National Be On-Purpose Month: The Little Hero Inside of Me

Here’s a little-known celebration taking place in January:  National Be On-Purpose Month. When I think about being “on purpose,” I consider how that fits into the vision of my blog:  living life on purpose. So today, I’m sharing a story of how I wanted to live “on purpose” during the early season of motherhood–and how God presented me with the opportunity to do so beyond my own little family.

Growing up, my little brother and sister watched an after-school cartoon called “Duck Tales.” One particular day, the episode featured Uncle Scrooge regaling his nephews with a story about how there is a little hero inside all of us.

As a young teenager, I listened to that TV show, passing through to grab a snack on my way to finish homework. And I thought, “I have a little hero inside of me, too!” For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to give of myself to others.

yellow bulb

One volunteer project stands out as truly special for me; I consider it to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

This opportunity came about when I was a new mother caring for an infant son and wondering what else I could do with myself, my talents, and my time. I adored my child and felt thankful for this new season. I also longed to serve others in meaningful ways outside my family.

One night, I exclaimed to my husband, “I want to have more to show for my life than a million laundry loads of cloth diapers!”

So when I discovered a way to share myself that fit right into this new phase of life, I immediately embraced it.

white pine cones

One afternoon when Woodrow had just turned seven months old, my husband, baby, and I attended a reception for the birth center where I had given birth. After decades, this facility that had served thousands of women was closing, and we had come to say good-bye. While there, I noticed one mother wearing a t-shirt promoting attachment parenting.

Later that night, I looked up information on attachment parenting, curious to learn more. That search led me to an online group of attachment parents in our area. One of the moms on the site had posted details about a milk bank in the U.S. requesting donated mother’s milk.

just for you

You can donate breast milk? I thought. I didn’t realize this was possible. I went straight to the website for the milk bank and requested their information packet. I followed all the steps, got a blood test, completed the medical questionnaire, and waited to begin.

When I received the “all clear” along with a free pump for producing the milk donations, I could hardly wait to get started. At first, it was slow going. But I built up a supply over time—lots and lots of five-ounce white plastic bottles filled with “liquid gold” in our freezer.

Most every morning after nursing my own son, I would let him play near me on the floor or hold him on my lap as I pumped for the milk bank. Then I would wash all the parts and set them out to dry in preparation for the next pumping session. The process sometimes felt tedious and always felt time-consuming, but I knew my milk donations could help save babies’ lives. My milk, along with other milk donated to this bank, would go to hospitalized, premature infants who needed this nourishment. Because the mothers of these babies might not be able to produce milk yet—given the premature birth of their children—donor milk could make a significant difference in the health of these preemies.

baby in red dress

Sending in the first batch of my donated milk in a big cooler packed with dry ice brought a sense of accomplishment. I believed so much in sharing with others the life-changing gift of my milk that I continued donating with the birth of my second child, too. When I finally completed my donations, I had given 56 bottles worth of breast milk—a little over 2 gallons.

Apart from a kind thank-you note from the milk bank (and a refrigerator magnet I still keep on the fridge door after almost 9 years), my milk donating garnered next to no attention. However, from my own kitchen—with one or sometimes two children playing at my feet—I helped change the lives of babies in need.

*For information on milk donation, check out the Human Milk Banking Association of North America’s website. 

 

 

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Wear It Well Wednesday: Chevron Print Scarf

Last summer in Colorado, we shopped at quite a few yard sales. Woodrow looked for Nerf guns and Nerf-related supplies, whereas Garfield was on the hunt for Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars.

I bought only a few items myself, but on one of these early Saturday morning yard sale excursions, Mike and the boys picked up several scarves for me–while I stayed back at our Colorado apartment and slept late. One of the scarves they bought me I featured in this Wear It Well Wednesday post of last summer. Today, my Wear It Well Wednesday outfit also showcases one of those scarves–each one purchased for a just quarter.

chevron scarf

I handed my husband my cell phone and said, “Make me look skinny.” For what’s it worth, here’s a bit of unsolicited advice:  Nobody’s getting any younger. Take photos of yourself in clothes that make you feel good and save those pics. Stop obsessing over whatever it is that causes you to feel self-conscious about your appearance and just take some pictures of yourself–or have somebody do it for you–and look back on those pics in years to come. At 84, we’ll gaze upon pictures of ourselves at 44 and reminisce about how great we looked, even if we don’t feel it now–at least, that’s my working theory.

scarf and jeans

I’ve worn this ensemble numerous times this winter–to meet up with a friend at Starbucks; out to see a movie with another friend; to the LEGO construction competition the boys competed in last Saturday. The details:  Scarf:  yard sale purchase. Jeans:  handed down from our Texas friend, Vivian. Shirt and boots:  cast-off goodies from my aunt Anna. And secondhand comes in first again!

 

 

A Letter to Myself on My Birthday

This past week, I celebrated my birthday. My family let me sleep in that morning, so the day certainly started well and then got better and better. A card from a friend, a text from my brother, a package from my parents, a box of goodies from my sister-in-law, handmade cards from the boys…And our home school day went well, too.

girl jumping with red boots

I read a book in 2017 called Choosing Real:  An Invitation to Celebrate When Life Doesn’t Go as Planned, and in it, the author mentioned how she writes a letter to herself  each year on her birthday. Even though it was just September when I read this book, I jotted down a note to write a birthday letter to myself come January.

Here’s the one I penned for myself (for the first time ever)…

Dear Allison,

God’s healing never stops! Receive the healing that He is working in you now, and keep walking in that hope, a confident hope in the fact that His power is at work. Victory in everything that matters will overflow as you walk in His hope.

Learn to stop being self-aggressive and to revel in all the mercy He gives you. Remember that you are created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for you to do. Enjoy partnering with Him in those good works!

hearts with daisies

Expect the unexpected. Keep your eyes wide open and see through the eyes of faith. 

You’re 44 now, and you know yourself well. Do what makes you come alive! And, please, at least CONSIDER learning to go to bed earlier. 

Never underestimate dancing to loud music in front of the bedroom mirror as the mood lifter it truly is. And remember to continue not caring when your dental hygienist explains to you how to get your teeth whiter. Laugh as much as you can, even if it’s just to the extreme burping video on Facebook. A cheerful heart is good medicine. Let God heal you that way, too.

Until next year, Allison

 

 

Wear It Well Wednesday: Dressed Up with Some Place to Go

On the next to last day of 2017, my family and I attended a showing of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever–The Musical at the Orlando Rep. We adore this story! Between the end of November and December 30, we enjoyed this story in 3 different formats:  book (I read it each Christmas season); movie (we found the TV movie of this story on Youtube); and then live musical.

For this outing, I needed (and wanted) to dress up a bit. Cue the hand-me-downs…

allison at oak tree

The weather was cool but not cold, so I got the chance to don this lightweight swing-y top over gray leggings. Both these pieces are second-hand items courtesy of a friend’s cast-offs, along with the navy top worn underneath. The boots are hand-me-downs from a family member. The necklace was purchased second-hand at a consignment shop several years ago as a gift to me. All for free (to me).

My bracelet–worn on the hand that’s peeling back a layer of hair (maybe I was attempting to show off some strands of gray, I don’t know)–is a brand-new Christmas gift from my parents. And I love its message:  From Micah 6:8:  Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly. What an appropriate reminder as we begin a new year…

My 2018 Word of the Year: Plenty

When I think back to my 2017 word of the year–heal–I feel a bit sad that I chose that. Healing necessarily focuses on what’s wounded or ill–so it can get healthier, yes, but… I was pondering recently the idea that ruin always precedes redemption and, in fact, there must be ruin before there can be redemption. So maybe my “heal” gazed more upon the ruin than it should have.

Yes, I needed to trust God for some healing of heart and soul, and I sought to take those disappointments and wounds to Him (sometimes it was less prayerful and a lot more grumbling-ful)–and then throughout the year, additional hurts surfaced where I needed God to apply healing, too.

full jars

Isn’t that the way life is, though? Every new season of life brings its hurt and its happiness. One fundamental truth in my life has helped me rest in Christ’s healing recently:  Life is hard. Sometimes it feels that life is simply pain. But Jesus is real, and He’s with me.

I hear Him whispering to me, “Stay with me here. Stick close to me in this. I know when you hurt, and I also know this life may begin to hurt more. But if you stay with me, I will take you deeper into my love and my fellowship. And at the end, there will be a treasure.” Maybe this past year was more about God’s preparing my heart for healing, and maybe that will take root in more significant ways in the future.

juniper

But on to 2018 and a word that makes me feel full just saying it:  plenty. 

I began reading a book I got for free on Kindle called Minimalist Homeschooling in December. Early on, the author writes about the value of “enough”…having enough and doing enough and prioritizing enough. And that enough can also be viewed as plenty.

If I have enough, do I need more? If not, that’s plenty.

cookies for sale

Without gaining another single thing, I have plenty for which to give thanks. Plenty of reasons to rejoice in the Lord. Plenty of causes to be joyful always (and I believe joy and pain can co-exist in Jesus).

Throughout the year, I’ll be looking up Bible verses that speak to the topic of plenty–there are plenty of them (ha). Here’s one that I’ve long treasured…

Lamentations 3:24–I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

Although the word “plenty” doesn’t appear here (or any of its synonyms), I read this verse and think about feeling richly satisfied with (or in) the Lord, who is my portion. He has plenty of grace for me; and His grace is plenty good. When I’m full-up on what the Lord provides, that is plenty.

yellow mug

One way I’ve already applied this concept in 2018:  I noticed on Facebook a call for cold weather gear for a homeless ministry in Orlando. With this week bringing some below-freezing temperatures to central Florida, the homeless community has seriously been in need. So I began gathering up items, in particular a hooded pull-over (never worn) and zip-up fleece and a windbreaker, along with a hand-me-down coat and a hat and pair of gloves that were long-ago gifts. I don’t have another pair of gloves, although I’m sure my husband has some I could borrow if the need arose (I already borrow his socks on occasion.) That hat? I’d probably wear it–once in a very rare while–if I’d kept it. But I have plenty:  a warm house, lots of quilts, another coat that I DID keep for myself, lots of clothes that I can layer for warmth.

The giver in me says, “Give it all away!” while the pragmatist in me sometimes says, “Keep what you need so you don’t have to buy more.” However…when I approached the closet believing that I had plenty–and, if I had more need of my own, that God would sufficiently supply what I might need–it felt thrilling to keep adding items to the donation bag.

I think I’m already finding that “plenty” is a great perspective on the new year.

 

 

 

 

2018: New Year, New Goals

2017 is now in the books, and I’m ready for a fresh new start. This past year held many triumphs for me:  I made a Power Point presentation for the first time! I know, hard to believe. The first one of these I ever created was for the talk I gave this past summer at my sister’s church about the Luo Pad project.

I also explored some caves with the boys’ Cub Scout pack this past spring, on a camp-out at Hog Island recreation area in Withlacoochee state forest. That was a first for me, too.

roller skates

2017 also held hurts and loss:  My beloved Papa died on Valentine’s Day last year. And yet another dream I held for myself came to naught when I had to close the Women of Vision/women’s stewardship group I’d previously launched.

But 2018 is still wide-open, unclaimed territory, and I relish that. Looking toward the new year, I’ve set a few goals for myself–ones that are specific and targeted (although some are more measurable than others). I didn’t list everything that is a priority that I’m already doing, that’s already part of my normal rhythm, such as exercise, reading good books, or carving out time to be with friends. I tried to list what I might need to be reminded to keep at the forefront. Check it out…

balloons on train track

2018 GOALS:  

  1. Continue on the journey of being faithfully frugal. Remember that book I read that inspired me so?  I’m captivated by the idea of living intentionally this way. One way we’re implementing this in January is by cancelling Netflix. Well, for a month, anyway…I’d like to do away with it for longer, but we’ll start with a month. Our subscription price increases by $1 per month in 2018, so we’ll save about $11 monthly by refraining from being Netflix consumers. And it cost $11 to ship the final 2 quilt tops I sewed for 2017, so that savings is meaningful.
  2. Use my middle-of-the-day down time for quiet times with Jesus on weekdays. I struggle to get up early to start the day with the Lord, and not just because I’m a night person. I sometimes feel more sad in the mornings than at any other time of day, and for a while I found myself feeling some kind of barrier in connecting with the Lord in the morning that I don’t feel at other times. I’d been having my quiet times at night, but for the last week or so of school before Christmas, I used our after-lunch down time (when the boys usually listen to an audio book) to get alone with the Lord. And those times were truly rich. I plan to continue this new practice.

shoes and flowers

3.  Write + submit, submit, submit! Notice my goal is not “get published.” I have little control over that–although by not submitting anything ever, I’m guaranteed not to get anything published. I have a few irons in the fire–meaning I’ve submitted several pieces I’m awaiting a response for–and I know most of those submissions will be rejected. That’s just how it goes. Getting a story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul this year has spurred me on, and I want to continue attempting to put my work out there. Plus, if I get paying gigs this way, I’d like to use at least a portion of that money for extra giving, which absolutely motivates me.

4.  Raise $300 in 2018 (apart from our regular giving) to give to gospel-centered needs. At the end of December, I used some of the money from a recent thredUP cash-out–from selling excess hand-me-down clothing beyond what I needed for the second time–for a mom in need. Not sure yet where I’ll find $300, but that’s the reason it’s a goal, right?

5.  Continue teaching the boys from a spirit of trusting that the work is accomplished NOT by my might or power but by God’s Spirit. Zephaniah 4:6 pierced my heart recently, and I’ve sort of paraphrased the verse here. If I attempt teaching my sons as though it all depends on my best efforts and my good planning and my hard work, I’ll be frustrated and despondent when the fruit I see doesn’t reflect the labor I put in. But if I teach them trusting God’s Spirit to be at work in them, causing the knowledge to take root and develop over time, I can relax–and enjoy the process (and my children) more, not depending on my children’s academic growth to fund my sense of accomplishment.

6.  Continue parenting  with the trust that Christ is the source of my unshakable peace–not good days or nice circumstances. You probably noticed the idolatry I mentioned above (being tempted to draw a sense of validation from my children’s school success since I am their primary teacher), and there’s more to address within goal #6, too. Most days simply don’t flow smoothly from Point A to Point B, and if I depend on circumstances feeling peaceful in order to find the good in my life, I’ll end up disappointed and angry. In this world, we will have trouble; but in Him, I can take heart, because He is my peace.

allison in front of azaleas

7.  Create more Wear It Well Wednesday blog posts. See? Another targeted, specific, doable goal. Look for more of these posts coming soon!

What are your new goals for 2018? I’m also contemplating learning to play the ukulele this year–we have one that Mike’s brother gave to our boys. But I didn’t list it as a goal because I’m just not sure yet. We’ll see! There’s a whole year to fill, so maybe I’ll go for it after all!

My Top Book Picks for 2017

Sometimes, Garfield asks me what my hobbies are. He seems to think that a hobby involves collecting something–such as the Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars he faithfully saves his money to buy. But when I list my hobbies for him, “reading” is usually at the top of the list.

In 2017, I read 47 books for myself. I specify “for myself” because I also read many books aloud for the boys. I’ve read more e-books this year, provided by our library, but I still prefer reading books to listening to them on audio.

books with paper clip.jpg

Here are some of the best ones I’ve read this year–although it’s so hard to choose…

NONFICTION

1. Warriors Don’t Cry:  A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High, Melba Pattillo Beals. Written by one of the Little Rock Nine, this book left me wide-eyed at both the courage and perseverance of the 9 teens who sacrificed freedoms, comfort, and relationships to attend an all-white high school. Essential reading for a more personal view into the Civil Rights era.

2.  Books that delve into the topic of poverty:  I read so many insightful books (written from different angles) about poverty in the U.S. this year that I can’t pick just one as a favorite. Here are 4…

ideas list

$2 A Day:  Living on Almost Nothing in America, by Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer. The authors follow several families in their struggle to survive with nearly zero cash, and their journey takes them to the Mississippi Delta (among other locations). I wrote to the authors about their Delta reporting–although I am from Mississippi, I’m not from the Delta–and shared that my one-day-maybe dream is to move to the Delta and open a grocery store in the food desert of that region. Mr. Shaefer wrote back to applaud that and added, if I do pursue that one day, to let him know–they’d like to invest in the venture. Wow, right?! 

Nickel and Dimed:  On (Not) Getting by in America, Barbara Ehrenreich. This book has been around for decades, but I’d not read it until this year. The author, admittedly financially well-off, embarks on an experiment to try and live independently while working what are typically called “low skill” jobs. Funny at times, it’s a sobering read.

Evicted:  Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond. This is one of the most important books I think I’ve ever read–it deserved its Pulitzer Prize. This book will make you so thankful for a home, no matter how far short it falls of being your dream home. P.S. Another perhaps-someday dream of mine:  to buy condemned houses, refurbish them, and provide them to single moms who’ve faced evictions. The homeless mother who stayed at our house a few days in February had a prior eviction, which presented a huge challenge to finding housing after leaving the homeless shelter.

Hillbilly Elegy:  A Memoir of a Culture and Family in Crisis, J.D. Vance. A vulnerable journey through a young man’s experience of poverty in Appalachia.

open gate

FICTION

1. The Awakening of Miss Prim, Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera. The kind of story you’ll want to savor and ponder over a cup of hot tea, this book will cause you to long for things beautiful and gentle and slow. This book nourished me. In a nutshell:  A hardened, rushed young woman learns to soften and respond to others’ love and then to give of herself, too. 

2. Girl at War, Sara Novic. I blogged about my experience of this book earlier this year, so I won’t say much about it here. But it remains one of my very favorites for 2017. {Click the book title to go read my post about Girl at War.}

3.  Sold, Patricia McCormick. This book is actually young adult fiction, but its depth will nonetheless challenge the most well-read grown-up. It’s the story of a young girl from a poor family in the Himalayas who is sold into prostitution by her step-father without her knowledge. Although the story is heartbreaking, it does end with triumph–and is well-researched by the author.

man in canoe

4. Hate List, Jennifer Brown. Also young adult fiction, this novel that’s set against the backdrop of a school shooting will have you rooting for Valerie despite her often questionable judgment. We’ve all been there–not realizing the gravity of our choices until we’re sometimes past the point of no return. This story sharpened my powers of sympathy and reminded me that there is rarely a do over in life–but there is moving forward.

Speaking of moving forward, 2018 is right around the corner. I’ve decided on my word of the year and will post about that soon. What about you–best books you’ve read this year? Do share!