Signs of the Times

You might be almost middle-aged…

… if your new glasses prescription includes invisible bifocals so you don’t have to hold your song book at arms length in order to read it in church.

… if you buy a ginormous box of plastic wrap on Amazon, because you now have plenty of dishes that require wider than standard width plastic wrap.

… if you double most recipes so that you have leftovers or extra food for the freezer because the food is always evaporating and the people are always hungry and you have become philosophical about this situation.

…if you become excited about a few hours of lawn mowing to relax and think quiet thoughts in a loud place, and you no longer have to worry about little people spilling milk while you’re mowing.

… if you find yourself debating conundrums such as, ” Why are the Dutch blitz cards on the dryer?” And you can’t figure out why nobody seems to put their things away in the right place, while stumbling over your own shoes at the door.

… If you have bad dreams about looking into a mirror and seeing that you are growing so many chin hairs you could call it a beard.

… if you play a game of softball with the cousins at the family reunion, and every other person either has to have a pinch hitter because of shoulder issues, or a runner because their knees are rickety.

… if you take great pleasure in feeding birds and quietly watching gardens grow and looking at other people’s landscaping.

… if you can’t sleep unless you have the right pillow, not one like the right pillow, but the exact one.

… If you honestly do not get what your children are talking about, and they wonder what century you were born in, and you laugh because it certainly wasn’t this century.

But…If you have learned to squeeze the hilarity out of the weird aches and idiosyncrasies that you used to think went with being old, and you know you’re not actually old yet, that’s kind of funny.

It’s oddly fun to know that you know stuff because you’ve lived it, but you don’t really feel like everybody else has to know it the same way.

It’s liberating to accept your limitations, be comfortable in your own skin, and walk on cheerfully even when you have peasant feet that aren’t cute in flip flops.

It’s wonderful to dust off a dormant dream, and trot it out into the light now that you have a bit of time to pursue it.

It’s nice to relax a little about getting everything done, because you finally understand that you won’t get everything done and it’s more restful this way, doing the next thing and stopping when it’s time to sleep.

It is easier to be faithful with what is right in front of you when you give up the burden of taking care of the whole world.

It is good to use your gifts and no longer care if nobody notices, because you understand a little how insignificant you are in the whole scheme of things, and yet you know that you are required to endure to the end, so you keep going and commit the end results to God.

I like this season. Really.

It’s just a season, but it’s a good one. Mostly.

I could live without the chin hairs.

Life with the Birds

Nature held back and held back until hope had been deferred sufficiently, and then she said, “NOW.” Just like that, we get a week of brilliant sunshine after about 6 months of cold and wet (my family says I exaggerate about this) and the green explodes electrically. That may not be a thing where you live, but it is here. Every day I feel more alive, and just when you thought I wasn’t going to do one of those ecstatic spring posts, you’re getting it.

There’s a Carolina wren that hangs out just outside our bedroom door that opens to a smoker’s deck, only we don’t smoke there. I suppose we could call it our coffee deck, or our tea deck in the evening. This summer I am going to flood it with my house plants and pretty stuff to make it even more pleasant. It has a roof made of clear plastic sheets that need to have the moss pressure washed off them, and there is a persistent Virginia creeper that runs along the house wall. The wren seems to like this atmosphere, because she wants to nest somewhere right close by and sing her liquid song of pure joy. I have no objections.

She’s a little behind the robins who have already raised a brood in the bush that climbs up the railing. They regretted their choice of home site as soon as our children realized there was a nest at eye level, and checked on the babies quietly but with much diligence. Yesterday the babies flew away, and the robins are having to decide whether to risk a second brood in the same spot or to rebuild in a quieter neighborhood.

Gregory installed three nesting boxes for bluebirds when we started to notice them in the yard. I keep seeing them flitting about over the garden, their personal smorgasbord. Then they flit right over the privacy fence and go to the neighbor’s bluebird boxes to feed their babies. It seems a little disloyal, but one can forgive a bluebird almost anything.

There’s a Baltimore oriole who occasionally flaunts his brilliant feathers from the tops of the high oaks down to the arbor. He is so beautiful it takes my breath away. I keep scanning the high tree tops where they like to weave their swinging nests, and since the leaves are only starting to blossom out, I can see that he hasn’t built yet. I wouldn’t choose the shagbark hickory, though it’s so high and breezy, because those branches break off so easily and I have to pick them up all the time before I mow. I’m guessing he’ll try for the tallest cherry tree or maybe the oak once his shy wife shows up to show her approval.

Whenever I hear an especially beautiful bird song, I scan until I can find the artist. Last week I located the mockingbird pair, and I’m so glad they’re sticking around to serenade us while they rejoice over their babies.

(Just as an aside… Have you noticed the ecstacy and wonder of the birds rejoicing over their young, over their domestic triumph? When I see people doing the same, I know it’s right and good. There is glory in it, oh yes! Also a lot of insistent, persistent mouths to feed. But it goes with the glory. There’s your little homily for the day, if you’re an exhausted parent. )

When I was mowing with our z-turn mower that has two levers you have to keep level or you veer off course, I was taking a tight circle under a bush and instinctively reached up to free my hair from a branch. Of course, that instantly turned the circle tightly into the bush, and out fluttered an outraged mourning dove. Sorry friend, I won’t do it again. Go back quickly and give your squabs their pigeon milk.

The cardinals absolutely love all the prickly stuff around here. Because they can fly in such a tight, dipping pattern, they can nest in the most inaccessible places. We have enough multiflora roses for a colony of cardinals, and it’s one of the reasons we aren’t clearing them.

The hummingbirds are back and I really need to get some petunias planted for them. I would rather cultivate the flowers that give them their nectar then try to make sure that their feeder is clean and full all summer. But the girls are begging for a feeder, so we’ll probably do both.

Last but not least, the phoebe that has returned to her nest under the awning at the corner of the sun porch has raised another successful brood. Last year there was a lot of stuff piled in that corner, so that she had a decent sense of privacy right outside the window. I cleared all that stuff away this spring, and it was still very cold when she was sitting on her eggs. As soon as it got warm enough for us to start using the sun porch, she felt the intrusion. But she’s a diligent one and look at her! I haven’t noticed her trying to raise another brood yet, so I hope she’s having a little vacation. That was a lot of bugs being stuffed into mouths.

We have crows, and starlings, and lowly sparrows, and even occasional bald eagles floating on the thermals. There are red winged blackbirds and gold finches and so many more. All of them are just doing what they’re supposed to do day after day. To repeat my little homily, there is glory in that. Bless your heart, and go do what you’re supposed to do today.

Me? I’m supposed to clean my house today, get rid of some loose feathers and tuck in the sticks that aren’t settled quite right. I’m also supposed to make some food, and the nestlings need to learn to make some new recipes, so I’ll be doing a bit of coaching.

What about you?

Peace on Earth

Goodwill to men.

Unless, of course, it’s men who don’t think the way you do.

Or men who see things differently than you do.

Or women, those digital warriors

Who feel called to set the world aright in a most ineffective way,

Attacking their neighbor with little squares of words.

There are meme wars and they are real.

They are not meant to bless or encourage

But to hurt and belittle.

Then it’s outrage on Earth, curses to men.

You are stupid sheep because xyz.

No Way!

OH. MY. WORD.

Can you even believe what she just said?

They are stupid sheep because they think we are stupid sheep.

There are times when nobody is right

Because everybody is reacting wrong.

That’s what my mama said when we yelled and blamed each other.

Wait.

Aren’t we supposed to be sheep?

We have a Shepherd.

He came all this way to Earth to call a ceasefire.

He came to lead us to still waters, green pastures.

Peace on Earth in every heart who follows Him.

It is no surprise that those who refuse the leadership

Of the Shepherd are spreading vitriol and violence.

But the sheep?

They’re listening for the voice of the Beloved Shepherd

Whose birth announcement said,

“Peace on Earth, goodwill to men.”

Echo Chambers: The Way I See It

:::Edit: my husband says his shoulders were slumped because he was heading in to night shift more than the dread of what would await him. It’s when he comes home that his shoulders slump from what the shift was like. I thought I should clarify that. He isn’t discouraged to the point of quitting. But he is tired. :::

Tonight my husband went to work, a work he loves, but I saw the slump in his shoulders that indicated his dread for what he would find when he gets to the intensive care unit. All this summer we kept hoping that this new variant would pass over us and our area would be spared, but things are as bad as they were in the thick of the pandemic last year.

When he got back after four long shifts last week, I could tell he was wrung out, physically and emotionally. I asked him how it is going. He is the one who thrives on the adrenaline of life-saving medicine, who enjoys the challenges of critically ill patients, and who has trained tirelessly for his work. “It is awful,” he said. “This week has totally whooped my butt. There is no time to eat, and hardly time to run to the bathroom. Today there were twenty-seven people stacked in the ER, waiting for beds. One woman waited for three days in another ER before being transported to the small-town hospital. And the patients in the ICU are younger, and they are falling apart for no obvious reason, with no other health issues at all.”

Gabe doesn’t talk much about his work, and up until recently he has remained charitable about the spreading of fear and misinformation online. For a while it seemed that mainstream media was whipping the subject into a frenzy, trying to get more mileage out of a very tired idea. The disagreements even seemed a little funny. I showed him a meme that said, “This Awful Vaccine is doing more harm than Covid ever did,” and he chuckled wryly at the obvious fact that there are not 630,000 vaccine deaths, nor are there any hospitals filling up with patients who have reactions, although of course, there are reactions. There always are reactions, just not nearly on the same scale as the disease. “It’s just how they see it,” he would say. “People should have a right to choose what they want to put into their bodies. It’s a basic tenet of medicine.”

The charity runs a little thin when the screaming from the sidelines gets louder. A lot of the people who need acute care are the same ones who have been booing the medical system for this entire long year. Right now the system is overwhelmed. There are not enough resources for the needs. Obviously this results in lapses in care, oversights, people falling through the cracks. It isn’t just the Covid patients; it’s the ruptured appendix and the stroke victims and the heart attacks too. Staff at hospitals are running, running, all day long. Normal care in an Intensive Care Unit is only two patients per nurse. When that number goes up to double the normal care load, things start to feel out of control quickly for their caregivers. Very, very few people come back to say thank-you, and unfortunately the ones in Gabe’s unit… they often die.

They die, despite the careful monitoring, the endless duties that are involved with total care, ensuring the patient is sedated enough that they will not pull out their lines, but not so sedated that they can’t wake up, the washing, the care for bedsores, checking kidney function, making sure their eyes don’t dry out, etc. etc. They die on the shifts of those nurses who saw the fear in their eyes because their worn-out lungs couldn’t maintain oxygen levels. And guess who has to remove the tubes and pull the plugs when that decision has been made that they will not be able to recover? Yes. It’s the ones who have been laboring day and night to help this patient pull through, who have been on the phone communicating with distraught family members, hoping against hope that this one makes a turn for the better. There are thousands and thousands of these stories of bereavement and loss falling through the cracks. Not the famous or important people, or the influencers, but the everyday hard-working ones whose families are devastated by their loss.

“After every shift, we think about what we missed, how we could have given better care, what went wrong,” he said quietly. “This is what haunts us. The worst is when someone who has no clue what it is like is sure that they could fix everything with the help of a few internet memes and some youtube research. As if they obviously know better than all the doctors and researchers who have spent their entire lives studying the human body, and they are baffled by this inscrutable virus. That is just enough to make me angry!” Friends, my husband has never been this frustrated with humanity in general. And he is only one of many nurses who are near breaking point from the tensions. “People tell me if I can’t handle the pressure, I should just quit and get another job,” he said, “but how would that help the situation?”

My heart is sore for these healthcare workers, and for the mistrust and confusion everywhere in our world. They aren’t asking to be lauded as heroes, but they would really appreciate being heard and respected for their sincere efforts to alleviate suffering and help people heal. And honestly, they would like if everybody at least considered the vaccine with an open mind, and if they decide to not get it, to at the very least do everything in their power to not spread the virus and it’s accompanying sensations.

Here’s a quote from an article that I feel articulates very kindly about how many doctors are feeling. “Many of the unvaccinated people I’ve talked with are hard-working, loving individuals struggling to catch a break in a life that hasn’t been fair. They’re unmoored and don’t know what to believe when truth itself has supply-chain problems and the health care system has been letting them down for years.”

I get it with the disillusionment that is felt for our healthcare system. I don’t really trust that the system has only my good in mind either. I don’t think science is a god that can save us. I do believe in respecting the gifts that our Creator has given men in developing their knowledge and honing skills to improve the lives of so many. If I end up getting Covid, I would do everything I could to try to heal at home. But if I need care beyond that, I will have to trust that the doctors care about my health and will do their best for me.

I also strongly believe that things like vaccinations should remain open to free choice, but I do not understand why that has to include reposting fear-mongering stories of dubious origin or news articles that are so heavy with agenda you can see the slant a mile off. And that goes for both sides of the debate! Why can we not ask God how to make our private decisions, and go on our way in faith? Why do we have to yell about it?

“We all have our own echo chambers, where what we already believe swirls around and that is what we hear,” my husband said. I had told him of feeling scalded by an online debate so nasty that if the people would have been Vikings, they would have been pulling hair and gouging out eyes.

I want to say, “We are better than this!” But the truth is, we are not. I know that I can come up with sarcastic zingers with the best of them, but I have asked Jesus to slap my hand before I write them in a comment thread. I am not joking one little bit. I like to be affirmed, that I am right, as does everybody else I know. Can we please just listen to each other’s hearts without vitriol? Please? Can we say, “I may be wrong, but this is the way I see it…” If the only debate we listen to is the narrative that echoes what is already swirling in our heads, we become more and more self-assured and more and more abrasive in our own defense.

I think about my friend Jeanie, whose dad passed away last year, and how clearly she saw it at his deathbed, “Love God; love people. That’s all that matters.” Hmm. Didn’t Jesus say something like that?

I cringe at all the suffering. I loathe Covid. I hate the divisions and strife. Maybe that is our real test, not so much the physical sickness. Maybe our real test is what we do despite the stresses in our very ordinary life, with our neighbors and the people in our house, and at the store or the post office or the mechanics shop. Maybe we are still being called to a very simple rule: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.

Last week after reading that nasty comment thread I talked about, I felt sick in my soul, and I went out to my garden. I picked a half dozen ears of corn and walked over to my elderly neighbors to chat. I found out he can’t eat corn because he doesn’t have teeth, but he would be very happy for some tomatoes. He said he fell out of a tree this summer when he was trimming a branch, and had to have surgery on his shoulder. I said I would give him our phone numbers so that he can call the next time he needs to have a branch trimmed. Then I gave the corn to the other neighbor whom I hadn’t met yet. She was nice, but shy, and she said she has lived there nine years and still doesn’t know anybody. And then Dianne walked across the road to say hi, and we had introductions all around. It was a healing transaction for me; I no longer felt besmirched by the state of humanity. This. Right here. Actual people and a few ears of corn.

I want that simplicity of loving kindness. Please tell me, how do you keep the hubbub from destroying your peace? How do you keep your equilibrium?

Why it is Okay to Think Your Kids Are Pretty Special

That last post about individuality in a pile of kittens and how the eyes of love see them… well, here is where I am going with that.

I believe strongly that our children need to know that we see them, who they are, their gifts and natural abilities, as distinguished from all the other grey kittens in the pile. They need to know that Mom and Dad are on their side, cheering them on to success, despite the fits and starts that accompany budding attempts at growing up.

One of my sons is having a bit of a wobbly time right now, struggling to relate to friends, not always sure he likes himself or anybody else, even. Oh dear, I think, here we go into adolescence, and I have no idea what I am doing parenting this age. I have seen his step lighten after I just casually put my arm around him and tell him (one cannot be too deliberate with affection at this stage, it seems) how proud I am that he is my son. I tell him that he is learning to walk upright, and that is sometimes really, really hard, but I know that someday it will help him to be a real man because he fought battles when he was young. I explain that it is all right to mess up, as long as one admits the mistake and makes amends where it is needed. I want my son to know that he is special, he has gifts, he makes me happy, so I tell him those things, even when, or maybe especially when he sorely tries my patience. I do hope and pray that this will help him to have confidence and steadiness when the waters get even rougher.

In parenting, there are so many moments of correction, reproof, instruction… so many times we need to discipline and pull back an erring child. We certainly don’t want them to run wild without the stability of boundaries. But it is much too easy to forget that they do not automatically know how much we love them, how delightful they are to us.

The eyes of love notice the hidden talent that will be a tremendous asset as the person emerges. They see under the surface of sameness and assure the little ones that they are unique, telling them small specifics that are evident in the child’s life, like little buds waiting for the right season. This is what breaks my heart about orphanages. No matter how clean and well fed a child may be, every child needs someone who really sees them as invaluable. My deepest respect goes to those who make it their life goal to provide that for parentless children.

The old thinking was that too much praise would make a proud child. Humility is a beautiful virtue, but there were entire generations of children who grew up straining for approval and yearning to hear just once that their parents love them. That is just tragic, and not a mistake that we need to repeat. Surely we can show our children how much we like them without turning them into stuck-up snobs.

Parents are notorious braggers. We don’t mean to be, but it happens because we are besotted with these children that we love endlessly. I honestly think this is okay. I have heard some obnoxious bragging, but generally I love to hear people talk about their children. It means that they are noticing them, really looking at them, delighting in them.

This is why I also love pet names for children. It is like a personal tie, a more intimate connection than you have with just anyone. I love secrets with children, whispering in their ears. When my babies were nursing infants, I made up songs for them with their names and sang them in the dead of the night, just me and the babe. I make no apologies for being completely dotty over my children, and neither should you.

After all, God delights over His children too! Far from making me feel proud, that fact raises in me a reciprocation of delight in Him and cements in me a confidence in His love that takes me through the storm.

 

But the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
    in those who hope in his steadfast love. Ps. 147:11

Empty Bowls, a Book List, and a Lot of Links

This winter I tried to find different ways to make my children aware of the hungry, homeless, less fortunate, even beggars. Sometimes it is hard to know how much information about the sadness and brokenness of the world I should share with my little guys. Yet I believe that they need to learn compassion and thankfulness, and one of the best way to learn this is to help them see how hard life is for many others.

We read A Single Shard, the story of a homeless orphan in 12th century Korea. The main character spends his days scrounging for scraps of food and longingly watching the master potters in the village. Eventually he persuades one of them to take him on as an apprentice, receiving for his wages a bowl of food every day.

The Family Under the Bridge is another book I highly recommend for children. It is the story of a crusty old hobo who has his own favorite spot to live under the bridge. He has chosen his lifestyle because he likes it, but one day a desperate mother with her little children invades his space. Slowly he starts to thaw and become more kindly to the people around him. Almost against his will, he learns to care about them and does his best to help the mother keep her little family intact. It is a book with humor and grace mixed into the sad bits.

Another book we really like is Star of Light, a story of little beggars shamefully misused by their stepfather. It is a beautiful tale of how they find the love of a Heavenly Father.

I also have a photojournalist’s collection of portraits of titled Precious in His Sight. It is a powerful visual aid… What if I were the little girl selling bananas in the middle of that crush of cars at the intersection? Suppose I was the little farmer boy in Malawi who spends days and days alone, herding the family’s cows so they don’t wander off or get stolen.

ImageA percentage of  the sale of this book goes to Compassion.

And there is yet one more photo journey that I suggest for little children. It is titled Where Children Sleep. It is an expensive book, but I am glad I bought it. We have discussed why it is that some of the poorest little children with only one little car to play with and a bed of filthy blankets on the floor look just as happy in their photos as the children with everything their hearts desire. You can find a lot of the images from the book here.

So, how did this post turn into a book list? I suppose it may be because they are my main tools for instructing my children. 🙂 But aside from books, how do we do something that makes a difference? That is the real question. The boys helped me cut patches out of fabric scraps and sew them into comfort tops for the ladies at church to turn into warm blankets for somebody cold.

I hoped to find a soup kitchen that needs volunteers, but the only local thing I could come up with was a fund raiser called Empty Bowls. This is a grassroots movement to help feed the hungry. Local potters hold workshops where volunteers get to make soup bowls to sell at the supper they host. That immediately caught my attention because of my pottery making dreams. We made pinch pots, starting with a ball of clay that became the base of our soup bowl, then adding coils of clay and smoothing them out to form the sides and rim. It was a lot of fun. We decided we wanted our own bowls back, so we went to the supper and claimed them.

All the food was donated by local restaurants and businesses, the proceeds benefitting our local food pantry. It was a lot of fun, an event I hope to make an annual thing for us. Here are the girls with our bowls.

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So far I don’t feel like I have accomplished much except helping my crew to notice inequity and to want to help. I need more practical ideas. 🙂

Mama with a Cause

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(photo source)

That question I asked at the end of yesterday’s post? I know the answer, and so do you. Of course our assignments as mothers are important. They just don’t always feel that way. There are a lot of very worthy causes for women to pour their energies and passions into, making a difference and all that. It just so happens that my calling has placed me into a spot where I believe it is in everyone’s best interest if I stay home and do it. There are days when I have had an overload of domesticity and I could rally about as much enthusiasm to Save the Turtles as I “feel” about Making a Home.

I remember one day I had a bit of an epiphany. There had been a night of interrupted sleep, the third baby uncomfortable in my womb, and my little boys were doing laps around me, full of impulsive ideas to have fun. Clear as a bell, the thought came: If I am going to be a mother, I might as well give it everything I have. The truth of the matter was that I wasn’t giving it everything. I was spending too much time trying to figure out ways to make this job less demanding on me. This attitude was sucking all the joy out of my days.

That was when I decided to quit keeping a mental tally of the hours of sleep I got, the numbers of times I had to lay down my book to get a drink, the tons of laundry I pulled up and down stairs and in and out of machines. I stopped resenting wiping noses and concentrated on how cute the noses were. I love children’s literature, and now I got to read it out loud, all the time! Things became funny, my own private comic strip. They actually became fun (most of the time). Joy came back.

I am not going to pretend that the adjustment to whole-hearted momming was easy for me. I have an insidious desire to spare myself from too much hard stuff that didn’t die its final death in one instant. There have been many times when I have thought longingly of the English and their nannies. On the days when I am overwhelmed with the vastness of the job of raising my children, I need to pull my head out of the sand and remember my credo.

I have been given this job as a sacred charge, and I am going to give it everything I have, by the grace of God. I am a Mama With a Cause!

Girls With Dreams

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(forwallpaper dot com)

Sometimes the oddest things bring up a blog post. This morning’s trigger was when I sent my man out the door, early, with coffee and an Advanced Trauma Life Support textbook for a class at the Altoona Trauma Center. Suddenly I remembered a post I struggled and struggled to write, and finally ditched this spring. Here it is again, trying to get out, so I will give it another shot.

“Do you married women dream?” a sweet young lady asked me after a discussion on life choices/destiny. “Of course,” I said, although I can only speak for myself and the few friends I cornered for my unofficial survey. Consensus: Our husbands dream. We go along for the ride. 🙂 If you think that is impossibly restricting, stay with me. I am not done yet.

Not so very long ago, the larger percentage of the female population dreamed of marriage, homes, children. There were very few respectable options available, unless they wanted to be governesses. A hundred years later the world is wide open for women to travel without chaperones, pursue degrees, buy their own homes, etc. The modern barrage of choices can be downright bewildering, especially considering that it is inappropriate for a girl to initiate the fulfillment of the dream for a husband. (Yup, I am that old fashioned.)

Women in the Congo dream about owning a sewing machine so they can get out of a life of prostitution. Haitian women dream of having enough food so they don’t have to give their babies away. Young girls in Afghanistan dream of becoming teachers so that they can teach other young girls in the remoter villages where there are no female teachers. I am afraid a lot of American girls dream about being thin super star actors. Our dreams are as varied as our lives.

I am going to have to zoom way, way in to one aspect. Let’s bring this subject down just to girls who want to honor God, who have noble aspirations. How should they dream, when should they pursue their dreams, and what about if they get sidetracked? I am sorry, I don’t know all those things.

But I do know a girl who was absolutely sure she was going to be a missionary (or a missionary’s wife… how romantic…). Her cherished dream was to work in an orphanage, to rescue and love children who were scrapped by everybody else (how fulfilling). She also hoped to continue her education (what fun). She traveled enough to see how vast the world is, how unending the needs. Then she proceeded to foster one little baby, teach school to well-adjusted, secure little church children, and she fell in love with  her co-teacher and married him (how predictable 😛 ). She had babies, she stayed home with the babies, and she kept house. Hey, what are you looking at? Oh, you think you recognize her? Well, maybe you do.

Sometimes after she had spent a day of nurturing babies and preparing good food for her husband, she would think about her orphanage dream and wonder where it had come from. Where had it gone? And when her life felt narrow and restricted she would wonder for a few fleeting seconds if she had chosen the wrong path? Oh, she loved her husband and her children fanatically, but it felt so… ordinary?

…to be continued…

A Different Sort of Weird

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It had been a fun, field tripping sort of day in the Upper Peninsula. Because lunch was beef jerky and cheese sticks with apples, everyone was on the grouchy side of hungry by five o’clock. There were no fast food restaurants, and most of the diners were closed for the season. We were forty minutes from our cabin where there was abundant food, uncooked, of course. So we kept searching.

Finally the GPS directed us to Jack’s Eats. Now Gabe and I make fun of any food establishment with the word “eat” in the name, but this would have to do. The parking lot was completely full. As we were piling out of our vehicle, an elderly lady watched us with frank astonishment. “Are these?.. All?.. Yours?” she asked, dumbfounded. I looked around and assumed she must be talking to me, since there was nobody else in the vicinity. (What do you mean? There are only five!) I didn’t say it, but my children snickered. “Five isn’t even many!” they said to each other, wondering at the silly lady’s perception.

We entered the diner, a seat-yourself place, and started threading our way to the back dining room in quest of a table. The talking din became noticeably quieter as the entire crowded roomful craned to watch us. There was, in fact, not a single table available. I resisted the urge to quack loudly as we threaded our way back out past all those full tables. Five miles further down the road we found an even greasier diner with a bit of space. So the hunger crisis was averted, and all was well.

I like this story because of my children’s amusement and the total lack of embarrassment they showed in being such an enigma. Sometimes I shrivel a bit under the disapproving vibe: the sheer audacity of having more children than is considered normal… must be some kind of freaks without many smarts. “Wow! It must take a lot of food at your house! How do you ever reach around to them all? You raising a bunch of kids to do all the work?” I think the comments are slight admiration with occasional undertones of sarcasm about the huge carbon footprint we are leaving. I also think they are a little unmannerly, don’t you?

Recently I met a lovely Indian lady at a park and we chatted about our children, our cultures, our values, etc. She told me how incredibly difficult it was for her to come to America to study with her husband. They found themselves without people, so far away from all the connections that were completely vital to living in their culture in India. When they had a baby, her mother-in-law came for 4 months to  help with the baby. The grandfather of the child got to choose her name as a mark of honor. “It is sad that America does not value family and children,” she concluded.

I couldn’t agree more. In our society, it is more important to get a thirty year mortgage on a McMansion than to fill it with people. Garages are packed with ATV’s, boats, snowmobiles, you name it, but we can’t afford to have children. There are endless jokes about how inconvenient/expensive/disruptive the kids are. I am just getting up on my soap box to tell you that I am sick and tired of it!

It isn’t so much the number of children we have as the attitude we display. This sad old world needs to see us happily visiting with our little guys while we walk into the grocery store. It needs to see us smile into their faces, listen to their stories, laugh with them at the ducks gobbling the bread at the park. It needs to see us bending down to their level to explain why they may not run across the parking lot. It even needs to see a kindly firm “No” when our children beg for candy. Our society needs to see that we Christians will not subscribe to the hip and modern notion that pouring out our lives for the sake of the next generation is much too sacrificial and time consuming.

I think something in me has been growing up and getting bolder about the fact that we are living counter-culture. When the lady in the pottery shop told me, “I only had two and boy, was it tough!” I simply said, “I decided when I became a mother that I was going to make it my career.” Maybe she thought it was rude, but like I said, I am fed up with feeling slightly apologetic about my values.

Recently there was media buzz about a woman who chose to stay home with her family, describing her as a person “who never worked a day in her life”. Wow.

So… here we are, living on one income, stacked into our little house, wearing our second hand clothes, sporting our home-style haircuts, working hard to grow a lot of our food, (go ahead and measure our carbon footprint), trying to stay out of debt, having a string of children, spending our very lives to teach them well. So what if it is hard. You got a problem with that?

I am calling all Christian parents to rally together and show the twisted world we live in that we really do believe our children are our greatest investment.

What We Didn’t Know

Yesterday was our 12th anniversary. See, here we are, after about 8 hours of just the two of us. It’s still there – that magic my friend, the preacher’s daughter, called “the glue when Dad puts their hands together in marriage”.

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Twelve years ago we could not have imagined awakening on our anniversary to conspiratorial whispers and clinks of crockery in the kitchen as our children made a surprise breakfast. We pretended to sleep while someone slipped loudly into our room with a lighted candle which he set directly under the lampshade, which I hastily rescued. The little sister got sent in at least three times to check if we are awake yet, seeing as the eggs were getting cold. The waiters brought in plates with pancakes and eggs, excellently cooked. My pancake was a teddy bear, Gabe’s was a penguin with its feet chewed off. Then came the crowning touch of a breakfast tray with steaming mugs of tea, a bowl of sugar and a pitcher of syrup, along with a funny little music box tinkling out a merry tune.

The children had gone to the neighbor’s yard sale the day before and picked out some anniversary presents. One was the holder for the lighted candle. Twelve years ago I wouldn’t have thought that I would ever cherish a rather unusual porcelain bird/flower candle holder painted in various astonishing, pearly colors. Another gift was a small pot with a lid that clasps, “for special things”. (Why do I think of Pooh?) I love it! And the music box… which someone made it their business to wind and rewind the entire time we ate our breakfast, because everyone knows there should be romantic music on an anniversary. On our honeymoon, we would have laughed at the idea of having an audience of five watching us eat our breakfast in bed, but we didn’t have the heart to send them away, seeing as they were so exceedingly pleased with themselves. It was actually quite romantic, when you consider that out of our love sprang these dear little people sprinkled all around us.

Twelve years ago we would not have been thinking in terms of going on a date in a rather large Suburban with very high miles, seeing as the tiny red Mazda was working just great for us. In fact, I believe we made merciless jokes about those family vehicles. Now we are poster children for those jokes. Guess what, we don’t even care! Neither would we have known how rejuvenating it is to a marriage to just spend time with each other, even if you are grocery shopping or ambling through the mall, hand-in-hand, checking out the clearance racks.

Sometimes we look back and laugh at those kids that got married, with all their ideas and plans. We hadn’t a clue that there were career switches for Gabe, from deck builder to teacher to nurse. We hoped for children, but we didn’t know. Sometimes through the years we would look at each other and say, “What do we think we are doing? We don’t even know what we are doing!” When the questions get too big, we have learned to just leave them to Providence and say, “At any rate, I’m with you.”