How Not Complaining Gave Me Better Understanding

For Lent, we decided as a family to fast from complaining–and we chose not only to give up something but also to add something during the season of Lent. We elected to add acts of kindness. As you can imagine, at least one person in the family fails almost daily in the giving up of complaining. But therein lies the value of choosing to ‘sacrifice’ this habit for Lent:  We know that we can’t be good enough in our own strength, our own power, to uphold our own standard of goodness (much less God’s standard). So as we slip and stumble, we’re reminded of our need for Christ. Of our need for the gospel. Of our need for the gospel EVERY SINGLE DAY.

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But recognizing that we ARE fasting from complaining helps to make me at least more intentional about noticing when I do it and about kicking it to the curb when I catch myself at it.

This past Sunday afternoon, on a glorious and bright and sunny day, we took the boys to a lake with Woodrow’s kayak and their fishing gear. I took my workout plan and found a shady spot to do my crunches, squats, Russian twists, and the rest, while Mike watched the boys play around with the kayak mostly near the shore.

A massive, well-attended dog park sits next to the park with the pier and the lake where our family spent time that day. Dog owners bring their pets to the dog park here to run and play; they even have a bit of lake shore set aside for their enjoyment. All this is separated from the lake park (called Lake Baldwin Park) by a fence. The fence even extends several feet out into the water, and the place across from the multi-acre dog park–where the boys paddled in the kayak and fished off the pier–is marked with a sign reading “No Dogs Beyond This Point.”

Almost every time we visit this lake park, we see dog owners bring their pets right out onto the pier, past the sign informing them not to bring their dogs to that area. The dog park has its own entrance, so there’s no need for the owners to walk their dogs on or near the pier. Sometimes these dogs startle my children while the boys dangle fish hooks in the water, but the dogs are usually on leashes, and I typically don’t say anything to the owners about it.

This past Sunday, however, we encountered a different situation with a dog and her owner. The man dropped his dog off at the dog park and then walked over to the lake park, to the pier, and stood on it while yelling at his dog across the fence. He wanted her to swim around the fence that stretched out into the water and make her way over to him on the pier. He tried to get her to swim around to him over and over. She didn’t seem to understand the command. Eventually, he went back inside the dog park to retrieve her. Then he brought her with him back to the lake park, to the side of the lake NOT designated as a dog park. He took her off her leash, letting her run freely.

And run she did, round and round. She ran around him; she ran around me; she ran around the pier and into the water. At one point, Garfield turned around while sitting in the kayak to see a large dog running full speed toward where he sat in the water. I called out to him that it was OK. But it wasn’t OK with me. 

During the time the dog ran wildly around the lake park, the dog owner kept calling to his dog. It was clear he’d lost control, although I could tell by the tone of his voice that he didn’t want it to sound that way. When I tried to reassure Garfield that it was OK, he heard me and answered, “Oh, she won’t bite; she just wants to run.” I didn’t respond to him, but I could see how exasperated he was getting with the dog. He seemed to be the kind of person who wanted to give the appearance of having things under control, of being IN control. It seemed to matter to this man that the handful of people at the lake saw him as a guy who could get things done, as somebody who certainly wouldn’t be bested by his dog.

We got ready to leave just a few minutes after this man finally wrangled the dog and got her back on the leash. As I walked over to Mike (from where I’d been exercising), I considered venting about this irresponsible dog owner. Which is a bit of a pet peeve for me, y’all. But I believe God prompted me to hold my tongue; there was no reason at this point to comment on the situation. So I chose not to say anything–not to complain.

But I thought about this occurrence at Lake Baldwin Park over the next couple of days. I thought about this man, not just about what he did that bothered me or frightened my children, but about him. And I concluded that he was embarrassed. He was embarrassed that his dog had gotten the better of him–and in front of other people at that. All his bravado, his very calculated nonchalance, was to cover up his embarrassment. His fear of not being seen as the person he wanted to portray to the world, even to strangers.

And instead of feeling annoyed by him, I felt some compassion for him. I also realized that most (all?) of us struggle with this to some degree:  fear of being exposed, of being found out, of not being seen as the pulled-together and competent and capable people we want others to know we are so that we can be assured of being accepted and wanted.

When I think about all this, my heart feels freed up to extend more grace to this man. And just think–perhaps none of that would have been possible if I’d complained.

Healing in the Death of a Dream

When I landed on “heal” as my word of the year for 2017, one of the things from which I envisioned healing was the loss of a particular dream.

I read about a unique and vital service to women called the Luo Pad project a couple of years ago. GAiN (Global Aid Network), a ministry of Cru, gives leadership to this project, providing cloth, reusable menstrual pads to women in struggling areas. I’ve blogged before about how I’d been involved as a volunteer from home. I helped create a few of these pads, using flannel mostly from pajama pants bought at Goodwill. After sewing some with a friend–and recruiting my mama to sew other pieces I’d cut–I mailed them to GAiN’s warehouse, and from there, GAiN staff got them in the hands of missionaries in developing countries to use in their ministry to women.

I appreciated so much about this model:  providing a tangible resource to meet a real need; communicating to women that they are valuable and that their needs matter; resourcing staff who already have their boots on the ground in these parts of the world, who know the customs, the people, the spiritual climate, who are best equipped to reach out to people in those areas with the message and the deeds of the gospel. I’d also heard about lack of access to menstrual hygiene products that kept many girls out of school. I wanted to do more than cut out pieces of terrycloth and flannel; I wanted to help this project grow. To recruit more volunteer sewers and, eventually, to take production of these pads overseas. I imagined this as a means of helping women overseas gain a livelihood, meeting their own needs and helping meet the needs of others. The proverbial fire in the belly burned bright.

After a few emails with one of the GAiN leaders, we arranged a phone call. We discussed how I might help fill a gap in leadership for the Luo Pad project. I communicated upfront that I could contribute on a part-time basis, since I home school the boys. And we continued our conversations–brainstorming ideas of how to recruit women in churches or in campus ministries to sew; how we might solicit donations of fabrics from stores; how we could increase the number of pads produced and sent overseas–about this time last year, only a quarter of the demand was being met.

sewing-machine

After we spoke and emailed, I took some preliminary steps to try and implement some of what we’d discussed–I asked a cousin in ministry and my sister (a pastor’s wife) about recruiting people from their churches as volunteer sewers. I reached out to friends around the country about this need, asking if they could get involved. I made lists, set aside time to send emails and think through ideas, and had those ready to talk about for our next phone call. Because this role existed within Cru, I could switch from my current Cru staff role of editing stories (on a part-time basis) to Luo Pad project oversight without leaving the organization of Cru. I even asked my husband about the possibility of moving to Dallas to be near the GAiN U.S. offices if I got asked to take this role. I would lay in bed at night imagining trips to Southeast Asia or various places in Africa to help set up production for Luo Pads among groups of women learning to sew and to support their families.

And then, as these things happen, delays in the process occurred. Phone appointments had to be canceled and rescheduled; the person with whom I was in communication welcomed a new baby into the family. Progress was put on hold. I felt content to wait, although the longer I waited, the more concerned I became that the opportunity was slipping away. Some emails didn’t get answered. I waited some more. Finally, months later, after waiting and wondering, I realized there must be a reason we weren’t moving forward. I contacted the director who’d been in talks with me previously (after seeking out other people, too, who told me just to get back in contact with him–the person I’d been trying to reach already). I expressed disappointment that nothing had come to fruition as far as my finding a place to serve with the Luo Pad program, and so I was concluding that they didn’t see me as the right fit for the role.

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Almost immediately, the director sent a response telling me that he was so very sorry to have been out of touch, but they really wanted a full-time person to staff this position after all. I’d begun to suspect this months ago. Just like that, the opportunity and travel and service I’d envisioned died. I knew I couldn’t continue parenting and teaching my children as I know I’m called to do while working a 40-50 hour per week job. The dream must be crucified. It was finished. And I grieved. After all, we always grieve a death, don’t we? 

Last week, instead of regular school lessons, we spent our Tuesday on a kind of field trip:  As a family, we went to Cru headquarters here in Orlando and helped pack seeds with GAiN. At this seed packing event–which helps resource people overseas with heirloom, non-GMO seeds that will produce crops that will then produce seeds to be planted and then re-planted–Mike and the boys and I sat side by side. We labeled hundreds of envelopes for squash seeds. And while we worked, we talked with one of the GAiN staff. Overseeing the Luo Pad program falls under her leadership. She just reported to her job last summer, a few months after I heard a definitive “no” about my own role with Luo Pads. So the full-time staff person was found; the need has been met, and I am glad for that. I hope and trust that many more women will be served around the globe because of this individual’s work. It was bittersweet, though, to hear her stories and make casual conversation while realizing that the job she now had was one I previously wanted.

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As much as this loss still sometimes brings me sadness, I am seeing God’s work to bring healing. A couple of months ago, a friend from our old church contacted me about sewing Luo Pads. I had mentioned the idea to her back when I hoped to recruit groups of volunteer sewers. She now wanted to get started sewing on her own; we discussed using the terrycloth she had left over from an abandoned attempt at making a bath robe for the pads’ inner layers.

Then my sister Rachel (the pastor’s wife I mentioned above–she also does about a million other things from refinishing furniture to raising 4 children) asked if I would speak to a group of women at their church this summer about participating in the Luo Pad volunteer efforts. I don’t “officially” represent Luo Pads in any way, but I CAN show these women who are keen to serve others the patterns, the stories, and the vision of this project.

So this is how I’m experiencing healing in the death of this one dream:  Marveling at how God has purposed to use me to advance this program apart from serving with GAiN in any ‘real’ capacity. From this vantage point, it’s clear that God’s plans for me didn’t fall through the cracks. Recognizing that is healing.

Life Lesson Through Parenting: Calvin’s Clip

This week, the online platform of Live with Heart and Soul magazine published a guest blog post I’d written. Like so many–MANY–lessons I learn in life these days, this post centers around one I gleaned from parenting my two boys. The events that I share in this post took place a few years ago, but re-reading it this week brought not only the experience but also the lesson back to mind. It’s a good concept to ponder as we grow in our faith.

You can find the post hereand the title is “Calvin’s Clip.” FYI, Calvin is the one I call Garfield on my blog. He’s now 8 years old and rarely shoves things between his teeth anymore. Woodrow put a piece of plastic in his ear at age 4–to save it for later, he solemnly told me at the time I discovered it–and that DID result in a tense trip to the pediatrician. Hopefully those days are behind us.

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Calvin’s feet:  This is how we dress for cold weather in Florida.

You can also find the link to “Calvin’s Clip” by clicking on the “Featured In” button down below, on the bottom of this page. However you get to it, I hope it ministers to you. Thanks, as always, for reading. I love sharing about my life in this little corner of the world, and I always welcome your feedback.

Kindness In the Books

When I coached P.E. classes at our home-school co-op for a few semesters, several students blessed me with gifts on Teacher Appreciation Day. Often, those gifts took the form of chocolate–one fellow home-schooling mother handed me a bag of chocolates on one of those days and whispered, “You don’t have to share these, you know?”

This pink-hued message has been one gift that has lasted longer than the sweet treats of those Teacher Appreciation Days. The student who presented me with this told his mother that I was his favorite teacher at our co-op’s Tuesday afternoon classes. Maybe the sentiment behind the gift prompted me to hang on to it–and to keep it in such a prominent place (my nightstand) in both our old house and the one where we’ve lived for a year and a half now.

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Where There Is Love, There Is Life

Currently it rests atop my great-grandmother’s Book of Common Prayer, next to a shell the boys found recently. I’m honored to continue cherishing this gift of my student’s kindness from a few years ago.

And speaking of kindness…a story I wrote about giving and generous living appears in the recently-released book Chicken Soup for the Soul:  Random Acts of Kindness. My word of the year for 2014 was “gift,” and the story I penned for this book revolves around how the word “gift” helped me remain mindful of opportunities to serve and bless throughout the year. We all have those opportunities for blessing others in our lives, if we have the eyes to see them and the heart to engage in them.

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If it were colder here in Orlando right now, I’d curl up with a cup of hot tea and peruse the stories shared by the 100 other writers contributing to this book. Instead, I’ll get comfy under the ceiling fan and read their inspiring words.

I hope you’ll be inspired by these stories, too!

February: The Month of Love

It’s February, the month of Valentine’s Day and pink and red and cupcakes:  the month of love–although shouldn’t every month be one filled with love? I digress.

I’m blogging today about things I love. Maybe you’ll love them, too!

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Hoopla for audio books. I read aloud for hours each week to the boys:  in the van (if Mike’s driving, of course); before bed; often during school hours. But I also like to play audio books for them, and in this way, they get to hear more great stories. In December, they heard The Jungle Book on audio. In January, we finished The Secret Garden and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. They’re currently listening to Swiss Family Robinson. And it’s all for free with my library card through Hoopla. This site offers e-books as well as audio books, for adults and for children. This site offers a map of Hoopla-participating libraries, so you can discover if Hoopla titles are available to you, too.

My apron. For Christmas, I asked for (and received) an apron–purchased second-hand, of course. In fact, we had gone to Goodwill during a break between 2 shifts for a Cub Scout fundraiser, and I spotted the apron while browsing. I slyly handed it to my husband and suggested he ask the boys if they wanted to get this for me for Christmas. They balked a bit at first–I think it was only September, to be honest–but he convinced them it might be the easiest present they’d ever buy. They acquiesced, and I’m proud to have it (as we might say in Mississippi). Here I am wearing it during a morning of baking orange-pumpkin bread with the boys, using an orange (satsuma, technically) grown by my grandfather along with pumpkin that I pureed and froze last fall. {This pic is prior to my haircut of last month.}

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Doesn’t everybody have a world map in her kitchen?

The apron does more than keep flour or olive oil off my clothes; it reminds me to be intentional, mindful. When I take a moment to tie on my apron, I think about being fully engaged in the moment, thoroughly involved in the act of kneading bread or chopping celery for a soup or shredding cheese for chicken taco chili. I put on my apron and, thus, put on a mindset of focusing on the task (and joy–well, mostly joy) at hand.

Tim Tam cookies. When we lived in New Zealand, Mike and I became fans of a cookie called Tim Tam (I always refer to them as “Tim Tams” when I talk about them in the plural form–but the package just reads “Tim Tam.” Anyway…) For years, we could enjoy these only if we knew somebody visiting South Africa or Australia who might bring them back for us. Well, these treats apparently have crossed the pond. Mike and the boys bought these in Orlando (at a national grocery chain) and presented me with this package for my birthday last month:  

tim-tams             

If a person can find happiness in a cookie, I suppose it’d be this cookie. If you want to have the full Tim Tam experience, you can try a Tim Tam Slam:  nibble off opposite corners of the cookie, one on top, one on bottom–i.e., bite off the top right corner and the bottom left corner–and use it as a sort of straw for drinking up coffee or hot chocolate. And give your drink a chocolate infusion. So far, I haven’t tried this with hot tea, and I don’t anticipate giving it a go, either. I’ll just take my Tim Tams plain, thanks.

It’s only February 1st, so I envision finding lots of other things to love this month. I hope you find many lovely things this month, too.

Mama’s Got a Bone to Pick

My husband often brings home leftovers from his office. We have a bag of taco shells in our pantry that Mike brought home from the remains of a catered lunch (and that have made their way into the coming week’s meal plans). Once in a while, he ferries home a doughnut or two. On Friday, Mike brought some Greek salad and an almost empty bottle of sweet chili sauce back to our house.

I actually love sweet chili sauce, particularly the Thai kind. But this bottle of sauce (which came from a local restaurant that had catered the office meal) I did not appreciate. The contents themselves were fine. Great, even. But the labeling–which somebody at Mike’s office had attempted to cover with a sticker, but it rubbed off after getting damp–on this container sent a message that almost made my blood boil.

The name of this sauce is–brace yourself–Smack My Sweet Ass and Call Me Sally.  The image depicting this moniker shows a brunette, jean-clad woman with a bright red hand print on the seat of her pants. I snapped a picture of the bottle but actually changed my mind about posting it here; if you click the link above, you can see the bottle for yourself.

We’ve had sauce before with inventive names…Bull Snort, Butt Burner, the like. But this one incensed me. Outraged me. I wouldn’t let it be on the table where my children could see it. I’d never want my boys to see this kind of indefensible behavior toward a woman treated as something funny. Because this is a demonstration of rape culture. Sounds extreme, perhaps. But casually using crass behavior toward women to sell stuff, handling unwanted physical advances toward women in such a flippant manner…that’s how the devaluing of women shows up in our culture. (And, just to reiterate, my husband’s office didn’t buy this specific bottle of sauce; it came with the meal from the restaurant that did the catering.)

The description on the label of this hot sauce bottle begins with a question:  Who knew getting smacked could be so sweet? I’ve been smacked before, and I can guarantee you that it wasn’t sweet. When I lived in Romania, if I walked anywhere alone (which I frequently did; it was my home for a year) I would plaster a scowl on my face as I walked by men, any men. I would be careful to avoid eye contact, walk briskly, and scowl. I mentioned this offhandedly to my friend Jodi, who had traveled to Romania to serve as a missionary kid teacher that year, and she commented that she did the same thing. I was stunned. Other women feel this way, too–have this fear, too? We (and other women) were worried about doing anything that might be perceived as inviting unwanted attention.

I hated feeling I needed to do this. I liked being a person who smiled; I liked trying to get children in Romania to smile back at me on the tram. But even in broad daylight, even just walking to mail a postcard, I felt I constantly had to be on my guard. Sexual assault had happened to me once before, when I spent the summer in Hungary. And there were moments when I felt threatened, scared during my time in Romania by men there. The scowl became my defense, and Jodi’s, too.

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Non-scowling woman, happy with her cup of tea.

So allowing my sons to be exposed to the normalizing of this kind of behavior toward women is not going to happen. Not in my house. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, nobody’s sons should be exposed to this. Nobody’s daughters, either. And that’s why I contacted the company Friday night, explaining that I would never, ever buy their product because I would never, ever buy into the concept of mocking this kind of treatment of women so they can sell a hot sauce.

Celebrating Winter

Winter seems to be hitting much of the U.S. in full force this coming weekend, but here in Florida, we’re still wearing shorts. Since we couldn’t experience winter outdoors, we decided to have a bit of it inside this week. We did that by making play snow–which requires only 2 simple ingredients, both of which I had in abundance:  hair conditioner and baking soda.

conditioner-bottles

We found the recipe here, and although it seems to be designed as a sensory activity for younger children, my 2 boys enjoyed it. Until the aroma of conditioner began to be a little overpowering, but the smell faded after a while. Garfield even played with it 2 days in a row, but I don’t think this play snow has another day left in it.

Mike brings home copious amounts of travel-sized toiletries from his ministry trips, and we have a grocery bag full of them in our bathroom cabinet. I’m the only person in the house who uses hair conditioner (and I haven’t washed my hair daily in…well, never..so I don’t go through it very fast). So this ingredient was free! The other supply–baking soda–I had on hand because I bought a 13-pound bag of it at Costco last fall. I use it to make washing soda that then goes into homemade dishwasher detergent and laundry detergent–as well as for baking needs, of course.

Overall this play snow felt delightfully squishy, and the boys played with it for a long while as they listened to an audio version of The Secret Garden. I love providing them with audio books to hear as they have a few minutes of “feet off the floor time” after lunch during our school days, while they build with LEGO bricks, or–in this case–play with sweet-smelling pretend snow.

Besides creating our own winter experience, we also celebrated Epiphany on Friday (January 6). The 12 days of Christmas aren’t just a song title–although we as a family don’t do much to celebrate Christmas after December 25–but those 12 days lead up to January 6, which is honored as Epiphany, or Three Kings’ Day–the three kings (or wise men or Magi) who brought gifts to worship the Christ child. Our celebration involved baking a cake with this recipe from the Pioneer Woman (and substituting this homemade icing recipe, called ermine icing, that I used in making Garfield’s birthday cake last October). {Thanks to friend and fellow blogger Aimee for sharing the cake recipe.}

What makes it an Epiphany cake is the hiding of trinkets inside it. We didn’t buy anything special, just used (non-plastic) objects from around the house:  a pearl, a metal pendant from a necklace, even a cap from a bottle of Red Stripe beer (the boys like to collect bottle caps, for some reason). I looked up Scripture verses inspired by each object. The bottle cap, for instance, pointed us to Isaiah 1:18, since the cap’s colors are red and white. Isaiah 1:18 speaks about our scarlet sins being washed white as wool–I thought it was fitting.

Woodrow found 2 trinkets in his piece of cake, so we read the verses I’d assigned to the items he discovered. Nobody else found a buried treasure, but there’s plenty of cake left (with 6 remaining trinkets). And I made both the cake and icing with less sugar than the recipes called for, so when I watched the documentary Sugar Coated about the dangers of sugar on Netflix tonight, I didn’t feel quite so bad.

I didn’t grow up knowing much about the liturgical church calendar, but I appreciate being able to mark celebrations in our family–and even start new traditions–centered around our faith. Valentine’s Day goodies and Super Bowl parties might result in tasty food, but I cherish the idea that our celebrations can draw us to gaze more upon Jesus (instead of on a football team, for instance).

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There’s so much joy to be relished in the prosaic moments of life:  a game of Go Fish with a child; finding edible weeds in one’s backyard; and a cake that offers up its own little treasure hunt as we talk about how God revealed His redemption plan through Jesus.

Cheers!