Anyone who knows me well can attest to the fact that I carry a seemingly tiny yet excruciatingly heavy cross.
My house is messy.
It is a burden I have borne for many years, and I see no end in sight. I am not naturally tidy, and while I wouldn't describe myself as a true "Oscar," I definitely lean in that direction. And my progeny definitely don't put cleanliness at the top of any list.
My house is not only messy; it is also somewhat, well, decrepit. Now, I can see my husband's face growing red right now. This makes him crazy, when I talk like this. I know he feels defensive and responsible for the fact that our home is not as I'd like it. He knows, however, that I don't blame him. It's just the way it is. We are not particularly handy people; we are creative and fun and busy, and we don't always clean up after ourselves. We have six people living in a small home (we once had eight here) and we have declared other priorities for ourselves. I know that the condition of our home is a side effect of the choices we have made, and truth be told, I rejoice in those choices. But it still makes me suffer - sometimes, a great deal.
My husband's recent unemployment has brought our family many challenges, but also many unexpected graces. He is home during most days now, and he has proven himself a worthy homemaker. I've had to take my full time job quite seriously, and have learned it isn't always easy to go to work and miss the children's activities, something my husband had done for more than 24 years without complaint.
I've also been blessed with a new understanding of what matters - and what doesn't. I would've hoped to have received an epiphany about my home, but not so much. It would have been great to have total peace about the dirt on the kitchen floor, the dust bunnies under the bed, the broken down dining room chairs and non-functioning appliances. Not having the money for repairs or carpet cleanings should relieve some stress, right? Naw, I'm not that mature.
I did have an experience in the forest of Brazil that did, however, make me give my home a second look.
We drove with Fr. Robert to one of the remote chapels he visited once a month. There he was to say Mass for the small group of faithful who had gathered there. The chapel was tiny, but attractively painted and adorned with small statues. The worshipers had traveled some distance to attend this monthly celebration of the Eucharist, some of them walking several miles through the pitch black forest to get there.
One was an older man, the chapel "coordinator." It was his job to care for the chapel in Father's absence. It was clearly a job he was proud of.
Upon meeting Father's American guests, he spoke excitedly in Portugese. Would we come for a visit to his home before Mass?
We did not hesitate to accept his invitation, and to my surprise, none of those who had come for Mass seemed to mind that there would be delay. They had been waiting over a month already, so apparently another half hour or so didn't make a difference to them...
We hopped in Father's 4X4 and took another bumpy ride several miles deeper into the forest. There we found a home, where the man and his sister lived in simplicity.
Flashlights led our way. Our host beamed as he led us to the entrance. A dog and her new puppies warily greeted us; chickens and ducks scattered into the darkness. We walked through the threshold, and I had to remind myself that we were indoors. More ducks and chickens scurried about the dirt floor. Several cats wandered lazily around their mistress as she prepared a meal. She smiled warmly, clearly pleased that Padre had graced her home with a visit, and with guests from America! She showed us how she cooked, announcing that she much preferred the old fashioned oven to the more modern stove. I asked her if I could take her picture, and she looked down demurely. She and her brother were so happy to have us....
I felt ashamed. I thought of the times friends had stopped by unannounced, times when I was embarrassed because of the clutter or piles of unfolded laundry. I thought of the times I complained about my inadequate dishwasher (it wasn't even built-in!) or the tiles that were coming up in the kitchen. Now I stood in the middle of the Amazon forest, an undeserving guest to humble hosts who radiated hospitality.
My home is still a cross for me sometimes. But I pray the memory of this visit will stay with me and help me to focus on the fact that it is also an unmitigated gift, and that I am much more blessed than I deserve to be.