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I’ve spent the last twelve years of my life collecting, carrying, loading, changing, and folding laundry. I am the mother of three. One of my boys stills wipes his face with his shirt. I am also the partner of a man who sweats profusely while working out. I am strident enough in my beliefs that my children wore cloth diapers and we rarely use paper towels or napkins. Laundry is not a chore in my home, rather it is a lifestyle.
Over the years my attitude toward the laundry that spills over in each bedroom’s hamper has changed. Early on in motherhood, I was eager to separate out the sweet onesies of my new born, making sure they were washed separately in special soap (yes, Dreft marketing successfully campaigned to me). Then when my second son arrived, and it was clear that he needed at least three to four outfits a day, I created a simple laundry shoot: I would open the basement door and throw the soiled mess down the stairs. It would hit the concrete floor with a satisfying thud if I did my work well. There was a period, so large with my third pregnancy, that I could barely make it up and down the two flights of stairs. The laundry was exponentially increasing (imagine just how much cloth it takes to cover a large, and I mean large, pregnant woman). Then, my five year old and I would manage the laundry basket up and down the stairs together.
My life dramatically changed when we left our first home, a parsonage, and our first pastorate. We moved into our own home and I, with others, began an emergent church. The laundry also changed. I proudly became the owner of a front loader squeezed into the upstairs bathroom. When our friends came over for the new home tour, I would take them to our washing machine, hug it lovingly, and tell them it was the best thing about the house. I estimated gleefully that I would gain years back of my life no longer trudging laundry up and down flights of stairs. I would probably gain some pounds too.
Now my youngest’s chore is to gather the laundry every morning and load the washer. Some mornings she does this willingly. Other’s my request is followed by a dramatic falling on the ground. While I brush my teeth I can watch a few suds gather on the spaceship like door as clothes tumble around and around. I can pick out my eldest’s favorite sweatshirt, my daughter’s heart sock. As I sit down to conquer the ever changing demands of my vocation, the sound of laundry spinning over my head can be heard. While on one of my many phone calls, I move the damp clothing into the drier, waiting to turn it on until after I am finished with the phone call (I wouldn’t want anyone to know that if you are to actually survive as a mother-pastor you must multi task). After the swarm of children arrive at my house in the late afternoon, I can be found folding laundry on my bed, desperately trying to order the evolving sermon in my head as I order the folded laundry.
My theology has been fashioned by laundry. In fact, I like to call my pastoral theological approach (that is the last time you will read that phrase) as spin cycle theology. If I am to be truthful, however, my spin cycle theology began in Ms. Thomas 10th grade AP European History class.
Ms. Thomas was that teacher who profoundly influenced the way I thought in high school. It began with the words both and in my European history notebooks. The world could no longer be divided into simple categories. The industrial revolution in Europe both created a growing middle class and trapped more people in poverty. Soon this learning spread to my other classes: the Genesis creation story both casts Eve as the cause of the fall and as the seekers of wisdom. Hydrogen bonds both effect individual water molecules and the connection between multiple water molecules. These simple words shaped my thought and soon were to be found throughout the margins of my books. I searched for the both and in every dusty corner of my mind and have never stopped.
Early on in my laundry career I use to sort everything. I would wash whites separately from darks. I would even sort out the darks into lighter colored clothing and darker colored clothing. What foolishness! These days everything is washed together: the dirty kitchen rag, the heart socks, the favorite sweatshirt, the button down lecture shirt, the useless sports bra, and the bathroom towel. I pack them in, turn the knob, and watch as every aspect of my life tumbles chaotically.
I have tried in earnest to manage my life into neatly sorted categories. Work from family. Time for myself without the distractions of children. Conversations with my beloved that do not involve the children we are rearing or the recycling that needs to be put out. Occasionally, my earnest attempts have succeeded, but usually I have failed. My life, more often than not, looks like the urgent care visit on the night before Easter for a child screaming in pain with an ear infection, waking early in the morning to write, only to have a child nestled in your lap, sitting at a restaurant with my husband only to talk about the child whom we are deeply worried. In short, my life is the spin cycle. Nothing can be sorted. The challenge and freedom of work, the heart break and utter beauty of life, the joy and frustration of parenting, the abiding assurance and questions of faith, and the familiar love and work of marriage, these parts of my life are like clothes I watch spinning through the sudded glass door. They are unsorted and tangled as they spin in the washing machine of my life.
I live a both and life—a life saturated in blessing and heart ache, contentment and yearning, awe and worry.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.