Thanksgiving this year.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

“The worst illness of our time is that so many people have to suffer from never being loved.” - Princess Diana

We spent Thanksgiving morning in our sunlit living room, watching our kids read and play and destroy the house. I'd mentioned to Shawn, "We don't really have any Thanksgiving traditions yet, do we?" He agreed, and we somewhat aimlessly headed to our favorite park to take a walk. On our way there, we stopped at the Starbucks drive thru and decided we could get Any Drink We Want. I ordered a decaf coconut milk chestnut praline latte, Shawn got a PSL, and the kids had apple juice boxes. As we pulled up to the window and waited for our grand total, the cashier said, "The gentleman in front of you just paid for your order. Happy Thanksgiving!" It made me want to cry. What a generous, random act of kindness from a complete stranger on a holiday that should be full of just that. We paid for the car behind us and our first Thanksgiving tradition was born. How kind of the Lord.

Later in the day, Liam and I took a special trip to the hospital where I work. Earlier in the week, I had cared for one patient on our floor for several days in a row who's been hospitalized for weeks. He's a pleasant man, and we spent the week talking about Thanksgiving traditions and favorite foods. He mentioned that his favorite dish was to carve out the inside of a sugar pumpkin, fill it with stuffing, then bake it. Personal-sized stuffing-filled sugar pumpkins for all! I also knew from conversations with him that he'd be alone on Thanksgiving. There would be no family and no friends to visit him this year. He seemed nonchalant about it all, but the thought just wouldn't leave me. To me, it doesn't matter if you're the cruelest curmudgeon that ever breathed air... no one should be alone on Thanksgiving.

So I told Liam about my friend at the hospital and we decided to make a visit. Liam made him a card and filled it with every sticker he could find. And I found a little sugar pumpkin.

As Liam walked into the patient's room - a tiny pumpkin in one arm, a handmade card dangling from the other - he looked up shyly and said, "Happy Fanksgiving, sir. I hope you have a great day."

The man was visibly moved. A smile enraptured his face as he held up the card with scraggly writing and said, "You know? I think this might be my favorite Thanksgiving ever."

My heart sang. I felt such a mixture of pride over this brave, beautiful little boy combined with deep sadness when I put myself in the patient's shoes. The one where a mostly bed-bound, mostly alone man orders a tray from a hospital kitchen on what's supposed to be a family- and food-stuffed holiday.

I don't share this story to boast about what we did. I share it because it humbles me. Because I can picture myself in that bed, sick and alone, and I hope that someone might take notice.

As Liam and I got in the car, he was quiet. I asked him, "Do you know why we care about people who are alone?"
"No, why?"
"Because those are the people Jesus calls the poor in spirit: those who are discouraged or sad or alone. And those are the people Jesus loves, and He asks us to love and help them, too."

I remember watching Princess Diana from afar as a little girl and noticing how, in so much of the charity work she invested in, she brought along her two little boys. They visited AIDS clinics and gave hugs. Held knobby hands of lepers. Cuddled children whose limbs had been ravaged by land mines. It would have been so much easier to stay home - in a palace, mind you - and remain untouched by such flagrant suffering. Instead, she chose to step out and has left such a legacy of kindness, for her children and for the world.

When Liam finally answered from the backseat, he only had a few words: "Can we go back tomorrow?"

I hope that your Thanksgiving was marked with a simple act of kindness, either given or received. And I hope this holiday season is marked by even more of the same.

Happy birthday, Liam Worth!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Happy fourth birthday, my sweet boy!
I've had way too many favorite moments this year to recount, but one stands out in my mind.

You'd been participating in a weekly sports camp at the YMCA, and following instructions within a large group of four-year-olds wasn't exactly your strong suit. You loved when you actually got to play with a soccer ball, but drills? Nah. You'd rather run laps around the other kids or roll around on the floor.

So on the final day of camp, all the families gathered around to watch as each child received a special award. I cringed a little at the thought... what award would you be getting? Most energy? Most distracted? I felt guilty for signing you up too early for this. You just didn't seem ready.

A few awards in, they called your name. "Liam Newby, will you please come up?"

You stepped onto the podium as Lanie followed closely behind and stepped up next to you.

"Liam gets the 'Best Bro Award' because he's such a caring big brother and always wants to include his little sister. Way to go, Liam!"

Tears filled my eyes as you beamed, holding your certificate with one hand and throwing your other arm proudly around Lanie. As your mom, I loved that others recognized one of my very favorite things about you. Something that matters more to me than how well you perform on the sports field. You truly care for and champion others - especially that feisty sister of yours - and my heart swelled at the mention of it.

On your birthday - October 27 - we got to celebrate you. We also celebrated God's faithfulness to us over this past year. As you've neared four years old, you've hit such a sweet spot. You're one smart cookie: you're able to sound out words, memorize your weekly Bible verse with ease, and ask inquisitive questions with surprisingly rich vocabulary. The other day, when I told you the mail hadn't come yet, you responded, "Well, that's unfortunate." Sometimes I call you The Professor because you become so engrossed in one topic and will spend an entire day talking about it. Some days it's bull sharks. Other days it's spoilers. You teach me so much.

You adore your family and love nothing more than for us to all be at home, together. The other night, I asked you to come up with a word that described each of us. You said Mommy was "good," Lanie was "silly," Daddy was "brave," and Liam was "fast." I love that you love us. You tell me often how beautiful I look, and Lanie too. I don't take it for granted for a second that you'd rather be with me on a date to Target than just about anywhere in the world. Stay my best friend forever?

Since day one, I've seen a fiery passion in you that I just adore. Some days, it's pretty challenging. But you're becoming easier to reason with (most times), and less prone to tantrums. When you get excited about something, you get really excited. You love a good dance party in the living room or a sprint around the "loop park" near our house.

You aren't afraid to just be you. You're obsessed with the movie Cars, so much so that you've given all of your closest family and friends "Cars" names. I'm Dinoco, Daddy is Ramone, and Lanie is Chick Hicks. You are, of course, Lightning McQueen. I made you a Lightning McQueen cape with #95 on the back in gold glitter letters and I caught you sleeping in it one time, you love it that much. You wear it out and about and ask members of the public to only call you Lightning, please.

Sweet Liam, I'm beginning to see a tenderness toward your sin and it blesses me. A year ago, if I corrected you, you'd often keep doing exactly what I'd just asked you to stop doing. Now, you often say, "Oh! I'm sorry Mommy," and stop doing whatever it is. I'm seeing Jesus work in your heart, from the deep questions you ask during our nightly Bible time to the way you care for Lanie. I pray this is the year that you begin to know Jesus as the Savior of your soul.

Happy birthday, Liam Worth!

You are my treasure.



Monday, October 24, 2016

Yesterday, Shawn's first album, Justified, was released! Cue the angel choir! This project has been a labor of love (and also a lot of fun), and we're elated to finally hold it in our hands.

Our church's pastoral team commissioned Shawn to write these songs and to create a project that would encourage our church body. He's done that and so much more, and I honestly think this is an album that anyone would enjoy. For me, it's been even more special because my dad served as producer, my mom as vocal producer, and I had the privilege of singing background vocals and being the photographer. But mostly, I've enjoyed having a front row seat to the writing of these songs, the wrestling through arrangements, and now enjoying the final product.

I wanted to give a little snapshot of each song from my perspective, in case you're interested...

1// You Call Me Justified - This is where it all started: a congregational song Shawn wrote that has become one of our church's favorites to sing on Sunday morning. Rich lyrics, singable melody. It'll be stuck in your head (in the best way).

2// Behold, Your King Is Come - Hands down, my kids' favorite song on the CD. Has an Irish jig kind of feel to it. We blast it in the living room and have a dance party. :)

3// The Fight - For most who have heard the album, this one is their favorite. My favorite line: "When mountains of failure are all that I see, remind me to think of the mountain you climbed for me."

4// One Hope For the World - Shawn wrote this for our church's missions conference a couple years ago, but it's an anthem that's more appropriate than ever in our very divided and divisive world. As believers, we can sing together, "There is one faith, one Savior, one Hope for the world."

5// Only You Know Why - This might be my personal favorite. I get to sing background vocals, and I love the sound of the guitars, the duet style, the truth behind it. Shawn wrote it as he struggled to grasp the sovereignty of God.

6// The Lord Is On My Side - "The Lord is on my side. He will not hold back or hide. I won't be moved, I will not be moved." Yes!

7// Shield About Me - The chorus is taken straight from Psalm 3. I love hearing Liam sing the lyrics to this one in the backseat: "You, oh Lord, are a shield about me. My glory and the lifter of my head. I need not fear for my enemies around me. I lay my head in peace upon my bed."

8// Your Spirit Moved - In last night's concert, this was a powerful moment: just Shawn, his guitar, and gospel-saturated lyrics. Yes.

9// Mysterious Wonder - A gorgeous Christmas song with the most exquisite strings arrangement (by my own dad!).

10// Jesus Is Coming Again - A celebration song because He's coming back! This will make you want to dance.

11// There Is A Fountain - Since Liam was born, this hymn has been on my lips as I've sung it to both babies many nights before bed. When we thought about incorporating a hymn onto the album, I was thrilled when Shawn decided for it to be this one. The words hold such a special place in my heart, and it has a very Appalachian feel. Delightful.

12// Faithful To Me - I tear up listening to this one and making it personal: He's been so faithful to me, to you, to us. This one focuses on several precious attributes of God.

I say this with complete honesty: I would love this album even if I wasn't married to the artist. I'd play it in my car, listen to it with my kids, put it in my ear buds as I walked into a busy day at work. But knowing the heart behind these songs makes it even sweeter, and I know you who have read my blog for years will find it so special as you "know" us in a way. We hope and pray these songs are a true blessing to your soul and that through them, you experience Christ in a fresh way.

You can purchase the album on iTunes!

He who watches over you will not slumber.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Yesterday, on a gorgeous, autumn-lit afternoon, Liam and Lanie and I took a walk to the park at the end of our street. Liam has become adept at stopping at cross streets on his tricycle and waiting for me, so I let him ride a few dozen feet ahead. I can still see him and talk to him, but he isn't within reach.

Just before we turned into the park, Lanie slipped on a crack in the sidewalk and scraped her knees. I saw Liam zip into the park on his bike, then I scooped Lanie up and rounded the corner into the park, expecting to see Liam.

About 50 feet ahead of me, in the middle of the sidewalk, I saw a tricycle. An empty tricycle. I picked up my pace and looked around. No sign of Liam anywhere.

"Liam?" I called, hoping I'd hear an immediate, "Yes, Mommy?" Instead, I was met with silence.

"LIIIIAAAAMMMM!" I screamed, a primal cry from a mom who had to find her boy. A man with his headphones on was walking past, but no one else was in sight. No one who could help me find my son. My heart beat behind my eyes as the world grew silent. I could barely take a breath.

I yelled one more time - a sound he would have to hear if he was anywhere close - and suddenly I heard giggles from the bushes. "Come get me, Mommy!" More giggles. I pulled down one branch and saw his smiling eyes. "I was jus' hiding from you!" Not funny, buddy. Not funny at all. 

The episode stuck with me for the rest of the day (and hopefully with him, after some discipline). To have my heart walking outside my body, as someone has said of children, is one thing. To have my heart lost outside my body is another. The day could have turned out so differently. I took my eyes off of him for all of 10 seconds and suddenly he'd gone missing. Our neighborhood isn't exactly Pleasantville, so anything was possible.

Before bed last night, I opened my Bible to the Psalms. Liam and I have been memorizing Scripture together, and yesterday's verse was this one:

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. - Psalm 121: 2

I wanted to read that verse in context, so I kept going.

v. 3 - He will not let your foot slip -
he who watches over you will not slumber;
v. 4 - indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

I don't know about you, but sometimes when I read truths about God, they simply feel too good to be true. Too extravagant to actually believe. He never sleeps? Never turns his back from me, or from any of the goings-on of our broken world? My mind can't wrap itself around that one, but I take such solace in the piece of it I do grasp. I can try to hide in the bushes - and I have certainly tried - but I am never hidden from his ever-vigilant watch. My life - your life - is never forgotten, never turned away from.

I remember sitting in a summer class in college on the Psalms, and we were dissecting Psalm 37. Psalm 37:4 struck me because it was one of my favorite verses during my high school years:

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

I'd heard a pastor once explain that if we delight ourselves in the Lord, he will create desires in our hearts that align with his will, and then he will fulfill those desires that he's placed in us. Makes sense, doesn't it? I spouted off that information to the class.

I'll never forget my professor's response. He said, "What if God, by his grace, gave us what we desired because he loves us? Sure, he always gives us desires that align with his will, but I don't believe that's the point of this verse. I think that view of God is too limited, too safe."

What I had believed of God had been true, but my view of him was too small. Too stingy. Too much like a business transaction: I delight myself in him, he places desires in me and then fulfills them. My view didn't account for the lavishness with which he loves me, as his child. The word "desires" can also be translated "petitions." Petitions have a deeper meaning than just a petty request. They are the deepest, prayerful yearnings of the heart.

As John Calvin wrote about this verse, "We must therefore constantly recall to our minds this truth, that it can never be well with us except in so far as God is gracious to us, so that the joy we derive from his paternal favor towards us may surpass all the pleasures of the world. To this injunction a promise is added, that, if we are satisfied in the enjoyment of God alone, he will liberally bestow upon us all that we shall desire: He will give thee the desires of thy heart. This does not imply that the godly immediately obtain whatever their fancy may suggest to them; nor would it be for their profit that God should grant them all their vain desires. The meaning simply is, that if we stay our minds wholly upon God, instead of allowing our imaginations like others to roam after idle and frivolous fancies, all other things will be bestowed upon us in due season." (John Calvin's Commentary on the Psalms)

In two days, I would have been due with the baby we lost in March. September 30th has been looming large in my mind for months, and I've hoped that I would be pregnant again by now to lessen the sting of this day. It's never taken long for us to get pregnant with any of our four pregnancies, but for whatever reason, this time it's taking longer. Perhaps another pregnancy isn't what he has for us. Maybe it's adoption. Maybe it's just waiting a while longer. But I have to tell you, I believe more than ever in a vigilant God who never slumbers nor sleeps. An omniscient God who is intimately aware of the comings and goings of my life. A gracious Father God who knows the desires of his daughter's heart and loves to lavishly bestow them. He knows we desire another baby, and we trust that in time, he may fulfill that desire. In the meantime, we pray for grace to trust him more.

Preschooling at home.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Homeschooling is one of the three things I said I'd never do. But here we are. The almost four-year-old in my house is a bona fide preschooler (how?!) and is itching to read. We've always read dozens of books each day together, but now, he's starting to sound out words on his own. It's incredible to watch his little mind stretch and grow.

He and Lanie spend two mornings a week at a Bible study that's structured like preschool. Between that, church activities, and play dates with friends, they have plenty of social interaction throughout the week. But I've found that on their days home, I crave a little more structure with Liam. Because each of our days is so different (my work schedule changes from week to week), it's been nice to be intentional about school time - which really just feels like quality time. 

Through a friend's recommendation, we landed on The Peaceful Preschool curriculum and it's been a perfect fit for us. Liam looks forward to the mix of literature, projects, art, and memorization. I highly recommend it. It's even giving me the itch to consider homeschooling Liam for kindergarten, depending on our school options when that time comes. But don't tell 12-year-old Whitney I told you so... she wouldn't exactly know what to do.

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