I nearly gave up because of half an ounce.

“Half an ounce?! No!!!”

I’m normally an up-beat person. My mantra over the past 15 years has been, “I will make this work!” It’s become a challenge to take whatever fragments I’ve been given and put them together into something I really didn’t think would function, but does.

But every once in a while too many of those fragments pile up. For some reason, it’s the little things that get me down, not the big ones.

etsy business card

My business card. Just print, cut out, stick in your wallet.

I have an Etsy shop, and because various websites have highlighted my Harry Potter clock and sock sign, and my Geek/Nerd clock, I’ve been successful enough to quit my part-time job. Now I stay home making products, devoting more time to homeschooling, cooking healthier, ghostwriting a biography on the side, and—oh, yes—editing book 5.

Several times a week I bring my labeled packages to my local post office, but last weekend the postal worker said, “Hold on a moment. We recently noticed a problem.” She put my package on the scale and it read one pound and barely half an ounce. “You’re just a tiny bit over. Anything over one pound puts your packages in the next price range.”

I was stunned. “But they’ve always weighed just under a pound!”


The digits of doom and despair . . .

She shrugged in sympathy. “Something’s changed, though. You’d be amazed how little things can add up.” She suggested I rework my shipping, and I went home worried and embarrassed. Had I been cheating the US postal service lately with packages suddenly too heavy?

And that’s when the spiral hit. Maybe you never do this, but a perfect storm of scenarios can make me sink rapidly. My despair spin looked like this:

  1. I’m done for.
  2. Because the packages are too heavy,
  3. my shipping charges will skyrocket, and,
  4. my profits will be cut dramatically, so
  5. I won’t make the money we need for the bills, and
  6. I’ll have to get another job again,
  7. because I’ll have to shut down my Etsy shop!

Those seven steps took me all of about 20 seconds.
It was just one of those days, when the weight of a tiny pebble hit me like a boulder.  By the time I got home four minutes later, I was utterly dejected. Having little hope, still I borrowed a scale from a neighbor (I have since bought my own) and, remembering my mantra, mumbled, “I’ll make this work.”

I came up with that phrase 15 years ago when we had our sixth baby and a foreclosure notice. Several months of little to no work meant we could no longer afford the house we thought we’d live in for the rest of our lives. No matter what we tried, we failed at. It felt like God didn’t want us to succeed, at least not there.

In desperation, I agreed to follow my husband who thought we should move to the other side of the country and try a different kind of life. We packed up whatever would fit in a U-haul truck, my little children said good-bye to their friends, we gave away some of our pets, said farewell to all of my family, and, with only a few dollars and a humble job awaiting us, we trekked to the east coast and moved in with his family who could offer us three bedrooms for our clan of eight.

Struggling with post-partum depression (my baby wasn’t yet two months old), financial disaster, and living in a state I didn’t know and with zero friends for our family, I miserably decided, “Somehow I have to make this work.”

And so for the next few months we tried. Because we were in a suburb of Washington DC, I took my kids as often as I could to the Mall and the museums, and tried to find ways to enjoy our new environment. But it was tough. Housing was impossibly expensive which meant we couldn’t find a place of our own, my husband’s commute was over an hour, and there wasn’t a mountain to be seen anywhere. But still I kept thinking, “I have to make this work. God sent us here for a reason, so I have to make this work.”

After a few months my husband was offered another job in a much cheaper area. He moved into the heart of Virginia, and five months later we were able to join him. That was possible because someone miraculously bought our former home the day before it was to be auctioned off. That same week an old house became available for us to rent, across the street from my husband’s work.

Commute time, one minute by foot.

virginia house

Our rental house in Buena Vista, VA. We were the last occupants of this magnificent home.

There were some catches, though. The house was officially condemned, to be torn down in a few months to make way for new construction. But until then, the owners agreed to let us live with mice in the attic, skunks in the crawl space, roaches in the kitchen, and vines growing through the siding into the house. When it rained, we set up buckets to catch the water. But, at $350/month, I knew we “had to make this work.”

And we did. I was so happy to be together as a family again, and in the dingiest house I’d ever lived in.

Miraculously, another five months later we moved into a brand new house which we loved for five years, and when we sold it we were miraculously able to pay off the debt we still carried from the old house we had lost.

Those were heavy weights to wield, but we made them work.

So why, several years later, did I freak out over less than an ounce of weight?

Sometimes the smallest things feel insurmountable, like the brick in my path which makes me fall to my knees and weep. But strangely, if someone were to throw a brick wall in front of me, I’d rub my hands together and say, “I’m gonna tear down that wall!”

Maybe it’s the niggling smallness of it, the constant tiny bits that just wear us down. A pebble in a shoe bumping against the toes is much more annoying than a rock one has to climb over. Day after day after day, it’s the little things that just get to you. pebble and boot

I had a few dozen of those niggling issues last weekend, so hearing that I had “a weight problem” pushed me ridiculously to tears. “I don’t know how I’ll ever fix this! It’s all over!”

But still I worked it, because I just can’t bear to quit. I bought new packing supplies and weighed all of my products (identical items had different weights!) but still couldn’t find the problem. Aggravated, I thought, Fine! I quit! Which I really didn’t mean, but the words came clearly to my mind, “You’re going to quit over half an ounce? That’s not like you.”

No, it wasn’t like me, but I was being petty and indulging in a little pity party. I’d been working on major projects for other people, and hadn’t had time to spend on my own work. (Not regularly visiting Edge leaves me edgy.)

My next thought was, “You’re treating this like a ton, but you know it’s only half an ounce. You can beat half an ounce.”

Yes, losing our house and moving 2,000 miles away—that was a ton.

So was moving back west, which we did when our 8th baby was just four weeks old, and I drove our 15-passenger van all the way from South Carolina to Idaho in four days, and the U-haul my husband drove broke down every single day.


The fuel gauge was also broken (along with the braking system), and this is where the truck stopped one day, out of fuel. Yes, just that close to the gas pump.

We’ve also again faced the crushing weight of under-employment, and the medium bone-breaking weight of medical bills, of debt, and of major appliances dying.

But here’s the weird thing: as I look back on those problems that fairly crushed or merely bruised me, I see that weight as only a few hundred pounds: difficult, but not impossible. We made it work! No big deal!

My perception has changed not just because of hindsight, but because we didn’t carry that weight alone.

Fifteen years ago I began to finally learn what Christ meant when he said “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; . . . For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” One day, about two months after we had moved to the east coast, I was so discouraged by our plight that I finally said out loud, “Dear Father, we moved, but we’re still in a mess. We can’t have a home of our own, my kids can’t find friends, and I really hate so many trees that make it impossible to see where I’m going! I give up. What do you want me to do?”

The moment that I said, “I give up,” something clicked. What I was “giving up” was having things my own way, and insisting upon my will.

That day I gave up all my expectations of what I thought my life should be, and I handed it all over to God.

Things began to change. I found myself praying for ways we could serve others, and a few problems quickly arose where all of us needed to help. While we were focused on helping others, we were much more satisfied with our situation.

Since that miserable-yet-important year, I’ve discovered that we can get by on much less than we expected. For example, our family of 10 once lived in another rental house for four months without a couch. We survived with three camp chairs in the living room and a few blankets on the throw rug which covered a wooden floor. It was far from comfortable, but we made it work.

I have to remember those days when the weight wasn’t as terrible as I thought. I especially needed to remember that last weekend when, after several hours of experimenting, I stared dumbfounded at my clocks and wondered how I could reduce packaging without increasing risk of breakage.

I kept reminding myself, “It’s only half an ounce. How dare I give up over half an ounce!” I felt like that scene in “Apollo 13” where they try various configurations to start-up part of the spacecraft without it going over a certain voltage, but they failed again and again.

Finally I headed into my bathroom to brush my teeth (somehow that always clears my mind) and as I did so I prayed, “Dear Father, this may sound silly, but I’m so frustrated. Why are my packages overweight now? How can I fix this?”

As I reached for my toothbrush the thought came clearly, “The boxes are overweight. They were made differently, and now they’re too heavy.” In my mind I saw myself cutting off part of one flap—enough to reduce the weight, but not too much as to compromise the structural integrity.


It’s embarrassing how many hours it took me to come up with this solution.

I ran back to the boxes (brushing teeth could wait), cut off half a flap, weighed it with my product and packaging and—yes! Removed all the weight I needed!


Magic numbers! Under 16 ounces!

“Really?! That was the problem? That’s the solution? We made it work!”


Ship ’em all out, Ethel–we’re good to go!

As I did a bizarre little dance celebrating that my business-which-was-never-out-of business was back in business again, I sent up a few prayers of gratitude as well.

I felt as if the heavens answered back, “You’re welcome, again. But you didn’t have to fret or despair. Why do you take upon you these burdens, then decide to heap on a few more just to make yourself fully miserable? No one’s asking you to do that. In fact, how many times have you read, Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; . . . For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light?

Oh. Yeah.

Someday I just may remember that God can easily handle half an ounce, and also a full ton. And I’ll skip the part where I make myself miserable. Some day I’ll just instantly “ . . . drop my burden at his feet, and bear a song away.”

“Remember the saying, ‘The smallest annoyances—”

“—grow into the biggest pains.’” Perrin sighed and finished the familiar phrase. “‘It’s not the boulders in your way that slow you down, but the pebble in your boot.’”
~Book One, “The Forest at the Edge of the World”

You should be committed!

I knew an older man who declared one should stick to one’s commitments, no matter what. Always one to be suspicious of such blanket statements, I hit him with, “What if you discover you made a bad choice to begin with?”

“Doesn’t matter! You made a commitment, you stick with it. You take a job, you don’t quit it.”

“Ah,” I said, “but what if that job is sucking the lifeblood out of you?”

“Stick with it!”

“Even if it’s hurting your marriage or your family?”

He wavered a bit before repeating dogmatically, “Stick to your commitments!” 

Sensing he was losing heart, I, being the snot that I am, pressed on with, “What if you discover what your committed to is involved in, say, human trafficking? Or porn production? Or steals money from little old ladies over the phone?”

He suddenly became interested in a table of desserts.

Knowing when to shift one’s commitment is a tricky thing. Sometimes we make a decision that we think is the best, and for the time being it is.

But then situations change, and we need to change with it. Commitment to a job, or a cause, or a group is important, but it isn’t always the end-all, be-all.

I have several friends, late thirties to mid forties, all making career changes and going to back to school. They’ve ended previous careers that spanned twenty years, and are hoping to engage in new ones—business, nursing, education—for the next twenty.

This behavior of changing one’s commitments is, contrary to what your grandmother may say, not flaky.

Our parents and grandparents came from generations where you chose one job and stuck to it for the rest of your life.

Never mind that it caused you stress or hardship.

Never mind that the hours were bad for raising a family.

Never mind that you felt your soul shrinking a little more each day. 

You made a commitment, you stick to it! So what if the business is failing, fail with it! (I actually heard someone say that once about a faltering family business. Instead of closing it, the business tragically and unnecessarily took down the entire family instead.)

Some years ago I edited a dissertation written by a doctoral candidate evaluating why people change jobs. He interviewed dozens of “long-timers” in a factory who were frustrated with the disloyalty of younger employees. In their eyes, anyone on the job for less than ten years was still a new kid. They were shocked that many employees were there for maybe only two years, then “up and decided to get an education! The nerve! Thinking he was better than us, to go back to college?” Another complaint was, “Every time her baby gets a fever or an earache, she takes a sick day. Just give the baby some medicine, drop her off at daycare, and get back to work!”

I was as astonished at their utter devotion to their workplace above personal growth or family; they believed the employees owed all loyalty and allegiance to the company, first and foremost.

What they failed to realize was that you can always be replaced in a job, no matter how important you think you are. But no one can replace you as a spouse or parent.

The highest commitment has to be to one’s family and one’s principles, and those need to be the principles that ring truest to you.

Commitment is certainly a noble trait, but there’s something to be said for knowing when to “give up.” Each of my friends on new career paths gave up a job which has been filled by someone else eager for it, leaving everyone happier and re-committed to something better.

Last weekend my coworker’s daughter, in her 40s, graduated from a vocational nursing program with highest honors. She said to her mother, “I should have done this sooner, but I didn’t realize that I could.”

“True,” her mom said, “You should have. But so what? You did it now.”

I’ve thought of this change of commitment as I’ve reevaluated some aspects of my life. After twenty-two years, I’m quitting teaching part-time because I’m burned out. It’s time to give the opportunity to someone else with fresher ideas and less cynicism.

I’ve also evaluated my commitment to my website and book covers, and have realized that they all need overhauls. Like the nursing student, I wished I’d improved them sooner, but I really didn’t know what to do.

But now I do. Or rather, now I’m consulting with and employing those who do know what to do, and in a few months I hope my website will be cleaner, and my book covers will be intriguing. (I was about to write “dazzling,” but I don’t know how to put glitter on the screen.)

I also wished I started writing earlier in life, but similar to many of my friends who are now pursuing second careers, I didn’t know writing was something I really wanted to do. (Yes, despite being an English teacher . . .)

But so what? We’re all doing it now! And it’s never too late to make that course correction.

Last week I spoke with a man in his 70s who said he always drove his mother crazy because he was never “committed.” His father had been a railroad man since he was a teenager, but his son started one business after another, which his mother thought was irresponsible.

But as I looked around his well-appointed and spacious home on a hill overlooking a lake, I decided he hadn’t really done so poorly for himself.

Yet he said, “I still don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing, still haven’t figured out what to be when I grow up!”

Often we commit to something and really don’t know what we’re in for. Ask anyone who’s ever been married. *Let me state right here that I’m all for commitment in marriage!* Just indulge me for a moment: Even in very best of happy marriages, people find themselves surprised by what they’ve committed to. This doesn’t mean that we abandon it, but re-commit to it, over and over.

But sometimes we outgrow a commitment; for example, faithfully following a favorite sports team which, as we mature, we realize takes too much of our very limited time.

There’s nothing wrong with stopping midstream and deciding to head in another direction, or taking a closer look to see what can be improved with something that we previously thought was just fine, or bailing out altogether. Commitment to the wrong thing at the wrong time does no one any good.

But re-committing to something better can make all the difference in everyone’s world.

Perrin mentally added ‘farmer’ to the list of alternatives to being High General. The list he began two and half years ago in Idumea had never been erased from his mind. Periodically he pulled it out, reminding himself that his future wasn’t set in stone . . .

It was the unknown variables that troubled him. He often felt his life was a complicated math problem where he’d been given only a few numbers, with the rest to follow at a later date. He’d stare at the equation, anticipating what the missing digits may be, wondering when the final solution would reveal itself.

“Just comes a time, boys,” Shem answered breezily. “Colonel Shin’s been at it for over twenty-five years. Gets a little boring, doing the same work for so long. Maybe he’ll become a builder.”  ~Book 4, Falcon in the Barn (coming spring 2015)