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.)
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!”
One of the boys favourite little games we play right now is fee-fi-fo-fum. They run down the hall, jump into our bed and ‘hide-hide-hide’ under the covers until I stomp down the hall pretending to be a giant shouting for them. Recently I have been invited into the game in a new role. They take turns playing the giant and want me to hide under the covers with them. Some days I don’t want to play these little games that feel like ground hog day and there’s a pile of laundry flooding out of the next room. But then there are these moments. The kind that cause me to stop breathing. The kind that make me realize how short life is. How short this time with the boys being little is. The moments that I am pretty sure are going to replay in my mind when I watch them ride a bike for the first time, drive for the first time, graduate, get married, etc.
When we are playing this sweet game and we are hiding under the covers, they come in close. Each of them. They whisper to me to be quiet, that we are hiding. I get to have their faces inches from mine. I get to study their different and distinctly blue eyes, their mouths with ruby lips, their wild blonde curls. I get to smell their hot little boy breath that doesn’t stink yet but smells warm and sweet. Sometimes they will grab my hand or snuggle in close for only a second. One. Little. Second.
These seconds are precious and so tiny I almost miss them some days. Because as the other little man stomps down the hall, the anticipation builds. The door bursts open with a squeal of delight and we are all joining in! The noise is astounding as is the untamed excitement. We all end up on the bed laughing and wrestling as that’s what most things turn into when you are a mom of little boys.
This little glimpse is teaching me a lot about my own life. I struggle to live in the present on a daily basis. I am a future kind of girl. Always thinking, dreaming and planning for the next step. That is useful and helpful at times but also can steal joy in the present, very real and beautiful moments of my day to day life. I am working on being more mindful. Breathing more deeply. Not pushing myself to run on fumes. To learn what real rest looks like for me and be okay with taking that rest when I need it. Thankfully I am married to an incredible man who sees me so clearly and knows what I need often before I do.
This ‘living in the present’ struggle also runs into many other areas of my life. But now more than ever I see the desperate need to live in the here and now. To look people in the eye and tell them I love them. To truly listen when someone shares what they are going through. To find connection in even the briefest of moments because I am really seeing the person I am with, not moving on to the next time we get together.
So what I am hoping for is a few more seconds…
I.LOVE.SUMMER!!!! The heat, the light evenings, the unstructured-take-it-as-it-comes schedule, the playing!
This summer is no exception. Our summer has been filled to the brim with fun, family and friendship. Time in Idaho, Northern Irish visitors and then a magical escape to Alaska have all been pretty epic if I do say so myself! We have pushed ourselves and the boys to keep going at breakneck speed and for the most part all of us have done okay.
Yet our first two days back in Washington, routine, normal bedtimes and familiar surroundings have shown me that maybe we went a bit too far. When your normally early rising toddlers aren’t getting up till 9am (thank you Jesus!) you know you went beyond your capacity. The cracks have been showing for the last week with the boys being a bit grumpy and us being just really tired. So the unraveling of some bad habits is happening and we are in one of those lovely adjustment periods. You know what I mean right? The times when you feel like your parenting skills are substandard and your children have developed super human powers to push all your buttons at once. Yeah, it’s one of those times.
Bedtime tonight was especially delightful. And yes, I am being sarcastic. I took all of the boys toys, comfort pieces and blankets. I even unscrewed the lightbulbs in their bedroom to discourage their war on sleep. The boys did not nap today which made them extra cranky tonight. The thinking that this would mean an earlier than normal bedtime was completely inaccurate. Ha! So many grand plans lay in wreck and ruin from toddlers who took over the world inside their home!!
Yet once again my boys melted my hardened heart towards their little revolt. Kidran would continually agree with me when I would reprimand them with his encouraging ‘Yawh!’ Somehow he has inherited this from me and I got it from my Mom! It’s so stinkin’ cute though! Then Cohen asked me to kiss all the places he hurt in his little mutiny in his bed. We finished by me kissing each finger tip and the not to be forgotten thumb.
It was in the sweetness of that moment that once again my heart turned towards my two little men. Tired and overstimulated from the experiences of so many trips and people in such a short space of time. Exhausted from the pace of life their little legs were not meant to keep up with. I also have noticed that they seem less enthused with their normal favourite spots to play. Alaska has gotten into their veins and the restriction of modern city life is cramping their ever-growing style. I find myself saying ‘no’ more often, ‘don’t do that’ a lot and that is okay. They will learn to appreciate the offerings of each place they land in the future. Right now it’s just hard to explain the feeling of being out of sorts to our little men.
As I pondered the way Kidran and Cohen had dealt with the transitions of the summer I felt a new grace applied to my heart and soul. The 17th of July marked our first full year back in the states after our 12 year planting/rooting in Northern Ireland. The year has been incredible in so many ways. Reconnecting with old, dear friends, starting new and exciting jobs, being closer to family, being surrounded by mountains again, the list could go on. It doesn’t feel that long ago that we left this place because it is so familiar.
Still when I think of home my heart sees Northern Ireland. The green, the sea, the people, the growing up and growing together that was done. At first I would try to push these thoughts and feelings away. Not anymore. I welcome them. I sit with them. I treasure them. They are an intricate part of my story now. A part that is filled with love, depth and peace that came from pressing into a place. Often times people talk about growing where you are planted. I remember releasing myself to that way of thinking in Northern Ireland at times when I didn’t feel settled, when it felt foreign and not like home. So I am comforted that right now I am back to working at growing right here, right now, where I am.
Are you growing right where you are? What would help you to do that easier, with more grace for yourself and others? I would love to hear your thoughts!