In somewhere around 4 weeks, this baby will be here.  In those four weeks, we need to (hopefully) finish schoolwork, make our “new” guest room usable, clean all the baby gear, figure out baby names (which are completely up in the air at the moment), make one last trip to the midwife in Albany and make more of a dent in our garden prep.  Somewhere in there will also be baseball, our anniversary, Mother’s Day, lots of miscellaneous birthday/anniversary/Mother’s Day gifts to purchase and mail, and welcoming Tim’s mom in early May for what will be about a month’s stay.  To top it off, there is poor sleep (as always), really bad heartburn, more fears about labor…not that things will go wrong, but simply that I’m not strong enough, emotional and spiritual struggles, and the feeling that we’re alone in all of it.

But, there’s a baby to look forward to.  And a summer with no real obligations.  And garden goodness.  And visits from family.  And the hope that this is as bad as it gets.

Heart abandoned

I just turned 35.  This past year has been one of the worst of my life.  It sounds melodramatic, I know.  And the reality is that even knowing the reasons why, most people would likely think I’m being ridiculous.  Usually, I think the same.  Nevertheless, I’m not at this place of doubt and hopelessness for no reason. Somehow, it’s these little things – these small trials that seem so insignificant  – that are most effective at tearing down my faith.

I’ve thought about it a lot.  There are a ton of explanations I could give as to why.  I don’t know how much any of that matters at the end of the day, though.  What matters is that I am here, and here is not okay.  Here is where I find myself unwilling to trust.  Here is where I don’t believe His love (again).  Here is where my faith seems pointless.  And here is where I need to make a choice.

Because as much as I just don’t want to believe Him, or His Word, or that I can trust Him (and I honestly don’t want to right now), I also don’t want to believe my heart, or my circumstances, or whatever other changeable notions are filling my vision at the moment.

As much as I feel like He has failed me over and over again these past few years, I also know my tendency to build a wall and push away so that I can’t be hurt too badly – which, at the same time, makes it impossible for me to trust too deeply.

As much as I want to staunchly assert that what He has given is just.not.enough, I also can’t deny that at least in this moment, I have what I need.

So, my choice is this: to accept that my rationale and analysis and emotions are sufficient and conclude that faith just isn’t worth it; or to acknowledge that there are ways higher than mine, that it is possible that One who knows the end from the beginning might have a better perspective, that the truth that God is, which is cemented in the deepest part of my soul, should be enough to make me dig in my heels and keep pursuing, no matter the cost.

It isn’t a choice that I like.  I guess my selfishness and pride run a bit too deep still for me to like the thought of dying to myself.  But, I think, the choice I will make has never really been up in the air.  I will abandon my logic, my ideals, my heart – though probably not with any ease.  I will call myself a fool in light of the only One who I can be certain is wise.  It’s hardly a revelation, this decision.  More like a painful refining process that thus far has left me feeling small and weak and pitiful.  I don’t understand the point of it.

But, maybe that’s the point of it.

8

Today, Bethany is 8.

More and more frequently, I find myself being stunned by the realization that she is growing up.

I see it in her sense of humor which, though still not really refined, shows thought and understanding beyond the silliness of a little girl.

I see it in moments of conscientiousness – times when I previously would have expected words of direction or correction to be ignored, she is starting to take them to heart, and remember, and apply appropriately.

I see it when she explains a Bible passage and she really gets it, and doesn’t just repeat what she has read or heard.

I see it in how tall she is, in how strong she is, in how capable she can be when she sets her mind to task.

Yes, she is growing and maturing and learning.  She has far to go, still, but she has come far these past few years, too.  I don’t often take time to acknowledge that.  Too much, I miss her triumphs in the midst of trying to address her weaknesses.  But, when I really think about it, I can clearly see the refining process that is happening, and I am reminded of the beautiful, precious gift she is…to me, to us, to the world around her.

And because it pretty much sums up Bethany, a brief recounting of a recent interaction.

Bethany:  Who isn’t excited about tomorrow?

(I raise my hand…I’m honest, if not inspiring)

Bethany:  Why wouldn’t you be excited about tomorrow?!?!  Who knows?  It could be the best day of your whole life!!

I love her.

Happy Birthday, Miss Bethany.

 

 

Metaphor

This is our fourth year doing Upward basketball.  Today is the first game I have missed.  Elijah isn’t feeling well, so we’re home.  It’s probably just as well, since I was sick yesterday and am still weak and dizzy, and the idea of sitting on hard bleachers for three hours while supervising too-energetic children is likely not a great one.

It’s snowing outside, again, and for the first time this winter, I just can’t appreciate the beauty of it.  I just want it done.  I want the cold and ugly, wet mess gone.  I want sunshine and flowers and warm breezes and green grass.  I want to be able to take walks and turn off the furnace and open windows.  I want to forget winter.  But I look out my window and there it is – still.

It’s getting hard to hold out hope for a new season.  I mean, obviously, it will be warmer some day.  I just wonder where grace is for today.  I wonder why this unwanted snow keeps falling.  I wonder what it is about a new, better season that has God saying not yet.  I’m not finding any lessons here.  This has been a hard, hard winter.  Sickness, and discouragement, and things breaking, and lots of moments of thinking things can’t get any worse, then realizing that, sometimes, things not getting any better can be even harder still.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle the rest of this winter.

Messy

In so many ways, life just seems messy lately.  Messy, like not organized.  Messy, like muddled.  Messy, like filled with lots of random pieces that don’t fit together.

I have another cold, though to say “another” might imply that I was over the first round of sickness that started in early January.  I wasn’t, not completely anyway.  But for the past week, there’s been a resurgence of coughing, sore throat and stuffiness that I really just want to be done with.  In addition, there has been exhaustion…because of the cold, because Ava wakes up a lot, because I’m in my third trimester and I can’t lay down for more than 6 hours or so without becoming really uncomfortable.  So my energy and my motivation wane.  My temper is short and my brain is foggy and my days become a mess.  Over and over, I yell or I criticize or I’m just plain mean, and over and over again, I get convicted and I repent and I explain…not always, but a lot.  Most days, I depend on schoolwork sort of just happening, with little guidance or oversight from me, and I have no real concept of where each subject is in relation to where it needs to be.  I do know there is progress being made in most areas, and I am mostly okay just knowing that.

And, apart from the daily messes, there are all of the things that are up in the air right now…many with a deadline of 2.5 months, or less, from now when this baby is scheduled to arrive.  Things like turning our currently unfinished “utility” room into a semi-functional guest room, finding a new vehicle, deciding on baby names…and really, the list could go on for a while.

Plus, there’s the difficult or unexpected circumstances of life that interrupt or bring confusion or just feel like there will never be resolution.  Like the two cuts that Nathanael has on his face now because, twice this week,  he was goofing around with his brother and things didn’t turn out well – which cause me panic and frustration and leave me wondering how I should react.  And there’s the questions of why, or how, or for how long that surface time and time again as we consider things that just don’t work out the way we think they should.  I like to have clear-cut answers, and sometimes they’re just not to be had.  These messes aren’t necessarily meant to be made neat and tidy.  I have a hard time with that, though.

So, in all of this, I find myself trying to see God’s hand.  But, honestly, my soul seems pretty messy right now, too.  Or, maybe, barren.  It’s hard to tell at times.  In either case, something seems to be keeping me from seeing Him clearly.  Still, there is a verse that keeps repeating in the back of my mind through it all.

And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?  If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? —Luke 11:25-26

“not able to do the least” pretty much sums up my perception of my abilities to sort any of this out right now.  I think, maybe, God is really trying to convince me that it’s not my abilities that matter, anyway.  Shouldn’t I already know this by now?

Today, and lately

After waking up crying a lot throughout the night (unfortunately, not out of the ordinary), Ava was in rare form this morning.  She broke my glasses (did you know that, technically, I’m “legally blind” without corrective lenses?  I hate it…even more so when it costs money).  She wandered into the bathroom while Elijah was showering, and decided to get in the shower herself, fully clothed.  She refused to eat her breakfast.  She screamed and squirmed when I tried reading to her, which is very unusual.  I tried putting her down for a nap early, but she wouldn’t sleep.  Ugh.

I made pizza for dinner, ’cause Tuesday is pizza and movie night around here.  Why Tuesday?  Well, when we started this tradition (when I was pregnant with Nathanael?), the local Papa John’s pizzeria had a special – a large, one-topping pizza for $5 on Tuesday.  That’s all it took.  Tuesday pizza and movie night was established.  Eventually, making pizza became the norm, though, and to be honest, it has been a love-hate endeavor for me.  I love the routine, the specialness for our kids, the mindlessness of it.  I hate that I have the hardest time making good pizza.  I’ve recently switched pizza dough recipes, though (no kneading!  yay!), and that, along with using an actual pizza pan, seems to be improving my luck.  My kids still prefer pizzeria pizza - always – but that may be because things like spinach and broccoli often find their way onto the homemade pizzas.  Honestly, though, I don’t really prefer homemade either.  Maybe someday…

Elijah tells me almost daily, and sometimes more often, that I am beautiful and nice.  I’m not sure what he sees in me, but it leaves me convicted every time, because I am painfully aware of just how often who I am with my kids is not nice or beautiful.

My belly is starting to get in the way.  At 28 weeks, I feel like it is a little early to be feeling encumbered, but I am nonetheless.  I can’t see my toes without leaning forward.  I can barely put my socks on.  I get off-balance way too easily.  I anticipate a long three months ahead of me.

On a positive pregnancy note, however, I have peace – almost excitement – about the birth.  I started out this time around really apprehensive, but I’ve brought it before the Lord over and over again, and I’m not afraid anymore.  I’m so glad He hears and answers.

We now have a tp holder in our downstairs bathroom.  Sounds exciting, huh?  Well, it is to me.  And it’s a pretty one…if a tp holder can be pretty, that is.  Sometimes, the little things make me happy.

Nathanael has very neat writing.  The older two?  Not so much.

I’ve been trying to make bread on a more regular basis lately.  Thanks to my recent realization that there are no-knead bread recipes out there, it is actually working fairly well.  Kneading dough is something I will avoid at almost any cost, so bread making was previously reserved for incredibly ambitious days.  Not so anymore.  I may even find the motivation to teach Bethany to make it now.  We’ll see.

It seems my thoughts and writing become more disjointed and superficial as my pregnancy gets further along, but oh well.  My brainpower is a limited commodity these days.

On my mind, in case you were interested

There are a lot of things I’ve been thinking about, but can’t really devote a blog post to any of them…some because they’re not really complicated things, just things that come up a lot through the day, some because I haven’t fully worked out my thoughts on them, some because I struggle to find a biblical perspective that seems to match the reality of circumstance.  But, I like to get my thoughts out in writing…it helps, somehow…so, here are some of those thoughts, incomplete and broken and boring though they may be.

:: Food.  I think about it a lot.  Partly because I’m pregnant, and food always plays a prominent role in my pregnancies…sometimes because of how sick it makes me, sometimes because of how much I need to consume to keep sickness at bay, sometimes because of heartburn or bloating or headaches that all somehow seem affected by what I eat.  Then there’s the fact that I have three meals a day to prepare for my family.  I also think of food a lot, though, because of the continuous stream of “eat this, don’t eat that” advice that’s out there, and constantly changing, as I strive to figure out healthy meals that can be made without breaking the bank, or requiring 50 gazillion hours and steps to make a reasonable side dish.  Thoughts I land on?  I could never be a vegetarian.  I love soup.  Dairy doesn’t help my heartburn (and neither does chocolate, by the way, but I keep trying it in the hopes of garnering different results).  Moderation and variety matter more than restriction (though processed stuff is kept extremely limited).  A belief that God made our bodies to be adaptable (to an extent) to what is available, and that He can keep us healthy even if we fail to come to the right conclusions about what is good or bad for us (at least, I really hope so, since what is considered healthy today is completely different than it was fifty years ago, and probably what it will be fifty years from now).

:: 8+ passenger vehicles.  It is with dragging feet that we are searching for a replacement for our Sienna.  Not that we love the minivan, but we definitely don’t love the thought of a vehicle with worse mileage, or the thought of having to go through the hassle of selling our vehicle, or the thought of quite possibly having to drive a fair distance to even be able to look at any potential vehicles.  And then, there are the debates between different makes, cheaper versus fewer miles, SUV versus full-size van, something that will just fit versus something with room to grow.  Being the analytical people that we are, these questions all make the process move forward at a snail’s pace.  Time is running out, though.  I’m kind of hoping for something to just fall into place.

:: Wondering, again, about what I can have faith for.  With our recent bout of sickness (which has still not completely left), with a budget that – at best – has no wiggle room, with disappointments in a lot of the intangibles of life, I find myself questioning what exactly it is I can ask for, seek for, “knock” on the door for and trust that I will receive, find, and be given.  I wonder why the Bible bothers to say “give and it shall be given” when it doesn’t always work out that way (and, sometimes, seemingly never does).  I would have an easier time just accepting constant hardship if the Bible never made promises of something better for the here and now.  It is a frustration for me, and leaves me feeling like God isn’t keeping His promises and that I need to just stop trusting Him for anything.  This is one of those areas where I don’t know how to reconcile belief and circumstance.

:: Homeschooling, and what it’s all for.  I am not an organized person.  I don’t do well at planning, or follow-through.   A lot gets missed in my efforts to teach my kids.  And I often panic a little that their lives will be ruined because I’m not doing a good enough job.  But then I am reminded that the goal of it all is not a perfect education, nor even a love for learning or a strong work ethic.  The goal is a love for the Lord and the equipping to passionately and fearlessly pursue whatever He calls them to in life.  Not that this goal seems easier, necessarily,  but it relieves the burden, in a way.  Because my role in it is so much smaller, so much more about submission and obedience and seeking His face than about following a checklist.  I know there are other important things to teach, but nothing else can really be a priority.

Lots of other things, too, I’m sure.  Equally fascinating.  But for now, I’m done.

The Story of a Pie

Caedmon wanted a lemon meringue pie for his birthday.  I had attempted a lemon meringue pie once before, with lackluster results.  I tend to be easily discouraged when I don’t succeed the first time I try something, so that one time was left as my only time, until this past week.  I found a new recipe, read some tips on keeping the meringue from “weeping”, and felt fairly confident as I set to work.

Right away, though, I dropped the ball.  I tried putting a braided edge on my pie crust (something I’ve never tried before, as my function over form self generally sees no need for such things).  I failed to thoroughly attach said braided edge, and when I checked the crust eight minutes into its ten minute baking time, I found the edge draping over the edge in a couple big loops, baked into a shape that could not be easily put back in place.  Nonetheless, I did what I could with egg wash and pieces of the edge and eventually ended up with a not pretty, but functional, crust.  I figured the meringue would kind of mask it, and my practical side won over my perfectionist side (it usually does) and I decided it was good enough.  One disaster (sort of) averted.

Then, I started making the filling, and honestly, the litany of mistakes I made is probably too much to make any sense out of in writing.  A brief summary, though, includes using too much lemon juice, not making enough, adding ingredients in the wrong order, and (my personal favorite) accidentally using baking powder instead of cornstarch.  There were several instances at which I was certain I was going to have to scrap the whole thing and start over.  Somehow, though, I persisted through the fifteen minutes of foam-to-the-top-of-the-pan that was caused by the baking powder, and amid many prayers of “please, God, just make this work”, did what I could to fix my mistakes…and in the end, the filling was just right.  The meringue, thankfully, went without incident (really, there’s not a lot of mistakes that can be made with whipping egg whites).  In the end the pie was presentable, and yummy.

I’m not writing to highlight my ineptness, though, or some instance of dumb luck.  The reality is that this pie should never have turned out right.  Most times, I would have just given up, but I really did not want to start over.  I felt certain that if I messed up so miserably when I was at least sort of focused and confident, I would be completely incapable of success trying again in my frazzled, defeated state.  I cried and I prayed, in all seriousness and desperation.  However trite that may seem, my reality in that moment was that I needed God to intervene.  And He did.  He took my mess and made it work.

And this is how I often find God’s grace at work in my life, these days.  My efforts rarely (um, possibly never??) go toward monumental things.  My failings and weaknesses and insufficiency surface in the every-day, mundane, should-be-easy-but-sometimes-aren’t moments of life.  So that is where God shows up, too.  He helps me see that when I am not enough, He is enough; when my efforts deserve failure, He grants success; when I am at my end, He makes up the gap and lets me know that He is with me.  And He is for me.  And I’m so thankful that He is, because I can’t do this on my own.  Apparently, even when “this” is simply making a pie.

Double Digits

Ten years with Caedmon have been…

…filled with questions.  Non-stop questions.  Hard questions.  Silly questions.  Questions asked over and over and over again.  Questions from him and questions about him and questions of God to help us please not mess this up, and to have mercy when we do mess up.

…joyful.  He loves to laugh.  He loves to make others laugh.

…seeing him learn, and being often amazed at how easily he does so.  He knew his alphabet by 18 months, could count to 20 by the age of two, and was reading words like “pharmacy” at four.  He still learns with minimal effort, and though I sometimes worry we’re not doing enough to help him “reach his potential”, for the time being, I am satisfied allowing him to direct his brainpower to age-appropriate endeavors of Legos, Hardy Boys, and snow forts.

…being blessed by his love of cooking.  He has currently claimed three mornings a week for breakfast making…oatmeal on Wednesday, fried eggs on Friday, and pancakes on Saturday.  I can’t say that I am at all put out by not being needed in the kitchen at those times.

…reminding myself that he’s still a kid.  This has been happening for years.  His quick understanding of many things often leaves me with the faulty impression that he can understand most things.  There is a constant adjustment that happens in my mind trying to reconcile his age with what he should be able to grasp.  More and more, though, he is getting the tough concepts, and our conversations can go deeper.

…seeing the Lord draw him, and watching him respond.  He was water baptized this past summer, and words can’t describe the joy and thankfulness I felt hearing him make his first public declaration of his faith in Jesus.

…becoming increasingly aware of the fact that his life has a direction and purpose that will take him away from home, away from me, and I need to figure out how to be okay with that, and even more so, how to prepare him for that eventuality.  I can imagine it being one of the hardest things I will ever have to do, but it really shouldn’t be about me at all.

…so rich, so full, so challenging, so good for me.  Caedmon was my first baby, my first toddler, my first student, my first little helper, my first boy, and now my first young man.  I love him so very much.

Taking note

Thankfulness hasn’t been welling up in my heart lately, so today I am trying to make a point of noting some good things – little things, some of them – that make me smile, or relieve stress, or remind me that life can be fun.  Here’s what I’ve come up with.

:: it’s Friday.  Tim works only a half day on Fridays and kids’ schoolwork is a bit more relaxed.

:: a dishwasher.

:: a rearranged living room that is more open and functional and peaceful.

:: a little toddler girl who chases after Tim and me, with arms stretched wide, yelling “‘ug! ‘ug!” (hug).  So, so endearing.

:: a pair of hand-me-down paintings, a cleaned-up milk can found in our garage which is perfect for holding pussy willow branches (which, incidentally, have long since been cleared of their white puffy blossoms (?) thanks to little hands), and an old wooden crate that was left in our attic that works wonderfully as a tv stand…all gracing our still-almost-finished-but-functional family room.  Thriftiness and decorating are both kind of foreign arenas for me, but I’m trying…and finding these things makes me smile.

:: finally finding a pair of maternity pants that fit.  I’m not quite sure why clothing manufacturers think pregnant ladies want to walk around in 5-inch heels just so their pants won’t drag on the ground (maybe most do????) but I don’t.  I’m glad I now have something to wear other than yoga pants.

:: a busy, fun week planned for next week – Caedmon’s 10th (!) birthday Wednesday, a quick trip to an indoor waterpark on Thursday, with some hanging out and shopping followed by a midwife appointment the next day, and the first Upward games of the season on Saturday.

:: a second trimester that has been much kinder to me than usual.  Aside from about a week of my body reverting to first trimester symptoms (following our bout with the cold/flu), I have had only very occasional nausea, and little else for pregnancy-related inconveniences.

:: longer daylight hours.  Even when it is frigid outside, the extra light makes me feel warmer and (obviously?) brightens my day.

:: a new routine.  Or, I should probably say, a routine, since we really haven’t had any to speak of.  And it’s far from rigid or perfect, but it’s better.  I’ll take better.

:: so many things around the house that have, primarily, become the responsibility of my kids.  Though most tasks  are still in need of some improvement, their help makes life doable.

:: adding in a little individual playtime with each child when they get their individual prayer time (one night a week).  It’s been fun.  So far, we’ve mostly played checkers.  Tim is undefeated, I am not.  Our six-year old seems to have inherited Tim’s strategizing abilities, and I am happy to say that it didn’t bother me a bit when he beat me…twice.  I think I’ve finally accepted that I am terrible at games.