Wreath Painting Tutorial Supplies

Friday, December 11, 2020

Today, I'll be showing you how to paint a simple watercolor Christmas wreath on my Instagram account, @brighterdaypress. If you miss the LIVE painting, go to my highlighted stories so you can watch and follow along later. 

Below you'll find the supplies I'm using so that you can purchase for yourself. I've included Amazon links to the exact items, but you can almost certainly find better prices at your local art store.

Paper: Arches Cold Press 9x12 Paper Pad

Brush: Silver Black Velvet Watercolor Brush, Size 6

Watercolors: Perylene Green, Burnt Umber, Alizarin Crimson

Happy painting!

A tool for understanding God's Word.

Monday, November 2, 2020

"The Scriptures are shallow enough for a babe to come and drink without fear of drowning and deep enough for theologians to swim in without ever touching the bottom." - St. Jerome

The enemy would love for moms to believe the lie that they are ill-equipped to teach their children the Word of God. That they should leave such a weighty task to the trained professionals, like pastors or Sunday school teachers. 

But that's not what God says. 

As believers who are armed with the Holy Spirit (our Helper) and God's living and active Word, we are equipped to understand and to tell others the great news of the gospel (2 Peter 1:3)!

If you're new to reading the Bible with your kids, here are a few questions to help guide you as you read. I didn't make these up - there are lots of different versions of these - but this set of four questions is my favorite for getting to the heart of the matter. 

After you read, ask: 
1. What does this passage tell me about God? What does it say about who He is and what He has done?

2. What does this passage teach me about human beings (or myself)? What are we meant to be and what has gone wrong?

3. How does this passage point me to Jesus? How do I see the need for and the coming of a Savior?

4. How should I respond?

Whether you're reading a Psalm, an Old Testament prophecy, or a New Testament account of Christ's birth, these questions are so enlightening!

If you're interested in downloading and printing this free bookmark, just visit my shop

Our favorite Christmas picture books!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Reading Christmas picture books is one of the very sweetest parts of the Advent season in our family! I like to buy a few new Christmas books and pull out our older ones and wrap each one. Each morning in December, our children open a Christmas book to read as a family. This list includes books beloved by our family that are reverent, joy-filled, and inspiring. Use this list as a guide to fill your library with beautiful Christmas books! We recommend BetterWorldBooks.com for great prices on gently used books. (These links are Amazon affiliate links... if you use them to purchase, I'll get a small commission without added cost to you. Thanks!)

The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau*

Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck

Night Tree by Eve Bunting

This Is the Stable by Cynthia Cotten

The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden & Barbara Cooney*

Humphrey's First Christmas by Carol Heyer

A Baby Born in Bethlehem by Martha Whitmore Hickman

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston*

Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story by Sally Lloyd-Jones

The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado

An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco*

The Story of Christmas illustrated by Jane Ray

The Carpenter's Gift by David Rubel*

Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story by Cynthia Rylant*

Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares

Room for a Little One: A Christmas Tale by Martin Waddell

Christmas in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski 

*Books denoted with an asterisk are longer and may require more than one sitting to complete.

Children's Bibles.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Let's talk about children's Bibles. There is such a myriad of choices that I hope it will be helpful to share some of our family's favorites for different age groups. 

Differentiating between "The Bible" and "Children's Bible Storybooks"

First, I know some parents are hesitant to use children's Bibles because it "dumbs down" the stories. But I still believe there's a place for children's Bibles, and I believe we can differentiate between calling these children's Bible storybooks "the Bible." They are two different things. My children have no trouble understanding that these books tell the stories of the Bible, but that we spend time reading and memorizing the "real" Bible as well. 

The important thing is that you're exposing your children to God's Word. Children's Bible storybooks - especially those that are beautifully written and illustrated - have the ability to awaken a child's imagination and understanding about Jesus. They are able to give a zoomed out version of the story so it's easier to understand when reading or listening from an adult translation of the Bible. By reading about the work of Jesus on our behalf in a Bible or a children's Bible storybook, you are following the commands of Deuteronomy 6:4-9: storing up God's Word in your hearts, impressing them upon your children, and talking about them throughout your days. 

Our Favorite Children's Bible Storybooks

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones: ages 4 and up

Soon after The Jesus Storybook Bible was published in 2007, I read a copy as a newly married Bible college graduate and it opened my eyes to Biblical theology in a way I'd never seen. The way this storybook Bible connects the dots and points to Jesus throughout the Old Testament is breathtaking. It was such a gift, then, to read this to each of our children until we wore out copy after copy. I can't tell you how many of these we've given as baby shower gifts - partly for the child, but mostly for the parent. If you don't have a copy - no matter how old your children are - buy one. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes by Kenneth N. Taylor: ages 4 to 7

I actually purchased this for 30 cents at a thrift store and fell in love. I have the original edition, published in 1956, and the illustrations are exquisite. There's also a newer edition. This is a perfect Bible for our younger children (currently ages 3 and 5) who really enjoy the short stories and the questions at the end. It's straightforward but helpful. It also tackles the more obscure stories that the average children's Bible might stay away from.

The Tiny Truths Illustrated Bible by Joanna Rivard & Tim Penner: ages 4 to 8

I originally purchased this Bible because of its representation of diversity. Jesus was not white, and unfortunately is portrayed as white in many children's Bibles. This Bible shows darker skin tones across the board, which I appreciate. This includes 33 stories from the Old and New Testaments in clear language for kids. This is not the first children's Bible I would recommend as the stories are not as comprehensive as I wish they were and do not seem to explain theological concepts as much as other storybooks mentioned. But I still think it's a valuable resource to have in your library.

The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung, illustrated by Don Clark: ages 9 to 12

This is definitely more along the lines of a storybook than a Bible, but it's beautifully illustrated and helpful to read with older children in one or two sittings to see the Bible as grand narrative (which is so important!). I do believe it's a little vague for younger children. For example, Jesus is called "The Snake Crusher" throughout the book until page 114 when he is finally called Jesus. That was confusing for my children at first, so I definitely don't think this should replace anything in your library... but would make a good addition. There's also an animated short film by Crossway that accompanies this Bible that you can view for free here.

The Gospel Story Bible by Marty Machowski: ages 8 to 12

This is the children's Bible I chose to use with my Morning Time plans. We use it much like a commentary. It summarizes the stories then sheds light on the gospel application. It also contains the Bible references at the top of each story, so you can read the stories from the Bible before reading in this book. Many mornings, we'll read from the real Bible, then just read the last paragraph or two from The Gospel Story Bible as it helps us process what we just read. It also has optional comprehension questions at the end of each story. This is a wonderful option for elementary ages.

As you can see, there is no perfect children's story Bible. All have something beautiful and rich to offer, but none are the infallible Word of God.

Our Favorite Children's Bibles

This is an actual Bible in the CSB version with illustrations and other features added to enhance children's understanding. This is the Bible we've purchased for our two oldest children when they first began reading. It includes easy-to-understand introductions for each book of the Bible, full-color maps, memory verse suggestions, and the "Christ Connection" feature that shows how Bible stories point to Christ. I really love how this is the unabridged Bible, and also keeps my children engaged.

The ESV Children's Bible by Crossway: ages 8 to 12

Similar to the previous Bible I mentioned, this is a complete Bible (ESV version) that contains added features: full-color illustrations, child-friendly maps, a dictionary, and Old and New Testament timelines. I believe the ESV is a little more difficult to understand than the CSB, but my son has this Bible and enjoys bringing it to church to be able to follow along with the sermon.

Bible Storybooks We Didn't Love

The Beginner's Bible - While readable by very early readers (there are only a few words on each page), the cheesy illustrations and dumbed down storylines were enough to choose something else.

Egermeier's Bible Story Book - This is a popular choice among homeschoolers, but one we really struggled through our first year of homeschooling. It wasn't all that different from reading directly from the Bible as it is very comprehensive, but I could feel my children losing interest quickly and knew we needed to shelve it for a later time.

A Note about Charlotte Mason

Finally, a note to the Charlotte Mason homeschoolers who may be reading this. Many adherents to Charlotte Mason's philosophy do not buy into the idea of a children's Bible, since Charlotte Mason herself said it was important to expose children to the beautiful language of the King James Version of the Bible from an early age. 

However, as I dug a little deeper, I found that Charlotte Mason also wrote about the impediment that archaic language can be to young children. This quote from Volume 2 is lengthy, but worth the read: 

"But the little English child is thrust out in the cold by an archaic mode of address, reverent in the ears of us older people, but forbidding, we may be sure, to the child. Then, for the Lord's Prayer, what a boon would be a truly reverent translation of it into the English of to-day! To us, who have learned to spell it out, the present form is dear, almost sacred; but we must not forget that it is after all only a translation, and is, perhaps, the most archaic piece of English in modern use: 'which art,' commonly rendered 'chart,' means nothing for a child. 'Hallowed' is the speech of a strange tongue to him - not much more to us; 'trespasses' is a semi-legal term, never likely to come into his every-day talk; and no explanation will make 'Thy' have the same force for him as 'your.' To make a child utter his prayers in a strange speech is to put up a barrier between him and his 'Almighty Lover.' Again, might we not venture to teach our children to say 'Dear God'? A parent, surely, can believe that no austerely reverential style can be so sweet in the Divine Father's ears as the appeal to 'dear God' for sympathy in joy and help in trouble, which flows naturally from the little child who is 'used to God.' Let children grow up aware of the constant, immediate, joy-giving, joy-taking Presence in the midst of them, and you may laugh at all assaults of 'infidelity,' which is foolishness to him who knows his God as - only far better than - he knows his father or mother, wife or child" (Vol. 2, pp. 56, 57). 
Wow. Those words speak so loudly. For me, it's hard to imagine that our only exposure to the Bible in the KJV would develop a deep love for God's Word in our children - though that is what some ardent followers of Charlotte Mason espouse. I want to present to my children the living, breathing, relevant, powerful Word of God in words that can be readily understood.

That said, I am not making the jump that Charlotte Mason would have loved children's Bibles. But I do think this gives us the freedom as Charlotte Mason educators to employ a translation that makes sense for our families. That may not be KJV. In our home, we read regularly from the NIV or the ESV and memorize from both. The NIV tends to be easier to understand, but the ESV is what our church uses. Then usually before bedtime, we'll read a story or two from a children's Bible storybook.

What version of the Bible do you read with your children? What children's Bible is your favorite? 

Not consumed.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

"But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; 
great is your faithfulness.
"The Lord is my portion," says my soul,
"therefore I will hope in him." 
- Lamentations 3:21-24, ESV

I don't know one person (not me, not you) that hasn't been deeply affected by the pandemic. Some of you have lost jobs, loved ones, hope. All of us have lost any sense of normalcy. Over the weekend I found myself grieving little losses: a July 4th spent alone, a first real haircut for Lanie who had to wear a mask the entire time, a sparsely attended church service.

If anyone had reason to grieve, it was the writer of Lamentations. The wicked King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had laid siege to Jerusalem during this time (586 BC). No one inside the city walls could escape, and no food or supplies could make it in. The people trapped inside Jerusalem endured appalling conditions and the majority died - or if they lived through 30 months of this - were either massacred or taken captive by Babylonian soldiers when they finally broke through the wall. The atrocities outlined in the book of Lamentations make the pandemic feel like vacation. 

AND YET, the writer of Lamentations finds hope. Where? He writes, "Because of the Lord's great love, we are not consumed" (NIV). The Hebrew word for this type of love is hesed. It is a deeply committed love, a covenant love. It is not a "give and take" kind of love, but a "give and give and give" kind that can only find its source in God's unchanging character. 

We are not consumed, dear friends. Not in this pandemic. Not in this hostile political climate where it's hard to find what is true. Not even if we are staring death in the face. Because of the Lord's hesed love toward us, let us not grieve as those without hope (1 Thess. 4:13). Let us remember that God is rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4), and his mercies are new every morning.

New: Morning Time Plans.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Over the past couple months, I've been spending every free moment I have on this project: 

This is a 36-week curriculum plan and each day is scheduled in an open-and-go format so you can feast on the Word of God and the finest of literature, music, and art alongside your children. These take 30 minutes (without the read-aloud portion) to an hour a day and can be done as an entire family.

This idea was born out of a gap I noticed in homeschooling curricula. While there might be a short Bible reading to begin the day, it had no connecting point with anything else we were learning. I wanted more out of our mornings: to dive deeper into God's Word and the rich truths of our faith, incorporating a Charlotte Mason-style approach of a "feast" of all things good, true, and beautiful. 

I'd love for you to visit Brighter Day Press to download the plans or try the first week for free!

The day we all came home.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Two of our children are too young to remember this pandemic, or what life was like before. I wrote this for them. 

Spring had arrived. Crocuses and daffodils had burst through their winter cocoons and the smell of fresh-cut grass wafted through the air. School children gazed out the window, dreaming of summer and popsicles and freedom. The world was spinning faster than it ever had. Families began their days in a tizzy and hurried out the door, running separate ways to their jobs and schools and errands and lives. 

And then one day, news came from the east. Startling news of a battle being waged against cells and viruses. At first, we heard about a few people we'd never meet suffering from a disease we thought we'd never know. But the next day, more news. The disease was spreading, spreading, spreading like a wisteria vine, faster and further than we thought possible. 

First China, then Italy.
First them, then us.

When it reached our shores, we closed our doors, hoping that by staying inside the disease would pass us by. Tucked inside our homes, we watched the television with wide eyes and small hearts. Soon enough, more doors closed: those of schools and businesses, tournaments and graduations. 

But then one day, we turned our televisions off. We walked outside and breathed in the honeysuckle air. We took time to notice the little things because now, we had the time: the way the ducklings crossed the sidewalk, the smell of a baby's head just after waking. Families dusted off board games. Neighbors stepped into their driveways, sharing toilet paper and bags of food. Restaurants might have been empty, but dinner tables were full. Teachers still showed up to work, but this time it looked different. Birthdays were joyously celebrated with air hugs and balloons and parades. We formed choirs and attended church together, defying the reality of apart. We saluted first responders as the heroes they truly are. We felt heavy for the suffering of the world, and yet we felt light. Even our planet breathed easier. Less pollution, less noise.

The day we all came home, something in us changed forever. We were 6 feet apart, but miraculously, we were closer than we'd ever been.

DIY with kids: Collage beetles!

Friday, April 24, 2020

Today, we're joining up with KidLab's "Beetle Week" to share a DIY project that's perfect for kids of all ages as we head into summer. We're creating beetles in the whimsical collage style of Eric Carle. This is a project that could stretch over a few days as you wait for paint and glue to dry, but only requires short bursts of concentration for younger children. And it yields SUCH fun results! We're basing our designs on Eric Carle's book, The Very Clumsy Click Beetle

Liam's first grade year & A Gentle Feast review.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

This past year of homeschool has been *quite* the adventure! Moving across the country (and spending over a month in the process) threw us a curveball, but I'm more grateful than ever to be homeschooling. Instead of it feeling like a major disruption, we were able to plod along and keep making progress as we homeschooled on the road and in our new Texas home. What a gift! 

I wanted to write an update to review our curriculum choices from last year before posting about what we'll be doing for next year. 

You can find all our 1st grade curriculum choices here.

We have truly enjoyed A Gentle Feast. Julie Ross has done a phenomenal job boiling down the best parts of Charlotte Mason's philosophy into a curriculum and presenting it in an easy-to-digest format. We have especially loved the history book choices, the hymns, and the read-alouds. If you're brand new to Charlotte Mason-style learning, this is a perfect first step. A Gentle Feast guides you along with clarity and intention.

If there have been any cons for us, it's been a few of the book choices. Some are simply so "classic" (literally reprints from the 1800s) that they've been hard for us to connect with. For example, The Burgess Animal Book and The Little Flower Book - used for natural history - have been two of them. I definitely see the reason for her choices as they are consistent with Charlotte Mason ideals. But when I gave Liam the option of putting them down and using something else for natural history, he was more than eager to put them aside. If you've followed Ambleside Online, I'm sure you have encountered this style of book as the lists are very similar. I'm just finding that while we can stretch our tastes in some areas to include classic selections, Liam and Lanie do prefer a few things to be more up to date, colorful, and engaging than these classic texts.

One thing I really loved by A Gentle Feast was this book: Cycle 1 Language Arts. It includes copywork, dictation, grammar, spelling, free drawing - basically all aspects of what you would consider language arts - and was the perfect level for our first grader. I recommend it, even if you aren't using the entire curriculum.

If you're on the fence about using A Gentle Feast, my best recommendation is to choose which cycle you're interested in and download the booklist. It's $5 well spent to get a feel for which books you'll be using and if you think they'll be a good fit for your family.

Perhaps you're similar, but the longer we homeschool, the more I find it's hard to put Liam firmly in "a grade" that makes sense for him. He is right at grade level in some areas and above grade level in others, so I want to custom fit his education for how he will learn best. Overall, I think I'm needing a little more leeway to make my own choices for next year instead of an "open and go" curriculum, even though I did love many aspects of A Gentle Feast.

Next year (which will begin as soon as June if we're still in quarantine!), Liam will be in 2nd grade and Lanie will be in Kindergarten. Charlotte Mason does not encourage formal schooling for Kindergarten age, but Lanie is chomping at the bit to get started and is so eager to read, so we will do a little with her. I'm also blending some Classical education elements as I'm finding that's another philosophy I lean toward. More on that later. :)

Reading aloud has quickly become our favorite part of homeschool - and our favorite part of most days. Here are a few favorite books we've read aloud this year (among dozens!):
Poppy by Avi
The Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo (loved by the whole family!)
The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

Currently, Liam's favorite series to read on his own are:
Imagination Station by Adventures in Odyssey
The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls by M. J. Thomas
Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne (which he is now reading to Lanie during rest time each day)

I hope that helps! Please let me know if you have specific questions in the comments section, or by emailing me at whitney@elmstreetlife. I'm more than happy to help if I can! I'll be sharing our curriculum choices for next year in the coming days.

A story of reading.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Would you believe it if I told you that toddler Liam wanted very little to do with books? (Pictures can be deceiving. ;))

I was a new mom, and I'd ordered all the board books with the best reviews on Amazon. But as soon as I'd sit down to read with Liam, he'd be way more interested in the nearest electrical outlet or scrounging through the diaper bag for a snack. He loved throwing books, tearing out the pages of my Bible, running away from me squealing, or just about anything except sitting down to read. It felt like a losing battle. But for some reason, I stubbornly kept reading.

I read Giraffes Can't Dance until every word was memorized. Even today, the words just dance on my lips and tumble out in rhythm.

Little Blue Truck
Big Red Barn
The Bear Snores On

Sometimes I read all alone in his room after he'd flashed a mischievous smile and run away, hoping someday he would understand how truly delightful reading could be and would want to stay.

In my shortsighted anxiety as a new mom, I wondered if he'd ever want to read with me... if he'd ever sit still long enough to finish a board book, let alone something longer. I waited patiently for the day that he would and just kept reading, reading, reading.

You probably know that Liam's boycott of books didn't last. He learned to read just before kindergarten and hasn't looked back.

These days, I set him loose in a library (with his very own library card, of course) and he's a bloodhound, sniffing out a trail to his favorite series. He laps up chapter books like water, drinking them in two a day. He sits spellbound for hours, traversing great distances and decades with his favorite characters-turned-friends. Liam's goal this year is to finish 200 chapter books and I think he'll be there by summer.

Reading has strengthened our family bonds more than I imagined it could. The two of us keep a weekly book date where we sip decaf lattes and discuss his latest reads. It's honey to both of our hearts, we kindred story-lovers.

Sometimes, I catch a glimpse of the dimpled toddler face that's since thinned out and can hardly believe it's the same kid. The one who ran away when I pulled out a book just a handful of years ago.

So mama, if you're there right now, don't give up. Don't you dare shelve those great stories in defeat. Keep reading, even if your toddler wants nothing to do with it. Read aloud. Read often. Keep making trips to the library and filling up your basket. Be patient for the day things change, because when it arrives, it will be magical.

... that I shall have no regrets.

Monday, January 20, 2020

For months I've had so much to say, so much to work through in writing, and so little physical and mental capacity with which to do it. Our lives have been flipped upside down by a cross country move during an already challenging season with four little ones. Beckham is undoubtedly our most unpredictable sleeper (though our easiest baby otherwise!) and waking to his cries at all hours of the night has required me to strip away anything that is not absolutely necessary. 

But even so, it's easy to look around and wonder if I'm doing enough. 

Our culture, as presented on social media, screams that women can have it all. We can be devoted and ever-present mothers, we can run our own thriving businesses, we can show up on Instagram in full hair and makeup and share deep inspirational thoughts. It's exhausting and, frankly, it's a lie. While the culture screams that I should be doing more and more and also taking time for me instead of sacrificially pouring it out for others, the Bible says quite the opposite. It's in the serving, in the lowest places, that we meet Christ most intimately. Each of us is called to worship God and love our neighbor in whatever context we find ourselves. In this season as a mom of little people, these children are my closest neighbors. Bending low to serve them is a constant practice in humility, self-sacrifice, patience. But it's also a calling. Not a constant interruption, but exactly where God has me.

Beckham's birth story.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

When you're the fourth child, you do get your birth story written out. It just comes nearly 9 months after the fact. ;) Nonetheless, we are so grateful Beckham Wells is here and is part of our family. He is a gentle, peaceful, joyful little boy whose near-constant smile lights up a room. I have a feeling he may be a little extrovert: he loves when you smile and talk to him, possibly more than any of our other babies.

On the morning of April 18, I woke up feeling crummy and crampy. I'd been experiencing prodromal labor for the past several nights, but this felt different. About halfway through the day, I was struggling to keep up with the kids and asked Shawn if there was any way he could work from home in the afternoon to give some relief. It wasn't a request I'd made during this pregnancy, so I probably should have realized that something had changed.

By the time he got home, cramping had progressed to contractions. I decided to take a quick walk down our street to see if they would ramp up or ease off. Just one block away, the contractions intensified and I felt in my gut that "this is it." We grabbed our hospital bag, asked our neighbor across the street to watch the kids until Shawn's mom could arrive, and jetted out the door.

On our way to the hospital, I started having doubts. What if this was just more prodromal labor and they'd send me home. I had just hit 38 weeks, so I knew that probably wouldn't happen. But I texted my favorite doctor anyway. Graciously, he offered to do a labor check in the office, so we headed there instead. I was 3-4 centimeters dilated and the contractions were every 4 minutes, so he strongly advised we head to the hospital. This time around, I needed 4 hours' worth of antibiotics before the baby was born due to group B strep. Because my last two labors weren't even 4 hours long from start to finish, we were worried that I wouldn't have time for any antibiotics. It wouldn't be dangerous for me, but could pose a threat to the baby, which made us nervous.

So we headed to the hospital, still timing contractions at 4 minutes apart. We were admitted straight into a labor and delivery room, got my IV antibiotics started, and walked around the unit for a bit. As soon as the antibiotics finished 4 hours later, my contractions had slowed to a stop. I felt a bit worried that I'd be pressured into a string of interventions (starting with Pitocin) and didn't want to go down that road. But also, we were so ready to meet our baby. Thankfully, our doctor didn't seem to be worried or rushed in the least.

So by about 11pm that night, it was decided that the doctor would break my water to get contractions going again and have this baby. This was already turning out so vastly different than my lightning speed labors in the past, but we felt peaceful, knowing prayers were being answered that I would have time for the antibiotics to keep the baby safe. Around 11pm, the epidural was administered and my bag of waters was broken. Little did we know, I wouldn't start contracting again for nearly three hours. I also had no clue (thankfully!) that the epidural wouldn't kick in at all where it needed to work.

Around 2am, contractions finally started again. I was still 4cm dilated, but the contractions were intense and frequent. By 2:15am, the nurse checked me again and I was 6cm dilated and 100% effaced. Progress! The contractions began to be painful for the first time, and I realized I was feeling everything on my right side. I let the nurse know and she had me turn onto my right side to let gravity pull the medicine toward that side. But it wasn't working. At all. She tested me with ice in various places and it felt just as cold as if she'd put it on my arm. On the outside of my left hip, I felt numbness - but I could feel everything else. The anesthesiologist returned to readjust the epidural -- and possibly re-do it completely -- but by this time, the contractions had ramped up to every 1-2 minutes and I didn't think I could endure the procedure to replace the epidural. I knew that the end was near and just wanted to make it there.

During all of this, Shawn was resting on the other side of the room and I was facing away from him, still lying on my right side and holding out hope that the epidural would eventually move by gravity. By God's grace, I was mentally focused in a way I'd never experienced. With Lanie's natural birth -- which occurred in triage just half an hour after arriving at the hospital -- I felt completely out of control. I was out of control, screaming and writhing in pain with each contraction until she burst out in just a few pushes. This time, I was able to accept the pain, visualizing that Beckham and I were working together to move him down and out into the world. The thought occurred like a wisp, "I can't do this anymore" as the pain intensified and I moved into the transition phase. Then I recalled that the fact that I was even thinking this must mean the end is near. During this time, as Shawn rested, I was so focused that I hardly moved. With my left leg now completely numb, I didn't have much of a choice. I was resolved to stay under control. I whispered prayers in the dark. "Lord, be near," was about all I could muster. Shawn thought I was sleeping.

By around 2:45am, contractions were 1 minute apart and as our experienced nurse, Kim, watched the change in my breathing, she called for the delivery cart. I heard her whisper to another nurse, "I don't trust her. This is going to be quick." Just a couple minutes later, I felt the pressure of Beckham's head and couldn't help but push, so I told her I was ready. She paged the doctor and said, "I need you right now." The nursery team and doctor rushed in, lights flipped on, I was moved into pushing position and told I could push with the next contraction. I was so intensely focused on what I had to do next that everyone's conversation in the room was a fog, like I was underwater and hearing garbled noises from above the surface. The doctor touched me with a cold metal instrument and asked if I could feel it. I could feel every bit, but I said, "No," to which he replied, "Well that's important." I think I just didn't want to admit - even to myself - that I was feeling it all.

Within a couple pushes, Beckham's head and shoulders were out and I gave one more small push to birth the rest of his body. He gave a good strong cry, was placed immediately on my chest, and I've never felt such relief in my life. "Hi, Beckham," said the doctor. The first words he heard.

The fog I'd been in cleared and I heard the conversation buzzing in the room.

He's here.
He's perfect.
He has the longest fingers and toes!
He looks just like our other babies.
Sweet, beautiful Beckham.

We spent the next two hours in the dimly lit labor and delivery room, just soaking him up. He nursed immediately for over an hour. The nursery nurse came in to assess him head-to-toe and found a tongue tie (familiar to us as Liam and Lanie also had them) but everything else checked out perfectly. We were then transferred to our postpartum room around 5am. Exhausted, overjoyed, experiencing such peace.

I had struggled deeply with anxiety throughout my pregnancy about just how labor and delivery would go. God answered every single feeble prayer. Mostly, he kept me in perfect peace, even when things didn't go as planned. Had I known the epidural wasn't going to work, I wouldn't have been calm entering labor. But by God's grace and with his strength, even though in immense pain, I felt no fear. The nurse God appointed was direct, honest, caring. Exactly who I needed to reassure me that everything was going beautifully, despite how it felt. The doctor remained calm, encouraging, personable. Shawn was a rock, knowing me well enough to know when to talk or turn on music and when to just be silent. He had reminded me in days before this is the last time you'll do this, which was a comfort.

We're nearly 9 months in now, and we can easily say Beckham was our easiest newborn. His big brothers and sister adore him, still leaping out of bed each day so they can hold him first thing in the morning. I don't know that we pictured ourselves as a family of 6, but we couldn't be more grateful that that's what God had planned for us. It's impossible now to picture our family without Beck.

Grace upon grace upon grace. Thank you, Jesus!
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