In our little cinderblock home out in the countryside with our 8 foster kids, roughly 30 local youth in our community homeschool, 5 local missionaries/teachers, a few guard dogs, more chickens than you can count and about a half dozen cattle thrown in the mix (all under the blistering Honduran sun without air-conditioning or properly sealed buildings), we are constantly innovating new cleaning routines so as to maintain our rustic little buildings as clean as they can possibly be (for at least five minutes before they get dirty again).
We have two local moms come help us out part-time in the kitchen and with general cleaning during the schoolweek, but even so everything seems to be perpetually grimy. Sweaty, dirty children (many of whom come from local poor families that do not bathe or brush their teeth frequently/properly, do not own deodorant, etc) dart about our property, leaving dirty hand- and shoe-prints all over our walls; bats, rats, bugs and other creatures constantly invade; and special-needs children frequently leave pee- and poo-messes in the least desirable places.
Thus, we dedicate a good chunk of time to scratching our heads and scheming up new ways to tackle the hygiene giant on our rural property (without becoming totally obsessed with this endeavor, as our ultimate purpose is not to maintain an immaculate house but rather to usher young men and women to the foot of the Cross).
And so on Monday of this week I orchestrated a long day of deep-cleaning activities around our property in collaboration with the ongoing effort to establish good hygiene. Brayan spent the entire morning washing the walls of our 2 school houses with abundant water and detergent (we had done so not three weeks prior, but they were already dirty again). Developmentally-challenged Gaby and Josue helped out by filling four grocery bags full of little bits and pieces of trash, thrown-out papers, etc, that they found in and around the porches and tables on our front lawn (this is also a job that is done weekly, but many Hondurans are accustomed to throwing trash wherever they want, and they frequently choose our front lawn).
Each person had a job, and all seemed to be going according to plan as a rather simple (perhaps even obvious) idea dawned on me: what we really needed (and had yet to establish) was a morning sweeping routine, as we sweep all floors and porches once or twice in the late-morning/afternoon, but each morning as we receive all our local students through our front gate, it would be really great if the porches were already swept. Our porches are large cement slabs that are often covered in a fine layer of dirt, dog hair or insect remains, as people and animals with dirty feet are constantly walking across them. Although our morning routine is already tight with our 4:45am get-ups and the very precious task of getting 8 young people ready, making beds, serving breakfast, etc before all of our neighbors arrive, I came to the conclusion that the sweeping routine must be added to our daily schedule if we were going to elevate our overall hygiene standards as we hoped to.
I briefly considered who would do this job – I personally enjoy sweeping, but with my many other early morning commitments, I knew that my time simply would not allow me to take on any additional commitments. And our kids? How would they react to the news of being the new chief executives of the morning sweeping routine?
As is evidenced throughout the Bible, humankind oftentimes is given to murmuring and complaining, and our kids are no exception. Just the day prior I was listening to the Old Testament on CD as I drove around town doing errands. As I listened, I felt surprised and personally convicted by the fact that the Israelites – who had been rescued out of grueling slavery in Egypt by God’s powerful hand! – fell into the trap of complaining so many times in their journey through the desert. Had they not just been rescued, and should they not be grateful and full of faith in the good God rather than constantly complaining, doubting and murmuring? Unfortunately, humanity has not changed much, and I mulled this over as I considered how to break the news to our kids. In any situation of responsibility or work, we want our kids to approach the activity with joy and humility, doing all things with excellence as unto the Lord and not unto men, but this grace-filled attitude is not always achieved. How could I break the news to them about my fabulous new idea to sweep each morning without them falling into murmuring, complaints, and “it’s not fair”?
Without further ado, I headed to our family’s whiteboard in our living room, feeling suddenly sure of what I was to write: “…We are going to start a new sweeping routine every morning. The schedule is written on the piece of paper above this whiteboard. If anyone has a problem with this, you can talk with Mom and Dad and exchange jobs with them, and they will gladly sweep for you. Mom and Dad’s jobs are: wake everyone up each morning, prepare/serve breakfast, make sure everyone makes their beds and brushes their teeth, brush the girls’ hair, and bathe Gaby and Josue and get them dressed. If you do not want to sweep or see this job as unfair, then just talk with Mom and Dad, and you can take their jobs instead.”
I laughed to myself as I wrote the breaking headline on our frequently-used family whiteboard. I knew that within moments everyone would be flocking to it to see what the latest announcement was. I added at the end of my short informational paragraph: “Please be encouraged to take on this new morning routine not as a punishment or extra baggage, but rather as a privilege as we learn to serve one another and take care of the home God has given us. God bless you!”
Sure enough, our kids all read the message and there were immediately signs of negative attitudes as several of our girls exchanged glances that seemed to say, “I don’t like this. Why is Mom giving us one more job? This isn’t fair. Ugh.”
Refusing to be discouraged, I kept a smile on my face.
The next morning I was glad to see that our first two daughters on the list completed their task after a friendly reminder. Although I can’t say that they did so joyfully, the porches did get swept in a timely fashion.
Later that afternoon, our eldest daughter approached me in the kitchen pretending to not understand the new sweeping schedule that I had written and taped to our living room wall. She is a very smooth-talker and very emotionally astute, so she began the conversation with me as I was serving dinner: “Hey Mom, I guess I didn’t really understand the sweeping schedule…My days are Tuesday and Friday, right?”
I smiled at her – knowing that she was probably masking her true feelings about her new job – and said, “No. Your days are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The four days we have classes.”
Her eyes grew wide as her face displayed a slight grimace. Ouch! Not two days, but four! She and Josselyn would take the weekdays for now, and our other two teen girls the weekends. She probed further with her smooth talk, still trying to find a way out: “When is the schedule gonna change?”
“I’m not sure, but for now it remains as is.”
She crossed her arms as she leaned back against the kitchen counter. She looked thoughtful. This conversation hadn’t quite turned out the way she had hoped.
Just in case she really had not understood the whiteboard message or had read it too quickly, I added with an upbeat attitude: “I personally really enjoy sweeping, but I just don’t have the time to take the job on in the morning. You know, if you want to exchange jobs with me, I’ll gladly take yours. Each morning I prepare and serve breakfast, bathe Gaby and Josue – “
She stood up straight with a look of genuine surprise in her eyes and cut me off before I could finish listing off my morning responsibilities, “No thanks!” She let out a sincere little laugh and shook her head in an enthusiastic ‘no’ as her rather simple job of sweeping two porches suddenly seemed a whole lot more desirable. Her entire countenance changed as she approached the job with gratitude for the first time.
I laughed with her and continued cutting the watermelon that I would be adding to each person’s dinner plate. Joy had suddenly been restored among us as I thanked God in my heart for this change of attitude in our delightful daughter.
To all you parents and educators out there: try this technique! I learned it from Danny Silk’s book Loving Our Kids on Purpose.
Amen! Glory to God!