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In Which Dreams Come True and There Are Lots of Plastic Bins

I had wanted it for so long, I had nearly given up. It had become one of those things I had to keep laying aside in the name of growth, patience, and reality checks (hey, there are people starving in Africa, be thankful for what you’ve got!). And I was thankful. I just kept bumping up against this dream I couldn’t let go of. But last August, after more than five years of searching, we found it.

A little farm.

Close to my husband’s work.

That we could afford.

It was so surreal, I hardly let myself hope. Something would go wrong. Something surely would go wrong. And we would have to sell our house first. Our house that we were still finishing up remodeling, our house that we were living in, that we, all EIGHT of us, with six of us ages ten and under were still living in.

Crazy. How could I ever keep it clean? And if I didn’t, who would buy the House of Chaos?

But then there was this peace. Every time we had looked at a house during our years of searching something hadn’t seemed right, not something physical like an atrocious yellow and orange shag carpet (which actually this farm house has), but a feeling, an uneasiness of not being at home. But as soon as we drove up on that August day, I knew that this was where we were supposed to be. The Lord was opening the door we’d been pounding on for so long. When we want something that isn’t God’s timing, ain’t no way it’s going to happen. But when it is His timing, nothing can stop it, not even a winding down real estate season or a house full of active children spilling juice all over the living room or running their Melissa and Doug metal shopping cart into the brand new stainless steel refrigerator that was a showpiece in your newly remodeled kitchen (for example).

It’s going to take several posts to get through the whole story, but here’s the first bit.

We didn’t know where to start in getting our house ready to show to strangers, so I called a “stager,” a sort of decorating, decluttering, make-it-what-the-market-wants consultant. Our good friend had used him to sell his house, and the results had been astonishing, so homey, so intelligent, so uncluttered. And what a blessing! The stager had an opening. In two days.

“Just pretend that I’m a potential buyer,” he said.

“OK,” I said.

When I hung up, I looked around at a sea of stuff. There was stuff on top of stuff, with more stuff creeping out from under beds. Bins. We needed bins, lots and lots of bins. My husband came home with the first lot, and I handed them to the children to tackle their rooms. “Just shovel as fast as you can. We’ll sort it later.” I labeled the bins helpful and detailed things like, “Terrifying Randomness from the Boys’ Room,” and “Detritus,” and we shoveled and stacked and filled the garage with bins. The time was drawing near for the stager’s arrival and still we shoveled. The kitchen had been emptied, everything off the counters, all but the essentials out of the cupboards and drawers. I took most of our clothes out of the closets, most of the towels out of the linen closet, while bin after bin left the ever lessening morass of my children’s rooms. I worked and raced and sweated and puffed my way towards that stager’s appointment.

It was nearly time. I hadn’t made my bed. I couldn’t even find my bed under all the junk strewn all over it, carted in from the rest of the house, the “important” stuff, rescued from being shoveled into poorly labeled bins with less important stuff. I had left our bedroom for last. I was in there, still frantically throwing things in bins when the stager arrived.

Test #1: Humility. And Failure. A two-fer. I am supposed to pretend he’s a buyer, and he must think I’m an idiot to have an unmade bed covered with “important” stuff.

Oh, well. It is what it is. We’ll explain we only had two days. At least the kitchen looks good, and the kids’ rooms.

I had looked on Pinterest and several “How to Sell Your House Fast” type pages and had decided to leave just a few toys in the children’s rooms to suggest happy play. In the boys’ room, for example I left one farm set, a large horse on springs, a truck, some puzzles. So maybe it wasn’t quite like a magazine, but it was pretty good, right? I mean, at least there were no broken bits of Happy Meal toys. (Speaking of which, why do we have so many of these when I can count on one hand the number of times we let the kids get Happy Meals?)

The stager surveyed the boys’ room.

“Well,” he said, “now’s the time to start paring down your toys.”

Clearly, this was going to be harder than I had imagined.

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which we have even more bins, and tests, and shopping!

Telling Stories

I kept waffling. I would hear a song, or read something inspiring in a book, maybe have a conversation, and I would decide, resolve right then that I would start writing again. But my computer time is at bedtime, and night would come, bleary-eyed and worn, and the thoughts that seemed so sharp in the daylight would melt away and slip through my fingers like the last bits of Popsicle in July.

Maybe I’ll just check Facebook.

And so it was for ten months. I have written little and published nothing. But I have squirmed. I had nothing to say but no peace about silence. I couldn’t stop thinking about blogging.

But one morning I knew.

I was sitting in church, balancing baby and Cheerios and a little red race car. And suddenly, it hit me. For the ten months that I had had nothing to say, I had been living a story, a story with God as the Hero. I had seen countless everyday miracles. And I had already forgotten most of them. I need to be blogging, not because I have something profound to teach the world from the depths of my own brilliant Google research or striking, fresh conclusions about the meaning of life, neatly packaged by one too young to be packaging up anything more than cookies, but because we are called to be witnesses. And this is what I can witness.

So I’m back, trying again. I don’t even know if anybody still checks my blog. But God is here, sustaining a stay-at-home wife and mom with six small children, a woman who messes up daily, fights for joy, and sometimes burns the breakfast sausage. And I have a story to tell.

Having a New Baby Is Hard: the Overflowing Toilet Version

I’ve had six babies, and every time I have a new one, there are days when I feel as if I’m on the verge of a panic attack all the time. It’s a good thing I have a blog that I can go back and read later, or I might mistakenly assume that I feel like this because something is terribly wrong, and not, as it turns out, that life is completely normal for someone with a new baby. Take, for instance, the post I wrote in 2009 about the time I tried to take a shower in a campground with my kindergartner, my toddler, and my three-week-old baby. That was a crazy day, almost as crazy as a day last week, which involved less embarrassment but more “number 2,” so it all evens out. And it’s also proof that they DO grow up. The potty training toddler from the 2009 post grew up to be the big girl who on my recent crazy day ran to tell me that “something is coming out of the toilet!”

The other thing, the really important thing, is that there is good in the craziness. Our small group at church has been talking about how our purpose in life is to glorify God. And I had just been saying to my husband the day before the great day in question that I had realized that I wasn’t just supposed to escape from the panic attack. I was supposed to glorify the Lord in the panic attack.

So I dedicate this post to all the new moms out there who might also be tempted to think that something is terribly wrong in the craziness, and also to myself, just in case a couple of years from now I am blessed with another baby and happen to forget that normal life with a new baby = really, really hard and a really, really good chance to meet the Lord in the storm.

I slept late that morning and heard my kids waking up before I was up and dressed with a hearty breakfast piping hot on the table. Having been a disciplined early riser most of my life, nothing says “failure” more to me than oversleeping. I dragged out of bed and started to get dressed. I made it through weighing myself (UP a pound–life isn’t fair, just sayin’), putting on clothes, and just barely starting on my hair before the pitiful wailing of my toddler began. He’d gotten up and couldn’t find me.

“Huggy. Up!” he said. I picked him up and hugged him and carried him to my bedroom. He pointed to his ear. “Hurt,” he said. He wanted to go on my back in the woven wrap, so as soon as I got my hair up, I went out to get the wrap. The baby was still chipper, but my toddler with the earache came following me down the hall, tears streaming down his red cheeks. I got him up in the wrap, just in time for the baby to get all done being chipper and want to nurse.

In case you’re keeping track, we had not had breakfast yet. Also, some of my big kids, who shall remain nameless, seemed to have forgotten since the day before that they are supposed to start school work in the morning. I’m thankful that I can nag and nurse at the same time. I can also usually make breakfast while nursing, but having the toddler on my back sort of threw off my groove because I was a little off balance. (You gotta lean slightly forward with a toddler on your back, but you gotta lean slightly back to use your hands while nursing.) Plus, I was trying to make whole wheat Belgian waffles with strawberries on top. (Just go ahead and laugh at me right now for trying to make that, but in my defense, I don’t really like cereal.) Anyway, step one is to slice up the strawberries so they can sit and get juicy. And, yeah, it’s hard not to get strawberry juice on the baby if you’re nursing while washing strawberries. I stood briefly at the sink with the two boys wondering what to do. But it didn’t matter because my toddler wanted down from the wrap. I tried to get him out one handed (while nursing) and dumped him unceremoniously on the couch. He was happy for 3.9 seconds before he started crying again that he wanted up. That wasn’t going to work because I couldn’t really hold him while nursing and making breakfast (and nagging!), so I tried to make him a snuggly spot on the rocking chair.

Around this time, the background chorus of “I’m hungry!” started to set in, like mood music at a restaurant. And then the juice started. I thought the toddler with the earache, who had slipped down from the rocking chair and was now getting out plates and saying, “Eat!” might like some orange juice to tide him over while I “whipped up” Belgian waffles, while nursing, and commenting on the older children’s good work on their German as well as nagging. But then, another child saw the toddler’s juice and wanted some. After I’d already put the concentrate away. I got it back out and made more juice. And put the concentrate away. Just in time for someone else to see the second child’s juice. We repeated this again but with a child old enough to make his own juice. Heh. I made him get it himself ’cause I’m mean that way.

The day was off to a stellar start, but we finally did eat breakfast. Around noon. Or a little after. But at least we had food in our stomachs because things were about to get hectic.

First, the toddler, who has started potty training himself (yay!) asked to sit on his froggy potty. The baby was sleeping on my chest in the stretchy wrap, and I was trying to help the five-year-old with her piano lesson, when the toddler came back to ask me to put his diaper back on. I was a bit distracted with using my best negotiation skills to convince the five-year-old that if she could play all four measures individually, it would be EASY to put them all together. And what does a half-naked toddler do while he waits for a diaper? He empties the pencil sharpener everywhere and dances in the shavings and graphite dust, of course! (You thought I was going to say that he went potty on the floor, didn’t you? Ha! When does that ever happen?)

I started cleaning up the pencil mess when one of the bigger kids knocked an entire ream of computer paper all over the floor. And with a roughly 400 square-foot great room, can you guess where the paper wound up? That’s right, in the fifteen square feet that were covered with graphite dust and pencil shavings.

Right after I swept up the pencil shavings and carried the slightly bedraggled paper away (and snuck some chocolate from my secret stash, which had NOTHING to do with emotional eating and also nothing to do with my having been up a pound that morning), the children called me over to the computer to see how the four-year-old was doing on her first attempt at Rosetta Stone. The toddler walked up, and I immediately smelled something. That’s funny, I thought. He can’t be dirty. He’s not wearing a diaper. Right. He’s not wearing a diaper. I dared to look down. There was . . . mess all down his legs. I turned around . . . mess all over the floor by the table, stepped in, and tracked all the way over to the computer.

I picked up the toddler and held him at arms length so he wouldn’t bump the baby still sleeping on my chest and carried him to the bathroom, only to be reminded that one of the older kids had thrown up the other night, and her bedding was still in the bathtub. Unfortunately, the toddler turned on the water. Now I had soaking wet throw-up bedding in the bathtub that I needed to carry at arms’ length while it dripped all the way down the stairs to the laundry room in the basement. I got the toddler in the bathtub, and went to clean up the living room floor (squatting so as not to flip the baby upside down).

It was right around the time that I was throwing away my bag of yuckiness from the floor that my five-year-old came rushing in. “Hurry! Quick! Something is coming out of the toilet, so I ran out and shut the door!” My nine-year-old calmly translated. “The toilet overflowed.”

I went to see. It was spectacular. So. Much. Water. This called for really big rags. I went to get the old rag bedsheets I had just washed, when my five-year-old delivered her next exciting news bulletin. “It’s coming out of the ceiling downstairs!” Sure enough, there it was, pouring out of the access panel in the basement ceiling. One big rag went on the basement floor. One went up in our bathroom. But before I could get all the water sopped up, the nine-year-old came to tell me that she was so sorry (isn’t she a sweetheart?) but the water was coming through the wall into the guest bathroom. I went to see. Oh wow, it really was. Amazing. Right through the wall.

So maybe you’re wondering, on a day like this, where’s the glory? How does getting juice four times and wiping number 2 off the floor glorify the Lord? It does because on this crazy day, He gave me a miracle. You might have noticed that something is missing from this story. Something that has nothing to do with me and everything to do with God. What’s missing is the part where I scream at the kids, discipline in anger, or just break down crying. It isn’t there because it didn’t happen. I know that’s a miracle because I know what kind of mother my flesh is, and it sure isn’t the kind who finds a three-room toilet leak remotely tolerable. But God met me that day and answered a very simple prayer offered up somewhat desperately from the panicked trenches, Help me glorify You.

Sometimes we have to be brought to the end of our emotional strength in order to reach out for the Lord’s grace and find that miraculous ability just to smile and stay calm. And there are many, many, many ways God brings us to the end of ourselves, but here’s the message for me and other moms out there: Having a new baby is certainly one of them. Crazy hard. But a chance to see glory.