Welcome to a new series on the blog called Literary Homemaking! Each month I will be exploring homemaking through a literary piece. This month we are discussing one of my favourite books especially for women called Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss. Join me below as we discuss the homemaking lessons we can learn, the creation of a homemaker, the importance of mentors, and how to overcome challenges.
As someone who has always had a passion for the literary life it seemed only fitting to incorporate it into my homemaking. The books that I will choose for this series will always be family friendly and perfect for reading aloud so no matter what season of life you are in you will be able to read along!
I often find homemakers who say they are too busy for reading but as cliche as it sounds I truly believe that if you wish to read more there is always a way! I often think of the quote by Tasha Tudor
“I enjoy doing housework, ironing, washing, cooking, dishwashing. Whenever I get one of those questionaires and they ask what is your profession, I always put down housewife. It’s an admirable profession, why apologize for it. You aren’t stupid because you’re a housewife. When you’re stirring the jam you can read Shakespeare.”
It is also important to remember as with everything there are seasons in the literary life. Sometimes you will have the chance to read for hours upon hours in a day and others you may only be able to ready a paragraph before rushing to change diapers. This is where I like to incorporate audiobooks. Audiobooks allow you to listen to books while going throughout your day and is a great resource for exposing your children to great literature.
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Literary Homemaking no. 1 Stepping Heavenward
Now let’s jump into the book of this month Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss!
First published in 1869, Stepping Heavenward follows the life of outspoken and passionate Kathrine (Katy) starting on her sixteenth birthday “How dreadfully old I am getting! Sixteen!”. Limited by the confines of her own self obsession Katy’s world was quite small, but as her heart expands for Christ her world expands. This story is told through Katy’s own journal entries where we get to follow her as she strengthens her identity in Christ and becomes a beloved homemaker.
I will do my best not to give too much of the book away if you have not read it before, but be warned there will be spoilers so if you wish to experience the book for yourself first stop reading now and then return to this post.
The Development of a Homemaker
Homemaking is an art. As with all art homemaking too takes discipline and practice to develop the skill. In Stepping Heavenward we follow the development of Katy becoming a selfless homemaker from a selfish teenager who is consumed by her own passions, unaware of what it takes to make a home work and the value in the work. Unlike watching the women in our lives, we get to intimately experience Katy’s inner most thoughts as she progresses through this journey.
In her youth, Katy struggles with her purpose in life. She views homemaking as beneath her “I don’t keep my room in nice order, and mother really sees to the parlour herself, though I pretend to do so.” pg.60 and her priority is to serve herself: “My time is pretty fully occupied with my books, my music and my drawing.” Now I want to quickly note that there is nothing wrong with books, music or drawings, but as this novel teaches us it is the heart behind passions and Katy’s heart was devoted to serving herself.
As Katy is given more responsibility by the blessings of marriage and motherhood we see her priorities and values shift. She begins to value the role at home, but as a young homemaker she struggles to understand what exactly does serving her family in this role look like. Wanting to devote her life to her husband, children and home she prioritizes the practical work of running a home such as mending, making sure the meals are prepared, and the pantry is always stocked. But she neglects the heart of homemaking: making our home a haven to serve all who enter.
In fact through this devotion to the practical she becomes controlling of what the home should look like, is ungrateful for the help from her sister in law Martha, makes her in-laws feel unwelcome in her home, and leads herself to the point of burnout where she can no longer care for her loved ones joyfully. As it was in her youth, her heart was still devoted to serving herself, just not through books, music or her drawing anymore, but through being the centre of the home: “Oh, how different everything is from what I planned! I wanted a cheerful home, where I should be the centre of every joy”
Through trials, becoming rooted in God and gleaning wisdom from mentors, Katy is refined. Her mind becomes steeped in wisdom, her heart becomes selflessly devoted to others, and her home becomes a haven to serve others: “Poor old man! I will try to make your home so sweet and home-like to you that when you change it for heaven, it shall be but a transition from one bliss to a higher!”
The Importance of Mentors For Homemakers
The first mentor for many homemakers, like Katy, is their mother. “A young girl’s mother is her natural refuge in every perplexity.”
Katy’s mother knew how to make her house a home as well as make herself into an extension of home “Mother met me with open arms when I reached home.” She was the embodiment of a Titus 2 woman:
“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behaviour, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” ~ Titus 2: 3-5
Katys’s mother also models what it is to leave a legacy. Not only was she a mentor to her daughter Katy, but she also influenced her grandchildren: “It is a pleasant picture to see her with my little darlings about her, telling the old sweet story she told me so often, and making God and Heaven and Christ such blissful realities.”
Alongside her mother we see throughout the story Katy encounter many other women who helped shape her into a wise woman.
Now in this day and age it can be discouraging to read novels such as this due to the lack of mentors for women today! Thankfully we have the privilege of seeking mentors in novels. Some of my most influential mentors are women I have only met on pages.
5 Homemaking Lessons We Can Learn
- Keep Christ at the centre: “There is no wilderness so dreary but that His love can illuminate it, no desolation so desolate but that He can sweeten it. I know what I am saying. It is no delusion. I believe that the highest, purest happiness is known only to those who have learned Christ in sick-rooms, in poverty, in racking suspense and anxiety, amid hardships, and at the open grave.”
- Welcome children into your home: “I want to see little children adorning every home, as flowers adorn every meadow and every way-side. I want to see them welcomed to the homes they enter, to see their parents grow less and less selfish and more and more loving, because they have come. I want to see God’s precious gifts accepted, not frowned upon and refused.”
- Homemaking is an act of worship if done with the correct heart: “every act of obedience is an act of worship”
- Children are a blessing to homemaking, not a burden: “The coming of each new child strengthens and deepens my desire to be what I would have it become; makes my faults more odious in my eyes, and elevates my whole character.”
- We are leaving a legacy: “My darling, precious children! For their sakes I am continually constrained to seek after an amended, a sanctified life; what I want them to become I must become myself.”
Challenges in Homemaking and How to Overcome Them
Briefly mentioned above, burnout is one challenge a homemaker can experience. Like Katy, this is usually caused by focusing on the tasks to be done and allowing oneself to be consumed by them. The simple solution to this burnout, as Katy learned, is to embrace the heart of homemaking: making our home a haven to serve all who enter.
This may mean the dishes don’t get done because it is time for bedtime stories or the laundry didn’t get folded because a neighbour stopped for tea. But the people are what’s important.
Quickly after marriage Katy experiences the loneliness that many new wives experience when their husbands go back to work. Her husband Ernest during this time offered a few good solutions that may help you if you are currently struggling with loneliness:
- Get out of the house with friends. Go for tea, a walk, etc.
- Volunteer. Before marriage Katy was volunteering with the Sunday school. Leaving this role when she moved is one of the reasons I believe she felt so lonely.
- Read together. Due to the nature of his profession Ernest had to use his free time reading about medicine. For Katy this meant even more time alone. As a solution Ernest offered to move his work from his study to the living area so they could be together during this time.
To learn more about Stepping Heavenward join me this month in The Kindred Corner as we discuss this lovely timeless novel! The Kindred Corner is an online community where kindred spirits gather over a cup of tea to discuss all things good, true, and beautiful.
I can not wait to meet with you again next month for our next Literary Homemaking session!