Taking care of Mama – Mom Heart Conference!

Taking care of everyone else in this house takes up most of my time.  When the day is done and everyone else is bathed, fed and full of new information and ideas….I am often spent and empty.

I don’t do a great job at factoring in margin for myself.  With Chris gone as much as he is, my little coffee shop getaways and afternoons spent browsing the thrift store are a distant memory (at least in frequency).  When I get away, it’s to meal plan, get school/craft supplies, fix the car, go to a mtg,  get a gift for someone or simply shop for groceries.  I feel like I’m always on a mission for something and don’t really even possess the ability to take my guard down and relax.

This has all sorts of ramifications but the most obvious are things like the  old adage that goes something like “When mama ain’t happy, nobody ain’t happy”.  My lack of care for myself, my lack of time spent in stillness (which is a huge matter of discipline for me, one I’m utterly failing in at present) and my lack of rest/sleep in general impact the very core of our home in a monumental way.

I hate that.  At least today I do.  I can go months and feel like I’m dealing all right with the burden of responsibility on my shoulders but then comes a few things that put me over the top.  Extra challenging behavior from a child.  Another’s sleep habits reverting back to newborn baby style sleep.  Bad manners from my kids one too many times at the dinner table.  Am I raising children or farm animals I wondered one night this week?

So when I get in a funk and struggle to see beyond the momentary mishaps of life, everybody else seems to join me there.  Then we’re just a ball of fun to be with 🙂

That doesn’t seem fair to me.  But nobody asked me unfortunately.  God gifted me with these little people and chose me above anyone else to be their mother.  He has proven His goodness to me for decades and has never left me alone in the desert.

But sometimes I still question.  I still dare to wonder why.  And my wondering never takes me anywhere but right back to what I know to be true.

God is His infinite faithfulness and love for me, will walk with me and carry me along on the journey even when I feel like I can’t take another step.

One way I’m working on taking care of me is planning to attend a conference in January put on by the author of my favorite books on being a mom.  Every book of hers I’ve read has ministered to my heart.  And I know that spending two days hearing her speak will be even better.

Sally Clarkson and her husband have a ministry together that brings a bold message of God’s truth to parents today.  I wrote a review here a while back about the last book of hers I read.

If you are a mom and there is any way you can attend one of her conferences I am sure you will be blessed by being there.  I am attending the one in Denver in January and can hardly wait.

In the meantime, I’m heading to Arizona for a week with all four little ones to visit a dear friend and her three kids.  Should be an adventure and I’m sure the sunshine and the friendship will be good for all of us!

A lesson in toilet purchasing


You get what you pay for.  This is virtually true in every aspect of life.  I know sometimes we aren’t able to pay for the better option.  But sometimes getting the cheaper version ends up not being worth it in the end.

For instance-last year we had a major bathroom problem and no money to do the repair.  I wrote here about the sweet college student who came to do all the (hard and disgusting) work for free.  The boy was a saint.   But we still had to buy the toilet.  So naturally, given that it wasn’t in the budget to do a bathroom overhaul, we bought the cheapest one.  Not giving any thought to the fact that many small children use our bathroom all day long.  That toilet had to be ready to work hard.

When my husband called home at dinner time to say he’d be later than expected, I believe my words were something like “Our toilet is not sufficient.  It is not up to the task at hand.  It cannot manage our children and what they give it.  I have to go now.”

After surviving the week with the flu, the kids missing out on all their fun activites, driving the kids in the car all morning waiting for a prescription to be filled, having someone clean the house, realizing that I would miss my best friends baby shower/a special dinner with friends/our last family dinner before my parents go on a month long trip all due to said ‘flu’….you can imagine my dismay and temptation to scream at the top of my lungs when

someone yelled  “FLOOD!”

I ran to the bathroom.

The inept, incompetent, insufficient toilet had plugged up for the hundredth time.

But this time was special.  It had flooded almost out to the carpet in the hall.  It was standing raw sewage nicely sealed in by my recent top-notch caulking job along the flooring.  The smell overwhelmed me.

The fact that hours before we’d actually paid someone to clean that bathroom and it had sparkled, forced me to count to 10 and take a deep, nose-plugged breath as my four little people watched from the doorway.

I grabbed towels.  Most of the towels we own.  The older kids kept Audrey out of the way as I mopped and filled towel after towel of absolute nastiness trying not to gag every step of the way.

I don’t clean with bleach based products, we try to be green with our cleaning.  But in the moments after I got all the *stuff* cleaned up I was more than tempted to pour a bottle of bleach on the floor.  I rummaged around till I found some Pine-Sol.  I scrubbed and scrubbed for 20 minutes.

There was poop water on my jeans, my arms and my bare feet.

This had to be one of my least glamorous moments ever.

I took a quick shower.  I sprayed (a lot) of my new favorite perfume.  I could smell again.  I smelled dinner and realized it was still waiting for us on the stove, thank goodness it hadn’t burned.  I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have survived that.

We ate chicken soup and pumpkin bread and all was well in the world again (as well as life with four kids and the flu is!)

Next time we buy a toilet, it will be a good one.

Being real hurts

I have been thinking a great deal about the hard stuff of life lately. Instead of waiting for the next shoe to drop, I am trying to keep walking forward with my chin up. In my younger years (can I say that only being 30?) I did a fairly adequate job of protecting my heart. Not getting too attached to people, places, things-life definitely hurts less that way. It seemed like a good idea.

In the last three years I have felt more pain than all the rest of my life combined. Pain from all sides, all parts of life. Things far too deep to list out here, but great pain. Along with the feeling of my heart being split to pieces many times, interestingly, I have encountered a capacity to love and to feel that I did not know existed.

**I found this old post unfinished in my ‘drafts’ this week.  Above is what I’d written in January of this year.  We had just moved on from pastoring at the church that was our home (mine for 20 years, Chris’ for 12 years).

In January my pain and broken heart was more raw.  Now its October and I am able to see so much more of the good that has come out of changes that were beyond our control.  God has brought peace and healing and freedom that are indescribable.

On the flip side, I’m also able to see the jaded, cynical attitude that masks itself as pride.  It is ugly.  I also see sprouts of bitterness that though I tell myself they aren’t there-and really don’t want them to exist-their presence in the soil that is my life is undeniable.

This summer as we lugged our kids to church after church, I found myself wondering many things.

Because of where we’d been had I set some kind of ideal in my mind that would be impossible to find? (probably yes)

How would I know when we’d found a community of people we wanted to be a part of? (I might not…)

Why can’t our kids be part of our worship experience on Sundays?  Why do they have to be sent away to ‘kid time’-at one church there is even a sign posted explaining children are not allowed in the main room? (I haven’t figured this out, I’ve only got more questions about it)

How could we possibly start over after being connected so deeply with so many amazing people in one place for so long?

That last one is where my heart has struggled to answer and still has so far to go.  The process of dealing with change is so SLOW sometimes!  In the many months that have passed since January when I started this post, I can say for certain that it’s hard to stay open and vulnerable for a long time.  Maintaining that raw, authentic, open-to-anything state of existing is really difficult.

It was good to read those words and to be reminded of what I want to aim for.  Bitter and jaded with witty cynicism  isn’t my goal.  Grace and gratitude with words of love is much more the direction I want to head.

At least I’ve got one thing straight (lately, I think this may be the ONLY thing I’ve got figured out)…I may not be able to manage that tall order but I know Someone who can.

And God is able to make ALL grace abound to you, so that in ALL things at ALL times, having ALL that you need, you will abound in every good work.

2 Corinthians 9:8

Those little moments that make it

Every now and then in the trenches of mothering young children (many of them) there are sweet moments that make you step back and realize how ‘worth it’ it all is.

If I did better at recognizing the moments, I’m actually quite sure they happen more often than “every now and then”.

It’s just that the poop on the wall, the toothbrushes all lined up IN the cat litter box and the 100th request of the day for something, all these things hinder my ability to see the sweetness.

Like today, after a couple days of working out in the morning (which gave me more energy than my half pot of daily coffee intake), surviving my coffee-fast (in an effort to calm my poor stomach),  by 3 PM I hit a wall (today was NO workout+NO coffee=disaster).  I had been reading out loud to the older two kids for over an hour, I couldn’t believe they still wanted more and I didn’t want to say no.  But I finally said, “Hang on while I make some coffee and we’ll read more!”.

I went to make coffee.  But I dropped the entire canister of beans onto the kitchen floor.  It was loud, the kids called out “Are you okay?  What happened mom?” from their post with the book waiting for me.

“I spilled coffee beans all over and made a huge mess!”  I answered.

No sooner had the words come out of my mouth then the kids both popped into the kitchen.  Didn’t say a word.  Both just bent down, starting scooping up beans and putting them in the sink.  We worked and cleaned together.  I started to thank them and wound up in tears.  There is something so sweet, so precious about watching your kids respond instantly in the right way.

It’s easy to chalk up the times they get it wrong and buckle under the temptation of ‘mommy guilt’.   It’s equally easy to forget to commend them when they do get it right.  This coffee-bean-moment was one where we all got it right and it made my day.  Despite the fact my head is pounding and I haven’t washed my hair in three? days and I’m still in my pajamas.

As I hugged them and their little chests puffed with pride, Rylee said to me “See mama, we all worked together and it got done so fast didn’t it?”.

Yes it did.  And I was thankful, again, that they are here with me.  Just like I was earlier today when Rylee was holding cards up and teaching Kyler his letter sounds at the table.  And when I found Rylee getting Audrey all set on a chair with picture books, her favorite monkey and her lovey, “So she can have quiet reading time like me mama” she informed me.

I adore what happens every day around our table for six.

A gift my parents gave me


Same as most people, there are things I want to do just like my parents did and there are some things I’d like to do differently.  A few nights ago I was reminded of something they gave us that was perhaps one of the greatest and most character shaping gifts they gave.

From an early age, before my memory even, my parents modeled a life of loving others.  When I was a baby, they welcomed a Laotian refugee family into their small home and my dad lost 15 pounds eating what they ate, mostly rice.  When I was an adolescent they welcomed unwed pregnant women who had no place to live and no one to support them in their choice to give life to their babies.  Seeds of unselfishness and sacrifice were planted in our lives. It wasn’t perfect, one girl taught my sisters and I how to unwrap our Christmas presents so we knew what they were then how to carefully wrap them back up so no one would know!  When no young mother was living with us, we hosted a Japanese exchange student and another time two twin homeless men who smelled so bad I can remember it still.

Into my early teen years just when any twelve year old is convinced that the world revolves around her and a small offense is a major infraction, my mom went back to work.  She found a job in private home health nursing.  She would provide care for two men with muscular dystrophy.  They were twins and the youngest of 5 children.

These two men quickly became a part of our family.  I honestly don’t even remember being apprehensive about their big wheel chairs, or the different way they talked or the fact that they were quadriplegics.  I remember being amazed at their sense of humor, at the fact they coached adult softball games and at the way they lived life despite tremendous limitation.  They let me and my 13 year old friends come play at their beautiful home and sing karaoke for HOURS.  They took our whole family, my mom working for them, to Sun Valley in Idaho one summer.  We sat at so many softball games where they coached from their chairs and were brimming with life and attitude.

My mom could have let it just be a job.  But it wasn’t.  Not for her.  It was a calling on her life for a season.  And we were all profoundly blessed as it unfolded.

Our mom worked for them for many years, her life, our family and Rod and Randy were all changed in the process.  Eventually she was led to a new job but we have remained in touch over the years.  On Wednesday, Rod and Randy took my little sister and I to a Colbie Callait concert.  The concert was monumentous.  Truly amazing at a small venue in Seattle.  But what was more amazing to me after our night when I got home and told Christopher about the concert and tried to talk but couldn’t because I was so choked up, was the impact these two men had on our family.  I really hadn’t pondered it too much before and when I did, I was overwhelmed.

Rod told me that night as we had a long time to talk before the show that he was so glad our mom had come into their life and that it was at a time that they so needed it.  I simply answered, “We felt the same about you”.   And that’s the truth.

My parents have lived a life of loving people-radically, extravagantly so.   The way that I feel comfortable around people who are very, very different than me.  The way I walk into a room and can pick out who most feels left out and who needs love.  The way my heart breaks for the marginalized and less fortunate.  All these things are the fruit of watching parents who weren’t afraid to generously love the people around them.

I can’t speak for my sisters but I can say at least for me that this is probably the thing I want most to do well the way they have.

America and the ‘1.3 child family’

If you’ve read our blog very long you already know how we feel about children.  They are a gift – one to be received as such with no exceptions.  The disintegration of the American family can be chalked up to a myriad of reasons but I believe one of those core reasons to be our perspective on children.  Our nation as a whole has embraced, especially since the 60’s, a mentality that says:  “Children are a liability.  They are a burden to bear.  They are an obligation.  They are an expense.  They are an inconvenience…and so on”.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I’m not at all, never will, saying that all families should have a multitude of children.  That is an intensely personal and spiritual decision.  I am however saying that the way we respond to the small people in our life (be them our own or others) should leave them feeling cherished, valuable and significant.

Not just because it sounds good – but because they truly are.

Tonight when I watched Rylee and a new friend on her soccer team chatting it up, I was happy watching them together and wondered what they were talking about with such expression.  After practice was over and we were playing at the park, I asked her what they’d been talking about so much.  She said “Mom, she just kept saying the SAME thing over and over and over!”

I empathized with her obvious frustration and reminded her of her own persistence at times.

Then I asked what the girl had said.  Her answer blew me away and instant tears welled up in my eyes.

Rylee explained what the girl had been saying:

“Well Mama, she kept saying ‘Your mom has too many kids, your mom has too many kids, your mom has too many kids’!  I asked her to stop again and again and she kept saying the same thing.  She told me ‘Your mom has so many kids she really should sell you.  She should sell at least two of you.  My mom has 2 kids and that’s enough.’  It made me really sad Mama.”

Just typing the words makes my heart hurt.  I realize everyone has their own ideas and opinions on the matter.  Which is fine.  But when they imprint those ideas on the hearts of their children who in turn share those words with my children….I don’t know what to say.

My children are used to people saying “Wow, you’ve got your hands full!”  or “You can always duct tape them to the walls and leave them at home” or “You must be crazy, four kids?”.  But to hear those sentiments from a peer had a whole different impact.


Off to snuggle wet heads and read bedtime stories.  Just with a little heavier heart than usual.

My “Slim in 6” review

Well it’s been six weeks and I have a quick little product review to share tonight.   I was hoping to be able to give you an awe inspiring recap that justified my very first infomercial purchase.   It was supposed to “literally reshape your body in 6 short weeks”.

Yes, six weeks ago my promising DVD came in the mail.  True to form for any infomercial you feel like you are getting more than what you are paying for.  When I purchased it I declined no less than 10 extra offers of product enhancements and add on’s that were sure to guarantee my success but I felt like I was already getting several workouts on DVD and extra stretchy workout bands too and…wait for it…

A tape measure.  My very own.  Perfect for calculating the inches lost in just 6 weeks.  All valued at $375.  Really?

Such value I told myself.  Absolutely totally out of character for me, honest.  This video program would help me get the ball rolling and jump start my goals to lose some post baby weight before I add any more to the mix.  It sounded perfect for me.  I even had aspirations of doing a half-marathon by November with my new, even just a tiny-bit-more-fit self.  It was possible.  And I could do it.

True words I’m sure but I must share with you the truth of the matter six weeks after buying the spendy “Slim in 6” program.  {The one I was going to do while my hubby was working and not tell him so he could be totally wowed as the pounds just vanished into thin air}

I promised a simple, concise review and here you have it:

If you don’t open the plastic wrapper that the DVD comes sealed in and don’t do it even once in 6 weeks, it will not help your weight loss goals one bit. Your tape measure will not lie and in fact might add an inch here or there because, lets be honest those soft pink iced cookies from the grocery store and the ‘occasional’ donut added onto your coffee order have only added to the dilemma.

Goodness, I even bought new exercise shoes for the big new plan.  The other ones had seen four pregnancies in 6 years and definitely had done a good job for me-it was past time they be retired.  But I’m feeling a tad bit guilty that the only action my snazzy new Asics have seen is a fast walk through the neighborhood.

So there you have it.  Slim in 6 may be a great program and may be worth every penny (yes, I noticed I haven’t told you how much it costs) and it may transform some people into ‘slim’ in a few short weeks.

Just not me.

Not yet anyway, I am setting a new goal of starting the workouts next Monday.

What’s that?  Why not tomorrow?  Back in the saddle straight away?

Because people, I’ve never been IN the saddle to begin with.  I’m frankly no where near the horse.

And because I’m sure I have a few sugar binges left in me before I hunker down and work on things in a serious fashion.

I promise to post another (real) review in 6 weeks and let you know how it goes.  If I live through it.  Which is questionable for sure.

Organization = success (sort of)

In the weeks that preceeded our formal beginning of homeschooling this past Monday, I spent a great deal of time trying to brainstorm ways to streamline our daily life and ways to set myself and the kids up for success as we prepared to dive into learning together.

The phrase that kept churning around in my head was that I wanted to “set me up for success”.  I wanted a plan.  I like plans.  Much as I like to let chaos rule sometimes and just make messes and play with the kids, it isn’t conducive to a happy home for very long.  Much as I also like to obsess about cleaning sometimes and get every tiny thing picked up, it isn’t conducive either to a happy home with happy children.

Middle ground.  It always seems to be my goal in most areas of life.  Finding the balance between a cleaning maniac mother who can’t let one thing get out of place and a disorganized, frazzled mother who can’t even find her shoes is the place  I am shooting for these days.

So to help in getting there, these are the things in place that may (or may not) be helpful to anyone else that I wanted to share…

I asked Christopher (nicely) about 3 weeks ago to help me get the house back under control every single night of the week.  I asked that we commit to reigning it in before it got out of control because I don’t believe my kids can learn well when there is complete disorder.  I put very specific stipulations on my request, namely that neither of us go online until the dinner dishes are done, the laundry is put away and the house is generally picked up.  This is a big, BIG sacrifice during fantasy football season and I knew it.  But I also knew it might have benefits that outweighed that hit.

I am amazed at what has taken place since we agreed on that.  If I slack during the day (and granted some days are so darn hard, it’s not slacking it’s just survival), then I am choosing to spent at least an hour maybe more late at night helping regain order.  If I keep myself going on the hour by hour tasks of the day, I am choosing to have little left to do at night and go to bed early or read a book snuggled in my bed for 2 hours.

In 3 weeks I’ve read more fiction books than in the past 3 years of my life.  Not kidding.  I have chosen to do a load of laundry every single day instead of save it all for the weekend, thus creating a monumentous task that I have grown to hate.  I have chosen to spend time each morning and afternoon with the kids doing a quick pick up instead of ending the day with a battle of who’s going to clean which room.

My kids are still getting used to what it feels like to find clothes in their dresser instead of in the ‘clean pile’ in the family room that was usually taller than they were.  So is my husband.  He recently asked me where to find a clean shirt, I replied “folded, in your dresser” and he said “Really??”.  Yes.  It was true.

I also spent several hours two weekends ago organizing our homeschool closet.  I bought rubbermaids in all sizes for each subject and genre of supplies and magazine holders that serve as a spot to put the materials that we’ll use daily.  I did a big run to the goodwill with stuff we don’t need.  I got myself back to planning dinners for the week too, knowing that with school at home I’d need to be really to feed the masses on a constant basis.

I am well aware that the spectrum of daddy’s/husbands runs wide.  Some help a lot, some hardly help.  Some work long days and some don’t have a job.  But the feeling of being on the same page with the one who made this family with me is touching a deep part in my heart.  It is worth the effort and the several tries at communication that it’s taken to forge a new path in this area of our life.

I have two more posts about homeschool and daily life coming up later this week!  We are having so much fun I can hardly stand it.  The biggest reason for that is everything I wrote above….and extra measures of the grace that only God can dole out.

Beauty in a movie and a book

As always, there is good and bad in every day.  Yesterday just as we pulled in to the driveway, Rylee threw up all over the car as she was getting out of her seat  (the bad).  I had a mini-meltdown, including tears, at our OT’s office due to a scheduling error on their part (bad).  I almost broke my mom’s finger trying to get my new stroller open, we both nearly cried (very bad).

But in the midst, with a new organization plan in place for our daily life and some better boundaries for me on my time, I still decided to finish a book and watch a movie last night (both very good).  Those two helped off-set the rest of my day in just the right way.

Yesterday afternoon while everyone here rested and I completely gave up attempting to clean the van, I finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Tears blurred my ability to read the words yesterday as I read the last 50 pages.  It was a long, 500+ page book.  I’ve been reading it for over a week.  It was beautifully, uniquely written.  If you want to dive into something deep and lovely, it would be a great choice.  ‘Death’ wrote the book and as such paints a remarkable picture of humanity.  As he ushers souls into eternity, a story catches his attention in the middle of Nazi Germany.  It is a story of courage, of love, of hope and of the incredible strength of a little girl.  He writes one particularly miserable afternoon in June of 1943, when I believe the first gas chambers were used at Auschwitz.

Please believe me when I tell you that I picked up each soul that day as if it were newly born.  I even kissed a few weary, poisoned cheeks.  I listened to their last, gasping cries.  Their vanishing words.  I watched their love visions and freed them from fear.

I took them all away, and if ever there was a time I needed distraction, this was it.  In complete desolation, I looked at the world above.  I watched the sky as it turned from silver to gray to the color of rain.  Even the clouds were trying to get away.

Sometimes I imagined how everything looked above those clouds, knowing without question that the sun was blond and the endless atmosphere was a giant, blue eye.

They were French, they were Jews, and they were you.   (from page 350)

I also watched the movie The Soloist after bedtime.  It was particularly interesting to me that it’s the guy from the church messes everything up in his pious, well-intentioned acts.  And it is the regular, everday man whose life is profoundly impacted by the life of a mentally ill, homeless man who posseses surreal musical talent.  Again, it was a story of beauty and depravity and the coming together of the two.

It’s not glamorous but…

…this is my life.

Last night I found myself sitting naked in the kitchen holding a puking toddler for longer than I care to tell you.  I had been snuggled in my bed reading a (fiction!) book relaxing from what had been too long a day.  And we had just heard that a friend’s son had fallen from a 2nd story window onto concrete and I was shook up and sad, after we prayed for them I grabbed my book and tried to calm down.

It was about then that Kyler opened his door, sobbing, holding a stack of baseball cards tightly in his chubby little hand.  I ran over to him, asked what was wrong, he mumbled, I tried putting him back in bed, offered water, offered to snuggle him, etc.

Then he threw up all over me.  I ran to the kitchen, while hollering for Christopher’s help (he was on the computer in the family room).  In one move, I stripped my puke-covered jammies off, sat down, grabbed a bowl, tried to catch the quickly coming additional vomit.

By about 3 AM Kyler had nothing left and finally rested for more than 30 minutes.  I took another load of disgusting laundry out to the washer.  I remembered what I had thought just this afternoon, “Wow, I caught up on 13 loads of laundry in 3 days…all by myself and I even folded it and put every bit of it away…this is pretty awesome.  The only thing that could undo how awesome this is is a puke-fest kind of night where I do wash in my sleep!”

Oh the irony right?!  But somehow shaking food chunks out the back deck at 1 AM I was honestly nothing but thankful.  Fairly close to gushing gratitude in the midst of the grossness.

I was not at the local trauma hospital hoping my son’s brain and body would survive a bad fall.

I was not at Childrens Hospital like another friend of ours is with a sick little girl.

I am not worried about how we will eat or pay our mortgage like several people in our life are.

I am not sick, my family though maybe encountering a bit of a bug, is not truly sick.

My husband has a job to go to today.  He will work his butt off on our behalf today.

Not knowing about my awful night, my older two kids got their baby sister out of bed and left me sleeping.  They changed her diaper, got her dressed, made her breakfast, put her in the high chair, fed her, played with her.  When asked by me if Daddy told them to help because I didn’t sleep, they were confused.  They said no, he was gone long before they woke up.  My heart bursted with love for them.

Watching Christopher spray the heck out of the nasty bedding in the backyard with a flashlight at midnight made me love him just a little bit more than I did yesterday.

Somehow despite no sleep,

not feeling great,

my husband being gone for 12 hours or more again,

and sick children…

We will get through the day.

Isn’t it amazing what a little bit of perspective does to the way we look at life? I am fairly blown away today just thinking about it.