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.

 


 

psssst! Each month, I send out a newsletter containing a few thoughts about all the things I read, write, love, and think about. If you want to get in on the fun, you can sign up HERE! 

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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so long sweet summer.

If it were possible to physically latch on to a single month, you would find me right now with a firm grip on July. I thought May was my favorite month and then July 2018 rolled around and set the gold standard. It was all the things.

Jake and I kicked off the month on the shores of Lake Erie with a kid-free weekend and rounded it out by celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary at our kitchen table with some takeout Indian food. In between, we mostly filled our days with trips to the pool, afternoons by the backyard waterslide, and walks around the neighborhood. It was all made possible by Jake’s miraculous July residency schedule which allowed him to be home more than he was at work.

Like I said, all the things.

But, time marches on as it always does. So, I’m loosening my hold on July and letting it slip into the memory banks. After all, who’s to say July will still have the gold standard by the end of next month?

In any case, here are a few things I read and wrote the past few months. (June included, because summer Molly is super flexible and let myself off the hook for that particular monthly review. I’m also working on letting unreasonable expectations slip through my fingertips.)

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Books I Read

At the end of May, I was 84 pages into Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and, because my library loan ran out after my third renewal (oops), I’m still only 84 pages in and waiting for it to be available again. I did manage to read 3 books between June and July though, and they varied wildly in terms of content and topic. They all made me think and reflect in such different and powerful ways.

Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

I won this book in a drawing (as one does) and then let it sit untouched for a few months. I picked it up on a whim at the end of June and then finished it a week later. In short, DeMoss-Wolgemuth takes an in-depth look at the discipleship method found in Titus 2. My favorite chapter was her take on what it looks like to be workers of the home, and, more specifically, this excerpt:

Jesus, too, is a homemaker. “I go to prepare a place for you,” He said to His disciples on the eve of His betrayal. “I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).

At the heart of the gospel, at the heart of the cross, is the Lord Jesus opening His arms wide and saying, “I want you to come Home with me.”

And when we cultivate homes where others can grow and be nurtured, where they feel welcomed, loved, and cared for, we put the heart and character of God on display.

A few paragraphs later, she quotes her friend Jani Ortlund who similarly spoke to this thought:

Our homes, imperfect as they are, should be a reflection of our eternal home, where troubled souls find peace, weary hearts find rest, hungry bodies find refreshment, lonely pilgrims find communion, and wounded spirits find compassion. (222-223)

For the Love of Discipline: When the Gospel Meets Tantrums and Time-Outs by Sara Wallace

I can’t say enough good things about this particular parenting book. It’s quick and to the point, and Wallace gave me a lot to think about in terms of the words I use when correcting my kids. She has a great chapter on helping kids deal with fear as well as some really wise thoughts about the difference between childishness and disobedience. My favorite part though was in a chapter about finding the balance between disciplining too much and too little:

Consider this scenario: A mom pours her daughter some cereal in a blue bowl. She sets it down in front of her. The little girl screams in anger and pushes it away. “I want the pink bowl!” she screams, scowling and wildly kicking her legs under the table. The mom glances inside the cupboard. Yes, there is a pink bowl there. Sighing, the mom thinks to herself, “I have to choose my battles,” and she gets the pink bowl out of the cupboard and re-pours the cereal.

We’ve all be in similar situations. We’re tired. We want to make our kids happy. We think, “I’ll discipline my child when he does something really bad.” If we continue with the analogy of a battle, we can see how dangerous this thinking is. Imagine walking onto a real battlefield. The enemy comes rushing toward you. You’re seconds away from being face-to-face with your foe. You don’t have the option of saying “I don’t feel like fighting today” or “The enemy doesn’t look that strong. I’ll fight when a bigger enemy comes along.” We don’t get to choose whether or not we will battle our kids’ sin. We enter into the battle the day we become parents.

It’s important to remember we are never fighting against our own children. We are fighting alongside them. When we lay down our swords, we expose our kids to attack. They are too young to fight for themselves. We have to do battle for them. Doing battle with sin means getting our hands dirty. It means fighting for our kids’ hearts even when we’re too tired. (53-54)

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

I’m really late to the party on this one. This was published in 2014 and has been sitting on my shelf since last September when my friend Jess sent it to me for my birthday. At times it reads a little like a John Grisham novel except it’s written by Bryan Stevenson, a real human being who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, and those trapped in the furthest reaches of our criminal justice system (per the back cover of the book).

Toward the end of the book, Stevenson reflects on what he has learned about brokenness and mercy and touches on something I’ve been thinking about since I read Brene Brown’s thoughts about “moving in” a few months ago.

Whenever things got really bad, and they were questioning the value of their lives, I would remind them that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. I told them that if someone tells a lie, that person is not just a liar. If you take something that doesn’t belong to you, you are not just a thief. Even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer. I told myself that evening what I had been telling my clients for years. I am more than broken. In fact, there is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us. (290)

Things I Wrote

In May, I mentioned a 10,000 word writing goal that I had for myself. I came up a liiiiittle short with just shy of 8,500 words, but I did finish a fun project I’ve been working on since March.

But, since that’s all still a little in-progress, it’s also worth noting that I published some smaller pieces this month, too. I put my research cap on over at Mighty Moms to write about pacifier weaning (you know, the most fun thing ever) and toddler pool safety while also penning this love letter to first-time moms.

More personally, I also reflected upon our family’s two favorite July holidays: National Doctors’ Day and Our Wedding Anniversary. (Did I mention we celebrated a DECADE? It still feels like kind of a big deal.)

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So Long, Sweet Summer

It’s possible that the impending addition to our family and the fact that Lily is only 16 days away from starting kindergarten have something to do with the fact that I’ve been over here trying to squeeze everything I can out of June and July before summer and the general status quo escapes my grasp.

But, if there’s something I’m learning as I reflect on the end of each month, it’s this: The looking forward to what’s to come is far superior to the wishing to hold on to the past.

So, so long sweet summer. We’re ready for all the things that are next.

firecrackers and a decade of marriage.

Ten years ago today, Jake and I got married.

I put on a white dress and wore a veil with a huge hole in it while, down the hall, Jake put on a tan suit and probably complained that I didn’t let him wear linen pants. I walked down the aisle to the wrong song, almost messed up a line of our vows, and taught Jake how to light the unity candle as we were lighting it.

It’s funny which details you remember most vividly isn’t it?

And then suddenly I blinked, and we were pronounced husband and wife. And as we made our way off the stage, our groomsmen marked the occasion by lighting firecrackers and throwing them in our direction.

You read that right. We literally walked into our marriage with the sound of firecrackers popping behind us.

It’s hard to forget a moment like that.

I’ve been thinking about those firecrackers a lot this week because my tendency, in writing especially, is to try to wring deep thoughts from seemingly insignificant things. I mean, after all, last year’s anniversary reflection was inspired by a lighter and a broomstick while the year before that, all my marriage thoughts stemmed from the fact that I had just read the word “teleological” in a book.

So, as I’ve been thinking and reflecting on the past 10 years of marriage, I’ve been wanting those firecrackers to transform into something. I’ve been wanting a beautiful metaphor about love and marriage to emerge because an entire decade feels like it deserves something deep and profound.

But then a thought occurred to me: What if I just let them be firecrackers?

What if this year, I don’t over analyze how hard we’ve worked at this marriage thing? What if I don’t try to oversimplify ten years of marriage? What if *gasp!* I just let the firecrackers be firecrackers?

And so, this year I don’t have any deep thoughts to share. Instead, all I really want to say is this: I felt those firecrackers a decade ago, and I still feel them today.

I’m happy to reside in the simplicity of that today.

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the place where residency and gratitude meet.

Just over three years ago, our family rolled into Cleveland.

Jake came first in a pretty janky hand-built trailer that almost didn’t make the whole trip, and then the girls and I pulled into the driveway the next day. I remember exhaling deeply as I looked at our house in person for the first time with a seven-month-old and two-year-old in tow. I had no idea then what was in store for us or what a life of medical residency would look like.

Three summers have passed. Now, there’s a five-year-old, a three-year-old, and an almost two-year old in tow, and I’m still exhaling deeply. Only this time, it has more to do with the fact that I just chased Sawyer down for the 18th time to keep him from running into the street or inviting himself into our neighbors’ houses.

Now, each summer since that first of complete upheaval, our family has recognized July 1st as an important American holiday, but this time, it feels especially monumental because, as of today, Jake has officially entered his FINAL YEAR OF RESIDENCY (and I can’t stress enough how necessary the caps-lock is here).

Per usual, I’m feeling reflective. After Jake finished his first year, I wrote about how I learned to navigate his long hours which, hindsight, was fitting because that year I’m pretty sure he worked all the hours. Last summer, after year two, I wrote about how I was finding perspective in the fact that I wasn’t the only one wading through a difficult season and how I was looking forward to sharing my experiences with others in similar places. (In fact, not long after I wrote that post and mused about a hypothetical residency friend, I made a real-life one, and we lived a lot of life together during this past year.)

This year, though, I mostly just want to write about how grateful I am to have lived this residency life, which is funny because I would never sugar coat this stage of our lives as particularly easy or wish to live within its confines for any longer than I have to.

Yet, I feel overwhelmingly thankful for this challenging season because it has revealed things to me about God’s faithfulness and His rich promises that I otherwise don’t think I ever would have learned.

I’ve been thinking about a verse in the book of John a lot lately. It’s found right in the middle of a passage where Jesus is laying down a great metaphor about being a Shepherd who knows and leads each of His sheep by name.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” He says. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

I love the word choice here. Abundantly: More than is needed. Over sufficient. Plenty.

Christ came so that we could live a life that overflows at the brim, but that’s not even my favorite part. My favorite part is that His words don’t contain any asterisks. There isn’t a list of anyone excluded from experiencing the abundant life. He didn’t say, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly after they finish their medical residency requirements.”

This is how God has shown up for us in the past three years.

Despite the lack of physical support initially, the insanely long working hours, and the various parenting challenges we have waded through, God has shown me that an abundant life is waiting to be lived each day. That I am not, and never will be, excluded from this lavish promise regardless of whatever my circumstances might look like.

Of course life still felt and continues to feel hard sometimes, but that, I think, is just the nature of life and the seasons we go through, isn’t it? “Hard” is relative, after all, as everyone is facing some kind of daily battle (often much more challenging than my own). Unchanging is the fact that Jesus promises a life overflowing. That His redeeming love, eternal hope, and gift of joy are the source that leads to discovering a life of abundance.

Year four is ahead. And, as I stare down this last stretch of residency, I see a lot more change and uncertainty and general upheaval.

But more importantly, I also see the things that will not change.

When it comes down to it, that’s all that really matters. And for that, I am so incredibly grateful.