the gift of today

I’m always so sad to see December coming to a close, although (let’s be honest) probably this little afternoon ritual of coffee and cookies will be the hardest thing to see go. The salads promised by a goal-filled January will be great, I’m sure, but nothing like these buttery morsels.

This December also meant saying goodbye to 4-year-old Cecily, and that reality gave pause to both Ryan and me on the eve of her birthday — “December nineteenth!”, always declared with a wide grin — as our eyes grew wistful and full of memory. The little years of Cecily Anne have been truly delightful years, full of belly-laughter and deep-down joy.

But when our 4-year-old disappeared that night, we found in her place an equally delightful 5 year old and the hopes of a year yet to be lived.

And so it is, really, with all of the wonderfully rich days already enjoyed. They end, we turn off the light with a deep sigh, but the sun rises and invites us to embrace yet another day, made by and planned by and inhabited by God Himself. Can I do that? Can I release, with thankfulness, the gifts of yesterday and open my hands to what He will give today?

We chatted today, amidst pots of Sopa de Albondigas and rising orange-scented sweet dough and the beef tenderloin I wanted so badly to not mess up. We talked about finishing strong, and I reminded the boys of the human wonder names Usain Bolt who, among other obvious gifting, is capable of seeing a finish line and not slowing down at all. He runs right through that marker and leaves his opponents in the dust. We talked about how everyone’s inclination is to see the end and, in relief, slow their pace. “I’ve got this,” we think to ourselves, and then slow down. Usain Bolt and Caleb remind me of each other, in their ability to finish strong, and I am challenged. I’m only 39, and already I can start to understand the temptation to begin coasting. Entanglements, weights, sorrows, or just plain old, “I’ve got this.” Enough days of packed away treasures, enough mornings of waking to a more frail body, another disappointing circumstance, and we start to slow.

So I’m looking at a month of pictures, of memories, of days with my kids right here with me. Growing, happy, innocent, with me. It’s easy to sigh and have the echo of so many kind strangers ring in my mind: “These are the best days of your life.” And I know what they mean, and I’m smart enough to understand, but tomorrow, no matter what else it may bring, is full of the promise of purposes of God, and He invites me to live it strong, live it fully, live it with hopeful expectation.

Emmanuel, God with Us — today, tomorrow, forever.

joy for a weary world

“A weary world rejoices.”

Doesn’t that sum up what you’re seeing this year? Strings of lights in mid-November, trees up a good week before usual, the population in general chomping at the bit to sing Jingle Bells and spread Christmas cheer — the feeling of “we need a little Christmas right this very minute” has never been so widely shared.

And maybe this is good for us. Maybe it is right to occasionally remember that the Light came into vast and utter darkness. Joy erupted from a place of total despair. A savior was born because we actually needed to be saved. Not helped. Saved.

“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn”

We have strung lights, too, and our tree beckons spontaneous morning and evening family gatherings. Favorite songs play while the girls color yet another Christmas coloring page. The fragrance of butter and sugar and nutmeg and rum fills the air. We are celebrating, but the best part is that we’re not celebrating the lights or the tree or the music and cookies. Those are the tools we use, but the object of our joy is so much less fleeting and circumstantial.

We sense hope, but it’s not just because we think a new calendar will magically usher in a better year. Fast-tracked vaccinations aren’t filling my soul with peace. Actually, there’s not a whole lot of joy, hope, or peace to be grasped — until you stop fumbling in the dark for something that doesn’t exist and start looking toward the horizon for the glorious morn promised by a Morning Star so many hundreds of years ago.

A thrill of hope, my weary soul rejoices, and more than ever, it’s not just because the sounds of the King’s College choir are magical (though they are).

We are a weary world, and if the tree and lights and Hallmark movies aren’t doing it for you this time around, may I suggest a better hope, a more lasting peace? May I remind us that the angels came to announce a Savior, and He is near, ready to save.

thanksgiving

I was dumping photos from my phone and saw this one — and had to laugh. Tired much? But I remember taking it, and I wasn’t thinking about how tired I was (or looked), but just was wanting to remember his little face buried in my neck, and the swirl of black hair on the back of his tiny head.

And in some ways, this picture is maybe a great summation of how 2020 has left me feeling: utterly exhausted and ready to fall into my bed and wake up to a new day, but also with a thousand blessings I want to never forget.

We’re kicking off this holiday season with the strangest Thanksgiving of my life, due to rules and regulations. But it feels awfully silly to complain about Thanksgiving. If there’s one day of the year when my grumpy self feels slapped upside the head, it’s Thanksgiving. And I need it this year, as much as — okay, let’s be honest, more than — ever.

Thanksgiving isn’t just optimism. It’s not Pollyanna-itis. It’s the fruit of a deep, deep encounter with God. It’s born out of a confidence that He is who He says He is, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God. It’s a shield against cynicism, bitterness, and disillusionment. It is, in some ways, the elusive Fountain of Youth the world has long sought after — not that it will keep you in your twenties, but it is the difference between hard and bitter, or sweet and joyful. For any who have set their hearts to run the race with endurance, it is absolutely essential. It is the lock and key that safely keeps untold treasures from being stolen away by the thieves of envy, jealousy, and negativity.

And so I’m seeing that yes, the circles under my eyes are extra dark — in so many ways, on so many levels. But also? My life overflows with blessings, not the least of which is currently snuggled in my arms as I write, making soft little baby sounds. I can succumb to the temptation to get lost in a sorry world of counted sorrows, or I can set my heart and my eyes on things above and find that His goodness and mercy have followed me every single day.

And a favorite quote regarding the first Thanksgiving:

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”— Edward Winslow, 1621

autumn: a list

(For Tea and Poetry this afternoon, I read a couple of poems but then had the school-aged kids make lists of words describing autumn. Here’s Jameson’s.)

bright
cool
crisp
colorful
big sky
brown
crunch
clouds
contrast
orange
leaves
football
pigskin
ears so cold
early nights
hunting
candy
tricks
treats
walks
school stress
chili
pie
apple
pumpkin
warm clothes
fires
cornbread
spice cake
snow
breakin’ my back shoveling
TV
coffee
thanks

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.

the march of time

I drove him to the town office, where he knew all the answers and had all his paperwork, and I simply stood by, wondering when he got old enough to manage so well on his own. I walked beside him, aware of his height and confident stride, as he showed me the hunting blind he and my dad worked so hard at preparing. I heard the shot that belonged to him, and took the phone call minutes later when his deep voice proudly let me know, “I got a deer, Mom.” Just yesterday he was a baby. My baby.

She came out crying, clearly upset and needing Mama. Ryan gave up his spot, and she quieted right down in my bed. I could have stared at her little lips, her little nose, all night. Her sweet hands, her quiet breath. The littlest one, with so much energy and personality, who has captivated all of us for over two years. About to become an older one, the baby no longer. How did that happen so fast?