for when you’re failing at everything

this morning, before I was actually awake, I scrubbed the bathroom floor where all the mouse poo was. we have a cat, a stupendous hunter, usually.  I don’t know if she’s on break or what, but I had to clean up after she let this little guy slide.  i’m taking it out of her pay.  thank you, cat.  you have failed this city.

then, before the tile was dry, I turned around to witness the fallout of not one but both of the refrigerator door railings coming off, sending all but a couple stoic salad dressing bottles left standing when the 5-year-old went in search of milk.  minutes before, I made the in-house toddler shut the fridge;  no, I didn’t want to unwrap butter or chase his heft of bowling ball cabbages for the forty-seventh time.  it was a little early in the day.  when you are two & mama tells you “no”, you have two choices.  ambivalence or rage.  you can guess which set up the entire contents of the refrigerator door for their bold leap to catastrophe.  by the grace of God (you think i’m joking but I assure I am most certainly not), only the pickle jar met its end.  pickle blood all over the ranch, the milk, the ketchup, the cod liver oil.  gallons of ungodly yellow-green pickle blood.

this was after the mouse poo, remember.
all before breakfast.

as I knelt barking orders at my soldiers children, I thought about how I really had two choices at that point.  (one of them was not vacation.)  I could either carry on as sergeant, or I could draw them in (kids, not pickles) & actually connect with them over this current ridiculousness.  because it truly was ridiculous.  this can’t be what normal people do.  i’d like to tell you I put down my orange bath towel & all the glass shards, pulled someone into my lap, & we all lived happily ever after.

well.
i’ll not start lying to you now.

I managed us through the pickle fiasco, we went on with our day, & at the end of it, we’d wedged in brownies & icecream.  my kids would call this a win.  I, on the other hand, sat at the piano (where I’ve always done honest thinking) tinkering around & dragging myself yet again through the triggered landmines of our day.

most days are like that.  good, bad, ridiculous.  but at least some part of every day, i’m muddling around in my own, well-cooked vat of failure.  like tonight, after the brownies were brushed off teeth & the toddler was asleep (halle-freaking-lujah.), the five-year-old asked if he could fall asleep in my bed.  baahhhh.  I was just. so. tired.  so I told him he could lay with his big brother, that really mommy’s bed was just too crowded.  he lobbied.  I resisted.  because, please honey.

after he was tucked in beside big brother, both of them little burritos under their turquoise checkered comforter, & he’d actually forgotten about falling asleep beside me, I duked it out with yet another failure:  I could’ve just let him.  what’s the big deal?  why can’t I make it past 9 pm?  how long have I been doing this mothering gig?  you’d think by this stage in the game i’d have come up with some better methods of bedtime, of conserving a little energy, & not being a train wreck at the end of every day.

see?  it doesn’t really matter what it is.
failure’s waiting to drag me under.  mouse poo, pickle juice, barking, bedtime.
it doesn’t matter.
& these are just the minor ones.

so what’s left, then?  well, some days I get dragged down & I stay down.  some days I eat all the popcorn in the bowl.  some days i just do more things:  work harder, push down the failure into the laundry basket or the dirty dishes or the crumb trail leading under the couch.  sometimes I go to bed early & cry for awhile.

but some days, I let Jesus get a word in edgewise, tell me how it actually is.  that i’m not meant for perfection, not yet.
that He gets my failure, & He’ll raise me a whole boatload of joy anyway.
that we’re in this together, this crazy, messed-up, ridiculous set of days.
that there’s an end in sight, even if I can’t see it myself.
We’re in this together, & it’s okay, whatever it is.  He doesn’t care.

& that’s the Voice I have to scrabble to hear.  every day.  because failure is loud.  & insistent.  there will always be thirty seven thousands ways in which I’ve come up short yet again.

but Jesus, He’s quiet.  persistent.  calming.
He’ll love me, give me a hand with my messes, turn them into something better than pickle juice all over the kitchen floor.
& that, I need a whole lot of that these days.

6 things i’ve learned by 38.

tomorrow (well, technically today now) is my birthday, & i’m really looking forward to it. i’m not even exactly sure why.  we’re not doing anything particularly remarkable, taking a weekend away & or buying me a big something.  no, my birthday will be a much gentler affair.  we’ve got church in the afternoon followed by a bonfire, so the day has it’s own activity.  but honestly, the older i get, the more each day i get to be here seems pretty remarkable.  anyone?

in the morning, we’ll take the kids to the farmer’s market first thing, like we do every saturday, for raised donuts from the kind amish lady. one of leif’s new words?  “new-nuh”.  donut.  welcome to the family, little buddy.  we’re really learning now!  then i’ll pick up some carrots & cilantro from Chia, the gentle-spirited young man who sells vegetables at his parents’ stand & always gives me an extra eggplant or some ground cherries.  we’ll walk by the banjo player & the gallons of maple syrup on our way back to the car.  then we’ll wander off into the day & see what it brings.

for the most part, as is our culled tradition of recent years, between andy & I at least, we celebrate small, monetarily speaking.  this isn’t shorthand for “not at all”.  on the contrary.  my kids gleam with anticipation & wonder on birthdays (theirs or ours), & andy is a master at making me feel loved.  we like taking time to go slow & to enjoy whatever there is, whatever we find in front of us, which will certainly include much homemadeness & plenty of attention.  turns out, it’s usually better than expecting a whole heap & withering under the weight of it.  for me, anyway. I like small.  (think blog title.)  andy & I haven’t actually bought each other birthday gifts (other than a few edible treats) in years.  because what do i want?  more things?  not likely.  not anymore.  my birthday wishlist reads like this:  a nap.  a cup of decaf with cream.  time to read awhile in the quiet, that elusive foreigner in this house.  & celebrating with a sweet treat to share with my sweet little ones & the huz.  because all of us together in happy mode is a day-maker.

so, sitting in the quiet of birthday eve, with all but me asleep (can I get an “amen”?) & pandora playing a mix of rend collective & the fray, I wanted to tell you what I’ve gleaned in the last little while.  seems like much has been brewing, with all the waiting we’ve been doing.  seems like the gleaned bits ought to be shared, yes?

1.  perspective is everything.  when I was in college, I walked by the student government office every day on my way from my (usually empty) p.o. box to the cafeteria.  every day I was paying attention, I read the quote pitched up on the door frame:  “I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.”  (charles swindoll).  that math sure puts the odds for happiness heavily in my favor, if I choose it.  circumstances be darned, I get to adjust my vision however I want.  every dang day.

2.  rich is relative.  I have a quote on my fridge (okay, i’m one of those people.  collecting quotes.  it’s a thing.) that says, “there is a gigantic difference between having a great deal of money & being rich.”  I know (& you do, too.  look at any people magazine) plenty of people with hoards of money who aren’t happy.  & I know that money isn’t necessary (after our basic needs are met) to be happy.  I can increase my wealth in five minutes by taking a grateful look around me & tallying my goodnesses.  & they are many.  i don’t need cash to be rich.  (only to pay for parking.)
3.  there’s very little that music can’t cure.  for me, anyway.  for you it might be nature.  or people.  or solitude.  but for me (& my kids now, turns out.  apple, tree.), flip on a little rend collective or something kid-friendly from walk off the earth & we’ve got a whole new ballgame.  I just have to remember I can apply balm to my own soul & then take the initiative to do it.  kind of goes along with the attitude choosing.  we’re kind of powerful, we people.

4.  people really are the biggest deal.  a few years ago, I remember bob merritt saying the most important aspect of our lives is the people around us & the relationships we have with them.  at the time, that was not good news to me.  (I can feel you freaking out.)  I wasn’t very good at relationships.  i didn’t really like people much (not for very long or very often.  true.).  I was good at getting my kids to & from storytime.  I was good at getting my house clean. i was good at organizing the bins of toddler clothes in my basement.  I wasn’t good at digging deep into relationships.  but i’m learning.  i’ve got the most amazing people around me who load me up with grace & kindness.  i’m a slow study, but heaven help me, i’ll get there.  people are where the fullest life is (this includes Jesus for me. totally a Person.).

5.  living with less is actually living with more.  i don’t know how that math works, either, but the more i dig into this, the more it proves itself true.  we’ve given away more than 7000 things to date (more on this later, hopefully), & my life keeps expanding.  i have more room to think, more time to create, more space for all of us to play.  & the creativity & cooperation my kids glean from less!  oh, my.  that alone is worth the recommendation.  give it whirl.  I promise you won’t miss your stuff.

6.  taking care of myself is taking care of everyone else.  ahhh, this is complex!  i used to be good at self-care tactics, like showering (i’m beginning to get nervous about your impression of me. . . .what’s that you say?  way too late?  oh.), but four kids later, most days by 4pm i’m a train wreck.  it’s easier for me to wait until everything is done (what?) or I’ve met all the kids’ needs to take care of myself.  but it’s like the airplane crash analogy:  if i don’t put on my own oxygen mask, how can i help anyone else?  so i’m trying to do that more these days.  sometimes it amounts to reading a page of fiction leaning against the kitchen counter before i head into the dirty dishwater.  sometimes (like today) it’s kicking the kids outside so i can have a little quiet.  sometimes it’s a literal shower.  it’s always a bit of scripture in the morning & a word to the heavens.  but whatever it is, i’m communicating to myself that i in fact matter, too.  which somehow is easy to forget.

so there it is, my birthday montage.  i’m off to sleep now.
I’ve got a birthday to wake up to.
38 is going to rock.
& I know a slew of little kids who’ll be ready to party.

our dream home

so.  if you’ve been around tiny and small awhile, you know we’ve been waiting to move for some time now.  & waiting, & waiting, &, really, just sitting around waiting.  for, like, the better part of four years.  after much adieu, we finally have a solid, one hundred percent direction to tell you about:

we are moving nowhere.

not at all.  we are staying right here, in the house we live in, on the land the house lies on.  we have prayed, wrestled, listed, cleaned, decluttered, sold, sorted, boxed, & bagged.  we have met with realtors.  we (meaning andy) have scoured craigslist & zillow for places to go.  & after all this energy spent, after retiling the fireplace & painting the bedrooms a faceless, neutral color, after giving away over half our stuff & selling our furniture & giving away most of our books because we just didn’t want to move. so. much., we are moving back into our own lives in the place we are in.

bet you never saw that comin’, huh?  yeah, us either.

this all came down about a week ago, one night late after watching “once,” as andy & I stood in the kitchen in dim light, backs against opposite counters & played “what if”.  we had the “what if’s” lobbing back & forth like championship badminton.  it got later, I hopped up onto the countertop to get serious, & as we dug down into the bottom of who we both are, we realized we’d never actually given “here” a fighting chance. we dug out & lobbed up every single item on our dreams list, looking at it differently in that dim light.  we actually truly love where we live.  we had been thinking so linearly that we’d never given Jesus the opportunity to put his slant on just what we had already.  we thought to be logical, responsible, smart, we needed to sell & downsize, buy more land.  but what the Lord has been whispering to us in these last many days since we’ve opened up to the possibility of staying is that there’s a whole world inside this splendid acre we have here in our pockets.  we just hadn’t been looking at it quite right.  our sight has been skewed by sensible, when Christ has got a bead on spectacular.

well, then.  i’ll take two.

the day after I wrote my last post, I had all four kids in the van with me, running errands, windows cracked, sunflower seeds flying (I love sunflower seeds when I drive.  it’s a thing.).  I was mulling over my frustrations, my inability to just let myself, my life, be within its current limbo, when the song “open up the heavens” came on by Meredith Andrews.

it was an arrow right through me:

open up the heavens, we want to see you
open up the floodgates, a mighty river
flowing from Your heart

filling every part of our praise

i’m not one to get all mystical about music (okay, I totally am), but this was a throw down for me.  an “if You’ve really got good things planned for me, for my little ones, for andy & I together, I wanna see it”.  my soul said (a little too brazenly for my own scandinavian taste, i’d say), “okay!  i’m asking for it.  blow us wide open.  we want all You have for us. now & always.  no more pansying around.  we want the real deal.  all of it.  every. single. bit.”

& then, bodda-bing, bodda-boom.  
Jesus cracked open a tiny window in our perspective & then gently nudged it open.  we had done everything in our power, had done all we knew to do, & still nothing.  no buyers, no new direction.  a whole heap of nothing.  it finally occurred to us:  what if that meant something?  could God be saying something through all the nothing happening? 

(side note:  do you know how many times I’ve heard “open up the heavens” since?  absolute magic.  wink, wink.)

so, game-changer, then.  there’ll be no bus in the immediate future, & the hobby farming we’d envisioned will look a little different.  but already i feel like a new woman in a new place.  the minute I let out the breath i’d been holding for the last four years, preparing-always-preparing this house for someone else, I think I grew 3 inches.  like the Grinch, when his heart was two sizes too small, but I digress. . . .  & the really fun part?  i’m fairly certain this is only the tippy top of something really, really good.

because this:  trust in the Lord with all your heart.  lean not on your own understanding.  in all your ways, acknowledge Him, & He will make your paths straight.  proverbs 3:5-6.  I truly don’t understand how this has happened, but I know the intricacies leave me impressed with how powerful God is, how much He loves us in the details.  & our path?  well.  straight back to where we started. 

so, here is where we our, no packing required:  the dream view from my living room. 
who knew we were right where we were supposed to be all along?

for when you don’t really believe God

i don’t even know where to begin.  we just got house showing number four thousand & eighty six lined up (it feels like.).  friday morning at 11:30.  i’m not excited;  i’m not not excited.  i’m not even tired of this yet.  there are such heaping benefits to this insane-o system we’ve got going here:  it seems like every time i make the kids sweep the bathroom floor, every time i organize the chaos on top of the fridge, every time i straighten the towels in the hall closet (someone may look.  it’s possible.), some shard of possession sloughs off & we are more ready than the last time.  more ready rocks.  (as does the kids doing housework.  huzzah.)

& at the very same time, i am tired of this.  

not the showing part but the waiting part.  & not just this time but all the other times we’ve had a house listed & have been moving.  do you know how much of our marriage we’ve spent moving?  yeah, me neither.  a lot.  more than most.  the ministry can do that to you.  it’s like the army.  only more churchy.  (wink wink.)

i do know, actually.  i did the simple math the other day, sitting in my sister-in-law’s backyard eating potato salad.  6 years.  in 6 days, we’ll have been married 14 years. we’ve spent nearly half of our life together going some place else.  putting our hopes & dreams in the basket of someday.

so much for living in the present.

so, it’s not this move that’s got me strung out.  no, it’s more the collective pace.  like a marathon runner who doesn’t know to pace herself.  i keep sprinting around when i should be stopping for water.  i have blisters on my soul.  (sorry.  it’s late & i just ate chocolate.) & i can’t help wondering why God is so slow.  which is such sacrelig.  i know that He isn’t, that everything is pacing with or without me, but i keep running ahead to make sure He’s doing it right.
& the nut i cracked open the other day, in the middle of a sunny afternoon mixing up chocolate chip cookies?  i trust God, but i don’t really.  i don’t honestly believe deep down in the most tender part of my belly that what He’s got going on for us is what i most need.  i figure He’s got a good plan, but i’m not really gonna like it.  it’s going to somehow be terrible, as if He doesn’t know me or truly love me in the way i say i believe.  how’s that for a game changer? & where did it come from?  oy, vey.  

it’s not like my core faith is shaken, but i’m tangled up in a whole of mess of not-my-business.  i’m not in charge here, but i’m acting like it.  rearranging, micromanaging, second- & third- & fourth-guessing.  that’s what’s got me worn out.  (that & the toddler.  who is POTTY-TRAINED.  just had to throw that in there.  woot woot.)

so tonight, i’ve got this on repeat.  because i need a little balm for ye ol’ soul.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SswMKsFaHWE

& if i have to play this until my ears fall off, until i can dig down into that hollowed out place just beneath the bottom crust of my faith, i will.  because now i know we’ve got work to do.

& i don’t just mean cleaning the bathrooms.
come on, my soul.  it’s time to let go.

limbo like this

yesterday was the day.  or, it was supposed to be.  they were coming, the nice retired couple who had walked through my bedroom, who had seen my row of skirts hanging from a wide wooden dowel in my closet.  they wanted to talk about how deep our well is, how much money we pay for electricity in january.

one o’clock came, the children were shooed outside, we were ready.  & then. . . nothing.  no nice retirement car pulling onto the end of our asphalt driveway.  we called, trying not to be pushy but yet. . . how long until a perfectly coiffed house is blown to the wind under the tutelage of a two-year-old?  really.

turns out the nice retired couple had car trouble.  they were at the toyota dealership.

they would get back to us.
“we’ll get back to you” is an odd place to live.  our entire world is suspended with this small pledge, breathed out without a second thought to the bearers’ mental state.  with that single phrase, we are everywhere at once:  scouring craigslist & zillo for house & land, sizing up andy’s t-shirt equipment to see if it would fit it in x-square feet, thawing out the last chicken for dinner tomorrow.  & with that same phrase, we are nowhere:  boy, they hated it.  our house is too “cabiny” (actual quote).  maybe we should have hacked out that huge juniper in the middle of the yard to make more lawn.  we should have, should have, should have.

truly, an exercise in skin-thickening.

to say nothing of what perpectual show mode does for the psyche.  our house isn’t perfect for most people walking across the wood floors andy tapped down himself.  of course it isn’t.  most people aren’t us.  & those most-people don’t mind telling us they don’t care for the toilet seats or the blue paint in the bathroom.  entry to a house-for-sale hands out clipboard & score sheet & giant red pen.  it’s like holding yourself out on a glass slide under a microscope for ever & ever.

kinda makes you wanna pitch a teepee in the woods & call it good.

what i’ve noticed about this constant state of limbo is that i can’t live any more than this one single day, really.  when i don’t know if we’ll be here next month, i can’t hammer down the squares of my calendar.  i have to stay loose.  like a boxer.  i can cast gentle nets into tomorrow, but there’ll be no sharp tugging to secure anything for sure one hundred & ten percent.

which is really how we ought to live anyway, isn’t it?  i mean, how many hours, days, would  i gladly take back that i’ve frittered away in obsessive planning or rearranging, trying to eek out an agenda i approve of instead of trusting what comes to me is what i need.

all i have, all i’m a hundred percent on is just today.  like my kids.  tomorrow is javin’s birthday, the big 11, & he’s leaving all the planning to me.  he hasn’t even put in a request unless i’ve asked it of him.  dessert, honey?  cheesecake.  plans?  he doesn’t even care.  he knows it’s going to be good, that we’ll take care of it.  we love him, that’s what we do.
he rests in that.

so, i’m putting a bead on javin.  i have today.  tomorrow?  that nice retired couple might come back, or it might be somebody else who will love my toilet seats & light blue bathroom.  but if it isn’t?  & if they don’t?

well, there’ll still be cheesecake.

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You.  –isaiah 26:3.

i put him to bed two

we got back last night from our longest roadtrip ever:  18 days smeared over 3 states in a 1970’s camper with 4 kids.  sounds like a bad word problem.  anyway.

yesterday, our last leg of this epic family adventure, was the baby’s birthday.  yesterday, our little guy turned two.
the lips!  for the love.  [andy's photo, across the breakfast table.]

i’ve been a mom for nearly 11 years, & i have to admit, i’ve been dreading this day for a really long time.  like, nearly 11 years.  the day my littlest one was no longer really a baby.  this might seem a little up hill, a little dramatic, but there’s something tidy & secure about a tiny one all tucked up against you all the time.  the universe feels safe, the world spins on kilter.
but now that i’m here, leif-as-two, i’m kind of relieved.  is that weird?
lake superior, baby.  bam-o.

as in, wow!  we did it!!  we’ve brought four tiny, helpless creatures into the world & through babyhood!  hooray, we might get a full night sleep sometime in the next year!  i can almost reason with this new 2-year-old (just kidding.)!

i’m surprised at myself, & really that’s a pansy way of saying i’m surprised at God.  because Who’s doing the untangling?  credit where credit. . . .  yes.  i’ve been planning for YEARS, people, to be sad when i hit this landmark.  [how depressing is planning ahead to be sad?  come ON.]  & i know i’ve got hoards of time ahead of me, so-help-me-God, especially since my kids are all still technically “little”.  plenty more growing up to be done in this here household, yessir.  but babies-aren’t-us anymore.

& that’s okay.
happy birthday, big guy.  it just gets better & better.

on being bald

i should have seen it coming, but i didn’t.
we were checking out books at the library, at the nifty self-service kiosk, all four kids & i. libraries are notoriously kid-friendly, so, being one of the few places i’ll venture by myself, my guard was down.  & self-service kiosks, really.  freaking brilliant.  unless you’re attempting to maneuver one with an ambitious toddler & three other children, noses embedded in books.

my fatal mistake:  not letting leif check out his own book.
without thinking, i whipped his picture book “we’re going on a bear hunt” through the bleeper & handed it to him, setting him down beside us so he could sit quietly & look at his book while i herded the other three kids through, their mountainous stacks too much for their small arms.  you caught that, didn’t you?  sit.  quietly.  you’d think i’d never met my own son.  hello.

you can imagine the rest, but i don’t know if you’d get the part where leif was digging his fingernails into the back of kieran’s calves, trying to dismount him from the stool.  & you might not picture the fit he threw, both in my arms & in the entryway after i abandoned thalia at the kiosk completely so i wouldn’t make such. a. scene.

i wanted you to have the full picture.
you’re welcome.

because the full picture also includes my total inability to keep track of all four of my kids in the library (or anywhere, who are we kidding?), get them out without at least two of them straggling, & my unbelievable concern of what the librarians, those sweet & genteel ladies, thought of me jumping ship on my 8-year-old & bear-hugging my toddler to prevent (anymore) physical harm to any by-standing siblings.

whenever i recount these stories to andy, he ALWAYS begins humming, quietly at first, the circus theme song.

if the shoe fits. . . .

the funny thing is, i’m surprised how much i care.
i mean, a long time ago i lost all my hair, & with it, i had to shed a whole heap of what people thought of me.  i went from young woman with insanely long, straight, blonde hair to prickly bear who buzzes her scalp clean every other thursday.
this, from my coaching days.  i’m holding a BULLDOG.  with a CHAIN.  you’re not even noticing my hair, are you. . . . 

anyway, losing all my hair was the fear i was most afraid of in my life.  i remember sitting at my grandma’s kitchen table when i was little, nervously stealing glimpses at my aunt in her red bandana.  she also had alopecia (the latin name for “you have no hair & we can’t figure out why”.), which was really unusual, because we weren’t blood-related.  (alopecia is sort of genetic.) i remember thinking, “if i ever lost all my hair like her, i would die.”

i had already started losing my hair then, but all of it didn’t fall out until 10 years ago, after i started having kids.  i remember crying & crying in the shower as huge globs of hair just came out in my hands.  it was really, really terrible.  i had a little boy, & my whole life seemed to be imploding.

but it didn’t.  & i didn’t.

& when the worst thing you can possibly imagine from the time you are very young happens, well, you don’t just cease to exist.  you don’t.  you live through it, so help you God, & when you start to see the other side, you realize going through that horrible valley sloughed a lot of other stuff, too.

which is why i’m so surprised i still care so very much what some anonymous (though kindly) librarians think of me.  i mean, really.  i may have 4 children mildly out of control, but they’re probably more concerned with my baldness & my nose ring.  let’s be honest.
my attempt at a selfie a few weeks ago, to show you the shiner leif gave me with a  head-butt first thing in the morning.  thank you, honey.  mommy loves you.

anyway, i’ve been wanting to crack open this cavern about being bald since i started writing in this space.  i guess tonight was it.
one of a gazillion cartoons andy used to draw of us.  we used to look like this.  as cartoons, anyway.