(Bee was 13, Jo was 12, Atticus was 9.5, Logan was 7.5, Oli was 3, Mani was 19 months, and I was just about to discover that I was pregnant with Seven )
If you have eyes to seeYou live your life, day in and day out.
You cook in the same kitchen, hug the same children, pull on the same shoes when you need to run to the car. This is life, and you are living it, in the trenches, present and in the moment. The ceramic insert to your crockpot breaks, and you're shocked to find that replacements aren't available, as that model was discontinued seven years ago. Is it possible that the baby's nails need to be trimmed again? Didn't you just do that? One day you realize that it's time for a new laundry hamper, and wonder exactly when the side to this one split open. As you're pressing your lips to your 9 year-old's forehead, it dawns on you that it's time to trim back that mop of bangs flopping over his eyes. Your shoelace snaps as you pull it taut, and it occurs to you that you've been tying these same shoes onto your feet for the past four years. Has the toddler really outgrown that 2T zip up hoodie? And we don't have one in the next size up? Surely he can make due with the 4T. I'll just roll the sleeves and it will hang a little low.
These things just seem to happen, because time is invisible. Life presses forward, straining against the seams of our reality, urging us a little farther down a road we cannot see. The small stuff--the items enduring heavy use for years on end, the children who are always growing, growing, the hours that pass by-- those details slip into the periphery of what we know as daily living.
Until, of course, you see your life through the eyes of others.
Suddenly, you sense that perhaps haircuts should come higher on the priority list. Or maybe a fresh coat of paint in the kitchen really would be worth the investment. You could probably afford the $15 for a new jacket for the two year-old; It's not THAT big of a hassle. Perhaps it's even time for grown-up furniture. Shouldn't you really pour more effort into keeping things a little more up to date?
Before long, you are looking at your old couch--which has hosted some of the best moments of your family's homeschooling history on its worn, welcoming lap--and wondering how it looks to eyes that don't see the beauty of a thousand read-alouds, of sick babies comforted, of anxieties soothed, of "Momma, can I get a cuddle?"
It is simply a small, squat mass covered in outdated black tweed. Far too small for a family of a certain size. Far too old to hold the contours of modern furnishings. Far too drab to make a statement, complement a space, or add a design flourish.
If you're very quiet in these moments, and you don't tune your ear too closely to the outside voices pick-pick-picking at the vulnerable edges of your life, you just might hear this:
Love is rarely shiny or new. It is not often stylish or impressive. It neither draws attention nor seeks to better itself.
Rather, love is like that couch, the one that really ought to be placed on the curb, traded in for a better model, forgotten. Love makes no statement about the people who possess it other than this: We will make room. Always, one more can be pressed into the wings.
The road less traveled is, for many, marked with certain sacrifices. Deciding to live on one income leaves few couples with the ability to finance grand vacations, full sets of matching furniture, or endless supplies of designer-label clothing. Homeschooling your children leaves little free time to creatively decorate a space, pour yourself into an energizing "me" hobby, or schedule a professional haircut every four to six weeks. And having a large family? Well ... utility-sized vehicles, crowded dining rooms, and lots of hand-me-downs come with the territory.
These are the sacrifices. For many people--especially those who would not journey those paths by choice at any point in their lives-- these sacrifices are the face of a life less everything: less beautiful, less abundant, less full, less fulfilling.
The cost is too high, for many people. They see weekend camping trips as pale excuses for full-scale amusement park fun. They cringe at the thought of cutting their own child's hair. They can't imagine having to forgo some purchases in the name of budgeting. They like the freedom in their finances, their schedules, or their marriage.
For me, the cost of that kind of life is more that I care to pay. Even though it is tempting, when I begin to see my life through the eyes of those who "have more," to begin to feel discontent with my surroundings or my stuff, I am brought back to the image of my hulking sofa, circa 1980. By the world's standards, it is an item that--like full-time mothering--has outlived its usefulness. But it is beautiful. Not for the sake of itself, of course ... but for how it has served. There is no glamour, no fame, and no show in patiently tending to a small flock of souls days after day. There is no honor or glory associated with serving hot meals and putting the laundry on hold long enough to fit in a game of UNO.
But there is love. And love, like time, is one of those invisible treasures that makes life far richer than any couch, shirt, trip, or thing. Love is what makes a family bind together. If, of course, you have eyes to see.