...with a husband and 5 sons, I am truly outnumbered....stories and thoughts on life from a mom in a houseful of little men!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Forward

These are the days which good and hard weave in and out of.  There are so many things and moments that are easy to give thanks for.
Such as first glimpses of Baby...
…and fresh spring babies in the sunshine.
And there are things and moments that hurt and are hard and it's pure sacrifice to murmur our thanks for those things.
Such as a returned dossier from Addis Ababa...
…and painful consequences
We hold on to the hope that He's making something unexpectedly, extra-beautiful on this tapestry, even though we may not see it yet.

We're (still) in a season of change and unrest, and have been for quite some time now.  Our family is not the same as we were two years ago.  There's a new heartbeat among us.  Boys are taller and have made even bigger leaps in their heart-growth.  Along with those victories, they also face new challenges. We parents have changed too, both outwardly and inwardly.  The pressures of moving and job change and unsettledness have produced both good fruit, and also caused the ugly to rise to the top.

Sometimes recently I've remarked, "I think I like the girl from a few years back better.  I'm not the same person now that I was then.  In fact, I'm not sure I can remember her."  And so gently, like the murmurings of this Western wind through quaking Aspen leaves, I have heard Him whisper, "You're not the same.  How can I make you more like Me if you stay the same?"  A glimpse of hope has filled my heart, and yet still this hurt.  This fatigue.  This wanting of the hard to be over.

It's been a particularly difficult week.  I don't share this to be negative, but to be real.  Maybe you relate?

Morning sickness, nasty colds, bee stings, a boy nearly slicing off the tip of his thumb, wisdom teeth removal…these sort of things have filled our days recently.  All the while, there is regular life and work and lessons and housekeeping for our family of eight, the all-consuming rhythm-keeping of days.  Then there are the deeper, pressing matters, such as finding that permanent landing place.  Where is the time or energy for that sort of thing?

One particular day found us scraping grotesque remains off the garage floor, over and over again, as baby birds plunged to their deaths to the concrete.  We had heard them the previous two weeks or so, faint little cheep-a-cheeping at first.  Their little cries gradually became louder and we smiled each time we stepped into the garage and heard the evidence of their growth.  What a sad end to the mama's laboring of caring for those little birds. Over the course of two days, the cheeping lessened and lessened some more until all we heard was one.  It, too, fell as we watched, only this one landed on the workbench.

The boy-version-of-animal-lover-me, ran to scoop up the fragile little frame before it toppled from workbench to concrete.

"I'll name him Bright Hope," he said.  All day he played the role of papa to that little bird.  Tenderly he fed him bits of suet and provided a soft place to rest.

The bird still died later that day, but it has a name and a place marked by an upright stone adorned with transplanted Forget-Me-Nots and scattered rose petals.

I feel sort of like I'm falling lately.  "Slipping", I call it.  And so in some sad, strange way I took it personal as I watched, one-by-one, those little birds fall.  Thankfully though, I have more in common with the last little one, which instead of meeting concrete, met a buffered landing place and warm hands to nurture it along.  It had a name.  It was known.  And loved.  And I am, too.  You are too, by the way.

I'm loved even when my ugly rises to the top with all this pressure.  I'm known by name, a name written on His hand.  So when He speaks to me, "Forward", I'll keep trudging forward.  Because I believe through all this hard stuff something beautiful is being woven together.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Missing the Littler and Simpler

So this week we find ourselves with a new teenager, which brings the total to two teenagers in the house, whom I'm pretty sure I just birthed last week.
 
I'm happy and sad.  I'm so proud of our crew and so encouraged by how I see God working in their hearts and growing them into the men He has planned for them to be.
But I'm sad, too, because though I love their big-ness, I surely miss their little-ness.  It doesn't help that we no longer have a diaper-wearer in the house.  This too is a big "Praise Jesus" intermingled with tears.  There's no hiding it.  Our family is evolving. Growing.  Things in this life simply don't stay the same for long.
I remember so clearly that evening ten years ago, sitting with a small group of women listening to a dear and wise mentor share words of encouragement.  Lynda looked us square in the eyes (how did she look at every. one. of us at the same time?) and she said in essence, "You girls think life is always gonna be like this.  You married the guy.  You had the babies.  You're living that dream.  It's hard and all-consuming, but I'm telling you: it's not always going to be like this.  In no time, it will be over.  This is only the smallest snippet of time."  Her point, was to live it fully.  To appreciate all the details.  To know that it is a gift.  To know that it will soon change.  To know we can't get it back.
How wise and true her words were.  I knew it on that evening, and I know it now.  Only now I'm seeing it happen with my own eyes.  Time slipping through my fingers, hour after day after week after month after year.  Measured in five small sons who aren't so small anymore.
                                                 
                                         
With Monday's celebration of thirteen years of dearly-loved Noah, I find myself thinking back to the "little years."  The years when they all basically enjoyed the same things.  I could be a super-hero simply by carving out a few extra minutes to drop by the playground on the way home from running errands with them.  They would actually all still enjoy that now, too, but it's…different.

It's different in the same way they will all lay on the floor building a matchbox car track with their four-year-old brother…and though they're all having fun, they are having different sorts of fun.
 The same way I can still feed them good foods and fill them, but it takes A LOT more food, which means the foods need to be simple and must be bought in BULK.  
                                                  
Different, in that we can all read the Jesus Bible Storybook at breakfast together and enjoy it, but I still need to be sure my older ones are being fed spiritually in deeper ways.

Different.  Deeper.  Fuller.  Yes.

but sometimes I miss the littler.  simpler.

There's no stopping it.  So what's this mama to do when it makes me happy and sad and desperate and proud all at once?  Lift my chin to the sky and whisper "thanks" continually.  Pray unceasingly for these little men to grow in grace and wisdom and love of truth.  Enjoy each and every moment.  Let some not-so-important stuff slide.  Let lots of stuff go, in order to look deeply into bright blue eyes as they tell me for the six-hundredth time  about what's happening in the latest Axis & Allies board game, realizing that this is holy work being done.  It's telling an eternal soul that they are loved and important.  That they can come to me later with the bigger things, because I bothered to care about the small things.

So I guess, there still is  littler.  simpler.  stuff going on here.  It's just that those things take a different form than five small bodies eagerly gathered around a Thomas the Train track.  This smaller stuff is giving way to the deeper, fuller, big stuff.  The stuff that will continue to come in bulk amounts (along with food orders) as we blessedly walk through the coming count-down of summers left before we must begin to let them fly.
                                                   

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

It Was Not What I Expected

Nothing about the wedding day was as I had dreamed it.  I had daydreamed, starry-eyed, during those years of tanned-skin, wild-haired, bare-footed girlhood, swinging on a farmyard swing.  I had dreamed and planned away, but this was not the day I had pictured.  Those dreams included a flowing, white gown and little flowers tucked in my unruly, romantic hair.  They included a tuxedo for my Handsome, along with flowers and more flowers beside a lake…with dappled sunshine giving way to a candlelight evening.  I pictured a medium-sized gathering of faces of loved-ones, and they all wore smiles.  The dream day was crowned with pure joy and well-wishes, and topped off with a humble honeymoon escape to somewhere lovely and simple and adventurous.

But as I stood awkwardly at the back of the decor-less, mostly-unfamiliar, silent church, none of those dreams had come to pass.  I wore a cheap dress, off the rack.  I straightened the tie of my Handsome for the outfit we had pieced together.  We walked up to the altar, us and my beloved childhood pastor, and three witnesses.  And we promised our lives away to each other before God.

We had no idea what we were doing.
 On that day, the things that were absent…the things of my dreams…were just that.  They were things.  And on that day, they mostly didn't matter to me.  I had decided they didn't matter.  Because the bottom line was that those things were not attainable at that time, and all I really wanted to do was to marry the man standing there with me.  And I wanted to marry him right then.
 Looking back, even amidst some regrets of moving forward with such understated plans…because there are regrets over not safe-keeping our future memories with more than a couple "snapshots" of a day that comes 'round one time and one time only…but looking back, even though I have mourned the loss of that girlhood dream, I realize that perhaps the way it unfolded was a more fitting beginning for us.

This marriage adventure.  The thing you have no idea about until you're in the beauty and blood and guts of it.  Because, really, marriage is never what you dream it will be like either.  At least that's my experience, and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one.  For sure there is at least one other person (and I happen to live with him) who would agree!  Still there are all these things that nobody ever tells you to expect about married life.  Or, maybe they do tell you, whether by words or living example, but it all just passes over your heads like a series of swift arrows shot by Cupid.

Nobody tells you how hard it is to try and live unselfishly.  You don't know that after the euphoria wears off in those early days, you may have a personal identity crisis as you change all your ID cards.  Furthermore, living for two really doesn't seem less expensive than living for one, and it really stinks to pay your bills and have fifteen dollars left for groceries for the next two weeks.  It puts a real hammer down on the romance, if you will.  You do not realize at the time, that you're marrying a sinner.  And you certainly, do not realize at the time, that he is marrying the worst sinner of all.  But time tells.  Time shows.  And when you think you're plugging along fairly well, you'll get whacked upside both your heads and have to learn it all over again at a deeper level.

In the painful moments, in the impossible and hopeless moments, whether caused by you or him or some other outside force…nobody tells you that you may feel a fleeting desire to run away.  Maybe they didn't tell you,

but HE has told us,

that if you stop ranting about why you and your way is right and take the time listen carefully, sometimes even needing to strain to hear it, the One who is holding it all together anyway is whispering a way He's provided out, "so that you can stand up under it."  The way out is not out of your marriage.  The way out is to step out of your selfish self.  The way out is to stop placing impossible expectations upon your marriage and life and spouse and self, and to instead gaze up into the only One who fulfills every dream and longing of our hearts.  And this painful, hard, yet beautiful thing needs to be done over and over and over again.  Refining thing, this marriage adventure.

There are other things nobody tells you, such as how incredible it is to have someone by our side whom you know will stick by you no matter what, because he has done so for 21 years.  Furthermore,  that you will do the same for him, because you, too, have a 21-year track record.  You will choose to do this, even when you don't like each other.  Because that, too, happens sometimes, and I'm sure nobody told us that either!  Or if they did, we didn't believe them.  Still the truth remains--nothing compares to the comfort of something constant in a constantly-changing world.

Finally, they don't tell you that at some point, you will understand you don't have to see everything eye-to-eye with this person in order to truly love-as-an-action love him and cherish him and the life you've built together.  How simple it would be if we saw everything the way I see it the same.  But, tell me.  Where's the challenge in that?

So maybe beginning this marriage adventure with less than the dream wedding really was a more realistic beginning anyway.  To begin with a fairytale would have created quite a catastrophe perhaps, when we realized marriage was much harder and much more wonderful in unexpected ways than I ever could have imagined as I swung my skinny, tan legs high up on that farmyard swing so many years ago.  Perhaps it really was best to fly by our seats with good intentions and hopes for a bright future, with just a couple of special touches and a handful of people who truly loved us standing by.  Or perhaps, it has just been…pure….grace.

Whatever the case, thank you for this incredible, adventurous ride, Mr. Dassow.

For all those things that we missed in the beginning, we did get one thing right--to choose to stand by each other no matter what.

With five states, five sons, adoption hopes, dreams both realized and dashed, and so many challenges and hardships and so much grace and goodness under our belts, I just can't imagine doing it all with anyone else.

I cherish you…and nobody could have told me that I'd feel like I do after twenty-one years.  It really is so much better than I imagined, just in a completely different way.


Monday, September 21, 2015

One Choice Has Created White Space {Striving to Unplug, Part 2}

So as I eluded to in my last post, some additional boundaries are going into place with regard to my smart phone use.  I am choosing to make this one choice now, in order to save myself the energy of making a hundred little choices throughout each day, to decide what is better for that moment.  To make this one choice now will add some peace and some white space to my days.  Just the thought of that is a breath of fresh air to my soul.

For me, the boundaries look this simple:

1) Plug my phone into the charger each evening.

2) Unplug phone and move it onto the kitchen counter with my old-fashioned, hand-held phone         receiver plugged into it.  It will be used only to answer or make real phone calls.

3) At 3:00 or so, I will check and answer messages, read blog posts, research on-line, check social media for up to 1/2 hour.

4) After boys are tucked into bed at night, I will do the above for up to 15 minutes before plugging it back into the charger and then doing something more worthwhile.

After doing this for just a few days, I am amazed at the time this has freed up for me.  I don't have to decide umpteen times per day whether or not I should check this-or-that, because if it's not during my designated phone times, the answer is automatically "no".  There has been a certain peace in my mind at having so much less distraction.  It frees me up to be more creative.  I feel more compelled to do things I love more often.  Such as write!  and read!
I find that I'm actually much more productive too, now that I leave my phone-use for particular time slots.  On any given day, there may be things I've thought of that I want to research on-line, for example.  I'm making it a habit to just jot those things down on a slip of paper throughout the day.  When phone time arrives, I can look those items up quickly, all in a full swoop.

I'm a very social and relational person.  I love people.  My relationships are precious to me, so I love to correspond and connect with others.  With my phone-use boundaries finding a welcomed place in my life,  I am freed up to do so in ways that feel more special and meaningful.  Rather than spending too much time mindlessly scrolling through a social media feed clicking "like", I feel more inclined toward sitting down and writing out a hand-written notecard or letter to a loved one.  Even typing a letter on my computer feels more intentional.  I love walking out to the mailbox row to send these little tokens of affection on their way.  I love to use that short time to breathe deep, enjoy the beauty outside, and to pray for the recipients.

Sometimes I use my shorter phone time to text a friend to arrange a time for a phone catch-up.  We can cover a lot more meaningful ground on the phone than on short blips on social media or texting.

I also find that I feel more energy for creativity when it comes to relationships.  It doesn't take but a few minutes to write a quick note and pop it into a mailer with an inexpensive gift for a friend.  From time to time, I see or find something small that just makes me think of a certain person.  It's so fun to act on these impulses rather than to just say to myself, "If I had the time, I'd send that for a surprise."  It makes me smile for days to think of that person opening up the mailbox to find some "fun mail."  Fun mail is in a serious shortage these days.

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not anti-smart phone, nor anti-social media, nor anti-text messaging.  These things have their place, and you'll still see me "liking" and commenting, posting my own things, and texting with friends.  What I'm sharing with you, however, is that for me, those things are finding again the proper place in my life.  And with that comes

blessed

white

space

in my days.  Space and time that is blank and ready to be colored with magic markers, watercolors, or whatever best-opportunities of the moment.  It's incredible the difference in mental clarity I experience with these simple boundaries in place.  It's too good not to share with you, in hopes it will inspire you to create or renew your own techno boundaries.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

I Cried When He Bought Me an iPhone, {Striving to Unplug, Part One}

Yeah, seriously….I did.

For years I carried around my trusty flip-phone.  Remember those?  Mine was little and gray, and it fit perfectly in my palm.  When I opened it up, the screen was clear and simple, with digital numbers and letters.  No color, no bells or whistles, just pure function.  I liked how I could smooth over the tiny screen with my finger and it was instantly tidy.

But the best part about it? The best part about my little flip-phone, was that I hardly ever used it.  It fit neatly in my purse, and that was where it always was, unless I was using it for a short, pointed phone call, or it was plugged into the car charger.  In it's later days, the charger was where it stayed actually, because it would no longer hold a charge for long.  And then suddenly, it wouldn't hold a charge at all.  That day came, unfortunately, while I was running errands in Anchorage, in bad weather, with all five boys and we had car trouble.

My wonderful husband had been asking me for several months if I wanted a smart phone.  He thought it would be nice for me to have a more reliable phone.  He thought I'd appreciate the ability to text, and that I'd like to look things up on-line from time to time.  After brief consideration...ok, after barely finishing listening to him speak, I told him I didn't want one.  He was convinced that I was just being polite, so he sweetly announced one day he would like to buy me a smart phone.  I thanked him, but asserted that I really didn't want one.   I assured him that despite what the ladies at the office thought, I wasn't being polite, and that I'd prefer to put that additional amount per month into our adoption fund.  At that, he realized I really didn't want one, and that was the end of the conversation. That is, until the afore-mentioned day my little flip-phone gave up the ghost and there was no resurrecting her…not even after searching for parts through a four-foot tall, cardboard box full of old discards at the telecom office.

That day, my concerned husband came home with my new iPhone.  He handed it to me and said, "I bought you this, and I want you to use it."  And I cried, but said, "ok…thanks."

Why didn't I want this clever little piece of technology?  Well, I think mostly because inside I knew that it could become problematic for me.  I had been content with my outdated flip-phone, and I suspected this little gadget could complicate my life more than it helped.  I felt annoyed when I saw so much attention being paid to smart phones.  Though I hadn't given it much detailed thought, I had a notion that it would become just as big of a distraction for me as I witnessed it being for others.  And really, all things considered, I was right.

Now, let me just say, that my phone really has been a handy tool.

It enables me to have a camera handy almost all the time.

It enables me to keep in close contact with Tony, even if he's out in his office working.

With it, I can look up things online at any whim.

It has allowed me to stay closely up-to-date with far-away friends and family through messaging and social media.

All these things have been steadily possible throughout my days with my smart phone, because you see, at first though it sat neatly in my purse like my old flip-phone, it soon found a place in my jeans pocket.  On my person.  Most of the time.  Talk about a distraction!

There are times that I cringe at my response to my littles, "Just a minute…Mommy's working on the phone."  This makes me cringe even though during those times, I really am accomplishing necessary work.  All in all, I feel like I've done a good job of remaining fully-present with my people, and not forsaking face-to-face time for screen time.  However, I also find that lately I am constantly dealing with the pull or temptation to check this message or that voice mail, to email so-and-so, or to check the price of such-and-such online.   I'm often inclined to check the weather here or where my family and friends live, or the wildfire update, or to research prospective new chiropractic clinics.  You see?  In essence, it has created a complicated distraction in my life, and quite frankly, I have enough complication and distraction in my life without my phone vying for my attention.  I don't want to put the constant effort into choosing to ignore this distraction in order to choose what is better.  So some additional boundaries are going into place.  In short, this mama needs some room to breathe.  Just as I continually need wide-open spaces physically, I also need it for my mind and soul.



Thursday, March 26, 2015

Good-Bye, Friend

The first rays of sunlight filtered through sheer curtains into our room, and I opened my eyes.  Immediately feeling the hollow inside, I remembered today I must make the call.  This impending task to do made it so difficult to rise.  I'd been up with him in the night...he had stood panting, panicked, in pain.  His eyes had that wild "help me" look which all pet owners who have seen their beloveds to the end would recognize.  Nothing I could do would bring comfort any longer; it was just....time.
Still feeling somewhat foreign in this Southern town, I wondered who to call.  This isn't the type of veterinary appointment in which you want to "try out" a new place.  It's the type of heart-wrenching appointment that you don't want to make at all, but if it needs to be made, you want it to be with friends. 
 
Hoping for the best, I called one of two nearest places.  It had seemed quaint and simple as I drove by on other days.  However, my experience on the phone with them was anything but what I was hoping for, to put it kindly.  Hanging up, I called the next-nearest place...a place I'd also seen numerous times.  It had seemed a little too flashy from the outside, considering our needs at the moment, but I called anyway.  The receptionist was kind, and they could see us at 2:30.  Not much time to make last memories, but what would be enough?
 
 
As the appointed time approached, Tony's strong arms scooped up our Chuggie Chugiak, our "Sits With a Purpose", the dog who had been so present and faithful to us for the last nearly 17 years.  He was a musher's cast-away, an unwanted pup, which I found along with his sister under rickety, wooden, rural post office steps, just a few weeks after moving to Alaska.  We wanted him, and we moved across town in order to keep him.  
 
Chuggie was an awkward, peaceful, and comical creature.  He seemed to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and in the way.  He would have the entire run of the house, yet step in the dirt pile I just swept up.  He was the type of dog that brought a smile or even a chuckle on the worst of days.  He taught us that we shouldn't take ourselves too seriously.  Even now I smile as I think of how I could make it through feeding time during the muddiest day of break-up season, and just before I left the kennel, he would be the one out of five dogs to affectionately plop the muddiest paw directly on my clothes.  He taught us that things don't have to be perfect, and it's pointless to try to make them that way.  He taught us to live and love freely, even if it gets you a bit dirty.

Chuggie lived for even a glimpse of us, all day long, every day.  At any given time, he was pining away for us at his "post", staring at the house window, or down the driveway.  In the dog yard, he tripped us up trying to be as close as possible to us at all times.  If I were to stand still, he would immediately sit down, directly in front of me, staring up at me.  The moment eye contact was made, he dramatically threw himself down, exposing his belly, waiting for a nice rub.

One by one, all of his dog buddies passed away.  He grieved every death by moping and barking incessantly, day and night, for days and nights on end.  He would not eat nor sleep.  With the passing of his litter mate sister a year and a half ago, Chuggie was the last remaining member of the pack.  He has been a constant in our family life, and part of what makes home, "home", whether it be a house  we own, or rent, or a camper driven across two countries.  

In Tony's arms, on this bright, warm, spring Tuesday, Chuggie did not struggle.  Hind legs, which had once been so strong and pulled us miles and miles on dogsled and skis, hung limply down his master's side.  He trusted those arms to hold him tight, to have his best interest at heart, to do what was best.  Observing his trust, I realized that even on this day, there were lessons still to be learned from this dog.  You see, there are  Strong Arms that hold me also and have held me continuously for forty years, yet I still fight against them at times.  For half my lifetime, I didn't realize those Arms were there, holding.  For the other half of my lifetime, I have known it, received it, and rejoiced in it.  Even still, I sometimes struggle and flail around, not always trusting.

Our drive to the new and unknown veterinary clinic was a nearly silent one.  It was also much too short of a drive.

Outdoors in the sunshine, with the help of compassionate and skilled hands, we loved our dog the last way that we could.  And at a time when we desperately needed a piece of home, we were unbelievably blessed with it.

Our vet was from Anchorage. 

Yeah, of all the clinics in Maryville, Tennessee, the one we chose was owned by an Alaskan. Upon arrival, we felt the ambiance of "home," that familiar, laid-back, pay-us-later, Pacific Northwest feel.  Still, we never would have guessed that our vet would tell us she was from Anchorage. 

Let me tell you, friends:  the One Whose Arms Hold Me?  He cares about the things we care about about.  As I looked upon the huge Alaska map displayed in the waiting area, I realized once again, that this God who placed the capacity to love in our hearts, even to crazy-love furry creatures, passionately loves us and cares about our details.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Hope, Harbored in Quiet Spaces

Unexpectedly, tears filled my eyes as I looked upon that old, weathered, presidential chair.  Worn, stiff, faded, it was just an inanimate object, but as I stood in that 200-year-old study, window overlooking the Potomac, I could sense the life that once sat there.

World on shoulders.  Heavy weight.  There were so many depending on him to fulfill his appointed task, and there was also the One, who watched to see if he would choose to say yes.  It was the hard thing, but the right thing, and so he stepped forward and filled the space that had been carved out for him to fill before the foundation of the Earth. 

He did not walk on water, no, but he did trust in the One Who does.  He was not perfect, but he stood for goodness and exemplified meekness...extreme power....controlled.  Where are our General George Washingtons today?
Where are those who aspire for greatness not for themselves, but for those who will come behind them?  Where are those who would give up absolute power, should it be offered to them, even twice, choosing instead to live a quiet and peaceful life as a fellow servant?
 
When pondering such questions, in the face of current events and heartbreaking news around every bend, such modern-day leaders seem absent.  They are here, though, but many times not where we expect them.  We want to see them in prominent places, and depending upon times and seasons, they indeed may be.  Other times, they are not the ones holding office and powerful positions.  In such times, let us be encouraged and remember that leaders are born at home, and raised by regular mothers and fathers.  Regular, except that the mothers and fathers are brave, and have vision, have hope to release the leaders they are raising when the proper time comes.
Regular people.  Servants' hearts. Doing the extraordinary in quiet and private spaces.  My heart wells up with thankfulness for you mothers and fathers who are doing just this, right now.