on birthdays and finding joy

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My birthday last week was a fairly ordinary “workday” for me, and also not the easiest day with the children.  I found myself scrubbing toilets and floors, folding laundry, settling sibling disputes, feeding hungry mouths–all the usual work that fills my days up to the brim.  Of course there is a part of me that wants to just rest and be free from all work for a day (unrealistic), but then I also don’t mind taking care of these little ones that I love so much and this home that keeps us all together.  I share my birthday with my mom, so my gift to her this year was to buy a few skeins of yarn for her to choose from so that I could knit her a shawl.  She picked the color I had had on my mind for her, a rustic-y soft light red called Bergamot, and helped pick out a shawl pattern.  I wanted to wind up her yarn on our birthday and cast on.  I realized as I began knitting it that I was knitting this exact pattern just about this time last year on a road trip to upstate New York with Brandon’s family as a commissioned shawl for a friend.  How funny and coincidental to be knitting it again at the same time a year later.  It’s such an enjoyable pattern–all knitting and yarn overs and no purling!

I had planned on making a yummy dinner for my birthday since Brandon would be working a normal work-day and since we never really eat out with Phoebe and her dietary needs.  I wanted to make Against the Grain’s Pesto Prosciutto Chicken with a GF pasta on the side, and creme brûlée for dessert, which is my favorite.  The dinner took longer than I expected and once I got it in the oven, the kids and I and Brandon decided to go for a walk while it baked.  It had been raining and we had felt a bit cooped up.  The kids splashed in all sorts of muddy puddles so B bathed them quickly when we got home while I finished up dinner and it was late and nerves were a bit raw by this time.  My dinner didn’t look at all like the lovely cookbook’s pictures, which is always annoying, but it was still delicious.  I had made a creme brûlée earlier in the afternoon and infused it with culinary lavender because I love love love lavender especially in desserts.

We lit candles and I turned on french music because somehow everything felt like a french sort of dinner, and we ate at nearly 8pm.  I had some cards to open, and then B put the finishing touches on the creme brûlée, the kids sang happy birthday to me which was the best part.  The fuzzy photo of me with phoebe is the only such picture I snagged on this day, but its worth including since this is me, turning 33.

I had received word in the afternoon that Brandon’s grandfather had died.  He had been in the hospital after some falls and other health issues so we knew it was coming, but it still felt so soon.  Sadly we weren’t very close with him, but it’s still surreal and strange to consider death on your birthday.  Probably quite healthy.  Really that’s what we’re all marking–here’s another year, gone.  Another year comes–bringing me closer to my own end.  Time is passing, time is coming.  Let’s stop and celebrate and remember and pay attention.

We quickly got the kids to bed, then got cozy for a movie of my pick.  We watched “Florence Foster Jenkins” which was so interesting and funny and also a little sad (based on a true story).  I cried and cried at the end.  I don’t want to spoil the movie for those of you who may want to see it, but I will say I commiserated with the protagonist (Meryl Streep).  She loved music and in her mind she had a beautiful singing voice, but in reality her voice was terrible.  She pursues singing and her husband tries desperately to protect her from the truth of her real performance.  It makes you wonder: Is this reality that we know of ourselves the reality others know of us?  Aren’t so many of us afraid that maybe everyone is really laughing at us and about us behind our backs?  What if we are really quite terrible at the things we think we’re good at, at the things we most love?

I’m sure it was the combination of watching that movie, it being my birthday, and also processing the news of Brandon’s grandpa’s death.  It made me think and wrestle a bit with life, with the things I love and spend time on, with my role as a stay-at-home mother.  I sometimes wrestle with this blog.  I don’t know why, it seems so silly in the light of day.  I love sharing our little life here.  It helps me keep track of things, our lives little record for now.  I’m not sure if I’ll do it forever.  It’s important to reevaluate frequently what I give myself to.  I enjoy taking pictures and capturing these fleeting moments.  I’m thankful to have a space to write and share with you whatever God seems to lay on my heart.  I’m not trying to “make it big” or be somebody, I’m not making an income doing this.  I don’t mind it being mostly small and personal and shared with those few who happen to find this place on the internet and with whomever it resonates.  I leave it to God to use it as He chooses.  But then sometimes I doubt myself.  Are my motives wrong, self-serving?  Is this a huge waste of time and a distraction?  Is it too personal to share our family life so openly in such a dangerous and dark world?  My blogging has brought occasional criticism, but mostly I feel it from my own inner critic.  Brandon is relentless in support of it, which is always so odd to me because he is so anti social-media-anything.  Anyway, for whatever reason this is where my mind went after watching that movie.  Wrestling with the silliness of my spending time photographing, knitting, writing words, creating.  Who has time for all of this when you have little ones and when the world is full of pain and need?  Am I spending my life on what really matters?  Are my little endeavors to bring beauty and joy and even occasionally to write words–are these small endeavors mattering?

I crawled into bed and picked up my book and opened to these words.  (The author was sharing about finding a little resale boutique in her neighborhood, a beautiful little gem and yet she went in and found herself to be the only customer.  She imagined being the store owner, the way the woman had attractively laid out her wares, rearranging and bravely taking a risk to run this little business that wasn’t really garnering that much attention.  She wondered if the woman got discouraged on the days when there was no business.  What makes her think things will work out?  Why does she return to it day after day?):

“She returns to what she loves to do, because she loves it and she can’t not do it.  She goes back to the joy of pursuing her passion.  Because its not likely that anyone is coming in and exclaiming, ‘I’m so glad you’re here!  I’ve been waiting for you to sell secondhand clothes in this space all of my life!’  It’s not likely that anyone is affirming her passion or holding her hand through those moments of sheer panic.  I’m also pretty certain people aren’t stampeding to her door to say thank you or to make spirit tunnels for her to run through at the end of the day after she’s vacuumed the floor and locked up for the thousandth time.

This is what I’m getting at: joy isn’t in the response of others based on what we do.  Joy is in doing what God created us to do and has given us to do.  Joy is in pursuing with faith and abandon the passions God has laid in our hearts, and doing them in his honor.  We serve for the smile on his face.

And joy begets joy.  When we serve God with joy, we in a round-about way encourage others to serve God with joy.  Artists appreciate another’s art, joy is derived from another’s joy, and passion feeds off and grows from another’s passion.

So whatever you’re doing–homeschooling, event planning, cake baking, medical research, substitute teaching, diaper changing, coaching, putting words out into the world, or yes, running a small boutique–do it with joy as unto the Lord.  Don’t look for appreciation from others or a spirit tunnel at the end of the day as an indicator of whether or not you’re on the right track.  Look to God, who created you to be a creator that flings tangerine passion and joy into the world.  He is smiling as you do what you do for him.

There is no mold, no one right way of showing Jesus, for where the Spirit is, there is freedom.  He has made us each different, combining us all to make a collage, a collage that when you step back and look you suddenly see: it’s Jesus!

Different mediums.
Different brushes.
Different strokes for reaching different folks.
You there, with your unique talents, passions, and gifts.
Go in freedom.
Tell them about Jesus with your life.
Do it with grace and tangerine joy.”

-Christine Hoover, From Good to Grace

Isn’t that so sweet of God, to speak right to what I was struggling with at the long end of the day?  He affirmed me, affirmed His love for me, affirmed my freedom in Him, affirmed His smile over me.  What more could you ask for on a birthday?  I hope you are encouraged, too, dear reader.  Whatever you do, do it for Him, do it as unto Him, do it with joy and gusto and don’t worry about the response or affirmation or notice of others.   Take risks.  Live boldly.  Be brave.  Be a pioneer.  Follow where He leads.  When we get our eyes off of Him we get into all sorts of trouble, don’t we?  It’s His good-pleasure over us that we’re after, it’s His approval alone that matters.

At the end of the Florence Foster Jenkins movie, after criticism about her singing voice, Florence on her deathbed said:  “They can say I can’t sing, but no one can say I didn’t sing.”

So, sing, friend.  You go on singing, and I will too.  His ear is tuned to hear our voice.




6 thoughts on “on birthdays and finding joy”

  1. Happy Birthday, Martha! Lovely post. I enjoyed it immensely, but, of course, I offer my condolences on the loss of your G’pa-in-law.

    If you ever listen to podcasts, I would recommend you seek out the episode of Fresh Air wherein Terry Gross speaks with Meryl Streep about playing Florence–it was extremely enlightening, I thought!

    I truly appreciated the mention you made of not really being big on going out to eat due to Phoebe’s diet. I have come to the conclusion myself that it is just not worth it with Harmon’s issues anymore, either. There’s just nowhere that works. Your creme brûlée looked delicious!

    So glad you will continue to pursue your writing here! xx

    1. Ooo I am totally going to hunt down that podcast! Thank you for sharing it. Also–yes I forget how much our lives have changed since Phoebe’s diagnosis almost two years ago and that other people don’t realize some of those changes we have had to make in order to keep our girl healthy. We never ate out much before but it is a totally different thing to pretty much NEVER be able to eat out. Unless we don’t have kids with us (rare!). To not be able to call my husband and have him grab takeout on the way home. It’s hard! It means that for me, I always have to be “on.” And most things for Phoebe have to be made from scratch. It’s a lot of work but when it comes down to it–I am happy to do it when it keeps her safe, and when I think about how lucky we are to be able to manage this disease with diet and not meds! Here in our area there are a lot of restaurants that have gluten-free options but for someone like Phoebe, it can’t even be cooked in the same area as gluten. So it’s just easier to be home and “have control” of the environment. In the end the peace of mind is worth it. How is Harmon doing? Any luck with the elimination diet?

  2. Happy birthday to you! It was a pleasure to read this post and all the things you have been churning through in your day to day thoughts. Right about the time you were asking the questions “Is this worth it? Are taking pictures and writing words a good use of my time? Do these small endeavors matter?” I was going to write you to assure you that yes! Indeed! It is. They are! And then I continued reading and thought how profound it was that you would be so assured at such a time as that. The time when you most needed that encouragement. I wonder if authors and movie makers realize the profound value their words/pictures can play in the lives of others? To a persons’ detriment or their good.

    In the same way, your words here have edified, encouraged, challenged and grown those who read. Certainly me since I found you last year. Glad to here you will continue! May the Lord bless you with many pleasant blessings and sustain you through the hard blessings this year. Much love~ Rebecca

    1. Your words brought tears to my eyes! Isn’t it true what the author said (in that quote above), how other artists inspire our art?! It’s so true for me. Seeing movies can move me and speak to me profoundly and often helps me work through some of my own mental or creative blocks. Same with music. Art. Poetry. It’s just amazing how different creative expressions can help stimulate my own creativity but also help me make sense of things I’m working through spiritually and emotionally. Thank you for your kindness and encouragement.. of course I wasn’t “fishing” for it, I feel like my deeper rooted issue always comes back to whether or not the Lord is pleased with me, and that is a question He alone can answer, as you know. But it is still important and good for us to encourage and speak words of life to one another in our pursuits, so THANK YOU! ❤ blessings to you, too! How is summer in NY going? My sis in law just moved back up to that area, Elmira I believe.

  3. Martha, I’ve only been following your blog for a little while, and live far away on the other side of the continent, but already your voice is one of my favourites in my online travels. I admire your thoughtfulness, and your ways of expressing the truths of God’s love in your life. I totally agree that different seasons might require the exchange of one joyful thing for another – and have frequently asked myself if blogging (online storytelling??) is still bringing joy, and whether I should be doing it right now. So that it never becomes a burden, but remains a joy, we do have to be continually asking ourselves (and the Lord) if it’s the best thing for this time. But be encouraged – I think we, your readers, value your voice more than you might know sometimes!! Anyway, happy birthday, in the most humble-sacred-ordinary-motherhood-birthday sort of way!!

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