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!

 

 

 

 

The Annual List of Slightly Strange Things

For Which I am Thankful

  • I don’t remember when I have ever written so little, nor had the well of word-love run so low, but it is for a good reason. I have been learning to influence clay instead of wrestling with it. The absorption has been nearly complete some days. My sister-in-law thought I must have a lot of spare time these days and if you want to know the truth, it’s often the time between children’s bedtime and when my husband gets home at midnight that I am using for this pursuit. I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t really, really badly want it. More than sleep. More than words and books for a while. I have a warm place to work, light-filled windows, a space outside the house. I am truly grateful.
  • Along with that, I am glad for an activity that keeps me humbled. “I am such small potatoes,” I kept muttering to myself when a rash of difficulties tempted me to quit trying and be normal again and sit down sometimes. I looked at my Instagram feed that ordinarily inspires me to try new things in the pottery realm and I saw all the beautiful perfection and my hardest work fell- not only short- but tipped over the edge into the trash can. It’s okay to feel small and inadequate, so here’s to the hard work of others that has brought them to excellence!
  • This has also been a summer, no, more like an entire year of more cloudy skies than sunny. Endless opportunities to rise above the feelings of apathy that threaten the spirit when there is so little that shines. This is a metaphor, of course. When I get bogged down I think of those words that it is my highest aspiration to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of your Lord.” There is no tunnel too long or hill too steep for that joy to break through in the end. I am grateful for how Light always triumphs over darkness in the end.
  • We have just come through a round of minor health issues, mostly colds and allergies. My son’s healthcare is paying for immunotherapy and my daughter’s inhaler gave her respite from the rasping wheeziness that was making her life miserable. Our sore throats were cured with hourly gargling with grapefruit seed extract (available here, free shipping today, you’re welcome) and our headaches soothed with peppermint oil. In the middle of the night when the croup cough barks out, I am glad I can plug in the nebulizer instead of boiling onion poultices. Our minor ailments remind me to be grateful every day for wellness and excellent healthcare.
  • The children and I made a startling discovery about living in our age versus when the settlers first came to America. We concluded that probably none of us would be alive anymore, with the possible exception of the first-born if he had made it through his earliest hours without oxygen and never suffered infections from cuts that required stitches, etc. My second son would definitely have died without an emergency C-section and his mother likely would have died at that time too. That would eliminate the girls’ chances to ever even be born, but if mother had lived, the first girl would not have made it past her adrenal crisis. That leaves us with father, whose life is fairly normal through careful treatment of an autoimmune disease that would have likely killed him 7 years ago when it flared really badly and required a bowel resection. Yes, we will all die someday; our times are in God’s hands. And we are grateful that we get to live! Maybe you think that a weird sort of gratefulness exercise, but you should try it.
  • I am glad these days for grammar rules and commas and language that makes sense. My children kick against the instruction, but I am adamant and they get no choice. We usually start and end our days with stories, with heroes and conquests and visions for higher things. They lap it up and then I tell them what they don’t like to hear: this pleasure of written words is why we have grammar, my children. The bulk of my reading in the last half year has been juvenile fiction. It is my favorite genre and I am over-the-top grateful to have a crew of little people who love it too. When I get too busy to read, they haul me back short with no exceptions. “But WE HAVE TO have story time!”
  • There is a craze of coloring going on around here. The small girl who never stops wiggling holds still to color. She spent her money on a set of fine-tipped sharpies and this is what she does during quiet time nearly every day while she listens to Henry Huggins or the Boxcar Children. I don’t know what this is doing in her brain, but it is a good and settling thing.
  • We have too many eggs again, every day 2 dozen of them to sell and to eat. It’s pretty nice not to ever have to haul them home from the grocery store. There is a barn full of chores for the teen son who needs things to do that take him outside pestering his sisters and moaning about grammar lessons. Aside from the tax break we receive from small scale farming, we do not come out ahead financially. We see our barn full of hungry critters as training in a skill set that may actually help our children survive some day, as well as teaching them responsibility. I remind myself to be grateful when I am going to the farm supply store for chicken feed, and it doesn’t take too much effort to feel it. Of course, there are exceptions like Sunday afternoons when we are chasing pigs instead of napping, but even those make great stories.
  • We have abundantly enough and I am thankful to report that I do not have any needs that require me to be out jostling through stores today for things I can’t afford otherwise. I may search for an online sale of really excellent sheets, but other than that, I don’t need anything. I can’t quite fathom the richness of that statement.
  • This is such an interesting season, which is what I say when it isn’t my favorite. We have stretches of days for light jackets and rubber boots, occasional flip-flop weather respites, and blitzing cold days when the children drag every warm thing they own out of totes in the attic and here we go again. But we have the gear, or we go buy it, and we stay warm. My ornamental cabbages still bloom, tenaciously happy in all weathers, and that is what I aspire to be.
  • My sons are into forging hooks out of scrap metal. For all those coats and snowpants, we now have an endless supply of hooks to hang them up. We hang towels on hooks in the bathroom. We put purses on hooks and mugs on hooks, and even our scissors have hooks where they are supposed to live when they are not under the sofa cushions. Here’s to the lowly inventions that enable us to stumble less.

That’s my slightly strange list. I compiled it hurriedly with care for your amusement and now it’s time to pack up for family thanksgiving a day late. My husband had to work yesterday, so we celebrate with turkey and all manner of good food today. Parents, siblings, fellowship, connections, support… they truly are the top of the list.

Happy thanksgiving!

How to Cope With More Than You Can Handle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile I will be using a mop.

Going out with a Giveaway

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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