Family Vacation

The general consensus was that cold cereal would suffice for breakfast that morning, as getting six people out the door by 6:00 is so much easier when there are no eggs to fry. We made it two hours down the road before we had to stop for egg sandwiches. That is the story of the Miller Family and Breakfast.

Erica did a lot of moaning and clutching her throat and making dark references to throwing up that morning. My own stomach felt a little funny.

The skies were overcast and gray and spritzing now and then.

We were on our way to the West Coast, making a quick little two-day trip out of it. We took Highway 20 from Newport to Anacortes, WA. There are plenty of rave reviews about Hwy 20, and they are not an exaggeration. It was so lovely that no matter which window of the van I plastered my nose to, I felt like I was missing something on the other side.

We stopped by several waterfalls and hiked a little way up one trail to take a break from driving.

I could have spent days looking at the big orchards of the Okanogan. There were cherries and peaches and grapes, and I don’t know what all growing there.

Washington State Park had the perfect place for us to drive up close to the Pacific Ocean. The shimmering blues of the water and sky were mesmerizing, the weather warm and perfect.

We climbed around on the rocks by the water and watched the boats coming and going for awhile before supper, then took pizza to a park to eat.

The ocean was even more lovely the next morning. Birds were wheeling and dipping, diving into the water for their breakfast, and screeching at each other. Fish were jumping out of the water. We saw a big…something…way out in the water rolling and playing. We hoped it was dolphins.

It was delicious and luxurious, sitting there in the sun drinking our Starbucks coffee.

The woods right up by the water was a dark, thick mass of huge trees. It was an enchanted forest type of experience, walking through it.

But the thing about family vacations (at least for us) is that you’re still the same family on vacation as you are at home. Somehow even trips that are supposed to be fun end up having some not-so-fun moments here and there.

When I look a pictures of other family’s vacations, I see smiling faces and perfection. I don’t see the crushed pretzels on the floor, or the three-year-old threatening to throw up, or the fighting in the middle seat, or the people in the back of the van shouting to the ones in the front that they can’t help sing because they can’t hear from back there, or the selfishness in the Mom who would really like if everyone would just leave her alone for a while so she could look at the cherry orchards and decide if those are peach trees or apple in peace and visit with her guy without everyone trying to figure out what they are saying and if maybe they are talking about them in code.

But you know what’s nice about trips like that?

You look forward to them so much, with your little sparkling image of how it will be, you live through how it actually is, and then suddenly after you’re home, the sparkling image becomes the reality.

You scroll through your pictures and you remember the sweet little people reading The Happy Hollisters in the back seat and the lovely scenery you saw and how fun it was to leave a heap of towels on the motel floor and know that you do not have to wash them.

Some people are good at noticing the good things all the time, on the ordinary, hum-drum days as well as the vacation days. And that’s probably when it counts the most-on the blah, not-so-exciting Monday morning. I have a very long way to go, learning to notice the good. Here are some ordinary things that make me happy:

Also, Erica creeping up the stairs after she’s supposed to be sleeping, to request “juicy water and crispy ice. Please, Mom. Pleeeeease???”

The thing I want to learn to do is to see the beauty while it is happening rather than waiting till it’s over. A summer doesn’t have to be perfect to be a good summer, a family doesn’t have to be a model family to be a nice one, and a van can be a happy place, crushed pretzels, noise, and all. True beauty is not found in perfection, but in a good sprinkling of grace over the rough spots, and a healthy sense of humor to keep things in perspective.

A happy summer to all, with plenty of good things to notice.

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Leave Me Alone Please, I’m Hurting

D8E19A37-2C2C-47C7-A4BE-4D195BD2FC5ASpring has finally arrived here in the northwest, and the sunshine is slowly thawing our frozen souls. The effect of sunshine after a long winter is truly astounding.

I read a blog recently that got me to thinking. For some reason I always feel like I need to read blogs that have titles like, “Seven Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person” or “Nine Things Your Single Friends Wish You Knew” or “What It’s Really Like to Be Childless.” Some of them are very helpful. It’s always easier to empathize when you understand, at least to a degree.

But there’s an undertone in so many of them (definitely not all) that makes me kind of cringe and want to say, “Sweetie, do you know what you’re doing here? Did you know that you’re digging a grave that is going to be awfully hard to dig yourself back out of?”

I’m happily married at present, have four healthy, beautiful children, and a lot of other blessings that many people don’t have. So in a way I feel unqualified to speak on this subject. And yet, I’ve had times in my life when things were very grim and it seemed like I was the only person in the world facing that particular thing. So that’s my basis for acting like I Know What It’s Like. I probably don’t know what it’s like for you at all. There are many, many griefs that I know nothing about, but that is true for everyone.

It’s my observation that some of the most difficult things to go through are the things that set us apart from our friends or peers. The things that make us feel like oddballs. It would feel extremely lonely to be the only couple in your peer group that isn’t having babies. Or maybe you have lost a loved one, and no one can really relate. Or maybe it’s the death of a dream that no one even knew about, and you’re grieving silently and alone. Or maybe it’s family relationships and heartaches that can’t even be talked about. Or maybe you are taking care of aging parents and no one realizes how much it ties you down. Or maybe it’s feelings of inferiority that nobody knows are there, or a paralyzing fear that you are ashamed to admit. Or maybe you were adopted and have always felt like you didn’t quite fit. Or maybe you are struggling to accept singlehood or dealing with serious marriage problems. For whatever reason, you might feel like you just don’t fit with the majority.

It’s really a tough thing, feeling alone. I have been there, probably not in the same way any of you have, but I’ve been there. I’m guessing quite a few of us have at some point or another. And it seems to me that if we continue in that alone place for too long, something happens to us.

If we aren’t careful, we begin to look around us and imagine ourselves to be the only person on earth with this kind of load to carry. We bury ourselves in our pain and longings and forget that the rest of the world is out there, other people are carrying their own private grief, and possibilities for relationships and understanding are slipping through our fingers. We begin to think that everyone else is gliding through life with no sweat, getting whatever their hearts desire.

And then we decide that life is unfair and we become bitter and cynical. And we drive our friends still farther away. And before we know it, we are alone for real, not just in our heads.

Sometimes in the hour that we need friends the most, we find ourselves pushing them away.

One of the things that so often comes through when people are going through hard times is that people say such hurtful things in their efforts to help. And it seems like it’s this kind of thing that inspires a lot of the blogs and articles about how not to relate to hurting people.

I’m really glad to know what not to say. And I love to read ideas of what I SHOULD say. But after a while it seems like there are so many things that are not ok that I’m just pretty scared to even try. I read through the list and know I’ve made Blunder #3 or Mistake #7 thinking I was being helpful and understanding, and oh dear, what do I do now? Should I go back to that person and apologize, or would that just make it worse yet? After a while I begin to feel that the only safe thing to do is to turn tail and run.

This, of course, is a terrible option, but one that is fairly common I think. And the feeling of being alone does not ease up for the sufferer, but gets worse.

So what do we do about this? Is there any way to close the gap between someone who is dealing with big hurts and someone who seems to be sailing along with no bumps? We can’t read enough blogs to cover every person and every situation or memorize enough lists of what to say and what not to say to be sure we aren’t saying the wrong thing.

And although we tend to be drawn to people who are experiencing similar circumstances, sometimes we need people who have a different perspective than our experience has given us. Take a child with a tough home life for example. They will most likely gravitate to children who can commiserate and understand them, and that can be all right. But I think they really need the company of a healthy family even more, even though it may feel less familiar to them.

So don’t abandon your friends because they have entered into a valley that you haven’t experienced. Educate yourself as well as you can, and continue to be a friend.

Here’s what I wish I could say to myself back when I felt like I was the only person with a tough row to hoe: “You know, sweetie, everyone has their battles to fight. The ones with perfect families have things to deal with that you know nothing about. And you know what? Lots of people really do care. They might not know how to say it, and it might come out all wrong, but they care, and they really want to help. So stop pushing them away.”

The sad thing is that we can immerse ourself so deeply in our own agony, that anything we hear or feel is going to hurt us. Kindness will hurt us, being included will hurt us, being ignored will hurt us.

There may be a period of time during the grieving process when this type of attitude is normal and expected, I’m not sure. I’m no psychologist or counsellor. But I guess what I’m trying to say is this: allow people to love you, even if it hurts at first. Even if they don’t totally get it. Even if they say it wrong.

Try to listen to their hearts rather than their words.

I’m not here to deny that there are some gossips and busybodies and malicious people around. And quite a number that don’t see past their own noses far enough to understand another person. But there are also plenty who do care and who would love you if they had half a chance.

So go ahead and keep us updated on what helps and what only makes the problem worse. But please understand that sometimes we say the wrong words, not because we mean to hurt you, but because we want to be your friend and don’t know how.

And to those of you who have someone in your life who can’t seem to accept love, consider the fact that they might desperately want and need love but not know how to receive it. So continue to love them, even when there is no reward for it. You just might discover that love will win out in the end, and you will have gained a friend.

January

I’ll have to admit that January is kind of eating its way into my bones these days. It’s not that I’m so very weary of winter (I actually kind of like it) or especially unhappy or particularly wishing for something exciting to happen (in fact, I really don’t want it to, because then I would be compelled to get all excited, and I just don’t feel like it). It’s just that life feels kind of blah. Which makes me feel a little guilty, because I have every reason to be thankful and overflowing with joy.

But…life feels blah, and there we are. Things that would normally make me very happy-a clean house, for example, or the laundry washed, dried and put away for the ten minutes (more or less) it takes till the baskets are full again, just don’t seem as delightful as they should. That good book that looked so enticing in July when I was too busy gardening and mowing lawn to read doesn’t hold my attention like I expected.

It’s part of the fun of this time of year for me. Seed catalogs help a lot. So do far-away friends to message and close-by friends to have coffee with. So does the long to-do list on my counter. So does a good walk. So does cleaning out my catch-all drawer. Maybe if my vitamin D supplement came in Whole Food Form like I read about the other day, I would be a different person. According to the article I would be, and it’s quite possibly true.

How do YOU beat the winter blues?

I’m actually not sure why I’m here today. I want to come up with a brilliant, helpful, or entertaining post, but that doesn’t seem likely. I would like to share some beautiful, comforting words about my lovely young friend dying of cancer and leaving behind a husband and a row of motherless children. But that still feels so wrong and sad that I can’t. It would be nice to write something that would be a big boost to some unknown person out there. Not likely either.

Maybe I could expose some of my thoughts as Tim and I sat at the funeral of the friend I mentioned. A bunch of us old friends sang together, gulping down our tears more or less successfully. At one time, not really that long ago, our lives were heavily intertwined with each other’s. We (ladies) hung out in the church nursery and took care of our babies, talked about our gardens, discussed our housekeeping struggles, and (all of us) got together for suppers and ball games and Valentine’s parties. Now one of us is gone from this life, and the rest of us are scattered in all directions. I can’t think of too many other things besides a funeral that would have brought us all together like that.

It’s how life goes. People come into our lives and leave their mark, and then sometimes they slip out of it again, and we lose touch. I thought, as I made my way through that crowd, hugging my friends, how differently I feel about them now than I did when I first moved to Missouri, terrified and insecure and uncertain. They felt pretty scary then, but now they are home folks, old friends, exactly what I longed for back then. What I longed for was right there, I just had to find it.

Sometimes we need to step out of those safe zones where things are familiar and enter new territory. It’s scary, but I’m discovering something: new and scary things begin to feel safe and normal with time. The ladies that felt scary twelve years ago were the same ones I cried with happiness over seeing again last week. Things level out and we learn to love people and feel at home. And often the things we long for are within reach, we just haven’t found them yet.

Another thing I’m sloooowly discovering: when I’m pinched and silent and terrified and in my own little world, I tend to think that I’m alone and unusual and nobody understands me at all. But when I’m willing to jump into the scary waters of the unknown and let myself be known for who I am (along with accepting people for who they are), I often I find that I’m actually fairly normal and there are plenty of people who “get it.” And even if they don’t understand, most people don’t despise a person for being real. What a relief! Probably most people are born kind of knowing that, and here I am still struggling to grasp it.

Well, that was plenty sappy, so I will share a few of the activities the children are enjoying on these snowy days to kind of steer our minds in a different direction.

I took the little girls to Story Hour at the library a while back, and the craft for the day was stringing beads on pipe cleaners. They have had the most fun since, carefully making rows of beads with the big bag of red and green beads I found for $1 at my favorite thrift store.

A cookie sheet of rice is not what you want when you’re trying to keep the house clean, but once in a while it’s worth it.

We read Mr. Popper’s Penguins together, so they wanted to color Captain Cook and Greta. Another book we are enjoying right now is The Moffats. I love children’s books.

I really need some ideas for keeping school age children busy doing something profitable in the evenings and on weekends. They are a little beyond rice in a cookie sheet (most of the time). (And yes, they help with laundry and cleaning and dishes regularly.) But there still seems to be time left, and I don’t like to see lots of energy being wasted when they could be learning or doing something useful. Thoughts, anyone?

So there you have my brilliant, helpful, entertaining post.

Sigh.

Someday…probably NOT in January though.

Book Giveaway Results

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!

Book Review and Give Away


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 dorcassmucker@gmail.com.  Or buy through Amazon, using the link below:

https://www.amazon.com/Fragrant-Whiffs-Joy-Dorcas-Smucker/dp/1597657948/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1510550517&sr=8-2&keywords=fragrant+whiffs+of+joy

Make Me Great Please (and Be Quick About It)

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.

Changes 

Day 1

“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.  

Day 5

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. 

Day 18

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.

I Didn’t Know

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!

Can cleaning toilets really be important?

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. 

BUT.  

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.

Extraordinarily Ordinary

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.

But anyway…

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.