Hungry for Healing, Part III

Hungry for Healing, Part III
The Apple Pie

A number of months ago, I made an apple pie for my husband. Fruit pies are his love language. He loves when I get the crust just right. But he could probably revel in the filling with delight even if the crust weren’t flaky enough or got too browned around the pinched, ruffled edge. He simply loves pie. Really can’t live without it. And as long as it tastes delicious and close to heaven, he doesn’t care what it looks like.

While I washed, peeled, and sliced apples, I recall meditating on trees and fruit and baked goods. I contemplated Rachel Jankovic’s comment once that “trees which have borne much fruit should no longer look like a sapling.” I thought about God growing my tree, deepening my roots, expanding my trunk, filling out my branches, producing my fruit, and performing the harvest year by year. In her book, Loving the Little Years (which I haven’t read in a long time), I remember Rachel’s musings on trees and fruit: “The branches are our responsibility, the ground is not.” “The more fruit you make, the more fruit gets used.” “You cannot know the depth of His plan for your fruit. So throw it out there on the ground when you have no plan for its future. Waste it.” “Be bountiful with your fruit and free with it. The only thing that you can know for certain is that God will use it.”

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While I blended flour and salt together, and cut fat into its grains with dedication and delight, preparing to wrap, enfold, cover, and encase those apple pieces… I thought about the process with a sense of recognition and familiarity. I remember texting a friend of mine to say that I was writing a blog post about apples, apple pie, body image, and mom life. I remember telling her that I had been peeled, cut, seasoned, aged, and baked – that I was realizing I was no longer an apple, but rather a pie. I vaguely recalled Robert Capon saying something which planted that seed.

I never hit publish on that. Partly because I lost steam, partly because I wasn’t ready to really expose my struggle.

But the image has not strayed from my mind. I’ve written and rewritten thoughts about this numerous times. None of them felt right. But the repeated phrase Jonathan Rogers told me this winter was to trust my instincts and to worry less about what I write. So this morning, I don’t plan to edit, rework, or nuance. I am writing stream-of-consciousness style, for better or for worse. It may be a jumbly, hot mess. That’s pretty much the state of my work these days. It’s simply true.

At nearly 35 years old, raising four children full-time, with thirteen pregnancies and a host of health & hormonal nuances under my belt, I am a woman learning to live post-anorexia and post-bulimia, loving my smile lines, embracing the little streaks of white dappling my carrot top. I think about Nate Wilson’s poetic phrasing in Death By Living when he said that his grandmother was the tree from which apples fell and grew, from which apples fell and grew, from which apples continued to fall and grow.
Apple trees produce apples, which contain seeds to produce trees, which will produce apples, which contain seeds to produce trees…

Apple tree in old apple orchard horizontal.

I am not alone, stagnant, isolated, an island. I am an apple. I fell from a fruitful tree, I was sown and sprouted. I grew into a sapling.
But the rub comes when I fail to acknowledge that God has continued to deepen my roots, increase my fruit, lengthen my branches, and strengthen my trunk. I am not the girl I once was. I am not the firstyear fruit producer I had been. And while I love the imagery of remaining the tree, of looking forward to the days of needing my branches propped up, of having burls and truly gnarly bark thick with wrinkles and creases – there’s something about the idea of moving from the orchard into the kitchen that delights me.

I’m a baking addict, so that’s one thing.
I love flour, sugar, fat, spices.
I adore the sounds of thick syrupy fruit bubbling on the stove, and the schunk sound my knife makes as it slices through crisp apple flesh.
Even just imagining the smell of pastry in the oven makes my salivary glands dance.

And then there’s Father Robert Farrar Capon.
The man who really introduced me to onions.
The one who started me realizing that my hatred of my body and my war with food was truly a spiritual battleground, and I wasn’t seeing victory.
He is the one who reminds me that, yes, I fell as a crisp, ripe, firm, shapely apple from a strong and faithful tree. But when God took that apple, He didn’t set it on a shelf to be kept the way I was harvested from the tree of my lineage.

I was plucked in order to be used.
Apples are meant to give nourishment, to give joy.
I am meant to give life, nourishment, and joy too.

And just like the apple that is used up for those purposes, I will not be left the same.

Rachel Jankovic wrote, “our bodies are tools, not treasures. You should not spend your days trying to preserve your body in its eighteen-year-old form. Let it be used. By the time you die, you want to have a very dinged and dinted body… Scars and stretch marks and muffin tops are all part of your kingdom work. One of the greatest testimonies Christian women can have in our world today is the testimony of joyfully giving your body to another.”

She goes on to say, “make sure you aren’t buying into the world’s propaganda. While there are a great many rewards, the sacrifice is very real… [and] the answer to these obstacles is not to run away in fear as the world does, but to meet it with joy, and in faith.”

My life, my calling, my homemaking, my motherhood, my faith – these things call me to be used for the good of others, to give myself away, to be used up, to savor, to become considerable, to be relished.

As Robert Capon said in a beautiful benedictory passage in The Supper of the Lamb,

May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfactions of maturity. May your men wear their weight with pride, secure in the knowledge that they have at last become considerable… And your women? Ah! Women are like cheese strudels. When first baked, they are crisp and fresh on the outside, but the filling is unsettled and indigestible; in age, the crust may not be so lovely, but the filling comes at last into its own. May you relish them indeed… Eat well then.

I will determine, then, to turn from buying into the world’s propaganda. I will meet these obstacles with joy, and in faith. I will embrace my season of apple pie as sweeter and fatter than my firm and slender days as an untouched apple straight from the tree. I will endeavor to appreciate my softened body with a heart of thankfulness rather than a sense of resentment. I will seek to glorify God with this sweet season of bodily life, not grasping for control over the size of my jeans, the fit of my swimsuit, the taut of my belly skin, the roundness of my cheek.

May I be used. May I be molded, remade, served up as something even more marvelous than I was to begin with. And may I see joy and glory in the process and in the result. Not because my determination is a victory. But because God is in the business of making things new, and I want to give myself up to Him as He works new things in me and through me. Muffin top and all.

Glory be.

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“for to this you have been called,
because Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example,
so that you might follow in his steps…
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree
that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
by his wounds you have been healed.”
1 peter 2:21, 24

Being Real

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I don’t do social media. I am trying to be better about not spending much time every day even on emails or blogging.
I think my personal biggest temptation is to look sideways and play the comparison game, especially with other mommies. Other moms (either celebrity or personal friends) seem to have it all together. They are thinner, stronger, prettier. They have better complexions and fewer grey hairs. They have kids with perfect table manners and “yes ma’am” down pat. They craft with their kids with the best of the Pinterest folks without getting glue and glitter all over the house… or at least the other mamas don’t seem to care about the messes and have magic fairies who tidy up. Their kids can cook, clean, and organize circles around even the most put-together Rubbermaid-queen mamas.

That’s what I see anyway. I see other lives through filters. Rosy glasses. Carefully selected snapshots. Snippets of seeming perfection.

What I see here without filters, through my dirty & scratched old glasses is every moment of my life. I don’t take time to put on makeup every day. I don’t remember to wash my hair every week. I can’t remember the last time I exercised on purpose. There are occasional foodie moments (like my loaves of sourdough I’m trying to perfect) or crafting successes that may make me want to take pictures and sign up for an Instagram so I too can show off my domestic prowess!

But I’m too busy wiping bums, sorting laundry, stoking the fire, reading history books and Bible stories with the children, finding lost mittens, feeding mouths that never seem satiated, and doling out new school assignments by the hour.

No time for blogging.
No time for taking pictures, even though I have both my Nikon and my iPhone on my desk. Right here in the kitchen. Center of the chaos.

But this is reality.
It’s my life.

This is the MOST WONDERFUL JOB IN THE WORLD.
I do not want to trade it for anything!!
(And yes, if you happen to see my tear-stained face, it’s true: I still struggle with the desire to add more crazy kids to the already-chaotic mix, and it is a real heartache to the depths of my soul that I can not.)
I love my job as Senior Domestic Engineer and Vice President of Clan Development.

And simultaneously, this is the HARDEST, MOST EXHAUSTING JOB IN THE WORLD.
I daily feel unfit for the position.
I am unworthy of the privilege and overwhelmed by the responsibility.
How often I have to take deep breaths, cry ugly tears, and grab a handful of CheezIts… I won’t actually admit.

I want to be real.
I want to share the ups and the downs.
I want to let people know that I love my work, and that I am sometimes overwhelmed by it.
I also want my friends to know that I am not overwhelmed because I am ungodly, not spiritual enough, don’t pray long enough, or am a less-than mommy.
I am a specifically created woman, with a unique frame and a highly sensitive nature (click here if you want to know what that means).
I am (in the words of a dear friend) a recovering people-pleaser.
I am a truly imperfect perfectionist.

So I’m seeking to find opportunity where I can carve out more moments to be real.
To share the real.
To give glimpses into the incredibly amazing, joy-filled, beautiful, chaotic, messy life I have.
Out in the country. In the home I designed with my husband. Balancing work and play, grief and joy. Raising the children we created together. Homeschooling these sweet brains that are way too intelligent for my good. Discipling these incredible hearts & souls for the Kingdom of God.
I cook good food here to feed real people. I (try to) clean and organize this home. I fill it with books by the dozens (thank you Goodwill for shelves full of 49-cent page turners!!).
This is where mistakes and messes happen. This is where Grace and Forgiveness takes on flesh. This is where we need Lysol wipes and plenty of Bath & Bodyworks soap pumps. This is where I fall into bed at night feeling like I can not bear another moment with sounds and lights and people and demands… but where I also do not want to miss a moment with these delightful beings in this precious place.
I am sad when another day ends. But also relieved.
I am delighted when another day begins. But also overwhelmed.

There’s not much more real than that.

Here’s hoping God grants me occasional moments to continue being real with you.
I long for my words to capture where the joy, the grace, and the freedom really is.
So I can embrace my calling, my life, my messes & my beauties, my joys, and my struggles ~ and not feel like I have to hide.
I don’t have to cast sidelong glances elsewhere, and crawl back into my hole.

God made me. For His glory.
And that’s got to be totally enough.
Really.

Journey Bread

I have been baking bread for my family since I was pregnant with Gabriel… that’s a good nine years of healthy, delicious, economical goodness right there. I have come up with a couple different staple recipes that I can whip up easily and consistently. My typical loaf bread includes whole wheat (ground right in my mama’s basement), oats, cornmeal, honey, and extra goodies like flax and millet when I can manage it. I call this Family Bread and it’s basically our daily fare (not that we eat bread every day, but you get what I mean). Then I came up with something I call Canaan Bread which includes milk, honey, olive oil, sea salt, and potato flakes ~ it is our special occasion bread that makes light, fluffy loaves or rolls worthy of being related to the promised land!

This year for Christmas gifts, I have been baking up bread (three loaves at a time) to deliver to neighbors and friends. It is a little more practical than some options, and honestly it seems like folks are genuinely pleased to have a healthier alternative to cookie plates (although really, if you want to bring one to MY house, none of us would mind!). I made pretty labels for the loaves, including Scripture from John 6.

Jesus said, “This is the work of God;
that you believe in Him whom He has sent…
For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world…
I am the Bread of Life;
whoever comes to Me shall not hunger…
For this is the will of My Father,
that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him
shall have eternal life…

John 6:29, 33, 35, 40

Plus, for our neighbors (whether they have a relationship with Christ, we don’t know), I tied a copy of the current Our Daily Bread issue to the bottom of the loaf.

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I have had the kids each take turns helping me bake the bread on different days. Today was Evangeline’s day to help bake bread.We were going to make my Canaan Bread today, so we could deliver some loaves to friends tomorrow morning at a playdate… with a couple little tweaks, because I added some sourdough starter I’d had proofing and decided to toss in some whole wheat too…

Evangeline helped me put honey, milk, warm water, olive oil, sourdough starter, dry active yeast, and whole wheat flour in a bowl. We let it rest and proof while we ate breakfast (Mommy poured a cup of coffee, but only got one sip in… hmm… red flag anyone?) and read our Bible and Advent lessons for the day. Then Evangeline and I returned to our baking project. It may have looked like just a gloppy mess but oh! It bubbled beautifully and smelled so yeasty and sour and rich! I love that part of the process so much.

We added sea salt, quick oats, potato flakes, and high gluten bread flour, and got the dough hook working on the kneading process for us.
Everything was going smoothly, it seemed, while Evangeline manned the controls on the side of my KitchenAid mixer. Gabriel was practicing piano, Asher was working on a math page & singing at the top of his lungs, and Simeon was fussing at my feet so I picked him up & snuggled him on my hip. But the gluten didn’t seem to be developing properly because the texture of the dough was not getting stretchy and smooth. Evangeline wanted so badly to jump ahead to the part where she gets to punch down the dough and knead it into a loaf shape! I wanted so badly to gulp down my cup of coffee! But frustration was mounting, because clearly our bread was not verging on the bliss of Promised Land today.

In a Hail Mary fashion, I decide to crack an egg into the mixing bowl and let it get worked into the dough… but in the process of trying to stop the machine with a preschooler on a stool and a baby on my hip… attempting to crack the egg with one hand (because there are times, yes, where I can manage to pull off cool tricks like that… hah! thank you, Food Network and The Chew…)… my elbow knocks down a cup of flour and I accidentally crack the egg onto the floor.

Oops.
That’s right; I totally could have grabbed a fork and started whipping up a batch of egg noodles right on my kitchen floor…
You know, if it weren’t covered in dog hair and coffee grounds (and the bowl of Cheerios the baby threw on the ground).
Because in all honesty, my plan WAS to vacuum after the bread was in the oven!

For some reason, it seemed smart to plop the baby down on the floor so I could grab a spatula and a roll of paper towels… but of course the pile of flour and ooey gooey raw egg on the floor looked entirely enticing…
So yes, my 14 month old makes a bee line for the mess!
Meanwhile, imagine the loud piano combining with a kindergartener’s version of silly math songs pounding in your ears…
and just to top it off, my daughter jumps off the stool and tries to lend a hand with keeping her little brother away from the mess…

In one of my less glorious motherhood moments, I yell at the baby “no no! no touch!” and holler at my daughter to back away, and follow it up with a quick shout to the boys to be quiet so I can think straight about how to clean up this mess!
Yep.
That’s me.
Mom of the year.
Trying super hard to do my best at training my kids up in a Christ-centered, home-centered, family-centered, grace-centered home education.
Let’s just say, it’s a good thing I don’t have things like Pinterest and Instagram because you would not see a picture perfect snippet of me this morning.

I got the mess cleaned off the floor, shot off a few frenzied texts to my husband, and started to laugh at the whole situation.

I mean, really.
And all of a sudden I realize that my Canaan Bread is really much more like the 40 years in the wilderness today! It was punctuated with fussing, hunger, noise, frustration, faith to believe what I can not see, and me trying to take matters into my own hands when it’s not going exactly according to my picture-perfect-plans. That’s when I named today’s bread Journey Bread.

What I needed was grace. Saving grace. I needed cleansing waters and leaven for the lump.
I gulped down some coffee and took some deep breaths while I considered these things.
Then I had my daughter crack an egg into the bowl (yes, yolk & white successfully made it into the bowl this time) while I dissolved a bit more yeast into warm water, honey, and bread flour. Finally, we got it all kneading together and it was obvious that the glutens were developing properly now.

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We were beginning to see the fruit of our labors coming back together, and I couldn’t stop laughing at the previous antics.
I even had to text my grandma, asking her about her own memories from motherhood. I know the days can be long but the years are short. I know that babies don’t keep. And I want to know what a great-grandma recalls from her own motherhood journey decades later. What parts do I take pictures of? What snippets do I write down?
Do I just want to remember the weekly ritual of baking bread with my kids?
Do I want to remember the prettily packaged loaves we delivered to friends and neighbors while it snowed?
Do I want to remember the spilled flour and the egg I cracked onto the floor?
Do I want to remember the cacophony of crazy noise and the scramble to figure out how to clean the mess, protect the children (from the horrors of possible salmonella, of course, haha), regain my sanity, and rescue the dough before it completely flops?

All my grandma responded with was I wish I could remember more of those years!!
She didn’t say which parts she remembers. She simply shared her longing to remember what the years held.

I don’t only want to remember the picturesque moments. I want to remember living life.
I want to remember the journey. To remember God’s faithfulness even when I fussed (and when the children did too).
Something we love about Scripture, about the Gospel, is that we get to see the narrative including the tensions. It doesn’t let us just skip to the end and see how it all turns out in the New Jerusalem. Nope. It’s about the journey. Faith. Saving grace. Clinging to what we know and asking God to clean us up because we keep making messes out of things.

And you know what? It is good to laugh at myself. To revel in good things like noisy kids and a messy kitchen.
It is good to send frenzied texts to my husband… he needs snippets of what my days are like so he can more fully appreciate what he comes home to at the end of a day… right? :)

Oh my word – it’s a day! I may have been trying to bake bread with our daughter, while holding Simeon in one arm and cracking an egg with one hand… I just might have knocked a bunch of flour on the floor at the same time I cracked the egg onto to the floor instead of into the bowl…I might’ve totally tweaked my neck while trying to clean up the mess and keep the kids away from it…
This. Is. My. Life.

Bless him, my husband responded, “and I don’t know how you do it.”
To which I promptly admitted three little worlds: massage & coffee & wine.
And to top off the morning of laughing at myself, I added,
Oh. Probably should’ve been “Jesus” & “God” & “Grace” but you know… #realitycheck

Domestic Outfitting by “Little Outfitters”

Excuse me, please, while I take a moment to give a proper shout-out to my friend Hollie and her home business, Little Outfitters. Ladies, I want to have babies, decorate my house, and be up to my elbows in flour just for excuses to use these things! Save your dollars or create a Christmas wish list, because you need to be prepared to fall in love with these simple, classic linen delights.

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From the very title of my blog, you should be able to tell that I love pursuing joy and also domesticity. These two things are what I feel called to. This is my realm. It is where I am called to take dominion, to dive in deep, to be passionate. I pray that God would help me attain real joy! And that He would bless my efforts in the domestic realm! I long for Him to be glorified through my small hands as I work toward those ends.

You know what’s really fun though? When the work of joy and domesticity overlap and intertwine so fully and organically that I simply can not separate the two.

And that happened to me this weekend.
I had the delight of making an investment in my friend’s business, and planting that seed not only gave joy and fruitful labors to my friend Hollie, but it also gave me great joy and fruitful labor!
Now. When you order something from Little Outfitters, of course you will get to look forward to the happiest mail-day. You just might want to leave cookies & milk out on your porch for the postman. Because yes, it will feel like St. Nicholas himself just dropped by to delight you.
I had the special privilege of the shop owner herself hand-delivering me my package (shh! don’t be jealous! I made & shared homemade turkey stock and fresh rolls to slather with butter… so you could say I deserved the hand-delivery, right?!)…

And do you know what she brought me?

A brown paper package tied up with string!

That’s right, friends. Just a few of my favorite things. (that song is now stuck in your head… you’re welcome…)

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But did I rip right into the package? Oh no I did not. I savored it.
First, I let it sit on my desk while we indulged in turkey juices and warm gluten. And wine. A good bottle of red wine goes with just about anything. Including domesticity. And it is clearly a companion of joy (lest you question my reasoning, check out Psalm 104:15, Judges 9:13, or read this for some thoughts).

Soon though… I carefully untied the twine and opened up my brown paper package. I don’t know about you, but I am into the details. Let’s just say that while I could have excitedly ripped through this package in two minutes, there was no way I would miss out on savoring the details.

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The stickers! The perfectly folded tissue paper! The thank-you note (hand written to boot)! The lovely handmade tags attached to items with dark bulb pins! The packaging of the hair bows, which includes reusable bags and preciously printed brand cards!

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And then after oohing and aahing over every inch of packaging, I finally got to indulge in fondling my linen delights myself. The soft linen in its beautiful shades just call for enamor. Seriously.

And then the fun began, because my daughter and I got to share our kitchen and our baking messes with Hollie’s camera lens in a brand shoot. Talk about a sweet blending of joy and domestic bliss!

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Here is a little glimpse… and take note... my daughter and I are loving our cross-back linen aprons in flax… and I think I want a hairbow in every color… because yes, I will probably be borrowing them occasionally from my daughter’s accessory stash!

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Please pop over to Little Outfitter‘s Instagram and say hello.
Consider domestically outfitting yourself.
I’m considering hosting a giveaway… hmm… any takers?

He Makes All Things New

Acts 14:15

“…we bring you good news, that you should turn from vain things to the living God
who made the heaven and the earth and the sea
and all that is in them.”

Revelation 21:5

“And He who was seated on the throne said, Behold, I am making all things new.

Last month, I had the pleasure of participating in a webinar that focused on motherhood & building culture. One of the first things that really struck me in the conversations was when the presenter made the statement that this has never been done before. As a mom, as a homemaker, as a housekeeper ~ I can wonder sometimes why my job description feels so hard, so complicated, so downright daunting. I mean, really: this has been done for centuries. There is nothing new under the sun. Meals have been cooked, houses have been cleaned, homes have been made lovely havens, laundry has been endlessly done, hearts have been trained in the nurture & admonition of the Lord, brains have been educated, skills have been taught, books have been read, catechisms & Scriptures & musical pieces & multiplication tables have all been memorized… over and over and over again, generation upon generation, for centuries.

And living in the modern era of computers, washing machines, microwaves, riding lawn mowers (we do have 10,000 sq of thick grass!), and 2-day delivery of a thousand sundry items from dear old Amazon Prime, I should really have a heck of a lot easier time than many of my predecessors. In fact with reference to homeschooling, I should even have an easier time than my own mama did, who was something of a pioneer in the homeschooling world back in the 1980’s Silicon Valley. There were not the options of tutors, co ops, curriculum abundance, and things like the Homeschool Legal Defense Association were pretty cutting edge.

This can all make me easily wonder, So what’s MY problem?

And this brings me back to a little conversation from the webinar last month, where the idea was posited that this has never been done before.

Hm.

I am doing something new and groundbreaking and fresh and never-been-done-before.

Really???

Well. Yes. In a manner of speaking, with a certain perspective.

I have never done this before.
These particular kids have never done this before.
This specific family with these specific goals & ideals & worldview have never traveled this journey before.

Every day, I face a new phase of my calling.
Each morning when I wake up, not only am I older, but my children are older.
We break new ground every morning.
I have never parented an eight year old before.
I have never taught preschool and ladylike lessons to a daughter before.
I have never taught a child to cook before.
I have never managed a budget for a family of six before.

This is new. Every day. For each one of us.
I need to remember to keep this in my perspective.
Neither I nor my children know what we’re doing, have it all down pat, and know it all by memory.
We learn as we go.
Just like every other woman before me.

And sure, I have amazing modern assistance at my aid (hello, Google!) for everything from laundry scrubbing to coupon clipping to crockpot cooking to finding any answer to just about every question my curious little people could ever ask me (and I don’t even have to drive to the library anymore to figure out the dewey decimal system and pore over volumes to locate mediocre answers).
But I also have modern distractions, and unrealistic levels of comparison & expectations right at my fingertips.

Even when it comes to the grand blessing of living in this modern world and having practically the universe at my fingertips has both its pros and its cons.

It is okay to feel like these things are new.
I am made in God’s image.
And just like He once created the world, and all that therein is,
He continues to make all things new.
So while there was a time of beginning and firsts for me,
I too reflect Him when I realize & acknowledge & embrace
that I am also in the lifelong business of making all things new.

Creating precedes recreating.
And until my King stops time by His ultimate renewal,
this cycle will continue.

This is good.
It glorifies Him.
He continues to create and recreate (to once again make new)
even through my weary hands and often feeble attempts.
And I am thankful that He has chosen me, and my little people, for this good and hard journey.
I am thankful for simple words from other women in the trenches.
Simple reminders of basic truth.
Reminders like, “while it feels like this has been done before, it really hasn’t been.
You are breaking new ground every single day.
And groundbreaking things can sometimes break your back and strain the muscles.
It’s part of your calling.
Simply be faithful.”

Amen.

Feeling At Home

It seems to me that women typically experience shame about two things~
their bodies and their homes.

… What people are craving isn’t perfection.
People aren’t longing to be impressed;
they’re longing to feel like they’re home.

If you create a space full of love and character and creativity and soul,
they’ll take off their shoes and curl up with gratitude and rest,
no matter how small,
no matter how undone,
no matter how odd.

…it isn’t about perfection, and it isn’t about performance.
You’ll miss the richest moments in life—
the sacred moments when we feel God’s grace and presence
through the actual faces and hands of the people we love—
if you’re too scared or too ashamed to open the door.

~Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine, p109~

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Home and body. Yes. These are definitely the two places where I feel most tempted to adhere to unrealistic standards. Where I grasp for perfection. Where I give in too easily to fears. Where I do not hold open hands. Where I look and focus. Where my eyes and heart are distracted.

I don’t want to miss the sacred moments because I am navel-gazing.
I don’t want to miss out on how much my children love to snuggle me because I’m soft instead of flat.
I don’t want to miss out on how much joy a messy, lived-in home brings my family & friends because I worry it won’t look well-cared-for enough.
I don’t want to miss out on sharing my home.
I don’t want to miss out on sharing my body.

I want to open my home with wild abandon at a moment’s notice and not worry about what others think of me because of what my home does or doesn’t look like.

I want to relinquish my fears, giving my body with joyful recklessness to my husband without worrying that he will be bothered by the increase of grey hairs, wrinkles, spider veins, or softly thickening rolls.

I want to use my home and my body in ways that please God and glorify Him, rather than worry about whether we look like the moms and homes in ads or magazines.

My home is an extension of my body.
My body is another type of home.

They are very connected.

Not only was my body the first home of thirteen children,
I want my body to still feel like home to my family.
I want my embrace to feel like home to my children and my husband.

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Sometimes I just have to admit to my husband, I don’t feel at home in my own skin.
But the thing is, it is more important that my body feels like home to my family than that I feel at home in it.

You know that feeling of rest, of haven, of comfort ~ that feeling you get when you are home?
That may be in the home of your parents, your childhood home, perhaps even a grandparent’s home.
That may be your current home, the home of your newlywed season, the home of your childbearing years.
I have the feeling we will feel that feeling in different places. Maybe in multiple places.

But I think I really feel most at home in the embrace of people I love.
When my mama lets me rest my head on her shoulder. She feels like home to me.
When my husband intertwines limbs with me and lets me rest my head on his chest. He feels like home to me.
When my children press their little bodies up against mine and snuggle into every nook and cranny and curve. They feel like home to me.

It isn’t about outward appearances.
It isn’t about perfection.
It isn’t about what the world thinks.

It is about feeling at home. It’s about others, not myself.
It’s about comfort and grace and being used up for the sake of life & joy.

I want to feel at home. In my house and in my own skin.
But more than that, I want others to feel at home. In my house and in my embrace.
I want to create a physical home that is a haven.
I want to use up my physical self for life and joy.

Ultimately, I wasn’t made for this world anyway.
My real home is heaven.
And I have generations on either side of me already there.
I can’t wait to be at home with them.

 

Enjoy It

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What is one of the first, last, and most common things that an older & wiser woman tells a young mama? Enjoy itEnjoy these days, because they go by all too quickly.

Oh! Don’t we know it!

I do not begrudge the sentiment by a long shot, nor do I hold it against the throngs who have thus sought to encourage me. (And, yes, I too have said it to others!)
But what I would really love to know is HOW ~ how do I enjoy it? What are the secrets to embracing the chaos with joy? Where do I uncover secrets for how to capture the beauty in the mess? When will someone explain to me exactly how to soak up life in its moments rather than being pummeled by its speed?

I know that I should enjoy this.
And in all honesty, there is nothing I enjoy more than motherhood.
Nothing!

But there is also nothing harder.
Nothing challenges me to the extent that motherhood does.
Nothing else pushes me to these limits.
Nothing makes me long for quiet moments lying between cool cotton sheets like the chaos of four children, homeschooled by little old me, in a big house in the country.

I enjoy cooking. And baking (yeah, especially baking).
I enjoy a tidy, ordered home.
I enjoy washing dishes and putting away the laundry.
I enjoy dressing my children.
I enjoy undressing them and bathing them and watching them splash in bubble baths.
I enjoy reading books together and having educational aha moments.
I enjoy being the one my husband comes home to.
I enjoy being the woman who makes his lunches, irons his shirts, listens to his thoughts, and entwines my legs with his at night.
I enjoy waking up to the sound of “moooooooommmmmmmmmmyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!” through the monitor.
I enjoy answering questions, especially when I know the answer.
I enjoy planning outings and projects and schedules and parties.
I enjoy homemaking.
I enjoy turning chaos into order, mess into beauty, strife into peace.

But in recent weeks, I have wondered: “Do I enjoy MY LIFE?”

What a strange thing. Individually, I can not say that there is honestly any single aspect of my life which I do not enjoy.
I count myself among the blessed few in God’s wide creation that truly enjoy each thing He has called me to do.
But collectively, when it is all shoved together into the short 24-hour windows that He has allotted for me, I find it very hard to enjoy life.

I struggle with feeling like I deserve to enjoy my life.
I feel guilty if I find myself enjoying it fully.
I’m always thinking of twenty other things I should be doing rather than sitting still and enjoying a moment.

(Tell me I’m not alone.)

When I am on my deathbed, if I am coherent at the time, would I say to anyone, “I wish I had vacuumed more regularly? I wish I had cleaned my home on a schedule? I wish I had stuck to a meal plan? I wish I had sent my children away from me each day to be taught by someone else? I wish I had spent more time on the computer?”
I sincerely, highly and deeply, doubt it.

I will, God willing, look around at my descendants and those who I love most, and say, “My only regret is that I did not put aside futile things more to enjoy each human soul God put beside me each day.”

Thirty-two years already into this life, and no clue how many years yet the Lord has written into my story on earth.
But I am trying to get a handle on this thing called life.
Learning how to walk and drink ~ the basics, really.

Does it matter how many dust bunnies are found beneath my couch?
Does it matter what size my jeans are?
When I am older and grayer, will I look back in my memory banks or gaze through photo albums and simply critique the flabby abs of my thirties or the dog hair & country dust on my wood floors?

I should hope not!

These flabby abs were hard to fight for.
Damnit if I allow myself to succumb to peer pressures which make me think I’m less-than because I am no longer a size two.
This body brought thirteen more eternal souls into God’s Kingdom.
I spent nine years giving my body to the work of fattening heaven and earth with children ~ I will not give up my remaining years to agonizing over the evidence they left behind.

These wood floors in my country home are a tool for our life, not the point of our existence.
Phooey on me if I give in to the false assumption that cleanliness is next to godliness because my home doesn’t always sparkle and smell of white vinegar & lemon verbena.
This home is to be used for a blessing, a haven, for those who live here and those who visit here.
Rather than wasting my days scrubbing this place for the sake of appearance, I need to drive Matchbox cars on these floors, crawl alongside my baby through the dust bunnies, and have tea parties on the rugs. Rugs which, by the way, have a clever skill of hiding immeasurable imperfections.

I will enjoy this life.
I will enjoy these children.
Not only the individual events but the collective gathering of people and tasks and weeks.

My personal weakness is to find fault and focus there. To feel guilt over embracing blessings.
But what has God called me to do? To be faithful. To enjoy Him.
May He grant me the daily and hourly strength to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him.
May the God of heaven and earth reach through my weak flesh and grab hold on my faltering heart, causing me to fully enjoy what He has given me to do in this life He has called me to live.

Amen.

Savoring Friendship & Cookies

It was obviously an early day of spring.
Grey clouds and blinding sunshine danced together.
Robins were bouncing happily around outside while it rained.
The fire roared in our living room stove, schoolwork was spread on the table,
the baby was fussing, and the big kids were doing anything but focusing on their books.
I was fighting a headache with Tylenol & caffeine to no avail.

Grasping for a lifeline of sorts, I popped off a quick note to a dear friend,
the kind of friend who is more like a sister than not,
to ask her to pray for me.

She wrote right back.
She thanked me for sharing my needs and expressing my heart.
She gave suggestions that were rooted in love.
She jumped into a gap for me and filled it with prayers, love, compassion, friendship.

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I shared a list of things with her that was making me thankful.
Across a distance of 375 miles, she gave me a virtual hug and a shoulder to lean on.
Together, while apart, we sought the Lord as well as praised Him.

She in her kitchen, surrounded by her little blondies.
Me in mine, surrounded by my wee gingers.

Friendship is acting out God’s love for people in tangible ways. We were made to represent the love of God in each other’s lives, so that each person we walk through life with has a more profound sense of God’s love for them. Friendship is an opportunity to act on God’s behalf in the lives of the people that we’re close to, reminding each other who God is. When we do the hard, intimate work of friendship, we bring a little more of the divine into daily life. We get to remind one another about the bigger, more beautiful picture that we can’t always see from where we are.
~Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines, p49

Then I noticed she sent me something else ~ a link to a recipe.
“If you need something sweet to eat today, here’s a link to a recipe we are making,”
she said, along with three pictures of her children helping her
stir batter, eat batter, and put trays of cookies in the oven.
“I wish we could share hot cookies and ice-cold milk with you this afternoon,” she added.

That’s when I decided it was time to stoke the fire,
strap the baby onto my chest,
put away the schoolbooks,
and take three sticks of butter out of the fridge to warm on the counter.

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“Butter is out to soften!!” I told her,
declaring that we would make the best of it,
and we would join them in the baking efforts of the day…

and we spent the next hour or two occasionally popping messages to one another
on our progress in our own little worlds of flour, sugar, aprons, and children licking their fingers.

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My children and I were able to not only connect with one another and savor our relationship,
but we were talking about these far-away friends & taking pictures to show them,
connecting in creative ways with these friends even when distance separates us.

When joy and grace are shared, it multiplies in ways indescribable.
When friendship is savored, it builds bridges undeniable.

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The short of it is that you really just need to click here and try the recipe out for yourself.
And then, once you have, share the link with a friend.
And share pics of doing the same thing as one another, even if separated by miles.

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It is good to savor friendship.
It is good to find unique ways to share life together with those you love.
Even if it is two mamas with their little ones at their sides, separated by 375 miles,
we can still share life & friendship & motherhood & cookies.
Creativity can be both warm and delicious.
Just like friendship.

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In our own unique way, my children and I
shared hot cookies and ice-cold milk
with the dearest of friends ~
our hearts were encouraged
while souls were fattened
and tongues rejoiced!

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I know of no other recipe for making a good-bye bearable than the promise that the God who goes with us and stays with them will be the bridge connecting us, no matter how far or long the distance.
~Lisa-Jo Baker, Surprised By Motherhood, p95~

Homemade Yogurt

I don’t remember exactly how long I have been making yogurt… but it’s been a couple of years now I think. We go through so much yogurt in our household each week that this is a really good way for me to save money for my family! Like with bread, this is something healthy & delicious I can make easily & economically from scratch as a way to bless my family. Recently, some dear friends of mine were asking how to make yogurt, and I thought it was a good opportunity to document it in pics and writing, rather than just in a spoken method. 🙂

Plain Easy Yogurt

Begin with a gallon of milk. I don’t buy organic, raw, or anything special.
I buy straight-up common milk (usually 2%) in a jug at the grocery store. That’s what makes this so economical:
I get 4 quarts of yogurt for about $2.80
~…~…~

To start, dump the entire gallon of milk in a large pot.
Stick a candy thermometer in there to monitor the temperature for you.
With the stove on med-high, heat the milk to roughly 185*F.

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Stir it around occasionally (using the thermometer), but try not to scrape the bottom of the pot
because you will scrape around bits of milk that adhere to the pot during the heating process
which makes the end result of yogurt grainy.
But I do sometimes scoop off the film that forms on top of the milk, and toss it in the sink.
Generally speaking, I make yogurt in the morning while I’m feeding the kids breakfast,
doing Bible with them, and washing dishes; it’s very easy in that way
to simply stay nearby and keep my eye on things.
(But that’s not to say I’ve never lost track and let it boil over all. over. the. stove.)

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I don’t do anything special to prepare my jars.
I figure they have been sterilized well enough in the dishwasher…
so I simply line up my wide-mouth quart jars on the counter
along with screw on plastic lids (although you’ll see in these pics I used a metal rim on one).

You’ll also notice that on this particular day, I was making more than a gallon
so I have six quart jars lined up.
It just means that I adjusted proportions so my milk to yogurt ratio
was still appropriate.

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Once the milk reaches roughly 185*F, turn off the stove and remove the pot from the heat.
Now is the part that sometimes makes me impatient. 🙂
Wait for the milk to cool down to 120*F.
This waiting usually gives me ample time to do other housework,
homeschooling, or kitchen projects… I’ve never timed it though!
~…~…~

Upon reaching 120*F, once again lift the film off the top of the warm milk and toss it.
This is the point where you need yogurt starter: 8oz (a cup) of a previous batch.
When I made my first batch of yogurt, I used a single serving cup
of vanilla Tillamook yogurt.
I just wanted to use one that was as natural as possible
that was clearly labeled as having live active cultures.

Just dump your yogurt started into the warm milk and whisk it around,
without scraping the sides or bottom of the pot
(again, to avoid a grainy end result).

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Now you need to pour the yogurt-milk into the jars.
I have a steady enough arm to couple with a pot that doesn’t drip when I pour from it,
so I do not use any kind of funnel.
But you just figure out what works for you
to get it poured nicely into the jars.
Don’t cry over spilled milk! 😉

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Screw the lids on nice and tight.
You can see here that you don’t have to fill the jars to an exact science.
The one with the metal rim isn’t quite as full as the others.
It did just fine though.

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There is something so thrilling about jars full to the brim
of something delicious.
I feel this way about jam and pickles too.
Glass jars make me so happy!

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This is the fun part. 🙂
Put your jars in a cooler,
and run water from your tap until it reaches 120*F…

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…and then let the warm water fill the cooler
until it’s at least halfway up the sides of the jars.
It’s okay if it gets on top of the jars, too.
Sometimes I have a pint in there with some of the quarts,
so the water basically goes to the very top of the pint.

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Now while you let those happy little yogurt bugs take dominion
and reproduce in the warm milk,
just leave the cooler closed and left alone for at least 6 hours.
Go about your day!

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After 6 hours or so (I promise, it’s very flexible!),
take the jars out of the cooler,
dry them off,
empty the cooler,
dry it out…

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…and put the jars in the fridge.
By the next morning, it will all be solidified
and beautifully tangy & creamy.

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We eat it plain!
We eat it with a drizzle of honey!
We eat it with a dollop of homemade jam!

~…~…~
Here or there, on a train and in the rain, on a boat and with a goat…
we do so like our homemade yogurt, we would eat it anywhere!
We love it, and hope you do too.

Photo Challenge, Week Ten

Week Ten: Portrait, Environment

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Here is my little girl… in her child’s-version of her someday-environment!
I love it. Little future homemaker.
Barefoot, in a vintage dress, making cupcakes & tea.

And then, just for fun, I used a post-process to give it an illustrated effect!