Monday, November 13, 2017

Get Out Here





"Get out here, everyone. Children, everyone come out here," I say. There in my PJs I stand, wool sweater and stripy pants.

Seven thirty and the cogs of the house in motion, children patter down the hallway; two pad up from downstairs.

"Did you not see that my door was closed?" I say.

"Um," Lucy says. Blank stares, nod, almost-nod.

"Yeah?" Myra chirps.

"I had a very hard time falling asleep last night," I say. "Now I almost have a headache. I woke up at 6:30 and thought, Oh good, I can get a little bit more sleep, and I bet I'll be ok. But I couldn't fall asleep with all the noise."

"Oh," they say, "oh."

"Yup," I nod, my eyebrows practically pinned on the ceiling.

"I told the other kids to be quiet," Lucy says.

"And then you were SINGING right outside my door," I say.

"Oh," she says.

"Lucy did clean up the end of the hall," Jane offers. Lucy, a half-smile under furrowed brows, diminutive mock-ups of my staccato-ed brows, shrugs.

"I've been trying to do an extra chore in the mornings to help out," she says, half-shrug.

"Mmm," I say. "That IS nice, Lucy." An appreciative-but-no-thanks-necessary smile, she shrugs again. "Thanks," I say.

"Sure," she says.







Then it's lunch, we're gathered at the old black table.

"I think I need to start practicing piano for longer," Lucy says.

"Oh?" I say.

"Yeah, I have so many songs I'm working on I just don't feel like I can get to them all in half an hour."

"Huh," I say.

"I think I need like maybe 40 minutes," she says.

"That is a very good idea."

And so it is, the arms of time enfold these children and begin to turn from children to something more than a child but not yet adult. I see the teen years will be something altogether different than the expected teenage-ness, something more like the balancing of a scale than the pushing of a bird out of the nest.





Gratitude:

6414. Brisket. Warm, falling apart, crockpot brisket. Meat cascading into soft bread and falling into our mouths like manna. Brisket.

6415. Craig gets the new-old-fashioned farm sing set in place, our rapturous eyes blinking happiness.







6416. Shortbread cookies, the toasted almost black kind.

6417. Craig travels to a conference and back. The kids and I continue the daily routines, the school day blended to real life, and our symphony of life carries on as if our beloved tempos could carry the whole endeavor.

6418. Craig returns home safely and carries on the continuing saga of kitchen remodel as if it were the work he'd been born to do. Adoring eyes watch his every move.

6419. His beard grows long enough to be silky soft.

6420. A dear friend offers to send a lovely wrap for me to try.

6421. Another friend receives terrible news and then horrible news on top of that. The burden is Christlike paradox of both unbearable and weightless. I pray for her trials.







6422. Sad tragedy of a third friend leaves me breathless. I throw myself on the mercy of God. I long for the day when all wrongs are made right. And I feel so grateful for his presence with me now.

6423. I find playing piano more sweet than ever.

6424. Lucy discovers nourishment in music. She plays piano, and it's there. She sings, and it's there. She raises her hands in worship, tender affection of Christ, and it's there. Something sacred lingers, the kind of something that seems too delicate for direct gaze. I hold it in my peripheral and try not to look, all the while staring long and sharing in her nourishment.

6425. Craig buys me barbecue chips. Swoon.

6426. Joe and Betsy help me finish some old chocolate from last Christmas. Joe concludes it's the sickness-curing kind of chocolate.

6427. We settle again into the daily routines like the comfort of favorite clothes. We let the familiar creases pull us down the familiar paths, all the while taken by the loveliness of being together. Minus all the regular struggles, of course. That's still there. But it just seems smaller and smaller each day, it's importance fading like babyhood.



Monday, October 30, 2017

Petals





"Seems people are like, I just really want to change the world," Jane says. She leans an elbow on the back of our 1990's black pick-up truck.

"Yep," I nod. Fall leaves stir in the breeze. We linger, a morning run fresh in our breath.

"But if you reeeeally want to change the world," she says, "you have to be a servant. Seriously, a SERVANT."

"Yes," I say. I watch her talk with her hands, emphasis drawn between her palms.

"'Cause if you aren't serving, you might get glory for yourself, but you aren't even going to get ANY glory for God."

"Yep," I say, autumn astir, we breathe and parse out petals of discovery.


****






"I really like that they are frank," Jane says, our friends, frank people, unusual these days.

"Yeah?" I say. Bedtime, we visit at the end of the hallway. Jammie-clad, we speak in whispers then lapse into full voice as conversation turns and we forget that the little children might wake.

"It's like they aren't afraid of looking stupid," she says.

"I know," I say. "Seems like when people are afraid of looking stupid, everyone looks at them and are like, Oh, well, that DOES look kind of weird. But then someone else will do the same exact thing without even giving a care and everyone will just be like, Well I guess that's fine."

"YES," she says. "It seems like if you do things with a certain amount of confidence," she traces the air, "you can do the most outrageous thing and people are like, Oh, well, I'll take that into consideration."

"Yes," I say. "It's so crazy."

Conversation orbits, twists, interlaces pearls of events, the morning run or bedtime jammies. The events all hang on it's silken string, whole universes. Gravity undone, we don't clatter to the ground.









Gratitude:

6403. We attend a Bible conference with the kids.

6404. We continue to putter ahead on the kitchen remodel. Endurance, we remind ourselves, is not a trait easily won.

6405. Thrifted cashmere. I invent a pattern and make a dozen woolen pants from the thrifted sweaters.







6406. Libby invites the whole sister-in-law clan over for a Tuesday afternoon. Seventeen kids, three adults, everyone heaves a collective sigh of enjoyment.

6407. Jack joins Craig on a work related trip, the men off traveling together.

6408. Craig's dad brings us a roasted chicken.

6409. The kids join me visiting a dear friend. We commune with an afternoon of waffles and tea. She sends me home with homemade Indian food. Bliss. Manna, both the conversation and the food.







6410. We listen to a book on tape all week with the kids, all of us hurrying to finish our work so we can shore up and slip into the reverie of a good story together.

6411. Shoulder to shoulder we work to make good habits in the midst of so many household and cooking inconveniences. Though hand washing and drying dishes, I hear Lucy humming a hymn one night, and the next, a whole smattering of children chattering away as they care for dinner dishes in the basement utility sink.

6412. Craig grows a beard.







6413. I work to find the good things right where I am at. Like low hanging fruit, they are right there in front of my face if only I will open my eyes to see them. I feel foolish for my angst and discontent, and in response, happy. Gratitude begets strength, endurance, fortitude -- happiness the invisible shadow trailing behind them all.



Monday, October 23, 2017

Dates





"Mom," Myra says, "it may have sounded like I was talking harsh to you, but I wasn't." She blinks earnest eyes. "I was just trying to not talk to you with rubber lips like you've been telling me to."

"Ohhhhh," I say. Rubber lips, where you apologize expressionless, noodle limp lips. "That's good, Myra," I say. The end of her apology all grins and giggles, we sit there on the big sleigh bed. We blink into each other's eyes. "You didn't sound harsh," I say.

"Good," she says. It's a date. Every end-of-apology is a date, the sinews of love drawn up tighter.


***






"Jesus," Joe prays, "help me to not be scared in the dark."

The two of us sit in the suburban, the traveling cafe, another end-of-date, there in the front seat, just Joe and me. And just like usual we pray, gather up life worries and hold them up-up high to God.

"'Cause you know I am scared," he says. "We love you, Jesus. Amen."

"Amen," I say. And in that little eddie of moment, that cove where the prayer just sort of recoils, we sit, a slosh of silence washed over us. Then, "Yup," I say, unconscious acknowledgement the simple goodness, prayer. "Yup."

He nods.

And then the afternoon swallows up this tiny moment with the normal pace of normal living as if it's gentle cadence had not just paused to part the universe.









Gratitude:

6397. Prayer. We pray together.

6398. I get a new sweater.

6399. I make wool pants for George out of thrifted sweaters.

6400. Another dear family with seven kids invites us to dinner. Such goodness there. So much fellowship and gladness.









6401. Dad comes Saturday morning to help us with the kitchen. And my brother. And Craig's brother. Again. And still. We all band together, work-work-work until this project is drawn up in completion. All the help and advice is kindness to us. A gift. We are humbled and grateful.

6402. We slide into Sunday, a late, late night for me. Still, tomorrow awaiting my faithfulness in small things, small things that actually define us, I find myself landing grateful and ready for endurance. I pray that the mercy of God makes me patient and kind when I am tired and cranky. I picture this strength and realize I honestly desire it. This, what riches.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Thin





"After eating a bowl of oats, three cookies, and some apples, it feels good to eat some actual REAL food," Myra says.

She wolfs a mounding spoon of rice to her mouth. I stir a bowl of creamy tomato soup, electric burner clicking with effort, the makeshift bathroom/kitchen a card house around us.

"Yeah?" I say.

"Yeah. It's just so. good," she says another bite bulging in her cheek.

Rice. So. Good. Nourishment. I scoop a sticky mound into my bowl and cover it with tomato soup. We lean over a rustic cutting board and spoon rice and soup as if it were life itself.



****







"It's like it was actual worship," Lucy says.

There, in the front seat of the suburban we wind up an afternoon date. It's the traveling cafe, suburban front seat. I buy chocolate. We climb in the front, crank the heat, and watch rain splatter the windshield, conversation and chocolate between us.

"Yeah?" I say.

"Yeah," she says, "actual worship. 'Cause sometimes in children's church they are like, Come on sing LOUDER," she claps her hands and raises eyebrows in time with sing LOUDER. An overly sweet smile alit on her face.

"Huh," I say.

"That DOESN'T mean it's worship," she says.

"Yep." We nod, the crinkling of foil, the dull crack of chocolate fractured and pulled out of the wrapper.

"It's like the other night when we were at that worship time; there, it actually was worship."

"Huh," I say.

I picture us there, the whole row of us, back of the sanctuary, music unfurling. I sang with my eyes closed. I'd peeked to count my chicks, gathered Betsy to our row and slipped back into worship, with images of Jack raising his hands, earnest, serious, Joe at half-mast and the other in various stages of mimicry, solemn, careful imitation.

"You're right," I say. "That was actually worship. I love that you can see that." Again, we nod, small agreements like tokens of affection.

I replay this discovery, the dumbing down of spirituality makes it small and tiny, thin in the eyes of this nine-year-old, pretend. Then there we are at the back of the church just standing there singing, just the naked effort to sing to God and suddenly, she sees it. Worship. Naked adoration, unmistakable.









Gratitude:

6381. Lucy begins to understand worship.

6382. Jack bakes cornbread. Lucy invents a cranberry bread recipe. And the two of them bake enough ginger snaps to make a tower.

6383. Jane begins to gain traction with another level of her math.

6384. Myra takes off with reading carrying a book like a cowboy with a pistol all the time now.

6385. Joe and Betsy try to copy her achievement by "reading" the pictures in books.







6386. I catch coffee with a dear friend, and we spill our souls, puddles of connection, meaning, and encouragement. Peace and courage ensue.

6387. Even amidst a week of out of town engagements, the pressure and chaos of regular life, and bone-weary tiredness, Mom and I eek out an afternoon of errands and a continuing river of conversation and connection.

6388. We begin a new journal/devotional as a family.







6389. We make the first hot chocolate of the season, a whole pot of it on the little electric burner. Milk, chocolate, and sugar, just simple.

6390. I find the joy of a new friendship, visiting over motherhood, life, and baby wraps.

6390. The kids begin to navigate the waters of what it means to "leave someone out'' when kids are playing. Everyone senses my complete intolerance of this.

6391. I continue to knit an ochre sweater for George.

6392. He begins to favor certain toys and scream displeasure if they are taken away. I smile at his resolve. Training the will is so much easier than teaching a passive child to have initiative. Oh joy, no lack of initiative.







6393. Betsy and I fall into the arms of our big wooden bed and sleep away Sunday afternoon.

6394. I begin to gestate the idea that the goodness of my soul must put down roots and thrive when things are hard. Isn't that the true measure of strength, the moment of adversity?

6395. I set my mind to see adversity as the moment when things become as they really are. The gift of unveiling.

6396. Every single day our moments are mingled with conversation after conversation, human lives intertwined. All these children and it's a symphony of becoming. Every move affects someone else. Joy and adversity hold hands.



Monday, October 9, 2017

Oatmeal





"Joe, Jooooe, make me oatmeal," Betsy hollers up the stairs. "Joe," she staccatos the air, "make. me. oatmeal else I'll TELL on you." Her bare feet pad on the wooden stairs, They pat-pat across the wide kitchen all hardwood floor and nothing else yet, not even cupboards.

A promenade of feet, bare feet, stocking feet, tromping feet, and Joe pokes his head around the basement stairwell.

"Hi, Mom," he says.

"Hey," I say from the couch under the kitchen. "Better make Betsy oatmeal," I say.

"Yeah," he says a half-grin pulling half his face skyward. He purses his lips and ducks into an unfinished bathroom turned temporary kitchen. A clattering of bowls, the soft snow of oatmeal, hot faucet water, the crinkle of a cranberry bag yawned open and he emerges.

"Hey," I say, nod.

"Hey," he says, nod and same half-smile.

"Thanks."

"Yup." He plants a bowl at the coffee table next to mine. Betsy sidles up to my knees and scoops warm bites of still runny oatmeal to her mouth.







"That's my oatmeal," she says.

The morning unspools like this.

Then, it's lunch and everyone washes up outside, dishes unfinished, an economy of bread crumbs piled on the cutting board littered across the makeshift kitchen. I keep meaning to call the kids in to polish the kitchen, but the afternoon yawns itself open and swallows the middle of the day. Somewhere well past two, I head downstairs. I stop.

"How did you get so FILTHY?" I say. Halfway down the stairs, Myra carrying Betsy, two dirt brown faces blink up at me.

"Um," Myra says. Betsy blinks, her arm slung around Myra's neck.

"HOW did you get so FILTHY?" I say.

"Um, playing outside?" Myra says. They blink, astonishment and mirth awash their faces.

"Oh," I say as I notice dirt embedded in Betsy's thankfully already brown dress. But those blinking eyes, "Oh," I say.

They trundle down the stairs and for all the outrageous dirt covering their bodies I forget about the kitchen. By the time I gaze out the picture window, I see a hole the size of a riding lawnmower in the middle of the old carrot bed.

"Oh," I say. "Oh."

Yup, that's life right now. From oatmeal at the coffee table, to bread crumbles sleeted across the kitchen, to a hole birthed across the carrot bed, signs and wonder are everywhere. I shake my head. I hope I can memorize all the terrain before everything changes and we finally finish this kitchen remodel.









Gratitude:

6374. I make a pot of tomato basil soup in the little bathroom kitchen. It tastes like God himself made it for all the beans and rice we have been eating.

6375. Dear friends invite us the the birthday party of their little girl. A meal shared, a mile-post marked, and the communion of friendship surrounds us. And all that food made from scratch, so abundant and nourishing, the words of encouragement shared between us, it was an event that was more than all the parts.

6376. A neighbor brings us asian pears from the tree in her yard.

6377. Jane and I have late night conversations four out of five nights. It starts with math homework, but we could talk all night in that quiet end of day pool of time.

6378. Craig continues to spend every waking moment puzzling together the kitchen remodel. I note again his steady persistence, nothing flashy, nothing even to really notice most days, but I see it's the foundation the whole house is built on. Good old fashioned dependability is underrated.

6379. I get an afternoon with my Mom before she heads to see her dad. We measure the universe with our words and compare long streamers of questions turning them over and over and over until we've both memorized everything we want to know. In the process crumbles of knowledge land in our laps. We gobble them up nourishment filling us both.

6380. Even though I get a headache and feel desperately ill for a day, the week seems good. Craig holds everything together, the children fill in the gaps, and everyone knows how to make something good for someone smaller than them.



Monday, October 2, 2017

The Drywallers





"They work really well as a team," Jack says.

The seven kids and I shimmed into our basement library, we visit over a makeshift dinner. Shored up on a couch, an ottoman, miscellaneous stools and lawn furniture, bookshelves along all the walls, we sit. Homemade salads and cold burgers balanced on our knees, we visit. A master drywaller and his two children smooth our kitchen together upstairs. Experts. Artists.

"Just really well, they work really well together," he says again.

"That's an interesting observation," I say. "What makes you say that?" Out of the corner of my eye I see Betsy's bowl, salad juice bloomed over the edge. She optimistically fills her spoon. Half a cherry tomato falls off her fork, over her knees, rolls under the couch, rice in it's wake.

"They each know their part," Jack says.







"Yup," I say.

"They're not like, What should I do now?" he says. He mimics the annoying I-don't-like-to-work voice. He nods, a faraway glaze in his eye.

I replay the scene I think he's picturing where Kevin hands a smoothing cloth to his dad, nary a word between them. In the same motion, all twelve years of him, he hold his father's drywall knife. Then, as if playing by heart they switch back and move down the wall. It's art and affection, the interplay between, adoring son eyes, attentive, obedient, watching out of the corner of his eye how to be tall and strong and good.

"Yup," I say. "They do it well." The others nod between crunching bites of salad.

"They really do," Jane says. Lucy nods. Myra nods too but more out of agreement with the group than any passion about the topic. Joe and Betsy elbow each other on the double camping chair.







Working together. The images emblazoned, the practiced two-step of obedience and initiative, the dance partners of work, art, and play, we trace their countenance until we can spot it amidst the camouflage of regular life. So subtle, so outrageous, apparently unmistakable to the eleven-year-old eyes there kitty-corner from me and to the gaggle of siblings nodding applause.





Gratitude:

6266. Stainless steel bowls to use in the rustic alternate kitchen set up in the basement.







6367. We take an afternoon to hunt grasshoppers.

6368. We begin to form a more cohesive way of working together in the middle of inconvenience, disorder, and irritation. As we meditate on the challenges, I remind the children (and myself) that even the weak appear strong when there is no challenge. When things are difficult, that is where our true character shows.

6369. We set our minds to be made stronger, kinder, and more suited to whatever the future holds.

6370. I remind myself that getting enough sleep is a small kindness I can give and should.







6371. Invisible peace begins to settle on us. The moments grow more precious. We begin to see the blinking eyes behind each face and love them.

6372. And somewhere in the middle of it all Craig works more on the kitchen. It continues to take shape. Family continues to help us masterminds problems and solve road blocks. The project marches forward, miraculous.

6373. Something inside of me grows less afraid of everything in life and more mindful of the good right in front of me.



Sunday, September 24, 2017

Praying Mantis





"Having a praying mantis is one thing," Jack says. He tap-taps a plastic coconut oil container turned mantis habitat. A nest of twigs the color of sand ensconce the inside.

"Yep," I say. Lulled by the running litany of mantis facts, I nod in time with his words, half listening, half filling in the gaps with leisure thoughts of knitting or masterminding a pattern or what's for dinner only to resurface in more mantis fascination.

"But," he says, "having a fertile egg sac from two mantis you mated yourself, that's a WHOLE other thing." He shakes his head, elation splayed across his face, as if mating mantises were as rapturous as sunrises.

"Ahhh," I say. "Indeed."

"Yep." He nods the camaraderie of assent there between us. And so it is, the mystery of reproduction unfolds for the whole family to watch. We take it in, elation the consensus of the day.









Gratitude:

6256. Jack embraces the life of praying mantises and all bugs or caterpillars as if he were present at creation when they were made.

6257. Our home continues to transform under the diligent work of Craig and extended family to renovate the kitchen. So many hands reaching out to hold us up. So humbling. So loving.







6258. We add a second jumbo sized popcorn bowl for serving Sunday night popcorn.

6259. We squeeze in the first pizza night in weeks. The warmth of memories settles around us.

6260. Two lovely wraps find their way to my arms, one to stay, one to visit, both to wrap the afternoons in cuddles and fall strolls.

6261. Jack pops 20+ quarts of popcorn for the weekend. I drizzle enough butter to almost double its weight. Our fingers shine when we eat.







6262. Still cooking out of the tiny basement bathroom-turned-kitchen, we continue to work shoulder to shoulder, stepping on toes, filling the floor with crumbs, and learning what it actually means to be patient, honest, and kind.

6263. We remind each other that these things really only prove themselves in adversity. It's not a trial, its a proof, a privilege, a chance. I still find the words, "I'm sorry," and, "Will you forgive me?" my constant companions. We offer them as the only antidote we have and work to do better. Sacrifices of love. Proofs. Moments where little things mean all the world.







6264. And there in the middle of it all, I hear Jane saying, "It's ok, Momma, I do the same thing too sometimes." And we nod, small acts of forgiveness the love between us.

6265. I find myself taking away some measure of gratitude for long list of trials we've lived lately. It's the antidote to fear, living out trials. I feel quiet and rested despite all the pressure, despite the lack of sleep.