this summer so far

I’m not great about writing about everyday life things.  I try, but short of presenting you with a list of things that fill our days, I seem incapable of putting the stuff of our days into words.

But, I can tell you that there is a sweet, toddling, willful, affectionate little girl where I’m sure there was a beautiful baby girl just yesterday.

I can tell you that despite my very best intentions, my gardens have somehow become overwhelmingly weed infested – and though this shouldn’t take me by surprise, it still manages to discourage me all the same.

I can tell you that it is taking me way too long to refinish my screen doors, and I’m paranoid about picking paint colors that will end up looking hideous when I see them on our house – and then I console myself with the reality that any painting that happens will be at such a snail’s pace that changing colors if they prove offensive should really require almost no effort at all.

I can tell you that I still haven’t figured out how to effectively schedule our days so that I don’t hear “what can I do?” every five minutes.

I can tell you that I still love watching kids play baseball, and that our laundry piles shrink but become so much more needing to be washed, and that our Buddy is the only one of the kids that gets sunburned like me, and that Ava stares longingly out the window when the older kids get to play outside but she has to be inside.

I can tell you that we have the best car travelers for kids, that I am thankful for free swimming lessons, that Isabelle has started to love books, and that I never knew how fast band-aids could get used up.

I can tell you that, even though most people might contend we’ve hardly had any warm days, I am ready for warm weather to be done, but I’m nervous about the new school year and my shortcomings that always seem to be the undoing of my homeschooling plans.

I can tell you that Tim and I have very different ideas of what it means to have a break and that it can be hard to find a compromise at times.

I can tell you my mother-in-law is moving almost next door to us in less than a month and…well, that’s really all I can say about that.

I can tell you that I’m still always tired because Isabelle still always wakes up at least twice, but usually 3 or more times a night.

I can tell you that I’m thankful for Tim’s job, and thankful for fresh veggies, and thankful for flowers, and thankful for my husband and kids.

I can tell you that life rarely looks like what I’ve hoped for and it can be hard for my idealistic self to come to grips with, but I can also tell you that God always proves Himself to be more and better than I could have ever hoped for, and that the recognition of this reality – that He is constant, unchanging, faithful and good in the midst of a life that inevitably brings disappointment and uncertainty and difficulty – is necessary for keeping my soul anchored and my gaze set on Him.  And that’s true all the time, but it’s been more obvious lately, so I guess it still counts as a summer thing.

Okay, so it turned into a list anyway.  It’s just the only way I can write about these things, I guess.

because He loves us

The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.-Psalm 19:1-4

When we were driving through Canada recently, there was a breathtaking sunset.  Something about the topography of this particular stretch of road has always made the sky there feel so vast and awe-inspiring, and the sunset seemed almost weighty in its beauty.  And as I made sure my kids were seeing this awesome display of God’s glory, He whispered to my heart - I did this for you.

I was dumbstruck for a moment.  My theology has generally always, only attributed such displays as a one-sided declaration on God’s part of who He is, like a statement of fact, a proof to point to in case anyone ever wondered if He was real.  But there’s more.  It’s God seeking a response of praise and adoration.  The heavens are declaring the glory of God to us, to humanity, and not in a way that makes us run away in terror.  God made us to be drawn to beauty, and then He paints the sky with unmatched splendor.  It’s like He’s saying Look at Me!  See how magnificent I am? See how powerful? See how creative? See how much bigger and better I am than anyone ever? Don’t I deserve your love, your praise, your life?  See what amazing gifts I can pour out to you! 

It’s like the King of kings and Lord of lords is wooing humanity to Himself.  It’s His extravagant love for us written across the sky.  It’s Him giving us the smallest glimpse of His immeasurable beauty, which ends up being more spectacular than anything anyone else could ever hope to offer.  It’s Him zealously pursuing a people He died to be near.  It’s this infinite God desiring praise from us, telling us that we are valuable to Him.  It’s Him wanting to make sure we know: there’s none that can compare with Him.

It leaves me speechless.


when I do dumb things

I’m not always the sharpest tool in the shed.  Occasionally, I forget that I am no longer twelve, and somehow think that I can demonstrate to my children how to climb a rope.  After all, it was the easiest thing in the world when I was a kid.  Now, though?  Apparently, when my feet slip and my full weight is suddenly pulling on my arms, I am only then hit by the obvious realization – um…I can’t do this anymore.  Thankfully, having only gotten a few feet off the ground (I know, it’s sad), I didn’t fall or anything.  But my right shoulder hurt.  By the end of that day, two days ago, I realized that I couldn’t lift or extend it without horrible pain.  Through Tim’s own past experience and a quick look online, it was determined with a fair level of certainty that I have some sort of rotator cuff injury, with the best remedy being ice and rest.

So, here I sit.  I can’t cook, or drive, or make my bed, or pull weeds, or paint our screen doors, or [easily] pick up my little girls.  A friend had a baby yesterday evening and I went over to help out afterward only to discover that there was little I could actually do given my current…uh…disability.  I am realizing how very not ambidextrous I am, how many seemingly simple actions require a lifted or extended arm, and how much I actually can’t stand doing nothing.

Tim alternates between laughing at how I managed to injure myself, and scolding me if I use my arm even a little.  The reality is that the longer this takes to get better, the longer he and our kids have to pick up my slack.  As it is, we feel perpetually behind on lots of fronts, and a silly thing like this can be incredibly discouraging.

In moments like this, I always feel like God is trying to impress upon me the necessity of having a different perspective.  Life has hard stops sometimes.  Like it or not, things happen that we can’t change or make better quicker or somehow cause to work for our advantage.  But God isn’t sidelined when we are, and we have to be careful - I have to be careful – to not assume that this life, that is in His hands, will be undone because things aren’t going according to our plan.  Regardless of how many things seem to fall to the wayside, or how many times we find ourselves overwhelmed by the mountain of projects, or how often it might seem like nothing ever goes the way we need it to go, we can cling to His faithfulness, His goodness, His sovereignty over our days.  And even if a lifetime passes and some things have never gotten done, He is doing a good work in us that He will complete.  That’s so much more important.

Some days make me feel worthless and hopeless and like I’ll never get anything right.   Some days make me wish I were invisible, because then at least there would be a reason for people not seeing or acknowledging me in any way.  Some days, I see myself and don’t really wonder that others would rather not know me more.

I get angry, sometimes.  Angry that God made me this way, with this apparently repellant personality, with these flabby, slouchy genes that require way more effort than I can put in to overcome, with a heart that hurts so easily, and a history that convinces me that walls are always safer.

And I want to dwell here.  I want to etch the heartache and self-loathing into my soul because I don’t want to ever forget.  I don’t want to forget because, if I forget, I might let myself hope for the obviously impossible.  I might think, for a moment, that there could be something lovable about me.  Then I’ll just get hurt all over again.  I know I will.  It’s happened more times than I can count.  I’m tired of being hurt.

In the midst of raising defenses and memorizing this angst, though, God is whispering, insistently, you’re beautiful to Me…I love you.  Over and over.  I want to ignore Him.  I want to say it’s not enough.  I want for Him to know for a minute how it feels to be always rejected…

…oh, wait…yeah…huh.

I’m kind of left without an argument.  But I still don’t understand.  And maybe that’s why it keeps happening.  Maybe there’s some lesson that just isn’t getting through to me.  I wish I knew, so I could make it all stop.

Still, for now, I’ll fall on His grace – this completely, utterly undeserved favor with the God of the universe – and let Him try to put back together this heart that seems permanently broken and bruised.  I keep wondering if He’ll ever stop trying.  I really hope not.

 

is this normal?

Earlier today, I left a cart full of groceries in the parking lot of the grocery store.  I just forgot them there.  I didn’t realize it until we were home and unloading the car three hours later.  Even then,  I wasn’t convinced that I could have possibly had such a massive mental misfire until I called the store to verify that, yes, there was in fact a cart of groceries found in the parking lot.

Tim thought it was funny.  He tried to console me by noting the fact that I’d had all six kids with me, and that I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in over a year.  But even so, I was seriously upset by my mistake.  I hadn’t been feeling particularly tired today.  The kids had been well-behaved in the store.  I wasn’t frazzled.  I wasn’t at the end of my rope.  I wasn’t dragging myself through the day in a sleep-deprived daze.  I thought I was doing well.  I thought I was on top of things.  I was having a rare moment of not feeling overwhelmed by life, but I failed anyway.

I’m trying to find a lesson in this.  It seems like there should be obvious parallels with redemption, or pride, or sin, or something, but all I can think is that I’m only thirty-six and this kind of thing shouldn’t be happening to me.

compassion

I am not a compassionate person.

I think others often assume that I am.  Maybe because of how easily I cry.  I cry in worship.  I cry when I hear a salvation story.  I cry when I think about abortion.  I occasionally even cry during baptisms.  I wish I could say why it is that all of those things move me to tears, but I think it’s safe to say that it is rarely compassion.  At least, not compassion in any normally understood sense.  It’s frustrating for me, honestly.  I desperately want for God to use me, but I can’t see how that can happen when my natural response to hurt and brokenness is something along the lines of get over it.  I have learned to not actually respond that way, but my patience with a struggling person generally lasts about as long as it takes me to get through a single conversation.  If you’re still struggling the next time we talk, it’s likely I’ll just be irritated that you’re foolishly holding onto something when God can bring freedom if you let Him.

It’s hypocritical of me, to say the least.  I have so many – so many – areas of my life and heart that I find impossible to just surrender to the Lord.  Areas where I know what’s true, but can’t bring myself to the place of completely laying aside my desires for the sake of serving Him.  I want to have total understanding first.  Or I want my feelings to change first.  Or I want to know how things turn out in the end, before I submit my all to Him.  And sometimes, even when I know what the right thing is, and I want with all my heart to do the right thing, I’m just weak and I fall and I find myself pleading for mercy at the foot of the cross.  The patience and compassion that God has demonstrated toward me is beyond my comprehension.  Still, I somehow forget my own black-hole need for mercy and grace when I consider someone else’s inability to get something right.

At different times in my life, when others have prayed for me, it has often been stated that I have a compassionate heart.  I almost cringe when that happens, because I hate to think that anyone might think more or better of me than I deserve, particularly in this area where I am such a monumental failure.  But at these times I also find a deep longing in my heart for God to make it true, for Him to somehow help me see with His eyes and love with His heart, for Him to give me a new understanding of the power of the Cross to present every person as righteous and holy before His throne.

So, how do I change this?  How do I learn to have God’s heart for the broken?  How do I learn patience with the person who just doesn’t understand?  How do I look past sin and weakness and ignorance to find the beauty of a person that Jesus died to have relationship with?

Maybe I just need to know Him more.  That’s always the answer, it seems…just to know Him.

Please, God, help me know You more.

not so little things

On Sunday morning, while visiting my brother and his family in Michigan, our vehicle’s horn decided to malfunction.  It blared a loud, piercing, continuous blast for ten minutes or more.  After Tim had been outside trying to make it stop for five minutes or so (it took a little while to realize it was our vehicle making the horrendous noise), I prayed God, please make it stop, and within a couple seconds, Tim had found the proper fuse and pulled it out, silencing the horn.

Later, on our way home, I developed a pretty bad headache.  While stopping for a bathroom break, I asked Bethany to pray for me.  She did, and the headache went away immediately.

As we continued our drive, around what would normally be bedtime, the kids all started getting somewhat unruly.  Our car’s cd player, which tends to malfunction, hadn’t been working for any of the 5 hours we had been driving up to that point.  At that moment, I thought music might really help the situation, so I prayed God, please let the cd player work, and I reached over to turn it on.  It worked, and continued working for the rest of the drive.

Still later, around 11pm, all of the kids were asleep when Isabelle woke up and started screaming at the top of her lungs.  After a couple minutes of trying to console her, and feeling pretty hopeless of having success since she almost never calms down on her own, I prayed again - God, please let her calm down and go back to sleep.  Only a few seconds later,  she was sleeping.

I know that maybe those all seem like small things, and taken individually, I probably would have been tempted to just call any one of those instances coincidence and not thought any more about it.  But, as we finished our drive, God was impressing on my heart that these answered prayers were purposeful reminders that He is with me, with us.

Sometimes life can make me think that maybe I’m missing Him.  Maybe I’ve taken a wrong turn.  Maybe I’ve forgotten His voice.  Maybe I’m deceiving myself by thinking that He will be our defender, that He is faithful to work in us and in our circumstances.  I question often whether I really know Him at all.  I’m terrified of the possibility that I could somehow become so wrapped up in myself and my ideas that I stop seeking Him, and then stop truly seeing Him.

I think God knows that.  I mean, I’m sure He does.  So, though these days have held a lot of unanswered questions, frustrations, and sometimes feelings of hopelessness, and though it seems that God’s timing in certain areas just isn’t what I would like it to be at times, He has been showing up in the “little” things.  And these things remind me that He is still loving, He is still powerful, He is still concerned with even the smallest details of our lives, and He is trustworthy.

words

I’ve been thinking a lot about words lately.  I like words.  I tend to place a high level of importance on words, both in what I speak…or write…and what I hear.  I like understanding and being understood and choosing the right words is, generally, how that is accomplished.

But, what has been weighing on me recently is the limitation of words.  As much as I might think that a certain word, or a certain explanation, clearly communicates what is in my heart…or what is in someone else’s heart, if I’m the hearer…the reality is that there are a number of things that muddy the waters and make it unwise to let anyone’s words alone be the basis for a determination of what their heart is in any given situation.

I say this because, as I consider some of my own words – words I’ve wanted to think were presented in an acceptable way, words I hoped would perhaps evoke a different response than what they’ve received – I’m realizing that I’m not even certain of all the reasons I used the words I did.  While I rarely try to make my explanations exhaustive, I usually think I at least know my underlying motivations, but although I usually can provide a reasonable accounting for what I’ve said, I’m finding that I sometimes arrive at a rationale based on what I think provides the best defense for my words, rather than based on an honest assessment of my heart.  It can be easy to just want to be right.

And even when I conclude that my words do accurately convey my heart in a matter, it’s becoming apparent that words can have different meanings to different people.  A whole host of factors can affect the interpretation and weight that we apply to specific words.  It isn’t simply a dictionary definition that will rule the day in how a word is understood, and I have to be careful in both the words I choose and how quick I am to judge someone else’s words because of this.  It’s possible that a communication breakdown is just that – some idea that simply got lost or distorted by our words – and not a deeper heart issue at all.

Honestly, this all makes me tempted to not say or write anything, ever.  I don’t want to miscommunicate.  I don’t want to misunderstand and I don’t want to be misunderstood.  My natural tendency when there is an issue over words is to want to dissect and analyze and figure it all out.  When I step back a little, though, I’m beginning to see a more important objective than figuring it out.  Because when words fail, there has to be a heart that is first seeking God’s glory.  And being understood may not be the most God-glorifying thing in a given situation.  Exposing someone else’s failed communication may not be either.  I need to make love most important.  Extending grace, forgiving freely, acknowledging the imperfect state of my own heart, seeking to understand another person’s heart even if their words have caused offense, choosing to believe that in these circumstances – as in all others -  true reconciliation, resolution, and peace are a work of the Holy Spirit. 

Lord, have Your way.

another year older

Tim is 37 today.  If you asked him, he might tell you that he doesn’t feel like he’s accomplished much in those 37 years.  He might point out that our house has far more projects that need to be done than have been done already.  He might note, with discouragement, that our bank account shows our finances barely in the black.  He might express worry that he doesn’t spend enough time with our kids, or that he’s doing something wrong in how he’s prioritizing life.

But I would disagree with him.  I do disagree with him on this, often and unwaveringly.  He has always and consistently put God first, and me and our children above every other pursuit in life.  If projects seem to be slow around here, it’s [almost only] because he’s been going to (and helping coach) basketball and baseball games, and serving me in innumerable ways, and taking time to read and sing and pray with our kids every night, and watching the same movie for the tenth time (or more) on Tuesday nights.  Or it’s because he does everything with excellence, which sometimes means things take a lot longer, and sometimes means things need to be re-done, and sometimes means project plans and priorities need to change.

And it can be hard to see that the money isn’t always there to do everything we’d like to do, but there has always been enough.  Through two rounds of unemployment in the past 7 years, there has been enough.  And we know that what is there is there honestly.  He has always handled our money with the highest integrity.  He has gone out of his way to never take advantage of, never cheat, never be miserly.  He gives generously and faithfully and without fear of what tomorrow will bring.

He’s not a perfect father, but he is a good dad.  As much as he wishes he could do more with our kids, I am positive none of our children feel a lack of attention from him, and every one of them loves the time he spends with them.  They know he loves them.  They know they’re more important than money and projects.  They know he is principled and kind-hearted.  They know he makes mistakes, and they know he knows that he makes mistakes.  They know what it is to be tucked into bed every single night by their dad.  He teaches them about God and tools and science and repentance and work ethic and honesty and vacuuming and cars and honoring parents and serving and giving and so many other things.  Our kids are blessed to have him as their dad.

It’s true that the world might look at Tim and see a life that isn’t filled with many things that are considered valuable in our society.  And it can be hard at times, not having immediately tangible results to show for how you’ve spent your life.  But I just want to take this opportunity to say that there is so much that Tim has accomplished in his 37 years.  His value to me and to our children is absolutely immeasurable.  The investment he has made in them will be bearing fruit beyond anything that any other investment could bear.  I am so proud to be his wife, and to be celebrating his life with him today.

and she’s one

Just like that, a year has passed and Isabelle is now a year old.

She was a smiley baby from the start, and that hasn’t changed.  She loves to laugh and smile.  Pat-a-cake is pretty much the most entertaining thing ever, as far as she’s concerned…because there’s so much clapping, which is just so much fun.

She is at the sort-of walking stage.  In a good moment, she can go four or five steps before she sits down.  She is taking the same cautious approach to walking that she did to crawling…wanting to have it all figured out before she’s all-in.

She’s eating some at every meal, but still has a definite preference for nursing, which, for some reason is harder to curb with her than it has been with the others.  Likewise, her sleeping habits have been stubbornly staying the same, which means almost every night still finds her waking up 3 or more times.  She is tenacious, and persistent, and tough, with just enough baby girl sweetness and sensitivity thrown in to make all of her siblings (and, usually, Tim and me, too) sympathetic to her demands.

Isabelle is rarely content to sit and snuggle.  She wants to explore and investigate and grab everything that her little fingertips can reach when stretching her arm as far as it can go while up on the tips of her little toes.  She has a loud, piercing scream that is her general announcement for wanting something she’s not getting (attention, food, a toy, being held, being put down), and is often an exuberant girl.

Tears still come to my eyes sometimes when she smiles at me and I can’t really explain it, other than to say that there’s a particular joy and innocence in her expression that I haven’t ever noticed in my other kids.  It melts my heart.  She’s beautiful, this girl of mine.  And I am so thankful for this first year of her life, for all of the things that make her unique and special, and for the life of purpose and destiny that stretches before her.  Happy Birthday, Sweetpea.