This is me standing in the hallway of Michael's family's house. The bedroom behind me is ours; we lived with the family for about 8 or 9 months. It was both a trial and a blessing!
Now I am pregnant (so catching me eating is not hard...not that it was before, though). I think this is a funny picture. My hair is obviously dyed dark, and it's actually very long, to the middle of my back, even though you can't tell so much here. We now live in our own apartment, and I am so very grateful for that every day. My gratitude is not even close to wearing off.
The changes most on my mind after looking at these pictures together are the changes that came about from our experience living with the family. It was hard for me to share a living space like that, and I think it was hard for Michael's mom, too. There were lots of days that we both seemed to want our privacy very badly, and the very presence of someone else in the house (when everyone else was at school or work) felt somehow very obvious and hard to ignore. Maybe only I felt like that, but I know things weren't easy for Mom.
At first, I cried about once a week. The pressure would build up, and I would tell Michael that I was having a hard time, and the tears would start. He was very patient with me. He knew I was trying very hard to be helpful in the house and grateful for a loving family. But he pointed out to me that this crying was kind of a regular event--perhaps knowing that would help me recognize when the emotional outburst was on its way and therefore help me to avoid it? Yes, it helped me a lot. After that, the crying lessened to about once a month (which is pretty normal anyway), and sometimes even less than that.
I felt so determined--even anxious--to be helpful to the family, to show my gratitude. It was too easy to hole up in our bedroom all day and "stay out of the way." So I began helping in the kitchen, the place I felt most capable.
Over the weeks and months, I got into the habit of cleaning up immediately. I didn't dare leave a mess in our wake. I washed dishes just about every day, tidied from room to room, and when it was my turn to do laundry, I did it all start to finish so it wouldn't have a chance of bothering anyone. I made our bed consistently so it wouldn't gross anyone out to see our bedroom at the top of the stairs. And I tried very hard to keep Ender happy--it was a difficult balance at first because it was so easy to let him play with the girls that sometimes it seemed like I was letting the girls "babysit" him. I couldn't just shadow him all day, but sometimes I felt guilty for not doing that. I eventually got better at knowing how to manage being a mom in a house of "moms"--knowing when to let Ender be and when to step in and take charge again. That lesson took the longest to learn, I think.
The way that style of living has changed me seems incredible to me. I'm still grateful, and I still feel the effects: I am quite good at keeping up with my dishes. Also, I'm so glad to feel okay about having a sinkful of dishes right now (and it's because I don't often let it get like that that I don't mind now and then). I still really, really enjoy having the house to myself when Ender takes his nap. I love decorating and cleaning my home because it is my home. I have kept my habits of cleaning, and I used to think those habits would take me years to develop. I'm not a saint with laundry so much anymore, but I'm not anywhere close to the deplorable procrastinator I was before we lived with the family. I've never even minded laundry, it's just one of those things that doesn't catch my attention as urgently as it maybe should. :) I keep finding other "priorities."
I've changed in a lot of other ways that are hard to pin down to words. I feel a great spiritual growth, and the best part about that is while it was extraordinarily hard to grow to this point, the current growth I feel is a constant and happy one.
If you read through all of that, my apologies for being long-winded! There's so much in there that's not even said...