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Archive for the ‘Making Memories’ Category

I got sucked in again today. Lured into tapping a headline on my phone and reading a news report on a horrifying event from across the world. Problem is, just knowing the facts—enough to know how to pray and how to help—was not enough. Before I roused myself from my stupor and set down my phone, waaay too much time had passed.

I wish I had a record of how many minutes I waste like that. How many Pins I save on Pinterest (that I will never look at again). How many news stories I get distracted by. How much time I waste on Facebook just . . . surfing.

And yet . . .  if I knew how much time I wasted, would it shock me enough to do something about it? To reclaim those wasted minutes and invest in my life? In those people and pursuits that matter? Would I know how? Would I have the strength?

Because when I thoughtlessly lift my phone, find myself swiping, stroking my Precious with my finger, it’s more than habit. More, even, than trying to fill my boredom. Somehow, when I reach for that little black rectangle, I am seeking to improve my imperfections. Fulfill my dreams. I am longing to be complete. 

Truth is, I rarely find peace there. The emotions most likely to come over me are jealousy, anxiety, discontent. Yet I keep reaching. It’s clear who’s master here.

The emotions most likely to come over me are jealousy, anxiety, discontent. Yet I keep reaching.

I’m tired of the virtual living that has come along with my smartphone. Tired of comparing the worst of me to the best of everyone else. That friend who runs marathons. The one who’s a gourmet cook. The one who’s house could feature in a magazine. The one who’s always doing crafts with her kids. The one who’s career has been such a success. The one who’s traveling to Venice . . . again.

I’m tired of comparing the worst of me to the best of everyone else.

As if I could be the best at everything. As if that’s the standard I should be aiming for. As if even if I could, I’d be happy. As if impressing all these people–strangers and friends alike–is what matters most. But it wouldn’t (make me happy). And it’s not (what matters most).

My aim in life is to love, know, and bring joy to my Creator. And to love, know, and bring joy to those in my life (strangers, enemies, and friends alike). Yes, sometimes that can be done in cyber world. Reading an encouraging email from a friend can change your day. There are some amazing blogs and helpful resources out there that can certainly make life easier (as my son said, “Mummy’s phone is named Google, and Google knows everything.”). Even YouTube has a lot to offer if you know what to look for–(I’ve been using my phone to plug into the husky voice and uplifting words of Lauren Daigle like an IV of late). But if I am not using my phone or computer to feed or be fed, why am I even there?

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I’d love to live more old-fashioned. More like the way things used to be, when instead of having the world at our fingertips, we lifted our fingertips out to the world.

 . . . instead of having the world at our fingertips, we lifted our fingertips out to the world. 

I’ve become so dependent on my phone that making such a change seems overwhelming. But change is necessary. Not simply because of the time a phone wastes, but because the images and information it bombards me with can make it oh-so-difficult to master my thoughts. Master my goals. Master my life. Inspiration should come only from the sources that I choose. These are three ways I’m trying to start living more purposefully. More old-fashioned.

  1. Talking. You know, to people. In real life. Face-to-face. Eye-to-eye. No emojis in sight. Turning “We’ll have to have you guys over sometime,” (which doesn’t happen) into “Are you free this Friday?” or “What are you doing after church?” Building relationships with those lovely, wise people who feed my soul. And taking time for others–those who for one reason or another could use a hot meal, a flesh-and-blood smile, and a listening ear that isn’t in a rush.
  2. Nature. Somehow, getting myself out the door seems harder than when we lived in Scotland. There, the misty green hills that surrounded our village pulled me out as if in a trance. But the beauty of creation dazzles the world over, and once I step out, I never regret it. I know for certain that spending time on my porch listing to birds sing and watching squirrels perform impressive acrobatics is anything but a waste of time. Or trying to do a thing called take a walk. Just putting one foot in front of the other–around the block, through a park, down a country lane  . . . soaking in all that sunshine and green. Talking with the people I love. Letting my thoughts have time to digest. It rarely leaves one feeling depressed.
  3. Reading. Those things called books. The ones made of paper and ink. Reading the Scriptures. A classic novel. The words of the wise. Maybe even jotting down my favorite quote in a notebook. Snuggling on the sofa to read a favorite book to my boys. Reading the funny bits out loud to my husband till one of us (usually me) starts to laugh. Oh, what joy compared to sitting side by side mindlessly scrolling through our phones.

In what ways do you struggle with over-use of your phone? In what ways have you had success with putting it down? In what ways do you use your phone for good? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Blessings for a beauty-filled weekend!

Avonlea x

 

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You can hear it so many times that it excites you about as much as the side of a cereal box. Maybe less. Especially if you’ve grown up with it all—those carols and those words. Sunday school, church, Awana, VBS.

Again, and again you hear about the baby born. His miracles. The cross. Until you stop hearing at all. Or maybe you hear, but you’ve lost the wonder. The awe. The faith. 

Maybe you’ve done better than I at keeping sight of “the real meaning of Christmas.”

Then again, maybe not. 

Maybe, like me, you really wanted to show your children the real miracle that Christmas celebrates, but with all your Pinterest surfing, food list making, and out-of-town-company preparing, you forgot. 

For me this holiday season, the truth has crept in gradually, like the slow approach of a faintly burning light in the dark. 

This year has been so difficult, and I’ve felt stretched in so many ways…

Spent the first two months out of the country in Scotland for the birth of Little Bear (our fourth boy and last child; a lump to swallow by itself), and then had to transition to life back in the States. Battled fatigue as I’ve been woken by baby every night for the past twelve months. Struggled to balance my role as wife, mother to four rambunctious boys, writer, cook, organizer of too much stuff, chauffer, friend, and homeschooling mum. Took in a friend’s daughter for the summer. Opened our home to friends—a family of six—for seven weeks while they sought out a new home. Made do with chaos while we put on a small extension to our home. Helped more than one person move house. Pounded at Heaven’s doors for the souls of those yet lost.

Looking back on the four years since immigrating back to the States, it’s not hard to see the other challenges and losses we’ve encountered, like the burglary to our home three years back.

And in one way I feel shattered by it all. Bedraggled. Weary both body and soul.

In another, the shadowy places we’ve trudged through in the past few years have only made the greatest gift—the one believers in Christ Jesus claim to celebrate at Christmas—shine like never before.

For his gift—the gift of eternal life through belief in the life, death, and resurrection of God’s only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is Himself God—is one that can neither be lost, stolen, damaged, outgrown, or in any way taken away. Such a gift!

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This is the gift I will be sharing with my children and other family members on Christmas, and there is a very simple way you can do it, too, with items you most likely already have in your house.

  1. Wrap up five items in Christmas paper – something broken (a toy?), something outgrown (baby clothes?), an empty wallet or purse, and a figurine of baby Jesus (or picture of the cross), and a heart (a Christmas ornament?).

  2. Gather your family round and let them open the parcels one by one, explaining the meaning of each as you go along, using the suggestions below . . .

  3. For the broken item – Is this toy new or old? Have you ever had anything break? Things don’t last forever, do they? They can stop working or break.

  4. For the outgrown item – Would this fit anyone in the room? Clothes don’t last forever, do they? We can outgrow our clothes, or they can get holes in them and wear out.

  5. For the wallet – Look inside the pockets. What has happened to the money? Has it been stolen? Spent? Lost? Money doesn’t last forever, does it? It can be spent, stolen, or lost.

  6. For the Baby Jesus – Who does this figurine represent? Did he stay a baby or grow up to be a man? Yes, he grew up to be a man and died on the cross to take the punishment for our sins.

  7. For the heart – What is this? Yes, a heart that represents the love of God. If you believe in your heart that God died on the cross for your sins and that he was raised again back to life, then God gives you the gift of eternal life to be with him and others who loves him forever. No one can take that gift away from you. It is the only thing that can never be lost, stolen, broken, or taken away from you by anyone.

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Merry Christmas to you all! 

~ Avonlea 

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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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We’ve arrived.

Took months to get us here, it seems.

Passport renewals and plane tickets.

Hunting out the next size up of clothes for the boys (all three of them, and this new little one who will arrive while we are here).

Cleaning the house in the way that only a nesting mother-to-be can do.

Packing and nesting and saying “See you next spring,” to our friends.

And up until the last two weeks, immersing myself for an hour each day back in 1941.

And it was tiring.

I was tired.

Tired like an addict of some sleep-inducing drug.

But planes and newborn babies, they don’t tend to wait.

And so I pressed through, and I made it, and we’re here.

We’ere here!

Scotland.

Scotland, which was home for eight years, and now hasn’t been for three.

Scotland, where everything is dear and familiar, strange and new.

Even after all that time, the hills never disappoint me.

Never seem less beautiful than ever they were.

And I can never help but think that all of this–all of this crossing of oceans–must mean something. Must DO something, deep inside of me.

Because it always has.

But when you’re away, out of your routine, it’s easy to forget the working, the striving, and try to get by just sailing for a while. And sometimes you still learn this way. Sometimes the haphazard can still help you grow. But I don’t want to leave it to chance.

I’ve got people. Dear ones. They need me at my best.

And though in the rush of the sea I hear the whisper of my Maker calling, it can be hard to hear His voice amongst so many other things that charm. Here in this place that always stirred my heart.

But hearts, as you know, are not always true. They can lead us on a merry dance.

And so while I want to savour each misty hill, each cup of tea, each warm embrace of a dear friend, I want to end this journey with a clearer eye, a clearer vision, and a closer walk with my Saviour than when I began.

Join me? 

Walk with me?

Let’s see where this road goes . . . 

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 Our view from the house

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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.

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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, like the walls all over Scotland where we used to live. Garden walls, and farm walls. Walls where you wouldn’t imagine a person could live, there in the beautiful bleakness of the Highlands, following the steep rise of a hill till out of sight. Walls, still there three hundred years on from when a man first placed stone upon stone, keeping thieves out and sheep in.

And yes we have them now, too, running all over this frozen land. Only ours won’t last, at least not as long, for our walls, of course, are made of snow. Not that the barriers were intentional, when we all went out with our shovels, our blowers, and our 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, I’m glad to say, we also had a path. A path between our neighbour’s 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 back 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 when the time was right 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 neighbour’s large kitchen.

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We stayed for hours. And I couldn’t tell you what it meant to sit there 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 began as kind strangers and had 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 warm our home, 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 would agree completely. 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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There was a long list of bad this Christmas.

Like the enormous branch out back that fell and crushed my poor lilac bush. The ice storm came (that was before the arctic vortex and heaps of snow), and I guess that big old tree got a little too burdened down. Couldn’t take the stress. Couldn’t take the weight. So down it came.

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The rest of our Christmas, well it was mostly the same. A little too much heaviness to bear.

Plenty of decorating and buying and wrapping and baking and carol playing and even praying beforehand, all meant to create the perfect day, but sometimes all the planning in the world will still leave you with a mess.

Sometimes you plan but get it all so wrong.

Sometimes you plan but it’s out of your control.

That ice again, lovely as it was, had it’s wicked way.

Treacherous driving conditions.

Night out with the girls for a chance to laugh and de-stress? Canceled.

Many thousands without heat or power. 

Christmas Eve service at church? Canceled, too.

Mum hosting Christmas dinner? Nope. With two days to plan, it’s going to be me.

But there was more . . .

A mix-up of the name-drawing.

A gift for everyone under the tree? Well, not quite.  

Keys locked in a running car.

Tired children put to bed on time? Think again.

A tummy bug moving slowly through the house till we all had our turn.

All of us there round the Christmas table, feeling right as rain? No, not that either.

Sometimes you plan but get it all so wrong.

Sometimes you plan but it’s out of your control.

Yet all this, all this we could have easily born with a nervous laugh and with making due. All this we could have born if only a frazzled mix of folks from different parts of the country, different parts of the globe, hadn’t all been tossed together, till from our botched arrangements surfaced pain, sadness, regret from weeks, months, years past.

Like my lilac bushes, it seems we, too, can be frail.

Tender.

Like the flowers. Like the grass.

Tender,

so that when love and fear come together,

like with family and with friends,

we feel an aching in our hearts

and a burden just too much to bear.

Too much to bear alone.

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And it all seemed such a sham. The presents and the tree. The music. All the talk of joy and peace.

Because sometimes you plan but it’s out of your control.

And sometimes you plan, but there’s something deeper, something realer, that you missed.

All our shattered plans for Christmas or for life, they can really shake our souls, leave us wondering how to hope.

How to hope, or why.

Leave us wondering if the New Year will bring us more of just the same. And if you’re anything like me then you’re tempted to whisk out a sheet of paper and start making lists, ask yourself what went wrong, and start planning so the future will be better.

As if we could fix ourselves, fix our families, with a list.

The only thing is, sometimes you plan but get it all so wrong.

Sometimes you plan but it’s out of your control.

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New Year’s resolutions? Yes, I’ve got them. Organized drawers, eating kale, and the like.

But this year what I’m planning is complete surrender.

Submission like I’ve never known.

All I have, all I am, all I dream, brought to the feet of the only One who will never get it wrong and never let me down.

Because what my family, what my world, what I am missing is more of Jesus.

And because it’s only is His will that we can ever truly be free.

I’m taking His list. Making it mine. Turning my life right upside down.

And I’m starting with the Word.

Because not only is the Word with God, but the Word IS God. (John 1:1).

And it’s living, and it’s active, and it knows me, too (Hebrews 4:12).

I’m going to see what I’ve been missing.

I’m going to learn to love and live

like Him.

This is January.

The first day of the rest of my life.

Join me as I discover.

You won’t look back.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul.

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