The Adventurous Life of a Boring Mom

When I was 8 or 9, my family and I visited some extended family members in a small town near Vicksburg, Mississippi. While there, my distant cousin, Dru, who was the same age I was, had a soccer game. Her step-mom invited me to go along, so I went, happy to be included.

I’d never been to a soccer game before, ever. At that time, the sport of soccer had not made its way to my rural hometown. I had to sit alone during her game, since her step-mom had to work the concession stand or keep score or some other job.

The weather was hot, and I got bored. So, near the end of the game, I occupied myself by turning cartwheels on the sidelines. Over and over and over. I kept myself busy by moving–and moving a lot–but always coming back to the exact same spot.

primary colors plate

Last school year, I read a book aloud to the boys:  Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. I did a fair amount of research before reading that to Woodrow and Garfield, because I couldn’t figure out how to pronounce the name “Bowditch.” I finally discovered it’s pronounced like “bough,” as in “take a bow.”

The story centers around travels on a ship, so the pronunciation makes sense:  like the bow of a ship. Some of the phrases, particular to those seafaring men, connected with me. When a sailing vessel has insufficient wind to move it along, that ship is said to be “becalmed.” Another phrase that struck me:  Swallowing the anchor. Which refers to the time when a sailor retires from sea-going life and settles down.

There are times, whole seasons, in life when I feel this so acutely. When I feel that I’m where I’m supposed to be, but I’m just cartwheeling myself along the sidelines until the game finishes. When I feel I’ve lived with steps of faith and taking risks that led to adventure, but that those days, whole seasons, are passed–and that I must swallow the anchor and settle down to life ashore. These feelings ebb and flow with the natural push and pull within my own soul.

A genuine contentment {most of the time} at being at home:  home school mother, stay-at-home mom for right at 11 years now. My life truly revolves around our home–parenting, teaching, hours of reading aloud and playing games and listening to countless stories about Garfield’s favorite Hot Wheels and Woodrow’s ideas for new inventions. And all the serving that goes with this life-orbiting-around-the-home–from giving haircuts to piggy back rides to birthday parties. This is what I want.

Henry Ford drawing by Calvin
Garfield’s recent portrait drawing. My boy is a Ford truck man.

A genuine restlessness {once in a while} at being at home:  My husband travels to New York for a week, serving others in his ministry role, while I stay back and home school and take the boys to Scouts and fix meals. He eats at fancy restaurants and sees a Broadway musical, and I think to myself–pettily, I know–But I loved New York first! I lived there for a summer during college, serving with Cru on an inner-city mission project. I went back for a week during my time serving with Cru at Mississippi State, leading a group of college students to serve in and learn from inner-city ministry during spring break. Then I also spent a few days there right after 9/11, involved with Cru service there. Mike thinks he doesn’t travel much for work (and compared to others, he really doesn’t), but he gets on a plane numerous times a year. I haven’t flown since 2012.

Before we had children, I discussed with my then-team leader our plans to go to New Zealand for a year and join a team ministering to college students there. I pondered that, if we were going to do this, it might be better to go before we had babies. His response:  “You better get while the getting’s good.” It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that his comment terrified me. What did that mean for my life one day as a mother?

butterfly drawing

I have ten years left–only ten!--to finish laying a foundation in my children’s lives, before they are (more or less) launched into the world. I will not wish away a single moment. I will continue to stop what I’m doing and make eye contact with the child who has another question, another story. I will sacrifice the travel and give up the adventure for time–lots and lots and lots of time, for there simply is no substitute for it–with my children.

Yesterday, we spent a half hour finishing an elaborate game of Memory that Woodrow had made up. Before bedtime, we spent almost half an hour reading, even though I’d already read a chapter from that book in the morning, too. If time is money, I’m investing it in these boys.

When my sons and I spend a morning packing homeless care bags together, or shopping together for socks and underwear and t-shirts to send to a ministry to men engaged in survival prostitution, or cleaning together at a friend’s condo as she prepares it for a new tenant, my eyes of faith crack open a bit wider, and I can see more clearly:  This IS the adventure. 

 

 

Sew, A Needle Pulling Thread

When my grandfather died in February, my husband, sons, and I drove back to my hometown in Mississippi. We spent several days there, grieving together and telling stories about Papa. While staying at my parents’ house, I asked my mama for scrap fabric to make more quilt tops for a charity called My Brother’s Keeper Quilt Group. In 2001, I made a quilt top and sent it to them for their volunteers to turn into a 7′ x 7′ sleeping bag for a homeless person. Then in 2014, I pieced together another quilt top and sewed one in 2015, too. 

I like the act of hand sewing, even though I’m not particularly gifted at it. I find it soothing, and the fact that I can see a finished product at the end is refreshing. I don’t often get that experience of easily-visible accomplishment in my role as mother and home school parent. When Mike and I lived in New Zealand as missionaries to college students (pre-children) I helped one of our teammates by taking apart a bride’s maid skirt so it could be sewn into a new dress. I didn’t have a seam ripper (a specific sewing tool) then, but using a pair of scissors, I carefully took apart every stitch in that skirt and kept the fabric intact. This slow, simple task had a calming effect on me–and it helped our co-worker, as her wedding quickly approached. (The new bride’s maid dresses turned out beautifully, incidentally.)

There’s something healing about a steady, mindless-yet-mindful task like hand sewing. And I wanted to do more. So back in Mississippi, Mama took me to the closet where she keeps stacks of fabric she no longer wishes to use and began pulling out piece after piece. Into the mix, she added multiple large sections of fabric given to her by a retired teacher who attends church with my parents. This woman (who taught one of my brothers in first grade) wanted to get back into quilting after her retirement. But a diagnosis of terminal cancer prevented her from pursuing this. She didn’t want the fabric to go to waste, so she called Mama and asked her to come choose some pieces for herself. Many of those found their way to me.

Back home, I began sewing. The large fabric pieces made creating a 7′ x 7′ quilt top go quickly. I put together two of them, after buying more thread. We went back to Mississippi for spring break–so the boys could play with cousins and so I could spend time with my now-widowed grandmother–and Mama helped me hem the edges of the two tops with her sewing machine. Actually–let’s be honest–she did all the hemming with the machine. Here are the finished products, folded and stacked and ready for mailing.

quilt top 2017 2

I love that these quilt tops are a hodge podge of color, print, design. I love that they don’t have to look any particular way–they just have to be 7 feet by 7 feet. I love that, by doing something so satisfying, I can contribute to helping homeless people stay warm.

quilt top 2017 1

I had so much fabric left after these 2 tops that I have begun sewing a third and probably will make a fourth one as well this year. I’d love to see all that discarded fabric put to good use.

I thread the needle, and then I pull the needle through the fabric, stitching pieces both large and small together, bit by bit. Over time, I build something useful. Maybe that’s part of what appeals to me about sewing–building something useful. 

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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.

cake-with-raspberries

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.

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.