Memory

The summer air is tangible, thick,  heavy on my skin. Humidity hangs visibly in the hazy air.

The wind is blowing; it never stops blowing here. There is a restlessness in this place–a constant motion and sound cutting through the trees, bowing the prairie grass gently from side to side.

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Everything seems bigger than me–the grass to my waist, the scruffy trees I climb barefoot and brown, the sky stretching out in ocean spans above the endless rolling farmland. I disappear into the cornfield, feeling smaller still with prickly stalks over my head pressing in around me.

I find a dusty bare spot in the field–a circle of dirt where the tractor turned and no seed was planted. I can smell the corn, sweet and tangy. Everything smells green here–did you know green is a smell? I can remember it–the green–the smell of green grass, green crops, green trees. Everything was green and brown and blue— the sky, the dirt, the oceans of prairie grass swaying in that humid Midwest wind.

My bare feet are brown and dusty, callused as leather and as good on gravel as any pair of shoes. You don’t need shoes here–you can climb the trees better without them–toes moving confidently against scratchy bark and branch.

I was a tomboy then. A little bit wild. Scrappy. A girl… not a wife, not a mother. A wildflower and a dreamer making plans to leave and go somewhere bigger. I did not know then how hard it might be to find a place bigger than a Midwest summer–bigger than that sky or those swaying fields of crop.

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I left. I married. I became a mother. I saw the worlds I dreamt of under apple trees and night sky.

It’s good. I’m happy. I’m proud.

But I’d give almost anything for one more day under the Missouri sun–barefoot, brown, laying in a cornfield watching the clouds roll by. I’d lay there til the stars came out. I’d watch the fireflies dance in diamond bands across the still-hot night air. I’d listen to the peepers and crickets sing their song in chorus with that ever-moving breeze. I’d hold on to the smell of green–breathing a little deeper and tucking away that Midwest magic in the pockets of my heart and soul. I’d whisper to my tomboy heart, “You’ll need these someday so hold on.”

Winter Bloom

 

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“You don’t have to be blooming to be growing.”

Ruth Chou Simons (@gracelaced.com)

I read these words on instragam recently and have been turning them over in my heart and mind ever since: “You don’t have to be blooming to be growing.”

If there is a single recurring theme in what I write about it’s this: Seasons–both the seasons in nature changing slowly one into the other and the seasons of life doing the same.

img_20161123_100605.jpgI have felt lately that I’m in a rather wintry season of life–one in which there is little color or life on the surface though I know in my heart there is much going on in the roots and soul and parts of life mostly unseen. img_20161017_073043949.jpgI am a momma and a homemaker and my days are spent mostly at home doing work I know matters but presently have little to show for. Someday I will look back and see these days with better clarity and deeper appreciation; I know that.

But today I see the years stretching out before me and I know I have a long time to wait before there are blooms in the work I now do.

dsc_1356Like winter, life and growth are there, quietly beneath the surface in the roots and leaves working away silently until new life and color are revealed in spring.

dsc_1265Someday I will see the fruit of my labor; I believe that. I believe when my grown children stand around me and take off for life on their own I will be proud of how they’ve grown and blossomed and I will not regret the years spent quietly working away on blooms not yet seen.

But these are long days even if the years are short.

dsc_1368dsc_1367Winter sprinkled across our little New England home last week in frost and snow glittering in the morning light. I wrapped Roman in every layer of winter clothes a two-year old can reasonably move in and together we trekked outside to chase the light and magic at our door.

dsc_1354Winter is not my favorite but this frosty magic pulls me out into the cold every time. I couldn’t help but notice how completely nature then reflected what has been growing in my heart–this lesson about life beneath the surface when no blooms are seen.

img_20161115_151323.jpgimg_20161209_111947.jpgThe world looks dead and done but a touch of frost and morning light sets the world on fire and for a fleeting moment we see glimpses of the new life that is to come.

Winter will pass and melt away as any dark season of life does and on the other side we will see what has been happening beneath the surface all along–all the work and waiting will open into long-awaited blooms at last.

dsc_1284dsc_1272dsc_1274But for today, during winter, I have to take heart and remember this is but a season–both in life and nature.

Winter will pass and these long days of motherhood will grow and add up to something bright and blooming too. There is growth and life even if hidden quietly in the heart and soul and not yet seen in the fruit of our hands.

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Wild Flowers

 

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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 ❤

Fallow Ground

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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.

The Bigger Picture

Today I woke with the morning light spreading across a canvas of crisp blue winter sky. The one advantage of waking early with a little one is watching the sun wake up bright and ready for a new day too. The world looks full of hope first thing in the morning, with new light and new possibilities spreading before us.

For months now Darren has been building the chimney on our house. Day after day, brick after brick he worked away until we were finally able to sit in front of a crackling fire and smell the house filled with that wonderful wood and smoke aroma I love so much in winter.

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I learned something watching him lay brick, watching that same repetitive task done over and over again until something lasting finally took shape:

Life and all we hope to build unfolds slowly, brick by brick, day by day.

When I think about marriage or motherhood or staying home to raise a family, I often get mucked up in a romantic idea of how this big plan of mine is supposed to look. I forget though, that in the moment, day to day, things aren’t likely to look romantic or ideal at all.

I have to remind myself often, more so now in motherhood than ever before, that there is a bigger picture at hand. What I see and often get lost in day to day–the chores and messes and repetitive instruction of a little one–these are but bricks, small pieces of a much grander whole.

When I wash clothes and cook meals and sweep floors, I’m doing more than housework–I’m building a home and making this shell of a house feel like a home. When I kiss, and carry, discipline, and teach my little one–I’m more than babysitting; I’m raising a child who will become an adult who already carries with him an eternal soul. And so this daily work becomes a matter of eternal importance–forever, always, unending importance.

Darren bought a little plant for me at the store the other day. We were choosing paint for the cabinets when I saw a display of brand new succulents–I oohed and ahhd over them until we left with one :]

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I put the little plant on a window sill to sunbathe his way through winter. Today I noticed him sitting there in the morning light and thought what a pretty picture it would be–if it weren’t for the unfinished window trim messing everything up.

I took the picture anyway because it reminded me of this very thing I’m talking about–about the bigger picture and seeing beauty in the mess and unfinished work of life.

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So today I’m trying to stay focused on the long term and reminding myself over and over again that all these small things we do a million times over add up to a whole lifetime in the end.

The point is not so much what I’m doing today in and of itself but what today is helping me build for tomorrow. Bit by bit, brick by brick, I hope I can start to see the value and purpose in the tasks before me today so I may build something lasting and eternal for tomorrow.

Frosty Enchantment

God says we are made in his image—we humans somehow carry with us the likeness of the God who made us, in part, like himself. But it is in nature I best see the breaths and fingerprints of my God. That’s not to say I don’t see God’s handiwork in people—it’s just that people are always in motion, and for me at least, more difficult to study and learn from. But nature moves at a steady pace and watching the stars drip evening light out of the night sky or listening to the magnificent roar of thunder rumbling down around us somehow speaks far more deeply to me about the things of God.

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We are just two steps into November and already frost kisses the brown and gray things with glittering light—robing all that now seems dead in one last moment of beauty and enchantment.

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It’s a rare moment these days when I find time to pull my camera out. But sometimes the light or the shadow out my window pulls too strongly to stay busy inside and I find myself instead kneeling close to the ground, enjoying the weight of the camera in my hands, and trying click after click to capture what it is that brought me outside searching in the first place.

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Today, it was the frost sprinkled like star dust through the grass and leaves and the way the morning light danced in rainbows through the frozen drops of dew. And it’s here, knee-deep in grass, camera chasing the sun through frost, that I see God in my midst. I see him making dead things beautiful and breathing glittering light into things we might think are done and gone and no more needed.

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I see God making me new and somehow beautiful in his sight when I would be dead and useless apart from his light. I see the enchantment of frost sparkling on leaves and in that light, I see his light, shining too in you and me.

He can make you new. He can give you life. He can make all things beautiful in his time. I know, because he’s doing so in me.

Look Up

We just celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary, Darren and I. We sat trying to decide how to celebrate. All either of us wanted was to get away for a few days—away from work, and house remodeling, and life’s routine. We talked about Quebec City or Acadia or Niagara Falls. And we talked about fresh air, and crisp river water, and camp fires beneath the stars. And that’s when we decided camping would be the very best celebration this year. So we packed, and goodness, I’m amazed how much stuff it takes for us Americans to sleep on the ground properly. This was Roman’s first time camping in a tent and it takes as much stuff for one baby as it does for 8 adults I think. You should have seen our car, loaded down with tent, and pack n play, and bike rack, and a million other things to help nature out with our high maintenance ways. And then we were off, up to Vermont, to the woods and river and biking trails—up away from work and routine and all that wears us down these days. The sky was playing games and just starting to spit rain when we arrived. We moved fast, taunting nature back, and got our tent up just before the heavy rain came. We stay huddled together in our tent that evening watching Roman run from one end of the small space to the other. We made sandwiches for dinner and went to bed as soon as it was dark, listening to the sound of the rain beating against our little shelter all night long like a song. setup DSC_0468 We woke to a cool, foggy morning. We and everything else felt damp but how good it was to wake up with the sun and our baby boy snuggled between us on the floor. A crackling campfire was built and soon red potatoes and kale were cooking for breakfast. DSC_0330 I like the pace of nature and our pace in nature when we work with instead of against the morning light, and dew, and cool air wrapping around us before the heat of the day comes and pushes us back inside. So we took our time that morning, tasting our breakfast not just eating it. We took sauntering walks and breezy bike rides and looked at each other, not past to the next item of business. DSC_0763bikecarrierDSC_0815 DSC_0817 We filled our hearts, and lungs, and minds with all the good thing of nature and quiet time together. We held hands and held our son and snuggled close together around campfires at night. DSC_0436 One night, our last night, I walked back to our tent alone in the dark. I thought about the sweet days we had enjoyed and was sad to see them ending. I tried to soak up everything around me one last time–the smell of the woods, sound of the river, feel of the night air wrapping around me—and the stars, I thought—don’t forget to look up at the stars one last time for they look nothing like this back home with all the other lights hiding them. So I looked up at the night sky and all the millions and billions of tiny light freckles poking through from heaven to earth. How enchanting the night sky is and how mysterious. When I got back to the tent, Darren traded watching Roman with me and started to walk the dark path himself. I told him, “Don’t forget to look up” —and off he went with eyes to the sky. I watched him walk away and heard those words echo back to me in my head— “Don’t forget to look up.” momandrome DSC_0417 Don’t forget to look up. I have thought about that phrase many times over the last two weeks since camping. I’ve thought about it when the waves of life have washed our feet out from under us and brought us humbly to our knees. I’ve thought about those words when I’ve grown overwhelmed or discouraged and can’t find my way. Don’t forget to look up—not just to the stars, but to the God who made the stars. Look up to the God whose light shines through to us, not just in a million freckled bits of light but in our hearts and lives every day. Look up to the God who is present and in control and loves us even when we think perhaps he has forgotten. Don’t forget to look up—first, always, to the God who is there in every bit of light in the world, for he and he alone is The Light of the world. Look up.

Not Capturing the Moment

IMG_20150514_181115413 editI didn’t have a cell phone until I went off to college and even then I hardly used it. We had a phone on the wall in our dorm room—you know, the kind with a curly cord and actual buttons to push–well, that’s what I always used to talk because my cell had horrible reception, I didn’t know how to text, and there was no camera, apps, or internet so the thing was fairly useless to me.  I’m not talking about a hundred years ago, this was like 2004.

Sometimes I like thinking back to the days when a phone was just a phone and I wasn’t always carrying it around with me scrolling through feeds like a media addict. Sometimes I get this image in my head of myself carrying around a corded phone and constantly looking at it to see if anyone is going to call me—it makes me laugh ;]

I like my fancy pants phone as much as anybody—with immediate access to the internet and lots of fun apps. But still, I think we all know sometimes we miss out on the actual living going on all around us by being so busy trying to keep up with all the virtual living going on via our phones.

I never realized this more until I had my son. There’s a part of me that feels like I need to capture every little thing he does because he’s changing so fast. And capturing everything he does isn’t hard with a cell always in hand—I take a million pics, record all his shenanigans, and scroll through countless feeds in between (you know, since I already have my phone out anyway).

But I’ve realized something in the process of trying to always capture the perfect picture of my little guy: Sometimes watching him through the lens of my phone takes away from just being present with him and watching him with nothing but my own eyes.

Darren and I took Roman to the park recently and he was so cute crawling around exploring in the grass. He picked dandelions and looked them over with a kind of wonder I think you only have when you see something for the very first time. The sun was beginning to drift down below the horizon and the breeze was crisp with leftover remembrances of winter still grasping at spring. Darren held Roman’s little hands in his and helped him walk around…really, Roman mostly danced being so very proud of himself and this newfound use of his legs. I sat there in the cool grass watching my boys, watching the sun set, watching the life of our little one unfold right before me…and I left my phone in my pocket.

I just wanted to live that moment and soak up as much of it in my memory as I possibly could. I wanted to always remember how Darren was as a young father of his first child and how Roman was discovering the world at his daddy’s side. I knew in my heart that trying to capture this moment would actually rob me of it. So I sat and I watched and I lived and the best documentation of these sweet memories is held in my heart instead of my phone.

Since then, I’ve tried to allow more of these sweet moments to unfold all on their own rather than trying to force, pose, and capture them. Yes, I love photos and of course photos help us hold onto memories in their own way. But there’s a part of me that knows I need not capture any moment with a camera that I miss with my own heart and mind by being distracted.

Sometimes, some moments just need to be lived and remembered in our hearts rather than captured and shared on social media.

Patience.

I’ve watched the rain fall and freeze these last few days. The sky is moody, unable to decide if it’s winter or spring. Fluffy white clouds are pushed along by chubby clouds of slate brimming with rain one minute and sleet the next. The sun breaks through now and again, threatening rebel patches of snow and inviting the timid little birds to sing. The flowers are not so brave and have yet to poke their little heads up through the cold sod.

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This world ebbs and flows in the rhythm of seasons—the hot days of summer are caught on fire by the burning leaves of fall, fall gives way to winter as the last leaves drop and tuck away beneath a wintry blanket of snow. Winter holds on forever and every year I forget spring will ever come again.

And then, just when the last shred of hope is slipping through our cold fingers, the birds come home and the snow gives way to rain and we are reminded once more that nothing in this life truly last forever—however good, however bad—this life is made up of brief, ever-changing seasons of warmth and rain, of heartache and hope.

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Life in New England teaches me patience. Through the long winters and slow advance of spring, I learn to wait. Missouri was not this way. Missouri winters yield to spring in violent cracks of thunder and electric fingers of lightning stretching from heaven to earth. The warm and cold air spin and dance in confusion knowing one must win and the battle will be fought out in violent tornadoes that ravage and forsake every bit of ground they touch.

Missouri springs are not quiet, not safe, and certainly not slow. Spring in the prairies feels as though the very land you love is trying to hurl you off of it, trying to crush and destroy you or eat you up in its loud, rumbling belly of thunder. I’m not being dramatic; I thought more than once that I would die in a Missouri spring and never see another summer.

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Sometimes, in New England, I think I will die in the winter and never see another spring—or perhaps the whole earth has died and there are no more springs to be had—now I am being dramatic.