The Making of a Home: The View from My Kitchen Window

snowball fight

It’s been 3 days since our epic Virginia blizzard and I’m staring out my kitchen window at my husband hurling snowballs at our two oldest boys. He’s pressed pause on his work on this particular Tuesday afternoon to make memories with our 4 and 5 year old boys and what for us is an unreal 3 feet of snow. I’m dawdling over the dirty dishes so I can watch them, finding myself falling in love with this good man all over again.

My oldest son has carved a trench in the snow and he’s been saving up ammunition for dad’s appearing. There’s a big smile on my husband’s face as he ducks and dodges the barrage–friendly fire.

In a few minutes, my husband makes his way to the top of our steeply sloped backyard with the four year old, sleds in hand. I add some more soap to the suds and watch the silent movie unfold.

When you add little ones to snow, you have a wintry mix calling for abundant patience. A child plodding through 3 feet of powdery snow on an upward slope plods slowly—pain…fully slowly—along. Once atop the hill there’s the displaced mitten that needs replacing, there’s the hat that needs to be pulled down again, and there’s the sled that needs to be held in place while the abominable snowsuit clumsily piles on.

I watch this man I married patiently, gently waiting: letting the little one struggle with the things that make him stronger and helping with the things that simply exasperate. It’s a good father who knows the difference. Finally the minutes of patience pay off with seconds of glee. Open-mouthed, hollering glee.

And then they repeat: plod, patience, push, glee. On the third go round, they decide to share a sled. It’s cute: full grown man and little man sharing a two foot disc of plastic careening down a hill, twisting, turning, heads thrown back in laughter. This is the good stuff– the moments kids remember when they shut their tired lids at night. And perhaps just perhaps it’s that earliest memory that somehow makes it into adulthood, the one that grounds you with a deep mooring of being loved and held, and of being caught up in joy and adventure and wildness, of simultaneously being daring and of being protected by someone bigger than yourself. I smile: I get to watch it.

sleddinghappy sled

high fiveI love having a front-row seat to this man who won my heart growing into the kind of father who is winning the hearts of his boys. When we set out on this journey of marriage we both only had vague notions of what the other would be like as mother or as father. That kind of love sees the bud, but it is breathtaking to see the blossom, and I pray and hope that one day will be even more satisfying to taste the fruit of years of faithfulness. My husband wouldn’t like this analogy, I think as I chop the onions for the chili. He’d need something heartier, meatier, more manly. Prospect versus World Series winner: there we go, I think. I’m glad I was a decent scout.

But the truth of the matter is when you set out to build a house, you think about paint colors and floor plans, tile and carpet, but when you set out to build a home, you think about the people that are the weight-bearing beams. Houses are built of timber and brick and concrete; homes are built of heart and vision and faithfulness—and a man who has these in abundance is hard to find.

I’m draining the grease off the ground beef when I see my husband dart over to the trench my five year old is continuing to secure. The little one’s face is contorted in pain, tears stream down his face while daddy bends down to comfort him. That tenderness, that love–there it is again. In a few minutes, the tearful clouds have passed and they return to their play.

helping

By this time the baby has stirred and so I stop my dinner prep to tend to him and then to the toddler who’s awakened from his nap. A while later Dad heads back to his home office for a bit more work before dinner. He must pay the toll before passing, however, and I thank him for being such a good daddy as he places a snow-cold hand on my back and gives me a kiss. He doesn’t know I’ve been spying on him from the window, thanking my sweet Jesus for gracing me with this man.

Soon boys stomp snow covered boots on the back steps. And then there’s a flurry of wet socks, snow pants, jackets and mittens piled into the laundry basket and a mess of half-clad boys clamoring for hot cocoa. I tend to them and then to dinner.

After dinner, I find myself back at the kitchen window, washing up the chili bowls and thinking again about the view I have on the man I love.

Kitchen Window

There aren’t many people in this world that we get to view up close. I’m thankful that the man I get to see each day is the one who faithfully shovels the snow out of the driveway, who works hard providing and bears the heavy burden of planning for our future, who plays well and laughs often, who hugs and wrestles our boys and loves me with the kind of love God knew would make me flourish. I’m glad that whether or not I’m there watching, he’s being faithful, not perfect but faithful to love us well.

And as I’m looking out that back window, for a moment, I get the feeling that perhaps God is watching me from the other side of this same window. I sense that he sees the dishes washed, the onions chopped, the boys fed, dressed and re-dressed, the baby held, the tantrum soothed, in other words, the quiet ways I’m trying to be faithful too. I sense that perhaps he’s smiling at me, the other weight-bearing beam in this home being built on love.

I’m thankful that God is the foundation of this home. The solid rock which still stands even when we falter and fail, because we don’t always love well or parent patiently. And I’m also grateful that even though my husband’s not perfect, that God gave me the perfect man for me. I pray when he reads these words he’ll catch a glimpse of the view I see through my window.

 

If you’re reading this, chances are there is someone whose faithfulness comes to mind for you too. Perhaps you’ve seen the faithfulness of your spouse, or your own mother or father, or a daughter or son as they grow into a loving parent. If so, would you share this with that person and thank them. Tell them what you see through the special window God has given you and thank them for the way you’ve been blessed because of it.

Accustomed to Him

“Some of the greatest beauties [of this world], are its briefest.”—Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

shelter-from-the-storm-

I’m in those hazy days of night-waking to feed a 3 month old. On the night stand, I’ve got size 2 diapers, baby wipes, a water bottle, tissues, and a well-marked book of poetry, Rainier Marie Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God. I know: one of these things is not like the other. But as mother of four boys under the age of six in the midst of diapers, dishes, fights, and fits, I find myself hungry for beauty. And while I can’t feast on beauty like I’d like to, I snack on it when I can.

There’s not enough solitude in my life right now. Not enough quiet. Not enough alone time for this introvert. My soul longs for quiet walks in the woods, for a morning to sip tea, to read or write and stare out the window at a blanket of snow-covered ground. But these days, there is rowdy bustle, clamoring for mommy, there is a broken dishwasher, and a pile of unfolded laundry.

So I’m learning and leaning and listening in for beauty like I haven’t before. I’m parched. One of the little snippets, I stretched for in the middle of the night, with the lights dim, to keep baby in that sleepy state as I nursed him, was this line from Rilke’s Book of Hours, it reads:

“We become so accustomed to you,
we no longer look up
when your shadow falls over the book we are reading
and makes it glow. For all things
sing you: at times we just hear them more clearly.”

The “you” here is God. We become so accustomed to Him, that we no longer look up. We become so accustomed to His beauty, to His goodness, to His faithfulness that we no longer look up. When the ordinary things around me glow with His shadow, how rarely I see them. How rarely I acknowledge them. For all things, sing His praises, at times we just hear the melody more clearly.

I close the book and let the words sink in. I realize His shadow has just fallen across the page I’ve been reading, my page on this night and I look up. I acknowledge Him. I acknowledge this moment of beauty and then I turn my gaze to my sweet baby. He’s dimly lit. His cheeks are filling out. His hair is coming in finally, perhaps a quarter of an inch. And his face, his sweet perfect face. When the feeding is done, I gaze at him asleep for several moments longer than any sleep-deprived person in her right mind should. I drink Him in. He’s a masterpiece in the middle of my mundane. He’s a stunning work of art from God to me that I alone get to gaze upon and enjoy in this way, for this moment. Sure, I trust and pray that he will grow and bless others in manifold ways, but on this night I am the only one awake to witness this shooting star glimpse of the glory of God displayed in a baby, my baby.

Beau sleep

I must remember this. I must acknowledge the glow of God on this page, on this day, on this life.

A few days later, the dinner was done and the dishes finished. We were enjoying some of those alternatingly sweet and cringe-inducing moments with our boys before bedtime. There was the clamoring for firsts, and turns and mine, and there were the “play with me, mommy” and the child who crawls on the lap eager for just your presence. In other words, there was the simultaneous sweetness and senseless stuff of parenthood.

My husband had built a roaring fire and the big boys were for a moment enthralled in its warmth and glow. I had put on my favorite cd of George Winston’s Winter and had checked out for a moment to lay beside our sweet littlest one on his playmat. As I lay there watching his face, the song Joy came on. It is an arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and I love it so much, I chose it for our wedding march. Somehow the arrangement seems to accentuate the joy in that beautiful piece of music, the joy in the heart of one who desires Jesus. So as I was laying there, listening and watching, my sweet baby smiled with one of his brand-new grins and then began to coo at me.

Beau fire Beau Grin Beau Smile

The moment was so brief, so brief, but it was so beautiful it literally brought tears to my eyes. The music reminded me of God’s faithfulness to me on my wedding day; the smile reminded me of God’s faithfulness in giving us children. A moment later there was fighting and fussing. Ten minutes later there was the blur of bedtime routines and teeth-brushing and one-more-story-please-mommy.

Later, I scribbled down in my journal, “sometimes life’s greatest beauties are its briefest. We dismiss these because they are here one moment and gone the next, interrupted. Why don’t we instead treasure them for what they are? Why don’t we string them together in our minds like the beautiful pearls they are? Each glimpse deserves reverence for what it is: a glimpse of ultimate joy and beauty, a glimpse of the One who created and authored beauty, the One who is all-beautiful and all-good. The fleeting nature of these moments shouldn’t rob from them, but instead remind us that that which we long for is not of this world, it is eternal. We are thirsty for more because there is indeed more and because we are made for more. We are not satiated with interrupted grace because there is a source of unending grace.”

So I’m learning to not begrudge these little glimpses of grace and sips of beauty because they are fleeting. I’m learning to take them, accept them as the shadow that falls across the page I’m reading, as the feeling of a presence which makes me look up. They come in so many moments: in the sunrise of a smile, in the nestling head upon my shoulder as I read just one more story, in the whispered “Amen” of my two-year old, in the roar of a fire, and the first-fall of snow. Let me treasure these, string them together, lay them at His feet in praise. Let me not become so accustomed to grace that I no longer look up.

 

I couldn’t give you pictures of the exact nights that these happened–I try to be in my moments rather than behind a camera– and I’m not a great photographer, but I still wanted to give you a few of my beautiful Beau. I’m learning to treasure the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary and offer these moments back to God in praise. If you are new here and interested in reading more, sign up to the left to have these posts delivered straight to your inbox and check out my devotional journal for expectant mothers, Waiting in Wonder.

A Thank You Note to My Unborn Child

The miracle of youLittle One, you aren’t even here yet, but I just wanted to take a time-out tonight as I round the 27 week mark (and keep getting rounder) to tell you, “thank you.” God has always used the littlest ones—the weak and frail—to open eyes the eyes of the strong. You are so small; not even 2 pounds, but the weight of glory you reveal is astonishing. You do not yet know that you are a catalyst of wonder in my life, a catalyst of worship. With your kicks, somersaults, and barrel rolls you constantly nudge me deeper into the heart of wonder, deeper into the heart of God.

It won’t be long before you will be here. And you will soon see that when you are young the whole world is a marvelous discovery—“Look mama, look! The moon!” or “Look, mama, look—a ladybug!” But when you get older, sometimes it gets hard to see the world with new eyes. All you see are the thorns and thistles, the smudge and the smear. And as strange as it may sound, you forget to marvel at the moon or stand amazed at the dainty flittering of a bug’s wings. You forget that the whole world is “charged with the grandeur of God,” aflame with His beauty, oozing with His wisdom, alive with His fierce power. And when you fail to marvel, it’s not long before you find your heart growing cold and ungrateful.

But you, my precious unborn child, how you lead me back to the heart of wonder, back to the heart of praise. You see, with your every nudge I’m reminded of something so strange and marvelous, I can’t help but worship. This is it: God is at work forming a life—a human being—inside of me. I’ve been chosen to be a vessel to a miracle. You are that miracle.

At just over two weeks, your tiny heart began to beat. It was a spontaneous mystery—the kind that is still baffling scientists—how within a poppy-seed sized embryo, a cell spontaneously jolts awake and begins to beat and how the other cells nearby join in the dance of its rhythm. I like to think of God hovering over you then, the way He did at the very beginning when He brought the first life miracle. I like to think of the Trinity’s overflowing joy flowing down into that single primordial heart cell with such joy that it just can’t help but dance and teach the other cells to dance too. I pray that your life would be like that first beat, a spontaneous overflow of  God’s joy that can’t help but affect everyone else around you.

I stand amazed at how from a microscopic twisted spiral of DNA, you are becoming you, unfolding and unfurling inside me with each passing day. Your fingers budded, and then your toes, your nails, and your eyelashes. And somehow from this twisting staircase of God’s words for your life, you are coming to be. Already, the experts say, you can suck your thumb, dream, grimace, taste, and hear. You spend your days adding brain cells at a dizzying rate and practicing for your first breaths. All the while, you are taking my breath away. Every nerve and sinew, every twitch and tendon is an astonishing mystery.

But still—all of that is merely matter. Beyond the wonder of flesh and bone, the wonder yes, of being flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, is the miracle of your soul.

You, Little One, possess an eternal soul. I don’t even understand the words, but there is something in you, something that will not perish. Though your body will fade, your soul will remain. You are a person, made in the very image of God, distinct from me and accountable to Him. I tremble at the weight of this glory and at the weight of the responsibility of shepherding you.

But for now, I just marvel. You lead me to worship because you are doing the very thing you were made to do—you are reflecting the image and mystery of God. What a vast, creative, generous, wise God! What a kindness that He would allow you into my life! What a joy it is to carry you!

Thank you, Little Glorious One, you are a catalyst to praise. May you always be so, all your days.

Embrace the High Calling of Parenthood

Embrace the CallHere’s the secret truth, (and there’s not a parent that doesn’t wish it): I wish parenting was easy. I wish it didn’t require so much of me, or rather that there was more left of me after the day was done. I wish that my children were angelic, obedient, and always eager to please. I wish my stubborn streak had skipped a generation. I wish that I knew what I was doing. I wish that formulas worked, or at least that what worked for one child would work for the next, or even what worked for my parents, or my best friends, would work for us also. But it doesn’t work that way—not even close.

On the hard days, this parenting journey is enough to leave me in tears. On the good days, I feel quietly unsettled that I don’t know how to repeat the same result for another golden day. And more frightening than either of these two kinds of days, are the myriad more where I just don’t care.

And I think it’s this secret truth, and perhaps even a secret belief that it should be easy that keeps us irritated, resentful, and weary when the days are hard. We somehow think parenting shouldn’t require this much of us. That it shouldn’t demand our all. We somehow secretly believe that we’re doing something wrong if our children don’t come out of the womb respectful, courteous, and pliant. We somehow believe the formulas should work if only we could find the right one.

But God didn’t make parenting or children this way. He made this job of mothering and fathering into perhaps the most demanding calling we will ever know. We aren’t raising automatons. We’re raising born tyrants. And we’re doing all that we can to shepherd their hearts to God, so that somehow He might transform them into loving servant leaders. Given that I’m a reformed tyrant myself, is it any wonder that I still wistfully long for this whole parenting gig to run smoothly so that I could just have a little more time for me or get through my to-do list?

But this isn’t about me, it’s about them. It’s about a million and one daily opportunities to teach, correct, train, model, plead, pray, and show forth His ways in situations as mundane as the snatched toy, the disrespectful attitude, the slowness to do right, and the stubbornness to turn from folly.

We’re raising a child from utter helplessness to not just responsible adulthood (which is hard enough in itself), but hopefully to passionate Christ-centered living. This requires everyday, life-on-life discipleship and it demands everything of us.

But too often, my mindset is reactive, not proactive. Too often, my mindset is one that expects this journey to be easy and so resents it when it is hard.

Every calling worth pursuing is rigorous. I’ve never met an accomplished musician who didn’t put in grueling hours of work in the mind-numbing minutiae. I’ve never met a doctor who somehow skipped right through residency and long-hours of studying to an encyclopedic knowledge of their patients’ needs. I’ve never met an athlete who is unacquainted with sacrifice, pain, and self-discipline. And yet somehow, we think that this high and holy calling of caring, nurturing, and shepherding an eternal soul is something that would not demand our all.

The truth is the more I embrace parenthood as a high and holy calling that demands everything of me the less I will grow resentful, frustrated and weary when it does. The more I believe the eternal significance of even my most mundane moments, the less likely I am to despise or shrug my way through them. When I greet my day believing my work is noble, I’m less likely to treat the precious persons entrusted to my care like burdens. When I see my work as opportunity after opportunity for instilling character and teaching repentance and faith, the less likely I will be to view such opportunities, and even my children as interruptions.

The most pervasive thing which I will leave behind to my children is my attitude toward them and toward this calling. It will permeate all their memories, even the ones that on paper should look flawless. One day they will not remember the day at the waterpark or the long-saved-for vacation; they will remember how they felt when they were with me. Did they feel the daily drip of my despondency over my mundane role or did they feel joy in my presence because I knew deep down my part mattered and their time under my care had eternal value? Did they feel I was constantly frustrated and annoyed with them for simply being children in need of training or that I was encouraged by the opportunities I was given to raise them up in the truth? Did they sense me trying to control their every move out of fear or feel the grace of one who deeply believes that God is in ultimate control? Whether or not they remember the waterpark or the beach vacation, they will remember my attitude toward them and it will color who they become.

I pray to God for the grace to embrace this all-demanding work that’s been given to me with joy, purpose, and trust. Because it matters not just for them, but for me. I can muddle through the years of parenting, resenting every hard thing along the way or face those same challenges as one who lives expecting them, embracing them, and believing they are the true path to molding their character and my own. May God grant us grace and mercy; how desperately all who would take up the call of mother and father will need it.

 

Like what you’re reading? Consider subscribing to get these posts to your inbox and also check out my book for expectant moms: Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting, a perfect gift for any expecting mom you know. You can read an excerpt of the book here. And find out what writers like Ann Voskamp are saying about the book. Or if you’d like to read similar posts to  this, check out “The Interrupted Life,” “Embrace Your Season” and “Not Enough“. Thanks for reading and sharing with your friends. 

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