Growing up in a rather charismatic Christian environment, I had developed a secret belief that Jesus would come back when I turned 20. This little hidden belief was strangely solid and I genuinely believed it. When I say it out loud it is laughable and makes me feel a little silly. However, when I turned 20, in the year 2000, I felt like I had just entered bonus time that I wasn’t expecting. Like going on holiday and at the end of the it someone tells you that your trip has been extended an additional week.
I wasn’t a very ambitious 20 year old, at least not that I can remember. Fun, yes, full of youthful zeal and energy, definitely. What I knew was that I wanted to get married at some point and I wanted to travel. That was about the extent of what I really knew I wanted.
Well the sweetest thing happened right around my 20th birthday. I met my future husband, we went on our first official date on Valentine’s Day (mind you he was technically dating another girl and he promptly left our date and went to break up with her), a few short weeks later we were official. Everything felt right about him. As we walked back to our college campus in the early hours of the morning one night, holding hands, I felt a gentle nudge to give this a chance. That chance quickly turned into the love I had dreamed of having, steady and constant, solid and real. It was just the beginning.
My 20’s were full of Alaskan adventures, marriage and honeymoon bliss. Settling into life as a wife, saying goodbye to family and friends as we moved overseas to Northern Ireland. Doubting that Northern Irish people were actually speaking English while being embraced by this new group of people and culture where we had no family ties. Learning to live in a community of like-minded people while communally living and throwing ourselves into a new, shared way of life that suited our young years. Lots of travel and world view changing moments. Certain dreams came true, new ones were birthed, all the while the dream of a family came into clearer focus yet remained just out of reach.
Enter my 30’s.
Words I would use to describe those years? Well…bitter, frustrating, surprising, fulfilling, sad, prayer filled, enriching, heartbreaking, soul destroying, and solid. The 30’s have been the hardest thus far. Failed rounds of IVF/ICSI, personal shortcomings, artistic struggles, loss of illusions, leaving Northern Ireland, and losing my father. On the flip side my 30’s have been the richest. I ran a marathon, opened a community coffee shop through our church, learned to play guitar (a little bit anyway). Went to new depths in my marriage, finally became the mother I dreamed of and longed to be while watching my husband be the father I knew he would be and more. Embraced the beauty and love of so many friendships. Received the gift of living closer to my parents during my father’s last year of life, watched our sons get to know their Alaskan family and roots, while watching them soak up Idaho family summers and winters. Settling back into the PNW life that we had started so many years ago while learning to be present in the chaos.
This past decade I have also been on a journey to my own personal core. At times it’s felt like falling down the rabbit hole, not knowing where the ground or walls are, desperately reaching for something to grab onto. Other times it has been a welcome free fall, letting go of that which no longer serves me, and allowing myself to be held by the wholeness of God as I become whole. I have learned more about myself than ever before. This process has allowed me to expand within my limitations, lean into the strength of my weaknesses, and embrace the beauty of my imperfections. Laugh lines and section scars remind me that I have been living in the joy and pain of my life.
As I stand on the mountain top of these past 40 years, I look behind me with a content heart. I have much to be thankful for and I do not take it for granted. I am a pilgrim who has walked and endured many miles. I have met wonderful souls along the way and am thankful to have married one of the richest of them. We now hold tiny hands as well and will help guide tiny feet along this continuing path. I carry with me a rucksack filled with books, journals, earrings, stones, and shells. Trinkets of value to no one but me. So today I pause and take in the view. The many mountains that have been climbed, the valley’s filled with sorrows, the landscape that has forever been changed by loss. While the sun peaks through the clouds shining brilliantly on this rugged terrain of my life, I can clearly see that this one precious life of mine is enough.
This day will end and it will be like all others, except I will be different. I will blow a kiss to the past and turn to the future. A new job awaits me this next week, one that will challenge me more than I am even aware of. I will not run down the mountain because I value the way of slow, small, and sustainable progress now. I will hold the hands of my husband and children knowing that we are in this together, forever connected by our love. I will speak less, listen more, and ask for eyes to see the unseen. My search will be for the mystical moments where I can only look to God as the creator of and be thankful that I am included in the unfolding.
40, I welcome you as a friend and companion. You will no doubt change me but I will use my lungs to breathe you in and rest in your wisdom. I have what I need of that I am sure. I am becoming and that is the whole point.
It could be me.
That’s all I can think of when I hear another story of a young woman being trafficked. We are not all that different she and I. She needs air to breathe, food to eat to stay strong, real love to keep her heart from failing. I too need these same things. The difference between us often comes down to a lottery of where we were born. She was born there ______ (you fill in the blank) and I was born here, in America, the land of the free.
Yet I cannot shake the reality of our connection. We are the same, she and I. We both bleed if cut, break if abused, cry when we are hurt. We are the same, she and I.
I also cannot shake the reality that we are different. She has had her dignity, her future, her dreams, her peace, her comfort stripped from her. I have not. We are distinctly different.
The truth, the real truth, is that she could be me and I could be her. We are the same, she and I. She also could be my niece, my sister, my friend, my aunt. The reality though is that it is not only she who is suffering. He could be suffering too. He could be my son, my nephew, my brother. This business of trafficking is no respecter of gender.
There is also something else I cannot shake and that is the magnitude of HOPE. Hope that we can end human trafficking in our lifetime, hope that rehabilitation can happen, hope that women, men, and children can all be rescued, hope that this atrocity can come to an end. Hope that the victim can heal and that the perpetrator can be redeemed. There is still so much hope.
I have seen this hope in action through the incredible work of Rescue Freedom International, through Purpose Boutique where I work, through Freedom Dinners began by Ciderpress Lane, and through Coffee Connect Change, a tiny coffee initiative. We all can play a part and make a difference if we choose to.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. It’s a month of starting over and rebooting our own lives, yes, but it can also be SO MUCH MORE. As we set out to live our best lives this month and in the year ahead can we also determine to help those who have been victims of human trafficking live their best lives too?
Rescue Freedom International has began a virtual book where you can sign your name to begin your part in ending slavery in the form of human trafficking. You can also make a one time donation or become a monthly donor to this necessary and tremendous work. The choice is yours. (Simply click this link to take action.)
As I finish this blog, I will share an excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “But If Not”. A fellow mom used it this week as our devotional during our Mom’s Group at Bellevue Presbyterian and it seems an appropriate time to share here. It moved me to tears and solidified my desire to play my part, however small or big, in this fight to end slavery and human trafficking. I hope it inspires and challenges you the way it did me.
“You may be 38 years old as I happen to be, and one day some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause —– and you refuse to do it because you are afraid; you refuse to do it because you want to live longer; you’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you’re afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you or shoot at you or bomb your house, and so you refuse to take the stand. Well you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90! And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit. You died when you refused to stand up for right. You died when you refused to stand up for truth. You died when you refused to stand up for justice.”
Excerpt from “But If Not” -A Sermon by Martin Luther King, Jr. given November 5th, 1967 -click the link to watch the full sermon
Most days I walk around my life content to be what people see. Then there are days when I wonder why the world cannot see the markings of the people, places, and experiences that I wear. Then I remember, it is because these treasured moments in my life have been captured in an invisible tattoo.
It took 12 years to create. It is full of details and embellishments. Both shadow and light is captured within it’s lines. This tattoo could very well be a map of the whole of Ireland, etched with invisible ink across the length and width of my back. It depicts stories of growth, transformation, heartache, love, satisfaction, longing, adventure, and thin places. I carry this imprint wherever I go.
Recently I went back to visit my other home. At times it felt like the lines were searing hot, like I was being branded anew, stingy with the memory of the life we lived on the island. Moments and sites revisited, new places explored, history appreciated while writing new chapters in this never-ending book.
The trip was profound on many levels. I left the States content with my lot in life. I went with an open heart, open hands, and an open mind. I noticed that I walk a bit differently on Irish soil. A very true part of me comes alive in this magical land. I hear I am not the only one to experience this effect.
There are now new friends that have been made from this trip. Barry, Sebastian, Meredith, David, and Elizabeth to name a few. Celtic Dawn Expeditions, the embryonic adventure of Dave and Leanne has officially begun. Along with the new friendships, I cradled moments with the old faces of a time passed. Faces that reflect to me who I became while living on the island. There was a deep level of knowing that took place in each of these encounters and my heart swells when I think of them. The list of people who shaped me is too long to spell out and I don’t want to forget anyone, but I hope you each know who you are, how loved you are by me, and how much you impacted my life and who I have become.
Months later I am still revisiting moments of this special trip. There is so much more I could say but I’m not sure how. What I can say is this, each of us wears invisible tattoos. We all have life experiences that are unseen to those around us. As we develop and grow, maybe we are meant to begin tracing the lines with our own ink, bringing color and life to the parts that display our invisible, beautiful history to the world. I trace mine with words, with watercolors, with baking, and with nature. Each line I trace is a step towards unveiling my full self to a world that if I’m honest, may not be ready to receive this offering. Still I will reveal myself, the truest parts of me, over time. This space here, where I write, is one of the main places I do that. So thanks for reading and thank you for accepting.
For those of you who want a song to accompany this post, you are lucky. Here it is:
(Side note: One of the creative outlets that grew from my recent trip back was a melding of these years into me beginning my quarterly newsletter: Slow Small Sustainable. If you would like to journey with me as I share more on this, please send me your email address either through the blog, on Instagram @breannachud, or on FB: breannajochud.)
Every time I see red shoes, especially red statement shoes, I think of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. I see her clicking her heels in those sparkly, red heeled shoes. Those shoes were what some of my little girl dress up fantasies were made of.
Do you remember what she would say when she clicked her heels?
“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”
What is it about saying something three times that seems to lodge it into our psyche? Maybe this is a practice that I need to start implementing in my own life. Like when my kids aren’t listening to me, or when I need to give myself a good old fashioned pep talk.
Now these particular red shoes, the ones in the picture, they may not be sparkly but they have a back story. These shoes are magical and I want to share the story with you.
I work at a wonderful and inspiring place called Purpose Boutique. I am honored to work at Purpose and believe in our three pillars: 1. We donate a percentage of every purchase to Rescue Freedom International to fight human trafficking. 2. We sell empowerment lines like ABLE to help empower women all over the world. 3. We offer personal styling to every customer so that women in this context can feel empowered too.
Awhile back we actually carried these beautiful suede, red, pointy toe flats from ABLE. Every time someone put them up I literally giggled with delight. They are so bold and demand the attention of the room. Now I totally understand how these shoes were not everyone’s cup of tea. Yet I wanted every woman who came in to be styled to walk out in these red shoes, feeling not only empowered but at home in her own skin. I wanted her to believe that she belonged in those shoes and that her job was to click her heels and find her home here in this world.
Imagine my surprise and delight when I met a strong, resilient, inspirational young woman wearing these very shoes. I could not stop smiling nor staring at her feet. She is my modern day Dorothy. I get that they are just shoes, I really do. But I also get how what we wear, why we wear it, and how we wear it can tell a story that our words don’t. Seeing her in these shoes told me this extraordinary young woman had come home. She had overcome adversity. She had kept moving forward. She had finally clicked her heels and found home, inside of herself, in this world, and in these shoes.
Would you also like to come home to yourself? To find your place in this world? I believe these are the basic desires of most every heart, especially that of women. It is a huge reason why I work at Purpose Boutique, why I love that we partner with Rescue Freedom, and even why I have these little Coffee~Connect~Change mornings. I want to feel at home in my own skin. I want to know that I am doing my part, in the way that I can during this season of life, to fight human trafficking. Maybe it’s time I find myself at home in some red shoes too!
(Photo cred: AllyCMerritt)
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.
“Just because the move was sloppy doesn’t mean the time was wrong.” —Emily P. Freeman.
As I listened to her gentle voice deliver these words, my soul paused. The phrase and it’s intent trickled slowly down from my attentive ears to the well of my heart that had been unknowingly waiting for this generous gift of insight.
We have no way of knowing what our artistic contributions to the world will do and I guarantee Emily did not know that she had been walking me through a very complex season of my life. I have been listening to The Next Right Thing Podcast for awhile. It’s been extremely helpful for my energizer bunny brain that often needs to slow down and just do my next right thing in love. It has also been helping me quiet my head to be able to hear my heart.
Now I hope you will indulge me just a bit and come down the rabbit trail of thought that I’m about to take you on. Let’s begin shall we?
For nine years my husband and I tried to have a family. In our last ditch attempt at having children that bore our physical DNA we miraculously got pregnant. Fast forward to September 1st, 2014 when we welcomed the safe arrival of our two incredible sons, Kidran J. Caleb and Cohen V. Ryan. We had been so fortunate that our treatment had been successful, so successful in fact we had 11 remaining embryos on ice.
Around the time the boys turned one my thoughts would often turn to those little embryos. Were we ready to have another child or at least try? No, the timing wasn’t right. We were heading back for a stint in the States for six months and that was enough upheaval for now. Then the boys turned two and by that time we had moved back to the States completely. It was a big adjustment being back and only a few short months into our resettling my Dad was diagnosed with cancer. It wasn’t a good time to think of having another baby.
Then October 2017 arrived and my sweet Papa turned 80 on the 1st. On the 2nd, the day after his birthday, he breathed his last breath and went to be with Jesus. Two weeks prior to that Bryan’s mom was diagnosed with Lymphoma. All of the emotions compiled together and my heart felt crushed under the weight of it more times than I can recount.
Over the years Bryan and I had discussed these sweet potential lives many times. I had spent many nights tossing and turning thinking of the impossibility of what to do with them. I remember so clearly laying in my old bed at my parents house, tears streaming down my cheeks one night in the early hours of the morning. All I could think about were these precious embryos that were under our safe keeping. We were so happy and content with our family yet God had given us these embryos so were we meant to have them all or at least try? We were content yet also felt maxed out at times with the pace of life and keeping up with the energy of our active sons.
Fast forward to the Autumn of 2018. Our sons were four and our embryos were still frozen. In the lead up to that Autumn, I had grown accustomed to listening to The Next Right Thing podcast and had found it to be a helpful resource on so many levels. Many of the episodes felt timely, like they were directly for my season and stage of life. I know I’m not the only one who felt that way, as a few of my close friends also listen regularly and experienced the same kind of connection to the topics.
Somewhere along the way Emily had talked about naming things properly and knowing what you want and in October these concepts culminated in me deciding that I wanted us to try for a third baby. At the beginning of November I packed our boys up and we drove to Idaho to move in with my mom while Bryan stayed behind in Washington to work. We moved in and I began my appointments at our clinic. There are many details that I won’t include here but let me tell you, it felt like all the signs were pointing to this being the right thing at the right time. I knew better than to feel sure but I did feel hopeful.
November came and went and we missed our window for transferring an embryo by about a day or two due to Thanksgiving day closures at the clinic. So we began it all over again. The blood draws, the ultrasounds, to see if everything was lining up for a December transfer. By some chance of a miracle it all lined up. My body was doing what it needed to do naturally, Bryan was going to be able to arrive in time to be with me for the transfer, and my mom could watch the boys during the appointment. I had listened to Episode 63 and believed that we were doing just what the title said, making room. Episode 64? Well it was all about acknowledging your soul and babies. Again, we knew this would not be easy to start over and begin with a newborn but we also knew some things weren’t meant for us to understand fully.
The transfer took place a few days before Christmas so then we had to wait ten days. The rollercoaster of emotions began. Yet this time the boys were a welcome distraction and also a great reminder of how blessed we already were to be parents and have a family. We spent the remaining part of the Christmas holiday with my family, went to the mountains, had bloods taken that indicated numbers lower than expected, so after New Year’s, we made the decision to head back to Washington.
The night we arrived home, I began to bleed and I knew I was miscarrying. In all of our years of struggling we had never experienced a miscarriage and I was so thankful we hadn’t. Now, to add insult to injury, we had added this additional loss. Episode 65 Emily talked about taking off your crown and let me tell you, I knew I was not in charge at this point. No matter how much I felt it was the right thing to do, it was not in my control.
Later in January Emily shared her own sorrow at losing a very special family member. As she talked and told sweet stories, I washed dishes with tears in my eyes. She was challenging us, her faithful listeners, not to let the ending define the whole story. As hard as this was to hear, I knew she was right. This miscarriage was only part of the story, not the whole story. It was the ending of a chapter, not the end of the book.
With that in mind I reminded myself of the sweet moments when we first found out we had fertilized embryos, then when we found out we were pregnant, and then hearing two heartbeats, knowing both embryos had taken. There was so much joy in our story. I didn’t want to let this present sorrow steal the past or future joy to come.
As I continued to process the loss, questioning my own heart and motives, if I had heard God correctly, I listened to Episode 67: Wait Now Go. Once again, Emily had read my mail. Everything about trying for this third baby had felt fast, sloppy, even outrageous, and outlandish at points. Yet hearing the words that “just because the move was sloppy didn’t mean it was wrong” felt like a light bulb moment. You see, I have an overactive imagination to put it mildly. My mind would have tortured me with what if’s had we not tried for a third baby. I would have always wondered and I believe always regretted not at least trying. The action was what I had to live with, the outcome is what we had trusted God with. We cannot see the future nor do we need to. I did know though that I needed to trust God with the rest of our family while doing what I could do to bring peace to my mind.
After a few months my heart and mind started to quiet down again. Emily launched her lovely book that came from the podcast and she interviewed her sister as a result. In that interview something struck me. Myquillyn shared one of her current mantras: Do what you know. Finish what you started. Use what you have. As I chewed on these three thoughts I knew it was time. Time to make a decision about our remaining embryos and what we were going to do with them.
I can say it no other way than God intervened and what had felt so heavy and hard, like a huge bridge to cross, God plucked me up and dropped me on the other side. I had the privilege of helping out at a women’s conference where I met a woman who runs an embryo adoption agency. Within a few weeks we had the paperwork filled out and our application was accepted.
Now we are in the matching phase of the adoption. We are waiting once again to see what will happen with the remaining nine miracle embryos. As Emily talks about in Episode 82, we are finding the beginning in the ending. We have come to terms with our family being complete. It is the end to a very specific season of our lives, yet it is the beginning for some other fortunate couple who like us has been waiting, longing, and trying for so long to start their own family.
You may read through all this and think that I am a bit extreme or a little crazy and you would be right. I, however, see the grace of God to bring me a helping hand during a season of life when I needed it so much. Having found The Next Right Thing has been like finding a life counselor who understands how I think and function. It’s been a grace gift that I have received with open hands and a welcoming heart. Not only has it brought me encouragement in the form of wisdom, counsel, and revelation; it has also challenged me to keep sharing my own writing. To tell my story with truth and integrity even when it feels hard, or like I am exposing my raw heart. Sometimes we have to take the bandages off of our wounds to let the air and light in that bring healing. This means that those around us can see the pain we have been through and also watch as we allow ourselves to heal fully.
To end, I want to say a heartfelt thank you to Emily P. Freeman. Your work is valuable, your perspective needed, and just plain beautiful.