Mother Labor

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Labor may be the event that that launches our children into the outside world, but it is also the ongoing theme of the mother’s life ever after.

Motherhood is work, toil, indeed an enduring labor of sorts.

There’s a verse early on in the Bible that speaks of women being ‘saved’ through childbirth.  A lovely definition I recently heard of the word saved in this context is healed.

Imagine that!

God uses our children to heal us, to work a better thing within us, to establish us in deeper grace, to loosen the shackles of selfishness, and set our hearts on higher things.  After birthing a child we are never the same, and that’s exactly what God intended!

So, know this…  between the slime and the Lego and the dirt and the noise and the chaos and the never-enough-sleep, there is blessing tied up in it all.

As I watch my little raspberry forager steal quietly out of the house in the early morning mist, I am reminded that through this little man and his siblings I am being healed, made new and whole.  What an amazing gift!

Snowy’s Puppet Show

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It was quiet, for an hour, as she sat at the table, cutting, coloring, gluing, and sticking over and over again.

She finally emerged with a couple of Popsicle-stick puppets.

“I want to do a play for Dad.”

“Well, he’s at the barn right now.”

“Okay, I’ll do it there”

And off she marched, puppets in hand, and Crocks on feet, lilting to the rhythm of her own inner drum.

Upon showing up at the barn where Ben and Duke were repairing a bike, Snowy announced she wanted to do a puppet show for them while they worked and she just needed a thing to hide behind, so that they wouldn’t see her, but only the puppets.

Ben scooped up an old, square (clean) compost bin and set it up near the bike repair area.  She crawled in behind it.

Silence.

“Now what do I do?”  She inquired.

“Well, you could make the people talk to each other,” Ben suggested.

Upon which she crestfallenly revealed that she hadn’t thought to make any people; she only had a tree and a mushroom.  The wind blew out of her sails and the show was over.

And such was the brief theatrical debut and demise of Snowy’s very own puppet show.

Life is but a Dream

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There he lies, beside me, sort-of-snoring because of a cold.  And all I can think is, “I love this man.”

Somewhere along this life-journey our roads met, or rather collided, in such a way that we both thought it best to combine travel plans for the rest of forever.  We’ve been invested in everything together ever since.

There’s something about the fragility of our flesh together, the etches around the eyes as the years unfold, the softness of that familiar hand-hold, the sweet tenderness of him rubbing my neck for a quick moment while I wash the dishes at the sink, or the subtle laughing glance across a table crowded with children that makes me wonder how all this dust holds up under the weight of so much love.

And now to see the little ones that bear a bit of the imprint of each of us, joining the journey, filling out the gaps and the spaces that we never knew we had, I am amazed.  The perfect orchestration of God’s timing and design of our family constellation reminds me that nothing is accidental or without purpose.

It’s all been given from love for love.

And all I have to do is set myself aside and open wide my arms and accept it.

There is, perhaps, nothing better in the world.

How the Light Gets In

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I can see it as I stand washing dishes at the sink, the light, it’s shifted.  It washes through the window onto the counter at a different angle; it’s timid, less bold than the summer glare.  It’s softer now, reminding me of the Leonard Cohen lyrics:

“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

As I watch some of my precious little ones through that same window, happily stringing Cheerios together for approximately 5.3 minutes, I let my mind wander the trail of my history with each of them.

So many cracks.

So many times, I snapped hard when I should have been patient, I expected them to be perfect when I was so faulty, I pushed them harder than I should have, I demanded more of them than they could give…  so many darn cracks in this muddy trail of my motherhood.

But, when I forget trying to make a perfect offering, when I realize that I am loved beyond all measure, and that these children too are completely loved by a good and perfect God – the pressure goes.

His light makes everything right.

He loves me.  He love us.  And this love changes us; moment by moment we are being made new.

This is the ultimate hope that carries me through this tumultuous, crazy affair called motherhood.  In spite of my cracks, my obvious insufficiencies, my tangled-up (and misguided) attempts to crank out perfect, my children are loved by the One who made them and carefully knit them inside of me in the darkness.

He sees in the dark and pushes light through the cracks, redeeming everything.

Even me.

Family Service

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I was listening to an interesting talk this week; the subject was how to build a Christian community that is really a family.  {The speaker, Jeremy Riddle, wrote and sings a worship song I love right now.}  The talk was excellent on many levels and I am still chewing on his ideas, but there was one thought that really impacted me anew.

He mentioned that it is important to seek spiritual-relationships with three kinds of people: those that are ahead of us on the faith journey (spiritual parents), peers who walk alongside us, and those who we can serve and love who can’t give anything back.

He commented that as we seek to build family-like closeness with others, it’s important not to presume upon them, or hold out expectations of them, but if we really want to grow close to others then we must serve them.  It occurred to me today that parenthood is fundamentally a position of servant-hood; serving under-girds family life in a critical and essential way, so it makes sense that this would apply on a larger scale.

This was such a good reminder for me; it would be God’s upside-down way of growing us closer, wouldn’t it?!  It makes us vulnerable.

It made me consider how reticent I can be to serve people when ideas come to mind.  Maybe my idea is weird and it will make someone feel awkward, or maybe my idea will actually be an inconvenience.  Maybe I will make food for someone that they are deathly allergic to and I might actually kill them.  Maybe my idea might end up costing me more in the long run than I really have the energy/time/money for…  these kind of silly things run through my mind as soon as I think of doing something for someone that isn’t found within the safe parameters of ‘equality and convenience’.

This week I was served in two wonderful ways, by two people bold enough to not stall out at the idea stage.  First, a friend brought a giant, homemade, deliciously healthy homemade lasagna to us one evening, totally unannounced.  The fateful dinner hour had arrived and I had literally just been thinking that maybe I could bake potatoes or something, because that can be supper right?  Well, instead we feasted like kings because someone loved us enough to serve us.

Then, yesterday, another friend returned to me a dresser that she had asked to refinish for me.  Two weeks ago she took away an old junker of a dresser that holds mitts and hats in the front hall.  It was covered in scratches and orange and beige paint (I wish I had a picture – it was so ugly!).  And then she returned to me a beautiful, detailed, matching piece of antique furniture… all in the name of love and service. 

And now, guess what?  Whenever I look at that lovely dresser sitting in my front hall, or prepare lasagna, I am going to think of them and bless them in my heart, because they took time to love me.

Yep, I’m pretty sure this is how family grows.

Happy Birthday {Soon}

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Our oldest is turning 13 soon.  We’re approaching it as ‘the big birthday’ – the becoming of a man birthday.

Generally, we don’t ‘do’ birthdays outside of cozy little family dinners, cake and a gift or two.  Early on we decided to drop out of the game of big-deal events, because, really, how could we slow it down once we got on that treadmill of crafts, gifts, themes and millions of kids exploding with sugar?

This year it’s different; this is a launch, a blessing, a passage into a new season of life.

So, there will be a party.  And boy, are we having fun preparing.  {We’ll keep you posted.}

Meanwhile, in other birthday news, a baby is to arrive here towards the end of next month.  This precious little girl needs a name; a good one, a creative, beautiful, meaningful one.  This time, I am applying no constraints to the selection!  If you have ideas, please share!  I have a great boy’s name, but that is likely not going to be helpful this time around :)

Crumbs

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We set about our Saturday aiming to get some yard/farm work done.  There was no excuse, really, for the lack of work we actually accomplished, though the weather was balmy and perfect for such endeavors.

Somehow it just seemed like we should sit and sip coffee and tea on the deck instead.

So that’s what Ben and I did.  He rubbed my feet and we laughed with the kids and just generally sparkled in the sun, accomplishing nothing but love.

We had asked the big boys to fold up some tarps, and that’s about all we collectively accomplished that day, and even that was completed after a good half hour of playing with the wind.

A ‘wasted’ day like that has bothered me many times.  The unending list of repairs, jobs, tasks and home management details that curls around my mind like a python rarely produces the joy and peace that I crave.

It’s good to get things done, but it’s also good to not be a slave to the do-list.  And the kids know it too.  When we’ve pushed too hard, for too long, the troops begin to fall one at a time, like flies.

It gets ugly.

Yesterday after a church service, friends spontaneously invited our family (of ten, I remind you) over for a pizza lunch.  Can I tell you how much I loved stepping into their lovely, lived-in, un-vacuumed home?  It is clearly a place of peace and beauty, but the sink was full of pots and the toys were everywhere and there were splatters on the table.

It was perfect.

For me it feels like a sacred gift to be let in to someone’s real life, because it’s so rare anymore.

Crumbs really do exist in reality and being a slave to them is miserable; sometimes, it’s best to let them fall where they may and just play instead.

The Block

I’m convinced that the primary source of exercise that has helped keep me mobile during this pregnancy has been the constant, unremitting tidying that goes on here.  Notice I didn’t even say cleaning?  Tidying alone must account for 75% of my day, I’m sure of it.

Bend, pick up, sort out, put away.  Repeat.  Over and over and over all the live-long day.

See that little bowl of spilled raisins on the floor by the fridge, the library books all over the carpet, the omnipresent limp puddle of a sweater that seems to crawl after me wherever I go, the carrot peel stuck to the tile, the jar holding Wooly Bear sitting on the stairs, the costumes sprawled in the pantry (what?)?

I like a tidy house, I prefer a tidy house, and I’m even committed to leaving each room a little better when I leave, but there’s always a thing or two that I just can’t seem to touch.  My knees refuse to bend, my body just says, “no”.

Take, for example, the block in the above photo.  It’s been sitting there for two weeks, just getting kicked around the otherwise perfectly clean hallway (if we’re not counting cobwebs).

Like three seconds would take care of it and the hall would actually be entirely clean.

I’m sure there’s a weighty metaphor to be gleaned from this, as there are a lot of things like that block, things that I could and should just deal with but I don’t because of some mental stall-out.

But, sometimes, honestly, it just feels good to be a Mommy-rebel and leave the block.

Joining the Family

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Yesterday, I began pulling out some little newborn clothes, thinking it best to begin easing into preparations for baby’s arrival (about six weeks from now).

Somehow, it was quiet, and I sat on my bed sorting the little white jammies and hats and all I could think was, “I can’t wait.”

I can’t wait to hold, kiss, smell and surrender to this new little life.  I don’t fear the crazy chaos of the newborn stage anymore, the wakeful nights, the cries and fumbling through nursing.  I’ve experienced it enough to know that it doesn’t last long in the light of eternity.

All I could think was, “Wow, what a blessing to be given this opportunity again, to launch the life of a new soul in this amazing universe.”  I am humbled by the immensity of the task.

And then my dreamy musings took a hit this morning…

I suspect it was because everyone was bitten by a mad squirrel in the middle of the night.  {And by everyone, I mean, mainly the little kids.}

It is crazy here today, a rollercoaster of screaming and nutty arguments, kids colliding into conflict at every turn.  My energy reserve is low, as I spent most of last night thinking about how nice it would be to actually sleep, and all I can sort of do is sleepwalk through the day, reading books, making up craft ideas, settling disputes, picking up the piece of cucumber stuck to the bottom of my foot, etc.

But, this too will pass.

And our baby will come and join the fray and we will love each other through it all moment by moment, day after day.  Even these wisps of crazy are the threads that weave the beautiful artwork of our family. I wouldn’t trade it.

Outside of Normal

Auden assures me that he will look after Poppy just fine, “I will babysit her for you, Mom.”

On the trampoline.

I know many parents would be horrified to possess such a danger device in their yard, let alone allow their tiny babes on it, but this is how we roll.

Life outside of normal, I guess.

I’m reading a beautiful book called Home Grown that is just the poetry I crave at this time of year.  Ben Hewitt describes how he and his wife are raising their children outside of the culture, and their journey resonates with me deeply.

“Having chosen such an unconventional path in both the manner we educate our sons and the way we pass our days, growing most of our food and remaining close to our home, there are times it feels to me as if my family’s voice is lost in the crowd, and it can occasionally feel as if we occupy a lonely space.  I do not mean ‘lonely’ in the sense of lacking meaningful personal relationships, but in a broader cultural sense of living out-of-step with so many common goals and expectations…”  (p. 21, Home Grown).

{Side note: We grew some stubby carrots this year, some raspberries (though the chickens enjoyed them more than we did), a few tomatoes and a load of kale (until Ben, unintentionally, felled a tree that squashed that garden), so I wouldn’t say we exactly grow our own food, but the rest of the above sentiment resonates strongly.}

Selecting a pace and priorities that are different than the dominant goals and expectations of the culture is an exercise in enduring loneliness at times, sometimes a lot of the time.

Although, as much as this has been true of our journey, I am finding that these unconventional choices are also the path to a profound loveliness that I’ve never before touched… it’s taken all these years to discover it.

There is something gentle and quiet about the freedom to slow, to make, to experiment, to search out, and to dwell in the process of it all together.  Oh, the constant proximity to each other is a challenge, but once we accept that as part of the package of our life, we begin to stretch into new strength, and new dreams with each other.

This is a kind of true wealth I only used to dream about; now I know it’s real.  The potential for this kind of ‘connect’ exists in reality!

This grace-filled place of joy is hidden under much pain and loneliness and oh, it is a perilous journey to get here, but so very, very worth it.  To paraphrase the words of a pioneer woman, whose name I now forget, “How can so much joy be packed into one small life?”