life at home: seeing increase

As the world is rocked and shaken by lives lost and fingers pointed and political plays or not-plays, I turn my eyes to the life here at my feet, inside my door, and find myself simply blessed. For weeks now I have been living a very simple life with seven people, most of whom can’t reach the top shelf of dishes, and I couldn’t be happier. This home, this atmosphere, is proving to my soul the goodness and faithfulness of God. He calls us to loosen ground, to fertilize, to plant, to water, to weed, to tend, and we do so as faithfully as we can, stumbling many days, aware of how not expert we are as garden-tenders. But we do it with hearts that are looking to Him to bring the increase. We trust that when He says we will reap, it will happen. We don’t always know when, but we know He is not like man, that He should lie. We trust Him.

And this month, as our wings are seriously trimmed and our lives never extend further than a walk down the road, I am seeing fruit. I’m not just seeing it, I am being fed by it. My soul is nourished by the joy, camaraderie, responsibility, servanthood, kindness, laughter, and just plain old enjoyment all around me. These aren’t things that come naturally to us as humans. They are the result of training and discipleship — both in me and in my children. And thirteen years later, as not only I but also my older children set the tone, I am astounded to see genuine and nourishing fruit.

This isn’t to say life is perfect, and that we aren’t continuing every day to water, weed, prune, and stake. We are. We must choose Jesus moment by moment, and sometimes we need a lot of help to get there. But I am saying, Fellow Parents!! Stay the course! Invest by faith! Man your post and allow your weakness to not be an excuse but an invitation for the strength of God! Stay humble and learn! We’ve been commissioned to make disciples, and He will equip us and bring us success.

There are seasons of toil and work and nothing to show for it. But – but! There is that cold spring day when snow has barely cleared the ground, and suddenly you spy with your little eye the faintest trace of pink, pushing through the ground — signs of life! It’s coming! Maybe your garden isn’t producing fruit quite yet, but oh, those leaf buds are so exciting. Notice them. Give thanks for them! And put your gloves on and stay in the game. Sow the Word, invest your life.

And put your trust in Jesus. He will not forsake us.

a month to remember


How the month began

Suffice to say this has been a strange month.

Ryan talks to the kids all the time about not putting our hope in this world. About holding things loosely, knowing that what we have today might be gone tomorrow, and only Jesus is a sure thing. We read stories of days gone by, and so our children know that indeed what Dad says is true — one day you’re living a carefree childhood, and the next day, Nazis march into your town. One day your family is warm and snug in a house in the East, and a month later your parents are dead on the Oregon Trail. You are the prince of your tribe, your world no larger than the village borders, and suddenly slave traders descend and drag you halfway around a world you didn’t even know existed. We live in an incredibly safe and insulated world, but so have others, and their worlds were disrupted. And we all know that.

But how strange to actually watch our world get upended in a way that we just hadn’t imagined. Quarantines, hand washing, rules about who gets the mail, food supplies, letter writing — the things my kids see. Questions about our personal responsibility, economic forecasts, caring for a business and all those it represents, praying for grandparents, checking in with parents — the things on our hearts. Will this end in 4 weeks? Four months? Are we doing enough? Are we doing too much? Will the curve flatten? Will the numbers stagger? Will the numbers have names that we know? Will we all emerge from our houses and return to normal, or will the infrastructures we’ve known be decimated by months of economic stagnancy? What is going on?

And with all of those questions, the foundations of our souls are asking none, really. We have long known the answer that settles and gives peace: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And of His Kingdom there shall be no end. Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. All things work together for good to those who love Him.

I don’t know, but He does.

When I was a little girl, my dad would occasionally invite me to come with him for a daddy-daughter date. These weren’t elaborate events, but usually just an errand he needed to make which could easily accommodate the company of a daughter. Maybe he’d add an extra stop for a donut or some such thing, but regardless, you better believe we all jumped at those opportunities to go with Daddy.

He didn’t tell me where we were going. I didn’t grill him for details of our destination, the roads he would take, how fast he would drive, or whether or not there would be stops along the way. I just got into the car, happy to ride with him to the ends of the earth — or Munro Muffler.

And so it is for those whose trust is in the Lord. We are with Him, and He is bringing us somewhere special. The details of how, when, and what path need not shake us. We shall be like Mount Zion — not moved, not shaken. We can look at tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword, and know that neither those things, nor death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What a way to live! Today, whatever new legislation may come down, whatever numbers from Italy, whatever the current case count in our state — let us be found persevering in tribulation and rejoicing in hope..

Our God reigns.


Fiona helping Cecily with her devotional reading

January

Oh, January, what a month you are. Every year, with that first turn of the calendar page, I suddenly realize how rich the year already is with memories and fresh air and togetherness. And maybe I’ve just read too many gulag and post-WWII stories of survival recently, but I am especially grateful for a tight, sound home full of warmth and light and food. That shelter turns what could be treacherous, deadly cold into sparkling diamonds and crisp fresh air and “fluff cold snow,” as a favorite book says. We laugh and romp fearlessly, tromping at last inside with shining eyes and pink cheeks and bellies that need hot cocoa.

A secure shelter changes everything. There’s something to muse on.

this moment in time

Fresh snow fell in the night. It is stunning. Looking out my window is like looking at the cover of this book. After days of gray and old, sad, snow, the clean mounds of untouched white are reminding me how cozy winter can feel.

I missed my walk this morning. The baby needed me. No sooner did I get out to the kitchen than another “baby” called for me, not feeling her best. So two middle sisters sit in the family room under blankets, watching Little House on the Prairie, the lamplight glowing on their yellow hair and sweet faces.

By now we should be a beehive of activity, but I’m taking my cues from the quiet snow slowly falling, and letting the big growing boys sleep a bit extra. We’ll get there. Soon enough I’ll wake them to the news that the driveway needs to be tended to, but for now it’s a warm haven of rest here inside. Let’s pause for a moment.

I’m looking at my children this week and knowing how quickly they will change and I’ll forget who they are right now. So, in this little pause, I’ll take a moment to write a few word pictures for my future self.


Jameson, leading the pack
Jameson is so, so tall. He’s grown quite a few inches since September, when the jeans I bought him still had growing room (and are now high waters.) The good news is his clothes show no wear and are ready for William. The bad news is… well, a whole new wardrobe 1/2 way through winter! His voice is dropping, dropping, dropping. His face is changing. It’s like a newborn all over again — changes right before your eyes. He is good at many things, and I am watching, praying, wondering what strengths will rise to the surface in the next few years, waiting to be developed and turned into a life’s work. He’s playing Mozart and Schumann and “real music” and I love it (and do my best to not give too much input!) He plays sensitively, intuitively, and it’s no wonder. He is incredibly intuitive and perceptive. He sees and senses, just like Ryan. Although there are the moments he provokes a little sister just because the response is apparently entertaining, he generally sets a tone of harmony and enjoyment. Whenever he’s away, I’m amazed by the amount of shape this oldest son lends to our family. We flounder a bit when he’s not around, and I love that.


William, diligently reading while in a meeting with Ryan.
William is a head shorter than Jameson and it’s easy, in the shadow of that giant, to miss how much he’s grown, too. His eyes still twinkle, but his face is changing. He’s quiet until he’s not (oh my, he can talk to me forever when there’s a playoff game to retell!), wakes every day with an agenda and easily gets overwhelmed before he’s even begun. Oh, how much I relate to this second son of mine! He loves his friends, and I smile whenever I notice how extra-sparkly his eyes get when he’s in a conversation. Those conversations happen once in awhile via FaceTime now, as he’s joined the ranks of Lego Leaguers, and my disciplined boy suddenly needs a 5 minute warning because this is all just too much fun. He’s generous and takes careful care with any money he earns — not because he’s hoarding, but because he has giving in mind.


Beatrice, our tall and slim oldest girl. As sincere as ever, with no pretense, no attempts to hide or manage her thoughts before expressing them. She is as slow as molasses in January and doesn’t seem to have any other speeds, but oh, she’s happy and cheerful the whole time she is cleaning or studying or adjusting her mittens. She laughs at the boys’ jokes and is starting to contribute to that whole dynamic. She reads as voraciously as ever and we chuckle at all of her mispronunciations — and she laughs so easily and readily, too, never taking herself too seriously. Never one for pretend, more than ever I have to occasionally “assign” playtime with her sisters, as books or writing or drawing will always be more appealing.



Fiona has discovered a new passion: reading! I am marveling, for the fourth time as though it were the first, at how those letters and sounds and phonics rules all suddenly come together one day and a child is reading. I’m not one to push very hard, simply chipping away at all of the basics and gently easing into beginner readers when it seems my child is ready. Fiona delighted all fall in our reading times together, gobbling up Dick and Jane (although I always wonder if it’s reading they love, or sitting in a quiet room with just Mama, tucked under my arm with a book), but when I was away in Virginia, she suddenly began to read. How does that happen? I don’t even know. It’s like magic. Two months ago she was reading BOB books, and now she’s on her third Cobblestreet Cousins book in two weeks. Fiona is the most unique and enjoyable personality. She’s friends easily and readily with everyone, doing her best to include and bless (which can land her in a pickle once in awhile, but even there, she seems to know when to stick to her guns.) She loves to draw and sat with her cocoa the other day and told me she was like a real author, hot drink, pencil and pad of paper, gazing out the window for ideas. I love it. She’s going to be selling the book she’s working on someday, she told me. She is the opposite of Beatrice and gets lost in a world of pretend the very moment she’s released from chores or school. Hours of play, indoors or out, and it makes me so happy to watch her. Ruthie is her dependable playmate, and I can’t even imagine how many days worth of pretend they have clocked together!


Cecily is growing, growing, growing — but still little and delightful. Oh, she makes us all laugh! Her expressions are a riot, her dramatics both entertaining and exasperating. She adores her siblings and is painfully aware of how often the older four leave her behind. Turning four was very exciting but has perhaps let her down, as it wasn’t the magic ticket into life with the school kids. She would sit at the table and do sticker books, magnet dolls, tracing book, or whatever for hours and hours, but also is thrilled when Fiona is free to play make believe. Her chubby cheeks are my favorite and I’ll be so sad when that round face disappears along with her funny speech. She randomly bursts into song, and lately it’s been Jingle Bells (“Bells on Papa ring” is my favorite line!), or snippets from A Christmas Carol. She doesn’t sing quietly. It’s Ethel Merman or nothing. As lively as she is, she’s also still so attached to Ryan and me, or her sisters. She simply can’t imagine life without one of us right nearby, and it’s so sweet.


Enid! Oh, sweet and sassy baby, growing up so quickly right before our eyes! Running races through the house on her little baby legs, laughing with Cecily. Learning to say the names of the most important people in her life. Funny little things she notices and imitates that leave me laughing. Two weeks ago, I realized every time I brought her to my room for her nap, I would get her settled in my arms to nurse and she would smile up at me and give a big exaggerated sigh. I knew from her expression that she was imitating me — must be I sighed every day to unwind and settle in. Oh, it made me laugh! And every night I say, “Good night, I love you,” and she says it back to me now. How endearing! Of course, in between those endearing moments are some of the most challenging toddler moments of my life, as she is never just playing happily but always has an idea of what to get into next, whether it be a pen she found or the puzzle cupboard while we’re doing devotions or the bathroom sink or whatever. She’s feisty and if I’m not finding her getting into trouble, I’m hearing her yell at a sibling who won’t give her what she wants. But how we dote on her, despite all that, and how she gobbles up the center of attention! She runs to greet Ryan, eats all the clementines I’ll give her, sleeps almost predictably every afternoon, and is just so very alive.

It’s Christmas!

And are we really here? The day before the day, the day of anticipation that only escalates even in our sleep tonight? The day of last preparations — Mama watching for UPS anxiously, cookie plate assembled for tonight’s little family party, clothes ironed and matching ties and bows all at the ready, special foods planned and partly assembled. A last vacuum, candle stick filling, kitchen tidying. A last day to get ready, but really, whatever does or doesn’t happen, who cares? Tonight the cork will pop — the waiting and whispering and wrapping with its pressure of expectancy will burst into celebration!

I am determined to just ride this wave and stay in the moment — to not mourn the passing of another December, the last year my children were 13 and under, the year I failed in this way or that. No, today is a gift to open and enjoy, to trust in the faithfulness of God to continue to give the gifts of new mercies wrapped in new days.

And what a pile of those gifts were mine to open this year! Days full of newborns and nieces, Dickens and ringlets, family and parties and cookies and Christmas music in the early mornings. A beautiful little tree with pretty packages tucked beneath, but most of all the clear reminder that Christmas isn’t about looking back to a point in time, but a time for looking ahead to a Second Coming — one when the fullness of Joy to the World breaks forth and all eyes behold the glory of our King. This, this is why we celebrate so big. It’s an expectation and anticipation that finds shape in December, but oh, that it would shape my every day in a deeper way. Time to make ready. The Lord is come!

H O M E

I’m home! Our tree is decorated! There are cookies in the tins, awaiting frosting and sprinkles! The washing machine is running and my suitcase is empty and Instacart filled our bare cupboards!

My four oldest were a smashing success in their opening night of A Christmas Carol. Yet again, a wonderful experience for them, surrounded by encouraging peers and kind adults and fabulous talent (which they think is completely normal and perhaps will be quite surprised to grow up and find that not every rural population can orchestrate and direct and choreograph and set design and costume and then sing, act, and dance the way this population can!) This has been their December thus far, and I’m so glad to be here to see the final product. Truly wonderful. William’s touching five minutes of Young Scrooge brought me to tears. You should go see it if you can.

And my December thus far wrapped up with a plane trip home for my two littles and me. After eleven days with my sister’s family, it was time to return — and I’m so glad to be back at the helm of my little ship, but if only Virginia were not so far away. Being with Carina was every kind of special. Even without a brand new baby whose arrival I witnessed (miracle upon miracle, ever time!), a whole week and a half to just be with their family, helping and loving and watching and laughing and getting to know those little personalities (or rather, big personalities in small bodies!) better than ever — what a privilege and gift.

I’m so blessed to have sisters who are closest friends. We don’t just share mutual memories — we share each day going forward and are eager to be a part of helping and encouraging the future we’re walking out in the Lord.

I’m also so very blessed to have four oldest children who gladly gave up their mama for eleven days (because they truly love Ricky and Carina as much as I do) and who were nothing but cheerful, friendly, responsible, and capable the entire time I was gone. Ryan kept praising them to me, and whenever I was able to FaceTime them, I could instantly sense their joyful camaraderie. My time away was so sweet because I never for a moment was concerned about the ones back home.

Ryan sent me a video — and this is just a screenshot, obviously, but before I could even be impressed by Fiona’s excellent reading, I was overwhelmed by the way Jameson served breakfast each day just because he honors me: candles lit, scrambled eggs in covered casserole dish, Christmas dishes used.

Or this photo that almost made me cry — evidence of big brothers playing happily with little sisters, making their dreams come true:

Several years ago, after thousands of days of investing in young children, I suddenly felt that glimpse of where we were heading: to a place where we would be able to give and reach beyond our little family circle because my children had been invested in and taught and were ready to bear weight as we opened our arms to the world around us. And I saw that this month — my children making it possible for me to go and bless. Very amazing.

So I’m logging these memories, knowing that I am about to be whisked into the beautiful busyness of Christmas celebrations, not the least of which includes Victorian ringlets and vitamin C by the boatload for my young thespians. Happy Friday everyone!