outing to the reservoir

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Not much time today for words.  It is October and we mostly spend our days out, if we can.  These pictures are from a couple of weeks ago, the first official week of fall.  We took our school work and went on a little field trip to a nearby favorite area from my college years.  We focused on noticing, listening, looking, enjoying.  They ran and laughed and played, and I had a few moments to be quiet and reflect.  When my soul is overwhelmed it usually helps to get outside and remember a bigger world at work in a hundred million ways without my  involvement or attention.  I am so thankful for these three little ones, the bond growing between them, their hungry curiosity about the world, their freshness and innocence and unguardedness.  I learn so much from them.  These days are tired but so achingly happy.

stay with the music–words will come in time

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I have been blogging less because I have been writing less.  My life has been busier, my time feels squeezed straight out, and so my heart and soul have been busier too.  I don’t do well with this.  It isn’t how I was made to operate.  I do well with a lot of silence, a lot of hearing the wind’s gentle whisper in the tops of the pines.  I do well with long stretches of study, reading, journaling.  I do well with sufficient sleep.  I do well when I have “filled the well,” so to speak, and the words tumble out of the overflow.

This season is gloriously full.  This season has days that begin at 6 am with one daughter’s voice in the baby monitor saying, “That’s mine, Bee-bee!”  It has days that begin with missed alarms, beds that have been wet again.  Bills that are past due.  Phone calls that must be made, laundry that piles, schooling that must be attended to.  This season is a string of flight from one activity to the next, keeping the plate in the air that is just about to crash.  Most days now I feel dizzy.

I wasn’t made to do this kind of thing well.  It is a stretch for me, a place of deep dependency on a good and all-knowing Father to give me the strength and energy to keep from drowning.  My soul gets buried in the heap and pile of duty and need and serving.  It’s both okay and not okay.  It’s life.  I wouldn’t trade away these kids for a well-watered soul any day, but I send longing eyes to the heavens sometimes, like a wife to her lover.

There are all these words.  

There is all this pain.  

There is so much fear.  

There is such deep joy.

How can it all coexist here, in this frail flesh and blood?  It’s as much a mystery to me as the commingling of Holy Spirit with my common man, bound up somehow in my person.  What a strong God to constrain Himself, to bend low like this to me.

But the words are buried and the emotions need time to sift and process and simmer.  They feel far away, on some distant shore while I’m carried away on the current.  And I mourn.  I fear that maybe this fruitlessness means that nothing is happening internally.  I wonder if I am valuable to God only when I am producing.  I fear that maybe my voice will just fall silent.

I don’t know how to find my way back to my own heart, to the shape of my own soul.  But I have learned: trace the old roads, the familiar paths.  Go back to the simplest of truths and the ways that have found me before.  Put aside needless distractions.  Remember the rock from which you are hewn.  Walk trails from a different season.  Return to books that knew me and opened me before.  Be content with the haunting quiet.  Be content with simply being held and loved.  Allow myself to accept the fact that He loves me simply because I am His, not because of what I have to offer Him.  Settle deep into His words.  Experience Him here, in barren lands.  Remember: seeds germinate in darkness.

So I snap moments and I know they are important but I don’t know why.  I know there is an undercurrent below the surface.  I find things that remind me of who I am:  Walking the trail I used to walk in my college days, back when my soul was near full to bursting with words from God, words from theological books, words words words, filling up so much silence.  Climbing an old forgotten favorite trail with my two best girlfriends late at night in the gathering dark, sitting under stars cupping steaming mugs and sharing hearts in a small circle of light.  These scattered seeds, these heavy moments, weighty, full, quiet, their meaning and importance somehow deep, surely there, but out of my reach.

And this poem by Malcolm Guite, poet + priest, opened up something in my soul this weekend.  Something in me sings with it.  Tears brim.  Call nothing common.  Accept it all for good.  And so I am here, singing from this place, exactly where I am.

Singing Bowl
Begin the song exactly where you are
Remain within the world of which you’re made
Call nothing common in the earth or air
Accept it all and let it be for good
Start with the very breath you breathe in now
This moment’s past, this rhythm in your blood
And listen to it
Ringing
Soft and light
Stay with the music
Words will come in time
Slow down your breathing
Keep it deep and slow
Become an open singing bowl
Whose chime is richness rising out of emptiness
And timelessness resounding into time
And when the heart is full of quietness
Begin the song exactly where you are.

grateful

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So it’s Friday and our week has been b u s y, tumultuous, happy, and emotional.  We look forward to our Friday ritual tonight of homemade (gluten-free) pizzas and a movie of the kid’s choosing.  We look forward to a weekend, to rest and worship.  We give thanks.

Phoebe began her homeschool co-op on Monday, and so we began our own schooling this week as well.  It has been really good and really awkward at times, too, just trying to establish some new rhythms and figure out how navigate these new waters.  There have already been moans and groans, there have been a multitude of interruptions from two little ones underfoot.  There have been potty accidents as Philippa slowly attempts potty training.  Phoebe and I are both loving it, though, and my heart is filled with thanks!  We have had time to cover a lot of material this week, but also play soccer, ride bikes, play outside, go to the pool, run our usual errands, snuggle together and read, begin a nature journal, press flowers, bake and cook.  Schoolwork is sprinkled throughout, and informal learning is emphasized as much as more formal schooling.  The younger two kids usually join us for the beginning of our morning work, doing their own little puzzles or coloring worksheets, before scattering off to play.  What a privilege and a blessing that we get to do it this way!  I don’t want to take it for granted for a second.  This is high and holy work!

Phoebe had a bad bike accident on Wednesday around lunch time, all of us cruising back home on our bikes after playing “soccer” at a nearby field.  She lost control of her bike and I watched in horror as her bike went down and she slammed her face into the pavement.  I grabbed her and saw her front teeth all bent back toward her throat, her mouth bleeding profusely, and we jumped immediately in the van and headed to urgent care.  After a thorough check and a visit to her dentist, we breathed great thanks to a faithful God who protected her from serious injury!  She will loose her front three teeth soon as a result, and she is bruised and scraped, but for the most part is already carrying on in her usual activities.

This morning she had her year check-up after receiving her diagnosis of Celiac disease last July.  She has gained three pounds in the last three months, which is HUGE for our little tiny girl.  She has gained almost 10 pounds in the past year!  Her BMI has increased, and she is in the 20th percentile for weight, which is a first!  We are full of praise once again to our God who has helped us all the way, and who continues to lead us as we seek Phoebe’s health and full recovery.

In all the muddled ordinary of life, it is easy for me to adopt a complaining or entitled heart.  It is easy, natural even, for me to miss the moments of extravagant grace hidden in these everyday moments, even the ugly ones.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:18)

I don’t want to give in to what is natural, I want a supernatural life, something that can’t be explained apart from the grace of God.  I desire for Him to do this kind of work in me.  I want my children to see their mother pursuing deep roots in Jesus, to see their mother turning her heart back to praise, to see their mother making time for creativity, reflection, truth, and beauty.

Gratitude: A Prayer and Praise Coloring Journal arrived on my doorstep this week, a beautiful summons to slow down, to return to the simple yet profound act of giving thanks.  It couldn’t have been more timely, after the sort of week we’ve had, brim-full with opportunity to worry, complain, grumble, and give in to exhaustion.  I’m excited to dig into this new-to-me format of coloring, of slowing, of turning my mind and heart to thanks, of lingering over scripture and meditating on the simple and profound healing balm.  This journal is absolutely stunning, sturdy, quality pages, simple yet arresting designs, bringing scripture to life and giving it feet.  I pray that for me it is just one simple tool that helps me keep my eyes fixed on Jesus as I go through each day’s work.  Maybe it would be a helpful tool to you, too?  If so, this little journal releases in just a few days (Sept. 1).

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This post contains affiliate links.  

Thanks to Tyndale Publishers for a complimentary copy of this beautiful journal in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Books for Mom

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Give the momma you love the gift of a good book this Mother’s Day!  If Brandon asks me what I want for Mother’s Day, there is usually a book involved, whether it’s a new one or just time to read one.  One of the things I am asked most frequently here is about book recommendations on varying subjects.  I have a little link on the slide-out bar on the right hand of my blog over there —> called “Recommended Reads.”  If you click on it, you will find my top recommendations on all sorts of subjects related to the things I blog about (family, theology, motherhood, marriage, children, celiac’s disease, etc.).

Since Mother’s Day is just a couple of days away, I wanted to share some of my “momma” favorites with you and some that are on my wishlist this year!  These are some of the books that the Lord has used to profoundly shape me in the last few years.  I believe strongly in the power of a good word at the right time to be greatly effective in helping us, shaping us, encouraging us.  Of course, nothing beats the Scriptures in fueling us as mothers, but sometimes we need the help of another in unpacking and applying the Scriptures.  All of the books listed here will do that for you, all of them rooted in Scripture, all of them gently teaching and guiding and instructing you as a woman and mother in your role.

What the mom you love really wants for Mother’s Day is to know she is somehow doing this well, this motherhood thing. She desperately needs encouragement, hope, biblical support and training. She needs fresh vision. In a world where motherhood is discredited and often discarded, she needs to know that this work counts in the Kingdom of God. She needs to remember why it counts.

When you build up a mother, you are building up the one raising the next generation of disciples. When you build up a mother, you are building up the Body of Christ, you are building the Kingdom. 

  1. Give Them Grace: Dazzling your kids with the love of Jesus by Fitzpatrick + Thompson

This one has helped me so much as a momma who leans heavily toward moralism/legalism.  Grace is still as scandalous as ever for me, dangerous even.  I scribbled these words across the intro to this book: “God wants more for my children than obedience.  He wants to give them more than a tidy life — He wants to give them the Gospel.  He wants to give them grace.”  As Tullian Tchividjian says in the into, “The biggest lie about grace that Satan wants Christian parents to buy is the idea that grace is dangerous and therefore needs to ‘kept in check.’  By believing this, we not only prove we don’t understand grace, but we violate gospel advancement in the lives of our children.  A ‘yes, grace, but..’ disposition is the kind of fearful posture that keeps moralism swirling around in their hearts.”  If you are a momma (or know a momma!) in the trenches of parenting who needs to remember the goal of parenting, who needs to go back to the foundations of grace, this book is for you!  I have underlined and dog-eared it to death.  Highly, highly recommend.

2.  Your Beautiful Purpose: discovering and enjoying what God can do through you by Susie Larson

This one is such a beautiful and practical read, and certainly not just for mothers!  I loved this one from cover to cover and slowly went through the study material in the back of the book, soaking it all in.  Larson’s writing is scripture-saturated and Christ-exalting.  I include this one as a book for momma’s because if a mother were to read it through the lens of motherhood being a part of her beautiful purpose on this earth, it would be quite profound.  This book encourages you to uncover God’s purpose for you and helps with practical things like when to move forward, how to wait on God’s timing or discern His voice, how to walk in your own calling and not coveting another’s, what to do with being criticized, etc.  So very good and helpful and encouraging.  I will return to this one often!

Who we are and what we possess.  These are the two targets the enemy aims for again and again.  If he can get us to doubt, he can trip us up.  If he can get us thinking we’re poor though we’re really rich, we’ll scratch and claw our way through life; and we’ll live anxious and afraid, like we’re without hope.  And if he can convince us we lack something good, he’ll be able to tempt us to live frantic and hurried lives, never satisfied, always wanting more.  We’ll skim life’s surfaces and miss its depths.  We’ll live jealous, me-focused lives and forsake the whole reason we’re blessed: because God loves to love us, and He loves to love through us.  Jesus promises that those who trust Him lack no good thing (Ps.34:10).  These aging earthen vessels carry the treasure of heaven within.  Ponder the significance of that truth every single day.” (Larson)

3.  A Million Little Ways: Uncover the art you were made to live by Emily Freeman

So you know I love Emily, right?!  I got to meet her (!!!) last summer at her book party for Simply Tuesday (another book you should go buy right now).  I met her on the pages of this book and in many ways, this blog was born as a result.  Again, this is not a book that is specific to motherhood at all, but is one I think could greatly encourage the mother who wonders whether her menial and daily work with littles is of any value to our missional God.  She writes to show that all of life can be lived to the glory of God, not just the time we spend reading the Bible or praying.  All of life lived for His glory, even the small and mundane tasks of our day, can be the art that we offer to the world to the glory of God.  You may not see yourself as an artist, I certainly didn’t before reading this book.  But she argues from scripture how God made each of us a work of art, and each of us have an art to offer.  Whether its washing dishes, decorating homes, hammering nails or hammering words on the keys, God is not so small that He is only glorified in what we typically call “spiritual” activities.  He wants to be revealed and glorified in all that we do.  These words are words I will read again probably every year.  She is an incredible writer, and her words set me free and brought so. much. joy.

4.  Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in your home by Gloria Furman

Gloria is basically my best friend, she just doesn’t know it.  This one will always probably be in the very top three of my favorite books on parenting/motherhood ever.  If you knew how much I read, you would know that is saying a lot.  I will read everything she writes.  In this book, she addresses the stay-at-home momma or the working woman, and she writes to unveil how the Gospel impacts our normal, daily, mundane lives.  Does God care about the mundane tasks we perform day in and day out?  How does His grace change the way we do laundry, potty training, bed-making, cooking, grocery shopping, guest-hosting?

For me, this has been my greatest struggle as a parent thus far.  This seeming endless battle to live a pure and holy life before God in even the mundane details of life, and yet this daily failing and floundering.  My heart is so often discouraged and barely feels brave enough to whisper: Is there any purpose in it?  Is there any hope in it?  Can a sin-bent woman such as myself ever live a life that pleases God?  This book answers those questions so beautifully and with a heap of humor.

“Theology is for homemakers who need to know who God is, who they are, and what this mundane life is all about…As homemakers who are made in God’s image and desire to live for God, we need to know what God’s intentions are for us and for the work we do in the home.  More specifically, we need to know: What does the gospel have to do with our everyday lives in the home?  How does the gospel impact our dish washing, floor mopping, bill paying, friend making, guest hosting, and dinner cooking?  How does the fact that Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the tree so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Pet. 2:24) make a difference in my mundane life today?…This book is a description of the distinctly Christian hope of God’s glory and how it relates to the home”  (Gloria Furman)

5. Desperate: Hope for the mom who needs to breathe by Sarah Mae + Sally Clarkson

This one was a mother’s day gift to me a few years ago from Brandon.  It had me at “desperate.”  I found so much practical encouragement for how to run our home, and how to face all the various aspects of motherhood that drive me crazy and bring me to my knees.  One of my favorite aspects of this book is the way it fleshes out the mentoring relationship we crave and should experience between the older + younger generations, as each chapter begins with Sarah writing a letter with a motherhood question to Sally, and Sally’s response.  A beautiful and easy read that has stuck with me and shaped my parenting since first reading it.  I feel like it is a huge dose of momma encouragement.

6.  The Ministry of Motherhood: Following Christ’s example in reaching the hearts of our children by Sally Clarkson

Have you, momma of littles, ever been wiping noses and bottoms and counter tops all day and wondered what on earth this is accomplishing?  Have you ever missed your former days of being more active in ministry?  This book will help you see the ministry right before you, the daily ministry of discipling your children.  We know that Jesus called us to make disciples, and as a mother I often find myself more caught up in discipling others before I’ve even invested that energy and attention in my own children.  This book is so helpful in that regard, breathing fresh life and focus into your parenting.  Perfect for the mom who needs a tune-up in her own vision of her work in her children’s lives.

7.  The Life-giving Home: Creating a place of belonging and becoming by Sally + Sarah Clarkson

Yes, a third book by Sally Clarkson!  This one is so unique in that she coauthors it with her now-adult daughter, talking about the scriptural purpose of the home.  After a few chapters setting the foundation for the book, the book is organized around the seasons of the home, each chapter focusing on a month of the year and discussing a theme of that month.  For example, January focuses on “Creating a framework for home: rhythms, routines, and rituals,” and June focuses on “Times of Delight: creating a value for play.”  Sally and Sarah take turns authoring these chapters, each offering their perspectives and experiences from their own home and ideas for your home.  Chock full of inspiration and resources for the mom who is looking for fresh ideas to make her home life-giving.  This one is a must-read!

“We must understand homemaking not as a retreat from the fallen world, not as a retrenchment from culture, but as a profound engagement with it.  We must understand the creation of a home as a work of incarnational power and creativity.  ‘Kingdom come’ doesn’t happen on some cosmic scale; the whole point is that it invades the physical at the humblest level.  As Christ was born a tiny human child of Mary, so Christ comes again, invading the human realm in and through our ordinary love of children and friends, spouses and siblings.  His Kingdom comes in the way we celebrate, the shelter we make of our homes, the joy we put into what we cook and eat and create, our willingness to welcome strangers into our midst.  As the Holy Spirit fills us, our families and friendships and the particular physical spaces of our lives become the spaces where Christ is born again and again — growing, ordering, renewing, healing.”  (Clarkson)

The following two are not pictured but are books on my wishlist, ones I am eager to read very soon!

8. Missional Motherhood: the everyday ministry of motherhood in the grand plan of God by Gloria Furman

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Yes, this is the newest release from Gloria Furman, releasing this month!  I can hardly wait to get my hands on it.  “Gloria Furman helps women live out God’s story of redemption in their daily lives as they nurture their children and joyfully share the message of the gospel with those around them” (from the amazon description).

9.  Wild and Free: a hope-filled anthem for the woman who feels she is both too much and never enough by Haley Morgan and Jess Connolly

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If that title doesn’t resonate with you, dear woman, I’m not sure you have a pulse.  This one is not specific at all to motherhood, but is one I think every mother could probably relate to. This, from the amazon description:  “Wild and Free is an anthem and an invitation in equal parts to find freedom from the cultural captivity that holds us back, and freedom to step into the wild and holy call of God in our lives. With fresh biblical insight tracing all the way back to Eve and a treasury of practical application, Jess and Hayley reveal how women today can walk in the true liberty we already have in Jesus.”  I’m hoping and praying this one breathes fresh life into the wild and holy call of motherhood and the other roles I fill as a woman on this earth in my generation.  I cannot wait to review it later this month here on the blog, so check back!

What are some of your top favorite books on motherhood?  I’d love to hear your recommendations!

*Full Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post.  Please understand these are all books I am freely recommending of my own volition because I strongly believe they will be a blessing.   By clicking through to amazon and purchasing a book via this post you are helping to support this blog and my family at no additional cost to you!  Basically I am just receiving a tiny “thank you” from amazon for the referral I would be giving anyway.  My family and I thank you!

winter rains + change

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Last week was a terribly busy and stressful week with more doctor appointments than I care to recall.  Everyone here is okay, just some appointments following up on Phoebe’s growth and progress since her diagnosis, a first-time visit to a brand new support group for kids with Celiacs, and some appointments for myself.  I had heart surgery a number of years ago, and have been mostly doing fine, but lately have had an increase in palpitations/skipped beats, so I’m following up on it and wearing a heart monitor for the next month (its so fun to be a tangle of wires).  It was strangely gratifying to have the doctor tell me it’s probably mostly the fact that I have three kids five and under.  Sleep deprivation and stress can do crazy things to a person!

A drizzly cold rain is spitting outside as I type this over a steaming mug of tea.  Every day it seems we hear more and more birds singing, and February is nearly over.  We try to get outside and run and explore as much as we can.  Spring is on its way, though I can’t say I love spring as much as I do winter.  I am still hoping for one more good snow in March!  In fact Phoebe dressed all in white the other day and told me she was a snowflake and then proceeded to chant “We want snow to come our way” all morning.  God gives special attention to the prayers of a child, right? 😉  I don’t want to let go of the early mornings huddled around the fire, everyone gathered over books, tangled hair and blankets.

We went to SC over the weekend to help Brandon’s parents do some work on their house to get it ready to sell.  While the guys worked outside all weekend, my mother-in-law, kids and I spent time together inside and out exploring some nearby parks.  We are always grateful for time with them and that they offered to pay Brandon for the work, which is unnecessary but a huge blessing to us in this season where finances are tighter than ever.

In other random news, Phoebe had her first loose tooth last week.  She got up from nap one day with a terrified expression, like she thought she would be in trouble, and announced that she wouldn’t be sucking her fingers anymore because her tooth felt uncomfortable.  All week she tilted her head to the side while she chewed (it is her front bottom tooth) and yesterday morning during breakfast, it just came right out.  I think she was surprised that it really didn’t hurt!  She had a note and $1 from the tooth fairy in the morning, which she promptly put in her little wallet.  Noah thinks the whole thing is so cool and he can’t wait for his teeth to fall out.

Meanwhile, Philippa has been getting molars and has been miserable the past few days.  Also, I have begun officially weaning her.  She nurses only in the morning and at night before bed, but because of some of my own health reasons, I need to wean her.  I’ve been delaying it because she still loves it and so do I.  I kept hoping she would sort of lose interest.  She cried pitifully for it this morning and I nearly caved, but it’s one of those times that necessity must rule over emotion.  I will hold onto the night feeding a little longer and then in a few weeks we will both have to let go.  I have loved nursing my babies so much, and I never know if God will choose to give us another, but I have also been nursing and pregnant nonstop for the past six years and my body is letting me know it needs a rest.  If it was up to me I would probably hold onto these years forever, but God finds a way to help us let go, even when our fingers have to pried off of the thing.

I love being a mother so much, I count this the most privileged work of my life.  I hate the letting go parts that come with it, and I know I will fight it at every stage.

I’m so thankful that in it all, all the changes I don’t love, my God remains changeless.  I love that the same words that soothe my soul and bring me peace and comfort are the words that have comforted and satisfied countless thousands of others for hundreds of years.  Changeless.

When my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”
(Psalm 61:2 ASV)

 

season of light

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Our week has been sort of slow, quiet, different.  We started off the week with a stomach bug which thankfully didn’t pass through the family as we thought it would, but it took a couple of days for Phoebe to be herself again.  And we’ve been battling a head cold.  And it rained for half the week.  So we have been pretty hunkered down.  As much as I hate battling sickness, it has given us some time to just be together and read books, snuggle, knit, watch movies, stay in our jammies.  In the midst of it, we’ve been observing Advent together, momma reading this book in the mornings in the early + dark quiet, bent over coffee.  Kids gather over this book in the evenings, freshly bathed and coloring ornaments to decorate the Jesse Tree as I read.  We’ve slowly been pulling out Christmas decorations, putting things here and there as we have time.  Phoebe made my bed for me this morning, and I snapped a picture of that simple grace.  In all its rumpled glory, it sings of her sweet spirit, her kindness and the quiet way she serves even at her young age.  I hope I can be more like her.

It’s been sweet, savoring this season of light so far.  Remembering our Savior, the hope of His birth, the way it proclaims the Gospel to us:  Jesus came, even in the midst of a very broken and fallen and evil world, a wicked generation.  He still came.  He didn’t just come to visit us, God visiting man, He came as one of us, God and man.  The hope in this!  The glory!  That He knows our frailty in an experiential way.  He knows our need.  Our weakness.  He offers Himself to us.  I pray for you and for myself this season that above all else we open our hearts and hands to receive Him.

 

the baby is one

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We celebrated with family yesterday afternoon, opening gifts, enjoying a meal together, and feasting on cake (gluten-free + vegan!).  Our sweet babes are so blessed to have aunties + uncles and grandparents nearby who will love on them in this way and bless them with sweet gifts.  Phippa, as we call her, received some warm clothes, a new bike, and a doll from Brandon + I.  She was the first of our kiddos to not cry during the first-birthday song/cake experience, and to actually eat and enjoy her cake!  So I think she loved it.  We all did!  What a treat to be together with family and to all love on this sweet little gift from God to us, our precious girl.  We adore her!  My heart is a little sad that she is already one and moving on up, but it’s good to remember all the fun things that are ahead.  Her first steps, words forming into sentences, more + more that she is able to do and that we are able to know of her.  Her little party was a great way for us to begin Thanksgiving week.  Our hearts are ever mindful of the great kindness He has shown us in these little souls entrusted to our care!

Psalm 91 has been on my heart the last few days, these verses in particular my prayer for our little Philippa Ruth:

 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
    I will protect him, because he knows my name.
 When he calls to me, I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble;
    I will rescue him and honor him.
 With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”
(Psalm 91:14-16 esv)