Dear Old Ladies: I Am Keeping My Eye on You

I have a new little hobby– watching old ladies. I also watch not-so-old ladies, slightly mature ladies, and almost-old ladies.

For the record, this is my working definition of old: over 500 years old, skin so wrinkled that the eyeballs have completely disappeared into the flaps of skin hanging from the eyebrow region, and the Grim Reaper as constant companion. So please do not send me any hate mail unless you clearly fall into this definition.

At any rate, I’m keeping my eye on the little old ladies because I feel myself hurtling at a startling speed toward my own older years. This is the time to get on the right track. This is my opportunity to not turn into the little old lady who is cranky, peevish, picky, manipulative, or demanding.

Old Ladies

Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. We all have one somewhere, whether it be the family reunion, the house next door, or the church. Age and experience have a way of either refining us and turning us into something beautiful, or damaging us to the extent no one wants to invite us over for the holidays.

I want to be the kind of older woman who grows wiser and kinder and more patient as the years pass. Since I have very little idea of how to do this when left to my own devices, I’m watching the mature ladies God has put in my life and I’m taking notes.

I’d like to report my favorite characters have this amazing ability to calmly, quietly listen to each individual in front of them. They don’t rush in with words or advice. They encourage. They are flexible. They laugh a lot. They read excellent books.

I have no idea how I’m going to get there from here, but that’s what I’m aiming for, at least. How about you? Who’s your favorite old person, and what characteristics do you want to absorb for your own older years?

A God-Filled Life (Titus 2:3-5, from The Message)
Your job is to speak out on the things that make for solid doctrine. Guide older men into lives of temperance, dignity, and wisdom, into healthy faith, love, and endurance. Guide older women into lives of reverence so they end up as neither gossips nor drunks, but models of goodness. By looking at them, the younger women will know how to love their husbands and children, be virtuous and pure, keep a good house, be good wives. We don’t want anyone looking down on God’s Message because of their behavior. Also, guide the young men to live disciplined lives.

All I Want for Christmas Is a Clutter Free House

A flurry of texting erupted a few weeks ago as my sister-in-law and I tried to make Christmas plans. The goal– to not fill up each other’s homes with useless Christmas presents. “We don’t really need more toys at our house,” Becky texted. That’s her very nice way of saying “Dear heavens, I’m drowning in crap and I just can’t take any more!”

clutter free Christmas

Although I’m willing to bet Becky’s not alone, they did just move to a new house this year (here’s the blog post about their house), and space really is at a premium in this radical new way they’re living. We decided to do for the kids what we’re doing for the adults, which is bringing a small gift of something delicious. Quality coffee, good chocolates, that sort of thing. Easy on the wallet and no need to store it for long.

(We will not comment on how the presents might actually turn into fat and get stored for infinity on our waistline, because it’s Christmas and holiday calories hardly count.)

Jenny and I had a similar conversation over the weekend. We decided that although our kids have swapped presents in the past, this year we’re going to skip it. This conversation took less than sixty seconds and we were off to something new, but what if a situation is more complicated? What if a person is facing a tidal wave of well-meaning relatives and friends who come bearing gifts in an endless parade of holiday wrapping and bows and scotch tape?

What then?

Here are my ideas. I don’t know if any of them will work for you, but maybe one or two of them won’t be super dumb and you can benefit. If nothing else, at least you might start thinking about how to keep Christmas clutter from overtaking your house. If you have better ideas than these, share them in the comments below!

  1. Communicate. It’s only a few weeks before Christmas so you might be too late for this round, but maybe you can start Grandma thinking for next year. Say the words out loud: “Mom, the kids have too much stuff. I have too much stuff. We need to stop buying all the things.”
  2. Clean out the stuff you already own. Whilst the little dears are snug in their beds, start hauling stuff out to the garbage (or recycling bin, if you live in California). Dump the broken toys, the mangled stuffed animals, and the puzzles that only have three pieces.
  3. Ask for presents that result in experiences, not clutter. Art classes, zoo memberships, theater tickets, or trips someplace fun. Think outside the hot-pink, plastic box.
  4. Buy Legos. The Lego company is not paying me to say this, I just happen to think they have an excellent product that is well worth the money. My kids are playing with the Legos my husband owned as a child. Those plastic bricks are 30 years old and work perfectly with the ones we can buy now. Endless fun, endless options, not a waste of space. Way to go, Lego creators!
  5. Copy your friends who have some brains when it comes to Christmas. Some of our friends give gifts this way: Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. Each child gets four gifts, and I think those categories are genius. I might rephrase it like this: Something to read, something else to read, here’s another book, and oh yeah, I got you some underwear. But you get the idea.
  6. Remember that adults are adults, not super tall children who need $400 gifts to experience the magic of Christmas. Things don’t only go terribly wrong when it comes to the children. Sometimes we panic when we try to buy a gift for a beloved adult. “They already have everything, so maybe I’ll spend $75,000 on that new Mercedes like the commercial suggested”, we think to ourselves. No, no, no, no, no. This is madness and we shall refrain from it.

What else? What did I forget?

Mothers of Middle Schoolers: New Game, New Rules

Our daughter is in middle school now, which means we’re playing at a whole new level in the parenting game. The new game comes with new rules, rules our beloved firstborn spelled out for me at dinner the other night.

Earlier in the day I’d received an email from a friend who volunteers extensively at the school, asking if I’d be interested in coming in for career day this spring. Apparently the students are interested in learning about what it means to be a writer, and while I’m far from an expert, Stephen King rarely makes appearances at small Midwestern schools. I shot back an email agreeing to be the token writer of the career day, and thought nothing of it.

Until dinner that night, when I suddenly remembered. “Hey, Audrey. I’m coming to your school this spring,” I said.

Her beautiful blue eyes did something very adult like– they widened in horror then narrowed in confusion while her marvelous brain calculated the damage this was about to inflict on her reputation. “Why?! What are you doing?”

“Career Day? Apparently you guys have Career Day?”

“Yes, but…oh poop. I shouldn’t have checked the writer box, should I?”

“Guess not, but you weren’t the only one. I think other kids want to learn about writing, too. That and a lot of other jobs.”

She thought this over for a moment while she chewed. “Okay, I’ll give you some rules. You can come, but you have to follow the rules.”

I was offended. “What?! I’ve been helping at your school since you were in kindergarten. I know all these kids!”

Career day rules

 

But my protests got me nowhere. She still dictated the rules:

  1. No telling people how cute they are.
  2. No telling people how cute she was in the bathtub. (Side note: she was really, really cute in the bathtub. She had these adorable little squishy buns.)
  3. No talking to people under twenty-seven years old.
  4. No doing little dances in front of anyone, including shaking the hiney. (Her dad piped up at this point, asking, “What about kicking?” Audrey said, “What do you mean?” He said, “You know how she does those kicks.” ((I tend to do little kicks when I am having fun.)) Audrey sighed. “No kicking, either.”)
  5. No mentioning these rules while speaking.
  6. Don’t be boring.

I pointed out that I was writing the rules down specifically so I could blog about them, but this doesn’t bother her at all. She feels her peers might not read blogs from mothers, so I guess this is safe.

Then I asked how I could be not-boring if I had to follow all the rules. Her eyes narrowed to dangerous slits at this point, and I suddenly had an image of how I would have felt if my parents had been invited to speak at school when I was in middle school. My father has a tendency to…how can I put this delicately…say anything that will be funny or shocking. (Dad, if you’re reading this, I reference Thanksgiving Dinner of 2014 as evidence.)

At the thought of my father standing up in front of my friends and firing off whatever came to mind, a wave of compassion soaked my teasing. I sobered up. “Okay, okay. I’ll follow the rules and I won’t embarrass you.” She seemed relieved and that was the end of it.

For now, at least. I will do my best to not embarrass her in April, but heaven only knows how this will actually go. At least I have time to memorize the expectations.

 

 

Why Olympic Athletes Don’t Have Time to Crochet (and I don’t either)

There is not a sport on God’s green earth that captures my attention enough to warrant Olympic-level training. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand hours of exercising in Spandex. I don’t understand eating like a machine to fuel a body. I have never once in my life cared about a game enough to be angry when I (inevitably) lose.

I’m not Olympic material, and this bothers me not at all.

But I do admire their focus and willingness to ignore everything that’s fun and delicious in the world to meet their goals. (Here’s a good article about their training from fitnessmagazine.com.) You don’t get to be the best in the world by wasting your time and energy on non-essentials, and this is a lesson I need in my own life. Right now any extra time has to be dedicated to my writing (and reading, which is really just another way to prepare for writing).

I used to clean my house a wee bit obsessively, but now I just close my eyes when I walk through a room and pretend it’s fine. I was talking to another writer the other day and she was talking about how much time writing requires. She said to me, “You could just do what Susie and I do, which is to stop cleaning the house.” This advice has merit, I’ve decided. I can either write permanent words or I can get a room clean for two minutes until my children wander through. Priorities, priorities.

I just got some books out of the library from SouleMama, hoping to share some of her simple, family oriented, inexpensive projects here on the blog. Full disclosure: the books sat on the table for a week until I finally acknowledged I didn’t have the time or desire to do even one of them. Yes, the projects are perfect for people who want to spend quality time with their children while creating something beautiful, but I do not have the energy to go gathering acorns in the woods for our fairy village. Who has time for fairies? The kids and I are bonding over folding laundry and shoveling snow, like families have done for hundreds of years.

I used to crochet, but I have no idea where the hook is, I don’t have time to buy the yarn, and I’ve donated the pattern books to the library.

I used to decorate my house, but now I let Jenny do all my crafty things for me. (Here’s her stuff!)

I used to garden, but now it’s winter, everything’s dead, and I’m super glad about that.

garden is dead

If I want to be the best I can be at taking care of my family and writing, I have to let all this other stuff go. And now that I’ve given myself permission to stop dusting and feeling guilty for not volunteering for the Parent/Teacher Association, it feels pretty good.

How about you? What are the top three things you have to do, and how are you making sure you do them?

Healing: A Few Years After a Church Split

A few years ago our church struggled through a complicated and difficult split. The reasons for the division were many, and there’s no need to rehash them on the internet. It suffices to say there was a time when I feared we’d never function well again. The loss was keen, the anxiety deep.

Yet this morning in worship service I sat in the back of the room and watched people streaming in until the sanctuary was comfortably full. I realized that if I had been able to foresee this in the middle of the split, I would have felt a lot better. Even though it’s too late to go back and reassure the old pitiful, anxious, and cranky me that everything would turn out all right, it’s not too late to encourage others who might be going through the same thing.

Here is what I’d tell myself (and anyone else going through this):

Right now all you can see is loss. You see empty pews, empty classrooms, and a parking lot that is ridiculously large for so few cars. You don’t know what you fear more– losing the building to the bank or having to manage that enormous mortgage with half a congregation. You will get very, very angry at everyone who voted for the enormous mortgage and then walked out the door a few years later. You will resent the changes forced upon you, you will miss the sound of happy children chasing balls in the gym, and you will grow weary of trying to explain to your children why their friends are suddenly missing on Sunday morning.

You will, quite frankly, block a few people on social media simply to save your own sanity. I’m sure Jesus understands taking a little break from someone, yes?

Give it all some time. It might feel like the end of the church as you know it, but the Church will not be stopped by a few arguments or bad decisions. Our Foundation is secure.

In the near future, you will look around at a sanctuary that’s nearly full again. You’ll see new families who come with new strengths and weaknesses, new resources and needs. You’ll snuggle new babies. New staff will come and find a space in your heart. The music will be joyful again.

You won’t lose the building, but even if you do– so what? The Church is made up of people, of disciples. The pile of lumber we paint and heat can go back to the bank and we’ll find a different pile of lumber. Buildings are everywhere, so let the anxiety go.

One day you’ll look around at the brothers and sisters who stayed, who put their heads down against the storm and picked up the load with you. You’ll remember how they suddenly filled empty elder positions, started singing on the worship team, and filled the pulpit. You’ll be so overcome with affection for them you might be tempted to burst into tears as they hand you a cup of coffee between services. They will move from acquaintance to family. You will never regret staying with these people.

Because this is a relatively small town and a very small world, you will keep bumping into the friends who left. You will suddenly find them in hospital corridors, in the book store, and at the beauty salon. The weirdness will fade. You will be truly glad to see them. You will see the fruit in their lives and realize it’s good fruit, because they may be worshipping in a new location but they have not been severed from the Vine. This realization will bring you peace and warmth.

Yet none of this healing will be possible without the Holy Spirit’s help. The bitterness and anger will grow and destroy you if you let it. Keep praying and reading the Word so you will be able to move past the brokenness into the peace that passes understanding. Take your focus off the anger, and put it where it belongs, on Christ. Pray for your church, your staff, and those who left. Pray everyone keeps their focus on Christ and his commission.

Yes, I know this verse is in the middle of a passage about reconciling the Jews and the Gentiles, but I think it works here, too.

Yes, I know this verse is in the middle of a passage about reconciling the Jews and the Gentiles, but I think it works here, too.

 

Today was the annual Thanksgiving meal our church celebrates together. As we ate together I was truly thankful for the family around me. I still miss my friends who now worship elsewhere, but the grief is over. I ate too much turkey and cake and I celebrated what the Lord has provided. He is good, all the time. I pray you’ll find this in your own situation.

 

Cupcakes, Knitting, and Chickens: The Return of Domesticity

Do you bake your own cupcakes, then frost them with icing you whip up yourself? Have you ever sewn a piece of your own clothing, then worn it outside the house? Have you ever, in your life, filled your pockets with eggs stolen right out from your favorite chicken?

domestic skills

The return to old-fashioned skills is growing in strength each day. Some of us knit, garden, and home school. We don’t have to do these things; we want to. We’re glad to do this stuff even when bakeries, malls, publicly funded schools, and grocery stores exist almost everywhere.

(Full disclosure: I do bake my own cupcakes, I have sewn clothing but it’s always ugly, I hate knitting, and we love our public school system. And I love to garden but my word is it a lot of work.)

 

To some extent, the earlier generations may think we’ve lost our minds. They spent their early years slaving over the oven, the sewing machine, and the knitting needles and they are eager to tell us– buying stuff is a whole lot easier than making it yourself. I remember my grandmother making a few signature dishes, then cheerfully taking us to McDonald’s as often as she could. We had donuts from the bakery for breakfast, and cold sandwiches and chips for lunch. The 1930s were long gone, in her mind. No sense bringing back all that work.

The younger generations might not quite agree with Grandma, God rest her soul. We’re baking, sewing, crafting, and gardening and then we’re blogging about it all. Not only are we doing these things, we’re not doing a lot of other things– things like 70-hour work weeks, upwardly mobile lifestyles, and keeping up with the infamous Joneses.

I’ve found another delicious book at the library: Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, by Emily Matchar. The author, herself a lover of the handcrafted and homemade, set out to find out why so many women (and men) are stepping off the career path and onto the organic, natural, keep-your-own goat path. Why are flannel shirts and work boots replacing suits and briefcases?

Her answers so far have surprised me. She’s finding that many younger people are returning to old skills because they’re not impressed with the example their parents have given them. Many of these modern domestics were raised by parents who were extremely career-minded, and they don’t want to repeat these patterns for their own lives and children’s lives.

Also, the bad economy has pushed many younger people, even highly educated people, off the traditional career path. They’re making donuts and selling organic jam because budget cuts and layoffs have rendered their Masters in French Literature useless. Not only are their degrees useless, but a poor job market has economically forced many of these people to make their own things. An organic, gourmet cupcake can be made for far less than it can be purchased.

I get where Matchar is going with this train of thought, but I have to add another perspective. Many of us are choosing this lifestyle not because we’re reacting against something, but because we’re choosing something positive. We value specific things, and those values lead us in this direction. My friends who home school aren’t railing against the idea of public school, they’re thoughtfully choosing a very careful plan for their family. My friends who eat organically are investing in their long-term health; they aren’t just making a statement against chemicals in the food supply.

Many of us value these skills we’re learning and these choices we’re making. We enjoy chasing the goats out of the flowers instead of riding a train into work each day. We gladly give up a new SUV if it means we can stay home with our kids. Low pressure jobs may lead to low dollar bank accounts, but the trade-off is more than worth it for us.

What about you? Are you a make-it-yourself aficionado, or do you prefer to work more hours so you can pay someone to make it for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Deleted Scenes from the Next Book

Do you ever read a book and wonder what they left out? Like movies, books have all sorts of things cut out before the public sees them. Sometimes we writers write too much, or too densely, or (in my case) too weirdly.alien baby pregnancy

My next book, If I Plug My Ears God Can’t Tell Me What to Do, is making its way through the final steps to publication, and an editor named Dave is delicately attacking its misplaced commas and dangling participles and all the things a writer misses because she becomes blind to her own words at some point in the process. He sent me a gently worded email this week, politely requesting a rewrite for a specific section in the chapter about waiting for God’s plan to bear fruit in our lives.

I almost giggled when I read Dave’s email, because I was expecting far worse. I was expecting large chunks cut out and red notes all over the manuscript. And if I’ve learned one thing in this process, it’s to trust your editor. These people have the ability to make you sound like a genius, if you let them do their jobs.

I gladly rewrote the section, but I have to admit the deleted scene is one of my favorite of the book. I think you might get a kick out of it, too. So, with no further ado, here is the deleted scene!

What if the End Is Not Near?

I’m not one of those women who enjoys being pregnant. I’ve done it twice, and that is more than enough for me. I am not a fan of the swelling, the fat ankles, the gigantic bosom, the preggo pants, or strangers patting my belly. I’m also not a fan of waking up in the middle of the night four times to go to the bathroom, or having strange doctors manhandling my person. The whole rigamarole is an uncomfortable mess. Both of my children were more than a week late, and I thought I was going to die the last nine and ten days of each pregnancy. It was supposed to be over! I had a date in mind, and they totally ignored it!

At least I was certain of one thing: it might be two weeks later than I had anticipated, but there really was going to be an end. The doctors had promised that eventually the baby would come out, and if it took too long then they would help the process move along. It was a promise I clung to with my last shred of sanity.

But let’s imagine this: what if I was impregnated by an alien? Human babies take forty weeks to gestate, give or take two weeks. Alien babies? Who knows!? Could be a month, could be a decade. There’s no way to know how long the process is going to take. For all we know alien babies only birth themselves after their mothers have died from sheer discomfort.

My point is this: we may never get to see the end result of God’s plan. We have no way of knowing how long it will take, just like an alien baby pregnancy. It may be years beyond us. We may be a step in the middle of the plan, and generations beyond us may be counting on us to do our part now. Keep going! Have faith that God will take care of what is beyond your line of vision.

I think we can all see why Dave thought maybe this was too weird for official publication. Alien pregnancies border on tabloid material. But my point remains valid– we may all be in the middle of God’s plan somewhere, unable to see the end He has planned. Are we willing to keep going, in faith?

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. (Hebrews 11:13, NLT)