Two facts about me:  I am cheap and I am not crafty. Last year for Christmas my sisters and I decided to do a homemade gift exchange for our families instead of the usual Target/Walmart/Amazon extravaganza of previous years. This was a perfect fit for my cheap side, but was a bit of a challenge for my craft-inadequte side. To make matters more complicated, my sisters are both passionate and talented when it comes to the homemade arts. My older sister is a detail-oriented perfectionist with an artist’s soul and my younger sister is what I like to call a hippie sophisticate— musician, organic, free-thinker with good taste. I am not any of these things. I am practical. And also. . . practical. Somehow I manage to be not detail oriented and also not a free thinker. I am a rule follower who has no problem quitting when things get complicated and tends to mess up simple recipes because I get distracted. It’s hard to know how having five kids age seven and under add to my distractibility, but we’ll assume it plays some part.

So to give you a visual example of how the Christmas exchange went down last year, here’s a picture of The Best Christmas present ever, courtesy of my older sister:


Yes. That is my family as snowmen handcrafted in clay. And they were all clearly identifiable as each member of the family by some certain representative trait. So you’re seeing what I’m up against. Me— the woman who considers wrapping paper a waste of money and chooses instead to give gifts in the plastic bag I bought them in or by telling the recipient to close their eyes until the gift is in their hand. This is clearly not my strength. So what did I make for my siblings?

My sister was opening her gift from me, which came in a large plastic coffee container I had recently emptied of its original contents. My niece said, “I think it’s coffee”, but my sister (who has known me since I was born) said, “I hope it’s laundry detergent!” I will remember that quote as the most memorable moment of Christmas, 2012. My niece said she thought that was the only time in the history of Christmas that the phrase, “I hope it’s laundry detergent” had been uttered. She might be right. And my sister was right, too— it was laundry detergent. I am just that practical. (*Bonus* My recipe for homemade laundry detergent is at the bottom of this post.)

As part of our Christmas celebrating that year we also went to an impromptu party thrown by friends of ours who are known for impromptu party throwing. There was good food, places for kids to enjoy a Christmas movie or games, fun conversation, and an inviting atmosphere. (She makes this crab dip I’d try to describe to you, but then I’d just start craving it and somehow end up at her house uninvited. Not cool.) Our hostess was relaxed and allowed for everybody to have a good time without freaking out about spilled drinks or crying kids or conversation pauses or how much it costs to feed all these people, and all with a sleeping foster baby strapped to her chest.

Photos by Rebecca Tredway Photography

It was delightful. It was something I am totally incapable of doing.

As I analyze these moments where I wish I could trade some of my strengths for the strengths of my sisters and friends, I have come to two conclusions.

1. Women are not all the same. My mom is a great hostess and I always imagined I’d be “that kind of woman” but it just hasn’t seemed to happen. I find I’m only capable of one aspect— I can either have a good meal ready OR be relaxed and enjoy the time with our guests. I have a really hard time doing both. Does that make me less of a woman? I certainly hope not. I know I have other gifts to offer my friends (nothing comes to mind right now, but I’m sure there’s something. . . only kidding. . . sort of), but in this season of my life I have to accept the limitations I’m running up against. My artistic sisters and my hospitality-oriented friends are embracing their gifts and doing what they love. It isn’t a good idea for me to take their example as a mandate for what a “real” woman is like if those aren’t the gifts I have.


2. I have a lot to learn. I don’t want to always give myself an out when it comes to things I’m not good at. I want to be sure every once in a while I’m really struggling to be detail oriented when it means loving someone else well in a way that speaks to them, even if it isn’t my strength. I want to offer hospitality even when it means I fight through some frustrations and stress when things don’t go the way I want them to (which of course, always happens). My hospitality-oriented friend has a heart that says, “How can I help” when my heart says,”Please don’t ask me to help.” I can feel like I’m barely keeping my head above water as it is, but often stepping out to help puts my struggles in perspective. I am incredibly thankful for women in my life who embody each trait of The Body of Christ and through just using their gifts they become teachers of how to put others first.

I’m afraid we can often look at the gifts of others and compare them to our own and either feel superior or inadequate. I’m trying to learn how to accept how God has made me (because seriously people— everybody needs laundry detergent at some point) AND learn from the talents and beauty of the women around me.


Laundry Detergent Recipe:

1 bar of Fels Naptha soap

2 cups Arm and Hammer Washing Soda

2 cups Borax

(I can find all these ingredients in the laundry detergent aisle at my local grocery store)

Grate your bar of soap (with a cheese grater or food processor) and then mix it with the washing soda and borax. Use about a Tablespoon of this mixture for each load of laundry. You’re welcome. 

Maralee Bradley

Maralee is a mom of six pretty incredible kids. Four were adopted (one internationally, three through foster care) and two were biological surprises. Prior to becoming parents, Maralee and her husband were houseparents at a children’s home and had the privilege of helping to raise 17 boys during their five year tenure. Maralee is passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption, making her family a fairly decent dinner every night, staying on top of the laundry, watching ridiculous documentaries and doing it all for God’s glory. Maralee can be heard on My Bridge Radio talking about motherhood and what won't fit in a 90 second radio segment ends up at