Doctor’s Orders

“I have confirmed white coat hypertension,” I said with all seriousness as the young lady slid the blood pressure cuff around my arm.  It’s one of those things, like blushing, where one can see an emotion triggering a physiological response.  I fear that my blood pressure will read high, and so, it obliges me by doing so.  The numbers on the screen cause eyebrows to lift.

One brilliant nurse two weeks ago had lowered her eyebrows and told me to close my eyes.  “Where’s your most relaxing place?”, she asked.  “My family’s cabin in Montana, right down by the Dearborn River.”  “Okay, I want you to hear the water, see the mountains, imagine the trees and just be there.”

I felt silly and couldn’t keep a smirk off my face, but I obeyed.  I looked at the picture in my mind, heard the river’s gurgling song, saw the light catching on the ends of pine needles.  She took my blood pressure then, and the numbers came back perfect.

So this week after the high numbers had alarmed once again they told me to lay on my side and rest, taking the reading again afterwards.  Perfect.  The doctor looked me straight in the eye and said, “You need to rest more.  You are working your body too hard.”

I knew it was true.  I had been overworking my eight months-pregnant body trying to keep up with the demands of life with four littles.  Lots of cleaning, lots of laundry, lots of cooking and baking.  The pre-winter chores of pruning the trees and roses.  Organizing baby clothing up in the attic.  The stuff of life that simply needs doing.

_MG_6397_MG_6350IMG_6369But as the last of the birthdays has been celebrated with gusto (and a cooking class per Reuben’s request), and…

IMG_2707…the bees no longer need me puttering about (and my suit is maxed-out anyhow), it’s time for more of…

_MG_6382 …letting other people help out…

_MG_6346 …and doing more of this:

IMG_2688…doctor’s orders :).

 

Why It’s Hard to Rest

Henrik does laps around his playpen, swinging his dimpled arms like pendulums, as taking a nap is unthinkable with all this excess energy that compels his little legs to run, his little body to move, move, move.  It’s hard to rest.  There’s so much running to do.  As he winds down a bit, he rolls across the mattress with his blankie, in a wrestling match of sorts with the idea of sleep:  I embrace it (sucks thumb and strokes blankie’s silky edge), no I do not (tucks and rolls and kicks the sides of the playpen).  I think I do the same with the Sabbath.

For six days of the week I start my day by getting the laundry going.  There’s something soothing to me about hearing my trusty appliance sidekicks humming in the background, doing some major work at the touch of a button or two.  It’s probably as close as I’ll come to having some domestic help, and it makes the day seem like it’s acquired some momentum.  Some getting-it-done-ness.

So when the Sabbath comes around, a day to cease from my day-to-day workload and enjoy rest and my Lord, I miss the assuring hum of progress in the laundry room.  I even have “temptations” and rationalizations about why I could/should in fact do laundry anyways.  The quickly piling basket in the laundry room woos me.  I’m serious.  The loudest voice of temptation is Miss Responsible.  She reasons matter-of-factly that it’s as necessary as brushing my teeth and cooking on Sundays; the children do need clothing ready for school the next day.  What would become of Monday if Sunday didn’t do any work?

But, it’s just not true.  Because I do laundry nearly every day, there is no true shortage of clothing for anybody.  And Monday is meant for working, so let it have it’s work.

It’s hard to rest, hard to cease from wreaking productivity all over our weekend-blasted home.  Hard to swallow the crumbed floors, the scattered shoes, and the Sunday paper laid strewn in several reading spots.  Part of me wants it all ordered and shining and fresh and ready for Monday.  But when, then, am I ready for Sunday?

Ready for rest?

This takes some foresight.  I’m slowly learning that.  If I have laundry going Saturday night, I make sure not to put a load in the washer before bed, because it will shout at me to be switched over to the dryer and folded on Sunday morning.  I try to vacuum the floors and tidy things up Saturday night so that my restless I-want-order spirit can find less irritation in my surroundings.  And if all else fails and I awake to a disordered home on Sunday morning, I do as we did last night.  We gathered the children and headed out for a nice walk to the park.  We abandoned ship and sought fresh air, different landscapes, and no visible work to attend to other than pushing a giggling baby on the swings.

Sometimes you have to physically flee from temptations, even seemingly silly ones.

But the Sabbath commandment isn’t silly.  I guess it’s pretty important to God, so it must be awfully important for us as well; for our spiritual wellbeing and connection to Him and others.  We have to hit the pause button on our work, we need to step away from it, we need to remember God and dwell on Him with unscattered minds.  _MG_4776

Why do I put dear Henrik down for a nap?  Not because he wants one.  Oh, no.  He doesn’t even feel sleepy, quite the opposite really.  I put him down because I know what he needs better than he does.  I know he’d run himself ragged and get cranky and destructive and all out of sorts without his rest.  He’d make himself, and all of us, miserable.  It is an act of kindness and love, though to him it can feel so confining and restrictive.  When he finally succumbs to the nap, his cheeks flushed pink and his blankie clasped in his pudgy fingers, his breathing sweet and soft, I am captivated by the sight.  Love sweeps on over me as I see my son relaxing into the gift of rest.IMG_2100

It is humbling that we need the same, eh?  We are all grown up and yet we are still assigned a rest time.  We try to squirrel our way out of it, don’t we?  Because we like to be unrestricted; we like to chart our days as we please.  But God, in His wisdom, knows what we need better than we do.

Let us not, then, resist Him.  Let us accept the gift He kindly offers to us as dearly loved children.

 

It’s the Sound of Slicing Celery, and Other Reasons I Love My Work

IMG_1323  Perfectly ripe avocados in a simple lemon juice/salt/cilantro dressing.IMG_1597  Working venison together with pork and bacon for deer sausage.IMG_1283  Cooking over dead-fallen branches for lunch on an old oven grate._MG_5079  Putting up garden bounty._MG_5067 IMG_1050  Honey harvest from our bees, twenty-five pounds our first year.IMG_0966  Salsa and more salsa from our prolific tomato harvest.IMG_0444 Strawberry shortcake, need I say more?

“Why on earth would you want that?”, puzzled my husband with bewilderment in his face as I oohed and aahed over a manual washing machine.  “Do you know how much work that would be?”

“Ah yes, dear, but it’s the sort of work I like best.  And imagine the arm muscles I’d have.  No gym needed, and we wouldn’t need to depend on electric!”

Can you hear him sighing?

We were at Lehman’s, a store specializing in all things old-timey and non-electric (though they do offer electric items too, like a kick-butt dehydrator that I covet).  Dustin had surprised me on our way home from Montana with a trip to the store that I’d only encountered online before.  I danced around the aisles of wood-burning cookstoves and kerosene lamps in utter glee.  Everything in there is useful and well-made.  I was in pioneer-wannabe heaven.

I settled on 5 yards of cheesecloth, a butter paddle (for removing buttermilk from homemade butter), and a rapid laundry washer (which is like a metal plunger that washes clothes, sucking the dirt up and out, very useful when my kids come in covered in mud!).  My mother-in-law smiled as I happily showed her my washer.  “I tell people all the time that you were born in the wrong century.”  Yes and amen.

Dipping candles, working with my bees, gardening, canning, drying, sewing, and pinning out the laundry in the breeze; how do I have time for it?  I get asked this now and then, usually by someone who is shaking their head at me.  I turn the question around, “How do people have time to run their kids to five activities a week or keep up with a television show or work out in a gym or serve on committees and such?  We all make time for life-giving work, whatever type that might be, work that feeds our souls and nurtures our families and communities, we apply our hands to those tasks.”

It is far from drudgery for me to pull weeds for hours.  As my hands work my mind is free, free to think and dream and ponder and wander.  Then there are the tactile delights, like digging my finger into honeycomb and feeling the wax give way and how the warm honey and waxy bits feel on my tongue.  The feel of dough under my hands when it reaches that magic elasticity that means it’s done.  The way cold water seems to permeate to my very bones on a hot day of garden work.  Don’t laugh at me, but even the feel of the water slipping over my hands in sudsy glory while washing dishes holds a delight for me.  It is the work I like best.

Today the cucumbers needed attention.  So four quarts of refrigerator pickles are sitting on the counter cooling down on a folded tea towel while a 5-gallon crock of diced cucumbers, peppers, and celery sits in a salt brine for canning sweet relish.  I love the sound the knife makes when slicing through the crisp, cold celery.  I love the fresh scent of the cucumbers.  I like this work.  I am grateful that these tasks are mine to do, mine to teach to my children in time.

This is a rambling bit of gratitude about work.  Of course there are rancorous and irritating things to say about the work of my hands, but those are nothing but common woes, weeds among the flowers.  Will you perhaps think of what you love about the work God has given you?  Will you share some thoughts below?

A smile and a wave from me.

Kim Who?

I’m like an old person shoved inside a 34 year-old’s body.  Actually, no, I’m sort of like an eighteenth century person.  Yeah, it’s that bad.  I type here on a laptop, but I’d rather write by typewriter.  Or on some beautiful paper, with a goose quill pen.  By candlelight.  Ahhhh.

“What time is it?”, demanded an elderly lady of me as I sat in a waiting room.  “Um, I don’t know,” I said, glancing at my wrist as if to prove that, indeed, I really didn’t have a watch.  I could see she was waiting for me to whip out a cell phone or some other IGadget to give her the information she wanted.  I scanned the walls for a clock.  She continued to bore through my skull with her stare.  “Uh, I’ll go ask the receptionist.”

I’ve been laughed at when I’ve asked a clerk where the nearest pay phone was.  She just handed me her cell phone the way I would hand a tissue to someone who had sneezed into their hands.  Like, here, let me rescue you from your unfortunate lack of foresight.  You poor thing, don’t leave home without it next time!

We don’t have a television either; haven’t for nigh fifteen years (except a TV in Chile which didn’t get any channels and was used for watching movies).  So when I read the news, the headlines that I guess are supposed to grab me with intrigue merely leave me saying, “Kardashian?  Is that a name or a type of wool?”  All that I’ve gathered about her is that apparently she is famous and everyone wants to know more about her.  Does she sing?  Is she a celebrated writer?  Is there a reason she’s famous?

So, I’m halfway through Twelve Steps to Becoming a Hermit I guess.  Especially when I went off the Facebook grid.  If you someday find this blog deleted or stagnating, you’ll know I graduated and can be found meditating on top of a pole.  Please bring me food, I’ll probably be hungry.

time2 I love this picture.  Simplicity.  Utility.  Craftsmanship.  Peace.  Beauty.  Handmade things in handmade places, natural light, and quiet.

I can’t handle TV.  The jarring, jazzy nature of it.  News of a brutal murder followed by a peppy, and incongruously sexy, ad for laundry detergent.  What?  And all this celebrity gossip; was it somehow forgotten that these are flesh and blood people like us?  That they have feelings and sorrows and souls?  The “newspeople” picking them apart remind me of carrion birds; their laughter grates.  How does this entertain?  Is this the new coliseum?  I remember years back when friends of ours showed us an episode of American Idol, where some poor soul sang off-tune and were, predictably, chewed-up and spit-out by the sneering judges.  I felt sick.

I have no stomach for the killing of souls, sneer by sneer.

So, yeah, I might be a little backwards, but forwards isn’t looking all that great.

 

Shooting From The Hip

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It was a rambling two week-long drive zig-zagging across the Chilean and Argentinian borders, down, down and over the Strait of Magellan, into Tierra del Fuego (“Land of Fire”), down to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world.  I swear that from there you can smell Antarctica.  We saw penguins, flamingoes, guanacos (like alpacas), flocks of rheas, icebergs, black and white-striped dolphins, and took a boat ride out to see southern right whale mamas with their calves.  We camped in Torres del Paine, one of the most gorgeous national parks in the world.  We took a boat out to a glacier and were awed by all that deep blue.  We did a lot on that trip, and guess what?  We didn’t plan it.

Now, we had sat down with a map and someone who had navigated the southern end of S. America.  He highlighted nice places to visit.  That was it.  No hotel reservations, no itinerary, just, go!

shootingfromthehip1It was the best trip of our lives.  We could stop and linger where we were intrigued, we could push right through the endless Argentine pampa which was a whole lot of brown with a bit of wildlife.  We lived pure spontaneity.  What an adventure.

Some of you read my short story I published last week, “Magda’s Gift”.  Someone asked me how I know what to write next; how does one go about crafting a story?  I smiled.  “Well, I watch what the characters say and do, and then I write what I saw.”  Incredulity.  It’s true.  I have no idea what the end of the story will be when I begin to write.  I have no idea what the point will be (or if there will be one), how the characters will develop, or how it will all fit together.  I write like I live, shooting from the hip.

Contrast this with my beloved parents-in-law.  They have a gift for planning and derive great pleasure from having time nicely chunked-out and labeled.  They love the predictability and they relax into their schedule like it’s an old pair of slippers.  Meanwhile, I feel like I’ve been stuffed into a whale-bone corset.  Can’t.  Breathe.

For the sake of family unity and peace, Dustin and I let them direct the family vacations, which they do a great job at.  A few years back we all went to Colonial Williamsburg.  The days were marked out and we happily donned our corsets (figuratively, you know) and toured Williamsburg and went to a fun theme park and such and such.  Even the meal schedule was marked-out and all went swimmingly according to plan.  There was one day left temporarily flexible according to which site we wished to revisit.  Dustin and I decided that enjoying the pool at the condo sounded perfect, just relax in the sun and let the kids unwind.  The family did not understand; why would we “waste” a day not “doing something”?  We didn’t want to come home from our vacation needing a vacation.  Within the structure of those days, we needed a bit of meandering rest and unhurried relaxing.

To be clear, I’m not holding up “shooting from the hip” as a virtue; our culture needs the type-A planners, indeed, very much!  But I do submit that we also need to recognize that not everyone fits into that category.  Both are gifts; you may not be able to count on me to plan a classroom party, but you can sure bet that I’ll be the one able to bring you some freshly-made chicken soup if you fall ill, and will be free to keep your children should your sitter not show.  My schedule isn’t full on paper, but my life is full of responsive work (living the day, responding to seen/felt needs, letting the Spirit guide my to-do list).  shootingfromthehipSome authors write out a detailed story line.  They know where their characters are headed ahead of time.  Some people plan out their lives. Some just don’t, happily.  Whatever group you fall in, or anywhere in between, may each of us encourage one another to either plan or respond in a way that honors Christ as Lord of our lives, as the most important focus of how our days on this spinning Earth are spent.

It Can All Rage And Yet…

It can all rage ugly and hurt and rending,

And yet,

Here and there, pockets of deep peace,

And glory,

And joy.

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Dipping candles yesterday.  What a peaceful, contemplative craft.  Talk about slowing down.  The barely susceptible progress made with each deliberate dip made me think of spiritual progress; that I should not despair when it looks as though I am not growing spiritually.  If God has promised to complete His work within me, He will do it, He is doing it, though I see the changes only through the lens of years.ImageImage

A morning spent drawing with my son.  Gregorian chants and the fifteenth century choral music wrapping us in beauty as we deliberately sketched and colored, slowly.  A thousand thoughts pinged through my mind, on heresies currently rending the patchwork quilt of our church family, leaving my eyes reddened and my stomach hurting, on Ukraine, the tumult and the suffering and my prayers seeming so small against all that.  But for all that inner noise and clang, I had to apply pencil to paper, and eye the lay of the feathers, and the attention brought a borrowed peace.Image

Playmobile ships, stuffed animals dressed as soccer players, presidents, and babies, riding “the train” (a.k.a. the couch).  All his little conversations and sound effects and stories.  I feel the joy of childhood filling up the room and my grown-up worries have to retreat for a while.Image

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It can all rage and yet the seeds still germinate and the nasturtiums still reach for the sun.  And my God is sovereign and good.  And I’ll praise Him in the pockets of peace and in the turbulent places too.  For Christ is our peace, and Christ is portable.

 

Not Busy

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“Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this…”

“Um, actually, we’re not busy.”

(blank look, followed by incredulity)

“Oh, riiiight, four kids and you’re not busy…HA-HA”, she said in a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-wink-wink way.

“No, really, we’re not.  Kind of intentionally so.”

You can see the wheels a-turning, the thoughts going through her mind:  Ah, right, she’s a missionary, not quite normalized yet to the way things are here.  It all makes sense.

A compassionate smile, “Well, if you aren’t busy now, you will be once the kids are all in sports and music.”

I don’t remember if I just lowered my eyes or mumbled that we didn’t have plans to put them in sports (at least, not in the leagues that swallow up five evenings a week and spit out a few minutes for “family time” if possible).  I’m not calling that way of doing life wrong, but life isn’t One Size Fits All, and the breathless hurry isn’t for our family.

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We paint outside, impressionist-style.  We go on forever-long meanders through the local stream, in all seasons.  We play board games.  The kids play in the yard with sticks and rocks and they trash their bikes and fill the wagon and dig up my lawn.  They pretend out in the fresh air, dressed up as knights or cowboys or gypsies.  They get bored and I don’t entertain them.  I let that boredom loom like a tsunami wave and watch their imaginations kick in, see them run for higher ground.  See them create.

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My mom was so frustrated with me.  It was about a mile walk home from my elementary school; she knew what time to call to catch me coming through the door.  My older brother and sister’s walks home were predictably prompt.  But me?  I took over an hour sometimes to walk that mile.  Because I was outside, see, and there was that one boulder in that big front yard that was shaped like a bench and I liked to lay down on it and feel the sun’s trapped heat seeping into my back.  There were flowers (dandelions) to pick and then pick apart.  I was living stories as I kicked a rock down the sidewalk.  I needed life to go kid’s pace.

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My siblings are go-getters; they happily adjusted to life full of sports and musical instruments and two jobs at a time and lawn-mowing on the side.  They’re pretty amazing people.  If there were a way to harness my sister’s energy, I’m sure it could power a small country.  My energy is there, but it doesn’t quite conform to normal ways of living in this U.S. of A.  Mine erupts in gardening and canning, beekeeping and sewing, pottery and hanging the laundry out to flap happily in the breeze.  It comes out in creative explosions in the house; we all make earrings for a week, or learn to make felt hair barrettes or make matzo bread and throw a full-fledged Passover meal.  All of it, spur-of-the-moment, flying-by-the-seat-of-our-collective pants, because I tell you quite seriously, it’s the only way my soul can breathe.

The parallel lines on the calendar always remind me of jail bars.  They dice up the days and slice up the time, and the more days that get filled with events, the higher my blood pressure rises.  What is this; schedule-a-phobia?  It’s why I fit in in Latin America, I can tell you that with a grin.  There it’s normal to let the day decide what the day will be; is it a day to spend comforting a bereaved neighbor, a irresistibly balmy day that begs for a bike ride?  Oh, that is my kind of living.

So the kids, they got this mama, and God did it for a reason.

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We might not cultivate the next Mozart nor the next Michael Jordan, but I think there’s probably parents out there who are doing that, and so the world will not be in want.  God sets children in families, particular families for particular purposes.  It’s no use trying to be a “good parent” running around like a chicken with its head cut off, if that’s not what God has called you to.  One Size Fits Some.

I don’t have it all figured out; I’m a less than ideal mama and I know it.  But I can give my children the gifts and blessings in my hands:  the curiosity about everything, the love of science, the slow pace of life that allows for hours of exploring outside, the memories of kitchen adventures (and disasters), and most of all, me…my attention, my present presence.  I can give what I can give, and I won’t make it all stretch to snapping; I won’t wear our souls thin with haste.  I’ll walk a mile an hour if need be, because there’s flowers to look into and all God’s glory spread broadcast.

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