family life

Have I Failed at Lent?

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Can I tell you a little secret? I think I may have failed at Lent this year. Well, at least what I initially set out to achieve this season.

After a very meaningful Advent season and finding ways to connect my faith to my parenting, I was looking forward to more of the same. I started off strong with my daily readings, taking a few minutes to be silent, and then, I just stopped.

For some reason I wasn’t connecting with the readings. They felt long, tedious, wordy, and not very relevant to my daily life. If I’m honest I couldn’t relate to them. The days went by, our schedule felt busy. A few trips to Idaho thrown into the mix and my plan of making Lent come alive was left in the dust.

Dust.

That’s where Lent began. Ash Wednesday. From dust to dust.

Gritty, dirty, dusty.

Now these were words that resonated deep within my soul.

On one of the trips back from Idaho I listened to a new podcast I found called The Desire Line. As the hosts spoke to their guest he shared about how there came a season where his old ways of connecting with God just didn’t seem to work.

My ears perked up.

I have experienced many different seasons and had felt this very thing on numerous occasions. As he went on talking he shared how he began walking and hiking in an attempt to begin communicating again with God in a way that meant something to him. I loved the idea and agreed with the concept. When I got back home to Kirkland and our rhythm of life, I decided to get up before everyone else and go for a walk. No music, no headphones, just Jesus, me, and my thoughts.

Those first few days it was like trying to tune into a fuzzy station to find the right channel. Things in my head felt noisy and distracted. After the third walk I could sense my mind starting to quiet and adjust to this new practice. I could start to hear God’s voice again. Speaking in single words. I could smell the fresh rainfall, hear the birds singing overhead, and appreciate the quiet of the morning. This little gritty path laying before me, letting me walk upon it while I listened, was teaching me.

Then one day I decided to take the boys for a hike on a random Tuesday. We had nothing planned except to burn off some energy. I packed up our lunch, snacks, and away we went. As we walked the easy hiking path I could feel the solid ground beneath my feet. My eyes drawn upward towards the budding branches, brown mingled with shots of brilliant green. Spring fully underway.

The boys chatted non-stop, shouting with delight at each discovery nature had hidden and I didn’t shush them. The woods were strong enough to absorb their loud way of living a four year old existence. We played Star Wars games, skipped rocks, and ran through the forest together. The rest of the day felt easier and the dirt stuck to the tread of my shoes as a reminder of why.

As the evenings have slowly gotten brighter and the weather occasionally cooperating into a mild night, I decided to start weeding the other night. The boys played in the garden as I, on hands and knees, dug up little shoots and roots, pulling them out. As each one came out I could see the remnants of last years gardening project peeking through. The bark from last year was still there and made the area look clean, tidy, and cared for. While I slowly pulled weeds I could feel my breath settle. I could feel my mind focusing on the one task at hand. My shoulders relaxed and so did I. The boys even got excited to help me weed and would take each weed as I pulled it from my hand and place it into the bin. The next morning I washed out the remainder of the dirt from under my finger nails, hinting at the calm it had ushered in.

Most recently, we took a day trip to Alki beach outside of Seattle. We walked along the waters edge. The boys and I walked on ahead as Bryan and his brother Nate chatted. The boys and I collected beach glass, attempted to build a sandcastle with sand that was too dry, and used rocks as army guys who were fighting off Star Wars characters. Eventually the boys paused to play and I laid down in the warm sand. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths, allowing my chest to rise and fall slowly, methodically. I relaxed my eyes, placed my arms behind my head and lay still. The feeling of the sand in my hair, the sound of the water rolling onto the sand close by, the boys voices bubbling out of them in excitement, it awakened my senses.

That’s when I started thinking about how different this Lenten season had been for me. Had I failed? I didn’t think so, or at least I didn’t want to. Then the thought came to me. This Lenten season had been more like a puzzle I was putting together. One piece buried in the mud on our hike, one piece buried in the soil under a weed, another piece lodged between the rocks that get stuck in my trainers after my walk, and then another piece covered by sand and seaweed.

Gritty, dirty, dusty.

That’s where I found Lent this year: in the grit, dirt, and dust. I found myself buried in these simple practices that invite quiet in. In these places I did not have to try to tame the wild of my boys. I did not have to try to keep the house tidy to find a semblance of peace. The grit, dirt, and dust of my life were welcome in these places and so were my boys. I could feel myself rising to the surface in these moments. Not the me that is rushed, stressed out, but the me that pauses, the me that takes in the beauty of the ordinary. These practices had a way of settling me and I was thankful for the discovery.

Maybe this Lenten season what God was resurrecting in me was me. Maybe I had to walk to hear His voice. Maybe I had to take my boys outdoors to be a more engaged mother. Maybe I had to pull weeds up one at a time to appreciate the length of time it will take to grow that which can never be uprooted in me. Maybe like the beach glass, that becomes smooth and polished after being pummeled, I am being made smooth and less abrasive. Just maybe.

So maybe I didn’t fail Lent this year, maybe I found it for the first time.

How have you practiced or observed Lent this year? Was it meaningful, rich, and full? Or did it feel stale and dry? Pay attention to the answer. It could be time to take a walk and quiet yourself too.

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The Simple Life

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There are seasons of life that can be full of complexities and I have lived through many. An upheaval of the day to day, the loss of a parent, years longing for a family; these times can feel long, out of control, and very uncomfortable. During these periods of life I remember longing for a simpler, less complex life.

Right now life feels simple and it feels true and good. The days consist of Bryan, the boys, work, laundry, cooking, digging deeper into friendships, and little family traditions. When things are complex we often get bogged down with our thoughts and analyzing why life is so difficult which is completely normal. Then the dust settles. Some type of normalcy appears and we slip into it not really giving it much thought.

Well today I nod my head to simplicity. To a walk by myself in nature where the quiet is calming. To our morning coffee ritual of a rich, French press poured hot into my Papa’s old mug. I nod my head to weekly meal and activity planning. To naps with my boys where they cup my chin in their hand and we fall asleep. To building LEGOS with my boys more times than I can count. To baking cookies with Cohen and having chats with Kidran about his favorite Star Wars characters. To the times when Bryan comes home from work, walking straight into a wrestling match. To the times sitting on the couch once the boys have gone down. To turning off my phone when I lay down at night and shut my eyes.

This is my simple life. It’s sweet, not glamorous, but rich and full. I am thankful for this simple season. Is it always easy or fun? Definitely not. Yet it is true and real.

If you find yourself in a complex season of life I hope it transitions to a simpler existence soon and subtly. Until then, search for the quiet life. It may not solve the difficulties but it can help you hear your own voice more clearly and that of God which is always a good place to start.

Enneagram 4: The Individualist

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I am a 4 on the Enneagram, the Individualist. One of the deepest rooted desires for 4’s is to be authentic and feeling special while being uniquely flawed. I don’t mind the first part of that because I value authenticity. The second part, the being special part and feeling out of place, well hmmm.

I recently listened to a pastor talk about 4’s and our need to be seen as special while at the same time feeling like we don’t really fit in. (Insert the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors, his crazy dreams and yep, there you have it, a 4 in the Bible!) He spoke about how we most likely always have felt different or special. As I listened I cringed. This was me. Growing up I lived with a sense, or a weird awareness that I was special. Even as I type that I’m slightly embarrassed. Yes, I did feel special growing up but I thought that was partly because my parents did a great job at making me feel loved and yes, special. Along with feeling special, 4’s often feel fatally flawed. We feel like something is wrong with us and once again, I identify with that too.

Now that I’m older, I haven’t been able to shake the “special” feeling or the “flawed” feeling. It feels strange to admit this and uncomfortably honest. As a 4 I can often struggle with feelings of being misunderstood. By me admitting to this nagging special feeling means I will most likely be misunderstood. There in lies the dilemma.

However, as I have done a tiny bit of reading and looking into my type partnered with age and experience, I am coming to accept the special part of me as a gift along with the flawed part. By acknowledging these feelings, which let me clarify are simply that, feelings, I am not saying I am in any way more special, or more flawed than anyone else. Heavens knows that’s the farthest thing from the truth. What I am coming to terms with is that feeling special isn’t bad and feeling out of place isn’t either. These opposing feelings make me long to share my special or unique perspective with the world while also motivate me to keep trying to find the places I do fit. They are my yin and yang. By experiencing these polar opposite feelings, I long to identify with others in ways that only I can so that hopefully they feel more understood, seen if you will. I also let people know how screwed up I can feel at times, regardless of it’s truth or not, it can feel true and make a person feel isolated. These two traits are my shadow and light.

As I have learned more about my enneagram type, I see it’s impact in so many areas of my life. The other night I was hit with the reality of how our personality type can especially influence our parenting. I had been working from the afternoon through to the evening and had missed dinner and getting the boys to bed. The flawed part of me felt like I had really let my boys down by being at work, not being the one to feed them and get them to bed (the lie I told myself). When I arrived home Bryan had put the boys to bed but said they were waiting for me to come say goodnight. I walked back to their room still in my fancy work clothes (let’s be honest, I play at parks and slide down slides most days), opened their door, and I became immediately intoxicated with my two blonde headed bundles snuggled up in their Star Wars blankets.

I went to Kidran first, as he sleeps on the bottom bunk these days. He was laying face out and was already sleeping. He has been pretty sick these past few days and I could see the exhaustion on his face. I kissed his warm cheek, stared at him for a few seconds, brushed his hair away from his closed eyes, and swooned. Cohen however, popped straight up and gave me a huge excited grin. His sparkling eyes met mine and the way he looked at me made my heart explode. He could barely contain his infectious excitement about the fact that our bodies have bones in them and had to tell me all about it. Then he pointed to his ribs and told me to feel them. I obliged and he said “See momma, I told you.” As he finished telling me about the rest of his day I told him I loved him and he said he loved me too. He leaned over the edge of the top bunk for a goodnight kiss and then laid back down. As I walked out of their room and shut the door, I was overcome with emotion. In that moment I felt like the most special person in the world.

You see, one of the greatest gifts of being a mother has been getting to know these two humans who are my sons and allowing them to get to know me. They see all aspects of me daily. They see the good, the bad, the ugly. They see but don’t seem to notice the oily hair days, the days when I am grumpy or emotional, or the days I don’t want to play as much with them. Still I know that they see within me something special and they respond to that with the most unconditional love. They also see my very real flaws and accept those too, in turn helping me accept them. This is truly one of the greatest gifts of my motherhood so far.

Lately Kidran has told me on a few occasions that I am his “sweetheart” and I will take it. I am his person for now. For how long I don’t know but I will soak in that reality for as long as it remains true. Bryan is Cohen’s person but man that boy knows how to look at me in a way that already breaks down any inkling of feeling out of place. These boys help me see that I am special and flawed, but that both are acceptable and equal parts beautiful. To them, I am “their” special momma, I am “their” flawed momma and that’s what matters.

Who are you special to? Who’s eyes do you make light up? Take time today to value your own specialness. Soak in all that makes you who you are. Also take time to value the shadows of your own personality, the parts that don’t feel as acceptable for we need both to make them work.

*If you haven’t taken the Enneagram free test yet, I highly recommend it!

Eighteen Months

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trendypapa

Eighteen months.

It’s been eighteen months since your last breath escaped the body that held your spirit.

I have felt your absence lately. Like when a knife carves out space, leaving the edges raw. I do not understand the full extent of why. Is it because I have things to tell you? I will always have things to tell you Papa.

A few days ago the boys and I made a quick trip back to Idaho. We went to trade our car in. I always asked you about cars. You were my car guru; now you aren’t.

As I drove into town, the thought of your empty chair got stuck in my throat like a cotton ball, something you are never meant to swallow. Your feet no longer entering the house from the garage. The sound of your cowboy boots clicking against the linoleum. I still hear it if I listen hard enough.

Your sweetheart and I mulled over what images and words will be placed on the bench that will mark your grave, and eventually hers. The place where your shell and hers will forever remain.

Did you sense me as I drove by the cemetery where you lay? Is a part of you still roaming this earth, connected to me? I desperately hope so.

I pondered stopping. I wanted to, but the boys were waiting for me with your love. I wanted to but I wasn’t sure I could find you without your new, shiny nameplate. I wanted to but I was afraid of the hysteria that would ensue if I couldn’t find you. I kept driving back to your house.

Before I left I dug through a drawer that housed some of your things. I found a picture of you as a young man, wearing converse, jeans rolled, looking effortlessly hip. I want to know the younger you. I have so many things I want to know now that I know I will never know.

As I type these words on your old laptop I touch the keys and feel our connection. Your DNA remains on these keys, now mixed with mine. Thank God you also left me your eyes. I am pretty sure I have handed them down to Kidran. You also left behind your nose for Cohen. Even in your absence you are present.

It’s been eighteen months.

 

 

 

All the Feels

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Have you ever seen the movie Mean Girls? It’s definitely a teenage classic, not completely moral but quite funny all the same. There is this one seen that has produced a repeatable quote in my life. The seen shows these teenage girls at a high school, gathered together in a gym to apologize for how they have all wronged each other. At one point a girl gets up, says her piece, then someone shouts that she doesn’t even go to the school. In her defense she says “I just have a lot of feelings.”

Well, this weekend I have had “a lot of feelings.” My mind and heart have been flashing back to memories of the past. I have been replaying these key moments through the years with certain friendships. The memories stem from cultivating growth in these friendships over many years.

Right now however, I find myself in a unique season. I am living closer to two of my best friends than I have in over a decade. Even though they both live more than an hour away from me we have been able to see each other multiple times since being back in the states. The richness of this season is not lost on any of us.

Over the years we put in the hard work of remaining in touch, sharing our lives, and keeping our friendships a priority within our ever changing lives and different seasons. We encouraged and challenged each other from afar and now we are doing it close up. The type of friendship I share with them cannot be fully expressed with words. That’s also why this weekend I have had so many feelings being with both of them.

On Friday night I was able to attend my friend Kelly’s first Dream Catcher Gathering at her home. People have described her home and her events as magical, breathtaking, and incredibly life-giving. Friday night was no exception. For the past few years Kelly has been leaning into her strengths and growing a new business helping others flourish in many ways. From partnering with Rescue Freedom to help end human trafficking, to her online ethical shop, and these kinds of evenings spent empowering women around a table, she is running hard after her dreams. She is doing this with extreme focus and intention and I’m so incredibly honored to have played a tiny part in that through our friendship and it’s depth over the years.

When I arrived on Friday night Kelly and I embraced in a hug. As we did, it was like my body was taken back to many years earlier and a similar hug. She was standing in her doorway in Kirkland with three small children behind her. Feeling the full impact of having small children and it’s challenges, she still found joy and leaned into these fleeting yet hard years with passion and positivity. I, on the other hand, was heading back to Northern Ireland to pursue our life overseas which had allowed us to travel a great deal, live in a foreign country and have some wonderfully rich experiences. We both loved the life we were in but also kept one eye on the future. I was desperate to start our family and that wasn’t coming easy. Kelly was looking towards days when her life didn’t require her to stay close to home because of three small children. While we were both living the reality of our dreams, we were still dreaming of more in the future. In our hug it was as if we had a holy exchange. Without using words we were saying, “I see you. I see your beauty, I see your pain, and there’s more to come. Hold on friend. Hold onto these moments. Life will change before you know it.”

That is exactly what has happened. Kelly is pursuing this new dream with all three children in school providing her the time and space to give her other dreams more of her time and heart. I am a mother now to twin sons who are four and a half and keep me very busy. I am working part-time while trying to pursue my dream of writing my next and first fictional book. Life looks vastly different for us both but we still know how to cheer each other on because that’s what we’ve always done.

So yeah, all the feelings.

On Saturday we drove to Tacoma to spend the night with some other dear friends and go skiing the next day together. This couple lived a few blocks from us when we first got married and we practically lived in each others homes. I think we shared at least three meals together every week. Our husbands would play video games late into the night while Molly and I watched Trading Spaces and fell asleep together.

Molly and I joke that we are sister wives, when we are together we are one complete wife. Her husband said we move together, finishing each others task without even speaking about what’s next. We have cooked together more times than I can count and laughed so hard at Snapchat filters that I have nearly peed my pants and her too!

Yesterday all four of our boys played together. From legos and trains to our tradition of an evening dance party before bed. Watching the four of them together is like watching magic. For years when we would come back to the States for trips home we would snuggle our friends boys before bedtime or after their naps. Then when it got to the point of us deciding to try one last time, to eventually getting pregnant with our own boys, their boys would pray every night for our boys. Our little, premature baby boys were the first, tangible answer to prayer that our friends sons had experienced. Watching their rapidly developing bodies bounce around like crazy in our little family dance party made it hard for me to swallow. The moment felt sacred. The miracle within these kinds of shared times is not lost on me. For years I wasn’t even sure that they would ever happen so to be present, dancing together, it feels heavenly.

Bryan and I often comment on how fortunate we are to know and be friends with so many amazing people. Yet these friendships, they are some of our oldest, and there’s nothing like old friends. There is something forged in a friendship when you have the chance of sharing almost 20 years of life together or more. It’s in these moments, where we have intentionally carved out the time to see each other, where the magic continues. Sometimes the plan comes together easily while other times it takes multiple attempts before it actually happens. I am always happy when it works though. The investment we have made and continue to make in our friendships is absolutely priceless. It also makes me want to continue investing into the friendships that I have the chance to experience on a more daily basis. These friendships are important too and are vitally important for our day to day life.

It’s funny though; as I write this I know someone is going to read it and realize that they too want these kinds of friendships. If that is you, I want to encourage you to keep looking. Keep friend-dating as I like to call it. Set up play dates, set up coffee dates, organize an evening at your house and invite a few girlfriends over. There is no way to microwave these kinds of friendships. They don’t come from following each other on social media or from likes on your pictures. These kinds of friendships require humility, sacrifice, and intentionally choosing to make time even when it feels awkward or hard. Trust me, in the long run it will be worth it because one of those friends may fly to be by your side when you are having fertility treatment or another friend may fly to be by your side when your father passes away. They know what’s really important and they make the effort to be there and so do you. So here’s to friendship and ALL the feelings from this past weekend!

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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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The Grey Thread

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grey thread

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?