turning thirty-eight

Thirty-eight felt like arms wrapped around a giant pile of blessings, more than I can carry. Certainly goodness and mercy are always my portion, but for whatever reason, when I paused to reflect (for two seconds, before the loudness that is my life took over!) I was overwhelmed by how rich I am.

Thirty-eight looks like waking up with a sweet, small baby in my arms, a baby who nestles close to me as we sleep and whose nearness is all joy. It’s slipping out each morning before that baby wakes, leaving her to slumber on next to her daddy, matching peace on their dreaming faces.

It looks like older children who sincerely greet me with hugs and happy birthdays, and smaller ones who clamor to join in. I leave them behind in the morning as I walk, and they keep things moving, so that I come home to kids dressed and happily (noisily) emptying dishwashers and minding baby and making breakfast. It’s more chaotic than that sentence portrays, but the bottom line is I leave, and nothing falls completely apart.

It sounds like a house full of people. Not grown up people, who keep their thoughts in their heads, whose impulses are slowed by age and wisdom and a sense of place, but young people who babble and chatter and share their ideas in a general sort of way, unaware of who may be listening or already talking. They hum whatever song comes into their head and make whatever sound they just felt inspired to make. My brain starts to smoke, processor on overload, and just as I am about to wish for silence, I stop myself. We can learn to talk in turns, and maybe walk through the hallway without sound effects, true. But I think about silence and grown people and how quickly that will be my life, how quickly this zoo of childhood is slipping by, and I plunge back into the moment, determined to hear what Fiona is chattering non-stop about, and smile at the way William is zooming the baby around as Cecily giggles, watching, and piano is being practiced in the background. It is so loud. It is full of life.

Thirty-eight is waving goodbye to my husband as he pulls out of the garage and I return from my walk. It’s being overcome by thankfulness for a man who has grown into a place of wisdom and authority, and wasn’t it just yesterday we were getting married and didn’t know much at all? I smile as he roars through the house and little girls squeal in mock terror, dissolving into piles of giggles and kisses. Sons who perk up the minute they see his car because they love their Mama but they have so much to tell their Daddy. He understands their worlds, their thoughts and ideas and interests. How many, many evenings he comes in from a day of feeling the weight of responsibility for a business, livelihoods, people, only to happily engage with a table full of shining eyes who have been waiting for this big moment: when Daddy gets home from work.

It is learning to manage a home but also learning to function in it before it’s perfect. There are still things laying around that sort of kill me, but it doesn’t chafe my soul the way it once did. For better or for worse (am I growing, or just giving up, I sometimes wonder with a wry smile to myself) we are living in this space, filling it to every corner with life. It is the roof over our heads, the place we all gather, the shape of our daily traditions and special rituals, but it is not us. We learn character as we take on the task of stewardship, but even in that, it becomes something for us to use as we grow and live. I am less weighed down by failure at perfection. I am feeling blessed more than burdened.

Thirty-eight is still feeling as young as ever, but seeing the face reflected in the mirror beginning to change. It is walking through life and finding I have more wisdom to share, more experience to lean into. It is finding the circle of influence growing, expanding. It is learning how to hem myself in one day and be stretched beyond previous capacity the next.

It is looking around and seeing adult siblings who are best friends, surrounded by dozens (almost!) of children that belong to us. It is laughing with friends who’ve now passed a decade or two alongside us, and the laugh lines and tears and child rearing and business decisions and burdens borne together have made us softer and stronger.

And so thirty-eight is an armful of blessings. Not an armful of comfort and ease, but of blessing. I’ve walked enough path to know experientially what I’ve always clung to tenaciously by faith: But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, That shines brighter and brighter until the full day. (Proverbs 4:18)

enough

It’s 7:04am, even though my mind and the sun think it’s only just after 6. Daylight savings is not a joke.

I am showered and dressed, have a worship set list ready, and now I should go wake up my kiddos, who are happily unaware of the way we stole an hour from them somewhere in the middle of the night.

Five minutes more. We all need five more minutes.

Yesterday was long. Hard. No real reason. Just a very mommish kind of day. Only one day before I had thought, as we headed out the door dressed and ready for CFA at 8am, “We finally got this. Look, I’m even taking 2 minutes to find and apply lipstick!” Fast forward 24 hours, and I’m feeling like a failure every which way I turn. Taken in the positive, I could say that yesterday supplied me with several months of new goals for parenting and training.

My husband would probably say yesterday I was just tired, and the worst version of my melancholy idealist self comes out with a vengeance when I’m tired.

Either way, today is a new day. And, graciously, the grumpiest day I’ve had in awhile was shortened by an hour. The whole time zone conspiring to say, “Get that girl into some new mercies, quick.

*****

Here’s what I think often these days, and it brings strength just through the confessing:

I’m not doing this because I’m up for it.
I’m not doing this because I have enough to go around.
I’m not doing this because I’m a natural.

I’m doing this because HE has called me and promised to be my supply.

Do you know what that means? It means that since it’s only ever been about Him and His sufficiency, I don’t have to worry about my lack. Every single morning, every single moment, He is everything.

He’s all my husband needs.
All my kids need.
All the world needs.
All that I need.

*****

Oh my. I want to cry that she’s growing too fast, but who can cry when she’s growing into this absolutely fun and sweet sparkly-eyed person?

every day happenings

Just some photos for my memory bank:

Amazingly sunny days with stunning blue skies and kids sledding down hills over and over.

Pleased as punch little girls who are learning to do hand sewing, follow step by step drawing instructions, and discovering deep cupboards full of fun things.

Colorful winter foods keeping our bellies full and bodies healthy. (My kids are learning to eat kale without looking like I served them monkey brains.)

Winter mornings, bejeweled and taking my breath away.

New boots and new dresses.

And snippets from this morning, when I suddenly stopped to be incredibly thankful for the life lived around me: making bread with a 3yo, two sisters working on math together, a boy practicing piano and a baby who is never far from the music, another boy working on math in his own little world, and loving the casual stance Fiona had. Sitting down is so twentieth century.

laboring

My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you…

I’ve learned things about childbirth and labor in the last few years. I learned that it’s not easy, watching my strong and courageous mother, a woman I knew could take on the world, meet her match in labor. I learned that it can last for days as I waited and waited for news of my first nephews’ arrival. I learned that it can go much faster and more intensely than anticipated, when Jameson was born 4 hours and 15 minutes after my water broke, with barely 3 hours of contractions. I learned that it can include complications requiring life-saving measures, as my littlest brother was delivered by emergency c-section, and a niece followed suit several years later. I learned that it requires determination, that it exacts all reserves of courage, that it crashes like brutal waves and leaves you depleted only to find a new depth of strength. I learned that your last labor is not your next labor, and no two are exactly alike.

I learned that no one can promise you or tell you much about how it will go. The only true comfort is this: “There, that contraction is over. You’ll never ever have to do that one again.”

And the greatest joy is that there is a baby.

*****

I learned how to meet childbirth with Holy-Spirit inspired strength from my mother, and I’m learning what it means to be again in labor” as I watch my mother (and my father) persevere in seeing Christ formed in me and in my siblings.

All of those things about courage and perseverance and trusting for grace for this moment and not dwelling on how long that last labor was — all of those things, I see them doing still.

I’m learning that the ecstatic moment when you hear, “It’s a girl/boy!” is only the start of a life of laboring.

I’m learning that “I can’t do this anymore!” needs to be swiftly met with those scripture cards I wrote out for childbirth. He makes me able.

I’m learning to labor alongside. I’m learning that just as I am strengthened by my sisters and friends in a circle around my bed, wetting my sweaty forehead, rubbing my feet, whispering and cheering — so we strengthen one another as we each labor to see others come to maturity in Christ.

I’m learning that personal expectation and desires and any selfish grasping must be done away with. Just as I surrender my body to bring forth a baby, so we lay down our lives — our time, our energy, our money, our everything — to see people find Jesus and His purposes.

I’m learning what incredible joy it is to labor and pray and persevere alongside and then see someone dear be set free, fall in love with Jesus even more, set their hearts completely on Him.

Because this: “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.”

*****

“It’s a girl/boy!” isn’t the end.

Neither is their 18th birthday, or high school graduation.

It’s not over until Christ is formed in them. (Yes, that’s a life-long labor we’re talking about.)

This is parenting that all believers are called to — married, single, childless — all.

*****

When the contractions keep coming, bringing these kids to Jesus is plain old hard, you wonder how much longer, and no one can tell you?

There’s this:

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” –Galatians 6.7-9

an opportunity for love

Next to learning to love God with our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, what is the second most important thing we pass on to our children?

Loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

“Who is our neighbor?”

The super obvious answer for so much of our lives is: your family. Your spouse, your children, your siblings, your parents. This is neighborhood living at its finest, up close and personal, where all good intentions melt like the sugar facades they are in the heat of real life and all of its friction and need and opportunity.

Here is where love puts on skin, finds an audible voice.

That sounds so obvious. Of course we’re to love one another. We’re a family! But it’s amazing how distracted from that main goal we can become. So busy doing as a group of people, pushing the older ones along, dragging the littles behind, snipping at the spouse as we accomplish school and work and housekeeping and extracurriculars and church. We can forget! Love your neighbor.

This remembering requires a shift in perspective and approach. If building relationships, and teaching how to appreciate differences and resolve conflict and work as a team — if those things really are important, it changes how I see life and how I do things.

I alluded to cookie decorating with the children. As tongues got out of hand and fingers got grabby (and I was already tired and not terribly excited about frosting to clean up), it would have been easy for me to put the kibosh on the whole thing with a harsh lecture about behavior, The End. Instead, thanks to the Holy Spirit’s reminders, I realized that this wasn’t a bad turn of events, but an amazing opportunity. Of course I would love for us to gather together and have there be nothing but laughter and love, but in order to get there someday, we need to practice it now. So, deep breath, I corrected the words. Instructed us to share. Reminded us to affirm. I put on a smile and even scrounged up a laugh. And most of all I refused to feel like the whole event was a flop. God can turn our most human moments into an opportunity to see and repent.

Recently I’ve followed the patterns of a friend and started adding some sibling time into our daily checklists. I’ve found what I’m sure you’ve found: certain siblings connect easily, and others are oil and water. Instead of avoiding the oil and water, I’m determined to put them together as often as possible and see them grow! Sibling conflict doesn’t have to mean failure; we can see it as an opportunity. I recognize that God put us all in one house for a reason, and it’s that we would grow in love, in breadth and depth of appreciation for all sorts of people, and I believe that my children will leave knowing how to work and play and live in love.

Maybe the atmosphere of your home feels overwhelming and a million miles from love. May I encourage you to pray and believe God for some wisdom and strategy? But most of all, believe God. Don’t believe lies of cultural norms where siblings are allowed hate and the future looks like decades of dysfunctional Thanksgiving dinners. Press into the will of God for your family and each of your children. This I know: when we ask for help in this area, God will pour out nothing less than the full measure of His power and grace. He is on our side in this endeavor, for sure.

Teach them to love, and they’ll be world changers.

l o v e

Valentine’s Day. Clear, beautiful. Heaps and heaps of fresh snow, beckoning children to play (and their mamas to walk!)

Space made in our week for card making and crafting and cookies. Sometimes we have squeezed it into the cracks, but this year I wanted to take the chance to reflect with our time that people are important, and that appreciation needs to be communicated.

Some children are more creative than others, true, and while one boy had all of his cards made and stashed by Monday at noon, others are using every available minute on unique creations that I marvel over (because of course they have to show me, eager for my smile of affirmation, or to make sure I laugh at the clever joke.)

Cookies baked and frosted, despite my dismal failure with the buttercream. I try so hard to make it about being together, more than anything, and of course, that togetherness means more barbed comments than kindness, grabbing than sharing, laughing at instead of laughing with — and I have to take a deep breath. This is what we are doing: we are learning love. That means we don’t already know it. It means we are lacking. We are un-learning instinctive responses of envy and selfishness and pride, and putting on empathy and gentleness and humility. And I am the mother: I am on duty at all times, and shouldn’t be surprised when a table full of cookies and bowls of pink frosting ends up being an opportunity for me to be gentle in my correction. I am learning, too.

Our littlest love. She spends so much of the day caught up with her siblings, finding me when she’s at last tired, or hungry. Nighttime she nestles in my arms, and I’m glad for those hours when she’s mine. What a sweet treasure.