Stories

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Yesterday I read two-hundred plus pages of a book to my littles. Two of  my children practically begged me to continue at the end of each chapter. We have read the entire six-book series and this was the final book-the final 200 pages. While the author’s use of the word “said” caused me to print a list of words to use in its place and post it on my fridge, my children loved the books. They laugh hysterically at the silly parts, they talk about their favorite characters and incorporate them into their creative play, and they have asked more questions about this series than any other we have read so far. The books have caused them to really think about words and ideas and concepts.

 

As a homeschooling momma I worry a little when I deviate so far from my plan for the day. My schedule allowed for us to read for an hour and do math and science afterward. Then, there I was, four hours later, trying to figure out how the book was over. I am an unschooler, so I do allow for days lost down rabbit-holes, and hours absorbed in an activity that my kids have got lost in, but for some reason the days that I spend reading are the ones that make me most nervous about the plan. But, the thing is? I love these days! When my kids are so into a story that they do not want me to put it down? I am ecstatic! When every night at bedtime they jabber on about what we just read or whine that “that’s not a good stopping place!”? I know that I am growing readers and that makes me so happy.

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I remember loving to read when I was small, and then somewhere in high school losing that love. I have had periods in my adult life where I have read every book I can get my hands on, but it hasn’t been until the last few years that I have found the love for reading that I had when I was a child. Now if I find a book I love, I am that girl who will stay up late into the night until I can barely see the pages. I will steal every fifteen minutes of quiet I get to read a few pages of a great story. That word right there, “story”, that’s what I’m after. A book I can get lost in, a story that is more than just imagination, but is imagined so well it becomes real to me. I have read a lot of self-help books, and have struggled to reach the end of their 150 pages, I enjoy biographies and learning about the life someone led, but what I continue to come back to are the stories.

Works of fiction grab hold of my imagination and I become part of the story. I read Anna Karenina a few years ago, all 860 pages of it. Tolstoy’s story was told so well that even when I was struggling through the lulls in the story I could not imagine putting the book aside without knowing what happens to Anna and Vronsky and Levin and Kitty…their lives were wrapped up in my own and I felt I must see if their stories ended happily or not. I’ve read the first two books in The Name of the Wind series and began following the author, Patrick Rothfus, on Faceboook simply so I can know as soon as the final installment of the series is finished. These books were epic stories, I tell you I could feel the wind howling around me as I read under my covers at midnight. Very recently I read the Divergent trilogy-a little late to the party, I know. When I tell you that I sobbed through the second half of the final book, Allegiant, I am not exaggerating at all. I honestly felt that I was losing someone I loved. I could go on and on and on, I simply love a good story!

Yes, I am drawn to fantasy and perhaps dystopian fantasy most of all, but I will read any story that is written well enough to make me feel like I am walking alongside the characters of the book. Which, I suppose is why I will read aloud a children’s book series with roughly over 2400 pages (Land of Stories) or, for that matter, a children’s series with over 4200 pages (Harry Potter) twice. It’s because the books have such well written characters who transport me out my own life into these amazing worlds that I could not even dream up on my own. I get to the end of a great book and feel as though I can’t immediately start a new book because my mind is still wrapped up in the last world I visited. I am almost afraid to leave those characters behind, it is as though I am leaving friends or, in some cases, family if I move onto a new book.

Perhaps I am a bit crazy…but I want that type of relationship with books for my kids. I want them to cry when Dumbledore dies, I want them to feel Lucy’s frustration when her siblings don’t believe that Aslan is guiding them, I want them to be afraid of Smaug just as Thorin’s group of dwarves were! I want them to love beautifully written works of fantasy so that they don’t get too sure of their reality. I always want them to know that these stories are just as real as they would like them to be and that they can go to all of the places of their imagination simply by opening the pages of a book!

As I was reading picture books to my tiny this morning and thinking about the amount of reading that I do, I realized that I probably relearned my love of reading by reading picture books to my little ones. I definitely started reading more during my first pregnancy ten years ago and I’d say that the picture book phase of my kids lives was when I decided I’d pick up some books for myself again. I still read a ton of those stories to my youngest child, but I feel I have honestly ruined my older littles to children’s stories. We first read Harry Potter when they were 7 and 4, before that we read The Chronicles of Narnia. We’ve read the first half of the A Wrinkle in Time series, and more fantastical stories than you’d care to hear about, I say all of this to say that my kids have a heck of a hard time finding reading books that are interesting to them, but are not too intimidating (in length) for them to read to themselves. They will still sit through a few picture books from time to time, but that’s not what they want to read. They want the depth of characters and to become familiar with them. They want something deeper.

I suppose I’m not that worried about spending a day reading to my little people. I feel like the time together, the corners of their imagination that are stimulated, the parts of their minds that are challenged, are worth just as much as a day spent playing math games or figuring out why leaves change color in the Autumn. Possibly much more, as they are becoming creative thinkers, they are learning to analyze and ask deeper questions, they have intense attention spans to things they love. My kids learn about so many of societies ills and are able to process them in the safety of their family, they learn that bullies can be overcome, that while villains are real, good can defeat them. They have also learned the complexity of those evils, that people can be both good and bad. I’m grateful to have the time to read with my kids, to explore all of these realms of imagination together. I will probably read aloud with them long after the point of them needing me to, I simply love to watch them love a story by playing my small part as narrator.

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I hope that you can find a book that jump starts or restarts the love of reading in your own soul, or that of your child. When we take back the time for the quiet pursuit of reading, it is untold how much we can gain. Stories have the power to change us, grow us, and help us learn in such a unique way, I’m so grateful for all of you who take a few minutes to read the short ramblings I put down here. I’ll show my true nerdiness now and leave you with this quote from Dumbledore; “Of course this is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”.

 

Escape

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Yep, that’s at the soccer field. But it’s the perfect image of where my heart is calling me.

I’ve been writing this post about driving and how I am able to work out my problems best when I am driving across backroads with the radio loud and the windows down.

This isn’t that post.

But it’s closely related to it. Today I had to escape my house. Isn’t that terrible? I honestly felt that if I couldn’t get away for a couple of hours to think in empty space I would quite possibly spend the week screaming at my children and having pointless arguments. I tried to garden, I tried to work on some volunteering projects, I tried to sit with my people in the sunshine. Still I was cranky, irritable, frustrated with the simple fact that they are little and they need me. I was not being a good mom or a good wife. I was not being a good person. I told my sweet husband, who always tries to understand my emotional insanity, that I needed to leave. Though I doubt he was very happy about it, he told me to go. He is endlessly supportive and I am extremely grateful for his care of me. It was something that I didn’t even know I didn’t have until I knew him. Thank God for this man who can hold it all together when I need to run.

So I left. I started the van (mini-vans are not good for your soul when you need open road and peace by the way, but we make do.). As I sit here typing away with my free coffee in the sunshine I can’t help but feel the guilt. Like I am not entitled to this break in my life. I should be able to hold it all together, right? As I think on it, I have to consciously shut down the thoughts of how all of the other moms I know can handle the constant mothering requirements. I know that they can’t really, that everyone has their own limit and we all escape in the way that is most needed to us personally. It takes effort though, to not feel like a failure when I have to get away.

So I typed for an hour or two and I drove, windows down and the heat on (this is Oct. in Minnesota after all), and I felt much more peace. I wondered just what it was that caused me to need to get away and I realized that it has a lot more to do with me than with my people or really anything that they need from me. It is the sameness, the monotony, the lack of personal-mental space. There isn’t time in my every-day for Sunday’s with the Eagles. There isn’t space in my week for getting lost on the way home from picking up Mady. There aren’t hours where I can be self-absorbed. I steal moments, sure, but the days are long.

If you know me, you know that I went against my basic nature and started getting up at 4:30 in the morning this summer. I was/am trying to steal that time back that was lost to me when I began my mothering journey. I needed to regain a piece of myself and I could not figure out how else to do it. It is hard. It is worth it. So, if I’m getting a few hours each week, why the need for escape today you might be asking? Well, the last few days have been lacking that time. First, my kids have been getting up crazy early, as an example the youngest followed me upstairs at 4:33 AM today. I had grown so used to that hour or two each day that the sudden loss of it caused me to be extremely angry. Secondly, my husband has a lot of “extra stuff” going on at work. He’s been working twelve or more hours each day and he comes home tired, mentally spent. I don’t get a break when he comes home, I feel guilty asking him to help with bedtime routines and, though I know he would (and often does) help, I try to leave those few moments at the end of his day to be his.

Another piece of my desire to run is the fading daylight. There is so much less daylight to soak up! While I am still using up all of the sunshine, I can’t fit as much in. Something has to give and it has been the time I was giving to myself. Add to these the return of the Autumnal activity load, the craziness that is our normal, my volunteer commitments and it is easy-ish to see how I could feel completely and totally overwhelmed with my day. While it may not have been rational or realistic for me to think that I deserved a few hours out of the house, it was good for my mental health.

Running away isn’t really a great way of dealing with life’s difficulties, I know. It is how I process though. As I mentioned, I’ve devoted a lot of words to this idea, and I’ll share them soon. I can justify the need to get into a car and drive to myself and I suppose that is really all that matters. I don’t feel like I’m running “away”, after all I’ve always come back. A few hours journey and it’s as if the pressure has lifted with the clouds and I can chase the sunset back home.

I’m a better person when I listen to this urge to drive. Calmer, more patient, less angry, less dramatic even. I am truly fortunate to be able to run out on a Sunday afternoon without warning, I don’t take that for granted. We should all be so lucky as to be able to take care of ourselves this well because of the love of a good man. I hope that each of you who took the time to read my rambling heart today has this kind of love and support. If you don’t, please know it is okay to ask for it, people are often happy to help if you can just give them suggestions as to how.

And now? Now I will head back home as a better person, because I have taken the time to fill myself with just what I need. Loving my people stronger and fiercer than I could have this morning.

Patience (with myself)

Fruit of the Spirit; this was a Sunday school theme that was not lost on me…         Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV) reminds me, “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”. I’d always read the verse that way and I’d always looked at this list as something to strive for, a way to live that was truly Godly. I also always saw it as a little bit out of my reach. I have to intentionally seek out my joy. Kindness is something that I practice repeatedly, not something that I am. Then that last part, gentleness and self-control; I was just relating a story about a momma-tantrum I had on Wednesday to a group of friends, I was not gentle and I was not in control of myself. Can we please just leave it all as a work in progress?

I really struggle with all of this, I suppose it should be easier, I call myself a Christian after all. I read God’s word, I meditate on it, I talk with Him daily; asking for guidance in these areas. Yet, there are so many questions here. Love: Obviously I love my people. I love them deeply and fiercely and with great conviction. Do I love the unlovable though? Those who are called least, do I love them in the place I find them? Peace: Where is the peace in this season of life? Do I create it for those I am entrusted with or just crave it desperately for myself? Finally there is forbearance: defined as “patient self-control, restraint and tolerance”, ouch. Here is my greatest internal battle. I often have to literally bite my tongue to stop the hurtful words from coming out. The number of text messages I have written, deleted, and rewritten to hide my lack of patient self-control is innumerable.

I think a lot of people struggle with patience and while it is not directly mentioned in the list of spiritual fruit, it is ever so sneakily included there. Without patience it is hard to love well, difficult to be kind to all, nearly impossible to be gentle and display self-control. So why is it so very difficult to be patient? Sure, you could argue that in the times we live in we are quite able to achieve instant gratification in most things and this has contributed to our lack of patience. Or that our needs are constantly met as children and so we grow up a bit more self-centered, each generation taking more of their young-adulthood to shed the selfishness than the one before it. I can completely understand those arguments. Here is a little about me though.

When I am impatient I feel this buzzing inside, it is a reminder to me I suppose, that I am once again losing my cool. I have a hard time hitting the break and will frequently stumble forward with angry words or badly timed plans regardless of this internal cue to take a breath and rethink my strategy. It’s a part of me that I continually work toward controlling. There it is again-control-that is my ultimate issue. More than any other thing I fight for control. My mother would tell stories of how I was always in charge of the games my sisters or friends and I would play. I remember doing my best in all things so that I could be the one who was the leader of the group. As an employee I always wanted to be my very best so that I could get a better job, receive praise, and feel as though I was in control of my situation. When I am at my most impatient it is because I am railing against my lack of control over others or of situations. Funny how I don’t fight instead for control of self, isn’t it?

As a mother there are so many things beyond my control. While I can write that sentence out I secretly scoff at it, saying; “Surely this is untrue! With the right measures in place I could be in control of my family life, I am just not working hard enough toward control.”. Those words right there are actually a little painful to read… Those words hint at failing, at recklessness, ultimately at my brokenness. I can’t look back and pinpoint where this urge to control all things comes from, though I could probably cover a few defining circumstances with a broad enough brush stroke. So as I pray, I continually ask God to take control of my life. He has had to do so harshly over the years when I am stubbornly insistent that my way is best, there have been big failures and hardships that I have caused by my unwillingness to release control.

It’s quite frustrating that I haven’t learned this lesson well enough to be past it yet.

To that end, I study it, face it, focus on how to deal with it…controlling my desire to control…could that be the ultimate lunge for power or the first step in releasing it? In my study I learn that one of the antonyms for forbearance is wildness. As a girl who loves words, wildness is one of my very favorites. It brings to mind deep-green forests, crashing waves, steep cliffs, innocence, as well as a deep-understanding of life. I cannot read or speak the word without a smile on my face or a skip in the beat of my heart. Perhaps that is where my struggle with forbearance begins. If a piece of my soul is rooted in wildness-the very opposite of patient self-control- it is really no wonder that it would be hard for me. Can the two ideas co-exist inside of one person? I think I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

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I do believe that God would not have put this wildness in my spirit if He didn’t want it to work for His good. There must be a way to live wild while still living in Christ. There must be a way to live patiently, without grasping for constant control of external things. The peace that I seek is likely inside of me already, probably tucked in next to the wildness in my soul. Giving up the fight for control of circumstances will quite possibly be one of my greatest acts of wildness and one of my greatest challenges in forbearance. So perhaps the two will live peacefully inside of my heart. If I can use them together I may just move past this learning cycle and onto the next.

I remind myself to be patient this morning. Patient with my wildness and my lack of forbearance. Patient with my control issues. I sat and prayed that God would once again take my desire for control of others away, gently reminding me that controlling myself, and my responses to others is more important than simply controlling others. I looked up the verse we stared out with using the Message Bible and found it offered me much of the peace I strive for. Here is what it says;

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.   Galatians 5:22-25

In this translation I can see how my own wildness can exist peaceably within these verses. I can still see the areas where I am growing when I read them here, but I feel like I am given more grace somehow. I’m also reminded of my belief in basic holiness, of the good in people that I should look for, and that I don’t need to force my control over any of it. If I can find a way to be at peace with and in these verses perhaps I can find a way to grow those fruits of the spirit in my actual spirit. Always growing, always working toward “directing my energies wisely”, constantly adjusting to become more Christ-like.

I read once in an essay titled “The Abstract Wild” how in Thoreau’s “Walking” he did not refer to wildness as the act of being wild but rather as the past-participle of to-will, self will. The author says this “The wild, then, is the self-willed, that which lives out of its own intrinsic nature rather than bowing to some extrinsic force.”. Can you see how forbearance fits in there? Knowing my self-will, my wildness, could help me to not reach for control, by listening more to my internal voice I could keep from seeing external control as valuable because controlling oneself is of primal importance. I find this idea supremely beautiful, and hope that I can find rest in it one day.

 

You’ve read about choosing a word for your year I imagine, the tradition has been circulating for awhile now. Pick a word that could most impact your life and then keep it as a guidepost for the years events. I’m not very good at long-term commitments to small things like words, but I am choosing forbearance today, and I’m going to work on keeping it in my heart and at the top of my mind for the next thirty days. I am optimistic that by focusing on patient self-control I will not be able to concentrate on impatient other-control. I am trusting that this is the beginning of the way out of the circle, the first steps in the walk to freedom from control. I refuse to step quietly though, I will not deny my innate wildness.

I’ll leave you with a bit more of Thoreau’s “Walking”, as he says all things better than I ever could.  “…and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plow and sail for it. …. So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.”

 

 

 

The End of Summer

 

I love August.

I hate August.

There is no time for this post today as I rush to fit in one more summer task.

No time to sit on the deck with a lemonade in hand because the deck needs to be stained before the snow flies.

No time to sniff the flowers because there are wood chips to cover the earth with before the first frost.

No time to splash in the pool with the children because we must attend every planning meeting for every activity they will be a part of this Autumn.

No time to dig in the sand, no time to watch caterpillars, no time to sit in parks with friends…

I make it worse for myself by trying to accomplish every project under the sun before we fall back into our homeschooling routine which includes so many activities and so much running from place to place. Examples? I currently have a sofa in my kitchen because I’m staining the living room floor. My teenage daughter cannot park in our driveway because I have a 6×4 foot pile of mulch sitting at the end of it (which I can’t move yet because I need to divide and organize the garden on the East side of my house first.). I have raspberry bushes growing five feet outside of their bed because I had the crazy idea that I really would have time to create a living fence out of them between our yard and our neighbors property.

When I get to August this irrational fear of “the end” takes me over, like being within a hundred pages of the end of a beloved book I just cannot stop. I rush to cram in every single last summer-fun thing that I can before the crush of Autumn’s responsibility takes over. If Summer is childhood, August is my early twenties, before the adulthood of Autumn arrives. I attempt to do all of the crazy things now, before I’m tied down by my commitments. As I said, this fear is not rational. I did plenty of crazy things in my thirties and I can certainly break the schedule and go for a hike in the woods on a warm day in October. But much like the frequency of those wild times has drastically decreased with each passing year, with each passing day so will my opportunity to go exploring and to soak the sun deep into my very soul.

As the sunrise comes a few minutes later each morning I try to rise a bit earlier to sit in the silence of cricket chirps, to await the first song of birds for the day. To ensure there is time in my day to just be. Instead of running full tilt toward Autumn, I will slam on the brakes at every turn. Savor every bit of produce from the garden, wonder over every bee and butterfly. I will make full stops, not rolling through my summertime garden on the way to the next thing that must be done, rather enjoying each blossom and moment completely. I hope you will too.

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**stop**

                                                  (no really, the end is right here.)

 

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