Monday, June 20, 2016

random Monday check in

Hello, world.



I'm still here.
Today is my second full day in a new year of life.

I'm not sure what's becoming of my blog lately, but my brain still churns words...they spill out like mismatched socks from the laundry basket that Felix shoves down the hall with all his toddler strength, grunting and leaning into it with his whole weight, the way I need to do some days to make it through to the end.

Today isn't one of those hard days, though.

The children and I made it through grocery shopping for the week with good spirits intact (one twin-on-twin hair pulling in the checkout line resulted in an instant fistfight, but it was quickly deescalated into sniffles from the victim and angry squint-eye silence from the aggressor). This alone is almost a minor miracle, because grocery shopping with everyone in tow can be hard (and they were stocking inventory today, which meant extra difficulty driving the giant double-wide cart around the boxes and pallets in the center of the aisles).

We went to the library, where everyone almost remembered their library manners and library voices. Sam's long-awaited Mossflower was finally there (it's been on hold for over a week, which I'm sure has felt like a lifetime to him in his anxiety to read it, since he's re-read Redwall three times while he was waiting). We had leftover pasta salad for lunch, which is basically heaven and requires almost no cleanup (and the one person who wasn't thrilled about it didn't complain more than a little).

After lunch, people headed off to their rooms for naps/rest time without an issue (save the one girl who has to come out seven or eight times every single day under guise of needing to go to the bathroom again and tell me what's on her mind). When all was quiet, I went out to the garden, planted the delphinium and daylilly plants I rescued from the clearance rack at Wal-mart and transplanted two succulents to the little red colander (the thyme didn't really like it in there). I watered everything, noticed the lavender is blooming and rejoiced to see that some marjoram and chamomile have come up in the herb patch and that there are really happy cucumbers in the corner. The black raspberries are ripening and the coneflowers are in the early stages of going crazy and there's more mint than I know what to do with.



On my way back in, I had a text from my sister in Alaska. You've got mail. Heart leaping, I walked calmly like a grownup to the mailbox and peeked in. Sure enough, she'd sent me a birthday package.


I am so glad my sister still believes in sending people new CDs. 

It's not that there haven't been struggles. There are always little things that go wrong, spill, get torn, or are stepped upon in someone's carelessness. 

It's just that today, somehow, I have handled the inevitable ups and downs with grace and humor...and when I look around at the dishes in the sink and the spilled potting soil on the back deck and the unfolded laundry next to the unwashed laundry next to the unsorted laundry, I just feel like smiling because I can't believe that I get to be the person who gets to live this beautiful life.

Things are going to be okay after all.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Parenting distracted (how I burned the oatmeal)


This morning, I burned the oatmeal.
I burned the oatmeal because we were watching the garbage truck.

For years now, there’s been at least one garbage truck enthusiast in my family, and someone always rushes to the window when we hear the familiar whoosh of his brakes and the ka-chunk, ka-clunk of the trash can being picked up by the mechanical arm. This morning, three children clamored to go out to the porch so we could watch him all the way down the street.

This morning, I said yes.

I stood still on the porch in my bare feet and held my breath along with them, only taking my eyes off the garbage truck to watch the wonder and awe on their faces. The driver saw us and blew the horn as he often does. As we waved, I wondered if he has as much fun picking up our trash as we do watching him.

Then, I smelled it- the hot, starting-to-smoke smell of forgotten oats on the stovetop, oats whose simmer had turned to a boil and then boiled dry enough to coat the bottom of the pot with a dark, sticky mess.


It happened so fast.

As I salvaged the top layers and filled the pot with soapy water, I felt the familiar pangs of self-criticism. I should have been paying more attention. That’s what I get for focusing on only one thing. That’s what I get for treasuring the moment.

Parenting is really all about living with distraction. We pretend we can change this by mindfully focusing on the moment we’re in, but there is no parenting without multitasking. Life is a constant balance of paying attention to five things at once without seeming to be paying less than full attention to any of them.

I keep running into friends and strangers who tell me with grave eyes and low voices that I shouldn’t let a moment slip by, that I should be enjoying every second, because it all passes too fast.

I know it seems this way.

In the middle of it, though, in the thick of wiping noses and bottoms and cleaning up spills so no one will fall (and retrieving the first aid kit when someone does anyway), in the center of long days filled with meal-snack-meal-snack-meal and lots of arbitrating sibling wars about who got the best plastic plate at lunch yesterday, in the throes of deciding if we absolutely have to take baths tonight when everyone clearly just needs to go to bed (or if we can hold on for one more day), I can’t imagine how “treasure every moment” is even a thing.

Why do people say that?

It simply isn’t possible.
Things are slipping by me all the time.

Things constantly slip by- like that black marker that someone smuggled into the laundry room and used to write all over the washer and dryer. Or the book that someone tore the pages out of to use for drawing paper. Or the hand soap in the bathroom that somehow stole (apparently unaided) into a bedroom where it hid under the bed to use itself as doll shampoo.

These things absolutely slipped by. Unfortunately, they are burned into my memory…I rather wish I could forget them instead of treasuring them in my heart.

I know there are more precious things I'm missing, too- the face Felix was making as he joyously smeared his oatmeal in his hair (which I missed because I was pouring juice for Nora). The look of triumph in Nora’s eyes when she correctly identified buttercups in the yard and picked all of them for me (which I missed because I was comforting the screaming Lucy, who couldn’t find any buttercups to pick). The joyous victory of Sam, who triumphed over his long struggle to cross the monkey bars sideways on his 17th attempt (which I missed after watching the first 16 attempts because Felix face planted onto the patio just as Sam began making his way across again).

I know I’m missing things. I hear it all the time. “Mama! You weren’t looking!”

Maybe this is the real reason I haven’t had enough energy for online community lately…there is so much going on here that cries out for my attention. It’s not just the children, of course- there is the always regenerating pile of laundry and the constant quest to figure out what we’ll have for dinner when I reach the end of my meal planning rope. There are big life events and big social events and big church events…and the little, pesky things like library deadlines and oil changes and the broken knob on the dryer.

I know everyone has these things to think about.

I feel guilty when I miss something or forget to follow through on one of the many requests that come to me each day, and I convince myself that the rest of you are doing a better job keeping up than I am.

I bet the rest of you don’t always notice everything, either, do you?

My deepest fear is that I am not doing enough- that too many things are slipping by me, that I’m dropping the ball too often, that I am not up to the challenge of what is set before me. I’m not talking about distractions that aren’t worthy of my time and focus. I’m talking about the good stuff- reading aloud, eating good food, gardening, being outside with the kids, nurturing creativity (mine and others’), writing thank you notes, spending special time with each of those who have been placed in my life.

There is not enough time to do everything and certainly not enough to do everything well at once.

I’m not sure why I think I have to be perfect. I certainly wouldn’t hold any of you to that standard- and if you told me you were feeling bad about not measuring up, I’d be the first to tell you all the ways you are incredible- not just for what you do, but for who you are.

You’re enough. And so am I. We just need to believe it.

It’s unfair, this idea that we should somehow try to hold all the things in front of us and not miss any of them. When every moment of parenting is supposed to be sacred, there is no room for the remarkable moments to stand out. Everyday things can be holy, it’s true- I base a lot of my work on this idea, and I firmly believe it. But thinking that every single ordinary moment has to be an extraordinary one or that every second is a memory we’re about to miss if we don’t pay attention and capture it is too much pressure.

Today, I’m reminding myself that no one ever treasured it all.
Today, I’m letting myself off the hook.
Maybe it’s not possible to have perfect oatmeal and to be fully present in the garbage truck watching moment. Maybe instead of doing everything perfectly at the same time, we’re going to have to start making some hard choices about where our energy and focus are going.

Today, I chose the garbage truck…and the oatmeal was still basically edible.

What about you? How do you decide where to look when everything that calls for your attention is worthy of it?

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Taking stock...homeschool evaluation time




Our homeschool evaluator is coming on Friday. This naturally makes me reflective as I help Sam look back over our year and choose things he'd most like to show to her as part of the evaluation.

As he picks through his history notebook and slides drawings of Roman soldiers and diagrams of Egyptian pyramids into page protectors, I think about all the things we've done this year and type out a list of what he's studied: history, spelling, languages (Latin and Spanish), movie making, bread baking, astronomy, art, piano, music from the Baroque period, grammar, multiplication. It's all important and it sounds impressive to me when I list it out.



But there's the bigger life stuff: how not to overwater your seeds when you are an excited new gardener. How to use pi to determine how much gravel you need for your backyard fire pit. How to share a room with a toddler who loves you so much and messes up all your stuff. How to separate laundry so your white shirts won't turn grey. How to not buy that Playmobil guy you want with your allowance so that you can save up for the Playmobil dragon set you really want. How to persist through part of a book that's kind of boring so you can get to the good part that's coming. How to know when you've invested enough time in a book that's not for you and should just move on to a new one. How to respond to that retired NASA engineer who called you and your cousin out for running in the space center when we went on a field trip. How to channel your frustration when the parachute experiment doesn't work right the first eight times you try it (and you just want to cry and give up).

Learning is so much bigger than school.

Here, at the end of our third year of homeschooling, what I see is that homeschooling for us isn't really as much about "school" as I thought it would be. It's more about making space for the curiosity and love of learning that already exist here. It's fanning sparks into flame. It's giving the gift of time to let passions grow slowly and to explore them deeply. It's reading a lot of books, going outside to play and pretend to be characters from those books, and then coming back inside to read some more.


I didn't start out to homeschool, and I said it would be a year-to-year decision. I still feel like we have made the right choice for our family, but my reasons are slightly different now than when we started. When we began, I was mostly concerned about what Sam wouldn't get to address his unique needs in our public school.

Now, this year, the main thing I see is time.


Our time is our own, and still, I feel there's never enough of it. Every day feels full from start to finish with projects, ideas, crafts, tasks, talks, meals, games, and books. When I think about what it would cost in time to have Sam leave for hours every day to go to school, I think he can't afford it...and neither can I.

As parents and educators, we talk a lot about how the early years are the formative ones, the "window" in which we have the greatest opportunity to give our little ones a great start in life.

Hanging out every day with my now seven-and-a-half year old, I'm so grateful that the window is still open- that I still have the chance to spend my days with him, that my influence is still strong, that he can stretch his growing brain and his growing muscles here with us and that we can share in the process.


When the evaluator comes, she'll see his carefully-compiled portfolio of work, of course, but she'll also see him...a person who has grown and changed exponentially this year since she last talked with him. And despite the frustrations and the sometimes chaotic, always noisy environment here, seeing that progress strengthens my resolve to continue to do this work that's before me. He's blossoming. He's curious and passionate and interested and interesting. Yes, we'll still be homeschooling next year. What exactly that will look like depends on lots of different things...but the further down this path we go, the less "homeschool" looks like "school at home" for us...and the happier I am about that.



Wednesday, April 20, 2016

On radio silence, life overwhelm, and dormant creativity



I sometimes think that consistency will elude me forever.

Is it impossible for me to blog properly and post at regular intervals? Probably not. Maybe I lack focus or am too undisciplined. Maybe I just have too many interests to plug away at one constantly. Maybe my time is too limited to justify pouring all my energy into one thing when there are so many things I could be doing.

Maybe I've just been struggling a little under the sadness of losing two of the most important people in my life so close together.

Whatever the reason, I haven't had the energy to write and publish here in a while. I'm grateful for those of you who checked on me to see if I was okay. I'm also grateful for those of you who will come back and read my words again now that they are starting to flow. Thank you.

The hardest thing about being a writer is that when one does not write, neither does one fully live. Although I sometimes don't feel like writing, the side effects are unpleasant. Without the lens of words helping me to make sense of my days and thoughts and feelings, things get jumbled up and are hard to untangle. I haven't found the words yet to write about my grandmother's death and the pain of having to miss her funeral. I expect those words might come. In the meantime, though, I need to be writing again...and I'd like to be sharing here with you.

To get things started, I'm joining in the #100daysproject. This project is an effort to do creative work for 100 days in a row. While I won't be publishing here for 100 days in a row, I am going to post a photo on Instagram and share some thoughts there with the hashtag #100daysofholylens. Photography as a spiritual discipline works for me as a way to remind myself that ordinary life is beautiful. Even when things feel pretty terrible, God is with us, and His fingerprints are everywhere. We only need to look for them in the tiny, beautiful, holy moments of our days.



If you want to join me, even if you can't post every day, you're welcome to share my hashtag so we can find each other.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Five-Minute Friday: Morning.



I'm confused at first, not quite sure where or when I am, limbs heavy and mind foggy in the gray pre-dawn. It's one of those mornings when the night has bled over, spilling its burdens into the next day. Some nights, no matter how long they are, seem insufficient to contain the things that happen...the rush of feelings, the raised voices, the teething baby, the wakeful child's nightmare, toys thrown at a wall in fury, the limp, helpless aftermath of rage.

Gripping my mug and waiting for the coffee to finish brewing, I remember. This day is new. I may have just arrived, but Jesus is already here. God is still God, over the night that has passed and over the day to come. I haven't made any mistakes yet, and although I surely will before the sun gets too much higher in the sky, God's mercies are new every morning.

The morning always comes.
No matter how long the night, there is eventually morning again.
Morning by morning new mercies I see.

I sip my coffee and it tastes like mercy.




Wednesday, February 10, 2016

love, sacrifice, and a jar of beans



Well, it's begun...the annual tradition of putting beans in the jar for sacrifices we make for each other.

The first few days of it always frustrate me to death. I model it for the children. See, when we do something sacrificial out of love for someone, we can put in a bean. They get excited and start running to tell me about all of their little sacrifices- Mama! I picked up a crumb off the floor and it wasn't my crumb! Mama! I put my toys away! Mama! I flushed someone else's pee down the potty! Beans fly from the bowl to the jar. The bowl gets tipped over. Kids start fighting about whether something they have done "deserves" a bean or not. Honestly, I kind of dread it...the grabby hands, the beans everywhere, the constant interruptions to tell me why they need to put in another bean.

This morning, my day started too fast and left me running to catch up. I found myself at the table with my Bible while my children were dumping too much cereal into their bowls and spilling it all over the floor.

I decided to read the passage aloud instead of keeping it to myself.

Let us love. 
not in word or speech
but in truth and action.

We talked. What does it look like to love in action? What does it mean if we ignore a chance to help someone? What does it mean that Jesus laid down his life for us? And how should we respond?

A growing realization crept over me as we talked...that this annual flood of bean-related frustration is an opportunity for me to practice the very thing I'm preaching. Even the smallest sacrifice is an act of love. Who cares how many beans they put in? What if we actually run out of beans? Is there a scarcity of beans in the world? Is there a scarcity of love to be shown in action?

Nope. There isn't. And it isn't my job to limit the love they show to each other, even in the most seemingly insignificant ways. To limit the beans is to place restrictions on their expressions of God's love to each other...and that's not my role. That's not the mother I want to be. I want to be the mother who shows them that the length and breadth and height and depth of God's love is more than we can grasp...that it surrounds us and wraps us up like the very biggest, fuzzy blanket they can imagine.

I have trouble believing this myself, but I want them to believe it.

There's a wideness in God's mercy
Like the wideness of the sea
, the song says.

I can't really fathom God's love, but I can picture the sea, stretching as far as I can see in every direction, seemingly limitless.

God's mercy cannot be counted on beans, even if we had all the beans in the universe and a jar as big as the state of Texas.

And so, let them do their sacrifices. Let them practice love at every opportunity, and let them pile up the beans as high as they will go. This year, I'm sitting back and watching them learn to love each other in action and truth. I'm not limiting the beans.

And this year, the bean jar is as much for me as it is for them.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A little get-together with the Midwest


I've always been curious about the Midwest. Maybe it was all those Little House books I read as a kid. I'm a lifelong east coast girl with a brief stint as an Alaskan, and the mysterious expanse in the middle (the prairie?) has always intrigued me.

Early in our marriage, George interviewed for a pastoral position at a church in Iowa. We flew out to visit in February. As the plane descended over the frozen earth, I looked down at the grid of brown squares, stretching for miles in all directions, and could only think one thing-

It's so flat.

Perhaps the hearts of the people in the Midwest develop such deep and compassionate contours in contrast to the landscape. I have found my friends from the middle of the country to be some of the kindest, most loyal, most loving people I know. They are truly what is meant by "salt of the earth." When I need solid, practical advice drawn from a deep well of caring, these are the people I know I can ask.

That's why I am so excited to be coming out to the Midwest this summer for the first-ever Finding Your Fiat conference.

When Bonnie Engstrom first floated this idea, I knew it would fill a need for many of us. The internet has made it easier to find community with kindred spirits, but we still crave those real-life, face-to-face encounters with women who get us, with whom we can drink warm, cozy beverages (or cool fizzy ones) and swap hugs and laughs and maybe a few tears.

We need to affirm each other in the ways God is calling us- each of us- into a beautiful, unique story that He has dreamed for us.

This summer, we'll have that chance.

And I can't wait to put on my honorary Midwesterner shoes (wait, what are those? probably cute flats, right? is that ridiculously stereotypical?) and join you.

Are you coming? Will I get to meet you in person? There are still tickets available here for both Friday night's event and the Saturday conference sessions. Let's hang out- you, me, and these amazing people!