Rutherford in Paris

Rutherford in Paris

I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop. This morning’s flavor of music here is not my jam, so I’m glad I brought my headphones. I’m listening to jazz from Paris, dutifully caring for myself. Cliché, but here it is: when Louis Armstrong starts singing about chestnuts in blossom I smile. And I’m sitting beside the window on purpose so I can see the sky. I thought about not getting a latte, but this morning it was a wise choice.

Meanwhile, I’m reading Samuel Rutherford’s ebullient reflections on the loveliness of Christ and browsing essays by Marilynne Robinson, a decidedly Calvinist Christian, a dauntingly brilliant thinker, and a major literary figure of this generation. Rutherford says “Rest, with Christ, will say more than heart can think or tongue can utter,” and if that isn’t the truest thing I don’t know what is.

Lately when I get time to myself I spend it on maximum-strength rest. I need space in my head and my heart. Sometimes I can’t find it, and most of the time I can’t even look for it. I start to feel like I’m drowning. “Rest, with Christ” is oxygen. Yesterday I met my pastor at this same coffee shop and he reminded me of another Calvinist writer, John Newton, who wrote of the cordials Christ bestows on an infant heart hungering for the gospel. That’s why Rutherford went into my bag this morning.

On a morning when I wake up fighting my darkest sorts of feelings, which is it? Is it April in Paris, or is it the Loveliness of Christ? I’ve learned to listen to a lot of secular voices in my adulthood after a thoroughly Calvinist and Puritan childhood. I use these two descriptors rather unfairly, as anyone who lives within them will insist, but I use them in their stereotype-meanings. The poster I made in Sunday school, which my mom probably still has on her bedroom wall, reads “If heaven is our homeland, what else is this earth but our place of exile? –John Calvin.”

After I finish typing this I’ll drive across town to the behavioral health offices at the hospital in an ongoing, uphill attempt to be whole and happy. Christ, unmediated by common grace, simply could not effect this important aspect of wholeness no matter how much I were to devote myself to him. There, I said it: the Bible is not all you need.

But reading Rutherford reminds me that there are less secular methods of self care, and I know them too well to forget or reject them, even if they (like everything else) have potential pitfalls. Couldn’t I care for myself in no other way than “Christ’s cordials”? Rutherford’s sentences make me nod and wince in alternation. A poetic rejection of the world for the sake of love’s expression is good and even true. A life that doesn’t avail itself of April in Paris in this “place of exile” is foolish.

When I criticize myself via internal childhood voices for running to sources besides Christ for wholeness, joy, and rest, what I’m remembering this morning is that all those sources can be oriented within a Gerard Manley Hopkins-esque theology of creation that is as ebullient as are Rutherford’s love letters. Oriented this way, every little thing is valuable to my soul on a morning like this, from orange leather shoes and orange Italian latte cups to Newton, Rutherford, and Marilynne Robinson. It just isn’t either/or.

Ultimately, I can attest to the all-surpassing loveliness of Christ right along with Rutherford, because there is a place my heart goes that nothing else can cure, and Christ can cure it, oh! yes, he can. The best Christian spirituality is learning what it means to belong to him, and this is a school I try to attend, however distractable I may be.

The reality for Rutherford’s original audience was very different from my own. He was writing to friends in deep affliction and even persecution, sometimes writing from prison. Perhaps this is where his modern disciples risk mistranslating him: by reading him out of context. I could have all that I need if I had nothing but Christ, unmediated through Sacrament or sacrament, but that is not my context.

I, for one, will not entertain my own doubts about my faithfulness to Christ when I answer my hunger for creature comforts. This world is his and it is not evil or even unlovely. Everything is beautiful.



Holy Audacity: The Church as Christ’s Vice-Regents

Last Saturday morning I jumped in my van and pulled out of my driveway. Lately I’ve been introducing my kids to the tunes-of-choice of my college days, so Steven Curtis Chapman was cued up in our CD player. Track 4 started playing when I got in the car.

It’s all yours, God! Yours, God! Everything is yours!

I was driving toward a local shelter where I was to meet a desperate mother and her four young girls. Through Safe Families for Children, I had agreed to host two of them for a night.

I have my doubts in these moments. I am keenly aware of my privilege and my naivety. I am comparatively young, comparatively wealthy, and comparatively whole. My story reads like a fairy tale compared to the brokenness and devastation survived by many of the parents I meet through Safe Families. I imagine they must find me irritating. Maybe they groan to themselves about yet another Well-Intentioned Well-To-Do who thinks she holds the keys to hope. “As if she has a clue. As if she’ll care enough to go the distance.”

As I drove I wondered out loud: “Who do I think I am, going to get these girls like it’s just a regular Saturday morning? How is this my business? What gives me the right to waltz in offering my remedy? My relief?”

But Steven Curtis Chapman was still singing, and his worship reminded me of another lyric I sing to my kids often: “This is my Father’s world.”

This is my Father’s world.

Suddenly my heart was flooded with confidence. It wouldn’t be putting it too strongly to say I felt a sense of entitlement in that moment. “Holy audacity,” I heard myself say to the empty passenger seat beside me.

So I parked my van just a mile from my own house and walked to meet these struggling strangers. On behalf of my Father in heaven, I had work to do. In some sense, these girls belonged to me. Their mom belonged to me.

I believe that my identity in Christ (and more to the point, my identity as part of the Church, His Body) includes a right to ownership of the whole world. If “everything is Yours,” as Chapman sings, then it must be true that everything is mine, too. God has called His people to love the world on His behalf. He has called us to practice His kingdom.

I’m not saying we can achieve world peace and end world hunger by our efforts. We believe the Kingdom of Heaven is coming. Someday. But today, while we wait with hope, we enact that vision. Today we are Christ’s vice-regents, commissioned for the flourishing of His world.

I stood waiting to meet the little girls I was to take home and Meghan (our local director) began to wonder where the second host family could be. When they still hadn’t shown up fifteen minutes later Meghan called them, only to discover there’d been a mix-up and they were out of town, thinking their hosting was to be the following weekend.

Suddenly we had a situation on our hands, and any minute this mom was going to be walking through her doors with four little girls to hand off.

Steven Curtis Chapman must have gotten into my bloodstream in college, because I buckled all four of those little girls into my van twenty minutes later. I turned the key in the ignition and Track 5 began on cue:

It’s crazy when love gets ahold of you
It’s crazy things that love will make you do

I laughed.

I knew I could do anything for 30 hours, and I knew I would have support.

My husband was in the middle of painting our bathroom so I was on my own for the first few minutes as he finished up. I don’t remember much from that mayhem, but I remember playdoh on the bottom of shoes, mass-production of snacks, and six little people coloring at my dining room table. Suddenly I had seven kids, and my 5yo son was the oldest.

The other thing I remember distinctly is the number of attempts I made to send a single text message. After an hour of sheer pandemonium, I finally got it typed and sent.

And so began the unfolding of a most amazing day. The text was to Brad & Caroline Tubbesing, the directors of Reformed University Fellowship at Indiana University. I knew when I agreed to take all four girls home that I’d need help, and by the time I heard from Caroline I had little more to say than “Send back up.” I asked her to connect me with college students, and I told her I didn’t want their phone numbers, I wanted them on my doorstep ASAP.

Mike finished painting and we started suiting up to walk everyone to the park. At one point the door to the garage got opened and kids started escaping. Mike picked up one tiny person after another and set them back inside until he realized that no sooner would he reach for the next escape artist than the one he’d just retrieved would head back out the door. He called for help. “Babe, we’re hemorrhaging babies over here!”

By the time we’d set out with two kids on bikes, three kids in strollers, and a baby strapped to each of us, I’d started to get text messages from our College Student Fairies.

Elizabeth was the first responder. She was at Kroger and decided to pick up groceries for lunch. Just as we returned from the park she showed up at our door with fried chicken, watermelon, juice, cookies, and even flowers.

Brad himself showed up with his preschool-aged son to lend a hand while I escaped with my own daughter for our long-awaited ballet matinee.

At 4:00 Xinzhu showed up and helped while I started giving everyone baths. At 5:00 Matthias walked in and found me up to my elbows in shampoo. Xinzhu made rice. Matthias read stories. Luke arrived in time to help set the table. We all sat down to lentils and rice at 6:00 with four kids bathed and jammied and only three to go.

The kitchen was in quite a state. After dinner Luke ran Xinzhu home and returned to read stories, color, and generally offset the average household age. Matthias rolled up his sleeves and attacked the kitchen. He didn’t quit till it was sparkling. There wasn’t even rice under the table, and that’s saying something.

Around 9:00 Matthias and Luke left, promising to return in the morning to help caravan us to church since we’d be short on seatbelts. It was 10:00 before I’d finished settling the four sisters into our guest room. The 3yo fell asleep on my arm. The 2yo went from whirling dirvish to snoring angel in mere seconds. The baby wiggled around quietly in her crib. I told kitty stories with the 4yo in the dark and then escaped to attend to the laundry and set out seven church outfits, raiding my stash of outgrown girl clothes.

By this time three of our closest friends had gathered in our living room. This is not unusual in our house and I don’t know what their excuses were for showing up on that particular evening. But at midnight – as Tyler, Nicole, and Fr. Raymond stood in our basement folding a mountain of laundry – it was obvious to me that God hadn’t been finished chasing me down with the love of His people.

Sundays are always an ordeal for my family. My husband works as the organist at a local church. My kids and I worship with a different congregation. Mike leaves by 7:00 a.m. most Sundays and it’s my job to get the family out the door on my own. This particular week was no exception.

I have it down to a science after several years of practice. Still, it isn’t easy. And Sunday mornings are excruciating when I’m sleep-deprived.

After about three good hours of sleep I was standing in my kitchen slicing a very large collection of strawberries when it occurred to me that I was neither anxious nor stressed. If I’d had to make those breakfasts and pack those bags and dress those babies in a filthy kitchen and a house full of chaos I would’ve been a basket case. Instead I was at peace and there was only one explanation: Matthias.

Matthias cleaned my kitchen like it belonged to him. He had the holy audacity to step into my world and enact his vision of the Kingdom. While I was giving myself for the flourishing of these girls and their mom, he gave himself for my flourishing.

And it worked. I flourished.

We say often that it takes a village; but I think it’s more accurate to say it takes a church – an audacious community of vice-regents, working on Christ’s behalf for the flourishing of our Father’s world.

I understand Safe Families more now than I did before last weekend. It’s common for people in Safe Families to tag social media posts with #bethechurch. My understanding of our mission deepened as I found myself surrounded by Jesus’ hands and feet, held up by an audacious church as I ventured into My Father’s World with my own audacity.

Hopefully that single mom felt as much of Jesus on that weekend as I did while slicing strawberries in my clean kitchen. Hopefully she felt the embrace of our Heavenly Father, a whisper of the reality that (as Steven Curtis Chapman sings) He’s the Maker and Keeper, Father and Ruler of everything.

It’s all Yours.

All I Need Now Is a Three-Year-Old

As I sat nursing Joshua I started to laugh, and he giggled along with me as if he knew. I was taking inventory of what was on my plate, marveling at the ridiculous scenarios served up by our current life with a 5yo, 4yo, 2yo, and 1yo. For two weeks we are including an extra little boy in our family as part of the Safe Families for Children movement of Christian compassion and hospitality.

I’d just been discussing with my girlfriend why three years old is our least favorite age of all, so as I rocked Joshua I saw the humor in the irony: At least I don’t have a 3yo.

We celebrated our last day of Indian Summer by packing a picnic for the park. At 10:30 we set out with the two boys in the double jogger and the big kids on their bikes. A good time was had by all.

We got home sometime between 1:15 and 1:30. I don’t really have time to look at clocks at these sort of moments. Lucas had been near falling asleep in the stroller so I knew it was important to get him into bed ASAP. Also on my agenda were Joshua’s nap, a bath for Meredith, a piano lesson for Jacob, and a bowl of leftover curry. And leaving for my haircut at 2:00. Yeah, that was obviously an ambitious list.

I didn’t so much think in terms of what I could get done, just what needed to get done. It’s how I roll. It’s how I have to roll. I do my best and at the end of the day what’s left is left. I was in beast mode.

I started with a diaper change for Lucas where I discovered that what I thought from his whines was a rash turned out to be a diaper FULL of sand. So I carried his naked butt upstair to the tub and got it running. During this moment I learned that Meredith had had a poop accident on our way home and I vaguely noticed Joshua escape out the basement door, followed by Joshua. I left a naked Lucas in the tub and a naked Meredith on the potty and stuck my head out the kitchen door to see the boys playing together. I gravely charged Jacob with the job of staying right beside Joshua every second, and/or carrying him back inside, and then I raced to deal with the sand. I swapped out the bathwater and exchanged the clean boy for the grimy girl and took Lucas to his nap.

While we snuggled with a book Jacob and Joshua appeared at the door of the bedroom and I did my best to shoo them away, but Jacob had his own ideas and Joshua got to me before I could get a closed door between us. So now Joshua, dragged out by Jacob at my instruction, was standing on the other side of the door wailing, and Jacob came in (not at my instruction) to fetch his precious legos before the room was sealed with a napper. Joshua followed, and I did my best to snuggle a standing, weeping 1yo while rocking a drowsy, calming 2yo.

Merry’s unremitting hollers were my cue to tuck Lucas into his crib and I went up to hear her yelling “MOM! I DID A POOP!” with all the fury of a cold, wet 4yo sitting on a toilet feeling ignored. With her back in the tub I finally sat to nurse Joshua to sleep, after arguing with the 5yo once again when his reaction to my instruction to leave the room was to first hoard up all the toys he was playing with in his spilling arms, ignoring my commands to leave them – they were Joshua’s blocks anyway. He finally did my bidding and I went to find Joshua. I found him with his blankie dragging along the wet bathroom floor, watching Merry in the tub, where she was playing with a long section of French drain pipe he’d brought her from where it’d been under his crib. Because obviously. As I tok his hand to lead him to nap he tossed a bath toy into the potty, and I left it there.

There was a moment of peace before Jacob came back with a grin. “Mom, Lucas can open the door now.” We’d known his crib-climbing skills and accounted for them, but I figured if he got out of bed to cry at the door I could leave him five minutes while I put Joshua down. When Jacob explained he’d opened the door, peeked out, and closed it again, I decided to leave things as they stood. I heard no noise of crying or stair-climbing, so Lucas was not the most pressing need.

While I rocked Joshua I had to compete with Jacob’s amused panic and horror upon discovering the bath toy in the potty when I’d told him to go pee and get ready for his piano lesson. I hissed at him to go use the downstairs potty and wondered why a 5yo didn’t feel as calm about toys in the potty as I did.

So that’s when I started to laugh. When Joshua was in bed, I washed the Potty Toy and threw it back in the tub, and then went down to investigate. There was Lucas, disassembling Jacob’s legos, which he’d found on the floor right outside his room. He looked at me with guilty embarrassment and I hoisted him back into bed, where I stood with my hand on his back, “shhh”ing him to sleep. Meanwhile Mike arrived home and came in search of the van keys and we lip-read a conversation about their whereabouts. Lucas asleep, I went to execute the rest of the plan, with delusions about sitting down to write this story, too.

Curry, piano lesson, shampoo, and a minute to write my ridiculous tale. I sent Jacob to his piano lesson (he gets his books, kisses his mom, and walks out the door to his teacher’s house, while I set up the piano and prepare to answer the doorbell; it’s our ritual and I’d swear by it) and glanced at the clock. 1:55. I did the math. I ran out onto the back deck overlooking Mike and Tyler, who were unloading a truck-full of gravel, backfilling the new retaining wall. (Recall the section of French drain pipe.) “Babe, I just realized the time and need to be leaving in five minutes for my hair appointment, and still need to wash Merry’s hair and give Jacob a piano lesson.” He laughed at me and agreed to wash Merry’s hair, saying he’d rather do that than teach a piano lesson.

Not wanting to short-change Jacob, sending the message (AGAIN) that these scholar-pursuits can wait for our convenience, I proceeded to answer the doorbell like everything was fine and explained to my pupil that I was sorry he had to have a short lesson, whereupon I condensed our lesson plan into about 8 minutes, kissed him goodbye, grabbed the keys, and ran out the door, composing this little tale in my head as I drove downtown and reflecting with satisfaction on the wonderful husband I have who includes the hair dryer in the job of washing his daughter’s hair.

When I walked into the salon at precisely 2:16 (less than an hour after arriving home from the park) I saw my stylist in the thick of another haircut, and as I sat and waited for fifteen long, quiet, relaxing minutes I noticed that I hadn’t eaten the curry.

So it was a regular Friday afternoon in Spotsylvania, as the story book says.




I know some of you read these letters to my children religiously, and I’m sorry to keep you waiting. Your delight in witnessing my kids grow, and perhaps even your encouragement through my ponderings, is a happy by-product of this practice of mine, and it’s important to me. So consider this an almost-promise that you will see these journals again, probably soon, and probably even the ones that I’m not posting these days. (I am still writing them.)

I’ve wondered now and then if the publicity of this forum is appropriate. I’ve imagined that in future years it might not be, and I’m still open to that possibility. I’ve  even talked the issue out with several of you and that’s been helpful. It’s also been surprising to hear just how much you love these rambling epistles. For the most part, I’m still in the game: still intending to offer these letters up not only for my kids in the future but for you in the present. But I’m finding myself in a season where it seems good to try out stepping back and writing without anyone looking over my shoulder, so please be patient with my silence for a little while. You can think of it as summer break for Wednesday Grace.



Joshua: 11 Months

Joshua: 11 Months

Dear Joshua,


Big things have been going on this month, and big things are going to happen in the next one, too – like learning to nap through the sound of Daddy’s summer practice schedule here at home, and making peace with your confinement in the pack ‘n play outside while we work on landscaping. You are growing up in some fun ways lately and you just tickle me to death.




You love making a bee-line for the bathroom, especially if you can get as far as pulling yourself up to look in the potty, or if there’s a bathing sibling to say hi to behind the door. You love getting into whatever Meredith and Jacob are doing, and you think you’re one of the pack.


I love how much Jacob makes you giggle, and I love how you’re learning to give Meredith’s abuse right back to her and stand up for yourself. It’s all just cute and fun. It’s not so fun when you whine and yell and fuss, but I get how that’s important, too, because it’s your way of standing up for yourself. So I’m trying to listen, and stop to spend time with you when you’re needing love.







It was really fun to have you as a traveling buddy in April as you and Meredith and I drove across the country to Colorado to retrieve my Nonnie’s furniture. I was amazed how well you did on that trip (with the exception of the first night, when you spent more time crying than sleeping) and especially amazed at how you learned quickly in the car that when you were bored you could just go to sleep. We passed those dozens of hours of driving largely through those boredom naps, punctuated by stretches of time where I’d reach my hand back to offer you one of the toys from the bucket I kept in the front passenger seat. You’d play with it awhile, then drop it on the floor. When you’d start to fuss I’d hand you another toy, and we repeated this until all the toys were dropped, and then stop for a driving break to put them back in the bucket. We made it from Lawrence, Kansas to Denver, Colorado that way with only two quick gas station stops, which makes you Roadtrip Baby Champion, hands down.




The first day, the day that ended in Lawrence, was the hardest, since you weren’t used to this particular form of parent-inflicted torture yet. When you’d finally had your fill of travel, around the 12-hour mark, you started to scream. We were just about 30 minutes from our destination so I kept driving, trying in vain to console you. To add insult to injury, we were on a toll road, and when I stopped to pick up my ticket you stopped crying, feeling sure your torture was over. The rage when I started to drive again was something to remember, and we continued that way through the final toll booth and several stop lights before you finally got rescued from your misery.



On the drive back we passed through Lawrence again, and Meredith got to choose whatever her little heart desired for dinner. Ice cream was the choice, and so we went to Coldstone Creamery and found their simplest ice cream, “Sweet Cream.” It was your first ice cream and you really thought I was trying to kill you upon your first bite. You did not approve of how cold it was. But you warmed up to it pretty fast, and then Meredith got on your good side by sharing pieces of her cone with you.




I think my current favorite thing this month is your relationship to the birdies above your bed. I made them for you last spring before I ever met you and they’ve hung there, silent witnesses to all your sleeping and a lot of your fussing. But suddenly they’ve come to life and we are getting a lot of use out of them. What I see on your face when we play with them is joy and wonder, undiluted, uninhibited.


When you’re ready to go to bed (or when I come to get you after you wake) I ask if you want to make the birdies dance and then you look at me with something that’s a lot more than a grin. I spin the birdies and you grab them and sometimes I hold you up so that they hit you right in the face. You cackle with laughter and you look back and forth between me and the birdies like if you could talk it would be to say “Isn’t it your favorite, Mom? It’s definitely my favorite.”


You’re growing a lot lately and getting stronger. You like to cruise around the furniture upright and you pull yourself up to stand while holding onto my legs a lot now, every mother’s favorite part of the dinner-making obstacle course. Mostly you crawl, but you don’t waste any time at that.


You’re now a champion stair climber though I can’t get you actively involved in climbing down them. I just pull you down one knee at a time and say “Feet first” over and over until we’re at the bottom. You’re totally just along for the ride and completely disinterested.




You’re starting to really understand “No” and it’s sweet to see you beginning to grasp the idea of obedience. Maybe you’re not going to be quite as strong-willed as your brother, because you acquiesce pretty easily now that you’re used to it. “Joshua. No stairs!” almost always sends you pushing back onto your butt and looking right at me. It takes a few tries sometimes, and occasionally a tiny little flick on your hand, but the last few days that’s been rare, too. You just don’t bother approaching the stairs much anymore, because you know what to expect. It’s a comfortable, easy boundary for you and you’re happy with it.



I was marveling with a friend the other day at the value of this life-lesson in the world of a baby. A lot of parenting wisdom these days discourages using the word “No” for babies and toddlers because it makes them feel frustrated. Instead you’re supposed to distract or redirect or use “positive language” like saying “Stay on your bottom” instead of “Don’t stand up.” I get it, but I disagree. You just can’t get through life (let alone childhood) without dealing with that word and its surrounding concepts head-on.


What I’ve seen now in three tiny lives is that introducing it at an early enough age is the trick. (I think it’d be too late by a first birthday.) It means you’re at peace with the idea of boundaries and authority before you’ve really developed your own intense set of preferences. Right now your identity and mine are still so completely wrapped up in your perception that you’re too young to get upset at being told “No.” You just feel proud of yourself when you put a big smile on my face and I give you a big “Good job, Joshua!”


That doesn’t mean you’ll never begin to rage against those boundaries, but it does mean you don’t necessarily always have to feel discouraged by their intrusion. “No” is just a reality you’ve grown accustomed to.


But your will is beginning to emerge, and the first clue to it is this hilariously cute little squeak-grunt that’s just developed in the last couple days. Sometimes when I tell you “No” you insert that once or twice and it’s obviously your version of “I don’t like your choice.” For now, it’s adorable and endearing, and just completely funny.


You’re sharing more and more of our food with us at the table, and that’s the place where your will and preferences are most strongly present these days. You yell and fuss for food if it’s not being delivered fast enough, and we constantly have to remind you to say “More please” with your hands instead. You just get so excited about eating that it exceeds excitement and becomes stress and it seems like that’s why you yell. You’ve got some pretty strong preferences when it comes to food, too, and you’ve been really immovable on those, even if they change from day to day. It’s hard to trick you into eating something you’ve decided to reject.


One of the funny stories from this month came a few weeks ago while we ate a picnic with my aunt. You were positively screaming to try to get your message across and I offered you every different kind of food I could think you might be wanting. You rejected known favorites and kept hollering, so I took you out of your chair and offered you milk and instead of nursing you screamed about that, too, a completely unprecedented behavior. I don’t know what finally clued me in, but it turned out that what you wanted was potato salad, and you had completely fixated on it. My mind was blown. I just had to laugh at how grown up you’re getting, to have such a fixed opinion.



You’re a handful these days, as you emerge into my not-favorite stage of development. I am cherishing all the ways and moments in which you’re still my baby because you are moving so quickly toward toddlerhood. Of course you will be cute and darling and I will be 100% in love with you every single month, but I’m going on record right now to say that toddlerhood and this mommy are not a very good pairing. Maybe the third time around I’ll have learned a few things – mostly learned not to fight it but just to settle in for the fun, even if I’d rather be reading Winnie-the-Pooh than board books, writing music while you do your own thing than stacking towers for you.


But anyway, we’re still sufficiently in the babyhood zone for me to be always head-over-heels, and I’ve been hoarding a lot of snuggles lately. And maybe it’s not that you’re still a baby. Maybe I’ve finally learned that being with my tiny human is the best and I’d rather be there than anywhere else. They do say the third time’s the charm. However you explain it, the bottom line is that I love being with you and I secretly like it when you have a hard time going to bed at night because it often means I get to come in and pick you up and rock you for awhile. Those moments in your dark room are some of the best I’ve ever had in my life and I’m in no hurry to move past them.




That’s part of why I haven’t pushed you to sleep through the night yet. You do, once every month or two. And most nights you wake only once to nurse quickly and then go right back to sleep. Once or twice a week you’ll wake more than once, and those nights can be hard for me to recover from, but I’m satisfied, and I love crawling out of bed and walking across the hall to your room to find you and kiss you. It’s become so routine and uneventful, and even so brief, that I hardly remember anything about the night the next morning, which seems like a pretty huge win.




I told someone this morning that you are, so far, the Class Clown in our family. I love that about you, and the amazing twinkle you get in your eye when you know you’re being funny. You’re quite popular with our friends these days for your preposterous laugh, which is manufactured at great cost to your person. It takes so much effort and comes out forced and throaty, but it just makes us all giggle. You’re a “social laugher,” meaning you’ve reached that hilarious age when you can tell someone else thinks something is funny, so you laugh on queue because you think it’s appropriate.


The other thing you’ve been doing for laughs is blowing raspberries, and you have completely mastered your technique on this. You do a lot of it, and this leads me to the best moment of the month, just this past Friday, when Daddy talked you into saying “Mama” for the first time. We’ve been having a recurring competition lately, trying to get you to say our respective name before the other. Well, I won that competition, but when Daddy brought you over to me to show off your new skill, prompting you again to say “Mama” your answer was to look right at me and blow a big raspberry.


I love you anyway.





Jacob: 61 Months

Jacob: 61 Months

Dear Jacob,

This month has felt monumental. For one thing, you’re growing like a weed. For another, we’ve finally decided to make a clean break with night-time diapers. This has meant a lot of grumpy, teary wake-up calls between 9:30 and 11:30 for trips to the bathroom, an almost-daily laundry load of sheets and blankets, and a couple triumphant $1 awards. (You have decided to save for a harmonica, thanks to your birthday story, Lentil.) You will get it. Eventually. By college for sure.


But that’s just a small part of it all. You have been really tough on me the last few weeks, and I imagine some of it has to do with how you have had to re-orient to me twice, once after your trip with Daddy and then again after my trip to Colorado. I was away for eight whole days and, from the reports of it, they were pretty drama-free days in your life. But I bring out all the drama in you. All day every day. No matter what.


I read someone else’s blog post awhile ago that suggested that what your strong-willed child needs is a brick wall and, yes, congratulations: “You are that brick wall.” Routinely, constantly, you crash into me. These are not accidental falls, these are fully-aware body-slams, like some sort of death wish. But more on this later.


There have also been triumphs, and by that I mostly mean beautiful, poignant, significant moments to mark your growth. Daddy keeps coming back to his mind-blowing awareness that we’re almost one-third done growing you up. I personally can’t imagine surviving another two thirds of this business, but again, more on that later.


The poignant moments were related to worship, and if you remember, that’s what I wrote to you about last month: “Not as we ought, but as we are able.” With that as backdrop you can understand my deep joy this month to get a text from Daddy as I got in the car to drive from Lawrence to Kansas City, and as you two finished early service back here in Eastern Time. Intensely sleep deprived, you’d been dragged out of bed early enough to accompany Daddy to church at his usual pre-7:00 a.m. time. Apparently you were not feeling very cheery or compliant about that and had endless attitude problems all through his practice and rehearsal. But then somehow the magic began (we call this the Holy Spirit) and, according to that text message, you’ve never done a better job in church, ever. It made me get a little teary, because I knew it was a significant date: 5 years to the day since your baptism, and the first time your baptism day fell on a Sunday again, and this moment of profound victory at the point of one of your biggest struggles this season. We leveraged that coincidence and celebrated.


When I got home from the day after your Baptism Day we were so happy to be all together again, but that honeymoon wore off hard and fast. I don’t remember if Tuesday was bad because all I remember is how bad Wednesday was. Wednesday was bad. Simply put, I was showing up to be your parent and you were not having it on any level. By the end of the day I was so sick of how you’d treated me all day that I slammed a cupboard door and yelled at you that I was leaving. “I do not want to be your mommy right now because you are treating me like crap. If you want me to be your mommy you will have to treat me like a human being.” And then I left. It was partly wisdom: removing myself from your presence because I was too angry to be trusted. But it was mostly just leaving. I couldn’t do it anymore. Half an hour later I had come back and Daddy had staged a serious Come To Jesus in his office, centering around that horrifying concept familiar to young boys of all generations, You Don’t Get to Treat My Wife Like That. You came to whimper out some pathetic sham of an apology and I completely rejected you. I just couldn’t shepherd you through pretending you cared about me; couldn’t supply the emotional material for both of us. So a few minutes later you came and tried again because by this time you knew it mattered and you actually seemed to care a little, rather taken aback by my unwillingness to engage. I made it very clear that I forgave you then, and I told you I was sorry for being rude to you when I was angry, but I just couldn’t offer you attention and affection through the rest of that night beyond a simple bedtime kiss. I was feeling too traumatized by how shitty our whole day had been. I’ve been a bit withdrawn and severe with you for the past week since then and I think I’m on to something for now. As best as Daddy and I can figure it, you need a Drill Sergeant Mommy right now. Not as though I have a different standard for you right now than I do at other times, but right now you just need a very clear message that it’s no use messing with me. Once we have that groundwork re-laid we can have a little more fun again. But lately it’s been too easy, not costly enough, for you to give me shit and still feel like we’re friends overall, and it hasn’t been good for anybody.


And so we arrived at the end of my re-entry week and your reactions to me had a couple days to improve a bit, but not a lot, and then Saturday we accompanied you to another poignant moment in your Christian journey. It was not as significant from a personal perspective as it might have been, since you’ve been celebrating at the Table alongside us since before you could really talk, and that’s what we believe in. But presently we are members of a church that welcomes young children to the table only upon profession of faith and we want to be team players where we belong, so we made much of this rite of passage anyway. Anyway, through this last year or so, after gathering around the Table at Church #1 (where Daddy works) and sharing “Jesus Bread and Jesus Wine” together, we go to Church #2 where you’ve struggled to understand why you aren’t welcome. I’ve handled this by dumping you in the nursery lock, stock, and barrel, and it’s been a welcome place of rest for me, having Church for Mommy. But now that you’re 5 you’ve been kicked out of the nursery nest and you’re beside me in worship again, so it was time for that conversation: We knew you were ready even by the church’s standards. So there we were at the end of this abysmal, traumatizing week of conflict and rebellion and scorn and contempt ushering you into our pastor’s living room.


I confess I foolishly wondered if we had our timing wrong: if you have this heart bent on going your own way why are we treating you like you are ready for the Table?

You can go ahead and let the ridiculousness of that question sink in.

That is the whole point. We want you at the Table, and this was the right week for it: the week where you were up to your eyeballs (and mine!) in your sin, but still swimming in the ocean we live in unconditionally, irrevocably: the ocean of the grace and the peace of Christ. The cross is the context for all of this, and of course it is where you belong this week of all weeks. You need Jesus, my boy. So take him. Here he is.


I must record, too, how tickled and proud we felt to listen to you carry on this conversation with your very own pastors about the world God made and its story. How you acknowledged with awe that God is even stronger than you. How you took over at one point with this hilariously frank “So here’s the thing” as you wanted to cut to the chase about what the cross is. How you explained that Adam and Eve, having sinned against God, had not been permitted on the ark and consequently died in the flood. How you jumped into the question “What did Jesus take from us on the cross?” with the answer “He took our shame!” (with credit to Jon Foreman)


I have to fill in a few more details from this unfolding story of Jacob V. The Mommy. But first, a vignette from this morning that serves as a pretty good window into how most of life goes down lately. You’d gone into Joshua’s room to be the first to greet him and from my bed I heard you throwing things into his crib. It was sometime in the last three days that I made it very clear to you and Meredith that only grown-ups were permitted to put things in the baby’s crib, EVER, because of safety. I felt confident that you knew this and were simply choosing your own path. It’s typical: like the day I told you to do something and then stood there and watched you not even flinch. “Jacob, did you hear me?” “Yes.” “Why didn’t you do what I said then?” “Because I didn’t want to.” OK then.

When Daddy and I finally rolled out of bed and went to where you were playing by the crib we reminded you of this and instead of accepting it on the basis of authority you, as always, asked why. I’m glad you asked, because it was a clarifying moment for me: You don’t get to know why this time because you simply will not be able to understand how it might be dangerous for Joshua to have someone indiscriminately put things in his crib. It is out of your league. Quite literally above your pay grade. It was easy and obvious to answer you that you would not be able to understand why and that’s why you have parents: Your job is to obey, not to ask why. Daddy then instructed you to tell Joshua you were sorry and go get dressed and you compliantly, deafly turned and walked out of the room. “What are you doing!?” was the question. “Going to get dressed!” You replied, irritated at our obvious inability to observe your obedience. “What did I tell you?” Came Daddy’s response. “To go get dressed.” “No, I did not.” And once again you’d heard the Blah Blah Blah stuff coming from your parents’ mouths, but this time we were able to get at the underlying problem for you: Buddy, you are consistently not listening to us because you think you already know all the answers. You think you can make your own judgment calls on everything. You think you can weigh whether or not something is safe for Joshua. You think you already know what we’re going to say. And in trying to be your own leader you are blundering into all kinds of problems.

Mostly you are blundering into us.

photo credit for these last four goes, again, to Hannah…

And that brings me to the rest of the story of last week, the week when “blunder” isn’t quite the right word for our scuffles. You were nothing short of flinging yourself at me, metaphorically. That afternoon I sat talking with someone I trust, someone whose job it is to tell people how things actually are, and he said Here’s The Thing: What you have on your hands is the classic Strong-Willed Child. As such, he does not fit the playground study, the one where kids with a fence scatter and play peacefully and kids without a fence huddle nervously in the center. Oh no, you are the kid whose life mission is to address himself to that fence and see if he can’t prove himself stronger. (Recall your wonder on Saturday that God is stronger than you. Clearly you think your strength is ultimate besides that.) The fence, as it happens, is me. And if you are like normal strong willed children you will spend most of two decades routinely, consistently flinging yourself against the fence just because you wish it wasn’t there. Which means my job is to be there. And, to be the kind of fence that is actually a brick wall. This reality – that you are still flinging yourself against me, that over and over in every season you will find more new and exciting ways to fling yourself – is not a measure of my failure as a parent. It is just your wiring. It’s how God made you. It’s material he will use powerfully someday. All I need to do is figure out how to stay strong, because being a brick wall is not your average game of parenting. All I need to do is figure out how to not get knocked down. How to fill myself back up over and over so that I can keep showing up for another two-thirds of this.


And this was the other thing he said that has been ringing in my ears, so encouraging: Showing up is the point. I agonize that I’m not consistent enough, that this is a failure of mine, and that I’m therefore to blame for your flinging yourself against your Mommy Fence all day every day. This fear of mine, while it could have some truth in it (if I presented a more constant State of Brickness you would probably tire of crashing into me a little more quickly each day and each season) it does not mean I should see myself as a failure. Being consistent, he suggested, could be seen in a different way: Being consistent should mean that every morning, every day, every time, I show up again: I still love you. I’m still the Mom. Last week was shitty. But I still love you. And I’m still the Mom.

Good luck with that, buddy. Just keep flinging yourself against me. I’ll be here tomorrow, too. Tomorrow, too, I will hug you and tell you that yesterday wasn’t so good (Was it?) but that God has once again given us another day to try again and today, again, Jesus loves us. Today, again, the cross is ours. Today, again, I am your Mommy. And I, too, am even stronger than you. That is the kind of consistent I know I can be, and I even feel pretty confident that I am going to be able to do it for ten or fifteen more years.


I love you.

Your Brick Wall


Meredith: 44 Months

Meredith: 44 Months

Sweet Meredith,


Most of my pictures of you this month are adventuring pictures, which is a fun coincidence since you and I are about to embark on our biggest adventure yet: a road trip just the two of us (if you ignore the small matter of your baby brother) out to the Rockies and back.


This month our escapades weren’t quite as ambitious, but they were nothing to sneeze at. Maybe the most amazing was the night almost a month ago now when Daddy had to be gone during dinner time and bedtime and I didn’t relish the idea of waiting out the witching hour at home with four kids (including our Safe Families baby). So I got this insane idea that we could walk to the park and we set off, you on your bicycle, which you’d only just that month discovered you could actually ride. Still, you were in for a challenge so off we went, Joshua in the umbrella stroller, baby in the Moby, you and Jacob biking. On the way there you were afraid of hills enough that on any degree of slope you dismounted and walked your bike, though when that resulted in scraped up ankles one too many times I became the designated bike carrier. So whenever you needed a break there I was, stroller in one hand, bike in the other, newborn on my chest. I’m going to state the obvious and comment that, well, I am a strong lady. But the only reason is that it’s the way you spoke of yourself, which I found completely adorable and bewitching. Yes, yes you are. You were so proud of yourself, riding your bike so far beyond your own known abilities, and you looked at me with amazement and said “Mom, I’m a very strong lady.”


The very same week our next escapade took us around town to enjoy the things we love, starting with lunch at Noodles & Co., running a few essential errands, and then wandering the science museum, the town square, the historic downtown mall, and down the walking trail to a coffee shop where we sat out doors and the grown ups read books and the kids colored. We returned home and ordered pizza and ate on the picnic blanket in front of the TV while we watched the 1966 Batman movie. It was an excellent day.





Then there was the zoo adventure, which began with breakfast at our favorite cafe in town and then took us 80 minutes up the highway to the zoo, where we spent four hours seeing everything, including a mesmerizing dolphin show and some earnest attempts to pet sharks.



And last weekend we had a little Girls Staycation when Daddy & Jacob left for a weekend. Sadly, we were miserably sick with colds, but that didn’t stop us from eating jelly sandwiches in front of Winnie the Pooh, coloring, snacking on chips and salsa, painting our nails (we’re talking multiple colors with flowers), and doing some pretty serious dancing, all of which you did while wearing this amazing hand-me-down formal dress you’ve got in your closet. It was cute to see you gravitate toward princess business in the absence of your brother’s strong personality, since most of the time you tag along with him and his emergency vehicles, the Robin to his Batman.



Aside from princess business, there’s a lot of creativity oozing out of you in every way. And a little role-playing and mothering on the side, as you’re starting to tune into the presence of your dolls and speak up for them and identify with them like they’re your very real babies. Maybe the most darling thing of all is the way these two things – creativity and mothering – have combined in a way that amazes Daddy & me. Most nights when I’m rocking Joshua in his room before we kiss him goodnight you come in and announce that you’re going to sing him your goodnight song, and then you launch into a completely improvised melody with a mash-up of words drawn mainly from “Lullaby and Goodnight, go to sleep little baby,” a standard for several years now, but also often including lines from other songs or story books (think “rubber ducks”) and usually ending with a very serious “All-men.” All of the sweetness.



You color ALL. THE. TIME. Skinny markers, big markers, crayons, colored pencils, watercolors. Lately there’s been a lot of scissor action happening, too, and you’ve begun delivering messages abroad, strings of the letters you’ve learned to write at preschool. I can’t wait for you to discover the little canvas bag I’ve prepared for our trip, with these cute little stubby markers and a dozen sheets of princess stickers and a stiff spiral bound notebook of blank pages. That should definitely get you to Colorado and back. On our Girls Staycation weekend, when we were eating the aforementioned chips and salsa and I was casually and stupidly ignoring you, you finally got my attention, communicating to me that you had drawn a furious dragon. I’d heard you narrating information along the way about “purple fire” and “claws” but I hadn’t bothered to look, busy with my own coloring probably. But then I looked over and there it was: a for real dragon, claws, purple fire, and all. My mind is STILL blown and that dragon is STILL glaring at us from the fridge door.


Then there was yesterday when we were at our neighbors’ house for dinner and you saw their framed print of Picasso’s Starry Night. Remembering its appearance in your current favorite (“The Boov”) movie, you informed me: “I know what that is! It’s art! It’s in the Boov Movie!”



The reality obvious from all these tales (and all in a month) is that we’re living full, good days. We’re happy and your childhood is brimming with beauty and wholeness. But sometimes it’s hard for me to see that, and sometimes I feel so depressed or anxious that my perception gets badly skewed and I begin to think I’m failing on these fronts.


February and March were very difficult months for me on the inside. They usually are, as months go, but this year it was particularly bad for several reasons. On one of my routine Wednesday mornings a few weeks ago I found myself sitting in Starbucks before dawn sorting pictures of you from the year you were two, preparing to create a Shutterfly book. Seeing that whole year’s events march across my computer screen, and seeing your smiley (if usually filthy) face brought this enormous wave of emotion over me and I sat there with tears streaming down my cheeks, simultaneously awed and horrified.


I wanted to hold that little girl and hug her and tell her I was sorry that her year had been so full of upheaval and anxiety and stress and chaos and even danger and loneliness. I was horrified. I wished you hadn’t lived all that and I wished I’d been better able to embrace you in the midst of it all and I even wished maybe we’d have made different choices. But there was your grimy little smile, and I knew (because I was there) that those pictures weren’t selective memories, journalistic deception. And that’s where the strong emotion came from: I was actually looking at the life we actually lived. It was shockingly chaotic but it was somehow good, and there was the awe: We did it. You did it. We made it. You are amazing.


There was so much beauty and happiness even in the mess. You are lovely and I want to notice and celebrate that every single day. I didn’t, that year. I survived. Barely. I don’t this year, either, to be honest. I can’t believe the love and joy and amazingness on your face, and all you went through. I’m so sorry I haven’t treasured and sheltered you better through this past year or two as you’ve emerged from your place as our baby. I wish I could go back and do better. I hope I can do better today and tomorrow. So there I was, crying over photos and fully aware of my own depression that I’ve had to fight through the winter, and simultaneously full of life and joy and satisfaction and hope, and that’s when I remembered the Ampersand: Life is hard AND good. I am broken AND beautiful. 2015 was immensely awful AND beyond wonderful. This is how life looks under the sun, and it is good this way.



How about we road trip to Colorado together, OK?


I love you.