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.)

sunday thoughts

Church two weeks in a row, new baby in arms.

Check.

I’ve learned to not respond to unnecessary pressures (as much as I used to, anyway. Still a work in progress.) Somewhere along the way I somehow wrote a rule for myself (which I’m good at doing) that went something like this: You may miss two Sundays after a baby [and no more]. My husband is very good at seeing my rules as ridiculous and telling me to respond to the right things. And the Holy Spirit has really dug deep and rooted out a whole bunch of Type A, melancholy idealist/perfectionist, first born, goal oriented, works-based — whatever you want to call or label it — stuff in my heart and taught me about rest.

And so I went to bed on these last couple Saturday nights knowing that if the baby was awake and fussy in the morning, and getting myself showered and dressed and ready would mean a screaming baby, I just wouldn’t. No pressure. That made so much of a difference.

We don’t need more pressure. We serve one Master. Following Him doesn’t mean strawberries and cream and pedicures after a nap every day, and sometimes there’s a screaming baby involved — but what it does mean is learning which yoke He’s in and getting in step beside Him. That is a place of purpose and rest.

There’s my thought for today. And now, pictures from yesterday.

*****

Enid Catherine is born

It’s Wednesday, May 30. The sun is pouring, gloriously golden and warm. Dew glistens on the fresh green of nearly-June that is lush, verdant, nearly overwhelming in its vibrancy. Birdsong fills the morning air, air heavy with the fragrance of flowers and cut lawns.

Just like the dawning of last Wednesday, I think, as I wake next to the smallest and sweetest little bundle for the 7th morning in a row.

A week ago, I had woken before 1am to a strong contraction, followed by waves of nausea, followed by feelings of just weird. And in my middle of the night stupor, I realized my water had broken. “Is this it?” Ryan called from the bedroom as I wandered back and forth to bathroom. It wasn’t what I’ve come to expect from the onset of labor, but it was certainly something. Contractions began to come with a bit of rhythm. Ryan called the midwife. Not knowing what to expect, and knowing the only other labor that began with water breaking had gone very swiftly, I quickly switched into laboring gear. Up and about and laundry and tea and yup, here they come in earnest: time to move this baby.

I was 13 days overdue. I had been doing my exercises to get the baby in position, walking daily, and Ryan and I had even gone for a dirt road drive that evening. We knew the baby had to come sometime, and my midwife, Sunday, was expressing absolutely no concern about timing — and so I did my best to follow her lead and just patiently persevere through the increasing tiredness and uncomfortable nature of late pregnancy.

And now, in the middle of the night (I’ve come to expect no less!), it was time.

Around 4am, I decided to lay down for a bit. Steady contractions hadn’t intensified too much and I needed rest.

Two hours alter, I woke to the most perfect morning one could ask for. A day for a baby. With my water breaking, I knew this would happen soon, one way or another. I was feeling amazingly rested and ready to give myself completely to this process.

Friends and sisters quickly swooped in to take the girls and created so much space for me to focus and relax into what ended up being a truly peaceful and beautiful day. Ryan and the boys kept me company on several walks, the boys especially surprising me with their attentiveness and gentle support — a pause in conversation when they heard my breathing change, a hand slipped into mine, a soft touch on my back. Who knew little boys could do such a good job helping a mama in labor?

And so I walked and rested and walked some more. As long as I was moving, contractions came steady and strong, but every time I rested, they would pause to almost nothing. I was a bit confused about how I could get things really and truly moving along, but also was confident that progress was happening. And even as I settled into what I suspected would be a long haul, I felt both energized and calmed by the incredibly beautiful day all around me. On one walk, as breeze whispered through tall maple leaves and lilac scent enveloped us, Ryan said, “I’ve never been more of a fan of home birth than I am right now.” A country road to walk versus a long corridor — much more relaxing!

The midwife had left for her scheduled appointments at 7am, and I’d been checking in with her throughout the day, though I never had anything new to report. She recommended an exercise ball so I could keep moving without actually walking ALL DAY LONG. So around 3pm I set my laptop on my bed, played an episode of Blue Bloods, and sat on that ball.

Sometime before 4pm, as I was nearing the end of the episode of Blue Bloods, the contractions changed in intensity. Probably you know what I mean: there are contractions you have to breathe and relax through, and then there are the ones that move deep into your pelvis and lower back and make you start to feel a little frantic. There’s suddenly the thought: I’ve gotta get out of here. Make this stop. And that’s what happened. Two of those waves, with me suddenly having to use complete focus to relax and not run away (I’m not sure what that would look like, but that’s the overwhelming desire I had!), and I texted Ryan, who was in the living room. “Can you come be with me?”

He said he instantly knew.

I’d talked with Sunday 15 minutes before and told her there was no change; she had plenty of time for dinner with her family, etc. Ryan texted her back and said scratch that; “I know the sounds of intense labor and this is it.”

I told Ryan I was going to take one more nap. I got on the bed and almost panicked as another solid contraction rolled through me. Never mind the nap. I went to use the bathroom and (no surprise) ended up there for awhile, waiting for the next contraction to end only to have them keep coming. And coming, and coming. My mom arrived. I vaguely remember Ryan saying, “Do you two have the same color nail polish on your toes?” and my mom laughing because somehow we always end up matching. Somehow I made it back to my bed. Ryan asked me if he should tell everyone else to come. Or maybe that was earlier? Time and events began to swim. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t want to ask people to come and have them be here for hours. (Ignore the logic of a woman in transition, by the way.) Sunday and Erica, her assistant, were suddenly here. I barely opened my eyes long enough to see them. Erica apologized for getting in my space to check the baby’s heartbeat and I remember saying, “I don’t care. I just don’t care.” I tried to sit up for her but had to lay down but suddenly couldn’t get my legs to move without cramping and I buried my face in the pillow and needed someone to push on my lower back lest I totally lose it.

Then Liz was here, too, pushing on my back, and my mom’s voice that I locked onto, and Ryan rubbing my shoulders and I don’t even know who else. The contractions wouldn’t stop, and I was having an ongoing conversation in my mind: I’m freaking out. This has to stop. Everyone go away and make this stop. –no, this is it. Just relax. Let it do it’s work. That awful pressure is a baby.

And so it went. Me overcome with the pressing sensations on my spine and within, purposing to interpret those things not as pain, but as the progress and position of a baby. Wave after wave, and I just needed a break…

And suddenly a contraction that felt like bearing down. I ignored it and charged myself to just chill out and relax. Then another. Maybe even another? before I finally couldn’t talk myself out of it. “I need to push!” I’m sure I bellowed it. I’m sure I sounded as primal and earthy as ever a woman does. A mad scramble. Ryan said the women all looked at each other with their own waves of panic, suddenly in my shoes, knowing exactly what was happening in my body.

And then — nothing. Peace. That break I had been so needing.

How long? It seemed forever. Long enough for this totally rational thought: Was this not it? Am I really not actually that far into labor?

Then without warning, another incredible wave of energy rolled through my body, and another urge to push. “I don’t remember how to do this!” It’s the feeling of panic that always comes over me at this point, and my mom answered, yes you do. Relax. Let it just happen.

I say urge, but really, more like another force took over. I moved out of the way and let this powerful instinct take over. I could feel the pressure, the pushing, knew things were happening — but oh my, the total surprise when suddenly I felt a head crowning. The exclamations in the room, the encouragement to breathe, go slow, oh my! My mind kicked into gear. This was really happening. Okay. Small breaths. It felt like one long, slow motion event, and then — a baby! MY BABY! Somewhere in the laughter and exultation someone said, it’s a girl, yes? Yes, a girl! And Ryan was leaning over and laughing and I was trying to just catch up with what in the world just happened. Somehow the slow and relatively uneventful day had ended in a whirlwind of labor that had my head spinning. So fast. So uncomplicated. A healthy, crying baby and me, feeling tired but good.

Sisters and friends and all of my children but Cecily were there, laughing and talking all at once, celebrating with me and marveling at the miracle. I just held that little bundle, another sweet daughter, and smiled at the hubbub and joy and remember thinking how thankful and blessed I was to be in an environment where I simply trusted everyone there to be taking good, thoughtful care of my baby and me while I sank into that amazing post-delivery haze. Another whirlwind hour or so, and things were tidied up, the midwife packed up and gone to the next baby, and quiet beginning to reign. Dinner served to me in bed, children pj’d and tucked into bed after many kisses and hugs and turns with the new sister, and the sound of crickets through open windows.

Does a day get more perfect? I’m not sure it does.

*****

Enid Catherine
“life, spirit*; pure”

Her name was chosen from a very short list. It seems to work like this: I make a list. It gets whittled down and edited as we approach 40 weeks. Finally we’re left with just a few names, all of which I’m in favor of. The baby appears, and Ryan decides without much discussion which of those names is “it”, and somehow that’s just so fun to me. I am always curious to know which one has quietly been winning him over.

So, Enid she is. Just because I love how antique and Welsh and fair-maiden it sounds. Interestingly, when Ryan looked up the meaning of Enid, he found a different translation than what I’d seen: “pure.” Fiona also means pure. We just keep coming back to those names, I guess. Not such a bad thing to declare prophetically over our strong and courageous daughters.

Catherine because my paternal grandmother, Nana, was Catherine Elizabeth, and I’ve always wanted to name someone for her. She was one of the dearest people in my life, and although she’s been gone more than 20 years, my heart is chock full of memories of her kind brown eyes and laughter and shuffling slippers and notepad next to sweating glass wrapped in paper napkin and Jay Leno with a nebulizer and hands on both sides of my face, firmly pulling me to her generous kisses.

And so Enid Catherine arrived into a destiny, from a heritage, uniquely formed for her place in history. This blows me away.

*****

And a week has passed with many more peaceful, beautiful days. I can’t begin to express my thankfulness at how good I have felt, and what a gentle delivery it was. Even so, these days have found me sitting in my bed for many hours, resting, sleeping, recovering. If not there, an armchair in the kitchen. Up and about here and there a bit more each day, but lots of rest — and this all in an orderly, peaceful environment as Ryan and our children (especially the boys) care for everything. Recovering from baby #6, with older kids pulling weight so graciously, is very very very different from baby #3 or #4! What blessing all around.

*****

We adore her. We marvel at her little ears and fingers and feet that still want to collapse upward toward her legs. Her tiny face with pointed chin. Scrawny newborn legs. Tiny toes. Perfect. Beatrice said that evening, as we all sat on my bed together, “I really wanted it to be a boy, and then I saw her and she is adorable!” Fiona said, “I just love her size! God made her be born at just the right time to be a newborn.” And we all agreed that it’s a little mind-boggling that one day there wasn’t a baby, and then suddenly there was. We were instantly made larger — not just our number, but our hearts. A space instantly carved for a new daughter and sister.

God makes beautiful things. He really does.

purpose and place

Order.

A place for everything and everything in its place.

Not just as an anti-clutter policy. As a theology.

I read Psalm 104:

“He appointed the moon for seasons;
The sun knows its going down.
You make darkness, and it is night,
In which all the beasts of the forest creep about.
The young lions roar after their prey,
And seek their food from God.
When the sun rises, they gather together
And lie down in their dens.
Man goes out to his work
And to his labor until the evening…”

(But pause for a moment and go read the whole thing. Such beautiful poetry and praise!)

I saw not just a lovely description of Creation, but purpose and place. Everywhere. The nests in trees, the rivers in valleys, the animals of prey roaming at night, men coming out to work by day — order.

A place for everything and everything in its place.

Genesis 1 and 2 are full of such things — the cosmic version of what I do most evenings with the duplos and board books, play kitchen food and baby doll accessories. Except I do it because I see it all around me, modeled in Creation; God did it because it was right and good. He didn’t learn it from a book or a blog. His heart is for each element of His design to flourish and prosper in the purpose and place for which it was designed.

I am reinvigorated to maintain His kingdom standard in my little domain (and so continues the endless separation of dessert fork from dinner fork, dark towels from white…) I realize afresh, with new energy and authority, that He has put me here to discover purpose and place, in the environment I steward, the culture I create, and the people whom I am shaping.

And — oh, what peace and comfort! — I sink again into the certainty of knowing that I was created for a purpose and a place, and that I can find it (and re-find it, and return to it over and over) in Him.

You were created with purpose and place in mind. There is wholeness and freedom for every person who yields to that design. In His mind’s eye, He sees you flourishing and prospering, a tree planted by living streams of water, strong and alive. He sees you that way, and He sees me that way. What a beautiful promise and hope.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

work + rest

A year ago God used a couple of books to really speak to an area of need and defeat in my life. I was rereading my notes for months, feasting on ideas I’d always known, but that were finally penetrating and changing me from deep within. (Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.)

This year I began a fresh Bible reading initiative — albeit a bit scattered and probably only discernible to me — but one obvious fresh start was Genesis 1. I read it slowly, stopped several times, read it again, pondered for a few days… There is so much to discover about who God is, what is in His heart, and how we were made to be right in those first few pages. So much calling and identity revealed!

This time through, I was struck by the instruction laid out for us as workers and creators, made in the image of God, following His example:

Why did God take 6 days for the work of creation? Why one element at a time, one day at a time? He could have simply spoken it all into being with a single word. He is not limited in any way. So why?

Could it be that right from the beginning, He was teaching us how to work? Was He speaking to me (and those of us who tend to be a bit too driven for our own good) about how our endeavors and tasks must fall into the proper place and time? That we do what is good for today and then sleep, calling it good (and enough, by His grace), and rising again to do the next day’s work?

That is something I felt break in my life over the past year: the sense that in order to be succeeding as homemaker, I needed to finish completely every single day, and that undone laundry, house cleaning, kitchen work, all of it, was a verdict of failure.

There is self sufficiency that is constantly trying to enslave us, and so we actively are called to enter the rest provided us through Christ.

Maybe your propensity isn’t towards laundry-pile-enslavement, but is there something today you’re laboring under, a lack of completion that whispers the condemning sentence of “failure”? We are called to work and stewardship, but also to rest and order. He gives us a day to work, and a night to rest — and in Him, we can do just that: rest.

*****

Related:

life and peace
Teaching From Rest
Every Good Endeavor

spirit filled days

It’s all flying by so quickly, as always, but even more so? I feel the temptation towards frustration (with what? I’m not sure where I’d pin the blame) but every time the thought flits through my head, I am reminded and convicted:

There is no thing or activity that makes these Christmastime days warm and happy. It is Jesus in me as I lead and set the tone. What a challenge, but what freedom. I’m not waiting for stars to align and circumstances to occur. The joy and expectation, the love and security, the closeness and fellowship that we all hope for so much at this time of year is always, unfailingly available in Jesus.

*****

Skimming along through Matthew and Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth, I was so struck by the story of humble and average people who loved God obediently, and changed HISTORY for all mankind! When Mary said, “Be it done to me according to Your word,” was she thinking of every tongue, tribe, and nation gathered at the throne of the eternal King? Or was she simply saying, “I’m not really sure what is being asked of me, but I love God and my life is His?”

Too often I think of, “If you love Me, keep my commandments,” the same way a 2yo might — a slight and growing awareness that this will actually be good for me, but so much emphasis on “will I obey?”, on my perspective. Not much thought about the why or wisdom behind it as much as the immediate challenge to my soul and whether or not I will yield.

But history and hindsight show that obedience is about the eternal plans of our loving and awesome God being implemented and executed through mere people, practicing mere obedience as an expression of their deep love for a God they cannot see or feel.

Obedience is an invitation, a portal, to the Spirit-powered current that is the Kingdom of God increasing on the earth (Isaiah 9). How do I get to be a part of that awesome happening? By being like Mary, who said, “Here I am, come what may.” By being like Joseph, who had a dream, woke up, and did what he’d heard.

My parents obeyed, and I was born. And I might not be the amazingly profound Kingdom of God moment books are written about, but I’m here, loving Jesus. My kids are here now, too, being taught of Him. Hopefully lives are being impacted as we touch them and they are blessed. There’s a current of Kingdom power that this lineage got hooked into through obedience.

So here I am. Today. In my very average life, where my big goals are listening to the kids’ piano pieces and decorating cookies. Blow in me, breath of God! Be it unto me according to Your will.

*****


A little disciple-in-the-making.