saturday gratitude.

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1. a morning at the Farmer’s Market and grocery shopping, all by myself!

2. a chance to talk to interesting people without interruptions from my people

3. the transformation of downtown Columbia over the last 5 years that we’ve been back (how has it been 5 years?)

4. Amie’s bedroom is finished! And she is so happy.

5. we are so, so close to being done with our house project … just a few more items left

6. when I clean the blanket of construction dust from our floors and furniture and books, I remember how easy I have it compared to my friends living in India

7. finding peace with my lack of a summer schedule

8. a family beach day at Isle of Palms last week

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9. my friend Kelly rescued me from my frazzled state by giving me a simple plan for our kids and chores

10. an afternoon tea date with my dad

11. my kids listening to audio books (currently playing on Audible: Misty of Chincoteague, The Silver Chair, Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Poppy)

12. learning to say “I’m sorry” more often

13. I’ve begun to keep an actual list in my bullet journal of “Things my kids are doing right.” It’s embarrassing to have to make such a list, but it really transforms the way I see them

14. I can learn to be patient with myself and my sin

15. training myself to say, “This is a great day,” no matter what is happening and how I feel

16. friends who stop me to ask, “How is your anxiety doing with the crowds at church this summer?”

17. kitchen helpers

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18. feeling the energy to begin planning next school year

19. slow Sunday afternoons at the pool with Kenny and Shari and the boys

20. we leave tomorrow for New Smyrna Beach!

21. a chance to spend time with friends we see just once a year

22. listening to Gabe and Noah tell the things they’re looking forward to about vacation. They’ve found their place in our family traditions, and I see their faces light up with the joy of it.

23. people who give very specific encouragement, saying “I see this growth in you” or “I see this growth in your kids.” Wanting to do the same for others

24. friends who love the same books I do

25. friends who love absolutely different books that I do, hearing why they enjoy what they do

26. kids who are best buddies

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sunday gratitude.

1. A member of our building crew brought me this lovely house-warming plant

2. As David says, the overpowering smell of wood floor stain and polyurethane is “the smell of progress.”

3. The last coat was applied this morning! The final inspection happened on Friday.

4. Re-watching two favorite movies: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and The Hundred-Foot Journey

5. I haven’t seen a single slug in our yard since we got the chickens

6. The colorful India-made rug I found for our new bedroom

7. Judah and Amie got invited to a friend’s Harry Potter birthday party and both are overjoyed

8. This morning David preached a sermon that I really needed to hear, about idols (you can listen here, today’s will be posted by tonight). Wanting to mull it over for awhile.

9. Hugs at church, from all sorts of people

10. When people who come to CPC tell me, “I feel like I can be myself here”

11. Our Lexington church planter, Adam, will be ordained as a pastor tonight

12. Margaritas and tacos with Anna

13. A new meal plan for the summer, which I’ll most definitely share with you

14. Ideas for the blog

15. My blog readers!

16. Tomorrow I’ll be married 13 years to the love of my life

17. Working up the courage to offer him an anniversary gift of a backpacking trip together, complete with 20 miles of hiking

18. My friends Annie and Liz got me hooked on two delicious tea flavors: Harney and Sons Paris, and Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice. Feeling that coffee is fun once in awhile but not necessary to my existence anymore.

19. Judah ran two miles with David at the river yesterday

20. Six happy little blueberry plants lining the fence behind my chair

21. Neighbors who tell us, “You guys are inspiring us to stay in the neighborhood and make our house great”

22. Unexpected texts from friends

23. Realizing that if I want to be a good writer and an interesting person, I need to do interesting things . . . rather than using my free time to scroll blogs and social media

24. Friends you can go months without talking to, and then pick right back up where you left off

25. The Deep Run Roots cookbook

26. The Aarti Paarti cookbook

27. The Luckiest, by Ben Folds

28. The living-warm feeling of a child cuddled on your lap

29. Being smothered in kisses by Gabe

30. The simple pleasure of making our house look pretty

31. The first blooms on my gardenia, and the neighbors’ crepe myrtles

32. Thankful lists help me remember this fact: There are two ways to look at life. I want to choose the better way.

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friday gratitude.

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I struggled with depression all week, which hits me from time to time. It’s a thick cloud that creeps into the edges of my life — it doesn’t take away my ability to function, it just seems to steal my joy. I’m sure it doesn’t help matters that our house is still in disarray and that David was out of town for a few days.

Last month, very suddenly, we lost some friends at our Classical Conversations campus, who died in a house fire. My heart still aches for what happened and I don’t understand it at all. My friend Mandy and her husband died, as well as two of their four children. I’ve been thinking about them so much, about a couple of conversations that she and I had this semester. Mandy loved Jesus and children and adoption and homeschooling. She struck me as someone who was content with her life.

And even though I’m sad, I’ve thought more than once that the way I can best honor my friend is to choose joy. Every day. Even when my life feels stressful. That’s the way I’d want people to honor me if I died. I’d want them to open their eyes wide and look around them and see the gifts, and treasure them.

I think of Mandy, who is with Jesus, but who had hoped to grow old with her husband and raise her kids into adulthood. And I remember, Life is a gift. Even the hard is a gift. Even waking up with the thick cloud is a gift, because I woke up.

In this season, in the moments when I’m tempted to complain, I’m trying to cut myself short and instead say, “Life is good.”

That’s not some superficial, wishy-washy thinking that ignores the reality of trials. It’s just true. Life is good. There are always, always things to be thankful for. Always. And because we’re human and the bent of our hearts is to complain, we have to fight every day to see them.

And so here’s a little Friday gratitude:

1. Delays in our renovation process this week meant three wonderfully quiet days, with no strangers in our house.

2. We had a good, hard rain last night and all our plants are happier today

3. Our little flock of chickens brings endless delight and amusement (and yes, a lot of poop)

4. But the poop is good for making compost!

5. David got to spend three days in NC with a group of pastors. My husband who spends his days pouring into others got to relax and have fun and be poured into by people who really care about him.

6. The most delightful Mysterious Benedict Society series, which Judah and I are loving

7. Noah: “When I grow up I’ll get married and become a daddy. And my hands will get bigger so I can put my kids to bed.”

8. School is finished! And I just get to be Mom for awhile.

9. The first milky white blossoms on our Little Gem Magnolia

10. The At Home Podcast

11. The Wild + Free Podcast

12. When I feel depressed and helpless and at the end of my rope, I cry out to Jesus more

13. God is exposing my sin of anger and a bad temper. It’s humiliating, but I trust that this is a needed step in becoming free

14. Realizing that there are things I can’t do in life, and people I can’t possibly love, without supernatural help from the Holy Spirit

15. Our swim team friends: both friends for my kids and friends for me

16. Today was the last gathering of our Book Club and Field Trip group, and the first year was a great success

17. Piling on the sofas at night with David, Judah, and Amie to watch season three of the Great British Baking Show

18. Indah Coffee, which just opened up and is less than five minutes from our house (and where I’m sitting now with a chai latte to write this blog post)

19. CPC’s new worship space, which is right next door to Indah! Renovations on our space should begin soon

20. Disney movies. They’ve brought happiness and fun memories to my life from my childhood until now (Pixar too, for that matter). Every month or two I purchase a classic, like Beauty and the Beast, to add to our family’s library. The kids’ current favorite is Moana, and we have the soundtrack on repeat.

21. My husband is home, and after we’re apart there’s always a fresh new sweetness to our marriage. Also he’s painting our new bathroom and giving me an afternoon out

22. Trader Joe’s

23. Money to buy things we need for the addition, and even a few things we don’t need

24. I finished reading Little Dorrit! It wasn’t my favorite Dickens novel, but as with every single one I’ve read, it had a very satisfying ending

25. A baby bird with the sweetest golden throat flew into our kitchen this morning

26. I found a way to manage one cup of coffee per day! The trick is to use decaf and brew it a bit weaker and not drink Starbucks, which is what seems to make my stomach so upset. It’s just lovely to have that one cup to sit with my Bible at 6:00 am. After that I switch to tea.

27. Amie can now make a plate of scrambled eggs completely by herself (now if only I could get her to clean up her dishes all by herself …)

28. We had two lovely years with our house-cleaner, Sandy. She was a pure gift in a time of need.

29. A new plan for tackling house cleaning, and a summer plan to make the kids a bigger part of my chores and cooking. We’re going to be a team!

30. Our social worker, Tricia, who two years post-adoption is still our friend and gives such wise advice



a birthday post.

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Hi friends!

Yesterday was my 35th birthday! Can you believe it!? It feels like a sort of milestone. I’m halfway to 70!

I’m really not one to be sentimental about my kids getting older (I love older kids!), but yesterday I had a sort of earth-shaking revelation: I’m 35. Judah is 9 1/2. That means I’ve lived exactly one half of the life I have with him at home, before he spreads his wings and flies away.

A few moments of heart-thumping panic, and then I moved on.

Here’s to seizing the next nine years with my boy and choosing not to be consumed by guilt!

Here’s to having lived one-third of my life married to David!

Here’s to barrelling full ahead to 40!

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I always like to know how people enjoy celebrating their birthdays, so I’ve decided to tell you how I celebrated mine.

The kids and I made an executive decision this year that everyone gets their birthday off school, including Mom. So I planned the school calendar accordingly.

I know it’s not possible for everyone, but if you get the chance, it’s fun to take the day off on your birthday!

David offered to pick up breakfast treats from a bakery, but I knew in the end we’d all prefer cinnamon rolls, so I whipped up a batch Monday afternoon.

I planned to sleep in, but popped awake at 6:30 and was happy for a chance to sit with a cup of coffee and my Bible before the kids woke up.

At breakfast time, we gathered for cinnamon rolls, and I got to open my cards and gifts.

David and the kids gave me Little Dorrit in hardcover and dark chocolate, a garlic press, and a gift card to the Nickelodeon theater downtown to see La La Land (David’s love for me does not quite extend to musicals, but he’s more than happy to send me with my mom).

I got birthday money from family, which I’ll use for books and to go shoe-shopping with my brother tomorrow. Hooray!

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This year each of the kids made me something special:

“A picture of Daddy on the trampoline” from Gabe

A “light saber” from Noah

Two friendship bracelets and a card from Amie

A bookmark for my new book from Judah that says “Julia for President”

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Even better than those sweet gifts is the shower of cuddles and hugs I got all morning from my two littlest boys, who weren’t doling those out so freely this time last year.

After breakfast, David and I needed to sit and have a conversation about our school path in the fall, because if you can believe it, open enrollment practically everywhere is now.

Like a total nerd, I made a huge pros/cons list in my bullet journal, and after processing it all, we unanimously agreed to keep on the exact same path for next year: Classical Conversations homeschooling.

Homeschooling makes me tired, but it is a good, worth-it kind of tired. I’m so thankful for all well it still suits all four kiddos.

It’s good to have that decision behind us, pay next year’s deposit, and move on with life!

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We played a few rounds of our current favorite game: Rat-A-Tat-Cat, and then David headed in to work. The little kids went outside and Judah and I settled in for a game of Battleship, sharing a box of Kleenex.

Several of us have a virus this week, so I was thankful for this very lazy morning at home, and turned on Sid the Science Kid for an hour before lunch so I could sit in the sunlight on the back porch with my new book.

It’s no fun being sick on your birthday, but here’s what is fun: a 70-degree day, eight growing chickies in our basement, and the two rows of onions David planted this week.

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The other sad part of the day was Noah’s 4-year-old doctor well visit at 3:30. We dropped Gabe and Amelie at Mum-Mum’s and headed to our pediatrician in West Columbia (Judah came along for moral support). We love our doctor, but if you’ve had a four-year-old, you know that this particular check-up is just the worst because: a finger prick and four shots.

I fortified myself beforehand by stopping at the Starbucks drive-through for a tall Cascara latte (have you tried it? It is divine).

Speaking of dessert, we have a tradition of stopping for a mini milkshake from Sonic after shots, which I remind my kids of beforehand, but Noah was still a little sad. My three older kids would’ve been crying from start to finish of the check-up, but he was very mature in his sorrow, just hung his head and looked depressed in a very 12-year-old way. The wailing started when the shots started though.

Poor buddy. Does anyone else get choked up when their kids get shots?

But we did it!

A trip to the Prize Box and a milkshake was very comforting.

That was my last four-year-old check up.

Sweet Noah is in the 19th percentile for height and the 6th for weight: the little guy of the family. We think he’s pretty darn cute!!

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We had plans to go out for sushi to this wonderful hole-in-the-wall place downtown that makes tiny California rolls for kids, but since several of us are sick, we’ll save it for another time.

My parents stopped by after work with homemade chicken noodle soup (made-from-scratch noodles!!!), and it felt good to just hole up all evening and go to bed early. I think you become quite boring when you’re 35.

David and I watched the first episode of the BBC show Sherlock, and enjoyed it but probably won’t continue with the series. I can’t explain why, it’s just the way we are. The only series we’ve ever completely finished is The Wire, and we came pretty close with The Office but fizzled out, and that was years ago. If you’re wondering about me, here are the series I’ve finished: Parks and Rec (two times at least), Parenthood, and Call the Midwife.

Anyway.

I’m excited about Little Dorrit!

Word to the wise: if you’re going to tackle a big long classic novel, try to find a nice hardcover edition. It sounds shallow I know, but it truly changes everything. And I love having my very own copy to underline!

I loved this birthday: thanks to everyone for loving me and making me feel special.

It’s good to be alive!

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a new way to spend tuesday afternoons.

On Tuesdays at 1:00, my mother-in-law, Linda, comes over to sit with my kids. She reads or works while they have their afternoon room time until 3:00, then walks them two streets over to her house to play until 5:00.

Tuesday afternoons are one of God’s gifts to me in this season. For the past six months I have exercised, gone to counseling appointments, scheduled my trip to the dentist, and run errands in a blessedly quiet van.

My counselor is so great that she works herself out of a job; currently I’m seeing her once a month, which leaves many Tuesdays wide open. I guess ideally I would use those afternoons to write, but like I shared with you, recent attempts to do this have me sitting in Starbucks, drinking tea and staring blankly at my computer screen. Or even worse, browsing Pinterest and Apartment Therapy for two hours.

So this month I’m trying something different.

This week, before Linda arrived, Amelie and I scrambled to load up my purse with a stack of white paper, kids’ scissors, and scraps of dollar store stickers, then when she got here, we set out to visit our friends.

If we drive downtown south down Huger Street, we can hang a right on Taylor and find ourselves in West Columbia. Just eight minutes or so from our house, before you hit the string of restaurants and Lexington hospital on Sunset Blvd, tucked into a side street, is an apartment complex.

Our new friends from Afghanistan live there. God plopped them into our lives, literally out of the blue, last month. A friend at church spends a lot of time with refugees, and met a couple of families. One family was looking for an English conversation partner for the mom/wife, and the other some after-school tutoring for their sons.

David passed along the email and asked, “Should we meet them?” And I said “Yes!”

You may remember my New Year’s resolution of making friends with people different from me.

I had that growing feeling inside of me but looked around at my daily life and said, “Lord, can you help me with this? I don’t know where to start.”

And so David responded to our friend, and one of the Afghani families immediately invited us for dinner. All six of us.

This did not surprise us one bit. In our time spent in other countries, we’ve been enveloped by the goodness of cultures far more hospitable than our own. It has soaked into our very bones and changed us from the inside out.

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So Amelie and I pulled up to Shafiqa’s apartment on Tuesday and knocked on the sliding glass door and kicked off our flip flops as she opened it wide, beaming. She pulled us into big hugs and urged us inside. Her four-year-old daughter Ranna hopped around with glee and laced orange-coated fingers with ours to come see the big pail of cheese puffs she’d gotten into.

Shafiqa is expecting her fourth child this spring. She stays home with Ranna during the day while her husband goes to work and her two elementary-aged sons take the bus to and from school. And so her life is motherhood and laundry and cooking and boisterous children, just like mine.

Her apartment has no furniture, save a small TV stand in the corner, and a little round kitchen table. There are low cushions on the floor against the wall, which enchanted all of my children when we went over for the first time. What delighted the kids even more was the big vinyl tablecloth Shafiqa spread on the floor at dinner time, which we all gathered around, sitting cross-legged.

The plan is for me to visit Shafiqa most Tuesday afternoons for an hour and a half or so to practice her English. I text to make sure it’s good for her (it always is) or to let her know if I can’t come. Her English is limited, so I’m gathering ideas on the fly of what she wants to learn and what to focus on first. I neurotically pull out my bullet journal to record ideas, which makes her laugh.

I’m  discovering that she is an ardent student. This week we sat on the floor together and worked on English phrases (basic greetings) and some vocabulary for an hour. It’s slow going, mostly because we can’t understand one another. I downloaded an English-Pashtu app on my phone and attempted to translate sentences for her. That’s when I learned that she can’t actually read Pashtu.

She told me that in Afghanistan she was not allowed to go to school. She told me, in short words and mostly with hand motions, what the Taliban does to girls in her village who try to attend school, how glad she was to leave, to bring her children to a land where they can read and write and be free.

And then I had to somehow turn and explain to curious Amelie what all of this means.

Suddenly I understood everything, and said, “Shafiqa! Do you want to learn to read English?” and she said, “Yes!”

I said, “And then if you learn to read you can drive!” and she said, “Yes, yes!”

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You know what? There are a lot of things I can’t do, but I can teach someone to read!

Not only can I do that thing, but I enjoy doing it!

Now it’s crystal-clear in my mind. We will read and we will speak.

Mostly, I think, we will become friends. I can’t wait for next week.

You know what my seven-year-old was doing this whole time? Entertaining Ranna, making crafts with stickers, chatting, asking Shafiqa how to write her name in Pashtu. My beautiful girl, who not two hours before was sitting, crying over letters and numbers that get mixed up and turned around in her head, was just beaming and happy.

After our lesson, Shafiqa jumped up and served us fresh-made Pakoras with mint chutney. She loves that we lived in Bangalore, loved seeing photos of me in a sari and salweer kameez. Shafiqa learned Hindi by watching Bollywood movies. Her mother has spent time in India, and Shafiqa wears Indian clothing, with a simple scarf over her hair. Much like the Muslims in our Bangalore neighborhood.

She knows that I love Indian food, and so she makes it for me when I come over. Amelie, who cut her teeth on spicy masala dosa and sambar dal, gobbles it up too. She says, “Mom, I remember this Indian food!”

Too soon, the boys traipse in from school and ask in perfect English where my other kids are, why I didn’t bring them over, when they can come play at my house. We chat and Amie and I pack up and say our good-byes and promise to come next week. Then we run our errands together: Wal-Mart for an air-conditioning filter, and Grease Monkey for an oil change, with a quick, necessary stop at Dunkin’ Donuts of course. We have fun together, just the two of us.

You know that I’ve been in a bit of a tired slump lately.

I thought that what I needed was more alone time, but when I had those hours I didn’t always use them well. Sure I’d go for a run, but I’d also sit staring blankly at Starbucks, or drive to Target and Michael’s craft store to spend money I don’t need to spend. I’d coming home from my afternoons out tired and listless, not wanting to face my family and my chores.

Suddenly, like a light bulb, I realize that I don’t need more alone time.

What I need is to find the thing God wants me to do, something which will make me come alive, and do it.

In the past few months, my counselor has talked a lot to me about motivation.

She said, “Julie, commitments and relationships aren’t good or bad in and of themselves. What you need to start asking yourself is, ‘What is my motivation for doing this thing — or seeing this person?'”

We get ourselves into trouble by doing good things with bad motivation: because we feel guilty, maybe, or to impress people, or simply because we feel like we “should” do it. She asked, “How many of those things do have in your life right now? What needs to change?”

Sometimes we can have a great motivation, but it’s just plain bad timing. In this season, at least.

In another season, it may be the perfect thing.

And so, that is the long and short of how I came to spend Tuesday afternoons sitting on the carpet with my friend Shafiqa using exaggerated hand motions and short phrases and laughing a lot, and leaving her apartment with a spring in my step.

Now I want to bring one or two of my kids every single time. She adores them, and the feeling is mutual. I want so badly for them to find the joy I’ve found in making friends with people who are different from us; even if we live right here in Columbia, South Carolina, rather than in overseas. They are already doing it.

Maybe I don’t need to escape my children on Tuesdays so much as find something I’m passionate about, and bring them along.

And of course wonderful Linda says to me, “No matter how long it takes, drop them off at my place and go for your run at the end of the afternoon: I’ll just let them dig in the dirt a little longer.”

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with the hurting and with aleppo.

Hello dear friends,

It’s a gray, cold December afternoon here in Columbia. After a brisk walk to their grandparents’ for a fire pit and some back yard Advent projects, the kids and I have holed up at home, with new Christmas pj’s and soup and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

I’m going to be honest: I almost never, ever read the news. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter, and not often on Instagram, so the way I find out about current events is typically from my husband or from blogs.

It’s not that I don’t care what’s going on in our country or in the world. But when it comes to current events, sometimes news and social media feel to me like a massive number of voices bombarding me, like the pulsing roar of a football game. It’s hard to strain my ears and discern what anyone’s actually saying in the midst of the deafening noise. It’s hard to know what’s really true and whom to believe, and what exactly, at the end of the day, I’m supposed to do about it.

But for whatever reason, recently I’ve heard two clear calls in my life that stand out from the noise. I’ve decided to lift my head and listen hard.

One is the book David put in my hands a couple of months ago, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond.

Another comes in the form of some of the bloggers I respect, who tell me this week that there is a crisis of epic proportions in Aleppo, Syria. There is terror and bombing and starvation. I won’t attempt to summarize this situation for you because Ann and Shannan are two people who have done it well.

I’ve been known to avoid educating myself about things that feel too painful, but with Evicted and with learning about the war in Syria, I decided not to toss aside the book for lighter reading or to quickly skip ahead to the next blog post. Instead, I wiped away tears and pressed on to the next chapter, clicked the next link and then the next that told me about the deprivation and horrors people are experiencing this December.

And here I’m sitting here in my favorite gold reading chair on a Friday afternoon, and I’m wondering what difference this knowledge makes in my life, other than to make me feel a bit guilty and very sad. While I know warmth and safety and a fully belly this Christmas, many know cold and fear and hunger.

How can I possibly have been born to such privilege? Why am I here right now and not there? What could I possibly do to help provide housing for America’s poor or peace for refugees of war-torn nations?

Honestly, I don’t know the answer yet.

It’s a question I’d like to explore in the coming weeks, but for now, trite as it may sound, it starts with a little paper ornament hung on our Christmas tree. It starts with standing there in the early-morning darkness of our living room, next to the sparkling white lights, looking at that heart-breaking photo and praying for people I don’t know — people across the world in Syria and people right here in my own country.

And there are others too — not just those in physical danger, but those for whom the holidays are a painful time of year. The friends who have lost loved ones. The friends who are sick in body or sick in spirit. The friends who want to be married and aren’t. The friends whose marriage is in tatters. The friends who are looking at a negative pregnancy test, again.

I won’t fool myself into thinking that hanging a print-out ornament changes anything or makes me a better person, I know it’s not even close to enough. But I guess it’s a very small way to say, “I won’t turn a blind eye. I will think of you. I will remember that I have much to be thankful for, and also that it’s not all about me and my family memories. I’ll remember that many people are sad right now.”

Don’t get me wrong, I will be very happy in the days to come. I will continue to delight in many aspects of our month, which I’ve already deemed my favorite December yet. I’ll enjoy wrapping gifts and making a third batch of fudge and listening to Christmas music from dawn ’til dusk. I’m so thankful that, as Shannan reminds us, “Gratitude and sorrow aren’t, as I once believed, mutually exclusive. They actually pair quite well together, one in each hand.”

The very heart of the Christmas story is both sorrow at the brokenness of our hearts and our world, and surging joy, at the victory of Christ.

I guess I’m just saying, in this very roundabout way, that I want to have eyes to see what’s real this Christmas and not what’s on Pinterest. I want to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. More than chasing after happiness, which is in the end very fleeting, I want to chase hard after Jesus, who is the hope for our weary world.

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six things on friday.

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Happy Friday, dear friends!

Here are six things that are making my life a little happier these days:

1. We have a holiday and birthday cinnamon roll tradition. David’s birthday was October 7, but we had a few busy weekends in a row, so I finally made his cinnamon rolls this week. Homemade cinnamon rolls are something I was intimidated by until my friends in India showed me how very easy they are. Now I’m teaching Amie how to make them.

If you’re interested, here’s our tried-and-true recipe. I prepare them the night before and then bake them the next morning and whip up a quick glaze.

2. A monumental event happened in our house yesterday: at 11:45 AM I told my children I was going in my room to exercise for 30 minutes, and I’d make their lunch when I was finished. Well, they got hungry and decided to make their own lunch (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches), and the big kids made one for Noah.

Of course they scampered in and out of the room asking questions, chatting with me, picking up free weights to follow along, but I did it! I did the entire work-out and when I was finished: my kids had eaten lunch, carried their dishes to the sink, and we could move on with our day!

This may just be the dawn of a new era, folks.

3. One more note on fitness. A few weeks ago, David and I started ROMWOD, which is the CrossFit daily stretching program. I am not a CrossFit person and doubt I ever will be, but I can carve out 15 minutes a night to stretch alongside my husband. We do it immediately after we put Gabe and Noah to bed, and the big kids often join in. It feels very restful (so much so that Amie has been known to fall asleep on the floor by the end of the routine).

This habit has been so, so good for us! I’m gaining some flexibility, my posture is improving, and my form is better when I exercise. Perhaps best of all is that my psychiatrist and doctor have been after me to do daily deep breathing exercises for my anxiety, and ROMWOD includes that.

Having said all of this, fitness and exercise still do not come naturally for me. I’m learning that, at the end of the day, taking care of my body doesn’t involve some grand game plan or even subscribing to an expensive program but small, daily choices to get up and move around.

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4. I’m cautiously optimistic that my anxiety is lessening. I don’t know if it’s the deep breathing, the medication, the therapist, prayer, boundaries, or all of the above, but David and I noticed this week that in some ways I seem to be much more like my old self.

Anxiety is a funny thing: I can now become obsessed with looking for these improvements and then spiral down if I have one bad day, so I’m trying to be very even-keel about these latest victories. We had a wonderful new members’ class at our house two weeks ago with 40 people here. I felt happy and calm and loved cooking chili for them all. And we’ve had a couple other social events this past week that I thought would send me into a tail-spin of panic, but turned out to be enjoyable.

Now the other temptation is to say, “I’m all better!” and start stacking back up commitments and obligations. So I’ll resist that. My life continues to be stream-lined to the barest of necessities. And when once in awhile we add something in and it goes well, I give thanks.

I know this probably deserves a blog post on its own, but I really can’t describe how good this time of my extreme limitations has been for my family. I’m home more. I’m not rushing around frantically trying to please a whole load of people and live up to an image I’ve given myself. I have more energy for homeschooling and for gardening and exercising.

I feel like I’m truly learning, in tiny fits and starts, to live out of a place of rest instead of a place of performance and striving.

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5. I’ve started my first bullet journal!

This is something I’ve had my eye on nearly this whole calendar year, through the blogs I follow. At its simplest, bullet journaling is just using a blank notebook to create your own day planner and organizer, tailor-made to your needs. I thoroughly read these two posts as I got started: one from the official Bullet Journal website, and this detailed one from the Lazy Genius Collective, and at their advice, practiced for a couple of weeks in a cheap notebook to make sure I like the method.

Per both of those websites (and a post here for all you Modern Mrs. Darcy lovers), my bullet journal is very plain and simple. No fancy drawings or artwork. I love looking through the elaborate journal spreads on Pinterest but I know that trying to keep up with that would stress me out. So I stick to the basics.

The biggest reason I like the bullet journal method: all the random thoughts and bits of paper scattered throughout the house and notes on my phone and craziness in my head are now consolidated into one place. It travels with me in my purse. It keeps me from staring at a screen. I even use my bullet journal for my grocery list.

David has seen how well this new system is working for me, and ordered his own notebook today. Actually Amie started her own bullet journal with a pretty notebook someone gave her, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that thus far her pages are as fancy and colorful as mine are plain. I love it. Soon I’ll give you a blog post with our favorite tips.

6. And finally, the things we see/hear on news are depressing, but there is so much good in the world, you guys. Let’s look for the good and also be apart of the good, in small, faithful ways. One story: our friends from church, Ben and Jeanette, are approved to adopt a five-year-old boy from China (see photos of him on Instagram @thewalkersadopt). They had an adoption fundraiser on Sunday night with live music, chili, and s’mores, similar to ours in 2014.

And they raised $10,000 in one night.

That is just one example of many I could tell in the life of our church and our community. The generosity and courage of the people around us is heartening. God is at work.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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lately.

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Hello friends! I can’t explain the feelings of relief and joy I have now that March is here and spring is around the corner. I remember that it’s around this time every year (right around the time I can wear flip flops once again) that I begin to feel more like myself.

I don’t like to use the word “busy,” but I’d describe our winter and this coming month as full. Very full. I began leading a life group, David’s doing three weddings in four months, we’re searching for a new worship place for our church, we’re starting on our house addition, and of course we have normal life and school and work.

How do we survive all of this? Well, we’re careful to look at our schedule together each week, and plan “down” days and evenings interspersed with all the activity. By now we’ve begun to learn just how many days and nights a week we can have plans and how many we need to be at home to avoid total exhaustion.

We try to be super intentional about what we say “yes” to and what we say “no” to — we don’t say no because something isn’t good; but because we know that we just can’t do everything. We’re going to bed early and waking up early to have some quiet moments in the morning. We’re exercising regularly and giving each other space to get out of the house alone once a week.

Making this rhythm a priority is saving our sanity and keeping us from feeling overwhelmed. Actually, we’re really enjoying life right now! This is the most normal that it’s felt since the adoption, and also, in my opinion, the sweetest season in the life of our church so far.

My anxiety is still very present, but I’m pressing on and learning ways to cope, and it really doesn’t have the power over me that it did even a few weeks ago. More on that soon.

Here are a few photos of what we’ve been up to!

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We all got sick a couple of weeks ago, which finally necessitated a trip to the doctor. Two kids were fine, one had an ear infection, and one a sinus infection. But the good news is that during our sick week at home I took the opportunity to potty-train Noah! He was a champ this time around, and it feels really amazing to have everyone out of diapers.

 

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We’re still enjoying swimming and ballet. I may or may not have started showing my kids some Olympics videos on YouTube to begin brainwashing them into becoming Olympics fanatics with me this summer.

 

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I’ve been doing some baking! David’s aunt left me with the cookbook from a gluten-free bakery in Seattle, and I’m trying one or two recipes a week. So far I’ve made orange raisin scones, blueberry cinnamon scones, and buckwheat biscuits, and the family has enjoyed them all! It feels so good to bake things I can actually eat.

 

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After a slump for few weeks this winter, school is going really well again. Judah even said the other day, “Mom, do you think we’ll do school this summer? There are some things I need to practice.”

 

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As you can tell from the blog, David has been grabbing a kid or two and hiking in the Harbison State Forest. Last week we packed lunch and took our first whole-family hike since the boys came home. It was so fun and and I’ve decided that the secret to raising three boys will be lots and lots of hiking!

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We try to sneak in some girly activities with Amie, and last week my friend Kelly and I took Amie and Caroline to see the ballet, Cinderella, at the Koger Center. Two of their friends from church performed in it, which made it even more fun.

 

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February 24th marked 10 months with our sweet boys!

 

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And finally, we had a big electrical project done on the house to prepare for our master bedroom addition, so we spent last weekend at Kenny and Shari’s. There’s really nothing like being under the same roof for 48 hours to get all caught up, is there? We had such a great time playing, chatting, eating good food, drinking good drinks, and us grown-ups even had a game night and laughed more than I’ve laughed in a long time. Thanks, McWilliams, for taking on our family of 6 for the weekend!

 

Happy March!

 



nine years.

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We did our premarital counseling with Jeff Philpott, my pastor from Sandhills Community Church.  I remember sitting with him and talking about marriage several evenings amidst our whirlwind of college classes and writing papers and part-time jobs.  Jeff had just celebrated ten years with his wife Michelle.  Back then it was impossible for me to imagine David and I celebrating one year of marriage, much less ten.

One thing Jeff said stood out in particular to me.  He said, “You know, over time those giddy, head-over-heels feelings that comprise all of what Hollywood calls ‘love’ change.  It’s not that they totally go away, but they fade into something much deeper.  Over the years you go through hard times together.  You hurt each other and forgive each other.  You have babies and change diapers and experience true sleep-deprivation.  You live real life together.  And I wouldn’t trade the love I have for my wife right now, today, for all of those starry-eyed feelings in the beginning.”

I thought about that a little because I loved the starry-eyed feelings.  I loved being head-over-heals in love for the first time in my life and flashing my engagement ring and day-dreaming of our new life together.  And there was so much going on with wedding plans and school and finding a place to live that I tucked Jeff’s words away into my heart for later.

And now.  Now, I know what Jeff meant.  I really know what he meant because I’ve lived it.  And I wouldn’t trade anything.

I’m so very grateful for the husband God has given me and for the story He’s given us.  Even the hard parts.  I pray that He will grow our love deeper and deeper through the real life of the next nine years.  I can’t wait to see how He does it.



gratitude, #826-843.

826. hearing Alison’s voice on the phone yesterday morning, the afterward-luxury of five minutes’ crying in the women’s restroom stall before my doctor’s appointments

827. the staff at Dr. Lisa Hutto’s office, who are kind-beyond-belief

828. a day full of getting to the bottom of my sicknesses

829. debriefing over tuna sandwiches and Wavy Lays potato chips and coffee at Kenny and Cici’s

830. David and Bridget and Elizabeth, dear friends

831. Hardy and Mary Woods, who make my kids feel special

832. Judah: “I was happy when I Skyped on Joshua, but then I was sad because I missed him.”

833. my son is learning to put words to the sadness that is apart of this not-as-it-should-be world

834. the solace of the downtown public library: my happy place

835. a plethora of new books to be excited about: Food Rules, and A Visit From the Goon Squad, and Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, and The Urban Homestead 

836. my husband and I in counseling together, step-by-step learning to love and understand one another in new ways

837. over-the-phone words of love and encouragement from my little brother

838. Oliver reaches for me!

839. Owen: “Julie, will you take me to go pee?”, “Julie, will you get me a drink?”, “Julie, will you take me in the pool?”

840. a.c. for this 108-degree weather

841. a spontaneous weekend trip to visit new friends

842. our family of four, safe and together

843. these bright-eyed goony birds: