Staying with Grace
I've been trying to write a blog post for over a week now, but the words keep escaping me. What can I say to you, friends, that you're not already experiencing yourselves? Yes, it's hard to stay home all the time. No, nothing much has changed in the past few weeks. Yes, some days are harder than others. No, I'm not handling everything well either.
Sometimes I think we're doing great. We already homeschool, so that was something stable in our little world. I'm grateful that we can stay in touch with friends and family through technology, and I'm so thankful that we can still get together with our church family on Sunday mornings online. Having James here with us, teaching from home, has been an absolute joy. He brings encouragement to all of us every day -- playing board games with the girls, giving my parents a hand when they need it, and always there to listen to me and make me laugh.
Other days I can feel myself coming apart a little bit. I give in to tears or make frequent visits to the bowl of cookie dough in the refrigerator when I'm frustrated or discouraged. I stay up too late at night and struggle to get out of bed in the morning. I had a near panic attack sitting in my car at the Walgreen's drive-thru last Monday as I watched the clerk bag up my dad's medication and place my change into an envelope, suddenly wondering if both were covered with the virus. James and I are the only ones who run errands right now so that my parents can stay safe, both of them being in the high risk group due to their age and health issues. I've had nights when I couldn't sleep for worrying over whether we're doing enough.
And then this passage from Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist spoke to me last weekend:
"It's easy to be liked by strangers. It's very hard to be loved and connected to the people in your home when you're always bringing them your most exhausted self and resenting the fact that the scraps you're giving them aren't cutting it....It seems to me that one of the great hazards is quick love, which is actually charm. We get used to smiling, hugging, bantering, practicing good eye contact. And it's easier than true, slow, awkward, painful connection with someone who sees all the worst parts of you. Your act is easy. Being with you, deeply with, is difficult. It is better to be loved than admired. It is better to be truly known and seen and taken care of by a small tribe than adored by strangers who think they know you in a meaningful way. We know that's true. But many of us, functionally, have gotten that math wrong in one season or another....Quick charm will always be easier for me than deep connection. People out there are easier than the ones in here. But quick charm is like sugar -- it rots us. It winds us up and leaves us jonesing, but it doesn't feed us. Only love feeds us. And love happens over years, repetitive motions, staying, staying, staying. Showing up again. Coming clean again, being seen again. That's how love is built....It's all in here, not out there."
I've wondered if one reason why this temporary life change is so difficult is because all the coping mechanisms that we've used for so long are being stripped away. When you're confined to your house with your family for days on end, there's no room for quick charm. Even worse, your quirks and irritations and insecurities have nowhere to hide. You have to deal with them and so do the people you love. And though right now we have no choice except to stay where we are, there's a big difference between staying resentfully and staying with grace. I can be a very generous, patient person on social media . . . over the phone . . . when I'm all by myself. It's harder to be any of that when the dogs are barking incessantly and the sink is full of dirty dishes and the girls are fighting with me and each other. My family needs my love, and the truth is that sometimes I feel so worn out that it seems like I can't even muster the will to try. But I have to keep trying, even when the best I can say is, "I'm cranky and tired and not happy with you right now, but I'm going to love you anyway because you're mine." I've told my girls so many times that love isn't a feeling; it's what we choose to do. I'm learning that lesson over and over again these days.
But like I said, there are good things happening at our house too. So let's talk about some of them...
1. Quarantine is delicious. I've been cooking so much more and making a greater variety of food. We've also been eating more meals together as a family which is wonderful. Preparing food for seven people each day can quickly become an endless job, so I've started making a large meal at lunch which can then be stretched for leftovers at dinner. Mom makes a loaf of her famous oatmeal bread in our bread machine almost every day, and we use any stale slices that don't get eaten to make croutons for salad. A big pot of soup or stew can last us for two days or more, and every now and then I'll make extra pans of pasta bake or enchiladas that can go in the freezer to be pulled out on a day when I'm too tired or busy to cook. All in all, I think we're wasting less food and making better use of our groceries than we have in ages, and that feels pretty great.
2. Time stuck at home is the perfect chance to tackle all the jobs that we've been putting off because we didn't have the time. James has been working on replacing old sink drains in the upstairs bathrooms. I'm deep cleaning our closet for the first time since we moved in five years ago and slowly getting my sewing space reorganized. It feels fantastic to get some of these jobs finished after they've been on my to-do list for so long. On the other hand, though, I'm not freaking out over dog hair on the floor and a cluttered pantry stuffed full of food and paper products right now because nobody's going to see it but us. So it's good to walk that balance between taking on some long overdue organizational projects while not going crazy over the day-to-day stuff.
3. Being together as a family is the best. For a few days the pool was (just barely) warm enough to go swimming, so we made the most of it. James has been taking the girls outside after lunch or in the afternoon to play basketball, soccer, foursquare, or just walk laps around the front circle. Sometimes we go for walks as a family, and sometimes my husband and I go out for a "date walk" while my parents stay home with the girls. Almost every night we watch a show or movie together. Since my eighth grader is studying World War II, we've been introducing the girls to some old movies from the time period that are favorites of ours. The girls have enjoyed To Be or Not to Be and Casablanca, and we had some great discussions about both films. I've also been reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder aloud to the family while the girls take turns practicing hairstyles on me in the evenings before bed. It's been interesting to talk about the Ingalls family's isolation brought on by blizzards versus our quarantine due to the virus. We all agree that we definitely have it better than they did.
4. Quiet time is good for the soul. I find that I make it through the day much better when I start and end with some simple encouragement. So before I face the news on my laptop in the morning, I read my Bible for a few minutes as I drink my coffee. And each night before I head to bed, I spend some time at my desk writing my thoughts down in a journal and reading a short devotion from Each New Day by Corrie ten Boom, a woman of deep faith whose writings have meant so much to me over the years (read her book The Hiding Place if you haven't already -- it's unforgettable). These small, quiet moments have been anchors for my soul. Some days they're the only thing keeping me from flying all to pieces, and they're habits I want to keep even after this crazy time is over.
5. Sewing still makes me happy. The days are busier than I would have expected, but I still try to sneak off to my sewing machine when I can. Making pretty little things just because I want to is such a wonderful way to spend an hour, and it always lifts my spirits.
I'm thinking of you often, friends. You're always in my prayers. Be safe and well, and know that you're loved.