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)

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?

small things, done well.

I took this picture early this morning. Doesn’t the snow look like fluffy eiderdown, wrapped around the post of the mailbox? Just lovely.

And the sight of that mailbox made me smile, because twice in the past couple of weeks, our friendly mailman has stopped his usual routine to congratulate Jameson on his diligent snow removal and rewarded him with a bag of Smarties. Jameson comes in beaming from those encounters, feeling so affirmed and confident.

That same mailman calls out his window on summer afternoons, “Good job having them outside, Mama! I love to see kids playing outside. Not enough of that these days.” And I feel bolstered.

Smiles and waves and a lollipop here and there, delighting my children.

And I thought of those things this morning, as the mailbox grabbed my attention. Delivering mail may not seem grand, spiritual work, but that man leaves encouragement whenever he leaves, and I am reminded: Do small things well. Do all to the glory of God. And see the people you encounter. They are worth your time, investment, and kindness.