Big Kid Joys

I love babies. My mom might smile and tell you that’s largely because I’ve had “easy babies.” But let’s be honest: to at least a certain extent, babies are babies, and babies are also honed by the hard work of their mama. So while God definitely did give my babies their blessed personalities and natures, He also has used the hard work of my hands, my time, my tears, my discipline, my prayers, my tactics… It’s not like they have grown up into “easy kids” in a lot of ways. So I think it might be safe to say that I’m GOOD at babies. I’m not quite so good at the preschool season. Not yet anyway. I am praying for grace to get there! 🙂

There are lots of joys that I can easily place my fingers on when it comes to my baby. Each one of my four children has brought me immense joy, and there is nothing I have loved (yet!) more than their babyhoods.

Perhaps that is one reason that I struggle emotionally with having the baby years closing behind me. In another couple of weeks, my baby will be a year old. That is, officially speaking, the end of infancy and the beginning of toddlerhood. This is the first time I’ve come upon a child’s first birthday without being/having been pregnant again. It will be the first time I have celebrated a child’s first birthday without the huge shadows of grief & fear. (I was pregnant with Promise on Gabriel’s 1st birthday, and had just miscarried Glory shortly prior; I was pregnant with Evangeline on Asher’s 1st birthday, and utterly terrified; I miscarried Heritage just two days before Evangeline’s 1st birthday, and was grieving immensely the death of her baby sister.)

Now the only shadow I sit under is the unique heaviness I feel upon knowing that this is the last time I will celebrate my child’s first birthday. (Praise the Lord for the hope of grandchildren!) I have had so much joy with my babies.

But here’s the thing I want to emphasize: there are going to be so many big kid joys in the future.
And this is one of the things I am just now discovering.
Perhaps it is because my friends’s kids, and my nieces & nephews are largely younger kids too. With a couple of rare exceptions, the folks we tend to hang out with on an intimate level are either in the same season of life we are, or are even a step or two behind us on the path.

And I need to know that the biggest joys of motherhood are not exclusively behind me.
Because, in all honesty, that is one of my big temptations, one of my big fears.
The baby years are familiar to me, they are joyful and comforting and deliciously sweet.

I am only barely beginning to see what some of the future joys may be.
The challenges of the older years seem to express themselves more easily.
I know there are hard times ahead. (Oh boy. It looks like menopause may intersect with puberty… that will be fun.)

So I need to start writing down the big kid joys as they come.
I need to look ahead with happy hope.
I need to laugh at, rather than fear, the future.

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I need to remember that resurrection follows death, in God’s economy.

Live the gospel in the things that no one sees. Sacrifice for your children in places that only they will know about. Put their value ahead of yours. Grow them up in the clean air of gospel living. Your testimony to the gospel in the little details of your life is more valuable to them than you can imagine. If you tell them the gospel, but live to yourself, they will never believe it. Give your life for theirs every day, joyfully. Lay down pettiness. Lay down fussiness. Lay down resentment about the dishes, about the laundry, about how no one knows how hard you work.

Stop clinging to yourself and cling to the cross. There is more joy and more life and more laughter on the other side of death than you can possibly carry alone.

~Rachel Jankovic~

Yesterday, my 8 1/2 year old (who is, by the way, beginning now to show me lots of big kid joys!) came grocery shopping with me. Now, that’s not unusual. But the unusual factor is that we did not have the 4 & 3 year olds with us. Simeon rode around the store strapped to my chest, I led the way with list in hand, and Gabriel took the initiative to choose a cart & push it along behind me. He was very intentional about letting others go first, about being a gentleman, and about jumping in when he saw an area to help. We talked about math a lot while we were shopping; figuring out which were the best mozzarella and parmesan purchases to make, based upon price per ounce, for instance. We did a good bit of math in our heads but also pulled out the calculator on my phone to help us with minutia.
But the biggest joy to this mama’s heart yesterday hit hard when he pushed the cart into the checkout line for me, while I ran back to the baking aisle to pick up a bag of powdered sugar. When I came back to him, he explained that he did not want to load the groceries onto the conveyor until the older woman in front of him was out of the way, because he wanted to give her space; but then he did not want me to lift a finger (except for the 17lb pumpkin…) because he wanted to do the heavy lifting. 🙂

He did not wait to be asked to help. In fact, he did not even ask if I wanted him to help.
He simply saw an area where he could help, and his servant-heart jumped into gear.

There also was not a bagger at our checkout line, so Gabriel helped bag things and placed every single bag into the cart.
By the time we reached the car, and it was time to buckle in his baby brother and help me put all the bags in the back of the Pilot, I was bubbling over with happy, humble thankfulness. To God and to my big boy.
I told him so.
And then when given the option of two “rewards” of a sort (two different reward systems we’ve got going on currently), he chose the option that would also affect his siblings, rather than the option that would only affect himself.

These are good things. They are big deals in the moment. (Sure, I understand they are not huge in the grand scheme, but my prayer and hope is that they will lead to huge good things in the bigger picture of our future.)

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There are also big kid joys like bowling league. Ballet class. Kids following their daily activities lists without me needing to micro-manage every hour of their day. Kids who basically fight over who gets to help Mommy set the table or wash the dishes. The joy of being able to play Carcassonne with my son, rather than always needing to play Chutes & Ladders; of being able to play real Monopoly, rather than always the Jr. version. The joy of watching my son both tithe & serve in a worship service with a happy countenance and willing heart.

Oh. And losing teeth. That’s a uniquely big kid joy, too. 😀

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There are definitely joys behind. These moments and memories will remain dear to my heart.
But knowing that there are joys ahead is a huge encouragement & blessing to me.
Experiencing the firstfruits now gives me hope for the future.

I so truly love the season of life where my sweet little branches develop beautiful, strong buds.
But now I am beginning to see the beauty of the buds opening, and the petals beginning to open little by little.
And I have hope that when the blooms are fully open, the true fruit will begin to show itself.
And someday, oh someday… those fruits will come off this tree… and I want to have joy & thankfulness about it…

So cheers to the future! Watch me embrace the next phase, as we move into big kid joys.
May God be my strength and establish my roots,
so that the sap is flowing thick & sweet for nourishment all around.
The roots are deep.
The buds are beautiful.
I can’t wait to taste the fruit.

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Real Beauty

As women, we ache to believe that
real beauty can be found in the midst of imperfection.
We are crying out for permission to lower our standards.
~Myquillyn Smith, The Nesting Place, p47~

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I see beauty all around me.
I see imperfection all around me.

I am looking to my Lord to help me see
not only imperfection in myself,
but beauty in that imperfection.

I am seeking to find joy not only in the work God has given me
but joy in the body He has given me to use for that work.

I am seeking to glorify Him through the imperfections,
rather than to negatively focus on them.

Lord, I believe.
Help Thou my unbelief.

Feeling At Home

It seems to me that women typically experience shame about two things~
their bodies and their homes.

… What people are craving isn’t perfection.
People aren’t longing to be impressed;
they’re longing to feel like they’re home.

If you create a space full of love and character and creativity and soul,
they’ll take off their shoes and curl up with gratitude and rest,
no matter how small,
no matter how undone,
no matter how odd.

…it isn’t about perfection, and it isn’t about performance.
You’ll miss the richest moments in life—
the sacred moments when we feel God’s grace and presence
through the actual faces and hands of the people we love—
if you’re too scared or too ashamed to open the door.

~Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine, p109~

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Home and body. Yes. These are definitely the two places where I feel most tempted to adhere to unrealistic standards. Where I grasp for perfection. Where I give in too easily to fears. Where I do not hold open hands. Where I look and focus. Where my eyes and heart are distracted.

I don’t want to miss the sacred moments because I am navel-gazing.
I don’t want to miss out on how much my children love to snuggle me because I’m soft instead of flat.
I don’t want to miss out on how much joy a messy, lived-in home brings my family & friends because I worry it won’t look well-cared-for enough.
I don’t want to miss out on sharing my home.
I don’t want to miss out on sharing my body.

I want to open my home with wild abandon at a moment’s notice and not worry about what others think of me because of what my home does or doesn’t look like.

I want to relinquish my fears, giving my body with joyful recklessness to my husband without worrying that he will be bothered by the increase of grey hairs, wrinkles, spider veins, or softly thickening rolls.

I want to use my home and my body in ways that please God and glorify Him, rather than worry about whether we look like the moms and homes in ads or magazines.

My home is an extension of my body.
My body is another type of home.

They are very connected.

Not only was my body the first home of thirteen children,
I want my body to still feel like home to my family.
I want my embrace to feel like home to my children and my husband.

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Sometimes I just have to admit to my husband, I don’t feel at home in my own skin.
But the thing is, it is more important that my body feels like home to my family than that I feel at home in it.

You know that feeling of rest, of haven, of comfort ~ that feeling you get when you are home?
That may be in the home of your parents, your childhood home, perhaps even a grandparent’s home.
That may be your current home, the home of your newlywed season, the home of your childbearing years.
I have the feeling we will feel that feeling in different places. Maybe in multiple places.

But I think I really feel most at home in the embrace of people I love.
When my mama lets me rest my head on her shoulder. She feels like home to me.
When my husband intertwines limbs with me and lets me rest my head on his chest. He feels like home to me.
When my children press their little bodies up against mine and snuggle into every nook and cranny and curve. They feel like home to me.

It isn’t about outward appearances.
It isn’t about perfection.
It isn’t about what the world thinks.

It is about feeling at home. It’s about others, not myself.
It’s about comfort and grace and being used up for the sake of life & joy.

I want to feel at home. In my house and in my own skin.
But more than that, I want others to feel at home. In my house and in my embrace.
I want to create a physical home that is a haven.
I want to use up my physical self for life and joy.

Ultimately, I wasn’t made for this world anyway.
My real home is heaven.
And I have generations on either side of me already there.
I can’t wait to be at home with them.

 

Savoring Friendship & Cookies

It was obviously an early day of spring.
Grey clouds and blinding sunshine danced together.
Robins were bouncing happily around outside while it rained.
The fire roared in our living room stove, schoolwork was spread on the table,
the baby was fussing, and the big kids were doing anything but focusing on their books.
I was fighting a headache with Tylenol & caffeine to no avail.

Grasping for a lifeline of sorts, I popped off a quick note to a dear friend,
the kind of friend who is more like a sister than not,
to ask her to pray for me.

She wrote right back.
She thanked me for sharing my needs and expressing my heart.
She gave suggestions that were rooted in love.
She jumped into a gap for me and filled it with prayers, love, compassion, friendship.

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I shared a list of things with her that was making me thankful.
Across a distance of 375 miles, she gave me a virtual hug and a shoulder to lean on.
Together, while apart, we sought the Lord as well as praised Him.

She in her kitchen, surrounded by her little blondies.
Me in mine, surrounded by my wee gingers.

Friendship is acting out God’s love for people in tangible ways. We were made to represent the love of God in each other’s lives, so that each person we walk through life with has a more profound sense of God’s love for them. Friendship is an opportunity to act on God’s behalf in the lives of the people that we’re close to, reminding each other who God is. When we do the hard, intimate work of friendship, we bring a little more of the divine into daily life. We get to remind one another about the bigger, more beautiful picture that we can’t always see from where we are.
~Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines, p49

Then I noticed she sent me something else ~ a link to a recipe.
“If you need something sweet to eat today, here’s a link to a recipe we are making,”
she said, along with three pictures of her children helping her
stir batter, eat batter, and put trays of cookies in the oven.
“I wish we could share hot cookies and ice-cold milk with you this afternoon,” she added.

That’s when I decided it was time to stoke the fire,
strap the baby onto my chest,
put away the schoolbooks,
and take three sticks of butter out of the fridge to warm on the counter.

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“Butter is out to soften!!” I told her,
declaring that we would make the best of it,
and we would join them in the baking efforts of the day…

and we spent the next hour or two occasionally popping messages to one another
on our progress in our own little worlds of flour, sugar, aprons, and children licking their fingers.

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My children and I were able to not only connect with one another and savor our relationship,
but we were talking about these far-away friends & taking pictures to show them,
connecting in creative ways with these friends even when distance separates us.

When joy and grace are shared, it multiplies in ways indescribable.
When friendship is savored, it builds bridges undeniable.

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The short of it is that you really just need to click here and try the recipe out for yourself.
And then, once you have, share the link with a friend.
And share pics of doing the same thing as one another, even if separated by miles.

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It is good to savor friendship.
It is good to find unique ways to share life together with those you love.
Even if it is two mamas with their little ones at their sides, separated by 375 miles,
we can still share life & friendship & motherhood & cookies.
Creativity can be both warm and delicious.
Just like friendship.

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In our own unique way, my children and I
shared hot cookies and ice-cold milk
with the dearest of friends ~
our hearts were encouraged
while souls were fattened
and tongues rejoiced!

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I know of no other recipe for making a good-bye bearable than the promise that the God who goes with us and stays with them will be the bridge connecting us, no matter how far or long the distance.
~Lisa-Jo Baker, Surprised By Motherhood, p95~

The New Commandment

This morning over at Olive Tree, I have the privilege of sharing some thoughts on the new commandment Jesus gave His disciples before He was captured.

After Judas left Jesus and the other disciples at the table in the upper room, some of my favorite parts of the Holy Week narrative take place. They are common, familiar, lowly, home-centered—perhaps that is why they prick me especially poignantly, as I am a full time homemaker and homeschooling mama of four small children. I am daily surrounded by the common and the lowly. Morsels of bread, washing off dirt, and commands to love one another are tools of my own trade.

Come visit me there, as we contemplate the enormity of Christ’s commandment, with its new distinguishing factor of imaging our Savior… as we ask questions of ourselves, about taking up crosses and washing dirty feet… as we walk through Holy Week in anticipation of Good Friday, the darkness of Saturday, the brightness of Resurrection Sunday.

Photo Challenge, Week Nine

Week Nine: Shadows

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This week’s inspiration of shadow takes on a visceral, gutteral frame for me.
You’ll notice I ended up with a black and white version of my own shadow on a stony path.
Shadow is the absence of light. Or at least the blocking of light.
I have spent years feeling lost in shadows.
Walking on a stony path, groping for the Light.
Things look skewed when you just focus on the shadow.
Perspective is different in the shadow.
So while this may seem like a juvenile, easy attempt at capturing “shadow” for a photo challenge,
this was actually a very thought-out and well-provoked subject.
It hit home.
I understand shadows.
In a large sense, they feel like home to me.
But here’s the thing: notice that I didn’t say darkness.
It isn’t that there isn’t Light, or that I don’t see the Light.
It’s that I realize the Light has to overcome something
in order for its potency to mean something.

Light needs darkness
for its counterpart.

That is what makes Light so amazingly stunning.
And when it comes to shadows, we truly see that juxtaposition.

~…~…~

Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection
&
Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows… but will you come?

~C.S. Lewis~

Bliss-Full

I had expected to feel defeated. To wake up every day still longing for more.
That’s the honest truth.

But when someone said to me at the mall on my birthday (and maybe it’s simply because, who honestly goes shopping at posh J.Jill during naptime with four little kids in tow?!), you certainly have your hands full after I answered her question about the kids’ ages… I smiled, and replied, yes; blissfully, happily so.

After so desperately wanting half a dozen kids filling my home, to feel full of bliss and contentment that I can not adequately describe is truly humbling and beautiful. It is a gift from God.
I don’t feel defeated. I do not daily yearn for what-will-not-be.
Joy fills my home, and supersedes the sorrows.

Rather than defeat, I feel a sense of peaceful victory.
God gave us the courage to push through.
And He gave us the grace to overcome.

And these four little miracles who fill my home are just so downright blissful themselves.
Joy, wonder, excitement, creativity ~ it is in every corner of the home, every hour of the day.
And while the duties of my days have their monotony, their frustration, their dull sheen at times…
the joy and gratitude and marvel of my life truly take the monopoly.

Take a peek. Because these little people truly fill my heart with bliss.

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I discovered that at the heart of my misery—beyond the homesickness and sense of failure—was a misunderstanding about faith. I had confused faith in God with faith in what God could do for me. I had been viewing God like a mystical vending machine: I inserted my prayers, pulled the handle, and expected the desires of my heart to pop out the bottom slot. It turns out God has very little in common with Pop-Tarts. And what makes me happy is not necessarily what draws me closer to the God who knows my every nook and cranny. It turns out He loves me enough to say no when, as every parent understands, saying yes would have been so much simpler, with less call for temper tantrums.
~Lisa-Jo Baker, Surprised By Motherhood, p100~

Life in Ellipses

I know there are lots of jobs that dictate a life and routine with a rinse & repeat nature. Truly, that is how God created the world. Even He seems to live within a refrain ~ times and seasons, which are necessarily repetitious. It clearly does not mean that a repetitious, cyclical job is not fully useful. Just because something is cyclical does not mean it is futile. Read Ecclesiastes to see that truth right in front of your eyes from the incomparable wisdom of Solomon.

But it does mean that I can only live so linearly. Even a description of “two steps forward, one step back” doesn’t always prove true when one’s vocation is cyclical by nature. Round and round I go. The nature of my cyclical jobs are domestic, but I realize that it is not the only one that has a cyclical form.

But I don’t think it is simply the repetition that has forced me to go without a checklist.

It is my vocation. Motherhood has caused me, little by little, to give it up.
To have open hands for each day.
To live in a moment-by-moment mindframe.
To accept that my entire world right now is controlled by the tyranny of the urgent.

For example, in the forty minutes it took me to write the simple, short thoughts above… I have changed a diaper, switched the laundry, refilled a cup of milk, taught an English lesson, stoked the fire, sipped my coffee, and nursed the baby.

Whew. No wonder my thoughts rarely seem to flow smoothly anymore. My life is filled with punctuation. But it isn’t always periods or commas. It is most often ellipses. What we describe as dot dot dot. Meaning, to be continued. Or this is a lapse. Or fill in the blank.

I try to multitask, for sure. Just ask me about the crazy things I have done lately while breastfeeding my son. I may have sat in the rocker to nurse and a read a book with my firstborn son and called it multitasking. But that is nothing compared with talking on the phone, wiping a 3 year old’s bum, teaching a piano lesson, and nursing the infant… and no, I’m not making that scenario up. Ask many a mom, and they will tell you the same. A big part of our career is multitasking, definitely & no question about it.

But more often and more definitely than even multitasking is my life of ellipses. Stopping and starting. Fits and spurts. Interruptions of all kinds, sizes, lengths, reasons.

Whoever coined the phrase (it seems to be a man named Charles Hummel in 1967, at first glance google), “tyranny of the urgent” had to have some major inside scoop on motherhood.

I can start sixty things from a checklist in one day, but I don’t know how many months it would take to check them all off as “complete.”

And that has been a big struggle for me, in all honesty.
It is a new thing for me (eight years into my motherhood journey!) to embrace life without a checklist.
It’s only recently that Mommy decided I live life better, more fully, more joyfully, more completely, more God-honoringly when I am not beholden to a piece of paper covered in bullet points.

And it is amazing to me that things are still getting done.
They are even getting done on time and in a routine way.
And when things don’t get done (or done on time, or done in a predictably routine way), none of us are worse for the wear.

The things that really matter in my vocation can not be described or defined on a checklist anyway.
Most of the things that happen in my day to day life can not be predicted or put on a timeline.
The people that I manage, and those who I report to, do not adhere to checklists.

So I am learning joy in flexibility.
I am learning to embrace the ellipses rather than clinging to a desire for checkmarks.
I am learning to find encouragement and fulfillment without relying on a completed checklist for my sense of value in God’s world.

Adventing Still

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What a glorious time Advent is! And I’ve been too caught up in the business of Adventing that I haven’t been taking the time to write about it. Of course traditionally (so we have been hearing, especially, in the Anglican tradition) it is a season not unlike Lent. Advent prepares for Christmas like Lent prepares for Easter. The two glorious hallmark holy days of the Christian faith are preceded by seasons of waiting and anticipation, preparation and repentance. So we don’t party like it’s Christmas until Christmas. There are no flowers on the altar at church. The word “alleluia” is suddenly absent from some of the liturgical texts in worship, and the eucharist liturgy is actually altered a bit during this season too, with an emphasis on sin and repentance ~ and, praise the Lord, plenty of grace to soak in.

It is good to be children sometimes,
and never better than Christmas,
when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.
— Charles Dickens

In our family, we remind our kids of the waiting and the anticipation by giving them tiny tastes, little sips. They get one chocolate each night, and one tiny glass of wine at each Advent dinner (which we’ve been doing on Saturday nights, and we love this tradition!). I ask them questions (“what does Advent mean?” “who is coming?” “what does Emmanuel mean?” and more…). We sing songs (they’ve got O Come O Come Emmanuel memorized, and most of O Come All Ye Faithful). We read little books that are toddler friendly to remind everyone of the real Christmas story, and I sometimes ask the boys to fill in the blanks to see what they can recall (“what did Herod want done?” “what did the angels tell the magi?” “what did Mary say when Gabriel told her about the baby Jesus?” “what did the angels sing at Christ’s birth?” etc…).

And the kids are eagerly counting the days until Christmas. Every morning (and probably half a dozen more times throughout the day) they declare the countdown for everyone to hear. They love their Advent calendars in their rooms to help with this endeavor.

Most notably, the children know that Advent is about anticipation, hope, looking back but also looking ahead. While they only get one chocolate each evening of Advent, Christmas will soon be here ~ and on Christmas, they can have handfuls of chocolates if they want! We get a sugary, gooey breakfast with rich drinks. We get a big brunch, and a beefy dinner. There will be wine and cookies. And gifts ~ oh, there will be gifts!! I have put some under the tree already, because the kids were begging… but they are ones that can not easily be peeked into, haha! or they are ones not for the kids. :) Although even our two year old seems to be embracing obedience about the tree, the ornaments, and the gifts all being off limits for touching. We are thankful for that!

When the kids wake up on Christmas morning, the rest of the gifts will be under the tree, and the stockings will be full. Breakfast will be baking in the oven and coffee & hot cocoa will be steaming. Music will be on, candles lit, fireplace roaring. Gifts and games and laughter and singing and rejoicing will fill the day. And, Lord willing, it will overflow into the days yet to come afterward. Which is just what grace should be like. It should fill  you up, then overflow you. And one of the best ways of showing that to children is by the tangibles. For that matter, it’s a pretty downright good way to remind us adults too!

Thanks be to God for being the perfect Father, the giver of all good and perfect gifts, so that we know Who to imitate! Now… may He give us the grace to joyfully imitate Him with vigor, and the mercy to grow closer in our imitation accuracy year by year.

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“Man’s maker was made man that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey;
that Truth might be accused of false witnesses,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded;
that Life might die.”
― St. Augustine of Hippo

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