The smell of his shirt.
The water, almost too hot, pounding into my bare shoulders when I first step into the shower.
A shadow subtly shimmering on the wall.
Watching a bird dip down and follow our boat, searching the water for food.
A custodian, a man, embracing another custodian, a woman, with pure love and joy for a 20-second break in their work.
How some nights, she sings her sister to sleep.
This was the first Christmas in a lot of years that hasn’t been precluded by some great stressor—holiday travel from New York; starting a new business; moving into a new house, literally on Christmas Eve. So I was surprised when, by Thanksgiving, I was feigning the Christmas spirit for the sake of my kids, and what I was feeling instead was an unnameable restlessness. It felt like darkness, and I was ashamed of it.
For the first time since I can remember, the Christmas season practically caught me off-guard. I didn’t wrap my final present until last week, and before you laugh, you’ve got to know, I’m normally done by Thanksgiving. I wasn’t the first one to spin the Bing Crosby record; it was Trevor, and if you know him, that speaks volumes. I very nearly forgot to make gifts for our girls’ teachers. After swearing at the gingerbread house, I cast off my purist’s notions and pulled out the hot glue gun to piece the stupid thing together.
Something has had me distracted, pulled inward. Something feels like a worry or an anxiety that I haven’t experienced in a long time. This year, it’s all felt like, “Christmastime, yeah, fun, but I’m just getting through it.” This darkness has felt like a painful, frustrating waiting period.
But this morning, I jolted awake, and like a child I thought, “It’s Christmas Eve!” There was a lightness in the morning’s blue hue, and I listened to birds sing despite the cold. The sun came up over the mountain as I drank my coffee, and it splintered into rainbows through the crystal ornaments on our tree. I listened closely to the words of all the Christmas carols I’ve had mindlessly playing in the background for a month, and I realized, of course we’ve been waiting. Of course.
The last several years, I have mistaken the darkness of Advent as my own. As we struggled through a stressful period in life, unsettled and displaced, I thought the hard parts of Christmas were in what we personally were waiting for, what we longed for as a family. It threw me, to be settled into a new town and a new house, to have the girls in a school and each of us with our own outlets—to be home, and still to feel an unspeakable yearning. Except, that is Advent. We wait. We pray. We hunger, often without even knowing what for, we just know that on the other side is peace and deliverance.
I consider it a great privilege of motherhood to understand this so closely, deliverance. I spent those hours in darkness, groaning and sweating, working through pain, stripped raw in my own humanity and still, in spite of it, hopeful. The deep longing for the joy on the other side draws through the suffering, the agony of waiting, and the peace upon arrival is instant and delicious.
“The drought breaks with the tears of a mother,” Lauren Daigle wrote of Mary, but of all of us too. How fitting that after the end of a long year, we have to give that great and final push to what we are all really waiting for.
For all who wait,
For all who hunger,
For all who’ve prayed,
For all who wander:
Behold, you King! Behold, Messiah! Emmanuel!
Today I have been married to Trevor Matthew Noel for ten years. We have had ten moves, visited ten countries, had about ten jobs between us. We’ve each celebrated a decade’s worth of birthdays and holidays and surprises. Once upon a time, ten years sounded like a lot. It’s not. It’s a fraction of our lifetime together, the very first step in a staircase of living.
But after ten years, we are still in love. After a decade of every day, it was still a delight to steal away to remote Costa Rica and have only each other for company for ten days—a day for each year. With that in mind, we’re maybe doing something right. We’ve maybe passed some test of dedication and wisdom. And though the life I imagine for us together stretches on and on beyond this day, I am not one to shy away from all celebrations, big and small. A first step is still very much a step, and I want to rejoice that we climbed up and over to here together.
That’s sort of a thing about Trevor and me. I’ve always called him my anchor because he is so firmly rooted in wherever he is. He can survive any environment, master any situation, and he will do so with wide and alert eyes and sure feet. Meanwhile, I’m somewhere next to him, trying to pinpoint every step that led us to where we are, wondering what it will all mean in the time to come. Which is why such celebrations are so important—they are the culminations of past, present, and future. They honor the work and they journey; they look forward to the future and what it may hold; they offer pause and enjoyment in the present moment.
The tenth anniversary is one of tin or aluminum, traditionally speaking, which, if you ask me, is sort of a disappointment in terms of gift purchases. I joked that we flew on a tin can to Costa Rica, and so it was fitting with our practice of traditional gifts; and then through the chuckles, I wondered, what do I say about a tin marriage that really captures where we’ve been and how I feel and where we’ll go from here? Tin and aluminum are simple and common, and those aren’t things I want to communicate about my decade-old marriage. Sure, you grow accustomed to the day-to-day, learn to function without much to-do, but my life with Trevor Noel has been anything but ordinary.
It hit me the other day, placing a can into the recycling bin. I recycle as a labor of love, as a way to steward the resources I’ve been given. I do it because I love the idea that life keeps going and going, and that even something as simple as a bean tin can live on in some way. It represents a consciousness of the work and care required to achieve this new life, but also demonstrates a certain faith that, if you do your part, some magic comes out on the other side.
Well, then how very much I hope that we have made a tin marriage thus far! We’ve taken what’s been dealt to us—and sometimes that’s not been very easy or clear—and we’ve honored it and done our best. We’ve worked hard, and sometimes we’ve worked harder, and then we fall back on the faith that our investment fruits magic.
A few nights ago, we met a young couple celebrating their honeymoon. They were wowed by our ten-year milestone. “That doesn’t always happen these days,” she said. But she must have faith that it can happen. That’s why they were here to celebrate, too. From here, they just have to put the work in. But for a moment, trying not to feel too, too old in light of her remark, I let myself soak up that praise and respect. Ten years is nothing compared to what I’ve got in mind; but ten years is still very much something. From here, I want to take this tin marriage, all of the dips and the highs, all of the work and the sparkle, and I want to recycle it into whatever comes next. I want to commit myself to the extra steps and the extra hope and know that these choices will yield more life again and again.
Ten years I have been living a life that far exceeds where I thought I’d be. Ten years I’ve had someone by my side, even when it seemed like everything else was failing. Ten years, I’ve woken up to “You’re so pretty,” and fallen asleep to “I love you,” and it blows my mind to think that somewhere out there, people throw away their tin instead of recycling it for more and more.
Last Friday was a good, good day. There were a few little blips that could have made it seem hard—like I was really, really hungry when I went to the grocery store, so I ate half a bag of Hint of Lime tortilla chips on the car ride home. But mostly, I spent the day in Vail with Trevor working on a fun thing.
Then we got home, and I had a package waiting for me—new glasses from Firmoo. I have long loved shopping frames on Firmoo because I’m not an everyday glasses-wearer, but I still want to have frames that I can mix-and-match and that follow trends. Firmoo glasses are fun and affordable, and I get compliments on every pair I own.
I was particularly excited about this latest pair. Puts a whole new spin on “cat eye.”
Want to try out some glasses? Shop this special reader page for BOGO frames, including the ones I’m wearing in the photos!
I start in child’s pose, stretched out and beginning to open. My breathing is unsure, though I’m trying to right it. I’m eager to begin, to do what I came to do; but I’m not warm yet, and things must move in phases.
I grow taller into tabletop, add in a few cat-cow stretches to find new height and a new range of motion. I’m bigger here, and freer. The motion is exciting and I’m ready for more.
Extend the right leg, says the instructor; and the left arm, too. Suddenly, my muscles are engaged. It’s not that it’s difficult, it just requires a little more focus, a little more work. I’m instantly nostalgic for that child’s pose, and how it was so peaceful. I’m committed to the practice, though, and the only path is forward into what comes next.
Push up into down dog. Settle into it, pedal the feet. Check yourself, your alignment—your wrists, your hips, your toes. Be sure of your foundation. What feels challenging now will be a glorious place of rest later on. It will be something certain to come back to.
I lift the right leg high, bend the knee, open the hips. Now, the instructor chants, knee-to-nose! Now knee to right elbow! Now knee to left elbow! Extend that leg! Stretch up! Fallen star. I feel the pricks of perspiration in my pores, stinging over my skin and now heated muscles. Before, on my knees, it felt like hard work. It’s harder now, but I’m ready for it. We reset to the center and wake up the left side.
Then, I tiptoe to the front of the mat, actually sweating now, and realizing that was the whole point. That was the warm up. I stretch like a mountain, swan dive to the mat, lift halfway to stretch my back. I do it again, and I savor it, knowing that when it’s done, I’ll have to sink into a chair that isn’t there. I’ll have to stand and balance of my own power. Just when that starts to burn, I’ll bring my hands to prayer, I’ll twist to the right or to the left, and then, I’ll step a foot back. The prayer makes sense—I need faith to be steady. Hold the crescent lunge, open your heart with a bind.
Sometimes people ask me if I do yoga because I find it relaxing. There are moments of rest and deep peace. I forget that in a high lunge, when the burn in my thigh screams for me to stretch my leg, and not only do I not give in, I have to insist that we push further. Slowly rise: modified warrior three. I use the exhausted leg to balance all of my weight forward, the other leg stretching and driving out behind. It’s shaky, but that doesn’t matter. Continue. Bring the leg through to standing, lift the leg forward and bend the knee. Cross the leg into standing figure four, then bow. Surrender to the fire in your legs and your core muscles. All you can do is breathe into it.
From here, the instructor grants much freedom. Sometimes it is good and right to stay where you are. You have to want to go deeper. I slowly stand, still on one leg. Bring it back up in front, twist to one side. Grab the foot and extend it in front of you. At this point, my hands are slick with sweat, and I wonder if my hands themselves are sweating or if it’s traveled from someplace else. My thighs shake in duress. They admonish me to rest. But I think, I have to try this.
I always fall from dancing shiva, but I at least get there. I clasp on to that foot and I straighten it out and every time, I smile. Sometimes I laugh, because I’m so happy to have made it. I worked my way up and I rose to the challenge, and I got there. I stumble trying to transition out, but somehow this is always funny. I love Sandy’s class because she giggles with me. Yes, laugh when you teeter, laugh when you fall. It’s bound to happen—but only if you’re doing it. Not falling means you never put in the work in the first place.
Eventually, things wind down. I find my way to the floor. We play games, trying to stand like grasshoppers or rocking like babies. We reward ourselves for our efforts. Massage your feet, the instructor always says. Reverse those forward folds. Show your legs some love. Before this, I never thought to thank my body. As I sink into long, deep stretches, I’m so aware of all that’s passed. I’m outgrowing it all, and I’m honoring it.
Then I die. I always come into shavasana happy. It’s delightful to find stillness and rest after the intensity of the workout, but it also means that I saw the thing through from beginning to end. All of it suddenly becomes what it was, and it matters only in that it brought me to this point: final rest.
Yoga is my preferred medium for exercise. It’s good to find something that you can do, so as not to be discouraged, but that also challenges you. Yoga has healed parts of my body, and the older I get, the more emphasis I understand must be placed on our physical health. Morgan told me once, “You have to treat the body first.”
But darn it if it isn’t also the most gorgeous metaphor for life. I act out a lifetime on my mat, from birth to dying. I grow into new challenges, which I sometimes succeed at, and sometimes I fall. I’ve stopped using the word fail; instead, I try again. Trying again is never failing. I learn to accept areas that require more attention and strengthening. I learn to celebrate where I excel. In both, I smile and call attention to my divine DNA. This is who I want to be in practice, but it’s also who I want to be all the time.
For me, yoga is surrender and confidence all at once. Because I can do something on the mat, I’ve found that I can do things off of it, too.
Oh, I don’t know, six months ago? Was that when it was that I decided to come back to blogging? (To be clear, I could actually go back in my archives and look up that post, but I’m about to write about my indecisiveness, so it feels better to begin with a little uncertainty. Let’s just not know.)
And I felt like the reasons I wanted to start blogging again were because I missed the exercise—the creating content, sure, but also the sharing. Writing is the thing I keep coming back to, but sometimes it can be pretty difficult to share writing. Getting published isn’t such an easy thing, and I have ridden a roller coaster of publishing ups and downs the last two or three years. But in blogging, well, publishing is easy. I literally write something and then hit “publish.” It’s super satisfying.
Except the internet isn’t as satisfactory as it once was, and I find I have a tough time reigniting my relationship with it now that it’s changed. It’s like trying to rekindle a relationship with an old friend, but you find that you’re both so different that the Friendship 2.0 feels a little forced. You keep trying in the name of history and grace, but it’s always a little off. I guess that’s what blogging is like now—a little off.
I talked to one of my best Brooklyn friends the other day. I mean, like we actually talked on the phone for over an hour, and remember when you used to do that all the time? We caught up on life for all of five minutes before we were engrossed in much deeper conversation, our thoughts and questions about the really important stuff. I could live there, in the depths. Tell me what you think and how you feel, even before you have it figured out. I want to think about it with you.
Social media came up, and we talked about our reasons for using it. It’s fun to see pictures of old friends; it’s inspiring to see what creative people are up to; and I’m as guilty as the next basic out there for shopping directly from an Instagram ad. We talked about the dark side of it, too—how it’s so hard to not feel jealous or just bad sometimes.
Sometimes I don’t just feel bad about what I see, I feel bad about what I share; and that’s funny, because back in the olden days of blogging, you could have easily classified me as an oversharer. I struggled with it then, especially when it came to my kids; but it was such a sense of community for me, at a time when I really needed it. Denver was lonely for me in those days. Blogging made it less so.
Whenever I couldn’t sort through those emotions or draw lines around the feelings about blogging, I fell back on writing. “Oh, I need to keep a blog because I’m a writer.” What does what I had for dinner last night have to do with what I’m writing? Sometimes nothing. Sometimes everything. I fell into a spiral of trying to figure out which was which, and then oversharing became overthinking. I couldn’t post anything on my blog, on Instagram, without being consumed with what the reaction would be and if I was doing something right or wrong.
When we left New York, I turned inward. I had to. I’m starting to flip some of that inside out, and I’m starting to find ways to talk about how that felt and what I learned from it. As that part of me wakes up again, I want to share it. Also, in this same time period, my husband started a digital agency. And I was writing for some online magazines. And then we took off traveling the world, and people wanted to hear about that. We were thrust back on to the internet, and this time, there was a little necessity in it. I mean, that’s just where a lot of work and information happens these days, especially when you’re in our industries. That’s both exciting and frustrating.
This is a lot of babble about something I haven’t mastered yet—but like I told you, I live there. I want to think about it with you. Right now, I find myself in two places, and I’m going to be a little blunt about it.
Yeah, I want to capitalize on what the internet can do for our careers. I want to build brands with Trevor and show that we are capable of that. I want to create a platform to say things sometimes, so that, maybe someday, someone with more power than a blog’s “publish” button will say, “Yeah, let’s put that out there.” Does it drive me nuts that these paths of success lean heavily on how many people follow our various online accounts? Sure. But I’m not going to get anywhere fighting it. So how do you surrender to it with balance? (And without being annoying, because that is definitely a thing about the internet now.)
Sometimes, I still just want to share something I’m thinking about; or sometimes, just even something really nice. Like that video up there. Last Saturday was such a Denver-y day, and isn’t it so fun to have a day date with your guy and explore your old haunts and do all the things? It was such a good day, and I wanted to make a little movie to commemorate that. I missed making videos. Isn’t that fine? And is it okay that the lines between one and two are pretty blurry?
This is kind of like that time when I wrote about if there wasn’t any internet, except that was pretty and polished for you, and this is more like what it actually looks like in my brain, looping from one thought to the next, and essentially arguing with myself. Here it is, if you feel like thinking about it with me.
If that’s not why you’re here, that’s okay, too. I hope you like my video.
Music by Lobo Loco via Free Music Archive.
It's not that I haven't written in so long; I just haven't written anything that I felt like putting on the Internet. I know the truth is that if you write the words you don't run out of them. Except now the Internet is this labyrinth of "fame" and "professionals", and I feel like I don't want to give so much too it anymore. I am fine with this, but on some level, I guess I want other people to be fine with it too.
The last two weeks were supposed to be the foray into Whatever Life Shall Look Like now that I have two school-aged children. In the first week, I ended up traveling back to the midwest for a funeral, and in the second, I had kids home sick. This week is mostly normal, save for the fact that today is already halfway through even though I feel like I just woke up on a Monday. I suppose I'm craving simple normalcy--that is, after all, what we moved to Evergreen for. Still, despite its lacking, I have sufficiently filled the mostly-normal days with stuff, and so I'm on my way into Whatever Life Shall Look Like, even if I'm not there yet.
Aside from writing things that I haven't put on the Internet, I've accepted a new columnist position with a magazine right here in town. I'm stumbling through what it will look like, but I'm excited to again put my voice into something I (and other people) can hold. I'll also be covering a music beat and a few other features, and the idea that my real printed words are going to be floating out into the mountains has me giddy. It's awakened old parts of me.
Acupuncture also woke me up. I mean that wholly literally. My sleep patterns are better, and I open my eyes in the morning like a person exiting sleep, prepared to start the day. I am ravenously hungry for the foods I have recently discovered are most nourishing to me. When I look forward into the day or out into the woods behind our house, both views are clear and enjoyable. I am grateful for the pockets of time in Whatever Life Shall Look Like that I get to reserve for myself and my health. I'd admonish everyone to do it for themselves now; but I understand, having just emerged from Life With Small Children that it's not always doable, and also that is alright.
There are bigger things that I am planning to tackle, but I'm also rather enjoying these sensations of settling in. In the mornings, Trevor and I sit on our deck and we have Quiet Coffee, which is a time for grown-ups. It is important and a really good way to start the day. We talk about the day's plans and the week's plans, and also we talk about the life's plans, which is energizing. Sometimes we talk about Wander Unlimited, and in Whatever Life Shall Look Like, I am taking on more work there as well. It's fun to do it together, and to let the lines between all the times' plans and our work blur and cross over.
Really, Whatever Life Shall Look Like is not a static destination. Sometimes that has been frustrating, and it's really tempting to fall into a pattern of constantly living for the parts that come next. I guess what I'm realizing now is that, for every step you take toward that spot, it moves a little beyond, or sometimes to the right or the left. Sometimes it winds around a corner and you almost think you've lost it. For all the times I've said I'm trying to enjoy the journey or some other fluffy sentiment about Life, right now, I feel it. I feel open to possibilities and old and new parts of myself and whatever else shall come in Whatever Life Shall Look Like.
What makes it all different from All The Things That Happened is epiphany, really. In the Whatever Life Shall Look Like, it's like I understand, finally, the why behind All The Things That Happened. I know what it was all for now. That's probably where the energy is coming from. These tools I've been forging in the All The Things that Happened are finally complete and ready for the Whatever Life Shall Look Like. It's time to get to work.
1. The clouds sinking over the mountain peaks.
2. "What a Wonderful World."
3. Pictures of quiet city corners, angled upward.
4. Their eyelashes and freckles and the way their hands still curl when they sleep.
5. Book smell.
6. Spinning a record on a Sunday morning.
7. The fairy houses tucked underneath our deck.
8. Remembering the market in Canet-en-Rousillon.
9. Thinking of the cutting garden in our old backyard (and especially this video).
10. Turning 34.
It was a special moment the other day when Iris came down the stairs with her book tucked beneath her arm, proclaiming, “I wish we didn’t have to leave yet because I’m so excited to keep reading Magic Treehouse.”
But this was not the point, and I could see her wheels turning as we descended the front steps and climbed into the car, buckling in. “But I have a question about my book.” Her sense of justice is so sensitive and was disrupted. “The Magic Treehouse took Jack and Annie to ancient Greece, and now guards took Annie because she is a girl and they said she couldn’t be in plays or be in the Olympics or hardly do anything.”
I shut the car door and slid into the driver’s seat. And as we snaked along Upper Bear Creek, so I began revealing, with pride and admiration, the history of womanhood. There were so many triumphant moments, detailing each little right gained, each ceiling shattered; and the irony of it is, I delivered all of this with great intention, as straightforwardly as possible, so as not to embitter my seven-year-old.
Still, when I reached the end, I was enraged.
I was angry because my body bleeds and is vulnerable and soft, and as such, my mind is perceived as soft as well. I was angry because I have done this practically incomprehensible thing—grown and produced two living, breathing, functioning human beings unto the world—yet this miraculous feat is relegated to a man, whom I barely know, calling me “Mama” whenever he sees me about town. He has no idea that I have a master’s degree or that I am a writer or that I was once entrusted with tens of thousands of dollars and the political persuasions of some of the most powerful financial leaders in our state. I was angry because the very existence of mankind has always been dependent upon womankind; that in the very literal sense, men would not exist were it not for women; that we have all been produced by women, very many of us nurtured and supported our entire lives by women; and despite that, women are considered less than. I was angry that for my whole entire childhood, I felt these biases didn’t exist and that I lived in an age when girls could do anything; but when I came of age, the range of expectations and opportunities shrank—continues to shrink.
I was white-knuckled, gripping the steering wheel, calming the fury in my chest, and Iris asked me, “And girls can do all the same things as boys now?”
Why do we deny how softness is a strength? Why is my femininity considered so fragile? In a single moment, I carried the ugly weight of historical oppression and a tenderness for my own daughter so immense I could burst; but on my face I wore a serene smile as I told her, “You can do anything you want to, and there’s still work to be done, so you can use your voice to do it.” How is that not strong and controlled and wise?
Never have I considered myself an angry person, and certainly not an angry feminist. As a young, academically-minded girl, I just wanted a fair shot, and I guess I thought I had that. But now, the days of my adult life tick by one at a time, and I feel myself a little angrier. Oh, I know I chose marriage and I chose to be home with my children. I feel empowered to have had the chance to make those choices rather than someone else making them for me. But hosting a dinner party several weeks ago, I sat silently, politely, listening to all of the conversation our “young professional” guests made with my husband. When the sole question presented to me was, “So, what do the girls have going on this summer?”, I felt my stomach lurch and I summoned the strength needed for placid facial expressions, all the while wondering, Where did I go?
To be totally honest, as a mother of daughters, one of my greatest fears is perpetuating a lie. Every day, I hope to infuse them with strength and ambition. I hope to keep them curious and focused, hardworking and strong, knowing that those traits will serve them well in whatever life paths they choose. And the fear is that, regardless of this effort, maybe one day they’ll find themselves at a dinner party also asking themselves if they are disappearing.
I’m trying to conjure up the words that capture the marvel that is womanhood, when society doesn’t even bother with it in vernacular. Shouldn’t we be talking about this every day? Instead, these roles we play, and the grace with which we do it, it’s all unspoken expectation. I guess I am looking for the redemption, and I don’t think in my lifetime it will come as culture-wide recognition and exaltation. There’s certainly a Boys Club making a lot of rules.
Still, they are only boys. To be a woman is to join a network of individuals made of untold strength. What a privilege to grow up and look back and learn that my mother and her mother and her mother, did more for me than I ever could have comprehended when I was young. Maybe we’re not disappearing; we are uncovering the greatness and the overwhelming sacrifice of each woman who came before we did, hoping that our daughters do the same for us.
So as I glanced at Iris’s face in the rearview mirror, and she was nodding along with my response, I was timid but also honored to induct her into our own club. And since there is more work to do, and I can use my voice to do it, to all the women out there, and to my own mom especially, I see you and I am amazed.
When you travel without a home to go back to, I think it's called wandering, and wandering is an oft romanticized undertaking. I'm not here to tell you that it's actually not romantic. Being a nomad is drenched in romanticism, and when we were abroad, there were some days we'd wake up, take our coffee by the sea, and ask each other, "Where should we go next?"
As special as that was, every time we asked, there was a little twinge at the end of the question. "Where should we go next [because we don't have a home to go back to]?" There is nothing in life that doesn't come full circle. Our journey started with an A-frame, and our wrestling with the notion of home; so it makes sense that at every step, the very thing that drove us would be there, continuing to push.
Our lives are held in tension, and wherever we are, that point has a future and a past, both of which inform the journey. Sometimes, I felt the full freedom of loosing our material place and time in the names of wonder and discovery. Other times, I felt the full weight of trying to hold up a life without roots. It doesn't make our decision to go right or wrong. It was simply being suspended into life, in between the comings and the goings. It means there is a difference between going home and coming home.
While we were still flinging ourselves about the world, trying to exercise our freedom to its fullest, I thought a lot about going home. When I thought about going home, it was a calculated move, with sure steps and reasons, my suitcases a little heavier than when I'd left from the souvenirs and new bits of self-actualization I'd picked up along the way. When we were coming home, it felt like another decision made for us, because of outside circumstances, and the lack of rooting caused us to be swept up.
When I thought about going home, it was just for the holidays, before we jet off again. We'd see our family and partake of my favorite traditions, and it would be enough to satisfy those untethered parts of me, fill me up so I could wander again. When we were coming home, it turned out to be for good, except the home was a general location and not a specific place. We came back to where a home should be, but still didn't know where to grow the roots.
When I thought about going home, I imagined I'd bestow my wisdom to the world, share all that our adventures had taught me about life and ourselves. When we were coming home, it was the most confused I'd been about what I wanted out of life, let alone how to share it. To put feelings into words, you have to be able to identify those emotions and their points of origin. I could do neither.
Of course, just like traveling was an experience suspended between a past and a present, so was going home. Going home was a relief and a challenge all at once, depending on which lens you were using. Just like going home was suspended between, so was coming home. Sometimes it makes perfect sense; other times, I forget how we got here, how life changed so quickly again.
I miss Spanish goat cheese. I miss riding the train. I miss spending the afternoons by the sea, and that's funny because really I could take or leave the beach. I miss the bite of an Italian cappuccino, and I miss everything being new again, every couple of weeks.
When we moved to New York, I think it was mesmerizing for two weeks before my heart began to mourn everything we'd left in Colorado. I remember the shocking realization that all the things that had become so normal and boring were actual special in really important ways. And this is what they don't tell you about wanderlust--the call of adventure cannot be denied, but you're always letting go.
Except, isn't that life? In some way, whether through life-altering risk or simply switching out our toothpaste, we make steps in a forward direction. And every time we move forward, we leave where we were, placing us right in between the past and the future. Every day, we let go. Every day, we die little deaths. If not, we die ourselves, stunting growth. When we were traveling, a part of me always wanted to go home, to return to what was known and normal; and when we came back, a part of me still wanted to be gone.
This isn't regret. It's just letting go and moving on in one fell swoop. It's going home and coming home.
I'm sure it was something rooted in loneliness and in finding my way in a new place; but last month, when a bunch of uncertainties were jumbled up in the air over my head, the only point of clarity was, "I must have a dog." It seemed positive that a new dog-friend would be my new best-friend. We would walk around the lake together every day; and when I rambled on, no longer to No One, but to the dog, he would do that cocked-head-fluffed-ears thing that Roscoe used to do, like he could actually understand all of my words, probably on a deeper level than any human could be expected to.
I had been committed to multi-daily dog searches for several weeks before I found Thomas. And sure, the resemblance to Roscoe is uncanny; but it was more about his perfect age and how he needed a home and how you could tell how soft his fur was, just from the photos. Trevor made the arrangements for us to meet, and it was clear within minutes that he would be Our Dog. It didn't take Thomas long to understand he'd been left with us, and his perkiness disintegrated into timidity. There might be nothing sadder than a sad dog. I patiently waited for Thomas's realization he was Our Dog to warm him up into My Dog, specifically, trying to butter him up with a soft voice and treats and pets.
To be clear, Trevor didn't want a dog. I mean, he was supportive of my wanting a dog, and generally, if there's something I want, he'll move heaven and earth to get it for me (which is a really good quality in a man). But he didn't want the dog for himself, exactly. It was just for the general merriment and fulfillment of his family.
Thomas decided this a most attractive quality in choosing to whom he was to belong. Apparently he's the sort to like a "hard to get" man, which I don't misunderstand, really. It's just. He was supposed to be mine, and despite recognizing the sheer immaturity of it, as Thomas grew to love Trevor more and more each day, I got a little poutier about it.
I had put so much stake in the dog being my friend, and honestly, in the dog fixing some things I'm working through. I am trying to establish myself in a new, tiny town. I am trying to navigate a new phase of motherhood in which my children leave me for more of the day than they are with me. I am trying to figure out what it is I do with this newly found time, in the face of a career setback or two. In essence: I wanted some meaning beyond myself, and I thought a dog-friend would give me that. Or, at least, upon reflection, this was the overly introspective reason I decided upon to explain my juvenile disappointment in the dog following Trevor around the house instead of me.
Nothing is bad in my life right now, but that doesn't mean things aren't challenging. When life is shooting you down with trial after trial, it's easy to ascribe your weariness to that. But when everything is good and you still feel unsure or tired, well, how do you explain that? In our humanness, we expect that whatever we emphasize as Important, with a little work and luck, there the answers will follow. Except life--and our Divine guidance in it--doesn't work that way. Instead, you focus all of your energy on a Thing, putting lots of pressure on that Thing, and, if you aren't careful, develop tunnel vision to the Thing, missing entirely the giant flag waving about in your peripheral vision. "Come this way instead! You won't be disappointed!"
This is a lesson I've faced many times, yet whenever it's dressed differently--like failure beckoning the energy to "try again"; or sitting still instead of jetting off--I get confused about it being the same thing. I've got to learn it again. I've got to accept the fact that just because I want the dog to love me, doesn't mean I'm going to be his favorite.
In short, things don't always turn out the way we imagine. But on a sunny day, wiped out from a 5k with Trevor, Thomas will trot into the living room, proud of himself, but exhausted; and he'll curl up next to me like a little baby, knowing that I'll stroke the top of his head until he falls asleep.
The semester I lived in London, I fully believe, redirected the course of my life. And a piece of that is study abroad syndrome, I'll admit, where a summer-camp-phenomenon takes over your life at a college level and is therefore deemed "formative." There was certainly some of that.
Still, I think part of it was magic, too. The summer before I left to study abroad, I was living in Florida, and it was a hard, lonely time. I'd put to rest some final thoughts of childhood, and given them a good cry; but had yet to replace them with anything, leaving gaping holes exposed to long stretches of hot, humid days and quiet, boring nights. And while looking forward to a big adventure that following semester, there was a little fear that it would only intensify those feelings of loneliness, arriving in a big city, with foreign customs, knowing no one. Instead, the opposite happened. I was swept up into relationship with some of the best friends I'd ever known--they are still my dearest friends to this day. I fell in love with the orderly, bustling rhythm of the city. I filled in all those holes with the realization that, though they'd been a part of my youth, they were never really a part of me. London gave me new things to put there instead.
As an adult, I am nostalgic for my childhood in Indiana. Some of my sharpest memories are of how the air felt in the summer or the songs the katydids sang in my backyard at night, and how we'd sit out there, silence between us, but the bugs screaming. I remember driving down country roads at reckless speeds, which is just the manifestation of that invincibility you're sure you have when you're young. Then, what seemed so normal a part of me I had to escape it, is now something I remember with a dainty fondness, like scenes from a beautiful movie. And when I go home, it is happy to remember, to see old familiar faces and reminisce who we were once upon a time. That part is like a secret club, surrounded by the only people who knew me then, and it's comforting; but it doesn't fit anymore. For better or for worse, I grew up and out, and going home is like trying to squeeze into the worn sweatshirt that was my favorite until a growth spurt.
The first time I visited London, I couldn't have imagined I might one day live there for a short time, I just knew I loved it. The second time I visited London, it was a temporary home. The third time I visited London, I was afraid that going back to it would be like going back to my childhood town, that I'd get there and want so badly for it all to feel the same, but the sleeves would be too short and the colors would be faded.
Except that didn't happen. It was still like home on that third visit--and maybe it looked a little different and I looked a little different, because those things happen with age; but you can grow with a thing you love as it changes, too. Certainly the city has loved me in that way. The fourth time I visited London, we took the girls with us, and new parts of its magic were opened up to me because it loved my children like it loved me. The girls still speak of it like a place they know well.
Those sentiments had not changed, this last time we passed through. There were dinners with old friends and strolls down familiar streets. My body turned instinctively through the Underground labyrinth. My mouth recalled the jargon of shops and markets, my hands and feet the etiquette for parks and sidewalks. We walked through the Selfridges Christmas Shop, and it didn't feel like visiting an old, cinematic memory; rather a tradition, revisited again and again.
When leaving a friend's house at the city's early dusk, I walked further than I needed just to hear my shoes on the sidewalks and see the golden glow shining inside the homes and shops. My heart ached a bit for a place that felt so like home, but isn't. For a moment or two, I let myself dream up the life where I lived there still. I realized that there are some places that will only be for me for a period of time--the actual place itself closed inside the pages of that chapter where I placed old friends, memories, wounds, and lessons. But some places will be like the Neverending Story, and even if I can't always be in it, I will always find pieces of myself there.
I think it was the perfect way to end our travels abroad. It was an adventure coming to an end, lending itself to an uncertain future; but a reminder that some stories are told without stopping--sometimes you just set them down for a little while.
If there wasn't any Internet, I wouldn't know as much as I do about my friends; but I also wouldn't know as much as I do about strangers, and I think that would uncomplicate a lot.
If there wasn't any Internet, I couldn't instantly publish the things that I write; but I also wouldn't subconsciously rely on immediate feedback as a measure of success or ability.
If there wasn't any Internet, I wouldn't be inspired by others' great ideas or style; but I also would probably understand myself a little better and be quicker to own my ideas and convictions.
If there wasn't any Internet, I wouldn't have hilarious memes to send Trevor every night before bed; but I also would sit down to actually read when I say I'm sitting down to read.
If there wasn't any Internet, I wouldn't have found a lot of my favorite books, music, or movies; but I also would have to take the time to explore things around me, like a treasure hunt for new favorites.
If there wasn't any Internet, I wouldn't know the best possible route to my destination in real time; but also, the journey would once more become part of the full experience instead of being just a means to the end.
If there wasn't any Internet, I wouldn't have fast access to information and news whenever I found the time to read it; but there also might be a return to a sense of decorum and appreciation surrounding mystery and opinion.
If there wasn't any Internet, I couldn't get answers to my concerns and questions quickly; but I also wouldn't have anxiety attacks refreshing my email every five minutes while awaiting those answers.
If there wasn't any Internet, I wouldn't have a neat and tidy record of all the things I've chosen to document at various stages of life; but it also would be a lot easier to let some things go, and I think that's important.
At the risk of starting this like a rip off a Diane Keaton movie, we spent our days basking under the Italian sun.
It was warm the second we crossed over that invisible line dividing the Italian territory from the French; from the moment the first little grandma grabbed one of the girls by the cheeks proclaiming, "Bellisima!"; from that first bite of saucy, cheesy pasta washed down with a glass of rich red wine. Italian culture is like hot chocolate on a snowy day--you heat up from the inside, out, enjoying every little second.
That's not to say that our travels through Italy were devoid of challenges. The language barrier is certainly there; the Italians just care less. They'll keep talking your head off, and it doesn't matter if you don't understand a word. The people exist on passion, and it's just as intense on the side of anger and frustration as it is in passionate joy and sensuality. Like in anything, transitioning from one spot to the next was laden with difficulty. Some unnamed Roman airport workers may have their opinions about Americans and when it is necessary to involve local authorities...but that's a story for another time. It's all the same. In that moment, I wasn't just warm--I was burning hot; but isn't it better to feel alive?
We spent two unplanned nights in Rome. Trevor and I had been to Rome before, and for most of our travels with the girls, we were trying to stay away from large cities; but going back to Rome with them was like college homecoming, the way it felt like just yesterday we were there and how the memories were vivid and formative and important. We knew where to turn down certain streets; and the gelato tasted like that perfect summer day when you were ten-years-old; and suddenly, oh yes, I remember these Italian words and can accent them perfectly. Watching the girls gobble up the history and the familiar bustle of a large city, there was a tingly hope that it was all rooting and sprouting in them, too--maybe someday they'll head back to Rome and remember it in their souls.
After that quick stopover, we lost ourselves to the southwestern coast of Sicily, which I would highly recommend to anyone who is brave enough to truly rest. In the off-season, the tiny little village near our beach cottage was home to, at most, 75 people--all of whom knew of our arrival within minutes of it. The resort was abandoned, and almost apocalyptic feeling; but that also meant the beach to ourselves, every day, standing on the edge of the world all alone, straining eyes for a glimpse of the African coast to remember there was something else out there. Our bungalow was furnished in "couch beds" from Bali and the only dining table was outside. We lit lavender spirals to keep the bugs away, erasing the lines between inside and out. We showered on the roof every day. Americans aren't naked outside nearly enough, warmed up from the outside, in, by the day's last sunlight. Even Sicilian foods have unexpected notes of warmth--the sweetness from raisins folded into an eggplant stew, the thrill of a meal prepared straight from the sea.
Our last night in Sicily, we dug a hole in the sand for a bonfire, watching the fiery sun sink below the horizon while the flames of our camp climbed higher into the sky. Dinner was makeshift pizzas on a makeshift grill. We met a Tunisian immigrant walking the shore at dusk, and we tried to share our supper with him. It wasn't time to break fast, so with broken Italian, Spanish, English, and French, we shared histories instead.
As best I could, I bottled up all this warmth to take it with me. Italians are good at that--bottling up olive oils, wines, sauces. You need to be able to recreate a feeling.
When we finally landed in Napoli and rented our silly little car, the air was chilled, climbing into the mountains toward Amalfi. I rolled down the window anyway. I could smell a fire, burning in the distance--the smell of a warm home. In Furore, Mario suckered us into a meal that was much more indulgent than we felt like paying for; but again I ask: isn't it better to feel alive? I doubt I'll ever taste a cabernet like that one again, like collapsing into a perfect sofa after a long, hard day.
In Amalfi, the sea fades into the sky, and you've know idea where the firmaments begin. You're just enveloped in earth and air and scenery, winding around in it on terrifying roads, in towns chiseled into the cliffs. There are no beginnings or endings, just where you are. It's always a personal goal to exist like this; it's the only way they know to live on the Amalfi coast. They walk around in the sky, feasting on some magical goat cheese that I don't think is possible anywhere else--so perhaps the Amalfi Coast is heaven. It looks like heaven, tastes like heaven, and it sounds like heaven, too, where the clear, turquoise water rushes over the rocky beaches of Amalfi, Positano, and Maiori. I made up stories for all the local personalities. Maybe someday I'll finish them.
All this time sunning ourselves on beaches, stocking up on that Italian warmth, like we knit together a blanket to carry around us in Tuscany. We crossed open fields and vineyards, picking up coats and warm sweaters along the way, to keep us cozy in our stone, medieval fortress. Our little hamlet, Poggio di Loro, was the homiest of all, so much so that I know those four days spent by the fireplace, make-believing simple, nook living, will not be the only days I spend there in this lifetime. You can't help but to be called home to a place, especially when you know friendly faces and bread stew doused in fresh thyme are waiting.
Before we left Italy, we drove back to Napoli and took a sunny boat ride to Capri--back to crazy, winding streets and staircases carved into rocks; back to pebbled beaches and life al fresco; back to early bedtimes after watching the sunset over the water. We stayed in a friend's home, with the island's most enviable view; and even though I'd not been there before, something about it belonging to Olivia made it familiar somehow.
It was the end of October by then. Even that far south, the air was cooling. But I'd stored up all that warmth and saved it for later. I was all warmed up from the inside out. And even though you might not believe me, there's nothing warmer than glowing windows lighting up dark, cold London streets--so on from one home to the next.
France, to me, was the way the breeze caught the clothes on the line.
I spent the entire month of September stumbling through an accent that, now, I'm certain, I'll never master. I've grieved it, grief in all its stages; but I did so want to do justice to the language. With my French lacking, there were many humbling lessons in our time there--some that bruised the ego and some that were tremendous demonstrations of grace.
An important lesson was to consider the way we observed and participated in a culture with which we were unfamiliar. A month's tour through a country is a very different thing from a few nights in a major tourist city; and so blanket statements that Americans love to make (you know, like that the French are rude) do not cover the multitudes of situations encountered in a cultural immersion. By a certain standard, maybe some of the customs felt rude; but that standard is foreign in France, and there, their own social currency is gravely important. This was the sort of thing I discussed ad nauseam with my sister and brother-in-law at a bistro table on a sidewalk in the heart of Paris, like we'd pieced together some clues and then made our peace with it.
And I would come back to these thoughts lying under a chair, watching the breeze catch the clothes on the line.
Our first stop was Canet-en-Rousillon, a small seaside community that had essentially closed its doors on the summer season just as we arrived. I wasn't disappointed in the sleepiness--after Spain, I was sleepy, too. And so, in our tiny apartment with a neon green kitchen, we fell into a lullaby routine and declared, "There! This is how we will live our lives abroad." It didn't stick beyond Canet; but it was fitting to the place, where we had a garden with high walls covered in purple flowers. And a clothesline.
There was a peace that I needed to make in France, and it wasn't solely the reclaiming of our time and routine. Certainly, I needed to know how we were going to make things work; but I also needed to know that it was going to be okay. I'd love to tell you that once we landed in Europe and the adventures unfolded that I never looked back and existed always in the moment. You know that's not true. The doubts came harder at every little obstacle--restaurants that were closed for the winter or the challenge of beginning homeschool or the difficult neighbors who snickered every time I said, "De rien," even though, I swear, it sounds right in my head.
Humility is actually a practice, and the more I practiced it, the easier it got. From Canet on to Lyon, the language barrier shrank, but my embarrassment didn't. Still, how could I let that rob me of the joy of the Parc de la Tete d'Orc or the rich, late night dinners in a neighborhood bouchon or the stretches of stained glass in the Notre Dame perched on a hill above the city? To choose the joy over what was hard, it was good practice, so that Lyon was easier than Canet, and, in turn, Paris was easier than Lyon.
The last time I was in Paris, it was a whirlwind trip with my family, the summer after I graduated high school, with just enough time to climb some cathedral steps and make it to the top of the Eiffel Tower. What I loved about my second time in Paris, was that I did it with my family all over again, and the Kincheloes had little reunions, overcrowding the hamburger joints, loitering in front of the Louvre, and taking turns lifting up Iris and Edith to peek in on the service in Notre Dame or over a bridge into the Seine. I had a night on the town with my love, wandering down alleys for secret restaurants and buzzing home in Uber pools, unable to speak to our cab mates.
And when I looked up, out of the taxi window, up between the windows of the homes that floated over the city streets, they were all connected with clotheslines, dangling wardrobes between them.
I think the reason that I kept coming back to the clothesline was the simplicity of it, the every day of it, and the way that an everyday sight could be like poetry. Even flitting across the French countryside in a high-speed train, there were commonplace markers, the makings of regular life--a life that works and a life that is okay. When we reached Toulon, I fell deliriously ill, and I couldn't get over what a thing it was to have a fever in France. Who gets sick when they're in France? But we weren't on vacation; we were living abroad. And out the French doors from my bedroom in Toulon, I could see the clothesline of the house below us. I hung our towels and swimsuits to dry on the wrought iron railings of our balcony.
Our month in France ended in Toulon with a split-second decision to stay two nights in Rome before flying to Sicily--a choice I made with no worry or fear about how it would all play out. I'd made my peace with it all, with the adventure and with the inevitable challenges, and I had France to thank for that.
There were sure to be clotheslines in Italy.
Even when you're making a courageous step toward the unknown, it's natural to want a safety net. When we decided to go, it was hard to take the first steps without something known to hold on to, like the railing on a rickety bridge.
To be completely honest, I think this is why we chose to go to Spain first. Yes, it made total sense to begin at one side of the Mediterranean and work our way around to the other, and it's good to have a plan.
We also have dear friends who live an hour outside of Barcelona, and I think it was comforting to begin our open-ended adventure with some sort of familiarity.
Apparently, (though I thought I had and that was the point of the trip to begin with) I'd not really learned the lessons of those last two and a half years. The brave thing isn't just the step itself; it is a blind faith that accompanies it. Just a few days before we were set to leave, there were terrorist attacks in Barcelona, on the same block where we'd planned to stay. There were travel advisories against the area. Something like that happens, and--selfishly, I know--you ask a million questions all over again. Trevor and I sat across from each other at the kitchen table while we called the airlines and Airbnb and read the news and tried to figure out what was the best choice for our family.
Sometimes, you look challenges in the face and say, "I will not be deterred!" Sometimes, you reevaluate and reroute. And you know what? Either one can be fine, at any point, for anybody. People are different. Our motivations and purposes and levels of comfort are all different. If you had planned to fly to Spain and then someone crashed a car into your hotel and you decided not to go, I'd say, "Totally understandable." For us--and maybe it was the courage we'd collected along the way--we said, "We will not be deterred!" We flew to Barcelona anyway, with no real plan.
The thing is, this was the golden move. This was the choice that set the tone for everything else. We believed in the dream we'd mapped out for ourselves and decided that obstacles weren't roadblocks or warning signs; they were just opportunities to stumble into some other sort of adventure. With a few days to kill between our arrival in Barcelona and when our friends could meet us, we booked a last minute stay in a charming Catalonian village called Igualada. And this is where the richness of what our travels would be began to unfold. I'm not saying that it's wrong to be careful; but I do have to emphasize this: For the last four years, all of our best adventures were birthed from a very scary place.
We'd unknowingly booked our stay over the Festival of St. Bartholomew, the patron saint of Igualada, and what we thought would just be a brief stopover became an intense immersion into culture and tradition. We watched parades of giants and dancers and fireworks that would absolutely be illegal in the States. We tried orxata and tomato toast and gourmet creations from a surprise Michelin Star restaurant down the street from our Airbnb. We stumbled through those first days of jet-lag, gratefully learning the rhythm of siesta. We humbly learned the differences between Spanish and Catalan, doing our best to order the local wine and cheese and olives through a patchwork configuration of language and hand gestures.
To trust the adventure--that's what I think about when I think about our time in Spain. Thank goodness, because, full disclosure: the first few weeks of our time abroad were hard for me. We were exhausted and culture shocked and a little unsteady in what it was, exactly, that we were doing. But Igualada was sort of like the adventure within the adventure, the lesson within the lesson: It's not going to look like you imagined, but it's going to be really, really good.
From there, Gabri and Marta scooped us up and toured us around all the beauty of Catalonia. We visited their hometown of Capellades; climbed to the monestary on Mount Serrat; sampled traditional cuisine in Fussimanya; splashed in the sea in Cadeqúes; and explored the medieval village of Rupit at dusk. At night, we'd tuck the girls in, and we'd gather around tables with Gabri's family and friends, glasses never emptied of red wine and cigarette smoke swirling up under dim lights, conversing into the furthest hours of where the morning is still called "night".
When it was time for the trip to begin, it certainly felt like the rug was pulled from beneath us. But then, the lesson of Spain was to trust that the way would be made clear; and once we did, we found exactly what we'd wanted as a safety net: familiarity.
A place doesn't have to look like your home to feel like one. By the time we left Spain, we were at home on the road again, ready for anything awaiting ahead.
The deciding to go was easy and anticlimatic.
I said, "I don't know if I can do this temporary life for a whole year more."
He said, "I know."
I said, off-the-cuff. "Mom said we should just travel the world." From there it was just a matter of crunching the numbers, which, after crunched, were in favor of the travel, not the temporary. It made me wonder how often we short-change ourselves on experiences simply because we think they're too out-of-reach without actually checking to see if they are.
But the deciding to decide to go was driven by the actual out-of-reach thing. The deciding to decide to go all started with an A-Frame in the woods. If I'd had a dream about a house and about what life from inside said house would look like, and the dream had taken on physical form, it was this A-Frame. Retrospectively, it was not because life for us could have taken on any plausible, functional meaning in such a space; but simply because at that time in our lives, I needed a little bit of magic.
And I needed something that looked totally different from our life in Denver. Or life in New York. Or life in Denver before that. I needed a new dream--like a dream house.
You had to climb to nearly 9,000 feet to get to it, up over dirt switchbacks, which, admittedly, were the first of the red flags. But, oh, once you got there and could peek through the perfectly spaced aspen trees to spot the green metal roof; once you could stand at the top of the drive and hear the brook actually babbling through the property; once you experienced that light in the great room, or stood at the kitchen sink with the perfect view of the playhouse, or walked over the squeaky parquet floors in the dining room, or climbed the custom spiral staircase; well, the red flags seem less like warnings and more like charm. We stood on the front porch and watched a duck land in the pond beneath our feet, gliding silently over the dark waters. It was, quite honestly, as different from New York as a place could be. So, it was the new dream.
The tricky thing about dreams is the waking, and how you bridge the gap between the dream space and reality. What can such a thing mean in actual life and how can it be described in earthly language? What seems so natural and normal and essential in a dream, makes no sense in our common dimensions. Dreams become nonsensical. And whether or not an A-Frame at 9,000 feet is nonsensical for a busy family of four, there were enough legitimate obstacles on this side of reality anyway--briefly: it was too soon to buy a house. Not for lack of trying, mind you; but in the middle of trying, it was scooped up by someone else. Like when the alarm is buzzing and you're trying to recall where your mind just was, we were left trying to clutch the remaining fragments of an idea that suddenly became someone else's dream.
It was necessary, you see? The imagining of another life. Sometimes you have to begin in the dreamworld to refocus your reality. We get caught in the little ruts of what is normal and right, even though there are other realistic versions of life, and certainly no such thing as normal and right. So maybe life on top of a mountain wasn't where I needed to be in the physical sense, but I'd allowed my mind--and my heart--to be carried away on the tails of those dreams into something entirely new.
When the time came to decide to go, I was ripe. In a sense, before we gave up the lease, my heart already felt homeless because we'd already lost what I thought was to be our home. The decision to decide had already been made for me, and all that was left to do was to say "yes".
Now we have a home in the hills, one that is so much better suited to our life; but I often think about that A-Frame, tucked in between the silvery aspens and the freezing mountain stream. It's like the marker at the start of a map, with a sign in the yard that said, "You are here..." But it really was only "You could be here;" and then we would have been only there, all alone on top of a snowy peak; and instead we followed the path forward, which ended up winding all over the world on our way to home.
The last three years have been stuffed to the brim with stories. They were painful, exciting, terrifying, and satisfying years. The hard moments were so excruciating I could feel them on my skin; the goodness so rich, tears still well in my eyes for no reason at all. They were also deeply personal, sacred, even. Each experience, though played out in every day events, changed me on a spiritual level; had I felt the desire to share each story, I'd never have found the words anyway.
I think they will remain like that--locked away in my heart so that, moving forward, anything I create is born from that source, but I'll never be able to explain the source itself. Whatever flows from it, I'll know the meaning; but I'll never really be able to share the mother. But these experiences were so integral, they've changed my perspective about almost everything. They are the new lens through which I view the world. They're the foundations from which I am moving forward; and they even adjusted how I view my past, myself.
With this changed perspective, comes a renewed energy. I am revived to the art of storytelling and the want to do it. I'm not exactly sure what that looks like in this new heart space. I do know it isn't a daily blog about motherhood (though, let's be honest--it's not been that for a long time). Despite a prolonged hiatus from any regularly published writing, here or otherwise, the wanting to write has not vanished. Truly, the act of writing itself hasn't vanished either; I am just not sure about a spot for what I've been working on. I'm sorting through all that, and in doing so, I was reminded of what it meant to have my own little corner of the Internet.
I think when I abandoned blogging, basically, save for a note here or there, it was primarily out of fear. I was afraid that I would say more than I should or afraid that what I said wouldn't be enough. I was afraid that I would use up all my words (ha!) or that if I shared them, they might not belong to me anymore. I was afraid of not being taken seriously or being perceived as thinking too seriously about myself. When the Internet changed from a level playground of creative sharing to the cool girls' lunch table in an overcrowded cafeteria, I suppose I panicked. I panicked and then everything in my own life transformed again and again and again, and the stories were swept up in that storm.
We are often told to live a life without fear; but I am fairly certain that's impossible. A life, no matter how sheltered, is showered in uncertainty and terrifying moments. Like any hard thing, the point isn't avoidance, rather the condition of your heart in the face of it. Like deciding to sell the pretty bungalow and move to the Big City. Like being willing to admit when it was time to leave, no matter how much it hurt. Like saying yes to the paths less traveled: paths to self-employment, homeschooling, world travel.
Maybe I can tell you what's in the treasure chest after all: it's the result of every single time I was afraid but I went for it anyway.
I have an otherworldly relationship with the snow. I will always welcome it; even when the calendar says it should be spring, I find magic in the slow flutter of the sparkling white fluff, the way it wraps up and quiets the world like we're all being tucked in.
So this snow, it was the one I had been eagerly waiting for, like a child who has heard news of a predicted snowfall, face pressed to the glass, quietly chanting, "When?"
Saturday night, it began. We said our goodbyes to friends as they left, and watching them head out the door, we spotted the very first flakes, only just a fine glitter. Trevor put another log into the stove while I tossed extra quilts over the beds. In the morning, the world was different.
I recently finished reading Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and one of the most mystifying themes of the book is how the characters experience spiritual shifts, physically. Even though on the surface, things appear the same, there is a hint in the air or on the skin, something alerting to a subtle, but important change. That is the snow.
The snow sees that we are caught-up in the dreariness of winter. We've lost sight of its coziness and peacefulness, so snow says, "There isn't enough magic in the world right now." Then it sprinkles the earth with a fine, beautiful sugar to sweeten life all over again.
The last six months, our life has been a steady stroll out of a certain sort of dreariness and back into magical light. Watching the snow cover all the paths that lead to this new home, it was the perfect reminder that we have been following the right ones, all along.
We ran the gamete of challenges and opportunities in 2017. Over the past two years, I’ve felt a sort of spiritual shift, in which my eyes have been so opened during every experience, in a way that leaves me unable to qualify them as “good” or “bad.” During the course of life’s events these last two years, and for most of 2017, I told many people that I have felt “suspended,” for lack of a better word. I was caught in the middle of what once was and what my heart told me might be coming, with no real means to move forward or backward.
It wasn’t the sort of situation where I questioned our forward march—weren’t we left with no choice but to leave New York? With no choice but to start the business? With no choice but to do our best to walk daily in what we knew to be temporary circumstances? And I don’t feel that it was laziness that brought me to the standstill in the middle, because I felt ripe for something—but what? How do you lay your hands to something specific when everything around you feels rather light and uncertain? So for lack of anything else to do (and probably from exhaustion having tried too long to set some things right of my own power), I finally sat down and I waited.
Many times this year, I’ve tried to describe this choice, the waiting. And though I gave it the good old college try, I’ve come up short on words every single time. I think the lack of descriptive capability is because it’s been something felt, not designed, and the most tangible imagery I can come up with is a metaphor.
So here it is: It’s like I left New York and stepped on to this suspension bridge, walking through the clouds. I couldn’t see where we were, I certainly couldn’t see where we were going. I could only see what was right before my eyes. Sometimes, it was nothing, and yet I was in awe of it anyway, to find peace and light and nearly feel able to touch it—that the nothing wasn’t actually nothing at all, it was real and tangible. Then there would be these little gifts along the way. They were not things I was expecting and they were given for no particular reason. Sometimes I didn’t realize they were gifts until I’d opened them; other times they were wrapped up in this way that immediately gave away what was inside, but that made it even more exciting somehow. No matter how far I journeyed, I didn’t reach the end of the bridge. Nothing cleared to reveal what I was walking toward. I never lost the sensation of being suspended between one thing and the next. But I did come to trust the bridge more and more, the mysterious and beautiful design that created function against all odds. To exist in this in-between became such a sweet space, or maybe I just got used to it; but I quit imagining where I was going. I knew I couldn’t fathom it, and also, I had the distinct sense that once it was revealed to me, the rules would change again. What would it mean to suddenly see once more? To not have to walk blindly through the clouds? What would I be doing when I wasn’t waiting? Because when you’re waiting, the method is rather cut-and-dry if you surrender to it. The rules are pretty black-and-white, you see. You survive. And in surviving, you cultivate an attitude, you exist in a heart-space because nothing in your physical world is expanding.
There was one particular month this year where the clouds were very thick, thick enough I even lost sight of where I was. I sat in the middle of that bridge, and I was so disoriented. The pull backwards was almost greater than the pull from ahead, so that I was stretched out in each direction. My chest ached at the tension; time pulled me to the past by one hand, to the future from the other, but my body existed for the present only. My heart was right in the middle, being tugged but not moving. Then a beam of light cut through the fog, and I had the clearest picture of the crucified Christ, arms stretched from one side to the other, leaving his body pulled taut right in the middle. His heart in the middle. There was the Lord of All, the creator of the stars, the designer of my suspension bridge, hung in between. The sweetness of it all, the absurd clarity I’d found during this time of transition, it all made sense: God is in the waiting.
When we decided to let go of our gross rental property and travel instead, that was one of those gifts that I knew the shape of but still couldn’t believe was for me. Yes, even then, I was still on the bridge. When we had to come back to the States sooner than we planned, well, that was more like a gift I didn’t recognize as such until much after opening it. But it was, because before 2017 ended, we wound up with something we hadn’t had in quite a long time: Home. We came home to a place I couldn’t have dreamed up for myself, with all the little details all tucked-up and tidy already. It came together under the most impossible of circumstances, working where it ought not to have, like a little Christmas miracle. The Advent season for me turned into yet another physical manifestation of all these things we know are going on in the spiritual realm, but we don’t tap into. We enter the Christmas season—and can you feel it, if you pay attention? How the world is just uneasy with waiting? The earth groans and cries out in anticipation because the waiting bears this miraculous, Christmas gift: Jesus.
Except now I see how He’s with us all along. Sure we say that; but I’ve walked it now. Through all the waiting, we think we feel that tension, but God bears the brunt of it. Jesus is stretched, like a bridge, to help us pass from one spot to the next. The groans we hear, that ache we feel, it is He, right along with us. Then we burst into this moment of light and peace and understanding, so awestruck by what we’ve walked through and where it’s brought us. That fission we get isn’t of our own accomplishment; it’s being covered in the presence of God—like the clouds we had to walk through were actually the Spirit.
Now that we are home, there has been this temptation to exclaim, “Finally!” again and again, as the congratulations pour in and people tell us we deserve this moment. To be fair, I am dressed in gratitude and I will not deny the joy that comes in celebrating this arrival. But I think we all know, that life is a series of bridges. This is a miraculous new beginning, but it’s an ending to a long journey, too; and I’m going to go ahead and give that some proper mourning. Here, the rules will be different. I’ll abandon the peace I found on the infinite bridge for whatever new lesson is wrapped up in this next chunk of life. And what is it that I deserve anyway? Because suddenly, walking through the uncertainty seems miraculous. You see what I mean about how life is not just the good or the bad, but that it’s everything? To surrender to that and to be in it, really in all of it, even if you’ve been taught it looks like defeat, it’s actually a delicious collapse into the heart of where God exists all the time: right in the middle of everything.
In 2017, I walked blindly because I had to. I’ll assign to the year words like “uncertain” and “suspended” and “waiting;” but not with the negative connotation we expect when we say or hear these words. No, I’ll use them as an invitation into this next year—and the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that. Are you so certain what is in store for you? Have you taken on the mind of Christ to have the faith to be suspended? Can you trust enough to wait, not for what is on the other side, but to find that Truth was in the waiting all along.