chats with Beattie

I’ve been stitching the last bits of decoration onto costumes for the upcoming musical, and yesterday as Beatrice and I sat, her working on an embroidery project, me sewing another band of gold ribbon, she said,

“You don’t sew very much anymore, do you, Mama? That’s kind of true, isn’t it?”

I smiled. “Yes, that’s true. Not very much. I have five children, you know!”

“Yes, Cecily is number five and she keeps you very busy.”

Thoughtful pause.

“But that’s good that you’re very busy, Mama, because that means you are always taking care of your children.”

Heart melt and attitude check all in one instant. Out of the mouth of this babe comes the sweetest encouragement, and the startling reminder of how I am shaping her value system and ideology by my example.

She sees that I’m busier than ever with the care of these beautiful children. Does she see that it brings me joy, and that my service is prompted by sacrificial love? I pray so.

life and peace.

I think so often about being the one in my home responsible for setting tone, atmosphere, soul-aroma. Like it or not, that’s who I am as the wife and Mama. (And if I go on strike, that action has its own aroma. Or stench.) This home culture — it’s my domain.

I’m painfully aware of how often my heart is churning out fumes of annoyance, frustration, worry, anger, envy, discontent, judgment… Need I go on? Ugly. Poisonous. If our eyes could see the thick black smog those things produced, wouldn’t we just be horrified?

So I am continually crying out to the Lord to continue to do in me a deep heart-change, not just for my own sake, but for the sake of those breathing in my soul-fumes!

And oh my, is He ever. Such a deep down, turning things upside down, helping me to get it kind of work.

Rest. Peace. Work. Grace. It is finished. These are the themes that suddenly are everywhere, grabbing my attention, showing me clearly my brokenness, illuminating a path of freedom. Old patterns, dyed-in-the-wool weaknesses, things I’ve limped along with and thought maybe I’d just get better at limping — He’s able to address it all and make me brand new. That in and of itself is life giving. Wow.

This week’s verse for meditation is Romans 8:6, and oh, how it has struck me in a whole new way.

“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.”

What does that mean?

It means that when our mindset is one of “do good, earn favor; do wrong, you’re a failure,” we are living under a construct that can only mean death. We can never do enough good. I will live my whole life under pressure that will never let up; I can never satisfy the gaping void between my best (and I’m rarely at my best!) and the holy God whose approval my soul craves! And that pressure breeds anxiety, stress, anger, resentment, envy, jealousy, pride, insecurity, hatred, selfishness… Death.

When my mind is set on the flesh, and we don’t have a “good” school day, the poisonous fumes of failure are the result.

BUT.

But.

In Christ, there is the most beautiful but.

When my mind is set on the Spirit, I realize that my worth is found in Christ. The deepest things my soul craves and is tempted to prove through my best efforts — value, meaning, goodness — are fully satisfied in the Cross. That to-do list is completely crossed off.

Done.

And now, I wake up and work and do my best each day as wife and mother because it’s the work my Loving Father has given me — not with an underlying drive of needing to finish, complete, perfect, produce.

The fragrance of that is life and peace.

I love the smell of a good scented candle, of freshly baked bread, and just-shampooed babies wrapped in clean towels — but the homiest fragrance I can bring to my family is the one that comes when my mind is set on the Spirit, and I am working to bless, not to prove.

For more great insight into Romans, the law, and the Spirit, listen here.

building my house

It feels like yesterday that I wrote this post about laying foundations, the first step in a wise woman’s quest to build her house.

And, pinch me, but I’m already seeing strength rising up where there was a deep muddy chasm only a few years ago. It’s pretty amazing. Little things: I put dirty clothes through the cycles of washer and dryer, and then TA-DA!, it’s folded and on my dresser the next morning. I make dinner, serve it, and then sit on a couch to read a book with Fiona while the kitchen is put back together. I say, “Oh dear, Daddy is coming home right now!”, and the ten minute scurry that ensues actually results in a tidy home — usually while I just continue to cook the dinner or mind the baby.

Today, I noticed it after lunch. I picked up a book and the baby and said, “Finish lunch, clean up, get each other dressed, and go out to play. I’m going to go lay Cecily down for a nap.”

I sat in the armchair in my bedroom and snuggled the baby, while snippets of laughter and song and conversation — always so much conversation! — wafted through the closed door from kitchen. She fell asleep, I laid her down. Walking down the hallway, I paused. I heard William singing happily, “God’s not dead, No!,” while his sisters laughed and tried to sing along. Swish, swish, the sound of snow pants, and then quiet. A few minutes later, I saw the foursome parade through the snow, smiling and running.

(They are the most joyful children. I am struck by that almost daily, challenged by it.)

I finished showering and dressing, and came out to the kitchen. It’s not quite perfect — four pairs of shoes helter-skelter, wherever the wearer happened to kick them off, down the center of the kitchen. But it’s pretty close. Amazingly close.

Just a little moment, but fruit. They are growing in work and ability, in love and care for one another, and I sometimes get to just sit, watch, and marvel.

I matched those little shoes with a smile.

connecting our work to His

This afternoon, as the clear sun streamed in our windows, warming us despite cold outdoor temperatures, I looked up from my book to see little Cecily sitting, smiling at me.

My heart melted.

I had just been reading about work: about how God is the Master Craftsman, so to speak, and made in His image, we also are made to work. After looking for awhile at Genesis and the model set forth by God and then Adam, the author said, “So whether splicing a gene or doing brain surgery or collecting the rubbish or painting a picture, our work further develops, maintains, or repairs the fabric of the world. In this way, we connect our work to God’s work.”

That thought fresh in mind, I looked into sweet blue eyes. And I was struck again by what a rich calling motherhood is. For each time I do something as basic and “insignificant” as wiping this baby’s nose or changing this baby’s diaper, I am:

Investing in the development of this person. Her sense of value and worth is strengthened each time I cheerfully and gently attend to her needs.

Maintaining in a very real way this person. Sometimes it occurs to me, Where would these children be without someone to wipe noses and put on clean diapers? I am here, standing between them and disease and disorder.

This embracing of my calling is my part of redemption. In a world of brokenness where mothers sacrifice children for all sorts of things, even to the point of death, I am living out redemption — sin, repentance, grace, and all.

And that’s just changing diapers!

How much we are doing, dear mothers. We are an extension of the Kingdom of Heaven, touching lives. Don’t despise the mundane, the insignificant, the seed dead in the ground-ness of it all. See your work for what it is. And in this way, “connect [your] work to God’s work.”

january: convalescence

January was going to be a great return to scholastic endeavors and household industry. It was going to be fantastic! We would be hemmed in by snowstorms without, and gathered near around great books and warm fires within. Can you picture it? I could. I thought it was a grand idea.

And then one week in, and I was on the couch with strange aches. Nearly three weeks later, I have cared for all of the children and currently am still on that couch, holding a feverish, napping baby.

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day; what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.” — C. S. Lewis

This little bit of a flu is hardly a trial worth even mentioning, but it is nevertheless just that: a trial. And the nature of trials is to tempt us into a poor response. We encounter the unpleasant or difficult thing, and are faced with the decision: how will we respond? Will we take the bait and fall into temptation, doubting and fearing (or just petulant and whining)? Or will we recognize the opportunity to grow in obedience and faith as we walk through the less than ideal?

*****

Weeks ago, maybe even months ago, I read a paragraph in “The Lifegiving Home” that struck me as an area I needed to grow in. I mulled over it and prayed about it quite a bit at the time, I recall. A few days ago, after many hours of snuggling children and planning ways to bless them in their sickness, I remembered reading this and was again refreshed in my care for these babies of mine:

In our hurried age, we have little time for frailty of body or soul. Sickness is an inconvenience we resist with the popping of pills and the forcing of will. . . What we rarely consider is the value of convalescence, the gentleness we sometimes need to offer ourselves and those who are weary and worn around us. Sickness is a space in which the uneasiness (dis-ease) of the body alerts us to the need for margin, rest, and special quiet.

*****

I’m reminded, too, as these fevers and runny noses have hemmed me in and curtailed almost all outside activity, that my YES to being a mother has a cost. It requires me to reaffirm that yes regularly, and to say no to much as a result. But I’m never so glad for those boundaries and focus as when my children suddenly need so much from me. It is so important to keep the commitments of life as simple as possible, able to quickly adapt to the constant and changing flow of needs. That’s not just for me as a mother, but I think in general. Certainly, whatever one’s calling or season in life, when Christ says, “Come,” we don’t want to be bogged down with unnecessary commitments and entanglements.

*****

Most of all, I marvel at the way learning to not fret about days gone awry, but instead pressing harder and harder into trust and obedience, has yielded peace and productivity. Oh, we may not have done all I’d envisioned us to do this month, but you know? Pretty close. And with more smiles and fond memories than if I’d pushed us through the rigors of my plans.

Yes, this month, with its fevers and tears and long nights, has also given me movies with my boys, books with my girls, hours of cuddling with my usually-on-the-go baby, easy mornings that gently unfolded, afternoons of quiet table work, and three proud school kids who are turning out reports and drawings and projects for their history deadline (while I hold that baby and read to my toddler.)

*****


Fiona’s newly discovered talent: drawing people!

*****

But just before it gets too grass-is-greener over here, I am exhausted. Ha!

birthday reminiscing

Today we celebrate a whole year of Cecily Anne’s life.

Our celebration may look small — in fact, the small celebration we will have has been scheduled for Thursday, because birthdays are flexible, right? But this morning, sitting quietly watching the morning dawn, this mama’s heart is flooded with waves of memory, melancholy and joyous mingled together. How can it have been a whole year? And can I go back for just a moment to that newborn babe? And how thankful I am for this year, for the chubby, happy girl who has grown right before our eyes. Marveling that the little bundle of pink skin and soft fuzz has become a laughing, singing, peek-a-booing person, an irreplaceable member of our little clan.

Her siblings are ecstatic about her birthday. They love her so, you know. The boys keep saying, A whole year? How can that be? They are already learning how swiftly time flows, how quickly people grow, and how precious life is.

I’m remembering this morning the exhilarating feeling of those newborn moments (the ones after I collapse onto the bed in exhaustion!) Who can describe the joy that floods the room, shared by every person? The tears, the laughter, the cradling, the sense of communion as we share all of those feelings?

And I’m remembering that before that celebration begins, there is this:

Hours and hours. Counted in minutes. Sometimes seconds. Sometimes you can only manage one second at a time.

But you handle the seconds because you’re looking ahead to the end. You stay in that painful moment, doing your job the best you can, because there is a promise to be fulfilled, and your heart is set on it. You are given to bringing it to pass by playing your part.

Today I remember this beautiful moment God gave to me, this birth of Cecily Anne and the part I was chosen to play. And I also remember the call He’s continuing to put on me in the lives of my children. There is a promise to see fulfilled, and there are hours, moments, and sometimes painful seconds to be faithfully endured. Lord grant me grace to stay the course, to play my part, to labor in the painful moments, because there is a promise and an end:

“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…”