This is the sharpie marker cover I found outside the closet in my 3 year old's room. Just the cover. No marker. I know now that few things strike fear into the heart of a mother like a sharpie cover with no maker. Especially when said cover is found outside the closet that contains your wedding dress.
When you have 7 kids there’s no way around it.
Your collective carbon footprint is huge.
We leave a mark.
Several weekends ago, their collective footprint overwhelmed me.
We expected a sunshiny melting period, and that meant New England’s snow cover would finally turn liquid. For many of us, that translates to sub-ground levels growing damp. Our basement was no exception.
But when my husband went down there after work on the Friday before, he shook his head and sighed deeply. “There’s a lot of stuff...”
It was true. In the first place, I have never seen Marie Kondo. I don’t have time to watch; I’m too busy taking care of our stuff. And secondly, we don’t have a lot of closet space, or a pantry, or a mud room, or laundry room, or garage, or shed. So everything that needs to be stored ends up - you guessed it - in the basement.
And in the midst of keeping kids alive, fed, and schooled, and writing, and doctor appointments, and life, I don’t have excess time. (I used to think I was busy before having kids, but now I look back and laugh. I wasn’t responsible to be anyone else’s alarm clock, food source, emotional stability, chauffeur, teacher, nurse, private investigator, judge and jury, bowel manager, or slave servant 24/7).
I'm pretty sure Marie Kondo is not homeschooling 7 kids.
Anyway, that Saturday morning, after wearing all the aforementioned hats in parentheses above, I decided there was nothing for it but to clean up the basement.
During the course of the next few hours, I remembered why I never do this. My “helpers” appeared at clandestine moments as I was boxing old toys to go to consignment. They disagreed heartily with most of my reassignment systems, so I sent them back upstairs to play with some of the newly discovered old toys. But repeated thuds, the sound of totes of toys being dumped, and various injuries soon prompted me to bring my helpers back down to my side of the floorboards.
Back in the basement, they stampeded raced around in circles, uncovering the stored pool floats and buoyant noodles they remembered fondly from antiquity (last summer). I clipped them into their floatation devices so they could sumo wrestle with the foam muscles on. In the midst of an epic showdown, one of my cherubs tipped a gallon bottle of cooking oil down the stairs and across the brick fireplace. Ashes darkened as they soaked. The bricks looked unnaturally shiny. My boots left a mark on the cement.
Oil. Was. Everywhere.
Ah. There was the carbon footprint. Slick.
We grabbed all the paper towels we own and started sopping it up. Well, I did. The 6 year old started crying because he knew enough to understand some oil is flammable, so he expected the house to go up in flames as soon as the wood stove, full of a cheery, oblivious fire, contacted the greasy spill seeping toward it. I calmed the young sumo wrestler as best I could without touching him with slick hands. Once sufficiently appeased, the cherubs were sent back upstairs to watch movies or play video games. Please. This seemed like the time for which screens are sanctified. (The command met with more joy than I wish it did, nonetheless, I appreciated the brief solitude). I dumped all the baking soda in the house on the spill and pondered whether I should tell my husband - or let him discover it on his own.
I considered taking a photo to share later (I am the cusp of that generation after all). But one does not pick up an expensive phone with greasy fingers to snap glistening selfies when one child the blubbering about going up in flames and the rest are inches from trekking indelible grease across your hardwood.
You'll have to just imagine.
Anyway, half an hour later, I washed my hands and changed my wrecked jeans. I returned to my underground project, bagging clothes for the thrift store, when visitors from above again appeared. Apparently they’d been too long too far from the mothership. As they pawed through more unearthed treasures, I heard a crash. One of my glass food containers had slipped from the same sumo wrestler’s hands and met the cement floor. Sigh. Everyone was again ordered to go watch something while I grabbed a broom and cleaned up.
A few minutes later I heard the call of my people when a jug of juice mysteriously dumped itself across the kitchen floor. I ran upstairs. The sumo wrestler looked up at me with his endless lashes and a deep frown. “This is the worst day of my wife.” He lisped.
“You’re certainly testing gravity,” I responded grimly. “But you are safe, you aren’t hurt, and I keep actually encouraging you to play video games! Your wife will definitely have worse days. Believe me.”
“But you look mad,” he continued. “Your eyebrows are smushed togever and you have old person wines between them.”
I looked at him hard out of the corner of my old person eyes.
“I said you aren’t hurt yet,” I swatted at his back end with the dish towel. “Go - and don’t touch anything else!”
Several hours later, the area beneath our home looked a bit less like a seismic wave of chaos had consumed the concrete jungle (now it just looked like the wake of a more gentle wave of chaos. But definite improvement by comparison). The basement looked much cleaner after all that elbow grease (and other grease). You could say squeaky clean - or at least shiny in places it hadn't been before.
The rest of the house on the other hand...
My kids have made an indelible mark, not just on my basement, but on me. They’ve left me with stretch marks, a crippled metabolism, white hairs, stiff joints. They require my time, my sanity, my bank account, my freedom. All of me.
But they're not the same as a job or a hobby. My kids don’t just need my skills. (Good thing!) They need me. My voice. My attention. My touch. My physical presence.
I considered my face last Sunday morning. Over the brief period between waking and heading to church, I'd read my Bible with a 3 year old determined to sit on my lap, confronted one of my offspring about lying, and bathed a chicken in the (briefly clean) basement. I'm pretty sure the old person lines between my eyes reappeared.
But then it hit me. (Well, I think it was someone's dirty socks that hit me as I hollered from the foot of the stairs to bring down their laundry, but after that this hit me). I get distracted, like Martha did, serving Jesus when He dropped in (with a dozen hungry men who'd walked miles to get there) for dinner. There's a lot to do in the care and feeding of disciples, or students, or children. There just is.
The world would love to reprimand me for taking on a project that entails such a laundry list, such a grocery receipt, such a footprint - as if that commitment of time and stuff is of more importance than their actual being. But Jesus has never once remonstrated me for being careless to the environment by having a big family. He didn't make people for the world after all. He made the world for the people. For a place to meet Him.
Christ didn't come to do so much as to be.
He came to be the light of the world. He came to be the bread of life. He came to be the sacrifice that would take away the sin of the world. He came to be the only one who could stand in my place before the judgment seat and be declared innocent. Here in the greasy, grimy, dank hole of humanity that smells like teenagers' dirty socks and burned oil, Jesus came to simply be. With me.
His presence is the intrinsic mark that matters. The only one.
His presence doesn't negate the fact that there's stuff I've got to do. But it sanctifies it. Psalm 128 is one of the chapters that harried parents may refer to for the reminder that a full house is a good thing. I've considered this. When God blesses, He doesn't give a life of ease and carelessness. That's not blessing in God's eyes. In fact, time and again in Scripture, He remonstrates the rich for being lazy, for lying around, for living in hapless luxury. He doesn't get after them for being rich, but for using wealth or power as an excuse to lie around. God's blessing is a fruitful life. A full one.
Perhaps my focus shouldn't be on the huge greasy footprint, but on the holy ground where it left a mark. For surely, God is here.
Psalm 80 repeats a prayer three times. "Let your face shine, O God of hosts, that we may be saved!"
May my shiny floor reflect the face of God to everyone who walks over it for all of my life. Selah.
P.S. No wedding dresses were harmed in the discovery of the sharpie cover. But I have yet to find the marker.