Out from There

“Then He brought us out from there, to bring us in…”  Deuteronomy 6:23

photo by Aura Moore

I need to tell you a story.

Almost exactly twelve years ago, we bought our first house.  It was cute, quaint, an old New England cape on a dead end.  I was five months pregnant  with our first child.  We were fresh out of college.  The housing market was booming.  I was in nursing school.  He had a decent and stable job.  It was time to settle down.

So we bought a house, getting a mortgage as first time homeowners.  There were a few strings attached, but with a low rate which didn’t require a large down payment, we took the deal.  Then we rolled up our sleeves and got to work.

It was an old house, full of character and full of cracks.  We tore up old carpet.  We repainted every room.  My husband took a sledgehammer to the very old, very stained baby blue cast iron bathtub.  He learned to tile, to mud, to roof and sheetrock.  We found used furniture; we made do.  We welcomed our first son to the house.

And our second.  And third.  And fourth, fifth, and sixth.

The quaint little two bedroom house strained at the seams.

When we were pregnant with number 3, we decided it was time.  Time to put the house on the market, time to move on.

 

That was nine years ago.  Many people were interested.  Hundreds (I stopped counting around 200) set up showings to see it.  Sometimes we’d take the For Sale sign down just for a break.  (I remember taking a phone call once when I was in labor, a realtor on the other end requesting a chance to show the house.  I breathlessly turned him down.)  For one reason or another, when someone did make an offer, it always fell through.  (In one instance, a bank refused the prospective buyers because the house was several hundred feet from a very old oil tank that had long been in disuse.  My husband spent many frustrating hours getting run around by the large Canadian company to whom the tank belonged, trying to get proof that it wasn’t a fire hazard.  The local fire department burned the fields surrounding them every Spring, and my husband worked for an oil tank company – ironically – and knew an oil tank was less of a fire hazard than the old wood of the house itself.  But the large company didn’t seem to care, and the bank wouldn’t take our word for it.  Coincidentally, though, about a month after the house deal fell through, a big tractor came and demolished the tank.)  So the seasons came and went.  We stayed.

One of the clauses in our mortgage said we weren’t allowed to rent.  I suppose it was to keep us from becoming slum lords while taking advantage of the low mortgage rate, but there was no fine print that would get around it.  We looked at remortgaging, but the housing bubble had burst, and the bank didn’t consider the house worth their while.  We couldn’t afford a second house payment if we were still bound to the first.  We were stuck.

I often felt the stuck-ness.  One thousand square feet, especially in winter, with six rambunctious boys, and a wheelchair, too much stuff, and no closets (each bedroom had a tiny one, but that was it) – felt claustrophobic.  I know; in any other country of the world, we looked like we lived like princes.  But I didn’t feel like royalty in the American culture surrounding me.  Yes, sure, I knew God could use the challenge to make me a better person.  But there were plenty of days I didn’t want to be better.  I just wanted a bigger living room.  And closets.

Recently, I’ve been reading through Deuteronomy.  It’s not the book of the Bible I tend to flip to for comfort or answers or entertainment.  It is Moses reiterating the journey of the Israelite nation as they escaped from Egypt and moved to the promised land.  Ah, the dream of a good new home, of space and freedom.  I knew the feeling of being stuck in a land where I no longer wanted to be.  Israel had willingly, gladly gone to Egypt at first.  There had been food there, family, welcome.  But four hundred years passed and the welcome became forced, the food rationed, the family downtrodden.  It seemed like time to go.  But not yet.  Did they question?  “Did we hear God wrong?” perhaps they wondered. “Did God really tell us to go to Egypt just to get stuck here?”  Long, agonizing prayers seemed to go unanswered.

Years passed.  Suddenly, God responded.  The time had come.

He sent Moses.  He made miracles.  He parted the Red Sea.  God made a way.  It seemed unlikely. But suddenly, they were free from the bondage of Egypt.  Surprise!  That sounded familiar to me too.  It was a breathless several weeks in Spring when God directly sent us a renter and the bank agreed to allow us a year to try to sell and rent simultaneously despite the mortgage clause preventing it.  He sent us an unexpected check to cover extra expenses (it took me a while to figure out who sent it).  He sent friends to help with a few major projects.  He parted the impassable waters.  Surprise.  So we walked through.

The wilderness on the other side was rough sometimes.  We bought a new home and had to trust He would help us to cover the expenses of owning two houses.  We didn’t go on vacations, or out to eat, we didn’t celebrate birthdays with parties, or buy a bigger vehicle to fit us all.  My husband worked extra, and I started writing a book to sell.  We tried to live on the manna he provided.

photo by Aura Moore

I didn’t always want manna again.  I got pregnant (surprise again!) and craved hamburgers and red meat instead.  I didn’t want to spend my birthday cleaning the contents of a child’s stomach out of my sofa.  I didn’t want to stay in the hot kitchen, I wanted to go to the beach in a larger van with air conditioning.  I didn’t want my husband working extra time.  But we had space, freedom, and our practical needs were covered.

You shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years  in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, know what was in your heart… So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger and fed you with manna which you did know know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.  -Deuteronomy 8:2-3

Then it happened.  The renter moved out of our old house in September.  The bank wouldn’t let us rent again, we’d already surpassed the year they’d allowed.  There was no way to pay two mortgages. Had we gambled and lost?  Had that just been our scheme, or did God really say go?  It was for sale, but we didn’t expect that to work.

But it did.

I’m still in shock.  Tonight I sat across the table from a young couple busily signing papers to buy our old house. We handed them the keys.  They left as happy new homeowners.  We left knowing we had been days away from foreclosure.  Days.  After nine years of trying and praying and waiting, the debt of a house was lifted tonight with the stroke of a pen.  I’m still in shock.

That’s how God’s timing works.  The wilderness has been humbling indeed.

I wonder what the Israelites thought as they looked across the Jordan at the promised land and Moses reminded them of where they had started.  He brought us out from there, to bring us in… Deuteronomy 6:23.      

And He wasn’t finished yet.

On with the adventure.

It’s a wonderful life (and a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day)

The day started with a white shirt.  The younger boys poured bowls of frozen blueberries after breakfast.  It went downhill from there.

Some days I just feel fallible.  The bags under my eyes are heavy with my own insufficiency.  It’s true especially in December.

The Christmas season is in full swing.  Lights, evergreens, cookies, gifts, peppermint, snow, parties, sleighs and tradition.

But traditionally, this season slays me.  My husband disappears into the retail world from the first of November until late on December 24th.  He’s busy running a store, helping people spend their money.  Paradoxically, we tighten our belts and hunker down until the commercialism storm peters out.  It will.  I wish I could hibernate like a pregnant bear until then.

After blueberries, I headed out to the store, promising not to spend any money but also buy enough to feed my small army for a week.  The car’s heater chose this morning to stop working. ( It wasn’t so bad when its air conditioner died this summer – the truly hot season only lasts a few weeks – but in New England, heat matters).  We watched our breath freeze in clouds as we hurried there and back before my husband had to run out the door for a long day of work.

Still stained with the blueberries, the younger boys clambered down the basement stairs to ride tricycles.  I turned my attention to fractions, suffixes and prefixes with the homeschooling crowd, paying little attention to the reassuring sounds of wheels spinning below us.  About half an hour passed before the wheel spinners emerged gleefully at the top of the stairway.  They were both covered, head to toe, ears, hair, and pockets, with little Styrofoam packing balls (smaller and far more diabolical than the classic peanut).  A box containing the offensive static balls (ironically, from last Christmas) had been discovered and pried into.

It looked like a tornado had snowed in the basement.  (I didn’t know that was possible till today).  Grimly, I pulled out grandma’s trusty old Electrolux and started vacuuming.  First I vacuumed the offenders, who squealed with the delight that wanton destruction can cause a young male.  I scooted the machine across the immediate floor (I think vacuuming a bit of the pet lizard’s food, which happened to be a live cricket.  Sorry not sorry).  Then I headed down the stairs, muttering darkly about static cling.  I spent an hour cleaning, until the trusty old vacuum finally died.  Can I admit I cried over a machine?  My life without a good vacuum will get ugly fast.  “God, what are you doing?!?”  I moaned.

As I finished sweeping what the vacuum had missed, my husband called.  We discussed the bleak prospects of paying two mortgages before Christmas, as well as all the other bills. He mentioned increasing pains in part of his body.  I hope it’s just stress.  I didn’t mention the dead vacuum.

A mom posted a warning that some friends had discovered lice.  Great.  I panicked at the thought of what that would mean for laundry.  And prayed for my washer as I went to check heads.

I emerged dusty from the basement and looked at the clock.  It was half an hour later than I had thought, and supper wasn’t started.  We were planning to watch some of the boys’ friends in a Christmas play in an hour.  Breakfast dishes still filled the sink – under the lunch dishes.  We’d have time for spaghetti if I was quick.  I started filling a pot with water when there was a knock on the door.  Four extra boys suddenly appeared.  Oh.  I added more water.

Nerf bullets whizzed past my head as I browned ground beef and dumped on pasta sauce.  “Find socks!” I hollered.  “Get deodorant!”  The boys shoveled in noodles; I cleared the table.  We’d have to track down all the smashed pasta under the chairs later.  I did manage to change my shirt, pulling a fresh one over my expanding belly and hoping there weren’t any blueberry stains on my pants in places I couldn’t see below my stomach.  My kids were in sweatpants and still bore traces of spaghetti sauce on their faces.  I realized, with a wave of stark understanding, that I looked like “that mom” at whom I’d always tipped up my nose at Walmart.  And I was taking us shamelessly out in public!  We piled into the Yukon like the ragtag bunch we were; maybe I could pretend I didn’t know the 10 bedraggled boys trailing behind me.

We survived the play, though I spent most of it hissing “Stop climbing on the wheelchair!  Turn off the flashlight!  There are no cupcakes in my purse, stop looking for one.  Put the pocketknife away.  You just went to the bathroom!  You can’t boo at the 6 year olds on stage!”  I was glad to finally make it home.

The starving children rummaged for snacks as I collected pajamas.  They made it to bed amidst threats they’d better stay there.  I went downstairs and wiped applesauce off every. vertical. surface. in the kitchen.  It was homemade applesauce, fresh from grandma’s kitchen to ours.  Apparently for our kitchen rather than for our mouths.  With some Styrofoam balls mixed in.  I scrubbed halfheartedly.  It was late when my husband stumbled in.  We fell into bed exhausted and sore.

And so another wondrous day of Advent passed.

I commiserate with Mary.  Did she feel similar that first Christmas?  She didn’t decorate for the holidays; she had no time for craft fairs or parties.  She inventoried their meager provisions and wondered how they’d manage.  There’s no mention of a donkey in the Bible; did she have to waddle on swollen feet all the way to Bethlehem?  Her heater and air conditioner weren’t working either.  It was dirty in the stable; she had no vacuum, no way fight lice if she found them, no deodorant to mask the smell of stress and animal energy.  No money for take out.  Her husband stressed over lost work time and travel expenses; she saw the worry on his forehead and felt powerless to ease the burden.  She was pregnant; a new baby added to the concern.  It was a dark, lonely season.

I know I’m not the only one who has ever come into Christmas time with a sense of foreboding.  I’m not alone trying to stretch the almighty dollar, or watching my husband’s shoulders bow under humbling burdens.  But I know something else.

There’s a Baby coming.

I’m reminded by the kicks and hiccups in my own growing belly.  There’s a little mewling infant.  Insignificant, helpless, antithetical to the commercial world, the impending birth of a child means little to the rushing, shopping, card-perfect scenes of the season.  A Child was born two thousand years ago was noticed by only a handful of shepherds, an old man and woman in the temple, and a few foreigners a thousand miles away.

But that little Baby  changed everything.

Because He wasn’t just a new Baby.  He was a new kind of God.

The world was used to fierce, proud, vindictive and condemning gods and kings.  They only knew mythological, emotionally fickle Greek deities.  They knew merciless Roman dictators.  They knew conniving, immoral kings who demanded worship.  They knew gods who demanded payment, who could be won over by good works and flattery and gold.  He wasn’t a god like ours, like busyness, or Pinterest idealism, or even a consuming desire to make our families happy above all.

This Baby was no such god.

This Baby didn’t need lights and garlands to herald His birth.  He didn’t need wreaths or gifts.  He didn’t need a vacuumed house or gingerbread cookies.  He didn’t need a “season”.

He just needed a mom.

My two year old, still with traces of spaghetti sauce on his round cheeks, clambered into my lap before bed.  He looked though his luscious lashes (so not fair on a boy), gazing seriously at my face.  A little grubby finger reached to push at the worry line that had grown between my eyebrows.  Tears threatened me and I hugged him closer, flicking a Styrofoam ball that dared linger behind his ear.  At least it wasn’t lice.

We didn’t have a tree or stockings.  We didn’t have lights and garlands, promises of heaps of presents and lots of family get-togethers.  Our house didn’t smell like cinnamon or look like a scene any family other than the Lampoons would dare plaster on a card.  We didn’t have the spirit of the season.  All we had was the promise of a baby.

“For unto us a Child was born…”

I realized that’s all that matters.

All the baby expected was for me to be mom.  Be that mom.

That was enough.

That is enough.

I have a wonderful life.

 

So Cute

Today is the International Day of the Girl.

I don’t know who decides these things, or who else besides Americans would care to celebrate random holidays.  But no matter what, it seems appropriate.

I am about half way through pregnancy.  We had an ultrasound yesterday; my first and probably the only one since there wasn’t a single issue bearing closer inspection.

The spine looked beautiful.  The brain seemed normal.  The heart beat was healthy.  The baby kicked and squirmed.  And there was only one.

And it wasn’t a boy.

Whoa.

At the announcement, I wasn’t excited.  In fact, mild panic set in.

I mean, a seventh son?  I would have felt  like I’ve got this.  A disability?  We’re already there; who better to handle another with special needs?  Twins?  Sure, I can live without sleep for a while.  But no.

God laughed.

And gave me a daughter.

Pink or blue?
Pink!

I was satisfied being the mom of boys.  Rough and tumble, do what’s right not what’s easy, be a leader, man up, kill spiders, live loud, drive smart, hunt, fish, full throttle, wrestle, eat eat eat, and if it’s not broken go back outside.

Everything in my house is camouflage or blue.  Or the color of dirt.  All the toys have wheels, breathe fire, or shoot.  All the decor has to withstand  significant interaction.  (The living room curtain rod is currently sitting in two broken pieces beside me).  All of Daddy’s tools have miniature counterparts as well.  All the beds stack into bunks.  All the clothes can be passed down to the next sibling.  I live with a small army.  And I’ve gotten comfortable with that.

What?!?

But moms of girls have a sacred trust.  Somehow they must develop the next generation of healthy, well adjusted, strong, domestic, professional, beautiful women.

I was content to leave you all to that.  I was busy throwing myself into the task of raising men who would know how to treat such a woman.  I had no plans to raise a girl myself.

I have no clue how to do that.

Will I have to buy Barbies? American Girl dolls?  Trolls?

I don’t own a good hairbrush.  Or fingernail polish.  Or anything with glitter.

Will she be spoiled?  Will she be too tomboy?

Do they make decent swimsuits for females – or decent clothes at all?!?

What if she feels fat?

What if she cries for no apparent reason?

Will I try to live vicarious childhood dreams through her ballet class or gymnastics?

Will I expect too much – or too little – domesticity from her?

Makeup! I occasionally slash cheap mascara across my upper lids and call it good.  Will I have to learn about eyebrow shaping or curling irons or who knows what else I missed in the last couple decades of oblivion?!?

I will have to instill some ideas of privacy in this house of brothers!

I will have to change my vocabulary!  (I can’t just call them “the guys” anymore; everyone will not automatically be a “he”…)

This is a strange new world.

We filled eggshells with either pink or blue chalk dust. Announcements in a family of boys are best when they can smash something. Clearly.

Sure, I could just send her off to Boy Scout meetings with the rest of them, but the reality is, this child will be inherently different.

The world knows it.  In so many cultures, being female is a curse.  It’s dangerous to be born a girl.  Painful.  Even deadly.  But the flip side is bringing into the world a self-righteous spoiled brat in high heels who would demand equality at the expense of dismissing the difference.  She must live the delicate balance between strength and femininity, adventure and domestic contentment, leadership and submission.  Coming from a high-testosterone family doesn’t make the balance easier.  Does it?

Disclaimer: not from our toy box

Sure, on holidays I’ll finally have a reason to look at pretty dresses.  The boys will get practice on how to treat girls (at least a little).  I’ll someday get to be the mom, not just the mother-in-law.  Someone will actually want to shop with me.  Someone will understand the allure of chocolate.  Someone will watch finally movies and read books that have emotions and strong female characters.  I’m sure it will be good.  Maybe it will even be fun. But all I feel right now is that it will be different.

As soon as the ultrasound techs admitted it was pretty clear, they started speaking a foreign language.  “Isn’t she cute?” they cooed at the image on the black and white screen.  “What a pretty profile!  What lovely fingers!”  Such language I have never heard used during an ultrasound visit (and I’ve had my share of them)!

I’m not sure what to expect now that I know I’m expecting a girl after having six boys.

Hopefully the shock wears off before birth so I can invest in a hairbrush (and a car seat and diapers and all the other stuff that really isn’t so different between genders after all.)

It’s the day of the girl.

And it is good.

State of the Unionsuits

It’s been a while.  How are you?  I’ve missed writing to you.  It’s therapeutic.  Plus life often seems way more sensible in hindsight.  Time to catch up.

Summer is over.  The leaves are turning brilliant colors in my backyard; the air smells cool and spicy like every adult female for miles around is overdosing on pumpkin lattes.  Which they probably are.  Christmas shopping starts at the beginning of November (my husband runs a retail store; it’s true whether you admit it or not), so all the pumpkin must be pureed and consumed within the next month.

I currently have a 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 11 year old (the oldest does like to be odd, ha).  It’s strange not to have a baby on my hip when I have a two year old.  Honestly it’s been a rather pleasant break.  I love my babies, but after a decade of car seats and drool, diaper bags and nursing, I have loved the freedom to simply send the whole crew outside to the sand pile and not worry that the youngest will try to eat most of it.  Some, but not most.

 

I very much dislike hormonal birth control (flooding my body with synthetic doses of extra hormone daily seems to affect more than just fertility) but neither my husband nor I have been ready to commit to surgery to halt the whole process.  What’s the worst that can happen?  I have another baby?  Stranger things have happened.

 

Funny then, that I was in denial at the end of June.  It was hardly possible.  Hardly.  Just only barely.

But enough.

I guess I can confide to you now.

Baby number seven is on the way.

I can feel little kicks and punches.  Especially if I drink too much pumpkin latte.

Change is in the air.

I’ll keep you posted.

A Pair of Cleats

I went to a weekend women’s retreat for the first time in eight years. I left my children with tears in their eyes. It was a hard parting. The eight year old stood stoic on the lawn as I pulled out of the driveway. The three year old saluted grimly. The six year old buried his face on Daddy’s shoulder.

me. alone.

It was only for two days. They would be with Daddy. I knew they would be safe. They would be at home. They would be fed and clothed (after a fashion, anyway.) It would be ok.

But I am mommy. The kisser of boo-boos. The pourer of milk. The dinner maker. The teachable-moment-catcher. The toilet paper roll-changer. The tucker-inner. The nose wiper. The bad dream stopper. The multitasking superhero in yoga pants who makes everything better.

And I am wife. The morning coffee maker. The homemaker.   The appointment booker. The hanger-upper-of shirts. The bed maker. The confidante. The raiser of mini-cloned namesakes. The other half.

I love my job description. It’s glorious. Truly.

But while it’s hard, it’s harder still to leave it. The morning of the day I left, the two year old learned to climb out of his crib. That’s great for milestones. Bad for sleeping. Facepalm.

I know from personal experience that God can meet me right on the dirty linoleum at the sacred altar of the kitchen sink on a rainy Wednesday morning. He’s like that. So I don’t leave much. In fact, I’m confident that if I never had a day off during my children’s growing years, it would be ok. Probably 95% of mommies around the world never get such a luxury. It is not a necessity. Oh, it was wonderful, refreshing, renewing to go away for the weekend. I laughed hard and lived on too much coffee, spent time praying and crying and shopping with friends. It was a mountain top experience.

But not much lives on top of a mountain.

Men cycle in 24 hour periods. Their hormones peak, plummet, and start fresh every morning. They can work hard and rest hard within every 7 day course. But women cycle longer. Our hormones take about thirty days to rise and fall before new beginnings. We have been created for long haul living. Long term loving. Days go by without lunch breaks. Our on-call night shift starts the day a baby is born- and we might not go off duty for years. I live in the land of spilled Cheerios and broken English, car seat battles, and being the first and last face my children see Every. Single. Day. For over a decade. Farmers work hard during the growing season; they can’t rest until the harvest is in. The growing season for raising a crop of straw-headed boys can seem relentlessly long and thankless. But. We were made for this.

God made the world, way back in Genesis. And it was good. It was all good. It was all going swimmingly until chapter 2, verse 18, when God said, “it is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” So, He made woman. And to the two of them, God gave the first command, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it, have dominion over… every living thing.” Genesis 1:28.

In no other religion or belief system on earth are women held with more equality and honor than Biblical Christianity. I know that; I have seen it lived. But when I see the word “helper” it still makes me think lesser, comparatively insignificant, of smaller value. My husband outweighs me by over 100 pounds, he earns more money, manages a large store, and leads worship on a large stage. I stay home, keep kids alive, spend his paycheck on ignominious expenses like groceries and diapers, tend a garden, and write a blog. I don’t feel very important. I know – I know, through the lenses of heaven, my daily life is fulfilling the first command, and it will not seem so insignificant when I can see from that vantage point. But for now, when I’m tired, the children misbehave, the house is sticky, the garden plants die slow agonizing deaths, my husband feels overwhelmed or neglected, and the pet lizard runs out of food, it hardly feels like my efforts have any value.

The Greek word for helper in the New Testament is Paraclete. It sounds like a “pair of cleats”. Jesus told His disciples He had to leave, but God “will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever… You will know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” John 14:17. He was referring to the Holy Spirit. It has very similar connotations as the Hebrew word for helper (ezer) that referred to woman in Genesis.

I’m not going into an exhaustive study, but I got excited at this. The Holy Spirit is the power of God. There is nothing insignificant about Him. Bible translators used the word Helper to explain Paraclete, but English fails here. My two year old “helps” with the dishes. But the Paraclete is the advocate, the strength, the conscience, the gentle pressure that draws us in the direction of truth.  He is all the power and love of the Lord – in a whisper.

I can’t go off every weekend to get filled up with good Bible teaching and coffee. It’s not practical – and it wouldn’t be enough. I can’t fill up with enough goodness and patience – and caffeine – to last through a week of normal. I would run dry within minutes of 7 a.m. on Monday.

But. I can plug in to the source of power. I can be a conduit for the power and strength of God for my husband and my family. By dwelling with them, 24-7, just like the Spirit of God with any believer who asks Him to, I am conveying the strength – and joy and peace and confidence – of the God of creation Himself. The pressure is not on me to produce the power. Just by being present and plugged in, I will share it. It’s the only long term answer that will last through years of “helpmeet” status – the epitome of wife and motherhood. I can lace on my “pair of cleats” and run with confidence by connecting to the source of energy by reading the Word of God and praying. A little – every day – goes a long, long way.

That even trumps coffee.

It is good to be home.

Fat Angels

Approximately sixty years ago, a man planted a Christmas tree in the front yard of the house he had built for his family. And rain fell and the sun shone down and it grew older. And the man grew older. Eventually a new family moved into the house behind the tree. Still the pine grew. It towered over the house, a quiet sentinel, marking time by pushing roots down deep and thickening girth, ring upon ring under gnarled bark.

 

Trees are quiet things. I had been largely oblivious to it. My mind certainly wasn’t on trees as I unceremoniously dumped water on little people’s heads that evening. The little people screeched their disapproval as mom’s waterboarding interrupted their bath time play. I continued unsympathetically with our nightly routine, warm water threading white rivulets through the spaghetti sauce on their round cheeks. Bath time is not a quiet ritual around here. So I missed the tree’s heroic moment. Heroic moments are sneaky like that.

I heard the thud. But one of the children was in the room overhead, rummaging through the Lego box like young thunder. Another was practicing long jumps across the living room rug and vaulting onto the loveseat. So thuds hardly registered on my internal Richter scale. It was only when my oldest called from the living room window, “Mom – there’s a truck on our front lawn…” That I felt a need to investigate.

Indeed – there was a truck on our front lawn. It was an odd place to find a pickup truck. I glanced over at my older children in mutual confusion as we stared out the window, watching the truck. The driver seemed as confused as we were. For a moment, he sat there, facing the tree that he had just crashed headlong into. Then he backed up, nearly hitting the telephone pole, swerving wildly, forward and back several times. He must have had trouble seeing over the smashed up hood, but I suspect his vision was compromised already since tire tracks proved he’d careened nearly 30 feet off the road. I strained to see the license plate, but the driver managed to find the road and speed away before I got a look. The oldest boys and I ran out the front door and surveyed the carnage. A headlight and bits of metal and glass littered the snow. The old pine had a gash across it, bark severed from the trunk, several branches hanging limp. I glanced back to the house. Two wet chubby bodies glistened in the front window, shameless in their curiosity. I hurried back and found towels to sop up the puddles left from their tub escape (and to cover their bright white thighs). My mind whirled. Should I call an emergency number if a guy just drove across our front lawn? I texted my husband with one hand as I toweled dripping children. He was nearly home from work, and drove in as I was strapping on diapers. “Call the police!” he remonstrated me from the doorway, and tromped over to survey the scene. I googled the number for the local police department and called. No answer. Nonplussed, I dialed 911. The dispatcher listened as I stumbled over my words. “A guy just drove over our lawn, hit our tree, and drove away…”

“Ok…” He responded. It was awkward. I explained no one was hurt, but the man (I was pretty sure it was a man we’d seen in the driver’s seat, but you never can tell these days) had seemed very confused and unsafe.

“I think they’re already on this,” the dispatcher mentioned. “Thanks.” And he hung up.

I continued with the evening ablutions of pajamas and books until the dispatcher called back a few minutes later. “Just wanted you to know,” he explained, “the driver crashed not far down the road from you. He won’t be going anywhere for a long time.”

“Thank you for letting us know.” I responded, and started to ask for more information, but the man said an officer would be in contact and bid me good evening.

About half an hour later, we saw a tow truck trundle by with a familiar smashed up pick-up truck on its hook. We had a good discussion that evening about how alcohol or drugs can impair your ability to think. (The cause of the driver’s recklessness was never revealed to us, but it opened the door for some conversation anyway).

 

As I lay in bed that night, it occurred to me how close the driver had come to my children and me. The tree was within ten feet of the corner of our house. He must have been going far above the speed limit to fly over thirty feet off the road, up the knoll, and still smash the vehicle into a tree with such force. I shivered. It had been dusk, and thankfully, wet and chilly, so none of my children had still been out playing in the yard when he came. But they could have been… I shut my eyes and breathed a prayer.

 

“Thank you, Lord, for that tree. Thank you for guarding us…”

 

I’ve often joked that I must have had a fat guardian angel, since there has often been a space of about 10 feet between my indiscretions and a true emergency. I remember the winter after I learned to drive my dad’s 4 cylinder pickup, sliding off slick white roads a couple times into soft snowbanks. I’d had to grab a shovel and work my way out, but it was harmless compared to what could have been if I’d made sudden contact with a telephone pole not far away.   I’ve never (knowingly) met an angel, but I suspect their wingspan is far greater than the little Valentine cherubs of the cartoons. Perhaps the ten foot span that often came between me and peril was actually a supernatural warrior sitting in the snow – calmly flexing. A single angel has been known to wipe out entire armies (check Isaiah 37) and make grown men fall on their faces in fear (Daniel 10). A guy like that would have no trouble stopping a measly pick-up truck with his pinkie – or a sappy pine bough.

The driver himself wouldn’t have stood much chance at his speeds had he chosen to interact with the telephone pole down near the pavement rather than heading upwards over the turf for several dozen feet. I wonder if he appreciated this fact when he woke (wherever he woke) the next morning and realized how exciting his previous evening had been. I’m guessing he missed it. But we prayed for him to find purpose in his lease on life anyway.

 

Sixty years ago, a man had no idea how pivotal one little sapling would prove to be. But I know. My house and my kids were protected. Cupid strikes again. Ha. Like a rock.

Go Cupid.

 

God is so good to me.

 

Trust Fall of Faith

Someone made an offer to buy our old house last week. The timing was interesting.

This week – exactly one year ago – we moved out of it.

We’ve tried to sell before. For over eight years, we’ve tried to sell. But the market isn’t what it was when we bought, and our mortgage (created for first time home buyers) has a clause that prevented us from renting it out. It seemed fine a decade ago, expecting our first, with the housing market booming. It became less fine as the years passed, the housing market crashed, and we expected our 4th, and 5th, and 6th.  Every time a potential buyer began the process, a different road block would pop up.  It got a little ridiculous.  We inquired about getting a new mortgage without such a clause, but as housing markets struggled, the bank said there wasn’t enough equity in it and refused.

 

Finally, last April, we were granted a reprieve from the confines of the mortgage, allowing us to rent it out while promising to simultaneously try to sell (again).

But if we don’t sell, and don’t re-inhabit at some point, we could technically be in breach of our mortgage contract and the bank could foreclose on us, even though we have paid the mortgage every month and it is inhabited by a contented renter.

Will they do it? I don’t know. I’m not a bank. (Though I haven’t convinced my kids of that yet.)

Was it risky to have taken this chance for a year?  Was it a good idea to leave the small house (with a smaller monthly cost of living) for a larger, costlier one?  Was it smart to have taken on a second mortgage on a new house when the last hadn’t sold?   The bank could destroy our credit by taking back that old one.

It’s humbling.

I might have thumbed my nose at someone else faced with foreclosure, assuming them reckless with their money and resources. Or at least, I might have over a year ago.

But now…

Sometimes following God isn’t the most financially sound choice. Or most comfortable. Or most logical.

Yes, we are called to be wise with our money and bodies and time and resources.

 

But sometimes wisdom isn’t smart.

 

The day we moved, April 2016, we tried to squeeze everyone into one last picture on the longest wall

 

The Bible says that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10).

But people who feared God often did stupid-looking things.

 

Noah spent years building a boat on dry land and moved into it amidst the jeers of his neighbors.

Abraham moved – before knowing where he was headed.

Moses challenged Pharaoh with a stick.

Joshua attacked Jericho by walking around it.

Gideon challenged the Midianites with a horn and a torch.

David stood up to Goliath with a leather sling.

Ezekiel gave the people God’s message by being silent.

Jonah brought a nation to its knees with 8 words that didn’t even include the word repent.

 

And Jesus said He could save the world by dying a criminal’s death.

 

None of that seemed logical. None of them looked smart.

But it’s always wise to follow God.  Even if it looks stupid to everyone else.

 

A friend left a couple days ago, moving from our cold muddy New England Spring to Brazil.  There are snakes and spiders there that can kill you. The humidity and sun are merciless. None of her family live there. She doesn’t know the language.  She is young, single, blonde, and beautiful. She will spend the next 20 years or so on this quest.

But there are indigenous groups of people who have never heard the gospel. They don’t have a written language, so they don’t have access to the Bible. Her job is to be accepted into one of their communities, learn their language, write them an alphabet, dictionary, and grammar rules, and then translate the Bible into their language. It isn’t lucrative. It is dangerous. It is very hard, and lonely, and frustrating.

It seems reckless.

Last song before we moved out

I know that being a Christ-follower doesn’t mean we’ve been given a license to be stupid. Most of the time, it means being logical. I don’t smoke (because it’s bad for my lungs), or drink (I need every brain cell I’ve got), or party (unless staying up past 10 p.m. counts). I try to budget and shop at thrift stores. I don’t play with matches or run with scissors (much). I eat my veggies and read a lot and buckle my seatbelt and vote. I try to be wise with my daily life. Of course, I’m capable of doing plenty of dumb stuff without permission or thought (Not everything makes it onto a blog!). But generally, I try to live without stepping on any snakes that could turn and bite me.

And still, the uncomfortable moment came to step out in reckless hope.

God was there when each of our six kids were born.  God was there when one was born who would need a wheelchair.  God was there when we bought the little house.  God was there when we had to make the decision to move out of it.

leap of faith?

 

We’d made some crazy-looking decisions.  So we prayed like crazy.  And prayed some more.  And held our breath.  And jumped.

Maybe it will end in foreclosure.  But maybe a bad credit rating isn’t of prime importance in God’s kingdom.

But a humble, willing heart is.

 

The buyers backed out on Friday. So we wait, again, wondering if we were wise to take on a second mortgage, to leave the house we weren’t allowed to leave, to trust God to provide for the children He gave us.

If I’m reckless, I hope it is because God told me to be.

I guess it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks.

I can’t stop trusting just because I already took the first step of faith.  After all, it isn’t the first step that hurts – it’s the possibility of a sudden stop at the end!

Who knows what God has planned between now and then?

 

the view from our old back deck

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13

 

 

Lightbulb Moment

How many kids does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: Depends. The oldest unscrews the old bulb in the lava lamp. The next runs to the basement and determines there are no more little bulbs to fit. Meanwhile, mommy realizes it’s too quiet and goes to find youngest. He is discovered stuffing legos into the empty socket. Everyone survives the night (somehow.)

Next day, three kids accompany mommy to the store. The youngest kicks off his boots while he sits in the front of the shopping cart. As mommy bends to retrieve them, the next youngest screams (yes screams) with passion “LIGHTBOUBS!” because he lives life exuberantly and expects the rest of Walmart wants to join him.

Mommy jerks her head up so quickly in surprise that she smashes it into the cart handle. Rubbing her head, she looks up to see the second youngest in the process of loading the cart with lightbulb boxes. So the second oldest and second youngest are sent to the end of the aisle to look at (unbreakable) plastic trash cans while Mommy replaces lightbulbs back on shelf and boots back on the youngest. Mommy hurriedly selects what she hopes is correct bulb (plus an extra for good measure) and survives checkout.

Once home, mommy realizes she left two bags back at the store (she won’t work up the gumption to return to collect them till the next day, but at least she noticed, so points for that). Youngest finds package of bulbs in bag that did make it home and opens it (they make toy packaging impossible for a child to open or assemble, but lightbulbs are disturbingly easy). One lightbulb breaks. Mommy cleans it up.

Second oldest takes remaining light bulb upstairs to install it, realizes someone has disturbed his Lego town, and goes on a rampage for revenge. Blood and carnage ensue. Mommy demands peace and serenity – or else. Eventually the dust settles, and the child returns to his room to finish screwing in the new lightbulb. It works.  Eureka.

 

So in this case, it took six children to change a lightbulb. But results may vary.

How many does it take at your house?

Bearing

Once upon a time, it was the worst day of my life.

On the eve of my son’s third birthday, his brain got infected. The outside world got in. It was only the tiniest little bit that found an entrance, just an itsy bitsy staphylococcus – an everyday kind of germ that we all keep around for company. But we can’t survive with it in our brain. So I found myself, somewhere around midnight after the unfortunate discovery, singing happy birthday to my son in a breaking voice as I laid his little trusting body on the operating table so doctors could get the infection out. It would be a long week before we could go home.

The next morning, when my brother came to visit, I asked if I could leave my infant son (who was along for the wild ride because he was nursing), and my newly-minted-three year old hidden under a maze of tubes and medicine, to run to the store to buy the birthday boy a toy tow truck. It was all he wanted. And I wanted clean underwear. I ran in and out. It was snowing lightly as I pulled away from the store. Another car came around the corner in the parking lot and slid into the driver’s side door of the car I had borrowed from my brother. The driver quickly parked and came over to be sure I wasn’t hurt. I blubbered my story of how it was my son’s birthday and he was in the hospital for emergency brain surgery and all he wanted was to blow out candles and he couldn’t because that’s illegal in the hospital. The man nodded sympathetically, then got in his car – and drove away before we could file a report and get insurance worked out.

 

That moment of betrayal, heaped on top of my exhaustion, stress, worry, and loneliness, ranks as one of the lowest points of my life.

 

It was bad.

 

But you know what happened in that moment? My son needed me. So I drove back to the hospital, crumpled on his sterile bed, and held him – and begged God for strength. And God gave it.

Not a lot. Too much would probably have made me capable of doing dangerous things, especially to the guy who drove away from the teary-eyed woman in the disheveled Subaru in the parking lot that cold January day three years ago.

But it was enough.

 

I felt so helpless. I couldn’t fix my son. I couldn’t even celebrate his birthday. I couldn’t even run to the store without someone’s property getting destroyed! I was insufficient.  I just couldn’t even.

But God.

In that moment, God came near. And I knew that the prayers of hundreds of friends were – at that very moment – storming the throne of heaven with our names. And He heard. And God came near.

 

I remember that moment, because today, a friend is going through the same valley of the shadow. She is watching her baby daughter struggle with insidious evil germs threatening her little brain. It is a horrible place to be for a mom. But thousands of other moms are live-streaming petitions to the throne of heaven on her behalf. And God is listening.

 

The first woman – the first mom on earth – was named Eve. Her name in Hebrew is Chavvah, or “life-giver.” It’s Zoe in Greek, meaning “preserver of life, life-spring”.

This woman, Eve, was the first woman to talk with God, the first to know Him.

She was first to revel in His creation, to enjoy His goodness.

And she was the first person on earth to sin.

She was the first to realize she no longer had the right to dwell with God.

She was first to miss Him.

Eve, created to be “life-giver” to all future generations, was the first to lose intimate fellowship with the Creator of life.

 

It was a horrible realization. She was not enough. She could not make it right.

 

But God.

In His love for Eve, in His desire for her to fulfill her purpose as life giver to all future generations – God made a way for her to be restored.

 

She was saved by His grace. (“By grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9). All moms since have the same chance.

 

We can be restored to a deep relationship with God by the Word of God dwelling with us. (“The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…” John 1:14).

 

And God has (often) used a big-eyed, naked toddler covered in my lipstick, sitting on my once-white bedspread (just hypothetically speaking) to reveal to me the very depths of my insufficiency. It ain’t pretty. (I mean my dark and frustrated heart. But also the bedsheets.)

 

My children have showed me, like nothing else, that I cannot survive without a direct line of communication with the life-Maker.

This past Wednesday, I spent the morning busy.

I woke, stretched, and found clothes for myself and three others. I started the laundry. I took a shower (and was only interrupted once). I wiped down the bathroom. I drank cold coffee and ate three strips of cold bacon. I fed kids. I (tried to) clean hard boiled egg yolk off the chair. I dressed children. I wiped noses (and other things.) I read and explained a Bible story. I broke up fights. I did fractions and adding and multiplication with four separate children while keeping the two youngest from (totally) dismantling the living room. I paid some bills. I took a child to the doctor. I made up a story to keep him occupied in the sterile office. I gave up my granola bar to feed the backseat driver. I gave up my water bottle. I bought several gallons of milk. I bought the still hungry caterpillar (aka the growing three-year-old child) a sandwich. I kept time shamelessly as he danced to the restaurant muzak. I got home to relieve grandma of duty. I changed more diapers. I cleaned the kitchen. I paid for piano lessons. I put the little two down for nap. I put the little two down for nap – again. I confiscated a video game. I pulled bread rolls out of the freezer for supper. I glanced at Facebook and saw a post that a friend’s baby had been admitted to the hospital for bacterial meningitis. And I stopped everything. And I prayed.

 

Because in all the business – the busy-ness – of motherhood, that direct line of communication has been more precious than any ability I possess.

As my friend’s baby girl lies in a sterile medical world surrounded by wires and lights and foreign smells, hurting and fragile and in desperate need of a miracle, it makes me pause. I have looked into my own child’s eyes, wide from pain and fear, as he sat small in a big white hospital bed, fighting sinister germs that attacked his own brain. I have turned away so he would not see tears fall.  I would love to wrap my children in bubble wrap so they would never know hurt or evil. But that’s not the answer (nor very practical.)

 

I have often wondered at the verse that states “She will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” (I Timothy 2:15)

 

What meaneth this? Maybe that childbearing – from the first kicks of new life inside me, to the sting of distrust when a child lies to my face to cover a sin, to the leaning-down hug as they leave the house to strike out on their own – constantly reminds me of my need for a Savior. It certainly has for me.

Or maybe it means that “they” who continue in faith, love, and holiness – “they” are the community who holds up her arms when they are weak from mothering. They petition heaven on her behalf when she is too exhausted to lift up her head. They care for her children’s needs when she cannot. They continue – so that she will be preserved in this most important work of life giving.

So we pray.

As mom, I am first to realize I am unable to fix all my children’s problems.  I  am first to know I am not enough.

But I know Who is.

There is One Who can say “I AM.”

We mother on.

We mother – on our knees.

 

Cloudy, with a Chance of Heaven

The kitchen felt sticky hot.  I pulled the cakes from the oven in anticipation of the three year old’s birthday.  A strand of hair fell across my forehead and stuck there.  I brushed it absently, glancing out the window.  It was three in the afternoon.  And it was dark.  A storm was coming.

Toys decorated the back yard.  I went out to gather in the deep summer harvest of random socks, nerf guns, and fly swatters (why not?) that graced the lawn.  The air was heavy and silent.  Creation was holding its breath.  Maybe God was too.

Waiting.

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I pulled the curtain off the entrance of the boys’ secret hideout among the cedars (don’t tell them I told you).  Pregnant raindrops started to land heavily on the pavement, fat with the promise of more.  I ran inside to shake the older children from their stupor intense concentration on a Star Wars Lego computer game.  The lawnmower should be inside.  I needed backup.  Big drops spattered the engine as I lurched forward on the ungainly beast of a riding mower.  Two children watched and directed as I attempted to line up the wheels  on the planks that would get the machine over the step down into the basement.  Twice I tried.  Both attempts stuck the mower deck fast on the threshold.  Rain fell more urgently.

Finally I admitted defeat.  I backed up and parked the puttering machine back where I had found it.  Hail smacked my shoulders and head as my oldest and I threw a tarp over the beast, fighting the wind to tuck it down.  Then we ran inside, suddenly soaked and breathless.  I commanded the mind-numbing zombie-making computer screen be turned off.  Four pairs of eyes refocused on the windows.  We watched the sheets of rain turn the road into a river.  Thunder cracked and shook the atmosphere.  Lightning sliced through the dark sky.  The lights flickered.

The two littlest woke from their naps crying.  Downstairs, we pulled out ice cream cones in the still-humid hot living room.  I opened our current read aloud to the next chapter and raised my voice above the insistent storm.  We stopped briefly when it sounded like a jolt of electricity stuck something close by; everyone rushed to the windows to study the closest trees.  We gazed in awe at the intensity and power surrounding us.

I droned on for half an hour.  Ice cream smeared across my arm.  The storm abated.  Soon, sunlight pierced through the breaking clouds.  The boys glanced at the windows, searching for rainbows.  As the ice cream hit their bloodstream, everyone got restless.  The toddler stood on the sofa and bounced, sending sticky drips everywhere.  Someone sat on someone else and a wrestling match ensued.  I kept raising my voice to finish the chapter until I had to admit defeat.  Again.  Everyone was sent to their respective corners to regroup.  I opened windows and let the cool clear air push into the sticky house.  It was twenty degrees cooler than it had been an hour ago.  The washed air smelled of fresh cut grass and warm dirt.  I breathed in deep and went to start supper.

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After we survived mealtime, the boys spilled outside to run it off.  I left the smashed potatoes to dry on the table and joined the five year old on the porch.  Mist rolled across the back yard in silent wisps.  I patted my son’s head.  “Hey, don’t break my mohawk!” He remonstrated me.  I apologized and shaped the sweaty damp locks back into a blonde point.

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We watched the brothers chase each other, screeching and blaming each other for tripping in the damp grass.  The toddler chose a puddle and sat down decisively, immediately saturating his clean diaper.  Blue chalk decorated several rungs of the deck.  Even the hard rain hadn’t totally cleaned it off.  I was trying to silence the busy-mom-voice in my head that was commanding I turn around and attend to the congealed potatoes, when a little voice echoed over my internal argument.

“Mom, why does heaven take so long?”

Busy mom went silent.  My mind searched wildly for wise mom, who always seemed to hide when I needed her.  I’d wondered myself.  Buying time to get wise mom to appear, I prodded for more.  “What do you mean, honey?”

“I’ve been waiting for heaven a long time.  When do we get to go?”

I smiled slightly.  He was 5 years old.  I remembered his birth like yesterday.  And suddenly here he was, sitting in a shiny wheelchair, asking hard questions in a well-spoken, shrill voice.  But 5 years is a long time to not walk…

Finally honest mom surfaced.  (When wise mom hides, she’s a willing sub.  Wish I chose her more often over blabbering-idiotically-mom!)

“I don’t know, Ben.  Waiting is always hard for me too.”

My heart ached.  We watched the boys run.  Past conversations about heaven drifted through my mind as the fog rolled across the field, softening the blades of grass, till it was hidden under the cool blanket.  We have often said that in heaven, my colorblind son will see brighter colors there than those of us with “normal” eyes ever could here.  Heaven will be “more real” than the best our senses can do to experience earth, and our abilities will be far stronger when they’re unfettered by commotion, distraction, pollution, germs, stress, and biological imperfections.  Ben will run faster than anyone ever could on earth.  It will be awesome.  I wished he didn’t have to wait for awesome.

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“God makes each of us a little different, some a lot different, because we each have a different job to do before we go to heaven.  He has big plans for you.  I know He does…”

Honest mom sounded lame.  I wished I could give him some assurance that God does what is best, and what is best is usually hardest.  But try explaining that to a five year old.  I admitted defeat for the third time.  And hugged him.  “I’m glad you’re here right now.”  He patted my back reassuringly and slid out of his wheelchair.  He crawled to the ramp up to the trampoline where he jumped on all fours, sending the toddler with a sagging diaper bouncing amidst fits of baby giggles.

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He is waiting.  We hold our breath, knowing there are storms on the horizon.  Half a dozen times since Saturday, he has asked me, “Why am I like this?”  and I give reasons.  But it’s hard, in the heat of the moment, to accept them.  So we brace to weather the storms.  I hope I can shelter him through some of them.  In them he might be scared, but he can also experience the power of God in his life.  I don’t want to be so distracted by the fly swatters, and video games, and cold potatoes, that I miss awe and wonder hidden in the cloudy days.

The clear air after the rain will be worth the wait.

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