these beautiful children

Beautiful. Good. Did you know that Jochabed used the same Hebrew word to describe her new baby boy that God used to describe His creation masterpiece? Well, she did. She looked at that red, wrinkled face, gazed into wet, new eyes, and she said, towb, echoing the Divine words spoken ages before: Towb. Good. Beautiful.

Mine, a role as co-creator. True, I simply lend the makings He gifted me with when I was formed in my mother’s womb. His is the genius, knowledge, brilliance. But for those 9 months, I am as a partner in this creation. And looking at each gift, day after day, isn’t it only right that I would say, heart leaping in echo, Good! Beautiful!

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.

****


Matching olive jackets


Growing boys


Nights with Mom = learning to play solitaire.


They love my hot chocolate


Such a joy.

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.

mother by design

Summer is the time for bumping into friends you haven’t seen and asking, “How have you been?”

In case you’re wondering, this is how I’ve been:

She is my constant companion these days, as I read to the kids or stir a pot or oversee play or email and call — she is most often in my arms. There is something about these fragile baby days that astounds me. She needs me. Life and death, no exaggeration, needs me.

As I serve her and her most basic needs, putting them above my own desires or needs, I am serving Christ. ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

As I serve her, showing her gentleness and love in my manner, I am showing Christ to her. I am shaping her first ideas of what love is, and her own worth.

And as I serve her, I am struck by how I am perfectly designed to meet her needs. Uniquely qualified. This is a physical truth I can see with my eyes that speaks to shades of doubt that lurk in my heart. I am a nurturer, a life-giver. I am called to strength and courage, kindness and gentleness. On my own, I am not all or any of the things I need to be. But my belief in Intelligent Design grounds me, and my faith in the Holy Spirit equips me.

As she looks to me, I am reminded again and again to look to Him. He is all — everything — we need.

tending gardens (or, mothering)

Large family realities: Here, Cecily has dug a cantaloupe rind out of the garbage and is happily gnawing off every last bit of juicy melon. And I am just sitting and nursing the baby and glad it was at least from the top of the garbage.

I know I’ve already said it, but investing in my older children is beginning to pay off in ridiculous dividends.

It’s not just the actual work they do, although that needs to be mentioned and applauded. The environment of our home, while far from perfect and in daily (moment by moment?) need of realignment and repentance and renewed vision, is rich with cheerful energy and joy and a general spirit of friendship. Like a garden, the weeds continue to pop up like crazy if left for just one day unattended, but the plants we so vigorously guarded and hoed and watered and pruned and watched over and shooed pests away from day and night for so long — they are growing taller and stronger and bearing fruit.

“Invest” sounds like such a great idea, but I wonder if it sounds easier than it is to the one seeking help as they stand in their disaster of a kitchen surrounded by crying babes and temper tantrum-ing toddlers. Investment in those little years isn’t quite like throwing a few thousand dollars into a mutual fund and hoping it all goes well. Not quite.

There is so much work, defining the goals of your family, the standards you feel the Lord calling you to, and then daily digging in and working toward that end. I looked at my children on Sunday morning, all standing and singing nicely as they’ve been taught — even the 2 year old — and I thought, it wasn’t always like this. Not all of my 2 year olds just stood and clapped and sang and then sat down politely. The first couple had to be taught — every single Sunday, week after week, and with lots of practice at home in between. But now my little girls are growing up in the shade of these strong young men we’ve raised, and they just do what they see them doing. (They don’t seem to always notice that those young men stay in bed when we ask them to. Still working on that… among other things!)

But that particular moment, I realized, was a direct result of all the Sundays that Ryan and I did not throw up our hands in frustration and either just let the boys do what they wanted to do, or decide what’s the point, let’s just skip church for a few years.

It’s hard work to “invest”. But that initial breaking of ground — turning sod, picking out rocks, working in fertilizer, and maybe only then finally planting the seeds you now must protect and cultivate — that doesn’t happen over and over. At some point, a garden begins to grow, and it’s a wonderful, amazing thing to stand back and observe. Take a deep breath and savor the moment as your eldest son makes the burgers and the next son organizes a game for the younger set and your daughters set the table nicely, and you just think, wow. This was not my life when my third and fourth baby were born.

This past week I stopped to take pictures of William, who is hitting a great growth edge this summer. He’s taken up the task of mowing here at home, for the most part, and this week even ventured across the street to mow for my father. Blessing us, blessing others.

He woke up early on his first morning of appointed breakfast duty (a new twist to our summer routine) and learned how to make pancakes — and then, because it’s his personality, he did it again two mornings later in order to perfect the art.

And so many moments in between, he’s quietly working away at his assigned [boring, monotonous, done-it-a-million-times] chore. Bonus in this shot: Beatrice singing away as she vacuums, learning to cheerfully chip in just as her brothers do.

(And bonus-bonus: Jameson took this photo and my heart just melts. What sweet days these are, with a little baby girl curled up in my arms, wanting absolutely nothing in the world except to be near my heartbeat.)