Because our first Little Bean arrived two weeks early, we were able to make a trip to the North East to attend a good friend’s wedding. Though I wasn’t sure about embarking on such a long trip in the car, we decided to take it slowly with lots of stops along the way. After all, I knew going into it that it would be more stressful for me than for the Bean. And it was, but it was worth it. She got to meet grandparents and great-grandparents and cousins and lots of friends as we headed to the Cape.
But that journey isn’t what this post is about.
This post is about the fact that we were away from our house for two weeks. And we left the house in a bit of a jumble, as you do when you’re preparing a two-week trip with a five-week-old baby. Not just cluttered messy, but dirt-under-your-bare-feet-on-the-kitchen-floor messy.
A few days into the trip, we received a phone call asking if an out-of-town visitor could stay at our house for a night. While we were gone. From our jumbled house.
This lesson is something I know that anyone who is responsible for household chores has experienced. In fact, it’s so obvious that I wonder if it’s even worth mentioning.
#4) The work of community often goes unnoticed.
Not to beat a dead horse, but I don’t really do the dishes very often. So when I do plunge in and make a dent in the pile, or when I empty the drying rack during the day, I get a bit discouraged when J comes home from work and there is already a pile of dirty dishes in the sink, hiding my hard work.
“I did the dishes today, hon!” I proudly announce on those occasions, and then I glance around sheepishly. “Really, I did. Honest.”
You may have heard about the interesting group of folks known to us as the “desert fathers and mothers” (or abbas and ammas). Early monastic Christians, the abbas and ammas lived out in the desert either in solitude or in small enclave communities. What has been passed on to us from the third and fourth century through various sources are their “sayings.” These appear as stories from their lives that still offer spiritual guidance to us through the use of Scripture and practical wisdom. (See, for example, Benedicta Ward’s compilation The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks. You can even “search inside” at Amazon.)
To our ears–and to our lives–these ancient sayings often seem odd, impractical, and quaint. But they’re really rather revolutionary.
Still, what could they possibly have to do with dishwashers?
I’m so glad you asked.
There is a part of me that has been biologically wired to take the reins of projects that are floundering. I really–and I mean really–hate to stand around when there are things that need doing, food that needs baking, parties that need planning, people that need, ahem, instructing. My dad’s family members–his sisters in particular–are also this way, so I think it’s in our blood.
Some people might call us bossy. I say we know how to get things done.
That is my way of introducing Lesson #2, something I’ve had a particularly hard time learning in this land without dishwashers:
2) Just because you don't like the way it's being done
doesn't mean you should just do it yourself.
Let’s face it: most of the time, I’d rather just do it myself.
Living in this land without dishwashers, we’ve learned a few things about community. The first one is pretty obvious.
1) Community is messy.
And of course I mean this both literally and figuratively.
Whatever community you find yourself in, whether it’s intentional community with homeless people sleeping on your couch (probably not) or just your close circle of friends and family–you and your spouse, friends who come over for a movie and popcorn, or the extended relatives for a twice-a-year holiday feast—it’s still messy. Who hasn’t in some way experienced community right inside the four walls of her house, and who hasn’t experienced the physical mess it leaves behind? It’s dishes in the sink, clutter on the coffee table, dirty towels in the bathroom, dirt on the welcome mat.
That’s what having people sharing the same space does, even if you’re the kind of person who pays someone else to clean it up for you when it’s all said and done. You’ve seen the mess, so you know what I’m saying.
We moved into our house almost four years ago and spent quite a bit of time that first summer doing hands-on fixer-upper projects. We were painting and scraping and mudding, tearing down walls and moving plumbing. We were picking staples out of old flooring, one by one, and we were sanding down the hardwood and laying tile. But amidst all of that life-before-children chaos, we were also planning our future life within those four walls. Enjoy!
So we finished the bear of a task of refinishing our floors last week. Now we just wait for 72 hours for the polyurethane to harden. Sanding ended up being more difficult than expected, though not because of the threatening warnings on the upright sander we rented from big-box-home-improvement-store.
I like that you can read “dismember” but little else.
Apparently on really old floors, if the wood is slightly warped, then the new dummy-proof sanders don’t work so well, since they’re made not to sand through your floor if you leave them in one place too long. Basically, we sanded and sanded and sanded, and barely made a difference. J ended up needing to go back through by hand with a belt sander and do every square inch of the living room over. For real.
On Saturday morning, I strapped Little Bean into her stroller and set off on a mission: to buy myself a cup of frou-frou coffee-shop coffee. Lucky for me, we’ve got two small coffee shops in my little town, both within walking distance of my house.
Unlucky for me, both of them were closed on Saturday morning.
A little discouraged, I stood at the corner on Main Street and Hamilton, waiting for the red light to change. A woman stumbled up to the corner, paying no attention to me. She was in sweat pants that looked like pajamas and she seemed tired or worn out or both. When the light changed, Little Bean’s stroller got caught on the curb, so I ended up a few steps behind the woman as we crossed the street.
I heard her groan a bit as if in pain and seemingly begin to mutter to herself.
I assumed–uncharitably–that she was probably suffering from mental illness or intoxication. Maybe she was homeless. I didn’t know, and I chided myself for jumping to conclusions about a stranger.
Everyone assumed that our little bean would be tall. Even the pediatrician, at the bean’s two-day-old appointment, asked if we wanted to guess what her height would end up being as an adult. Her dad is 6’6” and her mom is 6’0”, so she was always unlikely to be a shrimp.
But she was pretty tiny for quite some time. A chunker at birth, her weight percentiles kept dropping at her monthly appointments, until she was down to 8th percentile at 6 months old. She remained above average in height, which means she was quite skinny, and her BMI was 1%.
You breastfeeding moms out there will know how disappointing that was for me, how difficult it was not to feel like I was failing my child, how jealous I felt of the moms of chunky babies with leg rolls and triple chins.
Advent is here, friends. Today, my little family will be putting together the sad Christmas tree that has endeared itself to us over the years. We might put some greenery on the mantle. Drink some hot cocoa. We’ve even got an Advent playlist with about a half-dozen versions of O Come, O Come Emmanuel on it.
It’s New Years Day as far as the church is concerned, so let’s celebrate!
This morning in church, the Thanksgiving baskets our church distributed last week in our community were mentioned and thanks were given to everyone who donated. This morning in church, we were told about the work the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is doing overseas and we were encouraged to give to the annual Christmas missions offering. This morning in church, I was handed a packet of paper with information about a low-income family in our community, a family our Sunday school class will be providing gifts for this holiday season. This morning in church, we were reminded about the myriad activities we’ve got going on throughout Advent and Christmas, the ways we can participate and give and do lots of good.
My point is this: we are doing lots of good in the world. Let’s take a moment and pat ourselves on the back, shall we?
Like I’m letting us off the hook that easy.
Sure, we are doing lots of good. We are. I am. You probably are, too.
But since it’s the first Sunday of Advent, and it’s kind of Texas Schmexas tradition to toss a little guilt in to start off the year, let’s be introspective for a moment and ‘fess up.
We aren't really loving our neighbors as ourselves.*
I am a convert to the Catholic Church.
One of the things that first attracted me was the Church’s universality, both historical and geographical. I take the Church’s unbroken presence since the apostolic age and its world-wide ministry both to be strong evidences for its claim to be guided and protected by the Holy Spirit. I love the way that the Church has “baptized” cultures, using existing customs to present the Gospel in familiar ways to new peoples, and the way that it has fostered and protected real diversity of worship from country to country. We have surrounded our children with images of Christ from many different countries and times, showing them how much richer our understanding of Our Lord is because of the diversity of presentations.
But I recently learned that my love for the universality
of our Church ends when it impinges on my Sunday plans.