Today is my due date, but my arms are empty

We suffered a miscarriage over the summer. It was awful and painful and so very sad.  My husband and I mourned together, and then kept on going, because that’s what you do. God has given us tremendous grace and peace over the past few months.

We got tattoos to remember our baby. I think about him (or her) every single day. We hit what would have been the halfway point, and I thought about what my growing belly would have looked like. We would have had a gender reveal party, and I know little Wrenn would have been so excited about being a big sister. We would have prepared a nursery, and fretted over how Wrenn would adjust to a new baby. We would have planned ahead – I would have planned to be out on maternity leave and away from work, we would have cleared our schedules for the spring as we soaked up the wonderfulness and pure craziness of those first few weeks with a newborn in the house.

Our sweet Truett Lennon would have been due today, March 12. March should have been a month of celebration – of holding our new child and inhaling that sweet baby smell. We would be exhausted from lack of sleep and round-the-clock nursings and sitting around all day staring at our tiny wrinkled darling.

But he’s not here. My arms are empty. Our schedule hasn’t been cleared. We aren’t making adjustments and Wrenn isn’t a big sister. Instead, I’m left with a hope that I will one day see my precious child in heaven. Until then, I will grieve and thank  God for the comfort he provides me every day. Including today.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pens and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.” Habakuk 3:17-19

Free Prints: Blessing people is just FUN

When I chose to shut down my shop last year, it was to give myself more freedom – more breathing room – to experiment creatively. To just… create. And I have had such a fun time.

But I still have a few passion projects that I love to support, which is why when a friend told me that she was hosting an IF:Gathering session at her house last weekend and that she needed some scripture prints for her guests, I jumped at the opportunity to bless them.

Texas Lovely .. Grace upon grace Blessing people is just FUN.

Not to mention I love anything that has to do with ministering to women, empowering them to be better moms and wives and friends and Jesus followers through the truth of scripture. And I love any excuse to fill your home to the brim with people who need love and safety and good old-fashioned hospitality.

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And so, I wanted to bless YOU too, my dear readers. Each gal at my friend’s event received a 5×7 print of both scriptures, and I want you to have them too! Just click here and here to download them, and feel free to share. My only request is that you DON’T sell them or mass-distribute them, and that if you repost them on your blog or Facebook account (which I would LOVE, by the way) that you give me credit and link back to my website. Deal? Deal.

XOXO, Bethe

5 Tips for hosting a dinner party that won’t make you lose your mind

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A few people have told me we’re crazy for wanting to host 200 people in our home this year. Yes, we’re definitely crazy. But hosting people in your home doesn’t have to be stressful or even a very big deal, and it’s the easiest way to make someone feel loved and welcomed and cared for. And who knows, you might even get a few belly laughs in during dinner, if you’re lucky.

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Focus more on creating a welcoming atmosphere than a Pinterest-perfect home.

When hosting people in your home, THINGS DO NOT HAVE TO BE PERFECT. I’ll repeat: THINGS DO NOT HAVE TO BE PERFECT. I have been “about to get” curtains for our living room for 2.5 years now. Nobody cares. Our breakfast nook has been converted to a playroom, so my beloved table/dishes on display have been replaced by a plastic kitchen and 82 tutus in a dress-up bin. Nobody cares. There are no winter flowers in my front flower bed. Nobody cares.

Don’t wait for your house to be perfect to invite people over. Screw Forget Pinterest. Just be you – it’s going to put your guests at ease. Trust me.

Keep the food simple.

Mr. Right is practically a chef, and we used to make the most elaborate dinners for people, but it also meant we were both running around like crazy people prepping the meal, timing everything right, and making sure everything was perfect. Even grilling was a huge pain, because Mr. Right was stuck outside, away from our guests, while he cooked. It didn’t leave a lot of time for actually hanging out with our guests.

Between you and me, it was also a little stressful. And expensive. And it might have caused an argument or two (who us? never!).

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About a year ago we decided to stick with simple meals – most of the time – like soup and chili during the winter and cheese/meat trays during the summer. Mr. Right salvaged and then stained a giant serving platter (it’s gorgeous) that is perfect for our summer smorgasbord, and he usually garnishes our soups with fresh herbs from our garden and serves it with homemade garlic bread. Don’t worry about impressing your guests with fancy food – serve something that will allow YOU to enjoy the evening as well.

Divide and conquer, and don’t forget to crank down your air conditioner.

Mr. Right and I have been doing this so long that we have hosting down to a science. Here’s how it works: Mr. Right picks up the groceries (bless him) and prepares the food. I set the table, make sure the house is picked up, wash dishes while he cooks, and act as his sous chef if he needs any help. Dinner parties are less stressful because we know who’s going to do what, and we both do tasks that play to our strengths. An hour before our guests arrive, we just kind of fall into line, both working to get everything ready.

Oh, and it may just be us, but whenever we have people over, all those people make our house seem warmer. So, about two hours before your guests arrive, crank down the air conditioner or open your windows and cool down your house. Trust me.

Find a simple way to spoil your guests.

Even though I have freed myself from the bondage of Pinterest, I do love to spoil people and let them know that we are honored to have them in our home. For me, it means always putting out cloth napkins and pretty placemats on our table. We don’t do fancy dishes, and we drink out of mason jars, but my table still looks pretty and “special” when my guests sit down.

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Another way I make things special is by putting out jars of cold water on the table so our guests don’t have to get up for a refill. It’s a trick I learned from my favorite restaurants, and is a tiny way for me to show my guests that I put some thought into their visit.

If we’ve got flowers or herbs growing in our garden, I’ll throw some in a bud vase and stick them on the table (no tall flowers that could obstruct your view and conversation), but if not, I don’t stress about it. We also turn on music before our guests arrive so that the moment they walk in the door, things feel homey.

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Just start.

The first step to hosting 200 people in your home is to invite someone over for dinner. And then another, and another. We’ve had 14 people over (including one weekend guest) in January, and would have had four more if our kiddo hadn’t gotten sick for a few days. None of the dinners have been fancy, or elaborate, but all have been so. much. fun.

Just give it a try – make your first invite – and see how much fun you can have. In fact, you can start by inviting me over for dinner… (hint, hint).

Why we quit teaching ESL

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Mr. Right and I started teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) just a few months after we got married. We thought God was preparing us to go to the mission field and this was a way to get some extra training. To serve together. To do something we were both passionate about.

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And as most of my friends know, it became a great love story between us and our ESL students. Five fabulous years of friendships, of meeting students from all around the world. We taught people from Mexico to North Korea, from women who had come from huts in Africa with no schooling, to doctors and lawyers with advanced degrees that were worthless in the United States. I always took the beginners – my favorites – and with each student, my worldview grew a little bigger.

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During the Ebola outbreak, we had a student from Liberia, and had to have serious discussions about what it might mean if we were ever to be exposed. We decided it was more important for us to be welcoming and trusting  and LOVING to that student than to fixate on the risk. We wanted to be her safe place.

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During the Arab Spring, we had students from so many of the countries on the news. Egypt. Syria. We taught folks from Iran and Iraq. We had a Palestinian student who was thrown out of his home by a Jew. We had students who had experienced harrowing escapes, who had lived in refugee camps, who had been separated from their spouse for a decade, or who were still waiting for their children to gain access to America. We taught Christians and Muslims and Hindus and people of religions I had never heard before. I adored them all.

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We saw it all, and we loved them all. We saw students go to college, get jobs, gain the confidence to speak English in front of others. We dined in our students’ homes and hosted them in ours. We had students get baptized – we saw whole families get baptized. It was amazing, y’all. And for five years, it was exactly where God wanted us. We were in love. We were fulfilled.

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But ministry – as in life – happens in seasons, and we sensed that God was calling us to a new season. Mr. Right started teaching in our Sunday School class, and we started finding ourselves saying “no” to many things we wanted to say “yes” to, because we didn’t have the bandwidth to do everything. We can’t do everything – and we should never try to do everything. We have learned through experience that we can only be “all in” on one thing at a time.

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About a year ago, God brought us an amazing couple to serve, and we began to sense that He was working out a transition for us. That our beloved ministry would be safe with these new people who loved our students just as much as we did, who loved our teachers just as much as we did. Who had fresh ideas and passion. We, on the other hand, were growing tired, and feeling a longing to do something else. To take a break. To love people in a different way. Five years is a long time when you count it as about 40 Wednesday nights a year – 200 classes total. We taught as newlyweds, then through morning sickness, then through job transitions and raising a toddler. It was time for a break.

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I read The Best Yes and For The Love this year, and both books talked about how saying “yes” to one thing is saying “no” to something else. And that’s what staying with ESL would do for us – it would keep us from what God has planned for us in this next season, and it would keep the people whom God has raised up to lead from having the opportunity to do so. As Jen Hatmaker so eloquently said this week, “If it’s not a hell yes, then it’s probably a no.” Man… Jen Hatmaker and I are soul sisters.

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And so, that’s why we have chosen to take a break from ESL. As I told the pastor at our church who is over that ministry, I wholeheartedly believe I will be back. I just need a break. God has other things for me to do right now, and He has raised up our replacements. It’s the greatest way to leave a ministry – to pass it on to someone else who will love it as much as we do.

{For all of my ESL posts, click here.}

How I broke my foot… like a huge dork

IMG_7026So here’s the grand story of how I broke my foot…

On December 30, I was taking out the trash and stepped off the half-inch step-down between our garage and our driveway, rolled my ankle, and fell straight to the ground. It hurt, but I sort of do things like that all the time, so I figured I’d be fine after the initial shock wore off.

Wrenn saw me gasp in pain as I went down and came running over.

“Mama – do you have a boo boo?”

“Yes, mama has a boo boo.”

And then she reached out, laid a hand on me, closed her little eyes, and prayed, “GOD, HELP MOMMY TO FEEL BETTER!” with as much conviction as I’ve ever seen anybody pray.

And then she opened her eyes and anxiously asked, “Mommy, do you feel better?”

Oh sweet child, I love your spirit. And no, mommy didn’t feel better. But it was still the kindest prayer ever.

As the minutes passed, my foot started to hurt worse. I was pretty sure it was broken – but I’m also no wimp. I was in the midst of my annual “It’s New Year’s so I must organize my whole house” project (it’s a thing, y’all), so after sitting down for 15 minutes, I was back up, organizing every drawer and closet in my house, and prepping for our New Year’s Eve party the next day.

The following day, I cleaned the house, decorated for the party, took Wrenn for her first haircut (bless), went shopping, and then came home and an hour before our guests arrived, I cried to Mr. Right because MY FOOT HURT SO MUCH I COULDN’T STAND IT. But not enough to run to the doctor, because, hello, we had a party to host. Pass me the Advil, please. (I’ll admit – I mostly just wanted some sympathy from Mr. Right.)

I stood on my foot through the entire party, and the next morning (New Year’s Day) was at the urgent care office near my house when it opened getting x-rays. Indeed, I broke my foot (my fifth metatarsal) and will get to wear a fabulous knee-high boot for about six weeks. But I’m also going to live – no surgery. Praise the Lord.

The boot is kind of annoying, but not really a huge deal. After birthing a baby, this broken foot is about a 3.5 on a scale of 1-10. And there’s some perks: I never have to worry about finding matching shoes, or even matching socks… there’s no pressure to wear heels (not that I wore them anyway)… and the boot is a great conversation starter with strangers.

What stupid way have you hurt yourself? I’d love to hear your story in the comments, so I don’t feel like I’m the only one.

My New Year’s Resolutions

I’m such a perfectionist that the past few years, I’ve chosen not to do any New Year’s resolutions, simply because I didn’t need any added pressure. I’m really good at setting goals and then beating myself up if I don’t hit them. I don’t need a calendar to add to it.

But there’s something fresh about this new year – I’m in a place where I have the time and bandwidth to DO. And my heart is hungry, so I have chosen two resolutions – themes, really – for my 2016.

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It’s no secret that Mr. Right and I have a deep love of hosting people in our home. We both did it separately before we met, and it’s one of those wonderful things in common that God knew we needed in a spouse. In early 2015 we were both really rocked by reading Bob Goff’s Love Does (buy it now!), and made a commitment to bringing people into our home just to love on them. We want our home to be a refuge to others, a place of peace, a place without judgment or stress. A place where they can leave the hard things of life at our doorstep and just walk inside and experience LOVE.

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In 2016, our goal is to host 200 people in our home. It sounds like a big number, but it’s really not. I’m pretty sure we hosted 200 people in our home last year, so this is nothing new, but I am so excited to actually track it this year with a guest book, and to be even more intentional about setting aside time in our schedule.

In 2015 we easily had 90 people in our home, simply between a Halloween and New Year’s party. There was another month where we probably hosted 40-50 people at casual dinner parties (we were VERY tired after that month – but happy). We tend to have people over about once a week, so if we have 50 people attend our annual Halloween party (which we usually do), that leaves just 3 people a week. That’s just one dinner a week, which is something we have already prioritized. Add in another party (man, we love parties), and we’ll tip the scales well over 200. It’s totally doable.

And how great, at the end of 2016, to say that 200 people got to experience love in our home? That for a few hours, they got to be spoiled, listened to, fed. What a wonderful way to spend a year.

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This year I took a personality test and my results said that I am in the ninety-fifth percentile for creativity. Not talent, mind you, but creativity. I wake up in the morning with an urge to create, and I go to bed at night dreaming of what I can make the next day. I love it – it’s in my bones. And so for 2016, I want to have a special focus on creating. Particularly, I want to try new things with sewing (and possibly host a sewing retreat – more details to come), practice my calligraphy and hand lettering, and do more writing.

Speaking of writing, Mr. Right has gifted me with a writing retreat in February – three days away at an Air BNB, just me and my computer and hours and hours of uninterrupted writing time. I can’t wait.

In 2016, I want to create simply for the sake of creating. I want to enjoy the creative process, and not be limited by a need to be perfect or even good at something, but to just try. To try and fail and to laugh about it and try again. To not worry about an end product, but to learn something in the process. Speaking of learning, I have enrolled in a website that offers online tutorials in just about everything under the sun. Learning and creating are an inseparable couple.

And in a nutshell, that’s my 2016. Hosting and creating. I know God has some adventures and challenges headed my way, but as I venture out into the unknown, it’s good to have a focus, isn’t it?

15 Toddlers on New Year’s Eve

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When I got Wrenn out of bed on New Year’s Eve morning, I told her that we were going to have a big party at our house that night, and that all of her friends would be coming over to play.

“Will there be cookies? Candy cane cookies? With SPRINKLES ON IT?”

Girlfriend knows that anytime we have a party, there are dozens of unsuspecting people whom she can sweet talk into giving her cookies, sugar, candy, and all the things that I rarely let her have. She’s got the system DOWN.

Happy New Year to her.

We hosted 40 people at our house for a New Year’s Eve party. About 15 of those were under the age of four.

The pre-child version of me would have had a heart attack at the thought of so many littles running loose in her house, throwing her things across the room or hearing the random <<<<CRASH!!!!>>>> and knowing a bucket of something had just fallen off a shelf.

But mama Bethe barely noticed. Every time we heard a crash, all of us parents would pause mid-conversation and wait to see if it would be followed by screams, and when no screams were heard, nobody even looked in the direction of the crash. Because this is our life stage right now. It’s noisy, and messy, and if you don’t embrace it, it will send you straight to the loony bin.

Besides, there was a cheese tray and bacon-wrapped sausage (yes!) to munch on. So why worry?

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It was really a wonderful party, that happened to be over by 9:00 p.m. We celebrated the new year at 7:00, 8:00, and 9:00, so our littles had plenty of opportunities to cheer and revel in the celebration, and then moms and dads got them home and tucked into bed in time to not throw off their precious schedules entirely. (Although, Mr. Right and I stayed up all the way until midnight with another couple, having wonderful adult conversations that didn’t involve any toddlers screaming over us. It was bliss.)

The following morning, my house looked like we had hosted a fraternity party. For toddlers. Glitter, toys, and popcorn were everywhere. We found spare clothing items (all of the toddler variety) scattered throughout the house. Dirty dishes filled our kitchen.

It was so worth it.

One of my New Year’s Resolutions involves hosting a ridiculous amount of people in my home this year (nothing new for us… just want to kick it up a notch), and this was the perfect way to kick it off. Party on, 2016!

Podcasts you should be listening to

I’ll confess – I barely knew what a podcast was before Serial. Mr. Right called me one day and told me I just HAD to download it and listen so he would have someone to talk about it with. And then I had to ask him how to download a podcast. (If you don’t know how… here’s the 411.)

That was a year ago, and since then I have become addicted to podcasts. Like, there’s really no reason you should be listening to the radio. None.

PrintHands down the best podcast:

Serial: Last season was AMAZING. This season seems to be pretty darn great, although it’s still in the early stages. Go binge listen to both of these first, before you check out anything else. Don’t ask questions, just do it. You will thank me, I promise. And then you need to message me or comment with who you think did it. Because I totally know. (start with Season One)

Podcasts about Serial: After you binge listen to Serial, you need to check out these:

Undisclosed: A podcast hosted by three lawyers (I’m such an internet nerd that I was reading all three of their blogs months before they started a podcast), where they examine every single tiny detail about Adnan’s case (Season One). I have learned so much about the legal process. It’s so much better than an episode of Law & Order. (must listen in order)

Crime Writers on Serial: The literature nut in me LOVES this podcast. It’s essentially a book club discussion about each week’s Serial episode. It’s hosted by several real crime authors (I didn’t even realize Real Crime was a genre – think every 20/20 episode you ever watched on a Friday night when you didn’t have a date). They love to discuss the writing, the symbolism, the story arc… it takes me back to all of my English Literature classes I took in undergrad. It’s wonderful.

Truth & Justice: This is a little bit more blue collar and a little cheesy, but still good. If you get hooked on Serial, add this to the list, but listen to it last. (must listen in order)

Slate Serial Spoilers: Yeah… I’m a total nerd. If you’re addicted to Serial, listen to this weekly recap too, although it’s only half as smart as Crime Writers.

Podcasts besides Serial: Yes, there are actually other podcasts that I listen to. Here’s a few:

Stuff You Should Know: Each week they do a deep dive into a different topic. Want to know everything there is to know about ear wax? Or citizen’s arrest? If you love Wikipedia, IMDB, or anything non-fiction, you’ll love this.

The Generation Why Podcast: This is a lot like Stuff You Should Know, but serial killer/mystery edition. It’s got everything you ever wanted to know about Hitler, the Branch Davidians, Ted Bundy… so many interesting topics to choose from.

Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast: Now that you think I’m totally dark and twisted – I promise you, I’m not totally horrible. Andy Stanley has really surprised me – I never thought of him as hip and relevant, but after hearing him speak at a few conferences this year, I’m hooked. He’s got GREAT insight on leadership. Check him out.

Marriage is Funny: I love this light-hearted podcast taped by a real married couple, talking about everyday married topics. As someone who had a HUGE fight her first month of marriage about which side of the kitchen sink the sponge belonged on… I can kind of relate. They’re real and lovely and entertaining. (more fun if you listen in order)

The Diane Rehm Show: She’s the NPR host who does in-depth interviews on various current events, and every Friday she hosts the Friday News Roundup – both a national and international edition. It’s a fantastic way to stay on top of current events and get perspectives from people on all sides of a topic.

Better Call Saul Insider Podcast: When the show comes back on in February, I’ll anxiously be tuning in each week to their behind-the-scenes podcast, hosted by the show’s editor, creator, and various actors/directors. It’s just SO INTERESTING to hear the writing/directing/shooting process. If you’re a Breaking Bad fan, the same folks did a podcast for that too.

If you’ve still go some free time, I also recommend TED Radio Hour, Freakonomics Radio, Radiolab, and Slate’s Amicus with Dahlia Lithwick.

I listen to more, but these are my faves. And I’m always on the hunt for something new. Blog reading friends… what other podcasts do you love that I should be listening to?

Our Plan B Christmas

Croup* stinks. For toddlers, and also for adults. I know this because I’ve had it for 10 days and STILL have a fever, a horrible cough that keeps me up all night, no voice, and a runny nose that not all the Kleenex boxes in all the world could handle.

Merry Christmas to me.

PlanBXmas1Gosh, I sound like such a Scrooge, don’t I? It really wasn’t THAT bad. I managed to take Wrenn on a few outings during my week off, but as the week went on, I felt worse. And worse. And worse. And then on Christmas Eve, I felt like death, and between my germs, Wrenn’s germs (she’s on the tail end of croup – she got a 4-day head start), and a tummy bug that attacked one of my relatives, Christmas Eve with Mr. Right’s family got cancelled.

And then I had to cancel Christmas Day plans with my family, since I didn’t want to expose my two baby nephews to my germs. I’m not sure what made me more sad – missing Christmas with my family, or missing a chance to cuddle my 3-week-old and 6-month-old nephews for a whole day.

It was a total bummer, y’all.

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Since we hadn’t planned to spend Christmas at home, just the three of us, it wasn’t like we had planned something awesome to do. We had no fun food to cook, so we grabbed take-out fried chicken for our Christmas Eve dinner. Thankfully, Christmas night, both of our moms dropped off Christmas leftovers so we were able to eat a proper Christmas dinner, albeit it from the microwave on a plastic plate. It was yummy nonetheless.

I was super bummed at first about all our cancelled fun may or may not have thrown myself a pity party on Christmas Eve, but then we wrote a letter to Santa, set out cookies, and the magic seemed to come back a little. Wrenn was REALLY into Santa this year, and also totally confused about why he came when she was SLEEPING. So silly, if you think about it. Girlfriend wanted to HANG OUT WITH SANTA.

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Christmas Day ended up being pretty wonderful. Wrenn loved opening presents, and we all played with her new toys, took long naps, and got to briefly see family that night as they dropped off food. Mr. Right was able to sneak in two bike rides in that beautiful 75-degree Christmas weather, and I got to spend the day relaxing – something I, well, rarely do.

PlanBXmas3 Now Christmas has been put away, the pine needles have been vacuumed up (mostly), half of my decorations have been donated to Goodwill (yay for simplifying), and I’m in full-on New Year’s organizing mode. And I’m heading to the doctor tomorrow to beg him for SOMETHING to make me no longer contagious. I’m starting to get a bit lonely over here.

*I was convinced I had croup, but when I called my doctor today, he said croup only lasts about 5 days. He doesn’t think it’s croup – so it must be the plague. It’s the only other possibility.

We are filled with joy: A Thanksgiving reflection

Great things

To compare this year to last year is to simply laugh. Last year was the worst year of my life. This year, one of the best. Not because nothing bad happened – we experienced our share of heartbreak and stress – we lost a baby, we lost our dog (just last week), my sister’s baby spent weeks in the NICU, our close friends moved several states away. Life was still hard, but it was also so sweet.

And the hard came one at a time, not like the waterfall of hard things that almost drowned us last year. Between the hard this year were long stretches of peace. Of easy, and fun, and adventures and health and laughter. So much laughter. And rest, and friends, and more time together as a little family of three than we have ever gotten to spend before. Time to write, and create, and play on the floor and spend hours outside working in our garden.

I am thankful for the hard, because it makes years like this seem that much sweeter. This year has been filled with wonder that can only be seen through the eyes of a two-year-old.

I am thankful for holidays and dedicated times to look back and reflect on God’s goodness. His goodness on the peaceful days, and his goodness during my times of sorrow. His goodness during times of healing, and times of serving, and times of just being.

He is so faithful.

The Lord has done great things for {me}, and {I am} filled with joy. (Psalm 126:3)