Final Lap of The Race

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Acts 20:24
“I consider my life worth nothing to me;
my only aim is to finish the race
and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—
the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

I’m not a runner. I may have gone through a short stint a couple years ago where I gave it a try, but it’s quite arduous and painful… so let’s just be doubly honest here, I am not and never shall be a runner. And yet as image-bearers of the Creator, we all do run ~ He is the one that determines and establishes our every step (Proverbs 16:9), He is the one that prepared our good works for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10). Each step I take is of Him, for Him, by Him, through Him. Some of us run races faster than others (ahem, remember I’m just a walker?).

But I know what it is to run.
I recognize various parts of the race when I see others racing.
I can see the difference between the sprint, the endurance lap, the uphill grind, the downhill blitz.
Known as an encourager, I guess you could say I know something about standing along the sidelines and cheering others on.

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And have you noticed that the beginning and ends of the race are where the most stands are filled?
So much energy and exultation happens when the race begins.
In the middle, when things seem smooth and easy, sometimes there are stretches where there is nobody cheering; simply the occasional medic or someone handing you a water bottle. At other points in the middle when the hills are steep or the terrain dangerous, there may be more people gathering around to make sure you survive the toil and they cheer for you as you make each stride.
But it’s at the end of the race, in that final lap, where the cheering and rejoicing and clapping is most obvious. Even moreso than the energy expended at the outset. It is then, at the end, when you will see so much egging on, encouraging shouts, jumping up and down with loud exults, coming into downright cacophony nearing the finish line.

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Hebrews 12:1-2
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely,
and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross,
despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

My children and I have been spending hours every week at the elderly care home where my grandpa lives. So many of these people are finishing the ends of their races without coaches and cheerleaders. We have even semi-adopted two older men there who are bedridden, and we bring joy to them as they continue on these laps near the ends of their races.

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But recently it is Grandpa himself who has needed the cheerleaders amping up. For him, the final lap has begun. The finish line is getting closer. It can be so tempting to plop myself down along the sideline and just bury my head in my arms. I don’t have the best relationship with grief, I have probably a good bit of PTSD associated with it in fact.

This is not the time, though, for me to take a breather and leave my faithful runner alone on the path.
This is the time to cheer him on the most.
He’s almost there! He’s almost finished! That fullness of joy is nearly within his grasp!

Psalm 16:11
“You make known to me the path of life.
In Your presence there is fullness of joy;
at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

So here I sit, here I stand, here I’ll commit to staying ~ cheering on my grandpa as he rounds the final bend in these final laps. He has run with endurance. The finish line is in sight. His faith will be perfected, it will become sight, and soon he will see King Jesus face to face.

Grandpa! You’re almost there!
I may cling to your weary, wrinkly hand with all my might right now,
but I would not ask your soul to tarry.
Run. Fly.

Finish strong.
You have lived well. You have run with grace.
We will rejoice with you when you step at last
into the victory lap, joining the cloud of witnesses across the finish line.

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Two Years Old

God’s amazing hand in our life by granting us His gracious gift of Simeon James two years ago is just astonishing on so many levels. I can not believe the adventure of his entrance into the world of the oxygen-breathing was two years ago. My little boy loves so much and so well. Books, tea, turning anything & everything into a phone, taking rides on Great Grandpa’s lap in the wheelchair, snuggling with his parents after the big kids have gone to bed, singing at the top of his lungs, talking up a storm, exploring with flashlight in hand, zooming around on a tiny balance bike with epic skill. This little boy has a big life ahead of him; he is embracing it with both hands already. We couldn’t be more thankful for God’s evident grace in his life, and the faith Christ continues to grow within him.

Happy Birthday, sweet little benediction.

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Walking in the Way

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Come, sweetheart… come for a walk with your mama. It was not long ago that I carried you every time I went walking, but then you grew a bit and began to stretch your legs. Another little one came along then, and I carried him in my arms while holding your hand tightly in my grasp. Keep you from tripping, stumbling, sidling into the ditch or losing your boot in a puddle.

But today my arms are swinging, my palms holding nothing but the breeze. You are walking on your own, but not too far away. The little brother is having his first ride in the stroller. Big sister pushing. Mama’s eyes constantly on you both, giving direction and correction, gently guiding without grasping.

Parts of the path are smoother than others. When you walk along the smooth parts without the dips, the bumps, the stray gravel, things feel more carefree. The burden of the stroller is easier to push. Isn’t it fun to run and laugh and feel that sunshine all around?

Other parts of the path are muddy… watch out, don’t get stuck there… dig your heels in, really use those muscles, push through. If you go helterskelter through the muck, it is going to splash onto you, stick to your boots, cling to the hem of your dress… better to have diligence and self control and constancy as you work through the muddy puddly parts. Keep the little one protected from the muck. If you get too messy, it’s likely that it will slosh onto him too. Get that burden through the puddle and onto the other side.

Yes, I will help you… take it? okay, this time I will… I can see you are weary. I’ve done this before, I know this walk and I recognize the muddy puddle to. Take my hand, I’ve got you. Let me push the stroller for a little while as you catch your breath. It’s good to know you don’t walk alone, isn’t it? I love to feel your hand in mine, see you smile up at me, little image of who I once was, the one urging me on toward who I am becoming. We go together along this path, at the same time, hand in hand, yet in different places. I started along it sooner, I will stop before you do. Until then, let’s keep walking.

Oh yes, sure, you may have the stroller back. I’ll let your hand go again and keep my eyes on you as you continue pushing that burden ahead.
I love to see you delighting in the world around you, my girl. I love watching you take it all in, observe, indulge, taste and discern.

Why do you keep looking backward, glancing behind you with a look of fear? No, there is no car coming on our little path. No, there are no mountain lions here. How do I know?… oh… um… I just do.
Things are getting a bit wobbly now, sweetie, keep going forward and watch where you are walking. I know it’s fun to make zigzags and loopy lines along the way, but you must be careful not to stray. Mommy is not holding your hand… oh sweetheart, can I take the stroller now? Can I hold your hand? Will you stay closer and walk more carefully with me? I worry you may trip… don’t stumble… what if I can’t catch you?

You are running forward while looking behind… you are forgetting to care well over the burden you are pushing… look out! a ditch!
Silly little girl I love, look at the wheels, stuck in the stones, baby nearly toppled over, you slightly scraped your knee.
Do not run from Mommy, do not fear what is behind you, you do not have to fret so.

There we are, let me help you back onto the path. Let me settle the stroller wheels for you in the right direction. Hold firmly to the burden while you are moving forward, and keep your eyes focused mostly on where you are going. There, that’s it. Good job… much better! Doesn’t it feel good to keep set on the right way?

Oh, do you see those puddles up ahead? How will you prepare to meet them? Is there a wise way around them? Is the only way through them, with steady step and a firm grip on the burden you are pushing along? What did you say? Oh, yes of course I can help you push it through this set of puddles. That was a wise way to work through them. You saw the trouble coming and knew to ask for someone with a firmer grip and more experience with the puddles and the path and the burden. Well done. Keep your hands on it and your gaze fixed where you need to go… I will simply add my hands to yours and give you the confidence that you don’t have to do it alone. Together, we have more strength, more solidity, more stalwart tenacity. Companionship does ease the burden. I would rather laugh with you and cry with you than do either one alone.

You did well, my sweet. Look at you, smiling in the sun and making your own breeze with your speed. Yes, your eyes are facing where you should be going, I see the skip in your step, your face to the sun, your hair blowing like a veil. Yes, I see those beautiful little flowers growing there beside the path. You’re right, they are lovely. Would you like to stop for a moment to enjoy this expression of beauty? Shall we pick one to tuck behind your ear, carrying with you a token of delight? You are bringing some mud along the way, it would be a nice counterpart to have a sweet violet also.

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What’s that you say? Why yes, I do see that patch of bumpy gravel. Yes, you may try to push through it on your own. Remember, I am here if you need me. I will encourage you with my words unless and until you need me to give you a boost with my hands. I think you’re prepared for this. Your eyes are focused on what is coming, your hands are gripping the burden. You have traces of both past difficulty and past ease… on your hem, tucked behind your ear… determination in your eyes, fire in your soul.

Don’t forget the little one you are caring for! It’s not just about you anymore. Be watchful and take care over that which has been entrusted to you.
Yes, you came across the bumps without falling to the side nor losing a handle on the burden you carry. You were watchful, careful, alert. Continue steadily on, yes, you are doing fine. I’m watching you, the same path beneath our feet… I am slowing down, you are moving on ahead…

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Oh my sweet little girl, yes… yes, I am proud of you… we made it to the end of our walk for today. You did well. You proved true. You did faithfully.

And tomorrow, let’s walk along the way again, shall we? I’ll stay near to you again. We will face the same walk with possibly different terrain. Perhaps there will be rain, with more mud and deeper puddles and sticky ruts. Perhaps the sun will burn our necks, and the path will be so dusty we can’t help but cough. The violets? Hmm, I don’t know… keep your eyes open for whatever beauty pops up along the way, because often there are different beautiful flowers at different times in different places… simply watch for them, and when you find them, recognize them and delight in them… and yes of course, do remember to carry some of that fresh beauty with you.

We will continue walking together as the days go on. I will enjoy it while we have it. Each other. And the way to walk. Together.
I no longer carry you, but I walk beside you. I’ll still be near.
The day is coming all too soon when you will be making the walk on your own.

This Is Our Newest Must-Read

 

You know those times when you stumble upon a great book that you just read over and over again because it’s that good?
Usually I would say my favorites that fall into that category are things like The One Year Book of HopeTeaching from RestStreams in the Desert, or other things in that type of category. Maybe something like Anne of Green Gables or Little House on the Prairie or even the Brambleberry Hedge collection… I don’t know. But I wouldn’t say that I usually fall in love with short, simple picture books from the children’s section at the library. I feel like it is pretty rare that I want to run to the bookstore (or open up Amazon, because, really – I’m an hour from bookstores, and I’ve got four busy little people in tow!) because I have fallen in love with a picture book.

Confessedly, I did buy Papa’s Mechanical Fish for my dad’s birthday not long ago, after having gotten it at the library for my kids… and it was too much right up my dad’s alley NOT to get him a copy. (Whizz-bang-thump-whirrrrr!)

But this one? My newest favorite? I can’t help but share it with all of you. 🙂

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I love the artwork, I love the simple wording, I love the reality, I love the humor.
I love seeing my own life reflected in something as simple as a picture book.
This is My Home, This is My School by Jonathan Bean is one of our newest favorite books.

It will be arriving on my doorstep when my dear old 2-day shipping comes through.
And just because it’s that perfect, it will also be arriving on the doorstep of some of our dearest friends. (hint, hint!)

If you aren’t a homeschooling family, you might not quite get the apt humor and nuances, but perhaps it would help give you a little glimpse into what the homeschool can be like.
And if you ARE a homeschooling family, I would take a leap and say that this is a total must-have for your home library!!

  

Of course, the boys might take pleasure in calling our dog “the bully” and me “the grumpy cafeteria lady” now… but it’s all in hilarious good fun!

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Our Daily Reads

We have been doing a lot of reading aloud together lately. A lot. Maybe it’s because I realized that I really can not split myself up to have one-on-one reading time with each kid every day of the week. So they get lumped together a bit. It is also partly because I like the children to take turns reading aloud to one another. And I want them to each have opportunities to listen to books they love, but also listen to books they don’t love or are not initially drawn to.

Of course I recently poured my soul out to you about our Family Loves here, and books was one of our top three. If my description of my recent purchases and library runs didn’t convince you, allow me to show you through some quick snapshots (sorry for the photo-editing flubs… I’m new at this…) what our current reads are. And yes, I’m pretty serious that we go through a stack as tall as my daughter almost every day. Our daily reads are quite broad, you could say. And we love it

So let me just share with you some of the books we have been reading (and most, we’ve been loving) lately.
The boys want me to point out, however, that this is not a complete list because they didn’t want me to bring down the books currently at their bedsides. I know one of those is The Action Bible because Gabriel has read through that multiple times, and just keeps repeating it! And there are usually a couple Calvin & Hobbes and some Magic Treehouse books stashed by Asher’s pillow.

Those are the books that we tend to read in the morning (just Mommy & the kids), and then a couple of them are what Daddy read aloud to the whole family… the slew of N.D. Wilson and C.S. Lewis, for instance.

This is the stack of seasonal books we picked up at the library recently, which the kids and I have been loving. Books about gardens, spring, animals, Easter, nature, bugs, dirt…
All totally lovable things, and perfect for these sometimes-rainy, sometimes-sunny school days!

And do you want to see some of the things we have yet to read as a family?
Some of these we will do as a family of six at the dinner table in the evening (because the adults always finish our plates first, so Mommy washes the dishes & Daddy reads aloud while the kids keep munching and listen intently).

It looks like kind of a daunting stack, especially when I consider the ones that belong to the county library, because those actually have official due dates… whereas at least the ones from our own little family library here at home don’t have to be completed & returned to the shelf at any specific date!

And honestly, you know, life wouldn’t feel quite rounded out if I didn’t have my own little stash of personal reading on my bedside table for nights and mornings…
I’ve been asked if I would consider reviewing a couple of these, so we’ll see if I end up following through on that or not. 🙂

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What are your current reads?
What are you reading with the children in your life?
What do you like to fall asleep reading at night?
What do you read when you need a laugh, or encouragement, or a quiet moment?
What books would you choose to write a review on, if someone gave you that open opportunity?

Family Loves

I said a few days ago that in my journey of teaching people, one of the main things I am doing is teaching my children what to love and how to love. Over the last few days I have thought numerous times about my children someday no longer being children. It’s happening right before my eyes. Every day, I’m one day closer to my empty nest, to their wings carrying them off, to my grandbaby birds peeping around. There are times I can get so downright caught up in the daily living of life and training of my little people that I can honestly lose sight of the bigger picture.

When I am up to my elbows in crockpot meals, dirty dishes, laundry to fold, books to read, worksheets to check, diapers to change, bills to pay, phone calls to return, appointments to keep, seasons & holidays to embrace… I can forget the big rocks in the jar. How in the world it can be so easy to overlook those… it’s beyond me… but I get so buried in all the little pebbles that I no longer see the cornerstones.

So it’s helpful to ask myself occasionally, when my children fly the coop, what are those cornerstones I want them to see when they look back over their shoulders toward childhood? What solid rocks do I want them to carry on their own journeys forward?

I suppose the biggest answer is a pretty obvious one. I want my children to have their Triune God as the absolute overriding pillar of their childhood. I want joy to be the feeling they recall. I want their memories plastered with family and the family loves.

So since y’all know I come from a Christian background and am seeking to do my utmost for the Kingdom in the raising of these little saints for Him, I’m going to just skip over the first two points, assuming that you would nod in agreement with me and think, well duh.

But when it comes to the memories plastered with family and the loves of our family… I think that is where our own little family cultures start to take their unique beauties and precious forms. No two quite exactly alike.
Some families have football and classical education at the top of their Family Loves list.
Some families have speech club and farm-to-table gardening in first place on their Family Loves list.
Some give precedence to family birthday parties, Sabbath meals, and Winnebago journeys across the country.

I have been evaluating the Family Loves of my home.
What Loves do I emphasize for my children to embrace, so that they know God and feel joy through the Loves?
I feel like I can somewhat confidently narrow it down to three:
Food, Music, & Books.

When I expressed this to someone recently, I was met with a hearty laugh, a hand clapped on my shoulder, and an encouraging word: “well, then I can see you are on the right path. It’s pretty clear that those are the loves in this home.”

Maybe it’s the excitement the kids have three times a day about gathering around our table for food & fellowship. Maybe it’s the almost incessant cycle of making sourdough bread in our home. Maybe it’s the freezer full of muffins, scones, cookies, and bread. Maybe it’s the beef, the balsamic covered salads, the homemade pesto on al denta pasta. Maybe it’s the ice cream every Sunday night with the family movie. Maybe it’s the dinners at Grandmama’s house with all the cousins, and the heaps of food that fill bellies & fatten souls.

Maybe it’s the grand piano and two harps that take a bit of center stage in our family room. Maybe it’s the fact that we start almost every day with singing around the breakfast table. Maybe it’s that the kids have music instruments at their disposal from the time they know how to blow a whistle or shake a tambourine. Maybe it’s the fact that they have a mother with a degree in music. Maybe it’s the fact that their mother believes music should be a foundational pillar in a Christian home. Maybe it’s the fact that these little redheads honestly just can’t stop singing. All day long. They sing about everything. Maybe it’s how they beg me to play piano for them at night after I tuck them in; that is as much a part of our bedtime liturgy as brushing teeth, tucking them in, praying for them, and singing their blessing.

Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t go a week without bringing more books home from somewhere. Maybe it’s because between my husband & me, we have gone to the library every day this week. Maybe because I found an amazing woman on craigslist who literally runs a bookmobile side business out of her minivan, and I brought home 70 books two days ago… and then hit the library sale for another 30 books yesterday… and then decided today that it was time to figure out some of next year’s curriculum for the boys, so of course that involved buying books from Amazon and Veritas. And if you know me very well at all, you know I have an addiction to the 49-cent children’s books on the shelves of Goodwill. Maybe it’s because we don’t have a television in the family room, but we do have a wall of bookshelves, and about five other storage containers for books all in that room (plus more in the schoolroom and every bedroom and Steven’s study). Maybe it’s because we spend about half our waking hours reading books in this house.

But wait.

Are those the causes? or the effects?
Are those the reasons these things are our main Family Loves?
Or are these the outworkings of them being our main Family Loves?
Both, in fact, I should think.

If you were to designate a few main Family Loves in your home, what would they be? And why?
What is it about those specific things that makes you want your children to love them?
And how do you envision creating a culture of loving those things in your home?

Teaching People…

I have been contemplating a lot about teaching lately… Everyone says that there comes some kind of slump at the end of February… it seems to coincide with spring fever! So I decided to talk to myself, and pray with my Lord, about things quite a bit this week.

I finally got tired of constantly re-requesting Teaching From Rest from the local library, so last week I went ahead & Amazoned it (yep, I used that as a verb – I’m cool like that). It’s much happier to have this sweet, encouraging, accessible book at home on my own desk.
I have recently gotten more addicted to perusing Sarah Mackenzie’s website and instagram. Last year, her ideas about spiral notebooks totally changed the way our homeschool (and life!) works – this year is far and wide smoother and sweeter than previous years. Steven and I credit a lot of that to the simple, wise implementation of our spiral bound notebooks (our children simply refer to The Lists, and yes, in their eyes they are quite capitalization-worthy). Hands-down without a question, we will be doing it this away again next year, in case you were wondering!

I’ve been teaching some fun music classes at our weekly homeschool co op this winter, and am about to jump into teaching some new things in the spring session! I’m pretty excited about it. And I actually enjoyed teaching music theory this winter a lot more than I thought I would. :) My students were great, and the curriculum/notebooks I was able to compile over Christmas break worked really well! I am so thankful for God’s grace in the details.
I do find that I am still a newbie at teaching other peoples’ kids, and some of the more seasoned moms have reminded me recently that when I am sassed or disrespected, it is not only in the best interest of the classroom at the time but also just one more way I am teaching a student, to send the student to their mother for instruction and correction. I am ever so thankful for the more seasoned mamas who have so much grace and generosity with newbies like me!

Yesterday I was also approached on the subject of teaching children about Sunday worship. It was an interesting little conversation, and got me pondering the issue a great deal more. Interestingly, I had just listened to a podcast on the subject last week, so I had already been mulling over some principles and methods before the conversation even came up yesterday.

Sometimes I get caught up in the idea that I am teaching math, teaching English, teaching music… teaching subjects.
But the reality is that I am not teaching things.

I am teaching people.
In fact, I’m teaching my favorite people in the whole world!
While I am teaching brains, shaping cultures, instilling eternal souls with a variety of life,
I’m essentially continuing on my journey of creating people.
Sculpting, molding, shaping, filling.

I show them what to love and how to love.
It’s a big job. In fact, it can be downright overwhelming.
I don’t want to get caught in the trap of stressing over methods, curricula, schools of thought, schedules.
I want to focus on teaching precious people how to love true, good, beautiful things.

This takes time and thought and joy and peace and grace.
It also does happen to take books and pencils and instruments and keyboards and recitation and repetition and trying-again.

And yes, it definitely also takes a sense of humor and a pot of coffee every morning. :)

 

Being Real

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I don’t do social media. I am trying to be better about not spending much time every day even on emails or blogging.
I think my personal biggest temptation is to look sideways and play the comparison game, especially with other mommies. Other moms (either celebrity or personal friends) seem to have it all together. They are thinner, stronger, prettier. They have better complexions and fewer grey hairs. They have kids with perfect table manners and “yes ma’am” down pat. They craft with their kids with the best of the Pinterest folks without getting glue and glitter all over the house… or at least the other mamas don’t seem to care about the messes and have magic fairies who tidy up. Their kids can cook, clean, and organize circles around even the most put-together Rubbermaid-queen mamas.

That’s what I see anyway. I see other lives through filters. Rosy glasses. Carefully selected snapshots. Snippets of seeming perfection.

What I see here without filters, through my dirty & scratched old glasses is every moment of my life. I don’t take time to put on makeup every day. I don’t remember to wash my hair every week. I can’t remember the last time I exercised on purpose. There are occasional foodie moments (like my loaves of sourdough I’m trying to perfect) or crafting successes that may make me want to take pictures and sign up for an Instagram so I too can show off my domestic prowess!

But I’m too busy wiping bums, sorting laundry, stoking the fire, reading history books and Bible stories with the children, finding lost mittens, feeding mouths that never seem satiated, and doling out new school assignments by the hour.

No time for blogging.
No time for taking pictures, even though I have both my Nikon and my iPhone on my desk. Right here in the kitchen. Center of the chaos.

But this is reality.
It’s my life.

This is the MOST WONDERFUL JOB IN THE WORLD.
I do not want to trade it for anything!!
(And yes, if you happen to see my tear-stained face, it’s true: I still struggle with the desire to add more crazy kids to the already-chaotic mix, and it is a real heartache to the depths of my soul that I can not.)
I love my job as Senior Domestic Engineer and Vice President of Clan Development.

And simultaneously, this is the HARDEST, MOST EXHAUSTING JOB IN THE WORLD.
I daily feel unfit for the position.
I am unworthy of the privilege and overwhelmed by the responsibility.
How often I have to take deep breaths, cry ugly tears, and grab a handful of CheezIts… I won’t actually admit.

I want to be real.
I want to share the ups and the downs.
I want to let people know that I love my work, and that I am sometimes overwhelmed by it.
I also want my friends to know that I am not overwhelmed because I am ungodly, not spiritual enough, don’t pray long enough, or am a less-than mommy.
I am a specifically created woman, with a unique frame and a highly sensitive nature (click here if you want to know what that means).
I am (in the words of a dear friend) a recovering people-pleaser.
I am a truly imperfect perfectionist.

So I’m seeking to find opportunity where I can carve out more moments to be real.
To share the real.
To give glimpses into the incredibly amazing, joy-filled, beautiful, chaotic, messy life I have.
Out in the country. In the home I designed with my husband. Balancing work and play, grief and joy. Raising the children we created together. Homeschooling these sweet brains that are way too intelligent for my good. Discipling these incredible hearts & souls for the Kingdom of God.
I cook good food here to feed real people. I (try to) clean and organize this home. I fill it with books by the dozens (thank you Goodwill for shelves full of 49-cent page turners!!).
This is where mistakes and messes happen. This is where Grace and Forgiveness takes on flesh. This is where we need Lysol wipes and plenty of Bath & Bodyworks soap pumps. This is where I fall into bed at night feeling like I can not bear another moment with sounds and lights and people and demands… but where I also do not want to miss a moment with these delightful beings in this precious place.
I am sad when another day ends. But also relieved.
I am delighted when another day begins. But also overwhelmed.

There’s not much more real than that.

Here’s hoping God grants me occasional moments to continue being real with you.
I long for my words to capture where the joy, the grace, and the freedom really is.
So I can embrace my calling, my life, my messes & my beauties, my joys, and my struggles ~ and not feel like I have to hide.
I don’t have to cast sidelong glances elsewhere, and crawl back into my hole.

God made me. For His glory.
And that’s got to be totally enough.
Really.

Journey Bread

I have been baking bread for my family since I was pregnant with Gabriel… that’s a good nine years of healthy, delicious, economical goodness right there. I have come up with a couple different staple recipes that I can whip up easily and consistently. My typical loaf bread includes whole wheat (ground right in my mama’s basement), oats, cornmeal, honey, and extra goodies like flax and millet when I can manage it. I call this Family Bread and it’s basically our daily fare (not that we eat bread every day, but you get what I mean). Then I came up with something I call Canaan Bread which includes milk, honey, olive oil, sea salt, and potato flakes ~ it is our special occasion bread that makes light, fluffy loaves or rolls worthy of being related to the promised land!

This year for Christmas gifts, I have been baking up bread (three loaves at a time) to deliver to neighbors and friends. It is a little more practical than some options, and honestly it seems like folks are genuinely pleased to have a healthier alternative to cookie plates (although really, if you want to bring one to MY house, none of us would mind!). I made pretty labels for the loaves, including Scripture from John 6.

Jesus said, “This is the work of God;
that you believe in Him whom He has sent…
For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world…
I am the Bread of Life;
whoever comes to Me shall not hunger…
For this is the will of My Father,
that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him
shall have eternal life…

John 6:29, 33, 35, 40

Plus, for our neighbors (whether they have a relationship with Christ, we don’t know), I tied a copy of the current Our Daily Bread issue to the bottom of the loaf.

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I have had the kids each take turns helping me bake the bread on different days. Today was Evangeline’s day to help bake bread.We were going to make my Canaan Bread today, so we could deliver some loaves to friends tomorrow morning at a playdate… with a couple little tweaks, because I added some sourdough starter I’d had proofing and decided to toss in some whole wheat too…

Evangeline helped me put honey, milk, warm water, olive oil, sourdough starter, dry active yeast, and whole wheat flour in a bowl. We let it rest and proof while we ate breakfast (Mommy poured a cup of coffee, but only got one sip in… hmm… red flag anyone?) and read our Bible and Advent lessons for the day. Then Evangeline and I returned to our baking project. It may have looked like just a gloppy mess but oh! It bubbled beautifully and smelled so yeasty and sour and rich! I love that part of the process so much.

We added sea salt, quick oats, potato flakes, and high gluten bread flour, and got the dough hook working on the kneading process for us.
Everything was going smoothly, it seemed, while Evangeline manned the controls on the side of my KitchenAid mixer. Gabriel was practicing piano, Asher was working on a math page & singing at the top of his lungs, and Simeon was fussing at my feet so I picked him up & snuggled him on my hip. But the gluten didn’t seem to be developing properly because the texture of the dough was not getting stretchy and smooth. Evangeline wanted so badly to jump ahead to the part where she gets to punch down the dough and knead it into a loaf shape! I wanted so badly to gulp down my cup of coffee! But frustration was mounting, because clearly our bread was not verging on the bliss of Promised Land today.

In a Hail Mary fashion, I decide to crack an egg into the mixing bowl and let it get worked into the dough… but in the process of trying to stop the machine with a preschooler on a stool and a baby on my hip… attempting to crack the egg with one hand (because there are times, yes, where I can manage to pull off cool tricks like that… hah! thank you, Food Network and The Chew…)… my elbow knocks down a cup of flour and I accidentally crack the egg onto the floor.

Oops.
That’s right; I totally could have grabbed a fork and started whipping up a batch of egg noodles right on my kitchen floor…
You know, if it weren’t covered in dog hair and coffee grounds (and the bowl of Cheerios the baby threw on the ground).
Because in all honesty, my plan WAS to vacuum after the bread was in the oven!

For some reason, it seemed smart to plop the baby down on the floor so I could grab a spatula and a roll of paper towels… but of course the pile of flour and ooey gooey raw egg on the floor looked entirely enticing…
So yes, my 14 month old makes a bee line for the mess!
Meanwhile, imagine the loud piano combining with a kindergartener’s version of silly math songs pounding in your ears…
and just to top it off, my daughter jumps off the stool and tries to lend a hand with keeping her little brother away from the mess…

In one of my less glorious motherhood moments, I yell at the baby “no no! no touch!” and holler at my daughter to back away, and follow it up with a quick shout to the boys to be quiet so I can think straight about how to clean up this mess!
Yep.
That’s me.
Mom of the year.
Trying super hard to do my best at training my kids up in a Christ-centered, home-centered, family-centered, grace-centered home education.
Let’s just say, it’s a good thing I don’t have things like Pinterest and Instagram because you would not see a picture perfect snippet of me this morning.

I got the mess cleaned off the floor, shot off a few frenzied texts to my husband, and started to laugh at the whole situation.

I mean, really.
And all of a sudden I realize that my Canaan Bread is really much more like the 40 years in the wilderness today! It was punctuated with fussing, hunger, noise, frustration, faith to believe what I can not see, and me trying to take matters into my own hands when it’s not going exactly according to my picture-perfect-plans. That’s when I named today’s bread Journey Bread.

What I needed was grace. Saving grace. I needed cleansing waters and leaven for the lump.
I gulped down some coffee and took some deep breaths while I considered these things.
Then I had my daughter crack an egg into the bowl (yes, yolk & white successfully made it into the bowl this time) while I dissolved a bit more yeast into warm water, honey, and bread flour. Finally, we got it all kneading together and it was obvious that the glutens were developing properly now.

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We were beginning to see the fruit of our labors coming back together, and I couldn’t stop laughing at the previous antics.
I even had to text my grandma, asking her about her own memories from motherhood. I know the days can be long but the years are short. I know that babies don’t keep. And I want to know what a great-grandma recalls from her own motherhood journey decades later. What parts do I take pictures of? What snippets do I write down?
Do I just want to remember the weekly ritual of baking bread with my kids?
Do I want to remember the prettily packaged loaves we delivered to friends and neighbors while it snowed?
Do I want to remember the spilled flour and the egg I cracked onto the floor?
Do I want to remember the cacophony of crazy noise and the scramble to figure out how to clean the mess, protect the children (from the horrors of possible salmonella, of course, haha), regain my sanity, and rescue the dough before it completely flops?

All my grandma responded with was I wish I could remember more of those years!!
She didn’t say which parts she remembers. She simply shared her longing to remember what the years held.

I don’t only want to remember the picturesque moments. I want to remember living life.
I want to remember the journey. To remember God’s faithfulness even when I fussed (and when the children did too).
Something we love about Scripture, about the Gospel, is that we get to see the narrative including the tensions. It doesn’t let us just skip to the end and see how it all turns out in the New Jerusalem. Nope. It’s about the journey. Faith. Saving grace. Clinging to what we know and asking God to clean us up because we keep making messes out of things.

And you know what? It is good to laugh at myself. To revel in good things like noisy kids and a messy kitchen.
It is good to send frenzied texts to my husband… he needs snippets of what my days are like so he can more fully appreciate what he comes home to at the end of a day… right? :)

Oh my word – it’s a day! I may have been trying to bake bread with our daughter, while holding Simeon in one arm and cracking an egg with one hand… I just might have knocked a bunch of flour on the floor at the same time I cracked the egg onto to the floor instead of into the bowl…I might’ve totally tweaked my neck while trying to clean up the mess and keep the kids away from it…
This. Is. My. Life.

Bless him, my husband responded, “and I don’t know how you do it.”
To which I promptly admitted three little worlds: massage & coffee & wine.
And to top off the morning of laughing at myself, I added,
Oh. Probably should’ve been “Jesus” & “God” & “Grace” but you know… #realitycheck

Light

Light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s an interesting phrase, cliche, concept, and reality.
I remember spending months and years wondering why every light I would see would end up being a train to pummel me rather than the end of the tunnel.
Just when I would glimpse hope or joy, my life would come crashing to a halt again.
The pain and the sorrow, the tears and the utter devastation.
I kept thinking, I can never survive this again. If it happens again, it will kill me.

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The thick shadow of death’s valley was my home for ages.
And to be honest, I can not put my finger on the time when I felt like I was suddenly out in the light again.
Out of the tunnel.
There was not a time where I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and suddenly realized that it wasn’t another train.
There hasn’t been a moment where I finally notice the darkness is dissipating and I’m almost out of the shadowy tunnel.

But here I am.
I turn around, and I look back, to see that the tunnel is behind me.
That particular dark journey of thick shadows and tunnel vision is over.

Although I did not know it was coming, or perhaps it was simply that I was afraid to hope against hope and chose the path of denial…
I can tell you now, there was light at the end of the tunnel.
I know because I’m there now.

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To be real, frank, & honest, I haven’t come very far out of the tunnel.
It’s not like I’ve journeyed away.
I still stick my toes in there and dance around the opening.
Sometimes I do it on purpose.
Other times, I simply look up to realize I tripped and somehow ended up inside the tunnel again.
But I stay close to the open edge now – I don’t want to get sucked back into the deep darkness.
If a train is coming, I want to be out in the open so I have a chance to jump out of the way.

~…~…~…~

So here I sit on October 15th.
It’s Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day.
And I specifically purposed not to buy balloons this year.
I don’t know why.
Maybe it’s because the tunnel feels too close right now.
Maybe it’s just because I want to feel like I’m making decisions I want to make,
rather than just continuing with a tradition because, well, it’s tradition.

I didn’t used to believe I would ever come out on the other side. I didn’t know how it would ever be possible to “move on.” I disagreed that I would ever reach a light at the end of the tunnel. I clenched my teeth and sighed to myself when someone would tell me, “there’s always hope.” Honestly, a lot of cliches (true or not) made me want to smack something or someone.

But here I am.
There really was light at the end of the tunnel.
There really was hope.

I have full confidence now that if God did not want us to have another biological child after Gabriel that He would have had a different perfectly wonderful plan for our family. But in all honesty, I did not have that confidence at the time. Everything looked bleak from my perspective back then. So while I know now that God would have been faithful, no matter how black life looked from my unfaithful perspective, I understand from experience that you can not see rainbows when the storm is thick & raging so you can’t even see six inches in front of your face.

But today I am wearing my unwieldy necklace with thirteen metal nametags.
Simeon loves the jingle jangle it makes when he plays with it.
Evangeline likes to find her nametag and read it to me.
The big boys like to read the babies’ names, and ask me their order.
These kids know our family is bigger than it seems.

Life is not what I imagined it would be.
(Me with my dreams of three in diapers.)
But life is good.

~…~…~…~

Crying used to be a form of daily exercise for me. It was that exhausting.
I would bawl my eyes out in the shower each night because I knew it would limit anyone knowing how broken I was.
I used to think I would be drowning forever, that the nightmare would never end.

~…~…~…~

I know that I’m not longer held in the throes of deep, dark, ugly grief.
But how in the world did I survive that nightmare through to this other side, called “someday”?!
Grief is horrible. It is caused by horrible things, and it in turn can cause horrible things.
I didn’t know that, in time, it could also cause something beautiful.
I didn’t realize that “beauty from ashes” would look this way.

~…~…~…~

Grief was exhausting. Not just the crying parts.
But the mourning.
The ache and pain and physical manifestation of internal, emotional, spiritual devastation is horrible.
Just surviving hurt.
The life of being a mama to four little kids, and the underlying pain I have in my physical body on a daily basis still make me exhausted and I still deal with daily pain.
But it’s different. Lesser, somehow.

Mommy-exhaustion from my four miracles is less exhausting than grief.
Grief was a full-time job.
And that’s no exaggeration.
I spent years just enduring.
Ask anyone who has dealt with chronic suffering of any type.
Enduring isn’t for the faint of heart.
I don’t know how people do it without Christ’s strength.

I was telling another loss-mama just this week how encouraging it is, not only to be on the other side of the dark tunnel,
but to be able to better see purpose in my grief.
And not just for myself.
It is good to know that God has woven beauty out of the ashes for my own family.
For me.
But it is even more amazing to see how God allows me to share that beauty with others.
Romans 12:15 and 2 Corinthians 1:4 sum it up pretty spot-on for me.
I love to be that other woman who pulls you through the muck, because I used to be there too.
I love that God urges me to send books and make jewelry for other women whose babies have died.
I love that He lets me burden-bear for grieving women around the world.

~…~…~…~

So for PAIL Remembrance Day today, I want you to know…
I have been there. I get it. Me too. It sucks.

But I also want to gently tell you that while I don’t know God’s plans for my future, or for yours, I do know with confidence that He will be faithful.
He delights in bringing joy and peace to His saints. He rejoices over us with singing.
He is our keeper. He is the shade at our right hands. He doesn’t slumber or sleep.
He knows the beginning from the end, even when all we can see is one moment of dark, tearful despair when it feels like everything might as well be over.

The story isn’t done yet.
I’m praying in whatever chapter is next, His pinions reach you in a tangible peace.

~…~…~…~

Sometimes when I think about my babies in heaven, it knocks the wind out of me.
How much I love them.
How terribly I miss them.
How often I wish others knew about them or acknowledged them.
How happy I am in life now, even though the tunnel of grief is still visible and touchable.
Yep, even that.

There are times when it hits me so much harder than I feel like it should.
But I’m a mommy.
And those are my sweet babies.
So maybe it’s just that my brain doesn’t realize fully that it should hit me hard.
Being bowled over by the mixture of love & grief isn’t out of the ordinary.
It’s normal.

You know how moms start talking about their kids? They go off on a dozen rabbit trails, and sometimes you glaze over and think about how you can’t pay attention to another single tangent about this woman’s kids?
I feel like that at the moment.
I feel like I got started talking about my babies, and went on a few tangents and a bunch of rabbit trails, and I just realized that your eyes look glazed over.

I am their mommy. They are my babies. You will never know how much I love them, how deeply I miss them, how proud I am to be their mommy, how thankful I am that God gave me these babies.

Covenant Hope, you made me a mommy first. You were the first other soul ever to inhabit my body. I never got to hear your heart beat, but I felt you living inside of me. You are something super special. You are the big sister that Gabriel forever talks about. You, in the palm of my hand, with your precious limbs and that perfect little umbilical cord and the deep blue where your eyes were forming ~ I think of you and the one short evening I got to spend with you outside my womb. You are the one (of my thirteen!) that I have taken camping. Those were horribly painful memories for such a long time, but I love that those memories now make me smile. Your daddy and I got to take you camping.
Glory Hesed, you made Gabriel a big brother first. You would have been just eighteen months apart, and I often imagine the level of crazy you would have added to our home. It makes your mommy smile. I remember the days when I walked around with you underneath my skin.
Promise Anastasis, you are my summer rosebud. Your life gave me hope. I love that I can now look ahead to the resurrection, when I will see you again. I remember holding you. I remember the world caving in around me. I think it was when I said goodbye to you that I found myself in the tunnel-that-had-no-end.
Peace Nikonos, there is so much I remember about being pregnant with you. I remember every detail of delivering you into my hands, too. It has been seven years since you were knit inside me, snuggling in my womb. You came on an airplane with us to the East Coast. You are one of the few babies who had a chance to hear the voices of your paternal grandparents and even great-grandparents. Besides Gabriel, yours was the first heart we got to both see and hear beating. The immense comfort and delight of that was indescribable. I remember thinking you were a strong fighter, and that’s how I think of you. Fast and strong. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I never once even considered that you weren’t my son.
Mercy Kyrie, a little one who came along with me for a jump into the deep end of immunology treatments. I was surprised to learn you were growing inside me, and overjoyed. We spent an entire holiday season with you in my womb, and the joy and peace and hope you brought to my soul were deliciously addicting. Your grandpapa brought me a bouquet of flowers one day when we had good news about your health. Christmas that year suddenly felt redeemed. I think of you when it snows.
Victory Athanasius, you make me speechless. I remember when we named you, it specifically stands out to me for some reason. And saying goodbye to you. I remember the day keenly. So does your daddy. Again, you specifically stand out to us. The seventh child to inhabit my body, I love to think of you as a dancing victor.
Hosanna Praise. My son. I remember when your grandpapa called and confirmed you were a boy. It knit you more deeply into my heart than I could ever tell you. There’s something about a mommy and her boy. I remember carrying you in my belly. I remember taking you to Mexico. I remember seeing you on ultrasound and loving to watch your heartbeat. Your ultrasound photos might be my favorites (shh! don’t tell the others!). I named you Hosanna as soon as I found out God was knitting you. I didn’t know the number of your days, but I knew you would forever be my Hosanna. And although God’s plan is different than mine would have been if I had been the author (and everyone is thankful that Mommy isn’t, by the way!), I am thankful He heard our cries to save you. I’m thankful He is your Savior and your Lord. When I think of my sons, you are always there in the corner of my mind.
Heritage Peniel, you are the sweet little girl who made Evangeline a big sister. You and I shared blissful joys, baby. I saw you numerous times on ultrasound. I loved every piece of you. I still do. No bigger than my thumb, you were the most beautiful little thing. Holding you in my hands broke my heart, but at the same time, it was one of the best days of my life. That’s weird to admit. It was a horrible day. But oh! I’m so thankful I got to hold you. And kiss you. I miss having you running around in your big sister’s wake, wearing her old clothes, sleeping together in a pink and grey room full of flowers. Even though you are my January sweetheart, when I close my eyes, I envision you with peonies and lacy bonnets. There isn’t a doubt in Mommy’s mind that you would have been the quiet little freckle who could never quite keep up with the firecrackers.
Fidelis Se’arah, my wee faithful babe. Another little May blossom. Plucked too soon. Blooming fragrantly in heaven. You took my breath away. I still catch my breath when I think of you. You remind me that there is Someone who is faithful in all things, all times, all ways. You were the darling who pushed me to the end of a rope, and who gave me the courage to fall.


remembering today,
October 15th, 2016
with much mommy love for my nine xxx