I thought about that word “grim” and decided that it encapsulates how it feels to die to myself, which was mostly what my Mother’s Day post was about. How about we hit a few of the high spots?
Children are born as little hope capsules. They are the best motivation for people to make the world a better place, to work to level the rough places, and to protect what is worth protecting in our world. In Sunday school we read Jeremiah 32, about a time when Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonian army, and Jeremiah was confined in the royal palace. He heard a word from God that instructed him to buy a field and to make sure the deed was securely sealed in a clay pot so that it wouldn’t disintegrate. “For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” Jeremiah was showing his people that it was worth investing in the future, no matter how hopeless their current situation may look. It’s not always going to be this way, friends.
This is the reason we plant fruit trees and build homes and write books and donate to cancer research. Our children or maybe our grandchildren will reap the benefits, even if we don’t. Hope.
Children sense what is real and what is fake. “She is a spoiled brat,” they say frankly. “You’re not listening to me, Mom,” they insist. “He is kind to everybody,” they notice. We call it “having no filter,” but in a child it is usually just honesty. There is no point in pretending that you love a child, then spend your entire life reminding them that they aren’t good enough, quiet enough, clean enough, grown-up enough, etc. They know intuitively what real feels like, whether they can express it or not. Even if they submit to the browbeating, they will know, “Mom never let us have screen time, but she watched Netflix for hours in her room.”
What’s more, they have a built-in bologna detector that gets honed to razor sharpness by the time they are teens. When the children were little, I found out very quickly that I can’t pretend I’m eating carrots when it’s actually chocolate. They can smell it. Busted. Now that they are older, it’s on to higher stakes, bigger inconsistencies. You can’t tell your children that you should love your enemies, then in the next breath mutter road-ragey threats about the idiot who pulled in front of you. They hear and they will call you on it.
These are good things! Death to hypocrisy!
Children have grand ideas, often impractical, but exciting! They want to sleep in a treehouse, on the trampoline, in a hammock, on the sunporch… basically anywhere but in their own comfortable beds. They want to feed hummingbirds and orioles sugar water, plant ornamental gourds, grow strawberry popcorn. They see complicated patterns for colonial costumes and have very specific ideas for appropriate fabric to make them. They need a thousand feet of paracord to make bull whips and another thousand feet of cotton rope for all the macrame things. They assemble bug-out bags and spend their money on lighters and Life-straws from Amazon. And the fishing gear. Oh, Lord, preserve us from more fishing gear.
You know as well as I do that those are good and hopeful things. I’m guessing you also know about the resulting clutter. It has been one of the longest running, most sanctifying works of my life to stop being precious about a tidy house.
“Your place looks like the sort of place where things happen,” a friend said to me. It was meant as a compliment and I accepted it. A place where things happen is not a showplace with no dead leaves on the ferns or stains on the carpets. It’s more like a barn factory where important stuff is going on. You get out the pushbroom at the end of the shift, but you deal with it in its own time.
Our children teach me to laugh, good old belly-laughs. We have inside jokes and then they have inner, inside jokes that I don’t get because I can’t remember all the random stuff they quote. Sometimes they are irreverent and I get flash-backs to my childhood when the witty remarks were flying and my mother was protesting, “Where do you learn this stuff? Is nothing sacred anymore?” My standard advice in this situation? “You can talk like that at home, but it is not appropriate outside the family.” I’m probably not doing too well with this, because I have dubious tastes in what I find funny, and they know it.
I suppose one of the biggest lessons my children continue to teach me is that it’s not about me. That is sort of a circle back to the original “dying to self” motif, but it is also extremely liberating and helpful. Getting over my own self-importance is a life work that I welcome. (Wince.) I am still, as always, learning to offer my work to Jesus and letting it be His business what He does with the investment. So many of the pitfalls of parenting (and life) involve how it makes me look. It becomes impossible to have a pure and quiet heart when appearances become the important thing.
“God gives grace to the humble,” it says in James 4:6. This is a good word for parents to stand on. We don’t know everything, but we know who does.
Nature held back and held back until hope had been deferred sufficiently, and then she said, “NOW.” Just like that, we get a week of brilliant sunshine after about 6 months of cold and wet (my family says I exaggerate about this) and the green explodes electrically. That may not be a thing where you live, but it is here. Every day I feel more alive, and just when you thought I wasn’t going to do one of those ecstatic spring posts, you’re getting it.
There’s a Carolina wren that hangs out just outside our bedroom door that opens to a smoker’s deck, only we don’t smoke there. I suppose we could call it our coffee deck, or our tea deck in the evening. This summer I am going to flood it with my house plants and pretty stuff to make it even more pleasant. It has a roof made of clear plastic sheets that need to have the moss pressure washed off them, and there is a persistent Virginia creeper that runs along the house wall. The wren seems to like this atmosphere, because she wants to nest somewhere right close by and sing her liquid song of pure joy. I have no objections.
She’s a little behind the robins who have already raised a brood in the bush that climbs up the railing. They regretted their choice of home site as soon as our children realized there was a nest at eye level, and checked on the babies quietly but with much diligence. Yesterday the babies flew away, and the robins are having to decide whether to risk a second brood in the same spot or to rebuild in a quieter neighborhood.
Gregory installed three nesting boxes for bluebirds when we started to notice them in the yard. I keep seeing them flitting about over the garden, their personal smorgasbord. Then they flit right over the privacy fence and go to the neighbor’s bluebird boxes to feed their babies. It seems a little disloyal, but one can forgive a bluebird almost anything.
There’s a Baltimore oriole who occasionally flaunts his brilliant feathers from the tops of the high oaks down to the arbor. He is so beautiful it takes my breath away. I keep scanning the high tree tops where they like to weave their swinging nests, and since the leaves are only starting to blossom out, I can see that he hasn’t built yet. I wouldn’t choose the shagbark hickory, though it’s so high and breezy, because those branches break off so easily and I have to pick them up all the time before I mow. I’m guessing he’ll try for the tallest cherry tree or maybe the oak once his shy wife shows up to show her approval.
Whenever I hear an especially beautiful bird song, I scan until I can find the artist. Last week I located the mockingbird pair, and I’m so glad they’re sticking around to serenade us while they rejoice over their babies.
(Just as an aside… Have you noticed the ecstacy and wonder of the birds rejoicing over their young, over their domestic triumph? When I see people doing the same, I know it’s right and good. There is glory in it, oh yes! Also a lot of insistent, persistent mouths to feed. But it goes with the glory. There’s your little homily for the day, if you’re an exhausted parent. )
When I was mowing with our z-turn mower that has two levers you have to keep level or you veer off course, I was taking a tight circle under a bush and instinctively reached up to free my hair from a branch. Of course, that instantly turned the circle tightly into the bush, and out fluttered an outraged mourning dove. Sorry friend, I won’t do it again. Go back quickly and give your squabs their pigeon milk.
The cardinals absolutely love all the prickly stuff around here. Because they can fly in such a tight, dipping pattern, they can nest in the most inaccessible places. We have enough multiflora roses for a colony of cardinals, and it’s one of the reasons we aren’t clearing them.
The hummingbirds are back and I really need to get some petunias planted for them. I would rather cultivate the flowers that give them their nectar then try to make sure that their feeder is clean and full all summer. But the girls are begging for a feeder, so we’ll probably do both.
Last but not least, the phoebe that has returned to her nest under the awning at the corner of the sun porch has raised another successful brood. Last year there was a lot of stuff piled in that corner, so that she had a decent sense of privacy right outside the window. I cleared all that stuff away this spring, and it was still very cold when she was sitting on her eggs. As soon as it got warm enough for us to start using the sun porch, she felt the intrusion. But she’s a diligent one and look at her! I haven’t noticed her trying to raise another brood yet, so I hope she’s having a little vacation. That was a lot of bugs being stuffed into mouths.
We have crows, and starlings, and lowly sparrows, and even occasional bald eagles floating on the thermals. There are red winged blackbirds and gold finches and so many more. All of them are just doing what they’re supposed to do day after day. To repeat my little homily, there is glory in that. Bless your heart, and go do what you’re supposed to do today.
Me? I’m supposed to clean my house today, get rid of some loose feathers and tuck in the sticks that aren’t settled quite right. I’m also supposed to make some food, and the nestlings need to learn to make some new recipes, so I’ll be doing a bit of coaching.
Ten years ago I prayed very short prayers, mostly in the form of an S.O.S. “Jesus, help me,” or “Your patience, Lord.” There simply wasn’t time for long, theologically impressive prayers.
One day I went to my bedroom, left the door open so nobody would think I was in there, lay behind the bed out of sight, and this is what I prayed: “Please, don’t let me hurt anybody, Jesus.”
I finally set up our desktop computer this week. Yes, a whole year after we packed it for our move. We can access our photo library now, an endless source of amusement.
This was our family on my husband’s thirtieth birthday. He was in nursing school, working part time to support us. Addy was one week old. Alex was eight. Rita was two, going on twelve. It was a sweaty eyeballs time, as Rachel Jankovic would say. It’s a good thing that breathing can be done without conscious effort, else we both would have gently expired for lack of oxygen at some point.
I thought back to this time last week when we went out to eat for Gabe’s fortieth birthday. We used a gift card Alex gave, and everybody had dressed themselves, including footgear. We ate at a steakhouse, and we didn’t have to clean up any spills, or take anybody to the potty, or even cut up their meat.
I thought about it again a few days ago when we ambitiously planned a full day of cooking for the freezer, seeing as the kitchen redo is coming right up and we will be limited in the kitchen for a while. Rita mixed up a triple batch of bread rolls for VBS, her lifelong fascination with patting and shaping yeast doughs having at last come to fruition. Then she mixed up four pounds of meatloaf, again digging in with no qualms because she loves to knead and stir. Addy made monster cookies, also for the upcoming VBS. For some reason those are always huge batches in the Amish cookbooks, but she nailed it perfectly. Olivia assembled beef and bean burritos for an easy future supper, and Gregory peeled 5 pounds of potatoes in less time than it takes to bake a pan full of tater tots. Then he lit the grill and cooked a bunch of pork, both chops and sausage. I floated on the periphery and did quality control. Olivia had been doing laundry all day, and about the time we put away the clean dishes, she was putting away the stacks of folded clothes.
This level of house help wasn’t even imaginable to me ten years ago. I had help: generous, constant help, and I was grateful for it. I just had to be careful not to trip over anybody, and that can be so, so trying. Many of those days felt like it was one step forward, two steps back.
“Don’t let me hurt anybody.” Somewhere in Elizabeth Elliot’s wise writings, I picked up the concept of communicating with short prayers and I continue the practice even now. They are kind of like texting a friend, not nearly as satisfying as a sit-down conversation, but still a way to stay connected.
These days the most frequent snippet is a simple, “Into Your hands.” I don’t even bother to name the concern/fear. I just verbalize the relinquishing and then I (try to) leave it. Sometimes multiple times in a day.
A friend on Instagram (@heartofthebison) has blessed me with her phrase, “I see You, God,” when her eyes light on a beautiful thing in creation. That perfectly tender cucumber I just picked. The folds and folds of a dahlia opening out of a tight bud. The soft edges of the clouds at sunrise. The coincidental arrival of a note in the mail on the very day I need to read it. “I see You, God, and You see me.”
Like many others, I enjoy a good reflective hour or two at the end of a year. This year, though, I can’t seem to process in my usual style. “Well, that happened and then that, and now it’s suddenly over and I will tie a bow neatly on it and get on with the next year.” Without a doubt we have been recipients of great mercy and kindness this year. We have not gotten what we deserved and we have gotten more than we deserved, and a few things we do not feel like we deserved at all. That’s normal enough. It simply feels more obvious when one is looking into a past that doesn’t make sense and a future that is hazy with unknowns. Again, this seems a silly way to try to explain the feel of the past year (isn’t it always this way?), but I am trying to express the vague hunger, the unease of a world that is shaken out of ordinary into unrelenting weirdness. It’s a sort of mourning for things we love that are dying, and a desperate hope that they will be restored to us at some point, but not having any certainty of it.
I wish I could say that I soared gracefully through the “impossible” situations of 2020, but it was more like slogging one foot in front of the other. The mud required hip waders this year, and it is still sucking on my boots, to be honest. Moving this year turned out to be shockingly hard. I can play a cheerful Pollyanna pretty well, especially when someone else is being annoyingly grumpy, but this summer I found a latent strain of wimpiness that I didn’t know was in me. The joy of the Lord is strength, and what do you know? — it has little to do with outward circumstances and depends more on pegging everything on what it actually true. I have a separate post on that for the year-end wrap-up.
I thought I might as well post my Christmas letter this year, written in November. To those of you who got a copy in the mail, please forgive the repetition and skip down to the photos, if you wish.
It’s a sunshiny day, a brilliant gift in November. I caught the little girls outside, barefooted, and quickly assured them that it isn’t that warm! In fact, we have had 2 snowfalls already here in northwest Pennsylvania. The children are thrilled with the prospect of more snow at our new house, and I too find it much more cheering than the mud-brown that our recent winters have been.
It has been a year, hasn’t it? When we say, “The Lord has sustained us,” it carries more meaning than it does when times are untroubled. The same goes for, “The Lord willing, we will do this or that…” It feels like a lovely bonus this year when plans do work out. Through all of the upheaval, we have Great Faithfulness to rely on utterly.
Our 2020 started with normal life on the farm, tending a few pigs and chickens, doing our daily schoolwork, crocheting endless reams of yarn into hats and scarves, and making as much pottery as I had heart for after the busy Christmas season. In February my brother Kenny and his family came to help us butcher our pigs. The guys slaughtered and skinned them, letting them hang for a day while they took all the older children skiing. The next day we made whole hog sausage, scrapple, and lard, all of which turned out exceptionally well and made us feel like good homesteaders.
Gabriel and Alex did ski patrol at Blue Knob whenever there was enough snow on the slopes to open them. They put in lots of effort to pass all the training requirements and Alex was thrilled to be able to assist on a few mountain rescues. He wrote an essay that won a scholarship to Young Adult Patroller camp in Vermont. This was going to be one of his graduation hurrahs.
Unfortunately, the weekend of the camp, Gabriel was in the hospital with a perforated bowel, and Alex had to catch a ride with an elderly patroller who drove extremely carefully for 12 hours. When they got to Vermont, they discovered that the event was cancelled that very day because of Covid lockdown. They had supper, slept there one night, and travelled home again the next day. Alex calls it “That Time I Went to Vermont for Supper.”
Gabriel healed up without any surgery or further problems and came home the day before lockdown. I had laid in a stock of bulk foods at the beginning of the year, and we had all that meat in our freezers. We hunkered down hard and ate a lot of sourdough.
In early March we had made an offer on a 1930’s era fixer-upper in northwestern Pennsylvania. Our choice of location was influenced by a school close to Erie with a nurse-anesthetist program that Gabriel is hoping to get into in the future. Our offer sat on the table while real estate stalled entirely. Meanwhile, our farm was listed on Zillow, and we showed it at least a dozen times. Lots of people were interested in a place with an established orchard, stocked pond, barn, etc, but seemed nervous about the economy, with good reason.
After two months, we got a closing date on the property in Conneaut Lake, and in the third week of May we took the family north in my dad’s old motorhome to start renovations. The house was structurally sound, but not configured like we needed it for our family. We opened up the main living area, reframed the interior walls, tore out floor coverings and drop ceilings, and removed two spiral staircases. We tried to salvage/repurpose as much as we could from the demolition. Fortunately, there is a large shop on the property where we could store our salvaged lumber, hardware, etc. After a week, we went back home to Bedford County so that Gabriel and Alex could work, and we could start packing up the house.
That was when my dad got sick and ended up in the hospital with Covid19 (June 1). It was a very serious illness, and we were not sure he was going to survive, but by the mercy of God, he came home from rehab the week before we had to move (August 1).
The summer remains a blur of stresses we would rather not face again. Gabriel’s work transferred him to the northwest PA hospitals in the end of June. We had planned for the children and I to carry on with the remodel while he put in his three shifts a week. In the end, I decided to stay in Bedford County, try to support Mom as best I could, and focus on packing. Needless to say, the house was far from ready by our August 1 deadline when the new owners wanted to move to our farm. We simply unloaded our household stuff in the shop and kept right on with the camping, air mattresses, folding chairs, incomplete bathroom situation. As we finished rooms, we rooted through our stack of belongings and brought in the appropriate furnishings. Some of us did better with this set-up than others. I can give some good tips for how not to move, if anyone is interested.
We have lived here almost four months now, and the house feels like home. We ran out of steam and quit before we did the kitchen, having left the biggest project until last. It is functional, and for now that is good enough. We have hit our stride with school again, and last week we celebrated finishing first quarter in the books.
In October we took a week to travel to North Carolina, see family, (so many cousins in one place!) and celebrate our 19th anniversary at Myrtle Beach. It was just the sort of trip we needed, and a few days after we got home, my brother Nate and his family came to our house for a few days, so we got to host guests and show them our favorite places around here.
Next week our firstborn turns 18! At some point during the mad rush this summer, Alex finished his school credits and got his diploma. We managed a graduation celebration with friends two days before we moved, and it poured rain the whole evening. It has been a hard year for him, with changing jobs twice, trying to make new friends, having so many plans cancelled, etc. He has been spending a lot of hours in the shop where there is a pneumatic lift installed, tinkering with the dirt bike, go-cart, his trusty little Kia that finally got fatal hiccups, and the Volvo that replaced it.
Gregory is working through tenth grade this year, nose in books a great deal of the time. He has set up his forge in a lean-to and beaten out a bunch of useful things like towel holders and hooks for the house. As of this week, he is happy to be driving on a learner’s permit. As soon as he is able to drive, he’ll be going to the lake to fish every chance he gets.
Olivia is 13, and has learned to do laundry with excellence this year. It has been a great blessing to delegate this chore to her and know that she will be responsible to get it done. She has a servant heart, and a great need to keep her hands busy. Her favorite creative outlet is sewing, knitting, or crocheting: anything with textiles and fibers.
Rita remains our dreamy, outdoorsy, adventure girl. She started up a new series of places to play here, including teepees of sticks in the woods, on the creek bank, and even in the basement. Her favorite school subject is science, and she begs Gregory to teach her all he knows about skinning animals or filleting fish.
Addy is baking a treat for supper as I write this. What she lacks in finesse is made up in enthusiasm. I just heard the unmistakable splat of an egg on the floor, but she is always willing to clean up her messes. This year she no longer felt like a little child. We were surprised at her endurance in the long days of work. In typical youngest child fashion, she keeps us all cracked up at her ability to mimic accents and quote entire lines from books and movies.
Gabriel has been working a stat travel nurse position for UPMC. This means they move him every 6 weeks to places that are understaffed. It also means that he gets into some stressful situations, especially with the recent surge of Covid19 in our region. At his current hospital, ICU nurses are being assigned 3 to 4 patients per shift. Seeing so much suffering and death, he is absolutely exhausted after those 12 hour shifts. We have gotten our shop cleared of the household things so that he can organize his power tools and install heat for wintertime projects. The woodcarving hand tools are in the basement where he can carve spoons and bowls. Our property has a lot of young trees, having been recently logged, but there are plenty of greenwood options. Of course, the house projects are ever with us, but we need a break, so we are taking one.
I have been occupied with turning this house into a home. Decorating is not my strong suit, but I have been trying for “cozy cottage” and it feels good to me now. We have a considerably bigger house to work with, which is nice! I have a studio room in the basement with a large sink, windows, and lots of shelving for my pottery. It is nice to be able to work at things without going outside the house, even though I miss my lovely pottery shed. Having taken a six month break, I am really enjoying getting back into maker-mode. The Etsy shop should have some stock soon.
This letter has taken a rather large space. It has been a full year, in a weird, constricted sort of way. We have flourished and we have suffered. It felt like we were rubber bands, stretching as far as possible, then shrinking back down repeatedly. Sometimes we feel like we might need fresh elastic, but I doubt anyone is ending the year unchanged. With all the social distancing, loneliness, and uncertainty in our world, it felt important to connect and make sure our friends get our new address so that we for sure receive our Christmas letters and photos.
We pray for endurance, for peace, for justice in our world. Even when all seems chaos and confusion, we remember that Jesus came to make the crooked straight and the rough places plain.
Hallelujah for that solid fact, and for the hope that is before us!
Lots of love and blessings to all! Gabriel, Dorcas and family
And here is the picture you didn’t get with your letter, but one that seems appropriate. (Photo credits to Gabe’s sister, Ruby.)
Here it is, but take it from me and just don’t do it. See, it sounds so deceptively simple. My boys stirred the 1 1/2 cups of water into the 16 oz. of cornstarch and suddenly it all seized up. “Hey, this isn’t working! It said to knead it together with your hands.” Naturally I plunged my hands into the mass to knead it and instantly got a traumatic flashback from years gone by.
Back then I was working part time at a bulk food store and occasionally there was a need to scoop corn starch from a large bag into smaller sized bags for the shelf. The first time I was assigned that job, I scooped right into the powdery stuff. It squeaked and felt silky and hard at the same time and my every hair stood on end in horror. I was too embarrassed to tell my boss that I would rather do anything else, please just let me wash up the floors on my hands and knees. Anything else. That day I got cornstarch overload and I got really good at being busy whenever it needed to be bagged again. Anytime a recipe calls for cornstarch, I am very, very careful with spooning it out. I get a nasty little chill just stirring a few tablespoons into liquid.
But after reading how neat this stuff is, today I dug my fingers into the oobleck, then shuddered and quickly went to the sink to wash the mass off my hands. The children found it terribly fascinating, how it gelled and wept and turned mysteriously solid by turns. I let them make a huge mess all over the kitchen because I knew cornstarch washes up very easily. My oldest son couldn’t believe I tolerated the drippings and spills. He got a spatula and tried valiantly to keep it in one spot on the table, to corral it into a bowl, just anything to contain it. “Mama! They even have it on the wall! Make them stop.” He was nearly frantic so I reassured him and sent him out of the room until the little girls were done having fun. They tiptoed into the bathroom for a full scrub down and then I cleaned the kitchen for the second time today.
This is one “neat” experiment that is definitely not for the faint of heart. I guess next time we probably will just pass on it.
This month I have been a pen out of ink. I scratched a few paragraphs now and then, deleted the whole works, or left them to moulder in the drafts folder. Even the annual Christmas letter was a chore. I like pens that glide along smoothly without sputters and skips. Anything else is insufferable! So I can only thank the Lord that blogging is for writing when you enjoy it and that I have never imposed deadlines on myself.
All this time I was out of Earl Grey, folks. Two weeks in a row I forgot to go to the tea aisle in the grocery store. I drank coffee, which is a satisfying experience all its own, but sometimes a girl wants. just. tea! I have a whole shelf of boxes of other teas. My husband likes variety, and so does Gregory, my little tea drinking buddy. On Monday morning I was reading in the quiet when I heard Greg stirring around in the kitchen. To my surprise he brought me the steaming mug he had been concocting according to his Greg Standard of Perfect Tea. It was so liberally adorned with cream and sugar as to hardly be recognizable as tea. Later I saw that he had served me detox tea, which struck me as extremely funny, taking into consideration all the “bad stuff” he dumped into it. I walked over to my grocery list and I wrote it down nice and bold: EARL GREY. This week I bought a ginormous box, inhaled deeply the intoxicating scent of Bergamot oil, and was happy.
It is such a joyful season, yet I found myself praying, yearning with my heart in my throat for days as I followed the story of a family who was keeping vigil around a gunshot victim in the hospital. Yesterday he died. As I was wrapping a few small gifts, I kept thinking about what a sad, sad Christmas this will be for that family and for his friends. It took me back five Decembers when a beloved friend of mine, the wife of my cousin, lay on life support in a hospital. Her transport to glory left me with the anguished question, “Why? There are six little children here, Lord! Couldn’t you see that?” I have never faced a more severe attack on my faith. As the questions poured out, I received the beautiful assurance of the solid fact that Jesus is Emmanuel: God with us. Here in our mess and our hurt and our confusion, He is Prince of Peace. He came to give life, if we can only see that the passing of His friends is the ultimate giving of LIFE. I have seen the triumph of those who embrace this truth, who refuse to let it go in the midst of the most painful times imaginable.
He is with us! “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) That is all we need to know, really. There is a sturdy quality to such faith that confounds even the staunchest unbelievers. I hear my little girl singing her version of a children’s song: “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy… down in the guts of my heart!” Her siblings say, “Depths, not guts!” but she is sticking to her version. It reminds me that faith touches us in the visceral regions where logic and reason are no comfort at all. I see the impossible joy and peace blanket the soul and I say,
So when she was single, the girl didn’t dream much about ordinary things. The thing about dreams is that they are wonderful. In them, she was the heroine. She was visible. She was on top, making a difference, feeling fulfilled. She didn’t think so much of dirty, gritty details like insufficient toilet facilities and sickness in missionary families far from good medical care. She didn’t dream of difficulties; she dreamed of adventure and achievement. Of course, she reserved a very private place where she dreamed of the love of a good man and the security of marriage. To her amazement, she really did get that love and marriage (and the babies, and the baby carriage)! Wow. Things settled into a somewhat frantic routine of not neglecting the thing that was right in front of her. There really was not a lot of time for a head in the clouds.
She was sort of a hard learner, and it took a while for her to “get it” that as a married woman, there would be glory in the meld of her dreams with her husband’s dreams. Her role was cast by God as a supporting role, a helper without whom her husband would be a bit disabled. 🙂 With the years and a good bit of trial and error, she came to understand that it was a wonderful place, a privilege to stand behind her man, to help him achieve his dreams. I am not suggesting that she was on such an exalted plane that she never whined, “But, what about Me?”
Here is what she wishes she had known all along. The happy woman keeps her dreams portable. There is only frustration and unloveliness in doggedly trying to make things happen the way she thinks they should happen.
Life is seasons. There may come a time for some of the obscure dreams to become reality. But for now, she is free to revel in the everyday, sometimes camouflaged goodness that is given. I have learned something from that girl. (Work with me here. Pretend you don’t see through that third person thing. 🙂 ) Just because living is lots of sameness and hard work doesn’t mean it is not valuable. The things which endure grow out of the ordinary.
It had been a fun, field tripping sort of day in the Upper Peninsula. Because lunch was beef jerky and cheese sticks with apples, everyone was on the grouchy side of hungry by five o’clock. There were no fast food restaurants, and most of the diners were closed for the season. We were forty minutes from our cabin where there was abundant food, uncooked, of course. So we kept searching.
Finally the GPS directed us to Jack’s Eats. Now Gabe and I make fun of any food establishment with the word “eat” in the name, but this would have to do. The parking lot was completely full. As we were piling out of our vehicle, an elderly lady watched us with frank astonishment. “Are these?.. All?..Yours?” she asked, dumbfounded. I looked around and assumed she must be talking to me, since there was nobody else in the vicinity. (What do you mean? There are only five!) I didn’t say it, but my children snickered. “Five isn’t even many!” they said to each other, wondering at the silly lady’s perception.
We entered the diner, a seat-yourself place, and started threading our way to the back dining room in quest of a table. The talking din became noticeably quieter as the entire crowded roomful craned to watch us. There was, in fact, not a single table available. I resisted the urge to quack loudly as we threaded our way back out past all those full tables. Five miles further down the road we found an even greasier diner with a bit of space. So the hunger crisis was averted, and all was well.
I like this story because of my children’s amusement and the total lack of embarrassment they showed in being such an enigma. Sometimes I shrivel a bit under the disapproving vibe: the sheer audacity of having more children than is considered normal… must be some kind of freaks without many smarts. “Wow! It must take a lot of food at your house! How do you ever reach around to them all? You raising a bunch of kids to do all the work?” I think the comments are slight admiration with occasional undertones of sarcasm about the huge carbon footprint we are leaving. I also think they are a little unmannerly, don’t you?
Recently I met a lovely Indian lady at a park and we chatted about our children, our cultures, our values, etc. She told me how incredibly difficult it was for her to come to America to study with her husband. They found themselves without people, so far away from all the connections that were completely vital to living in their culture in India. When they had a baby, her mother-in-law came for 4 months to help with the baby. The grandfather of the child got to choose her name as a mark of honor. “It is sad that America does not value family and children,” she concluded.
I couldn’t agree more. In our society, it is more important to get a thirty year mortgage on a McMansion than to fill it with people. Garages are packed with ATV’s, boats, snowmobiles, you name it, but we can’t afford to have children. There are endless jokes about how inconvenient/expensive/disruptive the kids are. I am just getting up on my soap box to tell you that I am sick and tired of it!
It isn’t so much the number of children we have as the attitude we display. This sad old world needs to see us happily visiting with our little guys while we walk into the grocery store. It needs to see us smile into their faces, listen to their stories, laugh with them at the ducks gobbling the bread at the park. It needs to see us bending down to their level to explain why they may not run across the parking lot. It even needs to see a kindly firm “No” when our children beg for candy. Our society needs to see that we Christians will not subscribe to the hip and modern notion that pouring out our lives for the sake of the next generation is much too sacrificial and time consuming.
I think something in me has been growing up and getting bolder about the fact that we are living counter-culture. When the lady in the pottery shop told me, “I only had two and boy, was it tough!” I simply said, “I decided when I became a mother that I was going to make it my career.” Maybe she thought it was rude, but like I said, I am fed up with feeling slightly apologetic about my values.
Recently there was media buzz about a woman who chose to stay home with her family, describing her as a person “who never worked a day in her life”. Wow.
So… here we are, living on one income, stacked into our little house, wearing our second hand clothes, sporting our home-style haircuts, working hard to grow a lot of our food, (go ahead and measure our carbon footprint), trying to stay out of debt, having a string of children, spending our very lives to teach them well. So what if it is hard. You got a problem with that?
I am calling all Christian parents to rally together and show the twisted world we live in that we really do believe our children are our greatest investment.
I would so prefer outdoor stuff to the indoor grind. This past week I convinced the boys that they would probably rather clean the house than mow the lawn. So we switched. I trundled happily after the mower for about an hour. It was loud, blocked out all noise, and I just thought stuff to myself for the whole time. Well, every time I emptied the clippings bag, I could hear that the people inside the house were alive. There were some loud “discussions” about the proper way to clean a bathroom, and no, Gregory did not nail it quite. But I pulled weeds on the walkway and out beside the picket fence and just let them work it out. Then I put away all the garden tools and a bunch of stakes that had a brief life as spears in a throwing contest. When the lawn was all nice and neat, I checked up on their work and was thrilled to see that all the biggest messes were cleaned up, floors cleaned (after a fashion…. seeing as Greg used hand soap out of the dispenser to wash them) etc. etc.
I called everybody outside just to enjoy the gorgeous afternoon. Since school started two weeks ago, it has been noses to the textbooks, labored cursive, practice with forgotten math facts, and a few other not so fun things. Then the afternoons we tried hard to catch up with our regular chores. It made me cross and bothered. Ask Gabe. 🙂 I felt like Jack, the dull boy. And I know that I resembled the mother cat in Milo and Otis, who keeps resolving never to yell at her childr… “Milo! Get back here right now!” Why does that part in the movie always make my children snicker?
Anyway, on this particular afternoon, I was trying to think of something off-the-wall that we could do all together, since Gabe was working that night. The little guys were all climbing around in their favorite Monkey Tree, fashioning make shift platform houses. It was approaching supper time and I had no idea what to feed the crew when I had a happy thought. “Hey, how would you guys like to eat supper in the Monkey Tree?” Oh, yeah, just like that I had my cool-mom status back. 🙂 I am a little embarrassed to admit that “supper” was Cocoa Pebbles served with milk in mugs. Like Alex observed, “At least they are made with real cocoa.” Wanna see?
I thought it was funny that we only had one spill in the tree, and who knows how many we would have had at the table, sitting properly with bowls?
We also had watermelon for dessert. I dared to pick the one in the garden. It was luscious. Just ask Addy.
Laundry. Always. (Remind the little laundry helper to put the detergent into the washer this time.)
Process broccoli for the freezer. (Try not to think about how it stinks up the kitchen.)
Feed my babies. (Not just food, but stories and maybe popsicles and praise mixed with the inevitable corrections. Always.)
Make blackberry jelly from the fruit Gabe picked beside the road.
File homeschool affidavits. Order some books for the boys’ upcoming foray into organized learning.
Feed my babies again.
Give two hair cuts to people who wiggle and shrug their shoulders and complain bitterly about the prickles.
Make fun food for the kiddos’ party with the cousins. Cupcakes. Granola bars. Finger jello. (Try not to go bananas when every little body wants to help.)
Wait to wash the kitchen floor until the helping/slopping is done.
Oversee the job charts and sticker distribution. (Don’t expect what you don’t inspect, you know.)
Maybe, if I am really really brave… Go to Walmart to get my glasses fixed and see if I can fit the groceries into the cart with the tot who will probably sit on them.
It will be a good day, even though it has hardly gotten started. I got up early to fatten my soul, and drink my Earl Grey. And if it doesn’t all get done, I pray that at the end of the day our souls are still well nourished. Now, for a piece of peach pie. Quality of life is all about priorities, not?