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fidelis_blog_collection-4Each year, August seems to be one of the harder months around here. The long days grow hotter, keeping us indoors more. I also tend to be more preoccupied with lists of projects to complete before our school year begins, meaning the kids are left to busy themselves more and arguing inevitably ensues. With news of the horrific  violence in Iraq and Robin William’s tragic death, this week has felt even harder, a surreal–even hopeless– picture of the world at large. Today, as the kids and I, cleaned and tidied our home, I found myself humming the old hymn It Is Well, reminded of the truths “If dark hours about me shall roll, no pang shall be mine, for in death as in life Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.” I share this small thought with you, not to be heavy or dower, but to remind you of hope, to remind you in the darkest hours, on the hottest August days, in the hardest places of life, God wants to whisper His peace to your soul. Today, I’m breathing in every bit of it.

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Sometimes perfectionist slips in here, only wanting to present that part of our life which is pretty and organized and complete (even in thought). I try to sit down and write out the drafted in-betweens, the messy [emotional, physical, spiritual] process of our life, only to walk away with a few words, an unfinished script. It’s not an intentional edit on our life, really. I’ve always struggled with writing in the process, writing in the middle.  I find it easier to do something and then work backward through the process, like a recipe or a book, assessing the parts based on the whole, understanding the end from the beginning. I feel silly saying this now, as if any of us knows the end when we begin anything.

Earlier this summer, my sister and I (and our six kids) drove to the coast to meet our sister-in-law and nieces for the day. Storms over the Gulf caused more substantial waves and tides, which meant fun play for everyone and close eyes on the kids for safety. We left the day with salt and sand in our hair and minimal pictures, but later Kristen sent me these. As parents, we tend to focus more on the logistics of raising up people (an important focus, by the way), mostly conversing about everything from the napping and feeding schedules of infants to the nurturing of souls in childhood to the burgeoning and transitional landmarks of teen years. However, maybe the journey of parenthood is more than raising children. Maybe parenthood is also a deeper journey into ourselves, a teaching tool for our own hearts.

As I watched Olive stand fists to the sky, the fierce waves crashing her chest, I learn more about courage, about standing firm when life bring higher, stronger tides. Sometimes courage helps us overcome loss–a job, a house, a dream, a person. In the hardest seasons, courage roots us, reminding us to stand, to endure what is hard and pushing against us. Other times courage propels us out of security into something new, into deeper waters. This is every parent’s journey, every person’s journey. When the future paralyze us with fear–the fear of failure, the need for things to be a certain way, the idea of perfection–courage calls us forth. Sometimes we must move forward alone, a personal journey or experience. In the best times, we move forward with someone, hand in hand.

Over the last two weeks or so, I’ve been reading memoirs* one after another, wildly moved and bolstered by the face of courage in real people. Although with different voices and perspectives, each narrative has carried one single message: today is a gift; be brave with it.

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*In case you’re interested or looking for something to read, I’ve recently read Unbroken: A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (I can’t recommend this enough.), A Journal for Jordan: A Story of Love and Honor by Dana Canedy, Paris in Love by Eloisa James, and A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (currently reading). Before summer ends, I still hope to read: The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, and Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxes (really gearing myself up for that last one–it’s substantial).

All images by Kristen Douglass.

backyard-1Although Mark and I try to have at least a weekend or two a year to ourselves, we generally go away for those days, holing up in a place where someone else makes our bed and food, and we can slip out of most every typical role and routine, parenthood included.  As I mentioned before, this week was different. We certainly worked. We still made our bed each morning and cleaned our home. We rearranged furniture and cleaned out neglected piles and closets. Mark painstakingly installed floating shelves in our kitchen (which look incredible–I can’t wait to share), while I painted the rest of our cabinetry (white, of course) and left for work at the college on my two usual days. Some friends lamented us, wishing us to spend the week in real vacation mode–and honestly, going into the week, I felt a tinge of my own sadness, too. However, remaining home this week was pleasantly surreal. Void of the usual [running, squealing, laughing, fighting] noises, I could hear our home’s more subtle sounds, the way our old windows vibrate when the AC runs or the way our floors creak under our footsteps. I listened to the birds chorus each day’s beginning and the locusts hum its end. I moved through ordinariness almost seamlessly–without bodies draped over me or “emergency” helps like finding shoes or snacks or a babysitter. I listened to the audiobook Paris in Love, a memoir of a couple (both professors and writers) who decide to move their family to Paris for a year. Distracted by James’ description of patisseries, and Parisian style, art, and architecture, I lost track of how long I painted. On a side note, when possible, always listen to an audiobook while painting. I had a night out with girlfriends and went on a movie date with Mark. Of course, Mark and I also enjoyed uninterrupted conversation and time together, too, and for the first time in a while, we could discuss and dream possibilities instead of merely what we had scheduled for the day. We ate our meals together, sometimes with other people, sometimes just the two of us. When I picked the kids up on Saturday, ready to squeeze and kiss them, I realized the most restorative part of last week was remembering life with just the two of us, before the decade of parenthood, before the home renovations and interstate moves. Just the two of us. This week, I remembered the quality of our life isn’t about what we’re doing; it’s about whom we’re living it with.  A good note, I’d say.

 

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I met my mom for lunch and ice cream yesterday and then left all of my children with her for Nina Camp, a week of fun the grandparents host/plan each summer. The only prerequisite for this special week is that you are at least five in age (and their grandchild, of course). This is Olive’s first year to go–the first thing she mentioned the morning of her fifth birthday–meaning she has officially graduated into the “big kids” category, and subsequently, Mark and I close a chapter of parenthood. We no longer have babies.

Typically, Mark and I would seize this opportune week for a romantic adventure, just the two of us. However, this year, with the kitchen still in-process and our checkbook tighter than ever, we’re enjoying a “stay-cation” as they say–meaning we’re working on the house and working our jobs instead (you know, in hopes of relaxing that tight checkbook). Don’t feel too sorry for us, though. The kitchen is turning out beautifully, and we’re indulging ourselves a bit this week by eating out for breakfast, going to the movies, drinking good beer and malbec, listening to audiobooks while we work, and enjoying silence or one another when we’re not. It’s the little things, right?

In the meantime, I apologize for the sporadic posting here and hope after this renovation to be less flaky and return to some sort of normalcy, whatever that means. Hang with me, friends. Updates on our kitchen progress are coming soon. xo

morningI have always considered myself a lover of change. A new soap scent, a different routine, a fresh arrangement of furniture in a room. Those are the fun changes, the ones I initiate to give fresh experience to something that might otherwise be growing stale. But sometimes change happens to us without our consent, without our knowing. It sneaks up and swipes out our feet, forcing us to adapt and modify our lives to a new perspective (albeit sometimes on our face), to move on, to survive. And sometimes, even then, outside of our own comfort and realm of choice, we find beauty and goodness where we never expected, in an evening walk, a generous gift, or the words of a friend. We learn something new about ourselves, about one another, about God. We grow.

This last year has contained a domino effect of change for our family, beginning with an unexpected financial catastrophe a year or so prior. Last Spring, we sold our home (which we had almost entirely renovated), invested our profits in a rental property, moved in with my sister + brother-in-law sharing their mortgage and bills for the year, worked every extra freelance job the two of us could (including Mark’s full-time teaching job), saved every extra bit we could without starving, bought a hundred year-old home for a tad more than some might by a brand new luxury car, and now are slowly renovating it. All with our four kids.

As I’ve been thinking about this past year’s changes for our family, I’ve wondered what little nuggets I’ve learned and might pass to someone else face-planted by change. The list below is for me to remember and for you, just in case you ever find yourself needing it:

:: be honest :: Admit you’re hurting or disappointed about things not happening the way you anticipated. After I had each of my children, my body would convulse uncontrollably from shock and heat loss, naturally. Difficult changes can often cause the same response emotionally, or they did for me. Being honest about my hurt or fear always connects me to Jesus and to others. Honesty reminds me I’m not alone.

:: hope :: “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both secure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us” (Heb. 6:19-20). These words have been life for me. It’s good to feel anchored in change, to have a sense of your soul’s belonging , especially when your physical self feels so transient.

:: slow down :: It’s ok to put aside extra commitments, to allow a different pace for yourself and your family. If you have children, make time to hear from each of them. Each of our children has responded differently to all of this change, but all of them have needed extra affection, extra time to be with us.

:: dream together :: Dreaming aloud, reminds us we are in this together–as a couple, as a family. It helps us form goals and learn from one another in the process.

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When the kids were littler, Mark and I would load them into the double jogger or onto our back or into the bike trailer every evening after dinner. During those years of wakeful nights and tired bodies, we used that time to share our day-happenings and day-dreams. Often, we welcomed silence, soothed by the rhythm of foot and gravel. The kids shared in their own peaceful rides, the fading light dancing across their eyelids, the changing world whispering lullabies. (Nothing ever seemed to calm my babies as well as being with us in the outdoors.) At the time, these family walks seemed as small nothings. Years later, those walks have become sacred to me, moments bottled and reserved in my heart. I know now, they were a gift. They were establishing our family.

Although we are sleeping well at night now and I’m no longer nursing or pregnant, it seems harder to maintain simple family rituals, even easy family walks. At every turn there seems to be another opportunity to wedge a new or better something into our routine– extra work, another home project, a new activity, a new friend. These are all good things, by the way. But if I’m not careful, they can sometimes distract me from the sweetness of the present, of being right where I am. And honestly, sometimes when the kids are grumpy or bickering or somehow I’m not accomplishing my TO DOs, I can and do wish to be elsewhere. I am human after all. Still, this season with our children full of rich questions and wild imagination and new attitudes and adventure is also a gift. Our daily rituals don’t always divide up as neatly as before, but these days are dense with goodness if I’ll look for them.

Last week the kids helped me make gluten-free pancakes with bananas and bacon and orange-carrot juice–a slower, more intentional weekend meal. Mark pulled an old table we inherited with the house into the backyard for an impromptu breakfast al fresco. Two of the kids argued right before eating, delaying the meal. They recovered and so did the meal and our enjoyment of one another. Olive left the table just after finishing to ride her bike in the lawn. Soon the other kids followed, playing beneath the green canopy in our yard. Mark and I enjoyed the rest of our meal and coffee together, our words drifting on the wind between us. Somewhere deep inside of me, another bottle is sealed and labeled.

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Last week, Blythe and I were discussing making something together, a little bracelet–the smallest of things, really–but not to a seven-year-old. She turned to me and said, “but you won’t be able to help. You’re always too busy.” I turned to her stunned and saddened. You’re too busy for me. I hated hearing the disappointment in my daughter’s voice, her expectation that I would fail her, not be available for her, but what’s worse? Her words didn’t surprise me. Instead, they echoed my own growing frustrations with our life pace and my disdain for the treadmill of activity I’ve found myself on–my running at ever-increasing speed without forward progression. 

I needed to breathe. I needed space to pinpoint my frustration, my impatience. I needed room to hear my heart, to hear God’s heart for me and our family. I needed to hear the answer to these always lurking questions: am I occupied with the right things? Am I doing what matters? This would require me to hit that large red button on the treadmill–EMERGENCY STOP– to get off the treadmill and onto a trail.

I know I’m not alone in this struggle, this demand to always be doing more, achieving more — especially as a mother! We want to raise children well and make career leaps and take care of ourselves and our marriages and our homes and build friendships and of course enjoy ourselves in the process! How could anyone not feel the struggle or worn thin by the pursuit?

A couple of weeks ago, I caught glimpse of this space’s tagline “enjoying simplicity” and laughed. My life is anything but simple these days, but I want to return to that place. The place in which I work through our busy days (because we have four children and work and a hundred-year-old home old house) with simple tasks and goals. The place in which we live intentionally, heeding John Wooden’s words, “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.” Busyness does not mean our life is more valuable. The next few weeks, as we continue to inventory various aspects of our life and home, I’m hoping to share here more specific ways we’re simplifying, ways we’re discovering what really matters.

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Spring has finally arrived in our part of the world. Everywhere I turn, color bursts from greyed, barren branches and forgotten fields. Even my skin is different, now pink with sunlight, toes exposed to the chilly fresh air. It is the season when life and death meet, when we behold in nature what C.S. Lewis described of Aslan and the White Witch meeting together in Narnia, “the golden face and the dead-white face so closely together.” This is the season of resurrection. We experience this restoration to life in our surroundings in nature, but also in the celebration of Easter, the celebration of the risen Christ . . . . {sharing more today over at We Resolve}

 

be_trueThese words seem so simple that at first glance, I simply nod and move on, almost missing their significance. Most days, I skim through other people’s lives and spaces online, admiring their glimmers of perfection, while I tread the dirty floors and debris of my own life. Or so it feels anyway. My self and space and work are anything but perfect. I can be so critical of myself. Often, I return to my own work, perhaps written on paper in ink, and draw that ubiquitous line straight through their middle, through their gut–revising the faults, omitting the flaws–all with idea of perfection. Although I try not to, I often do the same online where it feels less violent, where the delete button quietly erases what might possibly be rejected or somehow not as good as someone else’s _______. Frankly, it’s always tempting to revise my life to be what other people want, to be what might possibly be more popular. What I often forget is that sometimes in the self-criticism and process of omission, I am also somehow deleting myself, my own thought and voice–the very things that make me me (and not anyone else).

Typically, I might delete these soul-spilling words (or keep them to myself) in fear of being too serious or whiny or self-focused. Not today, friends. This time, I’m sharing my ridiculous, honest heart here with you, hoping to encourage you with these four little words: Be who you are. Your life and voice are significant. 

print by Kal Barteski 

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Also, congratulations to Lauren for winning the Shea Paper Co. giveaway. Thank you to all who participated!