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!)

The sacred curtain

There is a sort of unseen sacred curtain that exists in life’s defining moments.  Often people are unwilling or simply unable to pull back the curtain.  It is uncomfortable.  Entering in to someone else’s deepest heart pain requires something unique and visceral.  It cannot be contrived.  It is impossible to guess what will unfold, after being brave enough to go there.  It can be ugly.  It can hurt even more.  It can make you angry.  It may not feel “safe” and for sure it won’t feel comfortable.

Just about exactly six years ago, our life forever changed and we encountered devastating loss.  The kind you don’t plan for.  The kind that punches you in the stomach and leaves you face down on the floor.  The kind that paralyzes and forces life to a complete standstill.  Chris’ dad left on a hunting trip as he had countless times.  But he never came home.  A frozen mountain pond took his life on a bitterly cold Wednesday in January of that year.  Chris and a dozen searching ones would look and find him.  His beloved hunting dog still sitting point on the shore, waiting for his master to return.

Loss like this takes years to come back from.  If ever.  I’ve said it before I think, but its rather akin to learning to walk with a limp.  Only it’s your heart that limps instead.  The impact of living through this kind of thing reaches into every corner of your being and changes you forever.  For better or for worse. You decide.  You decide your comeback.  It is terrifying and beautiful it its’ own right.

Part of the fruit that I see, these years later, is a continually growing willingness to sit with others in places that are hard.  When you have been the one to be met and loved in the midst of tragedy, you eventually are able should you choose, to be the one who meets, who loves when others are not able to go there.  Last month I had a friend shoved into a life position she did not anticipate or ask for.  But there she was.  So I sat.  Listened.  Cried.  Loved.  Reached hands out across a table and held.  Just as seven years ago she had held me when my husband was asked to find a new job and the economy was in the toilet and we had a new baby and life felt absolutely too much to bear.  How amazing and stunning is that gift?  To get to love back, give back?  I had no words for it…just an awestruck grateful heart.

Then it was last Friday and I was buzzing around my kitchen.  I was putting food together for a busy weekend and thinking still again of the neighbors just down the hill from here who lost their toddler son the Friday before to the creek that rests between their home and ours.  I knew his funeral was that afternoon and I mourned with them even though I did not know their name.  There is a comradery that exists between mothers and I felt such pain in my heart for her.  As I measured and scooped and cooked, I found myself turning on an extra pot and making another big pot of soup.  This would be for her.  Unknown mother whose name I knew not, whose loss I could not fathom, whose house I drive past every time I go to town.

I would write her a letter…and this is what it would say:

Dear neighbors who live down the hill…I know we’ve never met you, but we wept with you on Friday when they found your son.  I have a daughter the same age as your boy. We cannot begin to fathom your pain.  I hope you are overwhelmed by the kindness and love of friends and family.  I hope you are held up by people who love you, both known and unknown.  I didn’t know what else I could possibly do but make you food.  So here is our favorite soup and our phone number.  If we can do anything for you, please call.

But the writing would be the easy part.  And the making of soup.  The not-easy-at-all part was the finding a brave enough heart to actually get in my car and knock on their door.  What if 15 strangers had already brought them soup and they wanted to be left alone?  What if they had friends and family stopping in all day, each day?  Then came a searing thought.  What if they don’t?  What if everyone is guessing that someone else is making soup and stopping in?  So I grabbed my keys and bag of food and packed up the two kids still at home waiting for us to head to church.  I drove past the house the first time.  Then circled back around and pulled in.  He met me at the door before I could knock.  I told him I lived up the hill, that I’d made them dinner and looked him in the eye and told him I was so sorry for such a great loss as this.  Hands trembling I handed him my love gift over and saw his wife sitting inside.  He said thank you and I said goodbye.  I got in the car shaking and wept all the way to church.

The curtain had been pulled aside and it was scary and holy and precious.  I had come face to face with unspeakable grief so sacred it was almost untouchable.  I could hardly speak.  Chris held me as I choked out the words in the church parking lot.

There is no guidebook for pain like this, no how-to for facing such tragic loss.  But the power of the presence of people and pure kindness offered in the midst of it can sometimes make all the difference in the world.  Being brave enough to enter in and dwell with someone who hurts deeply, is one of the great riches of life.

Being brave

A few months ago, Chris said to me ever so timidly “You know, I haven’t wanted to say anything…(long pause)…but, the way you are interacting with the kids, its just off a little.  Like it’s not “you” and I don’t know why.”  If I wasn’t also so aware of what he was speaking to, I would have been tempted to be gravely offended.  But I felt it too.  Like things were one step off.  We talked long and tried to trouble-shoot.  We wondered together about what could be amiss.  Depression?  No, we both agreed we knew what that looked like for me, not like this.  Over-committed?  No.  Maintaining pretty good boundaries on time and life stuff.  We didn’t pinpoint it that night we had talked.  I just did what I knew to do and kept pursuing Love.

December rolled around with all it’s extra activity and bustle and expectations.  It was one of those holiday seasons (maybe you’ve never had one like this) that just doesn’t feel ripe with meaning and beauty.  I’d poured out a great deal of heart and soul and prayer on some matters very dear to my heart….and by Christmas was feeling discouraged and disillusioned at the reality of things.  Instead of looking forward with great anticipation at the respite that was coming my way in January as I’d planned a weekend away with a friend, I grew intensely fearful.  This trip loomed larger than life instead of being a bright spot in my days to come.  Anxiety hasn’t ever really been a big thing for me, other stuff tends to trip me up.  But I was undone with a sense of worry and fear.  I couldn’t talk about going on the trip with anyone.  When I did I would usually cry.

I began to wonder what in the world was wrong with me.  I knew I’d encountered some major losses.  I had hoped beyond hope for some big things that didn’t come to fruition.  That is never easy.  Ever.  But still, this unexplained dread took over my days and I pictured myself getting on a plane and hyperventilating in my seat as we departed.  I finally told my friend I wasn’t sure I could go.  She was of course kind and said we would do whatever we needed and if I couldn’t manage to go, that was totally okay.

It was finally a conversation with a lifelong friend that turned the lights on.  As we talked over text (which I don’t usually love but wow, with 14 children between the two of us, talking is hard to come by!), I spoke words into my phone in a quiet whisper sitting in the garage one afternoon.  I sat on the back steps and wept in the cold air as I realized why I was so beside myself in this uncharacteristic way.

Just waking up and getting out of bed every single day, caring intentionally for my husband then loving, educating, serving and equipping my children…all the while trying to help make sense of life for a child that is struggling in big ways….it feels like just doing that requires all the bravery I can find.  Each day I’m living takes every ounce of brave this heart can muster.  So I suppose, that’s why I can’t do this trip and leave my kids for three days.  Plumb out of bravery.

And that was it.  My every day took every bit of brave.  So of course none was left.  Knowing this was what made it so easy for me to walk up to the sweet older grandma at a Christmas event that same week and pour love over her with my words.  As she cared with such patience for her autistic grandson I told her boldly how precious her obvious love for him was and what a gift it was she was giving, even if he didn’t know.  When you can’t make life feel doable for a child whom you love and would give your life for, it takes such a toll on your heart.  But you don’t quit.  You just keep loving.  And it is brave, the loving.

January came.  Days passed fast and Sunday before the trip came.  My kids didn’t even know there was a trip coming up.  More anxiety bubbled over as I wondered if it was one of those gut feelings you should trust and I should stay home.  What if I cried on the plane?  What if I had any sort of unpleasant mama meltdown whilst on this supposed wonderful getaway/conference?  What if something terrible happened with the kids while I was gone?  What if I summoned myself to finally go and the time was disappointing?  Then the clearest words came to my heart as I pondered what to do.  What if I go on this trip, believing there is something great for me taking this time away, and nothing happens?  What if despite my desperate expectation for God to meet me there and make some sense of things, He doesn’t?

The what if’s.  Oh the life they can steal right out from under us.  So I stared them in the face and packed my suitcase (but not until 9 pm the night before the departing flight!).  I didn’t feel brave.  I just literally shoved a few clothes in an old backpack and got in my car and left.

What I encountered when I finally had space and time and quiet would literally breathe life into my soul.  I had utterly no idea how desperately I needed time away.  Time with no agenda.  No activity.  A beloved speaker to listen to yes, but lots of time and room to not need to do anything for anyone.  This felt so radical for me.  So indulgent.  But it was life.  I took a birds eye view to my life and could see clearly things that had pressed in too hard on my everyday for me to be able to sort out.  And with the view came a lot of emotion.  But there was space for that.  Space to listen to my own heart and give myself permission to grieve and room too for hope to seep in to every broken place.

I haven’t written in so long.  And I didn’t really know where to begin (again).  So I decided to just start with this little window into the last season before getting to the next one.  For you precious few who still read, I am thankful and hope that you can find space if you need it, to do something brave.  Even if that is just getting out of bed tomorrow and living your one and only life you have to live.