Last week began with my husband feeling under the weather even keeping him home in bed away from work for two days. We tucked him in with extra blankets to combat the chills and didn't peek back until lunch time came with a tray of chicken noodle soup and oyster crackers to help sooth his dry cough and fever.
Downstairs we went about our business learning most everything we had set out to. Math sheets and drilling facts, writing assignments and book reports, beginner reading lessons and Playmobil castle building. The everyday elbow grease we’ve come to enjoy.
We were all deeply moved by our read aloud over the past two weeks, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry. It helped that the chapters were long and the more I read aloud the more husky my vocal cords grew giving my fabricated southern drawl a bit more of a strained and (possibly) authentic sound. The kids enjoyed the characters coming to life in our living room as much as Andy did listening on upstairs from bed. So much so I was asked to shift my morning reading to evening once he returned to work. And on that last night before the book was due back to the library, with one chapter left Andy read quietly to himself so as not to miss out on the following night's dinner table discussion. It’s not common I find him reading so I snapped a quick picture to show the kids Daddy’s dedication to the story. We loved having him home even if it was only knowing he was upstairs. There was a sense of togetherness we don’t often get to feel past the weekends. I’m thankful for the time.
The kids and I read a few proverbs in lieu of the gospel of Matthew we had been reading. Proverbs 15:15 captured my attention, "A cheerful heart has a continuous feast..."
I think often we try to cheer ourselves up by some means of self pampering or captivating diversion rather than asking, what do I have to be thankful for right now? A continuous feast is one that is replenished repeatedly never allowing one dish to run dry, keeping up with the need to provide for hungry bellies expecting to come back for seconds.
Herbed breads that fill cloth covered baskets without fail, Brightly colored steamed carrots piled high in stone crockery covered in an endless blanket of maple syrup, limitless pots of bubbling pineapple chunks floating around with meatballs and red peppers full to the brim.
If my heart is feasting continuously, what is it eating? Well, thanksgiving I believe! Thankfulness is the root of cheerfulness. A thankful heart will become cheerful if it spreads before itself a buffet of thanks. One that’s replenished often and incessantly stocked making a trip back to fill up easy and available time after time. If a heart lacks cheer, it likely lacks thankfulness as well.
So what must I do to find cheer? Find thanks and the cheer will follow!
Two knights, miniature in stature stand outside my front door fighting for a cause unbeknownst to me. Swords drawn and eyes squinted through the narrow slit in their helmets, they act out an imaginary duel. There's likely a dragon to defeat and a princess hidden away in a castle far on a hill, distressed and in need of rescue. Swinging wildly at the air I hear their angry voices muster up an aggressive, "AAhhha! Now we've got you!" They've won and there will certainly be a price to pay for whatever injustice has been committed, sanctions we'll leave up to the armored champs.
Feasibly a reflection of the brave hero tales we've read, now coming to life in my front yard. Kids are funny like that - all that goes in will ultimately spill out in daily play.
At the beginning of this year I decided I needed to rethink my days and question where my time was being spent. Busy as I was I needed to question my down time and ask, was I filling myself with beauty and wisdom? I wanted to be aware of the ins of my life. What was I putting in and was it bearing good fruit? Was it pointing me toward Christ? And was it an example of time well spent to those around me? I wanted to fill myself so full of virtuous living it seeped out of me as it did those knights under the maple trees.
I started by looking at the foods I was taking in, which were easy to eliminate since the cookies and petit fours of Christmas were obvious unhealthy choices and not a routine part of my life anyway.
It was the defaults I had acquired that needed a shift. A few "defaulted ins" can result in numerous hours per week watching TLC on YouTube. The habit of scrolling the longest string of other peoples business in history called social media is a common dependence for many, myself included. I realized the things I often drifted toward lacked richness and direction, trading precious aliveness with idleness having an ineffective soul filling result.
So I looked for the meaningful and made a conscious decision to let in the good, the virtuous, the beautiful every chance I got. In a stack of heart replenishing books read two or three at a time, a revamped meal plan including daily snacks (an old system I had let slip), and shifting what I once gravitated toward into writing or taking walks, reading scripture or tackling that book stack, viewing famous paintings, learning to play the violin again and reaching for a healthy snack that takes time to prep but gives an extra moment to pray.
And sure enough more goodness came spilling out of me! More attentive patience, creative ideas, peace filled school days and thought filled conversations around the dinner table.
Just as my two knights who had been given great stories to hold in their hearts, I too want to let the goodness going in have no choice but to overflow in abundance onto the rhythms of my day. What goes in must come out after all, so why not fill up on the good stuff?
My day starts early and dark. Sunrise is after 7:30am and here I am awake two hours before one of the biggest stars in the sky rolls out and upstages the rest.
I rise, finding my robe, slippers and the stack of books I'm feasting on I make my way down the stairs. My eyes are slow to respond to the kitchen light as I look for a mug suitable to fit the ideal blend of coffee, maple syrup and almond milk.
The same simple start to my day begins in the stillness of home.
"For who has despised the day of small things?"
I came across this verse in Zachariah recently and since my life consists of numerous small things (people and duties) I've been encouraged by the announcement the Lord made taking pleasure in them.
If He is pleased in the little things, then shouldn't I be? If my flipping pancakes and pouring orange juice brings Him pleasure, how can I lack zeal in partnering with the smallest of jobs? If it's in the sweeping of the hallway and braiding of doll hair for a child that makes Him glad, then who am I to despise a day of small beginnings? When I hold the hand of a girl growing fast and link arms with another walking down the middle of our vacant road, He is glorified. He is glad in the board books read three times over and in the matching of socks load by load.
For this reason I will not make light of rubbing noses with a still squishy boy or setting a table special for no special reason. I will delight in what He delights in. The simple and small.
"8:20 - Meet in living room for bible time" - Written in the notebooks of the children attending homeschool under this roof, and although the time has slowly elbowed it's way nearer nine o'clock, I'm happy to say we continue to meet regardless.
"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands." Psalm 19
There are days we are called to study His word curled up cozy on the couch and there are days He whispers, show them, and I am elected boot tier, mitten finder and coat zipper(er). Our study time is shifted to a real life observation as we crunch through ice layered field grasses. Once swayable and free from their now restrained and brittle death beds we make our way into the stretch of field behind our home. A nest from summer's claim hints to us a family of Red-winged black birds vacationed here. Fixed to a clump of marsh reeds, abandoned and stiff we inspect the little home. The air is cold and painful to breath in. We must keep moving to stay warm.
"Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."
The conversation is whispers. Near silent talk of how only a magnificent God could create all of this. Only the one true God could make stiff hay bales smell sweet and earthy. Only the God of creation would fasten tightly berries to branch for a mid-winter snack for some pilgriming songbird. Only God could draw us in by taking us out and showing us all He has made.
We spend the next hour in play, taking in what is meant for our pleasure and giving it back to God through our delight. When we delight in the small things we openly acknowledge His presence in our life, and He is pleased.
"Mama, it makes me feel peaceful and strong when I find you and Daddy reading together every morning."
I didn't know she was taking notes. It didn't occur to me that the predictable rhythm of the day's start could bring any feelings to an onlooker. We didn't plan it or stage morning times together, it just happen that way. And to be perfectly honest this slightly (or maybe a bit more than slightly) introverted girl often times prefers her mornings alone. But there's no way around us ending up in the same room at day break.
I've learned to love this time with him. It's a gift in fact. Fifteen minutes of God mercy made new each morning through the person who is most likely inclined to extend his mercy, to me. It's life giving to me and to those watching. But isn't that how God intended it? When we look on His grace, even from the outside we're made strong.
I scroll through my phones pictures often, looking to stumble upon moments captured that will aid in my thank-filling quest. Being thankful for all things doesn't come instinctively, sometimes you have to seek out what's right in front of you. And if I can seize it at the exact moment it's staring me in the heart, I can revisit my own history in pixels, and gratefulness is once again my companion.
All those days the clock kept track of each quarter hour lived with the same Westminster chime my grandmother heard keeping tabs on her moments, are now mine to do with as I please. Will they be worth looking back on? When I thumb through the picture gallery on my phone like an old Rolodex spinning, will I find the images speak validity to our days lived?
"I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." Psalm 27:13
This verse sprang into my head while I slapped peanut butter on flimsy bread one typical school day at noon. My thoughts halted my duties, the assembly line backed and the jelly spoon began its treacherous work gluing itself to the countertop.
Could it be possible I am actually living in this promise now? All these photos being proof of the goodness of God. Is the fulfillment of this promise for today and not something to believe far off on the horizon of a better tomorrow? Does an afternoon free from hardships equal God's goodness? Or is it in the very things we believe to be a burden where He's drawing us closer to Him and He rests nearer us. Could I be brave enough to believe I'm witnessing the goodness of God in the simple rhythms of the day? That this day of normalcy, is actually praise worthy?!
There's no doubt about it, this is the land of the living that I am abiding in and tasting of the goodness of God. Everyday that I live entirely for Him and boldly in front of them, the goodness of God will be unmistakably perceived. They will see it too and believe.
The week comes to a slow, break pumping stop for us as Friday night sits clean and pretty in front of me like a fresh snow, untouched and ready to be enjoyed. A choppy week of holiday fun right smack in the middle of the workweek, plus a slightly damaging ice storm that kept Andy working has got this particular Friday looking extra breathtaking.
Pizza Friday has been a staple here for two years give or take, and tonight's no different. I got my reminder text from Andy today with exclamation, "It's pizza night, babe!"
A tradition of sorts, unexpectedly formed to help ease this often times weary mama of five thriving humans. Humans who request meals three (or more) times each day. Who knew pizza Friday would turn into the comfort even my husband writes home about?
So I watch the hook spin and work the dough cleaning the sides of the steel bowl as I remember the words my friend said to me today - "God's working something out of you, Emily, be patient." There's something about the hum of the mixer that gets my mind spinning along with.
Humble friends living life raw and unabridged, offering up praise and prayer whenever called upon. The girl I met whose broken heart needs the touch of Jesus, I pray. The child with the fear that needs overcoming. The sleep I know I'll need with school being part of our week again. Exercise and budget plans and the outreach ideas the children and I hope to add into our life pace. All these thoughts like wisps of hope drifting up in prayer fashion to God. He hears as I breath unorganized reflections of my day, giving all to Him to make order of and blessings from.
I plop two soft dough clumps onto my cutting board and preheat an unusually hot oven. Sauce is made and shredded cheese blends rest sticky in their plastic bags. Oiled pans, a stretch here and there and all around pressed down. Perfect circles splashed with red and dusted with mozzarella and Monterey Jack, dotted with meats and veggies I slip two large pies into the oven for a heat blast.
Comfort comes even as I prep this familiar meal. Comfort in the pattern of it, the knowing what's next without even looking. The same warmth that comes from every Friday night hits me now loud and clear. There's peace in the routines of life.
They pile in, those six people I call my own. Slices are passed and melted strings of hot cheese drip down chins. So we celebrate another pizza Friday just by being together to enjoy the predictable rhythm of an evening set apart in the simplest way.
"My life passes as swiftly as the evening shadows. I am withering away like grass." Psalm 102:11