After living in Northern Ireland for twelve years, I knew how rare a string of beautiful, sunny days were. This was even more pronounced on the third day of our trip. We woke to glorious sunshine again and pinched ourselves! Could we really be experiencing the first heatwave of early summer? Yes!
While Kelly and Molly put on their walking clothes and took off up the Bush road towards town, a journey I had made so many times before and after having our boys, I got ready for a few coffee catch ups with friends. The first on my list was my sweet, justice loving, bold, and incredibly talented chef of a friend Michelle. She not only is my friend but was also my pastor for many years while we lived in Northern Ireland. Michelle and I could “talk for Ireland” as they say. Whenever we get together it literally feels like a speed chatting session. We rarely breathe, we laugh a great deal, and we go deep fast. I am thankful beyond words for her friendship and sister-like presence in my life over the years. She stood by me as I hit rock bottom within my faith paradigm while we struggled through our infertility journey and allowed me to be where I was. We have had some very honest moments in our friendship but I believe that is how true friendship is forged, or any real relationship for that matter. We didn’t have enough time together but we never do. I am thankful all the same!
Next up was a meeting with my very first adopted teen, Laura. Laura has been a part of our family since the early days. One of the first teens Bryan walked alongside of, she was in my small group for years, she accompanied us on our move back to the States a few years ago to help with the boys, and most recently has become a mummy herself to wee Luke. Laura is a stunning woman. She has a determination and fierce strength that is much older than her years. It was such an honor to see her on this trip home and finally be able to cuddle and love on her little boy. He is so happy and content, thanks to the constant love and security his momma brings him. In a way, Laura was one of the first people to open up the mothering heart inside of me and I’m so thankful for that. She also got lots of practice for her own baby by minding ours!
Once the catch ups were done, we showered, packed a small bag each and hopped into our sweet, loaned car.
The North Coast was calling and we couldn’t wait to answer!
The drive to the coast was filled with chat, laughter, and music. I love driving most days anyway but driving in Northern Ireland has always been more fun to me! The winding roads, the rolling hills, green upon green everywhere you look. Fields dotted by old stone churches, sheep, and hedges made to divide the farmland. It never, ever, gets old. My eyes always want more.
Yet, I also can remember making the drive when my heart had been shattered from failed rounds of ICSI. I remember looking out the window, tears streaming down my face, heart caving in. I wasn’t taking in the surroundings those days. I was merely trying to breathe in and out. There was a strange sense of relief though when we would reach a certain point in the drive where I felt a release. The times on the coast of grieving were defining periods for me and I will never forget them or what they did for my soul.
I was so thankful to be making the trip this time up to our friends, the Millen’s, for such a happy occasion as this. You see, the Millen’s prayed, and prayed, and prayed for us, for me, and for our boys to come into being. They invested in such deep ways. They walked through the valley with us and held us up as we cried. They are a beautiful family unit and it is such a joy to have them in our lives. Knowing that I was going to their new home, in the countryside, that they had built themselves, and was a mere shell when we left, felt somehow significant. They had a sweet, little home closer to downtown Coleraine, but decided to build a bigger family home on some family farmland. Now there other home was amazing! Full of memories, love, and lots of TLC. There was nothing wrong with that house outside of their need for more space for their growing girls. In a way this felt similar to our move back to the states. There was nothing wrong with our lives, but in a way we were growing and needed different space. Although we didn’t think it meant leaving Northern Ireland. So seeing them in their new home was profound. Sometimes we change the decor of our lives, other times we change the actual, physical location. Some changes are harder than others to make. In the end, their move and change was worth it and I believe ours has been too. We are all building new foundations, mapping out new spaces, and it’s good.
We arrived to their house around 3:30 and immediately ate them out of fresh fruit as we had basically been on a buns (sweet treats) and bread diet since we landed! Lol!! We sat down for our first cuppa in their new home and I fell in love all over again with them! Their whole family has such a deep rooted place in our hearts and it shows. Lee once again whipped up an amazing CURRY! Yes! One of my favorite meals she cooks, among many I can assure you. Then we changed our clothes and headed to Hope & Gloria for our event that night. If you have time, go and check it out for yourself! I love the heart behind this venue and everything it is about.
I want to tell you a secret. If I’m honest, I had the most hope for this event to be our biggest. In the end, it turned out to be our smallest; but you know what? It was perfect as it was. There was a small group of us that evening. We sat around a table. We chatted like friends chat. We asked questions, we spoke encouraging words to each other. We thanked one another for being honest, vulnerable, for turning up. I know things were happening in that small meeting. Besides, the quantity should never be the focus, the quality should be. That night, the quality was extremely high. I can see ripples coming out of that evening and I was pleased. I was also thankful for the space, for the opportunity to share, and the way in which it was received. I know that Causeway Coast Vineyard will take it and run with it, serving others who are similarly struggling and will do so with love and compassion.
To end the evening, we all sat up drinking prosecco, eating crisps (chips), and chatting late into the night. I was the first to fall asleep on the couch which made my heart happy. You know you are truly at home somewhere if you fall asleep on their couch. As I made my way downstairs, to the new lower level, the room was pitch black, my head hit the pillow, my mouth turned up into a smile, and I was out.
My pipe dream was really happening!
As a kid, summer time felt slow, warm, sleepy, and fun. As a parent, summer feels fast, hot, sleep deprived, and adventure packed. Anyone else feel stretched over the summer months to cram every, last, second with activity, friends, and more calorific treats than usual? Good, I’m glad I’m not alone!
Due to the quickened pace of summer, longer days, later bedtimes, snack meals instead of sit-down dinner, and fewer naps for the boys and me, I have not been writing much. I enjoy and eventually soak up all that summer has to offer. If I’m honest though, I miss routine at times. I miss downtime, I miss the boys napping so I can take time to process our sweet and simple life. This has become a way for me to be more present here and now. I become more thankful for all that my life holds when I stop and take time to ponder it.
As I watch my boys grow daily I can’t help but recall each of their stages. I have loved every stage so far. By loved I mean, each stage seems better than the one before, and I have found so much joy in them. That doesn’t mean I have been 100% joyful all the time. Come on people, I am no saint. My boys whine, kick, and hit each other, I shout at them to stop (sometimes even in public!), and meal times are still painfully long and a test of my endurance and will.
The days have been flying by and I realized that I am still unpacking the book tour to Northern Ireland. I am a slow processor. So for those of you who have kept up with my blog, bear with me as I go backwards to move forwards.
I have already written a bit about our first day and some of the wonderful family members we have in NI. So I am ready to move on to Day 2! Which is so funny that I am only on Day 2 of a 5 day stay on the island.
Day 2 was packed, but with all the good stuff! We started our morning off with a mindfulness session led by Pete. This was so timely for each Kelly, Molly, and me. We all found so much value in slowing our step, to take time to pause, to think. We even carried a bit of the practice with us during the trip which I will share later.
After quieting ourselves, Julie drove us to one of the newer coffee shops in The Moy. (Side note: If you live locally you would never say “Moy”, only “The Moy”.) Brew coffee shop is run by two lovely friends of ours. They create a sense of community that always draws people in and do everything in excellence. They have incredible business heads, great senses of humor, and are always up for a good chat! If you are in the area, definitely go, you will not regret it!
Once we were fed and watered, we loaded into the car and headed up the M1 to the Big Smoke, Belfast. Ahh Belfast, I have such romantic, nostalgic feelings about you. We had date evenings in Belfast. Birthday hotel stays, always the Christmas market + annual shopping trips, concerts, and much more. Belfast is culturally and historically rich. It was often our destination for celebrating life too. We spent many anniversaries there, writing in our journals, reflecting on the past year. Recently Bryan and I were chatting about sitting in the Europa hotel, listening to classical music being played on the piano, with the World Cup on in the background. While this was happening we sat and cried, reading our journals together. We were pregnant. Finally, after so many years, so many journal entries of not being pregnant. Here we were, so close to the boys arrival, celebrating our life together, our ups and downs, hurts and heartaches, and feeling so beyond seen by God. Neither of us will ever forget that anniversary.
What I loved about being back in Belfast was that it still held the same feelings. I still love the Big Smoke. I loved that I got to show my friends around to some of our favorite sites. We hit up Established Coffee which was new to me but had been on my list to visit before we left. We went to Victoria Square, City Hall, Cathedral Quarter, Avoca, eventually landing at Made in Belfast near the City Hall. I have always loved it! We would go any chance we got and had many dinners with friends there too over the years. The food and drinks are always incredible and they source as much as they can locally which I love!
After having an early dinner (or tea for my NI friends), we headed back down the motorway to Lurgan. That evening I shared at Emmanuel Church and it was a very intimate evening. I had no idea how many people would be willing to come and identify with infertility in such an open way. A small crowd came, including two supportive husbands. I thought it was brave and beautiful for these men to stand alongside their wives that evening, showing the solidarity of their shared experience of infertility. What was also amazing was that my contact for the event just happened to be a woman who had stayed at our house in Dungannon ten years earlier. We hadn’t seen each other for years but we had a depth due to our shared past. This happens so often in Ireland. It’s one of the most enchanting things about living in such a small place.
Two of my NI sisters also came to support me as they had done over the years simply by being one of the first families to accept us. One of the sweetest surprises was having my first mid-wife turn up to the evening. When I saw her I got quite emotional. So many people played big and small roles in our journey through infertility. Having these face to face moments with so many of them to say “thank you”, to hug them tightly, and to look them in the eyes years later was soul enriching.
Again, I am thankful for the opportunity of sharing with the people that night. After each event you could almost feel the atmosphere open up and people would share more. As our good friend Brene′ Brown says, “Vulnerability breeds vulnerability.” Or at least I think it was her! Anyway, it’s good practice in life.
So where can you breed vulnerability in your own life? I am not talking about sharing your deepest, darkest secrets. I am talking about acknowledging that maybe you feel like you don’t fit somewhere. Do you feel inadequate? Share that. I guarantee someone else will say “me too!”
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.
We all write for specific reasons. Some people write to speak out, persuade or promote. I write to help me process the seasons of life I find myself in. (I am slightly more introverted and get stuck in my head A LOT). I am not writing to try to tell you how to live your life or persuade you to follow me or share my blog. All of those things are good and fine, and if you want to by all means please do, especially if it will help someone else! But those reasons are not my motivation. So today, if you are going to read my blog I would encourage you to grab a cup of your favourite beverage and get comfortable. This is going to be a winding road.
Today I write to help me release my tears, my heavy heart, the unknowns of the future and help me to live in the present. When I write I reflect, stand back and absorb all that my sweet, simple life encompasses. And right now I am reflecting on my Father, laying in a hospital bed in Utah because he is battling cancer. I want to be there, with him and my Mom, holding their hands. But I am here in Idaho because my reality is being a Mum to twin toddler boys who will soon be three. A whole different post will be for that fact!
Let me back up a bit for those just starting this journey with me. Last July Bryan, my husband and our twin sons moved back to Kirkland, WA. My husband received a job opportunity at our old university and we felt it was the right time to take it. Fast forward a few months of being back and my Dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Over the coming months he went through his first surgery removing tumors on his neck which then came back within three weeks (not six months as the doctors suggested). He then went through six weeks of radiation five days a week. Unfortunately this did not work. Surgery number two was completed I think around May. Still they were not able to get all the cancer. It was at that point that my amazing and supportive brothers strongly encouraged a second opinion which I agreed with too. It was time.
With the second opinion came more options which we have been so thankful for. The doctors started immunotherapy about three weeks ago and were hopeful that it would kick in and start building up the strong cells to help them fight off the cancer. So Tuesday my Mom, Dad and sister in law left for Utah. When they arrived at his appointment Wednesday morning they admitted him to the hospital at the Cancer Clinic because his blood sugar was dangerously high. Since then we have been living through text messages, phone calls, waiting on CT scan reports, etc. All the processes you go through with cancer treatment. It’s not smooth sailing for sure but more a knot-in-the-stomach-producing kind of thing. Through yesterday and today we have found out that they will most likely skip immunotherapy and move to chemo. My Dad also has a blood clot in his neck and they are struggling to keep his blood sugar under control. All of this means that my parents will be staying in Utah till at least Sunday. Of course I wish they were here but again I am so thankful for the team of specialists who are attacking this from all sides and working so hard to heal him.
I feel like I need to say it publicly too that I am believing for a miracle for my Papa. The kind that means we will have him around for many years to come. That he will be here for birthdays, Christmas, summer trips to the Oregon Coast or the mountains of McCall. Yet right now I am in the waiting. The waiting is where I write. The waiting is where I fall back on my ways of finding comfort.
For so many years the place I found peace and comfort dealing with life was on the North Coast of Ireland.
Here is one of the many coastlines that we frequented when we lived there. This picture was sent to me by a good friend in NI (that is her husband, another dear friend). She sent it to me to bring me comfort and it did just that. It reminded me of the times that I cried out to God about our desire to have a family. I cried more times than I can remember up on that coast. I did deep soul work on those beaches and rocks, the kind that cannot be shaken or shifted. That work is still there, rooted in me. I still long for those shores on a daily basis and even more now when life feels uncertain and foggy. Don’t get me wrong. I am beyond thankful that we are here for this season. Being in NI while this is going on would have been more like torture. So in God’s good grace he allowed us to be close, so very close and for that I am thankful. I have traveled to Idaho six times since we moved back. Yet my soul wants the air, the rolling hills and the cliffs to ponder on. Just for a day. To cry out to God once more in the place that feels familiar. A place where I fought off my own doubts and found a new kind of faith.
Another way I find help is by connection. I have done this by sending out more texts than I can recall asking for prayer and support as my family is walking this road. Earlier today I was listening to a podcast by Jen Hatmaker with Brene′ Brown and one of the very first things Brene′ says is that we are hardwired for connection.
I wholeheartedly agree with that statement! Hence why I have been burning up my phone updating friends on what’s going on and asking for more prayer. The connection to my husband, family and friends has been so important not only for me but for my Dad and Mom too. They have been bolstered up by the support they are receiving from people who care so deeply for them.
Music is also healing for me. Before we left Northern Ireland last year, a good friend gave us this album by Foy Vance.
The album washed over my broken heart as we packed up our sweet home and traveled the North coast of Ireland one final time before moving stateside. Since returning it has been a balm to my heart on many occasions. It is no different right now. One of the songs Foy sings is called Burden and it says this:
Come to me, my brother, and I will sit with you a while
Pretty soon I’ll see you smile and you know you will
No matter how much you’re hurting right now
You know that everything will change in time
So let me carry your burden
This song makes me weep right now. What our family is carrying is a burden. We are hurting. But the promise is that everything will change in time. I find comfort in knowing that this is not forever. I am hopeful and believing this for my Dad. That he will not be sick, that he will be well. That he will feel like himself again and smiles will come easy and last long. But I am so thankful for songs like this that speak to me at such a core level.
I am also finding peace by grabbing the moments that I can (as limited as I feel) and be in the present.
My Dad hasn’t liked having his picture taken for awhile but I have been taking pics of him anyway. Us in our sunglasses with our sweet smiles, love it! My Dad and the boys in their adorable little boy underwear, pure Mommy love! The boys celebrating their third birthday a little early on the deck at my parents with my Mom, eldest brother and his wife, such a sweet evening! The boys exploring every inch of my younger brothers property usually in just their nappy or pajamas, I can’t get enough! These are the moments that help to keep me here and now, in the sweetness of life while still tasting the bitter. (Thanks again Shauna Niequist for that wonderful book Bittersweet!)
As I sit here and finish writing this blog, the boys are awake from their nap and now are watching another show. They have had way too many treats and late bedtimes. But this is the last way I am processing. By being gracious towards myself. This weird in-between is not forever. Soon enough we will be back in our home, in our routine. Bedtimes will get earlier, treats will be fewer as will shows. Yet for today, I am smothering myself in tons of grace. And sometimes that grace looks like bending the rules for all of us.
I want to say thank you to each and every one of you who are praying for my Dad and our family. It means to much to us all. Please continue! And to the different artists/authors who have contributed unknowingly to my life, thank you for what you have brought to the table. It is helping more people than you can possibly imagine, including me.
One of the boys favourite little games we play right now is fee-fi-fo-fum. They run down the hall, jump into our bed and ‘hide-hide-hide’ under the covers until I stomp down the hall pretending to be a giant shouting for them. Recently I have been invited into the game in a new role. They take turns playing the giant and want me to hide under the covers with them. Some days I don’t want to play these little games that feel like ground hog day and there’s a pile of laundry flooding out of the next room. But then there are these moments. The kind that cause me to stop breathing. The kind that make me realize how short life is. How short this time with the boys being little is. The moments that I am pretty sure are going to replay in my mind when I watch them ride a bike for the first time, drive for the first time, graduate, get married, etc.
When we are playing this sweet game and we are hiding under the covers, they come in close. Each of them. They whisper to me to be quiet, that we are hiding. I get to have their faces inches from mine. I get to study their different and distinctly blue eyes, their mouths with ruby lips, their wild blonde curls. I get to smell their hot little boy breath that doesn’t stink yet but smells warm and sweet. Sometimes they will grab my hand or snuggle in close for only a second. One. Little. Second.
These seconds are precious and so tiny I almost miss them some days. Because as the other little man stomps down the hall, the anticipation builds. The door bursts open with a squeal of delight and we are all joining in! The noise is astounding as is the untamed excitement. We all end up on the bed laughing and wrestling as that’s what most things turn into when you are a mom of little boys.
This little glimpse is teaching me a lot about my own life. I struggle to live in the present on a daily basis. I am a future kind of girl. Always thinking, dreaming and planning for the next step. That is useful and helpful at times but also can steal joy in the present, very real and beautiful moments of my day to day life. I am working on being more mindful. Breathing more deeply. Not pushing myself to run on fumes. To learn what real rest looks like for me and be okay with taking that rest when I need it. Thankfully I am married to an incredible man who sees me so clearly and knows what I need often before I do.
This ‘living in the present’ struggle also runs into many other areas of my life. But now more than ever I see the desperate need to live in the here and now. To look people in the eye and tell them I love them. To truly listen when someone shares what they are going through. To find connection in even the briefest of moments because I am really seeing the person I am with, not moving on to the next time we get together.
So what I am hoping for is a few more seconds…
I.LOVE.SUMMER!!!! The heat, the light evenings, the unstructured-take-it-as-it-comes schedule, the playing!
This summer is no exception. Our summer has been filled to the brim with fun, family and friendship. Time in Idaho, Northern Irish visitors and then a magical escape to Alaska have all been pretty epic if I do say so myself! We have pushed ourselves and the boys to keep going at breakneck speed and for the most part all of us have done okay.
Yet our first two days back in Washington, routine, normal bedtimes and familiar surroundings have shown me that maybe we went a bit too far. When your normally early rising toddlers aren’t getting up till 9am (thank you Jesus!) you know you went beyond your capacity. The cracks have been showing for the last week with the boys being a bit grumpy and us being just really tired. So the unraveling of some bad habits is happening and we are in one of those lovely adjustment periods. You know what I mean right? The times when you feel like your parenting skills are substandard and your children have developed super human powers to push all your buttons at once. Yeah, it’s one of those times.
Bedtime tonight was especially delightful. And yes, I am being sarcastic. I took all of the boys toys, comfort pieces and blankets. I even unscrewed the lightbulbs in their bedroom to discourage their war on sleep. The boys did not nap today which made them extra cranky tonight. The thinking that this would mean an earlier than normal bedtime was completely inaccurate. Ha! So many grand plans lay in wreck and ruin from toddlers who took over the world inside their home!!
Yet once again my boys melted my hardened heart towards their little revolt. Kidran would continually agree with me when I would reprimand them with his encouraging ‘Yawh!’ Somehow he has inherited this from me and I got it from my Mom! It’s so stinkin’ cute though! Then Cohen asked me to kiss all the places he hurt in his little mutiny in his bed. We finished by me kissing each finger tip and the not to be forgotten thumb.
It was in the sweetness of that moment that once again my heart turned towards my two little men. Tired and overstimulated from the experiences of so many trips and people in such a short space of time. Exhausted from the pace of life their little legs were not meant to keep up with. I also have noticed that they seem less enthused with their normal favourite spots to play. Alaska has gotten into their veins and the restriction of modern city life is cramping their ever-growing style. I find myself saying ‘no’ more often, ‘don’t do that’ a lot and that is okay. They will learn to appreciate the offerings of each place they land in the future. Right now it’s just hard to explain the feeling of being out of sorts to our little men.
As I pondered the way Kidran and Cohen had dealt with the transitions of the summer I felt a new grace applied to my heart and soul. The 17th of July marked our first full year back in the states after our 12 year planting/rooting in Northern Ireland. The year has been incredible in so many ways. Reconnecting with old, dear friends, starting new and exciting jobs, being closer to family, being surrounded by mountains again, the list could go on. It doesn’t feel that long ago that we left this place because it is so familiar.
Still when I think of home my heart sees Northern Ireland. The green, the sea, the people, the growing up and growing together that was done. At first I would try to push these thoughts and feelings away. Not anymore. I welcome them. I sit with them. I treasure them. They are an intricate part of my story now. A part that is filled with love, depth and peace that came from pressing into a place. Often times people talk about growing where you are planted. I remember releasing myself to that way of thinking in Northern Ireland at times when I didn’t feel settled, when it felt foreign and not like home. So I am comforted that right now I am back to working at growing right here, right now, where I am.
Are you growing right where you are? What would help you to do that easier, with more grace for yourself and others? I would love to hear your thoughts!