A Lovely Evening for a Drive

This evening I had to drive my teenager to her job. It’s a chore I’ve had to take over since my son has been gone away at school. At first I was pretty irritated at having to uproot myself three times a week to drive her to and from work. But, now I’ve just gotten used to it and it’s part of the weekly routine. Sometimes we talk. Sometimes I turn on the public radio station. Usually, I just drive in silence. Living with ten kids makes me cherish my moments of silence. 

 

Today, as we pulled out of our neighborhood, heading towards the ramp to get on the interstate, I was suddenly very aware of the sky and the trees and the light. The sky was winter grey, heavy with coming rain. The trees’ fall colors were muted, covered in a wispy mist. The light was at that wonderful, pre-dusk level, where you can see clearly, but you know darkness is coming soon. 

 

As I pulled onto the interstate the lights of other cars rushed past me. I wondered at how fast the seasons change here in our neck of the woods. A month earlier I was pulling on my sunglasses when I made this drive, squinting against the bright light. Now, everything around me was making me think about cozy winter days, snuggling up in front of a fireplace, playing holiday music in the background. 

 

Our little city is tucked into lots of little hills and mountain ridges and every available ground is covered in trees. This makes driving around town especially enjoyable in the fall as we are surrounded by red and yellow and gold. But today, as I follow the interstate North, weaving through the hills as I coast along with the traffic, the trees all seem to have hunkered down for the night. The sun has already left the sky, their leaves have nothing else to say, a grey blanket  is tucking them in for a peaceful rest. The sky seems to sink lower as the clouds can no longer hold their burden and rain starts to fall onto my windshield. 

 

Inside my car I am in my own little cocoon of warmth, the heater blows it’s hot air, the only sound the slight squeak of the windshield wipers. 

 

I make the whole circuit and finally approach the exit to my neighborhood. I pull over to the far right exit lane, getting out of the way of the three lanes of traffic that are bustling down the interstate, everyone heading home after a long day. I see the red lights on the cars, little beacons disappearing into the distance, and just for a moment, I wish that I was still with them. Driving. Somewhere. Perhaps on a long journey. Part of the great migration. But then I remember my warm fireplace waiting at home, and I smile as leave the interstate and turn into my little neighborhood streets. Slow, meandering roads. Weaving around cars parked on the wrong side of the road as people in this neighborhood interpret the NO PARKING signs as simple suggestions instead of actual orders needing to be obeyed. 

 

I come over a small rise and right there in front of me is a tall tree, Bright Red, leaning over the road. It’s like seeing one of those glamour photos where everything is black and white and then the model is wearing a bright red dress. This tree does not care that it is almost dark. It doesn’t care that all the other trees have decided to turn in for the night, muting their colors. This tree stands bold and tall, flashing it’s bright red leaves for all to see. I slow my car as I pass underneath it. Crane my neck to look up through my window at this shining rainbow.  

 

The last minutes of my drive are quiet. Darkness is here. I pull into my driveway, the house is ablaze with lights shining out of all the windows. Smoke is rising out of the chimney. 

 

What a lovely evening for a drive. 

 

Thoughts on the Nature of Comfort

This past week, my almost three year old had to have a minor outpatient surgery. They had to put him to sleep for a short time and I was called back when he was in the recovery room, very slowly waking up from the anesthesia. It was pretty rough. He was moaning and crying and tossing and turning, trying to yank out the I.V., trying to pull off the monitors attached to his body, but all with his eyes closed, obviously not fully aware of what was going on. When I walked in, the nurse was trying to keep him from falling off his bed. I went straight for him and she asked if I wanted to hold him. Yes. Of course! 

 

She helped me get him out of the bed without disturbing the various wires, and I settled in a rocking chair with him. Even though he wasn’t awake, he knew it was me holding him. He immediately tried to snuggle as close to me as possible, still moaning and thrashing around. I held him tight and whispered in his ear, over and over, Mama’s here, it’s ok. Mama’s here. You’re going to be ok. He would settle down for a little bit and then start thrashing around again. And the whole time I was whispering to him, a litany of Presence. I am here. You are not alone. You are safe. Feel me touching you. Feel me holding you. I’ve got you. 

 

As I held him, I thought about comfort. How, in his pain and confusion, he craved physical touch, craved hearing my voice. In essence, what he really needed was to know that he was not alone. 

 

I thought about all the times that I have needed comforting. Even in my forties, I still have an occasional nightmare that jerks me awake panting in sheer terror. In that moment in time, when my heart is racing, and I am still struggling to sort out truth from fiction, all I want is for my husband to hold me. Let me feel your presence, let me know I am not alone. Let me feel protected in your arms. 

 

As a child with his parents or a wife with her husband, physical touch as a form of comfort is acceptable. But, in our less close relationships, we often don’t feel free to touch each other while offering comfort. So, what do we do? 

 

If you think back and remember times that people have comforted you, comfort basically boils down to letting someone know that they are not alone. I am so sorry for the death of your close one. I just want you to know that I’m praying for you. Here’s a token:  a card, or a cake, or a casserole…I just want you to know that someone is thinking about you enough to take time to get you something. You are not alone. 

 

Or perhaps when someone is suffering with cancer, we pull up memories of times that we faced cancer with another loved one. And the whole point of bringing up these other stories is that we want to assure them that they are not alone. Other people have walked this same path and had good outcomes. 

 

All this makes me wonder, is loneliness actually the worst thing that we can face?  When I think about all the times that I have been sad or heartbroken, I can say, yes, it has stemmed from some kind of loneliness. Perhaps missing friends, perhaps fear of losing someone close to me, perhaps being overwhelmed with life and feeling like I have no one to help me. No one who cares.

 

Two days ago I posted a blog about struggling with depression. I posted it on my Facebook and my friends came out in droves to comfort me. We’re here Esther! We love you! How can we help you? Have you tried these solutions? It was comfort. An offering of Presence from over the internet. 

 

Thank you all. 

 

We were made to be in relationship. Not alone. Relationship with God. Relationship with each other. 

 

“It is not good that the man should be alone…” Gen 2:18a

 

Thanks for being my friends and easing that loneliness. 

 

NOT a Bad Day

I needed to write. So you all get a bonus Blog today. 

 

My lifetime enemy, depression, has been rearing its ugly head lately. I’ve been in denial. I’m fine. I’ve got this. I’m ok. Then today, when I found myself glued to my chair, not wanting to move, except to climb into bed and sleep, I realized, oh, yes, I recognize this pattern. 

 

I’ve decided to fight back a bit. The worst thing about depression is that it whispers, “Failure!” in my ear, constantly. So, I have decided to compile a list of ways that I did not fail today. Speak a bit of truth. 

 

First, my two and five year old boys, who were in my charge all day, are alive and well. They ate, got cleaned, played, watched tv, went outside. As far as they are concerned, it was a great day.

I got all my school age kids to and from school without a hitch, and they are all in a good mood, playing with friends.

Supper is cooking. The dishes are caught up. The laundry is doing ok. The downstairs of the house is clean. Sure, I paid the kids to clean it because I wasn’t able to force myself to do it. But, the kids got some pocket money, they’re happy, it was cheaper than hiring a maid, and I can say that I used my delegating skills.

I also signed our family up for health insurance for the next year on Healthcare.gov, which is a soul-sucking experience in itself. It actually took me two days to finish the whole application. But, it’s done! 

 

I kept the fire going in the woodstove. 

 

I’m getting along with my husband. 

 

My pets are happy. 

 

It wasn’t a failure day.

 

So, for all my friends out there fighting depression and anxiety, this is actually a pretty good tool. Write down everything that was right in the day, even if you have to grasp at straws, like, The sun came up today and set as normal. No tornadoes blew my house down. My car didn’t explode. I didn’t catch the plague… See! It works! I’m feeling better already. 🙂 

 

Thanks for listening. 

 

 

My Not-so-Picturesque Day in Pictures

I’ve decided to do a Picture Diary of my day today. With some commentary.

Enjoy.

sleeping Noah

So, the two year old climbed in my bed in the middle of the night. This picture about sums up how that feels.

Then at 5:30 am the phone rang. It was the school calling to tell us there was a 2 hr delay because it had snowed. Woohoo! We could sleep in! Except the phone call woke my husband, who decided to just get up. And then his moving around woke up this little guy. So, I got to get up almost an hour earlier than normal on our 2 hr delay day.

nomisnowO

Of course, since there was snow on the ground, the kids’ 6th sense woke them up, and by 6:30 am I could hear little voices exclaiming about snow. (On a school day we get up at 7 am). By the time it was light outside, the kids were ready to go frolic in the snow. I took my obligatory snow pictures. I have ten years worth of snow pictures from this very angle. (Happens to be the inside of my doorway, I’m not going out in the snow.)

Of course, in order to go out in the snow, the kids needed to get their winter gear out of our hall closet.

closetmess

You will note that they left at least one coat hanging in the closet. (No, they didn’t put the hole in the back of the closet, that was already there.)

So, we had plenty of time to play in the snow, drink some hot cocoa, get ready for school. My morning was all planned. I would drop off the elementary kids, then the middle school kids, then I would have just enough time to get to the dentist with my 8 year old and the two little boys, where the 8 year old was getting a crown on her tooth.

Ten minutes before it was time to leave, I sent one of my boys out to the van with the keys to start it warming up. They returned and told me that the van would not start. Oh no. I double checked, and yep, the battery was dead. Now what? My husband was working out of town and while our driveway was full of vehicles, they either didn’t work, or I didn’t have the keys to them. I called my husband. He told me to get his new work truck and jumpstart the van. This involved me having to brush off a bunch of snow, figure out how to start it and drive this humongous stick-shift truck through my yard so it would be close enough to the van to jumpstart. (I haven’t driven stick shift in 14 years.)

jumpstart

But as you can see, I did it.

Which made me feel like this:

workerwoman

The elementary kids were tardy, the middle-schoolers had to run to not be late, but we made it to the dentist on time. Yay.

Then I got home and had to deal with this.

dirtydishes.jpeg

Because the night before, my old dishwasher fell out of it’s opening one time too many. My husband had brought home a new dishwasher and it was sitting in my dining room.

dishwasher.jpeg

And I somehow thought that he would be able to install it for me last night. But, alas, he didn’t have the proper tools with him, so it didn’t happen, and I didn’t wash the dishes yesterday. Sigh.

The rest of the day was spent baking..

muffins

These amazing muffins were enjoyed by most, but some sacrilegious child ate only the sugar top and the blueberries, leaving the rest in a giant pile of crumbs.

I also made stew.

stew

Which one child completely abstained from, and two more children filled their bowl of stew with crackers, but somehow decided they weren’t actually hungry enough to eat it, when all was said and done.

I also made a run to Walmart before supper, where I forgot to buy my dentist-going daughter the award I had promised her for enduring dental treatment. Which meant I had to go out again after supper.

Then, while relaxing with the kids before bedtime, watching some Studio C on Youtube, my alarm went off.

Which was a good thing, because I had completely forgotten that I had an older daughter at work who was counting on me to pick her up. I could not live without all the alarms I have set on my phone.

And so, after bringing her home, I ran around getting all the little kids settled into bed. And now, my day is finally done. For the most part. Just a couple little chores here and there to do on my way to bed.

 

Which Voice Will You Listen To?

The last couple of days I have had some loud voices in my head. The first voice has been systematically pointing out all the ways that I’m failing. It has pointed out the dust and cobwebs that I haven’t gotten around to cleaning. It has pointed a finger at my pantry that needs a serious overhaul. It has reminded me that I have a hole in my dining room floor that needs repairing. It has kept a tally for every time I have lost patience with my children and yelled. It has shone a spotlight on each of my children when they have not obeyed or been sassy. It even brought up some old stuff, like the fact that I didn’t write my (now deceased) grandmother regular letters when I was younger. Every time I have put any food in my mouth it has shouted out how I am a fraud, I claim to be a Christian, but here I am being a glutton and stuffing my face. If I just had enough faith, I would overcome this sin habit. 

 

This voice has been responsible for at least one day where I could barely drag myself out of bed. I would say it has also been responsible for the sharper tone of voice I’ve been using. And it probably plays a big part in why I’ve been losing my temper so quickly. It’s really hard to be nice when you are fighting a feeling of worthlessness. 

 

I said that there were voices, more than one. There has also been another voice. It’s been quieter, but it’s still been there. It’s the voice that quietly says, being a mom is hard, you’re doing a good job. It’s softly said, here, you have some spare time, why don’t you get on your elliptical for a while? It’s calmly reminded me to go and apologize to my little boys for yelling. It’s urged me to pull out my Bible in the mornings, instead of staring at Facebook. It’s whispered, You are Saved by Grace, not by Works. It’s gently suggested I put on some praise music while cleaning to counterbalance how annoyed I always get when cleaning up my kids’ messes. When I have completely given in to fear, it’s firmly told me to recite my creed of faith, ground myself again in truth. 

 

It’s taken me a couple days to realize that there is actually a battle going on in my brain. And I have to make a choice. Which voice am I going to listen to? One is the voice of judgement. The other is the voice of love. 

 

I’m thinking I need some love. 

 

You would think I would recognize immediately that one voice is for me and the other is against and I would just shut down the ugly voice. Life has been a little crazy lately. We’re going through a lot of transition and we have a lot of things in limbo at the moment. And that makes me feel insecure. And feeling insecure makes me lose my vision. And suddenly that loud obnoxious voice kind of sounds like it’s speaking the truth. And the more I listen to that voice, the louder it gets. 

 

Honestly, about the only way I can break free of that voice is to purposefully focus on truth. What does God’s word say? What does God say about me? 

 

As I was writing this, I took a short break and checked my Facebook. My sister-in-law had just posted a song on her page. It was just what I needed to hear. 

 

I hope you have time to click on this link, it’s a song about listening to the voice of love. 

You Say by Lauren Daigle

May you have the grace to listen to the voice of love this week.

 

 

More is Not More

I am in a constant battle against busyness. Let me define what busyness means to me. It’s any time I have to leave my house. Yep. That’s about it. If I can be home all day, working on chores, hanging out with family, cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, wiping noses, breaking up fights, reading books out loud, basically non-stop activity from the time I get up till I go to bed…as long as I didn’t have to leave the house, it was not a busy day. 

 

Then I have days like today. The kids had the day off from school. Yay! So, at 11am I had to take one daughter to the dentist. Her tooth chipped while eating a hamburger at school. A big chunk came off. The dentist is baffled, it shouldn’t have happened, it’s in an odd location, none of it makes sense. She will now have to get a crown on her tooth. Good grief. So, we finished that appointment then came home. Then at 1:30pm I had to take an older daughter to a doctor’s appointment for what turned out to be bronchitis. Fun. Then, on the way home we stopped at the store. Got home, announced I was now ready to make the library run that everyone had been pestering me about all day. Loaded up five kids into the car and ran down to the library. Came home. Then an hour later, had to to drive my daughter to her job. Then three hours later, had to go pick her up from her job. (This child needs to turn sixteen and get her license!). And then, of course, we had to stop at the pharmacy on the way home to get the prescribed medicine from the earlier appointments. 

 

It’s these kind of days that wear me out. 

 

Everyone I know is busy. And most of them don’t seem to be overly happy about it. Maybe it’s a matter of our time-saving devices actually, in the end, not saving us very much time. Just think about it, if we didn’t have cars that we could zoom all over the place with, we would no longer be zooming all over the place. I know, cars aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but there is a definite appeal to a slower lifestyle. 

 

I have found that simply raising my family is about all I can handle. I’ve been on a long journey of saying No. No, we don’t have the time to do sports. No, I can’t sign up to help in this ministry. No, I will not be able to be a key person in this project. No, I can’t volunteer this weekend. No, we aren’t going to sign our kids up for the extra curricular activities. No.

 

As my kids have gotten older, they have wanted to be involved in more things. That’s fine. Our high school is only a couple blocks away. If my kids want to stay after school to be in a club or sport or band or anything, they can simply walk home afterwards. Our middle school has a free after-school program that offers all kinds of clubs and they bus the kids home afterwards. I can handle that. It doesn’t involve me getting in my car and driving anywhere. 

 

Here’s the thing. When I’m busy, I don’t have time to think and ponder. When I’m busy I tend to operate at a much higher stress level. When I’m busy I forget to be thankful. When I’m busy, I tend to get cranky and irritable. When I’m busy, I miss out on all the little moments. Moments like sitting quietly in front of the fireplace, just watching the flames. Sitting on the edge of my daughter’s bed while she gets ready to go to sleep, hearing her excited chatter about all the things she’s going to do tomorrow. Stopping what I’m doing so I can watch my two year old show me his “trick” of rolling his toy car really really really fast! Or maybe, stepping out on my porch to get the mail, and noticing the birds flying overhead. 

 

I find that when I take life at a slower pace, it’s a lot richer. It’s kind of like the difference between skimming through a Shakespeare play in an hour, or taking a semester long class that spends the entire time analyzing the play. I can zoom through a day, crashing into bed at the end, exhausted and soul-weary. Or, I can meander my way through the day, stopping along the way to enjoy the view, discover some hidden gems, spend some quality time with loved ones…ending the day with a heart of thankfulness and peaceful sleep. I, for one, prefer the latter. 

 

Yes, life sometimes does get busy, and it’s beyond your control. Stuff happens and you have to deal with it. But, I think it’s worth it to keep on fighting for a peaceful, slower life. We can say No. When it comes to busyness, More is not More. It’s less. 

 

How do I Keep Up?

This week I ran into an old homeschooling friend. Though we are often in the same vicinity, we haven’t stopped to have a conversation in a while. I was asking how homeschooling was going and we talked about that for a while, then she asked how public schooling was going for me. I said it was going great. She asked how on earth I keep up with everything. I said something along the lines of, “It’s easy, I just don’t care.” Which, while flippant and funny, probably did not really convey how I feel. It’s kind of been nagging me, and I keep thinking of how I should have clarified that statement…So, my dear friend whom I’m going to tag in this post, I’m going to expand a bit. 

 

Homeschooling is all-consuming, and mentally exhausting. Especially if you are trying to homeschool multiple children. In your mind, at all times, you have a working knowledge of each child’s abilities. You know what they can and can’t do in Math and English and Science. You have a list of things you are worried about for each child, and also a list of things you are proud of. You can’t have a casual interest in your child’s education because YOU are the Educator. It’s a big load to carry. It was too big a load for me. I went through a long depression and in the middle of it, completely fizzled out in my ability to school my children. We put our kids in public school. We’re in our third year with our younger kids. My oldest two kids homeschooled through eighth grade and then went to public high school. My third daughter is in her fourth year of public school. 

 

My view of public school is, my children now have teachers. I no longer have to keep up with all the minutiae. That’s the teacher’s job. Yes, I look at all the papers sent home. I ask my kids what they learned today. I go to Parent/teacher conferences. I look at report cards. But as far as knowing how well they are doing in multiplication or whether they are mastering their fractions or whether they used proper punctuation in their writing assignment, I have no idea. Since their report cards all say that they are getting good grades, I’m presuming that they are learning what they need to learn. 

 

As far as homework is concerned, I don’t believe in homework for elementary school kids. I’ve been upfront about it with the teachers. Sometimes my kids choose to do their weekly “homework” packets because they want whatever award the teacher is offering. And sometimes they choose to not do it. That’s fine. I think that several hours of running around our yard, playing make believe games, and creating things with legos is going to help them a lot more than sitting down and doing a page of math reviews. I do expect my middle-schoolers and high-schoolers to do their homework, but they’re old enough to be in charge of their own work, so I don’t stress about keeping up with it. 

 

Of course, you have to ask the question, What if they aren’t learning what they need to learn? What if they are getting good grades, but are still getting major gaps in their education? 

 

Well, this is where my philosophy on learning helps me out. I am a reader. I have been a bookworm since second grade. While I can remember a handful of odd facts that a teacher taught me in a classroom, most everything that has stayed in my brain, came from an interesting book. I believe that if I can foster a love of reading in my children then I’ve won half the battle for educating them. 

 

We are a reading family. I always have a book on my kindle app that I pull out whenever I have a spare minute. My husband reads a book most evenings to unwind. My older teenagers have long, loud discussions about characters and events in various book series that they have all read. We have eight large bookshelves in our house and books are scattered on every surface. My kids go to the library at school and bring their books home and have fights about whether they have to share their library books with each other or not. 

 

I have one child whose brain is wired differently. In three years of homeschooling I was not able to teach him how to read. In public school they put him in a remedial program and the reading experts got him reading pretty quickly. (YAY!) But, he still struggles. It doesn’t come naturally to him. He’s still getting extra help in this area. But, he read books. Maybe not at grade level, but he still wants to read. This past week I had to take him on a rushed trip to the library because he needed the fourth book of the series and we only had the first three books at home. So, while I know he may struggle all his life to read easily, I’m not worried about him. My kids all have a natural curiosity about life, and they know that reading books is an easy way to learn about whatever they are interested in. 

 

I see public school as an opportunity for my kids to learn about different cultures. It’s a chance to be with the kids from our neighborhood. Learn how to make friends. Learn how to work with all kinds of people. It’s an opportunity to put into practice everything that we’re trying to teach them at home about “Loving your neighbor as yourself”. It’s a chance for them to think about people’s stories. What are some of the reasons why that particular child might have a hard time behaving in class? It’s an opportunity for them to learn how to be problem-solvers: if you see a problem at school, what can you do about it? All of these things naturally come up in our daily conversations, so I get a good gauge on how the kids are doing in these areas. 

 

So, how do I keep up with everything? I don’t. But, it seems to be working well for us.