I love that term, weekending.  I don't know where I heard it, but I like it.  And today I am sitting on the couch with a cozy blanket and my new favorite cup of coffee (Starbucks Cinnamon Dolce) pondering the mysteries of life.  Ok, not really.  I am reflecting a little, but mostly I'm enjoying a little bit of silence after a long week.  Walker is napping in the swing and Trav took the big kids out for breakfast this morning.  I can't even tell you how wonderful the silence is to my soul, but since I'm sitting here with a keyboard at my fingertips, I suppose I'll try...

We are in that oh-so familiar time of the year when Soccer is in full-swing and all of our school year activities at Church have also kicked in.  For the last few years I've been able to juggle it with the freedom of not having to be anywhere during the day if I didn't want to be.  If Preschool was the death of that dream last year, Kindergarten has officially nailed the coffin shut.  Three weeks in now, I've accepted that I do in fact have to get out the door everyday and again in the afternoon.  But I'm not sure I like it yet!  We'll get there.  I do feel like we are finally beginning to find our groove as we all adjust, but after 5 years of basically doing the same thing or at least knowing generally what to expect in these years at home, it is odd to be walking in foreign territory in what feels like a brand new chapter in our lives.  Change is a funny thing.  It's rarely done in a vacuum or in a singular way, but instead it ripples out and affects more than you ever anticipated.  But it's part of life and something to learn to embrace rather than fight.  I'm so grateful for the way the Lord walks through every season and stage of life with us, always offering His wisdom, perspective, counsel, grace and forgiveness out of his deep love for us.  But really, the I have needed that this week.  
 It's hard to see this adorable face and comprehend how he could possibly trample on my last nerve this week, but it happened.  We're sleep training right now, meaning I am trying to get him in a more permanent groove of napping in his crib, rather than in the swing or in my arms.  Not that I'm opposed to those places for sleep, but as this little monkey grows he is quickly becoming *almost* too big/long for the swing and as much as I'd love to sit and hold him all day, I just can't and I don't want him to get dependent on that.  It always feels good in the moment but in 6 months, when he won't nap because I can't hold him the whole time, I will kick myself.  So I am trying to work hard now and help him transition so that down the road this is old hat.  It's kind of our first go-round of instilling a little independence in him and it's hard on both of us.  I'm at least trying to establish a consistent morning and afternoon nap time, but of course there are a few little nap times in the evenings too.  He's been following that routine for about a month now, but not necessarily in his crib.  We are making good progress but occasionally we still have a day when he tries to resist my efforts and he gets in that cat nap mode that gives me an immediate headache.  Those days I can feel my blood pressure rising as I lay him down, close the door and begin tackling the next thing only to have him start crying 20 minutes later.  What he is learning is that Mommy is not fooled by that or easily deterred.  I will play that game and go in there 10 times to soothe him back to sleep if I have to, but between you and I, I hate doing that!!  

I hate walking on eggshells and threatening Carter to not make a peep, but we've got to learn to co-exist  and there are lessons for all of us in that.  I always regret losing my patience and feeling so frustrated when I know what this baby needs more than anything is a nap.  I'm taking a lot of deep breaths and talking to Jesus a lot these days!  I said on Facebook this week that I'm remembering what this season of "begging" is like.  There are a lot of "please Lord..." prayers being offered right now!  And while I want to make them about Walker, I'm learning that most of them need to be about me.  "Please give me more patience, please help me to be self-controlled, please help me to answer gently, please remind me that you are in control of every part of my life, even this..." It's not just Walker who is in training, it's me too.  This is not an easy part of mothering, but praise the Lord that experience and perspective do tell me that this is just a short season and it will pay off.  And thankfully I think God gives Mothers a short memory when it comes to our kids.  After a rough day of frustration and tears, all it takes is a smile like the one above to melt that all away and soften my heart. 
He's so stinkin cute, and it's a good thing he is! 
 This girl has been rolling with the changes in her life so well.  She still loves school and wakes up everyday excited to go.  It's beginning to sink in that this is not a one-week wonder but that she'll go everyday for a long time ahead.  The weekend is kind of a new thing to her, it actually means something now when it's Friday night and when she has two days to be at home.  I love her bright smile each morning while we walk to school and drop her off.  She has aged in my eyes about 5 years, when I see her come out of the school with that backpack on her back I feel my heart burst with pride.  She is growing up.  I know that's obvious but I can't express what that feels like with your firstborn especially.  It's so ironic to me that I'm sleep training Walker and life training Ava.  
 We've had so many precious conversations as she processes her new days.  I am so thankful my first child to experience school is a girl, simply because there are no shortage of words when I want to talk to her and ask her questions!  She is happy to share everything on her mind!  Ha ha!  Hopefully that will serve as as my field notes, knowing that my boys will likely not have the same response.  She came home the first week with this little award and we were so tickled about it.  I continue to pray that she is a blessing in her classroom and in her school, both to her teachers and to her friends.  We've since learned these awards are given most days, ha ha!  I think she's come home with one almost every single day.  But still, we love to encourage her in those exact ways, being respectful, responsible, safe and cooperative.  Good things to reward, I'm thankful they get a piece of paper and not a treat or a toy however.  I'm kind of feeling like I need some kind of award too, the number of emails and the paperwork that comes home or in my inbox everyday is exhausting!  I can't imagine how this will feel when they are all in school.  I feel like I need a personal assistant just to keep up.  It's both a blessing and a curse that so much of the communication is digital now.  Less paper to keep track of, but one more reason to have to check email and the school website everyday.  
 A few weeks ago, we had our annual Family Fun Fest at Church and it was a big hit with the kids.  Thankfully we had the perfect weather for it this year, but it was one of those bittersweet days.  It's always on a Sunday afternoon and this year Travis officiated a wedding right in the middle of it, which meant I was left to go it alone with the kids.  These pictures don't do the whole thing justice, it's a massive community wide "fair" with a thousand (plus) people I'm sure.  It's basically a kid's paradise.    
 My kids loved it and the Lord was gracious to send a friend over who saw me alone with the kids to help me out and bless his heart, Trav managed to play with them for about 30 minutes before he had to get dressed for the wedding too.  It was a team effort! But with school looming the next morning, it was another reminder that we have to choose our weekend activities wisely now for everyone's sake.  Monday morning comes a little faster than it used to. 
Thankfully one of my favorite weekend activities is totally do-able, the return of college football is a good thing for tired families!  Last week we all geared up for the big rivalry game, which was a total disaster for us (us meaning Iowa, not my kids), but I'm not dwelling on it because it's a new week.  
Doesn't Walker look totally adorable in his new jersey??  
 The best dressed cheering section! 
So love these little Hawkeye fans in the making!!  Ava and Carter definitely remembered us cheering for the Hawks last year and even Carter remembered the sting of our basketball tumble from greatness.  He said something like, "Mom are we gonna be mad at the Hawks when they play basketball??"  Ha!  I had to remind him this is football and add that hopefully we won't have to be mad at the outcome of the game...turns out that was not the case last weekend.  I was definitely mad and grateful that the kids were on a run with Trav when the game ended!  
 Last weekend I did like 8 loads of laundry on Saturday.  This is what my living room looked like with two more loads to go.  Laundry for 5 is a whole new animal.  I don't love leaving it all for a one day binge, but right now that method works the best for us.  I just can't add it in the mix of a normal day yet.  I feel like I spend the week soaking clothes that have stains, diaper leaks, or spit-up and then everything gets clean on the weekends.  It's cutting into my dreams of a weekend spent shopping or totally relaxing (ha ha, those were the pre-kids years!) but that's ok.  Right now weekends seem to be about establishing order and re-gaining a little control, which is a good thing too.  
 I am reading a great book right now and I loved this!  Being a Mom and having kids, yes, both are gifts from God.  But if all of my joy is wrapped up in those gifts instead of in the giver Himself, I will miss the point and find my joy dependent on those two circumstances being in place.  The real gift of being a Mom is that God uses that role to help us become more like Him as we wrestle with the joys and heartaches, the blessings and the challenges.  He doesn't hold the goal loftily above our heads as if we need to attain a certain "mom status"to be accepted in His eyes or to be truly full of joy. Nope. He works with us in the everyday nitty gritty, in our failures and in our own struggle to overcome sin, helping us see Him and giving us a heart to become more like Him.  His work is often invisible, although sometimes its' collective proof presents itself in big ways.  And the Gospel is the power for the whole thing.  Because of what Jesus has already done and accomplished and because a better way to salvation, the only way, is offered to us freely, we can enjoy this role and the gifts God gives as part of the way that God is choosing to work in our life.  

The Gospel doesn't leave me wanting and striving, it fills me completely and gives me more than I ever deserved.  I find this so helpful to consider because otherwise I can get defeated in the struggles of everyday.  When my kids don't obey, I can lose my joy quickly if it's dependent on them.  But if my joy is wrapped up in Jesus and the Gospel, when they don't obey I can choose to remember that I didn't obey either and sin reigned in my life before I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.  I can be encouraged that God loved me while I was still a sinner and even after I've been adopted as His child, he loves me and accepts me despite my sin.  This gives me perspective and grace for my kids.  It helps me discern how to respond to them out of love, even while dealing with the consequences of their disobedience.  It also gives me hope for them because I know the hope I have from the Lord.  So instead of drowning in the fact that my kids disobey and getting defeated by what has gone wrong, I can deal with the situation and still know that my joy in Christ remains.  We can have a hard day here and my joy can persist anyway.  They don't control my joy, it's safely kept in the goodness of the Gospel for me and for them.  And that is truly freeing as a Mom!  I don't have to perform and neither do they.  But it is my prayer for them to know and embrace and believe the Gospel so that their joy will be in Jesus Christ as well.  If it was enough for a sinner like me, it is enough for them in their sin too.  And praise God for that!!  
 Carter is a gift to me and gift that points me to Christ daily! As I mother him, he helps me see so many ways that God is patient and gracious to me.  His never ending energy and determination will lead him to good things someday if we can work on self-control and submission to authority now.  And guess who always needs to work on those two things especially?  His mother.  Parenting Carter is one way God is working on my own heart and helping me see how good the Gospel is as I continually fall short apart from Jesus.  How thankful I am for Carter! 
 Ava is a gift to me and a gift that points me to Christ daily! As I mother her, I see how God longs for me to rest in Him and not perform for others' approval.  He gave her a cooperative and helpful spirit, along with the desire to please.   While this can manifest itself into outward obedience, it can also enslave her if not handled correctly or if not properly covered in God's unconditional love.  I see my own shortcomings and struggles so clearly in Ava because she is so like me.  Parenting her is one of the most gracious gifts God has chosen for me.  Watching her has unlocked some deep emotions in me, wondering if her struggles will be like her mother's.  Without the Gospel to continually set me free, Ava would have a much different Mom. I know that God has given me Ava to help her in that familiar drive of perfectionism as He works it out of me.  Such grace to pair us together! 
 Walker is a gift to me and a gift that points me to Christ daily! Right now, he is a constant reminder to die to self and put others needs above my own.  He is a need machine without a lot to give back yet, but knowing that helps me understand the Gospel in a fresh way.  It helps me realize how great the Father loves me that he would send Jesus for me, a need machine with nothing to offer Him in return.  When Walker is a challenge, how good to remember that I am too and God's love for me is not dependent on how good I am or how greatly I fall short.  He loves me regardless.  How amazing to remember and how convicting to extend.  Parenting Walker is a gift from God right now.  He is working a lot of selfishness out of me that I never would have realized has crept in.  I'm thankful for Walker and thankful for the gift of the Gospel that I see as I mother him.  
 Travis is gift to me and gift that points me to Christ daily!  I don't parent Trav, but I see the Gospel unfold in the way that he loves me and serves me.  Apart from Jesus, no one knows me more intimately or deeply than Travis and therefore, no one sees my sin more intimately or deeply than Travis.  And yet, this is an opportunity and a gift for me to become more like Jesus and to embrace the grace of the Gospel in our marriage.  Being his wife is full of joys and some struggles over the years too.  We aren't perfect partners and our choices aren't always in agreement with one another.  But as we follow Christ and seek to be more like Him, our marriage is no longer about who is right, who deserves something or who has the greater need. It's about laying down our rights and our selfish desires for the good of the other, knowing that our joy can remain and persist even when we miss the mark.  Travis isn't my source of joy, but he is a gift that can bring joy.  And the same is true of me.  God is our joy, our hope, our purpose and reward.  We have days that aren't happy, days that we fall short and offend one another, regretfully.  But we don't lose hope because our hope isn't in one another.  It's in Christ and the Gospel.  Travis is a gift that helps me see Jesus and my need for Him, every single day.  
 On the weekends I love the moments like this when I can reflect a little and enjoy the silence.  It's so easy to think that I'm not doing a whole lot besides changing diapers and making meals and cleaning up messes, but in reality, the Lord is still working through all of the mundane and ordinary parts of my day.  He's got purpose for me in all of it and He invites me to join Him right where I'm at, no matter how full my hands are.  
He knew what my days would hold, how the laundry would pile up, that the kitchen floor could feed a small village with all the crumbs, how the baby would cry and the big kids might argue...He knew and He chose to give me the gifts He did, in order to draw me to Him and make me more like Him.  On the weekends I get a little reprieve with Trav around to help me and I get to take a deep breath and thank Him for these days. There is so much to juggle and yet, so much more to be thankful for.  

And that makes for a wonderful weekend, no matter how the rest plays out!


The Thrill of the Hunt

Yesterday I had one of those random thoughts that crossed my mind and rather than dismiss it as something to do on another day, I chose spontaneity instead.  Ava was at school and the boys and I were just hanging out at home.  The weather here has been unseasonably cool lately and we woke up to some rain and overcast skies.  However as the morning wore on, the clouds parted and the rain lifted.  It was actually a lovely, Fall morning and I had an itch to get outside and enjoy it.  
But more than that, I had an itch to spend some quality time with this big guy.  Carter has been such a trooper this Summer and Fall as he has adjusted to so much transition in our family and especially in his little world.  He's handled the shift of attention that Walker has demanded from me so well, we've been equally thankful and proud of him for that.  He also patiently stood by while we prepared and focused on getting Ava's Kindergarten journey off the ground for the last month or so.  I expected him to want the backpack, supplies, new clothes, etc. that we've had to get for her, but he hasn't asked us for any of it.  He's been able to grasp that this is her turn and in a few years he will get one too.   I can't believe how much he's grown up in the midst of all of this too.  He is not the little tag-along that he's been for the last few years.  He is his own little boy now and I have been feeling my heart turning toward him even when I haven't always had the time to give him.  
But yesterday I knew we had a good chunk of time to spend without any distractions and I know the Lord prompted my heart to gift him with it.  Maybe that's been the lesson I am learning via trial and lots of error right now.  My time has never been so divided and my energy level felt so low and yet, often I feel like my time needs to go toward laundry and dishes and housework, etc.  It's never because I want to do those things, it's just that we have to eat, need some space to walk and clothes to wear!  However, I am learning that even despite all of those things, I need to choose my kids more.  
 It's easiest to choose Walker, he can't survive without me!  And Ava often gets my time because I have to get her to school, help her with anything she needs to bring to school, answer her questions or whatever.  But Carter gets the least amount of me sometimes.  He's just kind of the one who has to go with the flow and who does a lot of waiting in the meantime.  I do think it's good to have to wait sometimes, there are character lessons to learn there and that's part of life, but my heart has been sensitive for him these last few days and I just wanted to make sure he knew it.  
So I told him I wanted to go on a little adventure with him, looking for some treasures in nature together that we could collect.  
Is there any better word for a boy to hear than "adventure??"  It took him all of 2 seconds to agree and immediately we began getting dressed to head out.  The sink was overflowing, a basket of clean but yet-to-be folded clothes sat on my bed and puzzle pieces, cars, and blocks were strewn about all over the floor.  It seemed irresponsible to leave it all untouched and yet, to see the sparkle in his eyes and to see his face light up at the mention of our adventure, I knew immediately I made the right choice!  
We grabbed a bucket, put on some boots (in case there were any puddles that needed jumping in) and bundled up for some fresh air.  I had no real agenda and I didn't care what ended up in that bucket, but I did want some time with Carter.  He was my priority for an hour and a half yesterday. 
 Walker came along for the ride too, but he graciously napped the whole time so his big brother could have me all to himself. I think Carter and I were especially grateful for his generosity! 
 We are so blessed in Minnesota with amazing landscapes and so many trails.  In our own neighborhood, we have lakes, parks, trails, and a million trees all around us and every time we venture out among them, I am amazed and thankful.  We did lots of stopping so we could really see everything before us.  Like tree roots.  I'm not sure the last time I stopped to really investigate tree roots, but as I did my best to explain them to Carter I found myself in awe of them. 
I wanted Carter to know what was all around us and why, but I also wanted him to know WHO made all these things and why God as our Creator is a truth he can grasp and believe.  
We looked down at the roots, but we also looked up at those big trees and saw their branches reaching toward their creator too.  
Pretty unbelievable to comprehend, really.  It's good for the soul to take in such beauty and to marvel every now and then at what God's given us to subdue and enjoy.  I loved this foliage hanging down in front of this big, majestic tree.  It reminded me of Rapunzel's hair hanging down from her tower! 
Look how big this tree was and how tiny Carter looks next to it!  I forget how incredible it is to see these huge trees and to ponder how old they might be.  They kind of reminded me of the trees in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  
 We found an old stump and counted the rings together.  I found myself so stunned by the pops of color I kept seeing through my camera lens.  Like these bursts of green in those rings.  Amazing! 
 We ran into this odd sculpture from the 70's.  Carter thought it looked like a "creepy monster" and I couldn't really disagree.  It's kind of crazy.  
 Isn't it funny that I had to bundle him up in a coat??  
He slept like a rock while Carter and I were in hot pursuit of some cool rocks! 
And color.  We were looking for color all around us.  
Like this picture of green, on green, on brown.  
So gorgeous.
 And then out of nowhere, pops of red!  I don't know what this little berry is, but it sure was pretty.  
 We got really close and marveled at the red, orange and green berries we saw and I especially loved the little flower shaped caps that held the berries to the stems. Isn't that detail beautiful??  
What an artist our God is! 
 We poked and prodded stuff with sticks.
And found some additional Fall colors along the way that were so thrilling to both of us.  
 So good.
 Just a couple of boys and their Mom, out for a little adventure on the trails.  
 Can you see the yellow starting to peak through all that green? 
 And speaking of green, even the algae was a gorgeous shade of green.  I love the life that we get to enjoy in the spring, summer and fall after a long bout of winter with no leaves, no grass and no green.  In a few more weeks, this trail will look completely different.  There will be fewer leaves and a lot less green.  But right now it is still thick and lush and gorgeous.   
 A sure sign of Fall in the air?  Paths covered in leaves! 
 We encountered several forks in our road...
 ...and learned how to navigate a map.  Which is pretty thrilling when you're almost 4.  
 We ended near the lake and got to see some of the trees that are just starting to turn color, ever so slightly.  Pretty soon, this will be an unbelievable display of orange, red, yellow, burgundy and rust.  
I can't wait! 
 We found flowers popping out of weeds and talked about how God surprises us like that, with beauty and hope among circumstances that can seem pretty ugly and hard.   
 We had a goal to find a red leaf on our walk, but when Carter spotted these purple flowers and this pink bush, we immediately thought of Ava.  
 This is one of my favorite places in the Fall because it is the most brilliantly colored wall, as the Fall emerges.  
We snipped a little pink cluster and added it to our bucket so we could bring it home and show Ava.  
That was Carter's idea because he's sweet and sensitive like that. 
I love that about him.  
Tough and tender.  It's a good mix! 
 I can't tell you how much fun we had together, just talking and walking and hunting for our treasure.  
In the end, Carter ended up with a bucket of things that mattered to him and that he wanted to share, but I got the real treasure simply because I got to spend this time with him.  
 I'm trying to choose my kids over all the other stuff, as often as I can.  It's a juggling act now, with 3.  But I love the challenge and I love each one of them so much.  I'm exhausted most days but every now and then I get these pockets of time and energy to invest in my kiddos and I'm grateful for the grace to take them.   Even though a great meal is a worthy investment in their health, and a clean and organized home can be a haven for them, if I miss their hearts in all of it, I've missed the most important part of mothering.  
They are worthy of my time, divided as it may be and I love one on one interactions whenever I can get them.  
Carter and I had a blast together, but what about this little love?  Well he slept the whole time, just like this.  What a cute face to stare at in the middle of God's beautiful Creation.  
He definitely trumps the trees, the leaves, the flowers and all the colors in the world.  

It was a great morning of adventure with my boys!  
The first of many to come, I hope.