Notes From an Untrendy Person

I seem to have been born with a bent to untrendiness. It’s somewhat about being clueless, and more about being stubbornly resistant to the things that are cool with the masses. But I am also forty now, which means I no longer spout meaningless opinions quite as readily as I used to, and hopefully am more open to the big idea.

However, I will part ways with caution and political correctness to spout some opinions. I have been getting one of those glossy magazines titled Flower for about a year and as I flip through it, looking at the showpieces that cannot possibly be actual homes as much as they are museums to designers, I see things that puzzle me. Every house seems to have these floral installations hanging from the chandelier. It confuses me. An amaryllis, upside down amidst some greenery and a few straggling vines. The glory of it is lost upon me. I have hung plenty of roses upside down to preserve their glory a little longer, but never straight from the florists as an installation. I puzzle, too, over brand-new mansions with antique farm implements polished on the walls beside electric fireplaces topped with scarred barn beam mantlepieces with preferably an animal skull adorning the room under a nature print of a dead rabbit beside a victorious fox. I find it all a bit alarming, like a city dweller has had an identity crisis and brought home Grandpa’s treasures instead of selling them at auction.

Then there are the houseplants. They are all good, and wonderful for the air of the home; it is simply fascinating to watch the trends from ficus to fern to fiddle leaf figs. If I had room, I would probably try them all. Except snake plant. I just can’t see it. My grandma always had them, and though she had a green thumb, her snake plant languished thinly with a few yellowing spears. In my Flower magazine I notice a lot of viney plants that straggle across everything from pianos to open shelving in kitchens, where you have to be careful not to disrupt it when you want to use the crockery. The thing is, the Amish ladies have been doing this for as long as I can remember, only they don’t have the open shelving. They use little hooks to hold up the vines on the wall, and I applaud their creativity. I used to say I dislike succulents because they are squishy, but wow! We have them on many of our windowsills for the winter and I really love them. I guess there is hope for a future snake plant.

On to coffee. I wouldn’t say it annoys me when people post pictures of fancy coffee on their Instagram stories. It doesn’t; they look wonderful and I want some too! It’s just the need to assure everyone that this happened! This coffee right here that is too beautiful to drink did, indeed, happen, and here is the proof that I have 5 extra dollars every day. Okay, sorry about that snark. I have a friend, a millennial who has insights into trends, who was laughing with me about this, and we decided to start a new thing: buying McDonald’s dollar coffee and posting pictures of it in all seriousness like it is the treat of the day. Honestly, I love their iced-French-vanilla-sugar-free. I took a picture of pumpkin spice that I brought home for my husband one day, but then I neglected to post it, so here’s the proof. Michelle, this is for you!

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(It wasn’t actually very good. Too sweet.)

Here’s another surprising thing from Flower: a super trendy jewel designer posted a picture of herself in a floral cotton dress with puffy sleeves. I would wear the dress myself, if I could get about a yard of extra fabric to fill in the neckline. On either side posed her adult daughters, one in calico and the other in a lavender gingham pinafore. My girls had almost the exact same pinafores when they were 1 and 3 years old. Isn’t it amazing? (If you wonder why I get this magazine… it was one of those $2 deals and I thought I was getting a gardening instructional. haha.)

I still can’t get into enneagrams. They make me feel dim-witted because I can’t remember what the letters are for. But that’s a personal problem. Last night I had a dream that was so vivid, I awoke from it feeling like I needed to make amends to the people who had been hurt by my actions. It took a few minutes of wakefulness to realize that I had not even done that awful thing that I was repenting of in the middle of the night. What letter is a dim-witted, apologetic person?

Here’s all I really am saying: go right ahead and buy that plant to beautify your house. Don’t mind me and I won’t mind you. Also, I do like some things. Wanna hear about them?

I do love emojis. I thought of a shruggy one right at the end of the last paragraph.

When it comes to household trends, it’s kind of a personality thing: I like cozy, easily maintained spaces. I tend to look for warm colors because white would have to be washed for ever more. I like things that work double duty, like a pretty hat box that doubles as storage for the card games. There is very little in our home that is strictly ornamental.  I readily admit that I am trendy-decorating challenged, and I feel humbled by the fact that there are pieces that have been hanging on our walls for 15 years. I do believe in rearranging the furniture. It truly sparks joy for me, and my girls light right up when I suggest that we figure out a new way to place the living room furnishings. The men in the house? Not so much. “But we just carried that heavy old thing downstairs last year!” I play this game with them every year when I deep-clean the places and shampoo the rugs and furniture. It’s really fun to make our small space work for us the best it can. That just naturally involves dragging things around.

On the clothing scene, I love polka dots. This was evident today when I wore my navy skirt with white polka dots, and my daughters ended up with teal/white dots, pink/white dots, and grey/white dots. Our bench at church was a merrily uncoordinated sight! There is another trend that I would like to encourage you to try if you are on the fence about it. I bought it at Wally the weekend my husband and I were going camping to celebrate our anniversary. In his words, “That is one impressive sweater!” meaning those below-the-knee chunky sweaters. My idea was that it would be great for running to the bath house in the middle of the night, etc. etc. I didn’t expect it to be so cozy. It’s literally like wearing a blanket, but much more acceptable in public than one of those snuggies from a few years ago.

I have a few pictures for you to prove that it really did happen: we did go camping all by ourselves, in a tent, for the first time in years. It was wonderful.

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We ate out. Every meal we ate out there. We stopped at Aldis on our way and bought easy stuff but yum!IMG_20191012_175123309

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The sweater adorns the folding sofa chair up there. It kept catching on the picnic table benches when I was cooking, but otherwise I wore it day and night.

And one more picture (below) taken on our actual anniversary. I get so tickled by the contrasts in this picture. My husband can pull off the millennial look very well, but we have agreed on no skinny jeans, ever. He doesn’t mind my conservative safeness, either, (no way Converse) so… match made in heaven.

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I know you want to know if I have bought a fanny pack yet. Nope. I still have one from the 90’s.

 

P. S. Small appeal here: please comment anything. I have been playing safe and not writing for various reasons. The Lord (ok, maybe it was people) prompted me to stop being afraid, so I plunged right off the cliff with a bunch of tongue-in-cheek to see if anyone is still out there.

 

Monday in February

***I have some brisk words to share with you, words I wrote two years ago and have needed to hear again and again throughout my life. If you prefer soft, cuddly messages from God, you will hate this. Consider yourself warned.

I will start with a quote from Paul David Tripp.

“You live your life in the utterly mundane. And if God doesn’t rule your mundane, he doesn’t rule you, because that’s where you live.

“Live with a ‘God’s Story’ mentality. Redeeming love is not just big-moment love. It reaches into the private recesses of your every day life.

“When you wake up in the morning, ask first, ‘How could it be that God would love me so much?’ and you will be free from the bondage of self-love.”

Whew. That would be enough for us all to reflect on for a day or five, wouldn’t it? P.D.Tripp gave me another phrase that I have not forgotten: The claustrophobic kingdom of one, versus the big-sky purposes of God. This perspective has been so helpful in sorting through my naturally selfish wants and feelings. I think we all sense when we are being unlovely and entitled, but we often lack the strength to call it what it is: sin. I have two columns that help me categorize my responses and reactions in life.

His Will           ———–          My Will

Be conformed to His image                          Be personally fulfilled

Love without strings attached                     Feel valued and cherished by others

Use talents for others                                     Creativity for attention

Die daily                                                            Live a happy life

Become holy                                                     Become better

Be led by the Spirit                                          Forge my own destiny

Walk a narrow, difficult way                        Find the easy path

Freely give                                                        Somebody serve me

Endurance                                                         Ease

Eternal rewards                                               Payment now

 

The conflict is at the cross. If I want my mundane life, my Monday morning in February, to be infused with anything more than drudgery, it has to be lived for a much greater purpose than my own “claustrophobic kingdom of one”. The key is (cringe) death to myself and the way to unlock the whole enormous world of working as a co-laborer with God is not in the nobility of what I am doing, but in my dying to my own grandiose ideas of what life should be.

How I hate dying. Here is the thing. Jesus doesn’t kill me. I give up; I kill me. He doesn’t force me; I have free choice.

He lures me with His great love; I follow, fascinated, consumed, entranced by the wonder of living large in my small place. He takes every space I give Him and He glorifies it with His beauty.

Today I accept His conditions for expansion out of my narrow little valley kingdom that keeps dipping into poverty and grubbiness into His story that is for His glory.

 

***Shew! It was true on January 4, 2017, and it’s still true today. I wrote a list then of things that needed to be infused with glory.

  • my home
  • my classroom
  • my parenting
  • my marriage
  • my writing
  • my friendships
  • my attitudes
  • my kitchen 🙂

All, all of it.

Anybody with me?

Have a wonderful day!

 

 

 

 

A Breath of Fresh

I have a podcast recommendation for you today, a bracing, happy sort of podcast where two sisters get together in the car (to escape from the children and the housework for a few minutes) and they just chat about life, laundry and cleaning.

Maybe that sounds dull to you, but let me tell you, these ladies are anything but dull. They are mothers, homemakers, wives, and one is a teacher, but they have not let the cares of life bog them down into blahness. I have been a huge fan of Rachel Jankovic’s books, Loving the Little Years and Fit to Burst ever since they were published. I still think they are the best books to give to a new mama because the author is writing in the midst of the little years, not when she is a senior looking back through a haze of sentimentality.

Rachel and her sister Rebekah do this podcast, and I will tell you right now that my favorite part is when they get uncontrollable giggle fits at some aspect of life that could actually be distressing, depending on how you look at it. They seem to have learned to view the larger picture, and I just love it. I need to see the bigger picture myself. Also, Rebekah calls her sister “Rach” and their conversations sound pretty familiar to me sometimes.

I listen to What Have You, the podcast, while I do dishes or chop veggies for salad. I stand in the kitchen and laugh, which of course brings all the curious people around to see what is funny, and they look at me as if I am really weird. “What’s so funny about decorating tin cans for holding toothbrushes?” This makes it even more hilarious to me, because I am in a exclusive little club called “Career Homemakers” that finds this podcast invigorating and good for the soul. Sometimes I put on my bluetooth earbuds (which my children hate, because they do not like any aspect of life where mother is at all inaccessible) and chuckle without context for the family. No, no, I am not laughing about the tomatoes, kids.

If you have read any of Rachel’s books, you know that she calls sin what it is, no excuses but with a crisp call to repentance and then moving on. She also has a very clear vision of headship, with roles defined by God for husband, wife, and children. You will not find waffling, mushy thinking in her talks.

Another thing I enjoy is these ladies’ embracing of creative work, learning new things just for the joy of learning them. I have never had a yen to learn how to make stained glass, but I can relate to the desire to master a new skill. I still can’t knit and I am just dabbling with sourdough, but my pots are getting better and I love to feel that I made something. I think this creativity feature is a design passed to us from the Creator, and is actually one of the best ways to keep ourselves from muddling into the puddles of boringness that life can become. Also humor. But I have mentioned that one or four other times.

I share this link with you because I think you too will enjoy some fresh ideas and cheerfulness in your life this winter.

 

How I Bought a Pile of Books Without Money: The Tale of the Shuffling Rebates

Monday: The day I share with you something outside my world. Today it all connects a little, kind of like women’s brains or spaghetti.

Way back in the annals of last year I downloaded a rebate app called Ibotta. Having heard that it is one of the simpler apps to use for saving money on ordinary household items, I decided to give it a go. The nice thing is that they give a $10 welcome bonus to you as soon as you start using the app. The minimum payout is $20, and you have to have a paypal account, but that was no problem. I scored big by doing online shopping through Ibotta over the holidays, so I was getting reduced prices from the stores, plus a chunky little rebate. That is always cause for happy feelings, yes?

It took me a little while to get used to checking the offers I wanted to use before I went shopping. It’s smart to make sure you are getting the right brand of tissues for $1 off. But hey, now you can buy the ones that aren’t scratchy for the same price as the store brands. You can’t dupe the app, though. Your purchase has to match the offer, of course.  For many grocery stores, you can link your store loyalty card to your account, then Ibotta automatically credits your account with any eligible rebates. Walmart is simple. The receipts have a handy QR code at the bottom that you scan and then apply the rebates. I learned to watch for really good ones, like $1.50 off a box of tea, able to be rebated x5 on one receipt. Stock up when it’s on sale and you get a savvy shopper sticker! Toilet paper is another one I always use. We are loyal Quilted Northern people, and so far there has been a rebate running all the time. My personal favorite is the “any” category, because it is just this nice, easy bonus. Any shampoo, any produce, any milk, etc.

Ibotta makes its cut from ads on the site, as well as by directing traffic to stores online. I have learned to place my Amazon orders through the Ibotta app. Now I get a percentage back from both the Amazon credit card and the rebates. Sweet!

Not like you want to know or anything, but when I get $20 added up, I direct it to Paypal and it is there, a secret stash of mad money until I want to do, oh, something like a Thriftbooks order. The psychology behind this thrill is probably uncomplicated and even childish, but I don’t care.

Let me show you what I got in the mail last week.

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My boys took turns falling headlong into The Boys in the Boat. It’s kind of like Unbroken is the consensus. The girls and I are reading Mandy at bedtime. I really love Julie Andrews Edwards as an author. Her books are gentle, yet full of strength.

Friends, you need a Thriftbooks order coming to your mailbox. It’s February. There is time to read. You can find pretty much any book on your wishlist. I have had Jayber Crow on mine for a long time, but it was so expensive that I just savored it there, waiting. This whole stack used up my Ibotta money, but the shipping is free as soon as you get to $10, which is a ridiculously low amount to qualify for free shipping. And the first order you place through that link above will qualify for 15% off.

Now if there were some way to loop the Thriftbooks orders through Ibotta, I can see this turning into a sort of situation.

 

*These are affiliate links. If you use these sites, I get a little reward and you get a little reward. What’s not to love?

Praying Hands

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Over 500 years ago, Albrecht Durer, a German painter and engraver, was commissioned to paint an altarpiece, and as part of the work, he painstakingly sketched a person’s hands raised in prayer. The sketch was done on handmade blue paper and the original still survives today, an image that is recognizable to most people.

There is a lovely tale, whether fact or legend it is hard to tell, about Albrecht. The story goes that he came from a large family, with no means to study art, although that was his deepest wish. Eventually he did start studying and painting. In order to survive, he and a fellow artist, possibly one of his brothers, decided to pool their resources and share living space. The two became so impoverished that they decided one of them would give up painting for a while to do any manual labor he could find in order for the other to have time to master his art and be able to sell his work.

It was decided that Albrecht’s friend would take first turn at the work, since Albrecht was more advanced in skill. For years he cheerfully did anything he could turn his hand to in order to keep the two supplied with daily needs. At last the day came when Albrecht had passed his teachers in skill and his woodcuts were selling for nice sums. The rent was paid for a considerable length of time, and it was now the friend’s turn to study painting.

Alas, he soon found that his hands had become too damaged by physical labor to perform the detailed brushstrokes of a master artist. Albrecht was filled with sorrow and gratefulness for the gift of great love that had come at the sacrifice of his fellow artist’s skill.

Some say that the famous praying hands are the same hands that worked so hard to care for the artist’s needs in his youth, and this is why Albrecht Durer put such painstaking detail into a preliminary sketch. Five hundred years later, we do not know who modelled the hands, but I love the story anyway.

Getting Home Safely

I have been reading stories from the book of Daniel to my little girls at bedtime this week. Last night we covered the bit in chapter 7 where Daniel has a terrifying vision of four great beasts coming out of the sea. Fantastical creatures: lion with eagle’s wings, bear with an unsteady gait and three ribs in its mouth, a leopard with four heads and wings, and lastly a terrible monster that crashed and gnashed about with iron teeth and bronze claws and ten horns. Pretty scary stuff!

After a while their dominion was taken away. Here is Daniel 7:9, 10.

“As I looked,

thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.

A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.”

He goes on to describe how the beasts had their dominion taken away and the Great Beast was killed and his body thrown into the fire to be burned. The ultimate victory thrills me, as does the descriptive language of these passages. Daniel himself said, “The visions of my head alarmed me.” When he asked about the great beast which had so terrified him, the interpretation was that it was a kingdom unlike others, “devouring the earth, breaking it down, and stamping on the pieces”.  This would be a kingdom that blasphemes the Most High, wears out the saints, and imagines itself more powerful than times and laws.

It all comes to an end, up-side-down gets turned upright and righteousness reigns in the earth. We looked for a long time at an artist’s imaginative painting of the New Earth and knew that even in our wildest dreams we have so little idea what God has prepared for those who love Him. (Go read Daniel if you want to have your mind stretched and your faith strengthened. It is more fantastic than many of the modern fantasies/allegories that I have read. )

Why read this stuff to my children? Maybe I should just stick with the lion’s den? Actually, my reasoning wasn’t complex. This story came next in the Bible storybook, and they really wanted to hear about the beasts. As it turned out, it coincided with a lot of things I had been thinking about recently due to what I was reading.

A yearning for “happily ever after” is in our DNA. My girls like good endings to stories. I hope and pray that they will see how even sad stories can be happy endings because there is life beyond the now. I fully expect us to face suffering for our faith that is more than the ridicule that we currently get. I want them to have strong faith that what is seen with our eyes is only the tiniest part of Reality.

Here’s another book recommendation for you, written to people under severe trial in approximately A.D. 67: the book of Hebrews. When I studied it as a bracing message to Christians who were faltering under the weight of discipline and the struggle of endurance, it opened to me as a beautiful narrative of hope. Chapter eleven alone is enough to make one’s heart burn with courage. That long line of the faithful who were obedient to what they knew God wanted for them, and so they pleased Him. It brings tears when I read how they were looking for a city that was prepared for them, looking for the reward, the better life. “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Heb. 11:13)

It may sound shallow to look for the reward, but it’s what motivates us, isn’t it? How else would anyone have fortitude to stay faithful while being sawn in half as part of a torture session?

My third book recommendation is Safely Home, by Randy Alcorn. The author contrasts the life of an all-American businessman with the life of a Chinese friend and former roommate from college. As you follow the story, you get this knot of sadness, knowing that it isn’t going to end well for everybody. It’s not easy, light reading, even if it is classified as a novel. In fact, I cried for a good portion of the book.

I will tell you that the tears at the end were tears of overwhelmed joy because the end was not the end. Death had lost its sting.

My friend Heidi, who has a little girl in heaven, has recommended Randy Alcorn’s book titled Heaven to me. She describes it as thought-provoking study from the Bible as to what heaven may be like. From her description, I think Mr. Alcorn modeled his novel on his theological studies on heaven.

Maybe you, like me, feel oppressed with the brokenness that seems to whack and crush people down. It doesn’t seem right and it’s not OK. We feel in our souls that we ought to fix things, pray them away, not let bad things ever happen to anybody. This is an intrinsic part of a person who loves righteousness- the compulsion to right wrongs and do something about injustice. In fact, the Hebrews heroes of faith “conquered kingdoms, administered justice, quenched flames, were valiant in battle… the dead were raised to life.”

Then there were others who were tortured, facing jeers and flogging, and when they weren’t in jail, they were living in holes in the ground. “They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated.” I don’t think that mess felt okay to them. Yet the world was not worthy of them. And why?  Their faith. The rule of the beast would not last forever and they knew it in their souls.

We have to live in hope, my friends. The best is not yet.

 

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Midsummer

I realized suddenly that it’s summer solstice, hence it’s 9 PM and still semi-light outside. My children swam until 8:30 last night, then came up to the house for second baths, having already had first baths at 4 in the afternoon after the first dip in the pond. All the swimming clothes got draped on the deck railing and the towels got lumped in piles in the laundry room after second swimming because they were muddy.

Today was a repeat exactly of yesterday’s schedule, only they had scrounged up other assorted odd bathing costumes, walking past the row of sun-baked trunks on the deck, and then neatly adding today’s soppy stuff beside the others. First baths were at 6:00, while Gregory made quesadillas for supper. I went out to till the garden and the girls hopped into the goat fence and played Heidi until they were hot and the goats were bothered.

It was 8:00. “May we go swimming again? We got dirty and stuff. Please???” I said, “No,” which just goes to show that I am not always very much fun. But after everybody washed up and got into pjs, I served them pink lemonade slushies, the ones with beetroot in them to make it pink. Just kidding, it was red 40, which just goes to show that I am not always very health minded.

We have fresh peas at last! A lot of my first planting didn’t come up, so I just get nice, manageable amounts. Yesterday the girls and I sat in the air conditioned  living room and watched the Great British Baking Show while we shelled them. They thought that was pretty cool. Hehe. Last year I wrote about the easy peasy way to do large amounts of peas by blanching them in the pod.  This year so far we have only had a few buckets full, so we shelled them dry out of the pods. I discovered a better way to get rid of the blossom ends that have such a maddening habit of sticking to your hands when you try to wash them.  I set up a fan and slowly poured the peas through the blowing air into a large bowl to winnow out the lightweight blossoms. After three pours, the peas were clear of the wispy greyish blobs and I was happy to proceed with the blanching.

The only other garden produce right now is butter crunch lettuce, which is so delectable that I could eat it at every meal, and the last bits of strawberries from our own patch. It’s a tired strawberry patch, plus I neglected to cover it when we got a hard frost during blooming time, so the yield was only about half what we usually get.

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Last week we picked the cherries on our Carmine Jewel tree and made pie filling. It’s a process that I do purely out of love for my husband, because I do not especially enjoy cherry pies. Pitting those tiny little fruits makes me feel just a little bothered every time, which just goes to show I am not overwhelmingly loving yet. Nevertheless, the pie cherries are ready to be picked like clockwork every June. I have started a Father’s Day tradition of cherry-something dessert. According to my diary, this is the third year in a row that Gabe had to work on Father’s Day, which really stinks when you think about it. But at least he took some cherry pies along to work with him.

We did a lot of wandering around the first two weeks in June. The first trip was to a reunion with childhood friends and former neighbors, the John Weaver family in North Carolina. Our weekend of connecting and watching our children become friends was a lot of fun. I will limit myself to one story which will probably be a highlight that both parents and children will remember.

On Saturday evening when we were sitting around a campfire swapping stories, someone was alert enough to notice that 4 children were missing. It was a crew of 12 year olds who had hiked up the mountain to watch the sunset, but the sun had long gone and it was pitch black. Not totally reassuring was the story of a grown-up getting lost up on that mountain in broad daylight. All the mothers had been on a walk when the hike commenced, but siblings reported that they had survival packs, flashlights, water bottles and a book with them. Well. That put a little different slant to the matter. Both Gregory and his cousin Patrick are expert fire builders and we were sure they would have the smarts to stay together. My sister-in-law Carma whistled her signature drop-everything-and-come-to-mom whistle that carries astoundingly far, and John shot into the air a few times so that the children could follow the sound. A few of the guys drove the Gator up a trail as far as it would go, then called, and sure enough, there came some wavering flashlight beams. They insisted that they were not lost, just not totally sure where the trail was. When they heard the whistle, they promptly set about extinguishing their fire so that they could come home. Apparently they lost track of time because they were taking turns reading out loud for the benefit of the group. I wasn’t sure whether to feel proud or a little annoyed.

I looked on both my and Gabe’s cells and neither of us took a single photo of the reunion weekend. We were quite unplugged, I guess.

Here is one of Gregory on top of a different mountain on Hawksbill Trail in Pisgah National Forest. Of all our children, he is the most passionate outdoors lover. Every time we drive through a city he remarks about how hard it would be to live there. Bless you, little man. May you make many more campfires in your life. Just try to tell Mama where you are going next time.

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It was a shiny day. We all made it to the top, even the forty-year-old (ahem), even a little niece in an Ergo carrier, even the dog.

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We spent a few days in western North Carolina where the scenery is hard to beat, the company is fine, and where both of my brothers and one of Gabe’s brothers live. It was a cousinly-packed trip, so exhaustingly much fun. Gabe decided he prefers driving home through the night and we heard not a peep from the crew in the back seats, except when we stopped for gas at 2AM and Addy wailed the whole way in to the gas station bathroom and out again. We got home at 7 on a Wednesday morning, everybody stumbled into the house and crashed until noon.

On Thursday evening we packed up again and headed north to where Gabe’s parents live. The guys have a work-sharing thing going on with their various projects, then on Sunday Gabe’s youngest brother was baptized. All the rest of the cousins were together that weekend. They run in packs and I hardly see my children except when they get hungry. Gabe took the older boys camping on the banks of the Susquehanna one night. They wanted to give their gear a tryout for an epic camping trip in the wild later on, freeze dried food cooked on teeny rocket stoves and all that.

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I got most of the photos for this post off his phone. So, photo creds and all that… thanks, Hon.

We saw every single member of both our families within one week. It was lovely, and then I was ready to stay home for a very long time. We had three appointments and a car break-down in the first week after we got home, but things are looking like a lull now.

Wait. It’s summer. It might be a while until the lull, but the ride is glorious in summer!

What Friends Are For

I have been blessed with many wonderful comrades who cheer me on. The cloud of witnesses around me is not all departed people, thank God!

Real live folks can be so incredibly sustaining and we need them. Are you introverts listening?  All you need is a crisis to make you value your connections. If you don’t have any, it would be best for your happiness and life-satisfaction to start cultivating connections. (I think this is especially true for women, although obviously, I have no experience from the male point of view.)

We are designed to be nurturers, taking care of each other, not just our children. Sociologists have long noticed a link between a woman’s reported happiness and the support that is received from other women. This is especially noticeable in what they call primitive cultures, where women often report being quite happy despite obvious poverty, lots of children, and no professional careers.

It is depressing to be all alone, and yes, our husbands can listen and support if we are fortunate enough to have them, but hormones understand hormones. (I feel like I just said something profound there.) Even the Apostle Paul said something about the older women teaching the younger how to live (love their husbands and keep their homes happy). I get the feeling that this is walking along beside them like coaches just as much as it is special meetings where an older woman teaches her wisdom.

We shouldn’t be embarrassed to own that intuition that tells us someone is in trouble or could use a bit of extra loving. Nor should we be too proud to say, “I need some help with my thinking today. I am sinking here. What would you do (any given situation…)?”

This is what my friends meant to me in the last two weeks. If you recognize yourself, this is my thanks to you.

  • A hug and a sincere “wish you well” in passing. That feeling that she cares about my  world.
  • A real snail mail card.
  • Seeing someone from way back when and catching up a bit in those easy conversations that flow between old school friends.
  • Sharing opinions about dress patterns and is it really “easy” like it says; getting to stroke someone else’s fabric stash.
  • A question, “How are you?” coupled with the time to hear the answer.
  • A thoughtful conversation about whether it really is important to raise children in a village, or is it okay to just go it alone; reflecting on what the village means to your own self.
  • A text and a word of kindness. “Hope your day gets some sunshine.” Just like that, it does, even when the sky stays grey.
  • A latte out of the blue, and a box full of groceries that my children dig through excitedly, immediately asking to break open the bag of chocolate chips.
  • A cup of tea shared over stories about life, mine and hers, even though we are in drastically different seasons.
  • Facebook messages heavily punctuated with animated stickers, something only a few people may enjoy, but when you find that friend, you go on sticker hunts to make their day hilarious.
  • Coordinating schedules so that we can get together and chat while our children play.
  • Talking with and over each other, and getting what is being heard and said at the same time.
  • A smile when your eyes meet across the room in church, because you are genuinely glad to see that her sick child is better and she is glad yours is better.
  • A quick phone call that turns into a visit about so many little things that crowd the day, and it just helps to sort them out.
  • Telling that slightly pungent story that you really just have to pass on to one person so they can enjoy the humor with you, since the children didn’t get it and your husband isn’t home at the moment.
  • The safe place where you can express exactly what it is that is wearying your very soul at the moment, and knowing that you are now held in prayer.
  • Feeling that you are not alone. There’s a whole cloud of witnesses and you are on the way together.

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(pexel free photo)

About Trash and Stuff

I almost missed seeing the turkeys in the sloping meadow  because I was so busy feeling outraged at the litter in the ditch. It’s a real problem here in rural areas where people feel like nobody will see them or report them. My husband picked up a fridge in a wooded area just close to here. Now that is some serious trash! In 1 mile of walking I counted 142 bottles and cans. From my exhaustive survey, (errhrmm) I conclude that beer drinkers (102 beer cans) have less class than soda drinkers (approximately 15 soda cans). There were two coffee cups, 3 fountain drink cups with straws still in them at one of the curves, and in another spot the water drinker (10 water bottles) seems to do her littering. I made another sweeping assumption that this is likely about 5 to 7 different frequent flyers along the road with trash flinging habits, since all the fast food cups were in the same vicinity and the water bottles too. The beer bottles tended to be clumped up at the intersections, which happens to be right outside our picket fence. It is highly annoying.

I was reminded of a walk I took early one morning with my Grandpa about 20 years ago, when he was still vigorous in health. I knew he took a daily constitutional, but when he said 6 AM I thought it was a little plenty early. I managed to get up in time, but politely declined a swig of Jogging in a Jug that he offered before we started. Then he stuffed a plastic grocery bag into his jacket pocket and we set out. I was astounded at the swiftness of the pace he set, and more than a little relieved when he would pause to pick up trash beside the road. He told me that he did this every time he walked, and there were always more beer cans. Being of a frugal mind, he thought they might as well be recycled as in the ditch, so he picked them up. We filled the plastic bag and gave the cans to Uncle Tim to crush in his homemade pop can smasher. When he got enough, they would be recycled and Tim got to keep the money.

I guess there is no point in fuming at the thoughtlessness of others. I might as well follow Grandpa’s example and start picking up trash. My children have this protest pretty often when they are asked to clean up a mess someone else made. “But I didn’t do it, Mom!” While I try to be fair, sometimes I purposely set them up with opportunities to serve a sibling. I decided today that taking the crew on a roadside cleanup would probably be one of the best ways to impress on them to never be the careless flingers of garbage that sullies other people’s lives. I had a school teacher that did Adopt-a-highway with the class every year. I never forgot those lessons and to this day cannot toss even a gum wrapper out of the car window.

Maybe the broken windows theory will take hold right here in our beer-drinking, litter-flinging neighborhood. (Look it up. It is a fascinating social phenomenon that when a neighborhood cleans up it’s surfaces, less crime happens.)  Surely if there are no cans in the ditch already, a slightly inebriated driver would think twice before chucking stuff out the window. Or maybe I should just be pragmatic, like Grandpa, and make money off the trash.

 

The Claustrophobic Kingdom

That phrase hit me square between the eyes when I read it in an article by Paul David Tripp. He was talking about our words, the power of them to destroy or to build, but the part I kept thinking about all week is my little kingdom of one.

“You live your life in the utterly mundane. And if God doesn’t rule your mundane, He doesn’t rule you, because that is where you live.” P.D. Tripp

In other words, few of all the people in the world ever go into the history books. In a  few generations you will only be a faint memory even to your loved ones. This is not to be depressing. It actually frees me to live TODAY, this minute, and make it above normal for the people around me, because that is where it counts. Mundane is not synonymous with unimportant. It’s just everyday, okay? We all have everyday, where the hair is messy and the toes get stubbed and the bathroom needs to be cleaned. Again. Still, if I do not clean the toothpaste out of the sink and brush the snarls out of the hair, what happens?

It is easier for me to live sweetly when the pressure is on, the people are watching, and company is here. But what about the grinding sameness of deep and dark winter with grey skies and squirrelly people underfoot? Oh, then… when the words slip out sighing or sharp or sarcastic because the people are all so familiar and the very same situation happened yesterday and the day before that and the day before that? (Will they never learn? How many times have I told you?) That is when I need Jesus to broaden my vision beyond the claustrophobia of my little kingdom.

How do I get out of the trap of living for my own comfort, arranging the people who are willing to be arranged, struggling with those who are resistant to my efforts at controlling my kingdom for my own ends? Because I cannot stand the boots all over the floor, but they know, oh they know when I am in it for just myself. This doesn’t mean that it is not okay to make the child go back and line up his/her boots in the row. It means it is not okay for me to scold and rant about such a silly thing as boots.

I dislike when small people who love to eat complain about the food. It is not wrong to teach them gratefulness, but it is not right to sigh, “You guys just eat, eat, eat. All the time. But you don’t like these sweet potatoes or the green beans that I spent the last two hours preparing for your supper! Maybe tomorrow you can just eat cereal all day, huh?” (Well, actually that last line would not work here because they would gladly take me up on it.) There is something really stinky about a passive-aggressive mom who makes herself out as a martyr in order to guilt her children into better behavior.

I find myself at times in a negative holding pattern, where nobody is writing neatly in their lessons and the math is taking too long and the missing commas are distressing me with their portent of ignorant little homeschooled children being launched into the world and showing me up as a terrible teacher. It’s my own little claustrophobic kingdom and it requires some shaking and repentance to break out of it. I doubt I am the only one who has such a kingdom… please tell me I am not.

When this happens, I need a broader vision. What is really going on here? Who is in charge of the circumstances of my life? How do I fit into the story that God is dictating? Is it really as miniscule as lost gloves and muddy carpets? Or am I perhaps missing the point here?

I can constantly bang my head against a wall of futility, because my little kingdom wobbles out of the shape I would like to keep it in; it requires no effort to think about me, my needs, my lack of white space, all the reasons I excuse my stinky attitudes and withered soul. But there is a much greater Kingdom where the merciful receive mercy, the pure hearts see God, hunger and thirst for righteousness are filled, and blessing is measured by life-joy instead of stuff. I am part of that Kingdom by faith! When I embrace the love lavished on me daily, it expands me and spills out like sweet water in a thirsty land.

This is living large in my small space and has a way of curing me of the childish tempers of self-absorption. Jesus takes every space I give Him and glorifies it with His beauty. Possibly this includes the days and days of grey winter space. And the space where the boots and coats and muddy dog prints mix on my tile floor. If my husband is reading this, I am sure he is nodding in agreement.

[Redeeming love] reaches into the private recesses of your everyday life. Look for opportunities to be in someway an agent of that transforming love.” (P.D. T.)

I will end with a funny story about Addy. We were sitting in church when she suddenly noticed that Rita had a tablet and a pencil and oh dear! she had none. I told her she doesn’t need to write and kept on singing. Looking down a bit later, I noticed her little face full of reproach and she whispered in my ear, “Mama, do you even understand tragic?”

It is so easy to see the hilarity when it is a child speaking, but I am pretty sure God looks at me with exactly the same mix of exasperation and humor as I do when my daughter is overly dramatic. (I wonder where she gets it?)

Let’s live audaciously! Let’s do our small things out of the abundance of great love within! Nothing will be wasted that we give away. He promised.

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