Book Review: Eve in Exile

I haven’t blogged much this spring because all my free time has been spent reading, but now I have some really good books to recommend to you guys!  First up, Eve in Exile, by Bekah Merkle, sister of Rachel Jankovic, whom you already know we love.  Unsurprisingly, this book on femininity delighted and challenged me.

Eve in Exile has two main points.  First of all, both the radical feminists and those who long for the “good old days when women knew their place” have it wrong when they talk about what it means to be a woman.  The former insist that we’re just like men, and the latter seem to think the Victorian mother or the 50’s housewife embody the perfect, “merely decorative” little woman.  In following the radical feminists, women have been discovering that the myth of having it all is impossible and exhausting to attempt, just as countless bored housewives have discovered that sitting around in pretty clothes while their husbands do all the real work is pretty depressing, too.  But God actually had a better idea.  He created us to be beautifully different from men and gave us hard and important work to do. Merkle spends the second half of her book giving a brief overview of what feminine work includes, under the general headings of Subdue, Fill, Help, and Glorify.  She argues, “God did not create women to lounge around in picturesque poses, occasionally embroidering a handkerchief.”  We’re to be working to build things (family, culture, community), “to make holiness beautiful, to make it taste,” to help our husbands (if we have them) and “our people” (family, friends, those who God has put in our immediate sphere of influence).  I really could have quoted about half the book, but I’ll just give you this one beautiful passage about the work of a homemaker:

Our jobs are not important because they keep us just as busy as if we had “real” careers.  They’re not important because we can come up with important sounding words to describe them.  Our jobs are important because they are poetry.  Because they shape loves and they shape loyalties, they teach and they convict.  They’re important because they take glorious truths and make them incarnate, make them visible, and weave them into the souls of the people around us.        (Ch. 14)

One thing I most appreciated about this book was its focus on our attitude.  Do I see my work in the home as poetry?  A woman can be a stay-at-home mom who homeschools her children, cooks fresh meals from scratch three times a day, reads the Bible to them every night, and resents them every minute of every day.  Such a mom doesn’t get a pass over her mom friend who went back to work full-time and put the kids in public school after her husband developed a debilitating illness that prevents him working (but does it all with a cheerful spirit).  In our efforts here at E2S to encourage moms to embrace full-time motherhood in the early years, we have tried to make clear that this is a lifestyle we must commit to do joyfully, not resentfully.

The book doesn’t get into too many specifics of what a Godly woman’s life might be like, because Merkle rightly acknowledges that every situation is different.  Although Anna and I do manage to live on a single income with large families in two of the most expensive places in the United States, we’re both very much aware that staying at home full-time is financially easier in the good old Midwest (where we both come from!), for example.  And the author herself works now at the school where her (teenage) children attend, so while she acknowledges the need that young children have for their mothers, she definitely is not saying women can not ever work outside the home.  Rather, she urges that we make decisions about commitments and employment based on the needs of “our people” and not our own desires for personal fulfillment or praise.

While a book on Biblical femininity can often make the single and/or childless women among us feel left out, Merkle’s call applies to all women. If the focus is ministering to “our people,” our vision for ministry as women needn’t just be limited to young mothers who should be staying home with their kids.  My youngest daughter’s namesakes are my favorite author (who never married) and a single woman from my church growing up who became an honorary member of our family (she and my mom and I even road tripped together in my teens) who worked hard in her profession and served faithfully in our church for many years before taking her very ill mother in to live with her for the last years of her mother’s life.  This Godly friend of mine did not get to marry until her 50s and never had children of her own, but her entire life has been centered around service, much of which was explicitly feminine.  Since this blog is written for young mothers, we don’t talk much about other groups of women, but I so appreciate a robust philosophy of womanhood that can challenge women in any stage of life.

I came away from the book feeling excited and challenged to step up my game.  All too often, I act like an employee in my home, doing the bare minimum in housework and cooking to get by.  Instead, Bekah Merkle reminds me, I need to see my home with the eyes of a business owner.  I don’t just want to clock in and out; I want us to thrive!  I want us as a family to do great, glorious things for God.  I want to pursue excellence.  Some weeks, that might mean coaching my children as they clean house before the social workers come out to do another home study foster family interview (side note: I realize that a year from now, frazzled with my five or six kiddos bouncing off the walls, I will laugh at the thought of cleaning up for these social workers, but I’m still in the wanting to make a good impression phase.).  Some weeks, that might mean ignoring the state of the house and snuggling on the couch together all morning to read a really good book.  Some weeks, that might mean spending all afternoon in the kitchen together in preparation for hosting another group for dinner.  Some weeks, that might mean running my kids to four different activities as they develop the skills and talents God has given them.  Regardless of the agenda for the day, I’m re-inspired to tackle it with joy and a sense of purpose!

As always, I would love to talk more about Eve in Exile with any dear readers who have read it, too.  Email me! emily@everythingtosomeone.com  And is anyone else enjoying Bekah and Rachel’s What Have You podcast as much as I am?

 

Note: The links in this post are amazon affiliate links.  If you decide to buy this book and order it (or anything else from amazon) through our link, we’ll get a tiny percentage back, which we’ll use to pay the hosting fees for this blog. =)

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Posted in Book Reviews, Philosophy of Motherhood, Using Our Minds | Leave a comment

Real Housewives of E2S: 2:50 pm

As soon as they heard the chocolate chips bag crinkle, they were right there in the kitchen to help me make muffins.  If only their sense of hearing were as acute when I’m hollering through the house for everyone to get ready to go to Bible study/swimming lessons/doctor appointments/church/etc…

 

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Hidden Art Friday

I was listening to a podcast on the way home from taking my husband to the airport at 4 am, and when they started discussing Edith Schaeffer, I knew I needed to dust off the old HAF tradition and recommend it to you, dear readers!  Plus it’s been a while since I’ve shared recommendations and links.

First of all, I am loving the What Have You podcast, featuring Rachel Jankovic and Bekah Merkle, both of whose writings inspire and encourage me.  The hosting is funky, and I haven’t been able to download them with my BeyondPod app, but you can download them directly from the site.  I love how these sisters share the domestic details of their lives (strategies for washing socks, finding the perfect piemaking cookbook, reglazing windows) as well as practical parenting strategies, and, in the most recent podcast, a great discussion of why homemaking and college education are not at all incompatible.

On my own domestic front, I had a couple epiphanies about my struggle to keep house yesterday.  My amazing in-laws are in town for the week, and yesterday, they and my husband took the kids on a hike in the afternoon while I stayed home and puttered around.  I was able to put things away, tidy up the entire main floor of our house, reshelve dozens of books, sweep, run the roomba, start dinner prep, start a load of towels, call one of my best friends who I haven’t talked to in weeks and get an update on her (difficult) pregnancy, put away a few things from our last moving box (which is very slowly being unpacked, finally, up in our bedroom), and then sit down, relaxed, in a clean room that had stayed clean for over an hour!  I realized what a great help it is to have family around.  I think those of us who struggle with keeping houses and children together while living out-of-state from family should cut ourselves some slack.  It might not seem like much, but having local family who could take my kids for a couple hours, not just when I have appointments or need to run errands, but just because, would drastically change my life.  If you do have local (helpful) family, be thankful!  Also, having all of my kids gone for the afternoon gave me this little picture of what my life as a SAHM would be like if I weren’t homeschooling.  I definitely feel the call to homeschool and would be heartbroken if my kids weren’t home with me, but my house would definitely be a lot cleaner and I would be a lot more put together if I didn’t have my crew around, undoing my housework, 24/7.  If you’re a homeschooling mom like me, please remember this when you compare yourself to friends whose kids are out of the house seven hours a day.  Maybe the rest of you all don’t struggle with my insecurities when it comes to judging your housekeeping skills, but I need to remind myself constantly not to compare apples and oranges.

And while we’re talking about housekeeping, I want to share a cookbook recommendation with you!  Some friends just gave me Better Baking, a new cookbook by a friend of theirs.  If you’re the kind of baker who likes sneaking in more whole wheat flour or cutting down on refined sugars but finds those “healthy” dessert recipes you pinned on pinterest underwhelming or downright gross (my husband still complains about the chocolate chip cookies I ruined with chickpeas), this is the cookbook for you.  There are a lot of recipes that call for specialty flours or ingredients, but she has actually explained WHY she uses those ingredients and what properties they add to a baked good.  Don’t get me wrong, these foods are not guilt-free (though our family joked that since I used whole wheat flour and fresh squeezed orange juice in J’s birthday carrot cake out of this cookbook this week, it was “health food”), but I personally have found the recipes I’ve tried to strike a good balance between positive nutritional content and having a dessert that actually still tastes yummy.  Bonus: if you have dietary restrictions, she has plenty of gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, and vegan options.  Anyway, stick it on your list, and maybe someone will buy it for you for Mother’s Day!

On to recommended links to read!  This one on what research (and common sense) tell us about raising children (hint: letting them get out and play, a lot!) confirms to me why I’m homeschooling my kids, particularly my son, right now.  Best line: “Most of us spend hours each day sitting at work. Science says it’s killing us, and we have developed all kinds of fads to combat it–from standing desks to smartphone alerts to get us up and moving.  Armed with that knowledge, however, what do we force our kids to do each day at school? Sit still, for six or eight hours.”

And along the same lines, I loved this Circe blog post about how not all good and valuable things can be measured by a standardized test!

Did you catch this beautiful piece on embracing the sacrifice of motherhood?

And I need to read and reread this post on Motherhood as a Craft: Cultivating Wonder.

Okay, my kids are up and want to snuggle before breakfast!  Have a beautiful Friday and a wonderful weekend!

Posted in Hidden Art Fridays | 2 Comments

Motherhood as Sanctification

Today I was going through old posts on our family blog, and I came across this post from five years ago.  I’ll copy it in its entirety:

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E suddenly entered the terrible twos this week.  Butter in Daddy’s coffeemaker.  Dumped out all her tiny choking hazard elastic bands on the floor right in front of the baby.  Emptied half a brand-new container of clorox wipes into the toilet.  Got into the fridge and ate the tips off of a bunch of strawberries.  Got into the hand lotion I’d bought for our stocking for a soldier and spread it all over herself, her clothes, and a bunch of toiletries for the stocking.  Dropped her sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich on the kitchen floor and ground it in with her heel.  Tore open the granola bars for the soldier stocking, and when my back was turned, egged T on to cut the tags off the baseball cap I’d bought for our Operation Christmas Child shoebox.  Whereupon I announced tartly that it was quiet rest time and everyone had better wash their hands and get into bed.  At which point she pooped in her panties and sat down on the potty, smearing it everywhere, and wiping it up with the hand towel.  This was all in under five hours.

By the time everyone was down for naps and the poopy clothes were in the washer, my sinus headache had grown to a full-blown throbbing body ache.  I just had enough energy to cry out to God, “Please help me.  I can’t keep doing this!”  What a way to start a week that will have my hubby gone Tuesday evening for a candidate dinner and out of town Wed-Sat for a conference in DC.  One or two instances of severe naughtiness in a day don’t phase me anymore.  It’s the cumulative effect (plus fall colds) that knocks me off kilter.  (The afternoon included incidents with a pencil sharpener, the toilet bowl brush, the rest of the clorox wipes, more poop, an overripe banana, stickers, and two more wardrobe changes.)  Several times lately, I’ve been so tempted to just shout, “I’m done!  This is too much!”  Rachel Jankovic recently had a great post on this whole phenomenon.  She notes,

I think it is common to have this mental ideal of what your days as a mother are supposed to be like. We think that if we were doing it right, then it wouldn’t be this hard. Of course there are a lot of ways to improve what we do, that make things easier. But it is like improving the form of a runner. They still have to run in order to use it. It still won’t be easy. You can continue training to the point that you are no longer puking in the bushes and all red in the face by the end of the first block, but you aren’t ever going to take the running out of the running.

She’s great at reminding me that right now, motherhood is instrumental in my sanctification.  I keep thinking I’ve been at this for almost five years and shouldn’t be surprised by anything now, but I guess I have a lot more growing to do!

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I thought I’d share this blast from the past with all of you to say a few things.  First, toddler days are hard.  I think my life is crazier now with my kids being older and having to juggle activities and tween issues and whatnot, but it’s not harder.  Two year olds are hard.  The two year old in the scenario above was by far my easiest child.  She is generally a cheerful, helpful, sweet right hand woman.  But even she was difficult at two!  Moms of toddlers, you are in a hard phase.  I promise that you’re not stuck there forever.

Second, with five year’s distance from that crazy day, I can see the progress of sanctification in my children and myself.  I’m writing tonight with a horrible cold that has knocked me out of commission all week (while my husband has been busy at work), but I’m managing to hold it together better than the Emily of five years ago would have.  I see that as God stretching and training me to keep my temper, to have patience, to feel compassion for the child who is really just pushing all my buttons.  And while my kids did bicker and act up today, I see the progress in their lives, not just in basic maturity (which helps!), but in growing to want to please God (and please me).  I’m not saying that motherhood is no longer a challenge for me or that I don’t still lose my temper way too often, but that when I look back over the past decade, I can see progress in my own heart and mind.  When you’re in the trenches, it’s hard to see that growth, but I want to encourage you, dear readers, that it’s happening, slowly but surely.

Third, I was reminded by my 29-year old self that whatever crazy stuff my kids throw at me in a day, I can choose to be complain or look for the blessings.  It’s hard when we’re sick and tired and our kids are sick and tired and we probably let them watch too much PBS Kids and the house is a mess and there’s nothing for dinner.  I’ve been there–we all have been there!  We don’t need to pretend we love cleaning up kid poop while hacking our lungs up and breaking up fights over stupid toys.  It’s not fun.  But we can check our attitude when we respond to a super stinky day.  And after the fact, we can try to laugh at how crazy it was and how we all survived.  I have wise friends who encourage me to laugh about these things.  Do you have friends who will listen sympathetically and help you react to your rough days in a positive way?  Can you use your own experiences to empathize with and encourage others?

We’re all in process, my friends.  Press on!

Posted in For New Moms, Friendship, Home Life | 1 Comment
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