diving back in

Sometimes there’s no sense in trying to catch up.

That weighs on me and the uneasiness settles into a feeling of loss — but no. I was there, they were there. We lived fully, and the individual days, while perhaps now disappearing behind a haze of frail memory, left their lasting etchings on us, shaping minds and hearts and character and talent and our lives’ trajectories.

Always, always, I’m going on about Time and transience, the sense of catching clouds and sand between fingers. But can it be said enough? Can anyone understand and reconcile that these things are so: that no matter how tightly we cling, a moment is over in 60 seconds; that no matter how precious and seemingly a very part of our own living and breathing souls, Death brings an ending that cannot be rewritten here on earth; that the sweet, laughing baby I held onto every day for as long as I could still changed before my eyes into a man, a man about to leave the rhythm of every day togetherness?

These things grip me as I scroll through a sadly scarce collection of pictures taken over the past 6 months. Well, scarce in some ways (photos worth keeping), profuse if you don’t mind 127 blurry close ups of Percival’s pb&j crust or a flattering view of my nostrils as I read out loud to Enid. I will spend a few minutes being amused by those as I delete delete delete.

So while I want to back track and make my foggy memory recreate the details of each event since last spring, that just won’t happen, can’t happen. Here we are, ready or not:

March of 2024 finds me with a baby who is nearing her first birthday. She is absolutely the apple of our collective eye. We have Jameson’s college acceptance letter on the fridge, the symbol of independent resourcefulness and determination that resulted in a successful audition. My grandmother moved in with us in February after losing my grandfather at the end of January. The boys finished a season of basketball — a lot of fun to see them do that together, encouraging each other and giving each other feedback, and making it all the way to the championship game (which they sadly lost!). We all went to the last few games, cheering them on and enjoying their success as a family. The big girls are doing dance again this semester. Friday Enrichment Program has been a success, and Enid excitedly joined the ranks of Dunphey students this year. She’s been a brilliant student at home, cheerful and excited and sharp as a tack. Percival has entertained us all as he has grown in his imagination and love for dress up. He is seldom without his wooden sword or cowboy hat and pistol or a couple of Playmobil knights in his pockets. The girls are taking piano lessons from me, with an occasional advisement from one of our favorite neighbors. The boys are taking lessons from my dad — how lucky are they? William is part of a biology class, Jameson works for Ryan, and there is no shortage of church activities and friends to see. There is continual laundry and cleaning and meal planning and groceries.

Along with a full to overflowing family hive of activity, I have spent more time than ever being Ryan’s helpmeet in his role as business owner. That demand has taken many different shapes over the past year, but suffice to say: there hasn’t been much time for me to write. Or take pictures. Or play piano or read books or clean up my gardens or much extra!

And in the speed and flurry of it all, I want to grip tightly, but I am continually asked by the Holy Spirit to open my hands. The goal is not to keep 8 children for myself; the goal is to live faithfully each day, being discipled and making disciples. Today doesn’t look like yesterday — it can’t. Life changes. I find my faith challenged by that, and come face to face with the fact that maybe there’s a part of me that puts confidence in 30 year old energy, and wavers when that energy is 43 years old. As overwhelmed and exhausted as I was back then, in hindsight it looks “safe.” Comfortable. As though somehow the fruit being borne today has to do with simple and quiet days with just littles, and not with the fact that God showed up in His faithful way.

He’s calling me out again onto deep waters, and I’m having to work hard and show up for the job and creatively problem-solve — but ultimately I have to walk on water because I know none of that is enough. God is at work through ME, yes, but the confidence is that GOD IS AT WORK.

And while I might get caught up with worrying that this newest batch of seedlings doesn’t have the exact same environment as my first batch, God is holding out the first juicy fruit of those initial years of labor, saying, “Taste!! Isn’t it amazing?! Aren’t these young men and women amazing?” Every sign points to His faithfulness, and so I head out further along this path of life, of motherhood, of being a wife, of discipleship, and though the landscape changes and I may sort of wish we could go in familiar circles, there is here and then there the markings of a Faithful God, always ahead of me, knowing the way and pointing the way — and also right beside me.

My confidence is in Him, after all. It was and it yet must be. THAT, after all, is the fruit I want to see.

Winifred Lee

Winifred Lee
May 28, 2023
9lb 15oz, 22″

A little life, utterly unique, has been born into the world, into our home, into my arms. A life that was imagined and fashioned by God for this time and this place.

At 3am, when the last of my friends and sisters had slipped away, leaving Ryan and I in the peace of our own tidy room, we both just marveled: “Look. There’s a baby in our bed. Suddenly. Just like that. A whole new person.”

I was six days overdue and mentally prepared to go the full 42 weeks, although that was feeling like a tough order. I was uncomfortable and starting to feel emotional, and just kept praying for grace each morning. The last of my commitments had passed, and I was starting to just take each day as it came, waking at the crack of dawn or sleeping a bit longer, spending hours digging and transplanting in the garden or napping on the couch by 10am. And every single day, my girls would repeat over and over, “It could be today, or tonight! Any time now!” They were so excited. Anticipation just overflowed out of their hearts and put the moments of discomfort in perspective.

Saturday wasn’t a terribly ambitious day. I put on a dress and went out for coffee and a stroll around town with Ryan. I put as many loads of laundry through as I could. The boys headed off for the afternoon to help friends, and I laid down for my mandatory nap along with the littles. Dinner was burgers, so I got those shaped and cut up the watermelon before folding mountains of laundry out at the picnic table. It was an absolutely perfect day, and I was feeling pretty decent.

Around 4:30 I started to feel funny, and very soon after had a contraction that I knew was The One. I sat at the kitchen table to see if sitting would make a difference, but nope — another came, and then another.

Internally, I sighed, slumped, and just felt overwhelmed. Funny how you can be so eager to just have a baby already, and still not really quite want to. I dreaded it. I dreaded what I thought would be an all-nighter. I suddenly wasn’t sure I could do this. So I quietly pulled the food out so I could give directions, then went to my room to iron. Somehow, ironing seemed like the right activity: I could stand and be busy, and have Ryan’s shirts ready for the next stretch of days. And the contractions kept on coming.

Finally I said something — to Cecily? Perhaps it was her who came in and asked if I was okay, and then eagerly pressed me with, “Is this it? Do you think you’re going to have the baby??” She ran out my bedroom door, announcing her grand news to the household, and I just kept ironing and processing. Finally I called Ryan to come and pray for me. I was just so afraid and full of dread. He hugged me and prayed, and then called the kids in to pray for me, too. We all stood together here in my room and they surrounded me with love and affirmation, and then disappeared to make dinner and ready the house for A BIRTH! Oh, you would think the biggest party was about to happen! Bathrooms were cleaned, every room tidied, fresh flowers cut and brought to my room, candles lit, and all with such quiet joy as they played worship music and whispered and read books to the younger ones… The atmosphere of our house was instantly one of such joy and expectation. That is exactly what I had prayed for, and the Lord gave it to me through the ministry of my children. I want to remember that.

Things kept moving along, but I just wasn’t sure it was really “it”. Enid and Percival’s births had both been cases of stop and start, and what if this was that? I started timing the contractions, and yes, they were consistently close together, but I just didn’t feel urgency. Ryan was left on his own to decipher the cues and determine when to summon the crew. Meanwhile, my three older girls stayed nearby, just being with me. The littles were tucked into bed, the boys disappeared to watch a big Celtics game, and the house hushed. I have never been one to listen to music during labor, but this time I turned on a song that’s been a recent favorite. The gentle but whole hearted lyrics ministered to my heart, reminding me of why I do all that I do:

Not for anything that I could gain
Just to honor You and bring You praise…
There’s no motive, there’s no hidden catch
Here’s my all and I don’t want it back
Like a fragrance broken on the floor
May my worship be pure

Tears ran down my cheeks. There aren’t always a lot of moments in my current season of life that feel like “just me and Jesus,” but this was one. No one else was going to walk the road I was embarking on, and He poured out grace.

Around 10:30 two of my sisters came. I told them I wasn’t sure this was even it, maybe it would slow down and we’d all end up sleeping the whole night — I just didn’t know. And then within half an hour the contractions were minutes — what felt like MANY minutes — long. After that, a blur. I have no idea what happened for the next hour and a half or so. I kept thinking, this isn’t that bad yet and I haves so far to go. I became aware at some point that the midwife, another sister, and several friends were also in the room. It was a good thing we had so many there, because with every contraction all I wanted was tremendous pressure on my hips and I could hear them laughing about what a workout it was, and who’s up next? Perhaps it was around midnight when I was walking and had to stop for a contraction, but felt so much pressure. I was genuinely confused — how could there be pressure already? I had so much longer to go, I was so sure of it. Oh no — what if I was jumping the gun, pushing before I was ready? Had I forgotten how to do this?

Apparently I was the only one second guessing; everyone else seemed to sense what was happening and began scurrying to prep the room. I continued to be a bit restless — I don’t remember staying in one spot for very long — and tried the birthing stool for a bit, but it didn’t seem super effective, and I was happy (happy? maybe another word would be more suitable!) to stand with Ryan’s support. Finally I was helped to my bed. It was close, we all could tell. Even laying on my side, somehow my amazing friends and sisters managed to keep up the counterpressure on my hips, all the while encouraging me, waiting in quiet as the contractions slowed down for that calm before the storm, and filling the room with prayer and strength.

It really was calm before the storm, and as has happened so many times before, I started to wonder what was wrong. Was this gonna happen or not? Could I remember what to do? Pushing began, and I realized it was going to be effort this time, and I wasn’t sure why. I had to work for it, while also trying to stay relaxed and calm. At times it felt like I was regressing, not progressing, but no one in the room seemed alarmed and so I just kept moving forward, praying, “God, where in the world is this baby? Why isn’t it coming?”

But she did come, all at once, a miracle all over again and also for the very first time. A girl, a sweet girl, and posterior! That explained all the funny pushing, but in the grand scheme, not aa big deal.

And she came at 12:57, no where near an all-nighter, and I just couldn’t believe it. I felt amazing, strong and energized. The baby was pink and crying and healthy and quite big, despite how tiny she seemed. We wrapped her and oohed and ahed over her and everyone rode the wave of exhilaration that fills a birthing room when at last it’s over and we celebrate LIFE.

I received the best of care, as always, from dear friends and sisters, and was tucked into my freshly made bed, with a fresh bundle in my arms, by 3am.

And then we named her, our sweet Winifred Lee, after Ryan’s grandmother, and after my mom and me. We have held her almost non-stop since, and amidst all of the debate over whose turn it is, I occasionally put my foot down and say, “MINE!” She is cuddled and swaddled and cradled and burped and walked and adored as only the new sister of seven siblings can be.

I am so thankful. This little one — a little daughter to sow our lives into, to love and nurture and marvel over as we see who God made her to be. And as I watch my oldest spread his wings bit by bit, I hold this little bundle a bit more tightly, thankful that God has given this gift, at this time, knowing it’s by His design.

spring: a blur of goodness

It’s a rainy Wednesday afternoon. Percival is napping, girls are enjoying the rare treat of a movie, older boys are studying, and I found myself wandering for a moment, looking for a plan that would appeal to my current energy level. At last I decided to organize and upload photos — and oh my! I was aghast to see it’s been since Christmas that I have done such a thing!

Busy, of course, doesn’t begin to describe life with this talented, energetic, growing tribe. Throw in a full basement renovation of 2000+ square feet, and of course a pregnancy, and you have one interesting spring!

But oh my, the best busy of all. Life poured out and then received — pressed down, shaken together, running over. The smiles and laughter, joy and encouragement, music and art, and just plain old help I get from these kids far exceeds what I give — of that I’m very sure.

Beyond the walls of this home, dearest friends who bring strength and vitality, family that is so dear, opportunities to grow and bless — so much.

Reflecting on such a large lump of time as January till now reveals this, over and over:


And were I to suffer the loss of all things, simply knowing the grace, mercy, and unfathomable love of Jesus would still leave me with overflowing cup. To add to those immeasurable gifts the twinkle of Jameson’s smile, the quiet “I’ll do that for you, Mom,” that William offers so faithfully, the effortless laughter that bubbles out of Beatrice’s soul, the energy and creativity Fiona brings to every situation, the sudden need for a hug that brings Cecily to my side, Enid’s sparkle and vivacious sweetness, the hysterical and endearing unfurling of Percival’s personality, the dearest of husbands who tends the field of his family so faithfully, a home that is warm and so much more than sufficient — where shall I stop? Yellow daffodils welcoming spring, joined by pink tulips, acres and acres of green grass and trees to explore, a mother and father who have spent hours just this spring investing in my children and their gifts, talented workmen who have made a shapeless space into bedrooms and more, friends who delight in giving unexpected gifts and words of encouragement, fellowship that goes long into the night and still not long enough, nieces and nephews whose faces light up in the presence of the Lord, a pastor who has loved our kids and laid down hours and hours showing it…

Perhaps it is the end of pregnancy, but I suspect it is the goodness of God that brings me to tears.

Yes, the end of pregnancy. A few weeks away. It suddenly consumes more of my thoughts — what to eat and when, how to get up off the ground, what exercise to do, how to arrange the pillows at night. What to name this new life. I have not fully wrestled through the fact of labor and delivery, which never gets smaller or easier in fact or imagination, but I forge ahead knowing that I am pursued by goodness and mercy.

2022 Book Reviews

This year’s reading list was shorter than in years past for a lot of reasons, but one being that I broke one of my major rules: always have the next book ready and waiting. Crucial!! But here are the books I managed to read, along with my review and brief thoughts:

Another Gospel, by Alisa Childers
This book was fascinating and incredibly helpful in seeing past the smoke screen of progressive language and themes all around us.

The Gospel Comes with a Housekey, by Rosaria Butterfield
I loved the genuine challenge in this book to understand the gospel — that Jesus laid aside His heavenly comfort to bring us redemption. Following in His footsteps will cost us as purpose to love as He does.

You Who, by Rachel Jankovic

Another fabulous book that brings much clarity into secular and progressive themes that have gotten woven into our Christian thinking. Turns out finding our identity in Christ is the most fulfilling and abundant way to live!

How Green Was My Valley, by Richard Llewellyn

The library wanted their books back after several months of me hoping they wouldn’t notice, and so I didn’t get to finish this one. I’ve often wandered back to the lives of these Welsh miners since and thought about the haunting way beauty and pain are interwoven in the story.

Devoted: Great Men, Godly Mothers, by Tim Challies

A compilation of short biographies, interesting and inspiring. One take away is to be challenged in diligence as I teach and train and pray for my children; equally as impactful was realizing none of these mothers were anything close to perfect, and yet their impact, by the Spirit of God, was immense.

Dying in the Wool, by Frances Brody

Interesting mystery, fine writing, but inappropriate passages I had to skip over. I hate that.

Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield

For a busy mom, this was quite the endeavor, but I loved it. Not for the faint of heart. Fascinating, and as good stories do, made our Ancient History study come to life in a whole new way.

Love After Marriage, by Barry and Lori Byrne

Sound, solid, biblical, and helpful resource. God’s goodness can be our experience, as we walk in obedience to the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Our of a Far Country, by Christopher Yuan & Angela Yuan

A book you won’t put down.

Ordinary Men, by Christopher R. Browning

The writing was a bit dry, but the content was sobering.

1776, by David Mccullough

I love this sort of read, and while I certainly don’t think of myself as ignorant about the Revolutionary War or the men who played significant roles, I came away knowing these men and admiring them even more deeply.

The English Village, by Martin Wainwright

This book has me wanting to rewatch all of my favorite BBC shows, and also brought me back to How Green Was My Valley over and over. Interesting and fun!

Christmas memories

We watched “That Thing You Do” all together, and then made up some beds for four little girls under the tree. Well, not exactly under. Enid was a bit disappointed to find out that I was not, in fact, going to move all the presents and put her pillow directly under the branches. They fell asleep in the glow of Christmas lights and anticipation.

We spent Christmas Eve day making food for the evening, playing games, eating bagel sandwiches, taking naps, and finally got dressed for the evening’s celebration. Rain followed by ice followed by a blizzard of snow and intense wind made the whole day an adventure, and even our short drive felt harrowing.

Our gathering was small, thanks to nearly impossible weather, but beautiful and special. My older boys spent plenty of time over the past week helping to set up and tear down, as well as ushering and singing in choirs and doing special readings. Beatrice played piano and it was just lovely, and the two older girls sang with several other children as we lit our candles and paused to understand that LIGHT has come to rescue us from darkness. It was so special.

Then we were home, turning on music and lighting candles, pulling out the food and getting ready for our family “party.” We ate our food and drank eggnog, laughed and talked, passed out gifts purchased by siblings for siblings, and then put on the new pajamas we give them each year. We were exhausted and slap-happy, starting to show the beginnings of what would be a week full of virus, and most of all, delighting in how fun Christmas Eve is all together.

Daddy and the older kids all slept in while Percival and I lit candles and started the fire and made coffee and just waited. Finally they stirred and we began a day full of excitement and gratitude, new games and new books to read and piles to organize, food flops and food successes, and dropping like flies (at least Enid and Mama and Daddy) as the day progressed. A Celtics game, delicious vanilla pudding with berries and cream, and to bed we all went, only to wake to another vacation day together, with plenty of space for vitamins and rest, more games and trying out new crafts, pulling our house back together, and just being.

…and finding great joy in older sisters’ gifts.

A December album

Just a little photo-album-post, for my own memory’s sake:

Beatrice quietly slipping into a more and more helpful role — one afternoon she rolled and cut over 100 linzer “heart” cookies while I wrapped gifts. Game changer.

My heart catches a little when I see this. William blew me away singing the part of Amahl in my mom’s stellar production. He sang in the stratosphere, the music was challenging and he did it effortlessly, his presence on stage was endearing and sweet and tear-jerking. Something about a boy soprano is such a bittersweet thing: even as I listen and savor, there is the knowledge that, more than most things in life, this is incredibly fleeting, and once gone, will never return. Perhaps Percival will take the torch someday, but for now, I think we have heard some of the last amazing Dunphey boy soprano singing for awhile.

Breakfast out on a leisurely Saturday morning — such a rarity I can’t even think of the last time it happened. Pure enjoyment!

Finding pictures of favorite decorations — we all love this little toymaker!

My mornings by the tree are usually quite solo, and I love taking in this view.

Hundreds of cookies, pounds and pounds of butter, and plates to share wherever we go — it’s a blessing to enjoy and give abundance.

The kids and I, along with two sisters and their families, made a day trip to visit our grandparents. The kids all played piano and ukulele and sang and were generally happy and excited and the biggest treat for everyone who lives at the Center. A long, long day of driving is so worth the joy we leave and the love expressed.

Finding this little crew, happily singing “Twelve Days of Christmas” together.

Partying hard at the Ockrin’s was a bit much for this little lady.

Someone lit all the candles for our first dining room table meal and had to take a picture. I don’t blame them!

Rare, and a favorite: sitting all together by candle- and tree-light, eating Christmas cookies and reading Christmas stories.

This. How I love these girls, love their affection, love that in the midst of so much busyness and commotion, they find my hand to hold or my lap or my neck to squeeze.

Cecily turned SEVEN! Oh my, what a treasure she is!! Her heart is so tender and sensitive, her humor so developed and hysterical, her smile so full and unabashed.

Sometimes I see something like this and my heart catches in my throat — something so simple as sitting and laughing together at a random moment of the day, and yet, someday sooner than I know, it will be the rare treat that only happens through great effort and planning around holidays and summer visits.

We did our family shopping trip without Ryan, who was home with quite the virus. St. Lawrence Bookstore was the destination, and we were successful without too much agony, and now bags are stashed in my room, waiting for the great Wrapping Afternoon.

And now, a few more sleeps, a few more busy days, a few more Advent books to count down… *sigh*