Musings + Essays

What’s in Your House?

By: Jen Shoop

A Magpie reader pointed me in the direction of this Advent devotional from Melanie Shankle, which I just started working my way through after a late start. On Day 6, Shankle shared a meditation on the story from 2 Kings 4, in which a widow finds her self in dire financial straits and seeks counsel from Elisha. Elisha asks, “What do you have in your house?” The impecunious widow replies, “Your servant has nothing there at all, except a little oil.” Elisha directs her to return to her house to extract as much oil as she can. A miracle transpires: she is able to fill enough jugs and jars to pay off her debts.

Shankle stirred something in me when she made the observation that, so often, “we highlight that we have nothing to give and focus more on our weaknesses.” She asks: “What little bit of oil have we not noticed?”

This is true in so many different realms, and distinctly reminded me of a post I wrote earlier this year on comparison. I observed: “There are undoubtedly elements of your current life that you have worked hard to achieve and that you might invite yourself to take a minute to recognize. You probably do not realize this, but there are people in your life who envy those things you are now taking for granted. Maybe you get to travel a ton for work, or you have a super interesting job, or you found a fabulous apartment in a perfect location, or or or.” I know, in short, that there is a lot of oil I’ve not noticed in my own life that other people have.

The devotion also pooled around my thoughts on self-encouragement when we are just at the start of something new. It is rough being a novitiate as an adult. It is more comfortable to point out how bad we are at something than it is to focus on the small things we may be doing right. I am thinking specifically of the frivolous example of golf. I went out to the driving range a handful of times last summer and whiffed, shanked, and, frankly, stunk. On occasion, I’d eke out why my father calls “a worm-burner” — an inelegant error of a ball that basically skips across the top of the grass, nailing ground-dwelling insects on its way. Every fiber of my being wanted to sit in self-deprecation. And to throw all of my clubs away. What’s the point? I huffed, angrily. I’ll never have enough time to really get good at this. But my God, what a ridiculously petulant outlook. Golf is also about spending time with friends, enjoying the outdoors, learning to eat humble pie and get back up on the horse again. Oil, oil, oil.

Bringing this back to the substance of Shankle’s meditation, however, I really had to sit with myself for a minute and unpack the sentence: “We highlight we have nothing to give and focus more on our weaknesses.” I felt spoken to, even rebuked, by those words. I could do more to give more to others. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to participate in a volunteer project and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. I have been trying to be better about decluttering my weekends, doing “the small thing,” aiming for less, but this was an instance in which I wish I’d added to my plate rather than declined and consoled myself by repeating, “You are setting boundaries, you are saying no to things, these are good,” as though a tap water tonic. Perhaps I could have at least provided something — a donation, words of support, supplies. Shankle, it seemed, saw me at that moment. I’d felt like I had no time to give, but I could have found some way to participate.

Spending some time this morning asking myself, “What’s in my own house? What oil have I missed?”


+Writing this post also left me hopeful and brought to mind a really beautiful message from a sermonist a couple years back: “There’s still time to whitewash the house.”

+On doing small things with great love.

+Love is…making a salad?

+In praise of getting dressed, or…I love my husband.

Shopping Break.

+Two fab coats: this under $100 style (do you love the piped edge?!) and this toggle style, which reminds me of something by Toteme.

+Heads up that these pearl boots we’ve all been loving from Nicholas Kirkwood are an extra 30% off. Also available in a more modest style.

+There are some insanely good deals in J. Crew sale section, which is currently an extra 60% off —





+Love these caddies for organizing children’s art supplies. And so inviting to see everything lined up on a playtable in one of these vs. buried in bins!

+Gorgeous gold pleated skirt. Pair with a cashmere tee.

+Would wear this pouch as a clutch.

+Obsessed with the pattern on these pillows.

+A majorly extra sweater.

+In case you’re going somewhere warm around/after the holiday…this tunic is a dream. Love the colors and pattern!

+Finally! An attractive folding stepstool!

+Perfect winter wreath.

+This looks VERY similar to a Dior product. In my cart to test.

+How to build a layette.

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4 thoughts on “What’s in Your House?

  1. This is a minor and superficial thing, but I’ll never forget when this girl in high school who I thought was SO cool and stylish (she was, in a way you didn’t often come across in 2000s suburbia!) waited on me at a store one day and complimented me on my bag. It was vintage and she immediately IDed the maker and sort of sighed in an envious way. Meanwhile I had been thinking of her as the one to be envious of. But it’s true- it’s so easy to overlook the good in your life. All the while, someone might be looking at yours and sighing in an envious way.

    1. I love this! I totally relate to this feeling. I remember one time I overheard my friends in the other room (when I was in high school) digging through my drawer to borrow a top and one of them said, “Ugh, she has the best stuff,” and the other one said, “I knowwww.” I felt like a million bucks!!! I hadn’t known that thought I had good style until that moment.


  2. I hope you’re enjoying it! So far I like mine for this year, but I’m not finding her writing to be quite as relatable as Melanie’s.

    This puts me in mind of the idea (possibly from an earlier post of yours) of inspiring gratitude by occasionally taking stock of the things you have now that were once only deep desires. My children are going through a particularly annoying phase of bickering/tattling/whining/noise making combined with (exacerbated by?) being sick, and I really had to remind myself how much I once wanted to be a mom! Not that we can’t want to be a mom and be annoyed by our children simultaneously…but sometimes gratitude helps take the edge off so you can make it through dinner prep and bedtime. Speaking hypothetically of course, ha.

    In fact, I’m really trying to keep the focus on gratitude for the whole family, even though thanksgiving has passed. We all say something we’re thankful for at the dinner table (which does not always go smoothly, but I try!) I just feel a desperate need to emphasize all that we have in this season that bombards kids with commercials for all the new stuff they *need.* I don’t want a scarcity mindset! I can’t help thinking that contributes to bickering and problems sharing. Anyway, a long-winded way to say thanks for encouraging us to find the little bit of oil in our homes!

    1. I love these thoughts, Stephanie – I completely agree that if I am able to get into a “grateful flow” when I’m heading into a tough time of the day, or battling parenting fatigue, it really changes the tenor. Did you watch the Jonah Hill-directed documentary “Stutz”? It’s about his therapist. I found it tremendously moving. One concept I borrowed and have been using a lot lately is his concept of “grateful flow,” where you spend time naming, with specificity (AND NOT BY ROTE) the things you are grateful for on a given day. At the end of the list, say, “I’m grateful for — ” but deliberately do not say anything at the end / do not fill in the blank. Then you just feel the same lifting feeling you do as you’re itemizing all the things you are grateful for and it just creates a sensation of fullness/gratitude towards — everything. I am working on this sentiment.


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