On growing up

 

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We were gathered at the kitchen table over breakfast, and I pulled out the bible for our morning family reading time.  As we were discussing that day’s reading, I asked the children something and Phoebe’s response was, “Well, I just don’t read my bible that often.  I don’t find I really have a use for it.”  Words that made my heart sink.  Is that what she sees in us, I had to ask myself?  Does she not see her father and I clinging to God’s word, making USE of it in our daily lives?  Where are we exemplifying it’s practical use and purpose?  I’m thankful she was being real and honest, and I think if most of us are honest, we don’t feel too much differently than she does.  We don’t read our bibles much because we don’t really see the use, right?  What good is it anyway?

But then the hard days come.  The shock of bad news, the financial burden, the unexpected need.  The broken heart, the anxious nights–and those of us who are Word-people find that only God’s Word breaks through these hard life realities.  Only God’s Word helps, soothes, and brings hope.  I hope I can show my children that there is nothing like God’s Word, like hearing truth that divides so perfectly (Heb. 4:12) and brings light (Ps. 119:130) and literally imparts strength to the listener (Ps. 119:28).

It’s been a hard few weeks around here.  I don’t only want to share the good in this little space, because of course you know it isn’t all good!  I’ve been feeling increasingly frazzled and stretched and overwhelmed lately, trying to juggle more than I ever have before and feeling at capacity, if not beyond.  I dropped and broke my camera which is a source of joy and also income for me.  It will cost as much to fix it as it would to purchase a new camera.  I was planning to open a little etsy shop this month but now can’t photograph the items I want to sell (I can use my phone, but it doesn’t do the same job as my DSLR).  One of the children had lice, resulting in a total house scrub down and a billion loads of laundry.  A few days after that discovery, the vet informed us Rose (our kitty) has fleas and so the house underwent another big scrub down, and despite my great dislike for the use of any chemicals, a terminix guy came to resolve the issue.  It seems to take a lot for me to break down and cry lately, but I cried a good bit that morning from equal parts exhaustion and discouragement.  Fleas + lice make one feel like a domestic failure (and I hesitate to share it here because it feels so yucky/shameful)!  Also, I think because “home” is so important and special to me and also my primary place of work, it hits hard when home is infested, you know?  Couple all of that with a baby who hasn’t been sleeping well and my own little bouts with insomnia lately, and you can imagine the toll that that takes.  Because of the cleaning and flea resolution, we had to cancel another family camping trip attempt.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about growing up, what it feels like to realize you are a grown up when all the while you still feel like that same child.  Our spot of earth is tilting away from the sun and my soul needs the reprieve, the wide open space of barren forests and quiet land.  Autumn comes and I hear the strain of the familiar song — geese crying out against an iron sky.  Leaves turning from green to ochre, rustling dry on the limb.  Hearing the geese, it makes me sing that song from my childhood by Michael Kelly Blanchard every time — A view out the window is just a piece of the sky.  The song triggers a memory and suddenly I am driving out with my family to Burnsville area as a child, hiking the Roan Mountain bald and drawing it in a notebook, trying to capture that fall glory with my 8 year old hand.  There’s the ache and longing to just be that child again when life was simpler and felt safer.

A few weeks ago I went to bed fighting anxiety and overwhelm over some pressing needs with our children.  I picked up my current read at the time, Rebecca Reynolds book which I recently shared on this blog, Courage Dear Heart: Letters to a Weary World.  I just so happened to be reading a portion that evening about watching our children walk through their own underworlds and rebellions and not trying to manage or methodologize life for them but to hang in that liminal balance of trust.

She writes,

“I wish I knew how to help kids understand desire for the Lord without also learning what it’s like to fill their bellies with husks left for the pigs.  I don’t want young people to take King Solomon’s approach, plunging into one futile experiment after another until they are finally exhausted enough to declare, ‘Vanity, vanity.”  If I could choose for them, I would give all young believers the way of Enoch, that dear old man who walked small and honest beside God until he woke up one morning and found that he was walking in his eternal presence.  What a beautiful way to spend life on earth!  ‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be Enoch, and his is the path I’d want my kids to take if I held the game controls of their lives.

Yet fear and compassion drive me to that desire as much as faith.  As much as I hate spiritual disaster, I know God can work with it because so many of my favorite writers have been there.  Lewis was an atheist, and he was likely immoral for years.  Dorothy Sayers had a child out of wedlock.  Chesterton left his childhood faith only to grow madly in love with orthodoxy in the end.  Bad choices can leave ugly scars I don’t want my children to have; however, God is a master of chasing wandering souls through terrible decisions.

This idea that darkness can be commandeered for good stands fiercely against most of the books I’ve read on raising kids right, and doing marriages right, and living life right.  Method manuals have filled me with guilt and fear, and some have nearly driven me mad with self-doubt.  But as much as I love my children, as much as I’m willing to give to help them, I’m not strong enough to be their savior.  God didn’t make me their choreographer; he made me their mother.  So whether they live robust, trusting lives, or whether they wrestle the Lord until he wins their hearts, I still need the living God to complete what he began in them.  If that involves a journey into the underworld, I have to trust the Father to chase them into the valley of the shadow of death.

My husband keeps reminding me that the fatal flaw of most writers is trying to make sense of things before they have come to their proper end; rushing a story is the dark side of the creative nature.  But when we try to jerry-rig the natural progression of events God has planned–either in our lives or in the lives of those we love–we aren’t trusting him.  We are trying to pull the moth out of her cocoon three days too early and then command her to fly when she cannot.  We are trying to compress billions of nuances of grace into six tidy paragraphs.  We are skimming over our first, giant, reptilian sins; rushing the crude lines of our faith’s first cave paintings; reading the CliffNotes on our early renaissances; bouncing over our nuclear winters of backsliding; and jumping straight into ‘They lived happily ever after.  The end.’…

When we are willing to depend upon a God who lives, forgives, redirects, and upholds, we begin to realize that we don’t have to frantically strain to rewrite the meaningless seasons of our lives.  We can cling to grace at the center and learn to preach the gospel to ourselves in small, honest ways.”

I had a small moment of panic in realizing I’m the adult care taking for these four little souls and yet feeling very much so like the child who still needs her own parents.  My dad brought me creme brûlée recently, just out of the blue because he knows it’s my favorite dessert, and later that evening after I put the kids to bed I realized I hadn’t really thanked him for it.  I found myself crying again, feeling seen and loved in a season where I don’t often “need” my parents like I used to, but then realizing actually I do.  Does that make sense?  I’m an adult now and things have changed yet there’s still this child in me who feels just like I did as a little girl.  I was once dependent and carefree, hanging in the trust that my parents would always come through and take care of everything.  Now I’m an adult with my own children and I’m supposed to provide that sense of security for them.  They view Brandon and I in this way, and yet I know the reality of how fragile our financial and emotional well-being is at times!  Sometimes when life presses in, I still want to run to my parents to bail me out, but it’s not their place any more.  We are grown, and our help is in the Lord.

I woke the next morning to these words by Emily Freeman in her podcast, The Next Right Thing, and was struck by the timeliness of them.  I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them:

“So what does growing up feel like?
It feels like torn lace, like smoke, like wedding mints melting on your tongue,
like distraction,
like worry,
like chasing but not quite catching,
or trying to remember but seeing only through foggy panes.
It feels like wider hips and thinner lips,
and laugh lines starting to show up around the curved edges.
It feels like sorrow and joy.
It feels like courage, and sometimes regret.
It also feels like freedom.
We are still growing, even though we’re grown.”

We are still growing up, even though we’re grown–and it is hard to feel like we have much to offer another who is growing up when we feel impossibly like we are still that small child ourselves.

I don’t have a tidy way to wrap all of these thoughts up into a neat bow or happy ending, but it’s just what I’ve been processing lately and I thought maybe someone else out there has been thinking about the same things.  About how hard it is to grow up and be an adult sometimes, how the load of it is far heavier and weightier than we ever imagined as children, and yet nothing has really changed–God is still the same God as He has always been and will be.  He will carry us all the way, and our children.  So here we are, going on from day to day, depending on God, looking to Him as a child, receiving from Him, growing as we go.

outing to the reservoir

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Not much time today for words.  It is October and we mostly spend our days out, if we can.  These pictures are from a couple of weeks ago, the first official week of fall.  We took our school work and went on a little field trip to a nearby favorite area from my college years.  We focused on noticing, listening, looking, enjoying.  They ran and laughed and played, and I had a few moments to be quiet and reflect.  When my soul is overwhelmed it usually helps to get outside and remember a bigger world at work in a hundred million ways without my  involvement or attention.  I am so thankful for these three little ones, the bond growing between them, their hungry curiosity about the world, their freshness and innocence and unguardedness.  I learn so much from them.  These days are tired but so achingly happy.

odds and ends

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We did a little walk last week in our neighborhood, which is a regular occurrence for us.  I called it a nature walk, so Phoebe brought her nature journal and crayons, and we set out to look for things that were interesting, new, and to take note of what is happening in the woods around us during the month of September.  We found a massive spider web (can you see it in the picture above with the building behind it?) which she sat down to draw, while the little ones played bubbles with me, then we all headed to the nearby playground.  It was the first time it felt like one of our “fall” walks, and my heart skipped a beat.  I live for fall in the mountains of NC.  Something in my sort of wakes up, and I would say I am most inspired by fall and winter.  The mornings feel just a little bit cooler, there is the first hint of that distinctive smell, the first scuttle of leaves across the pavement.  We hear acorns constantly dropping on the metal roof of our neighbors house.  I plan to be outside pretty much every day, since the mosquitoes will finally leave us alone.

I finished knitting my first sweater for my nephew and am sending that off this week, and planning knits for each of the kids for their birthdays.  I hope to make each a sweater, but Brandon tells me I’m probably being too ambitious.

School so far has been going really well.  Phoebe seems to drag her feet in phonics, though I think it’s because the book I’m using to teach her is mostly geared toward auditory learners, and she seems to be more hands-on.  She loves math and asks to do it constantly, mostly because of the math manipulatives I think.  She is so incredibly bright and quick to memorize and I’m finding that doing school together gives us just some mother/daughter time that we both are enjoying so much.

Our ordinary days together at home are so full of learning opportunities.  We cook together, talk about odd or exciting things we see out in the world.  We observe the changing seasons, we talk about heart matters as we live alongside one another and sometimes treat each other harshly.  We read scripture and recite memory work.  After nap time a few days ago the three children wanted snack on the porch and I stood at the doorway and watched them all squished together on one side of their picnic table, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they could be more spread out.  But there they were, all squished on one bench, munching and giggling and playing.  It was a happy moment and made me so thankful for this chance to home educate and have Phoebe here with us.  The younger two would really miss her.

A few days ago Phoebe turned to me at dinner and asked, “Why don’t we ever give our food to the poor and needy?”  I was taken aback by her question, quite happily, and we talked about it for a few minutes.  She was thinking, then she bent her head and folded her hands spontaneously and prayed “Dear Lord, thank you for this lovely dinner.  And we pray for all the needs, and the poor and the hungry that you would give them food.  And we pray for all the mean and the selfish an the bullies, that you would help them and that you would take them away and that we wouldn’t have to see them again.  In Jesus’ name, amen!”  My heart was melted (even as I fought laughter over her requests for all of the “mean and selfish.”  Thank the Lord He is more merciful than we are.)  Needless to say, we are cooking a meal this week together to drop off of at a local homeless shelter.  “And a little child shall lead them,” right?  😉

I don’t have particularly spectacular things to say about all of these random odds and ends, but these are the little moments that I don’t want to forget, these are the things of “now,” this is the good stuff that I treasure.

let the children play

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“There is a little danger in these days of much educational effort that our children’s play should be crowded out, or, what is from our present point of view the same thing, should be prescribed for and arranged until there is no more freedom of choice about play than about work.  We do not say a word against the educational value of games (such as football, basketball, etc.)… But organised games are not play in the sense we have in view.  Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make.”  -Charlotte Mason (quoted in For the Children’s Sake)

“There are many reasons why children have been reduced to a point where they don’t play with joy, initiative, and creativity.  Often so far as their personality is concerned they are wheelchair cripples, too disabled even for crutches.  Restorative actions means scheduling time, time which is not obviously “improving.”…Certain factors encourage play.  It is often easier home-based than institution-based.  There should be space, and lots of free time.  Children need to be outdoors (for hours).  They need to make noise, mess, and to have access to raw materials (old clothes for costumes, hats, tables to turn into camps, etc.).  They need privacy from intruding adults, but they need interested support in quarrels, thinking of another way around a problem, providing food, and, at the end, bringing the children tactfully back into the world where supper is ready, the camp has to be packed up, children are tired and ready for the soothing routine of evening stories.”
-Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children’s Sake

Our home days are my favorite days, “home days” meaning the days we aren’t running around doing errands, restocking our various shelves or visiting with friends.  We love all of that, too, but we always try to have some uninterrupted hours outside, too.  One rainy days, we go hunting for puddles and momma gears up mentally for a tub full of muddy, sodden boots and clothes for laundering.  There are things that matter far more than a perfectly tidy home.  I heard a quote on the radio this week that a perfectly tidy home is a sign of a life misspent.  Maybe I’m just comforting myself with those words, but it is a comfort.  Of course, I dream of a perfectly kept home, and there is a great value in a tidy and relatively neat home for providing structure, refuge, and sanity for the family.  But there are more important things at stake than a handful of stray crumbs, cheerios stuck to placemats, laundry heaped clean in a basket.  Children are growing up day by day.  They need affection, affirmation, encouragement.  They need eye contact.  They need to be unhurried.  They need spontaneity, curiosity, exploration, dirt and discovery.

And the reality is us adults need all of that, too.  Having children is a very good thing for us “grown ups.”  It is helping me to be a child again, to remember what a world full of wonder we live in.  It is bringing laughter and silliness again, where once maturity and sensibility was so prized.  It is teaching me, as C.S. Lewis wrote to his goddaughter in the dedication of his book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, that I am “finally old enough for fairy stories again.”  And I’m so glad.

I’m only learning, though, and often regress.  I’m thankful for these words from For the Children’s Sake, and find myself reminded that children are born learners.  Its often our systems and programming that bore them to death and teach them amiss that learning is a tiresome, bothersome endeavor.  The reality is that if we take them out into the natural world, which is so full to the brim with curiosities, beauty, ugliness, creativity, function, pain, and philosophy, they are sure to find things that spark their wonder, and we can stoke the embers of that wonder into flame.  We do that by getting down with them, exclaiming with wonder over their discoveries, asking questions and prompting their thought, finding books and videos that explore the matter further.

The geese on our nearby pond are nesting, and we just happened to check out a book from the library all about geese families.  We have been checking the geese every day if we can, whether walking to the lake, or hoping on our bikes after dinner in the dusky evening to see if any goslings have hatched.  I am learning wonder again, over things so small and things that didn’t matter much to me before.  I am learning to notice again, to wonder and to find ways to see the glory of God on display in these small and simple things He has seen fit to fill the world with.

“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,
in the things that have been made.”

Romans 1:20

spring things

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We were enjoying mornings and afternoons on the porch last week, snack outside, making mud pies in the sandbox.  Temperatures plummeted this week and we expect another frost tonight potentially.  We’ve had our foretaste of spring and we’re ready for it now!  We get used to the quieter, whispered beauty of winter and then spring comes and the earth is bursting with glory and color we nearly forgot existed.

It’s amazing how much can change in one week!  I’ve been watching this beautiful white cherry tree outside our living room window, taking pictures of it every day, watching the buds burst open and the tree fill with blooms in the matter of a few days.  The red buds are flowering, the cherry trees, the daffodils and crocuses, pansies sprinkled around front doors.  When did I become one of those people who is fascinated with buds and blooms, birds and children playing, finding such beauty in all these small things?  The smallest, the things most trampled underfoot in our busy rat-race pace.  Yet here they are, day after day, quietly doing what they are supposed to do, echoes of a far country.  It’s holy week this week,  my sister and her family is in town from British Columbia for my youngest brother’s wedding this weekend in Virginia.  We will be caravanning up there mid-week and heading back home to North Carolina on Easter Sunday.  The cousins are having the best time together, Phoebe and Jericho are practicing being brides all week, although they will have to settle for being flower girls come wedding day.  It is so achingly wonderful to be all together and to see cousins enjoy each other.  Our minds and hearts are busy with all that comes with wedding prep, and my soul is meditating on how beautiful it is to be celebrating a man and a woman covenanting in marriage around the time of year that Christ suffered and died for His beloved church.  There is a tangle of meaning there that I have yet to extricate.

I finished my first kerchief/mini shawl which seems the perfect size for Phoebe and she loves it.  I guess I can share it with her. 🙂  I’m pretty proud of it, already working on another shawl and a couple other knitted projects on the go.  Brandon says my knitting stuff is now everywhere, taking over the whole house and I cackled with glee.  I wouldn’t want it any other way right now!  Books and skeins of yarn scattered everywhere!  Also, Brandon let me splurge and order a skein of yarn from one of my favorite bloggers and natural yarn dyers, Ginny Sheller, and it arrived last week.  I love it so much.

I hope you’re enjoying your first week of spring!

 

spring projects

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This is what March is like around here.  One day it’s snowing, a few days later you’re planting pansies and soaking up the sun in your front yard.  I’ll take it all, but it really did feel pretty wonderful to be outside almost all day Saturday and Sunday, watching the kids zoom around the yard on their bikes, or playing on the swing and sandbox.  I don’t know quite what got into Brandon this weekend, but he went to town on a few projects for me/us.  He made small planter boxes for me (his own design, which I love!) so that we can have a scant amount of veggies, at the very least.  The ONLY place in our yard that has light is our porch, so I plan to have a few containers this year of the barest essentials: herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, greens of some sort.  It’s just the best growing food with little ones.  They are so excited to see the whole process and I do believe it helps with better eating when they’ve grown and tended the plants themselves.  For us, it helps some financially and nothing tastes better than our own produce.  I really miss our bigger garden space but I’m thankful for at least a little square of sun.

Philippa was attempting to “help” me go through and sort clothes earlier last week, I suppose, or at least making the job easier by dumping all of Noah’s wardrobe contents on the floor.  She is for sure the most mischievous of all the children so far, at 15 months old.  I literally clean up one disaster, walk into the next room and find another one.

We filled up our bird feeder this weekend and rehung it and it’s been really fun watching at the windows and from the porch, spotting new cheery visitors.  The warm sun made me crave getting my fingers in the dirt and seeing some bright new life, so we planted a few pansies.  I was amazed at how interested Philippa was in planting flowers.  She surprises me with how much she understands and how eager she is to do “big kid” things.  The older two were busy rowing their “boat” through the wild seas, so she had the dirt and trowel all to herself.  She filled up the little pot with dirt very slowly and plunked purple pansies down in there, smooshing them in sideways.  Watering everything was another adventure which completely fascinated her.

Earlier in the afternoon on Sunday Brandon told me he wanted to make me something, a surprise.  I took Phoebe on a mommy/daughter date to pick out a craft she had been saving her spending money for (an “Anna” sculpture/piggy  bank to paint) and when I came back Brandon surprised me with an Amish yarn swift!  I felt so so loved!  I put it to use right away last night and it is so much easier to use than the other methods for winding skeins that I had been attempting.  Mostly, it just meant a lot to me that he came up with that idea and figured out how to make one.  He honestly supports me endlessly in all my little endeavors, even when I constantly doubt myself, and it means so much.  I don’t know why he seems to believe in me, but he does, and in this great big world full of critics and naysayers, one of the greatest gifts is having someone who is always, always on my side, someone who is for me, cheering me on, pointing me always toward who + what is best.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect and we butt heads often, but ultimately we are each other’s biggest cheerleaders and defenders in a world full of opposition and difficulty, and for that I am grateful.

 

new things

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I wound my first skein of yarn by hand into a ball and could finally cast onto my first shawl!  This yarn is truly dreamy to knit with, as so many others have said, but I’m not sure I’m crazy about the colorway.  I’ll see what I think when I finish up.  In some light, it reminds me of the ocean on a gray day, or of Phoebe’s little sleepy eyes, which makes me love it.  I finished up a little baby hat this week in that gorgeous super soft deep pink yarn.

Philippa has been really into pointing out all the “no-no’s” this week, walking around (or climbing on my desk) and pointing and asking, “no-no?”  As if she doesn’t know.  She is definitely going to be our craziest little one so far.  Last night after I pulled her out of her chair after dinner, I took off her pants which were covered with food.  Normally we bathe the kids right after dinner.  I was going to let her wander for a minute while I finished eating and next thing I know I see her naked bum walking around carrying her cloth diaper in the other hand.  She yelled “da-tye!” (bath time) and went running and squealing for the bathroom as I chased her.  She is hilarious and I have NO idea how she got her diaper off.  She is into everything, and she loves throwing laundry in the toilet.  Sigh.

The kids and I tidied up the backyard and the sandbox this morning, resurrecting it.  Phoebe is pretty excited about it being mud pie season again and I hope to add a few more things to her outdoors kitchen.  These past few days have been warm and sunny in NC and even though I didn’t think I was ready to see winter go, these warm days are so pleasant that I’m starting to dream up little spring projects for us.  Philippa loves being in the backyard and is content in the sandbox for quite a while.  We might see some snow again this week, but we’ll enjoy whatever we get, whether sun or snow or just drizzly cold.  It’s all a season, it all comes and goes, and each day bears its own gift and its own rub.

We met with a new nutritionist for Phoebe last night, a specialist in our area for Celiacs.  It was probably the first time I’ve felt like we really have an advocate who is able to help us, who is knowledgeable, compassionate, practical, and seems to really care.  We’ve met with a few others, and this was the first time it felt right.  After looking at what Phoebe is getting calorically per day, she was pretty mystified as to why her weight is dropping, even after 6 months on a gluten-free diet.  In some ways that made me feel better, but it also concerned me.  We should see and hope to see growth SOON.  One thing I really appreciated was the fat folder of resources she gave me for local restaurants with details about each one, best grocery resources, flour recipes, coupons, etc.  She encouraged us to give up oats for the next 6 months as there has been controversy recently on the processing of oats and unintended cross-contamination.  We also talked about trying to diversify the grains Phoebe is eating beyond mostly rice products, so I’m really excited to have some recipes to play around with millet, sorghum, amaranth, and some bean flours which are new to me.  I keep taking it a step at a time, a couple new changes at a time, which saves my sanity and makes it more manageable.

This week has felt like the first hints of spring, and I have told the kids to be looking for the very first buds on the branches.  Whoever spots them first will get a little treat of some sort, so they have been looking every day.