an overview

The snow is long gone, though lingering days of cold have made the spring feel slow. No surprise, then, that I can’t quite wrap my mind around May. Well into the fifth month of this year that I thought just started.

Even more shocking is to look recently for a blog post I wrote a little while ago — only to realize it was 2.5 years ago already. And reading it over to realize, sure enough, there’s been a significant shift in this little [growing] family of ours: a shift from all littles to most definitely young men. Sleeves are still rolled, and I’m up to my elbows in the very real work of shaping young lives, but already there are glimpses of what will rise from these foundational years. I am, in very real and very practical ways, enjoying the fruit of days and days of digging in dirt. It’s happening: they’re growing up. Not just getting bigger — although oh my, the length of those legs and size of those feet! — but shoulders are broadening and starting to carry weight. Hearts are awakening and needing shepherding in deeper, slower, tender, firm ways. We have five children. Five! We are moving ahead. I think part of me always thinks life will settle back down and we’ll get back to “norma” — where my boys are forever little, stuffing pockets with who-knows-what and imagining themselves to be heroic explorers as they head off with a big stick and tri-corn hats. Where Beatrice never outgrows missing Rs and little girl cuddles.

We’re not going back to that. We’re not.

I could cry buckets about that. Knowing it goes fast, treasuring the moments, doesn’t slow life down. And it doesn’t mean you’re not sad to know those moments are gone.

But the path of the righteous shines brighter. We look ahead, not because it’s the only way to look, but because that’s where our hope lies. The morning sun dawns, and there is for that day an amazing promise of the presence of a faithful God. He leads us on paths of righteousness that are going somewhere. We live on this spinning planet, watching folly after folly unfold, knowing with King Solomon that there is nothing new under the sun — and yet, we are rescued from cynicism and fatalism by the Savior who has come to redeem. Now, tomorrow, and then. He is redeeming and making beautiful.

I see it in my growing sons. I see their minds growing and their words forming, their hearts widening and softening. I see it in my Beatrice who catches herself mid-sin and chooses to repent and turn — all on her own, because the Holy Spirit is her Shepherd, too. I see it in our marriage, blending us and tethering us and already forging something that could never be separated to the two parts we were ten years ago when we began. I see it in our lives, not because every day is easier (ha!), but because the light that leads us into the gathering dusk of this Age becomes more steady, more brilliant, more sure.

*****

It’s always easier for me to look out and see redemption than it is for me to look in. If I catch a glimpse of my soul, I am quick to say, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” And this will be a mountain I’m sure to circle again, a familiar foe. But becoming equally familiar are the truths the Holy Spirit equips me with to fight the good fight. Is it a coincidence that Philippians 1:6 was a favorite verse in my early childhood? No.

And He continues to pour truth into my soul.

*****

We are running outside, soaking in life-giving green and the vast blue above. We are squealing at daffodils, celebrating bleeding hearts, dancing through dandelions. We are wearing sundresses and wool sweaters.

School books are nearly done, to be gladly replaced by more trail-blazing and swamp-searching, Huck Finn-reading, and Four Square-playing. (All that diligence in February pays off in the spring!)

Family came, playgrounds were visited, bagels consumed.

Meals have expanded beyond the early postpartum options of Main Dish Salad, Spaghetti with Meatballs, Repeat. Bread is made! –even if it is just the quick cheat kind, more often than not.

Colds are nursed, fevers tended to. Laundry is continually washed and dried, although less often folded and put away (got to figure out a better system for that.) Books are read, perhaps not on the couch cuddled under an afghan (as my idealistic self requires), perhaps while little girls sit in the tub, or while pb&j is being consumed. Correction is given, obedience required, kindness cultivated, anger and malice put aside. (Mine and theirs.)

And all the while, wrinkles appear on my face. Is it possible I’m this old? I’ve been too busy to have time to get older, but I guess that’s one thing that happens with no effort or intent on our part. Suddenly noticing that my hands don’t look 18 anymore — a quick reminder that life is short. Carpe diem. Give it all. This is my only chance to live, and give, today.

January, and thoughts.

I don’t know how to absorb all the wonder that is a new baby. I’ve really given it my best try five times now, and still the time slips too fast and change happens in a dizzying way and I’m left with a heart full of a love and a memory that is too full of holes to catch and hold so many moments. So many amazing moments.

Like watching her chest rise and fall in sleep.

Like seeing a twinkle emerge in her eyes as she recognizes us, smiles at us.

Like seeing her tongue quiver, mouth open wide in a newborn howl of protest.

Like scooping her up and having her immediately settle just because I am who she wants.

Like just feeling her near me.

I try to soak it in, breathe it deep, memorize it forever. This is the great Wonder of the World that I will see this year, after all, and while millions of others ogle over the Eiffel Tower and the Wall of China and Rockies breaking majestically from endless plain, only I will see her perfect yawn as she stretches awake in my arms at sunrise. They don’t make postcards of that moment. It’s just here, tucked into my heart, slowly becoming the fabric of a deep bond we’ll have forever.

*****

I think these thoughts as we settle down to sleep, we three who share our bed. I squeeze her just a bit, acknowledging the end of yet another day in her life, never to be had again, thankful I got to share it. He sighs and turns into his pillow, turning away from whatever burdens linger after a day of work, and I think, not for the first time: It’s the end of yet another day in his life, too, that will never be had again. Did I share it enough? Did I treasure it enough? His mother’s heart holds those sweet memories of his sweet yawns and cries and smiles, but is my heart treasuring these days of side-by-side hard work, of Daddy-kisses on princess cheeks and happily being hero to two waiting sons at the end of a grueling day and cradling fussy babe even though his shoulders are just as burdened as mine? Am I noticing the new creases near his eyes, the sprinkle of gray that’s not such a sprinkle anymore? Do I smile a bit as I fold a pile of undershirts and socks, maybe not so cute as those newborn sleepers, but belonging to an equally wonderful person? Do I just breathe in him and the way the bed sinks to his side and the lingering scent of shampoo on his pillowcase and just the solidity of him being here?

Suddenly I am on the adventure of a lifetime, taking in Wonders of the World all day long.

*****

New rhythms that are so gentle, legato, harmonious, they simply slipped into place without much effort at all:

A Circle Time of sorts each morning after breakfast. Long moments spent singing hymns, memorizing scripture and things, practicing what it means to hear Jesus, praying for what is on His heart. Reading out loud chapter after chapter of beautiful new Puffin Classics we got for Christmas. Hurrying through chores to get outside where they will run and chase and build for long stretches, leaving me with a new baby and a sweet toddler to read to and sing with and maybe, just maybe, get a shower? The sun stays so much longer all of a sudden, and so our afternoons stretch just enough to allow quiet book work with two delightful boys. Dinner is as simple as possible, made mostly from food I’ve prepared and tucked into the freezer, and for the first time ever, I’m sticking to simple. No “oh, since the soup is done, I’ll just make this new bread recipe and a pie or two while I’m at it.” No, just soup and quiet and practicing priorities for this season. It’s all good.

*****

Several afternoons, I’ve even gotten to slip out for a quick walk. Sometimes I do so with my head down, pounding my feet on that pavement as quickly as I can, trying to get all I can out of a mere 10 minutes. But sometimes I make the mistake of looking up — and the walk abruptly ceases. Who can absorb the beauty of a January day? I find them breathtaking.

*****

Stopping to see beauty certainly is aided, in my life, by cultivating an awareness of beauty in general. The children and I are having our thirst for beauty fed by poems from this book — a gift from my mother this past Christmas. I have written before about how in over my head I feel with poetry, but much to my astonishment, my children don’t seem to need to understand the meaning, or know what makes a poem a poem, or any such thing. They just listen, smiles dancing in their far-off gaze, as the words make music and magic. They, inevitably, beg for more.

Here’s a favorite —

(This sort of thing — taking a picture of a field, reading poetry with the kids, listening to Bach Violin Sonatas on a sunny sub-zero morning — this is “mother culture” for me. It’s self-care. It doesn’t even require that I get away or spend a single cent. Our Shepherd is very capable of finding fields and streams in the season we’re in. He restores our souls.)

Cecily Anne

Cecily.

Named almost the moment she was born, a first for Ryan and Danica. “It’s a girl!”, her daddy exclaimed, and almost with the next breath, “Cecily! I knew it was Cecily!”

Little knowings. I just love those God whispers that become resonating shouts when our eyes fully see. That’s who this little girl was to her daddy, and what a special thing for her to know, for him to remember.

*****

She was born in her own time, like both sisters before her. Nine days past her due date — dates which I always laughed and shrugged off, but after Fiona waited until the 11th hour for her arrival, those pesky little due dates suddenly seemed to bear much more weight in my mind. As soon as that due date passed, the clock began to tick. I tried hard not to notice or hear it or give it any mind, but I did. Please don’t be too late, please please! One week overdue, and suddenly I entered that end game — you know, when walking feels awkward and getting out of bed demands an actual strategy and I just couldn’t bear the thought of real clothes. All activity happened in the morning, because afternoon naps were guarded. I seem to only ever birth babies at night, you know, so naps aren’t an option. Last batches of cookies. Last grocery runs. On the 16th, I even put on make up and a dress and did my last stocking purchases, realizing my stash for Ryan was lacking. It was warm, even balmy, that week, so we would walk down to my parent’s, to the library, slowly and awkwardly, but we did it.

“Any contractions?,” my midwife asked every week, and yes. Yes, plenty of those. But nothing real. A few nights, laying in bed, I would be woken by a couple in a row — and there is nothing quite so disappointing as realizing 6 hours later that you’ve been sound asleep and those false alarms completely fizzled out.

I didn’t really want to go into labor. I felt so much less prepared than ever. What if this time it got the better of me? What if I just lost it halfway through and couldn’t do it? I actually don’t like the feeling of a small human exiting my body.

But I was reaching that spot between a rock and a hard place: you know you can’t go on like this, but the alternative isn’t looking so great — but then again, let’s just do this, because you can’t go on like this.

And the whole time trying not to notice that my window of time was slipping away, day after day, with no sign of labor.

I forget that it truly does suddenly overtake you. There is no warning. It happens when it happens. I really forget. Kind of silly!

Friday the 18th: I woke up exhausted, thanks to the worst heartburn of my pregnancy the night before. Fortunately I was able to fight that exhaustion with the breakfast of champions: Christmas cookies and Dutch pastry, still on a tray from the night before when the kids slept under the tree. We’d finished our Christmas read-aloud and nibbled cookies and washed it down with milk. We’d sung Christmas carols with four excited kiddos, then put the girls to bed while the boys relished this special evening by the tree with Mama sitting nearby. That was the night before, and now I had to put a plan together for another day. Plan A was always Have A Baby, but since that didn’t seem to work out, I was left to scramble for a Plan B. Along with usual chores, the plan for Friday included cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning and a game of Sorry altogether after my very short nap. We were all hoping to spend the evening shopping for each other’s Christmas Eve gifts (the kids swap names and buy each other something.) Around 5, we put away the game and I started to get dinner ready, just in case Daddy ended up being available. I wrapped my risen cinnamon rolls for the freezer, and felt the first contraction. It wanted my attention, but I stubbornly paid it no mind. I pulled out bread for pb&j, and the boys groaned. “We ate that for lunch!” I wanted to snap at them in response, and that got my attention. My, aren’t we edgy tonight, I chided myself, and bit my tongue. Something about “an easy dinner so we can meet Dad in town,” and they quickly changed their attitudes. 6:30, we met Ryan and he joined us in the van. “This might need to be an efficient trip, babe. I could be in labor.”

I waddled into the store and managed to keep up with two excited boys. The contractions sure felt legit. By the time we got back in the van, I was already tuning out the world. Ryan asked if this was really it. Ugh. I hate having to make that call! We called Regina, my midwife, and told her we’d be in touch again at 9:30, after I’d gotten home and settled, to let her know if things were continuing to move forward.

And they were. Every six minutes, for about 6 hours! I have never had early labor last so long. After Regina and several friends had arrived, and my vitals were all checked, I laid down on the couch and fell asleep. For nearly two hours! A few times I was slightly roused by a contraction, but when I woke up at 2:30am, I had a sinking feeling.

It was a false alarm.

I felt groggy and grumpy. So I pulled out the mountain of clean laundry and started folding. I’m not sure I contributed much to that chore, because sure enough, as soon as I was up and moving, everything kicked back into action. Oh me of little faith. It wasn’t a false alarm; it was the pause I needed to get the rest and stamina for the rest of the night.

Slow and steady: that’s how it started, and that’s how it progressed. Up until the end, I felt like I was laboring in slow motion. (I even remember making a joke about not ruining my slippers right before I started pushing. I’ve never been able to think or talk much during other labors!) A contraction, then that suspended time in between when you lay your head on the kitchen counter and sleep. Squat. Stretch your lower back. Sit on the couch. Hate the couch. Try the chair. Have to move. Get a glass of water, but pause halfway through the filling to breathe. Resume. Take a sip and then breathe through another. It’s amazing how many hours can slip by when you are living in those seconds and moments. My mom slept in an armchair. Friends checked instagram and laughingly complained that no one was updating at 4am. Ryan slept with the girls for a couple hours. The house was a bubble of calm and timelessness.

I think it was around 5am when I finally was feeling too tired and too uncomfortable to stay in the kitchen or family room. I wanted my bed.

I perched on the edge of the mattress. It was getting real. No one could push too hard on my lower back. I was vaguely aware of the time and knew this was lasting awhile (for me), but I also could tell that it was moving along just fine. There were no hours of stalling, as there had seemed to be with Fiona. There was the steady, aching awareness that this baby was moving. Pressing on bones, pushing them aside. Come on, body, get this baby down!

I was exhausted. I would sit or stand for a few contractions, and then lay down for a couple. My legs just couldn’t hold up. But they needed to, because I wanted this done. Kids woke up and asked to play wii; it was morning. I was waiting for the pressure that would cue pushing, but knew this time, I needed to help. Get up one more time. I sat on the edge of the bed — as far as I could get before the next wave hit (those crazy piggyback contractions with barely a breather that are oh so hard but they get things done.) My water broke. Soon. I stood, or, rather, Ryan held me up. Time to push, at last — and fighting inner waves of panic that this time I wouldn’t know what to do. There was the sudden quiet, intense hustle of assistants manning their positions, birth team in place, eyes on Regina. Except then there’s that grand lull. It seemed to last too long. Is my body going to push this baby out or not??! When the next contraction came, and with it the involuntary first real push, I was flooded with relief. It was going to happen. My body still worked! And efficiently. Only a few of those powerful pushing contractions.

It seemed an eternity of panting before that head was delivered, but Regina talked me through it, flawlessly, again. And seconds later, at 8:01am, born.

“It’s a girl!”

I was so surprised. They laid her on my chest, damp and purple and screaming, her face looking like maybe this had been a long night for her, too! A precious new life, healthy and kept through the wild ride of childbirth. And me, too — exhausted and ravenous, but strong. Stronger than ever. An answer to my prayers, and to Ryan’s, too.

She was 9lb, 8.5oz (beating Beatrice by 1/2 an ounce!), and 21.75″ long, with a nice round head that filled out her Hannas hat from day one. And we thought this baby would be a tiny one!

Her Nana dressed her and swaddled her and laid her in my arms — another sweet-smelling gift from a good heavenly Father. Another wave of love filling my heart. Another chance to take in the scent of brand new baby, laugh at the bubbling joy of older siblings, count tiny toes so perfectly formed, kiss fingers curled around my pinky, sleep all night with a bundle just meant for a mama’s arms. A chance to know a whole new person. Sacred. Miraculous.

Cecily Anne Dunphey: Cecily, a long-loved name, Anne, a family name on both sides. It means “Blind, Full of Grace,” a combination that immediately reminded me of the hymn Ryan sings to the kids whenever he puts them to bed.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found
‘Twas blind, but now I see.”

what december looks like here:

I am waiting for a baby.


(Taken 10 days ago!)

But I am also trying to just enjoy this favorite season of the year, noticing the way certain things have become Christmas in our little family:

Enjoying our first December dinner with the flicker of candles in Advent wreath, reading the first of 24 little books telling the story of Jesus, and followed by a viewing of The Nativity Story (and cookies!)

Making cookies, and being sure to have a variety for tree-decorating night!


(Rum logs — add 1/2 tsp salt! –, Pepparkakor, and Chocolate Crackles. Coming soon: Peanut Butter Balls, for my favorite guy.)

Getting a tree, as soon as we can. Dashing through rows (that makes it sound tidy — not quite!) of trees, finding the “right” one. We don’t agonize too long: The right height, not prickly, a little bit wild. Done, settled, bring that baby home!

Music playing, softly each morning, more loudly during cookie decorating, and just plain old loud while tree-decking. I love filling the house with the sounds of Christmas, which for us have become Diana Krall, Tony Bennett, Luna Moon, The Cambridge Singers, The Nutcracker, and (when Ryan’s not home — he doesn’t get the same warm fuzzies as I do!), Sandi Patty.

A growing collection of books to read all month, which I put by the tree this year. I have it in my head that I will sit by that tree with a brand new baby, doing nothing but reading books to my other sweet babes. Even without that new baby, I’d say the arrangement is working out just fine. I am so happy to just read out loud while they eat it up.

There are so many favorites, but this year I’m being asked to read The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree on repeat.

Meals that aren’t fancy, but certainly feel that way when you add candles and a bit of holiday prettiness. It’s amazing how easy it is to linger a bit longer when there are cookies to pass around as the candles burn low. December forces a quick and complete embrace of short days and cozy evenings — things we’ll cling to long after the holiday bins have been stored back in the basement.

Corners of the house that the kids can almost arrange themselves, so familiar are the decorations and arrangements. Oh, I have to have a really good reason for changing the location of anything from year to year!

Anticipation that doesn’t have to be taught. It only takes a few Decembers to realize that these cookies, these songs, these books, these moments — they are special.

family time

And right on the heels of a long-anticipated weekend away, we ended up with a week of family time! Since neither Ryan nor I are actually good at being home and vacationing (he’d be on the phone solving problems, I’d be deep-cleaning the freezer — but I have hope! One day!), we loaded ourselves and a week’s worth of books and games and groceries into the van and headed to another nearby lake.

There wasn’t much to do (the whole point!), and the five days slipped by to the tune of slow mornings together, little hikes and boat excursions, two birthday celebrations (William and Ryan), movies and books and puzzles, and just kind of being near Dad. No matter what he was doing.

We had rented this same cottage three summers ago, when Beattie wasn’t walking and William and Jameson were decidedly little boys. Arriving there again was nostalgic. This season of young children just changes so quickly. So quickly. Jameson is 9! William turned 7! It whirls and flies faster and faster, leaving me sometimes just gasping for a breath — and maybe crying, too. To know for certain that I will never, ever again be on a boat watching 3-year-old William experience the thrill of full throttle, arms in the air, eyes sparkling in the unique way they do… And I know again that my days with them are such a gift. I get to watch them, help them, introduce them to the world and its wonders, their growing gifts and personalities, truth and goodness and hope. I get to witness their moments and hours and days. It doesn’t always seem significant. Sometimes it’s a lot of moments of potty-helping and chore-reminding and conflict-resolving and super-hero-story-listening. But those moments are their lives, and I’m a part of these building-block moments that are adding up to men and women.

And truthfully, honestly, there aren’t many moments I wouldn’t gladly do once again. Even just for a minute, to build a train track with my baby Jameson, to sing a song to the happy baby William playing at my feet, to watch my doll-baby Beatrice smile at her brothers, to slip Fiona into the Ergo for a tromp in the snow… Those are moments no one else saw, no one else witnessed, no one else was a part. But I was. God picked me. Isn’t that amazing?

Yes, I’m very pregnant, but oh my! I am in tears, marveling at the way God uses me — ungifted as I often feel in every area pertaining to home management and school organization and even just babies! — to shape people.

I think I had some pictures to post, if I can just find them through my tear-blurred vision…

october’s get-away

Hands down, the highlight of October for me — maybe the highlight of the last few years? — was a weekend away with just Ryan. Our 10th anniversary had come and gone without celebration, as have our birthdays and several other anniversaries before, and after a very demanding couple of years for Ryan and our little family, I decided it was time for a break.

It wasn’t extravagant or fancy. In fact, it was as simple as a meticulous little house on a nearby lake. We left our kids with my wonderful parents, put pj’s and wool socks into a suitcase, bought fancy cheese and favorite vegetables and splurge-y steaks, and it was just perfect. The last of autumn’s leaves fell gently to the blue water, and I watched, mesmerized, from the couch. The first snow blew in the next morning, granting permission to just sit some more, warm and calm under heavy blankets. We slept. We talked. We shared new favorite ice cream. We read. We did it all together, and at our own pace. We rested.

I may have cried a bit when we left. It was just so wonderful and needed. It was such a gift to be able to get away. And it is such a gift to share the work of life with someone who you love so deeply.