family devotions with a toddler

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. – Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Like most Christian parents, we would say teaching our kids about the Bible is utmost in our parenting goals. And the scripture itself is pretty straightforward: this is a non-negotiable part of raising a family. Practically, though? We have felt a little paralyzed when thinking about how to go about it at this stage, with a baby and a toddler who can’t sit still long enough for the evangelical neocalvinist gold-standard Jesus Storybook Bible lesson. My craftsy brain loves thinking about flashcards, crafts, activities, pictures, and all other sorts of things the lower-case-g-gods of Pinterest had to offer me as tools for toddler family worship times, but… anything with manipulatives or print-outs is totally not happening right now. Our life is not settled. The walls are half-painted. I keep my baking dishes in the basement because between three houses and two apartments, this is the smallest kitchen I have ever had. I don’t even have our printer set up and I have no idea where I would keep extra papers/toys/Jesusy-things. And the thought of having more items to pick up at the end of the day might make me cry. So for now, those devotional “extras” are out.

Beyond my online blog hunting, I have also been reading up on The Most Elite Parenting & Family Devotional Books in an effort to figure out  The One Right Way to Teach Children About Jesus Without Screwing Them Up.

books

Just a start here… I have more books on this topic on a different shelf.

 

With all the upheaval of our life and the pressure of figuring out how to handle this task, imagine our relief when we figured out what to do! We just started reading a great book with Annie before bed. It’s called (wait for it) … The Holy Bible, which is perfect for distracted wandering toddlers and toddlers-at-heart like me.

Yep. After exhaustedly searching through loads of blogs and books, I threw my hands up, put my daughter on my lap, and did what I should have done in the first place: I opened up my Bible and started reading it to her. Although there is a part of me that panics about this, I did not download lesson plans or create a comprehensive a reading strategy or make verse cards or read three books about how to teach the Bible to children. There can be a great place for this stuff and they may enter the picture later, but programmatic extras would be a burden instead of a blessing right now.

I’m still battling some inner anxiety about how much more we could be doing, but I realized if I am waiting to read the Bible with my kids out of fear that I’m not doing it right, I have really, really missed the point. . While it might be beneficial to organize things more than this, I am realizing quickly that there is a line between being intentional and overthinking things. When I don’t respect that difference in my parenting, my kids are going to pay, and this is the one place I would be most heartbroken to mess up.

So what does this look like practically? I hope this season of transition will come to an end soon and the following statement will never be true again, but we just moved so we do not have a home church and neither one of us participates in a bible study program, so without something else to track with we are reading the gospel of Matthew. Why the gospel of Matthew? Because I seriously just flipped through the pages Bible-roulette-style and realized the gospels were broken up into lots of manageable paragraphs that can be read quickly. No overthinking.

PART ONE: At first, we start off with a quick prayer. (“Help us listen to your true word, the Bible, so we can learn about Jesus.”) Then, one of us reads a few verses while the other corrals and redirects Annie to sit quietly. We usually reinforce a few basic points that may or may not be going completely over her head.

I began making a 5-minute-prep lesson plan on a sticky note. That lasted two nights. We now wing it. But in case you are curious, here’s what my plan said for Matthew 1:18-25. I would share a picture, but the post-it no longer exists. I believe someone ripped it in half and possibly ate it. (I know what you are thinking, but no, it wasn’t Aaron.)

“Jesus:  He will save his people from their sins.” “Immanuel: God is with us.”
Sin separates us from God. When Jesus saves us, we are not separated from God and He is with us!
Songs: Jesus, Name above all names & O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

That’s it. This is a few verses with a 16-month-old, not a seminary class.

bible time

Not seen: bedtime bottle thrown to floor, Thomas eating or shrieking like a pterodactyl, Annie yelling “Ba! Ba! Ba!” every time she sees Max, etc.

PART TWO:  We sing some songs we already know. The double-edged sword of toddlers’ development is that they are wired to love and learn from doing the same things over and over. (On a related but less important note, I have some very serious side-eye looks to send Eric Carle about “Brown Bear, Brown Bear.”) This means that a toddler or preschooler needs to sing the same songs 2-3 times in a row, and repeat them night after night, too. I’m a musician so this comes naturally to me. Aaron’s not, so I encourage him to use volume to make up for what might be lacking in the vocals department. Family worship is a lot like spreading Christmas cheer, so the best way to do it is singing loud for all to hear. This is just private time at home, not a Hummel Family Singers professional debut.

Then we say a prayer and go to bed. The. End.

Being a little disorganized here works out because a toddler’s need for repetition translates to the scripture reading, too. Sometimes we’re really tired and realize we’ve been camped out in the same parts of the same chapter for too many nights, but that’s okay. Learning to sit still and establishing the habit of opening God’s word together communicates just as much about how much we need this as do the specific truths we’re picking out each night.

Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.” – Deuteronomy 32:46-47

If these were just idle words, I could wait around and procrastinate in this. But these are my life, so I can’t wait to keep reading and learning alongside my kids. Ditching the idol of perfection on our own has been very freeing here!

walk in newness (2016)

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:4

So much of this year – this move, this new baby, this new house – has felt like one giant baptism by fire. In many ways I am a much richer woman at the start of 2016 than I was for 2015, but it has come through much surrender, sacrifice, and sanctification. Last year demanded  we bid goodbye to life in Minnesota, goodbye to other dreams we would have welcomed, and I’m realizing that it was goodbye to another layer of certainty or control,  too. Five months into Missouri, I don’t think we’ve made much progress figuring out what it is we’re greeting with a “hello” here.

I knew I’d hit my life-surprise threshold when the new Star Wars movie came out. Since we had to wait a few weeks after The Force Awakens opened to see family (which was really just a cover for having babysitters so we could go to the movies), I almost read a bunch of online spoilers after I wailed to Aaron that I could not handle even one more big life event curveball. (Star Wars is a life event at our house. We are also in complete denial about the upcoming presidential election — no emotional reserves left for thinking about politics right now.) As someone who really likes goals and dreaming about things that could happen, my stance toward this New Year is extremely anti-climactic. Amid the general hopeful talk of “new years resolutions” and annual goals that everyone else is throwing around, I don’t really want this year to rock. I don’t want to make any big life changes or start any big dreams or have anything else I need to take care of added to my plate. We’re trying to remain positive but realistic about life right now, which means thinking in terms of an entire year is still a bit… much.

What I really want in 2016 is for my life to calm down and be more predictable. And maybe to get everything in the house painted. We’re trying to move from the current Breaking Bad drug den look into more of a “Fixer Upper” feel, and after 7 straight years of remodeling, I would like my house to look decent.

No matter how desperate I am to reduce the turbulence levels of my life this year, I can’t predict what God will bring us in 2016. But on the most practical level I know it is new, and that even when something new is hard, facing it with joy is a practical living-out of Christianity. Paul talks about “newness of life” coming from baptism, and that helps reframe the baptism-by-fire of this fall. Because the Christian life is is both initiated and sustained by the power of the resurrection, this isn’t something we hear once and move on from; it continually transforms us. This means the same resurrection that gives new life in salvation also empowers and compels me to walk in the newness born out of these changes, too. It might not mean I’m marathoning in newness or achieving greatness in any sphere outside of keeping my people fed and clothed. But it does mean we can walk forward step-by-step into this year with faith that this newness is for God’s glory, even without the excitement of big goals or new dreams about what that might look like.

So maybe all we know of 2016 is that it’s new. And that’s a good thing.

12 Reasons My Toddler Might Be Santa

Is there a name for the coming-of-age trauma where kids stop believing in Santa? What would you call that? De-Sant-ification? My childhood excluded Santa from Christmas for religious reasons so I skipped that, but now the tables are turned and I have the opposite scenario: Kids start thinking Santa might be fake; I’m thinking Santa might be real. Kids start to think their parents might be Santa; Now that I’m a parent, I’m starting to think my kid might be Santa.

Here are a few reasons we think Annie may actually be the Jolly Old Man:

  1. Santa has reindeer; Annie loves the deer in our yard.
    Annie Deer
  2. “He knows if you’ve been bad or good”; she knows if I have been bad or good, which she demonstrates by copying me at all times. Mommy eats hummus? Annie eats hummus. Mommy eats a cookie? Annie eats a cookie. Mommy talks on the phone? Annie talks on the phone. And so on. This is her way of making sure I know that she knows exactly what’s going on. (It’s terrifying.) 
  3. Santa loves milk and cookies; She loves milk and cookies.
  4. As Bishop of Myrna in the olden days, Saint Nicholas reportedly slapped/punched Arius in the face over a theological dispute at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD; She frequently hits her little brother. I originally thought it was because she wanted to see what would happen, or she was mad at him for taking up my time, or she wanted me to pay attention to her. 
    Adam Bond transparent santa saint nicholas arius
     “Say ‘homoosious’! Say ‘homoosious’!” 
    Instead, I now wonder if it she is hitting him because, as a non-verbal infant, he has not yet professed his allegiance to the doctrine of Christ the Son being of one substance with God the Father. (“We use our words during theological debates in this house.”)
  5. Santa brings toys to children while they are sleeping; She frequently gives toys to her little brother, usually throwing them on his face while he is sleeping. 
  6. “He knows when you are sleeping, He knows when you’re awake”; She knows if Thomas is sleeping or awake, and uses this knowledge to ensure her daily naps contrast with his.
  7. Santa has a round belly; She has a little round belly.
  8. Santa’s belly shakes when he laughs, just like a bowl full of jelly; She would probably eat a bowl full of jelly if I gave it to her.
  9. Santa hears requests and fulfills only some, reflecting their parents’ budgetary guidelines, which is something children do not fully comprehend; Sometimes she willingly gives me what I ask her for (that piece of mail), and sometimes she doesn’t (that iPhone), for reasons I do not fully comprehend.
  10. Santa puts toys in stockings (or shoes, if you want to get really traditional about things); She is particularly curious about socks and shoes right now.
  11. Santa puts toys and goodies in a bag that he carries over his shoulder; she likes to put objects in my purse and carry it around. 
  12. The dead giveaway… Little Saint Nick here is obviously making herself comfortable coming in and out of the fireplace. 

    ("I'll just finish folding this laundry," I thought, "She's certainly reading to herself.")

    (“I’ll just finish folding this laundry,” I thought, “She’s certainly reading to herself.”)

 

Advent and FOMO (advent 2015)

“He withholds no good thing…” (Psalm 84:11)

Those who read things on the internet or voraciously scour the Oxford English Dictionary, which added today’s word to their compendium in 2013, have probably come across the acronym “FOMO” long before this post. The letters stand for “Fear of Missing Out,” the official definition is “Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere,” and when you move as much as we have, it’s a very real struggle.

I really am excited for Aaron having this great job and moved to tears of joy over having these two babies on a regular basis. This is a life I have desperately wanted for a long time. It’s important to be present in all these moments, even the tough ones. I don’t want to waste it or wish it away, but we are still far from “settled” in our town or home, and feeling so not-at-home for so long is discouraging. Days with two babies are intense, and it seems like things would be so much easier back in our Minnesota neighborhood, which came complete with a built-in best friend/babysitter. (It was more than a little bit awesome.) Even knowing that this move is supposed to be so good for us, all this upheaval makes me feel like we are split in a million pieces. Christmastime makes these aches more noticeable: I want to enjoy roaring fireplaces and watch snow falling outside the windows of our parents’ homes. I want to be in my Iowa Bible Study class. I want to drink candy cane hot chocolate with my neighborhood coffee moms from Minnesota. I want to sing Christmas carols with my college friends in real life and not just interact occasionally on social media. I wish I was having this conversation in person with pretty much anyone who is reading it.

This is compounded because I also have some FOMO about Advent. Again. I’m not sure why this even merits a mention, because I feel like this every year. I have a dream of observing a month of Advent for spiritual reflection and meditation. I have the Advent devotionals, I have the Jesse Tree ornament set, I have a list of all the appropriate songs. Something inside me really craves this. We have never observed the season as fully as I would dream, but this year is it’s own version of missing out because we haven’t made plans for implementing any holiday cheer around here. No tree. No lights. No concerts. No advent wreath. No energy to get excited about presents. I suppose this is the year to scale back – the kids are too little to know we are pulling it in so far, and we’re extremely tired. I want to do all the things that make the celebrations special for us… but only badly enough to feel their absence, not enough to actually make it happen. This family desperately needs a long weekend together more than the holiday hoopla.

On the surface it seems we’re not even “doing” Advent this year, and we evangelicals could all point out that liturgical seasons are unnecessary because God didn’t include a calendar in the back of the Bible anyway. But there can be rich treasure discovered in honoring this ancient practice of remembering, in some tangible way, the wait for Jesus. Without lighting candles or keeping up with any special reading, this month when “missing out” seems to be overlaying my every thought,  the purpose of Advent -celebrating what came and is still coming in the incarnate Christ- should override what seems held back from me.

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:20)

The stories I dream of reading with the children during future Advent seasons are full of people who sojourned and wandered, often far away from those they loved, grounded in the firm conviction that God would fulfill his promise with a deliverer and a homeland. The special gift of this Advent is that no matter how much I can identify with those who mourned in lonely exile right now, I am not missing the Promise who fulfills the eternal YES in the midst of my life’s (much) lesser nos.

the long good-bye

Though the past year was one of the most demanding of my life, I read a few very short books while I was pregnant with Thomas, mostly on the occasions I would leave Annie with a friend so I could attend some of my OB appointments solo. One of these slender tomes was The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women’s Work by Kathleen Norris, which I have had on the radar for several years. I was glad to finally read it in a stage of life full of cloth diapers, when I was figuring out church with children in tow, and grappling with how staying home with children was transforming my daily life… which is to say, at a point when I was already thinking about laundry, liturgy, and “women’s work” quite a bit. It’s not a perfect book, but I appreciated some of the insights and affirmations that the “daily grind” of a homemaker need not develop into oppression, but instead cultivates opportunities for worship and a deeper understanding of God.

As I scan through the pages again now, with soup simmering in the crockpot, toys and board books strewn about the floor, a dog snoozing at my feet, and one baby sleeping in crib in the next room while a smaller baby sleeps on my chest, the portions about sharing in God’s grace while “doing-the-next-thing” seems a little more meaningful. When I originally read this under posters about gestational growth and development, during some of the only times I really gave much conscious thought to the new little baby, this is what resonated:

“At the deepest level, a pregnant woman must find the courage to give birth to a creature who will one day die, as she herself must die. And there are no promises, other than the love of God, to tell us that this human round is anything but futile.

…Now the new mother, that leaky vessel
Begins to nurse her child
Beginning the long good-bye.”

-Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries

Maybe because this year I’ve also known more women who watched their children rest in caskets than before, or because my social media feed is full of discussions about abortion providers, or because I have sobbed while reading about drowned refugee children, I know that passing into the “magical” second trimester of pregnancy did not guarantee ultimate protection for either of these children. Now this imagery of saying goodbye to my children seems a little more real – and therefore more morbid – at this point than it did at other times.

However, it’s not just the potential loss of their earthly lives that stands here in my mind. It’s also the fact that they are each in full possession of their own personality, with plenty of surprises about who they are. (And they can’t even talk yet, so we will be seeing exponentially more of that in the coming years.) We have dreams, prayers, and hopes for these children, which is such a central part of parental love. It comes out when I feel like my heart is bursting out of my body because Annie loves pressing piano keys and wearing a stethoscope, or praise her for being so kind to Thomas, “because he is your brother and your best friend!” or proudly dress them in Hillsdale gear. There is nothing wrong with hoping my kids have meaningful careers, a close relationship with each other, or  follow in our footsteps for college, but it would become twisted if I clung to any desires I have for them more than embracing the children themselves as we discover what their unique gifts are. It is very possible that what I want for them in any aspect of life is different than what will happen, and I don’t want to set myself up to be disappointed in the ways God lovingly works in their lives.

Receiving these children as an undeserved gift means saying good-bye to some of my desires. Right now it’s usually sleep, drinking hot coffee, and being able to wear the same clothes all day without being slimed on by either one of them. But as they grow it will also mean subordinating my dreams and rejoicing that they were created to fulfill God’s plans, not mine. Even under the best circumstances where I would share a long life of loving and mothering these children, receiving them as the gifts they are means living the hard goodness of this long good-bye. This is the best way to truly celebrate the work God has done in bringing them to me.

“As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.
I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.
So now I give him to the Lord, for his whole life…”
– 1 Samuel 1:26-28

 

full hands

“When you pick this up, the pharmacist might look at you like you are crazy.” – My doctor, while writing me a prescription when I was first pregnant with Thomas.
“If it keeps me pregnant again, I’ll have two babies in thirteen months… which means I should probably get used to that.”

I expected to get lots of negative comments about having two children close together. After years of fending off mostly well-meaning comments about how I should have kids, and battling the urge to break down when innocently asked “Do you have children?”, this is a welcome change, though annoying in a different way. Even in the hardest and most exhausting moments of this fall, I have had very little patience for someone who would complain about having children.

When I enter a grocery store with Thomas in a carrier, Annie on my hip, and am hanging on to my purse and produce bags, someone usually tells me I have my hands full. They are right. My hands are actually full. I mean, if you waved a thousand dollars in front of me, I would not be able to take it from you. So I usually respond, “Yes, full of TREASURE!” or “Better full than empty!” and kiss whichever child is nearest to my mouth. This usually garners a smile. And I think I’ve had just as many positive compliments as any other kind, which has been a happy surprise.

Is it challenging to have two children, especially when they are both as little as mine are now? Yes. There are reasons this is biologically rare and few people purposefully space their children so closely. They both need so much from me. I can see where having a two- or three- year-old sibling would make the transition easier. At the same time, there are some unique blessings in this, too.

  • Annie is still young enough to have been napping twice a day throughout my pregnancy and Thomas’ newborn stage. I think they would have been much more challenging for me if she wasn’t sleeping so much during the day.
  • By entering her “big sister” role so quickly, Annie will never remember a time without Thomas. I’m glad they will grow up so close in age. Even if they aren’t best friends (my hope and prayer), they will still learn a lot about sharing and respecting others from their earliest days.
  • Far and away, the hardest week of parenting was last month when Annie had Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. This means over a week of pure misery: fever, open oozing sores all over her mouth, face, and hands, a throat so sore she couldn’t eat or drink enough, crying from hunger which made her throat hurt even more… It. Was. Awful. I would prefer experiencing natural childbirth every day for a week over reliving anything like that. It was a little more intense to have a newborn in my care as well, but it would have been the worst week ever even if she was an only child.
  • I’m keenly aware of how quickly babies grow up right now. Thomas is a much more challenging baby than Annie was… I mean, we are nursing every 2-2.5 hours around the clock here, people. (Yes, I’m confident he is getting full, and we have been much more intentional about our sleep signals and routines this time around, but no dice. Whatever. It’s tough, but it confirms my hypothesis that “sleep training” for little babies isn’t all it is talked up to be.) I’m pretty sure watching her toddle around while he needs to eat or be held (again) makes it easier to savor the sweetness in those inconveniences. In a year he will be so big and running around with her… Before the eyes of a parent, that is not very long at all.
  • Raising even one child is going to bring a parent to their knees on a regular basis. The fact that there are now bigger challenges with two little children who need so much points me directly to the Holy Spirit for strength and wisdom in parenting.
  • If we homeschool, I’ll be able to teach them both at the same level in many subjects for quite a while!
  • And… I get to skip the awkward stage of having a one-year-old where people start asking if I was thinking about having another baby anytime soon.
two kids, two grocery stores - one giant bundle of blessiing

two kids, two gallons of milk, two stores… the days of getting the groceries to the house in one trip are past. 

ordained beauty

…Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

The past two years have been… a little crazy. I think we are still coming to terms with our Minnesota stint and, while Aaron really likes his job and Thomas arrived safely, we have been managing a never-ending parade of crises ever since moving here and the paperwork burden of registering vehicles, buying a house, and having a baby the day before insurance activates is gargantuan. Despite the tough aspects of moving, we’re excited to have another house we really like with a very short commute for Aaron. (It has come in very handy when I have needed him to meet me at Urgent Care ASAP. Like I said – there have been lots of crises.) The best part of this third house is the huge backyard, which has a pond and lots of trees that just hit their autumn color peak. I think we are really going to enjoy living here.

image (15)

anne toddles around the new house, taking in the majestic views. (14 months)

There are things about Minnesota that I will really miss, but Aaron’s research position was really tough on us. If we had to move away eventually, it was good to rip off the bandaid and get it over with. Even though this new job is going really well and I’m excited about the educational options for the kids here, coming to St. Louis with the intention to stick around for good brought some hard realities to light:

Leaving Minnesota means we have to start all over on everything again. 
We don’t live close to our families in Michigan.
We’re not moving back to Iowa.

Staying put or going to a more familiar place would have been welcome adventures, and it’s a little sad to let those hopes go. Even though so much of St. Louis is like “the first day of the rest of our lives,” it’s also closing the door on other beautiful dreams, and that’s hard.

I’ve been thinking about how the colors during the fall we left Iowa seemed particularly idyllic to me, and I remember watching those leaves out of the windows during piano lessons, trying not to dwell on how badly I wished everything about our life could be different. Those vibrant trees stood in silent declaration that God ordains a lot of beauty in seasons of endings and loss. There was a lot of sadness in losing another baby and leaving so many people we loved that fall, and that pain certainly sharpens my perspective on the good things going on right now.

I never imagined how much would happen in the following two years, but it is really fabulous to look out at a new backyard full of more vibrant colors through a sliding glass door covered in prints of Max’s nose and Annie’s darling toddler hands while cuddling Thomas. There are going to be hard things here, of course, and this fall has really been a knockout in many ways, but it’s encouraging to know that this beauty has been established for the griefs and “endings” of moving, and it gives hope for the good things here, too.

Be still, my soul; Thy Jesus can repay
From his own fullness all he takes away.

— Be Still, My Soul, Catharina von Schlegel

welcome, little thomas!

hummel family

Thomas Ephraim Hummel, Sept 8, 2015

Because, of course, on the day I’m supposed to run a bunch of errands to settle a contract for a new house we’re supposed to buy, and then get a little fix made on our new van, and then take a deep breath about dodging the COBRA health insurance paperwork bullet because the new health insurance from Aaron’s job starts the next day… This baby, who I’m assuming is probably one of the most eager individuals on the planet, would decide to be born and nearly redefine the idea of a “precipitous birth” in the process. Every little bit of his existence over the last 9-10 months so far can be summed up with the phrase, “He’s not Annie.” After plenty of discussion over nearly every name used for  men in the English-speaking world, he is named after our favorite apostle Thomas and the second-born son of Joseph, Ephraim (“fruitful”), because we share his blessing: “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (Genesis 41:52)

annie and Thomas

Annie and Thomas

These two dear children are full of many little needs, and our “babymoon” this time around has included: horrendous world-class chigger attack recovery (Aaron), nasty cold/sore throats (Aaron and Annie, just a little one for me), lots of paperwork and inspections and decisions in house-purchasing (Aaron and me), more struggles with eating (Thomas), and not enough space, privacy, or peace with all of us and Max in our echo-y 700 sq.ft. apartment. This is a little nuts, and absolutely no detail of this summer and fall is what we expected at the start of this year! This move, Aaron’s new job, and especially this little boy are good, good gifts we would not have dreamed of even asking for or expecting this year. And it’s a little crazy to say this, but with one-and-a-half days of Daddy being back at work with me at home, my growing suspicion is that doing the newborn/toddler/dog care during the day when Aaron works regular hours is going to be less stressful than managing the newborn/puppy care while he was gone 15 hours every day in Minnesota. thomas sleeping!

Welcome to this chaos, Thomas. Our family will never be the same and we are so in love you, little boy!

Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” …Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger. … And he blessed Joseph and said:

“May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,
the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
— May He bless these boys.
May they be called by the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they increase greatly upon this earth.”
Genesis 48. 

blessed sojourning

The Lord watches over the sojourners – Psalm 146:9

Every single pregnancy I’ve experienced so far has had some milestone in the first week of August, from the first positive pregnancy test several years past to Annie’s delivery twelve months ago. Her birth and losing a baby right before that pregnancy mean both last year and the year before, I spent this date in labor. That’s about as detailed as any public birth story will get from me, but I think it’s an ironic blessing that I spend this week once again exhausted with crushed ribs, heartburn, and the constant presence of the rolls and punches of a child who seems to have some particular athletic inclinations even in the womb. I don’t know if moving makes this stage of pregnancy harder, or if it’s being pregnant that makes moving harder, but I’m not going to lie: this has been a tough week and I think it’s going to stay that way for a while. Yet my sentiments from last year still stand: There is no third trimester anywhere near as uncomfortable as the one that doesn’t happen. We’d be very surprised (and in a state of medical emergency) if the new baby were to arrive this week, so I think our big move to St. Louis will suffice for this year’s Notable Early August Event.

These feet are not as swollen as last time! Which is unbelievable, but really awesome!

These feet are not as swollen as last time! Which is unbelievable, but really awesome!

How’s moving? It’s hard, but good. Last Saturday we were in Minnesota, where Annie woke us up very early so she could get some extra springy-doorstop play in before we left. All the stuff that survived my extreme-minimalist purging had been packed into a moving container earlier in the week, so we spent the morning cleaning out the “Coon Ranch,” the house we bought at the end of 2013 before I had seen it in person, for the last time. I will not miss scrubbing the cracked ceramic tile floor in the kitchen. We said good-bye to that house, then returned a mattress to our neighbors who were also dear friends, and she said, “Even though you have to leave, I am so glad you came!” I shed a few tears and agreed with her. We drove a few hours south, and right before we fell asleep on a guest bed in Iowa, Aaron said, “I miss the Ames house more than the Coon Ranch.” Maybe nostalgia is still just a huge liar? Who knows, but I agreed with that sentiment, too. Traveling south reminded us clearly of good things in Iowa, different good things in Minnesota, and even more unknown good things to come in Missouri, (which, apparently, does NOT sound like “misery” in the local dialect!? Who knew?).

Aaron locking up the Coon Ranch for the last time...!

Aaron locking up the Coon Ranch for the last time…!

After a quick stop in Iowa, we drove to St. Louis with a poor baby girl’s carsick moans accompanying us the whole way. It was tough on her, but at last we made it! We’re staying in a furnished apartment for now, which has the marvelous bonus of an outdoor pool (saltwater, so fancy), luxury bathing facilities for humans (a sweet soaker tub) and pets (a “Dog Spa” shower room down the hall, which means Max is cleaner than he has ever been before in his life), and generally the ritziest living conditions we’ve ever had. I have stayed in a hotel fancier than this… maybe twice in my life? First-world comforts make these 700 square feet feel very tight with all of us here, so Annie sleeps in her pack-n-play in our walk-in-closet, just like she did in Minnesota, and I am certainly hoping we won’t be here long after the new baby arrives. Still, it’s great to have a nice place to land while Aaron starts his new job.
annie in toybox
And now my eyes are glazed over from looking at so. many. different. houses online, and I’m extremely impressed at what a trooper Annie has been for our real estate excursions so far. Most of these houses we’re investigating have enormous backyards (one right on a private lake!) with lots of bedrooms and space, and it’s pretty marvelous to think about enjoying one of these places long-term. (HA! WATCH US MOVE AGAIN!) This doesn’t exactly feel real! It’s easy to look back at the last two years and wonder what on earth just happened?, but this craziness has been matched with so much joy in having little Anne here with us for a whole year. I usually sing her the Doxology before naps and bedtime, but the several thousand times the familiar Psalter tune has sounded with this sweet girl in my arms this year does not seem to be enough to express the wonder and thankfulness all around.
Anne, five days old.

Annie, five days old. How has it been a year already? We love you so!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

to love that well

…This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
– Sonnet 73, William Shakespeare. 

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Our soon-to-be-former backyard, with the vegetable garden from which we will not eat (much) produce.

 

We have fallen forward into a lot of big, different things this year already. And moving right now? It feels like falling so far forward that we’re swinging back around and ending up behind. Only not really, but in some ways, yes, that’s how it feels. (I have a lot of feelings right now, and I’m confused, too.) This year Aaron has been working really, really hard with very long hours, and I’ve been home with a baby and a puppy and the concern/exhaustion/nausea of a new pregnancy, and we’ve been doing a lot of work on our house, yard and garden. It’s not so much that having a job, dog, baby, or house is awful, but this has been an intense year on all fronts. While this all made selling the house a breeze, as long as all the paperwork continues to process appropriately, it’s frustrating that we sacrificed so much in working so hard and really don’t get to enjoy the fruits of these labors in a tangible sense right now.

“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” – Deuteronomy 6:10-12

Because of that, we read this passage in church on Sunday and groaned because it seems exactly opposite of what this is like for us right now. After more rounds of brutal decluttering, since we mostly have old junky stuff from thrift stores and are paying per sq. ft. of moving trailer space, and watching our tomato plants get bigger and bigger with delicious food we won’t eat… Living with houses full of stuff we didn’t have to acquire with food we didn’t have to plant? That definitely sounds like the Promised Land. Those Israelites may have had it made.

There is grace in it, but moving is still really hard, and I am very aware of this. I have lots of packing to do when I want to just delight in the last days with Annie on her own and take lots of third-trimester naps. Preparations for moving are really taxing, and we’re determined to be significantly more minimalistic and organized than we were coming here, which requires more brain power than I want to give anything right now. Still, we’re making a point to sink in and enjoy every moment we have with what is here: a beautiful home, friends, mild summer weather, Lake Superior, a girl in the most amazing stages of interacting and action, and the wonder of anticipating a little boy coming at a time that clearly points to a greater plan than we would have made. These are gifts we can maximize by loving well even though it is all so very temporary.

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(These couches are not coming with us, which I am extremely happy about, and we decided it’s OK for Max to lay on them for the time being. He doesn’t sit on other couches so we’ll just teach him to stay off new furniture in St. Louis, but right now it’s like he can tell this is his temporary pleasure, too.)