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Have I Failed at Lent?

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

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

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

Dust.

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

Gritty, dirty, dusty.

Now these were words that resonated deep within my soul.

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

My ears perked up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gritty, dirty, dusty.

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

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

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

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

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The State of My Union Address

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Stop! Before you think that this is a political post, it is not. I watched the State of the Union Address last night like a lot of people but I will not share any opinions I have here. I simply do not have enough information or understanding of the complexities that surround us on every side, nor will I claim to.

I do however, have an inside view into my own life and heart which is what I will share  here. It’s not that I don’t care about what is happening outside of my home because I do. I care very much. Yet so much of what is happening on a larger, global scale feels outside of my control. Whereas what is going on in my little corner of the world seems reachable. In the words of Mother Teresa, one of the most revolutionary women to have lived:

“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”

This quote is beautiful. So simple right? Go home and love your family. Well, yes, but it’s not always simple or easy. We are on our third snow day here in the stunning Pacific Northwest. We have lots of hills here and snow wreaks havoc on our otherwise stable little existence. In our normal day to day life, we have created spaces for each of us to move, breathe, connect with what we love, nap, take space, and overall keep the peace within our home. We have recently found a lovely rhythm, thank the Lord!

When the snow hits, that changes things. The normal patterns and rhythms shift as well. Space becomes less available. Productivity goes down. A need for creativity goes up. Overall, snow days are very different than normal days.

Of course we are embracing the snow and the gift of rest that accompanies it, each in our own way. My husband, for example, went skiing down our steep street to practice his urban skiing skills. Yes, I mean, a city street, with intersections that we had to be sure were clear before he took off downhill into Lake Washington. We made crepes, drank multiple cups of coffee, threw snow balls, and consumed homemade confetti cake. That was all in the first day.

Day two was a little more civilized. Bryan went to work for awhile and I left the house for an appointment but I was anxious to return as the temps were threatening to drop. We are lucky to have a few shops within walking distance from us so we stopped in at our local Starbucks for cakepops and then hit the grocery story to replenish our dwindling supplies. Only enough items that we could carry back to our house though, nothing major.

Day three has us all a little stir crazy though. The boys are watching a movie while I steal these few minutes to craft words to share. Here’s to hoping we may actually be able to leave our house later to get a proper grocery shop done. I am nearly down to my last few creative dinner meal options. Now back to that quote.

Being home and loving my family is a privilege I have. I am so thankful that after many years of heartache and trying, we finally were given two miracles to call our own. That fact is never wasted on me. I find myself staring at them longer than normal these days. I am taking pictures of them sleeping as I feel them changing so rapidly before my eyes and I long to stop time.

The boys are four and a half now and are little sponges. From watching Cohen mimic my sayings and faces, to Kidran singing along to songs in perfect pitch and writing his name. Their surroundings are informing them daily about who they are and what they will become. This is where it becomes vitally important that I know what My State of the Union is.

Our home is the first place our boys will see, learn, and experience true, unconditional love. That means I must practice unconditional love. Sounds simple but daily I have to practice a patient way of loving these two very different boys that sometimes challenge and try me. They are showing me so much about myself that I want to change and it motivates me to let them see me grow, evolve, and become a better version of who I am daily. We are all still learning at the end of the day.

As much as I have chosen the word “enough” for this year, it’s also what I have chosen for our family. Our boys are enough, as they are, where they are. My husband is enough, as he is, where he is. I am enough, as I am, where I am. Our home is the place where I hope that this truth and feeling is communicated in thousands of little ways. From the good morning kisses, to the times of art and creating, reading stories, sharing our days with each other, meals as a family, bath time, and bed time. I pray the love we have for each other will be visible, felt, and unending.

This also means that I must steal minutes away when they present themselves to do this…to write. Part of me being able to love my family in my home is loving myself in my home. I do that right now through writing. It’s my one thing for the year. I have stories to tell, things to say. They may not be important enough for the world to read but that is never the point of art or creating. I write because I must. When I write I come alive and that is reason enough. Do you have something that brings you to life too? Please, please, please, make time for it. As Emily P. Freeman said yesterday in her amazing podcast, The Next Right Thing, tell someone too. Tell your husband, tell your children, tell your closest friends, maybe even tell the world of social media. Sharing our deepest desires with those whom we share our life with is such an important part of building deep, meaningful relationships. For me that means sharing my writing with my family by showing them what it looks like when momma comes alive in this way. I want to model this for them so that when it happens in their life they are already familiar with it.

So on day 3 of our mini snowpacalypse, I have stolen these minutes to work in the cracks of life. I am working on my craft. But first I made coffee for my husband and me, I made breakfast for us, I tended to that which has been entrusted to me with love. Then I chose to love myself as well.

That is my simple State of the Union, to “go home and love my family.” What is yours? Do you know? If not, give it a few minutes today. As my good friend Kelly talks about in her new book Dream Catcher, in order to live a life of intentionality you must be intentional. (I also hope you enjoy these sweet pics of some of our daily moments!)

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Beauty for Ashes

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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.

Northern Ireland: Peace & quiet

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A few days ago I was sitting in a dentist chair having work done on my teeth. As I sat there, a tv screen was playing the news in front of me, the radio was on in the background, the dentist and hygienist were chatting, and then they began drilling.

Oh.My.Word.

I felt like my head was going to explode with all the noise, distractions, and bombardment of the senses in one tiny little room! So I closed my eyes, tuned out the tv and radio, started taking deep breaths and focused on the real people in the room and the conversation they were having about why they never wanted to go to India. I could barely keep from interjecting my love of this special country and it’s beautiful people, but the drill in my mouth did it for me.

People often ask if I “miss Northern Ireland?” I say “yes”. Then they ask “why?”

Quite plainly, it’s a simpler place to live and I feel at home there, like my lungs can fill up fully when I breathe. There is less of everything in a good way. Less people, less traffic, less choice, stores are open fewer hours, and my list could go on. It feels like there’s more space, more quiet, more room to breathe. More time to live, to connect with people, to explore. Maybe that’s why it felt easier to write The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants there.

One place where I feel this is at our good friends Pete and Julie’s house (not to mention countless others who always invited us in for a cuppa or tea, creating space for us at their table and in their lives). Peter and Julie are visionaries and pioneers. They see the future and they bring it into being. I love this quality about them. We have had so many life changing conversations with them over the years, and I look forward to that continuing. They have been willing to be uncomfortable to pursue change that will in the long run create space for them to dream, live freely, and help others do the same. When you walk into their house you are not overwhelmed by noise, music, or stimulus. It’s a warm home, quiet, lived in, and usually calm. Neither Pete nor Julie are loud people but if you know them well, they both have a wicked sense of humor. They create incredibly delicious and healthy food, will allow you to fall asleep on their couch, and can go deep if you need/want to.

They are like family to us and have been for years.

I am so beyond thankful that on my recent visit back for the book tour we were able to stay at their house for our few Dungannon days. They live a spacious life and help others too as well. While staying at their house we had the privilege of taking in a mindfulness training session with Pete that is still bringing about personal transformation in me and my friends since arriving back home. Their friendship and what they teach us is something that we will always treasure. It’s true and beautiful.

Now going back to the noise of that dentist chair.

I have been seeking out ways of living a more quiet, peaceful life. In many ways it felt easier to do this in Northern Ireland. Yet I am determined to create this way of living here, now. Some of this means doing less, seeing fewer people, not turning music on in the car, carefully choosing the podcasts I listen to, and overall taking mini breaks from social media.

I listened to a Rob Bell podcast recently where he talked about “you listening to you”. So much of what he said rang true to where I currently find myself. I am trying to silence the voices so that I can find out what my own voice sounds like as well as the voice of God. I find both our voices usually whisper an invitation, they don’t come cranking out at top volume like the latest pop single on the radio. In order for me to hear these two very key voices, I need silence.

One thing that has been helping tremendously is my new favorite podcast. Thank you Emily P. Freeman for your wonderful work at The Next Right Thing. Your work is so valuable for those of us with decision fatigue, who are longing for space and room to live, move, and breath in the being God created us to be. As well as this shorter than short podcast (which makes it more poignant) I am writing more in my journal, lighting a candle often in the mornings, and simply trying to take deeper breaths. These are things that I did regularly in Ireland, but also felt easier to do there. However, I want to learn to cultivate these and other practices in this new space and time we live in. Busy with work schedules, fun and demanding children, and daily living, these things will be what creates that margin in my day to day that is so vital.

Do you need some space? Do you need some silence? If so, give it to yourself. You will find yourself in those moments and let’s be honest, that’s probably what you are looking for anyway.

 

Family Ties

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Have you ever moved far away from your home and family? Did you wonder if you would make friends? Were you overwhelmed with a sense of panic, realizing you had no clear idea of what you were actually going to do?

Welcome to our move to Northern Ireland! In 2004 we felt strongly that we were meant to move to Northern Ireland. With a home church stateside encouraging us and supportive family and friends, we quit our jobs, sold our cars, and packed away our belongings.

We landed in Belfast with one real contact and a few loose connections. From our first home to the church plant we were invited to that first week, it was evident we were leaning into the mysterious ways of our very BIG God.

Some of the first people we met were Garry and Lynne. They welcomed us into their home, guest room, and kitchen immediately. Our friendship was forged over multiple nights playing cards, laughing till our bellies hurt, eating fajitas, and drinking Whittard orange hot chocolate. If you ever have the chance, request Garry to make it, he adds extra mallows!

Those days marked a carefree season for all of us. No children, no big commitments, no real time constraints. Simply time to invest in deep, meaningful friendship. I thank God for those days so often. The older I get, the more I realize how rare those seasons are in life.

You see, these friends welcomed us not only into their home but into their extended families. For years we spent Christmas day with Garry’s family or Lynne’s. We were treated like a son and daughter, and in fact we still feel that. The family ties are still strong.

So much has changed since those times. Garry and Lynne started their family earlier than us. They have three beautiful children who carry all the good of their parents and then some. We have our beautiful boys. Lynne and I both have lost our fathers. They church planted in a new town. We moved back to the states. Still the friendship remains. Solid, sturdy, like a well weathered rock that refuses to move. Those early days set a strong foundation that cannot be shaken.

It seemed fitting that Lynne was the one who collected us from the airport and that our first event of the book tour was held at their family home. I can’t recall just how many times Garry or Lynne collected us or dropped us off at the airport. It was the most natural way to be greeted! Thank you Lynne!

That first evening was sweet, small, and intimate. I knew some faces and met some new ones. As I looked around and shared, there was such an openness from the women present. The kindness in their eyes, the understanding nods as I shared some of the difficult parts of our infertility journey, the smiles as I shared about our miracle boys that eventually came through ICSI. It was all so sweet.

Many times that day and evening my eyes welled up with tears. Being back in Garry and Lynne’s house, sharing our story and my book, it was so surreal. It was like a tidal wave that had been building for years. For so long the water had been pulling me back, back, and back. I tumbled around, forced by the current underwater, at points feeling like I would never catch my breath.

Then, finally, I caught the wave.

All those years struggling, crying with Garry and Lynne. Having them cry with and for us. Finally getting pregnant, seeing them at the hospital holding our two miracles. Seeing their kids play with our kids. Then coming back to our other home, Northern Ireland. Coming back to all of our other family, all those women and men who invited us into theirs over the years, adopted us like their own. It felt like I finally got my feet on the board and could ride the wave. I know more life will happen. The wave will disappear and I will once again swim out to sea to battle the water. But now I know I can weather the waves and ride them too.

*My book The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants is available on Amazon. You can also find me on FB @breannajochud or on Instagram @breannachud.

The Pipe Dream

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Pipe Dream: An unrealistic hope or fantasy.

Have you ever had a pipe dream? Sure! We all have at some time or another. My most recent pipe dream was to go back to Northern Ireland, do a book tour for The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants (the book I self-published), and to bring along two of my oldest, dearest friends.

My amazing husband, Bryan, was the first one to mention this little fantasy. As soon as he did I couldn’t stop thinking about it. As I let it marinade, I got this little nudge in my gut, that maybe this pipe dream could become a reality. Why not at least throw it out there to my two girlfriends and see what happens?

The two girlfriends I invited were Kelly and Molly. Kelly is a dream activator and freedom fighter. She dreams big and tackles the practicals with grace and confidence. Molly is my sister from another mother, sister wife, on call nurse, and hashtag diva. Between these two I have been privileged to experience the true depths of friendship that covers 19 years, 7 children, and lots of long distance friendship work. So I crossed my fingers, legs, and arms, then threw the idea out there. Within about a week of proposing the idea to my friends, we had somehow managed to book our flights and the trip was no longer a pipe dream but a living, breathing reality.

Husbands were on board, grandparents, and friends were on board, jobs were on board. All the details started coming together and the dream began taking real life shape and form.

At the beginning, I think the nudge I felt was the Holy Spirit getting my attention. This trip was not just about me, my story, and my journey. This trip would be about so much more.

Anytime God calls me to something (or you), it will always involve others in some way. This trip was no different. There were specific reasons both of these girlfriends were meant to come. First of all, I could not have done it without them. I am absolute crap at marketing myself and selling my book. These girls were superstars at it! As women, we are usually more comfortable promoting someone else other than ourselves. Thank you Sheryl Sandberg for making this crystal clear in Lean In!

During the week these friends each found their own gems to bring home which was exactly my hope for them. Not to mention all of the different women we shared with, spoke to, prayed, laughed, and ate with. This trip was a trip of connection. Real life, face to face, personal connection. Yes, we embraced social media’s perks but more than anything we embraced real people with real hugs and real conversations. What a gift!

This trip symbolized so much of what my journey through infertility had been about. Beauty for ashes. A phoenix rising from the flames. Finding a strength within myself that I had never known existed till I had to go to the depths of myself and crawl back out, alive, breathing, and full of hope for the future.

So welcome! This is the beginning of my unraveling of this journey, this pilgrimage, this pipe dream turned reality. Who would have thought that one of the most painful parts of my life could become one of the most fulfilling and joyful?!

*The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants is available on Amazon. If you are local to the PNW contact me directly to order a copy. Find me on Instagram @breannachud or on Facebook @breannajochud.

 

Back to reality.

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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.

*My book is available on Amazon , or find me @breannajochud on Facebook or @breannachud on Instagram.