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The Journey Back, and Forward: My August Confession

And the starlings, they were flying earlier today

Doing their maneuvers, clouds of feathers on display

Makes me want to kneel in prayer, but I’ve forgotten what to say

I’ll just name all the birds in Ohio.

-Over the Rhine, All Over Ohio

August is a month of perseverance. People wait for drawn-out change: for school to start back up, for the heat to break, for one season to wind down and another to begin. In many ways September feels like the start of a new year, more than January.

In early August, we drove across the country. We took a new route, and went slow, stopping at most of the places we wanted to along the way. A freshly vacuumed, wiped and organized van gave way to chaos and crumbs and stickiness. Energetic parents slowly lost their steam. Kids came up with more energy. This is how August goes.

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We crossed Ohio and sang along loud with Over the Rhine, in honor of their home state, with the added goodness of rain on the windshield.

We slipped down into Missouri and spent a few days in St. Louis, gazed at the view from the top of the Gateway Arch, splashed in the fountains at City Park, ate gooey butter cakes from Park Avenue Coffee and chugged gallons of water to keep up with the humidity.

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We played the audio version of Little House in the Big Woods in preparation for a trip to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s house in Mansfield, Missouri. I stepped through her house, which we learned was built over seventeen years, beginning as a one-room cabin with no windows, and enjoyed all the expressions of beauty throughout. How did people come to know that if you embroider a red bird on your pillowcase, it will add value to your life? Or that a well-placed window can change the course of your day?

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The kids would not have any of my slowness as we toured the property, so I took it all in quickly and tucked it away, and ode to some of the magic of my childhood. The tour guide mentioned that Laura, at least in part, probably had such skill in describing things because she had to be her blind sister’s “eyes and ears” from the time she was a young child onward. I think she also probably learned the value of beauty, which requires paying attention, from her parents. Visiting her home felt like a sweet pilgrimage, and I remembered listening to the words of all of her books in my mother’s voice, all of us propped up on pillows at bedtime. Some books are more than stories; some books shape how you see the world.

After Missouri came the drive across Kansas. I expected it to be long and tedious but it really wasn’t. The rolling grass and repetitive cornfields were comforting and even, beautiful. The sky took up more space than before.

Then, down into Colorado, for a visit with my brother who’s stateside now and starting a new chapter of his life. It is a joy to watch him be an uncle to my children. They have fun, and I just stand back and watch, and it’s good. I can’t imagine a more perfect place than Colorado for him. He introduces me to good beer and talks about his many outdoor adventures, and I am happy to see him this way.

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After our visit, it’s down down down into New Mexico. The forests get scrubby and the terrain gets rough, and we need shoes on our feet now because the weeds fight to protect themselves. Grass is pokey, but it finds a way to survive on very little water. We meet friends for lunch in a park in Albuquerque and talk about all the new things that are happening.  We crawl into the driveway of Ricky’s mother’s house late that night, met with hugs, kisses, beds and cold water. The kids are thrilled about having a pool in the backyard and use it almost every day.

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In the days to come, we have to find a place to live, make final arrangements for schools, and try to adjust to the sun’s brightness (this still hasn’t happened, completely). Nicky begins fourth grade; Silas and Aimee both begin preschool. We wake up early, drive an hour and a half to drop everyone at his and her school, Ricky finds a place with WiFi to work (homes of generous friends, mostly). This is a whole new world, and it includes mornings to myself. It occurs to me that I haven’t had any consistent, predictable time to myself in over eight years. It feels odd but I have no complaints.

Even with errands and the usual moving headaches, I have more time to be still. I start coloring and sketching out mandalas, inspired by a friend’s beautiful work. My freehand mandalas are for my eyes only (mostly they’re bad) but I enjoy seeing how they take form. I buy an instructional drawing book, and start making my way through the lessons. Nicky and I do this together a lot; it becomes a ritual I look forward to. We surprise ourselves with good drawings and with really bad ones, too. I learn about proportion; I am just beginning.

There are a lot of “I’ve always wanted to” ideas floating around right now. There is the fleeting newness and sense of possibility that fades and so must be used while it is there. We find a charming adobe house for rent downtown, walking distance to many things. I go to the gym and stop by friends’ houses for lunch. Ricky signs us up at the food co-op and talks about hiking. I see him riding his bike one day, coffee cup in one hand, and he doesn’t see me. This sight makes me happy, makes this feel right.

Moving back was a hard decision, one I’ve second-guessed many times in the month of August. The desert is so much brighter than I remember. I borrow very dark sunglasses from my mother in law, and that helps my headaches. We are tired on many levels, but we lie down under fans in darkened rooms, and that helps. Ricky and I sneak out for ice cream after the kids are asleep, and the night air helps too. The daily beauty of mountain and sky and greened-up desert helps, and the feeling that we’re all in this together helps, and dreaming about what we will do here helps.

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And, naming helps. All the trees in my backyard, all the people that I love, all the mountain ranges I see, all the shades of blue in the sky.

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The Contrast Of It All: My June Confession

June was a month of oddness and simple wonderful ordinary: mulling over a big decision while counting down the last days of the school year, walks to the pool, firefly catching success and long conversations about the future. Heavy, light, heavy, light. Summer eased in while a deadline loomed. Knowing, not knowing, feeling sure, feeling no particular sense of direction.

This new place has been about growing up in some ways, which sounds funny when I’ve been an adult for some time. The thing about fundamentalism is this: it tries to keep you a child your whole life. Putting space between my physical body and all those memories turned out to be quite helpful. I did some growing up, out, in.

We decided to move back home. I hope it will be home.

I am glad to return to dear friends with whom I share deep roots, glad to have grandparents merely hours away than days away. I am glad to return to the big wide-open sky and spaces, to the feeling of getting into a sun-baked car, to the smell after a desert rain, to the mountains, to the contrast of it all. Blue and brown and subtle color everywhere.

I will miss this place with its walls of trees and abundance of water. I will miss the ease of growing things. The effortless flowers. The heavy, loud air in the summer, thick with cicada and bee and humidity. The smell of honeysuckle. Our little neighborhood with a circle that the kids ride around and the trails to the lake. Canada snow geese. A flash of cardinal against snow.

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I’m achy inside about it. But I ache, in a different way, thinking about the possibilities that await us in the desert, with its wide open spaces and availability. Mountains that help a person know where she is, standing blue at twilight. Watercolor skies. I wish I could have both, but this is the way of adulthood, I suppose.

One thing we discuss, over and over, is the history of the place. For me, religion (I mean this broadly) was in the sky, the mountains, the rain-smell. It was in the East that I learned to whisper my thanks to the trees and the water and the very air that wrapped around me, as I used to whisper my thanks to God. Maybe I was talking to God in both cases, but I cannot seem to know this now. In the East, I found a way to live in the in-between space and honor it somehow. I rid my chest of the heaviness and searing pangs of religious angst, and was left with an ache for beauty. Beauty, I seek out. Beauty, I worship. Many of the writers I adore would say that this beauty is God, there is no difference. And I hear them, and consider their words, and simply go back to not knowing.

I may know someday, or I may never know.

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Expansion: My May Confession

Possibility is oh-so-surprising, isn’t it? The thing you silently swore to yourself you wouldn’t do is now the thing you consider with caution, then reserve, then openness, a smile slowly forming on your lips. You think about your family as a whole, about having a big wide open space to invite others into. You remember the sky, the softness of the dirt sifting up around your ankles, the warmth of the rocks, the mountains rising up at the end of the horizon. And the place is beautiful again.

Of course, it always was.

It holds pain. Home always does. You get just about as far away as you can, and you breathe for awhile. You take in some new things; join your tributary with others and wind into the larger body. It’s easier to see, from a distance, how we’re all really the same. We all want, we all disappoint, we all find ways to get back up, we all hope.

So you align your hope with an old place that may become new. Maybe.

****

You’re getting better at considering. Consider the potential of Sundays outside of the world you knew. Consider parenting differently. Consider–imagine–a world for yourself that looks different, better.

Life is for creating.

Pause, heal, reflect, consider,

create.

****

When you were dating, there was a book that suggested adventures were for men, and women supported those adventures. A good number of people raved about it, thought it profound. It sent shivers down your spine and thankfully, down his spine too. You threw it on the proverbial fire and said nope. We will both have our adventures. We will be support beams for each other. We will be open to dreams.

You didn’t know then, but more and more and more things would make you uneasy. You would them on the fire too, sighing with relief. You didn’t think you’d ever want to go back to the space that held all of that, associating the two so closely.

But now, you see that there is more.

In this new life, there always seems to be more. It makes you swell like a cloud about to burst in July, puffing out into the azure width of sky, unapologetically dramatic against cliff against spine against rushing water, defying the dry. There is so much more.

You let go, and it all gets bigger.

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Raising Up Sisterhood

Friends, I have a beautiful guest post to share today. I had the opportunity to work alongside Stacy Hart in a Perinatal Services Unit and got to know her there. She’s a skilled and compassionate nurse, an invested conversationalist, and she has a peaceful conviction about her that really shows up in her words today. I smiled when I read them, because I’ve never felt anything but support and genuine interest from Stacy. She models the strengths of women well–strengths that sometimes are hidden by the heavy things that burden us. Her post today encourages us to lay down those heavy things and come out from our hiding places. I hope you enjoy it and are encouraged, as I certainly was!

Little girls with string tied between their beds. Hiding giggles in pillows as they pass notes, dolls, and sisterhood back and forth on their homemade contraption. Footsteps coming. Flop down fast, try to trick Daddy; make him believe dreams are the only thing awake in this room. He peeks in the door, sees eyes squeezed too tight, smiles playing at the corner of mouths, and hears the faintest attempt at fake snoring. He grins, closes the door, knowing this is more important than sleep.

It always will be.

This aching. This longing. This need–for each other.

Community. Connection. Sisterhood. Family.

Life is born and the first cries from a sweet new babe’s mouth beg for comfort, to be held close, to be wanted. Needed.

We are women. We were created for community. Designed to do life side by side.

But the world says no. Society screams stop. Experience teaches us to hold others at an arm’s length. View them as a threat. Assume the worst. Give no benefit of the doubt.

Then we turn on ourselves, and become more harsh than any critic would dream of being.

I must have it all together. Be the most successful. Be better than everyone–then I will know success. I must dress flawlessly. Emulate airbrushed lies in magazines. I must devour the right parenting books and produce children who never bite me or throw tantrums in store aisles. I must keep up appearances. Put my best foot forward. No matter what the cost. This is where happiness is found.

Eventually our world screeches to a stop. Life happens around us. And we believe all of its lies.

We know we will never be what SHE is. We will never be that good. That talented. That beautiful. That successful. That carefree. That skinny. That crafty. That funny. That desirable. That intelligent. That perfect.

Comparison is the poison that devastates community.

Does it really matter if you breast feed or use formula? Co-sleep or have separate rooms? Does making my own baby food make me a better person? Does slinging verbal abuse in the comments section of parenting articles mean I win? Does gossiping about the popular girls make you prettier? Does a brand name give me more worth? Does hurting someone else ever make me better? Happier?

No. No. Every time, no.

Defeat threatens. But hope prevails.

I have heard a whisper. Felt a stirring.
And I know that I am not the only one.

The rumbling is off in the distance but it is steadily growing louder, more powerful. I hear the voices, the hearts, the souls, of thousands of women who have decided to say…

Enough is enough.

Comparison will not steal my joy.
Comparison will not poison my sisterhood.
Comparison will not win.

Community.

Community is making a comeback.
Possibly one of the greatest and most important comebacks in all of history. Think I’m exaggerating? Think again.

When community thrives, when selflessness and a servant’s heart reign, selfishness dies.
When community is the goal, competition, comparison, and mommy wars lose their sting.
When community exists, lives change.

Where community lives, Love reigns.

Imagine this world.

Open your eyes.

The rumbling is all around us. Community coming back to life. In neighborhoods, in churches, in offices, in blogging communities, on social media: women are realizing we need each other.

Friendship rediscovered. True connection. Life to the full.

When you stop looking at someone, and their talents, and all of their beauty, and their allegedly Pinterest perfect life, as a threat, your eyes are opened to who they really are.

A woman. A wife. A mom. A heart and soul as weary, as exhausted and as lovely as you are.

This movement. This powerful force of women who challenge, encourage, and inspire me every single day. This wave that will change society forevermore. It starts small, nearly too small to notice at first.

It starts with weary moms at Target smiling at each other so we know we’re not alone.

It starts in book clubs, and spinning classes and yoga studios.

It starts when we stop looking at each other through the eyes of comparison.

It starts when a tragedy happens and thousands of women on Instagram reach out to a family experiencing unbelievable loss.

It starts when we ask real questions and have real conversations and discover how desperately our soul was longing for friendship kindred.

It starts when we call out the beauty and the talents and the extraordinary we see in women around us.

It starts when we believe that we are our very best when we do life together.

It starts when a new mom has meals delivered to her door and her toilets scrubbed.

It starts when we introduce ourselves at playgrounds instead of staring at our phones.

It starts when there is no fear of judgement…
In asking for help.
In revealing our weaknesses.
In being vulnerable.
In speaking of the uglier parts of life.
In asking forgiveness when we are wrong.
In dying to the disease of pride.
In asking women we love to journey with us.
In admitting we need each other.

It starts with you. It starts with me.
And it is so time.

We’ve got this.

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Stacy is a wife, mother to three beautiful daughters, Labor and Delivery nurse, and in case you couldn’t tell, she’s passionate about the power of community and friendship among women.

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dearest ones,

May you know what it is to rise each morning with work to be done.

May you know the stillness of an afternoon with a space laid bare for thoughts to gather and be stirred into vision.

May you look for the dim light in the distance when you’re caught in a fog–may you chase it with stubbornness and wild hope.

May you sniff the air and know that snow is coming, hike alone to meet with God, and put all your senses into noticing a crackling fire before you.

May you know silence–may you enter into it gladly, eager for its lessons.

May you travel and fill your minds with strange and delightful newness, may you see things that bother you, ask questions, listen well and long.

May you be overcome with curiosity from an early age and feel freedom to find out where the rabbit-hole leads. And, may you know that in this life you have a True North, watching and cheering, waiting to hear all about it.

Live, babies. Live your questions and answers. I can only see God smiling over you.

 

Inspired by Terry Tempest Williams’ When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice.

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resolving to listen

Yesterday, I shared the results of my 2013 resolutions, as well as my new resolutions for 2014. Today, inspired by the OneWord365 campaign, I’m sharing my word that I hope will describe 2014 well. I deviate from their mission a little in that I’m still a fan of resolutions, but I love the idea of focusing in on one word.

In 2014, I want to listen. It’s timely, for me. Social media is wonderful in many ways: it’s a fairly easy venue to express creativity, it connects us to like-minded people, and it helps us know we’re not alone, particularly during a shift where we feel less connected to a specific community than we once did. I believe that, in many ways, social media saved my faith. However, for all its good qualities, it doesn’t seem to encourage much listening.

Everybody find your tribe, everybody defend your tribe, everybody talk about why your tribe is the best. From what I’ve seen, this could be the slogan of the social internet. It’s not all bad, either: it feels good to belong to something,  and if I’ve chosen a tribe, it’s probably because those within hold the same things to be precious.

But sometimes, one tribe decides that another tribe is stupid, or wrong, or oblivious, and the arrows go flying.

I was going to give some specific examples, but we can probably all think of plenty without help, and I certainly don’t want this post to be about some hot-button issue instead of what it’s supposed to be about. Can we just pause for a collective sigh, though? Is anyone else tired of it? I am.

And so, I resolve to listen, especially when it comes to social media, but in person as well. I’ll voice my opinion when it’s warranted, but I hope that it’s only ever with a healthy dose of humility.

When I hear a statement and immediately think that’s outrageous! I’ll take a moment longer to listen. I’ll give people a chance to explain. I’ll do my best to assign positive intent, if at all possible. Then, and only then, I’ll offer my thoughts. My resolution to listen has nothing to do with timidity, but it is an attempt to resist the high of outrage.

And so, in the spirit of listening, I have a happy announcement to make.

Earlier this year, I asked a group of people ranging from acquaintances to close friends if they would consider writing a guest post here on the blog that described a “bread crumb” moment for them. Many of them responded; enough to host two guest posts a month here, starting tomorrow!

I have a confession to make, though: initially I only wanted to ask people who fall along the same political and theological lines that I do. It seemed like a risk otherwise: what would people want to say on MY blog? Would I censor it? Maybe I was setting myself up for incredibly awkward situations. And then I felt so, so convicted. It’s embarrassing to admit: I was thinking of asking people to share something quite intimate: a moment of spiritual clarity that was sacred to them, and then I was thinking of who might say the right sort of thing. Isn’t that the very thing, the very lack, that’s broken my heart; that almost drove me away from my faith?

I seemed to have forgotten, in my zeal for a particular tribe, that we have much to learn from each other. It was this realization, among others, that led me to choose listen as my word for 2014.

One of my favorite lines of literature comes from Jo March in Little Women. “I should have been a great many things,” she says, when someone notices one of her strengths and comments “You should have been a lawyer, Miss March.” She’s speaking mainly about opportunity, I think, but her words have another meaning. Each one of us already is a great many things, and we shouldn’t be defined solely by any tribe or affiliation. I’d like to take this year to remind myself of that, as often as possible.

And so, we’ll be hearing from people of faith with a broad range of views, because that is what Christianity actually looks like as a whole. I don’t know to what extent their views will influence what they choose to write about, and honestly I’m not expecting anything very controversial. It seems like a good way to practice listening, though. To practice not dismissing. These are my brothers and sisters in Christ, not to mention fellow humans, and I’m beyond excited to hear their stories and be reminded of all that we have in common.

Happy New Year to you! It’s a bit of a wild hope, but maybe this year we’ll listen better. Maybe we’ll hear each other.

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Resolutions

I am a fan of resolutions, not because I keep them all, but because they encourage intentional living. I think that, when peppered with a whole lot of grace, resolutions are wondeful.

This was my list for 2013. In bold, I’ve examined how each one turned out, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

  • have a monthly date night with Ricky.  Find a regular babysitter again, enlist grandparents, etc. This happened more often than not, but I’m not sure it was every single month. We were definitely more intentional about it, and living in the area we do now really helps, because there’s always something interesting to do.
  • have one day a week that is social-media free. I’m thinking Sunday; a true Sabbath. This didn’t always happen, but when it did I really felt the difference. It’s very much needed, for me.
  • invite people over for dinner more. We were good about this, but then we moved across the country. I hope for the kinds of dinners we used to have. Oh, how I miss our friends.
  • finish paying off my student loans (carryover from 2012) Done! Phew, that felt good.
  • ski! (another carryover, and should happen very soon) I was a bit freaked out (see this post) but I did it! 
  • keep reading at least a book every month (having a day off from social media should really help) Done! And when I wasn’t working a full time night job, I read even more. Imagine that 😉
  • find ways to write more Done! I started this blog (albeit late in the year) and have been pursuing a different depth of writing that’s challenging but rewarding.
  • finish Silas’ baby book, and start Little Miss’ Silas’ book is done, but I haven’t started Aimee’s. I did buy the supplies many, many months ago.
  • move toward a more specific nursing practice–by the end of the year I’d like to be working in just one unit. I got brave and interviewed for a Labor and Delivery position, and worked there from March until August. I learned so much and worked with wonderful people! The experience cemented my desire to work in this area and eventually pursue a graduate degree in nurse midwifery. I’m on the hunt for a job here, after the New Year, and I have wild hopes for a DAY position.
  • keep up the practice of letting go–letting go of my to-do list so I can play with my kids, letting go of my preference for a clean house so I can write/read/spend quality time people/pray/go for a walk/etc. I’m good at making lists and living by them. I’d like to be better at spontaneous enjoyment. This one’s a lifelong goal, I’d say, because it’s hard. It’s one of those everyday opportunities. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t, but I don’t think I ever regretted it when I did. 
  • ….and on that note, I choose enjoy as my one word for 2013. I want to enjoy my life: my family, my work outside and inside the home, my place of worship, my relationships. I want to be brave enough to let go of burdensome things; to let go of any impulse to impress or prove a point. I simply want to do things because I enjoy them, thereby being who I was meant to be. Another lifelong goal; another thing I both struggled and succeeded to do. I found the courage to let go of some pretty major things that were painful and increasingly unhealthy for me, and as a result I feel lighter and oddly, a little lost. I suppose that happens when you make space for something new. I hope to find some things to fill that space in a healthy way in 2014. I’m hoping to write more about this as I process it all.

And now, 2014! Wow, that was weird to type. I think that I’d mostly like to keep doing what I found to work this past year, along with a few new focus points. So:

  • Monthly date night!
  • Find another Labor and Delivery focused job.
  • Social Media-Free Sunday!
  • Start and finish Aimee’s baby book.
  • Eat mostly whole foods, 90% of the time. Cheat on occasion and enjoy it immensely. (Lifelong food philosophy.)
  • Learn to ice skate. There’s a rink right next to our house that offers 30 minute lessons.
  • Be silly with my kids, every day if possible.
  • Keep reading. Keep writing. But write only what’s real.

Tomorrow I’ll be back with my word for 2014 and a fun announcement. I hope you’re enjoying these days of winding down, reflecting, hoping and pausing. I’m not rushing ahead just yet; not putting the lights and glowy things away (it’s only the sixth day of Christmas, after all) but these are the days I start thinking about how Christmas makes way for Springand all sorts of new beginnings. Here’s to dreaming and scheming.

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