Wanderer

I was feeling alone. Even though I am surrounded by my little people all day every day, I was feeling alone. I was missing extended family, I was missing my aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents. I was missing my sisters. I’ve been moving farther and farther away from my family since I was a child. The divorces that are my mothers story taught me to move away from the people I love with little emotion. That’s a harsh sentence, but it is true. As I look back, I can see how we physically moved away time after time while she chased after her truest self. It became quite easy to create friendships and then end them as we moved on to the next town. More than physically moving on, her moves taught my soul not to get attached, not to think this place or that friendship would last. I also learned that family is something that can be fractured and put back together many times and still hold strong.

Something that I never knew until I went through my own divorce, was that parts of family are lost and not put back in when two people break apart. I suppose I knew how I had been affected by my mothers choices, but I’d never really thought much about them. When I was a child I easily forgot the friends and family who I no longer saw, I walked farther down the road and knew they were back there, perhaps having taken a left when I went right. Then, in my own divorce I lost my mother for a time, she didn’t agree with my choice or the way I was living. She decided, in her anger at me, that I was wrong and that she would not be there for me. Though she has moved on from the hurt my decision caused her, I still struggle with her betrayal and have a hard time relating to her, she is a fracture, and when she is with me I feel the ache more intensely. This break that has been poorly repaired still hurts, but I’ve realized it is not the cause of my sadness.

As I sat in the stillness and I thought about why I was feeling so alone, so empty, so lost. I thought about the road that has brought me to this exact place in life, I was looking back at those turns that were right for me, but that left people I loved behind. Or perhaps it was the fork in their road that took them away from me. It came to me that another piece of what I was missing was the extended family that I had in my previous marriage. Specifically, I was missing my former sisters-in-law. I did a lot of life with these women, the loss of them was great and it broke me in places that I have ignored for a long time. Let me be clear, I don’t want to go back to the small, helpless girl I was then. I’ve become too much and know myself far too well to want that. I now love a man who has shown me how to find my worth. What I miss from that place and time is his sisters. I know that I have my own, but they are far away physically while his live near me, yet are on roads I can’t get to from here.

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When I left him, I left people I loved deeply. It was all too easy for me to take that hard right to what was best for my very soul, and leave these people at a rest stop on the highway. While I missed them immediately, ached for their support and friendship, I knew it was lost to me. I chose right, they followed him to the left. It was easy to look at the loss as I had so many times before; as leaving school friends all of my life, as walking away from people I called family. This had become second nature to me and I did not think twice about it at the time. I thought I’d get past it, and I did. Most days. But there are mornings that leave me hoping I’ll run into these women at the grocery store.

This seems messed up doesn’t it? I mean, how can I have so easily cut all of these people out of my life? It doesn’t make sense to me even now, so many years later. Obviously I didn’t deal with those losses well because I still feel them after all of this time, but I can clearly remember turning away. Choosing to not reach out to them, not even hope that I could remain friends with these women. I assumed that it would be like it had been when I was young, a clear break and then the setting of a new course. Trusting these sisters and friends were still out there, just on a different road, has not been enough. I know that I will never again have these same women, that same extended family. I ache for it, but I understand why it must be this way. I think I will always miss them though, my own sisters, my former sisters, friends I’ve lost because of the direction I was headed.

I miss being surrounded by family, in fact I have spent the last few years trying to build friendships to fill the spaces left by lost sisters. It’s hard. Not just to find women to do life with, but it’s hard when it seems no one understands or would understand or could ever get why they are so needed in your life. That there is this gaping space inside of you that longs to be filled with the easy friendship of a sister. It is hard for me to put into words, this wanting to have a built in group of people to do life with. If you have close family or dear friends then I suppose you know what I mean, I’ve had it at different points in my life and I am aching for it in this season.

I do look forward in hope, I have five kids now in this blended up family of ours. They are sisters and brothers that I pray will always have each other physically close. I pray too that they continue to grow closer relationships as the little ones grow older. That they want to be close to each other, that they want to spend time together, that they miss the crowded dinner table enough to come home for spaghetti and meatballs on a Tuesday night. I get glimpses of it already, it is beginning. I hope that we have created the place they will want to come back to when they are all grown. I hope this for selfish reasons too, not just because I want the closeness for them, but because I want to have these people around me. I want them at my table, crowding into my living room, making chaos in my house. I miss it so much now, but my children offer hope of having it in the future or at least the hope of providing it for them.

I wonder this morning; over lost family, sisters who have moved away, sisters who I have moved away from. As I think about the friendships I have, I wonder if any of them will ever fill the empty place left by sisters. Have I put up too many road blocks to get close enough to let them fill the holes? I will have to keep working on myself, because of this deep need inside of me. For now I will be present here, feeling the loss and trying not to brush it aside. I want to feel what I’ve left to become who I am, to examine the parts that I most miss. I think that in remembering, I will work more diligently to create authentic connections. Which will in time begin to fill this part of me back up.

 

 

 

 

What I Wish I’d Known

What did you wish you’d known before you started? This question can be asked of so many stages of life. Before I got married I wish someone had told me that I already had the power to be happy. Before I had kids I wish someone had told me to take more naps. Before I became a stay at home mom I wish someone had told me how important friendship would be to my sanity. Before I started homeschooling…that’s what I’ve been thinking about these past few days as I have been so sick I could barely keep my eyes open.

Before we started homeschooling I actually said these words to my husband; “What am I going to do all day?” In some crazy universe I thought that it would be all too easy to homeschool and mother littles and run bigs here and there, so easy that I would be bored. Clearly I was insane. It has not yet for one day been boring in the sense that I had nothing to do. Sure there have been days where I search for the thing to do that I want to do or the thing to do that is fun, so I have been bored, but never because my to do list was completely crossed off.

Before we started homeschooling I thought I would do school at home not unschool. I found desks and created a school room and researched curriculum choices. What a fool I was. We are not boxed-curriculum people. We do our best learning outdoors, we remember more by painting, We practice multiplication tables as we drive to our next adventure. I was foolish to think that we would sit in our desks and do spelling lists, that was never ever for a teensy second the type of person I am, and it’s definitely not who my kids are.

Before we started homeschooling I thought we would do school in the morning and be done by noon and have our afternoons free for adventuring. We are so not morning people! Oh how we are not. My kids may get up before six, but they don’t want to start school right after breakfast. When we do jump right into school there is so much push back that I will almost always yell. Sure, there are days when we have to do school in the morning and we struggle through them, but our best learning happens late morning to early afternoon. Forcing my people to work efficiently before they have time to play and run and move their bodies is a mistake.

Before we started homeschooling I thought my kids would be best friends and play together peacefully all day long. Okay, so I dreamed that would happen. I knew they would still bicker, but I had read that kids who are homeschooled are better friends with their siblings and I wanted that for my kids. My kids fight. They argue, they glare, they scream, they stomp off, and shout things like “I’m not playing with you ever, ever again!”. Do they like each other? Yes. Do they miss each other when one is away? Of course. Do they want to be together every waking minute of every day? No, of course not. They are human and they annoy each other, and they have their own personal boundaries-who knew? Certainly not me.

So all of these things are things that I wish I had known before I started homeschooling. I also wish I had known that I didn’t have to be the perfect teacher. As an example I’ll tell you about my yesterday. I have been sick for three days. We have pushed through and done school all of those days and I have continued on in my mothering as close to normal as I could, but yesterday I was done. I couldn’t even. I was so tired it hurt to keep my eyes open. It was painful to stand. My tiny had been sick too and she doesn’t sleep when she’s sick so I was beyond exhausted. (I am also overly dramatic when I don’t feel well.) Ideally I would have called it a sick day and let my kids play all day, but of course I had too much guilt to do that, they weren’t sick after all, they should have school. I started by asking my kids to take care of their structured reading time, they read for a long, long time by choice. Then they grabbed their printing/cursive work and finished that -on their own- I was a zombie struggling for consciousness on the sofa at the time. They did math as well, granted they didn’t learn a new concept, but they practiced stuff they have learned and then played in puzzle books as I dozed.

While that was it for our school day they also made their own nachos for lunch, took care of snacks, played quietly in their rooms, helped the tiny to the potty, listened to a ton of audio book, and had a few hours of outside time while I sat in a chair on the deck. Yesterday they learned to care for and about each other because their momma was sick and really couldn’t care for them well. They worked on how to be good humans by showing compassion and undeserved kindness. They also picked up my slack without even being asked to do so. All of this shows me that they are learning about life between our daily lessons. These kids will be able to go into the workforce one day hopefully knowing that everyday isn’t “fair” but we can all work together to get things done.

That is what I wish I had known before I started homeschooling, more than knowing I didn’t need the perfect math curriculum or that if my eight year old spelled horrifically life would still go on. That there is grace in our days. That even on not-school days learning is present. That some of our best lessons are being taught not by a book, but by our daily interactions. I wish I had known that while spelling and history and even long division are valuable skills that kids should learn, one of the best parts of our homeschooling choice is the opportunity to have real life problems handled together. This safe place to learn and mess up and try again is what I didn’t know I wanted, more than all of the other things that would’ve been great to have a heads-up on. Allowing life to be our school house and our time together to be our learning environment has started to grow some really great little people.

So, what do I wish I would have known? Nothing! Because if I would have known ahead of time the type of learners my kids were or that they weren’t morning schoolers, or that you can’t plan an effective school day around a two year old’s schedule, we wouldn’t have learned all of the things we have learned together. The lessons in patience, kindness, love, grace, understanding, so many more, have been invaluable for me as well as for my children. Yes, I am glad they are learning to spell and to subtract. They could’ve learned that anywhere though, unschooling has helped us grow a safe place to be who we truly are, here we are learning how to do life well.

That is the best part too. Because we learn together, fail together, grow together my kids get to see that in community is the best way to live life. They know that there is this whole support system around them that they can not only learn from but where they are valuable members who can help and teach and serve. I know that over the years of homeschooling I will have as many lessons taught to me as my kids do. I am grateful for that, because I know that I still have a lot to learn. Community is the one thing I would have gladly taken ahead of time. I learn so much from our group of friends and I would have been thrilled to know them before I started this journey. It would have been good to have some people to tell me to chill out. I am so thankful for all of my people, and more so because my kids have them from the start.

If there was one thing you could have had or known “before” what would it have been? I think it’s good to reflect on this sometimes, like when your nine-year-old is making lunch for her siblings because you can’t physically drag yourself off of the sofa! It’s also good to know that I don’t have to run down the path or rush to figure things out too quickly, the journey itself is the destination. The things I will one day “wish I had known” will be perfect lessons brought about in their own time. There is peace in knowing that, and that is something I am thankful to know now.

What if…?

What if we all stopped thinking of ourselves for a minute?

What if we all thought about another person’s wants before our own needs?

What if we gave to others without complaint?

What if we were more selfless?

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What if we did all of that without hope of praise or favors returned or even kind words? That is where I’m at this morning. If you’ve read a few of my other posts you are possibly sensing a theme, I hope it’s obvious that I’m doing some soul-work over here. How I got to those questions this morning requires a bit of backstory; earlier this year I committed to getting out of bed at four AM (insane, I know!…I have early risers and a husband who runs a coffee shop), while the actual time I get out of be is much closer to 4:30 I still feel pretty good about this goal. I felt like I wasn’t giving God the time He wanted with me and so I begged Him to help me actually get up. He saw it as good and here I sit at six o’clock typing away. The point? Okay, so getting up well before my children gave me an hour or more of peace to start my day, no needs to meet, no questions to answer, no constant pouring out of myself without the opportunity to fill up.

In the quiet of the morning I was able to take the time that I needed for myself and as I continued this over the course of the summer I found that I was better able to meet my children’s needs and wants. I could change a diaper as soon as the toddler woke because I’d already had coffee. I could teach my kids how to make their own eggs and oatmeal because I was more patient after having time to learn from God’s word. We were able to develop a better rhythm, one that didn’t involve so many skips and missteps. I credit this directly back to making time in my day to just “be” with God.

Then there was the more. I started feeling God ask me to do things, you may have read about holding the baby at the library? That was one of the first times I said yes to an internal nudging. There have been a lot of small things too, water bottles and cash to homeless people without caring to judge how they got to where they are-the second part of that sentence was hard for me. The giving of flowers or gift cards or chocolates-without hope of a returned favor. Helping a friend even if my schedule was screaming at me to not add that more into it.  The reading of books when I have a stack of laundry to fold-still. These things may be normal to you, but for me they were the things I wanted to do but could never quite find the time to do them. Truth was, the time was always there, I just wasn’t using it correctly.

When I started waking before the sun,  I used the morning to sit in God’s presence. I was tempted early on to use the extra time to wash dishes, fold laundry, scrub kitchen floors…but on the days I did those things my kids woke earlier, my coffee got colder, and there was no more peace than when I woke with my children. And so I sat, still and silent, breathing in and out. I read extra pages in my bible, I thought about and wrote down more and more gifts in my thankfulness journal, I prayed specific prayers over my family and friends. Then I started writing again. Something I hadn’t done in a very long time because it felt selfish. I am not a great writer, and it takes me more time than most to communicate my thoughts well on the page, and so the time required to write 1500 words was more than my schedule allowed…until I let my days start earlier. The writing still feels selfish, and so I’ve prayed about it, asking God to guide my words and only allow me to write if what I write is good and pleasing to Him. I decided that I wouldn’t worry about how many comments there were or how many people liked what I wrote. I accepted that this was a personal endeavor, and that I would follow His lead and timing.

As time went on those little things that I said yes to happened more frequently, and they made me feel good. I hoped that what I was doing was helping others, but I was deliberate in not seeking to be known, so I often didn’t hear how what I had done had affected someone. When I did receive thanks, I hope that I have given the glory back to God, not being prideful or boastful in my own ability. And so those “what ifs?” started coming up more and more often. What if I wrote that email? What if I sent that card? What if I saw her need and was able to meet it?…What if it came at a personal cost to me? I saw that I needed to say yes even more often, even when I was certain my own plan would be messed up by the yes.

That’s where I am now and it’s become a little tricky. I’m working on knowing how to communicate to my kids that (insert thing they want to do here) may not work out because I’ve said yes to the thing God has asked of me. They are adapting pretty well, and I’d say they are seeing the good that comes from my yes, though missing an activity or working when they’d rather play is difficult. I hope I am building their servant hearts, that as we all grow they will say yes on their own. I worried that I’d feel led to do more than I could or that the things I was supposed to say yes to would be too hard for me. Though they have pulled me outside of my comfort zone and have stretched my beliefs a bit, all of my yeses have been things I could do. I mean; I am able to push a vacuum, write a thank you card, or create an outline, actually offering to do them was the hard part.

God still isn’t asking me to serve outside of my present station. I’ve often wondered when I will be able to be His hands and feet to the masses, I feel like this is a calling deep inside of me, that shining God’s light to the world is a gift that He will use. This has really bothered me over the years of mothering little ones, because I felt that I was only able to work in their lives and while it is good, hard, holy work…wasn’t there more? Back to the early mornings. I see that by saying yes to all of these small tasks, easy favors, and the giving of joy, I am shining His light into a dark world. While I still work within the confines of motherhood and I still believe my greatest calling is to be a wife and mother, I can affect the world at large.

I can do all of this, because God has used my yes. It is powerful and meaningful work to put others before yourself. Even if I am still only doing small things, I know it takes only a single wave (of kindness) to start a hurricane (of good). I know that I can’t always see what will happen because of my yes to God, it too is work that I may never see the result of, much like mothering. And similarly to mothering, my yes may appear to be just one more thing on my long list, but it is a good thing. So I will continue, for now, to listen in the quiet of the morning, waiting with God for what will come of this day. I will look for my opportunities, praying that I will know what they are when I see them.

 

 

 

Building Community, One Kindness at a Time

 

I was at the library with my little children recently, they understand our rules and so I let them have some space to search in peace. My tiny was even chasing after her sister so I had time to look for the constellation books we wanted to pick up without needing to keep her from pulling every single book off of the shelf. We have a large library and there is always a fair amount of noise in the children’s area. On this day I could hear a baby fussing and crying, and, honestly, I was not feeling patient for it at all.

I continued my search with the hope that the child would settle down quickly. As I finished up and my kids were discussing audio book choices I found the baby, he was in a stroller and his momma was overwhelmed. As I stood there making silly faces at the boy she picked him up and continued working at a computer station with her little guy on one knee, she had a bottle out, a pacifier, plus the contents of her wallet spread out next to her. While I didn’t try to see what she was doing, I could tell she wasn’t just casually surfing the web while her baby yelled from his stroller. I thought to myself how hard that is, I remembered the days of having no internet at home and needing to use a library computer to complete important tasks. I know how difficult and stressful that can be, and I never had to try to do it while bouncing a fussy one year-old on my knee.

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I stood there at the end of the audio book aisle as my children discussed the benefits of listening to books and I was convicted. The Lord spoke into my heart asking me to help this over-stressed mother. I will admit that I was hesitant, this woman was not like me, the differences between us were evident. I had dirty knees from coming out of the garden, the gypsy just doesn’t wash out of my hair, and my kids dress themselves. I wondered if I offered, would she accept? First because of my appearance and secondly because as a mother myself I rarely take people up on their offers of kindness, feeling instead that I should be able to do it on my own. After a few minutes of hemming and hawing I gathered my courage and approached her.

I wasn’t sure what I would say so I just said “Hello, could I hold your baby for you?”

She turned from the computer screen, looked me over (probably contemplating all of the societal reasons that she should say no), thanked me and handed me her sweet boy. Can I please take a minute to tell you how completely adorable this child was! He was the sweetest, chubbiest, most squeezable baby you have ever seen and I was immediately glad that I took the risk. I sat on the floor with her baby while the woman went back to what she was doing, she had clearly been flustered trying to complete her task with this squirmy little guy in her lap so it took her awhile to find her place as she thanked me and told me she was struggling with the document that she was working on. My children would happily live at the library and so I told her to take her time.

Baby boy and I rocked and bounced and sat playing “this little piggy went to market” with his sweet little toes while his mom was able to finish her work, get help from a librarian with printing and begin to make a phone call. It wasn’t long but he was trying to escape from me too, and I could better understand why he had been buckled into his stroller earlier. Clearly the baby just wanted to move and explore, he hadn’t been being naughty or yelling for the sake of hearing his own voice, he was simply bored. I was reminded once again that I should never assume intent without first trying to understand. His mother was, of course, so thankful to me, but I thanked her when I handed her back her squirming, giggling, smiling baby. I’m sure she had no idea why I offered to help, why this strange (dirty) woman offered to hold her cranky baby while she filled out paperwork in the middle of her own personal mess.

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It was a gift and a reminder to me that we all need help sometimes, and the mother’s grace in her acceptance quieted my doubts about offering in the first place. How often do I avoid these situations where I could actually help someone based on my own uneasiness or fear? How often do I deny someone else the gift of helping by saying “no thanks, I’ve got it.”? I can’t even begin to guess at the answers to those questions, but I have made a decision that this day I will do what I can to help whoever is in my path. I briefly worried that I wouldn’t be able to help well because I have three little people in tow at all times. Then I realized that in them I have three extra sets of hands to hold doors open, three little voices reminding me to hand a bottle of water to the homeless man on the corner, three willing participants in this spreading of joy. My children don’t have to stop me helping, they have the ability to help as well.

We can’t do all of the things, and we will miss opportunities, and that’s okay. God doesn’t ask me to do all things, just the next thing. If I do that task then He’ll have another for me at the exact right moment. In my mind I can see the baby’s adorable face as I sit here typing about him, I’ve been praying for him and for his momma. I hope that they are on a good path, that she knows God treasures her above all else, that earthly situations in no way reflect the breadth of Gods love. I also hope that the fifteen minutes of my time was seen as the pouring out of God’s love for her.

I’ve wondered since we left if she had been praying before I offered to hold her sweet baby.  Had she been sitting there mumbling something like, “Lord, please shut this boys mouth so that I can get us the help that we need and finish up on this computer…”. While I’ll never know for sure, I can trust that God knew her heart and her need and used me to meet that need. Not because I’m awesome or anything, simply because I was willing. I didn’t shy away from the nudge He gave me. I often think about the village that is missing in my mothering walk, and while that is a post all in itself, I am hopeful that for a few minutes I was able to fill that role for this woman. That I was able to remind her that there is a community around her that will lift her up and help her right where she is. After all I can’t expect others to build community for me, I have to actively take part in the process.