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.

mea culpa: how we break a cycle that’s getting us nowhere

Well, I’m not proud of it, but it’s done. Finished. Time to move on and get our life back.

Mea culpa: how we break a cycle that’s getting us nowhere

That’s right, folks – I’m talking about how we spent the last three weeks binge-watching seasons four, five, and six of Downton Abbey, months after everyone else wept and waxed eloquent over the series finale.

Now we can weep and wax eloquent, too.

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Now our evenings are normal again. Now we are responsible again. Now we will do things again, like spring cleaning. Like getting ready to sell the house. Like laundry.

Actually, the laundry isn’t really Downton Abbey’s fault. Our dryer stopped working – it would run an unending cycle, but without heat – and when Vince finally had a chance to figure out what was wrong with it (between episodes, of course) we discovered that dryers go on strike once they have accumulated a certain amount of legos, screws, and bobby pins in their bowels. This is hauntingly similar to our discovery that ice-cube makers don’t digest glitter.

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But my appliance-fixing hero husband gave the dryer a bowelectomy or something on Monday, and we are back on track. Which is great, because some of us were dangerously low on clean underwear, favorite socks, and, um, bobby pins. Mea culpa.

Now we can focus on getting ready to move. We have a whole list of tasks: some painting, some trimming, some caulking, little things here and there. It helps that it’s spring. ‘Tis the season for doing the dirty work of cleaning vents and corners and window crevices anyway.

And He’s doing it with us, too. We’re ready for a new season, and the big move isn’t just a physical thing. A laundry list of items that need to be dealt with emerges – heart issues, attitudes, habits, and routines. It’s time to clear the clutter, remove what’s taking up too much space, and make way for breakthrough. We need it. Our kids need it.

This may shock you since your children are probably perfect, but our kids are not perfect and a few of them have had a rough go of it lately. I’ve also had a rough go of it lately. I’ve struggled with irreverent thoughts, like, Hundreds of years ago some mother in Mexico was doing the same kinds of impossible, aggravating things. She was teaching her kids, cleaning her home, cooking food for everyone. She probably couldn’t help her six-year-old understand place value in arithmetic, either, and that’s when she invented Tequila.

I’ve been at a loss for how to pray and intervene sometimes. I’ve wondered if a certain kid’s continued disobedience is because he’s just not ready or because we’re doing something wrong. I’ve wondered if I’ve become resigned to it. I’ve wondered if I’m a good enough mother. We torture ourselves with these kinds of thoughts, the debris that churns round and round, shorting our circuits and blowing our fuses.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.

– Isaiah 53:4, ESV

I keep praying the same thing over and over, and still see the same choices, the same mistakes, the same hardness, and what I’m praying doesn’t seem to be helping. And I’ve scrubbed the bathroom in desperation and relief, knowing that if I couldn’t make a child speak correctly, couldn’t make him do his business in the toilet every time, couldn’t make him want to be healthy and whole and free, I could at least send him to bed for a while so I could eat breakfast two hours late and clean the bathroom and pray about it.

At least, for crying out loud, I could clean the mirrors.

And that’s all any of us can do. Just take care of what is in the mirror.

And He told me, Look for the same thing in yourself, Love. Find the log in your own eye, even if you only think it’s the tiniest speck. If you don’t think you even have that, ask Me, and I’ll show you what I want you to rout out and redeem. Confess and repent of it to clear the way, and your prayer for this loved one will be powerful and effective.

We tend to accumulate all sorts of emotional clutter and collateral damage. Repentance is our best routine maintenance.

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It’s just a faint reflection of what He did for us – He looked at Himself, stainless, and when there was no log or speck to pluck out, He took the whole tree instead. For us.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

– Isaiah 53:5-6, ESV

Mea culpa. My fault.

There was a really hard day not too long ago, and I needed immediate words for one of our kiddos – words that pursue truth without pushing away, words that don’t let the behavior slide but also don’t miss what’s going on underneath. They needed to be words that helped him see in the mirror clearly instead of further distorting the image. And He gave me the words, but after I said them I realized they were for me, too.

They’re words we all need to hear on days that we’re not proud of. Here they are:

How you’ve acted this morning (this week, this year) is not who you are. I hope you start acting like yourself real soon.

We pray for those who are falling and those who have fallen and those who are walking wounded from their choices – and it’s their choices that we can do nothing about, though we see so clearly the grief they are causing. But we can look in the mirror and find our own frail humanity and need for grace just as much, and then pray more effectively because compassion has swept the debris out of the way.

It’s the same thing I’ve been telling one of my oldest kids over and over, but I didn’t realize it was for me, too: Until we take responsibility for ourselves and how we affect others, we will run around in circles progressing nowhere. And then we feel and recognize His forgiveness – the gentle joy that revels in victory – and the breakthrough from the battle is for us and our kids and all of our loved ones, and we know He is accomplishing it in those we are interceding for, too, because His kindness leads us to repentance. Instead of the grinding downward spiral, it’s a cycle that always leads to our truest self, and more life. And we need to get our life back.

who helps you bury the body: a post on friendship

Snow was lightly falling. We drove home, talking about places we might move to, and this conversation occurred in the Stagecoach as we went down the highway:

“Remember when Wendy was here and we were talking about that one neighborhood?” Chamberlain asked.

who helps you bury the body: a post on friendship from Copperlight Wood

I stopped at a red light. “What? No, when was that?”

“When we were talking about that one place?”

“Huh? No, I don’t remember that.” The light turned green and I pressed the gas.

“When they came over last time.”

“Last time? What did we do the last time they came over?” The snow, the traffic, the chatter – I was drawing a total blank as I turned off the highway.

Mo-om, you know – when she came over to get the beer!”

The beer. Oh, yes. It all came back to me as I tried not to veer into the ditch.

Let me explain. After Christmas, an extremely generous coworker of Vince’s gave him a bunch of draft beer. It had a three-day lifespan before it went flat, and we couldn’t possibly finish it. And by “a bunch,” I mean two growlers from a local brewery for two adults who barely drink alcohol.

This friend doesn’t know us well. Yep, it was a little awkward. Almost as awkward as my six-year-old yelling about beer.

I could only think of one way to use it up that fast, but since using beer as a sedative for children at bedtime would be frowned upon (ahem) we called friends for assistance. Wendy, who does know us well, came over. And that was what Chamberlain was talking about – we chatted about real estate, moving, and neighborhoods while I poured stout and hard cider into mason jars for Wendy to take home, so she could tranquilize her children share accordingly.

You do what you have to do. As Vin said, good friends lift you up in prayer; great friends also help you finish the growler. Or, bury the body. Whatever.

(This might be a good time to refer you to why our kids also know about vodka)

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We’ve made some pretty incredible friendships during our marriage. We’ve done normal friend stuff with a lot of people – hiking, movies, small groups, coffee, dinners, and such – but the couples we are closest to are the ones we’ve buried bodies with.

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We’ve met in the emergency room when one of us was still on a gurney. We’ve taken turns responding to middle-of-the-night prayer requests and family crises. We’ve walked through grief and recovery together.

We know the messes from each other’s past and present, and the wild, crazy hopes for the future. These are friends who help us bury the body of our past – our failures and doubts, mistakes and inadequacies – and continually point us back to His truth.

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Of course, we share fun things in common, too. A few weekends ago we went to someone else’s house, and while us girls settled in the living room with tea, the guys were in the kitchen where her husband had just pulled a cast iron skillet full of fresh cornbread out of the oven. And, true story – my husband said to her husband, “Wow. Nice pan.” Because we both totally scored in the marriage department with husbands who cook.

(In related news, there was recent drama here when we moved the appliances I never use to the garage. We relegated the Kitchenaid next to the chainsaw, but in the process lost the doughhook for about a week. Vince was in a state of grief until I found it in the pantry.)

For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

– Romans 6:4, NLT

We have to bury the body to be the body – and these friends help us do that because they know us well. They know where we’ve been and where we are going. We become less to become more, stretching roots deep with our dearest so we can grow wide in our communities.

Our closest friends help us bury the body so we can rise.

These are the friendships that nurture, that press you closer to Him and who He’s designed you to be. You know each other’s individual daily struggles and share some of them in common. Some of them have walked a journey of grief that reflects your own, and you speak the same language.

These are the deep friendships, where you are free to be yourself, your most vulnerable you. The messy kitchen, the kids and coffee and books everywhere; hoodies draped over chairs, the reality of diaper changes when a cat wants to help, and the kids’ discarded stray socks everywhere.

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That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

– 1 John 1:3, ESV

These are the friendships that don’t stop contending for you in prayer when you are this close to breakthrough, even after you’ve pretty much given up and just don’t want to talk about it anymore. These friendships fight for those things that feel like impossibles, because sometimes it’s easier to pray and believe for a friend than for yourself. We can do that for each other.

And also, great friends aren’t weirded out by this kind of text:

Do you guys have an extra snot sucker? We left ours at home but can run back for it after church.

an accidental feast

The almost-ten-year-old: Afton’s looking at the largest baking bowl we own, full of flour and some other white ingredient…which, from the look on his face, is probably called “regret.”

I ask him what it is. He says it’s four cups flour, and four teaspoons – or was it tablespoons? – of baking powder. Uh oh.

an accidental feast: how we rise when we think we've made a flop

“What are you trying to make?”

He points to the cookbook. “Jalapeño cheesebread, but it’s a double batch.” And that sounds awesome, but he’s using a cornbread recipe and he’s actually quadrupled it. I try to explain that he’ll have to switch recipes and make the cornbread instead, and it’s okay, because I can help figure out the ratios and such…but, no, he says. It’s not okay. Panic is setting in, and he starts speaking desperately, without punctuation:

“I needed four cups but I was using the half-cup scoop so I did eight scoops but I don’t want any cornmeal and do I really have to make cornbread because I want it to be like French bread but I don’t want to have to wait for it to rise!

The rising thing always gets me, too. But no, I tell him, you can’t make French bread, cheesy or otherwise, with baking powder. It needs yeast; it has to rise.

There is a quiet, tense pause. Then he says:

“I think I can separate the flour from the baking powder with static electricity.”

And this, my friends, is why people are afraid to homeschool. They say it’s because they can’t teach high school math, but the truth is they’re terrified their nine-year-old is going to blow up the kitchen by separating flour from baking powder using static electricity.

(That night during dinner cleanup, we asked him where he heard about that. He shrugged and said it was from a science book. I turned to Vin and said, “That does it. No more science.”)

But four batches of cornbread later (perfect, cheesy, drool-worthy, jalapeño cornbread…), he learned a lesson that we all get eventually: things don’t always work out the way we expect, and we don’t always end up where we planned.

We’ve lived here for eight years, but we never expected to end up in Wasilla. Initially, we resisted moving at all and justified it with reasons that sounded good – but it turned out that what we were staying for in Anchorage was exactly what God was trying to get us away from. He had something so much better for us, if we’d trust Him enough to let go.

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And we did let go. But we thought we were supposed to move to Eagle River, and when we started looking, there was nothing available there. We searched and prayed and eventually went with plan B: we found land in Palmer. We made plans and a million phone calls, and hired subcontractors to build a house, and ten days before we were supposed to break ground, our bank went under…so that didn’t work out, either.

Sometimes when things don’t work out, fear starts to take root: What if this is the beginning of a pattern, and the next bend in the road is even worse? What if we think He told us to do this, but we heard wrong? What if we’re just waiting for the next shoe to drop?

But…what if none of those scenarios are the case at all?

What if the things in our lives that aren’t working out only seem that way because they’re not finished yet?

What if we are judging the end product by the messy middle phase? Like cake or cornbread that needs to bake for an hour, but we pulled it out of the oven when it’s still doughy and unset – we followed the recipe, used all the right ingredients, but we checked its progress too early. It’s not done yet because there’s no shortcut to waiting for it to rise.

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I still don’t know why He didn’t just tell us right out to move to Wasilla nine years ago. Maybe He knew it was too far off our radar and we had to warm up to the idea; maybe there were timing issues; maybe He knew we were stubborn (no way) and wanted to test our obedience. Maybe it was a million different things.

Maybe He wanted to teach us that even when life doesn’t go the way we plan, it still works out. He knew we would need to remember that in the years ahead.

The end product might not look at all what we signed up for. It might not be what we wanted at all  — no one plans ahead anticipating disease, disaster, divorce, or other heartbreak. That’s fair; He doesn’t want those things either and He grieves with us. But He is the master at taking the most screwed up recipes — all of our accidents, failures, and near-misses — and even when it feels like we’re having hot water for dinner, He’s redeeming it all into a gourmet feast.

Life needs yeast in order to rise.

And sometimes, things are hard simply because that’s the nature of expanding our comfort zone, living and learning deep and wide. It’s not because we are failing; it’s because we are not those who shrink back…even from homeschool.

That same kid, a few days later, is right back at it — and this time he has a project he wants to tackle with the sewing machine. The fabric is stretchy, the machine is unfamiliar, and he looks up at me.

“I prayed first,” he says, and hits the pedal.

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.