Motherhood

Put Clutter in it’s Place

Welcome friends.

This is day 10 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first week of the series can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Have you ever wondered why the storage container industry is as lucrative as it is? Consider this cycle: A person buys some bins to hide the volume of their things away from view. More things find their way into the home. Person decides there is nowhere to put the new things because the existing bins are full of other stuff and it seems easier to add bins than to empty some. Person visits the container store for more bins. Not that I know anything about this cycle or anything.

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we need more things in our lives in order to find more peace. Marketers put a lot of effort into sending us messages about what we ‘need’, and often we buy it (pun intended). Letting go of a few dollars feels less painful than the deeper, harder work of dealing with and clearing out the unnecessary things, so we settle for a temporary fix instead of engaging a real solution.

I feel like I should offer a confession that I am not the tidiest person, and organization has only become important to me in recent years because of the growing number of people who live in my house. Decluttering has become a necessary survival skill. Eight people living (and learning and making and eating) in a house can be a quick recipe for mayhem. It is simply not a choice to forego decluttering at regular intervals if I want to have any sense of order here.

In the past, clutter has been a source of shame for me. I am well aware that organization is not my forte, and have had a dramatic relationship with clutter for a lot of years. The constant, persistent, unending clutter cycle is at the top of my list for “things that make me frustrated”, and I have gone through cycles of ignoring it for as long as possible, followed by manic episodes of tearing apart every corner of the house–trying to purge unwanted stuff and not allowing anyone touch, play with, or make anything if it meant making a big mess to do it.

I have made a lot a progress in this area over the years. I don’t have any magic-bullet secrets for you, but I’ll share a few of the things that get me through.

Remembering my priorities and the purpose of my home helps me approach clutter and household organization with new eyes and intention.

I’m not a fan of perfectly organized homes at the expense of real-life lived with love, connection, and teamwork within the family. For me, remembering my priorities for family harmony help me both dig in to the decluttering process when its needed, and let it go when its not. My motivation is to hold the purpose of our home in high esteem, and all the effort I make to declutter and organize my home in light of that is made on purpose, not out of obligation or fear of the judgement of others.

Small steps toward order really make a difference. 

I see my household spaces a little bit like my refrigerator that can store what I put there for a time, but must eventually be inspected, cleaned out, and refreshed for the next items that need the space. When I take care of one small thing, that is one less thing left to do, and when I purpose to take a small step at a time, I don’t feel so overwhelmed by the larger need/project/task. Starting somewhere is the very thing that gets you places.

I try my best to deal with clutter matter of factly instead of getting caught up in clutter-drama.

I already know that I have to tackle the clutter monster at my house on a daily basis in order to create space for us to learn together, eat together, and rest together. I set micro-goals for myself to accomplish as I’m able (10 minutes on a timer with music in a particular space, one bigger organization project per week, etc) and find that knowing my organization/decluttering goals are met for the week help me continue making progress without allowing this stuff to hijack my other priorities. If I start getting discouraged, excessively frustrated, and less-than-kind with my kids about it, I will set everything down and come back to it when I have shed the drama. Most often, these are the times I’ll pack up and head to the park where there are lovely trees overhead and laughing children—all at a distance from me so I can clear my mind.

If I’m decluttering a room, I work from the perimeter and sweep or move everything into the center of the room where it can be seen. 

My kids know that when the pile starts forming, it is their job to find like items in it and put them together and/or put them away. On the spot, someone gets assigned lego (since there are lego bricks in literally every room of my house at all times), someone gets assigned recycleable items and prowls around with a paper grocery bag to get all the recycling into it, someone takes on shoes and laundry, etc. This real-time teamwork provides us a good amount of momentum, supplies an opportunity for the kids to work together and encourage each other, and has been more effective for me than assigning specific chores to individual children to be completed separately. It also makes clean up time last about 10 minutes when it would easily take me an hour by myself.

If I’m decluttering a closet, pantry, or closed container, I find a staging area and dump everything out where it can be seen. 

Then I instruct the kids to go through the same process of sorting and returning things to their proper places, with a heavy emphasis on things that go in the donate pile or trash bag. These are often the “once-a-week” deeper projects I engage, and once one is done for the week, I turn my attention to other things until the next week. I feel like this process keeps it manageable for me

Clutter seems to have the biggest hold when I don’t see it for what it is: stuff that takes up space but has no place or purpose in my home.

I find it easier to say goodbye to what is unnecessary when I can look at it and realize that it serves no purpose other than to make more work for me. No thanks, and out it goes!

What are some ways that you put clutter in its place? I’d love to hear your wisdom on this topic.

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

The Purpose of Home

Welcome friends.

This is day 9 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first week of the series can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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What is the purpose of home? It may seem obvious, but I think its a worthwhile question. After all, home is more than walls and rooms, floors and ceilings. If it were merely a building to keep some things in and some things out, we wouldn’t differentiate homes from any other building.

But home isn’t just any other building. It is a particularly special place where some understated-but-important things happen on a daily basis. To illustrate, I compiled a list of what home is—some from my own sentiments of what home is or ought to be, and some from a few close friends who weighed in for me about what they believe the purpose of home to be. I hope some will resonate with you and assist in the process of helping you to soulfully-simplify your home for the benefit of your family.

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Home is a refuge. It is a place of comfort and rest; a sanctuary and soft place to land.

Home is a place of worship. It is a holy space where I engage ordinary tasks as a demonstration of gratitude for what God has given into my care.

Home is a greenhouse. It is a carefully curated environment intended to nurture, support, and develop the character of little ones into honorable, upright men and women.

Home is a kitchen. It is a place where hearts and bellies are filled with goodness, and where our table becomes a gathering place to offer my family gifts that nourish their bodies and their souls.

Home is a workshop. It is where we build a life together, fusing memories and shared experiences into a bond of lasting love for one another.

Home is a place for hospitality. It is a place where insiders and outsiders alike are welcomed in, are seen and heard, and generously poured into with attention and care.

Home is a garden. It is a place that has a season for planting, a season for blooming, and will one day produce a harvest revealing what is sown there.

Home is a workplace. It is a place I must show up to daily, ready to work diligently on mundane tasks that establish and preserve the peace of my household.

Home is an anchor. It is a place that reminds me of what is important, and acts as a hub to return to when adventures and seasons come to an end.

Home is a dance party. It is a place to sing at the top of my lungs, dance silly with my wide-eyed littles, and scoop them up for whimsical twirls and cuddles.

Home is a heart. It is the place that pumps life to the family, and a place that—when deeply damaged—is difficult to heal from.

Home is a family. It is where we all invest in each other, journey together, and sharpen each other. It is where we grow, learn, forgive, and laugh together through everything we experience.

Home is sacred. It is a essential space that serves to grow, nourish, and strengthen a family. Clarifying the purpose of your home will help you know how to best spend your energy in it.

“We have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-8

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Stillness and Silence

This is day 7 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October! If you missed the first week of the series, you can check it out here. Thanks for taking the time to spend a few minutes here.

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There was a time that I was very uncomfortable with silence. Anytime there was an open space in my day without noise, I would franticly rush around to figure out how to fill it. I could turn the tv on. Flip on some music. Call a friend on the phone. Call another friend on the phone. Anything to rescue me from the cavernous loneliness I felt when there was an open, unfilled space and I might have no other choice but to face heartaches I was not ready to fully engage.  Anything to keep me from falling into the black abyss of fear feeling anxious thoughts and having to be honest with myself about how much I distrusted the goodness and love of God for me. Anything to put my attention on a task or pursuit that I felt would prove my worth, usefulness, knowledge, or give me the feeling that I was in control of everything in my life. I craved noise, momentum, forward progress because I couldn’t bear quiet, stillness, or the very real-to-me possibility that if I engaged my heartaches honestly, I might never recover from the trauma of it.

Due to circumstances outside of my control, I found myself living in a new state, as a new young first-time mom, married to a husband pre-occupied with starting grad school and no personal contacts to speak of. My firstborn daughter was a month old, and I was alone with her for hours a day while she slept in her bassinet in our mostly-bare third-floor apartment that contained only a few hand-me-down furnishings from our college lives. There was one extra tall pine tree in our entire complex, and it happened to be right outside my living room—reminding me of my pacific northwest roots, the eternal Los Angeles sun shining warmly through its branches.

Simple times, they were. It was as if God moved the pieces of my life around in such a way that I could not escape the silence, could not run from His invitation to be still and quiet and discover a whole new way of living that (I didn’t know at the time) would bring about the most radical healing within me that I could ever have imagined. It was there that He invited me to discover how wide, deep, and great His love is. It was there that I first heard Him whisper desperately-needed peace to my soul.

In the stillness, He mended my wounds. In the silence, He spoke life to my dry bones and made me come alive with new hope and new joy. In the empty space, He filled me with good things that cannot ever be taken from me.

In my surrender to His will, He refashioned my perspective of what it means to live well, to live for a purpose beyond myself, and to embrace the miracles He wants to do in my life.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13

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*Special thanks to Lea Turner for featuring my essay about perspective on her blog today.

I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Tune In to Your Heart

This is day 6 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October! If you missed the first few posts in the series, you can check them out here. Thanks for taking the time to spend a few minutes here.

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If you and I were sitting across from each other at a table in a coffee shop, I would try my very best to throw out a few small talk questions for courtesy, but the real thing on my mind (and more likely the first thing out of my mouth) would be, “How is your heart?”

I know, it’s kind of a weird question to lead with, but it is honestly the one I care most about. Most women I know operate at a disparity—giving of themselves in different ways to everyone around them day in and day out often without being truly refreshed and rejuvenated to continue. With all the pouring out, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that everything we give to others has to come from somewhere.

Soulful simplicity is not a one-size-fits all pursuit. It is a series of decisions that hopefully lead you to what is good and life-giving in the midst of your real life, and at the center of all of that is your heart; the place where life flows from. If your inner-heart is neglected, you spend all your time scraping and striving to find something, anything, to offer your sweet-faced children when they come to you for a dose of love, or your husband when he vulnerably reaches out for connection and affirmation. So often, women are in a position where they have to be the steam-power that propels a household forward, but if you have no steam, it is no wonder you feel overwhelmed, discouraged, and a bit like you don’t know who you are anymore.

Proverbs 4:23 (NLT) says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”

I’m not sure which version it comes from, but many years ago I learned this verse as, “Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.”

The very beginning of soulful simplicity has to begin where these springs bubble up from within you. It is a tender, vulnerable place that needs a hedge of protection around it to allow you even a small amount of space to tend your heart, whatever condition it might be in.

Some people call this self-care. I have trouble with that word, only because in my experience, it is not I who care for myself, but God who cares for that space deep within when I come close to Him through prayer and study of the Bible. That is where I find an unexplainable deep sense of refreshing, and fuel for all the things I have on my plate. I’m cool with all the other self-care things—watch a favorite show, or draw yourself a nice bubble bath, or pour a glass of wine to decompress—but don’t stop short and tend only to your physical exhaustion. Recognize that your heart needs also needs encouragement and relief from the burdens you carry from time to time.

As women, our identity is so easily buried under all the roles we take on, the hats we wear, and the expectations we meet. We are prone to fall into a false belief that our value is contingent on our achievement or productivity.

I want you to pause today, and recognize that you are valuable just as you are, before all that you put your hand to. 

As an infinitely valuable person, you are worthy of the investment of a few minutes each day, or a few hours each week, to check in with the status of your heart and find a way to breathe out the heaviness that weighs on you and breathe in new inspiration, new encouragement, and a new vision for what is in front of you…even if that means your kids spend a little time in front of the tv or whatever other method you can come up with to keep them safe while you tend to your heart. The thing is for this to work, you have to quit going to Facebook to fill the lonely spaces. You have to quit turning the house upside down for chocolate to satisfy the deep longings you’ve yet to have fulfilled. You have to quit shaming your husband for not being everything you think you need him to be. Go to God. He is the only One who can bring you the peace, relief, and vision you are desperate for.

I heard somewhere recently that it is not possible to have grace for yourself. If you have to have grace for yourself, that is just one more thing you have to generate from your empty well.

Instead of having grace for yourself, recognize that God offers His grace (of which He has a great abundance) and all you have to do is receive the grace that is afforded to you.

So, sisters, if you recognize that your well is empty, and you have been plodding on with the weight of all things on your shoulders, open your hands (or your heart, as it were) and let God offer you the grace that He is so eager to give you.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Examine the Culture of Your Home

This is day 5 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October! If you missed the first few posts in the series, you can check them out here. Thanks for taking the time to spend a few minutes here.

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What is the culture of your home? Have you ever stepped back to see how everyone interacts with each other, how your home systems work (or don’t work) for the benefit of all, or who sets the overall tone of your home throughout the day? Is there peace, or discord? Are your kids happy to help or apathetic about contributing their efforts to the household? Is there effective communication between family members, or is everyone disjointed and disconnected?

These are a few of the questions I ask when it seems like we’ve gotten off the tracks at our house. Family culture is closely related to the pursuit of simplicity within the home because if the culture, systems, and relationships in your home are full of frustration, disconnection, and distraction, all of the above will have a significant impact on what kind of success you can hope for in pursuit of soulful simplicity.

In the course of my journey, I have recognized that my own attitude is the single biggest factor in the current condition/culture of our home. I happen to be the at-home parent, and as such, have the greatest amount of influence regarding the tone of our home. When I am engaged, patient, and providing adequate leadership to my kids, I can gain a lot of ground in many different areas. When I am tired, distracted, annoyed, or impatient…it doesn’t go as well.

When I first discovered this pattern, it wasn’t my favorite realization. I wanted to blame the chaos of our lives on everything and everyone else, and learning how to take responsibility for the role I played was not all that fun because it meant that I had to figure out how to stay on target a lot more of the time. As I have journeyed forward, however, I am glad for the gentle and patient nudges from God to slow down, dig deep, and give the best of myself to my family–whatever that happens to look like at any given time. For me, taking this role seriously means I look for strategic ways to boost the morale among my children, sow encouragement into their hearts and teach them how to do the same for their siblings, smooth out household systems that may not be working for us, and make sure I’m communicating well with my husband so we can stay on the same page.

A peaceful home is never a coincidence, it is an intentional and multi-faceted pursuit.

I want to put a few strategic ideas out there that may help you wherever you are in the process of nurturing your family toward soulful simplicity.

Give your kids opportunities to show you how capable they are. 

I look for ways to help my kids discover what they are capable of and hold them accountable to their ability. In practice, this means I include them in household tasks as appropriate. My current two year old does quite a few chores alongside me. She isn’t an independent helper yet, but I invite her to join me in what I’m doing and there is rarely a time that she chooses not to willingly contribute her effort because she loves feeling included, and she loves being useful. Within time, she will be able to do these tasks without my help. This contributes to peace within our home because little hands are busy with constructive things, and the help really does amount to a lighter load for me, especially when all the kids help in the various ways they are able.

Cultivate connection and communication with each member of your family, and I would add, cut out whatever you have to in order to preserve both of these things.

I often tell my kids out loud, “You are an important part of our family,” and I thank them for their specific contributions in household tasks. I think children thrive on feeling a sense of purpose within a family system, and when I affirm the value of their work, and recognize the effort they put into including and encouraging their siblings, it bolsters their internal motivation to continue developing those habits. This process does require time and patience, but the investment produces a great return if you stick with it. If your schedule is so full that you are feeling disconnected from each other, make a change. Build space into your week that is scheduled just for connecting and conversation.

Whenever it is possible, work, play, and rest together as a family.

Time together is priceless, whether it is work, play, or rest. One of my favorite recent memories of my crew happened while all of us were sorting and folding a huge mountain of clean laundry together. I don’t remember how it got started but someone started laughing about something and before long, we were all laughing our way through the pile. Absolutely the most fun I’ve ever had doing laundry. One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is your presence…both your physical presence and your attention. You don’t have to be doing “fun” stuff at all times. You can invite them into your tasks, projects, dreams and rest, and see your family culture take on a new facet as you work together in the same direction.

“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NASB

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Surprise Summer

The summer, warm and healing, arrived without fanfare, and established a comfortable presence without drama or angst or the always striving that pulses through my veins. Like usual, I was planning to take summer by storm, muscle my household into order, and make the most of every day with some very specific expectations. I didn’t quite expect the peace. I certainly wasn’t looking for it. I was on a road with a heavy load over my shoulder — the responsibility to mother six little people and fill them with whatever good things I could scrape up from the bottom of my own barrel. Summer came, and I don’t know how it circumvented my tight grip on the possibilities for these months, but I found myself seated in a collapsible camp chair in the shade of a big tree, watching my children climb and run, play and discover without me for hours on end — my burden laid down and peace sinking in. We did a lot of nothing that was delightfully everything; hours in open spaces playing, jumping, running, in neon park shirts so mama could spy them from a distance while nursing a chunky love of a baby.

Bright and mild June days set the stage for a summer full of connection, drawing deep from a well of peace, and countless tiny realizations that amount to a total awakening within my heart to a pace and a life that I would never have chosen off the shelf, but embrace with all my heart now that I understand. Some things don’t make sense until you’re holding them. Babies. Ideas. Life-callings. Wholeness that I never thought I would experience quite like this. Every time I think I’m at a whole place, I discover yet another layer of sweetness that comes from trusting God with every detail and every day, relaxing into the reality that so many things I want to control are ultimately up to Him and not me.

We spent many days out of the house. I have always been the stay-in type, probably because I made outings more complicated than they needed to be, and also because many small children of a certain age are quite a challenge to herd in the same direction. I developed a system that involves a kit of items that stayed in the car all summer: 2 strollers, a collapsible wagon, 5 collapsible camp chairs, and a zip-up beach blanket. Every time we went to the park, I would unfurl the above campsite, invite friends to join, and play/chat/eat for sometimes 4 or 5 hours on a given day. It was comfortable, easy, restful. The mobile kids wore their neon park shirts, and all I had to do was count the dots around the park every few minutes and dish out the food when they came around with grumbling tummies. The other part of our system relied on a packing cube that I refilled daily with diapers, clothes for the baby, and sunscreen, and a large packed lunch with water for everyone that could last us all day if we wanted it to.

We did nature walks in various places — intentionally taking notice of plants, wildlife, insects and other natural things, and the kids sketched things on drawing pads with colored pencils. We visited the library a dozen different times and picked up whatever books interested them, and they read on everything from soccer to crochet to adventurous classics. In the hottest months, we went to splash parks and wading pools in the area, and the kids would come home and make projects from the recycling bin, draw, and play. My two older boys caught the sewing bug from their oldest sister and spent hours stitching different haphazardly cut out fabric pieces together to make bags, and stuffed animals, and other randomness. Both are eager to start using a sewing machine, which I won’t allow them to do until they have achieved a level of mastery with hand-sewing that warrants such a promotion. That yet-out-of-reach reality keeps them both experimenting, tediously stitching, and gaining skills that are not typical of boys these days but make me smile.

It wasn’t until part way through the summer I realized I set everything else down to be fully present with the kids. It wasn’t on-purpose, but more of a grace that landed on me. I didn’t write. I didn’t take pictures with my big camera. I didn’t jam our schedule full of urgent things that weren’t important. Instead, I sat still at the parks and pools while they played, watching, listening, pondering, and privately processing the transition into this new season of having six kids in my care. I am in love with them. They are the sweetest, dearest children I can imagine knowing. My desire to be faithful to this mothering task has grown as my heart swells with love for each of them, and I recognize that there are many, many things that threaten to clutter the precious years we have together.

With the arrival of every new baby, I have learned that our family enters a new season that is full of unexpected turns and surprises — some unexpectedly challenging, and some unexpectedly wonderful. It is like we, as a family, are all new again. As a mother, I am all new again. I’m learning that to cease striving does not mean to cease doing. There is plenty to do, trust me. I am doing all the doing, but with a deep understanding that faithfulness is all that God is calling me to. Be faithful to slow down. Faithful to simplify. Faithful to be present and engaged in these years that are very short and will be gone before I know it. Be faithful to do whatever needs to be done without complaint because whatever challenges I face in the day, they are signs of the great an abundant blessing I have received and are worth every ounce of effort I put toward making this life beautiful for those God has entrusted to my care.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

1261. unexpectedly restful summer, 1262. close-to-mobile baby with a sweet personality, 1263. sunflowers and what they mean to me, 1264. loving new-to-my-repertoire vegetables, 1265. fruitful book and bible studies with friends, 1266. figuring out how weekly rhythms really work for me, 1267. charlotte mason education and the lovely philosophy of protecting the wonder of childhood in learning together, 1268. provision for every need, 1269. sweetness of friendships, 1270. new vision for fall and forward

On This Day

*written on our eleventh anniversary on 7/16/16

On this day eleven years ago, I woke to a cloud of a wedding dress hanging by the window—the skirt, billowy tulle, and the bodice, intricately beaded. I didn’t bother to have it properly fitted, because no one told me I should, and with my college student wedding budget, I had insisted on buying a gown I could take home off the rack. It was perfect to me just as it was, and two little safety pins worked wonders on the slightly-too-long straps. The cloud skirt was a touch long, but I proudly hiked it up or outsourced it to my groom at certain times throughout the day and he didn’t seem to mind. We were on the clouds together, declaring our vows to one another in front of everyone we knew.

All-in, for whatever might await us.

On this day ten years ago, we ate outside at a seafood spot on the Seattle waterfront — me with a giant watermelon-belly, and my husband with a twinkle in his eye, hoping I would go into labor at any moment so he could finally see the little girl he had been longing to meet for months. Two days later, my water broke spontaneously on the carpet of our bedroom, not long after he had been playfully heckling me about why I wasn’t in labor yet. Our sweet firstborn daughter would be born less than four hours after that, kicking off a new, exciting, and humbling season of parenthood that would forever change us both.

All-in, for whatever might await us.

On this day nine years ago, I was bursting with news that we were expecting our second baby together. The first year of parenthood had proved to be enjoyable enough to warrant a second round. Our firstborn—a year old—toddled about with the wide-eyed wonder she still has to this day, enjoying to its very fullest all that life offers. Her untamable curls matched her free spirit and that year we grew each other in untold ways. She catalyzed my rediscovery of joy and beauty which I had struggled to see during my earlier years of depression and wrestling with God, opening and mending a wounded heart that spent too many years closed off to freedom. We often skipped and danced around in our living room together.

All-in, for whatever might await us.

On this day eight years ago, we had two little people – a mini-me and a mini-daddy. The little guy at three months old was just starting to pack on the signature rolls of Allen babies. More than smitten with her little brother, sister often crouched near where he lay in the round curve of a Boppy nursing pillow, surrounding him with stuffed animals of every variety, and employing whatever antics necessary to get a giggle out of him. I knew in my heart then that he had a lion-heart just like is dad. The four of us braved a couple of lean years in the heart of the city of Angels while daddy worked toward his graduate degree and I sorted out some of my identity as a mother and frustrated artist.

All-in for whatever might await us.

On this day seven years ago, I was round with a second boy-child, feeling the heat with swollen ankles and a weariness known only by moms very pregnant in the sizzling summer months of southern California. My heart was full and growing fuller, even though another baby at this moment wasn’t my plan and would not have been my timing. Sometimes God ignores our plans and instead directs our steps in a way that will ultimately bring out the best things we never would have chosen without a nudge. A wrinkle in my ideal turned into a blessing that I would never give up. Later that year, we moved north with our new son and two toddlers back to the only place that felt like home—Seattle—without a home or a job to count on.

All-in, for whatever might await us.

On this day six years ago, we were just starting to settle in to the first and only single-family home we have ever lived in together — a quirky off-white house of considerable square footage, mismatched flooring in every room, and more space than we knew what to do with. Our firstborn fittingly called it “our castle” and it truly was. I swept the floor feeling overwhelmingly grateful for the gift of this space and the sparse furniture that couldn’t have filled even one room in the house, but was all we had at the time. We made the ends meet with a creative combination of jobs between the two of us—our roots reaching down into the damp Seattle soil where things grow lush and lovely. We leaned hard into grace and into each other to bring it all together.

All-in, for whatever might await us.

On this day five years ago, we found ourselves the new owners of a sparkly white minivan, an unexpected blessing that preceded the discovery that we would be welcoming a fourth child into our family. For a few years, we had been driving a sedan with three car seats in the back (looking something like sardines in a can), but on a cloudy afternoon, someone took off in the sedan and we never saw it again. I walked through the lot where I had parked it, in disbelief that our car had really been stolen, and quite aware that we were not in a position to replace it. It seemed like an impossible situation. That month, I learned about trusting that God will meet my needs, which He always does, and I keep wondering why that surprises me every time. We spent weeks looking for the right new vehicle with strikeout after strikeout because of budget constraints or a vehicle’s questionable condition. In a story of far-too-many incredible details, we ended up with a van that we couldn’t have afforded, except that at the perfectly right time, some friends unexpectedly sent a substantial check in the mail as a free-and-clear gift that made it possible for us to purchase the van we have now been driving for five years. It was only a week later that I found out we were expecting another baby. The van was a need, a gift, and a comfort for us as we marched into new territory as a family.

All-in, for whatever might await us.

On this day four years ago we had our hands full with four beautiful children, two boys and two girls, and we decided at the time that our family was complete. Rather unexpectedly, daddy got a new job that perfectly fit the needs of our crew and launched him in a new career direction, prompting a change in my role around the house. It was a gentle, but important shift for me. I had been mothering for six years, but truthfully, I resisted the role and title of homemaker the entire time. I loved my kids, but I did the bare minimum it took to manage the household because I despised all the mundane tasks it involved. We had always equally shared the household load, and I liked it that way, but my husband’s career shift meant a number of things had to change. I could choose otherwise, but wisdom said to me, “Invest yourself. Dig in and do the work of a homemaker with your whole heart, and see if it does not bring about immeasurable blessing.” So I tried, and over time have found that promise to be true. We still work together as we always have, but it strikes me funny that we are now in oddly traditional roles, even though we both had always been averse to them before.

All-in, for whatever might await us.

On this day day three years ago, we traded our certainties about family size for a little more adventure with the announcement of yet another pregnancy – one fraught with unexpected challenges and turns, but one that would bring us surpassing joy in total surrender to God’s will for our lives. Months later, we welcomed a fierce little force of nature whose name means, “life of favor and joy”. Our daughter’s entrance into the world profoundly marks the place in my life where fear (which once held me by the throat) would no longer rule me, and it doesn’t.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4

All-in, for whatever might await us.

On this day two years ago, we looked around at our once large and sparsely decorated house to see that it was truly filled to the brim with love and children. We filled up that white van with car seats in every available space and added mountains of wrappers, papers, jackets, and random trinkets to the van floor—evidence of the adventures of a big family.

All in for whatever might await us.

On this day one year ago, we celebrated ten years of marriage—a decade of loving, laughing and growing together—with the announcement that yet another child would be joining our family. He is a little boy that now lights up our lives in this present time that we celebrate our eleven years together. We have learned about giving everything we’ve got to love each other well. We have learned to laugh often, to forgive readily, to believe the best in each other, and to live with wide-open hands to receive God’s great gifts and surprises when they come.

All in, for whatever might await us.

Digging Deep

My thoughts leap from one extreme to another. Meal plan for a week. Grocery list to accompany it. Unspeakable horrors going on around the world. Perishables stowed away in their nooks of the small refrigerator that somehow serves to sustain us through a week despite its tiny size. Tomorrow’s to-do list. Friend over 42 weeks pregnant with several failed attempts at natural induction methods, currently unresponsive to texts. I hope it is because she is currently (and safely) delivering, but I don’t know. I try not to be anxious for her, but I know the space of last days before receiving a baby in arms. The discomfort, the feelings, and the anxious thoughts are all so familiar to me. I turn on the music that got me through my own recent labor, and it plunges me deep into thought and prayer, which lands me here, a space I haven’t been able to visit for quite some time. The dishes need my attention, as they always do, but I am putting them off, as I often have to do in order to tend to more important things.

(from the first week in May)

The house has become still with little heads on their pillows and a round baby rocking in the swing. Our little home, a sanctuary and a greenhouse; the place where little seedlings get their start under shelter and a watchful eye. Heavy and light at once, I am tangled in a mess of joy and crushing responsibility to nurture and prune, to encourage and correct with love, to proactively intervene and simultaneously get myself out of the way. There is a lot of doing. The plate is over-full with bounty and goodness, and with it comes the task of helping everyone find their place, find their hearts, find their way, making room for and fiercely protecting childhood in a world that barely affords it to even the youngest ones.

The big picture is too much to see, so I do everything I can to put my mind on what is now, to turn my eyes square on Jesus. What are the must-do things right now? What are the real challenges before me after sifting through the busy noise? What are the true words I can turn over and over in my mind to remind me that in every moment of diligence and sacrifice, there is much to gain? It is easy to despair, but imperative to hold tight to hope, and essential to take hold of joy in the midst of the digging deep.

Why is it that the things that matter require everything I have to give? Because love means sacrifice. In giving everything, I learn to recognize beauty in places I previously missed it…in the small and ordinary, and sometimes even difficult things. In simplicity, static is shoved out of the way, and I can hear the distant, dangling wind chimes.

***

Some time ago I disabled comments throughout this blog for personal reasons. They are now back, if you care to leave a note on any entries going forward. Old entries are still closed. Thanks for visiting.

“Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven. Your faithfulness continues throughout all generations; You established the earth, and it stands.” Psalm 119:89-90

1231. music for the heart, 1232. gentleness and companionship of my sweet husband, 1233. rhythms that make the engine run, 1234. the not-terrible part of twos, 1235. moderate weather and pnw beauty, 1236. when healing happens in achy places, 1237. new shoes for new miles, 1238. turning wheels, 1239. tight squeezes around the neck, 1240. moving forward

The Tender Weeks

The weeks after birth are interesting. They are a blur of disrupted sleep, healing from the physicality of birth, navigating wildly unpredictable emotions, encountering new challenges, and adjusting to the shifting family dynamics—something that happens with the arrival of every baby whether its baby one, baby two, or baby six. I find the whole thing to be something like an obstacle course run with a blindfold on. There are tumbles and bruises and feeling wildly lost while I’m bumbling along, but there are also sweet, tender, intimate hours of bonding with my new little person and discovering new things about the resilience and abilities of my other kids.

Sometimes I have to laugh at how silly it all is. I am a mother of six children. How did we get here? How did they get here? It has been a blink and a journey all at once.

I am filled with wonder at the beauty of life, at the gift of children, at the untold glories of being a mom. I am also up to my ears in the ocean of newborn-and-lots-of-other-kids’ needs while trying to physically and emotionally recover from childbirth myself.

A few nights ago, I conversed with a sweet friend who gave birth to her fifth child, also at home, about two weeks after my little guy’s birth. She recounted her arduous natural labor, her tender first days afterward, and the struggle to process both the beauty and terror of her experience. I resonated with every last word even though I have already started to forget. It has only been five weeks, but the memory of the most horrible parts of labor are already fuzzy. I’m still tender, for sure, but I am healing—thanks to the generous support of the community around me. There have been meals, gifts, prayers, helpers, and maybe most importantly, listening ears.

Four days old

The conversation reminded me about how incredibly important it is for women to process their birth experiences in the weeks and months following—for their own inner healing. This is true for mamas who experience unexpected trouble during the birth process and those who experience heartbreaking losses, but I also think it is important for mamas who have a normal labor and a perfectly healthy child in their arms afterward. I know for me, with special regard to my unmedicated labors, the births were beautiful, but they were also traumatic. Being able to share the story (sometimes again and again) with trusted friends, to acknowledge the hard parts for what they were, and to give voice to the fears I fought against in order to welcome my child into the world make all the difference in my well-being post-partum. Talking about the pain and the fear somehow lessens their hold on my long-term memory, and helps me move forward into wholeness.

I think maybe this goes for other parts of life too. Sometimes talking about the hard things we’ve been through makes a way for healing to find its way into deep places. If something comes to your mind when you read that, maybe you could use a compassionate friend to listen to your story? If there is anything I will always make time for, it is this very thing. If that is where you’re at, ring me anytime, or find a trustworthy person to share with. It is important. You are important.

“When God our Savior revealed His kindness and love, He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:4-5

1221. glorious sunshiny days, 1222. park adventures with six, 1223. our collapsible wagon that makes park days possible, 1224. time with friends that fills me up, 1225. surviving birthday month, 1226. baby smiles that started Easter morning, 1227. some longer sleep stretches, 1228. new (free) cabinet for storage, 1229. successful writing time, 1230. new tunes

Victorious: A Birth Story

*This is an account of the birth of our newest sweet son. It is intensely personal, not especially graphic, but may not be of interest to all readers.

The way I get through difficult experiences is to let true words ring in my ears over and over, helping me to focus my mind on what is true instead of what I am afraid of. My soul considers words carefully, repeatedly turning them over like a rock in a pocket; worries rubbed right out against the smooth and even surface of true things. I draw in deep breaths, hoping the air I take in will displace the angst that ominously threatens to rule me.

In sitting position, I listen intently and rock gently with closed eyes. Music pours quietly from the tiny speaker on my phone beside me, straight into my soul, strengthening me through increasingly intense waves of pain. Contractions started suddenly only minutes ago, but they are already full-force and close together. I can’t handle sensory input from anywhere else, so I shut everyone out of my laboring space and give myself to the process and the music. I am strong, but tender. I am ready, but uneasy. I am well aware of the work ahead.

I know my husband is preparing the delivery space just outside the door from where I am, which is little more than a twin mattress on the floor, properly made up to receive a struggling, laboring woman, a new child, and the fluids that go with. It’s a humble stage, but somehow comforting as such. He flurries around trying to piece things together without a road map, and I feel his excitement after waiting long weeks and months to meet his new son. For the sometimes gruff exterior, the man has a beautiful soft heart for his children.

I hear the midwives arriving. I can’t open my eyes, but I start to cry when they reach me. I am relieved to have skillful, compassionate women at the ready to help me through what I know will be a trauma even as it is a gift. I hear my sweet sister-friend arrive at nearly the same time as the midwives, ready to help our older kids upstairs settle into their temporary bed on the fold-out sofa mattress. She whispers excitedly that she will take care of everything upstairs. I can’t acknowledge her in that moment, but I feel a deep sense of gratitude for her willingness to drop everything and come straight over to help in the small but essential ways she does.

The midwives set up their supplies and check in on me. I answer questions when I am able, and I resolve to not brush away the doppler they put on my belly to hear the little one’s heart rate every so often, even though its almost a reflex to wave it away. The music continues, and I sway and rock in rhythm, deeply focused on overcoming each excruciating contraction, which continue to come with vigor.

Every so often my phone dings with a message from the friends that know I am laboring. I don’t read them until later, but I find strength in the sound of them coming, knowing the content is prayers and encouraging words sent my way.

At the peak of the discomfort, I want to crumble. Each contraction is so difficult to manage, and they fall so close together, I have very little relief. I dig for the grit in my bones to press forward, to open and surrender instead of bracing against the pain. In one moment I can do it. I am convinced. In another, I sink low, tense up my shoulders and hope that someday this agony will end. After a minute of angsty pause and counting slow breaths out, the pain lightens for a moment, only to begin again a moment later.

The music lifts me in the perilous moments of struggle.

“I will trust here in the mystery, I will trust in You completely,” and I choose to trust again at the start of each contraction.

“Let the weary rise, lift their eyes to see Your love crushing every lie, every doubt and fear.” I am aware that while I tremble, I am overcoming my fears in real time. I am doing it. I am breathing through it. I am moving through it.

“With Your breath in me, I will worship.” I realize anew that worship in distress is perhaps the most effective way to overcome. It doesn’t help to try and hide, disengage, complain, or cower from the trouble before me. Worship is a battle cry of perseverance through hard things.

“Hallelujah, hallelujah You are making all things new.” A new little person is on his way into our home. I am in so much pain, but so eager to see his face. I am so honored to have this task.

“You will lift my head above the mighty waves…and in my weakness You are the strength that comes from within.” I am reminded that the power of God is perfected in the weakness I feel acutely in these hours. He is sustaining me, upholding me in the moments I am sinking.

“You cause my faith to arise, stand at attention, for You are calling me to greater things.” I pour out every last bit of myself for this task, reserving nothing, giving all. Great love and great labor.

“How I love you, You have not forsaken me.” I feel the nearness of God–peace to steady me when everything physical within me is torrential. Somehow the brief space between the swells filled with calm and resolve.

“I am the wind in your sails.” I am convinced my sails are going to buckle and collapse, until a wind carries me forward in the very momentary relief between the close, intense contractions.

“It will be worth the risk you’re taking, what you make of this moment changes everything.” Once I see this boy, my life will never be the same. I know my son will be in my arms soon, even though time slogs along agonizingly slower than usual.

I replay the songs again and again as labor progresses over the course of two and half hours, clinging to the words more fervently with the escalation of pain.

It all starts to feel impossible, like the pain will never end. The baby will never come out. I will never open my eyes again, and I cannot remember what not-pain feels like.

The water breaks and I break too. It is all so much.

Somehow we get to the mattress outside the door, the midwives, my husband, and me. I am having an out of body experience, hearing myself scream and feeling contortions of my body that I cannot control, my eyes still tightly closed. I know nothing except the strong arms that keep me from breaking apart…the arms of my husband who is heroically holding me through the last frightful minutes. I am terrified. I am screaming. I am frozen.

And then he is there. My heart and womb spilled out. I am broken and filled in the same moment. My son, whose name means victorious, is in my arms. With that, I am pleased to introduce you to the newest member of our family who was born in the late hours of a Friday evening at the end of February, about five days overdue. He weighed 10lbs 4oz, and measured 22 inches.

*The music referenced can be found here and is very worthy of a listen.