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. 

Crazy Rednecks

I have said before that my husband and I are unrepentant rednecks. We are both fiercely independent,  hard working, creative crazies who like fast vintage cars and big guns and wide open spaces. So it was perfectly fitting that we spend part of his Christmas vacation teaching our children to love the same things. He wanted to get me a gun for Christmas, but wasn’t sure what I could handle. So we went out to our land and brought some toys. Targets? Who needs targets? Cheap water bottles explode when you shoot them with a 12 gauge shotgun, which is WAY more fun. And then you can stand them up again, grab your .30-06 deer rifle, and shoot the caps off of the already dead water bottles. Highly satisfying. Needless to say, he decided I wasn’t a pansy when it comes to guns. The older kids got safety and shooting lessons from their very own Marine shooting instructor, too.

Then we put the boom sticks away safely, and the kids led a mad dash through the woods in search of the perfect Christmas tree. Funny how they always pick the ones that are twice the height of the ceiling… it took some discussion to convince them that if the tree is twice as tall as Daddy, it WON’T FIT IN OUR HOUSE. But finally, the perfect tree appeared. We walked into a clearing and there it was, waiting for us. Complete with golden beams of sunset and angels singing. Our boys produced the saw, cut it down, and hauled it out with excited yelps, energetic advice to each other, and lots of arm waving and grunting. My hero and I followed their passionate charge at a more leisurely pace, enjoying the woods and the drama unfolding before us. Sibling stepping on the tree while it is being dragged to the truck? Check. Tree getting hung in brush on its way out? Check. Prickles and pokes from the needles? Check check.

We made memories that day. Together. Another step in our journey away from “us” and “them”, to just “us”. So from our big, crazy redneck, blended family to yours…

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Just not enough.

Most days, in this adventure of blending two big families, we do pretty well. There is a definite upward trend in our identifying as a FAMILY, brothers and sisters seeing one another as siblings rather than competitors or intruders. We work together, we play together, we are silly together and sad together. Good things.

And then, there are THOSE days.

Those days when everyone is cranky. When one is irritated and the other is guilty by eye color. (All of my hero’s kids have brown eyes; all of mine have blue eyes.) When the still-fresh shock of our lives being turned upside down yet again gets on everybody’s nerves. It doesn’t matter that this time, the change is a blessed one and not a destructive one. It is a huge shift, and even though before we got married, their life with single parents was rough…it was familiar. The last time their lives were turned inside out, pain and devastation followed. Now, some days, I think they expect more of the same.

My job is to prove their fears groundless. My job is to love past the hurt. To extend grace and firm boundaries to the hurting child behind the angry hurtful words. To show them that this time, change heals.

Let me tell you, on THOSE days, I am painfully aware that I am just not big enough for this assignment. How do I extend grace to this young person who just basically called me an incompetent fool? Usually THOSE days happen when I am being bombarded on many fronts by criticism or difficulty. Thank You, God… yes, I know it makes me stronger. I had this funny idea that He had grown me so much through the abuse and divorce and single parenthood… that I was somehow entitled to some smooth sailing for a while. Ha. That’s what I get for thinking.

C.S. Lewis said, in his Chronicles of Narnia, that “Often the only reward for a job well done is to be set another and harder task.” Maybe the struggle on THOSE days is the applause of heaven… maybe it is simply the next level in my training as a disciple of Jesus. I do know that they require a depth of grace and strength and self control that I don’t have yet in myself. I have to lean SO HARD on Christ. The good news is that He is always there to help,  His Word my constant check and guide. No, I am not sufficient for this task. I fail regularly. But by His grace and through His strength, we are growing and uniting as a family, and it is good.
I may not be enough, but He is.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature… 2 Peter 1:3-4

tired

There are different kinds of tired. There is the mental exhaustion of dealing with difficult problems. The short term burn of completing a big project (VBS comes to mind). The bone deep weariness that comes with infants that won’t sleep through the night. Physical tiredness from exertion. 

And then, there’s us.

Not sure what it’s called when the second you sit still, you fall asleep. WHERE doesn’t matter so much, so long as the surface is horizontal. I have never been a soldier, but I am pretty sure that we approach battlefield fatigue. Given a couple of days off, with no kids, my hero and I would probably sleep the whole time. I know there is a balance between getting everything done and actually resting… still trying to find that balance point. 

Maybe we are overachievers. Maybe homeschooling, sports, church, keeping house with eleven kids, farming, working, AND trying to have a life is kind of a lot. Or maybe the tyrrany of the urgent is pushing us over the edge.

Yesterday at church I was reminded that time is a precious commodity. Once it’s gone, you don’t get it back. Where is my time going? Am I redeeming every hour, using it to the best of my ability? Or just spinning my wheels in a crazy whirlwind? 

These aren’t questions that I can slap down an easy answer for. In my sleep deprived fog, even figuring out WHERE the time goes will take concentrated effort and determination. But it was a good challenge. To discern between urgent and important; to be completely invested in what I am doing at the moment, not thinking of the five thousand other things that I need to do; to live mindful that tomorrow is a hope, but not a promise. And so, the same way I am going through my house and getting rid of excess STUFF, I will be going through my time and trimming the waste there as well. I would love to hear your success stories on making your time count for the important stuff, and how you decided what that was. 

Love and Respect

We were given this book as a wedding gift. Love and Respect, by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. I had read it before, in my frantic quest to save a dying first marriage- but this morning, as I re-read it with my hero in mind, I was brought to tears by the formidable grace of God.

The pain of our past relationships forged so many things in us. Determination, for one. The never give up, never say die mentality… we are two bulldogs for tenacity. When the going gets tough, the tough get going and all that. But the determination to love- to demonstrate it visibly and consistently, even when you are tired or frustrated… The will to model respect, even during disagreements. We have had hammered, tempered practice in these things. Do we mess up sometimes? Yes. But the habit is already there. And my hero makes it so easy. His love and regard pours gasoline on the fire of my respect for him. 

In case you haven’t noticed, ladies- our men live for respect. They crave it the way we crave love. Dr. Eggerichs points out that the one feeds the other- she respects him, and he loves her, so she respects him more and he loves her more. In our blended family, we have together purposed to be the reason our kids want to get married. One of our oldest kids watched the crash and burn of the first marriage and has very loudly stated that they never want to do that. But together, we want to model the relationship that we wish they would have with their spouse someday.  One way I have chosen to show respect and appreciation for my hero is at the end of a long 12-hour shift, when he is physically exhausted but still smiling (I love that, by the way)… I unlace his heavy, steel toed work boots and pull them off. I tell the kids that is MY job. He knows that I appreciate his long hours and hard work. The kids see that I value his efforts. When my boys get married, I hope that their wives will demonstrate respect and appreciation for them- because their daddy is most definitely training them how to love a wife. He calls me while he is commuting to work, and sometimes on his way home. He hangs out with me in the kitchen while I am serving dinner to The Horde, sometimes helps either cook or serve or referee- but he is there. He brings me gifts every time he goes to the store; small things, maybe raspberries or a new flavor of chips or a potted plant. We date each other- very purposefully, because you don’t just impulsively go out with eleven kids to take care of! 

Yes, those eleven are a lot of work. And yes, I am flat out DONE at the end of the day. But the small effort that goes into a smile, or words of appreciation, or some honey wrestle time… that small effort pays such huge dividends, that I would be cheating you if I didn’t tell you. Love, to your man, is spelled R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Appreciate his efforts, honor his achievements, and buckle your seat belt. You will enjoy the ride.