January

Oh, January, what a month you are. Every year, with that first turn of the calendar page, I suddenly realize how rich the year already is with memories and fresh air and togetherness. And maybe I’ve just read too many gulag and post-WWII stories of survival recently, but I am especially grateful for a tight, sound home full of warmth and light and food. That shelter turns what could be treacherous, deadly cold into sparkling diamonds and crisp fresh air and “fluff cold snow,” as a favorite book says. We laugh and romp fearlessly, tromping at last inside with shining eyes and pink cheeks and bellies that need hot cocoa.

A secure shelter changes everything. There’s something to muse on.

this moment in time

Fresh snow fell in the night. It is stunning. Looking out my window is like looking at the cover of this book. After days of gray and old, sad, snow, the clean mounds of untouched white are reminding me how cozy winter can feel.

I missed my walk this morning. The baby needed me. No sooner did I get out to the kitchen than another “baby” called for me, not feeling her best. So two middle sisters sit in the family room under blankets, watching Little House on the Prairie, the lamplight glowing on their yellow hair and sweet faces.

By now we should be a beehive of activity, but I’m taking my cues from the quiet snow slowly falling, and letting the big growing boys sleep a bit extra. We’ll get there. Soon enough I’ll wake them to the news that the driveway needs to be tended to, but for now it’s a warm haven of rest here inside. Let’s pause for a moment.

I’m looking at my children this week and knowing how quickly they will change and I’ll forget who they are right now. So, in this little pause, I’ll take a moment to write a few word pictures for my future self.


Jameson, leading the pack
Jameson is so, so tall. He’s grown quite a few inches since September, when the jeans I bought him still had growing room (and are now high waters.) The good news is his clothes show no wear and are ready for William. The bad news is… well, a whole new wardrobe 1/2 way through winter! His voice is dropping, dropping, dropping. His face is changing. It’s like a newborn all over again — changes right before your eyes. He is good at many things, and I am watching, praying, wondering what strengths will rise to the surface in the next few years, waiting to be developed and turned into a life’s work. He’s playing Mozart and Schumann and “real music” and I love it (and do my best to not give too much input!) He plays sensitively, intuitively, and it’s no wonder. He is incredibly intuitive and perceptive. He sees and senses, just like Ryan. Although there are the moments he provokes a little sister just because the response is apparently entertaining, he generally sets a tone of harmony and enjoyment. Whenever he’s away, I’m amazed by the amount of shape this oldest son lends to our family. We flounder a bit when he’s not around, and I love that.


William, diligently reading while in a meeting with Ryan.
William is a head shorter than Jameson and it’s easy, in the shadow of that giant, to miss how much he’s grown, too. His eyes still twinkle, but his face is changing. He’s quiet until he’s not (oh my, he can talk to me forever when there’s a playoff game to retell!), wakes every day with an agenda and easily gets overwhelmed before he’s even begun. Oh, how much I relate to this second son of mine! He loves his friends, and I smile whenever I notice how extra-sparkly his eyes get when he’s in a conversation. Those conversations happen once in awhile via FaceTime now, as he’s joined the ranks of Lego Leaguers, and my disciplined boy suddenly needs a 5 minute warning because this is all just too much fun. He’s generous and takes careful care with any money he earns — not because he’s hoarding, but because he has giving in mind.


Beatrice, our tall and slim oldest girl. As sincere as ever, with no pretense, no attempts to hide or manage her thoughts before expressing them. She is as slow as molasses in January and doesn’t seem to have any other speeds, but oh, she’s happy and cheerful the whole time she is cleaning or studying or adjusting her mittens. She laughs at the boys’ jokes and is starting to contribute to that whole dynamic. She reads as voraciously as ever and we chuckle at all of her mispronunciations — and she laughs so easily and readily, too, never taking herself too seriously. Never one for pretend, more than ever I have to occasionally “assign” playtime with her sisters, as books or writing or drawing will always be more appealing.



Fiona has discovered a new passion: reading! I am marveling, for the fourth time as though it were the first, at how those letters and sounds and phonics rules all suddenly come together one day and a child is reading. I’m not one to push very hard, simply chipping away at all of the basics and gently easing into beginner readers when it seems my child is ready. Fiona delighted all fall in our reading times together, gobbling up Dick and Jane (although I always wonder if it’s reading they love, or sitting in a quiet room with just Mama, tucked under my arm with a book), but when I was away in Virginia, she suddenly began to read. How does that happen? I don’t even know. It’s like magic. Two months ago she was reading BOB books, and now she’s on her third Cobblestreet Cousins book in two weeks. Fiona is the most unique and enjoyable personality. She’s friends easily and readily with everyone, doing her best to include and bless (which can land her in a pickle once in awhile, but even there, she seems to know when to stick to her guns.) She loves to draw and sat with her cocoa the other day and told me she was like a real author, hot drink, pencil and pad of paper, gazing out the window for ideas. I love it. She’s going to be selling the book she’s working on someday, she told me. She is the opposite of Beatrice and gets lost in a world of pretend the very moment she’s released from chores or school. Hours of play, indoors or out, and it makes me so happy to watch her. Ruthie is her dependable playmate, and I can’t even imagine how many days worth of pretend they have clocked together!


Cecily is growing, growing, growing — but still little and delightful. Oh, she makes us all laugh! Her expressions are a riot, her dramatics both entertaining and exasperating. She adores her siblings and is painfully aware of how often the older four leave her behind. Turning four was very exciting but has perhaps let her down, as it wasn’t the magic ticket into life with the school kids. She would sit at the table and do sticker books, magnet dolls, tracing book, or whatever for hours and hours, but also is thrilled when Fiona is free to play make believe. Her chubby cheeks are my favorite and I’ll be so sad when that round face disappears along with her funny speech. She randomly bursts into song, and lately it’s been Jingle Bells (“Bells on Papa ring” is my favorite line!), or snippets from A Christmas Carol. She doesn’t sing quietly. It’s Ethel Merman or nothing. As lively as she is, she’s also still so attached to Ryan and me, or her sisters. She simply can’t imagine life without one of us right nearby, and it’s so sweet.


Enid! Oh, sweet and sassy baby, growing up so quickly right before our eyes! Running races through the house on her little baby legs, laughing with Cecily. Learning to say the names of the most important people in her life. Funny little things she notices and imitates that leave me laughing. Two weeks ago, I realized every time I brought her to my room for her nap, I would get her settled in my arms to nurse and she would smile up at me and give a big exaggerated sigh. I knew from her expression that she was imitating me — must be I sighed every day to unwind and settle in. Oh, it made me laugh! And every night I say, “Good night, I love you,” and she says it back to me now. How endearing! Of course, in between those endearing moments are some of the most challenging toddler moments of my life, as she is never just playing happily but always has an idea of what to get into next, whether it be a pen she found or the puzzle cupboard while we’re doing devotions or the bathroom sink or whatever. She’s feisty and if I’m not finding her getting into trouble, I’m hearing her yell at a sibling who won’t give her what she wants. But how we dote on her, despite all that, and how she gobbles up the center of attention! She runs to greet Ryan, eats all the clementines I’ll give her, sleeps almost predictably every afternoon, and is just so very alive.

It’s Christmas!

And are we really here? The day before the day, the day of anticipation that only escalates even in our sleep tonight? The day of last preparations — Mama watching for UPS anxiously, cookie plate assembled for tonight’s little family party, clothes ironed and matching ties and bows all at the ready, special foods planned and partly assembled. A last vacuum, candle stick filling, kitchen tidying. A last day to get ready, but really, whatever does or doesn’t happen, who cares? Tonight the cork will pop — the waiting and whispering and wrapping with its pressure of expectancy will burst into celebration!

I am determined to just ride this wave and stay in the moment — to not mourn the passing of another December, the last year my children were 13 and under, the year I failed in this way or that. No, today is a gift to open and enjoy, to trust in the faithfulness of God to continue to give the gifts of new mercies wrapped in new days.

And what a pile of those gifts were mine to open this year! Days full of newborns and nieces, Dickens and ringlets, family and parties and cookies and Christmas music in the early mornings. A beautiful little tree with pretty packages tucked beneath, but most of all the clear reminder that Christmas isn’t about looking back to a point in time, but a time for looking ahead to a Second Coming — one when the fullness of Joy to the World breaks forth and all eyes behold the glory of our King. This, this is why we celebrate so big. It’s an expectation and anticipation that finds shape in December, but oh, that it would shape my every day in a deeper way. Time to make ready. The Lord is come!

H O M E

I’m home! Our tree is decorated! There are cookies in the tins, awaiting frosting and sprinkles! The washing machine is running and my suitcase is empty and Instacart filled our bare cupboards!

My four oldest were a smashing success in their opening night of A Christmas Carol. Yet again, a wonderful experience for them, surrounded by encouraging peers and kind adults and fabulous talent (which they think is completely normal and perhaps will be quite surprised to grow up and find that not every rural population can orchestrate and direct and choreograph and set design and costume and then sing, act, and dance the way this population can!) This has been their December thus far, and I’m so glad to be here to see the final product. Truly wonderful. William’s touching five minutes of Young Scrooge brought me to tears. You should go see it if you can.

And my December thus far wrapped up with a plane trip home for my two littles and me. After eleven days with my sister’s family, it was time to return — and I’m so glad to be back at the helm of my little ship, but if only Virginia were not so far away. Being with Carina was every kind of special. Even without a brand new baby whose arrival I witnessed (miracle upon miracle, ever time!), a whole week and a half to just be with their family, helping and loving and watching and laughing and getting to know those little personalities (or rather, big personalities in small bodies!) better than ever — what a privilege and gift.

I’m so blessed to have sisters who are closest friends. We don’t just share mutual memories — we share each day going forward and are eager to be a part of helping and encouraging the future we’re walking out in the Lord.

I’m also so very blessed to have four oldest children who gladly gave up their mama for eleven days (because they truly love Ricky and Carina as much as I do) and who were nothing but cheerful, friendly, responsible, and capable the entire time I was gone. Ryan kept praising them to me, and whenever I was able to FaceTime them, I could instantly sense their joyful camaraderie. My time away was so sweet because I never for a moment was concerned about the ones back home.

Ryan sent me a video — and this is just a screenshot, obviously, but before I could even be impressed by Fiona’s excellent reading, I was overwhelmed by the way Jameson served breakfast each day just because he honors me: candles lit, scrambled eggs in covered casserole dish, Christmas dishes used.

Or this photo that almost made me cry — evidence of big brothers playing happily with little sisters, making their dreams come true:

Several years ago, after thousands of days of investing in young children, I suddenly felt that glimpse of where we were heading: to a place where we would be able to give and reach beyond our little family circle because my children had been invested in and taught and were ready to bear weight as we opened our arms to the world around us. And I saw that this month — my children making it possible for me to go and bless. Very amazing.

So I’m logging these memories, knowing that I am about to be whisked into the beautiful busyness of Christmas celebrations, not the least of which includes Victorian ringlets and vitamin C by the boatload for my young thespians. Happy Friday everyone!

family memories

Where do I start? After spending November waking up in the middle of the night with my mind full of details and planning and excitement, my alarm went off at 4am on November 20th, and we were off! Ten days all together, driving 2,700 miles to visit family in Virginia and Florida, with swimsuits and Christmas presents and coloring books and snacks all packed into our van.

And now it’s all but over. Another memory to recall.

Long 13 and 15 hour drives with kids who never once complained. Except for Cecily, who took awhile to understand that we were actually going to be in the van all day, they never even asked the whiny, “How much longer??” The van would look like a bomb went off, pencils and books and stray fruit snacks everywhere, and the boys would cheerfully tidy it up the next day, getting us ready for the next leg of the journey. We cheered every time we crossed a state border, and noticed the changes in trees and landscapes along the way. McDonalds breakfasts at 8 were our ritual. Hours and hours of audio books, music, and just silently watching cars go by. All with my favorite people.

Virginia time with Carina and her family — where we got to celebrate a birthday, visit their new church, tour a battlefield and a plantation, and I enjoyed morning walks in sneakers instead of winter boots.

Florida was a birthday party for my mother in law, Thanksgiving with a full table of food and family, pool time and Turkey trots, and putting up the Christmas tree all together. It was so special.

Then back to Virginia, to be with a sister who was already in the early part of labor when I arrived. A quick goodbye to Ryan and the four oldest kids, and now I’m settled in here for a few more days, sharing early mornings with nieces, making food and running laundry, going on outings, and getting to dote on the tiniest and sweetest new baby.

My heart is full and thankful.

*****

beatrice + becoming a mother

We celebrated with a brunch birthday party, since the church had an all-site service and picnic planned for the afternoon and evening. I could tell she wasn’t sure if that would be quite okay, but I promised it would be special.

We set the table the day before, and she carefully made place cards and chose napkins from my stash. I did my best to add some feminine and fancy, and I could tell the girls were all starting to feel that this was something special.

She woke up early, just as I was about to head into the dew-damp garden to cut flowers for the house. She happily joined, and we chatted as I gathered. She loves this kind, oh, and that one. Could we please have some gooseneck? And two kinds of hydrangea! She loves flowers and wants to help me every time I pull on my gardening gloves. She asks all the names and watches for beetles and exclaims over new buds and little baby plants, just like me.

I pulled out a new tomato red dress for her to wear on this, her birthday. Her eyes glowed, and a few minutes later she came running to find me, wearing the new dress, exclaiming at how twirly it is. I laughed as she twirled and twirled. I told her she could wear any necklace, as the neckline is unadorned, and she came back with pearls. Just like me.

She opened her gifts and exclaimed over them all — and had them almost all opened and tried out by day’s end. Ryan asked her what her favorite gift was, and I heard from the other room when she answered, “The cross-stitch kit from you and Mama.” Because she is desperate to learn to sew. She watches and hovers any time I pull out a project. I try to explain as I go. Give her little things to make. She just loves the quiet creativity of it all, just like me.

This all surprises me, somehow. I know I am her mother, their mother. I gave birth to them, I have nurtured and fed them, I keep them clothed and clean and teach them to read. I know they love to have me near and they tell me I’m the best mother in the world, but somehow I still feel not quite like a real mother. You know, not real like my mother. Maybe they don’t know I’m still just fumbling through, watching my sisters and friends, calling my mom, reading a book, praying desperately for help and wisdom?

And so somehow as yesterday unfolded, and I saw this little girl whose arms and legs are lengthening into older girl, whose heart is always in her eyes and whose words are so frank and uninhibited by insecurity or pretense, this precious girl who is such a gem and a gift to my life — when I saw her so honestly loving all that I love and imitating who I am, I was undone. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, my mother always said (when I was protesting about another little sister who was copying me!) For good or for bad, I seldom consider there is much about me special enough or worthy enough of imitation, and yet, here she is. My little friend in the garden, a string of pearls to match mine (“someday I’ll have real ones like you, Mama!”), eagerness to not just learn cross stitch but to sit with me and be taught by me.

It made me pause and remember: that’s how I looked at my Mama. She was my standard of elegance and fashion. Her hobbies were enthralling to me. What she knew I wanted to learn, because I couldn’t imagine anyone better to learn from. And now, somehow, someone looks at me that way.

I am a real mother. Nurturing was hard coded into me when God formed my life, and mother became my name because a baby was born, not because I felt I had earned it or grown into it. What kind of a mother will I be? These clear blue eyes, full of love and adoration, call me to once again evaluate my heart. They require me to look around at the six people who look to me for comfort and nurturing, training and discipline, teaching and empowering, and to see them as a worthy investment of my life — the best of my life. I think of the moments in the garden, or getting ready to go out, or finishing up a sewing project when those six people were treated as an interruption to my goals. How very wrong and backwards. How clear it all is when I see a little girl who wants me to use all of those things to grow her and train her and shape her. Yes. That’s the goal, always, in it all.

Oh, these children. How precious they are, and how I long to be the sanctified and wholehearted disciple that they need as they are shaped for their destinies.