Category Archives: motherhood

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.

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.

Sisterhood of Yesterday’s Pants

I woke up on Saturday.  Yesterday’s jeans lay on the floor where I’d left them.  There was a dried spot of regurgitated milk on the left thigh, and a streak of garden dirt across the shins.  They were stretched out in all the places that you want jeans to stretch in.  But it was Saturday.  Of course, this doesn’t make much difference to a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom of sleep-defying toddlers, whose husband generally works weekends.  So to celebrate in the only way possible, I spit on the laws of the cultural laundry gurus.  And wore yesterday’s pants.
It is true that as a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom of sleep-defying toddlers, whose husband works weekends, I have the right to wear yoga pants pretty much 24-7.  If I want.  But I realized somewhere in the past decade that yoga pants are good for yoga.  And lounging.  And sleep.  And any time you’re not on the clock.  But they are not good for homeschooling, stay-at-home moms of sleep-defying toddlers, whose husbands work weekends.  Because those moms are not doing yoga.  Or lounging.  They are definitely not sleeping.  And they are, almost constantly, on the clock.   They – I – wear a lot of hats.  But more importantly, as chief cook and bottle washer in this joint – I have to wear the pants.

So I make it a point to get dressed every morning, even if I’m not stepping a foot beyond the front porch all day.  The most rebellious I get is wearing yesterday’s pants.  Don’t they say to dress for the job you want, not necessarily the job you have?  I want the job of a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom – who has it all together.
Which I don’t.
I came downstairs on Saturday morning and put some eggs in a pot to hard boil.  My husband left, coffee in hand, for a long day at the store.  He’d come home after the kids were in bed the night before, and wouldn’t be home during the children’s waking hours until the middle of the next day.  So it was my job to hold down the fort.

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The kids pattered down the stairs at exactly 7:02 a.m. (They have to stay in their beds quietly until 7 for the sanity of all humanity.)  Chocolate milk spilled at exactly 7:05.  Yet another of our old Berenstain Bears book covers was ripped off at 7:08.  The first fight of the day was broken up at 7:11 (they were late for the day.)  I nursed the baby for approximately 7 minutes until I remembered the eggs.  All the water was gone and the bottom of the pot was red hot.  So I threw away half a dozen slightly charred eggs around 7:19.  (We eventually got around to eating bananas and cold cereal an hour later.)  We dug through the laundry piles to find clothes for everyone.  I put the toddler’s pants on the 4 month old. I didn’t notice.  The toddler himself never got around to having pants until nearly lunch time.  He uses them as a napkin anyway, so it was probably for the best.

Wearing the pants doesn’t mean I do everything right.  I am tired.  I am frazzled.  Maybe it’s spring where you are, but I have been in the same season for a decade.  It’s the end of a hard school year in a really small house with a crazy toddler and a new baby and oh my the clutter.  My house was built before Americans were hoarders and there isn’t a single closet on the 1st floor and only a couple curtained off storage corners upstairs.  Stuff. Is. Everywhere.  Stuff can own you, not because it’s worth much, but because it requires so much.  Take the dishwasher, for instance.  Please.  It currently stinks because of old food buildup in its drain.  On Saturday, I had to pull on my big girl pants and clean it.  It is slimy down there.  Dark.  Mysterious.  And my almost two year old desperately wanted to join me because clearly it must be fun.  Why else would the lower half of Mommy’s five foot frame keep flailing to keep him from jumping on the dishwasher door and shaking the countertop loose?  It seemed like something out of a bad sci-fi movie where the evil alien slime robot sneaks into the house through the dishwasher drain and sucks unsuspecting homemakers out with yesterday’s congealed oatmeal.  (Which I’m not worried about here, because the drain is so full of yesterday’s oatmeal that he’d have to give up and try the neighbors instead.  We’re safe.)  It was not glamourous.  It did not seem glorious.

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But it was glorious.  It truly was.  I’m learning this.  God is most glorified when I am elbow deep in ancient bacon grease, because I am there doing the work He has given me.  The work of God is generally the dirtiest, most repugnant, least obvious.  It is the most needful.  If Jesus were walking the earth today, He would not be found in a sharp suit next to the proud CEO of a new non profit hospital on the front page.  You would be better off looking for Him holding back the ponytail of the tired single mom cleaning toilets on the old geriatric wing.

And He was there Saturday morning. With me.  Hallowing my dishwasher as I knelt before Him in yesterday’s pants.  One thing I’ve learned – you don’t need to dress up to meet your Maker.  In fact, many a conversation we’ve had as I stood too long in the shower, wishing I didn’t have to get out and face another snotty faced toddler or explain fractions or pay bills or wipe hot foreheads or stinky bottoms or watch my husband stagger as he brings home the hard-won bacon.

He is not God just at weddings and funerals and Sundays.

He is God at 2 a.m. when the whole world minus the baby wants to be sleeping.

He was God on Monday afternoon when the toddler dunked the iPhone in the muffin batter as my husband called to say he’d be working late.

He is God on the 12th round of chemo.

He is still God when good people die and bad men walk free on earth, when white is called black, when wrong is called right.

He is God who makes the sun rise again after a night when the world seems to have spun out of control.

He is God and I am not ashamed for Him to see me in yesterday’s pants because the uniform of the holy is made beautiful by stains of faithfulness.

He is God and He is good.  Even at dawn on Saturday mornings when your phone sounds muffin-y and your house smells like burned eggs and nobody else is wearing pants.  This is holy business, mamas.  This is worship.

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Pride

“Mom, I put deodorant on today.”  My eight year old announced when he came through the door on Friday afternoon.

“Oh, good, honey… What kind?” I asked, wondering if he’d grabbed my stick or my husband’s off the shelf that morning.

“The best smell in the world – beef jerky!” He announced proudly.  He watched my mouth open and close as no sound escaped, and continued brightly, “I chewed it and then rubbed it under my arms.  It’s irresistible!!”

I let my breath out through my teeth.  “Ahh… well, we’ll get you some real deodorant this week.  Then you won’t have to be so… irresistible.

It wasn’t till I walked away and digested his words that I wondered what he’d done with the jerky after using it for his creative purposes…

My list of parenting failures is extensive.  Not only did my oldest smell like garlicky rotten meat, but my toddler rubbed yogurt all over his shirt. My four year old in the wheelchair thinks it’s cute to answer every stranger’s genial hello with a growl.  My six year old is addicted to sugar.  My seven year old finished his dreaded handwriting assignment, then balled it up and tried to eat it in protest. The three month old can’t seem to unplug the painful blocked milk duct through nursing.  And I won’t even tell you I hid in the bathroom to surf Facebook and I realized mice had visited the pasta after I threw it in the boiling water and I forgot to pray and I threw a tantrum about my super small house.  I failed.  And that was just today.  I’m convinced all the pretty and perky moms around me must roll their perfectly made up eyes and gently steer their clean obedient children with white shoes in the opposite direction from this disheveled mom and her motley crew whining in mismatched puddle boots.

I feel like a victim.

Of course, there are some days when I have my ducks lined up in a cute row behind me.  Some days I remember to neither wear white nor black so the dirt smudges, pizza, kid snot and baby drool don’t show quite so well.  Some days a child will read a whole chapter book from his school list without it being assigned, or do a chore without prodding.  Some days they share something other than just germs.  Some days they just want to play with ice cubes rather than something expensive that requires mommy to use any glue or patience.  Some days I not only make a meal plan but follow it.  Some days they eat it too.  Some days I remember I have a husband.  Some days I brave Wal Mart with six kids and a wheelchair and win.  Some days nobody cries.  Not even me.

And I feel like a supermom.

But for my own sake and yours, don’t treat me like either. Both are pretty little lies. From the pit.

If you ever notice me acting like either option, please pull me out of the bathroom where I’m hiding. And take away the empty bag of chocolate.  Hand me a stiff drink of coffee and a Bible and remind me of the servant in Luke 17.  He worked all day in the fields.  When he came in, naturally, he was tired and hungry.  But it was still his duty to make sure his master was fed and attended to before he could rest himself.  This feels uncannily familiar.  I’d like to think this is unfair.  Wouldn’t he be justified to feel like a victim having to do so much every day? And shouldn’t he be rewarded if he did manage to work a long day and continue on through the evening?

No.  He is doing simply what is expected.  Neither more nor less.  The master knows his capabilities.  He furnishes his tools.  He assures the servant of a good meal and sufficient rest when the work is done.  He doesn’t feel sorry for him.  He doesn’t give him a medal for simply doing his daily work.  I don’t know why I’m saying he.   This is personal.

The comment I hear most often is from someone shaking their head murmuring, “You sure are busy!”  As if that’s the most piteous thing in the world.  Granted, I don’t have a lot of downtime.  I can’t tell you the last time I watched a movie or went aimlessly shopping or even found time to blog or shower without some little person popping shamelessly in asking for something.  I’m not a victim because of that.  I have been given great gifts and the responsibility that comes along with them. Throwing pity parties and allowing others to bring cake and allow me to wallow in it is gross.  Is it really so negative to have a full life?  That’s a lie.  From the pit.

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no looking through rose colored glasses here

But to feel like I am somehow capable of raising another six souls to be both smart and wise, both gentle and strong, both quick and careful, both pure and prepared, both confident enough to cook their own goose and yet willing to eat humble pie when justly served- who do I think I am?!?  This work is hard.  No matter how much I love these grubby little creatures that share my DNA, this job is beyond me. Maybe, just maybe, if I had a PhD in nutrition, kinesiology, medicine, teaching, engineering, homemaking, and child psychology – and my kids fit into preconceived boxes – maybe if I could function on an hour of sleep a day, maybe if I had a thousand years, and a maid, and chauffeur, individual tutors, the latest medical interventions, wings, eyes in the back of my head, a mansion, lightning reflexes, sage wisdom, understanding in rocket science, patience, and the ability to see the future- maybe then, I could do this motherhood thing pretty well. But I’m not God. I royally mess this gig up.  Daily.  To think I’m up to this is – say it with me – a lie.  From the pit.

No. I am what I am by the grace of God.  That deserves neither pity nor pride.  I am pushed to the limits, though I often find in the pushing that I go further than I would have taken myself.  That’s not a bad thing.

Beef jerky deodorant, on the other hand…

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Quarter For Your Thoughts

“The first impression of [Israel] was of the strangely small scale of everything. But before nightfall one came to realize that this is an intrinsic part- that God wants to show us nothing is great or small to Him who inhabited eternity in its dimensions of space as well as time. It is a pivot land – and pivots are apt to be small things in the eyes of those who do not understand their meaning.” – Lilias Trotter (From A Blossom in the Desert, page 203.)

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You’ve heard the phrase, “turn on a dime”? Well this time, I turned on a quarter.  Blame inflation.
It was a while in coming. The quarter, I mean. Actually, it was twelve days ago that my son lost it. No, I take that back; he knew where it was. He just couldn’t get it.
It was inside his body.
It stopped briefly in his throat, which took years off my life. (Don’t you hold your allowance in your mouth when you wrestle with your brothers?) But then it passed more calmly into his stomach. It took a leisurely stroll though his intestines. At some point in the last week, it exited the premises. I missed it.
Never has twenty five cents been so anticipated. (Except perhaps when one of my kids is expecting the tooth fairy’s inaugural visit.)
Since it made it successfully though the esophagus, I had decided it didn’t necessitate an Emergency Room visit (I try to save those for brain infections.) But, like any parent with wi-fi would have, I googled possible scenarios. Apparently my five year old isn’t the first to swallow a quarter and forget to chew it first.  Some people said it would pass harmlessly along its way. Unless it didn’t.
So we waited.

the Henry
the Henry

It’s not the first time a child has swallowed something undigestible (other than bubblegum, red dye #40, and good old fashioned dirt).  Ben swallowed my earring when he was ten months old.  But he was wearing a diaper, so checking for a diamond in the rough was a bit easier than with five year old Henry.  That was interesting.

I finally called the doctor.  He recommended an x-ray.  So I trooped all six kids over to the health center, pushing wheelchairs and double strollers across the parking lot against a biting winter wind.  Half a dozen hands smashed the automatic door opener buttons repeatedly until the security guard gently pushed his from inside.  We know how to make an entrance.  I had visions of Child Protection Services storming the double doors behind us and commandeering my children from the unfit mother who feeds her kids pocket change.  Thankfully, it was fairly quick.  We escaped before they arrived.

But driving home, I reflected on the scene.  Who could have thought this would be my life?  I remember being 18 and halfway around the world in college, slightly chubby from having just discovered Nutella, wondering what the future would hold.  The wife of one of the teachers prayed with me one evening.  Afterwards, she described a little rowboat tied up to a dock.  It pulled against the ropes that held it, but couldn’t leave with the outgoing tide.  Not yet.  I was nonplussed.  Was that my life?  I wondered what I had to do to get free from the ropes.  I was ready!  Why couldn’t I go?

For years, I realized, I had been waiting.  Waiting to attain, to grow up.  Waiting for the future.  But I didn’t need to wait anymore.  (Except for bedtime. Always.)  Like many women, I’d been raised with the expectation I would “do something” with my life.  Wife and mom might be some my hats, but not the only.  Why settle?  I could be woman of consequence. I could have a full, meaningful life.  I could effect many lives as a teacher, a journalist, a nurse, or a missionary.

But here I was looking for pocket change in the nether regions of my son’s gut.

Here I was driving a rusting Yukon brim full of car seats and a wheelchair with light-up wheels.

Here I was explaining fractions and proper nouns around the dining room table and trying not to cry over spilled cheerios and milk.

Here I was, wife and motherhood overflowing the twenty four hours of every single day.

And I realized as I left the x-ray building with my ducklings trailing behind, that here, right where I was, I was doing my life’s work.  My magnum opus in puddle boots.  This work, no matter how menial, tedious, and sticky, was my greatest accomplishment. Sure, I could do other things, but nothing of greater consequence or longer lasting effect.  I wasn’t waiting for the big purpose of my life.

I was living it.

In waiting for a quarter, I realized I didn’t need to wait anymore.  I was no longer tied to the dock.  My little ship had sailed.  (Actually, it was rowing across choppy waters breathlessly, but definitely going somewhere.)

I shouldn’t despise the days of small things.  Turns out they’re the pivotal days of my life.

Hope no one has to swallow anything bigger for me to learn the next lesson.  This could get expensive.

The Dull Moment

Call me Ishmael.
I chase an elusive, white-legged, chubby toddler in an endless loop around the cluttered house. He’ll be the death of me if I can’t get him first. And even then…
I was in the shower. A grubby fist poked through the shower curtain. It handed me a cough drop. I took it before the grubby fist could reconsider its offering. The little body connected to the fist ran out of the bathroom, leaving the door open wide. I sighed. I was shivered. I turned off the water and followed the grubby fist into my bedroom. Apparently it had already been through my neatly folded laundry pile on the bed. I pulled the body of the grubby fist out from under my pile of wrinkled t-shirts and plunked it unceremoniously into the pack and play crib that was currently a ball pit.  It squealed joyfully and started flinging the balls out into the laundry pile.

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So went the day.  I’ll spare you the details, but the rest of it involved a hijacked toilet seat, peanut butter, literal lost marbles, a very stiff neck, icicle sword fights, cold spaghetti, an overdose of Curious George, a serious lack of sleep.  Finally, though, it was nearly 10 p.m.  I was oddly tired.

But I absolutely couldn’t go to bed because my husband was trying to do something to ease the ache in my neck.  He had gone across town to buy me ice cream.  Just the right kind.  Now, you might argue that ice cream doesn’t fix stiff necks – or laundry piles mixed with plastic balls – or lack of sleep – or too much Curious George.  And you might be right.  Or maybe you just haven’t tried the right kind.

Either way, though, it was getting late and even good ice cream was sounding less appealing than a thorough night’s sleep (even though I had no aspirations of getting such a thing with a hungry month old baby.)  I rubbed my sore shoulders as I nursed the baby and dejectedly surveyed the cluttered living room.  There was so much I still needed to do before bed if I wanted to maintain my own sanity and/or a path across the floor.  Then the phone rang.

I couldn’t turn my head to see my cellphone perched on the back of the sofa.  But I reached for it blindly.  Was he on his way?  “Well…” My husband hesitated on the other end of the phone.  “Keys work best at unlocking the outside of the car door when they’re not still in the ignition…”  I groaned.  It was now after 10 p.m.  The store was closed.  He was outside waiting for the emergency folks to come.  They hoped to be less than 45 minutes.  It was bitterly cold.  “At least the ice cream’s not melting.” He tried to be upbeat.

I bowed in frustration; feeling the strain of uselessness in my inflamed neck joints.  I wished I could help.  I wished to could run down to the store with an extra key.  But it would have taken me nearly 45 minutes to get all the sleeping kids awake, bundled up, into the car and over to the store.  Besides, I realized, I didn’t have an extra key at home.  I was helpless.

My husband was officially going to freeze to death buying me ice cream that I hardly wanted.  Oh the irony.  And here I was, turning into a pumpkin at the stroke of 10 p.m in a sea of chaos.  Tired, overwhelmed and useless.

“If only it wasn’t winter,” I thought bitterly.  “Than it wouldn’t be so bad.”

“If only my toddler wasn’t such a kleptomaniac…”

“If only the baby slept at normal hours…”

“If only the five year old hadn’t swallowed a quarter and I didn’t have to check for it every time he goes…”  (true story.  We’re still waiting.)

“If only the kids wouldn’t fight over Every. Single. Lego…”

“If only my house was bigger…”

“If only my neck wasn’t so sore and stiff…”

In the quiet of that moment, a phrase crossed my tired mind.

“The Lord is giving you this good land not because of your righteousness – for you are a stiff-necked people.”  (Deuteronomy 9:6)

Ooh.  Was this getting personal?

was a stiff-necked people.  That much rang true.

I had been given a land full of white-knuckled little giants.

The land was flowing with milk and honey – both flowed around here, all right.  Usually off the table.  Mixed with Cheerios.

And I was stubbornly looking at this rugged, beautiful promised land as if it could be conquered by my own strength.

Foolish, proud, stiff-necked woman!  How many sore shoulders and swallowed quarters would it take to convince me of my insufficiency?  “Don’t answer that,” I grimaced in prayer.  “I don’t want to know. Just help me, Lord, to be brave as I live in the land full of lego-crazed natives.  I don’t know how to survive here.  I don’t even know how to keep houseplants alive, yet You’ve brought me to this strange new land.  My body feels its limitations.  My mind can’t seem to adjust to a new normal.  My soul feels hungry.  I’m coming up short.  I love my family, this wild wild wilderness of motherhood, the adventure.  But God, I just don’t know how…

The land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end.”  (Deuteronomy 11:11-12)

It’s a whale of a job, this motherhood thing.  It’s not (just) because I’ve recently had a 6th child in 8 years.  Motherhood is challenging even with one.  No, motherhood is impossible – even with one.  Ideal, perfect motherhood is impossible.  I could chase it my whole life and never quite grasp it.  But I’m not expected to.  I’m just supposed to take the step onto the green grass of the new land.  And another.  And another.  And trust God to take of the rain.

And the whales.

And the ice cream.  (Which I ate when my husband got home.  Because it would have been ungrateful not to.)

In that silent moment, stuck on the couch amidst a sea of chaos, I gave up the chase. And went to bed.  For a few minutes anyway.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

I’m nesting.

Baby clothes are washed.  Everyone’s fingernails have been clipped.  Those cobwebs in the corner were finally vacuumed.  Groceries are stocked.  Grandma is standing by the phone.

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This pregnancy has nearly reached its magnum opus.  Soon I’ll get to hold the baby in my arms rather than waddling like a hippo-sized penguin with it balanced under my belly button.  The anticipation is growing, and I want everything to be ready.

Unfortunately, I am not one of those who make neat, tightly woven nests. I’m flighty, as bird-brained as they come – and that’s when I’m not even pregnant.  Add homeschooling, five little boys, and general homemaking in a little house, and life gets messy.  Really messy.

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It was about 7:00 yesterday evening that I had to admit the truth.  Grandma had graciously helped me with laundry all day, even changing the sheets on the top bunk beds (always an adventure, even when you’re not pregnant).  I had just pulled the toddler from the bath.  A second later, the little streaker raced into our bedroom, clambered onto the freshly laundered white sheets, snuggled down next to the pillows with a huge grin… And peed.

That was when I should have started humming, “Let it go… let it go…”  But I couldn’t.  It did bother me.  I stood there, diaper in hand, staring face to face with reality (and a happy naked baby on a wet mattress.)  Everything is not going to be ready for this new baby.  No matter how hard I’ve tried…

It would be nice to plan a birth like we do a wedding, every detail accounted for right down to the weather.  But every baby born in a snow storm is proof that God has other ideas.

You’d think I’d know this by my sixth child.  You can’t prepare for a miracle.  Not really, even though you know it’s coming.  There is a new soul coming into the world.  A new promise.  A new person.  Sure, you can buy diapers, make freezer meals, and practice deep breathing for labor, but you can’t be really be ready to carry the weight of a fragile new life in your arms.

I’ve thought of Jesus often recently.  He steadfastly set his face toward Jerusalem in the weeks before his death.  He prepared himself.  He prepared his friends.  But still, the night before his gruesome torture, he wrestled with control.  Jesus had complete control of his destiny.  And it was the one thing he had to give away.

My body will be held by others even as his was.

I will go through contractions much like he bore every lash of the whip.

Others will cover me in clothes I would rather not wear (those darn one-size-fits-none hospital jonnys) just as they clothed him in robes to mock his kingship.

I will bleed and cry in anguish for another even as he did.

Through pain, I will give life to someone helpless to live unless I do this. Just like Jesus.

After the marathon of birth, I will carry and sustain a new life that won’t say thank you or appreciate all I’ve done for it, similar to what Jesus bears in our salvation.

I will lose control of everything that is comfortable and predictable in my life for the joy set before me.  Just like he did – for me.

Can I be so bold as to associate my own life with the life of God himself?    I think we – as mothers – are given this singular chance to carry in our own bodies the death of Jesus so that his life will be revealed by it.  (2 Corinthians 4:10).

This amazing miracle can only happen as I give over control of every little detail of my own life.  Sweat, pain, tears and humiliation will birth a new, perfect, fearfully and wonderfully made masterpiece.  There is no other way.

And this little masterpiece will fill my heart with joy like nothing else on earth.  And then it will pee on my bed.

I give up.

This nesting thing is for the birds.

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Heard

My heart caught in my throat with every dusty step closer to Shiloh.  It had been fourteen hard miles of walking.  I hadn’t walked the familiar road in over three years.  But today, landmarks passed all too quickly.  The time had come.

My husband walked beside me, a child on his shoulders.  His child.  But not mine.  He had several children before I ever did.  Oh, I’d been at their births.  I sometimes held them in the night as infants.  I had cleaned them, cooked for them, cuddled them as toddlers.  But I am not their mother; they neither truly love nor respect me.

I was at my husband’s wedding too.  His.  But not mine.  We had already been married for years.  But they were childless years.  And, by tradition, he could break my heart without breaking his vows to me because I’d given him no children.  He took another wife.  Peninnah is younger than me, sensuous, voluptuous,  and apparently vitally fertile.  Almost as soon as she entered my house she was with his child.  I watched her grow.  I listened as she commiserated with all the neighboring mothers about pregnancy aches and cravings.  They grew silent when I went by, but they shouldn’t have bothered.  I’d never felt the twinge of a contraction, but I understood aches and cravings only too well.

What did God want from me anyway?  I tried to be a good woman.  I tried to be a big girl about everything, even though I felt like a too-small woman with too-big hips and a soul-breaking loneliness.  I tried not to imagine I could be a better mother than those who so thoughtlessly bore growing broods.  I tried to find a reason, physical or spiritual, why I was denied the good thing that I so wanted.  I tried not to think it was all unfair.

It was at the annual feast several years ago that I thought of another woman engraved forever in the history of my family.  Approximately five hundred years had passed between her heartache and mine, but the pain we shared was similar.  Jochebed had birthed a child with a death sentence on his little head.  Moses.  The only way for him to live was for her to give him away.  Because of her sacrifice, an entire nation was rescued from slavery and given a future.  Of course she didn’t know that when she handed him to another to raise him.  Maybe she would have preferred he grow up to be a nobody if it would have meant she could have kept him.  But she didn’t.  She couldn’t.  She gave him away.

Maybe that was what God was asking me.

The thought was at first too terrible.  How could I give up the only thing I really wanted?  Could God ask me to hand over my own child?  I had the sinking feeling that what God wanted from me was the one thing I felt too dear to give Him.  My marriage, my house, my very bedroom were not mine.  Must I give up my hope of a child too?

It seems to me God rules a backwards kingdom.  He uses the weak things to reveal His strength.  He makes us poor to prepare us to accept real wealth.  He kills first – then makes alive.  I had nothing, but it was everything He wanted from me.

Yes.  I finally answered Him, great sobs wracking my body as I bowed in the dust of the tabernacle.   Yes.  If You give me a child, I will give his life back to You.  Forever.

Immediately, I felt a hand on my back.  I looked up through a blur of tears.  The high priest himself was standing over me with a frown.  I knew I must look a sight.

“Are you drunk?”  He asked sternly.

The thought made me start to giggle.  I had never been more sober in my entire life!  “No, sir!”  I panted as I brushed at my wet cheeks.  “No, I’ve just poured out my broken heart to God.”  That’s all.  I blubbered piteously.

The grandfatherly man stared hard at my face, as if seeing right into my soul.  Then suddenly he patted my arm assuringly.  “Then go in peace.  And God give you what you asked.”

In that moment, suddenly, I just knew God had heard me.  He had.  The struggle was over.  I nearly skipped home.  I even smiled at Peninnah as we stepped on each other’s toes in the kitchen.  I laughed with my husband.  I enjoyed the kids’ antics as we packed up to go home after the feast.  I was at peace.

And wouldn’t you know it, the woman everyone said couldn’t have a baby – she got pregnant!  I got pregnant!  Within weeks, I was sick as a dog every morning and a hormonal mess of emotions every night.  It was wonderful.   Before the year was over, I, of all people, had a son.  Samuel.  Because God had heard me.

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Now, his dark hair fell in long ringlets across his forehead as I carried him the last mile to Shiloh.  We’d never cut it, never would.  It was a reminder to him – and me – that he was special to God.  Set apart.  Promised.

This special child, this promised child, a tired mess of three year old curiosity and dirt and noise and rebellion and laughter, this answer to prayer child – I brought him to the high priest, Eli,  in Shiloh.  I hadn’t seen the man since that momentous day about four years ago, tears streaking my desperate face.  But apparently he remembered me.  His grandfatherly smile of recognition faded into surprise as I haltingly explained my mission.  The words hurt.  “This is the child for whom I begged God.  This is His child.  But not mine…”

How I wanted that old man, Eli, the priest, to say no.  No, this can’t be right.  I’m too old to take the responsibility for raising a child.  He’s too young to be trained as a priest.  I couldn’t even train my own children to follow God. I can’t believe God would tell you to do this.  How awkward.  How difficult. How very backwards.

But he didn’t.  I’d known he wouldn’t.  God had prepared us both for this.  Eli stood for a long minute, silently staring at me.  Then, slowly, he bent down and looked as Samuel.  The boy with dark hair stared back at him with big curious eyes.  Eli reached out and gently took Samuel’s small grubby fingernails in his large, gnarled grip.   “Come, Samuel.”  He said simply.  “I need your help.”  Together the old man and the boy walked into the tabernacle.  And away from me.

I took a shaky step backwards.  My husband was there, silent through the whole exchange, but ready to catch me as I recoiled from my mission.  Two big tears rolled down my cheeks.  I had fully expected to lose it right there at the door of the tabernacle, for all of Israel to see.  I expected to feel like a horrible failure of a parent, even though I knew this was the path I must take.  But I didn’t.  Peace enveloped me.  Oh, I was sad.  Intensely sad.  I’d just given back the most precious treasure I’d ever been given.  I had just handed over everything I’d ever wanted.  And I had expected to feel empty.

But that’s the thing.  In this backwards kingdom, when you give God everything, you are left with more than you had before.  I was suddenly overwhelmed with awe that I had been entrusted to bear this most sacred of God’s treasures – the life of a child – simply in order to hand it back.  A loan.  All this child’s short life, I had known he was set apart.  He was special.

I suppose all children are special.  Miracles, really.  But over years of dirty diapers and tantrums and mud baths and whining and testing and expenses and homework and hormones, it is easier for the miracle to fade into hindsight.  With the short time I shared with Samuel, I never forgot he was a gift.  I felt so rich to have known the value.  Even for a little while.

I spent the rest of that week getting Samuel settled in with Eli and his wife. We all shed some tears, but we had been prepared for the transition as much as anyone can be.  Finally, I went home.  Samuel stayed.  He grew there.  I grew too.  In fact, I got pregnant five more times.  Every time, a miracle.  I knew that very well.  Over the next decade, I often got to bring a new brother or sister to meet Samuel when we went to Shiloh on feast days.  I’d always bring him a new coat too.  He grew fast.  He became a man, he got married, he had my first grandchildren.  He became the confidante of God Himself, a messenger to our people.  He crowned the first and second kings of Israel.  God calls him by name.

I am blessed among women.  I realize now that God not only wanted all of my son – He wanted all of me. Those memories of aching that led me to make that desperate vow – they still sting.  I’ve held the hands of many women since those dark days, women just as desperate and longing for a family.  It hurts to feel forsaken, even by God.  But I know now, I wasn’t forgotten.  I wasn’t alone in that dark, silent place.  I was wanted.  I was loved.  I was heard.

 

Ring Around the Bathtub

It was 10 pm before I sat down to refold the laundry.  Yes, refold.  The three year old had decided we didn’t do it right the first time.  Or I wasn’t quick enough to get it put away.  Silly me.  I guess I should have learned the first (hundred) times it happened.

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It’s been hard to roll out of bed recently.  Not just because horizontal and pregnant don’t mix.  The tedium of another day refereeing uncooked-spaghetti fencing matches while reciting multiplication facts just doesn’t have great allure.  The discipleship of snotty nosed natives seems slow and unclear.  I know I am called to this.  But it doesn’t change the feeling I’m spiraling out of control.  Sometimes.  Every few minutes.  Like when the baby proved he could fit four marble-sized angry birds in his mouth without choking to death.  While standing on a rickety chair.  While I was getting a french manicure applying Desitin to serious diaper rash on another kid.  While the schoolboys escaped from their books to have a dirty-spoon war.  On the trampoline.  In the rain.  When we were late for an appointment.

They say the days of motherhood are long but the years are short.  Currently, they feel endless, a constant cycle of dishes and meal planning, diapers and saying no.  Repeatedly.  I guess it is a cycle.  An orbit.  And, Darth Vader-style, I’m heading to the dark side.  The nights are getting longer and the year is getting shorter.  Winter is coming.

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Seasons aren’t bad.  The time for pumpkin-everything is passing.  Soon the spicy smell of pine will fill the crisp air.  Frost will outline every stubborn blade of grass.  The kids will come inside with red noses and jockey for the first cup of cocoa.  The transition of seasons is beautiful in New England.  But winter is a hard season, nonetheless.  And while I’m buried elbow deep in the muck of motherhood, I am aware of the hardships ahead.

I know nearby there’s a suddenly-single mom facing her first meager Christmas alone with the kids.

I know there’s a young grandmother with breast cancer planning her holidays around chemotherapy treatments.

I know some parents who expected to hold their newborn in the quiet hours of the winter nights but instead watched him born straight into heaven.

I know a husband writing letters from his jail cell to a family he lost to his own selfishness.

It will be a long, dark season.

I know that nights are simply part of days, no matter how late I stay up with the lamps on and pretend I can extend daytime indefinitely.  Light is good.  I was made to live in light.  But eventually I have to admit it’s dark.  There is a time for this.  If I never went to bed, I would never be prepared for a new day’s dawn.  Or prepared for the children jumping on the bed when the clock strikes first daylight.

The Bible doesn’t say anything about living it up in this life.  We are simply here to live it out.  Hour by hour, day by day.  I can’t actually spiral out of control if I’m plodding along a set course.  If I’m orbiting the sun, I can be confident that eventually the nights will get shorter.  Spring will come again.  We’ll be a little older, hopefully a little wiser.  Over the winter, this will be very tangible, since I expect to go through the hard pains of labor contractions and sleepless nights.  But when spring comes, a very real new soul will exist.  New life.  Born in the darkness.  Born in the cold.  Blossoming with first smiles just as the sun thaws the hard ground.

God has never promised me comfort.  In fact, it often seems like when I’m doing everything right, I’m most uncomfortable.  These hard, uncertain, breathless seasons – they are good.  Not easy.  But I don’t grow when I’m sitting on the couch with a bag of chips watching Pride and Prejudice.  Well, maybe I’ll grow sideways, or grow discontent because they had servants to help them into pretty dresses and I can’t even find comfy sweat pants in the pile of clothes I still haven’t put away.  But I won’t grow better.  Diamonds only grow under pressure, in darkness, over time.

It takes time to learn lessons that are timeless.

We are appointed to this (I Thessalonians 3:3).  So I mother on, refolding the laundry.  Eating cold leftovers.  Saying no.  Pretending to like bugs.  Plodding, slow, steady, hand in hand with a toddler, going around till it comes around.  Or I step on a lego in the dark.  Whichever comes first.

Sunset over Mount Olympus

A Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.

But at the time, I didn’t realize it.

It was one of the times I walked into the grocery store with my brood.  There were boys in the cart, around the cart, under the cart, and every other preposition physically possible.  I scraped one child off the side as the automatic entrance doors stopped opening abruptly, as if they weren’t expecting to accommodate a load that wide.

We took our time (that’s how you do it with kids), heaped groceries in every cranny of the cart where there wasn’t a body, and eventually made it to the checkout without too much drama and only a few scratches from the fight over who got to hold the bacon.

The lady smiled with recognition as she looked up from the register.  She often worked the day we normally appeared.  Groceries bounced onto the conveyor belt as my minions exuberantly raced to heap produce on the moving counter.  A bunch of bananas arched over my head.  The three year old reached for the extra pennies he had recently discovered always live in a little bowl by the kiosk.  He smiled a joyful grin at the grandmotherly clerk. “Shiny!” He boasted.  He glanced at me subversively as he tucked the treasure down into his lap.  I frowned at him.  This petty-penny-theivery threatened to become a habit and I was cracking down.  I unclasped his hand myself to avoid a battle of wills if I asked him to do it himself.  We were so close to the exit.  I didn’t want to force a showdown when we were nearly done.

“Do you want help out?” The checkout lady asked as she handed me the long receipt.  I shook my head, returning my usual response, “It’s ok, I bring my help with me.”

The answer generally satisfies, but that day, the woman leaned over with a grandmotherly furrow in her brow.  “At least here, you can get help when you need it…” My eyes snapped up to search hers.  Was she implying that having so many kids was impossible to do alone? Or did she feel the urge to call the Department of Human Services to alert them that a woman was leaving the building with too many children to be considered safe?  Who in their right mind would have five young boys by choice, after all?  I decided to go with the least imprecatory option.  It was nice to be offered help with a big load of groceries.

“No thanks.” I said with certainty. “We’ve got this.”  And believe it or not, we managed.

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But I mulled it over as I loaded the car, buckled in babies, and peeled bruised bananas to keep the backseat drivers occupied.  It is an extension of grace to be offered help, and I mean to respectfully treat it that way always.  But what I have is children.  Not a disease.  I don’t need chemo.  These are my blessings, and I mean to treat them that way always.  No matter how others think.

The LORD has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does…

Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them.

Make the LORD of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life.  He is the one you should fear.  He is the one who should make you tremble.

(from Isaiah 8:11-13, NLT)

I shudder to think what my sons will face as they grow into men.  Devaluing of human life, government corruption, a super sized handout culture, sex, lies, and whatever has replaced rock and roll… It’s scary.  It will hurt them.  And sometimes I do go down that path to Pity City.  Sometimes I get overwhelmed.  I really must be crazy to think I can properly manage a big young brood.  The looks I get when I’ve got my ducklings waddling behind me, wheelchair in tow, baby on my hip, nerf gun bullets whizzing past my head…  Clearly I am recklessly bearing offspring with no control of my fertility or my husband, and am ruining my financial future and stomping all over the fragile environment with my huge carbon footprints.  Tragic.

But sometimes I take the other path, up the trail to Perspective.  The view is much better from there.  The idea that five children is a big family is newfangled.  The belief that it is a bad thing is unfounded, in fact, antithetical to all evidence from tradition and history.  It is only very recent culture that looks short-sighted down its nose at a growing family unit.  It is the vocal consternation from a few that makes the masses recoil at the sight of a car with so many car seats. The very first command God gave to the very first couple was “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).  Though there are (good) reasons not to have a lot of kids, I haven’t had one personally yet that overrides this first basic command.  “It’s hard” just isn’t a good enough excuse.

People don’t stay at the crossroads between the two cities.  When they see me, they immediately have an opinion, and often share it.  No one is ambivalent, and somehow it still surprises me the force of conviction I encounter.  Call me crazy and stupid, or set me on a tippy pedestal.  Everyone wants to either slap me silly or pat me on the back.  I guess they did the same to Jesus.  It’s funny, really; I’m just walking the path I’ve been set upon.  And it is covered with legos.

“I and the children the LORD has given me serve as signs and warnings to Israel from the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.  (Isaiah 8:18)

For better or worse, I guess I’m going with Isaiah on this one.  I will just keep on walking, and watch our simple existence affect the people we meet.  Isaiah ended up dying a horrific death for walking the road he was set on.  But he did also write a big chunk of the Bible.  Unfortunately, he left out one key part of the story.  How did he manage his cartload in the grocery store?  I wish I knew…