Category Archives: Family

I Almost Forgot

©PreparingtheSoil | Almost Forgot


“…stop rushing to get the to do list done because it never leaves. The kids do.”

It was a rough summer. Even after I started feeling myself again, we had some other issues that took up most of our time and energy. The unrelenting North Carolina heat didn’t help matters much. The summer is mostly a blur as I try to figure out what exactly we did.


We’re normally a happy, do-stuff-together type family. We love to camp, hike, and be outside. We like to let the kids get dirty and have fun. We like days with no schedule, yummy-not-so-good-for-you treats, and finding critters that the kids beg to bring home as pets.


But this summer?

I almost forgot.


I almost forgot what it felt like to be me. To be us. To let the kids run free, get wet, and be kids. I almost forgot what it felt to walk a few paces behind my family as my camera captures the little moments I want to remember forever. I almost forgot what it was like to be intentional in just watching. Watching my kids love each other. Help each other. Encourage each other. I almost forgot about all the little ways they show their love and how blessed they are all to have one another. I almost forgot about the way their individual personalities shine through during unstructured play: the adventurous ones being adventurous, the introverted one enjoying the peaceful scenery, the little ones entertaining themselves with the same activity over and over (and over).

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On Saturday, though the to-do list was longer than anything that had any hopes of being accomplished, I knew we needed it. We needed time. Time together. Time outside.


We chose something close: the local river that runs through the county. An access point is just ten minutes from our home. We walked. We let the kids play. They got wet and dirty and full of sunshine. I watched them and I remembered. I remembered who we were and what fills our souls. I am so glad I remembered, because I almost forgot.

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Oh the bliss! May I never forget the little moments. The watching. The seeing who my family is.

 As another writer so eloquently mentioned:

“…stop rushing to get the to do list done because it never leaves. The kids do.”

All I Wanted

PTS | All I Wanted


All I wanted for Mother’s Day was to go camping.

This was my twelfth Mother’s Day. And after all these years, I know myself and my family very well. I have no need of breakfast in bed (seems silly when I wake hours before everyone else!) I don’t need to be showered with gifts (we have far too much stuff as it is). I don’t need a fancy Sunday lunch (we had our favorite New York Style pizza because it’s what we all love).


All I wanted for Mother’s Day was to be with my family, doing what we love best: camping.

Back in February, after returning from a camping trip to the Everglades, I wrote this:

LOVE camping…what I love about camping is that it strips all the extra stuff away. I don’t worry about doing laundry. I don’t worry about cleaning up. I don’t worry about checking email. I don’t put on makeup and I often don’t even bother changing clothes. When all of those little tasks are taken away, you are just left with time. Time to read, time to play, time to sleep, and time to talk. We did all of those things.

Yep, it’s all I wanted.


Camping takes all the things I love best and throws them together:

family time
being offline
taking pictures
watching my kids play
lazy schedules
simple but yummy meals
playing outside
being in God’s creation
time to snuggle and read
warm fires in the cool breeze
seeing kids explore and imagine


We left after church on Sunday and stayed two nights. Staying fairly local (a state recreation area just 45 minutes from home) meant more time to play and less time to drive. It was perfect. The kids played and explored. They founds bugs and lizards and a turtle. We swam in the lake and hiked for miles. We watched a blue heron who visited a number of times. The kids got dirty, sandy, and sweaty. I couldn’t have asked for a better Mother’s Day Gift (though the dozens of post-it notes with all the reasons they love me covering our dining table on Sunday morning comes pretty close!)


I’m thankful for these twelve years of being a mama and all the joy these kids bring to my life.

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That’s a Wrap {Birthday Season 2015}

PTS | That's a WrapIt’s finally done…birthday season 2015. Eight birthdays in three months (seven of those being in eight weeks) is exhausting.



People often ask if we just combine birthdays since they are all so close. And we always say, “No!”

There are many perks to being in a large family. I love it and wouldn’t ever want to change it. However, there are hard things too. Out of necessity, a lot of things in our life have to happen as a group. But birthdays? Those are a day to celebrate an INDIVIDUAL and to make that person know how thankful we are they were born. We want to celebrate the joy they bring to our life and look to the future and pray expectantly for good things to come. We take each birthday to make the day all about that one child, showering them with love, yummy food, and a few gifts.

Our tradition has been to let the kids choose the meals for the day (it used to be dinner, which is what my parents did for us, but somehow over the years it has crept into choosing all the meals. And of course, they often pick the hardest or most time consuming!) We also let them give input on decorations. They each have the choice of a family activity or a party. Over the years, we have only had three parties (two of them this year!) We love doing things as a family and that is most often their choice.

This year was a great year of celebrating each of our children (and my birthday and Jason’s birthdays fall right in the middle of all that!)  As much as I love the fun and creativity that comes with birthday season, I am usually quite happy to see it go. Now I have until the end of January before I have to plan another birthday!

Here is birthday season 2015 in review!








And Then There is Today

©janetphillips_april27_2015_postimageThose who know me have heard me speak of “yellow bus days.” Those are the days I dream of a big yellow bus to take my kids far, far away. I admit to daydreams of a life where the kids are gone for seven plus hours a day. Think of all I could accomplish! I could clean and there would be no one to reverse my work. I could have a cup of coffee without having to microwave it three times before finding the bottom. I could shower on a regular basis and not have to answer math questions from behind the curtain. Oh, to dream!


Homeschooling is hard. The educational component of it alone is enough to send prayers for the yellow bus. When your child’s academic progress and future depends mostly on you, the guilt flows freely. When you have to listen to struggling readers stumble over the same words again and again, the stress builds quickly. When you realize that no matter how many times you explain squares and cubes, the child will always say that 42=8, the feelings of defeat mount fiercely.


Beyond the academics, homeschooling is still hard. The kids are home all day. They mess up far more quickly than you can clean up. While you read with the first grader, the toddler is pulling DVDs off the shelf. When you are doing grammar with the sixth grader, the third grader has slipped out to the trampoline, multiplication tables long abandoned. When you are snuggling and reading stories to the four year old, the fifth grader can’t find any of his work and therefore asks if he can go out to play instead.


Yes, it’s hard. It’s really hard. And I have many yellow bus days. But then I have a day like today.

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A day when we laugh through group work because words like Hawaii and Oxygen can be said in all sorts of silly ways.

A day when wet rags are thrown and giggles abound during chores.

A day when KLove blasts in the kitchen and the kids discuss their favorite artists.

A day when the kids decide school is much more fun in the camper and they set up a home and pretend its an RV while they do their math.

A day when the big kids play with the little kids and the love just oozes from everywhere.

A day when the little ones splash and giggle in the bath and beg me to take pictures of their funny faces.

A day when we have a scavenger hunt in the afternoon and the bigs are paired with the littles and the tender moments threaten to make my mama heart burst.

A day when we can enjoy silly food during an indoor campout and the kids munch on “acorns” and “bear poop” and wash it down with “river water” and “bug juice.”

A day when I am cleaning in the kitchen and I hear wails of laughter as the kids have their first encounter with The Little Rascals.

A day when they don’t want the fun and togetherness to end and they drag their stuffed animals and sleeping bags to the camper and end their day chatting past their bedtime with their favorite people.

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Yes. There are yellow bus days. And then there is today.

Right Now…I Love

Thank you so much to everyone who has signed up to receive our ministry updates. It was so fun to see names we’ve known for years and names we can’t wait to know. As scary as this whole process can be, there is great anticipation as we share our vision with friends — new and old — and gather around us people who want to be part of Bible translation. If you didn’t get a chance to sign up the other day, you can go here and click on the link that says Receive Updates. While I will share some things in this space here, our full ministry updates and prayer requests will be given via our newsletter updates.

As I mentioned in my last post, we snuck outside last Saturday to get a useable family photo for our ministry page. Although the family photos weren’t anything spectacular, I was happy to get a few pictures of the kids individually. It had been a while since I had taken any pictures of them (as in posed photos rather than my typical candid shots that I love so much). It wasn’t planned and we didn’t spend much time on it. We were just playing around outside and I started taking photos of Bethany. Then Zachary (who is in a complete mimicking phase) sat down and wanted his picture taken. Once I had two done, I figured I might as well call the rest over and see what I could get. I love getting pictures of a specific moment in time. The kids won’t stay the same for long…always changing, always growing. But right now, this is what I am loving…

Zachary — 18 months

Zachary — 18 months

Oh Mr. Z! How I adore you! You are entering into my favorite baby stage. This is a time when you start to really notice the world around you. You are starting to understand function — shoes go on feet, tops go on containers, clothes go on bodies, and more. You bring us our shoes and demand we put them on. When the other kids are helping in the kitchen, you want to be on the counter helping as well. You love saying hi to perfect strangers. You love your carseat (I suppose after 7000+ miles it brings some comfort and security to you). You give great hugs and you love to cuddle with Mommy. Spicy food is your favorite and you don’t like any drinks other than milk and water. You adore your older siblings and they adore you. You love to throw things and have no clue that there is a difference between throwing a soft ball and chucking a show across the room. Don’t worry, you’ll learn…and at least you do it with a smile on your face. Little man, I am so thankful for you. As I watch you play, I wonder what your life will be like and I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the chance to be your mom. I love you, Zachary.

Bethany — 3.5 years

Bethany — 3.5 years

My sweet Bethany. Beps. Beppy. Bepsters. I’ve said it a hundred times: I love three! Seriously. There are no words. I adore every little thing about you and the age you are. Can you please stay three forever? How will I ever go on without the funny things you say? The adorable things you do? The cuddles and the kisses? I love it all and am trying desperately to soak up each and every moment of your three year old self. I love that adore doing school and ask all day long (usually starting at 6 am), “Is it time to do ‘gool? I love when you tell me, “I very love you.” And then I tell you, “I love you more.” And you respond with, “I love you morer!” I love that you are completely happy to eat nothing but corn or a bowl full of beans. I love that whenever anyone asks you what time it is, you look at your watch and say, “Four o’clock.” Unless it was the other night. Then you looked at your watch and said, “Cupcake time!” I love that you call oatmeal “antmeal” and that you have the most amazing manners of any three year old who has ever lived. “Thank you, mama” flies out of your mouth a zillion times a day. I love your soft blond hair, your silly personality, and your big hugs. And it breaks my heart every time you ask, “When are we going back to my Ibu Erna’s house?” (Our house in Indonesia). I love that you miss Indonesia, miss Ibu Erna, and always always call her, My Ibu Erna.” My sweet Bethany, I love you dearly. I am so thankful that when most people would say four children is enough, God chose to give us you. I cannot imagine life without you. I am so glad to be your mama and I can’t wait to watch you grow and blossom into the young lady God has designed you to be.

Katie — 6.5 years

Katie — 6.5 years

How do I find words for you, Miss Katie? Spunky. Feisty. Giggly. Sweet. Style. Words just don’t do you justice. You bring excitement to all our lives. We never know what crazy outfit you will come downstairs in and we don’t know what crazy idea you will have next. I love that you make lists for your day (well, you insist that Daddy write as you dictate) and then you never once look at the list the next day. I love that the things that concern you and you deem to be emergencies are often things that are years off (“Mom! I know what I want to eat for my 9th birthday!”) I love that you adore babies in every way. Whether it is your plethora of baby dolls or you begging me to have another baby (often suggesting that twins would be ideal), babies are forever on your mind. You would never take your hands off of Zachary if we didn’t force you, nor would you ever clean up anything. You love to take photos, draw pictures of our family, and do Bible time with Mommy. You would rather no do school — ever — and if I never brushed your hair again, it would be A-OK with you. Your two missing teeth are the answer to many of your prayers and you love to write and give invitations to events you forget to put on. Oh sweet Katie, I love you. I know that God is a creative God with a sense of humor because He created you. As we often tell you, I am not sure the world is ready for Katie Phillips! But oh sweet girl, I adore you and I can’t wait to see God’s plan for your life unfold. He’s up to something special!

Levi — 8 years

Levi — 8 years

How does this keep happening? How do you keep growing up and I keep finding myself loving you more and more? Just like Bethany, I begged and pleaded with you to stay three forever. But each year you do what you told me at age three, “I have to grow big and change numbers.” And as you keep growing and changing numbers, you keep becoming this young man that I have to stand back and ask myself, “Do I really get to be his mom?” Beaver, you are amazing. I shouldn’t be surprised, though. You are your dad in miniature form. You love to have fun. Anything is worth it is if it is fun (and we’re working on the situations when that fun is at the expense of others.) Your smile lights up the room and I love to hear your laugh. I love that you still want to cuddle with me (and have a suspicion you will still want to when you are fifteen but will threaten me with your life if I ever photograph it or tell others.) You are the most amazing big brother. You adore the three younger kids and are often seen playing with them or helping them with something. You often will make the little girls breakfast or lunch and you let Zachary hit you on the head and you laugh. You love to cook (including pink and purple pancakes for your little sisters) and you are my right hand man when we make tortillas or Indian bread. Baked oatmeal is your new specialty, and as I type, the smell of the cinnamon rolls you wanted to make fills the house.  You are our little monkey — always climbing and often found in trees. You are strong and an athlete and your freckles make me swoon. You have a special bond with Caleb and I am often amazed at the unexpected blessing of raising three boys when, if I had had my way, I would have had none. I love you, Levi, and I can see that God is molding you into an incredible young man. I am so grateful to be your mom and I look forward to many years of watching you grow in favor with God and man.

Caleb — 10 years

Caleb — 10 years

Caleb. What can I say? When I find myself lacking for words when it comes to you, I always give up and settle for, “You are such a cool kid!” And that’s because you are a cool kid. You are this amazing young man with a beautiful mind and a big heart. If Levi is a mini-dad, you are a mini-me. That’s exciting and humbling and scary all at the same time. I understand you in a way that is deep. It’s as if I can hear your thoughts, foresee your struggles, and dream your dreams. Your creativity and passion inspire me. You see things that no one else does. Where others see trash, you see treasure. Where others see impossible, you see nothing but possible. You catch onto an idea and pursue it with relentless passion — until something even more exciting grabs your attention. You love to get up early and you love to run. We run our miles together and I can’t quite get over the fact that I have a ten year old who looks forward to a long run with me early in the morning. I love to hear you talk of running marathons one day and I know I’ll be waiting at the finish line (not having run it…I chicken out on dreams past 13.1). I love to see the amazing Lego creations you build and the attention to detail that makes them so great. Walking into my office to write this, I almost tripped over your full American Ninja Warrior Lego model that I hear from Alaina is a prototype for what you plan to build in the front yard. I think we need to chat. I love that you haven’t let your academic struggles keep you down. You understand that you are a great work of God and that He created you just as He wanted you. You are excited to keep pushing on in reading and in therapy — partly because you understand the world that opens to you with the ability to read well and partly because, in your words, “Doing therapy together means we get to spend even more time together!” Sweet Caleb, I love your just-like-mama talkative introverted (no, those are not mutually exclusive) personality and I am waiting with earnest expectation and hope for God’s beautiful plan for your life to unfold.

Alaina — 11 years (counting the months until she turns 12 and can join the women's activities at church)

Alaina — 11 years (counting the months until she turns 12 and can join the women’s activities at church)

You are the amazing girl who made me a momma. A short paragraph can’t contain even the briefest feelings in my heart. I. AM. SO. BLESSED. You are my dream come true. I spent many, many years wondering if God really loved me and cared about the desires of my heart. When you were born and the nurse told me, “It’s a baby girl!” all of that wondering ended. Never had I wanted anything so much as I wanted a baby girl to hold, love, raise, and watch grow. And you have been the fulfillment of my dreams, bringing forth the reality that God really can and does do far more than we ever asked or imagined. You, my girl, are my walking, talking, giggling, hair-curling, Duggar-watching, nose-in-a-book, cupcake baking almost-twelve-year-old daughter and I couldn’t be happier to be your mom. I hear so many women dreading the teenage years and I literally can’t wait. I am so excited to see you blossom into all God created you to be. You are kind, considerate, grateful. helpful, and polite. You might be a bit bossy towards your siblings sometimes, but we’re working on that :) You pick up on everything — the feelings of those around you, the ideas of things you hear and read, and the private conversations Dad and I are having on the other side of the house. You are my memory (because having you and your siblings killed mine) and you are the one that inspires me to be a better me. I love you and your sweet smile, your fake laugh, and your beautiful blond curls. I love seeing your heart for the Lord grow and I am looking forward to seeing how God weaves your love for people, beauty, and words together into something that world desperately needs. I love you, sweet Alaina, and today, just like every day, I am absolutely thrilled to be your mom.

A-Camping We Will Go (part 2)

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After leaving Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we headed to Fall Creek Falls State Park to meet up with friends for five days of camping. We were really looking forward to spending time with them! We were also really looking forward to seeing up camp and then just STAYING for five days. Setting up and tearing down takes a lot of work and we were anxious to just be for a while.

I find it very helpful when others share some of the nitty-gritty details of trips and so I thought I would share a little about the logistical arrangements of camping with two large families.


Two families

Two Campsites

Two pop-up campers

One tent

Eleven kids (ages 11, 10, 8, 8, 6, 6, 5, 3, 3, 1, 1)


Our friends made the reservations at the campground, and they picked AMAZING spots. We had two sites on a small loop off the main loop of the campground. This meant that there were no cars coming through, except for the few cars of the campsites next to us. This allowed the kids to spend lots of time running around and scootering around the loop.  There were no sites to the back of us which meant 1) less noise, 2) more privacy 3) prettier woodsy view, 4) deer that walked through regularly. The bathhouse was just a 1-2 minute walk, which made cleaning off dirty kids super easy.

Each family had their own pop-up camper. We wanted to be able to have our doors facing each other (and thus create a sense of one big shared site) and so our friends maneuvered their camper to turn backward so that our doors opened up to the same side.

Our family also brought and set up a tent. This large tent served three purposes. First, it was our changing room. We didn’t want clothes all over the camper and with the ages of our kids, we can’t just change openly anymore. Our tent has three subdividivisions with walls which made changing easy. The second purpose of the tent was to house our camping toilet. Our friends have a toilet in their camper, but we don’t. During the day, most of us would use the bathhouse, but during the nighttime (or anytime when the little girls needed to go), we used the camping toilet in the tent. And no, they don’t smell. Those little contraptions are very well-designed. The third use of the tent was for Zachary and his pack ‘n ‘play. He is not at the age when he can be in a bed with others…he just thinks it is party time. He (and we!) sleep much better if he is isolated. He napped and slept at night in one of the sections of the tent.

As for meals, we decided to loosely coordinate what we were having, but each family brought and prepared their own food. With this many people, it would just be too much to prep and prepare for everyone at once. We did our best to have dinners ready at the same time and we all sat together along two picnic tables that we put together. Breakfasts were simple, but yummy: French toasts, pancakes, breakfast sandwiches/burritos, cereal, oatmeal, and fruit. Lunches were either snacky foods like cheese and crackers or were simple like pasta or leftovers. Many of the dinners were prepped ahead of time and so we feasted on amazing things like enchilada soup, grilled chicken, hamburgers, grilled pizza, and of course, the obligatory hot dog night.


One of the great things about camping for a stretch longer than a weekend (we had five nights) is that you can slow your schedule down. Most days, we did only one big activity (hiking, swimming, etc). Mornings were slow. We enjoyed long cups of coffee, late breakfasts, our individual Bible times, and warming ourselves by the fire (three nights were in the 50s!) The two babies still take one long nap a day and so often, the dads would take the other kids to one of the ranger activities around the park. While the babies napped, the mamas read, chatted, showered, and rested ourselves.

In the afternoons, we spent our time exploring the gorgeous park. Then we would come back to the site, make dinner, eat, clean up, have a fire and s’mores, and head to bed. I’ve got lots of photos from our various hikes and swims, but for today, just a few photos of life around the campsite. Enjoy!


Homemade breakfast sandwiches are yummy!

Homemade breakfast sandwiches are yummy!

So is oatmeal!

So is oatmeal!



Lots of scooter riding (and falling!)

Lots of scooter riding (and falling!)



Good help is easy to find!

Good help is easy to find!

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The two three year olds spent much of their week running back into the field behind the sites and picking wildflowers, all the while singing, "It's a beautiful day to pick flowers!"

The two three year olds spent much of their week running back into the field behind the sites and picking wildflowers, all the while singing, “It’s a beautiful day to pick flowers!”

©janetphillips_july16_2014_web-6 ©janetphillips_july16_2014_web-13 ©janetphillips_july16_2014_web-14

Pause, Reset, Play…

Maybe it comes from our camping ministry background. Maybe it comes from the awesome car trips all over America that my parents took me on. Maybe it comes from the fact that I love routine and I love breaking routine. Who knows? What I do know is that getting away as a family is a very good thing.

We try to do it every few months. When the beauty of routine starts feeling confining, I know it’s time. It’s time to find another place to lay our heads and new scenery to fix our eyes upon. With just over two months back in Indonesia, the little box of life and routine was starting to suffocate. Add in a sweet boy oh-so-sick with typhoid and there was no way getting around it — we had to get away.

A friend mentioned a hotel in a nearby hill resort town and I was able to get a great deal on it as a last minute booking. It was perfect. A two bedroom apartment with a kitchenette, bathtub, dining table, glass walls, and endless views of tea fields. And all for $80.

Deep breaths of beauty, gratitude, and hope filled my weary soul.

When we get away as a family, whether it is for a night or a week, we are able to do some things that we can’t seem to do at home.

First, we pause. The schedule and the to-do list are set aside and we catch ourselves with nothing to do but embrace the stillness and the  silence (well, mental silence anyway…with six little ones, actual silence doesn’t ever happen). When we pause, we remember why we love each other the way we do and we are intentional about enjoying that love.

Second, we reset. Armed with a remembered and focused love, we are able to remind ourselves of the big things in life. When most of our days revolve around history and math review, making meals, and keeping a two-year-old from destroying the house, the truly important things often get lost along with the shoes and pacifiers. When we get away, however, and remember who we are as a family, what we stand for, and what we want out of life, we are able to reset and make sure our compass is pointed in the right direction.

And third, we return home and push play again, letting our days follow a familiar pattern infused with a renewed commitment to who we are and where we are heading.

I love getting away.

High Highs and Low Lows

It was 1999 and I was working at a residential treatment center for what they called “high-potential, under-achieving” teens.  I worked in a home with about eight girls, all with moderate to severe emotional and behavioral issues. I supported the house parents in their roles, and on their days off I took over complete supervision. It was a difficult job. The issues that these girls were working through were deep and intense.

I remember one day when my mom and sister came down to visit.  We were sitting at a restaurant eating lunch and I was sharing with them a few experiences from the previous few days. Girls out of control, having to call for back up help, dealing with a 12-year-old who regularly soiled her pants as a means of control, a 14-year-old who was deeply wounded by her parents ministry choices that left her to raise herself…basically, a group of girls who intentionally made their outside world incredibly chaotic because only then did their inside world not seem so out of control. As I told story after story to my mom and my sister, one of them said, “And you like this job?” Without hesitation, I said, “Yes, I love this job.”

It might sound surprising, especially after hearing my war stories, but what they hadn’t heard yet was the good stuff. The moment when a deeply wounded 18-year-old said, “I really want to change my life and I think that now with God, it can actually happen.” A deeply scarred and defiant teen who went about her work without being asked. A 13-year-old with horrid abuse in her past who learned to seek and ask for appropriate touch from those who truly care for her. A 17-year-old who ran up to me and said, “Listen to this verse I just read!” The moments when they talked, laughed, and giggled in a way that only teenage girls can do.

You see, it was one of those jobs that included a lot of really low lows. A lot. It was exhausting. It was defeating. It was excruciating to watch these wounded kids fling their fiery behavioral darts at anyone who dared for care for them. I spent most days utterly exhausted and wondering what the point was. However, it was also a job filled with many high highs. Some nights I couldn’t sleep because I was so in awe of what was happening in those young hearts. I was thrilled to witness real transformation, genuine smiles stemming from broken hearts, and hope pushing through the most resistant wills. Some days I wanted to run away, sure that I had the hardest job in the world.  And on other days, I sat starry-eyed wondering why anyone would ever want to do anything other than what I was doing. High highs. Low lows. And it was amazing.

And so it is with parenting. High highs. Low lows. Days that I want to run and hide so I can eat…cry…shower…pee….read…sleep…pick any word you want…in peace. Some days I feel so defeated, so overwhelmed, so tired, so utterly inadequate to do this mothering job well.  And then there are other days (or moments) when my heart is so full I fear it might burst. I literally inhale deeply, trying to take every emotion of the moment and absorb into my heart and mind where it can stay forever. High highs. Low lows. And it is amazing.

As psychology majors in college, we learned about a term called intermittent reinforcement. What psychologists have found is that intermittent reinforcement increases resistance to extinction.” Basically, it means that reinforcement that is intermittent — not continuous — makes a behavior more likely to continue. Continuous reinforcement loses its merit because you are so used to it that you don’t care anymore. Extinct reinforcement — reinforcement that never comes — makes you resign yourself to the fact that reward will never come. You just quit. But intermittent reinforcement — when you never know exactly when the reinforcement will come — gives unquenchable motivation to keep going. It’s the thrill of not knowing. Hello, slot machines!

Maybe this is what gives me the drive to keep going…to intentionally choose to invest myself in these young lives and hearts. Some days are hard and I want to quit. But other days are amazing and I am reinforced. I never know when the high highs are coming and so I keep going, believing that the low lows will eventually have to make way for something better.

In any given moment I am listening to a screaming baby, looking at a disastrous house, struggling to find the end of the laundry pile, trying to educate a child with learning disabilities, training a two-year-old who is dealing with her teething pain by breaking down into all-out emotional heaps, wondering about how we are going to make it financially, trying to control my anger at a child who lost something that was important to another child, wondering what we will have for dinner, feeling sorry for myself, hoping I will get to shower someday. Sometimes the weight of it all makes it hard to breathe. I feel alone, lost, and like a failure. It would be easy to quit. Low lows.


In the next moment, the good starts to shine through. That screaming baby settles and coos and tries hard to smile with muscles he doesn’t yet know how to work. I hear the dryer buzz and I realize that for the next five minutes, there are no more dirty clothes. The child who struggles to read voluntarily picks up a book and reads everything word for word. The two-year-old walks over to me, crawls in my lap, and says, “rock” and then we rock in the chair and sing as she quietly snuggles into me and mindlessly plays with my necklace she loved as a nursing baby. In another moment, I look around the things in my room, so many things that we didn’t have to pay for and God reminds me of His unfailing provision for us. I let my anger towards an act of irresponsibility in my oldest child slip away as I am reminded of her amazing maturity and love that is evident 99% of the time. Another moment has me hearing that the girls are surprising mama by making dinner for everyone and their giggles and sweet words to each other make my mama heart melt. My little man falls asleep and I quietly slip into the shower and wash the worry, fatigue, frustration, and baby puke off of me. High highs.

Intermittent reinforcement.  I don’t know when the highs are coming, so I keep going. I take the low lows with the meager amount of patience and perseverance I have (as I pray to the only One who can provide more) and I expectantly wait for the high highs. They will come. The Lord, in His goodness, will give me moments of seeing the fruit of my work. He lets me see that the energy I pour into these hearts is being used by Him to bring forth growth in young souls. He lets me see and feel the beauty of this high calling of motherhood.  He lets me be smothered in kisses and “I love you mama” and He lets me rest quietly with a one month old who thinks I am the most important person in the world. Oh the highs…they are so high.  And the lows, well, they make the highs all that much better.

So to you, weary mama (or teacher, grandparent, sister, friend, daughter, employee), keep going. Keep striving. Keep doing what you are called to do. The highs wouldn’t feel so good if the lows didn’t feel so bad.

And speaking of high highs and low lows, we had a great time at a local trampoline park. Levi chose it as his family birthday activity and I got to cross one thing off my time-in-America bucket list.

A Birth Story

It’s hard to believe that a month has almost passed since our sweet Zachary entered our family.  The weeks since have been full —very full. We’re gearing up for our return to Asia and at the same time, we are trying to soak up the time we have left in the States. We’re enjoying the beautiful spring weather, fellowship with our beloved church, celebrating birthdays (seven down, one to go), praying that God will lead our steps in the future, and trying to enjoy a little bit of being instead of just doing. In all our busyness, I have neglected to come and share the story of Zachary’s arrival. I know that not everyone likes birth stories and while I do keep in all in good taste, feel free to skip this post. And I’ll warn you now, I get wordy with these things!

After being pregnant and  giving birth six times, the one thing I can confidently say is that each experience is different. Each pregnancy has its own course, each baby has his/her own way of making an entrance into the world. I’ve had six children in four different countries and each experience has been unique, even amidst the similarities. This is my story. This is Zachary’s story. This is our family’s story. It’s okay if it is different from yours.

This pregnancy was very difficult. I am thankful for some unexpected blessings in it, including medication to help with 40 weeks of nausea and vomiting,  but overall, this was the hardest pregnancy I’ve had. My body is feeling its age and its history. The last weeks of the pregnancy were taking their toll — not just on me, but also on my precious family who had already shown me much more love, patience, and compassion than could be expected. We were all ready. Ready for pregnancy to be over. Ready for baby. Ready to have mom back.

Given my history of not going into labor on my own (even after my water breaking), Jason and I made the decision that if given the option to induce, we would take it. I’ve had Pitocin five times and fully expected to have it again. There is always a part of me that longs to wait and see if my body will give in and let go and let baby come on its own, but when weighing the option of waiting with the need to have me (physically, mentally, and emotionally) back with my family, it was an easy decision.  If my doctor would induce, we’d do it.

A week before my due date, I talked with one of the midwives at my doctor’s office.  We discussed my birth history and our unique situation of waiting on visas for returning to Indonesia (you can’t get a visa without a passport, no passport without a birth certificate, and no birth certificate without a baby!) After talking through things, she was in favor of inducing on or around my due date if baby didn’t decide to come on his own. After a few days I got a call saying that the hospital had space open on March 23rd (the day before my due date). It wasn’t an ideal time as my sister and her family were flying in that day, but it was the option we were given.

What I didn’t expect was that they would want me to come in Friday night to give me Cervadil, a medication used to prepare the cervix. I was only at 1 cm that week and they were afraid the Pitocin wouldn’t be enough to get labor started. I tried to explain that I am never more than one or two centimeters and that Pitocin has always worked.  Regardless, they insisted we do the Cervadil first and then they would start the Pitocin in the morning. I knew my body was ready to have the baby (after doing this six times, you just know when you are ready) and I was afraid that the Cervadil would put me into labor and I would be up all night. I was fearful, but it didn’t sound like there was another option.

So, on Thursday and Friday we worked on preparing for both the arrival of our baby and the arrival of my sister. I did the shopping for the next two weeks (including Easter basket stuff so that I wouldn’t have to think about it the following week) and we got the house ready for visitors.  On Friday afternoon we dropped the kids off at Aunt Becky and Uncle Tom’s house (“Aunt” Becky is actually my mom’s first cousin and we have so enjoyed getting to know them while we have been here in North Carolina). We took one last photo of “five” and then one last photo of us as a family of seven.

Jason and I had a nice dinner together before heading to the hospital. It was calm and relaxing (other than the contractions I had been having for the past few weeks). We arrived at the hospital at 8pm and I waddled (yes, waddled!) to the labor and delivery floor as I commented on how crazy it was to make a pregnant (and contracting) woman walk that far. After a ridiculous amount of paperwork and silly questions, they inserted the Cervadil and we settled in. As we were getting ready to go to sleep, I said something to Jason that really surprised me.  I said, “I’m open to the idea of getting an epidural.”

Jason was more surprised than I was. I’ve had two epidurals in the past and disliked both experiences very much. With Caleb, they did it far too early and I felt like I missed his entire labor and delivery. I can’t really explain it, but not ever getting to feel my body preparing to deliver a baby made me feel cheated. With Katie, I had an epidural after being told I had many more hours of labor ahead of me. Knowing how much more intense labor gets in the end, I decided to do the epidural. I couldn’t imagine hours more of that intensity level of pain.  As it turns out, doctors can be wrong and I delivered Katie 20 minutes later — before the epidural provided any relief. WIth my two epidural experiences being so unpleasant, I hadn’t even considered having one this time. And so both Jason and I were genuinely surprised to hear me say that I would consider it.  I still don’t know where the thought came from or why I said it.

We went to bed fairly soon, hoping to at least get some sleep. About three hours later (now 1 am), contractions woke me up. I worked through them, hoping they would fizzle as contractions had on a number of previous nights. However, they continued to come every few minutes and the pain in my back became more and more intense. After delivering four posterior babies before, I wasn’t surprised by the back labor, but was still amazed at how much in hurts. For those of you who haven’t ever had the pleasure of posterior (face up) babies — only 4-10% of all deliveries — just take my word for it: it hurts. Our bodies are designed to deliver babies head first, face down. When babies position themselves in a different way, it interferes with the birthing process and increases what is already and incredibly painful experience.

Contractions continued throughout the rest of the night and needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep.  By 5 am (when the nurse had told me they would remove the Cervadil), I was contracting pretty hard and was in a lot of pain. When she finally arrived, she told me that she had debated about removing it earlier as she watched my contractions build in intensity. She was compassionate and offered some hope that once they removed the Cervadil, the contractions should stop and I could shower and have a bit of time before we started the Pitocin.

The contractions did slow down and I started to get ready.  However, about 20 minutes later while I was in the shower, the intense blunt pain in my back returned and I struggled to get through my shower. The contractions quickly picked back up to their former intensity and I clutched the counter in the bathroom frequently as I tried to dry my hair and put some makeup on. After a half-hearted attempt at looking presentable, I made it back to my bed. As I sat there for a while waiting for the doctor to arrive for the day, I made the decision that I would get an epidural.  I hadn’t slept, my labors are notoriously long, and after almost seven hours of intense back labor, I was ready for a bit of calm and rest before delivery.

When the doctor finally arrived, I was thrilled to find out that I had progressed to five centimeters. This may not be a big deal to many people, but I have never made it past two without Pitocin. After seeing my progression, the doctor gave me the surprising news that it looked like we wouldn’t need the Pitocin after all. I was thrilled.  People always say that Pitocin labors are so much harder, but not having ever experienced labor without Pitocin, I really didn’t know the difference. The doctor gave me the option of breaking my water then and letting the labor progress really fast, or waiting to break my water and taking it more slowly. I decided on the latter.  I wasn’t in a hurry to deliver. I wanted to savor these last hours and joyfully anticipate the arrival of our baby.

After receiving the epidural, I settled in to a peaceful time of waiting.  And let me just say, the next few hours were beautiful. It was only after the epidural took effect that I realized how much pain I had been in.  Not just in my labor, but in the last month of the pregnancy. Most days brought tears of pain and fatigue and having those lifted was the most amazing feeling in the world. As I laid on my bed, I told Jason, “This is the most comfortable I have been in months.  I could stay here forever.”

My doctor (who was seriously amazing) came in a few hours later and broke my water. There was some concern since there was meconium in the fluid, but they assured me that although there would be a respiratory team in the room when I delieverd, there wasn’t much reason to worry. If he cried right after birth, I would get to hold him right away.  If he didn’t cry, the NICU team would take him and suction out his lungs and make sure his vitals were stable before giving him to me.

I spent the next few hours savoring the moment. I knew that our baby was coming. I knew that soon, life as we have known it, would be forever changed. I knew in a few short hours our baby boy would be in my arms and I would be a mama to six amazing children (plus the five we never got to meet). I wanted this time to last forever. It was a few of the most joyful and peaceful hours I have ever expereinced. I was able to think, dream, pray, and anticipate what the next hours, days, weeks, and months would bring. I was able to intentionally experience and savor the moments. It’s really hard to put into words, but it was the first time I have ever felt fully in charge of my birth experience and fully aware and involved. I know that many people believe that only in giving birth without medication do you fully experience the process.  And while there is something amazing about the natural birth experience (remember, I’ve done four without the benefits of pain relief), there is also something amazing about fully  being in the moment mentally and emotionally because your energy isn’t all expended physically. I have never felt more fully involved and aware of what was taking place. I was filled with so much joy and anticipation. If I didn’t want to hold my baby so much, I would have wanted those hours to last forever.

I continued to progress and my doctor and nurse checked on me occasionally. We heard from the hallway that the only other lady on the floor at the moment was ready to deliver. Over the next 30-45 minutes, it was becoming increasingly clear that my baby would soon be here. Epidurals, while providing amazing pain relief, don’t take away all sensations and this being my sixth time delivering, I knew that it was almost time.  It was, oddly enough, the most exhilarating experience to be able to feel the baby descending and to know that it was almost time, and yet being comfortable enough that I could actually enjoy it. I knew I would have to call for the doctor soon, but I tried to relax and let the baby make his way while I treasured the minutes. I’m struggling to explain this, but it was just an amazing experience to know — without anyone having to tell me — that it was time. I felt so alive, so in control, so focused on what was happening. With Pitocin labors, there isn’t time to savor anything.  At the end, contractions come every minute and last for a minute, so they are one on top of another and there is no time to do anything but make it through. At least for me, no Pitocin meant 3-4 minutes between contractions and that meant 3-4 minutes to wait…to pray…to savor.

Finally, I knew that baby wasn’t going to wait any longer and I had Jason get the doctor (who had just finished delivering the other baby). I told him it was time and after checking me, he agreed. Ten centimeters and ready to push. The respiratory team was called and everything was in place for baby’s arrival. We all assumed this would be a very fast process. We were all wrong. Although I had told the doctor that my back labor for those seven hours confirmed that this baby was going to be another posterior one, he wasn’t fully convinced. However, after I started pushing the doctor quickly realized that perhaps I was right.  The baby was stuck on the pubic bone and despite my “incredible pushing ” (their words, not mine), the baby wasn’t making a lot of progress. Coupled with the fact that contractions were still only coming every 3-4 minutes, we had a lot of time. It was odd to be laying there with about ten people in the room and having pleasant conversations between contractions. We had time to talk about our other kids, our deliveries in four different countries, and more. Finally, after about 30 minutes of pushing, baby decided he was ready and I heard those beautiful words, “Yep, he’s on his way out with his face staring right up at me.”

3:01 p.m. Welcome to the world, Zachary Alexander.

He cried right away so I got to hold him immediately. Jason cut the cord and I got to hold and enjoy my new son.  I was so thankful that they didn’t take him away. They gave me lots of time to hold him and snuggle him and tell him how happy I was that he was here. I stared at those beautiful chubby cheeks and was in awe that after years of wondering if I would ever get to be a mother, I was now the mother to six children. It was in that moment that the words of Scripture were so alive and beautiful: “Children are a gift from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Not a nuisance. Not an inconvenience. Not something to be tolerated. A reward — both when they are chubby and sweet and oh-so-new and when they are two and six and ten and in need of much grace.

I finally agreed to let him go so they could weigh him and clean him up. He surprised us all with a whopping nine pounds on the scale.  The nurse even weighed him twice, not believing the scale the first time. He was a more than a pound larger than my largest baby, but all 8 pound 15.8 ounces of him was beautiful and all mine. The nurse bathed him right there in front of me and I so enjoyed getting to watch and be a part of all the little right-after-birth moments.

The rest of the afternoon and evening was filled with good food (courtesy of my sister, not the hospital!), sweet visitors, and 13 people fitting into the tiniest hospital room known to man.  It didn’t matter, though.  What mattered was that our sweet son was finally with us and our room was filled with lots of smiles and lots of love.

I am so blessed. It’s hard not to go back to the night in February of my freshman year of college when I was ready to take my life. As I sat there, pondering what I thought might be the last hours of my life, I had to make a decision. And it was my dream of having a family one day that made the decision for me. I dreamed of having children and raising them  and making them feel treasured, valued, special, and unconditionally and unwaveringly loved. That night, I made a decision that would change everything. Eighteen years later, I smiled as I knew without a doubt that I was living that dream. Life is hard. Life is painful. Life is filled with questions and worries and wounds so deep that there are no words to explain them. I am often overcome with grief, fear, exhaustion, and feelings of inadequacy.  But as I sat and held my newborn son and reminded myself of the blessing and high calling that mothering is, I reconfirmed that February night decision to devote my life to loving and raising these little ones. I don’t do it perfectly, but I do it with mercies that are new every morning and with grace that abounds.

10 Days

It’s been ten days since we welcomed our sweet new boy into our family. It’s been a wonderful (though insanely busy) ten days and I am afraid I am failing miserably at finding the elusive balance between doing and resting. I know I need to let my body rest and heal and yet I also know that these seven people who live with me need me. They’ve sacrificed much over the last nine months and I am eager to be able to give all of myself once again.  So although I have much to say (oh what a joy to have the pregnancy fog lifted!), I ask that you’ll please excuse the intermittent posting. I know more than ever that I want to share more of our family’s story and purpose with you on a regular basis and yet I also know more than ever that I have to live our story and purpose out. And that means that these seven people have to be my primary focus. If I don’t do this parenting thing with all the grace and wisdom that God freely provides, I have no business attempting to encourage other people in their own parenting journey. These young people (yours and mine) are precious in the eyes of their Father. Let’s treat them as such.



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