Fall has officially arrived here in northeast Washington. As the air adopts a chill, we are barreling towards the season of harvest parties and hay rides, hot chocolate and flushed faces, pumpkins and apple-cider. Tradition holds that this season affords us all a glowing opportunity to throw open our homes to company. Thanks to Pinterest, we have a vivid picture in our minds of the model autumnal home: decorated but not cluttered, festive but not garish, tidy but just the right amount of “lived in.” If you’re anything like me, you are already laboring under the weight of this impossible standard, maybe opting for a feeble mini pumpkin on your desk as your token tribute to the season. If you’re anything like me, the unspoken charge to practice hospitality in your perfect home rankles ever so slightly. Interior decorating failures aside, I prize the privacy of my home. I harbor a secret fear of what others might think if they saw me as I really am, without all the Pinterest shine to cover up the real that’s not so “put together.”
I remember the many autumns of my childhood, when I was a student in my mom’s K-12 homeschool program. As I frolicked in the leaf piles, enjoying Fall guilt-free, she shouldered a heavy responsibility. For her, this season marked not only the start of the festive holidays and the family fun, but the start of a long year of intense, multi-grade-level schooling. Even as the leaf piles grew in the corners of the yard, the piles of books for prepping, teaching, and grading mounted higher and higher around her homeschool room. That beginning was accompanied by a whole other expectation. Our home was her domain of expertise, not just as a home-maker and celebration-planner, but as a professional educator as well. Oftentimes, it was difficult for her not to see her own worth and value linked inextricably to the smoothness of the household-workings and the performance of its members. I watched her shoulder the daily burden of a dirty house, a rowdy batch of kids, and a daunting curriculum load. I watched her rally on the good days when the home ran smoothly and recognized that little set of her mouth that marked her mental evaluation of herself: “Success.” I saw her slump under the weight of self-condemnation on the bad days when chaos reigned. Her very posture screamed a judgment: “Failure.” Her own self a critic tougher than any other, perhaps my mother too was daunted by the thought of guests in her fragile domain. With each glance, those visitors had the power to note the flaws in her place and so condemn her.
But even if she could succeed in “hoodwinking” the world into thinking she had it all together, my mother had an eternal audience right there in her home in the persons of my five siblings and me. The very act of raising us at home as she did was a dangerous proposition. There on the inside, we saw clearly all her mess and all her fear. There was no opportunity to hide behind a Pinterest perfect autumn wreath or to pretend a storybook serenity with such an attentive audience. Surely she feared the day when we would return, full grown, catalogue her many failings and reject her for them. After all, a flawed performance disqualifies you from relationships, right?
She couldn’t possibly have known then that with every temper-tantrum and every come-apart, she was raising not critics, but friends. All those years in her schoolroom, I did see her clearly, faults and flaws and all. She made a place for me in the midst of her mess and her chaos, her unwashed dishes and her piles of laundry, her crying children and her unfinished lessons. And today, I have my own chaos to claim.
My own failures pile in the corners of my heart, like heaps of laundry or teetering stacks of dirty dishes. My own insufficiencies deafen me, shrieking louder than six children in the midst of a school-day’s strife. Most days I long to lock the door against unfriendly eyes and pitying neighbors, to keep my clamoring catastrophes to myself. I know the messy real here in my heart is far from Pinterest perfect. And like my home, sealed tight against the festive Fall visitors who might judge, I’m locked up tight. But she is welcome here. She alone, in all the world of witnesses, can claim admittance to my messy real. For I know in my heart that she will meet me in my need with grace.
So this Fall, as the pumpkins and the candles and the pretty leaf wreaths taunt you with their Pinterest beauty and meanwhile the towers of dishes, laundry, and books threaten to engulf you in great heaps, I hope this word encourages you. Don’t fear that rowdy little audience you’re raising in your inmost sanctuary. Don’t seek to hide the real, however messy it may be. You’re giving them permission to be satisfied with real. And they might just thank you for it, come November.