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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 ❤

 

 

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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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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

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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.

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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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Going from a big church to a small one is akin to moving from bustling New York City to the village of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island. Or so it seemed to me. After moving from Scotland, we spent our first 8 years in America at a mega-church. We loved the cookies and the coffee with flavored creamer pods. The choo-choo train in the nursery. The worship band. And how easily we could apply the teaching to our lives. But after 8 years of striving to find a steady small group, and volunteering weekly in Sunday School, we still hadn’t found our people. We made friends, but American life is busy, and distance made actually seeing those friends a problem. We longed for nearby friends. You know, kindred spirits. Friends you call last minute to join you for a walk in the woods, or a cup of tea on the porch. Friends who know you . . . and love you anyway.

Then Covid came, and our church closed. For quite some time. More than ever, we ached to share life with friends. So we started attending a small church. And fell in love. Here’s why . . .

1. FriendshipSome churches have the population of a small country. You could go months without speaking to anyone. Spend years giving a cheery smile and answering “Great! You?” when asked how you’re doing, even if you’re dying inside. At least that’s how it was for us. In some ways, it’s easier. But if you long for a place where you’re noticed, wanted, known, try a tiny church . . . Shortly after starting at our little church, we met two families who wonderfully, surprisingly, almost instantly, became an intimate part of our lives. Sarah and her husband and children, who live locally. And Ann and her husband and children, who were here for a year of aviation training before heading for the mission field. At first it was the children running circles together and playing tag in the church lawn, while the adults made small talk. But small talk at church quickly turned to invitations to Sunday lunch, then time together during the week.

“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

– I Corinthians 12:26

2. Breaking BreadIn case you’re wondering, Church Picnics, Ice Cream Socials, and Pot Lucks are still going strong in many small churches. And yes, you might find meatloaf, casseroles, and Jello salad, if you’re lucky. But invitations for Sunday lunch or Saturday cook-outs are also not extinct. And we know eating together is about a lot more than putting food in our mouths. It’s about sharing our joys and burdens. Lightening each other’s loads with a listening ear and a hug . . . We “broke bread” with our new friends in the church hall, drinking hot cocoa after a drive to see the frozen waves of Lake Michigan. At picnic tables, before a hike in the woods to see the first green haze of spring. Under the stars, roasting s’mores and watching fireworks. On the porch, sipping coffee and talking about marriage, our children, the tough lessons God was teaching us. True friendships were built, and trust too, over refills of coffee and wiping our children’s sticky popsicle hands. With trust came the ability to speak honestly, bare our souls, and lift each other up. Life is so much sweeter when you don’t eat–or hurt, or laugh–alone.

“breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.”

– Acts 2:46

3. Finding Your PlaceBig churches run on an army of volunteers, and we were blessed by the loving hands that served in our big church. But in a large congregation it can be intimidating to offer your services as a musician, Sunday School teacher, or small group leader, especially if you don’t consider yourself a semi-professional, or at least really cool. With our busy lives, having all the slots filled might feel like a good thing. But it also deprives us and our children the opportunity to serve . . . We soon found how useful we could all be at our little church, and what a blessing it was to serve alongside others. At Christmas we drove to the homes of those who couldn’t get out, singing carols and leaving cookies. In the spring my oldest sons and I cleaned the church windows while the two little boys helped the pastor heap mulch around newly planted petunias. On hot summer days, we hung out together at church with Sarah, Ann, and the pastor’s wife, crunching celery sticks and creating a Wild West town for Vacation Bible School. I started buying flavored creamer for Sunday morning coffee, and Sarah brought red and pink zinnias from her garden to brighten the women’s Sunday School. My oldest started to play cello for “special music.” The younger ones sang on stage and made cards to give out. And yes, the church needed cleaning, bulletins needed handed out, and people needed shown to their seats. No one did everything, but everyone did something. Our children learned that they, too, are a valuable part of the church family, and have something worth contributing to bless others. It’s so precious to know you belong.

Spur one another on to love and good works.

Hebrews 10:24

If you find yourself in-between churches, or feeling alone, get connected to a truth-teaching local church. Yes, you could slip in and out without speaking to anyone–but this might be a challenge! Always choose to take this as friendly curiosity and a desire to welcome you in. For you are wanted, you are valued, you are needed. If you’re already part of a small church, make sure you warmly welcome newcomers in the warmest kind of way. Jesus would want you to.

Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Homemaking Inspiration from Literature ❤

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Six fingernails. Only six. That’s how many I had time to cut that day, into short, blunt squares. The other four were left long and ladylike for a few days longer, until I noticed, and remembered that I’d been interrupted, called away from my task to see to the needs of one of my wee men.

And that’s how life’s been since the arrival of Little Bear, my fourth son. A sprinkle of time here, a sprinkle there, and not much more, for all the little extra things I love.

Those non-essentials that relax me and that I really enjoy, but that somehow don’t seem as pressing as cleaning up the raspberries someone smashed all over the kitchen floor, or icing a bleeding lip, or stopping someone from over-cuddling the baby.

Those non-essentials

like exfoliating with Dead Sea salt scrub.

Or watching a new version of Jane Eyre.

Or reading my Bible.

You know, extra, non-essential things like that.

And where can I possibly fit them into to my hectic life, when there isn’t even time for the essentials?

Like sleeping.

Or taking a trip to the bathroom.

Or drinking enough water.

How can I possibly find the time?

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Four months, we’ve been back from our visit to Scotland. Four months, which is the same length of time we spent back there. And I meant to keep you abreast of it all, every visit, every city, every castle that we saw.

But the arrival of Little Bear, and traversing up and down the country, and the jumble that went on inside my own head made it difficult. But there are things, there are moments, I remember. And I’ll tell them, I’ll tell them to you, if you’ll stay with me and you’ll wait.

Because they’re worth the telling.

Like what I spotted in the new mud room at my friend Katie’s.

When we lived in Scotland I’d set aside time nearly every week to visit with Katie and a few other treasured friends at one or other of our houses.  And they were sanity for me, those times, as I sat across from their smiling faces, corralling crumbs from my oat biscuit into a pile on the table top while I sipped my tea and we talked about life—children, husbands, our walk with God.

And I was there again at Katie’s house this winter. Sat at her table. Heard her laugh. Sipped my milky tea.

And yes, saw the new mudroom, with its tidy place for Wellington boots, jackets, mittens, and hats. And it was all quite something, but it wasn’t that which made me smile. Pause.

In a corner beneath a window, where the sun could lay a beam of light, sat a chair. A chair, and a little shelf in the wall just the size for a Bible, and a picture frame on the wall with this:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;  and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

2 Peter 1:5-8

A place made in her home just for this. Just for reading God’s word, and speaking and listening to Him.

A place for making every effort.

Not a casual squeezing it in every few weeks when there’s a sprinkle of time, but a place. A purposeful seeking after Him. Every effort.

Because reading my Bible, knowing God, is not a non-essential after all. Not if I want to be like Christ.  Not if I want to be for my family a refreshing stream, instead of the dried up desert that I so often feel.

His delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.

Psalm 1:2-3

I don’t have time aplenty. Not the luxurious hours to read and ponder that I once did. But if I’m to make the most of the time with my family, if I’m to help lead them in the everlasting way, then I must find the time to be in God’s Word, and find even a simple line of truth and goodness on which to meditate throughout my busy day.

Finding time will be a challenge. But my soul is dry, and I feel it. I feel it, and it shows. I feel it, and it’s worse, even, than only six short fingernails.

Make every effort.

I’ll start today.

How do you make time to be in the word? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Homemaking Inspiration from Literature ❤

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“Stop saying ‘he.’” My husband, John, stared over the steering wheel as we headed south. “It’s made of fabric and stuffing, that makes it an IT.” Earlier, he’d suggested Charlie was too old to drag around a stuffed rabbit, anyway. He was being strong, but I knew he felt like crying as much as I did. So I didn’t argue, turned to stare out at the cloud-like hills of September green. Okay, so Peter was an “It,” but I still felt like we were leaving behind a piece of our very selves.

Charlie with Peter and his blanket, Nat-nat, at 1 year old.

I’d bought the 9-inch (ears included) stuffed rabbit for Charlie when he was 3 months old, and it quickly became his lovey. But more than simply needing the rabbit at bedtime, Peter became his best bud. In almost every photo of Charlie, Peter’s head or ears or tail can be seen somewhere in the picture. In Charlie’s arms, or mine, or at the very least, lying close by. I have hardly a memory from Charlie’s 5 years on earth that don’t include Peter. Every trip, mealtime, bedtime routine—all with Peter and Charlie.

And then there’s how Charlie used Peter to talk to us, putting on a high-pitched voice as he moved Peter’s head. It seemed rather like Peter was part of who Charlie was. How could he be the same boy without his “Petey,” as he liked to call him? And yet here we were, heading full speed away from . . . wherever Peter was.

It wasn’t as though we hadn’t tried to find him. During our end-of-summer stay in Northern Michigan, we’d remembered seeing Peter a few times. But the last two days, with all our toing and froing—visiting old forts and lighthouses, swimming in the lake, returning to the cabin to roast marshmallows at night—I hadn’t noticed Peter was missing. It was only on the last day, as I packed up coolers, sleeping bags, and camping gear, that Peter wasn’t anywhere to be found.

That’s when I knew—though the man doth protest too much—that my husband did, indeed, care about Peter. Or, to say it better, cared about what Peter meant to Charlie. We spent at least two hours retracing our steps. Crossing the mighty Mackinac Island Bridge that connects the Upper and Lower Peninsulas–paying the $8.00 toll–to check the Museum of Ojibwa Culture, which was the last place we’d clearly remembered seeing Peter. John even looked through the trash. Then another toll to cross back over the bridge, where we re-checked the campground and the restaurants where we’d been. When we ran out of places to look, we started the long drive home, though I hadn’t given up. I started calling every place of business, chamber of commerce, and museum I could think of, leaving them with my name and number, just in case. When we got home, I did the same with Facebook groups. I lay in bed for hours that night, thinking of Peter lying all alone under a bush, or worse, torn to shreds by some dog that might have happened upon him. Oh, Petey. Someone had to have found him, and didn’t they understand?!?! Couldn’t they see, by Peter’s very well-loved state, that this was no ordinary bunny? That he meant a great deal to some little person who needed him very much? But after a few days passed and I didn’t hear from anyone, I began to give up hope.

The last photo taken Up North with Charlie & Peter

Charlie seemed to have confidence that we’d find Peter, but I kept catching him with a distant, not-quite-himself look in his eyes, and once, he said to me, “I just keep wondering—where is Peter?”

Then a package came for Charlie from a friend of mine— a stuffed rabbit and a raccoon, with a note saying she hoped these animals would cheer Charlie up since he was feeling so sad. I was so grateful to my sweet friend, and Charlie happily added these animals (especially the rabbit) to his bunny family.

And then—THEN!—came a response to one of my Facebook pleas—a woman Up North had the same stuffed version of Peter Rabbit, and would happily send it to us! I messaged back with a resounding “Yes!” And so we waited some more, filled with relief, but wondering if Charlie would detect that this wasn’t his Peter. Then the package came, looking much bigger than one would expect for a small stuffed bunny. In the box was the rabbit . . . along with a hardcover photo album. Inside, were both pictures and a story of how Peter had been lost, what he’d done when he and Charlie were apart, and how Peter made his way back home. The kind woman must have driven all over to pose Peter in different locations, and spent hours putting the book together. John and I were blown away. We sniffed and swiped at our eyes as we read through the book. When we handed Peter to Charlie, he hesitated at first, but then squeezed his bunny tight. Petey was home at last! When he saw the album he couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear.

How could we receive such a gift from a perfect stranger? Someone who knew nothing about our family, or Charlie, or what Peter meant to us all? This woman was such an example of kindness to us. She, and my friend who sent Charlie the rabbit and raccoon. This showed me the great power we all have to bring joy into the lives of others—even to those we have never met.

If you ever happen upon a very loved-looking stuffed someone, make a child and a mama’s heart glad by trying to find the owner. Try local Facebook pages or log your discovery into lostmylovey.com

Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday 

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From her supermarket bags she unpacked the makings of our meal—potatoes, and veg, and a chicken, still raw. And when I saw it all my heart leapt, because I knew she’d stay a while.

Work had called John away. And days were long, but nights were longer in our wee stone cottage, just baby and me. But that night she came. We had painted our kitchen walls Egyptian Sand, and in their yellow glow I watched as she peeled the veg, covered the chicken, and set it all to cook. I watched her, and we chatted, and then she sat with me. While I nursed my baby. While I gave him his bath. While I changed him and finally laid him down to sleep. And then we ate together. Me, just 27. Her, exactly 30 years older, though the years never mattered much to me. We ate, and we talked, and we sat. Catriona was her name.

That sitting was not the first time, nor was it the last.  Early days in our marriage, we’d often find ourselves at her table. Sunday dinner, beneath the black and white photograph of her husband Alex with the Queen Mother. Alex’s black robes flapping as he greeted the royal outside the old stone church. While we talked with her boys, laughed at their yellow budgie, Bart, smells would drift from the kitchen hatch–roast beef and boiled potatoes. To our right, through the great picture window, Catriona’s garden, where Scottish sun set to sparkle drops of Scottish rain on the lady’s mantle leaves. Catriona would scurry in the kitchen, the rest of us would speak.

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A Christmas Party at our cottage with three of Catriona’s boys, Graham, Ian, and Alistair. Here, I’m expecting the Professor.

And her four boys became like brothers—or like cousins to us, at least. The meal would begin with Catriona’s soup. It always ended with tea. Then the stories came, and the music, when Alex took down his guitar. True tales of dinners with Queens, talk of revival, Celtic melodies that stirred the heart. All shared with the modesty and ordinariness of their brown carpet, their family photos, their stacks of tapes and CDs. The sacred disguised as the ordinary. Sometimes I marveled that they enjoyed the company of little old me.

Catriona was a teacher, and in those days, so was I. And we taught a year in the same school, my class so naughty I’d hide in the cupboard at lunchtime and cry. But after school I’d feel better, when Catriona sat with me. She would crunch her apple, and I would grade away. At report card time, she came to our flat, helped me write them, and once again, she sat.

And when we bought our ramshackle cottage, she came to help with repairs. With the overgrown garden, the red shag carpet on the stairs. When summer came she took cuttings from her flowers, taught me how to make them grow. Climbing clematis, purple hebes, and the bright primrose. And she taught me how to make chicken stock. How she got her scones fluffy (though mine will always be like rocks). I will always remember the squeak in her young voice when she declared, “You’re doing an amazing job!”

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A wonderful Sunday afternoon at Catriona’s (she’s in red), along with her dear husband Alex, son Graham, and friends George and Elizabeth Barnie.  The Professor was almost one.

When the Professor was born, she invited me round—tired, sleepless, bewildered new mum that I was—and promptly sent me for a nap. Below me, my baby in her arms, she rocked him, she soothed him, she sat. I heard all about her boys—stories from when they were small. And I didn’t dream I’d be like her, with four handsome sons in all. And their first bed was his first bed—a little wooden cradle lent to me. And I can hear her say that “Boys are best!” with cheery certainty. Thirty years between us then, but in those days I considered her my very best friend.

When it came time to move south three hours to Dundee, she came for days to help me pack. Moving day, she insisted on driving with me, though I can’t recall how she got back.

As often as I could, I’d go see her. There’d be soup, and scones, and tea. And she’d take out the toys that were once her boys, and spread them out for mine. “You’re such a clever mum! Such an inspiration!” she’d always say. And I was so content sitting with her, just whiling the hours away.

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My sister and niece came to visit from the States. We took Catriona out for tea. I remember John prayed, thanking God for Catriona, which made her cry. The Professor was four.

I learned so much about her, from all those hours we sat. She wasn’t fond of goat’s cheese. She wrote in teensy, tiny, sometimes hard-to-read script. She never said a bad word about another person. And she never complained. Not once.

When we moved back to the States, and she was far away, I’d think of her nearly every day. John and I would speak of “being a Catriona.” We both knew what that meant. I treasured every Christmas card and letter that she sent. I remembered the things she taught me. I remembered the ways she’d helped. But most of all I missed the times when together, we just sat.

When we returned a few years later, she welcomed us with a smile. There was soup, a meal, and tea, and just sitting together a while. She brought out toys for the boys. And she spoke of the joys of the girls now in her life. Daughters-in-law! A granddaughter! She told me they were “just great!” And I longed for a girl, but like Catriona, I supposed I, too, could wait.

Another sweet friend held a gathering—soup, tea, and cakes. And my heart ached from the joy of seeing each dear, sweet face. When the night ended Catriona was the last one to depart. Before she left I gave her hug and a soft tartan heart.

Earlier this year I emailed her, sharing our adoption plans. Of the little girl I’d longed for, because I knew she’d understand. And I dreamed of returning to Scotland, with all my family. I couldn’t wait to see Catriona, and share soup, and scones, and tea. I couldn’t wait to feel the love as together we just sat. Because I guess in my heart, I always felt a bit like Catriona’s lass.

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At Auntie Catriona’s house on our last visit to Scotland. See all her lovely flowers? Here, I’m expecting Little Bear. The Professor was eight.

But early this summer, I got it. A message from her son. And she hadn’t been ill, but an accident, and suddenly she was gone. And I could not stop the crying. And I never knew this pain. And now I understand, so this is what it is…

So this is what it is . . . to be distracted a moment with some ordinary task—spreading the boys’ toast, or tucking in chairs — only to remember and have it hit me again like a splash of ice water on my face, this disbelieving, numbing shock.

So this is what it is . . . to feel a sense of panic, an urgency that something must be done, even as my muddled brain tries to comprehend that nothing. can. be. done.

So this is what it is . . . to search frantically through Facebook posts and old boxes of cards and photos, just to see a face, and read old words once again.

And I could weep, and weep, and weep.

I mourn that I will never again see a Christmas card from her lying on the mat. That I will never again hear her cute, squeaky voice say, “Avonlea, you’re such a pet!” That I will never again stand in her garden while she points out some new flower she has grown. That when we next visit Scotland we won’t sit at her table having tea and scones. That I will never again feel the strength and love I felt from sitting there with my friend. It’s like not being able to ever go back home again.

CATRIONA

“Mrs. Muir’s Boys,” Kenneth, Graham, Ian, and Alistair

She taught me so much. About cooking. About gardening. About asking God’s help to love the difficult people in our lives. But most of all she taught me the life-giving power of offering your time. Of rolling up your sleeves. Of being there. Of showing up. Of simply sitting with someone through life.

For that is what she did. She sat with me through life.

And there is such power in it. In sacrificial, real, tangible love.

She was a teacher, a baker, a gardener, a friend, a wife, a granny, a mum. And though her achievements might not seem noteworthy by society’s standards, for me she was as splendid as she could possibly be. She loved with me an everyday, ordinary, life-changing love. For even when her husband was ill, and she had her own family to care for, she made the time to help a new wife and mum. Despite the challenging moments in her own life, she made a point to sit with me through mine. And I loved her so very much.

And I could not bear the searing pain of such a loss if I did not believe with all my heart that one day, we will be sit together again in a garden, so like her own (oh, won’t she love that Celestial Garden!). If I did not believe her to be already with the Saviour she loved and lived for, her tears already wiped dry. If I did not know that she has been delivered safely to her Heavenly Home (2 Timothy 4:18). She has been delivered safely, though we from this end cannot see. She is safe, and she is home.

A piece of myself has gone there with her, and there it will remain until we meet again.

And the realms of Heaven grow closer still . . .

Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all.
Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates.

~ Proverbs 31:29-31

Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday 

 

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My fingers splayed across my rounded belly. I pressed gently, whispered the name I’d kept secret for two pregnancies before this one, though never got to use–the name of my daughter. I’d wanted sons, but I’d always imagined I’d also have at least two little girls. And so along with wooden soldiers, and soccer, and frogs in pockets, I’d also have china dolls, and tea parties, and diaphanous fairy costumes (assuming my daughters would be girly like me!). But this was not to be.

For the birth of my firstborn, in Inverness, Scotland, I hadn’t been told the gender of my baby. And so for all nine months and two weeks of my pregnancy, I waited, wondered, scribbled two sets of names. We wallpapered the nursery with blue floral Laura Ashley wallpaper, supposing this would suit either a boy or a girl, and bought clothes in creams, greens, and yellows. But to the hospital I brought with me two fleece receiving blankets–a pink and a blue.

And then he was born. Of course I quickly fell in love with my firstborn–his generous lick of blond hair, his grey-blue eyes, his little scrunched-up face with the squared jaw that clearly said, “I’m your son.”

For the next two years I thoroughly revelled in all that it meant to be the mother of little boy (I call him the Professor). We put on wellies and tramped through puddles at our local castle. Threw rocks in the village burn. Read 17 books at bedtime.

Then we decided it was time for a sibling, and wouldn’t have imagined that it would take two years of trying and crying and infertility tests before I would finally conceive. And so nearly five years after the birth of our first son, our second son (I call him the General) was born, in Dundee, Scotland. Bright spark, black-eyed little boy.

And we joked, a time or two, about getting a little girl, though things like adoption were of course for other people, not for us.

Now, two years later and a continent away, I was pregnant with my third, and was days away from discovering the gender of this baby. I wanted a daughter this time–so desperately–yet at the same time, something deeper pulled at my soul. Something I could not fully recognize or explain. So even as the name of my little girl formed on my lips, I lifted my head and prayed, “Lord, you know I’d really love a daughter. But if this baby is a son, I’ll know that one day there is going to be a little girl out there who needs us.”

And he was a boy. Silky-soft, curly-topped butterball of a baby (I call him Mr. Waddlesworth). And over the next year I loved him fiercely–this baby who was all smiles and drool and chunk. But I also questioned myself, found myself regretting that prayer, wondering if God would really hold me to it?

A fourth child was born. And as if to make sure I understood Him, God sent another boy (I call him Little Bear, though to this day he drags around a stuffed bunny). And after four such difficult labors and deliveries, I knew this must be my last. Four boys. What a wonder. What a sight! So handsome. A boymom, that’s me. And I pushed away the thought of a daughter for a while.

Though over the years we’d joked a time or two more about “getting a girl,” it was never even a full conversation. Never anything we researched or seriously talked about. Adoption was for other sorts of people. Special, brave people who were not like us. Life was hectic enough with four squirrelly boys without adding anything to it. And yet . . . in boxes tucked out of sight, I kept my American Girl Samantha doll. My Victorian dress-up clothes. My Anne of Green Gables memorabilia. All for “someday.”

“You’ll have daughters-in-law!” people would tell me with a smile. “And granddaughters!” And I would smile back, truly thankful for the hope of these things. But I couldn’t forget my daughter. Couldn’t forget that prayer. Yet what was to be done?

Then late one night last December I was driving home from meeting some friends for coffee. I flicked on the radio, and landed on a Family Life Radio talk about adoption. I listened intently to the adoptive father speak about finding his daughter. About how after visiting the orphanage, he and his wife wanted to take all the kids home. And before I pulled into my driveway, I knew.

I wanted confirmation, however, that this feeling was more than my desperation or wishful thinking. After all, what if my husband, John, didn’t feel the same way? We were about to leave for a much-needed ten days away in Brazil, just the two of us. And so more than six years after the first prayer, I prayed a second time, this time saying, “Lord, if my feelings are right, and you really are telling me that you want us to adopt, I pray that John will bring up adoption while we are in Brazil.”

But what were the chances? We had never seriously talked about adoption, probably hadn’t even joked about it for a year or more, as far as I could recall. Yet the second night there,while enjoying a meal of chicken, rice, and yucca fries, he said it–“If you’re ready to adopt, we can get started when we get home.” And there it was.

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And so here we are–after mountains of paperwork, police checks, medical exams, references, talking to other adoptive parents, online education, and more I can’t even remember, we are nearly finished with our home study . . . and still have plenty of education, paperwork, and evaluations still to come. But it’s all worth it, because we are on the road to finding our daughter and bringing her home. Thankfully, God knows who and where she is. He has from the start.

Avonlea x

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Finding beauty in the everyday 

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