Peace before the whelming flood

I was at my parents’ house, talking about fundraising ideas for Tiggy’s House, encouraged by the generosity of strangers, thinking about the six month anniversary that was passing but feeling almost at peace when my husband called.

“Do you have a pen? I need you to do some research. BNSF is going to be shutting down lines due to flooding. I think I’ll be OK unless they shut down the Creston line, but rumours are flying and the railroad is offering mercenary work. I need to have my bid sheet in by Wednesday to get the bonuses and guys with higher seniority are already putting in theirs.”

And I’m left standing with a list of cities and the task to somehow divine just how high the Missouri will rise.

The list of cities is all the places he can bid into for a bonus, a place to stay and the guarantee of work until the river recedes. A place for him to go for the next two to six months. A way to pay the bills while we stay here.

For a fleeting moment, I almost wish we didn’t have the animals, the orchard, the garden. For a moment, I think what it would be like to just toss the bags in the car and follow where the railroad leads. To make a hotel in Amarillo or Denver or Centralia, IL our base while we explore the country and make for ourselves an adventure out of the inconvenience of life on the rails.

But we do have the animals, the orchard, the garden. And the river is rising. All six dams are releasing record amounts of water. The snow melt off is 140% of normal. Levees are being breached and volunteers are spending the day sandbagging while communities are being evacuated. And it just keeps raining.

My husband is worried about the Creston line. If it goes down, he will likely be forced to find work outside Lincoln, but if his bid sheet isn’t turned in by noon, he will do so on his own, without the bonus and without the hotel. My assigned research indicates projected flooding worse than ’93 that could last until November. The Creston line will probably close.

My husband will probably be left searching for a job. But the bonuses being offered aren’t that good, and John doesn’t want to leave his family for two to six months. We decide to forego the bonuses and hold on to the chance of staying on in Lincoln. Even without the Creston line, if enough guys volunteer to move, he may be able to hold on to a position here.

And for someone who likes to know what is going to happen and have all contingencies planned out, I feel a strange thing:


He may get to stay on in Lincoln. He may be offered guarantee to remain available while staying home. He may get furloughed and be home for a couple months without pay. He may bump into Kansas City and live with my parents until the lines are reopened. He may be forced to stray further and it may last longer than anyone is currently projecting.

But whatever happens, right now I am at peace and I don’t even know why.

I sent my son to bed

I sent my son to bed. Just before nine, I told him to take the nook, choose some books and go to bed. Halfway down, he burst into tears.

“I thought that was just last night, Mommy. I thought that was just because of the storm. Mommy, please . . .”

And his words trailed off as his tears escalated to panic.

“Shhh . . . shhhh . . .” I said gently. Like I do when rocking the baby. “I’m right behind you, Bear. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

But the look in his eyes haunted me. What was I doing?

And why?

storm cloud

For almost six months, Bear has slept on the couch listening to Odyssey or The Pond. Over and over and over. Sometime after midnight, exhaustion would eventually take him and I would let him sleep until he woke up. But it bothered me.

Sometimes because I read of other homeschool families with their perfect schedules and perfect homes and perfect lives.

Sometimes because the night has always been my time to write or to sew or to read and when I have run out of everything I have to give, I just want to sit in the dark. In the quiet. And be alone.

Sometimes because I worried about him and if this was really what was best for him, lying on the couch and avoiding what he feared most.

But here, on the stair, looking at his contorted face, trying to comfort him, my words caught in my throat. Why was I doing this?

It’s so hard. It is so hard to watch my children hurting. It is so hard to not know what to do for them. It is so hard to stand on the stair and decide whether to send my son to bed or let him camp out another night on the couch.

Because sometimes you need someone to take you by the hand and lead you away from what you are afraid of. To comfort you and console you and show you that there is a whole world beyond That Night. But sometimes you need someone to take you by the hand and help you walk up to your fears before the nightmares will go away.

It is just so hard to know what to do.

So I led him down, tucked him in and talked to him.

“Bear, you know it gets better.”

“No it won’t, Mommy. I’m scared.”

“Sweetheart, it already has gotten better.”

He stopped crying and looked at me.

“You remember what it was like, to not be able to stop the bad thoughts and to be scared of them all day. It already has gotten better because you have gotten stronger.”

Sniffles, a reflective look and, “Mommy, will you pray for me?”

“Of course, sweetheart. And you know that if you wake up you can come to my room. You only have to fall asleep here once.”

He smiled and I prayed. Aloud for his strength and comfort. Silently that I was doing the right thing. And then I left him. And my already darkening mood blackened as I asked myself how I could leave my boy alone when he was frightened. How I could think of my desire for quiet rather than his need to be near me. How I could worry about anyone else’s schedule when my son needed me. How it was that I couldn’t even decide what was best for him.

And I lay in my bed and waited, but he didn’t come and I wasn’t even sure anymore why I was crying.

And in the morning as I called him to breakfast . . .

“Mommy! I did it! I stayed in my bed all night!”


And in the evening as I sent him to bed . . .

“Mommy, will you pray with me?”

And with a giggly grin he asked me to pray for him to find jobs to earn money so he can buy lego minifigures.

And I kind of wanted to go buy him a whole case. Because it has been a long time since that was all that was on his mind when I sent him to bed.

I don’t know how to do this

I sit at the corner of the garden, fighting back tears as the world seems to come crashing in. I can’t cope, I’m overwhelmed and I can’t even think straight. My soul cries out the words I no longer say aloud, but are no less a part of every thing I do and every decision I make.

“I don’t know how to do this.”

“I can’t do this.”

“I’m done.”

“I give up.”

“I don’t know how to do this.”

That thought — that I don’t know how to do this — haunts me, and is how I know that I am not crying because my son went up a tree when I called rather than coming to help. Nor am I crying over the argument that ensued when I told my daughter to stop hammering boards together because her father needed to be involved in the building of a new chicken pen. Nor over the time spent looking for the clover seed I wanted to spread as a cover crop. Nor over the dog food that L.E. dumped in the bathtub while I was looking for the seed. Nor even over the missing duck I fear may have met the same fate as the one whose mutilated body we found only yesterday.

“I  don’t know how to do this.”

It was the first intelligible thing I said after the surgeon informed us they were not able to save our son.

“I don’t know how to do this.”

I repeated it over and over with each impossible decision we were asked to make leading up to his funeral.

“I don’t know how to do this.”

It haunts my thoughts whenever grief tears at my soul. I don’t know how to do this. But I do know that if I sit here long enough, the intensity of the feeling will pass. And it does.

The pressure on my chest releases and I can breathe. The tears subside before they even make much of an appearance, and my thoughts turn to the goose standing before me, looking over me with his blue eye. He honks and for a moment I worry that he might bite me as I sit there looking at him at his own level.


But I know better. He waddles over, nibbles at my jeans, nibbles at my shirt, nibbles at my hair.

“Does it hurt, mom?”

My daughter asks.

“No, it actually kind of tickles.”

My son comes over and we get up off the ground. I explain what we’re about to do and they almost seem to enjoy the work of cultivating and planting all 3,000 square feet of the garden as we talk about cover crops and what they do for the soil. I find my stride, scraping the hoe back and forth in time with my step as I cover the seed my son is broadcasting along my daughter’s furrows. Push the hoe, pull the hoe, step; push, pull, step; scrape, scrape, step. The rhythm feels good. The motion feels good. Even the soreness of my muscles feels good as the light exercise releases the tension.

A brief interruption. Commotion down by the barn. Bug runs out screaming. I can’t understand her, but she’s clearly excited. A few moments later, she is followed by wild flapping and Faithful herding the missing duck out of the barn and back to its flock.

I smile. This day is not going to be lost. My plans for this garden are not going to be lost. Dare I even go so far as to say that though they have been deeply shaken, the dreams we have had for our family here on this land are not completely lost?

Because this much I do know how to do:  scrape, scrape, step; scrape, scrape, step; scrape, scrape, step; stretch and do it again.

And the anger turns to fear

Sitting, watching over my baby, I listen to him breathe. His congestion has me worried. Everyone has been sick. Everyone is getting over it. But I listen to him cough and think, “He is just so little.” Though he is sleeping, I pick him up to hold him close. I wipe the mucous from the corner of his eye and worry.

Actually, I fear.

It is the duty of every mother to sit up nights worrying and praying over sick children. But all I need is a little cough for fear to grip me.

Fear not,” the Bible tells me. And yet I fear. I feel like I am walking along the edge of a cliff, trying to shepherd children who are oblivious to the precipice they play beside. Fear clouds every decision, robs the day of its allotted joy.

Let not your heart be troubled,” the Bible tells me. And yet my heart is troubled. I used to be the mother who dusted off owies and treated them with a kiss and encouragement to try again. Now I fight the urge to hold them too tightly. To not let them play and explore and challenge themselves.

Because now I know. I know. Furniture falls and children get sick. Babies fall from infant swings, and toddlers fall off chairs and beds. Animals attack and you can’t always see what is standing just behind the car. There are drawstrings, bouncy balls, hot dogs and baths. At every turn, there are dangers and the line between a pleasant day at the park and tragedy seems suddenly very thin.

So I hold my baby close. I rock him, stroke his skin, kiss his cheek. I hold him, pray for him and pray for me.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Sometimes words fail me. I do not know how to walk the path set before me. I do not know how to bury a child and simply walk forward, one foot in front of the other. I do not even really know what that means, though people keep assuring me that right now it is all I should worry about doing.

Wednesday we celebrated what would have been his second birthday with blueberry pancakes, chocolate cupcakes decorated with animal figures representing the pets he loved so dearly and a balloon release.

balloon release

We watched them float into the sky as the clouds gathered for the coming storm and my children shouted.

“Goodbye, Tiggy! I miss you, Tiggy! I love you, Tiggy!”

And Bug turned to me, eyes bright, to say “Tiggy would have loved this.”

The words stung. The grammar stung. For now we can only speak of my precious little boy in terms of what was or what would have been. And it is so hard. It hurts so much.

But there was too much activity and too much of my attention had been given over to my other five children to help them honor their brother’s memory. Most of my tears waited for the stillness of staring out my own window in my own room.

And just as it seemed as if there was no end to the depths of this hurt and no light left in the darkness clouding my soul, my three year old came in to offer me her gentle smile and her teddy bear. And I was reminded that I do not walk this path alone.

Especially in the darkness, He is near.