the day of small things

Our oldest is now a big fifteen-year-old. He reaches things off the high shelves, opens tight jars for me, and chops wood. He even (gasp) shaves. He was our smallest baby — now he wears Vince’s shirts that have shrunk in the wash.

the day of small things - Copperlight Wood

On his big day, Vin took him and four of his siblings on a birthday outing and left me at home with the other two kids and the task of making clam chowder for lunch. Piece of cake.

The two boys who stayed home played close by while I chopped potatoes and onions. They spun gears in the dining room, wearing the varnish off the table. Maybe I should’ve stopped them. Maybe I should’ve told them to simmer down, just a little. But I didn’t – it was a beautiful moment, them playing together like normal kids, making noise and messes and laughing memories. We need more of this.

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The music was loud and the sun streamed in, and the house was completely still except for the shrieking activity around the table and the flames under the soup pot. Maybe that doesn’t describe stillness to you, but to me it was like our house was in a coma.

What to do, what to do…I was at a loss once the soup was simmering. It’s astonishing how inspired you can be with three shots of espresso and only two kids in the house.

I could read. I could turn on the computer and open that file of 60,000 words I’m working on. I could wash the kitchen windows. I could re-pot the rootbound plant on the counter. I could do almost anything short of flying to the moon — but no, I only had a few minutes before they all came back home, and I needed to keep an eye on the stove to keep what was simmering from scorching.

I scrubbed the grime and grungus off the sink dropper – such a little thing. The hot water ran and the steam rose, and stainless steel started to shine again. The sun hit it and sparkled, and I realized this was the first day of blue skies after a week of dreary, smeary grey in the weary early winter.

We had our first frost last night – this morning the lawns are all grey, with a pale, bright sunshine on them: wonderfully beautiful. And somehow exciting. The first beginning of winter always excites me; it makes me want adventures.

– C. S. Lewis, Letters to Children

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The big boy and crew came back hungry for chowder and full of news about the new Lego store. This kid got his first Lego set when he was three years old. That was only ten minutes ago, and now he builds them into robots. Little things into big things.

…but who dare despise the day of small things, if it has proved to be the dawn of mighty ones?

– Charles Kingsley, Westward Ho!

westward ho

I’ve been working on this blanket for years – you can tell, because the color scheme dates it back to the sixties (kidding, but not kidding…) – and it’s finally down to just two squares and trimming left. In this day of imported department store specials, it feels both trivial and sacred to spend time on it compared to everything else going on in and around us. There’s always more to be learned, taught, cooked, written, cleaned, hugged, and disciplined; the dishes and laundry are never done. There are pages to read, and pages to write. And there is always more stitching to do – but the difference with stitching is that you can see exactly what progress has been made.

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A finished book can go on a shelf, but there’s no way to measure what was really absorbed in the reading. The hamper will be full again tomorrow. And you can teach and lecture and assign consequences till the cows come home but those kids are still going to tie fake spiders to the tail of their little brother’s favorite stuffed animal, and try to get the cat to walk on his front legs wheelbarrow style, and color their own body parts with green marker. I’ve, um, heard it happens. In some families.

But with this blanket, I can see exactly what’s been achieved. This row, that round of colors – done. And that is incredibly satisfying in the midst of all the other intangibles.

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Our kids are big and little, busy and slow, high school and infant, and life right now is full of their needs and their changes and their noise. These days I often feel rootbound, spinning gears. I typed most of this one handed while holding this almost-four-month-old, who will be a big fifteen-year-old in about ten minutes. There are a million things I could do, but I don’t regret holding him. I don’t regret keeping an eye on these kids to keep what is simmering in them from scorching.

The dirty socks, the worn-down pencils, the minutes that fill long and short days – small things, baby steps, leading to mighty movements. It is the sacred monotony of these early days that write history.

fermata: where we hold and rest

It’s not for lack of material that I haven’t been writing here. In one afternoon, an entire jar of pickles shattered on the dining room floor, a shower was out of commission with a clogged drain, and I broke four dishes simultaneously during a skirmish in my ongoing war against fruit flies. Boom. Go big or go home.

It’s days like this that drain us, though, and for the last few weeks I’ve sat at the computer almost every night, but nothing came out right — too dry and stale, too flat and foggy. The hurricane is exhausting.

fermata: where we hold and rest (Copperlight Wood)

So my steady routine of night owl productivity is on hold until our little bed-buddy is a steadier sleeper. He stays a few hours in his crib and then wakes up needing to nurse and moves in with us. A queen size bed easily fits two adults and a cat or two, but the addition of an 8-week-old’s wingspan can also be accommodated as long as one parent doesn’t mind sleeping with part of their body hanging off the edge of the mattress.

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I really don’t mind. These are the tiny days, when a clean dishtowel serves as a blanket. But the house feels small, too, and the view from the couch rarely changes.

…to get away from the disturbances and influence of men, planned or unplanned, and to find a place where one is open to influence only from the sky, the wind, the clouds coming up from the valley or closing in from the mountain peaks, the sparkle of snow in the sun, the marvel of light filtering through trees, or the sound of a waterfall splashing on rocks, or birds singing before sunrise, or the crickets’ special song at twilight – this is to give one the possibility for some original thinking, for getting a few fresh ideas, for feeling inspired to some form of creativity.

– Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking

We went where we always go. I never get tired of this place.

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There were paragliders. I had to look that up because I didn’t know the difference between hang gliding and parasailing – one is a motorized contraption, the other involves being towed by a boat tauntingly out of shark’s reach; neither are what we saw at Hatcher Pass.

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But I didn’t know that then. They reminded me of something else, something familiar that I hadn’t seen in a long while.

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They are fermatas, Love, He said.

A fermata is the symbol in music that tells you to hold, to pause. He knew I wouldn’t have to look that up.

This is the time to rest and linger – don’t rush through these days, looking more at your to-do list than you look at your kids’ eyes.

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These tiny days, taking turns holding Finnegan, taking turns cleaning messes, taking turns making meals. The days are fast and slow, intermittent lulls in a windstorm, and we are depending on each other to keep the storm outside – we have to constantly push it back out after it wheedles its way in, via bickering, misbehavior, old wounds, fresh grievances. We sweep out bitterness as persistently and repeatedly as we do to dirt and leaves in the fall, a continual process of keeping hearts and house clean. The storm is kept out only with extreme diligence.

I shall always be grateful to that storm in Cornwall that drove us inward on ourselves. The quality of light being almost the same at ten in the morning as it was at ten at night, we lost all count of time. The soporific swaying of the wagon, the utter stillness of the moor broken intermittently by sounds of wind and rain, the glimpses of a shifting, shadowed landscape gave us the feeling of having embarked upon a long voyage.

– Joan Bodger, How the Heather Looks

I’ve been thinking on this for weeks as I sit in dullness, trying to produce something here that just wouldn’t come. It won’t be pushed, no matter how behind I feel.

We need productive time away. We need productive time together. We need time to not produce anything at all – this may be the most productive time of all, giving us the perspective and simplicity we need to handle the chaos as it comes.

I asked Vince about it. “Do you know what a fermata is?”

“No. Is it Greek pastry? Mediterranean pasta?” These are the answers he gives while cooking dinner.

“No, it’s a pause in music.”  But it’s more. This is the place to hold, Love – and you need to hold for longer than you normally would. The song will pick up again soon enough.

It is a restless baby, squirming and overtired, who finally lays his head on your shoulder. It is a restless mama, overtired and fussy, letting go of the dishes and deadlines, just to listen to her Father.

He rests, I rest. This is the place to hold and linger.

 

slow going: a case for resisting the rush to do it all

This is weeks in the making. Like almost everything else lately, blog posts are slow going — two paragraphs at a time, about four nights a week – and from my station on the couch I can see dishes overcrowding the kitchen counter that I haven’t taken care of yet. There’s some folded laundry on the back of the other couch that still needs to be taken upstairs. A zillion other little things probably need to be done but I refuse to think too hard about them — we’ve reached the stage of Take It Easy And Don’t Get Too Ambitious, For Crying Out Loud.

Or if you prefer, the British version:

KEEP CALM

IT’S THE THIRD TRIMESTER

There’s this silly little fantasy I’ve had forever. Chalk it up to reading too many L.M. Montgomery books in adolescence, but I’ve always longed to have our beds covered in handmade quilts and afghans. Not store-bought, not mass-produced, not matchy-matchy trendy designs that will be out-of-date in less than five years (hello, chevron). Just handmade, homemade, cozy goodness.

It has yet to happen. The only beds in our family that have ever been covered in hand-stitched virtue are cribs and toddler beds, and since most of us don’t fit in those anymore, there’s still a lot of stitching to do. I’ve had three blankets in progress for about six years. I might just make it before our oldest graduates and moves out…but won’t hold my breath.

slow going: a case for resisting the rush to do it all

He’s starting high school. I have no idea how that happened.

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We school year-round and our summer term just started: Twain, Tozer, Tennyson. Kim by Kipling. Life of Fred and lots of writing. Beatrix Potter and Mother Goose; language arts and language therapy. Nature study and sewing and robotics, oh my. This is all happening.

But it’s not happening at a frenetic, must-get-it-all-done, no-time-to-smell-the-roses pace. It’s gradual, not graded; slow, not sloppy. It is often outside, or under the blanket fort, or all over the kitchen table, or in the garden, as we go.

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It’s no rush. One of the beauties of the year-round routine is that learning is a lifestyle, opposed to the whiplash of longer days packed with schoolwork for months at a time interspersed with weeks of (relatively) empty leisure that several of our kids (and honestly, myself) just have a really hard time with. We need the consistency of shorter school days with more free time. I don’t think we do more or less than other homeschoolers who have a more traditional schedule; we just spread it out a little more evenly – like jam on toast, versus jam on a waffle.

(oh…waffles…)

But either way the schedule runs, this lifetime of learning never feels done, and we’re tempted to feel constantly behind because there are always more subjects, more books, more things to try, than there is time for. Like making a postage stamp quilt by hand for a king-sized bed, it’s practically never ending and meant to be that way. If we were looking for a quick fix we’d be less interested in the process and more interested in just slapping two sheets together and buzzing them together by machine, all matchy-matchy…which is strangely similar to what happens in many places where bureaucracy trumps the joy of learning.

slow going collage

Learning kindles more learning, like rows of stitches built on the rows before – one day at a time, one page at a time, one stitch at a time.

A child . . . must have a living relationship with the present, its historic movement, its science, literature, art, social needs and aspirations. In fact, he must have a wide outlook, intimate relations all round; and force, virtue, must pass out of him, whether of hand, will, or sympathy, wherever he touches. This is no impossible programme.

– Charlotte Mason, School Education, p. 161-2

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It doesn’t look the same for each kid. One of our daughters goes outside with the Alaska Wild Plants book to identify young growing things in her journal, but we have other kiddos who just want to play in the dirt and climb trees – no inspirational sketchbooks, no field guilds, and may the good Lord help you if you even think of mentioning the phrase “nature study” – but if given enough room, these same kids will surprise us with an accurate and detailed hand-drawn map of our yard and house.

I can’t take credit for those things. I’ve tried to assign projects like them before, and from the wailing and gnashing of teeth that ensued, you’d think I’d told the kids we were all going to have our molars extracted without anesthesia.

In the spirit of choosing our battles, I’ve learned (slowly) that they need room to come up with most of these projects and ideas on their own. The very same kid who made this such a painfully clear lesson recently spelled out all the differences between Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas — who have blurred fuzzily for me since elementary school — and I asked him how he knew so much. He said he read about them from a book that’s been on his brother’s bed – not an assigned book, not for school, just for perusing. No assignments, no narration, no pressure. No wailing and gnashing of teeth.

He’s the one entering high school with a year of early algebra credit already under his belt. And I am so proud of him, but we’re not learning for credits or bragging rights or degrees.

We’re learning because He made us to grow and seek Him out. We find Him in science, in literature, in relationships, in the slow and steady pursuit of stitching life together. It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings. 

And it takes lots of timeThe dishes can wait.

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blue sky, black clouds (+ book giveaway)

About a week and a half ago I had a routine appointment with our midwife. No worries, no big concerns, no problems. Some back pain, some heartburn, just normal pregnancy woes. I drove home and the sky over me was blue, but a wall of black clouds loomed toward our house.

blue sky, black clouds: storms we drive into (plus book giveaway)

Cresting the top of the hill on the highway, I saw hail filtered through sunlight falling on the intersection below. Stopped at the bottom of the hill a minute later, the sun was still on me but tiny balls of snow were falling everywhere. The light turned green and cars started to move again, and every fifth vehicle coming toward me was covered in fresh snow – a clear warning of the weather we were driving into.

There was sunlight, and then darkness – sudden and startling. Hail, rain, and snow, right next to miles of sunlight. It was temperamental Alaska in all her glory.

It was like adoption, like life: Sometimes we have warning, and other times we have no clue what we’re driving into. Four days later I had emergency surgery at 27 weeks pregnant.

And I’m fine. And our baby, praise God, is fine. But the recovery has been wild, and I’m not talking about the incisions or anything like that – I’m talking about two of our kiddos who have a hard time handling uproar that isn’t caused by their own behavior, and we’ve had a roller coaster of a week. Chiaroscuro, light and dark, sunshine and hail.

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The next day he gave us the virtual middle finger, right and left, at every opportunity. That love thing is terrifying, don’t you know – let’s not have too much of that.

Reagan’s had a rough week, too. One thing after another, there’s been disobedience and sneaky misbehavior. Outright defiance over silly things, like putting away clothes.

Iree came downstairs this afternoon, and said, “Mom, Reagan’s up there saying, ‘Mommy hit me’ and ‘Mommy flick me.’ And she’s hitting and flicking herself…and her laundry is still all over the floor.”

And, oh, it made me angry. The part of me that was raised, Stop your crying or I’ll give you something to cry about wanted to lash out at her for this.

But it would play right into the enemy’s hands, because it’s what she remembers, still, years later. Love is scary, so let’s create anger because anger is safe and familiar. Let’s push away Mommy before she can leave us. She then refused dinner and threw up all over her bed. But we’ve had months of progress since the last time she did that during her last big regression. We know there is more sunlight ahead.

“I’m just going to love him.”

“That’s the hard way,” she said.

“With God’s help, I want to be something like grace to him. I don’t know how the shrink stuff works and I don’t want to pretend to know or try a bunch of fashionable strategies. So, if it works, it works, and if it doesn’t, maybe he and I will both learn something in spite of ourselves.”

“You know he’s frightened of attachment, of any real closeness. It’s what he wants most from you, but he’ll keep trying to push you away.”

“I’m not going away.”

– Jan Karon, Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good

There are adoptive, special needs, and foster families out there who are not fine, who feel alone, who are treading water. They need hope, support, and a holy stubbornness to love when loving is hardest. They need to know that loving may look different from what they imagined, but that it still works. They need to know that people are in their lane, driving with them into the same weather – some miles ahead, some miles behind – and we carry flares, extra blankets, and jumper cables. They need to know they are not alone.

How can we encourage adoptive families? Maybe with a forecast, of sorts, from those who’ve weathered the storm.

adoption book bundle giveaway

Mary Ostyn is a mama of ten children (four biological and six adopted) who has walked through the gamut of adoption – domestic and foreign, easy and hard, new baby and older child, siblings and special needs. She writes with compassion and honesty. A few months ago she sent me her new book Forever Mom, and I wish it had been available when we were in the adoption process. In my (only slightly-biased) opinion, the combined information in Forever Mom and Upside Down prepares adoptive families far more than most of the required reading for homestudies and trainings that are compiled by really smart people with letters after their names but no real adoptive or special needs parenting experience.

I’ve been honored to partner with Mary in bundling our books together and giving them away to our readers. She hosted her giveaway a few weeks ago, and I meant to host mine last week…but then decided to not commit to anything while doped up on narcotics. So here we are, a week late, but much more lucid.

Forever Mom & Upside Down bundle giveaway

To enter this giveaway, you can do any or all of the following:

– Share this post on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Pinterest, and come back here to comment and let me know. No need to comment separately every time; I will tally carefully. :)

– Tell me about your connection to adoption, foster care, or special needs in the comments below.

I’ll randomly draw a winner on Tuesday, April 28th. Offer limited to US residents who have a healthy appreciation of chocolate, coffee, or ice cream only.

And, if you’d like to know more about that emergency we had last week, subscribe to my free newsletter. The gory details (not really) and what He told me during pain worse than natural childbirth will be in there and headed to your inbox by the end of the month. Also, we have another surgery scheduled at the end of this week, though we’ve been informed that the hospital does not give out punchcards. We would love to have you pray for us through the weather ahead…thanks so much. xoxo

UPDATE AND WINNER! Kelsey Jast – congrats! Contact me with your address and I’ll get these in the mail this week. :) Thanks!

for us

Friendship is a funny, many-layered thing. Some friends are the kind we wave to in the grocery store, though we might not even know the names of their spouse or children. Other friends are a little closer – we loan books back and forth, we talk about how we chose the names of our children, we share surplus eggs, bread, or garden produce.

And then there is another kind altogether — the friends who were the first to bring a meal, the first to feel your baby kick. The friends who have seen you in a temper, in tears, or in the hospital. They have even – brace yourself – seen you without mascara.

Those friends. They are the ones who really know us.

for us: the deepest love, shown by the highest personal cost

They are the ones who are at home in your kitchen, putting condiments and leftovers away in your fridge while you’re finding extra clothes for their toddler who had an accident after drinking too much water. They are the ones who are unafraid to put dirty dishes in your dishwasher, and an hour later when you’re putting kids in their jammies and the decaf is brewing, they are the ones who help themselves to unloading the dishwasher and manage it without rearranging your kitchen too much.

for us: the sacrificial friendship

This is intimate. But it isn’t as deep as friendship can go.

Friendship goes farther when partnered with sacrifice: The husband who gives his jacket to his wife in the wind. The couple who knows the needs of a single mom and quietly slips a check into her hand. The family who gives up their vacation to help a friend in crisis. Intimacy is felt by provision, bonding is shown by sacrifice, and the closeness of the friendship is revealed by knowledge and understanding details about each other.

And yet, that’s still not as close as it gets. Because there’s also the kind who takes a beating, or a hanging, or a crucifixion, for someone he loves.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

– John 15:13

That is the deepest intimacy.

For you, and for any dear to you, I would do anything. If my career were of that better kind that there was any opportunity or capacity of sacrifice in it, I would embrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you. Try to hold me in your mind, at some quiet times, as ardent and sincere in this one thing. ….think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!

Provision. Sacrifice. Knowledge of need, and willingness to act on it. For us.

for us: the sacrificial friendship

“Draw on these boots of mine. Put your hands to them; put your will to them. Quick!….Change that cravat for this of mine. That coat for this of mine. While you do it, let me take this ribbon from your hair and shake out your hair like this of mine!”

With wonderful quickness, and with a strength both of will and action that appeared quite supernatural, he forced all these changes upon him. The prisoner was like a young child in his hands.

The deepest love, shown by the highest personal cost.

“I heard you were released…I hoped it was true?”

“It was. But, I was again taken and condemned.”

A choice made, no turning back. For us.

As the patient eyes were lifted to his face, he saw a sudden doubt in them, and then astonishment. He pressed the work-worn, hunger-worn young fingers, and touched his lips.

“Are you dying for him?” she whispered.

“And his wife and child. Hush! Yes.”

― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

It has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with the Friend and what He does for us. Take mine as yours. I will do this for you. Being known by Him, loved by Him so much – arms extended and held there by nails, that much – enduring bleeding and pain. For us.

The tears that fell in the garden for us. A man who is so familiar with us, every hidden shadow of our hearts is known to Him. Loved by Him. Worth saving by Him.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”

– John 20:11-15a

And after all He’d been through, He just stood there, watching her. She had no idea.

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

– John 20:15b

He knew her heart. He also knew how to get her attention.

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

– John 20:16a

He says our name before we even recognize Him. While we’re caught up in our own griefs, He’s watching us, just waiting for eye contact.

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related:

us, concentrate: the white egg is only prologue