wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

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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Why Grandma Didn’t Need Me-Time

 

As one thoughtful commenter mentioned in the last post, “I wonder if the women back then would have appreciated some time off now and then or not?” As I thought about the advice from women in another season, I made a few tentative conclusions.

  1. They have forgotten. Do you think there is a possibility that a woman who declares after her children are all grown, “I loved every minute of mothering!” might have a memory lapse? Maybe she is remembering the confiding cuddles, while forgetting how one child pulled the other’s hair when they couldn’t see the storybook and the dismayed clench of her heart when her sweet child told a deliberate lie. Maybe the goo and poo recede with the years and she sees better the things that really matter.

Mom tells the story of one friend of hers who had a really fussy baby, crying and crying at the school picnic. When they had an auction to benefit the school, the lady jokingly held up her cranky infant and called, “Baby for sale!” Obviously they were human as are we.

  1. They had a strong a support culture, especially among the Amish, that was a tremendous blessing to newbie moms. It was normal to have a “maid” to come do the weekly cleaning or pick up the load when there was a new baby. Anyone in trying circumstances could depend on meals being brought in to feed the family. Many lived in very tight community where they babysat each other’s children when they needed to go to an appointment or grocery shopping. This sort of network can be the difference between sinking or keeping on swimming.
  2. They were focused. Our mothers were raised with one dream, to get married and become mothers and homemakers. They didn’t really have the array of opportunities for developing their gifts that our generation does.  While I have passionate views about people using their talents, I also know that honing in on one thing is what makes one a master at it, and this is why so many excellent homemakers result from the plain people’s tradition of training their daughters to pour themselves into this art. Imagine Grandma dashing around with a pricey camera, capturing her world while the children sniffled about being hungry. Nope. She fed her people first.
  3. They had grit. Somehow they didn’t expect life to be easy, which was how a pregnant woman could get up at dawn to milk cows, then come back into the house to cook breakfast and care for toddlers, sewing all their clothes, and keeping house all day. After all, her life was a lot easier than it was for her pioneer ancestors.

Acceptance. Realistic expectations. Support. Centuries of women who picked up their load and carried it with grace and grit would likely look at us with our labor-saving devices and thoughtful husbands who occasionally take us out to eat and say, “Girl, get over yourself.” And that’s probably why Grandma never heard of me-time.

I remember a day when I confessed to my husband, “I just want to give them all away,” then I quickly added, “for a few hours anyway.” It is not helpful at such a time to feel that one is uniquely wicked among mothers, that good mothers never ever need a break. Hear me… WE DO! Even animal mothers pass off the babies to an aunt occasionally so they can stretch their limbs without a pup instantly attaching to the milk bar.

When nobody is having any fun anymore and I am not finding pleasure in my children, I need to take a step back and ask, “How can I break out of this destructive pattern?”

This is where it gets really sticky sometimes, because odds are 10 to 1 that God will start dealing with my own heart and attitudes. He will show me whether my exhaustion comes from being depleted in my soul or from rebelling against the life I have been given. Either way, something has to give.

Often the thing that wears me out is my fuss about how hard the job is rather than the job itself. There is a decay in me, a soft spot that protests every time things get hard. “Wah! somebody save me from this mess of jello on the floor. Wah! somebody take my children so I can go shop the clearance racks! Wah! somebody clean my house while I drink tea and contemplate the meaning of life!”

It is like the little girl who wailed and wept when her cheat sheet of math facts was removed from her desk, because “learning the multiplication tables is impossible!” Then, when confronted with the reality that there was no other way, she started reciting times tables and learned them at an astonishing rate. (It’s just jello, after all.)

Whether I am being entitled or whether I am depleted of resources from having given without refueling, the first step for me to become restored in my soul nearly always involves accepting the circumstances that I am struggling against.

Ideally, I stay hydrated and strong through daily nourishment, but face it, some days I don’t drink my water or feed myself adequately and the consequence is some shaky living that isn’t going to stand the tests of life very well. I prefer to call this need soul-care instead of me-time.

This post started as a list of ways to find white space, ways I can restore my soul in the middle of a busy life, but Grandma hijacked it, so I am compiling that for the next post. Give me some feedback, please; my research tends to be Dorcas-slanted. (I hope you don’t expect it to be all spiritual and meditative. My list is extremely everydayish. ) I know how to refresh myself, but I don’t know how you refresh yourself.

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Seasoned Advice

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… not my seasoned advice this time. I hoped the photo from Pexel might be a subtle hint about that, seeing as I have not quite amassed enough wrinkles to be called wise on this subject.

Having now reached the age in life where I am often reminded of how little I know, I made it a point this summer to listen carefully to some older women who have raised families and are watching their grandchildren grow up. While it sometimes seems to me that raising a family 40 years ago would be much simpler than in our current day, some things remain the same through the centuries, and these are the things I want to pass on to you from what they told me.

Let’s hear from two women who each raised 13 children. Not surprisingly, quite a bit of their advice overlapped.

  • Do what it takes to keep yourself productive. Drink coffee if you need it. Eat chocolate. Take walks.
  • Take care of your soul. You really have to do that. Pray while you work. Write verses on post-its and stick them where you often see them.
  • Keep a song in your home. Get everybody to sing together when things start feeling out of control or when the attitudes get stinky.
  • Read lots and lots of stories. ( ❤ ❤ )
  • Play with your children. Do things on their level, even if you aren’t really interested in what they want to do. Have fun together.
  • Don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself. You really don’t have time for that.
  • Let things go. You will not be able to do everything that you think should be done. You will have to prioritize whether you value your children or your house more.

See why I listened to them? Their advice is so homely and real. They have made it through more spilled milk and sibling squabbles and teen issues than most people can imagine and they are beautiful women, strong in faith. They have things to say that I need to hear.

We recently had a panel of older women who answered questions and shared from their life experiences for the ladies at church. The questions ranged from home/family, to keeping an eternal perspective, to making friendships that are meaningful. The one that interested me the most was this, in my own words: What do you think is the reason for younger women getting “burned out” or “stressed” and needing “me-time”? How did you deal with overwhelming seasons in life?

So… what do you think they said?

Apparently me-time is a fairly modern invention. Going to the spa or to the coffee shop with friends, getting away from the kids, taking a vacation with just your husband… all these things were not commonplace for our mothers and grandmothers. It wasn’t that they didn’t have pressures and problems. Nobody can pretend that having lots of  children in the home with hungry bodies and thirsty spirits is going to be a walk in the park. I am sure I was just as needy as a child as any of my children are. But when confronted with this question, the ladies on the panel said, “We didn’t have me-time. We did the next thing, and then the next. We learned to love having our children around us.” (Again, my own words, from my impressions of the conversation.)

I got the feeling that they leaned into the harness and learned to love the work. If you love what you are doing, you do not need to be rescued from it.

There is another thing they shared that I think honesty will compel us to cringingly nod our heads in agreement. They said they didn’t have the distractions of internet and the pressures of social media. In other words, they didn’t have all their friends and all the ideas trotting through their lives every day, distracting them from their main purpose. I am still mulling over this one, because I love people and the connections that are made possible by the web. Not going to lie, it would be hard for me to give up. This is a big one that everybody has to mull through on their own, but it isn’t one we should just shrug off.

 

Speaking for myself here: I live in this century. It’s a hyper-connected world, with so much potential to touch others’ lives and my obligations extend past my home. Learning how to live restfully is so important if I am going to have any influence for good in the world. Exhaustion is a thing, and needing me-time, as much as I cringe at that term, is a thing.

I hope to have a conversation here about things that breathe life into our weariness, so if you could please start thinking about that?

 

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Glory in the Humble Arts

I made up that term for something that I find hard to describe. Let me just give you some definitions to clarify what a humble art is.

Humble, adj. : small in size, lowly, modest, not arrogant or loud

Art, n. : the production or expression of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance

Humble Art: an apparently small gesture, unpretentiously done to beautify a space or fill a need. People who practices humble arts becomes skilled at producing a sense of celebration and excellence around their craft.

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Glory, n. : eminence, luminosity, honor, distinction bestowed by common consent

To glory in the humble arts is to learn to love doing what you were created for. Do you feel that? Can you say, “This. This is what I am supposed to do right now.” If you can’t think what that might be, just be really quiet for a minute and then do what is right in front of you. If you cannot dredge up any feeling of worth for the job, pretend it is for the king.

Because it is. If you love Jesus, you know that the reason you exist is to bring Him glory, to enjoy Him forever, to serve Him willingly.  It has very little to do with how gratified you feel about your calling. You want to be happy? Practice being happy. Stop whining. Just stop.

What I just wrote is the pep talk I have given myself many times. I learn slowly, but I am learning. Did your mom ever tell you, “You can learn to enjoy doing dishes,” like mine did? I used to sigh and roll my eyes, but now I am wiser and I know she was right.

I watched a lady pinch the edges of a pie crust once, and it came to me: This is art! She really enjoys this, and her pies are beautiful. Folks, she did it for a living. She had a bakery and she produced enough pies in a day to put me into a stupor. (I have never embraced the art of pie making to the point of excellence. I do get this concept though.)

The thing about learning to love what you do is that it gives your work luminescence. There is an unmistakable glow from a piece of work done by a humble artist. The lowly is elevated and there is glory attached to it somehow.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven.” Mt. 5:16

Do you see how the glory of the ordinary, by the very nature of its ordinariness, brings glory to God? It’s not normal to sink your heart and soul into doing blah things joyfully and well, so that they are good works. It catches the attention and inspires those who get to bask in the glory. This in turn reflects glory to the Father in heaven who gives what it takes to embrace the everyday grinding, mixing, kneading, baking. So what if it’s only a crusty loaf of bread consumed in an hour?

It is not a wrong concept at all to slice that bread and whisper, “Jesus, this is my worship. Again.” Don’t worry. He will take care of the glory part.

 

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Quite Likely Events

I am a fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. They are such fascinating studies of human behaviors, what makes people tick when they are not even aware of it, how trends take hold, why the small people sometimes inexplicably roust the huge ones, etc.

These are the ones I have read or listened to:




I know some people hate his studies. They think he oversimplifies things, puts them into neat boxes when there really are no boxes. But there are! There are categories and predictable behaviors, but there are also boxes for the totally unexpected, and those are the best ones of all.  I like this quote:  The point isn’t necessarily to accept his conclusions, but to be jolted – even if via the improbable medium of ketchup – into seeing the whole world afresh. This galls some critics, who’d prefer it if Gladwell made smaller, more cautious, less dazzling claims.

We listened to Gladwell’s Ted talk on David and Goliath this summer, and you should too. If you don’t agree with his ideas, at least it will take your mind for a little spin of possibilities. The entire book is comprised of anecdotal evidence that giants are not as powerful as they seem. The chapter on how difficult it is to parent well when you are rich was quite affirming. Studies have shown that over 75K in annual income will make it significantly harder to raise well-adjusted children than when your income falls in a lower bracket. Whew! At least we are safe on that score!

My favorite is still The Tipping Point, probably because of my fascination with people’s behavior. When I got to spend a day at the Mother Earth News Fair, I had just as much fun watching people as I did checking out the vendors and listening to the keynote speakers. That is where I saw the impeccably flawless lady who seemed to be having a bad day. Remember her from my last post? I didn’t actually interview her, so I cannot know for sure why she was giving her husband such sour looks.

Maybe she had a sore in her mouth that was causing her to see the world as grey and hopeless and even drinking water hurt. She couldn’t eat any pretzel if she wanted to. (Ouch! the salt!)

Maybe her favorite granddaughter had just dropped out of med school in favor of joining a band of farmers living communally off the soil in the hinterlands, and she came to the fair to try to understand what her granddaughter was thinking!

Maybe her husband had an autoimmune disease that caused him agonies every time he ate gluten, and she knew he would be moaning to her all evening after he ate that pretzel.

Maybe he wasn’t even her husband, just some nettlesome guy who knew her back in highschool and still thought she was pretty.

Okay, that is getting a little far out, but you really never do know and it is just a smidge arrogant to assume that the other person’s behavior is uncomplicated. I still lean toward my first impression that she was just being catty.  At any rate, it’s interesting, which is why I suggest you give the Gladwell books a try. Check them out at the library if you feel doubtful. Tell me what you think. 🙂

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The Milk of Human Kindness

I thought about beauty quite a bit recently, seeing as this is a subject that interests us all. I may have implied in my post that I disdain all fashion, and I have to confess, that is not true. My ideas of what is attractive are very influenced by what I have been taught as a Mennonite, I know that. But I don’t live under a rock, and like all of us, I like to feel pulled together, not frumpy and straggly. That latter feeling makes it very hard to be pleasant. It is on the opposite end of the modesty spectrum, so far out as to be highly noticeable. So yes, I do care about how I look and I notice how other people look. I have a little story to illustrate what I was trying to say:

At a recent event, I noticed a lady in front of me who was strikingly beautiful. She had long, flowing, silver hair and flawless skin without even crow’s feet around the eyes. Although she looked to be 55 or 60, there was no trace of extra chin or flappy arms. She wasn’t skinny or unnatural, just exceedingly well preserved and as poised as royalty. When her husband showed up with two water bottles and a soft pretzel, I watched her reaction and observed with sudden clarity that no crow’s feet= no sense of humor. He gave her the water, but she seemed only to see the pretzel and narrowed her eyes with the merest hint of disapproval. He chuckled a bit nervously and made excuses for his lack of appropriate food choices. She said nothing, just looked at him without any expression except mild scorn. He offered her some pretzel and she turned away. At this point I wanted to say, “But he brought you nice, cold, bottled water! You could at least thank him.” Of course, I didn’t. I looked at that lovely profile and I didn’t think it was beautiful anymore. Her husband ate his pretzel with the nonchalance of a naughty little boy, then got up and left. I didn’t blame him.

So here’s the thing. If you had everything you wanted, could people stand you? I have a theory that very beautiful people tend to get away with more brattiness in life because somehow we excuse them for bad behavior. It’s called the “halo effect”. I googled it and found it quite interesting. It’s why pretty little simpletons get married to rich men with hardly any skills other than giggling. (edit: the rich men don’t giggle. That’s the girl’s job.) It’s also why overly-confident, handsome boys get hired for jobs that they are not even competent at. Gah. The injustice! So anyway, here’s to looking deeper than skin.

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Here’s story two. I heard such an inspiring thought this morning. “If you are raising a family, you are doing building work, and your home should resemble a construction zone. Don’t even try for a museum.”

Wow! That’s so true, I thought. I won’t forget that one. Then the day happened. Before supper I asked the girls to clean up the living room, since obviously they needed something to do because they were not outside in the gorgeousness that is our September. They did, and I rewarded them with tiny bits of food for a doll party on the deck before I set to pulling weeds. All day I have had a terribly painful sore on my tongue that seems to have started from eating too many tomato slices a few days ago. I could hardly talk and even drinking water made my eyes smart. Pain can make one feel ugly too, so I removed myself from society and went to the garden to set my little strawberry plants free from their weedy competition until it got too dark to see.

When I returned to the house, there they were, listening to “Little Men” on audio and the house in shambles. Again. There was a teetering pile of folded laundry that just hadn’t made it to drawers, mixed with every kind of project five active little bodies can think up, including a freshly painted plastic bucket and some sticky apple schnitzes on the computer desk. And the dishes weren’t done. I did not even once think about the museum/construction zone quote. “You guys have got. to. own. your. messes!” I said emphatically. It was bad, on the scale of messes about at Rubble but not yet at Disaster. In retrospect, it could have been a lot worse when I considered the tube of super glue on the floor, as well as a cider jug that seemed to have been the refreshment of choice. They sheepishly looked around and said, “What do you mean? You didn’t give us any instructions,” but they knew quite well and scurried around picking perler beads out of the frizzies of the carpet and putting paper snibbles into the trashcan and dishes into the dishwasher. It was probably a good thing that my tongue was too sore to say much. As I cleaned the dirt out of my fingernails (without benefit of a nailbrush, which is AWOL, probably being used on a dolly’s mop) and washed my sweaty hair, I thought about the construction zone and my fuss.

The Proverbs 31 woman speaks with “the law of kindness”. I do so aspire to be like her and it seems God is very interested in giving me lots of practice. I need to learn as much as my children to own my messes, so we had a quieter, kinder talk, and thus ended the day.

It’s still a good quote. I shall repeat it as my watchword when I work through Saturday. Anybody joining me?

Here it is again, so you don’t have to scroll back up.

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Five Beauty Tips for Every Woman

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Recently I saw an outfit selfie and the girl was saying, “I don’t know what it is, but something just seems wrong with this outfit. Help me out. Is it the cardigan? The dress? The combination of the cardigan, dress, and headband?” In her friends’ comments on the photo, someone made the illuminating observation that it was the sandals. They were too strappy and didn’t coordinate well with the horizontal lines on the dress. Okay then. I would never have thought of it. I am quite certain that I make frequent mistakes along those lines, but here’s the thing: I don’t really have time for that. When I ask my husband, “Does this look all right?” he often responds with, “You are a grown-up. You can wear what you like.” So very helpful and yet very freeing!

I have a lot of beautiful friends. Not one of them is ugly. Not one. Every woman that I know well enough to consider my friend has some beauty that I see and I rarely think about a lack of fashion sense unless they bring it up themselves. A few of them are gorgeous by any standard, but most have design flaws (yes, we think of them as design flaws and forget about the Designer) that they bug themselves about. I have good news though! These beauty tips are for everyone. It doesn’t matter if your ears stick out or your hair is flat or your face is wrinkled and liver-spotted. Seeing that I have so many lovely friends, I would like to share some beauty tips that I have gleaned from them.

  1. There really is beauty in simplicity. It is interesting to see the trends to neutral colors and simply tailored patterns come back. It seems the fewer flamboyant things you put on yourself, the less you have to worry that they clash. Granted, I have moved a fair distance from the four color options I could wear as a girl, but I do know that one should be careful about wearing plaids and floral prints together with a chevron scarf and a pile of Lilla-Rose hair accessories.
  2. The most beautiful people think about others more than themselves. You could have a triple chin and warts on every one, but if you are genuinely interested in others, they will think you are a wonderful person to be around. I have to be honest, sometimes when it seems like a person is just looking at one spot on my face, I get really nervous that I missed something obvious like a chin hair or broccoli stuck in my teeth. Sometimes I duck into the restroom to check in a mirror. This is not the self-absorption I am talking about, because I am inconsistent like that.
  3. A joyful smile shines like the best makeup you ever saw, and a whole-hearted person is lovely any way you look at her.  On the flip side, no amount of cosmetics will cover an unhappy face. You cannot paint a sour expression beautiful or color-coordinate the discontentment out of your soul.  A spirit that is not at peace just oozes out everywhere.
  4. Confidence is much more compelling than a woman who is shrinking inside herself with worry  (see 2. above ) about her weight, her hair, her flaws, and how she compares with everybody else in the immediate vicinity who is thinner, taller, shorter, blonder, more talented, etc. Elisabeth Elliot has always been one of my heroines. She had a very clear sense of purpose and she lived graciously in it. She also had a very obvious gap between her front teeth that flashed out every time she smiled. When she died, it was one of the things that people mentioned as most endearing about her.
  5. A brain is a fascinating thing; an empty head is not beautiful. Very few people like to spend time with vacuous females obsessed with selfies, shoes, boys, and bling. It is exhausting, watching the eyelid flutters and vain little airs that are supposed to be so fetching. I will confess that I have always fought an urge to stick a pin into this kind of girl. Put something worthwhile in the head: some ideas that are bigger than an Ipsy bag, some concepts that matter in the grand scheme of things, some opinions that are carefully formulated by actual thought processes, and then you start to see the woman whose worth is not tallied by the sum of her pretty features.

I have three little girls. It is a trust I take very seriously, teaching them about true beauty and values that transcend youthful charm. They are still young, sure, but I do not want them to suffer the agonies of insecurities that are a result of swallowing the idea that they are only worth as much as they are pretty.

These five things are sure-fire beauty tips that I am passing on to them. What have I missed? Do you have beautiful friends too?

 

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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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March Potpourri

It’s spring now and the sap of life is rising. It gurgles to the surface: life that has been there all along, just frozen. Even though our winter was a joke to people like my husband who wanted Serious Snow, I rejoice and feel myself full of ideas thawing and ready to go!

Rita and I went on a soggy walk one day when she was feeling blue. She is cut out of the same cloth I am and we both cheered up when we found twigs with leaf babies to bring inside.

We had our First Day of Spring Party today. It being Monday, I thought maybe I could wait until tomorrow, but the children were not having it. “We have to have a tea party today! It is important.” So we decorated with a pastel piece of fabric and paper doilies, then set out the China and prettied up the food. Frilly toothpicks stuck through ham and cheese chunks cut out with flower-shaped cookie cutters, a simple chicken broth with alphabet pasta, crackers and party mints in pretty bowls, and we were set. Dessert was vanilla crepes with raspberry sauce. Oh, and tea, of course. Mint tea.

Last weekend I got to attend a conference for mothers where Sally Clarkson was speaking to us from her years of wisdom. It was one long, refreshing drink, one that I needed to give me courage. Here is what it looked like in NC on my way to the conference. I pulled off the road and put on my flipflops.

Sally mentioned that typically women in their twenties have a few babies and spend a lot of time establishing ideals. In the thirties they start to feel the burn and it sinks in that this is for the long haul, no short cuts or selfishness allowed. By their forties most mothers are tired. The crowd of godly mothers thins out a bit as one by one they quit, saying, “Let these children figure out their own way now. I am done with this mothering thing. It’s too hard, all this eye-rolling and investments that aren’t valued anyway.”

I have felt it: I am in the tired spot and needed some pep talking. Sometimes I don’t know how weary I am until I hold still for a while.

Here are a few more Sallyisms that I am phrasing as I remember them. Listening to her gentle humor in person was much better, but I know that some of you read her books and will enjoy this.

You are called to live your own story. Nobody else’s. That is your place to be faithful. It’s like a puzzle, and all you have to do is fit your own pieces into your own puzzle. Nobody else’s. Your puzzle will look different from every other puzzle when it is finished.

If God gives you a vision when you are young and idealistic, don’t just chuck it when it gets hard. Everybody in the world will give you permission to compromise. If He says something is valuable, it is!

Read stories of hope and faith to give you courage. Read them to your children. Fill them with stories of beautiful, true, honorable things. Give them a solid framework in a twisted world.

ABIDE. This is not formula or fear. It is not control. It is just a state of being.

If you make mistakes, repent and get over it. God is a Redeemer. Your difficulties are where your children see a walk with God modeled. The hard things you go through are the platform where you gain influence.

I had registered for this conference 5 months ago, and it was so strengthening. Sally speaks hard truths in the kindest way possible. Not least of the enjoyment was sharing the experience with two of my sisters-in-law. We talked long and late, ate chocolate and drank coffee, found common ground and encouraged each other.

I can unequivocally recommend a few books that Sally has written for moms. If you need to hear from someone who has walked the long road and been tested, but stayed steadfast, listen to her admonitions in print. She will not give you permission to slack and feel sorry for yourself; you will be blessed.

In the spirit of making a lifegiving home, I have been working at my March decluttering. So far I have taken out a bag of mismatched plastic containers and lids that I do not seem to be able to chuck into the trash when the sour cream is empty. I passed on a box of boys’ clothes and a bag of girl clothes. The boys were bribed with a dollar per trash bag filled in their room. It took them 30 minutes to fill 4! (I was so proud of them, but not especially proud of myself.) There were a few children’s coats and snowpants that were ripped beyond repair, with zippers broken, etc. that I burned when they weren’t looking.

One painful day I cleaned out my fabric stash and was quite severe with what I allowed myself to keep. I went through my closet and took out all the stuff that I never wear (too small/makes me look fat/bad color/what was I thinking? 😦 ). I donated the Clarks shoes that pinched my heels to Goodwill, as well as a pile of books that were taking up more space than they were worth. Most recently I cleaned out my kitchen cupboards and threw out the chipped and broken things that I had stashed for a Super glue session. Seriously, do I really like this dish that much? No. I do not.

I cleaned out my fridge and fed the pigs. It is oddly satisfying to toss a rotting cucumber to a grateful hog who then turns it into bacon. It makes me feel less wasteful that I forgot the cuke in the salad drawer for too long. The best project in terms of satisfaction was replacing a set of lace curtains that I have had for 15 years! I bought them at the Dollar General soon after we were married and thought they looked all right, but one day I looked at them and said, “So 2000.” I made simple window toppers with a vintage French print and now I can look at them and say, “So ’70’s.” Haha. I need this sort of  illogical hilarity in my life.

I still have the bathroom to sort through and the entire basement, but there is no point in deep cleaning the school room until we finish the term.

Olivia mastered the straight seams on a dress that she has been longing for ever since my mom gave her fabric for her birthday. She made a matching ensemble for her rag doll and learned the fine art of running a seam ripper. No scrapbooking has happened, but I am hopeful. I just need to get in the zone for one more child, then I plan to go digital. All the older children have a lovingly crafted photo book from birth to five years. I never waited until they were 5 to get started, but that is what Addy will get.

Gardening seems a long way off with everything outdoors squishy. I have my seeds, though, just waiting. On Saturday I spent hours making paper flowers for a garland to replace the pine swag I had above the sink instead of cleaning the bathroom. The children gasped when they saw me tearing pages out of an old book, but they soon got into the spirit of the project and helped shape flowers. It is spring, after all!

What have you been doing with yourself?

This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase from these links, you will not be charged anything extra, but I receive a small commission from the sale. Feel free to buy all the books. 😀

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What Friends Are For

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(pexel free photo)

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