thoughts from the couch

We're still here, folks. Still reading bedtime stories and starting coffee and spilling cereal and watching laundry piles grow faster than they shrink.  Still cheering for sunny days and fighting the pull of screen time and marveling at how quickly a clean house can un-clean itself. 

I'm still pregnant, thankfully. I say this in light of preterm contractions that have slowed me down to a quiet  steady existence of life from the couch. Cook then sit. Shower then sit. Start something for dinner then sit. Fill up the water bottle (again) and then sit. We hope to maintain this routine for another month (!) as the little man is not technically due until early May, though I'd put my money on mid-April. 

The contractions have been going on for a month already, with no real explanation. I chatted with a midwife last week and she shrugged, "You're a tired mom with a tired uterus."  Well, then. Guess that explains it. 

And so our spring suddenly feels a lot like our fall. Me on the couch. Kids pitching in. Friends and family helping out in so many ways. Frustrated by my limits. Humbled by kindness. Thankful for this baby that is making his way soon. 

My oldest said to me yesterday, "You know, it's kind of like I have a lot of moms in one. Sometimes when I wake up I wonder what mom I will have today. Happy mom? Tired mom? Sick mom? Stressed out mom?" Then he flashed a big smile and left me standing in the dining room, trying to decide what to do with his statement.  

I told Garrett later that I wasn't sure if I should laugh or cry by that story (My husband's reaction to the story? "Welcome to my world, kid.") It's hard to accept that where I'm at is so obvious, that I'm not some sort of pillar of emotional resolve, shielding my kids from the ways that this time is wearing on me. I know my oldest is more perceptive than most, and I know he feels deeply, but there's a reality that who I am, where I'm at, and my health in that moment will impact all my kids. 

Thankfully, I'm far enough down the parenting road to realize that this too shall pass. I know we're in a season. I know that their lasting impression of me will be built on more than this pregnancy. I know that they are resilient and strong and quick to love and forgive me through the rainy days.  And I also know that it's good for them to see me wrestle with my limits, watch me strain to rest, witness me labor to trust God and fight the tendencies toward worry and fear. My humanness- and my battle against it- is good for them. They probably learn more about following Jesus from these emotional days where it all spills out than they do from the well- hidden, tucked away, managing-to-keep-it-all-together days that I miss. 

So here's to living life in front of our kids, living it in a raw and honest way that convinces them of their mom's need for Jesus and assures them of their God's great goodness to never give up on her. 

Here's to family confession and asking forgiveness and hugs and tears and "Jesus help us" as our family motto. 

Here's to knowing that my frailty will not break them, will not wreck us, does not really surprise anyone but me. 

Here's to life from the couch, where the company is lively and the days are steady, where the quiet and the noise are both the soundtrack of my life. 

Here's to the waiting, the hoping, the sweet anticipation of a new life.

And here's to you and the lessons you may be learning or fighting, the people your own journey affects, the season you find yourself in. May you embrace your own frailty and find sweet rest in God's goodness to you. 


what we're up to

Christmas pic outtakes
January came and went. Someone in our house turned 10. 

Yep, that guy right there. We celebrated with a video game party and the very first sleepover...not for the faint of heart, let me tell you. But look at that guy...wouldn't you stay up all night with him and his little buddies and then wake up four hours later with him and his little buddies? Of course you would. Once a year. Maybe every other year. To be determined. 

Then there's this one. 

He got a pet, and this pet is, I must tell you, the most unphotogenic pet in the entire world.  It's a bird, a little blue parakeet named Reggie. Pics to come... some day...maybe.

In the meantime, this one is learning to memorize books read.

Yep, pretty proud of herself. She's also knitting and beading and drawing pictures like crazy and spinning tall tales like her infamous, "The Story that Was and Then Wasn't But Was".

Of course, don't forget this one. 

This 3-year old is learning her letters like a boss and preparing for all things big sister and determined to name the new baby, "Strawberry". Yes, the baby boy. Strawberry.  Because that's her favorite thing and the baby is also her favorite thing.  Hard to argue with that. 

And so here we are, fighting through the homeschool year and tracking in snow and listening to audio books and trying to love each other even in the cabin fever of February. 

As far as books go, Garrett and I just finished reading Brandon Sanderson's new novel, Firefight, and enjoyed it immensely.  I'm working on Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and that has its ups and downs, but I think it's doing some good things in me.  Drew is reading the Heroes of Olympus series and diggin' it. The kids recently discovered The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak (also known as Ryan from The Office!) and, oh, the giggling! Currently trending on audio books at our place is American Tall Tales (the boys cannot get over Davy Crockett), Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, and some classic Dr. Seuss. 

In the blogging world, I'm not much of a reader or blogger these days. I was, however, very touched by Sarah Bessey's  A complicated peace (it was a relief to read because I felt it and didn't have to write it. Yep. Uh-huh. Amen.), inspired by the 2015 Reading Challenge,  and found myself crying quietly over Dear You Who Doesn't Want to Do That Hard Thing.  

In pregnancy news, I'm seven months, folks. I really savored the morning sickness and held on to that until week 24. And then, just so I could really suck all the marrow out of life, I started contractions around week 26. So that's...you know....awesome. But little guy is growing strong and will make his appearance in less than three months! Yikes. Sheesh. Oh my word. Here we go. 

I guess that's it. Not much to report other than that we're still here and winter is with us and grace abounds, thank goodness. 

Hope you and yours are warm and safe and a little bit silly. 



so last Sunday I went to prison...

We'd been planning to go for months but the timing was tricky. With four kids and full lives and a frantic fall, where do you find the time (or the desire) to be gone for five hours?

October was clear but then the visit was cancelled. 

Before Christmas worked but then there was a conflict. 

So we found ourselves there, on the sabbath between Christmas and New Years, sitting in plastic chairs and eating vending machine food and taking it all in. 

It's kind of a process, the whole "visit someone in the state penitentiary" thing. 

First you fill out paperwork and mail it in. 

Months later they tell you that you're cleared to visit. 

Then you find the visiting times, come early to check in, provide ID, stash belongings in a locker. And then you wait. 

At some point they start to call names and you go through security, similar to an airport except that everyone is patted down. 

There's all kinds of people who are going in with you- people your age that have small kids in tow, people older who you think might be visiting their own grown children. You wonder for a minute what it would be like for your kids to be here- your kids who you dropped off at grandma's this morning and who hold your sunshine in their smiles and who you have such big dreams for- what would it be like to visit them here? You wonder if the woman across from you, a woman with well trimmed salt and pepper hair and a lovely blue cardigan, you wonder if she's remembering things like that while she waits. The thought makes it hard to swallow for a minute. 

You follow a series of doors, doors that lock behind you before the next one opens before you, and eventually you're in a large room that has rows of chairs set in clusters. You sit down and wait. 

What happens next, the hours that follow, are so beautiful and hard and difficult to describe. One by one, inmates wander in, wearing dark jeans and various colored shirts. Their faces soften as small kids run to them. Their tattooed arms wrap around their loved ones and hardened faces break into smiles.  

And we sat with our friend, a guy in his twenties that I first met as a cocky but charming seventeen-year old. In some ways he hasn't changed much. He's always had a way of telling stories that made people believe him, want the best for him. In the years with us he graduated high school and knew our kids as babies and got into his fair share of trouble- though that's not what I remember. 

I remember sitting in the kitchen, reading Dracula for senior English, taking turns reading chapters aloud.

I remember Drew as a toddler, running out on the football field as we went to stand next to this teen during Senior Night for high school football. 

I remember Christmases and birthdays and a graduation party and the way he would put his hands together in mock pleading to try to get me to make him a stack of PBJ's. 

"You can make them yourself," I would say. 

"I don't make them as well as you do," he would reply, all charm as usual. And then he'd stand next to me in the kitchen and watch and talk and inhale them before the knife was in the dishwasher. 

I remember wanting so much from him, so much for him. 

He lived with us for years, his story becoming part of our own, his pain and struggle and journey a part of our own as well. And so that afternoon last Sunday, we talked about old times and new times and doing hard time. We talked about how he got here and how to be here and the long road away from here. 

"I just passed a year," he said. I felt surprised it had been that long and ashamed we had just come to see him and sad that a whole year of life seems insignificant when you're facing 14-20. 

As usual, Garrett knew what to say. He asked direct questions and encouraged with the raw, loving truth and tried to bring hope without being cheesy or falsely optimistic. As usual, I just sat there, feeling. 

Feeling loss for the years ahead. 

Feeling hurt for the families around me, families that might do this every Sunday for years to come. 

Feeling pain for the inmates here, men who may not be innocent but have been reduced to a life that is so hollow, so hopeless, so unredemptive in the way it is played out. 

Feeling heavy for the others that I recognized, two other grown men who we knew from our time of working with teens at the local detention center. 

It's their choices that got them there, you might think, and you are probably right. But it wasn't that little girl's choice, the little girl in the grey boots and the long braid piled on her sweet head, it wasn't her choice to know her dad this way. 

You do the crime, you do the time, you might say, and I get that, too. I don't begrudge the time served or the justice that is (hopefully) done, but I do mourn for the life in there, a life that makes joining a gang practically essential, a life that requires you to harden up even more in order to survive. 

I think of them, those prisoners doing time, and I think of the Kingdom, and I wonder where they meet. I think of Jesus spending time with the least of these. I think of the Old Testament prophecy of Christ coming to declare freedom for the captives, sight for the blind. I think of my own kids and their journey ahead and the things that I want so desperately for them to avoid.

But mostly I think of him, my friend in his dark jeans and starched shirt, talking football and hugging his girlfriend and thanking us for coming and caring and still being here. I think of him and will myself to have enough hope for him, to keep him in mind, to live in conscious awareness and not willful denial of his everyday. 

I think of him and hurt. I think of him and pray. I think of him and beg Jesus to move, to protect, to bring freedom in that prison. 

I think of him and I'm thankful, for PBJ's made and Quik Trip runs and movie nights and moments that seemed small but were big in the grand scheme of things. I'm thankful we offered him grace when we could and a home to remember. I'm thankful that we can offer friendship still. 

I think of him and think of Christ and think of life and it makes me ache.


saturday night somethings

It's the first Saturday night of December and I'm sitting at the hubby's computer, sipping on a combo of ginger-ale-meets-lingonberry-juice (Yes, we went to IKEA, hence the juice. And yes, I do giggle every time I hear the word lingonberry thanks to Kick Buttowski)

Kids are down, glory hallelujah. 

House is quiet. 

Tomorrow we'll put up the Christmas tree.

And I could be folding laundry or finishing off the dishes that didn't fit in the dishwasher or starting some food to take to a potluck but then again, I could just do this. 

So here we are.

We got back on Tuesday evening from six days of travel. Most of the travel went extremely well, especially given my tendency towards carsickness these days. But there was no vomiting until the trip home when the poor seven-year old managed to throw up all over the bathroom in our hotel room. All over, people. I'm talking everywhere. As I stood there at 12:41 a.m. trying to decide what to do for him (the husband had very coolly cleaned up the path from the bed to the bathroom and then headed to the lobby in search of more towels and cleaning supplies) I shook my head at the craziness of it all and the thankfulness I felt that we were not in the car at this moment. Funny the things that you are thankful for. 

But we made it home and we all said "Home sweet home" and the oldest declared it was the most he had ever loved his own bed. So home we are and home we'll stay for the holidays. 

Given our current family climate,  Christmas plans are simple this year. No need to max out on Christmas crafts. Holiday baking may be a thing for next year. And the decor will be kept to a twinkle-lit minimum. But the waiting, the themes of Advent that invite us to consider longing and hope and the urge for redemption, those feel fitting for me this year. 

There's something very encouraging about the line from O Holy Night,

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices

I may not be in a place to deck the halls and wow the kids with Christmas craftiness, but I can identify with a weary world rejoicing. I can acknowledge my weariness, and rejoice at the coming of Christ. That feels weighty; that feels doable. 

So here we are.

Last night we went to dinner at our friends' house, a little neighborhood gathering that involved ten adults and twelve kids. The food was delicious and the kitchen was warm and we ate courses and desserts while the kids migrated from the basement to the bedrooms, caught up in games of Star Wars and Legos. It reminded me of Shauna Niequist's book, Bread and Wine, about how being at the table brings us into communion with each other and allows us to touch souls in a different way. 

The Table Canvas
Don't you just love that lettering? I swoon. (from Lindsay Letters)

I know that quote won't resonate with everyone, that not everyone are table people or hosts or find deep satisfaction in the empty plates and the line of cups left when guests have gone home. And that's OK. Because the point is not for us all to connect at the table, the point is to connect at all. 

Today we spent a quiet day at home, mostly hanging out in groups of two or three that shifted naturally every few hours. At the end of it all, the kids and husband were glowing and I felt peaceful and the house had taken on a lived in feel that was surprisingly warm instead of crazy.  The kids went to bed easily, giggling at kisses and calling good nights and cracking jokes in the quiet of their rooms. It reminded me of something I heard my husband explain to one of our teens a long time ago, that kids spell love T-I-M-E.  So true. There is no shortcut, no easy fix that can take the place of quality time together. And those slow days are really a gift, aren't they?

In closing, I'll offer up a sample of some quotable quotes from the last week. 

Ella: (singing in the car) I wish that I could be like the cool kids...
Tessa: Ella, you are the cool kids!

Tessa (3!): When I grow up, I want to have a baby so I can lay on the couch a lot!

Isaac was walking around the house on Wednesday, crooning out his own rendition of Phillip Phillip's Gone, Gone, Gone. The lyrics to the bridge say "Like a drum, baby, don't stop beating..." Isaac, however, sings "Like a mom, baby, don't stop clean-ing!"

(Yep. For real. That one cracks me up.)

And on that note, happy Sunday and happy Advent and may your weary soul rejoice today. 

Catch you later. 


for when you feel like the fish stick version of yourself

On Tuesday evening, Garrett came into the kitchen as I was cooking dinner (assembling would probably be a better word- not much cooking to fish sticks, tater tots and mac'n'cheese). He saw the meal and made a comment, a harmless, true and poignant comment, and I proceeded to completely fall apart. 

It was Tuesday, which is a long day around here as we leave the house before 8:00 in the morning. Something about one day of teaching, something about the absence of a nap and the presence of a need to be on all day, something about that completely drains me these days. And I find myself in a raw place on Tuesday nights. This night was no exception. 

Garrett apologized for the comment, thought he hadn't said anything out of line, and went on to hear me stumble my way through an explanation. 

"It's not just that tonight's dinner is this. It's that my life is this," I tried to explain through tears. "It's like everything I'm doing is fish sticks. Like no matter how hard I work at anything, in the end it's...fish sticks."

He disagreed and tried to talk me off that emotional ledge and we went on to eat it thankfully and watch The Voice and get the kids to bed. But I've thought about that statement this week, thought a lot about these last few months of my existence. 

I find myself saying now and then, "I don't quite feel like myself." This rings true somehow, rings out in a way I can't quite articulate. My mind is slightly fuzzy, my ideas feel just beyond my reach, my words resist me when I sit to write. I'm not quite me, I say, attributing it to loss and fatigue and the everydayness of every day. But this week I began to wonder, At what point do I acknowledge that this is me, that this is me right now, that the tired and foggy me is just as much me as the clear-minded, productive me?

That thought scared me a little.  I would rather think that the Real Me is temporarily broken, that my Old Self is wandering out there without me but should be back any minute and I'll simply put it back on and everything will come into focus. I resist the idea that this is the Real Me, and that my brokenness isn't going anywhere, and that there's no Old Self that will knock on the door. 

This whole line of thinking has forced me to admit how uncomfortable I am with my own brokenness, and how I find accepting the help of others to be beyond humbling- almost humiliating. 

In my life right now, my husband takes up so much slack with the kids. My mom comes one afternoon every week so I can run errands alone. My friend makes dinner for me on some Tuesdays because she knows that day wears me out. Another friend has stopped by to clean for an afternoon, three Fridays in a row. I'm thankful for this outpouring of support,  thankful that it has kept our home functioning in the midst of this fall. But there's part of me that feels embarrassed; it would be one thing if everyone was pitching in because I was  (fill in the blank: publishing a book, working part-time, being a rock star, etc.), but to think that all these people come and help and at the end of the day, there's no clean socks and I can't seem to meal plan and I'm still barely getting fish sticks on the table? Meaning: if I need a little extra help to be awesome- that's OK. But to need extra help simply because I need it, that's hard for me to face. 

But this is me. This is Real Me, living in November of 2014, grappling with the reality that this fall isn't what I thought it would be, and I'm not what I thought I would be in the midst of it. And life keeps going. And there's not much to do but wake up and shower and pour cereal and load the dishwasher and sing the timeline song and read Hippospotamus for the three hundredth time and cut PBJ's and declare Nap Time For All. And I can do that in panic, comparing myself to some strange idea I'm clutching about What I Am Capable Of, or I can do it with peace, not chanting "This too shall pass" but resting in the truth that Jesus is Enough. He's OK with all this. And, in really brave moments, I embrace the truth that if this fog never passes, I am no less loved. I am no less me. I am simply me, right here and now, moving in grace to meet the day that is ahead. 

It's ugly, those moments when you realize, as an adult, that your understanding of grace and love and works and perfectionism is still so rudimentary. Those moments when you see you have so far to go to see yourself in truth. Those moments when you need Jesus so much that it scares you a little. Or maybe a lot. 

I'm living in those moments, learning to make peace with the here and now, learning to be truly grateful and honest with my limits, learning to chill out and shut up and just take a nap already. 

So that's that, folks. Maybe your life is soaring along, and the very least of your efforts is changing the world.  Maybe you're feeling in a good groove or in the midst of some healthy rhythms or loving the dailiness that is your every day. 

Or maybe you don't know where you're at or how to articulate that you feel a bit banged up, or how to explain to people how you got to this place when you don't quite know where it is. Maybe you're winded or reeling from loss or confused about your purpose or feeling alone. Please take heart. This will probably, most likely pass. But even if it doesn't, you're no less you. You're no less loved. The broken you is no less beautiful, and Jesus is no less present. 

Have a great weekend, friends. Catch you later.