Saturday, September 29, 2012

cast your cares

we used to say grandma had "trouble with her nerves."  as a child, i don't think i really understood exactly what that meant, except that we needed to sometimes use quieter voices in her house.  except that we couldn't throw the basketball or the volleyball or the softball or especially not our sister against the siding when grandma was knitting on her porch or cooking in her kitchen. except that on snowy holidays when all of us wild cousins gathered together we were better off playing way down in the basement or way up in the attic.  there was only so much chaos grandma could handle.  i guess i understood a little bit about that -- i at least understood how to lower my voice or take the game outdoors.  but truly for me, having nerves always seemed to have more to do with having guts-- like, did i have the guts to go ding dong ditch our neighbor? did i have the guts to say hi in the hallway to that boy i liked?  did i have the guts to call out that mean girl at the lunch table?

now that i'm older, i am no longer tempted to ding dong ditch the neighbors --at least not  of late, but i do understand a bit more about "trouble with the nerves."  it really wasn't about grandma being brave or losing her nerve.  it had more to do with anxiety and worry.  grandma probably suffered from some significant anxiety issues, but in our house we didn't exactly call it that.  perhaps you also had a euphemism or two which your family used or uses.  uncle billy has “a little problem” or aunt susie had “a slight issue."  cousin tommy didn’t get fired, but he “lost his job.”  really? he lost it? words are a wonderful thing and how we choose to use them is even more wonderful (or terrible).  at the very least, it’s quite fascinating.  

but this piece isn’t about words, it’s about anxiety.  not “trouble with the nerves,” but plain, old, hard-to-put-my-finger-on-it worry.  you see, anyone who knows me, knows i am not a particularly anxious person.  even with five children i don’t worry all that much.  in fact, i think my oldest girl wishes sometimes her mother worried a little bit more.  she’s my worrier and she she even worries that her mother doesn’t worry enough.  did you follow that?  the truth is, God has given us all unique wiring.  and that’s what makes it fun (and sometimes hard).  i remember once being at a park with my girlfriend and our two toddlers.  connor and his little buddy were climbing on the (very sturdy, well designed, heavily padded, child friendly) playground.  as connor clamored quickly to the top, i, the proud mother, was watching him and thinking, “oh my, look at him go!  what a big boy he is!”  at this moment, however, i noticed my girlfriend sitting next to me beginning to twitch.  finally, unable to bear it one minute more, she exclaimed, “doesn’t that make you nervous? aren’t you afraid he might fall?” we were watching the exact same scene and yet had two very different reactions.  some of that had to do with the fact that she was watching her first born and i was watching my fourth...but regardless, we were two different women when it came to climbing toddlers.

and i don’t mean to be in the least bit flippant.  of course there are times when we need to stand beneath our child or even remove our child from the inappropriate climbing thing.  sarah elizabeth was a bit of a climber.  as soon as she could walk she figured out how to climb up onto the counter using the drawer pulls as steps.  her little feet fit perfectly onto the brass knobs of our kitchen drawers and she would scale up like an outdoorsman on a rock wall.  i have had to pull this girl off of plenty of dangerously high places.  still do, in fact.

there’s that kind of worry.  but then there’s that even more elusive kind of anxiety.  that thing which kind of hovers over the soul and eats away at the ease.  that’s the real monster.  yes, we need to be cautious at times.  yes, we may even have good cause to worry on occasion, but that troublesome anxiety which steals the peace is the awful, hard thing.  and, unfortunately,  we have it in our home right now. 

grandma may have had trouble with her nerves, but i have a cute, nine year old boy who also suffers from that ambiguous grip of irrational panic.  for connor it is not about lowering our voices or refraining from chaos, but my little guy, the very one who clamored up to the top of that play set as a toddler, has recently been hit with some of that awful, unexplained, anxiety.  and it has been a whole lot worse watching him climb through this, then it was watching him climb up the high stairs of a playground.  i’d like to blame it on the move, but i can’t.  the signs were there before we moved to minnesota.  connor has gone through a time this year where, for absolutely no reason at all, he feels a little panicky about leaving home and leaving me.  he feels an anxiousness which he can’t quite identify.  this isn’t a child who has any reason to worry. we’ve left and lost a few of the other children, but never this one.  we’d understand it if it was his older brother, tyler, who was struggling with this issue.  many years ago, in the chaos of christmas eve and out of town company, tyler (a 1st grader at the time) was left behind at our church.  it took a call from the church security for us to realize he was even missing - not a stellar parenting moment, i assure you.  i was already home basting the turkey when i answered the phone.  there are times when it seems clearly we have too many children and too much confusion in our home -- this was, without a doubt, one of them.

but back to my nine year old.  so, where does that come from? how does a nine year old all of a sudden begin to worry about being left or forgotten or whatever?  what does a blue-eyed, happy go lucky little guy have to worry about?  there’s nothing we can identify as the root of this problem.  could it somehow stem from my cancer diagnosis? maybe. has his older brother wrestled him one time too many? perhaps. i don’t know.  truly we don’t know.  he can’t explain it and we can’t quite understand it.  but it is what it is.  of course starting a new school and having to make all new friends has escalated this issue.  regardless, it has been hard watching him deal with this ugly thing which seems to be the very antithesis of childhood.  

the good news is, though it was a hard first couple weeks of school, connor is doing much better lately.  we have been working through it and dealing with it bit by bit. when we were in the thick of the battle i taped a verse in his homework folder and encouraged him to read it whenever he felt panicky.  “cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”  (1 peter 5:7).  as many of you know, connor loves to fish.  what a cool image this verse gave us as we talked about literally casting our cares on Jesus, just like he casts his fishing reel far into the lake water.   what a cool connecting point for my little guy.  i don’t think me taping a verse into his folder fixed everything, but it was a beginning.  and this anxiety and worry has been a place where we’ve had to come together this month and pray hard, pray specifically, pray beseechingly to our God for His mercy.  if you are a mother who has a child under attack, you know the kind of praying i am talking about.  no mother, worrier or non-worrier, wants to see her child riddled with anything awful.

my girls have also gone through times of anxiety, so this is nothing brand new for our family.  more and more, i am aware that anxiety is everywhere.  it doesn’t discriminate.  it is not just for the fragile grandmas or hovering mothers of this world.  anxiety can attack strong men and small boys alike.  i know young college girls fighting the grip of this panic and popular high schoolers who battle daily for peace. i know stay at home moms who seem so together, but who feel the crush of constant concern.  it is what it is.  i am certain satan loves to use his wicked methods to create doubt and stir up unease.  God’s word tells us to be vigilant against his attacks. finally, my brothers, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” ~ ephesians 6:10-11  if that doesn't say battle, i am not sure what does.

it’s a war.  don’t think for one minute it isn’t.  when i was diagnosed with cancer last year, anxiety became a new part of my life.  especially in those first few months, i was riddled with a sense of uncertainty.  perhaps you could say i had reason to worry, but truly God gave me a new type of compassion for those who struggle. i may never have understood grandma’s bad nerves as a child, but i didn’t have to go very far down the path as cancer patient to recognize this new level of attack on my spirit.   maybe that’s why i am writing today -- to offer a tiny bit of encouragement if you, too, have found yourself in this terrible place of panic...or worry...or fear.  it seems to me, satan is fighting harder than ever to needle us into places of doubt and anxiousness.  if he is successful in attacking our minds, there is the chance that he can paralyze us in our actions.  what does satan want more, than paralyzed and fearful people?  he’d love to see christians frozen in their fear. but that’s not how God works. 

i woke this morning with the thought to share connor’s small story and these big bible verses with y’all.  to encourage you to be strong and courageous.  to encourage you to call on the powerful name of Jesus.  satan is no match for the power of His blood.  tape a bible verse in your folder, cast your cares deep in the water, call out His name and know that He conquers all things.  in all things victorious, He is Lord.  even in the ambiguous areas of our deepest fears.  maybe a bad case of the nerves does have something to do with being brave after all.

be brave.  
be brave in Him.
"i prayed to the Lord, and he answered me, freeing me from all my fears." ~ pslam 34: 4

"because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. he shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. with long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation." ~ psalm 91:14-16

"for God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." ~ 2 timothy 1:7

"therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. are you not much more valuable than they? can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"  matthew 6:25-27

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

pink sunshine

in pink shoes and a matching bow, bella started back to school last week.  four year old preschool -- is there anything better? my older kids are insanely jealous hearing her evening reports on all things preschool.  these older kids who are sweating over AP english and algebra. i can see the longing in their eyes -- oh, to be little again.  i shared these pictures on facebook, but had to add a quick photo post here for those of you who haven't fallen prey to the social media craze. 

many of you have followed bella's story from our first report of her back in china -- a tiny baby left in a dirty stairwell.  a sick little girl living in an orphanage of 3000.  a child pursued by a family of six half a world away. 

and now... a wanted child, home, healthy, happy -- curls and a pink bow in her hair, a smile on her face and joy in her small steps.  heading off to a day of finger painting, playground time and learning about Jesus.  

part of me wants you to look at these pictures and see just another cute little kid.  and part of me wants to remind us all of just how big and good and gracious our God is.  

i'm simply sharing these photos today, to bring a smile to your face. a little bit of pink sunshine from a little girl who adores pink and who is sunshine.  that's it. no big writing in this post.  just a little bit of love.

sometimes, more than ever, a picture (or two or ten) is worth a thousand words...

 the photographer's favorite!

clearly too much "older sister" influence in this pose...she has not, 
and i repeat, has not, learned this from her mother...

so proud.

 love this look.

 "okay, mom, that's enough pictures already!"

Sunday, September 16, 2012

{connections} and a guest post!

"therefore, encourage one another . . ." 
 ~ 1 thessalonians 5:11

when i began this blog back in the summer of 2009, my intention was to tell bella's adoption story and that was it.  get in. get out. funny how plans can change. funny how even the story can change. after bella's adoption and homecoming, God just continued to provide writing material for me.  that's kind of how i look at these past couple of years. well, at least partially how i view them.  i am pretty sure He intended me to get far more from my recent blessings and struggles than just a few extra blogposts.

but here i am, 3 years later, still writing.  one of my favorite parts to this blog is the mini-ministry it has created for me. it began with advocating adoption.  who couldn't look at that sweet little face of bella and not feel some kind of tug to adopt? i think it is is pretty safe to say, she could be a poster child for ending the world's orphan crisis. and that has been pure pleasure to write about and encourage others in.  but the story continued with other chapters.  when i began my journey with cancer last year, the writing really began to pour forth, and this time it took on a whole other layer.  with this new twist in the story, i started receiving emails, inboxes and messages from others who were also going through the tough, ugly pieces of life.  i was amazed at the outpouring of words and love,  especially from so many i had never even met.  and these connections have continued to come with our move to minnesota and with crazy life just in general.  

it was about a year ago when i met with one of the pastors at our church back in atlanta.  i was getting all kinds of encouragement about "doing something more" with my writing.  while that encouragement was well, encouraging, it also left me a little bit frustrated.  WHAT was i supposed to do?  so i set up an appointment with a pastor who had some experience in this area and we chatted about this grand, ambiguous WHAT.  we talked about different directions ...different options...different opportunities.  but at the end of our time together he said to me, "jody, what if all God calls you to is writing in your blog and reaching out to other women?  what if all God wants from your writing is for your words to encourage a hurting woman up in ...let's say... wisconsin?  what if that's all this ever comes to?  is that enough for you?"  i left his office and played that conversation over and over in my head.  i had never really thought about it like that.  but the more i did, the more certain i became, that i was okay with that.  i really was okay connecting with just one woman at  time.  if that's what God wanted.  now, if He'd like to make me a famous author, i'd probably be okay with that too... (just sayin).

but truly this blog has been such a blessing to me as it allows new connections with women from all over.  we've shared stories, encouragement, prayers, hopes and dreams.  i love this.  i love the letters and notes and, of course, the new friends.  i love that so many out there desire to be raw and real -- to be honest.  i have written with women who have lost husbands through infidelity or death.  i have heard from countless women who have lost their health or their hope.  i have received emails from women who have been gravely disappointed in their dreams and sadly discouraged in their days.  women who have encountered major life crises and minor daily chaos.  one dear gal (from minnesota, not wisconsin, but really close) and i connected through my blog several months ago, and now that i am here in her home state, we are friends in "real life."  this fellow mother of five has a son who went to live with Jesus this past spring. her oldest boy. how do we in our earthly way, ever understand that kind of loss, that kind of pain? it has been my privilege to first write with her and now walk with her.  in the months before moving, we wrote weekly, daily i see her at volleyball games, in carpool line and around the hallways of our kids' schools.  occasionally, we even carve out some time, face to face.  just yesterday we sat for a small hour and chatted in the afternoon sunshine.  i hate what she's been through and is going through, i wish i could remove it far from her. in all of our writing back and forth, i have realized, more deeply than ever before,  there are only so many words.  but i love her and i give thanks for her friendship and for how our God began to weave that together before i ever set foot in minnesota.

through this blog, i have connected with friends from childhood, high school and college. this chance to catch up, has been far better than any awkward class reunion.  one of my favorite things is hearing from old students.  these are kids i taught in high school english over 15 years ago back in ohio, and some of them stop in now and read my blog.  i couldn't get a few of them to read their novels and poems and plays back in english class, but they read and check in with me here.  how cool is that?  and, often, i am not just hearing quick hellos, but hearing stories -- journeys.  hearing about the twists and turns of their grown up lives.   recently i had one former student write me a beautiful note of encouragement.  i was her sophomore english teacher 15 years ago, now she was teaching me.  ah, this age of technology... so much is possible. even wonderful. 

but here's the deal, none of us have to look very far to find someone in the midst of serious struggle.  someone in pain.  i don't always do a good job in the arena of compassion and mercy. (my kids might tell you that).  i just don't. i'm utterly selfish at heart. sometimes i choose to check out, instead of dive deep into someone's need.  but even through this little blog, i have learned, am learning, how important we are to each other.  how much we need one another.  men, i may seem to be writing mostly to women here, but you are not, in any way, exempt.  we are created to care for one respond to one come alongside each other.   i had no idea God would use my piddly little writings to encourage others and to encourage ME in this way. but He has. 

"first, i thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, 
because your faith is proclaimed in all the world."  ~ romans 1:8

recently, i got to "meet" another gal with a story.  (by the way, we all have them).  but my new friend, heather, has a particularly inspiring story which i am including today.   heather also was handed something hard -- as the new mother of a beautiful baby girl, it was the last thing she expected.  but, as i continue to proclaim, we serve a God who wastes nothing.  what is horrible and ugly, can be used for good and for His glory.  and this is why we write.  why we share. and mostly, why we have hope.

i am ending today with a guest post from heather.  she writes to raise awareness, to inspire others and to share the good...

Appreciation Learned Through My Battle with Mesothelioma

Some dates stand out better than others but for different reasons.  August 4, 2005, was one of my best days ever while November 21, 2005, was one of the worst.  Just a few short months apart, both impacted me as I faced one of the biggest challenges of my life.  Both gave me a reason to fight for my life.  

I received a grim diagnosis on November 21, 2005.  Malignant pleural mesothelioma was a serious diagnosis, indeed.  Without treatment, my life expectancy was about 15 months.  I had been exposed to asbestos in my childhood.  30 years later, it resulted in a cancer that threatened my future and that of my daughter.

Lily was born August 4, 2005.  She was beautiful and lively.  I wasn’t so lively in the months after her birth, but I figured it was the blues.  This was normal for new mothers, but when I just kept feeling more fatigued and even breathless, I scheduled a physical to make sure.  The diagnosis stunned me.  The need to fight was obvious.  I couldn’t fathom allowing Lily to grow up without a mother, and my husband and I were determined to fight hard.  Our support system began to draw near in anticipation of the battle.

My husband’s parents, along with my own, became a staunch support system for us.  Additionally, friends and extended family made themselves available to assist.  Lily went to stay with my parents while my husband and I departed for Boston for a February 2 surgery date.  One of the best mesothelioma doctors available was on my team, and the extrapleural pneumonectomy was successful.  18 days of hospitalization were followed by a two month recovery period before I moved into the chemotherapy and radiation stage of my mesothelioma treatment.  I developed a support system in the hospital while my parents’ support system in my childhood home of South Dakota also grew.  

In my teenage years, I babysat quite a bit.  Now, those I once babysat were filling in by watching Lily when my parents had to be at work.  When people say that it takes a whole village to raise a child I think about my village coming to my assistance during my time of need.  My family has grown closer, and I am thankful for the positive things that have come of this challenge.  

Today, I am cancer free.  I spend my days enjoying my daughter’s developments, appreciative that she doesn't have to rely on photos.  I don’t take things for granted, and I encourage everyone to live life to the fullest.  Things can change drastically in just a matter of moments.  My diagnosis wasn’t the end, but it was a call to action and appreciation.  Words cannot express my appreciation to those who have helped me through this time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

and God bless what's-his-name...

without a doubt, one of my favorite movies ever is the sound of music. and one of my very favorite scenes in the movie is maria kneeling at her bedside,  praying audibly for the von trapp children.

"Dear Father...God bless Liesl and Friedrich.
God bless Louisa, Brigitta, Marta and little Gretl.
And I forgot the other boy.  What's his name? Well,
God bless what's-his-name. ...
And now, dear God, about Liesl...
Help her know that I'm her friend...and help her
tell me what she's been up to.  Help me to be 
understanding so I may guide her footsteps.  
In the name of the Father, the Son and the 
Holy Ghost.  A-men."

i don't know.  maybe it's something about the classic, white linen of her night gown.  maybe it's the storm brewing wildly outside the alpine estate, maybe it's the fact that this was her very first day on the job and instead of collapsing in bed and feeling sorry for herself, this nun turned nanny, is kneeling in prayer for 7 naughty children.  children who have already attempted a variety of tricks and shown multiple levels of meanness.

what i love most though, is when liesl is sneaking rebelliously through the bedroom window, how maria amps up the passion in her praying.  her words immediately become personal, tender and warmly engaging.  she senses, intrinsically, 16 year old liesl needs her.  there's no arguing, maria is one wise woman.

i have always been a mother who prays for her children. in fact, i prayed for them well before they were even born.  i remember often, in each pregnancy, biological or otherwise,  my prayers and dreams would intermingle.  what would they look like...what might they be like...and those questions would lead directly into prayers for their safe arrival and good health and bright future.  i couldn't separate my dreams about them from my prayers for them. i suppose i still do that.  dream. pray. dream. pray.   i've always been a praying kind of mama. i am sure, at some level, it just goes with the territory. a mother on her knees -- helping a child into boots, wiping up a spill, putting together an ABC puzzle or praying for her children.  the knees are well worked.  well worn. 

but the truth is, there have been times when i've been able to do little more than just whisper their names in the presence of my Father.  times when i've been able to only briefly ask God's blessing.  when life has gotten especially busy or i've been in a season of serious distraction, i can tell my prayer life leaves something to be desired. when i'm in this dry, flat kind of place,  my prayers are quick and general, sometimes even just occasional.  that's sort of hard to admit to y'all.  i'd really prefer for you to view me as an always entrenched mama, a woman going daily to battle for her children, a mother who spends hours on her knees before the sunrise pleading for the well being of her offspring.  that's how i'd like you to view me.  but, if i'm honest, i have to admit , somedays, and in some seasons, i've fallen short of being that ideal prayer warrior woman.  i've had many mornings with quick devotions and even quicker prayers. with five children and a husband and a whole lot of community, i could pray all the day long.  but instead, i've had times when i've only jumped into the car and prayed for my wee ones as i drove helter-skelter around town running errands.  i've watched my children climb out in carpool and i've whispered simple, desperate phrases in the wake of their departure, "Lord please bless them today."

and there's nothing wrong with that kind of praying.  we are to pray continuously. we are to "pray without ceasing." (1 thessalonians 5:17).   pray as we drive and shop and paint and wipe down sticky countertops.  that's a wonderful gift God has given us -- the freedom to pray whenever and wherever.  but, of course, there are many facets to how we pray.  growing up, i had a friend my age across the street.  her name was frannie and she was from a catholic family.  i was always fascinated hearing about when she'd go to confession.  it sounded so exotic to my protestant ears.  it sounded holy and set apart and mysterious.  it sounded like a place for a best dress and clean fingernails.  i never asked frannie, but i secretly wished she'd someday take me with her to confession.  i, too, wanted to sit in a dimly lit box and whisper quiet words to someone behind a dark screen of intrigue.

now,  i'm in no way suggesting we have to climb into a special closet to go about our praying.  oh heaven's no!  but there is something appealing to a time of set apart prayer.  even Jesus, the Son of God, found that He needed to escape the multitudes and meet alone with His Father.  "but Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed."  (luke 5:16).   "and when He had sent the multitudes away (or the children to school"), He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, He was there alone."   (matthew 14:23).  even Jesus carved out a time and a place to come before His Father.  He didn't just fit it in between stoplights and groceries.

"and in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, 
and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed."  ~ mark 1:35 

in away, i feel a lot like maria these days.  i was going along mentioning names and quickly blessing the children in all our life-bustle and busy-ness (possibly even forgetting a name here and there), but with all the twists and turns of life recently, the prayers for my kids have gone up a notch or two.  hard times encourage this shift, don't they?  you know what i'm talking about:  your child is sick or discouraged or hurting or hard to handle and the prayer life begins to rev back up again.  a little stronger.  a little longer.  a little deeper, harder, louder. am i right or am i right?

i can't say i've ever been caught kneeling at my bedside praying for my children out loud...certainly not in an old fashioned night gown at least, but, i have been walked in on in the middle of my quiet prayers. each of my children has interrupted me at some point with some kind of kid crisis. though it doesn't happen nearly enough,  i do think they like that.  it throws them off a bit for sure. it certainly makes them all pause a little longer than finding their mom just folding laundry or chopping chicken.  i am sure my children like to know they are prayed for.  in fact, every single night after i pray with my middle child, sarah, and tuck her in...every single night as i leave her room she shouts out a few quick final prayer requests:  "mom, pray for my sore throat or my test tomorrow or that i'll fall right to sleep."  i'm not kidding you, she's been doing that from the time she could talk. she never misses a night. the funny thing, she calls these out as i am leaving her room after we've just finished praying --  just finished going together before the thrown of Jesus.  and yet my girl, she wants more.  she knows she needs more prayer. kids, even pre-teens, can be wise that way.

i'll admit though,  there have been times when i am slightly annoyed by these straggling, departing requests.  i've always thought they were part of her great bedtime stall tactic.  in the same category as, "i need a drink of water,"  or "i have to go potty, " or "mama can you give me one more kiss?"  but, now that i'm sitting here writing about this this morning, i am thinking a little differently.  who cares? who cares what her reason is for asking me to pray. what a pure priviledge it is to have my child ask for specific prayer.  what a gift.  what an opportunity.  she might not always be prone to do this.  there will come a day when i might have to ask her.  "sarah,  how i can pray for you today?" and she might not always be so quick to offer up her needs or share her fears.  she is 12 and there is a lot of life ahead for this little gal...she needs her mama to be praying willingly. diligently. daily.  they all do.

back when i had only tiny people living in our home, i read stormie omartian's book, "the power of a praying parent."  i read the book and helped co-lead a study on this great resource. i almost want to laugh out loud as i have at least two of my children now taller than me...and a third who will pass me by shortly.  life has changed.  i thought back when we were trudging through toddlerhood i understood the great need for prayer (and i DID need it)...but now i have teens.  enough said.

this morning, i write to encourage all of us:  let's pray better for our children.  pray diligently.  pray specifically.  pray boldly.  they need it.  we need to do it.  God wants to hear it.  make the time to meet with Jesus. set it apart whenever we can.  it is the best appointment we can make for ourselves...and for our children.  
“don’t pray when you feel like it. have an appointment with the Lord and keep it. 
a man (or mother or tiny child, for that matter) 
is powerful on his knees.” ~ corrie ten boom

Thursday, September 6, 2012


OVERWHELMED.   am i allowed to write that?  am i even allowed to admit it? because i am. that's it.  just plain, old overwhelmed.  miss silver lining here is feeling sort of dull and dingy today.  for those of you who might jump to conclusions, nothing is seriously wrong.  the sky is not, and i repeat, not falling.  with five kids though, the odds are, something is falling.  someone is falling.  with five kids, the chances are, no day is ever going to be completely problem free.  at least one child is going to have a bad day or a hard issue or a minor disappointment.  when one or two are sailing smoothly along, another walks through the door with some kind of something.  that's just how it goes. i guess it's kind of a numbers game.  but when they all come crashing down at once, well then, that is a whole other thing.  yesterday all of them had that "some kind of something bad" type of day.  i mean it, each one -- all five.  from the moment they began to climb back into my yukon after school and by one by one by one...i was  hearing all about "the stuff."   add it to a day where i was scurrying around minnesota with carpools, errands, games, practices, dinner and homework and by 7pm i wanted nothing more than to crawl under the covers.  honestly, what i really wanted was to hand it all over to someone else and say, "here you go, you're in charge. i'm off duty." it doesn't really work like that though, and so we plowed on through the afternoon and evening.  i am not sure i have ever been so glad to see bedtime arrive.

i won't go through the litany of what was wrong.  if i told you the whole story, some of you would become immediately overwhelmed for me...and others of you might feel a little underwhelmed.  "come on jody, that's not so bad...give me a break!" and you'd be right -- it's not that bad.  but, that doesn't negate the fact that i fell asleep last night feeling overwhelmed and i woke this morning still heavily burdened.  children can do that to you, can't they? is there anyone relating to this?  i am not especially prone to worry -- but i worried.  i am not always prone to exhaustion -- but i was exhausted.  i am not even all that prone to frustration -- but, let me tell you,  i was frustrated.  it all felt like too much.  all five of them with some kind of yucky something going on.  and the time just before bed wasn't much better.  like clockwork, the,  "i-forgot-to-tell-you,-but-tomorrow-i-need..." began right about then.  i was tempted to get a pad of paper and pencil and go from room to room with all the late night, last minute things they felt the need to dump on me:  order this. sign this. read this. buy this. wash this. send this. check this.  did i mention it is the first week of school?

yesterday, in one of my attempts to control the chaos and make it all better, i made a quick visit to our favorite new bakery in town and bought a tart.  female readers, you understand this, right? i told myself it was a "celebrate everyone back to school" treat.  i put it on a pedestal cake plate and gloried in its extravagant beauty.  somewhere in the back of my mind i thought this tart was the ticket to making all things better -- all things new.  it was going to fix everyone's day -- at least mine.  some of the kids began to pick at it and once they started, i figured, i might as well join in.  i needed a little help too.  bite after bite, i was sure it was helping.  bite after bite, i was certain i felt better.  bite after bite, i was calming the chaos within. but we all know, eating nearly half a tart does not make everything better.

this morning i woke heavy with burden (probably a little heavy with tart too).  i sat down to pour my heart out to someone --- i began to think about the friends or family members i might call.  i really wanted to tell someone (anyone, actually) the gory details of yesterday afternoon.  i wanted to invoke great, heaping amounts of sympathy.   i really wanted that proverbial shoulder to cry on.  but as i sat with my phone, thinking about who i should call first,  i felt God clearly nudging me.  "define overwhelmed, jody."  that's (kind of) what i heard.  define it.  don't claim it just yet,  but define it.  and so, being the ever-ready english teacher, i dutifully pulled out my webster.

o ver whelm
1. To surge over and submerge; engulf.
2. To defeat completely and decisively.
3. To affect deeply in mind or emotion.
4. To present with an excessive amount.
5. To turn over; upset.

to surge over, submerge, engulf, defeat, affect deeply, despair, turn over, upset...really?  is that really what i wanted to claim on this sunshiney september morning?  am i truly engulfed or submerged or defeated?  or are we just having some bumps in the road? we are, afterall,  still in a time of great transition.  things just aren't going to go perfectly smooth. and that lake out back, yeah, it helps, but it doesn't make everything better.  beautiful sunrises and sunsets are awesome, but they don't erase a child who isn't feeling accepted or acclimated.  how can we expect everyone to be hunky-dory when we aren't even sure how to find our locker or we forget our lunchbox?   in these past two weeks we've had to adjust to new schools, new friends, new teachers, new routines, new directions, new leadership, new rules, new dress code, pretty much new everything (and, i must add, all without the comfort of a chic-fil-a!)...and in the weeks before that we were adjusting (and still are adjusting) to a new house, new community, new state, new culture...if you asked any of us, we'd all tell you, we are a little tired of the new...tired of being new.  remember the theme song from cheers, "sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name..."  we mcnatts, well, we get that.  we just want to hold in our hands a little bit of what feels familiar.  we just want to walk into a room and recognize the bits and pieces of life.  some days the grand adventure can just wear a girl out!

let me give you an example from last month.  it was our first day in the new house.  we had spent the afternoon and evening moving stuff and getting settled.   if you remember from previous posts, rick was in chicago that week, so it was just me and the fab five.  after getting everyone situated, i knew i HAD TO head for the grocery store. it was the last thing in the world i felt like doing, but i just had to. the refrigerator was 100% empty,  the cupboards bare, the children hungry.  i dragged my tired self into the car and drove blurry-eyed to the nearest cub foods.  but once in the store, i had renewed energy and began to toss items into my large cart.  everything under the sun went in: family size ketchup bottles, mayo, pickles, canned goods, cereal boxes,  bottles of water and what not. i just kept tossing and thinking, "might as well do it all..."  and i did.  after quite some time in the store, i headed to the checkout line pushing my cart teeming with all the essentials for setting up home for a family of seven.   the young man began to ring up my groceries sending down the conveyor belt item after item.  at the end, the pile was growing huge.  he kept smiling at me.  i kept smiling at him.  he glanced at the pile.  i glanced at the pile.  he continued to ring groceries.  i continued to stand there smiling and glancing and tapping my fingers.   and then the horrifying thought occurred to me:  THERE WAS NO ONE AROUND TO BAG UP MY GROCERIES.  no one.  not a soul.  and the pile was quickly swelling from a mole hill to a massive mountain.  did i mention we had moved into our house that day?  did i mention how tired i was?  i stood there realizing the obvious and overwhelming task at hand and began to consider just telling the young man, "forget it, just give me the milk and the bread and i'll come back tomorrow for the rest."  i mean it, i really considered taking just the bare necessities and booking out of there.   now, i have to tell you, normally, i would be just fine bagging my own groceries and carrying them out to my car.  i really would.  but for the past 14 years i have happened to shop in a store which did both for me.  i was accustomed to this level of care.  i was always willing to jump in and help out, but i had grown to expect a certain kind of service.  heck, they even gave my kids a balloon and a lollipop back in georgia.   i am not one who typically shirks a little hard work,  but the difference was, i wasn't ready for this.  i wasn't prepared.  i wasn't expecting it.  AND i was exhausted and alone and hardly 24 hours in a brand new state.  i was overwhelmed.

but here's the deal: i don't want to be overwhelmed by groceries or a gruesome afternoon.  if i let myself, i can be. easily.  it doesn't take much to crumble in the midst of such mess and madness.  and for at least a few minutes, it feels really good to collapse underneath the weight of it all -- to just let go and crash.  it feels kind of good to whine and vent and seethe.  again, anyone relating?  BUT i don't really want that.  i mean i do for a quick minute or two...but what i really want and what i really need is to be reminded in these moments of God's overwhelming love for me.  i need to keep in mind that His great love covers, completely covers, all of these lousy issues and problems and disappointments.  it can even cover and consume the despair.  it is that big.  bigger than that mountain of groceries in cub foods a few weeks ago, bigger than our current chaos level in this first week of school.   His love is an enormous love, a crazy love.  it is the kind of love which sent His only son to the cross for me and my petty issues.  it is the kind of love which is everlasting and unconditional and perfect.  yes perfect.  nothing.  no thing in this entire world is perfect...and yet, God's love is exactly that. perfect.

and here's what's more:  He loves me in even in my state of being overwhelmed.  He understands it.  He knows all about it.  all morning i have rolled around in my head that definition of overwhelmed and as i've gone about my tasks and attempted to make right some of the wrong, i can't help but think about the verse which, in my mind, aptly describes God's overwhelming love:

"And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love.
Death can't, and life can't.
The angels can't, and the demons can't.
Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow,
and even the powers of hell can't keep God's love away.
Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean,
nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us
from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Romans 8:38-39

aren't those amazing words?  God really does want us to be overwhelmed...He wants us to be overwhelmed by His great love.   it is His overwhelming love which makes overwhelming life better...maybe even more beautiful.   when we are feeling OVERwhelmed it might be time to go UNDER Him.  UNDER the protection of His wings.  UNDER the foot of His cross.  UNDER the vast umbrella of His love. 

...and a bite or two of tart can't hurt either!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

the longest summer (ev-ah)

"there shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart."  ~ celia thaxter

this past week, two of them started back.  next week, two more will go, and the following week, the fifth begins.  the school bell is ringing and the longest summer ever, is ending.  of course my feelings are mixed, as i write this morning.  i am a girl who has always embraced the back to school bustle.  i loved it when i was in 5th grade and i love it now as a mom of five.  don't get me wrong, it couldn't be crazier. the details are many, the supply lists are long, the forms are formidable.  we spend countless hours and hundreds of dollars in target readying the children with new markers and fancy binders and all that educational-jazz.  this year, my two oldest will be given ipads at high school and my 7th grader is also encouraged to bring an ipad to class for note taking.  yes, ipads. things certainly have changed since my own school days.  i remember in 7th grade being thoroughly impressed with the metallic cover on my spiral notebook and a pen which changed colors by clicking a button.

thankfully, this staggered leaving of my children does make the close of our summer-chapter a little more gentle.  slowly they are emptying out of my home and heading off into the world of learning.  the littlest girl will only be gone three days for preschool, and for that, i am glad.  she loves school like i've never seen a preschooler love school.  every day asking me, "when do i get to go, mom?" she knows her letters, can write her name and counts to 20 without a hiccup...this tiny girl is ready.  she'd probably like to take the ipad with her as well, but no, she gets a red book bag and some brand new crayons.

summer is over.  it is, however, a little hard to completely grasp that thought when we are still living a vacation kind of life.  i am certain the cold weather and piles of snow will snap us quickly into the correct (and serious) line of thinking.  but right now, i am not quite sure how to transition the children from lake-life to school bells and homework.  just a few mornings ago, i came close in failing to wake the kids up on time.  you see, there was this sunrise --- and it kind of emptied my mind of all mundane items, i.e., waking children for school. these lake sunrises hold power.  i come down every morning to something new.  each morning different.  always me, my coffee and my time with God...but every morning we've been in this house, the sun has greeted me in a new outfit.  always different.  always beautiful.  always i am startled.  i thought to myself today, "now, how in the world am i supposed to handle the average things of life with this right outside my window?"  will i ever grow tired of it?  will i ever walk past and not stop and stare?  from up in this house on the hill i am drawn to go down and sit on the dock.  i have spent many a morning in slippers and pajamas camped out at water's edge.  but now we must return to school:  make breakfast and pack lunches,  find socks and braid hair.  and getting five children ready and off to school takes every bit of my concentration.  i might just have to invest in some massive blinds to keep me on task come morning time.

this week the children have come home and headed straight for swimsuits and fishing poles.  they waste no time in shedding their school-ish things and stepping back into their leisure.  we love this.  i know for sure, come next week, tyler will be doing the very same thing.  i won't be surprised to see him in his kayak or with a fishing pole in hand before showering for high school.  where most freshmen on the first day of school (girls at least) will be carefully arranging hair, applying makeup and picking out perfect outfits, my soon-to-be-high-school son, just might smell like fish.  and strangely enough, i'm okay with that.

long summer fades finally away from our view...away from our sun-tanned hands and sunburnt noses.  we squeezed a lot from it though.  the children got out of school in mid-may as southerners and head back in late august/early september as northerners. that little logistic of the move worked in their favor.  they'll probably never again have a summer quite so long.  we've definitely added those extra weeks to the silver lining column.  it has been drawn out for other reasons beside the calendar though -- that goes without saying.  any of you who have been reading along in these past months know we've had some marathon moments to push through in the high heat of these days.  for me, summer has always meant something along the lines of footloose and fancy free:  bare feet in green grass, cold lemonade in hand, sprinklers on the lawn, beach towels and good books scattered around our house.  though we have had our share of sweetness, i probably wouldn't categorize this as our most carefree summer. not exactly.  thus my title:  the longest summer (ev-ah).

and so we end it.  this weekend officially will mark its close.  i have to be honest,  i kind of feel relieved.  yes, like, "whew...we made it."  that's the feeling i have sitting here this morning madly typing away.  and i know it will be the feeling when i watch my two teens drive off to high school next tuesday (oh. my. goodness!)...when i watch my junior high daughter and her elementary school brother climb out of our suv...even when i walk the littlest girl and her red book bag into her preschool classroom in two weeks.  "whew...we made it!"  we somehow survived the longest summer ever.  i mean i know this transition stuff isn't exactly over.  we've still got some things to get through.  emily will walk, as a junior, into a brand new school next week.  (yeah, THAT'S easy - not)...  and, for heaven's sake, tyler BEGINS high school next week...that's no small thing either.  we've got some stuff to do... some hurdles to jump...some bridges to cross.  we've got a new chapter to begin. change can be so, so hard, but isn't it also, sometimes good?  at least it's good for us.

yes, it's time to head into a school year which will be filled with new lessons to learn,   but i can't help but think also about the learning we've done in this long, long summer. summertime may fade slowly away this weekend, but it leaves us ready for a new chapter and i give thanks today for the learning.

some pictures from our final weeks of summer...

yeah, she knows she's cute... uh-oh.

when the kids are out on the water...cooper always sits waiting and watching.

"To see the Summer Sky is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie --
True Poems flee."  ~ emily dickinson