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The State of My Union Address

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Stop! Before you think that this is a political post, it is not. I watched the State of the Union Address last night like a lot of people but I will not share any opinions I have here. I simply do not have enough information or understanding of the complexities that surround us on every side, nor will I claim to.

I do however, have an inside view into my own life and heart which is what I will share  here. It’s not that I don’t care about what is happening outside of my home because I do. I care very much. Yet so much of what is happening on a larger, global scale feels outside of my control. Whereas what is going on in my little corner of the world seems reachable. In the words of Mother Teresa, one of the most revolutionary women to have lived:

“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”

This quote is beautiful. So simple right? Go home and love your family. Well, yes, but it’s not always simple or easy. We are on our third snow day here in the stunning Pacific Northwest. We have lots of hills here and snow wreaks havoc on our otherwise stable little existence. In our normal day to day life, we have created spaces for each of us to move, breathe, connect with what we love, nap, take space, and overall keep the peace within our home. We have recently found a lovely rhythm, thank the Lord!

When the snow hits, that changes things. The normal patterns and rhythms shift as well. Space becomes less available. Productivity goes down. A need for creativity goes up. Overall, snow days are very different than normal days.

Of course we are embracing the snow and the gift of rest that accompanies it, each in our own way. My husband, for example, went skiing down our steep street to practice his urban skiing skills. Yes, I mean, a city street, with intersections that we had to be sure were clear before he took off downhill into Lake Washington. We made crepes, drank multiple cups of coffee, threw snow balls, and consumed homemade confetti cake. That was all in the first day.

Day two was a little more civilized. Bryan went to work for awhile and I left the house for an appointment but I was anxious to return as the temps were threatening to drop. We are lucky to have a few shops within walking distance from us so we stopped in at our local Starbucks for cakepops and then hit the grocery story to replenish our dwindling supplies. Only enough items that we could carry back to our house though, nothing major.

Day three has us all a little stir crazy though. The boys are watching a movie while I steal these few minutes to craft words to share. Here’s to hoping we may actually be able to leave our house later to get a proper grocery shop done. I am nearly down to my last few creative dinner meal options. Now back to that quote.

Being home and loving my family is a privilege I have. I am so thankful that after many years of heartache and trying, we finally were given two miracles to call our own. That fact is never wasted on me. I find myself staring at them longer than normal these days. I am taking pictures of them sleeping as I feel them changing so rapidly before my eyes and I long to stop time.

The boys are four and a half now and are little sponges. From watching Cohen mimic my sayings and faces, to Kidran singing along to songs in perfect pitch and writing his name. Their surroundings are informing them daily about who they are and what they will become. This is where it becomes vitally important that I know what My State of the Union is.

Our home is the first place our boys will see, learn, and experience true, unconditional love. That means I must practice unconditional love. Sounds simple but daily I have to practice a patient way of loving these two very different boys that sometimes challenge and try me. They are showing me so much about myself that I want to change and it motivates me to let them see me grow, evolve, and become a better version of who I am daily. We are all still learning at the end of the day.

As much as I have chosen the word “enough” for this year, it’s also what I have chosen for our family. Our boys are enough, as they are, where they are. My husband is enough, as he is, where he is. I am enough, as I am, where I am. Our home is the place where I hope that this truth and feeling is communicated in thousands of little ways. From the good morning kisses, to the times of art and creating, reading stories, sharing our days with each other, meals as a family, bath time, and bed time. I pray the love we have for each other will be visible, felt, and unending.

This also means that I must steal minutes away when they present themselves to do this…to write. Part of me being able to love my family in my home is loving myself in my home. I do that right now through writing. It’s my one thing for the year. I have stories to tell, things to say. They may not be important enough for the world to read but that is never the point of art or creating. I write because I must. When I write I come alive and that is reason enough. Do you have something that brings you to life too? Please, please, please, make time for it. As Emily P. Freeman said yesterday in her amazing podcast, The Next Right Thing, tell someone too. Tell your husband, tell your children, tell your closest friends, maybe even tell the world of social media. Sharing our deepest desires with those whom we share our life with is such an important part of building deep, meaningful relationships. For me that means sharing my writing with my family by showing them what it looks like when momma comes alive in this way. I want to model this for them so that when it happens in their life they are already familiar with it.

So on day 3 of our mini snowpacalypse, I have stolen these minutes to work in the cracks of life. I am working on my craft. But first I made coffee for my husband and me, I made breakfast for us, I tended to that which has been entrusted to me with love. Then I chose to love myself as well.

That is my simple State of the Union, to “go home and love my family.” What is yours? Do you know? If not, give it a few minutes today. As my good friend Kelly talks about in her new book Dream Catcher, in order to live a life of intentionality you must be intentional. (I also hope you enjoy these sweet pics of some of our daily moments!)

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Writing: My One Thing

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So I am noticing this funny and spectacular thing happening. Since choosing a word for the year: enough, and choosing my one thing: writing; how I spend my time is changing. (I would also be doing a disservice if I didn’t thank The Nester and Marie Kondo for helping me clear clutter in my home meaning it’s easier to keep clean and tidy, being a large contributing factor to my desire to pursue “enough and writing” because my house is not requiring my attention the same way as before.)

As I write this I have dirty dishes on my counter and stovetop, I have a pile of clean clothes sitting in my laundry basket (let’s focus on the word “clean” here people). I decided however that my house was clean enough for right now. As a day full of free time presented itself, I chose to be okay with the house being clean enough for these first hours of the day. I also chose to dive head first into writing this morning. It is after all the thing I want to focus the most on in 2019. That doesn’t just happen by saying it either, I actually have to write words that turn into sentences. Sentences that turn into paragraphs and you get the idea.

Now that I have honored my words for the year, I can now sense my creative energy waning which means it’s the perfect time for me to stand up and clean up what’s left to be cleaned. I choose to believe that what I wrote today is enough for today. I will write more another day but today I was faithful in my craft for a few hours. All those hours are working towards my 10,000 and that doesn’t just happen overnight.

I am also noticing that when I’m with my boys I am more present and having a lot more fun because I feel like I have done enough even when there is more to do. It’s a choice to believe you are enough for today and tomorrow you will be enough too. I am also embracing these quiet days to myself, not wondering when the next one will appear, but believing that as I use the word “No” more, I will naturally begin creating space for my writing to happen in places it didn’t before. Thank you Kelly Welk and The Dream Catcher Community for helping me move towards living with intentionality.

P.S. It also helps knowing that my husband is sharing one of his greatest passions, skiing, with our sons on these days. He is doing something good for him and our boys while I do something good for me. I am so thankful we can see these days in this way.

Now let’s keep on keeping on!

 

 

The Grey Thread

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The past two and a half years have held a great deal of change for my life. Leaving Northern Ireland, the land where I cut out part of my heart and planted it. My Papa being diagnosed with cancer to his passing from this earth. My mother-in-love being diagnosed with lymphoma and surviving in the most extraordinary way. To my most recent experience of an early miscarriage.

As Bryan and I chatted in bed one night, the tears filled my eyes. I explained to him that my heart had felt so heavy for so long. I reflected on everything that was bright, beautiful, and alive in my life. Then I described something else.

The grey thread.

For the past two and a half years I have carried around a heaviness. I can easily see the charms of my life. I have an incredible husband, two miracle sons, a job that has purpose, family that I love, friendships that go deep like a well. My life is rich and I know it.

Still, in all the richness, in all the vibrant yellows, reds, blues, and purples of life, there is a grey thread. It hides for awhile. Life feels normal, manageable. Then, I see it. The dull color, working it’s way to the surface again. Wrapping itself around the yellow, turning it a muted brown. It takes the other colors too, toning down their brilliance, creating a type of shadow land.

It feels like the opposite of putting on rose-colored glasses. This grey thread takes the shine out of almost everything. It cannot remove that which is solid, thank God. Yet it can change my view and perspective, making it harder to see clearly. It becomes like a fog, covering up the parts of my life that stir me to live.

Through time and effort, I can stand on the thread once again, regaining my life back. However, out of the corner of my eye, I see the end of the thread wriggling. Then I see it disappear beneath my life’s palate again. A sense of relief floods my body. It is gone for now. Yet, in the back of my mind, I wonder for how long?

Beauty for Ashes

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After years of heartache from infertility, I feel it’s important I share the beauty that came from ashes as well. One of the most beautiful has been writing. To cope with our struggle I wrote a book about it. I have also found this blog to be a way for me to express some of the deepest parts of my heart. It is just like God to take things and redeem them which is exactly what writing feels like, redemption.

I now call myself a writer, scary as it is to say out loud. I identify with the long line of writers who have gone before me, writing about their lives as a way to process all they experience, feel, and comprehend. We all hope to somehow help someone see the world the way we see it and contribute something of lasting value to the conversation.

As I learn and grow in this craft, I am gracious towards myself. I am a beginner. Thanks Emily P. Freeman for helping me see and lean into that very fact. Part of my learning is putting my work out there. Occasionally an opportunity comes up and I celebrate each opportunity for what it is…a step in the write direction (pun intended).

Today I was privileged to have one of my pieces shared on The Joyful Life Magazine blog. I am beyond thankful for this chance, for the website, and for the work they are doing. If you need a bit of encouragement, check them out. While you’re at it, I would encourage you to read my post. It comes from an honest place of me encountering God in the corners of my everyday life. That may be exactly where you need to encounter Him too. I hope you do.

The silence…

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My sweet friend Molly told me about a podcast and now I will pass it on. It’s called The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman. Everything about this podcast has been about timing. There are seasons of life where something comes into your life at just the right time, just the right season, and helps you put words to your feelings. This podcast has been that for me.

By nature I am an extroverted introvert, maybe even an ambivert. When I was growing up I didn’t know it but my life was set up in such a way that time by myself and quiet was built in everyday without me trying. I was the youngest by far in my family and had my own bedroom. I would have friends come and play but often I was left to play on my own and that suited my personality. I remember filling sketch pads with fashion designs or building Barbie houses out of cardboard boxes and tissue boxes. When I became a teenager and my social life was everything, I still had that downtime built in. I would get home from school or practice and go back to my bedroom for a bit before emerging for dinner, then onto my next social activity.

As I got older, my life changed. I had my first roommate at college at the age of 18. I didn’t realize it then but this would begin undoing my normal pattern. After my college years of roomies, I got married to the love of my life straight after graduation. I went from communal living to marriage. As anyone who is married knows, it’s wonderful! Yes, there are ups and downs, but at the end of the day I am beyond amazed at how well suited Bryan and I are to each other. This has especially become evident as we have entered into the world of parenthood. I see us balancing each other in ways I couldn’t have anticipated but am so thankful for.

Over the years as I discovered my more introverted nature, Bryan has been so helpful in helping me carve out space and time for me to be alone. We live a pretty social life and our hearts are continually expanding with love for our family and friends. So these times of alone have become vital for me to stay sane. That’s where my good friend Ems, as me and a few friends have affectionately named her, speaks to my deeper longings.

The aim of her podcast is to help people with decision fatigue determine what their next right thing is and then to do that thing in love. Brilliant right?! After a season of big moves, big changes, grief, and exhaustion this podcast came as water to my very thirsty soul. It continues to help shape my thoughts and decisions which are becoming clearer most days.

This past weekend my little family had the rare opportunity of going out to Lopez Island to visit friends. It’s one of the San Juan Islands in Washington state where I live. It was such a push to get there. We left Saturday evening once Bryan had finished work and didn’t arrive until after 10 p.m. Yet the next morning we awoke to a magical place. The island is the “slow” I have been craving. All around me people use the word “hustle” and it kind of makes me cringe. Mostly because the good things in my life have taken time and patience, they have taken the slower path and that word makes me feel rushed, out of breath.

We took our time sipping coffee in the morning, ate slowly, walked slowly, and took time for slow, meaningful conversations. Our second and sadly last morning there, I stepped outside, walked down the makeshift staircase to the beach below and stood on the rocky shore. Clams were squirting out water, coming up in tiny spouts. Seagulls were flying overhead, and the waves crashed calmly against the smooth stones. As I stood there I took five minutes to be silent. This was a practice that my friends and I took up on our recent trip to Northern Ireland.

It was only five minutes but my senses were overwhelmed with beauty, serenity, gratitude, and peace. The rest of the day was full of the slow kind of fun. We spent the day chasing one amazing creative scene after another, ending the day with a fire and s’mores under starlight with our friends and our four little boys. It was such a gift.

Now I am thinking of ways to carve out these five minute silent retreats on a daily basis. Five minutes is not that much time but it can pump the necessary life breath back into my lungs. It will help me breathe in the depth of this beautiful life I am living and help me sit back in admiration of the subtleties and creeping changes that are leading to personal growth. These moments in turn help me feel the satisfaction with my own pace, helping me not to run someone else’s race, only my own.

Can you take five minutes today? If so, do it. It may feel foreign or you may be distracted, but I promise, if you keep at it, you will reap the reward of beginning to hear your own voice in the silence.

Day 3: The North Coast Calls

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After living in Northern Ireland for twelve years, I knew how rare a string of beautiful, sunny days were. This was even more pronounced on the third day of our trip. We woke to glorious sunshine again and pinched ourselves! Could we really be experiencing the first heatwave of early summer? Yes!

While Kelly and Molly put on their walking clothes and took off up the Bush road towards town, a journey I had made so many times before and after having our boys, I got ready for a few coffee catch ups with friends. The first on my list was my sweet, justice loving, bold, and incredibly talented chef of a friend Michelle. She not only is my friend but was also my pastor for many years while we lived in Northern Ireland. Michelle and I could “talk for Ireland” as they say. Whenever we get together it literally feels like a speed chatting session. We rarely breathe, we laugh a great deal, and we go deep fast. I am thankful beyond words for her friendship and sister-like presence in my life over the years. She stood by me as I hit rock bottom within my faith paradigm while we struggled through our infertility journey and allowed me to be where I was. We have had some very honest moments in our friendship but I believe that is how true friendship is forged, or any real relationship for that matter. We didn’t have enough time together but we never do. I am thankful all the same!

Next up was a meeting with my very first adopted teen, Laura. Laura has been a part of our family since the early days. One of the first teens Bryan walked alongside of, she was in my small group for years, she accompanied us on our move back to the States a few years ago to help with the boys, and most recently has become a mummy herself to wee Luke. Laura is a stunning woman. She has a determination and fierce strength that is much older than her years. It was such an honor to see her on this trip home and finally be able to cuddle and love on her little boy. He is so happy and content, thanks to the constant love and security his momma brings him. In a way, Laura was one of the first people to open up the mothering heart inside of me and I’m so thankful for that. She also got lots of practice for her own baby by minding ours!

Once the catch ups were done, we showered, packed a small bag each and hopped into our sweet, loaned car.

The North Coast was calling and we couldn’t wait to answer!

The drive to the coast was filled with chat, laughter, and music. I love driving most days anyway but driving in Northern Ireland has always been more fun to me! The winding roads, the rolling hills, green upon green everywhere you look. Fields dotted by old stone churches, sheep, and hedges made to divide the farmland. It never, ever, gets old. My eyes always want more.

Yet, I also can remember making the drive when my heart had been shattered from failed rounds of ICSI. I remember looking out the window, tears streaming down my face, heart caving in. I wasn’t taking in the surroundings those days. I was merely trying to breathe in and out. There was a strange sense of relief though when we would reach a certain point in the drive where I felt a release. The times on the coast of grieving were defining periods for me and I will never forget them or what they did for my soul.

I was so thankful to be making the trip this time up to our friends, the Millen’s, for such a happy occasion as this. You see, the Millen’s prayed, and prayed, and prayed for us, for me, and for our boys to come into being. They invested in such deep ways. They walked through the valley with us and held us up as we cried. They are a beautiful family unit and it is such a joy to have them in our lives. Knowing that I was going to their new home, in the countryside, that they had built themselves, and was a mere shell when we left, felt somehow significant. They had a sweet, little home closer to downtown Coleraine, but decided to build a bigger family home on some family farmland. Now there other home was amazing! Full of memories, love, and lots of TLC. There was nothing wrong with that house outside of their need for more space for their growing girls. In a way this felt similar to our move back to the states. There was nothing wrong with our lives, but in a way we were growing and needed different space. Although we didn’t think it meant leaving Northern Ireland. So seeing them in their new home was profound. Sometimes we change the decor of our lives, other times we change the actual, physical location. Some changes are harder than others to make. In the end, their move and change was worth it and I believe ours has been too. We are all building new foundations, mapping out new spaces, and it’s good.

We arrived to their house around 3:30 and immediately ate them out of fresh fruit as we had basically been on a buns (sweet treats) and bread diet since we landed! Lol!! We sat down for our first cuppa in their new home and I fell in love all over again with them! Their whole family has such a deep rooted place in our hearts and it shows. Lee once again whipped up an amazing CURRY! Yes! One of my favorite meals she cooks, among many I can assure you. Then we changed our clothes and headed to Hope & Gloria for our event that night. If you have time, go and check it out for yourself! I love the heart behind this venue and everything it is about.

I want to tell you a secret. If I’m honest, I had the most hope for this event to be our biggest. In the end, it turned out to be our smallest; but you know what? It was perfect as it was. There was a small group of us that evening. We sat around a table. We chatted like friends chat. We asked questions, we spoke encouraging words to each other. We thanked one another for being honest, vulnerable, for turning up. I know things were happening in that small meeting. Besides, the quantity should never be the focus, the quality should be. That night, the quality was extremely high. I can see ripples coming out of that evening and I was pleased. I was also thankful for the space, for the opportunity to share, and the way in which it was received. I know that Causeway Coast Vineyard will take it and run with it, serving others who are similarly struggling and will do so with love and compassion.

To end the evening, we all sat up drinking prosecco, eating crisps (chips), and chatting late into the night. I was the first to fall asleep on the couch which made my heart happy. You know you are truly at home somewhere if you fall asleep on their couch. As I made my way downstairs, to the new lower level, the room was pitch black, my head hit the pillow, my mouth turned up into a smile, and I was out.

My pipe dream was really happening!

 

 

Northern Ireland, I am still unpacking

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As a kid, summer time felt slow, warm, sleepy, and fun. As a parent, summer feels fast, hot, sleep deprived, and adventure packed. Anyone else feel stretched over the summer months to cram every, last, second with activity, friends, and more calorific treats than usual? Good, I’m glad I’m not alone!

Due to the quickened pace of summer, longer days, later bedtimes, snack meals instead of sit-down dinner, and fewer naps for the boys and me, I have not been writing much. I enjoy and eventually soak up all that summer has to offer. If I’m honest though, I miss routine at times. I miss downtime, I miss the boys napping so I can take time to process our sweet and simple life. This has become a way for me to be more present here and now. I become more thankful for all that my life holds when I stop and take time to ponder it.

As I watch my boys grow daily I can’t help but recall each of their stages. I have loved every stage so far. By loved I mean, each stage seems better than the one before, and I have found so much joy in them. That doesn’t mean I have been 100% joyful all the time. Come on people, I am no saint. My boys whine, kick, and hit each other, I shout at them to stop (sometimes even in public!), and meal times are still painfully long and a test of my endurance and will.

The days have been flying by and I realized that I am still unpacking the book tour to Northern Ireland. I am a slow processor. So for those of you who have kept up with my blog, bear with me as I go backwards to move forwards.

I have already written a bit about our first day and some of the wonderful family members we have in NI. So I am ready to move on to Day 2! Which is so funny that I am only on Day 2 of a 5 day stay on the island.

Day 2 was packed, but with all the good stuff! We started our morning off with a mindfulness session led by Pete. This was so timely for each Kelly, Molly, and me. We all found so much value in slowing our step, to take time to pause, to think. We even carried a bit of the practice with us during the trip which I will share later.

After quieting ourselves, Julie drove us to one of the newer coffee shops in The Moy. (Side note: If you live locally you would never say “Moy”, only “The Moy”.) Brew coffee shop is run by two lovely friends of ours. They create a sense of community that always draws people in and do everything in excellence. They have incredible business heads, great senses of humor, and are always up for a good chat! If you are in the area, definitely go, you will not regret it!

Once we were fed and watered, we loaded into the car and headed up the M1 to the Big Smoke, Belfast. Ahh Belfast, I have such romantic, nostalgic feelings about you. We had date evenings in Belfast. Birthday hotel stays, always the Christmas market + annual shopping trips, concerts, and much more. Belfast is culturally and historically rich. It was often our destination for celebrating life too. We spent many anniversaries there, writing in our journals, reflecting on the past year. Recently Bryan and I were chatting about sitting in the Europa hotel, listening to classical music being played on the piano, with the World Cup on in the background. While this was happening we sat and cried, reading our journals together. We were pregnant. Finally, after so many years, so many journal entries of not being pregnant. Here we were, so close to the boys arrival, celebrating our life together, our ups and downs, hurts and heartaches, and feeling so beyond seen by God. Neither of us will ever forget that anniversary.

What I loved about being back in Belfast was that it still held the same feelings. I still love the Big Smoke. I loved that I got to show my friends around to some of our favorite sites. We hit up Established Coffee which was new to me but had been on my list to visit before we left. We went to Victoria Square, City Hall, Cathedral Quarter, Avoca, eventually landing at Made in Belfast near the City Hall. I have always loved it! We would go any chance we got and had many dinners with friends there too over the years. The food and drinks are always incredible and they source as much as they can locally which I love!

After having an early dinner (or tea for my NI friends), we headed back down the motorway to Lurgan. That evening I shared at Emmanuel Church and it was a very intimate evening. I had no idea how many people would be willing to come and identify with infertility in such an open way. A small crowd came, including two supportive husbands. I thought it was brave and beautiful for these men to stand alongside their wives that evening, showing the solidarity of their shared experience of infertility. What was also amazing was that my contact for the event just happened to be a woman who had stayed at our house in Dungannon ten years earlier. We hadn’t seen each other for years but we had a depth due to our shared past. This happens so often in Ireland. It’s one of the most enchanting things about living in such a small place.

Two of my NI sisters also came to support me as they had done over the years simply by being one of the first families to accept us. One of the sweetest surprises was having my first mid-wife turn up to the evening. When I saw her I got quite emotional. So many people played big and small roles in our journey through infertility. Having these face to face moments with so many of them to say “thank you”, to hug them tightly, and to look them in the eyes years later was soul enriching.

Again, I am thankful for the opportunity of sharing with the people that night. After each event you could almost feel the atmosphere open up and people would share more. As our good friend Brene′ Brown says, “Vulnerability breeds vulnerability.” Or at least I think it was her! Anyway, it’s good practice in life.

So where can you breed vulnerability in your own life? I am not talking about sharing your deepest, darkest secrets. I am talking about acknowledging that maybe you feel like you don’t fit somewhere. Do you feel inadequate? Share that. I guarantee someone else will say “me too!”