Here

Today was a blur.  It was starting school day and the start of two weeks of a no-sugar-added diet.  But it was a mess because of me.  Because of a headache and tears and exhaustion and dizziness and disorganization and the inability to get anything right.  I couldn’t think straight and I had no patience and nothing was going the way I needed it to go.

But I woke up with a song in my head, over and over reminding me that His grace covers me.  And as I staggered under the weight of my brokenness, I heard that still small voice whisper…everyone’s broken…and  I found some relief in knowing that it’s not just me that can’t be perfect without Him.  And as I wondered at this day and these days that seem so barren – fruitless and hopeless and hard – I read, again, about how He makes my feet like hind’s feet and makes me walk high places.  Places that require agility and strength and skill…things that don’t come from walking the verdant valleys of level ground and ready provision. These reminders swirled in the dense fog of my day and never really settled my anxious heart, but they were there.  God was there.  Sometimes He shows up when I don’t even realize how much I need Him to, and proves that He still knows my heart.

At seven

Nathanael is seven.  So, here are seven things about our Bug.

1.  He loves color.  LOVES color.  He always has.  The more color anything has, the better.

2.  He likes to sing in the shower.  In front of people, though?  Not so much.

3.  He is a thoughtful child.  I know I’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again.  He will take the burnt toast, or give up the best seat, or offer to help fold laundry…just because he wants to prefer someone else.  Takes after his Daddy, I guess.

4.  He jumps at the chance to help with any project.  He listens well and sticks with it, too.  He doesn’t mind bumps and bruises, or getting dirty, either.

5.  He had a blast playing baseball this year.  There’s definitely a lot of room for improvement, but his heart was in the game.  It was so fun to see his excitement when he hit the ball or made a good play.

6.  He is a voracious reader.  He loves.to.read.  To the point that we’ve several times found him sitting with a book when there were other tasks he was supposed to be doing.  He makes library runs every few days to get new books.  He will tell anyone who will listen about what he has just read.  I hope he keeps it up.

7.  He is very detailed, and is really skilled at noticing details.  When one of the other kids can’t find something, we send Nathanael to go look…and he often is successful.  When he draws a picture, he includes detail that would probably go unnoticed by many people.  He is aware of changes in his surroundings, no matter how seemingly insignificant.

And that’s our Bug…or, at least, some of the things that make him unique and special.  He is such a great kid and we love him.  We are so proud to have him for a son, and to be celebrating his seven years, today.  Happy Birthday, Nathanael!

I don’t know how to do this.

My two littlest girls are under the weather and have spent a good part of the past few days just crying.

My husband is discouraged and overwhelmed.  I can’t blame him.  Life around here has been discouraging and overwhelming for a while, and he carries most of the weight of it on his shoulders.  He has nobody to teach him or show him how to do it.  I don’t know what to say.  I don’t know what to do.  I pray, but it honestly is out of desperation more than faith.  We are alone and breaking under the strain of a thousand little and not little things.

School is starting for us next week and I am lost.  I have books, but no schedule, no goals, no confidence.  I know my kids are smart, but I also know I am lazy and disorganized, and as much as I put my best effort in, I never seem capable of accomplishing anything more than the absolute minimum…and, sometimes, I’m convinced I haven’t even managed that.  It’s to the point of wondering at times if I just need to give up on homeschooling altogether.  ‘Cause I’m just not good enough.

I’m tired.  My back hurts when I try sleeping, all night long.  I’m pretty sure it’s a post-partum issue, but knowing that doesn’t make it easier to deal with. 

I still can’t see, or hear, or manage to trust God.  It makes my heart hurt, pretty much continually.  I’m trying.  I’m honestly trying.  But I feel hopeless.

Three months

Isabelle is three months old today.  No longer a “newborn” in most regards.

It always takes my breath away, how quickly those days pass.

There are normal baby things I can comment on.  She is mostly sleeping through the night, and has been for a few weeks.  She likes to suck on her fist.  She loves to sit facing outward, to be a part of whatever is going on around her.  She gets cranky in the evenings, but is usually fast asleep before 10pm.  She is growing fast, though in typical Ruehle fashion, has very little baby chubbiness to her.  We still can’t figure our her eye color, so for now we say they are “dark”.  And in all of these things, we are so happy to watch this newest of our precious children begin to express her particular proclivities.

Beyond her milestones and mannerisms, though, is a heart unique to Isabelle.  She is the first of our children to stop nursing for the sole purpose of staring up at me with the biggest of smiles spread across her face.  Often, in her fussy moments, she is calmed simply by anyone smiling at her…and she responds in those moments with seemingly endless smiles and laughter of her own.  It’s not just that she’s entertained, either.  Though she clearly finds many things captivating, her smiles are almost always reserved for people.  I don’t know how much intentionality I can ascribe to her at three months old, but I feel certain that there is a love pouring out of my little girl that is remarkable.    I’m sure I’m biased…I can’t pretend to not be…but tears come to my eyes from the way she looks at me.  It’s like she is baring her heart for all to see and doesn’t know yet to be afraid or skeptical about how it will be received.  She just loves.  And that is absolutely beautiful.

 

Blind faith

Today…well, really, I think for months…God has been telling me I need to believe Him.  The two passages I read this morning (Romans 4 and James 2) both referenced Genesis 15:6

And [Abraham] believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

As is the case with most truth that God tries to get me to see, it’s not a new idea.  In fact, I probably would have glossed over it if it hadn’t shown up twice.  Even then, I didn’t really want to think about it.  I didn’t want to think it could be relevant to my life at this moment.  See, I have been prone to arguing with God lately about this topic.  I have staunchly – stubbornly – been refusing to accept that I need to believe that what God says is true when I can’t see it.  I’ve been asking to see Him.  Desperately.  Persistently.  In frustration and confusion I have wondered why.  I didn’t like the answer that kept coming:

Believe when you can’t see.

So, I’ve been ignoring and arguing.  I was all set to do the same this morning and wanted to somehow think God had already been showing up in Abraham’s situation, but I sort of accidentally paid attention the circumstances of Abraham’s believing.  God made a promise of an heir when, by all accounts, Sarah was well past her child-bearing years.  God had had years to provide a son – to have proven himself faithful – and He hadn’t.  But still, Abraham believed Him when He promised what not only seemed impossible because of the current situation, but which contradicted a lifetime of experience that said it couldn’t happen.  He believed when he couldn’t see.

It’s easy to think I know best.  It’s easy to question God’s timing, and how He chooses to be faithful to His Word.  It’s hard to not see.  It’s hard to wait, especially in a desert.  It’s hard (for me anyway) to call something true and right and God-glorifying that, in the moment, is only pain and struggle.

I rely too much on sight, on logic, on what I feel.  But if God is who He claims to be, then He is in no way constrained by circumstances, reason, or emotion.  They are constructs of His limitless being and He can’t, in any way, be limited by them.

I want to trust that.  I want to believe when I can’t see.  I’m not sure how to get there, though.

Men

A couple days ago, there was some roadwork being done in front of our house.  Men were shoveling gravel into a dumptruck, and it brought a thought to mind that I find myself having a lot.  It’s a thought I have when driving through mountains and seeing the strips of land cleared across nearly impossible terrain in order to run power lines.  Or when I watch little league or men’s softball games.  Or when I see a man walking on a roof, or see photos of the construction of skyscrapers and massive bridges.  It’s a thought I have over and over and over again just observing how my husband lives life:  men are so much stronger than women in so many ways.

Up until I was about ten or eleven, I think I mostly bought into the notion that our culture had so blatantly tried to instill in me that boys and girls were equal – the same in strength, and ability and intelligence.  I had so far always been among the smartest, fastest and strongest of my peers.  My biceps were the biggest in my fourth grade class (uh, can we say tomboy?).  I thought I would always be as good at anything and everything as the boys.  Somehow, though, by the age of twelve, I remember having come to a very matter-of-fact understanding that, as a girl, I just wasn’t cut out of the same cloth as the boys.  Despite all of the indoctrination (which I got a good dose of at home as well as at school), I knew…I think because it was just obvious…that boys were actually better at a lot of things, in many cases simply because they were boys – and even then, found comfort in that reality.

Now, as I consider all the things that men can do that I can’t do – that, in general, women can’t do – I find God’s design so humbling and so amazing.  Honestly, the fact that anybody dreamed that they could criss-cross mountain ranges with huge power towers and electric lines is mind boggling to me.  There is so much wrapped up in that – vision and courage and intelligence and physical endurance and persistence – that I truly think is part of a man’s God-given nature.  And though not every endeavor that a man undertakes is so monumental, those traits are valuable and necessary in so many of the demands of everyday life.

When my husband talks of dreams for the future, it’s not unusual for me to cringe and want to point out all of things that won’t work the way he hopes they will.  The weight of the idea alone is enough to crush my spirit, to make me want to cling to the safety of the known, humdrum, easy(er) work of life.  I admit, I am not always (or even often) an encouragement in those moments.  But I’ve felt challenged lately – challenged to recognize that there’s a reason he’s the leader and I’m not.  The call on his life requires a particular strength of will, strength of character, strength of faith that are just not a part of who I was made to be.  There’s a necessity for me to support even when my comprehension is limited.

I’m also becoming increasingly aware of how this affects the way we raise our boys.  As I’ve sat at baseball games just really floored by the fact that pre-teen boys are already capable of things, strength-wise, that I’ve never been able to do, I’ve realized even more that I need to learn to restrain my natural inclinations toward being over-protective and risk-averse and “practical” when it comes to how they approach life.  I want my boys to dream big.  I want them to recognize that God has made them to be visionary and faith-filled and persistent and tenacious and courageous and faithful.  But can I just say that this scares me more than a little?  God, grant me the wisdom and faith to trust them in your hands.

We live in a society that doesn’t value men.  We are surrounded by a culture that has chosen to marginalize the very characteristics in men that uniquely qualify them to protect and lead and provide and, in some very meaningful ways, reflect the nature of an all-powerful, but always good God.  I have seen so clearly and personally how effectively the Devil can destroy a man by undermining those qualities.  And, it seems, in each generation in recent history, that undermining is taken to deeper and deeper levels.

How crucial it is, then, for me to encourage my husband to walk in all that he is as a man of God – to support him in prayer, in my words, in whatever way I can as his helper – not just so that our family can move forward in God’s plan for us, but so that an unbelieving world can look on and see how good and right and necessary it is to let men be men.  And how imperative it is that my boys know that they have a calling as men in the Lord, regardless of whatever else they are called to, and that they can recognize that there’s something special in that.  There’s a responsibility, but there’s also an opportunity to impact their family, their community, their nation and the world, for the kingdom of God…simply by wisely and faithfully exercising those strengths they’ve been given.

I am so thankful for godly men who walk worthy of their calling.  It strengthens families and builds churches.  It is salt and light in our ever more decaying and dark world.  It testifies to the wisdom of God’s design.  It bears fruit for His kingdom.

I can’t say emphatically enough how much this means to me, personally, and to our world.

It matters.  So, so much.

 

 

Life

For months, I have read my Bible with a sort of frustrated apathy.  I have been desperate to find life in the Word – answers to my despairing questions, water for my parched soul, something to reach into the depths of my heart and remind me: oh yeah, that’s the truth I’ve been forgetting.  I’ve searched for it in all of the familiar verses and stories that used to reliably draw my heart back to the Lord, but have found them to be like dust poured onto dry ground.  Days would pass when I just didn’t bother to open my Bible, certain that I would only reap discouragement.  It has been the harshest season of my soul, these months, and I’ve struggled to even understand why.

But there’s been a light in recent weeks…not a total understanding, or a great revelation, but a slow, dim dawning in the darkness.  He wants to be enough.  He needs to be enough.  When I think that any satisfaction will be found in answered prayers, or when I deem Him faithful only if life is going as I think it should, or when experience trumps what I know to be truth, then I have missed the point of it all.  Because it isn’t that my circumstances should be the evidence of a faithful God.  That puts Him on my level.  That says that who He is must be confined to working within my understanding.  I have wanted so much to force His hand in my circumstances, to make Him prove Himself to me.  And I think He did, but not how I wanted – not how I thought I needed Him to.  Instead of showing up in my circumstances, He stopped showing up in my searching for Him.  Instead of fixing those areas of life that were going wrong, He became absent even from those areas of life that were fine.  And I missed Him.  And I realized that His presence with me was the proof I needed of His faithfulness, and His truth, and His love.  It’s His presence that makes it possible to look past unanswered prayer and find hope.  It’s His presence that brings comfort in despair and peace in the storm.  It’s knowing that He is there to strengthen and sustain and guard and revive that make hard things bearable.  It’s not anything He can give or do that is the proof I need of all that He is.  It’s just Him.  Who He is proves who He is, if that makes any sense.  

And a couple days ago, for the first time in so, so long I opened my Bible and found nourishment.  In Ecclesiastes, of all places.  It paints the picture, so clearly, of how pointless life is when our focus is on anything but God.  Even searching for understanding, even making morality and righteousness our goal, are vanity.  Knowing Him should be our goal.  Eternity should be what we’re living for.  Our hopes should begin and end with that.

To be honest, I’m still left with questions about how in the world to have faith in prayer for things.  I’ve lost it.  But maybe what faith I had was misplaced anyhow?  Still, it’s secondary, at best.  No matter what circumstances look like, that communion with the Lord – made possible only by Jesus’ sacrifice – is life.  And life is what I need.


Summer days

Life has been disorganized lately, to say the least.  Not that it’s usually super organized anyway, but it has been particularly amorphous this summer.  Obviously, adjusting to a new baby has been a significant contributor to this, but I hate the feeling that days are passing with nothing concrete to show for them.  As I think about it, though, I find that all of our time hasn’t been spent whiling the hours away.

Up until about a week and a half ago, there was baseball.  Just about every weeknight that it wasn’t raining found us at a ballpark, watching either Caedmon or Nathanael play.  Okay, so sometimes “watching” could only loosely describe what we were doing, since by the end, the four or five children who were being asked to just sit and pay attention to the game were pretty tired of it, and let us know as much…in ways that did not necessarily lend themselves to us following the games as closely as we may have liked.  I’m sort of torn about how much to expect from them.  I think learning to sit still and exercise self-control is necessary, but they are just kids and I never really know when what I’m asking of them goes beyond stretching to being exasperating.  But, I think the overall experience was still fun…even if at times it was simply the being together that made it so.

The past couple Sundays, there has also been men’s softball – Tim plays, Caedmon plays with the youth, the rest of us watch.  We’ve done this for the past 3(?) summers, but this year is proving a bit more challenging, with a new baby wanting to be always held, and a toddler-girl who has decided that listening and obedience are for the birds.  My nerves have been pretty frayed by the time the games have been done, so we’re assessing whether an adjustment of priorities might be necessary.  Missing softball would be kind of disappointing, though, so I’m hoping we can figure out a way to make it work.

There has also been gardening.  This year, our gardens – much like the rest of life – have been mostly discouraging.  Blankets of weeds seem to appear out of nowhere, a bunny attacked our broccoli and beet plants, which had been doing well, radishes didn’t grow, rhubarb came and went in the blink of an eye and I wasn’t able to make any use of it, my spinach bolted in, like, a week, my tulips didn’t bud, and a couple new flowering plants that I added last year didn’t regrow this year.  Because of my cesarean (and a baby), my ability to do anything about any of it has been severely limited.  Even now, I can only weed for short periods of time before my abdomen hurts.  On the plus side, we have snap peas and lettuce and chives and strawberries, plus a couple cherry tomato plants that are huge (compared to our started-from-seed-two-weeks-ago plants) thanks to their ability to grow from seeds left in the ground over winter.  And we have daisies growing in the pile of dirt that is next to our garage…though, at the moment, I don’t honestly remember where that pile of dirt came from or why it is still there…but I am happy for the flowers.

Back to the subject of strawberries, though.  There have been a lot – about 14 quarts from our garden, plus the 24 quarts we got from strawberry picking, plus four quarts so far from the CSA.  Most have been frozen for jam-making at a more convenient time, or to use for other things later on, but some have been eaten and they are so good.  Of course, since strawberry shortcake is my hands-down absolute favorite dessert, an abundance of strawberries could never be considered too-much, and even the hours that have been spent cleaning and hulling the strawberries have been mostly spent in appreciation of such bounty.

I have also spent hours researching and pondering math and language arts curricula for next year.  Not my favorite thing to do, and I’m still not decided on what we’re doing.  This is just really hard for me.  I try to tell myself that even if something doesn’t work out, it’s not a disaster, but I know I will feel terrible for spending money and energy on something only to have it be the wrong decision.

The past few weeks have also included me adjusting to driving our bigger vehicle.  While we still had our minivan, I drove that, because I found our Ford Excursion with a 6-inch lift and massive tires a bit intimidating.  Since our van sold (much to our relief, and our children’s sorrow) I don’t have a choice.  There has been a learning curve, but I think my driving is mostly not-scary at this point.

We are also on the home-stretch of memorizing Ephesians 2, which we have been in the process of doing for…um…a long time.  Really, I think my kids could have had it finished months ago (and I think Caedmon did), but since I have been memorizing along with them, my pregnancy and then new-baby brain has necessitated taking it much slower in our “official” memorizing time.  But I think next week should wrap it up.  Finally.  Then the trick will be to keep it memorized.

The kids have, perhaps, been suffering a bit from lack of structure.  Chores seem to take longer than they should and there are a lot more “can I?” requests throughout the day.  But there have been trips to the library, helping Daddy with projects, many days with hours on end of outside play – complete with sweat-soaked baseball hats and mud-encrusted limbs, episodes of MasterChef (evidence that they are, indeed, my kids), and lots of ice cream.  Starting next week, there will also be swimming lessons at 10:30 three days a week.  I’m not entirely sure that I was completely sane when making that decision, as getting all six of them ready and out the door by 10am seems incredibly daunting at the moment, but hopefully it will bear fruit, and perhaps result in some (or all???) of my four oldest learning to swim.  We’ll see.

I have also been trying to go for a walk most days.  Up until about a week or so ago, this literally was simply around the block, since anything more still caused a fair amount of pain.  I’ve managed about 1.5 miles the past few days, though, and am hoping that it won’t be too long before I can start running again.  This particular aspect of post-partum life is always particularly difficult for me.  Having 40 pounds to lose and not being able to do a whole lot about it is frustrating, to say the least.  Not having clothes that fit (nor even being able to find any) just makes it worse.  I’ve come to expect that at somewhere around 3 months post-partum, my body will decide it’s finally time for my hips to return to their normal, not-quite-so-wide state.  I will at that time have a horrible backache for a week or two and feel like I can barely stand, after which all of my clothes will fit differently again, my belly will stick out even more (because it won’t be stretched so wide) and I will get to go through a whole new round of frustration.  At least, that’s how it’s happened after the last 3 babies.  I’m trying to brace myself.

In the meantime, I enjoy my baby girl.  She likes to be held.  She likes to nap for long stretches during the day, then stay up fairly late at night.  She looks in your eyes and smiles for long moments.  She is a gift.

And that’s life.  Well, okay, not exactly.  It’s snapshots of life here.  Hardly the whole picture.  But they are snapshots worth noting, I think.

 

 

 

About my baby

Tomorrow, Isabelle will be 6 weeks old.

She loves to look around, and if awake, wants to face out and take in the world around her.

She rarely wakes up crying, instead signalling her wakefulness by wiggles and squeaks, much like her oldest sister did as a baby.

She has the.most.adorable dimple in her right cheek.  It’s elusive, though.  Despite several attempts to get a picture, it is as yet unphotographed,  Otherwise, I would show you, because it’s so sweet.  Oh well.

Her eye color is still yet to be determined.  We’ve had to wait to find out for each child.  So far, we have two with solid brown eyes, one with a brown and green mix (hazel?), one with light gray-blue, and one with dark gray-blue.  Whatever color they are, though, they are big and beautiful and full of the wonder of this life that’s so new to her.

She loves to be rocked.  She is the first child to really take to it.  It definitely beats walking around late at night.

She has fussy times, but she has times when she is really content just looking around, too.

She is adored by her siblings, even her nearest-in-age sister who, despite some obvious adjustment difficulties, has quickly added words like “cute”, “gentle”, “kiss”, and “Belle-belle” to her vocabulary, and has taken to swaddling her own little stuffed bear in a washcloth so that she can have a “baby”.

She wraps her arms around me and my heart melts.  Her head gets kissed endlessly, and I choke back tears as I look in her eyes and tell her she is beautiful.  Words can’t really describe how beautiful.  I love her – this fearfully and wonderfully made little girl – completely and indescribably, for ever and always.

 

 

Trying to learn…

…contentment – and distinguishing it from apathy.  I will never be perfect.  I know, I know – that’s a shocking notion.  But, really, it is a difficult concept for me to grasp.  I have trouble setting goals that are anything short of perfection, and since I never come anywhere near perfection even on my best day, even in the littlest things, discouragement comes easily.  And I want to be better than I am, I want my kids to be better than they are, I want my house to be better than it is, and on, and on, and on.  I need to learn about grace – more and again.  I need to find the freedom that comes with acknowledging that the gap left by my failings and insufficiencies is covered.  I need to not let all of the things that don’t go just right dictate my attitude.  So far, I do a pretty lousy job of this.

…submission.  You may be surprised to learn that my husband and I don’t always agree on everything…but I really hope you aren’t.  In any case, there are times when we don’t see eye to eye…times when I wonder if we’re even facing each other…times when we’re both convinced the other is wrong and giving in would seem to mean certain devastation.  Sometimes it’s little things, but sometimes it’s not little things.  And I know I’m supposed to let him lead, and trust that God is bigger, but it goes against every fiber of my being.  My childhood was one where submission meant the forced relinquishing of any say and then bracing for the fallout of what would almost certainly be a bad decision.  Authority was not trustworthy, in any capacity.  I don’t know how to let go of that.  I don’t know how to submit when I’m convinced that a mistake is being made.  But I do know that the weight of responsibility for this family is not mine, and I don’t want it to be.  So, I need to learn how to stop arguing.  I need to learn how to support my husband even when I don’t agree.  I need to learn how to follow.

…blind faith.  Normally, I would argue against this.  Even now, I’m certainly not advocating for it in a general sense.  But, in trying to understand why life has seemed so devoid of God’s presence lately, the only answer I’ve sort of gotten is that I need to learn to trust Him in His absence – not just absence from circumstances, but absence from my worship times, absence from my Bible study, absence from my prayer time.  I’m seeing that I have grown used to having Him answer me, rebuke me, comfort me and challenge me on a very personal level.  I haven’t learned to rely on the foundation of faith that has been laid in my life.  Instead of answering my questions and fears and doubts with the truth that I should have embedded in my soul, I have expected that still, small voice to answer me every time.  I can’t fully explain it.  I don’t really know why I shouldn’t expect Him to answer me.  And I have struggled to reconcile my faith with how it is supposed to bear fruit in my life.  But, I’m trying to figure it out.