Remembering Grandpa

It’s hard to break a six month writing silence.  So many stories unfold in a half a year.  There really isn’t anything else I can write of before acknowledging a monumental loss in our life.  I’ve written before about our beloved Grandpa.  We’ve been crazy blessed to spend most Sunday afternoons with him for the past couple years.  It has meant driving two cars to church weekly, so half our family could go sit with him at the lunch table in his memory care facility.  Our time couldn’t possibly have been spent in any better way.  One Sunday in September we went to see him and then by the following Saturday he was gone.  Deleting the recurring calendar event that said “Sunday lunch with Gpa” was harder than I could put to words.  When you love big, it means feeling the “bigness” of loss as well.

Here are the words I shared at his memorial in October back east in Virginia.  I flew with our oldest five children to be a part of honoring him in this way. There is nothing more fitting I could write today than to share those words here….

Good morning friends, I happen to be the eldest of the 9 grandchildren but just because I’ve been blessed under our grandpa’s love and leadership longer than my cousins and sisters doesn’t make me any more qualified to share today.  We all have our own list of memories tucked in our hearts.  The list of contributions of every sort our grandfather made in his lifetime would be impossible for any of us here today to sum up.  And as with most of life, it’s the intangible things that can’t be touched or measured that mattered more than any other.  

It was his “whatey” that he brought with him when he flew to Seattle or visited grandkids in Virginia.  I don’t even know how it started but as little girls as soon as we saw his face, we said “Gpa!” and he said “whatey!”.  We came to expect the “whatey” and we would ask him to make sure and bring it when he came.  The whatey always came with a smile and that’s what made it so grand.

It was their heart to share what they deemed “one of the most stunning places in the world” coupled with their radical generosity that took our whole extended Larson family to New Zealand 14 years ago this Christmas.  They had seen nearly the whole world over and told us we all had to experience together the beauty and breadth of a place they had so enjoyed.  If there’s anything more wonderful than being overcome by an incredible land, it’s sharing that wonder with the ones you love most.  It was the trip of a lifetime for all of us.

It was also his faithful presence, despite having to travel cross country to see any of us in the Sween family at least – he was always there, cheering us on at every big life moment, celebrating graduations and weddings and eventually the births of some 14 great-grandchildren.  He and Grandma were intentionally invested in the lives of their family in a way that communicated our value in their eyes and we were all better for it.

It was an unwavering commitment to building family relationships despite distance that brought us all together time and time again from Fort Casey, Washington to Estes Park, Colorado to the Outer Banks, North Carolina and many others in between.  This left us feeling connected and like we belonged to something special, even if we lived cross country from our cousins.

It was the fervor and passion and deepest pride he had when he talked about politics and education and great leaders and history and America.  He told stories of growing up in the Great Depression and having a tumbleweed for a Christmas tree with a stern face and I knew he still remembered just how unbearable some of those days had been.  

It was the constant encouragement that he offered to me every single time he saw me and my six children the past decade or so.  He was one of my greatest cheerleaders.  These last three years with him living nearby for the first time in my life, my children and I had the privilege of Sunday lunches.  After sharing our grandfather with Right to Work, with presidents and Senators, with our nation really, it was this last season of his that will always be of greatest treasure to me.  He faithfully, dare I say relentlessly, spurned me onward in the daily, sometimes quite monotonous work of educating our children at home, cultivating character and of serving those around us in ways we were able.  His consistent mantra to me as we parted every week was, “You keep up the good work”.  It was fitting to me that the night before he passed away when I went to say goodbye for the evening, he managed to say quietly “You do good work”.

It was Grandpa’s steady, rooted faith in Jesus that was perhaps his greatest contribution to the Larson clan and to an immeasurable many who don’t share our family name.  His extreme generosity to people and to organizations who were committed to furthering the message of Christ and his Gospel in the world has undoubtedly had impact in ways we will never grasp or fully know on this side of heaven.  

There really isn’t a role in the world quite like a grandparent.  And an adult  who fills that unique role with excellence is one in a million in the eyes of their grandchild.  Grandpa was indeed, one in a million and the void he leaves is certainly an impossible one to fill.  

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Why every mama needs a Joan

As the day pressed on and the blistering, unexpected spring heat smothered, I began to wonder if perhaps we were, in our novice status as bonafide dairy goat farmers, making a bit more work for ourselves than was needed.  We were having a good time after all.  The babies had stayed in the living room about three times longer than we planned because we had such ridiculous fun having them there.  Waking up and coming down the stairs to sweetest little faces and cries for snuggles and milk?  Yes.  It was as lovely as it sounds but yes, it was also a tremendous lot of work!  The days were a bit of blur and truly much bliss as we have allowed all the rest of life to be on hold and treasured these fleeting newly born days.

In my wondering, I queried in my head “what would Joan do?”.  So I wrote her mid afternoon yesterday.  Joan the kind-hearted, older mama whom we had first met in the goat barn at fair a few years back.  Joan, whose (now grown) children left such an impression on me when I met them the first time in their manners and kindness and gentle confidence.  I described to her what we were doing with our new goats and how we were learning and getting on. This is the schedule I sent:

6 AM milk 4 goats (3 Nigerians and Genie) – clean the vacuum milker
6:30 AM feed 10 bottles divided among babies
10 AM feed newer batch of 6 babies their bottles (but only carefully rationed measured out, they would take more if they could)
12:30 feed older 4 their bottles
1:00 PM milk 4 goats again – clean milker
2:00 PM feed newer 6 babies again (again, carefully rationed, divided out bottles)
5:00 PM feed older 4 babies
6:00 PM feed younger 6 bottles
8:30 PM  milk 4 goats (and clean the milker…again!)
9:-9:30 PM feed all 10 babies bottles

As I typed and asked her timidly  “am I missing anything here?”, the corners of my mouth curled up and I smirked to myself how crazy it looked on the screen.  Because for all that I typed there was of course the un-typed rest of life.  Three meals daily for six human kids.  The 2-3 loads of daily laundry. The hand washed dishes (did I mention the dishwasher broke January 3?).  All the “normal” life work.  A calendar of May splayed open on the counter with an array of showers, parties, end-of-year events, birthdays, dinners, outings, anniversary.
I took a deep breath and clicked “send”.  Without a trace of fear or worry.  Because there are some people who you know, that you know won’t judge, won’t over complicate or make your cheeks burn in embarrassment . They’ll just offer what they know, offer it in love and tell you it’s going to be okay.
After a brief and much needed date night, I got in the car to head home and read her reply.  I smiled.  I laughed, genuine belly-laughed out loud.  Until there were tears streaming down my face as I sat alone in my car in a parking lot.  “You are one overworked mama!” was how it began.  Oh, so it was a little crazy?  Yes.  Possibly.  The glory of being validated right where you are, such a powerful gift.
Then came her suggestions.  Which is what led to the laughter.  She told me she suggested “more sleep” at 6 AM.  The very idea!  In all its wisdom and simplicity!  Sleep.  The ever-elusive companion over these past 13 years of raising children.  This was, possibly, the first time someone had literally told me I perhaps should sleep more.
It got better.  From 10 am-1 pm on her proposed schedule, after kids had helped with milking (which of course they already do – but it was good to have affirmed that indeed, this ought to be a family affair) it said “be with your kids.  go shopping.  do your housework.  eat lunch.”  More smiles.  Someone I respect just told me to simply “be with” my kids.  Deep breath.
And better still, after getting milk to goats after lunch (and cutting out the terribly over-the-top midday milking) she proposed:
enjoy your kids, drink lemonade in the garden, watch your kids play with the baby goats
Wait?  Did someone just tell me to enjoy my kids?  To drink lemonade in the garden?  To watch my kids play?  This was too much!  The wave of relief and sweetness that washed over me prompted hot tears and a most silly grin.
Permission to simplify.  Permission to sleep.  Permission to enjoy the blessings set before me.  Permission to delight in our work together but not create an unnecessary load.
We all need a Joan.  And not just for help with goats.  But for so much more.  We need to raise our heads up, raise our hands and ask brave, vulnerable questions of the older, wiser women in our midst.  Especially in the raising of children, which is largely done outside of a tight-knit, real-life community except for a lucky few, we need the gift of their looking back, their ability to see clearly what really mattered.  Things like enjoying our kids and lemonade in the garden.  At times, we need to admit defeat and call in the troops of the ones who have already been there.  We need fresh eyes.
Maybe our schedule or workload feels suffocating but we don’t know how to fix it.  Maybe one child struggles big and loud and we have tried everything but can’t help them.  Maybe we have fought against family baggage and generations of bad patterns in relationships but we want more than bondage, we ache for freedom.  Whatever the unspoken fight or darkness, sometimes we need another set of hands on deck, a new and fresh perspective in order to find our way, “to proceed to the next step” as I inquired to Joan in my letter.
If we open up our eyes and heart to the people around us in one circle or another, chances are there is a Joan or a Suzanne or an Amy or someone precious who is just waiting to see a raised hand, a white flag, a “help wanted” banner held up over the life of a younger one trying to find her way.

Both ends of love

The dichotomy of our life right now is not lost on me.  We are knee deep in goat babies and new life.  Then last night we sat with our beloved grandpa (great grandfather to our children).  For the third time this week.  At his hospital bedside after taking a big nose-dive in his health in a very short time.  Less than two weeks ago we were sitting in the warm sun at Dairy Queen eating french fries and ice cream cones.   Then one rough night and suddenly he’s laid up in the hospital for a week now.  Things can change fast when you are 93 years old.  We returned home at dusk and tucked ourselves (and goats) into warm beds with full hearts.

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Loving extravagantly comes at a high price.  Make no mistake.

The potential of losing what you hold most dear is the byproduct of big love.  Crazy love.  The kind of love that is brave enough to ask hard questions when it would be easier to say nothing.  The kind of love that puts all of life on hold because sometimes you don’t get second chances to love right, love in the moment, love completely.  The kind of love that keeps coming back and pressing in, against all reason, simply because a promise made is meant to be kept.

When you love much, the door is flung wide open to scores of abundance and richness that to some remain a lifelong mystery.  But the door is also open to hard goodbyes and loss.  Loving wildly means experiencing loss in most visceral ways.

Audrey read stories to Grandpa and my phone buzzed with texts updating on a soon-to-deliver goat mama at home with the rest of our crew.  Fresh beginnings of life and the inching towards end of life.  All mixed up in one beautiful, perfect day.  If our grandpa hadn’t moved cross country three years ago, we wouldn’t have this gift we have.  This we-love-you-so-much-it-hurts gift.  This constant awareness that our present with him is just that.  To be received, treasured.  Which is just what we’ve done, are doing.  In the best way we know how.

In the quiet sitting, holding hands….”Am I squeezing you to tight?” he asks.  My eyes well up and I tell him not at all, keenly aware that when one day his weathered hands aren’t here to squeeze mine, I will feel a hole in my heart.  The kind of hole that only love leaves.

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Doing hard things

It is easy to say your want your kids to have opportunities to do stretch their character muscles and be challenged.  That sounds good and wise.  It is however, a whole other thing to actually facilitate them doing the hard thing.  Sometimes we aren’t privy to the actual challenge until after it has occurred.  Like today, Audrey climbed a tree, high.  And when she went for the final dismount she fell.  Scraped her whole belly badly.  She did something hard and it didn’t work out super well.  She is fine.  But she will do it differently next time.  She’ll find another way out of that tree that doesn’t net her being carried into the house in her brothers arms.

One of our kids stepped up, stepped into what we knew would be a challenging academic program this year.  Last year as we decided on how to proceed, I wanted to say “let’s wait a year”.  But she was ready.  I knew she was.  And I wasn’t being honest with myself if I said otherwise.  She declared one day as we deliberated “Mom, I know it’s not going to be easy.  I want to do it anyway.”  It was a mute point from that moment forward.  I wasn’t about to hold her back.  Sometimes our fear prevents our kids from going, being, doing what they were made for.  Finding a voice for that fear and calling it out so you can take a brave step forward is something I’m learning is paramount important while raising children.

Another child this year wanted to do something brave.  He wanted to take on a memory challenge for our homeschool work through Classical Conversations where we participate in community each Monday.  I read the requirements early this year and laughed.  Who could do that?  I brushed past the request to try for it.  And I let months go by without encouraging him to work toward it.  The year passed and he was tenacious on his desire to pursue it.  Everything, I mean everything, in me wanted to say no.  Not because I didn’t want to invest the hours of quizzing to help make sure he knew it.  Honest truth?  I wanted to say no because I could not handle the possibility of him failing.  He would not accept my unspoken answer.  The kind of answer mom’s give when they don’t want to say the actual word no so they instead don’t invest the time and heart into making a yes happen.

It came time I had to “proof” him so he could proceed with the process of being officially acknowledged for this feat.  I halfheartedly picked up the notebook and proceeded to sit on my bed for two hours with him.  Asking question upon question.  When we finished the 7 subjects, he asked what was next.  I said “Um, nothing.  There is nothing left.”  He had recited, near perfectly the information below:

  • The entire timeline of 160 events from creation to modern times;
  • Twenty-four (some very lengthy) more in depth sentences about history;
  • Twenty-four science questions and answers;
  • Multiplication tables through the fifteens plus squares and cubes, conversions, and math laws;
  • Continents, countries, capitals, and physical features from around the world.
  • Twenty-four definitions or lists from English grammar;
  • Latin noun cases and declensions,
  • The forty-four U.S. presidents.

About 400 pieces of information in all.

He looked at me.  Quiet tears ran down my face and his own eyes welled up.  I had almost held him back from this super difficult thing for only one reason.

I did not want to see him fail.

I could not bear the thought of him not making it.  I felt physically ill at the prospect.  And in my doubt and fear I nearly robbed him of this big win.  He pursued something he wanted to accomplish with such passion and determination.

Ideally, I would like to say “lesson learned”.  But I know better.  This lesson?  The one where you don’t fret one bit because you’ve raised children to be brave and take risks and given them chances to succeed OR fail?  It isn’t ever mastered.

We always said we wanted to take our kids overseas when they were middle school age.  Which felt like FOREVER.  But now here we are and here they go.  Off on a plane in July with their daddy to Africa, to one of the poorest nations in the world.  To serve and love and get their hands dirty and hearts split open in a most beautiful way, one they wouldn’t likely ever experience here.  One more opportunity to release, to be brave, to take a deep breath and remember, God is writing their story and the unfolding of each step is something to behold.

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?”.

A normal day… (updated)

The announcement goes something like this: “Finn is covered. Head to toe covered. He is completely naked and covered with tiny shards of styrofoam. It’s everywhere. All over the bathroom walls, the counter, the floor. And Finn.”

I take a deep breath. I’m sitting on the couch trying to drink coffee, recovering from a full weekend and our very long Monday. There is some magical thing about a mama who sits down. She can be hustling around fixing breakfast, filling the crockpot with dinner, doing dishes leftover from last night, switching laundry loads, wiping up unidentifiable smashed food and she is near invisible in her work. But sit that mama down and no one misses it. My backside hasn’t been on the couch ten seconds before one, two, then three sweet things are fighting for my lap. Good thing it’s a soft and plentiful lap. Everyone snugs in and about then is when oldest boy comes in with the news about Finn.

And these are the things our everydays are made of. Kids practicing self defense moves on the barn roof. Digging for bones in the forest and coming back with near intact skeletons. Hard working almost teenage Rylee traipsing out to the barn in her pajamas every single morning with a big milk bucket and bed head. Someone forgot to let the turkey out and she’s talking loud from her pen reminding us to set her free for the day. The pigs are done with breakfast but they are ready for second breakfast if anyone cares to oblige. Coyotes are closing in every morning and the three big dogs are on constant watch, sure to bark away any rustle from the forest.  A dog shows up locked in the pantry after someone shut him inside to “clean up” an entire box of spilled granola.

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A two year old whose sparkling blue eyes are sure to dazzle is happy to climb trees or climb onto counters using drawer knobs as a ladder.  She is just as pleased to act as “baby” and get to “nap” in a suitcase.  Only the pretend nap turned real and she lays there in the middle of the noisy kitchen for an hour snoozing.  She has a penchant for “beddies” (berries) and the berry crisp someone accidentally left here last night ended up being her bedtime snack since she found it (and a spoon) before anyone else did.  She loves to snuggle cousins and creatures of every sort.

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Blisters on my hands now just healed from an evening of food prep and endless slicing and dicing. The sacrifice of a weeknight evening for the sake of precious friends seemed painfully small but the only thing I could do to communicate love. Their loss of new life at 11 weeks pregnant was all too familiar to us and besides praying our hearts out, food seems the only other way to extend compassion.

There are stacks of great books to be read, one 7 year old sits reading to me this very minute. The library hold shelf bears our name and inquiring ones want to know when we can go pick up the waiting books. Older ones have been enlisted by youngers to place holds so even the littles have books waiting for them today.

As for me, only styrofoam awaits me at the moment I’m afraid.  Lots and lots of styrofoam…

***Updated 9:56 AM***  While I scoped out the styrofoam mess I came downstairs to the sound of Dad’s drill on the front porch.  This is what I found: 

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When I inquired about what was taking place, Finn was quick to explain “I caught a moth, I put it in a ziploc and Audrey helped me poke holes so it could breath.  I’m going to drill it into the front door to make sure dad can see it when he gets home.”  To which I took another deep breath and commended him for his use of eye protection then I explained that while that was very sweet, it would permanently ruin the door.  We searched for a big piece of wood and screwed the ziploc into it instead.  It is propped up by Dad’s parking spot waiting for his return.  The front door is scratched but not badly so.

While it might be very entertaining for me to write these posts every day (as this is very normal) – it would surely overwhelm.  But for posterity’s sake I’d sure like to try every now and then!

A far away love

I handed her the paper in the living room after dinner, “You need to read this” I simply said.  I’d been waiting for hours to give it to her, knowing full well what it would mean to her, how the words would make their mark, knowing I had no choice but to show it to her.  She glanced at it and knew right away.  She didn’t even finish reading it.

Rylee has been writing Fatuma, her sponsored Compassion child,  for seven years.  They almost share a birthday but they’ve shared many words, colored pictures and family photos over the last several years.  In the beginning I wrote the letters.  She dictated to me what to say and I wrote.  She would color or sign her name.  But these past few years, she writes herself and shares life and love with her precious “sister” in Kenya.

A year and a half ago she came to me and asked if she could forego birthday and Christmas gifts and save money towards her years long dream of going to visit Fatuma and meet her face to face.  And that’s exactly what she’s done.  She opened a bank account and together with her brother also started an egg selling business to save enough money for a ticket to Kenya.  She is close to the amount required for a ticket.  Next year was the year we planned to go.

So when the letter came, the one that said Fatuma’s parents had taken her out of the program and she could no longer be our sponsor child, it absolutely broke her sweet heart.  She started to cry and she did not stop for the rest of the evening.  I even made her favorite cookies.  She tried to smile and said a quiet “thank you”.  But then returned to her spot on the couch where she rested her head for the evening.  On her own initiative her little sister brought her out a birthday gift, one she’d bought with her own money, three weeks early, to give in hopes it would ease the sadness.

Who will make sure she is ok?  Can we still go see her next year?  The questions came through the tears.  Will she have enough to eat?   Why did they take her out of the program?  Is there any way we can find her?

Hard questions.  Ones I couldn’t answer.  It took me two days to think I was ready to call Compassion and ask them for any more info they might have.  Turns out I wasn’t ready at all.  Our hearts are so intertwined with this sweet girl far away.  I choked out questions and the young thing on the phone had no idea what to do with my tender heart.  She read from the file on the computer.  She answered the same questions twice.  She listened.

There was nothing that could be done.  The workers had gone to her house, she was well but her parents simply had made a decision.  We could write one final letter.  And that would be all.  Rylee’s trip in September of next year that she had painstakingly saved for, would not look like the in-person reunion she had dreamed of.   And she would have to wonder if her friend across the world was finding her way all right.

As we brushed shoulders in the kitchen and she crumbled in my arms again,  I got this beautiful, heart-twisting glimpse of what real love looks like.  And just like I wrote in my last post, it hurts.  It hurts to love hard.  There is cost beyond what you can possibly calculate to loving with abandon.

“God’s still good right?”  I whispered.  Yes.  All the time.  Always good.  Not the good I’d choose of course.  But always good.  “If we didn’t care about her so much, this wouldn’t be such a loss.  Don’t doubt for a minute that God has a plan for you, for your journey, for everything.  We just have to ask and wait.  He’ll show us.”

Love and loss go together.  Today at lunch as kids admired my pendant necklace, the one with one of Grampy’s ties encased in it, they asked about him.  It’s been five years this month.  Five years since my husband returned from the search and rescue mission to find his father in the mountains.  Audrey was a baby then.  She asked lots of questions and pondered how very hard it must have been for her daddy to find his father frozen by the lake.  I’ve held the necklace between my fingers dozens of times today.  Wishing he were here to do silly things with our kids, to be proud of who his son is, to love my cooking and pour me another glass of sparkling cider.

What every tween girl needs to know

She’s almost twelve.  This lovely, sweet oldest child of mine.  She is leaps and bounds more delightful than my 12 year old counterpart.  I think of my twelve year old self and shudder.  My poor parents.  But that’s another story.  I have to write down this story from today before I forget because it matters too much not to remember…

Dear precious daughter,

I don’t want you to forget, so I’m writing you this letter.  It might not have seemed like the sort of day you need to remember.  But you’ve got to trust me and know that my thirty-five years have left me knowing more each year how only a few things in life actually matter.  It started a Monday like any other.  But with some changes in the girl dynamics of the co-op we attend every week.  You need to know, I saw you.  I saw you hold back and make room for someone new.  I saw you watch things all shift and everyone struggle to find their place.  You probably think I didn’t notice.  You probably felt like it seemed silly how deeply you felt the change and how hard it was, how hard it is when things go from something comfortable and familiar to something different and new and all in one day.  Daughter, it isn’t silly and your ability to feel deep things, is a God-given wonder.  You may question that in years to come.  I surely have.  You’ll have to learn to trust that it is part of your intentional, purposeful design.  You will get to figure out for yourself that no slew of emotions, no amount of irrational, hormonal talk is too much for God to handle.  I will drive you nuts sometimes and I won’t say the right thing.  I may make you wonder if I really ever was young once in my trying-to-be-wise mother speak.

My mama heart hurt as I stood back, knowing you girls would all need to find your way today.  You were gracious and good.  But I saw your heart and it was sad, I knew.  At lunch time I got a text from a friend asking you for a sleepover, tonight, a school night.  The rule-following mother in me wanted to say “no way, it’s a school night!”.  But the tender hearted, receiver-of-God’s-extravagent-love mother knew the only answer was yes.  So I shot a one-word text back, “yes”, until I had a break and could write more.  We drove home in quiet.  You walked into the kitchen and I wrapped my arms around you.  I held your head close and whispered these words I want you never to forget…

God loves you so much girl.  He cares about every. tiny. detail.  He saw your day and he knows it wasn’t easy.  Your heart matters to him.

So much so that he has gifted you a sleepover this very night with your beloved friend, I told you.  I felt your tears on my cheek as the words soaked in.  Mine joined yours and I held you tight.  It’s true.  You’ll wonder and doubt if it is and that’s okay.  The emotions, the complicated, beautiful mystery of being a woman can feel like a burden not a blessing some days, months, years.  You will feel what seems at times too much, too deeply and relationships will dizzy your heart and mind.  Things that were once one way will be another.  Friends will disappoint and disagree.  Imperfect people will say or do things that break your heart.  It is the way of a broken humankind in radical need of a perfect, saving One.

As you got in the car tonight with your sweet friend, I looked up to the fickle sky.  I grinned.  The dark, rainy sky had met the sun.  And over the trees full of flaming autumn leaves sat a perfect, brilliant rainbow.  It took my breathe away.  The promises of God wrapped up in one physicial reminder that He knew we would always need.  We would need to know

He

is

always

here.

It felt like it was just for you as you drove down the road literally right under the rainbow as I watched from the front porch.  It is in the grey places of pain and loss and change that we get to see the rainbow beauty.   So precious one, remember today, this plain ordinary Monday where the God of the universe reached down into your life and showed you a glimpse of His heart for you.  Oh how He loves you, I said quietly as you walked away.  And He does.  Sometimes it will be quiet and hidden and small.  Then sometimes it will be magnificent and unmistakable.  He will show you a million different ways as you journey through life.  And I’ll be right here, praying you can see and feel His incredible, beyond words love for your one-of-a-kind self.

Life with you in it is such a gift.

All my love,

your Mama

An epiphany on food

I am all over the place when it comes to food and menu planning and grocery lists and all that important stuff.  There are eight eating people in this house.  And since we school at home, they eat here.  Nearly all their meals.  Which adds up to a dizzying 21 meals per week in this kitchen of mine and at least two snacks a day too!  If the belly is growling and wanting, it is terribly hard to learn and focus and engage in learning.  But preparing food is only one of a great many hats mamas wear.  This is my recent new insight on the matter, after sitting down and making a list of our favorite 31 meals, thinking we could just rotate through each day of the month.  (insert smirk or giggle here) Yes, I really did think it a good idea.  But I am learning to simplify and more importantly realizing that having 31 meals to choose from is a “first world problem” – meaning, the majority of the world would be grateful simply to have one solid meal a day.  Let alone three.  Let alone a wonderfully organized list of 31 great dinners.  My life needs to work for me and I need time to be spent where it matters most.  Researching the latest food trends and reading food blogs and color coding my dilapidated recipe binder are not how I choose to spend my minutes right now.  Having a vast array of meal choices is in fact not helpful for me at this current life stage.

Enter theme nights.

It all started with Mission Mondays, where we eat a very simple meal of brown rice and lentils and practice gratitude for our bounty and provisions while remembering how most of the world eats, meagerly.  Then came Taco Thursdays and Make your Own Pizza Fridays.  We don’t have it down pat yet.  But the general idea is, each day of the week is narrowed down a bit.  Crock-pot meals on Tuesdays when we have a quick dinnertime turn around.  Soups on Saturdays.  Salad bar or our beloved Garden Hash on Wednesdays when I have time in the late afternoon to chop a bunch of veggies.

This is our general outline:

Mondaylentils and rice
Tuesday – Crock-pot something (like this roast-terrible photo but a delicious meal served over mashed potatoes)
Wednesday – Garden Hash (recipe below)
Thursday – Tacos of any kind – lots of ways to mix it up each week like this insanely delicious pork taco recipe
Friday – Make your Own (pita) Pizza – kids love it and its a wonderfully fun way to end the week
Saturday – Soup or Stew
Sunday – whatever is left or needs eating up (if nothing else, apples and popcorn, I ate that every Sunday night growing up!)

The underlying premise for me behind this simplifying for this season is this truth:

Food is intended to sustain and nourish us so we can get to the all important tasks of living and loving.

It isn’t meant to be a daily showcase of our mad kitchen skills or be catered to one persons picky tendencies.  It doesn’t need to impress my kids or have five different items to serve up every night.  What matters far more is the cultivating of “family” that happens when we gather together to share a meal.

Though summer is quick becoming a memory and it is pouring rain at the moment, I’ll still share what is probably one of our family favorite meals.  It’s my own creation and is ever so flexible and might not be an exact science since we already established my extra time and energy are not spent imitating Ina Garten or Rachel Ray.

Garden Hash (serves 4, we double or triple this):

Saute in a skillet 1 lb ground beef and one onion chopped.  Add a clove or two of crushed garlic. Once the meat is cooked and broken up, add whatever garden bounty you like.  We love a head of kale or rainbow chard chopped up real small, several carrots grated, a zucchini or even a peeled, chopped sweet potato are delicious too. Really, the sky is the limit.  Salt and pepper the hash.  Let the kale or chard wilt, the potatoes simmer till soft, all in the one pot.  Add water if needed for the simmer, but also add the all important ingredient, tamari or soy sauce.  How much?  Well, I’d just say several swigs and then taste after five minutes, if I had to guess, maybe start with 1/4 cup?  We usually eat it in a pile on a plate and its ugly so I don’t have a photo for you.  It can also be served over rice, quinoa, steamed greens or roasted diced potatoes.