My House is a Mess

IMG_1526[1]It is Thursday morning again. I am waiting for the piano teacher to show up, and, as usual, I am frantically cleaning the bathroom, throwing toys into bedrooms, vacuuming up dust bunnies. I’m a whirl of activity, tripping over children and their oh-so-slow questions about math and grammar and whether or not I think we’ll go to a Rays game again soon. I sweep aside a request to locate one child’s lost flashcards; and just as I am swooping down to pick up that lone wet washcloth someone dropped by the front door this morning on his way to laundry room, the doorbell rings.

The door is mostly glass, so I know my final frenzy has been fully visible. I have to choose to push aside my embarrassment, just as I did last week, and just as I’m likely to have to do next week. I’ve tired of making promises to myself that next time I’ll be better on top of things, that Thursday will arrive and the house will be spotless, my hair will be fixed (i.e. brushed) and I’ll even be wearing makeup (glory be!).

Many days I look around my house and struggle not to feel like a failure. I have an image in my head of how it should look, with everything in place, freshly polished furniture and countertops shiny enough to double as mirrors.

I love beauty, order and cleanliness. Instead, I live with unabated clutter, crumb-covered floors, and boy-dominated bathrooms (I shall not elaborate). My walls are covered with smudges. Legos and nerf darts can be found in almost every corner and crevice, and dried toothpaste has a way of showing up in the oddest places. My crafty children seem to shed paper clippings, origami creations, bits of yarn, broken pencil lead, and a hundred variations of the “self portrait” throughout the house. (I am still waiting for someone to invent a “paper/glitter/string/broken crayon/smushed Cheerio roller.” Anyone?)

Truly, the state of my house is mortifying.

IMG_1527[1]
Every week I find a new colony of dust bunnies. Where do they come from? Certainly this is a science fair project in the making.

So why am I sharing this publicly? Why post such incriminating pictures? Because today I need to remind myself yet again that serving others is more important than maintaining a neat house.

Saying “yes” to homeschooling means that desks, tables and countertops are always full of books. It means that our kitchen hosts 3 meals and a snack time each day. It means that my dining room table is covered with eraser droppings. It means that no space in my house remains unused for any measurable length of time.

Saying “yes” to El Crucero means that my home is the storage place for crafts, snacks, bibles, t-shirts, games, prize box items, tutoring tools, the stereo system and anything else that is purchased or donated for the ministry. Here in southern Florida, we don’t have basements and homes are built with almost no closet space (as if a coat closet was only for coats), so various walls and corners inside my house have become the permanent holding place for all of these things.

Here is one of my El Crucero storage corners, recently rummaged and in full disarray. Notice also my nightstand area full of books-in-progress. What you don't see is the bed full of laundry.
Here is one of my El Crucero storage corners, recently rummaged and in full disarray. Notice also my nightstand area full of books-in-progress. What you don’t see is the bed full of laundry.

Every day that I choose to play dolls with my daughter, run my son up to the library to get that next book in the series he just can’t wait to read, give my other son my undivided attention while he explains his latest passion, I choose them over the myriad chores calling to be completed. Every time I answer the phone knowing my friend will need me to talk for the next half hour, volunteer to take someone dinner, or faithfully show up to tutor my El Crucero children, I am choosing people over housework

Blessedly, my husband is unconcerned by clutter. In fact, I fully believe he doesn’t even really see it. Early in my marriage, I viewed this as a real problem, but now I am grateful for his clutter-blindness. As for the children, I think they must actually like living in the midst of a mess. Why else do they so joyfully return a newly cleaned room to a state of chaos?

In the end, a beautifully maintained home is my dream, not theirs. One day, when the children are grown (and I convert one of their bedrooms into an El Crucero storage room), the dream will likely become a reality. I suspect, though, that I will miss the days of Legos and Cheerios underfoot. Or maybe God will open up new avenues of service that will fill my days and require me to occasionally turn a blind eye to the dust on the piano and the shower that needs a good scrubbing.

How about you? What dreams/activities have you decided are worth sacrificing for the sake of service to others? I would love to hear your stories (and see pictures of your dirty houses).

Refugees, (Il)legal Immigrants, and the Christian

I never would have supposed that immigration had the power to become such a central issue of the upcoming presidential election. As a Christian and as someone who ministers weekly inside a community of immigrants, many of whom I suspect are undocumented, I have been horrified by the amount of collective hate that has been slung toward Hispanics and Latinos in recent weeks.[1]

I have no intention of making a political statement here. Instead, speaking as one Christian to another, I would like to share my opinion about how we should be responding to the immigrants among us (both those who are here legally, and those who are not).

Let me start with what should be most obvious: hate is never the proper Christian response to another human being.

I will go even further, though. At the core of all the cries to “send those illegals back where they came from,” I clearly see two motivations: fear and selfishness. Neither motivation is holy.

I hear the claims that these immigrants are going to steal American jobs and/or become freeloading burdens on the American tax payer. I hear the complaints that they are the source of our drug problems and the perpetrators of innumerable violent crimes. I could spend this post arguing against these fears, quoting statistics and economists, but I want to make a more important point. Even if such fears were justified, prioritizing our own comfort and prosperity over the needs of the hopeless and desperately poor is sinful.

We so easily place the blame for poverty on the poor themselves, never seeking to understand their situation. I hear us making many assumptions and pronouncements from a vantage point of self-protection and judgment, but I don’t hear us asking any compassion-driven questions.

Why, for instance, do we never ask why the Mexicans are coming? If a man comes unsanctioned into the U.S. because he is desperate to find employment to support his elderly parents or to feed his children, shouldn’t we acknowledge that his motive is noble? If a woman flees across the border to escape domestic violence, or to remove her children from a dangerous environment, or even simply to give them a chance for a decent education and a future, shouldn’t we admit that we would likely do the same? Who are we to indiscriminately label all undocumented immigrants “criminals” when we have no idea what their situation is, what they are trying to escape, who they are trying to save. The trip is not easy or without risk and the destination is neither welcoming nor ideal. I am confident that the reasons immigrants come are as varied as the individuals themselves. It is unfair and cruel to make generalized assumptions about those “lawbreaking” Mexicans (and Guatemalans and Peruvians and…..) without ever seeking to understand.

As humans, our natural inclination is to fear people who are different than we are, people who are in any way foreign to us. So often that fear grows into outright hate. Yet, Jesus calls us to show hospitality to the foreigner. He asks us to invite the stranger in, to feed the homeless and clothe the naked.[2] When I look at how hideous the absence of hospitality can be, I understand why God places such an emphasis on practicing it.[3]

History is filled with examples of people shutting out others in need because of fear and because of their selfish desire to safeguard their own standard of living.

Did you know that in the years leading up to WWII many Jews could have left Europe if they had only had a place to go? Increasingly they saw the danger. In the beginning they had the liberty and the resources to go elsewhere, but almost no one would let them in. Countries around the world were closing their doors to European Jews, or at the very least, not opening them any wider. No one wanted to be overrun with Jewish immigrants who would either steal jobs or create an economic burden on the state. And, as Australia actually put in words, no one wanted to import a racial problem. Here in America, we obstinately stuck to our quota system which strongly limited the number of immigrants who could come from any one country in a given year. We actually even refused a suggested program that would have allowed 20,000 German-Jewish children to find refuge in the U.S. In the end, only 800,000 Jews found sanctuary outside of Europe, leaving behind another SIX MILLION to die.[4] I get physically ill every time I think about it.

Here’s a more recent example. Perhaps you read the article that came out last month around the anniversary of Katrina which tells of 100 RTA employees who volunteered to remain on duty in New Orleans during the storm? When they, along with about 200 of their family members (including elderly and children), were flooded out of the headquarter building where they had expected to safely ride out the hurricane, they were left with no choice but to make their way across the Crescent City Bridge in search of higher ground. This group of 300 African Americans, escorted by a couple of African American police officers, made the difficult trek across to the New Orleans suburb, Gretna, where they were met with hostility and guns. Racial prejudice, coupled with fears for personal safety and a complete unwillingness to share their comfortable stash of resources, caused the people of Gretna to militantly turn away a group of people in dire need…CHILDREN in need. [5]

Today, we are watching a similar situation play out as thousands of Syrian refugees pour into Europe where they are being met with a wide range of welcomes. Whereas Germany is setting an example of compassion and aid, Hungary has been building a wall to keep refugees out; and other countries, such as Denmark, have been tightening restrictions on immigration. Even in Germany, anti-immigrant factions have perpetrated at least 340 attacks on refugee camps this year.

As of this writing, it is estimated that 1 out of every 122 people in the world is in need of some sort of refuge or asylum (largely due to ISIS, the Taliban, and various civil wars).[6] In America, sanctioned immigration is still controlled by a quota system. Only about 1500 Syrian refuges are going to be admitted into the U.S. this year (out of the estimated 4 million who have been displaced from their homes). Unlike our fellow Europeans, we are not likely to encounter a Syrian refugee in our midst. The Syrians may be out of our reach to provide long term friendship and care, but I can guarantee that every city, every community holds displaced persons, foreigners, sojourners, “aliens.” Let’s stop screaming that they don’t belong here. Instead, let’s reach out to them with love and concern.

As we become more aware of the darkness in our world, we must choose how to respond. I hope we don’t choose to simply look away.

We need to pray, but we need to do more than pray. We need to donate, but we need to do more than donate. We need to step up and step out. We need to do more than give lip service to the idea of being salt and light, of being the hands and feet of Jesus. We need to each find someone we can walk alongside. Go into the distressed neighborhoods. Make friends. Listen to the struggles. Ask how you can help. Invite people into your lives. Volunteer at the troubled schools. Let a desperate person know that they matter and that you care.

The problem is too big for me and too big for you, but if we all share real hospitality with one person, one family, if we all join our voices and actions together on the side of mercy and justice, then light “will break forth like the dawn” (Isaiah 58:8).

 

 

Notes:

[1] Here is one example of hundreds of hateful comments about immigrants in general and Hispanic immigrants in particular that have been posted in the past month underneath related news articles:

We used to love the Mexican people……Only now, since you can’t distinguish an undocumented, illegal, law breaking, criminal invader/immigrant from a decent Mexican American, who came here using the legal entry, we tend to hate them all. The Mexicans who came to this country through the legal immigration process should be irate with all the Mexican parasites sneaking over the border. Except perhaps in California, Oregon and Washington and D.C., where all the sanction crazies live… the rest of us would rather not see another Mexican for as long as we live.

(posted by “Actuality” in the comments section of http://news.yahoo.com/eu-says-world-facing-worst-refugee-crisis-since-113228429.html)

[2] Mathew 25:35-40; Luke 3:11; Luke 14:12-14

[3] See also Isaiah 58:6-7; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Timothy 5:10;

[4] Ayer, Eleanor H. Parallel Journeys. Aladdin Paperbacks, 2000. pp. 33-35.

[5] http://news.yahoo.com/escape-from-new-orleans–as-waters-rose–a-white-suburb-across-the-mississippi-closed-a-key-bridge-to-fleeing-residents-215830472.html.

[6] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/refugee-crisis-six-charts-that-show-where-refugees-are-coming-from-where-they-are-going-and-how-they-are-getting-to-europe-10482415.html