When your baby isn’t perfect…

This is a subject that is very close to my heart, and recently a thoughtful lady sent me some articles she wrote/compiled with the help of mothers who have special needs children. All the mothers were given anonymity so that they could be completely honest.

It is twelve years since we found out that our daughter would need lifelong medications, regular specialist visits, and careful monitoring when she’s sick, due to an adrenal insufficiency. If you would have told me then that life would be completely normal, my daughter would be fine, and those three daily doses of meds would be as routine as coffee at breakfast, I would have had a hard time believing it because I felt like I had been run over by a truck. Receiving a diagnosis that is strange, learning terms you never heard of, navigating a big city for doctor’s visits… this is just never part of the dream.

The first thing we did was ask for anointing with oil and prayer for miraculous healing at church. We believed that God could heal her completely, but we also believed in “not my will, but Thine.” God taught us some deep truths when He did not heal in the way we asked, even though many times I wanted to know a way to twist His arm, a way to obtain special faith, even just a way out of a scary path. Again and again I read Psalm 139, savoring all those intimate ways that God knows us. One day it dawned on me: “Fearfully and wonderfully made in secret” does not only refer to healthy babies. He did not somehow lost track of our baby in utero, and that became my strong place to stand. I believe that there is so much more going on than what I can see, and that is where I find rest. As much as I would like to, I do not have to figure out the inscrutable.

God did use medicine to heal her. Our baby went from a stressed, constantly crying infant who didn’t thrive to a gorgeous, chubby child with the most cheerful outlook imaginable. Her meds fit into the middle of a cheerio, and that’s how she chewed them down for many months. Lab draws were never fun, but it became her special date with her dad, since her mom has a thing about needles. We got a medic alert necklace for when we travel and we carry an emergency shot for stressful situations where adrenaline would usually pull a body through shock. I do tend to hover and protect her from germs, but I can easily see the gifts I have been given in this walk.

First on the list is a beautiful daughter with a tender spirit and deep kindness toward anyone who hurts or is “different”.

Second, there is the healing God has done in my heart through the privilege of mothering her. I know Him in ways I would not if I had not slogged through miry questions of how and why, and that is where He showed me his tender Love.

Then there is empathy, because when your mother heart has been crushed for your child, you can walk beside others and hurt with them and share the comfort He has given you.

I think the thing I cringe about the most is the comments that indicate that physical health is the top priority, the prize of a good life. “We don’t care if we have a boy or a girl, just as long as it’s healthy,” people say. Of course I understand what they’re saying, but I’m tempted to reply, “And if it’s not healthy, what then? Are you going to give it back?”

Please hear me: your baby may not be healthy, but your baby is perfect. Your baby was designed by a loving Creator who will never leave or forsake His creation. Yes, the world is broken and genetics are flawed and tragic accidents happen and children suffer. It’s ok to hate the pain and the hurt, but He is there and He is a parent too, and He will carry you. It’s ok to grieve deeply for what you have not been given, but there is a time to get up and lift your eyes past what seems senseless and random, and you will find that He is there. Go read Psalm 139 every day until you have it memorized. Let the truth filter down into your soul and settle you. You will find that you are not alone.

(You will also find that you are a fierce mother bear who can fight for your cub in ways no one else can. There is a latent strength in you, brave and capable of things you never dreamed you’d have to do. You are this child’s mother for a reason. It’s not accidental, and as much as you’d like to run away from it, there you are. My next article is a guest post from other mothers who are walking this way. There are people, too, and great kindness, and maybe we can all learn together how to help each other. )

Just Ordinary Stuff

Gabe had a meeting at work today for just an hour so I decided to go along to pick up a few groceries and to look for shoes at Ross’s. I needed a pair of walking shoes, and as I was concentrating on the selection of very ugly tennis shoes, I heard someone say my name. It was my friend Amy who is also my girls’ piano teacher. Both of us live a half-hour from the Ross’s and we never see each other unless it’s at a lesson. But there she was and she said, “Did you see my text?” Only a few minutes before she had sent me a picture of a sign that she thought I would like in the home decor section. Then as she was checking out she looked up, and there I was. It was random and hilarious.

A group of friends and I are challenging each other to live sugar and flour free for a while. While I was picking up my groceries at Aldi, I kept seeing all the wonderfully affordable treats that of course had sugar in them. When I saw a bag of sugar free crispy chocolate wafers, I thought that I shall have my treat. It wasn’t until I had had a generous serving that I noticed the first ingredient: flour. Well duh. If I was going to cheat, I wished it had been an apple fritter.

When I got home my girls asked me why I bought another pair of shoes. I told them because the Chacos I bought online were too narrow, but I would put them in storage until Olivia can wear them. She tried them on just for fun and they fit her. What is going on with that?

I tried out my new shoes right away today since the sun was shining brilliantly and I needed to breathe fresh air. A while ago I downloaded an app that counts steps. I was not happy to see that it was only counting one mile and a few tenths for the stretch that I always thought was nearly two miles. Today I walked much further than usual, then I took the car and clocked miles and the app was wrong, for the record. I felt instantly healthier and vindicated.

The children are very close to their hundredth lesson in school, which seems like a good time to take a field trip every year. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny so the principal is taking the whole crew skiing. The teacher’s going to stay home and throw pots without any interruptions except the ones she imposes on herself. It’s probably better that way because watching her babies zip off down the slopes gives her mild panic attacks. Also she may need a rest for a few hours with a book considering the strenuous efforts to make sure everyone has their wool socks and their helmets and their goggles and fleece garments and extra gloves for when the first pair gets wet. Also the lunch bag. Edit: this was written yesterday. They went today, all but Olivia who wasn’t feeling well. I did read for a while, and I did throw a whole bunch of pots.

On the pottery end of things, it has been sheer pleasure since the turn of the year, when all I’ve been doing is whatever I felt like. There are a smattering of orders and a few brand new ideas on my drying shelf. I had a 5 gallon bucket full of trimmings and clay bits that had dried out so I took the time to rehydrate them and wedge them into shape so that I could use them again. I’m estimating that it was around 75 pounds of clay that would otherwise have been thrown into the trash, which is a thing that makes my frugal heart rejoice. As far as I know, all potters reclaim their clay bits but I don’t think it’s anybody’s favorite part of the job. Recently I bought a bunch of glaze and a stack of large buckets with lids so my next firing should have lots of fun experiments. Bonus points to those alert enough to spy my footgear. In January.

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When my husband asked me what I want for Christmas, I told him I wanted a happy light to keep SAD at bay. Either it didn’t register, or he forgot what I said, but he gave me a really, really good fabric scissors instead, which I promptly named Off Limits. With such a good scissors, I decided I need to add to my fabric stash. The girls were given a whole bunch of beautiful scraps out of my sister’s fabric stash. We’ve been having a blast sewing play-all-day dresses and doll dresses and 9 patches and even funny stuffed animals. Rita has now expanded her family of dolls to five. Whenever she wants another child, she makes one and when she wants it to have curly hair, she pulls the yarn out of the inside of the skein where it’s tightly wound. All of them get tenderly dressed and cared for in her spot under the basement steps where she keeps house for lack of being able to use her squatter huts outside.

I gave myself a present and got 4 years of my blog printed in book form, complete with the pictures in the posts. It came in the mail today with a disappointingly thin paper-back cover, but for the children it’s like reading a diary of their childhood. So far no one has objected that these stories are on the web. Granted, it’s from when they were all quite little and they are amused by the stories, as if they are not the main characters in a family circus.

These days are very different. When the arguments simply don’t get settled without a Google search, (is there such a thing as military grade putricant for stink bombs?) I wonder how my mom did it when we were teens and tweens. She probably said, “Look it up in the encyclopedia,” or maybe she just said, “Nobody may talk anymore.” I do think we learn a lot of things by hashing them through with our siblings as we’re growing up, but my word, it can be exhausting for the mother. What was it they said in Cheaper by the Dozen? “Not of general interest…” Of course I only have one vote, but I have the authority to make it a heavily-weighted vote if I’m simply not interested in a continued discussion as to whether that was a red-shouldered or a red-tailed hawk soaring out of sight. (Also… no, son, we won’t be investing in putricant anytime soon.)

I do enjoy the conversations. It’s a season where we discuss many things more grown-up than we used to. Gregory and I discuss books and authors and I want to pinch myself, because this is one of my favorite conversations ever. I feel like I’m talking to my brother Nate 25 years ago, only I am the one telling him how to pronounce words he knows from his reading, instead of vice versa.

Our most recent audiobook binge has been The Wilderking Trilogy. The story is a fantastical parallel to King David’s story. My middle graders love it, but it’s the kind of tale I enjoy as well. There is a lot of great humor for those tween years, supplied by the Feechiefolk. I can tell it will be quoted many times in the future, especially since they are listening for the second or third time in as many weeks.

My personal re-read right now is Calvin Miller’s memoir, Life is Mostly Edges. Anyone who describes birth as “the umbilical trot that squirts us into the world” has my attention. He summarizes, “It was God who gave me the courage to walk the edges of a life that was never mine.”

So that’s what’s going on these days. The pond is frozen over, perfectly smooth and black, almost safe for skating. We’re drinking a lot of tea with honey and conserving our movements for a few more frozen months. But the days are getting longer, the sun’s rays slightly more direct every day, and I ordered seeds for the garden this morning. We’re doing all right.

And I have a guest post or three coming right up. Stay tuned!

Ordinary Journey to Joy

Lest you think after my strong-minded post about motherhood that it has always been easy… Here’s an article I wrote for Daughters of Promise ( Tend issue) last year. (I am trying to resolve the issues with the missing comment/reply section. Thank you so much to those who emailed or texted to give me feedback.)

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I hit a disconnect between the shiny idea in my head and the gritty reality of life as a homemaker about the time I had two babies and the wedding gifts weren’t new anymore. One day my husband asked me, “Why are you constantly sighing? What’s wrong?” I was taken aback; my husband rarely chided me about my attitudes. When the toddler pulled out the one book that kept the stack intact, making a racket fit to wake his colicky little brother, my sagging spirit sighed deeply. I found myself entrenched in a rut of unhappiness.

“I don’t know what’s wrong,” I admitted. “I seem to have lost my joy. The things I do every day don’t last, and they’re so boring! I do for free what you couldn’t pay most people to do.”

The truth was that I was not overworked. I was merely tired and cranky. I wanted to change the world and found it difficult to reconcile with the fact that I was changing diapers and laundry loads. I wished I could feed the orphans, but I was coaxing a toddler to swallow his green beans. I wanted to showcase the beauty of Christ, and I was washing the spilled milk off the kitchen floor.

Much of the trouble stemmed from a narrow view of Kingdom work. The desire to serve God was right; I didn’t want to waste my life, but I was not connecting what was right in front of me with meaningful work. It felt pointless.

I started to look up the verses in the Bible about serving, giving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. I also noticed the references to not being weary and faint, and I understood for the first time that being weary is a thing that happens when you’re doing good work.

I cringed as I read the words of Christ, “…when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ” (Luke 17:10) I had to admit to a tinge of self-aggrandizement attached to my noble desires. I preferred visible results, like the report cards I filled out during my school teaching days. Nobody was noticing how masterfully I could clean up peas under the high chair or how well I could remove stains from onesies. As I repented of my short-sighted vision for what the work of God was, I began to lean in to what clearly was given me to do, this moment, in small-town U.S.A.

I found wonderfully clarifying help in a little book by Brother Lawrence titled The Practice of the Presence of God.

Brother Lawrence was a seventeenth century Christian who was not educated enough to be a cleric in a Parisian monastery, so he worked in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning for his superiors. His radiant life of joy was so attractive that people kept asking him for his secret. This is what he said:

“…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.”

“We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.” (3)

Now that was a freeing thought! I didn’t have to put luster dust on the cup of water or feel warm fuzzies while I taught my boys to pick up the toys. I simply had to line up my heart every day to serve Jesus with all I did and then do it gladly. This was not a spiritual discipline of epic proportions. It was more of a conscious obedience, an offering that didn’t feel all that amazing. Yet the more I practiced, the less I found myself sighing over petty annoyances. One day I took stock and I knew, “The joy is back!”

I have some simple steps that helped to transform how I looked at my ordinary life.

  • I decided to be all-in. This was my life-work. I started to relish the details and disciplines of keeping our home a pleasant place.
  • I determined to accept narrowness and repetition. To my surprise, I found myself taking delight in weirdly ordinary things like a clean refrigerator.
  • I started to offer my work to God with open hands, as the simplest form of worship. If Jesus emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant (Phil. 2:6), why should I feel like something I am asked to do is too demeaning?
  • I learned to value faithfulness over feeling. When I wasn’t feeling it, I simply looked at truth. Is this my job today? Well, then it must be God’s will that I do it the best I can.

I love the Biblical analogies of tending a garden in reference to our spiritual work, which I now believe is our everyday work. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Gal.6:9). Another one is, “Whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly.” (2 Cor. 9:6). Clearly there is a problem with a stingy gardener. I want to be the one with fruit that comes from sowing generously, having my hands in the soil.

It doesn’t matter if my garden is on the grounds of a palace or in containers on an apartment patio- the thing that lifts it out of neglect and mundanity is careful tending. Every spring I plant crinkly brown dahlia tubers in the soil along our picket fence. Weed pulling and pest control do not inspire fascination in my soul, but I do that too because I know the glory that will be the result when God has done His life-giving work. In the same way that the delicate origami of a dahlia bloom is God’s work, any glory in my commonplace life is His work too.

It is not easy to lay down my life in this way, cheerfully repeating the menial tasks that demand to be done. Presenting my body as a living sacrifice is not an ideological theory; it is a breathing, voluntary sacrifice that occasionally clambers off the altar. The Apostle Paul describes this offering as “holy, acceptable to God… your reasonable service.” (Rom.12:1) Some translations call it “your spiritual worship.” When I offer Him my work-worship, I can live in joyous assurance that He is glorified in the daily ordinariness of my life.

“From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides You, Who acts for those who wait for Him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember You in Your ways…” (Isaiah 64:4, 5 emphasis mine)

It’s not just a house I’m keeping here: a message for mothers

It has been a minute or two since I planned to post this, and then the holidays and a baby nephew in the hospital and a new year and trying to get our school back on track and looking at the books for the pottery biz and doing inventory, etc. I dictated this post when I was on a walk one day, and here I am at 3 AM, wide awake and trying to make sure I fix all the errors that talk-to-text is so prone to produce.

I remember the day a picture hit the media of a child’s body washing up on the seashore in Greece. I scrolled through the news with a knot of grief in my stomach. How can these things happen? What can I do about all this evil? This injustice?

My little girl came to me just then with the book she wanted me to read. She loved the Animally story that was filled with illustrations of animals and punny ways that I love her. “I love you cleverly like a fox. I love you powerfully like an ox.” My head struggled to wrap around the privilege of the little girl cocooned in her favorite blanket in my living room, compared to the too-wise faces of the refugee babies. But what can I do?

Recently we had a ladies’ discussion at church about reaching out beyond our world to those who are needy and some of the many, many ways to do this. Someone mentioned that Mennonite women tend to think that their ministry stops with their families. I’ve been mulling over this for a few weeks. What if one of the most powerful ways to change the world is actually our children?

What if I would have never read my child any more stories because life isn’t fair? What if I decided that the thing right in front of me, the grody bathroom, was not worth scrubbing anymore because there is much bigger work to be done in this world? What if I would have decided that pouring my energies into nourishing my children is not a big enough vocation and from now on they can eat lunchables so that I can spend my days fundraising online? Would there have been some fallout, maybe a bit of chaos in our home? Could this sort of neglect contribute to the endless cycle of soul-hunger in the world?

The goal in my mothering is not to raise entitled people who pitch fits when their perfect life is disturbed. The goal is to raise nourished souls, wholehearted people with a steady background of care and stability and mom being there with hot chocolate and everybody matters. The goal is to send these people into the wide world with a reservoir of fat in their souls, to give them resources as they spread the same love and kindness to everybody they meet. If I send my children out to live as adults with starved hearts because I resented the work they caused me, found a more worthy cause to work for (and I really didn’t even like them,) what have I accomplished?

The way to combat homelessness is not to all move out of our homes. The way to combat lovelessness is not to stop loving those who already have plenty of love. I do not believe that Paul is being a male chauvinist when he suggested that women who have families should keep their homes. I think Paul just saw God’s design as being a good design, like “This is how you bring glory to the world, you young ladies with a husband and children, and you older ladies need to show them how to do this. (And by the way, servants shouldn’t pilfer from their masters and young men should be self controlled and older men are called to be dignified,)” and all the rest of the stuff he was saying in Titus 2. All you have to do is look at the end of the chapter and you see the whole point of Paul’s instructions was not to cramp everybody’s style but to give them simple direction for living a good life that pleases God.

So if you find yourself bristling when someone brings up the keepers at home subject, dare to dig a little deeper into what it actually means. If God gave you a husband or if God gave you children, he gave you a big job worth pouring your life into. I’ve said before that if you’re bored in your work of raising a family, you haven’t leaned into it hard enough. Maybe you have been absorbing some feminist rubbish that is impoverishing your own soul. That may sound harsh, but I believe it.

Nobody can dispute that someone has to do the grunt work in this world and if it is true that everything becomes a mess when mama quits doing her work, isn’t it also true that there will be extra glory in the world when mama gives it everything she’s got?

If you are faithfully pouring your heart into raising a family, you shouldn’t bow to the pressure of feeling like you’re leading some second-class existence “as if God put you on a short tether to a tan sofa” like Rebecca Merkel says in her book Eve in Exile. (Go, read it.) Lift your chin up, offer your work to God and just be that career mom with all your heart. Think of the difference when all these little children swarm into the world with secure hearts and the love of Jesus and knowing how hard love works for others because they’ve watched you model it for years. “I love you bravely like an eagle. I love you freely like a seagull.” (Lynn Sutton, Animally again)

Go ahead, tell me what you think. Is it a struggle for you? How do you minister to the needs in the world around you?

How Should a King Come?

My husband reminded me of a song we sang years ago in choir. We looked it up and enjoyed both the lyrics and the music again.

Even a child knows the answer of course,
In a coach of gold with a pure white horse.
In the beautiful city in the prime of the day,
And the trumpets should cry
and the crowds make way.

And the flags fly high in the morning sun,
And the people all cheer for the sovereign one.
And everyone knows that’s the way that it’s done.
That’s the way that a King should come.
How should a King come?

Even a commoner understands,
He should come for His treasures,
And His houses and lands.
He should dine upon summer strawberries and milk,
And sleep upon bedclothes of satin and silk.
And high on a hill His castle should glow,
With the lights of the city like jewels below.
And everyone knows that’s the way that it’s done,
That’s the way that a King should come.

How should a King come?
On a star filled night into Bethlehem,
Rode a weary woman and a worried man.
And the only sound in the cobblestone street,
Was the shuffle and the ring of their donkey’s feet.
And a King lay hid in a virgin’s womb,
And there were no crowds to see Him come.
At last in a barn in a manger of hay,
He came and God incarnate lay.
And the angels cried: “Glory! Glory to God!”
Earth was silent so heaven rang: “Glory! Glory to God!”
Men were dumb so the angels sang: “Glory! Glory to God!
Peace on earth good will to men, Glory! Glory to God!
Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

“Glory to God! Glory in the Highest!
Glory to God! Glory in the Highest!

Songwriters: Jimmy Owens / CAROL OWENS

Here’s the link for a beautiful recording on YouTube.

https://youtu.be/IWQV-Y9ZI-w

The sock situation and other things

::Just a quick note about orienting oneself after losing the way. Someone said they were not able to comment on that post and I thought maybe there were others who would have liked to give me a bit of pushback. I may have sounded simplistic and I want to say that the wilderness can be very long and when we’re in it we don’t know if it’s 10 more miles or a hundred more miles. What we do know is we don’t have to go in circles. That’s where I find it helpful to follow David’s pattern and orient myself by what is real. Gabe and I have had many discussions about what to do with prayers that do not get answered the way we wish. Ultimately it’s a question of having faith in our faith or faith in the great faithfulness of God. One way leads to striving and despair and the other way leads to rest and confidence. It is both helpful and difficult to remember that there is always so much more going on than we can see. In the season where we celebrate God coming down to be with us, my heart burns with this reality. He is here in all our happiness and our mess and He is redeeming our lives from destruction and He is able to keep doing this till the end of time. If I ever need something strong to stand on, that is it. ::

Today was a good day of fellowship at church and the miracle of changed lives and blended hearts struck me afresh. Our congregation is made up of ordinary, prone-to-wander people but they are our people and we belong. Here I go being simplistic again, but is there a deeper desire in the human heart than to not walk alone?

We’ve been concocting good things for the freezer, and yesterday the girls mixed up gingerbread. I feel a bit of shock when these sorts of projects take off without a lot of oversight by mama. I did mix the royal icing and help Addy with her tiny house.

The girls and I just made the browned butter/nutritional yeast popcorn that says Sunday night and Gabe left for his shift.

We have had a week of glittering ice and brilliant snow with sunny days that cheered our hearts. Ski patrol started this week and Alex and Gabe came alive in their special ski-weather ways. For me this translates to gear coming and going through the living room and occasionally being propped up in corners until I put my foot down a little crossly and they get the message and stow the stuff elsewhere. All the snowboots came out too. And the gloves and the hats and the insulated pants and the puffy coats and the scarves. I am grateful for all of it because it means we have a life in wintertime. I do think every house north of the Mason Dixon line should be built with a room for housing these clothes, however.

The laundry has changed seasons too. I usually lay everyone’s piles of clean clothes on the table from oldest to youngest when I’m folding. There are lots of deductions to be made from the stacks that result, but the socks are probably the most telling. I shamelessly compartmentalize my family by their socks. My husband and Alex always have the most because they actually wear socks everyday. Gabe likes nice ones with argyle patterns or polka dots. His are easy to match and fun to sort. Gregory usually has only one pair, the one he wears for church. When he does chores, he stores his socks in his boots as soon as he comes inside and they get washed when I deem it necessary. Olivia has carefully matched sets that also coordinate with her clothes. The little girls don’t wear any unless I insist and tell them they look like snipes with bare legs sticking out of boots. When we went for piano lessons last week, I asked Rita, “Did you remember to put on socks so you can take your boots off at Amy’s house?” Oh yes, she had. One was green and the other was orange, but it was a triumph of remembering for both of us. I had mine on too because I couldn’t wear flip flops that day.

It’s the season for games. We have one called Survival where you get a card with a disaster on it and a challenge for how to survive it. The children love this game, especially some of the zanier challenges. So what do you do if you’re stuck in the wilderness without chapstick? We thought about it awhile and decided on a solution. You use bear grease on your lips, but of course if the bear eats you first you will have died of chapped lips. Gregory and I saw a Monopoly for Millennials game at Walmart. The tagline said, “Forget real estate… you can’t afford it anyhow.” Gregory figured the go-to-jail card would probably say “the Wi-Fi’s down” or maybe “coffee crop failure.” Where does he get his ideas?

This year for Christmas I bought our family the Ticket to Ride game. I’m hoping that it gives us a break from Settlers which has been our go-to for a few years running. I only ever win when I’m lucky which means everything I do prospers despite absent-minded trades and lack of ambition. This really bugs the guys who always have cutthroat competition and delve deep into each other’s motives for why they played this or that. Over Thanksgiving we spent time with Gabe’s family and the Rook games were intense indeed. I told my sister-in-law that if you only met the brothers while they’re playing a game, you wouldn’t have any idea how nice they really are. 🤣 Still, they don’t hold grudges for long, so we still like them.

We’re looking forward to a slower week with lots of family time, lots of living close together, eating up everything that’s in the house, and staying kind. It’s going to be great and I mean it. It might be a bit of a challenge, of course, as pouring ourselves into making special times is always extra, but how can I object to giving my little bit to sweeten life for others when Jesus gave everything? I’ve had to bring a few attitudes to Jesus in this past week. I mean the kind that mutter, ” I just can’t even handle all this chaos.” (See paragraph on snow clothes above.) But He is bigger then hormonal panics and He can redeem flawed little spaces if we let Him.

I’ll tell you how I would prefer to spend the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s. I would like to “sit just quietly” Ferdinand-fashion and work on my backlog of reading and drink tea nonstop. I am sure there will be those moments, but what I’m asking for is Grace to give unsparing, like Jesus showed us. Tell me, please, how do you show your people love? How do you deal with the joyful chaos of holidays? (And do you ever wish you could celebrate without cooking and dishes? )

When you lose your bearings…

… and if you are human, sometimes this will happen. There will be times when it’s foggy and neither sun nor stars shine through the haze. There will be occasions of blinding, sideswiping forces that you never saw coming, and there you are with unfocused eyes and a head full of questions. There will be tempests with no land in sight for many days.

No one is exempt from the things which try our souls. We face our puny humanity, our complete lack of control, our personal blind spots suddenly illumined, our own sinful hearts betraying evidence that we are still in desperate need. It can be disconcerting, sometimes disorienting, and often profoundly discouraging.

When I’m in a situation like this there is a way to get my bearings back. It’s like pulling out a compass in a blizzard and realizing, “Oh, yes! there is a true north after all!” The solution is simple, really, requiring only that I crack my Bible open in the middle and start reading the Psalms. Someone has described them as “the practical theology of vivid human experience.”

I find the Psalms a cross-section of all the tumults and ecstasies of humanity and the over-arching Providence of God. While David did not write all of them, I’ve been reminded of his faith this week. I’m reading the historical accounts of David’s life in the book of Samuel in the Keep the Feast Bible reading challenge. Each day the selected reading concludes with the psalm David wrote in that particular time.

There was the time when he fled for his life from King Saul only to find himself in peril from suspicious enemies. After his escape by faking insanity, scratching at the gates and letting spittle run into his beard, David wrote Psalm 34. “I sought the Lord and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant and their faces shall never be ashamed.” Do you see how he had oriented himself again from the brink of insanity by simply looking to the Lord?

Psalm 57 is another example. “In you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.” This after he was cornered in the back of a cave, praying not to be discovered by Saul and his men who were taking shelter in the cave’s mouth. Sometimes the best we can do is hunker down in a safe place until the storm passes and David knew where that safe place was.

Clearly David had also learned to orient himself by running to God for mercy when he fell deeply into sin. He could have wallowed in the depths of despair at his own wretchedness after he had a man killed so that he could take his wife. Certainly his repentance was genuine. Yet he knew where to run for mercy and he knew that he could be purged whiter than snow. The beautiful prayer of Psalm 51 has brought hope and restoration to sinners ever since he wrote it.

So when you find you’ve lost your bearings, know that you’re human and then go read David’s Psalms and find your orientation to the right course, to a safe place, to beautiful Hope. Even if all you can say is, “As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, oh my God!” (PS. 40:17) you have taken a step toward true north.

Photo source: pexel.com pixabay

Annual Slightly Strange List

  • Boots. I’m glad for boots. The only foot gear I really require is flip-flops or boots. I wear flip-flops when the weather is 50° or warmer and boots when it’s colder or wetter. So Simple.
  • Inside jokes. All my childhood, we siblings would snicker about things that other people didn’t get, and that was just fine. When I got married my husband and I explained each other’s family jokes to one another and crafted our own private line. Now I have a whole new range of inside jokes with my children. One of our favorites is making up new words for things. It’s surprising how often we come across “noddles” (small, sketchy-looking lumps).
  • The sky. I’m a skywatcher and I think I get it from my grandma who never writes a letter without mentioning the weather. Cerulean skies, puffy clouds, brilliant horizons, these all lift my heart. I call the children outside when the sun shines after a long gray spell, and we absorb sunshine on our shoulders. I think I would die in a cell without a window
  • Sheets. The pleasure of climbing into a bed with freshly line-dried sheets is difficult to describe. The only thing I want to buy in all this commercial craziness over the weekend is a superlative set of sheets on sale. That’s it. My needs are very simple. (I haven’t even scanned the sales yet to find them, but I will.)
  • Old things. When we were packing our clothes to go to Grandpa’s for Thanksgiving, I instructed the children not to pack anything ratty. One of my daughters objected, “But all my favorite clothes are ratty.” It’s true. The homely comforts are the best. My husband has been influencing me to appreciate the qualities of sturdily built objects from bygone centuries. He heartily objects to the wasteful, constantly-changing fashion world that is (Ikea 😳😳) home design. So now I like old things.
  • My hands. I never really liked my hands, but I have decided that that’s ridiculous. I am all grown up now and they’re not going to ever be the slender long-fingered hands with manicured nails that I so much admire. Every year I get more freckles on them, and they’re even starting to wrinkle, but they can do lots of things. I mean, they can soothe a sick child or swat an unruly goat or turn a lump of mud into a mug. So I’ve determined to be thankful.

I’ve been anti-social for an hour with my WordPress app, which I love, by the way, so I need to go rejoin the family. What about you? Do you have a list of slightly strange things that inspire you to be grateful?

Happy Thanksgiving!

You don’t get to quit

I am trying out the WordPress app on my phone and I discovered that it has a talk-to-text function. This might actually be a life-changer for my blogging since I’m often unable to access a computer at the time when I want to write down something quickly. Let’s see how it goes to add photos.

Well, that was easy!

So my sister and I were talking about the undeniable fact that parenting, with all its wonderful aspects, is utterly wearying. She is expecting her sixth baby any day and knows all about the adjustments to come with the beautiful little baby. She also knows how fleeting that squeaky newborn stage is and how quickly there will be a toddler making sure she doesn’t sit still too long. When we were discussing this she said something that I thought was profound, “When you feel sorry for yourself or depressed about how little time you have for yourself, the best thing to do is get up and do something for somebody else.”

This meshed with another conversation I had with a friend this week. She lost her husband in tragic circumstances a few months ago and is raising her family by herself. In the middle of her grief, she is refusing to pack her children off to school or daycare so she can indulge in “me time” even though many of her friends have counseled her to do that. Her focus is on serving her children and healing their sadness. She knows that God is with her in this daunting work that is in front of her. It is crushing and horrendous and He is with her and she will not sit down on the job.

I admire both my sister and my friend deeply for what they are modeling with their lives. In difficult circumstances we all tend to revert to a self-preserving, I-might-die-if- I-don’t-get-a-break, I-quit mentality. When I think of Jesus and now he never refused to give to another person from his resources, and I remember how he said, “When you have your hand on the plow, you don’t look back,” I feel the challenge. The field right there in front of you is your work. Get up and plow it. When I remember that He actually did die, I feel the puny weight of my measly problems.

I’ve done my share of private wishing for a live-in maid in my house. I’ve wasted time wondering what’s the point of beating back the chaos every day and is there even anything about cursive or geography or spelling that matters? I’ve fantasized about having a chef who will whip up nourishing meals for my children while I think about how to change the world. With this mindset, happiness is a slippery, unattainable thing and I know better than to indulge in it for long. In King James version, it’s time to “gird up the loins of your mind” when you’re in this place.

I suppose having a very practical personality might be helpful. I mean just get up and do something. I probably absorbed that advice with my mother’s milk, and I certainly heard it all my life as a child. Just get started with the glasses and the silver ware first. Just go comb your hair. Wash the windows so you can see outside. Don’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself.

Guess what?… it’s all true.

Newsflash: I am not here on this Earth to feel great about myself. In fact, the less I think about myself, the more likely I am to find the happiness I crave. Isn’t it weird how that works?

This is a principle of the kingdom of heaven that we get to model every day to our families and to the world around us. It’s deep and mysterious and very simple. Elisabeth Elliot would say, “Just do the next thing.” I am adding a little note to that, “You don’t get to quit.”

For your enjoyment I will include a recent essay my middle daughter wrote, but please do not mention that you read this on the blog. She is serenely unselfconscious and I’m confident that someday she will see the rich humor in her piece but probably not when she’s 10. You wouldn’t think that she spent an inordinate amount of time whining about her assignment by the matter of fact tone of her essay, but I’m afraid she did. She was supposed to write her own thoughts about a wise saying from years gone by.

“Benjamin Franklin once said ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ I think this means that many people want things that they don’t want to work for. You could wish all day that you had a cat, but if you don’t get up and buy one you won’t get one. If you want water get off your padooka and get some. If you want to learn how to speak Spanish, get someone to teach you. SIMPLE. Basically if you want something you have to work for it.”

(A bit of clarification may be necessary. “Padooka” is code in our family for rear end.)

Making Progress

I determined that I would not live through another week without cleaning the ceiling fan in the kitchen, as well as the furry vents in the bathroom fan. Yesterday was their day of reckoning. Gregory was conscripted to climb up onto the counters and vacuum the dust that had accumulated above the bathroom cabinets, although he repeatedly assured me that it never bothers him. How generous to be so reassuring, but I was not to be deterred.

Someone told me once that if your kitchen and bathroom are reasonably clean, you can get away with a lot in the rest of the house. After working my way through the place, eliminating the cobwebs of the enterprising spiders that moved in with cold weather, those two rooms still need the most attention in places not open to public view. I did put up the proper shower curtain in my bathroom again. I can’t even remember why I switched out the blue striped fabric one for the coral one that I bought at a discount store this spring. I think the blue curtain needed to be washed and we had company coming, but then I never got around to putting up the one that actually coordinated with the towels and here we were in November and suddenly I realized that the color scheme was a little weird in the bathroom. Harmony is now restored. I am untrendy, but I do know a little about decor when I take the time to think about it.

I would like to give a little tip here for others who may find themselves frustrated by how hard it is to undo the dinky little clasps on some shower curtain rings… a small thing, but important in the housekeeperly realm of streamlining cleaning. Do not, I repeat, do NOT fall for those silly plastic rings that leave you sweating and fiddling while teetering with one foot on the edge of the bathtub and the other on the lid of the toilet, all the while groping for the next buttonhole on the shower curtain and trying to insert the plastic liner blindly on the backside. (Unless, of course, you want to live with grody showers.) They do make nifty metal ones that just hook on and that is where you want to spend your dollars. Look, you don’t even have to do the liner at the same time as the curtain. If you have glass shower doors, then I am sorry to have wasted your time. My sympathies with your own unique set of issues.

I have another tip for you. Get yourself a good hamper. You know those annoyingly flimsy hampers that do not hold up for more than a year? The ones that rhyme with tubber-laid? I have a whole row of them in the attic, storing stuff despite their cracked and broken condition because I hate to throw out such hunking blobs of plastic. After a brief try on the pretty fabric ones that collapse unless the children make a perfect basket every time they toss their dirty clothes, I finally did a thing that surprised myself and spent $75 on a hamper. Before you gasp too loudly, let me qualify: it’s a woven hamper made by an Amish family with significant health challenges that preclude the ordinary Amish livelihoods. Whatever they may not be able to do, they can weave a mean basket! It is capacious, with a sturdy wooden bottom and lid, and it is not like anything you can buy at TJMaxx or anywhere retail. I am just sorry I cannot link to their shop.

This week I indulged in my annual brief panic/depression about how I am going to make it through another cold, dark winter in confined spaces. Then I girded up my mind like a sensible German peasant and collected all the flip-flops and sandals to stow them in the attic in one of the reject hampers. While I was digging in the girls’ closet, I stumbled across a desiccated banana on top of a pile of clean pillowcases. Hmm. Nobody had any idea, but one more corner got cleaned. There is something to be said for the impetus of sheer necessity. I only wish I knew where the dead mouse stink is coming from. I like diffusers with essential oils, but there are limits to their odor-masking. Rita suggested we use cinnamon oil, and now the basement smells exactly like the entrance to JoAnn Fabrics when they get out their Christmas scented pinecones.

This week it got cold, so I took a clipper to the woods and collected long strands of bittersweet berries to make wreaths. They burst open after frost and are easy to spot once the bright orange berries pop out. I made two wreaths for the shed and one for the barn, using our own grapevines for a rounded base, then wiring the berries around it and tucking in some greenery.

The girls have started piano lessons, a long-time dream of theirs. It’s another run in the week, but we try to line up the errands. We take our recycling to a collection place on this route, pick up milk, get groceries and gas, maybe even a Walmart stop. This past Tuesday I had an unusually compact set of plans that included the library and brunch with a friend before the piano lesson. When I was standing on the porch of my friend’s house, I realized that I was there on the wrong day. “You were trying so hard to be efficient that you even mashed everything into one day in your mind,” Olivia said. And she was right.

We had some fuzzy snow flurries a few days ago, enough to make snow pants and ALL the other paraphernalia a necessity. For a few hours it transformed the muddy brown of November into something other-worldly. Addy grabbed one of my jackets, slipped into her rain boots and ran outside to dance through the swirling snow, the extra long sleeves flapping expressively as she twirled with the dog running circles around her. It reminded me of a quote by C. S. Lewis, “What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary sparkles are like this?” I put it up on my letter-board as a reminder to focus on the sparkles this winter instead of the icky. The children read it and said, “Huh?” But they don’t need so many reminders to notice sparkly things. (I was one “f” short of being able to use the entire quote. It is an annoyance that’s common to letterboards. )

A few of our children really like routines, knowing what’s coming, no surprises, definitely not happy with flying by the seat of the pants. For a few years, I didn’t try hard enough to meet those needs. It seemed too much effort to incorporate traditions into our daily life that they will be upset if we cannot keep. This November we took our cue from homeschooling cousins and started a tradition of having Tea and Poetry Tuesdays. It is really just early lunch on pretty dishes with tea in cups instead of mugs. I read whatever poetry strikes my fancy, and we all love it. It’s definitely more fun than our tradition of Thursday Basement Cleaning.

I have been diligently filling my pottery orders for Christmas. Gabe and I had to look at our fledgling business long and hard before we could name it, but it does now have a name and a logo.

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We live on Black Oak Ridge and the ceramics is my part while slöyd is more the guys’ department, as well as the needle-crafting small girls around here. Slöyd is a common idea in Sweden, the art of making things with your hands and simple tools. Wikipedia describes it thus: “Educational slöyd’s purpose was formative in that it was thought that the benefits of handicrafts in general education built the character of the child, encouraging moral behavior, greater intelligence, and industriousness.” That fits our philosophy of education exactly. Many of the things we encourage our children to try (the copious amounts of paper, fabric, wood, yarn, paints, the endless messes) cost us money, yet they are cheap when measured by the skills they pick up and the confidence they learn from figuring out how to make things for themselves.

Eventually we hope to have variety in our shop besides pottery. As of now, it’s my pots. Here’s the link to the Etsy shop if you are interested. I do not always have time to stock it and there are lots of pieces in my pottery shed that have not gotten posted on Etsy, including those beautiful spoons Gabriel carved.

The little girls have heard me joking about my “mid-life crisis pottery.” Tonight Addy informed me confidentially that she and Rita were going out to the barn “to have a mid-life crisis together.” I said, “WHAT?” and Rita rushed to explain that they were starting a new kind of play where they are vets for the animals. Apparently any new venture is classified as a “mid-life crisis” in their minds.

This week we have consumed a lot of food and have drunk a lot of milk. Our clothes keep getting dirty and torn and sometimes even lost, so we wash and mend and replace the gloves. The cars need to be topped up with gas and the pigs are always hungry. Gabriel has been picking up overtime to pay the bills. As soon as one wheel gets grease, another starts whining. But we “keep buggering on” (Churchhill) and we make a bit of progress. I don’t know any other way, do you?