Category Archives: faith

The things you learn sitting outside at a picnic table

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“She’s mine,” Megan said, about her big sister.

Her words warmed my heart, and I don’t know why it surprised me.

We were at church, and Megan was sitting next to me on a bench, outside in the sunshine.  Another girl came and sat down next to Megan, and asked how old she was.

“I’m five.” Megan said.

“I’m nine!” said the girl.  (Guys.  I’m horrible with names as it is, and our church has 100 kids.  NOT exaggerating!)

“Oh!  Kirstyn’s nine too!”

“I think I’ve seen Kirstyn…”

“I know.  She’s mine.” 

Megan spoke with a smile, and what seemed to me like pride.

My heart flipped.

I heard love, and bff inklings, and one of the reasons I have so many kids!  I loved it — loved growing up with five siblings, and I wanted the same childhood pals for my kids.  I always knew I’d have at least 6 kids, just like my mom.  (I joke now that I’m having a midlife crisis, having met my goals to be a SAHM to 6 kids so early on in life!)

Of course my childhood also had battles.  I won’t say which firstborn daughter (*cough* *cough*) was bossy and possessive and started stupid territorial wars.  I also butted heads with my parents — who would’ve thunk?  But I always, always knew I belonged.  I knew deep down that if for some reason I got pregnant out of wedlock, my dad wouldn’t kick me out, and my family would help me raise the baby.  (Yes.  As a teenager, I did think through this hypothetical scenario.)

“Family is where your story begins,” you know?  Mine was a good story.  IS a good story!  My sisters and I are still best friends.

When I hear about my sisters’ (or my brothers) newest parenting notch-in-the-belt, job, sports achievement, awesome dish, or really just anything they did, I’m like, “I know.  They’re mine.”

I love that this imperfect, fierce love is just a darkly colored image of what our Father says of us:

“She’s Mine.  I know her, that girl.  I made her and I see her and I will never, ever leave her or forsake her.”

I belong.  I have what every heart craves!  Acceptance. Love.  Loyalty.

Megan’s words reminded me.  They encouraged this often-weary mama heart that worries if the kids will be OK; and they reminded me that not only will my children belong to each other for life, they will belong to God for eternity.

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We’re having ourselves a messy little Advent!

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Advent.  “The Coming.”   Doesn’t that word just send shivers of excitement down your spine?  Or a wave of peace across your heart?  What a special time of year, celebrating the coming of Jesus and anticipating the coming back.

The thing is, it’s not only a before and after thing!  He’s still here.  Immanuel.  God who is still with us!

With me.

He doesn’t leave and then come back when I have a better attitude.  Like the time I threw a toy down the stairs and broke it because I was tired of the kids fighting.

Nope.  He stays with me.  He loves me anyway.  And this constant presence is what gives me hope, peace, love and joy to pass on to my kids.  I can’t ban them from my good graces when they are being un-loveable, not if I want to share Jesus!  I can’t refuse to listen to them until they have a better attitude.  I can’t reject them until they’ve “shaped-up!”  I can’t begrudge the fact that they would use up every single minute of my 24 hour day.

Sin still sneaks around in my heart, so I know I’ll be less than loving at times.

But Jesus won’t EVER drop the ball in the love department.  I can tell my kids that, and keep telling them that, in hopes that even after I’m gone they cling to Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t withdraw.  He lives and loves right in the middle of our mess.

Want to see a picture of it?

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Yep — my table!  That’s an advent wreath, that should already have 4 candles in it, since December is well under way!  But I haven’t bought candles yet.  It should be surrounded by beautiful, empty table space.   We should be sitting around it with shining eyes, reading from The Jesus Storybook Bible.  But guys, it’s my kitchen table!  Where we eat, and do school, and just… live.

And see?  Jesus sits right there in the middle of us.

On burning up

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My Megan girl has this candle.  It’s a small, white, ceramic thing, filled with wax and wick.   Wildflowers are etched into the side, and one ceramic violet decorates the lid.  I don’t remember where it came from!  Maybe a gift from Grandma?

Megan carries this candle around the house with her, from room to room.  It watches movies with her and has snugglebuggers in her fluffy blue blanket.   It’s her own candle, and she loves it!  So when she asked me to light it while she painted a picture, I wanted to make sure she understood what would happen.  I tried to talk her out of it.

“If I light your candle, it will burn up.  You understand that, right?  Your candle will be all gone.”

“I know,” she said, all smiles.  “I want to burn it!”

And so she sat at the table and painted with watercolors, her candle burning bright beside her.

I knew there was a lesson.  Kids are great teachers!  But it didn’t hit me until I was vacuuming my bathroom.  (I usually just clean when I’m mad at my husband, or my family’s coming to town.  My house is dirty right now, as you know, so I guess we’re on a pretty good marriage stretch!)

“Why be afraid to burn up?  Why be afraid to live, just so I stay the same?  Why do I want to stay the same?  Isn’t the Christian life in particular about giving, and giving, a giving?  Pouring ourselves out?  Burning up with passion for others?  Dying so that we might have new life?  And living with such abandon that others might be drawn to the Flame?  To Jesus?”

Yes.  That was it — the thought niggling at the back of my brain.  Thank you, sweet daughter, for living your life with all the reckless abandon of a 4 year old.  Your mama needed that!

Be burning-up lives with me this week, yes?  I know my kids will appreciate my warmth.

Mama’s gotta share pictures, you know?

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“I see you… pretty girl… I love you so much”

Words I whisper to my baby when she wakes up, when she cries, when she smiles at me, as she’s learning about this great big world.  I hope these words I’m speaking into her ears reach her heart.  I hope she carries the truth of them always.  I hope she knows that my words are a reflection of God’s perfect love for her.

Isn’t this what we all crave?  For somebody to see us, truly, to our very soul, and call us beautiful?  To love us?  He does, you know.  Before we even knew Him, God called us beautiful.  He fashioned us carefully and tenderly while we were yet unborn, and stamped His image upon us.  Nothing else on earth can claim this beauty that is ours alone.

Handling hardships myself is crazy talk!

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I read an article today, about how false it is to tell someone, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

It’s true, the false ring to that statement!

I won’t even try to list all the horrible tragedies that some people are facing.  But you probably know somebody who is, or you might be facing something yourself.

I was just going to talk about what I know — motherhood.

Even my midwife uses this phrase.  She said it to me when I sat in her office for my first visit with baby #4.  I told her, “I didn’t mean to get pregnant this soon!  I don’t know how in the world I’m going to handle four kids!”

She said, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”

Ha!  I would have burst out laughing if I wasn’t the polite type.  God gave me that baby, my sweet Megan, in spite of myself.  He also gave me a mother-in-law that lives right next door, to help with my kids, and a husband that loves babies and doesn’t mind a disaster zone for a house.  He gave my husband a good job, so we can afford to have babies.  And he made the coffee bean.  And placed the idea of Starbucks in somebody’s brain.

There’s absolutely no way on earth I could do this alone.

Just last night, for example, I was crying at 10:30, rocking my baby #6 to sleep.  She doesn’t always sleep too well outside of my arms.  So I had a mess in my kitchen, a mess in my laundry room, dust and dirt everywhere, clothes piled high in my bedroom, stuff covering my kitchen table and counters, and a chicken in the crock pot that’s been simmering on low for days.

Maybe it’s the chicken that got me.  I’ve turned it off a couple of times now, let it cool, and then turned it back on because there’s no way I have time to pick the meat off the bones and make soup.  So it’s still just cooking.  It might still be cooking next week, or maybe I’ll just feed it to the cats.

I’d like to make bread, but I can’t even make it to the store to buy bread.  So we’re dipping shredded wheat in hummus.

I did finally get my bathroom cleaned, halfway, heading into week #4 of unclean, while Mercy was lying on my bed after a diaper change.  She seems to enjoy gazing around my room while I change her diaper, so I have about 5 minutes of free time until I have to pick her up again.  I scrubbed in the toilets, since the grime was starting to come alive, (and when you sit on the toilet you don’t really want to think about living organisms down underneath…) and I wiped down on the toilet, so I don’t have to scrub dried pee off of Zach’s hands every time he pulls himself up to the bathroom sink.

Then 5 minutes were up, and Mercy told me she wanted me to hold her again.

I wiped down the floors today.  Maybe I’ll do the sinks tomorrow.

I did take the trash out, since the maxi pads and piles of diapers were starting to stink up my whole room.

My Bible right now usually consists of flipping the daily calendar on my kitchen windowsill.  If I get up at a decent time in the morning, I can read my Bible and drink coffee all alone.  I’ve enjoyed that a few times.  But Mercy usually sleeps until 8:00 or even 10:00 some mornings, and after sleeping off and on all night, half-sitting, propped up on pillows, I’m usually gonna choose the extra sleep!

My kids watch TV in the basement until I wake up and feed them.

I’m freaking out about another year of homeschooling.  Add a newborn, and only God could pull off such a stunt!

I lean on Him, hard.

Last night, with tears burning my throat, and that sweet baby in my arms, I asked Him to help.  Just. Help.

I don’t have elaborate prayers these days!

My suspicion is, that the people who do manage to do it all themselves are full of pride.  And those people who are falling apart at the seams?  Maybe even contemplating the end?  Facing heartbreak?  Why in the world would you tell them that they can handle this… That God expects them to… That He gave all this tragedy to them.  What happens when they fall flat on their face?  Shame, and failure.

No.  If God did give it to them, He meant for them to bring that burden to Him.

And sometimes… sometimes it’s not God.  Our adversary, the devil, walks about this world as a roaring lion.  This fallen, sinful world.  This world that is not meant to be our home.  This world that is not perfect, and where people die.  And people hurt you.  And you have to watch children hurt and die.  And God never meant it to be so full of pain.

(I’m not still talking about just having a lot of kids.  I know why that happens!)

You might be lying if you tell somebody that God gave them the trial they’re facing.  Maybe a couple who desperately wants children is facing infertility.  Or a child is handicapped.  Or dead.  Or ill.

This world is ill, and God didn’t make it that way.

We did, and He offers hope.  He will take vengeance on the evil that we were never meant to handle.  He will justify the righteous and defend the innocent.

It doesn’t make the pain of this world go away, but it gives us hope.  I’m pretty sure life would be terrible without hope!

Hope is Jesus.  The answer is Jesus.

Next time you hear somebody say “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” please speak up and say, “Yes, He will, but He’ll also give you Jesus!”

(P.S.  My laughable “trials” of motherhood insanity are nothing compared to what some of you are facing!  I’m not trying to compare apples to oranges.  But the answer is always Jesus.)

Our first year

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We were fairly strangers, Derek and I.

I came home from Moscow, Russia, in March of 2003.  Eight months later, I was married!  Derek lived in Pennsylvania, and I lived in Massachusetts, so this meant little face to face time, and a lot of letters and phone calls.  However, all of the letters I wrote had to be read and approved by my dad first, and all phone calls had to be chaperoned by my siblings.

It was ROUGH!  I remember being so mad at my dad a few times, because of his courtship terms, that I chose to sleep all night in the Toyota rather than sleep under the same roof as my dad.

Not passing blame, just telling our story.  My parents and Derek’s parents were both immersed in an ultra-conservative home school movement, and he and I were both the firstborn guinea pigs.  My parents have since changed a little in regards to courtship “rules,” and Derek’s parents have pretty much changed 100%.  So my sisters, and definitely Derek’s sisters, have benefited from our trial and error experience.

Even after Derek and I were engaged, we were never allowed to be completely alone.  (The letters and phone calls no longer had to be monitored, which was nice.)  There was always supposed to be a chaperone!  Talk about frustrating.  (We did manage to sneak in a kiss before we got married!)   So when we finally got married, there were just piles and piles of issues and attitudes that simply hadn’t even been presented, never mind discussed and worked through as a couple.

Frankly, I think that a couple should be one in spirit, soul, and to a certain extent body before marriage.  Who wants to sleep with someone with whom you haven’t created “sparks” yet,  through appropriate physical contact?

We were married in November, 2003, and I moved to Pennsylvania, eight hours from my family and New England home.  Those dark winter days were depressing, and we lived in our basement while we were working on finishing the first floor of our house.  I got pregnant right away, so I had crazy hormones to deal with.  I was sick because I was pregnant, and my mom and sisters weren’t there to keep my company.  My husband was busy 24/7, working a day job and then coming home to build our house.  Which was a great thing, of course, building a house, but I was very lonely!  Any free time Derek did have, he wanted to spend watching a movie, crashed on our couch.  I wanted to go OUT!

We hadn’t learned to communicate our different needs.

The summer after we were married, I finally made him understand that I really, really wanted to DO something with him before our baby was born and it would never be just him and me again.  So we tried an overnight canoe trip.  That was a horrible, horrible trip.  We started the trip off mad at each other, over an unresolved issue, and we just festered and spewed until by next morning we were barely speaking to each other.

We did try again, and this time our camping trip to two different KOA campgrounds while I was 8+ months pregnant was a sweet time together.  A special, positive memory of our first year!

He learned that even though building a house for me was, yes, love in action, I also needed love to just do nothing with me but fritter away time.  I learned to communicate respectfully, and not nag.  (Both lessons we’re still learning!)

Oh my word, I was such a nag!  I was the embodiment of a critical wife.  I remember once, he was down on his knees, grouting the tile in one of our bath rooms, and I was “suggesting” that he was doing it wrong.  HELLOO!  He’d been building houses and things all his life.  I knew nothing about construction!  I don’t think I would’ve known to call drywall “drywall” before I got married.

I would question his decisions to replace wiper blades on the car, change out the tires, or spend money on more tools.  Um, again, I knew nothing about vehicles, and he’d been working on vehicles and all things mechanical for just about half his life.

Derek is very close to his mom, and this posed a big problem early on in our marriage.  We live right next door to his parents, so that did not help!  At all.  Many days he’d come home from work and stop by his mom’s house first, to chat with her about his day, before coming home to see me.  And of course, if he was mad at me, his mom was the first person he went to.  We rarely talked through our arguments, feelings, and differences.

Think you’re not a selfish person?  With anger problems?  Get married.  Ha!  But I think we were above average with the petty, selfish fights.

Oh, the many times I stomped off down the road, barefoot, and hid in the trees so he couldn’t find me!

Yeah.  I did that.

Or the time I tried to lock myself in the bathroom I was so mad, not realizing that he was an expert at picking locks.

Or when I tried to run away from him to our second floor.  Ridiculous, since our second floor, at that time, was just studs!  He chased me right through the wall.

He kept pursuing me.  And God kept pursuing both  of us.  Now we can look back with laughter on those bumpy mountainous marriage patches, and realize that God’s grace is greater than our sin.  AMEN!  (Sorry.  I got excited!)  Our marriage today is strong and sweet, because of Jesus.  A three-strand cord is not easily broken!

A week of extravagant loving

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My husband went back to work today.  I have to admit, I’ve been feeling a little panicked about this day!  (Me, alone, with six kids…)  He took the whole week off of work last week, just to spend time with us and help me out with kids and household stuff.

He’s been reminding me of Jesus.  Because, honestly, all week I’ve felt kind of guilty that he “wasted” a whole week of his vacation time on me!  Extravagant love.  I told him this last night, about the guilty feeling, and thanked him for giving me a whole week of his time.  He said, “No, nothing I ever do for you is ever wasted.”  He called it a wise investment, this week with me.

Love can leave you feeling vulnerable, because sometimes you can’t repay.  Sometimes you have to accept extravagant giving, and realize that in the heart of the giver, you are worth every single moment or penny.

And it can make you fall hard in love all over again.

I watched him sweep and mop the floor this week, just because he loves me.  He rocked my newest baby, and my bigger babies, and took care of kissing the boo-boos this week, and made pot after pot of coffee, did laundry, re-filled the soap dishes, changed diapers, bought us ice cream, took us to the park, drove us to a tea party and time with friends 2 hours away, built a tee-pee and slept in it with the boys, rubbed my back, organized the basement and the shoes, went down the slip and slide with the kids, chased away bad dreams, switched out bed sheets, put my bedroom and bathroom back together after painting, built a campfire and roasted hot dogs… and if I could be cheesy for a minute?  My heart caught on fire too.

I kept thinking, “He has nothing better to do?”  and it was true.  He chose that he had nothing better to do than lavish his time and energy on all of us, his family.

He kept saying, “I wish I’d done this with all of our babies… taken a whole week off!”  I said no, we were okay.  And maybe I wouldn’t have appreciated it back then?  I’ve been upset before, that he couldn’t just see that there was hair on the bathroom floor and please vacuum it up because I’m really not supposed to life anything heavier than the baby!  I fumed instead of communicated, and took for granted his love.

(Now, I’d like to think I’m better at just letting go some of those messy things.  My kitchen floor didn’t get swept for days last week, and the crunch was an inch think by the time he swept it up!  It didn’t bother me.  My laundry room is a disaster.  I kid you not — a disaster!  It’s okay though.  My bathroom hasn’t been cleaned since before I went to the hospital.  That’s OK too.  I had company over to see the baby, and they sat at my table where discarded kids’ PJ’s were plopped next to the breakfast dishes.  Like my wise husband more than once has said, “What’s important will get done.”  I’m breathing in a baby, and her vanishing newborn days, and trying to focus on the other sweet young people in my life.)

I think that love, when not taken for granted, and just accepted in all it’s forms, can overwhelm you with its power.

We’ve had a rough year of it, my man and I.  Probably the roughest, relationally, since that infamous first year of marriage!  But it’s also been the sweetest year of all.  The thing is, God’s grace and love shine when we are weak.  And because we have God’s heart beating in us, we are stronger and more in love because of our struggles.

Yep!  I kind of love this amazing guy.  And Mercy, just so you know, in those those arms is one of the best places in the world!

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