a Thanksgiving birthday

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Sorry for the overload of photos, but I just can’t resist their sleepy head hair and puffy sleepy faces on their birthday mornings.  They wake each other up at the crack of dawn on each of their birthdays and run out to open presents.  Philippa likes to take things just a *bit* slower than the other two usually, so we hid a few of her presents around the living room for fun and also to help slow down the gift opening just a bit.  It worked and she thought it was a blast to find presents!  For a while she’s been asking for these two dragons she saw in a magazine, and every time we asked her what she wanted for her birthday she would mention only the dragons.  Philippa is my girl who loves girly things but also scary monsters and dragons.  🙂  For a while her favorite color was black.  She’s just her own little person.  We also gave her a book, the sweater I had knit for her (which wasn’t much of a hit but I am happy with it, at least 🙂 ), and a magic sketch boogie board.  Simple little things, but she seemed happy with it all and especially happy to have family come over later for Thanksgiving dinner.

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We hosted my parents and my brother and his family at our house, my parents made the turkey and we made the rest but with many hands helping.  It was really sweet and fun and my favorite moments were the final frenzy in the kitchen, all of us bumping into one another and divvying out tasks left and right as we got everything onto the table.  Later we sang happy birthday to Philippa over chocolate cake, homemade ice cream + berries.  What a sweet, full happy day.  I hope that it was a happy Thanksgiving for all of you as well, gathered with family, friends, loved ones over full plates that represent how well our God provides and cares for us and our daily needs.

Dear Philippa Ruth, my little sweet snuggly baby who is getting so tall and grown and lanky now.  I was the most afraid going into labor with you after having such a traumatic birth with Noah.  But you came so easily and you were born as I was laughing.  We’ve called you “the boss lady” from the start because you are determined and you know what you want.  That being said, you are such an easy-going and happy spirit in our home, usually the one to share the most easily and to play happily with whomever is around.  This year you grew from a toddling little girl to a big girl, it seems.  You learned how to go potty and now you’re giving up night time diapers.  You learned how to ride a bike and became a big sister.  You love doing school with Noah and often are learning right alongside him, even though you don’t need to be yet.  You love to laugh and you bring a lot of laughter to us all.  We all adore you and I’m thankful to God for your life and the unique gifts and joy you bring to our family!  Happy 4th birthday sweet girl.

a hard thanks giving

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We live in an unfinished story.  So many loose ends, so many winding roads, so many threads that seem knotted and tangled or just plain torn out, and we wonder what it all means, where it is all going to land.  The unanswered prayer, the lingering need, the weary middle.  This is where we live most of our days.  This is where Thanksgiving finds us.  Many of us with hands held open: searching, hoping, waiting.  Asking.  Maybe this is where you are this Thanksgiving.  At the beginning of a new diagnosis.  The news of a job loss, an affair, a broken dream, a broken heart.  Maybe you’ve been walking a painful road for some time–you started out strong in faith, but find yourself now in the weary middle of it with uncertainty all around.

Brandon and I watched cheesey Hallmark Christmas movies the other night, and something in me broke open and poured out.  I tried to hide the tears, until they became wracking sobs.  Sometimes we are holding onto a pain so tightly, we don’t even know it.  We can’t feel it for the sake of just trying to survive it.  We want to be strong, we want to be faithful–all the while, I wonder if our Savior isn’t beckoning us to release and to receive.. to be weak and let Him hold us.  We are trying to race ahead to the finish and end well, to do it well NOW, but we can’t do so if we aren’t honest in the raw hurting of it.  We’re in the weary middle of it, the aching middle.  The end isn’t anywhere in sight.  What does it look like to be faithful in this place?
I’m convinced: God doesn’t want our feigned joy.  He doesn’t care about our unshakeable strength.  He isn’t interested in our perfect faith.  He already knows the state of our real hearts.  I’m convinced He wants us to give our honest, broken hearts to Him.
Brandon, totally perplexed with my tears waited for me to be able to speak, to explain.  It’s the grieving, the fear of the future with Phoebe.  The weariness of the battle for her health.  The seemingly little gains when I hope for some great turn-around.  It’s the weight of the unknown, the wonder over what pain is around this next bend.
She did blood work last week.. and I’m trying not to let this week be consumed with the waiting and the dreading of the results.  I hope to have the results before Thanksgiving, but what if they are bad?  In the 2 1/2 years since her diagnosis, we’ve never had good blood test results, we’ve never been given a “normal.”  Every time, it is crushing disappointment.  Every time it feels like condemnation–we still aren’t getting this right.  We still haven’t done enough.  So we wait for news.  Anyone else out there waiting for news??  Waiting for–longing for–good news?  And I shouldn’t let me mind go there but it does–what if bad news comes to us on Philippas birthday–will it overshadow her day?  What if it comes on Thanksgiving day?  Will we genuinely be able to give thanks with family when we will be riding out the inevitable low that comes after getting bad test results?  How do we live, truly live, and not just hold our breath waiting for the next disappointment to come?  How do we be human and yet somehow rise above our humanity?
I’ve seen it all week, how she sits under the spreading tree, the tree that we’ve been filling up with leaves of chalky words even as the leaves have slowly fallen from all the trees around us throughout the month, and I can’t miss the juxtaposition.  In the background, this tree, a record of grace, a turning of our hearts, our stubborn and tired and forgetful hearts daily back to thanks.  In the foreground, this girl, the one with the battle that threatens so many times to steal my joy and my praise.  In many ways it has quieted me, made me feel like a big fat hypocrite.  This battle has carved out a weak and broken place in me, it has humbled me, and when can a humbling ever be bad?  Painful, discouraging, humiliating at times, yes–but always fruitful, if we submit to it.
Can it be that even in this place we turn our hearts to thanks?  Can this be genuine?  What if this is the best place for a thanksgiving, this weary middle of the road?  This juxtaposition between so many good gifts and so many heart aches and questions.  What if we didn’t wait until we had the good news to give thanks?  What if real life is in fact that we hold in our hands all these things–“these patches of joy, these stretches of sorrow”–as we celebrate God’s goodness to us, knowing that even in the wounding, even when He’s broken our hearts with what He has allowed, we know that we know that we know He is good.  He is working it together for our good, for His glory.  What if the most beautiful thing we can do is exactly that: to give thanks when it isn’t easy, when we have to hunt for and remind ourselves of the many riches we have in Jesus?  What if we have to remind ourselves that God’s good gifts aren’t the same as the usual things we call good gifts?
“No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Ps. 84:11)
“No good thing will He withold. But how is this true, when God oftentimes withholds riches and honors, and health of body from men, though they walk never so uprightly. We may therefore know that honors and riches and bodily strength, are none of Gods good things; they are of the number of things indifferent which God bestows promiscuously upon the just and the unjust, as the rain to fall and sun to shine.The good things of God are chiefly peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Spirit in this life, fruition of Gods presence, and vision of His blessed face in the next, and these good things God never bestows upon the wicked, never withholds from the godly.”
-Charles Spurgeon

I remember easy thanks giving.  Good years, joy mixed without much sorrow, years where praise and joy welled up with ease.   It feels strange to me now, after being in this place for so long.
I don’t know what your “hard” is this Thanksgiving.  Maybe it’s a broken relationship.  Regret over the past with consequences still playing out fearfully in your present.  Maybe it’s financial loss or strain, maybe it’s sickness.  Maybe it’s that shocking diagnosis, maybe it’s that wayward child that still hasn’t come home.  Maybe it’s that loved one battling an addiction that cuts you to the core.  Maybe it’s a lost loved one, a lost child.  Maybe it’s the way you keep returning to that same old sin that bewilders you and leaves you feeling helpless and hopeless.  I don’t know what it is, but I know some of you are out there, too, some of you for whom giving thanks this year in this particular season feels hard, maybe even feels a bit fake, a bit like a slap in the face.
So when its hard to give thanks, when we are hurting and there is brokenness, when there are questions and a howling ache, then it is a hard thanks that we give.  It may feel hard to give thanks, but we do.
In these times, Lord, we bring a sacrifice of praise to You.  You know, you already know.  Nothing is hidden from Your sight.  We are so thankful we don’t have to clean up and come in pretense before You.  But we do come in holy awe and wonder that somehow, some way, even in the hard, we still can give thanks to You, we still get to give thanks to You.  We have life.  We have breath in our lungs.  We have Christ in us, the hope of glory.  We have another day, therefore we have hope.  This story can still finish differently than we fear.  But even if it doesn’t, we have You.  You in the midst of all, You, our shield + exceedingly great reward, and You at the end of it all.  You to look forward to, fulness and completeness and final satisfaction in You and with You, our forever home.  So we draw strength–miraculously, we draw strength to praise You and in our praising you, we find we are again strengthened for the road You have called us to walk.  Strange, this–how obedience to You in our “hard” feels not burdensome but life-giving.  Strange–how we feel filled up, renewed.  How in our “giving” to You, somehow we still walk away the beneficiaries.  We think we are giving to You, yet all the while You are giving to us–yes, you are not able to be outdone.  Wild grace, Jesus.  Wild grace.
Shame on us that we lose sight of You so easily in this wilderness, but we do.  And You know it, You who put on flesh and lived as one of us, tempted like us.  If we can’t find anything else to give thanks for, we give thanks for You.  That we get to know you, to walk with You, a testament fully to Your faithfulness, not our own.  We give thanks that in the middle of your biggest “hard,” You endured, fixing Your eyes on the joy set before You, and because of that we get to have You with us in all of our hard, too.
So we sing on, even if it is a broken hallelujah, because You are worthy and because You have loved us well, and will love us till the end.

pilgrims + feasts

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Finally getting around to sharing some pictures from our Thanksgiving!  It was a sweet time gathering with family nearby, playing outside together, watching nieces + nephew toddle about, and cooking, of course, all the women dancing in and out of the kitchen.  These little moments, these are the sweetest things.  The crazy wild gifts of our God.  That we have each other!  That we can gather!  That we are alive!  That we have warm homes, able bodies, full tables!  And Jesus, best of all.  Our hope in every storm, our confidence in every year, the only rock on which we stand.  So very thankful for our bond in Him.  Each year brings its own measure of glory + grief, and yet we are always, always rich in Him.  Hope yours was lovely!

thankful tree

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The holiday season is so busy for us, with Philippa’s birthday the week of Thanksgiving, and Noah + Phoebe’s birthdays the week of Christmas, along with all the other usual holiday hectic!  We press in hard to some intentional habits during this busy season to keep our hearts tuned to God’s grace and to keep ourselves rooted in the soil of our simple everyday lives.  We started the habit of intentional thanks during the whole month of November a couple of years ago.  Our children love doing this!  When they saw that I had turned a corner of our living room into a little corner of praise + thanksgiving, they were literally squealing and jumping with joy.  I grab a branch from the yard (or in this case from one of our favorite picnic spots) but you can also just tape cut-out branches to your wall or draw a tree on a chalkboard (as I did last year, see pictures below) and tape your leaves to it.

I fill a bowl with cut-outs of colorful leaves (though you can print free thankful tags here) tied with baker’s twine, put a footstool nearby so little feet can clamber up anytime to bring their thanks.  I make it a point to let them interrupt whatever I’m doing to come over and help them add a leaf to the tree when praise strikes their hearts.  Yes, child, come boldly to the throne of grace!  Ordinary footstools become altars of praise.

We started this a couple of years ago after reading beloved One Thousand Gifts author Ann Voskamp’s posts (look here + here for lots of ideas + free printables!)  about making a thanksgiving tree a sweet family tradition, a way to focus our hearts toward Thanksgiving and to remember that this is how He tells us to enter His presence: enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise (Ps. 100:4).

We carve out a space right in our living room, the gathering room, the room where most of our life happens: the reading of books, the cuddling around the fire, the sibling fights, the teaching + disciplining, the laundry-folding + the vacuuming.  Right in the mix of it all, we plant our own little tree and as the leaves are daily all falling outside our windows, this little tree is gaining leaves day by day, until the end of the month when it will be full of color + singing of all His goodness.

Don’t get me wrong.  We are not a super-holy family over here.  We fail a lot, daily.  We argue too much.  We worry about money.  We lose our tempers.  We are too harsh with one another.  Our selfishness comes out in a million little ways.  Isn’t this the strangest miracle of all, the most beautiful of all?  That He beckons us, even us, to come to His table?  To feast on His goodness?  His mercy + forgiveness for us in Christ Jesus?  This little altar isn’t for the self-righteous.  It isn’t for the Sunday-best.  It’s for the meek.  The ones who know they are unworthy, dirty.  Undeserving.  The ones who know that the good things alone aren’t grace, but that all is grace.  It’s for the penitent.  It’s for the failing + flailing families, just like ours.

And that’s reason for the highest praise of all.  God giving us the greatest gift when we are least deserving!

Our challenge for each other this year is to find new things every day to praise Him for (last year most of our tags said “cars” + “lights”), and thus teaching our kids + ourselves to hunt for His manifold grace.

It’s not too late to start your own Thanksgiving tree.  It’s never too late to give thanks!  Here are some pics from our “tree” last year.

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Even in the midst of hard weeks, even in spite of our unholy moments, we want to remember we can come + give thanks.

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

Lately

So, life has been a little busy lately.

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We are all sorts of tired over here, back in the midst of the beautiful crazy that a newborn brings.  The holiday season is upon us, and two of my favorite little people have birthdays coming up the week of Christmas, too.  It’s the best (and busiest) time of year!

We’ve been doing lots and lots of this lately:

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This time around, I know how quickly that little newborn will morph into a toddler.  How soon her little baby fuzz will fall off and these sleepy days will become wakeful (and more rest-less).  I’m being more intentional this time around to just spend time holding and savoring this little one while she’s this little.

A few days after our littlest was born, Thanksgiving was upon us.  Though we really probably shouldn’t have been out with her yet, we couldn’t resist the Thanksgiving feast with our sweet family nearby.  (I told Brandon later, I truly don’t know anyone who cooks as well as my parents do.  We often are treated to dinner at their house, and it is hands down better than any restaurant I’ve ever been to!)

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One of our favorite Christmas traditions is finding a little local Christmas tree farm and chopping down our own tree (see last year’s endeavor here).  Since I was just days out of the hospital, we didn’t feel like we could risk traipsing around with a newborn in December looking for a tree so we went to our favorite nursery nearby to pick it out.  It was still fun!  It is what you make it, right? 🙂

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(the kids decorated their own tiny tree for their room)

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It gets more and more fun every year to celebrate the Christmas season, building memories and our own little traditions and seeing these little ones come alive to the wonder of the season.  It truly is the most wonderful time of the year!

I’d love to hear your favorite traditions and memories surrounding Christmas!  Hope your holiday season is full with all the fun things that draw families together and make for a warm home, and full of what draws our hearts to Christ and to remember the beauty of His incarnation.

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we gave thanks

Because Christ is in us, the hope of glory {Col.1:27}.

Because He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together {Col.1:17}.

Because He is our praise {Deut.10:21} and our very life {Col.3:4}.

Ten thousand reasons for our hearts to sing.  We gathered… we brought our harvest… we did the work of hands and the work of hearts and the work of love.  We feasted and laughed and just enjoyed the simplicity of each other.

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^^^arriving at my parent’s house.^^^

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^^^^ my beautiful momma & her cranberry relish^^^

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^^^^ these precious kids, playing & waiting to feast^^^^

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^^^^ dad’s rolls {thanksgiving essential}^^^^

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^^^^ dancing with grandpa ^^^^

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^^^^ homemade cranberry sauce = the best cranberry sauce ^^^^

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^^^^ waiting & lounging & playing.  I love how Noah sits like this, little feet tucked. ^^^^

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^^^^ the finished cranberry sauce ^^^^Image

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^^^^ cherry pie, for brandon ^^^^

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^^^^ Phoebe & her auntie AllieMarie watching grandpa get ready to carve up the turkey ^^^^

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^^^^ this scripture, ringing through my mind all day.. (find this print for free here) ^^^^

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^^^^ commencing feast ^^^^

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^^^^ my precious girl & I ^^^^

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^^^^ the essential post-feast walk {but we actually did one before & after this time around with energetic kiddos} and my beautiful parents with my two little lambs ^^^^

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^^^^ the lights in their neighborhood at night ^^^^

It has been a year with so much to be thankful for, and our hearts are full.  That’s the crazy thing about Jesus.  He can make even a broken heart full.  He can make joy in the midst of sorrow.  We are so thankful for family to gather together with and a family we share in Christ with, as imperfect as we all may be.  Hope your Thanksgiving was lovely!