One thing that my massive clutter clear out has unexpectedly done for me, is give me some time and space to think about my role in my home and my goals for how I want to serve my family here. It's been a bit of an odyssey, actually. About a year ago, the house felt like the walls were closing in. I just could not seem to keep up. Two friends in particular offered me advice when I solicited it. One of them was local and one was a far-away friend. Both have known me for years. I went looking for home management advice and what I got from both was time management advice. They both said to back away from the computer. Both of these women understood online communities and were part of the same ones I was. And, frankly, their advice surprised me. I couldn't imagine backing away. So, I continued to bumble along, doing the best I could (which wasn't very good) to "balance" homeschooling, general parenting, being a wife, and my outreach on the computer. Oh, and the house. And frankly, the house didn't get much better.
My family and I went to visit another big homeschooling family. I've known this woman to be gracious and lovely. She is always nicely dressed and her children are always tidy and beautiful. The public areas in the front of her home are neat and welcoming. On this day, though, my husband was going to help with a repair, so we went into the parts of the house which were not public. Everywhere I looked was clutter. There were books and toys strewn about and piled high in the family room. The bathrooms were dingy. Upstairs, the beds were poorly made, if made at all, and the mattresses were sinking. Wallpaper was peeling. It was a shocking experience. Here was someone who clearly placed a great importance on her public image, but in the private parts of her home, there was no care at all. It mattered to her that her home welcome friends, but clearly she did not care to make it a haven for her family.
On the way home, my husband commented that he would not allow his family to live in such a home. This family had the means to make repairs and to maintain the home and the whole thing just really perplexed me. The public persona so conflicted with the private reality. And then, came the epiphany moment. Mike said, "I cannot imagine commuting every day into the city, working well after the dinner hour, and then coming home to that." He went on to explain that he would feel as if his hard work was not appreciated at all. As a provider of a home, he would be discouraged by how little regard his wife and children had for it.
Somewhere during the conversation, I began to understand that it was no longer about the other family, it was about mine. To what did my husband return everyday and how did my home reflect my priorities? Were the public places fine enough and the private places less so? My house did not look like the one we visited, but I definitely was a long way from having my home reflect the respect and appreciation I had for my husband and the sacrifice he was making for our family. Something was way out of balance.
I talked to my friend about her home, gingerly at first. She told me her husband didn't care. She was involved in a half dozen different ministries and he was very supportive of the way she was spending her time. I even asked if I could share this story. She told me to tell you that apostolic households are always messy. We agree to disagree. I think our first field of apostolate is to our family. And our homes are the mission field.
I love the book of Sirach. There are so many nuggets of wisdom for daily living there. We read:
Blessed the husband of a good wife,
twice-lengthened are his days;
A worthy wife brings joy to her husband,
peaceful and full is his life.
A good wife is a generous gift
bestowed upon him who fears the LORD;
Be he rich or poor, his heart is content,
and a smile is ever on his face.
A gracious wife delights her husband,
her thoughtfulness puts flesh on his bones;
A gift from the LORD is her governed speech,
and her firm virtue is of surpassing worth.
Choicest of blessings is a modest wife,
priceless her chaste soul.
A holy and decent woman adds grace upon grace;
indeed, no price is worthy of her temperate soul.
Like the sun rising in the LORD's heavens,
the beauty of a virtuous wife in her well-ordered home.
I cannot reconcile these beautiful verses with the idea that being busy with other projects excuses us from welcoming our husbands into well-ordered homes. I'm not talking about a mom with two toddlers and a baby who is struggling to keep up and feels like she's losing the fight. That's a season during which both husband and wife will grow. I'm talking about the veteran mom with a range of ages of children who makes choices every day to neglect her home. That is simply the fruit of bad habits and misplaced priorities.
I want to be a gracious wife, not just a gracious hostess. Not just a lovely face to the public, but a comfort and a blessing to my husband. So, why bother with homemaking? Because God call us to be virtuous wives and He tells us that virtuous wives live in well-ordered homes.
I wish could tell you that after that visit and that conversation with my husband, I reformed my ways, cleaned my house, and became the virtuous wife of Sirach. I didn't. I tried harder, but I still thought I could hang on to some of the bad habits that had gotten me--and my home--into this mess. I allowed myself to become distracted by internet "crises." And then, an honest friend told me that there are no internet crises. Nothing that happens on the internet is a crisis. There are urgent prayer concerns, but they don't require my presence in front of a screen. She was right; I could not really think of anything that could happen online that truly, truly needed me to rob time and attention from my family. In Sirach, God calls us to "governed speech." Whether on the phone or online, much of what we women engage in isn't governed speech at all, but idle, distracting chatter. We go in search of wisdom and inspiration or to offer encouragement and education and the devil has a field day with the mismanagement of our time.
I prayed hard about what God was saying and how gracious He had been to allow honest women of virtue to speak so frankly to me. I began to see how order and routine and constant, diligent care of our home would bless us all. And I began to see how homemaking called for my full time and attention. I've often heard it said that there are two kinds of large families: very organized ones and very disorganized ones. There is no middle ground. I believe that. I've lived in both. I much prefer the former.
I remember when the message board was founded. I showed my husband the beautiful pages and he was amazed. He did say one thing, though, that I'd nearly forgotten. He said it looked like it had the potential to take a lot of time. I promised him I'd never write there unless the laundry was caught up. And then I promptly forgot the promise. For three years:-).
Now, I understand how important that promise is to keep, even if it means I rarely get to post to online conversations. What I'm doing here in my home is too important. Order precedes beauty. Radiance is the goal. Our housekeeping routines are crucial to the smooth functioning of our days, our weeks. Life in a well-ordered home does shine. Radiance streams into our lives like the grace of God. Ordering a home isn't something you do once and it stays that way. Instead, it's a continual commitment. Nutritious meals served predictably and eaten together at a well set table lend a graciousness and civility to everyday life. It's nice to open a drawer and find clothing folded and ready regardless of the day of the week. It's a blessing to go to a closet, see freshly pressed shirts and inhale the sweet smell of herbal ironing spray. It's nice to settle to work at the learning room table and know where all the books are. My family deserves nothing less. Making it so requires all of me.
The Flylady talks about CHAOS--the "Can't Have Anybody Over Syndrome." Certainly, it would be a shame to not be able to have anybody over. But a greater shame, I think, is to neglect the people who actually live in a house by being a poor steward of both time and treasure. A greater shame, is for a hard working man to have to pick his way around the mess as he makes his way to a disheveled bedroom. A greater shame is to throw a meal at the kids and run to work on an outside project while they eat.
So why bother with all of this? Because a worthy wife brings joy to her husband, peaceful and full is his life. And her life, too, is full of peace and joy.