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

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

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.




Joshua: 10 Months

Precious Joshua,


You’re really coming into your own. It’s amazing to watch you developing quickly and seemingly without effort. I’m convinced it’s your relationship to Jacob & Meredith that’s doing the trick. You relate to them and you see them. You connect with them because they’re so nearly your size and down on your level all the time, and it seems natural for you to just jump in with two feet. Which is very much what you’re trying to do – you keep landing on them when I set you down like you think you don’t need your hands and knees. You do, still, but not by much. You’ve started to cruise around the furniture and I don’t think it’ll be much longer before you walk.



We’re in awe of your communication skills, too. We nagged at you for a long time and then finally you caught on to the sign for “more please” at the dinner table. Of course it was Daddy who finally succeeded. Somehow you take him more seriously than me. Probably because you know I’m a pushover. But now that sign is yours, and several more, too.



It took us awhile to realize that you’d adopted the hand-waving that means Hi, Bye, and All Done. I don’t think we tried to teach it to you. But you wave when we come to get you from your crib and you wave when we tell you to say “Bye bye” and you wave when you decide to obey my “No Stairs” instruction. You even waved this weekend when Daddy was gone and I asked you “Where’s Daddy?” You seem pretty proud of this and pretty entertained by yourself. And we’re just scratching our heads that you didn’t even need to be taught. Or maybe Jacob & Meredith taught you without even trying, without our even noticing.



Another thing I’m loving lately is that your preferences are emerging, and I can tell what your favorite toys, things, and places are. You love the wooden peg dolls that I am forever pulling from between your teeth. You like to watch cars out the front storm door. You have your favorite tiny bean-bag giraffe that hangs from your mouth often, or the wooden penguin train car with a pull string which you also like to carry around hanging from your mouth by its string. There are other favorites, too, and they slip my mind at the moment, but it’s just fun to see that you are developing your own little self-selected culture of what life should be about in your ideal world. It’s so fun getting to know you.






We were home alone this weekend, just you and me and Meredith and a terrible head cold while Daddy & Jacob hit the road for some fun. Two epic milestones fell on this weekend, the first being the other night when I lost my chance at some miraculously good sleep by staying up almost till midnight while you were sleeping twelve hours straight for the first time. You can go ahead and do that again soon if that’s OK.


The other was the hilarious reaction I got by offering you some small chunks of tomato at lunch the other day. It’s official: the first food you genuinely despise. You spat it out every single time with a face of genuine disgust, like if you’d had words you’d have said “Mom. Seriously. Are you trying to kill me with this stuff? Who eats this?!”




My story for you this month is a hard one to tell. I like the story of that Monday morning right after Easter when we ditched the kids for four hours instead of three by signing them up for school lunch and we wandered the town on a perfect spring morning. I like feeling like you’re my sidekick. I like sitting in a coffee shop with you nomming cheerios beside me. I like running errands with only you strapped to me. Somehow being my third means you’re my bestie. You’re the one that feels like I don’t have to parent right now, just hang out. Being with you feels strangely like solitude, and we’ve been enjoying a lot of those moments.




But this story is about a Sunday afternoon last month when I thought I was going to lose you. And it’s about every single day since that weekend, when sometimes the only thing that gets said as a bedtime prayer as I lay you down by faith and walk out of your room by faith (and by faith I mean courage and chosen sanity) is “Jesus, this boy belongs to you.” I was standing in the kitchen washing dishes with Hannah (affectionately known lately as your girlfriend) and articulating to her how terrorized I was feeling by the fragility of life when I looked over at you in your high chair with some pieces of apple and saw that you were choking. The next few minutes are a blur now of panic and adrenaline and shock. And you are fine. We didn’t even call 911 in the end, though the phone was in our hands. You were breathing as often as not, but there was apple in your lungs. You were lethargic and your skin was bluish and you were just very, very quiet.


(I was not quiet.)


Maybe it was the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced. I completely lost my shit that night after finally putting you to bed. I’m not sure how to chronicle the whole thing satisfactorily except to put it in terms of what I read and sang and understood in the days and weeks surrounding it. And somehow I know I need to chronicle it.


I have this obsession lately with the topic of the resurrection. With how the force of life is woven into everything in the world because God is life and because Jesus is the first in a series of resurrection miracles. But the week before Palm Sunday a college friend died suddenly. She died the same day I sat alone in a dark doctor’s office and listened to him say “cancer” in discussing the growth on my thyroid. (At this point it is unreasonable to presume it’s cancer, and the nature of the growth renders me almost completely without risk to life or health. Still, you don’t want to have these conversations.) While I processed my own test results, my friend went from healthy and whole and full of life to the grave in a week’s time, simply from pneumonia and a subsequent infection. It should never have happened. It shook Daddy & me up really badly, even though she was more acquaintance than friend. Still, she had a place of her own in our story, and more to the point, we knew her to be such a beautiful, remarkable person. The world is worse for her absence.


That’s what I was talking about at the kitchen sink. About how I’m struggling to live my life because instead I want to control the whole business: I want to do whatever it takes to ensure that life will flourish. But while lately my ideas have been woven through with the awareness of life’s resilience, last month it all evaporated in a single event and all I could see was the fragility. And that was before I watched myself take your tiny body out of your chair and uselessly try to fix it. I saw myself powerless and I felt mocked. The only thing I could do in those moments was to wait to see if you were going to be OK.


The only thing I can ever do is to wait and see if you are going to be OK.


That’s where I’ve arrived, and that’s what life has consisted of lately: of this epic struggle for courage to wait, courage not to control. I’m a free range mama normally. My kids do all kinds of things others would be horrified by, like walking down the sidewalk unsupervised or playing with actual garden shovels or spending months existing in a construction zone. But lately it’s been all the strength and courage and focused conviction I can muster not to control. This is the power behind terrorism: terror destroys life because it sends you inside to hide. You cease to live because the danger feels too strong. I have experienced this this spring. I experienced it that night when five hours later I still wasn’t convinced you were going to be OK and I uselessly, aimlessly couldn’t-wouldn’t put you to bed. Once I did I had to keep going back to listen at your door. (After I stopped crying.)


That very morning I’d been standing in worship contemplating the climax of the Jesus narrative on Palm Sunday, leaving for a private place and fresh tissues when I would begin to sob for Claire all over again. And again. My body felt a magnetic pull towards the floor, a feeling common for me in recent months, that makes the Psalmist’s language about prostration so resonant for me. I knew it wasn’t my business, Claire’s death. I heard “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away” in my inner ear. I knew it, but I couldn’t get to the next part: “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” In a few sane instants I was there, and I am convinced those are the truest, wisest places we creations can be. It’s called worship. A few times in my life I’ve experienced it undiluted: the knowledge that I belong to God. That everything belongs to Him and He is 100% within His rights to give and to take away. When you find yourself standing before Him acknowledging that: that is worship. I was there, like I said, for a few sane instants. And that was before you choked on the apple.


Since then I have been there a thousand times, but it hasn’t been an automatic experience. It’s been a labored choice, over and over again. It’s the choice I make when I lay you down to sleep every night. It’s the choice I make when I buckle you into your carseat. It’s the choice I make when I let my kids play outside. No one would be able to tell by looking that something has happened to mess up my free range heart. But I’m telling you, lately it’s all muscle. I could lean into the fear. I could live it. I did that day, and it looked like paralysis. Paralysis as a manifestation of terror and anger.


I didn’t want to say life was God’s by right. I  was angry that Michael’s marriage had ended in death before he was even my age. I was angry that God had shown me how powerless I am for your good. I decided my job was to be God: to do everything in my power (funny, this ironic idea of Human Power) to guarantee life. I lived there long enough that you went to bed pointlessly late that night.


That night after I laid you down and I finally had the privacy to recount what actually happened to Daddy I lost control and sobbed a long time. I couldn’t pull myself together. I couldn’t get out from under the weight of that hypothetical. It was like those days in college when I felt PTSD after having witnessed (and almost been able to intervene) as my roommate fell head first out of her high bunk. She was fine. I could only see the alternative every time I closed my eyes for days.


To say I reached for the Bible beside me for comfort paints a skewed picture, because it wasn’t an act of faith, more a matter of pre-programming, and of a desperate need to calm down. The only thing I had faith in in that moment was my experience: the Psalms had worked before in my worst moments, and if anything was going to work now, well, that’s where my money was. I found Psalm 3 and 4:

I lay down and slept. I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.


These lines and the Psalms they belong to afforded me calm, but to call it comfort wouldn’t be accurate, because I felt hounded by it, terrorized. Terrorized by God, if that is possible. To acknowledge that only God can make you dwell in safety is humbling and on that particular weekend I wasn’t feeling too appreciative of His recent efforts. That night as I went to bed I knew that my chief desire was to be God. To control. I felt I’d do a better job of it, anyway, if I had the chance. I recognized that God had the power for safety, but I wanted it.


Comfort came the next morning, as I sang you that song that for some reason rose to the surface of my repertoire when I first had you in my arms. It’s been your song since then and I sing it to you almost every day. Maybe now I know better why.

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide, till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.


The words “helpless soul” and “other refuge have I none” and “defenseless head” made sense in a new way. To be honest, “Other refuge have I none” fit in my mouth more as an accusation than an acknowledgment. But these words have become my mantra in the last few weeks as I try to live in a way that is constantly choosing fresh faith, saying yes to life instead of the outcomes I can see with eyes closed. Somehow there has been comfort here. I trust in God’s willingness and wisdom to uphold. I experience the shadow of His wing.


But three weeks later maybe I have the full picture, and it is a picture that only emerges from the context of love. I heard those words again from the Psalm last night as Daddy and I sang a choral Evensong downtown. It is part of the chanted responses of the liturgy:

For only in thee can we live in safety.


It resonated, and I thought on all this again as the service drew to its close, there in the context of worship.


What finished the narrative was the night prayer that I love so much. As we began it I felt its comfort. It fit in my mouth. It gave words to my desires.

Keep watch, Dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give Thine angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for Thy love’s sake. Amen.


There it was, in the last line, the confidence that I’d lacked. This asking we are doing by the very breaths we have the audacity to presume upon – asking for God to keep watch – why should we have any expectation that His answer will come back “Yes.” Why should we trust God to uphold us? Perhaps all we can have is the calm and comfort I’d felt from the Psalms and the next day from Welsey’s hymn. That, too, is a place of worship, but it doesn’t feel like enough. But here it is: love, and in that, confidence.


There is a difference between submission and trust. Between trust and love. Sunday morning with hands raised in tears, aware that “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away” – that is submission. Agreeing to choose life – that is trust. But finding confidence to replace fear again? To grow out of the daily experience of terror? That is love. Not so much my love for God as His for me. But isn’t it somehow the same thing? We love because He first loved us. Our hearts respond. And he keeps watch all for His love’s sake. Put another way, because this is what His love wants.


All of these places (submission, trust, love) can be worship: a humble and rather mathematical recognition that God is the Creator and King and our lives are His by right. Slowly in these past few days I find I’m coming back (but have I ever really been there before?) to a place of love, to an estimation of Him and a desire for Him that leads to relinquishing control because I know I would rather be in His care than mine. Because He loves me.


And he loves you.


And I love you, because somehow that still matters, even though it pales in comparison.




Jacob: 60 Months

Happy Birthday, Jacob.


You are amazing and Daddy and I are more and more proud of you every day. This month has been a big one for you. First there’s that small matter of your turning five. That was a total marathon of awesomeness, beginning with Nana & Papa’s presence over Holy Week and beyond to the zoo, wrapping up with Patrick’s presence on the day we celebrated, spilling over even past that in the form of leftover birthday cake three days in a row. I’m telling you, buddy, We are Birthday Professionals.


That’s not even counting what you were doing this morning, three days after the celebrations (building a lego Batboat with Daddy), or what you’ll be doing this weekend, road tripping just the two of you…



To fully appreciate the jackpot I’m talking about, let’s just tally things up: At breakfast, a prism (“A prison!” This is gonna be SWEET!”) and Robert McCloskey’s Lentil. Later in the morning, a quick visit from Hannah who had a handmade dragon card for you with some tiny sticker “gems” enclosed. After Daddy got home from class, an adventure to Dick’s Sporting Goods where you both bought your first fishing poles. At lunch (downtown Chipotle by your request), a package of cheap styrofoam gliders to build at the park with your friend, and a wooden sword and shield all the way from a toy maker in Portugal. It is painted with a red cross just like in St. George and the Dragon. After lunch, chasing bubbles, flying gliders, playing St. George & the Dragon, and sharing chocolate milk and cookies with Caleb, your bestie from preschool. While Merry & Joshua had quiet time, a trip with me to the music store to surprise you with your very first piano books and a promise of lessons to begin this week. (We played trap sets together awhile.)


And then things got serious once we were home: Patrick, Nicole, and Tabitha assembled and Mr. H and Maddie (of course) and we opened presents before dinner and dragon cake, while the grill heated up for hot dogs: From Nicole, Batman Legos, a Batman matchbox car and action figure, and a traveling Connect Four game. From Patrick, The Cat in the Hat. From Mr. H and Maddie & “BIG Jacob,” our very first kite and a tackle box to go with your fishing rod. From Gramma & Grampa, a tiny box of four more Tegu blocks. From Mommy & Daddy, two little envelopes announcing your road trip with Daddy and your first class: a beginning gymnastics class for the next eight Saturdays. And then the showstopper, the one I saved for last because I knew it would eclipse everything and everyone: From Nana & Papa, the present you begged for: A big ambulance, the same size as your fire truck (3rd birthday) and police car (4th birthday) to finish out your fleet. (It makes even more annoying noise than the other two cars do!)


Like I said: the jackpot. I think my favorite part of planning your birthday was leaning towards gift concepts that were less about stuff and more about experience. Fishing with Daddy and piano lessons with me, a road trip and a gymnastics class – this feels like stuff that will make life good in a way that toys ultimately don’t. And with this birthday Daddy & I have a sense that we’ve launched your formal education, which is a satisfying realization even if only because of how non-traditionally we’ve done so.


Our plan for your education is still largely improvisation at this point, but we know it isn’t going to tow the line for these first years. We’ve developed a concept to replace kindergarten and we are calling it your Christopher Robin year. More about that another time. But this year and next year are preschool, because our primary goal for you as a child is to be a child. Your years as a student will come soon enough without rushing. But in the meantime, it tickled me to realize in retrospect that we were channeling our inner Plato by beginning you with music (for the soul) and gymnastics (for the body). I think this is so very, very good, and I think it is sufficient for these next couple years.




We have plenty of other things to attend to, anyway, and play seems to be the best place to bump into them. You are, in fact, bumping into some pretty big, hard things these days. Like greed and contentment and control and friendship. This is enough curriculum for now.


At bedtime the other night you cried your eyes out because you were not awarded the same snuggle that Meredith was. When you challenged us that you hadn’t snuggled all day I reminded you of two pretty quality snuggles you’d had, at which point your cry turned into a lament at the injustice of “only two snuggles.” But you are growing so much, figuring out your place in the world – how important you are, but how important everyone else is, too.


At school things got a little rocky this month. One day your buddy saw me in the halls at pick up and announced to me with righteous horror (tinged with awe?) “Jacob got on red today!” You have a traffic light system at school and “staying on green” is a pretty big deal. Unfortunately you dumped rocks on your friends’ heads at the playground, threw fits at your teacher when she reproved you, knocked over the water of the girl who said she didn’t want you to sit beside her at snack time, and (the part I tried not to laugh about until I was in private) responded to a frustrating moment while everyone was gathered for Calendar Time by blurting out “Dammit!”


I couldn’t make this stuff up. We got to the bottom of it and we’ve been seeing you work hard to sort these things out. The heart of it, I discovered as I probed that afternoon, is that you want the other kids to be your friends and you are frustrated because it’s not working. So we talked about tools (you are good with tools) and what tools are appropriate for what jobs. When I asked you what kind of things you try to do to get people to be friends with you, you weren’t embarrassed to list them: If they don’t listen, you scream at them. If they run away, you chase them.


Well, then.




These, my dear, are the wrong tools. They are the tools that bullies keep in their pockets. And so you’ve learned the concept of a bully and we are working closely with you on it, helping you recognize the little inner bully that wants to be you, helping you choose Friend Tools, instead. Bullies scream, control, chase, and push. They are rude and angry. Friends listen, let go (instead of controlling), and love. They are generous and gentle. On that Red Light day we took away all your prized possessions. We didn’t do it vindictively, we explained that you would need to earn them back by practicing at school: a toy for using friend tools, a toy for going the whole day without bully tools, a toy for receiving instruction from your teacher respectfully. That first day back at school you got three toys back and you proudly told us that you hadn’t even needed your teacher’s help to tell the girl whose water you knocked over that you were sorry and you shouldn’t have done that. Apparently she said “It’s OK” and you were friends again.



We were so proud of you. But maybe more to the point, you were proud of you. And you are trying. And it is working. (I’ll tell you someday about how this means you are just like your Daddy.)


My favorite story from this month might be your words to Hannah on Easter Day as we partied. We’d looked ahead to that party sugar-less weeks through Lent. Worship was exciting and festive. You wore your tie and felt at least as important as you looked. There was cake and wine (you got a few sips) and Easter baskets for you and Meredith filled with sidewalk chalk, bubbles, seed packets, and jump ropes. You were outside reveling in everything and I’ll let Hannah’s own words tell it:

Hannah gets the credit for this beautiful series of six photos

…my dear nearly-five-years-old friend Jacob looked at me and said, with great happy sincerity, “Today is so much fun I want it to be today again so we can have the party again together.  You know what I’ll say to God tonight when I pray?  Dear God.  Please make it be yesterday again.  Amen.” We don’t get the same joy again, I wanted to say to him.  We got to have our cake and eat it too… but only once.


I can’t think what is a better window into your little soul than those words. It’s going to be hard and beautiful to help you shift your perspective to the place where these feelings find their truest expression in delight and joy and satisfaction instead of greed and grasping. But the raw material under that greed is truth, beauty, and goodness, and I love it.


I will close this far-too-long letter with a few thoughts on worship, because it’s where I’ve been musing this month and I need this as much as you do: What I have to say is quite simple and occurred to me in a the space of a few tiny moments on Easter.


The first moment was when I chose not to micro-manage you, simply to overlook your bad attitude as you got fidgety and tired of participating in the liturgy. I felt frustrated about this, wishing that you were engaged in the joy of it all instead of distracted by your own inner noise. Disappointed for you. But as I began to reach for you I remembered that you’d been in church now four days in a row. We went together Thursday and Friday and you went on Saturday – a late, long vigil service, while I stayed home with your sleeping siblings. You were tired. Not just tired of worship but sleepy. Instead of urging you on I decided to celebrate: my amazing four year old has experienced and participated in the whole journey of Holy Week worship for the first time. That’s enough.


The second moment was my own inner disappointment that Easter wasn’t feeling any more magical for me than it was. (Which was basically not magical at all.) I was tired, Joshua is at a very squirmy age, and I was dealing with some sort of pesky stomach crud that had me feeling like first trimester pregnancy for the whole of Holy Week. All in all, I wasn’t into it. I had choked up on the drive to church while we recalled the hymn we’d finally get to sing again: “This is the feast of victory for our God! Alleluia!” The sound of you and Merry singing that is beyond beautiful, and as I drove down 3rd Street I thought “Oh crap. If I’m already misty-eyed I’m not going to make it past the first hymn without full-on tears.” But as it happened, that was the most emotional I got for the entire day of worship and feasting. I noticed it and, surprisingly didn’t feel too disappointed. It seems like I’m learning to be gentle with myself. Gentle with you.


The same gentleness came into play on the second Sunday of Easter when I recalled my emotional and physical exhaustion which made Easter feel so unexciting, and agreed with myself that I’d have other chances to sing O Filii et Filiae and hear about my good brother Thomas. Second Sunday of Easter, after all, happens every year. This year I spent it sleeping in and sending you to church with Daddy to hear about Thomas without me, while I went alone to Church #2.


This all felt OK despite my idealism because of the final moment, the one I keep remembering, a passing, seemingly insignificant instant buried in the many words at the sacrament on Easter morning. This year it turned out to be the loudest moment of all Easter in my ears: “…not as we ought, but as we are able…” This is our worship. It is tired and distracted. It is not what we envision. It gets derailed by sleepy attitudes. It misses important moments all over the place. We just don’t have the capacity, you and I and the people sitting beside us, to enter into the realities of heaven as we could, as we will eventually. For now, it is good that we acknowledge our finitude and frailty. And it is beyond words to realize that God receives this worship from us, just as it is, because of Jesus. Because He made us and He knows us and He loves us. It is enough.


I love you.




Meredith: 43 Months

Sweet Meredith,





I’m a little late with this. March tested my limits and now I am picking up the pieces. We hosted a little Safe Families baby for almost two weeks. It was a precious time for our family. We grew and learned together and we experienced so much love and fellowship (as in “The Fellowship of the Ring”) from our various communities. Perhaps best of all, it was beautiful to see you and Jacob grasp what we were doing; beautiful to see you put flesh (spitting up, screaming flesh at that) to the idea of Isaiah 58 which we rehearsed early in Lent: “Is this not the fast that I shall choose?…to bring the homeless poor into your house…”


Now we’re alone again and the Easter feast, the grandparents, even Jacob’s birthday have come and gone and we are taking some space to regroup, just the 5 of us. I think this month has strengthened the bonds among us – made as glad we belong to each other in a deep and exclusive way. The house is tidy now and this morning as we got ready for a school day things felt normal, easy even by comparison and by virtue of the growing pains of last month: magically it seemed there was time to start a load of laundry and read a story before we grabbed boots and backpacks at 8:30.


I know it’s Easter now, but it’s finally time for me to write about this idea of incarnational parenting that I have had bouncing off the walls of my brain all winter. While I spent a lot of time this year thinking about the how “the power with which God raised Christ from the dead” defines and orients our parenting (all is healed; anything is possible), it occurred to me around Christmas that the incarnation is another big pillar that we should be embodying in this endeavor. I think if we can infuse our living with these two realities we are going to be OK.


The incarnation is tough for me to put into practice both because I tend towards an aloofness created by internal stress and anxiety and because as an idealist I am good at envisioning how things should be and then measuring you by those expectations. It’s easy for me to notice you flipping out and generally being a banshee at dinner and start working towards appropriate behavior. It’s not so easy for me to recognize that maybe the reason this is happening is because you got left with a babysitter for four hours (and smacked by her 1yo, to boot) and that I haven’t connected with you ,the way 3yos connect, for at least a day or two. But slowly I’m practicing stepping back in those moments. Withholding my ideals and giving myself.



That’s what Jesus did for us, after all. And while as Creator God He possesses a right to us on the level of ideals, in a way He did not exercise that right. You could almost say He chose to earn it by coming down to us. This is the incarnation, and this is what I’ve been using as my yardstick lately. So in a moment where I want to manage you with my ideals I stop and ask myself first if I have come down to you yet. I’m asking myself whether I have a right, in that moment, to offer rebuke or reproof, or if it would be coming from a place so removed that it would only serve to deconstruct your identity. If I want to parent according to the incarnation then I have to meet you where you are before I try to make you what I want you to be.



It seems to be helping.


The point, in the end, is “Jesus Loves Me.” One day you came back from a walk with our neighbor/adopted-grandma and serenaded me proudly with this song, which she sang with you as you walked. Then you ran to find Daddy and gave him the same performance. You were so happy with your new song and it made me happy, too. I’m embarrassed to admit that we hadn’t taught it to you ourselves yet. Professional liturgists we, you know many more complicated and esoteric things already, but somehow we overlook these basics so easily. At any rate, it struck me that the whole point is for you to know that.


I’ve been reading an incredible book by Dallas Willard this spring, Renovations of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. In it he quotes Henri Nouwen, who claimed that our primary identity is that of “the beloved.” That was a paradigm shift for me and I recognized that I agreed, though I’m afraid it’s more common in my  Calvinist tradition to drive home the identity of “total depravity.” Reading Willard & Nouwen made me pause and check my inner theological constructs. Doing so, I had to affirm their claim: Depravity is only a secondary identity at best, not original to who we are as God’s creations: objects – products, even – of His love. He delights in us. It’s so easy as parents to hold you up to our ideals, and from this I fear often comes a wrong primary identity. (“I am depraved. I am not good enough.”) So I’m working on that – working on making sure you know what you are (beloved) at least a little more than what you should be.





Speaking of identity, there’s a story to tell from a morning back when it was still cold and dark at breakfast. I’d fixed you something warm to drink in your matching little espresso mugs that Gramma gave you. One of them has a tiny chip on the handle now, and Jacob always strives to have the “not broken” one like it’s essential to his happiness. I slid them across the counter to you, and seeing that you had the “not broken” mug you turned to Jacob like a reflex and apologized to him, like it was somehow his by right. That made me feel really mad. I saw you hardwired to defer to your big brother, which has happened by birth order and by the strength of his personality. I fought back right away: Meredith, you are just as important as Jacob and you deserve to have that unbroken mug. I saw in you this assumption about your own value, and it was plain how much work I have to do to cultivate the kind of audacity appropriate in a beautiful “beloved,” which is what you are.



I love you.





Joshua: 9 Months

Dear Joshua,

This month you’ve grown so much. I’ve put away most of your 6-9 month sizes and now you’re wearing a lot of 12-18s. It’s so fun and cute seeing you in all Jacob’s old clothes.


You’ve been great fun this month but also a lot of work. You finally mastered crawling and now you are quite purpose-driven about it, and you move pretty fast. And if that isn’t enough, you’re now working on pulling yourself up to standing. You practice this a lot at the bottom of the stairs and the other day you almost had your knee up onto the first stair. Not OK, baby boy.


We often find you standing up in your crib now, and it seems like when it’s dark in your room you lose track of how to get down from that position. You’re emerging into the stage of skipped naps, including the one you were supposed to take this morning but spent its entirety playing in your crib because it is no built-in fun to stand up and sit down.


Since you started crawling I spend a lot of time crouching at the top of the stairs with you saying “Joshua, No… No stairs… No, no, Joshua… Danger.” You always stop to look at me but you don’t seem to think this conversation matters in any way. I lift you back to the carpet to play and sometimes you get distracted or sometimes you swivel on your little butt and head right back for those fascinating stairs.


I’m torn about whether to gate them or not since I think the narrow doorway of the gate with its lip at the floor would result in multiple occasions of preschoolers (or mommies – let’s be perfectly honest) tumbling down those steep stairs, especially since we are up and down them all day long because of how our house is laid out. So at this point I’m opting for vigilance and training you and removing you from the location entirely when I can’t be constantly vigilant. I’d rather you learn to be competent on them very early anyway. But knowing me I’ll probably change my mind a dozen more times in the next couple weeks.


I also spend a lot of time trying to stay ahead of the tiny hair rubber bands and marbles and random pieces of bite-sized crap on the floor. We big Powells have gotten lazy in the years between Meredith and you and now we’re having to institute new practices about what we do with marbles. The other day I was teaching a piano lesson and you’d finally given up sitting under the piano looking at me and fussing and you were happily playing by the stair rail next to me, content with your pile of toys and the quilt you’d pulled off the rail. I stood up to go check on the big kids and as I turned to walk away from you I noticed you were gagging on something. That was the WORST feeling ever: realizing that I’d almost walked away from my “safe” baby, leaving him with an inexplicable piece of foil wrapper in his mouth.


Meanwhile your ability to grasp tiny objects and successfully bring them to your mouth when they are actual food like black beans or cheerios remains quite paltry, and I spend a lot of time inserting things for consumption with my thumb and finger while you glow approvingly. Go figure.


I love when you crawl to me. You aren’t quite reaching for me with arms yet, but I can see the feeling there in your body, the quiver of approval when you realize I’m going to pick you up. And most of the time now “Come here” makes sense to you and you come trailing behind me.


You spend most of your time playing on the rug next to the kitchen, but you also enjoy being down in the basement on the carpet, chasing balls around. And you play in your room a good bit or by the stair railing where you can watch the stairs without actually falling down them. Sometimes you get to play in Daddy’s office while he works and you have earned your stripes at the organ pedalboard already, though you have yet to actually climb onto it.


One of your favorite spots is at the open front door, where I put you to watch cars on hands and knees at the glass storm door. You live for passing cars, and one of my favorite things these days is the most-nights’ addition to our bedtime ritual, which involves standing out on the front porch snuggling and saying “Hi” and “Bye” to passing cars and listening to the birds in the tall trees overhead.


You really are the sunshine of our little world. Jacob lives for you and spends a large percentage of his time trying to make you laugh with completely unsophisticated and disorganized antics. Meredith is slowly swinging back to the affection end of the spectrum and now approaches you with tender interest sometimes instead of a jaw set with alarming passion. She likes to sit right behind you and put her arms around her waste, and sometimes if she’s feeling particularly playful she leans back to lie down, taking you with her, just like Daddy does to her sometimes. You usually think this is hilarious, and I’m glad for her sake that you’re getting big enough to play like this.


I am loving the first opportunities to get outside as winter melts away, especially when we get a chance to spend time on a blanket together on the lawn, which has happened on two separate Sundays this month. This pastime was one of my favorite things four years ago when Jacob was a baby and it was just the two of us for hours at a time outside. I’m enjoying your company now instead and it’s sweetly reminiscent, and so precious to have these moments with you.






It’s fun having such a gap between you and Jacob and Merry because you feel like your very own event to me. Bedtime is a separate thing, and your material needs are 100% different from theirs. I love snuggling with you and playing with you. I love how you get excited and open your mouth wide to hyper-ventilate just like Jacob used to do. I love how you kick your legs when I hold you in the air like you’re furiously trying to swim up through the atmosphere. I rather think you’re going to be stuck a baby in my heart for a long time thanks to birth order, and I hope you won’t mind all the attention.


You’re having a difficult week right now thanks to teeth. It’s not your first tough week, though you had a reprieve last week after the two right front teeth popped through on the top. Now you’re working on their left hand counterparts and they are giving us both a run for our money. Many nights you’re waking every 2-4 hours just like a newborn, and sometimes you wake only a couple hours after put you down between 6 and 7 and cry until we give you tylenol. But I’m not sure who’s experiencing the most discomfort here because you have turned out to be a biter. Yesterday was particularly bad and you just needed to chew. Every time you latched to nurse you bit me and I was pretty traumatized by the end of the day. So hopefully you sort that out pretty fast or maybe you aren’t going to be a baby for so long…


We’ve been trying to catch your post-bath quirkiness on video lately without much success. You love your bath, and I’m calling it a win that you, as a third child, are actually getting a bath at bedtime at least 2-4 times a week these days. It’s becoming increasingly needful because of your presence at the dinner table with us, and I can only imagine how important it’s going to be in a few more weeks when we start our landscaping projects outside. You love to play and splash (and stand up!) and smack the silver wall drain disc. But when it’s time to get out and get dressed all you can think about is how cold you feel. I think it’s Daddy’s favorite thing about you, how you pour forth this gurgle-shiver-lament while he dresses you. Usually when I try to video it you just degenerate to crying and fussing right away, probably because of the presence of your food source.



I think my favorite things you do right now are your two primary sound effects, rivaled only by babbling “Bah bah bah.” You make these sounds at your happiest, silliest moments and are almost always happy to imitate me if I coax you to. The first is blowing raspberries, which is always a very bubbly affair, and the second is a little “Pah” sound you make, also quite bubbly. I think you learned it by imitating me, since I often make you laugh with a little popping sound but it’s now evolving into a kiss, and whoever you do it I say “Kiss? Kiss?” and lean in hoping you’ll actually bestow one on me. I think we’re getting close to this monumental occasion…






Actually, my favorite is probably the middle of the night these days. I was so zealous to sleep train Jacob and so deeply sleep deprived with Meredith that I don’t remember their nights sweetly. I know the easy, convenient comfort of your nursery across the hall from my room has to be the biggest factor. But I love the middle of the night when I wake to your crying (more like calling) and nurse you in the dark. Lately these brief moments have ended with you falling halfway asleep again, upon which I stand up and cuddle close to your face and kiss you and lay you back in your crib. You don’t let out a single fuss, just gather your blanket into your fist and sink into sleep.


Saturday night as I sat in your dark, quiet nursery at bedtime I found myself singing “Savior, like a shepherd lead us. Much we need thy tender care.” It was an impulse and an urge, and it was less of a song than a cry. I didn’t get past those first two lines, actually. They were the ones in my heart.


Two of my sweetest sisters answered me with the same reply on Saturday when asked on separate occasions “How are you?” “I’m exhausted. Just completely emotionally exhausted.” There’s a lot going on in our various interwoven worlds that is emotionally exhausting and by Saturday it seemed that there were a lot of people who had exceeded capacity. In fact, only a few minutes after singing this and rocking you I was in the car driving home from a closed pharmacy without an antibiotic, coming home to vacuum up glitter, wondering why in the world I was involving myself in the lives of totally messed up people. (We are hosting a tiny newborn for Safe Families and it is not a simple, hopeful situation.) What good will it do anyway? Past my capacity, I used the confines of my car to say the things my children aren’t ready to hear, lamenting to God about how totally pointless it all feels, and how exhausting, and how I so often feel totally over it.


Our pastor preached on prayer a few weeks ago, preached about how our prayers interrupt the goings-on in heaven, like a little child with the audacity to go sit on her father’s lap, regardless of what he’s busy with. He preached on the reality that our prayers are God’s means (somehow!!) of working in the world, and on the reality that when we pray we are engaging spiritual forces of good and evil, entering into actual battle.


Some weeks that feels very easy to believe, and these have been those weeks. It’s not only my own life, though waiting on a broken (actually not broken anymore) foot and a follow-up to an inconclusive biopsy after an ultrasound…and waiting on things to not all feel broken anymore – Well, I’ve got enough brokenness (I use this term in its most mechanical sense) to go around. But then there is the friend with a husband in a wheelchair as he recovers from a car accident that almost left her a widow with two tiny girls. There are the broken relationships all around me and the attempted suicide and the dysfunctional families and the woman younger than my own mom with rapidly growing lymphoma taking over her brain and that’s before we start discussing the whole topic of foster care and Safe Families, which I’ve discussed a lot in the last couple weeks.


There are forces of evil at work in the world and even in our hearts. Of course we are exhausted and crying out “much we need thy tender care.” Of course we are sitting in Bible study, we women who love our town so much, discussing the sense we feel that there is spiritual darkness right here.


As I rocked you I thought of seeing again the new setting of Psalm 130 I’ve just finished, a lament on my lips all the times these days. But another song came to mind, a melody I wrote for my dear friends, for babies they never got to care for, a sad story of not-adopted-after-all twins. I didn’t tell them I’d written it for several months afterwards until their forever little boy was safe in their home finally. The text comes from hundreds of years ago in Germany, and this past Saturday the words were not at all hard for me to comprehend:


Lord Jesus, since you love me,
Now spread your wings above me
And shield me from alarm.
Though evil would assail me
Your courage shall not fail me
I rest in your protecting arm.

My loved ones, rest securely,
For God this night will surely
From peril guard your heads.
Sweet slumbers may he send you
His angel hosts attend you
And through the night watch over your beds.

I love you, sweet boy, and Jesus does, too. We are resting in his protecting arm and he will keep us.