Of Cuddles and Babies and Leaving the Dishes.

After the initial shock has worn off, I find that I am anticipating a brief return to the life of floppy newborn snuggles and baby delights. While knowing that I will have a teenager and a threenager at the same time is daunting, I also know how very, very quickly those intense, tiny years fly by. Soon I will blink and this bonus doodle will also be potty trained and beginning to read and able to buckle his/her own car seat. I know how quickly the years pass because I have already flown through them once. As a seasoned traveler, I am less anxious this time around (please remind me of this when I re-enter the potty training years.)

There is a temptation, I think, for those of us through those years, especially those who look on those years through the tinted lenses of nostalgia or regret, to try to encourage new mothers by reminding them of how short the years are. Sometimes those encouragements come in the form of “reminders,” in many and varied poetic form, that babies won’t stay babies, along with an admonition that everything else will still be there when the baby grows up. The result, unfortunately, is that when you’re washing dishes, so the rest of your family doesn’t get food poisoning and die, you hear this poem in your head and feel guilty for not rocking that baby who will be grown so quickly, but when you’re rocking and feeding and walking and bouncing that baby so many times you’re feeling guilty for not cherishing it all in your heart. Not so encouraging in those fragile months of limited sleep and hormonal unrest.

Here is what I know going into the baby years again, that I wish I had known the first time around. Maybe this will help someone walking those sleepless floors, wearing exhaustion and spit up.

The baby years are short, but these aren’t the only snuggles you will have. This completely dependent little one will grow up so quickly you will wonder where it went, but my nine year old mackerdoodle still holds my hand crossing the grocery store parking lot. The cheesedoodle will turn eight in two weeks, and he still wants to start his morning with a mama snuggle before breakfast. I haven’t walked a floor to calm a child in years, but every time I sit down at least one child wants to sit beside me, and rest a head on my shoulder, or a hand on my arm. Yes, the baby years have a sweetness to them unlike any other, but so do all the other stages. This is not the only shot at sweetness.

Yes these years pass quickly, but the beauty of parenting doesn’t pass with them. They won’t always need your hand, but they may still choose to hold it. Soon you won’t be able to carry them to bed at night, or sling them up on your shoulders, but you will continue to carry them in ways too numerous to count. They won’t always call out for you in the middle of the night, but they will still want to tell you about their dreams (real and imagined) in the morning. They won’t always need food at inconvenient times and places, but that bonding over a meal isn’t going away soon. It’s true that “babies don’t keep,” but the love and the beauty and uniqueness of motherhood grows with them. Even those tasks you may feel are sucking away precious memory time will become side by side moments of learning, and chatting, and “soul snuggling.”

Hold the baby, rock the baby, and wash a dish or some clothes, or wipe some dust along the way. This adventure is a marathon, not a sprint.


This Wasn’t How I Thought This Life Would Go

Jonathan and I married 22 years ago this month, and like all newly weds we had big plans for our life. Among the certainties we presented to God, were the following:

  1. Jonathan would be a youth pastor forever, because youth ministry wasn’t just a stepping stone to “something bigger and better.”
  2. We would be young parents. Our four children would be born before we hit our 30’s so we could be grandparents in our 40’s.
  3. We were never leaving Canada.
  4. We would never renovate a house, or farm sheep.

In case you’re new here, I’ll remind you that we have, thus far, managed to not farm sheep. We hit our tenth anniversary, still childless, and Jonathan leaving his youth pastorate at the beginning of what would be a five year theological overhaul. One would think I would have learned not to give God absolutes. Still, I continued to be surprised when my plans were not His. Here I sit, approaching 43, expecting my own bonus doodle, instead of the granddoodle of my initial plans, and I find myself thinking “but this wasn’t my plan. This wasn’t how life was supposed to go.”

Almost nothing about the life I have now is the life I pictured then. I “should” be published. I “should” have teenagers in an excellent Christian school on whose PTA I would gladly serve. I “should” . . . does it even matter? The point is, I’m not.

And still, as I look back over 22 years of “shoulds,” I am struck also by the things I never saw coming. Would anyone who knew me even ten years ago have anticipated that I would own three separate rolling pins for three separate baking tasks, and use every one regularly? Would the naive almost 21 year old who walked that aisle have anticipated the day she/I could gut, skin, and process both large game and small animals and birds for our family’s consumption?  Hardly. My political shift from liberal to angry conservative to undefinable was probably not as surprising to others as it was to me. However, I know that no one could have foreseen the day in which I found joy and peace within the bounds called “confessional.”

I didn’t set out to be a confessional Presbyterian, any more than I set out to spend ten years of life infertile, but the journeys are not separate. This isn’t the life I set out to live. This isn’t the road map I unfurled at the dawning of my early adulthood. It doesn’t even look like the same country, some days. Still, I wouldn’t trade it. Some of the greatest beauties of my life and things that stir my soul today couldn’t even be found on that first path. The things in which I delight today are things I didn’t even know I wanted then.

So six months ago it wasn’t my plan to have a baby in my 40s. What joy and delights are to come that I cannot anticipate? This bonus doodle follows in a long line of things I receive from the Lord that I didn’t know I wanted. Some of those things have been terribly painful, and the heavy hand of providence may lay on this too. Even so, all things considered, He has continued to make my boundaries lie in pleasant places. This isn’t the way I thought my life would go, 22 years ago, 10 years ago, 6 months ago. This wasn’t my plan. What a comforting place to rest.


Seasons

TrueTone colors give way

to technicolor and neon

that fades past time bleached

into sepia tones

and finally black and white
with occasional wan water color tint

A lilac sunset the only reminder

of the pencil green shading to come


Book Review of Simonetta Carr’s Martin Luther

luthercoverIt’s been years since I have reviewed a book, but for Simonetta Carr I will break my blogging silence. There are two factors that have changed in my life since I posted my review of Carr’s biography of Knox. First, I have been homeschooling for three years, and secondly, I now have two avid readers, instead of three non-readers.

The first has informed how truly rare these books are. Trying to find a church history curriculum for elementary students has not been difficult. It has been impossible. Carr’s biographies are hands down the best elementary church biography resource available. I appreciated her work two years ago. I treasure it now.

Secondly, I now have two more avid readers living in my house. It is one thing to love a book as a read aloud to children. It is entirely another to have one’s nine year old announce at supper, “Did you know the doors to the Wittenberg cathedral burned in a big fire?” Both the nine year old mackerdoodle and seven year old cheesedoodle were able to read and comprehend the material, while the text is engaging enough for adults to study and enjoy. One can suspect the readability of material, but only real world reading by real world children can prove it.

Now, the story of Martin Luther is a tricky one to tell, especially to children. There is so much more than nailing theses, and much of the things we think we know about Luther aren’t true. Carr’s biography is faithful to the true story of Martin Luther. She includes the well known elements of his life, like the thunderstorm commitment to monasticism, and his nailing 95 theses to a door, and his statement to the Diet of Worms (excluding the oft quoted, but historically inaccurate “here I am, I can do no other.”). She also includes the peasant’s revolt,  the death of two of his children, and his treatise against the Jews later in his life. These elements of Martin Luther’s life are all presented in a gentle way, appropriate for children, while still being faithful to the subject.

Like in her biography of Knox, Carr humanizes Martin Luther. With Knox she made sympathetic an often vilified man. With Luther she makes ordinary a man who has been made so much larger than life. This is, interestingly, more difficult. Luther was a larger than life character. He used large and dramatic language. He had large and dramatic emotions. His life was a large and dramatic one. It is easy to forget that in the midst of that he was a father, husband, and teacher. Simonetta Carr brings that Luther to life. Carr’s other biographies serve as a sort of introduction to faithful men and women in church history that have been forgotten or misrepresented in our modern time. Her biography of Luther serves, instead, as an anchor amidst the hype that surrounds the name “Luther.”

However, to truly appreciate what drove Martin Luther, and some of the events in his life, I think some of that bigness needs to find a place in the story. As I mentioned in my review of Luther on the Christian Life, one of the driving forces in Luther’s theology was the idea of Anfechtungen, or emotional distress that pushes us always to our need for Christ. Luther’s struggle to direct and master his emotions in biblical ways is instructional, even for children. However, no biographer can include the details that every reader believes to be most important. The lack of that aspect of Luther’s life does not diminish this work.

Finally, in reviewing past biographies, I have been remiss not to mention the excellent illustrations contained in each of the books of the series. There is joy in a beautiful book, and this entire series is beautiful, from binding, to font choice, to illustrations. Troy Howell’s work is truly excellent.

 

I received no compensation for this post. I was provided an hard-cover edition for the purpose of review. I was not required to provide a positive one. I keep a disclosure statement here.


Some Thoughts on Silence and the First Commandment

Despite my promise almost a year ago to blog more, I clearly haven’t done that. I have a lot of thoughts – more questions than answers, more re-examining ideas than firm convictions these days. I have been asking the question “why do I believe that?” and seeking the answers in the scriptures and the writings of old dead men who knew far more than I do. In all of this, I have maintained an ambivalence to documenting even the common elements of my life, without really knowing why I couldn’t put fingers to keys.

Recently, however, I have found some clarification in the Westminster Larger Catechism. Like the Shorter, the Larger Catechism studies the Ten Commandments in depth, as a guide for holy living. In question 105 What sins are forbidden in the First commandment, I was struck by two points in a litany of ways in which we place other gods before our True God. The answer includes: “using unlawful means, and trusting in lawful means;” and “ . . . corrupt, blind, and indiscreet zeal;“.

I have been guilty of corrupt, blind, and indiscreet zeal in my life. I once described myself on this very blog as having a theology of mustard. I wasn’t really exaggerating. There have been a lot of things in my life that weren’t necessarily idols, until I began to pursue them with the zeal for which I should pursue the things of God. I have approached everything from mustard and coffee to literature and politics with corrupt, blind, indiscreet zeal, while too often approaching my Creator with lukewarm indifference. That corrupted zeal was also applied, far too often, to blogging and writing. That corrupted zeal would be the definition of false worship was convicting in a particular way, because the reason I had originally been reading the Larger catechism was not to learn more about how I could serve my God. Instead, I had turned to it in a corrupted zeal to prove someone else wrong. My heart was reflected back to me, even as it steeped in violation of the law of God.

Within that realization, however, came another. The things that define my life at the moment – being a homeschooling pastor’s wife – are the subject of much blind and indiscreet zeal themselves, and the subject of much “trusting in lawful means.” I am silent on those points, both in person and online, largely because I don’t want two issues of circumstance to define who I am. I am casting about for a larger definition of myself, and coming up with things that don’t fit so neatly into a blog post. I am weary of corrupted zeal both in myself and in the cyber culture of  blogs and bloggers, and that weariness has led to silence.

I have decided to spend some more time with the Larger catechism, seeking truth, not vindication. In the mean time I am dwelling on Ecclesiastes 5:2

“Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.”


A Needed Adjustment in Perspective

On Friday we had a speech evaluation for the Cheesedoodle. Getting help for school aged children is more difficult here, but the therapist who has been seeing the Snickerdoodle had agreed to evaluate Cheesedoodle in order to give me tools to help him continue with his speech development. Her words to me at the end of it were an amazing answer to prayer.

She said, “If I didn’t know his history, I would have told you he has no speech issues. He is in the normal spectrum for speech development for a 6 year old.”

“But people still don’t always understand him!” I said.

She leaned across the table, and looked into my mothering soul and said, “He is small for his age, and he is six. People are expecting him to tell them about baseball, or hockey, or his pet dog. They are not expecting him to explain static electricity to them. He is just fine. Keep doing what you are doing. He is an amazing boy.”

So I can hear the chorus of praises from across the continent as people who have prayed for and loved my little boy. This is such a great thing to hear, after all the work and the struggles. It was also exactly what I need to hear at the end of this second full year of home schooling. “He’s fine. Keep doing what you’re doing.”

The truth is, I have spent the last two years feeling ill equipped and unprepared for these uncharted educational waters. I spent three years freaking out about Moriah’s birthday and cut-off dates for school and getting her in the right place. Now we’re homeschooling, where the grades don’t matter. Half of her friends don’t even know what grade they’re in, and no one cares. She’s fine. We’re going to keep  doing what we’re doing.

On the way home, the snickerdoodle was in the back seat singing, “2+2 is 4, 3+3 is 6, 4+4 is 8, 5+5 is ten, 6+6 is Idon’tknow, 7+7 is Idon’tknow, . . . ” She just turned five. I can’t freak out about the “I don’t know”s, when the sane realization is She’s fine. Just keep doing what we’re doing.

In the midst of the weight and lack of definition of homeschooling, it was really nice to have a neutral, non-homeschooling party reassure me that my kids are doing fine, and we should keep doing what we are doing.

 


Just What Am I Doing Here, Exactly?

IMGP6952We have embarked upon a new adventure. In October we acquired two female rabbits. They are sister New Zealand Whites whom my daughters named “Snowstorm” and “Rosie.” Snowstorm and Rosie were acquired for the sole purpose of procreation. With this in mind, we brought a California buck back from Ontario in February. The Cheesedoodle had the privilege of naming the “boy rabbit” and chose Timothy, because his ears are the color of timothy grass. Within 48 hours of his taking up residence in our budding rabbitry, Timothy managed to meet the does. This was a full month earlier than we had planned to introduce them, but as is the way with rabbits, we now have a litter on the way.

It is amazing what the internet can teach a person! I learned to palpate a rabbit two weeks ago to positively identify that Snowstorm was pregnant. Being a rank novice at the trick, I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to how many kits she may be carrying, but there is something in there, and her slightly swelling frame and rapidly slowing energy continues to confirm it. I enter the pen to feed and water them, and I feel like the midwife, visiting her patient. I stroke her gently, and sympathize with her. I check the nest to make sure Rosie hasn’t been disturbing it. I have banished the children from the rabbit pen for this week. My cover story is that I don’t want Snowstorm getting nervous and eating the kits. More true, is that I really want to be the first to see the tiny, new, bald, blind infant rabbits. I feel as if they are my patients.

In direct contrast to this, however, Rosie literally runs to a corner and backs herself into it whenever Timothy comes within a whisker’s twitch of her. It’s all very well to personify a rabbit when one is sympathizing with her gestation (short though it may be), but the reality of animal nature versus human nature sure comes to bear when I hear myself say, “Listen Rosie, if you don’t do this thing, we’re going to have to eat you and replace you. I can’t afford a freeloader.” The words are true, but they are not as comforting a fit as the rabbit midwife persona.

Further complicating matters, I have been engaged in a battle of wits with Timothy. As sweet and poetic as his name is, Houdini would have been a better moniker. For three days he has been literally leaping from his pen. When we added another eight inches to the pen walls, he still managed to leap from it. I could never see how he was managing the wild leap. Like all slight of paw artists, he was carefully to conceal his tricks. However, I became convinced he was actually climbing the chicken wire walls. This evening I placed a large smooth board over the portion of chicken wire he appeared to be climbing. While I had my back turned, I heard the frantic scrabble of Timothy’s claws against it. When I turned around, he was still in his cage, baffled and thwarted. I dropped to my knees, placing my nose inches from the remaining chicken wire and said, “Oh yeah? Oh yeah? Who’s the alpha rabbit NOW?!”

It was at this moment that I realized I may have gone further down this rabbit hole than I thought.