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.
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?”.
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!
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
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.
We’d waited and prayed for a long while for something new for our beloved brother-in-law to open up. His and my sisters’ heart for the marginalized and orphaned has only grown these past few years. So when he was asked to come on board with Children of the Nations, a non-profit that we already knew and loved, we could not have been more thrilled. And we wanted to be behind them in this faith venture in every way. As we talked about how to support them, knowing we already had our “give” dollars going several different directions, I sat down and talked with our kids. I told them how much an average dinner cost me to cook for our family of eight.
We talked about the Children of the Nations (COTN) meal packing events that we’d attended several times. Their faces lit up as usual and they bantered about how much fun it is to pack meals packs. COTN hosts these events to raise awareness and give people here on wealthy American soil an opportunity to do more than simply write a check. They are high energy and always fun. They’ve provided a fantastic conversation starter for our family multiple times to talk about how we can do more to share the love of Christ in tangible ways. I asked our kids, what do you guys think about eating the COTN meal – lentils, spice, chicken and rice – one night a week to free up some grocery funds. They said a quick and hearty yes. I perfected my own rendition of the COTN meal pack. My kids were the testers, telling me to STOP and not make any changes once the ratio was right.
So began Mission Mondays at our house. For no other reason than it was catchy so we picked Monday. The kids actually offered to eat the meal twice a week. I told them we’d start with one so we didn’t tire of it. But then quickly caught myself. Because the very real reality of the meal packs is that the recipients of the very simple food are content, dare I say crazy thankful for the food being provided for them. They would pale at a glimpse inside my organized pantry, well stocked for an emergency and a half dozen constantly hungry kids. And my kids, truth be told, sometimes don’t “feel like” eating anything in said pantry. Which is the double blessing of this weekly simple meal. It is a continual reminder of the bounty we live within. The basic comforts like grocery stores on every corner full of fresh food and a dizzying amount of culinary options.
Our Monday night table discussion centers around someone we know serving somewhere in the world. It’s no organized sort of thing. Just hearts that want to be aware and tuned in to the heart of God that beats for the orphans, widows and the poor. I always fight the urge to provide side dishes to the lentils and rice and simply serve the dish alone and everyone gets perfectly fed and full eating it.
…fast forward a bit to July this summer….we hosted a creation camp here at the house for a wonderful group of kids, all sorts of kids. It was one of those hallowed things you get to do and it almost pushes you over the top but when its over you can hardly catch your breath and you know, just know, that it was holy and beautiful and not to be missed. We have this crazy awesome, so-not-in-the-box pastor who came to play guitar and lead singing (and hang up tarps in the pouring rain!):
On our last day of creation camp, I talked about how we were created to reflect God to others, that we get to reflect his image and how completely incredible that is. Part of that is having the responsibility to be generous givers and ones who love others well, especially those in need. So I shared with them about COTN and the meals they bring and hope that a simple meal is to children who are starving. We then headed inside to prepare meal packets for everyone to take home with them so they could, maybe, start their own traditions and perhaps set aside some of their extra to share and give in some way. At one point there were 52 people inside the walls of our house. It was, literally, the only rainy week the entire summer. So our outdoor on the lawn activity all had to happen inside and cozy! It was insane. And so loud. And incredible. I hope and pray that this is one little way we can be mindful of the things that matter.
She picks pieces of clover and sits while I talk. Her wordless tears had told me that all she wanted was to stand at the fence next to the goats. So I set her there and turn over a water bucket and sit down. As she chews grass I pour out my full, raw heart. Earlier today, when I looked at the calendar my heart started to panic. I’m not prone to panic. Or worry. But it feels like suddenly two thirds of summer is gone and I don’t know what happened. Well, I do. June happened – septic pump failure/back up, ruined floors, repairs and the week at a motel and so on. Life happened.
There are so many moving parts and so much love and much talking and bursting LIFE in this home. Every day. And the sum total of laundry and hungry tummies and shoes left everywhere, its staggering some days. But those are superficial, really. It’s the deeper things that I’m spilling out with quiet tears on the lawn next to the pasture at dusk. It’s a quiet prayer for peace. It’s a plea for wisdom for hard choices. It’s a tender request that says please take care of my heart.
New things are on the horizon for our homeschool plans and schedule for fall. And there are areas of life that aren’t working well and need a course correction. But new is hard. With a half a dozen kids in the mix, two of whom have required great lengths of attention this past year, it is easy to feel daunted. Even for me who usually feels courageous and optimistic.
I say it all out loud again, as she plays in the grass. She watches a bumble bee and reaches toward it as it escapes her chubby, too-slow fingers. She fingers the clover again and does what she does most of the time…
She smiles at me while holding my leg. Her life is simple and marvelous and her every need is met. She abides in love, she is covered with love from every angle. All the time. And my heart catches a bit just thinking about it. The sibling issues and family challenges, I could probably sum up a good deal of the root of them in that one thought. Not abiding in love for one another. And the sting that comes quickly is, I see my part in it. My weary heart that’s stood up under much heartache and struggle this past year. A heart that hasn’t always been able to abide in love the way I’d like. The mama sets the tone for the home, at least for the bulk of the days when most of our day together is spent with me at the helm.
No matter how far we get, we aren’t “there”. No matter how much we grow and change, we’re not done. Thank goodness. But in certain seasons, it can feel discouraging. I read this tonight on the front porch in the dark and said out loud “YES” as it resonates so deeply as to the bigger picture at hand:
Thank God for everything up to this point, but do not stop here. Press on into the deep things of God. Insist upon tasting the profounder mysteries of redemption. Keep your feet on the ground, but let your heart soar as high as it will. Refuse to be average or to surrender to the chill of your spiritual environment. – A. W. Tozer “The Root of the Righteous”
I’ve struggled to welcome the God I love into this imperfect and sometimes chaotic place this year. I’ve wanted to come in an orderly fashion, quiet and early with perfectly brewed coffee and a warm blanket. The season hasn’t been very orderly and certainly not quiet. There has been much coffee but not sipped slowly during prayer, gulped instead before it was cold so that I could see straight enough to make breakfast.
God doesn’t want orderly. He just wants everything. He wants all of my heart. It’s okay if I come with hair that’s still in yesterdays’ pony tail, teeth that aren’t brushed and a to-do list twenty things long and a heart that feels defeated or not enough. He wants me to remember this truth in the darkest, longest day:
Not since Adam first stood up on the earth has God failed a single man or woman who trusted him. -A. W. Tozer “The Root of the Righteous”
He hasn’t. And I know this. So when I wonder how to move forward, when I ask what can give so I can gain a little bit of margin in my life, when I dare to hope for breatkthrough in the places I need it desperately and wonder how we’ll all fare at something new this year…He wants me to remember.
He has never failed me. He is always (more than) enough.
These days are a blink and I’m a fool if I don’t believe its true. I don’t want to forget…..
telling the kids in the van today that our friends daughters’ were making headbands to sell to raise money for orphans in Ethiopia and Caleb’s immediate reply:
Rylee, can I give you some money so you can buy yourself one from them?
as she got out of the van at her friends’ home he handed her cash from his stash that he always has on hand because he is our very frugal saving one
despite his penny-pinching ways, he has a heart that is gold and he didn’t think twice about gifting not only his sister with a new headband but for a cause that he knew meant something
the bigger ones naturally holding hands with the littles when we walk-I won’t ever not love seeing that
the way Phineas says “I need it” about everything. no ability whatsoever to distinguish need from want. and the application of that to his two year old life is constant entertainment for the rest of us.
how much fun can be had on our giant new bed. ridiculous much. five kids and a daddy wrestling. reading books in heaps of pillows and blankets. middle of the night snuggles when bad dreams keep little people awake.
realizing that if I feel too far away from the one I love in said giant bed, king size pillows are big enough for two.
the endless list of reasons why I’m thankful our kids get to learn at home with me and with each other, that in all its imperfectness (and even now, at the tail end of the year when I’m so ready for summer!), I still believe it’s the best place to be
looking out my window to see this a few hours ago:
Caleb had his magnifying glass and was crawling around with Finn on hands and knees searching for spiders….every time they found one Finn shrieked “PIDER!”
later they spent an hour collecting varieties of mushrooms for their “mushroom museum”
how Finn says thank you every time I change his dirty diapers
the love I get to show through serving these ones in our home by feeding, clothing, driving, teaching, correcting, forgiving and encouraging for hours upon hours every day after day
that my boys notice my sparkle – if its a bracelet or dressy earrings, they notice
whether you’re 10 or freshly 35, the gift of friendship is a profound treasure
these and a thousand more – forcing myself back into the counting of the gifts because I know I need to remember, need to practice what I preached (literally two weeks ago!) and lift my eyes up to where it all comes from
Finn’s dripping mouth from finding the runaway dark chocolate covered espresso beans that fell under the counter. As if the boy needed more energy…
His crazy delight in chasing dust particles in the gleaming morning sunshine that somehow still streams in despite what must be the dirtiest windows ever!
Kyler: “Oh mom, guess what Finn loves? He loves it when I put baby spiders all over his naked belly!” (I instruct the removal of dozens of newly hatched miniscule spider babes from the rotund belly of my beloved two year old – but even ten minutes later I am pulling the itsy bitsy’s out of his hair…)
Caleb: “Want to see my new friend?” (he raises his arm and shows me the beautiful yellow moth that he’s “trained” to hang out on his arm – then explains that he’s classified this one using his butterfly and moth field guide)
The snickers’ fairy from church. The sweet lady who I have not even met, who is part of the long line of amazing people who’ve helped with meals during this challenging stretch….how could she have known my penchant for Snicker’s or that putting them into a “salad” might just feel like my birthday came two days early?!
The exceeding relief that comes from crossing “trim goat hooves” off the to-do list, even if it’s 7 weeks overdue.
How Rylee delights in playing vet (but not really playing, because she truly does such a great job!) and doing excellent work treating bloat in one goat with a little homemade remedy.
The book Rylee is writing for her little sister’s birthday on Sunday. All on her own accord. Sweetest thing in the world.
The privilege of sitting for coffee and meeting someone who is bravely, tirelessly standing up for the unborn’s right to life in America and around the world.
Kyler listening to me pray this morning, patiently waiting in the chair next to me for my amen…”Mom, you’re thankful for too many things!”.
Truth be told every day is a good one. Every day holds something of a treasure. The only question is, will I find it? Sometimes I have to look darn hard to see past the wet boots left out again, the sassy attitude, the scale that lies to me every morning and the spilled honey collecting all-things-fuzzy on the kitchen counter.
But for one of my kids a normal day is somewhere on the spectrum of mildly unpleasant to downright dismal. There are daily tears over spelling or something. Sensitivity is high to….well, everything it can feel like. At least two pencils get broken every day over handwriting. Doors slam and words are spoken that break my heart and make me wonder if really I am up to this task.
Nearly every family has someone in them that requires some extra grace. Really, isn’t it every single one of us some days? When I gingerly coach our other kids on how to respond, I often tell them:
You have two choices to make. You get to react in frustration to something that feels largely unfair. Or you get to learn to love when it’s not easy and that’s called grace.
It’s a tightrope that I walk daily and no doubt I am messing it up. No doubt I’m leaning the wrong way part of the time. But my heart is good. And I have to believe that truly that counts for something.
Learning to love when it’s not easy is a life skill we practice on a daily basis around here. By practice I mean, learning it over and over and over again. We may be really behind on multiplication tables, in fact I’m certain of it. But we are learning love, how to give and receive and grow more when you don’t feel like it. These things might top the times tables when all is said and done. Just maybe.
Given that little history, you can imagine my deep delight when we were gifted with TWO days in a row this week of calm responses, reasonable reactions and pleasant conversations. To put the wonder of that into words is beyond me.
It was a break in the rain for me. And I love rain. Really. It brings the greatest beauty to my life. After a long while though, I just get plain tired of being wet. Instead of the beauty that comes from the perennial downpour of wonderful and crazy-tough stuff life brings, I simply want a day of respite.
Not that I feel entitled to it, I don’t. I just want it. Want might be too mild a term. Desperately need it so I can keep stepping forward every day in this one life that is only mine to live, that might be more like it.
So when the days came, they surprised me and they were sweeter than anything. I have relished every minute. I’ve whispered constant thanks for the gift.
Given just a little bit of reprieve, I’m fairly certain I can weather many more normal-for-me-but-quite-likely-crazy-to-anyone-else days to come…and for that this mama is
yes, thankful, again (you might be tired of hearing it, but that’s okay!).
Today the wide-eyed one who loves to wonder told me with with brazen confidence:
See that tree mama? What I’m gonna do is climb it to the top and jump out after I make some wings. I’m going to glide down (a brother interjected, “won’t you FALL?”) Oh no, I won’t fall I will GLIDE. It’s going to be great!
I smiled at the blue-eyed one. Much of life seems to bear down hard on this precious son. The way he feels and learns and sees and hears makes for o-v-e-r-w-h-e-l-m-e-d him more often than I wish. Who am I to crush his dreams? Who am I to be the voice of reason and tell him he can’t and it won’t work and here are 10 reasons why that is a terrible idea?
How many times have I crushed him already? Not been tender enough when he was (slightly) injured for the millionth time and I could not muster one more ounce of compassion? This the one child that managed to break his foot simply leaning back on a kitchen chair because he could not sit still through dinner. How have I taken the fun out of something meant to be lighthearted when all he wanted was to dream big?
He’s hard at work behind me right now. The sweet grunts and groans of boy deep in his work. Believing big that he can do something great. Is it my job to tell him he can’t fly? He can’t change the world? Just because I feel so darn grumpy this morning? Or just because the world is a terrifying place where the most unimaginable things happen? Every. Single. Day?
He just finished the work. “I’m going out to fly mama!” Hope filled and an ear-to-ear grin. “I’m right behind you, hang on” I call to him.
I grab a camera and chase the one who I know will one day conquer great things, for all the small he has to learn to conquer everyday.
“Do you think its going to work? I’ll climb up and you hand me my wings so they don’t break, okay? (he pauses) Maybe I should come down a few branches and try lower first?”
He trusts me, implicitly, despite my daily failing him. He knows I’m in his corner. Despite the thousand times I’ve wondered why he didn’t get a better mother than me, somehow he loves this one that he has. He asks if I think this is the right height. I breathe relief. I didn’t want to say it. Thankful he figured it out on his own. He waits and shouts “READY!” and jumps.
My eyes well up behind the lens because its not every day I see this kind of sheer glee from him. I love it. I love his sparkle and his creativity and his determination. I love the way he cradles grasshoppers and moths in his hands. The way he knows the sounds of different birds in our yard. I literally relish every single second because I know it won’t last an hour, maybe not even five minutes but the taste of this moments, these moments with this boy….they are so sweet my heart hurts.
Where big brother goes, little brothers long to follow. This does not always pan out well here. But it did today. Little brother searched for his own cardboard, his own scissors and tape and formulated his own ‘wings’. The littlest brother was happy to swing in the hammock chair while the big boys proved their awesomeness. The tree proved a challenge so we moved the picnic table to the edge of the deck which was a perfect, still challenging but not quite so crazy, height.
Someday his jump will take him out of my nest and into the wide world. I will miss his good days and his bad. I will miss the way he tucks himself under my arm on the couch because someday he won’t fit there. I will not always be his leading lady so I am determined to find more days like this one and love them with all my heart.