Last night’s concert with my sister went well. We saw Colbie Caillat at The Pageant in St. Louis, which is a smaller venue and more intimate setting than say a Soldier Field concert which holds multiple tens of thousands of people. She looked absolutely beautiful and her songs were familiar and beautiful as well. She’s doing a 15-year anniversary tour of her debut album Coco, which is one of my sister and I’s favorite albums.
One of my favorite things about singers is when they share some of the background on what inspired them to write their songs. As I’ve continued to be bothered, especially more so lately, that so much of what I write is about myself and my own personal experiences, I was reminded that the songs and words coming out of a person are commonly and rightly autobiographical. Even the Bible is a book God writes about himself.
The rules wouldn’t let me bring a blanket inside. I had two sweaters, one to wear in order to muffle the vibrations and another to ball up and hold against my chest. Once the music started I thought I ought to have brought a helmet. Right away I moved to the back to a line of lone bar stools. As long as I wasn’t leaning against the vibrating wall, the condition of being in the room was tolerable. I wish I could’ve enjoyed it more.
My Dad called this morning to see how things had gone, specifically how I had held up during the evening. I told him mostly what I just wrote here and that I’d also taken two xanax ahead of time to have it already there in my system. The xanax relaxes the tightness in the chest and eases the buzzing in my limbs that comes with overstimulation or more activity. He thought all that sounded like a good report, even as inwardly I was slower to arrive at that conclusion so quickly.
Colbie mostly writes songs about breaking up and falling in love, along with the feelings, hurts, and insecurities that come with relationships. As she mentioned the different relationships in her life that inspired her songs, beginning with her earlier Coco songwriting days when she was between the ages of 19-20, to her present day life at 37, I thought, “My Lord, how many times can a person go through that in their life?” It was slightly a judgement but even more a perplexed amazement.
Coco was the album my husband and I once enjoyed together and the music by which I met him intensely on the floor of our rent-free 4th-year house living room. Her music didn’t just tap into my sensual side, it freed it. Having never before been drunk in my life, that was also the night I learned that alcohol, while good for dissolving inhibitions, also unfortunately numbed most pleasure. The first time I remember hearing one of her songs was in the hospital, in a slower moment on the evening shift, when I was pregnant with my daughter and charting at the nurse’s desk.
During the concert I didn’t really have much reaction to the songs, nor did they stir up too many thoughts or feelings, good or bad. Much of that was due to being distracted by the need to protect my energy and be comfortable. I’m also just a little less moved or enamored with such experiences, like there are other things in life that are remarkable and good. Realize was still beautiful but hard to hear, serving anymore as just an interesting relic, rather than the once played and dedicated song of my heart. I pray that anymore I would just sing him the song myself.
(I was going through my Google docs today, sorting through files and titling others so I didn’t have quite as many Untitled Documents. Colbie’s background stories kind of inspired me to also see things I’ve written as “songs” and to let an imperfect song be sung. Therapy sessions have also taught me and helped me feel a little more comfortable with how the memories and themes we return to most are the ones we repeatedly need to work with to process and are in some way the body calling out to be healed.)
There wasn’t always something to tidy then. What I had instead was an ample amount of inspiration and freedom to do what I longed to do most, to spend time with my kids. I was still working part-time at the hospital. My husband was a 4th-year seminary student helping with our vicarage church’s new vacancy. He’d arranged his classes so that he only had to drive into St. Louis two days a week. This allowed him to be with our kids while I worked my 4 or 8-hr shifts. I had a motto which motivated me to rarely go to bed with dishes in the sink. The motto was something like “I don’t want to start today dealing with the work from yesterday.” Our house was clean.
Strangely enough, from that point on, my house was never clean again. Perhaps I should clarify to say that when I say my house was never clean again, I mean it has never again been easily maintained and organized like it was in the days of my cleaning schedules and refrigerator charts. I can tell you the truth that it hasn’t been for my lack of trying, or those years of blurred mornings spent sorting clothes in front of the kids’ dresser.
There are these things called the natural laws of the universe. Without looking it up first, I wouldn’t be able to tell you the specific scientific details regarding Newton’s laws of physics or how gravity officially keeps us tied to the earth. But the natural laws I’m referring to I can tell you plenty about, the first one being, there are limits to what a human being can do, even a full-time stay-at-home mom. Especially a full-time stay-at-home mom.
This isn’t to discount any other woman or ignore the realities or complications of other work/life combinations. My adult life as a stay-at-home mother is simply the place I’ve been able to encounter, bump up against, and at times painfully crash into the natural law of our human limitations. As women, by nature, we are all in some way care-givers, home-makers, creatures tending, and like gravity, tied to the most regular and intimate human needs of others. And in all this we ourselves never cease to be human.
In never ceasing to be human, by nature, we never cease to be in need. That we are frequently responsible for making meals does not disqualify us from the need for nourishment. That we wake in the night to nurse a newborn, does not remove our need for sleep. That we often are the ones washing socks and underwear, does not shield us from needing covering, warmth, and a cozy robe of our own. In never ceasing to be human, we never outgrow the human need to be cared for.
To be cared for is a physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual need. Far from trying to foster any sense of entitlement, I do not think it a far-fetched assessment that every woman needs to occasionally get out of her own house. She needs the much needed relief of eating a meal that she did not cook, of sitting in a room that someone else has made beautiful, of using the bathroom and experiencing the joy, miracle, and surprise of toilet paper she did not have to pull herself together and covertly go fetch.
It’s true we spend decades training our children to eventually put away their own clothes and sort their own drawers. We have common conversations and work things out with our husbands about what we need from them and how they can help us. But this is where we as women are gifted to intuitively help one another. The hospitality of another might inspire us to clean our tea kettles, to wipe up the grease behind the stove, to finally hang that picture, to persist in the homemaking work of love and care.
We traditionally talk about men holding open the doors for women. Whether he’s a husband, son, brother, friend, or stranger, I do appreciate and feel cared for any time a man does that for me. Perhaps we might also talk about the particular loveliness of women opening doors for one another, the acknowledgement and care of inviting each other into our lives and homes. These covid days have delayed our keeping in touch with one another, while greatly amplifying our very real need for human touch, interaction, and comfort of somebody else’s clean house. Through the open doors of hospitality, who knows what breath we might return to a person?
In this current season of family life, if our house is clean, it’s not a result of my gradually learned discipline and home management skills that allow me to stay on top of the mess. It’s not because I planted my kids in front of four different movies and spent an entire day doing absolutely nothing else but mopping floors, folding laundry, decluttering and cleaning. Our home is never completely clean, but if it reaches that “basically tidied and picked up” point, it’s because every able person living here pitched in and helped.
It has not been an easy thing for me to accept the limits of my vocations. And yet, the Christian life was never about our standards, but God’s. The words of Jesus from the cross, the declaration, “It is finished” take on an entirely new meaning after years of not being able to do it all and realizing I’ll never be able to get everything done. “It is finished” is not a faux grace we preach to ourselves or to the world. It is the daily loving care and mercy of God. It doesn’t mean we don’t try. It doesn’t mean we give up. It means our standards have changed. Now love is the goal.
Thanks for this. I was speaking with a student the other day about the need for a theology of care. I think you are doing some work in this here…
Thanks for sharing. Do you mind if I ask what the greater context of the conversation was, as in, for what was this theology of care needed or where was it seen to be lacking?
You are welcome! The student is starting a doctoral project looking at the experience of caregivers of people with multiple personality disorder. I think we have some notion of what care is, but haven’t always thought about it theologically. How might the phenomenon of care inform our understanding of God? How is care related to the imago dei? How do we use care to express ourselves, etc.? Lots of questions to consider!
So beautifully written. Thinking of you.