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.
Today felt like a marathon of task ticking on my to-do list. Telling the boys constantly to go play in their bedroom as I filled in mountains of paperwork and made phone calls felt a whole lot like #adulting. There are a lot of days like this but the things on the list today were more than the normal things. By the end of the day I felt accomplished, tired, emotional, and giddy at the thought of taking a few minutes to write which helps me come back to myself. (If I don’t fall asleep first thanks to late night Memorial Day celebrations with dear friends!)
One of the big things on my list today was to put in applications for the boys to attend preschool in the autumn. First, I am still not old enough to have kids am I? I mean, when it’s dinner time I’m looking for the mom and then realize that’s me. Second, okay, so yes, I am the mother and yes I do cook for our family. However, are my babies really the age where a school allows them to come and spend a significant chunk of time with other kids their age and a person who in my opinion may be categorically insane for wanting to teach this age group? (We all have our gifts and teaching is not mine.) Thank you by the way to all preschool and kindergarten teachers for often times completing the lessons of life skills for children this age. I promise us parents truly are trying, but when it’s the hundredth time they whine about wiping their own bums I cave and do it for them because honestly I just want a second of peace and quiet. Third, watching your very different sons walk through the halls of the school they potentially will attend soon, gives some key insights into how they will actually respond in real life. Their reactions remained true to their individual personality types and this made my momma’s heart happy. Stay true little men to your own beat for as long as you can. When the world tries to drown out the sound of that beat we will do our best to help you hear it again and get you back on track. Until then march to that beat in whatever way fills your little heart with joy!
Since I have been thinking about preschool and filling out all these papers the past week or so, something has been stirring in me too. I have been gently confronted with the reality that I am not as far along as I may have thought I was. Grantit I thankfully don’t need anyone to wipe my bum; but I am not as clever as I thought I was, as kind, as humble, as caring, and the list goes on.
I am in preschool folks.
My reactions to things lately have been more like a spoiled brat at my heart level than I would like to admit. Someone gets what I want? Inside I start whining and stomping my mental feet. I am tired and grouchy, well then of course it’s perfectly acceptable for me to be annoyed at things that deep down I am beyond grateful for. Things that I thought I was doing a good job on, come to find out it was more like an inexperienced carpenter saying she had built a firm foundation only to find it sinking in the middle. This type of reality has been much truer for me lately than I would like to admit. I am falling short and no one but me can stop the patterns.
How am I changing? How am I addressing such stark contrasts in my reality while measuring them by my longed for steadfastness and life reflection? Below I will share a few ways I am attempting to learn again and become a sponge like my sons who graciously grow and accept correction daily.
So here goes:
- I am relearning how to love my people, my husband, my children, my family, and friends in this season.
- I am trying to shut my mouth more and listen longer.
- I am asking a few close friends to keep me accountable to areas of growth, watering my little seeds hoping for shoots of green to come.
- I am returning to some old, well worn paths of looking for the mysterious in my life.
- I am revisiting lessons I thought I had learned before and meditating on them.
- I am prioritizing my exercise, times of quiet, and the space I need in the mornings.
None of these things are rocket science I know. Yet sometimes when we live in such a fast paced way it’s easy to miss the little moments where our trajectory took a slight bend and we now find ourselves in a different place than we expected. I am a full believer in making little changes that eventually make a big impact later. All of these things are sweet and simple because that’s how I prefer to live life. However, addressing each of these takes a new level of grace towards myself, the attitude of a student, and the willingness to unlearn some things and find a better way even if I am not the teacher.
Can anyone else relate to this type of season? As tiring as learning can be, it also feels exhilarating because I’m giving myself permission to try new things or to try old things in a new way. It’s like going to your favorite restaurant and instead of ordering what you always order because you know it’s amazing, you choose to order something new knowing you may hate it. These seasons are times to embrace humility which does not mean your old way was awful or you are not smart enough. It means choosing to grow, choosing to try new things, maybe even be a little or a lot scared. It means starting small and being happy with the small, knowing it may never get big. So it’s time to prepare for preschool!
*I will also add here an unashamed plug for my favorite podcast that also happens to now be a book: The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman. I am including it here because one of the episodes on the podcast talks about being a beginner and it is something I go back to time and time again. It also helped me identify this new season I find myself in.
I of course have to include some pics of what we have been up to recently! The boys first Mariners game, a new haircut, and some Memorial Day celebrations!
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.)
Can I tell you a little secret? I think I may have failed at Lent this year. Well, at least what I initially set out to achieve this season.
After a very meaningful Advent season and finding ways to connect my faith to my parenting, I was looking forward to more of the same. I started off strong with my daily readings, taking a few minutes to be silent, and then, I just stopped.
For some reason I wasn’t connecting with the readings. They felt long, tedious, wordy, and not very relevant to my daily life. If I’m honest I couldn’t relate to them. The days went by, our schedule felt busy. A few trips to Idaho thrown into the mix and my plan of making Lent come alive was left in the dust.
That’s where Lent began. Ash Wednesday. From dust to dust.
Gritty, dirty, dusty.
Now these were words that resonated deep within my soul.
On one of the trips back from Idaho I listened to a new podcast I found called The Desire Line. As the hosts spoke to their guest he shared about how there came a season where his old ways of connecting with God just didn’t seem to work.
My ears perked up.
I have experienced many different seasons and had felt this very thing on numerous occasions. As he went on talking he shared how he began walking and hiking in an attempt to begin communicating again with God in a way that meant something to him. I loved the idea and agreed with the concept. When I got back home to Kirkland and our rhythm of life, I decided to get up before everyone else and go for a walk. No music, no headphones, just Jesus, me, and my thoughts.
Those first few days it was like trying to tune into a fuzzy station to find the right channel. Things in my head felt noisy and distracted. After the third walk I could sense my mind starting to quiet and adjust to this new practice. I could start to hear God’s voice again. Speaking in single words. I could smell the fresh rainfall, hear the birds singing overhead, and appreciate the quiet of the morning. This little gritty path laying before me, letting me walk upon it while I listened, was teaching me.
Then one day I decided to take the boys for a hike on a random Tuesday. We had nothing planned except to burn off some energy. I packed up our lunch, snacks, and away we went. As we walked the easy hiking path I could feel the solid ground beneath my feet. My eyes drawn upward towards the budding branches, brown mingled with shots of brilliant green. Spring fully underway.
The boys chatted non-stop, shouting with delight at each discovery nature had hidden and I didn’t shush them. The woods were strong enough to absorb their loud way of living a four year old existence. We played Star Wars games, skipped rocks, and ran through the forest together. The rest of the day felt easier and the dirt stuck to the tread of my shoes as a reminder of why.
As the evenings have slowly gotten brighter and the weather occasionally cooperating into a mild night, I decided to start weeding the other night. The boys played in the garden as I, on hands and knees, dug up little shoots and roots, pulling them out. As each one came out I could see the remnants of last years gardening project peeking through. The bark from last year was still there and made the area look clean, tidy, and cared for. While I slowly pulled weeds I could feel my breath settle. I could feel my mind focusing on the one task at hand. My shoulders relaxed and so did I. The boys even got excited to help me weed and would take each weed as I pulled it from my hand and place it into the bin. The next morning I washed out the remainder of the dirt from under my finger nails, hinting at the calm it had ushered in.
Most recently, we took a day trip to Alki beach outside of Seattle. We walked along the waters edge. The boys and I walked on ahead as Bryan and his brother Nate chatted. The boys and I collected beach glass, attempted to build a sandcastle with sand that was too dry, and used rocks as army guys who were fighting off Star Wars characters. Eventually the boys paused to play and I laid down in the warm sand. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths, allowing my chest to rise and fall slowly, methodically. I relaxed my eyes, placed my arms behind my head and lay still. The feeling of the sand in my hair, the sound of the water rolling onto the sand close by, the boys voices bubbling out of them in excitement, it awakened my senses.
That’s when I started thinking about how different this Lenten season had been for me. Had I failed? I didn’t think so, or at least I didn’t want to. Then the thought came to me. This Lenten season had been more like a puzzle I was putting together. One piece buried in the mud on our hike, one piece buried in the soil under a weed, another piece lodged between the rocks that get stuck in my trainers after my walk, and then another piece covered by sand and seaweed.
Gritty, dirty, dusty.
That’s where I found Lent this year: in the grit, dirt, and dust. I found myself buried in these simple practices that invite quiet in. In these places I did not have to try to tame the wild of my boys. I did not have to try to keep the house tidy to find a semblance of peace. The grit, dirt, and dust of my life were welcome in these places and so were my boys. I could feel myself rising to the surface in these moments. Not the me that is rushed, stressed out, but the me that pauses, the me that takes in the beauty of the ordinary. These practices had a way of settling me and I was thankful for the discovery.
Maybe this Lenten season what God was resurrecting in me was me. Maybe I had to walk to hear His voice. Maybe I had to take my boys outdoors to be a more engaged mother. Maybe I had to pull weeds up one at a time to appreciate the length of time it will take to grow that which can never be uprooted in me. Maybe like the beach glass, that becomes smooth and polished after being pummeled, I am being made smooth and less abrasive. Just maybe.
So maybe I didn’t fail Lent this year, maybe I found it for the first time.
How have you practiced or observed Lent this year? Was it meaningful, rich, and full? Or did it feel stale and dry? Pay attention to the answer. It could be time to take a walk and quiet yourself too.