May 7, 2016

thoughts on mothers

Today is Mother's Day.

In recent years the internet has been peppered each May with articles disparaging the insensitivity of Mother's Day and its conventional celebrations.  It's a day fraught, for some, with strong feelings of loss for what they did not get, and sometimes, resentment toward those who did.  I have stood on both sides of this fence:  although today I love and feel loved by my mother, for many years our relationship was characterized by conflict and misunderstanding.

Just yesterday, I read for the first time a story about two orphans who discover a temporary escape from their unloved life of hard labor:  a red bird leads them to a magical land of eternal spring, called Sunnymead, to which they daily steal visits during the brief weeks in the winter when they are permitted to leave their work in order to attend school.

Watch as the orphans discover Sunnymead:

Then Matthew and Anna followed the other children across the meadow to a little cottage, and there was Mother. 
You could see that it was Mother: she had a mother's eyes and a mother's hands, and her eyes and hands were enough for all the children who crowded around her.

She had cooked pancakes for them and she had baked bread, she had churned butter and she had made cheese. The children could eat as much as they liked of everything, and they sat in the grass to eat. 
"This is the best food I've eaten in my whole life," said Anna. 
.... They said thank you for the food they had eaten and Mother stroked their cheeks and said, "Come again soon!"

Although this is not their own mother (she died when they were young), this Mother represents all that is good in Sunnymead.  She feeds them food made with her own hands (the farmer for whom they work gives them cold potatoes dipped in herring brine, and they are always hungry).  She speaks kindly to them, her hands are gentle.  In Sunnymead there is love, abundance, welcome, color - the opposite of everything in Myra, where they live in grey poverty and want of all kinds.

Before winter ends, Matthew and Anna make permanent their escape from the hardships of life:

.... And Matthew took her hand and led her through the door, into the everlasting spring of Sunnymead, where the tender birch leaves smelled so sweet, where a thousand small birds sang joyfully in the trees, where the children sailed their bark-boats in the spring brooks and ditches, and where Mother stood in the meadow calling, "Come, all my children!"

You may be suspecting that Sunnymead serves as a metaphor for Heaven, and you're right.  (If you know the story, you'll remember that the orphans' eventual "escape" comes through death from starvation and cold, but we'll leave that for a different post.)

Do you see what, for them, constitutes Heaven?  Warmth, sunlight, color, nature, play, food, and love.  

Love personified by a Mother.  

"She had a mother's eyes and a mother's hands, and her eyes and hands were enough for all the children", writes the author, and regardless of our own experiences of motherhood (received or given), we don't have to be told that "a mother's eyes" are kind and accepting, and "a mother's hands" are gentle and giving.

No, this is not always the case with biological mothers, but the very fact that we grieve the lack of gentle hands and accepting eyes tells us that we know the way it should be, the way it's meant to be.

And isn't that what Mother's Day really celebrates - the way a Mother should be?  Not one among us had a perfect Mother - or is a perfect Mother.  

No one deserves the cards.

Not one, of the many mothers I know, even comes close to our aspirations for motherhood.  We feel our failings on a daily basis.  And yet, the love we have for our children makes us yearn - strive - to be more than we are - more accepting, more gentle, more loving, more kind.  

Surely we all - no matter what kind of mother we've had, or been, or been unable to be - can relate to that desire to love well, to love better than we have it in us to love?

If, this Mother's Day, you mourn the loss of your dream of motherhood (whether the giving or the receiving), can you lay aside your lack, and join the ranks of those who are cheering on the mothers who are trying, with whatever they've been given, to be a Mother, in the richest sense of the word, in that way that we all long to mother, and be mothered.

Let's make Mother's Day a time for us to encourage each other, however and whoever we mother, to have "a mother's eyes" and "a mother's hands", and above all ...

... let's give thanks to the only One who can lead us closer to that goal, and who alone is "enough for all the children."

And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide, and long, and deep, and high, is the love of Christ, that you may know this love that surpasses knowledge, and that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  {Ephesians 3:18-19}

February 1, 2016

one homeschooling Monday in February

The three daughters' silence has a conspiratorial quality to it, and I find out why when they come around the corner with this agreed-upon question on their grinning lips:

"It's warm, Mommy! Can we have off school today?!!"

I send them off to do a little school-log math, and they come back to tell me that if they do 16 and a half days each month till May [when a full month is 20 days], they will still have enough for the required 180 by years' end.

Well, how can I refuse that?

So today, when I badly need a nap from last night's restless-leg-inspired insomnia, my children will all be outside helping their Daddy with aquaponics construction, and enjoying the eastern version of the Chinook.

Thanking in a new week (an old habit, happily revived):

That I did eventually sleep last night, albeit on the sofa, four hours after I first went to bed.

That my Farmer wasn't disturbed by my restlessness.

That I am so loved by him.

That it's warm today, and I have children who love to be outside.

That they love to help their Daddy!

That there is grace for me to recover today.

That this season of change could birth a few new habits to help me.

That I am learning to trust.

That "not my circus, not my monkeys" applies to so very many situations!

That gratitude doesn't need numbers.

That good friendships don't need seafood bisque, brownies, chex mix, crab dip, coloring books, British comedies, antiquing, and good conversation to flourish, but it sure doesn't hurt.

That I daily receive undeserved gifts from God, who is the giver of all good things.

That the sun colors the sky morning and evening, summer and winter, and the moon and stars glow in their places, because He loves us.

That God sends his rain on the just and the unjust alike.

For mercy.

January 12, 2016

life is short

{written yesterday morning}

I am 42 years old today.

I'm sitting in my bed, glasses on and hair ferociously ruffled from sleep, waiting for my children to bring me breakfast in bed.

Just fruit, I told them two days ago when they asked if they could.  I have a cold.

It's Day 15 (or so) of this cold, and although I said this a week ago, I think it really is on its way out, now.  It has been a most terribly thorough cold:  sneezing, congestion, fatigue, runny nose, postnasal drip, dry cough, productive cough, nasty disgusting hacking cough, wheezing, sore throat, laryngitis - you name it, this cold has served it up!

But!!  Its days are surely numbered, as are all of ours ....

I feel reflective on this first day of my 43rd year of life.  Where have I been, and where do I want to go?

An older and wiser woman asked me last week if I was mentoring anyone.  When I said no, no one had asked me to, she confidently told me that someone would, this year.  Would I be ready if someone does?

A friend earnestly called me "so wise" a few days ago.  Could it be true?  I wondered.  Has God begun to answer that fervent and frequent prayer of mine?

A younger friend complimented my way with words and suggested I start a blog.  :)  Will I get any closer this year to my half-hearted goal of writing a book by the time I'm fifty?

.... And speaking of fifty, it's quite chilly this time of year in our un-insulated, unheated, north-side-of-the-house bedroom.  My Farmer's alarm clock thermometer reads 50 degrees!

I hope there's coffee with that breakfast....

I don't know what the children got me for my birthday, but I asked my Farmer for coloring books, and my own set of colored pencils.  I could use new spatulas, and potholders, and maybe a silicone baking lid for my 9x13, but life is too short (and I am too old to waste opportunities for joy) to ask for household items for my birthday.

Sunlight is coming in one of the five windows in this room, yellowing the white muslin curtains and casting the illusion of warmth a few feet into the room.

I find that it's easier to be reflective when my nose and cheeks are not quite so chilly ....

Then they traipsed up the stairs, all five of them singing "Happy Birthday."  Lil' Snip came first, carrying a green bell for me to ring if I needed anything.  Sugar carried the breakfast tray.  They'd brought me a kiwi (cut in half), a clementine and two chocolate pretzels arranged on a glass dish, a banana, a gold-rimmed glass bowl of grapefruit sections, a mug of coffee, a tiny lit candle, and a Russell Stover chocolate from someone's Christmas stash.

There was also a basket of gifts, borne proudly by Nice.  Torn wrapping paper and bows lie beside me now in a pile on the bed.  My loot:  a bar of dark chocolate (wrapped with great cunning to disguise its shape), a king-size package of Reese's Peanut Butter cups, silver cherry-blossom stickers for my wall or mirror, and a small rose-scented jar candle.

I used that bell, of course.  When my coffee mug got empty, I rang, and all four children tumbled over each other trying to get to me first.  Spice won (no surprise, there), but the others came up anyway, to see what I might want.  I like that bell.....!!

All that's left now on my tray (a laquered Japanese tray painted with carnations and, in gold characters, a verse from 1 Timothy - a wedding present from our church in Wakkanai) are the skins and peels of my fruit and an empty coffee mug.  (I ate the Russell Stover, and the chocolate-covered pretzels, despite my professed belief that sugar is not good for a cold.)  The candle shines on the windowsill now, against condensation from the cold outside the pane.

It's 8:37, an absurd hour for a mother of four to still be in bed, unshowered, but there are a few more thoughts in my head I'd like to get down on paper before I bustle into my day and lose them forever.

You know how you plan backward for cooking a meal?  "I'll need 30 minutes prep time, and then the chicken will need an hour in the oven, so I should start about 3:30....." - ?  Well, the same woman who asked me about mentoring told me she does her life that way - sort of  goals backward, year by year, event by event, by asking herself "At the end of this, what will I want to look back on?"

So I've been thinking about that.  Next year on my birthday, what will I want to look back on?

... I would like to see how I watched patiently and trustingly for God's plan to unfold in my Farmer's livelihood.  I want to have prayed, full of faith, for heavenly wisdom for him as he made decisions, planned, and worked, and I want to have trusted him to make wise choices.

... I want to have learned how to trust God, how to be free from needing to control or manipulate (or even, always, to understand) the actions of others around me.

... I want to have gotten back into reading Scripture.  God, open the way for me to satisfy my hungers in you!

... I want to have reached a place of easy camaraderie (or even, please God, wholly renewed friendship) with my estranged friend.

... I want to have found physical restoration:  my strength back, my zest for living restored, my joy firmly in place and spilling exuberantly and life-givingly onto all who need it.

... I want to have found a hairstyle I can live with!

... I want to have discovered and embraced and refined a structure for my days that balances my needs for creativity, beauty, novelty, and order, and enables me to fill my roles as a woman, a wife, a mother, a teacher, daughter, sister, friend, member of a congregation of believers, etc., etc., all in a wholesome way.

That's what I want to look back on, next year at this time.

[I don't ask much of a year, do I?]

The coffee's all drunk up now.  The wrapping paper thrown away and the presents stashed in a safe place.  The bell's back in its place (till Mothers' Day).  I don't know what all I'll look back on in a year, but today, I'm looking back on a day of feeling loved.

January 1, 2016

moving forward

{re-post from 2012.....}

I like meaning.  I like understanding the "why" of what we do.  So naturally, when I married into a family that eats pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day, I asked "why."

They didn't know.

I asked other locals who also partake.  No one knew.  Fortunately for such queries there is Google.  At last, I had my answer!!

"Pennsylvania Dutch superstition says that eating pork on New Year’s Day brings good luck because a pig roots forward to look for its food, while chickens scratch backward and cows stand still."
Unfortunately, the answer was not exactly full of the deep meaning I was craving.  We eat pork and sauerkraut for good luck?  Huh.  And we figure it will bring good luck because .... pigs root forward instead of backward.  I see.

Well, I had to take what I could get.  But maybe I can give better.  

Evidently not being authentically Pennsylvania Dutch, I grew up thinking sauerkraut was something people who had no taste buds slopped onto their hot dogs.  You might say I was not eager to add this meal to our family repertoire.

So, naturally, I doctored it. 

With Betty Crocker as my inspiration, here's what I came up with a few years ago.  Happy New Year, and happy sauerkraut-eating.  And may we all move forward this year, pigs or not!

Pork & Sauerkraut
Brown in bacon fat in heavy skillet:
2 lb pork roast (or chops)

Set pork aside in dutch oven.  In first skillet (use more fat if needed) brown:
1 lb smoked sausage or kielbasa

Add sausage to pork in dutch oven.  Now saute in the skillet:
1 large onion, sliced into quarter slices (or chopped - I slice mine so it can hide amongst the sauerkraut)

Add the onion to the meat.  Also add:
2 lb bag fresh sauerkraut (you can use canned if you don't mind sacrificing serious flavor and texture)
1 tart apple, cored and sliced
bay leaf
1 T brown sugar
1 capful liquid smoke
1/8 tsp. cloves
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Now let it all simmer till the pork is tender.  Make it the day before to save yourself a serving-day hassle and to enhance the flavors.  Serve with mashed potatoes and pickled beets for a true Pennsylvania Dutch meal.

December 1, 2015

an advent

It's dark at suppertime, now.  We've woken a few mornings to frost in the backyard, and the star on the silo is lit (although we need to replace some of the bulbs).

This is the season of Advent, when we prepare to celebrate the arrival of the Christ child, Jesus - Immanuel:  "God with us."  The term "advent" means a beginning or arrival, and there are many new beginnings in our lives right now.  Not all of them are of our choosing, but this one is:

In all the busyness that seems ironically inherent to this season, 
I wanted to carve out a small spot of peace this year.

So we decided, last night, that while while we eat supper this month, we'll turn off the lights, and burn candles instead, and sit quietly before we fill our plates, listening to an Advent reading or Scripture.

There's nothing inherently wrong with shopping for gifts, or rehearsing a nativity play, or decorating, or baking or sending out cards.  But activities can get in the way, sometimes - block our view, distract our focus, and rob us of peace.  Somehow, turning off the lights slows us down and tunes us in to the wonder of waiting for the Light to shine in the darkness . . . .

May you be blessed this Advent season 
with the quietness of heart that only comes 
from the Prince of Peace.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...