Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pinterest and Perspective


Last year the house we lived in while in Haiti was plain.  It was functional (after a lot of creative re-working) but the walls were white, some floors were cement, some were indescribable, and the boy's room had bunk beds.  The end.  Their space definitely did not look like your typical American kid's bedroom.  In despair one night, while standing in the boys' room I remember saying to Aaron, "It looks like our sons are at youth camp.  A really crappy one."  There was not a single piece of art or decor on the walls of our home.  Not one single thing could have been labeled decorative.

I knew we probably would not be in that house for long.  I didn't want to go to the trouble of decorating or making the house feel more like "me" or "us."    Living in a third world country, seeing poverty every day also makes those kind of things feel extra silly.  We lived ten months in a house that didn't feel like "us" or look like "us" or have any creative elements to it.  I'm sad to admit that we survived.  I'm also sad to admit that my sons and husband did not care that the house was plain and uninspiring.  They loved being home, felt that it was comfortable, and never complained.  Bummer of epic proportions!

One day when I was complaining about our Haiti house to Aaron, I remember desperately trying to pull the "guests" card.   A lot of what I did to make our house so ding-dang spectacular in the States was for our guests after-all.  "I want to show hospitality and make everyone feel comfortable and welcome." Well darn it all.  We didn't have anything special in Haiti...like there were times when people had to bring their own plates to eat dinner at our house, and yet we experienced some of the sweetest community and fellowship we have ever known this year in Haiti.  Can someone growl with me, because that makes me want to throw a brat-tacular fit.

I was left with only one depressing conclusion to make:  A lot of what I was doing for years and years in the States, trying to "make my home a haven" and pour my efforts into having an adorable house my family and others enjoyed was not really for them.  It was for me.  Glad that's out.

I think it's especially easy in the Christian community where book upon book is written to encourage women to care for their homes and family (all good things) to go a step too far and convince women that their homes need to be stylish. I can't speak for everyone, but this linking of "cute house" to "good wife and mom" caused me to spend unnecessary funds, time, and energy on making my house aesthetically pleasing.

I have been guilty of looking at magazines, repainting a room, or buying all new bedding and window treatments while justifying my obsession with my home as a really good thing.  "I'm busy at home.  Those new curtains make me a good wife.  If I sewed them myself, it makes me an even better one.  This new technique I'm using to repaint this dresser for the eighth time will surely make my kids look back on their childhood with delight."  Lots of what I bought was from garage sales and cheap antique fairs.  I didn't spend a lot of money.  Just a lot of time and a whole heck of a lot of my thought life went into fantasizing about what project I was going to do next.

You would think living in Haiti in a "this-house-is-so-not-me" kind of house, surviving, and seeing dire poverty day in and day out would cure this crazy obsession with my home.

You would think.


I have simultaneously discovered and fallen in love with Pinterest.  I don't think I believed in love at first sight until discovering this online bulletin board of all things lovely and inspiring.

When we decided to go back to Haiti for two years, I also decided I do want to put more effort into our new house feeling a little more homey and "like us" all the while admitting that most of that will be for me and not for anyone else in my home.  I obviously need this.  They probably don't.  In a country where most people don't even have houses, much less decorated ones, I have to admit that I'm most likely being ridiculous and yes, even selfish.  As lame as it is, I really want the boys to have rooms that they love.  I want painted walls.  I want all that while trying to balance my desires with the truth that the majority of the world is suffering and doing without the most basic needs in life.  Such friction.  There is no escaping it. 


I don't want to feel entitled to a decorated, fashionable home when millions and millions of people will fall asleep tonight without a roof over their heads.  I love Pinterest.  It's incredibly inspiring.  I've gotten several ideas for decorating the boys' room in creative, simple ways.  But I'm also trying to tread through this whole topic of "making a home a home" cautiously.  I know my natural tendency is to try and justify home-improvement projects as "necessary" when really most are not.  I really want my husband and sons to care if we have art on the walls and adorable throw pillows.  Mostly, they don't.  I know I'm guilty of using the gifts I've been given and pouring them all into projects that benefit myself or my family or other people in my life who also do not need one single thing.  I struggle with that even though I know...deep down...I know that a lot of women have been gifted with brilliant, creative brains, and there are many ways a hurting, desperate world could be cared for and loved by the same creativity I am tempted to use to sew new curtains.  I am easily distracted, but during the rare moments when I'm thinking straight...I truly want hurting, broken people...not walls or counter-tops...to be the primary recipients of the love and creativity I possess.  I want to make a difference in this world.  I want to spend my time advocating for people who are helpless.  I want to care about the world, my eyes opened wide to the suffering, my soul in prayer, my energy in big, heaven-birthed movements.  In my heart I want that.  In my mind I'm trying to figure out how to paint paper mache eggs to look like robin eggs.

So here I go...tip-toeing ever so cautiously through the world of decor.  Can I easily, simply, cheaply, environmentally and socially responsibly find a few ideas online and make those things come to life (and fit in our luggage to take back to Haiti?) I really, really, really, want the boy's rooms to be cool, even though it does not matter one tiny bit.  I realize how ridiculous that is.

While I was in Haiti I really didn't care about any of this stuff.  There were moments when I'd look around my house and shake my head.  Mostly we were too busy living life, trying to love others, and engage in our community to care about having matching dishes.  As complex and draining as Haiti can be, it can also give enormous gifts...like freedom to this "I heart my home" junky.

I'm grateful for art and beauty.  Aren't these wonderful gifts?  Creating art and beauty is surely a talent we've inherited from our Maker.  I'm sure the canvas of creativity will be my home, but I hope these bursts of ideas, inspiration, and beauty I add to this world are also found outside our front door.

As I go about "pinning" all things incredible on Pinterest, I do so with the images of Haiti in my heart and mind.  The ever-present friction of being a first world girl in a third world country.  I'm learning there aren't easy answers or a nice rule book about how much is too much.  Instead, there's just a soul tug.  A constant one.  I'm learning to be more comfortable in that uneasiness.  I'm sure it's probably best to consistently feel the burn...to feel the pull calling me to invest my time, mind, and energy in life-giving things that not only matter now, but will matter forever.   

26 comments:

Erin said...

girl, i've been anticipating this post ever since you mentioned pinterest the other day...wrestling with the same stuff ever since i started "pinning" last week and having a hard time justifying some of it's usage.

we are moving into a new place this week, so I actually DO need ideas...but can this tool be used in a good, practical way without idolatry? that is the question for me right now.

debra said...

friction. i feel it too. sometimes i don't know how to live in the middle. okay, not sometimes. all the time. i just shrug it off and try to not think about it. friction. it is there at every turn.

Megan said...

I am so glad you wrote this. I have been struggling through these thoughts and you just ordered them and put it in writing! (and much more eloquently than I would have). :)

The entire time I have been pinning decor ideas "for the home" I have been thinking "hmm... surely I could find pallets in so & so country...". I think I have spent more time planning what my house is going to look like on the mission field rather than what my life will look like. Which when written out like that sound ridiculously silly, but it really is something I am struggling with.

Sandy said...

I must say, that was convicting. You are not alone. My house decorating and keeping it very clean are for me. How much time do I spend on cleaning and organizing and dreaming of what color I want to paint the walls and if we are going to get granite counter tops. Our counter tops are fine. We could use that money and go on a medical mission trip to Haiti:-)
We host our small groups at our home and I always want it to be "warm and welcoming".
In reality, it is the fellowship and learning about living a life for Christ in every aspect of our lives.
Thank you for your transparency and honesty.

beth lehman said...

I, too, wondered how you would deal with pinterest, which I, too, have been LOVING..... I love beauty - I long to have less chaos and more lovely in my home (i notice most of what i pin is simple and clean - not like my home...) - but what is the cost? the time, the obsession, the wanting what I don't have... you always have me thinking - thank you again!

Wandering On Purpose said...

Wow - thanks for sharing all of this. I have been loving pinterest the last month or so - which is odd because a)the home I grew up in was never decorated (except a couple of pictures of my brother and I) and b) I have just now, after six and half years of marriage and six in our house started "decorating" (and I use that very loosely). And I've struggled with not feeling "womanly" because my home is not at all betterhomesandgardens. And for six years I have not opened up my home because of shame of living on the wrong side of town and in a small, undecorated home. I am trying to change that. For my son's birthday I invited a couple of my friends and their kids to our very simple family party.
I am on the journey to figuring it all out - appreciating beauty in making things homey, not getting frustrated by our meager budget, remembering how much more I have than most of the world.. it is tough. You have given me much to ponder.

Life With the Crazies said...

I so appreciate this post today. Our family is preparing to make the move to Haiti in early 2012, and this is something I've been pondering. Thank you for this perspective.

Krys said...

Nice post. While we have access here to a bit more in the country I live in vs Haiti, it is so expensive that you really don't have to think too long about wanting vs needing. As my kids played yesterday with water toys that had broken down in the heat with holes etc (and no longer held water LOL), I laughed as I thought that in the US they would have been thrown away 4 years ago...we'll probably keep them until they disintegrate.

But at the same time after being here 15 years, I think it's important to have a "nest" vs a house. We spend so much time in our homes vs friends in the US. We eat every meal, spend weekends here or at a friends home, it's our refuge. We only go out to eat once or twice every 3-4 months and shopping is mainly groceries until we go stateside. I think having a nest to soothe the soul is a good thing.

Our home will never compete with some of the amazing places I have seen or been to (or the tourist resorts nearby) but it's a place I love to be. For me it's less of having perfect, but having tools to create for those I love (and tools that will survive this environment.) So I have good pans/pots/bowls/measuring items cutters for the kitchen. Paints/paper/glue/fabric/buttons/beads sewing machines etc. And over the years I have brought in inexpensive but colorful melamine plates and matching utensils...not glamourous but they make me smile as we use them everyday. I think you have to just keep it in balance, when it's the most important thing or the thing that defines who you are, you need to step back and assess, but don't feel guilty about nesting...lovely post as always!

diplofam said...

Even though I consider myself a very crafty person I haven't gone on Pinterest and now thanks to your comments I probably won't :) I agree about the pressures that well-intentioned Christian bloggers, authors and speakers put on their readers. I like nice things and would like to be a better hostess but living in a 3rd world country gives an awesome perspective on things. I had that perspective once and don't try hard enough these days to keep it.
Love your honesty. Would still love to share quilts with the mothers down in Haiti and give them something beautiful to treasure. Let me know if you have any more information on numbers etc.
Blessings,
Carin from Margaret's Hope Chest

Flower Patch Farmgirl said...

I am obsessed with you tonight. Oh, you noticed?

Well, very similar thoughts have badgered me for the past year or so (minus the Haiti part) and I felt guilty over the sincere joy I sometimes feel when I spruce up a corner. Then I read Nester's post (can't find it now) and she related this kind of art to the artist painting a picture or writing a poem. It's art. It's a gift. Not everyone has it (i.e. not everyone cares.) But for those who do, it can be used to his glory.

My priorities have changed so much over the past year. I see things very differently. My decorating has become much thriftier and I honestly don't care quite as much. But I still do care and I still do spruce and it gives me joy to create in these small ways.

Ahmen.

ps - find me.
pss - when (if) you do, don't be upset with the fact that I pin food almost exclusively. I don't want Milky Way tart on my conscience when you're back in Haiti.
psss - (I can't stop) I have discovered that the best fellowship happens when my house is a wreck and I'm not wearing make-up. Just an observation.

bye.

Erin said...

Another thought: My grandmother was a missionary to Ethiopia for 30 years...as well as an interior decorator. Her home in the states was beautiful. I wish she was alive so I could pick her brain on how she came to terms with it all...

One quote I remember from her: "Ugly things often cost the same as beautiful things. So why not choose beauty?"

That perspective helps me, to a degree.

Hendrick Family said...

I wish your grandmother were alive too!

I know this isn't about decorating. It's about my heart.

I'm going to decorate my kid's room. I want to do that with certain things in mind. I certainly don't want this to take over my mind.

But I don't feel guilty for wanting to decorate or be artistic. Art is a gift. Beauty is a gift.

I just don't want to feel entitled to those things or be consumed by them. I want to be okay living in this constant friction of what I've seen and experienced in Haiti and who I was before I went there, (and still am tempted to be if I close my eyes tight and don't think of others.)

I want to be okay with how complicated it is and feels and constantly struggle with this.

Heather

Jen said...

I'm always at war with myself about making my home "MY home" and not allowing myself to get too comfortable. The country I live in is so different from America that I just need a safe haven BUT I don't want to be so tied down to my house that I can't be free to move around the country if God has that for me. At the same time, I love pretty things. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

I'm a normal reader of your blog, who would ordinarily post under my own name, but I wanted this to be anonymous this time. I'm the adult child of a hoarder. Well sort of. It's actually OCD mixed with ill health, I'm not sure it's actual hoarding for the same mental reasons. But our house growing up looked worse than most of the houses you see on those hoarding shows. The reason I tell you this is because environment REALLY AFFECTS US. Most people have no idea how much until they know extremes. But there's a reason God created a love for beauty in us. There's a reason that mountains are beautiful, the oceans are beautiful, the plains are beautiful, the deserts are beautiful, the tundras are beautiful, the plants are beautiful, the trees are beautiful, the flowers are beautiful. God loves beautiful, and we're created in His image. He wants humans to have a beautiful habitat to live in. But of course, even in the ugly places, God's beauty is there.

I've inherited some of my mom's disease, I'm very messy, though I try to resist it. I don't hoard, I just don't notice the mess until it's piled up so much it overwhelms me to take care of it. I have such issues with cleaning. But this desire for beauty... most hoarders think it's selfish. I've read up on it, and most are really just trying to be practical, to where they value practicality over niceness and beauty, saying that beauty is frivolous and they don't deserve it. They say 'why buy a bookshelf when milk crates can do? Let's not throw away the laundry detergent containers because we can use them to water the flowers. I have no idea what we could use this thing for, but I'm sure I'll come up with something, so don't throw it out" etc. They don't believe beauty is worth it. They're trying so desperately to be practical and often thrifty that they overwhelm themselves, and then it cascades and they just stop trying...

It's obviously a very different problem than it is in Haiti. Too much stuff v. so little. But when it comes down to it, it is about environment. The reason you feel it's not like home is because some part of you says 'to make this beautiful would be selfish'.

You shouldn't devote tons of time to this, that's true. But picking up a paint brush, or putting some art prints in your suit case to hang on the walls of your Haiti home, or sewing a curtain, there's nothing wrong with it. And I can tell you, hospitality is a wonderful thing. I ache, ache, ache to give it. And when I've received it, it has charmed me.

I think the desire for beauty is God given and you shouldn't deny it. I think your struggle is simply with balance. Once your home looks nice STOP. Don't replace curtains that have nothing wrong with them or repaint the walls once a year, unless maybe you've been given new curtains or paint. The way to not be obsessed (and I'm an HGTV addict, I get it!!) is to not let yourself devote so much time to it. Set a limit. Stick to it. Moderation.

Love to you. And pray for me. I'm actually moving to a much poorer country myself soon. I'm thanking God for knowing I'll have to simplify my belongings... and yet fearing it at the same time. I'm not really a hoarder, I don't cling to my things, I give them away. I just struggle immensely at keeping a clean house consistently because I was never taught how. Practice and all that.

Zoanna said...

I really appreciate your honesty and eloquence here. What a breath of fresh air.

One thought that God whispers to me, when I am tempted to feel guilty over sprucing up my place, is the verse, "I go and prepare a place for you" coupled with the knowledge that we are made in His image. His love of beauty and order are all over the universe. He paints the sky different colors every morning and night. ANd He does so while loving people in tangible ways.

But I totally get what you mean about the friction. I just appreciate that you realize it's for YOU primarily, not "the boys" who don't care so much about it, or even "guests" though they will probably like it more than they realize. The Bible says "and for Thy pleasure they were created"==God created for His pleasure primarily. So ...take it for what it's worth and don't be so hard on yourself.

beth lehman said...

I actually came back to read the other comments and I'm glad I did. (What am I doing on the computer, again? ahem.) I think beauty and organization in the home is something that is a fresh idea to me too. (Growing up things were messy and it's hard for me to get a handle on keeping things in order.) Thank you to anonymous for the comments. I think it is important to be an example to our children of what we value - keeping that the ultimate goal. Do I value things? or people/relationships? Do we feel better with less choas b/c we can focus on what matters?

Haley said...

Love your thoughts on this. "friction" was the right word for sure. Balance of being thankful for God's tangible gifts while not forgetting the deepest needs of others.

Monica said...

I want to encourage you ladies to ask your husands when you feel the friction of what you want vs. what you need. They are often more reasonable than we are when it comes to this. I'm sure they will appreciate you asking them if they have a recommendation for how much is too much. I know they often don't care about how cute the house is, but it seems to me that is a great balance for us caring a little too much.

John & Perla said...

Praying for you in this area. Why not wait until you're back and 'decorate' with local art?

Rachel said...

I know its a little late to be commenting on this post but I simply must! I live in China and I know almost EXACTLY how you feel! I have lived for almost two years in apartments that didn't belong to my little family and now we finally have our own cement box, white walls, chipped tiles... I too fell in love with Pinterest just recently and have been spending all my pent up nesting frustrations by pinning all things lovely. To decorate or not to decorate is a very VERY hard decision for exactly the reasons you stated BUT I really think, that it IS important for me at least, to make my family a home that we are happy to live in, feel comfortable and protected in. I also know from past experience that as a foreigner living overseas doing the kind of work we've bee doing, its refreshing to go 'home' or to someone else's 'home' and not feel like the white concrete walls are always a reminder of where you are and who's outside. I hope that doesn't sound selfish and awful. I'm not talking Anthropologie here -- but resourcefulness and creativity are also a gift from God!

Josh and Kelly said...

yes. this. friction. I've been in Uganda for a month, and have slowly been creating home here... and I want it lovely. i want it to be a haven- but not with high walls keeping people out- but open doors welcoming weary travelers to come rest a bit and be renewed. Such a fine line. thank. you. for this post.

juliemarg said...

I love reading your blogs it was great! :)

The Nester said...

This is a beautifully crafted post, thank you so, so much! I have been sitting in the center of decorating/world view/creativeness/seeing poverty tension for quite some time and your words sum up the feelings so fully.

Anna said...

I have this same struggle with decorating and making things homey. I'm an MK, moved to the US a few years ago, and now as a young wife and mother am trying to figure out how to make a home beautiful and homey. I love beautiful American homes but am not very good at knowing how to make mine that way. I didn't realize until this year that a lot of people paint their walls a color besides white. Pinterest helps but then also complicates the situation with the question of how much effort and money should I really put into this.

It's a little different for me because my husband appreciates a decorated house as much or even more than I do and has more of an expectation of it.

Anna said...

It is difficult when you grow up in one culture and move to one that is much more poor or rich. Both are realities you experience. You live in the current culture but you have to reconcile it with the one in your heart and the person you were there. Then not only are there these earthly realities, but you consider a heavenly home. It's difficult to balance it all and pick the things that matter.

mccart said...

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