2018 Goals

I spent a lot of time toward the end of 2017 thinking about what I wanted my goals for 2018 to be. 2017 was a crazy intense year. I’ve told a few people recently that I felt like I had about 800 balls in the air, and I dropped almost all of them at least once, and I’m slowly trying to pick up what is important. As we – hopefully – move toward a time of less necessary intensity, I’ve been wanting to be intentional about what my priorities and goals are, and I’ve come up with a few things.

  1. I want to try to cultivate peace and joy, both in my heart and in my home. First and foremost, I think this is a spiritual battle. I want to be more intentional about spending good time in my Bible and in prayer. I’ve started getting up earlier and doing a Beth Moore Bible study – just on my own – to help me stay in a pattern of doing that. Beyond that, I need to take some practical steps to enable peace and joy to flourish (like not over-committing myself to too many things). And I need to commit myself to examining my own heart throughout the day, practicing mindfulness and prayer and self-regulation, and I need to establish more patterns of treating every member of my family with respect, not yelling or expressing myself with sarcasm, even in my most frustrated moments. I think this is key to my growth as a person and as a wife and mom this year. 
  2. I want to rebuild our emergency savings fund. We basically wiped ourselves out financially to complete FangFang’s adoption at the end of 2016, and 2017 was such a crazy year with medical and travel expenses and just not having the mental or emotional energy to buckle down and commit to spending less money, so we pretty much just held steady financially. In 2018 we’d like to get back to a place of more financial security.
  3. I’d like to read 12 non-fiction books. I’ve been doing really well with keeping up with and enjoying some good fiction books lately. I read them on the Kindle app on my phone, which allows me to spend 2 minutes here or 5 minutes there reading as I’m able, which I so enjoy. But with non-fiction, I find that I am more thoughtful about what I’m reading if I read it in a paper copy, not a Kindle book, and I want to devote time and mental energy toward really integrating what I’m reading into my mind. That means I can’t just read it anywhere and everywhere and in 2-minute increments. But I am, at heart, a student and an intellectual. Matt and I are dorky people – it’s one reason we love homeschooling so much. I find that I feel more myself when I’m engaging with ideas, when I’m growing and learning. I want to make that a priority, reading and thinking on my own, and to that end, I’m making a goal of reading approximately 1 non-fiction book per month in 2018. And oh my goodness, I cannot wait to dig into this pile of books. I’ve started the first already, and it has been such an encouragement to my soul. 
  4. I’d like to get healthier. Exercise was sporadic, at best, for me in 2017, and I think my body feels the effects of that. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that my metabolism isn’t what it used to be, and I’m needing to adjust to that. We remain committed to our pescetarian lifestyle and try to follow a fairly healthy, whole-foods, plant-based diet, but I think toward the end of the year, our meals tended more toward whole wheat carbohydrates and less toward vegetables, and I’d like to flip that around again. I’d also like to get a healthier amount of sleep – always a challenge with young kids 🙂 Overall, I’d just like to make progress toward being healthier.

Those are my top 4 personal goals for 2018. I’ll try to keep you posted here about how I’m doing in working on those, and I’d love to hear what your 2018 goals are!

Looking Back: Happy Birthday to FangFang!

I’ve gotten a bit behind on my blogging about family events, but some are too important not to come back and address 🙂 At the end of September, we celebrated FangFang’s 4th birthday! It was her first birthday home with us, and after seeing her sisters celebrate their birthdays, she was quite excited to have her own celebration!

Of course, for a 4-year-old, the gifts were a big draw 😉 One of her favorites was a book we got for her called Three Names of Me. FangFang loves all things China, and she was captivated by this opportunity to have a book that tells a story similar to her own, of a girl adopted from China.

In addition to being drawn in by gifts, the promise of getting to choose her favorite meal and dessert was quite exciting for FangFang! She requested a pink cake with pink frosting, and we were happy to oblige.

She wanted “bear candles,” and Matt bought some gummy bears…and then impaled them on the candles(!) to create “bear candles.” I thought it was a little bit creepy, but FangFang approved 🙂

She is simply delighted to have attention and to receive love from friends and family, and she very much enjoyed everything about her day. Celebrating it made me think back to last year, when she was still in China, and the poor child broke her arm on her birthday, but still, her joy shone through!

And she remains very much that same child today – so full of joy in any and every circumstance – but most especially when given attention and treats 😉 It’s amazing to me how much changes and how much stays the same in the space of a year. In the space of a year, this girl had switched primary languages, transitioned from her foster home to her family, and moved from one country to another. Her life looked so different, and yet you can see, in her photos, her shining through. To me it is a testament to the quality of the foster home where she lived that her personality and joy were so evident there, and we’re glad she has brought them into our home and family, as well.

It is a blessing to have her home and part of our family, and we were so glad to be able to celebrate her birthday with her!

on identity and hope

I’ve been thoughtful, these last few weeks about my identity and about the source of any hope that I have. Honestly, these recent days have been discouraging. Matt and I started winter break talking about everything we’d like to accomplish during these weeks in which he had no teaching obligations and I had no extra baby-watching obligations. At the top of the list for me were getting Atticus’s room more organized, cleaning out my closet, working some extra hours, finishing up thank you notes that I’d meant to write over the summer but never finished for people who helped us after Atticus was born (you know, a mere 13 months ago) , and maybe even reading some fun books or writing some blog posts.

And with about a week of winter break left, I’ve accomplished exactly zero of those things. Matt threw out his back the weekend after Christmas and was in excruciating pain for days afterwards. Just as he was beginning to be able to move around a bit, we were struck with the great plague of 2016 – Miranda woke up at 4:00 am on New Year’s Day with a stomach bug, which ran its course through all 5 of us before departing to the homes of some of our friends (sorry). Due, in part, to those unanticipated events, we’ve been far less productive than we’d hoped during these Christmas vacation weeks.

As a naturally task-oriented person, it’s so easy for me to fall into frustration and discouragement in this situation. I want to catch up on all of these items that perpetually occupy my “to do” list. And while I love my husband and children to no end…

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who could resist these cuties?

…I also like to feel like I exist as my own person, distinct from them and from my serving of them.

I’ve been wondering, lately, how do other moms stay themselves? Particularly other homeschooling moms, who are with their children 24/7 – what do they do? How do they take time away from their families as a blessing, enjoying it but equally enjoying their reentry into family time, taking care of the dishes that have piled up in the sink and the crumbs that have covered the floors during their few hours away, without complaint? What do they do that is their own, not about their husbands and children, and how do they do it while still caring for their husbands and children?

As I’ve contemplated these ideas, I’ve become convinced of a few things –

  1. My life doesn’t begin the instant I move outside of serving my family but exists in serving and loving my family. I can (and do!) find joy in building a train track on the living room floor, curling up on the couch and reading together, tickling my baby, and hanging out with Matt at the end of the day. That those moments constitute a large majority of my time is a blessing and fulfills the calling I believe God has on my life.
  2. In many cases, I can choose the lens through which I see my life and circumstances. I can accept with gratitude and thanksgiving whatever God sends my way, or I can spend my time wishing for something else and becoming increasingly discouraged.
  3. My sense of self and ultimate hope cannot be based in my checking tasks off my list, in meeting budget goals for the month, or any other earthly accomplishment. When Peter exhorts us to be prepared to give an answer to “anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” (1 Peter 3:15), he’s referring to nothing less than our trust in Christ. If I am binding my sense of self and hope to anything else, I am setting myself up for disappointment. Only if I center my life around God and being and doing what He has called me to can I live a life filled with true hope and joy.

Lord, please help me to live a life of gratitude, even if my hours are filled more with cleaning up vomit than with accomplishing tasks on my to do list!

another Thanksgiving blessing

In addition to the joy of spending time with family over Thanksgiving, Matt and I were also incredibly encouraged by our time with some friends.

One of the hardest parts of leaving Chicagoland for Missouri was moving away from a number of good friends, many of whom were older than us and from whom we had learned so much and with whom we had enjoyed so many grace-filled hours.
We’ve spent time with Frank and Sheri and Noah, Jackson, Natalie, and Ellie playing games, running all over the City Museum, discussing literature, parenting, counseling, and theology, and exploring such important questions as whether it is possible to consume 6 Saltine crackers in 1 minute.

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The Saltine Challenge (Summer 2009)

Ken and Tammy have offered much marriage and life counsel to Matt and me over the years. We’ve traveled with them, shared meals with them, laughed with them, cried with them, prayed with them, and so much more. It has been a joy for us to spend many hours with Natalie and Stephen and later Glendy and Larissa, as well.

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their visit to Columbia (Summer 2010)

And the Conlons have been part of my life for more years than virtually anyone else – Helen was my 2nd grade teacher, and when she learned I’d be attending Northwestern University, near where she and her husband Eric had moved after they’d gotten married, she welcomed me (and later Matt, too) into her family’s life. I started baby-sitting for Catie during my freshman year of college and later spent many hours with both Catie and Maggie, baby-sitting, enjoying the family’s company, and joining them as they battled through Maggie’s cancer.

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Catie as the flower girl in our wedding

Though I did a woefully poor job of capturing these encouraging moments in photographs, we were able to spend some time with each of these families during our Thanksgiving travels, and it was wonderful. There’s something about those 10 or 20 year long relationships. These people know us – our strengths and weaknesses, the good and the bad. They love us wherever we’re at but also encourage us, sometimes explicitly and other times implicitly, to grow more and more into the people God designed us to be. Their love for us mirrors His love for us. And we feel the same way about them. I believe I will count each and every one of these people as friends until the day I die, and I’m ever so thankful. These friends are such a blessing to us, and those few hours we had with them were a true joy.

Two-And-A-Half Months with Our Little Guy!

Our little guy is now over 2 months old!

Atticus is an incredibly happy baby.

054And he continues to be everyone’s favorite little snuggle bug.

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He’s definitely growing well. At his two-month appointment with his pediatrician, he was in the 88th percentile for length and 73rd percentile for weight. He seems so big to me that I was actually surprised those numbers weren’t higher!

He’s also getting stronger all the time. He enjoys tummy time more now that he can hold his head up a lot better – and of course the girls are always eager to come hang out with him on his blanket.

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He truly enjoys his sisters. He’s a social little guy, so he doesn’t like being put down and left alone, but I often set him up in his bouncy seat and ask one of the girls to sit and talk to him while I get dinner going or switch the laundry or something of that nature. I’ll return to find them cooing and smiling at each other happily 🙂

He gets a ton of language exposure. I was actually worried that he wouldn’t pick up words as quickly as Miranda did, since I wouldn’t be able to give him as much direct one-on-one time, but now that I’ve seen what his life actually looks like, I realize how silly that concern was! Matt and I both still talk to him quite a bit, but the girls are also speaking to him constantly. On top of that, we read to the girls a lot, both for school and for fun, and he’s around for much of that and just soaks it in along with them.

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And – in response to the #1 question for parents of babies his age – he is sleeping very well 🙂 He gives us good, long stretches of sleep at night, usually just waking to nurse 2-3 times each night. His naps are more variable, which is not ideal (from my perspective), but it’s very typical for a baby his age, and it’s not a real problem.

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All in all, I think things are going pretty well. We’re not back to our normal patterns from our life before his arrival, but we never will be. It feels like we’ve established at least the outline of what our new normal (for now) is, though. We’re able to do school, run errands, and take care of most of the everyday tasks of cooking and cleaning. And for the most part, Matt and I are both able to do the work we need to do and have quality time together. We’ve even been able to start spending a little bit of time with friends and having people over for dinner again.

There are hard things about this stage of life, though. I often feel like everything continues to run smoothly as long as I am working toward that end constantly – using any spare minutes to get a few more dishes into the dishwasher or start a load of laundry. There’s more to do, and everything just takes longer these days. I never know when I’m going to have a free 20 minutes to accomplish (or even start!) any task that needs to be done, and the unpredictability of it is hard for me. I’d so like to be back to my pre-pregnancy weight and be able to wear something from my closet other than yoga pants. It can be hard to connect with friends when we have 3 young kiddos. And I don’t feel like I get true breaks – since Atticus won’t take a bottle, the instant I finish feeding him, the clock starts ticking down toward the next time he’ll need me.

But the thing about adding a child to our family for the third time is that I know this time is fleeting. This stage won’t last forever – or even very long at all. Soon enough Atticus will begin eating solid food and no longer need me to be his sole source of sustenance – and then I’ll blink, and he’ll be done nursing entirely. His naps will become more regular – and then someday he’ll give them up completely. I think that this time around, I still feel the pressure of the challenges, but I can work with them. I set him up in the bouncy seat and talk to him while I do the dishes, and I grab a book to read while he sleeps in my arms. And I know that these particular challenges will pass, but in the meantime, there’s a heck of a lot of joy available.

I get to see my girls growing in their roles as helpers and nurturers. I get to see the pure joy of Atticus’s smiles and coos and laughter – and I get to be the one at whom he so often directs those beautiful gestures. I get to love and snuggle and read books and answer questions and teach facts and encourage kindness and pray for growth. I get to grow myself, learning more about patience and gentleness and kindness as I feel myself stretched.

These are good things. We’re thankful for them and thankful for the little guy whose arrival ushered us into this new stage of life.

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