Monks and Mamas Know a Few Holy Things

The water reservoir in my iron ran dry more than a week ago.

On Tuesday, I unloaded my groceries, folded the bags to go back into my car, and took the hefty jug of distilled water to the laundry room.

I usually wipe the kitchen counters, pick up stray bits and pieces of family life around the house, and do laundry most every day except Sundays. But my big cleaning day, where I change sheets and iron wrinkled clothes, trying to get to the bottom of the pile, is every other Wednesday.

I find I have to schedule it into my weeks and keep the rhythm, or come Wednesday, I would find a million other things to do. Out-of-the-house things, seen things, accomplishment things, more peopled things.

I’m not sure anyone really irons clothes much anymore. Permanent press was a welcomed innovation to endless days of slaving away at the ironing board. But in moderation, I find ironing a kind of comfort. The steam, the clean, the slow process of smoothing out wrinkles, the straightening of collars and shirttails, are all somehow centering.

It is a throwback to another era when fulltime homemaking was not just something to hurry through, but an art and an act of love. I know there was drudgery, and thank goodness for school and work and options, but there was something else there, too. Was it quiet? Was it simple living? Was it smaller space and slower pace?

I remember my Mama ironing my Daddy’s shirts while I played underneath the ironing board. And later, even when they could finally afford to pay for dry cleaning, Mama still pressed the collars just so to make them softer. It was a small kindness for the weekdays Daddy went off to work in a crisp suit.

It makes me think of Brother Lawrence who found God’s presence in his kitchen duties,

We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God,

who regards not the greatness of the work,

but the love with which it is performed.

It seems monks and mamas know a few holy things from doing small repetitive household chores.

I start a load of sheets and hear the click of the lock on the washer window. The water swooshes into the tub like a tidal wave.

I sigh as I feel the worn place in my heart fray a tiny bit more. We have just moved our oldest son and his family across the country. While we are truly happy for their new adventure, we are still a little sad for missing them, especially those two toddling Wonders now 2000 miles away. In the weeks they have been gone, Baby Girl has started crawling, learned to wave, play “So Big!”, and blow smoochy kisses that kill me.  Even though I have watched the video a million times, I laugh every single time. I can’t tell if she’s seven months old or an ancient toothless woman.

Back in Texas, Mama has just come home from the hospital, my brother needs another desperate back surgery, and Mike’s mama who has been scaring the wits out of us with random falling, is now in the hospital getting a pacemaker.  To round out that helpless feeling of all the things that seem to be slipping through my fingers, the old washing machine at my daughter’s fixer-upper flooded her finished basement the second night she called that place home.

I pour water into the iron’s reservoir to the fill line, watching the water rise in the small window. While the iron heats to “linen”, I fill the spray bottle, too. The laundry room is beginning to have that familiar Wednesday hum. I sigh again and iron a chambray shirt.

I consider escaping the small work.

Instead I iron a vintage pillowcase, bringing embroidery back to life. I press my favorite linen shirt, first ironing the collar, then around the buttons, the shoulders flat and wide, the sleeves, and finally, the generous shirttail. Warm steam loosens the weave. My shoulders relax just a smidge.

Slowly, surely, in the quiet splash of sudsy water against a porthole window, the turbulent waters of my soul begin to still.

Finishing each piece, I hang the clothes on hangers in an orderly row, top buttons buttoned. Smooth. Warm. Handled with loving care.

Somehow, the simple act of ironing clothes begins to work it’s hot springs magic in me.

I am drawing from a reservoir deep below the surface of these ripples.

Then, rising ever-so-gracefully like a bubble on its way to the surface, I remember words I read that very morning in the early light. I re-trace the words of Psalm 46:3-5 with my finger,

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.

In the middle of the ho-hum of deep cleaning day, though the world is still full of strife, my family still hurts, and I still live thousands of miles away from those I love, yet in the deliberate process of smoothing out wrinkles in clothes, I talk with Jesus. My heartrate slows and my own reservoir is refilled. If there was a window to my soul, you could watch the water rise.

I am reminded in my soul as it stills, that the world remains full of beauty and kindness, my people are beloved, and my friend Jesus is near. He holds all things together right up to this very moment. Nothing slips through his hands.

My many heartaches for my family are present in prayers that don’t just bounce off of the laundry room ceiling, but really and truly reach the heart of a God who hears. He whispers back to me his full presence in the rhythm of the washer and dryer cycles, and my laundry room on a washday Wednesday becomes a sanctuary.

an ironing board prayer

dear jesus –

we can be worn out by everyday life. frayed.

smooth us out and relax our shoulders.

breathe life back into our embroidered souls.

help us hear you above the hum and the ho-hum of life.

may we remember you are always near,

filling our soul reservoir.

amen


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Terri Conlin is a writer, creative collaborator, and encourager for living a soulful life in Christ. She thrives when creativity, wild hope, and gritty faith flourish together with all of the qualities of home.

You can find her sipping dark roast coffee in a thrifted mug while writing at www.whitepitchers.com or on Instagram @terriconlin.

Terri and her husband, Mike, have four grown children along with four feisty grandkids she calls the Wonders. They live among the rain-soaked firs of Oregon.

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