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Confessions of a Self-important Slow-Learner

pumpkins

I will start off by just admitting that this is not the post that I thought I was going to write today. Over my morning cup of coffee, I felt a very strong urging in my heart. Naturally I pushed it aside thinking, “Oh, lovely idea. But I can write about that later. I have a plan.” Hmmm…why does this sound so familiar?

For those of you who know me already, you are probably aware that I am a bit of a slow learner when it comes to my spiritual walk. Reluctant. Recalcitrant. Stubborn. Obstinate. Disobedient. At my age, I really should know better. Whenever I make plans and hold on to them very tightly, God usually has another idea.

So, here is the first part of my confession: I thought that I had figured out the purpose of this blog. I had a plan. I had mapped out topics and scheduled them. I was primarily going to focus on our house refurbishment (Project Take Back Our Home). Now don’t get me wrong. I had every intention of sharing some personal stuff but I was definitely planning on directing (deflecting?) the topics away from me and toward more generalized commentary.

But this morning, God reminded me—in the way only he can do—that the purpose of this blog is about giving him the glory, not me.

Now for part two of this confession. Remember back to that whole “slow learner” business? Well I have just now figured out and am living into my purpose at home. Five years after I returned home.

Here is a quick summary for those who came in late. Five years ago I left my career and came home to care for my husband, teenage daughter and aging mother. I had worked outside of the home for almost twenty years—first as a museum curator and educator and later in children’s ministry. Although I believed (and still do) that I was called by God to come home, I struggled (fought) with God about being a stay-at-home mother and wife. I constantly told God (yeah, I know…) that I knew he had something b i g for me during this season. A new ministry? A novel? A business? Surely he wanted me to do something more than just care for my family. Yes, I do realize how prideful and ridiculous this sounds. I can’t believe he didn’t strike me down.

I was grumpy and whiney and quite difficult to live with (sorry, family). I am sure my friends have been sick to death of all the “Woe is me…I am a stay-at-home mom but I was meant for bigger things” (sorry, friends).

Two months ago my husband and I started a much-needed, long-overdue home refurbishment (Project Take Back Our Home). Suddenly I was completely immersed in the de-cluttering, simplifying and organizing. I began to have more time to do the things that we needed to keep our family and our home running.

So this morning as I was fixing breakfast for my husband and daughter, it hit me. This is my purpose. Simple as that. I am meant to love and care for my family and to keep our home running as smoothly as possible. It is big stuff.

It seems that once I was willing to embrace the purpose and the role that God had called me to in this season of my life and quit struggling to find “more important things to do,” I could finally see just how important my job is to my family. I think we glorify God when we are passionate about our calling.

So how does this confession and realization affect my blog? Well, I’m not quite sure, but I am pretty sure God is. What I do know is that you can probably expect a bit messier version of the typical lifestyle/decorating blog as I write about Project Take Back Our Home. My guess is that home refurbishment will not be the main focus.

I told you I was a slow-learner.

Thanks for struggling along with me, friends.

God’s peace–Amy

Bicycles

The Magic of Summer

There is just something wonderful about the beginning of summer. Maybe it is the freedom that we–even as adults–feel once school has ended. Or maybe it is the lengthening of days and the vegetable stands and sunburned skin.

field

I was reminded of the magic of a summer evening as I drove along a rural portion of a South Carolina interstate earlier this week. Mesmerized by the way the trees filtered the late afternoon/early evening sun, I watched as dust particles danced like fairies in the space between the trees and grass. My mind slipped easily back to a day in my childhood–summer 1974–in the small, mid-Western town of my youth…

 

SUMMER 1974–PARKVILLE

A chair pushes back, side door opens and the screen door slams shut. The mother’s voice yells unheard to the girl bare feet, bed-messed hair, eyes minutes from sleep. The girl pauses on the steps and surveys the yard feeling the warmth of the sun on her cheeks and shoulders.

Screen door

Her head snaps to the right, hair flying as the dog runs barking towards her. Slobbers and paws and too much fur greet her. Laughing she pushes the part-collie, part-cocker spaniel, part-dachshund aside and races down the stairs jump-stepping onto the stones with grass creeping around the edges. Finally—bare feet already hardened sink into cool, soft, blue-green blades. The day stretches out before her for miles.

Grass

The phone has already rung. Secret plans have already been whispered. The girl moves to the back of the old house picking her way across the sharp gravel to the dark, cool basement dug into the hill. Quickly, to avoid the spiders and bugs and musty smell, she retrieves her bike: purple frame, glitter banana seat, name plate, tall fluorescent flag to catch the wind.

Sidewalk

Scrambling up the slope, she makes her way to the street and hops on. She pedals the flat stretch of road passing one, two, three, four Victorian houses. Then there is the hill. The hill where the car slammed into one of Dr. Donnelly’s Saint Bernards laying in the street smashing the front of the car while the huge monster lumbered across to its home. The hill that she flies down but dreads pushing the bike back up. The hill that the girl’s father walks daily down into the town and up onto the college campus.

Pedaling faster and faster to gain speed, she sails down the hill, trees and leaves and grass and houses all swooshing past. Finally hill turns flat and she pedals on to the house with white picket fence—the manse for the Presbyterian preacher and his family. The house with the quiet, serious, best friend. The house tidy and smelling of cooking and mother always home. The backyard a long slow slope covered in vinca vines sprinkled with purple flowers. The large bedroom on the second floor with two beds for sisters who read and play piano and study.

Picket fence

Slowly the group gathers at this house—white haired fairy-like girl, tough tom boy from two blocks away, smiling little sister of best friend, street-wise blond with the bad mouth and the parents divorced. An odd crew—best friends on street, strangers at school.

Alliances form. Negotiations begin. A decision made. Whatever the outcome—riding bikes to the creek, picnic under the trees at the college’s playing fields, roller skating in the freshly paved parking lot of the church, walking down the next hill into town to Ernie’s pharmacy for candy or escaping the heat or rain in the basement of the house playing school or acting out plays—we are all in. No complaining, no do-overs, no crybabies.

Pharmacy

As the day draws to a close the group disperses and heads to their respective homes and dinner. The girl walks her bike up the hill with the white-haired girl whose house is in the middle of the incline. Bikes dropping on the sidewalk, the two run up the driveway to the back yard, through a hole in the fence, across the neighbor’s yard into the dainty garden next door.

Strawberries

Crouching, crawling across still hot paving stones to the mounds of variegated, scalloped leaves with fingers gingerly reaching trying to grasp the small, sweet, dark red strawberries. Popping as many in their mouths as possible, they stuff pockets while always looking and watching for the old woman. One day, a few summers later, the girls were caught but the old woman invited them to take as many strawberries as they wanted. That was last summer of sneaking the berries. Now mouths and pockets full, the girls race back across the neighbor’s lawn with hearts pounding, down the driveway back to their tangle of bikes.

image

Waving goodbye to the friend, the girl pushes her bike up the steep hill past the house where she picked out her kitten-now-cat—a bribe from her parents to go to first grade without a fuss. To her right the narrow island of grass and trees calls to her to step inside its secrets. The woods with so many lost balls and the old woman who kept them.

1338 Main Street, Parkville MO

The gray clapboard house peeks over the hill and the girl picks up speed ready for dinner and questions about the day. The father stands in the garden—a small plot of land carved from the lawn—amidst the asparagus going to seed and squash and tomatoes. The girl joins him half-listening to the lessons of gardening and mulching, skimming her hands over the tops of the riotous zinnias.

Riotous zinnias

Armed with their bounty, the girl and her father enter the kitchen to smells of chicken and rice and butter beans cooking. With the tomatoes sliced and the table set, the girl, her parents and brother settle in for the meal and talk. Later, plates cleared, the girl and her father load the dishwasher. Again the lessons half-heard on the proper way to rinse and load.

After the bath, the girl pulls a clean cotton gown over her head. Hair still wet and feet clean and prunish, the girl follows the voices of her parents out into the side yard. Fireflies flicker across the grass. Chasing a few, the girl finds herself at the hammock—the one purchased two summers ago on the island in South Carolina white ropes crisscrossing. Climbing in she pushes off from the ground gliding slowly back and forth, back and forth. Arms supporting her head, the girl looks into the dark sky that peeks between the two huge oak trees counting the stars. A breeze rustles the cotton gown body underneath all clean and scrubbed. Parents’ voices trail off, the girl closes her eyes.

Good night moon

Photographs by Amy Watson Smith, 2013 and 2014

This was originally posted in May 2013 as Summer 1974-Parkville.

 

How to Step Out in Faith

Isaiah 40: 31

Isaiah 40: 31 is my friend Elizabeth’s scripture for this season in her life. The image is a photograph (with a watercolor effect applied) of a tidal creek between Mt. Pleasant and Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina. (Photo by Amy Watson Smith, 2013)

I am writing today in honor of my friend, Elizabeth Bumpas.  She left for Uganda yesterday in response to a call to serve the Lord. She leaves behind family and friends, her home and her precious dogs, comfort and security.

Elizabeth is one of the bravest people I know. She really knows how to step out in faith.

We have been friends for over 30 years and this is not the first time that she has stepped out in faith. Time and time again she has listened for the Lord to speak to heart, prayed for discernment and guidance, invited others into her discernment process, and sought wisdom and counsel from spiritual mentors. And then she has taken the bold step to follow the plan that the Lord had prepared for her.

Now I am not saying that each and every time she has gone eagerly into the unknown. Elizabeth, like most of us, appreciates her home and family and friends. She “hunkers down” as good as anyone and resists change. No, she is not perfect but she is most definitely intent on knowing God’s will for her life and in being obedient–regardless of the price.

My friend Elizabeth is like an Olympic athlete in training. Her heart has been well-trained to listen for God’s call. She goes through the discipline of the discernment process rather than just jumping into one thing or another. Her years of obedience to the Lord has shown her that she can trust Him to care for her.

I am so excited for her and her new adventure. She started writing a blog as she began preparing to leave and will continue to add to it while she is in Uganda. Click here to read more about her mission. I will share some of her reflections here as well.

Please click here if you would like to partner with her in prayer or if you care to make a donation.

Please join me in praying for her as she follows God’s call.

 

8 Ways to Have a Stress-Free Birthday

How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?  Satchel Paige   Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/s/satchelpai103901.html#bKs6TdBhV2AOtrvI.99

How old would you be if you don’t know how old you are?

I celebrated another birthday this past weekend. A milestone birthday. A b i g birthday. Enough said.

I guess that I am now an expert on preparing for “decade birthdays”. Hmmm…not sure I want to be an expert in this but it is certainly better than the alternative.

So given my experience in this area, I have a few tried-and-true ways to make it through these celebrations. Here is my list of “8 Ways to Have a Stress-Free Birthday.”

1. It’s your birthday. You can cry if you want to.

2. Understand the cycle of acceptance: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. It is going to happen. You are going to age. Your birthdays will continue to come. Every year. On the same day. Learn how to accept this fact and recognize where you are in the cycle of acceptance. Now move on.

3. Be honest with yourself and your loved ones about how you want to celebrate your special day. Do some real soul searching and be as honest as possible about what you desire. Others cannot read your mind. If it is a milestone birthday, your family and friends may think they need to do something very big and very public. This is a lovely idea if this is what you want. If not then it could be a huge cause of stress. Know what you want and express these wishes to those who love you.

4. That being said, accept whatever gifts you are given for what they are: expressions of love. Do not read between the lines, judge the gifts or the givers, make comparisons, calculate cost or energy. Just accept them graciously. Gift-giving is a talent and few people have the talent of finding just the right thing. Giving gifts can be extremely stressful for many people and some are often paralyzed, overwhelmed and make poor decisions. This does not mean they do not love or appreciate you. Look past the gifts to see and accept the hearts of the givers.

5. Have your own little private celebration. Just you. No one else invited. Celebrate in whatever way you want. No one else needs to know this is what you are doing. It’s your little secret. Go buy a perfect red velvet cupcake and sing to yourself (no candles needed). Maybe a mid-afternoon, self-indulgent nap is your preference. Pedicure? A stroll through a park? A few hours at the beach? Wandering through your favorite bookstore? Give yourself this gift of time alone. You deserve it. And you will feel pampered afterwards.

6. Take some time to set your goals and priorities for the coming year and/or decade. What is really important to you, who is really important to you? Is there something you have always wanted to learn, do or try? How and when will you go about making this happen? Are there things that you need to add to your plate or more likely, take off your plate? What do you need to do to live intentionally? Take the time to actually write these down so that you can revisit them and make necessary adjustments.

7. Tell your loved ones that you love them. It’s frightening to think of all of the people I love and care for yet realize I have only said the words, “I love you” to a handful of people. Expressing love can be a great stress-reliever so make sure that your family and friends know how you feel about them.

8. Count your many blessings. This really works. Whenever you are sad or stressed or frustrated, take a few moments to be thankful. Keep a list. Write down a few everyday. Acknowledge and celebrate the blessings in your life. Poof! Negativity disappears.

These are some of the ways that I have had a stress-free birthday this year–and I have plenty of experience coming up with this list. I hope that it helps you to enjoy these special days!

How do you get through birthdays–especially milestone birthdays?

How Do You Want to Be Remembered?

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like I am running in circles–darting from one “emergency” to the next. When a friend asks me what I have been up to lately–or even what I did yesterday–I find myself at a complete loss to remember anything that I have done.

What have I been doing? I often ask myself.

Movement not action

I know that I don’t lounge about eating bon-bons and watching television all day. I also know that I spend much too much time in my car running errands. And no matter how many loads of clothes I launder, there are always more to do.

Every single day I am surprised by how quickly time has passed.

I admit that I am a listmaker. I love to cross things off and check boxes. Yes, I am the kind of person who even puts things on a list that I have already done just so I can check them off.

Grocery store. Check.

Dry cleaning. Check.

Prescriptions refilled. Check.

Library books returned. Check.

I often wonder about the things I put on my lists though. Do these things really matter in the long run? Is this how I want to be remembered?

I realize that these tasks are all part of running a household, being part of a family, living in a community. I am not suggesting that they don’t need to be done or that they aren’t important.

I just wonder if there are other things that I might need to add to my list.

Listen.

Love.

Pay attention.

Be thankful.

Would I be able to cross these off my list each day? And if I did add these to my list, how might my day be different? How might my life be different?

I suspect that if I added these to my list and actually did them, my other list of tasks might not get accomplished.

How do I want to be remembered? As someone who was a listmaker and a list-checker? Or as a woman who listened, loved, was attentive and thankful?

I will let you guess which one I choose. What about you?

Lessons from Miss Frances: On Living, Loving and Laughing

"Lessons from Miss Frances on Living, Loving and Laughing" on www.amywatsonsmith.com

Lessons on life come from many people.

I have learned a great many things from the women in my life. Generations of women: mother, daughter, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, friends, teachers, mentors, employers, . . . .

These women came from different places and different times. Our paths crossed perhaps for but a minute or we may have walked together for many years.

Not all of the lessons taught were ones that I wanted to learn–or for that matter, thought that I needed to learn. Many were learned the hard way.

The wisdom they shared ranges from the practical to the philosophical and includes: entertaining, parenting, graciousness, marriage, having a thankful attitude, being a lady, maturing spiritually, etc.

So, who is Miss Frances, you may ask?

Well, for the purposes of this series of posts let’s just say she is an old friend of the family. In all honesty she is an amalgamation of the many women in my life and as such, she is the wisest of us all.

I look forward to sharing with you on a regular basis lessons from Miss Frances on living, loving and laughing