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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

family time

And right on the heels of a long-anticipated weekend away, we ended up with a week of family time! Since neither Ryan nor I are actually good at being home and vacationing (he’d be on the phone solving problems, I’d be deep-cleaning the freezer — but I have hope! One day!), we loaded ourselves and a week’s worth of books and games and groceries into the van and headed to another nearby lake.

There wasn’t much to do (the whole point!), and the five days slipped by to the tune of slow mornings together, little hikes and boat excursions, two birthday celebrations (William and Ryan), movies and books and puzzles, and just kind of being near Dad. No matter what he was doing.

We had rented this same cottage three summers ago, when Beattie wasn’t walking and William and Jameson were decidedly little boys. Arriving there again was nostalgic. This season of young children just changes so quickly. So quickly. Jameson is 9! William turned 7! It whirls and flies faster and faster, leaving me sometimes just gasping for a breath — and maybe crying, too. To know for certain that I will never, ever again be on a boat watching 3-year-old William experience the thrill of full throttle, arms in the air, eyes sparkling in the unique way they do… And I know again that my days with them are such a gift. I get to watch them, help them, introduce them to the world and its wonders, their growing gifts and personalities, truth and goodness and hope. I get to witness their moments and hours and days. It doesn’t always seem significant. Sometimes it’s a lot of moments of potty-helping and chore-reminding and conflict-resolving and super-hero-story-listening. But those moments are their lives, and I’m a part of these building-block moments that are adding up to men and women.

And truthfully, honestly, there aren’t many moments I wouldn’t gladly do once again. Even just for a minute, to build a train track with my baby Jameson, to sing a song to the happy baby William playing at my feet, to watch my doll-baby Beatrice smile at her brothers, to slip Fiona into the Ergo for a tromp in the snow… Those are moments no one else saw, no one else witnessed, no one else was a part. But I was. God picked me. Isn’t that amazing?

Yes, I’m very pregnant, but oh my! I am in tears, marveling at the way God uses me — ungifted as I often feel in every area pertaining to home management and school organization and even just babies! — to shape people.

I think I had some pictures to post, if I can just find them through my tear-blurred vision…

october’s get-away

Hands down, the highlight of October for me — maybe the highlight of the last few years? — was a weekend away with just Ryan. Our 10th anniversary had come and gone without celebration, as have our birthdays and several other anniversaries before, and after a very demanding couple of years for Ryan and our little family, I decided it was time for a break.

It wasn’t extravagant or fancy. In fact, it was as simple as a meticulous little house on a nearby lake. We left our kids with my wonderful parents, put pj’s and wool socks into a suitcase, bought fancy cheese and favorite vegetables and splurge-y steaks, and it was just perfect. The last of autumn’s leaves fell gently to the blue water, and I watched, mesmerized, from the couch. The first snow blew in the next morning, granting permission to just sit some more, warm and calm under heavy blankets. We slept. We talked. We shared new favorite ice cream. We read. We did it all together, and at our own pace. We rested.

I may have cried a bit when we left. It was just so wonderful and needed. It was such a gift to be able to get away. And it is such a gift to share the work of life with someone who you love so deeply.

full days, full heart.

Don’t let him fool you. My boys call for me every night to come tuck them in (even though they already have their quilts up to their chins) and kiss them good night. The arms that lock around my neck are strong and wiry and all boy. I love my boys.

I love/hate that every meal would look like this if I let it. I can tell if the book I assigned them is good by how long it takes them to get hungry for lunch. Poor Beatrice. She can’t wait until I teach her to read so she can be part of that world, too. They love to read.

And I never get tired of watching them together. ALL DAY LONG. They love each other so deeply. They are such opposites, and already, I can see iron sharpening iron. They’re learning how to interact through differences, how to point out weaknesses in an encouraging way. I wonder what their future together holds. Maybe just a deep connection each time their paths cross? Or will they be shoulder to shoulder, pursuing Jesus together?

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We’ve had a few PJ morning walks, when my little sidekicks wake up before I can slip out of the house. Are they the cutest? I really think so. And isn’t summer all about fresh mornings spent in pajamas?

She sings. All the time, everywhere. Her favorite theme is “When the storms come, You will be there.” Yesterday, as we drove to do errands, her chatting turned to, “When I’m a big girl, I’ll sit up next to you.” I smiled and nodded, imagining trips together and long conversations and a life of having that wonderful person for a friend. She chatted on about, “And I will fill up the car with gas for you! And go into the store and buy the things. And I will order the bagels!!” Apparently ordering bagels is quite the milestone in her eyes.

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I know it’s almost July, and I’m still trying to realize summer has started. I’m surprised to look at my gardens and not just see daffodils — in my mind, that’s where we still are. But no. A sea of evening primrose, the start of lilies, baby gooseneck loostrife ready to pop, delphinium waving tall and proud (unless this current rainy day does them in.) And yarrow. Deep, sunshine-yellow yarrow. I’ve never fully appreciated how many perfect little flowers it takes to form one of those beautiful heads of gold.

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And food. The food tells me it’s not April anymore. We will eat lots of salad, in place of winter’s pb&j. Along with our CSA’s generous shares of greens, I also planted plenty of kale this year. I hope it does well, because I can certainly eat my way through a LOT of kale in a week.

She enjoys it all as much as I do. She’s a bottomless pit! While the boys sit and read, she quietly eats all of the food. ALL of it.

Sautéed garlic and spring onions, baby kale, lemon juice, and heaps of fresh basil and parsley. It makes my mouth so happy. I forget what fresh herbs taste like!

Making pretty food does something for me. Nothing fancy, just pretty. Edible sweet pea flowers, golden yellow eggs, deep red strawberries, ta-da. Even with a fridge that is bare, it feels like we’re eating like kings.

*****

Growing.

Suddenly, last week, overnight, I went from feeling round and lumpy to being quite clearly pregnant. Funny how that happens. Ryan, the boys, my friends tell me it’s true as their eyes widen and they exclaim, “Hey! Your belly!”

Sixteen weeks of baby growing in there. Already! It’s flying by. Maybe that’s why I’m so surprised to suddenly not fit in my clothes? Perhaps pulling out some stretchy-waisted pants will help me remember: there’s a baby coming.

(I love getting a peek at what this avocado-sized baby looks like. Astounding.)

*****

Even more astounding is realizing ten years of marriage has come and gone. June 25 ten years later was a much more temperate day. It also came and went with much less fanfare, but a quiet shared remembrance that Hey, today is special. This covenant is special.

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And this man is special. He’s talented in a hundred ways that I am not (and therefore am all the more impressed by.) He grows. Stagnant and stubborn is not his style. He wants to grow. There is always a sense that we are moving towards eternity as we live life together, because he just wants Jesus. Sometimes it’s hard, this calling to build something that is so here, but with our eyes continually lifted to then, but he crunches numbers hard because it’s faithfulness, and he treats each person like they’re deeply important because they are, and he comes home and gets smothered by adoring children because he needs space but they need love and they’re the most important to him.

He makes the most of life’s moments. He’s not a “at 7pm every night, we’ll have devotions in this particular format” kind of guy. He grabs the teaching moments and sits down right then and helps them learn how to hear from the Lord, and how to process life by His word.

So he grabs paper as soon as he walks in the door and draws a diagram to teach about executive, legislative, and judicial branches, their powers, and the breaches thereof. He talks about the American Constitution. But he talks mostly about kingdoms rising and falling, and our God reigning forever. About living lives that are sown in death and raised to life. This is “home schooling” at its best.

means, ends, and tyrannical tools

You know those “job descriptions” of a mom that include everything from taxi driver to medic? They’re funny to read, and they’re certainly true enough, but confession:

I get things topsy-turvy.

I easily get into Nutritionist mode and forget that that’s not actually my job. Learning about health and nutritions is simply a means to an end: nurturing and caring for my children. I get into Housekeeper mode and suddenly we will have a clean house! Now! OR DIE TRYING!!

My means become the end. And my true end becomes collateral damage.

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You’ll hear me and so many other home schooling mamas say, “Your curriculum is a tool, not a master. It’s there to serve you, and not the other way around.”

I think of that this week. I have lots of tools in my box — not just my “mom” box, but in my “life” box. But too often I stop seeing them as tools to serve me in my goal as disciple and disciple-maker, and I begin serving them. An organized home is a blessing as I raise children who love order and work and peace. But an organized home is a terrible slave master, showing no mercy, when I let it become tyrant rather than tool. Healthy eating is a serious responsibility with lifetime effects, and I want us to be responsible with these bodies. But nutritional eating is a master that will drive you to the brink of nervous breakdown if you let it become your end, and not the means. Those are just two examples, but I’m amazed at how well that applies to every single good endeavor. (Being On Time to Church, Family Devotions, Modest Dress, Coupon Clipping, Real Play Only, Chore Charts, Gas and Mileage Savings, Bible Study Attendance, Exercise, Good Book Reading, Theological Studies… All fabulous tools and terrible Masters.)

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Who’s in charge here?

That’s a question worth asking myself regularly.

What’s the End (knowing and loving Jesus, and loving those I’m called to in a way that shows them Jesus), and what are the means? The end usually requires the means (don’t throw babies out with bathwater), but let’s not get lost somewhere in the middle, chasing our tails.

Hone my skills with the tools in my box. Learn how to use them. Walk by the Spirit, knowing which tool to use when, and when to lay your favorite one aside for a season. The Holy Spirit isn’t a tyrant: when I feel like I’m slave to a dictator (including my own selfish desire for clean and quiet), chances are I’ve lost sight of the Goal and have become servant to a tyrannical tool.

Down with tyrants. I’m all for freedom.

*****

Because we all like pictures in our posts: