Two years…

His vocabulary is a daily explosion.  He loves to say things like “oh my” or “oh man” or “oh no”.  His penchant for expression is really something else.  If you raise your voice then he’ll quickly say “rude” followed by your name.  Talk about accountability.

Finn’s place in our family is no uncertain thing.  He has made himself heard since his birth.  He proved to be our most difficult baby and brought us deeper in many ways.  His high need baby self taught us grace and patience with one another at a whole new level.  We traded so many shifts in the night and wondered how we would ever make it.  In retrospect I feel like our marriage had a whole new layer of fortification built into it during that season.   Thinking on it today, I feel this great sense of awe that we made it and he’s two and he’s alive and well and so are we.

With each addition to our family we learn something.  We have a chance to learn selflessness and dependance (on the right things) in new ways.  The opportunity for children to teach grown ups abound and the ways they can serve as a fantastic filter for our own weakness’ is nothing short of amazing.  I’m fairly sure it was designed to work that way, even though some days I’d really like to pass on the lesson!

Finn had a bit of a cough so I stayed home from church with him on his birthday.  Kyler stayed back too so he’d have a buddy.  After playing inside a while Kyler, on his own accord entirely, decided to pack a “birthday picnic” for Finn and took him out to the porch for a little get together.  Totally darling.

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We had home group that night so we just did a simple dessert and gave him a special cupcake with candles.  He couldn’t figure out how to blow them out and nearly burned his finger twice before I huffed them out in the hurry!

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Happy second birthday Phineas – you are a treasured part of this family!

Celebrating feminine

He spoke softly to me in the dark last week.  It was late and silent and all our children and animals were tucked quietly where they belonged.  The night was clear and I was again thankful for no curtains and the view from my pillow of sparkling stars.  We snuggled under flannel sheets and I listened while he shared his heart.  I’ve had to learn to force myself to listen, to be awake, to be present at hours when I naturally want only sleep.  It is in those hours that he is most apt to open up.  Sometimes I make myself tea just so I have a chance at being awake “after hours”.  Isn’t it often the case that we marry someone who is different than us in so many ways?

He tread gently, probably knowing that his words could be misconstrued.  How many times have I taken what he meant for good and by my poor reaction turned it into something it wasn’t ever intended to be?  Too many to count.  In the last few years, he explained, he had watched me change, watched me find my way into my own skin and become more “feminine” he said.  There was a time that “feminine” wasn’t a word I’d hope to describe me, I was aiming more for independent, capable, talented.  But finally, now, it was something beautiful that I could receive for what it was.  Something that washed over and rested on me in the most lovely way.

My understanding of the word is still growing, changing.  I used to think it meant pink and girly and sweet and that I would be a great housekeeper and wear skirts.  But pink isn’t my favorite color, I don’t always smell like a girl, I sometimes laugh too hard, I haven’t dusted since we moved in last year and I love jeans.  I can be all those things and still somehow exude feminine.  This is the beauty of God’s design for gender roles and that we were created to reflect something that no man can.  The world we live in skews and shreds this uniqueness and says we can all be just the same.  But I would argue that is part of why we’re in such a mess.

Not only modeling the feminine but embracing the treasure it is to be a girl is something I’ve thought a great deal about as my oldest is ten this week and beginning to hear messages, get glimpses of why it isn’t wonderful to be a woman.  I had just finished reading Half the Sky, (which every woman who cares about women should read) and the fact struck me that if my daughter was born and barely surviving in China instead of here, she would almost certainly not have lived.  I fought the urge to take over her birthday party and make it an awareness event for the plight of girls around the world, as it would not have been appropriate to do just that.  But riding the balance between sharing knowledge and protecting minds is a hard one.

I settled for planning a party where we would celebrate the gift of the feminine and I would make sure they knew how valued they were and how girls their age around the globe were not celebrated in the same way because they lived in a place where boys mattered more.  We pulled out all the stops, set a fancy table with my wedding china and crystal, so many candles that we didn’t need the lights on, menus with their dinner options and a cupcake in their personal favorite flavor with their name on it for dessert.

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After a delightful dinner where Chris and I served them their dinner selections, we cleared table and brought out the ‘party favor’ (we opted for a craft they could take home instead of a goody bag).  I’d printed in varied colors and fonts their names and some of my favorite verses.  Words that I wanted to sink into their hearts about who God says they are like “the Lord is your hope forever” and “You are God’s masterpiece”.  They each created something beautiful with their 8×8 canvas and lots of varied paper and a healthy covering of Modge Podge!

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We made sure to snap a Daddy and Rylee pic before everyone changed into pajamas…

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And my pride almost kept this photo out because it sure shows how dead tired I was after the bulk of the evenings festivities were winding down, but that’s the reality of spending yourself on behalf of the ones you love sometimes, so here it is 🙂

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After my sit-down with Finn I could hardly get out of the chair.  I told Chris I thought the girls’ appointment for spa pedicures with me might be cancelled.  He cheered me on.  I got up.  We made little foot baths for each sweet girl and I washed their feet and rubbed my very favorite tingly peppermint foot lotion onto their feet.  The beauty of it wasn’t lost on my tired self.  As I held their little feet I hoped that I could serve and love these girls in tangible ways that show love to them over this next, possibly tumultuous season of their growing up years.

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I crawled to bed after this and they talked into the night like all girls do.  We dined on cinnamon rolls and bacon the next morning.  My heart hope is that they felt special and celebrated for who they are, not what they wear, who they look like or what they can do.  I know we’ll spend considerable amounts of energy over the next many years helping that truth sink in.  But at least I know that we’re laying a foundation for that now and that can only help!

A decade of mothering

Ten years ago today we ushered our five week premature baby girl into the world with wide-eyed wonder.  We were sure she’d come home with us in a day or two, wasn’t that what babies did?  However, once I’d recovered enough from the delivery to be wheeled upstairs to see her, we realized she wasn’t going anywhere any time soon.  She’d been taken from me straight upstairs to get the help she needed.  My dreamy visions of snuggling her little body and taking in her girl-sweet newness slipped quietly away as I struggled to understand through the fog what exactly was happening as they left with my brand new daughter.

We spent day after day at her side and came home to our little condo only to sleep a few hours and sit in her empty room and weep.  One thing after another seemed to go wrong and days became weeks and nothing was what we expected.  I was more attached to the breast pump than to her and that made me cry.  I didn’t even get to hold her for almost a week after her birth.  So much for an instant bond.

The longer we were there the more impossible it felt that we would bring her home.  She required so much care and help and it left me feeling terrified and completely incompetent to be the one who would eventually be responsible for her.  I of course couldn’t verbalize a word of that and just sat and smiled at her and the nurses hours upon hours on end.  Listening for the right beeps and fearing the wrong ones that said she wasn’t stable enough.  I would call in to the nurses station at 3:00 in the morning just to check on her, feeling weighed down with guilt that I was home and she was alone in a warm little box in the hospital.

Thirty days later, she finally weighed enough, breathed enough, ate enough and was deemed well enough to come home.  It was surreal and terror-infusing all at the same time.  We had a medication chart stuck on the fridge with dosages, times, details.  We had to track kidney function so were told to write down every wet diaper and the amount of every bottle.  We had to fret over germs and keep her protected from all that we could so her body could keep working out all its issues.  We had to work through insurance to get a $5,000 pediatric blood pressure machine on loan to us so we could check hers twice a day.  I had to set alarms to remind me to pump milk for her eight times a day.  Which I would do for five solid months following her arrival.

Talk about completely blowing expectations out of the water.  Talk about something not turning out just how you pictured.  I was set up to be stressed-out-mother from the get go for so many reasons.  So many.  But this induction into motherhood certainly tipped the scales that direction.

Those first days of Rylee’s life were a sort of sacred, holy thing to me that I absolutely did not understand.  I can’t put words to the peace that hovered over that room.  When I would feel like I was just about to hyperventilate or shut myself in the bathroom and try not to scream, calm would rest on my shoulders.  I had not asked for it.  But it came.  I was too scared to utter a word in prayer.  Not one word.  The emotions that were mulling around in my heart were totally foreign to me.  Nothing can prepare you for what it is to watch a little person that you grew for nine months lay before your eyes.  To touch those tiny fingers and watch a little chest try to breathe while you hold your own breath without even knowing it.

Perhaps God knew that I would need to know, with absolute certainty, that He was in control of things, not me.  Maybe my white-knuckle grip on getting everything just right and aspiring to settle right in to perfectly lovely motherhood had to be loosened, right from the get go.  I would come up with all sorts of “this must be why this all happened” scenarios over the next several years.  Eventually though, the reality was clear.  This wasn’t my story to write.  There was definitely a story in the works.  And we were indeed a part of it.  But there was a bigger picture I couldn’t always see, a plan for my good, our good that wasn’t always my plan and God would love us in a thousand different ways as life would ebb and flow, fall apart and come back together.

It is impossible to me that we’ve been walking this journey since that Sunday afternoon in February ten short years ago.  The delight to my heart my firstborn is defies every expectation I may have had.  Certainly so much of the journey has not been what I thought I wanted, not been what I dreamed about.  It is more somehow.  It is a far better story than any I could have conjured up myself.

The day Charlie ate my Bible

It was Fajita Friday.  I had emailed my mom requesting Taco Friday (since it was already Wednesday when I asked for the impromptu convening of our extended family over Mexican food) but she said Taco Friday didn’t sound nearly as fun as Taco Tuesday and since it was Friday she would have to rename it Fajita Friday.  I was happy to oblige especially if it meant seeing my sisters and parents.

We managed to leave the house 20 minutes early and still somehow got to dinner 30 minutes late.  Friday night traffic was dismal.  But then there were cousins and fajitas and all was wonderful.  We left before anyone had a giant meltdown and no one broke anything.

I shoved our front door open, loaded with random bags and a purse and two sweatshirts and various other things we did the inevitable dump on the floor, run to the bathroom, throw on jammies, grab a quick snack, pretend to brush our teeth….all the required happenings when we get home past bed time.  It was then I noticed the school room door was shut.  That was odd, it’s always open with the baby gate shut.

Timidly, I nudged the door open.  My hand covered my mouth without thinking and I walked away.  Our 10 month old (60 pound) teenager of a dog, Charlie had been locked (by a child who shall remain nameless) in the school room for several hours.  He is never left unattended inside the home.  And he had been very bored.  Obviously.  I beckoned Caleb to come see, the carpet was barely visible through the carnage.

The day after...
The day after…

As Caleb and I peered in over the baby gate unwilling to even enter the mess, I saw for just a fraction of a second what looked to be the empty cover of my Bible surrounded by shreds of paper in all directions.  My head spun around and the rest of me followed running up the stairs in a desperate plea for back-up.

I shut myself in my bedroom while everyone inspected the dismal situation of our “older kids and adults only” school room.  The room where I tuck myself on the short, squat couch every morning in the dark and give my day, my life, my everything to Jesus and trust that He’ll meet me there.

The weeping that ensued was unlike tears I have shed for several years.  While you may wonder why I was completely out of my mind over a book that I can replace at my leisure you must first understand that it was not just a book.  For the first time in my life, over this past season, that brown soft book with paper thin pages has been more alive than I have ever known it to be.  I’ve wondered why that is, having grown up with it always near and hearing it every Sunday.  But the wondering hasn’t answered any questions and I’ve simply resolved that maybe it is only my desperate need for it to BE alive that it finally is.  I don’t really know.

My kids walked timidly toward my bed and even upon their entrance I couldn’t pull myself together one iota.  They whispered quiet words, they so sensed the sacred.  Indeed, it was the sacrilege of seeing the words of the title page “the Holy Bible” ripped and wrinkled and lying in a heap of what only looked like trash, that so undid me.  But far beyond that was the reality that I’d purchased that specific, one column Bible so I could write in the margins, bought special pens that wouldn’t leach through the fragile paper.

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And write I had.  Every insight that God spoke to my heart all those dark mornings, every verse that inspired awe or the like was carefully underlined, the major themes I was seeing emerge were circled in a special color.  I choked out what I could to a glassy eyed daughter who rested her hand on my back,

Those words, that book, it is life to me.

Hence the sting so deep.  It wasn’t replaceable.  It cannot be bought.  It has come at a price that I’ve paid morning after morning fighting the strong urge to stay in my warm bed but getting up anyway because I was learning there was something I needed more than sleep, something that would seep into the marrow of my life and not leave me unchanged.

An hour passed before I could catch my breath.  Fajitas were a distant memory and my sleeves were soaked with mascara and tears.  It had so completely caught me off guard.  It was happy low-key Friday one minute and the next minute the whole evening had unraveled.  Even a year ago I would have been bummed and felt bad but my reaction would never have been even close to similar.

This train of thought started me down the “well then, why couldn’t this have happened last year and my new Bible been spared along with all my tenderly penned words?”.  That train never takes me anywhere good, so I hopped off quick.  Upon further thought, maybe my takeaway is simply this…

Perhaps those words that are life are meant to be written on my heart instead.   And my guess is that if I come back and start over with fresh, new, un-chewed pages…He will still have things to show me that will change my life.

I am counting on it.  That is my life theme this season.  Counting on God to do all I can’t, fill in where I lack so much, to do impossible things in the lives of people I love so deeply, to come through for me in my great need for Him.  He does not disappoint.  He does not fail to come through.  For that I am exceedingly grateful.

Mud and mothering

Friday found us exploring mud flats an hour north of here at a spectacular estuary where many small rivers flow out to a flat, shallow plain.  It is a totally unique and rich habitat for many creatures.  We learned first at the local visitor center more about the area, then set out to explore.

There were bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, snow geese and a multitude of other smaller lovely birds.  I squealed with glee more than once at the sight of something interesting, different, special.

Escorting five children under ten to a mud flat was a new thing.  New things force me to plan very well since there are likely variables I don’t know about and we are often far from home.  I planned and packed for two days.  To heighten the anticipation (and survive the long drive) I put little booklets together for each child.  Word searches, crossword puzzles, coloring sheets, vocab lists, creature charts – all related to the unique environment of the estuary.  I even brought out my always fun laminator and made color picture identification sheets so they could name the things they found.

Planning and preparing aside there was still the inevitable moment of crisis the morning of where we needed to go but someone had worn their boots in (not around) the creek and they were completely unusable AND when I said (taking deep breaths, trying to be kind) “I’m doing all the work here, please would someone help us get out the door!?”.  When I figure out how to depart for a big adventure and NOT have that happen, I promise to let you know the secret.

Back to the mud.  As soon as we were all properly booted up and loaded with our supplies and Finn was tucked safely in the Boba pack, we emerged onto the flat beach.  The day couldn’t have more perfect, we’ve had so many weeks of rain.  Cold, just about freezing rain that makes outdoor play last only 10 minutes and the view out my kitchen window gray and drab most days.  But there was no rain cloud in sight.  Only a vast, panoramic view of the archipelago that sits just beyond the shore of this body of water.  Little islands, bumps of all shapes spitting right up out of the water, green and rich and beautiful.

There were crabs to be found, mud snails to collect and compare and mud, glorious mud to sink into.  I wasn’t quite so brave, sporting a 30 pound toddler on my back, but the kids didn’t hold back.  They explored out into the water, found the deepest, stickiest mud and moved rocks at least half their weight.  Oh how boys thrive with the chance to grunt and lift and catch and discover!

When there seemed to be more mud ON my children than on the mud flats we decided it was time to wrap it up.  Oldest boy had already weathered the losing of his boot in the mud and walked several steps to me while someone retrieved the boot.  I thought that might be the end right there.  But did he ever rally and pull it together and we forged onward.  There had been sitting in the mud.  Digging deep in the mud.  And falling straight into the mud.  I promise we added at least ten pounds to our clothes/boots by the time we found dry ground.

A head to toe change of clothes was required for entrance back into the van.  A cup of still-warm cocoa from the thermos and a brownie from the pan was also in order for all.  We sighed when we discovered the running water was turned off for winter.  Baby wipes just don’t hold a candle to this sort of filth!

I could only laugh, what else does a mother do with all these kids and all this mess?  It spoils the fun right out when I choose the freaking out over the finding joy.  These are the things we’ll not forget.  These are the things that leave me feeling just a tiny bit more brave for the next adventure we find.  These are the things that are so very worth all that is required of me to make them happen.

When my hubby called and my pocket answered without me knowing, he would tell me later, “I heard you talking…oh my were you excited, going on about the day God gave you and how blessed you all were and the beautiful this and that and so on”.  I replied, “Well, in case you wondered, now you know.  I’m the same expressive, optimistic me when you aren’t here.  Even when I don’t know you’re listening!”.

Lest Finn be left out of the giant mess of fun – about one minute after we departed, all clean, him having made the whole endeavor on my back – he gagged on a cheese stick and promptly vomited his entire lunch all over himself, the car seat, floor…everywhere.  I had to pull over, strip him down and use the remaining 15 baby wipes to try and get things under control.

The jeans weighed so heavy and Chris took one look at them and said no way they were going in the washer like that.  An hour later and a driveway covered in mud flat mud, they had been hosed sufficiently to go into the wash.

I learned the same lesson I wrote about here, again.  I love learning it.  Sometimes during the learning but always after.  We can do more than we think.  The joy of conquering great things, mud flats or the like, is one of the ways we weave a family.