a morning’s rambling

I wish I had a picture from yesterday’s scene outside my windows — children bundled in all sorts of colors, laughing and tumbling after each other across the backyard, exploring every familiar corner because suddenly it was transformed and enchanting by our first real snow.

It is one of my favorite things to see, I’ve realized. A rainbow in the sky, peonies bursting into bloom, ocean’s swell crashing against rocks — all outdone by the joy and magic and brightness of a snowy playday. I could stand and watch forever.

I know it’s been said here in this little corner of the internet so many times, but my, how the days do fly by. I feel it in my soul as I manage this particular season of motherhood. There were so very many days when playing outdoors had to mean mittens and boots for me, too. Not so much anymore. They all run out to dress and play on their own and this year there’s a baby whose needs dictate my availability. It used to be that train tracks needed my expertise, and Candyland could only be played with my assistance. Piano practice required me to be standing nearby, and every single meal depended upon me.

That was an exhausting and demanding season that required so much prayer and Holy Spirit.

But just as I knew they would, those days flew by. There was a last time that Jameson needed me to lay near him as he drifted to sleep — and it was long, long ago. I did my best to be fully present and not wishing away any of those weary yet joy-filled days, and still

They go.

Now there are new demands with new joys to go along. There is the beginning of the craziness that is newborns + older children, a combination I’ve long marveled at and wondered at and have vague memories of my mother doing so well without missing a beat — but how?? My new favorite thing is laying in the dark nursing a baby to sleep (and drifting there myself!) and suddenly hearing tip-toe footsteps as Jameson quietly comes to let me know he’s home from whatever evening activity he had and to tell me how it was. He’s off doing his own thing more and more, but without me ever asking, he still comes to let me know how it all was. I know how that goes: there’s a security in knowing your mom knows.

*****

We are mapping out the next 45 days. Every one needs to count, as we approach the whirlwind of activity that is “the most wonderful time of the year.” I ask the kids each year what their favorite part of the Christmas season is, and while one might anticipate answers including parties and concerts and tree decorating and the like, the most consistent answer is, “I like all the cozy nights by the tree when you read stories and we’re together.” That is the most precious answer they could give, of course, and I am so blessed to know those quiet evenings have mattered so much — but oh, what a challenge as well. Those simple memories require one thing: TIME. Time at home, and not hurried and exhausted time at home, but slow and routine time at home. So like a tenacious guard I scan the calendar and count out the evenings and decide with determination that this many we will give, and the rest will be protected, given to them, my precious children who want nothing more than to hear a favorite book while gazing at a favorite ornament, surrounded by their favorite people.

And as I carefully map out school, cookie baking, outside commitments, shopping trips, prayerfully prioritizing, I am suddenly feeling like Elijah on Mount Carmel. As familiar as I may become with managing our days together, as skilled as I may get a figuring out what should fit where, there is an element to our days together that I am desperate for but cannot bring myself: the fire of the presence of God. So my prayer has been renewed with each glance at the calendar: Lord, would You visit our home. Engulf our hearts. This is meaningless without You. How silly is a stone-cold altar and untouched sacrifice. The whole point is You.

living life.

There is so much activity in the fall, isn’t there? After a summer that always feels full enough, I am suddenly launched into that same fullness, but with the addition of school for x number of kids, birthday parties, church routine in full swing, teaching CFA, field trips and fun trips and scrambling to be outside for one last hurrah — and all to the tune of shortening days.

This October seemed especially so, with every week requiring a planning strategy of its own, as I did my best to keep the essentials and be flexible with everything else. Some weeks or months or seasons are just like that. (Perhaps most are?) Our house has seemed extra-full, and that is my favorite kind of busyness.

But through it all, in it all, under it all, a sense of peace and provision and daily bread. Pressing needs that keep us all thinking about the faithfulness of God and praying in faith for His touch. We are busy each day but there’s also a unifying waiting, carrying happening in our hearts, down to Cecily. A text comes in with new numbers for Jack and we all stop, hearts in their eyes as they wait for new news. An email from the church prayer list with heavy news, and they all pause quietly, letting it sink in. A man they all know from church gets answers that aren’t answers from doctors, and they begin to ask for a miracle. And more. They are learning to carry one another’s burdens.

We are learning to do our chores well and to be more careful with math problems but we are learning far more.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing it right, this thing called life, this task of raising up people. Most of the time I’m too busy just doing it these days, though, and have to cast even those cares on Him, trusting that He is my Shepherd and that He is their Shepherd, and He will lead us through every hill and valley.

*****

the busy and lazy and timeless days of summer

Here we are, August. August! I cut a bunch of echinacea and rudbeckia and couldn’t even believe it. What happened to the peonies? Scratch that. Where are the daffodils? How are we here already?!

But oh, we have filled these days. Some filled with the nothing that summertime begs for, some filled with much anticipated activities. Soccer camp, swim lessons, and musical theater camp — far more here and there than our usual summer schedule, but it has been so much fun and just right for this year.

What hasn’t happened this year is much [any] gardening. The grass is growing quite well between hardy perennials, despite the fact that hot and dry weather has left the lawn looking brown and crunchy. I’ve never experimented with total neglect, and I can’t recommend it, but a new baby in May has bumped weeding and pruning waaaay down the totem pole. The good news is I haven’t lost anything, and hopefully that will still be true next spring. There’s a time for everything, I guess.

Last week I decided on and ordered our books for the coming school year, so that means this week will see us purging and tidying the school cupboard once again. I’m both excited about all we’ll learn and dreadfully sad that our summer days will end in a few weeks. There’s a time for everything.

*****

Old familiar tasks done in a new beautiful kitchen.

Evening walks in nightgowns and pjs.

Mama’s rug in my room.

Learning croquet.

Wagon full of beauty.

Three soccer players!

Enid’s regular activity. (Some days.)

Up bright and early every swim-lesson morning! So proud of just that, never mind the swim progress.

Cousins made it even more fun.

Sister love.

An early NOT swim morning by myself.

Donning ballet slippers.

Constant companion, growing and changing and more loved every day.

the magic of home

A magical thing happens every day, all around us, and probably without much notice:

A once-empty house, four walls and a roof, becomes a home.

Thanks to my mother, who taught (and continues to teach!) so well the importance of making a home and creating a haven where life can gently be nurtured, I am somewhat aware of this magic taking place in my own house, which I saw as empty with my own eyes 8 years ago, and which we have filled with much life and living every day since. I have worked hard and labored daily to make it so. I have waved my magic wand of dishcloth and Oxyclean, kisses for boo-boos and bed time stories, Christmas carols and paper hearts and lazy summer picnics. But I don’t think I really believed the same thing happened at my childhood home until last week, when I walked through the door and saw the topsy-turvy chaos of a home being packed up and moved out.

I didn’t really believe it could possibly have ever been an empty shell, because the magic happened there so fully, so deeply. It seemed that perhaps we had grown up in a truly magical place, where the haven of love infused with the energy joy had simply always gone on and on.

How strange to see with my own eyes the emptying of rooms, with price tags attached to memories.

(How glad I am that the house will not long stand empty, but will be promptly filled again with the magic of another skillful and loving mother and father.)

And so, a house is just a house, and we take the magic with us — that greater-than-its-parts thing called family.

But.

And here I pause these days, taken aback by how strongly I am feeling that “but.”

It was just a house, and we all still have each other and the memories that live on in our hearts and in the stories told and the inside jokes laughed loudly at over family dinners. But it was our house. It was part of us. We were never young sisters apart from that gabled room, and the best play happened on those pine boards. That pile of gravel and sand still belongs to us, our scraped knees and Mama scolding us again about playing in sand. No one else will enjoy the open kitchen but know deep in their hearts that what it really wants to be is paneled and small with red lace curtains. My mama’s cool hands on my feverish head belong to that house. My daddy came home to that driveway, and we waited eagerly for him on hot afternoons, on the porch with our swimsuits on and sunscreen applied and towels ready to GO! I suppose my birthdays would have happened every year no matter where we were, but the fact is, we were always there, in that dining room. I learned to cook there, to rock a baby to sleep up in that little nook, and those gardens growing are planted in the soil that I turned, one spade at a time, under the hot summer sun. My dad told me to rinse the dishes with cold water so I wouldn’t cook the traces of egg yolk onto the surface, and we stood side by side at the peninsula. He sat by me on the piano bench and taught me how to play “Celebrate Jesus Celebrate” in the key of F while Mama called from the kitchen, “I want her to read music, too, Ricky!” And speaking of music, won’t we always just laugh and laugh at how Jamie and Julia would stand on the porch and practice their fife tunes, serenading the entire town.

In that front room, we had evening devotions and I watched my mom and dad sing with enraptured faces to the Jesus they knew so intimately, and I wanted that, too. Up in that bedroom, I knelt by my bed and asked Jesus to love me, too. I remember a lunchtime when my mom and dad were at odds, and I remember so well my mother standing by the telephone on the wall and saying, “I’m sorry, Ricky,” and him kissing her and all was well again. In that downstairs bedroom I met a brand new brother, held a birthday-gift sister. A chubby baby girl arrived there, too, fast and dramatic. In that house I cried with my mother over miscarriages. Then there were wedding showers and baby showers, and six wedding mornings when the house was filled to bursting with preparations and joy and gowns and flowers and togetherness. We bore sorrows together, we dealt with sin together, we weathered storms and persevered through growing and stretching and learned to hope in God together. And all under a red roof that was home.

I’m not sure how you say goodbye to something that is a part of you. I’m surprised by the layers of emotion that overwhelm me these days. But this I am sure of: Not everyone grew up with a house jam-packed and overflowing with the blessing of a family who loved and grew together in the atmosphere of the Holy Spirit’s presence — and so I count even my tears as a blessing. And I also know this: the magic that happened there was a bit of heaven itself, the Kingdom of God being worked out in our hearts, and what I really and truly long for is the home that is awaiting us in eternity. Music and food and parties and quiet and joy and fellowship will abound there, and we will at last be satisfied.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

tending gardens (or, mothering)

Large family realities: Here, Cecily has dug a cantaloupe rind out of the garbage and is happily gnawing off every last bit of juicy melon. And I am just sitting and nursing the baby and glad it was at least from the top of the garbage.

I know I’ve already said it, but investing in my older children is beginning to pay off in ridiculous dividends.

It’s not just the actual work they do, although that needs to be mentioned and applauded. The environment of our home, while far from perfect and in daily (moment by moment?) need of realignment and repentance and renewed vision, is rich with cheerful energy and joy and a general spirit of friendship. Like a garden, the weeds continue to pop up like crazy if left for just one day unattended, but the plants we so vigorously guarded and hoed and watered and pruned and watched over and shooed pests away from day and night for so long — they are growing taller and stronger and bearing fruit.

“Invest” sounds like such a great idea, but I wonder if it sounds easier than it is to the one seeking help as they stand in their disaster of a kitchen surrounded by crying babes and temper tantrum-ing toddlers. Investment in those little years isn’t quite like throwing a few thousand dollars into a mutual fund and hoping it all goes well. Not quite.

There is so much work, defining the goals of your family, the standards you feel the Lord calling you to, and then daily digging in and working toward that end. I looked at my children on Sunday morning, all standing and singing nicely as they’ve been taught — even the 2 year old — and I thought, it wasn’t always like this. Not all of my 2 year olds just stood and clapped and sang and then sat down politely. The first couple had to be taught — every single Sunday, week after week, and with lots of practice at home in between. But now my little girls are growing up in the shade of these strong young men we’ve raised, and they just do what they see them doing. (They don’t seem to always notice that those young men stay in bed when we ask them to. Still working on that… among other things!)

But that particular moment, I realized, was a direct result of all the Sundays that Ryan and I did not throw up our hands in frustration and either just let the boys do what they wanted to do, or decide what’s the point, let’s just skip church for a few years.

It’s hard work to “invest”. But that initial breaking of ground — turning sod, picking out rocks, working in fertilizer, and maybe only then finally planting the seeds you now must protect and cultivate — that doesn’t happen over and over. At some point, a garden begins to grow, and it’s a wonderful, amazing thing to stand back and observe. Take a deep breath and savor the moment as your eldest son makes the burgers and the next son organizes a game for the younger set and your daughters set the table nicely, and you just think, wow. This was not my life when my third and fourth baby were born.

This past week I stopped to take pictures of William, who is hitting a great growth edge this summer. He’s taken up the task of mowing here at home, for the most part, and this week even ventured across the street to mow for my father. Blessing us, blessing others.

He woke up early on his first morning of appointed breakfast duty (a new twist to our summer routine) and learned how to make pancakes — and then, because it’s his personality, he did it again two mornings later in order to perfect the art.

And so many moments in between, he’s quietly working away at his assigned [boring, monotonous, done-it-a-million-times] chore. Bonus in this shot: Beatrice singing away as she vacuums, learning to cheerfully chip in just as her brothers do.

(And bonus-bonus: Jameson took this photo and my heart just melts. What sweet days these are, with a little baby girl curled up in my arms, wanting absolutely nothing in the world except to be near my heartbeat.)

june 14

Yesterday was three weeks with our Enid Catherine. How we love her.

And how those days flew — as I knew they would, but still always such a strange shock to tally them up and realize it’s been weeks and you’re not sure where it all went. Somehow it always seems wrong, when I’m moving so slowly and intentionally, that moments and hours still have the audacity to move quickly.

My sister said something like, “I’ve done this enough to know the details won’t always be fresh in my mind, but the impression of these days will remain.” Yes. We sink our whole self into each moment because there’s an impression being made — on her life, on their lives, on my life. We are shaped by these fleeting moments.

We are keeping a tight orbit these days, with Enid at the center still. I don’t go far, they don’t go far. We hold a baby, prepare meals to be shared al fresco, blow bubbles and ride bikes and shoot hoops and figure out how on earth to get the frisbee to go where you want it to go. We clean feet and braid hair and tidy the house before running back out to the great wide world out our door.

Yesterday while Enid slept soundly in her basket, I organized the play kitchen and “taught” Cecily how to make pasta primavera and cake. It was so special — her shining eyes told me so.