Tuesday, September 21, 2010

God Stretches Us

It's a stretch, me writing a blog. I'm just not a blog type of gal.

I'm not as networked as I should be. I'm not online constantly. I'm not the person with hundreds of Facebook friends. I don't post product reviews or rarely join online forums. I love to read blogs, but rarely comment.

So, what am I doing writing a blog?

It's pretty simple, actually. The big guy called. More than once, in fact. Oddly enough, each time, "blog" was in His call for me.

I'm not sure why. I'd just as soon minimize my Internet browser and create digital scrapbook pages in Photoshop. Or, better yet, I'd prefer to push my laptop aside and go for a jog or a hike, or cook something, or work on a sewing project, or try to figure out my DSLR, or read a book, or call my mom. (Yes, I have a too-many-hobbies problem, but that's another post.)

The thing is: God likes to stretch us. Grow us. Push us out of our comfort zone.

It's kind of like one of those intense yoga stretches you really have to settle into and breathe through. I still remember the first time I tried pigeon. (WARNING: Yoga types, avert your eyes as I try to inexpertly explain pigeon.) You end up with one leg bent underneath you, your heel settled into the opposite side of your pelvis and your other leg stretched straight out behind you. You cross your arms out in front of you on the floor and put your head down. You're face down, totally prone.

Now, you breathe.

The first time I did this stretch, I didn't think I was going to make it through the amount of breaths the instructor had allotted. I'm not a flexible person.

But, I did make it. And, pigeon ended up being one of my favorite poses.

Though I've never been "good" at yoga in terms of having the natural constitution that allows me to pretzel up, yoga is good for me. It stretches me--literally and physically.

God never said doing the right thing is easy. He never said following His will for our lives was supposed to be painless.

So, I'm working hard to look at this blog like the ultimate God stretch. Challenging, but ultimately, fulfilling.

I'm trying to remember to take it one post at a time and to focus on my overall goal (honoring Him), rather than getting sidetracked by the feeling of posting in a vacuum. (Is there anyone really out there?)

I'm working to settle into the stretch, not fight it. And, when all else fails, and I feel panicky, I take a cue from yoga.

I just breathe.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.

Ephesians 5: 8-10, NIV

Dear Lord: Thank you for pushing us, calling us to grow and change in wondrous ways. Help lead us as we accept new challenges and enter new phases in our lives. Encourage us to lean on you for support during these sometimes rocky transitions; hold our hands and guide us through, letting us know that you never give us more than we can handle. Amen.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Even Mommies Have Tantrums Too

The carpet of the spare room rose up to meet me as I threw myself down, and wet it with lavish tears of anger and frustration. My toddlers, three and one, were alternately perplexed and upset by my outburst. Even my husband was brought upstairs that morning from his basement office by my roars. He calmed the girls while I tried to pull it together.

"It's just so hard," I said. "They're driving me crazy. I can't take this anymore."

My "tantrums" were happening more and more often. I was ashamed of my behavior, but I felt powerless to change it. The demands of mothering two very needy toddlers had totally undone me.

I wasn't in any kind of meaningful relationship with God then, so it's no surprise I didn't have any reserves to draw on.

No heavenly shoulder to cry on.

No wisdom of the scriptures to lean on.

No bond of prayer to connect me to a sympathetic divine ear.

Not long after that outburst, my neighbor invited me to a Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) meeting at a local church. I went, joined, and have been a MOPS member ever since. My girls are now 5 and 7, and they're joined by a five-month-old little brother.

Since I joined MOPS, I started praying and cultivating a relationship with God again. I joined a gym and lost 10 pounds. (Well, ok, I need to lose that 10 pounds again, but this time it's baby weight.) I discovered new hobbies. (I learned how to sew and how to do both traditional and digital scrapbooking.) I completed the First Place for Health Bible Study. I ran in the Pittsburgh Marathon (ok, the marathon relay). I co-directed our church's Vacation Bible School for two years.

And I was blessed to be able to continue my freelance writing career, carefully balancing incoming projects with babysitting, cobbled together from high-school students after school hours, in-laws during the day, and my husband on nights and weekends.

This fall, for the first time, I don't plan to sign up for MOPS. I do have mixed feelings. MOPS was a life-saver for me in the beginning, but, after four years, I was starting to feel like the "old-timer" in the room. Though I do have a baby again, I don't feel that intense need to bond with others over the early years' details that I once did, simply because I've done it twice before. (Don't get me wrong, though: I know that doesn't qualify me as an expert. And, don't be surprised, MOPS members, if you find me slinking back through your doors with my tail between my legs, at some point. I know babies get infinitely harder once they become mobile, and I reserve the right to change my mind!)

What I could definitely use is a support group for mothers of elementary-schoolers. MOEs, anyone?

But, I am signed up for a new Bible study--and I'm getting into my newest hobby, DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) photography, with a course at the local community college. I can't wait.

I have to admit, though, I still do the mommy monster roar every now and again. But, I'm not ready to throw in the maternal towel again. To give up. Like I was once. I know God has my back.

In my distress I called to the LORD; I called out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears.

2 Samuel 22:7

Dear Lord: I pray for mothers, the world over. Please give us strength and wisdom, patience and compassion. Help us to know that our work matters. Remind us to lean on you when we are weak or tired and be nurtured, but also inspire us to take on new challenges that invigorate us. I also ask that you bless the many MOPS groups preparing for their new "year." May the women there form new friendships, learn more about your love, and feel refreshed and renewed after each meeting. Amen.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Freezer Fiasco: A Lesson in Patience

It was not a pretty sight--or smell. I must have neglected to fully shut our standing freezer days ago. The stench of rotten meat alerted us something was wrong. We opened the freezer to find oozing, thawed pork and beef.

We'd just walked in the door after being gone for 5 hours, running errands with the kids. The girls were cranky and tired, and the baby just wanted some quality play time after being cooped up in his car seat all afternoon. But, we had Emergency #1 to attend to.

As I tried to hold the baby and take stock of what to toss and what to keep--and where to put the non-spoiled meat while we cleaned and defrosted the freezer--my five-year-old poked her head into the basement, crying. "There's no paper to draw on!" (She has a lovely habit of crying for no apparent reason, multiple times a day, which would test pretty much any parent's patience reserves.) After asking if she'd looked in the usual spots, we determined there was no more paper around, and I decided to go upstairs to the craft closet to see what I could find.

I didn't find the paper. I did find that the dog had thoroughly christened the cream carpet--evidently, his intestinal "bug" wasn't all better, as we had hoped. Enter Emergency #2. I walked back downstairs, still toting the baby, to break the bad news to my husband, who was barely started on the freezer fiasco. "How bad is it?" he asked.

"Ummm, I'm not sure," I hedged, not wanting to stress him more.

In the meantime, our five-year-old had escalated into full-on wailing about the paper for her drawing. That was the straw that broke my usually calm husband's back. "Go to your room!" he bellowed.

I have to admit it. It's usually me that loses my cool, but I'm pretty good in crisis mode. I whisked the kids away for a while and got them settled, while checking in periodically on my husband and doing what I could to help.

My patience isn't typically tested in so dramatic a fashion, but it is tugged on a daily basis by little hands. A  baby who sometimes seems to go from one messy diaper to a feeding to just wanting attention--all while his older sisters are needy and dinner somehow has to get on the table. A project deadline and a morning blocked off for work when a child gets sick. A full to-do list barely touched at the end of the day--and though I hardly sat down, I can't remember what I've done, much less why I didn't get around to most of the things on the list.

But the worst thing I can do is feel sorry for myself. Corinthians 6 (emphasis below, mine) helps puts it all into perspective. Paul's hardships make mine look pathetically minuscule; his determination is a source of inspiration.

We put no stumbling block in anyone's path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

2 Corinthians 6: 3-10

Dear Lord, please give me patience. Help me to keep going even when the going is tough. I know you test me; you wear away at the hard edges of ego and jagged terrain of selfishness; you smooth and polish my soul with each hardship I endure and each difficulty I surmount. Allow me to accept the bumps in the road with grace and determination and help me to put it all into perspective, knowing what is truly important and what is not. Amen.

Image: Maggie Smith / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, September 3, 2010

Crunch Time

It's that time of year around here. Crunch time. But, not in the sense you may think.

The grass is crunchy. The flowers are crispy. The hanging baskets, deep-fried. One of our trees is starting to drop little brown crumbly leaves all over the deck like no one's business.

I like to think of it as God's way of gently easing us out of summer. By this point--September, dry as a bone, and 92 degrees, we are ready for a change. Ready for crisp mornings and a veil of fog draped low on the hills, ready for jeans and jackets, ready for the vibrancy of leaf-shades in red, orange, and yellow.

So, instead of bemoaning the dying season, I see it for what it is. Divine preparation. God is saying: Just wait. Better things are on the horizon.

Dear Lord: Thank you for your abundance, but also for scarcity. Without rain, I could not appreciate sunshine; without heat, I could not savor coolness; without dark, I would not love the light. Help me to see the blessings in every season, and in every situation, knowing that you care for us and have fashioned this world and its seasons fearfully and wonderfully.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A New Poem


We like it big
and cheap, bright
and brash.

We like it
mega, super, ultra,
but somehow
low, lite, free.

We demand
more for less,
and get it
every time.

“Don’t run on empty”
the sign showing
donuts, hot dogs,
and cheesy nachos

Irony escapes us.

Copyright 2010, Elizabeth May

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Green Cleaning Tips and Resources

So, you're interested in natural cleaning? Here's the lowdown: what you'll need to get started, where to get it, and how to find more information.


1. Empty Spray Bottles--various sizes (dollar stores are good for this)
2. Baking Soda--the BIG box!
3. Borax (often found in your local grocery's laundry aisle)
4. White vinegar--the MEGA bottle!
5. Distilled water (I've also started using filtered water from my fridge for ease)
6. Various essential oils
7. Liquid castile soap, such as Dr. Bronner's


The good news is, there are only two kinds of supplies that may take a little hunting for--essential oils and liquid castile soap. I can find a wide selection of both at my local health food store. GNC (yes, the vitamin store) sells both as well. And, of course, there are tons of online retailers like Amazon that offer these supplies. My personal favorite is Lucky Vitamin. I can get Dr. Bronner's, essential oils, and other things I use regularly (like organic and natural skin care products, coconut oil and even organic maple syrup in bulk).

Recommended Books

Better Basics for the Home by Annie Berthold-Bond
Clean House, Clean Planet by Karen Logan

I own both of these books, and would recommend them to anyone starting out. Logan’s book is shorter and focuses just on cleaning, while Berthold-Bond’s is much more comprehensive and includes everything from housekeeping to skin care to gardening, pets, and pest control. Both books include good basic info on the cons of chemical-based cleaning and recipes for natural alternatives.


Start small. Try one new cleaner at a time. See how easy it is to make. Test it out and see if you like how it works. (You won't necessarily love every green cleaning recipe or technique--what works for one person or situation, might not work for you.)

Take it slow. Gradually phase in more and more green cleaners, while phasing out commercial cleaners.

Learn to adjust your expectations. Green cleaners work differently than harsh commercial cleaners. They don't have harsh foaming agents like sodium laurel sulfate, so you probably won't notice the same kind of foaming action (this doesn't mean they're not working, though). Using vinegar and water or plain club soda for mirrors take a different approach than Windex--wipe and let it dry a bit on its own (it doesn't evaporate as quickly as the blue stuff), then buff it dry and shiny with a clean rag.

Wing it when you can. Sprinkle baking soda anywhere you need something a bit abrasive and scrub with a brush or scrubbie. Add a few drops of castile soap for added cleaning power. Mix vinegar and water and essential oils in a roughly 1 to 3 ratio of vinegar to water and add oils as desired. The more you clean using natural methods, the quicker your routine and the more comfortable you'll be ad-libbing.

Have fun. Realize the benefits of natural cleaning... Less money. Less fumes. Less toxicity. More peace of mind.

(You can also read my posts Making Your Own Cleaning Supplies, Part I and Part 2 for simple green cleaning recipes.)

Image: Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net