an introvert thinks too much, maybe

It is morning and the kids are still quiet in their rooms. Coffee is next to me, steaming. Finn is asleep in my bed, old Gusser is asleep near his feet, and just in case you think the scene is too picturesque, Knightley is asleep in the base of the avocado plant. True story.

I washed my face but my hair is a mess. Ever since I cut it, I wake up looking like Dr. Suess was my overnight stylist.

This is found time. Usually we hit the floor running – chores flying, kids everywhere, breakfast chaos, Vince getting ready for work. But today he had an early shift and left hours ago, the kids are sleeping in, Finn slept eight whole hours, and I am up for the day before the late winter sunrise, which never happens. Even in, um, winter.

an introvert thinks too much, maybe

I answered a few emails. Ignored one that’s been sitting there for a few days. Stalled by checking Facebook and Instagram, considered clipping my nails or cleaning the bathroom to justify avoiding it some more, and resorted to coming here to write about my woes instead.

We call this “processing,” which is a handy word that means working through our issues until we’re ready to do something about them. If you insist on procrastinating, it’s the healthiest, most productive way to do it.

The email I’m dragging my feet over is from a super nice lady who coordinates book signings at the largest bookstore in Alaska. She says I’m qualified, my book meets all the requirements. And I think, Really? Shoot, there goes that excuse.

I need to do it. Shouldn’t be a big deal, right? You sit at a table in public and talk to strangers about something you were passionate enough about to spend years working on. Easy. I’m good with sitting at a table, and I can talk your ears off about the need for more support of adoptive families. It’s the in public and talk to strangers part that makes me wonder if I own enough residual extrovert in my back pocket to pull it off.

We’re still reading The Wind in the Willows, and in chapter three, there’s this:

The Mole had long wanted to make the acquaintance of the Badger…But whenever the Mole mentioned his wish to the Water Rat he always found himself put off. “It’s all right,” the Rat would say. “Badger’ll turn up some day or other – he’s always turning up – and then I’ll introduce you. The best of fellows! But you must not only take him as you find him, but when you find him.”

Badger lives in the Wild Wood. And he loves his friends deeply, but he is the introvertiest of introverts.

I like him. He might have stewed over required book signings and called it processing, too.

“Couldn’t you ask him here – dinner or something?” said the Mole.

“He wouldn’t come,” replied the Rat simply. “Badger hates Society, and invitations, and dinner, and all that sort of thing.”

“Well, then, supposing we go and call on him?” suggested the Mole.

“Oh, I’m sure he wouldn’t like that at all,” said the Rat, quite alarmed.

– Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

He’s not as standoffish as he sounds. Introverts can be so misunderstood, even to each other.

To many he seemed prickly, intractable, and often he was, but as his friend Jonathan Sewall would write, Adams had “a heart formed for friendship, and susceptible to the finest feelings.” He needed friends, prized old friendships.

– David McCullough, John Adams

I’m guilty of joking about not liking people (here, here, and here, for starters). But the truth is, as long as I get plenty of time alone I like other people just fine. The tricky thing is that with seven kids I need more alone time than ever, but it takes a small miracle just to go to the bathroom by myself.

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Aloooooone, say it with me in three syllables: the space and time to untangle thoughts, to think, and often overthink. When it’s quiet enough to notice the furnace humming or the cat snoring, and thoughts can be sorted among themselves without the extra layers of questions, conversations, and importunate requests to share chocolate.

The hush and simplicity force the demands of the day to stop flying around long enough for me to see what I’m really dealing with, like so much debris settling after someone has stopped a wild current of air. Stillness allows my static to finally clear into an image.

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Balanced with this, I also need a strong dose of my people to give and receive from. These are the kindred ones we spill our thoughts, feelings, and ideas to with confidence, knowing they will sift them gently. They bring balance to my overthinking, salt my perspective with their own wisdom, and keep me out of trouble (read: make me practice social skills).

There was little he enjoyed more than an evening of spontaneous “chatter,” of stories by candlelight in congenial surroundings, of political and philosophic discourse, “intimate, unreserved conversations,” as he put it.

– David McCullough, John Adams

But beyond that shelter, out in the Wild Wood of animals, predators, and other extroverts (kidding, kidding…sheesh) after a while I get overwhelmed. My brain feels like an autopilot in beta mode.  I need to get back home with my own walls, books, papers, and cats, making food for my people, lounging in the living room with the woodstove blazing and another round of coffee brewing.

In the embracing light and warmth, warm and dry at last, with weary legs propped up in front of them, and a suggestive clink of plates being arranged on the table behind, it seemed to the storm-driven animals, now in safe anchorage, that the cold and trackless Wild Wood just left outside was miles and miles away, and all that they had suffered in it a half-forgotten dream.

– Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

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It’s not that I don’t want to talk to people about my book. I do. The message of Upside Down is crucial today, and marriages and families are at stake.

But I’m so passionate about it that even when I talk to my closest friends about it, afterward I wonder if I talked too loud or interrupted too much when I got all excited. Maybe I repeated myself too much. Maybe I forgot to say the one central message clearly enough. Maybe they didn’t realize I was being sarcastic when I said that one thing, or they didn’t realize I was joking when I made that liquor reference.

Because I think too much.

Or, I think that I think too much.

Maybe I’m wrong. I’ll overthink it some more and get back to you.

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anchorage: staying connected to the One with ballast

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

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

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

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

anchorage: staying connected to the One with ballast

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

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

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

Mooring. Refuge, dock, port, harbor.

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

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

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

– David McCullough, John Adams

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

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

– Mark 6:51, ESV

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

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

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

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

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the year of deeper and wider

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

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

the year of deeper and wider

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four and a half years.

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

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

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

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

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

– Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

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

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

Wind in the Willows, and Bingley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

filling the lake: thoughts on rest from a mom of seven

It was cruel. No doubt about it.

Right in front of the kids, I scooped vanilla ice cream on top of two fresh biscuits with strawberries. It was for me and I wasn’t sharing. And to add insult to injury, two of the kids can’t have dairy and one is fasting from gluten.

I ate it right in front of them, shameless, because a) my own lunch was two hours late, and b) they do similarly cruel things that I’m jealous of all the time, like going to the bathroom by themselves.

filling the lake: thoughts on rest from a mom of seven

I don’t want to push them away, I just want to breathe my own oxygen every once in a while…and eat ice cream for lunch.

But my body isn’t cooperating with this and I need to rest from sugar once in a while. I haven’t had ice cream in months. No sugar in coffee, no jam on toast, and aside from a half-eaten brownie a couple of weeks ago, no chocolate. No cookies. Not even a stinking animal cracker. When we eat pancakes, mine are topped with tears and self pity.

(Kidding. Please don’t eat pancakes around me.)

One day in desperation I threw together some no-sugar, banana-oat-raisin cookies. Too impatient to bake, I fried them in a skillet like hoecakes and they were so divine you could hear angels singing the Hallelujah Chorus. I immediately thought, These would be perfect with vanilla ice cream, then mentally slapped myself and poured whipping cream over them instead.

curbing-sugarMy body needs to rest from sugar. I can’t ignore the symptoms no matter how much I want to eat everything on my Pinterest board.

But I am learning that it’s not just my body that needs rest; my mind and routines need rest, also, beyond a weekly Sabbath. God and I have been talking about this a lot lately. Just as I over-do sugar and have to cut way back, I over-do…well, a lot of things. And He’s telling me to cut way back there, too.

I’m not very good at it. My idea of “rest” is to check something off my list, revel in a brief four seconds of exhilarating freedom, then move onto the Next Big Thing that has to be done. Somehow I think this isn’t what He means by resting.

What is rest, anyway? Is it to stop doing something, as in, “resting from your labors?” Because there’s no rest from mothering, housework, discipline, the tasks that hound and hang over us and are never done.

So it must be that we are to also rest in those labors that we can’t rest from. We must rest in motherhood. We rest in our homes, in the midst of washing dishes and sorting piles of fermenting laundry. It must be the difference between sautéing and scorching – which is what I did to my soup veggies while Instagramming about rest. Scorching, that is. Because I told you, I’m still not very good at this.

All the behaviors, all the needs, all the stuff on my list drains me during the week, and yet I feel guilty for taking quiet time to rest. My lake runs empty but I neglect filling it, thinking it’s my job to fill others until all I give are the dregs of what churns up. The simple, white-space-filled life of several years ago is now covered in scribbles of nine different colors of handwriting.

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And I love the colors, but somewhere we lost our ability to keep clean margins. I don’t recognize my own handwriting in the midst of everyone else’s anymore. I live for the weekend, pushing through full, frantic days until Vince carries more of the burden of diapers, cooking, discipline, and consequences.

What if you lived like I was home with you, Love, and I carried the burden? God asks me.

But You don’t make dinner or change diapers, I argue. He does not strike me with lightning, ground me, or take away my car keys.

Those are less of a burden if you let Me do the heavy lifting, He says. Trust Me with your kids. Trust that I’m speaking to them, growing them, and transforming them. That’s not your burden to carry.

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We feel nothing when we’re on empty – no pain, no pleasure, no up or down, no nothing – just a numb plodding on from one day to the next, a flatline of exhaustion in a stagnant wasteland. The same thoughts, the same words churning up from the same sludge at the bottom of the lake.

It’s where I’ve been. To be honest, it’s a big reason why I can barely keep up with one post a month lately. My thoughts feel repetitive and I hate to think I’m boring any of you or wasting your time. I don’t want you to come here for the view only to see the same muddy water at the bottom of the lake.

But we know relief and comfort because we are first acquainted with pain and discomfort, and to be refilled after being sucked dry for so long is like a rebirth.

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

– James 5:11, ESV

So He gave me a new to-do list. It includes reading, journaling, processing things out that need hard thinking, and making time for those neglected projects that keep getting pushed to the backburner. It also includes writing down dreams I’ve been afraid to look in the face, to see what they really look like and if they’d like to come into existence.

But mostly, it means viewing these things as non-negotiable. They are just as important as making sure everyone has breakfast and clean underwear.

This new army doesn’t get tired. You know why? They know how to lie down in His presence. They know how to rest in His arms. They know how to lay their heads on His chest and listen to His huge heart. They weep with Him over the dying, the crying, the broken, the abused and the lost. Do you really think you can work hard and start a revival? Just run out there and get them? Sorry. You can’t. But when Jesus shows His face and He breathes life into the dry, dry, bony Church, and that Church stands up full of His presence, carrying His glory, nobody can resist anymore!

Heidi Baker, There is Always Enough

I’ve been coming upstairs in the afternoons for my own refilling whenever Finn is napping. The kids who aren’t napping are under strict instructions to not knock on my door unless a) someone is injured, b) something is on fire, or c) they’ve shot an intruder (which should technically go under “a,” I guess).

I bring my tea (with cream, no sugar) and sometimes write a page or two. Sometimes I work on those projects, sometimes I read a little. Sometimes I just goof off on Instagram. And sometimes, I cry like a woman in labor while we wait for God to birth this new season out of us.

Then I go downstairs and pour out with joy, rather than serving on empty and feeling sorry for myself. Our location on the spectrum between drudgery and joy is determined by the depth of water in our lake – and our rich overflow comes from rest, when abundance bursts out of a life filled with His water.

Recommended reading: What is Mother Culture? by Karen Andreola