Category Archives: Family

Love Letters to My Children {no. 2}

Love Letters | I Never Wanted Boys

To My Sweet Boys,

I have a confession to make: I never wanted to have boys.

I am sure I briefly considered the concept and I am sure I knew there was a likelihood that I would have boys someday, but I never wanted to have boys. I never dreamt of being a mother to boys or wondered what it would be like to have you in my home.

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Boys were dirty. And loud. And ill-mannered. And boy clothes? Well, let’s just say that the thought of shopping for boys was about as exciting as me being out in the snow. And we all know how I feel about that. 

I’m sorry. Instead, my dreams were filled with little girls—lots of pink and bows and tights and braids. I imagined a cute little tomboy, but an actual boy was not something I wanted—ever. Girls, I get. I understand them because, well, I am one. They talk a lot and they are emotional and prone to drama and they get hurt and they change their clothes no less than five times a day. I know. But at least I know and understand.

Who can understand boys? Who can understand the noise and the mess and the weird noises and the sense of humor and the sports and the clothes that don’t match?

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Boys are just different and weird. In my mind, there wasn’t anything to do with a boy. No tea parties, no playing dress-up, no sweet snuggles on the couch.

I’ve been wrong about a lot of thing in my life, but probably never more so than this. I’m almost twelve years into this mother-of-boys-thing and let me tell you: It’s awesome.

God knew I needed you. He knew that my life would be filled with so much fun, so much laughter, so much adventure (and yes, so much dirt and noise.) The thought of not having you boys in my life makes my heart ache. Each of you are so unique and yet so completely boy. 

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Caleb is our obsessive passionate one. First it was trains. Then it was matchbox cars. Then it was knights, swords, and pirates. He moved on to Legos. He went through phases of intense love for soccer, for being a goalie, for office supplies (one of my favorites), for Star Wars, and for running. He then moved on to —and is now still entrenched in — the world of sports. He knows all the players, all the scores, all the teams, and all the games. Me on the other hand? I just learned there is a pro-football team in North Carolina. I love Caleb and all the passion and excitement he brings to our family. He’s a mini-me.

Caleb is also our creative one. Where other people see trash or chaos, Caleb sees something incredible. He has been creatively solving problems since he was little. When he was four, he was frustrated that his bike wouldn’t stand up (Indonesian bikes usually don’t have kickstands.) He looked around the yard, found the perfect stick, and then shoved it up under his bike so it would stay standing. When we went to India in 2010, I had to spend the three weeks telling Caleb that no, he couldn’t bring trash back to Indonesia with us, no matter what cool thing he planned to build out of it. Caleb’s Lego creations are nothing short of amazing. Working trap doors, moving parts, intricate detail (I’ve had to learn not to touch these inventions since I have a tendency to break any Lego creation I touch.) Caleb—or as he is known around our house, Cabe— has an incredible mind and heart and sensitivity and I can’t wait to see where his passion and creativity take him.

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Levi is our funny one. If Caleb is a mini-me, Levi is a mini-dad. Levi’s entire existence, I am sure, depends on the ability to make himself laugh. If it’s not funny, it’s not worth saying or doing. We’ve had to spend time over the years making sure that Levi’s laughter isn’t at the expense of someone else, but for the most part, it really is all fun and games with Levi. I’ll never forget Caleb perfectly lining up all his matchbox cars through the living room and Levi, not quite eight months old, crawling as fast as he could toward them in order to bring disorder to Caleb’s perfect order. And he did it with a huge grin on his face. And then there was that time Levi threw his underwear on the ceiling fan and when I walked in, he flipped the switch so the underwear would fly through the room. That’s our Levi.

But you know what else is our Levi? The boy who helps his little sisters make pink and purple pancakes. The first time it happened is a moment that will forever be etched in my memory. I came downstairs in our house In Wanggsa and I saw the little girls standing their in their aprons. Levi had gotten everything ready and he was helping them make pancakes. Pink and purple food coloring had been used at the girls’ request. Not quite how most seven-year-old boys spend their time! Levi is sweet and gentle and his eyes sparkle when he laughs. Everyone loves Levi and his seems to be the glue that holds the rest of us together. Life is just more fun if our Beaver is around.

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And then there is sweet Z-man. I wasn’t so sure about having another boy. I had learned how amazing boys were, but my only experience had been with two little boys (the two-year age difference barely noticeable). After watching Caleb and Levi spend their entire lives playing and laughing and roughhousing together, I was worried about Zach. With two sisters just older than him, would he miss out on all the fun you older boys had together? I worried he wouldn’t have anyone to play swords with, to build Legos with, or to throw a football with.

But one day it dawned on me: Zach may not have a brother close in age like Levi and Caleb, but he has something neither of them had— two older brothers. Two young men to look up to. Two young men to care for him. Two young men to show him and teach him everything he wants to know. And seeing the three of you together, well, let’s just say my heart ends up in a big ‘ol puddle on the floor.

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Zachary is just about the cutest kid alive. He looks like Caleb. He acts like Levi. And he has a spunk that I am pretty sure came from Katie and Bethany. He is adored by all. We all know of the email I got when I was pregnant with him, someone telling me they felt sorry for Zachary because of how he would be picked on by his older siblings. Your non-confrontational mama got extremely confrontational and typed those keys a little harder than necessary as she carefully explained that’s just not how we do it in our family. And was I right, or what? Zachary is loved by everyone. All of you fight over him. You beg for his kisses and cuddles. You insist it is your turn to sit next to him. He has all of your our  hearts wrapped around his chubby little finger.

I’ve learned a lot in these past twelve years, my sweet boys. I didn’t know how incredible it would feel to be the mother of boys. I didn’t know my heart would burst when I looked at you. I didn’t know that the snuggles of a little boy are the best drugs on the planet. I didn’t know the fun and laughter boys could bring to a family. I didn’t know I would spend time dreaming about the day when my sons are taller and stronger than me and they come home, put their arm around me and say in their deep voice, “Hey mom.” I didn’t know I would passionately pray for the women you will one day marry and hope that I can bust apart the mother-in-law stereotype. I didn’t know boys could be so sweet, so caring, so creative. I didn’t know my boys would bring me a brush and ask me to do their hair before church. I didn’t know taking two boys shopping for clothes would be so much fun. I didn’t know I could feel this way.

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I never wanted to have boys, but now…

To my Cabers, my Beaver, and my Z-man: I love you with a love so deep, so fierce, so raw that there are no words that even come close to being able to describe it. To be your mother is one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given. And to think I didn’t want this…my heart trembles at the thought.

Love Mama3

Because There is Snow and Ice Falling Outside My Window…

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…and because my posts have been a little heavy lately, I thought I would finally share some photos from our trip to Florida in December.

First, a little backstory:

  • Our kids didn’t want anything for Christmas. As in, I asked them to write lists and they all said, “I can’t think of anything.” It was at this point I felt reaffirmed in thankfulness for not having TV with commercials in our home. Our kids don’t even know what is out there to want!
  • I loathe winter. I am trying mightily hard to find some redeeming factors in winter by looking at the deeper lessons to be learned. I even went outside a few weeks ago to photograph the deadness of the trees and yard in an attempt to remind myself that even though we can’t see it, growth and rebirth are happening. In the end, though, the truth is simple: I hate being cold.
  • We desperately needed some time together as a family after my trip to the Philippines. Camping is always my favorite way to be together. Plus, it’s cheap and you rarely have to plan ahead. I won’t rehash my love for camping (though I never lack things to say about it). You can read some of my thoughts about it in this post.
  • Florida was warm. With the unseasonable warm fall and early winter in the US this year, Florida still had 85° air temps and 75° water temps. What more convincing was needed?

So, just a few days after returning home from the Philippines and with not a single Christmas gift planned or purchased, Jason and I decided to surprise the kids with a trip to Florida for the bulk of their Christmas present. We were fortunate to get a fantastic campsite with only a few days notice (so great, in fact, that when we checked in and the guy at the desk said, “Oh, what a great site! You booked December 9th? So that was December 9th of last year, right?” Nope. Just four days before arrival.

We wanted to really surprise the kids. So, I did a bit of Christmas shopping and wrapping. The kids couldn’t decide if they were glad to see presents under the tree two weeks before Christmas or if it was more like a form of parental torture. “Can’t we just open one?” A few days later I answered their oft repeated plea with, “Well, maybe we’ll let you open two.

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It’s our tradition to let the youngest child open his/her present first and then move up the age order. After Zachary opened a pack of beach balls, Bethany opened a bucket of sand toys, and Katie opened a new rainbow kite, we started to hear unsure whispers of, “Are we going to beach?” The three bigs were then told to grab their specially-marked gifts and open them in unison. With boogie boards open, the kids were on to us. New swimsuits were opened next.

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“Yes, we’re going to the beach! To Florida!”

To which they replied, “When?”

“Just as soon as the car is packed. Let’s see if we can make it out the door by lunch!”

Squeals of glee and frantic packing ensued. I was once again thankful for having a camper that stays stocked with everything but clothes and food. A few hours later, we were on the road.

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Let me tell you…it was bliss. Five days on the beach, our campsite just minutes away from the boardwalk. No useable internet to distract us. Easy camping food our kids love because we never buy that much sugar-laden prepackaged junk when we were home. An awesome tree that provided shade from the sun and hours of climbing fun and squirrel watching. Boogie boarding, an attempt at surfing, bird watching, gorgeous sunrises, fire and s’more by night, and lots of hot coffee (which I am sure the clubhouse regretted being complimentary after our family of eight trooped through every day.) We even got to spend a few hours with great friends who visited from Orlando.

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From where I sat (warm in the sand rather than chilly in the water), I kept telling my family, “I don’t need any Christmas gifts. This trip is the best gift I could ever ask for.” And it was. It reminded me of who our family is, what we enjoy, and how we “do life” best. There is little I like more than watching the people I love most in the world laugh and play and enjoy one another.

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And now, a photo overload. I have never been good at only sharing a few. Consider, though, that I took over 1500 photos, culled it down to 500 to edit, and I am only sharing a small fraction of those. If photos were a love language, I would claim it as my own.

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This is Better

PTS | This is Better

Every month, as I read through Proverbs as part of my Bible reading plan, I have a few days where I am reminded of some very specific truths:

Better is a little with the fear of the Lord
    than great treasure and trouble with it. — Proverbs 15:16

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
    than a fattened ox and hatred with it. — Proverbs 15:17

Better is a little with righteousness
    than great revenues with injustice. — Proverbs 16:8

Better is a dry morsel with quiet
    than a house full of feasting with strife. — Proverbs 17:1

I won’t lie. 2015 was a hard year for me, for our family. Those who know us best still only know 10% of it; acquaintances, less. I can, and probably will, share more in the future, but suffice it to say I wasn’t sad to see 2015 close its doors.

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In the midst of the struggles in my body, my heart, and my mind, another war was brewing. It was a war on my motherhood. Most days I felt like a failure. Many days I was a failure. I was not the mother I wanted to be. Sure, I was “good enough.” But “good enough” has never been my goal.

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Guilt, fear, and self-loathing were constant companions. I asked myself many times, “If I am going to end up failing them, are they better off without me? What if everything we have worked for as a family comes to nothing? What if my convictions about who our family is supposed to be and the decisions we have made based on those convictions turn out to be nothing more than naive idealistic dreams of a foolish woman? What if….What if…?”

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But then.

But then we go on vacation as a family, and I am reminded of who we are.

But then I see kids with smiles hanging out together out of choice, not coercion.

But then I see the bigs begging the littles for hugs and cuddles and kisses.

But then I see big brother helping little brother.

But then I hear roaring laughter coming from a bedroom where siblings are playing.

But then I see kids snuggled in a recliner, laughing as they tip themselves over.

But then I see piles of folded laundry on the school table with a little note from an 11-year-old that says, “You’re welcome.”

But then my almost-13-year-old snuggles in my bed with me as we watch Downton Abbey.

But then I hear big sister give little sister permission to sleep in her bed while she is gone.

But then.

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We have huge question marks that loom foreboding over our days. We are still wrestling with physical and emotional health. We have hopes and dreams and fears we cannot share with anyone. And yet, God reminds me of the better things in life:

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
    than a fattened ox and hatred with it. — Proverbs 15:17

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And let me tell you…there is a lot of love over here. It’s more than I could have ever hoped for, ever dreamed. I am so thankful that even in the midst of my struggles, my questions, and my failures, God has made me the joyful mother of children. I don’t take the responsibility lightly or the privilege for granted. I worry constantly about my adequacy as a mother, but then God reminds me of His great sufficiency as a Father.

This is where love is, and it is better.

Back Where I Belong

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Bethany, our four year old, has quite a way with words. She always surprises us. On the way home from the airport yesterday, she told me, “I missed you as much as I love Gracie!” (Gracie is our dog.) She must have missed me very, very much for me to be anywhere close to on par with Gracie!

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Later she told me, “I missed you to the last number!” She later wanted to clarify her statement so she was sure I understood the extent of her missing me: “Mom, you know the numbers never end, right? That’s why I missed you to the last number!”

Right back at you, kiddo.

My trip to the Philippines was amazing. I talked with so many people and listened to so many stories. The work going on in Davao is truly inspirational. I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to travel there, spending twelve days learning more about the work and location than I would have been able to do in months if my family were with me. Most days I woke up with few plans and little idea of what the day had in store, and yet each day managed to be filled with new people and new stories. I definitely wasn’t bored, nor did I play the tourist. Instead, I sought the stories of those living and serving. I was not disappointed. I also appreciated the time I had alone, the time to read and write and process and pray. God did some pretty amazing things in my heart as He and I wrestled deeply with questions of ministry, purpose, God’s will, and the power of God’s Word.

I will be sharing more about my trip in the coming days, but for now, suffice it to say, I am back where I belong. As amazing as the trip was, I was incredibly grateful to step off my 12th flight in as many days and walk out of the airport to see my people. Oh how I missed them! I missed their hugs and snuggles and kisses and I missed their creativity, sensitivity, and maybe even a tiny bit of their hyperactivity. Our home is loud and crazy and filled with all sorts of uncertainties, but of this I am certain: my place is with them. My family is such a gift and I can’t imagine doing life without their love and support.

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I’ve spent the last 24 hours just soaking it in. The kids had a welcome home party planned, complete with cupcakes and a talent show. The Christmas tree was up, just waiting for me to return so we could decorate together. Although I had been joining the family for Advent lessons via video calling, it was so much better to be with them in person as we learned about the way people celebrate Christmas around the world. We played a Japanese Christmas game and laughed at the little ones’ antics. Today Jason took Katie to the store and the rest of us cuddled on my bed as we watched silly pet videos on youtube, laughing as Gracie tried to get into the computer to the other dogs.

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I’m back where I belong and it feels so good.

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.

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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.

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But this summer?

I almost forgot.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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
hiking
warm fires in the cool breeze
seeing kids explore and imagine

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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!)

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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.

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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!

Alaina

Katie

Bethany

Zachary

Levi

Caleb

 

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Two families

Two Campsites

Two pop-up campers

One tent

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

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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.

Time

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!

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Homemade breakfast sandwiches are yummy!

Homemade breakfast sandwiches are yummy!

So is oatmeal!

So is oatmeal!

Wildlife!

Wildlife!

Lots of scooter riding (and falling!)

Lots of scooter riding (and falling!)

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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!”

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