A Convivial Home: What Has Happened to All Your Joy?

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I am living the life I always wanted. I grew up the oldest of 7, homeschooled, reading Anne of Green Gables and heaps of sappy Christian romance novels. To be honest, I never did even comprehend what problem modern women had with traditional, biblical womanhood. Not only did I swallow the conservative family party line hook line and sinker as a child, but I grew up with my mom in the home, always, even though it meant some extremely lean times, “powdered milk poor” as my sister likes to say. I saw and understood that my parents believed raising the children was more important than money. We were wanted more than money. And it was simply obvious to me as a child that having mom at home was more valuable than having fancy stuff or eating at restaurants. I felt like it was a choice. In my simplistic, childish worldview, I saw it as a dichotomy. You choose mom at home or you choose stuff. I was glad my parents chose kids and home, and I certainly would choose mom over stuff. It was worth being poor to be able to be and have home. And someday, I knew, I would be the mom choosing kids over stuff. As a child, I felt valued, and as a child, it seemed obvious that the best choice to make as an adult was to choose children. What else could be more important to do with oneself? Who would rather work a job when you could make and grow people? Of course real life is much more complicated than that, but to my child-mind, it seemed clear and simple.

Well, I did marry at 19 and we dutifully finished our degrees, moved back to our home town, secured Matt a well-paying job with insurance, and happily began our family, getting pregnant the first month we quit using birth control. Hans was born when I was 21. Jaeger was born 21 months later, precisely as planned, and this time at home. Rather than baby blues, I had post-baby highs. Late pregnancy was awful, but that meant that by contrast, being not pregnant felt marvelous! I felt like I could take on the world a week postpartum, both times.

I was managing the home, finding it mostly rewarding, fulfilling, and interesting. I enjoyed cooking, I wanted to master getting good deals at the grocery store and keeping the pantry filled. I eeked by in the housekeeping area, fending off chaos for the most part, but generally going through short boom periods and long bust periods. This was the life I had always planned on living, and I was grateful for it, though I did take it for granted.

Precisely as planned, then, we were due with baby #3, to be born when #2 was 2. Heartbeat at 12 weeks. I never did feel him kick. No heartbeat at 16 weeks. We were able to hold and name little Friedrich William, and suddenly life was no longer running as planned. Praise God for His grace. It is better to learn to trust God than to have a life that is smooth and trouble-free. I had a miscarriage at 9 weeks two months later. Two months after that I was pregnant with Ilse, our now 4-year-old bundle of spunk, who wouldn’t exist if Friedrich had lived. I had a traumatic and torturous birth experience, but emerged with my postpartum high once again.

We had moved to a fixer-upper, which seemed like a good idea but which kinda turned out to be a rolling disaster. Live and learn. We were living and we were learning. We were doing our best to be faithful where we were. During that time I hit a wall in my life at home. If I was still charismatic I might say I was attacked. As it is, I wouldn’t say that, but I would say that God brought me low to raise me up again, as is His wont. It was all in my head, but I was low. My job was changing diapers and cleaning house and it seemed pathetic. Perhaps my childhood idealism was all wrong. Maybe this really is degrading. Maybe this is degrading and this is my “highest calling.” I had been reading the ultra-conservative types, trying to give them the benefit of the doubt, but suddenly their arguments turned oppressive as I stood washing dishes, staring across our neighbor’s low fence at skinny teenaged girls in bikinis. I was only a couple years older than they, but with baby fat covered in stretch marks. I got turned on my head and I could see why women get discouraged. I was discouraged. I felt like I was always pursuing better housekeeping and never even progressing, much less arriving. I wanted to, I tried to, say keeping house was not worthwhile; it was a waste of time. There were better things I could spend my time on. It’s only a bunch of effort that has to be done over and over and over again.

I decided it wasn’t worth my effort or time or energy. It’s not that I didn’t do dishes or laundry, it’s just that I stopped trying to “get on top of it” and keep up and improve. I focused my energy instead on figuring what what the bare minimums were. How much could I get away with not doing. I didn’t fold any laundry. I didn’t do any ironing or sock matching. I gloated about not folding laundry on my blog. I washed dishes mostly before we needed them instead of when we were done with them. I didn’t let the floors or windows or bathrooms bother me. It seemed to be going along swimmingly. However, God didn’t let me stay there. No matter who I talked to for almost a year, it seemed the conversation would turn to whether or not housekeeping was worth it — and I was not the one to bring up the topic! I wanted to sweep it under the rug and forget about it. I had made my call. I started realizing God was calling me back to my calling and to doing so for Him and through Him rather than for myself and through myself.

Then He sent me a gigantic get-in-shape program. Out-of-the-blue, we had the opportunity to buy a house on an acre next door to friends and half a mile from the library. We jumped on it and put the house on the market. There’s nothing like living in a house on the market to hone housekeeping skills. It didn’t matter if I wanted to keep the house clean or if I thought it was worth it anymore. I had to do it. And I did. And it is a lot of work, but by that point I had been lifted out of my discouragement, so it wasn’t awful and purposeless. It was a good and necessary work. And as I was forced to do it, my eyes were also opened to the value of it. God is good. God is sovereign. God has a sense of humor.

We moved. The house is bigger. The kitchen is twice as large. I was pregnant. I had to get into even better shape. I became tired. After Knox was born, instead of a baby high, I sunk into a baby funk. Then it was compounded by months of sleep-deprivation. I was treading water, and appeared to be doing fine, but my perception was out of whack. I knew I was doing fine, but I felt like I was drowning. I suddenly had doubts not about whether or not I should mop the floor, but about whether or not I was going to ruin these children of mine. What if all my best-laid plans turned out to be all wrong and what I thought was best for them would turn out to hurt them?

I had to face the music. Where did I place my hope? Where did I place my trust? Was it my work that would make my children “turn out”? What does “turn out” even mean? What does it mean to do things by God’s strength and not in my own? I prayed that question one Sunday in church. I think it was before Knox was born, but I don’t remember for sure. I should have known the answer would come in the form of providence rather than direct revelation. I had to come to the end of my strength in order to learn what it was to do life through God’s strength. God brought people and conversations and convictions and books.

More tomorrow.