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Things I’ve Learned in the Last Few Weeks (*in no particular order of time or importance)

Owning a mini-van can make you feel like more of a mom than being pregnant or toting two kids on your hip.

Feeling like a mom is good for me.

And my children.

Putting on a few pounds is not the end of the world.

And I might even want to keep them.

An evening walk does WONDERS.

Using a paper filter in a coffee percolator makes the best morning coffee ever.

Black widows are scary and should not be found anywhere near your kids’ sandbox.

Although terrified of spiders, I will easily become a Mother Bear if I find one anywhere near my children.

God is gracious in leading in simple things like cleaning out sandboxes, when I almost put it off another day.

Routine is good.

For ALL of us.

I really like working with children, my own and others’.

Regular at-home date nights can be almost as good as a “real” date.

Sometimes better.

I am human.

I construct my own idols.

He helps me tear them down.

But He graciously and knowingly allows me to use my own hands.

I am actually *excited* about homeschooling, rather than the always-before terror I felt before.

My children have to sometimes “warm up” to fun.

And that’s okay.

A perfectly-to-your-taste, decorated house, one where you make monthly payments to a bank

is not the only place you can make a home.

That sometimes, the loved ones you want so desperately to care for, already *feel* cared for.

That He is faithful.

And I can mimic His faithfulness in my mere dailiness.

Laundry.

Dinner-making.

Brushing their teeth.

That when He humbles us,

He brings us closer to Him.

And when we are empty,

He willingly, and eagerly fills us up.

To be emptied again.

The Seeing Grace

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Is it really Monday again? The weekend was heavenly. The busyness, and the unexpected quiet of my husband’s presence beside me. Not just him, physically by my side . . . but mentally. Emotionally. Busyness and soul-quietness, all at once.

But the afterglow of the weekend fades and Monday morning startlingly jars us into gritty family life. The little one shuts a door, not knowing that her big sister has her hand in between the door and the door frame. And the pressure on Firefly’s fingers blows her top and she screams and wails and I run to the door to move the little one’s body away from the door in order to release Firefly’s fingers from between the hinge. I cringe. I thought I’d heard a crack. Her knuckles are indented and already swollen.

We go ahead and try to ice it. She screams louder. She’s never liked ice. She never seems to realize that we’re trying to help her when the ice pack makes its appearance. Its presence always seems to add insult to injury and her cries make our ears ring and our patience wears thin as she fights and screams against us.

None of us handle it well. We all sit on the couch, Firefly on my lap, squirming and combative, and the fault lines in each one of us quake and flinch and there’s no taking it back. Family fault lines tremble in the stressful moments and make themselves more than evident.

She moves her fingers. The swelling goes down and she begins her lighted smiles again.

Jonathan leaves for work through the back door. I don’t say goodbye. I make the fault lines deeper.

But He comes in those moments. I begin to believe that when the family ruts arise to the surface, that their very existence made evident is simply pure grace. Sometimes a smaller, stressful moment shines light on deeper rifts . . . deeper things that need addressed. And He comes in the Monday morning earthquakes, shifting familial, underlying tectonic-like plates, and healing is brought to the light of everyday life. This is when we have a choice.

When plates are shifted, we can try to smooth over the cracks and fissures with resentment and bitterness . . . a sort of stagnant form of “moving on” with life . . . or we can leave the cracks and fissures exposed, a hands-held-open sort of giving up, and ask Him to bring His healing.

Jonathan calls a bit later to check on her. We talk. We apologize. And we realize that we have some work to do and some prayers to pray. And there is grace in the seeing. In the not being blind to our faults. By His grace, the deeper ruts will heal and a Monday morning quake will bring a life’s worth of healing.

He is good.

#562 that it was just the door frame’s crack I heard

#563 grace in the seeing, a humbling in the knowing

#564 quick apologies

#565 that when we ask for wisdom, He will give it (James 1:5)

#566 that parenting keeps us on our toes . . . and our knees

#567 unexpected unity

#568 answers to a prayer I’m not even sure I prayed

#569 our small group’s wonderful potlucks

#570 a fun stretching

#571 painting with a friend

#572 swinging from a tall tree and long, pink ropes

#573 three nights in a row, eating with friends!

#574 sand in the sandbox

#575 sweeping the back porch

#576 weeding the flowerbed

#577 that there is delight in our work

#578 baby smiles

#579 married love

#580 warm summer sun

#581 her dancing on stage for first time

#582 sweet, pink flowers in a vase

#583 sore shins from a long, mountainous walk 🙂

#584 Cherry-Limeades

#585 His undeserved Presence

Joining the gift-thankers

Making Time To Be

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So, I’ve really been mulling some things over lately. And let me just say from the start that this post is just me thinking out loud, not some prescriptive mandate for myself, or anyone else for that matter. If you have any thoughts of your own, I’d love to hear them!

We’ve had a busy couple of weeks. Graduations and ballet recitals. Company and *being* company (I could get used to that one!). Baking and teaching. Shopping and cleaning (this is never-ending, right?). Basically, we have something on the calendar every single night for 9 days, save one. This is unusual for our young family! I watch my younger siblings, and my friends and neighbors, with their kids’ ages spanning all over and all their coming and going and carpooling and rushing and running. They truly need a flight scheduler or something. It amazes to think that these mothers do all they do and stay sane. Those mothers are SUPERMOMS and I am learning so much from them! Because I know, as my children get older, that my day is coming. And to be honest, I’m dreading it a little.

I tend to fall on the other side of the spectrum though. I tend to guard our calendar from getting too full, which is funny for me, because I thrive on being around people. I’m beginning to think that maybe I guard our family calendar to a fault. But when you have a husband who likes to be home and two young children, I know that there are only so many commitments that our little family can take and still be nice to each other. 😉 But I wonder if I’m too protective of our time . . . if we’re not giving enough of ourselves to our community and church. This is a fine line to walk and I want to learn to balance it with grace.

Do any of you mothers out there have any advice or thoughts?

But I do think that on the whole, our culture is waaaaaaaay too busy. Obviously, this is a very personal matter, and I’m not judging families that are exceptionally busy (I’m AMAZED by them, really!). But, in our culture, it seems sometimes like family time usually comes last. There are music lessons and school and work and mom’s activities and sports and church activities and all those things we think are necessary for our children to be well-rounded. We want to give them every opportunity . . . to live their childhoods to the fullest. And I want this too.

But how do you know when all the scheduled opportunities are stealing away from all the child-created possibilities?

What about the quiet family time? The Saturdays when families simply hum through family life – maybe dad cutting the grass and mom fixing lunch and the kids frolicking about, playing house in the sheet-draped tent in the living room? Does this happen much in America anymore? When I was a kid, my sisters and I played the *craziest* things. Yes, Barbies and hopscotch, jump rope and kickball. But we also stretched our imaginations and became The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, incarnate. And somehow, George Washington would come along and we’d all fight in the Revolutionary War together. See? CRAZY. And I cannot *believe* I’m publishing that on the internet for all time. 🙂

But isn’t this childhood? The taking of what you know, what you love, what you’re learning (we’d recently watched a mini-series on George Washington when this imaginative play was taking place), what you’re dreaming, and weaving it all together? Somehow creating your own little worlds, where your young little lives can direct your larger-than-life, imaginative lives, in a way that gives you the excitement and maybe even courage to enter adulthood with all its possibilities. I’m sure there have been studies on this. But my theory is that creative play is central to a child’s learning how to meander and cope and tackle and invest in their own lives.

So, even though my children are a bit young, THAT is why I guard my calendar. Because I want our family to sometimes just be family. To let our children just be. To create. To play. To explore their little minds and imaginations, even in the confines of their own little domain of a bedroom. I think on those times with my little sisters and I’m beginning to believe that they were the most fun and explorative times of my childhood. So while I should probably learn to say “yes” to a few more opportunities that come our way, I hope that as my children grow older and are involved with schooling and learning and music and sports, that I’ll still remember to say “no” to the obscene busyness of rushing, rushing, rushing, and “yes” to the simply being every now and then.

Because I’m beginning to believe that if you don’t purposefully keep some blank spaces on your calendar, there is always going to be something begging to be written in.

Someone please remind me of this in five years. =D

The Trembling Thanks

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So Mondays are a little crazy this month and I’m a day late. No one’s counting, right? 🙂 This was a week of exuberant thanks, and a bit of lip-trembling thanks too.

This past Saturday, my little brother, the fifth of us out of eight, graduated from high school. And while we were all so proud and a bit gushy over him, I could sense the bittersweet heartache that everyone in the family was battling. Yes, over his proud achievement and that he’s nearly ready to stretch his wings. But these happy times also bring our broken family all together. Our divorced parents sitting on opposite ends of the bleachers with their new spouses. Times like these are full of the bitter-sweetness of a wedding or a graduation, or some other happy event. And while you try to process all that goes along with those sort of beautiful familial milestones, the being proud, the immense love, and the letting go – the brokenness of the family is also made glaringly obvious. You’re rather forced to accept the new look of the family on some heart level. At one point on Saturday, I couldn’t hold back the tears of pain, but neither could I hold back the exuberant laughs of a graduation day. It all came out in one, strange-sounding, tear-ridden, soppy, happy mess.

“Mama, why are you laughing and crying at the same time?” Firefly asked.

How do you explain that sort of thing to a three-year old? Little children only seem to feel one thing at a time. Side-splitting laughter. Gut-wrenching sobs. Maybe that’s part of the growing up. The feeling more than one thing at one time. Mourning and rejoicing all rolled into one. Sometimes, it is overwhelming, isn’t it?

But isn’t that the beauty of this believing life? That He comforts us in all of life’s reality, and fills us with the hope of all His glorious, exquisite, redemptive work? He is enough for our heartache. He is enough for our joy. He is more than enough to take all the beauty and pain that this life brings and transform them into something beautifully creative. Something that only He knows. Only He could form. The mysterious beauty of joy made more complete, more perfected – through pain, redeemed.

So I try to process while still trying to go on with life. All I know to do is pray. Write. Give thanks.

#533 little sister, Sarah, back in town, bringing her crazy sense of humor

#534 that she is happy where she is

#534 uncle arriving, always, for every boring graduation ceremony 🙂

#535 friends who care so much

#536 sibling pictures, the littlest brother outstretched in all our arms

#537 my “little” 6 foot, 3 inch brother

#538 that somehow, I feel him stretching and growing and suddenly this always-the-oldest sister feels like she has the big brother she’s always wanted

#539 Firefly, skipping down the hall, through the store, skipping, skipping everywhere

#540 Her hair, swaying back and forth with every skip

#541 Dove and her jumps off the ground and her dimple-framed smile

#542 my sweet husband and how he humbles me with his love

#543 sitting down, writing out love for my little brother

#544 homemade cinnamon rolls

#545 Him helping me organize my thoughts

#546 two new mamas-to-be

#547 excitement

#548 longing

#549 prayer for the waiting

#550 coming home

#551  how hard it is to say good-bye

#552 spray n’ wash and borax and their miraculous stain-lifting properties 🙂

#553 that there was only ONE crayon in the dryer

#554 that his love drives me to learn to love

#555 a bathtub full of My Little Ponies

#556 Dad-grilled hamburgers

#557 that He knows every heart

#558 that His grace is enough for them all

#559 red caps, flying

#560 that He holds our hope

#561 that He is our Redeemer, our Restorer . . . that He is making all things new

Joining the gift-thankers

Breaking Through

I still remember her warm face and kind smile. She, at her husband’s side, her comforting spirit all exuding. He, sick.

Sick and quickly dying.

We did what we could from our third floor office, but there wasn’t much we could do. Comfort was all that could help and she knew it. She knew it deep. But through her tears falling and her soft voice quavering, she kept smiling. And while her heart clung to him as firmly as the heart of a wife of decades would, she somehow loved him enough not to hold on too tightly. When it was time, she let him go with all the grace and beauty I’ve ever seen.

I should have checked on her more. She didn’t live far from us at the time. But I remember, the struggling . . . me, a young, twenty-one-year-old newlywed, just learning to leave and cleave. She, the mature, seasoned wife, learning to navigate a solitary life that had been built richly alongside a man she’d just had to bury in the earth. I felt the weight of my empty hands.

My husband, he went to her house today, neither he, nor she, knowing how our lives had once shared a criss-cross. In the winds of the recent storms, four trees had fallen on her property. Right onto her car. So my husband went along with a friend’s husband, met another friend, and they took a chainsaw or two in their strong hands and wrangled those trees, cutting and splintering and sharding all the storm’s devastation as best they could. Until they came to a thick trunk of tree. Their chainsaw just couldn’t do it. Couldn’t cut through . . . wasn’t strong enough.

The widow, she left our determined, young husbands and came back to them with an old chainsaw in her hands. Red.

“I’m not sure if it still works,” she says. “It was my husband’s and it hasn’t been used in years….”

They power it up anyway. And that old chainsaw? It sputters and revs and slices clean through that tumbled wood.

We may bury and we may let go and we may even build walls around our hearts, but love? Sometimes it manifests itself in sudden tears or an aching heart. Sometimes, it presents itself in an outstretched hand, or a burst of joy, or a deliberate laying down of stubborn pride. But sometimes?

It appears out of dust and dark corners and it’s not certain whether it holds any effect. But when brought to the Light, it revs and it roars and just like that, what stands stubborn and unbending, shards and splinters and fragments under its very resolve.

I could learn a lesson or two from that old chainsaw.

All Creatures Here Below

Last week, I am sweeping dust bunnies and still-living ants off of our hardwood floors (yes, we have a few ants that always seem to make it through the front door). As I brush dirt onto the dustpan, I mentally picture the few closets that are finally a little organized. The few cabinets that are a bit more streamlined. That newly, amazingly shined refrigerator. The recently bathed little girls, who had played so hard and so completely outside that they left a ring of Georgia soil in the bottom of the tub.

 

It sounds a little boring, doesn’t it? This life of motherhood I live? Sometimes, I think it’s boring too. Sometimes, I try to escape it and run, panting and breathless, into the blogosphere, looking for a little escape. Sometimes, it’s a piece of chocolate (okay, okay, make that a few pieces), or another peek into my email inbox. In fact, I usually try to escape this little life I’ve been given. Try to put off the laundry, leave the dishes in the sink, let my girls play on their own instead of joining right on in. Rarely, when I feel a little bored with this life, do I run full-force into it. Rarely do I put all my efforts into glorifying my little corner of the world.

 

Because sometimes, this little corner of mine just feels so small and dust-ridden. To be honest, a little insignificant.

 

But last week, when I was just spinning on the Potter’s wheel? I could feel His pleasure. And I wonder if when we bring glory to ourselves  – not the “hey, look at me, aren’t I doing a good job?” type of glory, but the “this is where I am, I’m going to give it my all” type of glory – if that is when we most bring Glory to our Creator. Or as my friend and beautiful writer, Beth, says, our Masterpiece RE-Creator.** I wonder if when, no matter what He’s called us to – whether being a stay-at-home mom, a working/stay-at-home mom, a man with a six-figure income, a maid in a curb-side motel, a cashier at Wal-Mart, a Pastor of a 1000-member church, a missionary to China, a writer, a photographer, or even a little child leaving rings of dirt in the bathtub – if we are giving it our all, running, panting and breathless, full-force into our lives, that we are then living and breathing Doxologies to our God.

 

What if we lived our lives as a resonating Amen, a “so be it”, to the calling of the Life he has poured for us?

His image.

Let us live lives worthy of our calling.

 

** My “insert link” isn’t working today (I’m sure there’s another way to go about it, but I’m not the computer-geek that I wish I was). My friend, Beth’s amazingly, beautiful words: http://awalkalongtheway.blogspot.com/2011/04/making-masterpiece-of-me.html.

Completion

For it is He who has made us (and our children) and not we ourselves.

Psalm 100:3

 

By 9:30 this morning, I am *done*. Early this morning, I waken the girls so that we can go meet my out-of-town grandparents for breakfast as they travel through our city. And my little ones aren’t bad per say, but they are into everything in the Cracker Barrel gift shop. Everything imaginable is right within grasp and they run circles around me. The oldest needs way too much coaxing to give a simple thank you to her great-grandmother for a sweet gift. Dovey fusses and whines and tries to wriggle out of my arms and I can’t gulp the coffee down fast enough to keep up with them.

 

How do these types of mornings always and so quickly leave me with my head hanging and my heart heavy with feelings of failure as a mother? This role of motherhood is not easily evaluated, is it? In my nursing days, a job well-done was much more easily gauged. Pneumonia cured? I must have done a good job administering antibiotics, forcing fluids, etc. Child pitches a fit in the middle of Wal-Mart? I feel like a failure and walk out of the store with my tail between my legs. But maybe (maybe), I did everything just right. Child wins an award for being the most well-behaved child at school? I may leave the building with my head held high and chest puffed up. But maybe I did everything wrong and it was all grace. Children have a sometimes aggravating, sometimes healing, certain kind of something called free will.

 

This morning, I feel the enemy’s daggers searing into my heart and mind, trying to instill lies of despair. Trying to convince me that I really am in control and simply failing. How can I do this differently? How can I take more control over everyday situations? Why do I feel out of control??? I’m not cut out for this.

 

We  stop by the library and pick up story books before coming home. As soon as we walk through our door, books are plopped in the doorway and Dovey steps on Firefly’s book, just to get a reaction. She gets it. Firefly lights into her with her words and I take a deep breath and say something about how yelling doesn’t help the situation. But haven’t I been known to do the same thing all too often the last few days? My words sound feeble and hypocritical. I let out a long exhale. Because I realize that Firefly’s learned the yelling from none other than her mother.

 

A few minutes later, I’m busy attending to something, but my breath catches as, completely of her own initiative, Firefly cuddles up to her little sister on the couch, gives her a kiss and says, “I’m sorry for yelling at you, Dove.”

 

I had almost missed it.

 

Isn’t this what I’ve been doing all week too? Asking forgiveness from Firefly for this very same thing?

 

And I know it’s true but how quickly I forget: kids’ hearts are welded to what is caught, not taught.

 

I will preach sometimes, I will disciple others. Sometimes I will bend low and others I will be in my own world. Some days I may remember to spend time on the floor in the middle of blocks and baby dolls, and others, I will forget. I will sometimes fail in disciplining, I may succeed in others. I may have a clean house or a dirty. I may be a gourmet cook in a gourmet kitchen or a gourmet PB&J maker over stained counters. I may hold fast to philosophies of attachment parenting or its counterpart. I may decide to homeschool, or I may send my children to public school. None of it matters. Well, it does matter. But it really doesn’t.

 

Because, as a parent, all that really matters is our loving Jesus. Trying to instill in them a love for Jesus. Trying to be an example. Praying hard. Letting go.

 

Of course, we as mothers and fathers will guide and direct and teach as much as we are possibly able, will we not? But there will be more failures than we care to count. But our children are His. And we must remember that we His.

 

May He be theirs.

 

And our God?

Anything He puts His hand to?

It’s made perfect. It’s completed. He never fails.