A Woman Who Changed My Life

"This is my work, my mission."

The words flowed from her mouth boldly yet humbly. Over the course of 10 days in the village of Ongole, India, I watched Prabhukumari clean her home, cook from scratch for multiple people, mother two young boys, take care of her duties as a pastor's wife, and host a guest from America (me) that spoke a foreign language, all with joy and a peaceful smile.

Today is International Women's Day, and as my Instagram feed fills with photos of women from all over the world, my mind is occupied with memories of this woman who changed me forever, whose strong and gentle hands I can still feel on my back.

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Fourteen years ago in January, I did one of the scariest and bravest things I've ever done - boarded a plane alone, with a back injury from falling down the stairs a few days earlier, and flew 21 hours across the world to Chennai, India. There, I waited to be retrieved by Prabhukumari and her husband Pastor Samson, both of whom I had only ever seen in photos. I had no cell phone or way to reach them. All I had were desperate prayers whispered under my breath, “Please let them be here…please let them be here...”

After I finally spotted Samson in a crowd holding a sign with my name on it, we then traveled another 5 hours by train to the town of Ongole, which was my headquarters for the next 10 days working with the organization Peace Gospel, visiting children in an orphanage, embracing the culture, helping tsunami victims, and basically being stretched in ways I never knew possible.

When I think about that trip now, I can't believe I did it. I barely got on the plane. I remember crying the night before on the phone to Steven (who was my fiancé at the time), declaring that I was too scared to go. But the ticket was bought, and I went. Turns out it was one of those watershed experiences - I was humbled every single day, seeing firsthand just how far-reaching the love of God is.

One day, we traveled further to a tiny, remote Indian village near the coast, where the tsunami had just taken the lives of many of the men who were out fishing the day. We delivered food, Bibles, and clothes to the widows.  Their vibrant smiles, their colorful garments, the way they clung to their babies, their shyness mingled with strength...I couldn't get enough of these stunning women.

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During my last few hours in India, Prabhukumari, Pastor Samson, and I spent several late night hours in a hotel room watching Indian television and resting before it was time for them to take me to the airport. I was wearing my sari, lying face-down on the hotel bed with my head resting sideways on my elbows, drowsily watching TV. 

Then, without a word, Prabhukumari reached out and touched my dirty, frizzy hair, and ran it through her fingers. She placed her hand on my back and ran it up and down over and over gently, sending shivers throughout my body. She must have done this for a solid hour. 

At first it felt strange to be accepting so much physical touch from someone I was supposed to be serving. It felt shocking, even. But my injured back began to feel like it was healing, and tension and tiredness from this scary, wonderful trip began to leave my body. Her touch was absolutely the hand of God to me in that moment, and I didn't want to leave her. At the same time I was tired, homesick and desperate for home. From this point on, a part of my heart would be left among these people in India. And she would always be my sister.

Today as a mother and a wife, I think of Prabhu's words often.  On days (all too often) when I'm anxious and grumbling and overwhelmed by everything that's on my plate, I hear her voice saying, "This is my work, my mission," and I stop in my tracks.  I feel her love and encouragement radiating across the oceans that separate us. If she can do hard things with joy and a smile, certainly so can I. 

We’re all a part of this tribe of women that traverses the globe. Who are some women - where you live or abroad - that have inspired you?

Simple With Tsh Oxenreider Podcast Episode 182: Dating + Marriage (With Kids)

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In this episode, Tsh and I talk about what dating in marriage looks like with kids 8 and under (me) and kids 8 and over (her). It was so fun to chat about this, and I felt like we could have kept going for another hour! :)

You can also read my latest post on The Art of Simple about freedom & connection in marriage: And The Two Shall Become One, Separately. Drop me a comment here, or on the AoS site, and let me know your thoughts!

And The Two Shall Become One, Separately - for The Art of Simple

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Here’s my latest post for The Art of Simple - And The Two Shall Become One, Separately. For some reason, this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever written. Maybe because the topic is so important to me, it’s a crazy story to weave together, and our marriage really has been hard-won through a lot of challenges and trials. But I can honestly say today I couldn’t be more thankful to be a on a team with the Steven Bailey and also for the ways we are wired completely differently.

People often ask how we’ve been able to handle working together in addition to the challenges marriage brings. But the practices that help us work together successfully are the same ones that bring freedom to our marriage—we strive to be a team, and we celebrate and respect our separateness within the team.

Keep reading…

I’d love to know your thoughts!

Moments Of Connection - For The Peaceful Press

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“Those things you learn without joy, you will forget easily.” (Finnish proverb)

After seeing this quote recently on Instagram, I decided to rephrase it a little:

“Those things you learn with joy, you will remember.”

Ahhh, there you go. Wrapped up in that sentence is exactly what I deeply desire for our little homeschool, which my two daughters (5 and 8) have decided to name “River Lake Sunshine.” Who wouldn’t want to enroll there, right?

Read the rest in my guest post for The Peaceful Press, who creates beautiful and thoughtful learning resources that our family loves.

Rebirthed

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5 years ago today, I was safe in my bed at home in Dallas, holding my little Norah Jewell, who had been born 47 minutes after midnight. I had tried with all my might to get her out on January 22nd so she could share my dad’s birthday, but in the end, she came into the world on her own time, as she still does as a carefree little girl who says, “My favorite color is rainbow, and my spirit animal is a unicorn.”

Here’s the story of Norah’s birth - the consumption of inordinate amounts of fro-yo, the waddling around Whole Foods and holding onto a shelf in the body care aisle during contractions while the customers looked at me strangely, the waiting, the hoping, the believing that this would be “my healing birth.”

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After preparing for months for a homebirth VBAC, this experience unearthed a strength I never knew was possible and ended up birthing me just as much as it birthed my child.

I thought I was going to break.

I didn’t.

And in the end, I was handed a beautiful, pink skinned baby with her daddy’s Asian eyes.

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Little did I know how much I would draw upon the strength I found in myself that day for years to come, because a few years later, I would push my body to the limits again, this time to birth a farm and grow an abundance of food from soil that had never seen life before.

So, here’s what I want you to know today - God says that because of Him, when we feel weak, we are actually strong - so much stronger than we thought possible.

I believed it 5 years ago and I still believe it today, for you, and for me.

>> Norah’s Full Birth Story

>> How I Prepared For A Homebirth VBAC

Simple With Tsh Oxenreider Podcast Episode 178: Loving Our 40s

This was a super fun chat about Loving Our 40s! Tsh said it well in the podcast intro: “Growing older is a privilege denied to many people; it means we should celebrate the gift it is!” Join both of us 41-year-olds as we talk about how to celebrate birthday milestones (particularly turning 40 since that was most recent for both of us), and hear about Tsh’s new skin and hair routine since turning 40.

What My 40s Are Teaching Me - for The Art of Simple

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My first post is up on The Art of Simple about What My 40s Are Teaching Me, and I’d love to hear what you think! It was so much fun writing this and truly processing how much has changed in the one short year I’ve been in my 40s. If you’re already there, I’d love to hear what your experience has been. If you’re not yet there, you have much to look forward to. Just make sure you grab a change of clothes. You’ll see what I mean when you read it

“I don’t believe 40 is a magic number that divides everything into before and after. But I do believe it can be the start of a second journey instead of the beginning of a downward slope “over the hill.” Entering our 40s can be met with negativity, or it can be met with tenacity and courage—and we get to decide. I’m only one year in, but I thought I’d share some things my 40s are already teaching me…”

You’re Never Too Old To Color

Here’s one from the archives, originally posted on my previous blog in March 2009. I’ll be regularly sharing with my readers some of my favorites from the past that I feel are still a huge part of the overall story. Enjoy!

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On Saturday afternoon, I took one of those naps where you wake up and have no idea what day or time it is anymore, and you've slept on one side for so long that your hair is smushed into a conehead and, more than likely, there is a pool of drool on the pillow. You know that kind? It was so refreshing. And the first thought that occurred to me when my eyes peeked open was, "I am going to color now."

It was a strange thought, considering that up to that point, my Saturday had been filled with a very adult-like and responsible task: hauling compost back and forth, back and forth, between the huge mound in the driveway and each individual tree stump and veggie sprout and plant base in the front and back yard. It felt so "homeowner." It was great functional exercise though {all those squats and bicep curls with the shovel and wheelbarrow}...and I actually liked working with the compost. You might think it's smelly and full of flies, but compost actually feels fresh in an earthy kind of way. The only unfortunate fact is that it’s so powdery that with a light Texas wind, it seeps into any crack and crevice of your skin that is not covered with an article of clothing. I didn’t realize this until I heard Steven singing, “It’s A Hard Knock Life” from Annie, complete with flamboyant hand gestures, as I passed by with the wheel barrow for the umpteenth time.

Uh-oh. I went inside to check myself in the mirror, and it was not a pretty sight. The white tube socks that I had pulled up to my knees and over my workout pants were now black. My hair was frizzed almost to the point of no return, and dirt had caked on my face and formed so many visible lines and smudges that I looked like a coal miner...or perhaps a street sweeper from the movie Oliver...or, admittedly, one of the kids from Annie. Maybe compost-hauling doesn't have to be so adult-like after all.

I took a very welcome hot shower and scrubbed myself from head to toe with my honey-mango shower gel and then collapsed into bed for that perfect, drooly nap. I don’t know what happened in my dreams, but when I woke up, all I wanted to do was color. You're never too old to color, you know. In my craft room, painted “Rain Washed” by Behr, I found my box of Crayola State Collection Crayons and a butterfly coloring book that Steven got me as a surprise at the Mennonite grocery store. I set out for the back yard with my supplies tucked under my arm like a little girl on her way to kindergarten.

Outside, Steven’s phone rang. It was my dad calling from New Jersey. Steven answered it, they exchanged greetings, and then there was a pause on our end of the conversation - my dad must have asked what I was doing.

Steven answered nonchalantly, "Oh, she's coloring."

{"Coloring??" I imagine my dad must have asked in his brash Jersey accent.}

Steven answered again, "Yeah, she's coloring...with crayons."

I looked up at him and smiled. Then I went back to busily coloring my butterflies as the real-life ones hovered above the flourishing lavender bush.

"The Year of Saying Yes" - For Wild + Free

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“Something stirred in my heart at the Wild + Free conference in Franklin, TN this past September. During that whole weekend, I couldn’t shake the feeling that 2019 would be my ‘year of saying yes.’ Once I had some time to process, it all came clear: this year is about opening up myself and my family to deeper relationships, priceless opportunity, and more freedom…”

The Wild + Free homeschool community has been so inspiring to me, so I’m grateful to have written another piece called “The Year of Saying Yes” for their latest online bundle, SAVOR. Wild + Free is a beautiful homeschool community full of diverse yet like-minded mamas all across the world who want to provide the space and time for our children to explore, engage with the world, and have the freedom to become who they're meant to be as childhood is preserved and slowly unraveled.

Each month, they release online bundles chock full of articles and tutorials to inspire homeschool mamas, or really anyone who wants to parent more slowly and intentionally. The monthly subscription includes a gorgeous print magazine as well. You can subscribe to the monthly bundles here

Joining The Art of Simple Team

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So this is fun…my new side gig for 2019 is as a Contributing Writer on The Art of Simple & Co-Host for the Simple Podcast! I’ll be contributing monthly on the site and podcast, in addition to writing more regularly here and for other publications, farming and homeschooling. Whew! It’s all things I enjoy though, so bring it, 2019.

How did the new side gig come to be? I’ve enjoyed following Tsh Oxenreider’s online and offline work for many years (I still make her homemade deodorant recipe from Organized Simplicity, and I’m here to testify that it is the only thing that works for these smelly farmer pits).

What I love about Tsh’s writings and podcast is that they’ve always helped me love my actual real life more vs. envying someone else’s life. In today’s world flooded with social media comparison, that’s so refreshing.

This past year, I had the opportunity to connect with Tsh and record two podcast episodes - a work episode about becoming a farmer (ep. 140), and My Good List (ep. 169). I quickly realized how much I love the podcast medium in addition to the creative writing I’ve done for many years. So I’m grateful to get to do both on the Art of Simple team.

Speaking of the team, here are other inspiring co-hosts and contributors. We all have such different daily lives, which I love! But what we have in common is that we want to live better and live well, and we’re open to learning from others and sharing our stories.

I’d love it if you’d follow along! Join my email list to stay in the loop on what I’m sharing here as well as on AoS.