Confined to Five Acres

There’s a monopoly game in play at the kitchen table, in which I will not participate even if they bribe me with Easter candy. Not like there is any Easter candy in the house. I haven’t shopped for about 2 weeks, and frivolous items tend to disappear faster than something like oatmeal does. I have clamped down on snacking, having become more aware of how often these children think they are hungry. One day I came inside from the shed and one of them actually had cooked a small kettle full of pearled barley for a snack. No objections there!

Tonight Addy found a bag of very sticky marshmallows and roasted them over a small fire she had in the back yard. Little by little we are using up some odd foodstuffs around here.

On Saturday I read a lyrical description of how it feels to get a humongous cookie all to yourself. I decided to be foolish and go for it with this recipe. This was a first and my family was a little surprised. I said, “Okay kids, I am tired of baking cookies. This is your ration for the next 2 weeks.” I have to say, they were pretty good, since the dough was not as sweet as typical cookie dough. I made 7 cookies instead of the 6 the recipe prescribed. Also, it would never have worked to leave them in a round ball of 1/2 cup of dough to spread out as it baked. I flattened them like hamburger patties, which was just about right.I make noodles with our eggs and a lot of bread too. This is turning my family into pasta and bread snobs, but it is a labor of love that I quite enjoy since I got my grandma’s pasta machine and learned a few of the tricks of sourdough. Naturally I was running low on flour right at the worst time of the panic buying in the stores. Since I always buy flour in fifty pound bags in this season of my life, I was trying to think how I could do that without looking like a hoarder. Happily I found that a friend with a small discount grocery store was also selling large bags of unbleached flour. Perfect. Nobody even saw me haul it out because I was her only customer.

It is weird, but if everybody else is grabbing packs of toilet paper, I hold off on purpose to prove that I am not like that. This does pose a problem when we actually run low. I also buy this sort of item in very large quantity, so I am again faced with looking like a hoarder unless there is nothing but tiny four-packs in the store (limit 1).I intend to find out in the morning. A question I have: if one has an immuno-compromised person in the house, is it okay to shop the special hours, or will that also look like a slimy way to stay ahead of everybody else? Sometimes it is hard to figure out this sort of ethical dilemma.

I spent so little on household expenses this month that I have decided to lay in a stock of yarn to make baskets and some upholstery fabric for a little chair that needs help. When would be a better time, I ask myself? I found really neat basket patterns . These are simple enough that my girls could make them. What are the chances Walmart will have suitable yarn? Thank the Lord for shipping options! I do bless all delivery drivers in this day and age.WWe’ve been continuing our winter tradition that we learned from the cousins- having tea and poetry once a week. This morning we listened to Great Poems for Children on Audible Stories. (Have you discovered this free resource for children for the duration of the school closure?) Here is our favorite poem from the reading.

The Camel’s Hump

The Camel’s hump is an ugly lump
Which well you may see at the Zoo;
But uglier yet is the hump we get
From having too little to do.Kiddies and grown-ups too-oo-oo,
If we haven’t enough to do-oo-oo,
We get the hump—
Cameelious hump—
The hump that is black and blue!We climb out of bed with a frouzly head,
And a snarly-yarly voice.
We shiver and scowl and we grunt and we growl
At our bath and our boots and our toys;And there ought to be a corner for me(And I know’ there is one for you)
When we get the hump—
Cameelious hump—
The hump that is black and blue!The cure for this ill is not to sit still,
Or frowst with a book by the fire;
But to take a large hoe and a shovel also,
And dig till you gently perspire;And then you will find that the sun and the wind,
And the Djinn of the Garden too,
Have lifted the hump—
The horrible hump—
The hump that is black and blue!I get it as well as you-oo-oo
If I haven’t enough to do-oo-oo!
We all get hump—
Cameelious hump—
Kiddies and grown-ups too!

I enjoyed that poem immensely, and the children were all going, “Oh yeah, you sure believe in digging until we gently perspire!” Certainly I am not going to let people go to seed here just because we aren’t going anywhere or seeing other people. This is a unique temptation right now: to just live in pj’s and not bother with trying too hard to do anything. That might be fun vacation mode for a week, but it has a peculiar eroding effect on one’s morale. Never was there a better opportunity to get the trash picked up and the house thoroughly cleansed as this spring. Gabe saw a meme that made us laugh, “If you drive past our place and see the children crying and picking weeds outside, just wave and keep driving. They are on a field trip.”

I wonder, does anyone else actually find this social distancing a bit relaxing? I do love people and would give a lot to have an ordinary Sunday church service where I can sing with a group and hug my friends after the message, and see their faces while we talk. Still, we are so connected and it is truly a blessing. I have to get past the crawly feeling of how long the isolation could go on, but I am enjoying the slower pace of the days. I predict that social media will have a huge falling-off once we can all get out and be with people in our community.On Sunday we made the children get dressed nicely, hair presentable, while we listened to hymns and a message online. It felt good to delineate the day somewhat. In the afternoon we decided to try a state gamelands trail that meandered to the top of the Sproul Mountain and along an old railroad grade we had no idea was up there. I have lived in this county 34 years and never hiked that trail. It was fun to poke around the old buildings and imagine the liveliness of the place a hundred years ago. Rita and Addy were delighted that the garter snakes were out sunning after the winter. They caught a few of them, but we advised them to leave them on the mountain where they will surely be happier.IMG_20200329_165458962_HDRThe photo above is a branch of ornamental plum that burst open within hours after Gregory brought it inside for me. The pear branch is slower, but ready to bloom as well. We’re relishing all the blooms as they come.Gabriel has had a week off work, after a marathon of nine consecutive night shifts. Today he was called in for some training with the “moon-suits” he will be wearing at work, since his unit in the hospital is the COVID19 unit. Last week there was one patient awaiting the results of the test. This week there are a few confirmed and a number waiting on results. It is amping up slowly, a huge blessing. The hospital is prepared, with ample PPE for their staff at this point. If you doubt that social distancing is effective, wait for two weeks before you fuss too loudly. Our counties in the middle of Pennsylvania have the lowest numbers in the state, probably due to not having many crowded cities and also having fewer travelers. Here’s to being homebodies! I vacillate between thinking surely it won’t reach us, to waking up from a nightmare that I am not able to go to the hospital with my child.

I read this story about a 101 year-old Italian man who was born during the Spanish flu pandemic and has just recovered from this corona-virus. It was oddly comforting to realize again that our times -all of ours- are in God’s hands.This is our ultimate defense- knowing without a doubt that He is with us, whether we feel it or not- and our strong place to stand. I have another source for free printable verse cards from Crossway. They are truly beautiful and inspiring. We printed a few sets on card stock to share with others as well as to remind ourselves of what it real and just out of our short-sighted view.

I was making mugs with a dragonfly flitting across a clay cookie and decided to make them limited-edition mugs with a Corona-spring message. They’re drying, ready to glaze in a week or so. “Trust.”

On a Different Note

I took a walk in the woods on Thursday evening. At the top of the ridge behind our house, I sat on a stump. My mind was racing and I had to tell myself firmly to sit still inside, just quietly listen and absorb the damp smell of leaf mold and fresh growth. It was the first time I actually sat down that day in body or spirit. The frantic tone of the world does tend to wear one down. I had taken a brief stroll on facebook and once more decided that I am not sanctified enough to manage it. The irony of being angry about the media whipping the public into panic while simultaneously feeding all one’s  friends with one’s own version of conspiracy theories seems obvious, at least to me. At any rate, there I was in the woods, and God was still faithfully bringing about the miracle that is swelling buds and courting spring peepers and lo, the winter is past!

We did lots of normal things this past week. Of course, school is normal. I do feel like this enforced homeschool will probably reinforce the opinions of those who already think we h-sers never get out of our cloistered lives. This isn’t true, of course. We had to reschedule our dentist appointments. (Haha.) Also, we missed piano lessons, library visits, a normal shopping trip to Goodwill, and a day when all in the house clamored to get together with the cousins.

I am not chafing or feeling like our liberties are threatened. At a time like this, I feel like the law of Christ, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is the highest authority. We can do this in any situation, and the test comes when it inconveniences us. I have read extensively about communist regimes and war-time constraints on the people of God, and never has there been a time when the Light of Jesus’ love could not blaze gloriously through the haze of humanistic thought. This is our time to shine!

Okay, I wasn’t going there again, but I just did. Back to the week in review. It was warm, with real balm in the breezes. Even the rain was kind of warm. We spent a whole afternoon pruning fruit trees, clearing debris out of borders, edging with shovels, and even hauling old bedding out of the barn to mulch the asparagus beds, etc. I planted lettuce and larkspur in the garden and bought seed potatoes and onion sets for the day it dries out a bit. We have our place on the market, so this may be a foolish notion, but I must garden, whether I get the fruits or not. I get high on the scent of freshly turned earth. Ask my family; they will say it is true.

One afternoon the children and I took rakes and hoes to work on our switchback trail to the top of the ridge. It is steep and difficult to climb with all the wet leaves, but when we level the trail and cut the overhanging vines and branches, it becomes a magical place to walk, with a sense of privacy even with all the traffic noise on the road.

Alex helped me cut down a huge trumpet vine that was crawling under the shingles on the porch. Every year I tried to prune it but it was simply becoming unmanageable. There was a thick enough trunk on the vine that it required a saw to cut it. I like these vines for the hummingbird attraction they are, but they are better in a tree formation in an open spot where they cannot pull things apart with their incredible tendrils that form roots.

The girls are working on propagating succulent babies for their fairy gardens and we have grass seeded in a flower pot for an Easter centerpiece. Rita dug through my box of garden seeds and planted an egg carton full of various seeds. They rewarded her by springing right up. Today she dug up a whole bunch of wild carrots in the orchards and washed them. She wants to dry them, for some reason, so they are on cookie sheets in the oven, filling the house with a pungent carroty aroma. This is for her emergency stash of food in the playhouse. I guess she plans to rehydrate them in soups over her campfire. Recently I amended my cavalier attitude about quantities of flour and oatmeal zipping outside whenever they want to cook because I found some large doughy patties in the yard that even the dog wouldn’t eat. (We just cannot waste even 50 cents worth of flour right now, children.) They are cast back on foraging in the fields. Also, apples and they don’t even have to ask permission. I got a half bushel of them at the orchard because they are still open and “an apple a day” you know.  It is weird how much thought I have been putting into food and provisions in general. My children are always hungry, it seems. I found myself lecturing them on not snacking, and “those might be the last peppers and cucumbers we have in the house for a very long time, etc.”  Never mind that they are perishable and have to be eaten anyway.

All week I wanted to go to the shed and throw pots, but between spelling lessons and a strange compulsion to bake a lot of bread, I didn’t get out there until today. The act of centering the clay on the wheel has a centering effect on me as well. I have a goal to throw 70 pieces by the end of March. I am at 20, so there is a little room for hustle, wouldn’t you say? I have a joke to share with you. My elusive quest for the perfect set of nesting bowls continues to flit out of reach like a will o’ the wisp. I thought I had really done it last month. They looked great, but when I unloaded the glaze kiln, I couldn’t find the largest bowl. I thought I must have forgotten it in a storage tote somewhere but it was nowhere. At last I realized that I had glazed it merlot instead of batik blue, and there the mystery was solved. Sigh. Two bowls do not really count as a nesting set. Would you like to see? (insert facepalm emoji here.)

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Last weekend Alex drove with friends to a Young Adult Patroller’s Ski Camp in Burlington, Vermont, only to learn that the event was cancelled. It was 12 hours driving, 12 hours in Vermont, and 12 hours home. He still got in one practice day at the slopes here in Pennsylvania, but now the ski gear is all stored away. (I whisper a hallelujah!) We’ve been storing the gloves/hats/coats in the attic this week, washing a load at a time. It seems like every spring when we do this, we have an unseasonal snow, but I think not this year. We used our ice skates for exactly one hour in December. It was a disappointing season for the winter lovers among us, but all of us are delighted to be right here at the spring equinox.

Even our last pig, Poppy, is regaining her spirits. After we butchered her five siblings a few weeks ago, she mourned for days, refusing to eat or drink. It made me sad just to look at her little piggy eyes and drooping tail. Today when we walked past her, she ran along the fence hoping for slops, so I hope she has forgotten her trauma. She needs a boyfriend, I think.

The one stray female cat at our house has three boyfriends. I haven’t gotten her spayed because 1. she was a stray 2. she seemed kind of little yet. Famous last words of those overwhelmed by kitten deluge.

Addy is keeping track of our school countdown. I think we are now at 35 days, which is 7 weeks, friends! We always amend our last weeks with lots of field trips and fun stuff. (I wonder if they would think it is fun to make masks for the hospital ER. It’s definitely a thing we will be working on, if only to ensure that Gabriel has adequate supplies. ) The year end bash might be a little challenging this year so I put in a big Thriftbooks order today. They all wanted at least two books, but I cut it down to one each and a few read-alouds. The wish list will hold for awhile. (That’s an affiliate link up there, and if you are a first time buyer, you get a 15% off coupon and I get some points. Also, shipping is free with any order over $10. 🙂 )

In other news, I am a little crippled without a reliable phone. While Alex was changing the battery for me -the battery that didn’t fit even though it was supposed to be for the exact make and model of my phone- I accidentally spilled the tiny screws and springs that he had laid aside to reassemble it. As I was down on the floor with a magnet, trying to pull them out of the rug, I took off my glasses so I could see better at close range. Then I sat on my glasses. I am a little squint-eyed in an old pair with a different prescription, but guess who isn’t going to push for a vision appointment? If anyone tries in vain to reach me by phone, I am sorry. The situation is under review, but nothing is speedy these days. Try snail mail. It’s still working, judging by the speed with which my children communicate with their cousins. Postage stamps are a hot commodity around here. Of course, there is always email and messenger. It feels symbolic to actually be disconnected for reals. Uncomfortable, too. I like to stay in touch.

Meanwhile I’ll just be here waiting to hear how your days are going. Love to every one of you!

 

 

 

The Thing About Homeschooling

I think a lot about the mass-homeschooling that is being plopped into people’s laps these days. Every year that we make the decision to do it again -homeschool these children of ours- we have time to think about our decision, arrange a space with learning stations, buy supplemental books, invest in industrial strength pencil sharpeners, and in general make a plan. I feel a pang of sympathy for the willy-nilly way this has come up for many parents. We have only been homeschooling for 12 years and there are many who have better perspective than I do, but I have learned a few things that might be helpful.

  • Acceptance. Being upset about the way this is cramping your style is only going to raise a stinky cloud over your household and it won’t be long until you see little mad stink clouds hovering around your children. Your husband will come home from work and walk right into the unpleasantness. Maybe it would be better to just accept it and enjoy clear skies in your spirit for the duration.
  • Camaraderie. Staying in fellowship with your children, to borrow a term from Rachel Jankovic, is more important than doing the books. You may be surprised at how strong your feelings of dislike can be for your own offspring when you rub up against them constantly. Homeschooling is uniquely sanctifying in that you literally cannot get away from your own sin in relationships. Deal with your own heart first, then work at the sandpapery issue that is scraping at your relationship.
  • Humor. You have to be able to laugh. Looking into your child’s face and taking genuine pleasure in who they are, sharing a joke, singing a silly song: all these are excellent ways to take moments of joy in the day.
  • Creativity. There is a special happiness aura around a child who is absorbed in making something. Be warned. It will be messy! If you find yourself saying “no” to every project that messes up the house in favor of endless online entertainment, you will make yourself and your child the loser in the long journey of life. Let them cook, let them cut paper and sprinkle glitter, let them plant seeds in egg cartons for the windowsill, let them sew and carve and crumble playdough onto the floor. Then kindly teach them how to clean up after themselves.
  • Flexibility. Having run a fairly tight ship in traditional school, I tried hard for this vibe in homeschool. I hate to break it to you, but this is at best an exercise in frustration. Home is not school. While lessons need to be completed, it is fine to have trampoline breaks between Math and Spelling. There is nothing wrong with sipping tea or nibbling on apple slices while diagraming sentences. One of the finest aspects of homeschool, in my opinion, is the way learning becomes part of life. It doesn’t have its separate compartment. If we get interested in how an earthworm hangs on so hard when a robin is pulling it out, we take a detour and google it. Sometimes it drives me nuts. Can we just stay on track here?
  • Staying the course. That is a thing, despite how strongly I believe in following trails of wonder. In the end, there needs to be an authority who says, “All right, you have an hour for this math lesson. I will help you if you have questions, but you need to be diligent or you will (lose privilege of dessert, screen time, calling friend, etc.) “
  • Reset. What if it all just hits the fan? If you have little children in the house as well as older students, there is a pretty high likelihood that all will not go smoothly. There are ways to reset the whole crew. Quiet time, an hour of space for each individual with their own books or toys, has been a personal favorite. Sometimes we take walks in the woods, or bike rides on back roads. Occasionally the child with the biggest ‘tude is asked to make tea and set the table nicely for everybody. My personal favorite is to read aloud. The idea is to take a drastically different direction for a while, pray about the issues, talk them over frankly with your children, ask each other for forgiveness, and move on.
  • Presence. You are the one. This has been placed into your jurisdiction and your faithfulness will make all the difference. Don’t be discouraged if it feels hard. It is hard. If you do what is in front of you every day with the assurance that this is how you glorify God today, you will do well. Perfection is not required. Faithfulness is.
  • Grace. You may be surprised at how wonderful it is to stay home with your loved ones. Maybe you will discover that the disconnect you were feeling with a child is fading. Hopefully you will see afresh the amazing people your children are, with all these gifts and abilities. And you have access to all the Grace you need, you know. Blessings to all you “accidental homeschoolers” today. 🙂

I’ll conclude with a couple of phone photos from the last few weeks. Rita said she was tired of sourdough, so I taught her how to make bread with a simple recipe from Grandma. IMG_20200309_133436156_HDR

Addy, pegging away. She is keeping a countdown of the math lessons. On her whiteboard she wrote, “40 lessins won’t stop me!”

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Last but not least, some tiny creature sculptures that the girls made. They range from thumbnail size to about 2 1/2 inches and they make me happy.  Maybe now we won’t be so tempted in the miniatures aisle at Hobby Lobby. 😉

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Cheers everybody!

The Sap is Running

Sunday, March 8… 65 degrees and sunshine brings lots of people to the lake. I waited until 4 PM so I had a little time with my husband before he left for work, and then we loaded the bikes and the girls for our first round of Shawnee Park this year. Judging by the state of the parking lot, a lot of other people had the same idea, but it’s very quiet in our favorite spot by the dam. There are spring peepers and seagulls and soft rocks washed into roundness on the shore. The whole world is full of wonder, waking, opening petals to the sunshine. It’s the miracle we wait for every year, our hearts expanding with the joy of living.


March 13… We are nearly halfway through this month and it just keeps getting better and the world just keeps getting worse. I know many healthy people are scoffing about the fear-mongering that goes on with the coronavirus. I am not fearful about it, but I understand the fear. While I have a store room in my basement full of food we preserved and meat we butchered, I know that many do not have that to fall back on. Just putting myself in their shoes (a little imagination) helps me to be compassionate. It is a time to be kind and share, just like we always hoped we would be as Christ-followers in a time of mass panic.It is also a time to be kind and not share. Germs, that is. Before you shake your head and walk away, consider that your impulsive response may be from the privilege of a healthy person. I am far from a germaphobe: I let my children get extremely dirty and play with animals and do wild and free things. But I also take them home from places where people who are obviously sick are hanging out. I once sat behind a person at an event and she was streaming out of her eyes and nose with a cold, mopping it up with a roll of toilet paper. After she produced a few explosive sneezes, I quietly moved to a spot far away. I have taken my children home from church when it became obvious that there were sick people sitting there. This is not because we didn’t want to be in church, but because I know what that sickness can do to a medically fragile person and I’d rather not face that. If you shrug off your germs and cough with abandon in public places, or go to Walmart with your kids who have chickenpox, or refuse to miss a concert even when you have a stomach bug, it is probably because you live the life of the privileged healthy person. Those who live with medical conditions on a daily basis do not begrudge you your status, but it is really helpful when you consider them as you go about your robustly normal life. I know covid19 can be a fear-mongering fest, but before you fume and complain too much, try to remember that you are part of a whole. Few live so solitary that their actions affect nobody, and if they do, they are to be pitied. If you know anyone who is fighting cancer, or anyone who carries an inhaler for asthma, or anyone who has ever been hospitalized for “routine illness,” then you know someone who deserves your consideration. Elisabeth Elliot said that Christian courtesy is “my life for yours”.  It’s the pattern Jesus set, and it is the way of love. That’s all I have to say about that, I guess.

Slowly we shuffle on…

(… And sometimes we forget to hit the post button for a few days. This post was supposed to be sent out on the 13th, so here we are.) I can hardly believe we’re halfway through this month already. I don’t know how in the world I managed to post every day in February for the last few years. I suppose I have added a few things into my life since then, like a pottery business and piano lessons for the girls and all the assorted responsibilities that come with having teen and pre-teen children and being their teacher, etc. Our school is going well, but I don’t really find it less time consuming with three people in classes that still need me to oversee them a lot. Sometimes I wonder if we should do spelling all day every day for a while. Or maybe just parts of speech, or math facts. Mercy. My high schoolers are very self-directed, thank the Lord!

We seem to eat a lot of food these days. I will make a huge pot of soup or an enormous casserole and think, “Well that’s a few meals dusted and done,” but if they’re cheesy and delicious, as meals need to be in midwinter, we’re fortunate to have enough left for the next day’s lunch. I’ve started making 9 loaves of sourdough bread when I bake, and we easily go through a loaf a day. I’m pulling in the children on meal prep, since they enjoy eating and growing so much. It’s good for me and it’s good for them, to work together. For some reason I think I included my toddlers more with meal prep then I do my middle schoolers, likely because they got into trouble unless they were right beside me and the middle schoolers are happy to work on a project or practice piano while I’m making supper. Some of them have an uncanny ability to become very scarce when they sense work looming.

We made applesauce on the first Monday in February. It was such a warm day that we did all the work on the deck, odd as it was to do this in winter. They were the sweetest yellow delicious apples I have ever turned into sauce, having been stored in optimum conditions at the orchard since September. I should say that the children made applesauce. I coached them along but they did all the quartering and stirred the cooking pots and cranked it through the strainer and just like that my life got really easy. I did the cold packing of course, but they washed off the jars and hauled them to the basement and took the slop to the pigs and washed off the deck. It’s kind of weird to be in this stage of life, but I really like it.

When we were all done, they set up the trampoline and had a jolly time. Since that day we’ve had about one other sunshiny day. As I write this, I hear the rain sloshing down outside. The weather forecast has been really boring for pretty much the whole year. I bought a full spectrum lamp on Amazon one day after I checked the ten-day forecast, because I wasn’t sure I would live through all that cloudiness. I wanted to know if it actually helps with that draggy feeling that we get in winter. I have to say it cheers me up just to sit in that bright light, but my children unabashedly make fun of me. “Don’t you have enough things to make you happy?” they say and I reply, “Yes, you make me happy. Just stand still for a half hour so I can look at you. Now shine very brightly,” and they go off shaking their heads. I am a firm believer in keeping my children wondering…

I also bought some small twinkling light strings on Amazon to replace the Edison bulbs that weren’t working anymore in the dark corner of our living room. As it turned out these lights came with remote and eight different settings for blinking, dimming, and otherwise adjusting the mood of the room. It all depends on who gets their hands on the remote as to what the aura is in the living room these days.

I showed the girls some projects on Pinterest and they took off with coffee filters that we dyed pink in food coloring, then twisted into florals.

We sewed the filter flowers and paper leaves onto a green ribbon, then fluffed the filters into flowers.

When it was time to cut leaves, I got out our Cricut from Gabe’s school teaching days. I had never let them play with it, and had sort of forgotten that we own one. You’d think I handed them the moon on a stack of pretty paper. The snibbling party was delightful, with a steady stream of cutesy cards resulting. I told them I see no reason why I should ever buy stationery again.

I’m trying to keep my brain out of its habitual midwinter slogging, so I’m reading a lot of books on my wishlist and spending long hours reading aloud to the children. Last night we were so close to the end of our book and I kept falling asleep so I handed it off to Gregory to finish the chapter. I regret to say I totally missed the ending of the book but Addy filled me in.

I can tell I’m not thinking very sharply in the pottery shed. It is wonderful therapy for me to go out and throw a bunch of mugs. The only problem is that I need to think of what could all go wrong and be proactive. This is where apprenticing would be helpful, because I could learn from the mistakes of others, but as it is, I am learning things for myself one mess-up at a time. I had a fiasco kiln load of pieces that blistered because I had 3 switches on and only 1 off to start it, instead of 1-on-3-off, and blitzed it too fast and didn’t even think to check on it. Tsk tsk. That’s one way to see how low you can go. Last week I threw a bunch of beautiful baking dishes, and completely disregarded the low humidity and how fast things dry out in the winter time. The easy solution would have been to cover them in plastic so they take a long time to dry but I didn’t do that and a third of them developed huge cracks from drying too fast. Just off the wall stuff like that. Maybe I won’t ever do that again? I also spent a few weeks stressing over a proposed order, until my husband said, “Well you know you don’t have to do it,” and just like that my brain caught up and I said, “I’m sorry, but could you please find someone else to make that for you?” And they said, “Sure.” Shew, that was easier than I thought.

I have commissioned a bunch of bluebird sculptures from my resident sculptor, just to set on the windowsills this spring. Gregory hums and pats the clay and scratches around with a tool and out comes a bluebird. It’s totally fascinating to me to watch him because he doesn’t have to practice. The things I make come with much trial-and-error, smash ups, and literally months of hard discipline. This is why I don’t feel like a creative artist. I’m more the sort that’s determined enough to learn a thing that I’ll just keep trying.

We are doing other projects of absorbing interest, their chief value serving as a way forward through the long dark winter. We have been doing puzzles and playing Ticket to Ride or the deluxe Monopoly game that Greg found at Goodwill. The girls do not like Monopoly for the same reasons I don’t: It’s sordidly money-grubbing. Gregory has to beg and wheedle before they agree to a game. They’ll trade a Dutch Blitz round for a Monopoly round occasionally. This winter Olivia got an overwhelming desire to crochet a shawl and in typical fashion she crocheted with gusto until she ran out of yarn. We must hit the store for more. They have also been making new wigs for their dolls out of yarn and outfitting them with fresh clothes. I taught Olivia how to put in a zipper and make buttonholes, a process that had both of us a little on edge. She said, “I’m not promising that I’ll remember how to do this the next time.”

Today Rita sewed her first play-all-day dress. She zipped up the long seams with little regard for the finer details, then I did all the finishing touches and she found green buttons to embellish the front. Her sisters tell her she looks like a picnic tablecloth and she doesn’t even care. I have to say, she moves in a cheerful little cloud of promise of summer when she wears this dress. If I were an ant, I’d crawl right up and feel at home.

I haven’t needed the writing therapy this February. I’m over here, looking over shoulders, cheering on those who lag, doling out endless spelling power lessons, enabling creative brainstorms, and when the PRODIGIOUS MESSES get me a little crabby, I go sit with my happy lamp. (I jest. I’m never crabby.)

(Do you know how sanctifying messes can be? )

Caring for a Special Needs Mama

As promised, this is part 2 of Naomi Hostetler’s articles on special needs. She gave me permission to edit, so I shortened some paragraphs and added a few from friends who chimed in on the conversation. I hope this informs and blesses. I know I have read articles like: “10 Things Well-Meaning People say to Grieving Parents” and felt stricken that I had said hurtful things without meaning to. Neither Naomi nor I want you to feel that way. This article is compiled from the insights of 8 different women who care for special needs children. Personalities vary, and people have different struggles. I think if you read through, you will see a common thread. Be there. Listen. Help in any way you can. 

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 Some mamas send their children off to school by giving them a hug and sending them down the lane. Others put them on the bus with medical equipment and medications. Some mamas take care of baby’s needs by doing a quick diaper change and giving him a bottle which he falls asleep holding. Some mamas do a bowel routine and feed through a feeding tube. Some watch their ten- month old pull himself up and take triumphant first steps. Some mamas watch their five and ten-year-old fight determinedly for that first step. Some let their five-year-old child run into the store beside them and some carry their child. Some say their children are “into everything” and some wish their children could be.

A common thread among SN Mamas is this: They do not view themselves as super women, even though to an onlooker the added responsibilities of numerous appointments and therapies look overwhelming. You may be surprised to hear that comments such as “How do you do it?’’ and “God only gives special children to special parents,” can serve to make them feel distanced and frustrated. They don’t feel like super-women any more than you do. God has called each of us to different journeys in life and in each path, He has placed different hardships. Each one is given the strength daily to face whatever our Hard Thing is, and few SN Mamas like to be distanced to that plateau of The Hardest Thing. They are doing what is best for their child at the moment. Just as you would.

One of the biggest gifts you will give a SN Mama is the gift of grace and acceptance. Don’t be offended when she turns down the invitation to a coffee break, birthday party, or girl’s day. Sometimes there isn’t enough mental and physical energy for everything, and something must go. It’s hard for her to chat lightly about recipes and dress patterns when there is a current decision weighing heavily on her mind or a surgical procedure she is steeling herself for. Keep inviting her, even when it seems she never shows up; she needs to know you didn’t forget her.

It is not especially helpful to pat her on the back at church and say, “You are doing so well,” then go your way without taking the time to actually hear how her real life is going. She does not want to be self-focused, so she will likely not tell you honestly unless you ask. Stay involved. Know enough about what happens to know how and when to offer help because even small things can be huge. When she is feeling overwhelmed, sometimes the best thing to say is, “I have two hours. What do you have for me to do?” Offer to babysit, hire a maid for her for a day, send freezer food, make her dish for carry-in during an intense week, or offer to do her laundry. Pray for her and tell her you are praying. Drop a coffee off or a vase of flowers and a hug. Many families spend a good deal of time on the road with appointments, etc. and a practical way to show you care is to bless them with gas money, restaurant gift cards, or cash.

In cases where it is possible, learn to give the needed care to a special needs child so that his Mama can confidently leave him with you and get away for a space. If you know her to be a social butterfly, plan a tea party or brunch with her and her friends and let her know all is cared for. If she is the quiet type who values personal space and time alone, give her a babysitting coupon and some cash and tell her you will be here for XX amount of time. On the other hand, be understanding if she refuses but don’t stop offering. 

Be conscious of special diets, weaker immune systems, etc. especially when inviting the family to your house. Be kind enough to let Mama know that you’ve had the flu bug lurking in your house, and that your four-year old is coughing. For some children, a cough is life threatening, especially if accompanied by a cold. Prevention is the cure for much of Mama’s weariness and she will be most grateful for your thoughtfulness. If there is a special diet that is needed or even appreciated, do your best to accommodate them and let her know what you plan so she doesn’t need to bring prepared food along for her child.

SN Mamas tend to feel disconnected from other ladies who have fewer stresses on their strength. One of the things that widens the gap is when ladies sit around and discuss complaints from their everyday lives that would seem like a dream for her. It will be hard for the SN Mama to understand why you are complaining about giving your child a round of antibiotics that will mess up his gut health when she has seen her newborn survive a nine- hour surgery that she knows saved his life. That surgery was followed by enough antibiotics to drown an elephant and she knows she owes her child’s life to the medical knowledge she was able to utilize for her child’s wellbeing. She will struggle to know how to respond when you bring your newborn home twenty-four hours after a natural delivery and complain about sleep schedules and family life being disrupted. She remembers nights in that hard hospital chair by her baby’s bedside, willing away the wires and tubes that kept her from cuddling and snuggling the newborn softness and longing for the comforts of home.

Occasionally a person of faith will say insensitive things like, “Have you ever prayed for your child to be healed?” That can actually sting, coming from fellow Christians, indicating that the SN family might have inferior faith. Of course they have prayed that their child would be healed! That’s the first thing they did, through their tears, down on their knees beside the precious baby who was just diagnosed with his condition. And they kept on praying until they had peace in accepting what God in His sovereign wisdom allowed, and trusted that God has a special plan for the life He designed. 

Along these same lines comes the unsolicited advice, the internet cures from people who have done a google search and now know more about your child’s condition than their doctor does. It is very painful if to get the feeling that your child is being researched,  toted about and displayed like a specimen. Probably it is best not even to use the term “normal” unless you are discussing the weather. If you overhear someone saying hurtful things, kindly clue them in. That will be less awkward than a snarky comment from the mother of the SN child, but they certainly have a collection of things they would often like to say. SN Mamas need your support much more than they need you to fix the “problem” with their child. 

“I know just what you mean.” This comment is likely one of the top three (the other two: “Is he normal? and “special children for special parents”) that should be used most sparingly with a SN Mama. If you have not walked their road, you actually do not understand all the emotions, energy, and stamina her life requires, and she knows it. However, this does not have to distance you! Listen gently without judgment. She does not fault you for not having experienced it, but please do not say “I know just what you mean” when you don’t. 

Be understanding of the fact that a special needs child has changed your friend’s life dramatically and may in turn change them. As in any relationship, keep communication honest and be willing to hear that your good intention may have hurt deeply. They need you now more than ever, but it is hard to always know how they need you so communicate about it honestly. Do not withdraw from their lives simply because you “don’t know what to say.” Learn to know the new person life has made them and be there! Maybe you will find her with a different set of friends whom she can identify with now because of her child and you find you cannot identify at all. Be accepting. She needs their support as she navigates this pathway, but she still needs you as well!

The journeys we are called to undertake and the “normal” that we embrace vary with each person on earth, yet they need not alienate us from one another. Let’s learn to love well together, shall we?

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Thank-you, Naomi, for taking time to research and share. 

Caring for the Special Needs Child

This article was compiled by Naomi Hostetler, a young lady who married a former second grade student of mine, which makes me rather old. I am very pleased that he found such a thoughtful wife. 🙂 Naomi loves and helps to care for a special nephew, and this subject has been on her mind a lot. I have added a few paragraphs from my own circle of brave acquaintances and I’ll tell you that I cried when I read their honest words. It is why they are all anonymous, so they can say it like it is.

Photo by alexandre saraiva carniato from Pexels

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The following is a result of five kind mamas who shared their time and thoughts with me as it pertains to caring for their special needs children. My only wish is to help advocate for these children among those whom it is sometimes hardest to speak honestly to on a delicate subject- the ones closest to us. Let’s learn together, shall we?       

There is many a disabled child who longs to keep up, to run to the swing set, to run up and down the steps, to master difficult mathematical concepts and to be accepted as one of the flow. Their sense of self-worth is often more fragile because of the differences in their lives from what they see in their peers, and it most crucial to do our part as families, friends, and teachers to help them realize their value as a creation of the Master Craftsman.

The SN Child is in fact, first a person. They have their own personalities, likes, and dislikes. A child’s disability does not define him, hence do not go about introducing them as “This is ________, the ONE with ______.” It is painful to be used as a showpiece, and one must be sensitive to the reality of making the child a celebrity because of his disability. Yes, this disability has changed their lives and yes it is part of who they are, but it does not need to define them. First, they are a person.

You will forestall much pain in the hearts of an SN Child and his parents if you think before you speak. “Is he normal?” Really? Who says what is normal? “At least he/she is cute!” And there is nothing else to offer? “He seems smart.” Seems? “How can you stand to watch him face this, (do her bowel routine, struggle through the therapy programs, etc.)?” How would you stand it? “Why does he need a wheelchair/walker, etc?” Every mama would protect her child from rude remarks, but when their child has an extra high mountain to face in the road of acceptance or dark times of physical pain, rude remarks tend to feel amplified. Just think about it. Would you like to hear it? Would your child like to hear it?

The most significant rule in caring for the SN Child is one we all know well- The Golden Rule. Put yourself in their shoes (or try as best you know). Children want to be friends, not freaks. Always assume competence when you are in the company of a disabled child, and leave the baby talk for that respective age group. It makes a conversation more comfortable to look someone in the eye when you speak to them, so don’t hesitate to get down on their level and then ask them age-level questions about what they’ve been doing. These children have lives other than their disability and they deserve the chance to talk about it! Personal questions that may be embarrassing to them such as questions about physical appearance, feeding tube, diapers, etc. are not okay. Here again, the Golden Rule covers so much. Would you be liked to be asked this question?  

There are many ways your children can play with handicapped children, and your effort in intentionally teaching your children about this will bless not only the child but also his mama. A child who relies on a wheelchair/walker for his independence can be made to feel as much a part of the social circle as the child who runs on two sturdy legs when there is a deliberate attempt to integrate them. It can be very small kindnesses, like guiding the slow paced one to where the crowd is going, at least stopping to say hi, or playing a game that the physically challenged can participate in, which might take some forethought. Often children run off with their friends and are scattered far and wide, but you can help your child to reach out to a SN child. Encourage them to not give up easily when the interaction feels awkward.

Maybe you are inviting a family with a disabled child for a meal. This child walks with a walker and finds the steps in your three-story house difficult to navigate. Have a little forethought, and he will feel much more welcome and much less like a nuisance. Put some toys that he/she will love on the main floor. If the child is old enough to appreciate the social interaction, have your children play indoor games for the evening instead of playing hide-and-seek outside after supper. Board games that can be played on a table which is an easy height for the child in the wheelchair, or games that can be played sitting in a circle. If the child is one who doesn’t care as much if he/she has other children playing with them but needs to be entertained, tell one of your teenage daughters to give mama a break after supper by showing them books and keeping them happy.

 The SN Child’s equipment to him is not a fun accessory. It is an absolute necessity. Anything with a handicap tag is very expensive and fooling around with something that is not yours to use is inconsiderate. Teach your child to play with the child in the wheelchair, but not with the wheelchair. Explain to them that this child’s wheelchair/walker is the same as his legs and would he like if someone played with his legs so that he couldn’t walk around? It isn’t kind or respectful. Don’t let your children push equipment around, even when not in use. To a child who depends on this for mobility, he is stranded without it. Many wheelchair/walker users tend to quickly feel vulnerable in a crowd. Don’t let your younger children push him around or “give him a ride” without consent because when other stronger children push them around it is very frightening. Please judge gently when the child in the wheelchair screams over being pushed about. It is likely not so much an attitude problem, as a feeling of lack of control and pure terror. Their equipment is personal space and is not a toy, and it only respectful kindness to acknowledge this.

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This article is not to scare anyone away from getting involved, but simply to inform us all of ways we can genuinely help carry burdens and share joys. Sometimes we are paralyzed for fear we will do or say the wrong thing. Genuine care expresses itself in love, and that is hard to misunderstand.

The next article is about caring for the special needs mother. I am sorry that some posts simply don’t show a comment option. I am not sure why, but I would really love to hear what you have to say. If you cannot find a reply option, feel free to contact me at dorcasp8 @ gmail.com. I will forward your thoughts to Naomi, so she can hear your response as well.

 

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)