Things will be quiet around here for the holidays mainly because I believe that both you and I have better things to do than to sit in front of a computer screen and ponder the mysteries of life. Instead, these days are better spent in simply living the mysteries, in wrapping the presents and feasting on sugar cookies and kissing under the mistletoe. These days are better spent rejoicing in His grace and resting--not because we've worked so hard and deserve it but because He has worked so hard and has given it to us. May the lightness of His grace fill you this Christmas and may you find that all your days are holy ones.
Over the last couple of weeks, my husband and I have been remodeling our basement. When we bought the house, it was “finished” in that classic combination of wood-grained paneling and burnt orange carpet. And while we really do appreciate vintage, we also accept the reality that we’re simply not cool enough to pull it off. On a hipster scale of 1-10, we’re an ironic 3.1415…. So a bit of rewiring, several gallons of paint, and twenty-eight boxes of laminate later, we’re close to having a space that’s hopefully more Pottery Barn and less Brady Bunch. Part of it will be a den and the other half will be devoted to, what I like to call, the creative urge.
In the past when we dreamed of our ideal (then non-existent) house, we always envisioned a room devoted to creating--whether it be crafting, sewing, drawing, writing, or simply playing with play-dough--we wanted a room that invites you to find your inner creative muse and let lose. Instead of fussing at my daughter for yet again cluttering up her room with odd bits of construction paper and glue, I want to be able to point her to cupboard of paints and glitter and chalk and say, “Go for it.”
I don’t know if other people dream of rooms like this, but I have noticed a trend among my generation. More and more of us are devoting our time and energy to things like crafting, cooking, and frugal living. You only have to hop on etsy, pintrest, or any number of DIY blogs to know that this phenomena is larger than any one subset and isn’t contained to the SAHMs among us. Women everywhere—from university-educated vegans to crunchy conservative homeschooling moms—are embracing the domestic.
In this Washington Post piece, Julia Rothman worries that this “new domesticity” will lead to obligation and foster a whole batch of June Cleavers trying to one up each other, not necessarily with our meatloaves and kitten heels, but with knit scarves and cheese making. And while this is definitely a possibility, I think the new domesticity can actually teach us something deeper about ourselves, if we let it.
Because whether it’s being motivated by a case of burn-out in the boardroom, a commitment to staying home with young children, or simply trying to make ends meet in these difficult economic times, this renewed interest in the creative process is really about reclaiming something very fundamental to our humanity. Whether you realize it or not, it’s about reclaiming the image of God in us.
In the case of my peers, generally young Christian women, the return to crafting and baking and decorating has accompanied a renewed emphasis on the importance of family life. We see marriages crumbling around us, children struggling through cookie-cutter schools, and so for many, the solution comes by devoting themselves full-time to their families. They’re educated women with more than a heaping of gifts, but they choose to become SAHMs because they really believe that, at least in the early years, they can best care for their families there.
But the truth that many are learning the hard way is that staying at home isn’t without sacrifice. In the eight years that I’ve been at home, I’ve discovered that little ones don’t often want to discuss French existentialism or world events, and major life accomplishments have been reduced to having everyone clean and fed at the same time. It doesn’t take very long to realize that staying at home can be less than stimulating.
In her breathtaking essay “Are Women Human?,” Dorothy L. Sayers argues that this is one reason why so many women pursue professional careers in the first place (a novelty in 1938 when she first gave the speech that would eventually be published as an essay). She says:
It is all very well to say that woman’s place is the home—but modern civilization has taken all the pleasant and profitable activities out of the home, where the women looked after them, and handed them over to big industry, to be directed and organized by men at the head of large factories…
It is a formidable list of jobs: the whole of the spinning industry, the whole of the dyeing industry, the whole of the weaving industry. The whole catering industry…the whole of the nation’s brewing and distilling. All the preserving, pickling and bottling industry, all the bacon-curing. And (since in those days a man was often absent from home for months together on war or business) a very large share in the management of landed estates…
Now it is very likely that men in big industries do these jobs better than women did them at home. The fact remains that the home contains much less interesting activity than it used to contain… It is perfectly idiotic to take away woman’s traditional occupations and then complain because she looks for new ones. Every woman is a human being—one cannot repeat too often—and a human being must have occupation, if he or she is not to become a nuisance to the world.
Sayers concern was not really to define what constitutes a “woman’s” job or a “man’s” job but to emphasize that every human being—of which half the species are women--MUST be engaged in creative, productive work because they are made in the image of a creative, productive God.
So I’m wondering, especially in the case of my peers, how much of the return to domestic creativity has less to do with our need to care for our families and more to do with caring for our own souls? How many of us craft and sew not primarily because we can do it better or cheaper, but because we simply love to do it? And for women who don’t stay at home, how much of your drive toward the new domesticity comes from the fact that the modern workplace has forced us to become mechanistic, unimaginative robots, spending most of our days processing bureaucracy and paperwork, without ever seeing tangible progress for our labor?
This is why we’re seeing the resurgence of creativity, especially in the home. Ultimately, we create because He did. We love beauty because He does. And when those things are less and less present in our lives, we are driven to find a way to recover them—whether we realize that’s what we’re doing or not.
This is not a problem. Domestic arts do often allow us to better care for our families. And creative pursuits do fill a need and enable you to return refreshed to the humdrum of work on Monday. It’s also not a problem if your creativity doesn’t take the form of traditional domesticity—feel free to go rebuild the engine of that ’57 Chevy this weekend—because ultimately what’s at stake isn’t that we all become June Cleavers; it’s that we all become like our God.
In the end, we must recognize that we pin and we plant and we bake and we knit, not simply because we are women or mothers, but because we are human beings made in His image. And all the mechanization, all the industrialization, all the assembly lines in the world can’t remove that part of us that needs first to create, and then to step back with satisfaction and declare, “That’s good.” Just like He once did so very long ago, just like He continues to do every day.
I grew up on stories of Amy Carmichael and Mary Slessor and Isobel Kuhn. When I was young, I prepared myself for a future of grass huts on far away continents with limited supplies of food and medicine, battling back the forces of darkness with mosquito netting and late-night prayer meetings. In high school, my dreams turned to running an orphanage for middle school boys in (of all places) a lighthouse. We were going to live by the sea and I was going to be a combination of Jo March and Maria von Trapp. Except there were no plans for a Colonel von Trapp or Professor Bhaer, simply a black lab and a pick-up truck.
So here’s my question: how did I end up living a polite, quiet, life in middle American? How did I end up being a pastor’s wife, dressing up in my heels and stockings on Sundays and making pies and casseroles through the rest of the week? And how did I become the mother of three beautiful (although somewhat crazy) children who to date have had no significant issues save speech lessons and milk allergies?
I’m asking because I’m not sure that I know.
If you’re a regularly reader to SAL, you know that our family has had our share of difficulties—some related to ministry, some simply the pressures of adulthood—but over the last year, God has brought us into a season of blessing and stability. We recently bought our first home, my husband has a job that he loves (and does well), and I’m in the full swing of motherhood and domestic life.
But what you may not know about me is that I never really had any plans to be here. I never had any plans for Prince Charming to sweep me off my feet and even if I had, they certainly didn’t include marrying a pastor. A missionary perhaps--but only if he planned on living in a grass hut, learning countless native dialects, and contentedly eating grubs with the chief of the tribe. Instead, I married a man best suited to a quiet rural life, happiest puttering around his country parish, making plans for chickens and gardens, and putting down deep roots.
So here, over eleven years later, I’m still coming to terms with it all.
It’s not that I didn’t expect to be involved in ministry—that has always been a significant part of my life as my parents were teachers in a small church-based school—but I guess I never expected to live a “normal” American life. Growing up, because of my parents’ work, we often struggled to simply get by. I learned very early the difference between want and need and as a result, I think I actually was a lot happier than some of my peers. (To this day, I can still get a thrill out of something as simple as eating out at IHOP.) On top of that, we also suffered a house fire when I was five and spent the next decade rebuilding our home bit by bit with the help of friends and family.
Still what we lacked in finances, we had in abundance in faith and dreams. We lived on 10 acres of family homestead, complete with fruit trees and gardens, woods and a creek. We never lacked for books, music, imagination--or British television. My dad believed strongly in Christian education and made sure that his both his sons and daughters received one. And when I announced that I wanted to study the Humanities for the sheer joy of it, for the sheer joy of discovering the world that God had created, instead of trying to dissuade me and guide me to something more practical, he simply said, “That sounds fine. College is too expensive not to love what you’re studying.”
We were living Radical long before David Platt ever suggested it.
So coming into adulthood, I don’t think I had any dreams of financial success or settling down into the routines that are assumed by so many Americans. And yet here today, I find myself living a life that is polite, domestic, and comfortable. In a word, the American Dream. I’ve also discovered that this “dream” can come with a lot of angst.
How can you spend money on extra clothes for your children when you know that there are children in this world who have no shoes?
How can you indulge in the luxury of dieting and exercising when men and women around the world are expending legitimate sweat and tears simply working to provide a few morsels of food for their evening meal?
How can you enjoy the blessings of family when your friends’ marriages are falling apart and you know other mothers who are facing life-threatening illnesses and may not even live to see their children grow up?
Of course, you help where you can. You send money. You pray. You even go when God calls. But still, you return to your lovely home and air conditioning and full pantry. And on Sunday, you worship God together with other believers in freedom and comfort. And soon, the blessings, all the milk and honey, start to feel like burdens. Maybe you don’t have this problem—maybe it’s the opposite for you. Maybe you grew up in such comfort that it’s hard for you to let go of it. But maybe, like me, you grew up with deprivation and you find it hard to let go of that too.
Maybe you have a hard time accepting the blessings of God.
Because what I’m discovering is that as much as some people have to surrender to the possibility of deprivation and instability, some of us have to surrender to stability and comfort when He chooses to send them. And I’m learning that it takes as much faith to accept blessing as it is does to accept trial. It means believing that all things come from His hand—wealth, poverty, stability, trials--and it means learning to be content and thankful and full of joy in whatever circumstances He chooses to place us.
Even when it is the best of them.
10 years, 7 months, and 3 days of marriage, my husband and I are officially looking for our first house. That 10 years, 7 months, and 3 days has included multiple job changes, seven household moves (both interstate and international), and a variety of living situations--everything from rentals, to living in other people’s furnished homes, to a parsonage. But now, after 10 years, 7 months, and 3 days, for the first time in our married life, we are actually on the verge of settling in and putting down roots.After
As you can imagine, it’s a high point for us as a family. And it comes with a great job in my husband’s field and a move to a fantastic region that really does offer “all the amenities of city life combined with the tranquility of a mountain arts community.” I’ve also had some unexpected opportunities open up for me personally, and our children are a constant source of laughter, love, and joy. Life is good.
And I’m having a hard time with it.
Something complicated happens when you go through a difficult season like we have for the last several years. In our case, it was an extended period of un- and under-employment, complicated by devastating interpersonal conflicts and private uncertainties. Things were so topsy-turvy at times that we wondered if the world would ever right itself. Thankfully it has and slowly we’re coming out of it. But even as we do, I’m realizing that regaining our bearings isn’t going to be as simple as getting the dream job and finally settling down. It can’t be, because our circumstances weren’t the only things affected in that difficult time. Our souls were too.
I think it’s simply that when you go through hard times, you become so accustomed to being strong, to protecting the ones you love, to being on guard, that it’s easy to see everything as a threat--even the blessing of God. So much so, that when the drought finally ends, when the rains finally come, your soul has become so dry and dusty that the healing water can’t penetrate. Instead, with each drop, with each shower, you find yourself asking, Can I really embrace this from Your hand? Can I really let down my guard and feel again? Can I really trust You?
And you discover that embracing the goodness of God requires as much faith as enduring the time of suffering.
You find that you must actually learn how to bless the Lord as He gives as much as when He takes away; you find that you must learn how to be content in abounding as much as in being abased. And like everything else in this crazy life, you learn that it takes faith. Faith to believe He is good so that you won’t fear His blessings, always waiting for the catch. Faith to believe He is sovereign so you won’t rely on yourself, convinced that you made the rains come. And faith to believe that He loves you, so that you won’t keep protecting yourself, always defensive and aloof.
Ultimately it is faith--that when the blessings finally come—allows you to accept them with an open hand and simply say, “Thank you for this gift! I love it.”
Here’s some much needed perspective on the holiday season. In this article, Rachel Jankovich puts into words much of what I’ve been feeling tangentially, but (quite ironically) have been too distracted with gearing up for the holidays to think through completely. This bit will give you a taste of what I mean:
…we have all heard people talk about Christmas like we all just need to get a grip. Where has our spirituality gone that we are worrying about a holiday five weeks in advance? Real Christians would celebrate quietly around the fire with some spiritual reflections, perhaps some small handmade token, or just a loving smile…..but there is one very important part of Christmas that is all too often overlooked, and it applies to everyone. Brace yourselves. . . . Christmas is the ultimate celebration of the material. Because Christmas is the time when God became man. Word to Flesh. Unfettered spirit to the hazards and joys and stresses of physical life. Think about it. Some people want to filter the material out of Christmas and morph it into some pure ethereal spirit religious day. And some people want to filter all the spiritual out of it and make it simply a holiday celebrating the purchasing power of plastic. But the power of Christmas is when spiritual and material meet. And it always has been. That is the joy of the season, that is the good news, that is the laughter and the paradox and the earth-shaking magic of Christmas. The infinite Word became a physical baby.
So go ahead: embrace the crazy. And realize that prepping for the holidays, with all it's messiness and chaos, might just be a very good way to celebrate after all.
I can hardly describe how marvelous it has been to read the notes and comments that you all have left here over the last few days. Okay, I’ll be perfectly honest: the support and praise and kind words have made my heart swell twelve sizes.
In a good way.
And I couldn’t help but wonder if this wasn’t exactly the same joy that God felt when He stepped back from creation and said “It is good.” A joy that He feels every time we praise Him for His work, a joy that He wants us to experience too.
I’m convinced that something very God-like (dare I say, "godly") happens when we create well and rejoice in each other's work. We are His children after all, made in His image. If He takes delight in creating well, why should we be surprised if when we use our gifts to praise Him and bless others, it results in undeniable and legitimate joy?
I think many of us are suspicious of this joy. As a child, if you performed well, you were probably taught to defer praise, to offer it back in a stumbling returned compliment. If you worked hard and completed a project, you quickly learned to minimize the achievement. And so today, instead of simply saying “Thank you, I love what I do and it’s a privilege to serve you in this way,” we look down at our shoes and mumble obviously awkward phrases like “Praise the Lord” or “It was nothing.”
But what if God is a kind, heavenly Father who actually created us to take joy and delight in the work we do too? Who Himself takes joy in it?
Well, then, that is a joy not to be missed.