Talk About the Weather

I open the front door at 6:30 AM and already it’s hot outside. I tiptoe barefoot across the front porch down into our dusty, brown yard; grass crunches under my feet. This is strange for New England where all summer we’re accustomed to the reprieve of cool mornings and evenings.

I try to avoid talk about the weather; it seems cliché and so remarkably dull to say in winter, “it’s so cold!”—as if we’re astonished that it could be cold in winter. Or in the summer, “it’s soooo hot!” when obviously, of course, it’s supposed to be hot in the summer.

But THE WEATHER is a difficult topic to avoid when the heat or cold wrap around our temperamental bodies in waves of humidity or shocking gusts of artic air. We humans can’t help ourselves, we must talk about it, must say something against this demigod—THE WEATHER.

IMG_20160621_113656849_HDR

I sit outside in the sweltering heat. My lawn chair is positioned carefully in the shade and I do a dance with the sun getting up and pulling my chair back little by little as the sun advances and eats up my shadowy reprieve. I’m trying to remember that I love summer, that summer is ever so brief, that all winter long I stand dutifully at the windows willing winter to die and go away so that summer might come. I’m not going to complain, I say, because I like summer.

But it’s hot, it’s sticky, and unless I’m sitting on the front porch in a lawn chair like a hillbilly, it’s too hot to be outside. My son, barefoot and shirtless, brown as a chestnut, is unmoved by the weather. He would spend every moment outside if his mother would stop complaining about the heat from her hillbilly perch. He fills buckets with water and gathers rocks; he reminds me of a busy little squirrel prepping for winter. He wants me to come play with him, “No”, I say between sips of iced coffee. “Bring mommy the ball.” “Bring mommy the truck.” “Mommy is melting; go away”, I say.

IMG_20160418_184933

Let me tell you what this post is supposed to be about: It’s supposed to be about living happily in our present circumstances and not wishing life away for the next best thing—in this case, fall and apple cider. But I’m afraid I may not make it to the moral of the story this time; it’s hot outside and ain’t nobody got time for that.

Wild Flowers

 

IMG_20150722_201132.jpg

Perspective is a powerful thing.

I remember riding the train through southern Italy, snaking along the glittering Mediterranean and gliding past yellow and wheat colored stucco houses. I was lost in thought, captivated by how beautiful it all was. I had expected to be disappointed by Italy, as people and places don’t often meet up to our expectations after years of building them up in our minds. But Italy was perfect…perfectly modern mixed with all the old charm and personality the pictures had me imagine.

So I was surprised, offended even, when I heard a fellow American on the train proclaim loudly, “look at all these crappy houses…how do people live this way?”

I’m sorry? I’d sell all my American everything to live in one of those “crappy” houses—just ask Darren, I’ve tried ;] It’s true, the paint was peeling, the stucco was chipped and cracked, and the whole place looked a bit wild with clothes lines strewn between houses. But I felt magic there and I’ve never been able to shake Italy off; the clothes lines and sunshine and window boxes crept right down into my soul and I’ve tried ever since to sprinkle some of that Italian magic into the way I live here at home.

DSC_0164

One traveler saw only brokenness and decay; I saw charm and beauty—that day at least. Our perspectives were different and so our whole experience of that place turned out differently.

I thought about all this the other day when I was looking at our rather ragged yard. With building our house, we’ve had to level and landscape our lawn. All our grass was scrapped off and all winter our house sat in a sea of brown and mud. I bought what New Englanders call “mud boots” to walk from our house to the car because it was so messy and mucky and our feet were always sinking in the dirty sludge. Last winter was the first time I’ve hoped for cold temperatures to freeze the ground and snow to cover all that brown.

So imagine my delight at all the green in our yard this summer—yes, most of that green is weeds, some of it weeds nearly as tall as me—but it’s green. I’m sure our wild, unruly lawn looks like nothing but a disaster to the neighbors around us with nicely manicured lawns, and you know, grass. But to me, our yard is lovely and I’m so happy to look out our windows at green…green weeds, green grass, I care not.

I tend to like the wild flowers best, far more than store-bought roses or houseplants. I like the way wild flowers poke up with the weeds—sometimes they are the weeds. There’s something a little bit daring and rebellious about Queen Ann’s Lace, don’t you think? The way she stands alone in a field or along the road outshining every well-tended garden flower she meets.

IMG_20150722_200257.jpg

My mom told me once in a card, “I hope you never lose your sense of wonder.” And ever since reading that, I’ve tried to remember how much my own perspective colors the world around me. Will I be the traveler who sees brokenness or beauty in a place different from my own? Will I be the mom who can see the joy in a sticky toddler or the one who resents the frustration and restraints of parenting? Will I appreciate all the magic fluttering past me each day in the sunshine and wild flowers growing free among the weeds?

It’s up to me, the way I see my life and the world around me. Sometimes I let darkness settle over me and it’s no surprise in those moments that the whole world looks dark and bleak. But when I focus on the light, I see the light.

Perspective is a powerful thing, after all.

Québec City: A Photo Journal

We slipped away to Quebec City to celebrate our anniversary. I think of Canada and Canadians as cousins and neighbors, so I was surprised with how completely French Quebec is. Everything felt very foreign and we, very lost. But what’s the fun of travel and adventures if you don’t feel a little lost and foreign every now and then?

lost

We’re learning that however long a road trip should take, it will most certainly take longer with a toddler. Sometimes you have to pull the car over and let wild things be wild. After a good long run through the grass and a proper sward fight with sticks, our wild one was ready to complete his first trip in another country.

wild

We arrived in the evening and spent an hour getting the room set up for Roman to sleep in a new place without burning anything down ;] I sat in the living room watching Darren on the baby monitor lying on the floor on a mattress with Roman tucked into him falling asleep. It had been a long day driving 10 hours from home. I was feeling a bit sorry for myself, having spent our anniversary with a rowdy toddler in the backseat screaming off and on the entire trip.

And then I watched my husband being the amazing father that he is; watched him snuggle our son close in his arms until he felt safe enough to fall asleep in a new place. And I realized that this is what marriage and parenting are all about—about road trips made longer and louder by little ones but more magical and memorable because of them too. About learning to love each other and find ways to celebrate and seek adventure even when it might be easier to just stay home. I lucked out on the boys in my life, no doubt about it.

I’m usually well prepared for our trips but Quebec surprised me at every turn.  It was cold, much colder than I ever imagined a place could be in July. I wore my one long-sleeved shirt every day and drank hot coffee as much for the comfort of drinking it as having the hot cup to warm my hands.

coffee

Our first day in the city, we pushed Roman in his stroller, not realizing that Quebec is basically all uphill and every shop entrance has steps up into it…we got a good workout and Roman got a sweet ride :] The next day we smartened up and hauled Roman around in a backpack carrier instead—still a workout but a little more manageable on hilly cobblestone streets :]

The giant toy moose, or “foof”, travels with us everywhere :]

I love walking cities and feeling the culture of the people living and playing out before me in the sound of foreign language and the smell of food and coffee and cigarette smoke a little different from our own. Quebec was full of inspiration in the architecture and the way small, simple spaces were made even more beautiful by plants, flower boxes, and bright pops of color.

windows

plants

We walked around eating crepes and getting lost on streets that seemed to wind endlessly one into the other.

DSC_1171

donutAnd of course no trip to Canada is complete without about 37 trips to Tim Hortons :] We ended each day back at the apartment with a pastry and a hot cup of coffee—which is quite hard to order when you don’t speak French; we were surprised every day with what kind of coffee we ended up with but it was always good :] It was a fun trip and a sweet little getaway with my two favorite boys <3

You Are Not Alone

The first year after my son was born was one of the loneliest of my life. I went from working full-time and spending lots of time with my husband to being home alone with a newborn almost all day every day.

I knew leaving my job would be a big adjustment and I knew inserting a child into our relationship would be an even greater adjustment still. What I didn’t anticipate was the total wilderness I would enter into after we came home from the hospital and the dust settled on my new life as a mom.

That year was lonely for a lot of reasons, many of which I’ve talked about here before and don’t feel the need to revisit today. What I do want to talk about is finding your way through that loneliness, whether you’re a stay at home mom or anyone else struggling to find meaningful relationships and community.

Reach Out To Those Around You

Something I realized after my son was born was that I had actually lacked community and relationships for a long time but hadn’t let it bother me since I was busy working and had plenty of time with my husband to fill whatever need for community I did feel. I hadn’t been investing in people and relationships before motherhood and just kind of assumed those relationships would fall into place on their own after I joined “the mommy club.”

But that’s not how life works, really. People don’t generally just show up at your door ready to meet your needs because you’ve decided they now serve you. Relationships take time and investment and sacrifice on both sides. I had to recognize I was alone because I had chosen to be alone by investing in only my small bubble of work and marriage. I hadn’t reached out to others and so they did not, or had stopped, reaching out to me as well.

So step one for me was reaching out to the people who had been a part of my life for years but who I had neglected to invest in. It wasn’t easy getting out of the house with a newborn but I tried to spend time when I could with other moms from my church and with my sisters-in-law who were also busy raising families. This was a baby step but it was a start on restoring neglected friendships and community with the people who were already a part of my life.

Tell God What You Need

I remember lying in bed crying, telling God I was lonely and alone and I couldn’t do this by myself. I told God I needed friendship, I needed community, I needed women in my life who I could talk to, laugh with, cry with, and be my crazy stupid self with. I really didn’t know how God would answer that prayer. I knew he could, but I doubted if he would. I had lived in the same place with the same basic group of people for years so I wondered if anything could really change or if this was it—this was the life I had built and was stuck with.

But God did change things, in ways I never imagined, and started bringing the very women I had prayed for right to the small area I had been living in for years. My brother moved up from Louisiana and with him my fun, crazy, hilarious, thoughtful, sister-in-law. We have so much fun together, too much fun, and she has been a drink of cold water in a drought of loneliness.

4ofus

Then our pastor retired and the new pastor’s family moved to the area. Our pastor’s wife is my age with a young family and again, like my sister-in-law, she’s fun, crazy, hilarious, and such a sweet challenge and encouragement to me.

Friends who had moved away moved back to the area, people I had never thought to talk to started conversations, people I had struggled to be close to in the past started opening up and moving forward in friendship…on and on it goes.

In February, I sat at a women’s retreat with a group of girls from my church and as I looked down the row at each of them, it hit me, “God, this is exactly what I prayed for.” The answer to that lonely, tearful heart cry for friendship and community was sitting here on either side of me.

NY Girls

God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want or especially when we want. But still I believe God wants to hear from us and wants to know our hearts and desires. God is a father, after all, and like any good father desires to give to his children and to see them delighted, so God desires to delight us as well. Tell God what you want, what you need, and see what he will do—let him delight and surprise you with the ways he can work and move on your behalf.

Invest In Long Distance Relationships

Because I grew up in Missouri, went to school in South Carolina, and moved to Massachusetts, I have friends and family all over the country.  It sucks that I can’t meet my friend Ashley for a walk through the woods or at a taco truck to eat some of the ridiculously good Mexican food she has available in south Texas —but we’ve learned instead to stay in touch through text {and by texts, I mean mini books written with our thumbs}, sending snail mail, or by reading and listening to the same books. I talk to Ashley more and feel closer to her than some of the people I see almost every day. Why? Because we try—we make an effort to stay in touch and know what’s happening in each other’s lives even though this big, beautiful country keeps us apart.

Not every friend will be one you can meet for coffee but with all the technology available to us, this is no reason why you can’t still maintain thriving long-distance relationships as well.

Get Up and Go

Life can be lonely and there will likely be times of aloneness and a seeming wilderness in the way of meaningful relationships and community. But if I have learned anything over the last year, it’s to do everything in my power to not accept loneliness as just the way life is but rather to seek friendship and community where I can. We were made to need each other and life is so much sweeter with friends to laugh with and at :]

How thankful I am that God heard and responded to my loneliness and filled my life with friendship and community; he can do the same for you—ask and see.

Leave it Behind

13522412_10153651077581517_1147689678_n

As long as there’s time for baby snuggles…

Sometimes I take my son down the toy aisle and let him check out all the different toys. He finds something bright and noisy and walks around with it for a bit until he notices something else bright and noisy and wants to hold that too. He walks happily for a minute with both hands full; then a third bright, noisy toy catches his eye and he wants that too, not instead, too—so he juggles what he’s holding until he succeeds in carrying all three.

This works fine for a minute but eventually something falls. Still not wanting to let anything go, he chases down the dropped toy and maneuvers everything around again. He tries to play with the first toy but the second one is in his way. When he plays with the second toy, the third one rolls away again. He’s frustrated now—frustrated because he wants more than what he can hold and because he can’t enjoy any of it when he’s trying to enjoy all of it at once.

I try convincing him to leave something behind; choose your favorite and play with just that one thing instead. He won’t have it—he wants all three, all at once. Eventually we leave the toy aisle with nothing but a frustrated toddler who has yet to learn that sometimes you must put one thing down in order to hold and enjoy another.

But he’s not the only one in need of this lesson. So often when I hear myself instructing my son on how life works and how things ought to be done, I realize the lesson is as much for me as it is for him.

You can only hold and enjoy so many things at once—I know, but I want all of them. I want to be in five different places doing ten different things making everyone happy all at once—without being tired or frustrated. I juggle and try to maneuver too many things around in my hands, refusing to acknowledge that sometimes you must simply say no or let something go to truly enjoy all the things you should actually say yes to.

We are given a numbered amount of time—8,760 hours a year divided into months and weeks and days and made up of minutes that keep on ticking, ticking by. We are limited by time, quite simply, because we are not God who stands outside of time. We can’t do everything all the time because we are finite and must operate within the limits of our humanity. So, we must choose.

We must choose what few things we will hold in our hands and how we will use the time and strength we’ve been given. Will I do a few things with all my heart and energy or will I, like a toddler, stretch myself thin over too many choices trying to enjoy and be responsible for far more than I was intended.

Today, I am learning to choose and to leave behind whatever I cannot and should not be trying to hold. If there are things I want that interfere with what’s most important to me—my marriage, motherhood, my relationship with God, making a home, being in control of myself in the way I eat, rest, and care for my body—then those things need to be put down and left behind. Just because something in itself is good and desirable doesn’t mean I have the room in my hands to hold it.

I have only so much time and energy to give; only so much I can hold and carry at once. So sometimes, oftentimes, I must choose—what’s most important—what will I hold and carry with me and what will I leave behind?

Fallow Ground

DSC_0732.JPG

Last night we worked on the yard, raking and turning up the soil for spring. I knelt in the dirt, gathering rocks into the wheel barrow and enjoying the cool spring breeze whisping through my hair.

We set out the boundaries of our garden and I dreamt while I worked of vine tomatoes and itty bitty strawberries ripening in the sun.

Roman helped gather rocks, huffing and puffing to assure me of his labor and brute strength. Even when he bent to lift a tiny shred of paper into the wheel barrow, he grunted and moved slowly to prove the weight of his task :] How I love him; how I have learned to love him after struggling and finding our way into and through toddlerhood this winter. He is strong, willful, completely sure of what he wants. I see myself in him, I see his dad, and I am both terrified and proud.

I thought last night as I worked the soil into soft, plantable rows, about the parable Jesus gave of fallow ground—dry, hard, unworked ground—where though the seeds may fall, nothing grows or changes in such unattended soil.

I wondered about my heart, the soil of my heart, and if this ground is turned over and ready for growth or packed down in stubborn defiance, refusing to grow, refusing to change.

I have felt a bit like a rock in a tumbler these last two years since Roman came. Around and around I’ve gone, having my hardness and rough edges worked down into a softer more desirable form. Last night, working the ground, it made sense to me–all the tumbling and falling–perhaps it was meant simply to turn up the fallow ground, to plant and build new life, to grow and harvest new fruit in soil that was once packed down and useless.

So today I hope not just for those sun ripened tomatoes and strawberries but for fruit in the softer soil of my own heart as well–that I would not be dead and useless but alive and growing into what God desires me to be.

What a gift it is that God works our hearts as we do the soil, that he does not simply drop seeds on hard ground but kneels in the dirt and works on us until we are made soft and useful for new life and purpose.

Something About Nothing

I pull on my coat and mud boots and march out into the rain. My camera hangs around my neck, tucked snuggly beneath my coat like a child I’m trying to keep dry and warm. I want to photograph something, anything, so off we go, my camera and I.

DSC_0729

Sloshing through mud and puddles, I inch up to the branches and brand new leaves waking up timidly in the cool spring weather. “Hold still,” I tell them as they move with the wind and rain. My camera tries to keep up and focus on what I want, ever grumbling about being out in the rain.

We have to catch spring now, I tell the camera, or it will slip away. “Ya right,” the camera grumbles quietly. I ignore and carry on.

DSC_0739