How to make a birthday great

I suppose we get some choice in the matter when something terribly tragic happens.  While we can’t control the tragedy, we can control our response.  We get to decide how our life will bear witness to the loss, how we will wear the mark of pain.  Bitterness is often the fruit of such things.  The stinging truth about going that direction on the pendulum is that it rots out your own heart from the inside, I speak from knowing it too well.

The other end of the spectrum is learning to live in grace.  To give it and receive it are among the greatest gifts of life.  A piece of living out grace is receiving what today holds as something sacred.  It would be so easy for me to look at my daily happenings and not see sacred.  But in the midst of the mundane and repetition there are people I am blessed to know, lives that bump into mine in all sorts of different ways.

Years ago, I would often write notes to people in my head.  I would have grand ideas about appreciating the small things and expressing thanks to those around me whom I treasured.  But they rarely came to fruition.  A great many things existed in the “someday” of my mind.

Then our life changed in a day and there were so many words unspoken, moments stolen forever and the searing loss that cut so deep.  The world became so small.  Time stood still.  We held our breath for a long, long time.  We held our children and each other tighter, longer.  The sacred sifted to the surface and life was suddenly very simple.

Nothing was guaranteed to us.  We weren’t promised six decades of marriage or stable health or the gift of watching our children grow to adults or any other thing that we hoped for.  Today was what we had.  And it would never come again.  Our only options were to watch it pass by or to enter in to the gift that it was.  We learned the latter, one day at a time.

We’re still learning.  But one way that I’ve chosen to embrace the gift is to plan my own birthday.  In some beautiful, mysterious sort of way, I feel like my life is a compilation of little bits and pieces of so many treasured people.  Four birthdays ago in 2010, freshly aware of life’s unpredictable nature, I decided to invite those closest to me to dinner out on my special day.  We shared great food and conversation but most importantly I forced myself outside of “comfortable, normal” and shared with them how precious they were to me.  I wrote notes, gave them each something small that I had enjoyed picking out for them and just made sure that they knew that their life meant something special.  I communicated in word, attitude and in deed that they were in fact the gifts, my gifts and that I was profoundly thankful.

It became one of the highlights of my year.  And I’ve done it every year since, with two weeks ago being the fourth time.  I spent all afternoon of my birthday sitting writing from my heart on beautiful paper to the beautiful women that I count myself grateful to know.  I reflected on who they were and delighted in the chance to affirm the ways they were walking out their unique and wonderful lives.  Something unexplainable comes from looking outward.  Instead of bemoaning being another year older or fretting because no one planned anything fun for me, my heart was plum full because it wasn’t about me.

So if your birthday has ever left you feeling less than lovely, my challenge is this – look around you.  You might wish your husband would throw you a big surprise party.  You might be bummed because you know no one will get you the awesome gift you really want.  But I would argue that people, life itself is actually the best gift there is.  You may think those you love will be there for years to come and you can tell them later how special they are….but next year isn’t a given.

Today is what we have and it’s the only one of its kind.

Be it your birthday or any other day, try telling someone how incredible you think they are and see if your heart doesn’t lift just a little as a result.

Summer bucket list

Last summer was the first year we did this and it was great fun.  You know how summer always sneaks up and then passes way too fast?  And you didn’t get half the fun stuff done you’d hoped?  Well, enter the summer bucket list!

Over the weekend we brainstormed and dreamed up all the things that sounded like good ideas for our summer break.  Many are free and most are doable for our family or they wouldn’t have made the list.  Last summer we probably had 30+ things on there and crossed off 25 or so.  But even if we don’t get to it all, it’s just plain wonderful to have a list that sits on the fridge with ideas and inspiration for seizing the sunny days!  I try hard to remind myself it’s not a “to-do” list, it’s an adventure list with the only goal being to make memories and facilitate family fun.

Normally I’d give myself several weeks after our home schooling wraps up next Friday but since by end of summer I’ll be close to nine months pregnant, we’re diving right in here and putting things on the docket straight away!  Here’s our list:

1.  slip and slide on the back lawn (mom’s add-on idea?  dueling slip and slides next to each other!)

2.  go to Flower World for a picnic at their pond, feed ducks and visit with their family farm animals and maybe get a popsicle from the market there if it’s hot out!

3.  hike at Lord Hill Farms (with goats just for fun – this is a great close in hike that doesn’t require a long drive and isn’t super strenuous, hence making the “pregnant mama and 5 kids can do it” category!)

4.  go to Jetty Island for the day (a man made giant sandbar with a free ferry ride as its only access)

5.  explore Edmonds Beach at low tide

6.  visit our friends in Bellingham

7.  Daddy and oldest kids climb Mt. Pilchuck

8.  pick strawberries

9.  pick raspberries

10.  pick blueberries

11.  make jam

12.  camp in the backyard

13.  do a VBS somewhere

14.  possibly host exchange students like last summer

15.  show goats at Silvana Fair (if you have younger kids, this one day FREE fair is a tremendously delightful, family-friendly event, much smaller than the big state fairs)

16.  show goats at Evergreen State Fair

17.  rebuild the chicken coop

18.  Caleb and Kyler build bunk beds for sisters’ American Girl dolls

19.  clear a path to the lower creek

20.  go to the Snohomish Farmer’s Market

21.  play on the new playset

22.  host a sewing party to make pillowcase dresses for little girls in poverty

I’m sure we will add on as summer dawns but this was our first blush effort at a list – hope it’s helpful to share it and that you can come up with your own fantastic ideas for making the most of the warmer days.  Feel free to add any ideas you want to share in the comments!

Snapshots

These days are a blink and I’m a fool if I don’t believe its true.  I don’t want to forget…..

telling the kids in the van today that our friends daughters’ were making headbands to sell to raise money for orphans in Ethiopia and Caleb’s immediate reply:

Rylee, can I give you some money so you can buy yourself one from them?

as she got out of the van at her friends’ home he handed her cash from his stash that he always has on hand because he is our very frugal saving one

despite his penny-pinching ways, he has a heart that is gold and he didn’t think twice about gifting not only his sister with a new headband but for a cause that he knew meant something

the bigger ones naturally holding hands with the littles when we walk-I won’t ever not love seeing that

the way Phineas says “I need it” about everything.  no ability whatsoever to distinguish need from want.  and the application of that to his two year old life is constant entertainment for the rest of us.

how much fun can be had on our giant new bed.  ridiculous much.  five kids and a daddy wrestling.  reading books in heaps of pillows and blankets.  middle of the night snuggles when bad dreams keep little people awake.

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realizing that if I feel too far away from the one I love in said giant bed, king size pillows are big enough for two.

the endless list of reasons why I’m thankful our kids get to learn at home with me and with each other, that in all its imperfectness (and even now, at the tail end of the year when I’m so ready for summer!), I still believe it’s the best place to be

looking out my window to see this a few hours ago:

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Caleb had his magnifying glass and was crawling around with Finn on hands and knees searching for spiders….every time they found one Finn shrieked “PIDER!”

later they spent an hour collecting varieties of mushrooms for their “mushroom museum”

how Finn says thank you every time I change his dirty diapers

the love I get to show through serving these ones in our home by feeding, clothing, driving, teaching, correcting, forgiving and encouraging for hours upon hours every day after day

that my boys notice my sparkle – if its a bracelet or dressy earrings, they notice

whether you’re 10 or freshly 35, the gift of friendship is a profound treasure

these and a thousand more – forcing myself back into the counting of the gifts because I know I need to remember, need to practice what I preached (literally two weeks ago!) and lift my eyes up to where it all comes from

Hands in the dark

***This is re-posted today in honor of our fourteenth wedding anniversary.  It’s one of my most treasured posts ever.  And the last words I wrote ring so true still today….***

“I’m wet.”  He whispers to his daddy in the wee hours of the morning.

I fall back asleep for the 3rd time in the same night.  Next thing I know he’s snuggled up in between us, dry with fresh PJ’s on.  I move pillows around to make room for him, a husband and my ever growing belly.

An hour later I think I’m dreaming and I hear the quietest voice ever…”Mama?”  Eyes peek open to find a little 2 year old body standing waiting for someone to make room for her as she does when she wakes up cold or upset or lonely in her big girl bed.  I scoot over, help her up and she nestles in beside me.  Soon I hear the soft sucking sound of her finding her precious thumb and she’s back asleep.

I can’t sleep.  Not just because my bed and body feel full.  I lay there in piles of flannel, warm blankets and warm skin and think about life.

I wonder why God would let my dear friend lose her baby two days ago when her heart so longs for one more child.  I wonder how my old client is doing who called this week and her whole life is totally unraveling.  I wonder how much more another precious friend can handle as her life brims with other people’s neediness and nearly no margin.  I wonder how it will feel opening gifts and enjoying great food without Grampy this year.  My heart hurts.

A chubby little boy hand reaches for mine in the dark and I hold it and he pulls it to his perfectly soft little face as he sleeps.  The baby inside must sense I’m not asleep and wakes up for a morning stretch and almost tickles my side as he or she moves around.

I ponder what still another friend spoke of when she called from Costco yesterday.  She’d been at the dentist last week, which she really, really doesn’t like-even more than most people don’t.  She’d discovered the wonder of gas during dental work and it was lovely.  As she drifted off, she thought of me having just read what I’d written about the holidays and hurting.

She wondered…What if part of why God gave us Christmas is to be sort of like gas to our hurting hearts?  That it might dampen the ache for just a time.  What if He knew life would hurt and because nobody is perfect that there would always be the presence of pain?  What if Christmas was meant to give us a chance to celebrate and to love and to delight…even when that seems hard to do?

The little girl voice next to my head cries out “Dadda, Dadda?” in distress.  I turn to her and she is still again and I realize she’s not even awake.  A big hand reaches across my belly and weaves his fingers into mine.  How he’s managed not to fall out of bed I don’t know.  But he’s there.  He silences the alarm that beckons him to the gym and opts for the full, warm bed.  Who could resist?

My hearts feels like Audrey’s sleepy voice, “Abba, Father…where are you?”  Why do all these things happen that are hard for so many people?  There is so much I don’t understand.

If nothing were ever hard and no one ever hurt, would I ever turn to God and seek to know Him in the ways I am coming to know Him?  Probably not.   Would we need this burst of joy in December as the year comes to an end to propel us forward into still another year?  Unlikely.  Would we even have needed Him to come?  Not really.

But we do.  And He did.

Emmanuel.  My all time favorite name of God.

God with us.  God with me and you and every other broken heart.  God with the sleepy babes in my bed and with the ones across the world who have no one to wake up to in the night.

The words “I love you” and a kiss land on my head.  He whispers to me as he leaves for work…”We need a bigger bed.”

And I love him more than yesterday.

The little things

Finn’s dripping mouth from finding the runaway dark chocolate covered espresso beans that fell under the counter.  As if the boy needed more energy…

His crazy delight in chasing dust particles in the gleaming morning sunshine that somehow still streams in despite what must be the dirtiest windows ever!

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Kyler: “Oh mom, guess what Finn loves?  He loves it when I put baby spiders all over his naked belly!”  (I instruct the removal of dozens of newly hatched miniscule spider babes from the rotund belly of my beloved two year old – but even ten minutes later I am pulling the itsy bitsy’s out of his hair…)

Caleb: “Want to see my new friend?”  (he raises his arm and shows me the beautiful yellow moth that he’s “trained” to hang out on his arm – then explains that he’s classified this one using his butterfly and moth field guide)

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The snickers’ fairy from church.  The sweet lady who I have not even met, who is part of the long line of amazing people who’ve helped with meals during this challenging stretch….how could she have known my penchant for Snicker’s or that putting them into a “salad” might just feel like my birthday came two days early?!

The exceeding relief that comes from crossing “trim goat hooves” off the to-do list, even if it’s 7 weeks overdue.

How Rylee delights in playing vet (but not really playing, because she truly does such a great job!) and doing excellent work treating bloat in one goat with a little homemade remedy.

The book Rylee is writing for her little sister’s birthday on Sunday.  All on her own accord.  Sweetest thing in the world.

The privilege of sitting for coffee and meeting someone who is bravely, tirelessly standing up for the unborn’s right to life in America and around the world.

Kyler listening to me pray this morning, patiently waiting in the chair next to me for my amen…”Mom, you’re thankful for too many things!”.

Jonah and motherhood

I turned my nose up a little when the Bible study group chose the Jonah study.  In my mind it was a children’s story that I’d heard too many times.  One I certainly believed to be true but just not one that had much to offer me.

First wrong thinking: that I was too good for Jonah.

Second wrong thinking: that I was allowed to feel too good for Jonah, simply because I couldn’t identify with Jonah.

Third (and most inherently flawed) thinking: that “what the story had to offer” was what it was all about.

Just because I wasn’t feeling particularly led to depart from my life (that I love) as it is and head in the direction of enemies whom I hate to bring them a chance at redemption, doesn’t mean at ALL that I can’t identify or learn from one of the most famous and heard stories of the Bible.

Likewise, just because I don’t always run full speed the absolute most opposite way of what is being asked of me, sure doesn’t mean I don’t want to/intend to/hope to/try to.

The story of Jonah is a much broader one than my initial (prideful) reaction allowed for.  It’s about life being interrupted.  And when, not if, it does – what will I choose to do about it?

In high school my parents were considering an overseas missions opportunity – them even thinking about it felt like the end of the world.  I schemed at night in bed how I could work it out to stay home if they went.

In college I worked a job making coffee with some colorful characters who deemed me a goody-goody as soon as I walked in the door.  I knew I was there to be a light but I was too scared to ever utter a word about my faith.

In our years of youth ministry, despite being married to the youth pastor, I would often sit in the back and hang out with my insecurity instead of being brave enough to enter in to the world of junior high.  Years later I would realize, they didn’t need perfect, I would have sufficed just fine.

Then, after having three children and deeming our family “normal” and “just right”, when it was tempting to do what most other people we knew did (it did seem reasonable), God began to whisper.  His interruption was a quiet one.  But I’d had enough experience choosing not to listen that I knew I’d be the one missing out if I closed my heart.  It was unmistakable.

Children are a blessing.  They weren’t meant to inconvenience you, to limit your life or your ability to have the car you want or a trip to Disney or any other creature comforts.  They were meant to GIVE you life, to grow your heart, to challenge and change you.  They are a gift.  An inheritance that I give that can extend into eternity.

It took time.  But we both heard the same thing.  And we chose to listen.

If we’d run, decided to take off in the opposite direction and hope for the best, God would have extended grace and used something else to shape and refine us.  Sometimes I wanted to run.  I wanted to live out something that felt doable and “doable” often didn’t/doesn’t describe my life.  In my most desperate moments, I wanted to hop on a ship out of all that motherhood required and sail off into freedom.

Only the allure of freedom was never strong enough.  The things God did in the process of me becoming a mother of one, then two, then five and soon six, I would not trade them for anything in all the world.  And eventually, beautifully, freedom has come to define my life even with all its great responsibility and need.

We may likely never get to Disneyland.  We do not drive a cool car.  There are often things we simply can’t do because they don’t work with the size of our family.  It is not often quiet here.  Laundry is an enormous challenge (my boys both burned through 3 outfits just today!).  We don’t just “hop in the car” and go somewhere, it’s always a little more involved than that.  Bedtime takes a while.  We do go through a lot of food.

The trade off weighs so heavy in the other direction however, that I can’t begin to put words to it….there is always someone to read with, talk with, play with (and fight with, sometimes, yes), there is a great variety of gifts and talents and strengths and weaknesses, there is ample opportunity to learn patience and sharing and service to others, there is friendship across many ages.  There is laughter that fills a room and all sorts of shows that entertain.  There is learning and creating and listening and solving problems.

Celebrating the gifts around our table today, thankful for this journey and

mother's day 2013

all that it entails!

When life is too much

I find it abundantly ironic that in the ‘draft’ folder for my blog, from about one month ago,  there is a blog titled:

Road signs of ‘too much’

It is blank.

Not a single word written about the given topic.  Obviously there was a bit of “too much” even then or I wouldn’t have felt apt to write about it.  And obviously the too much was too, too much because I didn’t write about it.  Or anything else for um, how long since my last post?

Perhaps you thought this was an “on purpose blog break”.  Well, no.  I would like to say there was great intentionality in my not writing.  But it’s so much less lovely than that.  It was more like a barreling freight train of one thing after another.

It was too many early (and I mean early!) morning wake ups with Finn thinking that the rooster’s crow was actually meant to beckon him out of bed.

It was drives to co-op/church/grocery/, teaching classes, keeping on top of kid schoolwork, chores and projects and all end of year things.

It was my sister in the hospital for a 5 days and the wanting answers to hard questions and not being able to understand why.

It was the list of the little things that only grows and never diminishes and stares me in the face every single morning like a bad report card.

It was losing any reasonable sense of rhythm or routine and being too many steps behind before my feet even hit the floor every day.

It was the ever present fact that seven people here need to eat every day, many times, and they need appropriate clothing to wear and the young ones were created with daily need to be nurtured, cared for and loved.

It was the giving without end and not stopping to see the writing on the wall.

So it truly is no wonder that once the kids caught a cold virus and I succumbed as well, my body would give me up.  It’s as if it said, “we can only handle one of you, so we choose baby and you’ll have to fend for yourself”.

It started out innocently enough, a fever, cough, sinus congestion.  I took all the herbal goodies I give the kids and expected a full recovery the next morning.  When our pastor announced I was home sick from church and would anyone like to help with meals I thought that was WAY overboard.  If I’d been there in person I’m sure I’d have mustered the gusto to say “oh no, we’re good, we’ll be fine, someone else must need it more!”.

Humble pie my friends, a giant serving.  Monday rolled in and I could not see past the pressure in my head and the pain in my ears and the burning in my throat.  The fact that kids weren’t well either made survival more doable.  Lots of couch time and resting and I tried driving to do something I deemed “imperative” but prayed all the way home my failing body would get us all home in one piece.  It would be almost a week before I felt well enough to even drive again.

Kids began to mend and I sat on the couch unable to even lift my head for more than five minutes.  Eyes half glued shut from symptoms of complete immune failure.  Unceasing pain from my eyelids to my toes, which until now I never knew could ache.  A fever that wouldn’t break for six days. Broken blood vessels in my cheeks, nose, inside my ears and an eye half bloody from all the trauma.  I have never been so sick I could not think or read or properly respond to people.  I could not think myself well or will myself strong enough to heal.  Everything felt like it just quit.  And entirely without my permission.

The fact I would asked my mother to drive all the way out to our house, drive me and my five children to a doctor almost an hour away from here speaks to my diminished state.  I sat sobbing in a doctor’s office, whom I’d never seen before, trying to explain to him my stamina and strength so he would understand how completely incapacitated I was.  He gave me something but it wasn’t strong and said no to my begging requests for more intervention, he was confident it was viral and my body would eventually “turn back on” and conquer it.

8 days was the sum total, in bed or on the couch directing life and children and living helpless, dependent on the kindness and care of all sorts of people.  And when I felt the fog begin to lift and I could sit upright and think with actual words, my mind trailed back.  To weeks and weeks of no margin, of no rest.

I sat outside once I was well enough, in the hammock (that never gets used, because there’s never time to lazy away in a hammock…) holding a book about rest.  My mind said I should be reading it but the rest of me still refused.  All it could do was note the dozens of shades of green in the trees in our yard.  Listen to the birds all fluttering in their spring time flurry.  Watch the kids play in the sprinkler.  Be thankful my eyes could open without pain and see all the loveliness.  Say yes to popsicles and yes to most things because saying no was too much still.  And they’d been such troopers.

Just when I thought they weren’t onto quite how ill I was, Kyler blurted out at dinner one night “Mama, I sure hope the baby in your belly doesn’t die because you’re so, so sick.”  I explained the incredible design and how the body can take good care of baby even when mama isn’t well.  He was mostly relieved, but still skeptical.  We all breathed easier last night when we got to see little 14 ounce baby sweetness on the ultrasound monitor.  Most darling tiny hands and feet and nose and everything.

I’m still waking up, but doing it as slowly as I can.  Fairly certain that this was not without purpose and I’ve some things yet to learn about how to be me, how to live this life of mine in a way that can keep going, keep growing.  I don’t want to miss any of it.  Being a spectator to my own life for over a week was so much less than wonderful.  But the observations and takeaways can change me, they need to change me.