Truth be told every day is a good one. Every day holds something of a treasure. The only question is, will I find it? Sometimes I have to look darn hard to see past the wet boots left out again, the sassy attitude, the scale that lies to me every morning and the spilled honey collecting all-things-fuzzy on the kitchen counter.
But for one of my kids a normal day is somewhere on the spectrum of mildly unpleasant to downright dismal. There are daily tears over spelling or something. Sensitivity is high to….well, everything it can feel like. At least two pencils get broken every day over handwriting. Doors slam and words are spoken that break my heart and make me wonder if really I am up to this task.
Nearly every family has someone in them that requires some extra grace. Really, isn’t it every single one of us some days? When I gingerly coach our other kids on how to respond, I often tell them:
You have two choices to make. You get to react in frustration to something that feels largely unfair. Or you get to learn to love when it’s not easy and that’s called grace.
It’s a tightrope that I walk daily and no doubt I am messing it up. No doubt I’m leaning the wrong way part of the time. But my heart is good. And I have to believe that truly that counts for something.
Learning to love when it’s not easy is a life skill we practice on a daily basis around here. By practice I mean, learning it over and over and over again. We may be really behind on multiplication tables, in fact I’m certain of it. But we are learning love, how to give and receive and grow more when you don’t feel like it. These things might top the times tables when all is said and done. Just maybe.
Given that little history, you can imagine my deep delight when we were gifted with TWO days in a row this week of calm responses, reasonable reactions and pleasant conversations. To put the wonder of that into words is beyond me.
It was a break in the rain for me. And I love rain. Really. It brings the greatest beauty to my life. After a long while though, I just get plain tired of being wet. Instead of the beauty that comes from the perennial downpour of wonderful and crazy-tough stuff life brings, I simply want a day of respite.
Not that I feel entitled to it, I don’t. I just want it. Want might be too mild a term. Desperately need it so I can keep stepping forward every day in this one life that is only mine to live, that might be more like it.
So when the days came, they surprised me and they were sweeter than anything. I have relished every minute. I’ve whispered constant thanks for the gift.
Given just a little bit of reprieve, I’m fairly certain I can weather many more normal-for-me-but-quite-likely-crazy-to-anyone-else days to come…and for that this mama is
yes, thankful, again (you might be tired of hearing it, but that’s okay!).
By the time Thursday rolls around I’m a little weary. I might have skipped washing my hair so I could sleep in till 6:10 a day. Or two. My days begin promptly at 6:00 AM and don’t end until kids are in bed at 8:30. And goodness knows a whole lot happens in those 15 hours every day of the week.
It’s not like we sit around in our pajamas all weekend but there is something very lovely about having Daddy here to share in life with us. He even gives the kids Sunday morning off their farm chore duties. Pretty awesome (even if his real reason might just be that he loves it when we get to church on time!). The “doing it all together” instead of just me makes me slow just a bit. So getting to the Friday finish line, having taught, shuttled, directed, cooked and trained my way through the week feels like a feat. Every single week.
Which brings me back to Thursday….I had just taught a room of 9 and 10 year olds at our literature co-op. I don’t know why but I’d been so nervous about it (I think it had something to do with not wanting to embarrass my kids who were in the class). So nervous that I sweated through my nice shirt and had to run to the van at break to get a jacket. Classy.
We made it home and I hoisted the brute of a two year old out of the van and tucked him in for a nap. I made a promise of a good snack and a movie (with the ulterior motive of wanting an hour long nap). Just as I was about to fall onto the couch in my less-than-fresh clothes, someone yelled “It’s Miss Vicki walking up the drive!”. Miss Vicki is our Children’s Pastor at church. Yes, we had a meeting scheduled and no I did not remember it.
There was a puzzle undone on the floor. The counter was covered with stuff of all sorts. The need for a vacuum was high. I remembered my shirt issue just as the doorbell rang. I opened the door with a big smile and invited her in. The kids took over chatting and I excused myself upstairs. A clean shirt. Some perfume. Lip gloss for good measure. Who was I kidding? Lip gloss? Had I seen my own downstairs? Like lip gloss would fix it!
She is a gracious woman. She moved a sweatshirt from the couch and sat down. We talked and dreamed about a tea party for all the girls and moms at church. I exuberantly offered to host it here. And I did explain, “Really, my house can be clean and tea-beautiful, I promise!”. I hoped she believed me.
There was a time just a few years ago I would have DIED to have this day play out. And I would read blog after blog about people with more kids than me with perfectly laid out days and systems in place at every moment that ensured no chaos. Ever. But that’s not us. And finally, wonderfully, that’s okay with me. I’m learning to simply do what I do:
Smile big. And invite people in….to my heart, my life, my mess.
So whoever you are and whatever you do, just be you. People don’t need perfect. People really just need love.
The kids were at church with daddy and I was home with our youngest. Puttering around. Dishes, laundry, diapers and dawdling while a toddling little one followed me around.
My husband’s mama called mid-evening. She was worried. Her own husband should have been home around dinner time from his hunting trip. He wasn’t answering his cell phone. She’d called his hunting buddy (who was at home, hadn’t joined him this time) and he hadn’t heard from him either. I listened, prayed with her, listened some more. Figuring I’d help fill in the time till her son was back with me and she could talk with him and figure out what to do.
The local sheriff on the other side of our mountains drove out to the dirt road where Jerry had parked to hike out to the pond where he’d hope to bring down some ducks. Probably expecting to find the truck gone and we’d just wait till he pulled in the driveway.
No telling how many times Jerry went out to those mountains. He sported the best Cabela’s attire, owned every sort of cool hunting or fishing gadget I’d ever heard of and lots that I hadn’t. He loved being outside. Lived and breathed it.
The sheriff did find the truck. Empty. Untouched. It had been dark for hours by then. It was below freezing. Duck hunting hours long over. No one would stay out there by their own choice.
When my hubby pulled in to our house at 8:30 he spoke with his mom. They were mobilizing a search and rescue crew. They would find him. We would wait until they did. He would drive over the mountains and I would stay here with our clan. Kids went quick to bed and I gathered all the warm clothes I could find. Shaking hands made coffee and put protein bars and nuts in bags and very few words were spoken.
I can’t remember if I called my mom then yet or not. And the very typing out of “I can’t remember…” is why I’m writing this story again today. I don’t want the details to get foggy. I don’t want to forget how life can change in one breath. I don’t want to forget what his great big smile looked like.
My mom was across the country where it was already the middle of the night. Sitting at my beloved Grandma’s bedside. Waiting to see if she would, if she could possibly pull through. Her heart failed her and her body was weary of the toll. So I think once I sent off my beloved, I called my sister. My little middle one, who was pregnant at the time. She said she’d come and I said that I was sure it would all be okay and she should rest. Three hours later when the search crew had not found a thing I called her after midnight and said please, please come.
We sat in my bed, talked, rested with eyes wide open, talked. Waited. The most painstaking kind of waiting there is. My dad and my sister’s hubby figured out when to head over the mountains too. To wait. To help. But mostly just to love in the moment. Every minute was an hour and it was without exception the longest night of my life.
The search team decided it was too black dark to keep searching. They would have to wait a few hours until daybreak. Talk about helpless. Talk about feeling like you can’t do ANYTHING. We prayed our hearts out but mostly the silent kind because the words you need to pray you don’t want to say out loud.
Morning came and I told my sis she should get home to her little boy. She had weathered the long night with me and surely the new day would bring better news. I was certain I would be okay and would be busy caring for my four little people. I would make breakfast and dress children and do normal things.
But somewhere between making breakfast and dressing children the world stood still and five words in a text message from the man that I have loved since I was 15 years old knocked me to the floor and I wailed at the top of my lungs. I had walked into my bedroom to pick up something when his message came. I could not move or catch my breath. I could not pick myself up. I knew he was with all the rescue people and law enforcement and he couldn’t give me any more details at that moment. Later I would know he was knee deep in freezing mud water at the pond where he found his dad…next to his dad’s hunting dog who was still standing loyal watch. I dialed my mom in Virginia, called my sister to beg her back over to my house straight away and sat on my floor in a heap.
Kids had a hundred questions and I had no answers. I shook in tears and held them so tight it hurt. My mom immediately scrambled for a flight home despite knowing her own mama there was still wholly unstable. My sister held me up, helped me get together and we waited some more. But this time without the hope of good news. This time with hearts that hung heavy and broken.
A heart without hope is one of the greatest sorrows of life.
And before that day, I could truly say that I’d never known what that felt like. Ever. I am by nature optimistic yes, but more than that I have known Hope all my life. But I had never known such tragic, unexpected loss. Nothing in all of living prepares one for things like this. And nothing leaves a mark quite like it either.
I think I held my breath for about three months after. Loss like that undoes so much inside. I questioned everything I’d ever known and wondered how in the whole wide world this could happen. My family stepped in and helped lead us through the days that seemed utterly frozen in heartache. Friends near and far, people from church, work, all met needs and loved us in a hundred different ways.
It caught me off guard realizing that today is just a normal day for the world. A perfectly ordinary Sunday. The thing about life is that none of it is promised to us. We might feel like we’re entitled to a long and lovely season on earth. But we aren’t.
The mark of loss cuts deep. We learn to walk with our wounds. But it’s a different walk. The most beautiful part is that if we choose, it is out of those deepest hurts that the most genuine, most sincere and most unabashed love for people can flow.
In this season with many littles, I ask myself these questions a lot:
Will I remember this in a year? Will my kids remember this in a year?
When it’s Bible study night and we haven’t met for a month and I’m looking so forward to 90 minutes of fellowship – and Phineas sobs when I try to leave him with sweet Ava. When I give up trying to go and scoop him right up and head to Bartell’s down the street to get a binky because we forgot one and he’s sleepy and that’s partly why his face is so crumbled. I tell Ava, “I know this might seem silly, driving to go buy a binky and all….but someday, it really won’t seem so crazy!”.
When I resort to going up and down the elevator with him while I wait for the other kids and he won’t take off the enormous sound proof headphones because he associates them with the tractor and his daddy and he spent an hour sitting on it just saying “daddy, tracker?” over and over with the ridiculous ear muffs on. We quit pushing buttons and I am thankful for this little 5×8 foot space so we just stay there. I tell myself not to be embarrassed when someone pushes the button and finds me inside the elevator, sitting on the carpet with a box of bunny grahams and a happy toddler with headphones that say he’s an air traffic controller.
When I hurt a boys feelings for telling him he’s silly and he yells so long because I hurt his heart. I have to apologize and his eyes are so sad it breaks my heart. I hope he forgets how unkind I was to him.
When we let everyone go outside till 10 PM to make snowmen in the dark and they are frozen but delighted to the core. Even Finn keeps up with the snowball making and cries when we have to go inside.
When little girl asks me, because she really needs to know, “When is Finn going to change the world Mama?” and I realize she heard me say that to a friend about her vivacious baby brother. I tell her with a smile, “Oh he’s not the only one….you all get to change your world, whatever place God takes you – you get to change it for good if you choose!”. And I mean that with my whole heart.
When I finally figure out that for the one who loves people more than anything, doing math alone was the end of the world. Math with siblings is “the most fun ever, Mom!”. How am I so lucky to get to teach math to these eager little people?
When I sit rocking a teething toddler after bedtime and he lets me cradle his 30 pound self like a baby and the instant he sees my face at his door his flowing tears stop and he breathes out “mama” as if I were his very life. and he says the same thing over and over until I understand:
Song? Do you want a song?
Yeah. Fong. Unshine. Away.
I sing the same song about sunshine over and over until he’s trying, in sleepy, baby, binky-in-mouth fashion to sing it with me. It’s the sweetest thing I’ve heard in forever. He lets me hold him for what feels like an eternity. He points to my eyes, ears, nose, “mouf” and names them all in the dark. My legs hurt. I recall the work I still have to do and the sleep that is beckoning me. But I stay. I sing again and my voice catches because this, this is a moment I want to remember.
I want to be all here. Though these days require more than what I feel like I can give, I won’t ever get the chance to do them over and I want so bad to remember all the little gifts along the journey.
I spent New Year’s day thinking about all sorts of things (in my pajamas whilst unpacking the last of the moving boxes from, um, March)…
Pondering perfectionism. Thinking about my nature to want to “get it right” whatever “it” is. And how resolutions tend to set me up for disappointing myself, in myself. Deciding that what really suits me best is embracing 2013 and simply saying a friendly hello to whatever this year holds.
Reminiscing. That day in February when my little-middle sis showed up early one weekday morning with wide eyes and kids in jammies and a Bartell’s bag. The shreiking when there were two pink lines but they were already knee deep in adoption paperwork. The way they embraced the gift and how her heart just keeps growing. One of my favorite life moments, that day. Ever.
Thinking. About the sweetness of the slow summer days and time spent in the grass with all the young ones I love. Watching the hubby on his tractor mowing for hours with a smile. The routine of fall and having four children whose education I am responsible for. The books we read. The strides they made despite my imperfection.
Relishing. The way it feels to have unabashed joy for someone else. November. It was the day Kim had her baby girl, after six handsome, precious sons had been given to her over these past 11 years. And December. When I walked in the front door of the house my sister and her husband had spent months waiting for…..us all holding our breath if it would really come through….this house that was the answer to months of fervent prayers. Space for the brood God was giving them. Took my breath away, tears of absolute total joy as soon as I saw her face in that lovely new place.
Celebrating. Small things – finding 4 free movie tickets and a $20 bill in the terribly disorganized last few boxes I unpacked this afternoon. Huge things – the day we moved, after I told our kids this bedtime story. Not a day goes by I am not crazy grateful for this place and for the way people pass through constantly even if it means I am never caught up on dishes and that I’ve had apples waiting to be canned since October. They are still there.
Laughing. With a boy who thinks his mom is a superstar because she can make his pajama-clad legs light up with sparkling static electricity.
Treasuring. The memory of a perfect afternoon here this summer with a friend who I once thought would never be my friend again. Marveling how God does the impossible and that the end result can be something beautiful beyond words if we let Him in.
Wondering. Why we lost two babies this year when they were still tiny and small. Packing up the newborn clothes I’d lent out to friends but kept inside since I thought we’d need them in February…..or June. Eyes brimming so much I couldn’t even see to read the sizes on them as I held up each darling sleeper in the below-freezing garage last night before tucking them carefully in the storage tote.
If I could sum up the heart of the year in a phrase it would be that I choose Jesus. I choose people. I choose dirty hand-me-down couches and mismatched silverware. I choose to play and to laugh because I know too well how things can change. I choose sleep over exercise any day of the week. I choose to love all the way, knowing fully that means I will hurt more. I choose to be just me and to love the faces around my table best I can, every day.