Sunday, May 8, 2022

A Mother's Prayer

I love when several things come together, building upon each other. 

It started when a friend, a widow who lives alone, told me that she sings and plays hymns as worship to God. Somehow I had never thought of keeping a hymnal with my Bible. 

Then another friend told me that she wrote out hymns by hand, and hung them where she could see and reread them. 

Then another friend mentioned that she uses hymns as prayers. My church tradition doesn't include scripted prayers, but we sign many hymns that are prayers.

So I put these three suggestions together and flipped through a hymnal, finding prayers of worship, prayers for others, and prayers for myself. I copied several out and propped one by my mirror. 

The first hymn I chose was one that I've considered my "mom prayer." These words help refocus my mind on days that parenting feels too big. I thought I'd share it with you on Mother's Day. Whether you are a mother or not, we all need to be filled with God's love before we can love others.

Lord, Speak to Me
by Frances R. Havergal

Lord, speak to me, that I may speak,
In living echoes of Thy tone:
As Thou hast sought, so let me seek,
Thy erring children lost and lone.

O lead me, Lord, that I may lead
The wande'ring and the wav'ring feet;
O feed me, Lord, that I may feed
Thy hungering ones with manna sweet.

O fill me with Thy fullness, Lord,
Until my very heart o'erflow
In kindling thought and glowing word,
Thy love to tell, Thy praise to show.

O use me, Lord, use even me,
Just as Thou wilt, and when, and where;
Until Thy blessed face I see,
Thy rest, They joy, They glory share.

Friday, March 18, 2022

O Who Is Like Jehovah God?

The last few months have felt intense. It isn't that our schedule has been frantic, but I've felt the pressure of Lots To Do. I don't have babies any more, but I'm finding that life with teens can be even busier than life with babies - though in a different way. Homeschooling has been intense this year, and I'm constantly comparing what I accomplished with what I had hoped to accomplish - and seeing a gap.

I knew February was a short month, made even shorter because we spent the last week of the month in Tennessee, helping with rebuild flooded homes. But in the days leading up to our trip, I wondered why I was so stressed. Had I overcommitted? 

Our week in Tennessee was a real blessing. It was good for me to walk away from my normal responsibilities and help others for a week. I loved meeting believers from other states and the fellowship of conversation and singing together. And hearing the stories of those that lost loved ones in the flood brought perspective to my own life.

When we came home, we jumped into life with its challenges and joys. I found myself again discouraged. I'm typically a high energy person, and I like deadlines because they help motivate me. But maybe I had gone over the limit into Too Much. 

In the past two weeks, I've spend time reflecting and asking questions. How can I build margin so I don't feel stressed? How can make sure I don't overcommit in the future? On weeks that are extra busy, how can I make sure I'm balancing times of rest? 

Here are some of my questions and conclusions. 

1. What is my motivation for being busy? I know that I find my identity in what I do and in feeling useful and helpful. This can lead me to overcommitting or feeling like I'm the only one who could fill a need. It has been helpful to me to remind myself that, in the sight of God, I am not more valuable if I'm doing a lot.

2. What role does grief play? One day, when I felt totally overwhelmed, I was talking with a friend about my schedule, which included things like taking my oldest son for his driver's test and preparing taxes. She reminded me that some of the activities on my to-do list were things that Ed would have probably done - roles that a husband and dad often fill. Some of my feelings of being overwhelmed was possibility processing the grief of not having Ed to carry the load with me. 

3. Are there signals that I'm too busy? I enjoy taking an hour-long walk, usually with an audio book. Some days when I'm tired and longing for a nap, especially Sunday afternoong, I have found that the fresh air and exercise make me feel even better than a nap. With homeschooling, I don't walk as often as I like, but I try to squeeze one in once or twice a week. But I realized that I have taken very few walks this winter. The cold weather was partly to blame, but I don't mind bundling up and walking in cold temperatures. The real culprit was simply not seeing a walk as a worthy investment of time - something worth making time for. If I skip walking for several weeks, it may be a sign that I need to let something go. 

(And the fact that I can take walks at all is credit to having teenagers. For years, I longed for the freedom to say "I'll be back in an hour." So you moms of young children, hold on, there are joys of parenting teens.)

Another warning sign for me is if I feel like I need to stay up late to get work done. It was important to Ed that when the children went to bed, that we stopped working, too. If the kitchen floor wasn't mopped yet, it would just wait until tomorrow. Occasionally there was a deadline that had to be met, such as a bill that needed paid, but rarely did he get on the computer after the children were in bed. I've tried to keep this habit, because I know how little self-control I have when I'm tired and "checking something quick online" can last an hour. If I'm so busy that I feel like I have to do some work after the children go to bed, I know that I'm out of balance. Having quiet time to read and getting to bed at a decent time makes a big difference for me.

4. Am I taking "thought for tomorrow"? (Matthew 6:31:32) The next six months look very busy and the swirl of activities and plans in my head can consume me. It is helpful for me to ask what I actually have to do now and what can wait until later. There is actually a lot of things happening the next few months that I can do nothing about right now. I like to plan ahead and I don't like to procrastinate, but deciding what I have to do this week, and what can be left for tomorrow, is clarifying to me.

Enjoying the puppies.

With the world events the last few weeks, I have felt guilty for being stressed about my small problems. If I was fleeing my home or wondering what to feed my children, everything on my agenda would disapear. The grief of the world can make my busy days feel even more overwhelming. 

That is when I'm grateful for the power of Scripture and soul-strengthening hymns. There have been so many songs that have been meaningful to me the last few weeks, and I'll share one. 

Edited 3/20/2022
Martha Groff gave me permission to share these words with you. 

O Who Is Like Jehovah God
Word by Martha J. Groff, Based Psalm 40
Hymns of the Church #109

O who is like Jehovah God? 
To whom can we compare
The vastness of this mighty King,
The Lord, to Whom we sing?

The nations are as dust to Him, 
As one drop in a pail; 
No one can be compared with Him
Who can His greatness dim.

And yet this great and mighty God,
Whose goodness never fails, 
Has pledged our strength He will renew, 
And this He'll surely do.

If we upon the Lord will wait
When we are tired and worn, 
He'll lift us up on eagle's wing, 
This God to Whom we sing.

O who is like Jehovah God? 
To whom can we compare 
His glory and His majesty 
Through all eternity!

"Hast that not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.
He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall untterly fall;
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."
Isaiah 40: 28-31

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

February Brighter Winter Reading Challenge

My sister Charity and I both took part in the Brighter Winter Reading Challenge. Here are a few of our favorite books read in February. 

This post contains affiliate links.

Charity - a book recommended by a family member and a book written by a pastorSurving the Tech Tsunami by Gary Miller

I was challenged as I read this book to evaluate how I use technology. It’s easy to fall into unwanted habits. Gary Miller reminded me again of how important it is to guard myself from unhealthy content, and to work hard to have healthy relationships. This book reminded me to work as a body together to navigate the tech tsunami, because we can’t do it on our own.

Gina - a book by pastor's wife 
This book covers some of the same themes in Butterfield's other books (Confessions of an Unlikely Convert and The Gospel Comes with a House Key) but delves deeper into repentance, identity, and community. Butterfield relates her experience as a former lesbian in a way that is discreet, wise, and inspiring. She holds up truth about God's character and allows it to reflect on the reality of human character and I'm guessing I'll reread parts of this book.

Charity - a book written by an author of different ethnicity
Defying Jihad by Esther Ahmad
In her own words, Esther tells the story of growing up in the Middle East in a extremest Muslim family. Esther longed to live for Allah and if dying in jihad guaranteed enteral life for herself and her parents then she would. So she volunteered to be a suicide bomber. But then she found there was Someone who could answer all her questions, Who was the answer to all of her questions. This is an incredible story about the search for truth and the sacrifice to follow Jesus.

Gina - a book about a disability
Blind Courage by Bill Irwin
This is the true story of a blind man who hiked with his guide dog on the entire Appalachian Trail. I enjoy reading books about the AT since it runs so close to our house. Bill weaves the account of his hike with stories from his past. He lived an ungodly life with addictions and several failed marriages until he found Christ. Bill doesn't minimize the intenst challenges of the hike, and since he had to go so slowly because of his blindness, it was winter in Maine by the time he finished. The book inspired my faith in God, but it didn't not lure me to through-hike the AT. 

Charity - a book with a color in the title and an award-winning book
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
I delight in middle-grade, well-written, exciti,ng and yet cosy books. This one fit all of those boxes and got an extra point for being a historical fiction. Set in the time period of the Salem Witch trials, Kit finds herself uprooted from Barbados and transplanted to Puritan New England. Not only is their solumn religious lifestyle hard to understand, Kit also doesn’t understand why she can’t be friends with the Quaker woman who lives on the edge of town. I loved the excitement of the story and Kit’s sailor friend and the tiny touch of romance. 

Gina - a book of letters
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
As letters fell off a sign in the town, the people of the island community of Nollap are commanded to not use that letter. As this novel in letters unfolds, fewer and fewer letters of the alphabet can be used to communicate to friend and family. Those who love words will find this book a fun challenge to read. The book is humorous because it feels slightly ridiculous, though there are far deeper themes of survival in a tolitarian government.  

I'd love to hear about the highlights of your February reading!

Monday, February 28, 2022

Sisters' Spring Reading Challenge

Last year, my sister Charity and I came up with monthly reading challenges which we shared here on the blog. We both enjoyed these so much. We loved pushing ourselves to read new genres and being a bit more deliberate about our reading choices. We read many unread books from our shelves. 

But we are reluctant to do monthly challenges in 2022. The next six months look very busy for both of us. Though we will certainly find time to read, we don't want the pressure of too many deadlines. Plus, last year we were reluctant to begin longer books because we didn't think we could complete them in a month.

So this year, we are going to do seasonal reading challenges. This will give us three months to complete the list, giving a bit more breathing room while still challenging us to complete some of the unread books on our TBR. 

We hope that you will join us! Each season (spring, summer, fall) we will have eight challenges. Six of the challenges will be to read a book and two of the challenges will be a book-related activity. That means, if you read two books a month, you will be able to complete these challenges. 

This post contains affiliate links.

Sisters' Spring Reading Challenge

1. Read a classic you think you should have read. 

Is there a book that others talk about, but you have never read? Maybe Dicken's Tale of Two Cities or Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. We are defining a classic as a book written before 1970. 

2. Read a verse novel or a book of free verse poetry. 

April is Poetry Month. We both love verse novels, and if you've never tried this genre, you are in for a treat. Verse novels are short and easy to read, but can pack an emotional punch. 

Some examples:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

3. Ask a friend to pick a book for you--and read it.

I get so many  great book recommendations from friends. Here is an excuse to read a book one of them suggests.

4. Read a book that has siblings as the main characters. 

This could be fiction or nonfiction--anything from a book on the Wright Brothers to the many middle-grade books that feature siblings.

5. Read a book about a less famous historical event.

You can define "less famous" however you wish. The book could be nonfiction or historical fiction. Some examples:

The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner (Ellis Island) 

Nory Ryan's Song by Patricia Reilly Giff (Irish Potato famine)

The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society by Annie Barrows (World War 2 on Guernsey Island)

6. Read a book that has an elderly person a main character.

They don't have to be the main character, but they should play an important role in the book.

For example: 

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

7. Read from a book before picking up your phone in the morning.

You could extend this challenge to see if you could read a book before picking up your phone every morning for a whole week. And maybe you'll begin a new habit of reading a book before checking your phone every morning!

8. Copy a poem (or write one) and hang it where you will see it.

This challenge is specifically for Poetry Month in April, but you can do it anytime.

Hope you have a fun spring season in books!

Monday, January 31, 2022

January Brighter Winter Reading Challenge

Charity and I both enjoyed the Brighter Winter Reading Challenge this month. Nothing beats reading a  good book on cold winter evenings. Here are a few of our favorites read this month.

This post contains affiliate links.

Charity - Read a book published in 2021.
Turtle Heart by Lucinda J. Kinsinger
The unlikely friendship between a young Anabaptist woman and an elderly Indian woman is the subject of this thought provoking memoir. Lucinda is challenged to work through what she really believes about God, salvation, and much more. I found this book hard to put down and written in a way that made me feel for the real life characters and their struggles.

Gina- Read a book written by a female missionary and read a biography.
Mimosa by Amy Carmichael
As a young girl, Mimosa was told about a God who loved her. She had never heard the name of Jesus, and she didn't have a Bible, but for many years afterwards, she faithfully served God in her Hindu village in India without any Christian support. This story is inspiring, yet sobering, because I have so much more than Mimosa had, yet I wonder if I live as faithfully to the truth I know.

Charity - Read a new-to-you middle-grade book.
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
What can I say, but that I feel cheated that I didn’t meet Caddie and her family as a child! As I read about Caddie I was reminded of Laura Ingalls and all the delightful hours I spent in her books. Caddie is a lively tomboy living in Wisconsin surrounded by hard work, mischievous brothers, Indian friends, and a faithful dog. A delightful middle-grade book that made me want to turn back time.  

Gina - Read a book published in 2021.
I think one of the Home Joys readers recommended this book to me. Every week four women knit prayer shawls in the chapel, but their pastor has a bold plan for the women to knit in a public place. This book has the charm of a Mitford book, and though the plot is a bit predictable, I found myself wondering, what would happen if several women knitted in the mall each week and offered to pray for people? The result might be as amazing as in the book.

Charity - Read a book set in winter and a book borrowed from the library.
Three Weeks With My Brother by Nicholas Sparks & Micah Sparks
Two brothers set out on a once in a lifetime trip around the world in three weeks. With all the skill of a gifted novelist,  Nicholas Sparks writes about their trip while also remembering growing up with his brother, sister, and parents. Warning: this book is gripping. I laughed, I cried, and I read fast. I have never read any of Spark's novels, but I can recommend this true story of two brothers that learned the value of family. 

Gina - Read a book about food.
The Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman
I cook every day, but not like this. Ruhlman takes the reader behind the scenes into the Certified Master Chef exam and into the kitchens and dining rooms of two award-winning chefs. The food he describes is so far out of my league that I can't even visualize it. He is describing an unknown culture. But his writing is superb and I found the book riveting. (Note: I didn't appreciate the one chef's use of profanity.)

Gina - Read a collection of essays
What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
I love Gladwell's books but find them hard to define. Gladwell is a journalist who does an amazing job at connecting unrelated subjects to give insight. Whether he writes about dog training, finding criminals, or the difference between marketing ketchup and mustard, Gladwell always surprises me by the way he makes me think in new ways. These essays were first published in The New Yorker and kept me riveted.

I can't wait until February1st so I can start the February Brighter Winter Reading Challenge.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Making Yogurt in an Instant Pot

 Long-time readers may remember how slow I was to climb on the Instant Pot craze. But one thing that has become a routine in my kitchen is making yogurt in the Instant Pot. It is so simple and always turns out. No more milk boiling over on the stove or struggling to keep the proper temperature.

I start by pouring a gallon of milk in the Instant Pot. I use raw cow's milk, but other types of milk will work too. 

On my pot, I have a "yogurt" button. I press that button then toggle the "manual" button until it shows "boil." I place the lid on the pot, and it brings the milk to the perfect temperature - very hot but not quite boiling.

Meanwhile, I get out my yogurt culture. I buy a quart of plain yogurt and freeze it in an ice cube tray. I keep these yogurt cubes in the freezer. When I make yogurt, I pull out two ice cube portions and allow them to thaw.

When the Instant Pot beeps to show it came up to temperature, I sit the insert in a sink of cold water to cool the milk. I occasionally stir the milk, but usually just walk away and forget it for an hour. I want the milk to be below 110 degrees. 

When the milk has cooled, I mix a cup of milk with my yogurt culture and stir it well. Then I stir the culture into the whole pot of milk and again stir well. 

Next I place the pot of milk back in the Instant Pot and again hit the "yogurt" button. I press "manual" until it gets to "8:00." This will incubate the yogurt for 8 hours. I sometimes let this incubate overnight. Other times I start the incubating in the morning.

At the end of 8 hours, I pull the pot insert out of the Instant Pot, cover the top, and place in the refrigerator without stirring. After it is totally cool, I take the first dip into the fresh yogurt. I'm always  awed that the liquid milk has turned into a totally different product. I then stir the yogurt well and place it into containers for serving.

Obviously this makes a lot of yogurt which is perfect for a large family. My favorite way to eat yogurt is with granola. You can add sweetener to the yogurt before you incubate it, if you wish. I prefer it plain, but my children like it a little sweeter.

Yogurt intimidated me until I tried it and found out how truly simple it was. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Shaping Surroundings for Good Habits

For the last number of years, I've done a series in January that has had something to do with Bible reading and schedules.  

2021- 30-Day Phone Challenge

2020 - Friends share Goals and Routines that Work 

2019 - Friends share Choosing His Words

In the last five years or so, I've read several very good books on habits. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhig, Switch: How Change Happens When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, and Atomic Habits by James Clear. I read a lot of books in a year, and maybe it shows the value of these books that I can remember so much about each one, though some were read quite a few years ago. (This post contains affiliate links.)

But, of course, it is not enough to read a book and agree with what it says. A book on habits has no power unless it changes my habits. 

I know from reading about habits, that change best happens when we make a specific plan to make the good habit "obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying." (from Atomic Habits)

"If you're having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn't you. The problem is your systems. Bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don't want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change." James Clear in Atomic Habits

Lots of people make goals at the beginning of the new year, including me. And it shouldn't be a surprise that when I make a goal without thinking through how I'm going to make that goal a habit, it flounders by mid-January. 

Since last January, I've been thinking about the changes I want to make and why some of them can't seem to become consistent habits. 

For example, in the last few years, I've been terrible at planning. All kinds of planning. Planning meals. Planning grocery lists. Planning schedules. As the result, I often feel like I'm running behind, not knowing what I'm going to make for dinner tonight. Going grocery shopping only to get home and find I missed a necessary items. Completely forgetting an appointment. 

While I feel like I'm doing relatively well holding together and most people in my life think I'm organized, I know how scattered I feel inside. 

Last January I made it my goal to begin using my planner again. At one time I used my planner often. I covered it with to-do lists, reminders, and random thoughts. But the last few years, the pages have been blank. I knew that if I would begin to consistently write things down, I would feel less disorganized. 

But I had no plan for how I'd actually begin this new habit and nothing changed. 

And that is just one example. I could make great goals, but unless I knew how I was going to incorporate them into my life, nothing would change.

So I've spend the last couple months thinking about my specific routines. I don't have babies anymore. I'm crawling out of the grief fog. My life is fuller than ever, but it has more predictability than in past years. I knew I could find a way to shape my environment to encourage better habits. 

Now is when I start to feel silly. This probably isn't worth sharing on a blog post. And I know it is only January 19 - too soon to tell if this will truly work. But I've been analyzing this for months, it isn't a hasty idea, and I've been slowly making tiny changes, so I think this will last. 

I'm also hesitant to share this because you may not need, or want, to copy me. I'm only giving this as an encouragement to look at your life, consider the changes you want to me, and find ways to shape your environment to make the changes work for you.

One problem I found was that I had things scattered around the house. I read my Bible on the couch, but if I wanted to journal, it was beside my bed. I kept my planner in the kitchen, so if I had an idea before bed, it wasn't handy. 

My bedroom is small and can tend to be the catch-all room. For example, it contains a large bookcase that contains school materials and teacher's manuals. There isn't many options on moving furniture in that space. But a few weeks ago I had an inspiration. By moving the large bookcase in the opposite corner, I was able to squeeze out space for a chair and a small bookshelf. I picked up a lamp at Goodwill and instantly I had a comfortable spot that I couldn't wait to use. 

This comfy spot became what I needed to shape better habits. My Bible, journal, and planner now have a home. I anticipate sitting there each morning and evening to plan my day. Walking in my room became a delight. And my phone is not kept in this space. No longer am I faced with the temptation to check my phone before reading my Bible because I have a lovely place to read my Bible, with no phone in sight.

Ask me in a few months how it is going, but because I've shaped my surrounding to support my goals, I think this will give long-term benefit.

I'd love to hear how you set up your home to encourage good habits.


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