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.
Years ago I remember chatting with my good friend Lila in Northern Ireland about her early days of parenting and having small children. My ears usually perked up if she spoke about these topics because she had six children and seemed to love almost every second of being a mother. I learned so much from watching this incredible woman parent and I am forever thankful for her example.
She said when her children were small connecting with God looked very different and a friend passed on a verse to her that was really helpful in being present in that stage while still feeling connected to God.
“…he gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:11
In my own early days of parenting I remember reading this verse and finding my own comfort from it’s words. So much so that I wrote it on a chalk board and hung it up in the sunroom at our old house where I would sneak away to if I had any time to be alone.
Recently I shared this verse with a fellow momma of littles. We talked about how the early years of motherhood can feel very disorienting, like you’re living in a dreamland. Never rested enough, not sure if you are even the same person as before you had kids, and the constant struggle to dismantle the old ways of connecting with God in order to be satisfied meeting with him for even 30 seconds. She loved the verse just as I did.
This morning, on Mother’s Day, one of my twins woke me up with his coughing. He came in and asked if I would wake up with him. He is currently sitting next to me. We all have had vicious coughs causing us all to lose sleep lately. At his request I got up and came out to my parents living room with him. He is watching a show while I quickly type, trying to get the words from inside my head and heart out and into this post.
As I pondered this verse and how to share it this is what I came up with. Instead of writing from the perspective of only mommas with littles, I wanted to broaden it. I want to focus on a few key words that bring us back to the truth of who God is and the truth of his character.
He gently leads.
More than focusing on the stage of life we are in, I want us to turn to the constant truth of these words. No matter where you find yourself, blissfully content with your lot in life or locked in a pattern of destructive behavior, the truth is that if you reach out your hand you will find a good shepherd who takes us by the hand and leads us gently. He is not an angry headmaster just waiting to correct our every wrong step. He comes close, ready to lead us through all of life’s dramatic changes and the subtle ones too with gentleness.
For those who do in fact have littles, he is gently leading you through this stage. For those who are empty nesters and miss those littles, he is gently leading you too. Some of you may be dreaming of marriage and babies, he is there too. Others may find themselves in the heartbreaking reality of an infertility journey they never planned on. He is with you, gently leading you through the pain, shadow land, and heartbreak of failed cycles, miscarriages, insensitive comments, and constant awareness of what you lack.
Through the ups and downs of life, the constant shifting and changing, God’s character remains true and solid. He gently leads.
There have been so many times when I have been in turmoil whether from things out of my control or circumstances of my own doing, where he has come alongside me, taken my hand, and gently led me to a new place, with a new landscape, and new hope. This pattern I am convinced will continue till the day I die. I will most likely always come upon situations in life where I feel frantic and will need the calming hand of Christ to lead me out of my own chaos into his wide open spaces where there is room to breathe and my soul can be settled.
Wherever you find yourself today: a recent college graduate, a grandparent, a husband trying to support your sleep deprived wife, stuck in a mid-life crisis, or contentedly sitting in retirement; this truth remains the same, he gently leads.
Let those words settle your wild heart and racing thoughts. Let them sooth, calm, and bring restoration to you today.
(Photo cred: Kirstie Walton. The other three kiddos are hers but I thought this picture represented this particular season of life pretty well.)
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.
We are renting the sweetest little house right now. It’s small but perfect for this season. I can hear and know where the boys are at all times. I often stand at our kitchen sink, doing dishes, tidying up the remnants of another meal time. While I get caught up, the boys run up and down our short hallway, chasing each other, laughing as they speak in their own special language. Not using their growing vocabulary but sounds of their young past instead. Sometimes the play gets out of hand, and someone cries or a picture gets knocked off the wall.
This very scenario played out a few days ago.
The boys were playing when they bumped into each other and hit the wall. When they hit the wall, the thud caused a small picture frame to jump off the nails where it was hanging on the opposite side of the wall. When it fell, that picture hit another frame sitting on our writing desk. That frame then let loose three pictures that were balanced against it, held in place by a harmonica. The pictures and the harmonica fell to the floor.
These moments play out often in my life; they cause me to pause. One little blip that connects itself to something else entirely, which then triggers a thought, and a deep seeded emotion follows.
As I stood happily doing the dishes, I was smiling to myself as I listened to the sound of my sweet, lively boys being boys. I heard the thump against the wall and then the crash of the frame. When I looked over, I could see the harmonica lying on the ground and the last of the three photos was falling to the ground, the affects of gravity causing the photographs to fall in slow motion.
I walked over and began putting the frames back up. I collected the photos in my damp hands, and paused. I looked at the pictures once again. These photos are some of my favorites. They are pictures of my sweet papa and me when I was a little girl, innocent, sweet, loving the time with her father. I set the photos back in their place. I picked up the picture that had fallen from the wall. It was a tiny, black, IKEA frame with a photo of the Giant’s Causeway tucked inside.
That’s when the ache started.
The ache is hard to fully describe. It’s an ache that’s full of longing, satisfaction, grief, and deep love. The North Coast of Ireland, especially the Giant’s Causeway, is where I cried so many tears as we grieved our failed rounds of ICSI. The North Coast of Ireland is where I came face to face with God, more than once, and walked away with my own limp, yet I knew He was with me. Memory upon memory have been made on that coast line. That small frame, with it’s shrunken version of the Giant’s Causeway also reminds me of the longing that still fills my heart for Northern Ireland. Full stop.
Back to the old photographs though, the ones where my dad was big and I was little. Where the world was much simpler and made sense. Those photos remind me of the presence my father kept in my life. That presence is now gone in the physical world, but my heart aches for him to still be here, with us, sharing himself with our little boys. I long for my boys to have moments with him, mingled with disbelief that he is really gone.
This one little moment also reminded me of the ache of satisfaction and fulfillment. My two boys, the ones I cried for, prayed for, dreamed for, and longed for with every fiber of my being are the reason I am standing, holding these precious photographs. These are the children I asked God for as I sat on that rock at Port Ballintrae, crying unending tears, feeling the waves of grief wash over me again and again like the waves crashing in front of me. These boys are my present, they represent my past, and they help me move forward into the future.
Still, it is all encapsulated in that ache. As Shauna Niequist described it in one of her books, it’s the bittersweetness of life.
Have you ever experienced this kind of full circle ache that I’m describing? Where your heart is broken, healed, and open all at the same time? If so, I would love to hear your story!
The last seven days have been interesting to say the least.
This past Friday at 10:22 a.m. my beautiful and strong grandma, Ardith Maier passed away. She was surrounded by family and went peacefully. She was the ripe old age of 98! Her mind was sharp but her body had failed her.
One of my favorite last memories of my grandma was a few years ago when my grandpa was still alive too (he passed away 5 days shy of 100!). We had completed our third transfer after 9 long years of trying, and were finally pregnant. My mom, aunts, cousins, sister-in-laws, and nieces then threw us a baby shower before we headed back to our home in Northern Ireland. The shower was at my grandparents house so my grandma could be there. My grandpa was of course there too, loving every second of us being there to celebrate this joyous occasion.
Right before we left my grandpa and grandma told us they wanted to pray for us. So I knelt in front of them while Bryan stood by my side. They laid their aged, wrinkled, and wise hands on us and prayed.
It wasn’t an eloquent prayer. It wasn’t long. It was however, powerful. It felt like a baton being passed. They had prayed constantly for us to have a family. They persistently knocked on heaven’s door for us and I am thankful they did. In that moment, we entered a holy place. A place where the veil is thin. What had been such a dark season of time for us was finally turning into a bright, blinding light. They were there to witness it and that felt huge.
So Saturday, I grieved the loss of my grandma. I grieved the loss of my sweet papa again too. It all hit me harder than expected. My body felt numb, I didn’t really want to move but just sleep. As usual my incredibly aware and loving husband took our boys and gave me space to just “be” that day. Thank you my love. Thank you for knowing when I need space and doing what is necessary to create it.
As I had the space and time, I cried at times. Then I signed copies of my book to send to some special women. Some of you who already bought the book know this, but I included the infertility struggle of other women at the end of my book. Every infertility story looks different and I wanted the women who read my book to find themselves in at least one of these stories. So I wrote my thank you’s to these women and posted their copies to them. Thank you ladies for entrusting me with your personal journey and for allowing me to share it this way with others on the same road. We are all in this together.
After feeling like I was in a bit of a funk, and going through Easter morning not feeling very present, we had the pleasure of spending the rest of the day with our adopted PNW family, the Wheelers. They love on us and our boys like family. They were also the ones who did an Easter egg hunt for Kidran and Cohen, not us. As I stood in their house, where we lived for our first four and a half months back in the states in 2016, I was overwhelmed by how thankful I am for each of them and their presence in our life. Thank you Wheeler Clan for loving and including us in such a generous, big way!
Tuesday rolled around, a day I had been anticipating. I was anxious for the day because I had my very first podcast interview about the book (which hopefully will be available mid April!). I was a mixture of excitement and nerves, wondering if I was going to totally blank on every question but hoping I would instead be able to speak straight from my heart. I think I was able to do the latter. My sweet friend Ailsa, who is ever gracious and accommodating, offered to watch my boys while I did the interview. What a gift!
I dropped the boys off at her house and we chatted over coffee for a bit. Then I drove home, lit a candle, prepared my material for the interview. I quieted my heart, had a few moments with God, and centered myself. Then I became truly present.
The interview went beautifully. We had a heartfelt discussion about infertility, the book, the ups, downs, and everything in between of this difficult journey. I LOVED IT!
I had recruited extra prayers that day and I am so thankful I have people who do pray for me. Many of those same people carried me for years as we walked in a childless exodus, trying to find our familial promise land. We indeed have landed in a sweet place now.
As I reflected on the interview, this is what I came away with.
Infertility felt so dark to me at many points. It enveloped me, to the point where at times I could not ever see a way of getting out. Now to have written The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants and be able to share my story with so many others, it feels like light breaking through. Being able to share about the book in an interview where I came away buzzing about how much I enjoyed it, again, light breaking through. Maybe the light seems brighter too because of the darkness from those years of isolation, heartbreak, sorrow, and tears cried in secret. To openly display my pain and see light cracking through every crevice as I expose my own dark journey feels like redemption.
Where are you walking in the dark right now? What part of your life is the most painful? Maybe, just maybe, in the near or far future, that pain will be what grabs the hand of someone else stumbling down a dark corridor, to help guide them towards a brighter, light-filled future. Will you share your own story of darkness and pain with the chance that it may help someone else? I really think you should.
*If you are interested in purchasing the book you can do so by heading to Amazon or if you are local to the PNW, you can DM me on Instagram, @breannachud or FB @breannajochud. Please share this book with those who may be struggling and if you read it, would you do me a favor and review it on Amazon and my FB page? Again, the podcast interview should be up mid April so have a listen and review that too! Thank you!
When I was in high school, I liked English. My teacher however made it very clear to me, on more than one occasion, that English did not like me. She held my paper up, covered in red marks, in front of both classes, and announced that I made the most mistakes in both her classes. It was a defining moment. From that point on, I became pretty insecure about my ability to write throughout high school.
Imagine my surprise then, when I tested out of the basic English composition class to move onto the next level when I arrived at college! It gave me a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, I could actually write. Combine that spark with years of journaling, and I decided to ignore my high school teachers decision of my ability.
I did this when I started blogging for the community coffee shop I opened in Northern Ireland called The Press. I would share about the experiences in the coffee shop and announce our upcoming events. I LOVED IT! Writing had always been an outlet and at that point I started to find my own voice.
Fast forward a few years. Bryan and I decided to give IVF one last shot, no pun intended! I figured the easiest way to keep people informed of our progress was through my personal blog. I had only one or two entries at that point. I guess I also need to rewind and insert this little fact. Through the years that we struggled with infertility I also journaled. I used my writing as a way of processing my pain, as a way of praying, as a way of dealing with the grief I carried, but didn’t always want the world to know. I also didn’t want to consistently be “Debbie Downer” by always talking about the sadness I felt. This could be partly my personality or partly the lies we believe that people can’t handle our pain and suffering, I’m not really sure.
Anyway, back to what I was saying. Years before the blog started, Bryan and I had made a special trip to London to see Phantom of the Opera with the London cast. It was one of my bucket list items. It happened around my 30th birthday along with our first failed round of IVF. As we sat having dinner in a little Italian restaurant across from the theater, we decided that someday, when our family had finally arrived, by whatever means it came, that we would share our story in a book.
That moment has arrived. The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants is our story from my personal perspective. I allow you to crack open pages of my own journals, private pictures, sketches and my honest response to the struggle of infertility. I really hold nothing back. I am not trying to shock people, but I am trying to wake people up. This issue is painful. Painful for those struggling and painful for those who are watching someone struggle. 1 out of every 8 couples will deal with infertility now, 1 out of 8!!! Next time you are around that many couples, just look around because I would bet my own money that someone you know really well is struggling. It’s that real friends.
This book took me almost two years to complete. Life happened in a not so kind way almost immediately after I had the full manuscript completed. My father was diagnosed with cancer. At times the book felt like a burden I couldn’t shake while dealing with the grief of watching my father deteriorate. Other times it felt like an escape and a lifeline. What definitely helped was writing. Writing has become a way of life for me. Thanks to authors like Shauna Niequist, Jen Hatmaker, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Brene′ Brown, I began to believe in the power of my own voice. I also had my husband and amazing family and friends cheering me on too!
So the other night, March 12th at 7 p.m. I had my very first book launch! I was overwhelmed to see so many lovely faces come. Some I hadn’t seen in years, and some I have only recently become friends with. It was a beautiful collection of people and I am so grateful for each person taking the time to come and support me in such a tangible way.
Now I have the privilege of promoting this much needed book. I get to share my story again and again with people. Validating each time that what I went through, what we went through, and maybe what you are going through will not be wasted if we let it help and guide others. Our pain truly can bring comfort to someone else’s suffering, if we will let it. It means standing with our hands open instead of with clenched fists.
“I would describe infertility as a process of purification. You go through the fire, but at the end you come out your truest self.” p. 51 The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants
What have you experienced by way of pain in your life? Are you willing to open that area up to even just one person? If so, I think you will find there is healing there. There is purpose in your pain there. There is also forward momentum that helps you leave the past in the past and move towards your future with hope and joy. Please share your story, the world needs it!
Tonight as I folded laundry I began thinking about so many things I learned while we walked the difficult road of infertility. I thought about our two wee men, sleeping tight next door in their sweet little shared room. I thought of God.
As these thoughts swirled in my head, a concrete idea formed…turn in…not away.
Infertility is brutal and cruel. There is nothing kind about taking one of the deepest longings of a woman and man’s soul then playing table tennis with it. Back and forth, through treatment after treatment, one doctor to the next, one injection to the next. The game goes back and forth. The game can continue into other parts of your life too. You can argue with your husband about how much caffeine he is drinking, don’t you know it can reduce your sperm honey? You can tell your Mom you are fine for now, that you aren’t ready for a family just yet. When your friend announces they are pregnant you can fake excitement. When you just cannot understand how God can ignore your prayers over and over again to have a child? Back and forth, you can live your life, with your emotions hidden.
You can turn in…not away. Turn into your husbands arms when he drinks that second cup of coffee. Tell him you are scared his caffeine intake may affect your chances, this is the truth of why you may be tempted to nag at him. When your Mom asks the next time about a family, instead of turning away, turn to your Mother, the one who carried you into this world, who would most likely do anything she could to protect you from harm, and tell her the truth. Tell her how your heart is breaking everyday because you long to be a Mother yourself. When that friend announces her pregnancy that happened all too easily, allow yourself to feel the hurt and anger. Then turn to your friend and rejoice. Because I guarantee, if you turn into her friendship she will mourn with you. Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. That’s what real friends do.
And finally, let me plainly state this: God’s character does not change depending on our circumstances. Things are going great, well God is good. Things are crap, well God is not good. No. That’s not how it works. He is good, all the time, full stop. Life is hard, full stop. But what a good God does is this, He offers comfort in our suffering. When we turn into Him He meets us with an intimacy that cannot be rivaled. He is so so close to those who are brokenhearted, hurting and suffering, if we will only turn in…not away.
Just like any good parent He will help us learn to walk through this life if we let Him. Just as a parent walks behind his toddler, hands outstretched to catch the child if he begins to fall forward, yet remaining unseen by the child. And the child eventually learns to walk. This is how I see my Abba in these times. He has so much confidence in my ability, in my desire to turn into Him, not away that He remains hidden for a time, hidden but not absent. During the hidden times He is encouraging us to turn in…not away. I believe this is how it is for all of us. He gives us freedom upon freedom to learn, seek, grow, to walk. And I think one of the biggest lessons He teaches us in life’s more challenging circumstances is to turn in…not away and it applies to all of life. Where do you need to turn in today? Start there.