Sweet Paideia

One week ago, my sweet little girl decided to make a surprise for her new friends at ballet. She has been trying to find ways to connect with the girls in her new class this year, which is difficult when they are not allowed to talk or giggle during class (they are very focused on their poise and form and classroom respect), and with all the weird restrictions our state has over gatherings… honestly, it’s almost surprising that we are allowed to have classes at all. Praise the Lord, we can! But how to overcome the obstacles of our current culture’s mania when my little girl just wants to hug and talk and smile and be close and interact and pursue fellowship… let’s just say, it has been a bit of a fickle pickle to iron out.

She started with writing letters to a couple of her fellow ballerinas, and then at the next class after that, one of the moms pursued a conversation with me to tell me how incredibly timely and kind the letter-writing gesture had been. Our daughters came out of class then, and spent the next fifteen minutes giggling and talking and dancing on the studio patio.

So her next creative idea was to bake cookies for her classmates as a special surprise. She had all the ingredients set out, found a recipe she wanted to use, and waited all day for me to have the time to help her. It went beautifully until she was adding eggs… and unfortunately dropped an entire egg — including the shell — into the mixer — while it was beating. Immediately, I turned off the preheating oven and broke the news that that was my last pound of butter and cup of brown sugar, so we would have to wait a week to make cookies for her class. Cue the tears! I may have briefly considered the possibility of using tweezers to scrutinize the bowl of dough and try to pull out three hundred shards of eggshell like so many splinters…

She sadly got into jammies and brushed her teeth, all the while blinking back tears that desperately wanted to wash her freckled cheeks. I climbed into bed with her to scratch her back and have a conversation. What makes this the hardest tonight? She replied, my friends won’t get to have cookies tomorrow! I smiled at her and said, but maybe there is a reason why God wants you to bring cookies NEXT week. Maybe one of your classmates is really going to need the encouragement of a kind gesture and friendly gift at that point. God knows all the details of the things we can’t even imagine.

She looked at me, fairly satisfied. And so for the last few days, she had mentioned now and then how she wonders what her new friends are doing, going through, enjoying, struggling with — and she is hoping that bringing cookies to them will be a timely blessing.

We bought more butter. And brown sugar. And this time, we will crack the eggs into a cup before pouring them carefully into the mixer set in its off position.

~~~

When we were discussing the idea of making cookies as a gesture of kindness and friendship, Evangeline said that it seemed like a Christian thing to do: to make something lovely or delicious without someone expecting anything, and to just bless them out of nowhere. And I think she’s exactly right. This is the kind of gesture a godly paideia longs to produce. An 8 year old little girl who can articulate on her own that making cookies for her ballet classmates can be an embodiment of “virtues like the fruits of the Spirit.” When I asked her which fruits she thought cookie-baking and cookie-gifting might embody, she smiled and said, “love and joy definitely; peace like fellowship between new friends; I had to have patience because of the whole eggshell problem last week; kindness and goodness are like giving a special surprise to someone; but I’m not sure I can find faithfulness and self control…” I reminded her at that point that she has a very faithful pursuit of trying to be friendly and to generate actual friendship with these girls. And while we laughed at self control because we can’t mention that virtue relating to cookies without Frog and Toad immediately coming to mind… (tell me you know that kid lit reference!), it is also true that Evangeline has had to pursue self control in class not to giggle and chitchat with these new friends, which honestly is what urged her to try finding more creative, out of the box ways to connect with classmates.

I think this is the kind of moment where I really want to be purposed in pointing out that glimpse of paideia. Recognizing that something as simple as homemade cookies… and as complicated as ruining the first batch of dough, thus needing to wait an entire week before trying again… can bring about a sweet conversation about philosophical paideia intersecting with practical paideia… that is a beautiful step for me. It’s my friends at PaideiaSoutheast.com that help urge me onward and upward in this continued conversation. And I am finding that the more I open my eyes, asking myself how can I glimpse paideia here?, the more easily I see it. Godly paideia fleshed out and lived to the fullest.

So this is the sweetness of a little Christian girl, giving of herself for the enjoyment of others. And I praise His holy name.

Singing Psalms with Little Saints

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom,
Teaching and admonishing one another
In psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs,
Singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
Colossians 3:16
Long before I became a mother, I yearned to have children who sang. During my own years of home education in a Reformed Christian family, we grew our love of hymns into a love of Psalms—a love of melody into a love of harmony—a love of corporate singing on Sundays into a love of singing at home as a family all week long. I loved almost nothing more than monthly Psalm sings with our church family—and to this day, there is almost nothing which fills me with more delight than filling my home with the echoes of boisterous harmony. This love, instilled during my own childhood, was something I longed to continue cultivating as I moved on to college academics and beyond.

To read the rest of this article,
written by me for my friend
Amy Sloan to share,
head over to HumilityAndDoxology.com

How to Make it Happen

What’s the vision?

What is your mission statement?

Whether it is an annual conference (hosting more than 300 women for a day) or a weekly co op (teaching 45 kids every Wednesday), I have found that in order to make it happen, follow through well, and communicate well with others during the process, I need to have a written vision and concise mission statement. It is all about the WHY. When we see the gap we are trying to fill and the need we are seeking to meet, it is easier to follow through with filling the gap and meeting the need. And it can not be done in isolation. In order to delegate, to share the burden, even to bring in prayer partners – I need to have things written down for good communication.

What project is the Lord putting into your hands? And how are you going to move forward with it in order to bring about a harvest of fruitful grace? I would encourage you to keep your Christian worldview front and center, and write your vision in as wordy a way as you can. Don’t leave out details. Once you have brain dumped all the ideas and reasons and hopes for your vision, you can tailor it and trim it in order to create a concise mission statement that will be easier to communicate.

I even do this with my children. Why do we educate at home? Why do it this way? Why music? Why books? Why Collective?

I can have long drawn-out conversations with them filled with run-on sentences and interrupted twenty-seven times with four questions at a time… to share the vision with them. To explain. To bring them into the embrace of that vision. But then when they ask the questions again at a future time, I share a shorter version -more like a mission statement- to sum it up and get right to the point.

So how do you make it happen in your home, in your work, in your pursuits? Where do you write it down? How do you cultivate that vision? And when do you find it helpful to have a specific mission statement?

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?

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.

He Gives His Beloved Sleep

…”It is in vain that you rise up early
    and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
    for he gives to his beloved sleep.”

Psalm 127:2

I awoke this morning when my body wanted to wake up. Not to the rush of children, not to the kiss of a husband bringing me coffee. My eyes simply opened when they were ready.

Now I am reclining in a fluffy bed all to myself, a fan making gentle white noise in the room while I read and rest. The fact is, without the fan, my ears were actually throbbing – this place was completely quiet. As quiet as my home during a power outage while my family is away on vacation. Too quiet.

My husband sent me away to give me some time off. He wanted me to sleep, to relax, to refill my vessel, to take a breather from the tyranny of the urgent I spend my life upon in the day to day, to step away for a day from the anxiety of the never-ending to-do list.

He actually wanted to send me to a nice hotel in town, and then have me spend a day reading and writing and sipping coffee in bookshops or bakeries. But when I said I didn’t want to spend money on that when there are so many other more worthy (or necessary) things pulling on our pocketbook, he arranged for me to stay next door.

That’s right. Next door.
My parents are our nearest neighbors, which is a bit of a jaunt for the average suburbanite – around the pond, through the marsh, over the rocky bluff, on the other side of the forest, up the hill. Yep. That’s the most direct route from our home to the home of our neighbors, my parents. And since my parents were planning to take a weekend to get away to a lake for their own time of rest and retreat, Steven decided it would be the perfect opportunity for me to get away to their home. With satellite tv and a featherbed, it’s as good as any hotel!

My husband is now home with our children doing the homeschooling for a day while I am retreating (yes, he used a vacation day on his wife). The kids promised me they would be extremely well behaved and do even better on their schoolwork than normal. But I told them not to make it too easy for Daddy or he will never know how hard Mommy has to normally work every day! I wrote out their assignments for today before I left, and I didn’t load them up too thickly – they’ll be okay. And hopefully it will be a good thing for all of us: Steven and the kids getting to spend a normal day together and experience what that is like, while I get some headspace and extra sleep.

My beloved is kind. And I am grateful for his thought in caring for me in this way. Life has a way of being very busy, of having no margin.
That is actually part of the reason behind Paideia Northwest bringing an annual conference for Christian mamas to get a day of refilling their vessel. It is a different kind of retreat; but it is an opportunity for women to come together for fellowship, for hearing encouragement & exhortation based on truth, goodness, and beauty urging them toward courageous faithfulness. There will also be food and drink to fill the body and new friends to make to feed the soul. But Steven knows that for me, it will be a big work day. Running a conference is not exactly restful – it is good work. I am so grateful for the opportunity to bring this event to life, and to have the front row seat to see what God does with our little offering by faith.

So for today, I rest. I relax. I retreat.
I will write and read and plan my baby boy’s third birthday party.
I will watch the Food Network and munch on easy food.
I will have a grateful heart for the hubby who loves me and who longs to give me rest.

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.

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.

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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

At the Barre

Originally written for a writing course I took this winter
with instructor Jonathan Rogers,
here is an artistic look at a turning point
in the developing feminine psyche of eight-year-old Melissa.

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At the Barre

Ballet lessons were a highlight of my childhood. The weekly foray into all things poised, wearing the uniform of black leotard and pink tights, made my little-girl heart skip and leap like my instructor Miss Tammy herself, yet the defining memory of my years in that ballet studio has little to do with plie, jete, or curtsy.

The rectangular studio held polished wood floors, two walls of barre, ample floor space for the ten little dancers in my class, and one entire wall of flawless mirror. The room smelled of sweat, hairspray, and leather. We practiced leg and foot positions standing along the wall of barre which faced opposite the mirror, one hand delicately resting on the barre, the other extended in a gracefully draping arc. Legs extended to lengthen muscles as our calves carved shapes along our pink tights, thighs tensed like gazelle necks, toes pointing until the leather of our pink shoes creaked with the strain. Necks were long, shoulders pressed down, shoulder blades squeezed tight on plank-straight backs, chins elegantly turned slightly left—just enough to see our reflections in the mirror, to self-correct poise and gauge how long until Mrs. Henshaw reached us for professional critique and instruction.

Miss Tammy was absent this particular day, replaced by the studio director Mrs. Henshaw. Everything about Mrs. Henshaw was as straight and strict as her name sounded. She moved along the line of dancers as we practiced repetitions of movement to classical records.

Born with German bones and raised alongside a puppy frolicking in an overgrown pasture, often crawling along a creek bed to catch tadpoles, ballet made me feel more lovely and dainty than anything. So there I stood, stately and feminine in uniform and practice, not a red hair fallen loose from the perfectly round bun atop my head, when Mrs. Henshaw reached me. Her gaze exacting, she studied the position and movement of my body, her chin aloft and cheekbones harsh. Without words, her terse hands stretched my leg further than my hamstring knew possible, and raised my elbow ever so slightly to achieve the angle of perfection.

Waiting for her eyebrows to soften and her head to give me the expected miniscule nod of approval before moving on to the dancer behind me, I almost relaxed into the genuine ballerina I saw in my reflection across the dance floor. I felt confidence begin to blossom in my bosom. And then Mrs. Henshaw cocked her proud head ever so slightly, pursed her lips in that confrontational way which makes the neck hair bristle, and reached her index finger out to poke it into my stomach. If her manicure had been less perfect she would have snagged my leotard with the veracity of her nail pressure. “Getting a little chubby,” she said coarsely.

She moved on to the dancer behind me, as though she had not just eviscerated me with the penetrating words of an irreversible cut.

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