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.

mother by design

Summer is the time for bumping into friends you haven’t seen and asking, “How have you been?”

In case you’re wondering, this is how I’ve been:

She is my constant companion these days, as I read to the kids or stir a pot or oversee play or email and call — she is most often in my arms. There is something about these fragile baby days that astounds me. She needs me. Life and death, no exaggeration, needs me.

As I serve her and her most basic needs, putting them above my own desires or needs, I am serving Christ. ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

As I serve her, showing her gentleness and love in my manner, I am showing Christ to her. I am shaping her first ideas of what love is, and her own worth.

And as I serve her, I am struck by how I am perfectly designed to meet her needs. Uniquely qualified. This is a physical truth I can see with my eyes that speaks to shades of doubt that lurk in my heart. I am a nurturer, a life-giver. I am called to strength and courage, kindness and gentleness. On my own, I am not all or any of the things I need to be. But my belief in Intelligent Design grounds me, and my faith in the Holy Spirit equips me.

As she looks to me, I am reminded again and again to look to Him. He is all — everything — we need.

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.

one month and thirteen years

On Saturday, we celebrated one month of life with Enid.

Beatrice is trying to grasp concepts of space and time, and causing plenty of amusement along the way. (Looking at a map’s scale: An inch is the same as a mile??? Upon hearing a movie was made when Nana was a little girl: So it’s like 3,000 years old?) She gently caressed Enid’s soft head and got contemplative when I said, she’s one month old — eleven more times, and it will be a whole year. Even little Beatrice knows, too fast. They debate almost daily whether she’s small or big. Still so tiny, getting so big. Her legs are filling out and her wrists have a heavy dose of rubber band going on, but curled up in a ball with her legs and feet folded in that newborn way, she still fits right on my chest.

Yesterday, Monday, we celebrated 13 years of marriage. Over a third of my life, Ryan commented. It doesn’t seem that long, not at all, but then again, what a lot of days we’ve lived together, built together. So much laughing and crying and fighting and forgiving and child rearing and meal sharing and traveling and moving and house renovating and people loving and business building and “can you grab a gallon of milk?”ing. And learning to do all that as an expression of our Jesus-loving.

Favorite, richest things about life with Ryan: his incredible wisdom, prophetic insight, and clear vision for life in the Kingdom of God. This hand-to-the-plow, gets-lost-in-the-furrows girl needs those things, and God has provided them. For a couple of first-borns, we make a good team. Oh, sure, there’s plenty of tension in the yoke many days, when we have our headstrong tendencies and they’re not the same. That only makes it all the more amazing to realize we’re finding a rhythm together, and it’s really good.

We spent an afternoon and evening together, and I took these awesome romantic photos of it. Oops. Guess I’m not always the best photographer.

Happy 13th to my best friend. A day spent with you has long been my favorite kind of day. How blessed are we to have been given so many to spend together.

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.)