Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Looking back

Reading over my sporadic last couple of posts has me reflecting on the journey I've been on these last two years. I look over the words I wrote as we prepared to make our move here, and I am struck by how prophetic they were in many ways.  I think we probably were becoming too complacent and at risk of storing up the wrong treasures, and I truly have been stripped of my comforts and self-reliance.  My heart was prepared at that time for a new thing, even longed for it, or so I thought. But when I initially wrote those words, I was prepared for a grand adventure where my faith would soar, and my life would (somewhat immediately) become richer and more fulfilling. And I'm devastated to realize that I really did not rise to the challenge. It has been an excruciating road. I was unprepared for the depth of my grief at leaving behind people and places I love. I was blind-sided by the anxiety and depression that were unleashed in me as wave after wave of change crashed over me. I lost my footing and my rhythm, spiritual and otherwise. I can't begin to understand, myself, much less explain, why a transition that really has been overall extremely positive and joyous for our family has left me feeling so weak and raw and depleted. Wise words have been spoken to me about how all change involves loss and all loss must be grieved, and those who have been through similar experiences have concluded that the period of adjustment lasts well into the second or even third year. It's comforting to know that I'm normal (as always, a relative term :) ), but I find that I'm frustrated with my own self and often yelling at me to just GET OVER IT! PICK YOURSELF UP and MOVE ON already! I'm deeply weary of my own whining and wallowing.  Particularly when I look at this broken world and see how painfully others are suffering through what I would probably label "legitimate trials".  Mine pales in comparison. Yet here I am. 
Please hear me: there has been rich reward for us in this move. I LOVE my extended family and the opportunity to be closer to them. This has been a priceless gift that my heart LONGED for during the years we were away. I have been reunited with lifelong friends with whom I've had to spend the majority of my adult life in long distance relationships, and this has been a treasure.  I have been richly blessed by the new people we've met and communities we have become part of here. I am in love with the beauty of our town and our state and all of the opportunities it has to offer.There is joy, without doubt. 
But something in me has shifted. Something I haven't been able to name or put my finger on. It's clouding out the light of that joy many days. I think that my prophetic use of the word "stripped" would most closely describe what this journey has been doing to me. I am being remade; I can feel it. God is using this time (or wants to use this time, anyway, if I would just let Him) to show me Himself in a new way, to do in me and through me a new thing. But I have spent a lot of time nursing hurts, living in fear, and sheltering my ideals and expectations of this journey. Unmet ideals and expectations, I might add. Surrender is a painful process; letting go can be exhausting. And most days that has described well my state of mind: exhausted, overwhelmed, feeling inadequate. 
We're zeroing in on the two-year mark of this transition. I am ecstatic to note that we will not be continuing our tradition of moving into a new house every August 1st. There is immense relief in this. And in this second year, my capacity to climb out of the wallowing and reflect has grown a bit with each passing month.  As the calendar turned to 2017 I felt a stirring to once again focus in on a particular area of growth for the year ahead, and I believe this year it's to continually pray the prayer of indifference: "Thy will be done. I am your servant". To live with open hands. To lay down my expectations, my disappointments, my dreams, my anxiety and release these so that there would be greater room for God's Fruit to grow: for love, joy, peace, and on and on. I am being pruned, which can be painful. But I believe it WILL yield a greater harvest in the end.  
And so I desire to open my hands so that I can release the past and surrender the future. So that I can focus on today and the joy therein (see last post). It is a battle for me. But one I know is worth fighting.

Friday, September 2, 2016


Lately I've felt a little asphyxiated by the passage of time, the whys and what-ifs of this world, the vast amounts of unknown. The pain and bitterness and destruction and death and the decay of society has been chafing at my soul, and I've felt crushed under the weight of regrets and shame. There's a constantly looping reel in my head of everything I perceive to be wrong with myself and the world, and there's an underlying, unrelenting anxiety about the next shoe to drop.
I've known for a little while now that I haven't been taking self-care very seriously. The upheaval of the last year has become an excuse to continue on this breakneck trajectory from one day into the next with very little time spent in stillness and introspection and surrender. It's been easier to just go, go, go. But the latter part of this summer I have just felt shattered and have come to the realization that I need desperately to Be still and put back together by the only One who can really do that. He used a simple trip the park this morning to begin that process I believe:

Watching my kiddos at the park this morning, my initial reaction was "It's all going by too fast. And I'm messing it up all the time. And soon they won't want to even be at the park with me."
Fast on the heels of all this Debbie Downer talk was the thought, "But you have today. And today they DO want to be with you at the park".
I literally stopped in my tracks.
It seems like a message I've heard a thousand different ways over dozens of years, but something hit me differently today.
And I realized that all of my conjecture about the future and pining for the past is futile.  I can't have yesterday and certainly can't know tomorrow. But I have TODAY.  And what do I have TODAY that I can celebrate? From the simple to the significant?

I believe this is where my healing lies. In shifting focus. I want to focus on LIFE and LIVING and the GIVER of it all. Even when the pain and decay most certainly invade, there can still be celebration and gratitude. And when everything else is stripped away, I can still celebrate the God of love who is preparing blessings and joy beyond what I could ever hope to experience here.

And so TODAY.
TODAY I have these amazing kids (who are growing up too fast BUT THAT'S NOT MY FOCUS RIGHT NOW) who still love a laid-back, sun-wrapped trip to the park with me. Who still find laughter and contentment in swings and slides and monkey bars.

I don't know about tomorrow, but I know that this is my joy TODAY.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

My parenting knowledge in a nutshell (and it seriously probably wouldn't even fill a nutshell)

11 years ago today I became a mom for the first time. I shall commemorate it with this hideous photo of myself:

I think back on the person I was, the expectations I had, and all the experiences I've had since, and the only thing I can unequivocally say for certain after 11 years in the trenches is this - I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING.
I often wish I could go back to that person I was, about to embark on my journey into parenthood and tell me to just erase the drawing board, to throw it in. the. trash. To completely lay down every expectation I had about parenting and about who my kids were going to be. To eliminate all my ideas so that I wouldn't spend the next decade "shoulding" myself and my offspring to death. Nothing prepared me for being a mom. NOTHING. I have to remind myself of this anytime I'm tempted to give new parents or parents-to-be "helpful" advice or insight, gleaned from my (what feel like) MANY years of experience. There is really not one thing anyone could have said to truly prepare me for the incredible highs and devastating lows of this job, for how emotional and gut-wrenching it would be or how personally I would take it all. Two things my mom has said to me over the years have stuck, however. 1) If I didn't care, it wouldn't be hard, and 2) lower my expectations. And so I try to remember those two things in the midst of the low times.
I am almost 40 now (gulp), and I can truly say the 30's have been some of the best years of my life. Because I have just enough life experience under my belt and just enough humility gained from all that I (cannot stress this enough) DO NOT KNOW after said experience that I can sit back and breathe a bit. I have learned to give myself (a tiny bit) more grace and to extend that to others. I have gained greater compassion and empathy for those who both share my experiences and have completely different ones. Most of all, I have learned to open my hands and understand now that there is virtually nothing within my control, least of all my children.  My kids are who God created them to be from the moment of conception, and my job is not so much to control any sort of outcome where they're concerned, as it is to observe, know them deeply, and then guide accordingly. The best thing I can do for my babies, I've come to realize, is to give them God and give them over to God. That's pretty much it.
I was reading over Proverbs 3 this morning and find it to be such a great life passage for parents and our kids. James and I adopted as our "marriage scripture" verses 3-5: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight". That really just sums up what we want for ourselves and our children isn't it? To be able to trust the Lord, whatever may come in this unreliable world? There are no end to the number of things I don't understand down here, but there is comfort in knowing that knowing Him, walking with Him, experiencing His love and loving Him in return will keep my feet (and my kids') on the right path. I read a quote recently about how God's will for us is not the path itself we walk but how we walk the path. That's beautiful because again, there's no controlling what happens here or what choices others make, and it can be difficult to reconcile a loving God with this really brutal world. Who can say why He allows the vast amounts of suffering we see here? But His concern for me and for my boys and my daughter is that we choose to walk these difficult paths WITH Him.
So that about sums up my wisdom in parenting. Now if someone could just clue me in on how to get kids to do homework without whining and methods for ungluing their little eyeballs from a screen without nuclear meltdowns we'd be in great shape.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Mitten State or Bust

Every time there's a change on the horizon of my life, God plants in me a restless stirring. For the past couple of years we've been in a waiting period. That was clearly spoken to my heart: WAIT. Be still and wait. Be still and know. (You should know I'm not great at waiting. Or being still for that matter.) I felt a little like we were just suspended in time. Everything was copacetic you know? I would even sit down to write on this blog and nothin'. Zip. Zero. Zilch. I felt as if there were no words. All was well, humming right along.
And then came the stirring, the nudging. Something new coming.
One of those somethings:

It's no secret that we've felt a longing over the years to be closer to our families, and suddenly the timing seemed right. Other shifting circumstances in our life led us to believe that the way home was being opened up.
And then more waiting.
But this summer it's happening. Michigan, baby.  And I've gotta be honest with you that I really thought as of mid-May we'd have a LOT more answers about what this transition is going to look like. The only thing we feel sure of is that it's time. The message on our hearts now is GO. But go to what? No other details have been revealed to us: jobs, housing (both on this end and that one), schools, town, an exact moving date - these are all question marks yet.
As a closet VERY LOUD control-freak this is terrifying. I could regale you with the moments in the past month that I've spent in the fetal position about this.  It is unnerving to look into the future and see, well, nothing. To have no visual of where we'll be and what we'll be doing. All the so many unknowns.
And then there are ALL THE FEELINGS about leaving behind our tribe here. I can't even handle it. Our church, that we love so dearly, that has led us into new ways of living out our faith. We will gratefully carry that with us into our new adventure. Our neighbors. For so long I fought owning this neighborhood and its people. And now I can hardly bear to leave. The vast mountain of friends with whom God has intertwined our hearts. Our PEEPS - with whom we've shared life over the past twenty years, who have been our family.I can't really imagine a life in which I don't see them regularly (Facebook posts and Instagram notwithstanding).
God in His infinite mercy consistently and gently leads me out of my tantruming at all this and brings me back to His feet, where He reminds me that I am loved more than sparrows (Matt. 10:29-30), He's got this (Jeremiah 29:11), and that I'm on a need-to-know basis and don't always need to know! (Prov. 3:5-6). He has reminded me that my family and I are so, so loved. Too loved to wallow in sameness, to become stale and complacent. Too loved to be safe and comfortable and at risk of storing up the wrong treasures. And I think we were at-risk of doing/becoming those things in our current life. Too dependent on ourselves and our smooth circumstances. I have no doubt He's stripping me of my comforts and self-reliance to draw me closer, to draw me deeper. And I know we are also too loved not to be given a new place to land where we can bring Him even greater glory.
And so we continue to move forward and trust. When we second-guess this path and think about alternatives, we lose peace, and I think the PEACE is the true indicator of being in the right place.
So....stay tuned.

PS - Does anyone else find it eerie that my posts from the last three years have been all in MAY?!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Abundant Life

I heard this song today, and it stopped me in my tracks. (By the way, hi. It's only been a year or so.)

Initially I wasn't sure why I was so compelled to drop everything and put this song on repeat. Something about it was speaking to me in a very deep place. I don't necessarily consider myself or my family one who strives for the "American Dream", yet I related so strongly to references in the song: "breathing but asleep", "don't let the devil bury me alive", "don't let the suburbs kill my heart and soul". As much as we try to fight it, our culture is on a quickly downward spiraling path of chasing things that just don't matter. I've felt it, as much as I think I'm above such things. My soul has gone through periods of starvation this past year because I too often choose the path of ease and convenience, wants and desires. I bury myself in material comforts and control and fleeting pleasures. And that's not really living.
Here's another thing. I'm really done with suburban living. Oddly, with all of its people and activity, it's a really isolating way to live. All the pieces of my life are so disjointed and spread out and even with all my incredible friends and church and school, there still seems to be a sense of community missing. And there's the relentless quest for "more" that just seems built into our DNA.  I've had bouts of depression where I feel like the suburbs are killing my heart and soul and that I'm breathing but asleep.
Another thing about the past year is that it has been such a waiting period. I've felt God calling me to be still (heh, heh - still working on that one) and to just wait and see what he has coming. To pursue contentment and learn how to just be where I am. To learn how to just be. And I think I made some strides toward that end. At the start of this year, I sensed God calling me to focus more on surrender in my life. Yeah, I've been there before, Big Guy! It didn't go so well, did it? But this year has been different. There are definitely changes in the works.  Not the least of which is this little guy/girl:

It's taken me awhile to surrender my plans for the future on this one. Next fall the boys will all be in school, and it was time for a new chapter, perhaps some more freedom. And now instead I'll be headed back to the land of diapers and naps. But, as God has clearly pointed out to me the last couple of months, I'm also going back to the land of baby scent, cuddles, growing and birthing a miraculous little life. And we're excited for this new chapter, though it might not have been the one we envisioned. 
There are other new things in the works that we didn't see coming at the end of 2013, and I find myself back in the waiting period giving up my control over and over again. And there's a strange peace in that. In surrender. I want to truly discover abundant life this year. To be still. To simplify. To just "live in the mess" as a wise soul recently told me and give up the illusion of perfectionism and the idea that all my ducks will EVER be in a row. To stop running and chasing after the things that don't matter. And to just wait and see where God takes us next on this crazy journey.  

Friday, May 31, 2013

I Can't Believe I Just Did That

If you would have told me a year ago to endure 30 days without a single processed food, ounce of sugar, grain or dairy product, or alcoholic beverage I probably would have punched you in the face. And now, to have arrived at the end of just such a journey, to have accomplished HEALTHY EATING - ME! - it is an amazing feeling. By and large, I would say that it has become second nature to have this as my primary way of eating.  I can't imagine ever skipping breakfast again or making drive-thru's my go-to.
How I've benefited:
My energy: I am no longer wilting after lunch, ready to just curl up and nap the rest of the day away. I also sleep more soundly and less restlessly at night (when my kids aren't waking me up, that is) and find it SLIGHTLY easier to awaken in the morning (though I can't say I'll ever be a full-fledged morning person).
My mood: I have always been kind of a moody person, with big ups and downs and a fair amount of melancholy. These days I feel much happier (and my husband has even commented on this as a change he's noticed) more of the time.
My body: While I've never struggled with weight issues, I was working on a healthy muffin top pre-Whole 30, which is now virtually non-existent.  I can feel around my waist that there has been some shrinkage. (I wish I had taken the before pictures to prove it). I feel overall HEALTHY, for I think the first time in my life.
Peace of mind: knowing that I am doing something great for my body and brain and treating it, I believe, as God probably originally intended. With good food.
Food doesn't control me: I've learned that I CAN, in fact, say no, and this is huge. Before I always just gave in to the cravings no matter what. I felt I had no control, no willpower. I now know that part of this is the way those crappy foods are designed - to keep us wanting more. But 30 days of good food choices have proven that I am the one in control of what goes into my maw. This outcome made even the hardest of moments SO incredibly worth it.

Where I struggled:
There's a lot of cooking.  And dish washing. And cooking.  And dish washing.  This was tough. And I don't have a full time job outside the home. And I DO have a husband who cooks.  Yikes - so what can I say if you're a single mom or working full time? COOK AHEAD! I have three boys who are a full time job, and my husband is gone a lot these days, so those were not sure-fire answers to the constant cooking conundrum (alliteration nerd!). But by cooking and prepping ahead (taking an afternoon or evening on the weekend) the weeks were MUCH easier to bear. And I will say that dishes ain't no thang anymore and that I like cooking a little better than I did before.

Sticking to organic/grass-fed/pastured, etc.  That's expensive stuff, peeps. I was lucky to have some meat resources that made good meat a little less painful to come by, but there were a couple times I paid $20 for two pounds of chicken and it made me a little ill.

Fighting the urge to snack.  I still have this in my system a bit, even though 90% of the time I was just sticking to three meals a day with no "snacks".

Success in my Whole 30 goals. (See this post)   I still averaged about six hours of sleep a night most nights. Staying up too late doing things other than cooking and washing dishes, I guess. I did not reach the five-days-a-week that I was hoping to as far as developing greater spiritual rhythms in my life. And I did too much reading or Facebook checking during my lunches.

What did I miss the most?  cheese, ice cream, and alcohol

Missed least - bread/grain products and white potatoes. As a Dutchie, I NEVER ever thought I'd say that.

So what now?
Going forward I'm going to keep this as primarily my way of eating. I'm going to do a little experiment over the next ten days, as recommended by the authors of the book, to start slowly building foods back in and see how my body and mood responds to those things. I start with....DAIRY!!!  Had a little cheese on my stuffed acorn squash this morning. It was great, but I would have enjoyed it just as much without I think. Huh.  Weird.
I'm still pondering how much of this to build into the lives of my kids. It's going to take baby steps but changes definitely need to be made sooner rather than later.  We leave on a two week long vacation tomorrow, so probably I won't be doing anything too drastic during that time.

A few last meals to share: - these were really good but our plantain tostadas ended up a little burnt and chewy. Something we would definitely try again though.
For lunch this entire week I did a little riff on eggplant parm. Without the parm. Obviously. I broiled eggplant slices and then topped them with pork sausage patties.  I placed these stacks on fresh spinach and then topped the whole thing with a Trader Joe's approved marinara. Super duper yummy.  As evidenced by the fact that I ate it all. week. 
Breakfast for this week was a little hash the ingredients for which I saw on one of the Whole 30 forums. Sauteed in a pan were red onion, apples sprinkled with some cinnamon, sweet potatoes, some kale, and shredded cooked chicken, then I seasoned with paprika and sea salt.  Oh and there were mushrooms.  Because mushrooms make so many good things even better. I topped this all with a poached egg. A-mazing.

So that wraps up this installment of "What crazy program is Julie getting on board with now?!" 
I can't believe I just did that.
But I'm SOO glad I did.

Monday, May 27, 2013


Remember how I was all, "There's no food I really miss and blah blah blah blah".  The day following that statement my body and brain proved it to be utter crap. I took a huge dive into the land of the food doldrums. Or, as the Whole 30 program calls it - "Kill All the Things". Most of last week was spent feeling depressed about all the things I "can't" eat and loathing everything I can. I began to obsess again about food, especially crappy things. The cravings reared their ugly little heads with a vengeance, and I will admit I had a couple of tiny cheats.  One involved a single solitary piece of cheese popcorn from my sons' bowl of Chicago Mix. The other happened out to eat on Friday night when my buffalo wings (Whole 30 approved) made a few forays into some Ranch dressing (NOT approved). I've been beating myself up about those things repeatedly. Which is kinda dumb and is coming from the perfectionist in me. But I avoided all kinds of other things including movie theater popcorn, and that is BIG. For me, anyway.  So I focus on the small victories.
As of yesterday I felt back in the game, proud of all the good choices I've been making for my body and mind and overall really satisfied with my new way of eating. But also, let's face it, I'm ready to see the beginning of my last week.
A few new dishes that we tried last week:

Asian Chicken Salad -
 This made for two lunches this week, one eaten as lettuce wraps and one directly out of the bowl.  Both were yum although I found it more filling to use the wrap.

Stuffed Acorn Squash - I had used this recipe previously and really enjoyed it, so all I had to do this time around was remove the cheese (wah!), and I added some seasoned ground turkey. I had one half of the squash for dinner and the other half for breakfast the next morning with a poached egg on top.  Fabulous!

Shrimp Curry - one of the recommended quick meals I read about was to have some frozen shrimp and frozen stir-fry veggies on hand, along with some curry paste (I went with green).  I mixed together the curry paste and some coconut milk and let it boil, then stirred in the frozen protein and veggies until heated through. It was great but a little soupy.  My husband made a (much more fabulous) version of this dish this past weekend, and his method was to coat the shrimp and veggies in the paste and sautee it in the pan for 2-3 minutes. He then deglazed the pan with some coconut aminos (a soy sauce substitute) and added coconut milk. He had also added some jalapenos which gave it a perfect little kick.  It was an awesome one-dish meal. (Side note: I am not a fan of frozen veggies. Fresh would be much better in this dish.)

There are a few new dishes in the works for this week, along with some that have become stand-by's during this process.  I also want to give some thought to what's going to happen going forward and what kinds of changes to incorporate for the fam.
Stay tuned...