To my dear, sweet Blythe Kathleen,

Today you are five years old and it is hitting me like a ton of bricks. A whole hand full of fingers. A half a decade of life. I remember when your cousin, Caroline, turned five. Your Aunt Kali told me that she cried that night and I thought to myself, "That's a little bit melodramatic, right? I mean, it's only five." But this birthday has got me a little weepy too. 

Here's the deal, Blythe. You were the best toddler and preschooler. We had so much fun with you every day. Sure, there were hard times too, but overall you were just an absolute peach. And here we are at the end of those years already. Five feels like a giant diving board to me, and we all have to take the leap with you into the deep end or we will be left behind.

laughing so hard we had to take a potty break

Someone told me five and sixteen are very similar; they each require a lot of release and letting go from the parents. Someday I know you will understand this. I want to cling tightly to you. I want to unfurl my wings and wrap them protectively around you as you move out into the world. Because this is the year that happens, baby girl. This is the year you start t-ball and kindergarten and all sorts of other big things that are just further and further outside of my grasp. Which is so so good and exciting. But it's new territory for all of us. And it requires me to trust Jesus in deeper ways than I have before when it comes to you. 

When you were an infant-- skin so soft I could barely feel it-- I would tiptoe into your room frequently and put my hand on your back or under your nose so I could feel you breathing. Sometimes I would be overwhelmed with fear at how little control I had over your gentle in and out of oxygen. Eventually I would whisper a prayer, "God, I can't watch her all night. She is in your hands now." And I would tiptoe back out of the room to get some sleep. In the last five years what I have learned though is that even while I was watching you God was always the only one in control.

This year has been so fun with you, Blythe. It started off kind of crazy: you were in the hospital with pneumonia the day after you turned four. Those were scary days, but through it all you were amazingly brave, and our great big God was faithful and taught me a lot about what it means to love Him first, even before I love you. That's hard to do, sweet one. 

After your hospital run, you became a big sister yet again to our little Nan Louise. You would spend hours singing and "reading" books to her. If she started to cry you would rush to her side, and your presence seemed to immediately calm her. You two seemed to have a special bond from the start, and now that she is almost one, I see this even more between the two of you. You are goofy with her, but also sincere and kind, and she adores you. You've also continued to be an amazing sister to Becks. Sometimes she frustrates you, as all siblings will, but over the past year I have seen you grow leaps and bounds in your maturity by how you respond to her. You work with her, and know how to "turn the other cheek" when necessary. And you two can now play for hours on end by yourselves. The games you two come up with are hilarious-- sometimes you're puppies, sometimes horses, sometimes you are "kids and moms"-- but you are truly each others best friend right now and it is a blessing to watch you play with one another.

You and I started "preschool" this year. I use that term loosely. I wrestled with the idea of sending you to preschool--- I knew you would love it, you're a natural learner and very social, but I really wanted you to have the opportunity to be home with Nan for at least one year, and there wasn't a preschool in town and the thought of stuffing you in the car three days a week just didn't make sense to me. So we scrapped it and I'm so thankful we did. You and I have had a lot of fun this year learning letters, and writing, and numbers, and adding. I kept it super simple and it wasn't very structured, but you are a voracious learner, Blythe. Around Christmas, every night we would put you to bed you would say, "But Mom...But Dad...I just don't know how to read!" and you would be so disheartened by it. I promised you that you would learn how to read in Kindergarten. But lo and behold, you just kind of started teaching yourself. So I followed your lead, as I have learned to do in a lot of areas, and now you are sounding out words I never would have dreamed you'd be reading at this point. I hope you never lose that thirst to learn. I hope when you are frustrated by something you don't quite understand, that you dig in and ask questions and struggle through the discomfort of not knowing until you burst through to the other side. You are going to love Kindergarten [and when we asked you last night at supper what you're most excited about about turning 5, that was your answer!]. 

We tried dance for a little bit this year. You really liked it and you picked up on it right away. It just wasn't our thing and it made for some stressful days for me, and when I told you we were going to stop you shrugged your shoulders and said, "Okay." And it was on to other things. It clearly wasn't something you were passionate about, but I'm glad we gave it a little run.  You do love to ride your bike [while listening to your headphones and singing loudly!], and swinging, and jumping on the trampoline.

You also love to draw. You draw all sorts of people doing all sorts of creative things. This week alone you drew a picture of a guy yelling at the top of a waterfall, two people shooting a cannon, a horse, you and Becks painting a picture on an easel and eating ice cream, and a portrait of me in the pouring rain. You love to paint and color and create. Your imagination is unending. You also have no problems communicating what's on your mind, even if you don't quite know the right word; you just make something up and keep right on with your story. A few examples: One day I was cooking lunch and Becks said the steam was smoke. You replied, "No! It's not smoke. It's just the breath of the water." And we were once walking through bushes and you warned me it was "really crangily in there!" I have a whole book of things you've said, because when you say something like "the storm rumbled the sticks down" or that Becks looked "spider-webby" when you were dizzy, or that "policeman have the best jobs because they help us keep the rules safe" I just want to remember it forever. From the moment you wake you are talking and creating until the moment your head hits the pillow again. And it is exhausting and wonderful. When it was just you and me, all day every day, when you were a baby and couldn't talk, I was lonely and bored some days. Now I can't imagine ever being lonely or bored when you're around!

Another really special thing that happened this year as a result of not going to formal preschool, was that you had more time with your grandparents. Almost every Tuesday morning, you and your sisters get to head to Nini and PopPop's house for a couple hours while I have some church meetings. And You've gotten to tap dance and drive the lawn mower with PopPop, and bake and sew with Nini, and so many more fun things. I'm so grateful for your time with them. And you've also done about a dozen "nature days" with Papa. He's taken you to the river where you drew in the sand, taught you about littering and squirrel nests and eagles and blue birds. You can name at least a half a dozen different birds when you see them! You've told me all about how you can tell the difference between a boy cardinal and a girl cardinal. You know what time of year deer lose their antlers. You've actually touched down feathers while they were still on the goose. You love being outside and exploring and learning. Just the other day we were driving and you looked out the window and randomly informed me, "Kangaroo live in Africa." 

One of your other passions seems to be music. You are constantly singing a song you know [even if you've only heard it once, you pick up on it!], or you are making up your own. We set up a makeshift drumset for you as well out of old pots and jugs, because you are fascinated by the drums. You found a piece of bamboo on the ground one day and wanted to make a flute out of it. You love to sit and drum your dad's guitar while he fingers the chords, and you picked up how to play row, row, row your boat very quickly on the piano. Nini Pat always said age six or seven was the best time to start music lessons, and I have no doubt we will find a niche for you somewhere in this world. 

You've started to really pray at meal times. The thoughtfulness you put into your prayers leaves me breathless, and I want to start praying more like you. In the last month you've prayed that God "would teach us what we need instead of want and that we wouldn't say want, want, want all the time." You've thanked Him for the "way you make each person different." You never fail to thank Him for "the beautiful day that we got to have". And often you thank Him for "the peace and love you put in our hearts" and for "sending Jesus to die on the cross." There is a reason Jesus said to let the little children come to Him. We have a lot to learn from you guys. Thank you for teaching us. 

It's always around your birthday that I am amazed at how our own prayers for you are being answered. Since you were in my womb, we've prayed four words over you: joyfulness, compassion, modesty, and hospitality. And every year I am in awe of how those traits are growing in you more and more. Joy is natural to you-- it's in your bloodstream and you bring it to others easily. You've learned compassion more and more as you attend to your sisters needs. The fact that you would pray about our needs versus our wants shows me you are learning to live with less and live modestly. And you are a hospitable soul, always welcoming others. I pray you always grow more and more in these traits as you grow more and more into who God has made you to be. 

Oh Blythe. My FIVE year old. You've filled our lives with so much joy, and we pray that you would come to know Christ in deeper and richer ways this year as you spread your own wings a bit more and step into the world a little farther. In the five years I've been given to be your mom so far, I have learned in profound ways my utter inability to parent you. I have learned in that inability that there is one who is ABLE to parent through me. And I have learned that it is His ability in you that will be all that matters in the long run.

Five is a big one, girl. And we are excited to see how you take it and run with it, just as you have done with all the other things placed before you. At breakfast this week you looked up and said, "Mom, Papa has a song that says, 'When it's gone it won't be back again.' And remember that day he had to go to work but he didn't? He stayed and played with us because he won't get that chance again. And it's like, when I'm five I won't be four again." Tears welled up in my eyes at your wisdom, and the profoundness of what you had just taught me. I'm already nostalgic for these days with you because when they are gone I won't get them back again. Thank you for teaching me how to listen to the wind a little closer. 

God gives us His spirit without measure, and it is through that abundant love that we are able to love you deeply. Like I said last year, we hope you always understand the why behind our no-s. We hope you feel safe in the boundaries we set. We hope you feel freedom in the wide open places we leave for you. We hope you see God in our actions and words. We hope when you leave our little home for good and go out on your own that you'll look back on this simple little life we had together-- chaos and mistakes and messes and all-- and see that it was Grace that held us together; that you see that it was God's daily bread that provided it all. 

Blythe girl, you are already more than I ever dreamed you could be when they laid you on my chest.
Happy birthday, Blythe Kathleen! There is nothing you can ever do that will make us stop loving you. 

* Read Blythe's Birth Story HERE
* Story behind her name HERE
* First birthday letter HERE
* Second birthday letter HERE
*Third birthday letter HERE
*Fourth birthday letter HERE

And just for fun, here is a little trip back in time with you: 

two days before you were born...our last "belly picture"
some of our first moments together after your fast and furious entry into this world

week one
first birthday

second birthday

third birthday

fourth birthday


Oil in my lamp

 Channeling my best circus act, I twist and stretch my right arm over the car seat while trying to keep one on the steering wheel. One eye on the road, one eye trying to find the bloody pacifier. I feel the pink rubber, then blindly search for the screaming mouth, all while trying to avoid crossing the center line and having the semi-truck driver following my mini-van-of-fun call the police on the clearly intoxicated driver. While the pacifier contortion act is finishing up,  a blue pen is stolen from the one who clearly can't live without the blue pen because it is desperately needed to finish coloring the beautiful picture inside the library book. At least her gum isn't stuck to one of the pages again. I switch from circus performance to mediator, and apparently the switch is an ineffective one as the screaming escalates and I am waiting for the windshield to break at the new decibel. I give up trying to mediate, and reach for the glove box. McDonald's napkins tumble out as I grasp another pen. I toss it to the very back of the van, hoping some little hand will grasp it.

As the volume decreases, I hear the song. It's a kid's CD. Of course, it's a kid's CD.  It's just more noise at first, and then without thinking I find myself singing along to the familiar words:

Give me oil in my lamp, keep it burning, burning burning. Give me oil in my lamp, I pray. Give me oil in my lamp, keep it burning, burning, burning. Keep it burning till the break of day. 

 We eventually made it home that day. And I managed to get lunch fed to all three, and when I didn't know if I would make it to naptime or through the next tantrum I felt a prayer rising to my lips: Give me oil in my lamp, Lord. 

And isn't that the prayer of adulthood?  

When our job is on the line,
when our kids are sick in the hospital,
when our marriage seems on sandy ground,
when the baby won't sleep,
when our friends need us to walk with them through hard stuff,
when the hard stuff shows up in our own life,
when you have three kids, ages 4 and under, that you're responsible for,
when someone challenges your faith,
when a parent dies,
when you're not sure where the money will come from, 
when you're just so tired,

Lord, keep it burning till the break of day. 

It makes me think of the story of Elijah and the widow in 1 Kings 17.

Some time later the brook dried up. It hadn’t rained in the land for quite a while. A message came to Elijah from the Lord. He said, “Go right away to Zarephath in the region of Sidon. Stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” 10 So Elijah went to Zarephath. He came to the town gate. A widow was there gathering sticks. He called out to her. He asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar? I need a drink.” 11 She went to get the water. Then he called out to her, “Please bring me a piece of bread too.”
12 “I don’t have any bread,” she replied. “And that’s just as sure as the Lord your God is alive. All I have is a small amount of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I’m gathering a few sticks to take home. I’ll make one last meal for myself and my son. We’ll eat it. After that, we’ll die.”
13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home. Do what you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me. Make it out of what you have. Bring it to me. Then make some for yourself and your son. 14 The Lord is the God of Israel. He says, ‘The jar of flour will not be used up. The jug will always have oil in it. You will have flour and oil until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’ ”
15 She went away and did what Elijah had told her to do. So Elijah had food every day. There was also food for the woman and her family. 16 The jar of flour wasn’t used up. The jug always had oil in it. That’s what the Lord had said would happen. He had spoken that message through Elijah.

  Did you catch that? "I'll make one last meal...after that, we'll die." That is heavy. This woman was done. She had accepted she had nothing left and not only was her own life going to be over, but every mother's worst nightmare was coming true for her as well-- she couldn't even provide food for her child and he would die too. And then here comes someone asking her for some bread! She knew she didn't have enough to survive another day, and yet she trusted this prophet and his God.

And the flour wasn't used up. The jug always had oil in it. 

To me this story doesn't mean that we won't lose the job or the sickness won't come. To me this story is a reminder of daily trust in a faithful God in spite of our circumstances.

This widow couldn't open the door to her pantry and see all the oil that the Lord had promised her. She didn't have an Amazon Prime receipt of what was going to be delivered.  She just had to trust it would be there, and that it would be enough to sustain for one more day.

And then eventually the rain came.

Would I have that kind of faith? I can't even seem to make it to bedtime some days and simply trust that God will give me enough energy for the next day.

But in the midst of these very full, often chaotic days, I hear my God saying, "The flour won't be used up. The jug will always have oil in it."

Just last week I told someone that I don't feel like what I'm doing right now is something I could sustain very long; if I didn't know having three small children at home were for just a season and I thought it was for indefinitely I don't know what I could do it. But this bible story reminds me: I can't. God will. 

And so if you see a van careening down the highway, things flying around inside, and children screaming, listen a little closer and you'll probably also hear my new song these days: Give me oil in my lamp, I pray. Give me oil in my lamp, keep it burning, burning, burning. Keep it burning till the break of day. 

And if your flour and oil seem to be running out these days too, feel free to join me at the chorus.


Merry Christmas

Friends and Family,

Another year has come and gone and another year my Christmas letter is being relegated to this blog space in the hopes that you pretend it arrived in your mailbox on beautiful stationary.

I didn't know if we would have a chance to snap a real family picture this year, so I asked Blythe to draw a Christmas picture of our family. See above. Brent and I are to the left of the tree under the wreath, and the girls are on the right under Jesus in the manger [Nan is on the floor with a rattle, obviously]. I feel as if I could leave it with that, as it really does depict family life quite well: my hair is a hot mess, I don't appear to have put pants on, Brent is wearing what could only be described as a house-dress, the girls are happy but appear to have colored their hair with markers, and Nan is crawling around like, "Hey, I just live here!" Oh, and glitter has exploded all over the floor.

And while that kind of sums it up, here is a little break down for those of you more interested:

Nan Louise is our biggest news of this year! She joined us on April 8th. HERE is her birth story if you missed it. She is as sweet as pie. The first couple of months were definitely an adjustment: I thought Nan would be our most difficult baby because the first two months she barely napped and ate every two hours. However, after those two months, she found her stride and has quickly become a very content, very sweet baby. She started crawling a month [or so] ago, loves to eat most food, and thinks her sisters are hilariously entertaining. She waves and says Dada. Brent and I both bonded with her so quickly-- I think it's the freckle on her head. It's the most endearing thing ever and I will shave that spot bald her whole life so I can always see it.

I asked Brent to help me come up with three words to describe each girl right now.
Nan is curious, a go-getter, and absolutely wonderful. 


Becks hit two in full stride. She got pneumonia in April, turned two in May, and then ended up in the hospital in July for some infection we never really pinned down. She is tough as nails [or at least tougher than our oldest daughter, which isn't saying much], and she loves to play with Blythe but does not suffer silently when her older sister wants to take charge. In her teeny-tiny frame she holds her own quite well and is constantly giving us a run for the money. You can't be around her and not want to kiss her cheeks, and you can't be around her and not laugh. Her projected height is "just shy of 5 foot", but her small size has never slowed her down. We took the "cage" [plastic fence/barricade we had zip-tied to her bottom bunk] off last week and she's handled the promotion like a pro. Two is easily my favorite of all the ages, and year two with Becks Lynae has been no exception.

Brent's words for her:
Becks is tender-hearted, strong-willed, and pint-sized

Which brings us to our oldest, Blythe Kathleen. She handled the changes this year in stride. She adores Nan and dotes on her frequently. She went through a bout of pneumonia around her 4th birthday that landed her in the hospital for a few nights.  She and I got to start "preschool", which is nothing organized or fancy, but she thinks any time she is learning is the best. She asks a hundred questions and then looks intently with those big brown eyes and a simple "that's just the way it works" never will suffice. She needs to know exactly how pencils are made, why cars have bright lights and not-bright lights, the difference between a high pitch and a low pitch, if asteroids made the dark spots in the moon, and, thanks to nature days with Papa, why is owl poop called pellets? She had a little foray into dance class. She loves "cheesy noodles" and broccoli and green beans. And any snack at any time of day. When I realize it is my last year home with her I want to find a corner in which I can weep privately. Her name means joy and she brings joy to our life every single day.

Brent's words for her:
 Blythe is inquisitive, creative, and joyful. 

 Brent continues his job at the bank as the compliance officer. He has great employers and customers and never minds going to work, which is a huge blessing. He took a little break from any major run this year since we had a new baby around to occupy us, but he still did a few 5ks and two sprint-triathlons this summer. He is also pouring himself into some men's ministries at our church and is excited about the momentum there. He continues to be a wonderful husband and such a good father to girls.

He didn't give me any words for himself, but I would choose steadfast, generous, and big-hearted.

Not much has changed in my world: I had another child and I had to accept a lot of help as I went through Blythe's hospital stay at 9 months pregnant, Nan's birth, a separated pelvis, and then Becks' hospital stay. But through it all I learned that God is faithful, not because everything turned out so well but because He was in it with us. And I also learned the humility of asking for and receiving help from family and some wonderful friends. This was my first fall not coaching softball, and while I missed the team I didn't have much time to think about it as I have kind of created my own team around here. I was able to do a lot of photography this year as well, and I still work part time at our church as the engagement and prayer coordinator and love being able to pour myself out in that way. My days are very, very, very full around here. Some days I want to quit this stay at home business, but most days I am very grateful for the hard work of taking care of these three beautiful girls I've been given. When I think of life 20 years from now, I get a ache in the pit of my chest just thinking about the beauty and simplicity of these chaotic days at home [during which I can't seem to keep all three fully clothed at once].

The above paragraph is why I have barely blogged this year. This is the least I have written in the 9 years since I started this blog, and that makes me very sad as I want to document these days. But I also want to live these days, so my time is limited. Please hang with me. I hope to be back.

And that's a wrap. 
Our hearts grew leaps and bounds this year, and so did our family. Our house is usually messy and loud, but you are always invited. 

And as we celebrate Christmas may you stand in awe of a God who stepped into our mess and noise, put on flesh, and whispered, "You are always invited." 

Merry Christmas,
Brent, Kelsey, Blythe, Becks, & Nan

If you want a little Christmas reading, I did some writing over HERE for our church during the Advent season.