Our community, our school, and our little family have been hit hard by the loss of a bright little three and a half year old. Brooklyn was Haley’s age. Her momma and I were looking forward to upcoming years of our girls being together. Brooklyn has sisters who are twins in Darla’s class and another sister in Everett’s class. Brooklyn and Haley were buddies as they tagged along on field trips, class parties, and as our families played together. When Brooklyn was admitted to the hospital for e.coli, no one imagined she would slip into heaven only a couple days later.
The day Brooklyn died, Darla and I walked through raspberry fields with tears and words. Nine year old Darla articulated what many of us struggle to, “It feels like nothing will ever be the same. Will it always be this awful? I can’t imagine something being funny again. I want to be with the twins right now because they must be the saddest ever- but then what should I do? What could I say? Nothing makes it better, does it? This doesn't feel real at all."
Oh, the ache of a mom wishing she could shoulder the harshness of the world and shield her children from inevitable pain and heartache.
“God can comfort and He gives us hope, Darla- but the truth is life on earth leaves us with a lot of holes. Losing Brooklyn leaves a Brooklyn hole. We learn to live in a new normal, but there will always be a Brooklyn hole. Until we get to heaven and Jesus fills all the holes forever- we walk around reminded of losses. Brooklyn’s family will never be the same. They might get used to having three girls, eventually- but the fact is they have four and we only get to see three on earth.”
I was watering my freshly planted sunflower starts while a tractor two fields over methodically worked each row, the sturdy barn behind and rows of raspberries stretching in the acres beyond. I heard a sigh behind me. I turned to Darla who was sprawled out on her back, blonde hair fanned out over the grass in the front lawn.
“Ah, Mom- being out here on days like this makes me feel so inspired. Know what I mean?”
“I was just thinking the same thing.” I admitted. We had been talking a lot about inspiration and I smiled remembering my favorite part of her Mother's Day card to me: "My mom inspires me."
She jumped up. “I’m going to grab a journal. I have to write a poem or something right now while I’m thinking like this.”
I was laughing but mostly envious. I wished I could ignore the ground beef browning on the stove and the grubby toddler in front of me to grab a journal and follow.
Darla was back in a flash, returning to the place inspiration first hit and positioning herself exactly, as though her thoughts were in the small concentrated space above her blonde head. As I watched her tongue stick out while she focused, I remembered being not much older when I scaled up the inside wall of our barn to the stuffy loft, hiding in the corner with a tiny window overlooking the back field where my brothers rode dirt bikes. Notebook in hand, I wrote down trite observations that I now wish I kept.
Sunny days of my childhood were often spent trying to capture an illuminated moment. I remember teetering precariously in a hammock with an apple in one hand, journal and pen in the other, determined to get down on paper my thoughts in an inspired place, regardless of the swaying and the rope marks on the back of my legs. At night I often snuck onto the roof from my second story bedroom, waiting for creativity to hit under the stars.
Darla and Hudson came home from Grandparent’s night at school and came laughing into the bathroom where I was bathing Haley. “Mom- you know what Darla did?” Hudson asked.
“I’ll tell it! I’ll tell it!” Darla jumped in. She tells a story like her mom- barging right over top of anyone who might not tell it as well. “Mom- Beppe took us to ice cream! I was being funny and told Hudson, 'I wonder if they have awesome possum ice cream here.'
Then Hudson bet me. He said, 'I’ll let you shoot my airsoft gun as many times as you want if you ask the lady for awesome possum ice cream.'
I said, 'I’m doing it!' And Mom, no one believed I’d actually do it because obviously the lady was going to say no. Awkward! But I marched up the counter. I even said it with a straight face. I said, ‘Excuse me, do you have awesome possum ice cream here?'
The lady didn’t get the joke at all. She just said, 'Um…. No…' and I smiled and said, ‘Okay. Thank you!’ Then I went back to the table and everyone was cheering and laughing. Beppe even said the lady didn’t have much of a sense of humor if she didn’t think awesome possum ice cream was funny.”
Hilarious. My kids crack me up.
I’ve been a Mom for nearly a decade and it’s my favorite thing.
This fall Sean and I attended parent/teacher conferences at the small Christian school we send our older three kids to. Everett's kindergarten teacher opened with praying for Everett. Through her simple prayer we could see how she understands and knows Everett, and is perceptive of his strengths and weaknesses.
Hudson's teachers encouraged us with news of Hudson's academic progress. Attentiveness from teachers and a small class has helped him get not only to 2nd grade level but to a place of enjoying learning and loving school. He graduated from speech therapy and his confidence is building.
Darla's conference was last. Her dear teacher has been teaching for decades and knew my great grandparents. She began talking about the prayers of my Great Pake and Beppe, their desire to pass down a legacy rooted in God's Word, and their faithfulness to the Lord. She told me stories I never knew. Tears filled her eyes as she shared what a blessing it is to have Darla, to see the prayers of my great grandparents answered through their great-great granddaughter sitting in row three. She spoke of Darla's gifts, her sensitivity to Jesus, and her contribution to the third grade class.
As we left conferences I was dabbing at teary eyes and Sean said, "How soon can we write another check out to this place?"
It's become the joke at our house. When Darla memorized the birth of Jesus from Luke 2 and recited the entire thing at our dinner table, "How soon can we write another check?" When we all squeezed inside the tiny gym to watch a Christmas chapel focused on Christ with performances and Scripture memory, "Can I write a check, please?" When Darla's bunny died and her class prayed for her and a classmate drew bunny pictures "in memory", "Check please?"
That writing the check part can be challenging. Every month I've prayed over tuition costs and each month it has happened. I knew as December was approaching that we'd have to do something a little more drastic if Christian school was to remain a priority. Sean put on an event in December with hopes that we would raise money that could go toward tuition. While the event itself was a success, it was not financially lucrative.
Halfway through December I was asking the Lord, "Is this school thing my idea or yours? I believe it's the best thing for our kids but if it's not within our means and not a good decision for us... I don't want to press on." Do we need to go back to homeschooling? Should we enroll in public school for the second half of this year? We've said having our kids in this school is a priority... but at what cost? Well-meaning Christians have told us we should be involved with the local public school. Am I stubborn holding to my own ideals or are they desires you've given me, Lord?
One evening I was praying while prepping dinner. "Lord, the only thing I can think to cut is rent..." While waiting for water to boil, I perused craigslist only to get depressed by my findings. I shut the computer and resumed dinner.
Then I remembered a friend who's parents were trying to find renters for a house my parents had once rented fourteen years ago. I re-opened the computer and sent a message. By the end of the conversation, I concluded it was another dead end.
"Okay, Lord- now do I conclude we need to make different education choices?"
Two days later my friend's mom messaged and asked if we could see the rental and talk about options. Maybe we could work something out after all. Hopeful but hesitant, we piled into the suburban.
There are some funny ironies in this. "Funny" as in "why is my life always circular?!" kind of funny. Fourteen years ago my family lived in this rental for a few months for the same reason- to save money. When Sean and I ran out of job options our first year married in Spokane, we ended up living in a trailer in the driveway of this rental while we worked berries for the summer. "At least this time we'd live in the actual house," I said wryly as we drove out to look at the house.
As we drove into the driveway, the kids were squealing in the back. They saw llamas and sheep in the field, trees to explore on the side of the house, and they were enamored. "PLEASE let us live here!"
After looking through the house and discussing options with the landlord, it began to look like this might be the answer we were hoping for. It would cut costs and our kids saw it as a step up. They saw a treehouse and were ready to pack boxes that moment. I was whispering thanks to God for that added grace.
For Sean and I it was initially harder. We had hoped to stay in our house for much longer than the two years we've been here. The sunrises are spectacular through picture windows. The master bathroom is indulgent and beyond what I would ever ask for. I have a rose garden, hydrangeas, and a closet that still has empty drawers. Sean has a big garage and an office. We love being in town with a private, quiet yard.
Yet as all those things ran through my mind, I realized they are all things I'd gladly give up for my kids to have the quality of education they're getting now. They've been sweet gifts, but they're temporary and held with open hands. As I evaluated and prayed I found myself looking forward to the Northwood home- a great kitchen, a patio to watch sunsets after two years of watching sunrises. It's cozy and Darla already has plans for transforming a basement corner into a library corner. Hudson can't wait to organize a music area in the basement toy room. Suddenly it didn't seem like a loss, but another adventure. The weight that has lifted knowing our expenses are about to be cut is worth losing a little closet space.
While all of these house decisions were bouncing around last month, a friend called Sean to his office and said, "I know the event you planned for December didn't go as well financially as you hoped. We are advocates of Christian education and would like to write a check to help with your kids' tuition." He encouraged Sean in our priorities and prayers, something we needed as much as we needed a check.
He did all of this having no idea what we were choosing and praying for, nor did he know that the check was the amount we needed.
The questions I've been asking the Lord this past month are being answered in the way He answers- with attention to detail, tenderness even in the hard answers, and never quite the way I expect.
Oh... and this blog update is actually a sneaky way to enlist help. Come the end of January we have some boxes to move. As usual. Nothing new about this year, folks.
I have learned a lot about thankfulness this year. I don't mean the kind of generic thankfulness for the life God gave me while I smile over a heaping plate of turkey and potatoes. I mean the kind of thankfulness that hurts to say because it would be much easier to let tough, bitter skin grow over my heart than to keep it soft by thanking God for His redemptive hand in the things I hate. I don't mean the kind of thankfulness that pastes on a fake smile and says, "it's okay, it's okay" while bleeding out, but the kind of thankfulness that can acknowledge "even as I bleed out, I believe God can use this as a tool to draw me to Himself and for that I can honestly say 'thank you'."
I came across this quote on Ann Voskamp's blog and while I have yet to read any William Law, it depicts what I've experienced this Thanksgiving and this year:
If anyone would tell you the shortest, surest way to all happiness--
he must tell you to make it a rule to yourself to thank and praise God for everything that happens to you.
For it is certain that whatever seeming calamity happens to you, if you thank and praise God for it, you turn it into a blessing.
Could you therefore work miracles, you could not do more for yourself than by this thankful spirit, for it heals with a word speaking, and turns all that it touches into happiness.
… it be the noblest sacrifice that the greatest Saint can offer unto God.”
~ William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout & Holy Life
That being said, I am also thankful for many tangible blessings that are evidence of God's extravagance. Yesterday on Thanksgiving Day at my parent's house I watched my kids running around with ten of their cousins and it was the blessing at the forefront of my mind. My own cousins have been instrumental in every stage of my life. They give me wisdom, conviction, the tightest of hugs (I'm not just saying that. I'm talking break-your-ribs kind of tight), and unconditional love-you-through-the-ugly kind of love. (They also sometimes sneak me away for overnights like this picture taken last month)
Watching my kids develop those types of relationships with their own cousins humbles and excites me.
I also found myself thanking God for my sibling relationships (as we spent way too much time telling hilarious roadkill stories over dessert last night). My siblings (and siblings-in-law) aren't people I do holidays with. They're my real friends who I laugh hard with, who call me out when I need it, and who put up with this bossy big sister.
My own two boys and two girls are as diverse as me and my siblings are. They watch each other's backs at school, they support each other's interests and passions, they rough house and don't let each other get by with much.
For these things I was smiling and thankful for over a heaping plate of turkey and potatoes....and stuffing... and ham... and shrimp salad...and cranberry sauce...
Haley Kate recently started throwing her arms around my neck, burrowing into me, and saying, "Ahh... my own Mom." Sometimes she says it possessively and sometimes she says it with the "ahh" voice that comes from feeling at home and cozy.
Today it was while I was trying to talk to her seriously. She reached out, grabbed the sides of my face and said, "You my own Mom" and kissed me in the affectionate way toddlers do, when they come at you and you aren't sure if they're going to kiss your lips or bloody your nose.
The other kids remind her, "She's MY own Mom, too." Haley looks at them like she's considering, but not certain she's willing to share.
This week marks one year of being Haley Kate's "own Mom". I will never accurately articulate the privilege it is. It sobers me, challenges me, humbles me, and her little feisty face continually reminds me of God's extravagant, undeserved gifts.
Haley is opinionated and fun-loving in the free spirited way that causes her to throw back her head when she laughs. She has no problem keeping up with her older siblings and if everyone else is sharing about their day at the dinner table, she often pounds her fists on the table and insists, "I'm talkin'! I'm talkin' FIRST!" Ahem...clearly she's a Taylor in every sense.
She's a daddy's girl. She's the type of Daddy's girl that waits for him to come home at the end of the driveway, singing songs she makes up about "Daddy come home" at top volume. She's the smart Daddy's girl who quickly cries, "I want Daddy!" when she knows she's in trouble.
From the moment I heard about Haley as a foster child with an unknown future, she completely had my heart. I never held back. Yet, this year of having her for keeps has given my heart rest I didn't know it needed. When those big hazel eyes meet mine, "You're my own Mom", I grin. "Yes! Forever! Forever I get to be your Mom."
“By you I have been upheld since birth; you are He who took me out of my mother’s womb. My praise shall be continually of you.” Psalm 71:6.
The conversations that happen when I'm tucking my kids in are often life changing... at least for me. There's something sacred in the moments of reflection, the pondering questions, the prayers that summarize the day. When I say "sacred" I mean the kind I see as a mom because I have magic ability to look past fidgeting, whining, and the somersaults my two year old is doing in her bottom bunk that are not helping her wind down.
We talk about the day, tell stories, and take turns praying (which also includes distracted tumbling routines, interruptions, and jabbing at each other when they see I have my eyes closed.)
For some reason we've often landed on the subject of persecuted Christians and missionaries in other countries. Hudson heard me talk about Christians in Saudi Arabia and had dozens of questions about why someone would cut off a person's hands just because they read the Bible. He began praying every night for Christians in Saudi Arabia. This young Hudson Taylor has felt quite a connection to the missionary Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) and his ministry in China. Seeing his sensitivity towards missionaries and Christians worldwide, I began sharing more. About a month ago I shared with them about persecution in Egypt and we prayed.
One thing we've discussed extensively (When I say "extensively" I mean for an elementary and toddler level) is how God's purpose in suffering is often different than we expect. We imagined that if we were witnessing Stephen stoned (Acts 7) we might think God never showed up. What a bad ending!
Then we looked closer. We saw that Stephen had an opportunity to share God's words with his accusers, very publicly. Even while Stephen was being stoned, he experienced the Holy Spirit and miracles. We know that later one of his persecutors, Saul, believed in Jesus and became Paul. How many more miracles stemmed from Stephen's life and death that we aren't even aware of?
When the old squeaky bus from my kid's little Christian school pulls up out front of our house in the afternoon and my older three tumble out with red cheeks, smelling like glue sticks and leftover lunch, the quiet is instantly assaulted and Haley and I come to full attention. I think our sturdy house itself stands a little straighter as the noise, backpacks, lunch boxes, the order forms, notes, homework, all comes landing on the table amidst snacks.
The first hour is intense.
"I wanted to tell Mom about my day first."
"Why oh WHY do we have to memorize all of that?"
"I'm still hungry."
"Wait- I almost forgot to tell you everything I played at recess."
"I ate everything you put out but I'M STILL HUNGRY."
Then there is this moment. This moment after snacks, after the excitement and urgency has passed (and I'm laying on the kitchen bench under a mountain of papers) when every kid goes to their own corner. Darla grabs a book, Hudson sits at his little lego table in his room, and Everett is sprawled on the toy room floor with cars. They re-charge before dinner while poor Haley who's been alone all day meanders between them all waiting to play something...anything.
This past year has been tumultuous for many of us in my family. Instead of crawling under a rock, which is typically my urge, my parents decided to celebrate things worth celebrating and throw an epic Family Camp out for the 4th of July weekend. They went all out to spoil their kids and grandkids.
God continues to be faithful to us. He's provided fifteen children in nine years between me and my three siblings. He's carried us through valleys and provided some soft landings when we fall. He's given us an ability to laugh a lot together, given His grace to keep applying to each other as soothing salve, and given us a perspective that extends beyond today.
It's a painful reality to look at the family you thought was pretty darn near perfect, in seasons of undoing, and experience the crash of illusions and ideals. The first inclination is to do some patch work to get everything looking tidy again. But alas, God's work is deeper than whitewashing surfaces... so we make room for messy work to be done, trusting He is faithful to complete what He has started- even in the face of our sinful imperfections.
Just throwing myself out there a bit...