Friday, April 11, 2014

Things are Getting Wooly Around Here

It's only a matter of weeks before our Tenacious Trio becomes a Fabulous Foursome. Honestly, I can't wait. Neither can they. Emotions are running high, mostly excitement. Though I confess, there's more than a little anxiety on my part.

You'd think after four kids, this would be old hat, and in some ways it is. I knew the importance of freezer meals this time around, and I got them baked and roasted and stored away. I know what kinds of diapers I'll be using and how many onesies I need in the drawer (already laundered and folded, thank you very much).

But, really, no matter how many children you have, birth is birth. By nature, it's always new. It's always thrilling. It's always nerve-wracking. It's always a mystery and miracle. Every. Single. Time.

This realization, of course, makes me giddy. It also makes me want to seize some modicum of control over what will, inevitably, be uncontrollable. I've been an artist long enough to know that the creative process is never cut and dry, never black and white. That's, after all, part of what makes it so beautiful. But no one ever said unpredictability was easy...especially for control-freaks like me.

So, what's an expecting Mama to do? Spot clean the couches? Dust the ceilings?


For one thing, I'm far too big these days. I need rest--I need sleep now, and I know it. No matter what surprises this new life brings, there is one thing I can count on:

I'm about to get really, seriously, no-holds-barred exhausted. So rest now is essential. Not the easiest thing to convince my racing brain of, but there it is.

So, I decided, it's time to relax. Start that process of drawing inward and calming down now. It won't seem like such a shock when the baby does come, and in a way, we'll be ready.

This weekend? After running a few quick and necessary errands (hey, you can't be restful and responsible all the time), I taught the kids to finger-knit. I can already tell this new skill is going to come in handy when I'm busy nursing a fussy newborn. 

More importantly, though, it served as a way to focus their spirits, all that expectant-sibling energy put to good use. The knitting gave them a sense of purpose, a sense of calm, and yes, a sense of control that has been sorely needed by everyone in our home as we await these last anticipatory weeks.

So there you have it, this soon-to-be Mama of Four's best advice on preparing for birth: knit. No, just kidding.


The point is: REST.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Seasons of Suffering, or Why I Don't Buy Strawberries in March

I just looked down at my calendar and realized it's been over two weeks since I last posted here. Hope I didn't frighten anyone into thinking I'd gone into early labor! Still happily, roundly pregnant. With less than eight weeks to go until my due date, it's been nesting season around here. Appropriate for spring, I think.

Certain purchases have been made. Clothes have been pulled out of storage, washed, and folded away in the nursery drawer reserved for our coming arrival. I've been doing a general purging of excess stuff around the house, and Brian and I have been laying plans and getting ready for a freezer meal marathon! (I'm so blessed that my husband actually enjoys chopping onions--what would I do without him?)

So many things have been gathered and prepared... It's only that I've had trouble gathering my thoughts lately.

Have I ever mentioned how much I adore spring in my adopted home? If not, let me just take a moment to say: I love spring!! A season I never fully appreciated until moving to Seattle. Well, with spring blossoming all around me now in earnest, I've found my thoughts inclined toward the shifting of seasons.

So often in our modern, technological, light-speed age, we forget that there is a rhythm to the year and to our days. We hurry it, light it, slow it, force it or do whatever needs to be done to fit our days, weeks, months, and years into our own schedules rather than the other way around.  But for most of human history, this was impossible, and I often find that there is great wisdom in honoring the natural rhythms God ordained rather than trying to squeeze the earth into my personal calendar of priorities.

Some things we cannot truly escape. Inclement weather, for example. The early fall of night, or a sun that refuses to set on the Fourth of July until the kids have gone nearly wild waiting for the fireworks to begin. Tomatoes do not ripen naturally in January, and even if we shell out the big bucks to buy the expensive hot house versions from the store, they fail to successfully mimic the taste of the "real deal" in July.

So, there are things we do not do in winter. I, for one, don't buy tomatoes. And, oh, how delicious they are when they finally come into season! Right now, I'm nearly ravenous for the strawberries that I know will begin to ripen in only a few short weeks more. I start to see the California shipments popping up in stores, but I'm being good and waiting...waiting for those locally grown juicy, red gems that only appear right before my son's birthday.

Lent is a season of patience. Of fasting before the feast so that the feast can be appreciated in its fullness and the fasting can do its work of soul-cleansing, of rest and renewal.

I think it is no coincidence that the Latin cognate of patience--"pati"--means "to suffer." We have to suffer a little if we want to enjoy the celebration. Like a seed bursting out of its shell, we need time in the dark and dank to do some hard work before we are ready for the sun. Only then can we truly grow.

I am in a particular season of life. In a few weeks, I will find myself the busy mother of four children ages six and under. Sometimes, I look around at the other women in my life, and it is hard. I see them with clean hands, purses that don't resemble circus tents, eyes that aren't puffy from lack of sleep. I see their free hours, the time they have for hobbies or friendships or careers, and I wonder if there is something wrong with me.

Am I weak because my son's poorly timed accident, resulting in yet another load of laundry, has the ability to completely throw off a day? Am I "less" because instead of sitting down to write this week, I spent my hours singing nursery rhymes, wiping sticky faces, and toddling after my little one in Wellies?

I have to tell myself, "No. No, there is nothing wrong with you." I have to say it continually, firmly, gently, over and over until I believe it.

These women I see: Most are in a different season. Their little ones are not so little anymore. They once spent their days like me, and they have earned this season in the sun. Some are rushing a little--they don't mind pushing the season and fitting it into their priorities, molding and sculpting it until it makes sense and space for their particular sphere of life. And that's all well.

But I'm still the seed in the ground. Often inside, sometimes in the dark, wondering if I will ever be more than a buried seed, which no one seems to see. 

There is, you know, a value in wondering. There is value to be found in the insular living of a mother with young ones. There is value for them, and there is value for me, and when the season shifts, we will be stronger for having embraced this time and lived it to its fullest.

Someday, I may miss these hidden, harried, tiring, trying, beautiful baby days. I pray that now I find the patience to cherish what is good in them and the wisdom to endure the little sufferings such patience brings. When I find myself in another season, I don't want to feel that I rushed things--that I sold my life short for the price of an off-season strawberry.

I hope that when the seasons roll on, as they inevitably will, I will know that this one with all its challenges and joys was well spent.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Lent: The Great Letting Go

Sickness of one kind or another has been rampaging through our house since February began. Now with the rollover to March, I seem to have succumbed, too. Yesterday found me splayed in bed, trying to sleep and struggling to breathe, while my amazing husband played board game after board game with our glassy-eyed, drippy-nosed children.

It is a strange transformation, this one from caregiver to cared-for, from strong to weak. It's not always easy to make the transition.

Several times yesterday, I found myself in the thick of things, ostensibly on the mission of making myself a cup of tea. But while it steeped, I'd manage to neaten the living room or put away the lunch dishes or do a little prep work for the dinner that I knew would still need to be gotten at one point or another.

"What are you doing?" my husband would ask when he caught me at it.

"Oh, nothing," I'd say, dunking my teabag as if I hadn't just been wiping up that smushed banana on my hands and knees a moment before.

"Doesn't look like it," he'd say. "You should go back to bed."

Smiling, I would, and I'd nod off for a bit and let the rest begin it's healing work.

This is Lent. A drawing back and a drawing in. A letting go and letting God.

Because we all need healing. Whether in the form of forgiveness for ourselves...or others. Whether it's a clean slate we need or a new leaf. Whether it's the ability to listen better or the impetus to (finally) act! This is what we are offered in the season of Lent.

Oh, I'll be giving up the usual things: the meat, the sweets, but I have learned over the last several years that the greatest thing I can give to God for these 40 days is control. I spend the final week before Lent reflecting on one question:

What do I feel the greatest need to be in control of?

Last year, it was my novel, and so for 40 days, I let it lie fallow.

This year, it's homeschooling.

My goal was to get all the planning for next year complete before the baby arrives, which is due to happen shortly after Easter. When the thought popped into my head during prayer--"Let it go"--my immediate, human response was, "Are you kidding?! There's no way I can finish all that planning if I don't do it straight through Lent. That only leaves me two weeks between Easter and my due date!! No way."

But the more I protested, the more I knew that Spirit-urging had a point.

In all likelihood, I won't finish all I'd wanted before the baby is born. But, I'll still have the summer. And in the meantime, I'll be doing something so much more valuable: growing in prayer and praying for the year ahead with the same verve and vigor I had put into curriculum crafting.

I place my trust in God. What he can do with 40 days of prayer, I know, is infinitely more than what I can do with 40 days of planning.

So, this last day before Lent begins, I feast with my family. I cough, sip tea. I put away my books and calendars, and I let go...