“The Peace of Wild Things”

I am sitting by the lake, I’ve been watching my kids swim, but they have now moved on to playing prince and princess and are concocting some elaborate make-believe game. I only have the three youngest with me. My husband and five of our kids left at 4am this morning to go hike a mountain. I don’t expect them home till late tonight. My other two daughters are at their grandparent’s house, in town, a short distance away. It has now been twelve days since we left Knoxville on our vacation, and it has taken about ten of those days for me to finally be able to just relax. We still have a couple more days before we head home and I am thoroughly enjoying the wonderful feeling of doing nothing except some light household chores and watching my children swim in the lake. 

 

It’s been a different kind of vacation. State mandates mean that we can’t go shopping or go out and be around a lot of people. We have seen basically just a few family members and had them do our grocery shopping for us. Aside from a day trip to the beach, we have just stayed in our little cabin and enjoyed the lake and the woods. And it has been wonderful. 

 

My restless husband has been able to help his Uncle and Aunt with a remodel project, my teen girls have hung out with their grandparents and the little ones have practiced their swimming. 

 

My brain has had time to process. Relive, rethink, reassess. And finally, it has just quieted down. I’ve read some good books, done “adult” coloring where there is an inspiring scripture and then a ton of elaborate details to color in. Not something I do often, but I find when I am coloring, the analyzing part of my brain shuts off, and I’m just thinking about staying in the lines, and what color should I use next? It has the same effect for me as playing scales on the piano, or re-reading a favorite book. Occasionally, I will stop coloring and just think about the verse. Meditate. 

 

We don’t get to do this every year. More like every two or three years. But I am glad for these times. 

 

As my brain has quieted and I have rested, I find myself getting ideas again. Getting excited about projects. I am even starting to feel excited about homeschooling some of my kids. I am plotting out schedules, and thinking about books to read and papers we will write and discussions we will have. Spelling charts for the second grader. Homemade calendars.

 

And this is the difference between stressed-out me and healthy me. The ability to dream and be excited about the future. 

 

I remember in the flurry of having lots of babies, I went for years without having any dreams. I was too exhausted. Too overwhelmed. The future was too far away. I was just surviving today. This moment. This minute. This second. 

 

The past months have been that for me. Survival. 

 

And it’s good to feel that quieting down. To feel like the ability to dream is coming back. 

I even told my husband that one day, when all the kids are grown, I want to get a giant fluffy dog. Like a St. Bernard. Or something like that. He immediately pointed out that big dogs are expensive. And I pointed back that all the kids will be gone and I will have money to spend on a dog. 🙂 He’s not over-excited about that dream….yet. I’ve got some time to talk him around. 🙂 

 

Here is a poem I found.

 

“The Peace of Wild Things”

Wendell Berry

Listen

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

Today, I am thankful for nature. For God’s creation. For the beauty he created that provides rest to all people, believer or not. It is one of his gifts to humankind. 

 

And I’m thankful for the time he has given me to just rest. 

Peace is a Verb

It has been days since I’ve last written and I almost feel a craving to get back to my keyboard. Our family is on vacation at the moment. Staying in a family-owned, small, rustic cabin on a beautiful lake that has entertained generations of my husband’s family. Tucked away in rural America, far from home, it is a wonderful escape from daily life. I have been weathering the shock to my system that comes from suddenly disconnecting from everyday life. No agenda. No plans. No schedules. The kids have been living in the lake. They have turned into little minnows. My only job is to keep an eye on them, join them occasionally, when the whim hits, and prepare three meals a day. 

 

I’ll tell you what I have been thinking about the last couple days. 

 

Peace is not a place. It’s also not a lack of movement or busyness. It’s also not being in nature. Or having complete freedom in your schedule. 

 

Cause, if it was all those things? I’d be floating on a cloud of peace right now. 

 

Instead, I am finding that I am having to fight for peace just as hard as I was when I was home, surrounded by schedules and appointments and work and busyness. 

 

I am having to take my thoughts captive, train them to go in a better direction. I am having to be purposeful about being thankful and looking for the good all around me. I am having to mentally box up all the things that I can’t fix (world pandemic, crazy politics, the coming school year) and again say, Ok, God, I am leaving these things in your hands, my worry is not going to change or fix any of these problems. I am having to seek out scriptures, to remind myself of the goodness of God and strengthen my faith again. 

 

I am hoping that the fact that I am on vacation will mean that I can actually be more purposeful about seeking peace. I am hoping that simply sitting in nature will eventually help my tense muscles to relax. I am hoping that the change of pace will be a time of bonding for our family and a time to simply have fun together. I am hopeful that by the end of this time, I will be recharged, ready to tackle the coming school year. These are my hopes. But, these things are not going to happen automatically. I am going to have to seek them, chase after them, pursue them. If I don’t, I will just spend this entire time fretting and worrying and stressing. 

 

Peace is a verb. A state of being. Sometimes, it’s a gift that is simply handed to me, but usually, it is a purposeful pursuing. A conscious choice. And in my experience, what I’m pursuing is Jesus. More of him, less of me, that is how I get peace. It is an acknowledgment of his sovereignty, his goodness, his love. A moving of my thoughts so that they line up with what the Bible says about my life. 

 

The good news is that you don’t have to be on vacation to have peace. While I’m going to treat this time off as the lovely treasure that it is, I know that the peace I look for during this time is something I can take home with me. It is always close at hand, whenever I’m willing to seek it. 

 

You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. 

Isaiah 26:3 (NKJV)

Goodbye for Now

Yesterday our time with our foster kids came to an end. And it felt like my heart walked out of my door. And I am frozen between conflicting emotions.

 

I love foster care, the chance for families to help children in need. I hate foster care, the need is too deep, too wide to ever possibly completely fill. 

 

I am heartbroken that these kids are gone, they became part of our family. I am relieved that these kids are gone, my family unit is back in place again. 

 

I am devastated that I can no longer pour into these kids. I am relieved that my daily burdens have lessened. 

 

I feel desperate panic that their departure from my home is causing them even more pain. I feel comfort that the struggles that my birth children have been facing are now being relieved. 

 

And I hate the messiness of it all. Why can’t life be a neat printed picture where we carefully color in the lines and everything is orderly and in place? 

 

Why is love so painful? And beautiful? And ugly?

 

I feel like there has been a death in my family. 

 

Goodbye my loves. I will always be here. I pray that there will be a time again when I can be in your lives and let you know just how much I love you. 

 

Running on Empty

You know that phrase, “God never gives you more than you can handle” ? I am going to go on record and say, Bullcrap. That is not true. 

 

Looking back at my life I can see times when all of my reserves have been full. I have had a lot of margin in my life: lots of stored up energy, an overabundance of grace and peace. And then there have been times when I have been completely drained dry, nothing left to give. I would compare those times to kind of like putting $5 of gas in your tank ever day and then having to commute to work and run to the store, and every night, the tank is empty and you wonder if you can make it to the gas station with what you’ve got left the next morning. And you hope you can dig up another $5 for the next day. 

 

Sometimes God throws jobs and challenges at us that are more than we can handle. 

 

Giving birth to ten children within a sixteen year stretch of time, was more than I could handle. Raising ten kids was more than I could handle. Having various homeless families and couples live with us over the years was more than I could handle. Taking in foster kids was more than I could handle. 

 

I find myself in a place now, where the phrase, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” really means something to me. I am in daily need of sustenance. Daily. Yesterday’s bread is gone and used up. I need more today. The phrase “My grace is sufficient for you..” has heavy meaning. Sufficient means enough, adequate. Note, it does not mean overflowing abundance. It’s just the right amount, none left over. Each day I need a new dose of that grace. 

 

I have learned what living on empty means. It’s kind of like doing math all day. Here, you get 10 units this morning. Dealing with that conflict subtracts 3 units, running errands subtracts 2 units, stressing about bills? Minus 2. If we run out of units, then we shut down the day. Turn on the tv, take a short nap, go get pizza for supper…There’s some addition going on as well. Read your Bible in the morning? Add on 3 units. Shut the door to my room and do something peaceful and solitary for fifteen minutes, Plus 2. 

 

And each night, I collapse into bed. Not dead. Haven’t completely failed at life yet. We’re still taking steps forward. The daily bread was provided. The grace proved to be sufficient. 

 

God is still on his throne, and his hand is still upon me. And I will sleep and do it all again tomorrow, leaning  heavily on my God. 

 

And I pray that somehow my life will bring glory to God. That somehow this season of desperation is also a season of great fruit, a season of big growth, a season of close intimacy with God. 

 

And I realize that despite the fact that I am living on the edge, it can still be a place of peace. Today my bible reading was in John 16. Verse 33 stood out ot me,

 

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

 

This old hymn comes to mind…

 

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

Alan Jackson

What a fellowship, what a joy divine

Leaning on the everlasting arms

What a blessedness, what a peace is mine

Leaning on the everlasting arms

 

Leaning, leaning

Safe and secure from all alarms

Leaning, leaning

Leaning on the everlasting arms

 

What have I to dread, what have I to fear

Leaning on the everlasting arms?

I have blessed peace with my Lord so near

Leaning on the everlasting arms

 

Leaning, leaning

Safe and secure from all alarms

Leaning, leaning

Leaning on the everlasting arms

 

Seeking His Face

I’ve been having a rough day. A rough week. A rough month. After moping around this morning, I decided I might as well set my problems aside and get to work on something. I needed a notebook to make some lists. I dug around in my drawer and found a notebook that was half-filled with writing. Well, I could use the unwritten half. No problem. Curious, I looked to see what I had written in the other half. I found sermon notes. I glanced through it, trying to figure out when I had written this down. I came upon these notes that were talking about Matthew 5 verses 1-6 and how we need a desperate hunger for God. And there were the words,

 

Empty Yourself.

 

And so I decided to just stop and do that.

 

I, Esther Heneise, do not have the strength, power or wisdom to live my life in a Holy manner. I do not have what it takes to run a household for twelve people. I do not have the stamina, passion, endurance, desire, to give everything I have to these ten children under my roof. I do not have the self-discipline, self-love, logic and wisdom to take care of my body in the way that I should. I allow my cravings to rule me. I do not have the attractiveness, passion, self-sacrifice, that is required to be a good wife to my husband. I do not have the time nor the desire to reach out to others outside of my home. I do not have the power to overcome depression. I don’t have energy to pursue adventure, excitement, change. I do not have the wisdom to know how to prepare for the future. I do not have the organizational skills required to keep up with every single detail of my and my family’s lives. 

 

Plain and simple, I don’t have what it takes to do this life. 

 

Then the next words were,

 

Fill Yourself. 

 

So I did.

 

Jesus lived the perfect life for me, because I couldn’t. Jesus has already paid the price for my slothfulness, my gluttony, my selfishness, my pride, my wrath, my envy. That heavy debt has been paid. Jesus has given me the Holy Spirit.  The power that raised Jesus from the dead is now inside of me. 

 

Plain and simple, it’s not my power that gets me through this life, it’s God’s power. 

 

Then came this question,

 

Are we seeking God’s face or do we only want to see his hands? 

 

I had to think about this.

Is my desire to know God better? Worship him? Serve him? Spend time with him? Or do I just want him to swoop in and solve all my problems and then go away again? 

 

Honestly, I would say that lately my prayers have been more “Show me your hands God!” than “Show me your face.” 

 

All this introspection lead me to the conclusion,

 

I need to repent. 

 

I’m sorry Lord. I have not been seeking you first. I have been seeking solutions and answers. 

 

“But Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his Righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33

 

I’ve got to run after you first. The answers and solutions flow from that seeking. We don’t seek answers and solutions. We seek you. 

 

And so that is what I will do. 

 

Create in me a pure heart, O God,

    and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 

Do not cast me from your presence

    or take your Holy Spirit from me. 

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 

 

Psalm 51: 10-12

Big Siblings are the Best

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I did not grow up in a large family. I had one brother. He was and is a good brother. I’m thankful for him. But, my kids like to point out that I have no idea what it’s like to have multiple siblings. They usually bring this up when I am asking them to have more grace, more patience, for their younger siblings. You only had one brother! You have no idea!! And yes, they’re right. I can’t fully empathize. 

 

Right now, I am thinking about how fortunate my younger children are to have so many older siblings. 

 

I am sitting in my room, and earlier, I heard my 16 yr old in the kitchen, patiently showing the 7 yr old how to make a quiche. My 19 yr old buys books for her siblings for Christmas, always trying to get them excited about a new book series or author. She also bought a plane ticket for her 11 yr old brother so he could go visit her and spend some one-on-one time with her. My 18 yr old has moved into his own place. He regularly comes and picks up his younger brothers to come over and play video games, or his teen sisters to come over and hang out. My 14 yr old  is always picking up the 3 yr old for a cuddle and maybe a tickle fight. The 11 yr old helps the 5 yr old learn how to play Minecraft. 9 yr old sissy helps 7 yr old sissy pick out a special outfit. 

 

I can’t imagine anything better for the self-esteem of a child than to have a household of older siblings who give them special attention and help. 

 

It reaches to the spiritual realm too. Today my 9 and 11 yr olds got baptized. My heart is full. And there was a special joy to hear my 7 yr old declare that one day, she was going to get baptized too! She wants to be like her big siblings. And her big siblings are worth emulating. 

 

I have proudly watched my older children lead the way. And I hear the younger children being influenced. One day Mom, I’m going to go to college like Anna!…Maybe I might try going to a Bible College, like Levi did…When I’m big, I’m going to be a helper in VBS, like Ruthie!

 

No. My family is not one big happy party. We have fights, irritations, upsets. Sometimes one sibling doesn’t like another sibling for a period of time. Sometimes a child just needs a break from everyone in the family. But, right now, I am just aware of what an awesome influence my older children are on my younger kids. And I am thankful. 

 

Why are we so Angry?

My last post was essentially an Angry Rant about people Angry Ranting on the internet. Yes. I see the hypocrisy here. Of course, when you’re angry, it’s kind of hard to think clearly. All you can think about is your anger, and what’s fueling it, and you just want to lash out. And I did. And I’m sorry. While I had many friends that could empathize with my position, I knew that I had written it in anger, not love. So I removed the post. 

 

It’s got me thinking about why am I so angry? Why is everyone else so angry? It’s also got me a little more sympathetic for everyone else’s Angry Rants. Yes. I see. When you are angry, it’s hard to be kind and respectful and thoughtful. 

 

I’m going to try again. 

 

Take 2

 

So, why are we so angry? 

 

I can’t speak for everyone else. I can tell you some of the things that have made me angry recently. 

 

I am angry about a pandemic that has shut down my normal way of life. I am angry that the leadership is so divided, that I have no trust in how my country is dealing with this. I am angry that the news media is so biased, I have no trust in what they are saying and now I feel like I am sifting through mountains of information, and it’s just a guess as to which one is true or false. I am angry at the stories of Police Brutality that have come to light. I am angry that I really wasn’t clued in to what was happening. I am angry that I seem to have no tangible way of making the situation better. I am angry at how politicized the whole thing has become. Instead of a human rights issue, the media (on both sides) seem determined to make this a Political Party issue. I am angry at how divided our country is. And there doesn’t seem to be any way to fix it. I am angry that we are turning against each other on social media, drawing lines in the sand on issues, that many of us just really don’t fully understand. 

 

I am angry at how this shut down has made my life so much more difficult as I try to raise a large family. I am angry that I am exhausted and the light at the end of the tunnel seems very far away and it keeps flickering, like it might disappear. 

 

I am angry at myself for not being “better”, “stronger”. Why do I have to be so weak? Why do I have to struggle with depression? Why can’t I rise above my circumstances? 

 

Before I took my post down, a friend commented on my Facebook page that he disagreed with my sentence I had written that said, “We are better than this.” He pointed out that we are actually worse, and it’s only God’s grace that has kept us at any kind of level of civility (paraphrased). And I had to agree. He’s right. We are all so capable of so many horrible things: anger at each other, racism, superiority complexes, oppression, hatred, murder. 

The other day I was faced with a confession by a fellow human being, they told me of a horrible deed they had done and I was shocked. Shocked into silence. You did what?? How? I just sat there. There were no words to offer sympathy and justification for the deed, just horror. And suddenly, I found myself preaching the Gospel. This is why Jesus came. All of us have done bad things. Every single one of us. And none of us can fix it. None of us can make all those bad things go away. We are completely helpless. And Jesus came. He lived the perfect life for us. He died on the Cross and paid the price for these horrible things that we have done. He wiped the debt clean. He removed the offense. He is the only one who can make us pure again. We need to come to him. Confess our sins. Ask his forgiveness. Accept his forgiveness. Have faith that he has made all things right again. 

 

That’s where we are at as a country. We have done horrible things. We have turned a blind eye, we have walked in pride, we have vented our anger, we have mocked and scorned each other. There is no way to fix this. People who are concerned about White Privilege feel that old debts need to be repaid. How?  It is too big, too messy, too arbitrary. White Privilege is in essence the privilege of the ruling class which has been going on since the beginning of time in every single country that has ever existed. How can we go back and fix every single wrong? And yes. It is definitely wrong. It is sin. It is evil. 

 

I would say that it can’t be fixed. Every single one of us needs forgiveness. You might say, I’m not a racist! I don’t have any privilege! Or maybe you are black or another one of the minorities, and you say, Hey, I didn’t do anything wrong, I’ve just been wronged against. 

 

Maybe, in the matter of race, you are completely innocent. But can you say the same for every other area in your life? 

 

All have sinned and Fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23

 

I look at the mess we are in. All the anger. I am overwhelmed, there are no words to fix it. And so I will preach the Gospel. Because, sappy as it is, Jesus truly is the only answer. And I’m not talking about a religion. I’m talking about the God who says, “Love Me and then Love your Neighbor as Yourself.” And then he gives us his Holy Spirit to give us the power to do those two things. 

 

And as I focus on Him, some of the fear eases away. And as fear eases away, I suddenly don’t feel like I have to lash out. Yes, I can still be angry at injustice, wrongdoing, violence. But, I can also get a bigger perspective. This is a spiritual battle. (As a friend reminded me today!)I need to be praying for my enemies, not gloating over them. Each person I meet is a soul that needs Jesus. My anger isn’t going to save them. But my love and compassion might. 

 

Good Good Father

Good Good Father

Chris Tomlin

I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like

But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night

And you tell me that you’re pleased

And that I’m never alone

 

You’re a good good father

It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are

And I’m loved by you

It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

 

On this Father’s Day I find myself thinking about the Ultimate Father God. The wonder of being loved by him. The comfort of knowing that he provides all my needs. The pleasure of exploring his creation, delighting in the works of his hands. The wonder and awe and even some disbelief that he loves me. He truly is a Good Good Father. 

 

I think about my Dad and my husband, the father of my children. I think about the things I appreciate about them and the way my father fathered me, and the way my husband fathers our children…Both my Father and my husband are followers of God. They seek after him, make God the measure that they are trying to copy. They listen to the Holy Spirit and allow themselves to be changed to be more like Him. And it’s the following after God that has made them the men that they are. And it’s the following after God that has made them the Fathers that they are. And it’s their following after God that makes me able to step back and say, You guys are also Good Good Fathers. 

 

So, Thank you God for being the Ultimate Father and thank you Dad and Andy for choosing God, making Him first, and letting Him turn you into the Good Fathers that you are. 

 

I love you.

One of those days, One of those weeks…

Every once in a while I have a surreal moment when I step back and look at my life and I think,

 

WHAT THE CRAP AM I DOING??

 

What on earth made you think you could handle having 10 kids? And now 2 foster kids too??? What made you think you could keep a house this size running smoothly? How on earth did you think you were going to keep up with this much laundry?? And why did you take on this many pets???? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!!!!????

 

And then I go look for some chocolate and let the kids watch tv and bury my head in a book. Cause that kind of reality is sometimes just too much and I have to check out for a while. 

 

 Actually, I’ve kind of been hiding out from reality all week. One of those, Hide My Head in the Sand, and then maybe, when I finally come up for air, my reality will have somehow magically changed, kind of weeks. 

 

Like maybe there will be a housekeeper on my doorstep who says, “I have decided to devote the next several years to being your housekeeper. I will wash all the laundry, do all the dishes, keep all the floors clean, keep the refrigerator stocked, and don’t worry, someone else has volunteered to pay my salary.” 

 

And while we’re dreaming, there could also be another person at the door who says, “Hi! I’ve decided to be your summertime Children’s Activities Coach. I will come up with fun games that not only entertain, but also educate, and get kids fit and active, all at the same time! I will also prepare healthy, nutritious snacks that are only given at well-spaced out times that don’t interfere with meal times. And someone else is going to pay my salary!” 

 

Anyway. I haven’t heard any knocks at the door yet. Just little kids banging on the front door because it’s too heavy for them to open, and they’re supposed to use the side doors, but they don’t, and instead just bang on the front door, waiting for someone to magically appear and open it for them. 

 

I’m sure I will get an infusion of energy soon and get back in the game of life. Just going to hide out a little bit longer…

 

Shadow

My son Joshua got a kitten last year. We decided to not get her fixed right away. Let her have one litter of kittens so our kids could experience the miracle of life. I conveniently forgot that hand in hand with the miracle of life comes the tragedy of death. 

 

My foster son has been asking me for a kitten for five months. Five very long months. Practically every day we would have a conversation about kittens. Finally, our cat became pregnant and we promised him that he could choose one of the kittens. He chose a very sweet little black kitten with white markings, named him Shadow. 

 

This morning we discovered that in the night Mama Cat had decided to move her kittens. She had put them in a dangerous place and the little black kitten had gotten squished somehow and had died. 

 

They brought him to me in their hands, crying, hoping that I could fix it. I frantically looked for any signs of life, ready to rush to the vet immediately, but the kitten was dead. And I sat there crying, because it was a sweet innocent little thing. And it was my foster son’s. And he doesn’t deserve this kind of tragedy in his life. 

 

One of my daughters brought me a cloth that we could wrap him up in. My husband dug a hole in the back of the yard. We had a funeral. We buried him and then shared our memories. I told the kids that it’s customary to put flowers on a grave and they ran and found flowers. We fashioned a tombstone and my foster son wrote his memorial on it. 

 

And right now life just feels sucky. 

 

Rest in Peace little Shadow.

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