Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 Year in Review

It wasn't my intention to "go green" with our Christmas newsletter this year, but I ran out of ink about halfway through printing. And with 4 kids in the house, there is a general lack of [unscribbled] paper in the house. So for everyone that didn't get an actual letter in the mail ... 

So 3 out of 4 are smiling. I would've tried for a few more retakes but immediately following this photo Jäger decided to make a run for it and Jack ended up face first in the mud--right before we needed to leave for church.

Greetings Friends,

All is calm and all is bright in the Tillman household. And since that’s pretty rare before 8pm, I’ve decided to take advantage of this moment and update you all on this past year.

We’ll start with our newest addition. Since Jon declared that 4 children was enough for our little family, we moved on to members of the non-human variety. Jäger (German for “hunter”) joined us in January. He’s a 2-year-old Vizsla/Lab mix rescue dog. After spending the majority of his lifetime in a crate, he’s very appreciative of his new home and family. He’s a sweet and affectionate canine, and a little quirky too. So while he harbors a strange aggression towards moving vehicles and vacuums, he’s kind to the kids and never, ever complains about my cooking.

Our oldest son, Jack, turned 7 in October. He’s having a great year in first grade! And while his mom has a hard time getting him to stay in his seat for homework in the evenings, he’s typically able to finish his math problems faster than her! Jack’s Christmas list can be summed up in two words: Lego and Minecraft. I think we’ve officially reached the age where we have to bribe him to spend time with us—which usually involves laughing (loudly) during family movie nights or curling up next to me while we read The Boxcar Children.

Jude is 5-and-a-half and, according to his teacher, “such a sweet and sensitive little boy.” I’ll admit to being extra-nervous about him starting Kindergarten this year, but he’s surprised us all with his joyous affection for school. He bounds off the bus and immediately starts asking to do homework. And if he doesn’t have any, he’ll make some up. Jack and Jude love playing Legos and Minecraft together, but Jude is also the family artist—often drawing pictures and writing me notes. He’s still our big helper and can typically be found by our side (and asking questions nonstop) whenever we’re cooking dinner or working on a house project.

Our little fashion princess, Julia, turned 4 in October. She started preschool two days a week this fall (that’s right, for 5 hours each week I only have one kid at home!) Lia loves to pick out her “church dress” each Sunday and wear “Mommy’s spray.” (She also likes to get into my makeup when I’m not looking.) Everybody is her “friend”—which is what she calls them all since she can’t keep track of their names. I think her love language is words of affirmation. One time her teacher sent a note home that said “You love to be silly and make people smile and laugh! Your friends and I love that!” Daddy read the note out loud at dinner one night and Lia practically fell out of her chair with pride. She now brings it to me to read to her over and over again. We’re so thankful for her girliness after raising two rough and tumble boys!

The “baby," as she proudly calls herself, turned 2 in July. Jocelyn is our little ball of fire! Surprisingly, she reminds us all of toddler Jack. Joci’s favorite activity is to scale the kitchen cabinets (she literally uses the handles/knobs as a rock climbing wall) to stand on the counter, get into mommy’s cabinet and dump out ALL the spices. Actually, we call her “The Dumper”—my “‘otion,” the kids’ shampoo, a bottle of cleaning spray (all over the TV)—nothing is sacred. She’s also got no qualms about smacking her big older brother when she’s upset or pushing Lia off the couch when she’s in “her seat.” This girl can really throw her weight around!

Speaking of weight, our “baby” has really packed on the pounds this year! In March, Joci underwent open-heart surgery at Johns Hopkins to repair an atrial septal defect (hole in her atrium wall.) The hole was discovered after her pediatrician noticed a heart murmur at her 6-month check-up. The cardiologist team decided to wait until she was older/bigger for surgery. Last February, at her 18-month check-up, they grew concerned that her hard-working heart was affecting her weight gain. And so, a few weeks later, we found ourselves tearfully kissing our baby goodbye in the operating room.

To make a long story short, Jocelyn did phenomenally well! We give God all the glory for our healthy little girl, and are so thankful for all the doctors and nurses we worked with at the hospital. Today, Joci is a chunky and energetic toddler. She’s jumped from the 0th percentile in weight to the 50th! And while it’s a huge relief when she finally falls asleep at night and can’t get into any more trouble, I’m secretly thankful for all “The Dumper’s” little antics as they’re poignant reminders that she is whole and healed!

As for me, I’ve started working from home for Regent University again. With 2.5 kids in school during the day, I was looking for something non-Mommyish to keep me occupied. Of course, working full-time might be a little more than I bargained for! The girls and I also participate in MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) twice a month and, as a Steering Team member, I manage the finances for our group. I seem to fall more in love with cooking every year, and my poor family is very patient with me and all my new Pinterest recipes. Evenings typically find me collapsed on the couch, after the kids have gone to bed, trying to stay awake long enough to read a chapter or two of a book. Let’s just say I’ve never slept so well or so hard as I do in this season of life!

Jon has become quite the craftsman this year! He made us a gorgeous farmhouse table with room for our whole family plus guests! He also crafted a stand-up desk for his office and some fabulous cedar window boxes for the house. Jon changed Coast Guard positions this summer which, thankfully, meant no more 12-hour and overnight shifts. It also meant he had to spend an entire month in Florida at training (quite the adventure for the kids and I at home!) Although he works long and stressful hours, we’re thankful that he actually enjoys his trade. Jon will be promoted to Lieutenant Commander this spring after a long wait (selected last fall).

You might say the most exciting news of 2015 hasn’t actually happened yet as we are patiently awaiting military orders for next summer. While our original plan was to try to stay one more year here in MD—a place we’ve come to love these last 4.5 year—we now know for sure that we’ll be moving. Our “wishlist” covers nearly every corner of the nation, but wherever we end up, we know it’s going to be an adventure! We’re hoping to hear something soon followed by official orders in mid-February, so be checking Facebook/Instagram/Janine’s blog for the big news (or you could just wait for next year’s Christmas card to arrive with a new return address).

If you had told me 17 years ago, when I was a teenager sporting braces and wide-legged jeans, that in 2015 I’d be married to that cutie from church, birthing 4 babies in 5 years, and preparing for a potential cross-country move with the whole brood—I’m sure I would have never believed it. But God is faithful. I see it as I look back over the last 17 (or 32) years, I see it as I think over the events of this past year, and I see it as we prepare to celebrate the fulfillment of an over 400-year-old promise—our Savior’s birth. I pray that you, too, experience His faithfulness this Christmas and into the new year!



P.S. I’ll now close what could possibly be the longest Christmas letter you receive this year with a reminder that, in case 1300 hundred words isn’t possibly enough, I sporadically update my blog with lots of pictures and gory parenting details at http://coastiemamalogs.blogspot.com.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The long expectation

The countdown is on! Several times a day, the kids are trying to figure out how many days 'til Christmas, how many days 'til "our" Christmas, how many days 'til daddy's birthday... Thankfully, the trusty Lego advent calendar helps them to figure it out on the their own, so they're not always asking me. But either way, it's like having a live, ticking time bomb--a constant reminder of just how little time I have left to get our Christmas act together!

This week at MOPS we discussed "finding rest at Christmas." One of the things we talked about was areas that we can cut back on to make Christmas more restful. Our family has already simplified our celebration a bit this year, simply out of necessity. We hung less lights, haven't put up ALL the decorations, bought fewer gifts, and only made two small batches of cookies for Jon's work party.

Because Dutch Spritz Cookies always taste better when you whip them up naked.
Can you still call it a Christmas cook when it's gluten/sugar free and contains flaxseed?
I had visions of bundling the whole family up and trekking out to a tree farm, armed with steaming hot chocolate and holiday cheer, to pick out the perfect Christmas tree. Instead, we settled for stopping by a nearby tree lot on a drizzly afternoon, nabbing the first tree that caught our eye, yelling at the kids to stop running around the tree rows, and then me dragging everyone back to the car so Daddy could finish the transaction in peace--stuffing them all with Swedish Fish and holiday radio in the meantime.

Our kids missed the "we found the perfect tree picture" because they were too busy chasing each other.

Also, she created her own holiday necklace out of old garland.
And I've been trying to be more intentional about taking a break in the evenings--like working on a Christmas puzzle or reading a book--after the kids are in bed. Sometimes I feel guilty for doing something "unproductive" but being purposeful in finding rest has its long term benefits, not the least is a more relaxed mama!

Don't be misled by this picture. I did 97% of this puzzle.

The kind of evening where you actually gasp when you walk out to your car.
All that to say, things at our house aren't exactly any slower or quieter this year, that would be near impossible with 4 kids 7 and under. That would be near impossible with just one child, namely, the 2-year-old. But we are closing out 2015 with a bang--a bang that is NO MORE DIAPERS!!

Yeah, you heard that right. For the first time in just over 7 years, the whole family wears underwear! I'm still in shock. I'm also a little sad that I won't have an excuse to make random Target runs ... but "toothpaste" has quickly replaced "diapers" in the category of "things we're always running out of." I have no idea why ...

 Thankfully, our kids are still young enough that we don't have to deal with holiday concerts and activities yet. Jude and Daddy built a gingerbread house in school on Friday (that Joci promptly redecorated...)

This is the "after" photo of the gingerbread house--complete with stool pushed over to the counter.
That same afternoon, Julia's preschool class sang some Christmas songs and enjoyed a surprise visit from Jolly Old Saint Nicholas himself. Poor girl, she was at the end of the line waiting to greet Santa and I couldn't see her through the throngs of parents snapping photos. So I had no idea she was dealing with the self-inflicted turmoil of waiting to sit on a stranger's lap.

Apparently, she was so nervous she spent the entire 15 minutes in line clawing at her chest, which was all red and scratched by the time her moment arrived. But nothing was going to get between her and those lollipops and toys that were in Santa's basket. So she stuck it out, opted for a side-hug, and even remembered to say "thank you" before dashing off as fast as a reindeer on Christmas Eve.

At the end, they allowed little siblings to say hello to Santa. Now Joci had just woken up from a car nap moments before. She had fallen asleep on the way home from dropping Julia off at preschool and  had stayed that way until it was time to return for pick up. She had a bit of an accident during her nap and wet through her undies and pretty dress (that she had insisted on wearing to be like Julia.) And of course, I didn't know until we were already at the school and she was doing that straddle-legged walk that all parents recognize. I kept hoping no one else would notice she was standing funny. But I knew there was no way I'd get her out of that assembly room without a lollipop of her own. So I let her have her chance to see Santa, ASSUMING my mama's girl/velcro baby would barely endure a side hug like her sister.

I was wrong. So wrong. Girlfriend rushed right up to the bearded fellow, said, "Hi, Santa!" and crawled up onto his knee for a snuggle. I COULD HAVE DIED. I scooted her off his lap as fast as I could and hurried back home to continue our Christmas resting in dry clothes and underwear.

This season may you rest whenever the opportunity arises.
In other news, we bought out last gift today. Well, I ordered our last gift today, from Amazon, while pulling out of parking lot of the store that didn't have what we were looking for. Yup, we actually took all 4 kids out shopping the Saturday before Christmas and NO ONE ended up injured or even crying. But I'm so glad that's behind us. Now, we celebrate. We get all giddy on Christmas parties,  Jon's birthday, drive-thru lights, extra servings of hot chocolate, all the Christmas carols, and frosty mornings (because snow it's just a little far-fetched these days.)

Because if there's one thing I've learned this advent season, it's that "merry" and "rest" can coexist. That real rest doesn't come from habits or traditions, cutting back on my to-do list, or even doing less--although all those things can be helpful during this season of life. But real rest is only found in Him. The greatest gift this season is the Savior the weary world has waited for. And that is something worth celebrating.

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.

Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
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