Staying Strong in the Seasons of Life

Because we started our family later than some, my husband and I are well into our fifties and are still up to our fetlocks in parenting.  Because our oldest son and his wife started their family earlier than some, we are also beginning the season of grandparenting.  Since I’m a bit over-the-top in the whole planning and structure realm, I guess I thought that we’d get a break in between these two seasons to re-tool, become wise, and maybe . . . finish our house.

Sarah Geringer reminds me that God’s timing is perfect, and in her devotional Newness of Life, she invites me to examine my life in terms of thresholds with a determination to view each season with confidence and anticipation of all that God will do —  even when the seasons overlap in ways that I did not foresee!  She is writing from a season of pre-teen children with its financial pressures, time constraints, and quiet doubts.  Set against the backdrop of Ecclesiastes 3, her own story and the words of tired King Solomon make it clear that God is at work in orchestrating the big picture:  birth and death, planting and harvesting, tearing down and building up, grieving and dancing.  And, thankfully, He is also present in the seasons that, to us, seem to be less momentous:  the scattering and gathering, keeping and throwing away, silence and speaking.

I have had a tendency, in the past, to view the momentous words of Scripture from a distance.  After all, when does a homeschooling mother of four who lives on a country hill with spotty Internet service ever encounter a season that tips on a balance of war and peace?  How about on a Sunday morning in a house with one bathroom and six people who need showers?  It turns out that this life of mothering and sock sorting is a great test case for the long view that says there is “a time for every activity under heaven.”  The truth of the gospel is also present in those long ago Old Testament lines of poetry, for each threshold of life is one more occasion in which to witness the newness of life that Jesus ushered in, that we might have life “to the full.”

Listen to the implications:

“In your seasons of birth and death, Jesus remembers you.
In your seasons of planting and harvesting, Jesus bears fruit through you.
In your seasons of killing and healing, Jesus transforms you.
In your seasons of tearing down and building up, Jesus is your cornerstone . . .
In your seasons of war and peace, Jesus empowers you.”

Hildegard von Bingen famously said, “I am a feather on the breath of God.”

When the unpredictability of life is viewed from this angle, there is beauty and a keen anticipation of what God will do next.  In times of transition, our response is key.

What will you do with the newness of this particular season of your life?

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This book was provided by the author in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Great news!

Sarah has released her new devotional The Fruitful Life, just in time for this Lenten season.  Click here to read more about it or to pick up your copy!

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Start Where I Am. Use What I Have.

When my thrifty mother-in-law made mincemeat, she would start with the venison roast from a deer who may have had the audacity to nibble on her tulip leaves.  From there, she would improvise, adding whatever needed using up on that particular day:  a batch of jam that didn’t “set up” just right or an over-abundance of applesauce.  Somehow, the mincemeat always simmered fragrant and delicious.

When I make mincemeat, I follow a recipe – to the letter. But it is likely that if any of my daughters-in-law find a need for that particular pie filling, they will just buy a jar off the shelf.
(Or I will give them one of mine!)

I’m well aware that generational change is a given, but having BOTH a graduation AND a wedding on my spring calendar this year brings it to center stage.  Good and exciting things happen quickly once our kids hit the double digits, so I’m braced and on board.  Change is on the menu whether I like it or not.

I’m choosing to like it.

However, here just below the 45th parallel, where the sun rises in its own good time, spring is still weeks away.

The majestic evergreens and the kindness of low  bushes that turn a deep red after they drop their leaves are all that rescue my mid-winter landscape from a panorama of sepia and gray.  Last night, Venus and the waxing crescent moon were veiled in mist, and the damp cold that is seeping into my bones today tells me that change is on the way.  And I welcome it.

If it’s got to be winter anyway, then let it be cold.  Let the ground stay hard, and let the sky send a fresh, clean blanket of white every few days to relieve the monotony of all that has expired.  Better to walk on frozen ground or across the crunch of snow than to sink into the mud of mid-winter acedia.  Better to bring my mittens, my shovel, and my small resiliency to a beautiful world than to mourn the slow and uncertain advent of spring.

In this season of slow sunrise and early dark when the daffodils snooze and the robins make angry phone calls to their travel agents, I will make fish chowder and fill up the empty spaces around my table with people who need the full feeling that comes from a hearty welcome.  After all, no matter how earnest my intentions, I cannot make less than six quarts of anything.  (And I can’t shake the idea that if Jesus had walked the frozen fields of New England instead of the dusty roads of Galilee, He would have worked His way with a metaphor around an abundant kettle of steaming chowder.)

With sons coming and going, who knows how many bowls I will need to put on the table?  This ever-changing count provides a concrete measure, a confirmation of the vague sensation I carry that someone, somewhere has thrown a lever, releasing a huge gush of life from this busy and crowded home.

This season of change includes Driver’s Ed — Round 4. This time, I’m certain that the boy behind the wheel was napping in his crib just yesterday, while I weeded green beans and scribbled in a journal.  Today, I handed him my cell phone (which he immediately silenced) and told him to call me when he needed to be picked up.

My first cellphone had a tiny antenna on it.  It rang infrequently, but when it did, I usually missed the call anyway, because, buried in my purse, it sounded like a distant chainsaw in the woods.

I still keep my phone in my purse, despite the “fervent counsel” (i.e. nagging) of my children.
Them:  “Where were you?”
Me:  “In the garden.”
Them:  “Why didn’t you take your phone with you?”
Me:  (momentary silence while I try to adjust my wording and tone to be kinder than I am feeling)  “Because I carried a baby monitor around in the garden for ten years.”

Is it a sign of progress that, now, when I hear a distant chain saw in the woods, I run for my cell phone?

A more urgent question:  Am I willing to “outgrow” my crankiness and claustrophobia about technology in order to connect with the important people in my life?

Facebook updates me on the steady advance of the cancer that is tunneling its way through one more friend.  Closer to home, dementia is stealing the self-hood and the memories of yet another precious personality whose creativity and warm laughter are forever lost to this world – while she wanders a locked-down ward and curls up on the wrong bed for her afternoon nap.

Thanks be to God that the offset of all this lament comes in celebration of the full-body smile of my adorable grandson who has absolutely no idea how much joy he adds to the world just by inhabiting his own tiny skin,.  And while it is true that it is the voice of the Lord that “strips the forest bare,” it is also true that when “winter is past [and] the rain over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth . . . and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.  The fig tree ripens is figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance,” (Song of Solomon 2:11-13).  I will bring what I am learning about patience from this cycling of the seasons to my navigation of a life of perpetual change.

I will start where I am with my full days and my inconsistencies and my pitiful mixed motives.

I will use what I have, putting it all in the pot to simmer, and somehow, by the grace of God, I believe that it will be enough.

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Chickens at the Crossroads

Stop signs and flashing lights preside over busy intersections.  Commas and semi-colons mark the collision of clauses.  Wouldn’t it be lovely if there were some ready marker or built-in gulp of air at the major crossroads of life?

Kelly Chripczuk began living the transition from ten years in full-time mothering mode when her youngest children went off to school.  “Who will I be,” she wondered, “in the face of so much open time and space?”  Chicken Scratch: Stories of Love, Risk & Poultry is a thirty-day record of Kelly’s vital signs in the early days of this transition, because one of the first things Kelly did to mark the beginning of her new listening-to-life is to buy ten laying hens.

She soon realized that chickens (like children) are inconvenient.  They get out when they are supposed to stay in.  They are uninhibited with their bodily functions.  Even so, we welcome them into our lives as a reminder that we also are inconvenient at times, and that we refuse to bow down to gods of convenience or efficiency.  Convenience and efficiency are not the boss of us.

capture

 

In  Kelly’s  longing to join the psalmists at the “intersection between heaven and earth, writing, singing, and praying from the very center of their lives,” her chickens became a symbol for a way of life that was spacious, rooted in nature, and that demonstrates the truth that “there’s no arena of life in which God is not able to be known.”

With equal measures of self-deprecating humor and here’s-what-I-learned wisdom, Kelly shares stories that kindled within me a deep thankfulness —  for the fact that tools and bicycles now inhabit the hen house on this country hill, but also for the glorious reality that life with critters is helping me to see that there are “different ways of being.”  I can’t control our family’s pet St. Bernard’s predilection for using window sills as a handy chin rest, and maybe that’s a good thing because, as Kelly points out, “there’s only so much you can control.”  I need that reminder in as many different contexts as possible.

As she grows deep roots into the person she is becoming, Kelly expands her heart around the ache of life and death (after all, things happen to chickens), and, in the process, she gains a heart that is more open to joy.  In the day to day experiences of love, risk, and poultry, she begins to find the courage to live the life she loves.

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This book was provided by the author in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Parenting Past the Mid-Point: More Thoughts from the Garden

“These bean plants are a mess,” I muttered.  “But, wow . . . lots of beans.”

Our eleven rows of Providers (that’s the variety of green bean we always plant) had lived up to their name, but after four pickings, the plants looked tired, ransacked, plundered.

They looked like us.

I smile when I say that my good husband and I are “middle aged”.  I suppose if we live to be 108, we are middle aged, but the reality is that we are past the mid-point on many levels, and this is most glaringly obvious in our life together as parents.  Parenting feels different in these days of a teenage majority when almost everyone is taller than I am.  It was so much easier when I could put all the “forbidden things”  (cookies, snack food, breakables) on top of the refrigerator.  Now I find myself asking my kids for help with top-shelf-reaches.

So, how does a medium-short mother set boundaries for tall boys who still need them?  Now that we are past the days when someone might eat Drano, does parenting still qualify as my priority?

My vote is “yes,” and my campaign slogan is:  “T.V. is not the default in this house.”  Well, actually, to be honest, it’s more like this:  “T.V. IS NOT THE DEFAULT IN THIS HOUSE!!”   (Can you hear the difference?)

Parenting Past the Mid-Point is a balancing act of “yes” and “no,” of remembering that, sometimes, the “no” has to be for me, and the “yes” for my boys.  Writing a blog post one day, it occurred to me that I did not know what Boy #4 was up to . . . not exactly, anyway.  All his brothers were busy and gone for the day, and he had been left behind.  I kept typing, but the thought was nagging me, chewing ever harder, until a Proverb popped into my head:  “A child left to himself brings shame to his mother,” (Proverbs 22:15)  End of story?  Joel was fine, playing with Tucker the St. Bernard.  It would have made for a more dramatic story if I had caught him smoking, right?  But more and more he is spending time alone, so even though we can’t be “play mates,” and I will never be an adequate stand in for his brothers, that afternoon we sat down together for a read-aloud chapter of The Return of the King, and the blog-post got finished later.

I don’t want to drop the ball on the relationship with this boy, just because there have been three before him, and I’m “ready to do something different now.”  Having come late to marriage and family, most of our friends were raising their last child at the same time that we were still figuring out our first born.  On the phone, feeling the tether of the phone cord (remember those?), I could hear in my friends’ voices the feeling of being tethered.  “I’m trying to figure out what I want to do when _____________ starts school.”  (_____________ was six months old.)  Today, twenty years later, having resolved not to follow in their footsteps — but having taken on the challenge of a summer job —  I still want to be living in the present moment with the fourteen-year-old who is waking up every morning to a new, teen-age day.

Besides just the daily challenge of staying in the game, we are finding that the older our children grow, the more we need godly wisdom.  For us, Parenting Past the Mid-Point has meant parenting through disappointment.  Somehow, throughout childhood,  it seems as if our kids all managed to make the team, ace the test, and nail the audition.  It was inevitable, but, nonetheless, a JOLT, when we entered the days of college applications denied, cars totaled, and job interviews with disappointing results.  Now, I’m happy to say that the sons who experienced each of these calamities have lived to tell about it, are driving intact vehicles today, are enrolled in  college, and are employed.  This may not always be the case in our future, and I know this because I have listened to the sadness of mothers whose sons did not survive the totaled car or persevere in the job search.   On this fallen planet, happy endings are not a given, but I have noticed a tendency to ride through the difficulties in my own life with much more sanity and trust than I do the disappointments faced by my children.    Here’s what I’m learning about making productive use of those times:

  1. Pray for your child, and let him know that you are praying.  In at least one of our disappointments, I was so blind-sided by the “no” that came, I did not know how to pray for that son’s future.  I could see no better road than the one that had been blocked.  It was time to offer that attitude up to God (since it was all I had), and to ask Him for wisdom; not that He would give ME  a vision for my son’s future, but that He would do that for my son.
  2. Share Scripture with your child — not as a period, to end the conversation (“All things work together for good to those who love God.”  We know this will work out, so just stop worrying and put on a happy face and things will be fine  . . .”) —  but as a cup of water to prime the well, to keep the conversation going.  Jeremiah 29:11 reassures me every time that God has my children’s futures well in hand, and Psalm 5:8 gives me words to wrap around my hope for straight paths and righteous living for all my boys.
  3. Do the obvious — love them in the way that you know love to be loved!  That might mean listening to the frustrated rantings of your more vocal offspring; it might mean keeping your mouth shut if it seems as if your questions and suggestions create more anxiety.  It could mean that you sit down and help with resume preparation, provide transportation for a while, or offer encouragement in your child’s love language (write encouraging notes, give him a back rub, or bake his favorite lasagna).

Lest anyone get the impression that Parenting Past the Mid-Point is a desert waste-land, let’s go back to the garden.  Those bedraggled bean plants yielded an entire bushel which resulted in fourteen quarts of canned beans for winter, a batch of dilly bean pickles, and enough beans for dinner besides.

There is fruit.

It is a glorious thing to see the friendships that develop among “grown-up and growing-up” kids.  I love that my boys are friends, and am thankful for the grace of shared jokes from a life time of laughing together; spontaneous visits and phone calls; a daughter-in-law with a sweet, quiet smile; a grandson who melts my heart; the knowledge that values we have passed on and the God we love will hold center stage long after the Mid-Point has past and the End-Point is in sight.

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“Mother” Is a Verb, Too

My grown-up boys have a particular smile that I see whenever they come to the house, and I start hauling food out of the refrigerator.  It’s a combination of, “She really can’t help herself, can she?” and “Well . . . I might be persuaded to eat a sandwich.”  Even though I can’t keep a houseplant alive, mothering has developed in me a nurturing and a practical need-noticing that I’m not sure I could have learned any other way.

Gloria Furman celebrates both mothers and mothering in her latest book,  Missional Motherhood, and she immediately grabs her readers’ attention with the truth that there is so much more to this nurturing life than the quest for the perfect macaroni and cheese recipe and the indoctrination of perfectly-behaved children.

The heart of the matter for all mothers is . . . our hearts.  Our brokenness, our mixed motives, and our innate selfishness get in the way of our ability to realize all that we dream of when we envision our call to mothering.  Missional motherhood is a term that embodies this “glad-hearted, life-giving” work of pouring ourselves into the life of another.  For this reason, it is not an exaggeration to say that all women are called to be mothering someone, whether it’s biological or adopted children or the spiritual motherhood that comes along with discipling others into a growing faith.

Gloria begins by taking her readers on a fly-low-hang-on-for-dear-life tour of the Old Testament in which she touches down at high points in the biblical narrative that demonstrate obstacles to missional mothering as well as the magnificent outcome of an others-centered life.  The covenants, the Promised Land, the shadow-realities that point forward to the Promised One — all the plot twists of the biblical narrative are sign posts that reveal our need for a relationship and a righteousness that will compel us to kick ourselves out of the center of the universe — and to do so with joy.

It turns out that we and our adorable offspring are “Word-dependent” creatures (Deuteronomy 8:3) to whom God has graciously given a Living Word.  The glorious message of the Old Testament is amplified in the New Testament with the invitation to consume God’s Word and to live out its precepts, not from compulsion, but out of the desire of our new hearts.

Whenever I read Gloria Furman’s writing I smile a lot.  It’s fun to read words that absolutely resonate with the song that is singing its way through your own daily life.  But beyond this, Gloria has a delightful style that is velvet on steel, but makes room for quirky word-pictures [“a nice, tall glass of perspective”] and whimsical lists of prepositional phrases and hyphenated adjectives that remind me of E.B.White’s prose.  The journey through the book is full of wisdom in the big picture as well as in the interstices, and I have been enriched by these particular pondering points for my understanding of “the everyday ministry of motherhood in the grand plan of God”:

  1.  Service to others — diaper changing, salad making, mini-van driving — is “acceptable worship done unto the Lord.”  It is, therefore, holy.
  2. The choosing that Joshua challenged Israel to accomplish is still necessary today in every individual heart.  We mothering-souls cannot choose delight in the Lord for our children or for those we mentor.  Therefore, we must “teach it, suggest it, exemplify it, and affirm it.”
  3. Like Israel, we must not allow ourselves to become distracted by the glitter of lesser gods.  It is our calling to see and savor the supremacy of the one true God.
  4. The concept that Christ created motherhood for Himself is perspective altering because it impacts on the meaning of life, on our understanding of the centrality of God and His right to design motherhood, and on our ability to demonstrate to a consumer-oriented world the sufficiency of Christ alone.
  5. Although nurturing women have multiple messages in our brains and coming off our lips at any given moment, our main message is the gospel.  This changes our delivery of all other messages and puts an end to all other yardsticks — including the mummy comparison trap.
  6. The cross is central to all we do.  I enjoyed Gloria’s use of the adjectives “cross-shaped” and “cruciform” to describe our nurturing and our victory, reminding readers that our mothering/nurturing is all done through our weakness, but because of the cross, “we nurture life in the face of death.”
  7. Missional motherhood puts gospel glasses on our near-sighted spiritual eyes, resulting in a long-term encouragement that transcends present circumstances.  This long view is more of a pick-me-up than a second cup of coffee, more helpful than complaining, and more lasting than the endless tallying of our own accomplishments.
  8. Missional mums are not super-mums.  However, we fulfill three supernatural roles in our families and in the Kingdom of God.  We serve in a priestly role as we, like Daniel, pray for lost sheep; we serve in a kingly role as we lead and encourage others toward righteousness; we serve in a prophetic role as we hear, obey, and speak truth.  Of course, this is only possible because of the profound truth that Jesus serves in those three roles for us in order to deal with our most urgent need: our sinful brokenness.

If all this sounds overwhelming . . . that’s perfect.  Come empty-handed and open-hearted and receive grace for making the sacrifices and doing the everyday, mundane work of faithfulness.  Mother is a verb centered in following God, trusting the Spirit’s leading —  and then nurturing others through a power that is not our own.

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This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Borrowed Strength for Mothers

Encouragement; reassurance; words of wisdom crafted in the trenches.

Somehow, Seth Haines knew that this was the gift his wife needed for the Christmas following the birth of their third child — so he put out the word.  Friends, favorite authors, and bloggers were asked for a contribution of hope, a letter from the heart of a mother.  The response far exceeded Seth’s expectations, and he was able to present to his wife, Amber C. Haines, a collection of stories:  joyful accounts of tiny people and huge love; tales of grief and estrangement; recollections of disappointment and of celebration.

Now the gift is being multiplied in The Mother Letters, an exquisitely bound and illustrated gift book that fosters community while it celebrates the beauty of borrowed strength.  The truth is that motherhood is (as the subtitle suggests) an amazing and exhausting mix of laughter, joy, struggles, and hope.

Each letter overflows with grace and simple wisdom:

  • slow down
  • have grace with yourself
  • stay faithful to your whole calling
  • listen to what your children are teaching you
  • the days are long, but the years are short
  • simplify everything

Like Amber, I have lived the chaos that accompanies life with four tiny boys, but any woman who wears the name “Mother,” will find in The Mother Letters an invitation to die — and then to discover the strength that lies on the other side of weakness.

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This book was provided by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

Never Too Busy

Feed the cat.
Pick up your toys.
Let’s get in the car and GO!

Such is our hurry-up world that even the tiniest toddler knows what it is to be Busy, Busy.  Therefore, Eileen Spinelli’s board book is a tool in the hands of wise parents who know that our work, our rest, and our play all reside on one glorious continuum when our hearts practice the truth of Colossians 3:23:

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for men.”

Whimsical illustrations by Elina Ellis support the lively text which portrays the delight experienced by God’s creatures when they are doing the very things that he designed them to do:

“Bee is busy making honey.
Squirrel is busy stashing nuts.
Peacock’s busy looking handsome,
Feather’s blooming — how he struts!”

The Mommy who is busy in her garden at the story’s end knows the importance of inviting her little person to help out with a watering can, but the message is loud and clear:
” . . . she’d never be too busy for a cuddle-up with you!”

These are reassuring words for the small eyes and ears the book has been designed for, and they are also a gentle reminder to parents to turn off their devices, put down the pencil or the cookbook or the gardening tools and look that little person in the face.  Listen to their words.   Read them a story.

Busy, Busy! is a great book to usher in what my kids and I used to call “morning clean up.”  After breakfast, everyone washed hands and faces, brushed teeth, and then we checked the chore chart to see what needed to be done that day.  Even the smallest hands can water a plant, swipe a dust cloth across horizontal surfaces, or pick up her own toys.

God is always at work in His creation.  Our work has its beginning in Him and is a gift from His hand.  Busy, Busy! is a delightful way of teaching our children and grandchildren that along with the beaver and the cat and the “spider at her spinning,” when we are at work, “it is the Lord Christ we are serving.”

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This book was provided by WorthyKids, an imprint of Worthy Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.