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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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She came one night with a raw chicken. I knew she’d be staying a while. And I welcomed her into the quiet of our little stone house.

John was away in London. Or Edinburgh, perhaps. And even with the woods and the beaches to walk, the days and nights grew long, just Baby and me.

Soon the oven warmed the kitchen, and the smells spread through the house. And she sat with me while I fed and changed him. Spoke with me, listened, like she’d nowhere else to go.

And when Baby was down, and our bellies were full, she sat a bit longer just to chat.

A few months on and we were headed south, leaving Inverness for the hills of Perthshire,

and she came back.

She and another friend, as if it were nothing.

They came with boxes, newspapers, and bags, and within a few days the house was wrapped and packed, and it was nothing I could have done on my own, not me and Baby, who climbed in and out of boxes, unpacking what I’d packed.

And I was grateful, oh so grateful, for their help.

But it was more than the job, of course, more than helping me move house.

It was also their time, their laughter, their there-ness

that spoke volumes to my tired mama heart. 

Saying that, I loved the help.

Acts of service is a love language I so appreciate and understand. 

But not every mama loves someone showing up with a dust rag and a mop.

An offer to help clean her house can make her feel inadequate. Like she’s failed as a homemaker and it’s clear to all the world that she’s drowning in laundry and dust.  

So if you know a tired mama and you really want to love her, 

first find out what kind of love* speaks to her tired mama heart. 

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If it’s Acts of Service, an offer to fold her laundry, wipe down the high chair, or wash her dishes will have her heart skip a happy little beat. And if you sit and chat with her while you do it, while she feeds the baby, she’ll appreciate it even more. Have a bit more time? Offer to sit with the children while she grocery shops solo. The sacrifice of your time and hard work will make her feel cared for more than anything else.

If it’s Quality Time, bring some muffins, just spend time with her, chaos and all. Or if you can, whisk her out for coffee and a chat. Or offer to join her on a trip to the park with the children. What this mama craves is your active presence. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, she just wants to see you and to build your friendship, whatever you do together.

If it’s Words of Affirmation, this mama needs encouragement, truth, and peace spoken into her life. Compliment her on her strengths, and what she’s doing right as a mother and wife. Tell her how you value her friendship. Remind her of God’s love for her, His child. If you can’t tell her in person, call or send a card.

If it’s Gifts, this mama would love you to turn up with a pot of soup and a loaf of bread. A bag of clothes that your little one has outgrown. A new diaper bag to replace hers, which is so worn out. Anything to let her know you were thinking of her. She probably wouldn’t turn down a gift certificate to her favourite restaurant or spa, but the price is not the issue. She’ll just be delighted to know you were thinking of her, whatever gift you bring.

If it’s Phyisical Touch, what this mama might need more anything else is a hug.

Being the mama (or daddy!) of little ones is not an easy task. Not a nine-to-five kind of job. It begins from the time we open our eyelids to the time we lay down our weary heads (and often continues through the night as well). We long to raise our children to be rich in faith, love, and good works, but such important work can seem overwhelming when running on such a little bit of sleep. So if there’s a tired mama in your life, find a way to help her be the faithful wife and mama she so longs to be by showing her love in a way that will strengthen her and help her run strong.

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 *Love Languages taken from The 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman

It’s been six months, but I’m still talking. Still telling what happened–what she did–with as much excitement as if I’d just stepped off the train.

January, Little Bear just a month old, still waking often, still calling me from shallow sleep to hold him, back-bent and weary, as I rock, rock, try to keep my head from nodding as I feed him off to sleep.

January, and I’m still recovering from his birth, still tender and swollen, still feeling lost as I try to wade my way through the emotions that come with newborns and returning to the country that was home for eight long years.

January, and in spite of craving sleep like an addict, I feel anxious to do some shopping for the belated Christmas we’d be sharing with my family back in the States.

I couldn’t drive, but there are trains there, and I decided catch one, just me and Little Bear, to Inverness, where we used to live and where one can find such delights as Primark, Debenhams, and Marks & Spencers.

I was set to do the return trip in a day, but the night before, I spoke to a friend from our old church. A trendy grandmother with a soft young voice, smiling eyes, and a penchant for the color blue. She convinced me—without much effort—that Little Bear and I should stay the night. Have two days in town instead of one.

The trip began disastrously. I spent half the time trying to ignore the stressful cries of a newborn, and the other half in the dressing room feeding and changing his nappy. I would have had to go home empty-handed, frustrated, in tears.

But instead came my friend with her car to meet me and whisk me and Little Bear off to her home for a hot dinner (she held the baby while I ate!), endless cups of tea (she said I must keep my strength up!), and a heart-to-heart conversation in a soft chair (I sat while she bathed the baby!). And that’s only the beginning. I haven’t yet mentioned the fruit and water bottles in my room in the event I needed a late night snack, the electric blanket that had been turned on to keep my bed warm and waiting, or the new home décor magazines that were set out in case I wanted to take a look.

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I laid my head on my crisp white pillow that night with a smile on my face and peace in my heart.

Just a night in that house and I felt rejuvenated. Encouraged. Loved.

Ministered to in every way.

And I could say my friend is just like that. Just the sort of person to convince you she liked sleeping on the floor and that you really should have her bed. And perhaps that’s a little bit true. But if you’ve seen her Bible then you’ll know it’s also a little bit more than that. Book marks sticking out like porcupine quills. Notes added to the margins in her tiny, dancing hand. She spends a great deal of time with that book, I gather. Probably a great deal of time on her knees, too.

And somehow, in a way that surpasses all comprehension, spending time with that book has the power to transform us. Help us stop thinking of our own needs and see the needs of others. Help us see what a teary-eyed, bone-weary Mama needs more than anything else.

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.

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

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Visit Happy Little Sigh on Pinterest

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Upside Down

I went out grudgingly.

Would have rather stayed in to clean the bathrooms.

Do some scrapbooking.

Get a batch of muffins in the oven.

All the important things I wanted to do today.

But the fractiousness of little boys after a week of April showers forced me out.

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Out into the garden.

Warmth and sunshine washing over.

The almost green of our snow-flattened grass.

And birdsong.

Birdsong, and I’m Mary Lennox, chasing a robin over a garden gate.

Birdsong, and I’m Jane Eyre with her rooks, exploring Thornfield Hall on her very first morn.

Birdsong, and time is lost,

and I’m myself fifteen years past, discovering a walled garden of my very own.

Scotland.

Pussy willows and crocuses.

Blackbirds and brick.

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Birdsong today, and the magic of viewing the world

upside-down

from a swing.

And it’s springtime,

and doesn’t your heart ache with the glory of it?

Of life,

new beginnings,

winter’s end?

And I’m thankful,

wildly thankful in a way I could never express,

for the possibility of all things,

me included,

being turned upside down,

made new.

And I wonder at the sun’s warmth,

and that He calls Himself that,

our Sun and our Shield.

Our Shield,

for don’t we need protecting

from many things,

even ourselves?

Our Sun,

for don’t we revel in the light and the heat?

Don’t we thrive?

Get life?

Doesn’t He give us life

eternally?

Spring.

It has come upon us.

Find a tree stump.

A picnic table.

A bench.

Wait for birdsong.

And just breathe.

Be still and know that I am God.

Psalm 46:10

Listen…

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

So I’m a little late with the news.

Four days is an eternity in our World Wide Web World.

And yet my own little world

spins at quite a different pace.

A constant splattering of primary-colored Duplo Blocks and breadmaker toast crumbs

have been crying out a little louder for my attention

than even this.

But I’ve got to mention it.

Put it down for posterity’s sake.

After all, how often does the Duchess of Cambridge pose for a photograph with Lady Mary Crawley?

How often does she go down to the kitchen for some cake from Mrs. Patmore?

It’s all just a bit dizzying.

Like someone got their fairy tales crossed.

Like it’s Cinderella meets Sleeping Beauty . . .

(or maybe Toads and Diamonds, however it is you see those Grantham girls).

But it’s that real life Cinderella Girl

most of us can’t help but admire,

and she’s gone to pay a call to

that period drama

most of us can’t help but watch.

And the moment’s just a bit magic

and most of us can’t help but smile

when we watch.

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I still regret a little that I didn’t go to see Kate Middleton And Prince William when we lived in Scotland

and they visited St. Andrews, their former university.

After all, it was just a short drive away.

And that time I had the chance to work on a TV set with Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey

(more on that another time!).

But ah, it’s all a little lovely,

and the lovely things in life can point us, if we let them,

to the good and beautiful that is not of this world.

The good and beautiful of the next,

where are hearts are really longing for.

So here it is.

Enjoy.

Kate Middleton visits the Set of Downton Abbey

Kate also once visited Prince Edward Island,

home of Anne of Green Gables.

A kindred spirit here, perhaps?

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Look for HappyLittleSigh on Pinterest for more loveliness

https://www.pinterest.com/happylittlesigh/

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