signs of life

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Last Friday as well as today we’ve gone for little hikes because both days have been unseasonably warm, sunny, and beautiful.  Actually the last few days this week have been so spring-like and warm, it’s hard to believe it’s mid-February.  Part of me is enjoying it, because who can resist being outside on days like this?  Part of me is a bit sad.. it feels too early, and I still wanted a few more blustery winter days.  Maybe we’ll still have some.  I know everyone seems to love spring the most, and it is irresistible with its bright colors, blooms, sounds and abundance, but I still love dreary winter most of all.  I guess I was assuming this baby would be born in the midst of cold days and nights and somehow it feels wrong for everything to be so warm already.

Anyway, the children are loving it and have been outside as much as they are able during the day.  I’ve noticed the days slowly stretching longer and longer, and what a good effect it has on all of us to have a little more light to enjoy.

Last Friday we went for a short, easy hike at a place nearby called Jump Off Rock.  It was truly beautiful and a great picnic spot, so I was glad I had packed our lunch.  Afterwards the kids stretched out with bare toes in the sun and then climbed around the rocks, finding a little passageway/cave through them.

Our weeks have felt really busy lately, even though I can’t say we have a ton of “activities” going on, per say.  Weekly OB and chiropractor appointments for me, as well as trying to get in our weekly grocery trips (I usually go to at least 3 different stores), homeschool co-op, library trips, other random errands, and school work/house work seem to fill up our days to the full.  I’ve been nesting like crazy, too–working on finalizing things in Noah/baby’s room, like having Brandon make and hang those shelves for me (which I haven’t finished organizing quite yet), organizing boxes of stuff in the school room, etc.  You know, the important things.  Meanwhile, the car seat is still not installed in the car and I don’t have a hospital bag ready or anything like that.  We are delivering at a different hospital than we have with all the other children, and we still haven’t done a hospital visit.  I think we vaguely know where to go.  I’m still trying to knit a few items before baby comes, too.  I feel like my brain is all over the place and I only have 10 days left before due date.  Nothing much is happening yet and I feel mostly normal, just increasingly tired and big.  Something must have changed because now everywhere I go people look and smile and somehow know I’m due any day.  Lots of “ready to pop” comments from strangers.

I am trying to get as much school work done with Phoebe as I can before baby comes and throws a wrench in things.  I’m not sure exactly what we’ll be able to accomplish or how much time we’ll need to take off before I can get back in the rhythm with her, so I’m trying to diligently get in a good solid 4-5 days a week while I can.  She and I seem to have hit a hard spot with math, which has historically been her favorite subject, but as it gets harder she has been “dreading” it, she tells me.  We’ve started doing it first thing in the morning versus the copywork/language arts we normally focus on first thing, but it doesn’t seem to be making much difference.  Maybe having Brandon teach her and fill in a bit while I’m recovering with new baby will be refreshing for all of us?  Reading with her, history, science, art–these are all a breeze and enjoyable for both of us.  Hoping she and I can still spend a good bit of time snuggled up reading while new little baby girl sleeps.

Today we went to a local historic home, the Carl Sandberg home, which we have really enjoyed visiting in the spring/summer months for picnics and to see new baby goats.  With all the flu going around rampant in our area, I’ve been trying to avoid public places so our hikes and walks have been more in the woods and less at parks/playgrounds.  Our hike today was just lovely, and I told the children to be looking for signs of new life.  They saw a pilated woodpecker, new little buds forming, and heard lots of birds singing.  The first set of twin kid goats are due in about a month, so we’ll be back soon to see and play with them.  We’ve been seeing daffodils and crocuses pushing up through the soil on our neighborhood walks, too.  Just before I snapped that picture of the three of them holding hands, Noah had asked Phoebe, who had come back to me to tell me something, to keep having a little conversation with him, and they ran off holding hands.  A sweet little moment.  They spend a lot of time together and there is always a lot of friction between them because of it, but they really adore each other too.  Its always encouraging for me to see the good moments happen.  Don’t worry, the hike ended with its fair share of whining and weariness, and we squeezed in a library visit afterwards, which was probably pushing it being everyone was already “starving.”  But we survived and recovered this afternoon with naps + quiet time spent with fresh library books.

 

 

harbingers of autumn

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I never used to pay attention to the way the bright spring green ages, deepening into the dark green of autumn before green gives way to brown, gold, scarlet.  Last weekend, I felt that particular itch in my soul to get up and away into the mountains, and I took the kids (with my mom) to one of my favorite areas, Black Balsam.  There’s something about this place that quiets me, and somehow hiking those familiar rocky paths and setting my eyes on that wide and wild view that makes me feel like I can breathe.  There’s so much glory.  The kids were such great hikers, even Philippa hiked the whole way and refused to be carried.  So we kept the pace of a child, which is a good pace for a tired soul.  It is the pace that allows you to notice things like darkening green, brilliant goldenrod, red and orange sumac, queen anne’s lace, all the harbingers of autumn.  It is the pace that allows for wonder.  It is the pace that allows you to really see and remember that this season is passing and giving way to another, so drink it all in.

 

hiking the blacks

We shoulder packs in the rain, resisting those first sensations of getting wet, eventually surrendering to the inevitability.  We are getting our feet under us again.  We find a campsite near the road, just a quarter mile from the car, an old familiar spot from our college backpacking days.  We begin to set up our tent — always strange, this need to find shelter and make home wherever we are, especially in the wild lonely of the wilderness in the rain and growing dark.  No one else is here, the fog settles heavy over the parkway, the last lingering cars making their way home to the city below the clouds.  Good, let them go.

We are in good spirits because we know an adventure is ahead, whatever may happen, and we are in need of a little adventure.  A little unpredictable.  We soon find we cannot get a fire going, can’t even get a light for our stove.  The prospect of a cold meal on top of being now near-hypothermic and wet is dampening.  Our pride is a bit wounded — such things used to be second-nature, and now we find ourselves fumbling and making amateur mistakes.

But the wilderness is no place for the proud.

We swallow it, leave our campsite in tact and head the quarter mile back to the car, warming up there and cooking on the ground outside our car door.  The rain beats relentless, we peel off soaked layers and lament that we didn’t bring a few more backup layers, while we wait for our first sacred meal.  It’s amazing the hunger that comes over you in the wilderness.  The unexpected exertion, the cold, the yawning expanse, it stirs up something in us.  We laugh and talk about how happy we are, despite all that’s already gone wrong.  This is still fun.  If we’ve learned anything in ten years of marriage, we’ve learned that things will go wrong, and that you can either ride it out with some measure of joy in tact, or you can let it sink you.  The windows are fully steamed over now.  A wet night backpacking together somehow still feels like a vacation to parents of three children ages five and under.  Any time you retreat into the wilderness and come back alive, no matter what the circumstances or foolhardy mistakes made, is still a success of some kind, we say.

Back to our dark little wet tent we go, hurrying inside, listening now to the sounds of the dripping forest.  Just the pattering of rain now, no wind.  I am anxious — I am unpracticed at being out here in this environment again, and it takes time to give way to sleep.  I’m listening for bears, or some footfall, I suppose.

At first light we get up and get moving.  We left our food in the car, not wanting to deal with hanging a bear bag in the raining dark, knowing we would be driving to the next stop anyway.  We pack up quickly, and see some promising first rays of sun.  We expect the mist to burn off and hope to dry out our layers soon.

We debate now about whether or not we should head out to our next campsite, 4 1/2 miles away, or just keep car camping for the weekend.  It feels more uncertain now, and a lot more effort than it may be worth.  We brew coffee and oatmeal again by the car in the spitting rain and wind as we discuss and try to check the radio for the weather.  Brandon is resolute, I am questioning.  We decide to go for it, register our car at the top of Mt. Mitchell, streamline our packs and reorganize from our helter-skelter night, and head out.  It takes us four hours to hike those miles.  We forgot how strenuous this ridge line hike is.  We last hiked this range when we co-led a 21-day wilderness trip in our early years of marriage, and when thinking about how we wanted to celebrate our tenth anniversary this year, we thought of hiking the Blacks.  Six of the ten highest peaks in the eastern US are found on the Black Mountain range, four of which we would hike up and down during this trip.  Down from Mt. Mitchell, up to Mt. Craig, then onto Big Tom, Balsam Cone, Cattail Peak, Potato Hill, and finally a steep descent downhill to Deep Gap.  Our packs are heavier than necessary, we decided to forego lightweight in favor of having a few choice luxuries: a tent, coffee, books and journals, some knitting, fancier meals.  Brandon ended up carrying most of the weight, being my pack was smaller.

We make it into camp around 2 pm, fighting spits of rain and wind off and on all day.  We never seemed to break out of the clouds for very long, but had gorgeous views at different points on the hike this day.  I had wanted to go onto Winter Star Mountain originally and make camp there, but we are completely spent and Brandon tells me in no uncertain terms that this is the farthest we will go today.  We feel at home in this little spot on Deep Gap, and something in us relaxes and quiets and unwinds in a way that only the wilderness seems to do in us.  We chatter on here and there, but now we get busy with the work of shelter, fire, finding water, scouting around.  We nestle our tent under the three great spruces that line the campsite, their windward sides all blown naked.  We are very desperate and hopeful for a fire tonight, and labor for a good few hours getting it started and going in the increasing wind with all the wood soaked.  Still, it is not raining now, and we finally get camp settled.  I am reading, Brandon is nursing the fire.  It is silent out here.  It is vast.  It feels terribly good to only have to care for ourselves and tend to our essential needs, when most of our hours are spent caring for and watching over three little ones and their constant needs.  It feels like a necessary fast, a spiritual act of ceasing from the work of care taking.  Out here we don’t have to think about who needs a diaper change or a snack, who needs a book read or hurt feelings consoled.  (A special thanks, by the way, to Brandon’s parents for affording us this peace of mind while keeping our little ones happy and well-engaged!)

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Life for us has become domesticated where it was once wild.  We’ve forgotten the ways of the wilderness — the immensity that overtakes you and silences all human bravado.  A quiet that is almost deafening after so much noise.  The swallowing reality that you are not in control here — this is not your domain, this world belongs to the wild things, you are merely a visitor here.  You cannot control outcomes, you can only respond to what the natural world presents.  You are limited here, limited by resources, energy, the natural bounds of night and day, by weather, conditions.  Very little is sure.

The tenth anniversary is supposedly the “tin” anniversary, representing both the durability and flexibility of your marriage, and so B and I clinked our tin camping cups over steaming Tikka Masala with chicken.  It is one of the most satisfying backcountry meals I can remember having.  We tell some stories, remember some other wilderness moments when meals ministered to more than just our bodies.

A couple of guys hiked in just before evening, we chat with them around our fire for a bit.  They are two marine friends stationed in another part of NC, and they drove six hours to camp out at this spot, craving the wilderness as we were.  The wind is howling now and we finish off our hot chocolates, then pack up the last of our food into bear bags, head off to our bear hang, just two beams of light bouncing in the dark.  Back in our tent, we zip our bags together and whisper thanks for the warmth and our few dry clothes.  We hope for a sunny, lazy morning with another campfire and coffee.

I sleep at peace this night, happy in the wilderness, though the winds now whip the tent mercilessly and the rain assaults the west-facing side of the tent in regular surges, like an ocean wave hitting again and again.  I wake up again and again, as the tent sides bowl over with the wind, praying for our marine neighbors who were sleeping in hammocks in a grove of trees nearby.  Somehow it doesn’t seem awkward now to invite them into our tent if they are out there in the elements freezing.  The wilderness will do that to you, break down the usual barriers and make you pull together when necessary.

We wake in the morning expecting for the calm that usually comes with the sunrise, but it is as wild as ever.  There will be no fire and no sunshine and lollygagging today.  We cook quickly in our vestibule, pack up, and head for home.  Our bodies are sore and blistered and the road ahead seems longer than our strength.  But we begin, as we must.

I am watching this husband of mine and I can’t help thinking how much this trip is like marriage.  You make these plans and you have all these dreams, you imagine all the sunshine and the sprawling in a hammock by a gurgling stream.  But here you are taking one laborious step after another under a load far heavier than you could have expected.  Here you are keeping pace with another while fog closes you in on all sides, erasing the trail ahead of and behind you, obscuring all sense of perspective.  Here you are, helping each other as you rise and to fall in the muck and mire over crest and trough while the rain pelts and the wind howls.  You didn’t think it would be like this, you didn’t think it would be this hard, this much of a fight.  Is everything against us?  And all the while you are lamenting this rain and fog, you cannot see that you are hidden in the cloud He has spread over you.  You forget that sometimes He makes the clouds His chariots and walks on the wings of the wind.  You forget that many waters cannot quench love, and that He comes to you like the rain.  In all this raining and all this wet, I remember again His words to me at the crown of the year, and my soul smiles.  Yes, He reigns supreme over the rising waters.

I am watching this husband of mine carrying an incredible load, carrying all his own gear plus the tent, cooking gear, bear rope, water pump, med kit, etc.  He bears the brunt of the burden.  He does this for me.  He cares for me, he is protective for me in a way I don’t often notice at home in our usual life.  Even after all these years, all these careless and hurtful words between us in our uglier moments, he hasn’t grown callous with me.  He is still tender toward me.  He asks if I’m doing okay, he asks about my bum knee, he reaches out a hand on the steeper sections, he lends me his dry clothes.  He will give me anything he can to keep me safe.  He offers to do most of the work so I can relax and read.  At the end of it all, he rubs my back in the dark.  This man is neither saint nor villain, though I often try to pin him as one or the other.  He is both, as we all are; imperfect, a mixture of grand failure and peculiar glory.  I spent so much time in our early years “looking for the music in the music box, tearing it to pieces, trying to find a song” instead of opening my hands to receive this mystery of a man, giving thanks for what is and isn’t there as unto a good God who knows best.  Finally I’m seeing that that’s where the fireflies are.

Even after all these years, when we strip away the noise, and the busy, and all the responsibility, we find that there is still love left here.  It’s beautiful, the way we move back into this space of being just us two.  It is a whisper to us of seasons that are to come, where our rhythms and our busy will change, but for now we stretch thin and strain hard.  For now we share weary smiles and winks over early morning coffee and children with tousled hair clambering all over us.  We cannot believe the goodness of the life we have been given in these past ten years.  We look ahead with confidence because of the faithfulness of our God.  When we pass through the waters, He will be with us.

for your Tuesday

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“The discovery of God lies in the daily + the ordinary, not in the spectacular and the heroic.  If we cannot find God in the routines of home and shop, then we will not find him at all.  Ours is to be a symphonic piety in which all the activities of work and play and family and worship and sex and sleep are the holy habitats of the eternal.”
Richard Foster, Prayer

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“Small things don’t always turn into big things.  But all things begin small, especially in the kingdom of God.  Acorns become oak tress.  Embryos become President.  Life starts with a breath.  Love starts with hello.

Tuesday reminds me to accept the beauty of smallness, hiddenness, and the secret work of Christ in the deepest part of who I am.  I want to let him come out of me in any way he wants, no matter how it may seem to me–whether that be in one big way or in a million little ways.

While I stay small in the presence of Christ, I’m aware of his invitation to me, to stand on tiptoe and see, as my dad often says, beyond what is to what could be.  And this doesn’t mean I am to dream big and amazing things for God.  Rather, it means I am to believe in a big and amazing God, period.  I can trust him to be himself even as I dare to be myself.

And maybe as I do that, I’ll realize that starting small isn’ t a means to a bigger end, rather I start small because it’s what I am.  And this is good and right and holy.  Who would despise the day of small things?

As citizens of an invisible kingdom, we refuse to take our living cues from a world that say to build, grow, measure, and rush to keep up.  Instead we take our cues from the new hope alive within us, from the life of Christ who has made our hearts his home.  We’ll stop trying to keep up with the fast-moving world and, instead, we’ll settle down and keep company with the small moments of our lives.

We’ll pay attention to them, listen to what they have to teach us, not rush by them as if they are unimportant.  We know better than that by now.  We know the way these small moments link arms with one another to form the timelines of our lives.  Moments: the keys to the kingdom.  We know how we approach, consider, react, and exist within these small moments are indicators of how we approach, react, and exist in our whole lives.  We can’t afford to miss them.”

Emily Freeman, Simply Tuesday

family + summer gatherings 5: these blue mountains

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While family was in town visiting, we squeezed in as many picnics as we could.  This one, up at Craggy Gardens, one of our favorite spots.  After dinner we hiked up above the picnic area to catch this view and this gorgeous sunset in the dusky light.  Truly breath-taking.  I’m super thankful for my brothers and the way they love on my kiddos.  My little ones adore them (and the Aunties, too!) and hopefully they will one day realize what a sweet gift it is to have lots of family that loves on them and spends time with them!  And I’m thankful for my parents who taught us to love the outdoors, still so hip + young and able to get out and enjoy God’s creation.

summer + family gatherings 4: into the clouds we go

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There will always be something other-worldly and magical about this place to me.  While my sister + her fam were visiting, we headed up to Black Balsam, a nearby hiking spot rife with stunning vistas, wild blueberries, rocky outcroppings, and dramatic clouds + sky.  We had a little picnic along the way and meandered back down, always thankful to get up above our ordinary lives and look over them from a fresh perspective.

Mother’s Day

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My soul has felt a bit crowded lately.  I’ve realized that I “write” constantly, usually in my head because I often don’t have time to scribble down the thoughts in between dirty diapers that need to be changed and sibling squabbles that need to be mediated.  I’ve found that whatever I’m learning, whatever God is teaching me needs to find expression, usually in the form of writing.  It’s how I make sense of it, but more than that, it’s part of the process.  We come to God thirsty, He pours into our souls, and we fill up, we overflow, we spill over.  Writing is how I spill over.

But lately?  There hasn’t been much time or space and thus, a crowded soul.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day.  It was one of the best days I’ve had in a while, and it was so simple.  Breakfast + coffee made for me by my husband and the kids.  A bouquet of azaleas picked from the yard.  Worship at church with our spiritual family.  Then we grabbed a few items for a picnic and headed up to one of my favorite spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway near where we live.

We talked about it on the drive up, my husband and I, that there has always been some part of me that craves getting up on the mountains, in the mountains, yes, but more so up on the very heights of the land.  Where the wild whipping wind and the faintest flapping wing of a bird riding the updraft are music to the moment.  It was perfect yesterday.  Holy ordinary.  We captured a few moments, chatted with a few other hikers out enjoying the glorious day.  We played and laughed and got a little sun-burned.  The landscape was moody and dark with rain clouds one moment, pierced by sun rays the next.

I can’t find words for it, but it just does something for me.  So spacious, so abundant, so other-wordly and wild, it feels like my soul can expand and exhale.  A perfect little escape for a weary momma with an overcrowded, busy soul.

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To all the mommas out there, I hope you had a sweet Mother’s Day, feeling the celebration and the smile of God over you as He so highly esteems your every effort + work of faith!