The Unexpected is Exactly What We Needed

September 2010 I realized I was pregnant. This was unexpected and a surprise that staggered. Overwhelming would probably be the best word.

Sometimes the unexpected can stir fear or a sense of unease.

Sometimes the unexpected turns out to be the most wonderful, a source of delight we never knew we needed.

Madeleine has been just that. Four years old today, she has utterly changed our lives. She has brought a lightness and a humor, a touch of femininity to our lives we were not aware we were missing.


This little one has already begun to soften her brothers. They care for her in ways I couldn’t have imagined…they love her quite well. Their future wives can thank Miss Maddie for this change she has brought.




From the start she has captured our hearts with this sense of delight she has about her. Her laughter, her charm, her intelligence. And her simple innocence and beauty. Every day she stops us and helps us see something good.


She was unexpected, and she was exactly who our family needed.




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As she has grown, she just seems to get better. She has a temper, and she does think she can interrupt any discussion to make her words heard. We’re working on that. Still, she is feisty and feminine in just the right measure. She stands her ground, but she can turn and be compassionate and tender in a heartbeat.

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She knows more about soccer and hockey than most 4 year old girls, and has watched probably a hundred games.

She loves art and books and pretty things.

Mostly this, though:
She simply is alive to life and it is delightful. I love a day to celebrate her, and a day to indulge in posting far too many pictures in one blog post. She is the only one I will take a duck-face selfie with. She brings out our best and makes me want to be not only a better mom but a better woman.

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And she has done all of this in four short years.

Happy Birthday, Maddie Jane.

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A Little Hard Work is Required.

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This is the face of a little girl in a little pain, and a little frustration. This is the face of a little girl after her first swim lesson.


The lesson ended in tears and the exclamation that she never wanted to swim again.


“They made me put my face in the water. I had water in my nose and I couldn’t keep it out.”



And the toes. Do you remember when you were little and swam and scraped your toes on the bottom of the pool? Do you remember those little sores, the little raw circles on the bottom of your toes?


Yep. All ten toes now have waterproof bandaids.


As we walked away from the lesson, tears still dripping down her cheeks, I told her,


“Sometimes we have to do a little hard work and something not too fun so we can have lots of fun in the end.”


She’s almost four. She has no idea what I mean…not really.


I meant it, though, even in the simplicity of swimming lessons. This life of ours requires discipline, it requires sacrifice and it requires some not too fun things all done with the hope of success and growth.


Sometimes we have to set aside the fun activity to complete the necessary activity. In the end the things that are not as fun can give us room for other things: taking care of the household chores leaves us a space where we can relax and rest, taking the time for study enriches our brains and sets the stage for creativity and imagination and curiosity.


Sometimes we have to put to death our flesh in order to see the Spirit come alive.


Sometimes we have to do the hard work before we see the growth.


But, to be honest, there are days (weeks? months? years?) where it feels as though everything is the hard work and nothing is enjoyment or growth. That is when we have to listen well; we have to pay attention.



“Listen to your life. Listen to what happens to you because it is through what happens to you that God speaks . . . It’s in language that’s not always easy to decipher, but it’s there, powerfully, memorably, unforgettably.”

Frederick Buechner

Even today. Even in the difficult times and the joyful times…God is speaking.

Even when we give advice to four year olds when we really are talking to ourselves.

The next day? She jumped in the water and came up laughing. She was the first one in line for the slide, even though it meant going deep under the water for her. She came up with joy and had already forgotten the tears. After the second day the exclamation was, “When can we do this again!”

Fireflies and Struggles.

Someone asked the other day why I have not been writing. There have been many mornings when I wanted to write over the last several months, yet the words simply didn’t flow.

Sometimes words just dry up.

Sometimes life is mundane and busy and distracted and I find it difficult to pull thoughts into focus. Thoughts more than what to make for lunch, what the kids need to be studying and did I finish all the things I needed to today.

Then, sometimes, I read an article like Ann Voskamp’s about her journey in Iraq and I wonder what on earth I could say. I sat utterly silent after reading about the journey of the women in Iraq, about the true horrors and suffering. Talking about my inability to complete my laundry sounded just a little petty.

Still, that is mostly the stuff of which my days consist: Laundry. Dishes. Lunches. Dinners.

Or is it?

There is a discipline to our thoughts. When I am lazy the words do not come, mostly because the thinking is vague and random. I tend to mope.

No one wants to read moping.

I have to go back to Ann Voskamp, who has been bringing me a bit out of this funk of undisciplined thought. Her book and challenge to count our blessings. To write them down and remember them…all the way up to 1000 and beyond. One Thousand Gifts. Discipline our thoughts and our vision to see the wonder and blessings around us.

Write them down. Look at them and be amazed by all the wonders around us. All the blessings, even in suffering.

Just after beginning to count these blessings that fill my life, I drove on a quiet Tennessee country road to pick up the eldest from a party. Just at twilight. In the early summer. If you have lived in the South, you know what that can mean: Fireflies. Lightning bugs.

There was an aroma of honeysuckle, everything was green, the air was cool and the windows down. The light caught my eye and I thought it was ribbons farmers use to keep birds from eating their crops. Then another field, filled with this twinkling light. Thousands of fireflies.

This exercise in counting blessings brings an awareness  that this reality of ours is not so simple. It is touched by eternity, touched by a Creator who delights in fireflies and fuzzy chicks, sunsets and landscapes. A Creator who gives gifts, even some gifts that challenge us.

I wonder if the women in Iraq can number their blessings to 1000. Maybe I am greedy in seeing the blessings I have, and sometimes try to hoard.

That is not what they are for. They strengthen us and move us beyond our funk, beyond our mundane days, beyond our limitations. These wonders and blessings remind us that God is, and that He is near. They remind us that we can walk in a faith which expands our feeble actions.

Go and read the update Ann wrote after people responded to her first article. Really…go and read the Update. Now.

Sometimes I come to this blog and think all I have to write about with depth is the journey of my Mother’s Dementia. Heavy things. Hard things.

Or I write about birthdays. Light things. Joyous things.

The reality is, most of life is spent somewhere in between. We cannot constantly focus on the struggle or we exhaust ourselves. We cannot constantly analyze and postulate about the deeper meaning. Sometimes we have to do the laundry, or color a picture with a three year old.


And those things don’t sound terribly interesting to write about…yet maybe they are just the things I should think about.


I’ll end with this…reading Walter Wangerin Jr.’s book  Letters from the Land of Cancer:

“But the promises of the Lord endure forever. He and his promises – Jesus, between the making and the keeping them – these embrace Time. They give Time its edges and its shape. And it is not wrong, on days like this one, to take one’s stand as well as one’s rest within such Time, the anteroom of eternity. Not in order to blind ourselves to the iniquities and the woundings around us, nor to withdraw from our service on behalf of the wounded, but simply to rejoice.

It is a good day. Gladness is available. Christ is at hand.”


Whatever this moment holds: suffering, joy, mundane duties, boredom, excitement. Whatever the moment holds…Christ is present. That really does change everything.

Happy Birthday, Zachary

About thirteen years ago the church Steve and I attended had a special summer series in which the pastor answered questions from the congregation. One Sunday was devoted to questions about parenting. We sat there with our infant, just beginning to embrace this whole parenthood adventure.

One comment has stuck with me all these years. The pastor talked about how we speak about teenagers. How often we hear the phrase, “I just dread those teenage years.” He challenged us to speak with hope and expectation, not dread. Talk to our kids about how we look forward to who they will become, and all the stages of our interaction.

Expect that they will be teenagers we will enjoy and love and admire.

I don’t know if we have always done that perfectly, but I have to tell you: I love my teenager. He turns 14 today and constantly impresses us. He is intelligent and quick witted, talented and kind. He has a great imagination and an excitement about things that are bigger than himself.


He has delighted us from birth. Coming into the world calmly and instantly aware.


As he has grown, he has impressed us at every stage with his ability to adapt and take on challenges.



He has led the way as the big brother, encouraging his brothers and harassing them in just the right proportion.


He is Maddie’s “Best Buddy” and such a great big brother to her.

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He has introduced us to a whole world of sports we never could have guessed we would love so much.


And has grown in this beyond just physical ability. He has learned the balance of being competitive and being kind. And not throwing sticks and yelling when he loses anymore.

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My pastor’s advice was sound, not just wishful thinking. I thoroughly am enjoying these teenage years, mostly because of this remarkable teen. Our expectations and hopes grow as he constantly exceeds them.

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Happy Birthday, Zachary. You are loved, admired and we are thoroughly blessed you are our boy.