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.
Most days I walk around my life content to be what people see. Then there are days when I wonder why the world cannot see the markings of the people, places, and experiences that I wear. Then I remember, it is because these treasured moments in my life have been captured in an invisible tattoo.
It took 12 years to create. It is full of details and embellishments. Both shadow and light is captured within it’s lines. This tattoo could very well be a map of the whole of Ireland, etched with invisible ink across the length and width of my back. It depicts stories of growth, transformation, heartache, love, satisfaction, longing, adventure, and thin places. I carry this imprint wherever I go.
Recently I went back to visit my other home. At times it felt like the lines were searing hot, like I was being branded anew, stingy with the memory of the life we lived on the island. Moments and sites revisited, new places explored, history appreciated while writing new chapters in this never-ending book.
The trip was profound on many levels. I left the States content with my lot in life. I went with an open heart, open hands, and an open mind. I noticed that I walk a bit differently on Irish soil. A very true part of me comes alive in this magical land. I hear I am not the only one to experience this effect.
There are now new friends that have been made from this trip. Barry, Sebastian, Meredith, David, and Elizabeth to name a few. Celtic Dawn Expeditions, the embryonic adventure of Dave and Leanne has officially begun. Along with the new friendships, I cradled moments with the old faces of a time passed. Faces that reflect to me who I became while living on the island. There was a deep level of knowing that took place in each of these encounters and my heart swells when I think of them. The list of people who shaped me is too long to spell out and I don’t want to forget anyone, but I hope you each know who you are, how loved you are by me, and how much you impacted my life and who I have become.
Months later I am still revisiting moments of this special trip. There is so much more I could say but I’m not sure how. What I can say is this, each of us wears invisible tattoos. We all have life experiences that are unseen to those around us. As we develop and grow, maybe we are meant to begin tracing the lines with our own ink, bringing color and life to the parts that display our invisible, beautiful history to the world. I trace mine with words, with watercolors, with baking, and with nature. Each line I trace is a step towards unveiling my full self to a world that if I’m honest, may not be ready to receive this offering. Still I will reveal myself, the truest parts of me, over time. This space here, where I write, is one of the main places I do that. So thanks for reading and thank you for accepting.
For those of you who want a song to accompany this post, you are lucky. Here it is:
(Side note: One of the creative outlets that grew from my recent trip back was a melding of these years into me beginning my quarterly newsletter: Slow Small Sustainable. If you would like to journey with me as I share more on this, please send me your email address either through the blog, on Instagram @breannachud, or on FB: breannajochud.)
I have lost track of how many times I’ve had the privilege of traveling to Alaska. I almost feel guilty about it if I’m honest. I know it’s a place on the bucket list for many. I just happen to be married to a man who is from there and where the rest of the Chud clan currently reside.
This summer we took the boys back. Even though they had been there once before, we think this will be the trip that they are old enough to remember. It started with separate flights for our twin sons. These two had never spent a full 24 hours apart. That is, until we intentionally booked separate flights which we then completely forgot about booking. We knew we were all going but somewhere in the recesses of our minds neither of us could recall making this decision until we saw the itinerary come through, separately.
It’s always interesting to watch Kidran and Cohen take strides by themselves. Most of the time they are together and in some ways rely on each other for a certain degree of comfort and stability. So when opportunities arise for them to shine individually we soak it up. This little slip up on our part did just that and made us make a mental note for the necessity of time apart in the future.
So…back to Alaska.
Alaska is Alaska.
In your face.
It has the ability to stop you in your tracks simply with it’s natural grandeur.
For us however, it holds some of the people closest and dearest to our hearts. It provides opportunities for us to show our children what we love about the Last Frontier and this wild, untamable land. It also gives us the chance to share Grandpa J, Bryan’s late father, with our boys as there is a small plaque on a rock up in Hatchers Pass where his ashes were sprinkled years ago. We had many moments of chatting, sharing our hearts, catching up about life and everything in between. So many sweet times shared that my heart still feels full.
This trip also gave myself and one of my sister-in-laws the chance to experience a first of our own, this meant jumping into our first glacial lake! (Very glad I made the leap!)
The trip also encompassed a deeper meaning. Our incredible Amma Chud will be celebrating her 70th birthday next week. We decided that while so many of us were there that we would have a celebration of her life. It was one of those nights that felt surreal, magical, and like time may have just stopped. I have always been thankful for my side of the family. When I married into the Chud family I became equally thankful for the heritage and legacy I stepped into by marrying Bryan. Our boys now reap the benefits of both sides and this truth still stuns me.
The party was exactly what I hoped and envisioned it to be. Certain family members (namely the littlest brother, aka Nate Chud) outdid himself and had interviewed Lynda about each decade of her life. He then condensed the interview into 40 minutes for us all to watch. Those 40 minutes will be something I revisit for sure. So much life to unpack, wisdom to learn, and lessons to pass on.
After many days and evenings together I sought out time alone on our last day there. I chose to take my Bible and journal up to the A-Frame restaurant. It’s been around for ages, has changed very little, and feels nostalgic while full of new possibilities.
As I sat there on my last day, I stared out the vast windows. I reflected on my life and the many times I had sat in that very place in the past. I had been on this path before, it was well worn to me. I then thanked God for my family and wrote private words in my journal that the world will never see but God will always know.
Now that I am home, I look back at this picture and see something else. Looking through those windows in that old A-frame lodge I see the landscape of my soul. Plush, green with growth, and vast. Yet untamed, dangerous, and unchartered. The trip marked a changing of seasons for me. Not within the physical world so much as the spiritual world. I can see now that I am being transformed from glory to glory, much like that view.
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.
Have you ever seen the movie Mean Girls? It’s definitely a teenage classic, not completely moral but quite funny all the same. There is this one seen that has produced a repeatable quote in my life. The seen shows these teenage girls at a high school, gathered together in a gym to apologize for how they have all wronged each other. At one point a girl gets up, says her piece, then someone shouts that she doesn’t even go to the school. In her defense she says “I just have a lot of feelings.”
Well, this weekend I have had “a lot of feelings.” My mind and heart have been flashing back to memories of the past. I have been replaying these key moments through the years with certain friendships. The memories stem from cultivating growth in these friendships over many years.
Right now however, I find myself in a unique season. I am living closer to two of my best friends than I have in over a decade. Even though they both live more than an hour away from me we have been able to see each other multiple times since being back in the states. The richness of this season is not lost on any of us.
Over the years we put in the hard work of remaining in touch, sharing our lives, and keeping our friendships a priority within our ever changing lives and different seasons. We encouraged and challenged each other from afar and now we are doing it close up. The type of friendship I share with them cannot be fully expressed with words. That’s also why this weekend I have had so many feelings being with both of them.
On Friday night I was able to attend my friend Kelly’s first Dream Catcher Gathering at her home. People have described her home and her events as magical, breathtaking, and incredibly life-giving. Friday night was no exception. For the past few years Kelly has been leaning into her strengths and growing a new business helping others flourish in many ways. From partnering with Rescue Freedom to help end human trafficking, to her online ethical shop, and these kinds of evenings spent empowering women around a table, she is running hard after her dreams. She is doing this with extreme focus and intention and I’m so incredibly honored to have played a tiny part in that through our friendship and it’s depth over the years.
When I arrived on Friday night Kelly and I embraced in a hug. As we did, it was like my body was taken back to many years earlier and a similar hug. She was standing in her doorway in Kirkland with three small children behind her. Feeling the full impact of having small children and it’s challenges, she still found joy and leaned into these fleeting yet hard years with passion and positivity. I, on the other hand, was heading back to Northern Ireland to pursue our life overseas which had allowed us to travel a great deal, live in a foreign country and have some wonderfully rich experiences. We both loved the life we were in but also kept one eye on the future. I was desperate to start our family and that wasn’t coming easy. Kelly was looking towards days when her life didn’t require her to stay close to home because of three small children. While we were both living the reality of our dreams, we were still dreaming of more in the future. In our hug it was as if we had a holy exchange. Without using words we were saying, “I see you. I see your beauty, I see your pain, and there’s more to come. Hold on friend. Hold onto these moments. Life will change before you know it.”
That is exactly what has happened. Kelly is pursuing this new dream with all three children in school providing her the time and space to give her other dreams more of her time and heart. I am a mother now to twin sons who are four and a half and keep me very busy. I am working part-time while trying to pursue my dream of writing my next and first fictional book. Life looks vastly different for us both but we still know how to cheer each other on because that’s what we’ve always done.
So yeah, all the feelings.
On Saturday we drove to Tacoma to spend the night with some other dear friends and go skiing the next day together. This couple lived a few blocks from us when we first got married and we practically lived in each others homes. I think we shared at least three meals together every week. Our husbands would play video games late into the night while Molly and I watched Trading Spaces and fell asleep together.
Molly and I joke that we are sister wives, when we are together we are one complete wife. Her husband said we move together, finishing each others task without even speaking about what’s next. We have cooked together more times than I can count and laughed so hard at Snapchat filters that I have nearly peed my pants and her too!
Yesterday all four of our boys played together. From legos and trains to our tradition of an evening dance party before bed. Watching the four of them together is like watching magic. For years when we would come back to the States for trips home we would snuggle our friends boys before bedtime or after their naps. Then when it got to the point of us deciding to try one last time, to eventually getting pregnant with our own boys, their boys would pray every night for our boys. Our little, premature baby boys were the first, tangible answer to prayer that our friends sons had experienced. Watching their rapidly developing bodies bounce around like crazy in our little family dance party made it hard for me to swallow. The moment felt sacred. The miracle within these kinds of shared times is not lost on me. For years I wasn’t even sure that they would ever happen so to be present, dancing together, it feels heavenly.
Bryan and I often comment on how fortunate we are to know and be friends with so many amazing people. Yet these friendships, they are some of our oldest, and there’s nothing like old friends. There is something forged in a friendship when you have the chance of sharing almost 20 years of life together or more. It’s in these moments, where we have intentionally carved out the time to see each other, where the magic continues. Sometimes the plan comes together easily while other times it takes multiple attempts before it actually happens. I am always happy when it works though. The investment we have made and continue to make in our friendships is absolutely priceless. It also makes me want to continue investing into the friendships that I have the chance to experience on a more daily basis. These friendships are important too and are vitally important for our day to day life.
It’s funny though; as I write this I know someone is going to read it and realize that they too want these kinds of friendships. If that is you, I want to encourage you to keep looking. Keep friend-dating as I like to call it. Set up play dates, set up coffee dates, organize an evening at your house and invite a few girlfriends over. There is no way to microwave these kinds of friendships. They don’t come from following each other on social media or from likes on your pictures. These kinds of friendships require humility, sacrifice, and intentionally choosing to make time even when it feels awkward or hard. Trust me, in the long run it will be worth it because one of those friends may fly to be by your side when you are having fertility treatment or another friend may fly to be by your side when your father passes away. They know what’s really important and they make the effort to be there and so do you. So here’s to friendship and ALL the feelings from this past weekend!
Over the years as we have wrestled with infertility we have learned some valuable lessons. The most valuable lesson is this:
Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, focus on what you do have.
This concept makes logical sense when you read it. You may even be tempted to think that it’s easy or basic. My friend, let me assure you of one thing; it is not.
When we were in the depths of our struggle, I would look around at women who were pregnant. They were looking at strollers, buying diapers, preparing a nursery for their sweet bundles to come home to.Watching women grow before me, welcome new life into the world, and have their family expand was torturous. Without even trying, these women were showing me exactly what I was dreaming of for my own life, while pointing out all the ways that it wasn’t happening. These women were not doing this on purpose nor do I hold it against them.
It did however force me to find ways to survive. I say force because it was not a gentle decision to choose a new way daily. Over time I began telling myself I had two choices. I could either continue focusing on the one thing I didn’t have, a baby; or I could begin choosing to see everything that I did have.
At first this practice was hard. I felt like I was trying to convince myself at times that I didn’t really want a baby or to have children. Then I realized by choosing to see my life this way I was not diminishing my desire or hope for a family of our own. I was not denying this dream, I was merely beginning to allow myself to dream other dreams as well.
When I made the decision to start shifting my perspective, I started making lists:
- I can stay up as late as I want because I am not responsible for a tiny human’s existence.
- I can spend time practicing guitar and learn to play because I have free time.
- I can train for a marathon because I do not have to focus on growing another human right now.
- I can open a coffee shop and give it my full attention because my time and energy is not split.
- I can choose to go on holidays because I do not have to financially take care of a child right now.
This list making went on for years. Some days it helped. Other days it was a list reminding me of all the things I would give up so that we could start our family. Yet over time, this way of seeing my life began to take root and ground me the way nothing else had. This new way of observing life has now become my go-to option for moving forward in all other areas of my life.
So this year did not begin how I thought it would. Yet this lesson remains true. To give it more fuel I have chosen a word for 2019: enough.
I am declaring this word over the following areas in my life:
- I am enough.
- My family is enough.
- My house is enough.
- My body is good enough.
- My effort is enough.
- My ability is enough.
- My writing is enough.
- My life is enough.
- I am enough.
Today I feel tired both emotionally and physically. Instead of being frustrated at my body for not carrying our child to full term, I will remind myself that “I am enough.” I will remind myself that my husband has kindly given me space today without our two sons around so that I can write, nap, and just be.
See, that right there. That was my perspective changing. From lack to abundance. I am enough and I have enough.
This is not only true for me but for you dear reader. In all the areas where you don’t feel “enough” let me remind you that you are. Your life is enough. You have enough. Don’t simply listen to your feelings. Keep them in check, speak what’s true out loud, and then take baby steps forward.
Does this resonate with you? If so, how and what will you do to practice “enough” in your life? Share your ways of finding enough in your life. I promise, it will help.
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.
“Writing is really quite simple; all you have to do is sit down at your typewriter and open a vein” (Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner p.190).
Friends, I am about to open a vein.
Today, the 1st of September, 2018, my twin sons turned four.
The day was rather unspectacular if I’m being honest. We are having a proper celebration for them in “two more big sleeps.” So there was no big party or presents today. It was like any other day, except it wasn’t.
On this day, four years ago, my swollen belly waddled into Craigavon Area Hospital. A few hours later — our boys were in our arms. This act of birth that happened in mere seconds, had taken nine painful years of infertility to get to.
So today could have felt and seemed normal, except that it wasn’t.
I took the boys to Top Pot donut shop in Bellevue for a birthday breakfast. To everyone in that place I was a normal mom, sitting happily with her twin sons eating donuts. Except I wasn’t.
I was the mom who was sitting, staring, at two walking, talking, laughing miracles. I was looking at my nine years of tears cried, longing to be a mother. I was looking at what seemed like a crazy promise fulfilled. I was looking at my husbands’ and my face staring back at me, seeing both of our families in the faces of our sons. I sat looking at the most tangible proof I have of a God who hears me, sees me, and answers the deepest longings of my soul.
I LOVE being Kidran’s mom and Cohen’s mom. I love the connection that we have fostered these past four years. I love that they give me their best and throw their worst at me too. I love all the crazy ways they make me laugh and at the same time make me want to pull my hair out. I love that they are big lovers, who lavish me with hugs and cuddles. I love, love, love being their mom. My heart is beyond full as I live in this reality of my dream.
Now though, the vein is beginning to open.
After nine years of infertility, we gave birth to our handsome and healthy twin sons, Kidran J Caleb and Cohen V Ryan. We were one of the “lucky” couples who finally became pregnant. What many of you may not know is that our final round of ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) was so successful that we now have eleven remaining embryos.
We don’t know what our future holds. What I do know is I cannot have potentially eleven or more children. That fact slaps me across the face sometimes. I hate that I do not have the capacity or means to give birth to all these miraculous, potential lives. I hate that I feel stretched to the max being a mother to two incredible, energetic sons. I hate that after years of struggling to finally have our family, we are now wrestling with this additional piece of the heartbreaking puzzle of infertility treatment.
Of course I can see that this is where so many others would long to be. I am not stupid or blind. I see others who cannot produce even one viable embryo and here we are sitting with eleven. I also know that the only option for us and these precious embryos is not something I’m sure I will ever have peace about.
Early on in our treatment we made the decision that if we were fortunate enough to have any embryos left that we could not care for, we would adopt them out. We would not discard them, leave them to science, or not pay the storage so that the holding clinic would end up making a decision regarding their fate. (Yes, people are starting to do this more often because they can’t make a decision either.) We decided that they were lives and we would give them the best chance of a life we could, even if that home was not our own.
This is the part of infertility that I was not prepared for or I guess didn’t anticipate. I have cried so many additional tears about this. I have questioned the capability of the family/lies who may adopt our baby embryos. What if they have a baby like Cohen? Will they put him on meds because he seems to have “too much” energy? Will they see the subtle change in their baby’s smile that is similar to Kidran when he gets excited about something he really loves? Will they fill their house with laughter, patience, creativity? Or will it be strict, rigid, full of hardline rules? The questions are endless, and so is the grief.
When I think of not having these babies, it strikes me as one of the biggest points of grief I will ever experience in my life.
Yet, I had another thought.
Maybe, just maybe, these sweet, unborn lives will be placed with people who have exactly what my babies need because I think at the end of the day I will always feel like they are mine. Maybe we will help answer years of prayers for someone else. Maybe, just maybe, someday I will get to meet them.
I have agonized over this very scenario time and time again. Even as I write these words, my eyes are full, tears waiting to be released, to let the next wave of grief hit me. This choice and choosing it feels impossible. My stomach hurts thinking about it. Years of trying, waiting to now be here.
I know I can’t answer this question right now. Instead, I can work on more of the party favors for the boys Star Wars themed birthday party in two days! They recently had a little family party in Idaho that only wetted their appetite for birthday parties and presents. They are now truly excited for this birthday and that excitement is spreading. I even found Star Wars shirts for Bryan and me to wear! Roll on Monday evening! All things Star Wars, light sabers, and cupcakes! May the force be with you!
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!