The first apartment Jon and I called home, after our wedding, was tiny. It had a long, narrow living room, bright and cheery if the blinds were opened, leading to a closet kitchen full of dark cabinets and zero natural light. We could not be in the kitchen at the same time without bumping into each other. With no space for a washer and dryer, I spent Saturday afternoons at the laundromat with stacks of quarters, our full laundry basket, and my latest library book.
I have an unusual fondness for laundromats, even now: the sudsy, peaceful churning and washing away of the workweek, the lemony-linen scent of detergents and softener sheets twirling steadily within heaps of clothing: a hopeful reminder that every day may be washed clean, as we begin again. People of all ages and walks of life line the white and gold-flecked counters: ample space to fold the softened clothes, towels, and bedsheets. There is a quiet comradery in the midst of those commercial washers and dryers: we are all needing clean clothes, and at least for this day, the laundromat is our best option.
Once the dryers slowed and stilled, I closed my book, folded our laundry and breezed home. Smoothing the still-warmed clothing, I tucked it into our dresser drawers, just so. A benediction to the end of another week.
Saturday evenings the two of us lived large: Subway for an early dinner followed by a movie, complete with a bucket of popcorn and a bag of Strawberry Twizzlers. I absentmindedly tied knots in each licorice strand before partaking, and Jon laughed at my unusual proclivity.
Despite our apartment being so little, it was our first home and I loved it. We had been given hand-me-down-furniture, mismatched, but we were grateful. Our dining room table sat perched, wobbly at the far end of the living room in a marginal attempt to divide the living area from the kitchen. Placemats could not conceal all of the scratches and dents, but I shined it as best as I could. Even our sofa looked tired, a poor match for the newness of our marriage. I attempted to scrub out a few small stains, to no avail. The only brand new furniture we purchased following our wedding was a queen mattress and box spring, sans headboard.
I cleaned our small space each evening, upon returning home from my paying job. (What was there even to clean, I ask myself in hindsight? We were both at work all day!) Soon I began inviting people for dinner. We opened our door to extended family, friends, and new acquaintances, setting up card tables and borrowed folding chairs, with little elbow room to spare. That first year I prepared the same dinner on repeat for our guests because it was the one recipe that I was completely comfortable with: Spaghetti Pavarotti. I served it with garlic bread and the greenest Romaine I could find, sprinkled with carrot shavings, Vidalia onions, and cherry tomatoes, halved, and drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette. Jon promised not to tell guests about my lack of proficient recipes, and he was as good as his word.
With a famished husband, and a bunch of library cookbooks (remember, no internet back then) I kept at it, practicing my culinary skills. Jon told me they were all very good, but I was learning his tells, namely the tenor of his voice, and the lack of requests for seconds, which served as my guide as to which recipes needed work. He did not yet understand that I preferred direct honesty over regard for my feelings, as I labored to expand meals in order to comfortably entertain. I could not rely on Spaghetti Pavarotti forever.
I do remember the unexpected joy in my heart after cooking a meal that he loved. I felt so accomplished, and a tiny bit proud of my determination, as he asked for seconds. And so it went, little by little, week by week.
Close to our first anniversary, Jon left on a men’s retreat one steaming summer weekend. I fell into our couch after a long workday that Friday, looking forward to finishing a book. Quite suddenly, I woke up to our telephone ringing, and was confused as to why I had drifted off. I had never been one to nap….in fact, the only time I did was when I was ill.
As I arose to answer the phone, I felt light-headed and queasy. I spoke with my girlfriend briefly, apologizing that I was quite unwell. Crawling into bed, I closed my eyes. The next thing I knew, the sunshine was filtering brightly through the blinds, and it was late Saturday morning.
I was both ravenous and queasy, but nothing in our refrigerator looked appetizing. My friend called again to check in, and asked me how I was feeling. I mentioned my symptoms and she laughed. I think I know what’s wrong, she said.
This week I have been reading the book of Numbers. The Lord instructed Moses to send spies into Canaan, a land which God was giving as a promise and a blessing to the Israelites. The spies set off together, and for forty days examined this land from every angle. It proved lush, with an abundance of milk and honey and fruit. They also observed massive men and large protected cities (Numbers 13:27-28).
While every man sharp-eyed the same things: luscious clusters of grapes, dates, figs, plus gigantic men in fortified cities, their conclusions were at odds. Twelve had been sent out, but only two: Caleb and Joshua, returned with favorable reports.
While reading, I paid closer attention to something I had previously glossed over. The LORD knew exactly what the land of Canaan contained: the delicious foods, the cattle to provide the milk, the beehives full of sweet honey. Of course he knew of those enormous men and guarded cities of the land. He knows everything.
Sending those twelve spies was a measured dose of truth serum: During those forty days, would any of the men see past the impossibilities? Were any spies able to gaze above the earthly, knowing and believing that God had already promised to be with them and to bring them safely into this homeland? Who would place the LORD above their fears?
As it happened, ten spies rejected the beautiful inheritance. Impossible to overcome, they murmured in warning, remembering the imposing giants and city walls.
But Caleb had a different spirit (Numbers 14:24), trusting God wholeheartedly. He hushed the naysayers, with a Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it. (Numbers 13:30) He held high the promise of God, bright and majestic, a guarantee that simply overshadowed those massive men in guarded cities. Caleb’s spirit burned in reverence and appropriate fear. There was no questioning his obvious affections.
That following spring, after my weekend illness, our Caleb was born.
Cradling this beautiful miracle, I marveled at his bright blue eyes, large and staring, watching me; waiting. The gravity of this new life was matched only by the immediate protection I felt. A mother bear? She had nothing on me. I would defend this little one to the death. It was such a different love: consuming, completely unrestrained and entirely unconditional. It was my first genuine understanding of God’s unfathomable love in sacrificing his Son. As Caleb cooed, my grip on him tightened as I imagined sacrificing him for anyone. Inconceivable. My eyes filled, marveling at the miracle of life and the deep affections of God, all intertwined.
Alone with our baby during the middle of that first night, tucked into a hospital bed with stiff, uncomfortable sheets, I longed for home. Suddenly overwhelmed, I prayed: Lord, help me to be a good mother, and please give Caleb a heart that follows you.
As our family grew numerically, with three more children, we expanded our square footage, and even bought a new dining room table and sofa. Although I enjoyed our new and spacious home, I knew that it was my family that was most precious.
I still invited friends and family over to dinner, although not quite as often. My hospitality was focused on loving and serving and cherishing my five favorite people. I did not have much time to daydream about fancy recipes, or gently tumbling laundry, although our washer and dryer were constantly humming. We did not frequent Subway each Saturday, but Jon occasionally picked up subs for dinner on the way home from work…food we divvied up with our children, as our sleep-deprived eyes smiled over their heads, vaguely remembering that first year when it was just the two of us. Our hands were busy loving these treasures, and tending to their needs. Despite my imperfections and lack, God answered my prayers for each of our children, turning their hearts towards trust in him alone. There is nothing better for a parent to witness.
It was during this time of fullness that I experienced a sudden season of loneliness, due in part to a cross-country move. The Lord tenderly cared for me, beginning with the prompting to read a fantastic book that I had arbitrarily plucked off the library shelf: The Pleasures of God, by John Piper. After reading the first chapter, which was full of Scripture, I retrieved my Bible and purposed to read it straight through, beginning to end.
That year I feasted upon Scripture. There is no other way to describe it. God kindled my desire to know him, and my heart soared. I no longer felt so lonely, understanding that the Lord was with me. Scripture was alive, God was holy, and he cared about my affections. He loved me enough to show me my sin, and my wandering heart.
I am feasting again this year. Nothing fancy, just a plea for God to speak to me through the faithful reading of His word, which God tells us never returns void. (Isaiah 55:11 NKJV)
This passage jolted me one morning this week:
The Lord said to Moses, Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. (Numbers 15:37-38)
God was so good to help the Israelites, and to give them a visual way to remember his commands: a blue tassel. If obedient, they would have to maintain the same gaze that Caleb held: fastening themselves to an eternal perspective and the promises of God rather than upon the disappearing earthly treasures that consumed their vision. It is never a good plan to follow your own heart and the desire of your eyes.
My blue tassel is my daily Bible reading. I am understanding that nothing will tether me more to God than the reading and meditating of His Word wrapped up in prayer. It is like a sudsy, fresh-smelling laundromat, showing me my stains and washing them clean with truth.
Caleb’s obedience ultimately led to his pleasure of stepping into his earthly inheritance: the Promised Land. Out of all the Israelites, only he and Joshua persevered in obedient faith. He banked everything on following God completely, and even his descendants were favored beneficiaries.
We are pilgrims of dust on this earth: living in temporary homes with vanishing paychecks and crumbling dreams. One day, as true disciples of Christ, we will become settlers: permanent citizens of heaven. That blue tassel reminds me that God alone holds the master key, and has given us everything we need to know in his Holy Word.