The road not taken

Imagine freedom - the kind of soul peace your whole body relaxes into, suddenly comfortable with itself and it's shape. It's like the laugh of an old friend as you talk on into the night: you fall under it's spell and it whispers in your ear sweet things..."you are free!"...."it is forgotten!"..."He loved you - yes, YOU - so much that He created you, He delivered you from evil and death, He died for you!"

Imagine what that freedom would look like, even if it was only going to last an hour or two. You wouldn't fret about the non-organic groceries in your cart. You might splurge on something fun for yourself. You might lavish love and generous gifts on a person you would normally try to avoid making eye contact with. 

I read a line in  Dr. Brené Brown's book, Daring Greatly: 
Vulnerability is at the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness. To foreclose on our emotional life out of fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living. When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.
You reach moments along the path - moments during which you make a choice between multiple options all shackled with potential problems of their own. These vastly divergent lives -- which do you choose?? My choice these days seems to be between selfish indifference or selfless times of tending to relationships.

Yellow leaf fall 
Like helicopter blades 

Come on, you words 
Come and take your places 
Everything changes, everything changes 

After the sun, the wind will come. 
And the wind will come! 
When worries gone, the wind will come. 
And the wind will come! 

Come on, you heart 
You restless child 
Open up your hands 
And wait here awhile 

Yellow leaf fall 
Sound under my feet 
Fill my sleep, fill my sleep 

When all is done, the night will come. 
Come meet me there, and the night will come!  

If I am the dreamer, then Thou art the Dream 
If I am the pebble, then Thou art the Stream 
If I am the sapling, then Thou art the Seed
Thou art the Laughter, Thou art the Dream!
~Helicopter, Branches~

Five Minute Friday
Writing on "Imagine"

Become a card-carrying member of your own personal fan-club!

True friends keep our secrets. Tell us their secrets. Remember my birthday! They know who "Oma" and "Opa" are. They always make sure I'm included in fun things. They know when I'm sad and ask me why. When I am sick, they call to check on me. (From Daring Greatly, Debunking the Vulnerability Myths by Brené Brown)
Sometimes I think that, if I smoke one more cigarette, he'll leave me. But he doesn't. He stays, and works hard, and is kind and gentle with me. He sees me either with rose-colored glasses or with more clarity than I, preferring to focus on what is not my fault rather than what is.

Sometimes I think that, if I confess one more thing to my parents, they'll give up on me. But they don't. They stay, and help, and they're courteous and soft-hearted with me. They don't see the me I see: they see some other woman with far fewer faults and far more victories.

They welcomed me into their family with open arms, and shocked my socks off by standing right beside my parents when I went a little off the deep end. They remember every important date and celebrate successes instead of mourning failures.

They are a whole family of cheerleaders who jump in to take kids or offer a place to hibernate to or be there for those 2 a.m.-awake-on-the-porch moments to talk things out. They share the same positive traits with which they douse me in kindness, although my relationship with each one is different and marvelous in it's own way.

She and I have been doppelgängers since I was a child, and her spine tingles when something is going wrong in my life - medically or emotionally. I am thankful for her phone calls during those times, when I don't have to explain how I'm feeling. She already knows.

She and I have been smoking buddies for 17 years. I've lived vicariously through her travels and her singleness and her grandiose dreams. She always sees the good in everyone, and it's no different when it comes to me, struggling or not.

She and I have lived on opposite sides of the continent for almost all of our 12 year friendship, but loooong phone calls and letters and emails fill in the gaps, although there is always that ache for an actual in-person visit! She is my leader when it comes to homeschooling and parenting a family of little girls, and her sweet already there son shares the name Caleb with mine. She is willing to face my dark sides and my greatest fears, but is always foraging for a way out, a rescue, a redemption, trading my heavy burden for a light one.

They are the brothers I've always loved, just as mischievous, debating, and entertaining as they've always been. They brought me sisters when I had given up hope of ever having one, and each buoys me in a different way. They are present - physically, emotionally, in prayer - whenever emergency descends upon us. They are connected to me irrevocably: I feel that all of us in all our forms are bound together like the souls connected by a red thread in Chinese mythology.

Never mind that she is older than Grandma. If she has a day off, she often finds time to spend in my living room, folding laundry, hugging kids, and talking things out with me. It is her way of broaching a difficult subject: gracefully, tactfully always, she helps before she opens on the subject. She always has words of wisdom to shower upon me.

If nothing else, losing hundreds of "acquaintances" in my church "family" clearly identified for me who my true friends are - and demonstrated just how strong and resilient the bond between each of us is. Nothing I've done has pushed these people away. They're here to stay, here to love instead of judge, offer help instead of condemnation. I'm thankful for my tribe.

And above and beyond all else, I'm grateful for the close-knit little family He's blessed me with, despite my shortcomings and all the sins of my life known by Him for all eternal past and future. I'm thankful He is helping me work out my faith crouched down to connect with an injured child, sanctifying me grain by grain during this time of hard sanding. I'm thankful my husband is the lover of my soul - that I have two Lovers of my soul. 

My cup runneth over.

Escape till morning light

I remember the very first morning I noticed You walking with me. I crept out of the slumbering house in the pre-dawn, the whole world a royal purple. My bare feet flicked the dew off the grass and then squished through the muddy spot that was a perennial feature on the lawn. I could see the woodshed in the darkness, glimmering white in the last of the moonlight.

I felt very alone yet very safe, 8 years old, up and about before the grown-ups. I walked down the path from the shed to the woodpile, mincing through the bracken and thorns of the forest. Our giant red dog came snuffling behind me, searching for a woodchuck or squirrel to pester. Past the woodpile, I sat down with a sigh, back to the linear stack of split lumber. I was safe and secret in the silence. No one knew where I was.

I didn't cry. I rarely did. Safe at last, I grinned to myself. I had outsmarted you this morning and I would outsmart you again tomorrow. Warmth enveloped me and I closed my eyes with a smile still on my lips.

I thought no one saw my bleeding heart. My mother, though, years later...she saw and wondered and asked. I had been shamed into lies for so long that I didn't tell her the truth. I will never forget the ache of my heart, thunderous and building, when I lied to my mama. Could she help me, I wondered? Lips stayed shut tight as if sealed by a king's signet. Not to be opened until the date prescribed.

In every moment of searing pain, I could escape to a beautiful place in my mind's eye. This memory of my morning walk through Your kingdom saved me a hundred times as my body went through hell. I always felt you, close as close could be, whispering in my ear and intimating a better time. Redemption for the blood-stained sinners. Rescue for the bloody and broken hearted. Wrath at injustice and secrets in the night.

Land of the free

Please remember Memorial Day and it's true purpose today. I enjoy freedom thanks to my Grandpa Al, my great-uncles Bob, Don, Hunny, my dear friends Caleb and Kristy. Take the time to hug or thank a veteran today!

In the garden 2013

Who could ever walk away from these faces??

And look how much they've grown in a year!

You must go through it

The wild cherries shiver with anticipation of summer in the cold spring wind, their blossoms a white shock above their dark trunks. Bluebirds fly back and forth between the wild long grass in the field and the sanctuary of the blossoming trees. Their song drifts up to my porch swing, and I smile, closing my eyes and tilting face to receive the warmth of the sun.

There is no perfect day, just like there's no perfect life. Clouds roll in and the cherries falter in the darkness of the coming storm. The mist touches the hills on the other side of the valley, and I am suddenly too cold on the porch, a shiver running down my spine. Anticipation or dread? When storms roll in, I feel their coming like clammy hands touching my soul. I shrink back, for who likes to weather storms? Internal or external. I think of the quote I wanted to like on Pinterest, "I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning to sail my own ship." (Aeschylus)

This sailing metaphor stuck with me. For what sailor likes to be caught in the warm and sunny doldrums of a windless, perfect glassy sea? A little storm brings fast winds into the sails and a little excitement to the decks.

The thing about adventure is that it gets old after a while. Days on end of that anticipation/dread sensation leave one longing for a day of doldrums. When the storms are thoughts, though, there is no more escaping them than you could a hurricane at sea. They come out of nowhere and there is no outrunning them. You simply must learn to weather them. This, too, shall pass.

The clouds lift, and the white trunks of the birches glisten in the sun, dripping wet with heavy leaves as their crown. The heavy leaves turn their dark green backs toward the wind and quake, flashing their chartruese tops every now and then in a wave of brilliance. That one white trunk marks my son's grave. I remember that storm, weathered now and just a memory. With the memory comes hope. Every storm I've weathered is a trophy in my case, reminding me that, with Him, all things are possible.

Five Minute Friday
Our whole group, writing on "the View"

I admit it...I'm not supermom!

{what if people think my beautiful kids are nerds like me??}
Sometimes you run headlong into a barrier in your own mind, a belief so old and so fundamental to your value system that it seems impossible to move. I'm up against a wall like this right now. We are facing some decisions about the children, how they are cared for and educated, and I can't hardly stand to "go there" in my head.

I was homeschooled from kindergarten until college. I always regarded public school as a mysterious, sometimes alluring and sometimes frightening place. The small town that I grew up in was almost entirely made up of Norwegian Lutherans. I have Native American blood in me, and dark hair and brown eyes to prove it. I'm not a Lutheran. And I'm about a foot taller than quite a few of the women around here. All of that added up to a lot of teasing when I was growing up. I was also *blessed* (snort!) to hit puberty a full 2-3 years before the rest of the girls my age, along with the attendant growth spurt, body hair and all the other wonderful things you enjoy post-puberty (snort again!). I had one friend from public school from the time I was about 6 until I graduated high school. And even she wouldn't necessarily acknowledge me if she was with a group of her cheerleader friends.

Schools don't seem friendly to me. They don't seem parent friendly, child friendly, or family friendly. They seem system-friendly. As a parent, I cringed every time the school bus drove by in the dark winter morning, and I couldn't fathom the idea of passing my children off to a non-relative every day for 8-9 hours, especially when my children were younger.

Between depression and beginning a demanding job for the first time since having kids, homeschool has been rockier than ever before. Full-time mothering has always been extremely difficult for me, more so than some. I don't think I'm one of those "made for motherhood" women. All my years as a stay-at-home mom, I've struggled with intense inner turmoil because I love my children very much but I didn't feel particularly good at showing them because of the demands of the parenting role.

I know I was "born" to be a mom because I believe in a sovereign God who knew that I would need to pass through the fiery furnace of sanctification through childbearing. He also knew I would have a tender heart, struggling with discipline and decisiveness; and a sick heart, which makes the pace of at-home parenting almost too much to bear. Simple housework is more than I can handle on "bad heart" days.

I've believed my whole life that I shouldn't work if I had children. That's the belief - along with the equally entrenched fear of public school - that has kept my nose to the grindstone even when I can hardly stand to be there. To be perfectly honest, in my "previous" life as a fundamental Christian, I regarded working moms as less attached or attentive to their children's needs, somewhat selfish, and also more sure of themselves as women and moms than I was.

But then I became a working mom. And I realized that sometimes you leave someone so that when you're with them, you're 100% with them. That sometimes quality IS better than quantity. That my children were equally as happy, well-behaved, engaged, and learning with other caregivers than myself. I also spent a lot more time with my mother this past 9 months because she was the primary caregiver for the children when I was at work. And I noticed she is born for tending home and family - in ways I will never be! She's stronger, has more endurance, is efficient with housework and proficient as an elementary teacher. I began to wonder, is it really the right decision to keep your children at home at all costs?

Aaron and I looked at each other one night, opened our mouths, and the same thing came out of both of us. "I think we should consider putting the kids in school next year." It felt scandalous, ridiculous, even wrong to say those words. Am I not just about the biggest homeschooling advocate on the planet? Yet, as I think back to the difficulties I had socially up until I graduated from college - and even persisting somewhat to this day - I wonder if some of that ackwardness didn't come from the fact that I was homeschooled. I know, I know, "weird, unsocialized homeschoolers" is a cliché. But what if it's true in some cases, like mine? And maybe even my kids?

Ever since we left our church, they've struggled to make friends. They're good at making short-term, transient connections, like those they make during the ball season in spring. Long-term friendships still seem to be elusive for our whole family. I don't think one of us has made a new friend since the hardships of 2010.

My husband challenges my doubts about schools. He points out he went to one, and look at him now! He encourages me to evaluate my students. Would I want my kids to turn out like them in 10-15 years? I stare out at my nursing students and think that every one of them also went to public school, yet they are maintaining GPAs often upwards of 3.8 despite taking the toughest classes the college has to offer - math, sciences, Latin, honors courses. I admire my students. I rarely come across one who has difficulty with algebra or writing clarity, spelling, or grammar. They are compassionate, caring, bright, friendly, service-oriented men and women. They are kind people. Confident. Able. Prepared.

We made the leap. We prayed and prayed, toured schools, read parent handbooks, rules, regulations. We talked with the kids and talked with both sets of parents. We settled on the nearby Montessori school, where the children will be in multi-age classrooms and engaged in self-directed learning just like they are in homeschool. Child and family-focused. No homework in the evenings. Across the street from the hospital and only a mile or so from the University. The school, it's administrators and especially it's teachers, are excellent.

I am grateful that there is a confirmation step to our process. Although we've registered the children at the school, there is a waiting list to get in this year. We are still praying for God to direct. We've knocked on the door, and we're waiting to see if it will open. If it doesn't, we will homeschool another year and try again next summer if we feel led to do so. I feel like I can relax into this choice because it isn't a sure thing. The responsibility doesn't feel like it's resting only on my shoulders. God is still able to say yes or no to this new idea.

What has been your experience with school? Did you enjoy the way you were educated? How has that affected your choices with your own children?
And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. (Luke 11:9)

Here comes the sun

How easily we forget the past. Five months into this season of depression, I'm finally experiencing some freedom from the oppression - by practicing skills I've known for 2 years now. I brush the dust off slowly as my therapist reminds me how to bring the sunshine back. Opposite action - throwing myself into the life God has set before me, children, messes and all. Accumulating positives - a scribbled list of gratitude in my Joy Journal. Mindfulness - ignoring my constant, self-refreshing mental to-do list and entering into the present moment completely.

Returning to these practices slants the sunlight back into our home. There are long periods of freedom from sadness and guilt throughout the day. The urge to simply leave, either temporarily or permanently, eases as life becomes less difficult. My eyes are no longer blind to the beauty that surrounds me - the dancing girl on the dandelion lawn infusing my day with yellow; the orioles glistening in the morning sun as they sing to heaven; the twin mama cats co-parenting the little brood of kittens that arrived on Monday. It soaks in, finally. All this joy!

A line from a favorite song floats in - "we went dancing in the minefields, sailing through the storms" - yes, that voyage sounds like our lives. For a season, perhaps we'll walk easy on a safe road. Perhaps the minefield is in the rearview mirror for now.

The children always feel it, the lifting of oppression. They pronounce to the sky above that I am healed! Getting better every day! I wonder if they remember that depression has repeated it's turbulant course through our lives multiple times now. Another thing I've felt guilt over: they are all too familiar with suffering, pain, anguish and torment. Is this because of my weakness and my failures? I have to lean hard into the truth that God sent these children, these specific four, to me to mother, weaknesses and failures and all. It's all been seen by Him and allowed by Him and only He knows what He is shaping these children for. As much as I would love to believe that their lives will be easy, is there such a thing? Is life ever truly easy? I know so many of the house of faith for whom life has been an aching bittersweet experience. I know no one who does not miss someone, long for somewhere or something. How can I expect that my children will be free from desires, from failures, from heartbreak?

They are marked for glory, four baby believers already on the hard path of faith. I pray their journeys are marked with the beauty and sunshine I've been blessed with. Rosy wrote to me this morning, "I had a lot of fun through my life and most of it was with you." I feel just the same - my family is the most delightful blessing I've ever been given.

May you dance freely with no fear of danger today...for He can take away the fear even when dangers still lie ahead.

...when I forget my name, remind me.
We bear the light of the Son of man,
so there's nothing left to fear.
So I'll walk with you through the shadowlands
until the shadows disappear,
Because He promised not to leave us,
and His promises are true.
So in the face of all this chaos,
baby, I can dance with you.
Let's go dancing in the minefields,
let's go sailin' in the storms.
this is harder than we dreamed
but I believe that's what the promise is for.
~Dancing in the Minefields, Andrew Peterson~

Linked to Heather:: Just Write

Encouraging compassion

We watch the disaster footage from Oklahoma, and my little bleeding-heart 6 year old went running for her piggy bank. I tried to convince her that our family donation through Samaritan's Purse was enough, mostly because I didn't know where to send $5 cash and a letter from a 6 year old, but she wasn't easily deterred. After a few tears and begging from her, I started to look for somewhere to send her letter and donation. I found a church on the ground helping those in need, and we sent off her little note with the instructions to give the whole envelope to a family with children if possible.

It's easy to dismiss or belittle our children's small gifts, the small bills and the quarters they save for months and then suddenly want to give away to someone in need. It's easier to click "Pay Now" on the internet than it is to deal with these seemingly petty donations that come from our children's treasure coffers. Does this rob them of their desire to help out? I think it can.

There is a jar on my oldest daughter's desk that holds over $70 in coins that have been collected by the children over the past 6 months. In swirly hand-colored mosaic print, the label reads, "4 are sponsered chidren", a 7 year old's attempt at "for our sponsored children". The kids want to send small gifts for birthdays and holidays to the 4 children we sponsor in Mexico through World Vision. At first, I encouraged them to put only 10% of their birthday and cleaning money into the jar. They dissented: we don't really need spending money, Mama, they said. "You already buy everything we need, and those children don't even have enough food!" It can be overwhelming as a parent, trying to decipher how to teach your children to be generous while also teaching them financial responsibility so that they don't become another mouth for givers to feed. There are times, though, when their childish logic makes better sense than mine, and I can't deny them the opportunity to give to others.

It is more blessed to give than receive, the Bible tells us. Having been on the receiving end of many delivered casseroles and helping hands to clean my home and tend my children when we've suffered through major illnesses like cancer and brain infections and heart failure, I understand this, deeply. I hate being the receiver. It has taken many years to learn to accept help gracefully. I wonder about the stoic Mexican mama pictured with one of our sponsored children. How does she feel when her child goes down to the school to eat two meals a day, meals that she couldn't provide? Is it difficult to sign your starving child up to receive aid from some more fortunate family half a world away? I imagine it is.

I admire the grace with which hurting people are able to receive our gifts. I admire my children's giving spirits. Sometimes it is a little more work to help them develop this character trait - compassion and empathy - but it will be worth it someday. So we let them take their hard-earned quarters to the children's Drop in the Bucket offering at church, we mail letters off to tornado victims, we go to Target to buy gifts for two 12 year olds and a 13 year old in Mexico.

The smiles on their faces tell the whole story: yes, it is a blessing to be the giver.

How about you? Do you help your children give of their time or money? What activities have worked best for your family, volunteering together, making donations, serving food? We are always on the look-out for new ideas!

There is a happy ending

{please consider pressing play below prior to reading}

The tree trunks are black as coal from the night rain, threading through the chartreuse of leaf buds. The heaviness of magic is in the air this spring, flowers springing up from the cold earth so recently blanketed in snow. Everything about this May feels weirdly foreign, irredescent with a touch of the unreal.

Perhaps this is what comes of accepting a reality you don't feel at home in. Ever since leaving church 2 years ago, reality has slanted toward pain. Two years have seen a definite decrease in the number of those we can joyfully live life with. Two years have included the most painful period of self-doubt of my life. Two years have brought me to the Throne with questions and contrition and brokenness like never before.

Sometimes, when we struggle with depression, we shy away from the painful parts of life. I don't like to let sad thoughts or memories in. I don't want to acknowledge the suffering that has cropped up here and there in my life story.

But where we would be without psalms? Laments? Dirges?

The music of life falls flat without the melancholy moments. There can be no crescendo to joy, to ecstacy, without the contrast of the deep, dark pits of sorrow. It is one of the things most difficult to understand about heaven: although we long for the day when there are finally no more tears, it is hard to imagine not getting bored in an eternity without the challenges and chaos of life here on earth.

What if? What if we can remember it all? What if we will spend heaven contrasting God's glory with all that is wicked, evil, wrong in this life? It's a new perspective: if our sorrows here on earth are the great interlude of pensif before the last everlasting song of triumph...if this is true, I can suffer longer and harder here on earth knowing a reprieve is coming.

I can stand the separation from my sisters and brothers of churches past. I can live through depression. I can handle the various never-ending tasks of motherhood. I can make the next meal, clean the next dish, with gratitude that passes all understanding because this life is temporary.

It is not the end. It is not even the middle. It is barely the beginning. And it will not last forever.