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)

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.

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