Percival Robert

Percival Robert Dunphey
“One who pierces the valley; Bright fame”
10/23/20, 11:53pm
8lbs 10oz, 21″

What a difference a day makes! I’m always amazed by how true that sentiment is when it comes to new babies. One day, going about my day as usual; the next, our family and lives forever changed by the arrival of a brand new person.

*****

Already we’ve passed two weeks together, he and I. Rarely apart, I watch his little face change almost before my eyes. His eyes are the eyes of an old soul, and I gaze into them, wondering who he is, who he will be. I swaddle his little body and let the sweet weight of him rest on my chest, sink into my soul. At night, he is the perfectly sized bundle to nestle in my arms, and I drift to sleep taking in the scent of his newborn head.

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And before the rush of life sweeps us up in its current, and Percival is folded into the rhythms of our lively routine, I want to record the happening of his birth.

*****

There was the hunch that maybe this baby was a boy. In fact, Ryan was very sure. Part of me wondered if maybe that would mean a more punctual arrival, since my first two babies were born on time. But 40 weeks came and went, and there was no sign of imminent arrival. Instead, I began the now-familiar routine of waiting but not waiting, resting but staying busy, and maintaining readiness while somehow not worrying about it too much. My times are in His hands, and so are the days of this baby’s life. Worry, anxiety, and impatience don’t need to be part of our lives, and perfect peace is offered to those whose minds are fixed on our Good Father.

Somewhere along the way I began sleeping very poorly, often interrupted by random contractions, but nothing that seemed “real”. Thursday afternoon and evening, October 22nd, I felt more antsy than usual, as well as achy and uncomfortable — all signs that a baby was getting ready to arrive, but, well, we already knew that! Ryan was out at a meeting that night, and when he came home, I let him know I’d been having regular contractions that felt more legitimate. After a couple hours, I drifted to sleep, only to be woken throughout the night by more but unchanging contractions. I woke up without any progress to report, but feeling like a caged animal. Ryan got the older kids to their Friday program, and the little girls and I went into town with him for bagels and a walk. It was a 75*, sunny, perfect October day, and I was so thankful to not be cooped up on a rainy day! I walked and climbed stairs and Ryan took bumpy back roads home, but still I had nothing too much to report beyond, “I just feel like this is it.” Kids came home, Ryan went to work, we rested, they went out to play… still nothing beyond the same random contractions and a lot of angst. By late afternoon, I texted Ryan to simply say, I don’t know how to process this nothing-ness that feels like something, and don’t know what to do. He had my midwife call me, and she encouraged me to just “erase my mental blackboard,” get dinner and rest and stop even thinking about what to do or not do — because babies will come when they’re ready. No rocket science, but at that point in the day, I needed to be reminded of simple truths.

So, I went to the couch, got an afghan, and turned on a brainless house flipping show. I told Ryan there were no dinner plans, so he brought Thai home and fed the kids while I continued to just rest. Food was the last thing of interest to me! I eventually started to take note of the regularity of the contractions, which were settling into a pattern. Ryan and I went outside to walk around the yard while the kids cleaned up. The dusk was settling in, geese were flying overhead in their graceful ribbons, Enid and Cecily played around us, and we walked and talked and just stood through continuing contractions. It was peaceful and beautiful, and grateful calm sank into my soul.

There was the obvious progress of intensity, and Ryan stayed in touch with Sunday and “The Birth Crew,” and eventually he felt confident about telling them this was really it. When I said, “I don’t want you to call them all because I just really don’t want to do this right now,” he decided it was real.

And so, slowly, the house became focused around the coming event. Sheets changed, candles lit, little girls pj’d, people gathering, tea brewed, and me just floating through it all, half-aware, mostly just zoning into labor. There was laughter and conversation, and between contractions, I remember offering water to people, giving some direction, and joining in the laughter. I walked and walked, not feeling any desire to be still. Eventually it became intense enough that I had to stand by the bed, leaning into the mattress for support, and then the pressure became so much that I needed people pushing on each hip through the contractions. Sunday brought a birthing stool, and I hesitantly decided to try it — and loved it! There I sat for… who knows how long! I remember being in the dining room eating a buttered bagel around 6:30, and next thing I knew I heard my mother saying it was 9:30. How can three hours just disappear? Only in labor!

Being on the birthing stool had a rather curious effect on my contractions. Of course, I knew they were very effective in that position, but they also felt less sharp and undoing than what I am accustomed to. With counter-pressure on my hips, I was (please read this next word in context! Ha!) easily able to relax through each one as I focused deeply on what was happening. And I also had the most interesting experience a few times: as the pressure increased and I knew the baby was progressing, I had the deepest waves of gratefulness at being a part of such a miracle, and rather than just yielding to the process of birth, I felt such meaningful moments of surrender to the Lord. “Be glorified in me,” my heart cried out, and suddenly, it wasn’t just birth, but worship. And thankfulness for His incredible nearness to me. We were doing this together, He and I. What a privilege.

Eventually, I decided I needed to get on the bed. (Funny how in hindsight the progression of labor is obvious, but in the moment, it’s all just instincts!) On my knees, with a pile of pillows to lean on, and oh my, this was it. That baby was moving down and the feeling was so intense. The quiet encouragement of sisters and friends grew amplified as it was obvious that I needed to stay engaged and somehow relaxed. And then suddenly I couldn’t kneel like that anymore — I needed to be on my side to rest. (Or to push out a baby. Same thing?!) Without any mental initiation, my body was suddenly bearing down, and the scramble to prepare was on. My water broke, and there suddenly were the long pauses between urges. I remember just thinking, I can’t believe we’re already here. Okay. Let’s do this. A few pushes, and suddenly he was crowning. Another long pause, and I was ready to push — and suddenly, a baby! Oh, best feeling in the world!!! To collapse on a pillow, the marathon of labor over, a baby born! Boy, girl, in that moment I don’t even care. Baby on my chest, being rubbed to a nice pink, their cry greeted by celebrations and exclamations over their health, and me just crying in relief and thankfulness. And then someone called out, “It’s a boy!,” and the room erupted in cheers. I opened my eyes to see my two oldest daughters, weeping with emotion over the arrival of a new life. Two older brothers beamed, thrilled to welcome another boy into our clan. The flurry of movement all around me was a happy blur as I just savored the thoughts: It’s over. I’m done. He’s here.

By 1:30am, friends and sisters were gone, and my parents slipped away, too, after sharing in a prayer of thanksgiving for this miracle we all witnessed and partook of. Ryan tucked little girls into bed — because, yes, the whole family was awake and waiting for Percival’s arrival! Who could really sleep with so much excitement in the air? Two happy sons finally tore themselves away at 2am, and all was quiet. Just me and this new wonder, a son, a person to learn and treasure and love.

In the two weeks that have passed, my older children have blessed me beyond what I can say with their cheerful willingness to keep things running, caring for one another and for me. Countless loads of laundry, hours of managing a spitfire of a toddler, school and chores, meals, refilling my water endlessly, and all without a trace of complaint. I spent several days in bed, the longest respite I’ve ever taken after a baby’s birth, and all because they are so wonderful. Many times I was visited by a sibling, eager to check on me and hoping to sneak in a snuggle with the new baby they’re all so in love with. Sitting on the bed together, gazing at Percival’s sweet sleeping face, talking quietly — these are all memories I’m tucking away. So many treasured moments, so much grace, so much peace — and I have done this enough times to know those things are gifts to be noted and enjoyed!

And of course, two weeks of Percival. Two weeks of timeless days, waking with him, hoping to sleep with him whenever I can, bundling him tight in swaddles, taking too many pictures, letting the kids hold him and the whole time just wanting to take him back. The first time I let him sleep alone for two hours, and I busied myself with dinner prep and tidying and such, I told Ryan I deserved a prize: I didn’t even cry. Because yes, I cry every time I’m separated from a new baby.

These newborn days find us mamas to be soft, sensitive, tender, raw in so many ways. There are mountain tops and valleys — and both of those places can be prompted by the most ridiculous and small things. Toe-curling pain of a babe learning a good latch, heavenly bliss of soft cheek and delicate fingers to kiss. The wrong pants going through the dryer and the toddler testing every command, the soul-satisfaction of all of our babes gathered for a family movie night. Seven times later, a decade and a half of perspective under my belt, I take it all a bit slower and lean hard into grace.

These are but a few of my thoughts from the past two weeks. Mostly, my thoughts have been of how thankful I am for a strong and God-fearing husband, for children who have chosen honor and servanthood, for a healthy beautiful baby, and for the faithful nearness of God.

He stills the tumult

This morning, as we add “fever-pitch fight over empty Supreme Court seat” to the uproar that already is 2020, I am settled by the profundity of this thought: Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.

A promise.

And our God is a promise-keeping God.

As my soul churns afresh, I glance up to see the first traces of pink lace the sky. Within minutes, there is brilliance bursting from the horizon, a yet-hidden sun declaring its coming. I am struck: He is able to oversee all the affairs of men. He graces my life with perfectly formed flowers, the warming nourishment of wholesome food, the knitting of a form within my womb, the growing of young men, moments alone with my best friend and a man I so deeply admire, candlelit mornings, distant Adirondack peaks breaking through fog, and mornings gloriously shouting of new mercies and omnipotent reign.

“By awesome deeds You answer us in righteousness, O God of our salvation,
You who are the trust of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest sea;
Who establishes the mountains by His strength,
Being girded with might;
Who stills the roaring of the seas,
The roaring of their waves,
And the tumult of the peoples.
They who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of Your signs;
You make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy.”
(a portion of Psalm 65; go read the rest!)

take my moments

September. Such a month of beauty and change.

Dark begins to hem us in, bit by bit. I sit inside at 6am, because I need a light to read. We are tucking girls into bed by 8pm because there’s no sunshine outside, anyway. And I love the wild, free hours of summer, but I love this drawing in, too. More often than not, I am in the rocking chair in the little girls’ bedroom every nap time and bedtime, reading to a sometimes captive and sometimes not audience. A month ago the routine looked more like a tick check and washing feet and hurrying them onto their pillows before I turned into a pumpkin, but now there is time, space, slow. I am torn between missing the late night sounds of dribbling and swinging, and loving the lamplight on sweet faces around me. That is life, is it not? Torn between missing and fullness?

We are finding familiar rhythms, tweaked for this year’s needs. Mornings hum with activity and the day’s preparations. Heads bend over books, eager to finish and get outside. Afternoons give way to quiet and rest before another round of humming begins. It is full. There are people of every size everywhere, coming and going. There is the outline of Mama’s routine, but with older children employing self-discipline and goal-setting to see where they can be more efficient. Big girls to teach one-on-one, little girls to entertain and train. A running list of errands, phone calls, people who come to mind, thoughts from Scripture and national situations that take up space in my heart. Meals to plan (and then actually make). Temperatures dropping and suddenly I remember these kids can’t wear shorts all year — time to figure that out, too, I guess. Full.

Life, hurtling forward, and yet, given to us a moment at a time. We are not victims but stewards. This is our time to serve the Lord, our generation in which to shine. And a moment at a time, the serving and shining may not seem especially spectacular, but that is not my concern: faithful obedience to the Word of God, yielding to the call of God on my life is my role. I don’t need to try and shape my life into something I think is worthy of the word “legacy.” He shapes me. He molds me. And it is His legacy I want to leave, anyway. This is both a relief and a challenge: my moments count. My attitude counts. The way I think needs to be transformed by the Word of God, and my heart needs to come under His Lordship.

Today is what I have to give. This moment. And then the next. One foot in front of the other, with eyes fixed on Jesus.

Sunday reflections

8:00, Sunday morning. Ryan and I are sipping coffee and eating breakfast by lamplight as rain pours down. Kids are all asleep, and I’m wondering how long I can let this quiet continue before we risk being late for church. Good for now, I decide.

We were both awake early. Enid came into our bed at some point and always nestles right up against me — or maybe she’s trying to oust me and take over my spot. She talked in her sleep, and I tried to ignore her and find my way back to slumber, but this belly and restless legs and a baby kicking me from the inside while another pushed against me from the outside… And a million things racing through my brain. Calls to return. Projects to move forward on. Curriculum to buy. Birthdays to prep for. One more week till school. Growing children to make room for, spread banquets for, lay hold of Jesus for. And so I tiptoed to the kitchen in pitch black, lit candles and brewed coffee, and did a brain dump.

Sunday. What has been one of the most predictable days of the week my entire life has this year become a roller coaster of phases and mandates, with my thoughts and emotions following right alone. I miss being all together. Some people I haven’t seen in nearly 6 months. The ones I see now are half hidden by masks, our conversations cut short by kids who wander and need to be re-masked. It’s been strange, for sure. But the rumbling thought in the back of my mind is the solid promise of God: I will build My Church. This isn’t a social club we’re desperately trying to hold together. It’s not a government program we’re hoping will survive. It’s a move of God that has continued for over two thousand years, regardless of persecution or war or famine or peril, no matter which kingdoms rise and fall.

And so this morning, even as we rally ourselves for another strange Sunday, I am reminded that where two or more are gathered, He promises to be. He dwells in the praises of His people. He will pour out His Spirit on all flesh, filling out sons and daughters. And I can be glad, very glad, when they say to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord today.”

Lastly, some pictures, because August has been full:

a week away

Last week, there were long days of hot sun, just perfect for a week away at the lake. Today, I wake to cool air and rain, the sound of geese filling the sky, and a sunrise that is growing tardier by the day. Everyone I talk to says the same thing: What a strange year, and how can it be the end of summer already? Somehow, in the midst of Phase 1-4 and canceled festivals and family vacations gone awry and summer camps 6′ apart or not at all, Time kept moving. July is July, I guess, whether we travel as usual or not. Summer happens, with or without swimming lessons. School must resume, even if it seems that wasn’t quite the break we had planned. Strange or not, this is the year we are living. And I know I sound like a broken record, but isn’t it awfully good to realize that while a sense of normalcy may be tethered to Maine and theater camp, God is not? Nothing surprises Him, nothing deters Him. Plan A is still being executed: He will dwell in our midst, and His glory will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Period.

And so, feelings aside, I set my hands to school preparations, tying up the loose ends of summer and thinking ahead, at least a bit. (Who can think ahead too far? This hasn’t been the year for such things.)

But I can’t help, as the sound of coffee grinding fills my kitchen early this morning, reminiscing about coffee made and enjoyed on the lake, the summer days we were given, and already wishing to go back.

the blur of July

What a month this has been, with one more packed week planned! My body is exhausted, my brain on overload, and my soul on the wild ride of so many emotions related to pregnancy, being a mother, being a friend, being a sister and daughter, being a citizen. Every aspect of my identity has been touched by joy and sadness (and several waves of anger and frustration, too), and I find these morning times of quiet and eye-fixing are, again, an anchor.

“…casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

“…nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”

“Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.”

I am a one day at a time kind of girl. And each morning, as I’ve listed priorities and remembered commitments, sifted through decisions and been fully aware that there is more to the day than I can handle, I am refreshed in the simple truths of daily bread and Jesus’ presence. He is good.


The Fourth: No parade, but nonetheless, celebrated. It’s always a good time to discuss history, culture, and worldview, but probably this year is a “more than ever” time.


Spontaneous picnic on a Sunday with no meal plan. Ryan can be counted on for summertime excursions that leave everyone happy and loved.


A week away from home while renovation progress happened. Rest, focus, play, togetherness.


May and June’s labors paying off with still-green gardens moving into the next phase of blooms. Perennials are just such a great picture of “invest now, enjoy later.”


Meals continue, made cheerier with two antique bowls now in my possession.


A decade came to an end: our neighbors, who moved in only months after we moved here, bought a larger house and moved away. What a gift those ten years were!


Trying, in the midst of topsy-turvy days, to not miss the fleeting pleasures of summertime.


Weeks and weeks of kids sleeping on the floor, on mattresses, on couches. This little one, reading quietly to her dolls and animals, is the sweetest.

This weekend, two out of three bedrooms [nearly] finished and moved into, thanks to hard-working sons, baby-sitting daughters, happy-to-eat-pb&j husband, and hours of “The Chicks”, Dolly Parton, Shania, and Hamilton. Boys are so blessed to have a thoughtful, finished room. Cecily was inspired to actually fold her clothes without me asking. Kids love a clean, organized, pretty space — that’s one thing I learned from my mother and it’s absolutely true. It’s also true that they all knew to interpret my months of effort collecting and planning and executing on these as love and care for them. I love that!– because it’s true. One more bedroom and a complete bathroom reno, coming right up. And then there will be a place for everyone, and also everything will be in its place (and yes, there is a massive purge happening as we go. Kids can be such hoarders!)

But we will pause at this point for now, and enjoy a few days with my family — days that were meant to include two out-of-town sisters, whose presence was suddenly made impossible due to government mandate. Picking up the pieces of disappointed hopes and expectations, we will spend a few days in eating, playing, singing, and just being.

“Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on You
Through it all, it is well with my soul.”