Time to stand and stare

What is this life, if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like stars at night.
No time to turn at Beauty; glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care
We have no time to stand and stare.

W. H. Davies

There is straw beneath and around me as I sit and read out loud to a laboring doe (mama goat).  Blanchette is unbothered by the computer in her midst.  She is merely happy for the comfort I bring to her in her labors.  A neighbor is mowing and the boisterous two year old is sleeping.  There is a list inside of all that needs to get done by nightfall.  But I’m here.  Reading to a goat.  Reading to myself.  She nibbles on my wedding ring and makes softest sounds that she will only make for the babies that are about to be delivered.  Mama Hen stands nearby and since she’s special to me, I don’t shoo her away.  She is our hen who likes to lay an entire clutch of beautiful blue eggs “off the reservation” ie: not in the coop.  She too clucks in a most maternal way and somehow I feel most at home in the world, right here.

Blanchette paws at the nest she’s made and I rub her back and keep reading to her.  But when I get to the poem quoted above, my eyes brim and spill.  The book is about family and what a home is.  Something I’ve learned much of just from experience and life.  But something I know I’ve still room to grow into and grasp stronger.  A barred owl just called from a tree nearby, he must live directly behind the goat pasture.  And he always calls mid afternoon.  Every day.  His one-of-a-kind voice is ominous and strangely comforting to me.  I never see him.  But his presence is as real to me as anything.  I breath deep and loud and keep my feet propped up on the milk stool for just another minute.

If I don’t have time to stop and stare and engage fully in this one and only life of mine, then is it really life at all?

I am such a slow learner.  But I’m figuring out that my ability to multi-task like most moms isn’t always a gift.  It can fragment a day and a life right up into pieces until what’s left is devoid of the richness intended.

Maybe multi-tasking isn’t all it was cracked up to be.  Maybe we weren’t meant to have it all.  Maybe we can only have and do just a few things with excellence and we get to choose.  A yes here means a no somewhere else.

One of my kids came to me this week with emotions and words that were incredibly tough to swallow.  Vulnerable and real.   I had just communicated I didn’t have time to look at cute puppy pictures online.  I needed to send a quick note back to someone about something.  But in that moment that seemed small and totally insignificant to me, there was brokenness.  “Mom, sometimes it seems like you just don’t have time for me.”  There were tears.  I listened.  I received all the emotion and words to follow.  And took some serious inventory.  What needed to change?

Hence the poem above and how poignant I find it at present.  Time to stand and stare.  Time to shirk the rest of life and sit in the goat pen.  Time to go for a walk.  Time to listen for owls.  Time to look at puppy pictures online.  Time to listen to ridiculous quotes from a movie I find annoying but my boys love.  Time to stop and kiss my husband in the kitchen.  Time to sit by the fire instead of do dishes.  Time to let go.

Yes, life may be brimming ‘full of care’.  But there is still time to turn and glance at Beauty.

**more soon – a minute or two more and the first baby goat of our kidding season will be here…pics soon to follow!!!**

**updated: 5:30 pm**


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.



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…




Audrey and her banty rooster named Roger - many a day at least one of us can be heard saying "Oh Roger..." as he crows relentlessly just outside the house
Audrey and her banty rooster named Roger – many a day at least one of us can be heard saying “Oh Roger…” as he crows relentlessly just outside the house

I need to check on the chickens…last I heard was a hearty “Ay friends, we’re going to catch us some flappers for dinner!”  Apparently a thriving game of pirate mixed with frontier life is taking place in the back yard at present.  “What are flappers Kyler?”  “Chickens of course mom, don’t you speak pirate-ese?”.

13 going on wonderful

Dear Rylee Jeanne,

How did this day sneak right up on me the way it did?  I still remember all those weeks sitting next to your incubator in the hospital after you were born and staring at your sweet tiny face for hours.  I remember waiting days to even hold you in my arms and I thought if I didn’t get to do it soon I might just not live another day.  So great was my longing to wrap you up in my arms.  Your presence and personality and poise have literally shaped this family. You are the most tremendous oldest sister this not-so-small family could ever have asked for.  Every one of your siblings is blessed that you came first. Your creative and energetic ways make you such an enjoyable playmate.  Your ability to direct people and quietly bring order out of chaos, it’s such a unique and wonderful gift.

You are 13 going on wonderful.  I recently crossed path with a former youth pastor of mine.  As I expressed emotion over entering this new era, of parenting teenagers, he had a good bit of sage advice for me.  But first he inquired “I need to know…is she the hellion you were at 13?”.  To which I easily replied, “Um, no…not even close!”.  Your life and love and character don’t hold a candle to how I behaved myself at 13.  While I do feel the changes on the horizon, I am keenly aware that you are amazing.  I have the same longing in my heart for you as I did the week you were born.  I know well enough to know you still need to be wrapped up, held up by the love that only a mama can give.  Even if there is some adolescent attitude that comes my way.

You quietly absorb and asses the happenings around you.  You are intuitive and aware of more than I’d even imagine.  This is a beautiful quality and as you get older you will continue to learn to do this in ways that allow your heart to still function and stay whole despite being highly tuned in to all that is going on.  Your mama is still learning.  Learning to love wildly and freely without expectation.  Learning to be brave.  In many ways I feel like we are learning together and I see something new forming and though I don’t know yet quite how to proceed or just what it looks like…it is a wonderful mystery we are headed into.  I told you this week I’d read this incredible verse in Collosians, that the mystery of the ages had now been revealed and that guess what the mystery was?  This mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col 1:27).  You are an image bearer of Christ.  You have something of Him to reflect to the world you live in.  And that right there is a most beautiful hope.

I do see one thing clear.  You need your dad.  Front and center.  He has a new role to fill in your life in this season.  You adore him.  Not that that is new, since it isn’t.  But something is different.  As I watched him hold your hand and ice skate with you this afternoon, a wave of feelings poured over me.  Gratitude that he is who he is.  That he is present and available for you.  That he loves Jesus above all else and aims to lead and love our family the best he can.  That I get to share him with you.  Grateful that you have the same gift I did as a young girl (and still enjoy today)…a dad who loves God, loves my mom and loves me well.

Let me let you in on a secret.  Your dad and I don’t know what we’re doing all the time.  We haven’t done this before, you are our first teenager and all we know is what we know.  And there’s a lot we don’t know.  A wise and respected older friend in our life told us once…during a period of very tumultuous marital struggle for us:  “Aside from a heritage of genuine faith, the best gift you can ever give your kids is parents who love each other well.”  She went on to explain the impact that has on the life of a child.  You’ve heard us yelling in the yard over the pigs and the mud and “why did we ever say yes to this…”.  You’ve seen me cry in the laundry room because I hadn’t been a receiver of grace when I was desperate for it.  You’ve seen me cut your dad down with disrespectful words and a too-quick-mouth.  You see us kissing in the kitchen or in the pantry and you watch the continual ebb and flow that marriage is.  You miss almost zero of what takes place here.  We aren’t modeling perfection for you.  We are however modeling real life and mess and grace.  And you won’t grow up and leave our home thinking life is always peachy and smells like roses.  You’ll know it stings and hurts and smells like manure sometimes (literally AND figuratively).  But God is present in our pain and in our mess and imperfection and He gives glimpses of glory all along the journey.  Your dad and I are committed to Jesus, to one another, to this family, to you and your siblings and to being Love-bearers to the people on our path in any way we are able.

Whatever these years ahead hold, we will be right here.  Living out our love one day at a time.  We are so proud of who you are and the way you live, think, speak and love.  These are great years ahead…don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  They may be a bit of a mystery to us yet, but we are in this together!



A super fun birthday afternoon ice skating with siblings and girl friends!
A super fun birthday afternoon ice skating with siblings and girl friends!
Your littlest sis - an almost aspiring ice skater :)
Your littlest sis – an almost aspiring ice skater 🙂
Blurry - yes.  But had to include.  21 years ago this year your dad took me ice skating on our first date.  It was super precious to buzz around the skate rink with our six kids in tow.   (and yes, we still like holding hands - even if it makes you giggle!)
Blurry – yes. But had to be included. 21 years ago this year your dad took me ice skating on our first date. It was super precious to buzz around the skate rink with our six kids in tow. (and yes, we still like holding hands – even if it makes you giggle!)

The sacred curtain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being brave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: 


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!

Broken pieces and forgiveness

It’s a perfectly normal rainy fall Thursday.  Kids plugging away at school work.  Mom realizing we’re nearly out of coffee which is a pretty big crisis.  At least a dozen other staples are at a near gone level as well.  My efforts to stretch out Costco trips has probably been taken a bit too far.  I head for the door and promise a treat for the ones who have to stay home.  I bring one son with me since he’s my best muscle help, loves loading and unloading and scouting for our list items.  I run back in and ask a daughter to come too, she declines and says she wants to do math instead.  When I get outside, the car is one resounding sob.  A precious little book that had been carefully tucked away, one with stamped pages collected from geocaching with Dad, it had been found.  By an unruly four year old brother.  And every page scribbled and drawn on.  Deemed a total loss.  Pages were ripped out in frustration and the little books pages were strewn everywhere.  “It was so SPECIAL!!” he’s weeping and I tell him I’m sorry and I know we can replace it or fix it or make it better.  The brother says sorry but its a four-year-old sorry and it doesn’t heal or help.  At all.

We depart despite the trauma and get out to the main road.  I’ve answered a call from my mother and am catching up a bit with her when I hear a loud crash in my van.  I look back.  The back window is missing.  I’m driving down a super steep hill.  I pull safely to the side.  I get out and look for clues.  I’m completely baffled.  And more than a little scared.  The not knowing what is happening.  It’s an awful feeling.  I look inside the hole where my window used to be.  There is a harmless looking grocery sack.  Nothing else.  I look closer without cutting myself.  There is a rock much bigger than my fist in the bag.  And other various beach treasures that had been collected somewhere and left in the van.  A rock big enough to shatter my window into hundreds of little pieces.

He meets my gaze.  He stammers and mumbles about not knowing what was in the bag.  In his feeling-deeply moment, he probably didn’t, its true.  He was overwhelmed with feeling and he tossed the bag back without a second thought.  I look long at him.  I don’t ask why.  He’s just now calculating what he has done.  And a new tide of emotion rushes in.  Fear.  Unchecked remorse.  An unbearable sense of “why in the world did I do this?”.  I watch him and I silently get my keys and get back in the van.  I dial our treasured car repair man, I’m more than lip quivering at this point, I tell him what happened and ask him to help me.  He gives me a number of a man who does just this and I call him before we even reach the house.  Of course he can fix it he tell me, and my tears cover my phone.   I find Audrey and hold her so tight it hurts.  The bag of rocks flew over her seat.  If she’d come when I invited her to, she would have been directly in its haphazard path.  The “what if…” catches in my throat and I can’t breathe or speak or cry or move.

The road is covered with glass.  I’m not the sort who can just leave it there.  So I pick up a dustpan and broom and drive back to the street where it broke.  He watches for cars, blazing over the hill at 40 mph and alerts me to their coming while I kneel on the asphalt and sweep one shard after another into a pan.  He holds the bag as I dump load after load in.  He is shaking.  The rain begins.  I give him my sweater and crouch on the road in a tee shirt quickly soaking.   I consciously breathe in and out and I hear the truth ringing in my head, in my heart.

Jesus meets me right here.  On the road.  In damp jeans with my tattered heart.  Picking up the mess of someone else’s wrong choice.  It’s more than a whisper, it’s the clearest thing ever.  This.  This is what I do for you all the time.  I pick up the pieces.  I enter in to your mess, even if it is risky.  And I love you there.  I offer you forgiveness.  Grace.  And I never stop.  You can’t outrun my unrelenting love for you.  And you get to extend it.  Right now.  In this moment.  With your own son.  

He keeps saying softly, “I’m so sorry mom”.  I finish sweeping and turn to him.  I wrap him up in the rain.  I hold him for a long time on the sidewalk. I speak life and forgiveness and love.  In a season when I feel like I’m messing up a fair bit, every day, can’t get anything “just right”…I get the chance to do this.  This one thing right.  To respond the way God responds to my (daily) mess.  To practice what it looks like to say:

Yep.  You did quite a thing here.  Epic poor choice.  But here I am.  My love for you won’t stop, won’t quit.  I choose to love you in this moment.  You are forgiven.

I can hardly get my body into the house when we return.  My legs won’t stop shaking.  My insides quiver.  The kids sit quiet and make lunch for each other.  I bring them to the computer, show them this video.  We talk forgiveness.  How God offers it.  Freely.  Unceasingly.  In the purest, most genuine way.  How this is what makes the way of Jesus a different path.  A radical one.  And I pray silent for another chance to show them.  To forgive fully and to love well.


The house on 116th

My first memories here are from my tenth year of life.  It was the third and last childhood home I would claim.  I felt grown up then.  And strangely, though I’m now freshly 37, I feel less grown up than ever.  The weight and responsibilities of life weight heavy and most days I am under-equipped for the tasks of this “grown up life” that belongs to me.  There was a gray bunny with floppy ears that hopped around one summer evening while our parents read books to us on a blanket in the backyard.  Perhaps we only did this one time, perhaps we did it a hundred times…regardless, it would be emblazoned in my memory to this very day as one of my favorite childhood memories.

There was the place at the top of the stairs where I chucked a tuna fish sandwich at my mother as a hormonally-overwhelmed preteen.  This was shortly after I’d slapped the elementary school principal and been suspended from sixth grade.  My fourth grade teacher, the first year we moved to 116th Place, was such a treasured woman I spent the weekend at her home once.   Maybe you shudder when I write that.  But it was another time.  And it was the purest kind of grandmotherly love I received under her nose.   Fifth grade net me a double win in the teacher department, a back to back blessing, another amazing older woman who told me I could do hard things and I believed her.  But by sixth grade, the tuna fish year and the year Lance “pantsed” me (do kids even do that still?) in the kickball field (I never wore leggings again, only reliable pants that wouldn’t give), a different teacher fresh out of college was my all day companion.  Something in my heart shifted that year under her harsh leadership.  Sure, the hormones of a 12 year old girl played a part.  But when I was cleaning recently and found apology letters written from that teacher, it reminded me that she certainly had played a part, and she knew she had.  She crushed my desire to learn and the confidence that had grown so richly the year before.  She made me feel like a problem and I absorbed her perception of my life in a huge way.

There was the unfinished basement where my parents allowed us incredible freedom.  They provided us with wood scraps and sawhorses and an old door to use as our table.  We spent hours upon hours on that concrete slab.  Making things for all the neighbors, cutting wood up and painting it, gluing yarn to it….just generally being as creative as we wanted to be.  We gathered neighborhood kids and practiced plays and performed them for our patient parents.  In December we called it Santa’s workshop.  But it my mind, it was still that even for the rest of the year.  They let us demo the poorly placed wall with hammers and I remember my grandpa bashing the wall with some heavy tool and it felt so cool.

My room looked out to a cherry tree.  Small at first but as the years passed it was magnificent.  I would try to draw or paint it but never did any justice.  And of course this was before smart phones and digital cameras, so I have probably not a single photo of it.  Just my memory.  Which is somehow, wonderfully, enough.  My two sisters and I shared a bathroom and clothes (although often unwillingly) and were each just about as different as three girls could be.

Many times over the years there would be an unwed pregnant teen or young woman living downstairs.  My parents put action to their faith and provided love and direction for girls in such difficult circumstances.  One was 16.  Tanya.  She taught us to open our Christmas presents and then re wrap them so we wouldn’t get caught.  It was not as fulfilling as I’d imagined.  One we bonded so much with that we traveled late at night to the hospital to be there when her baby was born.  I still remember sleeping on the floor of the hospital waiting room.  She gave that baby up for adoption and it seemed to me like the bravest thing in all the world to do such a thing.  One was named Jennifer and I would wake up early for school and write her a note on a post-it most mornings.  She lined her walls with my notes and took them with her when she left.  I see now that this was the breeding ground for many things, but especially my intrinsic, God-given gift of encouraging others and also a deeply held belief that life, all life, in every form even unborn, is precious beyond measure and is always worth standing up for.

As time went by the downstairs room underneath the kitchen, the room with its very own bathroom became my dwelling place.   I would sneak out that ground floor window and simply sit in the dirt bed outside it, only to be able to honestly say I had snuck out of my house at night.  I had a phone.  One with a cord.  That plugged into the wall.  A boy dialed my home number and had to contend with my parents or sisters to talk to me.  And talk he did.  Sometimes until 3:00 AM on a school night.  About nothing and about everything.  He would keep calling.  For the next four years.  Until one spring evening he would walk up those front porch stairs and knock on the door to find my father in his pajamas already.  He would muster up all his courage and ask for my hand in marriage.  The answer was yes then and then yes a month later when he asked me and yes again a year later when we said our marriage vows in front of 436 people just five days after my twenty-first birthday.  The answer is still yes today, every day.

Love is all tied up in that place.  Almost three decades of love and memories.  So its no wonder that this week when processing some tough issues related to one of our kids, I was sharing with someone about my parents selling their home, and all of the sudden I couldn’t even choke the words out.  It had all been very matter-of-fact until then.  But my mind had dared to remember.  And the remembering took me somewhere I hadn’t planned and the emotions completely overwhelmed me.  The house on 116th has been a place of life and nourishment for me for the majority of my 37 years.  It holds a lifetime of memories.  It is a place that has grown me, grounded me, given to me.

With each passing year as I continue into my own journey of motherhood and nurturing a family, I understand more the richness of what we were given.  Faithful parents who devoted their lives to loving Jesus,  each other, their daughters and countless others…which about sums up really all I hope we can offer our own six children.   A sense of place grounds the heart in such an impenetrable way.  As we cultivate our own family culture and build our own memories, that is at the top of the list of what I long to offer them.  A haven from a crazy world full of hard things.  A place of respite when life disappoints and crushes.  A place where love lives and is a constant, unconditional gift given without expectations or strings attached.





Slowing down love

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We have the most amazing gift of having my 92 year old grandfather living near us.  In my idealistic ways, before he moved across country to live near my mom and the rest of our family here, I imagined we would see him all the time.  And we did at first, it was easier a year or 18 months ago.  He could join us for church and then we could go out to eat after.  Then it became more challenging to work out visits.  Alzheimer’s is a thief of the mind and the daily work of simply existing is getting harder for him.  So we go to him.  After church.  And eat the same cheeseburgers and have the same sweet conversation.  And we love him.  So much our hearts might burst.  He says a few things the same every time and they are every bit as precious, every single week….

Just keep doing what you’re doing.  You’re doing such a good job with all those kids.  I don’t know how you do it.  You just keep doing it…

In response to me walking in the door and asking how he’s doing today…

Well I’m a whole lot better now that you are here.

He tells me he’s going downhill.  The loss of mental sharpness when you’ve dined at the White House and been a powerful man most your life in Washington DC is felt keenly, daily, no doubt.  And I tell him no matter where he is on the hill we love him.  He tells me he’s not making much of a contribution right now, this from a man who has made incredible contributions in policical arenas as well as leaving a rich legacy of faith to our whole family.  I tell him his life well lived is contribution enough and that we’re blessed to get to sit with him.  He prays the same prayer every Sunday lunch, always ending with “Lord use us in your service”.

The kids just smile when they answer the same question four times in one lunch about what grade they are in.  They are learning this kind of love that we seem to forget in this busy land of ours.  A slow loves that says no matter what you are able to accomplish, you are valuable and precious.

He always marvels over how I’m there, always mumbles about how my life is busy and full and how do I find the time.  And I answer the same every week:

You make time for what matters the most Grandpa – and you matter to me.

If there is any life changing take away from our sudden loss incurred five years ago, when Chris’ dad didn’t return alive from his hunting trip one January weekend, its that our tomorrow isn’t promised to us.  We have today to make choices that reflect our values.  We have this one life to spend how we want.  Only one.  So we spend our Sundays and they are worth more than gold.

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