Living Between Two Sins—Messy vs. Immaculate

Not long ago, we hosted dinner guests. I had already determined that I wouldn’t be doing extensive preparation for them for many reasons:

  1. I’m busy and tired and don’t particularly enjoy housework anyway.
  2. They have a small child and know the challenges that go with keeping house while child-rearing; I relied on the “mom sympathy” card heavily.
  3. It really is all about the fellowship and conversation.

As I quickly vacuumed (the centers of the rooms and high traffic areas) about an hour before they arrived, I remembered how Chris and I used to clean and scrub and prepare for hours on end for dinner guests. It would take us at least 5 hours or so to clean a 900 sq. foot apartment, set the table, and prepare the meal. We never conveniently closed doors or shoved something out of sight.

(In hindsight, now, I wonder, What were we doing?)

Mostly I remember being exhausted as we sat down to dinner and to enjoy our guests. I was tired, not to mention I had hours of clean-up ahead of me (by the time I handwashed my china, crystal, tablecloths, and napkins, of course).

I still have a twinge of guilt today when I don’t put in that amount of time and work to prepare for guests.

So, there’s that side of me: the side that actually wants to out-do and impress but calls it “southern hospitality” in order to sanitize the underlying sin. Perhaps some have purer motives of sacrificing for others, but I can freely admit mine are tainted. While I do want people to feel comfortable and “special” in my home, I think I’m a bit more motivated to have them think well of me.

And then there’s the other side of me that somehow rebels against the grain of “nothing’s worth it.” About ten years ago, my parents stopped doing much at all to celebrate Christmas. Of course, they still enjoy the holiday with all of us, but they stopped hanging any sort of decorations (tree or otherwise). They stopped getting any type of gifts for the adult children and stopped the fun tradition of stocking stuffers.

One year my mom talked us into having ham biscuits and fruit—a “finger foods” kind of buffet instead of a sit-down meal because it was “less trouble.” Last year, my sister and I said, “No way!” when the ham and biscuit suggestion came up. We have since commandeered the menu and come up with our own solution about what constitutes a Christmas dinner. Call us high maintenance but we like a plated, hot meal together since we only get to have it twice a year.

So, I guess what I’m saying is I have a hard time reconciling all of this. I read blogs who speak of creating elaborate meals on the fine china eaten in Sunday best; especially at Christmas, we are to “go all out” because we are welcoming a King.

I get that. I do. But I have to say that sometimes I struggle to be free enough to say that I’m OK with eating on Chinet paper plates because I’m tired or have demanding children or a full schedule or whatever. And I don’t like feeling condemned for a cluttered laundry room and plastic cutlery use.

Yet I believe our loved ones are worth the effort. To me, a sweetly-folded paper napkin can represent as much thoughtfulness as a cloth swan; a remembered tradition can be as reverent as showing up to dinner in a three-piece suit.

This Christmas, as I sit right now surrounded by littered carpets, toothpaste-splattered bathroom mirrors and multiple baskets of unfolded laundry, I am searching. Searching for a middle ground between two sins: one of apathy to the point of disregard and one of superficiality to the point of extreme self-centeredness.

Quite possibly, my Christmas guests this year will have to step over a pile of laundry to eat a meal on china—or something like that.

Photo credit: wax115 from morguefile.com

What Do You See On Your Front Porch?

What’s In Your House? Weekly Link-up

This week’s writing prompt for the weekly link-up:

What do you see on your front porch (or main exterior entryway) of your house? What’s the potential for creativity there? How might God use your front porch for great purposes?

My response:

I managed to pick a super-hard first writing prompt for my very own first meme link-up. I chose the front porch for us all to examine and upon which to write.

This space “in my house” is hard to write about because, well, when I look at my front porch I see—literally—decay and neglect.

The pair of urns are still sitting in the same spots from last summer with dead leaves and vines crawling down their sides. They look horrible. I have dead leaves piled in the crevices of the corners of porch and cobwebs lining the small window panes that frame the front door. A neighbor pointed out the other day that we also have two wasps’ nests in the upper corners of our porch roof.

Doesn’t it sound lovely? Don’t you want to pay me a visit? :)

Nevertheless, I must examine my front porch in the spirit of this meme.

What in the world does my disgusting, neglected front porch tell me about God’s purposes for me? What about my front porch inspires creativity?

Front porches are symbolic of hospitality. A welcoming front porch, stoop, and door seem to beckon the outside in. We can all picture in our minds the front porch of homespun tranquility with waving flags, creaking rocking chairs, and crisp, white railing.

Yet my disheveled front porch is a more authentic display of who I really am.

I’m a mess. I struggle with the effects of decay. I suffer from “parched foliage” due to neglect of soul-feeding yet overstay my usefulness and wallow in past failures, just as those dead plants parked on my porch.

I love bright, cheerful porches with pots of geraniums and ferns announcing a welcome. I want a stand-out front door in an unexpected red or yellow or green. I want to be hospitable and open and inviting.

I’m not sure exactly what about my front porch inspires me to creativity or sparks a business endeavor. I do know this, though: I want to work hard enough at the things I’m good at so that I can either free up an extra hour in my week (or pay someone for that hour’s work) to keep my plants alive and make them look pretty.

Regardless, I want the front porch of my heart to be always ready to receive what God may give. I want to experience the new fruit of life and the freedom from dead vines that easily entangle. I’m ready to move out the dead potted plants so that God can create in me a hearty, new flower garden of vitality.

Your turn now …

  • Post your link to this week’s writing challenge below.
  • Link back here on your blog.
  • Visit some of the other posts and leave some words of encouragement for the writers in their comments’ sections.

Thanks for participating!

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Writing prompt for next week:

What do you see in your bank account? What’s the potential for creativity there? How might God use your bank account for great purposes?

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The Role of the Ordinary in the Story of Elisha and the Widow

I told you about how I named this blog in yesterday’s post. I told you the story of Elisha and the widow from 2 Kings 4.

One of the most important aspects of the passage—I believe—is the role of the ordinary.

What’s more basic than oil and jars?

God’s all about using the ordinary to do extraordinary things.

I believe that God chooses to operate against the backdrop of ordinaryness so that his glory shines forth that much more.

What are some ordinary things that God has used? Some of them include:Role of the Ordinary in the Story of Elisha and the Widow. God uses the ordinary for extraordinary purposes.

  • a baby in a barn wrapped in rags
  • water, wine, bread
  • words and language to record his glory and revelation

Recently in my Sunday school class, we talked about Jesus’ miracles. My teacher noted that Jesus could have performed miracles everywhere, all day long. But he didn’t heal everyone who was sick. Jesus’ miracles were specific and purposeful in establishing himself as God and pointing toward his ultimate miracle: Resurrection and salvation for those who believe in him. He also always accompanied the physical miracle with the spiritual miracle (conversion of the person).

I thought about something else, as well. Had Jesus gone around healing everyone and performing all and any  kind of miracle, wouldn’t that, in a sense, have diluted the effectiveness of his message? Wouldn’t persons have come to expect such of him? Wouldn’t that have “cheapened” his grace in some manner?

As it was, we have these incredible miracles on display against the backdrop of ordinary people—chosen by God—for healing and saving. The deliberate choices of these select few make Jesus’ power all the more great.

And the deliberate use of the “ordinary” for God’s purposes makes them all the more extraordinary.

Seeing The “Ordinary” in The Story of Elisha and the Widow

In the story of Elisha and the widow, she had all she needed (by and through God’s power, of course) right inside the walls of her own house. She had the ability, the possessions, and the help within her grasp.

What ordinary things in your house can be extraordinary in God’s economy?

photo: supafine at morguefile