She works with willing hands.

Today I Am Thankful

Today I am thankful for the piles of crunchy brown leaves covering my lawn – begging to be raked and bagged – because it means I have a yard where my kids can run.

Today I am thankful for the mountain of shoes, jackets, backpacks, papers and books that adorn my mudroom – strewn about and begging to be organized – because it means my kids have everything they need for school.

Today I am thankful for the dishes that sit unwashed in my dull sink – longing to be washed, scrubbed and shined – because it means my family has full bellies and fresh water.

Today I am thankful for the chip in my manicure – reminding me that even the gel polishes only look great for a few days – because it means I have the time and means to afford small luxuries for myself.

Today I am thankful for my imperfect belly and stretch marked hips – telling me I’m less than perfect – because it means my body grew to accommodate three full term babies.

Today I am thankful for a husband to argue with – making me feel like we still have trouble communicating after all these years – because it means I have a dedicated spouse with whom I have the opportunity to share my life.

Today I am thankful for tense relationships with extended family members – discouraging me when things aren’t easy and perfect – because it means our loved ones are still alive.

Today I am thankful for my strong-willed child – challenging me daily with his boldness and energy – because it means one day (I pray) he will be a man of strong character.

Today I am thankful for this imperfect nation with its partisan politics – frustrating me every time I read the news and ponder America’s future – because it means today I am still free.

And above all, today I am thankful for my all-powerful, all-knowing God – who sent his son to the cross to suffer a brutal sinner’s death in my stead – because the Gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

Vegas and Mimi and Costumes, Oh My!

Well, this past week was nuts.  Jersey Boy was traveling for much of it, attending a conference in Las Vegas.  (Or “Lost Vegas” as my four-year-old would say.  “Mommy, why is Vegas lost?”  “Is Daddy lost, too?”  “Will Daddy find his way back from Lost Vegas?  What if he never comes back?”)

Ahhh, the questions were endless.

questions

Yep.  And I have three littles in this age range – so make that 900 questions per day.

So in addition to my usual repertoire of Sunday School teaching, taxi driving, soccer practice and tennis lesson attending, homework overseeing, library book finding, small body washing, diaper changing, exercise class leading, dog feeding, show-and-tell prepping, and bible study facilitating, I also handled all of Jersey Boy’s typical chores.  And let me tell you, I never fully appreciate how much my Jersey Boy handles around the house until he’s gone.

But, PTL (that’s “praise the Lord” for you non-Christian types), Mimi lent her services to me this week, preparing most of our meals and washing almost every single dish, water bottle and sippy cup.  Thank God for my Mama.  Oh, and she even took time (and possessed the patience) to bake with the kids.

baking with mimi

They had SO.MUCH.FUN licking the bowl.

This week Mimi and I also made the kids’ Halloween costumes.

Meet King Peter of Narnia,

king peter

Clark Kent,

clark

and our little cowgirl (or in her words, her “neigh” costume):

neigh

And faster than a speeding bullet, Jersey Boy flew home just in time to attend our church’s annual Autumn Fest.

2 clarks

I love my men of steel.

How My Miscarriage Changed Me

It was 2008.  I was practicing real estate law at a large and prestigious law firm, and the mood at my workplace was one of stress and anxiety.  The market tanked that year, business dwindled, and all of us lawyers sat in our offices biting our nails for fear of a layoff.

No longer working twelve hour days, I often found myself heading home on a 5:30 p.m. train to share the evening with my Jersey Boy.  And more time together meant more conversations about our future and the possibility of starting a family.

The idea of having a child terrified me.  I was a professional woman, with a career trajectory to worry about, and I couldn’t imagine fitting a baby into my life.  I also feared cementing myself to Jersey Boy through the birth of a child.  Yes, we were married, and yes, I loved him.  But I was concerned that I would grow dependent on him if we shared a little one.  And although Jersey Boy was eager to be a responsible and involved father, I was an independent woman.  In my mind, while I chose to marry Jersey Boy, I certainly didn’t need Jersey Boy.  And I didn’t want that to change.  I was prideful and self-reliant.

But even deeper than that, I didn’t think that I would be a good mother.

As I shared in My Abortion Story, only seven years prior I aborted my child, and because of that I saw myself as hard-hearted.  I didn’t think that I had the capacity to love a child in the way that a child needs to be loved.  I was neither maternal nor nurturing.  And while I was a Christian who was beginning to understand God’s redemptive love and forgiveness towards me, I also feared his vengeance and punishment.

What if I couldn’t get pregnant?  What if God punished me with infertility?  What if we had a baby and Jersey Boy left me?  What if I didn’t love my child well?  What if my child didn’t love me?  The “what ifs” were endless.

Today I know that those were all just lies from the evil one.  Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44), and he wanted me to fear motherhood rather than be filled with joy at the thought of it.  He wanted me to believe that, because of my abortion, I didn’t deserve to be a mom.  He wanted me to think that I would be a bad mother, that my husband would leave me, and that I would be left alone with a child who didn’t love me.

Despite my fears, I became pregnant in the summer of that year, and during those early weeks of pregnancy I grew optimistic.  Although suffering from morning sickness, I looked forward to my eight week appointment during which we would have our first ultrasound and see tangible evidence of the life growing inside of me.  I researched which foods to avoid and started thinking about nursery colors, all the while remaining cautious and concerned – anxious that my fears would be realized.

And then just days before my appointment, I started bleeding bright red blood – a lot of it.  I called the doctor’s office and they told us to come in right away.

I had miscarried the baby.

The emotional pain was immediate and sharp, and as Jersey Boy and I sat sobbing together, the grief that I experienced after my abortion returned.  Another child of mine was dead.

But in the midst of the suffering, through my grief, I sought the Lord.  I prayed to him for comfort.  I prayed for a greater understanding of his plans for my life, and his will for Jersey Boy and I.  I cried out to him with a heart of anguish and asked him to show me whether I was meant to be a mother.  And I asked him to deliver me from my fears and conform my desires and thinking to that of his own.

“Not my will, Lord, but your will be done,” became my prayer.

And through those prayers and seeking of the Lord, my self-sufficiency, independence and hard-heartedness turned into reliance and dependency on God, and broken-heartedness for the things that break the heart of my Savior.  Through my grief, he mended my heart, taking away many of my fears, and replacing Satan’s lies with the truth that I found in his Word.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  I knew that God meant to use the pain of my miscarriage for my good – to change me and purify me of my pride and self-reliance.

I suddenly wanted to be a mother, and believed deeply that I would be a good one.  I yearned to cradle a baby as I never had before.  And at the same time, my trust in my husband grew.  Not only was God calling me to be more reliant on him, he was also calling me to be more reliant on Jersey Boy, for “a cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).  I realized that Jersey Boy and I were stronger together.

God changed me through my miscarriage.  He increased my faith in him and delivered me from the bondage of many of Satan’s lies.  He blessed me with the desire to be a mother, and thanks to his grace and mercy upon me, today there are three little people who call me “mommy.”

Glory be to God.

“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

To My First Born on His First Day of Kindergarten

Oh son, as I held back the tears this morning, for fear of embarrassing myself in front of your new teacher and the other mamas at drop-off, there were so many things that I wanted to say to you.  But you barely noticed me leaving the classroom.  You were so excited to explore your new environment.  You and the other boys had already pulled out the big wooden blocks and started constructing.  You are a natural leader, and I’m certain that you wasted no time coordinating a building project, encouraging your new friends to help.

I’m thankful that you have the confidence to separate from me with ease.  You are brave and bold.  I love that about you.

I went into your room late last night, to watch you sleep (as I often do).  The outfit that you chose for today was carefully laid out on the floor, and I took care not to step on it.  Checking your backpack, I noticed that you had tucked a notebook and some postcards inside.  You also left this for me:

ej's note

You wrote it all by yourself, and I will save it forever.

You already know some of these things that I wanted to say to you, because I say them often.  Some of them, however, you’re still too young to understand.  And since I didn’t get to say them to you this morning, I’ll write them here for you to read when you’re old enough to fully appreciate these words:

God made you a boy.  He made your hair straight, thick and brown, your eyes hazel, and your skin fair (like mama’s).  God made you just the way he wants you.

Being a boy is great (fantastic, actually)!  Please don’t let society convince you that you somehow need to apologize for being male.  You don’t need to apologize for being filled to the brim with energy, for being inherently physical and fascinated by bugs, for yearning to understand how things are constructed, or for feeling a deep urge to protect your baby sister.  After all, part of being a boy, who will become a man, is fighting for girls who will become women.  You’re doing it already, dear boy, and I’m proud.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture, Psalm 139 verses 13-16, says this:

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

We read these words at your baptism.  God’s design for you was no accident.  It was deeply intentional and amazingly personal.  God made you just the way he wants you.

As I said, you are a natural leader.  God gifted you in this way.  Use it for good.  Do not abuse it.

With leadership comes responsibility, not only to other people, but to God.  The other kids watch you, and they enjoy participating in the games you create.  Be kind to them.  Encourage them to be kind to each other.  Don’t ever be a bully.  Just as God created you specially and uniquely in his image, he also similarly created the other children in your class.  He made them just the way he wants them, so don’t ever make them feel bad about who God designed them to be.

Serve God, with a joyful heart.

Although you’re just six, you already profess a faith and belief in Christ Jesus as your Lord and Savior.  It’s hard for mommy to know how deeply you understand this conviction and profession of faith, for you’re still so young.  But my hope and prayer for you is that you will live your life as a follower of Christ, pursuing service to God, with a heart of joy.  As a kindergartener, you can serve God by respecting your teachers, listening well, being kind, encouraging others and sharing your faith with your new friends.

Have fun!

You’re still so little, with most of your life ahead of you, God willing.  Sure, I want you to love reading, have nice penmanship, master basic math and learn how to tell time.  But at this age, and in this stage, I don’t ever want you to feel pressured by academics.  I want you to enjoy being little, while you still are.  For the days are passing quickly, and one day, not so long from now, the pressures you will face will be significant, and weighty.

So today, have fun!  Enjoy kindergarten, my boy!

You got this.

E 1st day kindergarten

When Sinners Parent Sinners

This is an exciting week in my house.  With two of my littles celebrating birthdays just days apart, we’ve been partying hard.  And after the merriment of a week filled with bonfires, backyard campouts, birthday playdates, pool parties, mountains of sugar, and just a general air of excess and overindulgence, yesterday afternoon one of my children and I exchanged words.

Harsh words.

On both sides.

He was defiant and disobedient – totally in the wrong – and his behavior warranted correction.

But as I stood there with my finger pointed towards his little face with the words exploding from my mouth in an angry tone, and he responded in kind, pointing his little finger straight back towards my face and parroting my anger, I realized – it was like staring in a mirror.

And man, did I look ugly.

That’s what happens when sinners parent sinners.

Yes, my child is a sinner, as all children are.  Scripture says that we are all born with a sinful nature, and we will wrestle with our sinful tendencies and desires for as long as we reside here in this fallen world.

When sinners parent sinners, we screw up.  We lose our temper.  We ignore everything that every parenting book ever told us, and we yell.  Sometimes we even say unkind things to the little people who we love so much that we would die for them.

In tears, I called Jersey Boy and explained my exchange with our eldest child.  Thankfully it was the end of his work day, and he advised me to give our son some space until he got home.

Thirty minutes later, Jersey Boy and I sat with my son and discussed his defiant behavior and the resulting consequences.  Then we prayed together, and my son asked both God and I to forgive him.

And in that moment, I had a beautiful opportunity to model the gospel for my child.  I explained to him that the tone and manner in which I spoke to him was wrong and unloving, and I asked him to forgive me.  I explained that I often make mistakes, and that’s why I need Christ, so that I can experience true forgiveness and the resulting joy that it brings.

He told me that he forgave me, and then he lunged into my arms.  And as my child and I sat on the couch, hugging and weeping, I thanked God for his mercy and grace towards my son and I.  I thanked him for loving us.  And I thanked him for using my child’s disobedience and my lack of self-control as a means of pointing my son and I back to the cross.

When sinners parent sinners, God uses our imperfections for his glory, always pointing us back to him and bringing us to our knees when we fail.  Because I certainly can’t parent alone.  I need God’s guidance daily, hourly, minute by minute…

And after this week we’ll probably need to cut out sugar for a while.

Recommended Children’s Music – Sing the Bible with Slugs & Bugs

sing the bible front

I adore this album.  My kids adore this album.

This is one of the few children’s CDs that I can listen to on repeat and not want to rip my hair from my scalp and run screaming from my car.  With several songs featuring the fantastic African Children’s Choir, the album highlights African melodies, some pop and bluegrass, and catchy tunes.  But the best part about the record is that the lyrics of all seventeen songs are taken straight from the Bible.

Randall Goodgame, the creator of Slugs & Bugs and an all-around nice guy (I’ve met him several times), says this about the CD:

It represents a huge shift for the Slugs & Bugs series, because the lyrics on Sing The Bible are all word-for-word Scripture.  Now, when families tell me they’ve memorized the whole CD, I’ll know that means 63 Bible verses, plus the names of all the books of the Old and New Testaments.  However, the Bible passages are all about how we live day-to-day with Jesus, and my grand hope is that these songs will help parents embrace and even celebrate their own moment by moment need for Jesus in front of their kids, so that they can have real, honest conversations about what a life of faith looks like: loving, listening, following, failing, repenting, and returning—often all in the same day.

Thanks to Randall, my kids and I can now recite all of the books of the Bible in order (which is no small feat).  But more importantly, Sing the Bible has helped my kids and I store truths from God’s Word in our hearts, meditate on Scripture and grow in our knowledge and awareness of our great Creator.

Randall plans to head into the studio at the end of this month to start recording Sing the Bible Volume 2 and I have high hopes that it will be just as great as Volume 1.

You can pick up a copy of Volume 1 at slugsandbugs.com.

[And just in case you’re curious, I haven’t received anything in exchange for this endorsement.  I just think that this CD is pretty rad.]

Six Reasons I Hate the Baby Pool

With three kids (aged five, four and one) I spend a fair portion of my summer hanging around a pool that is two-and-a-half feet at its deepest point.  And as my kids delight in the concrete rectangle filled with pee water, I do my best to enjoy their giggles and not think about its bacterial content.  But try as I might, sometimes I freaking hate the baby pool.  Here are the top six reasons why:

1.  Standing in thigh deep water.  Now that my baby is 22 months old, I finally have the cajones to put on a two-piece swimsuit.  And although I don’t feel awesome in it, I feel sort of okay.  I’m learning to embrace my momma bod.  That is, until I have to stand around a bunch of other parents in thigh deep water.  Nothing says body confidence like one toddler pulling down the back of your bikini bottom while the other one squeezes the flabby part of your belly and giggles.

2.  That one smart ass kid.  While all of the other children happily splash and wait their turn for the slide, this kid is busy squirting you in the face with a water toy and smiling at you when you ask him to stop.  He is bold and brassy, with egotistical arrogance, elbowing toddlers out of his way, and his mom or nanny is always the one at the far end of the pool with her nose in her phone.  And it takes every fiber of your being not to scream across the pool, “Get over here and manage this kid so I don’t have to do it for you!”  But since you’re so polite and non-judgmental, you scream it in your head instead.

3.  The useless high school aged life guards.  Last summer my best friend’s two-year-old fell into the pool right in front of a high school aged life guard.  When it quickly became obvious that the life guard wasn’t making a move to rescue her kid, my friend jumped into the pool fully clothed and saved her daughter.  Not missing a beat, the life guard blew her whistle and yelled, “Ma’am!  Clothing is not permitted in the pool!”  Great.  Thanks for that.  I was confused about that rule.

4.  The mom holding a tiny baby while rocking a bikini.  I know, I know – I already talked about the bikini issue.  But there is always that one mom holding her three-month-old while wearing her black string bikini, and looking positively amazing doing it.  You know that you shouldn’t judge her based on her looks, but you kind of hate her.

5.  Worrying about “dry drowning.”  Ever since the horrific warnings about “dry drowning” circulated social media a few summers ago, every gulp of water swallowed by your little one is the potential kiss of death.  Not only do you have to fear that your kid will drown while they’re actually swimming, now you have to worry that they’ll drown in their sleep four hours later.  And even though my pediatrician assured me that dry drowning is exceedingly rare, it still scares the crap out of me.  And speaking of crap…

6.  The kid that takes a dump in the pool.  You really, really hate this kid.  He always manages to crap in the pool during the hottest part of the day, requiring the entire pool to be cleared for at least an hour so that those high school aged lifeguards can fish out his turds and “clean” the pool water.  And when your kids drag you back into the pool as soon as it re-opens, you climb in with the full knowledge that you’re probably still swimming in his poo.

So suck it up mommies, and do your best to enjoy the baby pool.  It’s gonna be a long summer.

Strawberry Basil Ice Cream

Last week the littles and I went strawberry picking.  Strawberry season is short here in Pennsylvania, so we have to carpe diem if we want fresh local berries.  And these pretty little strawberries are really, really sweet…so much better than what we buy at the grocery store.

strawberries

I wanted to do something fun with my fresh berries, and while watering my garden I noticed how well my basil was growing.  Then it came to me…Strawberry Basil Ice Cream!  Two in-season local ingredients and one deliciously sweet result.

So I called my girl Lindsey.  That chick makes homemade ice cream all the time.  She’s sort of a guru.  She also has a sweet ice cream maker.

ice cream maker

I’ve got friends in high places.

I gathered my ingredients, loaded my offspring into the SUV, and hightailed it over to Lindsey’s casa.

Her youngest babe admired my freshly picked basil.  Just look at that sweet little chin.

strawberry basil ice cream

While our littles jumped on the trampoline with the sprinkler underneath it (resulting in a wet and wild and mildly dangerous trampoline experience) and I did my best to allow them to enjoy the thrill of it and not freak out at the thought of head collisions and broken bones – Lindsey and I concocted a recipe for our ice cream.

We used a few of the recipes in this cookbook as inspiration:

ice cream book

Game plan in hand, we gathered some small helpers to hull the strawberries.  Hulling strawberries simply means removing the green stem and leaves from the top of each berry.

b hulling

Yes, our small children were permitted to use miniature dull-ish knives to hull the strawberries.  Learn by doing, I say.  It’s the old-fashioned way.

Baby Girl was exceptionally enthusiastic about the process.

baby girl strawberries

strawberries in colander

Strawberries hulled, we cut the larger berries in half and then made a strawberry sauce.  We put the strawberries into a square baking dish with one-third of a cup of sugar, and stirred to combine.

strawberries and sugar

Then we popped the dish of berries into a 375 degree oven for eight minutes.  After eight minutes, we removed the berries from the oven and let them cool slightly.  Then we juiced three tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and added the juice to the strawberries.  Next we threw it all into the blender, pureeing it into some fantastically delicious strawberry sauce.

puree strawberries

We could have just stopped there and slurped down the sauce with a straw – it was INSANELY YUMMY.

But onward we went, next starting the ice cream base.  To make the base we used cornstarch, whole milk, heavy cream, sugar, light syrup and softened cream cheese.

First we created a slurry in a small bowl by combining one tablespoon plus one teaspoon of cornstarch with two tablespoons of whole milk and stirring well.

Then we combined the remainder of the two cups of whole milk, one and one-quarter cups of heavy cream, two-thirds of a cup of sugar and two tablespoons of light syrup in a medium saucepan, bringing it all to a low rolling boil on medium-high heat.  We left it at a low rolling boil for about four minutes, and then removed it from the heat and gradually stirred in the slurry.  Then we returned the saucepan to the heat and while stirring, allowed the mixture to boil for one additional minute.  Then we removed it from the heat.

Next we creamed three tablespoons of softened cream cheese in a large mixing bowl and then poured the hot liquid mixture into the bowl with the cream cheese.

pouring cream

We whisked until the cream cheese was well combined and the mixture was smooth.

Then we grabbed an even larger mixing bowl (or a small tub would do) and created an ice bath by filling it with cold water and ice.

After creating the ice bath, we poured the hot ice cream base mixture into a gallon-sized plastic storage bag.  Then we tore the basil leaves into small-ish pieces and threw them into the bag along with the ice cream base.  We sealed the bag well and submerged it in the ice bath, allowing the ice cream base to cool and the basil to steep for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, we strained out the basil leaves, turned on the ice cream maker, and poured the ice cream base into the machine.

Then we poured half of the strawberry syrup in with the ice cream base.

pour strawberry sauce

I want to lick my screen right now.

lick screen

After the ice cream churned for 20 minutes, it was ready to go into jars.

final ice cream

Lindsey swirled some of the remaining strawberry sauce on top of the ice cream, and popped the jars into the freezer for a few hours.

Later that afternoon, our kids’ beloved preschool teacher stopped by so that we could celebrate her birthday with some freshly made Strawberry Basil Ice Cream.

mrs. v

Friends, sprinklers, trampolines, freshly picked strawberries and basil, tiny bare feet, handmade birthday cards, a visit from our favorite teacher and homemade ice cream…it’s the stuff that perfect summer days are made of.

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE STRAWBERRY SAUCE:

1 pint strawberries

1/3 cup sugar

3 tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice

FOR THE ICE CREAM BASE:

1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. cornstarch

2 cups whole milk

1 and 1/4 cups heavy cream

2/3 cup sugar

2 tbsp. light syrup

3 tbsp. softened cream cheese

handful fresh basil leaves

Strawberry Picking

The littles and I picked small, sweet, juicy strawberries last week.

We hitched a ride with the farmer,

farmer

and got to pickin’.

pickin

Baby Girl ate more than she picked,

baby girl

diligently pinching off each green stem before she enjoyed the berries’ sweetness.

picking off stems

We picked some gorgeous cherries too, and this was our haul:

cherries too

And I used those sweet little strawberries to make Strawberry Basil Ice Cream, which was ah-maz-ing.  I’ll share that recipe with you later this week.