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Mother’s Day Reflection: He Leads Gently

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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.)

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The Simple Life

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There are seasons of life that can be full of complexities and I have lived through many. An upheaval of the day to day, the loss of a parent, years longing for a family; these times can feel long, out of control, and very uncomfortable. During these periods of life I remember longing for a simpler, less complex life.

Right now life feels simple and it feels true and good. The days consist of Bryan, the boys, work, laundry, cooking, digging deeper into friendships, and little family traditions. When things are complex we often get bogged down with our thoughts and analyzing why life is so difficult which is completely normal. Then the dust settles. Some type of normalcy appears and we slip into it not really giving it much thought.

Well today I nod my head to simplicity. To a walk by myself in nature where the quiet is calming. To our morning coffee ritual of a rich, French press poured hot into my Papa’s old mug. I nod my head to weekly meal and activity planning. To naps with my boys where they cup my chin in their hand and we fall asleep. To building LEGOS with my boys more times than I can count. To baking cookies with Cohen and having chats with Kidran about his favorite Star Wars characters. To the times when Bryan comes home from work, walking straight into a wrestling match. To the times sitting on the couch once the boys have gone down. To turning off my phone when I lay down at night and shut my eyes.

This is my simple life. It’s sweet, not glamorous, but rich and full. I am thankful for this simple season. Is it always easy or fun? Definitely not. Yet it is true and real.

If you find yourself in a complex season of life I hope it transitions to a simpler existence soon and subtly. Until then, search for the quiet life. It may not solve the difficulties but it can help you hear your own voice more clearly and that of God which is always a good place to start.

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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2019: Grief…My Familiar Friend

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Five days into 2019 and I find myself accompanied by a familiar friend, grief.

Let me backup to October. This past autumn, as we sat chatting with some of our oldest and dearest friends late into the evening, something happened. A dream I hadn’t allowed myself to dream came forward. There were many logical reasons why I had tried to convince myself I didn’t truly want this dream, yet there it was, staring me in the face, speaking it’s truth to me. I hadn’t allowed myself to dream this particular dream because of one thing, fear. When the truth of that hit me, it stopped me in my tracks. That was not how I wanted to live my life, based on fear.

So on that dark, lovely, cool autumn night, I spoke the dream out loud. Loud enough for myself, my husband, and our friends to hear. I wanted to try for a third baby. There, I had said it, it was real.

For the next month we began dreaming, started appointments, and contact with our fertility clinic in Idaho. The ball was slowly rolling. At that time we allowed ourselves to dream of what our little family could look like with a new member and we took these sweet pics in hope that they may be used in a special way.

I am a dreamer at heart. I am usually optimistic and full of hope so it’s not really strange that I would want to begin preparing for the possibility of a new arrival this way. As November approached we were working with my body and what it was doing. We were making plans to have a natural frozen embryo transfer (FET) which meant my body had to cooperate with the clinics availability. On the 8th of November, the boys and I got in our little Subaru and we made the eight hour drive to Idaho to stay at my Mom’s while we waited for the timeline of November to unfold.

As my period had started and the dates rolled by we realized that even though my body was doing what it was supposed to, it wasn’t in a workable timeline due to the Thanksgiving holiday at the clinic. Once the November window closed, we decided it was best for the boys and I to stay put in Idaho and hope that the December window would work. Once again my body did what it needed to do but this time the window worked.

At this point I need to add that the clinic was not super excited about a natural FET cycle. They preferred having the most control of all the variables but we had decided that a natural cycle was the way we wanted to proceed. I had done enough injections and been through enough hormone craziness over the years that if my body could do it naturally we felt that would be better. They also didn’t see bodies cooperate that often so when my body did, you could actually sense their surprise.

Everything seemed to be lining up perfectly for December. After blood draws, ultrasounds, and ovulating, things were looking positive. My body was moving forward in the ways it needed too, the dates were working for the clinic, and best of all Bryan would be in Idaho by that time for his Christmas break from work. Everything seemed to be coming together for what we thought would most likely be the beginning of our family growing.

On the 14th of December I got the go ahead to give myself the Trigger Shot to help prepare my body for an embryo transfer the following week. I did the shot in the bathroom of a Cracker Barrel with Christmas carols blaring in the background and one of my sons running around the bathroom as I stood behind the stall door on the other side, needle in hand. By the 21st of December Bryan had arrived and it was time for the transfer. We left Kidran and Cohen in my mom’s care while we drove to Boise. On our way there, we received a call from our doctor. The first embryo they thawed was not looking good, only a 20% chance of a pregnancy. We opted to thaw the next embryo. As we continued the drive we chatted about that reality not being something we had considered. Strange to think in a matter of minutes you go from having potentially eleven little lives to ten, just like that.

We arrived, had my bloods drawn again and then I took my valium. As we sat there and the valium took effect, I began rambling about embryos and wondering what percentage of an embryo I was and what Bryan was? It’s crazy to think that each of us starts as an embryo with potentially slim chances of survival and yet here we are.

About twenty minutes after arriving the doctor and embryologist came in. They brought in our embryo, our 45% chance embryo, our potential little girl or little boy. Then we watched them insert the embryo into my uterus, marked by two tiny air bubbles.

There it was, our little embryo. Wrapped up in hopes and dreams, unseen by the naked eye, but seen clearly by the soul. My heart skipped a beat. My dream was taking shape, our dream was happening. The dream that I had been afraid to speak of. Yet speaking this dream out had powerfully led us to this place, taking baby steps each day to make the dream turn into our reality.

Flashback to the transfer we had in 2014 that turned into our two beautiful sons. I wore the same necklace that is now tattooed on my wrist. A gift from a friend and a reminder of God’s promise that we would have a family someday. A promise kept. Yet did the promise extend to one more child? We would have to wait to find out.

Thank goodness the days following the transfer went by rather fast. With Christmas, Boxing Day, time up at my brothers cabin, and New Year’s Eve all between the transfer and the blood draw to test for a pregnancy, we occupied our days and made some very sweet memories. Still if you have ever walked this road yourself, you know how even though you are living your life day to day, the fact that you are waiting for your future is always in the back of your mind. Each day you are measuring what your body is doing. Do I feel crampy? Are my boobs sore? Do I feel more tired than normal? The questions go on and on. The waiting is always the hardest part once you have actually had the transfer.

2019 arrived, we had a lovely evening celebrating with my brother and sister-in-law. It was quiet and I was filled with hopeful anticipation. We drove back to Nampa on the 1st and unpacked. That night I struggled to sleep. I couldn’t relax into rest. I was too anxious for the awaited outcome the next morning. Morning came, my mom and I got ready and headed to Boise for the blood draw. Bryan kindly agreed to stay home and watch the boys so my mom and I could have a day together.

The blood draw was quick and over by 9 a.m. We then spent the day eating and shopping. It was a lovely, sweet day. Around 2:30 p.m, as I was standing in the Macy’s maternity section picking out maternity jeans that my mom was going to buy me as a gift, I got the call. My blood draw had shown that I was pregnant, but my levels were low. This meant that they thought I was having a chemical pregnancy which after I looked it up basically meant an early miscarriage. My vision went a little blurry and I felt hot. I knelt down next to the rack of clothes I was standing by and asked my mom to stop asking any questions, I needed a minute to focus. Everything went into tunnel vision. I was technically pregnant but it wasn’t looking promising.

I told the clinic I would call them back after I spoke to Bryan. As I called him, my hands shook with the news. His silent pause on the other end was enough to undo me. Neither of us had been prepared for this result. We were expecting a yes or no. Not a yes, but wait. We decided to keep our plans to return home the same and that I would get my bloods done on the 7th if my period still hadn’t started.

We celebrated my mom’s birthday the next evening at a fun sushi restaurant with some of the family on the 3rd. Then on the 4th we packed up our car with all the thoughtful and fun gifts we had received for Christmas along with skis and supplies. We hugged my mom tight one last time, said our goodbyes and drove away. The drive home was uneventful and we made it in good time. We arrived home at 7:30 p.m, the boys thrilled to be home and play with their toys. We unpacked our bags and settled some of our belongings back into their familiar homes.

Then at 9:45 p.m, I went to the bathroom and there it was, the marker that told me my body had finally given up the pregnancy. My period had started. In almost an act of denial I still inserted my progesterone suppository in a feeble attempt to reverse what my body was already moving towards…a miscarriage.

I came out and told Bryan. Then I came unglued. Uncontrollable sobs escaped my mouth, and the tears streamed down my cheeks as I wept on his shoulder. Our journey of infertility marked once again by grief and heartbreak. My husband has consoled me so many times in our married life and I am beyond thankful for his presence, calmness, vulnerability in these moments. This was our dream together, now over.

Bryan, being the incredible husband and father he is, took our two miracle sons skiing with him today so that I could have a whole day to be alone and process the past few months. I am so grateful for a spouse who knows me, understands my needs, and graciously loves me in the ways I need when I need them. He is one of my biggest treasures in life. As I drank my coffee slowly, staring out our window at the mountains, the sobs continued.

A whole new kind of grief washed over me. in all our years of infertility we had never experienced a miscarriage until now. It feels so different. We had given that baby a name, for a boy and for a girl depending on the gender. We had made space in our hearts. We had seen our boys as big brothers. We had seen one more grandchild in the arms of their Grandma and Amma. We had seen sleepless nights with a newborn. We had allowed the dream to take root. I also had felt pregnant. I was experiencing many symptoms similar to those of what I felt like when we got pregnant with the boys. I had been so sure that everything lining up so perfectly most likely meant that this dream would become our new reality. Yet it hasn’t. We have miscarried. My period has started and my stomach is cramping while my body is exhausted.

My heart feels crushed. This feels like a very abrupt ending of a chapter in a book. I will never have a pregnant bump again. I will never feel the flutter of movement in my belly again. I will never nurse another newborn. I will never hold the little hands of my toddler as they take their first steps. So many things that will never happen again. And just like that grief floods into my core, and I am rocked. In the last fifteen years of my life I feel like grief has become something I am familiar with. So many moments now that are filled with flowing tears and a breaking heart.

This is real. This is me in grief.

img-5459Nothing pretty about it. Tears, anguish, it’s all right there. Yet I won’t hide it. I can’t. I will continue sharing it because I have to find some purpose in it or else it feels like a waste.

I will never regret trying for our third baby. I will never regret dreaming, and giving our baby names. Yet I am not sure my heart will ever totally heal either. That’s what happens with infertility, it leaves a mark that changes you forever.

Tonight I will go to bed heavy with emotion. Knowing that tomorrow is a new day. My husbands warm body will lie next to me and provide a shoulder to cry on again. My beautiful boys will wake me up. The morning will come as it always does and I will once again make coffee. I will drink it like nothing has changed yet so much has. This is what grief, that old familiar friend does. It punctuates the absurdity of normal life while all the time you feel you are being pummeled by the pain and emotion of your new reality.

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Then I will stop long enough to once again survey my life. Full with love and family. A husband I love and two unique sons to mother and nurture and my heart will swell. Grief will not have the last word, for life is still worth living.

For anyone else who has walked this path or is walking this path, my heart goes out to you. I hope you have time to heal and people to love and support you through it. May peace eventually come.

Here is a poem I wrote about this painful experience. Writing helps me process and again, if I can help even one more person through sharing then there can be some kind of purpose found in the pain.

                                                                     Miscarriage

With a single drop of blood,

the dream shatters,

into a million little pieces.

Face pale, eyes red.

In exhaustion it begins.

Miscarriage.

Nature takes it’s course,

My body cooperates

but not my soul.

I stare at the watery grave.

Clumps, red swirls, matter.

Gravity pulls you away.

With each flush, you disappear.

So crude an exit

for such a heavenly dream.

The silence…

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My sweet friend Molly told me about a podcast and now I will pass it on. It’s called The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman. Everything about this podcast has been about timing. There are seasons of life where something comes into your life at just the right time, just the right season, and helps you put words to your feelings. This podcast has been that for me.

By nature I am an extroverted introvert, maybe even an ambivert. When I was growing up I didn’t know it but my life was set up in such a way that time by myself and quiet was built in everyday without me trying. I was the youngest by far in my family and had my own bedroom. I would have friends come and play but often I was left to play on my own and that suited my personality. I remember filling sketch pads with fashion designs or building Barbie houses out of cardboard boxes and tissue boxes. When I became a teenager and my social life was everything, I still had that downtime built in. I would get home from school or practice and go back to my bedroom for a bit before emerging for dinner, then onto my next social activity.

As I got older, my life changed. I had my first roommate at college at the age of 18. I didn’t realize it then but this would begin undoing my normal pattern. After my college years of roomies, I got married to the love of my life straight after graduation. I went from communal living to marriage. As anyone who is married knows, it’s wonderful! Yes, there are ups and downs, but at the end of the day I am beyond amazed at how well suited Bryan and I are to each other. This has especially become evident as we have entered into the world of parenthood. I see us balancing each other in ways I couldn’t have anticipated but am so thankful for.

Over the years as I discovered my more introverted nature, Bryan has been so helpful in helping me carve out space and time for me to be alone. We live a pretty social life and our hearts are continually expanding with love for our family and friends. So these times of alone have become vital for me to stay sane. That’s where my good friend Ems, as me and a few friends have affectionately named her, speaks to my deeper longings.

The aim of her podcast is to help people with decision fatigue determine what their next right thing is and then to do that thing in love. Brilliant right?! After a season of big moves, big changes, grief, and exhaustion this podcast came as water to my very thirsty soul. It continues to help shape my thoughts and decisions which are becoming clearer most days.

This past weekend my little family had the rare opportunity of going out to Lopez Island to visit friends. It’s one of the San Juan Islands in Washington state where I live. It was such a push to get there. We left Saturday evening once Bryan had finished work and didn’t arrive until after 10 p.m. Yet the next morning we awoke to a magical place. The island is the “slow” I have been craving. All around me people use the word “hustle” and it kind of makes me cringe. Mostly because the good things in my life have taken time and patience, they have taken the slower path and that word makes me feel rushed, out of breath.

We took our time sipping coffee in the morning, ate slowly, walked slowly, and took time for slow, meaningful conversations. Our second and sadly last morning there, I stepped outside, walked down the makeshift staircase to the beach below and stood on the rocky shore. Clams were squirting out water, coming up in tiny spouts. Seagulls were flying overhead, and the waves crashed calmly against the smooth stones. As I stood there I took five minutes to be silent. This was a practice that my friends and I took up on our recent trip to Northern Ireland.

It was only five minutes but my senses were overwhelmed with beauty, serenity, gratitude, and peace. The rest of the day was full of the slow kind of fun. We spent the day chasing one amazing creative scene after another, ending the day with a fire and s’mores under starlight with our friends and our four little boys. It was such a gift.

Now I am thinking of ways to carve out these five minute silent retreats on a daily basis. Five minutes is not that much time but it can pump the necessary life breath back into my lungs. It will help me breathe in the depth of this beautiful life I am living and help me sit back in admiration of the subtleties and creeping changes that are leading to personal growth. These moments in turn help me feel the satisfaction with my own pace, helping me not to run someone else’s race, only my own.

Can you take five minutes today? If so, do it. It may feel foreign or you may be distracted, but I promise, if you keep at it, you will reap the reward of beginning to hear your own voice in the silence.

Day 3: The North Coast Calls

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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!

 

 

Northern Ireland, I am still unpacking

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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!”