Sunday, December 6, 2015

a perfectly timed phone call {community, post 2}

When we lived on Hazel Ave. there was a widow, Betty, who lived nearby that would stop and chat with us when we were working out in the front yard. If we walked by her house she would pop out to say hello, and once she even stopped in the middle of the road for a moment as she was driving by while I was watching Bennett jump in puddles, tiny Ainsleigh snuggled up in the Ergo.

I sensed her loneliness. I understood her grief. I wanted to connect, but aside from a Christmas basket drop off last year, and a few conversations, it never happened. We spoke often in the weeks leading up to our move. The weather was warm, and she would walk by most days. Just before we moved she dropped a letter through our mailbox asking for our forwarding address. I left a note with our information in her mailbox as we left the neighborhood for our new home.

Shortly after moving into our new house I decided to try keeping up a relationship with Betty. We wrote short letters back and forth for a couple months. Betty provided her number at the bottom of every letter, but I didn't call her because I am terrible on the phone. Just the thought of calling someone makes my stomach ache, never mind actually picking up the phone and dialing a number.

In one letter I invited her to our new home for lunch. After a long stretch of time passed she wrote back to say she had been ill. I was concerned enough after reading her letter I tried to call her, but she was busy, running out the door, or on her way somewhere, and asked me to call back.

I didn't call back for a month. I thought, she's too busy, she obviously doesn't need more people in her life, you thought she was lonely, but obviously she's fine, it would probably be awkward to have her over for a meal, you hardly know her ....

On a bitterly cold morning at the end of November I felt enough courage - and shame at how much time had passed - to call again. I was relieved when the call went to voicemail. I was grateful it was now up to Betty to decide if we were going to continue to communicate.

The following night I was lying on the couch after a long, exhausting day. I had been ill all day, the kids had been kids, and I had to keep up with them even though I didn't feel my best. I was wiped out. Phsyically and emotionally. I could feel the absence of Charlotte in the house as I stared at the lights on the freshly decorated Christmas tree. I was finishing a mug of tea, just about ready to kick my blanket off my feet and shuffle to bed (at 8:00! I was feeling really ill) when my phone rang.

It was Betty.

I stared at the phone for a moment before answering, my stomach jumping nervously. I almost didn't answer, afraid the conversation might be awkward, or strained, but I am so glad I chose to accept the call.

When Betty converses she shoots from one topic to another like a pinball set loose in a cacophonous machine, and it requires quite a bit of energy to keep up with her ricocheting thoughts. We talked about the kids, our new home, and a few other things before we began talking about grief. Betty spoke of her late husband for a while. She talked about what it was like when he died, and what the first year without him was like.

I held the nest necklace I had recently purchased ( a quiet way to keep all three of my children near me) in my hand and listened to her speak while the weight of my own grief descended on my shoulders. I touched the eggs inside the nest - one, two, three - then I took a deep breath and told her about Charlotte. I thought she knew the vague outline of what had happened to Charlotte, but she didn't even have an inkling. As I told her my story of grief she listened with sympathy and understanding.

Earlier in the evening I had been reading a storybook Bible to Ainsleigh on the couch. She squished in next to me, placed the Bible in my lap, patted the cover and said, "Bible,"  so I read to her. After every page she said, "more Bible," so I kept reading to her, page after page after page until her head dropped onto my shoulder and she began rubbing her eyes.

I was so sad all day, and that moment was like hope crystallized for me. It was like God saw me and knew I needed a reminder that while the month of December is really sad for me, it's also a really good season when we celebrate a pure light coming into our broken world.

And then Betty called and I again felt like God saw me. God is the greatest Comforter. We are to turn to Him when we feel broken and lost, and He will give us grace and peace. It might be through a little girl, or a widow, or a complete stranger, but He will give us what we need in every moment and situation.

I needed to talk about Charlotte that night. I didn't know I needed to until I put the phone down, but with each word that came out I felt a little more peace and calm enter my heart. I needed to pass her story on. I needed to talk about how hard the sixth Christmas is without her to someone who is trying to make it through a third Christmas without a loved one. And so God provided.

Isn't that amazing?

I left our old neighborhood feeling like I was escaping a place I didn't belong. Everyone was so well connected, and I felt so adrift. Some of that is definitely up to me. There were times I didn't cross the street when I could have. There were moments I could have tried harder to connect, but I didn't because I was worried I wouldn't fit in. A lot of people were close, and I chose to make friendships elsewhere, because I didn't feel welcome. 

But when I moved out of the neighborhood, a couple relationships stayed with me. I felt so certain I was on the outside I didn't realize being in the center isn't everything. Often one or two meaningful relationships are worth far more than five shallow ones. I have to be friends with people who will let me have the space to be me. Truly me. Emotionally shattered through most of December me. I lost the ability to be false when Charlotte died. I just don't have the energy. Life is far too short for pretense. 

You might not fit where you think you should fit, but there is a place for you, your heart, your spirit, your unique sense of humor, and your incredible, radiant self. Don't confuse someone else's place for yours. And don't expect all of you to match up perfectly with all of someone else. Yes you need the twenty-four hour friend, but you need the phone call every few weeks from the person who lives two miles away and sends the occasional letter just as much. 

Satan wants us to focus on where we don't fit in, but Jesus wants us to see, and know, how much we matter and where we belong. If you feel small, or left out, marginalized in any way, believe me, that is Satan. He likes it when you feel small, because it stirs up feelings of anger and jealousy. God likes it when you feel loved and cared for, because you are His child and He loves you immensely

Friday, December 4, 2015

{community, post 1}

God placed a need to be in community on my heart this year, and then he led me to a place where that need could begin to be filled. 

Our church is BIG. It's not mega-church big, but coming from fairly small churches I find it big, and a little intimidating. For years I wanted to get involved with a community group so we could get to know a few people well,  but I didn't know how to go about doing so.

When we moved to our new home in June it was empty aside from a fridge in the kitchen, and a washer and dryer in the utility room. We didn't ask for the washer or dryer in the contract, and ours were newer and in better shape, so we decided to get rid of them.

We were going to sell them on Craigslist, but then I thought it might be easier to call the church and see if anyone was in need. Within a couple days we had a new home lined up for the washer and dryer.

Two men I didn't know very well came to pick up the set and deliver it to its new home as a favor to the person who needed it. We chatted for a while in the driveway, then the subject of Saturday night church came up.

"We have a community group that meets Thursday nights. It's all West Salem families who attend Saturday night services," one of the men said. "Would you like to join us when we start up again in the fall?"

I said we would be very interested, we chatted a few moments more, and then they headed off to complete their delivery.

I was really excited to have a prayer I had been praying for a long time answered through a chance meeting via an abandoned washer and dryer.

And then we went to the first meeting when the group resumed this fall.

We were the only ones with young kids. We were the only ones who brought our kids to the group. And they did not behave. AT ALL.

Bennett and Ainsleigh were up and down the stairs, through the banisters and onto the back of the couch, and into everything. I was horrified by their behavior. The other members of the group were remarkably kind. One couple has five grown boys while another couple has four grown children, so they understand kids, but still we needed to make changes if we were going to attend.

Having kids is so humbling, isn't it?

One of our main issues was the time. 7:00 on a Thursday night is really, really late for our kids. Ainsleigh is in bed by 7:00 most nights, if not 6:00 or 6:30. Every group meeting the kids were bouncing off the walls because they were exhausted.

After weeks of trial and error, and a lot of frustration, and feeling like we should give up, we figured out a routine that works some of the time: a snack, a show on my phone, a baby gate for the stairs, a pacifier for Ainsleigh, and a willingness to bail if things get too crazy. There's also been some discussion about moving things to our home so the kids can go to bed while me meet. Everyone is willing to work around us, which is really nice and considerate.

It's been really good for us to get involved in a group and spend time in prayer and study with other couples from our church. It's also been really challenging. I admit, I often don't want to go, because I know it's going to be rough, but I always benefit from our meetings.

At the beginning of the year when I prayed for God to show me how to be in community I had no idea I would be part of a great community group at the end of the year. Sometimes an answer to prayer comes quietly and quickly, other times it comes slowly but with great force. This was one answer even I couldn't miss, or mistake for something else.

When I was worried about moving I asked God to be with me, and remind me that He had a plan for our family and would place us where He wanted us. With every sale that fell through, and with every challenge we faced I asked God to place us in the neighborhood and home He waned us to be in.

We've lived here a few months and I've been astonished by the number of people from our church and Bennett's preschool class (who don't attend our church) that surround us in all directions. But that's how God works. He astonishes. He amazes. And if we ask him to place His hands on our lives He'll send us where we need to be.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

{community, introduction}

The first house Jon and I bought was a small bungalow built in 1939. It was 1,400 square feet with an unfinished basement, but the top floor was one giant room, which equaled a lot of wasted space for our family because of  the way we live.

I didn't feel like we could entertain very often, because the house was so small. Coming from the bedroom hallway into the kitchen was such a tight squeeze I found myself wedged between the counter and pantry at the end of my second pregnancy!

When the housing market improved we decided to sell our house in the hope of finding a home that  fit our family a little better. I wanted to have friends and family over without feeling like the house might burst at the seams.

See, I'm a paradox. I love to entertain. I enjoy feeding people, and spending time around a big table with food debris piled high in the middle, stomachs full and conversation flowing. That is my idea of a great evening, BUT, I'm an introvert. So for every great evening I need three days of recovery (preferably alone with a stack of books and tea - iced or warm). With two children this is nearly impossible, but when we found our new home, and I saw how much room we would have to entertain, I knew I would have to figure out a way to decompress with two children running up and down the halls with endless amounts of energy, because at this time in my life I feel God calling - and pushing me - to live in community.

What does that mean?

I don't think living in community means going out and making new friends. Or trying to force friendships with people that don't fit you or your personality well. Living in community can mean making new friends, but it often means engaging your people, the ones who are already in your life. And if you claim you don't have time for friends - old or new - or community, I suggest you re-prioritize your life. Creating friendships outside our marriages is so important for individual growth and a healthy life. Couple friends are important as well, but I need my girls like I need food and water.

And while one aspect of living in community involves engaging the people I already know and care for, I think a secondary aspect involves throwing open the front door, so to speak, and loving every. single. person I encounter as Jesus would. And in those encounters going beyond the basics and being brave enough to step out in faith and share Christ's love so that everyone I cross paths with has the opportunity to know Christ and enter into the forever community that is waiting for believers in heaven. 

I am not so great at living out that paragraph ^^ up there. I have a lot of growing to do, so, that's what I'm going to write about for a while. Living in community. Being in community. Creating new communities, and enjoying the established ones. I know it's been a while since this blog has been a regular thing, but I hope you'll join me as I try to write regularly again.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

stress & grace

We're roughly one month into an absolute nightmare with our main vehicle. We're on our second mechanic, and I've just about lost my mind from the stress of it all.

I am attempting to keep our lives going. I'm finding rides to preschool for B, and borrowing cars, and sending J grocery shopping, and figuring out how to entertain the kids at home since getting anywhere on foot from here isn't easy.

As we've been dealing with this series of mechanical issues we've also been presented with an interesting opportunity: how do we respond? How do we tell an automotive shop we need a refund and we will be taking our business elsewhere, and still represent our faith?

I can tell you how I want to respond to the automotive shop: a LOT of yelling. Maybe some throwing. A chair kick or two to really make my point.

I can tell you how I have responded to my people, the ones who have to put up with me day in and day out: not well.

The last few weeks have been hard. Really, really, over the top, full of stress hard. It doesn't feel good to be put in a position of uncertainty and mistrust. It's uncomfortable to feel like you don't know what's going on, and you're not sure what the truth is, or who to trust.

And as all of this is going on I'm reading through the Bible- straight through, book after book, page after page - and I can see how I should be behaving is not matching up with how I am behaving. I'm doing okay with the people I don't know well, but I'm failing miserably with the people I care for.

But here's the awesome thing about the Bible: at its core it is a story of a nation (Israel) who fails over, and over, and over, and yet God says, I still love you, you are still mine, I will preserve a remnant, I will not wipe you out completely, I am writing a story and you are central to it, and I will give you grace again, and again, and again.

I need that grace. Every day. I mess up a lot. We all do. The mechanic we initially hired to fix our car did. And instead of kicking chairs across the office we firmly asked for a refund and took our business elsewhere. We're still in the process of getting our refund. We're still figuring things out, but we're staying calm, because we can't be a witness to anyone if we're trying to get our way by yelling and screaming.

And I really, really need to apply that concept to my home life. I keep telling my kids I love God, but they need to see me love God by following his commands. And in Mark 12 it is written, 

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[e] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[f] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[g] There is no commandment greater than these.”
I'm not suggesting the Bible is only about these verses, but there is a very strong theme of loving others woven through it. Having our car break down showed me how much work I have to do if I want not only my kids, but everyone I encounter, to see Christ in me. I want reading the entire Bible straight through to change me.  This has been a really awful way to learn what I need to work on, but as Jesus told the disciples, following Him is not easy. God stretches us. He wants us to grow and change, and sometimes the process of doing so is really hard.
Choosing to follow Jesus does not equal an easy life. It doesn't mean there won't be hardships. Jobs will be lost. Cars will breakdown. Marriages will struggle, and even fail. Kids will go off the rails. Families will break apart. LIFE will happen, whether you believe or not. But when you believe you get this incredible grace that never quits, or runs out. I want my kids to know that grace. I want everyone I meet to know that grace. I want to be an example of that grace.
 2 Samuel 14:14 - "Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him."
God is always calling us back to his side. It doesn't matter what we've done or said, or how we've lived, or the choices we've made, He loves us and wants us to return to Him. We fail, but God never fails.

Friday, September 18, 2015

on preschool and letting go (a tiny bit) and sending a child with food allergies into the world

We have three days of preschool and one evening of Cubbies behind us, and we are exhausted. We transitioned from one small thing last year - music class once a week - to all in this fall, and the result so far is overtired kids and lots of time trying to decide if we're making the right choices.

Preschool is only two days a week for three hours in the morning. Placing Bennett in the 3 year old class was a good decision for him - and me. I love going to pick him up. I miss his face so much I go inside to pick him up. It's more efficient than waiting in the pick up line and I get to see him come up the stairs with a big smile on his face, eyes on his teacher, following the rules. It's always nice to know he can behave well, since he often chooses not to at home!

Cubbies is part of the Awana program. It's a little hard to explain, but it's basically a two hour Sunday school class on Wednesday evening - Bible verse memorization, craft, game time ... I really wanted B to attend, but I was worried about him getting lost in the chaos. Thankfully a dear friend is a table leader and she agreed to have him in her group. It's as good as me being there with him, so I feel a lot calmer about leaving him than I thought I would. She held him when he was new, she knows he has food allergies, she knows he can be shy, and she knows I can be a little paranoid and she loves me anyway.

And both of these things - preschool and Cubbies - require snacks. Of course. After the first day I told J we'll have to increase our food budget to ensure Bennett has food that is easy to pack and eat. I'm really, really worried that he'll eat something he isn't supposed to, but I can't control what he does when he's at school so I have to trust we taught him well and that his teacher will pay attention and remember he can't eat anything unless it comes in the door with him. So far, she's been great, but I know having 15 kids to take care of is busy and hectic. On top of everyday snacks there's birthday days, and special treats, and field trips, and I've started baking and freezing treats so I always have something on hand in case I need it.

There has been some refusal to all of these new activities, but no tears, and "I loved everything" comments at every pick up, so I feel he's ready, but it's still been hard! We're also trying a community group on Thursday nights, and we are the only ones with young children who attend, so that's been a new, challenging thing as well. It's a lot of new, and a lot of change, and we're all a little introverted so there's been many quiet times and extended afternoon breaks from each other (everyone to their own rooms for an hour, mama included!).

We're managing, we're coping, we're adjusting, and I think in a couple weeks we'll be in the swing of things and life won't feel so overwhelming. I have limited advice since we've barely dipped our toe in the waters of activities outside the home, but here's a few thoughts on the matter:

Thoughts on scheduling: I have two built in quiet days right now, and I think we'll definitely keep that in our schedule if we can. Two days where we don't have anything to do, but we can make time for friends, or a library trip if we feel up to it.

Thoughts on food allergies: Educate every caregiver and teacher. Remind them your child has food allergies every. single. time. you place your child in their care. Prepare, plan, have a dedicated allergy bag with all medicine and a snack or two, and every time you walk away pray for their health and safety just like you would for any child you send out into the world.

Thoughts on anxiety: If you are a mama who has buried a child I understand how anxious you feel when you leave your child in the care of someone else. If you're like me, it's hard to walk away. I wonder if I'm doing the right thing. I worry I'll never see him again. But part of growing up is gaining independence, and as I've mentioned before I don't want my fear and anxiety to hinder Bennett's or Ainsleigh's lives. I can't stop them from living a normal childhood because their sister died unexpectedly. But I can make sure I'm as comfortable as possible with where my living kids are and who they are with, so for now all of Bennett's activities away from me are at our church.

How are you managing fall activities? Do you miss your babies? Can you believe they're old enough to be in school? Do you feel like your school is a good fit for your family?

It's hard to know if we are doing the right thing, but I think approaching every school and extracurricular decision with prayer and a willingness to alter course if things aren't working is the best mindset for our family. After all, this is only the beginning of Bennett's long (and in so many ways short) journey to independence.

Friday, September 4, 2015

on quiet days and best friends

This morning I made muffins for Bennett and Ainsleigh. When they finished baking, at 8 am because we'd been up since just before 6 am, the kids were desperate for a bite so I split open two steaming muffins for us to share. The kids hovered near me in their helper tower, which is always in the middle of the kitchen waiting to be used - or abused - now that we have room for it, while I waited for the muffins to cool down a bit. Then I fed all of us from the same fork, bite by bite, until both muffins were gone. After we finished we meandered to the living room, Ainsleigh in my arms, because even closing in on 2 that's her best place, her happiest spot. Ainsleigh nestled in close, head under my chin, face pressed into my neck, while Bennett raced ahead to find a book for me to read.

It rained on and off throughout the day. We meandered a lot, from room to room, from book to book. I read all of Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist in between demands and wishes from Bennett and Ainsleigh. I read the four books on army tanks Bennett picked out at the library three times. Big nonfiction books with concepts that are probably beyond him - and me to be honest - like war and conflict, but he is interested, and asks questions when he gets confused.

The kids had a bubble bath at 10:30, (so I could read a few chapters) followed by a big snack, and then Ainsleigh fell asleep for two hours. We run earlier than a lot of families I know, but this is our current season, and I'm embracing being the ones waiting in the parking lot for Trader Joe's to open at 8 am. 2-4 in the afternoon can be long and rough for us, because quiet time and naps are done and everyone is restless, but as the weather cools and the sky occasionally spits rain I've made that our time to get out and walk the dog around the block, or up the hill, or to the playground at the nearby school.

I needed a day to wander through the house, connect with my tiny ones, and feel sad. I am so very sad right now. So very sad, and so very glad, because a dear friend of mine is moving. Sad to see her go, glad for her family to have this opportunity. Weeks ago when she said, "There's a job offer in Minnesota," my heart sank. I just knew her husband would take the offer and she would go.

There's three of us. Three mamas with twelve babies between us if you count the ones in heaven as well as the ones we rock in our Earthly homes. I wouldn't be the mother I am today if I didn't have those two in my life. I've never had that experience before, the one of truly, authentically belonging in a friendship. Houses can be messy, hair can be frightening, kids can misbehave, tears can fall, no one judges if you laugh until you pee your pants (with that many kids between us how can you not?), and they are the ones I would call in the middle of the night, or at 2 in the afternoon, anytime anything good or bad happened.

Three weeks ago we spent two very hot nights helping our friend pack, paint and stage her home. On the second night we sat on the front lawn for twenty minutes with cold drinks in our sweaty hands, and we talked, and talked, and talked. We might have been out there for forty minutes, or two hours, but I'm sure it was closer to twenty. We can pack a lot of conversation into a few minutes. We're used to talking over screaming, fighting, crying, and generally loud kids having a great time together.

I know my friend isn't leaving my life. I know that. I get it. But I loved having her a few minutes away, and having her way out there in Minnesota is going to be a big adjustment. But as I was reading in Bittersweet this afternoon, when you have those kinds of friends you make time to visit them, you figure out a way to get yourself across the country, because those friendships are rare.

I've had bursts of sadness and joy over these last few weeks as we've prepared for her to go. On Monday her kids ran around with mine for a few hours. I cry every time I think about our girls born a few hours apart who won't grow up together, so I try to focus on how much they fight when they are together because they both are so strong, and determined. On Wednesday night we had our last pedicure and movie night for a while.

I'll never forget how she called me soon after Charlotte died and invited me out, even though she didn't really know me. And how she listened to my story over ice cream without saying anything but, "I'm sorry." I poured so much grief, hurt, and pain out in Cold Stone that night, and she just let me do it even though it was only our second time spending time together. The she introduced me to the third member of our group, and we all clicked, and it all made sense, and it's been the three of us for five years now. And it will still be the three of us, our friendship is just going to have a different shape, and I'm trying to adjust to that idea.

I'm standing in the middle of a lot of change right now, and it's hard for me to stay focused on God and the fact that even as everything around me shifts He is still good, He is constant and He is in control of our lives! Last Thanksgiving I asked my aunt how she was doing as her children married and moved away from her. She responded, "It's sad as they have children, but at the same time it isn't because they're not just leaving me. They are following God's calling for their lives."

Sometimes God calls us away from the people we love, and it really hurts, but as Shauna Niequist writes in Bittersweet change brings growth. In two, or four, or six years we may look back and see, oh, that's why ... oh, that's how God brought this about .... Something I learned when Charlotte died is that I may never gain understanding, but with time comes perspective. Right now I don't have any perspective, but it will come, probably when I least expect it.

"When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate.
And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow." - Shauna Niequist 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

let's get ready for the end of the world

There is something so satisfying about coming home from a store with bulk bins and filling all of my jars and containers with flours, quinoa, granola, oatmeal, flaxseed and beans. If I was really dedicated I would take my containers to the store, like so many people do, but I just can't seem to manage it. It's like reusable bags: I can remember both kids, or one kid and the bags. It's probably better to leave the bags behind.

On Saturday J and I went to Bob's Red Mill store near Portland to stock up on flour and buy a few things for our end of the world food bins. There's a LOT of unrest happening in our world right now. There's droughts, weather catastrophes, a heartbreaking refugee crisis, wars, and human trafficking happening right this very minute, and that's a short example taken from a very long list.

We take for granted our ability to go to the grocery store and buy the food we need when we need it. Or want it. J knows alllllll about ice cream runs at odd hours. We decided to make emergency food barrels just in case the world goes sideways and we have periods of time where resources are scarce. Costco has huge emergency food buckets, and you can buy them online of course, but B can't eat a lot of the food in the buckets. Even the gluten free ones don't work for us (where's the gluten, egg, peanut, corn, soy, dairy free buckets, people?! Come on, it can't be that hard to figure out what to put inside!)

All that to say we bought a lot of food on Saturday. At Bob's Red Mill I found as quiet of a corner as I could, list in hand, while J traveled from me into the bulk aisles to find what we needed. Now, if you've never been to a store with a large bulk section it. is. an. experience. While I was waiting for J to come back from fetching gluten free flour, one woman just wandered into the middle of an aisle and yelled out, "Where's the nutritional yeast???" That's how confusing those narrow aisles with bins upon bins get: people just start shouting in the hopes someone will shout back so they can Marco-Polo themselves to the bin they want without reading every. single. label.

As I mentioned before, if you are really dedicated to bulk buying you bring your containers. One guy waded into the fray with a reusable bag which he dropped on the floor and began pulling containers out of. He was lean, but muscly, he obviously worked out, and I was delighted to see that his containers matched him: they used to be full of protein powder. Perfect.

Using containers that had a prior purpose means you are really dedicated to bulk buying. You go once a week. You often get the same things. You know how much you'll need for a week, and you don't even have to measure. Before you fill your recycled containers with mung beans and pea protein you have to weigh them at the front counter so you don't get charged for the weight of the container.

If I were to bring in all of my containers I would be up there weighing them for a week. My cupboard is heavy on mason jar storage solutions. Perhaps forgetting the one or two I usually mean to bring is more courteous than dismissive of our fair Earth. Maybe?

The truly dedicated make reusing containers into an art form. They heave it on the scale, watch as the number is written down, and then casually say, This jar originally held my childhood dog's ashes. When he became one with the spirit world I hiked for days to his favorite meadow where I sprinkled his ashes under a full moon while drinking beer I made myself. And then I washed it out and brought it here so that nothing would be wasted.

I feel a little guilty when I forget my containers and reusable bags. Like all the dedicated people are staring at me when I ask for a bag at checkout. Can you tell?

After buying FIFTY pounds of gluten free oats, and a whole host of other things, we loaded up the Subaru, and headed home. We need to buy a few more things, and then we will make emergency food buckets. In 6-8 years we might be eating oats for a year. I'll let you know how it goes. Also: I think we're thisclose to buying a grain mill. Because grinding your own flour kind-of makes up for the whole failure to remember your bags and containers, right?

Monday, August 24, 2015

preschool / hearing aids / missing my kindergartner / basically everything

I guess I should stop being surprised when I look at the last time I posted and realize close to a month has gone by.

In this stage of my life I am busy, busy, busy with the kids, and when I have time to sit for a few moments my thoughts don't instantly turn to blogging like they used to.

J is really busy with house projects, which means I am more hands on with the kids in the evening than I was before. Well ... once ... a long time ago. We've been working hard on one house or another since January! We still love our new house to pieces, but we don't know anyone in the neighborhood. The current sermon series at church is on what it means to be a good neighbor. I guess it's time to go knock on some doors (or just pray that the Lord would create less awkward opportunities to meet people!)

We're gearing up for our first busy fall. Bennett will be attending preschool two days a week at our church, and he will be starting Cubbies as well, which meets once a week in the evening (part of the Awana program, kind-of like Sunday school, but with Bible memorization). And of course both kids are signed up for our third round of music classes. We've never been very scheduled, and I don't ever want to be super scheduled, so we'll see how we do with this new season of business and commitments (one reason I am considering homeschooling: more opportunities to hang out all day in our jammies)

We have finally achieved all waking hours hearing aid usage for Ainsleigh. Wait, does that even make sense?? If your child has hearing loss and you want to pull your hair out because they won't leave their hearing aid in, call me. I'll tell you all about our struggles and how it took close to a year before Ainsleigh would leave her aid in. She is doing really, really well with her language development, and is overall awesome and saucy and exhausting. God made her a fierce little darling. I really am just along for the ride with her.

Charlotte would be starting kindergarten this year. Would be. Should be. Isn't. I don't feel too terribly awful about it, maybe because I know we would likely be educating at home, but there is a sadness that is hovering, especially when I see homeschool plans for kindergarten. This morning a little girl named Charlotte called into the radio station I was listening to in the car to tell a joke. I nearly had to pull over when I heard her little four-year-old voice, because it made the pain of never knowing Charlotte's voice so acute I could hardly breathe.

This feels a tiny bit like a holiday letter, which may be another reason why I've backed off blogging. No one likes holiday letters, especially when lost ones are added in to the news like it's no big deal.

Bennett is ...

Ainsleigh is ... 

Charlotte isn't.

It's funny how that one little word can hold so much meaning and hurt.

But despite the one who is gone we are, as we have always been without her, mostly fine. (I'm still trying to figure out how that's possible.)

Which may be the real reason I haven't blogged for a while.

Persons one, two, three, four - fine.

Person five - still missed.

Same story.

Over and out.

Friday, July 17, 2015

on wanting a fourth baby (or maybe I just miss the first)

I know I've written before about how mixed up I am about being done with having kids. My brain and heart are so confused about who is missing from our family.

Sometime in July or August I think I'm pregnant. EVERY YEAR since Charlotte died it's happened. It's like my body flips out at the thought that I *could* have another spring baby. It loses all reason. I get tired and nauseated and worry about being pregnant, although the chances are SLIM, and then I remember that it happens every year and the symptoms abate. Just writing that out makes me think I should be a psychologist's case study, or something.

Some days I think about throwing caution to the wind and deciding we should have another, but a lot of days I don't think I have the patience for it. I'm not good at being pregnant, and some days I am not good at being a stay at home mom. I just want to be left alone with a good book and a Diet Coke. I don't want to prepare another plate of snacks, or change another diaper, or do another load of laundry.

I think about how good we are as four. The kids will be 2 and 4 at the end of the summer.  They enjoy each other - most of the time - and they are old enough to play independently and be content some of the time. Ainsleigh is at a VERY difficult stage. She is into everything, and I can't get a thing done in the kitchen without her "helping" (or chasing her out 3,000 times for safety's sake), but the kids can still play alone for short periods of time. Perfect example: they're charging around the backyard playing all sorts of games while I sit at the patio table writing this.

I think about how I want to do a trip at the end of next summer down to the Redwoods. They'll be close to 3 and 5 at that time, and we would have a lot of fun. A baby would complicate that. Or make it so we would have to put it off for a year or two. Almost everything in our lives can be set aside, or rearranged, but I feel like time is fleeting and if I want to to go the Redwoods we should go!

I think about buying a minivan. Or a small SUV. A new infant car seat. And countless other items because I got rid of all the baby things after Ainsleigh was born. I think about the stretch and pull that comes with a newborn, and wonder if we are up to it.

I think about Bennett. How much he loves babies (and kittens). He told me so himself. Last Saturday night when we were working in the 0-3s room at church someone brought a 6 month old in about fifteen minutes before the service was over. Bennett raced over to me, "Look at that baby! Can I hold her?"

I think about Ainsleigh, who was so jealous of the baby in my arms she pulled angrily on my sweater and yanked the seam out of one shoulder.

I think about their relationship, and how good it is to have siblings by your side in this world. Both when you are young and old.

It is hard to be fully content when it always feels like someone is missing, but I just can't figure out if I'm missing Charlotte, or if I'm missing someone who hasn't been created. I feel certain we would have a boy if we chose to have one more. So certain I ask myself, "What would it be like to have another boy running around?" and, "Do we want to add another boy to our family?"

It's all so complicated and emotionally difficult, which is why this isn't the first time I've written about it.

My head and heart are confused.

So I'm praying for peace - one way or the other. I'm praying for a clear picture of who I am missing: one I will never have, or one who isn't here yet. I'm trying to understand if closing this chapter of ones life is always difficult, and if the disappointment I feel once a month is genuine, or something I have felt often enough I can't let go of it.

Maybe just writing it out will bring clarity. Maybe seeing how I feel in print will make chaotic emotions calm down and explain themselves.

I am mostly content. It's just that there is a constant what if at the back of my mind, and I can't trace my way back to the source. Maybe what I need to do is make peace with that tug. Learn to live with it. Embrace it even. Perhaps that is how Charlotte will make herself known in my life. She'll be here even as she's gone, and maybe that is a small blessing.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

sustaining songs

B and I are deadlocked in a potty training death match at the moment. Okay, death match might be a tad overzealous of a word, but we are definitely at odds. I haven't blogged, or Facebooked, or Instagrammed about potty training very much because I don't want B to look back and be like, MOM?!" But it has been a STRUGGLE.

I am so worried he won't be able to start preschool in the fall that nice mama with bouts of frustration has turned into overly frustrated mama who shouts far too often. (Don't tell me shouting won't break the deadlock. I know that, but the frustration still explodes sometimes.)

The kids have been getting up really early, which doesn't help me feel calm and serene. I am really, really tired, and my fuse is short because I haven't slept well in so. darn. long. This morning the kids were up at 5:20; we had breakfast, baths, and dishes done by 7:30. With two hours to kill before our scheduled play date, we went to Target.

B was upset. I yelled at him - regarding potty training - which made him cry. I felt terrible. I still feel terrible. I worried about our relationship as I drove to the store. I bought him the new Elephant and Piggie book, because I was hoping a guilt gift would ease the tension between us, then I let him pick out two packs of the ridiculously expensive free of all the things he can't have HappyBaby treats. He enjoys eating at the in store cafe with a "special water" from the soda fountain water dispenser, and I wanted him to know I may yell, but I will always love him. (Even if he is twenty and hasn't figured out the potty training thing (which I know won't happen, it just feels that way now!!!) I will love him!) Gifts and food are my love language, so I'm passing that notion on to my kids.

After our Target run we headed to our play date. I put a post on Instagram about how frustrated I was, and how I felt like I was failing Bennett. And then I talked to my friend about how I was feeling. After our play date we rushed home to let Isabel out. She has a bacterial skin infection, and her medication makes her really thirsty which means she needs a lot of trips outside. I fed the kids lunch, read Ainsleigh her nap time books, put her down, then read Bennett his books.

One of the books Bennett picked out is called, Winnie-the-Pooh Meets Gopher. In the book Winnie-the-Pooh visits Rabbit, eats too much lunch, and gets stuck on his way out the door (which is just a hole). After much debate it is decided that Winnie-the-Pooh must stay in the hole until he slims down enough to be pulled free.

I love this page so much I want to frame it:

We all need friends like Pooh's. Friends who will protect us from things we want that will harm us. Friends who will wring us out when we get soaked by the rain. Friends who will support us as we try not to think about what we crave that isn't good for us. Friends who will sit with us, watch over us, and sing to us until the rain and darkness passes.

I felt like Winnie-the-Pooh today. Stuck. Unable to move without a solution. Tired. Frustrated. Hungry. And then people online, and in real life, lifted me up. Their words of encouragement became the Sustaining Song that got me through the day. It still astonishes me that all of the people who lifted me up today came into my life after Charlotte died. Or even because she died. I like that because it means her life had purpose.

When Bennett was settled in for his rest time I moved Charlotte's things around until I found a good spot for them, then I cleaned the house.

This is grieving, I thought as I placed her pictures just so and gently set her urn on our dresser. Finding a little time for her amongst the chaos is a form of grief. Making room for her in our new home, just like I created space for the kids, for us releases grief and sadness. Spending time with her ashes and photographs is a way to remember, and honor, her life.

After placing Charlotte's things where I wanted them I swept and mopped the floor. Rest. I thought as I mopped the large expanse of tile in the dining room and kitchen. This is my rest. It's not what I want to be doing, but we have company coming over and it needs done. I looked down the hallway at Bennett curled up with a book in the family room. I stood in Ainsleigh's doorway for a moment and listened to her breathing. I leaned one hip against the kitchen counter while I ate a cookie and read over the encouraging messages on my Instagram post for the third time.

Rest comes every day, but you have to find and embrace it, I thought. Today's rest came in the meditative moments I spent mopping the floor. As I mopped I thought about how overwhelmed I feel with life right now. It's really life-y, for me and a lot of people I love. But we have so much, and there is so much to be thankful for, and there is purpose - divine purpose - to all of us being here and living these moments. And when the rain falls, or darkness comes, or when the sun shines so brightly I think my heart may burst from happiness, I have people - a whole choir - to cheer me on and sing the Sustaining Songs my heart needs to hear.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

on mothering

The house is quiet. J is at the other end, down past the kitchen, which is where I expect the house to end, but stretching beyond is more house: the fourth bedroom, or in our case family room, a bathroom, and the utility/mud room. Ainsleigh is asleep. B is curled up next to me. Awake, but quiet. He asked to start out in our bed. I said no, but after thirty-five minutes of listening to him playing in the hall I told him he could come in so he doesn't wake Ainsleigh up (for the second time this evening).

It's been a long, hot day. June is typically a cool, rainy month here, but this year it's hot, more like August than June. The kids get up so early we often hit 1-2:00 in the afternoon and don't know what to do. This afternoon I took the kids to the park, which was miserable for me, but B really wanted to go and I'm trying to make his requests matter.

I read something once about how a day is not just mine, how it's the kids too. That idea lodged itself in my mind. I haven't been able to shake it loose. When I get frustrated, when I yell at the kids, when I stare at the toys strewn on every surface and feel like I just want my house back I tell myself, "it's their day too. It's their house too. It's their life too."

Yesterday B wanted to paint. He wandered into the bathroom I was cleaning with paint all over his hands. I said, "Buddy! Really all over your hands?!" And then I stopped. I listened to what he was saying: "Look Mama, look at the color I made in my hands! With paint! I mixed it in my hands! Now come, come with me, I'm going to add another color ..." And instead of getting frustrated with him for painting his hands I let myself be excited with him. I put down my cleaning supplies and followed him to the dining room so he could show me what he was working on.

It's really hard for me to do that.

Do you ever feel like being a mother isn't your best you? Or like it brings out the worst in you? Like all of your selfishness, and how easily you get frustrated, and how you like your world a certain way and when it gets disrupted you get a little shouty rises to the top, and so a lot of days you're short, or exhausted, or snappy with the kids ....

I spend a lot of my time thinking I should be better. More. Kinder. Calmer.

I worry that my kids won't remember the park days. Or the paint on their hands. Or playing store in their play house. I worry that they'll remember me getting frustrated with them for pulling the hall runner into the living room to hide under.

I feel like I should be better at mothering than I am because I buried my first child. Shouldn't losing an experience so important - the tenderness of raising a first born without an overhanging shadow of grief and loss - and the fact that I had a chance of missing out on mothering a live child automatically make me a better mother?

I honestly thought it worked that way. I thought the overwhelming gratitude would make me different, would alter the way I parent my living children somehow. Like the valves of frustration and selfishness in my heart would permanently shut down when B and Ains were born, and be replaced by a gushing well of gratitude.

I am grateful. But I'm also human. And some days I'm more human than others.

I want to love my kids well. I want them to have happy days. I want them to know they are loved just as much when they put their dishes in the sink without being asked to as when they spill paint all over the floor I just scrubbed.

I've been trying to say yes more. Like tonight. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to read a book and be by myself for a while, but B wanted to be with me. So I said yes, and within moments he was asleep next to me. It's hard to be so needed all the time, especially since I don't feel like I'm meeting everyone's needs very well, but saying yes now will lead to benefits when B and Ains are 10, 12, 15, 18 ...

No one told me parenting would be this difficult, and emotionally taxing. They said I would lose sleep. They said it would go quickly. They said it would be fun. They said it would make me cry. But no one told me how overwhelming it is to be one of a pair responsible for building a child up and creating a home of love, encouragement, and reliant faith.

That's why we have Jesus though, right? To help ease the burden, to show us how to love, to be an example of parenthood that we can use to help shape how we interact with our children. Even when I fail in loving my kids well there is opportunity for growth and enrichment because they get to hear me say sorry, and ask for their forgiveness.

I'm not a perfect mother, but I am the perfect mother for them. B and Ains were always meant to be mine. I hope I treat that concept with as much reverence as it deserves. I hope to do better this summer. I want to engage more, say yes more, and be kinder. In September B will be 4, and in October Ains will be 2! These fast moving years are sweet; I don't want to waste them, or miss out on fun because I'm too busy ordering my world. Their days matter as much as mine does. Their time is important. They are helping me become a better mother as they love me with full, forgiving hearts. They are teaching me how they need to be loved. 

Losing the opportunity to raise Charlotte did not make me a perfect mother to my living children, but it did teach me how to find joy in the chaos. Even when my hall rug is in the living room, and every dish from the lower drawers are strewn across the kitchen floor, and the bathroom faucet is running even though no one is in the bathroom, and there are sticky, red, strawberry scented hand prints on doorways and windows there is no where I would rather be. I hope my kids know that. I hope they know they are my joy, and that I'll always love them. 


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