"Our perennial spiritual and psychological task
is to look at things familiar
until they become unfamiliar again."
--from Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton
As sad as it may sound, I think the story of my Year 2011 was largely written around a struggle with the laundry. And as sad as it may sound, this is a beautiful thing--stay with me here, and you'll see why.
Living in a new country is, of course, an adventure with many challenges--learning the language and the customs, reading the street signs, understanding the bus numbers and train schedules, learning which grocery stores carry all your essential, "familiar" items, figuring out where you might be able to meet like minded people and make new friends...the list goes on. But was laundry anywhere on my radar when we were making our plans, anticipating the changes that lay ahead? No. And maybe that is why it is the challenge that seems to encapsulate all of my frustrations of the last year: it was a struggle unexpected, something so simple that seemed I just never could get quite right.
My most favorite smell in all the world is the fresh linen scent of clean sheets and t-shirts. And on more than one occasion last year, I cried hot, bitter tears at the disappointment of missing my favorite smell (an extension, really, of already missing all of the way-more-important-things-and-people in the US!). The detergent here usually smells really good! When we visit other people's homes, I often find myself in a heaven of fresh-linen scent--it's actually a hallmark of the memories I have of my first time in Germany, that beautiful laundry smell. So why couldn't I accomplish it myself, in my own German home?
I'm still not really sure; I think it was a combination of things...water temperature, detergent dose, letting the clothes sit wet in the washing machine and not having a dryer and dryer sheets to get rid of that musty smell. Well you all know. It's not like Mt. Dirty Socks is an unfamiliar summit!
Anyway, with my husband's help (maybe it's his German blood) I finally figured it out. And though it only took a year, my sheets and t-shirts smell heavenly again (most of the time)! The wish I made after Christmas, as we planned Tobi's week-long vacation and the homestretch sprint toward the new year, was that we could get caught up on the laundry (and oil all of the squeaky hinges in the apartment). And we did it. We're finally caught up. Now we've got to just keep on keepin' up!
But all of this is only background. It isn't the real story. The real story is the change that has happened in my heart because of the laundry.
It happened after I began to pray over each sock and shirt and pair of underwear that I hung on the drying rack. With each grass-stained pair little of jeans I thanked God for the moments that happened while we were wearing these clothes. I thanked Him for providing the clothes and for the people who gave them to us. I cried tears again, this time tears of joy as I remembered how my jaw dropped and my girls squealed when months after we got here, we found the bags of clothes in a closet--new coats and warm sweaters and cute ruffled skirts ("dancin' show" is what Eowyn calls her dresses and skirts)--even as I was lamenting that the girls were outgrowing everything and we had little money for anything new.
It happened that the laundry became beautiful to me. Somewhere in the thankfulness, He changed my heart. The monstrous drying rack had been, for so long, the bane of my existence--always in the way, always staring at me and taunting me with my laundry-failures, even looming in the background of all the photos I'd take with my cute girls. I just couldn't get away from it! And all at once, on a dark afternoon in December, the laundry became beautiful to me. In a rare moment of quiet--I was rushing to finish hanging the wash so I could paint for a few minutes while the girls' nap-times miraculously overlapped--I grabbed my camera and clicked away, mesmerized by the twilight and the lamp-light, by the way the plaid and the stripes and the little-girl-hearts mixed and mingled, by the way the socks were lined up like so many precious, counted blessings.
It occurred to me today, that without the laundry--without the drying rack--I probably never would have started painting little houses hanging from trees, and my first blog header and the other new art I'm working on never would have been born. After all, I started my blog to counter all of my little frustrations with gratefulness--without the laundry, my blog probably wouldn't have been born at all!