What Makes a House a Home?

Since yesterday's post, I've been thinking a lot about Yankee Candles, home, and how scents can make you feel home. That got me to wondering: what makes a house a home? What is the difference between a residence to spend your days and nights in, and a home where a family lives?

Only one of the homes we've lived in has been anything remotely considered big (and even that one would still be small on many standards), which has been interesting considering we are a family of six. But we've made it work. I may not have have been in love with our previous house, for example, but for seven years, it was home. Why? What was it about the house that made it home?

Of course, home is anywhere my family is. That's a given. But it's more than that, as our arrival at this house in our transitional country showed me in August. Our former house was lovingly decorated by me. We own a mishmash of furniture, none of it anything remotely resembling quality (with perhaps the exception of our bed) furniture. We don't own any expensive paintings---all of our wall coverings were Thomas Kinkade jigsaw puzzles I'd pieced together, glued, and then framed. Nothing fancy. Our family pictures were encased in cheap, Walmart frames. The biggest extravagance in the house were the Yankee Candles I'd collected over the years.

My in-laws, former missionaries themselves, had wisely advised me to bring all of my cherished pictures and knick-knacks that made home home for me. But as we're only gone for two years this time, I really didn't think I'd need these things. And let's face it, glued-together puzzles would most likely not travel well. So, they went into storage. With all of our other pictures and knick-knacks (and my candles). We did bring a digital photo album that had a bunch of different family pictures on it. Those, I deemed at the time, would be the most important thing tying us to home.

But I was wrong.

In all honesty, I haven't turned it on above five times. And those times it was on, I did it more for the kids than for me. I haven't really even missed my lovely framed puzzles. Our walls look extremely bare, but that is because there are few nails (and it's very hard to hang pictures on cement walls) on which to hang pictures. So, we've compensated by hanging things from the ceiling. You think I kid, but I do not. We made colorful autumn leaves out of construction paper and hung those this fall. At Christmas, we decorated construction paper trees, ornaments, and candy canes (with glitter!) and hung those. We intended to do spring flowers, but haven't quite gotten to them yet, so the white strings still hang from the ceiling, waiting for the next decorations.

The one thing, surprisingly, that has helped me feel the most at home were those candles! Who knew? For some missionaries, it might be different things. For me, it was scent. Cinnamony scents in the autumn. Pepperminty scents at Christmas. And now, springy, fruity scents for spring and summer. All make this house home. When I walk in the door, the scent of the candles greets me and instantly soothes.

I look forward to making our next house a home in Mexico City. And you can bet that it will include Yankee Candles.


Intentional Thankfulness

Each November, just in time for Thanksgiving, there are those who turn to social media and post one thing they are thankful for each day of the month. It is amazing how the atmosphere of Facebook changes overnight. Instead of endless political diatribes, or hurtful, negative commentaries about people's lives, my Facebook newsfeed is filled to overflowing with things my friends are thankful for. And I love it. And relish each post.

In chapel this morning, we were reminded about the intentionality of thankfulness. A thankful heart is not something innate, not something we were born with. On the contrary, our tendency is to be negative. Selfish. Demanding. And so it takes great effort...intentionality...to refocus our attention outwards again. Joel talked to us about the importance of keeping a thankful heart before God---in every circumstance. It's a hard concept, yes, and must be something we achieve through constant, continual practice. But what I love about this idea is that instead of being defined by my problems or trials, God gets the glory and we're reminded of not only how He's worked in our lives in the past, but how He's using even the tough times to help us grow and mature in Christ.

So, I want to bring back a little bit of that November Thanksgiving attitude. Here are a few things I am thankful for this afternoon. And of course, I am so grateful for my family, friends, and my Savior. Those should be on everyone's list! But how about some other things we might not think about? May my list inspire you to create one of your own!

This afternoon, I am thankful for...

1. ...time alone. Especially after my mommy meltdown from a couple nights ago (read the blog entry. It wasn't pretty). Troy and the boys are at soccer practice, and the girls are at the neighbors' house playing for awhile.

2. ...the sound of the rain. It is a gentle rain, not the rip-through-metal rain we had the other day. And it is so peaceful.

3. ...my growing Yankee Candle collection here in Costa Rica. Over the last couple years, I had amassed quite a collection of candles and accessories, but I chose to leave them all behind in storage rather than run the risk of anything being broken or lost. Boy, was that a mistake! I had no idea how important candles had become to me, or how much I identified those delicious smells with home. I will never forget the joy I felt when we found a few small candles at a Hallmark store in a nearby mall. Cinnamon! Black cherry! Heaven. Some people might call my collection selfish or unnecessary. But it isn't unnecessary to me. These familiar scents connect this house to my feeling of home. And when you're living in a foreign country, surrounded by a new language, that is a very huge deal.

4. ...my teapot. Who knew a kitchen device could be so important to a person? Especially when I'm always letting my tea steep so long it grows cold and has to be microwaved anyway?

5. ...a warm cup of tea. Made with a dash of milk and a couple teaspoons of sugar.

6. ...chocolate.

7. ...my "Pride & Prejudice" movie soundtrack. If you've never listened to it before, you have no idea what you're missing out on. I'm not usually a big classical music fan. Instead, I tend to prefer 80s and early 90s music (or contemporary Christian). But this is the one CD I turn to again and again when I am stressed and need to relax. I played it Tuesday during my mommy meltdown, as a matter of fact.

May God help me to remember to continually turn to Him in thankfulness. For all the good times. And for all the bad. What if you and I each wrote down one thing we were thankful for every day for a year? What would that look like? How might our lives--and the lives of others around us--be changed? Something to think--and pray--about.

 Edit: It occurred to me that it's easy to thank God for the lovely things, like my candles. But it's a lot harder to thank Him for the hard things. And so I want to add one more thing I'm thankful for.

8. ...for my kids' fights and times they frustrate me. Why? Because it shows me I need to work on my patience. I am not a patient person. I'm fully aware of that, but never more so than when I'm screaming at my child because she's chewing gum in my ear, of all things. Really? Is that worth screaming about? No. My kids are normal kids who need Jesus every moment of every day. Just like me. Their fights---and my reaction to them---are an instant reminder of my weakness and should inspire me to cry out to Him for help.


The Hardest Job I'll Ever Have

The hardest job I'll ever have has nothing to do with writing. Nor does it relate to any anti-human trafficking efforts I'll someday (Lord willing) make. It's not even the 2 or 3 year stint as my church's nursery director, although that's closer to the mark than anything else.


The hardest job I'll ever have is one I began on March 9, 2000--the day my oldest child was born.

Motherhood is the hardest job I will ever have. (I feel like that sentence should be in giant, bold letters.)

Some days, it's the biggest joy of my life. Hearing the kids giggle together over something silly. My youngest son coming to me the other day saying, "Y'know one thing I'm thankful for? I'm thankful for Clayton, because he helps me. He taught me how to make a circle with tape and now we're making a poster for our door." Having them play for hours together without fights.

But other days....

Like today for instance. I had just reached a level where I'd had enough. Enough of the many questions. Enough of the smacking while chewing gum (and in my ear, no less). Enough of the noise. Enough of the whining. And because I'm trying very hard to be a better mommy and not yell (a horribly bad habit I've gotten into), I was struggling to hold the shattered threads of my will together. But they were not making it easy. In desperation, I begged for just a few moments of peace. Just a few moments where nobody talked to mommy. Unfortunately, because of my past actions, as soon as I was even the least little bit short, and because I kept pleading (very emphatically) for them to give me a few minutes alone, they didn't understand. One of my children thought it was because of her. She looked at me, giant eyes swimming in tears, and wailed that nobody would let her talk. I pulled her onto my lap and something within me broke. I cried and cried. She looked at me, baffled as to why mommy was crying. But it wasn't something I could even explain to her.

I can tell my husband I need some space and he understands and leaves me alone. But this is something my children--at least the younger two--do not yet understand. To them, if I do not want to sit next to them, answering a million questions, or listening to every detail of their day, I am angry with them. Not so, not so. Sometimes, mommies just need a break. I know someday they'll understand that concept. But it didn't help us today.

I read a blog the other day that talked about how horrible motherhood is and that women with no children really have no concept of how awful it is. Something deep within me shrank away from this. That is not at all the message I want to convey. Yes, it is definitely not the portrait given us by Norman Rockwell and his ilk. It's messy. And unpleasant. And painful. And tedious. And there are days, like today for me, where you feel like you would give the last piece of chocolate in your hidden stash for 5 minutes alone behind a locked door. With no interruptions. But it's also not something awful, either. Even on my most sleep-deprived day, covered in spit-up (or worse), with the house a sty around me, I could still hold my babies in my arms and marvel over them (this was best done while they were asleep, of course, and is why, I'm convinced, God made them look so angelic as they sleep). 

It's not awful. It's. Just. Hard.

But aren't the hardest things in life often the most rewarding? If everything was easy, would we appreciate it as much? If not for those hair-raising fights my kids get into most mornings, I would be unable to really appreciate the moments of laughter. Of shared fun together. Or when they surprise me with comments like my son's.

There isn't a title on this earth representing anything I have ever done, or will ever do, as important as the one I have now: mom.

It's hard. No doubt. But so worthwhile. And until my kids fully understand the concept of "alone time" or until I become a more patient person (whichever comes first), I will just have to rely on God to help me get through days like today.