A Discussion of Generosity As It Pertains to Toilet Paper

Is there anything better than being able to give and help someone in need?

This is usually my feeling about generosity, but lately I’ve been struggling and I don’t know what to make of it. We had several opportunities to meet needs last week, and as I bought the gift cards and supplies my anxiety level skyrocketed. I felt like I was doing something wrong. I felt like I was irresponsibly overspending. The feeling is following me into this week, too.

For example.

This morning I realized we’re almost out of toilet paper. My first reaction was one of frustration and deep shame. (Shame, I tell you! Over toilet paper!) I had promised myself I’d make do with what we had in the house this week, not run out to the store and spend money twenty different ways. I mentally berated myself for not having enough bathroom tissue on hand.

We need more TP because we have more guests than usual using the restrooms. In a six-day span this week, we’ll have about fifty guests. It turns out that guests need to use the restroom, and it’s awfully generous of a hostess to make sure she supplies ample paper for this.

(I feel like this entire post has taken a turn towards toilet etiquette, and that’s hardly my point. But stick with me here while I round the bases.)

We’ve been given a home to share. We want to be generous with our space. An extra toilet paper run hardly counts as irresponsible spending. So why the anxiety and shame?

I’m still working through the answer for that, and I think it has something to do with relying heavily on our budget to anchor our spending, which then anchors our financial future. If we don’t overspend now, we’ll have enough money later, my anxiety level reminds me.

But I can’t find a lot of biblical support for that train of thought. I find a lot of God calling us to be generous people, and then to trust him for anything we need. I hear Jesus calling out to the crowds to seek first the Kingdom, and everything we need will be given to us.

I don’t see any examples of God sitting down to micromanage our toilet paper budget with a disapproving eye.

So, please tell me. How does your family make financial room for generosity?

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 6:33-34, NLT, biblegateway.com)

Hiding Places: all the spots the kids can’t find you

In the course of normal human parenting, there will come a day when we need to hide from the children.

Of course we love the children. We love them to bits.

It’s just that sometimes we love them best from a distance of ten feet to one acre. We need a little time to pluck our eyebrows, to finish a chapter in a book, or to take a nap.

(Please, dear Lord. A nap. I’m not asking for much.)

As an introverted parent I’ve become an expert on hiding from my own kids. Here are some of my best ideas.

Suggested Hiding Spots:

  1. Behind the washer and dryer. I know it’s a little dusty back there, but I think we can make this work. Use the extension on your vacuum and get out the lint balls, then install some sort of a shelf and sleeping bag combo. Be careful not to set the sleeping bag on fire from the hot dryer parts.
  2. In your kids’ own messy closets! Artfully rearrange their crap until you have a parent-sized hole. Cover yourself with a sheet.
  3. The neighbor’s back yard. Make sure you can see your own house in case of flames or sibling death-matches. Pull a lawn chair over to the adjoining property, cover your face with a hat, and snooze away. Your kids will assume you’re the neighbor if they don’t look too closely.
  4. Under your bed. I can’t do this right now because our mattress and box spring are sitting directly on the floor, due to some issues we’re having with Eric not being willing to spend over a thousand dollars on a bed frame I’ve picked out. (And we keep breaking our other bed frames. But that’s a discussion for another time.) You probably have some space under your bed. Crawl right under there and rest. You deserve it.
  5. The back of the van. Our van windows are so tinted you can’t see a dang thing from the outside. The kids can’t see me without actually opening the back door or peering over the back seat, and we all know kids give up looking long before this. Just don’t move and they won’t be able to see you, like in Jurassic Park.

So there you go– permission to hide and concrete ideas of where to do it. What did I forget? Where do you hide in your own house?

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Just in Case You Wake Up Cranky (hypothetically speaking, of course)

I have been told that it’s humanly possible to wake up and be actually awake. Right away. My brother-in-law just opens his eyes and ta-da! That’s all he needs. He’s awake and ready to go.

I have no idea of what this would actually feel like, or how it’s even possible, as it takes me about 30 minutes and a gigantic mug of coffee before I can function.

But this morning was worse than usual. I wasn’t just tired, I was cranky. The sight of the cat infuriated me. The light in the bathroom was horribly bright. I hated the curtains.

The curtains. The curtains I picked out and like just fine, thank you very much.

At that point I had to realize that maybe the problem wasn’t outside of me. Maybe it was inside of me. Maybe I was a nut.

Maybe I’d crossed the line to Crabby Town and needed to reel myself back in before I injured someone in the house. I have a long, long list of things that need to get done today, so crawling back in bed until I feel better isn’t an option.

Psalm 123:1 to the rescue. I lift my eyes to you, O God, enthroned in heaven.

Lord, I need your help to get these kids off to school without emotionally scarring them. Lord, I need to empty the dishwasher and feed the cat and get to work and then do worky things. Lord, I am not in the mood to do any of these things with a good attitude. Please, please help a girl out.

I lift my eyes to you, O God.


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Mushy Peas: Something American Mothers Don’t Force Kids to Eat


[My friend David and I are simultaneously posting about peas today. Click here for his side of the debate.]

What looks like baby food, tastes like baby food, and is, in fact, probably baby food?

Mushy peas.

Americans everywhere are wrinkling noses in confusion. They’re running through memories of all kinds of peas– frozen peas, snap peas, canned peas, sweet peas– but not coming up with anything resembling mushy peas.

For today’s blog I went to the largest grocery store in Kalamazoo and searched the international food aisle for genuine mushy peas. I did find digestive biscuits, weird tomato sauce, and something called barley water. But no mushy peas.

This was the best I could do after searching two separate aisles at length:

Picture this in a little paper cup, like we put ketchup in at a fast food restaurant. Now you have exactly the idea.
Picture this in a little paper cup, like we put ketchup in at a fast food restaurant. Now you have exactly the idea.

A few months ago on Facebook, my friend David mentioned this international approach to an already sketchy vegetable and we were all grossed out. They’re basically pre-chewed peas, it appears.

When we were in Ireland I found a pub that served gluten-free fish and chips, a delight I haven’t been able to eat for almost six years. The meal was served with a little container of mushy peas, so I had my chance to try them.

Um, no. No good. My kids and my husband weren’t fans, either. Not even my own mother liked them, the very woman who forced me to eat peas from 1977 to 1994.

We asked the waiter how he liked mushy peas. And he made a little grimace and said, “Well, then. I don’t like the fish.”

Which was a random sort of thing to say, we thought. But after clarifying what he meant, it turns out mushy peas are always served with fish and chips. They go together, or so it is believed in the general area that is not America. Maybe nowhere else on the globe except England and Ireland, I don’t know.

I’m glad my British friend likes mushy peas, I really am. I’m glad everyone has different things they like and hate, different strengths and weaknesses. I’m glad God thought to add some variety to his creation and how we respond to it, because the variety adds a lot of fun and delight for us all.

But I’m not really that glad for the peas themselves, really.

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. 1 Peter 4:10

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Simple. Successful. (Are you interested?)

Are you tired of everything being so complicated? I swear to you, if one more piece of mail shows up at my door requiring 92 steps to do…whatever, I’m going to set it on fire on my front stoop. Like the new credit cards we got this weekend, which required wrangling with robots on the phone so we could fail to set up new PIN numbers.

For crying out loud.

I’m in a season of study and growth, learning how to do this writing ministry well. I’m up to my armpits in good advice from lots of modern experts, but this week I’ve been stuck on Acts 2:42-47. In this little passage, the early church is exploding in numbers.

And it wasn’t from the complicated inter-generational programming or the internet marketing team, either. Praise the Lord.

The early church grew exponentially because they were doing the right things. And they did them well. They were so focused on Jesus that they burst with joy and generosity. They devoted themselves to biblical teaching and to prayer.

And then the Lord took those excellent things, done in an excellent way, and added more people to the number.

Take that in for a minute. Soak it up. We’re all in ministry in some form or another. Maybe we have a few people living in our house with us, or a sea of cubicles surrounding us, or an entire company at our direction. What if we could all do the right things well, and then let the Lord determine the outcome?

What if we burst out in generosity in our homes, with joy at our jobs? What if we were so full of God’s love that others were drawn to Him through us?

I don’t think that’s just a model from two-thousand years ago. I think it matters now and works now because God still matters and is still working.

So, your challenge this week: soak up the early church’s approach and apply their efforts to your own life. Then see what God does through you!

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.  And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.  They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.

And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
(Acts 2:42-47, NLT)

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The Aftermath (things I find after the toddlers leave)

Tuesday morning I sank into my favorite chair, coffee mug in hand, robe firmly affixed to my person. I was a vision of loveliness, I assure you.

I set my coffee cup down on the 1970s hi-fi we keep in that corner of the living room (because the Clemences are all about 8 tracks, if you have a stack in a closet you’d like to get rid of) and noticed a pile of crumbs. Cookie crumbs.

I plopped the mug right on top of the crumbs and smiled.

Something caught my eye across the room and I laughed out loud. An entire shelf of books had been haphazardly rearranged like some sort of toddler army had been playing library. And that’s exactly what had happened, I reckon. I didn’t actually see the stubby librarian in action, but it’s a fair guess.

They still look like this, two days later.
They still look like this, two days later.

Monday nights our small group meets at our house. When we first started we had one toddler and four babies on the way. Now we have two little girls who are two-ish and four (count them, four) one-year old boys. We also have a newborn and another one due any day. And we can’t forget the two tweens who live in this house and keep it “child-friendly” on a daily basis.

If life and God had left me to my own devices, I’d keep my home like a magazine spread. The floors would be polished, the books tidily stacked in some artsy way, the stools at the breakfast bar lined up in military precision.

Lucky for me, God and children of all types have been giving me a reason to get over myself for twelve years now.

The pile of books and cookie crumbs are proof that life exists in this home. A herd of tiny people feels comfortable here, rummaging through my tupperware cupboard and the shoe closet.

One of the children, who shall remain nameless, took to  finding the bag of potatoes and taking a bite out of one each week. I thought this was hilarious. She hasn’t done it for a few months now, and I sort of miss her once-bitten potatoes I’d find next to the shoes.

If you’re living in a potato-strewn, book-piled, crumb-covered place today, take heart. Life is messy. Relationships are messy. Toddlers are the messiest of them all.

The mess is proof of life and love and a future.

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The Truth About Being Almost 40

For the most part, I’m pretty comfortable in my own skin. I realized about ten years ago that agonizing over wrinkles and cellulite and stretch marks is a giant waste of time. My friends are beautiful women, and all of us are marked by the passing years. I hated the thought of them sitting around feeling fat or ugly.

And then I decided to extend the same grace to myself. It was life-changing.

But now that I’ve rounded the corner to my late-late, very-late, advanced thirties, some issues have crept out of a dark hole and grabbed me by the ears. Issues such as:

#1. I need a ridiculously small amount of food each day. I should eat half of what I did fifteen years ago, but my appetite hasn’t gotten the news yet. Consider this scene, which repeats itself in my kitchen hourly:

My Metabolism: “Oh, dear. Is it time to eat again? I’ll have a thimble of unsweetened tea and a dry crust of bread, thanks. That’s all I have room for today.”
My Appetite: “What’s wrong with you, you weirdo? I’ll have 29 cookies, a keg of Pepsi, and a side of Cheetos.”
My Metabolism: “Oh, dear. Ohhhhh, dearie dear.”
My Pants: “Egads! Someone find the elastic waisted trousers we keep in the back of the closet! This is never going to work.”

#2: I need a ridiculously large amount of makeup to look natural. And by natural, I mean alive. Seriously. If you show up at my door right now you’ll find me with zero makeup. You will automatically reach out a hand to steady me and you’ll worry I have some deadly disease. Because I look like a corpse.

#3. No matter how much work I put into myself now, the best I can hope for is “She looks pretty good…for her age.” If I launched a full-scale renovation project on myself today, it’s not going to make much difference. I could lose twenty pounds, tone up all the muscles, and employ a team of plastic surgeons. Twenty years ago I could have been a glamour queen. But now I would only look like a pathetic woman who is trying to reverse time– and losing.

These ideas have been poking at my subconscious for a few weeks now, and at first they were uncomfortable. I found myself in the polyester section of Sears last week, mentally calculating how long I had before I owned shiny pants and tent-sized sweatshirts with pictures of my grandchildren on them.

And then I snapped out of it. I know plenty, and I mean lots and lots, of women older than me and they’re amazing. They’re kind and fun and prayerful. They think a lot and work hard and I am blessed to know them. Aging gracefully has nothing to do with fooling people into thinking I’m still twenty.

But I think it has a lot to do with getting over myself, caring for the people around me, and enjoying the life God has given.

(Although I admit I’m still quite concerned with Ms. Appetite and her relentless demand for cookies. That’s a real problem.)

Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. (Proverbs 31:30)


Nothing to See Here; We’re Just Four American Protestants in the Middle of Mass

In an ultimate display of cultural bravery, we took the kids to a Catholic Mass while in Ireland. My mother, a life-long Catholic, wanted to attend Mass on Sunday. I thought it would be a great experience for the kids, and quite frankly, I love a lot of things about the Catholic Church.

I love the quiet reverence of their services, the way they sing worship songs, and the way a homily can last ten minutes. (American Protestant preachers, take note.)

The priest at the church in Adare was perfect. If I had searched for a year to cast the role of Irish Priest in a movie, I couldn’t have come up with a better candidate. He was elderly and wore his robes with dignity. His accent was so thick I only picked up half his words, but I could follow along with the written prayers in the bulletin pretty well.

The Abbey in Adare, Ireland
The Abbey in Adare, Ireland

I get a lot of guff about the Catholic church when I’m home in the US. There’s a lot of sentiment here that thousands of years of liturgy have turned Catholics into a cultural force with no actual spiritual understanding. Their bottoms may be in the pew on Christmas Eve, but their hearts are far from God. That’s the general attitude.

Some of the doors to the church in Adare
Some of the doors to the church in Adare

I get prickly when people blather on about this because I have been deeply loved by some Catholics. And yes, they loved me with a vodka tonic in one hand and a smoldering cigarette in the other. They swore a lot in loud voices and told bawdy stories in Polish so we kids couldn’t understand.

(Just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about my mom. I refer to all her relatives.)

But they also took us swimming, made S’mores with us over campfires, bought us pajamas at Christmas, and then offered generous donations to our college funds. I felt the love. I saw how their faith, active and true, worked itself out in real life.

I do know there are a lot of Catholics who are Christian by name, not by actual relationship with Christ. They make appearances at church to appease their family or community, while the rest of their week is spent with no regard for God.

adare church door 2

But is it any different in our Protestant churches? Aren’t we also guilty of getting our butts in the pew while our hearts keep a careful distance? I find myself rationalizing my sins while the preacher speaks, excusing my transgressions, and mentally planning the week’s schedule.

It takes concentrated effort to go to church to truly worship, confess, and fellowship with other believers. And then, it takes even more effort to sustain that relationship with Christ through the weeks with prayer, Bible reading, and focused love for others.

I don’t see a huge difference between Catholics and Protestants in this regard. We all just need to get our acts together, frankly. And those acts need to be titled: Following Jesus; the Continual Journey.

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28, NLT)

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Ireland: The Results of Our Grand Experiment Are In!

We’re home! All of us, all together, are lounging around the living room. I’d like to tell you we’re lovingly rehashing the trip to Europe, fondly sharing our memories and the lessons we learned.

Ireland in the fall

In reality we’re too tired to get off the couch. Audrey’s being forced to practice her trombone for 80 minutes, so we’re all suffering the consequences of her procrastination for the month of September. This afternoon Caleb did hours of math homework he didn’t get finished on the way to O’Hare, and that took several years off Eric’s and my life.

The Blue Door Restaurant in Adare, Ireland

Today makes the eleventh day I’ve been with my children nearly twenty-four hours a day. We’ve been shoved in the back of a Renault together. We sat next to each other for an eight-hour flight yesterday, after a two-hour drive to the Dublin airport. Then we rode home for another two and a half hours after landing.

I love my children, but I am here to tell you that I have experienced motherhood in its fullest the last eleven days. I can’t even imagine how my own mother feels– she traveled with us and it will probably take her weeks of therapy to recover.

This is me, drying my child's sock with a hair dryer because Irish clothes dryers-- forgive me-- don't actually dry clothes.
This is me, drying my child’s sock with a hair dryer because Irish clothes dryers– forgive me– don’t actually dry clothes.

And so help me, if that trombone makes one more honk I’m going to surely expire.

[I’m not making this up– the child just saw me roll my eyes and brought it CLOSER TO ME. She’s now playing the wretched instrument just inches from my face.]

Lord, give me strength.

BUT. We had a wonderful time. Ireland is wonderful. We saw rolling green hills dotted with grazing cattle. We climbed through medieval castles and walked historical villages. We ate wonderful food (the Irish specialize in gluten-free options!) and took our kids to all sorts of pubs.

One of the castles had dress up clothes so we could get into character. I think that’s what’s happening here.

That’s really not as alarming as it sounds. Kids are welcome in pubs in Ireland– one night the family next to us was letting their toddler greet all the new arrivals at the door. She handled her beer really well.

Just kidding. No beer for babies. Just fish and chips.

Adare, Ireland

As for our traveling experiment, it was mostly successful. I think Caleb enjoyed Ireland more than he expected. He loved the castles and villages, and he thought the food there was delicious. But Audrey missed her friends so badly that I don’t know she enjoyed the trip as much as the rest of us. By Wednesday she was Facetiming with her friends as they woke up in the morning (Ireland is five hours ahead of Kalamazoo) or just as she went to bed at night.

She survived, though.

We all survived, and I’m so glad we decided to try it. I have a lot more stories to tell and thoughts to share, but my brain is fried. Throughout the week I’ll get my neurons in order and send the kids back to blessed, blessed school.

I would like to take this moment to publicly announce my fondness for the local school district and the teachers there. Bless you all.

Until then, here’s another quote about traveling with children. I think it’s true and right, even though I’m at the tail end of my eleventh solid day with my children and that dang trombone just started up again.

If I live through this practice session, I’ll write more soon. Stay tuned!

From Bread and Wine, by Shauna Niequist:

Sometimes people ask me why I travel so much, and specifically why we travel with Henry so often. I think they think it’s easier to keep the kids at home, in their routines, surrounded by their stuff. It is. But we travel because it’s there. Because Capri exists and Kenya exists and Tel Aviv exists, and I want to taste every bite of it. We travel because I want my kids to learn, as I learned, that there are a million ways to live, a million ways to eat, a million ways to dress and speak and view the world. I want them to know that “our way” isn’t the right way, but just one way, that children all over the world, no matter how different they seem, are just like the children in our neighborhood–they love to play, to discover, to learn. (p. 97)

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Let’s Not Panic–Together!

On my drive home from work yesterday my Anxiety-Meter was steadily ticking upward, but I couldn’t put my finger on the exact problem. Yes, it had been a full week of back-to-school craziness. And work had been unexpectedly full, the lawn was looking seedy, and my cousin had sent out a distressing email. Nothing in particular stood out to me, though. Nothing that would cause a cloud of worry to hang over my head and push my blood pressure up so high.

Then my phone dinged and I found an email from my agent, requesting more information and chapters for a book proposal we just submitted. Even though this is a very good thing– when an editing team asks for more information it’s always an encouraging sign– suddenly my Anxiety-Meter flipped into the freakout zone.

My brain suddenly started shouting things like, “I have friends coming for dinner tomorrow and the kids have to clean the downstairs bathroom and I have to write four blog posts and I need to email twelve teachers and HOW WILL I GET THE LAWN MOWED????”

I love how my brain stops at lawn care issues. As if the length of my grass is somehow the most pressing portion of my life.

I don’t know why I spaz out over nothing all the time, but it’s been going on so long that sometimes I’m able to derail myself before I need a sedative. Here’s what I do, just in case you’re having your own moment over there and need some suggestions.

  1. Reframe the panic. Speak to yourself firmly, and do not be afraid to speak aloud. Say, “Self, calm the heck down. You’re a nut. Get a grip. There is no danger or true emergency here, so stop acting like there is.” (If you are actually having an emergency or are in danger, skip that last comment to yourself and dial 911 directly.)Calming myself down
  2. Be thankful. Plenty of people right now are waiting for ambulances, the police, or their angry mothers. They’re having a way worse day than you. Things could be far more terrible.
  3. Remember the little boy who brought Jesus his loaves and fishes. Jesus took the paltry amount he provided and then worked a miracle on it. With His almighty intervention, things turned out just right. The little boy only did what little boys do– wandered around with a lunch pail. Jesus did what Jesus does– took care of everything else. This story has repeated itself in different forms for thousands of years. We’re all just little boys with some snacks, bringing them to Jesus. Jesus is still taking our measly provisions and making sure things turn out just right. We have to stop feeling like the world turns on our efforts–it doesn’t!reality check
  4. Repeat these steps until your blood pressure returns to normal or the sedative takes effect.

I kid, I kid. Sedatives are no joking matter, as I know from all those murder mysteries I read. The heroine is always needing a sedative and it puts her to sleep for days and days. Who has time to sleep that long?

I hope this totally useless information gave you a break from your panic, if nothing else. Thanks for reading, you dear people! I really appreciate it.

“When they all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.” (John 6:12-13)

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