The Seasons End…

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We all have ways we measure time and seasons. This year, our garden has been the most accurate reflection of how fast and furious this summer season has been. A lot of work went into our two small patches of soil in the backyard. I had high hopes for the vegetables we would grow and the salads we would consume from our bounty. We did manage to grow some peppery arugula, snow peas, sweet beets, the best carrots I have ever tasted, along with a few stunning sunflowers and dahlias but that was it. Nothing else did anything worth mentioning and if I’m honest, it was a bit disappointing.

When I reflect back on the lack of plush, living things in my garden there are a few key factors. One being I didn’t do a great job weeding and we have some unruly bamboo roots possibly choking out many other plants under the soil. The other was a definite lack of watering. You may ask how two such simple gardening practices were neglected? Easy…we weren’t around.

As we could see some aspects of life returning to the new normal amidst Covid, Bryan and I could sense a magical window of time closing. The years of having the boys around 24/7 was approaching a natural end. So we did what any respectable parent does, we tried to create about five years of memories in one summer starting in May!

In May we spent a long weekend at the Oregon Coast (thanks mom for sharing your timeshare!) and it was incredible! The weather was pleasant, the apartment spacious, and the hot tub was basically a small pool. The boys charged huge sand dunes and explored tide pools with purple starfish with wonder. We took the boys to the aquarium for first time and they loved it. The trip was just our family of four and it was special. From listening to an entertaining version of The Chronicles of Narnia on the drive, to taking the boys to a driving range, visiting a glassblower and pottery studio where I went as a child, to our evenings spent at the beach, my heart was full and thankful for this time together.

In June we set off to visit our Alaskan family. This trip was one of remote work, making many family memories, and tons of hiking. Hopefully this becomes an annual trip because of the investment into our family and the cousin time, plus we just love it! We nailed the weather once again and Alaska showed off all her natural glory which invited us into unwinding properly. This year we decided to take the boys to Matanuska Glacier and they were blown away by it! The real highlights though were our rotating family dinners, mornings with Amma, soccer games in the front yard at Nate and Mer’s, and many evenings spent chatting late into the night with the brothers and sister-in-laws.

July we hung out more locally and spent the 4th of July in Cle Elum at a friends cabin with our Washington family, the Wheeler’s. We soaked up the sun, being outside, and relaxed with no wifi. Family meals, the boys picking up dog poop, and swimming in the cold river were the perfect recipe for a chill weekend. And I’m pretty sure most of us are still wearing at least one of the many friendship bracelets that Ashton made for us, including the boys.

As we approached the end of July we geared up for our return to Gem Lake for another backpacking trip. Can I say how incredibly proud I am of Kidran and Cohen? Those two carried their own packs this year and did a fantastic job! Along with our five (Bryan, me, Kidran, Cohen, and Makenna) we added Amma (Bryan’s mom Lynda) and Brita (Makenna’s best friend). The more the merrier for sure! However, we also learned a valuable lesson…always stick together. Let’s just say the hike in was more eventful than we planned and included a small rescue effort from Bryan to find Lynda and me that meant our last hour and a half hiking to camp was in the dark and over a rock field. Less than ideal conditions to say the least. The mosquitos were a bit vicious but the water was warmer than last year, no one went hungry, and both boys wanted to stay longer. Overall, it was a success!

Once August hit Bryan was locked into his insane preseason schedule. So I did what any self-respecting person would do, I went to see my mommy. The boys and I went to Idaho for two weeks and it was full of fun with a dash of sickness. We still managed to swim most days in the pool, go to a rodeo, visit a driving range, spend a weekend in McCall, go to the movies, and even had a drop by birthday party for the boys. The boys loved their time in Idaho but were excited to return home to see Bryan and have their Washington birthday party.

We did it up pretty big this year with a birthday party, a celebratory dinner at one of our favorite Irish pubs in Bellevue, and a little fiesta at El Paraiso. The boys truly appreciated their party and gave unprompted speeches of thanks to everyone who came. At the pub we took the time to speak words of life over each of the boys. This has become a tradition now. We see the value in telling the boys what we see in them that is good, true, and noble and get to remind them of who they are. The timing was serendipitous too because it happened to be the night before they started first grade.

The boys actually started first grade on their 7th birthday. They walked excitedly to the gate, gave us tight but quick hugs and bravely launched into their first real world outside of our bubble and family. And ya know what? They did it beautifully. I cried like a baby, not sure I was ready to be here yet, but alas, here we are. That first morning Bryan and I reflected on why there were so many tears. You see, both Bryan and I have loved every stage of raising our sons. We have soaked in each season, rolling with the flow, investing into our relationships with them, and trusting that each day we had done enough. Being here now with them gone so many hours of each day, we recognized that the tears were because it had been SO good. They weren’t tears of regret or grief, but tears of appreciation and recognition. Our sons are growing up into young men. They are becoming confident in who they are but will have that challenged at times. Yet seeing them march into the school yard felt like a pat on the back, a well done. They were ready for this moment, they were born for this time and so were we.

Now that we are beginning the fifth week of what we hope to be a routine week at school (we have already had Covid exposure, quarantined with remote learning, and a had nasty cold that kept Cohen home an extra week), we sense the past season fading in the distance. Like looking in your rear view mirror and slowly seeing the images your eyes were fixed on getting smaller and smaller until you can’t see them anymore. It makes me take many deep breaths. With each inhale I am asking for my heart to accept this new season and embrace it. As I exhale I give myself permission to move slowly, gently, and not to feel rushed.

Near the end of our time in Northern Ireland I had placed a sign up by our front door that said:

“All great changes are proceeded by chaos.”

It wasn’t long after that when we packed up our life and returned to the States. As we close the door to this sweet and extended chapter of our life, we are moving towards something new. If I’m honest I feel chaotic inside, similar to how I felt when we left Northern Ireland. Many days my brain is in overdrive, constantly feeling like I am forgetting something. What does this next season hold? What old ways do I need to part with in order to move into this new season? Did I wash the boys masks for school? I have more questions than I do answers and that is okay because I am leaning into the great changes ahead. But in case you are like me and need the reminder, these changes most likely won’t come in a neatly wrapped package that you asked for; but they will still be a gift you can enjoy. Are you ready to embrace the chaos with me?

With Trepidation & Hope…

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I want to live a quiet, peaceful life. Yet the older I get, I sense a growing responsibility to learn, listen, and share about things that are important to me. This is partly because I am acutely aware that the world I live in and help craft and create is the world my sons will inherit. From looking at ways to reduce the amount of waste from our house to helping Kidran and Cohen view each person as equal because we are all created in God’s very image; there is much I care about.

In the past, this writing space has been to process our ongoing infertility journey. The years of waiting to becoming parents and then giving the gift of life to another young family, I have shared my heart here. However, there are topics I have avoided for many reasons. I did not want to offend those I love, deal with disagreeing comments, and to be brutally honest, have people who don’t know me question my faith stance.

I find myself at a crossroads. Will I believe so little in my relationships that I think they will disown me for expressing my views even if they differ from theirs? I am choosing to believe the opposite. You and I can disagree. We are allowed to have our own experiences. What we aren’t allowed to do is say that because your experience is not mine it does not exist. In his inauguration speech, President Joe Biden shared a story of how his mom used to remind him to try to ‘stand in tolerance and humility, and stand in someone else’s shoes’. This practice requires us to suspend judgement and reclaim our imagination’s ability to create empathy and understanding instead of only fear, anger, and hatred.

In what I consider a turning point in my writing, I am proud and honored to share a piece that is not mine. One that is written by the man I love, respect, and have the privilege of being married to. We have lived our lives entwined for over twenty years and have weathered many storms. I respect his views and thoughts more than most. He is a student of life and history and below is an honest telling of his personal evolution. I share this because I believe we all can grow if we choose to, but maybe the current state of the world is becoming each of our crossroads. My prayer is that we choose to stand on the right side of history and correct when necessary. So here you go…

Ramblings and Reflections on the state of our Union through my eyes. – by Bryan Chud

My credentials aren’t great. I have a respectable Ski Instructing certificate from Austria’s esteemed Anwarter course. I earned the difficult to attain UEFA B Soccer Coaching license in Europe. I’ve played soccer at a high level. I also have a bachelor’s degree in History from a small private university. Compared with many, I do not have great credentials, however, I love to learn. I love to evolve. I love to be challenged and to stretch and to grow. I am well-travelled and well conversed. I love to study the past, to see what we can learn from what has already occurred. I would say I am more educated and informed than most, but less informed and educated than many.

History has fascinated me since I was in elementary school. American history especially always caught my attention. The way we were taught was through carefully crafted rose colored glasses, romanticizing every era of our great nation. A nation’s very principles were so noble and unblemished, that everyone wanted to be us, and we dutifully took up the thankless and laborious job of policing the world. Ours was a Christian country, founded by God fearing, patriotic men who bravely clung to their Bibles and guns in the face of tyranny. America was always the good guys. We never fought on the wrong side. Perhaps a few exceptions were briefly mentioned, but nothing that could outweigh the greatness of a nation under God.

I still hold fast to many of the same sentiments about this nation that I held in my first quarter century of life. I believe that America is a fascinating and spectacular experiment as a democracy. I believe the founding fathers wrote a very comprehensive and well thought out Constitution, and worked hard to create a government like no other with Checks and Balances to help monitor the democracy and the different branches. The pioneers that helped to ‘discover’ and further expand our territory were indeed brave and optimistic, and that spirit has endured. America has been an example to the world of how a democracy made up of people from different political persuasions, religions, races, and ideas can healthily function. We have waged war against tyranny. We have created, invented, inspired, and discovered. I am proud to be an American for these reasons and more.

I was raised in a fairly conservative household (although my father always told me to vote the candidate, not the party) in the fiercely conservative backdrop of the state of Alaska. Little government interference, strong independence, Christian family values, 2nd Amendment, and patriotism were the themes. The Evangelical Right became a strong political voting voice of the Republican Party during my early years. I was in 8th grade when we invaded Iraq the first time. I remember feeling so patriotically invested that I concluded that if called upon, I would not hesitate to fight for my country (which was merely ethically defending the oppressed). When Bill Clinton was elected president, I remember thinking the end was near. I was 15. I’m not sure where those feelings came from, but I’m guessing it was a combination of church, parental, and the rest of my surrounding social environmental influences that got me there. ‘Clinton was a man void of character’, cried the evangelical right, a faction I was by this time an unknowing member of.  In the much disputed 2000 election, my candidate (and God’s) narrowly, but divinely won the presidency. Eight years of Republican/Christian policies ruled. The ‘unprovoked’ attacks of 9/11 saw God’s leader reign with justice and invade Iraq as any good patriot would, even though there was little evidence war was a defendable or legitimate option. During this time, I became a devout Republican, and would debate the issues with patriotic biblical evidence supporting all my points. My faith was backed up by my politics and vice versa. Providentially, in 2004 I moved to Northern Ireland.

It was a typically windy and rainy October night in Ireland. I was jogging around the football pitch with members of my new team, Loughall United. I had been in NI for nearly 2 months. A player named Alain struck up a conversation with me about the upcoming election. He began to challenge my stalwart faith and confidence in George W, even questioning his character! This wasn’t uncommon for Europeans to do. W was known for his gaffs, and by this point the war was being exposed to be an unjust one in many circles. However, Alain’s challenges seemed different. When I found out that Alain was a charismatic Christian pastor, I was even more dumbfounded. How could he not agree with a pro-life president who stood on traditional family values and claimed to be a born-again Christian himself. This was such an easy one to me! Democrats couldn’t have Christian values? Could they? Could a Democrat be a Christian? Was the war just? Was I missing something? Could there be holes in my watertight faith based political structure? As I began to question my carefully constructed blend of patriotic/nationalistic Evangelical Right inspired politics, I began to unearth hypocrisy’s and inconsistencies with the message of Jesus. As Billy Graham warned in 1981 as the Religious right began to gain political power, “It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentals and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.” As I realized and acknowledged these revelations, I became more open to listen to alternative views. My journey was just beginning.

Over the next decade, I self-appropriated a lot. I listened. I observed my country and its political system from afar and through the eyes of bystanders and foreigners. I had conversations with people from different faiths, different backgrounds, different ethnicities, and from different countries and most importantly different opinions. I did a lot of deconstructing and rebuilding. It was a difficult and humbling process, as my opinions that I held as absolute truths were time and time again challenged and muddied. It helped to look at my country from a wider perspective and through the unbiased eyes of others who did not have the filter of the romanticized patriotic view I was burdened with. For instance, the Bill Clinton that I grew up vilifying was celebrated by the Northern Irish as he had helped to oversee the peace of their nation after decades of violence and sectarianism. I met an Iraqi once while I was in Paris who asked me why we had bombed his country so indiscriminately. He told me he loved America, but when we bombed Baghdad, most of his family was killed and he was forced to become a refugee. The stories and conversations I compiled over this time were many, and they served to broaden my worldview and thinking.

The toughest issues for me to break with were those of abortion and the unit of the traditional family. As I listened and learned and allowed myself to explore other ideas and opinions, I began to realize that the policies behind these controversial issues were complex and not as black and white as I wanted. I didn’t change my view that abortion itself was wrong, but the reality was that abortions would continue regardless of its legality or not, and perhaps we should look at the reasons they were necessary from a social welfare point of view. Could it be that less abortions would take place if the poor were better educated and cared for? Was it true that there were actually less abortions when democrats were in charge as their policies tended to help out the disenfranchised and marginalized more than a conservative government? Was this fight really as noble and clear cut as it seemed? As for the traditional family, was the LGBT community an actually threat to my way of life? Weren’t all people equal under our constitution, and deserving of equal rights? Just because one disagreed with their way of life, was it the job of the government to dictate what rights they had? My questions went on and on, and I gradually became ok with letting go of my absolutes.

Obama was elected in 2008 as the first black president in our history. The outcry from the Republicans and Conservatives was loud, and the conspiracy theories and prophecies and warnings began to spiral out of control. ‘Obama wasn’t actually an American’ ‘He’s gonna take our guns!’ ‘Obama is a Muslim!’ ‘He’s the Anti-Christ!’ The fear mongering went on and on. I began to find myself repeatedly on the side of the moderate Left for the first time in my life. As I began to challenge and engage my Republican friends, I could not believe how quick they were to fall back on the issues of abortion and homosexuality as moral reasons. The policies of social welfare that favored the poor that Obama championed meanwhile were deemed as ‘handouts’ by many Christians, and the idea of healthcare being available for all was deemed Socialist. As I stepped back I realized that both extremes were wrong, but both had points that were backed up by the Gospel. Neither side could claim a moral high ground. Both had faults, and deep ones at that. Other issues began to arise during Obama’s tenure though. Ugly issues of Racism, began to appear anew. 

Nobody gave Donald Trump a chance to win the Presidency in 2016. However, his brazen style and his unqualified political background came along just at the right time. He ran against the Democrats. Rejected everything about Obama. Dismissed the establishment. Loudly said we needed to put America first. His mantra, ‘Make America Great Again’ was feverishly latched upon by many who were frustrated with conventional politics. Trump wanted to tighten Immigration laws, vowed to Uphold 2nd Amendment Rights, claimed to be against Abortion, and for the traditional family. He vowed to kickstart the economy by putting America first always. Although his election took many of us by surprise, the reality of the lines of division Trump would darken over the next four years were unthinkable. Trump promised to build a wall. The physical one may not have materialized, but he built one, or at least helped to reveal the one already present.

Trump’s presidency coincided with our move back to the United States. To his supporters, Trump has been the greatest of presidents. In their eyes, President Trump has returned jobs to Americans, boosted the economy, put America first (damn the rest), brought back a return to the patriotism of the working class, tightened up our borders, put God at the center of the Nation championing an anti-abortion stance and the traditional family, knowing that he needed the evangelical right to maintain his power. Trump oversaw peace deals with several Arab countries and Israel, and has indeed made good on his promise to make America great again. To the rest of the nation and majority of the world, Trump has shaken foreign alliances and has arguably left us with an even more broken immigration system. He has rocked confidence in the US-led international order to such an extent that many experts fear the damage done to global democratic norms will take decades to restore. Trump has befriended autocratic strongmen and undermined multi-National institutions. He has undone years of policies that protected the environment. To most, Trumps often abrasive rhetoric has been confrontational, undiplomatic, divisive, and hate-filled. To his detractors, Trump’s reign has been characterized by lies, corruption, and by repeatedly spreading conspiracies theories. He has played the martyr and accused all media sources who have tried to hold him accountable of being against him and full of agendas. Under Trump, issues of systemic racism, white privilege, and police brutality have been highlighted and justified. President Trump gave validity to white supremacist views and to other hate groups long ago pushed to the outskirts of acceptable society. In the end, Trump has even questioned the legitimacy of American democracy.

Whatever side you took during Trump’s four years, at its conclusion most agree that the country has had its ugliness and division exposed. The Trump mantra of MAGA has been eagerly embraced and applauded by many on the right. However, I sit here a week after the culmination of four years of Trump rhetoric and a growing frustration against the government exploded with the Capitol of America coming under direct and violent attack by his supporters. These people obviously feel like their way of life is under attack. The much feared and rumored left-led attack to cancel culture is a threat to Trump’s efforts and progress to return America to greatness. This leads me to ask the question, when exactly was the time when America was great?

The history of these United States is steeped in justifications and excuses. We have often been required to turn a blind eye to atrocities for self-gain such as territorial expansion, or economic purposes. We have repeatedly (and continue to) take scripture out of context to provide cover and defense for our actions and policies. Our ‘greatness’ has often come at the expense of others.

Our country was founded by well-intentioned men and women who were seeking a new life in a new land. Unfortunately, this land was inhabited already, and in order to make it ours, the previous owners were systematically slaughtered. The idea of Manifest Destiny was our justification. The economy of our young nation was built on the back of slavery and the oppression of a people because of the color of their skin. Scripture again was used to back up the evil institution. Even as slavery was ended, the system put in place has continued to enslave minorities economically and educationally. As America became a global power, we no longer became an outwardly conquering people, but we became imperialistic. We propped up puppet governments that were sympathetic to our needs. We provided arms, and electricity, and protection in exchange for votes in the United Nations. We indebted countless nations to ourselves by helping them set up infrastructure but binding them to unpayable debt. We have fought wars for oil, loosely disguised as being necessary and noble. We have performed witch hunts in our own country throughout the era of paranoid McCarthyism. We had internment camps on our soil for US citizens of Japanese descent. Our list of transgressions is long and lasting, and has accompanied us throughout our history. By many standards, America has been great, but we have always possessed an ugly self-serving underbelly.

Many are suggesting now that we are as divided now as we were leading up to the Civil War. This may be true, but I would maintain that we have always been divided. Throughout every era and issue at its forefront, we have been divided. To me, perhaps the saddest and most disheartening of the dividing lines has appeared darker than ever during these days is one in the church. This dividing line is largely between those who are ardent Trump supporters, and those who believe Trump to be a fraudulent and divisive individual. The evangelical right has been brought to the dangerous point of having to decide whether to follow a man with little character but willing to uphold their most valuable principles, or to admit that they may have gotten it wrong and abandon him to preserve their voice and integrity. Far too many are choosing to stay loyal to him as a fresh wave of feverish Christian Nationalism has taken ahold. The nation cannot hope to be united if the church isn’t.

I have been reading a Frederick Douglass biography, and am so terrified as I read the similarity of his time to mine, nearly 200 years apart. Douglass writes of how his toughest opposition and justification for slavery and against abolition was the church. However, he also repeatedly mentions the Christians who broke free from the institution of the church as saw slavery for the evil it was. Many of them became the loudest and most influential abolitionists. Douglass wrote ‘a man becomes the more cruel the more the religious element is perverted in him.’ We have seen throughout history that if you can back up your actions and principles with Biblical evidence, which is free to interpretation, then you are justified. This has been dangerous for centuries, and continues to be so today.

Things seem hopeless right now. I’m sure for Frederick Douglass, the state of the union seemed hopeless then as well. We must not be ok with the way things are. We must fight for a better America for all. Macklemore, that great poet wrote ‘this isn’t the apocalypse. We can’t address the hate til we acknowledge it’. I want unity, but I want equality, justice, diplomacy, empathy, understanding and humility. ‘A house divided cannot stand’ said perhaps our greatest president, who was paraphrasing Jesus from Mark 3:25. We must listen to each other. We must search our individual hearts and consciousness to better understand each other. Is this possible in the current climate without first reaching a boiling point and a full-on revolution? Of that I am not sure. I have hope there are enough that desire change, that our Nation will survive this internal implosion. Our division is no longer hidden. The long disguised, subliminal ugly truths are there to be seen for all who dare to see them. May we not be afraid to challenge one another to see clearly. May we strive to listen. May we educate ourselves and our children. And may the state of our union become greater.

Walking and Wailing…

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I am the adoring mother to incredible twin sons. My husband and I fought long and hard to be parents to these boys and every step was worth it. Our road was bumpy, off the beaten track, and downright long. Yet, after nine long years, we finally became parents. Our world shifted in the best way and we share looks often of appreciating exactly how far we have come to be where we are.

What I haven’t shared as much about is the decision we made in 2019 to adopt our remaining embryos out to another couple who desired to start a family. This decision was not made easily nor overnight. There were many tears, prayers prayed, conversations had, and questions pondered. Our extensive history, our painful journey, the desire to give these embryos life, and personal revelations all led us to finding an agency that could match us with a couple who struggled like we did and that is exactly what they did. 

This journey of infertility is ongoing. Our family may be complete, but it is still a difficult decision to process. Their joy is what I walked and wailed about recently, and it wasn’t pretty. Let me say this though, we have ultimate peace in the way we moved forward on our path. It is not for everyone and we fully understand why. The reality is that we will carry infertility with us the rest of our days and some days we will grieve. Still we have no regret but we do have questions that no one but God can answer. We learned a valuable lesson while we walked through infertility for so many years that is still serving us well now. We daily had to focus on what we had, not on what we didn’t have. That was difficult as the only thing we wanted was to have a family. Now, on the other side, we see all that we have. Yes, we aren’t parenting all of the embryos we were given and that truth is hard to handle at times. We are however, parenting two incredible boys who blow our minds all the time. We can see the richness and fullness in every area of our life and reflect often on the beauty of where we are now.

I also want to add that I am extremely thankful that through modern medicine we were able to give these longed for embryos a chance of life. There have been many moments, with more to come, of sadness. But just as quick, a holy hovering seems to sweep in, and for a split second there is immense joy and I can sense there is something much bigger happening that I cannot fully understand. And for those who find themselves in an equally difficult position, please feel free to reach out to me with your questions, you don’t have to walk this road alone.

Pivot in the Pandemic

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Recently we had the opportunity to visit our family in Alaska. We shared many incredible moments (the laughter and tears kind) with an equal number of pictures to capture the fun and memories we made on the trip. I could have shared all the beautiful family shots here (for those curious, they are on Instagram!) or the gorgeous scenes from Hatcher Pass, yet, this photo is the one I am zooming in on.

The picture is stunning. Blue skies salted with white, fluffy clouds. Summer green vegetation springing up in abundance and a family exploring the path in front of them. Yet what this picture doesn’t show is maybe more important. Merely seconds after I took this picture, I saw my husband and sister-in-law abruptly turn around and run towards us in a dead sprint. What followed them, wait for it, was a plague of golden mosquito’s that eventually swarmed and engulfed us all. They were vicious. There was no one off limits. Young and old were their prey and they clung to our clothes with a ferocious tenacity that I didn’t know insects could possess. We ran down the same path like our lives depended on it.

Once we had made it out alive, we joked that it felt nearly like a Biblical plague. Except that the joke felt too close to reality. This year has been ridden with headlines so crazy I am not sure I would have believed them if I read them in a fictional novel. I think most of us can agree that this year will no doubt be one our children read about in their history books. But I digress, back to the picture.

Some things in life teach you lessons gently, then there are the moments when you get chased by insane insects and the only thing left to do is pivot and run. That is exactly what we are all doing — we are learning to pivot in the pandemic.

This pandemic has forced many of us to pivot. People have lost jobs, some have lost loved ones or their own health has suffered, others have had to learn what working from home and educating their kids looks like. For me personally, I have felt extremely fortunate. I have remained healthy. I quit a job I loved to begin one I could do from home two weeks before the pandemic hit. The boys haven’t started formal education yet so their time at home has felt like an extended childhood. We have access to many outdoor activities and have even started a garden.

I don’t say these things to show how well we are coping despite the global shutdown. I still wonder if our kids will ever go back to a school building. I question the long-term effect of this time on our economy. Will I eventually lose someone I know personally from COVID? I have not mastered the art of keeping a clean house during lockdown and have basically given up trying. Yet in many ways our most painful journey, nine years of infertility, helped prepare me for this time.

When you go through infertility there is so much out of your control. You put your hope in one option only for it to fail. So you pivot. You follow the bread crumb trail down another path only to reach a dead end. Pivot again. I didn’t realize it at the time, but for years I was being trained to pivot. Every time we had to adjust course there was a certain level of discomfort that accompanied the shift.

Pivoting isn’t easy folks. I am doing it daily in this new job, sometimes second by second and it can be exhausting. Not knowing from day to day if I am making any progress on projects I am working on while wondering when some type of normal existence will resume can be enough to push me over the edge. But what you and I have in common is that most of us still have some sort of choice. Do we pivot and change course even if that looks like having to forge a new path? Or do we stay where we are, feet stuck, and wait to either be pushed over or die trying to hold our ground?

My suggestion is that we pivot in this pandemic. This time won’t last forever. You won’t be unemployed forever. You won’t be stuck in such close proximity to your children ten years from now. You may not be given another opportunity to reinvent yourself or pursue that degree or job you have always dreamed of but couldn’t because your schedule wouldn’t allow it. We may not be given another chance in our lifetime to alter our course both locally and globally.

Can you see the gift that may be hidden in the center of this pandemic? I get it if you can’t. I don’t see it most days. Then there will be a moment, like a fluttering fairy, that flies by me and I catch sight of it once again. If it’s a struggle to see any shiny, silver lining I would encourage you to join me and do a few things. First, take some time to reflect, reevaluate, remember, and redirect. It may be the perfect time to channel our energy towards making that pivot. And I have a funny, strong feeling that your future self will thank you.

I would love to hear how you are finding ways to pivot in the pandemic! Please share them here or leave me a comment on Instagram or Facebook! Click here to join my Slow Small Sustainable quarterly newsletter!

40

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Growing up in a rather charismatic Christian environment, I had developed a secret belief that Jesus would come back when I turned 20. This little hidden belief was strangely solid and I genuinely believed it. When I say it out loud it is laughable and makes me feel a little silly. However, when I turned 20, in the year 2000, I felt like I had just entered bonus time that I wasn’t expecting. Like going on holiday and at the end of the it someone tells you that your trip has been extended an additional week.

I wasn’t a very ambitious 20 year old, at least not that I can remember. Fun, yes, full of youthful zeal and energy, definitely. What I knew was that I wanted to get married at some point and I wanted to travel. That was about the extent of what I really knew I wanted.

Well the sweetest thing happened right around my 20th birthday. I met my future husband, we went on our first official date on Valentine’s Day (mind you he was technically dating another girl and he promptly left our date and went to break up with her), a few short weeks later we were official. Everything felt right about him. As we walked back to our college campus in the early hours of the morning one night, holding hands, I felt a gentle nudge to give this a chance. That chance quickly turned into the love I had dreamed of having, steady and constant, solid and real. It was just the beginning.

My 20’s were full of Alaskan adventures, marriage and honeymoon bliss. Settling into life as a wife, saying goodbye to family and friends as we moved overseas to Northern Ireland. Doubting that Northern Irish people were actually speaking English while being embraced by this new group of people and culture where we had no family ties. Learning to live in a community of like-minded people while communally living and throwing ourselves into a new, shared way of life that suited our young years. Lots of travel and world view changing moments. Certain dreams came true, new ones were birthed, all the while the dream of a family came into clearer focus yet remained just out of reach.

Enter my 30’s.

Words I would use to describe those years? Well…bitter, frustrating, surprising, fulfilling, sad, prayer filled, enriching, heartbreaking, soul destroying, and solid. The 30’s have been the hardest thus far. Failed rounds of IVF/ICSI, personal shortcomings, artistic struggles, loss of illusions, leaving Northern Ireland, and losing my father. On the flip side my 30’s have been the richest. I ran a marathon, opened a community coffee shop through our church, learned to play guitar (a little bit anyway). Went to new depths in my marriage, finally became the mother I dreamed of and longed to be while watching my husband be the father I knew he would be and more. Embraced the beauty and love of so many friendships. Received the gift of living closer to my parents during my father’s last year of life, watched our sons get to know their Alaskan family and roots, while watching them soak up Idaho family summers and winters. Settling back into the PNW life that we had started so many years ago while learning to be present in the chaos.

This past decade I have also been on a journey to my own personal core. At times it’s felt like falling down the rabbit hole, not knowing where the ground or walls are, desperately reaching for something to grab onto. Other times it has been a welcome free fall, letting go of that which no longer serves me, and allowing myself to be held by the wholeness of God as I become whole. I have learned more about myself than ever before. This process has allowed me to expand within my limitations, lean into the strength of my weaknesses, and embrace the beauty of my imperfections. Laugh lines and section scars remind me that I have been living in the joy and pain of my life.

As I stand on the mountain top of these past 40 years, I look behind me with a content heart. I have much to be thankful for and I do not take it for granted. I am a pilgrim who has walked and endured many miles. I have met wonderful souls along the way and am thankful to have married one of the richest of them. We now hold tiny hands as well and will help guide tiny feet along this continuing path. I carry with me a rucksack filled with books, journals, earrings, stones, and shells. Trinkets of value to no one but me. So today I pause and take in the view. The many mountains that have been climbed, the valley’s filled with sorrows, the landscape that has forever been changed by loss. While the sun peaks through the clouds shining brilliantly on this rugged terrain of my life, I can clearly see that this one precious life of mine is enough.

This day will end and it will be like all others, except I will be different. I will blow a kiss to the past and turn to the future. A new job awaits me this next week, one that will challenge me more than I am even aware of. I will not run down the mountain because I value the way of slow, small, and sustainable progress now. I will hold the hands of my husband and children knowing that we are in this together, forever connected by our love. I will speak less, listen more, and ask for eyes to see the unseen. My search will be for the mystical moments where I can only look to God as the creator of and be thankful that I am included in the unfolding.

40, I welcome you as a friend and companion. You will no doubt change me but I will use my lungs to breathe you in and rest in your wisdom. I have what I need of that I am sure. I am becoming and that is the whole point.

 

It Could Be Me

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It could be me.

That’s all I can think of when I hear another story of a young woman being trafficked. We are not all that different she and I. She needs air to breathe, food to eat to stay strong, real love to keep her heart from failing. I too need these same things. The difference between us often comes down to a lottery of where we were born. She was born there ______ (you fill in the blank) and I was born here, in America, the land of the free.

Yet I cannot shake the reality of our connection. We are the same, she and I. We both bleed if cut, break if abused, cry when we are hurt. We are the same, she and I.

I also cannot shake the reality that we are different. She has had her dignity, her future, her dreams, her peace, her comfort stripped from her. I have not. We are distinctly different.

The truth, the real truth, is that she could be me and I could be her. We are the same, she and I. She also could be my niece, my sister, my friend, my aunt. The reality though is that it is not only she who is suffering. He could be suffering too. He could be my son, my nephew, my brother. This business of trafficking is no respecter of gender.

There is also something else I cannot shake and that is the magnitude of HOPE. Hope that we can end human trafficking in our lifetime, hope that rehabilitation can happen, hope that women, men, and children can all be rescued, hope that this atrocity can come to an end. Hope that the victim can heal and that the perpetrator can be redeemed. There is still so much hope.

I have seen this hope in action through the incredible work of Rescue Freedom International, through Purpose Boutique where I work, through Freedom Dinners began by Ciderpress Lane, and through Coffee Connect Change, a tiny coffee initiative. We all can play a part and make a difference if we choose to.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. It’s a month of starting over and rebooting our own lives, yes, but it can also be SO MUCH MORE. As we set out to live our best lives this month and in the year ahead can we also determine to help those who have been victims of human trafficking live their best lives too?

Rescue Freedom International has began a virtual book where you can sign your name to begin your part in ending slavery in the form of human trafficking. You can also make a one time donation or become a monthly donor to this necessary and tremendous work. The choice is yours. (Simply click this link to take action.)

As I finish this blog, I will share an excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “But If Not”. A fellow mom used it this week as our devotional during our Mom’s Group at Bellevue Presbyterian and it seems an appropriate time to share here. It moved me to tears and solidified my desire to play my part, however small or big, in this fight to end slavery and human trafficking. I hope it inspires and challenges you the way it did me.

“You may be 38 years old as I happen to be, and one day some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause —– and you refuse to do it because you are afraid; you refuse to do it because you want to live longer; you’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you’re afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you or shoot at you or bomb your house, and so you refuse to take the stand. Well you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90! And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit. You died when you refused to stand up for right. You died when you refused to stand up for truth. You died when you refused to stand up for justice.”

Excerpt from “But If Not” -A Sermon by Martin Luther King, Jr. given November 5th, 1967 -click the link to watch the full sermon

My Invisible Tattoo

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Most days I walk around my life content to be what people see. Then there are days when I wonder why the world cannot see the markings of the people, places, and experiences that I wear. Then I remember, it is because these treasured moments in my life have been captured in an invisible tattoo.

It took 12 years to create. It is full of details and embellishments. Both shadow and light is captured within it’s lines. This tattoo could very well be a map of the whole of Ireland, etched with invisible ink across the length and width of my back. It depicts stories of growth, transformation, heartache, love, satisfaction, longing, adventure, and thin places. I carry this imprint wherever I go.

Recently I went back to visit my other home. At times it felt like the lines were searing hot, like I was being branded anew, stingy with the memory of the life we lived on the island. Moments and sites revisited, new places explored, history appreciated while writing new chapters in this never-ending book.

The trip was profound on many levels. I left the States content with my lot in life. I went with an open heart, open hands, and an open mind. I noticed that I walk a bit differently on Irish soil. A very true part of me comes alive in this magical land. I hear I am not the only one to experience this effect.

There are now new friends that have been made from this trip. Barry, Sebastian, Meredith, David, and Elizabeth to name a few. Celtic Dawn Expeditions, the embryonic adventure of Dave and Leanne has officially begun. Along with the new friendships, I cradled moments with the old faces of a time passed. Faces that reflect to me who I became while living on the island. There was a deep level of knowing that took place in each of these encounters and my heart swells when I think of them. The list of people who shaped me is too long to spell out and I don’t want to forget anyone, but I hope you each know who you are, how loved you are by me, and how much you impacted my life and who I have become.

Months later I am still revisiting moments of this special trip. There is so much more I could say but I’m not sure how. What I can say is this, each of us wears invisible tattoos. We all have life experiences that are unseen to those around us. As we develop and grow, maybe we are meant to begin tracing the lines with our own ink, bringing color and life to the parts that display our invisible, beautiful history to the world. I trace mine with words, with watercolors, with baking, and with nature. Each line I trace is a step towards unveiling my full self to a world that if I’m honest, may not be ready to receive this offering. Still I will reveal myself, the truest parts of me, over time. This space here, where I write, is one of the main places I do that. So thanks for reading and thank you for accepting.

For those of you who want a song to accompany this post, you are lucky. Here it is:

Snow Patrol’s ‘I Think of Home’

(Side note: One of the creative outlets that grew from my recent trip back was a melding of these years into me beginning my quarterly newsletter: Slow Small Sustainable. If you would like to journey with me as I share more on this, please send me your email address either through the blog, on Instagram @breannachud, or on FB: breannajochud.)

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Slow. Small. Sustainable.

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Some journeys in life take us directly to our destination, while others meander slowly, taking every side road and backward path. My life has felt more like the second option and I am happy about that.

For years I have said I am a late bloomer, slow to the uptake. If there is an easy way of doing something it’s almost a guarantee that I will not choose that way. I always seem to take the longer, more difficult route. I think I get this from my Papa which is also kind of sweet and maybe why I don’t mind it so much. This perspective though is what kept me open to us moving overseas shortly after we got married. At the time when we were deciding if we should move or not, we knew that if we chose to leave the States we were in many ways leaving behind a steady move towards security and careers. This was not lost on us. We could see how leaving would slow us down in certain ways but we also knew that getting there faster didn’t mean it would be the right way forward. So with the knowledge that adventure and the pursuit of specific dreams was before us as well as a pause of sorts on our careers, we moved to Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is a small country and I mean small. The whole island of Ireland is tiny but then you add the Northern Irish border and it gets even smaller. Ireland as a whole from North to South is about 301 miles long, and from East to West is about 170 miles wide (roughly the size of the state of Indiana). For some reason, this little fact made it feel even more appealing. Big places make me nervous and I feel out of place. I remember for example, my first trip to New York city. I felt so small and insignificant and I did not like that feeling. Arriving in Belfast International Airport though, at what could be one of the smallest airports I have experienced, felt strangely comforting. The small roads, the small cars, the smaller stores. It all started making sense. I love the small life.

By small I don’t mean insignificant. By small I mean the limited size and experience of life. Due to the fact that the country as a whole is small meant that our community was small. When you live in a small community in many ways it makes it easier to get connected. You see the same people more often, you most likely live closer to your neighbors, and the choices you have of where to shop, eat, play, etc. is limited. That suits the indecisive part of me quite well. Less choice makes my life simpler.

What I didn’t realize though was that by living in this new, small place, I was actually being changed from the inside out. My cultural norms were shifting, I was seeing life differently and that was a very good thing.

Now we live back in the states but I am different than I was at 24 when we first moved to Northern Ireland. The internal landscape of my life is different. America is big, I mean really big but we choose to live a small life. Our circle of deep friendship is small, our house is small, our network is small. We choose this because it allows us to live a slower and more sustainable life. The only thing is that this is counter cultural to where we currently reside. We live in one of the biggest tech areas of the states. We are surrounded by Google, Microsoft, Expedia, and the list could go on. Everything around us pushes for a faster pace and a blurry existence. Yet we know that is not our way forward.

For years I watched two of my closest friends from a distance push back against this reality. They have intentionally carved out a different way of living. It was largely their two separate lives that gave me hope that we too could create a different yet sustainable way to live here. As we are now three years into living back in the States, the time felt right for me to begin whispering to attentive ears about a different way to live. Therefore, I have arrived at the doorway of creating my first ever, quarterly newsletter that will begin this January 2020, Slow. Small. Sustainable.

In my newsletter I will be sharing ways that we can lean into and live life in a slower, smaller, more sustainable way. This newsletter will be simple, short, and quiet. If you are looking for Vegas style flashing lights and tips this is not for you. If however, you are craving quiet, gentle ways to approach your own life then please reach out and I can add you to my email list. I promise not to waste your time or inbox space. I promise to share honestly what I am learning and believe could be beneficial for you. I also promise to not be offended if you choose to opt out in your own pursuit of a slower way. I do however hope that you will join me. We are better together and a shared life is in my opinion a richer one.

So enjoy this Christmas holiday season, and as you prepare for the coming year, please consider joining me and many others in this journey to pursue the Slow Small Sustainable way forward.

There’s No Place Like Home…

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Every time I see red shoes, especially red statement shoes, I think of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. I see her clicking her heels in those sparkly, red heeled shoes. Those shoes were what some of my little girl dress up fantasies were made of.

Do you remember what she would say when she clicked her heels?

“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”

What is it about saying something three times that seems to lodge it into our psyche? Maybe this is a practice that I need to start implementing in my own life. Like when my kids aren’t listening to me, or when I need to give myself a good old fashioned pep talk.

Now these particular red shoes, the ones in the picture, they may not be sparkly but they have a back story. These shoes are magical and I want to share the story with you.

I work at a wonderful and inspiring place called Purpose Boutique. I am honored to work at Purpose and believe in our three pillars: 1. We donate a percentage of every purchase to Rescue Freedom International to fight human trafficking. 2. We sell empowerment lines like ABLE to help empower women all over the world. 3. We offer personal styling to every customer so that women in this context can feel empowered too.

Awhile back we actually carried these beautiful suede, red, pointy toe flats from ABLE. Every time someone put them up I literally giggled with delight. They are so bold and demand the attention of the room. Now I totally understand how these shoes were not everyone’s cup of tea. Yet I wanted every woman who came in to be styled to walk out in these red shoes, feeling not only empowered but at home in her own skin. I wanted her to believe that she belonged in those shoes and that her job was to click her heels and find her home here in this world.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I met a strong, resilient, inspirational young woman wearing these very shoes. I could not stop smiling nor staring at her feet. She is my modern day Dorothy. I get that they are just shoes, I really do. But I also get how what we wear, why we wear it, and how we wear it can tell a story that our words don’t. Seeing her in these shoes told me this extraordinary young woman had come home. She had overcome adversity. She had kept moving forward. She had finally clicked her heels and found home, inside of herself, in this world, and in these shoes.

Would you also like to come home to yourself? To find your place in this world? I believe these are the basic desires of most every heart, especially that of women. It is a huge reason why I work at Purpose Boutique, why I love that we partner with Rescue Freedom, and even why I have these little Coffee~Connect~Change mornings. I want to feel at home in my own skin. I want to know that I am doing my part, in the way that I can during this season of life, to fight human trafficking. Maybe it’s time I find myself at home in some red shoes too!

(Photo cred: AllyCMerritt)

Revisiting a Well Worn Path

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I have lost track of how many times I’ve had the privilege of traveling to Alaska. I almost feel guilty about it if I’m honest. I know it’s a place on the bucket list for many. I just happen to be married to a man who is from there and where the rest of the Chud clan currently reside.

This summer we took the boys back. Even though they had been there once before, we think this will be the trip that they are old enough to remember. It started with separate flights for our twin sons. These two had never spent a full 24 hours apart. That is, until we intentionally booked separate flights which we then completely forgot about booking. We knew we were all going but somewhere in the recesses of our minds neither of us could recall making this decision until we saw the itinerary come through, separately.

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It’s always interesting to watch Kidran and Cohen take strides by themselves. Most of the time they are together and in some ways rely on each other for a certain degree of comfort and stability. So when opportunities arise for them to shine individually we soak it up. This little slip up on our part did just that and made us make a mental note for the necessity of time apart in the future.

So…back to Alaska.

Alaska is Alaska.

Big.

Bold.

In your face.

Rough.

Stunning.

It has the ability to stop you in your tracks simply with it’s natural grandeur.

For us however, it holds some of the people closest and dearest to our hearts. It provides opportunities for us to show our children what we love about the Last Frontier and this wild, untamable land. It also gives us the chance to share Grandpa J, Bryan’s late father, with our boys as there is a small plaque on a rock up in Hatchers Pass where his ashes were sprinkled years ago. We had many moments of chatting, sharing our hearts, catching up about life and everything in between. So many sweet times shared that my heart still feels full.

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This trip also gave myself and one of my sister-in-laws the chance to experience a first of our own, this meant jumping into our first glacial lake! (Very glad I made the leap!)

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The trip also encompassed a deeper meaning. Our incredible Amma Chud will be celebrating her 70th birthday next week. We decided that while so many of us were there that we would have a celebration of her life. It was one of those nights that felt surreal, magical, and like time may have just stopped. I have always been thankful for my side of the family. When I married into the Chud family I became equally thankful for the heritage and legacy I stepped into by marrying Bryan. Our boys now reap the benefits of both sides and this truth still stuns me.

The party was exactly what I hoped and envisioned it to be. Certain family members (namely the littlest brother, aka Nate Chud) outdid himself and had interviewed Lynda about each decade of her life. He then condensed the interview into 40 minutes for us all to watch. Those 40 minutes will be something I revisit for sure. So much life to unpack, wisdom to learn, and lessons to pass on.

After many days and evenings together I sought out time alone on our last day there. I chose to take my Bible and journal up to the A-Frame restaurant. It’s been around for ages, has changed very little, and feels nostalgic while full of new possibilities.

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As I sat there on my last day, I stared out the vast windows. I reflected on my life and the many times I had sat in that very place in the past. I had been on this path before, it was well worn to me. I then thanked God for my family and wrote private words in my journal that the world will never see but God will always know.

Now that I am home, I look back at this picture and see something else. Looking through those windows in that old A-frame lodge I see the landscape of my soul. Plush, green with growth, and vast. Yet untamed, dangerous, and unchartered. The trip marked a changing of seasons for me. Not within the physical world so much as the spiritual world. I can see now that I am being transformed from glory to glory, much like that view.