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JUGGLING

Robbie never ceases to make me laugh. He can’t talk, but I can read the expressions on his face like a book (most of the time)—and he has a very expressive face.
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It’s been over three years, I think, since Robbie began his love affair with apples. He can’t eat them, but he loves to hold them. He is rarely without an apple in his hand during his waking hours, and I frequently have to try to sneak his apple away when he is asleep. I say try because his fingers clamp down like a vise if he senses someone is trying to steal his apples. He plays a mean game of Keep-Away with his apple, too, during playtime.
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Last fall I bought him one of those tiny pumpkins that are about the size of an apple. I wondered if he would accept it in place of his apple. Oh yes, he accepted it—in addition to his apple. There was no way he was giving up his beloved apple!
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Well, it’s that time of year again. Bob came home from one of his trips this week with a surprise for Robbie. “Robbie! Daddy has a present for you!” he sang as he shook a bag in the air. Robbie got so excited! He leaned forward eagerly and held his arms out. Bob gave him the bag and held it open so Robbie could reach inside. He pulled out a tiny pumpkin! Whoo-Hoo! Then he reached inside and pulled out something else—a small orange and yellow striped, pear-shaped gourd! Robbie was thrilled!
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There was just one problem. He had the pumpkin in one hand and the gourd in the other. His apple was in his lap. Three treasures. Two hands. What to do? He put down the pumpkin and picked up the apple. Ooo-but he really wanted that pumpkin! He set down the gourd and picked up the pumpkin. Wait a minute! I want that gourd, too! his face said. This went on for several minutes as Robbie tried to figure out how to hold three precious playthings in only two hands.
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Bob and I were cracking up. His eyebrows were going up and down. He was grinning and frowning all at the same time. We could just see the little wheels turning inside his head. And then Mama had to throw something else in the mix. “Robbie,” I said eagerly, “Mama’s going to buy you some more pretty gourds—all shapes and colors and textures—and another pumpkin, too, and you can have a whole basketful of fun things to play with!” (Can’t let Bob outdo me when it comes to pleasing our boy!)
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I’m not sure how much of that he really understood, but he turned and looked at me with such a look of dismay! “Mom!” his face seemed to say, “Can’t you see I only have two hands?”
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I laughed a few days later when I was sharing that with my ten-year-old granddaughter Melissa. Her response was, “So you’ve got Robbie juggling now! Maybe instead of more gourds, you should buy him more hands!” That tickled me. Robbie—juggling?
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Robbie could never juggle, but we’ve certainly all been there, haven’t we? Our hands are full, but we need to fit something else in somehow. We feel like we are doing a juggling act and something is going to fall at any moment—or maybe the whole thing will come crashing down! We are stressed out, dashing back and forth, trying to keep our eyes on the ball and everything going smoothly. We’re overwhelmed and crying out, “But I only have two hands!”
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I don’t know how some of the women I know do it. They are working jobs, taking care of children or grandchildren, cleaning house, cooking, doing ministries outside the home, home-schooling, being a help to their husbands, and on and on. I live an easy life here at home compared to them, but it never really stops around here, either, with Robbie to care for, writing deadlines to meet, projects to do for our pastor and church, as well as caring for home and hubby. It is a fact of life in our modern American lives. We are too busy, too stressed, too exhausted.
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Let’s face it—juggling not only saps our strength, it also saps our joy. Our most precious treasures become liabilities; demands on us that wear us down and wear us out. Instead of enjoying our children to the fullest, we snap at them or push them away with, “Not right now! Mommy is busy!” Our husbands often get put on the back burner, the last to get our attention. And remember the old chorus, There is Joy in Serving Jesus? Where’s the joy when our ministry for the Lord turns into just one more duty I am obligated to perform?
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I think sometimes at the end of the day when we fall into bed exhausted, that we feel as Solomon did in Ecclesiastes 2:11, “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.” Well, I got through this day. Tomorrow it starts all over again.
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You may remember the old commercial, “Calgon—take me away!” David, in Psalm 55:6, said it like this—“Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.” Well, we don’t have wings to carry us away, and a Calgon bath will help for only a few minutes. What is the answer then?
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There are some things we simply must juggle—family, home, serving the Lord. Some of us simply have to work outside the home—not for the little extras, but just to put a roof over our heads and food on the table. Some things, like home schooling, are a conviction, and we know that it may not be right for all families, but it is God’s will for ours. All of these things are important; many of them are precious treasures. How do we juggle them and at the end of the day end up tired, maybe, but still joyful?
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There are four principles, I think, that can help us be successful, joyful jugglers! The first is so simple, and yet so hard to remember sometimes: Start the day, and continue all the way through, with the right attitude. Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” God gave us these treasures to be blessings in our lives, not burdens! Rejoice in the little ones clinging to your leg when you are trying to cook dinner; in the teenagers wanting a ride to the youth group activity; in the husband wanting his share of attention, too! Think how empty your life would be without them! Praise God for the home that has to be cleaned, the food that has to be cooked, the job you have to go to. Think how many millions of people in this world go without those very basic things. Thank the Lord for the opportunities you have to serve him with a heart of love and gratefulness for all that He has done for you. He gave you a new day! Praise Him for it! And keep the gratitude going all day long.
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The second principle goes along with the first: Do whatever it is that you have to do in God’s strength, not your own. I say it goes along with the first principle because both should be a matter of prayer before we hit the floor running. Colossians 1:10, 11 says, “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.” So many times I have failed when I have tried to take on something in my own strength! When we pause to read a portion of God’s word—even if it is only a verse or two—we are “increased in the knowledge of God.” When we first praise and thank Him, and then ask for His power to get through the day with patience and endurance and strength, He gives it to us and we come out at the other end of the day with joy at all that the Lord has given to us and done in us and through us.
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The third principle is this: Don’t try to be a Super-Woman! Wait a minute! you might be saying right now. What about the Proverbs 31 Virtuous Woman? She certainly had a lot on her plate to juggle! Look at this: “She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple…She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant… She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness…Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.”
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Wow! Super-Woman? Maybe, but I think there are a few sub-principles that she can teach us. First: Don’t try to do it all alone—Delegate! It seems the woman of Proverbs 31 had maidens to help her. (vs. 15) Sure, the responsibility rested on her, and she jumped right in there with her own two hands and did her share, working from before dawn on into the night, but she had help. Second: Don’t try to do it all at once. I believe there are seasons to a woman’s life. When our children are young, they need us and we may have to postpone for a few years things that we would like to do in order to care for their needs. When we are old, we may not have the strength or physical capabilities that we once had, and we may have to give up things we once enjoyed. I cannot say for sure, but I doubt that the Virtuous Woman did all of this at the same time. She cared for her children when they were young, providing food and clothes for them. When they were older, perhaps, she entered the marketplace and helped the needy. Third: Whatever you do, do with strength and honor, wisdom and kindness, trusting and obeying the Lord. Verses 25-26, 30 say, “Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.” When our hearts are right with God, no matter what He has called us to do, we will rejoice in time to come.
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The fourth and last principle I want to mention is this: Be content with less. Ecclesiastes 4:6 says, “Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.” Part of our problem as modern American women is that we think we have to have more and better—a vacation or two every year, far more clothes than we could ever wear, a big nicely furnished and decorated house and so on and so on. We think we have to do more—run the kids to every activity imaginable, take on this project and that, have the perfect home and family. We add so much to our plate that it is no wonder we can’t keep up. If we could only realize that we can get along with far less, relax a little more when we demand less of ourselves—think what a burden that would lift!
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Psalm 90:17 says, “And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.” Our hands are filled with treasures. We have to juggle sometimes, but we can do it with joy when we do it in the Lord—with praise and thankfulness, with contentment and in His strength.
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Oh, I’m still going to get Robbie that basketful of gourds, little pumpkins and apples, but I think I’ll give them to him just one or two at a time!

SPACED OUT, STRESSED OUT

I am once again packing a suitcase for Ecuador. No, not because I am going again (wish I was!), but because I have an opportunity to send some things down to the Naranjos with friends who are going to visit them. You might be wondering how I could possibly have another full suitcase for them when I was just there a few months ago and took everything but the kitchen sink with me at that time. I look at that suitcase myself and am a little amazed, too!

Most of that large bag is filled with clothes for Fernando. A friend had a huge stack of clothes that were brand new and never worn and, miraculously, just Fernando’s size! The friends going to Ecuador were more than happy to take whatever we needed to send and told us to go ahead and fill up the suitcase as long as it didn’t go overweight. So, there are nice hand-me-down clothes for Matthew that I couldn’t fit in the last time I went, birthday gifts for Sara and Matthew (b-days coming up in April), wireless microphones for the church, matzo bread for the Biblical dinners Fernando does, and cans of cherry and blueberry pie filling, chocolate chips and Hershey kisses for Laurie. And of course, this Grandma can’t send a suitcase down there without throwing in a little surprise for each of the kids!

I started packing the bag last night and finally realized there was no way it would all fit in without using space bags for the clothes again. Those new-fangled little contraptions are quite the thing. Well, I suppose they aren’t so new-fangled anymore. They’ve been around for several years, but my first experience at using them was when I went to Ecuador in November. You’ve probably seen them advertised on TV. You put the clothes or blankets or whatever in a space bag, seal it, attach a vacuum hose and suck all the air out of the bag. It totally flattens the bag, making an almost flat, hard and wrinkly package. They worked great for me the last time. I was a little worried the clothes would be all wrinkled when I took them out of the space bags, but actually they weren’t too bad. Of course, you still have to be careful about the weight when you’re flying, but it sure helps to get a little more into a suitcase.

They say those space bags are handy for storage in the home, as well. Closet space is at a premium in my house. This is an old house (over eighty years old) and they just didn’t make closets back then the way they do now. The closets in our bedrooms upstairs are narrow – barely a hangar width – and although they are somewhat deep, it is difficult to reach the back of the closet. The small door is at one end and once there are clothes in the front of the closet, it is almost impossible to reach past them to the things in the back. A walk-in closet would be a huge luxury for me! Never fear, though. I have a huge closet downstairs called a basement. I pity my daughters if we die before I get around to cleaning it out!

I suppose space bags are a sign of the times, as are all the other space-saving gadgets and gizmos we see for sale these days. There are whole aisles in the stores devoted to plastic bins and totes, organizer systems, cabinets, wardrobes and so on. I recently bought a box of Wonder Hangers – another “As Seen on TV” gadget that holds five garments in the closet space that would normally hold only one – in an effort to maximize my closet space. Builders keep building bigger homes with huge closets and even bigger garages, and still we need a great big storage shed on top of that! When we get all those spaces filled up, back to the store we go for more storage bins!

Does it seem to you that maybe we just have too much stuff? There is a reason closets were small eighty years ago when our house was built. People did not have all that stuff! The only things they had in their closets were the clothes they wore. When they outgrew something, they passed it on; otherwise, they wore their clothes until they wore out. They weren’t shopping for new things every other week. Even if I fit into everything in my closet (which I don’t), I could never wear everything in it if I tried! My basement is filled with forty years worth of books, memorabilia, equipment, and things for which I’ve barely spared a passing glance in decades. It’s time to clear out!

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Why are we so consumed with material things, anyway? If I spent less at Wal-Mart on things I don’t really need, I would have more to give to those who do have needs, or for things that have real eternal value. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21) Why fill up my earthly home with worthless stuff, when Christ is preparing a mansion for me in heaven?
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Those humble little space bags are a picture to me, as well, of another characteristic of our modern, American lifestyles. Not only do we have a space management problem, but we also have stress management problems. I look at those hard, flat, wrinkly vacuum-sealed packages and am reminded of how the demands of family, work, extra-curricular activities and the general busy-ness of life can suck the energy, passion and joy right out of our lives. Staying home with Robbie allows me a more relaxed lifestyle, but I feel for some of the women who are closest to me. Between caring for little ones, home-schooling several ages at once, babysitting grandchildren after working a demanding job all day, running kids from one sport or youth activity to another, helping friends, working in the church, being a wife, cooking, cleaning, and all the other things it takes to run a home and family, it is no wonder they are totally drained at the end of the day.

There is not a lot we can do sometimes to alleviate some of the stresses of life – other than to just say “No” to some of the extras that really aren’t necessary, that is. Our families need us, our homes must be cared for, and being a Christian woman just means giving of ourselves. We need to learn to set priorities in our lives, however. I have resolved in my life this year to strive toward making the things of the Lord a greater priority in my life, beginning with a better prayer life and more time spent in the Word. If I put those things first, I am filled and life cannot so easily overwhelm and drain me. I don’t want my life to be hard and flat and wrinkly like those space bags when the vacuum has sucked out all the air. Jesus went on to say in Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” When we make Him the priority in our life, He helps us through all these other concerns and challenges. We are not drained, but filled as He blesses us with all that we need.

Our lives in twenty-first century America are vastly different than life was in Jesus’ time in Galilee two thousand years ago, but His principles and promises are just as relevant for us today as they were back then. No need to be spaced out and stressed out when our eyes and values are on Him!