When I first met Ginny Sheller, I felt like I’d found an old and brilliant friend. A homeschooling mom who lives with her husband and seven children on a little old homestead in Virginia, Ginny writes and shares these wondrous photographs chronicling her family’s down-to-earth adventures at one of the best kept secrets online, Small Things. Ginny invites knitters to join her Yarn Along community, where she and friends gather every Wednesday to share what they are currently knitting and reading. It’s the happiest grace to welcome my friend Ginny to the farm’s front porch today…
My mom has a few stories she likes to tell about me, tales that I’ve heard again and again over the years.
“When you were a toddler, the women in the church nursery would tell me, ‘She has as much or more energy than any boy we’ve ever had!’ ”
“At the age of three, you were already rearranging your bedroom. I would come in to get you in the morning and you’d have everything moved around.”
During my fourth year, my dad left.
My mom was left with two young daughters, “craving the structure of the life we once had.”
She believed she found that structure when she married a man whom everyone believed to be her Prince Charming. The church elders gave him a “10.”
The truth was that he was a very broken man, and his brokenness manifested itself in abuse.
“All I could see were the perfect creases in his clothing and the immaculate manner in which he groomed himself, his car and his home. I saw an old- fashioned gentleness in him. His polished manner was evidence to me that he had his life together, and that attached to him, so could we.”
We didn’t break free until the year I turned twelve.
In many ways it was too late for me. I attempted suicide shortly after we left him, landing myself in the crazy house for a spell. I was in sixth grade.
As a young adult, I kept my extensive collection of paperback books alphabetized, and my stuffed animals neatly arranged at the head of my bed. And yes, I continued to rearrange my furniture. My innate creativity met with a learned need for strict order.
I kept my environment both pretty and tidy, and under control.
Today, I am 36 years old. Over nearly sixteen years of marriage, I’ve carried six babies in this now worn body.
In September of last year, seven months pregnant and unable to walk more than a few steps at a time without tremendous pain, I found myself benched.
I couldn’t care for myself, my children, or my home. I survived the next two months on the couch knitting furiously and telling myself that it would all soon be over. I’d have a baby in my arms, and I’d be back on my feet.
Nearly a full two weeks late, Job arrived, all ten pounds of him. Recovery was painfully slow. As the months passed, I began to despair. How would I ever pull myself out of this mess and get a handle on my life? Everywhere I looked I saw work to do.
I would sit in a messy room, nursing my baby, children playing around me, and I would mentally chant, “Nothing bad will happen if I can’t clean this mess today,” while fighting the tightness in my chest.
Nothing bad will happen…
“We did not see his abusive side until after the wedding. Very soon, the order and structure I had craved actually became necessary for our emotional survival. Once under his roof, we were forced to keep order if we wanted to feel safe. A toy in the floor or a cobweb in the corner could set him off. Do you remember his reaction to a sticky fingerprint on the dashboard of his car? You and your sister and I bought the only type of peace we could experience by keeping our ducks in a row.”
Recently I stayed home with the baby while my husband took our six older children on a short vacation.
I felt that I needed to get my own ducks in a row. I spent nearly the entire time they were gone cleaning and organizing, my first real chance in what felt like ages.
In all honesty, my house really did need the attention, and I don’t regret missing the trip to do housework.
Those days briefly satisfied my deep desire for order and control — but they didn’t relax me.
At the end of each, I could hardly fall asleep.
I loved the tidy house, but clearly I did not find rest in it.
All my life I’ve been trying to get it all done and done well. Where I’ve seen disorder, I’ve quickly put things right, and seven kids sure can create a lot of disorder.
Rather than question God for giving this neat freak a houseful of children, I’m learning to look at the ways that raising a family is most challenging for me, and assuming that this is how God is working to shape me and to teach me to lean on Him.
And I think I’m finally letting the truth sink in, that if the house is messy, nothing bad will happen.
There are no winners in the race to get it all done.
Because the reality is that after those things are done, there is still more. While I’m folding the laundry, my three year old son and his sisters are playing in the mud.
It would be impossible to keep an immaculate home and raise this family well. And God isn’t asking me to do the impossible.
As much as I know that it’s my duty to teach my children how to care for a home, I also know that I must model for them the balance between work and play.
I don’t want them to grow up watching me constantly fighting the chaos, trying to catch up and get it all done. My efforts to ease anxiety rooted in childhood trauma could easily translate into children who, despite a happy childhood, grow up believing that in order to find peace they must first have perfect order.
There is a time for work, and a time for play. We all need leisure, and you can’t get it all done.
I haven’t found true peace in productivity or a clean house.
I can’t accomplish housekeeping perfection, and I’m not going to sacrifice necessary rest for temporary order.
But as easy as that may sound on paper, we all know it isn’t. I’ve spent many years fighting for control. I pray, sometimes desperately, “Please, God just help me stop. Help me rest.”
Sometimes, I find that I need tools. I need to replace the drive to order my environment with something that can become bigger than my fear.
I’ve taken up a few hobbies that help me relax in the moment.
There’s nothing quite as fascinating or distracting as a hive full of bees, and knitting helps me sit still.
When the house won’t stop shouting at me, I know it’s time to hit the road, and spend the day immersed in nature. My family does that often. It helps keeps me sane.
Lately, I have been meditating hard on God’s decision to rest on the seventh day. Did He need to rest? Or was He simply teaching us by example? Is this possibly the most obvious tool I have, to follow his example, to rest?
I’m ashamed to admit it, but for as long as I can remember, Sunday has been a day to catch up so long as we work in an hour of church. I think that we’ve let life get in the way of what is more important.
In many ways we’ve become so driven by that always looming to-do list, that we’ve neglected a basic truth. I’m pretty sure that when God ordered us to keep the Sabbath, He didn’t mean, make sure you squeeze an hour of Sunday school into your day.
And I’m pretty sure that this command was for our own good, born out of perfect love.
Each day I’m doing my best to find small pockets of time to relax, and on Sunday my hope is to eliminate unnecessary work all together and spend the day worshipping my Creator and enjoying my family.
I’m learning to sit still for longer, even if sometimes I have to chant inside my head, “The mess will wait, the mess will wait…nothing bad is going to happen.”
This morning I leaned against the kitchen counter, breakfast plate in hand, ready to inhale my eggs before tackling the next thing. But I stopped myself before I brought the fork to my mouth.
I sat down at the table to eat. Within moments, my three year old son slid onto the bench next to me. The importance of that one action settled over me as little Silas and I ate our breakfast, side by side.
Later, chatting with my mom on the phone she said,
“Ginny, I just keep coming back to this verse: ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ ”
Ever so slowly, I’m learning to be still.
“Today we live free and my prayer for each of us is that we can learn to let our ducks splash around in open ponds while we enjoy the gift of others in our lives.”
Today, we live free.
Ginny and I’ve spent two wonderful Mom weekends together and simply, her life’s greatest priority is to share the deep joy she’s found in Him. Ginny exudes this rare, gentle authenticity that sets the heart at ease. Her online home encourages in my life at the sink, at the stove, in the small things with all these growing kids. Small Things is an absolute gem — because it feeds your soul the most important things.