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.
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:
(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.)
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.
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.
In your face.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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!)
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!”