You can read their story here.) And I recently read Amber C. Haines’ book Wild in the Hollow, and her family downsized into an apartment (with four little boys!) so they could be closer to their church community.

I’m not the only crazy one, is all I’m saying.

After three weeks of praying, the answer hit me hard and clear one morning. No. The answer isn’t moving to a smaller house. The answer is to stay right here, even with central air and two bathrooms.

I don’t understand why, exactly. I think it probably has something to do with being the aroma of Christ right here in this very neighborhood, where the children zip circles on their bikes and the families walk their children in strollers. It might have something to do with being involved in the schools, full of kids who need love and Christ. It could be that we’re called to be salt and light to this community, full of scrappy, independent (occasionally cranky) citizens.

I told Eric this a few days ago, and this was his response. “I feel like we prayed and felt led to be here. I don’t feel like that’s changed.” And the man is right. We didn’t land here without a lot of prayer.

It’s pretty clear that God plants his children all over the world. Some of us get the planned communities and central air and others of us get the monsoons and the huts. I don’t understand why. I don’t know why God doesn’t concentrate us, like an army, in the areas that need the most help. But he doesn’t ask me to have all the answers; I only need to be faithful in my own place and calling. I need to give as generously as we’re able right here, even with the larger mortgage and tax bill.

We can still be faithful right here. Although I have started negotiations for a tiny house in the backyard, because wouldn’t that be adorable?! It could be the Poopsie Hut! The Mom Cave! I could paint the walls sky blue and hide from children and writing deadlines.

I wouldn’t even need a composting toilet. Perfect.

 

 

A Prayer for the Stress

Dear Father.

a prayer for the stressI don’t even know where to begin. It’s all attacking me, dear Lord.

Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” (Psalm 26:7-8, NLT)

So here I am, to talk with you. But first I need to gather my wits and my thoughts. Are you sure you even want me like this? Maybe I should get my life together first and then come find you.

I’m sure you’d like me better if I wasn’t such a dramatic mess at the moment. If my laundry was folded and my career was on track and my kids knew how to write a proper thank you note. Maybe then I’d be more presentable.

But then I read,

Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. (Psalm 37:7)

And I remember that maybe it’s not about me getting my stuff together first. Maybe it’s about being still.

Maybe it’s about your presence.

Maybe it’s absolutely about waiting patiently for you to act. Not me.

You’ve led your people for thousands of years– through deserts, across the sea, and around the world. Why do I forget and assume you can’t take care of my life?

Be my rock of safety, where I can always hide. (Psalm 71:3)
Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him. Remember the wonders he has performed, his miracles, and the rulings he has given. (Psalm 105:4-5)

I don’t know how to handle the current messes in my life, Lord. Not my parenting, my marriage, my finances, nor my career– nothing is truly under my control.

And that bothers me more than it should.

My lack of control bothers me like a thousand fire ants climbing up my pajamas while I try to sleep.

I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy.
Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! (Psalm 116:1-2)

I know I’m a control freak, Father, and I know that causes about 97% of my stress. But please bend down to listen to me anyway.

Help me remember that the stress only lessens when my mind is in the right place. When my attitude is completely focused on trusting you and being thankful for your presence, I can breathe again.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock. (Isaiah 26:3-4)

Remind me of those who have gone before, who accomplished great things because they were focused on one thing–your glory. May you glorify yourself through my life.

Lord, you will grant us peace; all we have accomplished is really from you. (Isaiah 26:12)

May you give me a proper perspective about all this stuff swirling around in my head. None of it is permanent. You are permanent. You are eternal.

And I am forever grateful for you,

Amen

 

 

 

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