Echo Chambers: The Way I See It

:::Edit: my husband says his shoulders were slumped because he was heading in to night shift more than the dread of what would await him. It’s when he comes home that his shoulders slump from what the shift was like. I thought I should clarify that. He isn’t discouraged to the point of quitting. But he is tired. :::

Tonight my husband went to work, a work he loves, but I saw the slump in his shoulders that indicated his dread for what he would find when he gets to the intensive care unit. All this summer we kept hoping that this new variant would pass over us and our area would be spared, but things are as bad as they were in the thick of the pandemic last year.

When he got back after four long shifts last week, I could tell he was wrung out, physically and emotionally. I asked him how it is going. He is the one who thrives on the adrenaline of life-saving medicine, who enjoys the challenges of critically ill patients, and who has trained tirelessly for his work. “It is awful,” he said. “This week has totally whooped my butt. There is no time to eat, and hardly time to run to the bathroom. Today there were twenty-seven people stacked in the ER, waiting for beds. One woman waited for three days in another ER before being transported to the small-town hospital. And the patients in the ICU are younger, and they are falling apart for no obvious reason, with no other health issues at all.”

Gabe doesn’t talk much about his work, and up until recently he has remained charitable about the spreading of fear and misinformation online. For a while it seemed that mainstream media was whipping the subject into a frenzy, trying to get more mileage out of a very tired idea. The disagreements even seemed a little funny. I showed him a meme that said, “This Awful Vaccine is doing more harm than Covid ever did,” and he chuckled wryly at the obvious fact that there are not 630,000 vaccine deaths, nor are there any hospitals filling up with patients who have reactions, although of course, there are reactions. There always are reactions, just not nearly on the same scale as the disease. “It’s just how they see it,” he would say. “People should have a right to choose what they want to put into their bodies. It’s a basic tenet of medicine.”

The charity runs a little thin when the screaming from the sidelines gets louder. A lot of the people who need acute care are the same ones who have been booing the medical system for this entire long year. Right now the system is overwhelmed. There are not enough resources for the needs. Obviously this results in lapses in care, oversights, people falling through the cracks. It isn’t just the Covid patients; it’s the ruptured appendix and the stroke victims and the heart attacks too. Staff at hospitals are running, running, all day long. Normal care in an Intensive Care Unit is only two patients per nurse. When that number goes up to double the normal care load, things start to feel out of control quickly for their caregivers. Very, very few people come back to say thank-you, and unfortunately the ones in Gabe’s unit… they often die.

They die, despite the careful monitoring, the endless duties that are involved with total care, ensuring the patient is sedated enough that they will not pull out their lines, but not so sedated that they can’t wake up, the washing, the care for bedsores, checking kidney function, making sure their eyes don’t dry out, etc. etc. They die on the shifts of those nurses who saw the fear in their eyes because their worn-out lungs couldn’t maintain oxygen levels. And guess who has to remove the tubes and pull the plugs when that decision has been made that they will not be able to recover? Yes. It’s the ones who have been laboring day and night to help this patient pull through, who have been on the phone communicating with distraught family members, hoping against hope that this one makes a turn for the better. There are thousands and thousands of these stories of bereavement and loss falling through the cracks. Not the famous or important people, or the influencers, but the everyday hard-working ones whose families are devastated by their loss.

“After every shift, we think about what we missed, how we could have given better care, what went wrong,” he said quietly. “This is what haunts us. The worst is when someone who has no clue what it is like is sure that they could fix everything with the help of a few internet memes and some youtube research. As if they obviously know better than all the doctors and researchers who have spent their entire lives studying the human body, and they are baffled by this inscrutable virus. That is just enough to make me angry!” Friends, my husband has never been this frustrated with humanity in general. And he is only one of many nurses who are near breaking point from the tensions. “People tell me if I can’t handle the pressure, I should just quit and get another job,” he said, “but how would that help the situation?”

My heart is sore for these healthcare workers, and for the mistrust and confusion everywhere in our world. They aren’t asking to be lauded as heroes, but they would really appreciate being heard and respected for their sincere efforts to alleviate suffering and help people heal. And honestly, they would like if everybody at least considered the vaccine with an open mind, and if they decide to not get it, to at the very least do everything in their power to not spread the virus and it’s accompanying sensations.

Here’s a quote from an article that I feel articulates very kindly about how many doctors are feeling. “Many of the unvaccinated people I’ve talked with are hard-working, loving individuals struggling to catch a break in a life that hasn’t been fair. They’re unmoored and don’t know what to believe when truth itself has supply-chain problems and the health care system has been letting them down for years.”

I get it with the disillusionment that is felt for our healthcare system. I don’t really trust that the system has only my good in mind either. I don’t think science is a god that can save us. I do believe in respecting the gifts that our Creator has given men in developing their knowledge and honing skills to improve the lives of so many. If I end up getting Covid, I would do everything I could to try to heal at home. But if I need care beyond that, I will have to trust that the doctors care about my health and will do their best for me.

I also strongly believe that things like vaccinations should remain open to free choice, but I do not understand why that has to include reposting fear-mongering stories of dubious origin or news articles that are so heavy with agenda you can see the slant a mile off. And that goes for both sides of the debate! Why can we not ask God how to make our private decisions, and go on our way in faith? Why do we have to yell about it?

“We all have our own echo chambers, where what we already believe swirls around and that is what we hear,” my husband said. I had told him of feeling scalded by an online debate so nasty that if the people would have been Vikings, they would have been pulling hair and gouging out eyes.

I want to say, “We are better than this!” But the truth is, we are not. I know that I can come up with sarcastic zingers with the best of them, but I have asked Jesus to slap my hand before I write them in a comment thread. I am not joking one little bit. I like to be affirmed, that I am right, as does everybody else I know. Can we please just listen to each other’s hearts without vitriol? Please? Can we say, “I may be wrong, but this is the way I see it…” If the only debate we listen to is the narrative that echoes what is already swirling in our heads, we become more and more self-assured and more and more abrasive in our own defense.

I think about my friend Jeanie, whose dad passed away last year, and how clearly she saw it at his deathbed, “Love God; love people. That’s all that matters.” Hmm. Didn’t Jesus say something like that?

I cringe at all the suffering. I loathe Covid. I hate the divisions and strife. Maybe that is our real test, not so much the physical sickness. Maybe our real test is what we do despite the stresses in our very ordinary life, with our neighbors and the people in our house, and at the store or the post office or the mechanics shop. Maybe we are still being called to a very simple rule: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.

Last week after reading that nasty comment thread I talked about, I felt sick in my soul, and I went out to my garden. I picked a half dozen ears of corn and walked over to my elderly neighbors to chat. I found out he can’t eat corn because he doesn’t have teeth, but he would be very happy for some tomatoes. He said he fell out of a tree this summer when he was trimming a branch, and had to have surgery on his shoulder. I said I would give him our phone numbers so that he can call the next time he needs to have a branch trimmed. Then I gave the corn to the other neighbor whom I hadn’t met yet. She was nice, but shy, and she said she has lived there nine years and still doesn’t know anybody. And then Dianne walked across the road to say hi, and we had introductions all around. It was a healing transaction for me; I no longer felt besmirched by the state of humanity. This. Right here. Actual people and a few ears of corn.

I want that simplicity of loving kindness. Please tell me, how do you keep the hubbub from destroying your peace? How do you keep your equilibrium?

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.

 

May Days and 3 AM

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, with all due respect to December. Slowly things are loosening up a little in PA. Our county is still encouraged to stay home, but the world is so glorious, we can’t possibly stay inside the houses. Except on the days it snows. But even those days seem a tinge greener than the ones before them.

I heard a heartbreaking story today, of a state penitentiary (an hour north of us) that is afflicted with a Covid-19 outbreak. Their ventilator cases are coming to the city hospital where Gabe works, and the others who are ill have been put into a large makeshift infirmary in a former storage area at the jail. Anyone who is well has to stay in their cell on complete lockdown. I got a crawly, claustrophobic feeling just thinking about it. I thought I was going to hyperventilate, just wearing a mandated mask at the Dollar General last week. It’s one thing to make the masks tightly fitting, out of double layers of tightly woven quilter’s cotton as recommended. It’s another thing to try to breathe through them for extended periods of time.  As much as I dislike them, I listen to my husband who says we have no reason to disobey our civil authorities on this matter. I don’t really like it, but at least I am not in a cell all by myself. To see smiles, I have to make eye contact. This is not a bad thing, and when I am in public I smile at everybody.  It is pretty interesting to see what people come up with in their efforts at compliance. I saw a lady doing all her shopping with her head tucked down into her hoodie. And there was a young man who had obviously cut strategic holes into a tee shirt so he could hook it over his ears. Aside from the fact that it looked odd, I envied him because he could certainly breathe better than I could. I am glad I made us all a mask early on when there was still elastic available.

Gregory worked at our local bulk food store for a few days last week, helping to carry boxes to customers’ cars. He had plenty of hilarious descriptions of attempted masks. One lady wore a face shield of the variety that you usually see when someone is weed-whacking. Another had a rubber band around her head, stretched just under her eyes, with a tea towel tucked into it and flapping freely down to her chest, and one crafty, but slightly clueless soul had a crocheted mask with big holes in it. Many people opted for bandanas tucked around their faces bandit style. In the end, we are flattening the curve like anything.

I was surprised at the visceral reaction I felt when a lot of Pennsylvania counties were given the coveted “yellow” status to reopen and our county was not. Wait a minute! We only have a quarter of the cases that some of the reopened counties have. How are they even making these decisions? Even though we are doing fine one day at a time, another week of stay-at-home seemed an unreasonable burden. How long, Lord, how long?

That’s the thing. Historically it has always taken a number of years for the fury of a pandemic to die out. The Black Death cycled its deadly way through London roughly every 20 years for nearly 3 centuries. When Jenner started developing his smallpox vaccine, he hoped to completely eradicate this deadly disease. It took nearly 2 centuries, and in the meantime it wiped out the vast majority of the native populations in the New World. With Covid19 we have a crashing, killer wave of unpredictability just hanging over us.

At this point, me being no expert, it feels like the uncertainty and rabid safety-first idea is a bigger threat than the disease. Those who work with critically ill patients, who see the way it actually does kill seemingly healthy people, cannot afford to have such a cavalier attitude about it. Sometimes I hear of Christians who are blatantly disregarding what they are instructed to do and spreading insurrection on social media. I wonder about this.

What if our experts had told us all along, “Just keep doing life as usual.  There’s nothing we can do about it, and we want you to get herd immunity for the good of all. Not only that, we cannot afford to make our economy suffer. Money is definitely more important than grandpa. If you perish, you perish.” In this imaginary scenario the numbers of cases are exactly the same and the death rates are the same. There is still no cure.  Nothing is different except what those in authority said. Yet, if that were what our medical scientists and political leaders had said, we would be vigorously crucifying them and posting about it with great satisfaction because they didn’t take measures to protect us all. We would be clamoring for the media to tell us what is happening and we would be sure it is a cover-up of mass proportions. We might even be staying home because we think it is a good idea. We might wear masks. At least it would have been our own ideas and not some other person who has no business telling us what to do.

I say that not to say that there is nothing shady going on. Human nature has always been shady. I don’t know what is true some days. It appears that even Christians who say they believe what God says in His Word do not actually believe that He is able to keep us when bad things happen.

Friends, we know the One who can calm the chaos with a spoken word. I think that I trust Him implicitly, but this is the sort of situation that shows me leaks in my vessel, where I haven’t been all that trusting and the patches of my own making give way. I haven’t a prayer of survival without Jesus who sustains all things by the word of his power. 

“That is enough for me,” I say, and then I waken at 3 AM. It’s that time of the day to hit the worst-case scenario jackpot. It only takes five minutes of imagination for me to be burying a loved one, facing the withering aftermath of grief. I think about people I love, everyone fighting their personal battles, sometimes heart-wrenchingly lonely battles. There is so little I can do to support others or change circumstances.  What if it really is true that we are never going to get our freedoms back? At 3 AM I am tempted to wonder why God isn’t managing as well as I think He should. Whatever can He be thinking? His purposes are very inscrutable in the middle of the night. It is hard to think straight when I am still tired, the night is dark, and my husband is either sleeping or at work.

I know of only one way to fight this slimy pit of  “What if?” It is with the well-worn truths of the ages. “I go to prepare a place for you. I will come again… that where I am, you may be also.” I hold them like pebbles in my mind, rolling them around and around, examining them again and finding them true. “…Whether we are awake or asleep, we might live with him…”  I think of the amazement that I not only have access to this God, but that He wants me to draw near to Himself.  I do not have to control my world or anyone else’s world.  Like so many other disciplines, this is one I have to repeat very often, but it is a good thing. I feel some flabby spiritual muscles strengthening. This is a good time to bulk up for whatever lies ahead.

In other news***************  I heard that sigh of relief! 🙂

The girls finished school last week. We didn’t waste any time boxing up the teacher’s guides and clearing out some hidey holes where a ridiculous amount of stuff was sheltering. I found a few good intentions in the form of books I had planned to do with the children. Tsk, tsk. In general they did very well. I can now safely say it was our best school year yet. We hit a stride that was sustainable, and that really blessed me. Some years have felt like I was correcting our gait and compensating for a bumpy ride all year long.

Olivia and I got a bunch of yarn from a friend at church who has connections to a hoard in an old farmhouse. In our shopping-starved state, we wanted all of it, but I made her stick with blues and I stuck with purples. Mostly. Now if I could just figure out how to knit. Olivia is practicing clicking her needles together like Babs in Chicken Run. She informed me that the actual term for that pile of loosely wound yarn you pull from the center of a skein is “yarn barf.” Well. Her dolls got new wardrobes during quarantine.

I finally finished a small re-upholstery project. My only experience with this was a hilarious day recovering a child’s rocking chair with my sister. I have memories of my mom tackling a tough old hide-a-bed sofa with her friends Sue and Sadie. I knew that you have to take off the old upholstery for patterns. I remembered that Mom had reused the piping on the old sofa and sewn fitted seat covers with long zippers, exactly the way the original had been. My project involved no tricky armrests. These are wooden and just had to be removed. After taking a family vote, I did not put a pleated ruffle around the bottom. In fact, I finished off the bottom with hot glue. Please don’t tell the experts.

The original chair was a vintage yellow. It was my grandma’s chair, and I really liked it just the way it was, but it was impossibly stained. This picture was taken after I had removed the ruffle. I took pictures of every pleat/seam as I took it apart so that I would have a reference when I couldn’t get it back together. That helped! The decorator fabric I used was from Walmart, for those who are interested.

 

We have been having alternate days of freezing and balmy weather. I planted three azaleas last year, and they were primed to be a stunning coral color. Then it got so cold that they wilted into a washed-out pale pink with no energy to open further. That’s how the frigidity affected me too. I couldn’t get up the willpower to do much, so I have been sorting through closets in that age-old spring cleaning ritual.

This year my clearing-out is more serious because we are contemplating a move this summer. It has been really weird to try to buy a place in a pandemic. We were looking at properties close to Erie, where Gabriel is hoping to get into a nurse anesthetist training program in the future. The first one we found was sold before we even called the realtor. In early March we went and looked at a number of places and decided to make an offer on a fixer-upper. Just as we were ready to sign papers, real estate locked down. We have been hanging loose ever since, waiting. It seems likely that the closing will go through, but there are no guarantees. If it does, our summer will involve driving three hours to the new property whenever Gabriel has a stretch of days off work. He can build anything, and he can do wiring and plumbing, etc. These things do take time, though, and it is anybody’s guess how much time.

This is us on Mother’s Day, just before I told the children to go make lunch. We took a whole series of pictures, and in every one someone is laughing or talking. Story of my life. They used to cry during pictures, back when the littlest one actually fit on my lap. This stage is easier and a lot harder too.

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So, this is me, just trying to think ahead and not having a clue what is really up there around the bend. “One day at a time” is a good idea these days.

How is your spring going?

Mood(s)

I get up, get dressed, see that the bathroom counter needs to be wiped clean. There’s a Norwex microfiber cloth hanging in the bathroom for this purpose, and I go the extra yard, washing the light switch and the door knob. I change the hand towel. There are stunning purple tulips and fuzzy lamb’s ears in a clear drinking glass on the counter. The towels and dirty clothes are in the hamper. All is well.

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I feel a vague dissatisfaction, exactly like the feeling I get after an illness that affects my tastebuds. I am hungry for something, but it isn’t in the house. It is out of my reach. I cannot figure out what it is.

In the kitchen, I pour water into the teakettle for coffee, grind the beans, wait a few minutes for the important process of French pressing my morning brew. I go to the fridge for the cream in its chipped white pitcher, pick my favorite mug, listen to my Bible app reading from Ezekiel. The coffee is amazing and smooth. I savor it in the quietness of early morning. Life really is beautiful.

Wow. Ezekiel. He says it like it is. My mind struggles to pay attention because that was so long ago beside the Chebar Canal. I think of friends in Tennessee who have been experiencing what seems like the worst piled upon the absolute worst in this pandemic time. They did not deserve this any more than others. What even is going on? I let the weight of sadness settle, pray for sustaining grace for them, try to think of what I am supposed to do today.

Slowly the children trickle out of their bedrooms. We have adapted to a looser morning routine, with read-aloud stories before school. Gabe comes home from work while we are hanging out in the living room. He is tired, but not overworked and stressed. Some kind person gave all the nurses a carton of milk, a loaf of bread, and a container of chicken noodle soup when they changed shift. People have been so thoughtful in this crazy time. He hardly ever needs a lunch at work these days, because of all the food donations for frontline workers. “Do you feel like a hero?” I ask him. “Not particularly,” he replies. We sit on the couch, visit for a while, talk over plans for renovating a house we hope to buy. We are cautiously optimistic.

He shows me the latest conspiracy theory on Facebook. I do not want to see it, and insert my head gently back into the sand. There is no doubt that there are very concerning things happening. Lies are told, people are abusing power, fear is tormenting many. In the light of this, I have been making careful choices. The phrases of truth run through my mind, “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God. In my Father’s house are many mansions… I go to prepare a place for you… These light, momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

I choose to lay my burdens and questions down. What is right in front of me is what I need to be engaged in right now. I go pick more tulips for the table, mail a package to cheer a friend, read an extra chapter to the children, give out spelling lists, do a load of laundry. The sunshine comes and goes like a moody teenager, but those are actually just temporary clouds. I hang sheets on the line for the scent, even if I have to finish drying them inside.

I think about lunch, decide to try that toasted peanut butter and jelly that people are talking about. On sourdough it is really delicious. I like learning tricky new things like that. Served with milk, we are sated and chipper for our afternoon activities.

The girls clean up the kitchen, run outside to the trampoline, play horses and vets with British accents. I hear James Herriot quotes floating through my backyard. They play and play together in this social-distancing time. “What would they ever do without each other?” I wonder, and remember how overwhelmed I felt those times I did pregnancy tests and they were always turning up positive. “Positive,” I think, “I had no idea how wonderfully positive! All I could think was how I was going to take care of 3 babies.” I can’t see very far ahead now either. Maybe as far as the next meal, and an indistinct idea of the next day. “The Lord willing,” that is what will be next. I have never understood that quite like I do now.

Gabe sleeps, days and nights switched for work. He hangs a dark towel in the window to block out the light, puts earplugs in his ears and conks out. I tamp down loud thumpings and excessive arguments, but he doesn’t waken easily. These days I send people out of the house, willy-nilly. Anybody bored? Out, out! Can’t get along with each other? Out, out! Go pull weeds together, sort the recycle bin, clean out the car. Out of the house! Go catch a fish! Play croquet!

I get shrill and impatient with my son when he teases the life out of his little sisters. After I take myself out of the house for a long walk, I apologize. He grins, “It’s ok. I was being dumb too.” I cannot disagree. We all have our peculiar temptations to be “dumb” these days. They are heightened because we don’t have as many distractions as usual. I try to be proactive about this, identify the temptations, and keep us all busy.

I get out the lawnmower and relish the therapy of walking round upon round in the yard, catching the lush clippings to throw to the chickens. They come running every time I walk around the barn. I am the dispenser of potato peelings and apple cores, and I do not allow any food waste to go into the trashcan. There are any number of animals that are pleased to scarf down the slops and weeds. It gives me a peculiar happiness to think of eggs and sausage being produced by dried-up macaronis from the back of the fridge or dandelion roots from the asparagus bed.

The sun is out again. I bring some wooden chair arms out to the deck to paint them white. Today marks a week since I started a simple reupholstery project that I have been wanting to do for at least 5 years. This was my grandma’s chair, and the vintage yellow upholstery has gotten too stained with years of use to be salvaged. I bought the fabric for pandemic time, I guess. At least now I am working on it in fits and starts. I had to order upholstery tacks and they are not considered essential, so shipping is delayed. The varnish stripping and painting is done, at least. I wish I could show my mom how good this chair is looking. I guess I’ll take a picture.

My phone has been on its last legs for months. Now it is on it’s last toe. Sometimes it charges, sometimes it doesn’t. If the battery runs down, I have to remove the back cover and fiddle with a loose connection in its innards. Sometimes it boots back up, sometimes it doesn’t. I ordered a new phone last week, because it feels like a lifeline right now. It is not essential either they say, and maybe won’t be here until May 10. I mull over a theory I have about those grim-faced pioneer women in front of their dugouts in the photos of the 1800’s. I think their bodies were worn with toil, but I think maybe their spirits were beaten by loneliness. What if they could have sent their mom a picture of how their gingham curtains turned out? What if they could have chatted with a friend on another prairie about the way the children were eating up all the sourdough every day and does she have any tips for keeping the bugs out of the flour bag?

I go to check on the drying pots in my shed. They need to be trimmed and handled before they dry much more. I spray them with a mist of water to hold them in the right stage for another few hours. It is approaching suppertime and food needs to appear again. My mind runs in a rutted track of starch/vegetable/protein/BUT WHAT? I struggle to bring it to a more vibrant space and decide to grill steaks and make buttered potatoes. We have green beans sautéd in olive oil with garlic. The meal is amazing. Everybody says so. The best part is the leftovers for another day.

Two people who like to eat must now work on dishes. Two others must fold laundry. I must put handles on mugs and I do not wish to do it. There are only 20, I have been getting better at it, I’ll be fast. Well, I am not fast. I attach and pull off messed-up handles repeatedly. During this process, my little girl comes and whines about doing dishes with her sister, “Would you like to know one simple thing that would make my life so much better?” She doesn’t wait for me to guess. “If you would come into the house!” I am distracted, smoothing a join with a wet finger, trying to achieve the exact curve I like to feel in a mug handle. When I suggest that she bring her story book out to read to me, she says, “Sometimes I think mugs are more important than I am.” This is her special little temptation in quarantine, being extra needy and manipulative. I haven’t made mugs in the last 3 weeks. I have nurtured her all day, body and soul, and I do not feel sorry for her. She snaps out of her attitude with remarkable fortitude when she is given no choice.

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This is the ebb and flow of the whole day, of the whole week, of the whole month. Goodness. Badness. Beauty. Sadness.

I don’t know how you feel about the choices you have in front of you, or the ones you have been making. I am certainly not proud of all of mine. It is a daily challenge for me. When was the last time I had to be so deliberate to take my thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ? Sometimes I realize that the wretchedness I feel is a direct result of an unlovely world that has been taking up too much of my time. Other times it is only hormones. Occasionally I feel miserable because I have been lazy and neglectful of what is clearly there in front of me. The cure is the same for every one of them. Stop, look up, lift your eyes, revel in what is Always the Same, Always Faithful. Do not look at the waves. Worship. Do the next thing.

I know this post is loaded with quotes and phrases that I have picked up from Jesus and the people who love Him, like Elisabeth Elliot or John Piper or Paul the Apostle. I lean hard on the experiences of others who have triumphed in life. It helps me. How are you doing? Do you feel the ebb and flow too?

 

Long Days Of Goodness

It was an amazing day here, a gift of sunshine and rest, food for the soul, and of course, food for the bodies. I am rather surprised at how much time we normally spend getting ready to go places. This morning I had time for a cinnamon roll and coffee at breakfast, and many Sunday mornings I don’t take time to eat more than a few bites in between combing the girls’ hair or prepping for lunch. So there was that amazing start. When Gabriel got home from his shift, I gingerly dropped his scrubs straight into the washer from the plastic bag he carried them home in. He showers at work and disinfects before he leaves the unit.

I listened to hymns on Youtube, read the first part of Jeremiah, collected the children to watch The Biggest Story  for their Sunday School ( it is free to stream right now on Crossway) and then we listened to a message online. It wasn’t even lunch time yet, and I strolled in the sunshine, ending up in the hammock with a new book. I fell fast asleep, awakened at 1 PM, and thought about feeding the crew.

When it’s Gabriel’s weekend to work, we usually eat rather whatever-ish. Alex grilled burgers, Olivia made boxed mac n cheese, we cooked some green beans, and that was that. Dessert was an experiment: Sourdough Apple Fritters.  (I suppose our children will remember the quarantine time as a time when Mama tried all the sourdough things. Usually I wake up my starter from its fridge life, feed it a few times, and put it back into cold storage after I make a batch of bread. These days I keep it on the countertop and feed it tenderly as a pet. Because what else do I have to do? It has gotten happier and happier as the days go by. Obviously something must be done. I mentioned cinnamon rolls. Those were Saturday’s batch. On Friday we had coffee cake. Fortunately for us, most recipes are on the small side and with this many people around the house all the time, we can share the calorie load.) The thing is, the fritters were actually quite healthy if you overlook the frying in lard part. There is no sugar in the recipe except for a dusting of powdered sugar on top. It took less than 10 minutes to peel the apples and mix up the dough.  If you have happy sourdough starter, you need to try these. It uses one cup of starter, and the recipe was ample for our family of seven. The only thing I would change is add more cinnamon.

I roped in the non-cooking children to do dishes, as per our Sunday tradition. This works fine for me, because I get off scot-free after lunch. I edited an article, then hit the hammock again. It was so bright that I needed sunglasses to look up through the lace of the maple twigs with their fuzzy little blooms that will soon be seed helicopters. Everything is so incredibly beautiful and right and there is this looming cloud of weirdness. I can’t seem to reconcile it in my mind, so I purposely focus on the one and leave the other to the Lord. I don’t really know how else to do this. It isn’t denial, because the first thing that enters my mind every morning is “I cannot believe how strange the world is. And we haven’t gotten it yet. So let’s live well today.”

I keep seeing memes on Instagram stories saying, “It’s ok to cry.” When I sit around and think about it, I miss singing with a group. I miss finding fun stuff at thrift stores and chatting with people in casual ways. I miss having friends here for tea and going to the library. I even miss Quilted Northern a little bit. But I would be embarrassed to sit and have a pity party about these things. How would that possibly make life better or add to the value of the day? My heart is heavy for others who really do have things to cry about. As I mentioned, I am reading through Jeremiah, the prophet of lament. There were some verses in chapter 9 that arrested my attention.

Death has climbed in through our windows
and has entered our fortresses;
it has removed the children from the streets
and the young men from the public squares.”

Wow. That’s verse 21, and it surely sounds like a pandemic to me. Look at what God says two verses later.

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.

This is our chance to learn to know the Lord in ways we never have before. I put a quote from Jim Elliot on my letter-board last week. “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”  (I only had space for the italicized part up there. Too many “l’s” which is always a problem with letterboards.) 

I don’t want to look back at this time of my life and think of how much I sniffled in entitled agonies of self-pity. Nor do I want to think about how much time I wasted sitting on devices. I don’t want my children to remember a mom who didn’t wash her hair or rise above slovenliness, who fed them Ramen noodles and hotdogs every day because she didn’t feel like making any effort to cook. For me this means feeding my sourdough and pottering like nobody’s business, and breaking out the Norwex cloths and sorting in the attic. It feels like as long as I stay productive and kind, I am making an offering to hold the chaos in the world at bay, even if it is only my small corner of chaos. I feed my soul and nourish my children, I share my love and do my work faithfully. You do yours, and collectively we weave a fabric that cannot be torn even by a virus that creeps in through windows.

Anyhow… Back to the long day of rest that I enjoyed. I joined a WhatsApp call with my mom and my sister, which was a lot of fun. We haven’t ever done that before, but now we know what’s possible. I got to see the luscious cheeks of the baby nephew and chat with my pretty little nieces.

The children and I played a few rousing games of Croquet in the backyard and I even won one game. It was a very unfamiliar sensation for me, because my chief skill in croquet is to amuse my sons with my lack of finesse.

Gabriel got up around 4 o’clock. He doesn’t usually hear our household activities because he wears earplugs, but it is still hard to switch days and nights completely. We do our catching up conversations in the hour before he heads back to work. I have been packing his lunches (his midnights?) but he said not to bother. People have been so generous in donating food and snacks for the ICU staff. They are eating quite well, and so far have not been swamped with patients. I kind of wish that my husband had a different job right now, to be honest. But this is what he is trained for and so I hug him a little longer than usual when he leaves and pray that his care is a comfort to the loneliness of patients who aren’t allowed any visitors. I do not think I have ever seen him this concerned about a public health threat. Usually it is me who gets grossed out by things like water fountains and buffet lines in restaurants. “Just stay home,” he says, and I listen.

They say it will be a rough week for our nation. I don’t look forward to the climbing numbers and the prevailing winds of sadness. Perhaps along with the offering of faithfully doing what is right in front of me, I can also carry some of the weight of the world’s suffering by holding it up to Jesus who understands the words when I don’t have any.

Let’s take courage, friends! The days will continue to be long and heavy for a while, but there is Great Faithfulness at work all around us. We just have to open our eyes to see it.

 

 

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?

Sisterhood of Goodness

After a day of fellowship at church, I was thinking of how much I love the ladies I am blessed to know. There is a big variety, from wise older women who have raised families down to the little friends who tell me about their new baby brother.

Occasionally we have ladies’ meetings instead of midweek services, where we study issues directly related to our lives as women and split into small groups to pray for each other. It would feel nicer if all we had to share were triumphs, high points of victory, praises for how wonderful our jobs are. It would feel easier if we had plenty of money to spare, our children were always sweetly obedient, our marriages sailed along without stressors, and our faith stayed steady as a rock. It’s not that way. We all know it, and when we feel safe enough to be vulnerable, we pull our scary stories out from under the sofa cushions where we were hiding them. I headlined us and our prayer requests after I got home one night last year.

  • How Jesus Enlarges an Uptight Woman in a Small Space
  • Growing Jolly and Old in an Armchair: It’s no Picnic
  • A Nauseous Life in Pressure Hose
  • My Daughter Reminds Me of Myself
  • Stuck in the Middle of an Impossible Situation
  • Making Time for Relationships in a Crush of Bodies
  • Help! My Phone is Strangling Me

It’s all so different and all the same. Our need to be filled with the Spirit and to have our space beautified by God is universal.  How amazing that in each tailor-made circumstance where we look for Him, we find that He is there, waiting and ready with infinite kindness. I have seen Amazing Grace in many of my friends’ lives. The process involves years of patient courage and desperately hard work. Sometimes it is just getting out of bed and doing the next thing when it feels humanly impossible, as my widowed friend who raised ten children has told me.

Some of my friends have children in heaven or live with hearts sick with longing for a baby. There are a few  with chronic health issues and one who is currently fighting cancer. There are the crushing burdens of children who do not love Jesus and the equally heavy ones where children have challenges that bring out the mother bear fighting instinct.

Every one has a story and most of us have afflictions that we would never choose voluntarily. We are all united, no matter what our lifestyle or season, with a need to have something bigger, something much more powerful -SOMEONE- to infuse our individual lives and make them worthwhile. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to be depressed, to despair at brokenness, to end marriages and to disown children. I know God is real when I see His help in the lives of His children so that they are living, supernatural examples of faith.

Sometimes, like today, it is good for me to simply notice the goodness of God in His ordinary people.

 

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!