Sunday, February 27, 2011

My Mary Heart

I've been re-reading the book Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver. When I read it the first time I did what I usually do---devour it quickly in a frenzy of book love but then can't remember what I read just a few days later. It's hard for book lovers to find that balance of eating up pages and letting it nourish you at the same time. So this time I decided to take notes and actually physically write down the passages or sentences that resonate within. I did the same with The Applause of Heaven by Max Lucado (which I also just re-read for the same reasons) which takes apart the Beattitudes and puts them back together in heart changing ways.

Anyway, while reading Having a Mary Heart... last night it suddenly hit me like a proverbial ton of bricks and I felt like such a dunce for not seeing it before. Mary Heart. Merry Heart. You see, this book takes the story of Mary and Martha, two sisters who knew Jesus personally--and by personally I mean that in every way. They actually met Him face to face in a physical way we never will here on Earth. But they knew Him personally in a spiritual way, the way we can know Him this side of Heaven. And this story about Mary and Martha is the main focus of the book:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

And so Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World speaks to the fact that so many women get caught up in serving the Lord that we neglect spending time at His feet really learning from Him. Having a 'Mary Heart' then is a heart that is willing to stop the busyness of life to sit at His feet. A Mary Heart seeks Him first, always and always first. A Mary Heart knows Jesus personally, intimately, even passionately.

So no wonder I felt so DUH! I've been sitting here all this time wanting A Merry Heart. Still do. But the emphasis was on joyful, cheerful nature. A Mary Heart places all of the desires on Jesus. I'm spiritually clued in enough to know that the only way to get that joy and cheer I thirst for is to drink up Jesus...but rather than Jesus being the means to the end, He is the end. For a Mary Heart Jesus is all you desire and by pursuing that desire and being changed by indulging in a desire for Christ, a Merry Heart soon follows.

A Mary Heart = A Merry Heart.

The Bible has two other Marys we all know and love. Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. I think they both had Mary Hearts, although theirs perhaps look different than the Mary, Martha's sister. Mary the mother of Jesus treasured in her heart all the things people said about her son, she thought upon them, she trusted what God said, she trusted what His angels and His people said. I think she is perhaps the greatest example of a Biblical woman with deep faith. Who had more to doubt than Mary? It all must've seemed impossible and insane but she had such faith in God she trusted in the impossible and insane. And her faithfulness was rewarded. Oh, that I could have her heart. A heart that treausures Him and finds deep wells of faith.

The Bible doesn't say why Jesus revealed His resurrected self to Mary Magdalene first. My guess is because of her Mary Heart.  She had been posessed by demons--I can't imagine nor want to even try what that was like for her. Tortured by the Enemy, not just tempted and tried as we all are...but posessed by his demons, torturing her from within. But Jesus saved her from this torture, and then forgave her of her sins because He loved her not for what she could ever do or be, but because she was a child of God.  Who wouldn't be devoted to such a Savior? I think Mary Magdalene's heart was perhaps the most devoted and that devotion continued after His death. She was there in the Garden because of her devotion to Him, and maybe that's why she was blessed to see Him first. She was devoted in her heart even when it seemed there was nothing left to be devoted to. And while the theory of romantic love between Jesus and Mary is a load of hogwash, I think they loved each other very much. A love so much more profound than romatic love, a love that is spiritually intimate, a love between the Savior and the saved. Oh, that I could have her heart, so full of love and devotion for the One who saved me.

Yes, a Mary Heart. A heart that desires Him always first and sits at His feet, a heart that treasures Him and is filled with faith, a heart that is devoted to Him even when it seems all hope is lost. And then if my heart can be all these will be Merry. It would be impossible to be anything else.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Domestically Challenged

Domesticity doesn't come easy for me. I think some people, some women particularly, are hardwired for homemaking. They have a natural knack for arranging things just right and an enthusiasm for seeing a cake turn out perfectly. Me? My house tends to look like an antique store with all my collections fighting for space. My cakes turn out just fine until I try to frost them. That part always ends with me very upset--either yelling or near tears--insisting that it looks ridiculous and my husband saying things like, its just going to be eaten anyway. Bless his heart.

No, I've had to trick myself into embracing this domesticity stuff. I appreciate the idea of it. I long for a well kept house where everything has a place and is in its place. I would love to be a good cook whipping up delicious dinners and yummy desserts. Its just...remember that clumsiness I mentioned in my other post? Well, I'm a domestic klutz as well. Like I said, I can't even frost a cake without it turning into a small confectionary diaster. I was mopping the dining room floor with Mop & Glo and inadvertantly squirted it on the wall of our peninsula (like an island but attached to the a bar that's too tall for stools). And by the way, Mop & Glo will leave a mark on the wall. And then...months later, I did it again. When I clean our shower I always end up soaking wet. It's a miracle I haven't turned all our underwear pink (knock on wood!!!).

But I'm learning the benefit of rising above myself. Practice may not ever make perfect for me but it is improving my domestic skills. I finally just got tired of wanting the well-ordered home but not doing a thing about it. As if merely desiring something is enough...does this remind you of my first post? The whole wanting a merry heart and believing that wanting it was enough to make it happen? The same is true with my home. It will never be a real home, the home that I want to give myself and my husband, if I do nothing more than just think about it.

I get trapped into that frequently---thinking not doing. I realized just before graduating from BGSU that I am a perfectionist, and its that deisre that keeps me from acting. It's better to do nothing than to not do it perfectly, or at least really, really well. It's a debilitating way of life. I over-think and over-analyze and over-plan until I'm paralyzed to take action. This kept me from studying abroad, it made wedding planning an absolute nightmare instead of a joy, and it keeps me from making our house into a haven from the world.

But no more! It is not enough to merely know these things. It is good to be helps a lot when I'm seeking to be a better me. But just having the realization is only part. I can't just talk, or complain, or plan--although I excel at all three things. I have to do that which I do not excel at--do. I have to actually do something. I have to actually put the clean clothes away after I've washed them. I have to vacuum the living room floor if I don't want to look at puffs of fur. These are obvious things and I know that...but I don't do them routinely. I make them into Herculean tasks as if I should be awarded for washing some dishes.

No...enough is enough, Rebecca. If you want to be domestic (and I do!) then you have to choose it. Isn't that the same with everything? If you want joy, you must choose it instead of negativity. If you want peace, you must choose it rather than bitterness. If you want love, you must choose it instead of fear. If you want a well-ordered home, you must choose to take action rather than expecting some magical fairy to come in and do it for you. Although, magical fairy, if you're reading this, please feel free to drop by anytime!

So anyway, when I sat down to write this I intended it to be a list of tips that I've found to help me stay motivated to keep my house a home and not just a place for all our stuff. But you know me, I have to tell a story with everything.

1) Rock out: A friend of mine many years ago told me she likes the Bee Gees because her mother used to listen to them when she would clean. I always liked that idea. Putting on a favorite band, something really fun, to listen to while doing housework. Today I listened to Josh Wilson while doing dishes and cleaning my carpet. Before I knew it I'd listent to the whole playlist two or three times.

2)Pick Up 5 Things: This is actually a mom tip. When I was a kid (or teenager...or now...) and it was time to clean up, I would inevitably feel over-whelmed and want to use that as a cop out. My mom would say, start with five things. And invariably that would lead to five more things and five more things and before long it would be done. This can be modified to setting a time for ten minutes or the length of a favorite song.

3)Do that 'one thing' before bed: Clutter makes me nutty but since I can't possibly keep all of our rooms de-cluttered all of the time, I've decided there are two rooms of priority. One being the kitchen and the other the living room. So my 'one thing' before bed is to put all the dogs toys away (it's similar to having a toddler, only they can't talk...and will never learn to pick up after themselves), take any dishes to the kitchen, and just tidy things up. The next day then getting the kitchen back in order can be my priority.

That's really it for now. A couple years ago I had a housecleaning checklist that did wonders for me but it doesn't seem to work anymore. I must've gotten past my list phase. What are some of your tips or routines to keep your house/apartment/living area not just livable but a home? I could really use the motivation of some fresh ideas!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Angels and Sparrows

I wrote this post yesterday but was not able to post it. :)

No harm will overtake you,
   no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
   to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
--Psalm 91:10-12

I've always accused my guardian angel of taking a lot of coffee breaks. Or going to help out my brother's angel, because he had more dare-devil tendencies than I when we were kids. I'm clumsy and it seems that no matter how cautious I am this spills into my driving life. Scary, I know.

I've only had a license since I was nineteen, and in those seven years I have spun off the road four times--half of those in the same day, same blizzard. The other half this winter. The last this morning.

One a road thick with ice, lined with a deep ditch on one side and a slope into an expansive field on the other. When the wind blew and I felt control slip from my hands I just started begging the One in control, 'please don't let me do in the ditch, just please not the ditch, I can handle the field, just not the ditch, just not the ditch.' I swung out toward the ditch, I braced for the worst--and I mean the worst, and then my truck swerved the other direction. I did a complete circle as I sank into the field and ended up facing the road. If I had stopped facing the other way, facing into the field and not toward the road, I might've been able to back out. Although hindsight now tells me if I had, I would've over compensated flying back over the icy road and inevitably into the ditch I had begged to be saved from. It was good that I landed where I did. It was God. It is true--His eye is not only on the sparrow but also on me.

A few months, a year ago, my husband and I felt disconnected from the world. Our friends had scattered to the ends of the Earth and we were left out here in this windy prairie. But in July that began to change. God answered our simple and childlike prayer for friends, for community, to not be alone in our journey. So this morning all alone in a ditch, with a husband at work, a father-in-law at work, and all other family scattered...I had someone to call. Who told me of another person to call. Who came with his son to pull me out of the field. I was conencted, I was taken care of, I was safe. And I am very grateful for these things.

Tears have spilled from my eyes several times to day, despite trying to stay calm and not become an emotional female. But I the reality is, I'm not crying out of fear or anxiety--maybe initially the shock produced some tears, but what keeps choking me up is a sense of profound relief and awe for the way God provides.

 A few more feet back, it would've been a lot harder to pull me out. A few more feet over, I would've hit something pasted with a bright shiny orange label 'CAUTION: DO NOT DIG'. Seems like it would've been very bad to hit that. I was running late, so I have to wonder...ten minutes earlier, would I have hit someone else? Would someone else have hit me? I don't know. Doesn't matter, I suppose...but I do know that today God made sure my guaridan angel was on duty. Maybe he even pulled my brother's for back-up.

And I think this should count for 10 on my gratitude list...

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.--Matthew 10:29-31

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Someday I'll Sparkle

This has been a very long exhausting week. Working with kids is not always easy or fun. It is so much more than coloring and keeping shoelaces tied. Especially when some of those kids have special needs of one type or another. Makes for a long week.

And my kitty ran away.

So all week I've been grasping at Biblical snippets of truth and strength just to survive. I open a cabinet door to get out something for a student and whisper...
"I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."
"Do everything without arguing or complaining."
"This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it."
"Cast all your cares on Him for He cares for you."

And it is somehow enough to sustain me through the moment...through the hour...through the day.

I've read my Bible more this week than I have in a long, long time. In fact, I finally finished reading through the whole Bible chronologically. I've never read the entire Bible before--so many of those Old Testament books seemed dry and unnecessary. Turns out those were the books I loved reading the most. And so I've just finished up the last of the New Testament letters and Revelation. Because of my spiritual ADD it took me far longer than it should've to read through--about 22 months. But its really awesome to have finished the entire Bible. Now I have to decide where to pick up again.

I read before work--and I never thought I'd be able to get up early to read my Bible. I'm not a morning person. At all. Not even a little bit. I read my Bible at work a couple times this week. Turns out its really good to disengage from all that 'stuff' and get readjusted mid-day. I read my Bible at night a few times this week. This is my normal reading time. I love that calm feeling of studying the Word right before bed. So much better than just trying to turn off all the frenetic energy of the day without downshifting.

Found some great new tunes. Currently listening to David Crowder Band's Church Music album. Loving SMS (Shine). I heard this song on the radio Tuesday evening and it felt like free-falling into peace. Tuesday had been a particularly stressful today. And the soothing and uplifting melody coupled with the pleading lyrics 'shine your light so I can see you, pull me up, I need to be near you, hold me I need to feel loved, can you overcome this high? let's overcome." Exactly the prayer of my tired heart.

Apparently the days that I manage to wake up in a good mood, feeling positive and uplifted are the days that I am torn down and torn apart by 6pm. I drag myself home looking and feeling nothing like the way I left. It's a discouragement for sure. Frustrating. Disheartening. That the more joy I find, the harder my days become, robbing me of that joy. Teeter-totter, up and down. This is why emotions should not dictate faith, joy, or the outcome of a day.

As I write this I have to admit I still feel downtrodden. My shoulders are heavy, my heart is heavy. I feel on the brink of failure as I have all week. But I know that this is a temporary distraction designed to keep me from trusting the One who can save me. Which is why I keep fighting to hear His voice through the clammor. I grasp for those verses, I thrist for music, I soak up His words. It sustains me in my frailest moments. The ones when my nerves are frayed to the breaking point.

I was brushing my teeth on Tuesday night before bed and thinking. Some of my best thoughts come doing innane things like that. It occurred to me that diamonds are formed by carbon under immense pressure for a very long time. In fact, everything we consider precious and valuable is created through harsh experiences. Pearls, gold, silver, diamonds...And the Bible makes us of this analogy. God in fact promises that we will undergo a similar process, being refined by pressure and fire and abrasive situations. It will hurt, it will be hard but we will be sustained. We won't be crushed or burnt. And in the end, we'll be so much closer to His desire for us.

So tomorrow is Friday and then the weekend. My sweet mama is coming to visit and I am so grateful to see her. Nothing quite like a mama after a hard week. One of the ways God's love is mom's warmth, my husband's marvelous ability to make me laugh no matter how bad it's been, Shiloh licking my face, Bode snuggling close, music which nurtures my soul, words which strengthen my spirit. This is how God loves me. And if I just hold on to that, someday I will sparkle like a bright, shiny diamond, hand-polished by Him.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Love Like A Hurricane, I Am A Tree...

I absolutely love that song, 'How He Loves' by David Crowder Band. Love it. Love. It. I remember the first time I heard it I was driving and listening to KLOVE. Tears came to my eyes, and I wished I'd had that song several years back. It would've nurtured my aching heart and tired soul so much. Well, it still does even though I'm no longer in that dark place. I've come to understand that is one of the best things about God's love--it is necessary and awesome no matter where you are. Desperate or content, searching or found, devastated or hopeful.

I started to learn the depth of God's love after my heart had been crushed. For a long time I blamed this heart crushing on a boy. After all, it was our break up that seemed to have left me devastated and lost. It seemed that he was the source of all my pain. But I think even then, even before I could admit it, I knew that wasn't the case. He was just a boy, doing the best he just turned out his best wasn't good enough. And neither was mine. It never is. It never can be. Our best is still hopelessly flawed and insufficient.

I can remember feeling astonished that the Sunday School song about the wise man and the foolish man was true. It was not just a song for contractors, apparently it was a song for me. About me. And me, a Sunday School kid, been in church all my life, little self-righteous me, had fallen into the foolish man camp of sand-builders. I felt the full weight of my foolishness. I'd placed all my hopes, security, and worth on men--both literally and figuratively. And when they couldn't give me what I needed, when the rains came down and the floods came up, my house was washed away. My heart was left homeless.

And it was then that He could find me. When as a little lamb lost in the wood, I finally started calling out for help. I strained to hear His voice. I yearned for the safety of His arms and His flock. Not anything else. Not anyone else. Just Him.

And I came to learn that He is indeed jealous for me. It broke His heart for me to turn on His love and give myself to another. I put a mere mortal in His rightful place. I suffered the consequences, I think He wanted to save me from that but His word is true. He had to turn me over to my desires and to let me suffer the fruits of those decisions. He had to. God can't violate His own laws, statutes, commands, promises. I think of the scene in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Susan suggests that Aslan not obey the ancient law, and he growls at her. God's laws must be obeyed, even by Him. Especially by Him.

But how He rejoiced over me. He showered me with His love. Clothing me in the richness of His grace and forgiveness. Washing me clean with His own sacrifice. Making me one worthy of His love. Me. The one who had known better and still turned away. The one who had made a disgrace of everything He is. He took even me and made me something beautiful.

I wish I could tell you that I've stayed in the flock and never wandered astray. I would love to report that I've never again been unfaithful to my Lord. But that would be a lie. Perhaps even an impossibility. But in spite of my unfaithful heart, He remains faithful. In spite of my flawed and fickle outbursts of love, His love is unwavering and unchanging.

Steady and true is the way God loves me, the way He loves you. His love doesn't make our sins and philandering okay. Not at all, not even a little bit. But His love covers a multitude of sins. If we accept it, if we bend beneath the weight of His wind and mercy, as Mr.Crowder would sing. That's all He really asks. I've tried to make it up to Him, to show Him how good I can be. But I inevitably fail and am left with nothing to offer but crumbled bits of good intentions. He doesn't want us to show Him how good we can be--our best goodness is still sin. He wants us to let Him do the work. He wants to show us, I think, how good we can be. How good He can make us as He is making us more like Jesus.

Just take His love. Hold on to it, cherish it, cling to it, never let it go. And all the rest will come together as God orchestrates the symphony of change in our lives.

I wrote this post yesterday but didn't have time to edit and post it...soooo since it was Monday, I'm going to share some of my 'One Thousand Gifts'.

41. A homemade Valentine card from my husband
42. Dinner being made when I walk in the door
43. A clean kitchen!
44. A puppy that only ate one flip-flop when left alone for 6 hours
45. A quiet afternoon at work
46. Pictures of my grandmother and great-aunt at a tea party
47. Feeling comforted by God's word
48. Peace that passes understanding
49. The promise of 'inexpressible joy'
50. Friends
51. A friend sharing a trailer for a Jane Eyre movie that actually looks faithful to the book.

It's the little things in life...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Every Activity Under Heaven

Since January I've been working full time at my job. I work 2 or so hours at our county office before going out to the school to finish up my work day. For those of you that don't know, I run a before & after school-care program for one of the local school districts. I went from six hours to eight hours a day. Not a big deal, right? Just two piddly hours.

Yeah. Right. I suddenly feel like I have no time.

This is feeling reminiscient of my previous post about making time for what is important. That post along with devotions and other blogs I've read have caused me to spend some time reflecting on how I view time. I want to manage my time, spend it will, save time by doing things efficiently, and I've come to hate feeling that I've wasted time. All of these are the same words I would use when talking about money. Time and money. Some people say time is money, and that may be true for lawyers or stock brokers but not for me. 

I've been creating pretty to-do lists to keep me motivated. I take time to decorate and illustrate my lists which sounds like procrastinating but I've noticed that the more I like the aesthetcs of something the more likely I am to stick with it. I've been thinking about re-organizing my house and re-structuring how things get done. I'm trying to come up with an efficient way to keep up with things. Housekeeping, paying & filing bills, and keeping track of things shouldn't be the daunting task it has somehow become. There should be a simple way to do things. I just need to find it.

I've read about creating rituals for daily things to make them meaningful instead of ordinary. My post on True Womanhood had me thinking of this in terms of housework. Seeing it as a rite of passage, beng indoctrinated into the club of True Women with every dish I wash. I also plan on making playlists of cleaning music, driving home from work music, and getting ready in the morning music. I want to create a morning ritual to prepare myself for the day--beyond the dash to get dressed and throw some make-up. I want to make the little things of everyday meaningful, even spiritual.

The Bible tells us to do everything without arguring or complaining, and that everything we do is (or shoud be) glorifying to Him. God cares about how I do what I do. I don't think He cares if I vacuum  up the puffs of doggy fur and toy-stuffing everyday, but He cares if I do it with a grudging spirit.

So, I think what I'm trying to say is this: by restructuring how I think about time, I'll be able to restructure how I use time, and my attitudes about how my time is spent will be restructured as a result. You might want to read that again. I did.

The first step is to re-focus my ideas of time. I realize in writing this that I think primarily of myself. What I need to do, what I want to do, what I think is important. I've got "I-trouble" (a song from a kids' program I was in as a very little girl, Angels Aware). What I need to realize is that God has given me this time to use as He directs. And I'm sure that will include much of the same things but I need to let Him make the call on when and how those things get done.

I have to empty my box of pre-conceived notions and let God decide what gets put back into the box. Throw away some things, add in some new, I'm sure. But it's God who needs to do this work. And I have a strong supsicion what God will show me is that there is plenty of time to do His work and do it gladly. And that all I do is actually His work.

Then, hopefully, when I'm getting ready for bed at night (another ritual to create, I think!) I won't be feeling all the failures of what I didn't get done. I can rest in knowing that God is in control of my time. Yup, that sounds much better to me.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. ~ Ecclesiastes 3 (love this, one of my all-time favorite passages)

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.~ Ephesians 5:15-16
Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. ~ Proverbs 6:3
The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. ~ Proverbs 13:4
Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails. ~ Proverbs 19:21

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Before it's too late

So I'm stealing this idea from a friend...who stole it from one of her friends. Feel free to steal it from me, if so inclined.

Her idea was to come up with 30 goals to achieve before turning 30. A bucket list of sorts, I suppose, but I've never seen the movie. Someone will have to let me know if I should. Anyway, rabbit trail...My only concern is that 30 is only four short years away. While much can happen in four years, much can also stay the same. But I think the idea is to be inspired to achieve something I've always wanted to do. And maybe once I achieve one thing, I'll be motivated for another, and then another.

So I'm looking at this list as things I want to do before it's too late. I'll start with 30, probably add to it as time goes on, maybe even take some things off. I had a list like this in high school, looking at it now makes me chuckle. I'm actually quite glad I never did some of the things I thought I wanted to. list.

1--Finish the novel I've been writing since I was seventeen
2-- Take a summer long trip to England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Especially to see where my ancestors lived. And to geek out saying things like, 'And this is where Henry the VIII celebrated Christmas in 1534'.
3--Become a parent
4--Conquer my sewing machine
5--Make money selling some of my crafts
6--See a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC
7--Experience the ball dropping on New Year's in NYC
8--Go to the Olympics, preferably winter
9--Learn Italian
10--Read the entire Bible in just one year
11--Memorize a book of the Bible
12--Have something published
13--Visit all 50 states...and I mean visit, not just drive through.
14--Frost a cake without making an absolute mess of it...maybe even make it look super pretty!
15--Change the oil in my car (Curtis will have to assist on this one!)
16--Have my house pictured in a magazine
17--Travel to Italy, I particularly want to see Venice.
18--Knit something other than a scarf
19--Learn how to quilt
20--See a taping of Jimmy Fallon, if possible be an audience participant in one of his games
21--Pet a dolphin, or swim with one.
22--See a Shakespeare production at The Globe in London
23-Learn how to garden, because apparently it is more than just putting flowers in the ground and hoping it lives
24--Continue my formal education, even if it's just auditing classes
25--Direct a play
26--Walk with Curtis  in downtown Cuyahoga Falls at Christmastime (ideally Christmas eve) with the snow falling and the church bells playing carols. I know--could I be more specific?
27--Take a train ride for vacation somewhere.
28--Do something to help orphans in another country (mission trip, support financially, etc?)
29--Catch a fish (again, Curtis must assist!)
30--Learn how to tie the different knots for a necktie
31--Learn how to box or kickbox

 So apparently, I have 31 to start. Some of these are obviously more grandiose than others. Well, it's a start. We'll see how this goes. Let me know if you have any tips for completing any of mine. Remember, I'm typically non-committal so any advice will help ensure I actually achieve any of these goals.

What do you want to do before it's too late? Inspire me to act by sharing with me your aspirations. :)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

True Womanhood

As an English major I was required to write a senior thesis to graduate. Most of my friends and peers chose to write about a literary work they'd read in their four years (or so) of college. Not me. Of course, I have to be unique. I wanted to write about something we hadn't covered...or hadn't covered well. I had a list of ideas--everything from Peter Pan to the songs in the Bible (like Mary's song)--but what I ended up with was Sarah Josepha Hale and the Cult of Domesticity. I will award ten bonus points to anyone who knows who Sarah Josepha Hale is before reading this post. :) No cheating!

Not a popular figure in our time, it was definitely an unusual choice for an undergraduate English thesis. But I love her, and I love the cult of domesticity. In college we read a feminist piece degrading the historical notion of a woman's sphere. But I feel passionately about true womanhood and domesiticty. Maybe this is from living part of my life in the nineteenth century (I worked at a living history museum as a teenager where we did first person) but more like is the tradition of domesticity in my family. I come from a family where the women don't just cook to eat or clean to not be dirty. It's an art form, an expression of their womanhood. Which is precisely what nineteenth century author, editor, and woman Sarah Josepha Hale said of true womanhood. She was the Martha Stewart of her day...but better. No jail. And exponentially more awesome.

I won't bore you with all the details...but the premise of  true womanhood, cult of domesticity, and the woman's sphere (buzzwords in this feminism/femininity debate) is that an authentic woman is one who is a homemaker and a nurturer as that is in keeping with the nature of woman. Now, before you start firing off comments correcting me, allow me to say that I am all for women working if they want to or need to. What I am against is the modenr belief that a woman who is able to stay at home is less of a woman. As if being a strong woman is defined by a career or paycheck. You want to see a strong woman--read any diary of a historical woman. That was strength. They didn't even have Windex, people.

I admire those women and it was an honor to defend their way of life in my thesis. And it is personal for me. For countless generations back the women in my family have been domestic goddesses, the truest of true women. My grandmother never earned a paycheck, nor her mother nor her mother's mother. But they were incredible women. My grandmother told me recently that she remembers her mother making dinner, doing the dishes after dinner, laying down to rest a bit and then getting up to clean until 2 or 3am. I'm sure my great-grandmother then got up around 6am to start her day. Make a fire in the stove, get breakfast ready and kids off to school. Mending, cleaning, baking. A never ending cycle of to-dos.

My mom, Amy, as a child. So excited about that iron!

The Dayton women: Great-Aunt Annis, Great-Aunt Ruth,
my Grandmother (Betty) and my mom

And this mantle has been passed from mother to daughter. Recipes have been passed down the generations. Cleaning methods and habits persist. I'm no longer the youngest girl in the family--my three month old niece holds that distinction now. And I am now a full fledged member of our own little cult of domesticity. I have a house to keep and a husband to care for. As my niece grows she will be indoctrinated into true womanhood. She'll be taught how to make cookies from scratch and roll dough paper thin. Like me she'll learn what is used to take out stains and the value of pre-soaking. Our Pennsylvania heritage will teach her the difference between 'cleaning' and just 'reading up'. And when she's all grown up like me, she'll be one of us.

I'm not a domestic goddess. I have a long way to go before I earn that distinction. But I feel continuity with the generations long before me by taking part in this True Womanhood. The actions of domesticity--cooking, cleaning, and the like--become rituals connecting me with the past. There's something affirming in washing a dish by hand as every generation before me as done. Although, I must admit, I would kill for a dishwasher.

Much has changed. It is far easier for me to be domestic than it was for them. Every generation since the Industrial Revolution has had an easier time than the one before. But even though the accouterments of domesticity has changed, true womanhood has stayed the same. And I hope someday to be as domestically accomplished as my mother and grandmother. After all, we've been doing this for so many generations, I don't want to be the one to break with the past. And I would never want to let down my domestic idol, Sarah Josepha Hale.

I'll leave you with some of my favorite Sarah Josepha Hale quotes so you can see why I love her.

"Is it a disparagement to the rose that it differs from the acorn? Would the peach choose to be identical with the potato? Nature gives the kindly 'fruits of the earth' their uses and virtues, all different and good. With mankind it is similar. Men and women differ as essentially in their minds of modes of thoughts as in their forms."
“On the wife, especially, devolves the privilege and pleasure of rendering home happy.”
“A young bride, first making her own home, should think of this, and remember that much of her future enjoyment may depend upon the halo her hand shall throw around the domestic sanctuary.”

And these make me laugh out loud with appreciation...her advice to men (so true)

“Most women are naturally amiable, gentle, and complying; and if a wife becomes perverse, or indifferent to her home, it is usually her husband’s fault.”

“And even now, happy homes may be made, it the husband and wife would lovingly work for this sweet enjoyment.  Why should all the responsibilities be laid on woman? Would it not be well to give men a lesson or two on their home-duties? Why should not the husband be advised to bring home ‘smiles and sunshine’ for the wife, which she is admonished always to ‘have only smiles and sunshine for the husband when he comes home wearied with his day’s labor’?

My great-great-Grandmother
Vera Gertrude Nearhoof
On her honeymoon with her 2nd husband

My great-Grandmother
Florence Dayton (right) with her sister.
My great-great-great-Grandmother
Elizabeth Boger (Nearhoof)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Swept Away

"And life is beautiful in spite of all its sorrow and care. I seem to realize the truth of this afresh every day and to see its beauty more clearly. There is so much in the world for us all, if we only have the eyes to see it and the heart to love it and the hand to gather it to ourselves--so much in men and women, so much in art and literature, so much everywhere in the narrowest, most circumscribed life--so much to enjoy and delight in and be thankful for."--L.M Montgomery

My days when I manage to not be totally self-absorbed, I feel the vibrancy of this quote. I agree with Maud (Lucy Maud Montgomery's preferred name...and yes, we are on a first-name basis:) ) and her passionate view of the human experience. Yes, I know. It isn't always sunshine and rainbows. So did she. So do you, I would hazard to guess. And so does God. But there is still a powerful undercurrent of beauty in life, and the wisest people allow themselves to be swept away.

But I am not one of the wise and I am beginning to understand this is an essential step part in having a merry heart. A joyful and thankful heart is in its very nature merry. It's hard to admit, shameful really, but I am not a joyful or thankful person. In spite of all I've been given I seem to be hardwired to radiate a signal of negativity. I am grateful to God but I don't show it. I complain. I whine. I criticize. I complain some more. Whenever I read about the Ancient Israelites my ears burn because they're talking about me. I'm just as bad as they were.

I've seen miracles--in ordinary days and in extraordinary moments--and yet lose my joy at the first twinge of irritation. I suppose it was one thing to be negative before falling in love with Him, but to stay this way? True love inspires change. And a life which reflects God's grace requires change. A shift from self to Savior.

And this change requires commitment. My word again. A commitment to gratitude which will bear the fruit of joy and...merriness. My merry heart.

Ann Voskamp has inspired me, and countless others, to notice God's gifts and be grateful. She's written a book I intend to purchase and read which covers this idea (and so much more from what I can tell from reviews). And on her blog there is an invitation to join her. I put the button on my blog to show my commitment to this new lifestyle of gratitude and joy.

So here I go. I'm jumping in to be swept away in that undercurrent of beauty which is God's awesome love.

The start of my gift list...hoping to reach 1000 by the first day of Summer?
1. Getting up a half hour before the alarm to start my day with Him
2. Having a few spare mintures to just scratch Bode's tummy
3. Being greeted with a thousand slobbery kisses from Shiloh and Bode
4. My husband's smiling eyes even when he's had a hard day
5. A sunset with clouds that make the sky look like an ocean. I. Love. That.
6. Quiet moments at work making Valentine's crafts with a kindergartner.
7. Felix's (our kitty) fascination with water & watching him drink from the tap.
8. A string of really good songs on the radio.
9. That tingly feeling of knowing you've found Him again, or been found by Him again.
10. Being a little lamb held in His arms.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

You Make Time For What Is Important To You

This phrase has been echoing around in my head for a few weeks now. Oddly enough, it first came to me just a couple days after we bought our Wii. I'd been diligently setting aside some time everyday to play--thereby completing my New Year's Resolution to get in some physical activity every day (I am a sad and pathetic couch potato...but that's another story). I enjoy playing the Wii and it's an activity Curtis and I can do together, so it's easy to set aside time for it.

I make time to watch 'my shows'. Of which I have far too many (see the aforementioned admission of couch potato behavior). I often have to go through DVR deletion binges to make room for new episodes.

I find time to talk on the phone with my mom and Skype with my brother--not every day but often. I play with my dogs and annoy the cat. There's time for Facebook, this blog, and perusing the web. I can find time for anything if it's important to me.

So why haven't I made time for God?

Ouch. That's painful. And that's why I've been avoiding this topic. Like a stubborn child I've stuck my fingers in my ear and sang another song as loud as I could, trying to drown out Heaven's still small whisper. I've discovered it is easier to drown out thunder than the Spirit's whisper.

We had communion this morning at church. I see those special services as a time to honestly look at myself and get real with God. I get the feeling that God is looking at me and saying, "if you're going to partake of this, you've got to hear what I'm saying and let it change you." And instead of the lipservice of piecrust promises (easily made, easily broken), I've got to bend my knee in humility and let God do the work here.

I've had every intention of reading my Bible everyday and spending concentrated time in prayer. But I've been relying on myself to get it done. If I want to do it, I'll do it. This is not letting God have control of my time. I need to let Him order my day, prioritize my schedule, and decide what gets done. And I need to commit to this--to Him.

Which brings me to the last thing. Around New Year's I read on Lysa TerKeurst's blog (there's a link on ths side--she's great) about this prayer challenge she'd heard about. The challenge is to come up with one word to pray for the entire year. One word to replace the million good intentions of New Year's Resolutions. My favorite word is 'believe' so it would've been a logical choice. I actually struggle with believing, with having faith...but instead the word pressed on my heart has been 'commit'. I'm a fairly non-commital perosn. It's easy for me to give up or flake out. So I'm learning to commit fully to all that I do. And to commit all that I do to God.

A website has been created around this prayer concept and I've provided the link. Take some time and consider your word. Even if you don't take the challenge, just think about one word to summarize your goals for this year. And maybe God will move you to 'commit' to this challenge.

And in the meantime, I'll be making some time for what is important to me--seeking God. And then all that other stuff.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Is It Bigger Than A Breadbox?

Did you ever play that game? When we would take long road trips my mom would come up with games for us to play. A Halsey family favorite was the game '20 Questions', although we never counted questions. The first question is always : "Is it a person, place, or thing?" If the answer was 'thing', invariably the next question was : "Is it bigger than a breadbox?" For the life of me, I don't know why. Is this something other families say when playing this game??

Anyway...why this talk about breadboxes?? Because I bought one today! I've been looking for a great vintage bread box for about six months or so. We have a hard time keeping track of our bread. It's home has been on top of the fridge but since neither of us is 8 feet tall we can't see up there. So bread and buns have been found long past edible and into the 'science project' category. So it seemed to me that a designated bread box might help with this problem.

But they can be a bit pricey, even on ebay, so I was very pleased to find one today in good condition at the BG community garage sale. It was marked $10, and Curtis, my darling haggler, got it for $5. I cleaned it up at home--first using vinegar (wouldn't recommend, didn't do a great job) and then baking soda with water and a smidge of dish soap. The baking soda did a great job removing smudges, sticky spots, and some rust.

Our drive home from the garage sale turned out to be a winter adventure. The snow was falling so thickly that it caused the dreaded 'white out'. This is unsettling for anyone but especially a driver out here in the Black Swamp. To drain the swamp to make it suitable for farming large ditches (and by large I mean large enough for a car to sink down entirely) have been dug out, sometimes on both sides of the road. We took it slow and made it home safely...but it seemed to be the perfect day for one of my favorite recipes. Potato soup.

This soup is so fast to make and it's delicious! I'll share the doubled recipe becuase you will want leftovers (and kids will love this yummy soup so it's a great, cheap, fast meal for families!).

6 cups milk
2 cans cream of potato soup
4 cups southern style hashbrowns
thyme, parsley, salt & pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients in a large pot, over medium heat. Takes about 7-10 minutes to become 'soup'. Serve with cheese and bacon bits on top

Optional Ingredients:
1-2 cups shredded hashbrowns (thickens it up a bit, Curtis and I think it's too 'liquidy' otherwise)
Minced onion (my mom put its in, I don't like it myself but others do)
Goldfish crackers (haven't tried yet, but I think could be a fun topper)

Simple, fast, and soooo good. Let me know if you try and if you come up with any other variations!

Now...I think I'm going to admire my breadbox for awhile. Thanks for reading!

"She had a merry heart," he said...

"She had a merry heart," he said, and then, after a moment,

"She will add to the joy of the saints." - Mr. Edwards

"...And Ladies of the Club" by Helen Hooven Santmyer

The first time I read these words I lingered over them. And then they lingered with me. These brief lines describing a minor character in a book over 1,400 pages have lingered with me for nearly three years. Inspiring me. At last, changing me. offers these definitions for the word 'merry'

  • full of cheerfulness or gaiety; joyous in disposition or spirit
  • causing happiness; pleasant, delightful

"She had a merry heart."

I must be honest with you, I covet those words. This is why I read them over and over again, rather than turning the page. This is why they have lingered with me even after turning the page. Because I covet them.

I crave to be a woman full of cheer, joyous in disposition and spirit, causing happiness. I want desperately to be considered pleasant and delightful.

This is so much more than fun or carefree. Those words are only skindeep. I want a word that speaks to the essence of a person, perhaps even can describe a soul, not only a personality.

And it finally occurs to me, after three years of mulling over these words, how to get that which I covet so greatly. I've been laboring under the misconception that wanting these things is enough. That merely desiring to be merry would be enough to generate merriness within me. How many times have I foolishly and so densely believe this?

But slowly and surely just as the ocean can erode a rocky shore, the Spirit has eroded away the density which had built around my heart. Not my emotional heart but my spiritual heart. The heart which could contain and emit merriness. And now, as He's breaking through, I am understanding what it will take to get what I desire.

If it is ever to be said of me, "she had a merry heart", then I must allow Him to continue this erosion. The breaking through to my heart was not the end, but merely a means to an end. This has only been the first step in the remaking of my heart. Now the work will begin. And if I let Him shape and polish me He can create in me that merry heart. A heart which illuminates with joy and cheerfulness.

So this is my journey to have a merry heart. And this will be an expression of my heart--what I am learning, how I am changing, and that which I love. You can expect a variety of topics to be explored. Everything from the spiritual to the practical. Not evey post will be like this one--afterall, a heart can be expressed in so many ways--but this semed to demand a special introduction, a formal explanation. Or maybe I simply needed to put it in writing, a contract with myself.

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