on being seen.

It’s past midnight when I finally collapse into bed. As I sink into the air mattress on the floor of our empty bedroom, my mind fills with scenes from the previous two days. The semi-truck parked in front of our home ready to hold all our belongings. One last walk around the neighborhood with the kids. Takeout Thai food in lawn chairs on the front porch. Heaving sobs as the lock turned on our empty house one final time. A 700-mile drive. A different empty house, waiting to be filled with our things.

Jake turns the light off and settles in next to me, his weight popping my side of the air mattress up. I flip over onto my back and center myself on my pillow. As my eyes adjust to the dark room, I notice the lights on the ceiling fan above me. The switch has been turned off, but the lights continue to glow slightly—four dim circles directly overhead.

I wonder why they aren’t completely black. It’s strange; the light is gone but also still here.

///

Four years before I sank into that lopsided air mattress, our family moved away from home for the first time. Jake had just graduated from medical school and a residency program awaited him in Ohio. In our first weeks there, I spent a lot of time on our front porch during nap time—my feet pressed firmly into the sturdy planks while also feeling as though I had completely lost my footing. One afternoon, as I watched a car drive down our street faster than it should, an unsettling combination of anger and jealousy rose within me. I thought of all the friends I had left behind and realized their lives were flying forward without me. Their daily routines and structures were relatively unchanged by my absence while everything I knew had been turned on its head.

Self-pity washed over me. I felt cut off and convinced myself I was forgotten.

A few days later, I checked my mail. As I sifted through the junk mail and coupon packs, a small postcard with a cityscape on the front caught my eye. I flipped it over. It came from a friend back home. The message was only 30 words long—a quick note to tell me she hoped the move had gone well—but those words overwhelmed me with gratitude. Seven hundred miles away, my friend had thought of me, and then she went one step further: She wrote down those thoughts  and sent them in the mail.

I walked inside and hung the postcard on the refrigerator, where it would stay until we moved four years later.

///

A few months after I got that postcard in the mail, Norah turned one. Instead of the family-filled party Lily had for her first birthday, we answered FaceTime calls and sat around our table, just the four of us. As we sang “Happy Birthday” that cold night in November and watched Norah eat an entire mini cupcake in one bite, I wondered how many of my friends back home remembered her birthday. Did they realize we were celebrating this milestone alone? The familiar pang of self-pity beat in my chest.

The next day, a package arrived on my doorstep. Inside, I found a board book of animals and a note: Dear Norah, We love you and miss you so much. Happy birthday! The gift came from another one of my friends from back home.

During the four years we lived in Ohio, our kids celebrated a combined 11 more birthdays (including the actual birth day of two additional kids), and this friend remembered to send a package for every single one.

She never forgot.

///

Toward the end of our residency in Ohio, Jake had to spend two weeks out of town at various conferences and job interviews while I stayed home with our five-year-old, three-year-old, two-year-old, and two-month-old. It was not an ideal situation, but we were all determined to make the best of it.

School schedules kept us busy during the day, but the afternoons and evenings were long and lonely. By the time I needed to cook dinner each night, my patience was thin and my energy for meal prep thinner. Then, just when I was feeling as though the two weeks would never end, a giant box arrived on my front porch.

The kids and I opened it together. We pulled out pasta, macaroni and cheese, Goldfish crackers, coffee, chocolate snacks, and various other pantry essentials.

“Who’s it from?” my oldest asked with a jar of peanut butter in her hands.

I checked the box for a note, but couldn’t find one. I remembered a conversation I had recently with another long-distance friend about how hard it was to have Jake gone for so long, so I picked up my phone and called her.

“Did you send me a giant box filled with food?” I asked her after she answered.

“Yes!” she said. “I thought it might help.”

It did.

///

Jake rolls over to his back and jostles me on the air mattress again. His movement pulls me into the middle, so I lay my head on his chest and close my eyes, exhausted from all the moving boxes, goodbyes, and general upheaval the previous days had held.

“Look at the lights,” he says; noticing the same dim glow I had moments earlier. “Why do they still look like they’re on?”

I glance up again. It’s not enough light to keep us awake at night, and if we weren’t looking directly at it, we probably wouldn’t even notice it at all. To see it, you have to make an effort.

The moving truck with the rest of our things arrives the next morning. The air mattress is replaced with a real one, and the rooms are filled with boxes of belongings. A few days later, I walk down our long driveway to the mailbox and, to my surprise, find a small package inside. I open it immediately and pull out a wooden ornament in the shape of Ohio and a note from a friend I just left behind: “Miss you already!”

Gravel crunches under my feet as I make my way back to our house, and I think about the various notes and packages I’ve received from long-distance friends throughout the years. As I hold the most recent one in my right hand, I realize the gift itself doesn’t even matter that much.

The real gift is the fact that someone took the time to notice. To see me. Even after my light had faded from view, my friends kept looking at me—seeing my dim glow from a distance and refusing to snuff me out.

Later that night, I lie in our bed and wait for Jake to turn off the lights. As soon as he flicks the switch, I stare intently at the four faint circles of light above me. Jake slides in next to me and grabs my hand.

“You doing okay?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say, feeling seen once more. “I think I am.”


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cleveland: the last chapter.

At this exact moment, my computer is sitting on top of a black and yellow Sterilite tote. To my left are two cardboard boxes labeled “Master Bedroom Misc,” and directly below me on a completely different floor are 20 more boxes carefully stacked in the corner of our living room—teasing our kids to come climb on them. Unfortunately for the kids, too many of those boxes are labeled “Fragile,” and, come to think of it, the main place they play probably wasn’t the best storage option for breakable kitchenware.

In a few days, I will watch as our house is emptied of these boxes. I’ll stand in the empty rooms left in the moving wake and feel the fullness of the memories each wall holds. I’ll hear the laughter of our kids, the cries of newborn babies, and sound of Jake’s footsteps coming up the steps in the middle of the night. I’ll breathe all these memories in, and then we’ll load up the van and drive away from this house for the last time.

I’ve been trying to figure out what there even is to say about this chapter as we close and move on to something new. Where do I even begin? How can I possibly sum up everything the past four years has taught me as it’s all about to go in the rearview mirror?

I can’t in this small space, but what I can say is this: Just because something can’t last doesn’t mean it can’t last.

This story, after all, isn’t about me. It’s about God. And, whatever God does endures forever.

Take our living room, for instance, even in its boxed-up state.

A cream-colored carpet square covers most of the floor. It’s not very soft—scratchy to your face if you lay down flat on it. I know this because, when we first moved here, it wasn’t unusual for Jake to come home from a long day at work to find me facedown on the carpet, crying and defeated after another hour-long bedtime battle at the end of another long, lonely day.

The walls are empty now, save for a lone painting in the corner. The textured pink walls we never got around to painting are chipped from nail holes and scuffed from the shelves we recently took down.

Then there is the oversized red leather chair and ottoman which I have claimed as my own. They sit in the corner of the room next to a small, antique side table, stacked tall with books, bibles, and journals. They’re right across from the biggest window in our house and where I sit almost every afternoon during rest time.

We’ll leave all this behind. The carpet. The empty walls. The corner of the living room I claimed as my own. But we’ll carry with us the things that last.

Those first months in our house were filled with long days and lonely nights—made more exhausting by our two-year-old’s bedtime screams reverberating through our house. I’d never choose to go back to that season where I ended many days flat on that scratchy carpet, but I’m forever changed by the way those days pointed me toward God. The ways they taught me to rest in his unchanging nature despite the fact that everything else had changed around me. I found strength in what should have been an unbearable circumstance because I could set my feet firm in that which wouldn’t change. The carpet stays, but the lesson goes.

I’ll never look at the badly painted pink walls again, and I’m sure the nail holes and scuff marks will soon be filled in and painted over by whoever moves in next. But those walls will always remind me of the good that comes when you make the effort to put holes in your walls. Not only did we make this house our home, but we also made Cleveland our home. We’ll leave the empty walls and a lot of good people behind, but the important reminders of community and how much better life is when you let people in will stay with us.

And then there’s the chair. That comes with, but it leaves behind my corner—the place where I learned how to rest. I’ll never read my bible with the same wide open window in front of me, but I’ll carry the habit along, always grateful for the ways Cleveland taught me to lean into God’s word before anything else.

Solomon is the one who says that “whatever God does endures forever” in Ecclesiastes 3, but there’s more to his point. “Nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it,” he goes on to say. “God has done it, so that people fear (see: revere, stand in awe) before him.”

This Cleveland chapter isn’t about me. It’s about the work God has done in my life—work that lasts even though the chapter doesn’t—so that people will stand in awe before him.

We are standing on the other side of four particularly challenging years and an eight year journey that very easily could have broken us. I’m so proud of our family for all that we’ve endured—for the choices we’ve made and the hard work we have accomplished. But the credit is not ours. God has done it. God has done it, so that we can stand in awe before him.

I can’t pack that up with the glass kitchenware, but, thankfully, I can carry it with me forever.

It lasts.

ode to a backyard swing set.

Before there was a swing set, there was just an empty backyard.

The first time I planted my feet in the yard was the first day we moved into our house almost four years ago. The air was warm, and the sun was setting to my right. I held a baby on my hip as I moved my eyes around with each exhale of breath. There was a wooden fence on one side and a chain link on the other. The back was lined with four tall pine trees, a fence in their own right. In the corner stood a tall oak.

Jake would hang a baby swing from a branch in the oak a few days later, our first tangible mark on the yard. A few days after that, we would add a pink plastic pool.

But in that moment, it was empty. Untrodden by tiny toddler feet. I heard Jake talking to my mom in the house behind me, and I remembered being in a different room in a different state with her just three months earlier. We had thrown a baby shower for one of my best friends, and as I stood in the corner of the room watching my friends and family mingle that day, I saw all the things I would be leaving behind with the move to Ohio. Sadness washed over me. A sadness which was quickly followed by gratitude.

As I surveyed the room, I realized that my sadness meant Jake and I had done something right. We had put down roots and immersed ourselves in our community. The move felt so hard because we had filled our lives with so much good.

My mom laughed from inside my empty kitchen and brought me back to the present.

I shifted my weight forward to my toes.

“I hope it’s hard to leave here too,” I thought to myself.

IMG_1928

///

The second summer we lived in Ohio, Jake decided we needed more than just a baby swing in the corner of our yard.

“I’m going to build the girls a swing set,” he said to me as we sat on our front porch one night after the girls had gone to bed.

I shifted in my rocking chair, seven-months pregnant with our third baby.

“They’re both too big for that baby swing, and it’ll be nice to throw them in the backyard to play once this new baby comes,” he continued.

“That sounds great,” I said.

Not even two days later, a swing set stood tall in our backyard, built piecemeal with wood Jake had found from the actual woods. Two swings hung from the center.

“It’s a little bigger than I was expecting,” I said, craning my neck and wondering if you could see it from the road, “but I love it.” That night I sat on a green lawn chair while I listened to the girls squeal as Jake pushed them on the swings. I pressed my toes into the grass, and our backyard felt full in all the right ways.

IMG_1920

///

“I think I’m going to add a slide to the swing set.” The girls, now 4 and 2, were swinging happily while our 9-month-old baby boy sat picking clover leaves in the grass at my feet. It was our third summer.

“It will be great. I’ll just build a platform off to the side and bring up the slide from the basement. We can even put the kiddie pool at the base and use the hose to turn it into a water slide.

The platform took him a morning to assemble, but he ran into problems with the slide.

“They’re going to break the pool unless I can slow them down before they hit it.”

And so, our bonafide water slide was born. For two summers in a row, the girls spent hours climbing up a ladder and sliding down a yellow playground slide onto a flat wooden platform which sent them into a new pink plastic pool—an upgraded version from our first summer.

The second summer of the water slide, I sat in the shade, seven-months pregnant again and noticed the wear in our backyard. There were two dirt spots under the swings where grass once grew, and toys littered the clover all around me. But I didn’t just see marks from our own family. A fire pit sat nearby filled with ashes—a remnant of a gathering of our friends—and a bottle of bubbles was just beyond, emptied at the hands of a three-year-old friend. The fences showed wear too, likely from all the times our kids pressed against them talking to the neighbors who loved us all like family.

I felt the roots we had laid and saw all the beautiful things that had grown from them.

swingset

///

The swing set is gone now.

A few weeks ago, on a cold, February afternoon, Jake took a chainsaw to it. We can’t take it with us when we move back to Iowa in a few months, and he was worried the sagging crossbar was going to snap from the weight of the swings.

So, our backyard is empty again. Void of the towering wooden structure that kept our kids entertained for three summers in a row. All that remains are those two patches of dirt.

As I watched the wood and swings collapse that day, my breath fogging up the cold glass while I held the newest baby on my hip, I felt the thankful sadness wash over me again. We built memories for our kids here. Put down roots and erected swing sets and lived these years in Ohio as connected to others as we could.

It will be hard to leave this behind.

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52 minutes.

I stare at the cell phone on my desk and will it to ring. It’s silent in my dorm room save for the quiet ticking of my roommate’s alarm clock and the occasional passersby on the sidewalk outside. I notice a couple walk by hand in hand while frustration prickles the back of my neck.

I snatch my phone and call Jake. I think better of this decision about two rings in, but the prickly anger wins as soon as I hear him answer.

“Hey,” he says. I hear confusion in his voice. I had seen him less than an hour ago, after all. He dropped by my dorm room on his way home from the cafeteria to say goodbye before I went home for fall break. He stood on my porch for about five minutes before he walked back across campus to his room. I wanted him to stay longer. Only, I didn’t actually tell him I wanted him to stay longer.

“Hey,” I say, icily.

Pause. “What’s up?”

I sit up straighter in my chair and load my words carefully. “You could have stayed longer than five minutes tonight, you know. I’m not going to see you for four days and, really, I have only seen you for like 52 minutes all week.”

As the last four words leave my mouth, I realize how ridiculous they sound, but it’s too late to swallow them back up. Instead, I’m left with silence and the mortifying fact that I had taken the walks between class, the quick drive to Taco Bell and the run-in at the student center and turned them into an exact amount of time. I mean, I hadn’t even bothered rounding up.

The silence on the other end shrinks me in my chair.

“Well,” he finally says, “I’m not sure what difference that makes. I guess I’ll see you in a few days.”

Click.

///

I am terrible at math—a fact that may surprise you given my keen attention to minute details.

I’m pretty sure I felt my first heart palpitation in third grade when my teacher placed a minute math worksheet in front of me. Mental math? Multiplication of fractions? Size estimations? Forget it. I’m still over here using my fingers to execute basic addition.

It’s funny then that I’m so prone to counting up minutes and storing them in labeled jars on the shelves of my brain, ready to unseal and wield at a moment’s notice.

When Jake and I were first dating, I saw a direct correlation between the health of our relationship and how much time we were able to spend together. In those early years, I was fixated on quantity over quality. It didn’t matter so much to me what we did when we were together as long as we spent enough time with each other.

A few years after that college night of specific numbers, my boyfriend became my husband, and time was ours. The years of demanding careers and 3 a.m. wake up calls were ahead of us, so we went on spontaneous road trips and played cards at Starbucks whenever we wanted. It was early marriage bliss.

The babies came soon thereafter though—four in just over five years—and, coupled with a job which required so many of Jake’s hours, time felt stacked against us. I could never seem to get as much time with him as I wanted.

Still today I often wish we just had more time.

///

My cell phone alarm nudges me out of a deep sleep. I roll onto Jake’s side of the bed and try to remember when we last slept here together. As I warm up his side of the bed, that mortifying memory from college comes to mind, and suddenly 52 minutes a week sounds pretty nice.

My thoughts are interrupted by the girls downstairs. I throw on a sweatshirt and meet them in the kitchen. Lily flips on the light. Norah follows and takes her seat.

“I want cereal,” they each say, nearly in unison.

Just as the milk hits their bowls, I hear Sawyer calling from the other room. I open his door and make my way toward his crib. He takes one look at me and asks, “Where’s dad?”

“He’s at work,” I say as I pick him up, “but I think he’ll be home soon.”

I take him into the kitchen where his own cereal bowl awaits him. With the kids quietly eating, I wonder if I have enough time to drink a cup of coffee before Jude awakes, but with that thought, I hear the front door open. Sawyer does too, and his eyes brighten.

“Dad!” he exclaims. “Dad’s home!”

Jake rounds the corner, fresh from another night at the hospital. As I watch him connect with each kid, I try to remember when I last spent time with him alone. My mind stretches back five days before he started this string of overnight shifts.

I wish I could tie a nice ribbon around it and say that I have learned to stop counting minutes and to be content with whatever time I have to spend with Jake, but the truth is, there are still some weeks where we don’t feel like we have enough time together because some weeks we don’t have enough time together.

So, I still do the math sometimes (usually on my fingers). During the weeks where our schedules line up just wrong, I look ahead to when we will next have measurable alone time to spend with each other. The difference now is that I no longer measure the strength of our relationship by these minutes.

Instead, I’ve learned to be grateful for the quality of the time we share. The 19 minutes drinking coffee together on the couch while our kids crawl around like cats at our feet. The 23 minute conversation at the kitchen table while the Paw Patrol theme song carries up the basement steps. The silence we enjoy together on the 10 minute drive to church. These moments can make all the difference as long as I make a choice not to squander them.

Jake meets me by the refrigerator and wraps me into his arms just as I’m shutting off my internal calculator.

“Hey,” he says.

“Hey,” I reply with a smile.

I want to make this moment count.

 


 p.s. If you want to read some different perspectives about what love looks like after babies, let me introduce you to my friends Cara and Stacy:

Butterflies by Cara Stolen

Still Looking for Love by Stacy Bronec

 


 One more thing! Each month, I send out a newsletter in which I regale my email friends with various thoughts about all the things I read, write, and love. If you want to get in on the fun, you can sign up HERE

the thing about fear.

A crying yell jolts me awake. I blink my eyes a few times to make sure I wasn’t just dreaming it, but her voice pierces through the darkness again. My feet hit the cold floor as I slide out of bed and make my way downstairs.

I find my five-year-old, Lily, sitting up in her bed. I start to ask her what’s wrong, but she doesn’t give me the chance.

“I had a bad dream,” she says.

“You did? I’m so sorry,” I say as I push a blond curl away from her face. “Let me cover you up, so you can go back to sleep. Everything will be okay. Mom and dad are right upstairs.” She settles back into her pillow, and I pull her comforter up to her chin. Her breathing has slowed, and her eyes are already closed when I kiss her forehead and quietly leave her room. I make my way through our house, quiet once more. Back in my own bed, I’m reminded of myself at age five, of the many times fear woke me from my own sleep and my parents had to assure me everything would be ok. Has she inherited my propensity for fear?

What’s more, am I teaching her how to face it?

///

I was afraid of almost everything as a child.

When I was four, I slept with a baby monitor next to my bed, so I could whisper to my mom in the middle of the night if I was scared. My parents’ bedroom was on the other side of the house, and, of all the possible options, I constantly worried that a mean version of Santa was going to sneak through the door between our rooms and cause some kind of trouble.

By the time I was six, pirates had replaced my fear of mean Santa. I would lay in my bed, shrouded in darkness, and peek through my blinds to make sure there were no ships, planks, or skull flags in view. Never mind the fact that we lived on a cement road 1,500 miles away from the ocean.

Each year brought a new scenario to add to my list. After meeting a family friend whose daughter had a serious illness, I would fall asleep convinced the inside of my body was incurably diseased. My parents had to pick me up early from a weekend trip with my grandparents once because I had a feeling our house was going to burn down in my absence. I even made my mom hang my lost teeth on the door of my bedroom because I wasn’t interested in a strange fairy coming anywhere near my pillow.

Each of these fears had one thing in common: the night. The setting sun had a way of illuminating the fears that plagued me, and as I would lay still in my bed each evening, my mind would race, spinning circles around itself.

I wish I could say I outgrew my fearful tendencies, but I’m still a natural worrier and master crafter of worst-case scenarios. Fear still catches in my throat at times and burrows into my pounding chest all while I’m trying to fall asleep at night. It’s relentless.

I have tried, again and again, to talk myself out of feeling afraid. I tell myself there is nothing to worry about—that my fears are irrational. I think, “Everything is going to be okay,” but then I quickly remember that I don’t have the power to predict the future. Even if it is unlikely that something will happen to me while I’m away from my kids (a small adjustment to one of my predominant childhood fears) or that I am harboring some kind of incurable disease, there is still a chance.

“Everything will be okay” is moot. There’s no way to know.

Except God knows. And this is the beginning of my hope.

So much of fear is rooted in the uncertain, the unknown. So, its counterpunch is what I can know.

And what I know is that God promises to always be with me. That he promises to fill me with peace. That my life is secure in him forever.

When I stand firm in what I know, I have words to speak to the fear.

///

The next night, I stand beside Lily’s bed, my fingers stroking those same blond curls, thinking about the previous night’s conversation—unsettled by how I addressed it. My assurance that “mom and dad are right upstairs” isn’t the hope she needs when fear strikes in the middle of the night. She needs the answer which will actually help her face her fear.

“Mom?” She interrupts my thoughts, her blue eyes looking into mine. “I don’t want to have any more bad dreams.”

“I know you don’t. I don’t want you to either.” I kneel down next to her bed. We talk about how God is always with us and how He promises to give us peace when we feel afraid. I ask her if she wants me to pray for God to help her not be afraid while she sleeps.

“Okay,” she says slowly, “but, can you also pray that I won’t have any more bad dreams?”

This is the crux.

God doesn’t promise a life without bad dreams, so I can’t either.

Instead, I offer her what I know.

“You might have more bad dreams, Lily,” I say while my fingers comb through her hair. “Even I still have bad dreams sometimes. But God loves you so much. And when you’re afraid, He’s always with you. No matter what happens, if you love Him, you’ll never be away from Him.”

She turns over on her side, satisfied for the moment. We pray together, and I kiss her forehead before I leave her bedroom. As I pull the door closed behind me, I realize this won’t be the last time we have this conversation. Like all of us, she will have to learn to navigate the things that scare her throughout her life, and she will have to let what she knows be bigger than what she feels.

I say a quick prayer that this is the beginning of her hope.

 


 

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to all the books i’ve loved this year.

I can still remember the first chapter book I really loved. I was a sixth grader when Mr. Smith placed The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill in my hands. Something about it captivated me, and it was the first of many books that has long stayed with me even into my adult years. To Kill a Mockingbird. Harry Potter. The Help. The Fault in Our Stars. The Nightingale.  Even today, I’m moved by the experiences I had looking at life through a different character’s lens.

But, interestingly enough, 2018 wasn’t my year for fiction even though, historically, that’s typically the lane I stay in. I read 20 books last year, and only seven of them were novels.

The other 13 were a mixture of memoir, essay collections, christian living, and general nonfiction, so to sum it up, I spent much of 2018 thinking about the implications of all the things I have have read.

It does seem fitting though that I ended the year with a novel, and there was a line in C.S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian that brought everything I have read this year full circle. It came toward the end as the Penvensie children and Trumpkin the Dwarf are attempting to make it to Prince Caspian and his ragtag army. Aslan the Lion shows up in the middle of the night to help, but it is only Lucy who can see him at first. Upon spotting him, she runs to him, and they have this exchange:

“Welcome child,” he said.
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

God became bigger to me this year, but He’s not the one who changed. There are a lot of factors at play, but many of the books I read last year challenged my thinking and revealed to me ways I needed to grow. And, the more I grew, the bigger I found God.

Needless to say, this has been one of my favorite years as far as books go.

I’ve already written about all of these books, so I’ll just include them in list form below. If you’re interested in any of my longer form thoughts, just click on the link attached to each month. For quick scanning purposes, I’ve included a five-star rating behind each book.

January

  • Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham ⭐️⭐️

February

  • To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

March

  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

April

  • Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Dance, Stand, Run: The God-Inspired Moves of a Woman on Holy Ground by Jess Connolly ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • The Teacher Diaries: Romeo and Juliet by Callie Feyen ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

June + July

  • Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • For the Love of Discipline: When the Gospel Meets Tantrums and Time-Outs by Sara Wallace ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️(I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It completely reframed so much of my parenting for the better.)
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

August

  • The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis ⭐️⭐️
  • Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilken ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️(This is another one that led to an incredible amount of personal growth for me. It challenged me in all the right ways.)

September

  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

October + November

  • Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis ⭐️
  • American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures by America Ferrera ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You by Shannan Martin ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

December

  • Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis ⭐️⭐️

A Few Other Things

I wrote a few things this month too. Over at Mighty Moms, I rounded up 21 of our favorite children’s books and wrote a little something about swaddle blankets. I also wrote a few words on Instagram about my internal struggle with Christmas traditions each year.

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Also, as a bonus, I fell in love with a few other things besides just books and words this year, so if you’re in the market for recommendations, here are a few of my other favorite things, compliments of 2018.

  • We discovered some new children’s books this year, and we all (kids and adults) are better for it. I wish you could hear my kids howl with laughter when we read The Book with No Pictures and our newest favorite is The Storm that Stopped (one book in a larger, wonderful collection).
  • barkTHINS snacking chocolate. Special shoutout to my friend, Breanna, for sending me a bag of this for my birthday and Costco for selling it in bulk.
  • These joggers and this tinted lip balm were two of my favorite purchases this year.
  • This recipe for white chicken chili and my friend Cara’s recipe for crusty bread have become well-loved staples in our house this fall/winter.
  • The Great British Baking Show. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Parks and Recreation. (Okay, so that last one is an old love, but every year I go back to it, and I’m never disappointed.)

The Last Thing (an action step!)

These monthly reviews have become one of my most favorite things to write. Not only is it helpful for my own means of processing, but I also just really love to tell people about the things I read and think about.

I’m going to keep reflecting at the end of each month, but (here’s the action step) moving into 2019, I’m going to format these monthly musings as an email rather than a blog post. That means if you’re someone who enjoys reading these posts, you’re going to need to subscribe to my email list. It’s as easy as clicking right here, but if you’re worried I’m going to start spamming you with daily emails, fear not. You’re only signing up for a single email at the end of every month in which I will regale you with tales of books read, summaries of articles written, and lists of things I can’t live without (have I mentioned this chocolate cookie recipe I recently discovered?).

In my quest to keep moving forward as a writer, this is my next right thing (oh! I loved The Next Right Thing podcast this year, too!). I’d be so honored if you’d stay with me. Writers aren’t anything, after all, if there isn’t anyone out there to read what they have to say.

(Here’s the subscription link again. 😉)

No More Things

(I bet you didn’t know how good I am at coming up with heading titles.)

2019 promises almost as much as 2018 threw at us. First, I’m going to kick off the year with a couple of books about the enneagram because I need to understand what this whole thing is about. But, on a more major scale, the Flinkman team is also getting ready to move back to Iowa in just a few months. Will knowing my enneagram number help with all the moving things? Stay tuned.

I can’t predict everything the future has in store, but I do know this: God is bound to seem bigger by this time next year as long as I keep growing myself.

 

 

 

 

october + november = books + thoughts

There’s a wood wick candle crackling on the other side of the room. It should probably be a Christmasy scent like balsam fir or gingerbread, but, instead, we’ve still got pumpkin butter burning over here. There is not a single Christmas decoration up in our house, and every morning when the kids and I walk to the van for school drop-offs, Lily asks me why our pumpkins are in the pile of snow to the side of the porch.

(I’m actually not sure how they ended up there.)

We’ll get to the Christmas tree here soon enough, but for now, I’m thinking about everything November threw at me. (And October, for that matter, because I skipped last month’s review. Halloween and four kids was a busy way to end the month. )

What I Read

I read three nonfiction books over the past two months which, content-wise, had very little in common. Each one made me think in very different ways, but they all pointed to one similar theme: An encouragement to draw a wider circle around the people I interact with. It’s reminiscent, really, of something I’ve been thinking about since I read Braving the Wilderness back in April.

Shannan Martin summed up this idea well in her book, The Ministry of Ordinary Places:

Simply put, we cannot love what we do not know.
We cannot know what we do not see.
We cannot see anything, really until we devote ourselves to the lost art of paying attention. (pg. 19)

I might not have liked all the books I read this month, but I did appreciate that each author reminded me to lean in to the people around me every chance I can.

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis

The short answer to how I felt about this book is this: I did not like it. The long answer is probably better explained in person over a cup of coffee or through a wordier email exchange because my feelings feel very nuanced. (Plus, I had different types of problems with it, and I don’t think you’re here for a complete literary analysis.)

American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures by America Ferrera

I recently quit Twitter (one of my better personal decisions, really—that place is stressful), but before I did, I saw Lin-Manuel Miranda make mention of a book of essays he had contributed to, and, after reading the summary, I ordered it on the spot.

Inside this book are thoughtful reflections from 31 different actors, comedians, politicians, artists, writers, and athletes (12-year-old Molly was especially thrilled that this included Michelle Kwan). They all come to the table with very different experiences and perspectives but are united in the fact that they all grew up closely connected to more than one culture.

In today’s political climate, I’m noticing how easy it can be to speak for other groups of people with only the knowledge a distance can provide. This book certainly doesn’t replace the necessity of face-to-face interaction with those of varying cultures or beliefs, but it did provide me with a lot of powerful perspectives which I’m thankful for.

The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You by Shannan Martin

The premise of this book is simple: Pay attention to the hidden corners of your communities. The unnoticed places. The overlooked neighborhoods. The ignored people. Then, invest there. This book is filled with stories of the power that comes from sharing your life with other people.

There are two sections I keep circling back to in my brain:

…as we practice proximity with those we think of as lacking, we will begin to see ourselves aligned, the chasm between us narrowed to the width of the street where we live. Rather than clinging to this easy vernacular of “them” and “us,” let’s keep being broken together, slow to assume that certain people automatically need Jesus. Maybe they already have him. Maybe they just need a true friend. Maybe if we find ourselves compelled toward them it’s because we need to be discipled by them. (from “Let’s Stop Loving on the Least of These” pg. 118)

Mother Teresa famously said, “If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family.” We gobble up her words, plastering them on signs and hand-lettering them onto notecards. We love them because they are beautiful. And profoundly true. But let’s not forget, this is the same Mother Teresa who reminded us to ‘draw a wider circle’ around who we consider family. Seen under the light of that truth, new meaning emerges. If we want our world to be better, we have to go out and love the people around us. We need to invite them in, as family. (from “We All Are Mothers” pg. 142)

What I Wrote

I’m getting back in the swing of writing now that my self-defined maternity leave has ended. Jake has been working a lot of nights this past month, which gives me a lot of quiet evenings to sit in front of my laptop.

In my own space, I wrote about the time we thought our kids had head lice and how it actually served as a means to point me back to the Gospel. Over at Mighty Moms, I wrote an article about how to involve kids in Thanksgiving (a little after the fact now) and a round-up of toy ideas for little kids who love cars (specially dedicated to Sawyer).

I’ve also been writing some micro-essays on my public Instagram page. So often, very small moments throughout my days reveal deeper concepts to me, and Instagram has served as a nice outlet for those thoughts because it forces me to use fewer words (and also gives me a reason to play around with photography).

A few days ago, I wrote this quick reflection after Norah’s lunchtime prayer happened to reroute my entire day:

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Onward Christmas Candles!

Every year, when I flip the giant $3 calendar I get from the Target dollar section to December, I think, “Didn’t I just buy this?” Jake asked me the other day if I think time will ever feel slower to which I said simply, “No.”

I’ve got two more books on my “to read list” for this year, but, honestly, I’m mostly just looking forward to looking back at 2018 as a whole. But, in addition to a lot of big things happening in our family, I also can’t ignore the small threads that repeated themselves throughout each month.

But, there I go getting ahead of myself and it’s not even officially December yet.

Tune in next month?

the one about head lice and the Gospel.

I am pouring my second cup of coffee when I hear my phone ring in the living room. I have just returned home from our hour-long morning drop-off routine and am ready to sink into the couch and watch Sawyer play with his trucks.

I expect to find my mom on the other end since she’s typically the only person who calls me at 9:00 a.m. on a weekday morning but instead see the name of Lily’s school on the screen. I answer the phone almost certain I will hear the voice of the school nurse on the other end and am not mistaken.

“Mrs. Flinkman?”

“Yes.”

“Hi, I’ve got Lily here in the nurse’s office. We found a small infestation of lice on her head, and I’m going to need you to come pick her up.”

I groan inwardly and suddenly feel very itchy. “Oh. Okay. I’ll be right there.”

Twenty minutes later, I’m standing in the nurse’s office with Lily at my side and a sheet of lice removal services in my hand.

“You’ll need to take all your kids to get checked and treated before Lily can come back to school.”

Lice protocol, it seems, is a little bit different than when I was a kid. I am told as I pick Norah up from preschool that lice have mutated and are resistant to the box kits you can buy at the store. So, apparently now I’m dealing with mutant lice.

My warm cup of coffee and relaxing Thursday morning turned into mutant lice in less than an hour.

Once home, I strip every piece of fabric from our beds and wonder how I can keep the girls’ heads from touching any surface in the house until our lice removal appointment at 3:30. It’s at this point—as my attempts to keep it all together are crumbling into complete hysteria—that Jake wakes up.

He takes Lily into the bathroom with a magnifying glass and emerges three minutes later.

“It’s dirt,” he says matter-of-factly. “The kids were playing in the trees in the backyard yesterday, and Lily’s hair is dirty. She doesn’t have lice.”

Jake’s diagnosis is confirmed later that afternoon when the mutant lice expert separates every section of hair on each girl’s head looking for nits.

“I don’t see anything that even resembles lice,” she says as she hands me a certificate declaring all of my kids lice-free.

As if this day wasn’t already weird enough, I am now in the possession of official documentation to prove it.

Hours later, Jake and I collapse on the couch. Our freshly bathed kids are asleep on clean sheets, and all that’s left for us to do is laugh.

I’ve been wondering since then though if I would’ve been able to laugh that night (or every single day since) if our kids actually did have lice. How would I have told this story differently if that had been the ending? What’s more, would I have told it at all?

The idea of bugs living on my kids’ heads freaked me out most of that morning, but to be completely honest, I was less worried about the actual bugs and was, instead, more concerned about the stigma that might get attached to our kids upon returning to school. I didn’t want this to be a label that stayed with our family. I didn’t want it to change the way people viewed us.

I suppose I could write that off as a protective maternal instinct, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that my fear about lice really reveals a pride that has burrowed deep down into my heart. A pride that I didn’t even realize was there.

I think almost daily about transformation and the abundant life God has shown me. I think less frequently about what He has saved me from—the wretchedness of my own heart. But where is the joy in my transformed life if I don’t first acknowledge where I began? Or, more importantly, where I need to begin?

I’m not a good person who has figured out how to live a great life. I’m a sinner—the same as anybody else—whom God has transformed and continues to transform. And the joy of my salvation comes from acknowledging the breadth of that spectrum.

All it took was a few hypothetical mutant lice to remind me of the beauty of the Gospel. Admittedly, that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write, but I’m thankful all the same.

september in the rear view.

I always feel particularly conflicted at the end of September. On one hand, it is one of my favorite months, but on the other hand, it ushers in the beginning of fall which, I recognize is a funny point to make because the truth of the matter is also this:  I love fall too. It’s just that its official entrance is always marked by a twinge of sad anticipation because I know it will never last as long as I want it to.

That’s right, people. I feel a little sad at the beginning of fall because I’m already thinking about it ending.

My natural inclinations are a bit of a buzzkill sometimes. I’m working on it.

September, nevertheless, is now in the rear view mirror, and I’m happy to report that despite my overall level of exhaustion (sleep when the baby sleeps is so 2013), I’m still reading things over here!

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Books I Read

I finished two more of The Chronicles of Narnia this month. While I’m reading, I’ve made a habit of dog-earing the pages I know I’ll want to come back to. As I looked back through those pages today, I realized I had marked two similar passages between these two books.

In the first, the Beavers are trying to explain who Aslan is to the Pevensie children. In the second, Shasta meets Aslan for the first time. In both, a unique sense of awe is beautifully described.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion–the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.”

The Horse and His Boy 

“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.” …

“Who are you?”

“Myself,” said the voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then the third time” Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all round you as if the leaves rustled with it.

Shasta was no longer afraid that the Voice belonged to something that would eat him, nor that it was the voice of a ghost. But a new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet he felt glad too.

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Articles I Clicked

Last month was Pandas. This month, turtles. My favorite excerpt from this particular National Geographic article was this:

An absence of turtles would be a “cultural, psychological loss,” to many societies, Gibbons says. We revere their traits of persistence and serenity. They’re the one reptile that just about everyone likes. I’ve never heard anyone say, “Gosh, I hope a turtle doesn’t get into my house,” he says.

Also, if you are a person, like me, whose husband often works weird and/or long weekend hours, I highly recommend the last article on this list: “My Saturday Idol.”

O Autumn!

Since we’re on the topic of things I like to read, it only seems fitting to send my brain into October with this quote from one of my favorite books, Attachments by Rainbow Rowell:

October, baptize me with leaves! Swaddle me in corduroy and nurse me with split pea soup. October, tuck tiny candy bars in my pockets and carve my smile into a thousand pumpkins. O autumn! O teakettle! O grace!

I’d just like to add this: October, breathe your crisp air steadily and light your vibrant colors on fire for all your days (and even into November if you’d like to).

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the upheaval of august.

At this exact moment, I am sitting on the couch with a snoozy baby on my chest. I’m sipping hot coffee out of an old travel mug while watching Norah get her own baby packed up and ready for a walk in the stroller. I’m typing with a single thumb on my iPhone while we wait for Jake and Sawyer to get home from kindergarten drop off.

Our rhythms have changed in the past 31 days.

As a person who thrives on routine and expected outcomes, the complete upheaval a newborn brings is always the hardest thing for me to adjust to. “Just take it one day at a time” is not a mantra that comes naturally to me. Even on the good days, you can usually find me anticipating the harder ones.

We’ve done this dance four times now. And, each time even the upheaval has looked vastly different. Here’s one thing that hasn’t changed though: My ability to consume a completely random assortment of information and entertainment in the middle of the night. With Lily, it was Friends reruns and Jimmy Fallon clips, and with Norah, I alternated episodes of Chopped and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (that was almost 4 years ago, so I feel pretty ahead of the game on that one). As for Sawyer, I watched a lot of Chicago Cubs game summaries as they inched closer to the World Series.

It has been no different with baby Jude, and I thoroughly enjoyed remembering all the places my brain has been ping-ponging around in the last month.

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So, without further ado:

Books I Read

The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis

I recently finished compiling my personal collection of The Chronicles of Narnia. I decided to reread the series because I can’t remember the last time I read them and, even more alarmingly, can’t remember if I ever actually finished all the books. I love the way Lewis narrates these stories, and I was especially captivated by his description of the World Between the Woods early on in this one:

“It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine. There were no birds, no insects, no animals, and no wind. You could almost feel the trees growing. The pool he had just got out of was not the only pool. There were dozens of others–a pool every few yards as far as his eyes could reach. You could almost feel the trees drinking the water up with their roots. This wood was very much alive” (32).

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilken

I’ve been thinking for some time that, in my reading of the Bible, I’ve been relying too heavily on studies or devotionals to give me insight or understanding. While I like the thematic approach and wisdom of people like Catherine Martin or Beth Moore, I’ve been wondering lately why I feel as though I can’t read my Bible without the guidance of someone else. I started looking into the inductive method of Bible study and then saw this book recommended repeatedly. Wilken’s suggestions and wisdom are practical and added to a thought process I had already begun churning in my brain.

“I cannot truly be a God-worshipper without loving the Bible deeply and reverently. Otherwise, I worship and unknown god” (147).  

Articles I Clicked

This was my favorite list to round up because it is so obviously the work of a person who has been reading articles at literally all hours of the day. I mean, in the past 31 days, I have gained knowledge about Jimmy Carter, millennial evangelicals, AND the lengths one must go to in order to photograph pandas.

Follow-up question: Can you guess which one of those articles I read in the middle of the night?

Things I Watched

Speaking of things you do in the middle of the night when you have a newborn, “Watch Happy Things on YouTube” is one of my survival pro-tips. In the past few weeks, I have found some new things I had never seen before and also returned to some old feel-goods. I couldn’t resist passing them along in case you need an end of the month pick-me-up.

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda Wedding Surprise: Since I discovered the existence of this video a few weeks ago, I have already watched it five times because it makes me so happy. As if I didn’t already love Lin-Manuel Miranda enough, he surprised his wife with a rendition of “To Life” from Fiddler on the Roof with their entire bridal party. If you haven’t seen this, stop everything you’re doing and watch it immediately.
  • Joe Biden on The View: I actually watched this as it aired live last December and was so moved by the humanity of Joe Biden speaking to Meghan McCain about her dad’s cancer that I returned to it this week in light of John McCain’s death.
  • Like Real People Do: Sometimes all you need to brighten your spirits at 3:30 in the morning is a classic So You Think You Can Dance routine. (Or, is that just me?) Full disclosure: I couldn’t remember the name of either of these dancers or the song when I wanted to watch it last week, so I just typed “yellow dress sytycd” into Google and came out a winner 0.49 seconds later.
  • Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney: Okay, so this one is old news, but given that we just named a baby Jude, Jake and I obviously had to rewatch and sing along with this one.
  • The Great British Baking Show: There have been a few nights in which I’ve been up for multiple hours straight, but Paul and Mary kept me company while teaching me about proving and blind baking.
  • Journeywomen Podcast: Humor with Holly Mackle and Caroline Saunders: Technically I didn’t watch this one, but I did listen to it the other morning. I didn’t go into it thinking I would take that much away, and, instead, the opposite happened. As someone who tends to get a little too tightly wound about things that don’t really matter, this contained a lot of things I needed to hear, and it also made me laugh.

What I Wrote

NOTHING.

Self-proclaimed maternity leave is FUN and it’s been refreshing to turn my inner taskmaster off.

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Continued Upheaval

The baby woke up, so I moved to the floor. Sawyer is back now; Jake dropped him off when he came back for Lily’s forgotten backpack. I finished my coffee and am now typing with two thumbs while Sawyer and Norah play together and ask periodically if it’s “nack time.” Quiet doesn’t keep around here for long.

That’s nothing new though.

The newborn upheaval is expected. It doesn’t catch me off guard like it did the first few times, but it does continue to serve as a reminder that my life is not defined by the circumstances that surround me. It’s nice to have YouTube and my News app to keep me busy in the middle of the night, but those aren’t the things that get me through these long days.

God has continually reminded me in the past few weeks that He is my source of strength and contentment. Everything else might change (see: will change), but He doesn’t.

The same God who created panda bears to be particularly elusive creatures and gave humans a sense of curiosity to try to photograph them is also the same God who is with me every hour of every day. On the hard days. On the good days. On the uneventful ones too.

I’m back on the couch. I can’t tell you how long it’s taken me to write this. The baby is asleep again, my coffee is refilled, and I took a break to play with the two middle kids.

Everything looks different than it did 31 days ago, but also, the things that matter look exactly the same. August has been good to us.

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