Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Find Ways to Serve

In writing about my five quarantine goals, I've covered keep a routine,  celebrate my children, and take a walk.

I'm a little embarrassed to share the fourth goal, since I fear it sounds like bragging. I don't want anyone to feel bad when reading this. Many of you are overwhelmed by the extra load of homeschooling. Please don't compare. You may be serving your family at top capacity right now.

When this quarantine began, I knew how self-centered I could become. When life turns topsy-turvy, I want to huddle around my children and shut out the world. It is easy for me to think only of myself, so I set the goal to find ways to serve.

I knew the elderly people, without church or visitors, would be lonely. Thankfully the mail service still works, so my first goal was to send a card every day.

I haven't made that daily goal, but I have sent far more cards this past month than usual. I don't know if the cards have been a blessing to anyone else, but I know it has been good for me to get my mind off of myself.

Others around me have also been looking for ways to serve.

My brother called various local organizations to see what their needs are. He found that many don't have their usual volunteers over this pandemic, but their needs are increasing.

One such  place was our local homeless shelter. So one afternoon we made and delivered a meal. When I think that just a few miles from my house there could be hungry families, I feel embarrassed at my full freezers. And I love making large quantities of food.

Another opportunity came through a lady at our church. Our local hospital had received a shipment of N95 masks from the federal stockpile, but the straps needed replaced.  My daughter and I both spent a day sewing with many other ladies to fill this need. 

I've been blessed to see how others are serving.

One of my friends came to our house very early in the morning when we were all still sleeping and placed a box of treats for the whole family on the porch.

My brother and my sons got up early on a Saturday and baked cinnamon rolls which they delivered to some neighbors. Another Saturday they helped a neighbor replace an exterior door.

Another brother, who lives in a low-income neighborhood, is planning to host a community take-out meal. One of the goals of the meal is to evaluate the needs in his neighborhood.

One of my friends is texting an encouraging verse or quote along with a lovely photo every day. 

There are so many ways that we can reach out to others. It doesn't have to be anything big or elaborate. 

Last week I visited Walmart for the first time in weeks. It was also the first time I was in a store since masks were required. I hate how masks hide emotions and give everyone an air of distance and unfriendliness. Typically when I shop, I keep my eyes on my shopping list and move quickly through the store. But with masks, everyone looked so sad, and I determined to try to make a difference. I purposely made eye contact with fellow shoppers. I nodded, said "hi," and smiled broad enough to squint my eyes. It felt a little silly, but my unseen smiles were returned and some shoppers stopped to say a few words. I think all of us are starved for some human contact.

Thann Bennett wrote, "Loneliness stems not from a place of being physically alone but from the lack of being truly known." I can't end the loneliness many are experiencing right now, but maybe I can do a little to show someone that they are noticed. 

I'd love to hear the ways you are finding to reach out to others. Or the ways others have encouraged you.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Hail, Holy Light

This Sunday morning can bring a mix of emotions.

Do you feel
contentment or frustration?
joy or anxiety?
peace or anger?
faith or fear?

Changing negative emotions may seem impossible.
We may feel helpless to change circumstances
or adjust your attitude.

Maybe that is why we like the Psalms.
David shows us despair turned to praises.

How long wilt forget me, O Lord?
How long shall I have sorrow in my heart?

Hear me, O Lord, lest I sleep the sleep of death. 

I have trusted in Thy mercy.
My heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation.
I will sing unto the Lord
because He hath dealt bountifully with me.

(Excerpts from Psalm 13)

Despair to Request to Trust to Praise.

Did David's emotions change from the first verse to the last?
Or did he choose the action of praise and drag his emotions along?

I love when we start a Sunday morning worship service with Hail, Holy Light. I like the reminder that our praise is joining the song of creation, the heavenly beings, and believers around the world to worship God.

Hail, Holy Light
Edwin P. Parker
Hymns of the Church #50

Hail, holy light! The world rejoices
As morning breaks and shadows fly;
All nature blends her myriad voices
To greet the dayspring from on high.
Break forth, in glory far excelling,
O light eternal, love divine!
Let Thy bright beams, all shades dispelling,
Around us and within us shine.
The heav’nly hosts fall down before Thee,
And Holy! cry, nor ever rest;
The saints on earth, with them, adore Thee,
Creator, Savior, Spirit blest.
Accept, O Father, we entreat Thee,
The worship which Thy children bring;
O, grant us grace in Heav’n to greet Thee,
And with all saints Thy love to sing.

(You might have to click through to the blog to see the video if you are reading this by email.)

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Take a Walk

I'm writing about my five quarantine goals. I've already shared about Keep a routine and Celebrate my children. The third is Take a Walk.

This isn't a new goal, and it is one I've written about before.

1. Walking Alone

For years I wanted to walk more often, but, with young children, I didn't think I had the time. But I began taking regular walks with Ed as part of his therapy. I learned that work doesn't go anywhere when I take a walk, but I have the energy to tackle it. When Ed became too sick to walk, I began walking alone, with an audio book. My regular route, three miles around the block on our quiet roads, took me an hour. For the last year, I've tried to find time for this walk at least once or twice a week. I always find it refreshing.

I know that I feel better after a bit of exercise. But exercise for the sake of exercise can be difficult to do. For me, framing exercise as a treat and alone time, made all the difference.

After Ed died, I didn't have 5:30 to look forward to when Ed would come home from work. A walk in the afternoon couldn't replace Ed, but it could help me feel human.

My children learned to enjoy my walking time too. I rarely gave them work to do when I took a walk (besides watching the younger girls who don't need much watching.) So for them, my walks were a time to play games or read without chores or school work.

When the quarantine started and evening plans were canceled, I knew a walk would be more important. Without interaction with others, I would need an hour of quiet more often. Since we had less on our schedule, it would seem easier to find time to walk, though I didn't find it that way. My walks were made even more enjoyable by watching the world wake up with spring this past month. Listening to great audio books or podcasts helps too.

2. Walking With My Children

My walks around the block are almost always alone. Maybe I should take a child with me for some one-on-one time, but even an extrovert cherishes a bit of alone time.

On the first Sunday that we didn't have church, my children grumped. Most Sundays we fill with activities. Besides church, often Sunday afternoon and evening are spent with friends or family. All my children enjoy an active social life, maybe even more since we are homeschooled. On that first weekend when we couldn't get together with anyone, we had some bad moods.

So I told them that every Sunday afternoon, weather permitting, during the quarantine, we were going for a hike. The announcement wasn't met with excitement. But each Sunday, we've been out walking. Now that my brother is staying with us, it is easier. They don't dare complain to their uncle as they do to mom. We even started geocaching again, which maybe should be another post.

3. Walking With Others

In Pennsylvania, even with the stay-at-home order, we are allowed to leave home to exercise. I miss seeing the other ladies at church, and I've used the exercise allowance to also fill a need for socializing. I've met several times with friends to take a walk. We could keep a proper social distance while still enjoying face-to-face conversation.

I've also enjoyed meeting neighbors on my walks that I've never spoken to before. I don't think it is my imagination that people are more eager to talk this past month. One elderly man shut off his lawnmower to ask how far I was walking and where I lived. Another elderly woman was pulling out her driveway in her car. She stopped and wound down her window to chat. I think we all have a greater desire to communicate.

What about you? Have you found getting outdoors to be important for your sanity this month? In what ways are you interacting with your neighbors?

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Celebrate My Children

I'm sharing the five goals that I set for myself when the quarantine started. I already shared about keeping a routine. My second goal was to "celebrate my children."

As a homeschooling mom, I spend nearly every waking hour with my children. Most of my energy and brain cells are given to them. It could sound like I'm a good mom - and I hope I am. But I know how often my heart isn't in the giving. How often I resent the giving. How often I withhold my heart.

Often, especially in the past few years, I've done the bare minimum in mothering. I did laundry and made meals and even read books to them. (I always read books.) But I didn't do more than I had to.

I'm not trying to make anyone feel guilty. There is days (months, years) that the bare minimum is all a mom can do. Children need to learn that all of life is not all about having fun. Mothers are not the Entertainer or Magic Genie. Children need to do chores, to contribute to the family life, and to accept limitations.

But too often I say "No" to a project, to an idea, to a special treat, just because I don't want to be bothered by the extra effort.

When I learned that we would be home all day, every day, for who-knows-how-long, I knew I needed to find special ways to celebrate my children. I decided to say "yes" more.

1. Say "yes" to special treats and menus. 

Does it matter if we stay up late some night and eat ice cream before bed? Probably not. But usually I would think of another collection of dirty dishes in the sink and say "no."

And why will I go to the "bother" of making soft pretzels when we have friends over, but never make them just for my children?

That first week I left the children plan menus. Of course they picked things we rarely, if ever, have - like rootbeer floats. Though I should have been avoiding grocery stores, I ended up at the store more often that week. But we had a lot of fun at meals that week- and the weeks after. Since losing Ed, I've lost a lot of joy of cooking, but the past month, I've enjoyed it more, maybe because I've considered the wishes of my children more when planning meals.

2. Say "yes" to messy.

Any home with six children is going to get untidy. I'm used the mess of Lego, dolls, and puzzle pieces. But when the children get out paints on the dining room table or start carving in the living room, I groan. And I don't usually initiate any ideas that make more messes.

One evening, my son helped me plan a mystery supper for the others. We prepared a meal with lots of individual components. We printed up menus with each food item and utensil - giving each a mystery name. Each person chose the mystery items they wanted for their three courses and wrote them on their menu. Then we served each course. Some had chosen (unintentionally) to eat chili, jello, and icecream with no utensils. The children had never had a mystery supper. Saying "yes" to messy, on this night, meant saying "yes" to lots of laughter.

3. Say "yes" to projects.

I can procrastinate a long time with projects that upset the household. Maybe I'm too stuck on routine. I know that tackling a project will mean a neglect of other things. But when our calendar cleared out, I figured this was a great time for projects.

My oldest daughter wanted to paint the girls' room. I can come up with all sorts of reasons not to paint, but my daughter did most of the work. After two or three days, their room looked so fresh and clean. The rearranged furniture expanded the size of the room. The upheaval was worthwhile. Now I'm working on two more painting projects both inside and out. Fitting a proejct around school means that it will drag out a while, but if I waited for the perfect time, I would never start.

I know that there are many times a mom needs to say "no" to their children. But the last few weeks I've discovered that I say "no" too often, when I just don't want to be bothered. Since I've been purposely looking for ways to celebrate my children, I've discovered that I'm a bit more selfish than I want to admit.

What about you? I'd love to hear what you are doing with your children on these days of quarantine.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Rise, Glorious Conqueror

Yesterday while I was cleaning, I listened to Coronovirus and Christ by John Piper. (You can download it for free.) I was again inspired to look for ways to bring God glory through this pandemic.

Nothing surprises our God. He is not wringing His hands helplessly. We don't have to resort to blame, or fear, or panic. Not when He is still the risen Lord and conqueror of death.

May His name prevail.

Rise, Glorious Conqueror
by Matthew Bridges
Hymns of the Church #261

  1. Rise, glorious Conqu’ror, rise,
    Into Thy native skies;
    Assume Thy right;
    And where in many a fold
    The clouds are backward rolled
    Pass through those gates of gold,
    And reign in light!
  2. Victor o’er death and hell!
    Cherubic legions swell
    Thy radiant train;
    Praises all heav’n inspire;
    Each angel sweeps his lyre,
    And waves his wings of fire—
    Thou Lamb once slain!
  3. Enter, incarnate God!
    No feet but Thine have trod
    The serpent down:
    Blow the full trumpets, blow!
    Wider your portals throw!
    Savior triumphant, go
    And take Thy crown!
  4. Lion of Judah, hail!
    And let Thy Name prevail
    From age to age;
    Lord of the rolling years,
    Claim for Thine own the spheres,
    For Thou hast bought with tears
    Thy heritage!

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Keep a Routine

A month has went by since our lives have been altered by the pandemic. In many ways, this month has went much better than I expected. Most of the credit goes to my brother who has moved into our  house these weeks. Having another adult around has been a huge blessing.

When I learned that for a few weeks, at minimum, we would be spending most of our time at home, I made five personal goals. After a month, I can look back and see how much these five goals have been helpful to me.

In the next few days, I'll talk about each of these goals. And I hope you share with us what has been helping you stay sane in these weeks.

1. Keep a routine.

My life wasn't upended by this pandemic. I was already homeschooling; I spend most of my time at home. But we do have an active social life. Since the quarantine coincided with our return from a week in North Carolina, we had to re-find our routine. It was rougher than I expected. The weather was delightful, we were almost done with our school books, and all motivation was gone.

With all our social activities canceled, no longer could I say, "Let's finish our schoolwork, and then we'll go to the library." Or "Clean up your rooms quickly this afternoon, because friends are coming for pizza tonight." With no one coming over and nowhere to go, who feels like cleaning, or making special meals.

Like many of you, I feel the effect of quarantine brain. I struggle to concentrate or be motivated to tackle projects. I have more time than usual, but didn't feel like doing any of my projects. I could sew a new dress, but I don't have anywhere to wear it.

The tendency for me in time of uncertainties is to stay up late, sleep in, and react to each event of the day. I don't know what is going to happen next month, or next week, or tomorrow. When each day brings new announcements from government leaders, I can feel helpless to plan my day.

That is silly. Tomorrow I need to feed my children breakfast, and do laundry, and correct school work - regardless of the latest national news. My daily life is not affected by the news, at this point, except in my brain.

This in-limbo feeling was familiar to me from during Ed's treatment. I had learned then that I had to choose to make plans even when days felt uncertain.

So last month purposely considered our family routines. I assigned each day of the week to a child to help with meal planning and prep. I printed off a simple chart for the remaining school work so the children could see just how much they had to do these final weeks. We planned a simple church services to begin a new home-church routine. I forced myself to tackle projects like painting and sewing.

Four weeks later, we haven't kept our plans perfectly, but the fact that we had a plan, means that our days have flowed much better than they would have without a plan.

I'll be back with more of my goals. In the meantime, I'd love to hear how you are doing. Has quarantine brain been a problem for you? How have you pushed past it?

Monday, April 13, 2020

Good Shopping

My daughter said that if she had known that she'd be stuck at home for weeks, she would have stocked up on fabric to sew some dresses for herself.

Of course, we aren't going anywhere to wear a new dress, but she does need some dresses for summer, and she has extra time now.

I've never bought fabric online, but I told her to check Goods Store's website. This is a Mennonite store in Lancaster County, and I figured they would have fabric.

She found several fabrics she liked, as well as zippers to match, and we placed the order on Saturday. Today, two days later, they arrived in the mail. My daughter is stitching a dress as I type.

Good selection. Reasonable prices. Fast service. Though I like to support my local fabric stores, right now, this is a way to support another business that may be struggling since their doors have closed.

Goods Store has much more than fabric. A few years ago I reviewed their website but today they have no idea I'm writing this post.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Lift Your Glad Voices

There are so many wonderful Easter songs, and I wish badly that we could meet at church together to sing together. But heart worship can happen anywhere that you happen to be today.

(You can join our church's Easter service on Youtube.)

Lift Your Glad Voices will now always carry memories of Jess, since this was the last song she sang before her death.  I love the victory that is in these words.

Christ is risen!

Lift Your Glad Voices 
Henry Ware
Hymns of the Church #607

  1. Lift your glad voices in triumph on high,
    For Jesus hath risen, and man shall not die.
    Vain were the terrors that gathered around Him,
    And short the dominion of death and the grave;

  2. He burst from the fetters of darkness that bound Him,
    Resplendent in glory to live and to save!
    Loud was the chorus of angels on high,
    “The Savior hath risen, and man shall not die.”
  3. Glory to God, in full anthems of joy;
    The being He gave us death cannot destroy.
    Sad were the life we must part with tomorrow,
    If tears were our birthright, and death were our end;

  4. But Jesus hath cheered the dark valley of sorrow,
    And bade us, immortal, to Heaven ascend.
    Lift then your voices in triumph on high,
    For Jesus hath risen, and man shall not die.

A few other posts where I've shared Easter music.

The Strife is O'er

See the Conqueror Mounts

Friday, April 10, 2020

Covid Journal

The last few weeks feel like several months for most of us. We have lived a lot of different emotions, even those of us who have been largely untouched. I almost feel guilty when I think of how peaceful these weeks have been for me and the people I love. 

I think of how hard this would have been if this stress would have been heaped on us last spring when we were losing Ed. Then I pray for those who are in hard places, losing a loved one, making medical decisions, feeling overwhelmed with everyday pressures...and then this.

I don't want to minimize the suffering, by talking about my life. But for those of you who have kindly asked, "how are you doing?" I scrolled through the pictures on my camera to find out what we actually did in these weeks that we'll forever remember with the Covid label.

Mid-March found us in North Carolina. My oldest brother and his family spent a month coordinating work groups rebuilding homes from Hurricane Florence. We joined them for a week, along with my youngest brother and sister. My boys worked with my brothers helping people like this one, move from the camper where they've lived for 18 months, into their repaired home.

The girls found ways to keep busy. 

We stayed at a migrant camp on a blueberry farm, and the children delighted in the spring weather and grew layers of dirt. 

A week spent with cousins was far too short.

By the end of the week, we were hearing unexpected reports of school closings and large group bans. 

We planned to spend the weekend at Ed's sister Jean's house. We always love our times here and this was no exception. But Covid cut our visit short. 

Schools closed in Pennsylvania by the time we were home, but that didn't change much for homeschoolers. But when spring arrives, everyone is ready to be done. It was hard getting back to the books after a week's vacation in North Carolina, except for my eager kindergardener who loves learning to read.


I'm glad staying at home connected with nice outside weather where we could enjoy things like the first burger of the season.

We had been given the game Pandemic for Christmas. Now it felt a little too real. But I love that in this game, the players have to work together to try to beat the game. 

Staying home means more time for music making.

On our first Sunday without church, we visited the reservoir where it wasn't hard to practice social distancing when we were the only vehicle in the parking lot.

My boys have spent weeks carving wooden spoons.

And practicing on their new unicycle.

I love sharing books and have dreamed of having a home library. After public libraries closed, I offered to share books with my friends. They sent me an idea of books they liked, I selected a stack of books to pick up on our porch. So far 136 books have walked out our door.

I call them essential.

I'm very sorry for those who have lost their jobs, but the stay-at-home order means my youngest brother is spending most of his time at our house working on projects like replacing the drywall on our bathroom ceiling.

Our woodshed is nearly full thanks to my oldest brother and his boys who cut and split word at their place, my dad who hauled it to our house, and my boys who stacked it. 

My daughter will forever remember that her 16th birthday came days after the stay-at-home order. The weather cooperated to celebrate with a campfire even if we couldn't have a big party or get her drivers' permit.

The next night we celebrated a new teenager.

Our local hospital acquired thousands of N95 masks which needed elastic. I joined some ladies from church at the medical center to stitch and socialize over sewing machines.

Last Sunday afternoon we hiked a few tough miles on the Appalachian Trail to reach Chimney Rock.

This week my brother is fulfilling a long-time dream by helping my sons build a cabin in our pasture. 

I love that they are learning many skills by working with my brother.

We've had to cancel plans and ask questions we never dreamed. (Should I wear a mask when I shop for groceries?) We pray for our government leaders who make impossible decisions and medical workers who risk their lives.

But on Good Friday, I'm thankful for a foundation that doesn't change. Not last April. Not this April. The gift of salvation won thousands of years ago gives unchanging peace today.

Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift. (2 Corinthians 9:15)

Sunday, April 5, 2020

It Is Well

Today is the third Sunday that our church has not gathered together for worship. Like everyone else in this unusual time, we are finding new routines and ways to connect with each other.

On the first Sunday that we spent at home, I felt that it was important to make some new traditions with my children. I didn't expect to be able to return to regular Sunday services in a week or two. I gave each of the older children a job for our own family worship service. For example, one chose a Bible story to read to the younger girls, another chose some Sunday School songs, another two hymns. After having a short time of singing and Sunday School, we listened to the sermon recorded at our church.

Our church is streaming sermons on their Facebook page. There are now sermons in both English and Spanish. You are welcome to listen in.

With all the noise online right now, I haven't known what to say.

I haven't been sharing favorite hymns very often in the last year, and I miss it. As long as we don't have regular Sunday morning services, I'm going to attempt to share a hymn on Sunday morning here.

"It Is Well With My Soul" is familiar to many of us.  I've heard the story of how it was written so often that it has become a cliche to me.

But when Ed was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer, he told me that he wanted "It Is Well With My Soul" sung at his funeral. He gave almost no other suggestions for the service than this song.

The words of this hymn were Ed's testimony. He truly lived his two years with a terminal diagnosis with his soul was at peace.

There is a lot of uncertainties in our lives today. We don't know how bad this pandemic will be. We don't know if it will affect the ones we love. We don't know how long it will take our economy to recover.

I'm not minimizing the hardship that many people are facing at this time. But if a 40-year-old with a terminal diagnosis can find peace, anyone can.

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. (Isaiah 26:3)

We often don't sing the fourth or fifth verse of this hymn, but I'm including the words of the complete hymn here.

It Is Well With My Soul
by Horatio Gates Spafford

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
  1. When sorrows like sea billows roll;
    Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
    It is well, it is well with my soul.
    • Refrain:
      It is well with my soul,
      It is well, it is well with my soul.
  2. Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
    Let this blest assurance control,
    That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
    And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
  3. My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
    My sin, not in part but the whole,
    Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
    Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
  4. For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
    If Jordan above me shall roll,
    No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
    Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
  5. But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
    The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
    Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
    Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
  6. And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
    The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
    The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
    Even so, it is well with my soul.

Enjoy listening. 


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