One Great Way to Unwrap Presence This Christmas

Each year, with more little eyes and more little ears and more little feet padding their way around our nest, I’ve been hungry to find traditions that would celebrate this most wonderful time of the year with reverence and sincerity. The commercialism seems to get bolder. The advertising seems to get better. And a few weeks ago, my eldest asked if he could start working on his wish list with some help from Amazon. Again.

We do our best to do give our children some {read: not a lot of} meaningful, purposeful gifts this season (I’m planning another post to share some of our favorite useful/educational ideas with you) but what I don’t want Christmas to be all about at the Collie house is presents.

I keep asking this one thing:

How do we glorify the Presence and de-emphasize the presents?

We’ll hang lights and remember the Light coming into our dark world.

An ever-green tree will go up, and we’ll remember the One who died on a tree, and how that tree gives us ever-lasting life.

I’m hungry to communicate the greatness of this incredible Presence — the arrival of the Messiah. This changes everything.  This is why we want to lead lives that honor God. This is why we want to show kindness to the least of these.

book2

Years ago, I tried creatively placing the little elf around the house. It just wasn’t a good fit. I’ve watched in subsequent years as folks decorated with powdered sugar footprints, came up with creative stunts, and competed to post the best imagery of elf shenanigans on social media. For us, it continued to emphasize the presents. Be good for the presents. The elf is watching. I just couldn’t put so much effort into something that –for me– felt like it was pointing away from the place I was trying to direct these little hearts’ attention.

Could there be a bright alternative?

Could we aim to de-emphasize the stacks of presents? Because this Presence — it’s the greatest present of all time!

Two years ago, in the days leading up to Christmas, we started a new tradition around the Collie house. One that draws a line from the Creation to the Cross, and sheds new light on the meaning of the manger.

book

Sometimes right after breakfast, sometimes when we’re back in PJs at the end of the day, we dive into Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp. Starting December 1st, we’re led through a lesson each day, right up to the 25th. As a tangible part of the experience, you’re invited to create your own Jesse Tree — a tree you’ve made, perhaps from branches in your backyard — where you can hang ornaments (more on those in a second) that relate to each of the daily devotions you’ll read as a family. The activities related to each lesson involve things like praying about ways your family can give and serve others over the holidays (and all year long) and making a list of things you’re grateful for.

Exactly as I’d hoped, it created these great opportunities for meaningful connection with our kids at Christmas.

Did we check every item off the list, accomplish every activity and turn it into a this.must.happen thing to add stress to the holidays?

Nope.

But when we took the time to sit down together, to be still and to think and to talk, it did facilitate meaningful conversations, and provide this illustration that I believe will be re-introduced to our kids each year, so that it will be ingrained in their hearts permanently, as the true reason for the season.

In the sitting still and reflecting I just felt like… this is what I want to do most in this season.

I want to point to the one thing I want my children to know in this season: Jesus is the Greatest Gift.

ornament1

Last year I hot-glued some felt to some cardboard to create the most awesomely rough-looking Jesse Tree you’ve ever seen… but my children love it.

tree1

I’m very excited to do this together again, as a family, this holiday season. Last year the kids loved the beautifully illustrated book, loved the thoughts to discuss and family activities, and loved coloring the paper ornaments (available for you to print for free from aholyexperience.com). I loved that it was all written to point to the significance of the coming of the Messiah, a constant encouragement to anticipate and celebrate the arrival of Christ.

book4

So friends, if you’re hoping to introduce some new traditions into your Advent Season, or if you’ve been on the fence pondering this book for a while, please consider this my whole-hearted recommendation. Unwrapping the Greatest Gift has been a gift to our family, and I’m excited to have found something to help our family truly celebrate the Savior this season. I’m genuinely excited to share it with you!

And? I’d love to hear from you! Have any questions for me? Are you hungry to put more meaning into your celebrations this season? What is your family doing to point to the Christ in Christmas?

xCC

P.S. In addition to Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Voskamp’s book, The Greatest Gift, was released two years ago. This devotional is about “Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas” and was written with adults in mind. It was named the Christian Retailer’s Devotional of the Year for 2014 and is absolutely worth considering in addition to the family celebration, or on its own. (They do cover the same themes and correlate to one another, but they are definitely not the same book.) The devotion draws you in to deeply considering the meaning of the lineage of Christ, and the love story of His coming. If you’re looking for something special for yourself in this season, perhaps for that early morning cup of coffee on the couch moment, I highly recommend this!


 

This post contains affiliate links, but I’m sharing my honest-to-goodness heartfelt opinions. When you click on those links to make your purchases, I receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I love it when you do that! Thank you for supporting With Love!

 

What to Do When Dreams Look Like Hard Work

I stared across the table at her for just a moment or two this morning. She scarcely has more hair today than she did a year ago when she was born. She’s one year old and I’m thinking about where it all began, and how it all began on the outside.

A little smirk crosses my face as I think of a comparison between giving birth and the experience of being in war. There’s blood and momentary confusion and yelling (that would be me) and you know that all of life is not contained in this moment — you just have to get through this moment to get to the good on the other side. I ponder all that, and that word — labor — and how it’s the same word we use for work.

Hard labor.

Manual labor.

Six days shall ye labor… and rest on the seventh.

She smiles and bounces the feet that dangle underneath the tray of her high chair. And an old thought strikes me in a new way:

It seems like the hardest things in life sometimes are also the best things.

birthdaycat

birthdaycat2

Whether it’s the numerous challenges of pregnancy and labor (or the challenges of the parenting years that follow), whether it’s the challenge of pursuing that PhD or writing that book or building something amazing, composing something amazing, there’s labor, and it is a part of the story that good things come from.

The labor of sowing the seeds and watering and weeding and waiting, and finally, reaping what you’ve sown.

The labor of teaching small and precious ones day in and day out, sowing those seeds and trusting the world will reap them years from now.

In a great conversation about these thoughts today a friend of mine put it succinctly: Just about everything in life requires hard work except watching TV.

Barring those moments of laying on the couch and being entertained by a screen in the room or a phone at your nose, life does require work. And the things that are really worth it? They usually require the most.

I’m making fresh commitments to myself about working hard right now.

About resting well and appropriately, yes, but also about knowing my own frame and, based on that, committing to work hard to achieve personal goals.

It convicted me deeply when I read these words recently in Tim Tebow’s new book:

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

seeds

The Bible puts it this way:

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. {Gal. 6:7}

Pray about everything. Seek wisdom. But know that in addition to that praying and that seeking, you will also have to do your part. You will have to put in the time at the gym. You will have to put the seeds in the ground. You will have to dust off that resume and start putting it in front of new sets of eyes. You might have to stop spending when you should be saving.

The hardest part might just be stepping out of the boat — doing something that doesn’t look like the “normal” everybody else has going on. Putting in extra efforts at the end of that 9 to 5 instead of putting your nose to a screen.

Jesus lived a life like nobody else because He was a Man like nobody else. In our own small ways, perhaps we are called to go and do likewise.

I write these words to myself — pondering the things that might perhaps have been birthed with the time I spent on the couch instead.

But I write to you, too, knowing there is probably more inside of you. A dream. A hope. An idea of some kind that could scratch an itch you feel in your soul and feed a need in the world around you.

If I dream of seeing my name on the front cover of a bestseller, I’m going to have to put in the hard work to make that happen.

If we dream of having world-changing kids, we’re going to have to put in the hard work to raise them to change the world.

If you dream of making ______________ happen… what are the practical steps you need to take to do something about it?

Looking across the table at this baby who’s just one, I come to rejoice in the fact that in different ways, and in His good timing, God is faithful to our labor. Fruit doesn’t always come the way we want, as fast as we want, as much as we want. But we will not reap what we have not sown.

Lean hard on the Holy Spirit to direct your efforts, to prune you and give you wisdom, that you might bear much fruit.

And don’t be afraid if the path you see ahead of you looks like nobody else’s. It’s not supposed to.

xCC

 

 

 

This post may contain affiliate links. When you click on those links to make your purchases, I receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I love it when you do that! Thank you for supporting With Love!

 


What We Can All Learn From the Rio Olympians: the Danger of Trying to Do It All

Have you been staying up way too late following the Rio 2016 Olympics? I’ve mentioned before — the Hero Hubs was a competitive swimmer for many years so you can probably guess which sport is on lots lots at our house this week! Whether you’re a fan of the swimming (which can teach you a lot about learning to Swim Your Own Race!) or watching gymnastics, dressage, fencing or track and field, there is one stand-out lesson I’m confident any Olympian could teach all of us.

swimming

Now in case you’re not familiar with my little family, let me give you a quick backstory to make sure this post all makes sense. We are a human party of six — two adults and four kids, and I think we’re going to stop here since that’s all the hands covered. My husband is a professional photographer, and I assist him at weddings, bridal portraits and engagement sessions, but he handles family sessions and commercial work solo.

While photography currently pays our bills (and I dream about the day writing will, too) it is also something we both really enjoy, especially because of those four aforementioned humans we are blessed to have in our care. They really do grow and change and learn something every day, and we really love capturing the journey.

The one challenge with being a pair of photographers is discovering that one of us is always not in the picture, because, you know, that one is behind the camera. We can occasionally try to set something up to get everyone in, but you try convincing a seven year old, a five year old, a three year old and a nine month old to all simultaneously look in the same direction, at a camera with nobody behind it AND smile. Then let me know how that works out for you.

So, we do occasionally employ the services of another photographer, so that, ya know, we can have a picture of all of us that we didn’t take with an iPhone we propped up against a rock somewhere.

And let me just mention one more time, I really love photos, and have been dreaming about having one really great family photo, now that we think all the humans are here, to hang in our home.

And this is where the story begins.

The Story About How I Try To Do Too Much

We made an appointment with a very talented photographer for a photo session for our family. It’s not unusual for me to give advice to other couples or families planning for a photo session, so I took some of my own advice and started thinking through how I wanted everyone dressed. And then a happy thought bubble emerged, and I asked the hubs if maybe I could pretty please get my makeup done for the session.

And I pondered clothes and stressed clothes and everything that seemed to match among the children somebody had already drizzled olive oil on or something.

So I managed to scoot away with the baby and the oldest along to help for a wee shopping trip for the first time in maybe … two years or so… and I found some options for the session and it went way more smoothly than I expected and I was so thankful I was in tears on the way home. But I basically had something for me to wear at that point. And the hubs was covered. Thanks, Amazon.

The day of the session was postponed thanks to weather, and in the meantime I asked the hubs at some point when I didn’t think he was paying attention and would say yes if maybe I could also just get the girls at the salon to quickly dress my hair up after makeup.

The new session day arrived and I couldn’t find clothes that really matched nicely so I asked my Mom for help and ran out to shop again and found a dress for the Belle which meant this shirt would look best for this boy and that shirt for that boy, but by now I’d bought a lot of stuff, but everyone was going to match and maybe that was okay because I just about never buy clothes for my kids because my Mom always does, and we are blessed with lots of handmedowns.

I scurried home with the treasure and took off again not long after for hair and makeup which took longer than expected — how I didn’t expect that when I’m a wedding photographer and hair and makeup often take a good wee while, I don’t know — and there wasn’t time for me to fetch pizza I was supposed to grab on the way home, so a frozen one came out quickly instead and we rushed and shoved pizza into small faces and wiped those faces and shoved them into the clothes and I fed the baby and scurried her into her outfit and everybody was rushrushrushed and when we finally got into the car just about on time, I was like… holy cow that was nuts.

During Operation Awesome Photo Session, I wasn’t the nicest Mommy, nor was I the most helpful wife. We didn’t have a major fiasco and I’m sure the photos will be great because our friend Dana catches lightning in a jar on a regular basis. But, I kind of got absorbed in OAPS at the expense of — well — the people who were going to be in the pictures, who are, ironically, the reason the pictures matter. It’s really the people.

trying to do it all 2

The Trouble With Doing Too Much

The thing about doing too much is, yes, maybe you can get it all done — but will it get done well? I’m grateful to say most of our days are not like that day, where the pace was too quick and the hurry started to hurt.

There are hundreds of thousands of options for our every day lives — so many things we can do — but if you try to do the metaphorical hair and the makeup and the clothes and and and (give some thought to what those might symbolize for you), you might not do anything really well.

Jane Austen describes her lovable and fallible character, Emma, like this:

She had always wanted to do every thing, and had made more progress both in drawing and music than many might have done with so little labour as she would ever submit to. She played and sang;—and drew in almost every style; but steadiness had always been wanting; and in nothing had she approached the degree of excellence which she would have been glad to command, and ought not to have failed of. {Emma, Jane Austen}

Austen highlights the fact that Emma had the talent, ability and resources to be excellent in many things, but she didn’t approach excellence in any thing because she wouldn’t faithfully submit to persevering in one thing — she lacked perseverance, and chose rather to do a little of everything instead.

Unfortunately, we often drag our children (and/or ourselves) into trying this sport and that sport and this instrument and that club and this activity. Our calendars fill, and we might feel like we’re doing well to give our lives so many options and entertainments and interests. But we have to keep the balance in check. Here’s the thing.

Any of the Olympians you might be watching in Rio right now will tell you — they didn’t get there by doing everything. In the history of the Olympics, no one has ever medaled in everything. I did a little research and couldn’t find athletes who ever medaled in three sports or more. There are some who’ve medaled in two sports, but the sports are usually complementary — like swimming and water polo, or Nordic Combined and Cross Country Skiing — or they take place in different seasons — one is a Summer Olympics sport, the other, winter.

Most often, an athlete at the Olympics got there by doing one thing, and working at doing that one thing continuously, faithfully, with perseverance and grit.

I will not excel at every thing. My kids will not excel at every thing, but they could be great at some thing if I could help them learn the discipline of perseverance (which I’m most certainly still learning myself!)

And I have a deep desire to parent my children well and a lot of the most important moments we’ve ever had — the most meaningful conversations and memories have happened in the margins. Those passing moments when a thought pops into their heads and they ask a great question. Or the moments when we have time to open the Children’s Bible as the last kid is finishing their dinner, because we’re not rushing off to something else.

swimming2

How Not to Do It All

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

If you’re not sure what those main things are in your life that need to be the non-negotiable parts that take center stage, I have two simple encouragements for you.

First, press into Jesus. Choose to let the God of the universe direct the course of your life. His plans for it are good! Read His Word and think about how it applies to your life.

The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9

Second, pray lots and often. Don’t beat yourself if this doesn’t look how you want — this might not be the season for an hour in the garden before sunrise. Pray when you can — in the car, in between this and that — just let the conversation keep going.

Ask for help to discern which things are the things you ought to commit yourself and/or your children to, and which things are just fluff on the calendar that is going to make life really hard for you. Maybe your kids will be a little bit disappointed that they can’t do all the things they want to do — but remember, number those days — and you’ll know that you only have so many before those precious people are out the door and on their way.

Teachers, instructors, and sports coaches can be amazingly wonderful influences on our kids, but they are no substitute for us spending quality one-on-one time loving each child and training him or her up in the way they should go.

Third, get practical. Start writing down which things are the main things, the non-negotiables, for you and your kids. Train your calendar to submit to the goals that you have for your kids and yourself.

I’m confident you care more about the character and integrity of your soul, and about the character and integrity your kids will have when they leave your home, than you care about a corner kick or mastery of the scales. Your will have to work to make your calendar submit to your primary goals. No can be hard, but sometimes yes ends up being much harder.

If you need it, These Two Resources might help you figure out what your primary goals are. But the surest way not to reach your goals is not to set them.

Slow down and enjoy life today friends. Love the people that matter most to you, and remember that every yes is also a no. And every no is also a yes.

What do you want most to say yes to? I’d love for you to share goals, or resources that have helped you figure them out, in the comments!

xCC

For Moms Who Think What You’ve Got Isn’t Enough

“Mom?” He asks in passing as I’m organizing the covers on his brother’s bottom bunk.

“Yeah, Buddy?”

“Do you think you’ll ever be a missionary?”

The question came out of left field. I’m not sure where the word “missionary” came into his vocabulary or exactly what he has in mind when he hears it.

“Uh… I already have been, buddy,” is the best way I can think to respond. Life and kids and the to-do list are swirling around me — I make a mental note that this is fodder for a more important conversation later on, when there’s a bit more quiet and I can just look this one kid in the eyes.

“Remember the pictures from Chichen Itza you you brought to homeschool group for your presentation? Or how you were born in Scotland? And when we lived in South Africa?”

A lightbulb seems to go on. “Oh yeah. Cool!” He dashes off to throw shoes on and get outdoors, and I’m left to sigh and wonder: Will I ever “be a missionary” again? Or is where we are now where we are going to be?

sunset

As the last few old years have turned into new ones, our pastor has talked about praying for that “one word” for the year ahead. Based on the book by Mike Ashcroft and Rachel Olsen, My One Word, the idea behind the My One Word movement {which began storming Christian circles around 2010/2011} is to skip the resolutions and let a single word to become your focus for the year ahead, to inform and transform your walk with Jesus.

I sat quiet on the last day of 2015, giving thanks, and wondering about a word. Before this movement began, but for several years in a row between 2002 and 2006, I felt like the Lord continuously whispered to me the Word adventure. He had it in mind to take me on the adventure of a lifetime, and if I was willing to say Yes to His invitation and obey Him when He called me, I would get to enjoy an incredible journey with Him.

As I prayed and asked the Lord for a word for 2016, hoping a synonym for ‘adventure’ might perhaps pop up — I sensed a single, simple word emerging in my thoughts. Again, and again.

FAITHFUL.

I penned it down in my journal: “I pray you’ll grant me ears to hear Your voice and a heart to understand, and Lord, above all, this year will You show me what it means to be FAITHFUL?”

Let’s be honest. Faithful seems kind of boring compared to adventure.

But the whisper kept coming, and I had to trust: when God gives you a word, He has a reason.

sea

Now let’s be more honest. And let me warn you: this might not make sense. I found it easier to be faithful in the impoverished villages of rural Mexico than I do in the we’ve-got-everything-you-need world of modern America.

Even though we are giving to ministries that serve the poor on a monthly basis, it bothers me that I’m not hands on. Even though I’m working at writing words of encouragement to share, it bothers me that I’m not speaking them, or leading a Bible Study, for example. Though I’m asleep before my head hits the pillow most days, I still feel like my current day-to-day isn’t enough.

Our comfortable life makes me strangely uncomfortable. And sometimes you look at motherhood and think: Is this it?

At the same time, I get this unsettling, but settling sense that the Lord is saying “You’re right where I want you.”

But this is the hard part, this is what makes it so easy for the enemy to whisper that what I’m offering to Jesus is not enough: faithful looks different for everybody.

I wanted to be out doing the stuff…among the people…

But the Lord said, “Here is your home. And some children to homeschool.” Motherhood is isolating. And, homeschooling my children is isolating, but I can not deny for a second that God made it SO overwhelmingly clear that this was the way, walk ye in it.

I often want to be away where I feel like I have been called to go

But God has said, “I want you here.” Here, being back in my wee hometown. Here, often simply serving my many small children. We cannot deny how clear He has made this, repeatedly, this Be Right Here whisper.

And this is the complexity of faithfulness, friends: true faithfulness will never look the same twice.

What God calls you to do and what He calls your next-door neighbor to do might look totally different. More accurately, they will look different.

To gently paraphrase C.S. Lewis’s words at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia:

If God is the author of your story, it will be the story no one has ever read before that gets better and better with every chapter.

Sometimes faithfulness is going halfway around the world. Sometimes it’s serving God exactly in the place where He has placed you.

Faithfulness isn't about your position on the globe — it's about the position of your heart. Click To Tweet

I have to be willing to say yes to the slums in Serbia. But I also have to be willing to say yes to this life, right here, right now.

camera

eggs

This is what seems clearer and clearer: we’re all missionaries, and the mission we’re called to is faithfulness.

Right now, faithfulness looks a lot like being purposeful, and persevering in parenting.

Right now, faithfulness looks a lot like being careful with our finances and consistent in our work, making it possible to be generous to others.

Sometimes faithfulness looks like packing your bags. Sometimes it looks like unpacking, and setting roots in the soil.

Perhaps I needed this lesson: Away and missionary are not necessarily synonyms. Missional living is a willingness to share the love of God with the person in the slum, the person at the checkout, and even the tiny people God places in our care.

Motherhood may not have the glitz of dozens of other callings, but that in no way lessens how incredibly important it is to see it as a calling, and to lean on Jesus to help you serve faithfully.

Have you ever felt like everybody else had a better gift to bring to the proverbial party? Like the gifts you have to offer Jesus aren’t as “awesome” as everybody else’s?

What does God really want? Fattened calves and huge sacrifices? 10,000 rivers of oil? Our firstborn sons? Consider these words.

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? {Micah 6:8}

Forget what race the person is swimming in the lane next to you. Listen attentively to the voice of the Holy Spirit, ask the Lord to lead you and obey what He tells you to do — these are the gifts that please God. Just start asking, keep asking: what does it look like for me to be faithful?

And you precious Mamas doing the unseen things? Picking up toys and scrubbing dishes and nursing tiny souls at 3 am? You do have what it takes. “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Andy Stanley recently wrote, “Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God might not be something you do, but someone you raise.”

And faithfulness to that calling? It may turn out to be more of an adventure than you think.

xCC

Do you struggle with comparing your walk with God with the “walks” around you? I’d love for you to leave a comment and continue the conversation.

We Have Kids Because We Have Hope {Introducing Our New Baby Girl}

I awoke at 5 am, stirred by a gentle tightening of the muscles stretched around the great balloon of a midsection that used to be my waist. Just five hours earlier, Hero Hubs had pulled into the driveway and collapsed into bed, after capturing a beautiful wedding day with his camera, over an hour away.

But that’s not where this story begins.

The day before I’d tiptoed around the house, trusting that nothing was going to happen while HH was so far away. The wedding was scheduled before we knew we’d be expecting, and it was the day after my due date. We had a sense of peace that it would be fine, all would be well, and I held on tight to that in my heart, and did my best not to be anxious.

I decided to get up and start making notes, just to keep track on my phone of the timing of the contractions. Unlike the birth of the Tank — a story better suited for Hollywood with a high-speed drive to the hospital and a birth nine minutes later, and different as well from the arrival of the Belle, when contractions started sometime after 5 in the morning and she was on the outside before 7 am, this was a peaceful increase.

I stood in the bathroom waiting to see what would happen, started putting on makeup because if you’ve been reading here for a while, you know that is somehow part of my relaxing-my-way-into-giving-birth routine, and things were still and slow and peaceful. I got back in bed, from around 6 to around 7 am, and the contractions were still happening, but still more than ten minutes apart, so I’d snooze for a bit, wake up and mark the time of the contraction, and then fall asleep again.

Finally, around 7:30 the pace was beginning to pick up, and I woke a bedraggled dear Hero of a Hubs to announce that I needed a lift to the hospital, to which he replied:

“You’re joking, right?”

_QTP1194

They offered to wheel me up to the Labor & Delivery floor when we checked into the hospital around 8:30, but I decided it would be better for me to walk and allow labor to keep progressing. It was a pleasant thing to think about: walking in as one and walking out as two.

Just a week before I walked through those hospital doors, a precious fellow Mom who is a part of our homeschool community gave birth. Her due date was just two days before mine, and we’d been talking about who might go first, and she was also expecting a girl, to add to the three beautiful daughters she already has. The baby was stillborn. They named her Caroline Grace, and her funeral was just the day before I went into labor.

I wept when I read the news, wept again nearly every time it came to mind over the next two weeks. How do you keep going when a part of your own heart stops beating?

By 8:45, I was hooked up to a monitor, and the nurses were waiting for my next contraction to see how the baby’s heart rate was doing. Those squiggly lines on that piece of paper meant something more significant than ever before.

For as long as I can remember, the Hubs and I have had a sense that four was our number. With each child’s arrival, there was a sense of great joy and excitement, but there wasn’t yet a sense of completion.

Does the story of a life start when the parents are dreaming of her coming into being?

After twenty minutes or so of monitoring, contractions were beginning to progress, and the unanimous decision was that I should head to a delivery suite. We shuffled down the hall, and chose the same room I’d shuffled into three years ago to give birth to the Belle.

A familiar face greeted us, as the OBGYN I’d visited during both of these last two US-based pregnancies, recently transferred to a practice in another town, was back covering a weekend shift. I was happy to see her.

Just like the Belle, my water hadn’t broken, and with contractions coming steadily, she decided to break my water and see if things might speed up a little.

They did.

_QTP1195

Two weeks after her arrival, the tiny little stump of an umbilical cord finally came off and I sighed a deep sigh — happy that the little stump was gone because I am always so nervous about those things getting caught on something and yanked out, but sad because it was a sign of change, so soon — her need for her Mama will slowly transition from complete dependence to complete independence, perhaps me at home hoping to hear how she’s doing in some far corner of the globe if she follows in my or her Dad’s footsteps one day.

After they broke my water, the contractions gradually went from significant to intense to ohmyheavens thankyouLord thispainisforapurpose.

Unlike previous deliveries where the feeling to push was so intense I couldn’t imagine not pushing, this time the doctor suggested maybe it was time to push, and I decided maybe that was a good idea.

Today this little treasure of a girl is three weeks old, and I’m following the news about the great loss of life in Paris. I visited the City of Light when the Bear was just ten months old. We adored the sights, the ambiance, the food, and we took in all that we could on a shoestring budget with a baby in the baby carrier, strapped to Hero Hubs’ hero chest. The Bear fell asleep as we strolled through Notre Dame, my mouth consistently gaping open at the beautiful, my neck strained from so much looking up.

It’s hard to see so much darkness falling into a beloved city of light.

The dim lights in the delivery suite were shut out as I squeezed my eyes tight and pushed for all it was worth. After the suggestion about pushing, we all got ready and I, not having any pain medication coursing through my veins, took to my normal practice of hollering my way through those final moments before birth. Fortunately, there were only a couple of minutes of pushing or else I might’ve had a couple of days without a voice after her arrival. And the nurses might’ve stopped to get earplugs.

I pushed and my thoughts were with my friend who lost her precious girl. I pushed and thought about my Dad not getting to meet this last baby until we’re reunited in heaven someday. I pushed and gave thanks that this pain was for a purpose — holding onto faith instead of fear and believing a healthy baby girl would soon arrive.

She did.

They laid her in the little baby bed nearby and I saw her tiny face, and I was once again transported back to Scotland, to seeing the Bear’s little face for the first time. From the look on her face to the hairs on her head, she seemed like a beautiful little carbon copy.

I was overwhelmed this time, with hearing her cry. I know it: this isn’t always the outcome. This world is broken, and there is darkness and people are blowing themselves up and trying to take as many people out with them as possible, and babies don’t always get to see the light of day.

I wondered then, and I suppose I always will, why I am the recipient of such gifts.

Of this I am deeply aware: I am undeserving.

I mess up. I yell. I make bad choices with words. I say things that hurt other people. I choose the low road sometimes.

But there is hope. I hope to raise these four precious children to be lights in a dark world. Although I’m occasionally the one pulling out my hair, I believe in the possibility that HH and I can raise kids who will challenge convention by radically pouring out their hearts. There is evil in the world today, but there is good, too. The good is what makes life worth living.

They laid her on my chest and I could scarcely make out the word in a whisper, as if saying it too loudly might mean it wouldn’t come true: Catriana.

_QTP1213

Her name has roots in our beloved Scotland, a variation of the Gaelic version of Catherine, meaning pure.

Perhaps her story starts there, where her Mom and Dad met, just over a decade ago.

The truth is all of our stories have their genesis in the Creator who dreamed us into being, long before our parents’ parents’ parents’ took their first breath. He saw it all. He knew who would arrive on October 25, 2015, how much she would weigh, what plans He had for her life.

While lots of folks seem to think we’re a little crazy to want four children, I sometimes think a lot of folks are crazy not to. 

I’ve stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower and marveled at the beautiful city of Paris below. My heart has swelled full at the beauty of Cape Town, from the vantage point of Table Mountain. Looking over the incredible blue-green waters off the coast of Roatan in Honduras from a little boat-plane in the sky made me feel like I’d found a slice of paradise. Walking across the stage with my second Masters’ degree at the University of Edinburgh was exhilarating.

But my hope for the world, and my hope for the next generation, are tied to this gift from the Lord that keeps on giving. These children that challenge me, show me how selfish and flawed I am, and still make me feel so precious and important.

It is exceedingly, above and beyond glorious.

Perhaps the greatest mark I’ll leave for His glory, with the days and years I’m given on Earth won’t be the folks I helped encourage toward the God who loves them, the feet I’ve washed, the things I’ve said.

I imagine it’s quite likely that the greatest mark HH and I will leave for the glory of God will be the legacy of raising children who unashamedly love God and want to make this world a brighter and more beautiful place for His glory.

The calling of the church is to be the true City of Light — the city on a hill that loves so pure, so deep and so selflessly that the world can’t help but see, and say Jesus.

Catriana Claire Collie is here. A gift that weighed exactly 8 pounds and 15.6 ounces. We rejoice as undeserving recipients. Grace is often defined as “unmerited favor.” Her peaceful arrival, her joining our family — it is truly a taste of grace.

We have kids because we have hope.

We welcome this precious girl with hopes that the world will be just a little better each day, because she is a part of it.

xCC

 

–With Prayers for Paris and for the Fellers

 

Introducing Torch {And Why The Internet Could Use This Makeover}

A few months ago I shared the ups and downs of the experience when our family quit media cold turkey for 40 days. It was on the back of a trip to South Africa (visiting family) where the kids had experienced lots of media time, and I was nervous that it was going to be just really dang hard to let it go.

The experience of ripping media off like a nasty old bandaid turned out to be amazing. It brought us a heap of new perspective on life at the Collie house and helped us reach some fresh conclusions about how to handle media moving forward. We decided that the kids would only watch TV on the weekends, and other screen time (computer games at our house) during the week would be very, very limited.

Four months later, we’ve been happy with that decision, but two little things have still been challenging: 1) I struggle to regulate the amount of computer time my kids are getting and 2) I don’t feel like I’ve successfully regulated the specific content they’re allowed to take in. They know what websites they’re supposed to visit, but I also want them to be able to search for arthropods while we’re talking about the different groups of invertebrates in homeschool, and know they’re not going to end up somewhere they shouldn’t be.

And somehow that needs to happen without my hovering above the computer like Helicopter Mom all the time. Because?

I just can’t.

Good News, though.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a member of the awesome creative team behind Torch… and there’s a great possibility that my last remaining “Internet Problems” could soon be solved for me.

Introducing Torch!

The creators of Torch recognized the significant problem most parents have with regulating the amount of time kids spend on the net, and the type of content they’re allowed to access while they’re online. The solution they’ve come up with is a very clever wifi router which allows parents to regulate those two things, and more.

Insert happy dance here, because I’m really excited about this!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to write about something on this little old web space and I’ve said no because it just wasn’t something that lined up with my value system or something I felt would actually be useful to my readers. But I am seriously pumped to be able to tell you a little bit about Torch — and was absolutely excited to do so — because I know I’m struggling with this issue and I am not the only Mama facing it!

So when the Torch team contacted me to ask about sharing some of my parenting and media stories, I offered to write about their new product, because I really want the vision to become a reality. I asked a few key questions that I think we’d all like to know if we’re considering purchasing this kind of tech to help the Parenthood regain control of our kids’ online lives, and here are the main things I discovered:

  • Torch will allow parents to regulate which sites your child is able to view, and to block sites they are not allowed to view.
  • It’s possible to create multiple accounts, so that the seven-year-old’s content is different from the two-year-old’s. Which totally makes sense because National Geographic is scary to the Belle, but it’s awesomeness personified to the Bear.
  • You can give the internet a “bedtime” or create certain windows of time where the net is “off” and kids need to go out and play or do something else. (You can also tailor this based on each kid’s restrictions and privileges.)

And this might be my favorite:

  • Torch allows you to see what sites your kids are viewing in a live feed. Parents are able to see how much data is being used at different sites by each kid, and the sites are categorized so that you can tell whether the time is being spent mostly on social media, education, gaming, and so on. Kids will also be able to look at their own stats and see where they’ve spent their time and when their time is up.

Torch is launching a big Kickstarter campaign today to spread the word about their awesome new tech, and garner the support of believers (like me) who are willing to invest in the dream and help make it a reality. They’re offering special rewards based on different levels of support, and hoping that Torch will begin shipping to the doors of many-a-happy-customer around March next year.

Yes, please.

So, I’d love for you to click over to check out their Kickstarter campaign, and seriously, help make the dream a reality! I need it and if you have any humans under the age of 18 in your house, you probably do, too! Torch’s website can tell you lots more about this wonderful innovation!

I’d also love for you to leave a comment to let us know — what’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced, regulating media consumption at your house? Or, if you’ve already got this gig altogether, would you leave some advice for the rest of us?

Happy Internetting, Friends!

xCC

 

The folks at Torch graciously agreed to sponsor this post. But the thoughts and opinions expressed here are absolutely mine. Just so’s ya knows.