Stay, Mama.

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“Stay, Mama.”

She says, just like she does every day as I pull the heavy quilt to her shoulders; her little body so lonely in her big-girl bed.

The room is dark; the blinds pulled shut against the winter sun.

The gentle whooshing of the sound machine envelops us as I turn toward the door, thinking of all that waits for me downstairs…

The mountains of laundry to be washed, and even more to be folded;

the scattered dishes from lunch and who knows how many other meals.

I won’t even bother with the toys – she’ll just get back to it after nap…

I was going to write that email…

So many projects waiting in the studio…

But first I need to clean it…

Oh, and those thank you notes…

Did I take meat out of the freezer? 

“Will you sleep with me?” she asks again. I bend down to kiss her forehead and tell her,

“Mama has to do some work, baby girl. I need to go downstairs and-”

Suddenly I stop.

I. can’t.

I am just so damn tired.

I’m tired of making grocery lists and checklists, and still forgetting things.

I’m tired of being late all the time and feeling not-good-enough.

Tired of trying over and over; chasing after something I’ll never catch –

When the thing I actually need is right in front of me.

She had already made room for me. So I slide beneath the blanket.

Our noses touch and she laughs. The best sound I’ve heard all day.

She throws her arm around my neck and presses her face to mine.

I breathe her in and close my eyes; promising myself I won’t stay.

But I do.

 

The Art of Art

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Art is a many splendored thing. True art can call up in us nostalgia or warmth or amusement or awe or a connection to God; a place of deeper thought.

Art is not just for “artists”. It is for children and soccer moms and ballers and uncles and cat ladies and farmers and business men.

Art is a painting. Art is a poem. Art is a sketch on a paper napkin. Art is wildflowers in a vase. Art is meal served with love. Art is a carefully crafted vintage of wine. Art is a garden tended. Art is dedication and intention.

No one is beneath art. And no one is above it. Whether you are the one creating art or experiencing it, art creates moments where we can burst through the obscurity of humanity and say, “This is who I am; this resonates with me.”

My own love affair with art started at a young age. Like most children, I loved art class and couldn’t get enough of it. My love for art class followed me through high-school darkrooms and ceramics studios and ultimately influenced my decision to study art education at the U of I.

With a BFA in hand, I set off to change the world as an art teacher. Finally, my childhood dream was realized; art class all day, every day.

Except, I wasn’t making art.

Of course, there was the art of teaching, and the creating of art projects with my students. And there was a lot of joy to be found in that. But I found I had been neglecting the very ideals I was working so hard to empower my students with: Make art; find yourself; share it with the world.

As an art teacher I had often quoted the infamous Picasso: “Every child is an artist, the problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” And yet, there I was. A grown up with a box of dried up oil paints.

Art began to feel like a distant relative. A second cousin twice removed. I wondered if my artistic abilities and passions had faded with time.

Like a foreign language once mastered, would art come back to me if I began to speak again? Would I stumble over simple phrases? Would the pen flow freely?

I feel as though I might not be alone in this fear.

Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, there may be a form of art in some aspect of your life you have put aside for a time; Those running shoes sitting undisturbed in your closet, a dusty cello case in the attic, a patient sewing machine in the basement, or beautiful words quietly tucked away inside a box of journals.

For some reason we’ve stopped doing those things that made us feel alive and free. When did we cease trying? It’s been so long that even though we remember the glorious feel of our feet crushing against gravel, we resist the act of putting on the running shoes.

What if I lose my breath? What if I look stupid? What if I fail?

What have you got to lose?

So you lace up. You step outside. And you start moving.

You might get a side cramp in the third block.

You could pop a string or bend a bow.

You may break a needle or two.

You might hear crickets when you share your story.

You might even make a crappy painting (or two), and cry into a glass of wine (or two).

But you might not.

And even if you do falter, (which is the nature of humanity) you have planted a seed. And if you water that seed, it will grow.

Art will grow into something uniquely beautiful that you never would have known had it been left un-nurtured.

That is the art of art.

This past year I’ve been learning how to nurture art back into my life. Slowly, I’m remembering how to capture an impression in time on the pages of an essay, the wonder of nature in a photograph, or a feeling of vibrancy in a watercolor painting. For me, making art again is like coming back to an old friend. It’s familiar and different all at once.

But most of all it’s just good.

the saving in the snow

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At night, soft mercies fall to kiss you;

As you awake and begin anew.

 

Silent snow gathers on limb and rooftop;

A quiet plea to slow the rush – to stop.

 

An alter call to listen to your heart;

To turn inward, searching every part.

 

To remember this: Love wins;

Love covers a multitude of sins.

 

To see the world in soft new light;

Miles of grace-full, endless white.

 

A place to make fresh tracks;

A chance to carve new paths.

 

To become a better Lover,

Daughter, Sister, Friend and Mother.

 

Still, should you fail – as we all do,

Remember; Tomorrow too, is new.

the thin pink line

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That line gets you every time. That single, pink line – almost mocking you.

A feeling of helplessness washes over you; Why did you even think you were pregnant? Why did you waste a test? 

Until there are two.

A thin, pink line timidly takes up residence next to her confident sister. And you stare in disbelief. You try not to get too excited or too scared. How can a second little line have the power to declare something so life-changing?

You are pregnant.

And so you tell your husband and your family, and maybe even a few close friends, because you cannot contain this new truth. You begin to come to terms with it – all the while pushing back a nagging doubt that you can’t trust a thin, pink line; that maybe you had imagined it; that maybe it won’t last.

But you are not going to live in fear, you decide.

Until there is a third, pink line –

circling the toilet bowl; streaming towards the shower drain.

And then the fear grips you like a rock. You lie paralyzed in bed, praying that if you hold still enough and clench your legs together, the bleeding will stop.

And a new truth begins to set in.

You are not pregnant.

Entwined in your grief is a feeling of foolishness –

For imagining life with a new baby.

For wrapping up the test to surprise your husband.

For buying a big sister shirt for your daughter.

For telling your family.

For putting your faith in that faint, pink line.

But you must tell your husband and your family. So you try to put on a brave face because you don’t want to ruin the family vacation. And you hope your daughter forgets that you told her a baby was in your belly – because how do you explain that to a one and a half year old?

And you go to the beach even though your mom suggests you should stay back and rest. You put your feet in the January ocean and you invite the bitter cold.

When your toes become numb you walk in a little further. When you can’t feel your ankles you step further still. You imagine walking out till your waist is covered and then your shoulders and your face.

But you don’t want your husband to think you’re crazy. So you stay right there and try to keep your balance as the waves crash onto you and then pull back from you with equal force.

Like the thrill of new life.

Like the sucking gravity of loss.

Like your own cycle of grief: in and out; in and out.

And for a moment you have a spiritual experience and imagine each wave is cleansing and healing. It seems silly but it helps you feel close to God and find an ounce of peace.

On the flight home you think you see a rainbow in the dense clouds and wonder if that’s God, too.

But you also wonder –

Was it was just a fluke?

Maybe there wasn’t even a baby. 

And when you are finally home you feel foolish for being sentimental and keeping that pregnancy test. Your sweet, protective husband tries to throw it away before you see it – just like he hid the big sister shirt.

You pretend not to see it, but you have to make sure that second, pink line was really there.

It was.

You were pregnant.

And when I say you, I mean me.

Because this happened to me.

But I say you because it’s comforting to imagine that I’m not alone in this.


Thank you, Micah for holding my hand through this; for grocery shopping, making dinner and changing diapers when I can’t get off the couch.

Thank you to our family for providing us with extra hugs and prayers during our vacation – and calls, texts and emails from afar.

And thank you to my sister, Victoria for taking this photo when I was having a moment in the ocean, which inspired me to sit down and write about it.

at Dusk

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At a quarter till four the light is already golden –

promising the swift fall of darkness.

I had forgotten this was coming,

having been wooed by bouquets of amber, ruby & emerald –

After standing agape at glittering facets floating downward,

making way for azure sky.

The short-lived glory of Fall has begun to give way to gray

and brown

and dusk. 

 

I can feel the weight gathering in my spirit,

a panic rising in my chest.

I close my eyes,

inviting the wavering light to kiss my face.

Stay a little longer

 

But the sun retreats a little more each day,

causing the leaves to let go,

lulling nature to sleep beneath a blanket of snow.

I seek out light & warmth like a fragile shoot,

fearing that something inside me too, may shrivel

as the days grow short.

I can feel it in my bones.

Winter is coming.

 

I cope by telling myself there is beauty

in death & resurrection,

in the frozen upturned fields,

in the quiet, cold nights.

All the while, dreaming of eternal summer.

 

I spend hours by the fire,

staring into ember earthquakes

as the deep warmth of wine fills my belly.

Hibernating under drifts of white down,

I hold out through the dusk, through the night.

I will return with the light.

Coffee & Clarity

As I sit at the kitchen table on a rainy, Thursday morning – watching Helena attempt to master the spoon from her high chair – I feel incredibly blessed to be here, sipping my coffee as I slowly wake up.

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The reality of this blessing is not lost on me. I know that many of us are off to the mines before our loved ones come out from under covers. Or that a shared breakfast might consist of granola bars on the way to the car.

Our morning alarms are akin to the starting shot of a race. Every day there’s a mad dash to see how quickly you can take a shower/get dressed/do your hair/do your makeup/eat breakfast/feed your family/pack lunches/pack your bags/load up the car/try not so speed.

That’s how my mornings used to go anyway…

After doing some soul searching and re-prioritizing I sprung for a change this school year. I resigned from my full time position teaching art in order to take a part-time teaching job that would give me the flexibility to spend the mornings at home with my daughter.

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This career change doesn’t mean I’m now swinging from a hammock eating bonbons every morning (although I have enjoyed toast & Nutella on the couch from time-to-time). In all reality I’m working through (somewhat self-imposed) expectations for both a working mom & stay-at-home mom. I’m finding that a few more hours in the morning doesn’t allow time to check off all house-hold tasks and take Helena to the library for example- so I’m learning to find a balance there.  (I know, veteran moms are like “pshht – I can do that”. Maybe I’ll get there one day…)

From the working-mom perspective I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not the art teacher any more and I don’t have to keep taking on all the responsibilities I did when I was getting paid to be the art teacher. There are plenty of capable teachers at our school, and I don’t have to volunteer for every creative endeavor that comes along.

So while a part time job isn’t quite as glamorous as I’d imagined, I feel so grateful for the peace that accompanies our mornings now. I’m doing my best to cherish the extra snuggles and the leisurely breakfasts because like all things in life, this is just a season.

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I do not know what is in store for our family next year. My new position is not guaranteed, and I have not reached tenure in my school district. All this uncertainty is enough to snuff out my new-found sense of calm if I allow it.

Is this new, simpler life sustainable? What if we have more kids? How long can we survive on one-and-a-half incomes? What if I don’t get hired back? What if we have to sell the house? We can’t sell the house…

I often find myself struggling with these thoughts. So I preach right back;

There will always be bills – there will not always be babies. 

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So I sip my coffee from a kitchen mug – not a travel mug, not a Starbucks cup – on this rainy, fall morning, and I do my very best to embrace this gift – this season of simplicity.

 

 

 

 

simple stuff

I felt a bit like a spy – craning ever so slightly over the row. I should have been singing about Jesus, but as we stood for the closing song I caught a glimpse into her purse – puckered open on the seat in front of me – and I couldn’t believe what I saw…

In the middle of this saintly purse there lay a Coach wallet & two smooth, black leather glasses cases.

Tucked in the two left pockets I saw the golden glimmer from the top of her iPhone, and three identical silver tubes of lipstick, lined up like bullets in a clip.

The only sign of life in this perfect purse was a slip of paper – haphazardly folded in the right hand pocket.

I quickly counted. Eight. Eight items in this woman’s bag. 

I thought of my own bag, slumped under my chair – likely with a stray bobby pin and Cheerio spilling out…

I feel like someone somewhere has said that how you keep your purse is a reflection of how you live your life/what kind of person you are. Or maybe it was how you keep your home… Either one is probably true.

I continued to mull this over through the closing prayer. I know, shame on me. But perhaps God was trying to get my attention through this pristine purse, causing me to reflect on my own life. God speaks to us at different times, and works in mysterious ways. 😉

With new-found resolve, I set aside some time after work the next day to assess my purse situation.

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I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty…

…but I didn’t realize it was going to be this cringe-worthy. Continue reading only if you wish to see the airing of my dirty laundry. Literally.

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I had no idea how much junk had accumulated deep in the bowels of my purse.

As I began to sort through all the contents of my bag, I quickly regretted my decision to document the “simplification of my stuff”. A lot of it was ridiculous. Some of it was downright embarrassing.

However, I pressed on. I felt like this was some kind of atonement for sneaking a peek into a stranger’s purse during church.

In case you couldn’t make sense of that pile, here it is – all laid out for your viewing pleasure.

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As it turns out, I found it very therapeutic to sort through and organize what I had been carrying around with me (most of it needlessly) for the past several months. The last time I had a good purse cleaning was when I made my seasonal bag switch-over last spring, which basically meant I pulled out old napkins & receipts, dumped everything else into a different purse and called it good.

Let’s zoom in a little, shall we? Here, we have the personal hygiene/care category. There are a few items here that every lady likes to have on hand… especially a loose baggy of generic tylenol – with an extra bottle-full, just in case. I also like how I still have lanolin and soy lecithin supplements (the other baggie) back from the days of breast-feeding battles.

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As we pan to the left, we enter the fashion accessory aisle. I spy hairbands, a bracelet, and two & 2 1/2 pairs of earrings. Also, a broken plastic hello kitty ring. Why…?

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And then, there is the aforementioned laundry… That black silky rectangle is a slip.

I feel the need to explain:

A couple weeks ago while wearing this slip at work, the elastic band became unbearably tight after lunch. So I made a judgement call and ditched it. I stuffed it into my purse and it made it’s way down into the abyss to be forgotten until now.

There is also a peculiar stash of snacks…including a sugar packet. You never know when you’ll find yourself with a cup of coffee in the middle of a sugar desert.

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Here’s a cringe worthy category: garbage. I don’t know how I managed to accumulate three separate garbage bags in my purse – but I have found you never know when you might need one to bag up your (toddler’s) wet clothes. 😉

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At least I have enough pens to stock Office Depot. And a clothespin. I really have no idea…

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I tried to do a quick count of all the items piled on the kitchen table, but I lost track somewhere in the 40’s and was too discouraged to start over. But I think you get the idea. I had a ridiculous amount of stuff in my bag.

After visually organizing everything into categories and subcategories, I began to throw away the garbage and return things to their rightful place in my home. Medicine to the cabinet, pens to the drawer, slips to the laundry basket, etc.

I was eventually left with a much smaller pile, which I continued to pare down even more with the following criteria:

– Do I use it everyday?

– Do I need to carry it with me?

And here is all the stuff that made the cut:

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I kept all the obvious things – like my keys, wallet & phone. Most other things are debatable and could eventually be whittled down.

I recycled most of the school papers in my bag, but kept some important ones tucked in my planner.

Other finalists were my sketchbook/journal, sunglasses, emergency snack (very important), mints, lip gloss & a small personal care kit.

(One item pictured here – my coupon book gifted to me by a sweet friend- will probably find a new home in the my car’s glove box. I initially kept it in the mix because I always forget my coupons – but I think the car will do the trick)

The last step was the most satisfying. I made a conscious effort to find a place for everything I put back in my purse.

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It still looks a bit crowded, I know – but you should have seen it before! (Oh wait, you did.)

I found a spot just for my phone and one pen!

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Let’s not forget a place for mints and that very important emergency snack.

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Most importantly I decided once and for all which pocket would hold my keys. No more wading through napkins and earrings to get the car started. Front and center, baby.

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And that, my friends is the saga of the girl with the embarrassing amount of stuff in her purse, who saw the contents of an enviably simple purse – and decided to get her act together.

Some of you may be re-thinking our friendship right now. Totally don’t blame you.

Maybe some of you just got your Hoarders fix for the week & now you feel a lot better about yourself. I also don’t blame you for that.

But maybe some of you can relate. Maybe you feel a little encouraged that someone else who doesn’t have it all together is taking simple steps towards pulling it together – so maybe you can too. Maybe it’s your purse or your linen closet – or maybe it’s a relationship that needs to be laid all out on the kitchen table. Get rid of the trash. Make room for the good stuff.

Whatever it is – get after it. I can’t tell you how much lighter my step is (literally) now that I am not carrying junk around with me every day. I feel a peace of mind having simplified a small part of my life. I’m hoping it catches on, but in the meantime I have to be vigilant. I caught a stray hole puncher floating around in there the other day.

Tell me, what are your tried & true methods for keeping stuff at bay? Has anyone else had a recent conversion to simplification? Come on down to the water, my friends.

Bacon it Better

We may not always agree on politics or religion, but I think we can all find common ground where there is bacon to be had.

Bacon. Is there a better smell to wake up to in the morning? (Ok, coffee may give bacon a run for it’s…bacon?)

Well, we can all agree that it’s pretty darn good. By itself. On stuff. In stuff. Around stuff. Probably even as edible jewelry…

A couple years ago, my domestic goddess of a mother-in-law suggested a new recipe for making bacon. I believe she saw it in a Better Homes magazine.

I know, “bacon recipe”? How can you have a recipe for bacon? It’s one ingredient!

A “bacon recipe” would read;

Open bacon package.

Place bacon over stove in pan.

Dodge flying bacon grease.

Enjoy!

That’s how I was raised to make bacon anyway…

Nevertheless, we tried this newfangled “bacon recipe” and, well – it changed my life.

A short time later we were on breakfast duty for my family’s Christmastime reunion and Micah decided to use this recipe. It was a game-changer. Everyone raved about it. Since then, I’ve lost track of the amount of times my sisters have asked Micah to “make his special bacon” at family get-togethers involving brunch (which are most of them).

Now that I’ve given it sufficient hype, I will share the recipe below:

Better Bacon

– 1 package of Bacon

– 1/2ish cup of Brown Sugar

You will also need:

– “Jelly roll” pan (cookie sheet with a lip)

– Parchment Paper

– Oven Broiler on Low 

Trim a piece of parchment paper to fit into your pan. You want it to curl up the edges of the pan to catch the bacon grease, but not so high it will catch the broiler flames.

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Next, open your package of bacon and line those pink piggies up along the pan.

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(If you don’t eat pork for religious reasons – there is always turkey bacon. If you are vegan or vegetarian, I’m sorry… Is there tofu/veggie bacon?)

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Now that you have your bacon organized, get out your secret ingredient.

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 Brown sugah, baby.

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Begin by sprinkling liberally over the entire pan – aiming for the bacon.

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 If needed, dump it on for better bacon coverage – aka BBC.

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 Place bacon in the oven on Low Broil for 10 – 15 minutes.

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 Check periodically for even cooking. You may need to rotate your pan or push some bacon around with tongs.

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When bacon is crisped to your liking, remove and enjoy your bacon candy!

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I have never had a bacon doughnut before, but I’d like to think it tastes something like this. Something magical happens while that bacon is in the oven – I don’t really know how else to describe it. The brown sugar seems to melt into the bacon and creates a delicious, mouthwatering glaze which perfectly complements that salty, greasy strip of goodness.

I’m the kind of person who likes a little sweet and a little savory for breakfast, so I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot with this brown sugar bacon.

Also, if you’re like me and avoid making “fancy” breakfast because of all the dishes – you’ll be happy to know that the cleanup for this Better Bacon is almost as sweet as the bacon itself.

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After you gobble up your bacon, let your parchment paper/pan sit for several hours. It’s a procrastinators dream. Come on, were you really going to wash that pan right away? Unless you are my friend Julie, probably not. (Love ya, Jules 😉 )

Pretty soon, that bacon grease will start to congeal, and you can lift the parchment paper like so.

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9 times out of 10, your cookie sheet will be clean as a whistle. Or maybe need just a quick rinse. That is 95% better that the mess inside your frying pan after making normal bacon. I don’t know where I got those statistics. But you can trust me on that.

So, yeah. Ball up that parchment paper…

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and throw it in the trash.

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And boom –  just like that, you’re done.

Perhaps the best part, still, is how you enjoy your bacon. It is a dish best served with others. So invite your family, friends & neighbors over for brunch.  Pull out the extra chairs and let the kids run amuck while you discuss the important things in life like politics & religion – and just how good that bacon is – while you linger over just one more piece…

And…just for fun:

Anyone care to count how many times the word “bacon” appears in this post? It’s gotta be some kind of record. First one to guess correctly gets invited over for bacon. 🙂

a prayer

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It’s 3:30 a.m. I am up with my daughter for what seems to be the third time tonight. I’ve tried rocking her, nursing her; this time I’m stroking the hair from her face and gently rubbing her back – my own back aching as I arch over the crib to reach her. The minutes pass on as I will her to sleep…I think of my phone laying idle back on my nightstand, wishing for something to pass the time.

And then I think of the families I’ve been seeing in the news lately, reading about in countless articles shared by friends. Families in Ferguson, MO. Families in the Middle East. Families in West Africa. The family of our dearest Robin Williams and all those who have lost their loved ones too soon. Families who would give anything to have another moment like this in the quiet of the night with their babies.

The world seems to be crumbling all around me & I feel I a little hopeless. I have no answers. Nothing to offer.

And so I will pray. That is how I will pass this time with my daughter in the middle of the night.

This past week, I’ve been meditating on a prayer. I guess it’s kind of a poem/prayer. I started writing it down in my journal & have been struggling to share it all week. Partially because I’ve never had the knack for poetry, and partially because a little voice in the back of my head tells me that prayers are to be private. I was raised to believe that prayer wasn’t something you did loudly in the streets – it was something you did at home in a corner. (I think this is based on a parable – someone help me out here…) But my heart has been heavy this week. I see so much negativity and dissension on the internet – especially amongst Christians – acting as if we can fix everything by SHOUTING across the internet. So I decided to put this poem/prayer out there. I don’t want to add to the noise – I just want you to join me, in prayer.

So here is my prayer, from my little corner of the internet, to yours.

Weak at the knees

we come crashing down,

gravel in our palms.

 

Heaven, hear us.

 

Disease and war

leave us searching for

a reason.

 

Heaven, heal us.

 

Our children lie

quiet in the streets;

Oh Father, please.

 

Heaven, help us.

 

We’re just fine –

’till we are not fine,

then we’re grasping for a life-line.

 

Father, forgive us.

 

Quick to judge,

slow to LOVE.

We are self-destructing.

 

Jesus, teach us.

 

Bind up our hearts.

Pull us up, through the dark

Show us a new way out.

 

Heaven, hold us…

 

A walk in the park

The earthy smell of coffee, sounds of familial laughter and breakfast dishes in the sink carried up the stairway to my room. I fought back the urge to follow the warmth that called to me from the first floor so I could finish the task at hand. Stacks of laundry checkered the bed as I folded outfits for myself and Helena, doing my best to fit the piles into our family duffle.

The night before, we squeezed 7 adults and 4 children in our 1400 square foot home. Mattresses on the living room floor, and sheets pulled over couches made for an old fashioned sleepover. The din of children’s feet and and symphony of conversations felt like home to me – but was a little foreign to Micah. When you grow up with 8 siblings I guess you get used to the activity…

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Over breakfast, my siblings and I had reminisced about our history of family vacations to McCormick’s Creek as we prepared to return to our old stomping grounds.

McCormick’s Creek.

So many memories and feelings of nostalgia are tied to those words – that place. As a child, every summer my family would make the pilgrimage to the Hoosier state to “camp” at McCormick’s Creek. Every year we rented the same three primitive cabins in a secluded clearing. We would hike, swim, and scale waterfalls. My Dad used the week of daily pool time to teach every new swimmer of the family how to float on their back (which at the time felt like torture – but I’m grateful for it now). It’s also where I learned how to do an underwater back flip without getting water up my nose (I can feel that awful stinging sensation even now) – the key is to blow air bubbles from your nose the whole time. 😉

We so looked forward to that place because we got to break free and run wild so to speak. There was no structure – no school, no church – although we still sang hymns around the campfire on Sunday morning (s’mores can substitute for communion, right?) and Dad still drilled us on our times tables – but we were free!

When we got dirty and sweaty from hiking, we went to the pool. When our bodies grew weary from swimming and eyes stung from chlorine, we flopped onto our bunk beds and took a nap. When we had replenished energy, we took off on our bikes and roller-blades to conquer the winding asphalt roads.

“I remember the sound of the gravel…” said Hannah, as we sat around the kitchen table. “Yes!” we all said in unison – because we too, could still hear it. Our cabin site had a long, gravel driveway that branched off the state park road. After we had set up camp we anxiously awaited to hear the sound of the gravel crunching beneath tires. “They’re here!” someone would shout and we would come running from all corners. Sticks were dropped, books shoved under pillows, and screen doors slammed as we raced to see who had arrived. It might be a family that my parents had invited to join us, or our grandparents whom we hadn’t seen all year.

As a child, hanging out with our Grandparents for a week at McCormick’s Creek meant a steady supply of Wrigley’s Double Mint Gum and Werther’s Original Candies. It also meant they might buy you a new swimsuit at the nearest Walmart or teach you how to play games with dice and cards (which were normally banned from our conservative household because of their ties to gambling).

Somewhere along the line, kids went off to college and our tradition tapered off. We no longer vacationed as a family every summer.

Nine years ago, my siblings planned a return visit with some childhood friends for a weekend of tent camping (or real camping as my husband would say). The cabins had long since been torn down (they were always a little worse for wear – which is probably why we could afford to vacation there as a family of 11) but we visited the site anyway as if it were hallowed ground. During that trip Tabitha’s boyfriend at the time planned a proposal during a hike which I captured with my (very amateur) photography skills. Naturally, that place became even more special to our family.

adam proposes Tab and Adam

This year, we once again planned to return – this time to stay in the less primitive family cabins. (These cabins had a stove, sink and fridge – and my favorite – BATHROOMS! No more trips to the pit toilet in the middle of the night!)

To break up the trip, all who could make it drove from Chicago to stay with Micah and I the night before, and we caravaned over to Indiana the next day. For some reason I felt extra anticipation for this return trip – I think because this time, I would bring my daughter. I had such sweet memories of that place and I wanted my daughter to be a part of that – and hopefully build her own memories there…

So we took plenty of pictures – just in case her little one year old memory forgets. 😉

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photo credit to Victoria 🙂
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thanks again, Vic!

Fast forward a few days and we are back home – there are extra piles of laundry in the basement and camping supplies waiting to be stowed away – but I wanted to sit down and write about this place and these memories before the summer is swallowed up and they are forgotten.

Like all experiences that you build up in your head, there were a few disappointments. It rained almost the entire weekend – so there were no trips to the pool or back-floating lessons. There was eventually a break in the rain where we enjoyed a misty hike up to the falls – until of course it began to drizzle, and then pour…

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And no family vacation would be complete without a little drama – or debate as some might call it – but nothing that a little passing of the wine bottle around the fireside can’t cure (getting a little more accurate with our campfire communion here).

We were all a little bummed, too for Tabitha & Adam when they hiked around for hours – looking for their original proposal site and couldn’t seem to find it. But, they experienced a new adventure together and burned several hundred calories.

Revisiting this place as a mother also had me re-adjusting my expectations a bit as I spent what seemed like hours cooped up in our cabin – coaxing my daughter to sleep each night- when what I really wanted to do was join the laughter that echoed from the campfire. But thankfully I have a husband who knows what I need and took the second shift so I could roast a ‘mallow with my siblings.

I think for me there will always be a little bit of a let down when you try to re-create an experience or memory exactly. It won’t ever be the same. That is why memories are so precious – because they are so fleeting. I focused on this a little bit during the trip – because of the little disappointments, and mourning that not everyone could be there – like old times.

But nostalgia doesn’t have to be sorrowful. I decided to be thankful, to cherish those memories of my family at McCormick’s Creek – and then to be present and enjoy the new memories that were unfolding before my eyes.

This year, there were no proposals (though I still do have two very eligible sisters, gentlemen…) I didn’t get to play dice with my grandparents, and there were no epic kisses atop a waterfall. But my brother-in-law received a much awaited call & job offer,

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and my daughter started walking!

People. My daughter is a walker. Officially. And I caught it all on tape in a quiet moment outside our cabin at McCormick’s Creek.

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This may not seem that exciting to some of you, I understand. But wait till you push what seems to be a helpless blob out of your body and then you watch it grow until one day it walks. It will be EPIC.

I was so proud of her, and so grateful to have this memory with her, at that place.

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So, let’s wrap this up with a cheesy (but true) moral-of-the-story. (I am talking to myself here, so feel free to ignore if it doesn’t apply to you.) Cherish those memories. Hold tight to them. But not so tight that you are comparing your memories to your new experiences, or trying to recreate an impossibility. And I don’t mean to sound dismissive. I know for some of us, memories are the only connection we have to people we love.

Honor your memories and the people in them by creating new ones.

And one last thought. Go camping. (Who needs Disney World when you can hike through a stream and slip off a rock?) Get off that phone and get some dirt under your fingernails.

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Also, this:

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Micah and Helena

A post shared by esthermichelle (@esthermichelle) on

My sister-in-law, Esther took this picture and I am in love with it 🙂