House For Six

That One Lent When God Held Up A Really Dirty Mirror

Deme Crinion17 Comments
I predicted this Lent to be mediocre at best.  In past years I've made hard and fast commitments for those 40 days.  You know, easily measured....be in bed by 10pm...social media hiatus....a daily rosary....make a meal for a friend once a week..personal spending freeze..

But this year, as I prayed about where to focus my Lenten commitments, I kept coming back to more of a general theme than specifics:


better serve my family

Doesn't that sound nice?  I figured God had a little attitude tweaking in store and we could look back on those 40 days with lots of fluff and warm fuzzies.  Probably wouldn't be super painful or amazingly fruitful but hey, not every Lent is a showstopper.

And that is not at all how it went down. 

It started out quiet enough.  The conviction about better serving my family stemmed from a few things I knew needed attention...

- A morning person I am not.  Being completely dead to the world while my husband attempted to get dressed for his JOB whilst serving as a human jungle gym to our early rising boys was not making for smooth mornings.

- I had mastered the art of thinking about meal planning without doing any actual planning...which translated to dinnertime stress, food waste, and over spending on groceries.

- That small uprooting life change known as our cross country move, had left me all but allergic to touching any and all moving boxes.  Or the growing piles that resulted from unpacking them.

It's not that I didn't want to do these things or even failed to recognize them as my responsibility or things that would help our family.  I was just overwhelmed. Really overwhelmed. 

The kids felt it, but I think James felt it most of all.  Seriously, he's such a good man.  He never once asked me to do anything.  He just tried to pick up the slack and carry us in addition to working his already stressful full-time job.  Basically, best guy ever.  I will stop gushing over him, but he deserved better.  Not a perfect wife (he'll never have that), but he at least deserved his partner in the game.

As I started to make changes in these small areas (which I thought were the sum of my Lenten focus), God chuckled and showed his hand - there's was a lot more in store.

He didn't flip the tables of my life over in an angry, clearing the Temple sort of way.  It was more of a "things are out of order, so lets shake them back into place" way.  It was painful.  It demanded humility.  But it's also flooded my soul with grace.  Grace as a mother who's been struggling to keep her head above water with sweet littles for the past couple years.....as a wife who's been exhausted with not much left to give to her relationships at the end of the day....and as a daughter of Christ who had been seeking affirmation and approval in all the wrong places.

First came conviction about my attitude towards the blog....

The blog started out as a much needed creative/writing outlet for me during a time when I was buried in diapers and had little people hanging on me around the clock.  Putting my efforts towards making over our fixer of a house and being able to write again was amazing.  And connecting with other people who shared my organizing OCD and love of fabrics and paint was pretty incredible too. 

Then the blog saw a smidge of success and recognition.  Suddenly, (in my own brain) it went from creative outlet to a way to potentially help our family.  And because I can not do things half way, that distinction was a major shift for me.  If I'm going to write a blog people other than my family see, then I don't want it to suck.  And having readers means I have a responsibility to put out good content on a regular basis.  Slowly something that was once joyful became load bearing.  SEO, blog stats, networking, pin-worthy images, tweaking my ideas to what I thought people wanted. It was a whole lot of striving. 

There were times, I realized how much I had let it affect our home life and consume my thoughts.  So, I stepped back.  I combined our two blogs and changed the name.  I lost some readers when that happened and ever since have felt like we've needed another big feature to get us out there like the YHL feature that lead to our nook being featured in This Old House Magazine.  And it's felt a bit like hitting a brick wall.  We've had a few wonderful features, but I've felt like we just can't break through (to what, I'm not even sure).   

I had to wonder....have I been seeking the wrong path all this time?  It's so dang humbling when God allows us to keep charting our own course that we are convinced is His way for us, when all the while He's waiting for us to look up and see where His hand is really pointing. 


James and I have talked about how our life and the needs of our home should drive the blog, not the other way around.  I would do the projects I thought would get a good response (and were more fun) over the things that needed to be done around the house.  I held myself to a posting schedule that wasn't always realistic and made me feel anxious about having enough good content to share.  Which ended up forcing me right into a creative freeze.  I questioned whether my ideas would be what people wanted.  I scoured blogs/websites/magazines for inspiration....and after awhile I think I forgot what I actually liked, and certainly why I started doing this in the first place. 

In the middle of Lent I had an epiphany of sorts.  It was the first time we had family friends over in our new place.  And you know what I was concerned about before they arrived?  Not what they would think of that DIY art on the wall or our dark navy paint choice in the living room.  No.  I wanted them and their 6 children to walk in and feel at home.  I wanted them to feel like they could sit down and put their feet up, bust open a board game on the dining room table, not worry about whether or not they should take off their shoes.  

And it struck me that the popular glam spaces I've been drawn to because they're so shiny-pretty were not at all what I wanted in my own home.  For me, those spaces are beautiful, but can often seem unapproachable. I realize this sounds completely lame, but for someone who blogs about making home, this was completely freeing.  I could finally just appreciate those pretty spaces without feeling the need or pressure to replicate it in my own home.  Light bulb back on.

It's been during this Lent that I finally realized what I want our home to be and in that moment I was also able to let go of what I wanted or thought the blog should be.  I was operating out of fear.....of not being able to "hang" with the bloggers in my genre, of losing readers, of missing something on social media, of failing or not being liked....it was like Jr. High up in here!  I had wasted SO. MUCH. TIME. striving to make the blog something it's not.  Time I could have spent with my family, actually improving the function of our home...time being content.  

It all came back to serving my family.....how much time had I spent escaping into the blog world to avoid my responsibilities around the home?  No one else knew that I didn't' make dinner..or wash those shirts my daughter needed for school...or immediately get up from the computer to break up an argument.  It was easier to "check on something" for the blog than vacuum the living room or teach my kids about cleaning up after themselves.


As if realizing how much time I spent avoiding my own life via the blog weren't hard enough, then came the real blow (Yes, there's more). God began to show me all the ways I had been giving the best of myself to everything but my family.  And how it had left them with a worn out, cranky mom/wife. 

Part of that is just my personality. When James and I were first married we did Life Teen Youth Ministry together for a couple years.  Our church didn't even have a high school youth program, so we teamed up with a small group of people and built one from the ground up.

And that's just how it seems to go....

I should join a mom's group...oh, you need a new head organizer?  Sure I'll do it.  

Think we should have a women's Bible study? Sure I'll lead it.
  
Need someone to sponsor a young lady going through RCIA?  How can I say no.  

The American Heritage Girl's needs a Kindergarten leader?  I guess - sign me up.

Married to a high school football coach?  Of course we'll be at every game.

Have time for a little contracting work from home on the side?  Why not....it will help our family.  Right?


Now this is sounding like a resume.  A bad one.  There is no way that anyone can successfully do all of those things (and at one point, I was indeed doing ALL of those things in addition to the blog) and still be a full time wife/mom without something paying the price.  I'll let you guess what that was.  
 

In many ways, I took my family for granted.  They were there, and we could chalk up survival as success.

The depth of my selfishness and neglect of my vocation (wife/mom) was painful to face.  Some (hey, mom) might say that I wasn't that bad, but we each know our own hearts.   I've spent a lot of time trying to escape the reality of my life.  My very good, very blessed life.  I certainly wasn't neglectful and my children know they are loved, but there were just so many moments where I was present without being present - know what I mean?

Over the past couple years, I've often heard God asking..."Deme, is it enough?  Is it enough for you to just be a wife and a mother?".  As a wife and mother there will be seasons when it's necessary to cut way back (or even completely cut off) your outside commitments.  I'm not talking about taking a hiatus from meeting with friends and abandoning community.  But that place where you know you're doing too much and it starts taking a toll on your family.  When you can't remember the last time you went out for an afternoon of unscheduled spontaneous fun (because your calendar was actually open).  Or where you are so overwhelmed by your life that you can't. do. anything.

The wonderful thing about the mirror God holds up for us is that it's not about revealing the ugly image of your heart that you've been avoiding and shaming you into changing your ways.  No.  It's more like a story book..where you see those days you walked without a guide...the moments you didn't see the loving Shepherd right next to you all along.....the times you looked for affirmation and worth and escape in things that ultimately left you raged and worn....a story where you are also shown the path to restoration.  

This has been my Lent.  The gentle retelling of my story as a mother, a wife, and a woman over the past couple years and of Christ's invitation to resume his yolk.  A lighter load.  A simpler, joy-filled life.

Please understand, this was not about looking back and realizing that I should not have committed to any of those things.  Life was a bit crazy but there were still things I wanted to do.   Good things that God calls us to do - use our gifts to serve our communities, be involved in our kids activites, volunteer, seek opportunties to grow in our faith, explore our interests and passions.

The problem was not my effort, it was the target.   God was calling me to do all of those things, to use my gifts and talents.  They were just supposed to be aimed first and foremost at my family.  And then (maybe) to other places.

Every family is different, but personally James and I always felt that if we could, we wanted to have a parent home full time with the kids.  Based on our individual career paths and each of our desires, we're blessed with James' job which allows us to do just that.

But I often joke that I was a much better parent before I actually had kids.  Answers to parenting dilemmas and Mama concerns are so simple...before you actually have them.   Even with our first (very easy) baby I was admittedly a bit of a parenting snob.  At least in my head.  But nothing like having two boys 15 months apart, rounding things off to 3 kids, 3 years old and younger to knock you right off that high horse.

The past few years have been survival in the toddler trenches. There is absolutely a level of "just make it through the day" that is part of those years and we all need breaks to be able to stay in the fight.   For me, the pace, commitments, and expectations left my tank at zero.  When you are directing your energy in so many different directions, it can make even the small ways of caring for homes and the people in them, really big and stressful.

When I followed this vague prompting to better serve my family this Lent, something happened.  God changed my heart.  I didn't want a break anymore, I wanted to be with them.  Not that I won't ever (desperately) need a break again, but it was no longer an all consuming feeling.  As I started to put my primary focus back on my family, I found joy and energy in serving them again.  It's still hard and some things (like getting out of bed in the morning) go against my nature, but I know that my heart is back where it should be.  It's looking into their big eyes when they tell me a story, instead of glancing up from a screen.  

As mothers, we can find a lot of judgement whirling around.  It makes me sad.  Because whether you work outside the home full time, stay home full time or something in between, we are all just trying to do the best we can.  Motherhood can be a hard, lonely job and we need each other to help us stay the course and hand us a nice big glass of wine after one of those day.   And we can all let our priorities shift out place.  I'm thankful for the gentle, albeit painful reminder for me, that was the Lent of 2014. 




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