One year beautiful

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

To my Liberty Grace on your first birthday,

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

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

And then there was you.

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

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

All my love,

Mama

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

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girl cousins 2014

Mission Mondays at our home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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For freedom

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

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

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

Grace upon grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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