And we have a winner, folks! Fragrant Whiffs of Joy is on its way to Pennsylvania to a certain Gwen Witmer. Congratulations, Gwen! And to the rest of you, thanks for participating and making it fun. There’s still time to order copies for your moms and sisters and friends for Christmas (get one for yourself too). You won’t be sorry. Blessings to all!
I received a package in the mail from Dorcas Smucker the other day. That has certainly never happened to me before, and it was kind of a big moment for me.😉 I quote her all the time, but I’m not in the habit of getting mail from her. Three cute little yellow books were inside, and I wasted no time starting to read one of them. The other two she generously sent for me to give away, and that’s why I’m here. You have a chance of getting a package in the mail with a cute yellow book inside too! The other is going to my sister.
I was first introduced to Dorcas Smucker’s books a few years ago when my friend tucked me into her spare bedroom for a nap, handing me Ordinary Days to read. I read about Matt learning to drive. Shortly after, Mom gave me my own copy of the book, and she has given me all the rest of them as they came out. Convenient birthday and Christmas gifts. Easy to ship, don’t clutter up the house, and always greeted with enthusiasm.
I’m excited to share about Dorcas’s newest book, Fragrant Whiffs of Joy. It’s written in the same style as her other books: short articles or essays, usually beginning with a story and winding up with a profound piece of wisdom that makes you think for the rest of the day. It’s a great book to keep on the coffee table for those times when you need a five minute break from life. You can be entertained and inspired, and go back to your work with new energy. (Or you might find your five minutes kind of extending by mistake, because you want to read a little more).
This is one of my favorite paragraphs from Fragrant Whiffs of Joy:
“…when I take a long view of my adult children and the sweep of generations, I come to this conclusion: our influence and eventual success are not so much about techniques and systems as they are about who we are and how we live. Our choices and character will shape not only our children, but multiple generations to come.”
I like this thought because our children are youngish and sometimes it feels like so much could go wrong here, and what if we are doing too much of A and not enough of B, and should I bother reading that article about seven things you should never say to your child, and what if I’ve already said them, and how can we tell if we’re on the right track or veering off to the left too much, or maybe the right? It isn’t necessarily easier to work on our own characters than it is to choose a perfect parenting technique, but the waters seem a little less muddy, somehow, and I feel a sense of relief.
I like the down-to-earth style of this book. When I read it, I feel almost like I’ve found a good friend who would kind of “get” things. Take this excerpt for example:
“I have been looking the other way and humming distractedly for quite some time now, pretending not to notice as my fabric stash multiplied like mice in dark totes in the attic and expanded in my sewing room, swallowing cubic feet of space, spare rotary cutters, and skirt patterns. After all, I have plans for every piece: a summer dress, a tote bag, pajamas and many, many quilts when all the kids leave home…
…we have a deep friendship, my fabric and I, and we share so many sweet memories. These ’90s florals came from that lady who was selling her mother’s estate-a whole house full of fabric and thread, shocking in its magnitude. I promised I would never become such a hoarder even as I filled two WinCo bags with yardage for the church sewing circle.”
Doesn’t this make you feel like Dorcas would be the kind of person who would understand and care if you admitted a fault or weakness, instead of looking disapprovingly over her glasses at you? She isn’t too dignified to dress up in Amish clothes and a coffee grounds beard and pay a visit to her neighbors on Halloween night either (don’t pass judgment until you read that story yourself. You’ll probably laugh as hard as I did). These are refreshing traits in a Mennonite minister’s wife.
She talks about a wide variety of subjects, from adoption to waiting to depression to motherhood to marriage to letting go of perfectionism. No matter who you are or what your station in life, you will likely be able to identify with something somewhere. And you will go away with a more solid picture of what is really important in life.
Oh, and one more thing-you know how books just need to have the right smell? This one has it.
To enter the book giveaway, simply comment on this post by November 20, and I will try to announce a winner on November 21. To have your name entered twice, share this post, and let me know you did.
You can also order the book from Dorcas Smucker at 31148 Substation Drive, Harrisburg, OR 97446. $12 per book plus $2 postage. Pay by check or PayPal. Her email is email@example.com. Or buy through Amazon, using the link below:
Hello from the land of dignified evergreen trees and golden aspens; heavy mists and dripping skies; soft sunshine and nipping frosts. We are well and happy (most of the time), which is cause for great rejoicing.
The other day Tim and I listened to a guy on YouTube speaking about millennials, and I learned a lot of things about them that I didn’t know before. Or maybe I should say about us, since I was born in the millennial timeline. The thing that was so shocking to me was how much of it I could relate to. And here I thought I was different since I got married at the age of 19 and had four babies by the time I was 30!
I could relate to the restlessness that makes it so hard to stick with one job or interest. I could relate to the desire for instant gratification (ugh-how embarrassing). I could relate, sort of, to the social media addiction. But what really hit home to me is the desperate need to make an impact. We want to be important, to be doing something big, and we don’t realize that big things are often accomplished by doing little things over and over and over.
Oh my. I couldn’t believe how that described me. I wonder if Ma Ingalls worried about making an impact as she created one cozy home after another out of four logs walls. And then creaked away from it in a covered wagon and started all over. I wonder if Susannah Wesley thought about that as she prayed for and cared for her children. I wonder if Michelangelo thought about it as he painted and sculpted day after day. I wonder if Noah thought about it as he sawed and hammered and smeared pitch on the Ark.
Does greatness come to those who seek it, I wonder? Or does it maybe come slowly and unexpectedly and uninvited, at least some of the time? To those who are willing do the right thing, the little, nitty-gritty right thing over and over and over? And does it sometimes never get recognized in this big noisy world where everyone wants attention?
I’m still sort of glad I live in this era, although sometimes I think fighting against odds like wild animals and fires and drought and grasshoppers would be easier in some ways than fighting against the mental pressures of the Internet and too much cushiness and widespread broken families and relationships. No, easier probably isn’t the word. Just simpler. But obviously I don’t know what I’m saying, being a much-cushioned millennial.
There’s a lot to like about this time in history.
I like that mason jars are the rage for decor. It’s very handy to be a Mennonite housewife with rows of canning jars in her basement when they are suddenly cool.
I like that I can eat Greek yogurt made with whole milk and pour rich cream into my coffee and be healthy. That wasn’t possible even 15 years ago.
I like that I can communicate with my brother in Haiti with utmost ease.
I like the navigation on my phone very much.
I like dishwashers and vacuum cleaners and chevron prints and the color gray.
But I want to be on my guard against the pitfalls that go with this era. We’re horrified by the terrible things that happened in our history books, like slavery and bloodthirsty fighting, but it’s so easy to be blind to the things that are going on right now, maybe even in our own hearts. Like the way we think we deserve the good things that come our way. I selflessly fried eggs for my family this morning, so I deserve Starbucks on my way to the grocery store. I did the family laundry all week, so I deserve a girls’ night out. Really???
Maybe we’d be a happier bunch of people if we’d practice a little thankfulness instead of entitlement. If we would be willing to do the little, unnoticed things over and over and over and expect no reward. Maybe we would slowly discover that true joy comes through serving, that true greatness is doing the right thing day in and day out, whether it be boring, or exciting, or terrifying.
“Eww, this bagel is yucky! It tastes like air!”
This comment was from Zoe. It doesn’t take long for all the food you packed at home to be yucky when you’re on a long trip.
We’re creeping down the interstate in South Dakota on a little spare tire. The big sky is full of layers of clouds, some puffy, some flat and smooth, with patches of blue peaking through. I like the wide open spaces and the silos and the round fat bales in golden fields and the fox tales growing in the ditches. I hadn’t tickled someone with with a fox tale in years, but today I tickled Erica’s face with one.
We took the final sad laps around our house in the wee hours this morning before locking the door and leaving it forever. There are so many memories there, and I had to shed a few tears yesterday as I wiped the counters and scrubbed the sinks and swept the floors for the last time. I thought about moving in twelve years ago with our wedding gifts and dreams. I thought about the homesickness I felt there and the adjustments to married life-the tough ones and the happy ones. I thought about my first impressions of Missouri. Scared little nineteen-year-old Canadian girl that I was, the heat and the night crawlers and the ticks really got my attention. I thought about our four children being born there and knowing no other home. I thought about the sunshine slanting across the lawn on summer evenings, and the mists rolling across the road early in the morning. I thought about fireflies and night noises and giant oaks and all the things I have learned to love about Missouri.
We said goodbye to many good people in the last week. Lots of tears.
But we’re on an adventure, and when we’re not sad, there are great rushes of anticipation. Heading off to Idaho/Washington to start a new life is thrilling, and we’re eager to settle into a new normal.
We’re packed into the van with bedding and cleaning supplies and staple groceries and suitcases oozing into our seats. We get on each others’ nerves. The children fight. I dream of solitude and silence.
If you have any wisdom to share about moving to a new community, I’d love to hear it. I have my moments of abject terror about the whole thing. Sometimes it would be so much easier to just run back to what is familiar and safe.
After a weekend with Tim’s family in the Black Hills, we’re on our way again, exhausted and slightly irritable. Plans are to arrive at our new place tomorrow morning. How will that feel? We don’t know.
Help. I’m pretty sure I was going to write more on Day 5, and I certainly intended to get this published long before Day 18. Realizing that we left our old home 18 days ago and we still haven’t developed much of a routine makes me think that the exhausted and bewildered feeling I have right now may not be totally unreasonable. I remind myself a little bit of a goldfish swimming in circles in its bowl, glub-glubbing and gulping senselessly. New kitchen window view-gulp…new friends-gulp…new grocery stores-gulp gulp…new church-gulp…new phone number-gulp gulp gulp. What I really want to do is find a quiet corner, pour myself a cup of coffee with Real Cream, and just sit and stare at the wall and process all the changes and new things. Quiet corners are scarce, though, so this will probably be an unrealized dream for quite a while.
Our house is a very busy place. Since we started in with painting and changing lights and trim and doors right away, it works better to keep some things packed until more is done, which means that there are still some annoying boxes floating around. The good friends who hauled our load had truck trouble and were stranded here for a week and a half, so we put them to good use. They worked like slaves getting things painted and fixed up. Our house had things like paneling and popcorn ceilings that we were anxious to work on, so their help was a real boost. A lot has been done, but there’s so much to do yet. Paint colors and Pinterest ideas spin around in my head till I’m nearly dizzy. Speaking of my head, it seems to be on a vacation these days. I couldn’t believe how it would just quit working on the most stressful days of moving, right when I needed it the most. Is that normal???
Let me tell you about a couple of things that happened around the time of our move that just kind of felt like Someone was taking care of us.
The girls lost a very precious doll last winter at a church sewing. It was a big deal to them, and we hunted high and low numerous times but it didn’t turn up. About a week before our departure, we were packing up the toys when the girls suddenly remembered their doll. They were sure they couldn’t leave without her! But we had spent so much time looking earlier with no success that it seemed senseless to try again. So they prayed fervently (and so did I), and we went on with our packing. That night we were at our farewell at the church/gym, and I needed to return something upstairs. Imagine my enormous surprise at finding the doll on the stairs, smiling up at me, waiting to be taken home! Where she was hidden for all those months I have no idea, but I like to think that God might have planned it as a special surprise for three little girls who were having a hard time saying goodbye to so many things. They are keeping her in a special bed in the corner of their room and caring for her like she is made of gold.
Another answer to prayer was that a buyer for our house suddenly sprang out of the woodwork a couple of weeks before we moved. It had been for sale for three years, and we were despairing over getting it sold. Somehow it just felt amazing to us that after we decided to take a leap of faith and move on without selling, it suddenly sold. The closing was two days after the closing of our house in Newport.
Thinking about the next couple months makes me a little afraid. I’ve had that lost, I-don’t-belong-anywhere feeling before, and I somehow think it’s just part of the fun of relocating. Maybe we’ll get lucky and it won’t last the full five years that are predicted.
It’s too easy for me to worry about what people are thinking of The New Family.
It’s interesting to watch how the children react to the upheaval of the last few months. Some of them make it their business to always be in the thick of the action. Others slip away and I find them in corners trying to read or think. We all feel stretched kind of thin and are a little short-tempered.
BUT…we’re here, where we want to be, with a lot of work behind us, and a lot before us. I don’t dive for the wrong cupboard in the kitchen quite like I did the first week. We’re discovering some really nice people. The scenery is breathtaking, the mornings deliciously cool. We have family close by. (When you’ve lived for twelve years with your entire family at least 1700 miles away, the idea of having some of them only a seven hour drive away is pretty unbelievable.)
So I really think we’ll be just fine here. The key to easier adjustment, I think, is taking it one day at a time. Which is a cliche, but a very wise one, so I will not apologize for it.
There were so many things we didn’t know that clear Sunday morning about ten years ago when our first baby was born. We were young and fresh faced and eager to tackle life and so sure that we knew quite a lot about the best ways to do things. The brand new baby in the handmade cradle was perfect, and of course we would be the best of parents. No impatience or failure to deal with behavior issues would be happening in our little kingdom.
Does everyone find that the more life they experience, the fewer answers they have, or is that just me? As our family grew, we realized just how unprepared and ignorant we were.
I didn’t know how fiercely I would want to protect our kids from discomfort, even the kind of discomfort that teaches important lessons.
I didn’t know that living in a house full of children would show up some of my biggest weaknesses. Things like anger and pride and impatience and wanting to drink my morning coffee all by myself.
I didn’t know how keenly I would wish for a little bit of silence some days. Or how, in a rare moment of silence, I would feel like something was missing and wish for the noise back.
I didn’t see the laundry monster lurking around the corner with her baskets upon baskets of dirty clothes. Cute little clothes, though, which makes all the difference.
I didn’t know how much more I would appreciate the things my own mom taught me and the time she invested in my life. Thanks, Mom.
I didn’t know how often I would find myself doing things that I really didn’t want to do, simply because my family needed them to happen. Or how I would discover that I could do those jobs joyfully too (but too often would do them grudgingly instead).
I didn’t know about jeans sprouting holes overnight.
I didn’t know how many apples and peaches and eggs it takes it takes to raise a family. Not to mention cookies and bread and meat and potatoes. Don’t laugh, I know we’re only scratching the surface of that part.
I didn’t know about the little ache that would always be in my heart because of the pieces of it that are running around my house.
I didn’t know about mornings when child number 1 can’t find any clean socks, and child number 2 spills the last of the milk in a lake on the kitchen table and it leaks onto three chairs and the floor and the book that is under the table, and child number 3 has a sore throat and mentions it every 5 minutes, and child number 4 keeps getting distracted over morning chores.
I didn’t know that I would have times when I just didn’t know how to handle things properly.
I didn’t know about long nights with sick children and the agony of worry that they might not get well.
I didn’t know how pictures of suffering children would make my heart jump into my throat, thinking of my own children in those shoes.
I didn’t know how lightning fast the years would go.
I didn’t know how blue and sparkling little eyes can be.
I didn’t know about the swelling pride that would rise up in my heart when I look at my children.
I didn’t know that the very things that make motherhood a tough job, are also the things that make it beautiful. And that a mom’s success may have less to do with knowing everything, and more to do with genuinely loving her children and being willing to learn new things every day.
Happy Mothers Day!
I had a bit of an epiphany this morning when I was cleaning toilets. I’ve read a lot of books and blogs and articles on the importance of motherhood, and it isn’t difficult for me to believe that the parts of my job as a mother that involve teaching and loving my children are very important. So important that I’m really scared sometimes that I don’t have what it takes. That I’ll totally mess up the most important thing I’ll ever do.
I’ve always had a little bit of a hard time with the vast number of really mundane chores that seem to consume my life. I can feel eternal significance in reading Frog and Toad stories to my kids. I feel it when I’m tucking them into bed at night and cooking oatmeal for their breakfast. But sweeping the floor multiple times a day? Hanging out 73 socks every other day? Wiping the finger prints off the windows when I know it will be impossible to tell that I did it in five minutes? Straightening up my pantry shelves AGAIN?
These are the things that can make me feel kind of unuseful in the world. Honestly, about 75% of my life is spent doing things that are just plain temporary. They will need to be done again tomorrow and again next week and again next month.
Sometimes people try to tell us that the only things that are important are the big things with obvious eternal rewards. Like traveling overseas as a missionary or dying for your faith. (I’ve always wanted to be an overseas missionary, so I’m most certainly not trying to make light of or cheapen that work. It’s an incredibly important one.)
Sometimes people try to tell us that the only really important part of our job as mothers is the times when we are intentionally spending time with our kids. Playing with them or listening to them or going somewhere with them. I have a contention with that philosophy. For family life to continue harmoniously, there is a certain amount of effort that needs to be put into food, clothing, and cleanliness.
This is what I’m trying to say: Sometimes faithfulness in the ordinary, mundane things that feel unimportant can require a great deal of grit. Sometimes tackling the mess in the storage room can take a great deal of courage. Sometimes staying pleasant throughout a morning when everything goes wrong, from the broken shoelace to the gallon of spilled milk to the falls of the two-year-old, takes a grace that can’t be manufactured on our own.
Sometimes we want so much to do something important, only to realize later that we were doing it all along. We just didn’t recognize it.
I’m not suggesting obsessing over our housework or choosing a clean house over relationships or Pinterest decor over happy children. People always need to come first, but life simply requires a lot of moves that can feel pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
This was my epiphany this morning: I can go through my days as a mother, cleaning up spills, kissing ouchies, cooking supper, and totally miss the beauty in it all. I can miss the fact that by serving my family with love, I am serving Jesus. Or I can do even the most despised chore cheerfully, because I love my family that much. Jesus did incredibly menial tasks on when he was on earth. If He could wash feet, surely I can wash the toilet and the floor with good grace because I love Him.
A green hue is creeping over the countryside here in the Ozarks. Daffodils are little cheerful bursts in the ditches and fields. Ornamental pears are breaking into bloom. Some days, we can fling open the doors and windows and smell the damp earth and feel spring in the air that blows in.
I’m half ready for spring and half not. All of me is ready for sunshine and green things and no shoes, but part of me wants to hang onto the slower pace of winter. Seasons don’t ask permission, though. They change when it’s time, and tough for us if we’re not ready.
I’ve been having a hard time posting anything lately for the simple reason that my life is so extraordinarily ordinary. Let me explain: I could relate the things that annoy me or cause me to feel blue, but when I consider that others are facing horrors like cancer or the death of a loved one or depression or financial disaster or any number of other things, my problems seem so petty. Honestly, how can that pair of shoes that has been left in the middle of the living room 46 times this week get on my nerves so much, when it is such a tiny thing? And yet it does. And how can I chafe against the mundane and the ordinary, when it should be (and most days, is) such a joy? And yet I do.
I could write about the beautiful things in my life, which are many, but that feels insensitive too, because I don’t deserve any of them and sometimes good things seem so unevenly distributed. I don’t deserve a kind husband or cute kids or a land of plenty, and yet here they all are.
And then I could write about the profound brain things that go on in my head, but here is another problem: they seem profound and brainy until I try to express them, and then suddenly they become foolish and stale, and totally un-profound.
There’s a character trait that has been impressing me lately. Did you ever meet someone and just get this sense that they are ok with who they are?
They aren’t trying to impress anyone or prove anything.
They know they have weaknesses, but they are humble enough to accept them and work with them, and don’t have to spend all their time reminding the world of them.
They know they have strengths, too, but they just quietly use them for others without showing off.
The approval-or disapproval- of others doesn’t affect them much. It just kind of rolls off of them, and they don’t depend on it for their survival.
They don’t fear exposure because they aren’t waving a false front.
They are honest, with themselves first, and then with others.
In short, they have made peace with who they are, which frees them up to think of others and their needs.
They are as refreshing and delightful as a spring breeze blowing through an open window.
Now, to learn to be that way. Thinking of others first. Not trying to be someone important. Being real. I probably won’t get it right before I’m 85, but I’m glad there are people around who do, and I want to learn from them.
Blessings to each of you.
Just let me burrow into a snowbank with plenty of chocolate and a stack of books and don’t bother me till spring, ok?
I’ve totally got this new year thing. Diet and exercise plans written out neatly, ready to start (ahem) any minute. Super excited about tackling life.
I’m an unstable woman these days, vascillating back and forth between these two moods. Since snowbanks are in short supply in Missouri, Mood B is kind of the only option. I do have an enticing stack of books to read though. I like to classify myself as a reader, but as long as it takes me to get through a book these days, I’m not sure if it’s all that accurate. So my stack of books may last me a long time unless I go into hibernation.
Life continues to streak by whether or not I give it permission, though, so I guess I might as well give myself a good shake and try to keep up. And read in little snatches, feeling guilty because there is popcorn under the coffee table and it has been there for three days. (I realized today that if I were to be judged by the state of my pantry, I wouldn’t fare very well. I don’t think God judges me that way, but people might. That’s why I keep the doors firmly closed. And by the way, there actually isn’t popcorn under the coffee table today. There just is sometimes.)
The other night at supper, Tim had us laughing so hard that Drew and Tasha fell off their chairs, one right after the other. I think when God created me, He said, “This girl is going to be the kind who takes herself a little too seriously sometimes. She’s going to need someone to help her remember how important it is to laugh now and then.” I’m glad He made sure of that. I usually manage to stay on my chair, though. I’ve hung on to that much seriousness.
We visited school today. There was a game of dodgeball in session when we popped in the door, and the immediate chorus of, “Tim, come play on our team!” offended me just a little. They could have yelled my name just as loudly. Well. I did manage to impress the girls by flushing a toilet that had been holding its burden and considered unflushable for a very long time. I reached into the back and poked around till it flushed, emerged and told the girls that I thought it needed a part (it turned out it didn’t really). I think they were convinced that I had some real plumbing skills, and I don’t plan to enlighten them further. I take any promotions I can get. Don’t ask who fixed it for real later.
Zoe is deeply into theatrics these days. Sending her to brush her teeth might turn into a concert, with her toothbrush as the mic. She also likes to play music and leap about the house dancing. Meanwhile, Tasha dreams of horseranching in Colorado. Our house will have a big porch facing the sunset and she will be able to ride horses as much as she likes. I’m not sure if she quite believes me when I tell her that people in Colorado have to do laundry and dishes too. It’s so fun to see little personalities emerge and worry about how these traits will look in 20 years.
Zoe and Erica are currently floating through the living room on green chairs that are really boats. They’re employed in saving drowning people and singing “Running Over.” They have already been through a train ride that took all of the kitchen chairs, and a building spree with the magnetic builders that their Grandma sent them for Christmas. So it has been a busy, messy morning. Imaginations are invaluable, though, so I’m shutting my eyes for now.
Sometimes when I’m especially weary in the evenings, I sigh to Tim that I wish we could just push a button and have the evening routine done. You know, stories read, baths taken, songs sung, prayers prayed, house tidied. I’ve also been wishing for a pill that would eliminate sibling rivalry and conflict.
Better yet, maybe a pill that would develop our characters so we wouldn’t have to go through the agony of waiting and decision making that seems to be part of life. If we could just be wise and patient without having to learn it all through bitter experience, it would be so handy.
It doesn’t seem to work that way, though. It’s a like tiger hunts with little kids: “Can’t go around it, can’t go over it, gotta go through it.” So good-bye, snowbank and stack of books. You were a nice thought, but I guess the only way to really make it in life is to square our shoulders and plow through it. I’ll take a little chocolate and a few books along the way, though, please.
“You and I are going on a sugar fast after Christmas,” I told Erica the other day.
“Why after Christmas?” Drew asked, completely mystified. “Why don’t you do it right now?”
Oh, buddy, you have so much to learn about diets. They are always best after Christmas. Or next week. Or at least tomorrow.
His comment convicted me so much, though, that I started my no sugar diet immediately. It lasted a day and a half, at the end of which I binged on chocolate. Very guiltily. Don’t ask how much chocolate.
How do you guys do it??? It would make me feel so mod and trendy to smile in a superior way when there are sweets around and say, “No thank you, I’m on a low-carb diet. I feel SO much better on it.”
(I just looked up the word “mod” to make sure it meant what I wanted it to, which was basically up-to-date and kind of cool. Wikipedia makes it sound a little different. But I like the word in that sentence, and so I’m going to leave it there. You know what I mean.)
(You didn’t know that I secretly kind of want to be trendy, did you? Well, I do. Just a little bit. Just enough to make me feel like I’m not old and out of touch.)
I might try it again after Christmas. It will be easier then, I’m sure. (I’m back to the diet thing now. I’m using so many parentheses that it’s even hard for me to tell what I’m talking about.)
My 2017 planner came in the mail the other day, Guiding the House, by Dianna Overholt. I recommend it. For some reason I love yearly planners. They give a sense of order to my frazzled brain. Even if my life is disorganized, holding a planner in my hand or seeing one on my counter just makes me feel better.
I’ve been entertaining myself by looking over my 2016 planner and seeing what we were up to throughout the year. It’s funny how it shows how I tend to operate. Long, long lists with only a few things crossed out on some days. The same job written down over and over for weeks. In short bursts there will be an “exercise” note on every day, and then they will abruptly disappear.
The thing that amuses me the most, though, is the difference between the January entries and the December ones. In January, I can tell I was going to make this planner a different sort than the last one. There are neat, precise lists, carefully recorded menus, and weekly goals. (Was it “in” to have weekly goals rather than biting off resolutions for a whole year maybe?)
As the planner became an old and familiar friend, the weekly goals disappeared and the lists look more like-well, like me, I guess. Hopeful and optimistic and unrealistic and scrawled in haste. Not that I’m always hopeful and optimistic, but for some reason I always think I can accomplish about twice as much in a day as what I actually can. It would seem like eventually a person would learn.
The pages of my new planner are clean and white and smooth, not dog-eared and wrinkled like the old one. The days are empty and full of possibilities. It’s interesting to think about what I will write on them, and what type of lists I will need. Thinking about this too long makes me nervous, though, because there will be tears and disappointments and frustrations, and the sadnesses of the present are about all I can handle most of the time. (Not that my own life is particularly sad. In fact, I have so many, many things to be happy about. But there is just so much sadness across the world. So many sad-eyed children, so many disillusioned teens, and so many grieved adults. So much unrest and and fear. So much pain. And knowing about it and feeling helpless makes me so terribly sad.)
But a new year and a new planner mean a fresh start, another try at life. I can’t let myself think about the fact that probably by this time next year I will be toting around a disappointed planner and facing the truth-that I’m still the same disorganized being I was in 2016. I want to go into the new year with hope in my heart and a determination to change the sadnesses and faults that are in my power to change. I have lofty ideas about taking time for the important things like prayer and family and relationships and reaching out. I have (a few) practical ideas about how to make life run more smoothly in this household. And you know what? I think I’m going to go ahead and believe that some of them might actually work, that some things might change for the better.
Because existence without hope is a terrible thing. Hopelessness drains a person and leaves him unable to cope with life. Hopelessness strips a person of the desire to change. And without the desire to change, he wallows around in misery and gets nowhere.
God loves new things. Think newborn babies, changed hearts, restored relationships. Think a cleared conscience, a fresh perspective, and a new day. God is all about taking our rumbled failures and wrinkled pages and replacing them with a new, fresh book to fill. There will be more mistakes. There will be more wrinkled pages. But with hope in our hearts, we can face them as they come, learn from them, and start over.
Just like I will be starting over cutting out sugar. After Christmas.
Today I would like to step into a time machine and flash backward in time about 20 years.
Make it late afternoon on Christmas Eve. The light is fading fast in the big snowy world. The spruce trees wear a blanket of fresh snow, and every fence post is tall with it. The sun is sinking, pink and cold looking, into the snow-covered fields.
But in a little white house with peeling paint, the lights come on, and the air is warm. Excitement is running high as we cook supper and make sure everything is spotless and special. There is a kettle of chili soup on the stove, and the table is set. The chief attraction of the evening, though, is the stack of gifts in the living room, and we keep glancing that way, deciding which one to open first, and trying to guess what treasures might be in them.
We are cheerful and speedy with our supper and the dishes. Mom fixes a plate of chocolate covered pretzels, sugar cookies, nanaimo bars, and peanut squares and sets it on the table for later, and we migrate eagerly to the living room. Dad reads the Christmas story from Luke 2 by candle light, and we pray. And then, oh happy day! we can tear into those gifts! Soon there is paper all over, and we’re squealing over our new books, toys, and games.
The next morning we pack up and head into the frozen world, snow crunching under the van tires. Grandpa and Grandma’s house is cozy and full of people and the smell of turkey and wood smoke. We eat dinner at a long table, with little elbow room. If we’re lucky, we might get a repeat of Luci crawling under the table from the kitchen end and emerging at the living room end in a washroom quest. It was easier to do it that way than try to squeeze past the people and chairs packed in the hallway.
After lunch, we go sledding or skating, with Kevin to keep things moving. Our breath comes out in clouds, and our shouts carry like everything in the still air. We burst back into the house with red cheeks to find the aunts singing old songs and getting the giggles, or everyone loudly discussing politics or theology, or the guys arm wrestling. We might play a little Scrabble or take one, but no one will be playing Monopoly. Grandpa is in a quiet corner with his knees crossed, chin tilted upward to make the most of his bifocals, reading a newspaper. Every now and then he will rub his big fingers together and snort slightly. Grandma is making sure everyone has all the coffeeteacookiescandyoranges they can hold. It feels so snug and safe there with my favorite people, and I don’t want it to ever end.
So much for time machines. Those beautiful Christmas days that meant so much to me when I was 10 are gone forever. No, not gone, since I will always remember them. In their place is a Christmas season that is beautiful and meaningful only if I make the effort. If I sit back and wait for Mom to take care of things like she did when I was ten, nothing will happen. Mom is 1700 miles away, and I have supposedly grown up. (How did that happen? I thought I would feel older and more mature by the time it was expected of me.)
I hope the four little blond heads in our house will remember the snowflakes we make, the gifts they ache to open, the lights above the cupboard, the spruce branches on the window sill, the bare oak branches stark against the grey winter sky, and I hope those memories warm them when they are older and the world feels cold and harsh. Even more, I hope they remember a love here at home that goes with them no matter what difficulties life throws at them. I hope they feel that love on special days and on common, humdrum Mondays. Maybe especially on common days. I hope they remember a Mom and Dad who love each other and love them, whether times are easy or hard, happy or sad. I hope they remember the sort of love that glows steadily even when the feeling isn’t there, that survives anything, and that can’t go unshared.
May love be the center of your home this Christmas season and always. And if this season is a tough one for you, I pray that God’s love will warm your heart and ease the pain.