Category Archives: life

Thresholds

It was Tuesday afternoon.

And I was chopping onions and chives for potato salad.

And I wondered where I would store such things in my new house.

And it seemed petty.

(Though I can’t just leave them on the dining room table all the time.  All chives matter after all.)

 

It was Tueday afternoon.

And I was yelling.

Everyone was grumpy.  It was wet outside, spirits were damp, noses were runny.

I had streaks on my shirt shoulder from the baby.

 

It was a Tuesday afternoon.

And Jesus went to Lazarus’s house.

But he wasn’t there.  Well, his body was, but it was just a shell.  Empty.  Buried.  Lifeless.

And Jesus wept.

 

(Actually, I don’t know if that happened on a Tuesday.  But it wasn’t long before Passover weekend; people were already headed to Jerusalem to prep for the feast, and Jesus knew they were in the countdown leading to His own day of death.  So it very possibly could have been…)

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Two Tuesdays ago, we bought a house.  We. Bought. A. House!

My husband said he would carry me over the threshold like newlyweds entering their home together for the first time (but he wouldn’t let me take a picture of it, to preserve his manliness.)  The house echoed.  It was so empty.  So clean.  Not even a single dead fly lay belly up on the windowsills.  No fingerprints on the door.  No crayon marks on the walls.

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Now there are. (It doesn’t take long!)  The flies get captured to feed to the pet praying mantises.  (So I caved on the pet thing.  But we’re still not getting a puppy.)  Little smudges cross the glass of the door where toddlers watch for Daddy in the evening (and for any chance to escape undetected to the great outdoors).  Two children were caught decorating the inside of the closet with the contents of the re-discovered crayon box (at least it was the inside).    The house is full of life and promise.

 

We bought the house from someone who gutted it and redid the inside five years ago.  I think they expected to stay here longer.  But within six months of starting the work, he was diagnosed with ALS (remember the ice bucket challenge?)  So their renovation plans changed.  He built a wheelchair ramp.  He created a first floor master bedroom.  He tiled the whole bathroom to make a walk – or drive – in shower.  He installed a bidet (that’s a new adventure for the kids!)  The thresholds are low.

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Some people have patted me on the back and said we deserve this house.  I concur that it is lovely to have a big backyard for the boys, and wheelchair access, and to not sleep on the living room pull out sofa every night, listening to the dishwasher hum its evening routine within feet of my head.  Rejoice with me.  I have yearned for this for years.

But we don’t deserve it.  Just because we have six kids and a wheelchair does not equal rights to a larger accessible space.  Just because you think we are nice (and you haven’t seen me at bedtime when they won’t sleep) does not mean we should have nice things.  Just because we trust God does not mean our faith guarantees we get what we want.

The man who owned this house before us didn’t deserve to die any more than we deserve to live here.  We all live in this sin-scarred world full of germs and degeneration, a place where it rains on the just and unjust, where life isn’t fair and doesn’t make sense.

There are probably hundreds of mamas living in cardboard shacks with their six children who have far greater faith than me.  And I know much nicer people.  And just having a wheelchair does not mean that my son is guaranteed the right to easier access.  It doesn’t even mean he deserves them.

Rather, it is grace.  It is always grace.

It was grace that brought Jesus to the tomb of his friend Lazarus, dead for four days.

When he got there, Jesus wept.  Why?

Because the world had lost a good man?  Lazarus was a good man.  He was generous and hospitable (you don’t become the stopping place for a rowdy group of a dozen grown fishermen and IRS agents unless you’re really good at sharing!)  He was known and respected.  But Jesus knew him too – as a friend.  He didn’t deserve to live any more than anyone else just because he was a nice guy, or to die because he was any worse of a sinner than his neighbors.

It wasn’t weakness.  This was the Man who had complete control of the very weather over His head, who could command legions of angels to His bidding, who made demons shriek in terror.  Jesus could make Chuck Norris cry.  Jesus didn’t cry because He was weak.

Did He weep because He missed him?  Jesus knew the exactly what would happen in a few minutes.  He would call Lazarus back from the grave.  Come back from the beautiful place where there was no pain, no worries.  No tears.  Come back to the land of death, where people would hate Lazarus so much they’d want to kill him – all over again.  Come back from the comfortable, bright, safe place beyond the grave, back to the hurting, grumpy, wet, petty place where people think it matters where the onions are stored, where people decide whether they think you’re worth life or death based on their preference to your appearance.  Come back to limitations and frustrations.  Come back from the land of the living.  Maybe I would cry too.

But I don’t think that was the cause of Jesus’ tears.

I think He wept because He ached for His friends.

Jesus wept because the strongest Man on earth was also the most compassionate Man.  Because sometimes grace is allowing a man to die and never hurt again while his family aches on earth, but sometimes grace is bringing a man back from that good place to live in a decaying body again. In that moment, Jesus felt their deep sorrow.

Sometimes grace means rejoicing on earth.  Sometimes it means heartbreak.  I would love to hear Jesus laugh.  I bet it is infectious.  But so are tears to a Man with a big heart.

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The Jesus I know is a God of grace.  Five years ago a man was diagnosed with an incurable disease.  That same year, a child was born with a lifelong disability.

The man was capable, financially wise, and sensible.  He prepared for his physical decline by preparing his home and his soul to meet the challenge of dying.  Meanwhile my son underwent surgeries, bought a wheelchair, and got a couple more siblings to prepare him for the physical and mental challenge of living.

A year ago, in late May, I committed to praying daily for a new house for our growing family.  A year ago, in early June, that man died.  He was committed to a new forever home that would never decline and never ache again.  But there were tears on earth.

I wept when I read the obituary and realized the timeline.  I do not know why God chose to do it this way.  But I do know Jesus Himself ached for the heartbroken family even as He welcomed a soul into eternity.

I walked through the house this man rebuilt.  He died in this house.  And for a while it stood empty.  Silent.  Waiting.

Now it is full of life.  And crayons and oatmeal.  Loud baby squeals echo and pokemon battles rage (the stuffed kind, not the virtual.  They find them – and throw them at their brothers.)

Last Monday, I looked out between fingerprints through the kitchen window as a thundercloud swelled across the sky.  The stately old elm tree at the back of the field stood stark against the foreboding grey.  I called the boys inside.  We watched as the heavens opened.  Rain poured in sheets.  Lightning ripped the clouds.  Thunder shook the heavy atmosphere.  It was majestic.  It was terrifying.  God reminded us that He is big.  He is powerful.  He is utterly in control.

And I hugged my littlest men close and felt their cubby warm softness.  And I knew God was also gentle.  He is compassionate.  He is utterly good.

And I do not deserve His grace.

But still He gives it.

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“The Lord your God, who goes before you, He will fight for you… and in the wilderness you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries His son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place.  [He] went in the way before you to search out a place for you to pitch your tents, to show you the way you should go.”

Deuteronomy 1:30-32

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Homemade

Ten years ago, we slept in the living room on our first night in our new house.  Just the two of us.

Last night, we slept in the living room on our last night in our old house.  Just the two of us.

The six children that were born in the past decade are all installed comfortably at the grandparents’ house while we finish madly packing.  It is the first time I have spent a night away from them (other than the grudging hospital stays I’ve taken to have babies and to be with Ben during his operations).  It feels so empty here.  I’m used to so much life.  Echo.  Echo.  Echo…

It started as some renovation projects.  Than a man approached us about renting.  Was it time?  After all these years of trying to move out of this house, was it time to leave?  We prayed and prayed and prayed and expected everything to fall through.  But doors never slammed.  So I painted the door bright red.  And walked on through.

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I can’t say I’m excited.  I’m not sure what the future holds, so there’s a measure of fear mixed with hope.  I feel a bit homeless.  It’s been a very busy week trying like crazy to finish  all those little projects that we (finally, after a decade) started.  Plus packing.  When we moved in, all we owned fit in our car.  That was before minivans and Yukons and the lifetime supply of legos.

That was before wheelchairs and high chairs.

And diapers and potty training.

And a new deck.  And fridge.  And dishwasher.  And roof.

And homeschooling.

And dandelion bouquets.

And new paint everywhere.  And a new toilet.

And living paycheck to paycheck.  Living on love.  Living on beans and rice.

And living on a budget.  And bounty.  And steak and ice cream.

And bunk beds.  And more bunk beds.

And a new chimney.  And wood stove.

And crayon pictures.  And nerf guns.

And squirrels on the roof.  And salamanders in the basement.

And chalk drawings on the road.

And cell phones with cameras.  And texting.

And weight gain.  And weight loss.

And friends gained.  And friends lost.

And the memories.

Oh, the memories.

I found the hats my children wore home from the hospital.  I found never-finished scrapbooks.  I found dozens of lost nerf gun bullets.  And Batman.  And an old bird nest.   And Ben’s first leg braces.  And power cords that go to nothing anymore.  And our stack of wedding photos.  And college notebooks.  And Legos.  Of course Legos.

And we packed it up, so many boxes that will languish in storage while we wait for whatever happens next.  It’s bittersweet to leave the only home my children have known.  But I will keep the children.  And move on with the adventure together.  I’ll miss seeing the azaleas bloom, and the perennials, which despite my brown thumb have managed to increase over the years.  I’ll miss my neighbors.  But I won’t be sleeping in the living room anymore.

On with the adventure.

The Decade

Ten years ago in July, I walked down the hall of the radiology department at the hospital where I’d gotten a job just a month before.  My friend walked with me to an open doorway.  A man sat in the low light next to a bulky ultrasound machine, paging though paperwork, but looked up with a smile as we appeared.  It was a quiet Friday afternoon, the weekend having already begun for most of the white-collar workers in the hospital.  My friend whispered a few words to the man in blue scrubs.  He looked at me, motioning toward the cot next to his machine.  “I just realized I need to test this new transducer before I use it on patients next week,” he grinned.  “Let’s see if it can find anything.”  I obediently lay down, pulling up the long hem of my own blue uniform.   He squirted warm gel around my bellybutton before placing the transducer on it.  And that was the moment my life changed.

I don’t know why it surprised me.  We’d been married four years already.  We weren’t doing anything to prevent it.  But when I saw the grainy black and white picture of that cherry-sized baby with a real honest beating heart, I caught my breath.  A month’s worth of emotions flooded me in those 60 seconds.  Awe, terror, pride, worry, exasperation, jubilation, nausea, and a dose of wonder spilled from my eyes.  This little thing was the biggest thing I’d ever done.  And I wasn’t very sure how I was supposed to do it from here.  Not at all.

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Taking a big bite out of life, nine years ago…

We bought our first house that Fall.  We bought baby books.

We got insurance.  We got a used crib.

We took childbirth classes.  We took pictures of my expanding frame.

We picked names.  We picked out little baby shoes and wipes warmers and fancy diaper bags that we didn’t yet know that we really wouldn’t need.

I learned to count contractions.  And I learned that none of that really matters when you finally hold your newborn in your arms for the first time.

Today, my firstborn is nine.  He’s sitting across from me on the sofa with too-big sunglasses on, intently creating a new language in florescent yellow highlighter.  When he gets to the end of the paper, he looks up to ask (again) if he can play a video game.  I refuse (again).  So he wanders out to the kitchen to get a banana, he says, but reappears with an orange popsicle.  Then he buries himself in the pages of The Hobbit, gangly legs draped over the sofa into the ever-present overflowing basket of laundry.  I steal his flip flops to run outside to check on his little brothers clustered around the sand box.  And I can tell you now, a decade to the day since I saw him first, I am still not very sure how I’m supposed to do it from here.  Not at all.

Now I wake up to bullets and land mines littering the floor.  Nerf bullets and legos – but it can still be disconcerting to have something whizz past your ear and something else jab your barefoot when you’re innocently making a double batch of lasagna.

Now my weight and hair color and what people think of me matters less.

Now much of my day is spent talking, moving, touching, and searching out margins of breathing space around the breathlessly full middle.

Now I try to explain fractions and long division and algebra, now I diagram sentences and try to make sense of the English language to 6 year olds even though it doesn’t, now I repeat the abc song for the upteenth time in 24 hours and listen to the latest mutilation of l-m-n-o-p by the preschooler.  Now I do things I never believed I’d have to after I passed 3rd grade myself.

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Learning to stand on their own feet

Now science is in the kitchen and history happens on car rides.  Now math is at the grocery store and reading happens at bedtime in footie pajamas.  Now I still stay up too late working on homework and research because I now know you’re never too old to learn something new.

Now I say “NO” at least every 2 minutes.

Now ice cubes and mud are fun and the world of bugs and rodents is full of wonder and cardboard and used cans offer hours of entertainment.

Now I know the unequivocally priceless laughter of a happy baby and the world-shaking moment when a child realizes he can read.

Now I am constantly challenged to be proactive rather than reactive to the many demands of my day.

Now I sit around home all day and eat Oreos and watch soap operas.  (Ok, no, I don’t.  Just throwing that in there for my husband.  Hehe.)

Now I think, and vote, and surf the internet not to change how the world is, but how I want it to be when my kids grow into it.

Now someone else always gets the last piece of pie and I get the leftover used bananas.  But now I hide the good chocolate and try to convince everyone else that kale is actually tasty.

Now I question authority more than I ever did as a teenager because what happens in the dark will be held accountable in the light at the ultimate end of the day.

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Now I try to meal plan, form chore charts, establish routines, list everything, and learn grace when it spontaneously combusts.  Every day.

Now people around me are smaller, but my car and laundry load are much bigger.

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Now I know the kind of love that would offer my own two feet if it could make someone else able to walk.  I don’t think I ever loved anyone that much 10 years ago.

Now I’m still not sure how I’m supposed to do it all from here.  We’re still squeezed into our first house, but the baby books are long gone as well as the used crib, the wipes warmers, and everything I learned in childbirth classes.  But it is still the biggest thing I’ve ever done.

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Funny, I never realized that ten years of my life would effect eternity.

They don’t seem so long after all.

Prodigal Vegetable

I’m not one to worry.  Oh wait, I’m a mom.  Maybe I do worry. Sometimes.  A little.  There are six young daredevils who are, most of the time, in my sole care.  If one complains of a headache I immediately consider the possibility he needs brain surgery again. Another is a toddler who defies gravity and usually loses.  I’m actually the queen of worriers.  I’m a worry warrior.  (Say that out loud a few times!)

I worry about my kids, my house, my husband, my stuff.  I worry my teeth are getting more crooked.  I worry I’m a bad mom.  I worry about my country.  I worry about mice getting into the chocolate chips.  I worry my vacuum is gonna die (I pray for it regularly.)  I worry about scarring the neighborhood with my children’s ghetto lawn ornaments (generally an assortment of nerf guns, various pieces of discarded clothing, and creative handmade squirrel traps.)  I’ve been practicing worry for years, and I’m getting good.

But I know better than to let it control me.  Of course I do.  Otherwise I wouldn’t have let two of my children go on a Spring expedition into the wilderness a few evenings ago.  Perhaps I knew it involved fording a small river because they asked me to pack extra clothes.  But perhaps they shouldn’t be tied to mama’s apron strings so tight they can’t occasionally get their feet wet.  Right?

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Probably every culture has some indigenous foods that anyone hungry enough for the adventure can get.  Come Spring around here, it’s fiddlehead season.  Fiddleheads are tightly curled Ostrich Fern fronds.  They grow along shady riverbanks locally.  For a few weeks every year, people – like my dad- go out and harvest them.  This year, Grampy invited my two oldest boys along to help. It was sort of a coming-of-age ritual that was expected to involve water in boots and playing host to a blackfly family reunion. But the result is usually a decent haul of fresh, free vegetables that are quite palatable (as far as vegetables go. Chocolate is, unfortunately, not indigenous, but the upside is that I find no reason to relegate chocolate to a single season for eating.)

So off they went and I stayed home.  Not worrying.  I made supper.  I fed the four kids still tied to my apron strings.  Still not worrying.  My husband came home.  I bathed each child, dodging water gun squirts from the toddler as I mopped up puddles and made sure they weren’t drowning (because that’s my job after all, to keep them safe.)  I added diapers and pajamas to wriggling little bodies as it started to get dark.  Finally, I sent my dad a text.  Not because I was worrying of course.  Just curious.  He didn’t answer.  I put the boys to bed and sat to feed the baby on the sofa that strategically faced the window.

Ok.  I was worried.

About the time I finally admitted it, a taxi drove up.  My dad climbed out.  I craned my neck to see.  One… Two boys climbed out.  Relief flooded me.  Apparently no one had been washed down the river getting their vegetables.  That would have been tragic on so many levels.  I didn’t know why Grampy’s truck hadn’t returned, but that seemed a small casualty by comparison.

They tumbled in, slightly muddy around the edges, and my oldest announced triumphantly, “That was awesome!” The other grinned in agreement. “And turns out I like popcorn!”

The story came out in breathless pieces.  Since they’d had to ford the river, my dad had decided to lock his wallet and cell phone in the car rather than get them soaked in his pocket.  He’d put the key in his pocket.  The pocket had a hole.  The key found it.  Not until they’d returned with their haul of fern heads did they realize they weren’t getting home that way.  So plan B.  Off they walked to find civilization.  A lady at the third house they found welcomed them in to use the phone.  (And fed the intrepid explorers some popcorn.)  Unfortunately they all have come to rely on preset contacts on our phones, so none of them – neither my dad nor either of my kids – correctly knew another phone number.  (We don’t even have a home phone hooked up at the moment and some phone numbers have changed recently.  Don’t judge.)  So they couldn’t call anyone they knew to come to the rescue.  Hence, the taxi ride.

My husband and dad went off to get an extra key and return to the river for the truck.  I checked the boys for ticks and commandeered their trekking clothes in exchange for pajamas.  They trundled off to bed.

I promised to teach them all the important family phone numbers the next morning.  Maybe they don’t need my apron strings anymore, but they do need an open phone line to mom.  The ties that really bind.  May they never forget it.

photo by Grampy
photo by Grampy

I went to bed suddenly much less worried about the vacuum, the yard décor, or the chocolate chips.  Funny how you can lose someone for a few hours, and when you find them again, suddenly nothing else seems so important.  So rejoice with me. They were lost, but now they’re found.  And my freezer is filling with vegetables.  Kill the fatted fiddlehead, let’s celebrate!

Someday

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Teach a kid to write – and then wonder why you took the trouble…

Someday, the coffee table might be for holding coffee rather than hiding diaper boxes.

Someday, the toilet paper roll won’t be empty every single time.  And I won’t find it unrolled down the stairs.

Someday, forks will be considered mindless utensils, not deadly weapons.

Someday, I won’t find rocks and legos in the bottom of the washing machine.  Or underfoot in the middle of the night.

Someday, I won’t be wiping footprints – off the walls.

Someday, there won’t be crayons in the tupperware drawer.

Someday, I’ll have a phone conversation, beginning to end, without being interrupted by a side discussion on the life cycle of octopuses.

The last role
The last role

Someday, there will not be fingerprints in the sticks of butter.  Or teeth marks.

Someday, used tissues won’t be put back into the tissue box.

Someday, my houseplants won’t be home to plastic beetles.

Someday, every sock will be monogamous with its mate.  (In theory).

Someday, I won’t find plastic army men frozen in the ice cube tray.

Someday, I might have to pay workers in a currency other than Skittles.

Someday, my coat pocket won’t have someone else’s used gum wrapped up in it.  And my sleeves won’t wear someone else’s snot.

Someday, I won’t dig up little plastic treasure boxes when I go to the garden to pull some carrots.

Someday, transformers won’t live in my purse.

Someday, pet rocks won’t live on the piano.

Someday, the doorknob won’t be sticky.  And no one will lick the screen door.

Someday, every library book borrowed will have more than 20 pages.  And fewer than 20 pictures.

Someday, I won’t fish someone else’s toenail clipping out of my own eye. (Ouch!)

Someday, my descendants won’t all fit in one bedroom; they may not all fit under one roof!

Someday, I won’t feel like crying over spilled milk.  And cheerios.  All over my cell phone.

Someday, I might be lonely.

Someday, I might think it’s too quiet.

Someday, I might even feel bored.

Someday, the days will seem shorter and the years will stretch longer behind me.

But perhaps someday will eventually remind me that all my yesterdays were worth every minute.

Some days, though, I can’t wait.

At least it was washable
At least it was washable

Love and roast chicken

Grandma came last week.  She picked up my oldest son, my eight year old, for a date in her backyard.  It was a momentous occasion.

It was chicken killing day at Grandma’s.

They gathered the two month old birds that had grown so fat they could barely walk.  They flipped them upside down and quickly, with a sharp knife, ended the deep chickeny thoughts of every one.

My son watched the blood drain out.  And he helped Grandma and Grandpa and their friends move the fluffy bodies through the process, assembly line style, until they had been converted into neat little packages of thighs, breasts, and wings.  White, bloodless, and unrecognizable from their original state.

We ate fresh baked chicken for supper.

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I am 10 weeks pregnant.

Did you know that means I am at the perfect age for an abortion?

If you try much earlier, the risk is much higher that they will miss the little fetus as they scrape out the womb.  The baby is formed enough now that they can recognize all the parts as they pull them out piece by piece- ripped off arms and legs, mangled organs, crushed head, pulsing heart.

I know that is graphic.  I know I’m mostly preaching to the choir.  But I also know they never told me the process when they made it an option. In fact, they made it sound like a sterile, almost alluring choice when I was 21 weeks pregnant with a baby whose spine never completely formed.  And for a moment, I joined the millions of women who feel the panic rising in their throat and wish there was a way out.  And I am very glad I didn’t take it.  But recently I looked it up.  It bothers me.  Blood bothers me.  Death bothers me.

And it should.

The life of the flesh is in the blood… Leviticus 17:11

My son came face to face with death.  He told me the hardest part wasn’t watching the chickens stop breathing.  That was quick, almost painless.  It was pulling out the hearts afterward.  It was the blood.

I know the news has images of thousands murdered in the Middle East.  I know there are wars and rumors of atrocities in many places.  It is horrific.  Barbaric.  And we quickly condemn it from our side of the world, and turn off the screen and go back to our lattes (or laundry, etc.)  But here, in our “civilized” culture, thousands more are being fatally ripped to shreds.  Silently.  In California alone, where most news that hits the front of magazines originates, around 200,000 babies will be ripped from women’s bodies this year.  Hearts still pumping.  And it won’t make the news.  I wonder who shall be judged more harshly?

 

I know this isn’t a fun post.  But this weighs heavy on my heart.  I hate that my country empowers people to sin.  It empowers boys to think they can claim sex as a right, with no fear of personal consequence.  I have boys.  I want to raise men.  Men take responsibility.  That is why I let them see blood (in a controlled environment.)  That is why I go to the trouble to vote, though I don’t like hype and hate the mess of politics and it’s hard to cram so many little bodies around me in a voting cubicle.  If I don’t choose a government who will fight for life on my behalf, I do no better than standing on the sidelines watching the slaughter.   Our country would rather save the animals and kill their own people.  I would much rather eat the animals, and treat people worthy of life.  Jesus did.

He bled to save our life.  It cost him dearly.  But He considered your life worth it.  Babies the age of my newest one will die today.  Let’s not be chickens.  Life is precious and I will fight for it.

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End of rant 🙂