A Deeper Sense of Community

I write about community quite often. About how children can not thrive without a group of supportive people, how each of us needs a tribe to call our own. Over the past few weeks I’ve noticed how much the women in my own circle have grown closer. I feel like I am a little on the outside because we are off adventuring so much, and while this makes me a teensy bit sad, I can still feel the shift and it brings me so much joy. Some of us need it more than we would even care to admit.

I have frequently felt like the group of women that I’ve come to call mine through homeschooling is special, we are not a bunch of moms who get together regularly so that our kids have normal-ish friendships and educational opportunities. Well, we are that. More than that though the women I homeschool with are friends, helpers, sisters…some of them are like silly aunties to my kids. Others are trusted adults who can be relied upon in difficult circumstances. To me though, the women in this group are simply what keep me going on days when it’s hard to do so.

Over the few years that I’ve known them, these friends of mine have gone through a lot. There has been so much life lived and when one (or more) of these women has struggled, I’ve seen them lifted up again and again. As a group we have cleaned each others houses, we have sat with tears, we have pulled weeds, we have welcomed babies, we have brought meals and watched each others kids. Most of the time these things have been done without anyone asking, for some reason I am surrounded by this group of women who simply want to do life together. They are such an answer to prayer.

Recently I was feeling like I couldn’t do this thing-that-needed-doing in my life. In the past I would have talked to God, talked to my husband, probably not have done the thing. This time though, I did something else. I still brought it to God first. My husband and I did talk it over and he encouraged me to move forward, I was still afraid. I was afraid of angry words coming back to me, of a harshly worded “no”. So, I reached out to my circle. I told a few friends what I needed to do and what my fear was and they all spoke words of support and encouragement to me. I did the thing-that-needed-doing and the answer that I received was not nearly as scary as I had anticipated it being. There is still a road to walk there, but my point is that I would not have confidently taken that first step if not for these wonderful friends.

In reaching out a couple of other things happened too, other needs were exposed. Other hurts touched on. Conversations were had that maybe otherwise wouldn’t have happened. In other circles of women we worry. We worry about being judged. We worry that we are not enough and that we are too much and that we can never, ever, in a million years live up to the invisible standard of the group. I am blessed by the opposite of that. I’m not exactly sure how I came to know these moms, these teachers, these women, but I am oh-so-glad that I have them in my life.

I wonder how I will give this to my kids. I wonder if I even can give it to them. Will they hold tight to the friends that they have now? Growing together in their friendships as they grow in size. Will I instill in them a deep need to not do life alone, will they feel it in the very soul of themselves and seek out this same sort of circle as they move out into the world? I hope so. I want it for them, not only because I don’t want them to be lonely, but because life is so much better lived in this community! It is so freeing to know that I don’t have to keep all of the plates spinning, that I have friends who will come along and give one a spin if it starts to wobble. Better? When a plate falls they’ll be there to help me clean it up, help me to realize that I’m still me without that one. I want my littles to know this, now and as they interact more with the wider world.

This morning I went back and forth with a few friends, it’s funny how much we all struggle the same as mommas. Same frustrations over kids not listening and then our own yelling. Same doubt; whether over a mom we feel does this gig better than us or if our schooling choice is the right one. Same worry; sometimes our kids are hard to understand or we don’t feel like we’re good enough to parent them. This is normal, I have these conversations often. More than these though, in this circle of mine we go deep.

There have been conversations over death. Broken hearts and broken marriages. Sickness. Jobs lost and gained. Our inability to do this SAHM life for one more minute without a change….More even than this these women don’t just talk about these things together we have silently made the pact that we will walk these struggles together. We will be there when the times are good and when they really couldn’t get much worse.

I suppose all that I am really saying here is “Thank you.”.

And so I will take a moment and a paragraph of your time to thank the women who have accepted me in spite of all of my flaws.

Friends, this group is something I have prayed for since I was in my early twenties. I have wanted to have friends who felt like sisters since I moved away from my actual sisters. Thank you for welcoming me in and making me one of yours. Thank you for bringing out the best in me over and over again. Thank you for listening to my worry, for talking through schooling options and sensory concerns and hearing me when the anxiety has gotten the best of my heart. Thank you for opening up your homes and your hearts and for sharing your deepest, truest selves. I love you all and I am so thankful to have you to do this life with. Thank you for never letting me feel judged in any way. I was once afraid to share details of my previous life, I know now that there is very little I could do or say to cause you women to leave my side. You are a blessing to me, a gift, an anchor when the seas get high. Thank you seems not enough, but it is what I have, and so I will say it again, “Thank you”.

If you do not have a group of women who welcome you into safe, uplifting, life-giving relationships please let me know. I will pray with you over your circle, you are not meant to walk this life alone. If you’re in my circle and you don’t feel this way, please reach out. I want little more than for you to know the peace and joy that is this type of friendship.

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One Good Day

Today was a good day. It was actually one of an overwhelming many. This Summer has been blissful. We have gone places I haven’t been in twenty years (am I old enough to say that? What the hell happened?!). We have gone places I’ve never been. It has been a season of awesome and I am in love with it.

I know that I’ve been MIA lately. I haven’t really known what I want to share and what I want to let soak in deep. I deliberately haven’t kept my phone on this Summer because I wanted so badly to just “be” with my people in the moments. I’ve questioned that a few different times, but mostly I’ve really loved not worrying about catching the perfect shot and simply noticing the minuscule details instead. I’ve enjoyed not jumping on Facebook to share something with people who probably don’t care and also probably don’t need anything else to compare their own lives against.

The wandering has gotten deeper and slower and free-er (just go with it) I’d say. Today I took my littles to a state park that we hadn’t yet seen. We ran up and rolled down. We splashed and sloshed. We looked for the tiny things and we were repeatedly rewarded.

As I watched my three littles run on ahead of me I was struck by how much this is life. I walked, at different times today, holding the hand of each of these children. Each one walked beside me, held my attention and my gaze for a few moments at a time. All three though, took off boldly over rises, darted down steep hills, ran ahead on smooth, grassy paths.

That’s what we do as mommas, isn’t it? Hold their hands for just a little while…mine become more independent by the day. Then they run off, unafraid of the world, certain that they can take on anything that comes their way. Running back from time to time for a squeeze or to show off a treasure. Needing to be picked up once or twice as they stumble over roots and their own feet. Mostly just moving, climbing, leaning, looking ever forward.

I want this for them. As they grow and change I want them to deeply know that they’ve the ability to do all of the things. That I’ll be here when they mess up, with a tight hug but not with harsh judgement. To trust that I will still pick them up, brush off the dirt, dry their eyes and send them onward into the big world. Know that I will be genuinely excited over the things they bring back to me, the rocks, the sticks- that-become-wands will change I’m sure. Morph into complexities I can’t yet foretell. I will always want to see, always share the wonder.

They will do more than I can do in this life. They will do it better. This makes me cry a little to know that it’s true, but…to know that they’ll be their truest selves so much sooner than I was, to know that because of my own wildness they’ll be stronger, smarter, more real…well, it gives a Momma peace about her own small space to fill.

It helps me to stay quiet for now too. Storing up these treasures in my heart like Mary did (Luke 2:19). Today I am full of peace and I am so very grateful to be here.

Monarchs and a Little Peace

The first of our Monarch butterflies emerged from its chrysalis, and man did we need it. While our days have been filled with so much good, there has been a ton of stress too. I feel it in my jaw, the angry words that I don’t say when no one helps with anything around the house. The shouts that I hold in when I have put the tiny down to sleep thirty-seven times and still she calls to me. The frustration I feel when I am at the end of my rope and it’s still early in the day. I’ve always carried the tension here. When I was pregnant for the first time my Bradley Birth instructor advised me to pay attention to where I carry my stress. She let me know that I would need to be able to release all of my muscles, including the ones I tightened without realizing. This is when I discovered that my back would be fine, but my jaw? Not so much.

Because I’ve been stuck with these headaches from grinding my teeth in my sleep, and clenching my jaw to keep from saying something I’ll regret, I have decided to pay more attention to my gratitude. Seems wonky logic right? Well, hear me out. It started with the gift of the butterfly. We didn’t see the butterfly emerge from it’s chrysalis, it was simply there as I came in from shouting out into the yard about a snack for my littles. So the four of us sat on the front stoop taking turns allowing the beautiful creature to rest on our hands. Later we took it back over to our neighbor’s yard -we found the caterpillars over there- and let it finish the becoming process. As I sat and watched the wonder in the faces of my children at being able to hold this precious creature in their dirty little hands, I allowed myself to release some of the tension I was holding onto.

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The caterpillar to butterfly life cycle is pretty cool. For those of you who don’t know, I’m going to give you the basics. Monarchs travel North each Spring from Mexico to Minnesota (and other places too), they land on the milkweed plant to lay their eggs and then, typically, die. The eggs are minuscule, beyond small. They are most often hidden on the underside of the leaf and a teensy, tiny caterpillar will crawl out and start eating away at the milkweed -good plan momma Monarch. It grows, sheds it’s skin, eats…then one day, it climbs as high as it can get and hangs upside down for awhile. When you’re not looking it will suddenly shed it’s final skin revealing the chrysalis beneath, ten-ish days later that chrysalis opens and you’ve got yourself a butterfly. If you’ve never tried it I highly recommend going out to check the milkweed plants in your yard or on the roadside, it’s breathtaking to experience, and you still have plenty of time to do it this summer.

As I was recounting my gifts the next morning, my teeny cried out with glee that; “ALL of the butterflies came out!!!”. Three of our Monarchs were hanging from their shed chrysalis, allowing their wings to begin to work. This felt a little over the top. Like, what an amazing thing to be spoiled with three butterflies in one day. I was grateful and I wrote about it in my thankfulness journal.

After a note from a friend who is feeling overwhelmed by all of the goodness in her life and a few sweet pictures of a family who recently brought their triplets home from the hospital, I was questioning how all of the good can somehow turn to bad. Or at least it can be too much good, too much to be thankful for. Because at some point the blessing of good might just become a whole lot of work. Work that can be isolating, frustrating, exhausting. We don’t become bitter or clench our jaws because of the gift itself, but because of all of the hard that comes with or from it.

Too much of a good thing is not always wonderful. Too much of a good thing can actually make you ask a lot of questions that may not have answers right now. In my own life I know that when I am feeling most overwhelmed it has typically started out from a place of abundance. Abundant energy from my littles when I am running short of ideas, Boundless questions from a teeny when I just need to make dinner, endless toys and books to pick up when all I want to do is fall down on the couch and read to myself. So, I get it. Too much can be hard.

But does it have to be?

I’d suggest that we make it so. Several years ago we were really broke, struggling to make ends come close together, we did not have too much of much. In looking back almost all of the things that we had were gifted, found, or upcycled. My teen-aged daughter still mentions how “I never pay for anything”. In my book, free is always an option, if you’re willing to wait and watch and work. While I did have some serious anxiety during this season of life, I didn’t have the stress of too much. I didn’t worry about finding the time to put up my tomatoes because I wasn’t over-scheduled. I didn’t freak out about cleaning the house because the house was small, and the things that filled the rooms were few. I didn’t cry over spilled milk- wait, yes I did. Milk is expensive dang it, put a lid on that cup! I wrote about this forever ago.

My point is simply that with the accumulation of much; whether it is too much space, too many activities, or too many raspberry plants; there will be work and that work has the potential to bring stress banging at our mental door. I’d whisper softly that it doesn’t have to friend. If we are looking we can see the one who will help us pick and process berries, we can see the grandma thrilled to come hold babies and make lunch, we can skip an activity that demands too much of us.

It is important to me that I pick all of the raspberries in my yard and so I let other activities fall. I could just as easily let those berries fall though. The birds will eat them, the bugs will eat them, I could invite friends over to eat them. I will possibly regret it next Summer or in December when there are no berries in the freezer. I need to know the cost though. If the cost is a net loss of my joy then picking berries is not worth it. If picking up my children’s rooms one more time is an exhausting and angering prospect then perhaps it’s time to weed out some of the junk, or let go of the need for tidy spaces that I barely use (or, possibly I should just go live in my 35 foot long camper!). If I can’t handle all of the words my teeny spills out at me while I’m trying to make dinner, then maybe I need to make a more simple dinner and give her more of my attention.

While not all things can bring joy; we do have to eat, we need a relatively sanitary place to live, we must care for those babies even though we are exhausted. I’d propose that we have a choice as to where our energies go. We need to choose more wisely I think.

Those butterflies, they use a lot of energy in the becoming, but they also rest. When a caterpillar becomes a chrysalis it stops. I mean, outwardly, anyway. Obviously the hard work of turning from goo to a Monarch is, well…hard. The chrysalis at least has the good sense to be still, to not make a fancy dinner while it’s going through metamorphosis. The chrysalis just “is” for ten whole days. There is nothing more important during those two weeks than the hard inside work. Could you and I do that?

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Could we look at the week ahead, at all of the things that we have scheduled and planned, the normal day to day items that should be checked off of our to-do lists, and just delete some of those things? It seems taboo to say so, to even think that I could say “Nope! Not doing that.” to something that should certainly be done. If it will save some stress, some clenching of my jaw though, if it will allow space for more joy to slip in…I hope that you’ll try it too friend.

Look for those places to rest.                                                                                                    Accept the kindness of those who love you.                                                                              Give yourself the most grace that is possible.                                                                              Take a tiny lesson from a Monarch.

 

 

 

 

Why Do They Need To Eat Again!

So, it’s Summer and I may not fire up my oven until the September birthdays roll around. Please take as evidence my plate of pretzels-as-dinner tonight. Did I eat something else you may ask…yes. Crackers and cheese. I just lose all desire to cook in the Summertime. Add to that the busyness of our days, my complete lack of desire to be indoors, and the exhaustion I feel by six o’clock and it really is quite amazing that my people don’t go to bed with growly bellies.

So, like any normal person I’ve been scrolling Pinterest for “snacky” and “easy” dinner ideas. There are a lot of really great suggestions, but all of the new things that would require me to add additional ingredients to my memorized shopping list just seem like too much work! Especially when I could be digging in the dirt or sipping a beer on the deck. I mean, who wants to be searching for a quarter in the Aldi parking lot when she could be planting zinnias!

So what is a momma to do? No, seriously, what the heck am I going to do? My people want to eat, like a lot. Don’t talk to me about prepping meals and freezing, that’s not going to happen. I’m not that organized and I probably never will be, don’t judge me! I’m also not buying an Instapot. Sure, they look great, and I know that you can cook a Thanksgiving meal in them in under twenty minutes or whatever, I’m just not interested in learning an entirely new way to cook right now, okay?

Is there any hope? Will we live on salami and triscuts for the next three and a half months? Or is there a better way?!? Is there a way to eat actual food without giving up my Summer?

I’m doing the grocery shopping in the morning y’all, any help here is greatly appreciated.

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The quiet of my mornings is lacking.

Sleep isn’t filling up my nights.

Small people envelop all of my waking hours and steal minutes, moments, more from my dreams.

I pull myself out of bed, but not early enough.

I pour coffee, steaming and swirling, into my cup, but not strong enough.

I plan to get out of the house, to do projects with children, to…anything, but I deny the plan often enough.

I’ve walked away from the writing,  and from the mental peace it brings.

I’ve woken to more questions than answers.

I’ve wondered where pieces of myself have been hiding.

 

Today. This quiet moment. This stolen peace. I grant myself grace. I whisper gospel to myself. I forgive my own shortcomings. I do.

….

I’m looking forward to writing again y’all. Life is sort of just taking a bit more from me than my mornings can give back. There is not enough quiet, enough margin, enough of me. I’ll admit; I am struggling. With this winter, with not sleeping, with not meeting my own expectations. With turning the jumbled mess of thoughts into words to type coherently out on paper.

This too will come to an end I know. I miss sitting here; ideas, impressions, pieces of my heart pouring out onto the page. I’m actively looking for the time, exhaustion need not rule in order to express oneself…

For now, I pray peace over each of you and beg it for myself as well.

 

Changing (Mental) Seasons

My writing lately has been deep, scattered, searching…I feel lost in my worry and unable to really vocalize it. This page has carried my voice and has inspired conversations with women I would not otherwise have known were feeling something similar. I am very grateful for this. Today I need to break this pattern though, this habit of seeing my day to day as something to survive. It’s hard, the cold of a Minnesota February presses in. The dark of a Northern sky long and lonely. The seasonal depression is a real thing I think.

Today it is supposed to rise above freezing, the sun is anticipated to shine and I am planning to be outdoors. All of the Summer sun I had stored up is gone now, there is only the longing for Spring. Because the weather will be pleasant I am setting a goal to behave similarly. I feel like for the past couple of weeks I’ve been hard on my kids. We have been stuck together in the house a lot more and my anxiety has made the trips out less frequent. I feel like all of the little annoyances need a break and I pray we find it in our backyard. While I will not get my hopes up too high, I feel even twenty minutes in the sunshine on the deck will change my attitude, and so I have committed to at least that.

Over the past week or so I have come to realize something in a new way; I do not take care of myself very well. This occurs to me because of how well my husband takes care of me. Two Sundays ago he took the kids to run half of the errands while I went by myself to do the rest, this may seem like a small thing, but when you are in a constant state of mothering it is a great thing to only carry your bag in the store. This past weekend I took most of a day to go shopping for myself-with implicit instructions to spend the cash only on me. I was able to try things on and take my time, it was so lovely. We also had a Valentines date, going out together without the kids for a couple of hours. This was made especially wonderful because the only thing I had to do was get dressed and choose a restaurant.

I don’t know where you’re at, but for me these seemingly small things were a big deal. The time given to and taken for me, feeling that the way in which my heart was crying out was being heard, it is clear that this man knows how to take care of me. I can see in looking back that I do not do so well for myself. I always feel guilty asking for the time away from my people, it feels selfish and almost mean to want time away from them. I often feel lazy if I use nap time to sit and read for an hour. I used the word “dread” yesterday while messaging with a friend, and until I typed it I hadn’t really realized that it was indeed true.

I had wrapped up school work with my kids, a decidedly light day for us, my kitchen was clean, and laundry was being swapped out (look at me justifying even now). My kids were swinging and playing in the basement. What I wanted to do was sit down with my kindle and read my book, but when I thought about actually doing that I had an overwhelming sense of dread. I tried to be present and conscious and understand the why behind the feeling, but I could not. There was no reason to feel guilty, to feel like I must do something else or be considered less than…but I did, all the same. I did, eventually sit with my book, but I fought the feeling of selfishness the entire time. I think the feeling is at least partly related to my anxiety. I wonder how much of it is tied to lack of fresh air and sunshine? I know that I feel better in the warmer months.

All of these things added together show me that I am no good at caring for myself. I can’t grant myself an hour of quiet or an afternoon out without mentally bashing myself, but my husband sees the need and urges me to do these things. I am very thankful to have him to remind me that taking care of myself is important. It’s also a good reminder that we need to take care of each other, all of us. Acting on what we see and hear from our friends or the people we interact with regularly, it’s a good reminder to me to get back to my “yeses”. I know that in caring for others I am better able to care for myself in the long run. It’s strange I suppose, how by giving more of myself I feel more fulfilled. It is true though.

As I am wrapped up in my stress, my anxiety, my worry about myself I forget that others are hurting even more than I am. If I can drag myself out into the world, could I be a benefit to someone instead of just feeling the guilt and shame that hiding in my house brings? I know that there must be a balance, I can’t give away all of my time, I must care for myself as well. There is enough time for both. I have to take it a little slower in the cold months, I can’t force myself or I will end up more anxious than I started out. So I will work in this day and leave tomorrow to worry about itself.

Today should be easier, at least I pray that it is. Early Spring is a season I love, and while I know that this day is not the Spring I hope for-not yet- it is a whisper of what will come. I’m off to put this change of attitude into action now; I will care for myself with less guilt and I will deliberately care for others too, beginning with my family and circling out from there. Today could be a change of season for me; Spring could come into my heart if not into my yard. Optimistically the weather is warming where you sit this morning. Hopefully, if you’re struggling, today begins the change you need. If it doesn’t come? Give yourself some grace. I know that I’ll be in need of some, my expectations still trip me up.

A Continuation of Thought

I could not be more humbled by the response you all showed to me opening up about my anxiety. The words and feelings shared both on Facebook and in private messages was overwhelming. While I am saddened that so many others are feeling this same strain, it is good to be in community with so many women who are in a similar place. I have some ideas on where to go with these feelings now. As long as the sleep comes (or the peace is granted in some other way), I’ll put words to paper over the next few days. Today I have a few clips that I’m sitting with that I thought I’d share. These are not my own, but they beat in time with my own heart.

Enjoy. Stopping to pray peace into each of your truest selves just now.

 

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