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?

Jesus, my portion, + photos

O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You maintain my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Yes, I have a good inheritance.

My life, made by Him and for Him, is not my own. Not that such yieldedness comes naturally — oh, no. Far from it. We come into this world grasping and grabbing, and we grow into goals and certain assumptions. Clinging to days that we know slip like sand, the idea of letting someone else dictate our moments can be frightening, maddening, unclear.

And yet, there is this treasure to be found: life in Him, for Him.

You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

He calls us to Himself, calls out of us gifts and purposes, calls us into abundance.

Life seldom goes exactly as planned — by us, anyway. What freedom and peace to understand that His plans are good and His path firm.

Day after surrendered day, threaded together. Moments faithfully lived, stewarded and not hoarded. And suddenly, instead of being a statement of sheer faith, you look back and exclaim, “the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places!” Not always easy places, but oh, full of His presence and blessing. Joy and sorrow, mountain top and valley, tribulation and triumph — all made pleasant because He is our inheritance.

And so, more than ever, I declare that my boundaries — the lines of my life — belong to Him. He expands them, time and again, a greater territory than I feel up to. Responsibility, testing, even blessing — can I do this? Can we do this?

Yielding to His boundaries, and not clinging to my own life, is only the beginning of the faith He calls me to. Now there is a vast field, a harvest to come in, a wealth of treasure to steward, and there is little old me. Trust Me, He whispers, as I wake each morning to nothing fancier than a pencil and paper turned to to-do list. It is I who work in you both to will and to do for My good pleasure.

Will it always look the way we anticipated? Turn out exactly the way we assumed? Will His timeline for fruitfulness match our estimation? No. But our lives are yielded to Him, not to a formula. And so this yielding isn’t just about His plans and purposes on the earth, but about us knowing Him, trusting Him, loving Him. What fellowship He invites us into! This notion of losing our lives in Him — it truly isn’t about loss at all, but gain. Great, great gain.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

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.

school plans

[Because it always is so much fun for me to hear your homeschool plans, I thought I’d share mine and the tools I have ready for this year. Feel free to comment or link or share a photo of your plan!]

The cupboard got overhauled last week, leaving an empty shelf for the 2020-21 school year’s books. And this week, all but one of those have arrived, I’ve thought through routines and chores and who practices piano when (gah!!!), and the clipboards are all ready to receive new checklists for each child except Enid — who will probably want a checklist, too, now that I think about it.

I was having a hard time getting into school mode this year, but God helped me along by sending a wave of cool, rainy days. In case I was tempted to continue summer break forever, and spend the rest of our lives just swimming and eating watermelon, I am now convinced that wouldn’t work out well, anyway. So, school it is.

Jameson is going into 9th, William into 7th, Beatrice into 4th, and Fiona into 2nd. Cecily will be a very eager pre-schooler and, I suspect, will begin her K year well ahead of the game.

We’ll start our learning each day with Circle Time, a lovely catch-all name for our time worshiping, praying, memorizing scripture, and then whatever else I throw into the basket that year. The boys will lead us in some songs, and I hope to add Beatrice to that mix as well. Sometimes I take over while we learn a hymn, but most often it’s our favorite choruses. After working on a memory verse (they’re each slowly filling their own spiral bound 3x5s) and having a prayer time, we’ll rotate these three books:

History will mostly happen right in Circle Time this year, with lots of read alouds as we follow world events from the beginning of the Cold War through the Persian Gulf War. I’m using the last 20 or so lessons of Mystery of History Vol IV as my spine, helping me to keep things in order, but we’ll go very slowly, digging deeper and following bunny trails as they appear. (For instance, we haven’t even started, and already the kids have been asking questions about the Bolsheviks and the Romanovs, and suddenly I realized “The Start of the Cold War” is going to look a lot like weeks of Russian history!)

For math, the boys will continue using Teaching Textbooks, while the girls do Bob Jones. I’m considering letting Beatrice make the switch to TT and will make that call at some point. Does the visual impact of a book help her learn math concepts? I’m not sure. Every kid is a bit different, but these two programs have worked for us so far!

I’m very excited about Language Arts this year, and am hoping we can spend a chunk of our time honing writing skills. Jameson will be doing Learning Language Arts Through Literature: World Lit, and William will be using their Green Book. (Jameson will read Cry, the Beloved Country and that may or may not be the sole reason I chose this particular course for him! I so love that book!) Beatrice, along with Bob Jones English, will be using a Creative Writing notebook by The Good and the Beautiful. I bought one for Fiona, too, and it’s the one thing she talks about constantly, so I guess she’s excited, too! I’ll also have her do Bob Jones Spelling, as we beef up on basics.

Handwriting will continue for William, Beatrice, and Fiona. The older two are using cursive books from the Handwriting for Learning series, and Fiona will use Getty-Dubay Italics. Jameson will be scrutinized by his mother, but at this point has proven that he can write a neat sentence. The older three will also do typing — and at the moment, my plan is typing.com unless I hear that there’s another amazing program we should try!

For science, Jameson will branch off on his own to do Biology, including a 3/month class with labs and such. Meanwhile, the rest of us are going to study human anatomy, which never fails to be fascinating!

All the extras will look like piano lessons for all four, guitar for William, computer programming for the boys, cooking for Beatrice, and plenty of “yes!” when Fiona asks to paint. There will be plenty of reading done by all of them, but sitting together to hear me read will be a daily “big rock” that I don’t plan on ever forsaking. And Tea & Poetry will continue one afternoon each week — another chance for us to sit around a table together and chat and smile and build memories. This post is already long enough, but the goals of our investment must be clear in order for the tools to serve and not derail us, and loving one another and fostering good thought and character and conversation is right up there with whatever details Jameson may retain about amoebas.

So yes. I’m excited. Yes, I’ve spent hours praying and thinking and observing and researching and wondering what would be best for this year. I sharpened pencils and tossed the duds from our pen jar and made sure there are spiral notebooks ready for copious notes. I have kids who are as excited as I am, and I know it will be so much fun. It will also be far more chaotic than I ever remember, Enid will be more challenging than I am prepared for, and cleaning up from breakfast will, inevitably, take f o r e v e r some mornings and I will be ready to blow my lid before 9am. Some of these books will be the perfect fit, and some of these will get traded in for a new plan. I know these things because I’ve been around this block a few times. But what I most know is that being home with all of these kids is one of the greatest privileges of my life, being together all day is an amazing gift that we all recognize and enjoy, and being able to receive fresh outpouring from the Holy Spirit each day and serving out of that abundance is the key to it all.

Pencils ready, let’s go!