Home Grown

My younger daughter’s chubby baby fingers dug in the rich, dark soil as my older daughter’s tiny toes balanced carefully on the wooden beam that extended across our small raised garden bed. I sat watching, anxiously, as they crawled and danced and wove between delicate climbing tendrils of a cucumber plant, wide, overpowering leaves of zucchini, and bushy, fragrant tomato bushes. I wasn’t anxious about the thought of my older daughter falling from the low hovering beam, nor the certainty of my younger daughter destroying our tomato crop by kindly plucking the pre-ripened fruit. I was nervous about what was or wasn’t to come. About news from halfway across the country. My phone rang; I answered immediately, with a glance at the girls enjoying this little world we’d created. “I got the job!” My husband exclaimed, his voice excited and breathless through the hundreds of miles that stretched between us on the phone.

We had moved in haste to this little house in the suburbs of Chicago just a few months before, after being booted from our previous rental, located a mere handful of miles down the road. Our landlady had decided to move back into the house we’d been renting the previous three and a half years, the house to which we brought both of our daughters home, and so in a hustle we found a gem of a rental with a cozy floor plan, freshly painted walls, a beautiful back yard, and a 5’x5’ raised garden bed that was hidden in the corner of the yard, heaped with weeds and debris.

After years of living in this area, a Midwestern locale to which neither of us particularly wanted to move nor saw ourselves staying, this quick and unexpected move felt like a renewal. I was tired of living with one foot in and one foot out, waiting for opportunities that may never come. I wanted to put down firmer roots. My husband, on the other hand, approached this latest move with a sense of resignation. After years of investing what little time and money we could spare into pursuing a new and niche career path, it was beginning to look as if none of his dreams would take flight. We had built a good life and community in this unlikely place; it was past time to dig deeper, right where we were.

So, for Mother’s Day that year, a month after making the move and before we’d fully unpacked, I asked my husband to help me plant a vegetable garden. We tirelessly disposed of the debris and pulled up the weeds, spread new, fertile soil, and sunk our hands into the musky dirt as we untangled seedling roots and planted them in the Earth that supported the home and life we were growing together.

Then I tended and I waited. I waited while I tended to the other things growing in our lives – our children, naturally, but also our community of friends that had become it’s own beautifully diverse garden. As the first baby kale leaves emerged, a friend and I pushed our babies in strollers around the lake at our local park. While tendrils of young cucumbers wound themselves around our makeshift stakes, tendrils of deep connection wound itself into my soul with a few friends with whom I could sit, drink coffee, watch our children grow and play, and be myself. When the squash and tomatoes suddenly seemed to turn our tidy garden into a wild place, we were out exploring the wild woodlands with fellow adventurers and best friends.

My abilities as a gardener seem to echo my tendencies as a friend. I grow friendships deeply, but slowly. I’m often overwhelmed by the pressing demands of life and don’t have a much time or energy left in my introverted soul to tend to the delicate intricacies of nurturing new friendship. I pull weeds about as sporadically as I return texts. I try my hardest to remember to water, to call and make plans to gather, but, to my own disappointment, I find myself forgetful and distracted, exhausted and lazy. Yet, through all my ineptitude, as a gardener and a friend, I found myself with a small but beautiful harvest of the heartiest bunch around. The plants and people who were able to understand snd forgive my tardiness to pulling weeds or play dates, who accepted that my tending and communication (or lack thereof) was not a reflection of my connection and commitment, who, through it all, felt my deep love for and heartfelt laughter with them and allowed that to become the basis upon which our friendship thrived.

My husband’s words through the phone on that muggy, late July afternoon soaked me in a sweat of disbelief and relief – for him and this long-awaited opportunity. There was excitement at the prospect of a new adventure. Still, there was the quiet whisper in my mind, as I gazed at my small but proud garden, at my children who grow relationships equally slowly and carefully, at the budding bounty that was newly emerging – but it’s harvest time.

In this northern clime, and with the delay caused by my lazy gardening, we had just begun to reap the ripeness of a few tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini. Meanwhile, I had watched as my hesitant and shy older girl began frolicking with a few close friends, hands clasped together. Meanwhile, I experienced the glistening beauty of the strong bonds of friendship forged in the steel furnace of new motherhood, shining in the summer sun. Meanwhile, we tasted the sweetness and ease of our slow-grown community.

As my husband and I discussed the logistics of an expedited move, I knew that we would have to leave harvest-ready fruits behind to fester on the vine. I knew that we would have to break the subtle yet strong tendrils that children’s fingers had woven together. I knew that I would be uprooted from this diverse group of women who, each in their own way, had helped me grow in this new and unfamiliar place and space in life.

We found ourselves at the farmer’s market in our new, small town in Maryland on a balmy early-October afternoon. It was the end of the market season and the local farmers were eager to offload the last of their wares – some late-season green beans and kale and enough green peppers to last us through the winter – and I was eager to make a connection to the Earth, and community, upon which we had recently planted ourselves. The previous week we closed on our first house of our own after six weeks of separation that took the girls and I through eight states as my husband settled into his new job. 

The air was rich with the fragrant possibility of fall – sweet pine in the cool breeze, earthy pumpkin patches and tangy hay bales, musky leaves that turned from green to gold to brown as they fell away and revealed barren branches stretching across the mountains that encircled our new home. Meanwhile, we set forth on the rocky but hopeful path of building a new life. We worked. We piled all our furniture in the living room and piled all our selves into a single rotating bedroom while we slowly, in stolen hours, set about cleaning and patching and painting the vacant rooms. We explored. We meandered along mountainous trails that traversed the landscape around us; we walked along the creek-side path that paved the downtown of our new locale; we checked out festivals and events, checked off seasonal stops and activities. We put ourselves out there. I toted the kids to every library class, park play date, church mom’s group, forest school, and local event in a frenzied attempt to meet new people and make new connections. I reached deep into my pockets, gathering every last seed I could find and threw them with wild abandon into the soil of this new place. Grow, I commanded. Grow, I implored. Grow, I pleaded with exhaustion and desperation.

But the ground was fallow, the air was cold, my patience was short, and my connections felt weak. I was exhausted and discouraged, busy and lonely in equal measure. What’s wrong with my seeds, I wondered, what’s wrong with me? So focused was I on the ground in front of me, the expectations of what and when and how I believed things should bloom, that I completely overlooked the impact of an unyielding environment and the necessity of time. The seasons had shifted and I fought an uphill battle against the ebb and flow of nature.

“I haven’t seen you write much recently,” a few kind friends commented throughout the fall and winter and spring. I laughed it off, claiming I had been busy. It was true – tending to the relentless needs of young children, working through the accumulating pile of projects that comes with purchasing an as-is house, and accommodating my husband’s new schedule that took him away to conferences and necessitated some weekend work was a full time job. But in reality, it was something more: my internal life felt as devoid of creativity as my external life felt of connection.

Gardeners appreciate the delicate nature of transplant shock on plants that are designed to stay in one place, where they put down roots deep and wide, and have difficulty adjusting to growth in new environments. Farmers recognize the benefit of fallow periods in their fields for the future growth of healthier crops, re-balancing and re-establishing nutrients in the absence of yield. Anyone with a basic knowledge of biological principles understands that seeds must have certain conditions to grow, and even then, first grow hidden roots in the dark safety beneath the soil before the first delicate buds boldly, tentatively, push upward into the light of the sun. Yet, it is only in hindsight that I’m able to see, and appreciate, these obvious forces of nature at work in my own life. It is only with the passage of time and renewal of seasons that I can see the truth of these forgotten words I wrote during the difficult months following our move:

Perhaps, when it comes to connection, I’m chasing the wrong thing. Maybe I’m starting at the end rather than the beginning on my journey to get where I want to be. Instead of reaching out for a stranger and merely hoping a connection will turn them into a friend, maybe I start by reaching into myself and finding that connection of inner friendship and love. Roots must grow downward and anchor into a firm foundation before branches can grow upward and outward; showing beauty to the world. 

It was already too late in the season when I dug my shovel through the scruffy, weed-speckled grass and into the rocky soil of our still-new property. Sweat soaked through my shirt as I spent more hours than seemed worthwhile digging up a small corner of our yard. Weeds yielded to my determined strength as the tilled orange soil shone in the midday sun. My daughters sunk their fingers into the warm dirt, poking tiny holes into which we gently placed seeds – cucumber and squash, tomato and zucchini, peppers and beans. 
The hard work and delayed timeline didn’t deter me, the priority of other projects and the call of daily chores didn’t distract me. I needed to dig in, to dig deeper. I needed to feel the worth and the strength of the Earth upon which we had settled ourselves. I was ready and energized and, once again, hopeful. It was time to plant and sow.

Then I tended and waited. Meanwhile, as the seeds slowly and silently stretched their roots beneath ground, I nurtured the roots of connectedness within myself. I relaxed into yoga and hiking and meditation. I carved out small moments to breathe and read and (sporadically, privately) write. I spent idle time watching the soft movement of our river birch in the breeze and felt the mirror of thoughts and emotions moving through me. I tended to those rich relationships that our move had brought us close enough to see on a regular basis – the soul sisters an hour away who never cease to make me laugh and cry and feel truly known. And somewhere deep within the buzz of creativity was finding new life. 

Ever so slowly, and somewhat surprisingly despite the work and waiting, green sprouts began to emerge from the soil. Small, hopeful buds at first. But once emerged, once they felt the warmth of sunlight upon their willowy stems, the plants seemed to be propelled towards growth. Cucumbers climbed along the fence, beans and zucchini became bushy, and poorly placed butternut squash reached it’s vining tendrils halfway across the yard. Meanwhile, I saw the buds of connectedness showing up in our new community. I went on a camping trip with our forest school group that we’ve come to adore. I invited friends over, even though I don’t love to host, because their company is joyful and genuine and worth it. I lingered with new friends by the creek as heartfelt conversations began to flow. 

A year later and hundreds of miles from where we began, it’s harvest time again. We race to pluck the bush beans before aphids devour them. We part large leaves and find overgrown zucchini. We anxiously watch tomatoes slowly turn from green to red. We taste spicy peppers and juicy cucumber. 

Meanwhile, we sit and laugh with new friends over cold beer in the afternoon sun. Meanwhile, we go to birthday parties and watch as our children play and grow together. Meanwhile, we frolic in the sun-warmed water of our local lake with the beauty of mountains and friendship encircling us. Meanwhile, I glimpse my daughter perched on a log next to a new friend, shoulders brushing, heads tilted slightly together as they look out upon the world together.

And I see – the harvest is here. The sweet taste of companionship and true connection, grown slowly and purposefully, is worth the effort and worth the wait. New beginnings, very often, must take us back to our roots, dark and quiet and full of doubt as they may be, before we’re able to fully bloom anew.

Advertisements

To the Momma Who is Trying Her Best

bw-09-IMG-9

To the Momma who feels like she’s the only one who doesn’t have this motherhood thing figured out. You are not alone.

To the Momma who wanders through the day mopping up messes and wondering what she has accomplished. You have purpose.

To the Momma who spent years pursuing education and career goals, only to spend days wiping bottoms and washing dishes. Your work matters.

To the Momma who hears relentless whines and demands as a thanks for all of her hard work. You are appreciated.

To the Momma who lost her temper and feels like she failed her children. You are human.

To the Momma who delights in being with her children, but worries that this simple life doesn’t stack up to the expectations of others. You are an inspiration.

To the Momma who once had hobbies and interests outside of her kids, but now doesn’t have the energy or brainpower to pursue them. You are uniquely gifted.

To the Momma who feels like there is never enough time or money to devote any to herself. You are worthy.

To the Momma who holds her child with achingly tired arms arms, or holds herself together by a thread. You are strong.

To the Momma who is charting her own course, and questioning her direction and decisions at every turn. You are bold.

To the Momma who craves intelligent conversation, but feels as if her brain can no longer keep up. You are brilliant.

To the Momma who looks in the mirror at the unfamiliar sags and slopes and softness of a body that has been transformed by time and life. You are beautiful.

To the Momma who is pouring out every ounce of love her tender heart contains everyday, to everyone. You are loved.

To the Momma who wonders if anything she does ever makes a difference. You are a world changer.

To the Momma who is trying her best, even when she feels like her best is not enough. Thank You – you are more than enough.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the Mommas who make this world a better place!

To My First Baby on Your Fourth Birthday

Dear Sweet Girl,

Has it really been four years since you first entered our world? Four years since I held the heavy wetness of your small body against my own? Was it really so long ago that you transformed my entire world and made me a Momma? I can’t believe it.

And yet, I can. You’ve grown and changed so much in those four short years. We’ve come so far in that breath of time that it feels like an eternity since that first mid-night meeting when the quiet kiss of your sweet sleeping breath laid itself upon my chest.

In this past year, you’ve grown by leaps and bounds, transforming from a needy, emotion-driven toddler into a thoughtful, independent little person. This year has held more change than your young mind can comprehend. We moved twice, leaving the only home you’ve ever known, then the only friends you’ve ever known. For you, my tender-hearted child, I know this was tough. I know you ache for the familiar in a world that is always changing, one in which you may feel you have no control. But through it all, I’ve been amazed by the grace, resiliency, and open-heartedness with which you’ve approached life’s transitions.

In this way, you have become my tiny teacher.

You hold my hand as we boldly embark upon new adventures together, while simultaneously holding space to miss what we’ve left behind. You remind me that excitement and sadness can cohabitate in our souls as I’ve watched you learn to surf the vast waves of your own feelings. I’ve felt the open forgiveness of your heart as you hold me close and together we regain calm amidst the chaos. I’ve seen you grow into the most kind and caring big sister as you look at your little sister with delight, embrace her with gentleness, and never hesitate to offer her your helping hand, even at her most difficult moments. I’ve heard the empathy in your voice as you notice the sadness in the eyes of a stranger, remark on the frown on the face of a book character, or worry about the plight of bugs as they crawl underfoot. I’ve witnessed the curiosity of your mind as you work to solve problems and ask big questions about the world’s tough issues, that seem far beyond your years.

As you learn daily, and teach me endlessly, about the most important things in life, I never cease to be stunned with the innocence and pure joy you bring forth. The way you pick up an instrument and string together an original song of unparalleled beauty. The way you extend your hand with a soft touch to a loved one who’s struggling. The way your smile can transform your face and your laughter can transform my mood. The way you create a world of your own, crafting characters and stories using only your vivid imagination for entertainment. The way you make nature your playground – racing up trails and climbing over rocks and studying tracks in the snow – knowing that with a world this big and beautiful, there is no space for boredom. The way you pull at my hand with pleas to play and bring me back to the most important moments.

With all this change – as life marches forward and we inhabit new spaces and you grow ever-taller and always wiser – I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I miss what was. My heart mourns for the loss of your littleness, for that baby who is grow all too fast. Even on the longest days – the days when I can’t wait to kiss you goodnight and see those eyes finally close, the days when my ears ring with the constancy of your questions – even then, especially then, I gaze upon your peaceful, sleeping face – a face that looks exactly the same as the moment I first glimpsed it four years ago – and I long to hold onto your small self. I desperately want to embrace every fleeting moment. For I know you’ll open those soulful brown eyes tomorrow and you’ll be a little bit bigger, a little bit less of that baby I miss.

But as you rise, and I see how magical it is to watch you become more of yourself with each passing day, as I get to walk beside you as we grow and learn together, I know that this new moment is where we are supposed to be. So I hold in my heart a space for the baby that you will always be to me. I hold in my mind a vision of the limitless future that lies ahead of you. But I hold in my arms, in the depth of my body, you, exactly as you are today. Ever-changing, always learning, endlessly inspiring, sparkling eyes wide open, incredible YOU.

Happy Birthday Little Love!

Thank you for being you and loving me.

Love always,

Momma

These First Five Years

“I vow to lift you up when you are down and soar with you when you are in the clouds,” he said.

“I vow to always rise to your challenge and strive daily to better myself and our relationship,” I responded.


On this day five years ago, my husband and I threw these promises, these hopes and ambitions, into the universe when we committed to spend our lives together. We didn’t know then the peaks of joy and depths of sorrow that the universe would throw back at us. We didn’t know how life would take our words and hold them up as mirrors, reflecting the most breathtakingly beautiful and soul-crushingly difficult parts of ourselves and each other. We knew only of vague references to good times and bad, richer and poorer, sickness and health, without the foresight to see the unpredictable ways these notions would take shape into our own realities.

Five years seems so minuscule, but these handful of years have already held what feels like a lifetime of celebrations and tribulations, learning and growth, adventures of the ordinary and extraordinary. We’ve climbed ice-capped glaciers and sailed sparkling seas. We’ve flown planes over lakes and valleys, and we’ve traversed more miles in cars than we’d like to remember. We’ve moved and settled, made new friends and said goodbye to old ones, and started all over again and again. We’ve skied and swam and laughed and danced. We’ve relished in the good life and the abundant love.

We’ve also suffered together. We’ve mourned the loss of a child we would never know and the passing of a mother we could never imagine living without. We’ve seen dreams shattered and hopes let go. We’ve been forced to face demons, both individually and relationally. We’ve been pushed to give up vices and push back against our own bad habits, our own default defenses, as we’ve walked down rocky roads of our own making. We’ve mustered the strength to offer outstretched arms to one another, even when it felt like our own pain would overtake us.

And we’ve lived the redemption of life’s miracles. We’ve held the world in our hands as we’ve stared into our daughters’ eyes. We’ve watched how they change and grow and force us to do the same. We’ve been daily overcome by their needs and nightly redeemed by their pure love. We’ve given up sleep and time and money for the sake of this family we’re building. We’ve wondered at times if it’s all worth it and reassured one another during those dark nights of frustration that it absolutely is.

Still, we’ve seen how the roots of this life we’re growing together can push into the foundation of our marriage and form cracks of resentment. We’ve felt the frustration of never having enough time and always having too much work, and the alienation of miscommunication and misunderstanding. We’ve glimpsed how, left unchecked, this resentment has the power to crumble our core. And we’ve been diligent about reinforcing our souls against the false assumptions that silent fears can breed.

Through it all, we’ve persevered. We’ve experienced the ache of putting in just a little more time, just a little more effort, just a little more prayer. We’ve waited, sometimes seemingly endlessly, for the payoff. We’ve held each other through and held each other accountable as we’ve waited and worked – for a job, for a move, for a family, for a home, for a happy marriage, for a simple life. For all these things that we’ve built and are still building together daily.

We’ve held on to the roots of love that brought us here.


“But most of all I vow to love you… A love that I will actively work towards each day as we grow together, through good times and bad, allowing grace to infuse and strengthen our marriage,” I said.

“I vow to love you until that is the last emotion I can feel,” he replied.

Photos by Leah Bullard Photography

The Hard Goodbye

Since deciding to make this latest move, I’ve realized that my excitement for this next chapter has been tempered with a twinge of sadness. I noticed that I was dragging my feet on preparing, and as I packed it was with heavy hands and a heavy heart. Even though we felt this move is the best choice for our family and believed that our new location would be a good fit for our interests and lifestyle, I still wasn’t feeling 100% on board. Even though we never intended to settle in the Midwest and our current locale is a bit too congested and a smidge too flat and way too far from family, I still wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

I’ve moved many times in the past – 16 to be exact – and I know in my heart that I’m adaptable and my kids are resilient. But something about this move feels heavier, harder, despite the fact that Chicagoland isn’t where we envision our future. What is it about this move that seems all the more difficult?

I’ve slowly come to realize, it’s not the place, but the people who are so hard to leave behind. The people who welcomed us into their homes and hearts when we moved here without knowing a soul. The people who have shepherded me into this whole new world of motherhood and encouraged me every shaky step of the way. The people who have held and loved my babies, and have held and loved me through life-shifting transitions.

The people who have shown up with food and laughter and adult conversation. The people who have come over in the middle of the night to snuggle with my toddler as we welcomed a new baby. The people who take care of my children when I have an appointment and childcare falls through and I have no one else to call. The people who invite us over to eat good steak and drink great wine. The people who invite me to simply sit on their floor and sip hot coffee and talk about life. The people who spur me to leave my comfort zone and embark on a hike or a beach day or a trip to the city or a camping trip. The people who make life an adventure and add so much to the journey.

The people who have invited us to join in their family birthdays and holidays and celebrations; where we’ve looked up to discover the humble blessing of being the only ones not related. These friends who have truly become family.

It’s these sacred souls who have made this unfamiliar place a home. These faces that I can’t bear to picture in the rear-view mirror of my life. It’s the abundant love that they’ve poured into our lives and our children, how they’ve become our village, our pillars of support, as we venture through parenthood together. It’s this small but significant community of friends that make it feel impossible to say goodbye.

And so, in the midst of the overwhelm of packing and prepping and planning that has overtaken our lives, I’ve been been intentional these past couple weeks about savoring my time with these wonderful people who have embedded themselves in my heart. I’ve left boxes unpacked as I try to squeeze in just one more play date. I’ve met friends in the rain to explore the park and the zoo because the company matters more than the weather, and I don’t have a day to waste. I’ve lingered longer on picnic blankets under the shady canopy of trees as our children play chase and we leisurely talk about nothing and everything. I’ve welcomed offers of help with packing, less because I needed it and more because I just wanted to spend a little extra time with friends. I’ve watched the shadows grow long in the backyard as we invite friends to stay just a little bit longer. I’ve seen the sky slowly fade to darkness as bare feet run across grass and the kids get to stay up just a little bit later to play together. I’ve meandered slowly home from a drawn out dinner with friends, looking for any excuse to spend a few more minutes together.

There never seems to be enough time to soak it all in. I convince myself if I can see these friends just one more time before we leave, it will make the goodbye easier. Realistically, I know these people will still be here. Realistically, I know that it will probably be a very long time before we come back again. Realistically, I also know that great relationships cannot be limited by distance, though their shape may shift.

I’ll miss the time spent with these great friends in the deepest part of my heart. I’ll miss the smiles and hugs and words of encouragement. I’ll miss the ease and the comfort of our friendship and the laughter that our children share. But I am so immensely grateful to have gotten to know such incredible people. I’m eternally thankful for all they’ve brought to my life. I’m so very glad to have shared something special enough to make parting sorrowful. And I know, there are parts of these sweet souls that I will carry with me through all the adventures that lie ahead.

So thank you, dear friends, for embracing me with nothing short of love and grace. Thank you for the countless ways you have made my life and my time here infinitely better. Thank you for all that you’ve taught me and all that we’ve shared. Thank you for making this unlikely home so hard to leave.

On the Move Again

Question: What is more fun than moving twice in six months with two young kids?

Answer: Anything.

And yet, this is what our family is doing. Unpacked boxes still decorate the floor of our current house as the real decor remains un-hung. A short four months ago, we packed up our humble home and hauled our life five miles down the road. This was a seemingly simple but actually overwhelming feat. Now, with the dust of the last move still settling, we’re filling boxes once again and making moves. Except this time the distance is 670 miles rather than 5. In a somewhat unexpected, but long anticipated, turn of events we’re moving halfway across the country to Frederick, Maryland.

So why are we doing this again? Why are we going through the stress and overwhelm of packing and moving and managing the transition with kids?

Because opportunity comes knocking on its own timeline. And sometimes you have no choice but to open the door to possibility.

Because dreams need to be chased, even across hundreds of miles.

Because the mountains are calling and we must go.

Because when we found a place that felt both new and familiar, a place that our souls could settle, we decided to call it home.

Because our kids have the opportunity to run and grow and play with their cousins and we see the light that brings to their faces.

Because living closer to and leaning into the love of family can make a world of difference.

Because our adventurous spirits cannot turn down a chance at something, somewhere, that’s new and exciting and invigorating.

Because as hard as it is to say goodbye, the bonds of true friendship can span the endless miles.

Because hope so often lies hidden in the unknown.

Because we refuse to shy away from a challenge.

Because sometimes, oftentimes, the hardest choice is the best choice.

Because our children are watching and learning and this is what we want to teach them: That it is worth it to tirelessly pursue dreams at all costs. That life was meant to be an adventure, and it’s only through the hardship and struggle of change that joy can reveal itself. That resiliency and adaptability and flexibility will serve them well in so many of life’s circumstances. That, as a family, we’re all in this together, supporting each other every step of the way.

Have these weeks of preparation been tough? Yes. Will there be times when we doubt our sanity in making this all happen? Probably. But do we have faith that, looking at the big picture, this will be the best choice for our family? Absolutely.

And at the end of the day, faith is just what we need to take a leap.

Yia-Yia’s Gifts

It was a late summer day; one of those days where the heat and humidity seem to hang in the air like a heavy blanket. I’d had two small sweaty children clinging to me for hours on end and was looking forward to a refreshing break. To say the previous few months had been challenging would be an understatement. I was still adjusting to the balance of adding a second child to our family and so many days felt like simply treading in hopes that I could keep my head above water. Then, only weeks earlier, we’d lost my mother-in-law, an unprocessed grief that weighed heavily on my chest as I attempted to breathe through the daily tasks that needed to be accomplished.

This warm summer evening held the promise of a brief respite. When my husband came home from work, I planned to bike to our local park and enjoy some outdoor yoga. Leaving crying children behind with a pang of guilt I felt a soft whisper saying – you deserve this break, take it, enjoy it.

In the park, under heavy clouds that threatened to drench us, I stretched, relaxed, breathed. As the class was wrapping up and we laid facing the glorious sky above in our final resting pose, I felt a single cool raindrop splash onto my hot forehead. Then another and another. The sky opened, releasing the most beautiful delicate shower. Perfectly refreshing in that moment, bringing much needed relief and healing. A gift from the heavens.

….

It was a dark night on the cusp of the seasonal transition between summer and fall. Our children were both sleeping, a miracle in itself, and my husband and I sat on the back deck enjoying the cool evening air. I’d say we gazed at the stars, but the night sky around Chicago twinkles more with light pollution and commercial air traffic than celestial bodies.

We were discussing life. More specifically, the hardships of life without my husband’s mother, our children’s grandmother, the incomparable Yia-Yia.

Just then we saw the clearest of all shooting stars race across the night sky, igniting the darkness. A signal; a gift from above.

It was a crisp fall day. The air was cold and fresh and pure. I had brought the girls out for a walk in nature, one of our favorite pastimes. A chance to collectively breathe.

The chill of the atmosphere made every sight and sound and sensation seem just a bit more poignant. It was impossible not to notice the simple joys of colorful leaves falling slowly from barren treetops and the crunch of dried leaves underfoot. A cool breeze danced across our cheeks and tickled our noses. I relished pointing out each indicator of the changing season to my older daughter, showing her, or perhaps myself, how life evolves and renews even through difficult transitions.

Just then we heard the distinctive honking of geese overhead. Looking up we saw a perfect “V” formation of geese flying. Swirling above, seemingly effortlessly. “They’re heading south for the winter,” I told my daughter who gazed at them, eyes wide with wonder. A reminder that on wings of hope, supporting one another, we can weather this difficult season together. A gift from heaven.

It was the morning of Christmas Eve, a day of excitement and expectation. After peeling ourselves out from the warm covers of our bed, we saw a beautiful sight outside the window. “Snow!” our older daughter excitedly exclaimed.

Snowflakes drifted peacefully from the sky, quickly blanketing the dull grey ground in a majestic layer of white. We were going to have a white Christmas, I realized with glee.

Though our hearts were still heavy with loss, the beautiful renewal that fresh snow brings made the celebration of Christmas seem a bit lighter, a bit more hopeful. The world was new and beautiful. As I glimpsed the delight on my daughter’s face when we ventured out to enjoy the first real snowfall of the season, catching sight of delicate flakes resting upon her dark eyelashes, I couldn’t help but look up and give thanks. Gifts falling upon us from heaven above.

This year was our first without my husband’s mother, my second mother, my children’s beloved grandmother. The hole in our hearts left by Yia-Yia is ever-present, but perhaps even more poignant around holidays, birthdays, and everyday celebrations. You see, Yia-Yia was a woman of great gifts. She enjoyed few things more, I believe, than pouring out her love onto others far and wide. Whether it was the intangible – her unconditional love and acceptance, attention, and affection; the delectable – her amazing and never to be matched cooking; or the physical – the carefully selected goods that would be just what you wanted even if you didn’t know you needed it; Yia Yia’s gifts were always filled with more thought and compassion than I could ever comprehend.

But this year there were no over-sized over-stuffed stockings for the grandkids to joyfully tear through. There were no boxes to unwrap, brimming with hand-picked items that I would never allow myself as indulgences, but Yia-Yia insisted I more than deserved. There were no happy gift cards arriving in the mailbox wrapped with the kindest words of wisdom. There were no meals filled with steak and crab cakes and salmon and more butter and love than you’d ever think could be contained in one beautiful dish. And there certainly wasn’t the same laughter and chatter and hugs.

Yet, I refuse to believe that Yia-Yia is not still with us, not still showering us in new and wonderful ways with her love and gifts. When you’ve lived such an incredible life and cultivated such an amazing soul, it’s impossible that such greatness can simply cease to exist. Maybe those we love, who no longer walk the Earth with us, are able to send us reminders that they are ok, and we will be too. Maybe God can send us gifts, hand-picked by those who know and love us from above, to show us they are still there, if only in a different form.

I’m not always a believer in signs, but over the past year, the above moments of joy and clarity that have cut through the grief and hardship have felt like more than coincidences. They felt like intentional gifts.

Among the million decisions that had to be made following my mother-in-law’s passing, my husband’s sister chose the heart-wrenchingly beautiful poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye titled “Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep” to be printed on prayer cards for her service. I remember reading the poem in haste at the time, thinking it was lovely. I stashed a couple of extra prayer cards away in my luggage and promptly forgot about them, until six months later when we were back visiting my sister-in-law for the holidays. When the tiny card fell out of my backpack, I stared in wonder as I read the forgotten words:

Do not stand at my grave and weep I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow,

I am the sun on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there; I did not die.

It’s everyday. It’s the smiles that alight my children’s faces. It’s their deep, soulful, and infinitely beautiful eyes. It’s their dark hair blowing in the breeze and tanned skin shining in the sunlight, reminiscent of the Grecian goddess from whom they come. It’s the bodies and souls of these little girls who I would not be blessed to love were it not for Yia-Yia. These are the things that will never be forgotten. These are the things that do not die. These are Yia-Yia’s everlasting gifts. Infinite gifts from above.

Thank You.

What Love Looks Like

On this day six years ago, on the bank of a lush green peninsula with the Tennessee River weaving its way around us, my (now) husband nervously dropped to one knee and asked me to marry him. My heart raced. Excited as I was about the expectation of this day, I was stunned in this moment of surprise. With tears in my eyes, I wholeheartedly exclaimed, “Yes!” and he somehow managed to slip the ring on my shaking hand. Our lips curled into smiles as we kissed and settled into the strange sense of relief and anticipation that this great decision brings.

IMG_0632.JPG

In the span of time between then and now, our lives have shifted so much. We’ve made three moves and had two babies together. We’ve switched jobs and quit jobs and attempted to create jobs. We’ve lived apart and together. We’ve traveled, we’ve learned, we’ve grown. As our minds and our bodies and our routines have been forced to adapt to our ever-changing circumstances, so, too, has our love. The love I said yes to six years ago looks a whole lot different than the love we live out today.

Sometimes love looks like chasing down dreams. Mine. His. Both of ours. Sometimes love looks like putting my dreams on hold to allow him to pursue his. Sometimes it looks like rejoicing in gratitude when he selflessly does the same.

Sometimes love looks like sharing adventures. Traveling the world, climbing glaciers, flying over fields and valleys. And realizing, no matter where we go, he and I are still our same selves; which is both beautiful and daunting.

Sometimes love looks like settling. For a place we don’t want to be. For a house we don’t love. For jobs we don’t enjoy. For a person who doesn’t always meet all of our expectations.

Sometimes love looks like surprise. Surprise at how we can know each other so well and still uncover new gems. Surprise at how our hearts can soften when it would be so much easier to let them grow hard. Surprise at the depth of our commitment to better our selves and our relationship.

Sometimes love looks like acceptance. Acceptance that his emotions and reactions and outlooks are going to be different from my own. Acceptance that we’re not always our best selves, but at least we keep trying.

Sometimes love looks like weathering loss together. Holding each other through the heavy burden of grief. Holding space for the hurts that cannot be expressed. Holding grace when those hurts seem to flow through us and out onto each other from the gaping wounds that have yet to heal.

Sometimes love looks like the strange combination of hope and fear that big life events bring. Babies and birthdays and moves and job opportunities. Love looks like supporting each other through the joys and trials of these transitions.

Sometimes love looks like doing dishes or doing laundry or mowing the lawn or paying the bills. And choosing not to stew in the resentment that passes through our household when the scales of the chores seem unevenly tipped.

Sometimes love looks like staying home. Or going to work. Dividing and conquering the responsibilities that never end. Even if it feels more like dividing than conquering.

Sometimes love looks like the faces of these children we’ve created together. Little faces that are a beautiful blend of both of our bodies and spirits. Faces that both delight and and exhaust us.

Sometimes love looks like putting the kids to bed early so we can have a little extra time for just the two of us. And sometimes love looks like a shared sigh, a glance, a brief embrace, when, despite our best efforts the kids just won’t sleep. And this is the best we’re going to get today.

Sometimes looks like talking about our deepest thoughts and dreams. But sometimes love looks like simply sitting together in silence.

Sometimes love looks like the soft touch of gentle hands. His hands on my back as I labor to bring our children into the world. My hands stretched across his chest in the dark of the night as we savor this silent time together.

This love that has changed shape over time is not always what I expected, not always what I signed up for six years ago. And yet, it’s so much more. I didn’t quite know what I was saying yes to this day back then. I still don’t know what I’m saying yes to in this future together. But I’m so glad that I said yes, that I continue to say yes, to our ever-evolving love.

IMG_0665.JPG

In Defense of Weeds

I have a confession. I secretly love weeds. This is a statement that, as a newly minted gardener, I’ll probably be regretting in a few weeks. But for now, I welcome the wild weedy flora scattered about. Since, historically, my thumb has not proven to be green, I love the tiny buds and blooms that crop up on their own in unexpected, even unwelcome, places, providing a natural delight.

While many others spray and pluck and dig in an attempt to keep their lawn a uniform green, the specks of white clovers and yellow dandelions and and purple violets that sparkle in a sea of green are so much more beautiful, in my eyes. When my husband went to mow the grass at our new house recently, he discovered a weedy patch of daisies trying to push their way through the fresh spring soil. We couldn’t bear to mow them down, annihilating their innocent yet stubborn presence. So now they stand taller than our youngest child; an exotic island in our yard that waves like sirens in the wind, beckoning us to stop and enjoy their wild beauty.

And maybe that’s what I love most about this rogue vegetation – a weed’s stubborn resistance to adhere to the rules and regulations of where and how it should grow. Weeds grow wild and free and in defiance of all expectations, which seems shockingly similar to how my children grow. If allowed to grow naturally, resisting the urge to pluck them and prune them in an attempt at perfection, you might just get to experience the beauty blossoming within. Sometimes they’re prickly, sometimes they seem to completely overtake whatever you’re trying to accomplish, but if you take a step back there’s a simple, natural grace that emerges through their reluctance to be tamed.

So give me the daisies with their delicate breezy sway. Give me the dandelions with their irresistible downy heads and magical soaring seeds. Give me the violets with their colorful flair. Give me the honeysuckle with its sweet perfume and delicious nectar. Give me the reckless and wild weeds that add their own beauty and flavor to the garden of life.

Proud Momma

Modern day motherhood feels rife with judgements and expectations. Every person I meet or book I read seems to have an opinion on every aspect of how children should be raised. With all this noise from society, its easy to fall into a pit of self-doubt around my own mothering. The internal and external judgements of how to do it right can leave me feeling like I’m always doing it wrong. So pervasive is this attitude, that it seems radical, over-confident, or even off-putting to profess pride in my own parenting choices.

And yet, I’m proud of the momma I am.

I’m proud that I celebrate the miracle of my children’s lives and hold them with delight.

I’m proud of the overwhelming strength of my body that grew these babies, nurturing the tiny bodies within, then overcame my own limits to bring them into this world.

I’m proud of the beautiful nursing relationship I built with each child, endlessly holding them to my chest, day and night, as my arms grew weary and my eyelids grew heavy.

I’m proud of sharing sleep with my babies and the exhausting, amazing bond that it’s brought to our lives.

I’m proud of trusting my gut instincts, and my own children, above all else when my heart screams no to the “shoulds” of society.

I’m proud every time I’ve answered my children’s cries, listened to their needs, and embraced them with love.

I’m proud of giving them the freedom to grow into their own selves rather than forcing my own expectations.

I’m proud of sitting down to share meals with my kids. Of laughing together with oatmeal-smeared faces, ignoring the piled dishes and messy floors.

I’m proud that I stop to play with my little ones. That I take time to build blocks and read books and paint pictures.

I’m proud when I slow down to meet their meaningful pace rather than hurrying them to keep up with mine.

I’m proud when I respond to their most trying times with a soft heart and positive spirit.

I’m proud that when I fail and yell, I can embrace my kids, and myself, with grace and say, “I’m sorry. I love you. Let’s try better next time.”

I’m proud that I show my children my whole heart – what makes it smile and what breaks it wide open.

I’m proud of loving my children – deeply and abundantly and imperfectly – but ultimately with everything I am.

These points of pride are things that are not always easy; they do not always come naturally to me; they do not always feel right in the short term. Each choice comes with a trade off, something else at which I feel I’m failing. And in the moment, I do not always make the “right” choice, the choice that makes me proud. But perfection is not the point. Showing up and trying, day in and day out, is enough to be proud of.

So for today, I choose to take a step back and be proud of the mother I am. I choose to celebrate the small successes that stream through the scattered failures. These are the things I choose to hold onto and remember about motherhood. These are the meaningful moments that make me a momma.

I’m proud of the momma I am, and prouder still of the momma I’m becoming as I learn more and grow wiser with each passing day.