another month

I get busy — busy with my time, but busy in my mind, too — and suddenly it’s been a month and there are only a few pictures on my phone, nothing written here, and life has just slipped by again.

A month ago, the boys were off skiing with Ryan on an epic (to them) three day tour of three mountains, thanks to tickets Ryan was blessed with. Today I’m looking out rain-spattered window panes to a new color — one that sprang up overnight, as pouring rain drenched the earth and awakened dormant life. Green. Green is hard to even remember in February, and by the end of March I’m wondering if it really ever will come, and then suddenly it’s here. Robins are here, leaf buds are here, crocuses are here, kids in mud boots laughing and running and rediscovering are here — it’s all here.

Can I be honest? I was sad to watch the sledding hill melt. The path they walked every single afternoon and the trails they had carefully established for their sleds were the last to go, and I took a few deep, shuddering breaths that bordered on sobs as they caught my eye day after dwindling day. A whole winter gone. I love these warmer days — love to watch them scatter this way and that, dribbling balls and riding bikes and exploring in the woods and carving out new “houses” under bushes — but they scatter, and in the winter, they are a little tribe of playmates, always together, always inventing games they all can play, helping one another and laughing together and being my little brood. And so I sigh each year when it ends. Happy for the warmth of sunshine and hours of fresh air and ready to dig into the work and maintenance of summertime, but there’s a special quality of being hemmed in that winter brings. And now we have said goodbye to another year’s snow and are hurdling headlong into the outward days of summer.

A month looks something like:


Skiing!


Snow disappearing.


Three days away with Mama and Daddy for a work trip.


Five weeks of a Bible study and sometimes her cousin came to play.


This one on the go, but also wanting me so much still.


William calling me from my task of switching clothes from winter to summer, and finding this waiting for us. Wow!


She’s off and running, about 6 months ahead of the Dunphey standard.


Neighborhood games of “box ball”.


So eager to try some carrot.


This one! I could write a book about her.


Naptime every day looks like this. It will be gone before I know it, but for now, she nurses and drifts off every afternoon.


This week: Easter preparations!


Flowers!


I gave the hydrangeas a serious pruning. I love working outside and watching kids play!


My littlest and biggest. He loves her so much!


Every chance they get, long into the evening.

an opportunity for love

Next to learning to love God with our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, what is the second most important thing we pass on to our children?

Loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

“Who is our neighbor?”

The super obvious answer for so much of our lives is: your family. Your spouse, your children, your siblings, your parents. This is neighborhood living at its finest, up close and personal, where all good intentions melt like the sugar facades they are in the heat of real life and all of its friction and need and opportunity.

Here is where love puts on skin, finds an audible voice.

That sounds so obvious. Of course we’re to love one another. We’re a family! But it’s amazing how distracted from that main goal we can become. So busy doing as a group of people, pushing the older ones along, dragging the littles behind, snipping at the spouse as we accomplish school and work and housekeeping and extracurriculars and church. We can forget! Love your neighbor.

This remembering requires a shift in perspective and approach. If building relationships, and teaching how to appreciate differences and resolve conflict and work as a team — if those things really are important, it changes how I see life and how I do things.

I alluded to cookie decorating with the children. As tongues got out of hand and fingers got grabby (and I was already tired and not terribly excited about frosting to clean up), it would have been easy for me to put the kibosh on the whole thing with a harsh lecture about behavior, The End. Instead, thanks to the Holy Spirit’s reminders, I realized that this wasn’t a bad turn of events, but an amazing opportunity. Of course I would love for us to gather together and have there be nothing but laughter and love, but in order to get there someday, we need to practice it now. So, deep breath, I corrected the words. Instructed us to share. Reminded us to affirm. I put on a smile and even scrounged up a laugh. And most of all I refused to feel like the whole event was a flop. God can turn our most human moments into an opportunity to see and repent.

Recently I’ve followed the patterns of a friend and started adding some sibling time into our daily checklists. I’ve found what I’m sure you’ve found: certain siblings connect easily, and others are oil and water. Instead of avoiding the oil and water, I’m determined to put them together as often as possible and see them grow! Sibling conflict doesn’t have to mean failure; we can see it as an opportunity. I recognize that God put us all in one house for a reason, and it’s that we would grow in love, in breadth and depth of appreciation for all sorts of people, and I believe that my children will leave knowing how to work and play and live in love.

Maybe the atmosphere of your home feels overwhelming and a million miles from love. May I encourage you to pray and believe God for some wisdom and strategy? But most of all, believe God. Don’t believe lies of cultural norms where siblings are allowed hate and the future looks like decades of dysfunctional Thanksgiving dinners. Press into the will of God for your family and each of your children. This I know: when we ask for help in this area, God will pour out nothing less than the full measure of His power and grace. He is on our side in this endeavor, for sure.

Teach them to love, and they’ll be world changers.

winter rhythms

More January.

Two entire weeks of regular routine: Sunday evenings printing school plans, mornings with Jameson reliably preparing breakfast while other children fall into their familiar chores, gathering for Circle Time and then breaking for independent school, lunch made reliably by William followed by read-aloud and at least an hour outside (although, confession, we may be stealing far more than an hour each day, as the snow has been perfect for sledding and who can interrupt happy children at play?), rosy cheeks back around the table to finish up books or off with a rag or two to finish a chore before Mama reliably makes dinner and we wind up another day. All to the tune of someone practicing piano, because oh my, there’s a lot of piano playing every day!

My new planner arrived only a couple days into January (sort of forgot my last one wouldn’t just keep going forever and was shocked to not find January 2019 after December’s pages ended!) Top three things, it says, and I’ve been mostly filling those out thusly:

Read (my own and out loud for fun to littlest ones)
Pray (continually, fervently, with greater tenacity)
Worship (because it’s true, I used to sing and play for hours and I am so very rusty)

Those don’t all get ticked off every day, especially the last. But it’s a new focus and before I fill up the space of winter routine days with other things, I want to remember and refresh those foundations.

Waking early every morning, and the early is the easy part. The getting out the door to walk has been much harder. Enid wakes too early too often, and just as I’m thinking, “TOO EARLY!”, I’m reminded that it’s not too early, it’s just right and my times are in His hands. She’s reminding me that babies are lessons in flexibility and serving. Putting others first.

So while my Bible study is not always followed by a brisk, cleansing walk in the January air, I know that someday it will and these days will pass too quickly.

A month of back on track eating for the Mr and me, and “low” sugar for kids. No video games. Throw in early dark and heaping snow and nursing baby and suddenly we’re deep into winter’s hibernating. Lots of thinking, lots of growing. Is that how winter is for everyone? I don’t know. But winter seems to, for us, quiet the world enough that we can hear our inner workings and the refining process happening within. We can read books and be provoked and ponder ideas the change us. Children play long enough to grow bored and selfish and so they grow, too, and I don’t mind. We are under discipline, all of us, and in the pain we know the deep, deep love of our Father.

Christmas memories

I just finished adding all of my December photos to my online album, and if I wasn’t feeling melancholy before (which I was; in fact, I was up for too long in the middle of the night agonizing over the end of another Christmas season), I am now. But I’m also smiling and feeling full.

So full.

We certainly did plenty of wonderful things — Messiah Sing-a-long, school concerts, piano performances, gingerbread house decorating, craft and cookies, evenings of movies by candlelight and books by tree light, birthday parties and Christmas parties, family shopping trip, and wrapping gifts with so much excitement — but looking through the pictures I took, mostly I am thankful for the home I get to make and share with these precious people. We did quite a bit, for sure, but more than outings and commitments, we had days at home together. We sang a Christmas hymn during Circle Time each day, and read from our Christmas book basket. I let go of more cookie-making control than ever before and cringed at the shape and consistency but who really cares?, we did it together. My meal plans were woefully behind and plenty of times I had to remember my favorite advice from Loving the Little Years (“in twenty minutes this crisis will be over–deep breath and get through”), but you can’t do everything and life is real, and who would really actually want to live some glossy magazine spread, anyway? I’m so glad that “special” doesn’t have to mean “pretend.”

And it’s Sunday morning so my contemplations are getting cut short, but suffice to say: I’m really thankful for a beautiful month of celebrating the love of God and our love for others. And it’s an incredible privilege to be at the helm of this home-making, refuge-building, culture-forming enterprise, to see my husband and children enjoying and being built up by my labors.

a morning’s rambling

I wish I had a picture from yesterday’s scene outside my windows — children bundled in all sorts of colors, laughing and tumbling after each other across the backyard, exploring every familiar corner because suddenly it was transformed and enchanting by our first real snow.

It is one of my favorite things to see, I’ve realized. A rainbow in the sky, peonies bursting into bloom, ocean’s swell crashing against rocks — all outdone by the joy and magic and brightness of a snowy playday. I could stand and watch forever.

I know it’s been said here in this little corner of the internet so many times, but my, how the days do fly by. I feel it in my soul as I manage this particular season of motherhood. There were so very many days when playing outdoors had to mean mittens and boots for me, too. Not so much anymore. They all run out to dress and play on their own and this year there’s a baby whose needs dictate my availability. It used to be that train tracks needed my expertise, and Candyland could only be played with my assistance. Piano practice required me to be standing nearby, and every single meal depended upon me.

That was an exhausting and demanding season that required so much prayer and Holy Spirit.

But just as I knew they would, those days flew by. There was a last time that Jameson needed me to lay near him as he drifted to sleep — and it was long, long ago. I did my best to be fully present and not wishing away any of those weary yet joy-filled days, and still

They go.

Now there are new demands with new joys to go along. There is the beginning of the craziness that is newborns + older children, a combination I’ve long marveled at and wondered at and have vague memories of my mother doing so well without missing a beat — but how?? My new favorite thing is laying in the dark nursing a baby to sleep (and drifting there myself!) and suddenly hearing tip-toe footsteps as Jameson quietly comes to let me know he’s home from whatever evening activity he had and to tell me how it was. He’s off doing his own thing more and more, but without me ever asking, he still comes to let me know how it all was. I know how that goes: there’s a security in knowing your mom knows.

*****

We are mapping out the next 45 days. Every one needs to count, as we approach the whirlwind of activity that is “the most wonderful time of the year.” I ask the kids each year what their favorite part of the Christmas season is, and while one might anticipate answers including parties and concerts and tree decorating and the like, the most consistent answer is, “I like all the cozy nights by the tree when you read stories and we’re together.” That is the most precious answer they could give, of course, and I am so blessed to know those quiet evenings have mattered so much — but oh, what a challenge as well. Those simple memories require one thing: TIME. Time at home, and not hurried and exhausted time at home, but slow and routine time at home. So like a tenacious guard I scan the calendar and count out the evenings and decide with determination that this many we will give, and the rest will be protected, given to them, my precious children who want nothing more than to hear a favorite book while gazing at a favorite ornament, surrounded by their favorite people.

And as I carefully map out school, cookie baking, outside commitments, shopping trips, prayerfully prioritizing, I am suddenly feeling like Elijah on Mount Carmel. As familiar as I may become with managing our days together, as skilled as I may get a figuring out what should fit where, there is an element to our days together that I am desperate for but cannot bring myself: the fire of the presence of God. So my prayer has been renewed with each glance at the calendar: Lord, would You visit our home. Engulf our hearts. This is meaningless without You. How silly is a stone-cold altar and untouched sacrifice. The whole point is You.

living life.

There is so much activity in the fall, isn’t there? After a summer that always feels full enough, I am suddenly launched into that same fullness, but with the addition of school for x number of kids, birthday parties, church routine in full swing, teaching CFA, field trips and fun trips and scrambling to be outside for one last hurrah — and all to the tune of shortening days.

This October seemed especially so, with every week requiring a planning strategy of its own, as I did my best to keep the essentials and be flexible with everything else. Some weeks or months or seasons are just like that. (Perhaps most are?) Our house has seemed extra-full, and that is my favorite kind of busyness.

But through it all, in it all, under it all, a sense of peace and provision and daily bread. Pressing needs that keep us all thinking about the faithfulness of God and praying in faith for His touch. We are busy each day but there’s also a unifying waiting, carrying happening in our hearts, down to Cecily. A text comes in with new numbers for Jack and we all stop, hearts in their eyes as they wait for new news. An email from the church prayer list with heavy news, and they all pause quietly, letting it sink in. A man they all know from church gets answers that aren’t answers from doctors, and they begin to ask for a miracle. And more. They are learning to carry one another’s burdens.

We are learning to do our chores well and to be more careful with math problems but we are learning far more.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing it right, this thing called life, this task of raising up people. Most of the time I’m too busy just doing it these days, though, and have to cast even those cares on Him, trusting that He is my Shepherd and that He is their Shepherd, and He will lead us through every hill and valley.

*****