Mealtimes occur at startlingly regular intervals, don’t they? It often seems that I have only just finished cleaning up lunch dishes when I must begin thinking about what to make for dinner. Another meal, another dish, another counter to clean. And then, after sleepily tidying up the kitchen at the end of the night, I realize: It all starts again tomorrow! In my tired moments, it seems like such an injustice. How can my family expect food three times a day, every day? And I don’t even get weekends off!
But that one particular night, it was more than the usual monotonous routine that caused my stomach to clench. I was weary. Soul weary. Physically weary. Emotionally weary. Heart, mind, and body weary. Life was hurling fastballs at me, one after another, and I was almost to the point of dropping the bat and running away.
I had just returned from a speaking engagement, and all I wanted to do was sleep and then curl up with a book, and indulge in endless cups of tea, coffee, or other, more mature sips. But alas, I had three children still at home with busy schedules, hormonal mood swings, and heartbreaks, along with my own personal and professional responsibilities that were unmoved by my desire to hibernate.
I carried around an achy soul with me but had no time to tend to it or be gentle with myself. And my young-adult children, even my sweet friends who came regularly to my home for meals or tea, either didn’t notice or were so caught up in their own issues they couldn’t see my need.
Joy was in the full throes of tournament season for speech and debate. Joel was working diligently at a retail job, returning emotionally drained and physically exhausted every day. Sarah was at an in-between point in life, walking through disappointment and, for the moment, drifting, struggling with the full frustration that is young adulthood. Nathan was in Hollywood, but called and wanted to talk multiple times a week. Clay and I were neck deep in trying to catch up on work after a busy conference season. And I hosted a regular Bible study in my home with sixty to a hundred people attending each meeting.
Every moment of my day was filled to the brim—driving Joy to appointments, supporting Clay, reaching out to friends, working on writing projects in snatched moments in between, and sharing the frustrations of my struggling children. And did I mention helping our two elderly moms, both senile and in need of attention? It seemed that all of life had conspired to ensure my physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion.
And everyone still wanted to eat again.
I heaved a meaningful sigh that no one was there to hear and sank into the faded cushions of my reading chair. A few minutes later, I spied Sarah’s gently treading feet descending the stairs, closely followed by Joy’s gangly legs bounding down two stairs at a time.
“What’s for dinner, Mama?” Joy asked, blissfully unaware of my deep weariness.
“Oh my goodness,” I sighed. “I’m not sure yet.”
In that moment a decision presented itself to me. I could give in to the overwhelming, gray exhaustion I felt. Or I could create an environment of rest and beauty for my beloved family and, in so doing, create a space of rest for my own soul.
It was a habit of mine to take the clouds in my head and seek to blow them away with simplicity, moving toward gratefulness. In that moment, that habit saved me.
“I’m pretty exhausted tonight,” I admitted to my girls. “But let’s rest and enjoy this evening. How about a snack meal on the porch? It’s beautiful out tonight. I’ll cut some cheese slices. Can you all put something together for our snack feast?”
“I’ll slice some fruit!” offered Sarah.
“I will do buttered toast and toasted nuts,” said Joy.
In characteristic fashion, Joel poked his head in late in the conversation. I wasted no time.
“We’re putting together a snack meal, Joel. What will your contribution be?”
“How about popcorn?”
This was a well-liked and very familiar idea. So we bustled briefly about the kitchen, toted our fare to the back porch, lit a candle, played soothing music from my portable speaker, and enjoyed our sumptuous snack dinner. As we munched on popcorn and each created our favorite combination of toast, cheese, nuts, and fruit, I breathed a sigh of relief. What could have been an evening of another tired meal, piles of dishes, and short tempers turned into an evening of rest and beauty. Our covered porch became a sanctuary for our tired hearts, and the mountain air and waving pines that bordered the porch provided the beauty we needed.
Such times have occurred throughout my life—for instance, the time when three of my children had chicken pox, followed by pneumonia and then encephalitis. Our house was a wreck of dishes, blankets all over the house, toys, and a pile of laundry as high as the sky. I don’t think I slept for six weeks straight.
At times like this, comfort food means so much—especially comfort food that requires no cooking and minimal cleanup.
For this reason I’ve come to believe in the profound importance of snack meals—meals that are easy, nourishing, and restful. They can absolutely save your sanity during those crazy times. But here’s another benefit: When you bring beauty and rest into the occasional chaos of your life, you are teaching your children how to prepare for the storms of life and live well through them.
The rubber meets the road when we work out the question of how to bring beauty and rest to life in the midst of storms. For me, this boils down to three ideas.
First, that bringing grace to the busy moments of your life is not about performance or perfection, but sustainability.
Second, that bringing peace and beauty amid the whirlwind necessitates preparation.
And finally, that a little bit of beauty goes a long way to make things better.
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