5 Wholesome Things I Learned in March

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in March

It’s the third edition of my monthly “Wholesome List” and maybe by now you’re getting the gist of it. I share with you a few things that I found (or learned about) which added value to my life because they were enriching or pleasant or meaningful in some way. Things that are wholesome contribute to our health and well-being, so I’m always looking for stuff along those lines.**

This month, 2 of the 5 items are reading material. Broadening my mind (or the mere attempt of it, anyway) makes me feel alive, and finding intriguing or enlightening books and articles has always been a favorite pastime. Here are a couple resources I wanted to share with you.

First – A book whose title piqued my interest: How Dogs Love Us by Gregory Berns. In amusing anecdotes (for dog lovers, anyway), Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University, recounts the process of training a couple dogs (including his own) to willingly enter an MRI machine, sit still for hundreds of scans, and respond to hand signals and scents while their brains are photographed. In the process, he discovers that dogs do show certain signs of brain activation similar to that of humans known to be experiencing love and affection. It’s an easy and interesting read. However, if you’re a dog person you might have already guessed the conclusion, because…well, dog people – we know. “Man’s best friend” didn’t get this moniker for no reason at all.

Next – As part of our Lenten practices, my 9-year old son and I have been reading a chapter of Love Does for Kids by Bob Goff every night. Through stories of his own childhood and ones from the days of raising his three kids with his wife (whom he always calls “Sweet Maria”), Goff draws parallels between everyday life and Biblical concepts. His approach is casual and conversational – not at all stilted or overbearing. So, Jesus comes across as the person He is – real, unfailingly kind, and eager to meet us right where we are. My son is anxious to read these lively tales every night – about American kids eating with foreign royalty, wedding cakes gone topsy-turvy, and neighbor doctors who rush in at a moment’s notice to stitch up split fingers at the dinner table. He’s glued to the details but never misses the bigger picture: God is SO powerful and SO full of goodness – there’s more than enough of Him for the whole world. My son is savoring this book and rereading it on his own, and it warms my mothering heart.

Third – Are you afraid of shots? Or know a child who is? When my daughter ended up in the hospital this month (read the story here), I saw first-hand this amazing tool in action: a Buzzy Bee. It’s a small vibrating device that temporarily confuses the body’s pain signals and makes procedures like getting an inoculation or an IV set in place less painful. My daughter said she couldn’t even feel her IV needle prick, just a small sting after it was all over. Anyone who dreads daily injections or the screaming that accompanies vaccination day needs one of these.

Fourth – I really stepped out of my comfort zone this month and learned that I could do some public speaking when asked. I told my personal story to about 40 women at my weekly Bible Study – Walking With Purpose. Afterward, on Instagram I said, “I outlined the many ways the Lord beckoned me to Himself over several decades, through both easy and painful times when I wanted nothing to do with Him, until I finally realized He was my soul’s true desire. It was the perfect venue for sharing, as these women are my friends and sisters in Christ, and I have felt loved every time I’ve walked through the door for the last nine years. Do you have a similar fellowship that encourages you? We need people who accept us as we are, cherishing the pieces of our stories as the gems that made us who we are today.” When I’d finished speaking I was so ready to sit down I hardly looked up at the audience again; it was quite an emotional moment for me. And I was surprised to receive such warm, encouraging feedback – and even a couple requests to start a podcast! What do you think? Would a podcast be a good addition to this blog? What would you like to hear? Interviews? Reflections? Please send me an email by using the ‘Contact’ tab at the top of my site! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Finally – And on a much lighter note, have you ever repeatedly bought something for other people (i.e. your kids), but never tried it yourself? So it was for me with Trader Joe’s yogurt cups, specifically the Strawberries and Cream/Peaches and Cream/Bananas and Cream flavors. Hello?!! Where has my mind been every time I opened my fridge? And why am I always only eating Greek yogurt? This stuff is so, so tasty. That’s all I have to say about that.

Thanks so much for reading this month’s (longish) edition of the Wholesome List! Spring has finally sprung so enjoy! Be well, love well, and keep your eyes open to grace in your life.

With gratitude for you,

Gretchen

**This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

Do You Have Your Own Hogwarts House? I Do.

Do You Have Your Own Hogwarts House? I Do.

Do you have your own Hogwarts house? I don’t mean which of the 4 houses brilliantly imagined by J.K. Rowling for the Harry Potter** series do you think you would fit in, but do you have your OWN house?

Perhaps you should.

My family and I are big Harry Potter fans. Last summer during our vacation we finished up our 2-year adventure of listening to the entire series of audiobooks on long car rides (having already read them in print, of course). Then we visited the Pottermore website, created accounts, completed the online quizzes, were “sorted” into houses, and determined where our supposed loyalties should be.

According to Pottermore, my house is Ravenclaw – home of intelligent, creative, wise wizards. My patronus (spirit animal) is an otter (just like Hermione’s!), and my wand is Hawthorn Wood with a Unicorn hair core, 12 1/4” long and of quite bendy flexibility. I’m to use it with care and confidence, or it will create problems for me, as “hawthorn wands, which are complex and intriguing in their natures, [are] just like their owners who best suit them.”

I took this all in stride and my family hasn’t really pinned these descriptors to me, probably because we all know it’s just in good fun, plus – I had made a declaration months before.

In dinner-table conversation one night, everyone was busy trying to choose houses for one another when I announced, “I’m in my own house.”

“What do you mean?” they asked. So I explained.

“My house is called Dinglepouf, and it’s a very small house. Just for me.”

I was pressed for details…so I fashioned them on the spot.

“My colors are pink and green and my symbol? The Cockatoo. Because I think they’re cute and hilarious…all that hopping up and down with feathers puffed atop their heads.”

This was met with incredulous amazement. And laughter. But it was quickly accepted as family fact, and no one questioned me further.

And how could you? There’s only one member of my house, and so any of her qualities are those of the house as well. In general, she is sensitive, inquisitive, and a seeker of knowledge. She’s devoted to the people and pursuits of her heart, soft-spoken, and a lifelong daydreamer who still laughs at silly puns and other forms of low humor. People have often told her she’s sweet, but those closest to her know she can be mean, and that she outrageously stubborn.

And – she likes her own space. Hence, her own house.

Imaginary lives are entertaining. But we know where to draw the lines.

My 13-year old daughter enjoys playing online quizzes. She likes to see which celebrity’s style she supposedly matches, car she should drive, city she might prefer, or animal she would be if she were to miraculously transform.

And she likes me to play along. Sometimes, I do.

“Mom,” she said recently as she pointed to one such quiz on her iPad. “What do you really want from your life? Fame? Money? Power? or Other?”

“Other,” I answered.

“What do you mean?”

“What I really want is for my kids to grow up and have a close relationship with God.”

Her face crinkled, eyebrows pinched in the middle.

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

“But this is about YOU. What do you want?” she asked again.

“To live forever with God.”

She smiled and shook her head.

“Mom! You’re no fun!”

She was laughing and I knew she wanted me to be more accommodating to the quiz.

“I know. My answers don’t fit. But that’s often the way it is for me. I think differently.” I met her gaze, then added, “And that’s good.”

She nodded because she understood, chose ‘Other’ for me, and for the rest of the quiz I picked whatever sounded alright until I ended up being a blue aardvark or something at the end. It doesn’t matter.

What does matter is this: our kids are listening, and observing what we believe. About ourselves. About life. About where we find meaning and purpose.

It’s great to be a member of a “house” or a team – to find commonality and fellowship, to contribute our talents toward a greater cause, to be part of a unified effort – but each of us individually is worthy of celebration and we don’t need to be afraid to step apart.

I don’t want my daughter to pigeonhole herself. She CANNOT be pigeonholed. All of her traits, gifts, and talents are far too robust and varied for her to ever fit into just one category. It’s the way she was fantastically created. I don’t want her to be anyone but herself. Though I tell her this, I also have to lead by example.

In my adult life, I have been intrigued by personality-type frameworks such as the Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram, and I know that I am not alone. I recently enjoyed Reading People by Anne Bogel (Free on Kindle now!), a thoughtful overview of several of these popular frameworks, which can provide us with valuable insights on our inner lives and the ways we interact with others, especially those who seem so different from us. Knowing our “type” – be it an ENFJ, or a Number 2 with a 5 wing, etc. (see the book if that’s all goo to you) – can help us in our careers, marriages, parenting, and spiritual lives. These frameworks are more meaningful, grown-up versions of “type” quizzes.

BUT, even if we can be grouped because we are similar to others, we are still uniquely made by One Creator. No two people are even remotely the same.

I am uniquely created to fulfill God’s purpose for my life, just as you are uniquely created by Him for yours, and each of my kids are for theirs.

And my life’s purpose is to love and serve God – my maker and lover of my soul – in all the ways He calls me right here and now. On paper yours might be the same, but it will play out in countless different ways.

This is a process of discernment which basically boils down to asking Him on the daily: 1) Where do You want me to show love? 2) Where do You want me to give of my time, talents, and treasure?

It took me a long, long time to figure this out, but once I did, all my days – even the bad ones, all through my history of pushing Him away – made sense. In light of this calling, in the light of God’s unending love for me – a deep, unshakable joy welled up from within, and I am happy to share it with everyone – especially my kids.

When I tell them I have my own house or that I want to live forever with God, I’m not saying it’s not good to be part of a team.

I am saying – embrace the person God made you to be, and know that this world can’t pin you down. You were made to go far, far beyond it. You are unique. You are wonderfully made. You are beloved. Don’t you ever, ever forget it.

You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! – Psalm 139:13-14

**This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

What Does the Cashier See in Our Eyes?

What Does the Cashier See in Our Eyes?

Photo by Barrett Baker on Unsplash

“What does the cashier see in our eyes?” I wondered as my teenage son and I approached the woman at counter number 17 of the Motor Vehicle Administration, after waiting for 3 1/2 hours to replace his lost learner’s permit.

Does she see anger? Frustration? Impatience? Or can we turn that all around?

While we were waiting, I’d been reading Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly,** in which she writes of the many virtues of sharing our vulnerabilities in order to live wholeheartedly – that is, in a manner that creates meaningful connections between ourselves and everyone we encounter.

In a sidebar that stretches across three grayed-out pages she highlights the way service people are often treated, recounting a story where she was caught on the phone in the middle of a drive-thru and had the presence of mind to tell the cashier:

“I’m so sorry. The phone rang right when I was pulling up and I thought it was my son’s school.”

I must have surprised her because she got huge tears in her eyes and said, “Thank you. Thank you so much. You have no idea how humiliating it is sometimes. They don’t even see us.” (p.149)

Brown goes on to explain,

“I see adults who don’t even look at their waiters when they speak to them. I see parents who let their young children talk down to store clerks. I see people rage and scream at receptionists…

When we treat people as objects we dehumanize them. We do something really terrible to their souls and our own. Martin Buber, an Austrian-born philosopher, wrote about the differences between an I-it relationship and an I-you relationship. An I-it relationship is basically what we create when we are in transactions with people whom we treat as objects— people who are simply there to serve us or complete a task. I-you relationships are characterized by human connection and empathy.

Buber wrote, ‘When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.’” (p.149-150)

I finished the three pages in Brown’s book and handed it to my son.

“Read this segment,” I said, and he did, agreeing with all of Brown’s observations about the current state of our society – people so involved with their phones and so wrapped up in themselves that they never once look a person across the counter from them in the eye.

If we know in our hearts that every individual is made in the image of God, imagine what we’re missing when we don’t stop to appreciate that kind of beauty every time we encounter it in a person each day.

And if we are God’s vessels – broken but still useful – can’t we summon enough courage to step out of ourselves so He can use us to promote peace in the world?

The rewards far outweigh the risk.

By the time we got to counter number 17, my son and I were tired, hungry, and more than ready to go home. But we both knew the woman who greeted us was doing her best. We smiled and were courteous. And lo and behold – she smiled back. We made small talk. She was surprised and laughed a little.

We learned she has kids of her own, was sympathetic to our situation, was patient and understanding.

Most importantly, we looked her in the eye as we spoke to her. And I saw she had big, brown gorgeous ones with tiny gold flecks and long, black eyelashes. And her hands moved across her keyboard with confident grace because she was very quick and knowledgeable in her work.

I’m glad I took a few moments to really see her – yet another one of God’s masterpieces.

****This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

I Am Where I’m Meant to Be

I Am Where I’m Meant to Be

Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

“I am where I’m meant to be,” I kept telling myself as all my Friday plans were ditched and I succumbed to day two of a migraine.

Things happen for a divine reason and here I was, re-learning what it means to be present. My daughter was home sick and we’d just come through a rough 72 hours.

I walked into the family room to check on her – my daughter-patient – lounging in front of the TV. I was thinking I could console her in some way when she reached her arms up to me. There was a fraction of a smile in her eyes and I realized in an instant, she wasn’t asking for a hug, she was giving one.

“Mom.”

I let myself sink down into the soft couch corner beside her and rested my head on hers, our blond hair commingling on the blue pillows. We exhaled at the same time.

“I need to work on an article,” I said.

“No, you don’t.”

“I also need to write a blog post.”

“No, you don’t.”

“My head still hurts.”

“I know. That’s why you need to just sit here and be a couch potato. With me.”

There is a connection between a mother and her daughter that is unique. And when the nurturer in the daughter is born, it is with a wordless tenderness.

Late night on Shrove Tuesday, my daughter had come down with severe stomach pains. They were bad enough to bring on tears, and she is not the crying type. We rushed to our hospital’s pediatric ER and spent the rest of the night there. She had many ‘firsts:’ her first IV, first ultrasound, and first MRI – as the pain, which she rated an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 – moved from all over her belly to the lower right quadrant. If you’re guessing appendicitis, so was everyone else.

The tests were all inconclusive, but thankfully, the pain was gradually subsiding by Wednesday afternoon. It seemed to be some weird viral issue. She could go home under the condition that she should return if things got worse or a fever developed. As it turned out, the slight, residual pain would last a few more days, and my mothering eyes didn’t rest until my daughter seemed fully herself once again.

I make it sound like it was all bad, don’t I? It wasn’t.

Ever since I acknowledged my dependence on God so many years ago, I carry within my soul an abiding sense of peace that doesn’t waver, even when circumstances make my mind wander into a land of worry and concern.

So when I pray, the two – mind and soul – are both at work. With my mind, I address the One I know is my ever-ready and ever-present help.

Watching needles going into my daughter’s veins….

Lord, steady her. Please relieve her pain.

As I saw her organs flash across a screen, images in black and white…

Please Lord, help this radiologist to find the problem.

And from my soul, words of praise and hope sometimes bubble up spontaneously. While standing next to the MRI, holding my daughter’s hands, extended above her head as she tried to remain still, my heart and soul sang the songs of my childhood.

Father, I adore You
Lay my life before you
How I love you

I didn’t know what the diagnosis would be, but I had faith that God was there.

He was there in the consoling words of the nurse who made my daughter smile as she put in the IV; in the kindness of the staff who brought us warm blankets so we could try to sleep; and in the gentle eyes of the doctor who listened carefully to the story of my own appendectomy and readily admitted that yes, appendicitis runs in families, so I had every reason to be suspicious when my daughter doubled up in pain.

The goodness God gives to us through the people who cross our paths gets passed on when we give it away.

We are His hands in the world.

And sometimes, His love comes back to us in the form of a needed hug from a daughter-patient.

God is always with us, and our souls want to talk with him.

Our relationship with God depends less on what we do than on which direction we face.

Are we turned toward Him? Or away?

There’s only one place I’m meant to be. Wherever I am, that’s looking up at Him.

Are We Eating Enough Humble Pie?

Are We Eating Enough Humble Pie?

Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash

Humble pie. An old-fashioned phrase. Makes me think of a picnic in springtime, a checkerboard tablecloth, and someone joyriding through a forest in a horse-drawn wagon. That person thinks he’s king of the world. He’s showing off but all-too-soon he hits a rock, is catapulted from his dinky wooden seat, and with arms and legs flailing catches air and unceremoniously lands in a huge puddle. Mud covers him from head to toe.

Don’t ask me where I got this visual. I have no idea. But when people say, “He’s too big for his britches,” something along these lines comes to mind.

What is humility, exactly?

In modern parlance, we’ve wrongly accepted it as having low self-esteem. It’s not that.

Merriam-Webster’s defines it as the quality or state of not being proud or haughty. To be humble is also to rank low in a hierarchy or scale. To be unpretentious.

Note that these definitions do not indicate intrinsic value. You can be a cog in the wheel of a large organization, but if doing your job enables others to get theirs done too, you’re not exactly worthless, are you?

My grandfather used to say he was a “peanut” when he described his career as an engineer at Boeing in Seattle, WA. A former WWII pilot and instructor, he was extremely bright and capable, and held a variety of positions which relocated his family a handful of times over the years. But no matter how much I admired his work, his perspective was different. He’d grown up in the Great Depression, and lived apart from his mom for seven years on a small farm outside of Vancouver, WA with his father and sister, while his mother provided income as washer woman in Seattle. She sent money down to her family every time she got a paycheck. He never forgot arriving at that farm house for the very first time and realizing that the only running water came through a rough, open pipe over the kitchen sink, fed by a trickling local stream. Though the amenities did improve, prolonged family separation – not by choice but by necessity – and hard times, left marks. He never took blessings for granted. Instead, he took the opportunities he was given and used them to serve others. He always gave others credit and downplayed his own contributions. He was holding all things in proper perspective, the way a truly humble person navigates life.

So it made sense to me, sitting at his memorial service, that here was a man who had spent his life making kind overtures. Yes, he helped feed and clothe the homeless through his church, and volunteered countless hours to manage the books for community groups. But another thing he did really struck me.

In his later years, he joined a yacht club and rose ‘through the chairs’ to become Commodore. At the end of the monthly members’ meeting, he had a personal tradition of “Naming the House.” Starting on one side of the room and making his way around, he would say the name of every person present, and if there was enough time, also the name of his/her spouse and their boat. At any meeting, there might be as many as 200 people present.

This is notable for a few reasons:

First, what a memory! Keeping his mind sharp was always important to him, but he must have spent days studying the roster. It shows a level of dedication to his organization that I believe most leaders don’t have.

Second, he was looking at each person as he said their name and relayed information pertinent to that person’s life. How often do we tell others that they are seen? That we know them? That we care who they are?

And finally, he was not doing this to show off or to elevate himself above his fellow members. He did it because he fully understood that once his term was up, he would reassume his place in the crew. Despite the fancy uniform and podium he was speaking from – he was – essentially – just like them, and he valued each of them for who they were individually. His heart was in serving them. He knew that each person was important – a valued member – and he wanted them to know that he would never forget a single one.  

This how God sees us.

He looks upon us with tremendous love – boundless affection – and says, “I know you. Every part of you. And in my leadership, I will never forget you.”

To show us that he understands, He sent us Himself in Jesus. Fully man, and fully divine, a person who was similarly tested in all ways, but remained without sin. (Hebrews 4:15) God “gets” us.

True humility on our part is recognizing our rightful place in the world, which is neither less than nor greater than any other human being, but bowing only toward the One Who is.

How does this thought strike you? Is it strange? Foreign? Liberating?

Our intrinsic value is not defined by our position. It is not related to our income, connections, careers, or even our bad habits.

We were created in love by the One Who cradles us in the palm of His hand and calls us Beloved. This is where we find our true worth. 

This kind of humble pie is Truth. And it’s deliciously filling.

Study Birds and Turtles – Or How to Love in Life’s Mundane Moments

Study Birds and Turtles – Or  How to Love in Life’s Mundane Moments
Me and my first-born at the National Zoo many years ago.

How do you love those closest to you in life’s mundane moments? Those times when all you see are the remains of everyday life and the residue bugs you…Toothpaste stuck to the sides of the sink. Towels in crumpled heaps on the floor. Crumbs all over the countertop.

When our first child – a boy – was still an ‘only’, my husband and I took him on regular visits to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. We had high hopes that our son would embrace our love of animals – all the same majestic beasts of power I admired (like the great cats), and the intelligence and antics of the creatures my husband favored (such as the primates and the otters). Instead, we often found ourselves wandering around the Bird House or lingering beside a pond of lily pads as eternal minutes dragged on. But these locales were positively scintillating for our son. He was mesmerized by the tiniest of brown birds, the plainest of turtles sitting motionless on its mini-island rock in the center of a lagoon.

I couldn’t understand it until my husband made the wise observation, “These animals are small. Closer to his size. They’re easier for him to study and appreciate.”

It was true. While we may be attracted by the bright, colorful, and bold, it’s more often the case that passionate love for a creature, person, place, or anything else develops in a slower, more nuanced way. We connect with what seems within reach – with what we understand – starting from the outside and exploring within. Once there, we bridge the gap, allowing our hearts to grow stronger in affection for that which we have come to esteem.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” but even she knew her sonnet would inadequately describe love of a person – the greatest experience known to man this side of heaven.

“I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace….
and, if God choose, I shall love thee better after death.”

-Sonnet 43

It takes a lifetime and beyond to fully value an individual, doesn’t it?

When we truly stretch ourselves to love the entirety of another person, accepting him or her as a unique and irreplaceable gift, we experience a taste of the vastness of God.

But most days, we are blind to the divine glory of our loved ones.

We get tired. We fuss and fidget over our to-dos. We become automatons in the stress and hustle of our world. And in the modern age, we stare blankly and numbly at our screens, scrolling past the myriad faces of people who don’t play significant roles in our lives.

Why? Why are we wasting this precious time?

God’s grace – as evidenced by the immense creativity across the depth of the people we love – is there for the knowing, if only we would look up and SEE.

Post-Valentine’s Day, I would encourage us all to recommit ourselves to the study and appreciation of the people closest to us. The ones who really matter.

Memorize the feel of your child’s hair under your palm. Fix your beloved’s smile in your mind’s eye. Etch the echoes of voices you treasure on your heart.

Listen. Not to just the words, but to the yearning to be understood that lies behind the words.

Love never ends, but opportunities to see it shimmering like dewfall in life’s most mundane moments – do.

Let’s not rely on a holiday to savor the beauty of our valentines. Today is as perfect a day as any.

The Gift You Should Give Yourself

The Gift You Should Give Yourself
Photo by Elisa Coluccia on Unsplash.

Can you stop for 5 minutes?

FULL. STOP.

Close your eyes and tune out the world, right where you are?

If you’re like me, you think, “Sure. Anytime.”

But doing it isn’t easy.

My oldest child will receive the sacrament of Confirmation in the spring, so last night I attended a meeting for parents of candidates. Appropriately, we began in prayer.

I closed my eyes, but not before noticing that the mom next to me kept glancing down at the phone in her lap, reluctant to put it away. She crossed and uncrossed her knees. Shuffled in her purse. Wiped hair from her face. Pulled herself out of her nylon parka, making “swish, swish” sounds which seemed amplified in the quiet church sanctuary.

The fact that I can tell you this is an indication that I myself was not ‘fully present to God.’

My mind was also very much here on earth, following its whims.

Sitting quietly is hard for us.

We firmly believe that busyness is such a hallmark of our time that we’ve allowed the noise of it all to sweep us away from what our souls actually crave: silence.

A Real Simple article from September 2017 traces the influence of noise on our well-being. Writer Florence Williams points out that while loud noises have always been a threat to our hearing, recent research links increasing noise levels with heart attacks and high blood pressure. There is an association between elevated noise in our environment and the release of stress hormones.

When you factor in visual stimulation – the way we are constantly bombarded with news, advertising, and even the accumulation of items in our spaces – it’s no wonder we feel some sense of peace just standing in a place that’s clutter-free.

So what’s the take-away?

We need quiet to find peace.

Quiet – and the practice of learning to be still – could be the very best thing you give yourself this holiday season and into the new year.

It won’t be easy. And not because you and I don’t have 5 minutes to spare.

Sit motionless with your eyes closed for 30 seconds and you’ll see that your other senses are amplified.

You’ll hear your own breathing and the air whirring about your head, feel shifts in your body, smell lingering odors, taste whatever you last ate…. You’ll experience any number of sensations before realizing your mind is cataloging them!

But we can change this.

Practice helps us progress.

After we parents at last night’s meeting finished our shuffling, we settled into clarity and calm. Eyes closed, I listened wholeheartedly to what came next – a song – and relaxed into its words of praise, letting the alto voice carry me toward a better frame of mind.

It wasn’t pure silence, but it was a start.

When we empty ourselves of ourselves, we find what’s greater than us.

Practicing silence, we hear the whisper of God.

So as you hustle around handing out presents to those you love, find a place in your day to… hush.

Stop where you are. Close your eyes.

Start with just one minute and grow from there. One day into the next.

But give yourself this gift, because we fool ourselves into thinking that stimulation is necessary and good, when the absence of it holds the promise of so much more.

The Unexpected Christmas Visitor

The Unexpected Christmas Visitor

When was the last time the events of a day seemed to be pointing to bad news for you? Did things actually turn out to be as awful as you’d feared?

I shared this story with my readers several seasons ago, but this year seems as good a time as any to revisit the lessons of that fateful day. 

Re-posting this story for your holidays. Blessings to you and yours.

– Gretchen 

The Unexpected Christmas Visitor

I can’t remember the year, but I know it was Christmas. And he called my brother-in-law by name. And that’s part of what set off the  tension in the air….

As I remember it, it was like this…
The doorbell rang and a 20-something guy in a fire department sport jacket was standing on the front steps of my sister- and brother-in-law’s house looking very nervous.

Photo my Les Anderson, Unsplash.

The door opened.
“Mr. D?” he asked.
“Yes, yes.”
“I’m uh. I’m uh…very sorry to tell you this. But…”
“Yeah??” my brother-in-law’s voice escalated a little.
“But, uhm. Uh…”
“YEah?”
 “I ran into your mailbox. I’m…”
“Oh, GOD!!!”
“I’m really, really sorry. The road is very icy and I just…”
“NO! No! No,” my brother-in-law was almost yelling, and beginning to let out bits of relieved laughter.
The guy in the doorway wasn’t sure what to think. He paused, dumbfounded.
“No! I…I have five brothers! I thought you were gonna tell me one of them had died!”
“Oh, God!! Oh, no!! No, man! I’m sorry.”
At this point, the rest of us adults in the house were laughing with relief too.
“It was just the fire department jacket, you know!?? And you looked so serious!”
“Well, I just feel so bad about the mailbox, and…”
“Ah no! This hill, the road, it’s ok. Really.”
“I want to pay for it.”
“No. No. Won’t let you do that. Merry Christmas!! Merry Christmas!!”
Isn’t it funny, how in a flash, we can calculate what’s truly most important to us? My brother-in-law knew that his wife and kids were right there at home with him, so his thoughts then followed to the next ring of people he loves – his brothers. And his heart was filled with gratitude for the fact that the news was not about them.
How often do I give thanks for ill that has not befallen me? I’m not saying I should look at other people’s tragedies and say, “I’m so glad that’s not happening in my life.” But if I’m honest, on the vast, vast, vast majority of days the good so far outweighs the bad that I have no reason to dwell unnecessarily on negative things.
Rejoice always. 
– 2 Thessalonians 5:16

From One Lit Lover to All Others – New Gift Ideas

From One Lit Lover to All Others – New Gift Ideas

My copy of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.

My love affair began with Black Beauty. I was 7 years old and devoured it page by page after receiving it for Christmas, 1979.

The note from my aunt inside Black Beauty.

Yes, before that I had lesser crushes – The Velveteen Rabbit had nipped at my heart – but none that had ripped it wide open like this one horse’s life story, replete with trials, tribulations and a tear-jerking reunion. It was my first and truest relationship with a classic work of literature, one that would forever set my expectations about what a story is supposed to do.

From this I learned that a world of genius just waits to be discovered, and there is never enough time to read ALL THE GOOD BOOKS!!

What is your favorite work of classic lit?

Is it the ever-popular Jane Eyre?

The always delightful Peter Pan?

The idealistic Walden?

The transcendentally beautiful Leaves of Grass?

I’ll bet you can find a lovely artistic rendering of it here.

If you enjoy great design and want to give the literature lover on your list something he or she will actually use, check out this new site, Literary Book Gifts. Creator and designer Melissa has placed old fashioned line drawings on tasteful tote bags and t-shirts for men and women. Use the code GRETCHENMATTHEWS20 and she’ll give you 20% off any purchase, no minimum. 

Adorable totes from Literary Book Gifts.

The totes are sturdy cotton, fully lined, and come in three different sizes. There are 64 designs to choose from, including every one of the books I’ve mentioned above.

T-shirts are soft and available in more colors than I stopped to count. And beyond literary designs, some also feature images simply reminiscent of old times and refined living….an antique desk, a typewriter, a tribute to Beethoven.

Pretty much everyone agrees, life is too hectic today. Slowing down with a good read – or being reminded that you should by a tote bag or a t-shirt – is a great way to encourage someone you love to make the most of their time in the new year.

Remember – Literary Book Gifts and use code GRETCHENMATTHEWS20 . And just so you know, I receive no financial benefit from your transaction. I just like the products and thought you might too.

Peace and blessings to you and yours – always. Happy Holidays!

Contemplating Home and the Passing of Days

Contemplating Home and the Passing of Days

Fall is turning to winter and we are, once again, considering Christmas preparations. But as we do, I think back on the events of my fall and they seem to coalesce around one concept: HOME.

What a loaded word that is.

HOME. My third-grader listed it as one of the places he most likes to go on his “All About Me” poster for school. This blessed me greatly. For him, home is close to what it should be – a refuge and stronghold of love.

And I fervently hope my children will always feel this way about the home they’ve grown up in.

HOME is where we live, where we once lived, and what will be our place of living at some point in the future. And yet despite our best efforts to make HOME stable, it is perpetually in flux.

From one year to the next, home changes.

Because the people are changing. Moving in and out. Closer and farther away.

This is my lesson from fall 2018.

Last month, I sat across from my 15-year old son at a wedding our family attended, and felt the years stretch out ahead and behind.

The bride was radiant (as all brides are) and the groom was dazzled by her. Family and friends wished them well and prayed for their happiness. I was especially hopeful, as the bride is a diamond of a person whom I’ve known for 15 years. Yes – ever since she started babysitting an infant boy – who grew into the teenage boy sitting across from me at her reception dinner. Back then, she herself was his exact age.

I see the way his increasingly broad shoulders fill out his blazer, how remarkably relaxed he is in a tie, joking with his teenage sister in a manner closely approximating adulthood. There are clear outlines of the man he will become; only the shading need be filled in.

And I returned again to my mind’s refrain – the one I’ve heard daily since September.

I miss him already.

He’s only a sophomore in high school. A couple years to go.

But you can see a bird is going to take flight when it raises its wings off its back, and that’s where we are now.

How do you sit with melancholy?

The instability of knowing the inevitability of an event that is both happy and sad? Desirable – even prayed for – and yet – not exactly what your heart craves.

He will be leaving his home.

I can stand back and watch time pass quickly – like sand through an hourglass – or I can break open the glass and examine each grain.

So I watch him eat. I listen to him laugh. I hear his stories and respond empathetically. Try not to react with alarm when surprised or concerned. I ask questions that I hope will bring us closer, and when he shares with me – I thank him. His life is his. I know this. And yet….and yet….

Home is where we want to be….together. But togetherness is fleeting. All homes are temporary shelters of love since the members come and go. They draw closer to us. And pull away. For days, months, years, or forever.

There is no real home here on earth.

I bear this in mind, and take my heart to the only One who can console, and who loves my son more than me. It’s his Creator, and mine, after all.

And while I pray for my son’s protection, I am reminded that this boy was given to me for a time, and no more.

Let’s live the days as if they are numbered, for indeed – they are.

So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. – Psalm 90:12