where I’ve been…

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Surprise! ¬†God has surprised and delighted us with another baby on the way! ¬†I’m always very sick for the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, so if you’ve wondered where I’ve been, this should explain it. ¬†No coffee, no knitting, no reading, no photography, just lots of laying around riding the waves of nausea. ¬†I’m thankful to my family and especially to Brandon for carrying the load while I’ve been MIA. ¬†I’m not feeling better quite yet so I may still be quiet for awhile, but we wanted to share our news with you. ¬†Baby is due Feb 2018!

on birthdays and finding joy

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My birthday last week was a fairly ordinary “workday” for me, and also not the easiest day with the children. ¬†I found myself scrubbing toilets and floors, folding laundry, settling sibling disputes, feeding hungry mouths–all the usual work that fills my days up to the brim. ¬†Of course there is a part of me that wants to just rest and be free from all work for a day (unrealistic), but then I also don’t mind taking care of these little ones that I love so much and this home that keeps us all together. ¬†I share my birthday with my mom, so my gift to her this year was to buy a few skeins of yarn for her to choose from so that I could knit her a shawl. ¬†She picked the color I had had on my mind for her, a rustic-y soft light red called Bergamot, and helped pick out a shawl pattern. ¬†I wanted to wind up her yarn on our birthday and cast on. ¬†I realized as I began knitting it that I was knitting this exact pattern just about this time last year on a road trip to upstate New York with Brandon’s family as a commissioned shawl for a friend. ¬†How funny and coincidental to be knitting it again at the same time a year later. ¬†It’s such an enjoyable pattern–all knitting and yarn overs and no purling!

I had planned on making a yummy dinner for my birthday since Brandon would be working a normal work-day and since we never really eat out with Phoebe and her dietary needs. ¬†I wanted to make Against the Grain’s Pesto Prosciutto Chicken with a GF pasta on the side, and creme br√Ľl√©e for dessert, which is my favorite. ¬†The dinner took longer than I expected and once I got it in the oven, the kids and I and Brandon decided to go for a walk while it baked. ¬†It had been raining and we had felt a bit cooped up. ¬†The kids splashed in all sorts of muddy puddles so B bathed them quickly when we got home while I finished up dinner and it was late and nerves were a bit raw by this time. ¬†My dinner didn’t look at all like the lovely cookbook’s pictures, which is always annoying, but it was still delicious. ¬†I had made a creme br√Ľl√©e earlier in the afternoon and infused it with culinary lavender because I love love love lavender especially in desserts.

We lit candles and I turned on french music because somehow everything felt like a french sort of dinner, and we ate at nearly 8pm. ¬†I had some cards to open, and then B put the finishing touches on the creme br√Ľl√©e, the kids sang happy birthday to me which was the best part. ¬†The fuzzy photo of me with phoebe is the only such picture I snagged on this day, but its worth including since this is me, turning 33.

I had received word in the afternoon that Brandon’s grandfather had died. ¬†He had been in the hospital after some falls and other health issues so we knew it was coming, but it still felt so soon. ¬†Sadly we weren’t very close with him, but it’s still surreal and strange to consider death on your birthday. ¬†Probably quite healthy. ¬†Really that’s what we’re all marking–here’s another year, gone. ¬†Another year comes–bringing me closer to my own end. ¬†Time is passing, time is coming. ¬†Let’s stop and celebrate and remember and pay attention.

We quickly got the kids to bed, then got cozy for a movie of my pick. ¬†We watched “Florence Foster Jenkins” which was so interesting and funny and also a little sad (based on a true story). ¬†I cried and cried at the end. ¬†I don’t want to spoil the movie for those of you who may want to see it, but I will say I commiserated with the protagonist (Meryl Streep). ¬†She loved music and in her mind she had a beautiful singing voice, but in reality her voice was terrible. ¬†She pursues singing and her husband tries desperately to protect her from the truth of her real performance. ¬†It makes you wonder: Is this reality that we know of ourselves the reality others know of us? ¬†Aren’t so many of us afraid that maybe everyone is really laughing at us and about us behind our backs? ¬†What if we are really quite terrible at the things we think we’re good at, at the things we most love?

I’m sure it was the combination of watching that movie, it being my birthday, and also processing the news of Brandon’s grandpa’s death. ¬†It made me think and wrestle a bit with life, with the things I love and spend time on, with my role as a stay-at-home mother. ¬†I sometimes wrestle with this blog. ¬†I don’t know why, it seems so silly in the light of day. ¬†I love sharing our little life here. ¬†It helps me keep track of things, our lives little record for now. ¬†I’m not sure if I’ll do it forever. ¬†It’s important to reevaluate frequently what I give myself to. ¬†I enjoy taking pictures and capturing these fleeting moments. ¬†I’m thankful to have a space to write and share with you whatever God seems to lay on my heart. ¬†I’m not trying to “make it big” or be somebody, I’m not making an income doing this. ¬†I don’t mind it being mostly small and personal and shared with those few who happen to find this place on the internet and with whomever it resonates. ¬†I leave it to God to use it as He chooses. ¬†But then sometimes I doubt myself. ¬†Are my motives wrong, self-serving? ¬†Is this a huge waste of time and a distraction? ¬†Is it too personal to share our family life so openly in such a dangerous and dark world? ¬†My blogging has brought occasional criticism, but mostly I feel it from my own inner critic. ¬†Brandon is relentless in support of it, which is always so odd to me because he is so anti social-media-anything. ¬†Anyway, for whatever reason this is where my mind went after watching that movie. ¬†Wrestling with the silliness of my spending time photographing, knitting, writing words, creating. ¬†Who has time for all of this when you have little ones and when the world is full of pain and need? ¬†Am I spending my life on what really matters? ¬†Are my little endeavors to bring beauty and joy and even occasionally to write words–are these small endeavors mattering?

I crawled into bed and picked up my book and opened to these words. ¬†(The author was sharing about finding a little resale boutique in her neighborhood, a beautiful little gem and yet she went in and found herself to be the only customer. ¬†She imagined being the store owner, the way the woman had attractively laid out her wares, rearranging and bravely taking a risk to run this little business that wasn’t really garnering that much attention. ¬†She wondered if the woman got discouraged on the days when there was no business. ¬†What makes her think things will work out? ¬†Why does she return to it day after day?):

“She returns to what she loves to do, because she loves it and she can’t not do it. ¬†She goes back to the joy of pursuing her passion. ¬†Because its not likely that anyone is coming in and exclaiming, ‘I’m so glad you’re here! ¬†I’ve been waiting for you to sell secondhand clothes in this space all of my life!’ ¬†It’s not likely that anyone is affirming her passion or holding her hand through those moments of sheer panic. ¬†I’m also pretty certain people aren’t stampeding to her door to say thank you or to make spirit tunnels for her to run through at the end of the day after she’s vacuumed the floor and locked up for the thousandth time.

This is what I’m getting at: joy isn’t in the response of others based on what we do. ¬†Joy is in doing what God created us to do and has given us to do. ¬†Joy is in pursuing with faith and abandon the passions God has laid in our hearts, and doing them in his honor. ¬†We serve for the smile on his face.

And joy begets joy. ¬†When we serve God with joy, we in a round-about way encourage others to serve God with joy. ¬†Artists appreciate another’s art, joy is derived from another’s joy, and passion feeds off and grows from another’s passion.

So whatever you’re doing–homeschooling, event planning, cake baking, medical research, substitute teaching, diaper changing, coaching, putting words out into the world, or yes, running a small boutique–do it with joy as unto the Lord. ¬†Don’t look for appreciation from others or a spirit tunnel at the end of the day as an indicator of whether or not you’re on the right track. ¬†Look to God, who created you to be a creator that flings tangerine passion and joy into the world. ¬†He is smiling as you do what you do for him.

There is no mold, no one right way of showing Jesus, for where the Spirit is, there is freedom. ¬†He has made us each different, combining us all to make a collage, a collage that when you step back and look you suddenly see: it’s Jesus!

Different mediums.
Different brushes.
Different strokes for reaching different folks.
You there, with your unique talents, passions, and gifts.
Go in freedom.
Tell them about Jesus with your life.
Do it with grace and tangerine joy.”

-Christine Hoover, From Good to Grace

Isn’t that so sweet of God, to speak right to what I was struggling with at the long end of the day? ¬†He affirmed me, affirmed His love for me, affirmed my freedom in Him, affirmed His smile over me. ¬†What more could you ask for on a birthday? ¬†I hope you are encouraged, too, dear reader. ¬†Whatever you do, do it for Him, do it as unto Him, do it with joy and gusto and don’t worry about the response or affirmation or notice of others. ¬† Take risks. ¬†Live boldly. ¬†Be brave. ¬†Be a pioneer. ¬†Follow where He leads. ¬†When we get our eyes off of Him we get into all sorts of trouble, don’t we? ¬†It’s His good-pleasure over us that we’re after, it’s His approval alone that matters.

At the end of the Florence Foster Jenkins movie, after criticism about her singing voice, Florence on her deathbed said: ¬†“They can say I can’t sing, but no one can say I didn’t sing.”

So, sing, friend.  You go on singing, and I will too.  His ear is tuned to hear our voice.

 

 

 

this cup

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Well, we are starting to feel like summer is here. ¬†Last Friday we celebrated our last day of school for Phoebe’s kindergarten year. ¬†I still want to continue reading and writing work with her over the summer to keep things fresh, but really, our homeschool co-op starts up again in August so we only have a few weeks (!!!) before we’re back in the swing of things again. ¬†I think both of us need to feel like we finished before we start up again. ¬†I need time to plan for the next year, order books and resources, make a calendar of sorts and have a plan in motion. ¬†There’s a big homeschool book sale here this weekend so I’ll be pulling together my list in the next couple of days in preparation for that but I know I will need some time to plan out the next year as well. ¬†Beginning “first grade” feels a bit more serious than kindergarten! ¬†There are so many directions we could go in, and I feel that pull as a homeschooler to try to do everything and go in a hundred directions, but I know I need some time to seek the Lord and His plan for us for the next year. ¬†There is a lot of freedom in homeschooling and so many worthy approaches that its almost overwhelming for me, someone who likes to be told the rules so that I can follow them! ¬†Its a good challenge for me to stay small, simple, focused, and dependent on God’s leading.

Phoebe has been listening to audio books constantly on the little music player in the sunroom, coloring and having tea and flying through the Little House series. ¬†She’s relistening to the Penderwicks book because I haven’t checked out the next one from the library yet. ¬†Her last day of school she cried a bit, saying reading is just so hard for her. ¬†She failed her eye exam at her recent physical and she goes to see an eye doctor next week to see if she needs glasses, which may explain why she gets super tired/frustrated when we work on reading. ¬†She loves books and being read to, and she is starting to read everything she can around her, but she says it is her least favorite subject. ¬†Who knows, I’m not too worried about it because she has been a book lover since she was 6 months old. ¬†I do want to cultivate her continued love of it though and not frustrate her.

We celebrated our end-of-year with a yummy skillet chocolate chip cookie and a batch of coconut ice cream, and we all cheered as a family for the way each of us worked hard this year to make school happen. ¬†Noah and Philippa were huge helpers to me, doing their best to stay out of the way while we did work, and a really close friendship developed between them as a result. ¬†I plan to have more activities ready next year for them to engage in so that they can be included if they want to be. ¬†Brandon supports me hugely, encourages me when I feel like I’m not doing enough, and helps out sometimes in the evenings with Phoebe’s work. ¬†He and I both get excited thinking about him taking on some schooling in the future, too–teaching skills, doing field trips with the kids, or helping by reading or listening to Phoebe read books. ¬†Homeschooling really is a family venture!

Summery things are blooming in the yard, butterfly bush and the last of the poppies, and our little garden is starting to produce. ¬†A robin family built their nest in the tree by our porch so we’ve had fun peeking at the little blue eggs. ¬†We have a huge rosemary bush by our mailbox so I’ve begun drying clippings from it to store up for the winter, which makes Phoebe extra happy since “it is just what Ma would do,” she says. ¬†So we enjoy these little things, the markers of time passing, the liturgy of the ordinary, small shifts and small moments. ¬†Life.

I’m knitting away as usual, and trying to squeeze in reading always. ¬†I’m working on a hat for a loved one. ¬†I have some “homeschool mom enrichment” books to read this summer, as I’m calling them. ¬†A few things I want to refresh on as I look ahead and plan. ¬†I have been wanting to read this book, Mere Motherhood, for a long time, and I’m excited to dig into it. ¬†I plan to review The Well-Trained Mind again, as well as Teaching From Rest. ¬†I hope to also read A Charlotte Mason Companion. ¬†There are so many other good ones out there, but a few is probably all I will realistically accomplish.

It’s my birthday today and it’s been mostly a usual sort of Wednesday. ¬†When you’re a momma with little ones underfoot, there isn’t much of a break from the daily tasks. ¬†Spills and messes still happen, children squabble and need parenting, dishes and laundry pile, meals must still be made. ¬†I really don’t mind, though. ¬†I’m happy right here. ¬†I mean, I’ll take a stack of books, a long bath, some knitting time, and a good long run on a mountain ridge any day, don’t get me wrong! ¬†I’m learning to lean into the fray a bit more instead of just trying to survive it until the break comes. ¬†I realized last night and this morning that I kept humming Sara Groves song This Cup.

How many hours have I spent
Watching this shining tv
Living adventure in proxy
In another person’s dream
How many miles have I traveled
Looking at far away lights
Listening for trains in the distance
In some brilliant other life?

This cup, this cup
I wanna drink it up
To be right here in the middle of it
Right here, right here
This challenging reality
Is better than fear or fantasy

So take up what we’ve been given
Welcome the edge of our days
Hemmed in by sunrise and sunset
By our youth and by our age
Thank God for our dependence
Here’s to our chasm of need
And how it binds us together
In faith and vulnerability

This cup, this cup
I wanna drink it up
To be right here in the middle of it
Right here, right here
This challenging reality
Is better than fear or fantasy

What if my whole world falls apart?
What if my life could be different?
What if I sat right here and took you in
Without the fear and loved you whole
Without the flight and didn’t try to pass

This cup, this cup
I wanna drink it up
To be right here in the middle of it
Right here, right here
This beautiful reality
Is better than fear or fantasy
Is better than fear or fantasy
Is better than fear or fantasy

We’re all hemmed in by sunrise and sunset, our days all have edges, our life is limited by bounds. ¬†Another year passes, another year comes. ¬†We can fight our limitations, grumble about our reality or surrender to what God has given us and say, this cup I will drink. ¬†To be present, right here in the middle of this moment–that’s what I want.

beginnings + endings

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It’s the shoulder-season time of year, things beginning and ending. ¬†Schools nearing their finish, spring bursting into summer. ¬†Pools are opening, farmers markets are filling with first fruits.

Phoebe had her ballet recital a few days ago and did so well! ¬†We were so proud of all her hard work and focus, and truly amazed at how much she has learned this year. ¬†I don’t know that we can afford to keep her in classes going forward, but¬†it was a joy to see her complete a semester. ¬†She was way too grown up in her makeup (gag, though–sort of hate seeing kids in makeup. ¬†Luckily she hated it too and couldn’t wait to get it off) and she was enamored watching the rest of her dance company do their performances. ¬†So fun to watch her.

We gave Phoebe a violin for her birthday in December but had to pack it up rather quickly since we were moving shortly thereafter and I had no idea how to tune it, so she hadn’t really been allowed to try it out. ¬†I felt a bit like a horrible mom for giving her a gift and then basically putting it away for months.. so we found a little local music store and went this week to get it tuned and learn a bit how to hold it. ¬†I’d like to start her in some lessons soon. ¬†She is eager to learn and has been pulling it out and playing often now that she’s allowed. ¬†I want our home to be filled with music, even though the beginning process of learning and instrument feels a bit painful. ¬†I know older moms whose kiddos play and sing together (even my own siblings and I) and the sacrifice in the beginning (of more noise) is so worthwhile in the end!

I do some photography on the side (very little! very amateur!) for my dad and husband’s remodeling business, taking “after” pictures of their work for their website. ¬†I was out at a client’s home in Fairview and stopped by a little self-serve farm stand nearby to pick up fresh flowers and fresh strawberries. ¬†These berries are the best. ¬†Everything from that farm stand is impeccable, and I’m rarely out that way so I stop there whenever I am. ¬†Anyway, I knew we had to make a strawberry pie with those berries, and fresh homemade vanilla ice cream. ¬†So Phoebe and I got to work on that in the afternoon, after wrapping up some school work while the other two were sleeping. ¬†It’s fun to bake with her but also messy and sometimes I’m not up for the extra work. ¬†Our pie was pretty good, but not quite what I was imagining. ¬†Anyone have a good strawberry pie recipe (gluten free/paleo)? ¬†Brandon loved it, though.

We’ve had a lot of rain this past week and the last couple of days have finally been dry and warm and sunny, so we checked on our little green growing things. ¬†Our garden is a bed of hope for me, a reminder of so many precious truths: seeds will produce fruit, hope begins in the dark soil but eventually bursts into reality. ¬†Great bounty¬†comes from small endeavors in faithfulness. ¬†We grow whatever we feed + nurture. Weeds come easy and choke out the good plants, while the good plants take more effort to grow. ¬†Putting hands in soil, watering daily, watching and waiting–it somehow teaches me on a deeper level than just reading about seeds and soil. ¬†Physically toiling in it preaches. ¬†It reminds me of Jesus’ giving us the gift of the Lord’s supper: bread and wine. ¬†Physical elements that we are meant to regularly handle, touch, taste, see, smell. ¬†It preaches the Gospel to us in a different way, a physical way. ¬†Every time I take the Lord’s supper, the experience of it itself preaches, brings new understanding, new enjoyment of God, deeper worship of Him. ¬†We are busy growing things aren’t we–all these beginnings and endings, these little indicators that seasons are passing, time is moving, children are growing right before our eyes. ¬†Time is slipping away, pushing forward whether we are ready for it or not. ¬†We can’t hold a single day down. ¬†We can see it and receive it and enjoy it and¬†then it slips right out of our hands, making room for the next day, the next beginning.

I’ve been reading in Ecclesiastes for the past couple of weeks as I study through the Old Testament (using Nancy Guthrie’s Seeing Jesus in the OT series, which I highly recommend!) Anyway, I’ve been reading¬†about toil and meaninglessness and vanity and living for the moment. ¬†It’s been a bit depressing for me at times, because in some ways I find my cynical self agreeing with the hopelessness of the author at times. ¬†Does any of this matter? ¬†All this toil that seems to produce so little? ¬†Yet we have a hope that the author didn’t yet have, the hope we find in Christ who reversed the curse when He rose from the dead and who gives value to all of our work, telling us that whatever we do for the least of these in His name will last. ¬†It’s a mystery to me still, but yet I plod onward–learning to do small things with care and love and with eyes fixed on Jesus, finding Him and worshiping Him in all the little beginnings and endings. ¬†It’s part of why I blog here–to see the ordinary, holy moments in my days, to mark the passing of time, to savor the things that I so easily miss, to look and hunt for beauty in the bread and in the wine. ¬†To see that He gives everything, and everything I have is somehow a gift from Him, even the hard things. ¬†All is grace. ¬†He withholds no good thing from us.

remembering

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Brandon and I slipped away for our anniversary weekend (May 12th) to celebrate 11 years. ¬†Friday began with his parents arriving to our home (so thankful to them for their willingness to drive to us and watch the kiddos for the weekend!) and us transferring all the needed info to them, and then we left just before noon. ¬†We decided to stop for lunch in Black Mountain on our way to our cabin in Banner Elk, NC. ¬†We shared a pizza (with gluten in it! ¬†So strange!) which immediately made Brandon’s day. ¬†I had asked if we could stop at my favorite yarn store while there because I had a gift card to spend there. ¬†We went in and Brandon surprised me: he had called ahead and had a gift waiting for me there, and also told me I could buy some yarn. ¬†A “reasonable amount” of yarn, he said. ¬†EEE! ¬†So I bought a couple skeins of¬†speckly hand-dyed yarn, which I’ve been dying to try for awhile now, and I’m planning on knitting a shawl with it. ¬†Brandon also picked out a skein of brilliant blue/purple Wollmeise yarn for a hat for himself. ¬†I am super stoked to try the yarn he picked! ¬†It feels heavenly. ¬†It’s really neat to see him take an interest in yarn with me, even though he’ll probably never knit. ¬†He appreciates¬†the artistry of it, I think, and he had fun picking out something for me to make for him.

From there we drove further up into the mountains, not wanting to arrive at our cabin too late. ¬†I had been to this cabin before on a little solo retreat last fall, but I wanted to share it with B, knowing how much he would enjoy it. ¬†We made a stop to the grocery store before heading up to the cabin. ¬†We brought most of our own food, simple meals without much fuss or prep needed. ¬†It was strange to not have to think about things being “gluten-free” or worry about cross-contamination in a different kitchen. ¬†Our lives have changed so much with Phoebe’s diagnosis almost two years ago. ¬†We have grown accustomed to it and we don’t mind the change at all, but we forget how much easier it is to shop/eat without concern about gluten. ¬†It was a nice mental break for both of us.

There are some really beautiful spots in these North Carolina mountains.  We have seen magnificent mountains when we lived in Colorado so we sometimes dismiss these quiet hills, and then the beauty surprises.  Our little cabin was nestled with a couple of other cabins at the top of a mountain, a quiet haven with the scripture from Matthew 11:28 posted:

¬†“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

The rain was beginning to fall heavily, we got into our cabin and Brandon unloaded the car. ¬†The cabin smells just like my aunt and uncle’s cottage in ¬†Muskoka, Ontario–a wooden cozy cabin smell. ¬†We lit the candles that were waiting, cracked the windows to hear the rain, turned on the little gas heater, unpacked our few things. ¬†The rain grew into a thunderstorm, and we just sat in the stillness, knitting, reading.

I’m not quite sure why we had the best time, but we did. ¬†Maybe it was just a sweet gift from the Lord, knowing we need refreshing. ¬†Maybe its because we both built some surprises for each other into our weekend. ¬†Maybe it was all the quiet. ¬†B and I both are introverts and I didn’t realize how much we both crave some uninterrupted quiet. ¬†Space to think. ¬†I used to be afraid of being an old couple with nothing more to say to each other, but this anniversary showed me there is a place of comfortable silence. ¬†A silence not because you are weary of each other, but because you rest in other’s presence without always needing to fill it with conversation. ¬†There is a security there. ¬†We know each other. ¬†We love each other. ¬†There is less striving than there used to be.

We also talked a lot about our marriage, where we are now. ¬†We tried to remember every anniversary and which ones were our favorites, which ones were disappointments. ¬†We reminisced about last year and how much we enjoyed our anniversary backpacking trip, but how exhausting¬†it was. ¬†He gave me a card with constellations on it and I laughed because I almost bought the same one for him. ¬†It was our “thing” when we fell in love while working for a backpacking organization. ¬†While we were apart often leading various trips, we would look up at the big dipper at night and know that both of us were looking up at the same cluster of stars in the same sky, and it sort of became “our” constellation.

Our lives have become so much about our children, as they must, but we needed to have some extended time just the two of us to remember each other. ¬†To re-member, as Ann Voskamp would say. ¬†Our remembering our love for each other, our commitment to each other before and beyond having children together–it re-members us, puts us back again, all the broken bits held together again. ¬†We needed to remember that when all else¬†fades into the background and its just the two of us, we still really like each other.

I’m not sure why, but I think we also recovered some kindness. ¬†In all the mounting stress of these little years, the sleepless nights, the endless giving and dealing with interruptions, the financial strain of living on one income, the care-taking of a child whose health goes up and down–we have grown careless with each other. ¬†We have lost some of our common courtesy, some of our simple gentle handling even in the way we talk to each other in¬†response to hurts and offenses.

Have you heard Sara Groves album¬†Fireflies and Songs? ¬†I feel like the whole thing is about marriage in one way or another. ¬†I think of her lyric “Run for your lives, all tenderness is gone in the blink of an eye.” ¬†Isn’t it shocking in marriage how this happens, how the rub of life and the comfortableness with each other can creep in and cause us to loose our tenderness toward one another, the common kindness that we extend to strangers but now can’t muster up for the one we love the most? ¬†We have grown careless with each other, and yet something¬†jarred us awake to the reality that simple kindness and gentleness with one another is worth fighting for. ¬†Better to have it than to fight to be right.

In the morning, we slept in as late as we could. ¬†We enjoyed steaming mugs in a drizzly rain. ¬†We lingered long over books and bibles. ¬†He geared up to go fly fishing–the first time for him in many months. ¬†We spent most of the day on the river nearby, eating a picnic lunch there and staying until we needed to head back to the cabin to make dinner. ¬†The next morning before we drove back home, we went to a different spot on the river and he fished again while I knitted. ¬†It was mother’s day and it felt odd not to be home with my babies, but we enjoyed every minute away together without a hint of guilt.

I remember hearing someone share that the secret to their lasting marriage was falling in love over and over again, and I didn’t quite understand it at the time, but I think I do now. ¬†I think it was the first time in our 11 years together that I felt like I was falling in love again, seeing Brandon with renewed eyes. ¬†Yet it’s not the superficial, young and untried love of a newlywed. ¬†It is love reignited, love that has withstood some hard tests and storms and still remains, steady and strong.

It wasn’t a fancy trip, we didn’t travel far. ¬†We didn’t spend much and we didn’t do much. But somehow in the mystery of the simplicity, God blessed us with renewed love for one another. ¬†With hope for a bright future. ¬†With the comfort of His presence and the comfort of each other, all we have walked together. ¬†All the intimacy between us, the secrets only we know: the darkest valleys, the sweetest victories. ¬†All these miles traveled together, whether good or bad. ¬†Hand in hand, with eyes fixed on our Prize, helping each other make it to the end, saying to one another as we go: I still see you. ¬†I still love you.

Really we don’t need much
Just strength to believe
There’s honey in the rock,
There’s more than we see
In these patches of joy
These stretches of sorrow
There’s enough for today
There will be enough tomorrow.
Sara Groves, Enough

projects

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A couple of weekends ago, Brandon and I took the kids to a local historic home, the Carl Sandburg House. ¬†It is peaceful and quiet there, with easy trails to walk. ¬†We went on a Sunday afternoon, packed a picnic lunch and spread a blanket under the shade of some great trees in the gardens. ¬†Afterwards we went to visit the baby goats. ¬†I had already taken the kids on a previous weekend when Brandon had been working on the flooring in our laundry room + kitchen. ¬†(More on that in a minute.) ¬†Brandon has talked about wanting goats for years now, so I knew he’d enjoy visiting with them. ¬†I’m not ready to own goats right now, but maybe down the road? ¬†I love the Nubian goats with the long ears the best, I think. ¬†The nubian kids were the cutest running around, just like puppies. We got to see Nellie, the grandma goat of the crew, who was laying in the grass one day past her due date with multiples. ¬†I felt sorry for her! ¬†She looked weary. ¬†Philippa dutifully checked all of the goats ears, noses and mouths for them. ūüôā ¬†By now, I’m sure Nellie has brought a new litter of kids into the world. ¬†Savannah, the goat with the little hand-knitted sweater on, was just a few days old, and we all loved meeting + petting her.

It was good for us to take a day and set aside projects, enjoy a little bit of the quiet of the outdoors, and just be together. ¬†The last few months have felt chaotic and we’re just starting to feel like we can find ¬†a new normal again. ¬†Phoebe’s good test results have made us feel like we can breathe a bit in terms of worrying over her. ¬†She goes for another general check-up in six months, unless we see something that concerns us. ¬†So for now, I’m trying to allow myself to rest in those good test results (versus worry and be fearful which is my MO) and allow myself to believe/hope that the worst is behind us. ¬†I was talking with a friend recently whose daughter has just come out of having brain cancer–obviously a far scarier ordeal than Phoebe’s in a lot of respects. ¬†But we both agreed and understood one another in how hard it is to hear GOOD news after hearing a lot of bad. ¬†In order to survive you begin to stay in a continual place of bracing for the next disappointment/bad result, and it’s very hard to shut that off. ¬†I don’t know how people walk through things like this without knowing the Lord. ¬†I don’t know that I would have made it through without Him! ¬†Even still, I look to Him for rest and healing and hope. ¬†I lean on Him to carry me now into this new season with its own set of joys and challenges.

Much of our “free” time in the evenings or weekends has been taken up with little projects here and there, fixing leaky faucets, replacing broken things, finishing the flooring job, etc. ¬†I am thankful Brandon is so good at all of these things! ¬†The flooring we put down was to cover a section of the home that had asbestos tile in it (the laundry room was the worst, as you can see that part of it had been disturbed). ¬†It brings me a lot more peace of mind knowing we have covered that area and I’m really happy with our flooring choice!

We borrowed a neighbor’s tiller (after I attempted to till by hand) and are preparing a small little portion of the yard for a garden. ¬†I know, we are late!! ¬†I was debating putting off a garden until next year, since we still aren’t even fully settled or unpacked! ¬†It seems silly to start another time-consuming outside project when we have so much work to do inside. ¬†However, we have so missed growing a portion of our own food the last couple of years when we were renting (and had ZERO sun in our yard). ¬†We just couldn’t resist, and I’m glad we are going for it! ¬†I picked up a few things from the garden center today and hopefully things will grow well, despite our late start.

 

long days of small things

In order to find God it is perhaps not always necessary to leave the creatures behind…The world is crowded with Him…
The real labor is to remember, to attend.
In fact, to come awake.  Still more, to remain awake.
C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm

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Yesterday I woke up to the laughter and squall of children in the room next to mine. ¬†The day began in the rush and hurry of need and hungry tummies. ¬†I normally try to get up before the children, but I had been struggling with sleeplessness and a bout of anxiety in the middle of the night and slept fitfully. ¬†My plans for the morning were interrupted by an unexpected trip to the doctors office to check on one child who woke up with pink eye in both eyes, then running to pick up a prescription and grab a few groceries before heading home. ¬†It was afternoon before I breathed a breath of prayer to God and realized I had completely missed my time with Him in the morning. ¬†My soul instantly cringed–how could it have been nearly all day before I even remembered God? ¬†Then came the familiar rush of guilt with a dose of self-hatred to boot. ¬†All this soul amnesia. ¬†I shake my head as I wash the dishes.

Last November I retreated away to a hermitage a few hours from here. ¬†I went alone for the weekend, Brandon had offered to keep the kiddos. ¬†Motherhood and the constant presence of people all looking to me with their pressing needs–it can wear an introvert out. ¬†It can wear any person out, I’m sure! ¬†We need to pay attention to our souls, we must take small¬†breaks, place spaces in our calendars, slip away when we can to refuel. ¬†We need silence, we need reflection, we need sleep and solitude. ¬†That weekend was glorious. ¬†The cabin was perfectly cozy at the very tip top of a mountain. ¬†I kept my journal open and wrote endlessly, read the scriptures and studied, read other books, knitted without interruption, went for walks in the woods, cooked simple meals, rested, worshipped, prayed. ¬†It took me almost the whole weekend to really relax and unwind, and I realized how tightly wound motherhood had made me, along with the added role of care taking for phoebe. ¬†All of the worry and strain, the financial burden, the roller coaster of her improvement and decline. ¬†I needed that time away, so I could reenter the fray with renewed energy and focus and love. ¬†I needed time to seek God in the quiet, as I used to in my days before children. ¬†I needed uninterrupted time alone with Him to hear from Him.

If only we could have these times whenever we need them.  If only we could guarantee some respite, rest, and silence throughout the year, then we could seek God as we desire to, as we think we should.  And I do believe times of refreshing will come, pockets of rest.

However, when we would flee difficulties in motherhood, most of the time God would have us press in. ¬†Where we would avoid and escape, He has us pick back up, day and night. ¬†Motherhood is so constant, endless, around the clock, with needs that can simply swallow us whole. ¬†Our souls can cry out–

“Oh, that I had wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee away and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”
(Psalm 55:6-8)

We think we will find relief in escape, in a break–a sometimes we do. ¬†But is it good for us to set our eyes on the next break on the horizon and survive until then hanging on by our toenails? ¬†Beyond that–can we only find God in our escapes, our breaks, in the quiet place of refuge?

Or could He possibly have treasures for us right in the maelstrom of motherhood, right in the trenches of it? ¬†Must we wait for Him on the sidelines of life–sidelined by little people and their needs–or can we have Him right here to the full in a way we never expected or anticipated before?

Could pressing in and finding Him in the weary work–could this possibly be the point? ¬†The thing He wants us to learn, the muscle He wants to strengthen? ¬†Of course its far easier to find Him in the quiet place of refuge. ¬†But if we can’t find that quiet place of refuge, do we wave the white flag of defeat and turn our hearts off to God until we can have a moment alone? ¬†Or can we find a way to God in the very mundane, simple, undervalued work/tasks of motherhood?

Could the tasks turn out to be a path to God?

What if the very practice of mothering and doing the work of motherhood–washing the dishes, feeding the hungry mouths, wiping the bottoms, folding the laundry, teaching, admonishing, disciplining, training, guiding–could these things possibly be a spiritual discipline of sorts, leading us to know God, experience Him, enjoy Him in a way we never could or would choose otherwise? ¬†Could there be treasures here for us–right here in this season–that we’ll miss if we shut down and vow to hold on until the crazy ride is over?

What if God is not only found in the lofty theological ivory towers, the seminary classroom, the pew, the sanctuary, the prayer closet, the monastery–but here, scrubbing the floor around a toilet.
Here, chopping onions and carrots.
Here, holding a feverish child.
Here, in the pickup lane at school.
Here, singing a hymn over a sleepless child.
Here, organizing shelves, stacking piles.
Here, in the rush-hour traffic home from work.
Here, in the weary waking hours.

What if we could find God in the ordinary work of motherhood rather than trying to fit our old habits and disciplines into this new rhythm–which for most of us feels cramped, incompatible, impossible.

Is it possible in this season of little ones to be both a good mother and to keep close company with God?

This is what is addressed in Catherine McNiel’s book Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline. ¬†This book exceeded my expectations. ¬†I was a bit afraid it would be another moany-groany book about motherhood without being terribly¬†helpful. ¬†Instead, it was honest. ¬†Real. ¬†Insightful. ¬†Provocative. ¬†Thoughtful. ¬†Helpful. ¬†It addressed our great hunger for God, our desire to know Him, our frustration with all the things that seem to work against us and keep us from Him. ¬†She ends each chapter with a practice, tangible things to anchor us to God throughout the day. ¬†Things like our breath:

“Inhale deeply and realize you are breathing in God’s unfailing love. ¬†Exhale and release into his unceasing presence. ¬†Suddenly, breathing–your easiest daily accomplishment–is an act of worship, meditation, and prayer.” (McNiel, p. 12)

Without adding a burden of more tasks to our schedule, McNiel helps us to find God in each of the tasks we already perform daily, and do them as unto the Lord.  Like walking, eating and drinking, cooking, household tasks, sleepless nights, pregnancy, diapers, breastfeeding, to name a few.

McNiel commiserates without sounding whiney, encourages and exhorts without loading on a heavy burden of guilt.  She feels like a true companion in this journey of motherhood, someone who understands its complexities and enjoys them, glory, grit and all, because of the way they point us to God.

I devoured this book, crying over sections of it, marking up nearly every page, returning to it over and over, savoring it.  It is one I will need to reread more than a few times, I believe.

If you are a mother afraid you might be missing out on some great spiritual life because of your busy role as mother–maybe this book is for you. ¬†If you ever feel a bit like you can’t breathe under the pressing weight of this season, a bit like you can’t breathe–Maybe this is one to ask for for Mother’s Day?

*

Thank you to Tyndale Publishers for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.
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