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We planted small hydrangeas alongside our garage last month. The pathway faces our backyard garden and lines the avenue to our outdoor grill, a well-loved space in the coming months. Hydrangeas, named for the Greek words water and vessel, are one of my favorite flowers and are generally recognized as symbols of heartfelt emotion. This week, they have been blooming in vibrant shades of pink and pale purplish blues.

Over breakfast this weekend, my son prayed, “Dear God, let the people of Nepal know your nearness that their grief would not overtake them.” I thought of our small hydrangeas in the backyard, offering their blooms to the sky. Perhaps this week, they are vessels of tears, like my young son, offering humble pleas to God for comfort and peace. Grief has a way of transcending borders and large bodies of water, but the same is true of hope. Our hearts are broken for so many people we don’t even know.

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When we bought our first home so many years ago, I thought of home and garden design in terms of magazine spreads–things and furniture and plant life neatly arranged in exactly the right place, constant, tidy, and perfect. It was a finite process in my mind, one with clear beginnings and endings and words like finished and unfinished. Although I do love renovating homes, arranging furniture, and finding the perfect spot for our favorite little things, I’ve realized over the years that design, both indoor and outdoor, is a far more organic process, one that longs to breathe and evolve along with its inhabitants. Regardless of the completeness of your space when you move in to it, the concept of home is something that develops and grows with time. All good things truly do take time.

For all the time interiors require, gardens have taken me longer to learn. My journey with growing and nurturing plants has been one characterized more by error than anything else–I hope this brings some of you comfort. In our first home, an apartment, I created a flower garden on our patio–a tiny nook where we could sit and enjoy natural beauty instead of the concrete parking lot below. In spite of my best effort, I watched, frustrated, as plant after plant died that season. Year after year, with each new beginning, my husband would sort of raise his brow as if to say, “are you sure?” I’ve never been one to back off learning too easily, but it’s not a surprise that my love and patience for plant life has burgeoned alongside my mothering years. They are independent but parallel journeys, one always whispering secrets and skills to me about the other. In spite of failure, each planting has taught me something new and given me more resolve to try again, to learn.

When we moved into our current home, the plant-life had overgrown everything outdoors. Vines crept up and around trees. Dead branches scattered about the yard and dangled from branches. Pieces of trash–tires and old pipes and bottles–lay intertwined beneath heaps of enmeshed stems and leaves. Our yard, although living, had been forgotten and abandoned. During our first spring and summer last year, we began cutting back and cleaning out some of the rubbish. Sometimes nurturing means tearing down and clearing out.  We filled bag upon bag of leaves and decayed brush, and often, it appeared as if we had done nothing. Life can be like this, yes? In one instance, progress might occur overnight, while in another, it evolves more slowly through a series of minutia. Don’t discount the minutia.

In early spring this year, my husband, children, and I cleared and cut out the entire back part of our yard–all of the brush and dead bits–down to the soil. We tilled and leveled the earth a bit and then replanted sod. We purchased old railway ties to create vegetable garden beds and planted 18 tree saplings. Everywhere we live, we plant trees. Although all of our plantings are small, just a bit more than seeds, they are simple reminders to me that everything–the mightiest oaks to the most pivotal human lives–begins small.

Whether you’re gardening or decorating or parenting, beginning a business or a new relationship, be patient with the growing process and don’t forsake small beginnings.

wren_elizabeth-1-2There is a moment during childbirth where you no longer care what is happening in a room, who is staring or what they might think of the gaping parts of your body. Your attention is solely directed at the baby within you, and the process by which your body releases him or her into the world. Birth is miraculous, no doubt, but not because it is sprinkled with fairy dust or is easily accomplished. It is sweat and blood and pain tossed with purpose and breath and intense amounts of love. In the most vulnerable ways, childbirth appropriately initiates women into the strong, vulnerable role as mother.

Although six years removed from my own experience, I’m still learning a million lessons from those hours of childbirth, the hours of waiting, of breathing through fear and doubt and pain. Life–the real sort, the one where we are honest and cast aside pretense and edits–is a hard and beautiful mixture. It is a place in which the warmest light and softest kisses of hope touch the barest limbs, the grittiest disappointments and unknowns, if we allow it.

I don’t know most of you and don’t presume to know the context of your life struggles, the physical or abstract pain of the heart which often labor with their own sort of birth pangs. Some of you reach out with emails and vulnerably share bits of your own story, and a few of you I will graciously cross paths with in person. But for the most part, we are relative strangers sharing and reading snippets of an otherwise complex life journey. Where ever you are today, this week, in this season, I want to remind you of this: breathe, take courage, and always hope. Miracles are coming.

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This is my sweet new niece, Wren Elizabeth, born just over three weeks ago, and now napping on my bed. I have a new nephew, Brayden Michael, who I have yet to meet, and a second nephew who will be born halfway around the world so very soon. Each new life is always a reminder to me of miracle, of the patient gift of life given in such a raw and vulnerable manner. Grace to us all.

Enjoy your weekend, and remember, the ecru giveaway ends tonight at midnight! xo

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There’s a large hole in the window screen just over our kitchen sink. Inside it, two tiny wrens are building their nest, their secret. All day, they pop in and out of that hole, one pinching a twig in its beak, another grasping an old leaf. Sometimes they pause on the branches of the nearby tree and sing a song. Other times they simply gather new pieces and begin the process over again.

Patience can be such a funny lesson.

As children, we learn to practice patience externally. Wait for dessert. Wait until I’m finished talking. Wait until we get there. As an adult, patience becomes a matter of the heart. Wait for that opportunity. Wait for that person. Wait for that dream. Wait for God. Like the birds in my window, our hands and bodies remain busy with rote while internally we continue waiting for what’s yet to come. As the circumstances change, so does the waiting. Somewhere in this process, I am learning to be patient.

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The world is dark, and light is precious.
Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux

For all of us, there are life seasons that feel bright and effortless. We move through our days with sun-kissed hearts, alive and alert to life and to God’s goodness. Other seasons, plagued by pain and loss and doubt, feel darker. These seasons require us to fight the urge to hide under the covers of our circumstances and to instead rearrange the furniture of our hearts and shove it toward the light. We are compelled to unravel God’s goodness and promise, like strands of twinkle lights, and drop them into the dark rooms of our soul. It is there, clouded by the world’s darkness, we remember the gift of light is most precious and, above all, good.

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The children and I have recently finished reading The Magician’s Nephew, by C.S. Lewis, and The Tale of Desperaux, by Kate DiCamillo. The simplicity and poignancy of both stories concerning themes of light and dark, grief and hope, courage and goodness are remarkable. They have been a source of encouragement to me in a new way this season as I work out a deeper level of belief in my own heart, but they have also been a sweet and concrete way to discuss the more difficult matters of the heart with our children. I highly recommend both, and I especially recommend listening to Desperaux on audiobook. The reader is phenomenal. Also, you should be able to find all of these at your local library.

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These last several weeks have been quiet here, I know. The grey days have kept us tucked inside more than usual, where we’ve enjoyed one another in very simple ways again, often near a wood-burning fire, underneath soft throw blankets. Honestly, I’ve relished the slowness after the fast-paced, almost dizzying 2014, and have felt unhurried to resume typical routines. Instead, I’ve been patiently reflecting on the last year, its beauty and difficulty, triumphs and defeats. 2014 was a sweet year in so many ways. Personally, I stretched into new writing ventures; met and worked with several incredible people; joined my talented sister and brother-in-law in their photography studio; connected with the beautiful Wild+Free homeschool community and even shared a bit of our journey at the conference in the Fall. I have nothing but gratitude for all of it.

While lovely in so many ways, this year was also a hard, defining lesson in personal capacity–a year of treading physical, creative, and relational limits. It taught me to dig deep both spiritually and soulfully and to be brave with my heart, but I’ve realized too much of myself was expended in producing. By the end of the year, I felt threadbare and soul-thin, hungry for more of the nothings that mean everything–la joie de vivre–the time spent with my husband and our children, time with our families and community, and time with Jesus.

When I first began this small space, it was a journal. A place where, as I wrote in my first post, I sucked out the marrow of life. Or tried anyway. I wanted to see the poetry of motherhood–the light and the dark, because there’s always a mixture–and to continue practicing the art of words. I hoped other parents might be encouraged to see their own lives in a new way, not to be like ours necessarily, but to discover the unique and beautiful nature within their own. I hope this year to return to that place, a collection of vignettes and dialogues, poetic ramblings and simple photographs as I continue journeying through motherhood, marriage, and home-education. I realize these changes may not be the best career move and that I may not ever become someone important by the world’s standards, but I will never regret choosing them, choosing my children and husband, choosing now.

On that note, a few goals I scribbled down for the new year:

// pay attention. 

// guard my time

// nurture our home life + relationships

// infuse the arts more into our home life and homeschool

// regular time with Jesus

// live “less is more”

I’m so grateful for all of the people who have supported this space through sponsorship this last year, but for purposes of time and simplicity, I’ve decided to let go of that aspect of Cloistered Away for this year. I will continue working with small businesses and creatives who I love and feel that in some way you might, too, and as always will make a note in the post when that occurs. I’m so grateful for the sweetness of this readership. Thank you for loving me and my family here. With all of me, thank you. Cheers to each of you, to the journey, and of course, a new year.

bethany xo

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Belief isn’t always easy.
But this much I have learned,
if not enough else—
to live with my eyes open.

I know what everyone wants
is a miracle.

Mary Oliver, “In the Storm”

Belief isn’t always easy. Our minds and bodies carry so much memory–joy, pleasure, and hope mixed with offense, pain, and loss. Sometimes the hurt we have seen and experienced in our bodies overwhelms us. It clouds our sight and crowds God’s goodness and faithfulness in our lives. Still, he is good. He is faithful. And he is always finding such personal ways to remind us.

 

 

 

slowing_downLiving in modern culture often makes it difficult to appreciate slowness. Being a mother sometimes makes slowing down feel impossible. Like so many other parents, I’m a list-maker and planner, meaning at any given point I have the day’s needs either handwritten on paper or floating through my head–a list that is never finished, I should add. As a mother, a role with broad parameters and responsibilities, these lists show me progression, the small deeds that accumulate to what is my day and life’s work. Ideally, they would comprise a balanced mixture of work and rest, but choosing the latter always requires intention, something easily usurped by activity and tasks.

Slowness and rest are an intrinsic balance to our busyness as parents. In periods when I’m not careful to protect this need, busyness/hurried-ness can easily become the culture of our home, an environment driven by tasks in lieu of peaceful nurturing. I found myself in this place earlier this month, willing myself against natural limitations and needs to try to do everything. When I sprained my ankle a couple of weeks ago, I was forced to slow down, to accomplish less tasks but each with more quality and intention. How easily I mistake activity and achievement, quantity for quality.

While our children are at home, I realize life will be busy. My ankle is healing well and I’m gratefully able to move around fine again.  Since then, I’ve been revisiting our pace of life and evaluating little ways to value slowness here again. I’m sharing a list because, you know, I’m a list-maker, and in hopes, it will help you all take better care of yourself, too.

unplug // Perhaps unplugging from technology is the most obvious step, but it is also the most difficult for me to do. When I put aside my phone, it helps me stay focused on what I have to do, rather than focusing on or comparing myself by what others. It also curbs distractions.

take a bath // My somewhat ugly pink bathroom currently has a tub without a shower–we plan to remodel it at some point. When we first bought the house, I saw this as an inconvenience, something we needed to remedy as soon as possible. Yet as I soak quietly beneath warm water each evening, I think maybe this is something I needed all along. Bathing is naturally a slower and more restful process, perfect for the end of busy days. Each night, I throw in a handful of eucalyptus + peppermint infused epsom salts and feel restored from the physical day.

go for a walk // This can happen alone or with the children, but either way, being outdoors in a slow way (opposed to running, which is a different experience) helps restore balance to hurriedness.

eat well // When life becomes busier, I always find I gravitate more toward foods that aren’t beneficial for me. I drink more coffee and eat more sugar and simple carbs for quick energy which in the long-run hurts me (and my kids). Plus, it ignores what my body and mind are really trying to tell me, “I’m tired. Slow down.”

take a restful break//  Most afternoons I enforce quiet rest time in our home. During this time the kids cannot talk with one another or me and must read or do a quiet activity on their own. More often, I am in the habit of using that time to catch up on social medias, email, or writing.  I am best when I take that same time myself for a brief nap or quiet reading time, two activities that restore me enough to finish the day.

write down inspiring words // I love words and am encouraged when I read or remember them. Over the years of busyness, I have returned to Jesus’s words in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” This has reminded me each time, spiritual rest can occur even in the midst of the busiest of activities.

How do you all build slowness into your days? Do you have certain rituals or words that help you remember to slow down?

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Tomorrow, I leave alone for Virginia, which admittedly feels quite strange and wonderful at the same time. I imagine I’ll post a few things from the conference via Instagram, but for the most part, I plan to use this retreat away from my family, the computer, and work to restore my soul.

 

summer-1So many friends’ children begin school this week, and as we fumble our way into our own year, I admit I’m a little sad to say good-bye to this care-free season of flushed cheeks and bare feet. I bought a new planner this weekend, a favorite I use each year and replace each August. When I first began using a planner for our family many years ago, I thought of it merely in terms of order and tasks, a tool of organization. I realize now, my planners are more a sort of journal, a story stringing together randomly scribbled thoughts and tasks. They tell a different side of our family narrative. Looking back, I can see anything from the food we prepared to the books and favorite quotes we read or even a new friend’s number or email. I often have pictures my children have drawn or tracings of their handprints and can identify patterns, such as periods when planning and organization become more difficult (i.e. emptier pages). I have a hard time replacing them each summer. But it’s time–time to fill blank pages again with lists of tasks and ideas and food and books and gatherings and ordinary.

I’ve re-read this Mary Oliver poem recently and am reminded of the beauty each season offers us. Some parts of the year grant us large fields to wander and explore while others hold us more tightly indoors or with routine and tasks. Each teach us something new and help us to appreciate the other, and together they amount to something we term life. To all of you packing backpacks and lunches or preparing spaces and routine at home, best to you this week.

“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?