act of worship

“Discipline, for a Christian, begins with the body. We have only one. It is this body that is the primary material given to us for sacrifice. If we didn’t have this, we wouldn’t have anything.
Elisabeth Elliot, Discipline: The Glad Surrender

It’s so easy to over-spiritualize life, and to under-spiritualize our bodies. I ride that pendulum regularly. Wrong motives, lack of understanding, discouragement, laziness, disobedience — just a sampling of the issues I sort through regularly when it comes to caring for this temple called me.

This quote made me smile, sigh, and repent. As much as I want to live my life for Jesus, the reality is that can only happen if my body sticks around. Not complicated, but easy to forget.

A temple. A sacrifice. A tool. A vessel.

Not: A model. A beauty queen. A gold medalist. A fashion plate. A fountain of youth personified.

Most importantly: Not my own. I don’t get to say, “Who cares anyway.” I need to care, but in the right way. I need to care, because “if [I] didn’t have this, [I] wouldn’t have anything!”

These things once again being pondered as I pull out of a month of tired, slow, and who-cares-anyway. My alarm goes off and no snooze allowed. Core exercise done before I’m fully awake. Boots and hat and podcasts ready to go at 7am, and what do you know — God has that sun finally rising in time to greet me. My, but that makes a big difference in my soul!

this moment in time

Fresh snow fell in the night. It is stunning. Looking out my window is like looking at the cover of this book. After days of gray and old, sad, snow, the clean mounds of untouched white are reminding me how cozy winter can feel.

I missed my walk this morning. The baby needed me. No sooner did I get out to the kitchen than another “baby” called for me, not feeling her best. So two middle sisters sit in the family room under blankets, watching Little House on the Prairie, the lamplight glowing on their yellow hair and sweet faces.

By now we should be a beehive of activity, but I’m taking my cues from the quiet snow slowly falling, and letting the big growing boys sleep a bit extra. We’ll get there. Soon enough I’ll wake them to the news that the driveway needs to be tended to, but for now it’s a warm haven of rest here inside. Let’s pause for a moment.

I’m looking at my children this week and knowing how quickly they will change and I’ll forget who they are right now. So, in this little pause, I’ll take a moment to write a few word pictures for my future self.

Jameson, leading the pack
Jameson is so, so tall. He’s grown quite a few inches since September, when the jeans I bought him still had growing room (and are now high waters.) The good news is his clothes show no wear and are ready for William. The bad news is… well, a whole new wardrobe 1/2 way through winter! His voice is dropping, dropping, dropping. His face is changing. It’s like a newborn all over again — changes right before your eyes. He is good at many things, and I am watching, praying, wondering what strengths will rise to the surface in the next few years, waiting to be developed and turned into a life’s work. He’s playing Mozart and Schumann and “real music” and I love it (and do my best to not give too much input!) He plays sensitively, intuitively, and it’s no wonder. He is incredibly intuitive and perceptive. He sees and senses, just like Ryan. Although there are the moments he provokes a little sister just because the response is apparently entertaining, he generally sets a tone of harmony and enjoyment. Whenever he’s away, I’m amazed by the amount of shape this oldest son lends to our family. We flounder a bit when he’s not around, and I love that.

William, diligently reading while in a meeting with Ryan.
William is a head shorter than Jameson and it’s easy, in the shadow of that giant, to miss how much he’s grown, too. His eyes still twinkle, but his face is changing. He’s quiet until he’s not (oh my, he can talk to me forever when there’s a playoff game to retell!), wakes every day with an agenda and easily gets overwhelmed before he’s even begun. Oh, how much I relate to this second son of mine! He loves his friends, and I smile whenever I notice how extra-sparkly his eyes get when he’s in a conversation. Those conversations happen once in awhile via FaceTime now, as he’s joined the ranks of Lego Leaguers, and my disciplined boy suddenly needs a 5 minute warning because this is all just too much fun. He’s generous and takes careful care with any money he earns — not because he’s hoarding, but because he has giving in mind.

Beatrice, our tall and slim oldest girl. As sincere as ever, with no pretense, no attempts to hide or manage her thoughts before expressing them. She is as slow as molasses in January and doesn’t seem to have any other speeds, but oh, she’s happy and cheerful the whole time she is cleaning or studying or adjusting her mittens. She laughs at the boys’ jokes and is starting to contribute to that whole dynamic. She reads as voraciously as ever and we chuckle at all of her mispronunciations — and she laughs so easily and readily, too, never taking herself too seriously. Never one for pretend, more than ever I have to occasionally “assign” playtime with her sisters, as books or writing or drawing will always be more appealing.

Fiona has discovered a new passion: reading! I am marveling, for the fourth time as though it were the first, at how those letters and sounds and phonics rules all suddenly come together one day and a child is reading. I’m not one to push very hard, simply chipping away at all of the basics and gently easing into beginner readers when it seems my child is ready. Fiona delighted all fall in our reading times together, gobbling up Dick and Jane (although I always wonder if it’s reading they love, or sitting in a quiet room with just Mama, tucked under my arm with a book), but when I was away in Virginia, she suddenly began to read. How does that happen? I don’t even know. It’s like magic. Two months ago she was reading BOB books, and now she’s on her third Cobblestreet Cousins book in two weeks. Fiona is the most unique and enjoyable personality. She’s friends easily and readily with everyone, doing her best to include and bless (which can land her in a pickle once in awhile, but even there, she seems to know when to stick to her guns.) She loves to draw and sat with her cocoa the other day and told me she was like a real author, hot drink, pencil and pad of paper, gazing out the window for ideas. I love it. She’s going to be selling the book she’s working on someday, she told me. She is the opposite of Beatrice and gets lost in a world of pretend the very moment she’s released from chores or school. Hours of play, indoors or out, and it makes me so happy to watch her. Ruthie is her dependable playmate, and I can’t even imagine how many days worth of pretend they have clocked together!

Cecily is growing, growing, growing — but still little and delightful. Oh, she makes us all laugh! Her expressions are a riot, her dramatics both entertaining and exasperating. She adores her siblings and is painfully aware of how often the older four leave her behind. Turning four was very exciting but has perhaps let her down, as it wasn’t the magic ticket into life with the school kids. She would sit at the table and do sticker books, magnet dolls, tracing book, or whatever for hours and hours, but also is thrilled when Fiona is free to play make believe. Her chubby cheeks are my favorite and I’ll be so sad when that round face disappears along with her funny speech. She randomly bursts into song, and lately it’s been Jingle Bells (“Bells on Papa ring” is my favorite line!), or snippets from A Christmas Carol. She doesn’t sing quietly. It’s Ethel Merman or nothing. As lively as she is, she’s also still so attached to Ryan and me, or her sisters. She simply can’t imagine life without one of us right nearby, and it’s so sweet.

Enid! Oh, sweet and sassy baby, growing up so quickly right before our eyes! Running races through the house on her little baby legs, laughing with Cecily. Learning to say the names of the most important people in her life. Funny little things she notices and imitates that leave me laughing. Two weeks ago, I realized every time I brought her to my room for her nap, I would get her settled in my arms to nurse and she would smile up at me and give a big exaggerated sigh. I knew from her expression that she was imitating me — must be I sighed every day to unwind and settle in. Oh, it made me laugh! And every night I say, “Good night, I love you,” and she says it back to me now. How endearing! Of course, in between those endearing moments are some of the most challenging toddler moments of my life, as she is never just playing happily but always has an idea of what to get into next, whether it be a pen she found or the puzzle cupboard while we’re doing devotions or the bathroom sink or whatever. She’s feisty and if I’m not finding her getting into trouble, I’m hearing her yell at a sibling who won’t give her what she wants. But how we dote on her, despite all that, and how she gobbles up the center of attention! She runs to greet Ryan, eats all the clementines I’ll give her, sleeps almost predictably every afternoon, and is just so very alive.

work: a means of love

“Our daily labors — be they in the marketplace or home — are opportunities for us to love others through our efforts.” –The Measure of Success

That quote above sparked for me — you know the little lightbulb moments that turn into a whole thought process with a life of their own? That’s what happened for me as I mulled over this idea of work being a way to love others.

The way I see it, there are two purposes for work:

I work for my own joy.

I work to bless and provide for others.

(We see both of these in Creation, which is the prototype of godly work theology in action. And the overarching reason I work is to glorify God!)

But when I look at these purposes, I am reminded that I am to love my neighbor as myself, which means the motivation to bring myself pleasure cannot take precedence over the motivation to bless others. There is a tension there and requires the Holy Spirit to regularly sort through the thoughts and intentions of our inward parts. Why am I doing what I’m doing? Isn’t it amazing how the most mundane of actions can be an opportunity for our hearts to be sifted, sorted, redeemed?

I want to love others — I do! But while I’m called to love like God, I am not, in fact, God. I cannot love perfectly — which means that sometimes the work that needs to be done on behalf of others far overwhelms my ability or capacity. And so I must ask, what will bless most? — not what is easiest, what seems most urgent, or what will bless me, etc.

What will bless most: The needs are endless, always. I am not God and cannot care for all of them for everyone. And so I seek wisdom, motivated by a desire to love others. Sometimes that will mean doing laundry because clean underwear really will bless most, and no amount of “quality time” out with the kids on a new nature trail will make up for the frustration we will experience tomorrow morning. Sometimes it means not doing laundry because although I find the mountain overwhelming, we’re going to be fine and my children and husband need a woman who will stop to just be with them.

Not what is easiest or most urgent: this is something I fall prey to often, as my soul begins to flash error codes all over the place and my instinct is to grab a cloth and start wiping the counters over and over, or sort laundry like a madwoman, or whatever, while all around me a household needs to be managed thoughtfully and prudently. I’m not prompted in those moments by a desire to love others, but rather self-preservation, anxiety, and laziness.

Not what will bless me: I will always enjoy cleaning the kitchen and making dinner more than playing a game. Always! That’s my bent, and we all have our bent that could easily lead us astray when seeking to bless others. My hobby is working, but a hobby of working is not the same as a heart to serve. Of course, here is where the tension comes into play: we work for our own joy, too — God made trillium that only He saw for a very long time — and it’s okay to know enough about our own souls to realize that a game of Uno will be much, much better when the dishwasher is loaded and running… as long as we’re willing to also listen when the Spirit wants to stretch us to switch that order once in awhile! I clean my kitchen counters because my family is served by order and cleanliness — but also the deep “ahhh” in my soul matters!

“Our daily labors — be they in the marketplace or home — are opportunities for us to love others through our efforts.” Whether the labor is operating a furnace that provides glass for millions of people, or hooking up milking machines at 3am to nourish growing children, or schmearing cream cheese all the way to the edge for each customer, or collecting chewed up and spit out cashew bits from under the hearth rug (a completely theoretical example, of course) — our labors become meaningful when we realize that work is simply a means of fulfilling the two Great Commandments. Work is meant to be love in action.

So today, remind yourself, remind your kids: shoveling snow is loving your dad. Making lunch is loving your siblings. Cleaning the bathroom is loving the family. Working hard on your assignment is loving your team and instructor. Work is never just work. Yes, there is futility because of the curse, but it doesn’t have to be meaningless. Take up that dust cloth and see it as a chance to imitate God, to find joy in creating and stewarding, and most of all, to love others.

Sometimes work also means the reward of a burger and fries.

packing it away

Today we’ll bring up empty bins and fill them with the makings of Christmas. We will dust and tidy and put chairs back in place, and we’ll sigh and say it looks so empty. It will be empty. There is no time of year quite so full in our home as Christmas — boughs everywhere, winter scenes lit by fairy lights, candles in every corner, too many books for our basket. It’s wonderful.

And this year wasn’t all the things we’ve often done, as William pointed out last night. He loves nothing more than a tin of cookies, a Christmas book, and an evening of sitting by the tree. But even with a few twists and turns this year, we celebrated and made a big deal of Jesus’ gift.

A gift we experience and walk in every single day. Emmanuel.

2019 recap: blog posts

I write because it’s how I process — that’s how this all began, really. I have a ridiculous stack of journals next to my bed, recordings of day after day of prayers and thoughts and Bible study and just life. This is just a more processed version of that, with a bit more of a “family scrapbook” flavor to it. Because if I didn’t have those or this, my head would be a jumble of half-baked meditations that never quite made it to clear thought.

And also, I’m so forgetful. Writing things means there’s a fighting chance I’ll remember it — even if only because I can go back and read again and say, Oh wow, God spoke that to me?

That’s what I did yesterday: went back and read everything I wrote here in 2019. These are my top 7 thoughts I don’t want to lose track of.

small things, done well: when the mailman challenged me to come higher.

power of thanks: our perspective changes everything.

motherhood: seeing worth: the value isn’t in the fact that they’re mine, but that they’re His — a truth that applies to every person we encounter.

anchored hopes: we don’t have to wait for stars to align. He can be our hope.

beatrice + becoming a mother: I am a mother. What kind will I be?

time + tending: We don’t have forever. We have today.

wholecloth faith: these days all matter.

2019 recap: books

The week between Christmas and a brand new year is never long enough for me, but I especially think we should get extra time given that we’re starting a new decade — don’t you agree? I need a few more days to (well, let’s be honest) finally get gifts put away which first means organizing cupboards and buying a few new totes and such. But also, after all of that, a few days to just sit and think about this past year, this past ten years, and to begin looking ahead to what comes next.

Oh wait. Sitting and thinking doesn’t happen in my world no matter how many extra days you give me. (Sound track right now: “Mom, can I do play doh?” “Mom, my doll’s hair looks weird.” “Mom, I need a blanket.” And this, as we’re all sitting quietly together.)

But quiet or not, enough time or not, before putting the lid on 2019 and all it held, it seems a bit of reminiscing and thankfulness is appropriate.

This morning, just one aspect of 2019 I especially enjoyed: my reading list!

I have slowly learned more about myself in this role of mother and how to set myself up for success. I truly enjoy reading, but it doesn’t just happen without intention. I also enjoy reading but am not interested in it becoming the top priority of my life. Setting a reasonable goal that will keep me disciplined but not turn me into a book-slave is important. Three things that helped me this year:

A List.
In the back of my planner, I started a list of 12 titles I intended to read this year. I had about 4 books in mind right from the start, and as other titles piqued my interest, I added them. I never had to wonder what to read next, which can often result in not reading at all.

I kept the next two or three titles ready to read at all times, because sometimes a certain book was too heavy to plow through quickly and I would mix in a lighter option. Also, seeing that there were more books to read kept me motivated to continue.

A Plan.
I keep my books near me. I bring them to the bedroom when I nurse the baby. I bring them to the family room when I think I’ll have a few minutes to read during the afternoon. I take it with me outside when the kids are playing. I limit apps on my phone that steal reading time, or purpose to read in the evening while the baby plays instead of just turning on Hometown or whatever. Not always — sometimes I just need a brain break. (I don’t want to be a book-slave!) But keeping it nearby reminds me to pick up my book first instead of just ingesting brain candy in my down time.

A Crossed-Off List!
And then back to that list: how satisfying to check off the titles, jot down my thoughts, and move on to the next. And, surprise surprise, having a list helped me so much that before I knew it, I was adding title after title and my “12 books this year” easily and without any effort grew to 17 (with four books underway.) I know that’s not incredibly impressive, as far as reading goals go, but as a habit-builder, all of these strategies are really helping me.

I share these because maybe some of these strategies will help you, too, or maybe just realizing strategies are worth creating in order to achieve some reading goals. Maybe 12 titles is laughable to you, or maybe just reading three books this year would be an achievement — whatever it may be, making a plan for important things, a plan that fits into your overarching life priorities, can make all the difference.

For my own benefit! The books I read this year:

Gods and Generals, Jeff Shaara, 7/10

Designed for Joy, Owen Strachen et al, 7/10

The Vanishing American Adult, Ben Sasse, 10/10

Educated, Tara Westover, 7/10

Gay Girl Good God, Jackie Hill Perry, 10/10

Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, 10/10

Lies Women Believe, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, in progress

Discipline: The Glad Surrender, Elisabeth Elliot, in progress

Killer Angels, Michael Shaara, 10/10

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr, 8/10

O Pioneers!, Willa Cather, 10/10

My Antonia, Willa Cather, 9/10 (re-read)

Choosing Gratitude, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, 9/10

Peace Child, Don Richardson, 10/10 (re-read)

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Rosaria Butterfield, 10/10

Saplings, Noel Streatfeild, 9/10

German Boy, Wolfgang W. E. Samuel, 10/10

They Thought They Were Free, Milton Mayer, 9/10

I Dared to Call Him Father, Bilquis Sheikh, 10/10

Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys, 10/10

The Measure of Success, Carolyn McCulley, in progress

A Girl of the Limberlost, Gene Stratton Porter, re-read in progress