An answer to prayer

I sit, holding Asa, watching him sleep. Mookie leans over to give him a kiss. I smile . . . then shudder.

For it occurs to me that this is how old Mookie was when his big brother died.

And I remember a moment a few days before that. I was sitting on the couch takinng off Mookie’s wallaby blanket in order to change his little diaper. The kids were running all over. Tiggy had a cold. The house was a mess. And I was overwhelmed.

I didn’t know how to get everything done, but mostly I was scared of getting pregnant again. I didn’t know how to take care of seven children. It didn’t make sense even then, but I remember praying for some help, some relief, some peace.

And on windy nights when I held a squirming Mookie too close through my tears I would think of that prayer and feel pangs of guilt. As if I had somehow asked for this because for one moment I was overcome by all the responsibilities before me. And it was hard to admit even to myself how much I wanted another child. And how difficult it was to go to the doctor and find out that the issues I was having didn’t really need treatment but would affect the likelihood of having another child. But I couldn’t really talk about that with anyone because who fights back tears over not being able to have a seventh child?

I knew my motives were mixed. I knew another child wouldn’t fill that hole Tiggy left. Nor would it take away an evening of feeling overwhelmed at the thought of a seventh. But feelings are what they are and mine longed for one more child to hold and to count and to raise.

And now here he is. Number seven. In my arms, asleep and showered with kisses by his big brother.

I lean over and whisper in his ear. “You are an answer to prayer, little Angel.” Because I want him to know that even as number seven, he wasn’t an accident. He wasn’t an after thought. He is our little “healer.” Our little reminder of “victory.” In Christ, over death and through new life.

Posted in family, Grief, parenting, Tiggy | 2 Comments

Frozen gifts

So, on New Year’s Eve, the kids and I drove all the way out to Creston, IA to watch Frozen with my husband. It’s about the beautiful princess Elsa who has the weird (and somewhat useless) power to freeze things. Once I got over that, I enjoyed the movie. And the poor princess locked away in her room as her powers grew got me thinking about how we treat giftedness in this country.

Sheer numbers alone force teachers to “teach to the middle.” Students who perform significantly above or below average are difficult to deal with in the classroom environment. Thanks to testing requirements, there are a number of services available to lower performing students. And while gifted and talented programs available at many schools may provide some much needed enrichment, gifted students often have a difficult time fitting in.

Some eventually drop out.

But then, you don’t even need to be gifted to feel locked away in a classroom. I have nothing against the idea of public school. I went to public school. I did well. I went on to become a public school teacher. But it seems that over the years, school has been taking over more and more of our children’s lives. There is increasing pressure to increase instructional time through lengthened school days and more of them. Recess is being taken away. More focus is being put on math and reading in the early grades to the detriment of everything else. And to prepare for the all important testing, more and more homework is being handed out.

And I wonder how much time the average student has to really notice the world around them. To explore. To think. To daydream. To get bored enough to come up with something to do . . . and to start recognizing his own interests and talents.

How many are frozen by the expectations of a single standardized test given to all students as a measure of academic achievement?

And it isn’t just our schools. When my daughter was in kindergarten, I joined a Christian homeschool support forum and made a comment about my daughter’s budding leadership abilities and not being sure how to direct that. A number of women jumped on the thread warning me to “nip that in the bud.” Strong girls, I learned, are a parenting challenge. Not because you have to guide them with any particular skill, but because you have to break that strength. Apparently, submission and strength are mutually exclusive concepts.

And with all the strong women of the Bible . . . and all the strong women leaders of the Bible . . . the discussion mostly left me wondering if we all read the same book.

And it left me concerned for these girls whose God-given gifts and talents were frozen by an ideology that allowed only for a very narrow view of what it meant to be a woman.

Conceal, don’t feel, never let them know . . .

How many of our children can relate to Elsa’s song? And how many will feel driven off into the cold before they can finally let it go?

Posted in culture, education, faith | 7 Comments

My one resolution

A new year, a clean slate. A time when we seem driven to declare the things about ourselves we don’t like and want to improve. Make steps toward our dreams. And otherwise do what we have failed to do year after year until we find ways to side step around it.

And decide not to set any resolutions.

Or to set goals.

Or choose a word.

The discussion I’ve been reading on facebook regarding making resolutions vs. setting goals doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Probably because I’m weird. But to me, a goal is sort of a wishy washy starting point. It is a destination. A place I want to be. But resolution is the thing I need to get me there.

It’s that iron will to keep going despite what is happening around me, to do what I don’t want to do.

To me, it is much more like that biblical “purpose in your heart”. And I think that is why we so often fail at whatever resolutions we make. It’s because they weren’t really resolutions from the start. They were just dreams, expressions of qualities we wish we had. And on January 1, we don’t count the costs.

Now, I’ve never been “into” the whole resolution thing. I don’t really remember ever coming up with any beyond whatever popped into my head when someone asked.

But this year, I do have one. Sort of. It isn’t measurable and can’t be broken down into actionable steps. In fact, it isn’t really something I can “do” at all. And I’m certain to fail because I’m not likely to succeed every day. Even if I am only resolving to remember one little thing I already know: Today counts for eternity.

Posted in faith | Leave a comment

The highs, lows and constancy of Christmas

And now . . . a guest post from my husband.

The First Christmas

My first Christmas memory comes before age six. The anticipation for myself and the other two foster children, they were to be adopted by the family, had been building for weeks. The tree was a beautiful dark green with sparkling lights, tinsel, ornaments and a sea of colorfully wrapped presents. The joy of running and laughing children couldn’t be contained that Christmas morning.

Wrapping flying with shouts and giggles at the revealing of each new gift. Soon the lights were turned off and the family moved on to other festivities leaving a solitary figure behind. Dawning upon this child was the fact that he had received nothing! Alone for hours this first Christmas memory would leave a lasting hurt.

Not Always So

The next Christmas memory came after my adoption. Beautiful tree, rows of gifts but no anticipation, no building excitement. The joy of running and laughing children couldn’t be contained that Christmas morning. Wrapping flying with shouts and giggles at the revealing of each new gift. The question on my lips, ‘is this really mine?’ Yes, my parents exclaimed, though I didn’t quite believe it. Astounded for such goodness had never come my way.

The Lost Christmas

Fast forward 30 or so years. For the first time in ages a Christmas tree stood in my home. The decorations slowly making their way to the top of the tree because of the busyness of a not yet two year old. Thirteen days before Christmas his little mischievous ways would be taken from us forever. That Christmas was shrouded in sorrow and barely celebrated. We were hanging on by threads.

The Best Christmas

One year later came the best Christmas. One carefully sought out gift for each child, scripture reading, hymns, good food and family. The height of the storm had passed and we could see clearly what Christmas actually symbolizes. The birth and fulfillment of hope leading us to….

The Constancy of Christmas

Christmas has much to teach. Firstly, the un-adopted son receives nothing, no good gift; while the adopted son receives many great and free gifts. The ability to, and the reason for overcoming the pain and suffering of our lives was once wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. Thirdly, whether a tree stands in your home or not; what is raised or taken down in the town square, Christ’s birth cannot not be overturned or quieted for it is truth. Fourthly, the greatest truth of all is that one cannot separate Christmas from Easter:

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord….Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…. (Luke 2:11; 1 Peter 1:3)”

Good tidings to all, and a Merry Christmas to you.

Posted in faith, family, holidays | 4 Comments

Nursing memories

3 AM. I sit on the corner of my bed, nursing my newborn baby boy. The moonlight reflecting off the snow casts just enough light to make out the outline of his cheek and the line of his little arm clasped tightly against his chest. I can tell his eyes are open, but all else is lost in the shadows of the night.

I want to remember these moments.

His breathy excitement as I get ready to nurse him.

The way his mouth opens in a perfect little oval and his whole head follows his lips as they search first to the right and then to the left, back and forth until he’s finally nursing.

The little fist he finds and latches onto while he kicks his little legs because he just can’t wait any longer.

The slow rhythmic suckling, with one arm held tight against his chest.

I look at him and memorize him, trying to hold this moment in my heart.

Three years ago, I sat in this very spot, nursing Micah and staring out the same window at the mini Coupe left on the side of the hill where Tiggy had last played with it.

I sat there and tried to remember nursing Tiggy. But in a busy family, nursing a baby happens by the wayside. It happens while half asleep in the wee hours of the morning. It happens while talking on the phone. It happens while reading to other children. It happens while going over school work. It happens while making grocery lists and menu plans.

But to remember, you have to let go of the busyness, clear your mind of the clutter of managing a household, and simply be there. In that moment. Letting everything else fall into the background.

Tiggy was number five. That didn’t happen very often.

And I also worried what my grief would do to Micah. How would he turn out, growing up in the shadow of his brother’s death?

Looking back, I am incredibly thankful for the gift we had in Micah. His name proved almost prophetic: Micah Jair, “Who is like God? He shines.” And he did shine in the darkness of those days. My thoughts may not have been on him as he nursed night after night. Sometimes, I held him too tightly so that he squirmed while I shook with wave after wave of tears. Sometimes, I held him loosely while my thoughts were distant and disattached. But when he cried, I had to step out of that cloud of grief enough to hold him and that was enough to go forward a little bit more each day.

But I had precious few days to hold him and rejoice in him because he was only six weeks old when his brother died.

And now I sit holding little Asa as I think on all these things. He lets go and begins to cry. I try to burp him. Change his diaper. Hold him against my shoulder. Try to rock him. Try to nurse him once again. Nothing is working. So I stretch him out before me so I can see his face by the light of the moon and sing bits and pieces of songs I’ve mostly forgotten, strung together with verses I make up as I go along.

Each moment is a treasure. And this, too, I want to remember.

Posted in family, Grief | 2 Comments

A week with a new baby

On December 3, we welcomed a new blessing into our family: little Asa Cole.

I had been looking at name after name (after name), searching for something that meant “restore” or “healing” or maybe “hope.” Because that’s what I hoped for this new life due so close to the aniversary of Tiggy’s death. And we settled on Asa Cole before we even knew if he was a boy or a girl, with Asa meaning, “doctor, healer” and Cole meaning, “victory of the people.”

And his first week with us has been very full.

Full of siblings, begging to hold him.

Full of gazing into those beautiful eyes.

Full of night time cries from a baby who just wants to be held in his mommy’s arms.

Full of little kisses.

Full of the cautious snuggles of a toddler who wants to be close, but is a little afraid to touch him.

Full of questions about how Tiggy still fits into our family. And the heartwarming revelation of a small child.

And full of his tiny footprints across all of our hearts.

Welcome to our family, little Asa.

Posted in family | 19 Comments

I dreamed about Tiggy

It’s not something I do very often.

I remember every one. Some more clearly than my memories of him.

He was there, playing with his vroom vrooms, smiling that ornery smile. I went to touch his wispy hair, but he ducked and giggled.

He was there, lying under the table, and still that smile. I kneeled down to reach for him, but he rolled away and giggled.

And so the dream went on. With him happy and full of life and always just out of reach.

But it was different than my other dreams of him. In every other dream, I have been acutely aware of the fact that he is dead.

Some are strange and dark. Where he shows up and I know it can’t be him but it is. And I don’t know what to do because if I tell anyone, I know he’ll be taken from me because no one will believe it is him and that he is my son. And so I hide him in the basement, but I don’t even know how to tell my husband and how long can you hide a toddler in the basement, anyway?

Some carry such relief. I wake up and realize I just forgot him at the hospital. And there’s this mad rush to get everyone ready and I’m stressed and trying to figure out how to explain that I just forgot him there, but really I’m not a bad mother and can I take him home now?

But usually, I know I’m dreaming. Like the first one. The day he died. I fell asleep and was there in the hospital, sitting in the room the nurse had told us he’d be moved to, looking at him in the incubator I imagined he’d be in, listening to the ventilator they told us would be breathing for him. Holding his hand. And waiting. But then I started to wake up and I panicked, because I knew that Tiggy was only there in that dream and if I woke up, I wouldn’t be able to sit with him anymore.

Or the time I sat holding him in a chair in the center of the front room. The house was a mess. Toys and clothes and dishes everywhere. My husband came home and was upset, yelling at everyone. He started to clean and I just ignored him. “You’re not even going to help?” he accused. But I didn’t care. “I only get to hold him until I wake up,” I answered and laid my cheek back against his head where I could smell him for a little while longer.

But this time, I didn’t know. At least not fully. So I just followed, partly amused by the antics of this sweet little boy so full of joy but becoming increasingly distressed that he was always just out of reach. Until I suddenly woke up, staring into the darkness and knowing too well why I couldn’t quite reach him.

Posted in Tiggy | 18 Comments

On being diagnosed with gestational diabetes

So, I haven’t been around much recently. Mostly, I’ve been asleep. Or counting down the minutes until Mookie goes down for his nap or until the children go to bed so that I can go to sleep.

So much so that it began to worry me a bit. But then there’s the doctor’s inevitable response.

“Well, you have five children. You’re pregnant. You’re managing a small hobby farm. Your husband is gone a lot. You’ve lost a child. Any one of those things can cause your symptoms. All of it together certainly explains why you’re so tired.”

And all I can think is, “Yes, but . . .

Then last week I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. And while that generally progresses as a symptomless disease, I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t part of my problem. Because while I haven’t gone back in for my specific plan yet, I do have a provisional diet I am supposed to try to follow until I get more specific instructions on how to monitor my blood sugar levels. And after less than a week of reading labels, looking for one and only one piece of information — how many carbs it contains — and trying to space them out through the day, I am starting to feel a little more energetic.

And I’m hoping mostly that means it is working. That the baby won’t suffer any ill effects.That I’ll be able to do more than coast through the rest of this pregnancy and enjoy more of the moments along the way. That I’ll be able to play with the children more and do things more interesting than telling them to go do their reading or start the next chapter in their books.

And I’m hoping just a little that I’ll again find the time and energy to write. The one thing I do just for me.

Posted in health | 5 Comments

The joy and the heartache of new life on the homestead

I have my camera back.

So I thought it was about time to share some pictures of our little adventure out here.

Especially since guinea keets are about the cutest thing there is when they’re newly hatched.

And it is particularly nice because this is a mama that disappeared about a month ago returning to the flock to show off her new babies.

After we oohed and aahed over the adorable babies, my husband said he was pretty sure he knew where the nest was. He saw a guinea hiding in the grasses when he moved the heifer. So off we went to search.

Except that’s not exactly what we found. What we actually found was a bit of an emergency. There was one dead keet and one who was quite cold as well as some eggs pipping. We gathered up the keet and the eggs that hadn’t hatched and put them in the incubator for the night, hoping the chilled baby would recover and that the rest of them hadn’t become too chilled to finish their hatching.

Mama bedded down for the night in the corner of the barn and I decided that was as safe a place as any for the proud mama and her ten little babies. Because even though I know guinea mama parenting isn’t that well suited to Nebraska, there is nothing sweeter than a mama and her babies. Especially to this mama who just couldn’t bring herself to take a baby away in the midst of mama’s joy.

Two of the eggs hatched overnight and the chilled keet recovered well. Three rescued from the abandoned nest!

Unfortunately, mama didn’t fare as well. When I checked on her in the morning, there were four dead little keets in the hole she slept in. Three other guineas were chasing each other around with another baby in their beaks. The other five were following behind mama and I decided there was only one thing I could do.

Wow can upset guinea mamas bite hard. But I could hardly be upset with her. I gathered up the surviving keets and united them with their siblings in the house.

Mama retured to the spot she slept in, called loudly and stared at her dead babies.

It broke my heart, but I wanted the others to live.

And they all knew they have a mama. They hatched under her and lived with her for a day. They called and called and called, trying to find her.

They broke my heart, too, but I wanted them to live.

And in a few days, I’m going to have to do it all over again.

Guinea hen on nest

Such is the joy and the heartache of raising animals and families in a world where all is not quite as it should be.

Posted in Rural life | 1 Comment

On becoming a shepherd

So we got sheep. Shepherds we are not.

At least not yet.

It takes a lot more than having a small flock of sheep to be a shepherd, I am learning. People keep telling me sheep are stupid. And I can definitely see how they might form that opinion.

After all, I did name two of them Dumb and Dumber.

But they’re not. Not really. They just see the world in their own bottom-of-the-food-chain way while we try to force them to conform to whatever management strategy we’ve learned. Or read about. Or made up all on our own based on working with cattle.

Who, I have also learned, aren’t much like sheep.

Take Dumber, for example. AKA Death Stare, Death Star and Cruella de Vil. You’d have to get to know her to understand.

But the day after we got the sheep, we fenced off a section of our yard so they could graze happily while getting used to us. Dumber and a friend immediately found a weakness in the fence and were gone before we even had a chance to go inside for a cup of tea. Looking back, I recognize a thousand mistakes and know things could have turned out better if I knew then what I know now. But then I knew only four things:

  1. Walk away from a startled ewe at a 45 degree angle in order to get around her.
  2. Never look directly at her.
  3. Move them slowly and they’ll make better decisions.
  4. All they really want is to get back to their flock.

But that I only knew from a book. Not from experience.

Now I know that I should have secured the other three ewes back in the pen, tied them, left the gate open and gotten out of the way.

Instead, we tried to get around them and chased them for miles through corn fields, bean fields and grazing land. Meanwhile, the other three got loose because no one went back to secure the fence or lock them up.

See. We were so not shepherds. Not yet, anyway.

Eventually, Dumber fell in a ditch. My husband leaped on her, flipped her on her back and dragged her up the hill where he threw her in the trunk of the SUV. I drove back for a rope with a vague plan to tie Dumber to the hitch and use her as bait to lure the other one in. Alone, however, a sheep is in a state of panic.

And she bolted.

My husband ran for two miles before he lost sight of her and that was that. No amount of driving about or talking to neighbors ever revealed another sign of her. I kept asking myself whether we did the right thing in tackling Dumber. If we had gotten her out of the ditch and let her go, would we have been able to eventually herd them back home? Together, they were a pain, but they weren’t in a panic. And they were generally predictable. But alone, that poor sheep had no sense of safety and hence no sense.

She was in a blind panic and we lost her.

Fast forward to today. It’s been a month and a half. Every morning, I have walked down to deliver feed and refill water. Every time I check on the other animals, I make a point to walk slowly through their grazing area, close enough to make them lift their heads, but never close enough to make them move. And every evening, I again walk down to deliver feed and check their water.

And in this time, none of the sheep have developed a particular affection for me. But Mira walks up to me as soon as she sees me coming. And while she won’t let me touch her, she will stick her nose in the feed bucket even while I’m holding it.

And Despereaux, the dominant one of the pack, also has no affection. But she also has no fear. She stamps her foot at me if I move too fast and is too dignified to stick her nose in a bucket I’m still holding, but she waits at her feed dish and will eat even as I stand there.

Dumb is still fearful. She hangs back and watches me feed the other sheep and watches me fill her dish, wondering what I’m up to. But as soon as she’s satisfied that I’m not that interested in her, she comes in to eat.

Not Dumber. She knows exactly how far her lead will let her go and she runs right at the end to keep me opposite her from the moment I step inside her area. She watches me fill her dish. She watches me leave her area. She watches me do the other chores. She watches me sit on the porch watching her. Or not watching her.

I have never seen her touch her feed dish. She always waits until I go back in the house.

Because she remembers.

And in the last six weeks, she has taught me a lot about what it means to be a shepherd. It takes more than having sheep. It takes more than confidence (even if it’s faked) and a knowledge of flight zones which served us through over two years of raising cattle. And it takes more than patience and a bit of sweet feed.

It takes getting to know the sheep. Each one individually and the flock as a group. It takes recognizing who they hang out with, who they follow and who they push around. It takes knowing who the leader is, who the confident one is and who the flighty one is. It takes knowing when they feel safe and when they’re getting ready to bolt.

And it takes a little respect. Because sheep are not dumb. They have very long memories. They remember being chased. They remember being tackled. They remember being sheared and they remember being vaccinated. They remember all these things, and the lessons they learn through rough handling can be very difficult for them to unlearn.

Poor Dumber’s fear is a consequence of our mistakes. But she is teaching us a lot about what it takes to become a shepherd.


Posted in Rural life, Sheep | 8 Comments