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.

Summer Writing

I haven’t opened my laptop in over a month. I have composed many stories, poems, blog posts…more, but they have all been in my head. I have strung together thoughts and prayers, but they have all been spoken or scrawled into my journal as I scribble down endless words of thanks. I have been thinking about writing so much that I have actually put together a writing class to work through with one of my children, but I myself, have not been creatively writing.

They say that all you need to do to be a writer

is to write.

It’s not that I don’t have the words to say or the stories to tell. Instead, I feel like all of the days are stories in and of themselves. Summer does that to me, causes me to realize that a life well lived is it’s own testament to a world that has a hard time believing that there is good out there. I have spoken words and told stories to friends and strangers, it has been so good for me. Often the words get jumbled when I speak them, come out less perfectly than when I can take the time to reread and edit my thoughts first. I’ve found though, that there is beauty in that honesty. There is often grace found as I stumble over the imperfect telling of a tale.

The sunshine wakes the day and I lean into it, coffee steaming. I wonder over the small things with the small people. I wonder over how a life can be so perfect, even after I have so many times messed it up. I wonder over how a story can be told without speaking any words at all, the details spilling out of the silence. This season has been good to me.

This Summer has given me stories to tell, written or not I cannot yet say. I think; living a life well may be just what needs to be done for now. There is cold and dark to come, I have not forgotten. It has merely been chased away for a time, but I do treasure the light. I trust that the time will come for writing down the stories, all of the best of them, a few of the worst of them. I remember that there is a time for all things and I try not to worry about all I will forget before the thoughts touch the page. Rather I store up each story, each moment of light, in my heart and will call upon them as the darkness descends. As the cold of January next steals my joy I will reach out for these blessed days, and I will be blessed by them yet again.

I look forward to sitting with you, telling my stories and hearing yours. Hopefully that day is already on the calendar, but if not, I trust that it is soon coming.

Faith and Relationships

When at once we know we are created and that we are creators we can rest at peace. Knowing that all of life will fall perfectly into place as it has been created in perfection.

I didn’t always believe that God would work all together for my good.

At those most questioning, seeking moments I don’t know whether I searched after God with all of my heart or if I just searched blindly but honestly and found that God was in my heart. I remember spending a lot of time looking and a lot of time in prayer and a lot of time in the quiet, waiting. I still ask God a lot of questions and the more of my Bible that I read the more questions I seem to have.

This I know: God is not afraid of my questioning.

Over time I have realized that my questioning mind has brought me closer to Him, even if I don’t always feel the answers are super clear. I can see now that often the point of the questions; the reason they are put in my mind, is only to bring me closer to God. By seeking so hard for what is true and what is good and, well, so much more, I have spent an intense amount of time with my creator.

I’ve decided in my own heart that this is the only point. For me at least. The point of bringing all things to God, the point of asking Him so many “why’s”, the entire reason for my being…is simply to build a closer relationship with the lover of my very soul. This has helped me accept and process an innumerable amount of personal barriers. Knowing that the bad things will come and the hard days will march along, but that whether good or bad, pleasant or trying, full of snow or sunshine…in taking each moment to God and leaving it there at His feet…a deeper peace is found.

It is freeing to know that all of the hardships and all of the mountaintops are only to bring me to Him. I’m not tapping these keys, telling you that I dont worry or wonder or have days where my anxiety creeps itchy and red up my neck. I’m not saying that at all. What I’m trying to say is that regardless of my worry or wonder I know where to take it, and that has made all of the difference. For me at least.

I don’t know how to share this. How to explain my heart to the masses. I suppose it’s good that only a few of y’all read what I write, there are no “masses” to please. I want to put it out there though. If each moment of your life drives you to your knees or brings you closer to Him; well, then that moment has done what it was intended to do. And you’ve done what you should with that moment. No need to fix it or understand it or examine it further.

Be at peace with your Creator. Trust for today that what He wants is a relationship with you. Or believe it for the next hour if that’s all you can do for now. He is good, believe it.

***I know this post is not what you’ve come to expect from me…this is where I’m at today though. Thank you for reading it through, I am grateful.***

The Seeking of Quiet in the Midst of Loud

Quiet is important to me. Having my own space to be alone so that I can think, holds value to me. I also really love being surrounded by my people. Having them near me, in the same room, while they do their own thing helps me feel the love we have for each other. As I was making dinner last night it struck me how independent my kids are, yet how much they want to be together. These three are still young. I know their desire for space and privacy will increase in the coming years, but I am very grateful for how much time we spend together.

The two of them, always right here.
Ignoring the world.
What we do while momma reads aloud.

If you’re new here you should know that we unschool our youngest three kids; this means that I spend every waking hour (and a lot of the ones when we should be sleeping too) with my kids. I read this stat recently that sort of blew my mind. In the article I’ve linked from the Washington Post they are discussing how quality time with your kids is better than the quantity of time spent with your kids. The fact that jumped out at me though was that the average mother spends 13.7 hours per week with her child. That’s not even two hours per day!

I know that some of you who read here don’t homeschool your kids and I know that the opinions I throw out here randomly have a tendency to irritate. This is just one chart after all, is there any truth behind it? A simple Google search will answer that question for you, probably in the exact way that you’d like the question answered too. The data field is filled with so much information that it is overwhelming. I am certain that there are a lot of parents who work outside of the home and who traditionally school their children who spend more than two hours per day with their kids. I’m not here judging any individual, rather America as a whole. Why is raising up children in the way they should go so seemingly, unimportant? Do we simply believe that someone else can do a better job growing our kids? Do we lack trust in ourselves? This is such a mystery to me.

The number got me wondering though. My kids are home, in my care all of the time. So I tried to add it all up and here’s my number of hours spent with at least one of my children per day: 13.5 . While I didn’t subtract out the occasional Sunday afternoon where I sneak out to write or read a book in complete,utter, and blessed silence. Or the hour I get on Monday mornings when I head over to pick up my girl. I also didn’t add in the multiple middle of the night wakings, the mornings when my teeny is awake at five AM or the evenings when I read to my kids until 9:30. So in case you didn’t see that number, I spend the average American mother’s weekly amount of time caring for her children in one day. That means I spend 94.5 hours with my kids every week.

As my boy used to say, Holy Maca-Roni!

I would argue that stat again here, stating that there is no way that the amount of time I spend with my kids does not influence them at least as much as the quality of our time together. When you give all of your waking hours to your little people there are going to be great, enriching, educational times. They are going to learn who they are and who they want to grow into. They will learn your values, morals, standards and decide if they want to internalize those same ideals or not simply because they are in your presence. They will also be bored. They will feel that things are not fair. They will always want more even when you believe you have poured out every, single last drop from your own pitcher.

Even now, before six AM, my teeny has come to snuggle in next to me. Stealing my time with her sweet little wants and needs. Of course, you’d be right in arguing that all of those 94 hours are not spent specifically on the caring-for of children. At least you’d not be entirely wrong. I have a friend who says; “It doesn’t matter that the kids are off playing on their own and I’m washing the dishes. I’m still “on”, still listening to them play, noticing the cues, realizing they’ll want a snack soon…”. I would describe my mothering as exactly this; giving my kids the freedom to seek God’s will for their lives while I am “on” at a distance. I’m here, all of the times they need or want me, but I send them out to be themselves as much as possible. It’s important to me to note that I have also spent a lot of hours guiding my kids in being independent, or, maybe, allowing independence to be the result of our activities, is a better way of putting it.

In this intense amount of time that I spend with my kids I have worked hard to teach them to be quiet. Not just for my own sanity, but for theirs. I feel like so many kids in this time really have no idea how to be alone with their own thoughts, how to sit with their own boredom and search out their own hearts. I spent a lot of mornings teaching my little boy that first thing in the morning we grab a blanket and a water bottle and snuggle into a chair with a good book. Now he does this throughout the day as he recognizes his own need for a little down time. I am grateful for the time I sacrificed to teach him this skill.

My oldest little frequently slips headphones over her ears and tears through the pages of a novel. She has discovered the need of silence on her own. Living in the middle of bigs and littles I suppose one should expect that. Now that my teeny is four I have been working to lead her to the want of quiet. She is currently resisting in a way only she can. She starts talking three minutes after she wakes and she is loud and opinionated for all of the minutes after that, right up until falls asleep next to me. If she is not vocally loud, she is desiring of all of my attention in other ways that cause me to be constantly aware of her presence. This is not a quiet child. Not yet.

I will continue to coax her toward her own space, her own time. I will invest in this because I see the value of it. When my older kids sit down alone with books or games or Legos in the afternoon, I know they are resetting for the rest of the day. They are giving themselves a bit of peace in a world that has devalued this. We try not to use the quiet time up with screens, though it does happen occasionally, because the nearly 100 awake hours in our week offer up plenty of time for that. I try to remind myself that in teaching them to be still and quiet I am giving them a gift to carry with them always. Because we practice this regularly, I trust that they will feel the value of silence even after they have followed their own paths away from me. They will seek it out, fight for it.

There are times I feel like my house is so loud. That I must escape the constant clamoring for my attention. When I am aware though, and not completely overwhelmed, I see each of them sit quietly for a few minutes throughout the day. I see the peace wash over them as they do this. I am able to soak a little of that peace up myself and I am glad. For them and for me. After all, let’s be honest here; Momma’s really do just need the quiet.

Peace to each of you this day. May you seek it out. May it make it’s home in you.

Snatches of Time

I put all of my people to bed early tonight. I had ambitious hopes of coming here and writing out the cries of my heart. Nearly an hour later I am still up and down the stairs with a child who feels less than wonderful. I am frustrated by this because I really needed the time. Instead of tapping away peacefully I am scribbling snatches of thought between whispered prayers and requests for essential oils. I see the selfishness in this rant. I really do.

I have been holding off on writing, feeling as though the time would come if I let life flow naturally. We aren’t so busy, the days are not over full, the time seems to skip happily away while I play Legos with a little or read endless chapters to fill their imaginations.

I know what you will say; this is a momma’s most precious work! Her most important job! Be grateful!

I am.

I agree.

I still want something more.

While this rambling will likely never support my family, how can I know that when I can’t even steal an hour at the end of the day to type out a coherent thought? When and where (and most of all how???) am I supposed to build an audience when I can’t build a proper paragraph for lack of focus?

I have my excuses it’s true.

I don’t mean to have quite so many.

I’ll admit to being distracted plenty of the time. With projects. With Facebook. With catching up on years of lost sleep. Still, it seems I should be allowed this time for me. This time to do something that makes me feel like I’m intelligent. Something that is meaningful to at least a few of you dedicated friends. Something that let’s me deal with the anxiety and fear and despair that creep in during the darkest months of the year.

What to do? I feel the call of the early mornings again. Though I despise waking before the sun or at least before six AM, I know that my house is quiet then. Children typically don’t stir early. Devices need to be charged. Tasks must be quiet so as not to wake sleeping babe’s. This frustrates me, I do not want to give in to that time of day. It seems that I must though. No other hours will relent their needs.

If you notice a few more posts in the coming weeks, you can assume that I have given in to the deepest cry of my heart -the desire to create something from myself, from who I’ve learned that I am- and that my heart has won over the logical side of me who really loves to snuggle back into the comforters every morning.

If you don’t hear from me for awhile, don’t be too disappointed, there are lots of words out there. Trust that the right ones will come to you as you need them. I’ll keep etching out moments, minutes, corners of time that will continue to build my story, and make my own spilled out thoughts that less rambling once they meet the page.

Walking the Path of Less Anxiety

Sometimes I’d like to hide in the sofa too little one, really.

I was pulled into a conversation recently. One that I really didn’t want to get involved in, but couldn’t quite stay out of either. Still working on keeping my mouth shut while the masses spout their opinions and certainties… As I thought about what I would say to a friend and her shared opinion, I felt the anxiety rise in my chest. Is that odd? I’ve written about my anxiety briefly before and I have actually had a pretty good handle on it for quite some time. I know that my current mental capacity is maxed though, and in adding in this small extra I should expect to feel the familiar flutter.

This has been going on for a few days, so I did what I do now; I sat with it. I’ve been reading too, trying to keep myself from reading too much into the flutter in my chest, the nervous creep inside my mind, the lack of peace and the lack of sleep. In being still with the unrealistic worry, I’ve noticed the growth I otherwise would not have. In the past my anxiety would make me jumpy, more stressed, more worried, more anxious. Nice cycle, right? Perhaps I’ve learned something over the years though.

While I still have the anxiety; it still surrounds me and closes in on me. The growth comes in not being afraid of this tight place anymore. I have felt the lack of oxygen enough times and I now know how to calm it, ease it, live through it. As I sat this afternoon, trying to write while my heart beat loudly in my chest, I decided that there are a few things I do to ease the anxiety. I thought perhaps they might work for you too. Here’s my short list and the path I usually take through the dark forest.

Most notably on my journey through each bout of anxiety is thankfulness. I have kept a joy-journal for three or so years, tracking every little thing that makes me smile, makes me see God, makes me thankful to do this life. My list is several thousand gifts long and when I look back over it I can see how keeping track of the good has been pivotal in weathering the bad. The “thankfulnesses” have helped me carry on through the anxiety, causing me to search out the good amidst the immense worry that sometimes threatens to smother me. When it seems there is no good, only pressure I try to remember that I can be thankful for the weight, how it anchors me here.

I’m going to assume that you can see how the writing has made a difference. I am not at all surprised that with each sharing of a struggle, each admittance of a fault, and each spoken silence I feel less of the crush. It is scary to put myself out here in this Nevernever of internet space. I find more peace in pouring out the truths of my soul than I could realistically put words to, though I will continue to try. I search for meaningful thoughts to be shared. I hope that you get something from the rambling. I pray for those who read my words, that you would be changed by them. My audience is small, but still, this is what I work toward.

My next go-to is that I get lost in fantasy. I post on Facebook begging for recommendations of a fantastical world to get lost in. I pull out old stand-bys; thick volumes that allow me to live in another time and place for two (let’s be honest, four) hours at bedtime each night. I make digital library requests and charge my Kindle. This getting lost in literature is not just a typical escape, I find that it frees up my mind to not focus and dwell on whatever is causing the anxiety. I can put myself in another world while my unconscious self works out the perceived problems in my life. I’m in the middle of my eighth book this month, so I know I’ve been hiding here.

My final tactic to fight against the clinging fear is sort of an anti-tactic, if that’s a thing. I will bail out of commitments and obligations, I will be still and focus on the anxiety, not willing it away rather, asking it to come close. To whisper what it is that is lacking or overwhelming. I suppose I could go to this place first, get quiet with God and my own mind, asking for the wisdom to be imparted. Not all anxiety is created equal though, and most is petty and manageable through these other strategies. This place here is where I have seen the most growth, this is why I no longer fear the crush or the flutter, why I can still process daily life when anxiety is pressing.

When I took a deep breath and spoke actual words to my friend, I felt the exhalation of my lungs and I let my head clear. I spoke my truth into the fear-filled place between us. The place where I didn’t really want to be. I was able to be kind and clear, I didn’t yell as perhaps I would have once, I didn’t demand she do it my way, I didn’t even suggest that she should. I trusted that my truth would not be lost on her and that if somehow it was misunderstood, we could work through that together.

I knew that my own experiences were worthy of putting out into actual space because I have put so many of them out there in digital space. I knew that I would, one day, be thankful for adding my own opinion to the masses, and that it matters what I think. I knew that no amount of educating myself on the topic would better express my thoughts than my own experience. I simply had to invite the fear in, let it rest in my mind and be healed by the peace it found there.

A Solstice Rambling

What keeps you here? I’d really like to know. As I sit this morning on the day with the least light available to me, the universe sees fit to roll clouds across my sky. I wonder again what keeps me here. I can rattle off a quick list; friends, family, homeschooling laws, summers in the woods, a job that pays the bills, the flowers in my garden…do all of those things outweigh the darkness though?

This is the question I’m sitting with on the darkest day of the year. Just typing those words makes me grab a copy of Robert Frost and reread his Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. While there is no snow to speak of and the weather has been mild, the dark has been deep indeed. How can something as simple as darkness affect a person so intensely? The metaphors for light and dark are easy to type out. Though they have been reflected upon before, I feel I must get them out of my head and onto the page so that this part of me that fears the dark can move forward into the winter with some small semblance of peace.

As I face the Winter; the heavy darkness, I feel in me how quiet the dark actually is. There is growth in the light, this is true, but all things rest in the dark. Why should I be any different? As I sit this morning I am hoping to relearn that not only does my body need rest from the activity and excitement of Summer, but my mind needs a break from the busy as well. While I have slowed us down quite a bit this year, given myself much needed grace to move at my own pace,  I still fill up most of the waking hours with tasks and activities. I had hoped to still our schedule even more this Winter. The darkness will serve as a reminder that not all hours need be spent with work close at hand.

Furthermore, I must remember that in Minnesota, in the Winter, the night is not actually as dark as one might believe. As I wake to care for a teeny who couldn’t sleep and look out at the snow covered ground I can see as clearly as I could during the day. The lights of the city being held close to earth because of the dense clouds overhead make me feel as though the twilight will last all night long. Clear nights are even better. The moon and stars quite nearly blaze down on us as we sit ’round a cozy fire. It’s as if we are meant to see clearly the path before us, walking without fear of the darkness, being surefooted even in the night. If, that is, we are willing to be there at all, out there in the dark.

I had been fearing the dark a little. Knowing how the cold and depth of Winter affect my mental well-being I’ve been hoping for an opportunity to get away from this season. As I sit here on this solstice morning I am choosing to see the glory that could come from the darkness. The glowing good that is coming from the night. As I type, babies sleep late in their beds, the sun hides behind clouds and asks nothing of me. There are no plants to tend, no trails to wander, no far-flung adventures to be had…and that’s okay. Actually, it’s better than okay, it is good.

This quiet darkness affords me the time to be here, to be present in this place and time. More than that, the black and white of Winter allow me to plan, to plot, to explore ideas and thoughts, hopes and dreams, if not fields and forests. The bright night sky is much like a guiding light for adventures to come. I can choose to see it as such anyway. While I may still long for warm Summer nights spent away from home, I can also enjoy these days snuggled in close.

I ask again; what keeps you here? As you look ahead to the returning of the light, from this “the darkest night of the year”, what do you hope for? long for? need? The Christmas tree lights scatter and reflect in the windows bringing more light into the dark world. Giving me one more reason to be present in this moment, in this deepening night. Does the good of the light outweigh the fear of the dark? For me, for now, I believe it does. And maybe, just maybe, there is some good in the dark as well. Look for it with me would you?

Watch for it when the snow is deep, the night is dark and the woods are lovely yes, but perhaps a bit threatening. Look for it when you are far from peace or far from home, whether by choice or circumstance. Keep an eye out when there is no other sound in your head or your heart save the wind and the swirling snow. We need not be burdened by this night, by this Winter. We can use the stillness to reflect on, and set aside those things that are not helping us to grow. We can allow the cold to do it’s own work. We really can friends, and if we will allow it to do so we just might be ready to bloom in the seasons to come.

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