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.


… 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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


I won’t pretend that we can control the night
Or what kind of road we’re on
Or where we will see the light
But right now, I’m talking to you
I’m looking into your eyes
Right now, I’m trying to show you
That we’re gonna be alright
— Forever on Your Side (feat. JOHNNYSWIM)
No filter needed. An early November sunset view from the end of our street.

No filter needed. An early November sunset view from the end of our street.

They say that God is a storyteller. So, as the sun sets on 31 for me, I wonder: what of this year was foreshadowing, what was a detour, what was a turning point? What will I look back on years from now and be shaped by and what will have turned out to be just a blip in the radar? What events were actually breadcrumbs, hinting at a trail?

Wait, weren’t we just 22?

Wait, weren’t we just 22?

Today, as I’m writing this, I turned 32. I am so, so grateful for 32 – to start the year off with my crew of healthy, beautiful boys; for my husband/best friend; for our amazing families; for a new year of dreams and goals and sunsets. I’m reminded over and over again that I am not entitled to these – that they are gifts.

Thirty-two will be the year of my ten year college reunion and ten year wedding anniversary. There was my first job out of college, then grad school, then a baby boy every two years, and has an entire decade really passed? My husband is two months older than me, so I asked him, “Is this what you thought 32 would be like?”  “It’s better than I ever could have imagined,” he said. 

The perks of a December birthday —Christmas lights and decorations everywhere.

The perks of a December birthday —Christmas lights and decorations everywhere.

I have big hopes for this year, that maybe this will be the year that I finally go to Rwanda or the year that we make the move to the community in San Clemente that we both love. But mostly — I hope that it’s better than I ever could have imagined. I don’t know what kind of road we’re on, but I know that we’ll look for the light.

Micah David's Birth Story

I thought baby boy would be born at 39 weeks and 1 day like his brothers, on October 30th, right before midnight. Wouldn’t that be perfect – all three boys having similar birth stories?

The last of the belly photos, on October 30.

The last of the belly photos, on October 30.

“Do you know how small the chances of that happening are?” my husband said.

Still, I planned everything around that date – my hair appointment, getting my nails done, my workout goals. I didn’t even buy Halloween candy to pass out because I was sure we wouldn’t be home. At my moms’ group the morning of the 30th, I told them – “there’s still time. My contractions could start this afternoon, and he would still be born before midnight.”

Denial – it’s a powerful drug.

The 30th came and went. I was disappointed – weepy, short-tempered, unable to deal – the denial hangover hitting me hard.

On the 31st, I wake up early as usual, but this time by contractions that come steadily. I start timing them on my phone at 5:25 and shake my husband awake – “I think we’re going to have a baby today.” “That’s exciting,” he says, before rolling over.

At 8:10, bloody show. I debate whether my blowout will last through labor and decide that no, it won’t, so I wash my hair. I eat breakfast at the bathroom sink – bacon from our latest Butcher Box delivery, Eggo waffles, a perfectly cooked hard-boiled egg, iced coffee.

The morning is a blur of thoughts and tasks. Tasks: Find Judah’s costume. Pack the lavender oil and diffuser. Make sure Noah has his water bottle for school. Reply to DMs on Instagram. Thoughts: Do I have time to update our budget on Mint? Should I call Erica (my doula and friend)? Should I buy Halloween candy? I don’t update our budget. I don’t buy candy, and I don’t call Erica, convinced she would have been stuck in LA traffic while baby was being born.

I planned on chicken noodle soup with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc – “my labor wine”, I told my husband, as we stopped at Trader Joe’s on the way home from our last date night. Instead, I eat – also at the bathroom sink – half of a leftover burrito from Cuca’s, another example of expectations clashing with reality.

At 11:30 a.m., I call Labor and Delivery. “This is my 3rd baby, I tell them. “I’ll let the hospital know you’re coming,” the nurse says.

She did not let the hospital know.

When I give them my name via the wall telephone in the waiting room, the check-in nurse asks me, “What are you here for?” I wonder if she’s joking. “Uh, labor...”

A few minutes later, the check-in nurse calls a name, and Dave ushers me in. “Oh, I called Yesenia,” she says. I shuffle back out, cursing under my breath, hissing at my husband, “Help me out here.”

We’re called in again, and Dave hands the same nurse my insurance card. She looks up: “This is an infant card.” He scrambles to find my card, while I’m doubled over in the middle of a contraction.

“You’re not even helpful,” I say to him. “I should have called Erica.”

I’m annoyed and frustrated, and also annoyed that I’m annoyed, not wanting to stall labor with my negative emotions.

The triage nurse, Dawn, hooks me up the monitor asks me what my pain level is. It’s only a 4 or 5, which I know doesn’t bode well for admittance. She leave the room, and the contractions start to slow. We watch Hocus Pocus while we wait.

After 20 minutes, she checks me. “You’re at a 4. We can’t admit you until you’re at 6.” Disappointment all over again. “You can walk around, or you can go home and come back in two hours,” she says. “This happens a lot – as soon as women get in here, their contractions slow down.” At 1:50 p.m., we leave triage, and I’m back in the hallway, waddling at a snail’s pace, weighed down even more by the feeling of failure.

In college, I lived across from frat row. From my window, I could see the girls leaving the frat houses the morning after a party, still wearing their mini dresses, holding their heels, disheveled and hungover.

“This is the walk of shame,” I tell my husband. “The pregnant version.”

The contractions intensify as soon as I start walking. Of course. I have three contractions back to back, just walking to the elevator. A man stops his conversation on his cell phone to ask me if I need a wheelchair.

Outside in the cafeteria courtyard, I try a walking meditation, trying to recall everything that I read about but not actually practiced.  The contractions are intense and so painful that the only way I get through is by standing perfectly still and moaning. I make it through a few more contractions before I tell Dave that we need to go back up – and that I need that wheelchair.

“What happened to my pain tolerance?” I ask him.

All the rooms are taken, they tell us, so Dave pushes me up and down the hallway in the wheelchair. The reverberations of the wheels against the shiny floor are unexpectedly soothing. The contractions hit hard, one after another, and my moaning comes out more like a growl.

It is 2:45 when we’re called back in. My L & D nurse tells me that one of the birthing suites just opened up, so I can go directly there. “That’s the best news I’ve heard all day,” I tell her. Dawn checks me again. “You’re 6 cm now,” she says. “We can admit you.”

“I think maybe I want an epidural this time,” I say. “You want an epidural?” she repeats. I backtrack. “I’m not sure…” “You can decide after the next contraction,” she tells me.

I climb into the bed to get hooked to the monitor and the penicillin drip. A man comes in to draw my blood. More contractions that just about knock me out. “I think... I do want that epidural,” I say. “Sure, the nurse says. “But have to wait for your blood test to come back.” I know then that this will be another unmedicated birth.

I can’t leave the bed, so in between contractions, I switch positions, getting on my knees to face the window. Switching positions in this stage of labor is supposed to keep it progressing, I remember reading. I also remember reading that I should focus on what doesn’t hurt, but then I just notice that I can feel the penicillin burning through the IV in my hand.

Dave is encouraging and supporting, and I mentally take back everything I said about him not being helpful. He reminds me to relax, and in the few seconds between contractions, I do. I can see the on-ramp to the 405, and it offers a little bit of relief to know that people are still going about their day, picking up their kids from school or running to the grocery store. That even amidst the pain, cars keep moving; the world keeps turning.

I’m shaking and sweating now, and my teeth are chattering. I know this transition period from past labors. It feels awful, but I know that it’s a good sign – that I’m progressing. I change positions again, still on my knees, but with my arms draped around the back of the hospital bed. I’m in the hospital gown, which means that my backside is totally exposed, and I feel momentarily embarrassed that the first thing that the nurses will see when they walk in is my ass.

When I think that the contractions can’t get more painful, they do. I’m breathing down and trying to keep my moans lower than the decibel of a scream. From that position, I can feel baby moving into the lower part of my hips. It’s the strangest feeling, a tiny human literally traveling down your body. The midwife pops in for a minute, “Is he coming soon?” she asks me. She checks me, and I’m nine and a half cm. “Just keep doing what you’re doing,” she says. Someone asks for a delivery table, and when she leaves the room, the other nurses talk about which one of them will catch the baby if she doesn’t come back in in time.

The muscle memory kicks in – I push when I feel the intensity of the contraction coming on, and then I rest when it subsides. The midwife returns and asks, “Do you want to deliver in that position, hon?” I don’t have time to tell her that I physically cannot get out of this position. Then comes the whoosh of wetness as my bag of waters finally breaks. I grip the back of the bed and push and feel that best kind of relief when baby boy’s entire body slides out. I think the first words out of my mouth were, “I’m so glad that’s over.” It was the worst of all three labors, but gratefully, the smoothest delivery, and I’m still “intact.”

And then I somehow get my leg over the umbilical cord and into a seated position, and they place baby boy in my arms, and that moment is worth everything. “You did it, mama,” Dave says. “There he is.”

Still in the birthing suite, an hour after he was born.

Still in the birthing suite, an hour after he was born.

Micah David, born at 3:42 p.m. on October 31, weighing 8 lbs, 4 oz, and 21.5 inches long. Another tiny dream come true.

“It’s a good thing you didn’t go home,” the nurse says. “You would have had an off-ramp baby.”

“That delivery brought me back to my birthing center days,” says the midwife. Then, “Would you like to see your placenta?” I do, and she gives me a mini lesson on it. I try so hard to remember everything like it’s the last time, because it probably is.

Just SO happy.

Just SO happy.

In the moments and hours afterward, everything is perfect. Micah is perfect – tiny and round and dreamily soft. “I am so, so happy,” I say, over and over again. “I can’t believe he’s finally here.” As I hold him, we watch the sun set out the window. It’s magical – swirls of cotton candy pinks and blues whipped with creamsicle orange – the exact backdrop I would have painted for this moment.

On the way to my postpartum room, we see Dawn. “I heard you screaming down the hallway,” she says. “I was so proud.” She gives me a hug before I’m wheeled down the hallway to press the button hidden in the painting that plays the lullaby, letting everyone know that another baby has been born.

Our boy.

Our boy.

On November 1, we head home to a new month with our new baby. Four years ago, we were heading to the hospital around the same time, and now we are going home, beginning and ending our birth stories by moonlight. “This is the last of the happy hospital stays,” I tell my husband. “It feels like the end of an era.”

Motherhood has taught me that the heart can expand – there is always room for more love – and that the present too quickly becomes the past. It is the end of an era for us, the arrival of our precious newborn boy and also the last of our births. Beginnings and endings all tied with the same ribbon, these perfect, ephemeral gifts.