Looking back on 2018.

How much was a product of our decisions, and how much was in the cards all along?
— Lisa Gungor, The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen

Truth be told, I’d rather look ahead than look back. I could write a book about the lessons I learned, the mistakes I made, all the ways that I failed, but in the spirit of #2018bestnine, I’m grateful for these nine “bests.”

The highlight: the news and the birth of our third baby boy and the end of being pregnant. Our favorite getaway: The Beach Lodge. Best financial goal hit: paying off my grad school loan. Best habit: recalibrating with the Intentional Living Worksheet every month. Favorite house project completed: turning our loft into a “movie theater”. Best fitness goal completed: hitting a 60-day Peloton streak while I was 8/9 months pregnant. Best relationship practice: regular date nights and business meetings with my hubs. Favorite family goal: intentional monthly adventures, like Disneyland, with the boys.

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… and, of course, the books I finished reading this year (not including the huge stack on my nightstand that I’ve started), my favorites in bold.

  1. A Simplified Life: Tactical Tools for Intentional Living by Emily Ley

  2. Hello Sunshine: A Novel by Laura Dave

  3. Touch by Courtney Maum

  4. Love Your Life, Not Theirs: 7 Money Habits for Living the Life You Want by Rachel Cruze

  5. Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

  6. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

  7. Our Tiny Useless Hearts by Toni Jordan

  8. The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

  9. Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes & Jo Piazza

  10. Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

  11. At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the World by Tsh Oxenreider

  12. An American Marriage: A Novel by Tayari Jones

  13. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

  14. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

  15. The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships by Suzanne Stabile

  16. Reading People by Anne Bogel

  17. You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

  18. Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown

  19. You are a Writer by Jeff Goins

  20. When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger

  21. A Lady’s Guide to Selling Out: A Novel by Sally Franson

  22. Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy by Getting More Done by Laura Vanderkam

  23. Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

  24. The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth by Chris Heuertz

  25. Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for an Active Life by Phileena Heuertz

  26. Come Matter Here: Your Invitation to Be Here in a Getting There World by Hannah Brencher

  27. The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller

  28. How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn

  29. Be the Gift: Let Your Broken Be Turned Into Abundance by Ann Voskamp

  30. What Comes Next and How to Like It: A Memoir by Abigail Thomas

  31. Begin Again: The Brave Practice of Releasing Hurt and Receiving Rest by Leeana Tankersley

  32. Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan

  33. The Marriage You’ve Always Wanted by Gary Chapman

  34. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir by Haruki Murakami

  35. The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen: Opening Your Eyes to Wonder by Lisa Gungor

  36. The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile

  37. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

  38. Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst

  39. Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler

  40. The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs

  41. Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life by Lauren Winner

  42. Design Your Day: Be More Productive, Set Better Goals, and Live Life on Purpose by Claire Diaz-Ortiz

  43. Cozy Minimalist Home: More Style, Less Stuff by Myquillyn Smith

  44. The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty

  45. We Were Mothers: A Novel by Katie Sise

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2018 was beautiful and surprising and I won’t forget it, but I’m also glad it’s almost behind me. I’m already so excited about 2019 and what we have lined up – our annual new year’s family beach retreat, an Exhale writing workshop, the getaway that we just booked for our anniversary this summer, and a new house… maybe? So many things! Here’s to a blank slate and a new chapter. See you in 2019.

Do You Hear What I Hear.

Said the night wind to the little lamb // Do you see what I see // Way up in the sky little lamb // Do you see what I see // A star, a star // Dancing in the night // With a tail as big as a kite // With a tail as big as a kite

For my 31st birthday, in December of last year, our family stayed at the German Schmear house in Waco, Texas. For fans of Fixer Upper, this house is a favorite – rustic Texas meets French provincial meets West Elm. Max Lucado’s daughter and son-in-law own this house, and in the master bedroom is a beautiful custom art piece of the blessing that he spoke at their wedding.

For a few days, it is our home away from home. We huddle on the couch in matching family pjs – dark green plaid Hearth & Hand union suits. I happen to have my phone in hand, when Judah, my 11-month old, takes his first steps. He stands first, looking around. I start recording at the same time my heart skips a beat – I know I’ll want to remember this. He takes one small step, then uses his other leg like a lever, swinging it forward straight and strong, his tiny, round face set in bulldog determination. We’re watching now, all of us, and cheering.

“Keep going, bud! You’re walking!”

We watch the video later, and my voice is the loudest one. I see you, big guy, I’m saying. I see you.

Said the little lamb to the Shepherd boy // Do you hear what I hear // Ringing through the sky Shepherd boy // Do you hear what I hear // A song, a song // High above the trees // With a voice as big as the sea // With a voice as big as the sea

We flew into Dallas on a late flight, navigating around the boys’ bedtimes, so we could have an extra night in the German Schmear house.

It is the worst flight I have ever been on. The winter weather is just stormy enough to cause turbulence, and before landing, we make three loops, each plummeting in intervals so hard and so fast that women are screaming prayers and children around us are crying. In my head, I pray, Lord, help us survive this. Out loud, I whine cry to my husband, trying to hide my fear, “Why can’t we just land already?”

The boys, miraculously, sleep through the entire thing.

We disembark, and shakily collect our bags. Outside, as we wait for the rental car shuttle, the rain begins, softly at first, then harder. We’re from Southern California – in other words, unprepared. The boys are awake now. The shuttle arrives, and we squeeze in, cold and wet, when we hear out of the speakers, the Revelation song.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. Who was, and is, and is to come.

“Do you hear that?” says Noah.

He recognizes the words from Revelation 4:8, his first memory verse.


Said the Shepherd boy to the mighty king // Do you know what I know // In your palace wall mighty king // Do you know what I know // A child, a child // Shivers in the cold // Let us bring him silver and gold // Let us bring him silver and gold

We must have caught a bug from the airplane travel.

We were sick for three weeks straight. It started as an upper respiratory virus that turned into an ear infection that morphed into bronchitis. We missed three Christmas parties, including one at Nobu (insert all the wailing face emojis here). Noah skipped entire weeks of preschool that we paid for, including his first Christmas chapel. We didn’t make it to Disneyland, where we promised the boys we would go for Judah’s 1st birthday, in lieu of a party.

Instead, we lay huddled in bed, the four of us, shivering and clinging to each other for warmth.

We were together. I forget the rest, wrote Walt Whitman.

Said the king to the people everywhere // Listen to what I say // Pray for peace people everywhere // Listen to what I say // The child, the child // Sleeping in the night // He will bring us goodness and light // He will bring us goodness and light

We’re at the nativity lighting at our church. The scene is high on a hill next to the 5 freeway, in South Orange County, a Christmas reminder to the thousands of cars that pass daily. We’ve seen it in passing, but never up close. After the service, I’m handed a candle that I almost don’t take because I have a one year old on my hip and a three year old ready to impale himself on a candy cane. We wait, and wait, and wait. We are cold, and the mulled cider that was boiling hot when it was poured is now lukewarm at best.

Finally, the lights come on. Impatience turns into wonder. At the top of the hill, the wisemen, the shepherds, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus glow, colorful and bright.

Now, December 2018, a year later, and we have another baby boy, our happy surprise.

December, 2018.

December, 2018.

We’re celebrating Judah’s 2nd birthday now – we give him the choice between an indoor playground and the beach, and future surfer boy that he is, he chooses the beach. It’s December in Southern California – in other words: sunny, clear, 70 degrees. A dreamily perfect day. We drive down streets with wreaths on the lampposts, and after lunch on the pier and ice cream for dessert, we stop at a ceramics shop.

We’ve come here before, for each of the boys to have impressions done. Today, Judah chooses a horse to paint, like Spirit, his favorite show. We have our last baby boy’s six week hand and foot impressions done. We’re loading the boys into the car seats to head home when we hear the bells  from the church nearby playing O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

Do you hear what I hear.

When we’ve stopped to notice, we see the signs that Christmas is coming. We find the season strung with hope –  where we’ve looked, and when we’ve listened.

God meets us where we are. The place of first steps. The place of fear. The place of sickness. The place of awe. The place of celebration. And into these places, he brings us goodness and light, preparing our hearts for His Christmas gift.

Present: A Practice.

My days are looking a whole lot different from six months ago when I was up at the crack of dawn because of pregnancy insomnia. These days – with a toddler, preschooler, and newborn on different sleep schedules – my morning routine has gone out the window. I came across the PRESENT principle in the book Design Your Day, and it turned out to be the best takeaway from that book. PRESENT is an acronym that the author uses for her morning routine – P for Pray (or Pause), R for Read, E for Express, S for Schedule, E for Exercise, N for Nourish, and T for Track (progress). I love this so much that I’ve adopted and adapted it for myself as a daily self-care checklist for this season and the ones to come.

PRESENT over perfect.

PRESENT over perfect.

PRAY

It’s been a rough year in some respects (and a great year in others – I’m not complaining!), so I’m re-learning how to pray in different ways. The daily Examen is becoming a favorite practice, and I’ve found the Book of Common Prayer to be helpful when I just don’t have the words. Next year, I hope to restart the practice of centering prayer. For the Advent/Christmas season in particular, I love what Sarah Bessey writes.

READ

I usually start out the day reading a book like this one, but basically, I’m reading all day long in bits in pieces (lately: memoirs). Reading is one of my favorite ways to start the day, and the fact that I can both relax and feel productive without leaving the bed is a bonus.

EXPRESS

I write the clearest in the morning, but like reading, I write all day long. I journal my feelings, so that I can clear my head. I write down endless lists and braindumps. I write bits and pieces of blog posts and ideas.  Recently, I’ve adopted the practice of spiritual journaling – writing down my prayers, and then copying scripture, and personal or insights from devotional books.

SCHEDULE

Hands down, the Day Designer has been my best scheduling tool. Even on weekends, I start the day by writing my ideal schedule and calendaring events and appointments.

EXERCISE

Ideally, this happens at the beginning of the day because my motivation starts waning as the day progresses. My goal for this season and the upcoming year is to exercise 6 times a week and to do core compressions daily. I’ve had a postpartum healing setback, but my main focus is getting my core and strength back because carrying/chasing after three boys is no joke.

NOURISH

I am 100% a coffee person. Steaming hot coffee or a latte first thing in the morning is one of my favorite rituals, but I’ve found soul care in other places too – talks with sisters/friends, preschool walks with my crew, and allowing myself the gift of resting with my newborn boy sleeping on my chest.

TRACK

I naturally check my to do list progress at the end of each day, but I’m learning to spend more time reflecting with gratitude on the gifts of the day. Before I go to bed,  I use the Rifle Paper Co. Five Year Journal set to document the highlights of each day along with five specifics for which I am grateful.

What practices or routines are you embracing this season? I’d love to know!


Fall: Reset

It feels like it was just July – my favorite month this year – and now it’s October, the start of a season of holidays and celebrations and a little bit of sadness because it won’t look the same as last year. It’s a season of beginnings – baby boy’s birth and becoming a mom of three – and endings, too – the close of 2018 and saying goodbye to 31 for both me and my husband.

Probably one of our last photos as a family of four.

Probably one of our last photos as a family of four.

I listened to a podcast recently that talked about the things that people do to retain a sense of calm and structure when the rest of the their lives are chaotic with travel schedules or significant life changes. For some people, it’s not missing a workout, even if they end up jogging in place in their hotel room. For others, it’s eating the same thing for breakfast every day – one less decision to be made. The craziness doesn’t last forever, but the practices stay constant.

Another thought I’ve been mulling over: “Our souls have seasons,” Adam McHugh wrote. “I want to let the seasons, and their inherent gifts, rhythms, and offerings, teach me how to live and to be more human.”

Yes, and yes.

In these #last90days, I’m embracing both the discipline of sticking to ways of living that remind me who I am at my core and the practice of paying attention to the unique rhythms and experiences of this season. I am not the same person that I was three months ago, and also, I am more me than I have ever been.

I believe in letting the seasons refine us – through what we shed, and what we adopt; in the ways we grow together or apart; in the beginnings and the endings; in each choice: bitterness or grace, anger or love, disappointment or hope, what changes or what stays the same. I believe that the way things end matter as much as how they begin.

The direction I’m headed:

Mind

I have a huge list of books on my reading list (no surprise), with a memoir trend happening:

I blame it on reading Kelly Corrigan’s book, Tell Me More, especially these quotes:

“Maybe you can still be a decent-ish person, a person with a personal mission statement, a person who aspires to be someone habitually good and highly effective, and fuck up.”

and

“[on I love you].

The first time the words pass between two people: electrifying.

Ten thousand times later: cause for marvel.

The last time: the dream you revisit over and over and over again.”

Body

If this boy is anything like my first two, October might be my very last month of being pregnant. I’m more than halfway through my goal of finishing my 60-day spinning streak. I screen workouts based on their playlist, so I put together my own playlist for Peloton. I’m working on a Fall playlist, but I’ve only added three songs: Best Shot (on repeat – the perfect song to slow dance to on the rooftop of the Ole Hanson Beach Club at sunset), Reckless Love (the promise I hold onto), and Damage (because it is so hauntingly sappy, and sometimes, a girl just needs some of that in her life).

After baby comes, my “workout” plans involve walking: for five minutes a day to start, then increasing by a minute each day until the end of the year.  Two weeks after baby’s birth day, if all goes well, my plan is to begin this 8-week Core-Floor Restore program. Can you tell that I’m terrified of “abdominal separation” and “pelvic floor prolapse”? I’ve generally been a secure person in all parts of my life, but pregnancy can throw you for a loop.

Heart

More than anything, I want to be a better mom and wife this season (and really, every season). I’m prepping for labor and postpartum with daily mindfulness and meditation practices, an evening gratitude list, and working through the MomStrong study with one of my girlfriends. This is the first time I haven’t been at the same stage of pregnancy with close friends or sisters – it’s strange and a little lonely – kind of like life in general, depending on the season you’re in. My goal is to spend as much quality time with my boys as possible, especially once I’m on maternity leave. There are so many fun things we haven’t done yet or lately, like storytime at the local library, Pretend City, and Little Lido Kid’s Club.

I’ve gotten back into podcasts, also along the mom/wife theme:

I may physically be waddling my way through this next month. Or rolling, maybe? (Front heavy).  Even through the discomfort and likely sleep deprivation, I want to be present to the miracles, tangible and otherwise, that this season has to offer and to end 2018 well.

Summer Home.

We are all strangers in a strange land, longing for home, but not quite knowing what or where home is. We glimpse it sometimes in our dreams, or as we turn a corner, and suddenly there is a strange, sweet familiarity that vanishes almost as soon as it comes…
— Madeleine L’Engle, from The Rock That Is Higher
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Summer comes to a close today. This summer for me was mostly a dream, partly a nightmare, partly déjà vu – like I had been through a season like this before but could only recall the feelings and not the outcome.

I’ve been trying to make sense of these last few months, and what I keep coming back to is that the season has felt like searching for home and finding pieces of it in the most surprising places. There’s the home that we build, the home that we find, and the one of which we only get glimpses.

The other day was one that started off sour. I was in a bad mood – I just wanted to get out of the house before noon, and all I could think about was what was undone, both literally and emotionally, and the clutter everywhere. Then, after we set up our towels and umbrella at the beach, after I had coffee and a burger – because truly, is there anything scarier than a hangry and undercaffeinated pregnant woman? – I watched my boys dance around the in the sand and felt the baby kick in my stomach. We ate mud pie on the pier and watched the surfers and the waves. There was sunshine and sea breeze, and the day turned out to be all kinds of perfect.

For five years, it was just Ruth and Dave, two kids who chose to grow up together, who chose love when it felt alternately inevitable and impossible. For a season, we lived across the world and only had each other.  Now, nine years into marriage, we’re a family of four, with one of the way.

My preschooler, Noah, told me the other night, “I’m so lucky. I get to snuggle you and hold your hand.” In a season of distraction – where it felt like my heart, mind, and body were all wandering around in different places – moments like these were and are the greatest gifts.

There is no substitute for showing up to the life that you’ve built.

What I’ve learned, also, is that there are pieces of home in the friendships that I’ve invested in – relationships where I’ve found parts of myself or seen traits that I didn’t know I had reflected back to me. There are relationships that make us feel known and loved, that point us in the right direction, the ones where we feel safe even at our most vulnerable. These connections aren’t perfect – because we’re human – but I’m grateful for them nonetheless.

This season was both surprising and familiar, disconcerting and sweet, heartbreaking and nostalgic. I’ve learned that it’s ok to feel the tension between two disparate states of being. The tension is a reminder that there is a home that we can’t quite grasp – one that we can sense but feels just out of reach. It’s ok to mourn not only for what we have lost, but also for what was never ours. There are things that we want that are not for this lifetime. Or maybe they are, and we just can’t see the way to them from where we stand.

Seasons are porous, especially in California. One day, you can drive with all your windows rolled down because of the chill in the air, and then the next day, it’s melting hot. Summer and fall bleed into each other like watercolors, like the sand on a shore, washing in and then out again.

Tomorrow: fall, with its birthdays and celebrations and Thanksgiving.  Tomorrow: apple orchards, cider, and all things pumpkin. But I’ll carry with me this summer and what it taught me about home.