growing up

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He’s long overdue for a “big boy” bike, my boy.  He had a little bit of birthday money that I set aside for a new bike, and Brandon looked for awhile online before settling on this one.  It was a real treat to watch him open that box and help daddy put the bike together.  When he realized it didn’t have training wheels (he’s just been riding a strider) he panicked a little bit and didn’t think he’d be able to do it.  It’s a bit big and heavy for him, so I was a little concerned, too, that it would be too hard.  Then, we had rain for days so he couldn’t take it outside to try it.  Finally, the sun came out and he tried it out on the grass.  He pretty quickly caught on to riding Phoebe’s (a bit smaller) bike without training wheels but didn’t feel comfortable with his bike.  By day two, he had it down.  He called me to come outside and see, and there he was pedaling it around with a big grin on his face.

Often this little man of mine balks at something new and I hear a lot of “I can’t”s from him before he’s really given it a try.  Our homeschool co-op starts up on Monday (in just a few days!) and as Noah thinks about school starting, he’s been panicking and saying “but I don’t know how to read or write!”  Oh, sweet boy, that’s the whole point, I say.  I keep reminding him about his bike, how he thought he couldn’t do it and that he’d HAVE to have training wheels.  And then by day two, he had it down and has been out riding it every day since.  I can’t believe this has been my last summer with this guy before he starts formal (home)schooling.  And I can’t wait to have time with him, to work with him on letters and sounds and seeing his little mind come alive with the joy of learning and realizing he can do it! He’s growing up!

no big plans

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Quite a few people have asked me over the last few months if we have any big plans for summer.  I was sitting in a dentist’s chair last week and she asked me about summer plans, and when I said no, not really, she looked truly puzzled and like she maybe felt a little sorry for me.  Any big summer plans?  Fun trips scheduled?  I had hoped to make a checklist on our kitchen chalkboard for our summer goals, but really we don’t have much on the agenda and I think that’s the point.  I feel a bit small and a bit simple but these are our big summer plans: being home, watching things grow.  Having time together.  Swimming at my parent’s neighborhood pool or in a river nearby.  Hiking, camping.  Catching fireflies.  Trying out the pop-up camper in our backyard, then taking it out on the road.  Enjoying the afternoon storms.  Watching tomatoes ripen on the vine, swiss chard push up from seed.  Reading together.  Yarn, pulling through fingers.  Quieting.  Regrouping for a new school year.  Letting there be long stretches of unplanned day, enough time for some boredom even.  Don’t such fascinating discoveries and creativities come out of a little boredom?  Also, the not-as-fun essentials of some medical appointments for the kids, learning about some changes we will have to make in our schooling with phoebe, working on house projects that are neglected during the busyness of school.

A homeschooling family of six on one income makes for tight years (financially) especially with the special dietary and medical expenses we face.  Truth is, we are happy to make the sacrifice to be together and enjoy these little years and raise our brood.  It is the main reason I homeschool: time together.  It is costly in the sense that we do have great limitations, but I do so hope and believe we can still make great memories together with our family even with our simple summer of no plans.  (Of course, don’t misunderstand me.  We are so imperfect and the proximity can often cause us to grate on one another.)

Brandon is working some Saturdays to help pay for the new AC unit we will have to soon buy, so it was a bit glum this weekend without him.  Then he called on his way home Saturday and said he wanted to put up the pop-up camper and have the kids sleep in it for the first time.  It was stormy and cool and the perfect evening to do so, and the kids had such a blast.  I opted to sleep inside with baby wren which was a bit of a treat for me, too (a quiet house!)

I read the other day that the word Sabbath literally means “to stop,” and so we try to plan some time into our weekend where we cease.  Where the work sits untended, the laundry stays in the basket and wrinkles, and we allow ourselves to just be.  To rest and to even be a little bored and agitated with the slowness of the pace and “unproductivity” of the day.  It reveals to me how much I mix my sense of accomplishment with my sense of worth, how much I need to produce in order to feel worthwhile.  The permission to rest is so wise and kind of God, and I have to tell my soul and my God over and over in those moments of tension (when I fight rest) that He is our provider and the One who carries us, not our own work and effort.  When we “sabbath,” or cease from working, we fast from reliance on our own strength + work.  We remind our soul that we are dependent on a good and faithful Provider.  We say to the world that our confidence comes from whose we are, not the work of our own hands.  Maybe summer could be sort of like the sabbath of the seasons?

Anyway, I feel a bit ramble-y and scattered but hopefully you are encouraged, as I am, to rest a bit and enjoy the slow and even boring/mundane parts of summer instead of needing it to be big and flashy and busy.  May you find in your limitations a wise and kind boundary set by your God.  I have thought often of Psalm 16:6, which in my earlier meditations of it always seemed sweet to me when my boundaries/limits were easy.  But it is a hard thing to thank God for (limits/boundaries) when they are difficult and truly limiting.  It presses us to cast our eyes beyond what is temporal to the delightful inheritance that is being kept for us.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord,
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Psalm 16:5-8 esv

Ps. Refrigerator pickles recipe pictured above from Allison Little on Instagram, and they are truly the best pickles I’ve ever had.

the things that ground me

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Yesterday was July 4th, Independence Day, and we had a happy day together doing simple, fun, local things.  Earlier in the week the children had picked out a dessert they wanted me to make (from this cookbook), and we had shopped for the ingredients together.  I began making the custard early in the morning, finishing in time for us to scoot to the parade in our little town.  I don’t think I’ve taken the kids to a parade before (or can’t remember?) except for the local Parade of the Tractors that we happened upon last year. 🙂  It was pretty simple and short, but still fun to do something festive together.  Daddy worked part of the day, so we missed him but made the best of it.  When we got back, the kids played in the sprinkler and cooled off while I prepped lunch.  During nap time I finished the dessert and spent some time in the breezy sunny afternoon browsing through the garden.  Later, the children went through the garden, Phoebe picking the ripe tomatoes from her plants, gathering romaine for dinner and our first cucumber (which was amazingly delicious).  The kids each helped decorate our dessert tart and after dinner/dessert we found a good spot in town to watch fireworks.  Some dear friends met up with us last minute and it was so very sweet and fun to watch our children experience the fireworks together.  My heart was full.  I was thinking about it yesterday while just living a simple yet fun day at home: these are the things that ground me when life feels hectic, busy, full.

I’ve reached this point in motherhood where I feel overwhelmed and out of breath (on a soul level) pretty much daily.  I feel like I’m spinning plates, one after the next, and dropping half of them.  The things I love, the things that feed my soul and creativity often get choked out in the “churn” of the day, though I fight to squeeze them in in smaller quantities.  I long sometimes to step back and have everything stop for a second so I can catch up.  My children need things from me that I can’t always anticipate or understand or feel able to give.  Decisions need to be made that overwhelm + cause anxiety.  I think as mothers we are constantly measuring: measuring how we are doing, if we are doing enough for our children, enough for our husbands, friends, etc.  We are evaluating and analyzing all the time, feeling guilty most of the time and certain we are probably not measuring up.  This week I’ve been asking some questions of myself that are hard, facing some decisions that have caused me to lose some sleep.  It all feels like a state of constant churning.

So I seek out the things that ground.  The scriptures.  The garden quiet, plants growing steadily and unobtrusively, swaying in the breeze, buzzing with bees and birds and life.  Knitting.  Evening tea with Brandon.  Prayer.  Singing.  Watching the family of blue birds nesting in the birdhouse in our garden again this year.  Listening for those little “chirps.”  Making food for our family.  Snapping photos.  Working with my hands.  Being in the wilderness.  Paying attention to and getting to know our own little town, seeking community in our church.

These “grounding” things aren’t always available to me, but I seek them out when I can.  They help settle me and remind me who I am and where I am on this spinning planet.  Maybe you feel like that sometimes, too.  I hope you can find a few things that help you feel your feet on the ground and remember that you are human in this place.  Limited, loved.

all together

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How can June already be over?  It was a blur of busyness and family, celebrating and feasting.  I didn’t get many photos on my birthday, but it was a happy day.  I forgot how eager the kids are on anyone’s birthday to open presents, so I was barely out of my bedroom to get coffee that morning before a gaggle of little ones with tousled hair were pulling me to the kitchen table to see their gifts.  I wanted to wait and maybe do gifts later, but they would have none of it.  Brandon had taken them for a walk the night before to a grocery store nearby (while I was out with a girlfriend for coffee) where they picked out small gifts for me and cards.  Philippa had picked some natural handmade lavender soap, noah had picked a charcoal infused loofah.  Phoebe had been working on a handmade gift for me for a little while, a small wooden bird that she added stitching to.  She had named it “Louis,” though it’s supposed to be a girl bird, and she was really quite tempted to keep it herself.  She keeps asking me where Louis is and if I’m taking care of him her.  Brandon gifted me a couple of books I had on my wishlist, as well as a set of chiaogoo interchangeable needles.  I cast on with them right away for a birthday shawl of sorts for myself with yarn I purchased with some birthday money, and it has been such a treat knitting with them!  One of my brothers treated me to a 3-month coffee subscription to Counter Culture coffee and it has been one of my favorite gifts of all time! Later that day we went over to my parents house, as my mom and I share a birthday and we try to get together on it when we can.  Mom treated me to a manicure/pedicure and then a dinner out to the only restaurant we can really go to with Phoebe (with a dedicated gluten free kitchen).  It was a fun and busy day!  I felt so very loved and spoiled and blessed and full.

The next day, family began streaming in.  My brother from Canada and his wife were surprising mom for her 60th birthday, and my other siblings and their families were all arriving in the next day or so.  Father’s day (Sunday) we gathered to celebrate mom’s 60th together, and it was truly unforgettable.  It was the first time ever that we have *all* been together.  We celebrated, ate, gave her a couple of special gifts, and ended the evening with singing together.  I think we will all look back on these recent days we had together with joy and fondness.  So much has happened in our family story, so many stories that aren’t mine to share–but when I look out across the landscape of our family, I see so much redemption that has come out of so much brokenness.  We have an enemy who has tried to dismantle, break, ruin, and destroy our family in very painful ways, and we have seen hard years together.  But here we are, still standing.  Still together, by God’s grace alone.  Still going forward in love and forgiveness and hope secure in a God who is able to hold us fast.

Ps. I actually did pretty horribly at taking photos with my camera while everyone was here.  I really only brought it to the picnic, and got a random smattering.  But here’s a special video clip that I’m thankful I captured.

home and away

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“The Scarecrow listened carefully, and said, ‘I cannot understand why you should wish to leave this beautiful country and go back to the dry, gray place you call Kansas.’

‘That is because you have no brains,’ answered the girl.  ‘No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful.  There is no place like home.'”

-The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

In a recent blog post I shared all about planting our garden, only to discover on this past Saturday morning that the bulk of what we had planted had been eaten by a family of groundhogs.  Our entire day Saturday was spent rectifying the situation, digging a 1 ft deep trench around the garden and putting up fencing.  It was an all-day slog, half of it done in pouring rain and in between nursing and napping babies and feeding children.  It was a ton of hard work and come Sunday, I just wanted to get out of the house.  It can be a point of tension for Brandon and I sometimes on the weekends–he, working outside of the home and eager to be home and rest and work on projects here.  I, working inside the home all week, eager to get out on the weekends and be refreshed elsewhere.  On Sunday he agreed to drive up to a favorite spot of mine on the parkway for a hike and picnic.  No sooner had we hiked to the top of the ridge and he took a few photos for me of my finished Timber cardigan, when the skies opened up and began pouring on us again.  We got back to the car muddy and soaked (again) and ended up eating our picnic in the car at a pretty overlook.  It was fun and refreshing.  But still, when it was all said and done everyone was eager to go home and get cleaned up.

It’s funny how our ordinary days can feel so gray and blah sometimes and we are eager for more beautiful country, but in the end there really is no place like home.  In the end most of our lives are lived in the ordinary moments, and it’s these I’m convinced we’ll look back on with the most fondness.  All the glory we didn’t realize was such until later. I think that’s why I teared up when I read that quote from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz while reading to the children.  Sometimes it feels like we aren’t doing enough, sometimes I feel like I’m not giving them enough, like I’m not enough.  Like these days are too gray and dreary for them compared to all the fancy and exciting things other families are able to do for their children.  I’m hoping that this proves true–that there’s no place like our home for them, our simple ordinary growing-up-together years.

We are wrapping up our final official day of school TODAY (!!!) and with tomorrow’s fresh new month begins our “summer break.”  Now, of course, I don’t plan to quit all things educational, but our schooling will look less like ploughing through the necessities and more like soaking in our curiosities.  I hope to do lots of reading on a blanket in the yard, lots of adventures and hikes and exploring.  Learning along the way, delving deep into whatever strikes our fancy.  Making time for crafts and fun, garden discoveries and kitchen experiments, field trips and camping.  Sadly, these are the things we have so little time for during ordinary school days.  I read a comment by a fellow homeschooling mom recently who said they don’t take breaks for summer because schooling is their way of life and they don’t feel the need to take a break from it.  I’m trying not to feel “less than” upon reading that.  The reality is, the last couple of months have been quite a challenge with Phoebe and getting our work done and she and I both need a break.  I don’t think a break or a shift into more passive learning is a bad thing or gives schooling a negative connotation.  The reality is, learning is hard work sometimes, and taking a break can be refreshing.  Just like escaping to the mountains for a rainy hike makes coming home all the sweeter.  I so want to recapture for her (and I!) the joy of learning and discovery and remind her that learning is a part of every facet of daily life.  But at 7 years old, I don’t feel the need to constantly call everything we do “school.”  I believe that giving the children a wealth and breadth of experience and information will enrich their minds and souls.  I still think they need long stretches of play, free time, time to explore, imagine, and discover on their own.  What better time than summer for such things?  So yes, we will keep practicing flashcards and we’ll keep reading books together, but mostly we are hoping for some fun and some adventures.

planting days

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The last couple of weeks have been busy prepping and planning for our vegetable garden.  We had prepared the ground and then had about a week straight of nonstop rain, as did most of the eastern US I believe, and then we thought we better get things in the ground when we had a few sunny days while we were able.  We are very amateur gardeners really, and still learning a lot as we go.  Last year we did maybe a third of the plot we prepared this year and had an over-abundance of veggies.  (We had just moved into the home and rushed to get a few things in the ground.  Then I found out I was pregnant and was so super sick I couldn’t go near the garden or smell or even look at any of the produce from it.  So weird, I know, but when I’m pregnant all vegetables and basically anything food related make me sick. 😉  SO we ended up blessing our neighbors with all of our organic produce.)  This year we wanted to expand the garden and grow some new-to-us things, branch out a bit from our usual swiss chard, zucchini, herbs, cucumber and tomatoes.  We went a bit crazy at the garden store, as we usually do, finding things we were excited to grow.  Phoebe also wanted a square of the garden for her very own and when asked she mainly wanted to grow strawberries and flowers.  Her science segment for this part of the year has been plant life so this is perfect for some hands-on learning.  We’ve done a few things together from this book and then found this cookbook from the library, which has been fun to read together and pull some lessons from and also learn about as we plan what we want to grow.  Phoebe is the pickiest eater I’ve ever known and we’ve tried many things to get her to branch out in her eating (including occupational therapy, etc).  Growing our own food is somewhat of a necessity because of the cost of feeding a family of six on a mostly grain-free diet, but also we want our picky eaters to maybe be inspired to try eating the things they’ve grown themselves (one can hope!).  Last summer when I was spending most of my days alternately gagging and laying on the couch, noah and philippa spent hours every day in our tiny garden plot picking all our ripe produce for me.  I couldn’t believe how much they loved it and took ownership of it when I was laid out.

Phoebe and I planted a few things from seed which really intimidates me because I’ve never had great success from it.  I feel like planting from seed should be intuitive and primal but somehow I really fail at it.  Maybe this will be my year?!  I’ll keep you posted.  I had seeds for carrots, dwarf kale and purple top turnips, so phoebe and I planted those, along with a few pots of herbs.  They’ve been sprouting up abundantly and that’s been so neat for the kids to see!  And me!  Every time it feels like a curiosity–this tiny seed, buried in the dark soil, this miracle of tender sprout and leaf.  Now, for transplanting things and hoping they take off well from there.

Brandon and I spent much of last Sunday getting the bulk of it in the ground, and I’ve been sowing the remaining seeds with the children during the week when we’ve had bits of time.  We’ve planted a couple varieties of cucumber, some yellow squash and zucchini, green and red bell peppers, sugar snap peas and regular peas, sweet potato, a plethora of strawberry plants, swiss chard, beets, romaine lettuce, asparagus, fennel, basil, chives, oregano, sage, cilantro, (our thyme and rosemary came back from last year), marigolds and nasturtiums for pest control, and five different varieties of tomatoes.  Phoebe planted purple coneflowers and zinnias as well as strawberries in her corner of the garden.  All of the children have been so interested in helping plant and weed.

I wasn’t raised growing vegetable gardens so I don’t have much working knowledge, but I’ve always been interested and awed and somewhat mystified by it all.  Many summers when I was growing up we would drive up as a family to my extended family in Ontario, Canada and usually would spend a few days with my grandparents on their cozy little farm before heading up to the Muskoka lakes.  As soon as we would arrive usually we would take a walk through their extensive gardens, go visit my grandpa’s beehives and workshop where he extracted the honey.  I wish I had paid more attention to it all and asked more questions and soaked up more of their knowledge.  I felt somehow daunted by it all but drawn to it.  Already today I’ve seen all our sweet potatoes tender little leaves have been chewed off and a good portion of our lettuce plants too, so I think John the Rabbit has been visiting when the children have left the yard vacant.  Onto the task of protecting and nurturing all that we’ve planted and hoping for a happy yield!  Right now it is all looking so tidy and sweet, but it’ll be a lot of work and come July it’ll be downright unruly, I know.

twelve years strong

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We sat rocking on the porch, a constant cool breeze tinkling the tines of the wind chime hanging nearby and it sounds like a hymn.  A pair of mourning doves cooing over and over in the branches right beside us, near enough to touch, flying back and forth together to their nest.  Over and over, the cooing song.  We drank steaming mugs in the warm sunlight.  And I almost missed it, the significance.  It didn’t settle over my soul until today,  the symbolism of the dove.  A symbol of peace.  Peace, my word for the year.  Peace, the word God has been speaking to me repeatedly in scripture at the outset of 2018.  I came across these words today:

“Mourning doves represent peace of the deepest kind, soothing and quieting our worried or troubled thoughts, enabling us to find renewal in the silence of the mind.”

Did you know mourning doves mate for life, raising their brood together with devotion?  Did you know mourning doves typically symbolize the presence of the Holy Spirit, hope and peace?

What a kindness from God, to remind us that in this season of marriage and parenting which is so busy, strained, loud and tired, that He offers us peace.  There is peace to be had in Him even in the midst of these busy, blessed years.  That He is with us and desires to be more with us.  He has brought us through some very great difficulties in the last 3 years specifically, some things we couldn’t have anticipated walking through.  It’s taken a toll on us in some ways, but in others it has drawn us closer together.  We’ve had a lot of rich discussions about what it means to be a Christian, and we’ve leaned into that conversation in ways that make us both uncomfortable at times.  We’ve had to extend way more grace to one another than we knew we would need, and we’ve seen our own sin and ugliness more clearly.  But, I always recall the words of Eugene Peterson: Our sin is never meant to be the main event, but God’s work on our sin, His work which covers our sin, is the main event.  All of our brokenness has given us a deeper understanding of His love and unfathomable grace.  I feel held by Him and seen by Him.

Brandon and I went away for the weekend, our 12th anniversary weekend, to a cabin in the mountains a couple hours away from home.  We went there last year as well and had such a sweet time we wanted to return.  Our lives are a lot noisier than we could have imagined not that long ago.  Neither of us realized how much quiet we had in our lives before, and how much we need regular doses of it to be able to think clearly and calm.  Brandon even remarked that his job is constant noise, working in remodeling with tools all day long.  We so love this season of raising a family together, but both being introverts does make it very taxing at times, to have so little retreat and rest.  When we’ve gone away to this cabin or make any measure of space for alone time together, we always feel like we’re taking a deep breath after holding it for so long.  It’s necessary, essential somehow to our makeup.  And we remember each other, how much we enjoy being together.

These cabins that we escape to are meant for spiritual retreat.  I’ve gone away to this place before alone for a solo retreat, which was so incredibly healing.  Still, it doesn’t feel wrong to use this place as an anniversary retreat.  It’s something holy, this being married, and we need to remember that.  We need to remember one another, and we need to re-member: to be put back together again after so many of life’s trials and difficulties and distractions pull at us all year long.  We need to do this work before God, in a sacred place, and it is so beautiful and sweet to do so.  These little cabins feel like sacred ground, and every time I have gone I’m afraid God won’t meet me/us there again like He did last time.  But He does.  In that holy hush, He speaks.  There is nothing more that we need to restore and reconnect with one another than first reconnecting to God as individuals, and then seeing each other again with fresh eyes.  We find our way back to God and to one another in the particular and peculiar quiet of creation, drinking deeply of its abundance, and in words and reflection.

 

It felt like it was a huge process getting to the cabins, with a lot of traffic and stops along the way, but when we made it, we got right out into the woods for a few miles of hiking to a gorgeous waterfall.  It made the shift into a quiet weekend more immediate, getting out into the dusky quiet woods, seeing deer, many birds, a ring snake, and the usual squirrels and such.  We lose our sense of being bound to time without children and their schedules and demands, and we just did what we felt like doing rather than keeping an eye on the clock.  When we got back to the cabin from our hike it was dark and we were starving.  In the morning we took our time, lingering long over coffee and books and quiet, then went to the Wataugua River for some fly-fishing.

Our little wren-bird came along and is so sweet.  She was a bit fussier than usual, but still very easy to have along with us and mostly quiet.  I didn’t get as much knitting time as usual because she was in arms more often, but I did a lot of reading.  The cabin had the book by Lauren Winner, Wearing God, that I’ve wanted to read for some time and had forgotten about.  It was fascinating and I read a good chunk of it, and now have it on hold at the library so I can finish it.  I must say, though, it is really one I want to buy and have on hand.

B and I have taken to gifting each other a traditional anniversary gift (using a list like this one here).  Last year was represented by “steel” (and B gave me a steel knitting needle).  This year was linen and silk.  I struggled a bit for what to give him in that category, but had felt prompted to revisit our vows.  Brandon and I wrote our own vows rather than saying traditional vows, which was special.  However, I don’t remember this many years later what it is we wanted to commit to specifically.  I felt like we need our vows to be visible, a regular reminder of what we have purposed and promised.  So I decided to paint our vows on a couple of canvases (linen, sort of?) to hang in our bedroom.  They turned out pretty close to what I imagined and I’m really happy with them.  Brandon appreciates gifts like this, so I think he was happy with them, too.  It took a lot of digging to even find where we had our vows stored away.  Reading over them again sent me in a tailspin of memories.  Oh, to be a new bride with all the naiveté and infatuation!  Yet I can’t help being grateful to be waayy beyond that now, with 12 hard-won years under our belts, and to still love each other a great deal, and a great deal more honestly.

Brandon gifted me with a couple of skeins of yarn (I’m wanting to try a brioche shawl, and am thinking the Marley Shawl by Andrea Mowry), a driftwood Lykke circular needle (I’ve had my eyes on Lykke’s for so long!  I can’t wait to cast something on!), and a new pair of lululemon leggings, which I so desperately need and love.  He said he forgot to check what year 12 represented on the gift list, but I wasn’t complaining.

We also decided to attempt to invest a bit more intentionally in our marriage this year, and came up with a “12 for 12” list, a bucket list of sorts for this year, with 12 dates or things we want to do together before our next anniversary.  We haven’t quite finished the list but we are trying to do some bigger goals and some smaller, more feasible things: run a benefit 5k, go to a concert, mountain bike at Tsali (where I’ve wanted to bike since high school), read a book together (this is actually something we’ve never managed to do!), camp out at a favorite mountain bald, build something for our house together, etc.  I’ll share more about this list as we go, I think.  I’m hoping we continue to make time for it, for each other, for our marriage and investing in FUN together because life can be bleak and exhausting if we don’t intentionally plan in some fun.  If you have any ideas or suggestions for us, let me know and it may make the list! 🙂

It’s true what they say–the older I’ve gotten, the less I feel like I know.  But if I’ve learned a few things about marriage, one nugget is this: it really does get better with time.  Are you in a hard season, friend?  HANG ON.  It gets better.  Are you in a good season?  It gets better!  Of course, there are exceptions to that rule, of course there are circumstances that can end or alter a marriage irreparably.  But in the usual sense, in an ordinary marriage that has seen and survived hard days, I am astounded time and time again how good it can be!  How it can keep getting better, sweeter, richer.  How the time invested and the obstacles overcome seem to give us such a depth of intimacy I couldn’t have imagined.  We’ve seen so much road together, it’s been so unexpected.  No one on earth knows me and my interior like Brandon does.  He holds so many of my secrets, and I his.  So many people say about their spouse, “If I had to do it over, I’d marry you all over again,” and I’ve honestly felt like I don’t know if I can say that.  That sounds horrible, I know, but it’s because I’m such a big chicken and I’d be too dang scared of the hard things we’ve faced together in marriage!  I’d selfishly want to protect myself and probably be a hermit somewhere.  But, oh, what I would have missed out on!  As C. S. Lewis says, “to love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.  Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  To love is to be vulnerable” (The Four Loves).

Don’t be afraid to commit to love.  It is terribly inconvenient and challenging, but there is no greater avenue to experiencing and understanding God than to love another person and give up your life for them, to both receive and extend forgiveness time and time again.  To be made into the image of Christ together with another, as one.  There’s nothing like it.  Many of you know exactly what I mean, right?!

May God root our marriages more deeply in Him.  May He make this year sweeter than all the rest.  May we not be afraid to give ourselves to love, true love which lays down its life for another.  May we find Him in each other and through each other in ways that continually surprise us.  May we never grow weary of the good work of love!  And may He hold us together when we are falling apart.  He is able.