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.

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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.

County Fair, babies, and redemption 

Oh. My. Word. 

The whirling maelstrom of rabbits, food projects, art, kids, trips to the fairgrounds, sewing, mixed with just a pinch of pixie dust. Some sort of magic was at work to keep me sane and get all the stuff done and turned in on time.

The effort turned out to be well worth it. Proud mom alert: bragging ahead. In the art competition, every kid who entered something took either reserve or grand.

This is our oldest with the clock he made from some old wood. Reserve grand champion craft.

This is our youngest one to enter the fair with his reserve grand champion craft- a deer head made from a gourd. 
The ribbon list was extensive. Three grand champions, three reserve grand, several first place (including science fair-elementary), and three kids made the sale with their baked goods. The rabbits were a learning curve, but we came home with a third place, a tenth place, and a whole lot more knowledge.

Oh, and we got to see the newest member of the family on ultrasound! The kids thought that was pretty cool- and no, we didn’t ‘Find out’. We will be old fashioned that way and delightfully surprised when baby arrives. I told my hero that this one is already preparing for life as #12… little stinker had his/her hands up, chin tucked, for all the world like a boxer with his guard up. Ready to rumble. 

Maybe it’s the pregnancy, maybe just that our first anniversary is fast approaching- but I have been much more introspective lately. Aching for the children and all they’ve been through. Wishing that I could fix it but knowing that it’s not fixable- only redeemable. Remembering my granddad… the man who married my grandma and adopted her two little boys, one of them my father. He gave them his name and his protection when their own biological father refused to. My father-in-law’s father did (almost) the same. He encouraged my FIL to keep his last name, though, and be the man that would redeem that name and make it honorable. I am so grateful to those men, one of whom I will never meet. They give me hope that our children- all of them- still have a shot at a good childhood and a healthy adulthood. That the brokenness of those few years doesn’t have to translate into a broken life. 

So as we remember this weekend the ultimate redemption story- the sacrifice of Christ and His triumph over death- I hope you are encouraged. I hope that you see how a God as big as the One Who spoke the world into existence can take the destruction caused by sin and selfishness and turn it into something beautiful and victorious. This is always His story, and it never, ever gets old.


Parenting boot camp

Nine months and counting. It has been nine crazy, wonderful months since my hero and I said I Do. Time, as it tends to do, is flying past. Football season is over, county fair season is upon us, choir and homeschool co-op are rounding out what I give the children at home. We are learning so much more than how to read and figure…

This morning, case in point. Our two eldest tend to pick and needle and overreact with one another, which this morning ended with one running outside beyond frustrated and the other acting innocent… “Well what did I do?” The hormonal balance of our oldest two girls has been fun to deal with, and so once everyone chilled out we called a family council. 

Enthroned in state upon the couch, our offspring ranged in a wiggly line in front of us, and our Great Dane moaning about us Sitting On Her Bed, we addressed the troops. We imparted wisdom about controlling our emotions rather than being controlled by them. We admonished those who delight in causing a ruckus to not do that. We were stern, firm, but kind. We NAILED the parental lecture. And our children were perfect after that. They just needed us to TALK to them. 

And if you buy that, I have some ocean front property in Arizona for sale.

My hero and I were talking last night about our parenting challenges, the individual personalities of our warriors-in-training, and how best to mold their wills without breaking their spirits. It is imperative that they learn to be under authority. That is something that we never – but NEVER- outgrow. That is a life skill that makes you employable, teachable, leadable, and qualifies you to lead. And of course, it is the one discipline that our teens buck the hardest. 

We are deep in parenting boot camp right now, learning as much as our kids are. Parenting teens and tweens is challenging on a good day, but add blending a family into the mix- doubling the teenagers and the tweens- well, that takes it to a whole new level. 

Marriage to a Marine makes this form of boot camp survivable. He used to take raw recruits, straight out of boot camp, with skills that were frightening- and his job was to turn them into REALLY scary, disciplined men. The trouble was, they already knew they owned the world. They KNEW they were bad dudes. And he had to teach them that they weren’t as bad as they needed to be. He was badder, he was more experienced, he was meaner…and more treacherous. 

His Marine Corps experience is directly transferrable to our current challenges. These kids think they know life. They think they have skills- and they do, because we have trained them. BUT THEY AREN’T DONE YET. They aren’t the disciplined, kind, determined, creative, thinking adults that we intend for them to be. And let me tell you, every ounce of my fairly extensive patience and his boundless creativity is needed to finish the job we’ve started. The best part is that he has SO MUCH FUN doing it. He reminds me to have fun, too- not to get bogged down in the daily frustrations (or die from the picking and needling). Here is a picture of my crazy, creative, kind, determined hero… back when he was doing the easy stuff, making men into Marines. 

A Stinky Situation

Our house is, shall we say, vintage. Which suits me just fine. I have said for years that I was born in the wrong era… the 1950’s would have suited me much better. The cars had class and substance, the appliances were just cool, the fashions SO much more my speed, the pace of life and culture my comfort zone. And our house is from that era. Along with its septic system.

Now. When our house was originally built, it was tiny. One bedroom, a galley kitchen, one bathroom. Some industrious person in the ’60s or ’70s added on two good sized bedrooms, making the tiny cottage into a 3/1. When my family got ahold of it five years ago, we knocked out the wall between the living room and kitchen, so the kitchen doesn’t feel like a closet any more. But there is still just one bathroom.

When I lived here as a single mom with six kids, the one bathroom was an adventure. But the antiquated septic system just kept trucking… I knew I would have to replace it one day, but just not TOday. So I babied it along, kept my fingers crossed, and prayed a lot. It held.

Enter my hero and the brown eyes. Overnight, the little house’s occupancy doubled. The bedrooms sprouted more bunk beds, the yard grew bicycles and stilts galore, and the septic system screamed in terror. We made it a few months, but back in December I noticed a smell. Ick.

When my hero went to investigate, he didn’t investigate for long. Without going into disgusting detail, we will just say that it was obvious that the time was NOW for some drastic measures. Like, a new system. Oddly enough, the system designed for one or two people was simply unable to keep up with the demands of 13 people. 

The adventure of finding a contractor, permits, inspections and the attendant red tape began. We put up a temporary fence to keep small people out of the leak zone. And waited. Weather- family issues- more weather- and finally, yesterday, the work began.

Our contractor is so neat. He handles a disgusting job with humor and fun- the kids love watching the heavy equipment rip through the dirt effortlessly. I bet the septic guy has never smashed the old tanks to more fanfare… the cheers from the peanut gallery were resounding. And it was not without educational value: the kids learned about grade and drainage and the awesome power of machinery. Getting them to do their regular schoolwork while the drama was going on outside… that was another story. I’ve herded cats more easily.

This looks like the kids are close to the action, but they were restricted to the back porch. Matter of fact, they mostly lived on the back porch yesterday…probably will today as well. He set the tanks yesterday, and today will finish the drain field. And I am so very thankful. The septic system was one of those quiet little concerns that lurked in the back of my mind for years. It was a bummer when it happened, but at least now we won’t have to worry about that any more. Who knew that septic tanks could look so beautiful?