What every tween girl needs to know

She’s almost twelve.  This lovely, sweet oldest child of mine.  She is leaps and bounds more delightful than my 12 year old counterpart.  I think of my twelve year old self and shudder.  My poor parents.  But that’s another story.  I have to write down this story from today before I forget because it matters too much not to remember…

Dear precious daughter,

I don’t want you to forget, so I’m writing you this letter.  It might not have seemed like the sort of day you need to remember.  But you’ve got to trust me and know that my thirty-five years have left me knowing more each year how only a few things in life actually matter.  It started a Monday like any other.  But with some changes in the girl dynamics of the co-op we attend every week.  You need to know, I saw you.  I saw you hold back and make room for someone new.  I saw you watch things all shift and everyone struggle to find their place.  You probably think I didn’t notice.  You probably felt like it seemed silly how deeply you felt the change and how hard it was, how hard it is when things go from something comfortable and familiar to something different and new and all in one day.  Daughter, it isn’t silly and your ability to feel deep things, is a God-given wonder.  You may question that in years to come.  I surely have.  You’ll have to learn to trust that it is part of your intentional, purposeful design.  You will get to figure out for yourself that no slew of emotions, no amount of irrational, hormonal talk is too much for God to handle.  I will drive you nuts sometimes and I won’t say the right thing.  I may make you wonder if I really ever was young once in my trying-to-be-wise mother speak.

My mama heart hurt as I stood back, knowing you girls would all need to find your way today.  You were gracious and good.  But I saw your heart and it was sad, I knew.  At lunch time I got a text from a friend asking you for a sleepover, tonight, a school night.  The rule-following mother in me wanted to say “no way, it’s a school night!”.  But the tender hearted, receiver-of-God’s-extravagent-love mother knew the only answer was yes.  So I shot a one-word text back, “yes”, until I had a break and could write more.  We drove home in quiet.  You walked into the kitchen and I wrapped my arms around you.  I held your head close and whispered these words I want you never to forget…

God loves you so much girl.  He cares about every. tiny. detail.  He saw your day and he knows it wasn’t easy.  Your heart matters to him.

So much so that he has gifted you a sleepover this very night with your beloved friend, I told you.  I felt your tears on my cheek as the words soaked in.  Mine joined yours and I held you tight.  It’s true.  You’ll wonder and doubt if it is and that’s okay.  The emotions, the complicated, beautiful mystery of being a woman can feel like a burden not a blessing some days, months, years.  You will feel what seems at times too much, too deeply and relationships will dizzy your heart and mind.  Things that were once one way will be another.  Friends will disappoint and disagree.  Imperfect people will say or do things that break your heart.  It is the way of a broken humankind in radical need of a perfect, saving One.

As you got in the car tonight with your sweet friend, I looked up to the fickle sky.  I grinned.  The dark, rainy sky had met the sun.  And over the trees full of flaming autumn leaves sat a perfect, brilliant rainbow.  It took my breathe away.  The promises of God wrapped up in one physicial reminder that He knew we would always need.  We would need to know

He

is

always

here.

It felt like it was just for you as you drove down the road literally right under the rainbow as I watched from the front porch.  It is in the grey places of pain and loss and change that we get to see the rainbow beauty.   So precious one, remember today, this plain ordinary Monday where the God of the universe reached down into your life and showed you a glimpse of His heart for you.  Oh how He loves you, I said quietly as you walked away.  And He does.  Sometimes it will be quiet and hidden and small.  Then sometimes it will be magnificent and unmistakable.  He will show you a million different ways as you journey through life.  And I’ll be right here, praying you can see and feel His incredible, beyond words love for your one-of-a-kind self.

Life with you in it is such a gift.

All my love,

your Mama

An epiphany on food

I am all over the place when it comes to food and menu planning and grocery lists and all that important stuff.  There are eight eating people in this house.  And since we school at home, they eat here.  Nearly all their meals.  Which adds up to a dizzying 21 meals per week in this kitchen of mine and at least two snacks a day too!  If the belly is growling and wanting, it is terribly hard to learn and focus and engage in learning.  But preparing food is only one of a great many hats mamas wear.  This is my recent new insight on the matter, after sitting down and making a list of our favorite 31 meals, thinking we could just rotate through each day of the month.  (insert smirk or giggle here) Yes, I really did think it a good idea.  But I am learning to simplify and more importantly realizing that having 31 meals to choose from is a “first world problem” – meaning, the majority of the world would be grateful simply to have one solid meal a day.  Let alone three.  Let alone a wonderfully organized list of 31 great dinners.  My life needs to work for me and I need time to be spent where it matters most.  Researching the latest food trends and reading food blogs and color coding my dilapidated recipe binder are not how I choose to spend my minutes right now.  Having a vast array of meal choices is in fact not helpful for me at this current life stage.

Enter theme nights.

It all started with Mission Mondays, where we eat a very simple meal of brown rice and lentils and practice gratitude for our bounty and provisions while remembering how most of the world eats, meagerly.  Then came Taco Thursdays and Make your Own Pizza Fridays.  We don’t have it down pat yet.  But the general idea is, each day of the week is narrowed down a bit.  Crock-pot meals on Tuesdays when we have a quick dinnertime turn around.  Soups on Saturdays.  Salad bar or our beloved Garden Hash on Wednesdays when I have time in the late afternoon to chop a bunch of veggies.

This is our general outline:

Mondaylentils and rice
Tuesday – Crock-pot something (like this roast-terrible photo but a delicious meal served over mashed potatoes)
Wednesday – Garden Hash (recipe below)
Thursday – Tacos of any kind – lots of ways to mix it up each week like this insanely delicious pork taco recipe
Friday – Make your Own (pita) Pizza – kids love it and its a wonderfully fun way to end the week
Saturday – Soup or Stew
Sunday – whatever is left or needs eating up (if nothing else, apples and popcorn, I ate that every Sunday night growing up!)

The underlying premise for me behind this simplifying for this season is this truth:

Food is intended to sustain and nourish us so we can get to the all important tasks of living and loving.

It isn’t meant to be a daily showcase of our mad kitchen skills or be catered to one persons picky tendencies.  It doesn’t need to impress my kids or have five different items to serve up every night.  What matters far more is the cultivating of “family” that happens when we gather together to share a meal.

Though summer is quick becoming a memory and it is pouring rain at the moment, I’ll still share what is probably one of our family favorite meals.  It’s my own creation and is ever so flexible and might not be an exact science since we already established my extra time and energy are not spent imitating Ina Garten or Rachel Ray.

Garden Hash (serves 4, we double or triple this):

Saute in a skillet 1 lb ground beef and one onion chopped.  Add a clove or two of crushed garlic. Once the meat is cooked and broken up, add whatever garden bounty you like.  We love a head of kale or rainbow chard chopped up real small, several carrots grated, a zucchini or even a peeled, chopped sweet potato are delicious too. Really, the sky is the limit.  Salt and pepper the hash.  Let the kale or chard wilt, the potatoes simmer till soft, all in the one pot.  Add water if needed for the simmer, but also add the all important ingredient, tamari or soy sauce.  How much?  Well, I’d just say several swigs and then taste after five minutes, if I had to guess, maybe start with 1/4 cup?  We usually eat it in a pile on a plate and its ugly so I don’t have a photo for you.  It can also be served over rice, quinoa, steamed greens or roasted diced potatoes.

On crazy busy life and “The Best Yes” by Lysa Terkeurst

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a review.  While I have certainly read some good books, I haven’t managed to sit down and write about them.  But this one requires passing on, The Best Yes, by Lysa Terkeurst.  Our flurried, broken, overextended-in-every-way American culture is a living, breathing example of many examples of “you reap what you sow”.  Instead of breaking down that reality, may I just say that despite very intentional efforts not to live inside the crazy…sometimes it seems impossibly hard to step back, step aside, step OUT of the continual myriad of activities.  Nearly all of them GOOD things.  The amount of extracurricular options is staggering.  Whether you are married with kids or without, single, young or old….there is nary a shortage of ways you could spend your time and energy.

One particular aspect of this that I find it difficult to navigate is the mentality that if you don’t offer your children a plethora of options, be they flute lessons, karate, a spot on the baseball team, chess club, horse back riding lessons, 4-H, drama class, choir, soccer, art lessons and tickets to a play or five at the local kids theater, that somehow they will be cheated of a “well rounded” and “rich” upbringing.  The array of “good things” here is at best mind-blowing.  And at worst, well, I don’t know.  I suppose I would just venture to say that this way of thinking is a plague in our culture and in fact, learning to have some white space or margin in your life is perhaps one of the very best tools parents should empower their kids with.

It sounds easy right?  But its not.  Even having moving out of the city into a more rural area, there are so many things one can do!  I have done much quiet thinking about it this past year, a year that left me gasping for breath and feeling like I could not, would not possibly be able to continue on the same path.  A wise mother said to me just last Tuesday while listening to me wrestle out loud with the too-many-options dilemma, “I have come to a place where I honestly believe, if my child has a very exceptional, genuine kind of gift at playing piano or baseball or something….that talent will well up and emerge regardless of my ability to provide copious amounts of lessons and instruction in its realm.”  I breathed a sigh of great relief.  And my heart agreed.

If I believe that God’s plans for the lives of my children will not be thwarted by my inadequacies and imperfectness as a parent, then I can instead invest in loving them well, building strong, healthy relationships, providing a solid, vibrant foundation for their lives. Which I’ve come to believe MUST include having a weekly schedule that has room in it to breathe.  I absolutely must, as a mother who seeks to walk in wisdom, learn how to make thoughtful decisions for our family and for my own life that reflect a measure of having ‘counted the cost’ of each and every spoken and unspoken YES in my life.

This is where the book by Lysa comes in.  I ended the summer feeling terribly unready for the year ahead.  Still struggling to bounce back from last year.  When I read the tagline under the title, Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands, my head just nodded and I clicked ‘place my order’ before the book had even been released.  It is practical and so well breaks down the reality of every “yes”.  Yes to one thing means a no elsewhere, this is the part I hadn’t learned to think through very well.  I just kept on with yes’.  I would liken it to writing a check on an empty bank account, eventually the debt is in your face and you have to deal with it.  Lysa  breaks down, wonderfully well, various ways to learn to cultivate this sort of wisdom and also delves into why it matters so much.

I am learning to weigh my yes and to really sift through all the implications it will have.  Slowly, albeit, but learning nonetheless.  Just yesterday we were at the pumpkin patch, having great fun with my sister as we have done every year for at least 8 years in a row.  I started to get anxious being there, knowing that in two weeks our homeschool group is going on a group trip to another pumpkin patch.  I feel obligated to go, my mind had already relinquished to having to go.  But as I thought more, talked it out loud a bit, it was so clear.  Yesterday was my “best yes”.  Two weeks from now will be my wise “no”.  And in that, I get to practice something I am not good at, giving grace to myself.  Grace to say “one pumpkin patch trip with my six children is all that I can manage this year and that is okay, more than that, it is wise and good”.

If life feels a bit over the top and you aren’t sure how to proceed or how to grow in this aspect, this book is an excellent, very worthwhile read.  Really, just about everyone I know fits into that description in some way!  My copy is heavily highlighted and written on, which is one of my best measures of good books.  Beyond that, my life is incorporating the practical wisdom from the pages and that is surely the best part.

Here are a few snapshots of our one and only wonderful pumpkin patch trip this weekend:

big boys Oct 2014
Finn's pumpkin
Lib and mama
Lib Oct 2014
nana and girls
three girls
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Update – Missions Mondays recipe

I found my recipe to share with you!  If you want the full story, scroll down two posts to read the original Missions Monday post.  Here is the way I make the meal packets:

1 cup brown short grain rice

1/2 cup brown lentils

3T chicken broth powder

1/4 tsp garlic powder

a pinch of salt

Store in glass jar or ziploc bag.

With each packet, these are the cooking instructions – for our family of 8 we make two at a time:

Put 1 Tablespoon olive oil in medium saucepan.

Dump in “meal mix” (whole bag), saute for a minute on low/medium heat

to warm and awaken the spices.

Add 3 1/2 cups water, bring to a boil,

cover, turn to low, simmer 45-50 minutes until most all water is absorbed.

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Loving our kids well

The room is bright green now and it’s been so long since I lived in it, I can’t remember what the color used to be.  I remember being royally annoyed at the pitter patter of feet above in the kitchen.  There must have been no insulation between that floor and my ceiling.  I remember sneaking out the ground floor window one night at 17, not to go anywhere, simply to say I’d done it.  No one needed to know I only sat in the cold bark for a while right? I laid on my bed in that room for hours upon hours talking till sometimes 3 AM to a boy.  It was eons before texting and email.  It was the days of the face to face or at least the real talking over a phone, probably one with a cord.  I have no clue what we spoke of all that time or how we got up the next day for school.  But somewhere in the talking, in the time spent, love unfolded and twenty years later, here we are – still unfolding.

How we have an almost twelve year old, I don’t know but I knew this summer I wanted some face time with her before the hustle and bustle of fall took off.  I shared with her some of my thoughts and worries from that age, told her why it was wonderful to be a girl and to get to grow up into a woman.  How we have this incredible opportunity, to get to be givers of life through our attitude, heart, words and eventually our body.  Something amazing happens when you get to be alone with just one child and with the only intention being time together.  No grocery list or agenda.  No phone on the table beeping or buzzing away.  No other siblings to share the time with.   No distraction, only purpose.  As they nearly always do, they know.  They sense that the time is set apart and they enter in in a different way.

Once I was back home, we were talking one night about how to facilitate depth of relationship with each of our children, how to be keyed in to every one and building something solid so that as they grow and the stakes are ever higher, the losses greater and the dreams bigger – they know we’re right here.  We agreed there really is only one way to do that.  Time.  Shared time, set apart with the purpose of listening and loving.  Our six are wildly different.  Unique and one of a kind.  So naturally, it wouldn’t look the same for each one.  We decided to each take an hour a week and each rotate through the oldest five kids.  Sounds small?  Well maybe.  But let me tell you it was hard to find a regular one hour spot to set aside weekly where the other of us would be home to be with kids.

Our third born, he’s a dreamer, an artist and the most easy going kid of our brood.  His name means peaceful and while he may be all boy and energetic as the rest of them, it really does describe his demeanor.  He’s very different from me.  He’s not book-crazed.  He is meticulous with his pencil but not with his room.  So when I asked him tonight for his choice of a spot for our hour, he said McDonald’s.  And I fought every urge to say “Gross, no!”.  I simply said yes and off we went.  He asked if he could splurge and have two $1 cheeseburgers, I said yes.  Then he asked if we could sit outside by the (dumpy, old) play place.  Again, I was like really, are you kidding me? but I said a smiling “sure!”.  He told me where to sit so I could watch him slide.  I left my phone in my purse and sipped my smoothie.  He was over-the-moon happy to have my undivided attention while he played.  No one else was out there, so I thought I’d see if I could fit in the tunnel.

Oh glory.  If you haven’t squeezed yourself through the play tubes at McDonald’s for decades, it’s about time.  He shrieked “I can’t believe you’re doing this mom!  I can’t believe it!’.  He led me around and told me the best way to go down the slide.  Upside down and backwards.  Alrighty then, of course I want to do that.  He said he’d catch me if I was going to fall off the edge.  So reassuring.  Once I was safely down the slide, my eight year old darling of a boy literally jumped up and down squealing in glee.  He then did three somersaults on the padded floor to further express his delight.  I laughed out loud and climbed back up for another round.  Why in the world not?

We headed for the library to get his books on hold and he grabbed my hand in the parking lot and said with great fervor, “I llllllllloooove you mom.  So much.”  Mission accomplished.  Though it didn’t look like what I expected, it met his needs and filled his love cup right up.  And that’s the whole point.

Building meaningful relationships with my kids doesn’t have to be complicated or involve ten steps or a how-to book or an agenda.  It really only hinges on one thing.  Am I going to show up?  Like really show up…put the phone away, turn the mental to-do-listing off, pay attention, listen with the heart, engage completely in the time spent together.  When we do that, the dividends are beyond measure.

One year beautiful

It makes me choke just a bit when I answer people’s frequent question, how old is she?  Because I want to say she was just born, fresh and new and perfect but the truth is her birthday was two weeks ago and I can hardly wrap my mind around it.  Wasn’t it just yesterday we were walking in the warm sun with popsicles and flip flops awaiting her soon and imminent arrival, not sure if she was a he or a she…if she would tip the tide to four sons or even it up with three sons and three daughters?  Could I have known it would be the year it was?  That everything would feel hard and that we would never really fall into a groove that felt workable and that we would do so many “great” things that we were plum worn out and worn down?  How a little pink bundle would be this beacon of all that is lovely and wonderful to this tired mama on so many dark nights?

To my Liberty Grace on your first birthday,

Freedom and grace.  Two of the most critical, valued pieces of our faith, our family, our life.  Your name holds such weight for me.  It is a never ending reminder of truth that I need constant reminding of.  One year.  You are walking and waving everywhere.  You have perfected the princess, parade wave and you grin a mile wide for everyone you meet.  I never have the heart to tell them, be they a friend or a waiter at a resaturant, that you do this for everyone.  They think they are exceptionally special based on your warm waves and smile.  You have to be the happiest baby ever.  At least certainly the happiest one I’ve known.  Sometimes I hold your siblings back a bit, telling them it’s too much or give her space.   But the reality, your reality, is you are covered, sewn in from every side, with love.  So much love.  They each adore you in their own sort of way.  You draw something unique, something special out of each one of them.  The softness that I don’t often see in the big boys, a gentleness from Finn that is wildly uncharacteristic.  And a comradery, a sisterhood with the girls, that I know will only grow with age.

It’s been a long year for me.  Your brother Finn has required a sort of mental energy that no other child has.  The way he thinks and experiences life is momentous, fantastic really.  And I’ve no doubt he will change the world, his world, someday.  Another brother started the year with a major physical injury that made the school year extra hard and frustrating.  It took six months before he was fully restored.  It hurt my mama heart more than I can exxpress to not be able to help him, not be able to fix it and make life feel okay for him.  There were so many hard days, not days that I would trade or give up for anything, but hard nonetheless.

And then there was you.

Beaming bright beautiful you.  You have to know there were many nights, I would be awake nursing you that I wept over your precious little face.  Hopelessly in love with your little self.  Over the top thankful that you were there for me to hold.  You gave hope to me time and time again.  You are a simple, in-the-flesh continual gift that I feel like I receive day after day after day.  A gift I don’t take lightly and one I am keenly aware I could have missed had the baby I carried the months prior to your conception been carried to term.  There would not have been you, one of a kind wonderful you.

You can’t possibly imagine how treasured you are little girl.  You just can’t.

All my love,

Mama

**a few snapshots of your first year, favorite summer naps in the swing or with big brother, showing goats with sisters, rides in wheelbarrows and horse carts:

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girl cousins 2014

Mission Mondays at our home

We’d waited and prayed for a long while for something new for our beloved brother-in-law to open up.  His and my sisters’ heart for the marginalized and orphaned has only grown these past few years.  So when he was asked to come on board with Children of the Nations, a non-profit that we already knew and loved, we could not have been more thrilled.  And we wanted to be behind them in this faith venture in every way.  As we talked about how to support them, knowing we already had our “give”  dollars going several different directions, I sat down and talked with our kids.  I told them how much an average dinner cost me to cook for our family of eight.

We talked about the Children of the Nations (COTN) meal packing events that we’d attended several times.  Their faces lit up as usual and they bantered about how much fun it is to pack meals packs.  COTN hosts these events to raise awareness and give people here on wealthy American soil an opportunity to do more than simply write a check.  They are high energy and always fun.  They’ve provided a fantastic conversation starter for our family multiple times to talk about how we can do more to share the love of Christ in tangible ways.  I asked our kids, what do you guys think about eating the COTN meal – lentils, spice, chicken and rice – one night a week to free up some grocery funds.    They said a quick and hearty yes.  I perfected my own rendition of the COTN meal pack.  My kids were the testers, telling me to STOP and not make any changes once the ratio was right.

So began Mission Mondays at our house.  For no other reason than it was catchy so we picked Monday.  The kids actually offered to eat the meal twice a week.  I told them we’d start with one so we didn’t tire of it.  But then quickly caught myself.  Because the very real reality of the meal packs is that the recipients of the very simple food are content, dare I say crazy thankful for the food being provided for them.  They would pale at a glimpse inside my organized pantry, well stocked for an emergency and a half dozen constantly hungry kids.  And my kids, truth be told, sometimes don’t “feel like” eating anything in said pantry.  Which is the double blessing of this weekly simple meal.  It is a continual reminder of the bounty we live within.  The basic comforts like grocery stores on every corner full of fresh food and a dizzying amount of culinary options.

Our Monday night table discussion centers around someone we know serving somewhere in the world.  It’s no organized sort of thing.  Just hearts that want to be aware and tuned in to the heart of God that beats for the orphans, widows and the poor.  I always fight the urge to provide side dishes to the lentils and rice and simply serve the dish alone and everyone gets perfectly fed and full eating it.

…fast forward a bit to July this summer….we hosted a creation camp here at the house for a wonderful group of kids, all sorts of kids.  It was one of those hallowed things you get to do and it almost pushes you over the top but when its over you can hardly catch your breath and you know, just know, that it was holy and beautiful and not to be missed.  We have this crazy awesome, so-not-in-the-box pastor who came to play guitar and lead singing (and hang up tarps in the pouring rain!):

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On our last day of creation camp, I talked about how we were created to reflect God to others, that we get to reflect his image and how completely incredible that is.  Part of that is having the responsibility to be generous givers and ones who love others well, especially those in need.  So I shared with them about COTN and the meals they bring and hope that a simple meal is to children who are starving.  We then headed inside to prepare meal packets for everyone to take home with them so they could, maybe, start their own traditions and perhaps set aside some of their extra to share and give in some way.  At one point there were 52 people inside the walls of our house.  It was, literally, the only rainy week the entire summer.  So our outdoor on the lawn activity all had to happen inside and cozy!  It was insane.  And so loud.  And incredible.  I hope and pray that this is one little way we can be mindful of the things that matter.

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For freedom

We sit with warm mugs of apple cider and piles of books and fresh pencils this gloriously beautiful, windy late summer morning.  As I read from a book to our oldest four and try to explain in appropriate kid verbage what took place 13 years ago on this day, my voice wavers.  Last year I remember not saying a thing about it because I had a three day old baby in arms and my heart was plum overflowing and it didn’t seem possible to even go there.  So today, I tell them where I was and what happened and why, even though nobody can really say why, there isn’t ever an answer to that question in these impossibly devastating things of life.  I talk of terror and war and try to put words to the wonder of the freedom they live within.  That they would be able to sit at a table with their teacher/mama and learn together as a family, not having any true need unmet, being able to worship freely and speak their beliefs…its impossible to reconcile it with the terror children on the other side of the world are living in the midst of.  To live as a child in such fear and injustice, it makes my whole self hurt.

I whisper because tears are running down my face and they lean in and they don’t make a sound – they can tell this is some piece of sacred by the absolute brokenness of my heart.  I want the world to be good and safe and beautiful for you, like it is here much of the time.  But its not.  There are people so full of evil and hate that only want to destroy and hurt and steal.  They take the lives of others simply because they are different, because they believe different or were born in a different land.  I hesitate and don’t know if the word genocide is one they all should know yet but I decide they must.  They must know.  Because if they don’t then how can they pray and care and keep learning that they have constant opportunities to stand with and stand for those who can’t stand or speak for themselves.  The empathic one moves around the table and sets her head in my lap.  She feels the pain of others in a profound way.  Tears well in her eyes and she holds my hand.  The children there, they aren’t complaining about the snack options or about the math they still have to do or asking for dessert.  They simply want safety, refuge, security and peace.  They want their mom to be there tomorrow, and the next day, and all the days after.  I choke on my own words and can’t even talk.  So we pray.  Because there really is nothing else to say.  Nothing we can do but pray and believe that the God who holds this whole world and my whole heart can do things beyond human comprehension or ability.

Caleb (age 10) prays first  – “I pray for the people who are killing Christians in Iraq, that they would have a change of heart, that they would come to know God.  And for the people who have gone to heaven after they have been killed, that they would have such a good time there.”  The quiet one in my lap can’t muster a word but I know God hears her precious little heart.  I pray and thank God for freedom.  Even for a baby whose name means freedom.  For the constant reminder she is of the immeasurable gift we’ve been given.  For the freedom we live within when we know the one true God, freedom that knows no bounds and cannot, will not be contained or quenched.

Grace upon grace

He left the dinner table quietly, no big to-do.  Just abandoned his favorite piece of meat to sit there and get cold.  When there are seven people at the table, too many of them talking at once, its easy for the easily overwhelmed to want some space.  We keep trying to use the metaphor of a car and when too many cars go at once you have one giant wreck.  Same sort of thing with dinner conversation – but its not sinking in too well.  We’re a work in progress.  I quickly cleaned my plate, not taking the time to be thankful for this beautiful roasted chicken that we raised ourselves or the crunchy cucumbers that grew just outside the back window despite my dismal lack of weeding and forgetting to water them half the time.

I run upstairs and peek inside his door.  He’s laying on the floor with pillows.  I ask him why he left and what’s wrong.  Its been another bad day – he tells me.  I fight the urge to list all the reasons why it was actually a great day…we painted the barn, we got a new goat, and so on.  I listen.  It’s just always another bad day.  I ask what makes it not good instead of disagreeing with him.  I lay down on the floor and wait.  He thinks about it.  Because I do what I don’t want to do and I get in trouble, again.  And my heart hurts and I slowly explain that he’s not the only one.  He may well be one of few boys his age who is so tremendously, keenly aware of this.  I tell him that his mama laying on the carpet there struggles the very same way.

Why? He asks.  He wants to know why its so hard to not get upset when things don’t go how he expects.  Why its so hard to respond well.  And before he gets one step further and thinks he’s the only one this is hard for, I lay it out real clear.  I want to love you well, love you perfectly, never let you down, never get mad at the wrong moment in the wrong way, lead you in wisdom and lavish you with grace, I tell him.  But I mess up all the time, I’m never going to get it just right and there are plenty of days where I feel exactly the same way…its another bad day and I can’t get anything right.  He turns his head and looks at me and sizes me up like ten year olds sure can and he’s hearing every word.  I hope beyond hope that he actually hears my heart oozing through my words and knows that I mean it.

The verse I read this week in John and got tripped up on and can’t seem to read past but can only read again, and again, is this:

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. – John 1:16

Just a few words, but honestly I can’t get to chapter 2.  If the way of Jesus is grace upon grace then my way at home with these half a dozen kids is meant to reflect that.  And this year here has been tough and I’m bone tired from not one solid night of sleep in just about exactly a year and I wonder where the grace went some days and how I could love so insufficiently when the love God gives is so complete and perfect and enough.  He loves me well.  Every single day.  His patience with my imperfection and inadequacy is chock full of grace while at the same time beckoning me forward with his truth.

We talk about grace on the floor of his room and we both cry as we realize the common ground of our faults and how much we want to grow.  We pray.  And he sits with his head on my shoulder for a long time.  Hoping, even if tenuously so, that this year will be a more gracious one.

Beautiful redemption

It’s been almost three weeks and I can just now sit down to put words to this story.  Sometimes it takes time to digest something enough to put it to paper.

They bounded in the back door from camping, my three sons, the first Saturday in August.  It had been quiet without their boisterous selves for nearly 24 hours.  But they’d had a mission: Daddy Cousin Campout 2014.  It was the third year running and not to be missed.  The first night was all boys (our three and my sisters’ one) and the second was a trade, all the girls (our two and my sisters’ one).

The first words out of their mouth in the kitchen were loud and crashed over me.  Something about a train and Caleb and running and Finn screaming.  I told them that wasn’t funny, not to joke about it but they assured me it was no joke.  I looked to the Daddy for confirmation that they were indeed serious and he nodded yes, that he had waited until they were home to tell me and that it wasn’t something to share over text or phone.

There was a flurry of activity and the girls were whisked away for their adventure and I was left with my boys.  Tired and dirty and eager to tell the story.  Over and over again.  Like their little minds needed to say it out loud to process the reality of it.  I sat down and gave them my full attention as they relayed the story.

They’d arrived at camp the night before.  The two dads set up the tent and the boys asked for coins to put on the train tracks they’d discovered near their camp site.  They said yes and the boys went to place the pennies on the tracks.  While they were there, Caleb “looked up and saw three lights coming” so he hollered for them to run down the rocky slope to the trees.  The train approach was around a bend, so the sound from afar to warn of its impending arrival was buffered until it was very close.

The three oldest boys ran down the slope away from the tracks.  The conductor saw my children immediately and started blowing the whistle to clear the tracks, to run.  Which they were doing, except for Finn.  He was scared spitless.  He was paralyzed with fear.  He stood there screaming while the other three boys ran.  When Caleb reached the bottom, he looked up to see his brother at the track.  Without hesitation he ran back up the little hill and grabbed 37 pound three year old Finn and toted him down the rocks.  He only made it halfway down before the train was upon them, so he stopped and they hid under a large rock until it passed.  That’s when the daddies arrived.  They’d come running in an instant when they heard the whistle.

But the stark clear reality was that if Caleb had not moved so swiftly, so bravely…the result could have been catastrophic.

As each day passed they processed a bit more, Caleb told me days later “You know what is so strange mom?  When I picked up Finn, he felt light, like holding a baby.  And usually he is so heavy we can barely lift him!”.  I cried as I explained how God does that, gives strength or ability beyond explanation in certain situations.

Finn would wake up and go to sleep wanting to tell the story, the same succinct unchanging story each time.  How Caleb saw him, how Caleb ran up the hill, how the train was so loud, how scared he was and how they hid under the rock.

Last week Caleb came down stairs well after bed time, to find me in the kitchen an hour after I’d gone to bed.  He asked why I couldn’t sleep.  I told him the honest truth that every night when I laid down I replayed the whole event in my mind and then it would take me hours to go to sleep.  His lip quivered as he listened to me tell him again, “thank you for saving Finn”.  And we stood in the kitchen wrapped up in a big hug weeping for a very long while.

I am proud of my son.  The same son who a year ago nearly to the day made one poor judgment call and stabbed a steak knife into the grass after dinner just to see how far it would go.  A decision that would cost him dearly.  The tendon severed in his finger which would require hours of surgery to repair…“it’s like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube” the surgeon said.   A cast from fingertip to shoulder for the last precious weeks of summer, including the state fair and the first month of school.  It was months of a sort of sad frustration that he wore, knowing exactly how he’d wound up where he was.  It was days of him getting the mail and seeing bill after bill and asking “is this from my surgery too?”.  I can’t honestly put words to how it broke him, the whole thing.  It was devastating and he felt the weight of it so deeply.  It took a solid six months before he began to find his way forward.

The beautiful, stunning redemptive nature of it all was not lost on me.  As I told the story to a friend and we choked tears through the phone she whispered it’s almost exactly a year after his surgery.  And it was.  We don’t get the luxury of being privy to the secret ways of God.  We don’t get to know how he plans to work and shape and rescue us.  We simply get a choice.  To trust who he is and to believe he will work all things for good.

Like my mom did, when she heard our husbands were taking the kids camping at this particular campground.  She and my dad had scoped it out three years ago for a potential family camping trip.  They quickly deemed it unfit for a bunch of small kids.  But we didn’t know that, we simply ended up camping elsewhere that year.  So when she got word about the campground selection, she went to the Lord in prayer, asked him what to do before telling us it wasn’t a good choice.  He simply directed her to pray.  And pray she did.  She prayed her grandma heart out as our kids headed out for their weekend.  She prayed fervently for God’s protection and silently believed that the God she loved would watch over her precious grandchildren.

He did.  And in so doing, he gave our son this story that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.  A story of courage and bravery and heroism really, in my book at least.  A story that I will not forget, nor will my children forget, ever.