Big News!

we live here announcement

P.S. If you enjoy reading the letters I post regularly to my daughters here on the website, I hope you’ll consider helping me spread the word about my most recent book project. It’s the second fifty letters in a tidy 180-page paperback. It makes a great Christmas present!

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The Ninety-Ninth Letter: Hospitality (Worth Saying Again)

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Dear Daughters,

I’ve noticed that there are two areas of normal life practice that I approach in significantly different ways than many of my friends.

One is stranger danger — this idea of seeing others as potential threats to my children.

The other is hospitality — the idea of welcoming others into our space.

They’re two sides of the same coin, as the cliche goes. Because hospitality applies to welcoming strangers in as well as friends. And if we are constantly in a defensive mode related to strangers, how can we ever welcome them in?

Recently it came up in conversation with a friend that she definitely doesn’t have folks into her home unless it is clean. And not just picked up a bit, but clean clean. Whether it’s family or friends or whathaveyou, she and her husband always clean if people are going to come over, even if they’re just stopping in quickly to pick something up.

I, too, understand the desire to present a clean house to others. I absolutely do. It’s why I make you pick up your toys before we have a planned gathering of friends.

But our house is never clean. Not in a thoroughly clean-clean sort of way. Your dad and I don’t make cleaning a priority, and we don’t plan to any time soon.

And not inviting others in is not an option for me.

Not only do we have folks regularly over to our house for meals and book discussions and I have friends in at least weekly to share a cup of tea or talk about our creative journeys, but we are also often opening our door to neighbors stopping by spontaneously for a chat–and then staying awhile.

Recently while we were preparing to host a group for a meal and theology discussion, I was just finishing up getting food together and standing before a sink of dirty dishes, knowing that there was a mess elsewhere in the house that needed to be dealt with. I heard one of you say that a neighbor and her two kids were at the door.

“Well, let her in!” I hollered from the kitchen.

So they came in, and I chatted while I finished washing dishes and putting dry ones away, and the green linoleum stayed sticky, and the only vacuuming that had happened in awhile had been done by the six year old.

But it didn’t matter.

We talked about preschool evaluations, buying organic food, Halloween candy, and she offered to take your astronaut costume back to our other neighbor who lent it to us. When she got ready to leave, one of her children wanted to stay and help with your puzzle instead of leaving. Which was fine with us, and he so he stayed.

Girls, that’s what neighbors do. We open the front door, even when we have a sink of dishes and a group of people arriving within the hour. We don’t pretend we’re not home. We don’t make excuses for why our homes aren’t clean.

We say, hey, y’all, welcome to real life! 

A messy house is the best way to make people feel welcome in your space.

Also, I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: the Gospel doesn’t let you off the hook.

There’s nowhere that you can find in Scripture where God says, “Yeah, this care you must provide to the exile, widow, stranger among you? Don’t worry about doing that if your house isn’t clean. I totally understand messy houses. You’re off the hook.”

No, God says, welcome them to your mess.

Hospitality is about the mess.

If you are only welcoming others into a clean house, you are not welcoming them into real life.

I know a lot of people believe there is such thing as the “gift” of hospitality. People say that sort of thing to me, as if hospitality comes naturally to me. But this idea that some people are good at it and some people aren’t? I don’t see that in Scripture either. Hospitality in Scripture is the default of the people of God. There’s no choice.

And there are whole treatises and books written on how early Christians were known for their hospitality because it was so countercultural. The earliest inns and orphanages and hospitals were Christian people caring for people that the rest of the world thought were sketch. (Obviously, right? Look at the word “hospital.”)

We offer hospitality because God has offered us hospitality by welcoming us to the Table. There’s a reason some traditions call the bread of communion the “Host.”

I have said this so many times, girls, but every time I feel the urge to make an excuse for the state of our house, I know I need to hear the message again.

I am preaching to my own heart.

Because, even for me, the easy option is not to open the door. It’s what I would prefer. I am not an extrovert. I would rather not invite people over. I would rather just say “we should get together sometime” and leave it open and be noncommittal, rather than “how about coming over for tea at 10 am tomorrow?”

But if we’re not welcoming others in, well, there’s no other way to say it: we’re not welcoming Jesus in.

Love,

Your Momma

The Eighty-Third Letter: The Stranger Is Jesus

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Dear Daughters,

I woke up this morning with the weight of a nightmare still hanging around me. I was glad it was nearly time to get out of bed because there was no sleeping to be had after that point. I had dreamt that one of you had gotten abducted out in front of our house. It was strange to watch the whole scene unfold in my dream, and as I woke I was determined to talk to you about stranger danger. I got out of bed, went to the bathroom, headed downstairs, squeezed a lemon into my water, and I was still thinking through the best way to approach the subject with you without making you afraid.

The thing is, I don’t want you to be afraid.

I don’t want you to think every person you don’t know might kidnap you.

I don’t want you to fear the stranger.

This whole stranger-danger thing? I’m just not convinced it’s a good way to raise you, even as my nightmare tapped into one of my own deepest fears–not being able to keep you safe.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being honest and forthright with you about the struggles of life in our broken world. In our house we talk about injustice and poverty and racism. But there’s always a pressure in my chest when I think about trying to talk to you about stranger danger.

And I’ll sound a little preachy on this point, but it’s because of Jesus.

The narrative of scripture reinforces that idea that the stranger is Jesus. From the old Testament story of Abraham welcoming the angels, to Jesus talking about himself being served when we clothe the poor, visit the imprisoned, feed the hungry, it seems to me that the vocation of Christians is to love even in the face of potential dangers. That when we welcome those who are other, those who are different, those who are most in need of hope, we welcome Jesus.

I’m convinced this is not a metaphor.

Today in Sunday school, we talked about the last chapter of Luke, the resurrection appearances of Jesus, including one of my favorite narratives of all of the Gospels: the road to Emmaus. There is such richness to the story, which reads like a parable because it is so full of meaning. The two disciples are met by Jesus on a 7-mile journey, but they don’t recognize him as the risen Christ. Still, he walks along with them. Jesus asks them why they are sad and discouraged, and they respond with surprise,

"Are you the only stranger 
in Jerusalem who has not heard...?"

Are you the only stranger…?

Today, when I read this passage aloud, I heard this line differently than I have in the past. I heard the irony of the question.

Because, of course, Jesus is the stranger.

And then a few verses later comes the revelation of his true identity. How, how is it revealed?

Girls, it is only because the disciples have insisted on being hospitable to the disguised Jesus! They insist on him staying with them because it is late, they welcome the stranger, and then they let the stranger be the one who breaks the bread.

They let the stranger become the host.

They let the stranger offer something to them.

And the stranger is revealed as Jesus in one miraculous moment of bread-breaking. That means bread-sharing, girls.

A shared table. With a stranger.

The choir sang a rendition of O Holy Night today in church as part of the cantata. The line

Chains shall he break, 
for the slave is our brother

gets me every time.

It’s so radical because the slave is the complete other, right? Someone at the bottom, oppressed, at the mercy of captors. It is a good reminder that someone we would recognize as completely other than us is our sister. That the vulnerable is our brother. That the poor is our sister. That the broken and abandoned and lost is our brother. That the lonely is our sister.

That the stranger is our brother.

The stranger.

Jesus is our brother.

Jesus is the stranger.

You know what else is a refrain of scripture, right up there alongside the stranger being Jesus? The command to fear not.

Fear not.

And get this, Jesus had to say that to his disciples, his friends, even when they did recognize him. Because he was showing up in ways they didn’t expect.

Think about that for a minute.

 

Truly, He taught us to love one another,
His law is love, and his gospel is peace.

So, yeah.

I’m going to teach you to fault on the side of love, rather than fear.

I’m going to teach you to fault on the side of kindness, rather than distance.

Girls, I’m going to teach you to fault on the side of welcome and hospitality, rather than avoiding the stranger.

Love,

Your Momma

The Seventy-Ninth Letter: We Live Here

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Dear Daughters,

I cleaned the house a little bit last weekend before your grandparents arrived.

(I hope that sentence doesn’t startle you in a HOLD THE PHONE, YOU DID WHAT? sort of way, because I’d like to believe that by the time you read this letter we are back in a season of regular cleaning and you are able to do your part in that. I spent lots of Saturdays in my teen years cleaning the bathroom and mopping the floors, and I expect you’ll have those chores, too. But yes, for right now, it’s VERY unusual for me to spend time cleaning.)

In fact, I overheard a conversation between the two of you playing make-believe family not that long ago:

Youngest: I have the purse, so I’ll be the mommy.

Oldest: Okay, I’m cleaning, so I’ll be the daddy.

Truth spoken like no other. If the cleaning happens in our house, it’s usually your dad who does it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m good at picking up and putting away—that I do regularly—but I am not the move-the-furniture-deep-clean parent. Not in this season.

And let’s be honest, this weekend, I didn’t clean thoroughly. There was no mopping involved. But I did vacuum the rugs on the main floor and in the bedrooms upstairs, which is a little tricky since our vacuum is prone to overheating and shuts itself off after about 1.5 rooms. I also moved the chairs out from under the table and swept up all the crumbs with a broom. Same in the kitchen. I did a quick wipedown in the bathrooms. I looked around for dust bunnies in the corners and wiped them up with a rag. I didn’t venture to look under the furniture though.

And of course I had a much longer list that I didn’t get to: dusting, dry mopping, wet mopping, cleaning the laundry room.

It’s not that I feel pressure to clean when we have company coming—okay, I do, but not a lot of pressure—it’s mostly that I use company as an occasion to do the things I should probably be doing anyway.

As your Dad’s grandmother reportedly says, “If you’re coming to see me, come on over. If you’re coming to see my house, let me know in advance so I can clean it.”

The thing is, I just don’t clean very much.

There are lots of reasons for this.

One is that I have other priorities for my limited waking hours. I have friends who prioritize cleaning and I’m all for that for them. But if I prioritized cleaning, something would need to give: my time hands-on with you, my hands-on art time, my writing, my reading, my keeping up with community, my volunteering, my sleep, my sanity. I’ve prioritized all of these things over have a clean home.

Knowing all of this, my mom has asked in the past about gifting me with a cleaning service. (I also have lots of friends who pay for someone to clean their homes in order to maintain a standard of clean in the midst of very busy schedules. That’s totally fine.) But girls, I just don’t feel comfortable with that in this season of our life either. I have a hard time articulating why, and I’m hesitant to say this because I don’t want it to sound judgy, especially if you someday have a cleaning service, but the truth is, I really feel like if having a clean house were a priority for me, then I could make time for it in my own schedule. And if I’m not willing to sacrifice reading a novel or painting a canvas (that is, the time I make for doing things I love) for a clean house, then it isn’t important enough to pay someone else to do it. So no. Not in this season.

But there’s something else going on here, too: I really want to be okay with a lived-in, messy house. I don’t want my house to be put-together and clean all the time because that is not real life. I want toys on the floor when someone unexpectedly knocks on the door.

Yeah, okay, I’d rather there not be dishes in the sink and crumbs on the counter and the toilet unflushed, but that’s because I’m prideful. I don’t want others to think I’m messy.

A messy house keeps me humble. On my best days. (On my worst days, it’s a different story.)

Girls, most of the time, I wish it didn’t bother me at all. I wish I could look around and see how amazing our space is, how fortunate we are to have a house that feels like home. It’s quirky and eclectic. It’s comfy and welcoming. It has room for guests. It’s got most of the important things spot on, and who cares about the green, sticky linoleum, right? (Okay, I do. My socks were totally sticking to the floor while I made dinner last night.)

Yes, I wish the mess and the dirt didn’t bother me.

And some days, I even wish I could learn to love the dirt itself.

I wish the smeared yogurt on the table from breakfast, the dried piece of playdoh, the determined old-house spiders that keep making a thin web in the corner by the front door—I wish I could look at all of those things and say,

We live here.

We eat here.

We play here.

We love here.

This is us.

Love,

Your Momma

The Seventy-Third Letter: First Fruits, Time, & Hospitality

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Dear Daughters,

At the beginning of the growing season, every leaf of oregano feels extravagant. The first snap peas, the early lettuce and spinach, and then later, that first red tomato or first summer squash. But as with most things, by the end, when it’s hard to keep up with the produce, when you can’t even give the extras away because everybody has too many tomatoes and too much zucchini, when I am already snipping large handfuls of oregano every day to eat on my eggs, well, at that point, it’s hard to be appreciative of what is before us.

I’ve been thinking about first fruits, about God’s command to the Israelites in Deuteronomy to bring a basket of the first fruits of their harvest to recognize publicly God’s faithfulness to them in the fulfillment of promises. I read that passage this morning and I heard it differently than I’d heard it before, maybe because we’re still savoring every fresh green bean, still astounded at Kentucky tomatoes showing up already at the farmers market. We’re in a season of first fruits.

Girls, it’s hard to give the first fruits away. They’re what you’ve been waiting for. They don’t even taste the best, to be honest, usually those first fruits are picked too early because we are impatient, but we savor them nonetheless, not really wanting to share. So giving them up willingly and publicly? That’s sacrifice.

And then I began to think of the less-literal “first fruits” of my life. Like, say, tithes. I’ve preached this before, being raised in a home that took tithing seriously, tithing off the top, even tithing off my birthday presents and allowance because I was taught that none of what I had was mine to begin with. It was God’s. So yeah, I get that. Financial first fruits.

I am a generous person with my finances. I am also a generous person with food. I love to bake things and give them away. I like to deliver goodies to my neighbors, and I like to involve you in the process.

Already you know the joy of giving. I have also sorted through your belongings: your toys, your clothes, divvied them out among folks we know with younger children, who would want what, where to donate.

We talk about the least fortunate in our house and I want you to know that it is important to give as if nothing belongs to you. These are all interpretations of first-fruits. (Though I suppose hand-me-downs sound like last-fruits, the truth is that most of what you have is also hand-me-down, so we’re going with the analogy anyway.)

But, I’ll confess, I did come up with a doozy of a first-fruit that isn’t so easy to quantify and isn’t so easy to say I’m a pro at giving away. Know what that is? My time.

Seriously, girls, am I willing to give the first fruits of my time?

Let’s go here:

How about when I’m tired and grouchy? When my to-do list is long? When the neighbor swings by unexpectedly? When we get that text inviting us to come and splash in the kiddie pool? When a friend needs a ride to the bank? When the mailman wants to chat? When I really want to go for a run? When, for crying out loud, I really just want to go to the bathroom by myself or drink my hot tea hot?

Is that too much to ask?

I usually feel this well up in my soul in capital letters, but I’ll scale back here, though I do think this needs to be said again.

Is it too much to ask to keep some time to myself?

Well, I cry a little bit inside when I pause and consider it, because guess what?

The answer is yes. It IS too much to ask.

My time isn’t mine to begin with. So when I squeeze a few minutes extra out of a day, metaphorically speaking, am I using it for me or for others? (To be clear: It’s not that I’m down on self-care. Sometimes I do need a nap. Self-care is important. That’s a topic for another day.)

But I know that I personally need to be careful because it’s not my instinct to give time away. It’s my instinct to turn inward, to look at all I need to do, and see others as an interruption, even to see you as an interruption sometimes, when I’m being honest.

And people are not interruptions.

Your dad and I decided to host weekly picnics this summer. It won’t be convenient. Community rarely is. Sometimes people won’t show up. Sometimes people will show up and there won’t be enough food. Sometimes you’ll get sand in your hair because one of the littler kids dumps it on your head. Sometimes it will be hot and buggy and nobody will want the fire to be lit for s’mores.

When I sent out the email announcing the picnic to a variety of folks we know from around town, church, the college, our neighborhood, one of my friends emailed back: “I’m so impressed by your energy!”

Say what?

What is this energy of which you speak?

Me? I don’t have energy. Not enough, that’s for sure. And it’s not my instinct to not invite people in. (Okay, that’s not true. My instincts are pretty spot-on: I’ve got the instinct to invite people in. It’s just that I usually can talk myself out of it for all kinds of practical and very good reasons. Which is why we decided on the standing invitation, because you can’t talk yourself out of it once it’s been put out there into the universe.)

Girls, I really believe that if we had a first-fruits view of time—that it isn’t ours to begin with but that symbolically the little that we do have, that first bit of extra and abundance we are lucky enough to harvest in our too-busy lives, needs to go back to God for kingdom work and community building—well, the kingdom of God would be a much more hospitable and welcoming place.

We would have real community. We would have relationships with people who are not like us. We would welcome the stranger into our midst and that stranger would become a friend. We would not hoard our time into vacations and extravagant hobbies but into conversations over fences. Church wouldn’t just be a building on the corner (and definitely not across town from the suburbs where we reside) but also a front porch swing where our shared stories transform into holy moments.

Our tables would be more often shared than not shared. Bread would not be broken in front of a television but over a firepit. Cookies wouldn’t be eaten in seclusion in a closet so children didn’t hear the chewing (no idea who does that) but delivered to the neighbor who just had the new baby or the mom trying to get by while her husband is on the nightshift.

Girls, we all have people in our lives who need a bit of our time. And I’m not saying we need to squeeze community and hospitality into already busy lives. I’m saying we’ve got a certain amount of time allotted to us and the first-fruits don’t belong to us and our binge-watching Amazon and Netflix.

And that’s not the message I want to hear most days.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

The Forty-Ninth Letter: Sharing Our Table

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Dear Daughters,

A few days ago, the preschooler told me that we needed to invite some people over for dinner because we hadn’t had anyone over in such a long time.

This was said very dramatically, as most things you say are these days.

I told you that you were right—we really should invite people over for dinner because it is always good to share our table—and I told you that you were wrong—because it hadn’t been a long time. Just last Thursday, we had a table full of college students here eating vegetarian chili and cornbread. And the week before that, we’d shared Thai food with your crazy aunties, some of our best friends. And on Wednesday nights we eat dinner at church with a room full of people.

We share our table pretty frequently. Maybe it’s more than the average family. I don’t know what is “normal” for other people.

Still, I think you’re on to something.

Because we don’t share our table as often as we should.

Back before we had children, your dad and I went through a phase of setting an extra place at the table at meal times. I think this was when we had a friend living with us, but even so, the extra place was intentionally extra. What I mean is, if our housemate was joining us for a meal, we’d set two extra places.

The extra plate was symbolic. You could say it was the place set for Jesus, who offers us hospitality as the Host and comes to us as the stranger, but I’ll admit that sounds a little cheesy.

I’d rather like to think of that extra place setting as a symbol of our willingness to share our table, as an act of faith saying there will always be enough, as an act of flexibility in hospitality, being “light on our feet” as our old church used to say. There was a lot tied up in that extra plate.

But it always felt a little forced, a little too symbolic maybe, and we didn’t keep up the tradition.

And now a few years have gone by.

When your dad and I are being thoughtful and deliberate in our home life these days, when we aren’t too overwhelmed by the chaos of life in general, we share our table pretty often. We invite people in, we deliver food out.

But when life happens and we get busy and less thoughtful, less deliberate, when we have weeks like the last few, it gets really hard to even notice when the table is empty. When it’s just the four of us. When deciding what to make for dinner feels like a chore. It’s easy to forget how much excess we are keeping to ourselves.

It’s in those seasons of chaos that your dad and I decide to do outrageous things like schedule a new college ministry—a weekly reading group—to meet at our house on Thursday nights, and commit to offering dinner to the students who come early for it. Every week.

We knew when we kicked off the reading group last week that it wouldn’t always be convenient, and that was kind of the point. The things that are important aren’t usually convenient, because they take time, and they force us to focus on other people. Not ourselves. Not just our little family.

Probably most weeks I wouldn’t feel like standing in the kitchen for an hour chopping vegetables to put into a crockpot of soup or using quiet time to make fresh bread, but we have this conviction, even in the chaos, that it is important to do the inconvenient thing, to allow ourselves to be inconvenienced for the sake of community, for the sake of cultivating relationships, of being hospitable, of saying, yes, you are welcome here, alongside us, even when we are tired from insomnia or harried from a long work day or scattered because our children are in pajamas and running around like crazy animals or we haven’t packed any of our suitcases yet and we are leaving the next day for a weekend in Pennsylvania. (Sigh. Let’s pretend those are all theoretical situations.)

And so the crockpot is full of potato soup as I type this.

And I’m pretty tired.

And here I sit, looking forward to an evening of table sharing, and I still don’t think we share our table often enough.

Because these are the questions I can’t get away from:

How often did Christ share a table with others? How often did he break bread and bless it and provide nourishment? How often did he eat with the unlovely, the broken, the most in need? And, maybe most convicting, how often does he welcome me to his Table? 

That’s how open our dining room table should be, girls. That’s how open our hearts, our lives, our homes should be.

But the potato soup is a start.

And there will be fresh bread this afternoon.

Love,

Your Momma

 

The Fourteenth Letter: Privacy Fences

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Dear Daughters,

We hired a local company to put up a fence for us a few weeks ago.

We’d talked about it for awhile, mostly in terms of safety and keeping you hemmed in a bit, but we knew it would have to be a pretty long fence and we couldn’t decide how to partition off the yard.

Houses in our 1950s neighborhood are pretty close together–though not nearly as close as those of most of my suburbia friends. Still, on one side, we’ve got a double driveway separating us from our neighbors. Or “joining us intimately to our neighbors” is perhaps a better way to put it, given the impossibility of keeping our lives separate from theirs, even if we wanted to. So there’s no place for a fence on that side.

On the other side, well, we’ve got an extra lot. It’s all wonderful green grassy yard, except the part we’ve dug up to plant a garden and the old, precariously still-standing trees. On that extra lot is a decades-old swing set, the pine-tree-green painted metal kind I played on as a kid. Perhaps because it is such a retro swing set, or because that extra lot is also on the corner of our block, the neighbor kids like to swing on it.

We’ve welcomed and encouraged them to play in our yard for the five years we’ve lived in this house, but it’s really only been this summer that they’ve finally started doing so. It helped that it got so hot back on mother’s day weekend that we got out the impressive kiddie pool and acquired a sandbox. But even during the preceding weeks, that ancient swing set became the highlight of the neighborhood, it seemed.

The more the yard got used by you and by the neighbors, the more we really wanted a fence. A picket fence. Four feet tall. Spaces between each slat. It wasn’t to block everyone out, just to keep them safer.

So we had a local fencing company come and give us an estimate, and then finally, after many weeks of rain, they arrived to build the fence. We knew they would do it in two days–the first day, placing all the big brace posts, and the second day, putting up all the pickets. It would seem miraculous.

And it kind of was.

Except that the posts they sunk into the ground the first day were all eight-footers. Eight-foot posts, every few feet, all the way around the immense side yard. It looked like we were building a fortress.

The truth is, I kind of judge people who have privacy fences, at least the kind of privacy fences that are keeping their yards private from the road. Sure, I understand putting up a tall fence along property lines–that’s what we did along the back, given the plethora of sheds and outbuildings and a leaky swimming pool our neighbors to the rear have–but, well, privacy fences are just so unwelcoming.

Which I suppose is the point.

After that first day, with these enormous posts in our yard, I worried that people might be judging us. I wanted to shout at every car that drove by: “Wait until tomorrow! It’s not a privacy fence! I promise! It will be pretty! Don’t judge us!

And that is ridiculous, I realize. Nobody cares what kind of fence you put in your yard. At least, most people don’t. I tried to reassure myself.

But then a friend of mine came to visit that afternoon, and one of the first things she said, when I pointed out that the posts would be cut down to four feet tall, once the pickets were up, was “I was going to say, you sure don’t seem like privacy fence kind of people.”

Then we invited neighbors over for an impromptu dinner out in the yard, and one of them said, looking at the eight-foot posts, “I didn’t think you seemed like privacy fence people.

So apparently I’m not the only one who has a category of “privacy fence people” in their minds.

The good news: We don’t seem like those kind of people.

The bad news: Our posts made us look like those kind of people.

It didn’t matter in the long run, of course. Within two days, we had the fence built and trimmed down to size. But it did get me thinking about what “kind of people” we are and how we present ourselves to our neighborhood.

We’re community folks. We’re hospitality folks. We’re it’s-okay-to-invite-friends-in-for-dinner folks. But do our neighbors know that?

I can say that I want our yard to be a welcoming place for the neighbor kids, but I don’t know the names of our older neighbors directly across the street from us. It’s awkward, five years in, but we’ve remained in that wave-from-a-distance kind of relationship. Trying to remedy this, I did walk their little dog back over to their house the other day when she showed up in our yard, and as a result I learned the dog’s name is Daisy. The dog’s name.

It’s a start, I guess.

I’m glad that people who know us know that we aren’t privacy fence people.

But what kind of people are we? Well, I suppose that’s always a good question to ask yourself.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

The Eighth Letter: Messy Houses & Being Real

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Dear Daughters,

When I was a little girl, I spent a few days each summer at Grandma and Pappy Lehman’s house. I walked in the morning with my grandma and her TOPS friends, learned how to weed a garden, played UNO in the evenings. Each summer, we’d spend a few hours cleaning her spoon collection. I slept in the purple bedroom at the end of the hall.

One of the best things about visiting Gram and Pap’s was getting to go to work with Gram because Gram was a cleaning lady.

I loved going into those big empty houses. They were never very messy or dirty, but that’s probably because Gram cleaned them regularly. My favorites were the ones that seemed like mansions to me at the time, the biggish homes in upper-middle class suburbia. The master bedroom beds were all incredibly high, which always seemed so fancy to me. I have friends who live in those kinds of houses now.

I don’t know if visiting Gram is when I learned to clean or not, but I sure did learn to clean early on. Cleaning—vacuuming, mopping, dusting, toilets, sinks—and doing dishes and sorting laundry and stripping the bed and remaking it: I don’t remember not knowing how to do these things.

Of course, I still know how to do them.

But I rarely do them. Only when absolutely necessary.

Or so it seems.

We bought this house in 2010, so we’re in our fifth year here, and I’m pretty sure it’s only been cleaned thoroughly twice—both times by your grandma, immediately following one of your births. By “thoroughly,” I mean that the baseboards were wiped down, the windows shined up, the closets sorted through.

It just isn’t a priority for me.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that I don’t prefer a clean house. I like things to be picked up, and I don’t like the mess. I hate feeling the dirt under my bare feet and it annoys me when I find the shirt I want to wear in the dirty laundry basket.

In fact, having the house a wreck really does bother me and stresses me out. Just ask your dad. I especially freak out about the house being a mess when we are about to have people over.

Part of this is because I was raised in an exceptionally clean house with a bathroom that got scrubbed down every week, and this set the standard a bit too high for my own mental health.

And part of this is because I’m embarrassed to let people see my mess.

I wish the latter weren’t the case, but there you have it.

I distinctly remember visiting a friend of mine in Texas and walking into her kitchen to get something to drink. The sink was piled so full of dirty dishes that I couldn’t use the faucet to fill my water glass. I thought to myself, Wow, I really wish I was relaxed enough to have people over with this big of a mess in my kitchen. And then I thought, No, I don’t.

That was before I had children.

Girls, having you in my space perpetually disrupting things and making a mess—for example, pulling the books off a bookshelf I’ve just restocked—has chilled me out a little bit. A very little bit.

If I know people are coming over, I tend to do a quick once-over of wiping up crumbs, throwing all the loose toys into the nearest box or bin, putting the dirty dishes into the sink, if there is room in the sink. Sometimes I even look into the toilet bowl just to make sure it’s been flushed. Sometimes.

But you know what?

Sometimes people stop by unexpectedly. And the house is a mess.

That is life.

Recently, our friends stopped in with their new baby. Of course, I invited them in. I had to step out of the room for a minute when the nine-month-old woke from her nap, and when I came back in, our friend said, “I was just saying that I really love that your house isn’t picked up. It makes me feel so much better.”

That, girls, is profound. People need to know that life isn’t perfect. That it’s messy sometimes, maybe even most of the time.

If your friends—and heck, strangers—only ever see you with your hair done, with your car clean, your books in alphabetical order on our bookshelf, your life all put together, then they’ll never be able to be real with you. And real life is so messy.

So go ahead and disinfect that toilet bowl and throw your dirty clothes in the washing machine. I’m not saying you should be a bum. But I am saying you should be real.

And sometimes the ring inside the toilet bowl is what’s real.

Love,

Your Momma