Spending Days

When it comes to learning and growing in my calling as a mama, I always enjoy gleaning from those a little bit further down the motherhood road than I am. I love to learn from books and blogs and podcasts, but one of the best ways to learn can be by watching people in your actual life, and asking questions of flesh & blood mamas within your own circles. This week, I asked a friend (whose kids are all teens now) how their family spends weekends. Not because I was wondering how to spend our family weekends now, but because I was curious about what life might look like in a few years.

But the thing Betsy said that stood out the most to me was a simple way of stating something inherently obvious:
“If you spend your Saturdays right, you can spend your Sundays right.”

And that sentiment is timeless, applicable to all phases of family life and places of living. It is true whether you are single or married, have children or not, work outside the home or not, live in the country or suburbs or city or Sahara Desert.

It reminded me of the kitschy cliché “how you spend your days is how you spend your life.”

Ephesians 5:15-17 says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

How do you spend your days?
How do you want to spend your days?
When you think of “spending” your days, do you recognize that there is only a limited amount in that bank account? (And we don’t know when it will run out.)
Do you think of spending your days simply along lines of how you fill your hours with tasks? Or do you realize that you spend your days smiling or crying, eyes on phone or nose in books, thankful or bitter, circumspect or thrown to the wind?

Taking Steps

A year ago, I bought myself a FitBit watch, and grew accustomed to wearing it within a couple weeks, just like my friend Abby said I would. It had been years since I had kept the habit of wearing a watch! Mostly because I always had my cell phone with me, and it’s not like I really needed to keep track of time minute by minute. I have clocks throughout the house anyway, and the digital one on the car’s clock radio works just fine for me, thank you very much. But I have grown to actually really enjoy having a watch, especially because it means I don’t have to be pulling my phone out of my pocket every time I want to glance at the time… which is also particularly helpful, as I don’t necessarily always have it on me, since I like to practice the “foyer phone” mentality (so described in a recent Simply Convivial email by my friend Mystie) by treating my cell phone as a house phone rather than an additional appendage. Its home is in a pocket of my purse, which has its home on a hook by my desk in the kitchen. The kids all know how to access it and how to use it, and only once has one of the kids accidentally called 9-1-1.

But I digress.

My wrist is now a happy home for the watch. Which happens to count my steps, in addition to keeping me informed on the current time and reminding me to move if I grow too sedentary and showing me when a text message arrives. And while I do not have any firm or lofty goals like “lose ten pounds this year” or “go down one dress size by 2022,” I would like to continue striving toward reaching my daily (6 days a week) step goal. In fact, I would love to do 150% of my goal three times a week. I’m not sure I can do it, but having a little friendly competition does help. I am not the early bird at getting my steps, but I do like to get a quick walk in a couple times a day, and I love walking stairways after putting kids to bed or walking circles in my family room as I read aloud to the kids in the afternoon… or listening to an audiobook while I sweat on the elliptical in the basement every now and then.

I do like to take steps.
I enjoy the feeling of stretching, growing, progressing, hitting goals.

And another way I am trying to take steps this year is in my continued reading habits in pursuit of personal education & study. I have shared before about my Scholé Sisters reading challenge, and my decision to dive in over my head by adding a Literary Life reading challenge as well. A friend of mine at Redeemed Reader gleefully told me that I may as well try to fit all of those things into a 100-book reading challenge. We will see if I can squish and squash my books into that. Could be fun! I used to have my kids participate in the Read Aloud Revival read aloud challenge every January… but this year we finally outgrew it, as it felt completely obsolete: my kids all read aloud constantly! To each other, to themselves, to me, even to their great grandma. They ARE still doing the Ticket to Read reading challenge that earns them free admission to a nearby amusement park (it only requires ten hours of recreational reading, which my kids accomplish lickity-split on the regular anyway), and they will certainly want to sign up for reading challenges at Barnes & Noble and Pizza Hut again… as always… because they are avid readers, so they may as well enjoy some perks along the way.

As a busy mama of five super active (including some officially hyperactive, and gifted, or 2E) kids to educate and shape and discipline and disciple… not to mention supporting my husband with his company (and in four weeks he will officially be working from home fulltime), running our home, showing hospitality, and my part time ministry doing Paideia Northwest conferences every year… I actually need to practice good planning and lots of self-discipline if I want to keep up with my own education through the pursuit of reading and study.

How in the world do I accomplish this?! By taking the appropriate steps. By walking the journey alongside friends. Sharing reading lists and thoughts on the newest books we have finished. By writing down what I want to read, keeping a TBR (to be read) stack on my bedside table as well as a virtual list of audiobooks in a queue. And by giving myself other little reasons for taking each step (each book), one by one.

One of my most recently accomplished incentives was knowing that three friends of mine would be reading Salt Fat Acid Heat together. And since I have been wanting to read that for a while, it was a great reason to simply take the step of reading it. What a wonderful book! I really loved it. And now if I hear these three friends talk about it in the future, I will have a great idea of their conversational context, and just might be able to insert an occasional intelligent comment of my own. (No promises though.)

And my newest incentive was being asked to speak at a women’s retreat this spring. A knee-jerk reaction of mine was that I could toss together the two sessions without studying or planning or prepping much… but that is not what I want to do. I want to be stretched and grown and studied. I want to revisit books I have read before, and read a couple others that seem pertinent. And not only do I want to read these things as steps toward being well-prepared for public speaking in two months, but I also would love to blog my way through some of the thought processes.

So these are some steps I am taking in 2021. Physical steps to care for this physical body God has given me. Educational steps to grow the mind and spirit God has given me. Please walk with me as I take these steps, one by one, regularly and consistently. And please share with me what steps God is putting into your path! I love to see how He is at work.

Joyful Domesticity’s Summer Reading Challenge, 2019

Joyful Domesticity Summer Reading Challenge

One of the things I really love about homeschooling is how each of our family members both contributes and receives from the culture in our home without much contradiction from outside input. We are constantly discussing, evaluating, and sifting what we see, hear, and experience through our Christian worldview and family culture. I have posted before (it seems so long ago) about the main loves in our family and home ~ broadly stroking, books & food & music.

This last year, perhaps more than any other, our love for books and love of story has been quite pronounced. I have long loved the Read Aloud Revival, and have enjoyed the community of membership there this last year. I have found encouragement and validation and camaraderie over literature there, and it brings delight to my heart. I have also found a lot of encouragement and camaraderie at Simply Convivial and Scholé Sisters this last year, thanks to the community-building efforts of my friend Mystie. It is such a blessing & boon to know that I am not alone in my journey, even if many of my connections necessarily happen online.

Something that I have loved every summer with my children is pursuing a variety of reading challenges. We participate in Read to Ride, Barnes & Noble’s summer reading journal, Pizza Hut’s Book It program, and we have also enjoyed summer reading challenges from Exodus Books and Veritas Press in the past. This summer I have crafted a slightly more personalized take on it for my children. They will get to put stickers on their completed squares through the end of August, and there will be rewards for every dozen squares marked off. You may notice that there are a few specific books and authors ~ these are to help my children & me keep up with the Family Book Clubs my friend Sarah & her Read Aloud Revival team host each month. And then we love taking rabbit trails from those ideas, exploring more of the authors & illustrators we meet there, and build a lot of our library holds list from that. But the majority of these challenge boxes are much more open, more free. It is up to parental discretion whether a book can be used to check off more than one box, or whether each book should only qualify for one box at a time.

REWARDS for every dozen checked boxes:

  • Ice cream sundae
  • Movie date
  • Staying up thirty minutes late
  • Cookies & lemonade picnic
  • Choosing a new book on Amazon
  • Visiting local amusement park (with free tickets!)

I will also be sharing some of our favorite titles and authors that suit some of these categories, to encourage your own library holds list to grow!

Please feel free to print and enjoy Joyful Domesticity’s Summer Reading Challenge, and fatten the hearts & minds of your family this season along with us! And if you are so inclined, please leave comments sharing some of your favorite authors, illustrators, titles, and wins so we can learn from one another.

A Break for Breathing

It may seem as though even I were new around here now, it has been so long since there has been any update here on Joyful Domesticity. This has been a break for breathing, a season for a deep breath. A season for new journeys, and adjustments to old paths that take new winding turns.

For anyone who is genuinely new to glancing around Joyful Domesticity, please allow me to briefly introduce myself. I am Melissa Joy, a second generation Christian homeschooling mother in the Pacific Northwest. I have been married to my husband Steven since 2007, and we have been deepening our walk with each other & our walk with Christ ever since. One way He has broadened our faith and deepened our theology is through the sanctification of parenting: what a joy, what a privilege, what a hope, what a responsibility! He has blessed us with fourteen children: nine in heaven, four in our home, one in the womb.  Our journey of recurrent miscarriage has been very shaping and honing, of our individual spiritual lives as well as of our family culture at large. I continue to endeavor to reach out in empathy, compassion, understanding, and aid for other grieving mamas. I continue to learn much from the experiences and community God has put in my story.
We homeschool our little band of redheads on family property in the countryside in a Classical Christian model, emphasizing truth, beauty, & goodness through the means of books, music, science, math, art, books, language arts, penmanship, computer skills, books, history, geography, handcrafts, theology, and more books. We delight in embracing life together in our home, our homeschooling community, our church family. My husband operates a company called Olive Tree Bible Software with passion, patience, and diligence. I recently began an endeavor called Paideia Northwest, where we aim to host an annual conference in Northeastern Washington state for Christian mothers raising, educating, & loving their children for the Kingdom of God. It isn’t a money-maker, it is more of a ministry, as my heart longs to see Christian mothers band together in love and encouragement despite differences of practice, method, or even theology.

We have four sons, with one daughter directly in the middle. At this moment, our children are Gabriel (11), Asher (7 1/2), Evangeline (6), Simeon (3 1/2), with the littlest brother’s arrival anticipated in a matter of weeks. God has been continually gracious toward our family, and we are humbly grateful for His intense benevolence. There is no more challenging yet rewarding chapter in my life than motherhood ~ with its many facets.

While I have taken recent months to focus on my tangible home, replete with books and babies and bedrest, I hope to make a somewhat more regular presence here at Joyful Domesticity again. To share what God is doing in my heart, my home, my journey to the Kingdom. I am nothing particularly clever or wise or unique, but I have a heart that is eager to uplift, encourage, and share the sharpening of Christ mutually with my sisters in Christ both near and far.

For the glory of the King, the furtherance of His Kingdom, and the joy of the home! Cheers.

Little Miss Country Girl

The true way to live is to enjoy every moment as it passes,
and surely it is in the everyday things around us
that the beauty of life lies.

It is the sweet, simple things of life
which are the real ones, after all.

~Laura Ingalls Wilder~

Sweet little darling,
firecracker passion,
strawberry seed freckles,
your blue eyes now grey-green.
Work beside me,
hold my hand,
rest in the comfort
of learning alongside
this mama learning too
and who could imagine nothing better
than walking life with you.

My own sweet little country girl, helping her mama, seeking to grow up far too fast into my shoes.
She delights in ducks, water hoses, garden soil, butterfly wings, ripe strawberries, and fresh basil.
She finds comfort in holding hands, being close, and conversing about all the deep things she carries in her heart.
She seeks to be far too grown up far too quickly, but not because she really tries to – simply because she is a mature little starlet, truly an old soul.

As the years pass,
I am coming more and more to understand
that it is the common, everyday blessings
of our common everyday lives
for which we should be particularly grateful.

~Laura Ingalls Wilder~

My Cup Overflows

Thou anointest my head: my cup runneth over.
Psalm 23:5

This morning, as my children and I sat around the kitchen table doing our copywork for the day, little things were really getting under my skin. The six year old will not stand still, sit still, stop wiggling, or curb the humming & whistling… quite literally, no matter what we try, it seems that at least on this particular morning, he is actually physically unable to truly be still & quiet. The ten year old repeatedly uses his pencil and the heel of his opposite hand for a drum set in between penning words. The five year old moans every time she needs to correct a word, erase a pencil mark, or drops something on the floor… which, to be fair, is about every 27.3 seconds. The two year old is happily uncapping ColorWonder markers and strewing them about the floor (last time it was half-melted crayons which took a while to scrub up… so this is a major improvement) while singing songs at what-ought-to-be the top of his voice, but I happen to know it isn’t, because if there’s one thing we have in spades in this household, it’s breath support & plucky lungs.

My own copywork was going slowly, thanks to the ever-emergent nature of the fulltime homeschooling mother of small children. The dog needs out, the toddler needs to go potty, the children squabble, the pencils need sharpened, the dog peed on the floor, the toddler peed on the floor, the phone rings, the washing machine buzzes, the FedEx man comes at an unusually early hour… the singing, the pencil-drumming, the leg-wiggling, the chair-squeaking, the moaning about how long five verses is when you are trying to write in cursive and you’re only six years old…

I made a big, delicious latte and sat back down. I was only three verses through my five… and it had quite honestly been about thirty minutes already… when the five year old lost her self control and needed some correction. In my over-zealous flight to show her the error of her ways, I rather gave a flamboyant representation myself of just what lacking self control can do to a day. I managed to knock my entire large mug of hot latte all over the table and down the edge like a frothy waterfall. In the nanosecond it took for me to finally lose my cool and react in an expulsory fashion, God slowed down my vision enough to do one of those “this is your life” slideshows inside my eyelids for a moment… highlighting simply the last hour of the morning. My petty angst, my raw nerves, my frenzied attack of all the things at once rather than pacing and parsing them out in an orderly fashion. I don’t think I uttered a single sound or solitary syllable. God grabbed me right there. The proverbial swat on my hand was received, my eyelids came down, my shoulders slumped. The breath in my lungs caught and I immediately felt the mercy of God’s hand rearranging my morning in one quick movement.

My sudden physical response was so jolting, I managed to slide my chair away from the table far enough that the waterfall of coffee avoided me altogether but rather soaked up my copywork journal and splashed upon some of the readalouds from our morning basket, sopped into the table runner, and managed to splosh & splash across the entire kitchen nook floor (praise the Lord we recently got rid of the rug & reverted to the bare wood) & onto most of the chair legs around the table.

While I spun around to grab an armful of towels from the drawer beside the sink, I thought to myself, well, that’s one way to restart the morning.

I cleaned up the books, the table runner, the chair legs, the floor… and layered kitchen towels amongst the wet, brown pages of my own copywork journal. As I did this, my children grew suddenly so attentive and diligent in their own copywork, their verses were finished and they moved on almost mechanically to their sketchpads and math books. I hardly even noticed my daughter crying over her copywork… I was so caught up in my coffee-soaked Scripture pages and trying to make sure no library books were casualties.

Finally, my daughter looked up at me and said in a very sad little voice, “Mommy, was that my fault?” I cupped her chin in my hand and looked her in the eyes to say, “Who knocked over that cup of coffee?” “I don’t know, Mommy. Did I do it?” she asked, tears trying to puddle in her ever-greener blue eyes. “Mommy knocked it over, baby. You didn’t do it. Mommy lost self control. I let my impatience take over.” I stepped back and looked at all the kids. “Thank you for being patient with me while I got through my own temper tantrum. God’s still working on me, and I am not always a cheerfully obedient daughter.”

They smiled at me. They forgave me. They understood.

I made a new latte. We all sat back down, a freshly mopped floor now beneath our feet. It was overdue for that anyway. I looked down at my copywork journal. The page that seemed most ruined held Colossians 2:6-7: Therefore as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

I couldn’t help but laugh. I certainly was not walking in Him with an abundance of thanksgiving this morning! And now this coffee-soaked, tattered & torn page would remain the evidence and reminder of my weak & wobbly ways.

I gently turned that page over to see where I had left off of this morning’s verse… we are just beginning to work on memorizing Psalm 103, so I was three verses into it when I spilled the coffee…

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits:
who forgives all your iniquities,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your…

Oh my.
My own eyes now filled with tears. Immediately, I was brought to prayer of humility, confession, repentance, praise, and thanksgiving.

I am not called to run a home that is still, silent, stark, & stoic.
I am called to be faithfully building up my home, training these children for the Kingdom, and pursuing Christ as a corner pillar.
How can I so easily lose sight of the calling of my soul?
To bless His name! And to not forget all that He has done.

Oh! Praise the Lord that even in the very midst of that moment, His grace was there to grab me and set me straight again. To show me that I was pursuing an incorrect vision of my day, rather than embracing the life before me with faithfulness. My friend Mystie had just shared with me a few days ago some thoughts about leading our homes and teaching our children with rest and faithfulness. It was a must-re-read for me this afternoon. Quoting Sarah Mackenzie, in her book Teaching From Rest, “Our days, though messy, loud, chaotic, and sometimes completely overwhelming, can be filled with great peace. … Teaching from rest means we don’t panic when things don’t go according to our plan.”

It was a beautiful spiritual exercise to finish my section of Psalm 103 once my page dried out enough that my pen wouldn’t rip the page badly.

…who redeems your life from destruction,
who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
who satisfies your mouth with good things,
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

What a perfect pivot from where I was to where I went.
The irritation and angst that had been building in me (although I would not have admitted it) gave way to destruction, and it wasn’t until after my soul awakened to NOT FORGET the benefits of my Lord that I once again realized how very much my cup overflows – with His lovingkindness and tender mercy, and with so many countless, tangible, good things.

Bless the Lord, O my soul! For things like forgiveness, healing, redemption, satisfaction, and strength. These are the gifts that He gives in abundance. These are the things that I can rely on, even in the midst of the messy, chaotic, loud, frustrating, and unpredictable.

Mystie says, “Instead of looking for what you can cut to make life easier, cut the whining, cut the social media, cut the lingering over your coffee. Cut the fear, cut the comparisons, cut the jealousy, cut the anxiety – we can, because God gives us grace to turn from our sins, to repent.”

Yes. He does. Bless the Lord, O my soul! And all that is within me, bless His holy name. The goodness and mercy of my God follow me and fill me. He makes my cup overflow. Amen.

Eleven Years of Hope

Just thinking of my beautiful Covenant Hope tonight. Eleven years later, I still remember holding her for the first time. And saying goodbye to my first sweet baby. My gateway into a world of dark grief I never expected. My gateway into a complicatedly gorgeous weaving called Motherhood that I wasn’t prepared for.

Eleven years later, I now wouldn’t change a thing.
But at that moment, I would have given ANYthing to put my baby back in my womb and start that little heart beating again.

Beautiful baby.
Eleven years later, Mommy still loves you more than every freckle your DNA included. Eleven years later, I can still remember the first time I saw you with my own eyes and marveled over the complexity of your beautifully knitted, tiny body. Eleven years later, your life still brings me hope.
And I am eager to join with you in the choir. xx

Lit for the Loo

Perhaps it is safe to say that when anyone in our household embarks on (or even simply revisits) anything remotely new or exciting, my response is wholeheartedly, there are books for that. My husband is into things like grilling or smoking meat, roasting coffee, and brewing beer… so he buys books on the subjects. My oldest son is excited to learn computer programming skills and languages, so he spends an immense amount of time finding just the right books from every corner of the library as well as adding a couple extras to the Amazon shopping cart. My middle son wants art instruction on how to draw just the right kind of animals, plants, ninjas, or medieval weaponry, so we gather drawing books from hither and yon. My daughter finds a love of ballet, and suddenly nearly an entire bookshelf in her room is full of ballerina fiction & nonfiction. I need to work on prayer and devotional reading? Four clicks away, and now there are a few new things on my desk to give me the needed boost – Nancy Guthrie, Andrew Case, Timothy Keller, Clay & Sally Clarkson. I need reminders and propellers for educating my children – Katherine Paterson, Andrew Pudewa, Sarah Clarkson and Sarah Mackenzie are ready to jump off the pages and take my hands. When I need cooking inspiration, I grab hands with Danielle Walker, Trim Healthy Mama, and Hot Providence via pages of their books. When I recently jumped into the world of duck eggs and baby chicks, I collected more than an armload of fiction, nonfiction, and picture books for the occasion. It’s just what we do in this family!

Now my littlest ginger is working on a new endeavor, and he found himself a whole stack of books for the process too.

pottybooks

Once Upon a Potty is his absolute favorite. He has actually made friends with the character in the book. For instance, he talks about Joshua going poopy in the potty, and how proud his mother is of him. He then looks up and me and says, “Mommy, you are proud of me too.” Yes sweetheart, Mommy is proud of you. “Simeon and Joshua?” I laugh, yes, of course, Simeon and Joshua.

Skip to the Loo, My Darling is downright cute although definitely pure fun rather than educational. It makes him smile, and he enjoys looking at each of the little potties in the illustrations throughout, especially at the very end. He finds the one that looks most similar to his own little potty, and says, “we match!”

What to Expect When You Use the Potty is honestly a big out of his league. It seems like it would work better for a 3-4 year old going through the potty training experience, rather than a little two year old tot. He got glossy-eyed pretty quick when I was reading it aloud to him; I think it simply went too in-depth and had too much information for what was necessary in our particular scenario. But he still enjoys the pictures, so it goes along with the other two he really enjoys, and he’s got his happy little stack of three… his very own pile of literature for the loo.

And he’s a successful, happy, informed, M&M filled little guy!
One week into the process, we’ve almost got it nailed.
And for right now, that’s an absolute victory.

For icing on the cake, when he was reading AlphaBlock last night, a longstanding favorite of his which he has been reciting completely from memory since last winter, he got to U and quite proudly proclaimed that “U is for Simeon because now I wear undies too.”

AlphaBlock1AlphaU

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.”

AppleStrudel2

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.

AppleStrudel1

“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

Only Daughter

EJCatthebeach

She runs into the house without even slamming the door—the loud clomp clomp of her periwinkle Wellies announces her entrance just prior to the shout in the foyer, “I want to come in! I’m frozen!” Chapped, peeling lips are pale beneath her runny nose and wind-kissed cheeks. Heavy breaths through her mouth along with icy white splotches on her coat are evidence of the five-year-old’s best efforts at a snowball fight with two older brothers. Tossing mittens halfway down the hallway and grabbing off her purple knit cap, she shakes her head like a puppy fresh from the bath, letting loose deep red tangles of hair that cling to the sweat on her neck and melted snowflakes on her freckled face. Sitting down with both exhaustion and effort, she tugs off her boots, bringing along striped wool socks which leave little balls of fuzz between clammy toes.

While her hands unclip navy blue hand-me-down snowpants and unzip a pink snowcoat two sizes too big, she hears her mother hollering, “close the front door!” Leaving haphazard piles of thawing snowclothes and strewn accessories, she latches the door and runs on tiptoes. The little girl who previously looked as plump as a marshmallow is stripped down to mere lace-edged white leggings and a long-sleeved magenta shirt, showing the gangly limbs and thin frame of a little sapling not yet fully grown. She finds a silver tulle skirt with sparkly sequins freckling the top layer, a coordinating silver knit sweater with metallic threads woven throughout, two pink grosgrain barrettes, and a hairbrush to deliver to her mother.

She finds her stoking the fire, and scurries to squeeze her softer frame. With a heaving grip and exaggerated groan, her arms wrap around matronly hips, smiling upward with her chin pressed into her mother’s belly button. “Get me dressed!” she demands. She swivels her body and shakes her pigtails. She grins and sighs as her mother fawns over her, dolling her up in the warmth of the nearby fire which pops and crackles. She stares into dancing flames until her blueberry eyes glaze over and her breathing slows into little sighs beneath her sinking head as one ear nearly reaches a shoulder in relaxation.

“Read to me, Mommy,” the daughter quietly pleads, blinking slowly and stifling a yawn, as the last barrette is clipped. Mother reaches for a nearby stack of books, and pulls her daughter onto her lap. The thin little girl reclines against the pillowed warmth of her mother’s body, covers her knees with her shimmering skirt, and rests her temple against her mother’s breast. She insists on turning the pages, interjecting commentary, and correcting each slip of her mother’s tongue.

The door slams. The little girl is immediately erect, rigid, alert. “Boys?” she calls out, cupping her hand alongside her mouth. With a quick kiss on her mother’s lips, she wriggles herself out of her mother’s lap and races down the hallway back to the foyer, welcoming her boisterous brothers with clapping of hands and loud hurrahs. One of her barrettes falls askew.

EJCatthestore