The Third of the Series

Last night my teensy asked her daddy for the big box in the garage. She’s been waiting for it for quite awhile, but this was the day of his “yes”. She was ready. She had a plan. She was making a boat.

I was emotional and feeling very weighed down as I tried to turn leftover rice and veggies into something my people would eat without complaint. You know part of it; the govenor in my state just outlawed gathering together with anyone, anywhere for the next four weeks. That is A LOT for me to try to wrap my heart around. There was more that was hard for me personally, but that’s for another day.

As I blinked back hot, stupid tears, I looked past my kitchen and saw my teensy, blankets and books pulled into the box with her. She had made her boat. For just one moment it was perfect. She was quiet and content in her boat on her imagined sea. I smiled and snapped this picture. I didn’t want to disturb her, didn’t ask her to turn and smile for me. I just let her be there, rocking gently on the waves.

As I went back to stirring I was thankful that she was able to escape all of my “no’s” and “not right now’s” in this simple and effective way. While I may wish for an actual boat on an actual ocean to take me away from my highly emotional days, I was reminded that I don’t actually need to run away. Just find the quiet that is here and accept it as it is.

I know that I’m not the only one struggling in these strange days. Please know that you are not alone. If I can help, I will. I am here with and for you. I miss you, and I am praying for the good and the gathering and the grace to return.

Winter or The Knowledge of Cold

After my entire life spent hating the winter, in one short week winter gave me gladness, willingly. Winter just proved the most forgiving season.

Okay, okay, okay…I know what you’re all going to say about this post before I even write it. I know it hasn’t been “that” cold this season and I know that I have been here hating the misery of winter for eternity so my sudden decision to mostly embrace the misery seems almost comical. Please, let me type it all out though. February can be relentlessly long and bitterly cold, I need to have proof that I can make it. Here it is; my winter joy (thanks for that one Brooke) in 2020.

This week I initiated an outdoor activity with my children three times.

Please, do you know how amazing that is for me? First let’s remember that it is January and while the highs had been in the 20’s, I am a firm 30 degree “low” kind of girl. We have a foot or more of snow on the ground too, which is lovely to look at, but toes freeze even in boots when you’re standing around in it. One day we went out it was only 18 degrees…eighteen…who even am I?

A couple of times this winter I have asked a friend if her kids wanted to come skate at the rink near our house before open gym. The days have been mild if grey, and I was pretty confident that I’d be able to deal with the cold for the good of the children, and I did. It was only an hour and it was actually fun. Then another friend invited us to skate, we stayed out longer and I may have later whispered to my husband how much I enjoyed skating.

Cut to this week.

This past week was a hard one for me. My babygirl turns twelve in four days and that feels bigger than I am ready for. She gets to go on a great trip, one that I am firmly not ready for her to go on, which takes her away at a time of year when I need sameness. It’s been dark, cloud-covered, frigid. The littles have been bickering endlessly. The teensy has been trying to sleep better, but it’s up and down. My seasonal dip toward depression has been nearing it’s low point…plus we are closing in on a mental season that is hard for me. Six weeks from now marks a tragic anniversary that brings an almost physical weight to my body. This next month will be marked in a countdown of memory.

As you read that I want you to feel it, like really, really. This past Wednesday I was done. I had gone to my room, shut the door and lay down to cry. The endless fighting, the back talk, the rudeness in my house was too much on top of the mental load I carry around this time of year. I couldn’t do it and I knew it. I knew that I could not stay in this house with my people and make it to the end of another winter. I was angry with myself for choosing to stay here when I could have made the choice to go somewhere, anywhere, else.

And then I did it.

I wiped my eyes, mostly. I went back out to my children, told them that there were things that needed doing whether we wanted to do them or not. Then I told them to put their snow pants on. I took them to the sledding hill in town. It was the middle of the day and we had the hill to ourselves. It was gray and cold, but we slid down the hill fast and trudged back up together slowly for nearly two hours. I looked down at the teensy once and said; “who knew your momma left her smile out here in the snow?” and I almost cried again right there.

I came home that day and I knew. It all added up. There was joy out there on that hill in the snow. Joy in how we played together and laughed together. There was just as much fun in the snow as there had been hiking last Autumn. Just as many smiles as swimming in the lake last Summer. Just as much squealing as splashing in Spring rain at the end of the driveway….we were having fun. In winter. I posted to my Facebook about how odd it was, if you follow along over there you’ll know how little I post and you’ll recognize some of these photos, but I needed to get it out of my head quickly and down on paper that I really, really, had fun!

We skated again with friends on Thursday and on Friday we went back to the hill with more friends. In just three days I spent close to six hours outside. That may be more time than I have spent outdoors voluntarily in January ever. And I loved it…weird.

There was no big change. No sudden realization. It seemed like an acceptance more than anything else. This is where I choose to live. These are the people I choose to do life with every day. This (being stuck inside or feeling forced to go outside) is no way to live. It is simple survival and I do not want to model survival for my children, I want to show them how to thrive. More than that though, I actually want to thrive, not just for them, but because this is my only life, my only chance.

So I went outside.

Yes, in January and yes in the snow and yes at 18 degrees. And despite literal years of protestations; I didn’t die. I had actual fun. At the end of each of these three days I felt like the girl that I am in Summer when we are snuggled into our camper bed after a full day on a state park trail. I felt infused with joy. The fresh, cold air had filled each particle of my being. There is a great deal of grace here. Do you know? After my entire life spent hating the winter, in one short week winter gave me gladness, willingly. Winter just proved the most forgiving season. This is quite unexpected.

I know this is only a small window into my days and a minute peek into my vast wintertime experience. I know that next week there are highs forecast in the teens and my own preteen will be far away and I may feel that tug toward darkness and sadness. The desire to hide under blankets may overwhelm me once more. That’s why I had to write this down, I need to be able to see that I felt good with afternoons spent outside. Not just a little better. I didn’t just make it through the day without yelling. I wasn’t only able to survive because I got some fresh air. I was able to thrive, to lighten, to breathe…

That seems a smidge dramatic.

As a sort of closing to this ramble I am placing a challenge here. Not for you, though you could choose it for yourself as well, but a challenge for me. To continue out in all weather, regardless of it’s perceived goodness. I may be cold. I may get wet. I may not love every minute of it, but I can see now how I need it. Like really, really. Just as much as I need my toes in the dirt and the sun on my back I need the icy air in my lungs. I am not merely a child of sunshine, but of outside, I can see how being indoors wrecks me. I will give in to this knowledge and not remain stuck in the lie that inside is safe and warm and somehow better. I will force myself and my people out the door into the wider world because I am better when I am out here. There is no longer any doubt.

If you need a push to get out, may this be a gentle encouragement to you. I have honestly hated winter since childhood, if I can go out and find some sense of self, some bit of internal sunshine, then I know it can come to any of us. The winter is long dear friends, maybe we needn’t be sucked into misery for it’s duration…maybe.

A Decade in the Wilderness

I have sought after the sun and the waves and the deep, unknown wildness that rests inside of me. This line is probably the truest I’ve spoken here. In all else that I have done over the past ten years this may be the realest I’ve been with you. All beginnings lead to this end.

I’ve been in this exhausted place for a few days now, trying to find the brain power to wash dishes has been tough, which means putting pen to paper is pretty much impossible. Right now I’m watching my teensy play a reading game on the laptop because it means that I don’t have to get off of the sofa. As I’ve been overtired it has occurred to me how very little sleep I’ve enjoyed in the past ten years, and that got me thinking about what I have actually done over the last decade. I thought that might be a list I’d like to read. And since you clicked on my post, now you get to as well!

With my exhausted apologies if there is not a coherent thought in this rambling.

Just over a decade ago I turned 30.

In my thirties I did a lot of hard things, more than I maybe wanted to.

It shouldn’t be the first thing on my list, but the leaving does define the decade I think. Without the leaving, none of this list is possible and so I let it stay at the top, not because the before is what matters, but because all that comes after needs a place of beginning. And so. I left a man who held me down and kept me believing that I could do nothing important. A man who made me believe that I was worthless. My wants did not matter, being quiet and doing his will were what I was here for. The importance of my life does not begin here, but my understanding of the importance of my life stems from this moment in time. In leaving him, I left an entire life that I deserved, that I had built. I walked from friends and family who did not -some who still do not- see his behavior as hurtful, debilitating, controlling. I left my home and my place in the world-however small he had made it. I walked away with almost nothing, except, that walking free gifted me everything.

The decade of remembering begins here: I found the truest love of my life. While this means one thing it also means a few other things. Let me explain.

First it means that I found the man that I love and discovered that we could build a really good life together as long as we continue to choose each other. My sweet man loves me better than I have ever been loved. He knows my heart and cares for me as if I am the most important person on the earth. He wants me to know (like really, really) that I am loved and he is willing to do almost anything to ensure my continued happiness. He seems to know my heart and be as connected to it as I am myself. I hope that I hear his as well, but honestly, I know that he is better at loving me than I will ever be at loving him. That’s overly honest, be gentle dear friends.

Additionally, it means that I found God again, or maybe that I let Him be known to my soul. For most of my entire life I was lost, wandering unhappily. I felt like God was unimportant and like He didn’t care about me at all. In my thirties I discovered that I was wrong. God is here and loves me deeply. My relationship with Him has strengthened far beyond what I thought it could. The love, forgiveness, and peace this relationship with my Creator has brought is more than I could’ve hoped for. I won’t go on about it here as it is deeply personal, and I’m not sure I could help you to understand.

I suppose that it also means that I began to love myself. Can I let that fit into this list? This is one of those things that is as hard to admit as it is to realize. Because of the place I had been (and that man I was finally able to leave), I did not like the person who I was. Now…though I still see my faults first, I am proud of the woman I am. I love the person that I have grown into and I no longer look in the mirror with deep sadness. So that you hear me; I have not walked some path of Spiritual discovery that has taken me deep into the mystic. Rather I have lived a mostly invisible life. Quietly carving out a small place to be me unapologetically. I don’t do amazing things or have thousands of followers, I only sit here early in the morning, reading God’s word, scratching out my own, sharing a few of them with you. I don’t ever really intend to mean a lot to much of anyone, but I now know my worth. I am free of the hatred of who I had allowed myself to become.

Looking back on the decade I remember a few of the, shall we call them “lesser” things that have happened and wonder if they should be on this list of “accomplishments”. I mean…

I helped get two children through their teens and early twenties.

I birthed two babies in my thirties and have been raising my three littles this entire decade.

I have put in the work to let my children learn at home, choosing not to send them to school, but to let this everyday life be their learning environment.

I have helped to create a home that I am happy in, and where others could be happy too.

I have dreamed big dreams; travel being at the top of that list, and let those dreams rest in the safety of the future, for a time.

I have built a community that I once thought I did not deserve. These women are real, and we do our real lives together most every day. I love each of them and value their friendships more than I knew I could.

I have found church homes and left them.

I have moved into three new homes.

I have read stacks of books.

I have invested in the wrong groups of people (though, they were right for the season).

I have walked miles in the wilderness and driven down more back roads than are rationally acceptable.

I have sought after the sun and the waves and the deep, unknown wildness that rests inside of me. This line is probably the truest I’ve spoken here. In all else that I have done over the past ten years this may be the realest I’ve been with you. All beginnings lead to this end. To this stretch of sand and water that are more inside of me than out. I will remember this decade as a time of honest becoming, a time of learning my truest nature, of walking the path leading ever deeper into my own being. There are unwritten thank you notes in my heart this morning. Words that I may never speak aloud to those who have helped, or pushed, me out onto this dirt path to my soul. Maybe they know? Maybe they don’t need to know?

Ice

Today I drug my over-tired, crabby, mopey self over to the rink by our house. The kids needed to move and I know the temps are dropping so I forced myself to go.

You just never can tell where you might find your smile…

Sometimes you simply must do the thing so that you don’t succumb to the dark place bubbling inside of you.

This day it was necessary for me to take the sleep-deprived, frozen, close to angry version of myself and lace up skates. Without this excursion I would have curled up under the covers and cried, not even kidding a little.

The ice was good, the shadows deep, the sunlight filtered, the air just cold enough. Our laughter was loud.

My time outdoors is short in winter, but today it was good, today I was thankful for clear ice and sharp skates. I’m a smidge worried about the cold ahead and how hard it’s going to hit me, maybe skating will help. I’ll at least hope that it does.

Peace in the cold is a good thing to find. For a few minutes today, out in the cold, it wasn’t really so bad being “stuck” in this place. It was almost joyful, maybe even fun.

Gratitude, a Practice

How do you place value on a day? An hour? A moment? Is it in all that you accomplish? Does the weight of your day mean more or less because you’ve checked off so many of the boxes on your list? Is all lost if, as you look around your life, the same things that needed doing yesterday need doing again, or still, today?

Do you know a moment is good because of the happiness that comes from it? Joy being of more importance than pain on our scales of blessing. Can feeling frustrated, angry, ill-at-ease, cause you to count this minute, this hour as a loss? While a smooth, cooperative, easy day leaves you trusting that God has smiled on you in however small a way.

Could it be something more? Not in how you feel or what you’ve done, but could the inherent goodness of your life be something simpler? Something that is so far beyond our control we often struggle to believe it even could be, let alone is.

What if the value of your life, of mine was not found in these common assesments? What if the goodness of our moments, was ultimately, simply, found in our Creator. What if, however much we eff up, however much we fail in human sight, however much we hate the way our corner of the world is spinning…what if those things can’t impact our peace, because God is good?

I’ve kept a gratitude journal for several years now. I can remember a time when coming up with three good things each day was a challenge for me. When the length of the nights and the pulse of my day made me stretch myself to come up with this handful of daily blessings. In the practice of being thankful though, I’ve become more. In looking for the good I have been able to see that most of it is good.

This has been a slow thing for me to learn. In the scratching out of thankfulness it has taken those few years for me to become accustomed to seeing it all as good. As we have struggled through our challenging years, I’ve come to see, to firmly believe, that even the hard or the percievedly “bad” is often a gift if I choose to look at it from the lens of God. I have needed a great deal of practice with this though.

I’ve written about my lack of sleep before, and how I now am able to see it as an opportunity. This has happened because I have allowed God to work in my heart, begged Him even, to do so. He has shown His goodness to me in so many other ways. Ways that I certainly would not have expected, but more than that in ways that I have not always seen, at first, as His goodness.

In my head right now I am making a list of things that have happened in my life that I would not have written in my gratitude journal, the list is long and I will not share it here. I will tell you that I have put myself in some bad situations as far as my safety, my financial security, and my mental well being are considered. I can see, in the looking back, how God used all -okay most- of those things for good. How the lows have only brought me closer to Him, and how that is really all He wants from and for me.

In my previous life I had sunk pretty low on the gratitude scale. I have deliberately climbed a ladder of thankfulness to be at this place, where I can see how some of those bad situations, weren’t. That He was working good for me in all things, even the heartbreaking things.

I don’t know if this practice of writing down thanks is enough to get me through something terrible. I pray fervently that my faith is never tested in a handful of specific ways. Because while I believe I am strong in my faith now, I also know pretty well what it would take to break me. That’s another reason I practice gratitude though. With the hope that in continuing to be thankful, I could continue to be thankful through any of the worst. It is a goal, and a gamble of course. There are no guarantees that I could experience life-shattering news and be at peace enough to immediately find the glimpses of good.

To be clear, I don’t write down the good and, “poof!” there is less bad. Rather, in making notes on my days, my interactions, my difficulties, I am looking for those flashes of good which are always there, should I choose to see them. This affords me the quiet and the space I need to really evaluate a negative encounter or experience, and hopefully, see it for what God needs it to be, for what it truly is, in my life.

Each year I start over, allowing the days to tick off their own goodness, counting up seemingly mundane moments along with the highest of the highs.

…the teensy sleeping through a night

…fresh, cold air

…skates on the ice with my littles

Do you have a gratitude practice? I’d love to hear about it sometime. To know how it has grown you, changed you. How it’s helped you to find contentment or joy or some small space in your head that has been taken back from the sadness of the world. Sitting down now to pray peace over each of you who takes the time to read my ramblings this year.