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.

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Making Progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes the Beans Get too Fat

Would you like to know about the time the Lord gave me permission to not make pickles with my excess cucumber crop? It was in August and I felt that I really should not allow those cukes to go to waste. I looked at my shelves of jars in the basement and saw that I had about 10 pints of mushy bread-and-butter pickles from a previous harvest. They were no longer a blessing or a temptation to eat, so we didn’t eat them. I dumped them out for the chickens, washed the jars, and then I heard the voice of reason. “How many jars of pickles did you can last year? About 15? See, you’re not even really fond of pickles, so how does it make sense to cram a batch of them into an already hectic day so that you can dump half of them to the chickens in a few years? Maybe you could just throw the cucumbers to them now and buy a jar of pickles when you need it?”

A gardener tends to look at that sort of advice as from below, the lazy place, where people don’t manage very well. Having been raised with gardening my entire childhood, I value the lessons learned while pulling weeds and digging potatoes. Once we had enough green beans in the freezer for the year, my mom would sometimes let the last ones get fat so we could shell them and can them. It didn’t matter that none of us really enjoyed shell beans; we were not going to waste good food. I witnessed my aunts doing the same. When there was a glut of cantaloupe, one of them froze the excess in little chunks to eat as slush. It was actually a good idea, but I don’t need to tell you how small the window is for a bite of slushy cantaloupe versus a bite of disgusting slime. For a person from Amish culture, wasting something that could possibly be preserved, canned, frozen, dried, or fermented was unpardonable. I still find it really difficult to throw out food scraps unless they are going to compost or to feed an animal. And I do let the last green beans get fat, because I know our goats will love them.

I’m prioritizing hard this August, having added another layer of things to do with my pottery, which I like a lot better than canning pickles, by the way. I ask myself, “What does the Lord require of you?” and it is simply this: “Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.” There are a lot of choices available in those generalized instructions, but “do all to the glory of God” probably summarizes them all.

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We are back to school and I love the routine and the quieter pace that is a necessity of providing an education for our children. We do our basic household chores in the morning, then go to our schoolroom and look at the schedule for the day, taking it from there. This year I am planning out only one week at a time, with Gregory making his own goals and keeping his own logbook. Alex has to do one course that is mandatory to get his credits for graduation. With Addy reading pretty well, I feel like I’ve hit on a little pocket of homeschool bliss that I have been working toward for years. Feel free to ask me how it’s going when we hit February.

A few weeks ago, Gabriel took time to build me a wonderful set of bookshelves for our schoolroom. It has been exactly the inspiration I needed to get excited about getting back to the books. I just filed our papers and slunk outside this spring when we finished our term. Things were not pretty, so I sorted, culled, and got thoroughly happy as I arranged our library.

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That, right there, is the heart of our homeschool. Once my children love to read, they are driven to learn and they don’t even have a clue it’s happening. I am planning a series of book recommendations this fall. It should be a lot easier with everything categorized. The left half is non-fiction, biographies, and classics. The right half is series, readers, and storybooks.

Aside from not canning pickles, we are have been working toward a massive shift of bedrooms in the house. There is one large room downstairs with a bathroom/laundry room next to it. The boys were down there for years and the girls were upstairs in two little bedrooms. This meant that Olivia had her own room and she wasn’t even a teen yet, and they did not think that was quite fair. On Saturday the boys talked the girls into switching so that they are all three downstairs in the big bedroom and the boys each have a small bedroom. I was painting the downstairs room while they were doing negotiations, and was a little surprised that it was going so smoothly. Suddenly I noticed a sad little face and when I asked what was wrong, she crumpled into tears because “I don’t want to be selfish but I did so love to be by myself.” It was a situation that reminded me of a Dutch phrase my mom used to say (“Es chatshtah gebt uch.”) that translates loosely into “The most mature person gives up.” In many ways and on many days, my middle child is the most mature of them all. We talked about decorating and making sure she gets her quiet time without interruptions. Today we picked a blush colored paint for an accent wall behind her bed, and her school desk is beside a window where the sun shines in. It is very pleasant, and the smaller girls are being held strictly accountable for their messes. We are three days in and so far, so good.

If you want to know what a house looks like when a passel of children are sorting treasures and clothes, moving all the furniture, some into the attic and some out of the attic, emptying out the entire closet full of games and puzzles… well… It looked like all the bedrooms vomited into the living room and down the stairs and literally everywhere. Meanwhile Gregory had a burning desire to make gobs and they were spread on the table, waiting for icing. I finished painting and came to a kitchen that was liberally sprinkled with chocolate crumbs and abandoned cookie sheets. Then I remembered that I hadn’t finished my kettle full of spaghetti sauce on Friday night, and I was chopping fresh herbs for that while the paint was drying. That was when my parents dropped in, so you can ask them and they will tell you that it was bad.

Having big strong boys makes this sort of enterprise much easier than you would suppose. At 3 o’clock they started moving the bookshelves, because yeah, every child has their favorites in their bedroom so every bedroom has a bookshelf. The two little girls use most of their shelves for things like rock collections and pinecones and Calico Critters. Olivia has books, coloring supplies, and knitting projects in baskets. Most of the games from the closet got stashed on Greg’s shelves for now because they had to go somewhere. His closet is the biggest, so he is also stuck with a section of girls’ dresses. Alex’s books are in three tall stacks right inside his door. Like I said, we are in progress here.

Every dresser, chest of drawers, nightstand, mirror, and lamp moved up or down. The air conditioner unit and the window fans moved.

The bed situation was easier. Greg inherited the bunkbeds because that is his room. Only one twin bed had to be moved downstairs, but that left Alex without a mattress because his full-sized one doesn’t fit into his tiny room. Our Goodwill sells decent quality new mattresses and I bargained with him that if he got the things squared away by 6 PM, we’d go pick up a twin bed. Unfortunately the power steering on the Suburban gave out just a few miles from home, and we had to abort the mission. By the time I tucked in the girls that night, fed the dog and put her into her kennel, and made sure there were nightlights in all the right places, I felt like I had juggled paint rollers, fragile feelings, and homeless objects for hours. We might as well have moved, it was that drastic. I am not the tucked-in “don’t have stuff you don’t need person” that I thought I was, but now I know exactly what else needs to be worked on. And that is after a massive clearing out this fall, with yard sales and all. I don’t know where all this stuff comes from! (Help me, Carol!)

Greg is currently sleeping in a lavender room. I wanted to paint it anyway, but all in good time. Alex has a mattress now and no longer sleeps on the floor. The girls are getting along much better than I expected and can’t wait for the blush accent wall. And I am tired.

Home-making. It can be really absorbing and exhausting, but there is plenty of scope for imagination here. I have always liked rearranging furniture, figuring out how to freshen the house without spending a lot of money. I don’t like decorating at all if it means I am trying to achieve a certain look. It must be that I am not visual enough. But I do know how to go for a certain feel. That probably isn’t really a cool thing but it’s how I roll.

Speaking of feeling, four people have told me recently that I should read up on the Enneagrams. I am starting to feel ‘way behind the times. One of them gave me specific recommendations for websites, but I forgot them. Give me a link in the comments if you have a good source. I am very interested.

For one last bit of random, I leave you with an herb bouquet because it’s Abundant August and I can. Have a lovely day!

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All the Feels

“Life experience is not distracting you from your appointed task of writing. It is, rather, the roundabout blessing of giving you something to say.” So says Douglas Wilson in his book Wordsmithy. 

Well. The one thing I know is that I am getting life experience every day. Weird as it may be, I turn airy phrases while I am frying sausage, or while I am pulling weeds in my perennial border. I can’t help myself. But the thing I can help… that thing called pulling out the laptop or the paper, that is the where I weakly procrastinate.

I have a whole range of feelings to explore just now. Get ready!

Things That Make Me HAPPY

  • May, which is to say lilacs, grape hyacinths, creamy tulips with purple fringes, crabapple blooms outside my window, and all of these also in my house, in vases I made for them when the blooms were apparently dead and frozen.
  • Bubble tea, which I tried for the first time in a Thai restaurant with my sister, only we ordered bubble coffee. I googled it and found it is essentially pearl tapioca suspended in liquid. Yesterday I made my own and served it in iced cream tea. The family was less enthusiastic, so I get to have it all to myself. I love that slurp of fat tapioca flying up the straw. And I love not paying four dollars for a drink that only costs twenty cents.
  • The end of school, which is upon us. I look back at the beginning of the year and of the obstacles we have overcome by daily doing the next thing, the next lesson, the next big concept. My first grader can read all the knock-knock jokes in her book now, and I wish I had left it at the book sale. All the others groan and reject her hopeful “Knock-knock.” It is up to me to shore up her sense of hilarity and provide “Who’s there?” dialog. Rita has mastered long division with its accompanying checking, that milestone of third grade. Olivia has learned to diagram compound sentences and do spelling without tears.  I now have a newly-hatched high schooler who  loves history and remembers everything he ever read. The other high schooler won a hundred dollar prize in an essay contest. Sometimes I live my triumphs vicariously through theirs. I will not claim to be undaunted by the challenges of home schooling. It’s ridiculously hard some days, but here we are and we have grown and learned. Here’s our final exams day, and we couldn’t sit at desks one more day.
  • My children playing with ducks and chickens and bunnies. Outside. Or pitching a tent to sleep in the backyard, or hanging Rita’s hammock in the tree for a reading spot. In fact, there were so many “differences of opinion” with the hammock usage that I just ordered the second one. One easily fits two people, but not three, so that there was always an odd girly out.

Things That Make Me Sad or Mad

  • Accidentally freezing my tote full of dahlia tubers that were supposed to be planted the entire length of my garden. There was a stack of egg cartons in the basement closet where I usually over-winter the dahlias, and I had no other place to put them, so I took the tubers to the attic. Obviously, it got much too cold. I have a friend who has some that I gave her a few years ago, and she is returning the favor by giving me some back. I am so happy about that, because I have never seen this particular color of dahlia anywhere else.
  • Dropping a heavy casserole dish out of an upper cupboard onto a stack of soup bowls on the counter. You can imagine the carnage. But now I can make more.
  • Innumerable ants invading my house. One crumb in the middle of the living room carpet appeared to be moving one day, and sure enough, there they were. They especially love the smorgasbord of my kitchen floor.
  • Pigs eating poultry that is doing nothing more offensive than pecking at grains the pigs would rather keep for themselves. It’s just piggish. But we sold Brutus and Petunia now and their offspring are still too young to indulge in such habits.
  • Listening to a beautiful, well-educated person trot out all the reasons immigrants should go back where they came from. I just have one thing to say about that: America is ruining America. Not the immigrants.

Things That Give Me Hope

  • A change from ER to ICU for my husband. We hope for less stress for a season, much as he loves trauma nursing.
  • A strong son with a steady job, learning the manly art of getting up early, putting in hours of hard work. I sometimes glimpse the man the boy will become. It’s a strange feeling. I gave birth to this tall person with the deep voice and all the opinions about trucks and other things I never even think about? Wow.
  • Looking back at mercies. Recently the girls and I talked about near-misses, those almost-accidents that convince us of angels and we know that we are surrounded, else how would any of us still be alive?
  • A future not on this earth. I read Leif Enger’s  Peace Like a River this past weekend when Gabriel was working. I cannot shake that story. I cried my way through the beautiful chapter that described the moments after the narrator’s death and I cried that he had to come back. Sorry for the spoiler, but it was the most profound chapter for me. Hope. It’s a beautiful thing.

Things That Make Me Laugh

  • Addy, “I have a question, Mama. When you die, can I have that book you are reading aloud right now? Only, I’m afraid the others will take it first.”
  • The book I am reading aloud, The Family Nobody Wanted , makes me laugh every time and I am venturing a guess that I have read it at least a dozen times. It pleases me when I share a book I have loved for years with my children and then they love it so much that I will need to put it into my will to avoid squabbles.
  • Six fat porkers racing out of their puddle to the edge of their pen whenever they see me coming because they think maybe there will be kitchen scraps. Even though I may only be walking past, they come. It’s the very definition of cupboard love.
  • Addy’s latest pet chicken was named Pole Tree, and she tried hard to teach it to fly off its perch on her shoulder. She claims she can pick out her chicken from the whole flock of reddish hens, all of which look exactly the same.
  • Gregory, being sent into the store for a gallon of milk at the end of the “dumbest day ever” for both of us in which everything broke/went wrong, came out grinning sheepishly. “What did you buy that wasn’t milk?” I asked, and he produced a very expensive bar of Swiss chocolate. “I thought it might help make the day better,” he said. He was right. We ate it all right there before we even got on the road again.

 

Well, there, in no particular order, you get the feels that I have been feeling. How is the spring going for you?

 

 

 

Tuesday in the Life, Installment 3

I hope I meet Asaph in heaven so I can tell him how much I loved his songs here on Earth. I don’t know… maybe Asaph was more than one person, but the chapters in the Psalms from 73 to 83 are some of my favorites. Reading through them with their sweeping big picture arrangements contrasting human frailties and divine kindness  never fails to inspire me to deeper trust. Consider this passage from Psalm 74: 16, 17.

Yours is the day, yours also the night;

you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.

 You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;

you have made summer and winter.

I sometimes say things like, “Aghhh. I want winter to be over NOW! I want tulips!” Or maybe it sounds more like, “I am tired of all my clothes, and I want to go to the tropics!” Sometimes the pettiness comes out in a mutter under my breath about how every one is getting on my nerves and why are there so many boots in this life? 

When I read through these Psalms, I hear Asaph reminding his people again and again that everything is under control. There is a bigger purpose here than just what I want. I do want spring, unabashedly. I pine for it. But I can also wait patiently because it will be worth the waiting!

My sister-in-law Becca passed on a pearl of wisdom a few years ago. “If you don’t like something or if it just bugs you all the time, do something about it! Don’t just talk about it.” This is very good advice for the things that I can actually do something about, like training the children to line up the boots or setting aside some household funds to freshen up the house.

It’s that time of the year when I need to have a zero tolerance policy for grousing and yet have the courage to change the things I can. I may have said the line about being tired of my clothes this morning. My husband looked a bit blank, “Why?” So then I moved on to “I think I am going to buy a bunch of houseplants,” to which he replied, “Why not?” His reasonableness made me remember why not. I kill houseplants regularly. Also they tip over when we walk past them. I do have better success with tiny succulents but alas, this winter I had them on the sills of my pottery shed windows and they got nip-dead on that weekend of bitter below zero temps. A few also got drown-dead.

I don’t know what spying algorithms are at work, but Instagram regularly gives me ads for buying plants online, so I went on the Amazon this morning and used all my points on a variety pack of 20 teensy plants to replace the ones that froze. I also bought paperwhite bulbs to force in time for Easter blooms. I felt much better then. On my kitchen windowsill I do have some genuine geranium blooms that had no one to admire them in my mom’s basement while she is in Florida, so I clipped them and brought them home.

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Yet another brilliant project I am working on is a small pinwheel quilt kit I saw on the clearance rack at Joann’s. By the time I was informed at the register that I couldn’t use my coupon on clearance items, my heart was too invested to give it up, so I spent way too much for small pieces of coordinating fabric. I really do enjoy the therapy of brilliant calicos, although it is slow going.

On Mondays we catch up on laundry and I do school assignments in the notebooks for the week. Ideally that makes Tuesday the day for projects. I can easily dictate spelling words while I am sewing.

I recently found a vintage typewriter at a thrift store and debated for a long time about whether it would be worth the storage space required. Considering how much fun my girls have playing pretend with an old computer keyboard, I decided to bring it home. The ribbon was dried out, but they used it anyway while we waited for a replacement online. Today it came in the mail. The child done first with her school assignments (Olivia, of course)  got to be first with the typewriter. It was a great boot in the rear for the lagging ones when they saw how bright and fresh the words leaped onto the paper.

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They have been writing letters, pounding out stories, making little books, etc. etc. There are no cords, no batteries, and no backspace key! Addy is a fearless writer, with little regard for unnecessary details like spelling or chronological order. I find her scraps of stories around the house and enjoy them vastly. Here is a translation for you.

“My Family  Addy Rita Livy Greg Alex Papa Mama

Oh no. The boys are on the roof. Sally is in

side. Alex is sick so my mama went to the store

to get ginger ale. And that is the end of my story.”

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(The boys were not on the roof.) This simple machine has been well worth $20 already, just for the tricky way it has sparked joy in composing writing.

After lunch we had quiet time, all except the clacking of the typing keys. It’s not even half as annoying as the sounds of a computer game.

I spent a few hours in the pottery barn, glazing pieces that came out of the first firing yesterday. There are a lot of experiments in this kiln, including the teapots. I am waiting for some glazes I ordered before I can finish the load, but it was nice to be deliberate. Most of my mistakes/seconds happen in the glazing process. I am currently trying to wrap my head around the chemistry of glaze components as explained by a master. When I think back to learning the periodic table in school, my head is pretty much a blank. I must have memorized them long enough to pass the test, then gently released all that excess data to make space for more pressing items. It’s not like I have to learn about all the elements now, but I do need to understand the ones that make successful glazes unless I want to be stuck with only using commercially available ones. I muddle through and take notes but I honestly don’t know whether I have it in me.

At suppertime I came inside and cooked up a huge pot of creamy potato soup. My family cheers for soup, and I love cooking it. Tonight’s version included sweet onion, garlic, carrots, potatoes, whole kernel corn, lots of parsley, ground turkey, and some cheddar. It was broth-based with a few cups of milk for creaminess and I used instant potatoes to thicken it just a bit. Served with saltines and pear butter, I am glad I can report a meal that was nourishing at the end of this Tuesday.

Cheers!

 

 

 

Yet Another Tuesday in the Life

I awoke this morning to the inspiring thought that I had better live well, since I want to write about the day. (Just kidding. Although I did realize to my surprise that it has been a whole week since I posted about the day we had bellyaches and multiple ginger remedies.)

I felt a need to make a nice breakfast this morning, largely due to telling the children to scrounge out of the fridge last night while I messed about in the pottery shed. I had intended to make some supper for myself as well, but it took kind of long to throw the last pots and then it was the girls’ storytime and I just sampled a brownie. I am not sure what the children ate while I was gone. Guilt is a good motivation for getting out of bed in time to cook a nourishing meal, if nothing else.

We have discovered that duck eggs (Remember that day we took extra animals to the sale barn and came home with a dozen ducks?) make excellent omelettes. There was a time when I thought that would be sort of gross, but in fact, they are quite delicious. They are enormous- it only took 5 eggs to make plenty of omelettes for our family- but extra fluffy. I think it’s the yolk/ white ratio that makes the difference. I also use them in baking when they are available, again because of the richness of the yolk. All that extra Omega-3 is just fine by me. If that makes you want to avoid my brownies at potluck, I am not offended.

When Gabriel left for work, we had to give him a push out of our ice-slick of a driveway. The sun was bright and shiny, but not making much impression on the 3 inches of melted snow turned to solid ice. It was downright treacherous outside.

The girls wanted to go to the ladies’ sewing today, but I said they had to do their schoolwork first. It is always astonishing how a bit of extra motivation can spur them on. They got cracking right after breakfast and we even had our spelling done by 11. I went to pick up some Ice Melt salt to try to dent the ice river in front of the house before we get more snow and rain. Gregory was in charge of that operation and when we girls left, he was happily strewing it about. Anything that saves motions and simplifies his life makes him feel jolly. Spreading rock salt certainly trumped chipping away inch by inch with a shovel.

Our sewing day consisted of helping to tie comforters with yarn. The girls love yarn and fabrics so much that any operation involving these materials makes them feel good. It is always a bonus when they are allowed to pick through the scrap fabrics and drag home a bag full for their own projects. We have carry-in lunch, camaraderie and cheer while we work together. The bulk of the blankets are shipped by Christian Aid Ministries to folks in need of warmth and care. One of my elderly friends spends a great deal of her spare time cutting up calico scraps and sewing them into cheerful comfort tops. I asked her today how many she has done. Thelma doesn’t keep track of them all, but one year she did 70, and she has been doing this for years! I can only imagine her rewards in heaven someday when Jesus looks at the tally of her labor of love. When she left today, I told her to be careful that she doesn’t fall. “We pray every day,” she said, “that we would be kept from falling physically and spiritually.”

 

When I got home, I took a quick survey of the pots I had thrown last night. I usually trim and finish them up within 12 hours of throwing them on the wheel, before they get too dry. It’s a variable that takes into consideration how much humidity is in the air, as well as temperature. I have had mugs get too dry to attach handles, and bowls that won’t trim smoothly. Today they were just right, because I had draped them with plastic to slow down the drying. Trimming is the most satisfying of all the processes, aside from unloading a glaze kiln. The piece is placed up-side-down on the wheel, centered, and secured with lumps of clay around the bottom, before being trimmed with a sharp tool to reduce the weight at the bottom of the piece. I have a few mugs in the house that I didn’t trim because they were too dry when I got around to it. I was too attached to them to throw them into the scrap bucket, so I glazed them anyway. Now whenever I use one of them,  I feel like I am lifting weights with my tea. It’s astonishing how much even 1/8 inch of clay weighs. I am practicing throwing the bottoms to just the right thickness so I don’t have to trim so much, but I still always clean them up.

I had a goal to learn to make teapots in February. So far I have made two, equally funny in their own different ways. The glazing remains to be done, and we cannot agree. The children say colorful and I say white. At least I now understand the process and am not scared of it anymore. I was told that making a teapot involves most of the basic skills. You throw it in three pieces: first a cylinder, pulling it in at the top, bellying it out in the middle, and making a gallery for the lid. Then you throw a bud vase to cut off diagonally for the spout. The third piece is a lid, and there are a lot of varieties, as I found when I asked Youtube. The main thing to worry about is that it fits the teapot’s gallery. I never used a calipers before in my life, but I appropriated one out of my husband’s antique tool chest and now it is mine. Once the three pieces are leather hard, they are assembled very carefully so as not to warp the still pliable clay. A handle is attached, taken off, reattached, pulled out at the bottom, no, that looks funny, scrapped, a new one attached, looped up so that it matches somewhat the shape of the spout, still not totally pleasing, but hey, it’s a handle!

I have a continuing love/hate relationship with handles, as you might be able to tell. The more I listen to experienced potters, the more I realize this is a common affliction. There is a thing called “handle envy” where another potter’s proficiency strikes you with admiration and smites you with jealousy all at once. One person admitted to making only handleless pieces for four years! If you see me stroking a mug handle thoughtfully, it is just my little weirdness, but I am okay otherwise.

There is a sort of handle that is pure fun: the knob. I want to show you the little knobs Gregory sculpted for me to use on canisters and a new honeypot. They are still raw, and will be much more charming when glazed, but they please me. The bee will get tiny wire antennae epoxied in after the firing.

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After I had the pieces finished up and shelved for drying, I brought my headache into the house and nursed it with a nap. The children were wanting to skate with friends, so they had to complete their chores first. I slept through any problems they might have had while doing their duties and awoke with a clear head when the Fishers showed up to play hockey.

We ladies opted for tea and a visit in the living room, chatting about stimulating things such as how to hone the skill of me admiring your clean windows while you admire my organized refrigerator, which is an allegory about women and life if you want to know. I don’t know why we get so threatened by each other’s strengths in this life, nor why we feel that we must excel in all points in order to be a worthy person, but by the time we hit 40 we know one thing for sure: We are never going to do it all just right. It’s hard to explain the grace of life that floods in with this realization, but it is the best thing about being -ahem- middle-aged. In the middle of all this manual labor that is life is the settled knowledge that nothing is going to count for anything unless the Grace of God fills in the cracks. And it does! This is why we don’t grow weary in well-doing. It is all going to matter someday, but we don’t get to quit.

We also discussed how to listen to our friends and care about them even when they talk about things like pottery all the time and we aren’t that interested, to be honest. Again, an allegory. Michelle and I have a friendship that spans 20 years. It is good to have friends like this!

When it got dark, the children abandoned the skating and opted for sliding down hills on the ice. It is quite simple if you can make it to the top of the hill. All you do is sit down and off you go! The girls have turned it into a mountain rescue play, where one pretends to be clinging onto a divot of ice for dear life while the others snake a rope downhill to fish them up to the top again.

Our supper was a healthful kind of chicken hotdog with no nitrates added, etc. etc. Also mac and cheese made with spiral noodles involving spinach and tomato and Queso de Blanco. Practically health food! I hope you enjoy my Tuesday menus, because I share them with no pride whatsoever, and only out of honesty. Dessert was orange slices.

We finished the Bushbaby story tonight. It was a satisfying ending, with all turning out well. The author’s note at the end stated that there was a real little girl named Jackie who loved a bushbaby as her pet while her family lived in Kenya. It is always more interesting when a person can write with the authority of knowing a place well.

After the girls went to bed, I washed up the last of the dishes, warmed up some leftover coffee, and here I am, just waiting for my husband to get home any minute.

Just another Tuesday! We’re primed for more snow and ice tomorrow and we have donuts in the forecast as well.

How was your day?

Tuesday in the Life

I was awakened quite early by a plaintive voice in my ear, “My belly hurts, Mama.” Oh, lovely words to pull one out of slumber. After I queried the little girl on whether she felt like throwing up and was relieved to hear it was just an ache, I gave her some chewable Tummy Tuneups and sent her back to bed. An hour later she was back, “My belly still hurts.” Allrighty then. We’re hoping to go see Grandpas tomorrow, but that could all be a little shaky. At breakfast another peaked face appeared and got even longer at the sight of pearly smooth Ultra Immune pills on every plate. Some of my children can swallow pills, no sweat, and others make it a scene of drama and despair every time. The two whose bellies were hurting were unfortunately the ones who can’t swallow pills. Not even when bribed, cajoled, coaxed, coached, or threatened.

Gabe did a noble thing when he decided to fix the dripping faucet in the kitchen sink before he went to work. It meant a run to the hardware store for some replacement parts and no water in the kitchen for a few hours, a situation I was happy to endure. Yesterday I set a large water bottle under the drip and tried hard to keep up with drinking the water as it filled up. I thought it would be a fun challenge and a good indication of just how much was being wasted. Let me tell you, one drip at a time adds up astonishingly! I was glad not to do that today.

I checked on my store of dried elderberries so I could brew up a huge batch of immune boosting syrup. My bottle in the fridge was down to about 3 tablespoons. I lacked fresh ginger to complete the recipe, and that was what we needed for the upset stomachs, so I gave the girls what was left in the fridge and got them settled on couches.

When Gregory went to do his chores in the barn, the girls ran along despite feeling under the weather. We had a huge surprise yesterday when Petunia, the Guinea hog with the wandering tendencies, finally piggled. We have had so many false alarms in the eighteen months since we own her that we were thinking of butchering her. But there she was with 6 squirming piglets in the straw! Farming has its moments, and baby animals are among the brightest of them. This picture does not do justice to the charm of the babies, because 1. Petunia is very protective and I had to zoom in on them and 2. Even if Petunia were not protective, I wouldn’t go into the pigpen. I wish you could hear the sort of lullabies she gurgles to them. I have never heard such a sound before.

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Addy came back in, reporting that all was well with the piggy milk bar. Then she drooped, rushed to the bathroom and threw up all the water she had drunk while trying to swallow her pill. Okay then…

After an hour of downtime, I brought a bit of schoolwork up to the stricken ladies on the couches. They did enough to call it a school day, rather milking their situation. Neither was as pathetic as they let on, but just “felt funny”. There were no more puke episodes.

I might mention that it spit snow and ice and then rain all day long. There was not a lot of accumulation, but it was sloppy and slippery. I noticed a lot of big trucks driving past our place and found out later that there was a commercial travel ban on I99 that runs parallel to our road. I guess there must have been a number of truckers who thought they would brave the two lane roads.

Just before noon a friend stopped in for some mugs. We had a nice chat and I took a bit of time to trim bottoms and attach handles to mugs I threw yesterday. There were only 7 because I kept messing them up. When the clay is cold, it acts funny or else I was just off my game.

I gave the girls saltine crackers for lunch. They had no desire for anything else, but I decided it was time to go on a quest for ginger. Gregory cleared the snow off the car for me, then I took him along to push me out of the ditch if need arose. Besides, he was deep into an audiobook on my phone. We went to the post office first, then to our local bulk food store. I found dried ginger there, coated in sugar so that it is more like candy but still fiery spiky in its normal gingery way. There were no fresh roots in the produce section, but there were jars of minced ginger in the THM section. Sounded fine to me. I also picked up tea and ginger ale. We should be set for the hurting bellies, yes? Of course, the girls only wanted the ginger ale.

I ran laundry through my machines all day and thanked God for labor saving devices such as dryers. Once everything was folded we packed our clothes in faith that we will feel well enough to go to Grandpas tomorrow. As usual, some felt that socks were an unnecessary item and others wanted to take all the favorite ratty clothes and some projects to boot. Wintertime travel is special. There is an entire tote just for snow clothes for the girls. The boys have their ski packs because they hope to go to the mountain with their uncles. I think I’ll just take a book and the most basic outerwear for myself. In case I have to go outside. It’s hibernation season, people.

Alex tried to tempt the saggy appetites with some chicken flavored Ramen for supper. It seemed to taste fine to them, so I started hoping we are on the mend. When I called Gregory for supper, he said, “I’m not very hungry.” Oh dear. More pills. And thankfully he is so good at swallowing them that he is the patient coach for the others.

I took a quick duck out to my shed to finish the mugs. They just needed to have some hedgehog carvings on them and a bit of a cleanup with a damp sponge. I have done so many of these, you would think they just jump right onto the clay, but for some reason I had uncooperative hedgehogs tonight and had to keep rubbing out and retrying. Maybe it was because I had the bright idea to do a live Instagram chat while I carved and it broke my concentration. They have to have pert noses and cutely rounded bellies, but not paunchy. Their hair has to be messy but not awful. And their feet cannot be too large or they look silly. So there you go… a recipe for acceptable hedgehogs.

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We cleaned up the house, did our final doses of vitamin C and some soothing lavender oil rubs and that is that. Even if it might not help anything, it makes us all feel better. I have no problem with placebos, especially in children.

So there you have it. One day in the life.

 

Ten Ways to Lean in to your Mothering

Recently I made a statement that needs some qualification. I said that if you find staying home with your children to be boring, you haven’t leaned in hard enough. I believe this, but it sounds overly simplistic for someone who may be in the middle of the mundane daily-ness of life and unsure how to find joy with a flock of needy people who communicate in whines and drool all the time. It is a unique temptation to tally up all the sacrifices and hard things, like how many snaps I have done up in my lifetime, and how few hours of sleep I am getting. Ask me how I know that this mindset quickly and efficiently drains all the joy out of life and I will tell you that I have been there.

There is a Kingdom principle that says “Freely you have received, freely give….” Another one is “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.” And then there is my favorite: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” The call of God to mothers is intensely practical and spiritual all mixed together.

Of course, you can vigorously keep house and train children in right paths without really enjoying it, but what is the point? Wouldn’t you rather be all in, graceful and excited about your life-work instead of muttering in your spirit about what all you will do “once these kids grow up”? I remember the time when that hit me and I decided that I was going to stop trying to preserve my life and just dive in all the way to being a mother, sink or swim. It was a life-changing decision. Like anything else, I have been tested many times.

These are some practical ways I lean in to my work, ways I have observed other mothers  doing well without giving in to weariness, ways I have learned the hard way.

  1. Give your work to God every day. It might seem silly to pray, “I am giving you this drink, Jesus,” when you are serving your child orange juice in a sippy cup, but it is an effective way to change the way you think. “I am folding these clothes for your glory, Lord.” Eventually this attitude becomes second nature and you do not need the prompts so much.
  2. Bend down and look at your child. Really smile into his face and enjoy him. I am not talking so much about the adorable curls and dimply cheeks, delightful as they are to admire, as I am talking about noticing the person he is becoming. Watch the personality emerge. Share yourself by talking about life as though he is a real conversationalist. If you refrain from baby talk, you’ll have wonderfully stimulating conversations before you know it.
  3. Read up on your subject. When my husband was taking a course on child development during nursing school, he got me an audio course so I could follow along. Because it was what I was wading through at the time, it was fascinating stuff! Of course, these courses are written from a humanistic point of view and should be sieved through the Word of God, but it was so interesting to hear about what is happening in that two-year-old’s brain while she systematically explores every corner of her world.
  4. Write down the milestones. Take quick notes during the day so you can share with your husband what your children said or did that was so amusing that day. I look through pages of recorded conversations with my toddlers now and I know I would remember very few of them. Guess who else loves to read them? Yup, the children. Addy quotes stuff all the time that the boys said long before she was born. It all becomes part of the story tradition of a family.
  5. Keep a journal of prayers and visions for your children, even the despairing ones where you can’t see that they will ever learn. Some day you will look back at them and see that the child who was mean and grabbed toys has now learned to be generous. As the visions get bigger, you will need those reminders that it’s all a process of learning. This is going to take time, but you are in for the long haul.
  6. Learn to love great children’s literature. It is not boring to read “Make Way for Ducklings” every day once you notice how masterfully it is written and illustrated. I know it is claustrophobic to have a squash of bodies all around while you read out loud, but there is such joyfulness that springs out of sharing a hearty laugh around a story. When everything got chaotic, reading to the children for a while was one of the best resets in our day. (Naps worked great too!)
  7. Do things intentionally (that require extra effort) to delight your children. My sister told me she put whipped cream and sprinkles on her son’s pancakes one day just for fun, and he was terribly distressed by her effort because routine is a bigger deal to him than sprinkles. Obviously, you learn what is wonderful to your child by observing. Playing is always a good choice. To have Mom running around the yardplaying tag will elevate the game tremendously. If you find it trying to play Go Fish or Memory, it might become easier if you spend your energies marveling at how your child’s brain is working rather than mulling over how your own brain is floundering in boredom.
  8. Include your children in your work. My mom did this, so I had a great example, but I now know that many women do not like to let their children help them. It seems so much easier to hand the children a screen, then scurry around doing the work. Of course, there are times when they simply cannot help, but when you think about it, it doesn’t make sense to not show them how to do things. If you give little children an hour of play while you do dishes and prep supper, you will likely have another hour of clean up looming in the rest of the house. What if they would have been drying dishes, chopping lettuce with a dull knife, learning to use a peeler on potatoes, etc. instead of clearing out the games closet? Maybe your kitchen time would be prolonged, but the children would have the sense of being welcome in your life, not to mention the sense of being useful.
  9. Stop rushing. If a recreational activity requires frantic tearing around to get out the door, (unless it is a soccer game in the backyard) you will feel frayed by the effort and the tone of your voice will tell on you. Did you ever notice how harried children can take longer to put on one sock than it should take to get dressed from top to toe? It’s like they are built in “Slow Down” signs along the path of life for grown-ups.
  10. Accept the fact that anything worth doing well is going to be hard. There are charming delights to parenting, the Instagram days. Then there are days when you really wouldn’t want anybody to step into your chaos and there were no funny stories to jot down for later. It all feels like a mess and it’s hard to get up and keep going. You’re tired and there is no end in sight. This is where you run to find Jesus in the chaos and you know that this is indeed what He has given you to do. As you lean in to it gladly, yoked with Him, you feel that somehow He is doing the carrying and your burden becomes light. It is a mystery that is hard to describe, but I have experienced it countless times.

I have a bonus one for you: Learn to laugh. Laugh at yourself. Laugh with your children when they tell a funny story. Laugh when your son wears mismatched socks to church and laugh when the milk is all gone and you have to eat toast or dry cereal for breakfast. It’s well-known that a happy person doesn’t get bogged down in the details that could actually be big stuff if they stewed around in it for a long time. The more you practice being joyful about your everyday life, the more you will find you actually love it.

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