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Posts Tagged ‘Happy Little Sigh’

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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I woke smiling. Basking in the sunlight I could feel on my eyelids and in the merry sound of a little bird’s song.

The snow had melted, the sky was blue. Surely we’d put the days of cold and darkness behind us and spring was here. But, oh, not so! Winter is putting up a terrific final fight here in Midwestern USA, and we are living in a snow globe once again.

But I haven’t lost heart, for it will at last be defeated, and until it does, I have every excuse to boil the kettle, slip my feet into my slippers, and curl up with my book.

I’m back in Mitford, do you know it? Have you met Cynthia and Father Tim? They seem real enough that I feel I should introduce them, but then I do have a subconscious way of disbelieving that many of my favourite characters were, in fact, made up. Fictional. Didn’t ever actually exist.

I find myself wondering if they could still be alive . . . or their children or grandchildren at the very least. Maybe a few more greats in there if you’re talking Elizabeth Bennet or Jane Eyre. But Anne Shirley, yes, she and Gilbert could easily have some grandchildren still living. Maybe even children, at a push. I think Rilla was in her early teens during the first World War.

But anyway, back to Jan Karon’s Mitford series and the people living there. What to say of them? What to say to convince you that if you haven’t ever visited them then you really, really should?

I was disbelieving myself, in the beginning. Had a hard time thinking I could ever so adore a book whose hero was a 60-something-year-old Episcopalian priest. But I’ve grown to love him. Him, and the woman he woos, and the people they love and live out life with in their little mountain town.

In the lives of these individuals you will find most of the tragedy and pain you would encounter almost anywhere in this world. There, written across the pages in black and white. And yet the characters are not left abandoned to a cold and self-seeking world. They have each other. And through the actions and words of Father Tim–keen gardener, Wordsworth quoter, reluctant jogger–they are reminded that they also have God.

There are days I’d like to stop by the rectory. Sit by the fire. Ask Cynthia to see her latest watercolor. Rest my body and soul as I sip a cup of sweet Southern iced tea.

I’d like to see these two in action. These two love-birds who go on picnics, and surprise each other with presents, and go walking in the rain. These two who pray together–the prayer that never fails–and though they may themselves be struggling, still seek to shine light into each other’s lives time and time again.

And I’d like to hear her say it. Hear Cynthia tell Father Tim what she loves. And hear him ask back, “What don’t you love?” Because she’s ever so good at saying it. Ever so good at NOT complaining, but instead putting into words her delight in every good and perfect gift, no matter how small. Rain on a summer evening. Sleeping an extra three minutes. An unexpected email from a friend. Why not give thanks for it all?

Complaints come tumbling out so easily, spreading discouragement to all those who hear. So I’m trying to remember to say it–to give thanks out loud for every gift, every glimpse of beauty, no matter how small. 

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Indignant is the word to describe how I felt back in 2005 upon hearing that another version of Jane’s Austen’s beloved novel, Pride and Prejudice, was to be released in the cinema, this time starring English actress Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet. The very existence of this new intruder version felt like an insult to those who had played in the 1995 BBC adaptation of the book. Like utter disloyalty to Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, who, in my mind, actually were Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Why make another when perfection had already been reached?

But of course when the time came for the film to appear in our one local cinema in Inverness, Scotland, where we were living at the time, I went along to see it. And slowly, as I sat with my sweet popcorn and mini tub of ice cream, I felt my arched brow of skepticism slowly fade into a soft smile. For even with the simplified script, the overacting, and that awful brown dress Kiera Knightly dons for the majority of the film, it cannot be denied that with all the talented cinematography that captures the breathtaking Darbyshire scenery and the gorgeous film score by Dario Marianelli, the film is a veritable feast for the eyes and ears. And I decided that perhaps seeing what other artists had to offer was, after all, a good thing. 

I like to put it on in the background sometimes, if I’m, say, folding laundry or working on my scrapbook. But Keira Knightley will never, ever be Elizabeth Bennet, just as the 2005 version will never be to me the haven of coziness, inspiration, and nostalgia that the 1995 version is. 

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And so it will be with this newest adaptation of the novel Anne of Green Gables by Canadian Author Lucy Maude Montgomery, which will air in February 2016. This version was created by Breakthrough Entertainment , and stars young actress Ella Ballentine as the red-headed orphan Anne Shirley, and Martin Sheen as Matthew Cuthbert, the Bachelor who, along with his spinster sister Marilla, ends up adopting the feisty, talented, kindhearted Anne.

Canada’s CBC-TV also has plans to run a series, simply titled “Anne,” which is set to air in 2017, and which CBC says will follow Montgomery’s story line, but will also “chart new territory.” Writer Moira Walley-Beckett say she had adapted Anne’s story and that Anne’s issues are really contemporary ones like feminism, prejudice, and bullying.  

I will watch both versions. And if the trailer for the made-for-TV film is any indication, that adaptation will be charming and entertaining, if nothing else.

But I’m a little concerned that the series will modernize Anne too much, throw Anne’s catch phrases about in a way that becomes obnoxious, make the story into something Montgomery never intended it to be.

 So yes, I’ll watch them, but at the possible risk of having to go back on my word, I’m quite sure that these will not be the versions I go back to–again, and again, and again. Because Megan Follows who starred as Anne in the Sullivan Entertainment   version simply is Anne Shirley, just as Colleen Dewhurst is Marilla, and Jonathan Crombie is Gilbert Blythe.

I was practically introduced to Anne’s world from birth when my mother named me Avonlea, and it was to Sullivan’s 1985 version that I was first introduced. It was these actors whose faces I had in mind as I read the books, these faces I felt uplifted and encouraged by on those days when I, too, felt “in the depths of despair,” or had “a Jonah Day,” or could say of God’s working in my life, “He knew.” They are as much like friends to me as any fictional characters could ever be.

Another chance to view what is probably my favourite story on earth? Yes, please. Perhaps Breakthrough will even go on to make other Anne films based on Montgomery’s books,and stay a little closer to the stories than Sullivan did with their second Anne film. But just as I’m quite sure that a rose called a thistle or a skunk cabbage wouldn’t smell the same, an Anne by any other name could just never be as sweet. 

 

 

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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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I could sleep one thousand sleeps.

One thousand all together, my own sleeping beauty tale.

The erratic sleeping habits of a new born

along with the lingering effects of jet lag

and a late winter cold

have left me feeling that I’ll never be rested again.

Not ever in my life.

But I will (I do hope!),

and life will resume a normal pace.

Whatever normal is,

and for however long it lasts.

Because I never seem to know for very long

what tomorrow’s normal might be.

There have been times of sameness . . .

My college years, with the grueling cycle of classes, homework, and my job.

But then came that semester in Scotland,

a meeting with a dashing redhead

one mild winter night,

and my world became bigger than I’d ever dreamed.

Three years later came our wedding and I was back in Scotland,

and after setting up house in Inverness,

there came a bit of sameness again.

Me teaching, John working,

and whatever it is that children-less couples do on evenings and weekends

(someone remind me of that again!?!?).

Then came our first cottage.

A baby.

And since the Professor’s birth there has been that sameness that you’ll know about if, like me, you’re a stay at home mum.

Changing, feeding, bathing, dressing, bedtime, naptime, playtime,

the endless mopping up of spilled drinks.

Then came one, two, three more babies . . .

But with a trans-Atlantic move stuck in the middle.

A new life.

A new business.

A burglary.

And all the strangeness of finding out who I am

as an adult

in the country of my birth.

But life always settles, when it can, into sameness and routine.

And I’m here again,

after four months in Scotland

and the birth of Little Bear,

my fourth son,

trying to find normal again.

For however long it lasts.

But I’m learning not to rely on “normal” to give me peace.

And I’m learning to enjoy all the sameness,

all the everyday moments

I could so easily take for granted

or even despise.

Because real  peace cannot be based on the temporary

and it’s all temporary.

It can only be based on the eternal.

The one and only

Eternal One.

For all my unknowns

and all my tomorrows

are not unknown to Him.

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 I sit and hold him,

cradled warm and snug against my chest.

Trace with my eyes the curve of his ear.

Run my finger along the plump softness of his cheek.

My son. My baby. My last.

A smile tugs at his lips.

“He’s dreaming of angels,” they say here in Scotland,

of fluttery newborn smiles.

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In the background the voices of the boys choir of Kings College Cambridge

pour out The Holly and the Ivy,

one of my favourites, though I never knew it till I came here.

And I thought I’d have girls. Lots of them, born in the summer.

And yet this is the third Christmas I’ve sat with a newborn, a son,

(the Professor came in the spring)

wondering at this new life given to my care,

as I also wonder about the other baby,

whose birth we celebrate this time of year.

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What brings more wonder than a baby,

a new life?

Nothing.

Nothing at all, I would say,

except the life of that baby,

the one born in a stable,

who lived not only his life,

but because of his God and man-ness

is able to know intimately the minute details of the lives of each one of us.

A baby. A man. But also God.

A God who sees.

A God who knows.

A God who cares.

Cares enough to live among his creation,

and here face death

to give each of us the chance

to live again.

Imagine!

A new world, a new life,

through him.

Imagine.

Your life,

mine,

made new through him.

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I’ll have plenty of time to drink it all in tomorrow.

The carols, the mince pies, the sweetness of my newborn’s breath,

and the wonder of the birth of my Saviour.

But you’ve been kept waiting,

and so let me introduce him to you,

my newest wee manie.

We’ve called him Charles.

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Wishing a merry,

the VERY merriest,

of Christmases to you.

And enjoy this gift of music from The Piano Guys.

If you haven’t ever heard them then you really, truly must.

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