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“One of His disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining at His side.”
-John 13:23 BSB

After the Christmas magic fades, we are left with our true selves. Our true lives. We can wonder, when all the glitter, and carols, and excitement have gone, and it’s time to get back to the routine of life, who we really are and what our life is really about. Where are we headed? Why do we do what we do? What can we change to make things better? The thought of once again picking up our responsibilities can seem overwhelming. We might even feel depressed. But when we are at the place of feeling disillusioned with everything the world has to offer, this can be our best place to be, because this is when we turn to Jesus. This is when we recall that only He can satisfy. The disciple John called himself “the disciple that Jesus loved,” or in some translations, “the one whom Jesus loved.” What if we thought of ourselves that way, too? What if we signed our cards and emails, “The woman that Jesus loves”? That is something we probably wouldn’t do! But we could sign our journal entries this way, and we could think of ourselves this way, too! Whatever else we are unsure of in life, this we can know–“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

“Dear Lord, I’m so thankful that at the end of all my struggles, whys, and what ifs, Your love is always there. Amen.”    

Enjoy this Pride & Prejudice ambience as you ponder these words . . .

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Happy Little Sigh
Homemaking Inspiration from Literature ❤

Everywhere, there were walls. Day by day, they’d grown up around us till every house and shop and school and road had its own borders, its own barriers. Keeping things out, keeping them in. Walls, running all over this frozen land. Walls made of snow. Not that the barriers were intentional, when we all went out with our shovels, blowers, and plows. But the walls came anyway, as we made a path from door to car, from car to sidewalk, from sidewalk to road. But at our house, we also had a path. A path between our neighbours’ house and our own.

Not that we’d used it often, that imaginary gateway, that break in the wall. No, not in such a winter when the snowfall set records and people had to shovel their roofs so they wouldn’t collapse under the weight, and icicles hung like thick stalactites from gutters, and the painful wind and cold brought tears to your eyes and chapped hands and cheeks and lips. No, not in such a winter.

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But then there came a day, one soft and snowy Sunday, when we did. Church had been canceled after an ice storm left thousands without power. So we were home, the day before us a little lonely and uncertain and unfilled. But then there came a knock.

I shuffled to the mud room in my slippers, found the tall frame of our neighbour filling the glass door. Expecting him to ask John’s help with the snow or maybe something to do with frozen pipes, I reached for the handle, hoping all was well.

“We’re not going anywhere today, and neither are you,” he said. “We’ve got a ham in the oven and we’re hoping you’ll come over and help us eat it.”

Well, such an invitation! Such a welcome invitation on such a silent, snowy day.

And so we put on our boots, didn’t bother with coats, and filled the silence with our chatter as we walked that path, that break in the wall of snow, and into our neighbours’ large kitchen.

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We stayed for hours. And I couldn’t tell you what it meant to sit round their table, surrounded by photos of their grandchildren and a collection of Eiffel Towers. But it was more than the ham and potatoes and veg that we ate while we talked and laughed. More than the tea and cookies and jello that came next. More than the stories from days past, told with such animation that we laughed over till our sides hurt. More than our neighbours themselves, who had begun as kind strangers and turned into friends.

It was the sum of it all that filled us that day, warmed us from the inside out, made us feel that winter was the most wonderful of seasons because it had brought us together–could bring us close to other family and friends–before spring came and the world opened up and let us sprawl out, warm in the sun but far from each other.

March is nearly upon us, but the temperatures are still frigid, and until the warmth comes to melt the mountains of snow and banish the walls, we will have winter. And for as long as it lasts, for all those long Saturday afternoons and black winter nights, I’ll be searching for ways to warm our home, to warm the hearts of our friends. With big pots of chili, and spontaneous tea parties with plates of shortbread taken from the rations John’s parents bring.

And that is the best way to not just survive winter, but love it.

It is said that good fences make good neighbours, and I agree. Good fences, good walls, they make good neighbours–but only when there is a gate.

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And there is quite a different sort of conversation around a fire than there is in the shadow of a beech tree…. [F]our dry logs have in them all the circumstance necessary to a conversation of four or five hours, with chestnuts on the plate and a jug of wine between the legs. Yes, let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.

~Pietro Aretino, translated from Italian

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Nature looks dead in winter because her life is gathered into her heart. She withers the plant down to the root that she may grow it up again fairer and stronger. She calls her family together within her inmost home to prepare them for being scattered abroad upon the face of the earth.

~Hugh Macmillan, “Rejuvenescence,” The Ministry of Nature, 1871

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Avonlea xo

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Happy Little Sigh

Homemaking Inspiration from Literature ❤

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I know all about lists.

I know all about lists of things that should have been done yesterday . . .

last week . . .

last year . . .

I know all about adding something to your list

just so you can cross it off

and feel like you’ve done

something.

And I know all about those things that stop you,

get in your way.

The things that need to be done everyday and keep you from getting ahead.

All that time in the kitchen that can leave you wishing

that you didn’t need to eat.

Those mountains of washing (clean or dirty)

that never, ever go away.

And I know what it’s like to trip over a toy, drag it back to where it belongs

for the seventh time that day.

Or what it’s like to feel frustrated by a spilled drink

(oh, do I!).

What it’s like to feel a little less than sympathetic

when someone gets an owie,

bursts into hysteric tears,

yet again.

Oh, and isn’t it easy to grow frustrated, feel hopeless

at the impossibly long list of jobs you want to get done–

those emails, those phone calls, those jumbled closets and drawers.

And it’s easy, far too easy,

to forget

the very reason

that you even do it all.

And forget the very people behind the reason

you’re making those phone calls, cooking those meals, cleaning that house.

You can forget

that for those of us home raising little souls,

our children are not a distraction from our work,

they are the purpose of it.

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And so next time you feel disheartened

by all the things you didn’t do,

remember what will matter

a week, a year, or more from now.

Remember what they will remember

when they go.

And take the time to pull them close,

tell them how they’re loved

by God,

by you.

And pull them close to read

that favourite, dog-eared book.

And kneel down to tell them,

as if there’s nothing else,

what they’ve done right,

or how what they’ve done has hurt another

and how they can make it right.

For raising souls should not be rushed, 

is not a side-line job. 

And while we long to make a beautiful, harmonious haven

for those we love,

it is not the meals we cook, the dust we extinguish, the pictures we hang,

but the love we give, the patience we show,

the fruit of the Spirit within us, 

the Spirit we help them to grow inside

that they will remember most,

that will really matter

in the end.

Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Homemaking Inspiration from Literature ❤

 

 

I almost didn’t see him.

Nearly passed right by those handsome features, noble mien, and that shock of dark hair falling becomingly over his forehead.

You’d think I’d have been on the lookout. Kept my eyes peeled wide open.

I was in his house, after all.

Pemberley. Or, em, Chatsworth, which is what the place is really called. Chatsworth, not Pemberley, though it’s quite the grandest house in all of Derbyshire, and most certainly the place Jane Austen had in mind for this favourite literary hero, if the experts have it right.

Yes, there I was, at Pemberley, and I nearly missed my chance to meet Mr. Darcy because I had my eyes on the gift shop. The gift shop. Coasters and tea towels, and things like that.

But John called my name, and I swung round

and there he was.

Just waiting.

He even posed for a picture.

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But that’s not the real Mr. Darcy!” you may be muttering, or even shouting at the screen.

Well, I was at the other Mr. Darcy’s house too (Lyme Hall in Cheshire)! BBC fans, you may now breathe a sigh of relief.

Only there, I didn’t see him.

Though I did see this fair prospect . . .

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I laugh a little now.

I almost didn’t see Mr. Darcy!

And oh, doesn’t it seem just a world away.

Not only that we’re in America and can’t just pop down to England to see Elizabeth and Darcy and all our other favourites like we did when we lived in Scotland.

But even having time to think about it all. To dream.

Finding time to put two of my own thoughts together seems like a luxury these days, what with all the loving I’m blessed to pour out on my three precious little men and their daddy.

The making of tea and the making of beds. The raiding of the kitchen and the cleaning it up. The folding and folding and folding of laundry, and the trying to find the time to put it away. The potty accidents to clean up, the littlest one to pick up, and the trying to look above and through it all to find just what gifts there are in today.

But it’s worth it, I’d say.

Worth taking time for stories.

Worth taking time to be still and (with a cup of tea!) examine and consider the finer, the truly beautiful and good.

And it’s worth, most of all, taking time to be with Him.

To be with Jesus.

How many times do I race through my day with my eyes on the gift shop? On running my errands, making my phone calls, and leaving my house at least as clean as it was that morning?

But how would it be if I took more time to look for treasures along the way?

To realize there is someone far nobler, realer, and more beautiful than even Mr. Darcy?

Someone who’s not just waiting, but knocking.

Knocking at my door, knocking on my heart,

and not just to pause for a picture,

but to spend the day with me.

JEREMIAH 29:13

You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.

 

Avonlea x

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Homemaking Inspiration from Literature ❤

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It all began with a cup of tea.

He wanted one.

And so did I.

We were the only ones.

Earlier, on that cold walk through the night to the student flat where a group of us were meeting for a DVD, there were questions about peanut butter (isn’t that what Americans eat?), and secret smiles, and I thought he must be very young.

I was in Scotland.

The world was green, and there were castles, and though I could hardly understand a word of what he said, my red-haired Scottish loon from the village on the sea,

on the pages of my journal I swore I could marry that boy.

And, more to my amazement than anyone else’s, I did.

We moved to Scotland, and life began.

It began. It didn’t end.

Not like the movies or the books, where it ends with “I do.”

No, that was the beginning.

And I went to teaching and he went to working. And meals were cooked, and floors were swept, and a baby came. And although it happened, every few months, that I’d pinch myself and wonder how little me ever ended up there, in the Highlands of Scotland, most of the time it was just life.

And while life was happening, it also happened—as it happens to us all, I think—that somewhere between the tenth time washing the dishes and the hundredth time making the bed, between the hundredth night up with a crying baby and the thousandth time wiping a toddler’s face, that I began to wonder.

I wondered if this was right.

Because this was not how happily ever after was supposed to go.

Castles and Scottish mist aside, I wasn’t supposed to be tired all of the time, and the housework wasn’t supposed to take so long. I wasn’t supposed to get lonely, and we weren’t, no we weren’t supposed find within our hearts such moments of hate that with our words and our eyes and a turning of our backs we would wound each other. Leave each other bruised, starved, and with our very hands widen the cavern between ourselves and God and between each other.

And yet we did.

And the days were dark.

We could have walked, either one of us, in search of our real life. Our real fairy tale. And though we didn’t feel it, we chose to believe it when we heard that the grass is always greener where you water it.

And even yellow grass, or even brown and dry, can become green. But you’ve got to water it every day.

Even when it’s the last thing you want to do.

And you can try to be happy with it just being all right, or so-so, but I’ve got to ask you, like I asked myself, don’t you want the very best?

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More than anything, I love to talk of those first days.

The first dance. The first giggle. The first time I dared to touch his shoulder with my head.

Because I know I must remember who he is. Who he really is, deep inside—that boy I first met.

We’re the same people, he and I, deep, deep inside.

Oh, sometimes we’re both still so angry, we’d like to do a whole lot more than spit. And it takes a whole lot more than a little grace to make it through.

But love is not self-seeking.

And real love gets a little less sleep, a little less time for what we want, a little less of what we most love to eat, to make the other person happy. To give them joy. To make them strong.

Never underestimate the power of a smile. The power of a kind word.

Like water to grass, they are spring rain to the soul.

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No, life doesn’t end with “I do.” That is where it begins.

For you and your Mr. Darcy.

For me and mine.

Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Homemaking Inspiration from Literature ❤

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“Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”
~ C.S. Lewis

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Ugly

You don’t have to look far to find ugly.

It’s there in the news.

It’s there on your computer.

You can find it in the tone of your very own voice.

And as much as we’d like to erase it,

make it disappear with our magic mummy wands,

one day our children will find out about ugly.

Or maybe it’s ugly that will find out about them.

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My fingers are blue with the telling of it.

All that rolling eggs round till they come up like the sky.

And we said it was like the stone rolling,

opening up that cave-tomb

two millennia ago.

And we speak of the first Good Friday,

and how strange that we call it all good,

when there came then the ugliest ugly

that ever was

or ever will be.

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From the kitchen window I watch them,

red-breasted robins against the flat, dry brown.

And I know it means winter was beaten,

and I smile at the green that will come.

A great kafuffle and we’re out there,

tramping the brown with our boots.

And I stop them once or twice just to point out

where a bulb or a bud has poked through.

And I’m breathing in the sweet smell of new life,

and I’m thanking Him there’s such a thing as grace.

Because today there was plenty of ugly

In my heart, in my voice, in my face.

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You don’t have to look far to find ugly.

Ugly always finds some way in.

And how could I even bear it?

Go on pretending that everything’s great

If it wasn’t.

Really wasn’t.

If I couldn’t look them in the eye and tell them

That ugly won’t win.

No, ugly won’t win, precious children.

Because His grave didn’t hold death in.

And the last time we lock eyes

won’t really be the last.

Oh, my sweet ones,

He has conquered death and sin.

 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

– Revelation 21:5

Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Homemaking Inspiration from Literature ❤

When Covid restrictions hit two years ago, we, like most of the world, found ourselves cut off from the people and activities that were the framework of our lives. The large church we attended closed. For quite some time. Even though we’d volunteered and attended faithfully for eight long years, the size of the church and several other factors made it almost impossible to make deep friendships with people in our area. More than ever, we ached to share life with friends. So we started attending a small church. Before we knew it, we were “doing life” with two other families. Sarah and her husband, who live locally, and Ann and her husband, who were here for missionary aviation training. Here are two more reasons why we fell in love with our tiny church (link for part one below) . . .

1. Gaining wisdomMany big churches tackle the need for community by creating small groups, or churches within the church. These small groups are meant to meet together regularly to study the Bible and encourage one another. Sometimes this results in real spiritual growth and lifelong friendships. But other times these groups become transient. People move, change churches, or don’t want to lead any more, and the budding friendships, along with the spiritual growth, can fade away. Another challenge is that Bible studies and small groups are often organized by ages and stages of life. All the newlyweds are put together, all the young families, all the college kids, and all the retired people. While we may have more in common with others in our same stage of life, we end up missing out on the blessing of a real church family. College kids don’t get the benefit of homecooked meals and a stable place to take refuge on the weekends. Older adults are left feeling like they’re in the way and not needed any more. Children lose the joy of adopted grandmas and grandpas. And younger couples lose the gift of being discipled by those who have already passed through many mountains and valleys of life . . . Not only did we find we were “doing life” with Sarah, Ann, and their families, we were also blessed to be surrounded with others both older and younger than ourselves. The woman who came from England some 50 years ago to work for the summer, and married a local farmer. The single dad with two kids. The grandma who drives a school bus and teaches Sunday school. The high school graduate. The WWII vet. The guy who comes on a motorcycle. These sound like stereotypes, but each one has a name, and each has gifted us with generous pieces of themselves, and a share in the wisdom and richness of their lives.

We cared so deeply that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our own lives as well. That is how beloved you have become to us.

– 1 Thessalonians 2:8
One of our favorite Seniors & one of our favorite Juniors

2. MissionariesPeople who serve God in foreign parts don’t come home for long, and when they do, getting to know them personally and hearing firsthand about their work can be hard, especially in a large church. Missionaries, like those on stage in the worship band, can become “other,” people who are extraordinary and different from ourselves. But all that can be different in a tiny church. Being part of our church family provided us and our children the opportunity to bond with Ann, her husband Ernst, and their children. We were wading rivers, walking trails, soaking each other in splash pads (even the grown ups!). We were roasting hot dogs, sipping coffee, dishing out ice cream. And as friendships formed, so did the realization that their year was almost up, and we would soon have to say goodbye. With growing achiness in our hearts, we felt how attached to them we had become, and how at home they had come to feel with us. Yet through the pain, we realized the immense blessing of seeing up-close-and-personal that Ann and Ernst were special. Not because they were super-humans, but because when God called, they had responded, “Here am I; send me.” (Isaiah 6:8). The impact of this living example of obedience to God has been incredible, both for our children’s hearts and our own.

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

– 1 Chronicles 16:24
Charlie getting a lesson from Ernst on one of the helicopters used to reach remote and mountainous areas

A year after arriving at our tiny church we said goodbye to our friends, as they prepared to enter the next stage of their missionary journey. I was so glad Sarah’s family is still local, and God has answered our prayers and brought other families to our church. I’ve been reminded that we talk about hearts for good reason. It’s the muscle that pumps life-giving blood through our bodies. It’s also the source of our joys and sorrows–and sometimes, blood-clot like, is the place those joys and sorrows get stuck. I’m feeling that today. Feeling that immense grace, but with a good measure of achy-heartedness, lodged like a lump in my chest. That happens, sometimes, when friends are loved and lost. But isn’t that what life is? To love. To find our true purpose. To lose–but only for a short while! Because in Christ, this is not the end. Never goodbye, only “See you later.”

Ann, Sarah, Avonlea

Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Homemaking Inspiration from Literature ❤

  • Missed my first post, “Three Big Blessings in a Tiny Church”? Catch it HERE

The great boot exchange, I call it. Snow boots hauled up, rain boots hauled down from their upstairs closet winter home. April now, and I’ll expect a spate of showers before the sultry of summer comes to stay.

The rain boots tumble from my arms. Frogs, and monkeys, and the green Hunters I like so much. Chatter, and light in my lads’ eyes as they recall past springs and puddles splashed.

Then I send them out with boots and brushes to wash away the winter mud, for boots must be stored away clean.

I peek from the dining room window and watch them sitting on the steps, lips pressed in earnest as their little hands scrub.

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Then I’m caught up for a while, sizing up which rain boots now fit who, and which can be given away—just another part of motherhood one wouldn’t think to list, though it takes an afternoon twice every year.

But I leave my work now, and step out. So new the spring, the grass yet a patch of green and straw.

Birdsong. Warmth. Flat blue beyond the branches bare.

I gasp. I’m gasping. And I cannot gulp enough of this sweet, this air.

And I watch my lads for a moment, as they laugh and run.

My curly top squats beneath our big old tree, and I’m called to see the wild violets growing there.

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A moment more, then in again to think of dinner.  And as my hands chop carrots into little discs, I think of this day. And I think of motherhood, and the labor of making a home. I think of how it’s disregarded. Seen as unfulfilling and of little worth. But I know otherwise.

And I sigh contentment for all I am and all I have. For the pleasure in this exchanging of boots. In this marking of the seasons, and remembering of dear times past.

I am building their memories, building their lives.

May my lads always find pleasure in order and in a job well done. May they find joy in little things. May they have thankful hearts. And may they one day go into the world with the strength that only a mother’s love can bring.

Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Homemaking Inspiration from Literature ❤

Magic Air

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For a home that’s truly beautiful

You must begin with the air.

Not lavender essential oil

although that’s lovely . . .

Not fresh baked banana bread

although an untidy house where there is cake

is better, far better, than a tidy house with no cake . . .

But for a home that’s truly beautiful

you must begin with the air,

the very air,

and the words that float across it.

The words that find their way

to the ears,

to the hearts,

to the souls

of our children,

of our spouses,

of our friends.

What does it matter how clean,

how coordinated,

how stylish a home,

and who could care about granite countertops,

wooden floors,

chevron-patterned cushions,

organized drawers,

if the words we fling at each other

across our air

are like poison darts,

causing stinging little wounds

that fester and bleed,

leaving us and our loved ones

with a little less hope,

a little less faith,

a little less joy?

A freshly baked cake and the lovely smell it brings does make a home inviting, but the words with which we choose to fill our air have more power, far more power than we could ever know, to bring beauty and life

to our homes

and the people in them

than any piece of furniture, any article of clothing, any lovely smell

ever could.

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Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Homemaking Inspiration from Literature

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Usually it was fish and chips that they offered to bring. Crispy battered haddock and thick-cut fries doused with vinegar and a sprinkling of salt, picked up from the Chippy on their way over.

I’d start to tidy, but would remind myself not to worry too much. Just a quick wipe of the bathrooms, and a fresh hand towel (one of my personal hospitality must-do’s) would suffice.

There wasn’t much point in frantically scooping Lego into toy bins or straightening out the sofa cushions. Our friends did, after all, have three little boys who’d be joining our two (at that time), and I knew I could expect the five of them to make quick work of emptying the wicker toy basket and turning the sofa into a pirate ship.

After the ketchup-soaked fish and chip papers had been cleared away and the children were in the other room hard at play, the adults would gather round the dining room table, within ear shot of the littles in case someone got a bump, or there was a lesson on sharing that needed to be learned.

There’d be coffee then, or tea, and some little nibbles, and the stresses of life would dissipate as we talked and shared, the fire crackling at our backs. They’d stay past bedtime, but we didn’t mind.

They were our last-minute friends. The spontaneous ones. And we loved it.

We loved it, and it went both ways.

I remember phoning once, on our way home from a day of picnicking and wading in the rock pools of St Andrews. And we were invited to “tea” (the evening meal in many parts of Scotland).

There were probably toys everywhere. Crumbs on the floor.  Some sprinkles on the toilet seat. But I don’t remember.

I remember the lamb chops smothered in curry paste, the homemade sweet potato chips sprinkled with salt and hot pepper seeds. I remember Mary’s smile. I remember there was cake.

Later on, Mary and I nursed cups of milky tea beside the patio doors while the men took the children into the cool autumn air to play on the trampoline. Two tired mamas, we talked, we laughed, we shared our hearts so that the other knew how to pray. We felt stronger. We knew love.

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You see, a mama doesn’t mind it. Not one little bit.

Doesn’t mind balancing her cup of tea as she picks her way over the minefield of toys to make her way to your couch.

Doesn’t mind grabbing a wad of toilet roll to wipe sprinkles from your toilet seat.

Has selective vision when it comes to the pile of dishes in your sink.

She didn’t come to inspect your house. She didn’t come to give you extra work.

She came for the friendship. The laughter.

She came to see you.

Friendship and laughter bring sanity. Clarity. Helps us see that most of the chaos is normal, and we’re not the only ones going through it all.

God made us that way. To bear one another’s burdens. To celebrate together.

And I have to remind myself of this often–

that my desire is to bless, not impress. 

That laughter is made brighter, tears are made lighter when there’s cake.

Cake, and of course, a hot cup of tea.

And so even if you are a tired mama, don’t let this stop you from letting others into your house, especially if they are a tired mama, too.

CAM012441

Read If You Know A Tired Mama (how to love her) Part 1 & Part 2

Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Homemaking Inspiration from Literature ❤

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