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.

where-there-is-love-there-is-life
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.

chicken-soup-for-the-soul-book

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!

So I Got A Wild Hair…

This post comes with a caveat:  You might not want to try this at home.

I, however, was more than glad to. Because sometimes, good gravy, you just have to do something CRAZY. My favorite friend Lynn told me years ago that she sometimes just has to do something wild. For her that was once dying her hair a deep, rich shade of fuchsia.

For me, my recent itch to do something unexpected resulted in a new haircut. An “I made it myself” haircut.

before-hair-shot
The “before” shot:  There’s approximately a foot of hair I’m displaying.

At age 26, I donated my hair to Locks of Love. My sister Rachel cut one fat ponytail from the back of my head, and I was good to go with a short, slightly shaggy haircut. After Rachel whacked off the ponytail, I did NOTHING else to it. Later a woman complimented my “trendy” haircut. My next Locks of Love contribution took place at age 28, exactly one week before I got engaged. My third hair donation flew all the way from New Zealand (I was 31 this time), after I received a beautiful cut from a stylist who did the job for free since I planned to give my hair to Locks of Love. After that, I mailed off my fourth Locks of Love gift at age 35 and assumed I’d finished growing out and donating my hair.

I paid for a haircut for the last time in June 2012. Since then, I’ve cut my hair myself (or not at all), and I’ve had it various lengths over the past several years. For a while, I kept it at shoulder length or so. Then I thought, oh, why not? There are other organizations that accept donations of hair, and some even accept hair with strands of gray. Which I happen to have (just a few, mind you).

So I gave moderate attention to my bangs from time to time and let the length go. In December, I measured my hair and realized that my ponytails could make the cut. (See what I did there?) I’d already decided I would follow my friend Tabatha’s lead and donate to Children With Hair Loss.  She’d done her research in finding an organization for the hair that she and her daughters planned to donate. And I cut it tonight. Myself. Gathered the hair into 2 ponytails and sniiiiiiipped.

ponytails
I cannot explain the face I’m making.

Y’all. Sometimes the outlandish things we pursue are not healthy. But this one? This one was pure liberation. I’ve had short hair, long hair, REALLY short hair. It was time for another short ‘do. I’d anticipated that I’d follow through on this at some point this year, maybe in the spring or summer. But after I washed my hair today, I knew…I shall cut this hair TODAY. I’ll get it in an envelope and mail it to Children With Hair Loss tomorrow.

ponytail-in-hand

After I cut the ponytails, my husband trimmed the back a bit. It’s still a work in progress, and I may trim it a little more here and there. It’s like a new toy; I keep playing with it, flipping the bangs from one side to the other, sticking bobby pins here and there.

So, for free, I have a new haircut–and an ongoing project right on top of my head. And I got to satisfy my impulse to DO SOMETHING in a way that allowed me to give of myself. Sometimes we just have to dance with that wild hair.

 

Our Holidays So Far

Mike took off this week from work, and although we had a ‘regular’ home school day on Monday–as ‘regular’ as they can be, I suppose–we did something different on Tuesday. We went gleaning–gathering left-over crops on a farm to help people in need, alongside some friends of ours and in conjunction with the Society of St. Andrew.

I felt confident side-lining academics for this, since it’s not only educational but also gives us an opportunity for service. And I want our home school experience to be fleshed out not only with academics but also with serving others.

After helping bring in almost 5000 pounds of acorn squash, butternut squash, and eggplant, we spent today [Wednesday] doing a great deal of Christmas reading:  several selections from Lois Lenski’s Christmas Stories along with a beautiful book called An Orange For Frankie and The Story of Holly and Ivy. We rounded out our night-time reading with a quick picture book called The Gift of Nothing.

But wait, there’s more! This morning, I picked up Garfield for a delicious cuddle. He had a toy in his hand while I held him, and, unbeknownst to me, he had twirled the handle of it into my hair while we were hugging. When I set him down, we both realized that this thing was stuck in my hair. By the way, I hate this toy and have tried or asked to give it away multiple times. To no avail. Here’s where it ended up this morning:

toy-in-hair
What’s in my hair?! Oh, no! I can’t look!

No, it’s not resting on my shoulder, nor is it a huge dangling earring (I don’t have pierced ears). It’s in the strands of my hair. I almost got fussy about it, but Garfield apologized profusely, and I saw the humor in it. I cut it out, Garfield pulled out the remaining strands of hair, and all was well.

Then right at bedtime–after our lengthy reading session while piled up on the parents’ bed–the boys went to the bathroom once more before bed. I heard some unsettling words coming from there and inquired about it. Here’s what went down.

Woodrow had exhibited his Cub Scout knot-tying skills and tied a LEGO shark to a piece of para cord. He told his little brother he was going to dip the shark in the toilet and then put it in the water cup that they share in their room (for those thirsty wake-ups). Garfield was understandably perturbed by this, so he told his big brother that he was going to pull Woodrow’s nuts off if he followed through on that.

The shark did go into the toilet (But I rinsed it off afterwards! says Woodrow) but not in the cup of water in their room. The water is safe. All body parts are safe.

And that’s our holiday week so far! Gleaning, reading, enjoying Christmas stories…and living real life. Merry Christmas, y’all! 

What I Love about Advent

Advent began yesterday, the time in the Christian calendar leading up to the celebration of Christmas–what we honor as the first coming of Jesus. We ushered in this season yesterday by decorating our Christmas tree in the Lee household and breaking numerous ornaments in the process. Woodrow dropped 2; I accidentally kicked over an angel figurine that I didn’t see on the floor, rendering it headless. The string of one decoration broke as I placed it on a tree branch; it fell and chipped, too. Mike super-glued 2 of them back together; a couple others went in the trash. And we carried on until time to go to church.

For several years, I’ve had our family experience Advent by giving a gift a day. Our first gift of this year’s Advent season consisted of 2 cans of black beans and a can of tomatoes given to a local church’s food pantry. Then we began our Advent Scripture reading together last night before bedtime. The boys stacked up our children’s Christmas books on a shelf in the living room on Saturday, and I read Silver Packages to them at lunch time today. I don’t have enough children’s Christmas books to read one each day to the boys during Advent, but that’s no problem:  The Best Christmas Pageant Ever will take a few days. The boys love it when I give voice to the Herdman child in this story, who calls out, “Hey! Unto you a child is born!”

Another book I love for Advent is a compilation of stories by Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables books. The title is Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories.  I first read this book several Christmas seasons ago. I enjoyed these sweet, heartwarming stories so much that I decided I’d buy a copy (second-hand, of course) and re-read this every year. I also bought a copy for my mama and for a good friend.

christmas-with-anne-book

This year will mark my 4th reading of this collection of stories. I read them aloud to the boys last year, and they were not fans. I’d actually rather read them to myself, anyway. I haven’t started the book yet for this year; I’m waiting so I can savor the stories. Perhaps predictable, endearingly tender…these stories that are filled with the simple joys of giving and sharing are something I love about Advent.

A Better Question: What Do You Do For Love?

Sunday afternoon, now that Mike is home, we had some family fun time. We went fishing and then took the boys to Bass Pro Shop. Both Woodrow and Garfield love that place: climbing on the 4-wheelers, talking about which boat they like the most, ogling all the fishing lures.

Bass Pro Shop near Christmastime runs a free mini-carnival, with a carousel and craft table and bow and arrow range (rubber arrows and miniature bows). Included in the festivities today was a face painter, who did a beautiful job creating art on the faces of children. As we passed her, for some reason I thought–“There’s a skill that I really don’t have.” And I guess because balloon artists usually appear at events where there are face painters, I also thought about people who can create animals out of balloons. I know a person who did this as a part-time job for years. So I thought, while walking past rows of camouflage clothes in Bass Pro,“Balloon animals–another skill I don’t have.” 

Then I thought back to a week ago, when I picked up two of our family’s bikes from the shop where they were getting a tune-up. We had to wait awhile there, and I watched several of the men working, expertly fixing and tinkering and getting those bikes in order. I came home telling Mike what a great skill that was, that a person could use that anywhere–people all over the world ride bikes–that it could be a ministry to people in need. And I also thought, “Wow, that’s surely a skill I don’t have.”

It seems silly now, after returning from Bass Pro Shop, to gaze back on those thoughts and the sense of inadequacy they sparked. But they did foster that feeling, one that prompted me to think, “What skills DO I have, anyway?” 

mushrooms

Then I began to take stock. Here’s what I came up with:  I’m great at typing. Seriously, I’m a good typist. Fast, accurate…one of the most useful things I took away from high school.

I’m also great at reading aloud (though I say it myself). In fact, for quite a few years, I volunteered for a ministry to the visually impaired, reading books and Bible study materials onto cassette tapes–remember those?

For C.A.R.E Ministries, I read aloud books by Beth Moore and Amy Carmichael, booklets about dealing with depression and divorce, biographies of heroes and heroines of the faith such as William and Catherine Booth (founders of the Salvation Army). I’m also aces at reading aloud to my boys. Years ago, I gave a voice to a ventriloquist’s puppet in a kid’s book that my boys sometimes still want me to do. “Say that in your dummy voice,” they ask.

And I’m good with kids.

So, that’s what I’ve got–typing, reading aloud, good with kids. A decent writer. Oh, and I made my own sourdough starter about 3 years ago. Yep, that’s about the extent of my marketable skills.

At least that is how I’m profoundly feeling about myself right now. I believe it comes with the territory:  stay-at-home mom for almost 11 years, home-schooling mother for 6 years now (with 10 more to go, Lord willing). I plan and organize and research curriculum; create math lessons; teach my boys everything from how to skip to how to tie their shoes to how to read. I plan meals and grocery lists, cook, make homemade yogurt and homemade dishwasher detergent and homemade toothpaste. I can do some STUFF, y’all. But essentially, I’m “just” a stay-at-home mama. (P.S. I don’t believe anybody is “just” anything. I just know that’s sometimes how I’m seen.)

Our society values that to which we can attach a paycheck, and little of what I do makes the cut. (I do edit stories on a part-time basis for Cru, the interdenominational ministry with which I’ve been a part for almost 20 years–it’s a small role, and I’m more or less taking other people’s stories and just polishing them up.)

I have my hands full. Volunteering with Cub Scouts, editing those Cru stories, leading the Women of Vision group, raising and educating my boys, making use of that sourdough starter…

It’s hard, y’all, to be that straight-A kid, the college graduate with a major that makes people say “wow” when they hear what you studied, and yet feel that I don’t have much to offer in terms of something useful.

“Oh, nice to meet you. What do you do?” We hear that question, and we know people don’t mean “What are your hobbies?” or “What do you do for fun?” They don’t want to hear that you’re an avid collector of Beanie Babies or that you lovingly care for bonsai trees. They want to know–what do you do for a paycheck? 

I can write a resume of volunteer work that is wildly impressive. But a resume of “related job experience” that could earn me a paycheck? It would be slim. And part of me canNOT figure out why I even care. I’ve never wanted a “career” path. I will never regret the choices I’ve made for children and family. Ever. I think I just want to feel some assurance that I’ve got something to offer.

wedding sign 1

What I’ve discovered? Sometimes that “something to offer” is a Band-Aid to a child at a Cub Scout event who skins his knee. Or an extra grocery bag to a person at the store with her arms full of cans. Or a phone conversation with a dear friend who just needs to talk. In these moments, I think, “God picked ME to be the one to do something good here! Wow, even me!”

Maybe the right question, the better question, is not “What do you do?” but “What do you do for love?” And THAT wouldn’t even fit on a resume, anyway.

Generous Living

I’ve been a bit quiet on ye olde blog this week. Mike went to California for a conference (he returns in about 8 hours), and the stomach virus hit Woodrow and me while I’ve been flying solo as a parent. I hope you aren’t reading this while eating lunch, or eating anything, for that matter. Fair warning regarding TMI:  I broke my 9-year no-vomit streak in the wee hours of Thursday morning. But poor Woodrow had it much worse.

I haven’t had much capacity to sit down and create a new blog post, much as I do love writing. But I did want to share with you about the article I wrote about our Women of Vision group here in Orlando that got published this week.

Click this link to read it. And I know it’s not a Wear It Well Wednesday, but I must brag on the shirt-jacket I’m wearing in the photo that accompanies the article. I picked it up (second-hand, of course) at our clothing swap in late August, where we raised funds for Women of Vision projects. I wore it for the first time a few weeks ago. Sticking my hand in one of the pockets of the top that night, I pulled out a $5 bill that I know I didn’t put there. A great hand-me-down wardrobe piece PLUS $5 more to add to our Women of Vision funds:  That’s what you call a win-win, y’all.

I hope you enjoy this month of giving thanks, and that you are moved to give generously. I hope, too, that my brief article (link above) inspires you to live out thanks as well as to give thanks.

happy-fall-yall-print

 

A Matched Pair: What A Couple of Roller Skates Taught Me

I would have missed it if I had blinked. But I didn’t, and in that flash of a moment, a pair of roller skates taught me something about the nature of friendship.

After college, I lived for a year in Romania (it was such a transformational year in my life; you’ll probably see me reference it over and over), in a spacious flat that looked decrepit from the outside but provided a cozy retreat for my stint in this country. A few days before I left Europe to return home, I walked to the grocery store near my apartment building. On the way back, with a loaf of crusty fresh bread and cheese and half a dozen eggs bought at the outdoor market, I noticed how the weather had already begun to turn cool again. Back home in my native Mississippi, I knew the trees would still look lush and green, and my family might even have the air conditioner still running.

Amid my musing, I noticed some children playing at the edge of the dusty street, students recently released for the day from the elementary school across the road. A pair of girls caught my eye, their laughter and swinging braids attracting my attention. Each with an arm around the other’s shoulder, these girls roller skated past me—each girl wearing one skate, pushing off the ground with her other foot to propel the pair forward.

Practically speaking, these girls could have taken turns; one could have skated down the street and back, and then she could have handed off the skates to her friend for that girl’s turn. But they chose not to share the skates this way. These girls, in this moment, skated together, side by side, sharing the experience and the joy—and the hassle—of togetherness.

Those skates, and those girls, showed me a vital truth that day:  that friendship is worth the effort. When I spend hours in the kitchen working on dinner for my own family as well as a meal for a family with a newborn baby, I remember that blessing my friend is worth the time. When I tidy up a cluttered guest room during an already busy day in order to prepare it for a friend in need, I remember that serving her is worth the work. When I listen long to a friend on a phone call instead of finishing the pie for that night’s dessert with company, I remember that being available to her is worth the delay.

chocolate-pie

Caring and compassion and friendship aren’t always convenient; in fact, they can be laborious, time-consuming, and costly. But friendship, as a labor of love, is a joyful load to carry. And a pleasant path on which to skate.