Miraculous, commonplace grace

img_20170130_132901157This morning, I had the best intentions. I woke up, ready to tackle this Monday. Then, as I contemplated my day, things began to go downhill.

Task #1: Laundry. Due to a septic malfunction last week, my dirty laundry pile, instead of just being the terribly difficult but scaleable Mt. Everest, was instead an all out, mid-eruption Mt. Vesuvius.

Task #2: Breakfast. Well, we have eggs. So that’s what’s for breakfast.

Task #3: Homeschool two over-tired children while wrangling one over-tired preschooler. Needless to say, I did not accomplish all that I had set out for today.

In the midst of working with Little Red, who was putting up a pretty good fight against schoolwork, I realized that I needed a mommy break. As I walked out of the room, I uttered a little prayer. “God help me have grace with them.” I took my break and went back, and we resumed our work. While we are working through the spelling of “think”, Little Man trots into the school room. As I turn toward him, ready to ask him to leave so that we can work, he presents me with a hand-full of daffodils – my favorite. And I had to stop and smile. Commonplace flowers, full of miraculous grace.

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Lunch was on the table, little people were happy. Lunchtime conversations are always interesting in our house, and today’s was no different.

“What kind of pet do you want?”

“I want a monkey.”

“They like to throw poop at you.”

Whole table dissolves into laughter.

We hear a knock on the door and look up to see a surprise friend visit. We are now a table full of smiles. We pull up chairs and enjoy chatting while we finish lunch. As the kids go off to play, it’s adult conversation time. As I talk with my friend, I dig into my surprise that came along with the visit, a cupcake from my favorite restaurant piled with a mountain of creamy white icing topped with a raspberry and two blueberries. A commonplace visit from friends, full of miraculous grace.

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Today was a rough day for everyone in our house. We were all tired. We all wanted to throw to-do lists out the window. So I relied on the only thing I could think of – grace. I prayed to be able to shower it on my family, but I got so much more than that. The grace was showered on me, more than I ever expected. Or maybe, my eyes were opened to grace that I usually miss. Either way, grace was the air I breathed today. Instead of just answering my prayer of being able to give grace to others, God filled me with grace, and now I can pour grace out of my fullness. What a miraculous, commonplace day.

 

31 days: Paint

Painting is not something that I do regularly. I did once, when the farmer and I renovated a 100-year old house in New England, but my painting did not meet his expectations, so I was let go from the job. My favorite part was picking the colors for each of the rooms. The colors that we would live in, the backdrop to our lives, the colors of home. For some reason, I chose pumpkin for the dining room. I even liked it once it was on the walls, but why I thought I would want pumpkin to be the backdrop of my memories, to remind me of the acceptance and love of home, I’ll never know.

As I sat planning homeschool lessons for my little people tonight, I realized that I am, in fact, a painter. No, I do not physically paint anything, but I do spend my days painting the interior spaces of their minds with great writing, masterful art, beautiful music, and unconditional love. I have a part in creating the backdrop in front of which they will live their lives, the background to their happiest moments and also their hardest. And that painting is more beautiful than any pumpkin dining room will ever be.

On the shoulders

Often on Mother’s Day, people like to say how good of a mother you are. Those are nice words, but I don’t ever feel like I live up to them. I don’t do this job of a lifetime anywhere near perfect. I struggle every day to speak kindness, to point my little ones to Christ always, to maintain the sanity of my home and my own mind.

One thing, though, that I know is true is that whatever good comes out of my mothering is because of God and because of those mothers that he has surrounded me with.

My own mama is a superstar. She gave me a place where I felt safe and loved even though there were discipline and expectations. She taught me that all of those things go together. Growing up, life was not all about me, but I knew that home was where I could always go and be welcomed for who I was.

Besides that, mama is one of the most loyal, selfless people that I have ever known. If even a little bit of that rubbed off on me, I am blessed. Even before I was a mother, she taught me all that that word encompasses – all the love, all the concern, all the service. It is a beautiful picture.

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Along with Mama are my grandma and grandmother. Those two women, though in my life for less time, left invaluable lessons in their wake. My grandmother had never had a girl and really had no idea what to do with a little, headstrong one like myself. But she was an example of consistency. She was always there, serving her family, with food, by taking care of her siblings as they aged. And, even though she isn’t here anymore, I think back everyday to her frugality, which, in my ignorance, I didn’t appreciate. Now, though, as a farmer’s wife trying to make the best of what we have, I am inspired by it and wish I could call and ask those burning questions I have about the best way to preserve the beautiful red globes of tomatoes that grow from our dirt.

Grandma and I were like two of a kind. She had a firey spirit just like mine. She made me laugh and always said what she was thinking. Even through that, she was teaching me how to temper my fire with kindness. She was teaching me how to carry myself with grace. She was teaching me how to love with words and actions. Grandma also taught me dignity. She taught me that whether you had a little or a lot, you could still choose to have dignity and integrity and treat others well.

Even with all these amazing mama teachers in my family, I am always encouraged by the friends that I am blessed with. All of these ladies, mamas and not-mamas, regularly teach me things that better my mothering. Even today at church, a friend taught me what it looks like to remember and ask about the hard and important things, to offer comfort, to be outwardly focused.

So, I don’t do this mothering thing by myself. I am surrounded by remarkable women that all help me improve in mothering thing everyday. I am surrounded by people who let me stand on their shoulders.

 

 

 

I get to love you

“I get to love you.” Those words stopped me in my tracks. For mother’s day, someone had made a video to honor the struggle that families dealing with infertility journeyed through to become parents, and a photo of our friend’s family was in it. I just wanted to see her picture, so I clicked on the Facebook link. I wasn’t prepared for that photo of a new mama, leaned in, stealing kisses from her little newborn’s neck, with the caption, “I get to love you.”

Parenting life, right now, has felt like anything but that for me. I don’t look at my children thinking how blessed I am to have them, instead I might turn my back and roll my eyes because I am tired of mediating yet another argument. At bedtime, I want to turn off their lights and run away instead of saying another prayer and hearing another one of their little stories. I tell you, it has not been pretty.

But those words. “I get to love you.” They brought me to a hard stop. They held up a mirror for me to see, showing me a selfish, hardened heart. I haven’t been looking at parenting as as a blessing. Sometimes, frankly, I have wondered if it isn’t a curse. I don’t see all of this around me as something I get to do. I see it as something I have to do, sometimes even as a burden. And that makes me sad, hurts my heart. I am ashamed. How did I get from ultimate love to a place where I don’t revel in the joy of my three babies, the joy of mothering? How did I get caught up in the mundane of everyday and forget the wonder of it all?

But I am going to get it back, that wonder. For mother’s day, I am giving myself a gift. I am giving myself new glasses, glasses where I see my children for what they really are, where I see them as treasures God has given me, instead of seeing myself as the ever-constant police, trying to catch them in the act and change their behavior.

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I get to love these silly faces!

Really, I am the one who gets to watch as they learn and grow in home school. I am an audience for their discovery of the world. I am one of the few who can love away their scratched knees and bruised feelings. I am a trusted listener for their dreams and their stories. I am a provider of physical sustenance and also sustenance for the soul. I am a guide to this confusing thing called life, teaching them how to do it God’s way instead of the world’s. I walk alongside them, knowing them better than anyone else – their smile, the shape of their little noses, the sound of their laughter, the feel of their arms around my neck – knowing their hearts as only a mama can.

This. This list. This is what I am going to focus on. During those inevitable times when I have to be lawyer, judge, and jury to yet another sibling struggle, I will look for these things. They will still be there, like sunbeams shining through the storm clouds over the mountain beside our farm. I will look for that blessed light. Then all the rest will fall into place. Everything does, when I realize that I get to love them.

To my oldest on his 8th birthday

Oh, son. How did you get to be eight? I remember holding you in my arms as a tiny baby on this very night in the unfamiliar, but so appreciated by this labor-weary new mama, bed at the birth center. I snuggled your unknown, yet so known, little being. I laid with you tonight, exactly eight years later, and I prayed for you and you were spread all over the bed, almost as tall as me. How did all this growing happen so fast?

The past eight years have changed you. You came in to this world fully dependent on me, a baby comforted by my touch, my milk, my love. Now, each day, I see you becoming more and more independent. Needing me less and less, as it should be. As much as it hurts my mommy heart that wants to hold on forever, it also makes me excited. Excited to see who you become, to see the man that God wants you to be. I see all the potential right there, in you, in your generous heart and your inquisitive mind, in your smile and your hugs. Every once in a while, there is a glimpse of the man you will be. Even as my heart breaks a little to see it, it is a privilege to watch you become.

But you aren’t the only one who is different. Being a mother has done more to change me than anything else that I remember. And it has been hard. From the moment you were born, you have reflected the worst part of myself back to me. You, in all your baby innocence, showed me pretty quickly who I really was inside. You showed me my selfishness, my critical spirit, my whiney-ness. And, still, today, I can see more clearly all the ways I fail you, and I hurt over each and every one.

But you also showed me that I can love more than I ever thought possible. You showed me that I can hurt more for others than I ever hurt for myself. Because of you, I found the strength inside me to go on even though the days were tough, even though I wanted to quit this whole parenting thing. Through you, I learned to wrestle with finding a balance between holding on and letting go. I also found an unexpected joy in motherhood – in watching you grow, in loving so much it hurts, in celebrating when you are happy and consoling when you are sad – all this, I would never have experienced if not for you, firstborn.

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Two day old new mom tiredness

Being your mother, although tough on many days, has made me a better person. I wouldn’t trade any of those hard times, any of those days that I wasn’t enough, any of those times when all I could do is cry because I had failed you that day. Baby boy, know that there is grace for those times. God is there with you. He surely has been with me. And because of you, and Him, I am growing in ways I didn’t know that I needed to. I am a better wife, daughter, and friend because of the things you have unknowingly taught me.

These eight years have been an adventure. It is amazing to have a front row seat to a person becoming. I do mourn the quickness with which they have gone by, but I look forward to what we get to experience in the next eight, to seeing more of who God makes you into. I love you something fierce, little man. Happy birthday!

 

 

Technicolor days

Something about the crisp, cool air of autumn draws all the colors of the outdoors into a higher contrast. Wednesday morning, as I was out early to get to homeschool co-op on time, I pulled up to the stop sign at the end of our little road. I glanced up and my breath was literally taken away by the view of the fog hovering over the mountain as fingers the of day’s fresh sunlight streamed through the opaqueness. It was something to behold, something I needed to behold to get me through that errand-filled day.

As I continued my drive into co-op, I have to confess that it was difficult to tear my eyes from the beautiful world. I was seeing it for the first time, again. My eyes were opened afresh to the beauty of the autumn and my heart was renewed by the glory that we forget to notice in this world around us.

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Often, I get caught up in life, I am carried away by the chores over here, the fighting little people over there, my own expectations for myself that aren’t being met everywhere. In those places, when I am caught in the deep rapids, I am not always able to regulate my emotions so well. That is when mean face angry mommy comes out. That is when grumpy for no reason wife comes out.

But, sometimes, I am able to see life for what it really is – I am able to see it in vivid relief, in technicolor. And on those days, I am different. I can see the real circumstances and I acknowledge the emotions rising under the surface and I take the time to diffuse.

Today, this morning, was one of those moments. One of those times when God opens my eyes to how things really are and to what needs to happen. It was cleaning day and to no one’s surprise, I came upon resistance amongst my league of little people. All the whining finally broke my resolve to handle this calmly, and the anger started rising. For some reason, instead of my usual go-to reaction of blowing my top, I went to my room and began my p&p therapy (pacing and praying). “God, please help me deal with this effectively. I am at a loss as to how to do this parenting thing that you have called me to.”

Therapy finished, I walked into the kids’ room. I have no idea what I said – it was not planned out. I just spoke the words God had put in my mouth, I suppose. It was something along the lines of “you can choose right now how you want things to go today by your actions.” It was met with much huffing and many threats of what they were going to do instead of obey. With a sense of calm, I walked out of the room.

Later, taking an item down the hall in the midst of my cleaning frenzy, I glanced in the bedroom to see people cleaning! I was stunned! It all happened without me getting angry. Mean face angry mommy was no where to be found! This is what God’s power can do in my family and my parenting. Just like the clarity that comes with the crisp autumn air, my black and white, unnoticeable river of the same old everyday was suddenly thrown into vivid technicolor – I was seeing the richness of God’s glory.

Worship

It was a rainy, dreary Saturday morning. I woke up to rain on the roof and looking forward to a mellow morning before our afternoon and evening of parties and church retreats. These rainy days are my favorite kind. I was ready to relax and snuggle and enjoy my little people before we started our marathon of weekend events. But, a house full of growing, fussing, strong-willed children (not to mention mommy too) made my cozy relaxing morning pretty impossible to pull off.

By the time we made it to the car, I was in a state of utter desperation – not really sure if, or how, I could save this day. Before we backed the van out, I idly picked up my ipod and thumbed through the albums. Neon Steeple by David Crowder – that sounded good. As the first strains of music started, I said to the kids, “I need to get my worship on – I’m gonna be singing loud.” And loud it was, as I sang out “I Am” – “There’s no space that His love can’t reach/There’s no place where we can’t find peace/There’s no end to amazing grace” – and belted the words to “Come Alive”:

“We have tasted and seen of never ending grace of the King
Where the broken and the least of the least come alive

Never fear, Hope is here
Breathing into us
Breathing into us
We will rise, come alive
You’re breathing into us
Nothing less than love

Your love was the remedy
For the sickness in my heart
And now it’s the melody rising up in me
Rising up in me”

Worship, for me, can take place in many places – in our church sanctuary, with amazing musicians playing and surrounded by the voices of my church family, or in a little hollow, where I look up and see the mountains rising up over my head covered with green, or even as I stand in our garden, looking at all the new, green life that God brings about. Often though, I do worship in my car. When I am driving somewhere, harried by getting all the people ready to go and already worn out before the day has even started, I need to find that place of worship.

When I go there, to that place, no matter where it is, I find that my problems aren’t so bad. The act of worship takes my eyes off of me and points them to God, his love, his mercy, and his grace. Anything that is on my mind, the stress, the frustration – it all pales in comparison to that.

Through my worship, I also become filled with the spirit. Everyday, I am filled with me – my wants, my needs, my issues, but when I worship, God comes in and moves that stuff right on out. I feel like I can breathe again, like I am not weighed down by this world anymore. My burdens become light, just like Jesus’.

When I walk away from a time of worship, I am not the same old worn out mom or the nit-picky wife that I was when I began. Whether it is five minutes, thirty minutes, or a hour, I come away as someone different. I am renewed. My mind is different – I become more like Christ and less like this world (Rom. 12:1-2). And I need that, everyday.

That day, worship was in fact what I needed. I got out of the van, in a drenching downpour to walk through a very crowded downtown with three small children and, still, in the midst of all that, felt like a new person. The day was saved.

(I mentioned David Crowder’s music on my own volition – I am not getting paid for it. To purchase Neon Steeple, visit https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/neon-steeple-deluxe-edition/id866243225)