How to Cope With More Than You Can Handle

6:17 AM. Seven years ago, right at this time, I was on the way to the hospital in the last stage of labor. The fibroid tumor alongside my chubby baby’s head was giving us problems with her position, so even though the baby wasn’t stressed, we headed to our back-up plan. (Insert my opinion here, because I know this: Home birth is amazing, but never try it without doctor backup and make sure you are close to a hospital.) It’s 20 minutes of my life I don’t ever want to do again, and I remember moaning about just wanting to die while my husband was driving. “Well, honey, that’s not an option,” he told me cheerfully. He had just finished the first semester of nursing school and as always, he was an amazingly supportive birth coach, keeping me focused on the moment. So, dying was out. I would just have to do this. Seventeen minutes after we were escorted to OB  by an orderly who talked too much in the elevator, Addy came flying into the world. It was so sudden I laughed my relief out loud in the delivery room.

A few hours later, my parents brought the rest of the children to see their baby sister, proof for the chatty orderly that no, this was not our first baby. My oldest son was 8, the next one was 6, and the girls were 3 and 2. I look back at these photos and think that they were all babies.

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My burning question was simple. How? How am I going to do this? When we bring this baby home from the hospital and my husband goes back to work/school, how will I cope? I was reminded of these feelings recently when a friend with 5 small children asked me what one thing I would say to a mom in the daily, hourly, minutely role of raising small children. “I am living the life I used to fear,” she told me, and I knew exactly what she meant. The answer that came was simple.

You do this one day at a time, faithfully doing the next thing. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for successful mothering, because our lives are all different, but this is a formula that will grow and change you in your own heart toward your children. It will give you backbone and strength when you are so tired you are cross-eyed in a tunnel lined with milky sippy cups and poo-stained onesies. Are you ready for this?

This is the time when it is okay to die. This is the time to slay the whiny, “BUT what about ME?” and just pour it out for others. You know you won’t actually die, but selfishness and grandiose ambitions and pride of accomplishments will. Just chuck them out and allow yourself to settle into a very small, hardly noticed place of service. Nobody says, “Wow, did you see how neatly she wiped up those squished peas under the highchair? Isn’t she accomplished? And just look at how amazing she was with that baby wipe.” And yet in that moment with a rag on the floor you gave your life for another. You’ll get it back someday and the more freely you give it up now, the happier you will be.

Don’t be afraid of the narrowness. I think of it like water flowing through a hose. You aren’t a river, satiating the thirst of an entire county. You are responsible for that hopping, squirming row right there in front of you clamoring for a drink. Keep them hydrated. Just concentrate on that. This is not the season to crusade for world peace. Your contribution to the world is nurtured children and it is a huge contribution even while it kills you repeatedly, day after day.

I can’t say you will always feel your “high and holy calling.” It is intense and hot and sticky and there are all these clingers-on every time you do venture away from home territory. You will fight the urge to run to a place where nobody calls you “Mama.” There will be times you feel like you simply cannot get off the couch to deal with the children who are scrapping madly in their bedroom.

But you will be all in, freely investing your talents in this hidden place. You will be lavishly working to make life happy, saying “yes” when you dread the mess your consent will create, reading the same storybook 3 times a day, listening to endless rewinds of an alleged dream, thinking endlessly about what to feed the people. You will be teaching your children how to say sorry, how to wash their hands and their dishes and their clothes, how to make life sweeter for others. Your books will languish, unread, and your prayers will be profound phrases like, “Help me, Jesus.”

You will repent and apologize when you fall, and then you will get up for another round, knowing that Grace is holding you and you are in a good place. You will find Joy in this spot, like looking through a cardboard tube at your life and when you block out all the peripherals you zero in on the loveliest vignettes in the middle of the chaos.

It is simple, but I didn’t say it is easy. “I’ll do hard things for love of you, Jesus,” I promised in my youth. Hear me. It was impossible for this impatient, goal-oriented, ambitious girl to settle into that narrow life and flourish. I wasn’t a nurturer by nature. I wanted to do big things, broad strokes that would change the world. Something had to give and it was me. I just didn’t know how hard it would be to live small, contained, in one little place, with just these same little people every day. I needed to learn the glory of small things, a little leaven, a grain of mustard seed. The dying was excruciating and it continues on. How can one person have so much selfishness?

I am currently in a season where I am able to zoom out, pick up dreams to pursue, walk in a wider place. My baby just cooked her own breakfast while I hovered anxiously in case the eggs spilled onto the stove. Wow, that happened fast, I think.

 

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If you feel stifled, smothered by neediness, afraid to let go of who you are, take it from me. Things become richer when you condense them, even souls.

Currently, a Long Time Ago, with a Look at the Future

I just spent a few post-supper hours in my pottery shed. I shut the door, turned on the fan, briefly mourned the smashed pitcher that a well-meaning child dropped before it was fired, and got down to business with a fresh box of clay. That was especially nice, since I have been only working with reclaimed clay from pieces that seemed good at one time, but lost their appeal as I got slightly more advanced in my skills. Yesterday I made a really nice serving bowl, only to fish a piece of plastic bag out of it when I was doing the final trimming. Bummer.

Tonight I cut my fresh clay into equal 200 g portions to try my hand at making small matching bowls. I wanted snack bowls, the sort of thing you put your child’s apple slices into. I had only three successes and at least six squashes. Apparently it was the night to make every rookie mistake and I may have invented a few extra ones.

We are sitting on the deck with the Tiki torches lit to fend off the mosquitoes on this perfect summer evening. Addy practiced “reading” a story that she has pretty much memorized while Rita played with her miniscule Sculpey clay figures. She made a squirrel family for her fairy garden, and one mischievous fox that slinks around. The people turned out the same size as the squirrels, and their couches would work for either the humans or animals.

We had humid sunshine this week. Every time I check the gardens, the cucumbers and tomatoes have leaped higher. I am so pleased that finally I have cucumber plants growing up a trellis. They never cooperated in other years, but these are flourishing. I keep an eye on developments, but every time I need a cuke for a salad, a small Peight girl has already had it for snack. I have six plants; surely they won’t be able to keep up! Sadly, my seed potatoes and a lot of my dahlias rotted in the weeks of unrelenting wet after I planted.

The lawn is leaping too! Our grass isn’t thick, so we can get by with only once a week mowing, which is good because I run out of dollars for the mower-children. Most of their jobs are unpaid except by thanks and hopefully a good feeling at being a useful part of society. Lawn mowing, weed-eating, window-washing, and car cleaning are paid work. I have wondered what the children of the future will do to earn spending money once all the tasks are taken by robots.

I am deeply suspicious of robots. Every time we go anywhere local, we drive past a neighbor with a robotic lawnmower. It drives me nuts. The children say, “Mom. Mom… don’t look.” But of course I have to look. It is always out, questing around for a stray blade of grass, leaving the worst zig-zag tracks you ever saw! When we had a snow shower in late April, it was out tracking in the snow. That was when it clicked for me. Ever since I read “There Will Come Soft Rains” in Literature class in school with its mechanical cleaning mice that darted out of the walls to clean up crumbs and dirt, I have felt that robots are creepy. (You can listen to Ray Bradbury’s short story here.  (disclaimer: It’s very sad when the dog dies.) )

I do not intend ever to have an Amazon Echo in my house. Nope, nopety-nope. It’s too much like August 5, 2026. And a goat would be a huge improvement on that ridiculous mower!

And just because a post is more interesting with a picture, here’s the view from my deck on a gorgeous morning last week.

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The children and I are doing a summer Bible reading challenge, during which we are reading the New Testament. This past week we read Revelation. It is breathtaking and terrifying- all those apocalyptic descriptions where John seems to be grasping at words wholly inadequate for what he saw. The scene that touches me the most is the one where all nations, kindreds, and tongues fall before the throne of the Lamb. All our temptations toward me-centeredness will be gone for good! The popular theology that makes God and irresistible me besties that hang out together is a flippant view that makes me cringe every time I hear it. I know that I am loved with an Everlasting Love and that knowing is the sort of thing that prompts falling on my face before God in worship.

I have to include a bit of my personal drama, not because it is so important, but because I am living in a haze of gratefulness these days. About 10 days ago I was on my hands and knees, washing the kitchen floor. I twisted to the side to reach as far as I could when I felt my knee do the crazy strain/pain that I have had before. I broke out in a cold sweat, trying to push past the pain to straighten out my leg. Thankfully, Gabe was home so that he could help me up off the floor. I thought if I held really still, the pain might go away, but when the tears squeezed out of my eyes uninvited, and the children stared in horror, my husband said, “We’re going to get this checked out.” An Xray showed no bone damage. It was the weekend. I came home with an immobilizing splint and crutches. If I kept my leg completely straight and held perfectly still, I could deal with it. If I tried any funny business like ordinary life, I got extremely unhappy messages from my knee.

It was 5 days before I could get in to an orthopedic surgeon and I was told that I just have to take it easy, wait a week for an opening to get an MRI to assess the damage to my meniscus (hypothetically). I hobbled out to the Suburban, did my awkward stiff-legged climb in with the driver’s seat all the way back so I could get my foot past the e-brake, and I sat there in a parking lot and cried great salty tears of self-pity. I felt that my summer was shot. The doc had said there was always a chance that whatever was torn would unfold itself and give me relief. Meanwhile… pain meds and splints.

I had been begging God to fix me the entire week. As I sat there in the Suburban, mopping my face with a scratchy paper towel, I knew that this was a test. I say He is always good. So what if (worst case scenario) happens… Do I believe that He is good? Yes. Yes, I do. Am I so special that I should never have any hard things in my life? No. No, I am not. Is there grace for this problem, for this looming summer of inactivity? Yes, of course. God graciously poured His truth over me and I stowed my paper towel and drove home.

The next day I was stiffer than ever. I was scooting along the edge of the porch to try to pull some weeds that were growing there, but it wasn’t going very well. “Please, Lord, help me bend this knee,” I muttered under my breath. Impulsively I used my hands to haul on it, and tried for a 45 degree angle. There was no pain! I pulled on that knee until it was bent to the full normal range of motion. Hardly believing it, I walked to the mailbox. It was a creaky walk, but with every step I felt it getting more limber. I was too cautious to leap and dance, but I sure did praise God! For some reason He allowed that handicap to last for 6 days, and then He gave me relief.

It isn’t healed totally. My knee is gimpy, buckling without warning a few times a day. I didn’t cancel the MRI. But I am so thankful for the ability to go up and down steps to do laundry, for being able to sit at my wheel and throw pots, for the capacity to lie on my side in the bed, for the privilege to serve my family instead of them serving me.

Meanwhile I will be using a mop.

Going out with a Giveaway

I am so delighted at how fast this month flew by. I entered it with the dolorous viewpoint that I struggle with in wintertime, as you no doubt noticed. One of my coping mechanisms is to push myself to do something creative every day, whether I feel like it or not. Writing about a Day in the Life makes me notice the little things that are not dismal. Publishing posts about what I believe about God helps me to be accountable. Am I living like I believe what I said I believe? Or not? What would my children say about that, considering that my words and actions are statements of what I really believe, everyday…

Maybe you think it is almost fashionable to get depressed in wintertime. Let me assure you, nobody, not even a pessimist, would choose to walk through valleys of depression, whether it’s baby blues, hormonal upsets, or even the SADness resulting from lack of sunshine. It is not fun to feel like all happiness has fled, maybe forever, and howling wilderness is all that is left. It is even worse when your brain gets confused and cannot muster the strength to override the feelings like you have trained it to do. I told my husband one day, “I have a strong place in my mind, but I keep falling off it.”

I love the beautiful attitudes in Matthew 5. In my own words, these are the attitudes of the people Jesus gave assurance of his blessing.

  • I need help (poor in spirit).
  • I am incomplete; I am missing something; I am broken (those who mourn shall be comforted).
  • I cannot do what I am called to do; with His help I can (meek, inherit the earth).
  • I have empty places only He can satisfy; I am desperately parched (those who hunger and thirst).
  • I am here to be kind, whether others deserve it or not (merciful).
  • I cannot live separated from God, therefore I cannot excuse my sin (pure in heart shall see God).
  • I love harmony more than strife and being the top dog (peacemakers).
  • I am willing to die for love of the Righteous One (persecuted for righteousness’ sake).
  • I will not waver from the way of Christ, even though it goes against popular opinions and I am ridiculed (reviled falsely) for my loyalty.

 

The list itself doesn’t sound giddy with happiness and #blessedness, does it? Yet, the passage concludes with “Rejoice! Your reward is in heaven!” I think we seldom have a proper concept of being broken in a broken world. There is truth that Jesus makes us whole, but there is also the living that goes on in our imperfect situations, with our deceitful hearts that tend to stray away from wholeness. Jesus made it clear that we are in a good place, what the Amplified Bible calls “happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous –with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions”, when we are bowed down in utter poverty, begging Him for what we need. It’s a paradox of the Kingdom that is hard to describe, but if you have been there, you know it.

The beautiful attitudes have given me courage. They are not feel-good attitudes. They are attitudes that line up with what cannot be shaken, and so they are blessed. There may be months of frozen wilderness, but I know that there is a Faithful One directing the affairs of the whole Earth, and one small person’s wasteland is so amply provided for by the resources of heaven. Maybe you, like I do at times, feel that the flowers must bloom again or you will die. (I speak metaphorically, of course.) They will. Believe it.

Jeremiah, the prophet who wept his entire career, wrote the one of the most beautiful verses in the middle of his Lamentations:

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You can hear him shoring up his soul on those verities. I, too, am staking it all on that!

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And now, for the giveaway, I have a different idea from the normal giveaway. You already won when you left your comment during this past month. Because I was cheered and blessed by your voice, telling me what you thought, how you are doing, etc, I have something to give you. Remember my dahlia row in the garden? I have some bulbs to share with every one of you lovely commenters. I just need your mailing address sent to my email: dorcasp8 at gmail and I will send you a wrinkled, ugly looking tuber that will give you great bouquets of glory this summer. It is an allegory, okay? 🙂 I cannot tell for sure which bulbs are the ones like the photo, and which are solid crimson, so it will have to be a surprise for you.

(Thanks for walking February with me. Please don’t forget to email me your address. I think there are 25 of you. )

 

Lover of My Soul

(This homily came to me in a sort of dream-picture. Generally I do not take my dreams very seriously, but this one I tried to write down before I forgot it. What it means to you may be different from what it means to me, but I hope it blesses you.)

He came to her when she was crouched weeping in her barren garden. She had come face to face with her failure to make anything grow. The world was starving, yet no essence of goodness was produced from her hands. The mess around her was enough to repel anyone. There were the shards of broken pride where she had fallen headlong and shattered the priceless vessel of independence she had been carrying so protectively. There was the stench of self-rule, the fertilizer she had been planning to apply, its black filth so artfully disguised in her vessel. It oozed around her feet, exposed. Worthless. The dejection of failure streaked down her cheeks. She couldn’t even grow a simple garden.

In that hopeless moment of shamed realization, he came. She smelled the fragrance first, clean and pure. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him there, a great bouquet of crimson lilies in his hands, face alight with, could it be? Forgiveness? Love? Confused, she looked around, but there were only the two of them, so she took the token of his acceptance and hope. She glanced around her garden plot, but there was nothing to offer in return. Returning to her weeping, she became aware of the wrinkled little lump that was her heart, shriveled as an old seed potato. Ashamed, nothing to lose, she held it out in her palm and she offered it to him. She held nothing back, no bits of dirt or sprouts of ambition.

His smile of joy transfigured the situation. The mess was no longer the focal point of her existence. He took the shriveled little potato-heart and did something curious. She watched as he knelt and dug a hole right there in the disarray and planted her offering, heaping the dirt gently around.

No one was more astonished than she was when the tiny green leaves pushed out of the dirt, and a plant grew sturdily, blooming white and full. He showed her how to water it, pull the weeds, keep the soil soft. One day they dug under it gently. In the roots they found abundant new potatoes, healthy and nourishing, sprung right out of that old shriveled heart.

“They grew so you can give them away,” he said. “They are for others.”

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Joyfully Doing the Work

“I have so much to do,” little Miss Drama wailed, “it just isn’t worth living anymore.” This, because of one basket of laundry to fold? I investigated; it did look like the older children had saved the biggest, most overwhelming basket for her to do, so I told her to do her best and I would come help her finish it up once I had supper underway. She kept on sighing about how I would never get done so I could help with her work. The most logical solution at the moment was to march her off to bed for some quiet time. Things quieted down very quickly and I saw that she had fallen asleep. After a nap and a hamburger, we tackled her laundry together and she cheerfully put it all away. Mama loves her; her folding skills are better than she thought they were; life was worth living after all.

I copied a verse from Isaiah recently. Then I taped it beside the kitchen window where I see it when I am washing dishes.

“From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways.” Is. 64:4

I am not unlike my little girl some days. Of course I wouldn’t holler and cry out loud about my impossible work assignments, but I might think they were just too much and not fair, and when is He going to show up to help me, and besides, couldn’t we spread the work around a bit more?

I have been thinking about how He does show up, always, when I am joyfully working righteousness. I look forward to those meetings. Who doesn’t like to be with a person who is eagerly waiting for them, interested in what is going on in their world? Making space for them to be right there, have conversation, work together?

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I don’t know of a worse waste of time than wallowing in how huge my basket of laundry is. Granted, sometimes I need a nap and some food, but it does help my attitude when I fully expect God to show up in this ordinary, humongous task that I am expected to do.

When we are engaged in anything worthy, it means we will be grappling with hard things. Being useful, fruitful, working righteousness… anything you want to call it… means getting tired. So how about we stop whining about no hammock and lemonade, just stop at the end of the day and let Him give His beloved sleep, then get up and go at it again the next day?

Every time I think I have learned this, a humdinger challenge comes along. This is why I do not  proclaim it too loudly, because the next grade is bound to be harder. You know how it goes. If you don’t flunk out of the times tables, you will most certainly be doing long division next.

Well, yay! for advancing! Onward and upward, friends.

Hebrews 11: a modern paraphrase.

 

By faith the Christians in the 21st century understand that the material world is only a screen from the real world, and they are not afraid to call it what it is.

By faith many of them endure the fiercest persecution, spending years in unjust conditions, without even the most basic human needs being met. By faith they will not deny Jesus, knowing that this could lead to cruel death at the hands of those who hate Him.

By faith they accept mistreatment and loss of position in the world, choosing rather to believe that the way of Christ is a humble way of not making any deals with the enemy.

By faith they use their gifts to further the Kingdom of heaven, striving to live uprightly in an evil age.

By faith they obey, raising their families in a counter-culture lifestyle, not accepting the status quo of ungodly poisons pumped into the young. By faith they teach their children to trust God in an era of rank unbelief, not caring how unpopular they may be in the world.

By faith they embrace sacrifice, refusing to live as though the only thing that matters is collecting more stuff and becoming more comfortable. By faith they freely share their goods with those less fortunate, trusting God to do their investment accounts in heaven.

By faith they tenaciously believe God in the midst of the inscrutable, staking everything on what is invisible. Knowing that it is impossible for Him to lie, they wait patiently for the better things He is preparing for them.

Asking For It

This came to me in response to my own shoulders shrugging off what I knew God wanted to do in my life. I felt like an adolescent who says, “Don’t touch me,” even though what I really needed was some discipline and direction.

 

Ps. 138:8

“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me:

Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.

Do not forsake the work of your hands.”

 

Ooh, I want your purpose. I want steadfast love. I want forever.

“Girl, you just asked for it, big time!”

Isaiah 64:8

“But now, O Lord, you are our Father,

we are the clay, and you are our potter:

we are all the work of your hand.”

 

I love being the work of your hand. That is just an amazing thought!

Wait! What is this pounding and wedging, this dizzying spin on a wheel, the heat of the furnace?

This… is steadfast love?

Ow! I didn’t sign up for this!

Oh, yes.

I guess I did.

Stop resisting the Potter, girl.

“Do you want to fly off the wheel into the uselessness of the repurposing bucket?

“Of course you will get another chance, but it won’t be easier or feel better than this one did.”

And now they quote Romans 8: 28 for me.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

And that’s where they stop quoting, but what is this purpose really? I am not feeling it at all. Let me see what the next verse says.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers?”

Really? All those things that are supposed to work together for my good..?

It sounds like he is doing it on purpose to make me look and act like Jesus… like this was the plan from the beginning of the world.

Hmmm, apparently being in the family is more than a sweet thought in God’s mind, more personal than a name on a family tree. This sure feels personal anyway.

I am not getting the idea here that he says, “Oh, I just cannot resist your cuteness,” and then gives me everything I want. I have actually been kind of bratty and rebellious.

I guess God takes family resemblance pretty seriously. I guess love looks a little like training, just like he promised.

It’s not that I don’t want his hand on my life, it’s just that I like to complain when it’s uncomfortable and I don’t get my way.

“Girl,” he puts his hand on my shoulder again, “you have my steadfast love. You asked for it. I will not ever forsake the work.”

And look at this. Here’s the best part in verse 31:

“What then shall we say to these things?”

If God is for us, who can be against us?”

 

Wow. I guess I will quit whining now.

 

What do you mean, “Rejoice”?

Repost about an event six years ago… I still haven’t learned to rejoice right away when yucky stuff happens. I want this to be my default mode, but I need to be reminded so often.

As a family, we are memorizing I Peter 4:12,  Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” It goes on to say, “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” I am not good at that: rejoicing-in-hard-stuff.

Gabe and I took a weekend off to celebrate our tenth anniversary (3 months after the fact) at a friend’s cabin. We had a nursling to take along, and my husband had such a severe Crohn’s Disease flare that he could hardly carry our luggage or the fat baby. It was raw and damp outside, brown dirt and chopped off cornstalks lining the driveway, a steep slope up the ridge begging to be hiked. I had packed the most tempting foods I could think of, and I grilled and cooked with care. He wasn’t hungry, picked at a few bites, and left the rest for me. We built a fire, played a game of Canasta, then he was tired. I put the baby down for a nap and tramped outside, my heart heavy with forebodings, my spirit rebelling against these circumstances. This was supposed to be our tenth anniversary celebration, after all! 

I was mad. Why weren’t our prayers answered? A whole year of nursing school yet… how could it possibly be better that my husband be sick? While the baby napped, I clawed my way up that steep ridge, tears stinging my eyes, self pity washing over me. What are we going to do if he never gets better? What if we will never be able to make plans again without adding, “If Gabe feels well enough”? How would we support our family if he can’t work?

The angry questions kept swarming, all the way to the top of the ridge where the turkey trails came out of the woods into the corn field. I stood there, my hands clenched, my heart screaming for answers. I felt the bitter core swelling inside me. “WHY, WHY, WHY?”

Did you know that God’s children can be incredibly rude and demanding sometimes, desperate, afraid, and He doesn’t ever turn His back on them? As I looked up into the solid grey cloud cover, my faith was so small it was hardly measurable at all. Miserably I waited for some reassurance that everything was going to get better, that life would be good and become easier. Nothing. No wash of love came over me. But I sensed this fact: No matter what (insert worst case scenario), He is there. Slowly my hands unclenched as the truth settled my soul. No, I didn’t understand, but I gave up trying and I believed. Slowly my heart softened in worship as I relinquished the control I didn’t have anyway. I threw down my worries with my drenched tissues in that forsaken turkey grazing field. They were biodegradable anyway. 

Maybe that is what it means when it says, “Rejoice.” Maybe it doesn’t mean, “Feel good.” Maybe it means, “Be glad that you don’t have to be big enough to handle this all by yourself.”

This is six years later. Gabe had an emergency bowel resection about a month after the anniversary celebration I was referring to, and has been dealing with the issues that brings up ever since. I want to say just this: God really has been with us, the entire time. I feel completely safe to stake eternity on that faithfulness.

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A Prayer for Today

prayer for Grace

 

“Deliver me, Jesus,

From the desire of being loved;

From the desire of being honored;

From the desire of being preferred to others;

From the desire of being consulted;

From the desire of being approved;

 

From the fear of being humiliated;

From the fear of being despised;

From the fear of suffering rebuke;

From the fear of being forgotten;

From the fear of being wrong;

From the fear of being suspected;

 

And Jesus, grant me the grace to desire

That others might be loved more than I;

That others might be esteemed more than I;

That in the opinion of the world,

Others may increase and I decrease;

That others may be chosen and I set aside;

That others may be praised and I unnoticed;

That others may be preferred to me

In everything;

That others may become holier than I,

Provided that I become as holy as I should.”

 

Soul Care

Some of us have a trump card that we try not to play very often, but we would like to mention that Grandma didn’t homeschool. (Thank-you for the prompt, you commenters from the last post. ) We keep this close because when somebody whines about something that is an obvious choice they made, people think, “Duh, you didn’t have to sign up for that.” However if you homeschool, you have chosen a challenging path and set yourself up for a lot of work! All the noble reasons for doing what you are doing will not make it easy.  The best thing about homeschooling is that our children are here all the time. The worst thing about it is that our children are here all. the. time. There is no substitute and very little wiggle-room, and it definitely has a way of turning your heart to your children! Unfortunately, it also tends to overload us with anxiety about our failures and their struggles. (You cannot outsource your relationships.) Sometimes you absolutely must get perspective, which means you have to step back, out, away, alone, and think, ponder, pray, cry, figure out how to make this work, how to get the white space you need to be healthy.

It’s not only mothers who have to do this. Nurses, teachers, nannies, cart-pushers, all of us, really… we all need to care for our souls. You know all those verses about fatness and leanness in the Bible? It may sound counter-intuitive, but you want a fat soul! A skinny one won’t be able to share anything nourishing with others.

Winter is coming. In this area that means staying inside most of the time. We end up with projects stacked on projects. As I write this in the living room, there is a Jenga blocks game on the floor, piles of books on the end tables, a Monopoly card game, assorted socks and shoes from church, and spilled popcorn on the floor. Someone was sculpting on the coffee table and there is a PBJ sandwich there as well. In the corner I just noticed a basket of clean blue jeans that got missed yesterday. I expect to feel rather famished by springtime when we can move outside again, but I also have some coping mechanisms that I sprinkle into my days.

  • Take walks alone, if at all possible. When the sun shines, I like to drop non-essentials and go out right then; I need the vitamin D. Sometimes I listen to an audiobook that is above the children’s heads. I pray about the things that trouble me, and once I astonished myself and managed to not think about anything at all for a bit. That is actually a thing- ask a guy! Even if I have to take everybody along, getting out of the house is therapy.
  • Learn to run to Jesus with everyday issues. If you need a little privacy, lock the bathroom door. Nothing is too small, nothing too complicated, nothing out of bounds to pray about. Sometimes I have no words other than a desperate, “Help me, Jesus.” He always hears.
  • Figure out your signature drink, the one that makes you feel like you are going to be all right. Craft it lovingly and drink it out of a great mug or one of those cute Pioneer Woman drinking jars.
  • Keep a secret stash. I don’t care if it’s chocolate covered almonds or tofu chips, it is vastly preferable to chew on something than to chew out somebody. Not like the two are mutually exclusive, but still… I might add that I have been known to hide my chocolate so well that I couldn’t remember where I put it.
  • Make time to read even if it is just a few paragraphs before falling asleep. I love to read the Bible in a different version and study the grand theme of Glory throughout the little lives of people. It helps me to step outside my world and think about other horizons, bigger pictures. (You think you have problems, lady?)
  • Take a touch time-out. We have a few members of the family who are sensitive to others in their space. In a family setting, this is inevitable. When things start going a little bonkers, I make them sit in separate places, no talking or touching each other while I read aloud. They may color or crochet or draw. Sometimes they listen to audiobooks or I read until I am hoarse. It has a way of putting us all on the same page and we forget about the way people were getting on our nerves.
  • Cultivate gratefulness. It will put pounds on your soul, and that is a good thing, remember? My personal challenge for this year is to be truly delighted with how cozy my house is. I will not dwell on the fact that we could easily use another 900 square feet. If you hear me grousing, call me out on it.
  • Teach the children to help with the housework. Few things trigger frustration faster than irresponsible people who will not own their messes or serve others. I am not supposed to do it all for everybody. That may seem spiritual, but in the end I am putting my children at a huge disadvantage by sending them into adulthood with that mentality.
  • Have a restful space that you can retreat to when you need a break. We do not allow our children to play in our bedroom. It’s simply off limits. Sometimes I go in there and lock the door and just breathe for a few minutes until I have lightened up and gotten over myself.
  • Learn to laugh; if you can’t see the humor in life, you might as well stuff yourself into a pickle jar. I have not quite learned to say, “That was a hilarious arc your milk made on its way to the floor,” but I look for belly laughs as often as possible. Recently I read a children’s story about a little African boy who wanted to make biogas from goat droppings. I pronounced it “by-OH-gus” and couldn’t figure out why I had never heard of this alternative fuel before. It has now become part of the hilarities in our family legend, I can assure you.
  • Try grocery shopping all by yourself. I have shopped at Walmart in the wee hours while the household slumbered. It is open 24 hours, after all. This can be very fun and relaxing.
  • Be as creative as you can. The act of making something with your hands is  extremely REcreational.  I have been having it out with pumpkin pie this fall. I grew up on my Mom’s version, where the pumpkin separates slightly from the milk/egg so that the layers are perfectly defined. I can use her recipe, but I can’t make her pie. It has become a duel: the perfect pumpkin pie against me… great recreational activity. My husband bought me a pottery wheel recently, so between that and the pie, I have plenty of scope for creativity.
  • Get help. I have a friend who is willing to come do large housecleaning projects with me. The last time she was here I worked in the kitchen, cooking, while she shampooed the carpets. I recommend getting help for the big stuff.
  • Schedule down-time. Sometimes my husband would notice a certain neediness and tell me to take a break, and sometimes he wouldn’t notice, so I have learned to ask. We try to schedule in a day every month where I can do whatever I need to catch up with schoolwork and shopping.
  • Plant flowers. The girls and I just dropped 150 tulips, 30 alliums, and 30 crocuses in the ground. It’s kind of long range planning, but the anticipation will give us happy thrills all winter. In the flowering season we take joy in regularly bringing in bouquets to lift our hearts.
  • Let go of perfection. It is an unattainable and fretful place to be.

There was once this lady named Martha who was doing all the stuff! She was really reaching around and serving, but she missed the most important thing that would have given her rest in her soul. Her sister just sat there and listened to Jesus. I have often puzzled over how to be both these gals, because the world needs to be fed, and some of that is my job. I feel a kinship with Martha, to be honest. My personal solution is to work hard and rest hard, if that makes sense. Someday you may drop in at my house and be a little shocked to see me messing with yarn and knitting needles while there is a general litter of life all around. It will just be me, tending to my soul.

Your turn. I would be so tickled if someone out there told me they go fishing or hunting. What refreshes you? How do you restore your soul when life gets too busy?

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