County Fair, babies, and redemptionĀ 

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. 

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

Baby steps

You would think, with all the helpers running around here, that the house would stay clean and orderly all the time. Eleven sets of hands can get a lot of work done in a short amount of time. Right?  Of course right.

Or not. I think my children are part squirrel. I will get one set doing their chores, walk away to motivate someone else, look back, and the first one is already sneaking baby bunnies into the house for socialization. (Well, they ARE stinking cute.) 

But I am seeing an upward trend in the order of the house. Six months ago I needed scuba gear to be able to breathe… I was drowning. It took me realizing that there are a bunch more of THEM than there is of ME, and assigning age appropriate chores, training them to do said chores, and now we are working on doing chores without Mom sounding like a broken record. “Do the dishes please.” “Trash out, buddy.” “Laundry going, eldest.” “Dishes please.” “Trash out, dude. Don’t forget a new bag.” “Laundry…” “Dishes!” “Trash!” “LAUNDRY!”
And so forth. We have a points system that we implemented several months ago, tied to their allowance. Good behavior, motivation, quietly being helpful without drawing Mom’s attention to the fact that you are being helpful… all of those things earn a blue point. But things like fighting with siblings, back talk to parental units, slacking on work… those things earn a red point. Blue points earn bonus $$, red points earn negative $$. A fine, if you will. It involves some math when it comes to doing allowance, but it is a great motivator for the kids. Those that are approval-driven don’t want their name tarnished with a dreaded RED MARK, and those that are income-driven don’t want to lose any of their allowance. One or two pretend that they don’t care, but when everyone else gets their allowance and they used all theirs up by mouthing off and fighting… well, that does tend to motivate.

So the baby steps are there. Every time we go on a cleaning spree, it takes less time to get the house in shape. I am learning how to manage people, not just try to do everything myself…because I can’t. I hung up my Wonder Woman cape a long time ago.

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. 

National Challenge Your Parents Day

Maybe y’all missed it, but yesterday was National Challenge Your Parents Day. A day set apart for young people to declare their autonomy, to rise up in the face of parental rules and structures, and strike a blow for freedom. It was a day to be noted, to be memorialized in the annals of history.

At least, that’s what it felt like at our house.

No one was without a part to play in this drama. From the oldest to the youngest, even the mildest mannered of our children staged an Incident. The youngest actually tried it twice. The coup was unsuccessful and the oppressive parental regime still rules, but their voice was heard loud and clear. Authority and its restrictive rules is not appreciated by the young people. Not one bit.

Oh, but my children… what if I told you that the rules are your safety? Just like when you are determined to fly with a bedsheet and I have to explain to you the Law of Gravity is no respector of persons- not even if that person wears a Superman costume?  What if I try to help you see that unbridled anger at your brother leads to destructive behavior that as an adult would get you arrested for assault and battery? (Last time I checked, punching someone in the nose and calling them names fell under that category.) 

I used to think that the older my kids got, the more susceptible to reason they would be. Maybe some kids are, I don’t know. But when your beloved offspring will sit there and argue, bargain, wheedle, coax, plead, and cry to try and escape the consequences of their behavior- for which they were duly warned and clearly advised that continued infractions would incur said penalty… sometimes the reasonable parent has to resort to the tactic known as Parental Fiat. It goes like this:

Because I Said So.

Now Go To Bed.

My hero tucked the troops into bed and prayed with them, like he does every night. His steps, as he came back down the hall, sounded like he was carrying a heavy load on his back. He stopped when he entered the room, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. 

“Oh my gosh, honey. ALL of them? In one day?”

I groaned and hugged him and told him what an amazing daddy he is. And we took comfort in the fact that ONE DAY our children will be tortured by their own children. One day they will understand how it really would be so much easier to just let them rule the house. Want to swing from the tallest tree on a rope that is old and will break? Fine. Have fun. Want to drink soda and eat candy for dinner?  No worries. It’ll be great. Pound the bloody snot out of your brother? Sounds like a blast.

But I love them too much. The rules HAVE to remain firm, the consequences sure. There is safety and even joy in knowing where your boundaries lie. The understanding of the WHY for those boundaries can come later. But for now, my hero and I lean on each other and thank God for a new day- and we pray for the grace to parent wisely and justly. The same way that our heavenly Father parents us. 

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

The Edge of Insanity

No, I didn’t fall off the edge of the earth. I am still here, madly trying to keep my crazy life at a functional level.

This little photo sums it up for me. The minute I start to feel like I may have everyone pointed in the same direction, they scatter. Like when you are trying to get your chickens in the coop. They bunch together right up to the door and then…poof. Feathers everywhere.

I get asked a lot, “How do you DO it?” My stock answer, chuckling, is “Not very well”. But I guess if you define a successful day as one in which everyone got their school mostly done, everyone was fed, and no one was permanently damaged- well, we are wildly successful. 

The days start early- my hero and I reluctantly stagger out of bed around 5:00am, and I usually cook him breakfast and get him out the door by 5:30. Then I have an hour or so of quiet to pray, think, catnap, work out, whatever…until the first little feet come pattering down the hall. From that moment, it’s ON. Non-stop GO; feeding people, educating people, directing people, loving on people, feeding them some more, running to practice, running errands, feeding people… I spend a lot of time feeding people. Everyone has their own plate with their name on the bottom- their own cup, their own bowl. I grab a stack, start serving food and calling names, and they all scramble for seats. There are no special orders here- you eat what you are served, or you get it for your next meal.  Picky eaters need not apply.

9:00pm finds us at family devotions- a tradition instituted by my hero. The kids take turns reading Scripture, praying, being goofy… But at 9:30 they are in bed and my hero and I get to finally eat and talk. I think once football is over, our schedule won’t be so crammed- but for now, we are doing great to get to bed before midnight. Then do it all again the next day.

Yes, I look at the end of football season with wishful thinking. Life will slow down then, right? But I know it won’t. Not once 4H kicks into high gear- martial arts training- art classes- whatever else rears its head. We are flirting with the edge of insanity, and are contemplating how and where to call it quits. Every family has to find their sweet spot; the place where everyone gets to do fun stuff or learn useful skills, but Mom doesn’t go nuts. I will let you know once we find ours. Until then, excuse me while I round up my squirrels…

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How could you miss the obvious?

You know, lately I have begun to question whether I am cut out to be a parent. As parents we are supposed to be wise, patient, kind, insightful… near-omniscient, benevolent beings charged with the molding of young lives. But children have a way of exploding the Hallmark perceptions that we blissfully pack into parenthood.

Exhibit A:

Child #2, rinsing cereal down the kitchen sink and talking at the same time. 

Me: Hey, please don’t dump food down the sink!

Child #2: I’m not dumping food down the sink. (scrapes the bowl out with fingers)

Obviously I am mistaken as to the definition of “food”. Or maybe “sink”. But I was definitely WAY OFF.

Exhibit B:

Enter Child #11, with child #10 crying.

Sibling tattled that #11 hit #10 with an action figure.

Me: “Why did you hit your brother?”

#11: “I didn’t.”

Me: “Then why is he crying?” (The wails increase in volume.)

#11: “I tapped him. Very softly. I was nice!” 

Me: (eyeing the mark left by Captain America) “Then where did this come from?”

#11 shrugs, big innocent four year old eyes: “Maybe he was playing with a marker.”

*facepalm*

But my favorite is Exhibit C:

Child #2: “Why am I in trouble? I just don’t get it!”

Me: “Well, we have explained it six times. Mainly for arguing with Mom.”

#2: “I don’t argue with you!”

Me: “…um… yes… regularly…”

#2: “No, I don’t! I never argue with you!”

Me: “You are arguing with me about arguing!”

#2: “No, I’m not!”

Me: …..

Yessir, I missed my career path big time. My powers of observation are evidently far too limited for this parenting gig. Maybe I should consider something not quite so taxing for my inferior mental capacity… like rocket science. Jeez. The things that no one tells you about raising kids…

This Too Shall Pass

Rough days happen. They just do. In the immortal words of Westley in The Princess Bride, “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

Westley didn’t know something, though. I serve a God who makes promises and keeps them. And one of those promises is that “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

There are plenty of days, in this adventure of blending our family, that give Satan opportunities to sow seeds of doubt and defeat. But I have learned, after years of listening to his insidious whispers of worthlessness and fear; I have learned to recognize the oily stench of his putrid mind-darts. He says “You can’t.” But God, my God, the One Who Delivers, says… “WE CAN.”

He says “It’s too much-You aren’t big enough.”

But God, my God, the One Who Overcomes, says “I am greater than he that is in the world”.

He says “You’re too broken- you’re not worth respect.”

But my incredible God says “I am the One Who heals you. And you are Mine; my loved and precious one.”

How amazing is it, that we can serve the King of the known and unknown worlds- and that He loves us so deeply? We cannot allow ourselves to lose the wonder and the treasure of that thought. 

And so, on those days that dealing with the drama and mayhem becomes simply too much to handle, I have to remind myself: this too shall pass. Tomorrow is a new day. Jesus has carried me through every day up until now, and He won’t desert us. 

So here is my pep talk to the girl in the mirror: When you are tempted to throw in the towel, remember that success is determined not by talent, nor by intelligence, but most often, simply by not giving up. If God is on your side and you are doing what is right, then carry on! He won’t let you fail.

Cinnamon Toast

My kids love cinnamon sugar toast. And invariably, it ends up as a sticky, grainy disaster in my kitchen.  Today, my friends, I elevated myself to Genius status by solving that dilemma.

Cinnamon Toast Butter

Mix 1/2 cup softened real butter, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 tsp. cinnamon in a bowl that has a matching lid. Keep in the refrigerator. Kids can spread to their hearts’ content, and the sugar stays on the toast.

You’re welcome. šŸ˜„