I just posted my grades this morning, so the semester is done, and now it is time to Clean. All. The. Things.
Ever since we bought our house, this happens every spring: the semester ends, and my desk is such a mess that I have been working in the kitchen. So I clean. Cleaning the office and all the paperwork feels like cleansing my brain of the school year.
So today I’m thinking about the physicality of place and how it corresponds to what is inside us.
Over the years, I’ve learned that to feel comfortable in a home, my soul needs ceilings that are higher than seven feet, lots of window space, and wood is an added bonus. My soul is lighter and brighter in these spaces. When we bought our house, I discovered that I also love brightly painted walls. My dining room is golden orange–and before I met my dining room, I did not like orange.
The state of my house is generally reflective of what is inside me. If my house is clean, my mind is usually in order. If my house is dirty, I’m generally stressed out, busy, and slightly cranky. This isn’t always the case, but I do see a general theme. And I do recognize that this is MY correlation–it’s not my husband’s or housemate’s or neighbor’s. Not everyone feels as connected to their living space as I do.
When I clean my house in preparation for company, I also inwardly prepare to open my heart to people. This isn’t always conscious. Sometimes it just feels like cleaning up cat hair so cat allergic people don’t sneeze. But as I vacuum, I am thinking of them, anticipating their visit, and honoring their bodies’ needs.
And when I let people in and say, “Excuse the mess,” I’m usually opening the door to people I already trust with the messiness inside me. There’s a correlation there.
Then, with each spring comes deep cleaning. The house needs to be deep cleaned once a year. In late winter, I find it freeing to look out my dirty windows and think, “You will be clean soon, but not yet! I don’t have to clean you today!”
When I get to clean all the things, I feel a purging inside. It’s too bad deep cleaning season doesn’t coincide with Lent, but as I’ve already witnessed this year: Lent is too busy to add deep cleaning. This spring cleaning, perhaps, is my Lent.
My home is my house, and it is within a larger community. My husband and I bought our home for two reasons: we’re staying in Pittsburgh long-term, and my dad believed–believes, strongly–that owning is better than renting. “You can put your roots down,” he said. “No matter what happens, you have somewhere to come home to.” And then he gave us all the boxes I had stored in his basement. And Kylie’s mom gave him all the boxes from his childhood. And now we are here. Planted here.
We picked up our childhood roots and buried them in our basement storage room. In Pittsburgh.
I never thought I’d end up in Pittsburgh. Owning a home. Staying.
I thought I’d be overseas. Traveling. Maybe not quite living out of a suitcase, but living a bit nomadically. In my college social circles, the life of the missionary–or, at least, the Life Overseas–was revered. Recently, a college acquaintance emailed me, asking for my address, and asking if I had any overseas trips planned.
We’d love to, but our salaries barely let us visit our parents. I’ve been traveling a lot for research, but only within the States, and only briefly.
When I read her email, I had a fleeting thought that my life here might be giving in. That my rooted life here is somehow safe. Somehow not honoring God in its rootedness.
But then I remembered blogger Sarah Bessey’s post from a few days ago: “The Place that Shapes Me.” Sarah writes of her own moves, of her own “Evangelical Hero Complex” (what I learned in college), and of the missional movement of living in the way of Jesus in our daily lives. She says, “But it’s not always sexy to stay put, is it? In most of my church tradition, no one ever mentioned the holy work of staying.”
The holy work of staying. I like that phrase.
I have friends who do the Life Overseas thing well, beautifully resisting the Evangelical Hero Complex. I love following their travels through their photos. And I love that when they come to town, I have a safe place for them to rest.
My path, for now, has led down a different road. And this spring, as I clean the same house for the third year in a row, I am thinking of this decision to stay here, be here, and root here.
Now that I’ve cleaned my office, I can clean the smudges off all the windows. That way, when company comes over, we can all see clearly that this is where we are. Here. Now.