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. 


what we're up to

I've written so little about our homeschool year. Let's face it, I've written practically nothing in months so the absence of homeschool happenings is on par with the rest of the blog.  But that's neither here nor there (well, technically, I guess it is here but whatever). 

So here's a brief update on our fall:

We started school. 

Drew's fourth grade workload is feeling heavy (for both of us). It's such a challenge to find that line of pushing your child but not breaking them; asking hard things but not impossible things. We're dancing on that line... (tripping on that line? hanging ourselves on that line???)

Ella is rocking kindergarten.  A couple bumps along the way, but mostly she is a very enthusiastic student. She prefers to determine her own workload- which is working out OK since she actually does a lot more than I would ask of her. So she's way ahead on her school year (a first for us!)

 I-man is in second grade, just on the brink of really being a reader.  He has a love/hate relationship with school, so we have our days, oh yes we do. But he's growing so much and brings an energy to everything he does. 

Tessa is a preschooler, currently mastering skills of puzzles, identifying letters, cutting, coloring in her siblings' workbooks, and needing a snack every twenty minutes.  Oh, and potty training? Check!

So that's school for us. 

Homeschooling is a tricky dance between striving for your ideals and making peace with your reality. The reality has been harder for me this fall, but I'm finding some peace along the way and thanking the Lord for the sweet nature of my kiddos. They have been so patient and gracious in the midst of the craziness. 

What craziness?

Well, we've experienced a lot of personal loss, so there have been several funerals, road trips, and a lot of talking about eternity. Not a bad thing to talk about with kids, but a heavy thing to have as a theme for your fall. 

Other events include house guests, tutoring in our homeschool community, flag football Saturdays, and the every day hustle and bustle of life with four...soon to be five. 

Yep, that minor detail has been quite the detour to our fall, with me battling morning sickness (which strangely is the worst in the evening and through the night...?), decreased energy level, and that feeling like everything in your life stinks. Literally stinks. The bathroom, the fridge, the car, the closet- every smell is overpowering and prone to cause the gag reflex.  But through it all, the kids have been troopers, Garrett has been a rockstar, and we're at week 14 in the pregnancy. Here's to hoping the nausea is on its way out soon. 

In other news...

We no longer have cats. Long story.

One chicken (out of fifteen) has begun to lay eggs. Should that be cause for celebration or butchering?

Knock-knock jokes are all the rage at our place. 

Our kids love fish sticks. Who knew. 

The tomatoes never turned out, but the walnut harvest was strong as usual.

It's cold, the air is crisp, and yet my children still cannot understand why I insist they wear pants and shoes to play in the yard. SO unfair. 

Thanksgiving is a few weeks away. Christmas hiding around the corner. And 2015 right on its heels. Where did the year go?

Hope you and yours are enjoying fall, savoring the season and cherishing the people that make is worth savoring. Thanks for stopping by and I'll catch you later. 


on long days and dry wells and making sense of both

"How's the writing going?" a kind friend asks, and I wonder what to say. Should I say I can't make myself get up or should I say that the rejection letters have taken the wind out of my sails or should I say that the well is dry and thanks for reminding me? It's all true, in varying degrees. 

"It's not." I reply in regards to the writing.

"Not what?" 

"Not going. Not coming. Not happening. Just not."


This conversation happens. A lot. And I'm not always sure what to make of it. 

On one hand, I love that there are people in my life who are on this writing journey with me, people who have read rough rough drafts and met the people in my head and heard me drone on and on about query letters and celebrated when agents take a little nibble. Those people have shared my disappointment and frustration, have loved me well in the middle of it all. And they ask because they know it matters to me and I matter to them. 

On the other hand, there's a part of me that feels like, "Can we all just pretend I didn't try to write a novel? Can we act like that didn't happen and we're not here and there's no one out there sending me 'thanks but no thanks' letters? OK? Can we do that?"

Oh, sheesh. A few paragraphs in and this melodramatic already. Sorry about that. 

Anyways, all that to say, I have all these mixed feeling about my novel and about writing and art and creating in general. It thrills me, this writing thing. It feeds me and helps me make sense of my life and there's a part of me that is so very me when I write. 

But it also drains me. It judges me. It asks things of me that I fear I don't have to give- time and determination and heart and courage to step in when all I really want is to hide under the covers and eat M&M's. Writing forces me to step up to the plate, to face my own fear in a way that is exhilarating and terrifying. 

Come to think of it, writing is a lot like parenting in that way. I love being a mom. In many ways I feel like I was made to mom, I feel so at home in the role, like there's a deep place in my soul that is doing what it was created to do. Raising kids is worthy and weighty and costly and good, and I love to give my life to that each day.  

But mothering also drains me. It judges me. And some days I fear that it asks things of me that I don't have to give- time and determination and heart and courage to step in when all I really want is to hide under the covers and eat M&M's. (Notice the common themes of my life: fear, courage, craving chocolate...)

And so here I am. A mom longing to write. A writer grasping for words. A creative heart trying to find joy in the rhythms of the day (I call it rhythms because the word "routines" leaves a bad taste in my mouth....thus needing an M&M). 

And each day comes and goes and sometimes I worry that today wasn't enough, that I wasn't enough in the middle of it. We missed our Bible story again. We're stuck on the same verse in our scripture memory.  Meltdowns far exceeded teachable moments.  Our homeschooling reality is a far cry from my homeschool vision. My kitchen floor looks like a hamster cage despite the fact that I sweep constantly. The laundry piles up and the dust settles on top of itself and how can kids not find socks when all I do is mate socks. I think back on the day and see that I was lacking in joy or lacking in patience or just...lacking.

Lately, I've been thinking of the Proverbs 31 woman. I have a lot of thoughts on that, thoughts that rock the boat a bit on traditional interpretation of that passage, which we can save for another day. But in particular, I've been thinking of how she "can laugh at the days to come." Traditionally, I've been taught that this ability to laugh is due to her uber-preparedness, her super planning and hyper-on-top-of-it-all state. Tomorrow? Next week? Ten years? Ha! Bring it on!

But lately I've been thinking that maybe she doesn't laugh because she has it all together and the days can do nothing to defy her. 

Perhaps she laughs because she doesn't take herself too seriously. 

Perhaps she laughs in wonder at how God will bring calm out of this chaos He's given her.  

Maybe she laughs at the thought of all she has to do, all that rests on her, and she meets that challenge with a light heart.  

Maybe her husband is just really funny.  OK, probably not that one. 

Still- there's a light heart there that I want to not just imitate but truly embody. I want to see my future, my tomorrow and my next week and my ten years, through hope-tinted glasses. 

I want to laugh at the days to come. 

So where does that leave me? I guess I feel the urge to merge those two loves, to mother and write with hope and courage. To reject the idea of being my best self and lay hold of the call to follow Jesus with all He's made me to be. 

To let go of performance and find peace in the enoughness of Jesus, that's where I want to be. I think that's a place of laughter, of joy unexplained, of life found even in the longest of days.

So that being said, we're still here. Taking the days one at a time. Thinking about this great challenge to love our Savior and our children well. The days are long but fleeting somehow, and the paradox of time crawling while it races never ceases to amaze me. 

But we're here. Together. And there's a goodness in that that grounds me and gives me hope. 

Hope to you, friend. May you find it in you to face today with courage and meet tomorrow with laughter.