August 22

I want to say that this has been a perfect Monday.

But what I would really mean is that this happened to be the kind of Monday I enjoy. I have had slews of other kinds of Mondays, and you know? My times are in His hands, He has written my days in His book, and there is perfect in those other Mondays because He is there.

I’m slow to learn that. I don’t always respond that way.

I’m trying.

It certainly helps to look up from my “perfect” Monday and ponder how many people are living vastly different lives at this moment. Bombs, guns, terror. Fear, pain, abuse. Loss, tragedy, grief. Confusion, depression, hurt.

He is there.

Emmanuel, my favorite of His names. He’s right here. And He is all — all — that we need.

*****

Up and at ’em — alone. My favorite way to start a day. Get everything humming. My spirit, my mind, my oven, my washer. It doesn’t happen often and it’s a gift.

The baby fell asleep as usual, and it was cool and breezy, and I spent two hours alone (“Are you bleeding? Is the bone broken? Go outside.“) starting to really map out the start of this year. Another gift that I had asked for but not banked on.

Sweet Cecily, asleep in her little nest on the floor, since laying down and nursing is her new (not negotiable) preference. Laying down twice a day doesn’t hurt me, either. God must know stuff.

Back to the kitchen for some more cooking-ahead. Cutting into tomatoes so dense and pink, I almost cried. Silly?, but I feel like I’m viewing something miraculous when I cut into these beautiful gems.

Sitting outside to write something, anything, on this little blog, and looking up to see this bit of sweetness. Yellow flowers, blue and white sky, navy polka dots, Goldilocks hair. I have so much beauty in my season.

August 16

“Children tie the mother’s feet.” — old Tamil proverb

I read that in Amy Carmichael’s biography — the story of a young single woman who, through no plan of her own but simply because she followed the leading of the Holy Spirit, became “mother” to hundreds of abandoned and abused Indian children. Elisabeth Elliot says, “It took rather a long time for the truth of this Tamil proverb to dawn on Amy… …that she must allow her feet to be tied for the sake of Him whose feet once were nailed.”

*****

There is a pervasive lie in the water that we all drink, and it is this: if you do everything right, you can have it all. It appealed to Eve, and it appeals to us. At least, it appeals to me. It entices me and draws me in, and subsequently wraps me in the chains of discouragement and discontent.

*****

I remember reading in “Loving the Little Years” that it’s okay to have a baby and consequently look like you had a baby. It’s okay to bear in your body the marks of sacrifice. In fact, it’s kind of weird to yield your body for the creative work of forming an entire other person (or two, or ten), and then wanting to erase all traces of that. Go back to your 20-year-old figure, as though that pre-baby body was your “true self.” Yes: steward your body, keep it in good health, realize it’s the only one you’ve got and it needs to now serve your adult children and their children, and maybe even their children — but for heaven’s sake, stop trying to erase all traces of childbearing from your tummy and thighs. Your body is a tool to use, not a museum piece to put on the shelf. You are a living sacrifice, and just may look a bit like one, too. You can’t have it all.

“One of the greatest testimonies Christian women can have in our world today is the testimony of giving your body to another.”

If you have a Mom-body, it may because you are a mom. That’s not just okay; it’s a gift from God that we don’t need to do penance for.

*****

Somehow I can feel like a truly successful mom is one who hits a home run every day in laundry, cooking, cleaning, and schooling and is involved with every other thing, too, in church and community. And beyond this unseen force that pressures me to stop being a loser and start doing something with my life, there’s of course the desire in me that every once in awhile makes me really really really want to do ALL THE THINGS. The fun things, the important things, the things that SOMEBODY has to do. There are so many things. Shouldn’t I be able to do them, too?

Because if you’re really good at being a mom, those kids will barely be a blip on the screen of your go-go-go and productivity. Right?

*****

We want to have the kids, be a good mom, and have none of that leave any impact on how we look or run our lives.

We want it all.

And yet, shouldn’t there be a mark? Shouldn’t there be an obvious impact? Shouldn’t our lives look like they are being sown into the field of our children’s lives?

It’s okay that your children “tie your feet.” It’s okay that their need for the gospel in word an deed requires every ounce of your energy and creativity. It’s okay that the fearful and wonderful design of them left your belly wrinkled and squishy — with no sign of ever returning. It’s what we were made for: to lay down our lives for these little ones.

If Jesus can stand in eternity, bearing the marks of sacrifice in His hands and feet, I think it’s probably okay to expect that our sacrifices may also leave their mark, on our bodies and time and energy.

We can’t have “it all”. But we can have ALL of the abundant life we so desire as we follow our Savior. And the best part? Chains fall, and we run freely into joy and peace — soft tummies and all.

August 15

That weekend sort of killed my daily writing thing.

But today is feeling all sorts of fresh week and new day-ish. Maybe because the first thing I saw was the chubby baby in bed next to me wide awake and beaming at me with so much love and joy — that’s a hard start to beat.

The weekend was:

— a few new bouquets from my (meager this year) August flowers — and such things used to be as “daily” as brushing my teeth, but this summer, remembering to cut flowers is suddenly an event to be celebrated!

— food, of course, including my new obsession: banana with salted cashews and unsweetened coconut. It’s almost as good as Kettle Cover salted caramel ice cream. (I’m such a liar, I know. But I’m pretending, okay?)

— an oldest son deciding to build the hand-me-down playmobil castle, which meant gluing pieces, finding directions online, and getting creative when pieces were missing. He literally spent all day working on it, and it was the best rainy summer day thing to do. It was all set up, at last, at nearly 10pm, and he was proud.

— being absolutely smitten by a delicious baby who is suddenly so old (for instance, sitting and playing in the family room all morning without any need for me!)

— being thrilled to see the rain clouds moving in, watering the thirsty earth. But catching some lovely sunshine here and there, too.

— deciding to just do it: empty the incredibly awful corner of chaos formerly known as the school cupboard, and start sorting. Three (3!!!!) huge trash bags later, we’re starting to make some progress toward an orderly beginning to a school year. (How do you just, you know, have three bags-worth of garbage just hanging out in your house??)

Okay. Photos are dumped; back to my regularly scheduled writing tomorrow.

August 6: Fiona

This morning I’m up bright and early with my little Goldilocks. We are watching the sunrise together. It’s fantastic, and she is even more so.

Nearly three, she is. One of my very favorite ages, learning how to laugh and joke and ask questions and be a little person.

This little person, it turns out, is pretty brave in the water. Crazy, actually. Watching her plunge with total abandon, come up sputtering and spitting and laughing, has been a highlight of my summer.

She is incredibly spunky, laughing and giggling all the time.

And suddenly she has an opinion about clothes, too. I love when a 2 year old has favorite clothes — such a reminder to me that they see life through different eyes than I do. It’s continually fascinating to me.

And so pretty. Wow! God makes such beautiful people. He really does.

My favorite thing about Fiona is the way she plays. Always with a baby doll somewhere, probably in a stroller loaded with blankets and “snacks”, probably walking that baby to “church” in the living room, or to “Aunt Weasa’s” at the fireplace, or on a really long walk to Meme’s pool. She loves being the mama, gently rocking her baby to sleep. Most of the day, she’s not really Fiona (she tells me); she’s Aunt Beans, and that baby is Vivian. (There’s always room for me to play, too, as Margaret’s grandma.)

But our baby is the one she loves best of all. Sweetest sisters.

an overview

The snow is long gone, though lingering days of cold have made the spring feel slow. No surprise, then, that I can’t quite wrap my mind around May. Well into the fifth month of this year that I thought just started.

Even more shocking is to look recently for a blog post I wrote a little while ago — only to realize it was 2.5 years ago already. And reading it over to realize, sure enough, there’s been a significant shift in this little [growing] family of ours: a shift from all littles to most definitely young men. Sleeves are still rolled, and I’m up to my elbows in the very real work of shaping young lives, but already there are glimpses of what will rise from these foundational years. I am, in very real and very practical ways, enjoying the fruit of days and days of digging in dirt. It’s happening: they’re growing up. Not just getting bigger — although oh my, the length of those legs and size of those feet! — but shoulders are broadening and starting to carry weight. Hearts are awakening and needing shepherding in deeper, slower, tender, firm ways. We have five children. Five! We are moving ahead. I think part of me always thinks life will settle back down and we’ll get back to “norma” — where my boys are forever little, stuffing pockets with who-knows-what and imagining themselves to be heroic explorers as they head off with a big stick and tri-corn hats. Where Beatrice never outgrows missing Rs and little girl cuddles.

We’re not going back to that. We’re not.

I could cry buckets about that. Knowing it goes fast, treasuring the moments, doesn’t slow life down. And it doesn’t mean you’re not sad to know those moments are gone.

But the path of the righteous shines brighter. We look ahead, not because it’s the only way to look, but because that’s where our hope lies. The morning sun dawns, and there is for that day an amazing promise of the presence of a faithful God. He leads us on paths of righteousness that are going somewhere. We live on this spinning planet, watching folly after folly unfold, knowing with King Solomon that there is nothing new under the sun — and yet, we are rescued from cynicism and fatalism by the Savior who has come to redeem. Now, tomorrow, and then. He is redeeming and making beautiful.

I see it in my growing sons. I see their minds growing and their words forming, their hearts widening and softening. I see it in my Beatrice who catches herself mid-sin and chooses to repent and turn — all on her own, because the Holy Spirit is her Shepherd, too. I see it in our marriage, blending us and tethering us and already forging something that could never be separated to the two parts we were ten years ago when we began. I see it in our lives, not because every day is easier (ha!), but because the light that leads us into the gathering dusk of this Age becomes more steady, more brilliant, more sure.

*****

It’s always easier for me to look out and see redemption than it is for me to look in. If I catch a glimpse of my soul, I am quick to say, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” And this will be a mountain I’m sure to circle again, a familiar foe. But becoming equally familiar are the truths the Holy Spirit equips me with to fight the good fight. Is it a coincidence that Philippians 1:6 was a favorite verse in my early childhood? No.

And He continues to pour truth into my soul.

*****

We are running outside, soaking in life-giving green and the vast blue above. We are squealing at daffodils, celebrating bleeding hearts, dancing through dandelions. We are wearing sundresses and wool sweaters.

School books are nearly done, to be gladly replaced by more trail-blazing and swamp-searching, Huck Finn-reading, and Four Square-playing. (All that diligence in February pays off in the spring!)

Family came, playgrounds were visited, bagels consumed.

Meals have expanded beyond the early postpartum options of Main Dish Salad, Spaghetti with Meatballs, Repeat. Bread is made! –even if it is just the quick cheat kind, more often than not.

Colds are nursed, fevers tended to. Laundry is continually washed and dried, although less often folded and put away (got to figure out a better system for that.) Books are read, perhaps not on the couch cuddled under an afghan (as my idealistic self requires), perhaps while little girls sit in the tub, or while pb&j is being consumed. Correction is given, obedience required, kindness cultivated, anger and malice put aside. (Mine and theirs.)

And all the while, wrinkles appear on my face. Is it possible I’m this old? I’ve been too busy to have time to get older, but I guess that’s one thing that happens with no effort or intent on our part. Suddenly noticing that my hands don’t look 18 anymore — a quick reminder that life is short. Carpe diem. Give it all. This is my only chance to live, and give, today.

January, and thoughts.

I don’t know how to absorb all the wonder that is a new baby. I’ve really given it my best try five times now, and still the time slips too fast and change happens in a dizzying way and I’m left with a heart full of a love and a memory that is too full of holes to catch and hold so many moments. So many amazing moments.

Like watching her chest rise and fall in sleep.

Like seeing a twinkle emerge in her eyes as she recognizes us, smiles at us.

Like seeing her tongue quiver, mouth open wide in a newborn howl of protest.

Like scooping her up and having her immediately settle just because I am who she wants.

Like just feeling her near me.

I try to soak it in, breathe it deep, memorize it forever. This is the great Wonder of the World that I will see this year, after all, and while millions of others ogle over the Eiffel Tower and the Wall of China and Rockies breaking majestically from endless plain, only I will see her perfect yawn as she stretches awake in my arms at sunrise. They don’t make postcards of that moment. It’s just here, tucked into my heart, slowly becoming the fabric of a deep bond we’ll have forever.

*****

I think these thoughts as we settle down to sleep, we three who share our bed. I squeeze her just a bit, acknowledging the end of yet another day in her life, never to be had again, thankful I got to share it. He sighs and turns into his pillow, turning away from whatever burdens linger after a day of work, and I think, not for the first time: It’s the end of yet another day in his life, too, that will never be had again. Did I share it enough? Did I treasure it enough? His mother’s heart holds those sweet memories of his sweet yawns and cries and smiles, but is my heart treasuring these days of side-by-side hard work, of Daddy-kisses on princess cheeks and happily being hero to two waiting sons at the end of a grueling day and cradling fussy babe even though his shoulders are just as burdened as mine? Am I noticing the new creases near his eyes, the sprinkle of gray that’s not such a sprinkle anymore? Do I smile a bit as I fold a pile of undershirts and socks, maybe not so cute as those newborn sleepers, but belonging to an equally wonderful person? Do I just breathe in him and the way the bed sinks to his side and the lingering scent of shampoo on his pillowcase and just the solidity of him being here?

Suddenly I am on the adventure of a lifetime, taking in Wonders of the World all day long.

*****

New rhythms that are so gentle, legato, harmonious, they simply slipped into place without much effort at all:

A Circle Time of sorts each morning after breakfast. Long moments spent singing hymns, memorizing scripture and things, practicing what it means to hear Jesus, praying for what is on His heart. Reading out loud chapter after chapter of beautiful new Puffin Classics we got for Christmas. Hurrying through chores to get outside where they will run and chase and build for long stretches, leaving me with a new baby and a sweet toddler to read to and sing with and maybe, just maybe, get a shower? The sun stays so much longer all of a sudden, and so our afternoons stretch just enough to allow quiet book work with two delightful boys. Dinner is as simple as possible, made mostly from food I’ve prepared and tucked into the freezer, and for the first time ever, I’m sticking to simple. No “oh, since the soup is done, I’ll just make this new bread recipe and a pie or two while I’m at it.” No, just soup and quiet and practicing priorities for this season. It’s all good.

*****

Several afternoons, I’ve even gotten to slip out for a quick walk. Sometimes I do so with my head down, pounding my feet on that pavement as quickly as I can, trying to get all I can out of a mere 10 minutes. But sometimes I make the mistake of looking up — and the walk abruptly ceases. Who can absorb the beauty of a January day? I find them breathtaking.

*****

Stopping to see beauty certainly is aided, in my life, by cultivating an awareness of beauty in general. The children and I are having our thirst for beauty fed by poems from this book — a gift from my mother this past Christmas. I have written before about how in over my head I feel with poetry, but much to my astonishment, my children don’t seem to need to understand the meaning, or know what makes a poem a poem, or any such thing. They just listen, smiles dancing in their far-off gaze, as the words make music and magic. They, inevitably, beg for more.

Here’s a favorite —

(This sort of thing — taking a picture of a field, reading poetry with the kids, listening to Bach Violin Sonatas on a sunny sub-zero morning — this is “mother culture” for me. It’s self-care. It doesn’t even require that I get away or spend a single cent. Our Shepherd is very capable of finding fields and streams in the season we’re in. He restores our souls.)