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

at the little su

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.

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.

diaper changing cat

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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.

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.

the year of deep and wide

The little brown library is right in downtown Wasilla, and Finnegan was tucked in the babywrap while we wandered the aisles, just us. We have some kiddos at home who have been testing the limits of my sanity lately and any chance to get some time away is cold water to the thirsty. I ended up in the same section I always do – and nope, it wasn’t parenting, self-help, psychology, or substance abuse.

It’s literature. The classics, the poetry and essays, the biographies of authors and their collections in an aisle four feet wide and full of rest; and I stood in the middle of it, swaying Finn to sleep as the old floor creaked under my left foot.

the year of deep and wide: making 2016 about the call to pray, educate, and change the atmosphere through worship

I was among friends here: Twain, Dickens, Alcott, Wilder. Even without reading all of their histories, I know the people by their works and we are kindred. They have stared down blank sheets of paper without having all the answers, and won.

Their biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs were right in front of me. I wondered how hard it must be to come up with a title for these — what phrase sums up a person’s life? What few words do you choose?

And He started speaking to me about 2016, this blank sheet right in front of us. It is a decisive year for our family, our church, and our community. It’s also a pivotal year for our nation.

What am I doing as a mom to influence the Kingdom? What is our mission as parents? As adoptive and special needs parents? We can’t make choices for our kids, determine their course, or ensure that they will follow Jesus, change the world, thrive in life, or even brush their teeth. These are all choices they have to make.

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But our reach is deep and wide. We have the great leverage of influence, both at home and in our culture. We educate ourselves and our children. We create the atmosphere of our homes and communities, and sometimes, we have to fight to maintain that atmosphere against sabotage. And we intercede as though every prayer is water to the thirsty, filling an ever-broadening lake for the lost and wandering.

What phrase sums up a person’s life? What few words do you choose?

In fact, because Christ said we could only get into His world by being like children, many Christians have the idea that, provided you are “good,” it does not matter being a fool. But that is a misunderstanding….Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: on the contrary, He told us to be not only “as harmless as doves,” but also “as wise as serpents.” He wants a child’s heart, but a grown up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

This is the year of deep and wide for us: stretching further down and reaching further out than we’re used to, submitting to expansion and trusting for big things.

This is the year we fill the blank sheet in front of us with three focused objectives in a greater measure than ever before: The calling to pray, educate ourselves, and change the atmosphere around us through worship.

By wisdom a house is built,
and by understanding it is established;
by knowledge the rooms are filled
with all precious and pleasant riches.
A wise man is full of strength,
and a man of knowledge enhances his might,
for by wise guidance you can wage your war,
and in abundance of counselors there is victory.

– Proverbs 24:3-6, ESV

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They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

Nehemiah 8:8, NIV

What if this is the year that shows that no election or ruling, no circumstance or special need, no loss or persecution separates us from the One who made us more than conquerors? What if this is the year that takes the deeps and shallows of our history, and shows us how He flips them for His glory? Because the nails went deep and the arms stretched wide, and the shredded body that the enemy thought was defeated actually brought life, redemption, and power. Dunamis.

This is the year that trains us to dig deep and wide into His presence, conveying the atmosphere of heaven to earth, because we are not overpowered by the blankness. We are bringing life to it.