Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fires--Then and Now

Years ago, when we were residence directors at Trinity Christian College, we began a summer routine that was totally family focused. Our life on campus was a strange life... one we loved deeply... but not at all "normal" by society's standards. During the school year, our small apartment was full of students who came to share with us their successes and failures, joys and sorrows, lessons and ponderings. It was a full life that never lacked for activity and busyness.

Then came summer. All of a sudden, in the span of one week, every single students would pack it all up, shove it into vehicles in various stages of disrepair, and head off into the horizon for a three month adventure into things "not-college". There we stood... the chaos of finals week come to a screeching halt... the stressful, loud, full week, falling COMPLETELY silent and still.

We came to that time each year with very mixed feelings. Truth be told, we were ready for a break by the time the break came. That said, we did love our job and so loved the students that very soon after they left, we were lonely for them. But, living on a college campus and having that campus become your YARD for 3 months... HEAVEN!

Those of us left on campus were all residence directors... a very small group of us... and while most of the summer we left one another to the quiet of an oddly individualized schedule, once a week, at night, we made a fire.

The college had a fire pit that we were free to use and around that rusty, old pan we would sit and talk and breathe and relax and just BE. It was a wonderful tradition and one we treasured... there is something so good about sitting around a fire with family and friends and focusing on nothing but the being... well, the being and the food! We took turns building the fire and took turns bringing the necessary snack items... always the supplies for s'mores. Sometimes the kids slept through the whole amazing night, sometimes they sat, in bathed and jammied sweetness, on our laps as we stared at the flames warming our tanned legs.

It was good... really good... and when the time came for us to plan a life off of that beloved campus, a fire-pit made the short list of things we had to have in the "normal" life we began to plan.

Six years have passed since we drove our own vehicles (also in various states of disrepair) out of the parking lots of Trinity Christian College, filled to the brim with our worldly possessions. Our family has grown by two, our finances have been complicated by a townhouse unsold, and still we spend regular summer evenings sitting around our own, now rusty, fire pit. My kids call it "camping" (though they are more than familiar with what true camping is) and they look forward to it with all of their being. The wooded lot of our family home offers plenty of firewood, though we save our Christmas trees to supplement the supply. There is a simplicity to it all that is a relief and a joy. I find ways to push aside all my motherly instincts about eating healthy meals and on fire nights, we roast hot dogs on sticks and count potato chips as veggies. We sit in a circle, my family and I, and stare at the fire and wait for the coals and sit back in chairs and relax. We eat our fill and before I am done someone will ask if it is time for s'mores. I buy the supplies in bulk during the summer and though everyone eats only one, we will empty those boxes before Labor Day. The older boys have gotten into stirring the fire and trying to see how big it can be. The little ones watch wearily, ready to watch if a pine branch with brown needles might spark a fire that is taller than them. And then, when we have all had our fill and the fire is constant and needing little tend, we spend a few minutes singing. The kids each have a favorite campfire songs... some from school, some from VBS programs, some from church... and we sing heartily in our backyard, oblivious to neighbors and social moires.

Last night, I sat with my family around me and watched the fire light dance on their faces. I listened to them laugh and chatter and scare the sparrows off the finch feeder. I watched as the fire grew and blossomed, then quieted down... again and again and again. Together, we basked in the glow of last year's Christmas tree, lit in a whole new way.... and it was good. Very, very good.

I walked the puppy with Noah and Benjamin when the fire was coals and Mark was inside with Josiah and Elizabeth. My mom came with us and Noah saw a shooting star. I found myself wishing I could pick the memories of my children... help them to know what to remember and what to let go. I would release the moments when my focus is skewed... clean house, organized children, frustrated momma... and hold for them the nights like last night... simple, good, warm and worthy of being stored up as a snapshot of their lives as children.

Next week, we will do it again... burning the weeds from our yard and the limb that fell from a tree in the back... and the memories I want them to have will be the ones that they store again and again... a fire, a hot dog, s'mores and singing... and if we are lucky, another shooting star.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Joy of an Ordinary Day

The boys are in soccer camp this week and given that it was 92 degrees today at 10:30 AM, they came home quite hot and tired. After refueling with Gatorade and a few moments in the AC, I hooked up the sprinkler and sent them all outside. Noah and Benjamin's favorite sprinkler game is to place it close enough to the swingset that it will hit them if they are swinging, resulting in soaking wet children and endless squeals of joy. I think it is almost as much fun to watch as it is to play!

A little while later, hoarse from screaming and soaked to the skin, we took out our huge bubble blower and chased bubbles for a good long while. I know that Noah will soon tire of such play, but for today, 11.5 is not too old to try your hand at catching a bubble in your own backyard.

Sometimes I forget that an ordinary day can hold more than enough joy to get us through. This summer, as we go from day to day, I want to remember that it is not about big experiences and not about expensive trips. Summer is about just this... family... time... sunshine... and the simple things that make us smile.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Mom to Boys

Every now and then I get a reminder that I am a Mom to Boys. Though we do have one amazing little girl, the vast majority of our four children are of the male persuasion... and while I never would have believed it, parenting them is very different from parenting her.

Mark and I are big believers in children having chores and structure in every single day. I speak on this regularly and have come to really appreciate the fact that our kids are participants in our day to day life... not just living in spite of it. Do I mean, by this, that our kids work day and night on chores I could be doing for them? Not at all. But, every day they do have several things that they must do to help around the house. I do not (usually) have to nag about the jobs but instead developed a program that helps us all keep up with what we must do... the fun, the play, the hygiene : ) and the work. In addition to all this, there are hours upon hours of free play time... most of it spent outside hunting caterpillars and frogs.

So, it was in the midst of these chores that I was reminded again that I am, indeed, a Mom to Boys. After lunch, the children were clearing the table of all meal paraphernalia and had divided this task among them in a way that seemed at least a little fair. In the end, once the table had been found beneath the mess, Benjamin would wash it and Noah would replace the table cloth. (I have four kids... we are lucky to HAVE a table cloth and could never consider actually EATING on it... I have more than enough laundry already!)

As they finished the task, I took Elizabeth upstairs for her nap and Josiah gathered his Webkinz for a mid-afternoon rest time. I came back down to one boy cleaning up the basement and the other reading quietly in the living room. Looks good. And then I glanced into the dining room to find a site I had not expected.

Upon the floor lay all the crumbs that had been "cleaned" off the table. All the chairs were pushed away from the table and the table cloth lay crooked and disheveled on the dining room table.

Now, before you judge me too harshly, I have taught my kids how to do all these things! They know how to wash a table, brushing crumbs into your hand. They know how momma likes a room to look nice and how the table cloth can help achieve this goal. They know to push a chair into the table and have been doing so since they could even walk. But, they are boys.

Now, I am not a "boys will be boys" momma... not at ALL. But, I have learned, in over 10 years of parenting, that while I cannot let my boys be excused for inappropriate (or disgusting!) behavior, they do work differently than I do. They see the task (put the table cloth on the table) but miss the nuance of how to make it look "just-so". They wash the table and likely brush SOME crumbs into their hands... and if a few fall upon the floor, they know they TRIED to do the right thing. These lessons expand into other areas as well... they take off their shoes in the house, but leave them in the strangest places! They comply with a nightly shower, but leave the room in need of a deep cleaning. I could go on and on but listing out these issues does nothing good for my attitude so best that I should stop.

The bottom line? I am a Mom to Boys. There are ways this is difficult but, truth be told, there are ways that it is amazing and better than I had ever hoped it would be. My table cloth is a mess and my floors are covered with outdoor substances that I know I should not attempt to identify... but, many times a day my sweet, loving boys find time to sit with their momma. They wrap their arms around me and I hear them sigh a bit and we relax together for a minute before they are off to seek amphibians that I would rather never see. And... there is the way they look at me... if you have a boy you KNOW. The way a boy looks at his momma is something to behold... it is a gift and I know that is worth it all... the table, the shoes, the toads, the sweaty, sunny smell that comes behind them on the wind. It is worth it ALL.

When I became a mom, I had no idea it would be like this... but I would trade none of it at all. There is wonder in parenting all my kids... in the differences that come by way of gender or personality. It is a good reminder to me in the midst of a long summer only half way done. Today, instead of seeing a table disheveled, I saw the blessing.

Every now and then, Mark tells me that I will miss it all when they are gone. I am not sure this is what I will miss, but I know I cannot even think about them being gone. Some folks like to dream about the day when they will have choices and time and money and grand kids. Not me. I want to soak it up today and live with the memory of choosing this life... choosing a big family... choosing to do it all just like this. My table is a mess and needs a momma's touch... so do my kids. Together we will smooth it all out... and it may not look like I thought it would but it will be just right.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Novice Gardeners #2

So much has happened in the last month! Our garden is in full bloom and we are all up to our eyeballs in weeding and waiting. For us, the garden is a family affair and we often quote the story of the Little Red Hen... You know the one, don't you? "Who will help me plant this wheat?" : ) The poor Little Red Hen works on in solitude while his friends refuse to help until the luscious smell of home-made bread fills the barnyard air! In our family, we are looking forward to fresh sliced tomatoes, baked squash, fried beans and loaf after loaf of zucchini bread in a variety of flavors. The Friesen Four are aware already that those who hope to share in that harvest will also share in the weeding and watering along the way. I cannot say that they are eager for the work, but they are willing and I am grateful for that, at least!

We have a lot of lettuce ready to eat, but no other salad fixings that have fully ripened yet. I do not remember the timing being this off last year but we are trying to be patient. I stopped at a farm stand last weekend and picked up some tomatoes and cucumbers and onions to fill in until our garden starts to produce. That night, we had an amazing salad and I remembered why we do this! Fresh food tastes... well, FRESH. And I was grateful all over again that we have taken the time to do this together. I cannot wait for the rest of the fruits and veggies to be ready to eat!

We are still scratching out heads about a couple of things... maybe you can help? Some of it seems obvious, but the advantage of declaring ourselves "novices" is that it is okay to ask a dumb question! So, here is some of what we wonder...

1. Do "ever-bearing" strawberries really "ever-bear"? Ours seem to be done but we would love to have more fresh strawberries to eat!
2. Is there some way to ensure good cantaloupe? Last year, the fruit went bad before we thought it was ripe enough to eat. Suggestions?
3. Eggplant was a "must plant" veggie this year but short of Eggplant Parmesan, what shall we do with it?
4. Does anyone have red tomatoes? And if so, how'd you do it? We have tons of green ones... none even orange!

It is raining to tonight and I am grateful for it all... It is an amazing thing to be able to look at the cycle of a day and feel as though it all has a purpose greater than play. The sun blazed warm and the rain falls cool and I know that the garden in which I toil will be better for it all. It is a good reminder to me too, in these days of struggle, that it takes both sun AND rain to make something fertile and beautiful and healthy and good.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Figuring it out...

With a couple of quiet hours, it is amazing what I can do! I have finally figured out how to add feeds and email connections to my blog! So, if you have been looking for something to click to be notified of new blog posts, look no further! On the right hand side, about half way down, you have a choice... add my posts to your RSS feed or sign up to have it sent directly to your email box! It is easy, fast and free! : )

Have a wonderful Saturday!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Growing Up Before My Eyes...

We parked about a mile away from our fireworks display. After years of fighting traffic and road rage in an effort to get home from our all-American-hometown-Fourth-of-July-celebration, we opted for a long walk with our kids to the blanketed baseball field and the same walk back again once the display concluded. I think it was a good plan. We like to walk, got home at the same time as we would have had we been stuck in parking lot traffic, and I had time to chat with my kids. Win/win.

Noah came to walk with me when I offered to carry the chair he had been lugging to and from. I took the chair, he took my hand. A good trade. He is growing up, my boy, and if he will still hold my hand, I am smart enough, nostalgic enough, to treasure this moment and not let it pass without notice. We took up the back and Josiah soon joined us and we watched Mark and Benjamin forge our path through winding neighborhoods and condo associations. Elizabeth pulled into the middle, skipping happily from the group out front to those in the rear and back again. Noah chatted a bit about planets and wonderment and stars and laws. He has always been a thinker though he is just now beginning to freely share some of those most privileged ponderings. He talked about creation some and then questioned why some people set off fireworks in their yards... this being illegal in Illinois. He talked about how he wants to be good, wants to obey, and really doesn't understand why everyone doesn't feel the same. I smiled to myself and wondered how long he will hang on to this desire... and hoped against hope that he would hold on to it forever.

In his stream of conscious flow, he wondered aloud if it was now 9:00 PM. I said, "No, honey, it is after 10."

"How LONG was that fireworks display then, Momma?"

"I would guess about half an hour..." I replied.

"Wow," Noah sighed, "seemed like about 5 minutes. Mom, my life is zooming by. It's going way too fast!"

I squeezed his hand and took a breath and tried to store this moment up forever in my mind.

"It sure is, buddy. It sure is going way too fast."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Looking for a Reason to Hope?

Many of you know our family well and many of you are new to our little clan so before I even begin, you must know that all the beautiful girlies above are not mine! : ) We have just returned from a weekend away reuniting with 8 of the 9 families with whom we traveled to China three years ago. I cannot possibly tell you how important these amazing families have become to us since that life-changing trip.

Adoption is, in and of itself, an amazing experience. For Mark and I, we both felt deeply that adopting from China was what we MUST do... it was a calling for us and God was very clear. With three children at home, we left for China with no expectations about friendship and a life already full to the brim with family and friends. We were going to bring home our daughter and were thrilled about that alone. We had no idea what God was getting ready to do.

For two (long!) weeks, we wandered through China in awe of the country and the blessing that had been bestowed upon us. The whole time we were there, we spent day and night with 8 other families who also adopted babies from the same orphanage as our daughter had lived in for nearly a year. All nine girls were born within 2 weeks of each other and all were made members of brand new families on the same day. Yes, God had a plan there and during that time, he began to weave together almost 50 people into something new and wonderful and, as it turns out, necessary.

We came home in December and immediately after the holidays, we found we just needed to get together again. So, off we drove to Lexington, KY to spend a few hours together with as many people from that trip as could make it on that day. We did the same thing again that June... and then we saw something we had not really even known to look for in our girls. As we stood at our agency's reunion, we began to notice the girls had some connection to one another that was clear and different from anything we had seen in them before. They remembered each other. I saw my daughter tenderly rub the back of another of our girls. I saw her relax and connect and reach out. Us mommas spent some time scratching our heads and wondering at it all and then by the end of the weekend, we had to ask ourselves what we should do with this connection? We wanted to honor their history with one another but how do you really do this? There are no books to give guidance on how to encourage your daughter's friendship with people she learned to love during her first year of life. We had a lot of questions and wondered if it really mattered? How should we proceed?

Well, truth be told, we just didn't know but I can tell you this, we felt that it would be best to find a way to help these 9 little girls have this relationship... even if we were busy, even if we didn't understand it, even if we were living in in six different states, even if we had more questions than answers. And so we made a decision, at something that felt an awful lot like a family meeting, to gather quarterly as much as we could.

It has been three and a half years. We are still gathering. I am amazed at how it has worked and how commited we are to these quarterly gatherings. I am even more amazed at how exceedingly important this has been to my daughter. I am in complete awe at how God, in His wisdom and compassion, has woven together a new family to add to our very full lives... and how much I love this family!

Are you looking for a reason to hope? My friends, look at that picture. Eight of our nine girls stand side by side. All of them had a hard start to this life... but God had a plan. God had a vision. Look at those smiles! Look at their hands, clasped together in friendship. Look at how God works miracles for those who seem forgotten. We knew, when we started all of this, that we would come home with the daughter that God had planned for our family. We thought that was His plan... but do you see what we see? God's plan is always richer, always broader, always more colorful than we can possibly see. Surrounded by our China family and with our daughter's hand in ours, hope is really clear... it rings in little girl laughter in our ears.