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  • Progress Report

    Well, faithful readers, I am now over 35 weeks pregnant, and this one has been different. With the girls, I was so sick that all I did was sleep, throw up, and try not to throw up. Mercifully, those months are mainly a blur in my memory. This time, I’ve been sick, but still functional in short bursts. Meaning, I actually have some awareness of what’s going on around me and inside me; time to think, worry, enjoy, marvel, and fret. I’d love to say that this time I can appreciate what a miracle it all is, but the truth is that it’s just plain weird to me. This baby moves all the time, and so fast that I constantly think of that song, “Everybody was kung fu fighting…” Watching my belly change shape, jump around, and convulse on its own is not something I can get used to. But we’re in the homestretch now, and I know that pregnancy lasts exactly as long as it’s supposed to – long enough to ensure you’re good and ready to move on to the next phase, even with its challenges.

    Despite my lack of energy and mental acuity, we seem to be going through a whirlwind of change and activity. About 6 weeks ago, we got Dad moved in with us and sold his house in Florida. We’re all adjusting to the new dynamic, knowing that it will change again as soon as the baby makes his appearance. We also got 4 young hens to replace the ones we’ve lost over the years, and the girls are spending lots of time making sure they get more attention than they probably ever wanted.

    I took a beginner gardening course online, and we created a container garden on our back deck. We’re harvesting tons of lettuce and hopefully the tomatoes aren’t far behind. This is something I’ve intended to do every spring, but we’ve never managed it until this year.

    Both girls just finished their annual testing that’s required for homeschoolers in North Carolina. Miranda has developed a passion for bees, and she’s been spending time learning from a local beekeeper friend before we attempt to set up our own hives. Evelyn wants to ride more, and is asking when she’ll get her own horse.

    We have six horses here right now, with several others wanting to come in. Steven’s property management business is barreling along, with many more building projects since he got his contractor’s license. He gets home pretty late in the evening, then we work horses and feed, and we don’t end up eating dinner until 9 o’ clock. That’s the summer season here. Ultimately, if we didn’t love it, we wouldn’t do it. At least, that’s what we tell each other when we’re wondering why we persevere with this crazy lifestyle.

    And then, for me, there’s the laundry. And did I mention the sweeping and dusting and toilet scrubbing and grocery shopping? Trying to make sure everyone is fed all day long even when I’m almost too nauseous to keep anything down myself? The allergies and stomach bugs everyone keeps getting? Trying to make sure my dad has everything he needs to feel welcome and at home here? Taking on the management of his finances and worrying I will screw it up big time?

    So life is steamrolling ahead, and somehow I’m still a part of it – doing, going, responding, and participating, even though all I can truly think is, “the baby…the baby…” But life needs me; the kids and Steven and Dad and the horses and dogs all need me, and I have to engage. In my mind I’m wrestling with the same questions all day and all night: what will labor and delivery be like this time? Will everything go okay? What kind of baby will he be? What kind of person will he turn into? What do I do with a boy? But I think the thing I wonder about most is if anything will ever feel normal again.

    Parts of my life are exactly what I’d hoped for: a wonderful husband and kids, a successful career with horses, a beautiful farm. But these latest developments – my father needing to move in with us at the same time I discover I’m pregnant at 41 with a third surprise baby – are not even in the realm of anything I’d anticipated. “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails,” Prov. 19:21. Some days I wake up super queasy; other days I just wake up a nervous wreck. How can I possibly manage to…what if…how will I ever…there’s no way I can…but I pray. I read the Bible, I drag myself out of bed, fight my awkward potato shape to put on clothes, and then I put one foot in front of the other and begin. The next thing I know, the day is gone and it’s dark, we haven’t eaten dinner and I’m lying down on the cold tile of the kitchen floor because I can’t stand up anymore but I NEED everyone to come make their plates, and…the list of things that have actually gotten done is actually pretty long. I’ve survived, and the baby has had another day to grow and develop. My dad is lost in a book, blissfully unaware of how late it is; the kids are trying to get the chickens back in their coop for the night and fighting off the rooster with a broom, old sneakers, or whatever else they can find in the yard; and Steven has gotten so totally absorbed in repairing his Johnny Mnemonic pinball machine that he doesn’t care if he ever eats. They are all happy in their various occupations, so I will eventually crawl over to the refrigerator and stuff something in my mouth that doesn’t require any preparation – a piece of Swiss, or a pickle or some cold noodles. And I will realize that in the midst of the chaos, I’m pretty happy, too.

    If I could just get somebody to come make me a decent meal.

  • Life Cycles

    Well. I’m now one week shy of being six months pregnant and I still don’t think I’ve wrapped my brain around it. We found out we’re having a boy – another surprise.

    In addition, we’re making the final preparations for my father to move up here with us. He will be 83 in July and still lives by himself in Jacksonville. But he no longer needs to be alone and could use help with his daily affairs, so we’ll be opening our doors to him in the middle of May. Having him live with us has been in the works for a long time, but I had no idea it would coincide with having a baby. I guess I can just add that to the growing list of surprises.

    And of course having him move here entails selling his house – the house I grew up in, the house he’s lived in for over 50 years. That’s a mixed bag of emotions if ever there was one. I have a few good memories from before I was aware that my parents weren’t happily married – Dad teaching me how to shoot a BB gun in the backyard, tie-dying t-shirts in the driveway with neighborhood friends, the oak trees covered in Spanish moss and the camellia bushes with huge pink and white blooms – but the later memories of coldness and tension, and an empty dark household are much stronger. My mother off on some weekend spiritual retreat or out on an expensive shopping trip with her friends who my father always said were much wealthier than we were; my father sequestered in his library laying down on the couch with the lights off because of a migraine; and me off at anyone else’s house where there was activity and noise and people.

    My father still loves the house. He had a very happy second marriage to my stepmother Sheryl, and they redecorated it totally – getting rid of the pale blues and greens and clean-lined furniture chosen by my mother and a professional designer, and replacing it with warm brick red paint, colorful wallpaper, antique dressers and sideboards, and big prints of Monet and Van Gogh. They had friends and family over for dinners and weekend stays, and there was laughter – always laughter. Sheryl’s family seemed full of emotion and life compared to anything I was used to; between her teenage daughter and her brothers and their families in the house, there was cooking and messes and cleaning; practical jokes and mock outrage; anger, tears, and reconciliation; joy and love and warmth. When Sheryl passed away it left everyone with huge wounds, but the relationship had changed my father so much for the good that he couldn’t help but heal. Within a year, he adopted a neglected Cocker Spaniel named Robbie, who quickly decided my father was the source all that was good in the world, and he and Robbie lived comfortably in that house together for 17 years.

    Robbie was not the word’s best dog. He was obsessed with my father and destroyed anything keeping them apart, including a plastic crate, a metal crate, drywall, living room curtains, and doorknobs. He bit my husband and both my children on numerous occasions when they either came too close to Dad or moved past him too quickly. I can only assume I was exempt from attack because I shared DNA with my father. Robbie was a finicky eater at best, and as the years went by, Dad’s entire day revolved around trying to get Robbie to eat, putting Robbie on a leash and letting him shuffle slowly down the sidewalk, and attempting to force Robbie to take his (many) pills. He maintained his determination to bark hysterically and angrily at anyone who came in or near Dad’s house right up until the bitter end, and would occasionally still bite an ankle even without any teeth to do so.

    He was not the world’s best dog, but he was the world’s best dog for my dad. He became a legend among our friends and family for his sheer will live to live despite being unable to see, hear, or chew, and for his incredible devotion to Dad. I’m quite sure Robbie kept my Dad sane in those most painful times after Sheryl’s death, and I know that having him made the house a home. It never felt empty when you came in to Robbie.

    We were able to be with my dad when he finally said goodbye to Robbie a couple of weeks ago. Robbie’s vet is the same woman who became our vet when I was a child, and she is still practicing without seeming to have aged. I had not seen her in 25 years, yet she looked the same and had the same competent, authoritative manner. When we brought Robbie in, there was no doubt it was the right time: he had become emaciated and was barely able to stand. After it was over Dr. Jones said, “This is not sad. The other day, I had to put down a 2-year-old dog who broke his back, but was still looking me in the eye and trying to wag his tail. That was sad. But this dog here, he had the best of everything for so many years. This is not sad at all.” My father still had his hand on Robbie and tears running down his cheeks, and I don’t think he heard her. But I did.

    I’ve had a lot of losses. Steven and I together have had a lot of losses. Many of them were untimely and tragic; some were not. But what amazes me is how we keep setting ourselves up for more. We keep giving our hearts to people and animals, we keep caring, we keep getting involved and invested. How many dogs and cats must Dr. Jones have put down in her decades as a vet? And yet she still clasped my father’s shoulder, told him what a wonderful job he had done caring for Robbie, and spoke tenderly to Robbie, stroking his matted fur as she listened for his heartbeat to stop. How many horses have I lost that I owned or trained? And yet I still have horses. I look out the window at them grazing in the pasture and my heart is full. After so many years and so many heartbreaks, I still spend all day looking forward to getting on my big goofball horse in the evening.

    My parents were miserable together for a long time, and then they divorced, but I still got married. Twice, as it happened. My childhood was characterized by a lot of worry and fear and hurt, but I still had children.

    And just now, as I look up from my computer screen to stare out the window at the mountains for a moment, I see something else. Steven has come home early and he and Evelyn are together on the back porch. She is wearing the rainbow nightgown she never changed out of this morning, and a headband with a unicorn horn and ears. They are deep in conversation, and then I realize what he is doing: he is teaching her how to shoot a BB gun.

    Despite loss and pain, we keep going. We keep doing it again. We keep holding our hearts out and entwining them with other lives. We know it will hurt again, but we also know we will smile again. We never replace what we lose, but we go on to experience new love, different love. We learn that we can still love. Losing that ability would be the deepest loss, but reminding ourselves that we still have it brings the deepest joy.

    We say hello, we say goodbye, we say hello again.

  • No Offense, But…

    I freely admit I’m the type of person who perversely takes pride in not being offended. I love those Facebook posts that tell you to keep on scrolling if something bothers you. I genuinely enjoying hearing opinions and ideas that run contrary to my own and I have relationships with people whose values and lifestyles are dramatically different from mine. I hear people say things all the time that rub me wrong, and the awful little voice in my head (the voice I wish I could disown) wants to scream, “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!” But I do manage to swallow that and let those comments pass me by. We’re all adults here. We can all get along, right? It’s not that hard.

    But I guess something always comes along that gets you. Eventually someone hits a nerve that’s personal enough to make you feel like you took a hot poker to the eye. It happened to me today, and I found myself thinking there should be a law against saying something so offensive.

    Big news: I’m pregnant. It was a total shock, and honestly, I still feel like it’s a weird dream even though I’m 15 weeks now. Miranda and Evelyn are 14 and 7 respectively, and I’m 41. I thought I was long past the chapter in my life that included babies, unless it was future grand babies! I’m quite sure God knows all the other things that were already going on in my life, but I have repeatedly asked Him what He was thinking, because this is really bad timing. Nonetheless, I keep coming back to Psalm 127:3, “Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from Him.” I’m trying to quiet the “what ifs”, the worries and the why’s, and just dwell on that. Simple truth.

    This morning I had a routine checkup at the OB. There are four doctors in the practice, and I saw a new one today. Everything has been going fine, and my blood pressure and the baby’s heartbeat are all exactly what they should be. But this doctor was very invested in enumerating every single possible risk factor associated with my age. She said you’re considered high risk at 35, but being over 40 makes me “elderly, practically in a group all by myself.”

    Now just let that sink in. Isn’t that what every already nervous, expectant mother wants to hear?

    Being pregnant, my brain is moving slowly, and it got stuck right there. She called me elderly…she called me elderly…I lost total track of what else she was saying, felt my hands crunching up the wax paper covering the exam table, watched her lips move but couldn’t hear her words.

    But again, simple truth. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…repay no one evil for evil…If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all,” Romans 12:14-18.

    I waited – I assume I just kept breathing – and let it all pass. After a little while she was on to aspirin and preeclampsia, and a witty little anecdote about delivering her youngest child herself because she lived in a rural area (like me!) and no doctor could get to the hospital quickly enough.

    I can’t say that I feel any better about the visit now than I did this morning. But I know that I can choose how I respond. So yes, I wanted and needed to write it down and get it out, but I do not have to dwell on it. I don’t have to repeat this story at a dinner party a year from now and I don’t have to tell my tale of woe whenever this doctor’s name comes up. I have a friend who likes her very much, and I don’t have to bring this up with her or try to convince her to change her opinion.

    “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things,” Philippians 4:8. Writing all of this down – sharing it with you all – is my way of keeping myself accountable to do that.

    I have to choose to turn my eyes away from my perceived offense and toward the miracle of this unexpected new life and the adventure that’s already started.

    Do I see the beautiful buck, or the trash behind it?

    I WILL CHOOSE to look past the imperfections, flaws, and screw ups of life to the beauty that is always, always there behind it. I will often fail, but I’ll keep trying.

  • The Storm Within

    I’ve been laboring over this for several days because it feels like a very awkward confession to make.  Last weekend, we had an epic winter storm, and I nearly lost my mind.  At least 18” of snow came down over the course of 24 hours, starting as a soft dry powder and turning to small ice missiles that pelted our windows for hours.  The wind started early on – in the middle of the night Saturday – and it battered the house until mid-day Sunday.  It was relentless, stopping for only a few seconds at a time, pummeling us on every side and causing a bizarre noise that sounded like a giant wind-up toy echoing into our chimney over and over.

    I tried to distract myself by picking up one of my worn out Jane Austen novels, which is about the most soothing reading material there is.  When that failed, I tried to stay busy sweeping the floors, cleaning the stove, doing laundry, and mopping up the puddles left by the snow blowing in through the gaps in the bottoms of the doors.  Finally I lost all energy and determination and collapsed into my big chair in the den.  Unfortunately, that left me facing our bank of windows and the impenetrable wall of whitish gray outside, so thick and flat that you couldn’t tell if it was day or night.  I could focus on nothing but the overwhelming, oppressive, haranguing wind.  It felt like the snow and wind and ice were fighting the house, fighting the light, fighting me.  It made me nervous in the pit of my stomach and there was no logic to it.  All I could do was close my eyes and wait for those few seconds of reprieve from the wind, and grasp at them when they came.  Right then, I could hope that the storm would end; the rest of the time it seemed like an eternal force that would last longer than I would.

    My friend texted to check on us and I told her that I thought the wind was making me go crazy.  “Why does it make you so edgy?” she asked me.  I had no answer.

    Now, days later, I think I know.  It was primal, totally uncontrolled.  Our big, sprawling house, anchored to the landscape by all its masonry work and thick stone columns, felt like it could be pulled apart at any moment.  Everything around me felt at risk of being broken and torn, and the forces of the storm were so powerful that they seemed to be tearing at my insides, too.     

    Day or night?

    I finally realized that this storm was so unsettling because it made a lie out of so much of everyday life.  We control everything – or we think we do.  The temperature in the house, the temperature in the car – we even use a heat lamp to control the temperature in our chicken coop.  We have umbrellas and rain boots so we don’t get wet, bug spray so we don’t get bit, sunscreen so we don’t get burned.  We have fast food and microwaves so we don’t have to put time or energy into preparing food, we can get fresh strawberries at the grocery store in January…when it comes to our comfort and convenience, we’ve found ways to circumvent nature at every turn.

    But then you face something truly elemental, and you realize how ridiculous all of that is.

    The book of Job makes it plain when God asks, “Have you entered the treasury of snow, or have you seen the treasury of hail, which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war?  By what way is light diffused, or the east wind scattered over the earth?” (Job 38:22-24).  Psalms tells us the same thing.  “He gives snow like wool; He scatters frost like ashes; He casts out His hail like morsels; who can stand before His cold?  He sends out His word and melts them; He causes His wind to blow and the waters flow.” (Ps. 146:16-18).

    Facing this wildness and uncertainty is fundamentally unsettling.  There is nothing we can make with our own hands that we can hold up against it to shield ourselves.  It feels like a shaking from within. 

    We are small and vulnerable, and the idea that we’re in control of anything is a terrible illusion.  Nature, the seasons, the weather and the elements, all tell a different story, and they do not answer to us.   

    The day after.

    Job 37:4-13, “…He thunders with His majestic voice, and He does not restrain them when His voice is heard. God thunders marvelously with His voice; He does great things which we cannot comprehend.  For He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth’…He seals the hand of every man, that all men may know His work…From the chamber of the south comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds of the north.  By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen…He causes it to come, whether for correction, or for his land, or for mercy.”

    Sometime in the afternoon, the storm must have used up whatever was fueling it; one minute it was all fury, and the next, fat snowflakes were drifting lazily down into the backyard.  I breathed.  In the library, I turned the rocking chair around to face out the window that overlooks the back pasture, but the overgrown juniper hedge was so piled with snow that I could see nothing beyond it.  I took up my Jane Austen again, and rocked and watched the snowflakes spin their slow circles.  I sat there for a long time, letting the quietness sink in and replace some of what the storm had taken from me.     

    I’d like to tie this post up in a neat little bow, but I can’t.  Now that I understand why the storm affected me like it did, I’d like to think I’ll handle it better next time, but I don’t know that I will.  There are some things on this earth that don’t get any easier, and this may be one of those things for me.  But – until next time – I’ll cozy up to the fire and let it warm me, and try to make peace with the fact that every storm eventually ends.

  • What’s In A Name?

    When I started this blog in 2014 (I can’t believe it was that long ago!), I called it “The Renewable Family.” I can’t even remember where that inspiration came from, but I can say what it means to me now, and why I’d name it that all over again.

    Left to its own devices, nature renews itself. Watch the seasons, observe the water cycle; death, decay, rebirth and growth are continually happening all around us. But human beings – our spirits and souls – are a different matter entirely. Speaking for myself, I can run the spectrum from patient and kind to completely unreasonable, usually on the same day. And the downhill slide can start from something as trivial as how many pieces of my kids’ dirty laundry I have to turn right-side-out before I can even load the washing machine.

    Left to its own devices, nature renews itself. Watch the seasons, observe the water cycle; death, decay, rebirth and growth are continually happening all around us. But human beings – our spirits and souls – are a different matter entirely. Speaking for myself, I can run the spectrum from patient and kind to completely unreasonable, usually on the same day. And the downhill slide can start from something as trivial as how many pieces of my kids’ dirty laundry I have to turn right-side-out before I can even load the washing machine.

    Sometimes the daily demands of life get the best of me: high-maintenance horses that I have to watch like a hawk; the brooding and unnerving silence of a teenage daughter; continuously feeding chickens, cats, dogs, horses, people; struggling through the ironically-named “How To Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons” for the third time because math is Evelyn’s thing, and reading is not. If you add anything of real significance to that like concerns over a loved one’s health, an unexpected disaster with a client’s remodel, or a friend’s heartache over her father’s unexpected death, I can become just about incapacitated by worry and negativity. 

    Left to my own devices, I get worse, not better. 

    We have to CHOOSE to renew ourselves “so we do not lose heart.” Because “outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day,” 2 Cor. 4:16. But that renewal is far from automatic. We can so easily be overcome by fear, frustration, despair, and anger. But the antidote, which is much harder, is to “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12).

    Our relationships, particularly within our own families, are not automatically renewed either. We have to put down the phone, turn off Netflix, and make eye contact. We have to sit quietly with that other person long enough that we’re still there when they’re ready to talk. We have to show up for things – inconvenient things, boring things, awkward things, sad things. We have to be willing to be the first one to say “I’m sorry”, even if we only halfway mean it, and to smile even if we’re still a little mad. We have to be willing to love enough to be hurt – because we all get hurt eventually. And then we have to be willing to keep loving. 

    This is The Renewable Family because it’s never a done deal. We are always right smack in the middle of the possibility of being overcome or being renewed. The choice is before us every moment: what are we going to take in? What are we going to value? What are we going to nurture?

    So tonight, as I’m totally exhausted and collapsed into my big paisley chair, I’m going to smile as I smash myself against the arm to make room for the cat sitting on the cushion beside me, Miranda curled up on the ottoman begging me to rub her back, and the dog trying to squish himself beside her. I’ll be lulled into sleepiness as the cacophony of sounds of Steven playing pinball in the next room competes with The Great British Baking Show on television. Then I’ll rally my energy to read Evelyn one more chapter of Harriet the Spy, and I’ll nag until someone reads a chapter from the Bible and eventually we’ll all say our prayers.

    And my prayer is this: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me,” Ps. 51:10-12.