Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Beach in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland

I feel completely at home on a small stony beach outside of Ballycastle, Northern Ireland.  I first laid eyes on this stretch of noisy waves, whipping wind, and tiny pebbles when I was a junior in college. I held my camera in my lap as I was jostled up the winding roads of a country I had never been, with people I had only just met.

I LOVED Northern Ireland at first sight and thought the patchwork mountain of green we stayed on those first few nights was magic, but this country-raised girl could NOT WAIT to get to the city as soon as possible.  The minute our here-is-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-next-four-months-orientation was over I blew the sea air and green landscape a kiss goodbye and jumped onto a bus headed to my next adventure, which just so happened to land me right in the middle of a city.

Those first weeks I spent in the city were electric.  Between classes and Irish Dance lessons, my roommate and I had adventure after adventure.  I thought I had finally found my place in this world - on a bus, in a city, surrounded by thousands of people.

This idea was challenged halfway through the semester when our entire group was presented with the opportunity to go back to the coast and live on the very cliff I drove past that first day we arrived in the country.  It didn't make sense for me to want to leave the city, and I knew this as I listened to each member of the group say "not me" one by one.  When it was my turn I surprised myself by whispering "Take me".

For 2 months I lived and worked at a peace and reconciliation center that stood atop a cliff overlooking the sea. As they would tell me over and over again, the fresh sea air changed me.  I went from being surrounded by thousands of people, to walking silently alone along the beach that rested beneath our cliff. This beach was full of the most delightfully colorful pebbles that jumped as the waves retreated back into the ocean.  In the distance the small town glistened like something out of a storybook.  Seals stood atop great rocks - a sight I never really believed to exist.  It was magic.  It was the first time during that semester that I felt like I was home and whole, and I wanted to bring everyone I loved to see it.

When it was finally time for me to leave in mid-December I packed a giant suitcase to send home ahead of me as I ventured on to other countries with two friends.  In that suitcase I packed a tiny little velvet bag of the pebbles I loved so dearly from that beach.  I couldn't stomach the idea of being away from that beach for a lifetime. The weeks that followed were hard and challenging, and when I was finally reunited with my suitcase, I couldn't wait to tear it open to remind myself of a time I felt completely at home. 

When I unpacked my bag I found the pebbles strewn all over my clothes, broken pottery, other damaged art.  Instead of beautiful and shiny, they were now dull and not unlike the pebbles I could find in any manicured lawn back home. I knew instantly that I had abandoned a part of me on that beach.

Eleven years later, in the very same unexpected and spontaneous way, my husband and I quit our jobs, sold our home, and packed up our (then) two little boys to go back, but this time for two years. I couldn't wait to take him to my beach - the very beach I had written about in letters to him while I was living there the first time. We lived and worked in the same center I had lived and worked 11 years earlier.  I lived in the same apartment, and everyday we walked on the same beach.  The minute the weight of my feet shifted the tiny pebbles underneath, I knew I was home.

Today I have even more memories of this "home".  Memories of feeling my third son kick hard from inside me days before he was born while I watched the waves on warm August days.  Memories of my oldest two boys running along the water, promising not to get wet, and finally abandoning their clothes so they could succumb to the ocean, no matter how cold it was.  Memories of climbing rocks in tiny rainbow boots and picnics after church while the baby slept on a blanket.  Memories of my boys having their hair thrown by the wind, and getting too close to the water on instances when the waves were particularly huge.

We moved back to the Midwest nearly four years ago, because this is also our home. While I was there I missed the cornfields and summer sun.  I missed autumn colors and Michigan beaches.  So eventhough I am once again home, in an entirely different continent, a part of my heart is still at home on that stony beach, and I can't wait to go back.

Saying goodbye to my home in 2013

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ten Things I Know to Be True on Tuesday

I haven't written one of these for a long time - maybe even since I've been in Northern Ireland.  But it truly is one of the easiest ways for me to put thoughts on paper (or computer screen).
  1. I seem to have forgotten how to be an artist.  I'm trying very hard to remember.  It has been replaced by other things that terrify me because they are not the things I thought would be filling my thoughts/days/emotions.  I'd like to go back to being an artist please. 
  2. I am now a part-time homeschooling mom. I'm not very good at it yet, but I'm pretty sure that's okay.  At least that is what everyone keeps saying.  We've decided to keep my oldest home for the mornings where I can work with him one-on-one, let him play and explore, and do other things that might help him show off his brilliance.  It's been a process, and we're still figuring it out. 
  3. This time of year is my favorite.  Sunshine mixed with rain storms splashed with perfect 70 degree days that require no coat, but also don't make your thighs stick together = perfection.
  4. Has anyone listened to S-Town yet?  I might be addicted to podcasts.
  5. 2 out of 3 of my kids do a KILLER impersonation of a T-Rex.  I'm not kidding.  I challenge any of you to try to do an impersonation that is even half of what they got going on.  I'm sure that can be harnessed in some way, right?
  6. I am getting the TRAVEL ITCH.  Like change of scenery, extended travel, living out of a backpack sort of itch.  With not a plan in sight.
  7. This summer is an unknown for us.  Dustin might have a class to teach. He might not. 
  8. I don't function well when I'm waiting on other people to figure out what my life is going to look like. (see #7)
  9. Tulips might be my favorite.  
  10. This weekend was filled with friendship adventures, most of which took place outside.  The best kind of weekend if you ask me.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Spring Break Hangover

Things are dreary here.  A whole lot of cloudy, cold weather.  Rain every-other second.  Getting back to reality.  Not LOVING reality.  It's not pretty.

So today as I was doing yoga (reality: laying on top of my mat with my eyes closed and pretending I was in savasana), I decided I needed to change my focus from all of the things I'm mad/disgruntled/upset/annoyed at, to some of the many things I am thankful for.

I am thankful for...

...rain, and sunshine, and the changes in the season, for it means things will grow and new life will always come in the spring.

...our good health, for I know it is fleeting., for what is life without the connectedness you are bound to. book club, for they are some of my very dearest, very best ladies.

...friendships over coffee or wine or wings and beer. Conversations laced with laughter and tears, and offers of grace. Friends I can say anything to, for they are forgiving and lovely, and the peanut butter on my bread.

...a home I am excited to return to everyday, for it recharges me when I feel depleted.

...a lifetime of lovely memories, privileged moments, and "yes", for it reminds me that I have lively a mostly charmed life.

...a tutor that showed me this morning just how brilliant my son is, tears in my eyes as I watched her affirm his connections and understandings over and over and over again, for it reminded me of what I already knew.

...a job I enjoy going to, and the past experience that reminds me that every first year is the worst year, for things will always get better.

...enough, for although we are not rich by society standards and must watch every penny, we are in FACT very rich, and very lucky to have full bellies, heat in our home, and everything we need.

...peace, for although my heart rumbles with the sounds of resistance, I am so lucky to live in this place and this moment of peace.  I experience so little ugliness.  I am a lucky one.  

...sunrises, for they are daily new beginnings.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Spring Break

I am three days into spring break and I regret to inform you that I haven't once felt that ultimate freedom that comes with the onslaught of an amazing extended break from going into work everyday.  I have spent the weekend trying to decipher why my favorite non-holiday doesn't have me dancing the virtual table of celebration.   In the past I have always enjoyed staying home on spring break.  I love the week-long break from having anything required of me.  I usually fill it with a big project I can feel good about accomplishing.  Two year ago I built a fort in our backyard.  Last year I...wait, I don't know what I did last year besides highjack my family to St. Louis at the end of the week because I was sick of looking at everyone else have amazing spring breaks. 

Okay, so I was productive once on spring break.  It was my favorite spring break. I am a sucker for productivity. 

But this year I haven't been productive.  I'm leaving on Tuesday for my parents' house, but in the meantime I have completely forfeited all imagined responsibility to this place.  I have blown off Bible Study and my new workout classes that I think are the best thing since sliced bread. I even refused to go to the zoo with my kids (although no one really begged me to tag along). Okay, so I use the word "responsibility" loosely, and have only really blown off three things in the same number of days.  I'm not a monster.

I'm not leaving because it will be warmer there, or because I think there will be more to do with my children.  I'm going because I just need to step away from my life for a bit.  I'm going because for a few days I just need to be a girl with a mom and dad that will do things like buy milk and eggs, stock the pantry with oreos, and make me coffee.  I need them to tell me I'm doing everything I can, and maybe even too much.  Sometimes a girl just needs her mom and dad, and I'm lucky enough to have both there and willing.

I wish I could define it for you here, but the truth is that I'm tired of adulting for awhile, and for that I need a spring break. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Puzzle

My son and his brilliant costume imitation of Sharptooth.   It lasted a few days.

I have friends that are leaving for Seoul in less than a week.  As I am watching them pack and plan through the magic of social media, I am reminded of a trip we took to Seoul on the same week exactly 9 years ago.  Back then I kept a pretty thorough blog - spilling my guts with poor writing all over the interwebs.  It wasn't hard to figure out exactly what I was doing 9 years ago today.

Friends, I was so sad.  I was heartbroken and anxious.  I felt abandoned by God as I saw other adoption numbers gain ground on ours in line, and then pass it.  I watched as people who had attended our adoption class got calls and came home with their babies.  While I sat at home in cold windy Peoria folding cloth diapers over and over again - going to school everyday wishing there would be a voicemail waiting for me at every break.

And then suddenly there was. We bought insanely expensive plane tickets - two for there, three for back.We packed as though we might miss our flight that was actually 4 days off.    We threw in everything one might dream of needing on a 13 hour flight with a baby you only just met, but have loved for a lifetime. We made runs to Target. We called someone to feed our cats.  I called my sub.  I took a pregnancy test.  I told Dustin we were actually getting two babies now.  And then we got on a plane and met our son. The rest is history.

Except it's not.  Everyday I am confronted with new things I don't understand about this parenting thing. I knew parenting was going to be amazing, and joyful, and also hard.  I had no idea parenting was going to be like putting together the most intrinsic of puzzles, trying to figure out what will make my boy successful, what will show off his clever problem-solving brain, or what makes him tick.  I had no idea that other people were going to come along and throw their well-intentioned puzzle pieces into my pile and try to tell me it can all be figured out with this, this, and this. I didn't expect to have second guesses about the way he learns or how all of my boys will thrive in this set-up I've always accepted as good and true.

So today I'm coming from a place that feels hopeless in moments, but is also filled with moments of love and grace than 9 years ago today.  I have what I always wanted - a family.  I have our health.  I have giggles at bedtime, and surprise accomplishments.  I have snowball fights and nerf guns that always make someone cry. I have bedtimes that seem to take forever and mornings that come too soon.  I have my husband in the other room reading bedtime stories, the sound of his voice lulling them to sleep - pleas for just one more chapter of the Penderwick Sisters.  I have joy, peace, and goodness. 

But I also have immense moments of fear and anxiety, frustration and anger - bitterness that my puzzle will never be complete, or times when it seems like I am the only one trying to put it together. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Words on Wednesday

Words that have defined my week so far...

My classroom that is.  It is PARCC testing, so I've been spending a lot of time lesson planning and doing things like this...


Read this article by a woman about her husband right before she died of cancer.  If you have a husband with even a smidgen of good in him, you will weep.  Or a dad, or a brother. Otherwise you're heartless.

This week is the first week I am keeping Miles home to tutor him in the morning.  Homeschool mornings we'll call it.  I'll write more on that later.

That's my son you hear coughing on my lap as I write this.  The third one.  We've been doing a lot of staying home and getting on each other's nerves.  Well, not me - I've been able to escape to work everyday so far because I was lucky enough to tackle my sickness over the weekend, but poor D-train has been on spring break - livin' large; taking care of coughing feverish children, fixing drains, and buying groceries.  Do you remember when we all used to sit around in middle school and watch MTV Spring Break and dream of participating when we grow up?  Yeah, me neither. (side-eye)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Well hello there winter.

After the warmest winter in my memory, the snow finally arrived yesterday.  As I was driving through what can only be labeled as blizzard conditions after such an absence, I couldn't help but compare the freaky weather to the older brother you are constantly waiting for, hoping will show up to the family gathering, knowing that when you see him you will be flooded with a great mixture of relief and love.  But then he arrives.  He's late, the food is cold, he smells like cigarettes, and the only thing he brought with him were gas station donuts. 

That's just a taste of what I felt yesterday.

It took me decades to fall in love with winter. I finally did after not having it for two solid years in Northern Ireland, and then having the most glorious, coldest, snowiest, most everything-is-shut-down-for-day winters ever.  I knew then that winter was everything I dreamed of: warm drinks, stretchy pants, sweatshirts, an excuse to stay indoors, etc.

This year my kids have been playing outside in shorts since January.

It's disturbing to say the least.

And then winter shows up all late to the party and beautiful. 

I take it back.  Yesterday the snow wasn't like my always-late and often-absent brother.  It was like your frenimy that you've decided you really DO like, but then you host a party where she is the guest of honor and then she shows up one hour late looking all amazing.  You're trying really hard to hate her again, but that charm!  That charisma!  That excuse to stay inside and wear stretchy pants!  All of it. You secretly love all of it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

It is well...

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

Horatio G. Spafford

The song lyrics above mean so much more once you read the story behind the writing of this song.  It is a song formed out of intense grief and loss - a last-ditch effort to understand why we are dealt hands that seem to difficult to bear. 

It seems as though my last handful of posts all start with "I haven't written in awhile..."  Which is true.  I have so much to say, but lack the motivation to make time or to start. 

I'm not promising a start, so don't get excited.  I am not promising to give more of myself than I am able.  In fact, the opposite. I am learning to give less of myself to the things I can no longer give. 

I am promising to be a better neighbor, but perhaps a lesser volunteer.  I am promising to be an artist, but not a bystander. I am promising to be a mother, but perhaps not one that nourishes my family from within the walls of my home or behind closed doors. 

It is time for me to start embracing the person God created me to be. To stop apologizing or accepting what others refuse to give. To open myself up to new experiences and a journey for which I have never really had the map. 

This life is messy.  I accept it's challenges.