The End of the Beginning

Recently, my church made a decision that means posting personal updates on a website is not permitted.

I have been asked to stop blogging, and so I will.

I no longer blog, but I continue to write. For those of you interested in reading the rest of our story, I am switching over to publishing by email. If you sign up in the box on the right, everything I write from here on out will go straight to your inbox. I will continue to write our epilepsy story and pieces similar to what I have already posted. The contents of the emails will not be available online.

Most of you who have already signed up for email updates don’t have to do anything. I have your email addresses and will be transferring them over to a program that allows me to send emails without posting online. However, if you signed up as a user, I do not have access to your email address. And if you signed up for updates by marking “Notify me of new posts by email” when you commented, I don’t think I have your email address either, although I’m not certain of that. You will need to sign up again if you wish to receive future emails. I apologize for the inconvenience.

If you’re not sure how you signed up, you may sign up again. The program will weed out duplicate email addresses. You may also leave a comment requesting to be added to the list. If you have any problems or any questions, you can contact me at

Thank you for your prayers and your interest throughout our story. It is a gift I will always treasure.

Elephants Marching in the Distance

It started as a simple comment, but for Linford, a comment is a prelude to action.

“We need some more animals around here,” he said in the middle of an ordinary conversation.

And I said, “The dogs and the fish aren’t enough?”

He gave me his squelching look. “We have all this land. It would be a shame for our children to grow up without animals.”

“Well, we have deer and raccoons and skunks and bears and mice. We definitely have mice. They don’t count?”

Apparently, they didn’t.

A day or a few later, he brought it up again as we swapped places at the bathroom sink, the give-and-take bedtime ritual instinctive after nearly a decade together. “We need some more animals around here. You have any thoughts on it?”

And I said, “No?”

That thought didn’t count.

Another time, out of context, he said, “I thought you like animals.”

“I do,” I said. “But animals mean work. The children will be excited about them for a few weeks, and then it’s just another chore to enforce.”

“It will teach them responsibility.”

And I thought, Hope springs eternal.

Yes, I really am that sarcastic. And that much of a squelcher. I am a bad woman and a worse wife.

Then there was that time I caught him looking at chicks online.

“Are you sure about this?” I asked.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Well, don’t let the girls see you, or you’ll never hear the end of it.” I propped an arm on his shoulder.

“I found a kind that are supposed to be so friendly they’re more like family pets. Speckled Sussex.”

He made a few inquires over the next weeks, but none of the hatcheries had Speckled Sussex chicks available at the time. I thought that might be the end of it.

But he is as relentless as a glacier. He started collecting information on chicken coops.

“You are serious, aren’t you?” I asked, looking at the flyers he picked up at a home and garden show.

“I am,” he said. “The children need more animals, and we have all this space. It’s a shame to have only two dogs and a fish. I don’t know why you’re dragging your feet so much.”

It wasn’t chickens I objected to. It was the elephant that the chickens represented.

When I was a child, I loved a book called But No Elephants. It told the story of Grandma Tildy, who lived alone until a traveling pet salesman appeared at her door with a menagerie. Grandma Tildy allowed herself to be talked into a canary companion. As she took the bird, she eyed the largest pet in his collection and said, “But no elephants.”

(Of course there’s an elephant for sale. This is a children’s book. Every child wants a pet elephant.)

It was inevitable. Grandma Tildy, after acquiring numerous other pets, eventually owned that elephant, the salesman recognizing a softy when he sees one. But when all seems lost and Grandma Tildy and her pets are doomed to destruction because of the elephant, the elephant saves the day in a spectacular fashion. They all lived happily ever after.

But that is a storybook. In real life, the chickens lead to sheep, the sheep lead to goats, the goats lead to a donkey, the donkey leads to llamas, and the llamas lead to a cow that I have to get up and milk at 4:30 every morning. And the cow does not save the day. It kicks and balks and slaps a mucky tail at anyone brave enough to squat beside it.

So it wasn’t the chickens I had a problem with. It was the elephants I saw marching in the distance.

Linford found a hatchery out of state that would ship ten chicks to our door. He ordered them and then made a Family Announcement. The cheers deafened the neighbors, I’m sure.

And I said, “Where are you going to keep them? We don’t have a chicken coop.”

“In the garage,” he said. “We’ll put some sawdust in a box and set up a heat lamp.”

I could just see it. Our main entrance is through our garage. (We have a strange house. Someday, I might tell you about it, if I can get over my worry of repeating King Hezekiah’s mistake.) I had no trouble imagining the sawdust tracked into the house, the spilled water and feed, the trouble with keeping Micah from hugging the chicks to death, the—

“They’re going to make the garage stink,” I said. “All hens?”

“No, I got straight run.”

And I said, “We’ll probably have eight roosters. I hate roosters.”

Jenica asked, “Why do you hate roosters?”

“I hate what they do at 4:30 in the morning.”

Her eyes got big. “What do they do at 4:30 in the morning?”

“They crow. Loudly.” I looked at Linford. “What are we going to do with all the roosters?”

“If we have roosters, we’ll butcher them. You’d like some young chicken, wouldn’t you?”

My eyes got big. “You’d butcher their pets? Oh, that will go over well. And what’s this about “we” butchering?”

Excitement pulsated in the air. The box, the feeder, the waterer, the light—all was made ready for the babies’ arrival. My builder brother was appointed to build a chicken coop.

The chicks came when I was at the writers’ conference. The girls told me all about them on Friday evening while I drove to my lodgings.

“Oh, Mom.” Even through the phone, Jenica’s voice held the softness and wonder of new love. “They are so adorable. They are brown and black and yellow. They look so funny when they take a drink.”

“They are so tiny,” Tarica said, her voice high and sweet. “They say peep, peep, peep when we hold them.” She stopped and giggled. “One of them pooped on Jenica’s school dress, but she washed it off.”

I had forgotten to complain about that detail in advance.


On Saturday morning, I talked to Linford. He said, his voice a little weary, “The girls were up at quarter after seven to see the chicks. One of them died during the night. Jenica didn’t take it well.”

This is what comes of loving animals. Unless it’s a Aldabra Giant Tortoise, it dies before you do. My softhearted daughter would be shedding more tears before this was over.

I arrived home late Saturday afternoon. I walked into the garage, arms laden, and stopped beside the box of chicks. They darted about the box, startled by my arrival. I lowered my bags to the floor and crouched down.

The fuzzy fluffball nearest me cocked its head and studied me with a bright eye.

And it said, “Peep?”

And I said—oh, this is embarrassing—I said, “Hey, there, little peep. Aren’t you the cutest little thing?” I scooped it up, felt its sharp feet pushing against my fingers, its heartbeat against my thumb. “Don’t be scared. I won’t hurt you.”

“Peep, peep?”

Just call me Grandma Tildy.



On Introverts and Extroverts

Linford’s family visited us on the weekend of Jenica’s birthday. As everyone was packing up to leave on Sunday evening, I collapsed on the sofa and said, “That was fun, but I’m exhausted.”

My sister-in-law smiled. “All the people.” It was not a question; she knows how it is.

Belatedly, I realized I should have saved my comment for after their departure. “I’m glad you came. It’s been so long since everyone was here, and Jenica won’t forget this birthday for a long time. I wish all the planning and the people wouldn’t wear me out, but it does.”

From across the room, my brother-in-law said, “That’s what I don’t get. The way you portray yourself in your writing—that’s not the Stephanie I know.”

“You mean because I say I’m an introvert, but I’m not shy and quiet?”

Shy and quiet? Far from it. The meek will inherit the earth, but my unconverted self could barely lay claim to a small, well-rounded pebble of it since I’ve spent my life with big, square-shouldered opinions. Redeemed, I have acquired a little meekness, but only a little and it is not my native land.

Am I an introvert or an extrovert? I struggled with this in the years prior to my marriage.

When the occasion called for it, I could be (still am) outspoken and opinionated. I loved teaching fifth grade for three years at our local Christian school. I could hold my own in any conversation I cared about and did far too frequently.

But I would come home, and in my quiet room, alone, I felt like I could finally breathe. During the school year, I would often go to bed on Sunday afternoon and sleep until Monday morning, exhausted by the teaching I loved. My best friends were books.

And my deepest, darkest secret: I hated slumber parties and hated hating them because it felt so abnormal. I just wanted to be light and vivacious and not care so much about whether I looked silly in my pajamas. Instead, I brooded in a sofa corner, conflicted because if just one of these girls would sit down and initiate a deep conversation with me, I would have no trouble finding the words I couldn’t scrape together in the crowd.

I felt like a bone yanked between Introvert and Extrovert. Which one was I?

I settled on introvert because I preferred books, learning, and one good friend over parties, hanging out, and many friends. But sometimes I would get these blank looks from people like the one my brother-in-law was wearing. What do you mean, you’re an introvert? You just got done hotly debating the state of Mennonite publishing.

I said to my brother-in-law, “Not long ago, I read Quiet by Susan Cain, and she had the best definition for introverts and extroverts that I’ve found. Extroverts draw energy from people. Being alone drains them. Introverts draw energy from solitude and quiet. Being with people drains them. Introverts aren’t necessarily shy, and extroverts aren’t necessarily loud. The difference is in how we are energized.”

The look on his face. “You mean I might be an introvert? When I’m in a large crowd, I go home with a tension headache.”

I looked him, outspoken, opinionated, a voracious reader who wasn’t above publicly disappearing into a book. “You might be. If people wear you out.”

Opinionated introverts often appear to be extroverts. This past weekend, I attended a writers’ conference. Although I can’t see myself from another’s perspective, I’m guessing I appeared to be neither shy nor reserved and definitely not unopinionated. But out of what felt like 376 conversations, I initiated maybe 4 of them.

And I came home exhausted.

To be greeted by a small man in red rubber fire-engine boots who hurled himself into my arms and squeezed.

Children are people, too.

I used to think I was a terrible mom because my children wore me out. Surely, if I loved them like I should, I would not crave an hour of solitude even more than my morning cup of coffee. A good mom does not plot seven different ways to escape the house without being seen.

But now, I understand. The constant stimulation of people, large and small, wears me out. I don’t choose to be this way, any more than my husband, the unopinionated extrovert, chose to be stimulated by people, and the more the merrier. Let’s invite the whole church while we’re at it.

I didn’t choose to be this way, but I can choose how I allow it to affect my relationships.

So I’m working on saying “Sure, sounds good” when my husband suggests last-minute company. This one is hard; I prefer at least twenty-four hours to prepare myself.

I’m working at finding five intentional minutes throughout the day and exalting in that wee bit of solitude, before returning to my children, who are ransacking the house for me, with a smile instead of a snap.

I’m learning that if I want enough energy to be a wife and mom, I can’t have a full social schedule. I stay home as much as possible.

I try to meet my children’s eyes and smile when they come to me, so they feel welcome and accepted.

In friendships, I’m learning that quality beats quantity for me every time. It used to be bother me that some people had 279 best friends and I had only one. Now I realize that I have only a few close friends not because I’m weird (well, not only because I’m weird) but because I’m wired that way.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I want to write about a topic that is tied closely to my introversion.

Because if you know me in real life and are as baffled as my brother-in-law, I’d like to you know even introverts can be loud and obnoxious. Introverts just wear out faster, so it’s over sooner.

Because if you see me in a public place somewhere, I want you to come over and introduce yourself. I am not a snob; I just initiate few conversations. I’d be thrilled to talk if you want to. You might regret it; don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Because once I understood the why, I could deal with the how. Being an introverted mom is hard. I can’t escape my people. I’m on call 24/7. Linford drives around all day by himself and comes home ready for Family Time. I’m thinking he looks like a pretty good babysitter, and he says, “What do you mean? We want to spend time with YOU, too.” That has been a recipe for a lot of frustration, but understanding why I feel overwhelmed goes a long way toward dealing with it. If this post helps just one introverted mom blow out a breath of relief, then it was worth writing.

What we really need is an Introverted Moms support group, but who am I kidding?

No one would attend the meetings.

Why I Am Not a Food Blogger

Ever since Tarica came home from the hospital on February 10, Jenica has been talking about her birthday. She managed to work it into most conversations, on topic or not, and all our family plans were divided into Before, On, and After.

Whenever I was tempted to roll my eyes, I reminded myself that her anticipation was likely an epilepsy side effect. Tarica’s seizures had made her the Center of Attention for the last year, and Jenica had complained about this much less than she could have. That tempered my exasperation, although I feared she was anticipating a much bigger birthday than we could afford to create.

Last year, before Tarica started seizing, I had promised Jenica I would take a birthday lunch to school for her class. Although I managed to keep that promise in the aftermath of Tarica’s diagnosis, I felt as if I were doing it on auto-pilot. My heart wasn’t celebrating even as we sang “Happy Birthday” at a family birthday party and presented presents and a cake (beautifully decorated by someone else).

This year, I had decided, would be different. I would be present in heart as well as body. I nixed the school lunch early on, in hopes of being realistic. However, I still wanted to do something special for a school birthday treat. Perhaps Jenica and I could make something together.

“Marshmallow peeps,” she said. “Let’s make something with marshmallow peeps.”

Gag, I thought. “Sure,” I said.

I consulted the world’s biggest cookbook, AKA the world wide web. It didn’t take me long to find something that looked cute but easy.

Since I was doing this anyway and since I was taking pictures anyway and since bloggers posted recipes and pictures all the time, I figured I might as well turn this into a post. Why not?

We planned to assemble the treat on Thursday evening so Jenica could take it to school on Friday. I then hit the first bump. My parents were butchering their last steer on Thursday evening, and one quarter of the beast was ours. I had to go over and package our meat for the freezer.

Well, we’d just have to make the treat after Jenica came home from school and then head over to the butchering. A little tight, but we’d manage.

Thursday morning, I bought fast-to-fix ingredients—and here I hit the second bump. In a culture that had begun to count carbs and promote protein, I was committing what amounted to a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Here are the ingredients:


I could have made my own cake mix. I could have made my own pudding. I could have whipped heavy cream into topping. I could have made my own frosting. I could have bought my own cow so I had fresh milk instead of pasteurized junk stored in white plastic. Instead I bought shortcuts full of sugar and preservatives and unpronounceable names.

Because I didn’t have all evening.

It wasn’t hard to imagine the blogosphere horror.

Did I have enough nerve to do this?

Jenica bounced beside me. “What can I do what can I do?”

I squared my shoulders and put down the camera.

“You can crush the graham crackers,” I said.



After she was done, she asked, “Now what?”

“Dump the pudding mix into the milk. I’ll measure a cup of cake mix. You can whisk the pudding and cake mix and milk together. When you’re done, I’ll fold in the Cool Whip.”


The recipe I was following declared that with the addition of the cake mix, the pudding tasted like cake batter, minus the evil eggs. This had sold Jenica on it instantly.

Pudding finished, I said, “Dump two spoonfuls of graham cracker crumbs into each cup. I’ll spoon pudding on top, and then you can put more graham crackers on top of that.”


And here we ran into what I call the chip-and-dip conundrum. I’m sure you’ve done it, too. You help yourself to chips and dip, but you don’t have quite enough chips, so you take a few more, and then you don’t have enough dip, so you have yourself some more dip. But then you need more chips. It’s a delightful and self-sustained cycle.

Except when the chip-and-dip conundrum pops up in other areas.

We ran out of graham crackers. Jenica crushed more.

We ran out of pudding. I whisked together another batch.

And then we had too much pudding.


I broke the cycle by dumping the rest of the pudding into an empty Cool Whip and stuffing it into the fridge before anyone got any ideas about how many more pudding cups we could make. We would eat cake-batter pudding by itself tomorrow, or—gag—not.

And then I opened the store-bought frosting, warmed it in the microwave, and poured a little on top of each cup.



We then ran into our next problem. The pudding cups, or rather, the warmed frosting needed to cool before we dabbed Cool Whip on top. But it was time to leave.

Unfinished food projects make me jumpy. Particularly ones that have to be finished in the morning before school.

We boxed up the cups, put them into the fridge, and left to wrap meat.

The next morning, in between breakfast and hair-combing, I plopped Cool Whip on top of the cups, and Jenica nested blue Peeps on each one.




What a relief.

You want the recipe?

I very much doubt you do, but if you Google “eclair pudding marshmallow peeps,” you’ll find an example of how a food blogger does it.

Do it her way, not mine.

* * *

P.S. I did one more experiment over the weekend, and that one turned out—surprisingly—better than I expected.


But if you want the recipe, Google “kit kat birthday cake” and let the experts tell you how to do it.


How to Become Real

As a child, I disliked The Velveteen Rabbit. Even though the beloved stuffed rabbit was rescued and turned into a real rabbit, it grieved me that the Boy did not grieve his loss. I would not have so easily relinquished my stuffed friends, I said to myself, indignant.

Now I am no longer a child, and I know that we outgrow things we once could not imagine living without. What fondness I feel for the treasures of my childhood is rooted in nostalgia, no longer in love or need. So now I can read The Velveteen Rabbit with calm rationality, as I did the other day.

I was electrified by a particular passage:

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

There is an Easter message here.

God’s love makes us Real.

And being loved, becoming Real, hurts.

I want to be Real. To God. With others.

When I am Real, I am not stuffed and sitting on a shelf.

When I am Real, I am full of life and love and pain and my joints are loose and I am shabby and disheveled, but it does not matter, because I am Real.

Outside nursery magic, the only way for me to become Real is to accept the life-giving love of my Creator and love Him deeply in return. Obey Him, serve Him, follow Him. And sometimes it hurts.

Real is risky; stuffed looks safe—but I choose to be Real, because then I am loved and can love in return.

How To Be Not Bitter

“How do you keep from being bitter?” she asked, leaning on my kitchen counter.

This was no idle question. The woman standing in my kitchen was living a life far different from her girlish dreams. This I know, even though she has not told me. Who dreams of being a mother to a little girl with seizures? Neither of us had. Both of us were.

She and I could count our time together in mere hours, but it felt as if we had known each other for years. Our lives ran on parallel tracks in areas far deeper than the breezy connections of new friendships. On the surface, we had little in common—she is vivacious and impulsive; I am reserved and deliberate. But underneath the inconsequentials, we share two passions: the jagged-edged love for a daughter with seizures and a consoling love for our art. She writes stories in watercolor, and I paint canvases with words.

No, this was not an idle question.

When I stared down into the kettle and said nothing, she started backpedaling. “Maybe that’s too personal—”

I broke in. “No, no, it’s not. I like asking personal questions, so why would I mind answering them? It’s just that I’ve been thinking about this very thing lately.” I put down the spoon and leaned against the counter, unconsciously mimicking her pose. “Last summer, after the seizures returned, I struggled with some anger and resentfulness toward God. I don’t know if I was bitter exactly, but I was headed there.”

I stopped, aware that I was rambling, but she didn’t seem to mind, so I went on. “There have been other times in my life when I felt bitterness. The miscarriages. There was a huge property ordeal involving a right-of-way that dragged on for over two years after we moved here. And other things, like misunderstandings and injustice and good people who mean well but blindly hurt others.”

She nodded. Yes. She knew. We all have these stories.

“The turning point for me,” I said, “has always been when I started asking myself ‘What can I learn from this?’ When I began to see a situation as something that could make me a better person, it somehow took the bitterness out of it.”

* * *

I’ve come to recognize it by now, after several years of feeling the shift happen inside me each time I move from anger/pain/frustration to teachableness. I stop asking God “Why?” and start asking “What?”

What lesson do You have for me in this?

What am I forgetting that You want me to remember?

What can I learn?

What should I do with this lesson?

When pain becomes something that helps me grow, the bitterness in it fades. And eventually, the pain even becomes—dare I say it?—sweet.

Not at first. It takes time. It takes trust. It takes surrender. Over and over again.

* * *

“You know what I find the hardest to accept?” I asked my new friend. “It’s the things done by other people. With miscarriage and epilepsy, I could more easily trust that God could make good come from it, including in me. But when people hurt me or those I love, it’s hard to accept that God allows such bad things to happen. There is no redemption in the evil we do to each other. Only God can redeem that kind of pain.”

But when He redeems, the waters of Mara turn sweet.

* * *

Not long ago, my friend emailed me a copy of a painting she had just finished, a piece of representational art she titled “You Will Never Walk Alone.”

What I say in words, she says in watercolor, only better. Isn’t a picture worth a thousand words? With her permission, I share it with you.

You Will Never Walk Alone

She knows about bitter and sweet.

She knows about redemption.

She knows.

And we all tell our stories in our own ways.

* * *

P.S. It’s been a little heavy and deep around here. Look for lighter fare next time, when I introduce you to the new member of our household, The Box.

Better Than the Best Gift

When I started writing my first post about gifts, I did not intend to launch myself into a full-blown Bible study. But since I believe the Bible is the ultimate authority, I ended up reading all the verses that included a form of the word gift, as well as various chapters for context.

What I read led me to the conclusion that I am not being selfish when I find joy in using a gift or talent to serve others. God expects me to use what He has given me. However, a gift in one area does not excuse neglect in another area when I have an opportunity to serve in a less talented way.

That was clumsily worded. An example will work better: I need to show warm hospitality even though I feel neither skilled nor comfortable with it.

But then, in my reading, I found 1 Corinthians 12:31: “But covet earnestly the best gifts….”

Covet? Was that what I was doing when I eyeballed my pastor’s wife’s beautifully laid table? And it was okay?

But wait. What are the best gifts? Who gets to decide? Was making cute food one of them?

I read the previous verses. Nowhere did it say which gifts are the best.

Was I then supposed to covet those gifts I thought were the best?

Dissatisfied, I looked up covet in the original Greek. I’m no Greek scholar, but it appears to mean “to have warmth of feeling for or against,” such as desire or envy. In a word, covet.

That wasn’t helpful.

I looked up gifts in the Greek. Perhaps it was originally a different word. Perhaps the gifts I’m supposed to covet are different from the gifts mentioned throughout chapter 12.

Nope. Same gifts.

Now what?

Distractedly, I read the rest of verse 31, the last verse in the chapter: “and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.”

What did that mean? I lifted my eyes to scan for a more excellent way in the earlier part of chapter 12. Not there.

Wait. Chapter 12. That meant the next chapter is 13. And 1 Corinthians 13 is….

I shot to my feet and started pacing—the more excellent way was—of course, why had I not made the connection before?—found in the chapter following 12.

…the love chapter.

So, this verse was saying “Go ahead and desire the best gifts, but there is a much better way than wishing you had other gifts.”

Love is the more excellent way.

The first three verses of chapter 13 started making more sense than they ever had before.

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels….”

“Though I have the gift of prophecy….”

“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor….”

Without love, gifts are nothing.

The value of my gift is measured by my love.

All this was galloping around in my brain as I paced back and forth, when Cheryl’s comment on the first post on gifts came in. I sat down to read it. She mentioned being afraid of rejection.

I shot out of my chair again. It was like that thunderstruck incident back in November, except this time, it happened at home.

Why did I fear rejection? Why did I feel threatened by the talents belonging to others? Why did I wish to assume gifts that weren’t mine? Why did I even worry about gifts in the first place?

Not because I had been rejected in the past. Not because I have super-talented friends. Not because my self-esteem is low. Not because I am insecure and neurotic.

It was because I lacked love.

The words of 1 John 4:18 marched through my head: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” (emphasis mine)

If I love people, I am not afraid of serving them to the best of my ability, whether or not I am gifted. If I love people, I will rejoice to see them using their gifts, even if those gifts overshadow mine.

When I love, it stops being about me and my gifts and my secret fear that I’m not measuring up to some unknown ideal.

When I love, I will serve without fear.

And what are gifts but extra special ways God allows us to show love?

Foolish, foolish, foolish, to think that this whole gift thing was about me.

Gifts are called gifts not because they are given to me but because I am to give them to others.

With a fearless love.

Having Then Gifts Differing

The other week, my pastor’s wife invited me and three other ladies over for a birthday lunch. No, it wasn’t my birthday or theirs or hers. She had decided to host several themed lunches this winter and invite several ladies from church each time as a birthday gift for us.

This lunch had a garden theme—or perhaps, considering the fact that it was February and had been February for about five months, the theme was really Hope. She made the most darling little toadstools out of hard-boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, and dots of cream cheese, and nestled as they were next to the pile of greens on each plate, I half expected a fairy to peep out and wave at me. (Although…I don’t think fairies live at her house. Fairies like a little dust. When they’re in the area, they throw parties at my house.) The broccoli soup was delicious, and the fresh fruit salad was amazing, and the decorated table nearly fooled me into believing it was green, not white, outside. (If I were a real blogger, I’d have a picture of it, but I’m not, so I don’t.)

I had expected it would be lovely, and I had braced myself for it.

See, I don’t have her gift.

Just for the record, I do not resent her ability to lay a table that looks like it belongs in a magazine and create food that’s almost too cute to eat.

But there was a time when I might have.

I would rather go to the dentist than a Tupperware party, and I’d rather be a dentist than host any kind of party. I’ll do birthday parties, but only under duress (almost-eight-year-olds can create much duress). There is no way I’d volunteer to do what my pastor’s wife did. It boggles my mind that she actually enjoys it.


Even knowing I wouldn’t enjoy doing it, I still struggle with feeling inadequate and clumsy and uncreative when I see what wonders can be wrought with a flowerpot and some ordinary brownies.

I end up holding an internal dialogue that goes something like this:

You should do something like this, Stephanie.

You know you’d be miserable every minute of it.

But it’s so lovely.

And exhausting.

I could just Google a party theme and copy the ideas I find.

The only thing you’d enjoy about hosting a party would be the research.

But it’s such a beautiful way to make friends feel special.

And why—exactly why—do you think you need to do it?

Because…because…she’s doing it?

Here’s the truth: Intellectually, I know we all have different gifts, and this variety is a blessing, not a curse. Emotionally, however, I feel intimidated when other women use gifts I do not have, and make a success of it.

I also worry. When I see people being blessed by someone’s gift of hospitality or conversation or thoughtfulness, I worry that I’m being selfish. I’d rather write 10,000 words than host a party. Shouldn’t I be looking for more extroverted ways to serve other people, even if I am not an extrovert?

Here’s the trouble: I have this mindset that enjoyment = selfishness. If I enjoy doing something, then I am probably being selfish when I do it. If I love writing and dislike throwing a party, then I should be having that party because my dislike makes it the least selfish.

Perhaps this mindset stems from the bred-in-the-bone teaching that the Christian life is one of self-denial. We give up our own desires for another’s sake. We sacrifice, we give, we serve.

If I take self-denial far enough, it means that anything that gives me joy should be exorcised from my life. Self-denial taken far enough puts me in a hair shirt, in a bed of nails, on a diet of water and butterless bread.*

Which is perfectly ridiculous. While God expects me to suffer for Christ’s sake, He doesn’t expect me to suffer for suffering’s sake. He gave us “richly all things to enjoy.” A Christian’s life is characterized by joy in serving God and others.

My pastor’s wife said she had so much fun planning those parties. Would I say she was wrong to find joy in using her gift to bless us? Of course not.

So what is the matter with me? Why do I think I need to suffer in order to bless others? Maybe I can minister to others in my own way and be grateful I can do it with joy.

Gifts—also known as talents—are abilities and skills we are able to do well. Most of the time, if we can do something well, we enjoy doing it. It seems to me that God designed us to find joy in the gifts He gave us.

Not that I can refuse to serve just because I’m not good at something. When the signup sheet appears, I need to put my name down to host the evangelist for a meal. When guests come, we welcome them and gladly, because if our roles were switched, I’d want a warm welcome and willing host. I can do many things outside my comfort zone, and I find blessings in the doing every time.

But the idea that it’s selfish to enjoy using a particular gift? I can’t find any evidence that it’s more spiritual to deny myself the joy of using my God-given talents. In fact, Jesus condemned the servant who buried his talent.

So if my pastor’s wife wants to have fun hosting another party, she is welcome to invite me. Who I am to rob her of joy? Besides, I like her parties, because I like her.

And she doesn’t rob me of my joy, because she allows me to write about it afterwards.

* * *

*There is also the self-denial of fasting, when we deprive ourselves of physical comforts in order to draw closer to God or seek His will or intercede on someone’s behalf. That’s another subject entirely.

** The title comes from Romans 12:6: “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us….” (I love that grace is involved.) The verses that follow say we need to use the gifts we are given.

And when I keep reading, I bump into verse 13: “…given to hospitality.” In its context, this is an instruction to all Christians, not just those with a gift for hospitality.

Oops. I have work to do. Literally. The evangelist is coming for supper tomorrow night.

But what does it mean in 1 Corinthians 12:31? Covet earnestly the best gifts?

I need to do some more thinking and studying and writing.

But not now. I have food to make and floors to wash.

Bad News, Backing Up, and More Waiting

The hard drive in our almost-new laptop crashed on Sunday night, totaling the hard drive.

Yeah, you guessed it. I had been a little too careless with backing up our files. Who would have thunk a new machine would so utterly demolish itself?

The laptop has been hospitalized for tests and observation. We hope to hear the results on Monday or Tuesday.

Speaking of waiting for results: I spoke with a nurse from Children’s Hospital on Wednesday afternoon. She said that the results of Tarica’s tests will likely not be in for another two weeks.

Back to computers, since the other subject is too gloomy to dwell on.

I spent some time this week researching (on our hideously slow old computer) various methods of backing up photos and files. I had a system originally set up after we got the new laptop, but it didn’t suit me, so I changed some settings (or something—not exactly sure what happened). I thought it was backing up after that, but it wasn’t.

Researching backup methods online is a little like looking for a particular button in a barrel of buttons when you’re not exactly sure what the button looks like.

Here’s what I think the button should look like:

1. Automatic (or nearly so)

I have a brain with holes in it, through which important stuff like church services and clean work clothes fall all the time. Don’t trust me to remember to back up the computer.

2. Non-whizzy

I’m not a computer whiz. I don’t want a complicated sixteen-step process.

3. Local

The other setup saved stuff to the cloud, but then it wasn’t on the laptop (or didn’t appear to be). Although I like a cloud-based, multi-accessible backup, I also want my files saved to the computer itself, so I’m not dependent on online access to open my files. (Perhaps I require further cloud education. If so, I’m all ears.)

4. Free or very cheap

Call me a tightwad, but I would prefer not investing a lot of money into this. Besides, what money we might have spent on a backup system will now be buying a certain computer tech a week’s groceries.

Does this button even exist?

What do you use to back up your computer?

These are not rhetorical questions. I’m hoping for real-world advice.

Of Woozles and Wipers

This one is just for sheer, rollicking fun. No drama this time, no hard questions.

Three years ago this month, Linford made a quick trip to Honduras, part of his responsibilities as a member of our church’s mission board. This is an account of one experience we had without him, back when life was a little simpler.

No, there’s nothing particularly earth-shattering here. I just like to write stories.

* * *

Oh, no. I need a man. I turned the windshield wiper blade over in my hand. Was it broken? I squinted in the inadequate light from the porch.

“Mom?” A head poked out the garage door. “You said you were coming right back.”

“Sorry, Jenica, I’m trying to fix the windshield wiper.”

“What happened?” She walked to the edge of the porch, followed by her sister. “What’s wrong, Mommy?”

“Shut the door behind you, sweetie,” I said automatically. Are these just scratches in the metal, or is the bracket broken?

The door slammed. Snow crunched beneath boots. “What happened?” My daughter’s worried face peered up at me.

I tried for a reassuring smile. “When I turned on the windshield wipers to clear off the snow, the wiper blade popped off.”

“Why?” Typical question from her.

“It must have been frozen to the windshield,” I said as I walked around the van to examine the other wiper. Is there a clasp, or does the blade slide onto the bracket? It was too dark to tell. I returned to the wiper arm standing at bladeless attention and attempted to slide the blade on.

“Can we still go to Grandma’s?” Jenica asked.

The wiper wouldn’t slide on. Does the bracket come off the wiper arm? I could reach it better if it did. “Not if I can’t get this blade back on. It’s snowing too hard to drive without windshield wipers.” A swift glance at her revealed her puckered concern. “I think I can get it, but I have to figure out how to fasten it on.”

I wiggled the bracket; it didn’t come off. I looked for a clasp; it didn’t have one. Biting back words of frustration, I settled back on my heels and swiped away the snow that had melted on my upturned face. Truth was, I needed a man, especially one informed in the mysteries of wiper blades, but my mechanically minded man was in hot and sunny Honduras. A fine time to snow, this was.

Blade in hand, I walked to the porch. “I’m going in to call Grandma and tell her we’ll be a little late.” I also needed to examine the blade under better light.

In the house, I studied the blade for clues on how to repair it. I learned nothing useful. Lord, I’m on my own here, except for You. I could use a little help.  

When I walked back outside a few minutes later, Jenica was running laps in the snow. Her sister had ventured a few tentative steps from the porch, studying terrain made unfamiliar by an inch of white fluff.

At the van, I tried another angle, another approach to refastening the blade. My hands ached against the cold metal. From the other side of the van, Jenica announced, “Mommy, I found wizzle tracks!”

“Wizzle tracks?” I paused, frowning. “Do you mean woozle tracks, like Pooh and Piglet found?”

Pink with pleasure and cold, she ran to my side. “Like Pooh and Piglet. Wizzle, I mean, woozle tracks. Going around the van.”

“How many woozles do you think there are?” I gave up on sliding the blade onto the bracket and tried to snap them together.

“Just one, I think. Let me check.” Jenica disappeared behind the van again. I grinned. Would she remember what happened next?

In the quiet that followed, Tarica inched to my side. “Mommy, bye-bye?”

“Yes, sweetie, we’ll go bye-bye once the windshield wiper is fixed.”

She poked at the snow collecting on the front bumper. “Cold, Mommy.”

“Sure is,” I said and blew on my hands.

“Mom!” A cry of triumph from the other side of the van. “There are two woozles! I see their tracks.”

“Are they big tracks?” I asked.

Jenica emerged into the light, studying the snow. “No, they’re pretty little.”

“What will you do if you catch the woozles?”

She jerked to a stop. With a quick glance at the shadowy trees, she moved closer to me. “Mom,” she stated with lofty condescension, “I’m just pretending.”

“Oh, I see. Well then, you can just pretend to catch them.” I wrestled with the blade as I spoke.

“That’s what I’m doing.” Again that condescension as if I were the four-year-old. She looked down at the snow around my feet. “Hey, Mom, here’s big woozle tracks.”

I barely heard her. The blade was almost, almost—squeeze harder!—there! I stepped back and rubbed my hands together, cold and satisfied. “Let’s go, girls. I got it fixed. Grandma and Grandpa are waiting.”

They clambered in, woozles abandoned to the snowy darkness.

At the end of the drive, I paused, foot on the brake, to study the unplowed roads. Am I crazy to venture out on such a night? On the other hand, I will go crazy if I stay home by myself with two bored girls another evening.

“Girls,” I said into their chatter, “we need to pray.” They subsided and bowed their heads.

“Lord, thank You for helping me refasten the wiper blade. Take care of Daddy and bring him home again to us. Keep us safe on the roads tonight. May Your will be done. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

As I eased out on the trackless white, I said aloud, “I miss Daddy.” Two little echoes piped up behind me.

I flicked on the high beams, but they blasted the falling snow into a swirl of blindness. I switched the lights back down, turned the wipers on—thank You, God!—and drove into the night while my precious cargo argued over who missed Daddy the most.

If the road had not required all my attention, I could have told them who did.