turning thirty-eight

Thirty-eight felt like arms wrapped around a giant pile of blessings, more than I can carry. Certainly goodness and mercy are always my portion, but for whatever reason, when I paused to reflect (for two seconds, before the loudness that is my life took over!) I was overwhelmed by how rich I am.

Thirty-eight looks like waking up with a sweet, small baby in my arms, a baby who nestles close to me as we sleep and whose nearness is all joy. It’s slipping out each morning before that baby wakes, leaving her to slumber on next to her daddy, matching peace on their dreaming faces.

It looks like older children who sincerely greet me with hugs and happy birthdays, and smaller ones who clamor to join in. I leave them behind in the morning as I walk, and they keep things moving, so that I come home to kids dressed and happily (noisily) emptying dishwashers and minding baby and making breakfast. It’s more chaotic than that sentence portrays, but the bottom line is I leave, and nothing falls completely apart.

It sounds like a house full of people. Not grown up people, who keep their thoughts in their heads, whose impulses are slowed by age and wisdom and a sense of place, but young people who babble and chatter and share their ideas in a general sort of way, unaware of who may be listening or already talking. They hum whatever song comes into their head and make whatever sound they just felt inspired to make. My brain starts to smoke, processor on overload, and just as I am about to wish for silence, I stop myself. We can learn to talk in turns, and maybe walk through the hallway without sound effects, true. But I think about silence and grown people and how quickly that will be my life, how quickly this zoo of childhood is slipping by, and I plunge back into the moment, determined to hear what Fiona is chattering non-stop about, and smile at the way William is zooming the baby around as Cecily giggles, watching, and piano is being practiced in the background. It is so loud. It is full of life.

Thirty-eight is waving goodbye to my husband as he pulls out of the garage and I return from my walk. It’s being overcome by thankfulness for a man who has grown into a place of wisdom and authority, and wasn’t it just yesterday we were getting married and didn’t know much at all? I smile as he roars through the house and little girls squeal in mock terror, dissolving into piles of giggles and kisses. Sons who perk up the minute they see his car because they love their Mama but they have so much to tell their Daddy. He understands their worlds, their thoughts and ideas and interests. How many, many evenings he comes in from a day of feeling the weight of responsibility for a business, livelihoods, people, only to happily engage with a table full of shining eyes who have been waiting for this big moment: when Daddy gets home from work.

It is learning to manage a home but also learning to function in it before it’s perfect. There are still things laying around that sort of kill me, but it doesn’t chafe my soul the way it once did. For better or for worse (am I growing, or just giving up, I sometimes wonder with a wry smile to myself) we are living in this space, filling it to every corner with life. It is the roof over our heads, the place we all gather, the shape of our daily traditions and special rituals, but it is not us. We learn character as we take on the task of stewardship, but even in that, it becomes something for us to use as we grow and live. I am less weighed down by failure at perfection. I am feeling blessed more than burdened.

Thirty-eight is still feeling as young as ever, but seeing the face reflected in the mirror beginning to change. It is walking through life and finding I have more wisdom to share, more experience to lean into. It is finding the circle of influence growing, expanding. It is learning how to hem myself in one day and be stretched beyond previous capacity the next.

It is looking around and seeing adult siblings who are best friends, surrounded by dozens (almost!) of children that belong to us. It is laughing with friends who’ve now passed a decade or two alongside us, and the laugh lines and tears and child rearing and business decisions and burdens borne together have made us softer and stronger.

And so thirty-eight is an armful of blessings. Not an armful of comfort and ease, but of blessing. I’ve walked enough path to know experientially what I’ve always clung to tenaciously by faith: But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, That shines brighter and brighter until the full day. (Proverbs 4:18)

every day happenings

Just some photos for my memory bank:

Amazingly sunny days with stunning blue skies and kids sledding down hills over and over.

Pleased as punch little girls who are learning to do hand sewing, follow step by step drawing instructions, and discovering deep cupboards full of fun things.

Colorful winter foods keeping our bellies full and bodies healthy. (My kids are learning to eat kale without looking like I served them monkey brains.)

Winter mornings, bejeweled and taking my breath away.

New boots and new dresses.

And snippets from this morning, when I suddenly stopped to be incredibly thankful for the life lived around me: making bread with a 3yo, two sisters working on math together, a boy practicing piano and a baby who is never far from the music, another boy working on math in his own little world, and loving the casual stance Fiona had. Sitting down is so twentieth century.

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.

New Yearing


Highlight of the Dunphey year!

I know that’s not really a verb, but it’s kinda what we’re still doing over here. My planner had “school!” written on January 2, and I decided to cross that right out. We’re going to start Monday because we all needed a few more days of the soul rest that vacation can bring. When my kids were younger, back to routine sounded most restful; now that they’re older, and things don’t fall apart quite as much without the constraints of routine, a few days off can actually feel like a few days off.

So we’ve been New Yearing: washing light fixtures and purging closets and spending way too long trying to get the impossible to reach spots of my shower door clean, along with hours of outdoor play and lazy mornings and staying up kinda late because you can. (Them, not me.)

And meal planning: here we go, meeting January with another Whole30 and mid-winter is just not always an easy time for that. The cookie intake was real, so real, and that first day of no sugar left me feeling more than lost. Day 5, settling in, grabbing apples and cashews left and right to keep up with that nursing baby. Even heating up a quick afternoon snack of pot roast. Who eats pot roast for a snack? Answer: a mom on whole30.

Clearing out some space: Not just in our closets (and ugh, that reminds me that I still haven’t gotten to mine. Maybe in 2020…), but also in my heart and mind. Putting my phone in airplane mode so I can take pictures and not much more, and I can already tell what a challenge that is going to be. How often I turn it on without even thinking, only to remember there’s nothing there to “catch up on,” to distract me, to pull me away temporarily from this demanding or quiet moment. Mothering is always a 24 hour task, even with just one little babe, but now those 24 hours are being pulled in 6 directions, and it’s too easy to retreat into manager mode (which can also feel like survival mode) instead of investing fully. I can’t really give 6 people everything they need — in fact, I can’t even give one person everything they need — but I want to give what I can to the people God’s asked me to serve, and these six rank pretty high on that list. Talk to them, listen to them, connect with them, pray for them — I need the help of the Holy Spirit, and so here I am, offering Him all of me.

It’s a new year, and there are some fresh starts, but really, I’m in year 13 of a very long mission (mothering). I’m not at the bottom of a mountain, rested and ready to tackle the unknown. I’m somewhere deep in the thick of the woods, out of breath, slipping down the steep rocks, a bit muddy and blistery and worn. But this new year is a chance to stop and stand still, lift my eyes, and watch the fog drift away to reveal that high peak, my destination, the goal. Fresh vision for the steep climb ahead. Time to shift my pack, retie my laces, and forge ahead.

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Matching olive jackets


Growing boys


Nights with Mom = learning to play solitaire.


They love my hot chocolate


Such a joy.

a moment

I don’t know what you picture when you think “homeschool.” I know that what I imagine isn’t what my reality ends up being most of the time. We don’t have a school room, but rather a kitchen table — as well as a couch, a piano, the floor, and other random places school occurs all day long. We don’t all sit for 2.5 hours, break for lunch and recess, and then reconvene. Sure, we eat together 3 times, and there’s our Circle Time, but otherwise it’s a lot of managing moving parts.

And so today, when I got them all situated for our weekly painting session, and even the baby was happy nearby, I had to take a picture. No talking, just paint; we all need quiet, I said. And look, all those sweet head bowed around the table. 7th grader to kindergartener working happily while music played in the background. My soul took a deep breath and I smiled.

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.

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