In admiration of Dads

It has been a while since I posted. Three of my oldest children are now gainfully employed, but not yet driving… which keeps Mom’s Taxi Service in constant swing. Baby is trying to walk and giving me more gray hairs, summer schooling has relaxed our schedule a little, at least school-wise- socially we are going and doing more than ever.

Today, though, I was thinking about my hero and the difference that he has made. Not just in our lives, but in the lives of countless others. He exemplifies the selfless leader to his core. His Marines knew that he was tough, but fair; he had to bust one for bad conduct, but he was also that Marine’s advocate. With his friends, they all know that he is as faithful and dependable as the day is long. If you need something, he will be there. His co-workers can trust that he will pull his weight on his shift and then some, making sure that the shift following him is taken care of too. Everyone that knows him understands that he is a man of his word- his work ethic is second to none- and he makes THE best hamburgers. Ever.

I don’t know how a man like this ended up in my life, but I am so very thankful. Because he just lives, and leads, and our boys are watching. They see him go to work tired, and come home more tired, but with a smile on his face- providing for the family that he loves. They are learning to take care of others first by watching their dad. They see him make crazy science projects with them (they just made a vortex cannon that shoots smoke rings out of a paper drum and bungee cords). They are learning to be creative and that school doesn’t have to be boring! They see him treat me with more love and respect than I deserve- and they are learning the secret to a happy, healthy marriage.

The most dramatic thing I have observed over the past three years is the difference in my blue eyed boys. The father in their lives before was an angry, impossible-to-please figure. They modeled that behavior on varying levels, according to their age and maturity. But this past month, I realized that they are modeling a different set of behaviors. My thirteen year old blue eyed boy is serving the family by doing his chores just because it is his job- not because I hound him or because he will be punished, but because that is what he is supposed to do. Wonder where he gets that? My eleven year old blue eyed boy is fascinated by science and how things work. Looks an awful lot like someone I know and respect. My eight year old blue eyed boy wants nothing more than to be a Marine when he grows up. And that little guy can work harder and longer than his big brothers, he is just limited by his size. Again, modeling what he sees in his daddy.

Men, please never underestimate your worth to your family. The weight of your position is impossible to gauge. Moms get lots of recognition and gifts and attention on Mother’s Day, and sometimes it feels like Father’s Day is an afterthought. But the family unit was designed to be led by a team; neither half more valuable than the other, but one half bearing the weight of leadership, and the other the burden of nurturing and managing. The head and the heart. Ever notice that both of those are things you can’t do without? You don’t live long without either one. And for those of us who have done or are doing both jobs by ourselves- there is special grace. I think that God makes special provision for circumstances that are less than ideal, and for that I am thankful. But having been both mom and dad for a while, I see even more clearly how vital the dad’s role is in our home. As a single mom, I knew that I couldn’t teach my boys how to be men. That is a skill set that only comes from watching and observing and participating… with men. My hero is exactly that- a hero- to me and to our boys, because he leads our home by example. He is harder on himself than on anyone else, and serves and gives better than anyone else. That servant leadership is what enables him to leap tall buildings in a single bound, at least in our eyes.

Today is Father’s Day. One day out of the hundreds every year that these selfless men quietly and unassumingly go about the enormous task of saving the world- one family at a time. May your service and your sacrifice- and your incredible importance- never be taken for granted. Thank you for everything you do.

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It’s just not for me

Ever used that line? I know I have. That color shirt just isn’t my thing, or that style of doing church just isn’t what we are looking for, or that activity isn’t for me. We use it to state a preference to others (hopefully) inoffensively.

But earlier today I was dragging myself to the living room for an early morning workout session. Getting my body back after baby takes WORK! And since I was alone (!) and the house was quiet, I was complaining to the only intelligent individual around: myself.

“But I’m tired! I only got 5 hours of sleep last night, and the baby was up three times in those five hours! I really deserve a nap before the kids get up. Yep, I’m going to make a cup of tea and settle back down for a while…” And I stopped. Images of the dresses I want to rock again- summer and swimming at the lake- being able to out work my kids again- all those images flashed through my sleep fogged brain.

There is this horrible truth in life; that dreams and goals are great, but unless you take action you won’t ever reach them. I won’t get abs again without putting in the work. I won’t educate my children well by just throwing books at them. I won’t build successful friendships by wishing for them. All the good things in life take work.

Our oldest children are learning this lesson in earnest. High school is much more challenging than elementary school was- especially Biology. This class requires lots of reading, critical thought, papers to be turned in on time and LEGIBLE, good study habits… good grades in Biology are not given based on your good looks! And one young person readily accepted the challenge, while the other messed around all of the fall semester and ended up practically failing at Christmas break. We had a come-to-Jesus moment, and once said young person realized they would be retaking biology next year instead of moving on to chemistry with all of their friends, they decided to put in the work. To actually use the “S” word… Study.

So. Working out is “not for me”. It isn’t fun or comfortable. Hot brownies a la mode are FOR ME. But they are counterproductive to my health goals. Sadness.

Studying is “not for my kids”. Playing with horses and building things from scrap wood is FOR THEM. But they had darn well better do it if they intend to graduate from high school any time this century. The goal is worth the discomfort of the work.

What about you? What goals and dreams in your life could become reality with a little hard work and consistency? You can do it- you were made for excellence. Don’t settle for the guilty comfort of mediocrity. You are able to win. Go out there and do it.

Holiday Season Stress Disorder

Otherwise known as HSSD. It’s a thing.

Ever feel inclined to just boycott Christmas and Thanksgiving altogether? No matter how hard you try, keeping everyone happy is an exercise in futility. The reason for the holiday gets lost in hectic activity. 

I confess, my HSSD is acting up something fierce this year. I considered getting the flu just to get out of the insanity. While I can’t quite go that far, I am fighting hard to maintain some sense of balance. I want to celebrate with family, but the scheduling to try to make that happen is destroying any sense of celebration. My hero and I have decided that when our kids are grown, we will celebrate Christmas a week or two early so that the holiday itself isn’t so crowded for our kids. Christmas Day will be for us to be quiet and enjoy each other.

But for now, there is a lot of choosing going on. I have to choose to keep a positive focus so that the kids don’t stress. I have to choose which activities to prioritize. I have to choose not to be angry at his ex and her demands on the brown eyes which makes schedule planning sooo much more difficult. Lots of choices.

And as usual, my hero helps me stay centered. Last night with yet more demands on our time and kids going different directions, I was in tears. He brought home pizza and we shut our bedroom door and ate a sort of quiet dinner sitting on our bed, laughing at the baby and his happy little squeals. A little peace and sanity in the middle of the maelstrom. No demands, no expectations,  just enjoying each other and a half hour of quiet.

And today, I choose peace. I choose joy. I choose to be still… and to focus on Jesus, who did NOT plan a huge fanfare or hectic busyness to announce His arrival among us. He slipped in quietly, surprising the cows and sheep with His occupation of their hay feeder. And the one public beacon announcing his birth, the Star… was silent. Heaven shouted for a moment, witnessed by a few astounded shepherds- and then all was calm and bright again. 

May your Christmas be a reflection of the One we honor on that day- a glorious celebration of the King who came so silently, and who will come again very publicly. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

He has made everything beautiful…

Ever wonder what that phrase means, when it is used in Ecclesiastes 3:11? I have wondered, because there are many, many days when mommying 12 kids is anything BUT attractive. I mean, “WHY?” has become my most-oft-repeated question, three year old style. The boys come in crying because dirt got in their eyes. Turns out a dirt clod war is in progress. I clean up the injured party, he goes back outside, clocks his big brother in the back with another clod, receives return fire, and comes in crying again. “WHY?”

I entered the bathroom the other night and nearly screamed. Toothpaste adorned the mirror… the walls… the tub… the toilet seat… the floor. “WHY??”

I was scoring tests and the answers on one led me to believe that the child submitting said test had not even read the directions, let alone put any thought into the answers. Called the guilty party over, issued verbal correction, handed them the test to do over. When it was turned back in, the answers were erased and changed… but still incorrect. The method of test taking had NOT changed. Issued sterner and stiffer correction. Tears and howling ensued. Test comes back somewhat corrected… somewhat. Half still was obviously skipped and/or ignored. “WHY???”

Well, this past Sunday my consternation with that particular passage of Scripture was eased. ‘Beautiful’, the pastor explained, doesn’t mean ‘attractive’… in this context. It means ‘appropriate to its time and place’. Aha. Suddenly, dirt clod wars make sense. Sin nature rears its ugly head in my boys when, outmanned and outgunned, the desire for revenge prods the little one to attempt retaliation- and big brother thinks he’s still playing. Beautiful. Makes perfect sense. 

The toothpaste smeared on mirrors and walls was the product of a small person exploring texture and cause and effect. Beautiful- he is learning his world. Also learning how to apply a wet cleaning rag to fix the results of his exploration. Definitely appropriate to its time and place.

The howls and tears and corrections of the test taker were the medium through which a character flaw (laziness) was able to be addressed. Painful? Yes. But also beautiful. We are able to address a habit before it costs someone their grade or their job or their marriage. So very good in THIS time and place.

Mamas, the days with little ones are long. They are draining. They are frustrating. Your “WHY?” may not only be about the messes, but: WHY am I not doing something grand and significant with my life? WHY am I wasting my time and talents with small people who obviously don’t appreciate them? 

There was a comment that Jesus made that I take comfort from. He said that whoever is faithful with the small, insignificant things will be trusted with the great and important things. But whoever is not faithful with the small things- even what he has will be taken from him and given to one more responsible. (Matt. 25:29) These crazy, insignificant days are the arena in which we prove our greatness. Our most formidable enemy is ourselves; the temptation to look for importance in grandeur, not in faithfulness. So battle on, brave mamas. These days are more significant than you know. They are ‘beautiful’ days.

Hurricane Baby

I guess I wasn’t really surprised that baby decided to arrive in the middle of Hurricane Harvey. 


Nor was I entirely dumbfounded that he insisted on keeping his little self turned posterior, refusing to descend properly and wearing mama out. Yes, I said HIM… baby #12 brings the grand total to 7 boys, 5 girls. He has been a crazy active little person from the get go, painfully so in this last month. My money says he will be a soccer player with a powerhouse of a goal kick. And his wiggles and kicks kept him turned absolutely backwards until he started going into distress and mama was nearly exhausted. So in the driving rain with creeks and rivers rising all around us, the midwife made the call. We were heading to the hospital.

I was a little disappointed, I will confess. I have only been able to deliver two out of my seven births at home, for one reason or another. But God went ahead of us and scheduled a fabulous doctor to be on call- one whose style of practice was uncannily midwife-like. God followed behind us and made sure they didn’t close the highways until AFTER we made it through to town. And God hovered over us and fixed little Mr. Hurricane’s distress, so that he was born completely healthy and energetic and LOUD. 

I don’t know why we were supposed to be at the hospital, but I honestly saw God’s hand driving us there. I have learned to accept His swift kick in the pants rather than waiting for the 2×4 upside the head. Did we meet someone we were supposed to meet? Did we avoid something that we will never know, because we didn’t stay home? I don’t know if I will get an answer to those questions or not. But I am so grateful for excellent medical care, both through the midwife and the hospital. So thankful for a healthy baby and relatively easy delivery. Blessed that our area only experienced minor inconveniences compared to our near neighbors in Houston. 

We are so blessed, y’all. Our dozen crazy kids keep us hopping. But we wouldn’t have it any other way. Thank You Lord for each of these gifts, and help us to be wise parents and mentors for every one of them.

The Longest Days

I have been pregnant during the hot Texas summers. But never hugely, ready-to-give-birth pregnant. And as staunch an advocate as I am for natural childbirth and all that, a big part of me is ready to just schedule a C-section and be DONE. 

This week in particular has been challenging. I have a condition during pregnancy called SPD, which makes my pelvis very painful. Walking, sitting, standing, lying down, moving, not moving… it doesn’t matter. Life just hurts at the moment. It doesn’t help my impatience that I know that as soon as this baby comes out, the pain will begin to subside. 

Living with the suspense of not knowing when baby will come… dealing  with the heat and the pain… trying so desperately to manage the children with kindness and not allow the complaints and sharp irritiation to creep out… these last days of this pregnancy are full of character building opportunities. 

Have you ever wondered why it is the hard things that build who we are as a person? Why can we not learn just as deeply, mature as readily, when things are going well? But some perverse twist in our nature demands that our growth- the hardening and refining of our character- happen in a crucible and not in a bed of roses. 

I don’t know about you, but my children have been the largest instrument of  character building in my life. Bar none. I will never get over how you can love someone so deeply and be so furious with them all at the same time. How they can keep you young and give you gray hairs simultaneously. How you can be at your wits’ end with their crazy shenanigans, and they can smile and say “You’re so pretty, Mommy”…. and you melt. How you can be so done with the noise and bickering and squabbling, but when they’re gone for the day the house is eerily quiet and you’re so ready for them to come home.

It is a growing-and-becoming season here, for all of us. My hero and I are becoming better parents and better managers of our time and resources. Our teenagers are becoming young adults with responsibilities and a faith of their own. Our tweens are learning by doing, being faithful in their small chores and lessons. Our littles are losing teeth and gaining stature- some days I wonder if I’m not raising weeds rather than children, they grow so fast! And the newest one… needs to come OUT.  Yesterday. Character building is great and all that, but at this point, Mama is DONE. 

The Home Stretch

Six weeks is not a long time. Unless you’re waiting for Christmas and you’re five years old. But six weeks is all we have left to wait to meet our newest baby! And to this busy mama, it’s almost not enough time.

It has been five years- almost six- since I did the baby thing. And after him, I gave away EVERYTHING. I knew I wouldn’t have any more….right?  Ha. 

Life is predictable only in its unpredictability. So I have my check lists, my to-do lists, my must-haves and my get-this-done-before-baby lists. Implementing a new system for managing school work and assigning school buddies (a big to a little). Training the crew in said system. Creating meal plans and menus that the kids can cook (I am SO GLAD I taught them to cook!). And halfway through my must-do list, I have begun to feel almost… ready. Almost. 

The three ‘babies’ of the family are excited about the new baby, but clingy and weepy too. Emotionally, it can be exhausting. WHY are you crying? You had a nap, you had food, nobody took your toy…??? Or if they aren’t crying, they are RIGHT under my feet. Which can be hazardous, because I can’t see my feet. I will be glad if we make it to D-day without Mom falling on someone.

My hero and I wonder and prognosticate. Will baby have blue eyes or brown? Will he/she be tall or short? All the women on my side of the family are small, all the men are tall. On his side there is more height across the board. Is baby a boy or a girl? He thinks girl, I’m not so sure. Reflexively, I keep saying “he”, maybe because I carried twice as many boys as girls. People keep asking “Do you know what you’re having?” To which I usually reply “…um… baby?” Then I laugh and tell them we wanted to be surprised. 

Baby is due to arrive at a super busy time for us. The beginning of the school year, the beginning of football, midweek church and 4-H resume in August… maybe we could have planned this a little  better. Not to mention the heat. Oh my word.

Texas summers are hot. Really hot. But a Texas summer while 8-9 months pregnant is a level of  misery that is unparalleled. You’re happy about the baby, but when I can’t cuddle my kids because their hot little bodies push my thermostat over the already-exceeded limit… yuck. I’m an outdoors kind of girl, but I hide inside where the a/c is to just make it through the afternoon. Even dusk is in the mid 80’s, so I come out long enough to water my plants and then hide again. 

Funny, though- as hot and miserable as it is, this pregnancy has been easier than all but my first. Who would have thought that 11 kids would be less stressful than 6?!? But my hero spoils me, affirms my efforts, pitches in when he’s home (and sometimes when he’s not, if someone needs correction and he is on his lunch). One of the thousand reasons he really IS my hero, and more than half of the reason that this equation balances. Yes, I’ve been teaching algebra. Bear with the math analogy. Sometimes he seems like Atlas, carrying my world on his shoulders. Regardless, this pregnancy has been a very physical demonstration of the difference a good man makes. My body still looks… pregnant. My bones still hurt from being too loose. I still get tired easily. But I am never in trouble for any of those things, so I don’t stress over them. I just keep moving forward, at a snail’s pace some days, but forward. I know that this season will pass, baby will arrive, and after a sleep-deprived few months I will hit my new stride. 

It is well, and it will all be well.

One year later…

As impossible as it seems, our first anniversary has come and gone. And what a year it has been! Not an easy one- not a smooth one- but one full of growth and fulfillment and joy.  

We took a trip to Denver, CO, just the two of us. It was the first time I had seen the Rocky Mountains, and while the altitude messed with me some, we managed to explore and have fun. A huge shout out to family who watched the Horde while we were gone and took care of our mini farm! 

Reflecting over the past year, a few things stand out as life lessons that I needed to learn. 

1) Just because it seems like the end of the world… doesn’t mean it really is. This is one that I started to learn through the divorce and subsequent challenges, but has been driven home this year through some of our difficulties  (and through parenting the King and Queen of teenage drama). I have learned to put my head down and just keep on keeping on, trusting that there is a way through.

2) Grace upon grace. For myself, for the kids, for my hero, for family members who have no clue what we deal with on a daily basis and inadvertently make our lives more difficult. Just grace. And a punching bag to work off the steam, sometimes. Giving myself grace is the hardest, because I think that I should be able to keep the house in order, the kids in order, myself in perfect shape, and everybody around me happy. (Yes, I am at times delusional.) 

3) Laughter really IS the best medicine. This is one that I continue to re-learn every few years. And I had forgotten… with the pregnancy, the hectic schedule, kids bucking the school and chore system, I had forgotten to laugh for a while. But it feels SO GOOD to laugh with my kids at their silliness, or at the baby goats bucking in their pen, or the dogs being their goofy selves. I am remembering to look for the fun and enjoy it, not just focus on what has to be done. 

This may all sound elementary to you. I know I’m not the sharpest pencil in the cup- it takes me a few licks with a 2×4 for the lesson to be driven home. But this time around, this past year of refining and rejoicing has driven these lessons deeper, from an intellectual agreement to an instinctive response. And I am deeply thankful. Thankful that God loved me too much to allow me to just exist- that He pushes me and sands off the rough edges and reminds me that even while He corrects me, I am loved. 

Mother’s Day

This Mother’s Day is complicated, like most days I suppose. But holidays highlight the fractured nature of our lives. We have learned to adapt, to adjust- somewhat like an amputee moves on with their life. But half of my children leaving every holiday to spend the day with their birth mother is just hard. And I will be honest, some days I struggle. Greatly.

People say I have more grace/ patience/ whatever than they do when it comes to dealing with my husband’s ex. That just isn’t true. I simply control what comes out. But inside,  between myself and God, I struggle with ugly emotions. I sometimes hate her for what she did to these amazing kids and to my hero. I am still angry with the attempts at manipulation and control. Part of me thinks if you leave your kids you should turn in your Mom card- you don’t rate it any more.

But.

I have been given such grace. My own sins may ‘weigh’ less on my own set of biased scales- but how does God see them? I have fallen short according to His standard of holiness. I need the intercession of Christ on my behalf. As a mom, I fall short every single day. I hope that by extending grace where I don’t feel like it is warranted, maybe my kids will extend grace to me for my weaknesses and faults. 

So this Mother’s Day, I pray for more grace. More love. More of Christ in me, because circumstances definitely make it difficult to be all Hallmark-y. Life as a blended family is a beautiful picture of redemption and healing, but the scars are very present and deep. And if you are walking through the same mine field of ex- family relations, I feel you. I pray that the God of peace and comfort would be your strength, and that you would be able to respond in love and grace. 

Happy Mother’s Day.

This Moment

For this moment, right now, all is calm.

Ten minutes ago, it wasn’t. The dog got into the trash, the dog food, AND the compost scraps while we were at church. The kids were fussing with each other right up to the point where they laid down for Sunday naps. The re-entry burn of visitation weekend in full force. 

This week, I have been appreciating the moments. The pauses in the mad scramble that is life right now. They may be brief, but there is rest in those pauses.

King David used a musical term throughout the Psalms: selah. You’ve seen it in your Bibles. It means ‘Pause’. A musical rest. And this week, I have been prompted (Holy Spirit? Exhaustion? Who knows?) to recognize the selah moments. Right now is one. For this five minutes, the house is relatively quiet. I am resting on my bed, my baby kicking inside of me, and at this moment, all is serene.

Spring is exploding all around us, beautiful and vibrant and intense. We’ve all heard people refer to the ‘seasons’ of life, and this season in our lives mirrors the one in nature. The barrenness and chill and bleakness of winter- the loneliness and struggle and desperation as a single parent. Those things have given way to burgeoning life and flourishing plants. Our own new little life and flourishing  children- learning and growing and becoming and overcoming. The intoxicating pulse of vigorous delight beats in the productivity of our little farm as well as in our hearts. The joy of the children when they discovered a new baby goat- the giddy scramble to grab the first green beans off of the bushes- these are a form of selah as well. 

Rest in the joy. Delight in the rest. And recognize the small moments that are memories- the ones that echo through a life and linger even after you’re gone.

Selah.