Many small, beautiful shifts in attitude and perspective that would go completely overlooked by the untrained eye have been occurring in our household over the last few weeks.
The ongoing — and literally daily — task of managing our household’s laundry is a job that honestly no one enjoys doing. With then-ten (now twelve) people in our household and no washing machine or clothes dryer, the task of juggling what’s clean and what’s dirty — and where to hang the wet clothes out to dry during the rainy season — can be taken as a great headache. Plus, two of our precious children who are developmentally challenged frequently wet their beds at night or have poo- and pee-accidents in their clothing (and on rugs and towels) during the daytime, so lump bedspreads, towels, sheets and underwear all stained in pee and poo in the mix with several bucketsful of dirt- and sweat-stained clothing from all our other kids (all of which is to be washed by hand in our outdoor washboard station one piece at a time), you’ve got to find a system that works and the right mentality in order to not feel constantly frustrated.
Oh, we’ve had the bleach fall in the hands of mischevious children, ruining dozens of pieces of clothing in their halfhearted attempts at washing. We’ve had all of our clothes hanging out to dry when a sudden unexpected rain storm comes through and wets every piece to the bone within minutes, thus leading us to have to wait another day or two (or three of four depending how long the rain lasts) for the clothes to dry. During the really intense part of the rainy season (like right now), we’ve had to hang clothes up to dry inside our humid house — over doors, on bunkbed posts, on hangers hanging from open doorways, etc — with floorfans blowing on them just so that our kids would be able to put on a semi-dry school uniform the next day and not go soaking wet (as they’ve had to do on occasions). Basically any and every issue that a large family might face with managing laundry (multiplied by our context in a third world country), we’ve faced it. This has been just one small, yet constant, aspect of our daily life.
Needless to say, I’ve perhaps been the captain of the protest march in all this. I’ve tried to hide my own bad attitude in regards to our laundry woes, but it has shined through spectacularly for all to see. Washing developmentally-challenged Gabriela and Josue’s poop-stained clothes, having to sprint out of whatever building I’m in to grab all the clothes off the line and throw them inside when the rains come (only to then have to string back all 176 pieces back up on the line an hour later once the rains passed), having to constantly keep an eye on where the bleach is and who’s using it, etc, has not been my favorite aspect of our life and service in Honduras. My mindset has been: this is all such a distraction, such a waste of time; I would rather be doing something “important” like teaching a Bible study, counseling our kids, directing a meeting with our teachers, praying with someone who needs help, etc, than dedicating so much time to such an endless household chore that — to me — was anything but ‘spiritual’ and revolutionary. After all, I wanted to see lives changed into the image of Jesus Christ, and spending hours every week moving around wet and dirty clothes seemed to me not to accomplish that end.
Well, all that changed. (Not the reality of our larger-than-life laundry monster, but my attitude). In these last couple weeks, in the quiet spaces within my own soul — during those times of silent prayer, of meditating upon God’s Word that’s already been written upon my heart, of giving thanks, of reflecting on all the good that God’s done — I’ve taken much initiative in going about my business when no one’s looking as I hang out the wet clothes to dry, fold those newly sun-dried clothes that no one wants to fold, wash my own and Darwin’s clothes without complaint, etc. In essence, what I used to avoid like the plague has now become a spiritual activity, a time alone with the Lord to keep my hands occupied and my heart focused on Him. I’ve said nothing of this to my kids and, truly, everyday as I’m engaging in these radically domestic activities in a joyful manner our kids are not even normally around. While they are in classes or when I have a spare moment between activities I’ll calmly walk out our front door and check one by one the different clothing articles hanging on the line: what’s dry, what still needs to dry more. Basically, I’ve made my peace with this aspect of our daily reality, and God has even allowed me to convert it into a form of Christlike servanthood, literally acting as a slave in our own home and doing gracefully the job that no one else wants to do.
Before, each week we would assign the gargantuan task of folding several bucketsful of laundry to one or two specific children (on a rotating basis), and whoever’s turn it was would complete the task, but not with anything that resembled joy (I believe dread would be the correct word). The rains would come, and no one would want to stop whatever they were doing to go take the clothes down. Oftentimes the clothes would get soaked several times and end up staying on the line for days, possibly even falling to the ground and getting dirty all over again. Everyone hoped their name wouldn’t be called to wash Gaby and Josue’s poopy clothes. Oftentimes folded, clean laundry would remain on our living room table for days at a time as no one would take initiative to deliver it to each person’s room. In short, the kids had completely adopted my own attitude toward our household’s laundry: they viewed it as a terrible inconvenience and hoped it wouldn’t be their turn on any given week to take on the task.
So, the miracle is this: as the Lord is radically changing my own attitude regarding the simplicity of this domestic routine, several of our kids have fallen suit without me saying anything. Anyone on the outside would easily overlook this subtle yet powerful change in our attitudes — Christ’s very nature being manifested among us — but to me it has been an overwhelming sign that God is with us and that He’s leading each of us (perhaps beginning with myself) into a deeper knowledge of what it means to truly live as Christ lived, to put on that servant’s towel, to consider others better than ourselves, and to serve as others’ slave even as we fully know our final destination in God’s glorious kingdom.
The first instance was as follows: Several days ago I had hand-washed mine and Darwin’s clothes and hung them out to dry on the line. At that point it was sunny, so the prospects of the clothes actually drying seemed good. I then headed over to our kitchen, got involved in other activities, a rain storm came (I thought nothing of my clothes drying on the line; I had forgot completely), and then a couple hours later I crossed our large front lawn (which in the last few weeks has become an epic muddy slip-and-slide) on my way back to the little orange house where my husband and I live with our now-10 foster children. I glanced at the series of long ropes strung out between our home and fence (in essence, a spider-web-like figure of clotheslines) and suddenly remembered that it had rained and I had forgotten to move my clothes. My eyes searched frantically for my dripping wet clothes, but not only were my clothes no longer on the line but neither were anyone else’s. My first reaction was to feel confused. What had happened?
I then swiveled my head to the left under our large front porch, which also holds a series of clotheslines (the only ones that are under a roof and thus protected from the rain.) There I saw mine and Darwin’s clothes, every last piece of laundry perfectly hung by what were obviously careful hands.
Although it probably sounds absurd, I had perhaps never felt more blessed in recent times. Someone saw that it was raining and moved our clothes to the safe haven under the porch, and they did so not haphazardly but with great care. And I didn’t even ask, and they didn’t even come to me to boast of what they’d done. For a moment I just stood there, dumbstruck in the midst of the first blessing of this kind that I’d ever experienced.
I then headed through our front door and began asking everyone I saw in a quiet tone, almost a whisper: “Did you move the clothes under the porch?” I felt like I was walking on sacred ground.
Oh, how many times have we had to go to each member of our household asking negative questions, such as, “Did you steal the money from our room?” or “Do you know who ate such-and-such food from the kitchen without permission?” Oh, how beautiful it is to have to find the ‘culprit’ of a good deed done in secret! Yes; Christ is with us.
I finally reached our eldest daughter, 17-year-old Dayana, who — just as much as anybody in our household — in times prior dreaded the entire laundry task and never volunteered herself to go above and beyond what was specifically required of her. I asked, “Hey, do you know who moved the clothes…?”
Her face radiated kindness as she answered, “Yeah, I noticed that it started raining…Gleny and Jason helped me.”
Me, mouth sort of dangling open: “Oh. Thank you.” I just sort of stared at her for a few moments.
And so that was the first miracle. No dead were raised; no terminally ill were healed and no blind gained their sight, but God did manage to turn some selfish hearts of stone into humble hearts bent toward servanthood, which in an of itself is a sort of resurrection from the dead and renewal of sight.
Later that night — or perhaps a couple days later; I do not remember exactly — I was again folding laundry and moving wet articles from one line to another in an attempt to care for the clothing that God has entrusted us as I then carried a large laundry basket full of dry clothes into our living room. I sat down on our sofa for a few moments to read the Bible with the bin of laundry at my feet (with several other bins still waiting outside) as I was fully prepared to fold them myself and then go door-to-door to give each of our kids their dry, folded clothes to stash in their dressers before doing the rounds again the following day (if it didn’t rain and thus soak all the other clothes that were waiting their turn on the line outside).
In the quiet of the evening hours — most of our kids already in their rooms for the night and a few candles lit in our living room to give off a cozy feel — our 13-year-old daughter Gleny came happily bouncing out of her bedroom through the bright-colored curtain that hangs in the doorway. Completely out of the blue, she asked me, “Ma, whose turn is it this week to fold the laundry?”
Seeing as God has secretly led me to stop assigning the task to our children (which only leads to my grumbling and theirs) but rather to do it myself and thus manage the task more organically, I stammered, “Uh…I don’t know.”
She piped up, obviously already with the plan in mind before presenting herself in the living room, “Okay, well I’ll go ahead and take this laundry basket to my room and take care of it tonight.”
I stared at her as words could not formulate themselves in my mouth as she picked up the huge metal tin with a contagious smile on her face — my Wild Gleny who used to always scream, cry and isolate herself so many times each day, who moved into our home in 2013 as a scared and extremely aggressive 9-year-old! — and disappeared behind her bedroom curtain before anything else could be said. (And, for the record, of all of our children Gleny has in times past been the least servant-oriented of all. She’s exploded in fits of rage and tears when her sisters have asked her to help sweep their bedroom floor or collaborate in simple maintenance activities in daily life. She has never offered up extra help in any capacity unless it is specifically asked of her, so this completely Spirit-prompted act of service I literally do count as a miracle upon her heart.)
And, sure enough, the next morning Darwin’s and my socks and shirts were neatly folded outside of our door as Gleny had done exactly what God had prompted her to do (that which I had tried for years to prompt her to do without much success). She had folded that heap of clothes and gone to each person’s room during the night to deliver whatever was theirs. I’d say that’s Christ’s work in her life.
So there have been many extremely small, exceedingly beautiful moments of servanthood such as these in our household in the last couple weeks. One afternoon as I was once again quietly at work with the daily laundry chore, I began to hear Bible stories being read aloud from our living room. Our 14-year-old daughter Jackeline (who tends to be very uptight and high-achieving with her schoolwork and other activities, oftentimes forsaking resting in God’s presence for do-do-do) was sitting cuddled up on the couch with her 9-year-old special needs brother, reading to him one of our children’s Bibles. Jackeline — who normally “doesn’t have time” for things like that, who even has said she doesn’t like to read for fun and struggles to spend time in God’s Word! What an extravagant display of God’s love. As I went in and out of our living room, carrying with me large heaps of laundry flung over my shoulders, I walked carefully, again feeling as though I were treading sacred ground.
And the coolest part is that as the rest of the world perhaps zooms onward with all of its activity and “importance,” God is touching the unlikeliest of hearts and calling us to slow down with grace, to serve rather than be served, to live as Jesus lived.
Amen! Glory to God!