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.
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.
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.
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!
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!”
Dreams are beautiful. They can lure you forward, towards a destination or a trip. They can be fuel to your fire to pursue something that you’ve envisioned but didn’t think was possible. They can also be the closing of a full circle.
My recent book tour back to our other home, Northern Ireland, was all of these things. Since arriving home, I have been trying to recount the adventure in my journal. I am still savoring, soaking, and processing all that happened in this brief whimsical window of time.
Over the next few weeks or maybe even longer, I will try to unpack my mental and emotional suitcase and share it with you, my lovely readers. As I unpack the journey, I invite you to come along. I want to help you feel the warmth of this place I love. To sense the spirit of exploring both inward and outward that took place not only for me but for my two incredible friends who joined me.
So come, reflect with me, walk down the winding lanes with me, enter the chapels and coffee shops.
Live this precious pilgrimage with me.
For now, I am happy and thankful to be home. Happy to be reunited with my Hot Hubby Chud, Kiki Bear, and Coco Bean. They survived just fine without me by the way, that’s the beauty of a marriage partnership!
Now back to the other parts of my dreamy life, like laundry and cooking. Which I am also utterly thankful for because it means I have a husband I love and sons that I longed to care for and nurture. I am so very rich and it’s not lost on me. Maybe you need to be reminded of that today too as you stare at your mountain of clean clothes or think of tidying up the house one, more, time.
I have wonderful friends! Today one of them sent me a message to tell me my carseats expired but Target can help. Target is having an event this week. I can drop off our old carseats, get 20% off coupons for new ones, and those new ones happen to be on sale already. Thank you very much Target!
You can bet your bottom dollar I went straight to Target this morning. I should mention that it did take us, mainly me, an hour and a half to actually get out the door. It was one of those mornings where I felt like my head wouldn’t stop spinning. Wash that pottery mug, start the dishwasher, Cohen has to pee, Kidran has to poop, wait Cohen has to poop now, and Kidran has to poop again. It felt a little slow motion.
Eventually we were dressed and headed out the door. Once in the car, the boys asked me if Target was a toy store. This question is hard for me to answer. I know I am being asked because they think thrift stores are toy stores and they want to know if Target is a thrift store. Target technically has toys, although I am not sure they would like me to bring the boys to their store and have them play with all their nicely packaged toys. I have always loved thrifting and I take the boys along now. They get to play with the toys and I don’t have to take them home. Winning! I tried my best to explain that there are toys at Target but it’s not a thrift store. I’m sure they understood.
Then I began telling the boys that they were getting new carseats. After I told them, I snapped these pics at a stoplight. While I looked back over my shoulder at my two growing sons, a familiar lump formed in my throat. Then tears filled my eyes, and I turned back around.
Something about these changes for my boys gets me every time. It marks the passage of time. It marks the end of a season. It almost feels like closing a chapter that you have loved so very much, and didn’t really know when it would end. My little boys are growing up. Bryan tells me I rush things sometimes, which is true. It’s hard not to when I can see them developing so quickly before my eyes. I can see the subtle changes. I can hear the words being pronounced clearer. I can feel them needing me less and asserting themselves more.
Cohen is continuing to extend his reach to new people everyday. He makes friends wherever he goes and struts his stuff with swag that I didn’t know was possible in such a little body. Kidran is running towards his own passions. These happen to include Star Wars, anything shiny/sparkly, and knowing exactly how to push Cohen’s buttons. They are real people. Duh. Yet isn’t it still hard to believe sometimes when those little people are your babies?
All of these changes and developments are positive. They are the things I am aiming for as a parent. I am (we are) trying to raise our children in a way that helps them feel confident to leave our house and engage with the world we live in. Independence, confidence, life skills, and excitement for living are all things that are growing. I hope that never changes. It doesn’t however mean that as a parent you aren’t sad when these days come, as eventually they will.
These carseats mark some of these transitions. These were the first carseats they rode in as 8 month old babes when we came back to visit the PNW and Bryan was inducted into the Northwest University Hall of Fame. What felt like a few short months later, we landed back in America, this time we had moved. We left behind a life we loved to return to what now felt like a foreign country in many ways. Thankfully we had a soft landing being surrounded by friends and family close by. The boys rode in these carseats from the airport that day too. Cohen’s was the taupe carseat while Kidran’s quickly became the navy one. These seats took the boys to and from Idaho safely through this last year while my Papa was sick and eventually passed. They have been thrown up in, pooped in, slept in, laughed in, cried in, all of the things.
The other day I had the chance to chat with my brother about parenting. We discussed the ease of parenting littles compared to adult children when the stakes are much higher. I may be physically exhausted a lot of the time right now. However, this stage is so so simple. I don’t have to help the boys think about college, jobs, girlfriends, and the list could go on. The boys live with us, eat with us, play with us. We are their world. Soon though, their world will grow and expand. They will begin stepping away from us, a slightly terrifying thought! So for now, I will grieve the end of one season and celebrate the beginning of a new one! For example, the boys are pretty well potty trained!
I would love to know if any of you find the changing seasons of your children’s lives difficult to adjust to? What has helped you move forward each time? Also, did anyone else head to Target for the carseat swap? It was awesome! Except for the small fact that I then had to assemble and swap out the old seats for the new in the Target parking lot! Lol!!
*If anyone is interested in buying my book The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants it is available on Amazon. You can also stay updated on the upcoming book tour in Northern Ireland through my Facebook page @breannajochud or on Instagram @breannachud. If you know anyone who is struggling with infertility I would encourage you to buy this book for them as support or buy it for yourself to help you understand more of what it’s like.
I am so honored and thrilled to be announcing my Northern Ireland book tour this coming May! I will be visiting four locations: Armagh, Lurgan, Coleraine, and Dungannon. Each event is set up on my Facebook page @breannajochud. Find the events there and let the event holder know you will be attending.
Northern Ireland is where so much of my story played out. It’s where I grew up in many ways, into a mature woman. It’s where my desire to start our family began, it’s where we did much of our treatment for infertility, and it is where we eventually welcomed into this precious world our sons, Kidran and Cohen.
The island holds my heart in every way. The people, the land, the culture, all of it makes me feel very much like myself and I am so thankful to be returning for this trip. I will not be going alone. Two of my oldest and dearest friends will be joining me for this journey. We are anticipating some incredible moments both personally and for those we come in contact with on the trip.
If you live in or near any of these locations and are struggling with infertility, please come! You do not have to walk this road alone. You can also follow the progress of the trip as it gets closer on Instagram @breannachud and Facebook @breannajochud. The book is available on Amazon but does take a few weeks to arrive right now. Would you also do me a favor? If you have read the book, would you please leave a review on Amazon and on my Facebook page? It is great for others to know how you are finding the book. Thank you again everyone for your support and encouragement! For my Northern Irish family, I cannot wait to see each and every one of you!