Something grand.

Yesterday was the grand opening of our coffee roasting business here in Japan. I’m celebrating by spending the morning in my pajamas, locked up in our bedroom, sipping, reading, and tapping the keys: an introvert’s party.

I remember sitting in a Shizuoka cafe a little over five years ago, journaling and daydreaming about the coffee business Bryan and I dared to imagine. I wrote up a mock menu, sketched versions of the interior, played with potential names. The reality is nothing like those notes, with the simple roasted bean our only menu item, scraped concrete instead of dark wood floors, and a name we arrived at only after a year of deliberation. There is no disappointment in this fact, though. It was much like a wedding day: hoped and endlessly planned for, but in essence, very normal.

We are happy to be partnering with farms in Thailand and Rwanda, and hopefully expanding soon to Burundi. We are excited for the potential to offer our coffee to cafes and restaurants throughout Shizuoka and greater Japan. We are most encouraged by the possibility for friendship with the people who walk through our doors to purchase beans, asking their questions and trusting our recommendations. We hope this business will be a blessing to all who encounter it.

Visit our website here.

Reframing.

It’s raining. I’m upstairs in our bedroom, space heater at my feet, writing a few letters in between sips of coffee. My oldest is gaming with his friends downstairs, my second fell asleep in his bed for a rare afternoon nap, my third is drawing in the playroom, and my fourth is napping as well, which has also unfortunately become a rare thing these days. I’m contemplating ice cream and cake for afternoon snack — it’s spring break, and we are one week in and getting used to seeing each other all day again. We are enjoying each other. It makes me feel like celebrating with cake.

Recently, I have made a practice of looking each child in the eye and saying, “You are a blessing!” I’ve also started telling myself how much FUN it is to have four kids. I feel like life tells a different story: piles of waiting laundry, a nightly meal crisis, fights and yelling and personality clashes, middle-of-the-night anxiety, tired under-eye bags that don’t seem to go away. All of this is enough. It betrays the difficulty of raising children. Then there are the unknowing comments of onlookers, wondering how I could ever manage four kids, and isn’t it just exhausting? I must hear it three or four times a day, from friends and strangers.

All of this has permeated my thinking, and I’ve started to look at the job before me and wonder if I’m really up to the task. After all, if it costs so much in energy and emotion, and all these people don’t know how I do it, then HOW am I DOING IT? I must be out-to-lunch! I must NOT be doing it. I must be horribly in need, it’s too hard, and I think I’d rather take a break. Except we don’t get those in parenting. We get small ones, sure. But we don’t get to be done with the job; and actually, I don’t think that’s what we really want, either.

So I’m retraining my mind. I’m remembering that although there are costs involved, I LOVE having four kids. I LOVE their personalities and their quirks, their sibling relationships and their needs and their chats. I WANT THIS JOB. It’s hard, but I want it. And I also want to stop looking at them like they are the reason for my tiredness, the vacuums sucking up my energy — I want to look at them and see PEOPLE. Little people. Little growing people, with a huge desire to be enjoyed — and how FUN they become when they are being enjoyed! Each one a gift. Each one, adding so much to our lives. Each one, multiplying the good things in our home. I LOVE HAVING CHILDREN.

Expectations in mothering.

Our staff team has used Gallup’s StrengthsFinder this past year to learn more about ourselves and each other. One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’m really good at analyzing present circumstances and thinking of ways to enhance them. I’ve also learned that I currently lack the wisdom to know when the present circumstances require analyzing, and whether or not a new method is helpful or necessary. I also lack the maturity to understand fully that the necessity of improvement is not always the result of a personal flaw.

Relating this to motherhood, I’ve often struggled with a nameless sadness. Things are not as they should be — I’m not doing what I should be. I can do this better. So on and so forth. I make plans, I get excited about them, and I implement them. Discipline methods, screen time, “natural play”, quality time, eating habits, etc etc etc — nothing is beyond the reach of my evaluating prowess! But then time passes and that feeling reemerges. Quickly on its heels is guilt: What did I do wrong? Do I need to move backward, to what I’ve done before? Forward, to what I’ve not done yet?

Self-improvement and growth are not the things I’m talking about here, but rather constant evaluation of a process that is not in need of it. My kids don’t need me to rearrange bedtime routines every few months, though I can do that if I choose. But they don’t NEED it, its not required of me as their mother. In fact, there are very few things they NEED, and they already have them: food, physical affection, presence, a listening ear. They don’t have these to the ends of my capacity, but they have them in good measure, and I’m learning that is enough.

This evaluation not tempered by wisdom has created in me a restlessness for a method, a philosophy or program, that will make things feel right with finality in motherhood, a useless goal in a broken world. That is Christ’s job, not mine. Which is not why I was given those analytical qualities in the first place. Really, I’m not certain why I have them — increasing efficiency in business? or in toy clean-up? — but I know they aren’t meant to rectify any worldly circumstance (mothering or otherwise). This helps me let go, helps me be okay with the idea that life is probably never going to feel “just right”, no matter what method I’m employing for parenting, cleaning, or self-care. “Enough” has become an important phrase for me this year.

Knowing Less.

I read yesterday that Tim Keller was glad he didn’t write any books in his 30s, because he was pretty sure he would’ve wanted to burn them once he reached his 40s and 50s. I breathed a sigh of relief, as I thought of my silent fingers, so little to tap or say. Right now, I just feel needy. I need input, I need wisdom, I need advice, I need time and growth and truth.

This has been a year spent unraveling all my neatly packaged philosophies: those theologies and convictions I put in boxes and labeled, tied with pretty bows. Life is completely messy, and we are utterly incapable and powerless. I’ve learned that ignoring or brushing over this truth, even if in the deeper parts of the inner life, will lead to fear, anxiety, a nameless sadness — a tireless but ultimately empty pursuit of everything and nothing. Vanity of vanities! (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

In His loving grace, God has been in the process of smashing my boxes. Has that ever happened to you? It is so terrifying. He took the box labeled “health and youth” and replaced it with a thyroid disease that was previously rather uncomplicated — but this year, it hurt me, it confused me, it sent me into physical and emotional chaos. I’ve seen the powerlessness of human will over a broken body. A broken body? I’m only thirty-one! How could this be? And as the road of life stretched out before me, I saw that bodies only get more broken with age. This was not encouraging. Box smashed.

This ushered in a million other thoughts and questions about my views of God, of human brokenness, of how suffering and joy can coexist. Am I okay that all life ends in death? This was scary for me, mostly because I was unaware of how much I have placed my heart in the here and now — life is short! I must make the most of it! There is only one! These are all true, in a way, but what if God doesn’t allow me to “make the most of it” to the degree that I have pictured? What if “make the most of it” includes illness? Or sadness for a child? Or never realizing my “true calling”? Or a lifespan amidst gobs of cultural change? I have few good answers and loads more questions.

The two things that bring comfort right now are these:
(1) Jesus has gone to the depths of my most terrifying places, and beyond. I cannot imagine His sorrow. I am simultaneously relieved, filled with affection, and crushed for his suffering on my behalf. I have seen only a sliver, and have felt my sliver to be a harsh burden. How much more for Jesus?
(2) I will never understand God’s ways, and He never expects this of me. It’s okay to wonder, but my only peace is to offer the contents of my heart and relent. I am not in control. I am utterly incapable. Your will be done.

I don’t think I will be writing books for a long time coming. Though I still hope I will eventually find something to say with clarity.

Limitations.

I have been in counseling via Skype for the past few months, with an amazing and loving counselor as my guide. I am beyond thankful for the ways God is using this in my life right now, so much so that I’ve begun recommending counseling to everyone I know. 😉 (Stubbed toe? See a counselor!) One of the things that has consistently come up during our sessions is the need to accept the limitations of the body and mind, the brokenness of the world, the messiness and ambiguity of the human experience, in order to move forward in this current struggle with anxiety. This morning, after a string of nights fighting sleep battles with a one-year-old, God has been prodding a certain area of my life where I’ve fought Him and His lovingly given limits: babies.

When I first discovered I was pregnant with my oldest, I was 22, two months out of college, newly married, and terrified. I saw a large hurdle looming in the distance and now idea how I could possibly jump it. I felt so unprepared, so NOT ready. Nature and time carried me along until there was a newborn in my arms, and I made vows: I will do this right. I will do this well. I will not fail this little guy. EVER.

But I’m human, like the rest of us. The first time I felt like I had failed Jones, I was devastated — I had made a vow, and broken it. How does one recover from something like that? I had a hard time forgiving myself of anything I did that I felt could be wrong or a misstep of some sort, viewed through much confusion by my husband, who only saw a young mother devoted to loving and helping her son. He didn’t see the sky-high ultimatums I was giving myself, because I didn’t see them, either. I accepted them as what must be done, never stopping to think they might not be from God.

A second baby, and a third, and a fourth, provided me with opportunities to “get it right this time” — to somehow “do better” in the ways I’d felt I had wronged or failed the previous child. This included anything and everything, from sleep to eating to potty training to emotional health to issues of discipline. Vow after vow after vow. But of course, living in a broken world and a broken body, the vows could not be kept. And so I saw the failures pile up. There were a few points in which I realized I was heaping expectations upon myself that God was not giving me, and He was able to reach through the muck in those times to give me mercy I desperately needed. After the third baby, in particular, He showed me that living beyond my limitations, attempting to be a perfect mother to three kids, thinking little of self-care or what a mothering body might need, would lead only to destruction — of myself, of relationship, of our family. There was a breakdown and the realization that I needed lots of help and rest and grace.

Even after all that, with this fourth little bundle, I’ve still been caught in the “get it right” mind-trap, only I was going to “get it right” in the department of self-care. I was going to avoid a mental breakdown at all costs, which ironically, actually led me to the ledge. I was going to right all the wrongs, once and for all, because this was to be the last baby come from my womb — my “last chance” to fix things, make myself clean, win my favor as a mother before God.

Today, I was thinking about how my perceived shortcomings as a first-time mother have shaped the way I’ve mothered my other three babies — particularly how this mindset had blinded me my merciless view of myself as a mother, leading to anger, frustration, and an inability to accept the shortcomings in the people around me, as well. It’s led me to give more of myself than even God was asking; and quite ironically, when we “sacrifice” things God has not called us to sacrifice, there is very little fruit or righteous outcome. It’s rather a lose-lose situation. These things have hindered my ability to see the circumstances of mothering with any kind of logic or clear-headedness — I have only seen guilt, failure, and anger in my limitations. As I was thinking through all of this today, having done a lot of talking and processing about the human experience lately, about brokenness and limits and their appropriation to us by God, I felt a heavy sadness for my merciless view of myself. Then, in an instant, I saw God looking down on that terrified 22-year-old girl, and instead of seeing her shortcomings and her failures as a mother, I felt His deep love and tenderness toward me — His desire to help me and to care for me, to meet me in my needs.

I feel broken by that love this morning, the love He gave and continues to give, that I could not give myself. I cannot fully understand my strong desire to live beyond my limits, but accepting this ambiguity is perhaps the exact point, enabling me to lay my impossible standards and wrongful vows in His hands. I am continually reminded in this season that Jesus’s yoke is easy and His burden is light; so when I feel like my load is unbearable, I am likely carrying things He never intended for me to carry. Perfection in motherhood, redemption through works or acts of service to my kids, self-sacrifice to win favor, using my children in my quest to “get things right” — none of those are His burdens for me. I long to cast them off with finality. Jesus, let it be so.

Need.

The constant presence and care needed by a baby makes me crave quiet in a way not normal to me; as an introvert, this is saying a lot. I plan my days around morning nap time, that magical hour-and-a-half, boiling water for coffee before I even take her upstairs so I can maximize the time.

I’ve pulled at least a dozen books from the shelves recently, because I had desire to read them; they are laying at random spots around the house. One by the TV, a few in the dining room, one or two more stacked next to the guitar. I pick them up and trail them to a new spot, thinking I might be able to crack them and soak up some words, but really I’m just playing a game: the one that used to be by the TV is now on my desk upstairs, and which one will be where when the urge to open it comes? I have no idea. I’m no good at creating games.

I’ve only had time for one book recently, and that is the Bible. I lay that sleeping cherub in her crib, close the door, and dash downstairs to grind beans and pour water. I’ve made the orange chair in the living room “my place,” recently. It faces the front windows, and if the lighting is right, I can see bugs dancing around our trees through the smudges made by dog noses and little hands. This is where I spend naptime, the thing I’d almost forgotten was so necessary until this latest babe came around.

When I say I only have time for the Bible, I am not being pious. I am saying, literally, the Bible and waiting on God has become essential to my daily survival. I’ve been feeling worn down, battered by the little things of life, and my go-tos were not cutting it. Even before this, I was still in the Bible, still attempting to live its words; but I’ve stumbled upon a season in which I simply cannot live my daily life without being refreshed with God’s presence, without remembering why I am here and what my task is, without being girded by truth. I think I waited til the last possible moment to give in: I wanted my problem to be diet-related, or perhaps a lack of sleep. But it was a lack of God.

Sometimes you can look and feel fine, with just enough dryness of heart to make you wonder, “Why doesn’t the beautiful sky pierce me today?” And then, after an infection or two, some small problems with kids, and a string of grumpy days, you find that you are just not. okay. And why? How did this happen? You are thirsty. Drinking from the well of life takes discipline. It’s not an easy thing to admit. It’s sometimes more fun to scroll facebook.

For me, it was the anger — the little things would really irk me, and I would wonder, “Why was there no patience for that? It was just something so small.” And then the fear — over what would happen, and when, and how would I make it? Next, an unhealthy turning inward, unable to think of the things and people that were not ME. So I looked deeper, and there I found dryness. And a host of unconfessed sins. I clutched Isaiah 30:15 as my map back to living waters: “For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In repentance and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’ But you were unwilling.” Jesus, make me willing.

So today, legos and other toys litter the floor. Dishes topple over in the sink. The vacuum cleaner is still plugged in and lying in the back hallway. Cardboard box creations and forgotten science experiments find permanent homes in the playroom. Emails go unsent, the dog is unwalked. Picture books lie everywhere — literally, one on every surface of the house, half opened, corners folded, wearing the look of story love. My house is in seeming shambles; but I’m building more important things, cleaning the places of my heart that need tending. This is hard, but necessary work.

Clockwork.

Kitchen Sink

My kitchen sink faces the back of our lot
one neighbor’s graveled yard literally
five feet from the window. I’ve known
the comings and goings of this neighbor
from my post, heard her crunching steps
and listened to the clip-clip of laundry hanging.
I watch demurely, hoping she doesn’t catch
my eye through the sparse hedge.
In spring, pink blossoms grow on those bushes.

I could tell time by her taillights, backing into
the drive after work, or her faucet on, with bucket
filling, as she readies water for the plants. I only
see the back of her house, but it is
immaculate, a place for everything and
everything in it’s place. My eyes move to
the sink below, filled with the remains of
yesterday’s dinner and this morning’s breakfast,
carrot peelings and dried, old milk drops.
How different, our lives. How often does
she wash dishes, I wonder? Likely, more
often than me.

This summer, we had a small pool in
our parental employ, located very close
to that evenly distributed gravel, to those
sparse bushes. It promised to be a very loud
August for our neighbors, their windows open
to catch some Pacific breeze, fans whirring.
This time, I tried to catch her eye.

“I’m afraid we’ll be rather noisy this summer,”
I said, hoping my shaky smile would alert her
to the things I couldn’t say. Things like: “I know
you run your house like clockwork, and keep
your hedges trimmed just right, but will you
let my children play crazy like summer kids
should, splashing and laughing and most certainly
fighting? Will you still like me as your neighbor?”

This woman. Somehow, she knew.
As she filled her bucket, the sound of that
faucet that I could recognize from any point,
any room in my home, readying the water for her
flowers, she said, “It’s no problem at all. I love
the sound of happy children.”

What a gift to me, this woman couldn’t know.
I can watch her pull towels from her
basket and clip them, spread them out, but she
can’t see my sink or its contents, my dining table
littered with paper scraps, Legos, crumbs, books.

Sometimes I long for that clockwork, the
security of that immaculate yard. Then I imagine
myself at 60, in a quiet home, everything in its
place. I see myself watering plants at the
same time each night, my taillights illuminating
red in some other woman’s back kitchen.
I look at my dry, old milk drops, and they
seem very different.

Blocked paths.

I know that the end of a five-day break with all six of us home is not the time for an introvert to be asking hard life questions. It is rarely the time for anything more than quiet, fresh vegetables, and sleep. And yet, here I am: wondering, asking all those questions, putting them up for justifiable (to me) answers.

It feels like there are several blocked pathways in our life right now — family life, coffee, health, househunting, personal pursuits. I feel as if I’m in a forest, knowing I need to be somewhere, unable to find the way out. I’m searching for direction, begging God, showing him my needs — Don’t you see? Surely you can see them! — and each trail my foot finds leads to an avalanche of rocks, a rushing river, a thickening brush. So I’m left waiting, wondering why God is not making a way.

But from His word, I know He has purposes I don’t understand, I can’t yet see clearly. But when, Lord? When will you tell me what you are doing? When will you open a path, clear the brush, build a bridge for us? Will there ever be times in this life overseas — in this life, in general — that are filled with things not borne from adversity? I commented to Bryan yesterday that sometimes I think a tidal wave of suffering would make more sense — something huge that carries you out to sea, plainly known that only God can save you. As it stands, I feel like we are two rocks, patiently worn down by drops of rain over so many years. Each drop is so small, we separate it and know objectively it is little, should have little effect. And yet, a thousand drops of water make a bucket heavy. So I find myself heavy, searching for the why, thinking that the knowing will lessen my load.

When I begin to feel this way, I have a mental checklist of things to try: take a bath, go to bed early, resume that daily walk, get serious about time in the Bible, tell a friend, plan something fun, write. I KNOW there are blessings in times of discouragement. I KNOW that life is not all blocked pathways. I KNOW many things. Even though these help, there is only one point of knowing that will truly transform, and that is the knowledge of God. Do I KNOW Him?

I have few answers right now. In my life, I tend to oscillate between two extremes: internal fulfillment coupled with peace for the road to which God has called us — gratitude for how the difficulties have changed me; and intense frustration over a thousand little things, making the dailies of life feel like trudging through thick mud — the sight for blessings has been lost.

Someone tell me these feelings occur everywhere; tell me its not just because I’m living here, trying to make a life in a culture not my own. I know there are unique issues I will face, but it helps to remember my struggles are not singular, that a plane ticket won’t erase them.

Many questions with few answers means loose endings, not tied up nice and pretty. And this post ends thus.

———-
Post-script for my mama: Sometimes I’m reluctant to publish these kinds of posts, knowing you will probably read them and they might make you sad. Know that I’m okay — I’m still smiling and laughing, I’m just forthright about my struggles. And also know that I love you.

Late night chats.

Her hair, almost always unkempt, is so very HER: wild, untamed, feminine, beautiful. She asked me to snuggle with her last night, a request I’ve committed to always answer with a ‘yes,’ not wanting their smallness to pass me by because of long days and a strong desire to lay on the couch. It was a good commitment for me to make. Without it, how many heart-opening conversations would I have missed? And truly, it’s just difficult to connect with my kids during the day, there is so much activity and bustle.

I closed my eyes, longing for my own bed and for sleep that wouldn’t come for another two hours. “Open your eyes, mama,” she said. “I have an important question.”

Her older brothers, now eight and almost six, are beginning to ask hard questions of life: What do I do when my friends hurt my feelings? How do I respond when Jesus doesn’t take away my fears? How do I choose the right thing, when the wrong thing is staring me down and looks so easy? I’ve been walking these roads with my boys, astonished with how little I’ve prayed over them — how could I forget the battle for their hearts? How could I think they would somehow be safe from attack, from hard questions or tough circumstances, because of their size? I prayed then that Jesus help me fight well for them, know where to direct them when difficulty strikes.

These things have primed me for something deep, a little piece of her heart, opened wide and waiting for truth-salve from her mama. She put her hand on my cheek, eyes serious with whatever wonder is about to come forth.

“Mama, do you pick your boogers and eat them?”

I laughed. So loud. Her sleeping brother in the top bunk groans and rolled over. She smiled her dimpled smile, and tears stung even as I smiled: she is still so small, and someday she won’t be. Someday, she won’t ask me about boogers, won’t wear four gaudy plastic rings and three purses on our walk down the street, won’t run to me and jump in my arms after a long day at school. I grew up. We all do. And someday, she will too. How will my heart take it, the holding of all these things? The blessings of holding her newborn head, of watching her grow, listening to her chats and seeing her personality emerge, watching her first encounters with truth unfold? How will I not burst as I watch her move from seedling to something stronger, firmer, steadier? What a gift. What a completely undeserved and gracious gift.

“Well, I pick my nose, but I don’t eat my boogers,” I replied.

“Yeah, they taste really gross,” she said.

“Why don’t you put them in a tissue instead, then throw them in a trashcan?” I’m still recovering from the serious tone of her not-so-serious question.

She thinks. Then, she knows exactly what to do with them, and her face lights up with the knowledge.

“I know! Let’s plant the boogers. Then maybe they will grow into a booger tree!”

We giggled with delight at the funny image this created. Then we snuggled and I prayed for her rest, her growth, her still-smallness.

Her breathing slows and her arms fall loosely on my shoulder, jerking slightly as she sinks into sleep. I crawled from her bunk and just looked at her, thanking Jesus for letting me see these things. It is a grace I take for granted, but when I see it, I don’t understand it: why me? Why have you given it to me? Today, I simply give thanks, for this sweet conversation with that wild little girl.

Reflections on daily life.

My boys took off on bikes the other day, just to ride a bit around the neighborhood. I stood in the parking space in front of our home and surveyed the outdoor toy box, amazed at how many of faithfully-played-with contents have gone unused in the last year or so. It hit me like a ton of bricks: they are growing up. I have known this, of course. But it seems that all of a sudden, the two of them, Jones and Ezra, have left one magical stage for another, and I will never again have only little children in my home. I wanted to cry, but there was no time — Harper needed help with something.

And so it was, as Bryan was taking the middle two up to bed the following night, that he found me in a heap of sudden tears. I think he thought I was in physical pain and was relieved to hear me say, “They are just all. so. big!” He smiled, and I cried a bit more for their hugeness and the strange nature of wanting time to both speed up and slow down. I would die of exhaustion if they stayed little forever, or my psyche would snap in the midst of it: it would be hell. And yet, I am grieved to see the gangly arms and legs in comparison to the chubby baby nestled on my hip — only one more summer with a baby in my life. Only one more ‘first year.’ It’s all a little too much for my sentimental side. I think I need a good, long sleep.

Speaking of the first year, Ivy is learning to wave and to clap. She smiles at the familiar people in her life and seems to deeply process all the stories we tell her. At this current moment, she is propped in her bumbo, looking between the tapping computer keys and my face, in total awe of the sound coming from my fingers. Her smile betrays her thoughts: It makes noise! Did you know this? How delightful! These parts of loving a baby never get old, the continuous amazement at everyday things. The sleep and spoon-feeding, however, I could do away with. Nevertheless, she is a complete and utter delight, spoiled rotten by all five of us. The poor thing never has a moment to herself.

Now that she’s 6 months, going on 7, I have a bit more time and a bit more brain at my disposal, and so I’ve been making a summer reading list and diving back into books. I’m currently reading A Severe Mercy, just in the first chapter — its causing me to dwell on my own love story with that man in the back room bagging coffee beans and watching Jimmy Fallon, and how I fell inexplicably in love with him from the very beginning. The falling-in-love of it was all I imagined, from my end, at least. It was a shock, however, to be married and have total access to each other’s personalities, to see that his falling-in-love and mine were so very different. There was less romantic notion playing across the screen of his mind, and more logic. It makes me laugh now, how very good God is to help us think we know what we’re getting, so we dive on in, and then we see what we are actually getting, and it was exactly what He wanted for us. Someday, I will write on that.

For now, it’s cloudy (July in Japan!), dripping rain, and time for me to go.