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some words for a friday

We’re wrapping up our first week of homeschooling for the school year; crazy how a week can seem like a thousand years. There’s been tears and laughter and so many sibling spats. I told my friend that I feel like I’m mentally panting, trying to catch my breath as I keep up with all the spinning plates.

Overall, it’s gone well.

Overall, it’s been hard.

Overall, I’m grateful, and so very worn out.

And so it’s Thursday night and I find myself tired but not sleepy, in need of some inspiration and plain old soul care. I find myself turning to words.

Words. Simple, truthful, well-spun words. Here are some of my favorites, some recent and some not-so-recent that I keep coming back to.

About Life

“No legacy is so rich as honesty.” Shakespeare

“Children need models more than they need critics.” Joseph Joubert

“…nations are renewed from the bottom, not the top,” Woodrow Wilson

“His heart was as great as the world, but there was no room to hold in it the memory of a wrong.” Emerson speaking of Abraham Lincoln

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About Writing

“As I’ve often said, success might have come sooner if I’d had a room of my own and fewer children, but I doubt it. For as I look back at my writing, it seems to me that the very persons who took away my time and space are the ones who have given me something to say.”  Katherine Patterson, Newbery Award winning author (emphasis added. I love that quote so, so much.)

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Stephen King, On Writing

“If my stories are incomprehensible to Jews or Muslims or Taoists, then I have failed as a Christian writer. We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

Madeline L’Engle, Walking on Water

“perhaps we could say then that being an artist has something to do with being brave enough to move toward what makes you come alive.” Emily Freeman

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From Fiction

“He visited the poor when he had money; when he had none he visited the rich.”Victor Hugo, describing the Bishop in Les Miserables

“She liked to think she was an ordinary girl.” Ella (my 7 year old) a line from her book as she’s describing her main character

“Lizzie was earth: solid, steady, worth something. Plant something in her and it’d grow. But me, with my life that followed no one, with no family and no home to speak of, I was dust. I was everywhere. I meant nothing.” My current work in  progress

From the Word

“LORD, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” Psalm 90:1. Amen.

 

It’s Friday, folks. Steady on and thanks for reading-

 

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the every day of every day

It was a usual day, as days go around here. Some laundry happened. Kids played, cried, yelled, and fought. The weather was lovely then rainy then just plain ‘ol hot. We ran errands to get out (it was the little extrovert’s request). Some melted down before our destination (that would the little introvert). But we made it.

Baby to bed. Big kids hanging. Mom trying to watch the Olympics and answer questions and failing at both. But there’s tomorrow on the horizon, and we’ll give it all another go.

I think about the rhythm of our days a lot. I wonder if there is enough structure, enough steady on, enough happy moments to counteract the tears. I suppose it’s normal for parents to want to write the narrative of their children’s early years, to want to make sure some golden memories make it into the banks. But most days don’t feel so golden; they just feel ordinary. And I think that’s ok.

It’s a funny tension, the balance between “Every day matters- make it count!” and “There will be another day- so just chill out!” I run the spectrum between the two- shooting for the former but consoling myself with the latter.

Yes, today matters. But that should give it worth, not pressure. It matters. But it isn’t all that matters. We are loved beyond today, before today, in spite of today. That’s a comfort when the day wasn’t quite what you had hoped.

 

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We went to Arby’s tonight, just me and the kids. At some point in the meal, Tessa had us all laughing so hard with her crazy facial expressions. She, at the age of 5, has a rare gift for humor that flourishes in small groups but dies out in crowds. She loves to entertain our little circle; she cries when all heads in a crowded room turn to look at her. She’s in an interesting transition of pushing out of preschool stuff and finding her way as a full-fledged kid. She’s not the littlest; hasn’t been since the baby came on the scene. But for awhile she was still one of the littles, but now she seems to be shedding that label and pushing into her own. With her jokes. Her songs. Her quips. She has a fierceness to her that catches us off guard, even as her eyes twinkle.

Can she know that she’s in a transition? Does she sense that she is moving up in our eyes? Is her own growth something that she’s aware of? I don’t know.

But changes like that mark the days, drop a small memorial in time. It was a regular day but the kids had unique moments. It was a ho-hum time overall, but there were flashes of new that peeked out of the normal things. Amidst the steady on, there is remarkable movement in the underneath of us all, calling us up and on to live these every days well.

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a few little thoughts on raising a big family

 

We have five kids. They are currently ages 11, 9, 7, 5, and 1. It’s loud. It’s merry. It’s equal parts chaos, crowd control, and clutter. When you have five kids, you feel like a mash up of  the head clown that piles out of the clown car and the line cook for a whole mini-militia and the person who presses play on the music for a flash mob. In your kitchen. Because you are basically your own riot-about-to-happen-at-any-second.

This is life with five. And we are so OK with that.

We didn’t necessarily set out with a certain number of kids in mind. We didn’t really gameplan the whole thing. In fact, we had three and thought we were done.

Then we had a fourth and decided we were really done.

Then years later, with the baby season off the radar and the house purged of all things infant, we found out we were having number 5.

(Let me pause to answer the questions, the questions, always the questions: Yes, we do know how this happens. Yes, we know that you can do something about that. Yes, they are all ours. Yes, I do have my hands full. No, we aren’t planning to have more. Phew. Glad we got all that out of the way.)

If I could tell you one thing about adding this baby, this baby who is not such a baby anymore but is now a whirlwind of a toddler, if I could tell you just one thing about having a small herd of children  with a baby in the mix,  I would tell you this: the magic is still there. His first smiles still brought tears to my eyes. His soft fuzzy head was the best feeling ever. His sleepy snuggles make a day feel worth it. His giggles are incredible. He is starting to say words and, oh my gosh, I am no less proud of him than I was with my first.

I think there’s a misconception that the first steps of the fifth born will be less amazing. That the way he dances to music will be less enjoyed. That somewhere along the way we will run out of love and this kid will be left to fend for himself. But the funny thing about love is that it grows, and now this baby is not loved less- he is simply loved by more of us.

I feel like I appreciate his babyhood in a fresh way because I am also in the thick of “big kidness”, which is the stage where your children can tie their own shoes, fight like the dickens, and always smell like salty puppies. Their dirty diapers have been replaced by difficult conversations that require far more wisdom and patience than the tending of a baby. This new baby reminds me that my others were babies, that they are indeed still precious, and that I have grown with them.

I have grown, and maybe that’s the other thing that sweet baby 5 has the edge on. I’ve been in this game for a decade. I know what I’m about. I see past the baby stage, off into toddler years, and even on into the vortex of elementary school. I’m not in a rush for this guy to achieve anything, not in a state of worry that milestones haven’t happened by expert-determined times, not needing him to prove I can do this. He’s fine. I’m fine. I’ve made peace with the realities of my limits as a mom and the beauty of an imperfect life lived with joy.

This afternoon we drove home from my mom’s house amidst rush hour traffic. The older boys were discussing the pros and cons of a certain strategy they had attempted as they learned a new board game. The girls were in the middle of a backseat concert, VBS songs on full blast as they did the motions. And the baby rode in the middle, giggling at the noise his little fingers make when he slaps ’em hard together.

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Oh my goodness, that giggle. I listened to him laugh over and over, then I glanced back at him and that made him laugh even more. He proudly showed off his clapping, looking left to catch his big brother’s eye and get someone to clap along. Here he is, this fifth child, doing his baby thing in the middle of it all. And though we have had babies before- we have not had him.  Babyhood is not new, but he is new. Toddler-wrangling is not a mystery, but he is a mystery. Parenting has been an 11 year trek, but not parenting him. Parenting him has just started, is a new adventure, and it is no less sacred because we walked it a few times before with his siblings.

And one final word that begs to be said while we’re on this subject- just as I don’t think parenting number five is any less sacred, I don’t think families with less kids are any less sacred. You are raising a soul, nurturing a life, sheltering and tending a unique individual with infinite value. That is worthy. That is noble. That is to be celebrated wildly for however many kids you have.

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So here we are. Doing our thing in this perpetual party of seven. I’m so grateful for the lessons of each day, for love that grows and fills and gives what we need. I’m so grateful for sibling love, for the quiet chaos of a house that is just about bursting, for the night time slumber that hushes the house and renews us to go again in the morning.

Is five too many? I don’t think so. Not for us. Not because we’re rockstars, but because this is the life we have and we’re going for it wholeheartedly. This crazy little mob is the best of us and the most sacred thing we have to offer the world. Some days it feels more like a suburban remake of Lord of the Flies than an intentional pursuit of diligent parenting, but then the hush falls and we try again tomorrow.

We aren’t perfect, but we’re enough. And we hope to raise this little herd to love deeply and act bravely and live with a kindness that will help others understand Christ a bit more. That’s our hope and our prayer.

So off we go.

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staring up the mountain {deep breaths for the coming homeschool year}

It’s that time of year again, that time when suddenly school clothes are front and center and the dollar aisle at Target has flash cards and workbooks. A few days back I rounded the corner in the aisles at Walmart and a wall-sized display of gold accented notebooks and folders was singing to me. Oh my word. I want one of everything, I thought.

But with the glorious offering of beautiful school supplies, something else marks the season as well.  There’s a feeling like something’s coming, a weight that is settling firmly on my shoulders, a heavy sigh that slips out when I think about the month of August.

My husband asked me a few nights back, “How do you feel about homeschool starting back up?”

I swallowed, surprised that tears had instantly joined the conversation. “I feel like I’m staring up a mountain, and all I can think is ‘I’m going to climb this again?'”

And I wonder, how do you do that, how do you head energetically up this mountain when you’re still a little winded from last year’s climb? How do you do better, be more, add students and subjects all the while trying to do some laundry and make meals happen and be some sort of friend?

I have the blessing and curse of aiming big, of wanting so much for my children, of aspiring to offer so much that I am always somehow pleasantly surprised by what we learn and yet disappointed by my own expectations I didn’t meet. This is my own form of crazy, my own vicious cycle, my own seasonal rhythm that involves psyching myself out in the fall and chewing myself out in the spring.

How special.

But thankfully there is grace that lets me breathe and truth that helps me to adjust my tainted thinking. And that grace tells me that I am enough, that God is present, that He is not asking anything of me that He cannot enable me to do.

And the truth- well, that is the best part for me this year. Usually it’s that grace that breathes life into me, but this July I am finding so much hope in a few small pieces of truth.

The truth is God has not asked me to be perfect; He has asked me to be diligent.

The truth is I don’t need to prove anything to anyone.

The truth is (and this one is really rocking my world) that living for the kingdom is a lot less like Stephen speaking to thousands or Paul debating with kings. For me, kingdom living looks like the boy who offered his lunch, who generously held out his meager fish and loaves and then watched Jesus feed thousands with it. God is not asking for my masterpiece, my flawless performance, my everyday awesome. He’s asking me to be open-handed with who I am and what I have right here, and then He will do with it as He sees fit.

So I’m staring up this mountain, knowing I’ve climbed one like this before. There are parts of it that are exhilarating and parts of it I’m not sure how to navigate and parts of it that will leave me exhausted.  But I’ll start up it soon, followed by a growing line of kiddos who are stronger and more capable than when we started the trek last year.  And now we have a one-year old on board and a kindergartener in the mix and an oldest who is finishing up his last year of elementary school. This trek is special in so  many ways; this particular mountain will only be climbed once.

If you’re staring up your own mountain, be it homeschooling or transition or your own hard thing that looms ahead, I hope you’ll let go of the need to conquer it effortlessly and, instead embrace your own limits, your unique frailty, your sacred reality that you are but dust. Don’t aim for incredible; strive for diligent. And I hope the view at the top will be worth the long, steady climb.

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Here’s some thoughts and conversations that have  had me laughing as of late. 

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We’ve been playing a version of the board game LIFE called LIFE: Twists and Turns. It divides the board into four sections (family, career, education, and adventures) and you get to to decide what to do and how often. It’s lead to some very funny quotes…

“The key to LIFE is to get a family quick, promoted fast, and stay out of debt. You’ll win every time.”- Isaac, 9

“I’m always a sucker for the sports car!”

“You don’t have to go to college to be a moviestar???”- Ella, 7

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In the car ride to CO, my firstborn rode shotgun. He found it very amusing to constantly ask about our progress. So this happened:

Drew: Are we there yet?

Me: (sigh) No.

Drew: How much farther?

Me: Five and a half hours.

Drew: How long now?

Me: Perhaps your sense of time might be more accurate if  you sat in the backseat between your sisters.

Drew: Noted.

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It occurred to me recently that I’ve been dying my hair for a year now. It’s also been a year since I started dying my shower curtain, bathroom wall, and sink. Whoops…

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Ella (7) was in the bathroom, looking in the mirror and celebrating  a new dress. Tessa (4) entered the kitchen and I braced myself for some jealous tears. Then this happened…

Ella (opening the bathroom door and seeing her sister): Tessa, I got a new sundress!

Tessa: (looking dress up and down, reaches out to hug Ella): It’s beautiful! I love you so much, Ella!

(I, in shock, think about what a good job I must be doing.)

Ella: Thanks, Tess.

Tessa: (walking away smiling) Yep. And it will be mine next summer.

(Cue reality.)

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Riding in car, child calls out, “Mom, did they have bubble gum when you were a kid?”

“Yep.” I reply.

“What about light bulbs? Houses? Wheels?”

Sheesh.

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In a morning devotional at a homeschool conference, a speaker was encouraging us toward perseverance. At one point he goes, “I mean, some of you will be homeschooling for twenty more years!” Gulp.

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On the first morning of the aforementioned conference, one of my children notes my semi-casual attire and says, “Wow, mom, you look like you’re really trying!” Apparently the bar is pretty low around here.

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I might be raising the most independent toddler of all times. Since typing this post (I’m in the kitchen while the 1 year old and 4 year old watch nursery rhymes on YouTube in living room), the baby has toddled in twice. The first time he brought his empty bowl, handed it to me, and made his “I want more!” grunt. I refilled it and he toddled back. Ten minutes later he walked into the kitchen and dropped the bowl into the trashcan. He’s practically raising himself.😉

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That’s all for now. Summer is winding down despite our best efforts to pretend it isn’t so. Still, we have a solid few weeks before we start back up with school work, but just the knowledge that it is weeks and not months makes it seem too soon.

Catch you later!

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on finding your people

Last year I sat in a homeschool training session where the speaker was talking about letting your kids be kids. She lamented her own tendencies toward control and cleanliness and frequent ‘no’s’ when it came to creating. Then she mentioned how her friend’s house was the opposite, all piles and crafts and art and creativity bursting from every homemade mural. “I’m a neat freak, but my friend is really a free spirit,” she concluded.

At this point, my good friend sitting next to me turned to me and said, “See…you’re not messy; you’re just a free spirit.”

It’s true. All of it. From the recycling-born-forts to the art projects everywhere to the sharpie marker stains on my butcher block island. At any given moment, someone in my house is dressing up and someone is building and someone is staging a dance rehearsal in the living room.

But what’s also true is that my friend next to me could say that with certainty and with grace. She’s one of my people.

I call them my people, but maybe you have another phrase: my tribe, my peeps, my folks, my close friends, my team, my go-to friends. I’m not talking about all the people you know or all your friends on facebook or everyone on your Christmas card list. I’m talking about the ones who get you, the ones you cry in front of, the ones who show up.
To some of you , this may be a mystery. Maybe you’ve never had a friend you could just drop in on. Maybe you can’t imagine hosting a dinner without deep cleaning your home. Maybe the idea of road tripping with anyone else and their kids seems insane.

And maybe it is.

But when you find your people, you suddenly get it. You get why it’s 11:15 at night and you’ve had a  L O N G day and the phone rings from one of your people and you answer. Without thinking.Without regret. Without fail.

When you find your people, youimagestop dressing up to go to someone’s house for dinner. You stop worrying about your kids being so your kids with others. You don’t stage your house to host something.

When yo
u find your people, you don’t have to tell tons of backstory, don’t have to explain why you love something, don’t have to justify who you are. They get it. They know you. They’re in.

When you find your people, you cultivate a friendship that becomes a sacred space; it’s a harbor and a greenhouse and testing ground all in one. You can call your people when your voice is shaky; you can text your people when the day is unraveling and you need them to pray, to help, to come.

When there are no words, they simply show up. When there are no explanations, they look you in the eyes and cry along. When there is no hope, their presence is hope enough, in that moment. When the truth seems far and sketchy, they offer it gently, right here and just for you.

I used to see someone who was isolated or unhealthy or hurting and think, “Man, they could use some counselling.” Now I see someone isolated or unhealthy or hurting, and I think, “Man, they could use some people.” Not because people replace Jesus; imagebecause people embody Him.

I know that it isn’t always easy to find. We’ve been incredibly blessed in the community we’ve found. Nine years ago, some new friends said, “Hey, can we do life with you? We’re thinking about buying a house to live closer.” Three months later, they were four doors down.

Six years ago, we pulled into the back of our new house (just a few blocks away to stay close to the aforementioned family) and I met our neighbor, Veronica. She had three littleish kids and so did I. Now years later, the fence is gone and the kids are inseparable and my house is strewn with things that I’m not sure which of us owns.

“Neighbors are like cousins who live next door,” said my four-year-old, just last week.

And there’s others who have come in and joined us, who have graciously offered their friendship in so many ways. Friends who offer counsel and wisdom in times of decisions or peach schnapps in times of celebration. They come, too, and join the picture. They add to your people.

Find your people, friends. Find them and love them like crazy and cherish the moments when it all makes sense. It’s hard work, that’s for sure. And relationships (like everything else) take maintenance and building and energy. But, oh the richness that comes from knowing that you are safe and welcome and celebrated for who you are.

So celebrate your people, folks. Celebrate being known. Celebrate the chaos that comes from a full table and a herd of kids and a well-timed word.  All thanks to your people.
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why colorblind is not the answer

Years ago, I stood at a table in Burger King, snapping an unwilling toddler into a high chair while trying to keep an eye on my preschooler who had gone in search of napkins to clean up the sticky table. The toddler arched his back in protest, legs kicking and chubby hands pushing me away, then opened his mouth to scream. I offered him a french fry, and turned to see my four-year old come back with a pile of napkins and three straws.

Surprised by the success of his mission, my face must have asked the question. He smiled and pointed toward the front. “A black man helped me,” he explained. “He was nice.”

I looked up toward the front and saw an African-American man filling his drink. He looked up towards me and I smiled, nodding in gratefulness. He nodded back and went on about his day.

End of story.

Fast forward seven years to today, when I wake up to Facebook, to a feed that is blazing with hashtags and stories and sentiments revolving around race. Our nation is bubbling over with racial tension, and I can barely drink my morning coffee from the way it all turns my stomach.

I’m a Christian. It’s part of who I am and what defines me and what makes up my Facebook feed. And right now, my feed is full of people who are making the plea to stop the “Black lives matter” rhetoric and remember that everyone matters, and, even more than that, how about we just adopt the idea that skin color doesn’t matter at all? We are all souls, all hearts, all the same on the inside. Let’s drop all the labels and be completely colorblind. 

I can appreciate this effort. I know that behind those statements is the belief that all people are equally valued, made in the image of God, and worthy of respect and deserving of dignity. But I want to push a little on the idea that the ultimate goal is to be colorblind.

Let me gently offer this idea:to ignore someone’s race is to ignore a piece of who they are. As a white person, I do not really identify strongly with my own race. That is to say, if I had to list ten words to describe myself, I would not use the word ‘white’. Now hold on a sec- don’t celebrate that fact. Don’t say, “Yes, can’t we all be like this? Why do people have to make race an issue?” The reality is, I do not identify strongly with my own race because it has not strongly shaped the way I see life. I have not had a sense of being treated differently because I’m white (besides a few experiences- I’m speaking about my life as a whole), I do not have a strong cultural heritage of whiteness, and I do not have a sense that being white is attached to some kind of value or judgment in particular from society. The fact that my whiteness is not a thing to me is not some sign of a higher level of thinking, it is simply proof that I have been part of the majority culture. 

But to many others, their race is part of their story, their heritage, their identity, their own unique personhood. To look at someone and say, “I will not see your race; I will only see you on the inside,” is slightly ignorant. Because, while you mean it to say that you are trying to see what counts on the inside, what you are accidentally saying is, “Your race does not matter to me. I am not interested in how your skin color has affected your life and opportunities and how you’ve experienced the world. I only want to talk about how we’re similar.”

Oh friend, I do not think that is what you mean to say, is it?

What if instead you said, “Hi. I see that your skin color is different from mine. I believe that those differences are beautiful. Can you tell me about that? Can you help me understand what your race means to you? Can you tell me how that has shaped you?”

Imagine those conversations; those courageous, open, vulnerable conversations. They have to start from a place of humility and move to a place of genuine openness to each other.

Back to the first story I told. I could have said to my son, “Honey, don’t call that man ‘black.’ Don’t talk about his skin color.” But why? Why would I say that? At four years old, my son met another person, described this stranger by the feature that stood out to him, and then made a judgment based on how that man treated him.

You guys, I think that is the goal.

Do we see color, race, differences? Yes. We’ll never really be blind to it.

But do we make snap judgments, have negative presuppositions, assume things about someone based on their race? We do. And that is the thing we need to fight, to pray against, to ask forgiveness for. Let’s not be colorblind; let’s be judgment-free.

In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. did not dream of a day when no one would even know his kids were black. He dreamt of a day when they would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

So please, please, please- stop the rallying cry to ignore race altogether. Instead, let’s redeem our minds and humble ourselves and strive to value and cherish each race equally.