what worked and what didn’t in 2016.

Hello my friends!

I hope your Christmas was great!

We had a wonderful holiday weekend, and then I woke up on Monday and wanted every single decoration taken down, stowed away in the attic, pine needles swept, and our house organized.

As you well know, I have a much lower threshold for clutter nowadays. All the kids have to purge some toys before Christmas or birthdays, but we did even more on Monday, and reorganized their rooms to accommodate new things without losing dozens of Lego pieces throughout the house (which David and I inevitably step on).

Now our home is back to normal and everyone’s at peace and getting excited about Noah’s birthday tomorrow!

Last year I wrote a post about what worked and what didn’t for me in 2015 (you can read it here). It was so fun and helpful to think back over my year in that way that I decided to do it again.

I like to end on a positive note, so I’ll start with:

What didn’t work in 2016:

1. Not taking our kids out on dates
For years we’ve had lofty goals of doing some sort of weekly date night with one of our kids, or letting them take turns staying up late to have time with the two of us, but we neglected to make it happen with any consistency this year.

That’s something we’ve begun to change in the last couple months, with sweet results. It’s easy to get in a rut of our weekly schedule and to-do list, to begin looking at our children as a herd. It means a lot to them when one of us grabs one of them and goes to Barnes and Noble or to the river with a Sonic milkshake, and we realize that it means a lot to us too.

Some weeks are just too busy for dates, so we’re trying to be intentional to take a kid or two to run errands and use the opportunity to give them our attention.

It’s a chance to show all of us that we see our kids as individuals and we’d like to continue getting to know them better.

 

2. My stomachaches
I have chronic problems with my stomach, and that’s still hard. I was diagnosed with IBS years ago, and finally had a doctor shoot straight with me this year and tell me I most likely did irreparable damage to my stomach taking antibiotics for 16 months in India.

I can obsess over finding answers, trying different elimination diets and natural healing methods. Certainly avoiding some foods or eating out too much helps, but then I’ll suddenly be sick after eating something perfectly healthy. Lately I’ve tried instead to find a place of acceptance. My body is broken and will be in some way or another until I go to be with Jesus. I’m careful what I eat and drink, I’m trying to find healthy ways to deal with stress, and sometimes my stomach still gets really sick.

It reminds me that some people live with chronic pain and illness way worse than mine, and I have much to be thankful for.

 

3. Crowds, groups, coffee dates
If you’ve been reading the blog this year, you know about my panic disorder, which has made social settings (even small groups and one-on-one) very difficult. I quit so many of my commitments, things that used to be fun and bring me joy, but suddenly became distressing and impossible.

Anxiety and depression are things that affect my life on a daily basis. I work hard to find ways to manage them both and discover which areas of life I can pour into while I’ve got limitations in others. But even with medication, counseling, and exercise, they are a constant background noise.

Just like stomachaches, I’m learning to accept that this is my reality.

Some days are really hard, and many are just fine. I’m finding ways to give thanks and fight for joy, and God truly helps me. He’s meeting me in this hard thing, teaching me slowly but surely through it to live one hour at a time, to turn to Him and ask for help all throughout my day. He’s teaching me that He’s just as worthy of worship whether I’m having a good mental health day or a bad one.

I pray more than anything that this suffering makes me a kinder, more compassionate person, rather than resentful and isolated.

I pray that God shows me day by day what He’s calling me to do, and that I let go of the rest and live in peace.

 

4. Having too many friends that are like me
Don’t get me wrong — I have wonderful friends and family, who have both loved me well and graciously given me space in a difficult year. But I really long for diversity in my friendships. I miss living overseas — where many other things came hard, but that one thing came easy. I miss having friends who look different and think differently from me, I miss the way they stretch and challenge my views on life.

I miss their stories.

Last month I made a friend from Afghanistan and she asked me to be her English conversation partner. All that really means is that I’ll stop by her apartment for tea once a week and we’ll sit and chat and use lots of hand motions and practice English. She’s expecting her fourth child and so maybe we’ll roll our eyes and laugh about motherhood, maybe she’ll teach me how to cook some Afghani food.

For whatever reason, when I’m with people from other countries I don’t feel anxious or nervous. I just feel like myself. It doesn’t necessarily solve the diversity issue, but perhaps it’s a place to start.

 

5. Cupcakes
You guys, I’ve made cupcakes for years and years, and for whatever reason this year they’ve been a disaster. They taste great but look terrible, spilling over the sides, sinking in the middle. When I finish this post, I’ll go try to redeem Noah’s birthday cupcakes with a generous mound of frosting.

Can anyone tell me what I’m doing wrong!!!???

 

And now, here’s what worked for me in 2016:

1. Exercise
Last year, my goal was to exercise for 30 minutes four times a week. I can’t say that I’ve fully reached that goal, but I’m closer than I was. On average I exercise three times a week, and I split that between running and doing a Daily Burn routine. David, Amelie, and I continue to do a stretching video at night.

I wish I could tell you I ran my first 10K this year, but I didn’t. I stopped training for it, and I currently stick to my two-mile neighborhood loop (but on hills!!!). I’m interested in running a 10K at some point, but right now I’m okay with what I’m doing.

Whenever people ask me how on earth I find time to read, I tell them, “You make time for what’s important to you. I love reading, so I find time to do it.”

I don’t love exercise, so it’s easy to say, “I’m too busy.” But this year I’ve learned to make it important to me.  And so I’m discovering that I really do have time to do it; even more than that, I start to feel really uptight and restless if I’ve gone a couple of days with out it.

 

2. Switching back to normal shampoo and conditioner.
If you’re newer to the blog you may be like, “What…!?” Well, a few years ago I went shampoo-free and began using baking soda/water to wash my hair and an apple cider vinegar solution for conditioning. I think that officially crossed the line into way too granola for David, but he indulged me.

I did it for three years and then all of a sudden, at some point this year, I thought, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” So I stopped! I picked up a bottle of normal, chemical-filled $3 shampoo from Target and have never looked back.

My hair smells so nice now.

I will say that when I wasn’t using shampoo I could go longer between washing my hair, and I miss that. I don’t like the way my hair already looks oily at the end of one day. But I still try to go two days between washing and use dry shampoo from time to time.

 

3. Getting highlights
Apparently since I began dumping chemicals on my head again, I felt like the next logical step was to go all the way and get highlights (it’s a slippery slope, you guys).

I highlighted my hair blond all throughout college and have always missed it. This year I looked at photos of myself, post-adoption, mid-anxiety disorder, and thought, “Oh dear. I look haggard.” And so the natural solution to any problem? Highlights!!

Do I need them? Nope. Are they a luxury? Yes.

But I love having them. They remind me of sunnier places, like Orlando and Barbados, and while I really don’t mind looking older, I enjoy looking just a little less exhausted. I love my friend Erin at Roxy Salon in the Vista, who’s been cutting my hair for years. She knows I won’t get my roots done but a couple times a year, so she makes them very natural. No one really notices in fact.

But I do! And they make me happy.

 

4. Simplifying dinners, printing recipes, and our Sunday food tradition
I still meal plan weekly and have been trying to take the guesswork out of it as much as possible by simplifying our schedule:

Monday – Soup or Pasta, Tuesday – Mexican, Wednesday – leftovers, Thursday – Indian, Friday – homemade pizza, Saturday – burgers with David’s parents.

We’ve also come up with a Sunday meal tradition and we do the same thing every single week. Breakfast is oatmeal with lots of toppings, then for lunch, David and I eat a salad topped with canned wild caught salmon mixed with lemon juice and mayo (the kids have sandwiches). Then if we’re home we have Breakfast for Dinner in the evening (usually bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches or homemade waffles).

I really enjoy having every single meal figured out for that one day.

My friend Alison was visiting last month and showing me some of her favorite recipes in a binder, and I thought, I need one of these! I found an old plain black three-ring binder in our house, filled it with page protectors, and now print out any favorite or go-to recipe. I really, really don’t like following recipes from the laptop or iPad, and this binder is becoming one of my new favorite things in the kitchen.

I went over to my mother-in-law’s house and told her about our brilliant revelation, and she proceeded to immediately pull out her own bursting-at-the-seams binder of recipes. It seems the idea isn’t so new after all.

 

5. Bullet journal!
David and I been devotedly using a bullet journal for two solid months now and we’ll never go back to a regular calendar or dayplanner. Never fear, this topic will get a post all its own next week!

 

6. Using Goodreads to track my reading
For the first time last year I actually wrote down every book I read in a Word document and wrote about it here. This year I decided to use Goodreads instead. It’s been a much better way to track my reading, and from time to time I’ve found a great book while browsing the website. I really enjoy seeing the book cover images as I scroll back through my reading list.

 

7. Waiting for our home addition
This time last year I said, “If our master bedroom addition is finished by next Christmas, I’ll be happy.” I thought I was being terribly generous with that timeline.

Well here I am a year later. Still waiting. Not even sure when the addition will begin, much less be completed.

Last year I wrote “One bathroom for a family of 6” in my “What’s not working” list, but you know what? Clearly it is working. It’s all a matter of perspective, no?

In 12 months we haven’t had one single bathroom accident (although we’ve come close), and I potty-trained my fourth and last child in about two square feet of space.

Having said that, full confession; I was taking a shower just yesterday when yet another kid came in the bathroom to poop and I just burst into (silent) tears. I know, I know, one day our children will all be teenagers and won’t want to be in the same room with us, much less poop in the same room, and we’ll look back on this season wistfully. I’m looking forward to that time.

Here’s to laughing a little more and crying a little less about our home inconveniences!

 

8. Counseling/therapy

It was difficult for me to make the choice to begin counseling this year, but I’m very glad I did. I plan to write a bit more about my anxiety in the new year, but in summary: taking medication, exercising, getting enough sleep all helps with symptoms. But going back to counseling helped me realize that there were some underlying issues that, unless addressed, would’ve landed me right back in the same situation again and again.

It’s hard work, and even after a few months I can’t say I look forward to going, but I’ve begun to find some noticeable healing in my illness, and so it’s been worth every minute.

 

9. Being married to a preacher

I end with this because it’s one of the very tangible gifts of going to counseling: honestly, when I began, I did  not want to be married to a preacher anymore. I told David, “I don’t want to do this, I want you to find a different job.” I was in a desperate place, and also I think, burned out.

My counselor helped me examine some of those feelings and begin to distinguish that the problem isn’t David’s job as a pastor, the problem is my driving need to perform and please people and protect my reputation.

She helped me realize that yes, there are unique challenges to ministry, but if those are my underlying motivations in life, I will be burned out and unhappy whether David’s a pastor or an engineer. That’s not our church’s responsibility; it’s my responsibility.

Now I can say, at the end of 2016, that I’m very happy once again with our calling. David loves his work, and his enthusiasm is contagious. This year he’s done a better job than ever of learning boundaries and guarding family time and help me be free to disconnect in some areas so I could heal and find things that bring me joy.

Our family loves our church. So, so much.

I overheard Amelie saying the other day, “We’re so lucky that our dad’s a pastor.”

Happy New Year, friends!

 

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the post i was going to write.

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I had a great post planned for today.

A couple of friends asked me to write on navigating life with young children as an introvert, and I’m only too happy to oblige.

I’ve been thinking on it for a couple of weeks now, anxious to share all these things I’ve been learning. I have some new systems in place. A tighter, more effective daily schedule! Fewer commitments! Less time on social media! But the more I tried to get my thoughts out of my head and wrestle this blog post into submission, the more I seemed to notice my real life, hitting me over the head like a 2×4. In short, the more miserable I became.

So today I’m going to write about something different: my sin.

You know, I have this growing resentment in my heart as I struggle to reconcile the Julie in my head with the Julie in real life. But I’m doing everything right! I’m making better choices. I do have a better daily schedule so that I get one-on-one time with each kid. I read a book during afternoon rest time instead of browsing Pinterest and Instagram. I get weekly time out by myself. I hardly ever even watch TV!

And yet. I’m so tired. And miserable. I work and work and work, and still, deep down have this gnawing, ever-present knowledge that I’m not a good mom.

It is hard parenting four small children as an introvert. You know what? It’s hard parenting small children period, whether you have one or six, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. The mundane-ness of life, day after day, with the laundry and making dinner and sibling quarrels is enough to make me crazy.

I’m making some good choices, but I’m still failing. Every single day I beg God, “Make me a better mom. A better wife. Make me less selfish. Please, I beg You.”

And yet, here I am.

I snap at my kids every.single.day. Multiple times a day. I correct them for stupid, meaningless things, like chewing food with their mouth open and spilling water and wiggling too much at the dinner table.

I’m so negative. I have a real problem controlling my tongue. I criticize David and the kids way too much. I have impossible expectations of Gabe and Noah, who are very little boys who make a lot of messes and noise and are doing their best to learn to obey.

I want my house to be unrealistically clean.

I want “please” and “thank you” every time I do something for someone. I want gratitude, darnit.

I want my kids to dress nice and have good manners so that I look like a good mom.

Also, I want to be left alone. I want space to sit and breathe and read a book without little hands pushing and pulling and stroking my hair and endless questions. Oh, the questions.

I want my husband to come home from an exhausting day at work and I want to dump the kids on him and say, “I’m done. Here. You do something with them.”

I see my kids faces when they look at me, the way they sit up a little straighter and also brace themselves, just a little, for whatever word of correction I have to dole out in that moment. The way they try so hard to please me.

Do you know how it makes me feel to look back and read everything I just wrote?

Like crap. I hate it.

This week our family was invited for dinner at someone’s house, a family who were total strangers to us. It went really well! Especially for all the anxiety I’ve had this year. I made it through the whole evening and felt happy. We all talked and laughed and my kids were polite and actually ate the dinner they served and played great with their kids and we exchanged numbers when we left. They really liked us!

We left and my heart swelled with happiness and satisfaction over a job well done.

And then the very next afternoon I’m standing in my kitchen, yelling at Gabe for something he said.

I laid on the couch and said to God, “I can’t do this. It’s too hard. It’s impossible for me to live for my family the way I live for other people. I can’t keep up the performance for them. They see the real me. ”

Aha.

So I guess that’s at the heart of all this.

In truth, I know that I’m impressive to other people. I know that I’m friendly and easy to talk to and can be called upon to give good advice from time to time. I speak sweetly to my children in public and have taught them nice manners. I stay home full-time and I homeschool but I’m also a pastor’s wife! I like to make people feel welcome!

Do you know what God up and did this year?

He took all of that impressive-ness away from me.

He said, “No.”

He took away the ministry and the girl nights and all the affirmation highs I live off of like an addict, and allowed me to start disappointing people by saying, “No” a whole lot. And you know what He left me with?

My house and my family.

Here, people are not so impressed with me. Here I don’t get quite so many compliments.

Why should I?

My family knows what friends and acquaintances do not: that I’m a very average person, with some strengths, yes, but with many, many weaknesses. It seems I cannot go one full day without yelling at my kids or choosing myself over my husband or puffing up with pride because of how good I can pull it together in public.

It seems I can’t do one nice thing without expecting a “thank you.”

It seems I can’t sit and focus all of my attention on one child without the distractions of my phone or that mess on the couch or the school list.

Is that real ministry? Is that serving “with a happy heart” like I try to teach my children?

I think not.

To me, serving has always been something I do outside of my home.

Well, God has taken much of that away from me. I’ve been shocked by the feelings of anger and worthlessness it’s dredged up. And after I got over those feelings, I get to face the cold, hard truth: that it’s way easier to spend time with and serve people I know just a little than those I know a lot — those who know me inside and out.

And my pride is such that I’d way rather confess my sin and ask for prayer from my small group friends than from my family.

Our Advent catechism this week says,

“What is it to repent?”

“To be sorry for sin, and to hate and forsake it because it is displeasing to God.”

Each morning around the dining table, Advent candles lit, the kids and I have recited this catechism together. We’ve broken down the phrases and defined the words. But this morning I said to my kids, “Do you know what sin displeases God today?” They asked, “What?” And I said, “My sin.”

I proceeded to tell them a little about my sin. I told them how wrong it is, that I do not have a happy heart, that I am often unkind to them, and very selfish with my time, and care more about how I look on the outside than how my heart is on the inside. I listed some of the ways I disobey God.

I told them that I want to hate and forsake my sin. I asked them to forgive me. I prayed then and there, that God will forgive me and help me.

Then, gulp, I told them I want them to tell me when I’m using unkind words or an unkind tone of voice — if I speak to them that way, if I speak to their siblings that way. After all, don’t I get to do that for them?

I said, “I’m your Mommy and God still wants you to obey, but I’m displeasing Him if I tell you what to do in a mean way or when I’m too harsh and critical with you guys. That’s wrong.” This gives you an insight into the real me — Judah’s first question was, “But what if telling you that makes you even more mad?” And I said, “I really, really hope that doesn’t happen, but if it does, then tell me that too. I trust that the Holy Spirit is living inside me and will show me my sin.”

Do you know what happened there at the table?

It was like a huge load rolled off my shoulders.

The despair, the oppression of this week seemed to melt away as my precious, noisy children each looked me in the eye and said, “I forgive you, Mommy.”

They are, after all, kids, so we almost immediately moved on to other things, to reading aloud and coloring and getting ready to go to the park, and no one’s mentioned it since (oh, the humbling ability of children to forgive and forget in mere seconds).

I realize that nothing is solved, exactly.

I still don’t know how to live in my house as an introvert. Clearly you now realize I’m probably not the best person to ask.

I know I will sin against God and against everyone in my family before this day is up.

But I’m not feeling resentful any more. I’m feeling more than a little humbled, more than a little chastened. I go to the park and look at the people around me and know that I’m no better than any of them, even with a dinner plan for tonight and well-behaved children and cute shoes. I don’t have to endlessly prove to God what a good Mom and good wife I am, because I’m not.

And I’m feeling like maybe all of this — all of it — is a good thing. Maybe there are even more lessons to be learned right here, in this house, with these people.

I’m closing my computer now, to go see them.



we’re back!

Hi there everyone!

I’m sorry that the blog was down for a few days; there was a server migration which resulted in some needed updates. But now we’re back in business!

Remember my very profound post after vacation about being content and living in the moment and spending more time curled up at home with my kids? Well, I started the week with the best of intentions and ended it flat on my face. On Friday, we went to look at a bigger house in our neighborhood, which was charming but just not quite the right fit for our family. Nonetheless I came back home and stomped around complaining about our one bathroom and small kitchen and patchy front yard (yes, apparently I’m not above behaving exactly like a teenager).

I was tired from a week of kids and meals and homeschooling and David left to spend two days out of town for work and I felt resentful and mean-spirited.

What’s more, I discovered that despite my promises to Gabe and Noah, I did indeed commit us all to another year of swim team by paying a hefty deposit for all four kids. So I’m continuing to pack everyone up and head to practice two mornings a week.

Which all proves that we can have the best of intentions and sometimes life knocks us on our rear and we have to deal with it. That’s where repentance comes in. And forgiveness, and the God of new-mercies-every-morning.

Isn’t it nice that that’s the good news, not whether my performance was up to par?

And my post was still true, perhaps even more so because the kind of restlessness I was speaking of mostly refers to my heart and not to what’s happening externally. I can rearrange priorities and our schedule, but sometimes I have to do things I don’t want to do and make the best of it. So I worked in our yard all weekend and bought a few more plants, which did wonders for my gratitude. And I tried on a gentler voice this morning while getting the kids out the door to swim team. We switched mornings so they could be with their friends, and they were all happy. And back home I skipped a few worksheets so that I could curl up with Gabe and read.

I’m also grateful for this blog and for each one of you too, dear readers!

More soon!

Love, Julie



one month in.

. . . we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.

I am currently in a place of abundance.

An abundance of noise, an abundance of laundry, an abundance of little voices calling, “Mo-om!!!”

It’s the oddest feeling . . . first living in what felt like a long season of lack — of waiting, of wondering, of not understanding the story. And then everything changed very, very suddenly. After the desert there is water, but not just a trickle — a full-on waterfall.  And I spent that first month just gasping, trying to come up for air. I hardly had time to reflect on the abundance that God has heaped on me.

Also to be perfectly honest: sometimes it didn’t feel like the kind of abundance I wanted. It felt a little more like drowning.

But I am here on the other side of the first month, and while each day brings its challenges, life is a routine again. We’re all growing familiar with each other, coming to know what to expect. There are new family jokes and laughter and the chatter of siblings playing together. I find myself able to snatch conversations with my husband (and they aren’t all about our kids!), to greet friends at church, and with a few moments here and there to soak in this strange new life I lead.

I’m an introvert, but this winter I grew to dread the drive to drop Judah and Amie off at their cousins’ for an afternoon of playing. I returned home, all by myself, and walked listlessly from room to room. Instead of enjoying my alone time, instead of feeling comforted by the peace of our little house, I just felt lost. It’s too quiet.

But now.

There are shrieks and sometimes wails and little feet pounding across hardwood and a dripping-wet bathroom. Sometimes I want to turn and walk away from the noise of my home. But mostly, mostly I smile. Because my house isn’t too quiet any more.

Come and see what God has done:
He is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.

In the mornings after we eat breakfast, I pour sippy cups of juice and turn on our church worship album. I listened to it over and over the last 5 months. Some days the hymns would be my prayers when I couldn’t form any. They were an enormous comfort to me when things didn’t make sense.

And today as the music starts, Noah comes running into the room — this person that I didn’t even know existed two months ago — all smiles, his little voice belting out, Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me, and I stare down at him in joy and wonder. If only I’d known.

Gabriel stumbles in with arms full of board books and climbs up into my lap and says, “Will you read, Mommy?” and as I pull him close I pause half a second and kiss his hair and whisper, “Do you know how long Mommy waited for you?”

Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for my soul.

I sat down the other day and read back through every adoption blog post I’d written since we started this journey last March. I found myself crying. I ached for all we didn’t know, for how hard and scary it would be — for how deserted by God I’d feel. But I also couldn’t stop smiling because I knew. I knew what was waiting for us just around the corner. I believe that when God was walking with me through that hard year, He felt the same way.

I’m not naive enough to think everything has been tidily wrapped up with a bow and there will be no more challenges for the Gentino family. Even now, this place of abundance is hard. A friend told me, “One of the lies we believe as Americans is that good equals easy.” I’ve been guilty of believing that lie.

And yet sometimes the good road is the hard road, the scary road.

With each twist and turn in my story, each trial God brings me through — both the ones that do make sense and the ones that don’t — I believe a little more in His goodness. I believe that He never, ever leaves me. I believe that He knows what I need more than I do.

I believe that His way is perfect.

Blessed be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer
or removed his steadfast love from me!

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(all Scripture verses from Psalm 66)



living in my story.

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Last night brought a cold snap right in the middle of spring, so though there are new buds on the trees outside my window and a thick coating of pollen on the ground, I’m wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. For a little while at least. And I’m gazing anxiously out at the little tomato and pepper seedlings that went in the ground just last weekend, hoping they weather the cold. I know it’s early still. But we were impatient to get our garden planted again.

It’s no secret I’ve struggled these last months waiting for our baby. We started the adoption process one year ago, so in a way it feels like a whole year of waiting (plus many more years if we count the time since we started wanting to adopt).

I’m being so careful to eat healthy food and reduce caffeine and to exercise (okay, the exercise is still a little patchy), and yet this week I sat in my doctor’s office this week with my head down, accepting another prescription for anxiety medication to help with my stress level. Because as much as I want to hope an end is just around the corner, we all know that The Waiting could continue for months, and I need help. My body has never carried stress well.

It’s better in some ways since I started Streams in the Desert. I highly recommend this little, old-fashioned devotional book, which brings a daily reminder of God’s purpose in trials. I’m thankful for the prayers of many and wise words from those who have walked hard roads themselves, roads on which God appeared absent.

I’ve taken my friend Tara’s advice and made a “reminder book,” just a little notebook that I copy my favorite quotes from Streams in the Desert, snatches of songs or Psalms that speak to me. She said, “Julie, keep that book with you at all times – open on the table while you’re homeschooling, in your purse when you go out. And when God feels silent or when the Enemy tells you lies, read it and remember the truth.”

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Because that’s where the rub is. God’s silence.

Every day brings new, wonderful news of babies born or adopted, and I rejoice with those who rejoice but at the end of it I turn to God and say, Have you forgotten me? Why are you blessing them, not me too? Why are you so silent!?

I’ve begun to notice a pattern in my heart. I realize that there are swaths of time that I long for our baby but also feel grateful for my life, with the busyness and people and blessings of right here and now. But then my gaze turns onto someone else, on what God is doing for them. And the despair comes close after. I feel cast aside and forgotten and sometimes jealous.

Today it hit me that this is bad fruit in my heart. If I gauge God’s care of me by what He’s doing for other people, I will be filled with doubt and despair — or conversely with pride. Comparison is always poisonous. It doesn’t just hurt other people; it eats away at my own heart and makes a prison for it.

But God is offering me something else right now. He’s offering for me to leave the prison and embrace the freedom of living in my own story, the one He’s writing for me.

I needn’t feel threatened by the gifts He’s giving other people. They have no bearing on what He’s doing for the Gentino family. That’s one of the mysteries about God: He created us all so unique and complex and the ways we can glorify Him are as varied as humanity.

Maybe one of the ways I can most glorify Him right now is being content with my own story, not asking Him for someone else’s.

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This morning I opened my devotional and read, “He will do ‘wonders never before done’ if you will learn the mystery of His silence and praise Him every time He withdraws His gifts from you. Through this you will better know and love the Giver.”

So that’s what I’m doing today. Every time a lie sneaks its way in, making me doubt God’s goodness, I’m praying, “Just let me live in my story today. Help me learn the mystery of your silence. Show me how to thank you and honor you in it.”

And there’s a spark of freedom there, I feel it already. When I think of my friends’ blessings I feel so happy. They are living in their stories and when I stop comparing I can stand back and see how big God is.

He isn’t just good and loving when He gives me what I want, in the way I want it. He’s good right now, in the mystery. Today I’m at peace with that.

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resolution.

Hi there! Did any of you make New Year’s resolutions? I made a list of goals for 2014 here. And the year before, I made one non-New Year’s resolution.

I’ve been trying to think about goals the past couple of weeks but I keep getting stuck. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been stuck in general lately: stuck writing creative blog posts, stuck coming up with interesting hobbies, stuck in the house and not getting exercise. Stuck watching too much TV.

Just. Stuck.

I’m a planner, and yet right now I can’t make out my future. There seems to be a veil thrown over the next season of our life, and by the next season, I mean, the rest of it. When will our baby come? Will it be a boy or a girl? What will be their story? What will they look/act like? How will our family change?

I strain and squint and imagine, but try as I might, I can’t find the answers to any of these questions. And yet I keep obsessing over them.

I don’t know how to make plans.

I feel helpless and powerless. In short, this is really hard. I’m sure the weather and the fact that I always feel a little more blue during winter-time doesn’t help.

But.

I realized this week that this being stuck has got to stop. This obsessing has got to stop. And so that’s my one giant resolution for 2015: to become un-stuck.

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That is, I’m going to take back control of my life from this hazy cycle of waiting and helplessness. True, I don’t know if we’ll have another child in 10 days or 10 months. True, I can’t exactly make out the future. True, that’s pure torture for an organizer/planner (control freak?) such as myself.

But I’m tired of this. I’m not helpless. This season won’t last forever, and in the meantime I simply cannot put my entire life on hold just because it’s hard. It’s not fair to myself or to the people I love. It’s choosing to just see what I don’t have instead of all the things I do have.

A sweet friend, who herself has adopted, reminded me over email this week: “Your baby will come.  And it will be perfect and your family will feel complete and you’ll feel like it’s how it was supposed to be and you’ll be able to look and see God’s hand in all of it.”

And that’s really all I need to know right now.

So I’m making plans again in 2015. I’m speaking truth to myself and choosing to feel positive and excited about my life right now. I’m keeping up the gratitude lists and every day looking around to see the good things I have right here and now.

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I sat and wrote out a list of things I’m going to focus on this year. Here’s a few of them:

1. The kids and I had such a great first week back to school. I dreaded it and prayed a whole lot and God gave us motivation and laughter and cozy mornings together learning (as you can see we’re spending a lot of time in pj’s too). I got my first semester evaluation back from our homeschooling accountability agency with a glowing report on Judah’s progress, especially in reading.

I only realized then just how insecure I’ve felt about this homeschooling thing, how much I needed some encouragement and the confirmation that I’m not screwing my kids up and stunting their education. I’m so grateful that God provided that this week. And now I have the confidence to keep pressing on with our semester, and to make plans for next year. And most of all just to relax and stop taking myself so seriously and enjoy this process.

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2. I’m going to get outside every single day. Even if it’s 17 degrees, like on Thursday. I will bundle up myself and my kids and just get out there, for walks, for exploring, for meeting friends on the playground. And because I hate running in the cold, I’m going to get on Amazon Prime and find an exercise video to do when I’m inside.

3. I’m going to use this season to catch up with friends. I will enjoy the freedom I have now to have coffee dates and girls’ nights and play dates.

4. I will finish crocheting the baby blanket. I’m so close to being done but haven’t been able to bring myself to finish, because what if our baby doesn’t come this winter? What if we don’t even need a thick cozy blanket? But this line of reasoning is silly. Maybe we won’t need to wrap the baby up in it, but he or she can still lay on the floor and kick their little legs on its organic cotton softness. And it’s still something beautiful I’m making with my hands and I need to finish what I started.

5. And finally (and perhaps most excitedly), I will start a book club with my mother-in-law, which I’ve wanted to do for forever. Our first meeting is on my birthday, January 31st, and I can’t wait. If you’re curious, this is our first book.

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There. This list is for accountability and just the writing of it makes me feel better.

What are you choosing to focus on in 2015?



monday gratitude.

20. my kids played for 2 hours with their friends after CC this afternoon
21. John is ordained and was officially installed as associate pastor yesterday
22. my in-laws are now members of our church!
23. seeing healing and joy on the face of a friend who was broken and despairing a year ago
24. money to buy groceries
25. the relief of dinners planned out for the week
26. a meeting with a group of women I love in a home I love tonight
27. Bleak House tv series
28. ideas for positive ways to discipline from Boundaries With Kids
29. the comfort of having my husband home after a weekend away
30. our new habit of going to bed early and waking up early
31. an email in my inbox saying books are waiting for me at the library
32. money given toward our adoption

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monday gratitude.

Right now I’m in a season of waiting. It’s not like anything I’ve ever felt before. I think about our baby throughout the day (and sometimes night) and my emotions are a jumble of wondering, happiness, fear, excitement, sadness, and delight. God gives peace, moment by moment, but still I wonder. How long? What twists and turns will this adventure take?

I’ve come to realize that a whole lot of life is waiting, in some way or other. And when I look back on the waiting seasons, I think I’d have to say my biggest regret is what I missed out on along the way because I was so focused on just having what I wanted.

And so I’m starting a Monday gratitude list, which is really just another way of saying that I’m trying to pay attention. I want to look around me and see what God’s given me today, to see what He’s doing in and around me today. This morning I read about Abraham in Romans 4, that “he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.” I like that. I can’t control much about life right now, but I can give glory to God. Today. So that’s what I’m going to do.

1. cold air and slushy-snowy-rain on Saturday
2. waking up early and braving the weather with Anna for a cozy breakfast at Drip
3. how happy Fiestaware dishes make me
4. my kids’ sheer delight in trick-or-treating with their friends
5. Amie: “Mom, will you keep an eye on Dad tonight so he doesn’t eat all my candy?”
6. homemade apple pie
7. our friend Jim is one year sober
8. God can change a life in the blink of an eye
9. taking communion with my son
10. the way crocheting calms my mind
11. making something pretty and useful with my hands
12. the liveliness and chaos and challenge of Monday mornings at Classical Conversations
13. playing Yahtzee with my dad
14. Lila, which I still can’t stop thinking about
15. the cup of piping hot tea beside me
16. Quiddity podcasts
17. warm socks
18. laughing with my kids
19. this aching-happy thrill of waiting for our baby



coming home.

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It’s a strange feeling, coming home. Our vacation was so magical and restful that we didn’t want to leave, but our plane landed at the Charlotte airport on Wednesday morning after less than three hours of sleep, and real life hit like the blinding South Carolina sun on the tarmac.

We took a bumpy shuttle bus to our car in long-term parking lot 4 and drove the hour-and-a-half to Columbia, and then David had a sermon to write and I found myself in a dirty house because I was sick when we left and we were all four in a fog of jet lag and sleep-deprivation.

I felt rested and happy all week long but then throughout the day on Wednesday as I unpacked and cleaned up and scrawled a grocery list my chest began to tighten and the walls closed in around me. I thought, I can’t do this. It’s too much. I felt like I was suffocating.

Life is busy and we managed to suspend time for eight beautiful days and then it hit with all its force and took my breath away.

By Wednesday night David and I were in a full-scale argument that involved tears on my part and exasperation on his part. The worst thing is that its an old argument, one we have all the time, and so even going through the motions felt cliche and boring. But I could hardly see that in the moment; all I saw were my hurt and anger and feelings of being sorely misunderstood. And I know he felt the exact same way.

The thoughts swirled inside: He’s so hardened toward me. He doesn’t even see me. And as soon as they were formed in my mind it was like a light switched on and God said, “No. You’re the hardened one. You’re sitting here fighting and fighting. Why don’t you stop and listen?”

So I stopped crying and I listened. And I knew it was my fault, the whole thing. It’s the same old argument because I’m choosing to have it. I’m choosing the fight.

We listened to each other and said we were sorry and we both really were. It was my fault and it was his fault. We had a sweet evening after all and fell into bed, bone-tired, at 8:30 pm.

And when I woke up on Thursday morning I pulled out an unused Moleskine notebook and sat with a cup of coffee and wrote the header, “Things I learned about myself from our argument last night.” Have you ever done that before? I sure haven’t. I’m usually too busy rehearsing my part of the argument, making sure it was drum-tight, making sure I got my point across.

I wrote a list of 21 things in that notebook, about me and also about us. Oh, it hurt my pride to do it, but once I started the words just kept coming.

Yes, life is hard. It’s busy. It involves some sacrifices. But it’s also good. Am I mostly choosing to see the hard or am I seeing the good?

Sitting there curled up by the window, I got this picture of the way I can be, the way I say to David and to myself, I know, I know, be patient. God is changing me.

And suddenly I’m realizing, that’s kind of a load of crap.

At the end of the day, am I going to fight for my marriage, or am I going to fight it? Am I going to listen to my husband, or listen to myself talk? Am I going to stand by him, to choose to believe the best of him when he makes decisions, or am I going to attack him? Am I going to come home from a beautiful vacation and get sucked into the whirlwind of stress, or am I going to be grateful for our new memories and take charge of my own well-being? Am I going to be grouchy about a dirty house or am I going to be thrilled that we have our own house after years of moving around?

I wrote out the top three things I’m most stressed about right now, and even as I identified them very specifically, their power over me lessened. They aren’t going away, but suddenly I could put them in their rightful place again, instead of letting them take over my head and grow larger than life.

And then, after all that writing and aching fingers because I never hand-write anything anymore, I opened my Bible to Psalm 94 and read, “Blessed is the man whom You discipline, O Lord.” I knew in that moment: That man is me. I am wrong and I need to change. And I’m blessed because God is showing me that right now. He’s opening my eyes, and He’s saying, “This is the path. Now walk in it. Be free from yourself.”

You know what I love about David? He doesn’t settle. He doesn’t back down to me. Always, always in our marriage he has pushed me. He’s challenged me. He’s asked the hard questions. It’s been the cause of many of our arguments and sometimes my resentment, but now I’m seeing more and more that this is a gift. I can appear very compliant on the outside but God only knows how stubborn and hard my heart is, how resistant I am to change.

And he brought me David. Who loves me exactly for who I am. But who also loves me enough to push me. He’s not content with a lifetime of the same old script, of us just gritting our teeth and enduring the frustrating parts of our marriage, of a fatalism that says, “I am who I am.”

No, he has way more hope and faith in God than that. He leads the way in our marriage by being humble and willing to change, and he knows the only way I’ll find freedom is being humble and willing to change too.

So on Wednesday night when all I wanted was for him to feel sorry for me, he said, “No Julie. I love you and I want more for you. I want more for us.” He was sorry but he wouldn’t pity me.

And his courage to stand strong is what opened my eyes.

I love him because he sees the woman I can become. And he won’t give up.

I’m learning that’s the way God loves me. He accepts me right here and right now. Jesus has paid for all my sins. But He has way too much hope and excitement and joy about the Julie he created to let me dig my heels in and refuse to change. He wants to give me everything.

You know what else I love about my husband? He knows me better than anyone else. And so he gave up his Saturday afternoon — the short two hours sandwiched between work and helping friends move that he had to relax — to help me work on our new master bedroom. He hung curtains. We organized. It’s starting to look cozy and inviting and restful.

Because David knows that when my life feels out of control, making a home brings me back to myself. It lets peace burrow a little deeper into my heart and keeps the walls from closing in and gives me space to breathe again. He could do anything with this knowledge — he could roll his eyes or tell me I’m shallow or simply just not acknowledge it. But instead he serves me in this very personal way. It may sound silly to someone else, but it means the world to me.

And that also shows me God’s love.

It’s Sunday afternoon and my heart feels lighter than it’s felt all week. I’m happy to be home.



making things happen.

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So I shared last week about taking charge of my own well being, and can I just say thank you so much for responding, for saying that God’s teaching you the same things, that this is encouraging and exciting and maybe even revolutionary for you? Hearing your words make blogging so much more meaningful for me.

I never check my blog stats: I honestly don’t know how many people read gentinofamily.com or where they’re from. Rather than try to grow readership, I’m much happier spending my time connecting with those of you that do stop by. I’m okay with this blog being small. If 2 people are inspired by something I write, it’s worth it to me! Thanks for being here!

I found a great quote on Pinterest: “Live less out of habit and more out of intent” (source unknown), which sums up perfectly how I’m approaching this season of life. I want to hang it over my kitchen sink. [Another quote for the kitchen sink, from Jan Karon’s Mitford books: “Live deep, not fast.”]

Recently my friend Kelly recommended I look into Lara Casey’s PowerSheets set as a way to live more intentionally. Do you remember when I posted my 2014 Goals? Well I’ve more or less kept up with them this year (although I’ll go ahead and confess right now that I gave P90X up long ago).

But 6 months into 2014, I feel the shock of another year half over, and the constant temptation to live out of habit rather than intent.

Habit is just so . . . convenient. Even when it’s not especially easy, or joyful. It’s a known. Complaining is a known. Some of us would rather be miserable than have to try something new. I’m starting to recognize how often that’s the case with me.

So I’m ready to try PowerSheets, which guide you through 6 months of priority-making and goal-setting. They come in a hard copy packet with thick glossy pages and pretty gold and black lettering (don’t ask why, but stuff like that matters to me). I bought myself a 3-ring binder from Target in soothing shades of green for my PowerSheets, and I actually enjoy that this project isn’t on a screen. It’s easier to think without having 5 tabs open on the Internet and Apartment Therapy constantly whispering my name (I know. I have a problem).

PowerSheets guide you through a series of questions about yourself and your life, what’s working for you and what isn’t. You spend time figuring out what drains you and what you’re passionate about and thinking about how to do more of what you’re passionate about.

At first glance I wanted to move straight to monthly goals and skip all the intro stuff, but now that I’ve worked my way through it, I recognize already how valuable the process is. It’s important to expose what’s currently driving me versus what I want to be driving me. If you decide to try PowerSheets, I’d recommend spreading the intro material over several different sittings because it takes awhile and you don’t want to skimp on this part.

One of my favorite questions Lara Casey asks is: “Where do you want to be when you’re 80?” Not what kind of house do I want but what do I want my life and relationships to look like when I’m 80? What kind of person do I want to be?

I’ve honestly never thought about that before, but after spending some time answering, I realized so vividly that the choices I make now matter. If I want a certain kind of life and relationships at 80, I must do the hard work of investing now.

It’s sobering but also brings a new dignity to the mundaneness of my life now: sitting on the floor playing with my kids, cooking homemade meals at the stove, repenting every single day of my selfishness, spending time being still before God, being accountable to a community of believers, asking my husband how I can be a better listener.

All of it matters. I don’t just magically snap my fingers in a few decades when I’m less tired and have more time and become a better mother, wife, friend, and Christian.

Once you work through the introduction material, which includes a video and a free e-book about setting boundaries, you make 5 goals and monthly action points for the next 6 months. You fill in the months yourself so you can begin at any point in the year; I officially start my goals in July.

I’m excited to focus in on a few areas of my life where I want to make progress. For example, one of my goals is: Stick To Our Financial Budget. Yep. That’s a tough one. But after making a plan I realize: I can do this, I can grow in this area and become a better steward of our money. I have a few very practical steps to tackle over the next months.

Now that’s it’s planned out in my PowerSheets there are no more excuses not to work on sticking to our budget. Imagine how good it will feel to have made big strides in this area by December?

In case you’re wondering, PowerSheets aren’t just for stay-at-home moms. Lara Casey, who created PowerSheets, is a mom, but also publishes a magazine, does consulting work, and uses PowerSheets for both her personal and professional life. I can see how they’d be super helpful in a business/entrepreneurial or ministry setting.

I’ll update you on how PowerSheets work for me. I’m sure it isn’t for everyone, but I encourage you to find a way to motivate yourself to live out of intent rather than habit. Be liberated!