How To Take A Family Photo

Family photo day.

Need I say more?

First, trying to get everyone into clothes that are unwrinkled, un-ripped, and unstained is virtually a miracle in itself; try to do that by the time the photographer arrives, miracle number two.

Let me say now that we accomplished neither of these things.

Next, try to find something for the three-week-post-pregnant mother to wear that isn’t jogging pants.  Oh, never mind, just put on maternity clothes… that are wrinkled.

Then, try to configure eleven people, six of whom are under the age of ten, into some reasonably pleasing pose, while getting them to look in the same direction and smile at the same time.

Try doing this multiple times.

Not gonna happen. 

Joke continuously about Photoshopping everyone’s heads in, because, actually, that’s the only way this is going to work.

Keep upping the antics and the noise and the insanity to get the little kids to smile.

Doesn’t work.

Take the pictures inside where the lighting is bad, because it’s so cold out.  After that, decide to go outside anyway and freeze while taking all the same shots again, because, we’re dressed up after all, and this is like a once a year thing around here.  Might as well make the most of it!

Thank God for the patient friend who loves us enough to endure this torturous ritual and actually take the pictures.

Feed the kids Jellybeans for being so ‘cooperative’ and collapse on the couch, while they smile, too late for the photos.

Repeat (next year); because, it’s all about the memories.

The Whole Family’s In This Room!

IMG_1682Every once in a while, one of us will notice that the whole family is in the same room and will shout, “Whole family’s in this room!”

At which point one or two kids will vacate the room as quickly as possible, to which someone else inevitably shouts, “Whole family’s on our property!” or “Whole family’s in the universe!” (Making escape impossible).

Yesterday, the whole family was in the kitchen.  A bunch of kids where slicing our supply of softening apples, making apple sauce and dried apples, while the three kids in the background worked on some cookie decorating.

It was chaos.  It was noisy.  Handel’s “Messiah” boomed in the background, as sprinkles got liberally tossed on the cookies and the floor got moistened with apple peels underfoot.


The snow was falling outside, and no one remembered to make dinner, but it was so fun to all be in the same room together, even if the cookies did get over-decorated by Poppy and Auden (ahem, where were the supervising parents?).

One day, I may catch up on some solitude, but in the meantime, I’ll enjoy our rooms overflowing with love and each other.


In the Middle of It


It doesn’t matter if we’re washing dishes or rumbling through the dinner routine or hammering nails into the wall or dancing to music in the big room, Cotton is there, right in the middle of it.  Whatever may be going on, whatever the volume, and wherever there is action, there’s always a willing pair of arms to hold little baby sister.

She’s part of the tribe, part of everything.

In the past, I didn’t give much thought to the blessing that a new baby brings to older siblings, but it’s real and beautiful.  She summons a gentle affection out of her older siblings, a tender gaze, a wistful word, a reflective memory, or an affectionate kiss.  She calls them to maturity and gentle, attentive strength.  They love to ‘play’ the role of protector and provider; it’s built into the fabric of their hearts already.  It just takes a little one to trigger all that love.

This armload of angel-song stirs up wonder everywhere.

Bike Season

IMG_1664Yesterday marked the last bike ride of the season.  So said Ben after arriving home with at least three children in various stages of melt-down.

Sporting red cheeks and huge helmets, fully mittened and bundled, the smallest of the crew waddled into the house after the bike-ride balling, wailing and screaming (it creates sort of a nice multi-layered orchestral effect).

It had been a great time, but cold, and stopping in to meet a new neighbor was the final straw.  Poppy gave up, even ignoring the giant bag of popcorn that was hers to enjoy in the bike trailer.

Ah, the memories.

It reminds me of the time my parents spent weeks planning and arranging a big blow-out surprise birthday for my (at the time) 10-year-old brother.  At the big moment, when everyone jumped out to surprise him, he broke down in tears and hid for the first half of the party.  He just could not see that the whole affair had been arranged to be fun for him.

As parents, all we can do is our best.  Though, if we’d really thought about it, I supposed mid-November bike rides in Canada wouldn’t be at the top of most people’s list of fun things to do ;)

Art, When It’s Cold Outside

kitchenThe air came in cold today, sprinkling snow dust over the yard, while the grey sky convinced us that now is the time for cozier things inside.

With this new little wonder tucked into the crook of my arm, all I want to do is try my own hand at creation. I want to make things; paint, write, draw, sculpt, mix, sew and make a million beautiful pieces of art to make home full of light and art and inspiration while the great deep outdoors sleeps under the grey sky-blanket of winter.

I feel increasingly active again; that’s often how I feel after nine months of pregnancy… like I have just woken from a long slumber.

So what if all the ideas to make a few things things are a bit, or a lot, unreasonable!  Dreaming is half the fun.

Project number one today was play dough. Our last batch was made eons ago and had crusted over nicely with salty grit. It had also melded together into an ugly grey, so it was time. We made seven different colours and scented them with wintergreen and tangerine essential oils. The kitchen exploded as we worked our flour-goop magic. But, the kids were delighted and that was really the point.

We also tried a bookmark craft using Sharpie markers and rubbing alcohol and plastic (it sounds stupid, now that I spell it out here, but it looked cool at the beginning). It didn’t really pan out, but Poppy had a great time drawing all over her legs and arms under the table before anyone noticed.

Julie Andrews crooned in the background while we lit candles and ignored the sticky floors (with longer shadows in the house this time of year, the floors don’t look so bad – sort of). The dishes stacked up and the tables were covered in ‘process’. The whole house succumbed to ‘process’ – that awkward place of life unfolding so fast that it doesn’t get picked up in time for the next event or project or creation to launch.  But, this is how art happens; mess is part of the beauty.

Shark Tank

cotton2Gazing on the soft round face, the apple-blushed cheeks, and the milk-dribbled chin of this precious little girl is a constant reminder that I’m so out of my depth. Here I am tinkering with a miracle of eternity, trying to learn and know this kindred stranger who is counting on me for everything. I can’t even do origami and yet God has folded this little spark of wonder into my arms to establish in life and truth and love.

I watch her little tongue frantically stroking her gums, searching for milk, for the breast of perfect comfort, and all I see in my imagination is shark teeth coming to bite me as my toes curl under this new, yet familiar, routine. It always takes a little while to re-establish these tender parts of me in their purpose to nourish my little ones; it always feels like I’m facing a shark tank when I’m most vulnerable.

This only reminds me that the whole course of motherhood is one fraught with battle, struggle and impossible things. And, as much as this is true in the physical realm, I believe it’s doubly true spiritually. Every time a mother sacrifices for her children, or embraces again her purpose in being a garden of life – an Eden of sorts – a snake will show up, and will attempt to curl through her mind and tempt her with guilt, with grief, with loneliness, or fear, or anxiety… or images of shark teeth.

Daily, I fight a thousand battles in my mind and heart as I press forward in establishing the Life that God has placed under my care. This is the work of giants, and yet I am small; this is the territory of heroes, yet I am weak. Why has the impossible been so squarely placed in my lap, as though I were actually able to do something about it?

Because, God made the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.

And, so here I sit, little, foolish, fumbling me, mysteriously a complete victor already, as I surrender my weakness in exchange for God’s perfect, loving, mighty power. As I speak the truth of it all out loud, the shadows and questions in my mind vanish like a mist: as I rest in Him, He will be faithful.

This is the faith-work bound up in motherhood: constantly orienting my eyes to what God has already done and receiving it with open arms; keeping my eyes off of the sharks and fastened on God.


From the moment the midwives left, Ben, the super-hero of my heart, kindly banished me and Cotton to our room to recover.

This time, I have decided not to take any medication to ease the recovery process that follows birth.  Funny, it never occurred to me to do this before, but here I go, nine kids later, trying something new.

Partly, I want my body to know what’s really going on recovery-wise, so this is helpful in letting me know my real bodily limits so as not to push back into the hubbub too soon, which I have usually done (and regretted).

So, at any rate, I’m slowly recovering in bed with Cotton, and I have time to be still, to nurse and attend to her, to read and write.

And to listen…

To the noise of the zoo below me on the main floor.  

When Ben came up to check on me earlier in the morning, I asked him if the kids were alright.  He nodded that they were doing great.

“But, it sounds crazy down there!”

“Bon, that’s the soundtrack of your life, you just don’t recognize it from a distance.”

Late yesterday afternoon, I ambled downstairs for the first time to check on things.  The house was tidy and the fire place cozily lit and the little kids were grinding wheat in the hand-crank wheat grinder in our dining room.

Then they added water to the ground wheat and sat at the table with spoons and ate the watery-wheat-stuff.

“Uh, I guess I forgot to give them an afternoon snack,” Ben reflected as he noticed the time (5:00 p.m.).

“Dad can I try to cook mine in the toaster?” Tucker asks.

“Sure, Bud.”

And off they go and put the wheat gloop into the toaster.

Feeling achy, I decide I’m not needed and head back upstairs.

Dad’s doing a great job enjoying the soundtrack of his life, and I’m going to watch Baby T.V. in my bed.

The Work of a Woman

IMG_1491The labour of waiting for a baby to arrive can be heavy.

For a few weeks I’d been feeling pretty ‘ready’ physically, but the days just kept passing with no arrival.  I was also only perhaps half-winning the battle against the anxiety and fear that can allure a pregnant mother’s mind so much in the days leading up to birth.

It was good that God saved Cotton’s birth until I had mentally and spiritually gained back the peace that He promises.

I know I owe this to the many precious friends praying for us; this truly had a transforming impact on Cotton’s arrival and contributed to my own spirit of joyful, peace-filled anticipation. 

{I believe that prayers of faith are actually a thing of substance and power and that their impact literally shifts and alters things in both the spiritual and the physical world…  so thank you my fellow pilgrims for impacting my life in such a tangible way…}

As I lay in bed, listening to my iPod and worshiping God in my heart, I felt a funny little ‘pop’ on the inside of me, then a little dribble on the outside of me, which confirmed (finally!) that this was the night of delivery!

It was 4 a.m. and I woke Ben up with the news.  He launched into wakefulness with a mile-wide smile and just couldn’t stop grinning after that.  While I called the midwife, he set to work preparing what was needed.

Then, he woke up Sunny.

Since finding out about this baby, Sunny has requested, pleaded, begged and negotiated to be at the birth.  Thus far, only Ben and a midwife (oh, and once, my panicked sister, caught off guard!) have attended my labours, which is how I have preferred it.  However, Sunny’s heart has long been desiring to be both a mother and a midwife, and so this time, I told her she could join us in the birthing room.

She was thrilled.

We talked about it for days before, discussing what it’s like and what happens, so that she wouldn’t be too surprised or overwhelmed.  When the time came, her early morning sleepy eyes were animated with sparkles as she stepped into my room.  She came quietly to where I was and stroked my arm, thrilled to be let into this secret, mysterious world of womanhood, then settled herself quietly on a chair to watch the drama of new life unfold.

The midwives arrived, but, they were not about to let her stay in that chair.  Upon learning of her interest in midwifery, they completely involved her in the whole process of Cotton’s arrival.

I’m told that I was only in the pushing stage for 4 minutes.  (This hardly seems likely, as the one actually doing the pushing, I think they were missing a few zeroes at the end of that number.)  At any rate, after that ‘supposed’ four minutes was over, Sunny caught her own baby sister in her own gloved hands and then helped pass her to me.  That ten year old girl was all smile; it was like a dream for her.

So Cotton worked, and I worked, and Sunny worked too: the work of women, being born, giving life, and using our hands to invite more love into the world.

Then for the next hour Sunny helped do all the baby care: she cut the cord, and took the temperature checks, and weighed, and dressed the baby, thrilling under the gentle tutelage of the midwives who were so eager to show her the ropes.  (Suffice it to say, Sunny rocked *homeschooling* that morning!)

Since then (the last day and a half) Sunny has scarcely left Cotton’s side, attentive to every need and whim of a little person whom she does not yet know but loves with a passion as solid as any enduringly deep relationship could bear.

And as I watch her attend to her little sister, I see her step into the work of her own womanhood, passionate, strong, capable and called, with a vision for the beauty and sanctity of life that is woven within her even now.

This messy, sleepy, gritty work is our high calling; what a thing to share it together as women.

She Came!


Just like the last few nights in a row, contractions worked their way in me through the night last night. Sleepless again, I Iistened to Majestic through the dark watches of the moon, wondering again if this would just be pretend labor.

But, she came.

At 5:24 a.m. all 8 pounds and 8 ounces of her arrived in my bedroom, fully real, fully there.

Her name is Cotton Song.

‘Cotton’ as in the cotton flower; on the inside, white and pure, malleable and soft in her Maker’s hands. On the outside, bearing an armour of sorts, strong and ready to fight the battles that God places before her, wearing His full protection. ‘Song’ reminds us of the joy-filled praises that are always on our lips as we follow our King into deeper and deeper places of peace and freedom in this life.

We are both well and happy to be in each other’s arms.

{More story to come after we’ve slept awhile!}

Mealtime Connection


At mealtimes we all gather together over food.  It’s also a time of deliberate and necessary fellowship that we don’t want to waste on small-talk or a mere survival-mode mindset!  Even though, around here, mealtimes are generally chaotic and noisy, they are still an occasion where we work to be intentional in our connection with each other, even if only for a couple of minutes.

Our primary goal is not just to fill bellies, but fill hearts and nourish the spirit.  Food is just the excuse to come together!

At breakfast, we aim to attend to the attention span of the smaller children, as we take some time to invest in their little spirits.  We read and re-read through The Jesus Storybook Bible, practice a memory verse and/or sing a song together.  Often, we’ll chat about something we read in the story and review the upcoming plan for the day.

It’s a grounding time for all of us, as we come together after a long night, and orient to the day ahead, beginning with first things and higher order things, setting our hearts on the right trajectory at the start of the day.

At dinner, we read through a Bible story or passage and have a discussion more suited to the older children.  We often sing a couple songs too, but, one idea that I picked up from Nancy at the retreat a couple of weeks ago was ‘the prayer box’.

Their family has two boxes, one filled with cards for family and extended family members and another box filled with cards noting ‘urgent needs’ and ‘global issues’ (these things rotate over time).  Every evening at dinner each person picks a card and prays for the name/need on that card; it helps keep them focused and deliberate about praying together as a family.

I loved this idea!

It has been so much fun for us to adopt this concept.  The little kids actually love it most of all, and are always pressing to make sure I don’t forget to pull out the prayer cards before the end of the meal.  It has been so impacting for me to hear even some of our youngest children praying for the people in our life, and for some of the issues going on in the world.

{One practical note: I did laminate the ‘family’ cards, which proved to be smart in the end, as Poppy stuck her “Aunt Julie” card right in her bowl of chili as soon as she got it in her pudgy little hands; nothing like the relief of just washing it off at the end of the meal!}

What a blessing it is to come together and bring to God the people we love and the things on our hearts and lay them all before Him, trusting Him with every little bit.  And no one is too small join the process!