Why every mama needs a Joan

As the day pressed on and the blistering, unexpected spring heat smothered, I began to wonder if perhaps we were, in our novice status as bonafide dairy goat farmers, making a bit more work for ourselves than was needed.  We were having a good time after all.  The babies had stayed in the living room about three times longer than we planned because we had such ridiculous fun having them there.  Waking up and coming down the stairs to sweetest little faces and cries for snuggles and milk?  Yes.  It was as lovely as it sounds but yes, it was also a tremendous lot of work!  The days were a bit of blur and truly much bliss as we have allowed all the rest of life to be on hold and treasured these fleeting newly born days.

In my wondering, I queried in my head “what would Joan do?”.  So I wrote her mid afternoon yesterday.  Joan the kind-hearted, older mama whom we had first met in the goat barn at fair a few years back.  Joan, whose (now grown) children left such an impression on me when I met them the first time in their manners and kindness and gentle confidence.  I described to her what we were doing with our new goats and how we were learning and getting on. This is the schedule I sent:

6 AM milk 4 goats (3 Nigerians and Genie) – clean the vacuum milker
6:30 AM feed 10 bottles divided among babies
10 AM feed newer batch of 6 babies their bottles (but only carefully rationed measured out, they would take more if they could)
12:30 feed older 4 their bottles
1:00 PM milk 4 goats again – clean milker
2:00 PM feed newer 6 babies again (again, carefully rationed, divided out bottles)
5:00 PM feed older 4 babies
6:00 PM feed younger 6 bottles
8:30 PM  milk 4 goats (and clean the milker…again!)
9:-9:30 PM feed all 10 babies bottles

As I typed and asked her timidly  “am I missing anything here?”, the corners of my mouth curled up and I smirked to myself how crazy it looked on the screen.  Because for all that I typed there was of course the un-typed rest of life.  Three meals daily for six human kids.  The 2-3 loads of daily laundry. The hand washed dishes (did I mention the dishwasher broke January 3?).  All the “normal” life work.  A calendar of May splayed open on the counter with an array of showers, parties, end-of-year events, birthdays, dinners, outings, anniversary.
I took a deep breath and clicked “send”.  Without a trace of fear or worry.  Because there are some people who you know, that you know won’t judge, won’t over complicate or make your cheeks burn in embarrassment . They’ll just offer what they know, offer it in love and tell you it’s going to be okay.
After a brief and much needed date night, I got in the car to head home and read her reply.  I smiled.  I laughed, genuine belly-laughed out loud.  Until there were tears streaming down my face as I sat alone in my car in a parking lot.  “You are one overworked mama!” was how it began.  Oh, so it was a little crazy?  Yes.  Possibly.  The glory of being validated right where you are, such a powerful gift.
Then came her suggestions.  Which is what led to the laughter.  She told me she suggested “more sleep” at 6 AM.  The very idea!  In all its wisdom and simplicity!  Sleep.  The ever-elusive companion over these past 13 years of raising children.  This was, possibly, the first time someone had literally told me I perhaps should sleep more.
It got better.  From 10 am-1 pm on her proposed schedule, after kids had helped with milking (which of course they already do – but it was good to have affirmed that indeed, this ought to be a family affair) it said “be with your kids.  go shopping.  do your housework.  eat lunch.”  More smiles.  Someone I respect just told me to simply “be with” my kids.  Deep breath.
And better still, after getting milk to goats after lunch (and cutting out the terribly over-the-top midday milking) she proposed:
enjoy your kids, drink lemonade in the garden, watch your kids play with the baby goats
Wait?  Did someone just tell me to enjoy my kids?  To drink lemonade in the garden?  To watch my kids play?  This was too much!  The wave of relief and sweetness that washed over me prompted hot tears and a most silly grin.
Permission to simplify.  Permission to sleep.  Permission to enjoy the blessings set before me.  Permission to delight in our work together but not create an unnecessary load.
We all need a Joan.  And not just for help with goats.  But for so much more.  We need to raise our heads up, raise our hands and ask brave, vulnerable questions of the older, wiser women in our midst.  Especially in the raising of children, which is largely done outside of a tight-knit, real-life community except for a lucky few, we need the gift of their looking back, their ability to see clearly what really mattered.  Things like enjoying our kids and lemonade in the garden.  At times, we need to admit defeat and call in the troops of the ones who have already been there.  We need fresh eyes.
Maybe our schedule or workload feels suffocating but we don’t know how to fix it.  Maybe one child struggles big and loud and we have tried everything but can’t help them.  Maybe we have fought against family baggage and generations of bad patterns in relationships but we want more than bondage, we ache for freedom.  Whatever the unspoken fight or darkness, sometimes we need another set of hands on deck, a new and fresh perspective in order to find our way, “to proceed to the next step” as I inquired to Joan in my letter.
If we open up our eyes and heart to the people around us in one circle or another, chances are there is a Joan or a Suzanne or an Amy or someone precious who is just waiting to see a raised hand, a white flag, a “help wanted” banner held up over the life of a younger one trying to find her way.

Everyday wonder

Slowing down isn’t really my thing.

Ever year for the past three years April or May comes and I get very sick.  Like in bed for a week or three and fairly unable to care for anyone.  Cumulative total of a years worth of homeschool and all the rest of life.  Added up to a debt that demands paying.  A forced, hard stop.  No option.  No pressing through.  Just an involuntary shut down.

I’m squaring off with April and May.  Staring them hard in the face right this minute.  Wondering if or how this time I could bypass that sort of unpleasant craziness.  Daring to say out loud that the answer just might lie in not multi-tasking to the nines.  Not saying an unwise “yes” where a no is actually in order.  Not saying “maybe later” to my two year old who wants to take my hand and “come see” something.  Not saturating myself in obligation and instead simply loving what and who is in front of me at that very moment.  Not worrying about the next moment and simply welcoming the present for what it is.

Even if it involves sitting outside my grandpa’s room with silent tears streaming down my face.  Because big love means big goodbyes and those don’t ever come easy.

Even if it means simple, repetitive dinners because that’s the only way I can get food on the table for 8 people.  Embracing the truth that food love doesn’t have to be big and showy to still be love.

Even if it means one (or five) too many dark chocolate peanut butter cups eaten after kid bedtime when I really should be following a stricter diet and working out every day.

Even if it looks like milk stained jeans and tee-shirts (like today) from the thrice daily milking that consumes a good part of life this week….pretty sure my Pinterest page that is titled “If I had a style…” it didn’t include this weeks attire as assistant dairy maid.

Because for all those even-if’s and adjustments that keep being made, there is stunning and simplest beauty to be had if I have eyes to see.

There is a bug called a click beetle that bends its neck and makes a captivating “click” sound.  Caleb found one and brought it to me while I washed a zillion dishes this morning.  We stood in the kitchen and watched it snap it’s clicking neck back and forth.

There is a spirited and feisty two year old who will not be missed and who will not miss anything.  Who loves to read to newborn goats…

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There is a boy who found flowers growing out back and thought they would look nice in a pot, so he found one, dug it up and made this for me.  Beauty, tiniest blue flowers, brought right to my feet.  Undeserved and perfect gift.

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There is a blue-tinted moth that thrives here and we find all the time.  Someone thought it wise to use my water pitcher as a bug house.  Imagine my surprise when I found this as I went to make a pitcher of ice water:

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There is couch time.  Three cup of coffee mornings where all I do is help feed bottles, do more dishes, drink more coffee.  Though incredibly work-heavy and surely exhausting in the deepest sort of way, something wonderful happens when you are handed crisis (baby goats who look like they are about to die, beloved ones whose time here is waning, hard stuff of any and every sort).  You have a choice to make.  You can get angry and bitter and callus and run away.  Or you can laugh and cry at the very same time as you tackle the hard/impossible thing together.  This is family.  Family says:

Yes.  This is painful, scary, difficult and unfair…but we will face it together.  

That meant kids who sat quiet through Sunday lunch with grandpa.  Keenly, heartbreakingly aware how dramatically different it was from the past 40+ Sunday lunches we’ve enjoyed with him over the past almost two years.  They hold a front row seat to this part of life’s journey we are walking.  Together. Joy and delight mixed with loss and heartache.

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There were the quads born on Thursday…

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and then surprise Saanen twins born Friday.  I wrote dates down wrong.  Like three weeks wrong.  Absolute shock to walk outside and see their white, wet, just-born selves laying in the grass:

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And Hope.  There is always Hope.  After her big (tiny) debut on Thursday, she is being loved and nourished and has made an amazing recovery.  Largely thanks to Rylee and her incredible goat care-love.

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Hope Rises

It was just about the time the rooster crows.  My alarm beckoned me out of warm flannel sheets and I headed straight for a quick shower.  I’d come home at dusk from sitting at the hospital with my grandpa.  My body and heart were still tired.  But duty called.  Rylee woke herself at the same time but headed straight out to check on the latest goat mama due.  Just as I was pumping shampoo she burst into the bathroom.  “Babies born in the night, mama, hurry….this one, it’s not doing good.”  I grabbed a towel and shot out of the shower to find her holding a terribly limp and freezing cold tiny baby goat.  It was hardly breathing.  Tiny nostrils flared ever so slightly.  It did not move.  I wrapped it in my bath towel and ran for clothing and the heater.  We rubbed its little fuzzy body and held her close.

We woke two more (human) kids and took turns rubbing and warming and hoping.  Too cold to even shiver, she just laid there at our mercy.  She’d been born fourth.  Mama had obviously attended well to the first three babies and they were licked clean and placed proper under the heat lamp that was there for an impromptu night birth just like this one.  But one hadn’t made it there.  Had been left for dead by the door to the pen on the cold ground.

The morning chores were quickly stacking up, goats to milk, bottles to feed to the older babies, three more babies to check on outside, kids hungry for breakfast, coffee to be had.  I’m fairly sure I offered everyone tortillas for breakfast and a kind husband made me coffee.  Rylee whispered, “can we call her Hope?”.  I smiled my yes and knew that even if she wouldn’t make it, she still ought to be named.  We brought her downstairs and held her close and dropped milk into her weak mouth and hoped she would be strong enough to swallow.

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Everyone sort of held their breath.  Slowly her eyes opened.  Nearly every pair of hands loved on her, quietly willing her to live.  Cautious optimism brimmed.  All eyes on Hope.

Hope is the stalwart strength that draws us up to face another day.  Hope is believing that your invisible sacrifice of love is being poured out into something worthwhile regardless of the payoff or lack-thereof.  Hope is trying again when you want to give up.  Hope is living out your promises and defying all odds in the process.  Hope is believing greater things than we can imagine are in progress, seen and unseen.

Hope is acknowledging what might yet be.

Her official registered farm name will be “Little Foot MM Hope Rises”.  Long name for such a little thing.  It’s true.  But it couldn’t be more fitting.

Both ends of love

The dichotomy of our life right now is not lost on me.  We are knee deep in goat babies and new life.  Then last night we sat with our beloved grandpa (great grandfather to our children).  For the third time this week.  At his hospital bedside after taking a big nose-dive in his health in a very short time.  Less than two weeks ago we were sitting in the warm sun at Dairy Queen eating french fries and ice cream cones.   Then one rough night and suddenly he’s laid up in the hospital for a week now.  Things can change fast when you are 93 years old.  We returned home at dusk and tucked ourselves (and goats) into warm beds with full hearts.

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Loving extravagantly comes at a high price.  Make no mistake.

The potential of losing what you hold most dear is the byproduct of big love.  Crazy love.  The kind of love that is brave enough to ask hard questions when it would be easier to say nothing.  The kind of love that puts all of life on hold because sometimes you don’t get second chances to love right, love in the moment, love completely.  The kind of love that keeps coming back and pressing in, against all reason, simply because a promise made is meant to be kept.

When you love much, the door is flung wide open to scores of abundance and richness that to some remain a lifelong mystery.  But the door is also open to hard goodbyes and loss.  Loving wildly means experiencing loss in most visceral ways.

Audrey read stories to Grandpa and my phone buzzed with texts updating on a soon-to-deliver goat mama at home with the rest of our crew.  Fresh beginnings of life and the inching towards end of life.  All mixed up in one beautiful, perfect day.  If our grandpa hadn’t moved cross country three years ago, we wouldn’t have this gift we have.  This we-love-you-so-much-it-hurts gift.  This constant awareness that our present with him is just that.  To be received, treasured.  Which is just what we’ve done, are doing.  In the best way we know how.

In the quiet sitting, holding hands….”Am I squeezing you to tight?” he asks.  My eyes well up and I tell him not at all, keenly aware that when one day his weathered hands aren’t here to squeeze mine, I will feel a hole in my heart.  The kind of hole that only love leaves.

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Kidding season begins…

We’ve had two out of six goats deliver so far.  This year we are hand raising our babies on bottles.  Certainly more work.  Also exponentially more fun. The goat kids live in the house for a few days while they get settled and we feed them their mama’s milk in a bottle.  There isn’t anything quite like coming downstairs in the morning to a pen of these little cuties waiting for you in the living room.  They are quickly imprinted on humans.  They adore our children and climb all over them at every opportunity.

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Doing hard things

It is easy to say your want your kids to have opportunities to do stretch their character muscles and be challenged.  That sounds good and wise.  It is however, a whole other thing to actually facilitate them doing the hard thing.  Sometimes we aren’t privy to the actual challenge until after it has occurred.  Like today, Audrey climbed a tree, high.  And when she went for the final dismount she fell.  Scraped her whole belly badly.  She did something hard and it didn’t work out super well.  She is fine.  But she will do it differently next time.  She’ll find another way out of that tree that doesn’t net her being carried into the house in her brothers arms.

One of our kids stepped up, stepped into what we knew would be a challenging academic program this year.  Last year as we decided on how to proceed, I wanted to say “let’s wait a year”.  But she was ready.  I knew she was.  And I wasn’t being honest with myself if I said otherwise.  She declared one day as we deliberated “Mom, I know it’s not going to be easy.  I want to do it anyway.”  It was a mute point from that moment forward.  I wasn’t about to hold her back.  Sometimes our fear prevents our kids from going, being, doing what they were made for.  Finding a voice for that fear and calling it out so you can take a brave step forward is something I’m learning is paramount important while raising children.

Another child this year wanted to do something brave.  He wanted to take on a memory challenge for our homeschool work through Classical Conversations where we participate in community each Monday.  I read the requirements early this year and laughed.  Who could do that?  I brushed past the request to try for it.  And I let months go by without encouraging him to work toward it.  The year passed and he was tenacious on his desire to pursue it.  Everything, I mean everything, in me wanted to say no.  Not because I didn’t want to invest the hours of quizzing to help make sure he knew it.  Honest truth?  I wanted to say no because I could not handle the possibility of him failing.  He would not accept my unspoken answer.  The kind of answer mom’s give when they don’t want to say the actual word no so they instead don’t invest the time and heart into making a yes happen.

It came time I had to “proof” him so he could proceed with the process of being officially acknowledged for this feat.  I halfheartedly picked up the notebook and proceeded to sit on my bed for two hours with him.  Asking question upon question.  When we finished the 7 subjects, he asked what was next.  I said “Um, nothing.  There is nothing left.”  He had recited, near perfectly the information below:

  • The entire timeline of 160 events from creation to modern times;
  • Twenty-four (some very lengthy) more in depth sentences about history;
  • Twenty-four science questions and answers;
  • Multiplication tables through the fifteens plus squares and cubes, conversions, and math laws;
  • Continents, countries, capitals, and physical features from around the world.
  • Twenty-four definitions or lists from English grammar;
  • Latin noun cases and declensions,
  • The forty-four U.S. presidents.

About 400 pieces of information in all.

He looked at me.  Quiet tears ran down my face and his own eyes welled up.  I had almost held him back from this super difficult thing for only one reason.

I did not want to see him fail.

I could not bear the thought of him not making it.  I felt physically ill at the prospect.  And in my doubt and fear I nearly robbed him of this big win.  He pursued something he wanted to accomplish with such passion and determination.

Ideally, I would like to say “lesson learned”.  But I know better.  This lesson?  The one where you don’t fret one bit because you’ve raised children to be brave and take risks and given them chances to succeed OR fail?  It isn’t ever mastered.

We always said we wanted to take our kids overseas when they were middle school age.  Which felt like FOREVER.  But now here we are and here they go.  Off on a plane in July with their daddy to Africa, to one of the poorest nations in the world.  To serve and love and get their hands dirty and hearts split open in a most beautiful way, one they wouldn’t likely ever experience here.  One more opportunity to release, to be brave, to take a deep breath and remember, God is writing their story and the unfolding of each step is something to behold.

Time to stand and stare

What is this life, if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like stars at night.
No time to turn at Beauty; glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care
We have no time to stand and stare.

W. H. Davies

There is straw beneath and around me as I sit and read out loud to a laboring doe (mama goat).  Blanchette is unbothered by the computer in her midst.  She is merely happy for the comfort I bring to her in her labors.  A neighbor is mowing and the boisterous two year old is sleeping.  There is a list inside of all that needs to get done by nightfall.  But I’m here.  Reading to a goat.  Reading to myself.  She nibbles on my wedding ring and makes softest sounds that she will only make for the babies that are about to be delivered.  Mama Hen stands nearby and since she’s special to me, I don’t shoo her away.  She is our hen who likes to lay an entire clutch of beautiful blue eggs “off the reservation” ie: not in the coop.  She too clucks in a most maternal way and somehow I feel most at home in the world, right here.

Blanchette paws at the nest she’s made and I rub her back and keep reading to her.  But when I get to the poem quoted above, my eyes brim and spill.  The book is about family and what a home is.  Something I’ve learned much of just from experience and life.  But something I know I’ve still room to grow into and grasp stronger.  A barred owl just called from a tree nearby, he must live directly behind the goat pasture.  And he always calls mid afternoon.  Every day.  His one-of-a-kind voice is ominous and strangely comforting to me.  I never see him.  But his presence is as real to me as anything.  I breath deep and loud and keep my feet propped up on the milk stool for just another minute.

If I don’t have time to stop and stare and engage fully in this one and only life of mine, then is it really life at all?

I am such a slow learner.  But I’m figuring out that my ability to multi-task like most moms isn’t always a gift.  It can fragment a day and a life right up into pieces until what’s left is devoid of the richness intended.

Maybe multi-tasking isn’t all it was cracked up to be.  Maybe we weren’t meant to have it all.  Maybe we can only have and do just a few things with excellence and we get to choose.  A yes here means a no somewhere else.

One of my kids came to me this week with emotions and words that were incredibly tough to swallow.  Vulnerable and real.   I had just communicated I didn’t have time to look at cute puppy pictures online.  I needed to send a quick note back to someone about something.  But in that moment that seemed small and totally insignificant to me, there was brokenness.  “Mom, sometimes it seems like you just don’t have time for me.”  There were tears.  I listened.  I received all the emotion and words to follow.  And took some serious inventory.  What needed to change?

Hence the poem above and how poignant I find it at present.  Time to stand and stare.  Time to shirk the rest of life and sit in the goat pen.  Time to go for a walk.  Time to listen for owls.  Time to look at puppy pictures online.  Time to listen to ridiculous quotes from a movie I find annoying but my boys love.  Time to stop and kiss my husband in the kitchen.  Time to sit by the fire instead of do dishes.  Time to let go.

Yes, life may be brimming ‘full of care’.  But there is still time to turn and glance at Beauty.

**more soon – a minute or two more and the first baby goat of our kidding season will be here…pics soon to follow!!!**

**updated: 5:30 pm**

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The Finn turns five!

Dear five year old Finn,

I just went outside and you were delightedly hanging 10 feet off the ground from a tree branch.  You are fearless and big boy brave every day of your life.  You’ve climbed trees with ease since you were three.  Now you have a little sister whom you show the ropes to all day long and you’ve taught her boisterous self just how to climb too.  And you are proud.  You have your own garden plot this year and you tell me you want to grow me peas.  You’ve weeded your garden twice despite me explaining that you will have to wait to put the pea seeds in the ground until April.  I often find you at the first aid box opening the green salve and wiping it onto some part of your adventurous self.  In fact you are so skilled at caring for your wounds that two weeks ago when we got to church I noticed you had blood on your shirt and Star Wars bandaids and sticky blood all over your hand.  While we were all getting ready to leave, you had tried to cut open a bagel.  You cut your hand and simply went upstairs to your personal bandaid supply and covered your wound.

You tell the most amazing dragon stories.  And they always have a brave hero.  And his name is always Finn.  You still tell me the story of Caleb saving your life summer before last.  You know which direction the train was coming and you know that you were frozen there, on the tracks.  And you still show great emotion in the retelling.  Near daily you like to ask me “Mom, do you wanna be a mouse lemur or a cockroach?” or “Which animal do you like better mom, a caracal or a sea otter?”.   You tell me that you want to be a race car driver when you grow up.  Your love for all things John Deere is waning which makes me sad.  You are growing into Lego and out of tractor and I wouldn’t mind if you stayed tractor-crazy forever.

You holler fairly often at present.  But it’s beginning to diminish  You have lots to express and don’t always have the patience to wait for words.  You don’t care that shoes were meant to be worn in pairs or that typically people wear shirts in the winter.  I love these things about you.  I love all the boy that you are and could not fathom our life or this world without you.  You are one of a kind awesome and it’s my absolute gift to be your mama.

Always,

Mama

Anticipating spring

We’ve been breathing deep here.  Eating the last of July’s blueberries from the freezer.  Winter hogs were slaughtered this morning.  Tree forts are in the works.  Anticipating warmer months to come.  Skipping screen-time for sun-time.  Making the most of every day together.  Learning hour by hour how to love well and speak life.  Showing up and abiding next to one another.  Messing up and asking forgiveness and trying again.  Every.  Single.  Day.

I didn’t realize after handing over the garden to the kids last year, they would assume ownership again.  But I’ve found them outside many an afternoon, hands covered in soil,mapping out their plans for their raised beds.  I am happy to defer to them on the matter of growing things.  They blew me away last year with their initiative and effort.  No good reason not to let them go at it again.   I overheard sibling talk like this the day the seeds came “Now remember Audrey, when we transplanted the cucumbers, they all DIED.  In ONE night.  SO, I think you should start them outside later on or grow them in peat pots so you don’t have to replant them.”   And of course talk like this too “You can’t plant your pumpkin THERE.  It will RUIN my garden because it’s so huge.  Go ask mom for another garden bed but you are not planting pumpkins next to my peas.”  Or this, all spoken in one long breath from the four year old, “Mom, you have to choose one, if you could be ONLY one person, who would you be?  Henry the Navigator or Ramses the Great?  YOUHAVETOPICKONE!”.  Oh the sponge-like nature of the younger, not-really-yet-homeschooling-but-absorbing-tons-every-day life of the Finn.

this scene is the hallmark of good times had in my book...
this scene is the hallmark of good times had – in my book…nevermind that the dishwasher has been broken for 6 weeks!

 

I gave them a budget and a seed catalog and they checked the mail every day for a week anticipating "seed day"!
I gave them a budget and a seed catalog and they checked the mail every day for a week anticipating “seed day”!

 

Because he could not wait one single day for popsicle sticks, he had to start with paper slips labeling his starts…

 

What's this you ask? Why goat ultrasound of course! Who knew!? All six does are confirmed bred. This means we have abundant work to do prepping kidding pens ASAP.
What’s this you ask? Why goat ultrasound of course! Who knew!? All six does are confirmed bred. This means we have abundant work to do prepping kidding pens ASAP.

 

A quick pre-church snapshot on Sunday - my heart about bursts looking at this photo. What gifts we've been given!
A quick pre-church snapshot on Sunday – my heart about bursts looking at this photo. What gifts we’ve been given!

 

 

40 new layer chicks are residing in the garage brooders at the moment - hoping to increase our egg-selling capacity this year!
40 new layer chicks are residing in the garage brooders at the moment – hoping to increase our egg-selling capacity this year!

 

First cart ride of the new year - spring is definitely on the way...
First cart ride of the new year – spring is definitely on the way…

 

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Audrey and her banty rooster named Roger - many a day at least one of us can be heard saying "Oh Roger..." as he crows relentlessly just outside the house
Audrey and her banty rooster named Roger – many a day at least one of us can be heard saying “Oh Roger…” as he crows relentlessly just outside the house

I need to check on the chickens…last I heard was a hearty “Ay friends, we’re going to catch us some flappers for dinner!”  Apparently a thriving game of pirate mixed with frontier life is taking place in the back yard at present.  “What are flappers Kyler?”  “Chickens of course mom, don’t you speak pirate-ese?”.

13 going on wonderful

Dear Rylee Jeanne,

How did this day sneak right up on me the way it did?  I still remember all those weeks sitting next to your incubator in the hospital after you were born and staring at your sweet tiny face for hours.  I remember waiting days to even hold you in my arms and I thought if I didn’t get to do it soon I might just not live another day.  So great was my longing to wrap you up in my arms.  Your presence and personality and poise have literally shaped this family. You are the most tremendous oldest sister this not-so-small family could ever have asked for.  Every one of your siblings is blessed that you came first. Your creative and energetic ways make you such an enjoyable playmate.  Your ability to direct people and quietly bring order out of chaos, it’s such a unique and wonderful gift.

You are 13 going on wonderful.  I recently crossed path with a former youth pastor of mine.  As I expressed emotion over entering this new era, of parenting teenagers, he had a good bit of sage advice for me.  But first he inquired “I need to know…is she the hellion you were at 13?”.  To which I easily replied, “Um, no…not even close!”.  Your life and love and character don’t hold a candle to how I behaved myself at 13.  While I do feel the changes on the horizon, I am keenly aware that you are amazing.  I have the same longing in my heart for you as I did the week you were born.  I know well enough to know you still need to be wrapped up, held up by the love that only a mama can give.  Even if there is some adolescent attitude that comes my way.

You quietly absorb and asses the happenings around you.  You are intuitive and aware of more than I’d even imagine.  This is a beautiful quality and as you get older you will continue to learn to do this in ways that allow your heart to still function and stay whole despite being highly tuned in to all that is going on.  Your mama is still learning.  Learning to love wildly and freely without expectation.  Learning to be brave.  In many ways I feel like we are learning together and I see something new forming and though I don’t know yet quite how to proceed or just what it looks like…it is a wonderful mystery we are headed into.  I told you this week I’d read this incredible verse in Collosians, that the mystery of the ages had now been revealed and that guess what the mystery was?  This mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col 1:27).  You are an image bearer of Christ.  You have something of Him to reflect to the world you live in.  And that right there is a most beautiful hope.

I do see one thing clear.  You need your dad.  Front and center.  He has a new role to fill in your life in this season.  You adore him.  Not that that is new, since it isn’t.  But something is different.  As I watched him hold your hand and ice skate with you this afternoon, a wave of feelings poured over me.  Gratitude that he is who he is.  That he is present and available for you.  That he loves Jesus above all else and aims to lead and love our family the best he can.  That I get to share him with you.  Grateful that you have the same gift I did as a young girl (and still enjoy today)…a dad who loves God, loves my mom and loves me well.

Let me let you in on a secret.  Your dad and I don’t know what we’re doing all the time.  We haven’t done this before, you are our first teenager and all we know is what we know.  And there’s a lot we don’t know.  A wise and respected older friend in our life told us once…during a period of very tumultuous marital struggle for us:  “Aside from a heritage of genuine faith, the best gift you can ever give your kids is parents who love each other well.”  She went on to explain the impact that has on the life of a child.  You’ve heard us yelling in the yard over the pigs and the mud and “why did we ever say yes to this…”.  You’ve seen me cry in the laundry room because I hadn’t been a receiver of grace when I was desperate for it.  You’ve seen me cut your dad down with disrespectful words and a too-quick-mouth.  You see us kissing in the kitchen or in the pantry and you watch the continual ebb and flow that marriage is.  You miss almost zero of what takes place here.  We aren’t modeling perfection for you.  We are however modeling real life and mess and grace.  And you won’t grow up and leave our home thinking life is always peachy and smells like roses.  You’ll know it stings and hurts and smells like manure sometimes (literally AND figuratively).  But God is present in our pain and in our mess and imperfection and He gives glimpses of glory all along the journey.  Your dad and I are committed to Jesus, to one another, to this family, to you and your siblings and to being Love-bearers to the people on our path in any way we are able.

Whatever these years ahead hold, we will be right here.  Living out our love one day at a time.  We are so proud of who you are and the way you live, think, speak and love.  These are great years ahead…don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  They may be a bit of a mystery to us yet, but we are in this together!

Always,

Mama

A super fun birthday afternoon ice skating with siblings and girl friends!
A super fun birthday afternoon ice skating with siblings and girl friends!
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Your littlest sis - an almost aspiring ice skater :)
Your littlest sis – an almost aspiring ice skater :)
Blurry - yes.  But had to include.  21 years ago this year your dad took me ice skating on our first date.  It was super precious to buzz around the skate rink with our six kids in tow.   (and yes, we still like holding hands - even if it makes you giggle!)
Blurry – yes. But had to be included. 21 years ago this year your dad took me ice skating on our first date. It was super precious to buzz around the skate rink with our six kids in tow. (and yes, we still like holding hands – even if it makes you giggle!)