Mama to boys

To this mama whose childhood was filled with only sisters, raising boys is all sorts of wonderful and wild.  What they bring to our family table, our family story, is vibrant and valued.  Full of surprises they are.

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Like last week for example:  Out of the blue they put this tea table together for themselves and then made a place for me at their table!  I told them tea tables, even for boys, meant delightful polite conversation.  So they made sure to keep it that way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
They often take risks and like to push the envelope sometimes.  Like seeing just how far away they can be from the water dispenser.  Sometimes risks equate to emergency room trips which we’ve had our fair share of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
One boy can’t go to sleep at night until he finds me and prays for me.  He also writes the sweetest notes.  Like the one above.  “Do not forget that I love you”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Possibly one of my most-treasured sights is seeing older boys and grown men snuggling with and loving on babies.  I love seeing big boys holding their little siblings’ hand but its a rare thing these days.  There is a paradox in it I suppose.  A great contrast.  Strength woven in with such tender newness.  A couple months ago a friends’ husband came to pick her up and our youngest jumped into his arms.  They’ve moved on from babies, as most of our friends have.  I watched her heart melt as he toted her around on his hip.   There is something I think most women find a little bit intoxicating about it.  Our oldest son has learned great patience in dealing with his toddler sister.  It certainly has its challenges.  But they are worthy and good that is for certain.  She loves to say goodnight and crawl into his bed for a quick book read.  And he has learned to love her love.

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And I am learning, still with every passing day, to bask in all their love.  Six very different varieties of it.  All beautiful.  All a treasure for today.

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.

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 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.

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!

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

Loving our kids well

The room is bright green now and it’s been so long since I lived in it, I can’t remember what the color used to be.  I remember being royally annoyed at the pitter patter of feet above in the kitchen.  There must have been no insulation between that floor and my ceiling.  I remember sneaking out the ground floor window one night at 17, not to go anywhere, simply to say I’d done it.  No one needed to know I only sat in the cold bark for a while right? I laid on my bed in that room for hours upon hours talking till sometimes 3 AM to a boy.  It was eons before texting and email.  It was the days of the face to face or at least the real talking over a phone, probably one with a cord.  I have no clue what we spoke of all that time or how we got up the next day for school.  But somewhere in the talking, in the time spent, love unfolded and twenty years later, here we are – still unfolding.

How we have an almost twelve year old, I don’t know but I knew this summer I wanted some face time with her before the hustle and bustle of fall took off.  I shared with her some of my thoughts and worries from that age, told her why it was wonderful to be a girl and to get to grow up into a woman.  How we have this incredible opportunity, to get to be givers of life through our attitude, heart, words and eventually our body.  Something amazing happens when you get to be alone with just one child and with the only intention being time together.  No grocery list or agenda.  No phone on the table beeping or buzzing away.  No other siblings to share the time with.   No distraction, only purpose.  As they nearly always do, they know.  They sense that the time is set apart and they enter in in a different way.

Once I was back home, we were talking one night about how to facilitate depth of relationship with each of our children, how to be keyed in to every one and building something solid so that as they grow and the stakes are ever higher, the losses greater and the dreams bigger – they know we’re right here.  We agreed there really is only one way to do that.  Time.  Shared time, set apart with the purpose of listening and loving.  Our six are wildly different.  Unique and one of a kind.  So naturally, it wouldn’t look the same for each one.  We decided to each take an hour a week and each rotate through the oldest five kids.  Sounds small?  Well maybe.  But let me tell you it was hard to find a regular one hour spot to set aside weekly where the other of us would be home to be with kids.

Our third born, he’s a dreamer, an artist and the most easy going kid of our brood.  His name means peaceful and while he may be all boy and energetic as the rest of them, it really does describe his demeanor.  He’s very different from me.  He’s not book-crazed.  He is meticulous with his pencil but not with his room.  So when I asked him tonight for his choice of a spot for our hour, he said McDonald’s.  And I fought every urge to say “Gross, no!”.  I simply said yes and off we went.  He asked if he could splurge and have two $1 cheeseburgers, I said yes.  Then he asked if we could sit outside by the (dumpy, old) play place.  Again, I was like really, are you kidding me? but I said a smiling “sure!”.  He told me where to sit so I could watch him slide.  I left my phone in my purse and sipped my smoothie.  He was over-the-moon happy to have my undivided attention while he played.  No one else was out there, so I thought I’d see if I could fit in the tunnel.

Oh glory.  If you haven’t squeezed yourself through the play tubes at McDonald’s for decades, it’s about time.  He shrieked “I can’t believe you’re doing this mom!  I can’t believe it!’.  He led me around and told me the best way to go down the slide.  Upside down and backwards.  Alrighty then, of course I want to do that.  He said he’d catch me if I was going to fall off the edge.  So reassuring.  Once I was safely down the slide, my eight year old darling of a boy literally jumped up and down squealing in glee.  He then did three somersaults on the padded floor to further express his delight.  I laughed out loud and climbed back up for another round.  Why in the world not?

We headed for the library to get his books on hold and he grabbed my hand in the parking lot and said with great fervor, “I llllllllloooove you mom.  So much.”  Mission accomplished.  Though it didn’t look like what I expected, it met his needs and filled his love cup right up.  And that’s the whole point.

Building meaningful relationships with my kids doesn’t have to be complicated or involve ten steps or a how-to book or an agenda.  It really only hinges on one thing.  Am I going to show up?  Like really show up…put the phone away, turn the mental to-do-listing off, pay attention, listen with the heart, engage completely in the time spent together.  When we do that, the dividends are beyond measure.

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.

Coming to terms

I’d intended to write a cute post about how we came around to renaming our blog “A Place For Little Feet”.  About the plethora of little feet that surround our life here, be they animal or human, there are many.  But this post is all I could come up with and it may not be cute but it’s honest and honest is all I have to offer right now….

Last Wednesday found this mama of six in a mess of a kitchen trying to uncover some counter to make lunch for the hungry.  There wasn’t a square inch available.  Of the counter or of the mama.  There were dishes and the various random somethings that inevitably get left out when eight people live in a home together and live a full, big life together.  And there was the heart worn thin from ragged survival-mode days that take more than you think they do.  The cumulative total effect of a year that was harder than the past several on many levels finally coming to be counted.  Like it was time to pay the piper and the debt is always more than you think it is right?

Somehow, I’d been trying to keep up with my five-kid life pace despite having now six.  Trying to fit in, accomplish, DO everything I deemed necessary and good and crucial whilst the reality of the half a dozen sweet things that call me mom was in the clouds and posed no limitations.  Never mind the well-meaning “Well, I guess once you have a few, it really doesn’t make a difference adding more right?”.  Words like that rang in my mind as the months ticked by and I kept doing and kept keeping up with my (many) friends who have two or three children.  I made sure to say yes whenever it was humanly possible and worked hard to make all the moving parts of our life somehow keep moving.

Where things got off course, I don’t really know.  Well, I have some ideas but that really is a whole other post.  Though Liberty is a sweet thing of a baby, has been from Day 1, she is still a person.  She requires attention and care and mental/physical energy.  She is absolutely, unequivocally a profound gift that we are incredibly thankful to have been given and wouldn’t trade for anything.  But to operate without any adjustments when someone new joins the family, is foolish.  No matter how much like super mom you might feel like.   When my wise friend (and mother of eight) up yonder says things like “I just don’t know how you’re keeping up with this pace….” I should do a little inventory and assess just how we are keeping it up.  Instead, we just kept on going.

Until last week when we were one day away from going on vacation and I said I couldn’t go.  Friends, if you get to the point you can’t handle going on vacation (albeit with the entire extended family which, though crazy fun, also requires a certain ability to function) then perhaps you can’t handle your normal life either.  That same day I was in my (disastrously messy) kitchen a woman walked into my backyard.  Not living in a neighborhood but out in the country this was highly unusual.  I looked closer through the window and recognized her from church.  I walked out on the deck and said as calm of a hello as I could muster and asked what she was doing here.  She smiled and said she was here for the meeting, the VBS planning meeting that I’d offered to host.  She walked into my lived in, things-all-over living room and I just tried to keep breathing.  The fact that I was hosting a meeting and hadn’t a clue, was again evidence of the debt and the time had come for some re-evaluating.  She told me how coming in to my house in this condition was like a warm hug, because how often her own house looked the same.  I silently wished I could just have given her an actual, real warm hug instead of endure sitting through the meeting wondering how I was functioning this poorly.

I called my husband at work and told him I could not possibly go on vacation.  He graciously offered to take our five oldest with him and left me at home for a couple of days.  I would join him if I was able.  And I had serious doubts about just what I was able to do.  I had been trying to keep up with too much for too long.  Something had to give.  And the reality was, something had given.  Me.  Every day of the week, every hour of the night, living, breathing, giving.  To a degree that was far beyond was was intended for any person, whether they have six children, a slew of animals and all sorts of people with needs (and brokenness) interwoven into their life…or not.

About at that point, I read this post.  I sat shaking my head at my computer, which I only sit at every few days even, no time to read.  Planned neglect.  It sounded strange, how could neglect be a good thing, but then it all made perfect sense.  I’d said yes to so much good and tried to be faithful to so many great things and needs that I’d missed out on doing the very best things excellently.  My kids paid a price, as did I.  The mom they had two years ago was more focused, more intentional, most aware of her own need and thus more dependent on grace to come through.  The mom and dad they had two years ago did not have their hands in so many different things and they loved each other patiently, kindly.  They did a few things and did them well.

There are so many great things.  But we weren’t created to do them all.  We were made with limitations and needs that God alone can meet.  We were designed each to give and love in certain circles and to learn how to say yes and when to say no.  I do know this, but I absolutely have not practiced it.  The pie was sliced in so many pieces that the ones who matter the most, who are my first calling if my priorities are right, got less than best.  My practical husband who often has short, simple and clear wise answers to life’s challenges heard my heart last week and agreed with my “state of the union” assessment.  And he knew better than to give a quick easy answer.  When a significant course correction is in order, there isn’t a quick and easy five steps today and we’ll be good to go tomorrow sort of way forward.

So, I guess that’s all today, just coming to terms here with the reality of my life with all these little feet.  And its a beautiful reality.  A treasured, blessed one for certain.  One I need to make count every day, in the all the right ways.