For a long time now, our home life has felt a bit like I’m at the bottom of a body of water, looking up. Through the plant life and the murk, I can make out shapes and see through toward the surface and the sky… But it’s murky, everything’s blurry, and my breath is running out.
We moved two times in eight months, you see – once “do it ourselves” locally and the other cross-country. The second move included not just acclimatizing to winter and middle-of-the-year life in a community in which we were aliens, but a massive house renovation that caught us almost completely off-guard. The renovation, eight months in all, had us living amidst sawdust and room shuffles and extension cords leading thorough electricity-less rooms for months on end. And we – my DIY husband, me, and our four kids 7 and under – just muddled through, doing the best we could month after month. Wide-eyed but plodding– groceries and dinner and baths mixed in with the Home Depot runs, paint cans, and late nights.
Was there an emergency? No. Anyone sick or in true crisis? No. Did we make a mistake – should we not have moved twice, not have bought the lovely old farmhouse on 22 acres that needed a little work? No, no mistake. And was it all normal life stuff – very intense but regular? Yes.
So it seemed like it should have been OK. But it wasn’t. It felt like we were in triage, constantly battered by an assortment of issues and situations that couldn’t objectively assess, let alone address. We were way, way low on manpower, emotional energy, and time to deal with anything well (or sometimes at all).
As the months wore on, things on the “home and family” front sank further toward the bottom. Routines thinned to the point of erosion; everything felt like survival mode. Attitudes were everywhere, obedience and respect were nowhere. Household harmony dwindled to an all-time low, and I felt powerless to reverse it. The few measures I’d attempt lacked consistency and follow-through, and they did almost nothing. It seemed the only parenting I could do was from the bottom, because it was all I had. And it showed. Meanwhile everything important to my daily outlook grew elusive- objectivity, emotional resilience, and hope for change.
This is all past tense, so what happened – where’s the ending? How does this little vignette get cleaned up and packed away, like the boxes that are finally mostly in the garage now, waiting to be taken to the dump? How’d I come through; what’s the takeaway?
I don’t know. I’m still in it to some degree. All I know so far is that the hope is slowly coming back, and the breath. I feel traces of myself – who I actually am, not the reactive shell I’d become – being restored. But even though I feel us coming out of triage, there’s still a lot of household chaos left to be address, and everything still has that blurry, underwaterlook about it.
And maybe that’s not all bad (even though doing life from the bottom feels bad). Maybe that’s part of the point in the upside-down, last-shall-be-first Kingdom of God. I’m supposed to be living by faith not by sight, but usually I don’t. Usually I live in the human, with big doses of willpower, self-reliance, common sense, and Google-inspired logic and direction.
That’s not how God wants me to live, though. He wants something radically different, and how can He induce me to lay down all that “normal life” stuff and truly know my need for Him if I keep plodding myself along, managing to keep our heads above water on my own strength? That’s not what He’s looking for at all. He’s looking for people who know that life on this earth is seeing through the glass darkly (which sometimes equates to the underwater kind of life I’ve been living)– and are willing to accept that.
Also I’ve been finding that the underwater experience is profoundly humbling in what must be a healthy way. It’s shown me how little we have it “all together.” And how easy it is for things to fall completely apart on the homefront, and how there are seasons when it truly can’t be helped. There’s nothing to do but cling to God and pray for grace to make it through the day. I notice I extend grace, and the benefit of the doubt, much more now than I used to — that I have much, much more compassion and empathy for people who can’t get a handle on their kids or household and live reactively. (Heck, I’m one of them.) And that’s got to be a good thing, right?
Originally published September, 2013