He Gathers His Sheep

He will tend his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms.

The hallway outside the room where your brothers sleep is a long one, running the entire length of the house, on the front side, down to the room where your sisters sleep. The ceiling is sloped with the roof line, and it has the steepest pitch, so that the peak is only about a foot wide, but the floor is closer to twelve. We lined the walls with couches and dressers, a table and chairs for school, and a wooden blanket rack.

There are three dormers to let in natural light; the shadows shrink as the morning turns to noon, but there remains a slightly lighter hue in the color of the oak wood floor, a faint reminder of the fading sun.
This hallway was not always here, nor were the boy's or girl's rooms, but just attic space, dust and beams and insulation. We always wanted to add additional space, and the Lord provided what we needed when we needed it, even before we needed it. In his mercy he provided, and we are blessed to have rooms we can label “boys” or “girls” or “guest.” We have a child for every one of them, and soon more children than rooms, but truly we have more space than we will ever really need, and it delights us to open these rooms to anyone God would bring us.

I frequently will pause for a moment to two to gaze out of any of the windows. Sometimes it is to look down and see if I can spot any children, perhaps children getting into mischief. If I find one or two, or more, he or she is usually engaged in a delightful activity that reminds me of my own youth. Just last week I looked to see my oldest of seven years sitting on the grass across from my almost three year old son. They were both barefoot, sitting in such a way that their feet touched, playfully patting each other’s feet as though they didn’t like it that way. I watched with a fondness and hope that even these two, a daughter and son who are separated by four and a half years and three other children, would grow up as best friends. Our family is an affectionate family, boisterous and tumultuous and caring and kind, and loving... and love covers a multitude of sins.

You have made a marvelous addition to our family. Though you have not yet found your voice, you speak your opinion often, and I hear it. I enjoy playing hide and seek with you at the dinner table. You may think you are hiding well by turning your face away from me, but I can still see you. Likewise, you may not see my head when it’s behind the chair, but I’m pretty certain you know that it’s still there. I’m happy to wipe peanut butter and avocado and snot from your face and clothes any time, and I don’t particularly mind if you get a little on me, unless I’m going to work. Actually, it doesn’t really bother me then either, because I have six mouths to feed now, and anyone who has a problem with one of these mouths getting a little overflow on my sleeve is just going to have to get over it.

Your mother and I are proud of you, and very thankful, that you have finally learned how to climb the stairs. I can still make the journey fairly easily, though my knees can sometimes be pretty tired toward day’s end and my two steps at a time becomes rapidly regrettable. Thirty pounds is like three bowling balls, or a big bag of rice, only slightly floppier or sometimes rather ambitious. Your mom is carrying four bowling balls, with you in her arms and your new sister in her tummy. The day will soon come when she’ll be here with you, and mom will probably not be as snuggly as before. I’m still here for you, though.

Let’s find a sleeper for tonight. The chill of fall is back in the house, you can feel it through the floors and the old window panes. I turned the heat on in your room so you won’t get too cold; mom and I can tough it out downstairs. I can remember your oldest brother wearing most of these. I’m guessing your other brothers wore them too, but it’s harder to place those memories. That probably has something to do with the way the brain saves memories while you sleep, which is where I sometimes struggle. You’ve always slept pretty well; I see you often curled in a corner, or on your stomach with your knees pulled under. You’ve preferred your index finger over your thumb or any kind of pacifier, and at this point our philosophy on that can be summarized as basically whatever. The younger, newer parent in us may have insisted on a more temporary option. The older, more experienced parent in us simply relishes the journey.

Your room often sits dark. The only window faces west, and the sun has long dipped below the tree line. The few rays of light that pierce through the pines will soon dissipate, and only a peaceful night sky will remain. The red numbers of your clock always catch my eyes; even though the time is wrong, I’ve glanced at it often enough that I can quickly convert it to the actual hours and minutes. It seems I should’ve reset it by now. Many such projects abound.

I love to cradle you in my arms as I stand by your crib. Your body is soft and flexible, still forming even as you lay on me and sleep. I can feel the soft sinews of muscle in your shoulders and back. Your arms have not yet endeavored to heavy lifting; your shoulders have not yet felt the weight of responsibility. My own back tenses as I hold your weight, the knots in my own shoulders twinge. In so doing, I frequently pray and thank God that I am even able to hold you now. It was not much more than six years ago that I lay in a hospital bed, with two two-week olds and a one year old at home, wondering if I would ever be able to carry my children at all. I’ve not forgotten the wrenching pain I felt that night, just trying to move slightly, unable to even roll over.

The Lord has restored my body, however, for which I am thankful, and it is not for previous injury or exceptional use that this tension persists. Rather this tension is the byproduct of hours upon hours of continuous functional exertion, inadequately called work. Such a word as work fails to fully express the magnitude of habitual faithfulness and earnest commitment that is required in this life. Indeed, this life and this work demand the fullness of my being, an intrepid and resolute mind, a committed, unyielding spirit, and a will that pushes past failure.

None of these things I possess, of course, so I am also thankful we placed a cozy chair right next to your crib. The deep seat and soft pillows make for a comfortable posture, and I can place you on my shoulder and rest your body on my chest without any support. I can nuzzle your head with mine; I can rub your hair or your back with my hand. Often I will let you lie peacefully, and pray and thank God for your life.

When I breathe I can feel your body melt onto mine. There is a tenderness to your spirit that does not show when your five older siblings crowd around you. Indeed, in their midst there exists a struggle for freedom and for attention. But here it is just you and me, and your tenacity gives way to gentleness, meekness, humility.

What joy it must be to be held like this! What peace you must feel in my arms! The safety of knowing that I am here, and I care for you, and I love you and will never leave you. My life is yours. The sacrifice of this life is not made in an instant, it is no snap decision. It is made daily, minute by minute, with each tie of a shoe, each bowl of cereal poured. True love is demonstrated when the ball is thrown and caught, when math books are opened, when dinner is shared.

There are many days when I long to be held just like this. If there were a safe place I could go, where the worries of the world and the weight of responsibility were lifted from my shoulders. A place where my body and spirit could have peace, tenderness, freedom.

I can hear the change in your breath. I can feel your arms falling, limply, down to your side. My body is frail, like yours. My spirit is strong, but it wavers. My mind is sharp, but it falters. I need a rest, like you.

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles;
They shall run and not be weary;
They shall walk and not faint.

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