About Shannon

Alaskan homeschooling mama of seven sweet kids. Loves Jesus, writing, coffee, Dickens, and snapping a kitchen towel at my husband when he's not looking.

anchorage: staying connected to the One with ballast

There’s an unfinished newsletter sitting in this word document above the words I’m typing, due in two days.

There’s another post just below them. And besides these, there’s another unopened document full of unused notes and unfinished scraps of thought, and two books that shift so often from the back burner to the front burner and back again that the contents of both are muddled and I’m not sure which is which.

This is my life. I’m not sure if it’s the seven kids – it’s easy to blame distraction on them – or just me. Probably, it’s just me.

When we go for a drive I don’t just bring one ball of yarn, or one knitting project. Oh, no. Because we might get stuck in traffic, or the next world war might start, or an undiscovered underwater volcano might erupt and take out the only bridge between Anchorage and the MatSu Valley, and a girl needs some yarn on hand for delays. Friends, I take a work in progress, two sets of needles, a notebook, travel scissors, and enough yarn in eight colors to make hats for every toddler in southcentral Alaska.

anchorage: staying connected to the One with ballast

These are called live stitches. They’re what happen when one of those toddlers finds a mitten-in-progress and pulls the needles out.

And live stitches, as knitters know, are really just dying stitches if they’re not secured to something. Off the needle, they are without anchor and vulnerable to the slightest tug rendering them nonexistent.

That’s us, too. I grew up in a city called Anchorage and was well into my teens before I got past the familiarity of its name and realized it wasn’t just my hometown, it was a real word that meant something.

Mooring. Refuge, dock, port, harbor.

It’s not a place to stay, of course. I don’t mean the city (though that was the case for us), but the safe place. We are meant for the wide ocean, but sometimes we take on too much water.

Why could he not bring order to his life? Why could he not clear his table of its clutter of books and papers and concentrate on just one book, one subject? Why did imagination so often intervene…?

“Ballast is what I want. I totter with every breeze.”

– David McCullough, John Adams

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I like that word, ballast. It means equilibrium, balance, counterweight, stability, support. It’s what you get in anchorage – the word, not the city. Well, maybe the city, but don’t count on it.

And He got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded.

– Mark 6:51, ESV

Jesus didn’t chide his disciples for their boat being too small, or for going out into the storm. He didn’t say, “Wow, you’ve got a full plate,” and lecture them about taking on more than they could chew.

He didn’t preach to them about how irresponsible it was to be far out from shore, away from the safety of anchorage.

He was the anchorage. He brought the ballast with Him.

I need that, because we have bigger issues here than knitting addictions and unfinished chapters. I’m writing some more on this Jesus-in-the-storm ballast for that newsletter, and you can subscribe here to get it in your inbox. It’ll go out in a couple of days, barring volcanic eruptions, velociraptor sightings, or the zombie apocalypse…in which case I’ll be knitting, probably.

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the year of deeper and wider

I first encountered one of my favorite books in sixth grade. I was pulled out of class for a gifted program, walked down the hall to an unfamiliar, sterile classroom, and listened to a teacher whom I did not know read The Wind in the Willows to us.

I hated it. If this was being “gifted,” I wanted no part of it.

the year of deeper and wider

Several years ago it showed up in Mattie’s curriculum. I approached it with doubt and suspicion, unsure about subjecting my kid to the same misery I’d experienced twenty years earlier.

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home.

We dove in, and within the first pages I was in love. Surely it was the same book from before – but this time it was beautiful and alive and magical, so it must be that I wasn’t the same person reading it. I’d grown deeper and wider. I’ve read it all the way through three times now, not counting that first go-round that almost inoculated me from it entirely. I’m so glad it didn’t.

The kids ate lunch while I stood in the living room and read the first chapter to them. This is the first time Cham, Andrey, and Reagan have heard it and I want their memories of it to be warm and filling, sticking with them.

Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said “Bother!” and “O blow!” and also “Hang spring cleaning!” and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously…

This is Mole, who has lived below in seclusion, discovering the world above for the first time. It’s also me, and probably you. I know what the spirit of divine discontent feels like. I, too, have flung work to the floor while yelling mostly printable expletives.

I came to this passage and stopped to look for a pencil. None were within reach, so I tore the cushion off the couch to check my stash and found five pens, a set of nail clippers, a broken animal cracker and, hallelujah, one mechanical pencil. I started marking sentences.

He thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never in his life had he seen a river before – this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again.

The story is fitting for all seasons – summer and winter, and especially those spiritual ones when you long for a river that runs deeper and wider than what you’ve been splashing in, and when you find yourself free of old barriers and able to test new waters that were out of reach not too long ago.

Testing new waters is impossible when you’re drowning in the deep end. We’ve spent a ton of time flailing and splashing there, but I’m thrilled to say that for the first time in four and a half years, it’s not where we are anymore.

Or, more accurately, it’s not that we’re no longer in the deep end, but that we’re no longer drowning in it – we come up for air sometimes, and can finally venture out into other waters a little.

Four and a half years.

By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.

A big part of it is that one of our kids who needed his world (and therefore, our world) to be as small as possible is starting to experience victory like never before. I mentioned here a few months ago that choices are unsparing things. Sometimes we need the spirit of divine discontent to propel change, and over recent weeks his choices have been markedly and consistently different, by the grace of God.

He is experiencing the joy of a river that is deeper and wider. It’s a marvelous miracle. Most days (not all, I won’t lie) are warm and filling, and we hope it sticks.

The Kingdom is always of increase; our deep and wide is an insatiable sea.

This day was only the first of many similar ones for the emancipated Mole, each of them longer and fuller of interest as the ripening summer moved onward. He learnt to swim and to row, and entered into the joy of running water; and with his ear to the reed-stems he caught, at intervals, something of what the wind sent whispering so constantly among them.

– Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Physically it is winter around us, but we are approaching a spiritual summer like a fast-moving train. There is running water, a full-bodied river; we are learning and growing and anticipating fullness that overflows the banks and spills into thirsty places everywhere.

I wish I could read the whole book to you, but there’s a terrific version of it on Librivox here instead. You’ll hear more about it soon, though. We’re only on chapter three.

Wind in the Willows, and Bingley

#highlights: just the funnies from 2016

We’re starting off the year with a serious dose of silliness. Grab your coffee and enjoy.

hashtag highlights: just the funnies from 2016 at Copperlight Wood

a summary of our 2016 

I’m no real estate expert, but never once in the last two years of avid househunting have I thought, “Wow, this is what we’ve been dreaming of!” by listings that include a reference to “great location for a marijuana business” or a close-up photo of moose nuggets.

Super productive night: Finished edits on Upside Down to send back to the publisher, and moved on to researching Han Solo’s Myers-Briggs personality type. #intjsarenerds #sendhelp

Been sick for a week. It started at the Cannot Operate Heavy Machinery level but rapidly declined to Cannot Operate Paper Clips. Urgent Care has informed me that the fancy name for this is pneumonia.

Turns out that if you’re sick for a month and never leave the house, your garden bed magically transforms into a chia pet.

I just heard a pastor promise his new congregation that he will never make them turn to their neighbor to tell them something. And this, my friends, is how you win elections.  #campaignpromises #hankiewave

Many emails and phone calls back and forth with the publisher today. We established the keywords for the book: adoption, parenting, foster care, special needs, and attachment. Also established the keywords for marketing it: arm & leg, lifeblood, second mortgage, mainstream media, longterm counseling, and prozac. #fixitJesus

cats

kids are brilliant

Cat reproduction according to Chamberlain, age six: “Mama cats never have just one baby. They always have giblets.”

Finn lets loose ten seconds of ear-splitting happy squeals. Afton leans over and murmurs, “Those are the shrieking eels…

fetch me another ninja turtle

 

Cham: I wish I could just SEE him instead of talking about him all the time. I wish we could have him over to our house.

Me: Who, Jesus?

Cham: No! TobyMac.

(This is the same girl who asked if her new dress could be considered an ugly Christmas sweater. She also thinks Wesley wears a manbun in The Princess Bride.)

kids

My son brings me the magnesium supplement and reads the label. “Contains no yeast, dairy, soy, egg, wheat, sugar, fructose, preservatives, starch, or artificial color or flavor. Cruelty-free.” He pauses. “Cruelty-free? What does that mean? That it doesn’t taste bad?”

Two hours after the kids bedtime. Or, as they see it, the perfect time to go to the bathroom, take a shower, ask how babies are made, tell about a bad dream they had last week, show off a drawing they made this afternoon, floss their teeth, ask you to check the spelling in their journal, and share a prophetic word of knowledge.

We saw a sweet hospital photo of a mama and her wee bitty premature babies. Cham yells, “Oh! Did she have giblets?!”

boys

 

#momlife

[insert quiet narrator’s voice, preferably with British accent]
In today’s episode of ridiculous parenting, a child makes a craft project and bursts into sobs immediately following its completion: “It’s SO ugly! And I was going to give it to my FRIEND! But now it’s too ugly and I CAN’T give it to my friend, so I’ll JUST have to give it to YOU!!”
#ohthanks #itslovely

The hero-husband painted an old ugly dresser white for me, then asked if I wanted to distress it. I reminded him that we have seven kids. We decided to just let nature take its course.

Dear Matanuska Electric Association: I’m sorry, but I cannot vote in the upcoming election because I used your ballot to smash a spider into oblivion. Our family truly appreciates this service you have performed for our community.

Afton just caught Finnegan dipping his toast in my 3-shot Americano, eating it, and liking it. Let the mutant superpowers commence. #avengersassemble

Child is disrespectful. Child earns a bazillion extra chores. Child is sent outside to wash all the windows. Child refuses and prefers to sulk instead. After several minutes, child complies and goes outside. It immediately commences to rain buckets, because God loves me.

The kids are practicing Spanish on the computer, and one of them keeps saying “Buenas nachos” instead of “Buenas noches.” Same thing though, right? #soundsgoodtome #muybien

Don’t tell my tomato-haters, but I’m not above chopping up a red bell pepper in front of them while cooking dinner and letting them jump to conclusions about the pasta sauce.

…and speaking of food…

10:32pm: We decide to live on the edge and fry cheese in the waffle iron. What could go wrong? We need to buy a new waffle iron anyway.

10:33pm: Sizzling. So far so good.

10:34pm: I lift the lid to check and behold utter chaos of every dairy nightmare imaginable. Goo everywhere, burning, running over the sides, and Vince has mysteriously disappeared somewhere in the vicinity of the garage. I yell “Pat Sajak!” so the kids who are still awake don’t know I’m swearing and mentally write hatemail to the foodie blogger while scraping cheese off the griddle.

10:36pm: We try it. Not too bad. Recommence frying cheese now that the waffle iron is “properly seasoned.”

10:39pm: Round two is iffy. A little better but still not nearly what the foodie blogger’s perfect photography promised. We try one more time.

10:40pm: Vince decides the cheese slices need to be a little thicker. He slices, breads them, and inserts them into the waffle iron. While my back is turned, HE LEAVES THE ROOM. Quietly.

10:42pm: Round three explodes out the sides of the waffle iron and Vince is nowhere to be found. We assume he is driving to Sears to see if there are any waffle irons on sale that come packaged with Ghiradelli chocolate and flowers.

bingley apron

The recipe for these brownies says, “Cut them into quite small pieces, almost like fudge.” Whatever. I just blew through these like a hobbit with elvish waybread. #chocolatelembas

Daydreaming while chopping mushrooms, garlic, and onions.
Pondering cooking shows while adding chicken thighs to skillet.
Considering taking a photo of dinner-in-progress (in spite of Vin’s disdain of such photos) while adding tomatoes and coconut milk.
Wondering why the chicken is so slow to brown.
Checking the burner to turn up the heat only to realize that the burner is still off.
And this, friends, is why I do not write a foodie blog.

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#wecandohardthings

God calls us to do things we’re not naturally qualified for. This is why we have to do things like change diapers, which is an aerobic activity akin to chasing down a baby kangaroo after it’s had an espresso.

Feeling super Alaskan today; sharpened my eyeliner with a pocketknife. #geterdone

You think it’s hopeless, it can’t be done – but then you do it. I’m not talking about life goals or big dreams; I’m talking about nine people and three cats going the whole day with less than two rolls of toilet paper. Oh, yes we did.

 

have mercy: a little girl, her future family, and how we create more happy endings

I went to fetch the laundry basket but the closet door wouldn’t open. I pushed harder against the resistance, just enough to stick my head in, and saw boxes and gift bags and wrapping paper, oh my – a packaging supply avalanche. Usually we keep that stuff stacked behind the door. The culprit was curled up in one of the boxes, purring.

have mercy: a little girl, her future family, and how we create more happy endings

While I restacked everything I found an old gift bag with the tag still on it: “To Master Finnegan, with love from Amanda.” It was from his baby shower eighteen months ago, from my dear friend who moved away in August. I cried a little, and sort of felt like a weenie for doing so.

Then we watched Little Women with the kids – which is a stupid move if you are already berating yourself for being weepy. We got to the part where Beth is sick again – you know – and Jo comes home to see her before it’s too late. She runs into their sister Meg outside the house and she sees her pregnant belly – and I cried again, thinking of my other close friend who moved away two years ago and just had a baby a thousand miles away from us. I’m not usually a crier, but some days grief lances our hurts wide open.

And then, have mercy – Jo goes inside and sees Marmee, and Beth is on the bed, deathly pale. A smart person just leaves the room at this point. But, no. I stayed there and took it.

Chamberlain sat next to me and asked why Marmee was crying. I tried three times to answer her but couldn’t get any words out. “Ask Daddy,” I finally gasped, and fled to the kitchen because doing the dishes for a family of nine is less traumatic than watching Little Women.

I don’t know what Vince told her. I stacked plates in the cabinet and watched from a safe distance. But a minute later he joined me in the kitchen, blowing his nose on a paper towel and mumbling something about the more kids we have, the wimpier he gets. I’m not really sure; I couldn’t hear him because I was blowing my nose, too.

Terrible, awful, painful story.

Is it, though? I know it has a happy ending. I was just crabby at how it stirs up pain I’d rather not deal with. Stupid feelings, making me feel stuff. Some days I hate that.

And yet…we’re going to deal with some painful stuff right now.

I had a conversation last weekend with a new friend. I know her only through the internet, only because we have adopted children from the same place, only because of God.  Her name is Karrie.

She is adopting a little girl from the same town one of our own kids is from. She and her husband have ten kids already – his, hers, and theirs, some already grown and out of the house. They were done. They were moving on to the next phase of parenthood.

Enter Ella.

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Ella is two years old. She lives in an orphanage. Ella has a terrible, awful, painful disease called epidermolysis bullosa, or EB. It occurs in only 20 per million births. But three of Karrie’s children have it.

I want you to be willing to fight the resistance and look in here for a minute. This is hard stuff and we need to feel something about it.

EB causes the skin and mucus membranes to blister from slight friction or pressure. Normal skin has a collagen that “glues” its layers, which keeps them from rubbing against each other independently. But without that collagen, a touch becomes a terrible wound. EB can also create internal blisters in the esophagus and bowels.

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These are hard to look at. Chamberlain looked at them with me and asked if Ella was laughing in the photo with her mouth open. I told her, No, she’s probably not laughing.

ella-1Have mercy. If I could flee from the pain in these photos, I would. But I can’t, so I’ll sit here and take it, and I hope you’ll take it with me.

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There’s no cure yet.

But Karrie and her husband know how to care for EB; they were prepared for such a time as this. They know how to watch for infection and adapt meals for someone with EB. Their daily routine already involves lancing blisters, bathing a child covered in sores, and the tedious wrapping of wounds – which takes two to four hours per bandaging session, three or four times a week.

They are familiar with painful realities: You can’t hug too tightly. Certain clothing seams cause blistering. Blisters on feet eventually damage nerves so severely that children can’t walk. Fingers and toes web and fuse together, and fingernails and toenails are lost completely. Bandages alone can cost $1000 per month.

People with EB live in constant pain.

They also know that EB affects life expectancy. Even under the best care, open sores pose a constant risk of infection and people with EB tend to die from skin cancer or internal issues, such as bowel obstruction.

But Ella lives in an orphanage and is not receiving the most ideal, individualized care. She needs a family to come home to before it’s too late. Our family is praying that they can expedite the process.

If you’d like to help Karrie bring Ella home, they have a YouCaring page here. Ella’s adoption costs – including the homestudy, the paperwork, the processing, the fees, the apostilles, the airfare, the notarizations, the fingerprinting, yada yada – are expected to be around $25,000.

They need donations and publicity.

We can provide that.

We can give and we can share Ella’s story.

We want people to know about Ella, about EB, and about children living a terrible, awful, painful story who need a family before it’s too late. We can’t keep these children and our hard feelings stacked behind a door anymore, out of the way, not bothering anyone. We need to be bothered so we can help create more happy endings. Ella’s story isn’t over yet.

up, down, up: taking time to heal and grow

I type this with one hand while the other is pinned under a snoozing baby and starting to go a little numb. It is a slow, quiet day. Finnegan had surgery a few hours ago and is sleeping it off, and I don’t want him anywhere else.

We were up with him in the wee hours when he woke an hour after the cut-off for eating, drinking, and nursing. It was what I had dreaded and prayed against. Vince and I took turns holding him while he cried and screamed; we prayed and patted him while pacing the living room, lit only by the speaker’s LED screen while slow songs by Crowder played on the lowest setting. Finn finally fell asleep an hour before the alarm was supposed to go off.

up, down, up: taking time to heal and grow

Vin took him in and I prayer-dozed while waiting, anxious for updates. It went fast. It was fine. Which means, of course, it was not fine but we all made it through, and they were home again in the late morning.

With only two hours of sleep under our belts, we spent the day on the couch reading to the kids, poking around the internet, and watching movies. And we held him. He dozed through that day and the next as the anesthesia took a little longer to wear off that it should’ve.

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The first day we expected him to be slow, but the second day surprised us when he still couldn’t sit up on his own or even crawl; he had a fever; he still slept most of the day away well past the 24-hour mark when he should’ve been back to normal. We talked to nurses and hospital staff. I tried not to worry when our healthy 15-month-old acted like a five-month-old who couldn’t crawl yet, or even sit up without being propped.

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But the next morning he was back his normal self, getting into things and keeping us on our toes. We put the baby gate back up. We hid all the pens again. He was all over everything again and it was marvelous.

We slipped back into our normal routine of school and chores and the day was brought to us by the letter N. All week, actually, was brought to us by the letter N; Reagan was having a hard time with school again and we can’t always tell if it’s hard on purpose or on accident. She couldn’t (or wouldn’t) write the letter N, and for days it looked like it was the hill she was going to die on. The line goes up, down, up. She would get the first “up” and then stall, though she knows this – she’s done it many times before, but for some reason that week was a struggle.

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Across the table, Andrey continued his own struggle, but he is easier to figure out – we know he can write all of the letters perfectly, but every day he chooses to do a few of them wrong on purpose. Success is scary. Success means freedom, and freedom means trust, and trust means not being in control of everything. So here at the table, doing most of the letters beautifully but some of them wrong on purpose is safe, though not very fun. He’s watched Chamberlain pass him up in reading and math, and we can see the wheels turning as he processes what that means. What he will do about it remains to be seen.

The day was also brought to us by a kitchen full of dishes, a package of diapers on the floor, various things from the pantry that Finn scattered everywhere, and the cat licking a pan on the stove. He is old and shameless, refuses to be civilized, and has to be locked in the bathroom almost every time we eat because, well, he’s kind of a jerk during meals.

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But Finn was better and up to new tricks – he followed the cat to the kitchen counter via the dining room chairs. I would lure him back to the floor with something fascinating like measuring spoons, which kept him busy for about twelve seconds. Then he was back up there again, repeating the cycle of climbing up and down the chair.

Reagan had the hardest time just getting off the chairs when she first moved here. That was four years ago; she was almost seven. Finn is 16 months. He is cautious, but she was terrified — probably because she knew more about pain than comfort, and knew less about climbing than falling. He has fallen, too, but learns faster, fears less, and has always been loved and protected.

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He’s had a safe place to fall, but she didn’t until she moved here – and by then, she didn’t believe safe places existed. I think we’re slowly convincing her. It’s taken longer than we hoped to meet milestones; trauma from early childhood isn’t fixed surgically and won’t wear off like so much anesthesia.

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I grieve for what could’ve been and where she should be by now. Yep, I know God has good plans, you don’t have to preach to me – but she’ll be eleven next week and Finnegan will pass her in milestone after milestone over the next several years.  Just like Chamberlain has passed Andrey. Just like, sort of.

Choices are unsparing things; they keep us from being a victim of anyone but ourselves. Reagan’s and Andrey’s delays are different – they both stem from early childhood trauma, but at this point her delays are mostly biological and his are mostly by choice.

A few weeks ago we were in church singing, I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God. The kid who stood next to me has walked in fear for almost eleven years now. He tried to catch the eye of strangers around us throughout the service, and we know it’s for the wrong reasons when he won’t look us in the face.

Fear and anxiety radiate from him. It used to seep into the rest of us, but now for the most part we rebuff it, beating it back with calm and peace. I don’t mean to sound new age-y – I mean it’s a palpable, almost-visible fight to maintain our ground, to keep our home as the sanctuary, to give His Presence primacy regardless of what anyone is doing or feeling or thinking.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

– 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, ESV

That song was singing, though, and He said, Put your hand on his back, Love. Be My conduit, and reach up for him. He still tells me this all the time.

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When we met Reagan and Andrey five years ago, we realized their challenges were significantly more than their paperwork admitted. It was what we had dreaded and prayed against. We knew at least one of them would probably never leave our home. We prayed. We told ourselves we were ready for this. We lied, but it was on accident.

That first year, Vince and I took turns holding them while they cried and screamed. We had no idea how much dross would burn off us as we walked through the fire of adoption, special needs, and attachment.

But another thing He always tells me is, Do not feed the fears. And in the car on the way home a couple nights ago, He said, When you see wounded, I see mended. It was from another song, and He’s still singing it to me.

It is slow going, slow growing – up, down, and up again. Not one of us passes unscathed through the process of sanctification because the unhealthy and corrupt has to die off of us before we can live free. It is the only way we go from glory to glory.

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Related: Where do we want to be in five years? What do we do with the curves in life? Sign up here for the November newsletter, coming at the end of the month.