Today I sat down on my rocking chair and picked up a Victoria magazine. A friend gave me a subscription the summer we were in Wisconsin, and the magazines came with me—although I think a couple of them may be floating about at Lance’s yet. For the first time in a while I have my brains back in my head. Maybe it’s because the sun is shining today and I’m not wrapped in so many layers that I can barely move about the house. So the kiddos and I did some house work, a little bit of school, and I sat down and picked up my magazine.
Something wakes up and breathes and shouts for joy at all of the eye candy on each page. The dainty dishes and vases, flower arrangements, linens, and food. I get inspired. I have a dream one day to do my own stamping onto linen—make my own designs. I realize that if I made it a priority, I could do that here and now. The supplies are available from the market anytime. Then I feel simultaneously guilty and trapped.
The guilty trapped feeling comes because of the country I live in. I know that there are Thai people who come into my home and are wowed by my “expensive decor.” I serve desserts on pretty plates…desserts that I have made from scratch—baked in my own oven. An oven is another luxury most Thai people do not have. We pay a bit more per month on our rent than some of our Thai friends do. I am supposed to be a missionary here, yet I am not willing to live in a house such as they do?
Little do they know that we foreigners struggle some puzzlement of our own about the way they live. Dru and I would never spend money on a large TV monitor. When we bought our first car, we were quite poor—yet we felt pressure, and not from our foreigner friends, to buy a car way out of our price range. Clothing and accessories are very important here in the Thai culture. There are exceptions – it doesn’t matter what the children wear for a quick trip to town – but what you wear seems to be a key expression of class and beauty for middle class Thais.
I can’t very well explain to them that most of the pretty things that sit around my house are gifts from friends and family. It’s silly to explain that I spent very little on doilies and tablecloths because I found them at second hand stores. Silly to say that most of the children’s toys were gifts from grandparents and nearly all of their books are second hand as well. It doesn’t really change appearances.
Throwing a small blue table cloth over an ugly pressboard coffee table comes as naturally as breathing to me. Arranging pretty around my home is necessity. I live here, every day. I must have beauty or I die inside as the chaos of raising children and homeschooling and being pregnant overtakes me. I was raised in a beautiful home. I was taught that beauty is part of homemaking, and that there is virtue and wholesomeness in it. I was taught that I am the keeper of my home. That I am responsible to be here, and care for the needs of my family, physically, and spiritually, and however else. This is my spot. There is joy in it—when I can make pretty happen as part of that.
Were we Thai citizens, I suppose a good chunk of money would to to sending our two children to school. I’d be busy with work somewhere—so would Dru. I’d be gone all day, reaching home when the kiddos do. We’d own a large TV. We’d be making payments on two nice vehicles and a motorbike. I would possibly not wear second hand clothing…I don’t know, I just don’t know…
I also know that there are ways Thai people express beauty that I don’t even notice. I think they probably take their beauty to their workplace, where they spend much of their day. I’ll never appreciate the beauty of an intricate spirit house, but I know that is another expression. They create beautiful coffee shops and elaborate flower arrangements.
But what I want to stand up and shout to everyone is that I live the way I do because it comes as naturally to me as breathing. It’s not hard or expensive—it’s natural. I was merely taught to spend my time and my money in different ways. Right?
So, the magazine, the eye candy, the hope and happy I feel rising up within me as creativity strikes me, is suddenly squelched. And what breathed for a moment, ceased again, waiting for its moment…another day…maybe…Because for today, my expression of beauty seems to be a poor testimony.
Yet I know that I can no more quit creating beauty in my home than I can quit breathing. Deeply entrenched within me is the understanding that beauty and safety walk hand and hand. Somewhere inside I know that beauty is wholesome, and families thrive best when they are surrounded by it.
And I wonder if what isn’t hardest for me to accept in this life that I live right now, is that nearly everything I do, all the choices we make as a family, the very fact that I homeschool my children and even have 3, and soon 4 of them, is extremely counter-cultural here. Unheard of. And they don’t fail to let me know it—to my face. And why it’s okay to let me know so openly what they think, is one cultural thing I still haven’tn gotten used to, even in the seven plus years I’ve been here. I’m either considered very talented or downright foolish. Regardless of what they actually say, I feel disapproval on some level. That’s not a pressure I’m handling very well, I’m afraid.