Monday, June 29, 2015

Share The Struggle

She's all beauty, holding my smallest in the back of the sanctuary, swaying in the way that only someone who has walked the hard/happy of raising small people sway. My husband pulls up the van and packs up kids and they're all waiting on me but I'm caught, not wanting to leave. When someone tells me their story of struggle, I can't help but listen carefully. To lean in for a closer look. I know that this is where grace abounds and I need to straighten up and pay attention.

This why it's ok to share the struggle. To admit to one another that our humanity makes all of this so hard to comprehend, to come to terms with, to accept. That, although we know how fallible we are, sometimes we trust our own selves more than we trust an infallible God.

It's ok to share the struggle because in it and through it all, God is glorified. When you cried over the positive pregnancy test and emerge, 9 months later, exploding with joy at the gift of new life. When you don't know how you're going to get through this hard season of your marriage without a broken heart and He puts you back together. When you put your most prized possession on a plane and walk away. Or when it doesn't turn out with a happy ending but you keeping living, day after day, in the center of His mercy.  This is witness. This is truth.

The Christian life was never about photoshopping pain. It was never meant to exclude struggle, to be waved like a magic wand over life that gives you everything you want. It is about knowing there is absolutely nothing exempt from His overwhelming goodness. Nothing to hard or too wrong or too hurtful, nothing too dark, no where too far that His grace doesn't extend over. Sharing the struggle just showcases how impossibly incredible He is. When we are all weakness, He is all strength.

I can admit that I don't know what tomorrow holds, but I know who holds it. It's held by one who works only in crafting beauty, turning brokenness into brilliance and transforming the gutted into glory.

When we share the struggle, we uncover one of the graces God always meant for us: the witness of one another. When we share our stories, we invite others to take a front row seat to see all the ways God shows up. He always does, in beautiful and unexpected ways. By living this hard honestly, we expand the gift of His presence to include those around us. We become the blessing.

It's one of the many ways God redeems the hard and holy of our lives. He includes us in the honor of drawing others to Him.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set

 eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God 

has done from beginning to end.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Flying - And A Bit About Provision

I remember being eight, ten years old. I remember the feel of the bus seats on the back of my bare thighs, hot from the sun and scratchy - my first ride ever on a bus. I remember meeting other kids on the bus, gradually their names, where they are from. I remember day three of camp, walking around like I owned the place. I remember feeling like I belonged to a world of my own, a place beyond my family. I remember feeling curiously confident, knowing I could walk into a situation where I didn't know another soul and do just fine.

My oldest son carried his sister's suitcases to the waiting truck, labeled and ready to go. He'd been a nervous wreck for a week now, fears randomly cropping up. "What if they don't know where to go, Mom?" "I don't think Dinah gets how spending money works there." "What if one of them gets left at a rest stop?" In a rare show of older brother concern, his love and worry for his sisters leaked out of his carefully crafted preteen veneer of cool. I calmly reassured him that, just like when he went to camp for the first time, they will do just fine.

At 10 and 8, my girls looked awfully small standing in line to check in at the bus stop for camp. Their backpacks, purple and blue and chock full of snacks for the trip and a love note from Mama for each, hung heavily on their little shoulders. For a homeschool mom, camp is the first time you put your babies on a bus and walk away. It's the first time you put your most prized possessions in the hands of strangers and somehow drive off, knowing full well you won't see or hear from them for a solid week. Barring emergency, they are out of your hands for 7 days.

Their faces were a mix of anxiety and excitement. "Do I tell her my first name and last name or just my first name?" Dinah whispered, wanting to get the protocol just right. Fiona's voice was so small, telling the bus aid her name and grade.

This is good for my kids. An opportunity to, in a safe place, test out a tiny bit of independence. To learn how to find an adult for help that isn't Mom, because it won't always be Mom. Camp is one of the ways that I give my children the opportunity to test out a broader world than our own little bubble. When I let go of my grasp on their every day and give them a chance to fly on their own a little bit.

Letting your babies go is a slow process. Slower, for those of us who keep them home for a few years longer than most. I go home and even with five kids still at home, my girls leave a gaping hole in our days. A reminder that these moments are fleeting, these kids just here with us for a few precious years at the very beginning of their lives. It can catch you a little bit, just there in that tender spot in your heart that holds all the joys and pains of raising these kids. But the good thing? The thing that lets me sleep when my girls are a hundred miles away and I can't reach them or protect them?

My kids cannot go anywhere that God isn't. They take Him with them wherever they go, and He promises to provide for all their needs. That's more than I can promise. It's more than I can be. I think maybe that's the antidote to my hovering tendencies, my white knuckled grip on their hearts. I find my security in His promises because they will never, ever fail me. Can I believe on that for them, too? Can I hold on to the peace that comes from the heart knowledge of this truth?

That's the thing about letting your kids fly. They can never go so high that the net of God's presence, provision and love cannot catch them. They can never outrun His goodness and mercy that chases them down each and every day, forever.

Each day, I'm brought to a new place in parenting. I'm a pro at toddlers and potty training, but the new horizons of teens and adults kids is something that remains a mystery to me. My faith is tested each daym and I can feel God saying, "Trust me with this, too. Yep, and that. All of it. All of them. Every day. I've got this." 

Even though they leave the nest for longer and longer each time and someday will build their very own, they take with them a promise that I could never keep, but He can. And does.

John 14:27
“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

12 Things Every Mom of Many Wants You To Know

{I wrote this post before Magnolia was born and promptly forgot all about it. Sharing it today because, yeah, it's all true. If you're a mom of many and have anything to add, tell me in the comments!}

We are just a few weeks from welcoming our seventh baby into the family. Aside from the normal new baby preparations and management of nerves that, yes, I still get about labor and delivery, I've been thinking a lot about some common misconceptions about Moms of large families. Here's a list of things that a Mom of many might tell you if you took the time to ask.

1) We don't know how we "Do it." We just do the next thing. We certainly don't think we have everything figured out, that large families are superior or that we somehow win the mothering award because we have a lot of progeny. In a lot of ways, each baby we welcome feels like the very first one - just with a pile of other responsibilities and relationships to maintain at the same time. It's intense, there is no handbook, and we very frequently feel lost and ill equipped.

2) We get lonely. Our family life is an enormous part of our days and often there isn't much left over after seeing to the needs of our children and husbands. That doesn't mean that we don't crave connection with other adults, especially other women. We get lonely when no one understands where we come from because the lifestyle of a large family Mama is one that not one that many share.

3) We like order, too. We love a clean house. We don't thrive in chaos. The tangle of scooters and bikes in our garage makes us crazy, as does the truly endless laundry. These are things we put up with because we love having kids more. Some of us are great house keepers and some of us aren't, but all of us have the same 24 hours and have to make decisions about where that time goes.

4) We are more than the sum total of our large families. We have talents, gifts, interests, aspirations...we just also happen to have a lot of children. The only thing different, interesting and unique about us isn't that we managed to have a lot of kids. Moms with large broods make up some of the most interesting and talented people that I know. You just have to get beyond the kid thing and find out who they truly are.

5) We are proud of our families. We don't mind you coming up to us in the store or at the park and talking to us about our brood. We only get defensive when we feel like we are being treated like a punchline or a freak show. Believe it or not, we didn't go through pregnancy and birth or adoption just to give people a reason to point and laugh.

6) We care about our bodies. We aren't baby machines. We care about how we look. We don't always have a ton of time to maintain it, but we are women, too. We want to feel beautiful. The constant up and down of pregnancy weight gain can leave us feeling frumpy and self conscious, especially in a world that places such a high priority on physical appearance. We love to get dressed up and go out without peanut butter smeared on our skirts. It just doesn't happen very often.

7) We get overwhelmed. We feel stretched beyond our limits on a daily basis and we go to bed some nights wondering how we'll ever make it through these crazy years without going absolutely insane. We aren't always sure we can handle another pregnancy, another baby. But when that baby shows up, somehow it all works out and we can't imagine life without that amazing person.

8) We have unique relationships with each one of our children. Every one of our kids has a different personality and different needs. We know this and do our best not to fall into assembly-line parenting. This takes a lot of time and energy but also brings a lot of joy. Child #6 in our family is just as loved and valued as baby #1, and no one is ever "replaced" by someone else.

9) Our big kids aren't raising our little ones. So don't worry about that for a moment. Having a big kid fetch a diaper or push a toddler on the swing doesn't mean we are relegating the upbringing of our kids to their older siblings, or unnecessarily burdening the childhood of the older kids. We are fostering sibling relationships, working together as a team and teaching our kids about caring for others. This is a good thing!

10) We don't necessarily love pregnancy or all stages of childhood. One of my very good friends has twelve (yes, twelve) children and by her own admission hates being pregnant. There's an assumption that anyone who would voluntarily go through that twelve times must enjoy every moment is absolutely ludicrous. There are difficult aspects to every big decision we make in our lives. Just like a marathon runner may be over the whole deal by Mile 13 doesn't mean that crossing the finish line at the end isn't totally worth it.

11) We don't all have the same reasons for having a lot of kids. Some have deeply held religious convictions that extend to their childbearing. Some have blended families. Some foster, or adopt. Some simply can't find a good enough reason to stop! The reasons for having a large family are as unique as the families that have them. We are all different people.

12) Despite the intense work load, sky high grocery bills, Mount Everest laundry piles and simultaneous teen-and-toddler meltdowns, we actually do love our lives. Watching our children grow up together and love one another is an incredible gift that truly makes all of it worthwhile.

Hopefully this gave you some insight into the somewhat puzzling world of the large family Mama. Basically - we're just like you! Just with a lot of people to love and care for.

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