our four-year-old girl

Isabelle is four today.

She is full of exuberance and tenacity and heart.

She hugs with abandon (and often gets a running start).  If I ever ask “can someone please [fill in the blank]?”, she dashes off to be the first one to do whatever was asked.  She’ll grab five books when told to get one for reading.  When she’s excited, she literally bounces her way through life; when she’s distraught, her big eyes and quivering lips are about the saddest thing you’ll ever see.

She is stubborn (to a fault sometimes).  She loves fiercely, but is wounded easily.  She is quick-witted and insightful.  She loves pretend play and dressing up, and Fancy Nancy books are her favorite.  She is so many things rough-and-tumble, but she has the girliest giggle and she loves dancing and always asks if she looks beautiful [of course, Sweetpea, you’re ALWAYS beautiful].  She has more personality than she knows what to do with sometimes…eye rolls, hands on hips, wild arm gestures, furrowed eyebrows and more (all at once), and it can be hard to not laugh at all her spunk.

But, oh, I love this little girl with all my heart!  She is a treasure and a joy and such a big part of all that is good in my days.  I’m so glad to celebrate four years with her today.

 

that was the fastest year ever

And now, Lucas is one.  How did that happen?  I remember the day of his birth like it was yesterday, and yet, I know a lot of life and growing has happened in the 12 months since.  The first five or so months were more of a challenge than usual, with Lucas spitting up dozens of times a day…which, I know is a relatively small problem in the overall scheme of things, but which becomes tedious and time consuming and nerve-wracking in day-to-day life.  He never had problems growing or being super-energetic, though, so we just waited for the hopeful day when the spitting-up would stop.  And it did – almost overnight – and it seemed like my brain took it as a sign that his infancy was over.  It’s funny, the things we find that we miss sometimes, and as crazy as it sounds, I admit that I did cry more than once at the realization that I no longer had to change shirts three times a day, or carry a couple dozen burp cloths with me wherever I went.

Then, almost as soon as the spitting-up ended, he was crawling, then at nine months, walking, now running and reaching and going everywhere and getting into everything that he possibly can.

He has been teething persistently since about three months, but his teeth were frustratingly slow to come in, with the first not making an appearance until 10 months, the next three following within a week.  Whether because of the spitting-up, or the lack of teeth, or something else entirely, it took a long time for him to develop an interest in any kind of food.  It was also around ten months that he would finally eat more than two or three bites of anything.  But his tastes were quick to change, and now he’ll eat just about anything we give him.  His favorites are rice, fruits (especially banana), mac and cheese, potatoes and carrots…nothing too unusual, but exciting for me in its normalcy.

From the start, Lucas has been full of energy.  He can’t even nurse without kicking a leg, or swatting an arm.  He is strong – almost freakishly sometimes – and so persistent I struggle to keep up at times.  His favorite song is Come Thou Fount, and has been from his very first days.  When I sing to him, he will “sing” along, which at this point amounts to some cross between humming and singing gibberish.

He has two fingers that are constantly in his mouth, a habit that unfortunately had more of a chance to take hold since his teeth were so long in coming in.

He loves his siblings, and they love him.  I honestly think he might have a bit of a superiority complex because of it, though.  When he enters a room, he looks around at everyone, fully expecting a round of big smiles and exuberant greetings every time…because that’s what he got for the first many months of his life.  It has waned somewhat now, though his siblings will still clamor to hold him, or feed him, and Nathanael has become the go-to person for walking him around when he’s tired, almost always resulting in Lucas nodding off.

He’s definitely a mama’s boy, though, and I am kind of glad he is.  Sometimes I complain about his occasional insistence on only sleeping if being held in the middle of the night, but I truly do love having him snuggled up against me while he sleeps, and am not in so much of a hurry for him to move on from wanting me close.  I love this boy so very much.  I’m thankful beyond words for the gift he is to our family.  I’m thrilled to celebrate his first year of life today.  Happy 1st Birthday, Lucas William!

 

closer to grown

Bethany is 12 today.  She has turned a corner, I think, this past year.  There are many of the old struggles still – with work ethic, and attentiveness, and day-dreaminess – but her attitude has come so far.  Most days, she is sweet and encouraging and kind.  Her hard-headedness has made way for a more teachable spirit, a greater humility, a new willingness to ask questions and admit when she doesn’t know it all.

A recent event really encapsulated a lot of the character traits I see in Bethany.  It was during a belt test for Tae Kwon Do.  All of the students were to demonstrate a set of moves at the same time, but not necessarily in sync with each other.  Bethany got flustered – distracted by the others around her who were all at slightly different spots in their demonstrations – and she flailed, never fully recovering.

The sensei then singled her out to go through the whole routine again, on her own, in front of everyone else.  I could tell from her face that she was fighting back tears, and I felt scared for her…knowing how difficult I would have found the situation.  But she didn’t falter.  She demonstrated the moves flawlessly – like, better than I’ve ever seen her do anything else in Tae Kwon Do.  See, for as flighty, and easily distracted, and, sometimes, not-so-serious as Bethany can be, she also has an incredible memory, a not-easily-shaken confidence, and a fierce determination that allows her to rise to the challenges of life, rather than be ruined by them.

I was so proud of her.  I am so proud of her.  And I am so thankful that God is working good things in her – even despite what I am often sure is utter failure on my part.  Bethany is a joy and a treasure, beautiful inside and out.  I’m so happy she’s mine.

fourteen today

I was looking through old pictures (and videos) a few days ago, trying to find one to put on Caedmon’s birthday card.  I don’t do it often, so every time I do, old memories and old sentiment are stirred up anew.  I laughed so hard at how Caedmon was just SO unbelievably cute (which made me feel a little guilty, because even with an absolutely adorable 9-month old, seeing Caedmon at 18-months was almost too much cuteness to handle).

I was also reminded of how talkative he was.  Non-stop.  All the time.  In videos about him.  In the background of videos of Bethany.  When we were trying to explain something to him or show him something or get him to do something, the mouth was running.  And it was cute, but also a little naughty, sometimes.

So, I naturally compared our two-year old Caedmon to our fourteen-year old Caedmon, who does still love to talk, but has learned self-control, and respect, and patience.  I saw in the videos the raw material that has been shaped and nurtured to form our intelligent, articulate, insightful oldest child; saw how natural ability mixed with character has developed into someone I am regularly impressed by and thankful for.

And not just in how he communicates.

Caedmon does so many things well.   He is a talented musician and a natural writer.  He began learning the alto saxophone this year and has caught on very quickly, and though his piano practice has waned recently, when he does sit down at the piano, I don’t ever really want him to stop because I so enjoy listening.  He writes history papers that have made me look at the notes he wrote from because I didn’t think he could have come up with such detailed, well-explained writing on his own (and I always just found exactly what notes should be – snippets, ideas, key points…nothing copied or even well-written at that point).  He has a series of tall-tale stories that he has been adding to for several years now, and he actually chooses to write for fun on a regular basis (though not history reports – ha!).

He is diligent, hard-working and kind.  He listens carefully to correction and I rarely have to explain anything to him twice.  While there is still bickering and annoyance with his siblings at times, I also regularly hear him being the peace-maker, offering perspective, and reminding them of what their attitudes should be.

He can take it pretty hard when he’s hoping for a well-done, but gets correction instead, and he sometimes glosses over details in his rush to just finish.  Occasionally, his responses tend toward debating instead of doing.  And obviously, there are talents and character traits that can be nourished and strengthened…but that is about the sum of his areas-that-need-work.  He is an amazing young man at fourteen.  My life and our home – every day – is made better because he is in it and I couldn’t be happier to be spending today celebrating him.

Elijah at 8

Yesterday, Elijah turned 8.  So far, he doesn’t seem to much mind having his birthday the day after Christmas.  Tim always takes the day off, and we usually try to do something fun together as a family…although I do think he gets kind of bummed around August that those special gift-getting days are sandwiched right together, and then he has to wait for a whole year-minus-a-day for the promise of more presents.

So, what makes our Buddy so unique?  Well, he’s our only lefty, despite still using his right hand for many things.  He loves salad, while most of his siblings only eat it out of obligation.  He’s strong and quick and agile – capable of doing just about any athletic endeavor his older siblings can do, and sometimes even more.  He gives me hugs – out of the blue, full-force, I-love-you-Mommy hugs – almost every day, STILL.  While he sometimes tries to avoid whatever chore or schoolwork he’s responsible for at the moment (is there any child that doesn’t??), what he does, he does well.  He hears and retains instructions and corrections remarkably well and, hence, has an incredibly steep learning curve.

This year, he played baseball (he has a powerful swing and a great arm), has started Tae Kwon Do, and has pleaded with me to let him learn the harmonica…which I’ve hesitated on, but plan to let him legitimately start learning in the coming weeks.  He has boundless energy…like, he’ll tell me that he needs to “do something to get energy out”, and will happily do extra push-ups or jumping jacks, or really just about anything, to tire himself out.  His natural bent is still to encourage and build-up, although his particular sense of humor makes it tough for him to resist making jokes about his siblings that, while often funny, can be less than edifying.

He has other quirks that we’re working on moderating, too.  He remains our naturally loudest child.  We have to remind him often to use his inside voice (sometimes even when we’re outside because his outside voice is too loud, too).  He can be a bit too sensitive when injured and we can have a hard time telling a serious hurt from something like…oh, I don’t know…a sliver?

He loves reading, and learning about animals, and playing with legos, and taking care of Lucas, and helping with cooking.  He is quick-witted and sincere and capable at so many things.  He still snuggles close to me and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.  I am so thankful for Elijah and love him more than words.

five, already

My sweet Ava Grace is five today.  Five.  Wasn’t it just yesterday that she quietly entered our world and turned our hearts upside down with her beauty and charm and sensitive heart?

To be honest, I feel like I’ve missed so much of her growing up these past few years.  She is so often quiet and unassuming.  Rarely one to force her way into a situation, she has kind of gone with the flow of our days a bit too easily, sometimes.  But she is still, always, so quick to give an exuberant hug, or climb into a lap, or whisper I love you when her heart overflows at the simplest gestures.  Agh…this little girl still melts my heart.

And I am so thankful that, this week, she started doing schoolwork, which means that every day, I am forced to carve out a big chunk of time just for her.  To read to her.  To hear her thoughts.  To answer her questions.  To give her high fives for doing a good job.  To pour out whatever I can to remind her what a treasure she is to me.

And she is such a treasure, who is both spitfire and slow and steady; sensitive and rough and tumble; independent and damsel in distress.

We think the world of her, and celebrate the joy she has been these five years.  Words can’t say how much we love her.

10 years of our Bug

I was thinking today about how much this birthday of Nathanael’s reveals who he is.

His birthday requests were almost entirely comprised of Captain America stuff and legos.

Instead of a birthday cake, he’s having pecan pie.

We decorated with multi-colored balloons and streamers.

He’s wearing one of several tie-dyed shirts.

When given the choice of songs to sing during our morning worship time, he chose As the Deer, Our God (water You turned into wine), and I Stand in Awe (You are beautiful beyond description…).  I think if we’d sung more, he’d likely have chosen How Great Thou Art, also.

As I was doing his laundry folding chore this morning, he started helping anyway.  Even when I said I would fold it all, he insisted that he could help.

So many things about him that seem to me to epitomize his idealism, his love of sugar, his love of color, his very real love for Jesus, and his servant’s heart.

He’s not as much of a snuggler these days (which, I’ll be honest, kind of breaks my heart a little), and he doesn’t usually have lots to say…but he finds ways to pour out love to others and to the Lord even so.  I have so loved these ten years with my Bug and I am so glad to be able to take this day to make him feel special.

strong tower

God is a strong tower.

That sounds pretty great, huh?  Awe-inspiring, even.    It sounds…well…strong.  Like everything should be okay because I have this amazing defender, right?

Right.

But, maybe, not exactly.

Over and over lately, I’ve been challenged in my idea of who God is, and specifically in this idea of what it means that He is my strong tower.

Because, historically, a strong tower wasn’t where you lived.  It’s where you ran when you were under siege and afraid for your life.  Synonymous with the castle “keep”, it was a refuge of last resort.  If you were lucky, it was well-stocked and heavily fortified, but it was never where you wanted to stay forever.  It was a place where you simply waited…I think most likely with a lot of fear…for your enemy to run out of resources, or interest, and finally leave you alone.  And although the strong tower was a defense against the enemy, it did not fight the enemy. It simply shielded its occupants…held them in (hopefully) security and safety…until there was security and safety to be found outside its walls.

A strong tower wasn’t a place of increase.

A strong tower wasn’t a place of productivity.

A strong tower wasn’t even a place of taking ground against an enemy.

Sometimes, being in God’s will brings about all of those things – abundance, growth, victory – but sometimes, being in God’s will means we are resting in Him as our strong tower.  Safe as safe can be, with impenetrable walls and provision to endure the longest siege (from my brief search, I learned at least one military siege lasted 21 years), but still a place with limited vision, few hopes realized, and always the reality of an enemy trying to bring ruin.

Nobody wants to live life relegated to a protective prison.  But this is the way God chooses to show up sometimes.  He never said we wouldn’t encounter conflict in life.  And the lives of Joseph and King David make it clear that He doesn’t always defeat our enemy the moment conflict does come.  And so, we need a safe place to hide, and rest, and wait so that we are not overcome.

There is peace in that.

I may really, really want to see the victory now, but there is peace in knowing that, while the battle rages, I am beyond the reach of my adversary.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
The righteous run to it and are safe. —Proverbs 18:10

For You have been a shelter for me,
A strong tower from the enemy. —Psalm 61:3

 

sometimes good needs defending

I’m thinking about how thankful I am for my husband today.  I know I’ve written a lot about him on this blog, but I wonder sometimes if those words get written off as just some “things I’m supposed to say”.  You may not know what life has looked like for us the past couple years – and I try not to air the nitty gritty of our struggles on here – but reality has been pretty harsh.  Especially for my husband.  He’s been ridiculed, lied to and lied about repeatedly.  He has been characterized as lacking self-control…dangerous, even.  The plethora of evidence of his good character has been ignored or marginalized, and left some, possibly many, people who never really took time to know him assuming horrible things about him.  And I realize these words of mine may never be read by any of those people, but I feel like I should write them just the same.

First, though, I should note…I am not a flatterer, even to my husband.  I don’t say things I don’t mean, and I don’t commend people who haven’t evoked a strong conviction in my heart that they are worthy of commendation.  I’m stingy, I guess.  But please know, if ever my husband’s character is misrepresented by my words, it would only be such that I have failed to offer adequate praise for the amazing husband, father, and man of God that he is.

I want to make abundantly clear that while he can be verbally persistent beyond the comfort level of many people, he has never lost control of himself, publicly or privately.  He will always walk away from an interaction before he allows himself to be overcome in word or deed.  He has never in his entire life physically lashed out in any way at another person.  Ever.  I can’t even say that about myself.  I think most people can’t say that about themselves.  He is a man of very strong convictions…I think if you know anything about him, you know this.  And one of his very strong convictions is that he will not use physical force against anyone, unless it is necessary to save a person’s life.  I have known him long enough, and seen him in enough provoking situations, to be fully convinced that this is true.  There never has been, nor ever will be, anyone in physical danger from my husband.

He is also an absolutely phenomenal husband.  Committed, patient, kind, compassionate, affectionate, servant-hearted, encouraging…and the list could go on.  He takes the biblical call to lay down his life for me very seriously and he does it every.single.day.  I wish I could explain how really and truly flawed I am as a wife and mom and homemaker. No, my husband has never said or implied anything of the sort, and I’m not just being humble.  It’s reality.  But my insufficiencies help me see so clearly, in nearly every moment of my life, how blessed I am by my husband.  I honestly can’t imagine any person ever loving me more or better than he does.  I’ve said this all before, I know.  But I repeat it because it is true.

My husband is a godly man.  I think some might have a tendency to look at his less-than-emotional exterior and assume there’s nothing going on inside.  But that is so far from the truth.  On the outside, and in his “rhetoric”, he doesn’t fit the accepted image of a strong Christian…he doesn’t cry or jump or dance, he doesn’t use theologically heavy words…but the way he lives his life is always founded in the Word of God.  He believes the Bible to be true and he doesn’t let anyone or anything usurp it’s rightful place as the highest authority in his life.  He acts on what he knows to be true and right, even if he doesn’t feel like it.  He has little regard for whether he has garnered the good opinion of others, but cares greatly to do that which pleases God.

My husband is human.  Obviously, right?  But being human means there are trials.  And there’s hurt.  And there’s wrestling, especially when life gets hard.  He sometimes pulls back.  He sometimes doesn’t have the right words to say.  He sometimes has a hard time trusting others.  He can get overwhelmed, and he can lose confidence, and he can feel like he’s all alone.  And, sometimes, my heart breaks for him because it seems like nobody ever wants to take the time to know him…and it does take time…but people will believe a lie about him without a second thought.  Nonetheless, through it all, he is steadfast in his love for me, in his love and care for our family, in his faithfulness to the Word.

He is the best person I have ever known, without caveat or exception.  I just hope, somehow, I can be there when God tells him well done, good and faithful servant.

a wineskin in smoke

I’ve been reading Psalm 119 a lot lately – for perspective, for reminders, for hope.  It comforts me to be reminded that God’s Word (statutes, testimony, laws, commandments, ways, etc) is true even when the world doesn’t abide by them; it’s true even when life hurts and even when those who don’t live by it seem to be winning.

In reading this Psalm over and over, though, verses 81-83 have gotten stuck in my soul.

My soul faints for Your salvation,
But I hope in Your word.
My eyes fail from searching Your word,
Saying, “When will You comfort me?”
For I have become like a wineskin in smoke,
Yet I do not forget Your statutes.

…I have become like a wineskin in smoke…

Wineskins don’t belong in smoke.  It ruins them.  Tough.  Dry.  Impossible to stretch, to fill.  Unusable.

And it wasn’t that the psalmist had abandoned the Lord.  To the contrary, he was running to the Lord, looking for answers, looking for help, clinging to hope that God would be His rescuer.  But circumstances – a life that was repeatedly attacked and abused by the ungodly – had left him with a brokenness in his soul.

And I’ve felt like this psalmist a lot these past months.  Soul-broken.  Unusable.  Not unwilling, but unable.  A vessel that can no longer hold anything, much less pour anything out in a useful way.

I’m not sure how a wineskin in smoke might become usable again…if it can become usable again.

I’m not sure how a soul becomes usable again.

But I have not forgotten His statutes, and my only hope is in His Word.