On crazy busy life and “The Best Yes” by Lysa Terkeurst

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a review.  While I have certainly read some good books, I haven’t managed to sit down and write about them.  But this one requires passing on, The Best Yes, by Lysa Terkeurst.  Our flurried, broken, overextended-in-every-way American culture is a living, breathing example of many examples of “you reap what you sow”.  Instead of breaking down that reality, may I just say that despite very intentional efforts not to live inside the crazy…sometimes it seems impossibly hard to step back, step aside, step OUT of the continual myriad of activities.  Nearly all of them GOOD things.  The amount of extracurricular options is staggering.  Whether you are married with kids or without, single, young or old….there is nary a shortage of ways you could spend your time and energy.

One particular aspect of this that I find it difficult to navigate is the mentality that if you don’t offer your children a plethora of options, be they flute lessons, karate, a spot on the baseball team, chess club, horse back riding lessons, 4-H, drama class, choir, soccer, art lessons and tickets to a play or five at the local kids theater, that somehow they will be cheated of a “well rounded” and “rich” upbringing.  The array of “good things” here is at best mind-blowing.  And at worst, well, I don’t know.  I suppose I would just venture to say that this way of thinking is a plague in our culture and in fact, learning to have some white space or margin in your life is perhaps one of the very best tools parents should empower their kids with.

It sounds easy right?  But its not.  Even having moving out of the city into a more rural area, there are so many things one can do!  I have done much quiet thinking about it this past year, a year that left me gasping for breath and feeling like I could not, would not possibly be able to continue on the same path.  A wise mother said to me just last Tuesday while listening to me wrestle out loud with the too-many-options dilemma, “I have come to a place where I honestly believe, if my child has a very exceptional, genuine kind of gift at playing piano or baseball or something….that talent will well up and emerge regardless of my ability to provide copious amounts of lessons and instruction in its realm.”  I breathed a sigh of great relief.  And my heart agreed.

If I believe that God’s plans for the lives of my children will not be thwarted by my inadequacies and imperfectness as a parent, then I can instead invest in loving them well, building strong, healthy relationships, providing a solid, vibrant foundation for their lives. Which I’ve come to believe MUST include having a weekly schedule that has room in it to breathe.  I absolutely must, as a mother who seeks to walk in wisdom, learn how to make thoughtful decisions for our family and for my own life that reflect a measure of having ‘counted the cost’ of each and every spoken and unspoken YES in my life.

This is where the book by Lysa comes in.  I ended the summer feeling terribly unready for the year ahead.  Still struggling to bounce back from last year.  When I read the tagline under the title, Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands, my head just nodded and I clicked ‘place my order’ before the book had even been released.  It is practical and so well breaks down the reality of every “yes”.  Yes to one thing means a no elsewhere, this is the part I hadn’t learned to think through very well.  I just kept on with yes’.  I would liken it to writing a check on an empty bank account, eventually the debt is in your face and you have to deal with it.  Lysa  breaks down, wonderfully well, various ways to learn to cultivate this sort of wisdom and also delves into why it matters so much.

I am learning to weigh my yes and to really sift through all the implications it will have.  Slowly, albeit, but learning nonetheless.  Just yesterday we were at the pumpkin patch, having great fun with my sister as we have done every year for at least 8 years in a row.  I started to get anxious being there, knowing that in two weeks our homeschool group is going on a group trip to another pumpkin patch.  I feel obligated to go, my mind had already relinquished to having to go.  But as I thought more, talked it out loud a bit, it was so clear.  Yesterday was my “best yes”.  Two weeks from now will be my wise “no”.  And in that, I get to practice something I am not good at, giving grace to myself.  Grace to say “one pumpkin patch trip with my six children is all that I can manage this year and that is okay, more than that, it is wise and good”.

If life feels a bit over the top and you aren’t sure how to proceed or how to grow in this aspect, this book is an excellent, very worthwhile read.  Really, just about everyone I know fits into that description in some way!  My copy is heavily highlighted and written on, which is one of my best measures of good books.  Beyond that, my life is incorporating the practical wisdom from the pages and that is surely the best part.

Here are a few snapshots of our one and only wonderful pumpkin patch trip this weekend:

big boys Oct 2014
Finn's pumpkin
Lib and mama
Lib Oct 2014
nana and girls
three girls
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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

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.

Beautiful redemption

It’s been almost three weeks and I can just now sit down to put words to this story.  Sometimes it takes time to digest something enough to put it to paper.

They bounded in the back door from camping, my three sons, the first Saturday in August.  It had been quiet without their boisterous selves for nearly 24 hours.  But they’d had a mission: Daddy Cousin Campout 2014.  It was the third year running and not to be missed.  The first night was all boys (our three and my sisters’ one) and the second was a trade, all the girls (our two and my sisters’ one).

The first words out of their mouth in the kitchen were loud and crashed over me.  Something about a train and Caleb and running and Finn screaming.  I told them that wasn’t funny, not to joke about it but they assured me it was no joke.  I looked to the Daddy for confirmation that they were indeed serious and he nodded yes, that he had waited until they were home to tell me and that it wasn’t something to share over text or phone.

There was a flurry of activity and the girls were whisked away for their adventure and I was left with my boys.  Tired and dirty and eager to tell the story.  Over and over again.  Like their little minds needed to say it out loud to process the reality of it.  I sat down and gave them my full attention as they relayed the story.

They’d arrived at camp the night before.  The two dads set up the tent and the boys asked for coins to put on the train tracks they’d discovered near their camp site.  They said yes and the boys went to place the pennies on the tracks.  While they were there, Caleb “looked up and saw three lights coming” so he hollered for them to run down the rocky slope to the trees.  The train approach was around a bend, so the sound from afar to warn of its impending arrival was buffered until it was very close.

The three oldest boys ran down the slope away from the tracks.  The conductor saw my children immediately and started blowing the whistle to clear the tracks, to run.  Which they were doing, except for Finn.  He was scared spitless.  He was paralyzed with fear.  He stood there screaming while the other three boys ran.  When Caleb reached the bottom, he looked up to see his brother at the track.  Without hesitation he ran back up the little hill and grabbed 37 pound three year old Finn and toted him down the rocks.  He only made it halfway down before the train was upon them, so he stopped and they hid under a large rock until it passed.  That’s when the daddies arrived.  They’d come running in an instant when they heard the whistle.

But the stark clear reality was that if Caleb had not moved so swiftly, so bravely…the result could have been catastrophic.

As each day passed they processed a bit more, Caleb told me days later “You know what is so strange mom?  When I picked up Finn, he felt light, like holding a baby.  And usually he is so heavy we can barely lift him!”.  I cried as I explained how God does that, gives strength or ability beyond explanation in certain situations.

Finn would wake up and go to sleep wanting to tell the story, the same succinct unchanging story each time.  How Caleb saw him, how Caleb ran up the hill, how the train was so loud, how scared he was and how they hid under the rock.

Last week Caleb came down stairs well after bed time, to find me in the kitchen an hour after I’d gone to bed.  He asked why I couldn’t sleep.  I told him the honest truth that every night when I laid down I replayed the whole event in my mind and then it would take me hours to go to sleep.  His lip quivered as he listened to me tell him again, “thank you for saving Finn”.  And we stood in the kitchen wrapped up in a big hug weeping for a very long while.

I am proud of my son.  The same son who a year ago nearly to the day made one poor judgment call and stabbed a steak knife into the grass after dinner just to see how far it would go.  A decision that would cost him dearly.  The tendon severed in his finger which would require hours of surgery to repair…“it’s like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube” the surgeon said.   A cast from fingertip to shoulder for the last precious weeks of summer, including the state fair and the first month of school.  It was months of a sort of sad frustration that he wore, knowing exactly how he’d wound up where he was.  It was days of him getting the mail and seeing bill after bill and asking “is this from my surgery too?”.  I can’t honestly put words to how it broke him, the whole thing.  It was devastating and he felt the weight of it so deeply.  It took a solid six months before he began to find his way forward.

The beautiful, stunning redemptive nature of it all was not lost on me.  As I told the story to a friend and we choked tears through the phone she whispered it’s almost exactly a year after his surgery.  And it was.  We don’t get the luxury of being privy to the secret ways of God.  We don’t get to know how he plans to work and shape and rescue us.  We simply get a choice.  To trust who he is and to believe he will work all things for good.

Like my mom did, when she heard our husbands were taking the kids camping at this particular campground.  She and my dad had scoped it out three years ago for a potential family camping trip.  They quickly deemed it unfit for a bunch of small kids.  But we didn’t know that, we simply ended up camping elsewhere that year.  So when she got word about the campground selection, she went to the Lord in prayer, asked him what to do before telling us it wasn’t a good choice.  He simply directed her to pray.  And pray she did.  She prayed her grandma heart out as our kids headed out for their weekend.  She prayed fervently for God’s protection and silently believed that the God she loved would watch over her precious grandchildren.

He did.  And in so doing, he gave our son this story that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.  A story of courage and bravery and heroism really, in my book at least.  A story that I will not forget, nor will my children forget, ever.

 

Pressing on

She picks pieces of clover and sits while I talk.  Her wordless tears had told me that all she wanted was to stand at the fence next to the goats.  So I set her there and turn over a water bucket and sit down.  As she chews grass I pour out my full, raw heart.  Earlier today, when I looked at the calendar my heart started to panic.  I’m not prone to panic.  Or worry.  But it feels like suddenly two thirds of summer is gone and I don’t know what happened.  Well, I do.  June happened – septic pump failure/back up, ruined floors, repairs and the week at a motel and so on.  Life happened.

There are so many moving parts and so much love and much talking and bursting LIFE in this home.  Every day.  And the sum total of laundry and hungry tummies and shoes left everywhere, its staggering some days.  But those are superficial, really.  It’s the deeper things that I’m spilling out with quiet tears on the lawn next to the pasture at dusk.  It’s a quiet prayer for peace.  It’s a plea for wisdom for hard choices.  It’s a tender request that says please take care of my heart. 

New things are on the horizon for our homeschool plans and schedule for fall.  And there are areas of life that aren’t working well and need a course correction.   But new is hard.  With a half a dozen kids in the mix, two of whom have required great lengths of attention this past year, it is easy to feel daunted.  Even for me who usually feels courageous and optimistic.

I say it all out loud again, as she plays in the grass.  She watches a bumble bee and reaches toward it as it escapes her chubby, too-slow fingers.  She fingers the clover again and does what she does most of the time…

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She smiles at me while holding my leg.  Her life is simple and marvelous and her every need is met.  She abides in love, she is covered with love from every angle.  All the time.  And my heart catches a bit just thinking about it.  The sibling issues and family challenges, I could probably sum up a good deal of the root of them in that one thought.  Not abiding in love for one another.  And the sting that comes quickly is, I see my part in it.  My weary heart that’s stood up under much heartache and struggle this past year.  A heart that hasn’t always been able to abide in love the way I’d like.  The mama sets the tone for the home, at least for the bulk of the days when most of our day together is spent with me at the helm.

No matter how far we get, we aren’t “there”.  No matter how much we grow and change, we’re not done.  Thank goodness.  But in certain seasons, it can feel discouraging.  I read this tonight on the front porch in the dark and said out loud “YES” as it resonates so deeply as to the bigger picture at hand:

Thank God for everything up to this point, but do not stop here.  Press on into the deep things of God.  Insist upon tasting the profounder mysteries of redemption.  Keep your feet on the ground, but let your heart soar as high as it will.  Refuse to be average or to surrender to the chill of your spiritual environment. – A. W. Tozer “The Root of the Righteous”

I’ve struggled to welcome the God I love into this imperfect and sometimes chaotic place this year.  I’ve wanted to come in an orderly fashion, quiet and early with perfectly brewed coffee and a warm blanket.  The season hasn’t been very orderly and certainly not quiet.  There has been much coffee but not sipped slowly during prayer, gulped instead before it was cold so that I could see straight enough to make breakfast.

God doesn’t want orderly.  He just wants everything.  He wants all of my heart.   It’s okay if I come with hair that’s still in yesterdays’ pony tail, teeth that aren’t brushed and a to-do list twenty things long and a heart that feels defeated or not enough.  He wants me to remember this truth in the darkest, longest day:

Not since Adam first stood up on the earth has God failed a single man or woman who trusted him.  -A. W. Tozer “The Root of the Righteous”

He hasn’t.  And I know this.  So when I wonder how to move forward, when I ask what can give so I can gain a little bit of margin in my life, when I dare to hope for breatkthrough in the places I need it desperately and wonder how we’ll all fare at something new this year…He wants me to remember.

He has never failed me.  He is always (more than) enough.

 

 

The great chicken harvest of 2014

It was a bold endeavour, purchasing 54 day old tiny chicks and expecting them to grow to eating size in twelve weeks.  It felt bold or at the very least presumptious to expect them to turn into food in such a short time.  I had intended for Caleb to help me with the meat bird chores but honestly, I sort of enjoyed the routine of my solitary morning ritual of heading out to the far end of our property with a big bucket of feed and five gallon water buckets to replenish their supply.  Though heavy, the chicken tractors were just light enough for me to move by myself.  The heaving of them across a new patch of grass every morning was good hard work for this mama.  After giving them a new location each morning, I fed them and watered them.  Each tractor held 25 birds and in the last four weeks, they sometimes went through five gallons of water in one day. The rate of consumtion for food and water rather blew me away.  It was so far above and beyond our upcoming flock of layers.  And with the consumption came incredible excrement.  They poop more than you can imagine because they are growing so much.

Here are a few lessions learned now that harvest day has come and gone, in case its helpful for anyone…or simply intriguing for those who think this whole thing seems crazy:

  1. In order to save hatchery shipping costs, we went in with two other families.  We ordered 165 chicks together.  We estimated the feed we would need and also bought that together and had it delivered by the pallet to our home.  Doing these two things together saved at least $200 dollars between our three families.
  2. The other two families (who had done meat birds before) rationed out their food properly and did not run out of food like I did (read my other post, from before butchering day, here).  I on the other hand, was naively amazed how “hungry” they were and just kept feeding them.  This meant buying about 800 lbs more feed part way through raising them.  Which seemed a big bummer and would really increase my cost per pound of raising them.  However, in this particular instance, my ignorance paid tremendous dividends.  When our friends drove up with their birds on harvest day, they were totally shocked at the size of our birds.  They were literally twice the size.
  3. A stainless steel table to do all the evisceration on is invaluable.  I’d planned on using our plastic folding tables from Costco and then just bleaching them well.  But our friend Mike brough a chest high stainless table, probably intended for dressing deer or other game.  Because of its height, we didn’t have to bend over for hours.  AND it was very easy to sanitze/clean.  Which proved excellent.
  4. Using the rented equipment from our county, which included a stand with stainless kill cones, a blood collecting basin, a dunking rack and scalding tank and a defeathering tub, made a potentionally dismal task into sometime inherently doable.  Even for a novice mama with six kids!  Once everyone sort of “fell in” to a task, things moved very quickly.  We processed the first 50 chickens in about two hours and then took lunch.  The second 50 took less than two hours.
  5. Kids can do more than you think.  This is perhaps what most blew me away for the day.  Very early on, several children had proved themselves indispensable.  Caleb and TJ and two adults caught the chickens and put them upside down into the kill cones.
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    The most humane way to harvest a chicken is to place it upside down where it quickly gets a head rush and is fairly still.  Then with a sharp knife, slitting the neck so the blood can drain out swiftly and fully.  Caleb did almost all of that job and he did it very well.  He is ten years old.  I was surprised and very impressed.  Rylee and her friend Elianna rocked the scalding tank and defeatherer.  They would take the chickens from the boys and hook them by feet up to the rack and then dunk them until their feathers were loose enough to go into the defeathering tub.

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  6. Evisceration is more of a grown up job.  If you botch it, you puncture the bowels and then have a poopy mess inside your chicken.  Which is not ideal.  Having a tall table to do this work was extrememly valuable.  And having many hands on the task was also awesome.  It made the work fly by.
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  7. Having a hearty lunch ready and waiting is imperative.  We ate big bowls of chili from the crockpot (thanks Nana!) and went right back to work.
  8. You need more ice than you think!  It was a sunny warm day.  We used all ten bags of ice we got.  Keeping the chickens cold after defeathering before evisceration is important as is keep them cold after they are all done.  We soaked them in a salt, ice water brine all day before packaging them for the freezer.  We don’t have big coolers but used clean, garbage bag lined stainless metal 32 gallon trash cans.  They worked beautifully, just required lots of ice.
  9. Shade would be helpful.  We would have been better off with a white tent over the table where we did the finishing work.  It got warm quickly and though the hose water was cold, it still would be better with shade.  Next year for sure we’ll have a tent over that table.
  10. A vacuum sealer, though the bags are spendy, is super nice for storing the birds.  A two gallon freezer ziploc would work, we used some.  But the vacuum sealed ones, I’m sure, will keep better in the freezer.

All said, it was an amazing day.  We worked super hard and with a great crew of people, it really went very fast.  It was truly easier than we expected.  I was super proud of our kids, they were something else.  At the end of the day we netted 250 lbs of chicken in the freezer.  We traded a few for work.  And cooked a couple right away.  But most of them are in the freezer! After all was said and done, we all agreed we’d definitely like to do it again.  It was very worth the work.  Besides the bit of time feeding them each morning, really it only entailed one long day of work.  Which was quite manageable.

When the family tree is tipping

I glanced up while feeding the baby today at the one of only two walls in my home that bear any semblance of “home decorating” and had to smirk.  Somehow in the chaos that has ensued here this past week, the tree painting on the family wall was all askew:

family tree

It seemed fitting.  Saturday evening after what we thought was “a quick stomach bug” had ended, our friends came over to buy some hay.  As Chris stood in the hall with his buddy Mark, he said perfectly calmly, “Hey, you’d better move over, you’re gonna get wet.”  In a quick second, the craziness of what was happening clicked and he jumped into action, grabbing towels, calling for reinforcements, etc.  We eventually had to turn the whole house water off to stop the flooding down the hallway.  Simultaneously, I was outside, in the pasture overseeing goats and milking and such, musing about castration methods with my friend Sam.  Rylee ran up to me and said “I don’t feel good” and promptly lost her dinner just shy of my boots.  As I walked her inside, I heard the calls for help and towels and got wind of the “water emergency”.  Um, yes, turns out the septic pump quitting and the subsequent “backing up” that happens, it indeed quite a crisis.

By the next morning, we realized our floors were buckling and we needed to call insurance, which we’ve never done so that was a whole new thing to figure out.  They sent people out immediately to put up industrial fans to dry the floor and walls and rip out anything damaged.  While I’m rinsing out throw up bowls (without running water), there are all these workers in our house.  And the extra fun fact here?  Though it was a weekend day, my hubby was filling in for our pastor who was on vacation….so he absolutely had to go to church.  He apologetically departed and went to Safeway with a bottle of shampoo and washed his hair in the bathroom there so that he didn’t have to preach with serious bedhead.  Initially, a good part of our downstairs was sequestered off with thick plastic and full of the big fans, but by this afternoon it looked like this:

floors

Imagine fans so loud you can’t hear if someone is throwing up in the next room or calling Mom for help…seriously, they were loud.  We went for a drive a few days ago to get a break and though all seemed okay, before we made it home someone was throwing up in the van.  This went on for a couple days and by today, despite the continual stomach issues people were having (as in:  “Mom, gross, help…Finn was playing on the deck but he just threw up all his chocolate cookies and the dog is eating it” and “Babe, I know you just got to work but I feel like I’m dying, you gotta come home right now”) we had to get out of here.  We went “hiking” for a couple hours on a trail nearby and breathed deep the fresh, quiet air.  It was therapeutic and wonderful even if it ended with me carrying an 8 month old on my back and a 35 pound three year old on the front.

The vintage, cutesy sign I bought for our anniversary was suddenly more than an art piece, it was us. 

together

It was the way we shift into action in the midst of crisis and the way we both try to be gracious even though we feel like we’re about to snap.  How he stayed up hours one night to do dishes and clean counters just so there was one space that didn’t look like this (after the clean up crew came and emptied out a closet into our schoolroom):

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This is real life.  It’s where the family tree either puts down deeper roots and survives the storm or topples over and gives up.  We might have been blown around a bit this week.  For sure.  There were moments that left me feeling one step from crazy.  But then as I’m weeding the garden and digging out the cat poo that is infiltrating my spinach, Finn says to Audrey, “Guess what? I like ants.  I found an ant and I put it in my pants and its in there.  Right now.  I have an ant in my pull-up!”.  Really, honestly?  I laughed a lot.  I told and retold the stories and made them seem like entertainment because the alternative, the sitting around in a puddle of tears, just doesn’t work so well.

My parents are in blistering heat halfway around the world sharing hope and love and LIFE with people who can’t imagine my fuss over losing a bathroom for a week or three.  They’d be thrilled just to have a toilet.  As I sweat it out in my laundry room next to the fans doing their (loud) work, I think of my mom who can’t stand hot weather, laying that down to go where God called, even if its 118 degrees.  As I swish out yet another throw up bowl, I’m keenly aware that there is an incredible hospital an hour away from here chock full of children who would give anything to just have a bad bug for a week.  They just want to live.  Perspective is everything.  It’s true.

So, for the record, we’re still standing folks.  A bit bruised and weary but the fact remains:

We’re in this together.

On walking and waking together

I was just a month past my teens and freshly turned twenty, sixteen long years ago.  He’d won my heart years before, when I wasn’t even old enough to drive a car.  Against all odds, we were still an inseparable pair and despite the long distance of college, he asked me to share the rest of life with him.  I asked him first if he’d asked my dad (he had!) and then I said yes.  A few weeks later we went on a walk with a friend and her camera and she snapped this photo:

The beginning of the journey

A year of planning and dreaming and anticipating what life together would look like.  Quiet walks and plenty of time to talk.  Coffee dates whenever we pleased and the occasional jump into the lake on a sun-setting summer night.  Both with two years of university remaining, we studied hard, worked hard and served hard on staff part time at church.  Money in short supply but not lacking in the burning-with-love-for-each-other- department.  Oh the waiting, it felt like we would never make it to that altar!

It was easy.  The saying yes.  The beginning of the journey.  That uncharacteristically warm summer May afternoon with 427 people sitting watching.  Its the staying in yes that isn’t the easy part.  No one tells you that.  Years without babies with hearts full of ministry life then the years with babies, one after another.  The quaint little college apartment with organized everything gave way to a cute and crowded condo by the lake which gave way to the darling rambler where we would welcome our fifth baby blessing on our bedroom floor on a cold February evening.

There were scars by then.  The kind you see, that tell of a body swollen beyond capacity time and again.  And the kind you don’t see, the ones that tell of losses and disappointments that rend the heart all sorts of broken.  There were all the months I spent sure that no other married ones who loved Jesus this much could possibly find life this hard.  Whatever of “happily ever after”?

Just when it seemed the heart was plum full and how could I possibly learn to love more, deeper, softer….there was always more.  Room for more.  Growing, changing, forgiving, learning, CHOOSING.  It was always that that was hardest for me.  That it wasn’t always going to feel lovely and beautiful.  It was going to be a falling apart mess sometimes and I would always have to choose.  Choose to be steadfast.  Choose to forgive.  Choose to stay present.  Choose to love extravagantly.  All in the midst of a culture that says marriage isn’t forever and I should do what makes me feel good, despite the cost.

I booked a babysitter days ago, chose the nicest restaurant in our country town for us to share dinner and anticipated what two hours off alone together would be like.  Life is full and loud and some face time is such a rare gift.  Just five hours before our to-be anniversary dinner I heard these infamous words “I think I’m going to throw up mom!”  And I dropped everything, ran to the kitchen and ushered her to the bathroom.  I cancelled the sitter and texted the sad news of our dashed dinner plans.  An hour later as Finn joked about “choking up” as he calls it, and playing with the bowls I had put out, he turned sheet white and lost his lunch all over the kitchen floor.  The hubby texted back and offered to pick up dinner and I mopped up nastiness one batch after another.

He brought take out and we sat on the back deck so we could eat sans vomit-smell.  Liberty kept us company and we mused about our state of affairs while eating out of a box with plastic forks.

We exchanged gifts, which was hysterical because we both shopped at Costco for each other, obviously because the boxes were identical.  We agreed on many accounts but especially this…the sharing of the journey, in all its imperfection and mess, the walking together instead of alone, the waking up in the same bed with the same person day after day after day…it is profoundly precious.  It is not overrated.  It is nothing less than amazing in all its “ordinary-ness”.

As I took bites of food on the deck in between rounds of running in to empty full puke-bowls, I could only smile.  This is it.  This is real life.  This is our life.  An unexpected end to our fifteenth wedding anniversary to be sure.  But then most of our life together has been unexpected and beyond what I’d dreamed of.  I could not ask for a better someone to share it all with.  Our walks may be slower and louder these days, but they are rich and brimming with love and laughter and all sorts of sweetness we are crazy thankful for.

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Signs of (good) times…

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While I put the baby down for a nap, Audrey grabbed her work and her little brother and headed for the sun…where I found her explaining the “code” from her Explode the Code workbook.

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The view from my pillow every morning…gads of clean, folded, piled laundry

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The after-playtime-outside bathtub residue

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My breakfast-in-bed Mother’s day treat!

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When’s the last time you played so hard you had grass and mud in your undies? 🙂

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Someone’s been eating my onion tops…

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My inner nerd enjoying an afternoon of book organizing and labeling….LOVE!

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Dissecting a crayfish…wrapping up our year immersed in the study of all God’s amazing swimming creatures

 

Rainy day homeschool

They tell me to sit down.  While I’ve been on an important phone call they’ve been rummaging through dress ups and their own imagination and come up with an elaborate game.  They take me on a journey with the map in the living room, across the ocean in a steam ship, by train over land…all the while Caleb points to each spot on the wall map telling me where they are traveling.

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After the “travels” they disperse around the house.  I watch and listen and smile.

Caleb:  “I’m pounding nails in (holding an imaginary hammer and pencils for ‘nails’), is this a good place?  Watch out for my nails Audrey.”

Audrey:  “Yes, it’s good.”

Mom:  “What are you doing?”

Caleb:  “Building Audrey’s orphanage, I’m almost done.”

Mom:  “What’s the name of the orphanage?”

Audrey (ever so matter-of-factly):  “A Chunk of Love Orphanage.”

Mom (deep breath and huge grin – could I love them any more?):  “That’s awesome.  I love it.”

Somehow, don’t ask me how, Caleb tells me that he’s Ronald Reagan before he was President of the United States and he is building Audrey (who tells me she’s dressed up to be Clara Barton because she didn’t like the name Gladys Alward) an orphanage in Hong Kong. I bite my tongue and try not to laugh, looking at the outfit Caleb has chosen, brown Carthartt coveralls and leather gloves and brown leather boots.

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Kyler is a rock climber.  He’s scaling Mt St Helens (our living room recliner chair) before it blew up.

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Rylee makes me guess who she is…her bright fuschia sari is a dead giveaway though and I get it right on my first guess, Amy Carmichael.

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And this little one is content to watch it all unfold…

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No, she’s not embarrassed that she is still in her pajamas at 3:00 in the afternoon 🙂