About 30 years ago we owned a modular house whose many large windows were covered by the original fancy draperies, so that when the curtains were closed they covered most of the expanse of three walls with nubby gold curves. The walls were thin particle board painted to look like wood, as you can see in the photo – but I didn’t mind those as much as the drapes. I would have preferred something more rustic and casual and of another color to go with the country setting, but even if we’d had the money we couldn’t have justified spending it to replace Perfectly Good high-quality drapes.
It was a recurring temptation to me, though, to stew over how ugly and Not Me they were. This was tiresome, and eventually my better self convinced my offended self to stop, using this argument:
What is your purpose in life? To love God and be useful to Him.
What is the most important way for you to do that? To love people.
Do you need pretty and tasteful drapes in order to love people? No, I answered. If someone who comes to my house sees my drapes and not me, I can’t help that. If they need my hospitality and friendship they need it from me personally, and God will just have to use me in spite of this ugliness in the room. (Which of course was not a universally recognized ugliness anyway.)
Those of us who have read any of Edith Schaeffer’s other books know that she by her life and words demonstrated the importance of love and hospitality. Her book The Hidden Art of Homemaking, which is the subject of a book club hosted at Ordo Amoris, I do not take as contrary to the rest of her life and work, but complementary to it. Some of you may not have read the other books like What is a Family? Partly from reading it I am pretty sure that if she had to choose, she would herself rather have been a resident or guest in a plain and even ugly house run by a warmhearted woman than in an artistically decorated dwelling with an unkind or angry soul. We’ve all heard of and perhaps had the experience of going into a house where the decor was shabby or messy but you wanted to be there because it felt like home — welcoming and nurturing. Mother Teresa’s saying fits here: “Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do… but how much love we put in that action.”
I think Edith’s own houses were like this, because she was that kind of woman, and likely much more than I myself am. But I have it as a vision to be like that, and am inspired by quotes that speak of a woman being able to make a home wherever she finds herself, of a woman herself being the heart of her home….but I can’t find any of those at the moment. The line that has intrigued me for years now is from the Santana song “You’ve Got to Change Your Evil Ways,” from the perspective of a man who is dismayed by his woman who’s gadding about all the time:
When I come home, Baby,
My house is dark and my pots are cold.
These are just signs to the poet that there is no woman at home to welcome him. The verse reminds me of advice I read to housewives who haven’t figured out what to make for dinner, but who want to do something to give their husbands a good feeling when they come in the door after work: While you are getting your act together put an onion in the oven to bake so that he will get a hopeful olfactory signal.
A message I get here: A woman conveys her love and hospitality by these simple modifications to the environment: opening the drapes or turning on the lights, cooking something in the kitchen, and in both ways warming up the sensory atmosphere. If she has a kiss and a smile for her family and guests all the better.
The last few years when my husband and I live here alone, I notice that I am the one who thinks about light control. In that photo above you can see all the light that came into the humble house with the gold drapes. It was the best feature of the house, as I was later to discover, when I wanted our new house to have as much light — it was not to be. The photo was likely taken in the winter, when we would open the drapes wide and let in all the warming sun.
In our area we can get along pretty well in summertime without air conditioning, if we manage the windows and window coverings: At night open all the windows to let the cool air in; in the morning close everything up to shut out the sun’s rays, and leave them that way (and the house kind of dark!) until the air inside gets as warm as outdoors — then you may as well get any breeze that might stir, and be ready for the coolness to enter as soon as it arrives.
In Spring or Fall our present house doesn’t get very hot, so in the mornings I like to open the blinds and let the sun in as soon as I come downstairs — but my man never thinks of doing this. For my mind, sunlight is the very loveliest decoration. And at night, I like to close the curtains or blinds so as to feel sheltered against the world. This also seems to be, in my experience, a homemaker’s impulse.
I have learned to do many artful things in my houses over the decades; I have arranged and painted furniture, swept the floor, bought bedspreads and embroidered Bible verses to hang on walls that I painted, but those things aren’t more important than the light-monitoring I do. I also tend the fire in the stove, and light candles, and keep the pots warm.
While you’re working on the outward appearance of your home, attend also to your heart and keep it warm with prayer. If the family members are getting snappy or sulky, take a prayer break together and ask God’s help – then sing something to warm up the atmosphere. I like this quote that Debbie posted, by Laura Ingalls Wilder:
Let’s be cheerful! We have no more right to steal the brightness out of the day for our own family than we have to steal the purse of a stranger. Let us be as careful that our homes are furnished with pleasant & happy thoughts as we are that the rugs are the right color and texture and the furniture comfortable and beautiful.
Thank God for making Edith Schaeffer the kind of woman who could pass on to us a bright homemaking heritage.