My stress level is high, we are juggling too many things right now and, at the same time, trying to keep up with the full schedule that is daily life. The sounds of voices drift into the kitchen, laughter punctuates the waves of sound here and there like the roar of the ocean, like a seashell held to the ear. A sound that could lull me to sleep if I had a moment to close my eyes. I am bouncing between dining room table and kitchen sink, collecting plates, rinsing forks, sweeping crumbs into my open palm. We’ve gathered to celebrate Eldest’s fourteenth birthday, Hubby’s family tradition of Sunday birthday parties. Dinner has been served, and we’re moving on toward the cake.
I am tired, that bone-tired that washes over you and wraps you up and pulls you down. This is the third time in one week I have done this dance between counter and stove, table and sink, the flow of guests washing through the house and I love it and it fills the house with joy and today, just today, I am tired enough to let it wash over me, rather than join in the flow. The bustle of people, the noise of talking, the party around me is like a river flowing and the sound of it makes me want to lay my head down, here on the kitchen counter, and fall asleep. I see Baby bobbing from guest to guest, Toddler laughing as Eldest holds him on his hip, Youngest snuggling in an Aunt’s arms. Hubby joins me, sets two carafes of decaf coffee on the expanse of our oak table, begins to deal cups and saucers out like cards: Royal flush, two-of-a-kind, full house.
I bring over the cake, which looks a little like I feel: the top layer has settled and slid slightly off kilter, giving the whole thing a tired look. Or maybe it’s just me. The ebb and flow of conversation continues around me, I am floating like a rubber duck in an endless sea. The cake is on the table, I hold a box of candles in one hand and there is something important happening here, something I should be awake for and then suddenly Hubby is there, he breaks away and for a moment everything comes into focus. We wash up on an island, just the two of us, looking at each other over this tired birthday cake and I say, “Should I put on all fourteen candles, or just one since there are getting to be so many?” and he smiles, and the moment grows suddenly clear. It’s as if the clouds have parted and the sun shines on us there on our little kitchen-table island, and we are there in the moment together and the party flows around us while we just look. We look at the years that the cake represent and it’s not tired any more, it’s life well loved and it’s years that held colicky nights and days spent holding small and sticky hands and it’s three-a.m. wrapped in blankets sitting out in the night air to chase away croup and it’s laughter and tears, it’s evenings by the fire playing cards and nights snuggled together reading books and it’s prayer and fear and joy and love and fourteen years of water under the bridge. We feel it all without words in that island-moment, all the love and joy that is a gift, a gift.
“Put them all on,” he says. “There are not that many years left when they’ll all fit.”
And I do, I put all fourteen candles on and wonder how I ever questioned the need to see all fourteen bright flames glowing.
We call the party in and the rush closes over us like water and I hold on to that island moment, when it was real and it was bright and I am blessed, so blessed to be present in the glow of fourteen years of life.
The Thanksgiving feast is almost over, traces of wine in crystal glasses line the counter by the sink, dishes stacked high that I vow not to think about until morning teeter precariously and roasting pans are soaking and the turkey is safe in the fridge. We are sitting together amid crumbs of pie crust, wilting whipped cream, chairs pushed back from the table. We are in that place where we continue to sip lukewarm coffee because we are enjoying the conversation and it might end if the cups are collected and the crumbs swept away. That’s when she brings up the situation. Hubby’s sweet aunt has befriended a woman ten years younger than I, a sweet lady whom I last saw four months ago with her then nine month old son, a strong soul whose second son swelled six months along as we sat and talked that summer afternoon. I’d met J perhaps twice before, at Hubby’s aunt’s house, and marveled at the strength of her soul. Her husband was sick, fighting for his life. Cancer is an evil thing, an unfair adversary for a couple so young to be facing. In all honesty I could not imagine what she was going through…did not want to imagine it. I offered whatever help I could give, but did not hear from her. I was, after all, little more than a stranger.
Hubby’s aunt now tells me she has heard that J’s husband is in the hospital, and it does not look promising. That their new baby is suffering colic and reflux, has been in the hospital and is now in crisis care, his mother so burdened by caring for her husband and Baby’s thirteen month old brother that she can’t care for him. Hubby and I look over the table at each other and know: this is something we know how to do. Eldest’s infant-days were plagued by these two woes and we have done this, we can use what we learned from those days for good and God always gives us that opportunity. He works all things for good for those who love Him, who are called to serve His purpose.
We offer help, finally connect. Yes, she says when we speak on the phone. There are hospital noises in the background and I hear the strain of too many late nights, too many moments of hope crashing to the floor with each new problem arising, each step forward brings two sliding back. My voice breaks and I speak softly and wonder what on earth I can offer that will help, short of love and prayers. It is and it isn’t enough.
After hanging up the phone I walk down to our basement, looking for boxes of baby items I remember storing. How quickly eight years have passed! Youngest was an infant just yesterday. Youngest’s infancy was a hundred years ago. The boxes are mostly gone, passed down to others with new babies who have grown and are now in grade school. Have I really gotten so far removed from babyhood? I loved every moment of it and carry it with me, in my heart it all happened just a few short months ago. In my basement, it happened long enough ago that I find I have very little left to offer.
I make phone calls. The first of the many blessings of having a beautiful church family happens, and in a matter of days I have more than enough baby items sitting in my living room. A sweet sister in Christ brings over a tub of clothes, blankets, baby wipes. A bassinet. Another friend brings a swing, toys for the Toddler. Hubby’s aunt brings baby gates. I look around and feel blessed, loved. I realize that we don’t have as much space here as I thought we did. Things are arranged and re-arranged and we walk nervously around and pace a bit and we realize how long, how really long it has been since we cared for an infant. We are nervous and we are excited and we feel the grip of the unknown, that we are embarking on a journey that only God knows the end of and we realize that yes, that is how it’s going to work and yes, that is where we need to be, what we need to embrace.
The phone call comes at eight o’clock on a Saturday morning. I dress quickly, kiss Hubby, pray with him. The morning is gray and cold, there are points of white snow drifting lazily down in a not very serious way. It is a silly, average, regular morning. It doesn’t seem like someone’s husband could be fighting for his life, that a young woman could be fighting on her own for balance, for hope, for respite from the terrible burden of caring for everyone in her life and needing so desperately to be cared for herself. It doesn’t seem real that I am picking up an infant to care for, that she is trusting me to take this precious burden, this beautiful child, to care for him while she cannot. I should be bringing her a baby gift, dinner in Tupperware containers to be eaten late at night with her husband, when both babies are finally asleep and they have a moment together. The feeling of un-realness somehow makes everything sharper, makes me see things in greater detail.
I find her apartment, hold her a moment, tears falling. Baby is in his car seat, ready. He is tiny…so impossibly small. I have forgotten how small four weeks is, I am floored by how much I have forgotten. I have a bag full of diapers, medication. I have insurance cards and a medical release and bottles and formula. We strap the car seat in the car and I cannot imagine how she is able to say goodbye, except that goodbye must mean something very different to her just now.
I start the car, drive down the hill. The sky keeps falling in tiny white flakes.
This story is only one, about one way we can care for children and families in need. Over at The High Calling, there is a series unfolding on the plight of orphans and children in crisis, and the ways that we can follow God’s command to care for them. Please go there and read more about this, and if you have a story to share link up there!
Here it is another Monday, another beginning and here I am again, fingers moving over the worn keys punching words into empty space, calling into shape the thoughts that slide over one another and some days laugh at the idea of being captured, tamed, written into being.
There is something beautiful happening over here, at Ann’s quiet corner. Ann’s offering of 1000 gifts, the counting of blessings, the Gratitude Community has shaped itself into a book, all this beauty and all suffering, the breathtaking and the ugly, the sweet and bitter and the wholeness of it all that together form an overwhelming offering to really Live, to appreciate each moment as the gift it is, to unwrap it with eager anticipation, with the understanding that this gift is given by the One who knows us best, who loves us most.
I can’t wait to read it. Ann’s words are poetry whispered breathlessly into your ear, and I cannot think of anyone whose words I’d rather hold in my hand, unfold with the turning of each page.
And the Gifts? I have been changed by the counting. I’ve seen my days slow and the hours count, I’ve felt my vision sharpen, I’ve learned how to pull myself up when the daily overwhelms, I’ve learned to appreciate the fact that what seems like the mundane routine of daily parenting is actually water that feeds the blossoming future, I’ve found that I’m thankful for some things I didn’t think I ever would be, I’ve found the beauty in the broken and I’ve learned to appreciate and live in the exquisite, the piercingly-beautiful moment of the everyday now.
I am just slightly over halfway finished counting and recording 1000 gifts here. In my heart, countless more have been unwrapped, appreciated, written on my heart. Have you started counting? Have you let gratitude change you?
Thank you, Ann, for sharing your gifts and inspiring so many to count theirs!
A recap of Gratitude posts that share how counting these gifts has changed my heart….
The days are short, night wrapping round to darken morning and dampen the hours of sunlight on snow. We are overloaded, full to bursting, struggling to find balance and order but it is an overload of love, and therefore a burden easier to carry. It seems to be a season of soft light, a season of gentle sounds as we tend to Baby and try to remember how we did it in the old days, those days of diapers and feeding schedules and late nights (or is it early mornings?) sitting in the half-light, feeding and rocking and soothing softly. School has started and I have no idea how to accomplish everything that needs to be done while caring for a newborn babe, and we are going to have to learn this on the fly and the beauty of it is that we are learning to give each other grace despite many fumbling and bumbling and grace-less moments. I don’t know where this is going and how it will all turn out or how long we will be in this place, and I am learning how to be OK with that, to take it a day and a week and a step at a time. I am grateful beyond words at my children’s willingness to love, to share, to help, to give selflessly. I am overwhelmed by my church family’s love, support and offers of assistance. I will write about it soon, sort it out with words. For now, I take the moments when I can do nothing but feed and rock and choose to see them as a gift, an invitation to live in the moment and quietly be in the soft light of now.
511. For everything foster care has taught me
512. For the golden glow of Christmas lights
513. For the strength to go the next step
514. For organizational aids
515. For quiet moments amid the storm
516. For church family, helping hands and loving hearts
517. For a husband after God’s own heart
518. For vacuuming the last of the pine needles off the carpet
519. For nap time
520. For grace under pressure
The snow finally comes, blowing in powder-white and fine, mixed with snow-globe glitter. There are a hundred things to do and dinner is simmering on the stove when he says come, leave the to-do and come outside in the night with the kids. I look around at all the things I should be doing and somewhere alone the way I have lost touch what I want to be doing and I hesitate and drag my feet.
And I do. I do go.
The lights from the city below cast themselves upward, bleed into a cloud-hung sky and tint the heavens soft peach-pink. All around, falling and blowing, the snow envelops and cushions and sweeps over the earth. The streetlights are halos of glitter, silver glinting and laughing around orbs of light, pinpricks of brilliance among the blowing white. Our footsteps mark the new snow, first to fall there in the blanketed white. There is the silence that a snow-storm brings, the muffled quiet of a world paused to wonder at this beauty, a world wrapped and blanketed in softness. The edges of everything are blurred, blunted. The sharpness has worn off, has been padded and made gentle under a cover of white. It is a world transformed.
Youngest runs ahead, her footsteps small in the new-fallen snow. She is a little, dark-dancing point on the horizon in the strange new landscape of blunted-white, an angel in a brown ski-coat dancing under the strange pink sky. We listen to the silence and feel the purr of snow under our feet, the icy prick of snow on our faces. Along the way, Christmas lights blink from rooftops and under eves. Yellow-gold light glows from windows where Christmas trees stand watch.
There has been turmoil and tragedy and there has been soul-wrenching love and blessings that confound me in these few weeks around Christmas. My mind feels as thickly blanketed as the snowy landscape before me, where everything has slowed and the cars line up crawling toward where they need to go, one after the other on the road in front of our house. It has been a season that so far escapes words.
Ann says to name the year, and I don’t know if I can find the words to do so. Here with this white world, a tabula rasa, a new year ahead like a sheet of white paper and me holding the pen, black ink and where do I lay it down? What form should the words take? Perhaps more than other years, my heart knows that it is not my ink that spills across the page, not my hand that holds the pen.
I can only give a name to what I choose to do with the ink that’s given, the ink that’s spilled. That’s the best we can do: take what is written and use it as best we can to point to the One who is author of it all.
There is much that is ahead and my heart wants to know what is written now, to read ahead to the last pages of this chapter and not wait for the unfolding of the story. But like any good writer, the Author holds me captive and the story unfolds in front of me a page at a time, holds me here in this this sentence, in the paragraph of now.
So…to name the year, when words escape you. This much I know: it is a year of submission to His will. It is a year of gentleness, of slow intention. It is a year of living faith out loud, of putting action to the Word written by the Author who knows our story best.
It is the year of Living His Will.
Living His Will, not just suffering it or submitting to it or going along with it. The year of putting faith into action, quietly and with conscious intent. It is the year of living out the Word and passing it on through the quiet message of our lives, lived.
The lights glow on the tree, reflect twin points of light against squares of window glass, made mirrors by the darkness beyond. There is music playing softly, there is a fire flickering behind me and there is a hush over everything, a blanket of quiet and peace that feels tangible. It is thick and warm around us.
I sit holding this bundle, this newborn baby whose eyes keep drifting to the lights behind me. I remember the Christmas that Youngest was this age, remember sitting like this with her and watching her…wondering at her wonder. What is it about new life that is so indescribable? The children stop and kiss his head, laugh at the faces he makes. Hubby and I take turns trying to make him smile.
His brother, older by twelve short months, is here now too. I am thankful for my older three, who have stepped up and joyfully shared in caring for the babies. I am thankful for those who heard of the need and provided gifts…beautifully wrapped with love…for the babies’ Christmas. In the midst of the grief and struggle and pain their family is facing, there is this bright spot, this outpouring of love. And there is the aching knowledge that as hard as we will try, it’s in God’s hands. There is the edge of uncertainly and we learn to live with it, because it is all we can do.
There is something about this, the babies and the Christmas lights and the way the pace has changed. I feel it deeply when I hold the new one, this tiny baby and all around us is the celebration that revolves around a newborn babeand holding one now seems to bring it home. I think of Mary and of Joseph. I think of the Word made flesh and the God who created the universe contained in a body like this, a scrap of seven-something pounds who struggles to hold up his head and needs every need cared for, who relies entirely on others for every want. It defies words, it leaves only a speechless awe aching in my heart to think of this.
Youngest cups her hands around the tiny face, kisses his wrinkled brow. She is almost out of the room when she turns and says it shyly, says it quiet.
“Mommy, with all the Christmas lights and the music and everything, it kind of feels like the baby is Jesus.”
My first impulse is to correct her. No, that’s not right…you can’t say that of this ordinary babe, this little one.
But then it catches in my heart, the words are fighting in my head and I am overwhelmed by this: The words that the Saviour born a newborn babe some two thousand ago spoke to his friends…“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
And I choke it out, past the tears, that yes, in a way, this baby is Jesus. Yes, He is the orphan and the fatherless and Yes, He is the widow and the homeless and Yes, He is the sick and the broken and the overlooked and Yes, He is with us most of all when we are caring for Him by caring for the least of these.
The Christmas lights become star bursts through my tears and Yes, Lord, Yes. You are with us.
It is less than a week now, less than a week until we celebrate the day of Christ’s birth. Most of the “have-to’s” are finished, the week lies ahead of us like a blank canvas ready to fill. My heart, already, is full. Filled with awe at the beauty of all of this, filled to overflowing with the love of family near and far, the love of church family and the fullness, the exquisite beauty of it all. Filled with the Spirit that flows with love through each of us, that fills until you think you cannot hold any more and then grows you until yes, there is room and the abundance is everlasting, ever-growing, ever-giving. Blessings to each of you this Christmas week! Thank you to the One who gives us all that is beautiful, all that is good. To the one who came, the God of all creation in the body of a helpless baby, to give us life.
501. The quality of light that settles in the living room when the Christmas lights are on and the fire it going
502. Angels in tinsel wings
503. Church family
504. Big red hair ribbons, fancy dresses worn with winter boots
505. Children singing Christmas carols
506. One last year to be an angel in the church play
507. The snow (will we have it for Christmas?)
508. Quite moments by the tree
509. The generosity of friends towards those in need
510. The feeling of the Spirit filling church, filling hearts
Sorry to have gone missing on you…what a whirlwind the last ten days have been! We were blessed to have my parents in, and spent the week enjoying life with them. The weeks around Thanksgiving bring three family birthdays, out of town guests, and often some frantic editing and photo work. It was amazing to take last week to just relax and enjoy time with my family!
Nothing profound to say this morning…just sitting here in the midst of torn wrapping paper, birthday cards, a sink full of dishes, birthday cake crumbs clinging to holiday plates. There is snow…lots of it…is drifting all around our little house, padding the rose garden and muffling the early-morning sounds. The kitten is pouncing around, shredding tissue paper and hiding in empty gift bags. Three children are sleeping soundly in their beds, our newly 8 year old snuggled up to the stuffed cheetah her brother and sister saved up to buy her. In a moment, I will get up from this quiet place and go pick up the scraps of last night’s birthday party. In a moment, I will put back the chairs and re-arrange the living room and start the dishwasher. I’ll put the laundry in the washer that has been waiting all week to be done, because some things are just more important than doing laundry. I’ll put away the silver and the serving platters and the Thanksgiving napkins, and spot-clean the meringue off the holiday tablecloth. I’ll clean the seven-minute frosting off the walls and possibly the ceiling (forgot to turn off the mixer when I checked for “stiff peaks”). I’ll pull on my boots and shovel a path through the snow so that the car might…just might…be able make it through.
But right now, I’m just sitting here looking at pictures, sipping warm coffee, enjoying a quiet moment to just be…..Thankful.
Happy, happy birthday to my Thanksgiving Baby! Eight years old seems to have come too soon. What a blessing you have been to all of us, sweet child!
A couple of helpers, brining the turkey
Layered cherry chocolate cheesecake
Long games of Mexican Train
Her place, set the night before
Gifts from Pops and Granny (love that headband!)
How has it already been eight years?
Special cheetah from the siblings
It’s good to be enthusiastic…
Oh, the snow!
491. Thank you for family’s safe arrival
492. For planning together
493. For time spent in the kitchen, learning, laughing
494. For the blessing of family…my parents, their grandparents
We push the cart down aisle after aisle, looking for just the right things. What would you want, if this were the only gift you’d get this year? How do you balance the needful things…flashlight, socks, batteries…with the joyful things that make a child’s heart happy? We spent a long time looking, a long time thinking.
We’re not in a place where we have a whole lot to give. But we quickly found that the painful thing is not parting with what we do have but wishing that we had more to give away. Wishing those shoeboxes that were filled for Operation Christmas Child were bigger, deeper, wider, able to hold so much more. Wishing that we could send the children more than a few small gifts…wishing we could fill a box with hope to send, with fresh water, with abundant food, with a safe, disease-free childhood.
In the end, we packed what we had in tight. Filled as much as we could into each small space. Then tucked into the empty places in each box our prayers, our hopes, our petitions for these precious children we will never meet…and for their families and others like them. Prayers for the love of Christ to fill the empty spaces within them, the need that gapes where we are not able to reach.
Three small boxes, filled with not nearly enough. The precious thing about a gift, though, is the way it changes not just the one who receives it but also the one who gives. The children who open these small packages will know that they are loved, that they are not forgotten. They will hear about the love of Jesus, and that, not these simple trinkets, will fill them in a way that lasts–will bring them hope. The gift will live on in the hearts of the givers, as well…participating in this simple act broadens the horizons of those who take this very small step to act against poverty. Pushing the cart down those aisles and thinking about what life is like for so many children around the world, putting yourself in their place for a few hours, thinking about what they want, what they need, has a way of changing your heart. A way of broadening your vision, enlarging your point of view. A way of opening within you a deeper desire to do more with what you have, to make it reach beyond our lives, beyond our understanding.
Here in The City we live in our little house, surrounded by tall old trees and enclosed by as tall a privacy fence as we could legally build. When the gates are shut, we have our own private bit of country…fruit trees, pine trees, flowers everywhere. Our little bit of land is a throwback to earlier times, the farmhouse and trees and the little cottage beside it. When we built our fence, we pulled barbed wire from rotted old fence posts, clipped it near the trunks of trees where it had bit into growing wood, become part of the whole. Our displaced farmhouse is an oasis, we are not far from the The City and yet it feels years away.
And so we forget to make the short drive into the bustle and fray, to enjoy the blessings that a City has to offer. Funny, how that is. When Hubby worked in the center of it all we’d make that trek at least once a week, to visit for lunch and take in some of the buildings, the sights, the things that go on in a city. In the last few years, after a job change to a different nearby city, we have visited The City far less.
A friend’s child had a birthday last week, and her request (oh, it makes a reader so proud) was to visit the City Library for her birthday. And so we did what we should do more often: ventured into The City for an afternoon of exploration.
You know what? I am thankful that we live here.
And that, my friends, is something I thought I’d never say. It’s been a long road. I’ve been a pouting, tantrum-throwing Jonah along the way. Over the years there have been at least a hundred other places in this world that my little human mind would rather live in. Some of them don’t even have running water. But right now, right here, I’m glad this is where God has us.