How love raises a boy

He’s singing to the baby over the monitor. A love song.

Our babes, who know nothing but tears dried,hunger fed, bad dreams battled with the comfort of mommy and daddy’s bed, cold blanketed, and sickness soothed. Our sweeties whose parents live to see their comfort preserved, their health sustained, and their lives absent of anything that might bring them harm.

And yet, in the moments before sleep, the love song.

“…and when i’m weary and overwrought          

with so many battles left unfought

I think of Paul and Silas in the prison yard          

I hear their song of freedom rising to the stars          

I see the shepherd moses in the pharaohs court          

I hear his call for freedom for the people of the Lord…”

His head nods heavy against his Daddy.

A whole world sits beyond his bedroom window. And as his Daddy whispers his song, he is baptized in the tears of faith as they fall on his baby fine hair.

“…and when the Saints go marching in         

I want to be one of them…”

Do you hear that, son? The call to love?

“…I see the long quiet walk along the underground railroad          

I see the slave awakening to the value of her soul          

I see the young missionary and the angry spear          

I see his family returning with no trace of fear          

I see the long hard shadows of calcutta nights          

I see the sister standing by the dying man’s side          

I see the young girl huddled on the brothel floor          

I see the man with a passion come kicking down that door

I see the man of sorrow and his long troubled road          

I see the world on his shoulders and my easy load…”

I listen closely over the monitor. Is there a better way to love than to impart these words, this heritage? A better way to raise a boy child into a man, but with this love song for a world in need?

“…and when the Saints go marching in         

I want to be one of them…”

He’s singing our boy to sleep with words that will keep, and a faith that can change the world.

Lyrics from “When the Saints” by Sara Groves


What I didn’t know

Sometimes, I feel like he’s a little muddled in,a little bit mushed between the older and the younger, wondering what he’s supposed to be doing if he’s not being side 2 of a duo, the older , the little. His is a life of always second, the reliable, the easy, my aid in the long days of so many little boys with so many needs. At night he asks for the songs I sang to him when he was tiny and so I “Baby Mine” him and we whisper, “God bless the moon and God bless me and God bless the ones that I love to see” together in the dark of the bottom bunk. He scooches his head into my neck and I think he’s trying to be that tiny bit of need and helplessness again. I push his hair back off his forehead as I sing and I cradle him as best I can, hoping he knows he can still be my baby. I miss him too.

I put him in preschool this year. One half morning a week, he waltzes into a room and for 3 hours, he’s his own self. No Mommy asking for help because it’s just easier, no brothers yelling louder or needing more.

He’s just Silas.

I pick him up and he’s all grins and shoulders back. He hands me his work, his pride streaming from his blue eyes. Seeing him like this gives me that rare feeling of calm, of peace.

This is right for him.

I did the right thing. 

When he was bitty, and when his brother was growing before him, I promised myself I’d never do this, send him off to preschool. Unnecessary, I said. I pushed back against anyone who tried to convince me that children need to be anywhere but at home during their earliest years.

No, not my boys.

I wanted them close to the nest, gathered round me as we explored the world together, learning all they needed to know from the push and pull of family life, hearing the voices of Brandon and I first and loudest in the early years of shaping and molding.

But this year, I learned something I didn’t know then, something I couldn’t have known then.

I didn’t know Silas.

I didn’t know what our family would look like. I certainly didn’t know I’d have 4 little boys in the span of five years. I didn’t know how stretched I’d be and how I’d have to let go a bit if my boys were to ever know themselves as anything other than “one of the boys”.

I still think preschool as a necessity for “kindergarten readiness” or socialization is a silly idea when a mother or father is home and family life is rich. And I know it wasn’t right for my Cole-man. And I have no idea if my other boys will attend.

But for my sweet Silas, those 3 hours mean something to him. They mean that I see him, that I’m willing to do something just for him. That for three hours, other people are getting to know him as himself, apart from me, apart from his brothers. They’ll see things we don’t. And they’ll help him see those things too. And he desperately needed that.

So many ideals. So many realities. It’s a constant laying down of pride and ready-made answers, finding the truth of each situation  buried in the heart of each little child. It’s a treasure hunt, this finding the best for each little life entrusted to my care. It’s a stripping down of a mother, a practice of giving life over and over again. An opening of clenched fists, a turning of eyes and heart upward. A handing over and letting go.

And it’s worth it.

Innocent Man

Dear Brandon,

Tonight we shared earbuds, one in your ear, one in mine and the white wire strung between us. You sat and I stood, swaying as Billy crooned at us. The long day nearly over, we ignored the small children who appeared in our doorway asking for drinks or company in the bathroom. We waved them away as we hummed along and pretty much rocked out.

You played all my favorites. I remembered the first time my mom played me “Piano Man” and how it felt like poetry and real life and hope and art. I thought about my days in the dorm when my roommate “tsk tsked” me for staying out too late with you and I hummed “I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life…” and I thought about our drive through a national forest ten years ago with “I’m not above doing anything to restore your  faith if I can…” playing in the background.

Then I thought about the concert when I was 8 months pregnant with Silas and how it was pretty much one of the highlights of my life, and how I’d pay so much more than the $20 or whatever it was we paid to see the Piano Man himself play every note of every song, and sing like he was 25 years old and as into it all as he ever was.

Then I thought about how little I know about music, and how it is your first language. I thought about how I like Neil Diamond and you just look at me with half incredulity and half pity. How I went to all your concerts, but if you hadn’t been the tenor soloist, I would have been bored out of my mind. And I thought about the drives between our college towns and our hometown on long weekends filled with dream-talk and Billy Joel tunes. And how I’m the mother of your children and on days when that job wears me out, you hand me an earbud and we listen together. And how that restores me. You and Billy.

In those moments I think, I’m so glad my mom loved the “Piano Man” because I love sharing this with you.


For When Your Well Is Too Deep

Dear Mother,

Maybe you’re like me and you hate, really loathe a pity party. Perhaps you’re a bootstraps kinda girl and after all, having all these babies was your decision. Nobody forced you. You know life is hard. But today, you just want a break. You need the waves to stop crashing at your doorstep.

You’ve been through a long, hard season. And saying you’re “through” it, well, it’s just not true. You are still very much in it. You need help. More than help, you need community to step alongside, to love your babies, to listen to your rambles, to do a load of laundry. You need to know somewhere someone is on their knees on your behalf and someone is pulling a casserole out of the oven just for you. Someone is thinking about you, wanting  to be a part of the light yoke you wear. Because today, it feels heavy.

Maybe you have an ill child. Or an unemployed husband. Or a baby with special needs. Maybe it seems as if your well of need is too deep and you just can’t ask one more person for one more hour of help. In your mind you’ve constructed a spreadsheet with all the hours people have given to you and you’ve determined you’ve reached the max and you are so far in the red, you have no hope of ever repaying the kindnesses that have come your way.

And yet, you need more. 

Might I suggest you push “pause” on the whirring mind that never stops? For just a moment, STOP worrying, push away the grief, the overwhelming anxiety that I know is your constant companion. I know you can’t sit in this spot for long, but do, for just a minute so you can hear this.

I understand. When it feels as though your list of burdens is too long, it is. I know you’d rather buckle down and take care of it all yourself, bear the entire burden with grace and wisdom and maturity, but honey, you need to sleep. You need to eat. And you desperately need to know you aren’t going to walk this road forever, all alone.

I have watched friends I love dearly walk through hard, soul-crushing, grief. Sometimes the road is long. Usually, the process of healing, or simply just getting through the day, is tedious. There is nothing romantic about it. It is imperfect and ugly. But this I know; it is sacred. When I fumble along the road of another person’s pain, I feel very small and very honored. It feels messy, but it feels right.

I know that when I was a 20-year-old bride with my whole future ahead of me, I didn’t see any of this coming. I had no idea how hard life could be, how sad I would be when my children were given burdens that  seem unfair and unjust. How tired I would be. And how lonely I would feel.

Might I suggest that it will not get easier from the bottom of the pit? And while, throwing a pity party once in a great while is completely normal, and perhaps even necessary, you already know it won’t change a thing. Breathe, mama. Whisper your prayers. Cry them. And then get up, and ask for help, again. Put down your pride, deny your guilt the pleasure of a comfy chair in your heart, and allow yourself to be a part of the community you say you believe in.

Some of us need a little extra help. It really is okay. I know we live in a society of “all by our own selves”, but mama, it’s not supposed to be that way. We’re supposed to do this thing together. We are supposed to be burden bearers. True love carries, and that kind of messy-handed, unyielding, imperfect, faithful love is exactly how God shows a hurting world just how kind and gentle He is.

You see, this life is hopeless if we don’t love each other well. Allow the body to be the body. Allow it to work. Allow His hands to serve you. Allow His arms to carry you. Allow His feet to walk step by step beside you. This is your God. These are His people. And in Him, all debts are canceled. You’re in the black, forever.

Breathe, mama. 



***This post is written in the spirit of sharing the mess and the glory that Amber Haines over at The RunaMuck started with her beautiful compilation of “Dear Mother” letters. Head over there to read more and to know you are not alone.***


We’re in a season of little things, my love. Few grand gestures, rare opportunities to go all out. The little things, they really are how we count the ways, aren’t they?

Like the 3rd cherry limeade you brought me this week.

Like ten minutes you brainstormed with me yesterday.

Like the coffee you handed me as I buzzed out the door with the baby to get his ears checked again. It was creamer-ed perfectly. I don’t know how you know how I like my coffee even more than I know how I like my coffee.

Like your arm tight around me as we watched friends take their vows and the rain poured down on us and all those “gathered here.”

Like the smile on your face as you boss me when I sass you. I like that we still flirt that way. 

Like when you put the baby to bed because he has me beat and we all know it.

Like the way you let me sleep until the very last possible minute every morning.

Like when you tell me how awesome I am because the house is clean-ish when you come home. Like the way you know I need to hear those words.

Like how much faith you have in me, the way you never question if I’ll achieve my dreams or not.

Like when you work overtime to pay for my ticket to a blogging conference.

Like the way you look at me, and the absolute certainty I have in your devotion and in this life we’re living together. 

Grand gestures are wonderful, but they’re fleeting. These little things, they build. They encourage us to keep taking little steps. They’ll see us through this season of little ones and little sleep and little time and little money. It’s the little things that make the big things beautiful.


I heard the crash and immediately knew what I would see as I ran outside. My beautiful hand-painted ceramic flower pot, a Christmas gift, lay in a dozen or so pieces on the hard cement patio at the feet of my unremorseful 2 ½ year old.

I bit my tongue to stop the harsh words that threatened to spill off my tongue and onto the head of my blonde toddler-boy, and instead offered measured words of sadness over my broken gift. I breathed at even intervals to contain my frustration and anger. He toddled off, completely unmoved by my sadness. I knew I wasn’t yet in a place to say any more and by the time I was, his 2 ½ year old mind would have moved at lightspeed beyond the entire incident. I stood there, angry.

Then I felt a small hand on my shoulder. I looked down into the brown eyes of Cole, my oldest boy. They squinted up at me, his eyebrows slanted, and his lips pursed in empathy. He patted my shoulder a few times. I smiled into his eyes as tears filled my own eyes.

My anger flew away as I remembered…

A few days before, I returned home from a necessary trip away, having taken only the baby with me. The three older boys stayed home with their Daddy and had a marvelous weekend baking with their auntie and playing with their grandparents. When I spoke to my husband on the phone the second night I was away, he told me that Silas, our second-born always mentioned he missed me right at bed time. This didn’t surprise me, but it did touch my mama’s heart and I told my husband to make sure they all knew I missed them too. I knew Jonah at 2 1/2 is too young to express missing me, and I knew better than to ask if Cole had expressed anything similar.

He doesn’t suffer from separation anxiety and never has.

Upon returning home, I came through the door at 8:30 PM and walked immediately to the living room to greet them. Jonah was already in bed, but Silas smiled and hugged me tight. His mommy was home and now all was right in his world. I squeezed him back and kissed his head.

I turned to Cole expecting his routine and unenthused, “Hi Mommy” linked with some sort of demand, something Daddy may have forgotten or not known to do while I was away.

Instead, I looked into his boy-face and saw pain etched across it as he ran at me and wrapped his arms around my legs.

“You were gone too long, Mommy. Don’t ever do that again.”

The lump in my throat cut off my voice as I scooted myself down to press my face against his and hold him close. I pulled him to my lap and his words continued. He missed me. He was sad. He wanted to sleep in my bed that night to make up for lost time. I didn’t want to let him go, and I was ready to let him stay in my arms like a newborn baby all night if it meant we could stay just like this, attached at the heart, exactly like I’d always wanted.

And now only a few days later, standing among the pieces of my broken flower pot, his eyes held mine for so much longer than a moment, and he was sorry for me. He wanted me to feel better and so he reached out his hand to pat my shoulder. And he held my gaze until I smiled.

My brilliant boy, so different than most, had to learn that. Slowly, methodically. We taught him to care. We practiced empathy with him. His teachers have contrived situation after situation and practiced the appropriate responses. He has worked hard. And he’s doing it.

My cup overflows.

But I didn’t teach him to want me. He didn’t practice missing me. No one has told him he should feel that way about his Mommy.

For 5 ½ years I have struggled to accept that he never would. He’d love me just like he loves everyone, with great enthusiasm. But the attachment that I enjoy with my other boys was not to be with my Cole. Most days, I managed to make peace with it. The blessings of autism can far outweigh the curses, but sometimes my heart ached for all I was missing with my first baby boy. It could never feel completely natural.

And now here he was, arms tightly wrapped around me, begging me to never leave again. I can’t explain how it happened, except that I know God is in the business of grace. Perhaps someone looking in on our little living room scene would simply see a mother and her boy, a little too old to be so moved by her return.

But in my heart, I see amazing grace.

Our experience with autism thus far has been one of slowly uncovering the hidden parts of our son, the parts autism threatened to rob him of forever, accepting that some things are gone for good, and embracing the unique gifts it has given him.

This was a moment of uncovering.

What once was lost now is found.

Amazing grace.