Recently

Last I mentioned, things were hard out here. I was so sure that this move was the right thing for our family and that God would use it to help ease a few of the struggles we were having as a family. In a way I was right, He has had His hand in this placement, I so easily forget that God bringing about what is good is not always smooth or easy or pleasant for me. Often these changes are hard. That’s where we’re at now; in the clearing of what was less than God had for us. It is a damned hard place to be.

I need to focus on the good for as long as I can this morning. See, the overwhelm of the hard is spiking my anxiety, causing days of tears and nights filled with well, not sleep. The good though, it’s here. I’m going to spend a moment listing it out, in the hope that it will get me through this day. And, maybe, you’ll see your own good even in the hard because you spent a minute with me. Hear me when I say that the good does not outweigh the hard. If you’re in a season of difficulty I will not minimize that for you. Some of life pushes us to the brink of our sanity or tolerance or ability, this is why we need each other, this is why we are better together. If you’re in that season…I hope you feel my presence right along side you, you are not alone.

A little of my good, or what’s getting me through:

There has been much more outside time. Days spent in late winter sunshine have helped a tiny to sleep, which allows me to sleep better. The wider outdoors have allowed me to have genuine joy in simply being. Wandering the woods and setting up a garden have opened my eyes again to the small, the often unseen. The children will, occasionally, disappear into the trees. This is all I’ve ever wanted for them – to be out for hours at a time, no agenda, no plan, no oversight – I think, that if I’m quiet about it, they will do this more and more often as the daylight lengthens. There are things I want for the outside, trees and seeds, tools and equipment. Having this space has allowed me to ask for these things and has allowed others to provide them to me, this is something I have not been great at; always a happy helper, not a great receiver of help. This is growth in me and I recognize it and am grateful. There is more, much more, that I could credit to the sunshine and dirt on my knees, but I’ll hold it close for now.

There has been more togetherness. We cut our inside space by quite a bit with this move. I can’t recall what the square footage loss was from our last home to here, but it is significant and deliberate. We do most our indoor life together, the children are close at hand at all times. While sometimes this can add stress, I remind myself frequently how much I wanted us to grow closer as a family. Without indoor rooms to escape to we deliberately provide actual space for each other when it is needed. We have had to work through some hard things, because we could not escape them by walking away. This has been a good lesson for us all, though a tough one. I yell less, because we are all right here, there is no need for shouting. I see the relationships between my children deepening and my heart cries out with joy and a simple prayer that this would last.

Laughter. This one has been tempered with a lot of tears on my part. For reasons known only to God I have needed to cry a lot over the last few months, but I have also laughed. One of my sweet husband’s best traits is his ability to make me laugh. He truly knows just what to say to start me giggling. My children have latched on to this and they become more silly, more sarcastic, more humorous seemingly by the day. They all bring me so much laughter, so many smiles and add a lightness to our days that I don’t know how to be adequately grateful for. The children also laugh together sharing inside jokes and stories with one another. I love this to no end.

Responsibility. This one I look to my children and see clearly. I have allowed them to step into more mature roles with this new house. They have a different accountability than they did before, and while the differences are small right now, I see them stepping up and can believe that they are ready for more. The Summer months will push them past their comfort levels I believe and I am excited to see how they grow into the responsibilities I have planned for them.

Over the last couple of days I have felt the responsibility to care for myself deepen. I have dealt with anxiety for, well, a long time, and I have my tricks and secrets to manage it. I’ve been working those for several months now and the hard keeps piling on, with little opportunity to work through one thing before another struggle is added to the heap. I have deliberately and consciously laid these hardships at the feet of Jesus. I believe that He has taken this load from me, that He never intended me to carry all of this, that I am meant to walk lightly, to be light. I believe this deeply, it is, in fact, at the core of who I believe God is and how He loves me. I also believe that the devil is actively at work in our lives, he is trying to steal us away from the One who made us. I know the evil one is the source my anxiety springs from. The responsibility tie-in here is that I am being over-powered by this evil. I see it, I know that I am not strong enough, even with all of my tricks and plans, to cast him off this time. I know that I have a responsibility to myself and that I need help. I have asked a few close friends to pray and I feel their prayers at work. I have opened up about how I am struggling to a couple of you and have recently asked you to hold me accountable for different things. I have made commitments to myself, like sitting here scratching these words out. Being responsible to myself in this way is new and requires a constant awareness to not let this plate fall.

This list is not long, but it is good. It is honest, and feels like the right way to begin warding off this negative, this hard, this evil that seeps into my heart. I’ll need reminders, I’m sure. I don’t feel the tears pricking the corners of my eyes right now though and that is a first in more than a handful of days. The space I’m in will need all of this goodness. There is room for it, next to the hard. In laying down so much of the other and choosing not to pick it back up, I can see how God is holding me too, not just all of my stuff. This is the thing I needed, why I was sitting here tapping out sentences. He holds me, and when I can see that, I am truly light.

I used to sit here each morning scratching out thoughts on a page. Not looking for acceptance, but seeking to hear my own soul more clearly. I haven’t come to this place in quite some time, not that I don’t still have questions to wonder aloud over. Rather, the being simply still was too much amidst the global pandemic and fear mongering. I had thought that the writing was good for me, enabled me to get my thoughts out of my head, work through them bit by bit, and I would say that I don’t doubt that process even now.

My routine had to change though.

Much like yours did I am sure. And so I began, in the early morning hours before my children awoke I would read all of the news articles I could, trying to understand as much as I could. Looking for reassurance in the numbers or potential outcomes. As I was forced home at the end of winter with no friends to visit, no homeschool meetups, not even grocery shopping was “allowed”. My only link to friends and family was social media, something I will admit is not good for my mental health. It pulled me in with cute baby pictures, but then led me down ever-spiraling rabbit holes of conspiracy theories. I could not pick up my phone or sit down at my laptop without feeling my heart rate increase at the fear that was surely waiting on the other side of my device.

Fortunately, anxiety and I are old friends.

I recognized it and what was causing it pretty quickly. I was able to insist I leave my phone on the charger most mornings, that I not open my laptop until the children had spilled their raucous energy into our family space. I’ll admit how hard it was to not know what was going on. I wanted the information; how many people had died, how quickly the virus was spreading, I needed to know how afraid I should be. Except I really, really didn’t.

There were a few days where I had to ask my sweet husband to take my phone from me. A realization early on told me that this routine would not be sustainable. My days could not continue in this overwhelm of information and input outside of my control.

Everything was outside of my control. When I focused on those words I knew that “control” could not be where I swung the pendulum from, yet “out of control” seemed to add only more fear. “Outside” though…that was a word I could start with, and so I did.

Most of my days since mid-March have been spent outdoors. I have dug into the earth while the ground was still cold and heavy and wet and I have felt the weight the soil held deep in my own soul. I divided raspberry beds on a damp, cool, misty morning. Far too early or not nearly late enough in the year to do such a thing. As the brambles scraped my skin and the fog lay around me I knew the quiet sharpness and dense peace of the world was still here, just as it has always been. I hauled mulch and moved plants, I ensured the greenhouse stayed warm and the seedlings grew strong. I built, and rebuilt, a coldframe, and have a better plan for it for next spring.

I stayed busy.

You see, writing keeps my mind hyper-focused on my problem or my concern. That was not what I needed. I could do nothing about Covid-19. There was no real way for me to solve this problem, even for my own family. I needed to physically wade through it. So many friends tried to help, wanting me to Zoom chat or Facetime or come to other online dates. I’ll admit the thought of those interactions still fills me with dread. If that becomes the norm I will have to fail yet again at being normal, because I despise the online interactions. What helped (helps) me most was staying busy. Not as a coping mechanism, please understand. I needed to put all of the anxiety, fear, worry…more into action. I could not sit with it, write it away, it needed to be handled, dug into, moved around. Gardening was the way I have dealt with these feelings. It is, yet again, how I made it through a hard season.

There were also early Spring wanders through state parks with my littles. This walking with small people wakes me back up to what is needed. I’ve read somewhere a poem about how you can not take just anyone into the woods with you, they won’t feel it the same way and spoil it for you somehow. I believe this to be true, but taking my littles into the woods with me is a gift to my heart. They don’t often go my pace, they are sometimes rough-and-tumble when I’d prefer smooth and calm, they occasionally would rather make epic slow motion videos of themselves jumping off a half-fallen log while I could endlessly sit and watch the sun shine through fern leaves. However, the rhythm we have together is made perfect when we go wandering. I have clung to those rambles on some of my hardest days.

I share this today as a reminder to myself, I was not in a good mental place this past spring. I worked through it in a fairly healthy way though. The digging in the earth has sustained me through some of my darkest days. The wandering in the woods has carried me through some of the darkest thoughts. Knowing how I did it “then” helps me know that I will be able to do it again, and I will need to do it again.

Again, I am sharing this because, yes, the days get hard dear ones, but you are still loved, and I am still here for you. We are going to make it to the other side, to see what is out there beyond this muck, together.

Late Digging

I dug in the dirt on November 28th, 2020. That makes this a good year in my book. Yep, that’s really all it takes for me to see the good. Warm days late in November where the soil is not yet a block if ice, where I can peek under the fallen leaves and still find green herbs. I moved some raspberry plants and dug some peony roots in anticipation, took down some chicken wire fence to be used again elsewhere.

This was a good day.

At one point I sat, near the compost pile, in the sunshine, wrapping twine to save for another use, another day. The dog came and lay in the fresh earth beside me for awhile. It felt all too perfect for this world we live in, like I was just a little too blessed or fortunate to live this life. I want to remember that feeling on the days where my trust is lacking, my faith is faltering, my hope for the good dwindling.

There is good. And, for me at least, it is usually found in the dirt.

Second in the Series of Feelings

Climbing days are simply better than book-school days. We kinda forgot this close to us place was here, but now have been back and forth to enjoy it several times in the last couple weeks of hanging on fall. I’ve trusted in the benefits of risky play for my kids for a lot of years now, but sometimes my breath still catches as they climb, the shout to be cautious falling silent just as it is about to be shouted out.

Not that book school isn’t important, but my kids sure do learn a lot on these rocks, as well as in open fields and along riverbanks and up in tall pine trees on the back corner of our in town lot. I need my kids to have literacy and numeracy and I mostly use books and games to teach them those things, but most of the truly important stuff is taught while climbing something.

Trusting yourself is harder to learn from a book. Listening to the cues in your body and from the world around you is more difficult when staring at a screen. Building confidence in your own abilities is just not the same when you weigh math facts against knowing where to put your foot so you don’t slip down a rock wall.

So often I hear people state how learning can only happen in a classroom or can only come from a teacher. Others say that learning can happen in structured activities outdoors, but the child will need to be led or the activity facilitated. I want to just stop with this; Learning happens. It does not depend on me, or you, or us. It simply happens. There is no more needed in that sentence.

I write this down as a reflection for the days when kids need naps more than fractions or snowball fights more than sign language. The days when I doubt what I’m doing here, I will look back and remember that my kids are learning. That they are learning exactly what they need for their lives at this moment and for who they will grow into.

Look at me trusting myself a teensy bit. I must’ve learned that up on that rock pile with my babies.

A Series of Feelings

This may be the last mudpie…and not only for this season. A second Summer in November and an injured ankle gave me the pause and grace to notice this moment for what it is. My baby is six, there may be more mudpies, but this is one of the last for her. I’m thankful that I was able stand on the deck quietly, letting her be little for a little while longer. I wish for her a long life of muddy knees and dirt under her fingernails. Tangled hair and lack of care over it. Mostly, that the joy remains all the days of her life.

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.

Beach Days

I’ve been practicing seeing the moments as they fly by me. The past couple of days are a good example of that. So many times I’ve thought about how grateful I am. Even though I had a bad attitude for most of this day and felt overall, in general “blech” there were so many times I felt supremely over-blessed.

First of all I get to wake up in my camper, on a beautiful piece of quiet land. I mean, who’s husband does that? Volunteers to help at a store that is failing, struggling, so that his girl can camp for six weeks?! I guess mine does and I can’t help but know how selfless that is.

Second I get to sit at the beach…in the sunshine…not really doing anything. Sure my kids were whiney and needy and the teeny did lose her cool more than once, but we were at the beach for crying out loud. Do I have any right to complain if I sat on the beach all afternoon? I’m thinking that’s a unanimous “NO!”, right? While I would’ve liked to read my book and take a nap, it was a gift of a day and I can not deny that.

If I typed out all of the small moments that have made these days NOT worth whining over this post would be crazy long. Here are just a couple; I made an amazing sandwich on focaccia (don’t judge my lack of carb restraint) from the local farmers market (yummm) and ate it at the picnic table in SILENCE! I grabbed a great Summer food book at the library, where my dog was not insane for twenty minutes. I sat outside after kids went to sleep with the man I love, I watched a hundred dragonflies dip and dive in the shade. Those are just a few highlights, but man I should not have been the moody, cranky person that I was yesterday.

Today I’ve been I smidge more present. I’ve seen the good and the not-so-good and I’ve not let one outweigh the other. As the rain has held off today we have done some workbook work outside, ran in for more good bread and to check out the local thrift store (where we scored Harry Potter Uno for two bucks!!). The tiny also melted down in epic fashion because her brother bumped her. One child refused to swim because there were people at the beach (wait…what??), and one of the children may be answering all of my requests with negativity bordering on anger (deep breath).

I’ve decided that I will take this trip one day at a time and enjoy all of the moments that I can without letting those annoyances get the best of me. We are settling into our new rhythm and finding the pace that we can sustain on the long hot days.

It is a pretty slow pace to be sure. This has me wondering if I should be doing more with the children, or if I should be working harder, or if I am taking advantage of my situation. All of that makes me think about the kind of childhood I’m trying to facilitate, the kind of life I’d like my whole family to be able to lead. That’s a post for another day though, we are off to the local library now…and then more sitting at the beach I think.

Sledding, Slowing, and Seeing

This is sort of a different, but not really, post for me. I frequently ramble on about getting out of this miserable weather or how much I despise the cold and dark. Occasionally I talk about something happening in the lives of my children. I’ve decided that today I will relate an adventure instead of whining, discuss a few moments of joy in winter on a day when I’d give most anything for 50 degrees warmer than it is right now. Weird right?

A few weeks ago, before the bitter cold completely engulfed central Minnesota, I took my children outside in the cold. Three whole days. I really did. I pulled on snow-pants and tucked wool socks into boots and drove out for some winter fun. This is unusual for me, if you haven’t figured that out by now. I don’t go out in the cold, I stay in, tucked under a blanket with a mug of tea in my hand most afternoons from December until, oh I don’t know…June or so. But I did this thing in the hope that embracing the cold would help it to not suck quite so much, and it did! It really, really did.

On our first day out we went to the big sledding hill in town on a perfectly sunshine-y day. Since it was the middle of the day there were only a few other kids on the hill and my bigger two went down and up at least a million times. Smiles plastered to their sweet faces. The teeny made it down, but needed convincing, and assistance, in coming back up. Eventually she and I made it across to gaze out over the river and walk along the stone ledge, we followed squirrel tracks in the patches of otherwise undisturbed snow, and she squealed with delight as she zoomed down the smaller hill.

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The sky was a perfect blue and I couldn’t help but stare up and think to myself that if this were winter, actual winter, I could handle it. For a brief moment in time I thought that I might actually make it out of this winter alive and with my smile still on my face. This day was filled with joy and peace. We were happy, even in the cold.

The second day out was more of the same. Sledding on a different hill with equally beautiful weather and, this time, friends. The day was only marred by forgotten ice skates. There were treks into the deep snow, a birds nest at eye level, and kids full of kindness. I have seldom been more surprised by a winter day than I was this day. The sun shone and the thermostats rose above 40 degrees. It was blissful and I was so very grateful.

I held out hope that this would be the winter that I didn’t hide indoors, that this would be the winter when I would do the embracing of the cold that everyone believes will bring me wintertime happiness. And I did get one more day. I am thankful for that third day and the walk we took. Being able to go out with my kids on adventures is one of my very favorite things. They have no agenda, few preconceived notions about what the day will hold. They need only a water bottle and a few snacks to explore a new space.

I love this about them.

I really hope that their attitude for adventures does not change much in the coming years, and not just for my own ease and enjoyment. If they can continue to be easy going as we travel and explore then they will continue to see the best in situations that may be less than ideal. They will keep their eyes open, slowing down to notice the red berries, the cup-shaped leaf, the tiny piece of agate in the gravel. If they can travel easy they will travel far. If they travel far they will be filled with wonder all of the days of their lives and I can think of little else that would be worth more, to give to a child.

The way this world spins, the pace it sets, the hustle we are expected to display…it causes the lives of children to be devoid of wonder. The lives of us all. I will continue to work to slow my tiny little piece of this world, if only a fraction and if only for my short time here. I will wander river paths while littles stomp in the snow. I will haul teenies up snow-hills so we can stay out longer. I will remember to bring the damned skates next time.

I will not enjoy winter. I don’t have it in me really. If it’s below 25 degrees, I’m not going out. I’m just not. I will revel in moments though. I will soak in the apricity, even if I have to sit on my living room floor under the picture window to do so. I will snap photos of joy-filled faces in deep snow and of Christmas tree lights shrouded under a blanket of white. I will be present this year, not just begging for it to end, but noticing all that I can while I’m here. This is not really what I’ve been encouraged to do by so many well wishing friends and strangers, but it is the best I can do. If it happens to get above thirty again soon, I’ll be one of the first people out there hopping over puddles, pulling sleds through the streets, and staring at the clear, blue sky.

On one of the last warm winter nights my sweet husband lit a fire on the deck, we stood out with blankets around our shoulders and hats pulled low over our ears. The stars were out and the noise of the city was somehow hushed just a bit. It was almost as if someone wanted me to see what winter could be. How I could be a small part of something that I hold such contempt for. How there is good, even in what we view as bad, and that we really don’t understand it all anyway. The peace washed over and the fire burned down to embers, time slowed, if only for a moment.

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