Being brave

A few months ago, Chris said to me ever so timidly “You know, I haven’t wanted to say anything…(long pause)…but, the way you are interacting with the kids, its just off a little.  Like it’s not “you” and I don’t know why.”  If I wasn’t also so aware of what he was speaking to, I would have been tempted to be gravely offended.  But I felt it too.  Like things were one step off.  We talked long and tried to trouble-shoot.  We wondered together about what could be amiss.  Depression?  No, we both agreed we knew what that looked like for me, not like this.  Over-committed?  No.  Maintaining pretty good boundaries on time and life stuff.  We didn’t pinpoint it that night we had talked.  I just did what I knew to do and kept pursuing Love.

December rolled around with all it’s extra activity and bustle and expectations.  It was one of those holiday seasons (maybe you’ve never had one like this) that just doesn’t feel ripe with meaning and beauty.  I’d poured out a great deal of heart and soul and prayer on some matters very dear to my heart….and by Christmas was feeling discouraged and disillusioned at the reality of things.  Instead of looking forward with great anticipation at the respite that was coming my way in January as I’d planned a weekend away with a friend, I grew intensely fearful.  This trip loomed larger than life instead of being a bright spot in my days to come.  Anxiety hasn’t ever really been a big thing for me, other stuff tends to trip me up.  But I was undone with a sense of worry and fear.  I couldn’t talk about going on the trip with anyone.  When I did I would usually cry.

I began to wonder what in the world was wrong with me.  I knew I’d encountered some major losses.  I had hoped beyond hope for some big things that didn’t come to fruition.  That is never easy.  Ever.  But still, this unexplained dread took over my days and I pictured myself getting on a plane and hyperventilating in my seat as we departed.  I finally told my friend I wasn’t sure I could go.  She was of course kind and said we would do whatever we needed and if I couldn’t manage to go, that was totally okay.

It was finally a conversation with a lifelong friend that turned the lights on.  As we talked over text (which I don’t usually love but wow, with 14 children between the two of us, talking is hard to come by!), I spoke words into my phone in a quiet whisper sitting in the garage one afternoon.  I sat on the back steps and wept in the cold air as I realized why I was so beside myself in this uncharacteristic way.

Just waking up and getting out of bed every single day, caring intentionally for my husband then loving, educating, serving and equipping my children…all the while trying to help make sense of life for a child that is struggling in big ways….it feels like just doing that requires all the bravery I can find.  Each day I’m living takes every ounce of brave this heart can muster.  So I suppose, that’s why I can’t do this trip and leave my kids for three days.  Plumb out of bravery.

And that was it.  My every day took every bit of brave.  So of course none was left.  Knowing this was what made it so easy for me to walk up to the sweet older grandma at a Christmas event that same week and pour love over her with my words.  As she cared with such patience for her autistic grandson I told her boldly how precious her obvious love for him was and what a gift it was she was giving, even if he didn’t know.  When you can’t make life feel doable for a child whom you love and would give your life for, it takes such a toll on your heart.  But you don’t quit.  You just keep loving.  And it is brave, the loving.

January came.  Days passed fast and Sunday before the trip came.  My kids didn’t even know there was a trip coming up.  More anxiety bubbled over as I wondered if it was one of those gut feelings you should trust and I should stay home.  What if I cried on the plane?  What if I had any sort of unpleasant mama meltdown whilst on this supposed wonderful getaway/conference?  What if something terrible happened with the kids while I was gone?  What if I summoned myself to finally go and the time was disappointing?  Then the clearest words came to my heart as I pondered what to do.  What if I go on this trip, believing there is something great for me taking this time away, and nothing happens?  What if despite my desperate expectation for God to meet me there and make some sense of things, He doesn’t?

The what if’s.  Oh the life they can steal right out from under us.  So I stared them in the face and packed my suitcase (but not until 9 pm the night before the departing flight!).  I didn’t feel brave.  I just literally shoved a few clothes in an old backpack and got in my car and left.

What I encountered when I finally had space and time and quiet would literally breathe life into my soul.  I had utterly no idea how desperately I needed time away.  Time with no agenda.  No activity.  A beloved speaker to listen to yes, but lots of time and room to not need to do anything for anyone.  This felt so radical for me.  So indulgent.  But it was life.  I took a birds eye view to my life and could see clearly things that had pressed in too hard on my everyday for me to be able to sort out.  And with the view came a lot of emotion.  But there was space for that.  Space to listen to my own heart and give myself permission to grieve and room too for hope to seep in to every broken place.

I haven’t written in so long.  And I didn’t really know where to begin (again).  So I decided to just start with this little window into the last season before getting to the next one.  For you precious few who still read, I am thankful and hope that you can find space if you need it, to do something brave.  Even if that is just getting out of bed tomorrow and living your one and only life you have to live.

A normal day… (updated)

The announcement goes something like this: “Finn is covered. Head to toe covered. He is completely naked and covered with tiny shards of styrofoam. It’s everywhere. All over the bathroom walls, the counter, the floor. And Finn.”

I take a deep breath. I’m sitting on the couch trying to drink coffee, recovering from a full weekend and our very long Monday. There is some magical thing about a mama who sits down. She can be hustling around fixing breakfast, filling the crockpot with dinner, doing dishes leftover from last night, switching laundry loads, wiping up unidentifiable smashed food and she is near invisible in her work. But sit that mama down and no one misses it. My backside hasn’t been on the couch ten seconds before one, two, then three sweet things are fighting for my lap. Good thing it’s a soft and plentiful lap. Everyone snugs in and about then is when oldest boy comes in with the news about Finn.

And these are the things our everydays are made of. Kids practicing self defense moves on the barn roof. Digging for bones in the forest and coming back with near intact skeletons. Hard working almost teenage Rylee traipsing out to the barn in her pajamas every single morning with a big milk bucket and bed head. Someone forgot to let the turkey out and she’s talking loud from her pen reminding us to set her free for the day. The pigs are done with breakfast but they are ready for second breakfast if anyone cares to oblige. Coyotes are closing in every morning and the three big dogs are on constant watch, sure to bark away any rustle from the forest.  A dog shows up locked in the pantry after someone shut him inside to “clean up” an entire box of spilled granola.

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A two year old whose sparkling blue eyes are sure to dazzle is happy to climb trees or climb onto counters using drawer knobs as a ladder.  She is just as pleased to act as “baby” and get to “nap” in a suitcase.  Only the pretend nap turned real and she lays there in the middle of the noisy kitchen for an hour snoozing.  She has a penchant for “beddies” (berries) and the berry crisp someone accidentally left here last night ended up being her bedtime snack since she found it (and a spoon) before anyone else did.  She loves to snuggle cousins and creatures of every sort.

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Blisters on my hands now just healed from an evening of food prep and endless slicing and dicing. The sacrifice of a weeknight evening for the sake of precious friends seemed painfully small but the only thing I could do to communicate love. Their loss of new life at 11 weeks pregnant was all too familiar to us and besides praying our hearts out, food seems the only other way to extend compassion.

There are stacks of great books to be read, one 7 year old sits reading to me this very minute. The library hold shelf bears our name and inquiring ones want to know when we can go pick up the waiting books. Older ones have been enlisted by youngers to place holds so even the littles have books waiting for them today.

As for me, only styrofoam awaits me at the moment I’m afraid.  Lots and lots of styrofoam…

***Updated 9:56 AM***  While I scoped out the styrofoam mess I came downstairs to the sound of Dad’s drill on the front porch.  This is what I found: 


When I inquired about what was taking place, Finn was quick to explain “I caught a moth, I put it in a ziploc and Audrey helped me poke holes so it could breath.  I’m going to drill it into the front door to make sure dad can see it when he gets home.”  To which I took another deep breath and commended him for his use of eye protection then I explained that while that was very sweet, it would permanently ruin the door.  We searched for a big piece of wood and screwed the ziploc into it instead.  It is propped up by Dad’s parking spot waiting for his return.  The front door is scratched but not badly so.

While it might be very entertaining for me to write these posts every day (as this is very normal) – it would surely overwhelm.  But for posterity’s sake I’d sure like to try every now and then!

Broken pieces and forgiveness

It’s a perfectly normal rainy fall Thursday.  Kids plugging away at school work.  Mom realizing we’re nearly out of coffee which is a pretty big crisis.  At least a dozen other staples are at a near gone level as well.  My efforts to stretch out Costco trips has probably been taken a bit too far.  I head for the door and promise a treat for the ones who have to stay home.  I bring one son with me since he’s my best muscle help, loves loading and unloading and scouting for our list items.  I run back in and ask a daughter to come too, she declines and says she wants to do math instead.  When I get outside, the car is one resounding sob.  A precious little book that had been carefully tucked away, one with stamped pages collected from geocaching with Dad, it had been found.  By an unruly four year old brother.  And every page scribbled and drawn on.  Deemed a total loss.  Pages were ripped out in frustration and the little books pages were strewn everywhere.  “It was so SPECIAL!!” he’s weeping and I tell him I’m sorry and I know we can replace it or fix it or make it better.  The brother says sorry but its a four-year-old sorry and it doesn’t heal or help.  At all.

We depart despite the trauma and get out to the main road.  I’ve answered a call from my mother and am catching up a bit with her when I hear a loud crash in my van.  I look back.  The back window is missing.  I’m driving down a super steep hill.  I pull safely to the side.  I get out and look for clues.  I’m completely baffled.  And more than a little scared.  The not knowing what is happening.  It’s an awful feeling.  I look inside the hole where my window used to be.  There is a harmless looking grocery sack.  Nothing else.  I look closer without cutting myself.  There is a rock much bigger than my fist in the bag.  And other various beach treasures that had been collected somewhere and left in the van.  A rock big enough to shatter my window into hundreds of little pieces.

He meets my gaze.  He stammers and mumbles about not knowing what was in the bag.  In his feeling-deeply moment, he probably didn’t, its true.  He was overwhelmed with feeling and he tossed the bag back without a second thought.  I look long at him.  I don’t ask why.  He’s just now calculating what he has done.  And a new tide of emotion rushes in.  Fear.  Unchecked remorse.  An unbearable sense of “why in the world did I do this?”.  I watch him and I silently get my keys and get back in the van.  I dial our treasured car repair man, I’m more than lip quivering at this point, I tell him what happened and ask him to help me.  He gives me a number of a man who does just this and I call him before we even reach the house.  Of course he can fix it he tell me, and my tears cover my phone.   I find Audrey and hold her so tight it hurts.  The bag of rocks flew over her seat.  If she’d come when I invited her to, she would have been directly in its haphazard path.  The “what if…” catches in my throat and I can’t breathe or speak or cry or move.

The road is covered with glass.  I’m not the sort who can just leave it there.  So I pick up a dustpan and broom and drive back to the street where it broke.  He watches for cars, blazing over the hill at 40 mph and alerts me to their coming while I kneel on the asphalt and sweep one shard after another into a pan.  He holds the bag as I dump load after load in.  He is shaking.  The rain begins.  I give him my sweater and crouch on the road in a tee shirt quickly soaking.   I consciously breathe in and out and I hear the truth ringing in my head, in my heart.

Jesus meets me right here.  On the road.  In damp jeans with my tattered heart.  Picking up the mess of someone else’s wrong choice.  It’s more than a whisper, it’s the clearest thing ever.  This.  This is what I do for you all the time.  I pick up the pieces.  I enter in to your mess, even if it is risky.  And I love you there.  I offer you forgiveness.  Grace.  And I never stop.  You can’t outrun my unrelenting love for you.  And you get to extend it.  Right now.  In this moment.  With your own son.  

He keeps saying softly, “I’m so sorry mom”.  I finish sweeping and turn to him.  I wrap him up in the rain.  I hold him for a long time on the sidewalk. I speak life and forgiveness and love.  In a season when I feel like I’m messing up a fair bit, every day, can’t get anything “just right”…I get the chance to do this.  This one thing right.  To respond the way God responds to my (daily) mess.  To practice what it looks like to say:

Yep.  You did quite a thing here.  Epic poor choice.  But here I am.  My love for you won’t stop, won’t quit.  I choose to love you in this moment.  You are forgiven.

I can hardly get my body into the house when we return.  My legs won’t stop shaking.  My insides quiver.  The kids sit quiet and make lunch for each other.  I bring them to the computer, show them this video.  We talk forgiveness.  How God offers it.  Freely.  Unceasingly.  In the purest, most genuine way.  How this is what makes the way of Jesus a different path.  A radical one.  And I pray silent for another chance to show them.  To forgive fully and to love well.


The house on 116th

My first memories here are from my tenth year of life.  It was the third and last childhood home I would claim.  I felt grown up then.  And strangely, though I’m now freshly 37, I feel less grown up than ever.  The weight and responsibilities of life weight heavy and most days I am under-equipped for the tasks of this “grown up life” that belongs to me.  There was a gray bunny with floppy ears that hopped around one summer evening while our parents read books to us on a blanket in the backyard.  Perhaps we only did this one time, perhaps we did it a hundred times…regardless, it would be emblazoned in my memory to this very day as one of my favorite childhood memories.

There was the place at the top of the stairs where I chucked a tuna fish sandwich at my mother as a hormonally-overwhelmed preteen.  This was shortly after I’d slapped the elementary school principal and been suspended from sixth grade.  My fourth grade teacher, the first year we moved to 116th Place, was such a treasured woman I spent the weekend at her home once.   Maybe you shudder when I write that.  But it was another time.  And it was the purest kind of grandmotherly love I received under her nose.   Fifth grade net me a double win in the teacher department, a back to back blessing, another amazing older woman who told me I could do hard things and I believed her.  But by sixth grade, the tuna fish year and the year Lance “pantsed” me (do kids even do that still?) in the kickball field (I never wore leggings again, only reliable pants that wouldn’t give), a different teacher fresh out of college was my all day companion.  Something in my heart shifted that year under her harsh leadership.  Sure, the hormones of a 12 year old girl played a part.  But when I was cleaning recently and found apology letters written from that teacher, it reminded me that she certainly had played a part, and she knew she had.  She crushed my desire to learn and the confidence that had grown so richly the year before.  She made me feel like a problem and I absorbed her perception of my life in a huge way.

There was the unfinished basement where my parents allowed us incredible freedom.  They provided us with wood scraps and sawhorses and an old door to use as our table.  We spent hours upon hours on that concrete slab.  Making things for all the neighbors, cutting wood up and painting it, gluing yarn to it….just generally being as creative as we wanted to be.  We gathered neighborhood kids and practiced plays and performed them for our patient parents.  In December we called it Santa’s workshop.  But it my mind, it was still that even for the rest of the year.  They let us demo the poorly placed wall with hammers and I remember my grandpa bashing the wall with some heavy tool and it felt so cool.

My room looked out to a cherry tree.  Small at first but as the years passed it was magnificent.  I would try to draw or paint it but never did any justice.  And of course this was before smart phones and digital cameras, so I have probably not a single photo of it.  Just my memory.  Which is somehow, wonderfully, enough.  My two sisters and I shared a bathroom and clothes (although often unwillingly) and were each just about as different as three girls could be.

Many times over the years there would be an unwed pregnant teen or young woman living downstairs.  My parents put action to their faith and provided love and direction for girls in such difficult circumstances.  One was 16.  Tanya.  She taught us to open our Christmas presents and then re wrap them so we wouldn’t get caught.  It was not as fulfilling as I’d imagined.  One we bonded so much with that we traveled late at night to the hospital to be there when her baby was born.  I still remember sleeping on the floor of the hospital waiting room.  She gave that baby up for adoption and it seemed to me like the bravest thing in all the world to do such a thing.  One was named Jennifer and I would wake up early for school and write her a note on a post-it most mornings.  She lined her walls with my notes and took them with her when she left.  I see now that this was the breeding ground for many things, but especially my intrinsic, God-given gift of encouraging others and also a deeply held belief that life, all life, in every form even unborn, is precious beyond measure and is always worth standing up for.

As time went by the downstairs room underneath the kitchen, the room with its very own bathroom became my dwelling place.   I would sneak out that ground floor window and simply sit in the dirt bed outside it, only to be able to honestly say I had snuck out of my house at night.  I had a phone.  One with a cord.  That plugged into the wall.  A boy dialed my home number and had to contend with my parents or sisters to talk to me.  And talk he did.  Sometimes until 3:00 AM on a school night.  About nothing and about everything.  He would keep calling.  For the next four years.  Until one spring evening he would walk up those front porch stairs and knock on the door to find my father in his pajamas already.  He would muster up all his courage and ask for my hand in marriage.  The answer was yes then and then yes a month later when he asked me and yes again a year later when we said our marriage vows in front of 436 people just five days after my twenty-first birthday.  The answer is still yes today, every day.

Love is all tied up in that place.  Almost three decades of love and memories.  So its no wonder that this week when processing some tough issues related to one of our kids, I was sharing with someone about my parents selling their home, and all of the sudden I couldn’t even choke the words out.  It had all been very matter-of-fact until then.  But my mind had dared to remember.  And the remembering took me somewhere I hadn’t planned and the emotions completely overwhelmed me.  The house on 116th has been a place of life and nourishment for me for the majority of my 37 years.  It holds a lifetime of memories.  It is a place that has grown me, grounded me, given to me.

With each passing year as I continue into my own journey of motherhood and nurturing a family, I understand more the richness of what we were given.  Faithful parents who devoted their lives to loving Jesus,  each other, their daughters and countless others…which about sums up really all I hope we can offer our own six children.   A sense of place grounds the heart in such an impenetrable way.  As we cultivate our own family culture and build our own memories, that is at the top of the list of what I long to offer them.  A haven from a crazy world full of hard things.  A place of respite when life disappoints and crushes.  A place where love lives and is a constant, unconditional gift given without expectations or strings attached.





Slowing down love

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We have the most amazing gift of having my 92 year old grandfather living near us.  In my idealistic ways, before he moved across country to live near my mom and the rest of our family here, I imagined we would see him all the time.  And we did at first, it was easier a year or 18 months ago.  He could join us for church and then we could go out to eat after.  Then it became more challenging to work out visits.  Alzheimer’s is a thief of the mind and the daily work of simply existing is getting harder for him.  So we go to him.  After church.  And eat the same cheeseburgers and have the same sweet conversation.  And we love him.  So much our hearts might burst.  He says a few things the same every time and they are every bit as precious, every single week….

Just keep doing what you’re doing.  You’re doing such a good job with all those kids.  I don’t know how you do it.  You just keep doing it…

In response to me walking in the door and asking how he’s doing today…

Well I’m a whole lot better now that you are here.

He tells me he’s going downhill.  The loss of mental sharpness when you’ve dined at the White House and been a powerful man most your life in Washington DC is felt keenly, daily, no doubt.  And I tell him no matter where he is on the hill we love him.  He tells me he’s not making much of a contribution right now, this from a man who has made incredible contributions in policical arenas as well as leaving a rich legacy of faith to our whole family.  I tell him his life well lived is contribution enough and that we’re blessed to get to sit with him.  He prays the same prayer every Sunday lunch, always ending with “Lord use us in your service”.

The kids just smile when they answer the same question four times in one lunch about what grade they are in.  They are learning this kind of love that we seem to forget in this busy land of ours.  A slow loves that says no matter what you are able to accomplish, you are valuable and precious.

He always marvels over how I’m there, always mumbles about how my life is busy and full and how do I find the time.  And I answer the same every week:

You make time for what matters the most Grandpa – and you matter to me.

If there is any life changing take away from our sudden loss incurred five years ago, when Chris’ dad didn’t return alive from his hunting trip one January weekend, its that our tomorrow isn’t promised to us.  We have today to make choices that reflect our values.  We have this one life to spend how we want.  Only one.  So we spend our Sundays and they are worth more than gold.

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Margins and the power of no

The hardest adjustment since returning from over a month in Chile in February is the pace at which we live life here.  The options we have are staggering, in all aspects and avenues of life.  That we take those options for granted is a whole other post, or really worthy of a volume of books.  When life is packed full and paced at a sprint, there is simply no room for the things that really matter.  The loudest, most demanding, emergent needs are the ones that get met.  I think most of our American culture lives this way.  So when we step back and say no to things, not lazy no’s but wise and calculated no’s, there is kick back ranging from mild to monumental.  The whole idea that to say yes to one thing means saying no to another, this is fresh news to me.  It shouldn’t be.  But as an oldest born, Type A, recovering perfectionist…it is.  What has most struck me as I’ve soaked in this deep reality the past few months is that my yes to the louder things often means a no to my home, family and marriage.  This stings.  A lot.

When I am not maintaining a wide and healthy margin in the peripheral threads of my life, the things that slip are often small and seem like they don’t matter.  For example, if I am too bone tired to make lunch for my husband.  I crawl into bed instead.  This translates into him eating chicken tenders from Safeway or stopping for Subway midday while he drives all day, every day for his job.  This translates into a missed opportunity.  Had I had just a little more energy, space, heart to give, I would have been able to mentally, physically put forth what is required to think through packing a lunch that can sit in his car all morning, staying cold and fresh until he has time to eat.  When that lunch that I took time to provide for him is sitting there, it speaks VOLUMES to him.  It says, I love you enough to make time to do this small but actually really important thing for you today.  I want you to be fed well while you work hard to provide for our family every single day.  It is such a small thing.  Seems insignificant.  But it intertwines our hearts a little.  I think of him while I prepare his food.  I stash bags of his favorite (not healthy) chips in the garage knowing he will smile when he sees I bought them.  He thinks of me when he opens up lunch and sees food that I put together just for him.

After celebrating sixteen years of marriage last Friday, the power of the small steps toward each other and the way they strengthen the fabric of our union is nothing less than life-altering.  If life is so full that there is no room for the daily love, the sweet gifts of words or actions that say “you matter to me” then we can forget.  And when we forget and just live disconnected zero-margin lives, nothing good comes of it.

I wanted to teach a class next year.  One that I would excel at and would love and people might even tell me “good job” or “thank you” and I would even get paid for it.  As I thought long and hard about the commitment, I knew the only answer I could give was no.  If I calculated the cost of preparing for it, there would exist a debt in my life.  The debt would have been paid by my own children and my husband.  I would have been more frazzled, less organized and spread too thin to love well.  They would not have been aware of the price they had paid.  Truth is we often aren’t aware of the ways we pay for a life with no white space in it.  And with each passing year I believe that the cost is more than I imagined and I am constantly evaluating if I’m pouring into the right things, saying yes (and thus no) to the right things for this season, of mothering six children, five of them homeschooling, running a small farm, living a life wide open to love in every way.  The answer to the question “is taking on this one more thing worth it?” is no more often than I’d like.

There were days over the past few weeks that I fought so hard to s-l-o-w down.  Spring time on the farm is positively bursting with energy and work to do.  I love it, on the deepest level.  But combined with the rest of my life it was easy to get frenzied.  So I talked to myself, more than once, forced my rear into a chair and sat with the (human) kids in the baby goat pen.  This morning my husband called and true to my nature, I felt a tinge of guilt when he rang and I was sitting snuggling a days old baby with my oldest born daughter at 9:30 in the morning on a school day.  But there was no where else in the world I wanted to be at that moment.

As the days pass since our constant 24 hours of togetherness for almost five weeks this winter, my desire to live a faithful, grounded kind of life with space in it for loving well is at the continual forefront of my thoughts.  Saying no and disappointing people in the process is unfortunately a byproduct of this lifestyle.  Being accountable for my choices however, rests squarely on my own shoulders.  So I take deep breaths and do my best to be honest (to others AND to myself!) about what I can and can’t do.  At the end of the day, the most important things are the most important things.  And the loud things can still be loud and be left unattended.  If I do life without the margin, time and heart to love, then it really isn’t life at all.

On kindness

My late afternoon, ambitious journey meant heading into town and to a mall of all places, where we hadn’t ventured together in years and certainly never with all six kids by myself.  As we drove to the mall the kids read the store names loudly and tried to conjure up some memory of days when we frequented these streets regularly.  Days when busy roads and sitting in bonafide traffic were normal.  We almost look like we fit in when I look down at my foot and see that a goat stepped  on me just before we left and the whole top of my foot is muddy and brown.

We make it through our purposeful trip to get fancy cupcakes and support a friend’s book launch simultaneously.  On our drive home, which proves exceedingly long due to my forgetting what traffic looks like, we stop at a grocery store and grab some dinner-ish food to get by until we make it home.  Two kids are crying in the cart.  Two others are inches from touching the salad bar and under the scrutinizing eye of an older woman with tight lips.  I mutter that this was a bad idea.  Hungry would have been better than this.  But we forge on.  We manage to get some food and get to the checkout.  As we get into line a store employee comes over and stops me.  I brace myself.  I expect the worst.  I wonder if one of the kids sneezed into the salad bar or knocked over the bread display or sampled the soup when I wasn’t watching.

She puts her hand on my arm and says “One of our customers was watching you…” I am about to get kicked out of this fancy grocery store “…and she got you a gift card, it’s for $50, to buy your groceries.”  My eyes fill with tears and practical me says someone else needs this more than me but I don’t actually say a thing.  The store worker wraps me up and gives me the warmest hug and smiles big.  I say thank you and I beam and I relish the gift.  The wonder of an unexpected, undeserved kindness.

There is such power in small acts of good.  Not that $50 is small.  It’s wildly generous, and to a total stranger, truly…wow.  It made my whole day.  I couldn’t shake the feeling like someone noticed me, someone saw me, saw my bumbling through the grocery store trying to be patient and take care of my kids well.  Motherhood is such an unseen occupation.  Those moments where we are extended even just a bit of grace can tip a day the other direction, and so quickly.

The oldest two are typing at the computer next to me.  They are full of anticipation of their end-of-year reading aloud tomorrow night of their research paper.  Rylee wrote about Helen Keller and Caleb chose Patrick Henry.  Rylee is helping Caleb polish his concluding paragraph, they are comparing word counts, fixing any last minute errors.  Caleb is bouncing behind her in excitement.  She is patient.  She pauses and says to him in the sweetest, most genuine voice “Caleb, I love you” and goes back to her typing.  She could be frustrated.  His frenetic energy and constant movement might be construed negatively.  But Rylee is learning kindness, choosing to serve her brother and to love him, just as he is.   And it is more beautiful than anything.

Working together, learning together, reading together…some of the immeasurable gifts that come out of our home educating lifestyle.  This morning as I read the end of a stunning, deeply moving Newberry-award winning book to the kids about a family during the Civil War, I was in tears more than once and did my best to choke out the words.  One phrase in particular stood out this morning (from Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt):

the saving grace of kindness

Isn’t that exactly what it is?  Kindness extended can feel like life and breath sometimes.  It is lovely.  And it is a gift.

Dry land and love

A few days into our month long trip to Chile, I saw this patch of ground.  It was a long ways away from the house.  And I never had my phone with me (glorious, let me just say that…) so I never got a picture of it, but it is permanently written into my memory.  It was bone dry.  Completely parched.  You could tell it hadn’t seen a drop of rain for who knows how long.  Like none.  It was beyond a little dusty and more like just hardened, packed, totally broken ground.  It wasn’t comfortable to walk over.  It was uneven and awkward. It was ugly and lifeless.   As I walked across it and Finn saw fit to explore every crevice and bump in the ground, my heart breathed a deep internal sigh.  I would walk past it many times over the coming weeks and it wasn’t until the second week that I was struck by why I felt attached to this little stretch of dirt.  Why I felt compelled to look intently at it every time I passed.  Why I was drawn to it.

There were parts of my life that felt just like that patch of arrid soil.  That might sound hard to believe.  Somehow though, its possible to have certain aspects of life feel rich and blessed and thriving while others are crumbling and impoverished.  Maybe your life looks good on Sunday at church because parts of life are truly, genuinely wonderful and you think no one notices the part of your heart that is thirsty and desperate for water, for life.  I used to believe that if you felt that way, lived that way, it meant your life was fragmented, too compartmentalized, maybe even hypocritical, couldn’t possibly be authentic and real.  How everything had to be connected and in sync and crap like that.  But that was a younger, quicker to judge, slower to give grace version of myself.  With every passing year, I understand a little bit more how blistering hard life can be.  I watch my friends bear up under unspeakably difficult things.  I listen to their stories and I read books and I see with my own eyes incredible, searing pain and heartache.  I yell and weep and scratch in my journal and read the only Book that brings peace in dark nights.  And woven in to every one of those hearts, those lives–mine included–is a myriad of lovely things in the midst of pressing in, hard life.

Water is a big deal in most of the world.  Ours is one of a precious few nations where water is really a given wherever you may be.  Our children don’t grow up thinking about it, lets be honest, neither do most of us grown ups.  They take for granted from toddler-hood that when they turn a faucet on, water will come and out and they can drink it, wash with it, do whatever they want with it and there will always be more.  When we arrived in Chile, there was immediately talk of the canal that ran right through our friends’ land and how their neighbor had built a dam, illegally, to provide him with an overflowing abundant source of water for his late-planted potato crop.  There was less rainfall than normal and the countryside was dust laden and scorched.  So dry.  One day we drove by the gypsy tents near town and there were flames leaping two stories as their little temporary dwelling places caught fire.  Something had sparked a fire and everything being so dry the flames were out of control very quickly.

There were neighbors across the road whose well ran dry a few weeks into our stay.  What it feels like to have no water for cooking, drinking, bathing, livestock….I cannot begin to understand.  They had to come fill jugs with water at our house and ended up paying a truck to come bring them a tank of water.  Cows wandered fields that looked devoid of any living thing, no green grass.  Trees with deep roots provided lush shelter and respite from the blazing afternoon sun were their saving grace no doubt.  The cars we drove were covered in thick layers of dirt and dust.  But it seemed terribly wasteful to use such a commodity as water to clean them.  So we didn’t.  More than once we ran the water tank all the way out of water.  If we forgot to fill the tank up twice daily, it could run out.

All this talk and thought of water was not lost on me.  When some parts of your life are okay or good even, I think it makes it easier (not easy) to keep moving forward.  It can make life more doable in the short term to just forge ahead.  But as we faced a dry, water-starved land alongside our beloved friends of nearly two decades, the reality of our own thirsty places stared back at us.  And it became clear that Chile held more for us than a cross-cultural learning experience, more than the many (amazing) new encounters and adventures, more than family bonding and unending Daddy time.  In my shortsightedness and near panic preparing for such a monumental trip with six young children, I had no time to take inventory of my own heart before we departed.  We took each simple day as it came to us and were fairly swept away by laughter and life and love.  Love that we might have lost sight of in these past couple of years.  Love that we had to go to Chile to find again.

My forever reminder of the covenant we made 16 years ago.  That we are Mr & Mrs.  Always.
My forever reminder of the covenant we made 16 years ago. That we are Mr & Mrs. Always.

Thoughts on adventure

We’ve been home five days.  The running list in my mind of what I will remember from our four week stay in south Chile with friends keeps getting longer so I thought I’d write it out for myself here…

  • the logistics of traveling with six children under 12 for nearly 30 hours
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  • the way we could hold our breath and not move when Liberty would actually sleep
  • how ridiculously heavy and full our kids carry on bags were packed – totally unnecessary
  • Finn walking shirtless through the LA airport like he owned the place
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  • seeing my beloved friend through the glass walls at the tiny airport in Temuco, Chile
  • realizing we would be cramming 12 people into a truck and a Subaru for a month (turns out it costs $300 a day to rent a van, insane!)
  • the moment when I realized when she said she lived five miles down a dirt road, she had actually meant it
  • how fast she drove on said dirt road
  • the taste of the dust coming through the vents
  • the vibrant yellow wheat fields rolling over hills
  • dogs, lots of dogs everywhere
  • how kind and warm their two children were to ours, sharing their rooms and space and entire life with us day after day
  • trying to wrap my mind around neighbors who build dams in canals and steal water
  • learning to wash dishes in such a way that water doesn’t get wasted
  • how brown my bath water was, me thinking it came out that way, but realizing it just was dirt color instantly because my feet were filthy…how this confirmed my strongly held belief that dirty bath water is an excellent indicator of good times had :)
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  • good but cheap wine (no sulfites), no place to go and nothing but time
  • palta…smashed avocados and salt – best avocados we’ve ever had
  • white bread, fresh every day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • choripan – delicious fresh sausages with mayonaise inside soft bread
  • nescafe took some getting used to, not the same as a strong pot of freshly ground coffee, strangly satisfying however
  • shelf stable milk in boxes…I knew this was the case but still, its a long leap from fresh daily goat milk
  • ox carts in the Wal-Mart parking lot
  • realizing the ramifications of that Wal-Mart on small, family business’ is so devastating
  • how often the truck didn’t want to start….how hard on vehicles such monumental dust and rough roads are
  • runs into town to try and blog or check email – the reality of life with no internet at home and how it was actually quite wonderful
  • how even in town there was sometimes no internet at the cafe so blogging time turned into long talks of the deepest sort
  • what it felt like to wake up next to my husband every day for a whole month
  • what waking up and going to bed together does for the heart
  • countless hours on the trampoline with Liberty, it was like her giant playpen
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  • watching our friend pull his cell phone out of the BBQ and watching God provide him a new one
  • moonlight and no curtains and birds that call out in the night
  • wondering how fields of cattle could eat on such sparse land and still live
  • how the lamb we bought to roast was small because “there hasn’t been enough water or food”
  • rationing out bath time…amazed how long they are happy to not take a bath!
  • hours long reading marathons, kids strewn everywhere with their noses in books
  • dishes.  wow.  the dishes.  our kids asked a few days in why we were washing so many.  I laughed and pointed out the empty spot in the kitchen where someday a dishwasher might be…
  • forts in the forest, inspired by Little House on the Prairie
  • swimming in lakes and in the Pacific Ocean
  • such a hot sun
  • reading good quotes from fantastic books to eachother at the kichen bar
  • going through pounds of white nectarines every single day
  • people everywhere doing whatever they could to make money…selling water bottles in the streets, doing tricks at red lights, selling jewelry on any open piece of sidewalk, selling anything just about anywhere
  • paying money for bathroom use – with eight of us, we figured out quick that 200 pesos was a bargain but if it was 500 pesos we needed to conserve trips
  • boys filling the water tank every day, twice, so we would have water in the house
  • thinking about water.  a lot.  realizing I’ve never had to think about water.  so many things we take for granted.
  • merluza – a white fish I’ve never had or heard of… flaky and perfect and so delicious
  • how happy and content our kids were without their rooms full of legos and toys and comfy beds…they are so strong, so resilient
  • the struggle to be a part of a group of kids when you don’t speak their language…I won’t ever forget Rylee crying.  it is hard to be the odd one out.  hard to hear chatter around you but not understand.  and hardest to pull yourself up and go back in knowing it will still be hard.  so proud of that girl.
  • church, I didn’t go.  but Chris and the older kids did.  the message was on marriage.  and the passage of scripture they used was David and Goliath.  still don’t have that one figured out.
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  • taking risks.  doing scary things.  hard things.  not knowing how something would end up but doing it anyway.  this sums up our trip in many ways.  packing up our six children and heading thousands of miles from home to live in someone else’s space and land for a month wasn’t a lap-of-luxury, beachfront sort of vacation.  it was an eyes-wide-open, cross-cultural, rich beyond measure sort of time.
  • what it feels like to have someone else see your life, day in and out, to live in community, to hold each other up and wash each others dirty clothes and dishes…and to still call each other friend at the end
  • how when people come over to hang out, they would just stay.  for hours.  and they would always help in the kitchen, hand washing, drying and putting dishes away constantly.  and if they were tired they would simply take a nap.  on your couch.  and it was more than okay, it was good.
  • slower, less driven, frenetic life.  a pace that felt so far removed from American life.
  • the magnetic, magnificent personality of my friend Tina – the way she draws out people, loves deeply even in a land and with a language not her own…it amazes and inspires me
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  • the volcano that erupted two days after we had stayed in the town near it.  if we’d beeen there, we’d have had to evacuate our family at 3 AM when the sirens went off.  thankful to see its beauty but safely so.
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  • much more…another day

Twelve years old – an unforgettable birthday

Rylee's 12th birthday - chocolate chip pancakes
Rylee’s 12th birthday – chocolate chip pancakes
birthday girl manicures upstairs!
birthday girl manicures upstairs!
Twelve candles and the most amazing cake ever...layers of cake, nutella, raspberry.
Twelve candles and the most amazing cake ever…layers of cake, nutella, raspberry.
hours of Dtuch Blitz for this crew
hours of Dutch Blitz for this crew
Girls coming in at sunset  from their long journey out to their home in the woods - love that she is 12 but still loves to play Little House on the Prairie
Girls coming in at sunset from their long journey out to their home in the woods – love that she is 12 but still loves to play Little House on the Prairie

This will be a memorable birthday for certain.  Rylee turned 12 on Monday.  On the cusp of teenage life but still a girl in many ways.  Such a gift she is.  And what a treasure to spend her birthday month in a place where it is summer.