Margins and the power of no

The hardest adjustment since returning from over a month in Chile in February is the pace at which we live life here.  The options we have are staggering, in all aspects and avenues of life.  That we take those options for granted is a whole other post, or really worthy of a volume of books.  When life is packed full and paced at a sprint, there is simply no room for the things that really matter.  The loudest, most demanding, emergent needs are the ones that get met.  I think most of our American culture lives this way.  So when we step back and say no to things, not lazy no’s but wise and calculated no’s, there is kick back ranging from mild to monumental.  The whole idea that to say yes to one thing means saying no to another, this is fresh news to me.  It shouldn’t be.  But as an oldest born, Type A, recovering perfectionist…it is.  What has most struck me as I’ve soaked in this deep reality the past few months is that my yes to the louder things often means a no to my home, family and marriage.  This stings.  A lot.

When I am not maintaining a wide and healthy margin in the peripheral threads of my life, the things that slip are often small and seem like they don’t matter.  For example, if I am too bone tired to make lunch for my husband.  I crawl into bed instead.  This translates into him eating chicken tenders from Safeway or stopping for Subway midday while he drives all day, every day for his job.  This translates into a missed opportunity.  Had I had just a little more energy, space, heart to give, I would have been able to mentally, physically put forth what is required to think through packing a lunch that can sit in his car all morning, staying cold and fresh until he has time to eat.  When that lunch that I took time to provide for him is sitting there, it speaks VOLUMES to him.  It says, I love you enough to make time to do this small but actually really important thing for you today.  I want you to be fed well while you work hard to provide for our family every single day.  It is such a small thing.  Seems insignificant.  But it intertwines our hearts a little.  I think of him while I prepare his food.  I stash bags of his favorite (not healthy) chips in the garage knowing he will smile when he sees I bought them.  He thinks of me when he opens up lunch and sees food that I put together just for him.

After celebrating sixteen years of marriage last Friday, the power of the small steps toward each other and the way they strengthen the fabric of our union is nothing less than life-altering.  If life is so full that there is no room for the daily love, the sweet gifts of words or actions that say “you matter to me” then we can forget.  And when we forget and just live disconnected zero-margin lives, nothing good comes of it.

I wanted to teach a class next year.  One that I would excel at and would love and people might even tell me “good job” or “thank you” and I would even get paid for it.  As I thought long and hard about the commitment, I knew the only answer I could give was no.  If I calculated the cost of preparing for it, there would exist a debt in my life.  The debt would have been paid by my own children and my husband.  I would have been more frazzled, less organized and spread too thin to love well.  They would not have been aware of the price they had paid.  Truth is we often aren’t aware of the ways we pay for a life with no white space in it.  And with each passing year I believe that the cost is more than I imagined and I am constantly evaluating if I’m pouring into the right things, saying yes (and thus no) to the right things for this season, of mothering six children, five of them homeschooling, running a small farm, living a life wide open to love in every way.  The answer to the question “is taking on this one more thing worth it?” is no more often than I’d like.

There were days over the past few weeks that I fought so hard to s-l-o-w down.  Spring time on the farm is positively bursting with energy and work to do.  I love it, on the deepest level.  But combined with the rest of my life it was easy to get frenzied.  So I talked to myself, more than once, forced my rear into a chair and sat with the (human) kids in the baby goat pen.  This morning my husband called and true to my nature, I felt a tinge of guilt when he rang and I was sitting snuggling a days old baby with my oldest born daughter at 9:30 in the morning on a school day.  But there was no where else in the world I wanted to be at that moment.

As the days pass since our constant 24 hours of togetherness for almost five weeks this winter, my desire to live a faithful, grounded kind of life with space in it for loving well is at the continual forefront of my thoughts.  Saying no and disappointing people in the process is unfortunately a byproduct of this lifestyle.  Being accountable for my choices however, rests squarely on my own shoulders.  So I take deep breaths and do my best to be honest (to others AND to myself!) about what I can and can’t do.  At the end of the day, the most important things are the most important things.  And the loud things can still be loud and be left unattended.  If I do life without the margin, time and heart to love, then it really isn’t life at all.

On kindness

My late afternoon, ambitious journey meant heading into town and to a mall of all places, where we hadn’t ventured together in years and certainly never with all six kids by myself.  As we drove to the mall the kids read the store names loudly and tried to conjure up some memory of days when we frequented these streets regularly.  Days when busy roads and sitting in bonafide traffic were normal.  We almost look like we fit in when I look down at my foot and see that a goat stepped  on me just before we left and the whole top of my foot is muddy and brown.

We make it through our purposeful trip to get fancy cupcakes and support a friend’s book launch simultaneously.  On our drive home, which proves exceedingly long due to my forgetting what traffic looks like, we stop at a grocery store and grab some dinner-ish food to get by until we make it home.  Two kids are crying in the cart.  Two others are inches from touching the salad bar and under the scrutinizing eye of an older woman with tight lips.  I mutter that this was a bad idea.  Hungry would have been better than this.  But we forge on.  We manage to get some food and get to the checkout.  As we get into line a store employee comes over and stops me.  I brace myself.  I expect the worst.  I wonder if one of the kids sneezed into the salad bar or knocked over the bread display or sampled the soup when I wasn’t watching.

She puts her hand on my arm and says “One of our customers was watching you…” I am about to get kicked out of this fancy grocery store “…and she got you a gift card, it’s for $50, to buy your groceries.”  My eyes fill with tears and practical me says someone else needs this more than me but I don’t actually say a thing.  The store worker wraps me up and gives me the warmest hug and smiles big.  I say thank you and I beam and I relish the gift.  The wonder of an unexpected, undeserved kindness.

There is such power in small acts of good.  Not that $50 is small.  It’s wildly generous, and to a total stranger, truly…wow.  It made my whole day.  I couldn’t shake the feeling like someone noticed me, someone saw me, saw my bumbling through the grocery store trying to be patient and take care of my kids well.  Motherhood is such an unseen occupation.  Those moments where we are extended even just a bit of grace can tip a day the other direction, and so quickly.

The oldest two are typing at the computer next to me.  They are full of anticipation of their end-of-year reading aloud tomorrow night of their research paper.  Rylee wrote about Helen Keller and Caleb chose Patrick Henry.  Rylee is helping Caleb polish his concluding paragraph, they are comparing word counts, fixing any last minute errors.  Caleb is bouncing behind her in excitement.  She is patient.  She pauses and says to him in the sweetest, most genuine voice “Caleb, I love you” and goes back to her typing.  She could be frustrated.  His frenetic energy and constant movement might be construed negatively.  But Rylee is learning kindness, choosing to serve her brother and to love him, just as he is.   And it is more beautiful than anything.

Working together, learning together, reading together…some of the immeasurable gifts that come out of our home educating lifestyle.  This morning as I read the end of a stunning, deeply moving Newberry-award winning book to the kids about a family during the Civil War, I was in tears more than once and did my best to choke out the words.  One phrase in particular stood out this morning (from Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt):

the saving grace of kindness

Isn’t that exactly what it is?  Kindness extended can feel like life and breath sometimes.  It is lovely.  And it is a gift.

Dry land and love

A few days into our month long trip to Chile, I saw this patch of ground.  It was a long ways away from the house.  And I never had my phone with me (glorious, let me just say that…) so I never got a picture of it, but it is permanently written into my memory.  It was bone dry.  Completely parched.  You could tell it hadn’t seen a drop of rain for who knows how long.  Like none.  It was beyond a little dusty and more like just hardened, packed, totally broken ground.  It wasn’t comfortable to walk over.  It was uneven and awkward. It was ugly and lifeless.   As I walked across it and Finn saw fit to explore every crevice and bump in the ground, my heart breathed a deep internal sigh.  I would walk past it many times over the coming weeks and it wasn’t until the second week that I was struck by why I felt attached to this little stretch of dirt.  Why I felt compelled to look intently at it every time I passed.  Why I was drawn to it.

There were parts of my life that felt just like that patch of arrid soil.  That might sound hard to believe.  Somehow though, its possible to have certain aspects of life feel rich and blessed and thriving while others are crumbling and impoverished.  Maybe your life looks good on Sunday at church because parts of life are truly, genuinely wonderful and you think no one notices the part of your heart that is thirsty and desperate for water, for life.  I used to believe that if you felt that way, lived that way, it meant your life was fragmented, too compartmentalized, maybe even hypocritical, couldn’t possibly be authentic and real.  How everything had to be connected and in sync and crap like that.  But that was a younger, quicker to judge, slower to give grace version of myself.  With every passing year, I understand a little bit more how blistering hard life can be.  I watch my friends bear up under unspeakably difficult things.  I listen to their stories and I read books and I see with my own eyes incredible, searing pain and heartache.  I yell and weep and scratch in my journal and read the only Book that brings peace in dark nights.  And woven in to every one of those hearts, those lives–mine included–is a myriad of lovely things in the midst of pressing in, hard life.

Water is a big deal in most of the world.  Ours is one of a precious few nations where water is really a given wherever you may be.  Our children don’t grow up thinking about it, lets be honest, neither do most of us grown ups.  They take for granted from toddler-hood that when they turn a faucet on, water will come and out and they can drink it, wash with it, do whatever they want with it and there will always be more.  When we arrived in Chile, there was immediately talk of the canal that ran right through our friends’ land and how their neighbor had built a dam, illegally, to provide him with an overflowing abundant source of water for his late-planted potato crop.  There was less rainfall than normal and the countryside was dust laden and scorched.  So dry.  One day we drove by the gypsy tents near town and there were flames leaping two stories as their little temporary dwelling places caught fire.  Something had sparked a fire and everything being so dry the flames were out of control very quickly.

There were neighbors across the road whose well ran dry a few weeks into our stay.  What it feels like to have no water for cooking, drinking, bathing, livestock….I cannot begin to understand.  They had to come fill jugs with water at our house and ended up paying a truck to come bring them a tank of water.  Cows wandered fields that looked devoid of any living thing, no green grass.  Trees with deep roots provided lush shelter and respite from the blazing afternoon sun were their saving grace no doubt.  The cars we drove were covered in thick layers of dirt and dust.  But it seemed terribly wasteful to use such a commodity as water to clean them.  So we didn’t.  More than once we ran the water tank all the way out of water.  If we forgot to fill the tank up twice daily, it could run out.

All this talk and thought of water was not lost on me.  When some parts of your life are okay or good even, I think it makes it easier (not easy) to keep moving forward.  It can make life more doable in the short term to just forge ahead.  But as we faced a dry, water-starved land alongside our beloved friends of nearly two decades, the reality of our own thirsty places stared back at us.  And it became clear that Chile held more for us than a cross-cultural learning experience, more than the many (amazing) new encounters and adventures, more than family bonding and unending Daddy time.  In my shortsightedness and near panic preparing for such a monumental trip with six young children, I had no time to take inventory of my own heart before we departed.  We took each simple day as it came to us and were fairly swept away by laughter and life and love.  Love that we might have lost sight of in these past couple of years.  Love that we had to go to Chile to find again.

My forever reminder of the covenant we made 16 years ago.  That we are Mr & Mrs.  Always.
My forever reminder of the covenant we made 16 years ago. That we are Mr & Mrs. Always.

Thoughts on adventure

We’ve been home five days.  The running list in my mind of what I will remember from our four week stay in south Chile with friends keeps getting longer so I thought I’d write it out for myself here…

  • the logistics of traveling with six children under 12 for nearly 30 hours
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  • the way we could hold our breath and not move when Liberty would actually sleep
  • how ridiculously heavy and full our kids carry on bags were packed – totally unnecessary
  • Finn walking shirtless through the LA airport like he owned the place
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  • seeing my beloved friend through the glass walls at the tiny airport in Temuco, Chile
  • realizing we would be cramming 12 people into a truck and a Subaru for a month (turns out it costs $300 a day to rent a van, insane!)
  • the moment when I realized when she said she lived five miles down a dirt road, she had actually meant it
  • how fast she drove on said dirt road
  • the taste of the dust coming through the vents
  • the vibrant yellow wheat fields rolling over hills
  • dogs, lots of dogs everywhere
  • how kind and warm their two children were to ours, sharing their rooms and space and entire life with us day after day
  • trying to wrap my mind around neighbors who build dams in canals and steal water
  • learning to wash dishes in such a way that water doesn’t get wasted
  • how brown my bath water was, me thinking it came out that way, but realizing it just was dirt color instantly because my feet were filthy…how this confirmed my strongly held belief that dirty bath water is an excellent indicator of good times had 🙂
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  • good but cheap wine (no sulfites), no place to go and nothing but time
  • palta…smashed avocados and salt – best avocados we’ve ever had
  • white bread, fresh every day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • choripan – delicious fresh sausages with mayonaise inside soft bread
  • nescafe took some getting used to, not the same as a strong pot of freshly ground coffee, strangly satisfying however
  • shelf stable milk in boxes…I knew this was the case but still, its a long leap from fresh daily goat milk
  • ox carts in the Wal-Mart parking lot
  • realizing the ramifications of that Wal-Mart on small, family business’ is so devastating
  • how often the truck didn’t want to start….how hard on vehicles such monumental dust and rough roads are
  • runs into town to try and blog or check email – the reality of life with no internet at home and how it was actually quite wonderful
  • how even in town there was sometimes no internet at the cafe so blogging time turned into long talks of the deepest sort
  • what it felt like to wake up next to my husband every day for a whole month
  • what waking up and going to bed together does for the heart
  • countless hours on the trampoline with Liberty, it was like her giant playpen
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  • watching our friend pull his cell phone out of the BBQ and watching God provide him a new one
  • moonlight and no curtains and birds that call out in the night
  • wondering how fields of cattle could eat on such sparse land and still live
  • how the lamb we bought to roast was small because “there hasn’t been enough water or food”
  • rationing out bath time…amazed how long they are happy to not take a bath!
  • hours long reading marathons, kids strewn everywhere with their noses in books
  • dishes.  wow.  the dishes.  our kids asked a few days in why we were washing so many.  I laughed and pointed out the empty spot in the kitchen where someday a dishwasher might be…
  • forts in the forest, inspired by Little House on the Prairie
  • swimming in lakes and in the Pacific Ocean
  • such a hot sun
  • reading good quotes from fantastic books to eachother at the kichen bar
  • going through pounds of white nectarines every single day
  • people everywhere doing whatever they could to make money…selling water bottles in the streets, doing tricks at red lights, selling jewelry on any open piece of sidewalk, selling anything just about anywhere
  • paying money for bathroom use – with eight of us, we figured out quick that 200 pesos was a bargain but if it was 500 pesos we needed to conserve trips
  • boys filling the water tank every day, twice, so we would have water in the house
  • thinking about water.  a lot.  realizing I’ve never had to think about water.  so many things we take for granted.
  • merluza – a white fish I’ve never had or heard of… flaky and perfect and so delicious
  • how happy and content our kids were without their rooms full of legos and toys and comfy beds…they are so strong, so resilient
  • the struggle to be a part of a group of kids when you don’t speak their language…I won’t ever forget Rylee crying.  it is hard to be the odd one out.  hard to hear chatter around you but not understand.  and hardest to pull yourself up and go back in knowing it will still be hard.  so proud of that girl.
  • church, I didn’t go.  but Chris and the older kids did.  the message was on marriage.  and the passage of scripture they used was David and Goliath.  still don’t have that one figured out.
    Chile weeks 3&4 008
  • taking risks.  doing scary things.  hard things.  not knowing how something would end up but doing it anyway.  this sums up our trip in many ways.  packing up our six children and heading thousands of miles from home to live in someone else’s space and land for a month wasn’t a lap-of-luxury, beachfront sort of vacation.  it was an eyes-wide-open, cross-cultural, rich beyond measure sort of time.
  • what it feels like to have someone else see your life, day in and out, to live in community, to hold each other up and wash each others dirty clothes and dishes…and to still call each other friend at the end
  • how when people come over to hang out, they would just stay.  for hours.  and they would always help in the kitchen, hand washing, drying and putting dishes away constantly.  and if they were tired they would simply take a nap.  on your couch.  and it was more than okay, it was good.
  • slower, less driven, frenetic life.  a pace that felt so far removed from American life.
  • the magnetic, magnificent personality of my friend Tina – the way she draws out people, loves deeply even in a land and with a language not her own…it amazes and inspires me
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  • the volcano that erupted two days after we had stayed in the town near it.  if we’d beeen there, we’d have had to evacuate our family at 3 AM when the sirens went off.  thankful to see its beauty but safely so.
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  • much more…another day

Twelve years old – an unforgettable birthday

Rylee's 12th birthday - chocolate chip pancakes
Rylee’s 12th birthday – chocolate chip pancakes
birthday girl manicures upstairs!
birthday girl manicures upstairs!
Twelve candles and the most amazing cake ever...layers of cake, nutella, raspberry.
Twelve candles and the most amazing cake ever…layers of cake, nutella, raspberry.
hours of Dtuch Blitz for this crew
hours of Dutch Blitz for this crew
Girls coming in at sunset  from their long journey out to their home in the woods - love that she is 12 but still loves to play Little House on the Prairie
Girls coming in at sunset from their long journey out to their home in the woods – love that she is 12 but still loves to play Little House on the Prairie

This will be a memorable birthday for certain.  Rylee turned 12 on Monday.  On the cusp of teenage life but still a girl in many ways.  Such a gift she is.  And what a treasure to spend her birthday month in a place where it is summer.


We decided to head to the coast on Thursday.  It was said to be a roughly 2 hour journey…but four hours later and some kid squabbles in the car en route, we were just finally catching a glimpse of the water.  Worth the wait and worth sitting in road constructions lines, one after another it felt like!

Valdivia was unusally busy so we kept driving and skipped the darling, bustling, riverside downtown and went straight to the open ocean.

The Pacific Ocean from a very different vantage point than we've ever seen!
The Pacific Ocean from a very different vantage point than we’ve ever seen!
The sun here is so hot, much stronger than the sun at home, thanks to the hole in ozone in the southern the cold water felt great to the kids!
The sun here is so hot, much stronger than the sun at home, thanks to the hole in ozone in the southern hemisphere…so the cold water felt great to the kids!
Twenty years of friendship here - incredibly thankful for the gift that is.
Twenty years of friendship here – incredibly thankful for the gift that is.
Mamas and the girls
Mamas and the girls
Little beach lady Liberty...
Little beach lady Liberty…
Enjoying empenadas on the beach while the kids play
Enjoying empenadas on the beach while the kids play
A pod of dolphins put on a fantastic show - which apparently is quite unusual here...they literally swam back and forth for hours just off the shore!
A pod of dolphins put on a fantastic show – which apparently is quite unusual here…they literally swam back and forth for hours just off the shore!
Rylee and Emma doing Zumba on the beach with Liberty (wearing their new sun dresses we bought from a Peruvian man selling them in the sand)
Rylee and Emma doing Zumba on the beach with Liberty (wearing their new sun dresses we bought from a Peruvian man selling them in the sand)
Beach buddies
Beach buddies
Had to tack this photo in even though it isn't from Valdivia - stunning view from a friends home over the hill from where we are staying - such hospitality, it amazes me.
Had to tack this photo in even though it isn’t from Valdivia – stunning view from a friends home over the hill from where we are staying – such hospitality, it amazes me.
An attempt at a panoramic shot of this gorgeous valley
An attempt at a panoramic shot of this gorgeous valley

Chile – day 10

A few days ago we went to a park in Temuco.  It was beautiful and large and the kids enjoyed running on all the trails.  We could see the whole city from the lookout tower.  Eucalyptus trees are everywhere and also a sort of bamboo looking plant that is called something I don’t remember.  The food is exceptional.  Simple and delicious.  A large piece of our day is spent preparing and eating food and then hand washing dishes for twelve people.  Yes, that’s right.  Life without a dishwasher for a month.  A favorite so far is choripan.  A grilled chorizo sausage stuffed inside the made-fresh-today bread that is absolutely everywhere.  Topped with ketchup or mustard or mayo…so good.  And for us gluten-free ones it is just as good as simply sausage on a plate.  Very fresh and spiced to perfection.  There are nectarinas de platano.  Super sweet local nectarines that we eat a dozen or more of most every day.   And there is palta, even for breakfast, I’ve never eaten so many avocados in my life.  Pebre is on the favorite list too.  I can’t leave here without learning to make it.  A finely diced salad with onions, cilantro and a smattering of other delicious things combined to make an exquisite pile of yumminess that can be eaten alone or on meat or rice or anything.

On our way home from the butcher this week my conversation with Tina went something like this:

Me:  So you said we are grilling steak for dinner yes?

Tina:  Yes that’s right.

Me:   But I heard Rodrigo say something about sausage…

Tina:  Oh, yes, well we’re going to grill sausages for choripan first then have the steak after its done cooking on the grill.

Kyler (chiming in):  Two kinds of meat in one dinner?!  I love meat!

With the bounty of summer produce in full swing and a fantastic butcher in their pocket, we are more than well set for food.  Though I don’t think my friend (and mother of two children) could possibly have imagined the staggering amount of food we would go through our families combined.  It is quite a lot of food!  She has ever so graciously opened up her kitchen to me and welcomed us so fully into their home.

There are all sorts of nuances that are unique to life here.  And very different than our life in the American suberbs.  An Italian man  just pulled onto the property wanting to sell things so he could make money to fly home to Italy.  There is no government welfare system.  No 50% of the population dependent on federal money for subsistence.  So if they have not, they have not.  If they are lucky they have help from a friend or relative.  If not, their options are nothing like the thriving, largely over-used welfare system in the US that has created such incredible dependence on the government.  They turn tricks at main intersections in the city, hoping for a few pesos to be handed out of car windows.   They drive carts with oxen selling seaweed across old cobblestone roads.  No doubt there is much more than we get glimpses of.

Tuesday we all went to the market in town.  Every Tuesday the vendors get fresh produce so the selection and freshness was enough to leave any herbivore drooling.  There were spices in buckets and bags for sale in bulk.  Beans too, gorgeous beans of every kind.  Pickled onions and fresh cheeses and butter laid across counters.  Fresh fish laid out over ice.  There were stray dogs all over.  Rylee’s favorite part was the variety, she said.  There was a man threshing wheat through a wooden strainer and ladies selling fresh cooked wheat used for making some sort of dessert.   Five miles down a dirt road every time we want to go somewhere means one dirty car.  And our water usage at the house for a dozen people has been high so we weren’t about to wash a car with it!  For a few dollars, Tina got her car washed while we shopped.  A man chopped corn with a machete.  A Mapuche (the natives of this area) woman sold cilantro.  There are all sorts of people trying to support their families by selling whatever they are able to.

Our children won’t ever forget this.  Their eyes are opened wide every day.  Smells, sounds, sights and tastes that are all new.  We are so glad to be here and so thankful to be together.

Eating ice cream for Lucas' birthday on Sunday!
Eating ice cream for Lucas’ birthday on Sunday!
There is a drought here.  Tina says she's not see it this dry before....this means very dirty feet and a busy bathtub!
There is a drought here. Tina says she’s not see it this dry before….this means very dirty feet and a busy bathtub!
The view of Temuco from a park on a hill
The view of Temuco from a park on a hill
The kids trying to utilize the merry-go-round at a park
The kids trying to utilize the merry-go-round at a park
To say everyone loves Finn here is an understatement - they call him "el Finn" - and they love watching him eat!
To say everyone loves Finn here is an understatement – they call him “el Finn” – and they love watching him eat!
Oxen pulling a cart of seaweed near the market
Oxen pulling a cart of seaweed near the market
Heading in to the butcher for our meat for the week
Heading in to the butcher for our meat for the week
Not a typical American butcher - nearly every part of the animal is for sale here, ears, head, feet...everything!
Not a typical American butcher – nearly every part of the animal is for sale here, ears, head, feet…everything!
Spices at the market
Spices at the market
Beans and lentils at market
Beans and lentils at market
Cheeses and butter
Cheeses and butter
Kids waiting while Rodrigo and I picked out nectarines
Kids waiting while Rodrigo and I picked out nectarines
The view from the hill on the back of our friends' property
The view from the hill on the back of our friends’ property
Feeding the crew
Feeding the crew
Wood is the heat source here - no fancy heat pumps or central air.  This tractor showed up several times this week with wood for the coming fall and winter.
Wood is the heat source here – no fancy heat pumps or central air. This tractor showed up several times this week with wood for the coming fall and winter.


Far from home

Sometimes dreams do come true.  For the past couple of years we quietly dreamed of taking a respite from work and life and spending a significant amount of time together as a family.  Time to slow and time to love.  We spoke of it to no one and simply waited until a door opened.  And when it did, we walked through each door, holding our dream with open hands, trusting that if it were meant to be it would unfold.  Then one day we found ourselves buying plane tickets to Chile.

So here we are.  Thousands of miles from home.  Far enough south that it is summer here.  No internet connection.  No grocery down the street.  No paved roads for miles.  Nothing familiar except the love of friends.  The kind of friends you can show up with your six children in tow and move in for a month.  The kind of friends with decades of shared history, the kind you can’t replace or replicate for anything.

Taking each day as it comes.  No grand plans but to experience life in a very different place.  To spend our days together.  Our friends have 30 acres of land and a beautiful house that is partway done being built.  I’m hoping to be able to write a little of our journey on here and post some pictures and stories along the way.

Turns out Finn is as enjoyable and entertaining here as he is in the States.  Last night our friends hosted a birthday BBQ for their son and Finn kept everyone smiling even across the language barrier.  As did his little sister.  Cute is a universal language.

A birthday dinner is really more of a nine or ten hour party.  And if people get tired they simply take a nap on your couch or in your bed – how wonderful is that?!  The pace of life is so different.  Adjusting to a new place and recooperating from over 25 hours of travel to get here is sure made easier by the exceedingly more relaxed pace.  We watched Audrey and another little girl walk around the house yesterday, teaching each other the names of items in Spanish and English.  We watched our kids learn Chilean hide and seek and adapt to different rules and try to understand a language that isn’t their own.

roasting a whole lamb which we purchased down the road the day before - no hamburgers at this BBQ!
roasting a whole lamb which we purchased down the road the day before – no hamburgers at this BBQ!
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sunrise over our friends’ beautiful piece of land
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Finn rocking the LA airport in style...
Finn rocking the LA airport in style…
Rylee with a stray dog that wandered onto the property - the kids named him Emmett
Rylee with a stray dog that wandered onto the property – the kids named him Emmett
Kids sleeping on the floor, about 20 hours into our journey, at the Santiago airport
Kids sleeping on the floor, about 20 hours into our journey, at the Santiago airport
The boys have to go out and fill the water tank every morning and and afternoon so that we have enough water at the house - we are going to draw straws for kid baths soon - none have bathed since we arrived :)
The boys have to go out and fill the water tank every morning and and afternoon so that we have enough water at the house – we are going to draw straws for kid baths soon – none have bathed since we arrived 🙂


the view from the  back door
the view from the back door

More next week…no doubt new adventures await in the days to come!



A far away love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cost of love

I couldn’t see well enough through the tears to even make sure I was picking up every single piece of china shards off the floor.  At first I could only stand there and hold the kitchen towel over my tightly shut eyes.  Knowing that when I opened them, I would see the shattered tea cup saucers in pieces strewn across the hardwoods.  The box had been too close to the edge of the counter and had tipped onto the hard floor before I knew what was happening.  Fragments of delicately painted flowers broken into razor sharp angles all over the place.

Every month we host a girls’ tea group at our home.  We delight in setting beautiful tables and making delicious food and providing a place for friendship to grow and hearts to knit together.  For my friends who come and bring their daughters, they’ve come to know that they will be lavished with love here.  I’d like to think they anticipate being served and loved because I’ve done just that for them month after month for many months.  We use my grandmothers wedding crystal and my mother’s tea cup and saucer sets.   Each one of the thirteen, a unique and beautiful piece of bone china.  I pour their tea or cider after we’ve talked some about life and Jesus and the other important things.  The girls talk and laugh at their table while the mamas share tea and encouragement at ours.

To say its been a highlight of our month, is understated.  There can be a dismal week (a little like this one) with a child on crutches after a trampoline injury and four other kids with fevers and coughs and grumpy hearts and a worn down mama who’s doing all her normal work plus the chores of all the sick ones too.  There can be all sorts of un-wonderful-ness.  But then there is tea.  And despite what the week (or month) held, we get this precious respite from normal.  Instead of salsa and jelly stains on the tablecloth, there is a clean white lace one.  Instead of piles of school work at each seat, there is china and crystal and candles and beauty.  Instead of carrots and cucumbers and too-healthy-somethings, there are raspberry vanilla topped chocolate cupcakes.

Mind you, there are still hand prints all over the slider to the yard.  When the sun beams in, I’m blinded but still manage to notice the smears from wet dogs anxious to come inside all over the glass.  The bathroom is orderly but it bears the constant smell of “boys use this bathroom”.  The spoons are mismatched.  The wallpaper is peeling.  A piece of molding fell off the wall.  It is not perfection.  But it is a welcome haven that beats with love.

Much of my life is not easy, does not come easy or easily.  Life with a half a dozen children is many (wonderful) things, but certainly not that.  But this – this tea, the hours long hand washing of dishes that follows each gathering and the flurry of every tea morning to get everything in order and the lull of feminine chatter ringing around every corner?  It’s the deepest kind of delight for me.  It flows in the most natural, instinctive way.  To get to give love in this way, is rich and priceless.

So, when the box tilted and the dishes went flying, the loss wasn’t really about the tea sets.  I know good and well they are just dishes.  It was about what they were a part of, what they helped to provide.  And as I stood there speechless staring at the box of brokenness, something made sense in a new way.

This is way I live and love.  I spent many years with the fine china and my heart tucked away safe.  And no one knew the beauty of what I had to offer, at my table or from my heart.  The decision, whether its’ reached in a day or a year, to wear your heart on the outside, to love people like crazy, to bring out the beloved dishes and use them, its a risky one.  Loving people, really loving them with all you’ve got, is immeasurably perilous.   The likelihood that your heart will break into pieces that feel sharper than any knife, is a million to one.  My heart and my dishes would be safer locked away, if you don’t use them, they’re highly likely not to break.  No one could argue with that.  And were they to stay there, cherished young girls wouldn’t get to sit by candlelight and feel treasured as they eat on plates my most beloved grandmother received at her wedding in the 1940’s.  Were I to stay safe, love safe, love guarded….well, my life and relationships would look wildly different than they do today.  In a thousand different ways.  There would be emptiness where there is fullness.  There would be scathing poverty where there is abundant richness.

Choosing to be daring, to live out love, pays the deepest kind of dividends.  And in the very same instant, it means knowing the searing pain of absolute heartbreak.  The two go hand in hand.  I suppose what’s struck me today is simply that its worth it.  Taking your heart, and your gold-rimmed china, out of the box and giving pure love lavishly to others – it is worth it.  Worth the mess, the cost and the pain.  Even though you know they might break.  It’s still worth it.