Egg Chairs and Cricket Sonatas

“As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:22

The last four weeks have been a whirlwind!  We spent almost a week in Rhode Island, including a day trip to Nantucket.  We followed that up with major family celebrations: Joel’s first birthday; Maggie’s and Will’s engagement; Maggie’s birthday; our anniversary.  We returned home only to have my son and his family follow a few days later for a week long vacation in Pennsylvania.  After tearful goodbyes, I had a day to do laundry and pack for a short getaway to celebrate a friend’s 50th birthday.  The whirlwind ended in quarantine with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis!  As I write this, I am slowly recovering without my sense of smell and taste.  It might sound like poor planning on all our parts, but it was crazy, busy fun, except for COVID-19!  We laughed, played Canasta, took walks, drank a lot of coffee, and had meaningful conversations.  I wouldn’t trade a single moment of it for anything!

According to Facebook memories, this time of the year always seems to be busy.  In the last few weeks, I have reread posts about Joel’s birth, Maggie’s missionary trips, Ethan’s packing for college, and his later move to Rhode Island.  I even saw a post from 2009 when Terry took Ethan and a group of boys camping up in northern Wisconsin while Maggie and I had a girl’s weekend at home.  These posts remind me of treasured moments with my family while I soak up the last gifts of summer.  They also remind me of how time doesn’t stop.   Your son’s boxes filling your living room while he prepares to leave for college are replaced with suitcases and gifts for his son in what seems to have been a seamless transition, five years later.

Summer is quickly winding down.  In the weeks ahead, many children head back to school, whether traditional, virtual, or home school.  Apples and pumpkins will replace peaches and watermelon at farmers’ markets.  Flannels and wool socks will be my clothing choices, retiring the flip-flops and short sleeves.  Even now, I see hints of everything pumpkin spice creeping into stores.  As I sit on my porch soaking up the ninety-degree heat while cicadas drown out my worship music, and bees and butterflies hover over my flowers, I realize that summer isn’t over!

For several springs, I have rushed to the Target patio furniture displays and drooled over the egg chairs, large, egg-shaped wicker chairs that are suspended from a pole.  Each year, the styles slightly change with different shades of the cushion, but the dream of sitting in an egg chair on my patio, cozied up with a book, remained the same.  Until recently, I never seriously entertained the idea because I was far above the weight limit.  But now that I am under the weight limit, I kept eyeing the chairs, dreaming about it on my patio.  For our anniversary, our children surprised us with the egg chair!  l was overwhelmed with their generosity and have been sitting in the chair every chance I get.  Even on the hottest days, sitting in the egg chair has made summer even more enjoyable.

Photo Credit by Terry Collins

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that too often we live in past seasons by only focusing on what has been.  We reminisce about when our children were still young, and life seemed easier.  On the flip-side, I think there is also danger in always looking forward to the next season.  We can miss the important moments happening right now if we are always looking ahead.  Yes, my past four weeks have been busy, but I am so thankful for the crazy-busy moments: the walks in my yard with my grandson; watching my daughter glow in her new status as an engaged young woman; strolling along the beach with my husband; the life-affirming conversations I had with friends and family.  I lived in the moment, not looking ahead to the future.

 It’s still summer and I am going to really enjoy the rest of the season.  Being quarantined has made me appreciate moments on my patio more.  My daily walks are on hold and the patio is the one place it is safe for me to enjoy nature.  If the days are hot, I am not going to complain.  Instead, I intend to soak up the heat and stay hydrated.  Sitting in my egg chair, I enjoy hearing the crickets play their last sonatas of the summer season.  I have even seen hummingbirds flitting around eating as much nectar as they can before they head for the tropics.  I love fall, but summer is still here, and I am going to choose to live in the moment, today!

Farmers’ Markets and Engagements

“The land yields its harvest, God, our God, blesses us.” Psalm 67:6

I am a little obsessed with local farmers’ markets and farm stands.  Actually, the truth is I am a lot obsessed!  Whenever I research new areas to visit and the local farmers’ markets get any press, you can pretty much guarantee that I will stop by.  There is something special about walking among the stands, looking at piles of rainbow Swiss chard and summer tomatoes, discovering a new local cheese artisan, or finding a food truck making donuts.  The farmers are usually full of information and ideas on how to use their produce, and you feel good about supporting a local business.

Photo credit by Terry Collins

Last year, I blogged in Strawberry Anniversary about how incredible freshly picked strawberries are compared to ones you find in the middle of winter at the grocery store.  The color, texture, and taste do not even compare!  The grocery store ones have been shipped in trucks from who knows where, often picked long before they were ready and have only the barest essence of real strawberries.  The ones you find locally in season are exactly what God intended strawberries to taste like: a lush, sweet delight!  But I find this contrast of flavors limited not only to strawberries, but to all foods in general.

 Too often, I have prepared my menus based on what I felt like eating instead of what was currently in season.  This approach ends up costing me a little more money and leaves with me meals that are less tasty.  Additionally, I often use the same vegetables over and over again, unwilling to explore the wide variety that God has created.

After reading a few cookbooks and watching several food shows, I have decided to be a little more creative and adventurous with my produce.  This summer and fall, I am choosing to embrace what is in season, purchasing most of these from local farmers, whenever possible.  Sometimes, I go to a farmers’ market with no agenda in mind and buy what is available.  I then go home, search through recipes, finding a simple but tasty way to prepare whatever I have purchased.  This has led to a garlic scape pesto that I used on a grilled vegetable sandwich, and rainbow chard with northern beans.  Not every recipe is a success, but it is challenging me to eat more veggies and fruit.  I have also tried different fruits, including a bright, sunny yellow, plum that has a sweet-tart flavor, like a cherry.

I am nearing the finish line in my parenting journey.  My daughter recently got engaged!  Within a year, my daughter will be married and creating a home for herself and her husband.  I know that when the day comes, I will have some tears as she moves out.  But just like eating strawberries out of season, I do not want to focus on the past seasons of raising toddlers and children.  Those were joyous seasons in my life I really enjoyed.  This upcoming empty nest season is a time for me to explore new ministry opportunities, spend time investing in relationships, mentor younger women, and build upon my marriage.  If I always look back on what was, I will miss what comes ahead!

Margaret and Will taking a selfie the day that got engaged!

I cannot wait till this Saturday’s visit at the farmers’ market.  I have no idea what produce I might find, but I know it will be an adventure!  Additionally, I am looking forward to my future and the plans God has for me.

Body Shame and Leg Warmers

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalms 139:14

                In the 1980s, leg warmers were the fashion rage.  The JC Penney Fall/Winter catalog featured 5’10” models wearing knitted leg warmers over their jeans with suede ankle boots.  Often, the patterns or colors would coordinate with the slightly oversize sweater the model was wearing.  Like all middle-school students, I desperately wanted to fit in, so I bought a pair of leg warmers.  Leg warmers came one size fits all meaning that they were a good fit for the general population.  But I was not the general population, so it was a bit challenging to fit them over my plus size jeans.  After getting them on, I tried to scrunch them down to make them look casually slumpy, trying to recreate the look the mannequins wore in the stores.  Feeling stylish, I headed over to my grandmother’s house.  This feeling lasted only for a few hours when a great aunt broke out of her conversation and looked at me saying, “You are too fat for leg warmers!”  She continued with her conversation, while I sat mortified, feeling like a fashion misfit.

                After thirty-five years, I cannot tell you how many times I have tried something on and found myself still echoing her words, “You are too fat for this!”  Worse yet, I thought I was protecting my daughter by pointing out a hairstyle that I deemed as less than flattering, hoping she would avoid someone else’s unwanted criticism.  Little did I realize that my words would be even more harmful, causing her shame, leading me to apologize for the pain I caused her.

Photo Credit by Margaret Collins

                 For the past few weeks, I have been listening to Jess Connolly talk about her book, “Breaking Free from Body Shame” on several different podcasts.  I have not yet read the book, but her interviews have challenged me in so many ways.  She broke free from body shame by implementing some strategies she shares in the book.  One of these strategies involves eliminating negative criticism of herself and of others.  For example, she no longer looks at pictures of herself and says to friends, “Please delete that picture, it makes me look bad.”  She also gently speaks truth to her friends when they are being harsh about themselves by saying, “Please don’t say that about my friend, I love her!”.

                This is not a feel-good positivity message Jess Connolly is trying to peddle.  Instead, it is rooted in the principle that we are made in God’s image and that what He made is very good, including our bodies.  Too often, we live in a place where we are dissatisfied with how we look, and these feelings capture our attention, energy, and imagination.  We live in a place where we feel “less than.”  We determine our self-worth by how we look in the mirror, or whether the latest fashion flatters us.  We insist on being the one taking the pictures in order not to be captured by the camera in ways we deem as unflattering.  And if we do take pictures, we use filters to soften wrinkles, take off pounds, and make us look better.  Connolly is working to change her internal messages so that she can accept being fully known and loved by God.  This place of acceptance creates space for her to grow, bless others and be confident in what God has called her to do.

                I frequently struggle with this sense of shame in my own body.  I have lost a significant amount of weight, but I look at the hanging skin on my arms and feel “less than”, looking for sleeves that are three-quarter length to cover up my shame.  I look at the BMI chart and still find myself in the obesity category, even though I am the most fit I have ever been in my life.  I see the effects of long-term obesity as flashing red lights warning me that I will never be enough.  I hear my friends echoing the same issues with their own bodies as well, no matter their size or shape.

                This August, I am challenging myself to consciously work on finding my worth in God; not in the tightness of my skin, not in the BMI charts, and not in the scale that I step on every few days.  I am going to work on reframing my negative body messages by first paying attention to what I am internally saying.  When it is negative, I am going to remind myself what God thinks, replacing my messages with the truth found in His word.  I will still choose to eat healthy and exercise regularly because it is what my body needs to perform optimally the way God intended.  But I am going to show myself some grace.  I am going to put away my scale for the month because my health is not found in the numbers on the scale.  I am going to look at the skin on my arms and remind myself that hanging skin is evidence of God helping me conquer some strongholds in my life!

                Recently, I wrote about what a life free from body shame and food fixation would look like for me.  I wrote that the amount of mental energy I spend feeling ashamed and focused on food could be spent being creative with the gifts God has given me.  I could walk into rooms feeling confident in God, not feeling “less than”.  This confidence could be a witness to others, giving testimony to God’s unconditional love for us.  By no means, do I think that one month will erase decades of body shame…but I must start somewhere!