beatrice + becoming a mother

We celebrated with a brunch birthday party, since the church had an all-site service and picnic planned for the afternoon and evening. I could tell she wasn’t sure if that would be quite okay, but I promised it would be special.

We set the table the day before, and she carefully made place cards and chose napkins from my stash. I did my best to add some feminine and fancy, and I could tell the girls were all starting to feel that this was something special.

She woke up early, just as I was about to head into the dew-damp garden to cut flowers for the house. She happily joined, and we chatted as I gathered. She loves this kind, oh, and that one. Could we please have some gooseneck? And two kinds of hydrangea! She loves flowers and wants to help me every time I pull on my gardening gloves. She asks all the names and watches for beetles and exclaims over new buds and little baby plants, just like me.

I pulled out a new tomato red dress for her to wear on this, her birthday. Her eyes glowed, and a few minutes later she came running to find me, wearing the new dress, exclaiming at how twirly it is. I laughed as she twirled and twirled. I told her she could wear any necklace, as the neckline is unadorned, and she came back with pearls. Just like me.

She opened her gifts and exclaimed over them all — and had them almost all opened and tried out by day’s end. Ryan asked her what her favorite gift was, and I heard from the other room when she answered, “The cross-stitch kit from you and Mama.” Because she is desperate to learn to sew. She watches and hovers any time I pull out a project. I try to explain as I go. Give her little things to make. She just loves the quiet creativity of it all, just like me.

This all surprises me, somehow. I know I am her mother, their mother. I gave birth to them, I have nurtured and fed them, I keep them clothed and clean and teach them to read. I know they love to have me near and they tell me I’m the best mother in the world, but somehow I still feel not quite like a real mother. You know, not real like my mother. Maybe they don’t know I’m still just fumbling through, watching my sisters and friends, calling my mom, reading a book, praying desperately for help and wisdom?

And so somehow as yesterday unfolded, and I saw this little girl whose arms and legs are lengthening into older girl, whose heart is always in her eyes and whose words are so frank and uninhibited by insecurity or pretense, this precious girl who is such a gem and a gift to my life — when I saw her so honestly loving all that I love and imitating who I am, I was undone. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, my mother always said (when I was protesting about another little sister who was copying me!) For good or for bad, I seldom consider there is much about me special enough or worthy enough of imitation, and yet, here she is. My little friend in the garden, a string of pearls to match mine (“someday I’ll have real ones like you, Mama!”), eagerness to not just learn cross stitch but to sit with me and be taught by me.

It made me pause and remember: that’s how I looked at my Mama. She was my standard of elegance and fashion. Her hobbies were enthralling to me. What she knew I wanted to learn, because I couldn’t imagine anyone better to learn from. And now, somehow, someone looks at me that way.

I am a real mother. Nurturing was hard coded into me when God formed my life, and mother became my name because a baby was born, not because I felt I had earned it or grown into it. What kind of a mother will I be? These clear blue eyes, full of love and adoration, call me to once again evaluate my heart. They require me to look around at the six people who look to me for comfort and nurturing, training and discipline, teaching and empowering, and to see them as a worthy investment of my life — the best of my life. I think of the moments in the garden, or getting ready to go out, or finishing up a sewing project when those six people were treated as an interruption to my goals. How very wrong and backwards. How clear it all is when I see a little girl who wants me to use all of those things to grow her and train her and shape her. Yes. That’s the goal, always, in it all.

Oh, these children. How precious they are, and how I long to be the sanctified and wholehearted disciple that they need as they are shaped for their destinies.

august 3.


matching blonde friends

Saturday afternoon. The sun is shining, broad and generous, heating the world to a warm 85*, but there’s a breeze as I sit under the shade of an umbrella. The sprinkler the boys set up — perhaps an untimely afterthought on my part, but a last ditch effort to not toast my entire garden — occasionally hits the umbrella. How is it that the sound of water, any water, is so calming and refreshing? Except for the steady drip of a faucet left ajar. That is not refreshing.

Swim lessons, Shakespeare this past week, and then 6 days of Musical Theater Camp for four oldest — suddenly we’re in the countdown stages of summer. I want to wring out all the summer-living I can, quickly come up with a plan for more work and more fun, but today is hemmed in by feverish girls and I am reminded that life isn’t about wringing the most we can out of each moment, but about receiving those moments with thanks and offering them back as bond-servants. And so summer-living right now looks like watching a sweet 14 month old little girl in a flowered cotton dress and bare feet climb up and slide down her Little Tikes slide over and over, a baby monitor nearby to hear if one of those feverish girls should wake from her nap, boys who cheerfully helped me all morning with laundry and cleaning and baby-tending enjoying a bit of video game time. Do I sound like a broken record? Perhaps I am slow to learn this lesson, but I find it freshly impressed each day: my life is not my own, and grasping for it would be such short-sighted foolishness. There is a love song I’m living out. My part is the echo to a melody sung long ago, when my life was ransomed, rescued, redeemed.

Jesus, all I want is to be like You.

*****

Fevers tended once again. Fresh water, more snuggles, pillows fluffed and a movie playing for everyone to enjoy together. Twelve year old man child next to baby, and I notice their matching eyes. Beatrice smiles, dimples deep. Each face sweet, this moment catching them on their way to adulthood.

Trees wave their boughs as wind blows through, and I watch from the window. Blow over me, Spirit. May my life bend a move, dance and bow, a visible outworking of the invisible.

*****

anchored hopes

I am sitting under the shade of an umbrella on a picnic table here in our side lawn. The fantastic blue of the sky is mimicked by the plastic blue of our inflatable kiddie pool, where two little girls in navy and pink splash and play. Their happy blue island is surrounded by wide open green.

It’s a familiar scene, a comfortable rhythm. They know to wash their feet in the rubbermaid tote before getting into the pool, and I know that we’ll enjoy our little side lawn resort more if I remember water bottles and a snack and some books.

Today the littlest splasher is new to the scene but is figuring it all out quickly. She won’t be left behind, our little Enid Catherine.

This is my favorite, and I feel so thankful to be a stay at home mom who can sit and lifeguard for an hour or four, depending on the day. And yet I have to tell myself all the time, this is it. Stop the engine that’s always hurrying to the next thing, because this is it. Being right here: this is it.

Last week was completely consumed by a mystery virus that overtook me. By day 5 I finally gave in and put myself to bed while the kids fended for themselves for the day. A fever blurred the days, but I was aware of them spending hours with one aunt, another beautiful afternoon with another aunt, a whole day away with a friend. The sun was finally shining and summertime had arrived, and I had a sneaking suspicion that just beyond my window view, my peonies had come and gone. That beautiful longest day of the year came and went without any sunset walk with my kids, without thrilling them with permission to stay up late with the sun.

When a second lovely Sunday passed and I wasn’t with it enough to enjoy it, I wanted to cry. “But — but we live for the summer, and I’m missing it!”, I wanted to complain.

But just as quickly I felt a wave of such deep relief: no, no I don’t live for the summer. What a disappointment that would be! Even in a year of perfect health, I find these days slip like sand, are either full of summer work or summer play but never enough for both, are either riddled with discontent or overflowing with thankfulness — and even the thankfulness has to acknowledge beginning and end and a yearning for more.

I’m so glad: I don’t live for summer, or Christmas, or when the baby sleeps better, or my house to be project-free, or my gardens to be complete, or cherry pie, or spontaneously precious moments with my kids or husband.

I get to live for Jesus, and He is the joy that is the more. He frames the summer sunset and the fevered nights. He delights over family ice cream cone runs and He soothes my soul when bickering has frayed every nerve. He invites me into each moment with Him, and suddenly the soul-ache we all know becomes a joy-anticipation of Promise.

So here I am, full-circle in my thoughts, I guess, soaking in the beauty of a hot June afternoon, watching daughters play, knowing that right here, right now, He is Emmanuel. And He is enough.

a short thought on work

We finished school two weeks ago, and this week the kids found their summertime groove. Monday was warm and summery, and I just sort of soaked in all of the smiles and free time that resulted in sibling play and enjoyment. Flowers blooming are the icing on the cake.

There are many things to do right now. The list is long — and when I get through with it, I could always do more laundry. Or glance at Ryan’s list and realize how many hours of help he could use. Just always the next thing.

But sometimes the next thing is cutting peonies because the won’t be here forever; they’re a “this moment” gift. It’s reading to a baby who suddenly wants to hear all of the animal sounds. Going slow enough to give many hugs to growing sons who so clearly crave my affection, even if they don’t fit on my lap anymore.

Sometimes the next thing is just giving thanks, rejoicing, not letting those lists stop up the flow of gratitude for has been, what is, what is promised to be.

Today there is work to be done — but I want to work deeply (to borrow a phrase from Ryan), and not just skimming the surface of a checklist.

power of thanks.

We have one long hallway in our single-story ranch house, with bedroom doors on either side. Narrow, functional, efficient — which, I suppose, are the guiding principles of this house design — and for the first several years of life here, it really was just a way from here to there. Then a couple of winters ago, I turned the blank white walls into a family album of sorts, moments of time captured and framed in black or white. A nod here and there to where Ryan and I came from, but mostly, days we’ve shared with our kids. Two smiling boys in matching PJs in sunny California. Beatrice and her dimples sitting on a blanket in our green yard. Ryan surrounded by five beaming kiddos on an Adirondack hike. Strawberry shortcake about to be devoured by freckled, sun-burned, grinning kiddos. A few were taken on family trips — sisters in Battery Park, a quiet moment enjoying Trout Lake — but for the most part, these aren’t commemorating spectacular vacations or events. They just celebrate moments of joy, relationships, regular life that we are blessed to live together.

Recently, on a rather gray, Eeyore-ish day, I was walking down the hallway alone when the photos caught my eye. I stopped and instead of just straightening them (as is my usual habit), I looked at them. Photo after photo, moment after moment, gift after gift, and suddenly I was overwhelmed by the richness of grace in my life. If those 20 pictures represented the only wonderful days in my life, it would still be so much more than I deserve. It wasn’t a cliché moment; I was sincerely struck by how I, lost in trespasses and sins, have not only been delivered from death and brought into sweet, daily fellowship with Jesus — He has also given me 20 moments of beauty and joy and relationship and so many more besides.

How entitled I can become. How deceived I am, not seeing the goodness of God in my very breath. Fixated on the wrong, the “lack”, completely missing the abundance and grace. A soul, fat with blessing and overflowing with gifts, somehow seeing itself as shriveled and underfed — what a strange delusion to live in. And so rivers of blessing, meant to gush with generosity to those around us, become stagnant ponds of cynicism and comparison and complaints.

And how good to lift eyes to heaven, to a Father who gives every good and perfect gift. To begin to utter thanksgiving, and find the dam of ingratitude bursts apart and that river of life-giving water flows to every part of your soul and overflows to every aspect of your life. Faith, hope, love — they come to life again, joy empowering it all.

*****

This photo-wall moment has taken on greater impact, thanks to the book that arrived in the mail after I’d forgotten all about even ordering it (gotta love the surprise factor of shopping used books + slow shipping speeds!). Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy has already (only several chapters in!) given me so much to ponder and repent of. The Word of God, which this book is full of, is a mirror, helping us to see what’s really in our hearts — and living and powerful enough to work change as we receive it with faith.

*****

Blessings all mine with ten thousand besides:

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)