Is Life Actually Good?

“Life is good,” we like to say as our toes stretch out over sparkling pool water or we lounge in the sun with an ice cold drink in hand. I tend to think that statement when all my ducks (or should we say ducklings 😉) are in a row, the house is tidy and the bread turned out well this time. Sometimes I think it when we are taking a family day trip and everyone is chatting cheerfully with our favorite music playing in the background. I always define life as good when I’m feeling good. But is it?

What about the fact that at the very same time I’m snuggling with my babies, someone else is grieving about her empty arms? And when I’ve had a delightful chat with my parents someone else is laying flowers on the grave of her mom? And when I’m cleaning my house and baking bread someone else is battling with depression that threatens to keep her in bed all day? And when I’m laughing with my husband someone else is cowering in fear of hers? And when my children devour books someone else is setting up yet another IEP meeting with her child’s teacher? And when I step out my front door to enjoy a walk someone else is hiding from bombs? Do we call this a good life?

Does this juxtaposition of life situations mean that one isn’t true? I was pondering this and went a little deeper: when things are not going my way can I still say life is good? These questions can only be answered by defining good. If good means everything is going my way and I’m thriving, then life is rarely good. In fact, it’s uncertain, unpredictable and unfair. But if good means that I am encountering the sovereignty of God and living out His purpose for my life, then yes, life is good. But doesn’t it seem callous to compare my level of circumstantial difficulties with someone whose daily objective is survival in the literal sense; my hardest moments might even seem good to them.

For those who are members of the household of faith, we can immerse ourselves in Hebrews 11-12. In these passages we are reminded that hardship can be viewed as discipline (not punishment), preparing us for greater joy and peace. The trials strengthen our faith and allow us deeper fellowship with those who have gone before. For those who do not yet know Christ, hardship beckons their eyes heavenward; it serves as a reminder that there must be something more when rock bottom is hit; only God can rescue, redeem and restore.

I am sure this might sound trite at best, cruel at worst. How self-righteous is it for me in western comfort to tell someone in a refugee camp that God is sovereign and their suffering is bringing Him glory or to tell a grieving mom that her loss is meant to teach her more about God? These statements might very well be true in a basic sense but they do not convey Christ’s heart- a heart whose essence is compassion. Jesus describes Himself as gentle and lowly; He longs to comfort the broken-hearted and set the captive free. In our lowest moments, He is there; on our mountaintop victories, He is there.

The concept that we are designed to glorify God and enjoy Him forever is the best definition of good. It provides meaning in the worst of times and exhilaration in the best of times. My goal is to declare that “Life is good because God is good” regardless of the situation.

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Little Boys

We have 3 little boys right in a row. I’m tempted to just stop right there and allow your imaginations to fill in the rest: all of the sounds, smells, catastrophes, and injuries that come with 3 little boys in a row.

It is hard for a mama to remain a step ahead of them to preempt what they’re going to think of next because they usually think of it first. I don’t think of using my head as a battering ram as something fun to do. Jumping from the highest point in the house seems, well, risky to me. I don’t have the same magnetic draw to sharp objects as they do. I think being clean and tidy is VERY nice. Bugs are cool to watch but touching them isn’t my first (or even fourth) instinct and I would NEVER dream of scooping up a cockroach and letting it crawl up my shoulder. I like to preserve my new things so they look new a dozen years later rather than finding out how much force they can withstand before crumbling. I prefer to think about eating yummy items while they like to gross themselves out by naming awful items they won’t eat (think poop). I find quiet a pleasant sound; to them, louder is better!

These three little guys are so different from our first son that I’m still getting over the shock and awe they’ve brought into our home. I catch myself saying, “but GH never did that!” I’m having to learn all new parenting tactics and strategies with these guys and have brand new callouses on my proverbial knees with their names on them. And with those tear-streaked prayers have come some fresh thoughts:

  • Little boys need mamas. When I’m done counting the bruises on my own body at the end of a day wrestling with my strong toddlers, I wonder why God gave boys to mamas. My husband can carry two of them at once and throw them over his shoulder with one arm. They tackle him with all their might (which would topple me) and he is unfazed. It’s soooooooo easy to see they need him but do they really need me?? They do. There are times when I have to bellow at them but I’m trying to make that my last resort; instead, I’m seeking to be their contrast: calm, quiet, tender, clean. I’m not trying to make them feminine (I’m actually quite proud of their strength and fearlessness); I do see the necessity in bringing culture to the savage and showing the brute how to be a gentleman. Society expects danger and destruction from men; I believe moms can bring out the noble tenderness in their sons.
  • Little boys need to know their mamas like them. Much of my day is spent in doing damage control. More than once a little man has asked, “you usset, Mama?” Or sensed trouble ahead and rushed to hug me with an “I love you, Mama.” While I’m all about these little men respecting us and living within the boundaries we have set, I want them to know that I think they are the coolest people alive. I must discern between blatant disobedience and mishaps that occur simply because they are inquisitive little boys. I’ve observed that nothing lights up their darling faces more than when they’re able to make me laugh till I cry. And there is a certain swag in their step when I speak with awe about the things they do that I certainly cannot- like pick up live roaches with my bare fingers or rescue geckos from drowning. At bedtime I make sure to say, “I love you and I like you”- not because they’re finally clean, sweet-smelling and still but because they are themselves and they are my little boys.
  • Little boys need mamas to be their advocates. As I mentioned above, society doesn’t look too kindly upon men and therefore boys are often written off as troublemakers and future problems. Mamas can unintentionally speak the same message through sighs of exasperation and speaking about the low expectations they have for their sons. I speak from experience; at times it is very challenging to find something to praise at the end of a long day of messes, fighting, and repeated instructions. But praying instead of pulling out my hair is helping me break the code for mothering these little boys. I see now that they need me to advocate for them- even to themselves. I need to speak to them about the good they can do and the great men I see them becoming. And I need to build them up when we are in the company of others.

Practically speaking, how is this building up accomplished? Time with them: playing, teaching, snuggling, talking. It’s in doing these things that I see deeper into the essence of who they are and what makes their hearts beat boldly. And one of our favorite things to do as mama and sons is to recount memories of them as babies. It reminds all of us of those precious moments we have shared together from the very beginning. As I persevere through the difficulties of mothering boys, I see the privilege of and adventure that comes with raising men. I have always liked the thought of being a mama bear and how I am ever ready to take on anyone and anything that threatens my young ones; now I see that I need the resilience and strength of a mama bear to handle all that these young boys bring into my day. And there’s so much good that comes with them: the flowers, the fervor, the crazy stories and that priceless loyalty that sons hold for their mama.

Just a handful of nights ago, I slipped into their room and gazed upon their sleeping faces. Unexpectedly I got glimpses of those faces at 15, then 40, then 80 years old. Tears filled my eyes at the thought that one day they won’t be little boys anymore and how I raise them now will have a strong influence on who they will be then.

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Books We Are Reading

I’m a day late with my monthly reading recap but I needed some time to think about this one. I decided I wanted to share what the children are reading but that’s trickier since so many pages are turned by them!

Our oldest has a tower of books on his dresser but he isn’t only reading from them. He often still grabs from the bookshelves too. He just finished reading: Sequoyah: A Cherokee Indian. One of his favorites is Adventure in the Big Thicket and not long ago he completed The Secret Garden (that might have been in March, actually). He is also liking Beverly Cleary’s books and The Rats of Nimh; he is nearly finished with a compilation of Nancy Drew stories as well. And that’s off the top of my head. This 7-year old has books stashed everywhere! He and I are reading The Wind in the Willows together.

Our second born is savoring Pollyanna. She also read Mountain Born and wants to read A Place for Peter next. She spends a lot of time reading picture books and her Bible. She and I are reading Hitty together.

Our second daughter and I are reading Charlotte’s Web together. She looks for words she knows in the picture books she looks at. All of us are reading Heidi together and have almost finished The Chronicles of Narnia on audiobook. We like sampling poetry from A Rocket in my Pocket and are reading a Nate Saint biography in history.

Again, those are the regulars during our week. We also read dozens of picture books and listen to portions of other audiobooks when we are eating lunch or driving. What books did your family read in April?

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Life in Layers

I plan. I like to see my life neatly outlined in those boxes- every line filled in tidy handwriting with different colors of ink. If my planner has extra space I use it to make lists of things I hope to do daily or within the week or for sure that month. I do hourly planning, daily planning, weekly planning, monthly planning, lesson planning and menu planning. I guess you could say I’m a macro and micro planner. It’s not that I’m afraid of the unexpected; it’s just that I am afraid of wasting time or missing opportunities because I didn’t plan well enough.

The irony is that it’s just short of a miracle for life to go as planned in my home. We have such a mixture of ages and stages, not to mention personalities (and pets and plants), and few of them consult my careful planning before throwing their wrenches. Just the other evening, after serenely mapping out how I would orchestrate bedtime to allow for some quiet personal time for me, I was confronted with a plant knocked over and potting soil scattered all across the room, then someone peed on the kitchen floor and then I discovered soiled bedsheets on two beds. In all the hustle and bustle, fluster and frenzy, and all the Plan C’s stepping aside for Plans M-Z, I often wonder if I’m getting anywhere. In an effort to meticulously steward my time, am I actually wasting it?

I am grounded by the concept of layers. I don’t remember exactly when it came to me- perhaps when I was a focused college student or a more grounded teacher or maybe as a mom figuring things out- but it has become a calming mantra in my ever-active brain. And here it is: a little at a time for a long time makes the difference. I have seen it at work with the children. As much as I want to do all the good things with them all the time it’s simply impossible. But if we do one or two things throughout the day or the week, we are still doing good things.

One thing we have started is bedtime memory verses. Every Sunday the children all pick verses to learn that week. We practice them when I’m tucking them into bed at night. It provides a little more individual time and they have God’s word on their mind as they fall asleep. But sometimes we don’t get to the verses because it was a late night or a harried night- and I remind myself: “Layers. We are still doing a little at a time for a long time.”

Something we have been doing for the past 5 years is Family Song. Every month we learn a new hymn together and we sing it every day. Sometimes we don’t get to it or sometimes some don’t want to sing. Rather than get too frustrated I remind myself: “Layers. We are still doing a little at time for a long time.” And that’s how it goes- whether it’s popcorn by candlelight or making a magic cupboard together or birthday stockings or quiet reading times- the traditions, the memories, the relationships are built in layers.

That is also how it is for me as a person and a maturing Christian. I’ll have an epiphany or the proverbial lightbulb will turn on and I’ll start to think I’ve finally arrived in at least one area of my life. And then reality reminds me I still have a long way to go. Of course I’ll first shed some tears but then I wrap myself up in that comforting thought: “Layers. I’m still doing a little at a time for a long time.”

My dear readers, whether you’re an exhausted parent or an overwhelmed college student or a struggling Christian, or simply a human living day to day, I hope you can find encouragement in knowing that life happens in layers.

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One of the stickier parts of parenting small children is discerning when to tell them about the darker side of life. Sometimes the harsh realities do the teaching: the smashed opossum in the middle of the road, for instance, or the passing of a dear friend and neighbor. Other things happen organically- they overhear conversations about current events, read books or encounter difficult passages in the Bible. But sometimes we have to do a sit down conversation in order to prepare them for the awful things we hope will never happen: a fire in the house, or a robbery, or a kidnapping. Having to tell them that things like that are possibilities feels like a wrongdoing in and of itself. It’s marring their serene existence and robbing them of some of their innocence. Yet it must be done in a fallen world.

I think that our western society is trying to live in a fantasy world. It’s human nature to desire comfort but we have taken it to the extreme. We can have all apparent needs met by the mere touch of a screen; we can build our own virtual worlds; and we can customize everything to our own unique preferences. We rarely have to say no to ourselves. The problem with this amazing system is that it allows us to pretend that evil doesn’t exist even though it is on a rampage just outside our door. We use big, sterile words that mask what really happens or we assume someone else will take care of it; we see lives fit into an Insta-square or summed up in a 10 second story and we tell ourselves they’re ok; we click on the angry emoji for the bad news that’s shared and feel like we have done our part. But have we REALLY. DONE. SOMETHING?

I understand how overwhelming it is to see evil for what it is. It is much easier to quickly acknowledge it’s there and then resume living in our happy places. Besides, what can we really do anyway? Our own daily problems demand every ounce of energy we have; we don’t have surplus to spare on world problems, right? Perhaps if we listed some of those big, sterile words and then defined them we would see things a bit differently. Read this list and force yourself to see the actions summed up in the word:

  • Abortion
  • Trafficking
  • Betrayal
  • Lies
  • Abuse
  • Exploitation
  • Scheming
  • Slander
  • Rape
  • Murder

All of these and more fall under that neat little word called sin. It’s the perfect gloss for the depravity of human nature. We can nod and admit we have sin in our life and then resume our merry way. But is that what we are supposed to do? With today being Good Friday, this is the ideal time to consider the example of Jesus. He had no sin but during His earthly journey He confronted sin in its most raw form and in the end became sin for our sakes. Let us live as He did: let us remove the gloss, confront the vileness in and around our lives, love our neighbor to the point of sacrifice and, with Christ’s help, change the world- one rescued soul at a time.

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Very recently I was driving in a rain storm. My wipers were working as hard as they could and every other second I had a clear view of the car’s lights in front of me. The other second it was all a blur mixed with mini waterfalls streaming down my windshield. I sat up as straight as I could with my entire focus on the lights ahead. It was disconcerting whenever I couldn’t see clearly.

Life is that way. Forever swirling through my mind are the must-do’s, should-do’s, and wish-I-could-do’s. I am aware of social expectations and societal pressures. I observe my good motives turn sour as selfishness creeps in or my acts of service become tainted with pride. In the midst of the driving intensity of life, it is easy to panic.

But then I see Christ. At times the clarity of His closeness is second to none- the only thing between us is my humanity. But those moments are fleeting. Most of the time I have faith that He is there because memories of His faithfulness testify to that fact. I see flashes of His goodness like taillights in a storm: indistinct in the swirling rain but guiding lights just the same.

Ironically, as we mature in our faith we will become more adept at recalling His goodness; in doing so His presence becomes more tangible and our faith less shaken in the intensity of uncertainty. And that is my prayer for this season: that when everything in me wants to slow down and only move forward in inches, I will fix my focus on Jesus and allow Him to guide me deftly through the rain.

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March Books

Books are becoming more meaningful to me as more of my children encounter the joy of reading. My oldest has a tower of books on his dresser to match the towers by my bed. He stays up late reading every night and then we chat about our favorites during the day.

Speaking of book towers…do you want to know what I’ve been reading? Well, I am still savoring some from the past few months but I have begun some new ones:

I am listening to Wild and Free, an inspirational book about homeschooling. Even if you don’t have homeschooling in your future, it’s a great perspective on treasuring the childhood years of your children. I am getting all sorts of ideas from it.

The children and I are savoring The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder and are grateful for the plenty in our kitchen (and the sun!)

Gentle and Lowly is perfect for the Easter season since it is about the very heart of Christ. He absolutely loves His children: it is who He is! Nothing can separate us from that love. This time of year it feels even more tangible.

Finally, I am reading a delightful book on backyard farming and am itching to try it all out. And what better time with prices rising the way they are?

Those are the highlights. Of course, there are a million pages read in between but those are the books I pick up when I have some time to spare. 😉

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Dear Son,

It seems like everything about you has been off the charts since your birth. Yours was my first pregnancy to go to nearly 42 weeks; yours was our first home birth; and you grew and grew and grew until at one point you were in size 7 diapers (I had to search hard for those)! Now, as a brand new 4 year old you wear a size 11 shoe, are wearing 5T clothing and come to your brother’s shoulder (and he is 3 years older than you)!

But it’s not simply your rapid growth rate that astounds us. There’s something about your mind that intrigues us. Your fingers are never still as you explore the textures of anything within your reach. You want to know what the buttons and switches do; and no screw anywhere is safe- sooner or later we will find it somewhere else. The same is true for my kitchen gadgets and Poppa’s tools- under your pillow is often where we can find missing items. While this can be exasperating we know it’s a sign of a sharp mind at work.

I have also witnessed your unique thought process in how you show initiative. You will jump up from the table mid-meal to put something away or to grab something you think we need for the meal that I hadn’t planned on setting out. My reflex is to scold you for leaving the table without permission or to get irritated by the extra items on an already loaded table; but I’m learning to swallow the scoldings and ask questions to find out what you were thinking. It often makes a lot of sense when I see it from your perspective.

I’m seeing that you are an intentional person. Very little is done on a whim. You have usually thought it through and in your mind it’s a purposeful action. You ponder words and soak in the words I use, such as ‘gorgeous,’ ‘beautiful,’ and ‘frustrated’. One such moment stands out to me in particular. I had taken the time to explain to you that you are an important part of our family: when you are kind and obedient our home is a peaceful, happy place but when you are mean or disobedient our home becomes upset and sad. Not too long afterwards you repeated that thought and told me that you are important and when you obey our home is a happy place.

Recently, after praying for wisdom on how to best parent you I was inspired by the thought that investing in you is a worthy investment. One day you are going to be an incredible man; the sweat and tears and the moments that leave me speechless that come with being your mama are all counting towards the stature of your character as a man. Even now I catch glimpses of that when I invite you to help me with something, knowing that it will take two or three times as long to complete because of all the reminders to not touch or fiddle with something without permission. There is a light in your eyes and profuse joy in your soul when we work together. For example, last night you helped with Baby Sister’s bath and were in the process of putting away the shampoo before I had even used it. I reminded you I still needed it and as you brought it back you said, “I love you, Mama!”

Being your Mama is absolutely worth it. There is no one quite like you, Son. You’re exceptional.

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Touching the Sky

It was a Mary Poppins kind of windy day. The wind wrestled with me and my umbrella and tossed down a carpet of leaves on our road. When we saw our neighbors headed to the nearby grassy field with their kite, we were inspired to follow with ours.

Kite-flying was new to me and I assumed that, just like in Mary Poppins, you toss the kite into the air and it soars. Haha! In the midst of tangled string and ribbons, I realized that kite-flying is a negotiating process with the wind. You let your kite go once the wind agrees to play and then you are continuously steering by winding and unwinding the string until it soars.

Just before we had to go in to tend to hungry bellies, we got our kite to soar. Wow! What a thrill! I really felt like I was touching the sky as I guided from earth something in the air. Gazing at that butterfly kite soaring above my head, I recalled an earlier discussion I had had with my husband. We noted the instant age we live in and how it influences our reasoning. We try something and if there isn’t an immediate result we try something else and so on and so forth.

I’ve noticed this tendency in my parenting: I try a new method or strategy and if I don’t immediately get the response I want, I go back to the books and try a new strategy. I’ve noticed this in how I relate to my own person: if I have a breakthrough in understanding a tendency in my character I assume I’ll immediately improve and never have to deal with that issue again; but if I repeat old habits I get frustrated and am quick to throw in the towel. Ha! I even found myself checking to see if our seeds had sprouted 3 days after we had planted them.

Before the microwave era, humans knew that life takes time. Farmers rolled with the seasons; hunters took days to track their prey; mothers made clothes by hand, washed them by hand, and made all their food from scratch. Instant wasn’t an option. Now? Now it feels like if it’s not instant then something is wrong. But I’m trying to shift my perspective these days.

There are times when I discipline calmly; the children all get along; memory verses are shared and songs are sung; we have the perfect balance of work and play. And then there are times when I’m impatient; there’s continual bickering; we can’t stay on track if it’s the last thing we do and no one wants to sit still for Bible time or meals. Does one type of day negate the other? No, both are real and both will be repeated. We must persevere because that’s how life is truly experienced. You see, there are times when the string is all tangled and there are times when you touch the sky.

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For One Moment

It’s about 3:34pm. I have my timer set for 30 minutes of stillness. The three littlest boys are finally asleep while the oldest 3 children are playing relatively amiably outside. The baby was asleep but her tiny eyelids flew open when I attempted to slip out my door to remind the outside explorers to stay outside rather than running in and out to fetch all those last minute things they forgot. Thankfully she is occupying herself with her hands and I am hoping for just one moment of quiet.

It’s been a day…or week, rather. We all know that you can’t trust social media for accurate assessments of a person’s life, nor can you really take an “it’s all good” statement literally. Dig a little deeper and I’m sure you’ll learn that a mom has spent some moments drying lots of tears, many of them her own. That’s been true for me.

Life is good but it’s also hard. Take a look at today: our 3 youngest have been hit hard with pink eye and they feel miserable. It’s been raining for a few days and I want them to play outside but that involves extra mess. Mess=clean up=more time. And my dishes and laundry and general clutter are all piling up as I devote more time to making sure the sick ones get the extra TLC they need and that school gets done. Since my routine is a little different it’s harder for the children to stick with theirs and I wonder if I should be insistent on them getting their tasks done or roll with it and let them play (I actually ponder this every day). But work delayed doubles tomorrow’s tasks and while I know that, they’re still learning that principe which means more energy I’ll need to expend in teaching that lesson. And so my mind spins with all the weighing of possible outcomes of every single decision that must be made each day; there’s rarely any decision that’s easy to make since there are so many moving parts in a family our size.

Well, my timer has rung and after sharing a peek of my stream of consciousness with you, I feel a little more revived. The baby went back to sleep and the house is quiet. A friend is dropping off dinner soon (I’m thankful!!) and…the dog just barked…and the baby is crying…my one moment is over. But before I leave you to begin the next part of my day I want to say that, upon further pondering, it really is all good for oh! the stories I could tell!

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