delivery: what comes after a season of weakness and waiting

It began innocently enough. I was eating a quesadilla and getting some work done, the baby was sitting in my lap while tearing up a paper towel; we were both happy. And then I dipped my quesadilla in sour cream and typed a few sentences, not realizing until the next paragraph that little Finn had dipped his paper towel in the sour cream, too, and was painting the couch with it.

delivery: what comes after a season of weakness and waiting

Shortly after this Vince spent an evening steam cleaning the couches. The next day, while the cushions were propped against a wall to dry, Finn and I sat on a slightly damp and cushionless couch sharing a late lunch — and I’m sorry to admit it, but I was hungry and exhausted and had already been sick for weeks…and I fed him small pieces of chicken that he routinely dropped on the freshly cleaned couch. His greasy little fingers were all over the place and I did what any mama would do who’s been out of commission for weeks: I erased the evidence with a baby wipe and let my husband read the confession while proofreading this blog post.

It was – and still is, sort of – a harder, slower season with different priorities. Two days after the last post, I got sick and found out later that I had pneumonia. The last seven weeks have been a long haul of getting well again and every few days is a new phase of pain or relief. I don’t know why it took us five babies to figure this out, but a pregnant, nursing, or special needs mama takes longer to recharge and recover than normal because her battery is always on and running even when she’s asleep, plugged in and charging.

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This week, the current phase is bruised ribs on one side and a cracked rib on the other. Reaching for things is difficult and moving hurts, and I slept til noon on Vin’s day off and was still exhausted five hours later and completely wiped by bedtime. Our routines are totally off. Homeschooling? I haven’t read aloud to the kids in almost two months. Housework? There’s a load of laundry in the washer from yesterday that wasn’t flipped and probably just needs to be washed again. Writing? I’m squeaking everything in under the wire and barely touching the projects without deadlines that I really want to work on. And gardening…let’s just forget about that.

I wasn’t feeling too sorry for myself until the week I was finally starting to feel better and then caught a cold. My lungs were finally clearing but suddenly I had a stuffy nose, full sinuses, sore throat, the works. Whiskey tango foxtr—I mean, what the heck?!

I cried. I probably said bad things. And I wondered when life would be normal again – when I would have energy to do things, when I could start reading that book to the kids that’s been on the shelf for two months now, when we would find the house that fits the list of priorities we’ve been praying for.

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It feels like it’s been a long season of waiting (but aren’t we always waiting for something?) and I dunno if you’re like me, but I don’t like to wait – I like to figure things out and check them off.  Everything is a riddle made to be answered. Puzzles should be put together, mysteries should be solved; and this is probably why I love Dickens so much because I love them, all of them, except when they describe the season of life you’re in. What are we doing, where are we going, how are we going to do any of it? No idea. Not a clue. Maybe a few vague ideas, but we are waiting for clarity, healing, and answers.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

– 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, ESV

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The season of weakness and waiting reminds me of those early months in pregnancy: not cooking, sleeping whenever possible, living in a grace-saturated survival mode until sometime during the second trimester, when you can see the world in color again. But that, at least, holds the promise of great gain in the birth ahead. And there’s no birth and delivery to look forward to in this labor.

That’s what you think, He says.

May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

– 2 Thessalonians 3:5, ESV

But I don’t like waiting, don’t like surprises. Just tell me, or let me figure it out. Or at least tell me if I’m getting hot or cold. Give me some pieces that fit together. Tell me what to do.

So last Tuesday morning shook me up a little. The day after the rib cracked, the first day of a long school week with nothing exciting in the works — until I was in the middle of typical morning chaos, in the middle of an unexpected phone call with a dear friend who moved out of state two years ago, and the kids start yelling that someone’s at the door, and it’s my husband and that dear friend who had plotted with him for months to surprise me. And, holy moly: screaming, hollering, crying, the works. And I might’ve said a bad thing or two while throwing my phone on the table, but I don’t remember and you can’t hear it on the video Vince took so I think we’re okay.

Our expectations tend to keep our hand in the monkey trap, holding onto what’s holding us back. But maybe there’s something ahead we never saw coming. Something we never would’ve expected. And what if it’s…good? As in, really, really good?

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.

– 2 Thessalonians 3:16, ESV

Breakthroughs don’t begin with fanfare and fair warnings. I think — I hope, at least, from what we are experiencing now and have seen in the past — that they start with waiting and weakness. Our need beckons the breakthrough.

And we know He often brings answers to His people from His people. But lately He’s been telling us repeatedly, Don’t look to so-and-so for your solution. Don’t depend on such-and-such for your victory. When I bring your breakthrough, you won’t see it coming because you’ll be looking the other way. This will be a special delivery.

I want to surprise you, Love. Let Me.

praying shelter: how we bring safety to our streets

You can’t possibly have missed it, the news is everywhere. Facebook is alight with grief and opinions, the talk shows are full of hype and outrage, and the celebrity news anchors are still speechless but that hasn’t stopped them from sharing clichés and propaganda.

praying shelter: how we bring safety to our streets

And none of this is about race or racism. It’s a problem, but it’s not the root issue: there’s always a Thing behind the thing. And that is what needs to be dealt with, or the other thing will just keep happening.

The Thing behind the thing is multifaceted. We could call it evil, but that’s also cliché – what we have is a culture of fear and pride, people insecure in their identities and their mission. And as a result they are unsafe.

Unsafe. As in, they might not be safe, but also, they might not be safe to others, either. People who have forgotten they are the Beloved are afraid, and afraid people do stupid things.

The enemy seeks to kill, steal, and destroy and his primary weapon is fear. But his other weapon is distraction.

The enemy attacks, distracts, tries to keep us from praying on the offense against his schemes – and sometimes it works. But if we are alert and aware of it, we can use it to divert our focus to something more powerful, like going from simply praying against an attack to praying for the hearts and repentance of the attackers.

We stop hacking at the branches and start attacking the root, because two can play that game and God’s already declared us the winners. We can do more than thwart enemy plans. We can also cause his players to defect to our side.

We can let people know they are safe. We can let them know they are loved. We can remind them they are the Beloved.

I don’t mean this in the vapid, politically-correct kind of way that throws around the word “love” like it’s the latest trendy hashtag and we can’t disagree on anything without calling it hate. We can and should disagree. We can and should hold firm to our deepest beliefs even if it offends people. And we should be safe to do so. We should be loved and loving whether we agree or not.

This is not rocket science. This is maturity.

We can’t make everyone feel safe and loved. But we can pray against fear, pride and insecurity. We can pray for people to have mature identities instead of just impassioned knee-jerk ignorance.

We can pray safety into our streets like there’s no tomorrow. Because for some tonight, there’s no tomorrow.

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We can pray deep and wide: deeply and often for our neighborhoods and our families, and wide and scattered over the intersections and businesses of our cities. In His authority we can cover these places with safety.

We can pray for government buildings, sidewalks, and bus stops. We can pray security into people as we pray over their homes, their workplaces, their driving routes.

Because all of these lives matter. Yours and mine and theirs.

We can pray shelter over each other, flinging it wide, everywhere we go.

how much more: what we gain from loss and change

I’m not sure how we are ever going to sell this house – get it show-ready, keep it clean with seven kids, and make sure no one’s dirty socks are peeking out of the couch cushions. Friends, I can’t even keep the cat from licking muffin batter while the oven preheats.

how much more: what we gain from loss and change - Copperlight Wood

Our home is feeling simultaneously fuller and emptier. We’ve been nesting and purging and cleaning and packing, but still the house feels a little like your favorite old sweater whose sleeves have shrunk; regardless of how comfy the material is, it doesn’t fit right anymore.

We have known a change was coming for a while. We need it, not just physically, not just for space and breathing room, but we need a fresh start and new memories. We love these walls and woods, but the kids have worn bare patches in the grass and trails through the trees. We’ve walked through some paths that have changed us.

Two years ago we were in the middle of a period of awful loss for our family, and it spiked when some of our dearest friends moved away the same week our cat died. We were still reeling from a season that felt like it was dishing out far more than we could take, and we didn’t know how much more was coming.

P1030662A few months later,  in spite of all of our plans, fears, and biology, we were pregnant with a baby we didn’t expect. God moved mountains and brought that small person here…and we were grateful, but for the first time in six pregnancies my gratitude was outweighed by fear. I didn’t know how much more I could handle.

The morning after our positive pregnancy test, this note was on the bathroom counter waiting for me:

Well, well, well. What have we here? I’m trying hard to think of what to say. How do I encourage you and make you smile on this most emotionally turbulent morning. Fear, which should have no place at Copperlight Wood, mixed with expectation of joy, which we have been lacking of late, seem to be at an impasse. What to do? All I can think of is to quote Master Samwise:

“But you haven’t put yourself forward; you’ve been put forward. And as for not being the right and proper person, why, Mr. Frodo wasn’t, as you might say, nor Bilbo. They didn’t choose themselves.”

I can’t express how proud, thankful, and impressed I am by you. You’re amazing and strong and I love you so very much. Love the Lord, embrace your kids, and let the Holy Spirit lead the way. The enemy fears you. It’s not the other way around.

– Vince

It turns out that moving mountains isn’t hard for Him, though it always seems like such a big deal to us. It’s more the movement of our hearts that is the big deal, the real mountain to be overcome. We think we are ready (or not) for change based on our feelings or circumstances, and He says that those things have very little to do with it at all – we’re ready for something not because we feel like it, but because He has a strategic plan and has prepared us.

And here, some things are restoring – not as they were before exactly, because you can never go back, but pretty close. Or at least close enough, because we can see it happening. We see glimpses of the joy that used to be, and it’s the same but different – kids learning to read, but now it’s Chamberlain instead of Afton; a cat sleeping in the windowseat, but now it’s Knightley instead of Sophie. And some things are brand-new, just beautiful gifts of His grace that we never would’ve imagined – new ministry opportunities, and this blue-eyed, blond-haired, dimply eleven-month-old crawling everywhere.

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He is doing it again. He is making all things new. The in-between stage can make us want to shrink up and die, afraid to take a leap ever again, but amazing things are on the other side if we press through.

Remember your faith from when you were radical, Love – and remember the victories that came from it. When you have Me for your defense, you need no other.

God has delivered you before, and He will do it again.

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

– Matthew 7:11, NLT

There is no “filling of shoes” for the old loves. A new pet never really replaces an old one, new relationships don’t replace broken ones, and new friends can’t replace the ones who’ve helped you bury the body.

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

– Mark 10:29-30, ESV

There are new loves. There are new friends, and new pets, and new perspectives, and we find that somehow our hearts that felt shrunken by their absence in loss has somehow expanded with love for both the new and the old in ways we never would have expected.

Grief catches us somewhere between the loss and the victory, like the day between the Crucifixion and Easter. The goodbyes, the hard choices, the letting go of the way we thought things were supposed to be — we feel like our labor lasts well past the due date. We know birth is coming; we just don’t know how much more pain we’ll have to take before it happens.

The feeling of fullness, of swelling and discomfort and impatience – these are all signs of imminent delivery: life, joy, the much-longed-for beginning.

But in the pain of labor we rail against God and give Him a piece of our minds: This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, this is terrible timing, are You blind to everything we’re already dealing with? Don’t You know how much this hurts? 

Even Death and Destruction hold no secrets from the Lord.
How much more does He know the human heart.

– Proverbs 15:11

And He is so gentle. No lightning strikes, no chasm opening in the ground, no instantaneous heart attack.

He says, I know, Love.

I know what it is to not get what you think you want. I know what it is to wrestle with the Father’s will. You will never know how much more pain I went through.

But I also know what it is to surrender to it and trust Him. I know the gain on the other side of this labor. It’s how I got you.

totally normal: what these small days are for

“Would you like to hold my baby?” Chamberlain uses an exaggerated, high-pitched English accent whenever she plays this game, and holds a doll out to me. “His naaame is Jeeeesus.”

“Oh, sure – are you Mary?” She nods. Because Mary was British, don’t you know.

Afton looks at the doll. “That’s a pretty small baby. Is it a runt?”

“What is a r-r-r-runt?” Rolling her Rs, quite impressive.

“The smallest animal in a litter. You know, like Knightley.”

“Ooooohhoho, noooo!” She laughs like the Queen of Hearts. “My baby isn’t a r-r-r-runt, he’s a human!”

totally normal: what these small days are for

It was a normal day. You know, the kind that begins with a cat stepping in your coffee cup (with hot coffee in it) and ends with a different cat stepping on a freshly-painted windowsill and leaving oil-based tracks on the kitchen counter. But the rest of it was normal, except for three moose running through our backyard at a gallop, and after that, Cham asked if albino moose poop white nuggets.

So, besides that, totally normal.

Totally normal, like chugging down the highway and the new TobyMac song comes on the radio. We stop at the light and the Stagecoach is bouncing in time to the music. I look in the rearview mirror and Reagan is happy-flapping, grinning like someone in Wallace and Gromit.

Totally normal, like purging a bin of hoarded pajamas in five different sizes for a six-year-old who is in tears because the size 4 pair of mouse jammies can’t be given away because – ready for this? – it would make the mouse sad. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, I convinced her that the mouse is afraid of the cats on her other clothes. Boom — donated those jammies. Hashtag winning.

Totally normal, like walking back to my car from the library and remembering that I have no phone, I left it on the charger at home, and suddenly start imagining all sorts of terrible scenarios involving abduction and the police having to trace my whereabouts by a breadcrumb trail of pages of the books I’ve checked out – a history of folk art, a Nigella Lawson cookbook, a bunch of children’s sewing patterns, the latest Mitford novel. Several years of studying criminal justice in college, and this is all I have to show for it.

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(unedited photo of pre-coffee stupor)

 

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All of our days are normal here. Yours too? Nothing too exciting, and we honestly kind of want to keep it that way because, well, we’ve had too much of the one kind of excitement to last a good long while, thankyouverymuch, and we really don’t want to take the risk of that happening again.

These small days run together in a stream, flowing past us. And I wonder if they bring us closer to…what? The house we’re looking for? The breakthroughs we’re praying for? The goals and deadlines we’ve been working toward for years?

It’s easy to feel hemmed in and restless. We’re antsy for the next chapter, the ocean that’s deep and wide that we hope to eventually drop anchor in. And don’t even talk to me about mom-guilt, enjoying these days because they go so fast – moms already know this. The baby is ten months old and has four teeth already, and I’m pretty sure he’ll be driving tomorrow.

We plug through these oh-so-normal days, sitting in one place watching the river go by, and we maybe have the deep but not the wide – and sometimes we feel small and insignificant, and wonder where we are going…or if we are going anywhere at all.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.

– Jeremiah 17:7-8, ESV

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We wonder if maybe we haven’t had breakthrough because we’re doing it wrong. Or because we’re not ready. Or because we’re not good enough, not big enough, not important enough for anything more than totally normal.

But maybe it’s none of those things. Because you’re not too small, or insignificant. You’re not a runt, you’re a human.

Maybe we’ve become resigned to our situation. Maybe we’re not desperate to hear from Him anymore because we’ve given up. Maybe we’ve gotten impatient with the process and we’re not trusting Him to finish.

Maybe we see this stream of days as an obstacle we can’t cross, when it was intended to be our provision, our foundation – and eventually, the road that takes us to the ocean faster than our own feet could carry us.

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More on doing what is right in front of you – when you’re limited, stuck, and can’t move – in the newsletter coming in just a few days. Subscribe here.

not over yet: oxygen that resurrects our story

While much of the lower 48 is recovering from a blizzard, we are oddly snowless in our part of Alaska. It’s brown and ugly, but makes for easy driving with seven kids in the Stagecoach going hither and yon for errands.

not over yet: oxygen that resurrects our story

The other day we drove home from Cham’s therapy appointment behind a sedan with a slow leak on both of its left tires, wobbling slightly lop-sided down the Parks Highway at 48 miles an hour until it finally turned off near a service station. We don’t always notice when we have a leak; the roads are rutted from studded winter tires, and a little wobble doesn’t necessarily mean any more than that. But hopefully the driver noticed and stopped for a quick refill — air’s still free, you know.

We had snow a few weeks ago before it melted, and some moose came to visit. This mama just stared at us through the window, her ear flickering at sudden noises, on guard nonstop. Her baby was nearby eating a willow. We stared at her, staring at us, as she sized us up through the window. And I know how she felt, this mama on high alert.

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A little on edge. Constantly watching for danger, trying to keep our kids safe and in sight; trying to keep the air from leaking out of our tires.

Most moms really struggle with this. And most adoptive moms I know are driving on at least one steel rim. Some of our tires are just fine, but others are about to go flat without some serious maintenance. And soon.

Someone asked me a while ago what our family really needs, and how the church can support us. It’s a loaded question, so I gave the easy, predictable answer: Pray for us. Then the Spirit pricked me towards transparency, and I also mentioned we need a bigger house. And it’s true, we need both of those things.

But I wish I would’ve said childcare. Or a meal once a week. Or just, invite me to things even if you think I probably can’t come. And you’ll probably be right, but it’s nicer than being written off.

The church is starting to recognize that special needs adoption is a frontline ministry unlike most others – the mission field is brought into the home, and it often (especially in the first years) becomes a war zone. There’s no clocking out; there’s no furlough, there’s no sabbatical. There’s no leaving triage after a 12 hour shift.

Several times a week I hear from grieving moms who are walking wounded, marriages struggling, everyone suffering some level of trauma from the chaos. And for the most part, I don’t mean families who just recently adopted. I mean families – moms, dads, and siblings – who have been in this for years and have little left after so many miles of driving on rims.

What can we do? A meal once a week would free up 30-60 minutes for the adoptive parents to spend much-needed time doing any number of other things that need caught up on: errands, paperwork, phone calls, one-on-one time with a child, or (gasp!) even alone time to decompress. For reals.

Marriages might be saved if someone invested in an adoptive family in such a way that they could provide appropriate childcare for the special needs involved. A mid-week calibration might do wonders for a family on the edge and in need of intervention, because frontline ministries require reinforcements.

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Ready for a science break? A few days ago I was reading to Afton about silkworms and metamorphosis. Here:

“Once enclosed in its cocoon, the caterpillar withers and shrivels up, as if dying.”

Cheerful, isn’t it? Hang with me. Many mamas are right here, in the middle of the mess, shriveling in darkness. And we need to hear this.

“It is an intermediate state between the caterpillar and the butterfly. There can be seen certain projections which already indicate the shape of the future insect….Both the chrysalis and the nymph are insects in process of formation – insects closely wrapped in swaddling clothes, under which is finished the mysterious operation that will change their first structure from top to bottom.”

And did you know that swaddling clothes are death wrappings? The same cloths wrapped around Jesus at birth were meant for wrapping around a dead body. And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. But the same death that was meant to be the end of everything was actually the beginning that conquered death forever.

It is an intermediate state, this darkness.

“It must get out of the cocoon. But how? The caterpillar has made the cocoon so solid and the butterfly is so weak! …It would not be worth the trouble of going through so much to stifle miserably in the close cell, just as the end is attained!”

“Could it not tear the cocoon open with its teeth?” asked Emile.

“But, my innocent child, it has none, nor anything like them. It has only a proboscis, incapable of the slightest effort.”

“With its claws then?” suggested Jules.

“Yes, if it had any strong enough. The trouble is, it is not provided with any.”

“But it must be able to get out,” persisted Jules.

“Doubtless it will get out. Has not every creature resources in the difficult moments of life!….But you would never guess the singular tool that it will use.”

Tell me. Tell me how we stop the leak, refill, keep our kids safe, and protect our own oxygen level all at once. Tell me how we get from the new normal that feels like death and darkness to a new normal that feels like flying.

Ready?

“Insects’ eyes are covered with a cap of transparent horn, hard and cut in facets. A magnifying glass is needed in order to distinguish these facets, they are so fine; but, fine as they are, they have sharp bones which all together can, in time of need, be used as a grater…One by one the threads of silk succumb to the rasping. The hole is made, the butterfly comes out. What do you think about it? …Which of us would have thought of forcing the prison walls by striking them with the eye?”

– Jean Henri Fabre, The Story Book of Science

And He says, Look at Me, Love.

Your oxygen is right here. That’s why this is the year of deep and wide. There’s not much that prayer, education, and worship won’t round out again.

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We are so busy looking at the darkness – not only the demands of the day, but sometimes we have traumatized kids or abusive people puncturing our tires and slashing their own. And the darkness tries to command our attention, but we are not at the mercy of darkness because how we aim our vision is how we let the light break through.

Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.

– Luke 11:34

We’re meant to thrive and grow, not just barely make it before our rims start wearing against the pavement. Which of us would have thought of forcing the prison walls by striking them with the eye? Only the Creator who made a way for each of us to escape the darkness.

Look at Me, Love.

It’s hard, yes. Diagnoses are real and pain is real, and changing our focus doesn’t change the past, it doesn’t change Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, it doesn’t change the amount of your paycheck or the dysfunction of someone else.

But it’s not the end. The prison turns into a place of new birth, oxygen changes our structure from top to bottom, and where we were earth-bound and vulnerable, we become strong and beautiful. It starts with looking at the One who fills us. The air’s still free, you know.