Many Thanks

It’s felt a bit like Christmas, gift after gift, and joy to match.  Two friends who faced cancer were healed.  My foster niece will soon legally be my niece after years of waiting and uncertainty.  Two of our children won a school supply raffle.  Family stepped in to help with tutoring fees for another of our kids.  A friend blessed me with a large bag of fabric to use.  Another anonymously sent me a box of fabric as well (thank you, whoever you are!  So sweet!  You blessed my heart!).  Another friend enabled me to attend an amusement park with my toddlers, while yet another had my kids over for the day.  My son got to spend a weekend at a lovely lake house enjoying boat rides and all sorts of fun.  My husband plugged away at our cottage we’re fixing up in the backyard which will be my soap studio and a sometimes airbnb to help with school fees.  My mother-in-law helped me with running kids about, and took them on special outings one-on-one.  A cousin’s wife gave me black raspberries and eggs from her chickens.

There are always hard things happening; our prayer list is ever-full and growing, but too there is joy and peace and encouragement in the midst of sorrows and trials.  20664553_661313794073816_3145693829644866278_n

Thus It Pleases God

I leaned back against the bathroom door, the cold from the tile floor below, hot tears running down my face above, my shoulders bowed inward from deep crying.  It was just an argument, an impasse of heated words, and expectations let down.  When I couldn’t cross swords any longer without fear of inflicting deep wounds with my fiery tongue, I retreated.

Like usual a small thing had lain atop a big thing and then both had exploded together, and one could mistake the heat coming from just the small thing.  I hadn’t even gotten out of bed this morning and we were deep into a conversation about finances, the upcoming private school bills, our revenue streams, and we talked ourselves into circles, without a viable exit point, without a hopeful stratagem.  The big thing was:  How do we send our children to their school and not fall into debt?  Is it folly to try to send them at all?  But we feel a peace in our commitment to send them, but we don’t have enough money to pay the bills.  So is God telling us “no”?  Or are we to walk in faith?

We already economize, to the point that I’m accused of living in the wrong century; we garden, preserve our food, keep bees, mend our clothing, make bedding, cook from scratch, buy our clothes and shoes and sports equipment secondhand, we have no tv, no cable bill, I often line dry the wash, I buy at discount grocery stores, we butcher our own deer, make our candles and soap, and on and on.

The school bill went up this year, as school bills tend to do, and tutoring fees heaped on top of that for one of our kids who desperately needs timely help.  Our narrow margin got narrower.  We had to tell our daughter that she wouldn’t likely be able to attend with her friends past eighth grade.  There’s a mountain of grief in that for her, and we hurt for her pain.  It’s hard to see a nearly fourteen year-old girl, just absolutely thriving, surrounded by caring and kind friends, and excellent teachers who have made a good impact on her life, and imagine disrupting that, and sending her into a school where she knows nobody.

Do not say, “this happened by chance, while this came to be of itself.” In all that exists there is nothing disorderly, nothing indefinite, nothing without purpose, nothing by chance … How many hairs are on your head? God will not forget one of them. Do you see how nothing, even the smallest thing, escapes the gaze of God?
(St. Basil the Great)

How can you find out if you are living within the will of God? Here is the sign: If you are troubled about any thing, this means that you have not completely given yourself over to the will of God. A person who lives in the will of God is not concerned over anything. And if he needs anything, he gives both it and himself over to God. And if he does not receive the necessary thing, he remains calm nevertheless, as if he had it. The soul which has been given over to the will of God is afraid of nothing, not of thunder nor of thieves – nothing. But whatever happens, she says, “Thus it pleases God.” If she is sick, she thinks: this means that I need to be sick, or else God would not have given it to me. Thus peace is preserved in both soul and body.
(St. Silouan the Athonite, Writings, VI.4)

Tears have rimmed my eyes the whole day, a whole day of aquarium vision.  There is a baby quilt to make, for this dear son who bumps and jolts about in my womb.  Fabric is another cost, it feels like a step down further into the hole.  I took the bundle of my husband’s worn-out or ill-fitting cotton dress shirts out of the yard sale pile and carefully cut out usable sections of cloth, filling a bowl with buttons for later use as I went.  One was the white shirt he wore as a smiling groom on our wedding day.  I cried as I cut it.  He looked like a prince to me; my breath caught when I saw him vowing his love to me, to me!  IMG_1413

The baby will have a quilt, not one of precisely chosen colors and patterns, put together like a textile symphony, blending in this way and that and harmonizing in this way and that.  But I will tell my son, when I wrap it around him that the quilt was born from hard times, and that each patch is a part of the years of struggle, but also joy.  I will tell him about the joy.  I will tell him how it won.

 

Dancing Little Screens

I’m the only one looking around, seeing trees swaying in the wind, and the play of shadows over rough bark; the way the light streams through twisting leaves.  Even the children, even the littlest ones, their faces still and passive, their squirming ceased, their eyes riveted by the dancing little screens, they miss the squirrel racing around the trunk and chattering.

Their parents stare hard and scroll, scroll, scroll, their thumbs stroking the glass of their miniature portals into otherness; other peoples’ beach photos, rapid-fire recipe videos, artful platings of food, and memes unending.  Now and then they’ll look up, around, at their child, and then, as though there were an invisible elastic from their neck to their wrist, they bend to it, raising their phone-clutching hand, and they leave again.

Grocery lines, stoplights, carpool pick-up lanes, waiting rooms, restaurants; they are no longer experienced anymore…they are only escape spaces to distraction, to otherness.

I love elderly people.  You still see their eyes; their eyes greet you, see you; there is a sense that they’d gladly connect and share life for a moment.  They remember the times before people carried all-engulfing entertainment in their pockets and used them at every opportunity.  They remember courtesy, conversation, presence.

I am alarmed.

Ever-reaching for phones, ever-scrolling, compulsive behavior that is becoming “normal”.  I’ve experienced it myself.  I don’t have a phone, and hopefully never will, but my husband’s smart phone is terribly tempting to reach for on the long drive to church.  I don’t even know what compels me to “check it”; what on earth am I longing for; why not let the passing landscape form my thoughts, rather than absorbing the experiences of others?

In my home my laptop is a severe temptation; always promising a moment’s escape from domestic cares and hollering toddlers.  But again, I have to ask, what am I longing for?  Do I ever feel any sort of fulfillment from “checking in” and “catching up”?  No.  Rather I feel the weight of wasted time and attention.  My childrens’ behavior also changes when I tune out; they are more irritable and uncharitable with each other.  They ignore my words, sensing that I’m not really “there” anyways.  Presence is necessary.  Not just at home but out and about in the world.

I will endeavor to change; to allot a time for online reading and interaction, writing, answering of emails, and ordering supplies for my business.  Lord, help me!  I don’t want to be absorbed by a screen, nor feel myself pulled towards it.  I am mindful of the little eyes that watch how I live; do I need a screen or use a screen?

Please, dear ones, consider.  Leave the phone in your car, don’t let your kids play with one whenever they’re bored or fidgety (it’ll prevent them from growing in imagination and creativity and being present), and don’t teach them that zombie-like staring at screens is how to live.shortstory8

Cast Down

Damp paper pots, seedlings standing resolutely within,

Nestled into deeper dirt, room therein to sink their reaching white roots.

Sixty degrees under overcast skies; gray in the greenhouse.

Agitation, or just plain grumpiness, anyways

“Lord, help me find You, sense You, see You”

Watering can heavy against my palm, tilting and pouring

Currants, lemon, peppers, onions, radishes, lettuces, promise.

Into the house where the vacuum is humming and the mop is swishing across the floors

Johnny Cash on the record player and a board game spread out on the table

And my spirit a bit lighter, the day remaining gray.

Sometimes the soul casts about, feeling a want, a thirst, feeling bereft of a something, or a Someone.

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him, Who is the help of my countenance, and my God.   Psalm 43:5

They’ve said that God never distances Himself from us, but that we distance ourselves from Him

Which may be true or perhaps

He withdraws to teach us to miss Him, to thirst aright, to feel the chill of gathering dark, when the Light recedes

As a parent pauses, the children struggling at this thing or that, not rushing in as heroes

Allowing roots to press deeper and for faith to find an answering

Can I trust the One on the other side of my hopes

Are You there and unabashedly loving, closer than my breath, every atom of me held together because You are?

The day continues gray but outside the birds are singing.

IMG_3383

Immoderate

It’s been a winter unbothered by moderation.  Seventy degree days followed by bitter cold and a healthy dump of snow, ice encasing budded branches who were so very tricked, so very premature in their optimism.  The bright sunny faces of my daffodils are muffled under a drift:  “We’re fine!  We’re totally okay with this!  We knew it was still winter!  It’s OKAY!”

The neighborhood kids flew past my greenhouse door, clinging to their disc sleds as they careened over jumps.  I hoped I wouldn’t be running anyone to Urgent Care, and I watered the radishes, lettuce, peppers, and tomatoes, the temperature gauge telling me I was enjoying seventy degrees of heat.  I stooped over the radishes.  Their love leaves (what I call their first heart-shaped seedling leaves) are making way for their true leaves, somewhat more jagged, almond-shaped ones.17352337_10155469516858352_7104481727881436609_nModeration escapes me also.  I am pregnant with our sixth child, and I think I could sleep for days.  I am hungry and I can’t stand the thought of food.  I want coffee, and no I do not.  This doesn’t perplex me; I’ve been through this many times, so I breathe and remember the fleetingness of everything.  I curl on my side, my whole body seeming to cradle my abdomen, and I subconsciously lay my hand over where the little one grows.

I am so tired, but it doesn’t need fixing.  A body making a body takes a good bit of energy, and the tiredness is a signal to rest.  In a few weeks I will likely feel normal again and ready for the garden work of spring and beekeeping.  The snow will melt away, and we’ll drag the lawn mower out of the shed as the grass wakes up and stretches heavenward.  My belly will pull at my shirts until I acquiesce and don the maternity tops.  End of the school year events will jostle for our time and attention, and the heat of summer will drop down in waves.  That is how things seem to go, always they come at me before I am adjusted to the idea of change.  “Oh, we’ve moved on?  We’re here in the next?  Oh!”

I am too tired to articulate any more thoughts, though they buzz around my head and crowd the door of my mind, struggling to burst through and become written.  “Later,” I console them, “You know I’m too sleepy to hear you.”

 

 

 

Make It Easy

As a mother of five, a small business owner, from-scratch cooker, beekeeper, gardener, blogger, and volunteer, I have been asked how on earth I manage to regularly attend to all of my responsibilities without going mad.  Though I don’t do things as well as some might imagine (weeds are prolific, bedrooms are messy more often than not, and sometimes dinner is drive-thru), I do have some tricks that make doing the better thing a bit easier, which, I think, is all we can truly hope for.

What makes it easy for me to:

Recycle, Reduce, Refuse, and Reuse

In my kitchen there is the trash can, plus two bins labeled paper/cardboard and plastic/metal/glass.  Outside the kitchen door, for obvious reasons, is a reused five gallon bucket with a lid for compostable food scraps which get worked into our compost heap when full.  It is so easy to sort my recycling when everything is set up to make that effortless and convenient (and oddly satisfying).    After learning more about plastic pollution, I’ve tried very hard to get every bit of recyclable plastic into the bin (think the plastic spout on a juice carton, kids cups from restaurants, empty play-doh containers).  On top of that I remove the plastic windows from pasta boxes, envelopes, and the like so that the cardboard and paper can be recycled.  Once a year or so I gather up unsolicited mailings and call the companies to be removed from their lists, cutting down on waste and clutter.  When we go out to eat I bring along my beloved tiffin to take home leftovers in, avoiding the styrofoam and plastic bags.  I keep a metal spoon in my purse to stand in for plastic ones. I have an extensive cloth bag collection for shopping (even homemade produce bags!), and keep some stashed in my purse at all times for unexpected stops at stores.  None of this takes much effort.  If it’s easy to do the right thing, we are much more likely to do it!

daily2

Keeping worn-out jeans and other usable scraps around saves me from craft store over-spending (it’s a thing) and puts the material to good use once again.  My jean potholders have held up extremely well and I never burn my fingers with them!_MG_5079

My gardening and canning probably reduce our waste the most.  Jars and rings are used over and over again, with only the dome top needing to be recycled.  This avoids countless cans and gas to drive to the store.Photo on 9-2-14 at 1.44 PM

Though we are still working on a viable solution for shampoo, conditioner, and dish soap, our body and hand soap needs are all met quite economically and naturally through my soap making.img_0670

The wondrous tiffin with three compartments.  Waitresses ooh and aah over it!  I think they may be tired of all the styrofoam waste too.  Plus it’s quite cute.

Keep the house mostly clean and the gardens mostly under control.

I am not afraid of assigning work to my children that they are capable of doing.  Every day all I have to say is “floors, guys” and the one son starts picking up all the trash cans, toys, shoes, chairs, etc, and puts them up and away.  Another older child begins to vacuum, followed by another who mops, followed by the younger son who puts all the up things down again.  I was brought up with an understanding that clean floors=clean house, so having this regular cleaning routine has helped me so much to feel sane in a three bedroom household of seven.  The children help with pulling weeds, cleaning the bathrooms, mowing the lawn, harvesting produce, and cook their own breakfasts and pack their own lunches.  The elder two also do their own laundry.  They benefit as well from knowing how to do their jobs well, and that they are contributing  to our family’s wellbeing.

-Make work easier by having quality tools for each task.

I am a fan of properly-working, quality tools.  Whether it’s a hand-forged garden trowel which will last decades or a heavy-duty copper saute pan that will enable me simmer sauces to perfection, I heartily endorse buying the best one can afford to make work more pleasant with less wastage from cheap, easily-broken tools.  Fortunately many of these things are quite easy to pick up secondhand, which goes nicely with the first item in my list, of reusing.  I recently picked up two Le Creuset kitchenware items at a local thrift store, as well as Cutco knives, and other culinary gems.

A greenhouse to start my seeds in, soap molds I don’t need to line with wax paper, a bee suit that protects me so well that I am not tense when doing hive inspections or swarm-collecting; these things all enable me to do my tasks in a simpler, easier way.

In my kitchen, where most of my work is done, there is every conceivable quality tool (note, I didn’t say “gadget”; I’ve found that many “time savers” just lead to cabinet clutter and little use) one could hope for:  four dutch ovens, copper pans, a chinois, a pasta maker, cast iron pans in many sizes, a grain mill, two tortilla presses, a hardworking mixer and blender, an electric pressure cooker, a pastry board, nice knives, a juicer and a steam juicer, a 16 qt stock pot, vintage mixing bowls, and, well, I use them all.  They are satisfying to work with and help produce excellent meals.  And much of it came from thrift stores or credit card reward points (like my new $200 All-Clad stock pot!).

-Host birthday parties without expense, waste, nor loss of sanity.

This is so easy to get right.  First, one must drop preconceived ideas about what a good party should include, such as:  inviting everyone in their class, providing treat bags, going somewhere ultra entertaining, like to a laser tag place, and lots of disposable crap (except balloons, for the love, keep the balloons!).

We have a standing rule for our five:  they can invite two-three friends and go on a special outing (bowling, mini golf, ice skating) or invite a whole passel of them to our home or on a hike.  This has worked marvelously for us, especially when we keep them outside by going down to our favorite stream, jumping on the trampoline, or making gigantic bubbles with a homemade bubble wand and solution.  I do not organize their time, but let them play freely, sometimes inviting them to make homemade slime or help cut up veggies for the meal.  We cook supper over the campfire (which they get to help build, sorry helicopter moms).  They go home dirty and giddy, without a bag of plastic junk.  I use enamel plates, real silverware, and canning jars to serve the food, because it just isn’t hard to, and there’s so much less waste!  And, no, I don’t even own a dishwasher!  We make the cake, churn the ice cream, and munch on simple homemade appetizers or a big pot of chili.  It’s easy.

Keep the laundry and mending under control.

When they hit eleven years of age I give them lessons on sorting, washing, drying, and folding clothing and then wash my hands of their stinky socks and muddy jeans.  For the younger kids their clothing goes straight into the laundry room where all their clothing lives.  They change and from there it all goes straight into the washer, dryer (or out on the line if the weather is nice), and then right back into cubbies my husband built in the laundry room out of scrap wood from a job site.  This makes it SO EASY to keep on top of things.  Also helpful for a mom of active kids is to have my sewing machine always out, threaded, and ready to do repairs.  I can’t emphasize enough how much more I attend to the mending simply because it is convenient to take a few minutes at the machine, rather than have a pile of ripped clothing that provokes guilt and wistful thoughts of “someday I’ll get to that, hopefully before they grow out of them”.  Also, after reading about the KonMari method of storing clothing, I implemented it and taught it to my children, and what a difference it makes in reducing clothing chaos in the drawers!

img_0414

Ready to serve.12513860_10154191364768352_459053708843952877_o

Organized drawers stay organized with vertical folding.IMG_0415

The clothing cubbies made from lumber scraps.  Baskets hold socks and one pair of shoes.

Spend little and experience much.

Each year we invest in a family membership to an interesting place.  We’ve done the North Museum (twice), Longwood Gardens, the Baltimore Aquarium (twice), and this year our local gym.  We get to really experience the joy of each place, and it’s wonderful to say “yes” to doing something fun without worrying about the cost.

We also regularly pick up library passes to local attractions for free such as to Landis Valley Museum, the Hans Herr House, the National Toy Train Museum, James Buchanan’s Wheatland home, and the Science Factory.  And every year we go to Hershey Park (a huge theme park loaded with top notch rides) for free by attending a Hershey Bear’s hockey game in the winter that includes free park passes as a gift.  Beyond these destinations we make regular use of local rails-to-trails, parks, free museums and zoos, and beaches.

To grow in knowledge.

Anyone with a library nearby has no excuse for not investing in their education.  I’ve often said that education is already free, but degrees cost money.  I in no way denigrate higher education, but encourage folks to continue their learning throughout their lives.  It is easy, because it requires no expense, can be worked into your day as time allows, and makes no demands on you.  I am currently learning Norwegian with my daughter for free online on duolingo.com.  I read news for free online from some of the best journals.  I can access tutorials on nearly anything via YouTube.  I am constantly reviewing works I’ve read to refresh myself on what I’ve learned, be it herbal medicine, beekeeping, gardening, food preservation, byzantine history, theology, or quilt making.  Those works I keep coming back to can often be sourced online used for cheap, so I can keep returning to them and highlight them to my heart’s content.

img_4946

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but the ideas here have made life a lot more manageable and rich for me and my family.

On Faith, Life, and Refugees

A guest post by Andrea Bailey

We are not listening to each other. I hear conservatives accusing liberals and other conservatives that they have bought into liberal biased media hype. I hear liberals accusing conservatives of being hateful and intolerant, all the while not listening themselves. I hear those genuinely concerned for truth asking questions and being overwhelmed, not sure who they should trust. I hear so many proclaiming boldly which media sources can be trusted and which ones cannot, authoritatively dismissing legitimate questions and reasonable discourse. I hear fear and pride.

If only it were so simple. If only we could know with certainty which sources to trust. If only that source could outline all the answers. If only we could trust that facts and news could come to us without bias or could be completely neutral.

Speaking to those who seek to follow Christ, at this intersection of faith and life, there are no simple, axiomatic solutions. We must seek wisdom. The application of truth requires wisdom and is never simple; rather, its progress is often slow and it requires discernment, effort and humility to learn.

For those who claim the name Christian, how do you know truth? Where do you turn for truth and the wisdom to live it out? How does that truth teach you to stand in these matters? Is truth ever just rational or logical belief? Is it not also experiencing God in the details of our physical lives, authenticating and revealing more fully that which we also know and confess?

It seems possible that in these matters of loving others, we have erred too much on the side of reason. We have not experienced truth in that way which helps us to fully know it, through our physical, everyday experiences, entering into the physical, everyday lives of those we are called to serve.

Where do we think we can experience the grace and mercy of God more than in entering into the struggles of those whom He has taught us to love? But have we entered in?

Christ spent his time with the poor, the marginalized, the broken, the suffering, the sick—these are the ones he most often gave the gift of His physical presence. Loving others carries a cost but did Christ not show us how to love when He came to show His love for us?

God’s love for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the sojourner is undeniable throughout Scripture and His commands for us to care for them cannot be dismissed. And so it is needful to consider how we were taught to love.

Are we only supposed to love and welcome others when it is safe for us, or doesn’t cost us too much, even though the ones seeking our help are suffering or dying? When God calls us to love the sojourner, did He say only if they believe in Me and it will not threaten your safety?

I recognize that this type of thinking has the potential to conflict with national security, but does it have to? Can we rally for stronger security measures while still advocating for our government to give us the ability to welcome those who are suffering, in accordance with the teachings of our faith? Does our faith allow us to ignore the sufferings of others in the name of national security?

onebreah

Of those who are no longer allowed to come safely to our shores, is it possible that they might also have learned and believed the Good News—that God loves them and welcomes them to believe and be healed? Is it possible that they would have believed, especially in a land where they are shown welcome and are given the freedom to believe? But for now they cannot come. For now they cannot hear. For now, is it not more likely that they will think of America, that Christian nation (as it is believed to be), as a nation who worships a God that does not care that they are suffering?

To love is to sacrifice.

As Christians, can you claim to value and cherish life and then stay silent while it is denied to those who are in danger of losing theirs? Have you supported and sacrificed when those seeking to care for the ones who have already lost so much in this life, need help?

Let’s bring it closer to home—when you see a young single woman, trying to care for her child on her own, have you helped? Or have you referred her to government programs and then supported policies that make her life more difficult?

When you see adoptive or foster families struggling, sacrificially loving children who have lost or have suffered, have you entered in? Have you given of your own time? Has it cost you anything to help care for those lives which you said you were for? Has it changed the way you live?

If we have not entered into the lives of those whom Christ taught us to love, sacrificially giving of ourselves, is it possible that our unaffected lives mock their suffering? It is possible that our unaffected lives are the very thing which cause them to doubt God’s love for them?

And so today, to all who claim the name Christian, I invite you to enter into the lives of those who are suffering. Only in entering in can we more fully experience that which we know. Only in entering in can we more faithfully demonstrate the love of God for those who are suffering. Only in entering in can we see the power of love in the face of fear because only in entering in can we know more fully that perfect Love which drives out all fear.

 

Andrea Bailey directs a faith-based ESL program serving refugees and immigrants in her local community.