The Thing About This Coronavirus

For starters, I am so tired of this coronavirus, I want to hurl it into the Pit. I have had a deep respect for it all along, because I heard what my husband kept saying and I believed him over the scoffers on the inter-webs. But it was an abstract, “I’m so sorry people are suffering” kind of distant respect. Now it has become perilously personal. I debated whether to even write anything, because what we are experiencing is what hundreds of thousands of families everywhere have already experienced this year. For some reason, I have this self-published platform and the inexplicable honor that people keep reading what I write. If our story can convince some naysayers to be more cautious about the virus, I will speak up.

For my mom, quarantine is much worse than the virus. She had a low-grade fever for about 3 days, some coughing, and fatigue. She stayed home, stayed hydrated, stayed active, recovered. My dad isn’t aware of quarantine anymore because he is sedated, on a ventilator, fighting the worst virus of his life. In classic Covid19 style, we live a roller coaster of ups and downs every day when we get updates after rounds at the hospital. Not only that, we are limited to supporting Mom from a distance, across the porch, laying her supplies on the picnic table for her to pick up, comforting her the best we can. It really, really stinks.

It’s been 2 weeks for Dad, and there has been very little improvement. We wait and hope and send out prayer requests. The first four days in the ICU he was communicating with us, telling jokes, responding well to his treatment. He kept saying, “I think I’m over the hump.” Then one evening we got one cryptic text, “I’m going to be intubated tonight. Maybe then I can rest.” What? This was not supposed to happen! Many people have asked, “Was that really necessary? What would have happened if they wouldn’t have intubated him?” The short answer is that he would have died a slow and painful death with acute respiratory distress or organ failure due to lack of oxygen.

This is four days later, and we have been jerked back and forth every day. “He’s doing well,” they say. “He is responding so well to the Remdesivir that we won’t be using the donor plasma at this point. However his blood pressure is high.” And then, “We’ve weaned his vent settings to 50%. His blood pressure has stabilized.” Then twelve hours later we get this message, “He did not do well in the night. His kidney function is deteriorating somewhat and the renal doctor is monitoring it closely. We will be giving him a paralytic and proning (turning him onto his stomach to help his lungs expand) him today.” Last night was more positive, “He handled the proning very well and the vent is now only at 40%.” In a few hours we will hear how the night went. My mom will be sitting with her phone in her hand, her heart in her throat, praying for good news.

My parents were careful; they wore masks in stores; they used sanitizer. They also travelled to another state to take my grandma home after she attended a large wedding on the family home-place. Mom and Dad didn’t go to the wedding. They didn’t hug or shake hands. Nobody was sick on the day they got to my aunt’s house. The only thing we have to be mad about is that they travelled across state lines, and that is pointless. It is what it is now, and we are here, waiting to see what God will do with this situation.

Mom’s quarantine is almost done. She is learning healthy ways to cope with this long drawn-out affair. The first week, when she was sick and worrying about Dad, watching him get worse, trying every immune booster and natural antibiotic known to the home-remedies community (plus a few), keeping him hydrated, checking his blood sugar levels, panicking when he got severe chills that shook his chair despite layers of blankets… that was a week of desperation. His doctor was on vacation that week, and the locum gave them the standard advice to treat at home and go to the ER if he got worse. So that is what they did, and here we are.

Dad is in the ICU where Gabe works. As it happens, he was admitted the day our “vacation” started. Gabe has off for 10 days and will not be going back to work until this weekend, unless he picks up some overtime. It is very helpful, though, to have connections and get the inside scoop on his condition. Gabe will rattle off a list of stats and I look at him blankly, “What does that even mean?” I don’t know what we would do without his translation.

Our hope is in God, and in His ability to give the health professionals wisdom. We wait for Him in a dependance that we haven’t experienced on this level, ever. This is not a bad thing. He is holding the whole situation, and we know it. In that there is peace.

In general we have experienced so much kindness and care. Many people have reached out and asked how to support Mom. Here are a few things:

  • Messages of faith and courage, with no expectation that the person has to reply back.
  • Links to songs that lift the spirit.
  • Local support, in the form of a face on the porch, a bit of fresh fruit, etc.
  • Phone calls only if you are a close acquaintance.
  • Compassion, not pity…and there is a difference. “We are walking with you,” is much more bracing than “You poor dear! How are you surviving this horrible ordeal?”
  • Pray. Pray. Pray.

 

This is the reality of coronavirus for some. If you think it’s about funny memes on Facebook, how somebody sneezed and now they tested positive and the whole world has to wear a mask, I’m here to tell you that you should stop. I pray it never touches you, or that you are one of the many who sail through recovery with little scarring. If you think hand sanitizer is for wimps and the CDC doesn’t know nearly as much as you do about staying well, all right. That’s up to you, but please don’t scorn those who do not see things quite the same way.

 

Caring for a Special Needs Mama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caring for the Special Needs Child

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

Photo by alexandre saraiva carniato from Pexels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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?

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.

IMG_20180212_144103919

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

Praying-Hands-Image

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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