Hugh’s First Day of School!

October 10, 2016

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Hugh had his first day at a little preschool last week and I don’t think either one of us was having a hard time about it.

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They say it gets a little bit easier to let go the more kids you have, but I think I’m just here to say that our kids are all different. Some are easier to figure out than others.

Some want to fight you on every. single. issue.

Some want to do anything to please you, regardless of whether their heart is really in it.

Some are givers.

Some are takers.

And some would rather break into your toiletries and spread tampons all over the house.

Hugh has taught me not to get stale in my parenting. He’s also taught me to seek the throne and lately it’s gone something like this…

Lord, you know I’m tired. Not physically tired, just emotionally spent from trying to understand a child whom I don’t understand. But there’s a reason you made me his mom and you must see something in both of us that’s good for each other, so help me find what that is and reach his heart. Help me celebrate his strengths and cultivate his weaknesses. Help me not worry about how I’m going to handle tomorrow, or even the next couple of hours…help me in the next couple of minutes. 

washington-d-c-2016-26-12On the first day of school I slicked back his hair with some of Steven’s hair gel and I filled a backpack with his little lunch of peanut butter and jelly, a cheese stick, and a banana. I also filled it with animals, because he has to go everywhere holding one in each hand. He was so proud of his hair that he kept looking at himself in the mirror with a grin. When we went outside and he insisted on wearing the backpack, he fell right over!   washington-d-c-2016-26-10   washington-d-c-2016-26-7 washington-d-c-2016-26-6The kids have half days on Wednesdays so I actually picked them up first and then we all went to go get Hugh together. I peeked into his room just to see how he was doing before we let him know we were there, and there’s alllllll the other 2-year-olds calmly sitting or standing, no doubt tired from 3.5 hours of play, and then there’s Hugh. He’s pushing around two huge toys like a busy worker bee and looking around for more things to pile on top. He looked completely in his element and I just had to die laughing.

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Shiloh snapped this one of he and I together. It’s classic. I’m trying desperately to hold onto him and give him a hug, and he’s squirming and trying to escape across the parking lot. I once tested him at a park to see if there was a point at which he would stop running away, turn around, and come back.

Nope.

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Hugh, I love you. We are so different from each other, but I feel God working on us. Every year it does get a little bit easier. Not because I’ve had more experience and you’re the fourth and I’m more comfortable in my role as a mother. But because I’m completely out of my comfort zone with you and God is using that to show me things I never would have seen if I was on auto pilot feeding you yogurt. I am being forced to rethink how I do everything I’ve ever done before.

He sifts us like wheat.

And refines us like gold.

Thanks for doing your part.

Washington D.C. For A Couple of Days!

October 5, 2016

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If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you may have noticed we’ve been traveling as a family for the last 10 days in Delaware and Washington D.C.. In my opinion, September is THE best time to travel. It’s usually still warm enough in most parts of the US to enjoy being outside and because it’s off-season for everyone else, the beaches are clear and the touristy destinations are mostly empty.

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It had been 8 years since I’d been back home (New Jersey/Delaware), the kids had not ever seen much of where I grew up, and I was missing my cousins, so we decided to turn our week off of school into a family vacation. We spent most of our time at the beach, but squeezed in a couple days for Washington D.C. on our way back.

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Steven and I both talk honestly about our trips on the way home so we can decided what we want to repeat and what we want to do differently in the future. We both agreed that while Hugh is at a reeeeeeally hard age to travel (he turned 2 the day we left) and is cranky 75% of the time because you can’t walk past a store display window without him freaking out about getting a toy…

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…we still thought this was one of the best trips we’ve ever taken. Right up there with Leland, MI and Canada 3 years ago. The weather was amazing, the older kids are at the age where they could appreciate good city pastries, and we freaking loved the quiet pace of Delaware mixed with the busyness of D.C..

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We stayed in the heart of downtown at The Hamilton Crowne Plaza on 14th St. I would highly recommend it for their service (amazing valets!), location, and overall aesthetic. The downsides were that the rooms were small for a family of 6 needing to squeeze in a pack n play and the parking is expensive ($53 a night). In hindsight, I would have upgraded to joint rooms since Steven works for the hotel group that manages Crowne Plazas and with the deep discounts we get it would have been totally worth it! I’ve heard people recommend staying outside the city (for pretty cheap) and taking the metro in. However, we were willing to splurge a bit more on staying downtown since it takes forever to get everybody out the door in the morning and we wanted to be able to wake up, get dressed, and walk almost anywhere, which is exactly what we did. We had PAUL’s pastries for breakfast one morning and that alone was worth it!

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From my research, everyone highly recommended taking tours with the buses or the boats because the walking is a lot for kids and even if you take the metro you still have to walk quite awhile to get to some of the monuments. However, Hugh can’t handle anything contained or with a timeframe, so we free-balled the entire week. The kids walked miles and miles with us and for the most part, did awesome and didn’t complain. There was a time when we got stuck in the rain that we took an Uber and we took the metro twice because we wanted the kids to learn about public transportation but yes, our kids walked/ran everywhere with us! I was so proud of them.

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There is security personnel everywhere and one time I asked the girls to go climb this little wall in front of the capitol because I thought it would make a cool shot for a video I’m making. I’m videoing away and all of a sudden this guard on a bike rides up close to me and says,”Ma’am, please ask your kids to get down.” It was then I realized there was a prominent sign I’d missed that said “PLEASE DO NOT CLIMB.”

Emma was so embarrassed of me and Steven walked away like he didn’t know me. Ha!

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Across the street from The Capitol is The Library of Congress. We had gotten more negative than positive reviews about taking the kids but since we were right there we went. Again, our tours are maaaaaaybe 30 minutes with Hughey, but we all absolutely loved it. My main goal was to see the Gutenberg Bible and whatever else we could fit in would be a cherry on top. I let the kids borrow my phone for taking pictures and they were so into the architecture and all of the displays…

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We also did the Smithsonian of Natural History. It’s completely free to get in and we went right at 10am when they open and there wasn’t much of a line. You do have to empty everything out of your bags (like at the airport) and you cannot bring any food in (we ended up having to throw away some lovely leftovers from PAUL’s), so plan accordingly.

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It’s a bit extra to go inside the butterfly exhibit, (I think it was $6 for adults, $5 for kids), but totally worth it! Steven stayed outside with Hugh because strollers were not allowed and can you imagine the terror he would ensue?! They give you a speech about delicate handling and all that before you walk inside and they check you before you go out for any butterflies that may be hiding in your hair or clothes. You’re not allowed to touch them but if they land on you by choice it’s magical. All three of mine loved it!

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washington-d-c-2016-26-63   ^^^Riding on the metro!

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^^^I wore a hat everyday to disguise the rain hair. 😉

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We had planned to go to the Spy Museum and the brand new Smithsonian of African American History, but didn’t make it there this time. Also on my list? The Air and Space Museum. We seriously loved this city so much that we are already planning to go back when the cherry trees are blossoming in the spring. Anyone want to road trip with us?!!!!

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A New Story

August 24, 2016

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We celebrated our anniversary last week and it has me thinking about the past 9 years and all the things marriage has taught me. I think everyone has that one thing that continues to be the sole shaper of their life. The thing that continually draws repentance and forgiveness and try-agains. Mine is marriage.

When we started out I don’t think we knew all the baggage we were bringing under one roof. Because we were virgins, because we’d never drank alcohol, and because I’d never even wore a bikini I think we (and our parents) thought that life was starting out in the best possible way for two young people. But eventually, the clothes come off and the atrophied organs of repentance, humility, and grace stare at you in the face. Surgery is needed. Bad.

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When we got to our honeymoon destination I thought, “Life is perfect.” Pacific coastal houses dotted the cliffs and the lights reflected off of the ocean. The waves were washing up into the natural rock pool below the steps of the lighthouse and if you looked over the infinity edge of the cliff you could see seals swimming around in the pool. California was always a mutual love affair for us, so this. This was our happily ever after.

We slipped into the jacuzzi tub that overlooked the pacific and the neighbor peeked his head out of the window just above us. He hollered out introductions and wanted to know where we were from. We made small talk, told him we were from the east coast celebrating our honeymoon, and mentioned how generous our friend Kelly and was for letting us use the house for a week! He knew her well and seemed as genuinely joy-filled for our recent nuptials as our families were with an excited,  “Wait just a minute. I’ll be right back!!!” A few minutes later he emerged from the window, grinning from ear to ear with a nice bottle of wine.

“Here! This is for you!”

Now, granted, I didn’t know a good bottle of wine if I’d tried. But given the neighborhood, I had a hunch it was expensive.

“Oh, we don’t drink!”

Why we didn’t just accept it politely with a sincere “thank you” I’ll never know, but his face that night is something I’ll never forget. He looked confused and dejected and awkwardly shoved the bottle behind the window before wishing us a good night. We never saw him again. When I consider the kind of person it takes to refuse a stranger’s generosity, all because of being too good to accept a bottle of wine, I want to cry.

I mourn this old version of me.

This honeymoon recollection is just one of many memories I have of being too stuck up, too prideful about my own convictions, too bent on being right, that I refused to see the heart of someone else. I wish I could say these feelings remained the inner workings of a critical soul, but as you’ll learn in parenting, the heart is what drives the actions and the actions are a direct window into a person’s soul. Many judgements and unfair accusations far worse than refusing a bottle of wine spilled out onto poor, undeserving people. Like my husband, my sister, my family, my friends.

Lord, they were the years of the locust.

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If you don’t come from legalism you will scratch your head at what I’m writing. The more times we’ve moved and had the opportunity to visit a variety of churches, the more I realize that my husband and I come from a very small representation of Christianity. Most people cannot relate to our experiences of preaching on appropriate shoes to wear to church, appropriate beats in a song, and an approved list of churches we could attend. But for those of you who do know, or who are recovering from perfectionism, you know that when I say the chains of externalism run deep, they run deep.

I tend to be the crusader who says, “Never look back! Let us rally and forge on ahead.” because there is a slippery slope that comes with the past and living in it for too long. Yet, there was a point in our marriage where we moved from the south to the midwest and I had this realization one day that life. It was not meant to be this miserable with broken, fractured relationships and awkward confrontations. I wanted to know how it felt to live at peace with all men and not feel anxious that God was crouching waiting to judge our family for impossible standards we had imposed upon our own selves. I wanted to know what freedom felt like. And not the kind we’d always been sternly warned about from pulpits, but I wanted to know what it felt like to be free to confess, to be free to be vulnerable, to be free to fail, and to be free to grow, without the vultures of criticism sapping the marrow from my bones.

For all my dissatisfaction, I just didn’t know how to get that kind of freedom. For years we stumbled around trying to find a church home that accepted us, with one foot in legalism and one foot in a taste of grace. Shortly after our move, we left the church denomination we’d been raised in. Through counseling, some pastors lovingly confronted our self-righteousness, not to mention our gross theological errors. With legalism come subtle misinterpretations of the gospel and I was so confused. Didn’t God owe me because I’d been faithful? Wasn’t I promised blessings, not curses, and by the way, where were they? God was measuring us. Sin was sin. The Bible black and white. Wasn’t I called to confront those who were obviously living in disobedience?

Little did I know that I had never been faithful, never measured up, and was most certainly living in disobedience of one of the seven deadly sins – pride. Our services were more liturgical in nature and I remember bowing my head every week as prayers of confession were recited. I had never heard such humility, especially not collectively in corporate worship. I had never heard anyone say, “You are more sinful than you could ever dare imagine and you are more loved and accepted than you could ever dare hope.”

And hearing those simple, yet profound, words week after week broke me.

My ignorance is laughable now, but the idea of repentance was just not a concept I had considered. My life’s mission was to be so perfect I’d never need to ask for forgiveness. It wasn’t like I never said sorry, but a life of confession was not my jam. So imagine over 8 YEARS of grievances that had built up and corroded over time. Our marriage was the first to be affected.

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I often wonder if not getting married at 19 and 21 would have helped in this department. Was it a maturity issue? Were we just young and naive? Could we have found different spiritual paths before we’d started a family and come together at a healthier place in our lives? Steven’s dad had taken his life mere months before we began dating, I had classic insecurity issues from my past with CO-DEPENDENCY warning signs written all over my forehead. Yet instead of finding liberty from it in a good and perfect Father (whom we had honestly never seen) we both used each other to deal with it. Or not deal, whichever your viewpoint.

But here’s the thing: when you’re full of unhealthy patterns, you don’t know it. When you perceive yourself has holier than others, you only see right and wrong. You don’t even consider the in between, the process, the journey. And for all our issues, I know of no other teaching ground better than the union of two sinners who never really knew they needed a Savior birthing children together. This combination has a way of perpetuating the blame game of who is holier than the other until somebody gives up. I remember the day clearly. The white flag of surrender that should have gone up the day I gave my life to Christ, but didn’t. At this point, we had been married for 6 years and our relationship had been one pile of hard things on top of another pile of hard things (mostly by choice). But when I stopped and looked at the broken examples we had come from, it hit me. The choice lies with us. The cycle must end.

And that was the beginning of the beautiful surrender.

I started asking a lot of hard questions and instead of justifying my life patterns I asked God to give me a spirit of honesty and humility. I began looking at my relationships one by one and wondering why they weren’t marked with more love and more grace. Why did other women seem to have a village helping them harvest wheat and I was off in a field by myself tearing up a field with a lone hoe? Why did toxic people feel like they could come and run my life, but the people I trusted and deeply cared about would rather run than tell me something hard I needed to hear? Why was I not saying sorry more often and opening up the window of confession in our own home? Why was I not petitioning for grace and peace? And where was the gospel in all of this?

Sadly, the gospel had been shut out a long ago and the people who needed it the most had not gotten it from me. I looked at the pieces of my prideful judgement and decided my first relationship repair should be with my husband. What started with a “Hey, I’m sorry.” avalanched into a 2-year rock slide of fumbled attempts to right the wrongs I had made in my piety. As memories resurfaced and conversations were recalled, I dug people up on Facebook, sent emails, calls, and texts.

Weddings I should have been apart of.

Life events I should’ve been there for.

Hugs I should’ve given.

Forgiveness I should have readily imparted.

They had all piled up like missed opportunities and with them, blessing upon blessing. Yet I was so blinded by my convictions of no alcohol and modest dress and proper music that I didn’t even see it. If it hadn’t been for the freshly corrected realization that the gospel meant I was loved (plus nothing!), I might have slumped into withered despair at how disgusting I had been. But one by one I asked for forgiveness and my eyes began opening with a renewed sense of hope. This! This is the power of the gospel. A song couldn’t even come on on the radio without my heart crumbling into two, crying at the joy that I’d been forgiven, restored, and was at peace. I was the most raw I’ve ever been in my life and for the first time in my life I saw people as souls. I can’t help but wonder if that is what becoming a Christian looks like for a person. The world is made colorful. People are seen as equal, beautiful creations. And you walk around on a high feeling known, and loved, and accepted.

While I felt I had been given a new lease on life, my marriage was healing, and everywhere I looked I was seeing roses where there were thorns and sand castles where there were trash heaps, a reckoning does not always equate resolution. During my avalanche of righting all wrongs, there were unanswered petitions of forgiveness, misunderstandings, and separation from old and toxic habits and people. And while the past few years have brought a clarity to the fall-out of legalism, warped theology, and missed grace, I have drawn much comfort from the peace that passes all understanding.

I John 1;7 “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.”

God has brought a light to our family, illuminating our own toxicities. By doing that and continuing to do that, our marriage has been cleansed. Our family is healing. And through the whole painful process of rebuilding I have had this vivid picture in my head that follows me everywhere. It’s one of our family running down a path into a woods lined with check boxes, familiarity, and safety. It is the easier path with promised results of conformity and reward. The other path is murkier, lined with unknowns and spirit-led direction. Yet, we round a bend one day and narrowly miss the edge of a cliff we see too late. We realize our mistake and just at the point we’re slipping and we think we’re done in for, God’s loving hand swoops down, picks us up, cradles our hurts, and breathes…

“I will write a new story.”

So we’re running towards that and never looking back.

Gluten-Free Lemon Loaf

August 9, 2016

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I once tried gluten-free for a brief 48 hours and then promptly stuffed my face with a bowl of pasta. You all with food restrictions deserve an extra jewel in your crown. Every once in awhile I toy around with the idea of cutting out processed white flour for good and I bake with gluten-free blends. And every time I come back to it I think, “Gluten-free has come a looooooong way.” There are now some recipes I actually prefer without white flour because I like dense, nutty, rich flavors. If you don’t need this gluten-free and want a rounded, fluffier, loaf you can cut out the almond flour, rice flour, oat flour, and flaxseed meal, and use the original 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour instead. The GF version stays flat and sometimes the loaf falls, depending on the day and how my oven is behaving. Either way it tastes amazing, especially with a cup of coffee and someone to share it with.

//GLUTEN-FREE MEYER LEMON LOAF

2 large eggs
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup whole milk yogurt, buttermilk or coconut milk
2 heaping Tbsp. meyer lemon zest
2 Tbsp. meyer lemon juice
2 tsp. lemon extract
1/3 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 cup natural cane sugar
1 cup almond flour
1/2 cup rice flour
1/3 cup oat flour
1 Tbsp. flaxseed meal
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
lemon glaze
1/3 cup meyer lemon juice
2 Tbsp. natural cane sugar

Preheat the oven to 350′. Grease a 9” loaf pan.

Whisk the eggs, olive oil, yogurt (or alternative), zest and juice of the lemon and lemon extract together well.

In another mixing bowl, combine both sugars, almond flour, rice flour, oat flour, flaxmeal, salt, baking soda and baking powder and mix together. Add half of the dry mix to the wet, stir to combine, add the rest or the dry and stir everything together. Pour the mixture into a prepared 9” loaf pan.

Bake for 40-50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. While the cake bakes, make the glaze. Combine the lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan over low heat and cook until the sugar dissolves. When the cake is finished, let it cool for 10 minutes before inverting (if you choose). Prick holes in the top and pour the glaze over the warm cake. Let the cake cool completely while it absorbs the syrup. We drizzled ours with honey, but it’s amazing all alone.

Source: Sprouted Kitchen

8, 7, and 5.

August 8, 2016

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There is a 3 month period every year where these three are sequential in age. This year it was 7, 6, 5 and next year it will be 8, 7, 6.

But not too far back in memory are the days we celebrated 3, 2, 1, and 4, 3, 2.

Those were hard days.

I don’t remember knowing it was hard at the time, because I grew up the oldest girl of 14 children, nannied 4 children during college at 17, got married at 19, and got pregnant on my honeymoon. Life was one continuous string of babies and people were always (and I mean, always) coming up to me to ask me my age, if I was planning on having a large family like my parents, and did I know my hands were full? I honestly didn’t, I was just doing the next task in front of me, trying to thrive, not survive, and it was usually spooning mashed carrots or reading Goodnight Moon.

People would find out I came from a large family and immediately comment, “Oh! This must be so easy for you!” as I juggled a screaming 2 year old in Target, while loading my groceries, and swiping my card. I remember tiredly smiling back at them and feeling guilty that I didn’t feel that way. “It’s not easy,” I thought. “What about this makes you think that it is?”

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When they were 3, 2, and 1, I cut my hair short and bought myself shirts in multiple colors. Quiet times were the runs I would squeeze in on the weekends between feedings and although we tried to get to church every week, 3 out of 4 times a month I was home with someone that was sick. There was no money for the “Mother’s Morning Out” programs and we lived in a city with no family nearby. Looking back, these seem like such trivial things, but to me, at the time, they seemed like lifelines just out of reach.

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There were days when these three were really little and I was changing diapers every hour, that I thought we’d never get here. There were days when we had three car seats lined up in the back seat of our jeep and bunk beds crammed into a little 2-bedroom apartment that I thought we would never know personal space again. There were mornings I would go to Wal Mart at 5am to grocery shop just so I wouldn’t have to change a diaper in the public restroom, twice, and check out without anyone crawling out of the shopping cart.

Sometimes I run across pictures from their babyhood and memories of me, their mom, trying so hard, will flood back. I see library trips, and park play dates, and raspberry muffins on Valentine’s Day. I see homemade aprons and alphabet cards and sticky fingers grabbing my green turtleneck that I also had in black, and blue. I see never enough time. Never enough patience. And never enough’s stretched out long into the Oklahoma sunset.

And if I could, I would give that girl turning into a woman a big hug and say, “It’s hard. But 8, 7, and 5 is just around the corner.”  I would tell her to not freak out but she would have a baby that is more of a handful than all three of these kiddos combined, but that you’ll know this time it doesn’t last forever. (We hope.) You will reach the point that you thought would never come and your babies will be in “big school” with people helping you teach them and you’ll be able to go for a run with just one child in a jogging stroller and you’ll buy shirts because you like them, not because they’re on sale in 3 different colors.

You will feel supported.

And because time heals wounds and God is good and we learn lessons from out mistakes, motherhood will not be the only thing that defines you like it did in 2011.

She really needed to hear that.

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I often hear myself saying things to the kids now that I would’ve never known to say 4 years ago. Time and experiences and truth do that to you. In many ways, each birthday here is a collective “We made it!” and “Look how different we are!”

I am growing up with my kids.

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Maybe it’s that I wish I would have had the guts to tell people in the grocery store that raising three kids under the age of 2 was hard, or that I would’ve allowed myself to stop doing the laundry and read a book when they were napping, or simply took a moment to be proud we had made it to story time at the library, but this past year I gave myself permission to celebrate what needs to be celebrated and grieve the things that needed to be grieved.

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So, Shiloh bug. While I hug your bunny and tell you it’s soft and I sing over your cake and laugh at your sparkler candles, know that I am also celebrating another year of motherhood. Another year of refinement. Another moment to take stock of how far we’ve come. I am grieving all the moments I apologized (or didn’t) and could’ve been better, but also rejoicing in the what-is-to-comes and the what-we-accomplished. If you learn nothing else from me, know this: God’s got you. He’s got your grocery store runs and your zoo memberships and your turtlenecks all in His precious hands. He has the big moments and the silent ones and the ones that are fighting to be understood all wrapped up in a safe and cozy place – His embrace.

You will fight to be known, and loved, and needed, but you already are.

Consider this me. Talking to what I wish was my younger self. But I’ll tell you instead.

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Here’s to an amazing year of being 7.

Love,

your mummy