On Greatness: Finding your Artistic Voice and Offering Hope to Others

“Greatness is never achieved by trying to imitate the greatness of another. Greatness is chipping away at all that does not belong to you and then expressing yourself so truly that others can’t help but recognize it. It is in silence that we discover ourselves.” – Jewel, Never Broken

“Greatness is when you leave the room, & people have more hope than when you entered.” – Rob Bell

I read the first quote last month while reading Jewel’s book, Never Broken, and heard the second during a podcast interviewing the author, Rob Bell.

These words of wisdom have challenged my views of greatness and self-expression and the importance of being true to yourself.

Most of us start somewhere on our journey to finding our artistry – we often mimic others we admire first and then slowly learn to find our own personal expression and flow. This can take time however, and it is easy to compare ourselves and feel like we will never be “talented” enough or as good as others.  Maybe someone else is already doing what we want to do, and we feel like there isn’t space for us.

Greatness feels like a lofty and selfish goal, in some ways. As if it means being better than others or getting more recognition for your work. I love the freeing notion that greatness can bring hope. It isn’t about being better or more liked or more beautiful or making more money, but bringing hope to others.

I think about my various artistic endeavors which bring me joy – writing, photography, picking flowers from my garden and making simple arrangements at home, painting, drawing – and when I think about whether they are worth the effort or question whether they will ever “amount” to anything, I realize I am using a false measuring system and asking all the wrong questions.

I know that whenever I start to feel a motive creep through me that comes from a desire to be admired or make myself feel like I am better than someone else or to prove something to the world (or family, friends, competitors, etc.), I am allowing my step to be shifted away from greatness and toward something much less worthy of my time.

If we are simply measuring our accomplishments in life by “likes” and “shares” on social media, comments and recognition from friends or even comparing our own work with someone else and patting ourselves on the back for creating better content, we are allowing ourselves to get lost in the noise and stunt our forward motion, when true growth comes through silence and reflection and practicing the hard, everyday discipline of showing up and doing the work.

So now, when I question my worth and how much energy I am putting into something, when I look hard and deep and wonder if there is any point or if I am going in the “right” direction, I am asking new questions.

I am asking whether it brings hope.

Or sheds light on truth.

Or inspires beauty and growth and goodness in others.

Whether it brings joy to myself and those around me.

This feels so simple and can be applied to so much in life: work, art, parenting, writing, teaching – anything we aspire to do or be. Even small things can be done with greatness. But it is hard, because it feels backwards to what our culture teaches us about success and security and moving up in the world and making a difference and becoming something “big”.

But “great” and “big” aren’t really the same word.

And as Jewel states, greatness is actually about becoming smaller, shedding the things that don’t belong to us, and expressing our light freely.

-b.e.

 

 

 

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What Are You Defined By?

Teacher, writer, artist, creative, intellect, doctor, professor, clerk, housecleaner, nanny, mother, grandparent.

Who are you?

Often when we get to know someone, one of the first things we ask is, “What do you do for living?”

There are some people who have found themselves (or worked very hard to get to that position in life) able to make a living by doing what they love. Some people love their job, although it might not be their greatest passion.  Some work in order to support their hobbies or other interests, although they may never make it into their profession. Others work to survive and don’t necessarily have any time on the side for creative endeavors or hobbies.

Then I think of motherhood, because that is where I tend to go as my life is so deep in this season. I think about the times I have asked other women I meet while out at a park or preschool event, “What does your husband do for a living?”, innocently trying to learn about their family, but also inadvertently implying that her identity is somehow wrapped up in what her husband does to provide for their family.

As if it is understood that during that window of time we have young children, we somehow lose our identity within the never ending work of childrearing.

Some of us love the identity of “mother” and wouldn’t change it for anything in the world, or we grieve that we have had to give up a career or passion because we are torn to be away from our little ones (or cannot reconcile the cost of childcare if we were to continue working). Some of us have no choice but to work full-time, maybe in a job that is not fulfilling, but provides food and clothing and shelter for our family. Others continue working out of choice, constantly finding the balance between home-life and their careers.

It feels really hard to me, personally, to give up time with my kids. I place an incredible pressure on myself to not look back some day and feel like I, or they, missed out because I wasn’t more present.

But, I wonder how much of this has to do with the culture I live in and the ideals I have been surrounded by as I have grown up.

I have a spectrum of friends – those who homeschool, are avid public school supporters, are stay at home parents, work outside the home, are entrepreneurs, and more. Different choices, lifestyles, parenting styles, etc. You cannot make these choices for someone else, many choices we don’t even make for ourselves to an extent. Life presents itself, and we make the best decisions we can.  It doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes, this is to be human. But, we don’t see everything and there is no way to actually put ourselves 100% in the shoes of another.

I think I have adopted this idea that if I am not constantly present with my children, I am going to harm their development somehow.  I am going to miss out on the enriching experience of being with them and seeing every moment of their childhood. Or they won’t feel loved or seen enough.

Lately, I am feeling more and more like this is a false ideal that I have clung onto in order to excuse myself from working hard and making dreams come true.

And it is hard for me to come to a conclusion, because I see both sides of the coin. I see real value in simplicity, in slowing down. In trading in the hours at a job and the extra income it brings for time to be present and with others and to pursue passions and learning and being generous with time and our resources.  I have seen how less stuff and more time brings more fullness into my life. It is why I am continually trying to minimize our home and life.  It brings focus and shifts our values around in a positive way.

I also give great credit to those who have made sacrifices in order to fulfill a calling or dream or passion in their life and have achieved things that could seem impossible given their life situation. I think it is actually a gift they give their children for them to see their parents working.

Balance is necessary, as there are extremes on either end – there is a toxicity to busy-ness and over-achieving and non-stop go, go, going, as well as the danger of becoming lazy and so self-focused we become stagnant and miss out on community and having a purpose outside of ourselves.

Sometimes there are seasons of extremes and we must just continue to do our best and try and find balance.

For most of my childhood, my mom worked outside of the home. I remember her most as a waitress and we used to occasionally help her close up at one of the family restaurants she worked at – filling ketchup bottles and resetting table settings. She was a banquet manager for a while and I have memories of our family coming in at the end of a big brunch to eat the leftover buffets. And then some years later, she worked at a bookstore. And then a bookkeeper for a non-profit.  There may have been some other jobs in there, but those are the ones I mainly remember.  When she worked, we were usually home being watched by our older siblings. When I became older, I remember being responsible for my younger ones much of the time. Or we went with her to some of her jobs and just sort of hung out, read, did some schoolwork.

Did it harm me or my siblings that my mom worked as much as she did?  I don’t think so. There may have been other things that she could have done better (there are many things I could do better, too). But I think it is good for our children to see us work. Whether that is in the home or outside or pursuing a hobby or interest or all of the above.  To see us make sacrifices and continue to grow and change and do things for ourselves and our family and others.

More and more I feel a gnawing that my children need to see us put more focus on service and less on ourselves. To work for a greater cause than our own pleasure, development, and needs. To give up something without looking for a reward. I recall many situations in my life where I had to serve someone and it wasn’t always easy or comfortable or something I felt like doing.  But, I always felt better about life afterward and am thankful I was made to step outside of my comfort zone and do something selfless.

In doing this, I believe we will find truer fulfillment and a deeper connection with others and the world we live in.

I hope that I can be defined more by what I give (art, encouragement, support, space, inspiration, grace) and in selfless service than in what I make for myself.

-b.e.

 

A Woman’s Body: Being Okay with Just Existing

Why is the world obsessed with commenting on women’s physical features and appearance? Why is there so much pressure to conform to societal expectations about how we should look and what our purpose is as human beings, specifically as females? Why, as women, do we worry so much about the way we look, how others perceive us and how we can be more beautiful?

Why do we have to be attractive, anyway?

I have been stripping away lies for two decades, starting from the time I was about 9, when I started becoming aware of my body and the object that it is in the eyes of culture.

I remember specifically being told once that I should eat less fries and start exercising more (although, I don’t recall anyone ever mentioned this to my brothers who ate the same amount or more), being told a few years later that I had “slimmed out” confirming my previous 10 year old chubbiness and countless other comments about my body, all of which shaped what I thought of myself – what was wrong and what I was getting right. Over time, I would listen to this feedback and make adjustments to conform more and more to the beauty standards thrust at me from every media platform and good (or bad) intentioned neighbor.

I realize there are men who also are shamed and bullied for their bodies, but as a woman, I am not able to speak to their experience – and even what I say here is limited to my own perspective growing up as a female in a beauty obsessed culture. Renee Engeln, a psychology professor at Northwestern University writes in her book, Beauty Sick, “Some men suffer from appearance worries, many quite significantly…The depth and breadth of the influence of beauty concerns on women’s lives means that, on average, looking in the mirror is a substantially different experience for women than it is for men.  Beauty sickness may not be exclusive to women, but it is overwhelmingly a women’s issue.”

I also cannot speak to the experience of transgender women, who as they transition definitely begin to experience having their body objectified and held up to this standard of “pretty” in a similar, yet unique way.

Women grow up understanding that they will be looked at.  When I am out with my children, people often stop to comment on their looks.  My daughter has long, curly blonde hair, big eyes, and olive-y toned skin.  She loves to wear dresses (equally as much as whatever is conveniently found in the top of her dresser), so she often hears things like, “What a beautiful dress you are wearing” and “Oh my, your hair is gorgeous” and “What a pretty little girl you are!”.  My son has been told he is handsome or has a beautiful face, but increasingly less often and not nearly as much as my daughter.

My daughter recently told me that the reason she doesn’t want to wear certain clothes that she owns and likes is because she doesn’t want people to notice and comment on the way she looks in them.

At age 5, my daughter is already acutely aware that out in public, people are looking at and evaluating the way she looks. This makes my heart drop and feel gritty and I am sad that my daughter does not feel like she can just exist. And it is amazing the smile and joy and pride she gets out of hearing me tell her that she is smart, strong, fast, clever, creative, and thoughtful. Yes, girls should know they are beautiful. But we need to redefine the word “beautiful” from simply meaning, “pretty”.

I have often wondered at why I have felt so self-conscious about my appearance for so much of my life. Maybe it is not all “in my head”.  Maybe it is because people do look and do comment. Sometimes I feel the way my daughter does – I just want to BE without worrying about what others think or notice. At 29 years old, I am only just starting to learn how to do this.

It is starting to work, a little.

Just this morning, I woke up and looked in the mirror fresh out of bed and I actually thought, “I like the way I look.” Flaws and all, I’m happy with me. And what exactly do I owe to anyone else? Do I owe attractiveness to the grocery check-out clerk or my friends or acquaintances?

Easy pep talk to give myself, until I am sitting behind the steering wheel and looking at myself in my visor mirror before getting out of the car.

I am learning to let go little by little to the beauty myths, that somehow beauty brings satisfaction and happiness and once my skin is a little clearer or my tummy is a little flatter or my hair looks a certain way or I have the right clothes I will then stop worrying about what others think.

It is all a lie and a distraction. The more I strive, the more I lose myself.

We are told attractive women are more likely to succeed in the workplace, that wearing makeup will help gain you promotions and friends and exciting opportunities. Youtube is flooded with makeup and beauty tutorials. SO MUCH MONEY is spent on cosmetics and plastic surgery it is mystifying. We are so wrapped up in looking a certain way, in our identity and our appearance that I truly believe we waste years of our lives on something that won’t last forever, because we can’t stop the aging process. Maybe we can hide it or postpone it to an extent, but one day, we wake up and look in the mirror and we are no longer in our thirties. Around the time we should have found ourselves and be displaying strength in who we are, we are instead grasping at something fleeting that we have no control over retaining.

As Engeln suggests, it is a power we do not get to keep:

It might not be fair that people care so much about how women look…but if this is the only kind of power our culture is really willing to give you, you might as well use it. It’s no secret that beauty is a kind of currency for women. It does offer a type of power over other people.  But let’s be honest about what kind of power this is…the power beauty gives resides on unstable ground. It’s power that exists only if others are there to acknowledge it. It’s never really your own power, because there’s always someone else in charge. Even worse, it’s power with a strikingly strict expiration date, because the link between youth and beauty is near universal. It’s power you don’t get to keep. (Beauty Sick, 2017)

I do not have the answers and this is a deep issue that seems simple on the surface.  My own experience is different from many others, but if I could go back and talk to a younger me, I would be affirming that nine year olds worth and beauty and strengths and try to help her realize that the problem is not her, but with the surrounding culture.

I am really glad that there has been a shift to focusing more on being fit, active and strong, taking care of our bodies and letting our natural beauty shine. I realize there can be the same problems in comparing our bodies to fitness models, which can be just as unhealthy of an obsession. I am thankful for photographers and artists and authors who are normalizing female bodies of all shapes and sizes, and showing what a “normal” mother’s body looks like after going through the changes of pregnancy and birth and breastfeeding.  I remember specifically realizing one day that I was comparing my body to 19 year olds who had never had a kid and that it wasn’t fair to myself. I recall the healing that took place when looking at Jade Beall’s work, “The Body of Mothers”.

Maybe this is easier for me to say, because I have never been good at applying makeup and have skin issues that make me sensitive to most of it anyway, but saying goodbye to the status quo makes me feel better about how I am treating my body and just because something is an ideal, why not try?

And this is even a more complicated issue than I realized, because I also like to feel attractive.  We all do. We wear certain clothes and jewelry and style our hair and wear make up and I don’t think there is anything wrong with this.  We are individuals and expression is important.  What I want to know is how can we be okay embracing uniqueness and stop trying to fit everything into a tidy little box?

How can I identify and be happy with my own personal beauty and attractiveness, because I will never look like _______?

Is it possible to just exist the way it seems many men do without inviting commentary on who I am?

I could write for days on this subject.

So, I’m wondering. Honestly, truthfully, if you are willing, leave a comment. What are the thoughts that you most hear when you look in the mirror?  How do you combat those feelings of ugliness? Who do you try to look attractive or pretty for? What have you been told about the way you should look? How do you feel about that? Does any of this resonate or do you have a different perspective and experience?

-bec

Mama Re-Made

A baby birthed, a mama re-made, a dada proud, a family expanding.

There are so many words, and yet so few, because the feelings overwhelm, and how does one use words to truly convey the settling deepness of motherhood?

I confessed something out loud to my husband less than a month after my 3rd babe was born:  for the past 9-10 months, I had been depressed.

And it really was no surprise to him.  He had watched it.  His wife, who had been strong and determined, who was becoming something more beautiful than ever, suddenly began to shrink away with hollow eyes as her body swelled with new life.

There was beauty in it – there always is, in life being made.  But a light that had been burning bright whittled down to just a flicker.

Her soul was heavy.  Here was another baby.  Wonderful, sweet, divine, meant to be. But, another one, nevertheless.

It was good to speak it.  To look at the bit of grief and sadness I had harbored during that time and just let it be known for what it was. It wasn’t a great secret anymore.  It wasn’t a secret at all, I realized.

But it is scary to admit that you could have such sadness while carrying such life inside of you, when everyone around you is so very happy and excited for you, when you know you should be, too.  And you are, but it is difficult to explain, because you are split.  There is a pocket of doubt and grief you can’t just happy away.


I was so sure I was done.  No more.  So content with my two strong children. Baby things drifted out of the house.  Then the sickness.  The test.  The line. The scream. The realization of what it meant.

I stopped pursuing so many things.  I became a little cold, cut off, unable to feel like I did before.  I was easy to set off. I was so sick and tired.

Then things got better. I started getting excited.  A baby!  Who doesn’t want a baby?  So many others I know have lost babies, not been able to have babies…how could I complain? I felt strong again.  Ran, worked out. Still, ate too much sugar. But I felt good. I always feel beautiful when pregnant, even though my body ached more this time than I had previously experienced.

Fast forward to September 29, 5 days before my due date. I had been experiencing weeks of prodromal labor.

It was evening.  I had been getting contractions for weeks, but finally, they were really hurting, they were getting closer together.  3 minutes apart, 1 minute each. This went on for 4 hours without changing.  The midwife rushed to our house.

2am. Music playing, lights glowing, birth pool blown up.  The house was clean and peaceful. My hair was done nicely, I was in pretty underwear. She checked me.  100% posterior.  She almost couldn’t find my cervix. I almost didn’t believe her. I wanted to cry, but I was too tired.

This was my third child.  How could I not know what real labor felt like?  This was real.  I had to breathe.  I was exhausted. I went to bed. Two hours later, I awoke. A very strong contraction out of nowhere, blindsided.  But, they were unpredictable.  10 minutes here, half an hour there, maybe longer.  I lay in bed and breathed through them, wondering how I could go on if this wasn’t real labor.


We walked. We shopped.  We went to the park.  They still came, but randomly, each time I wasn’t prepared for the intensity and I almost cried through them. I told my midwife at 4PM what was going on.  She didn’t say much. I don’t think she wanted to give me false hope.

I went home and went to bed at 6PM, very tired. I was woken up by a contraction every 30 minutes or so. We watched part of a movie at 10.  I went to sleep around 11. Woke up again at 1AM. 1:30AM and I crept into a tub of warm water – I had to stop these or I would go mad. Warm water, relax, rest, breathe.  I leaned my head back against the hard tub side and cried and thought This has to turn into real labor, or I will die. It did, and suddenly. 5 minutes apart, HARD contractions.  At 2AM we started timing.
Blow up the pool.
I’ll call the midwife.
She came.
Check.
7 CM.
Oh thank God.  I will have a baby soon.
The tub felt so good.
I labored.  I breathed.  I was exhausted.
But baby was finally coming.
I couldn’t eat.
Vomit.
I must be close.
Hours pass.
My hair is a wild mess. My skin feels red and yellow and splotchy.
Eat.
No.
You need to eat.
I can’t.
Drink.
I take a sip.
Please, eat.
I take a tiny bite.
Vomit.
Check the cervix.
A lip.
Your body isn’t working hard enough in the tub, the midwife said.
I weakly get out, dripping.
I lay on my side on the couch and can’t be quiet anymore, it is too intense.
I moan.  I try to stay in control.
I have never vocalized before in labor. I always found strength in the quiet, the secure and predictable breaths.
I feel angry with my midwife, but also I know this is how I will meet my baby.  I tell myself it is ridiculous to be angry. Anything to stop this.
I switch sides. Then, sit on the toilet.
Excruciating.
I am shaking my legs and moaning through the contractions.
It is hot, the heat lamp is on.  My husband pushes on my lower back, he is nauseous and I am thankful for him.
Finally, I get back in the tub.
Still, a lip.
My heart sinks.
I muster my strength and push through it.  It is the worst feeling I have ever felt.
It has been 8 hours since my midwife first arrived.  I am so tired.  I am ready to push.
But it is the hardest time pushing I have ever had.  The progress feels slow, even though they tell me it is going well.
Why won’t that head come, I wonder. I am feeling it, him, down and back up again. I am pushing with all my might, I want him out so badly.
Finally, I feel the head crowning.
My midwife reminds me to slow down.
I was going to catch him, catch my baby.  But I can’t.  I can’t even open my eyes.
I hold my legs and scream.  Not because of the pain.  Because he comes out quicker than I thought he would.
I was going to be in control. I am scared I tore. I jump, startled.
Then I slow.
My midwife eases me down.  It has been 23 minutes. She says, wait.
Just hold him under the water, it is safe.
Look at your baby.
Hold him.
He is coming to you.

I begin to melt inside.

And as my abdomen which housed this babe for 9 months collapses, my heart swells and expands and it is over.


I still have an image seared into my mind of this moment.

Time stood still as I peered at his peaceful face through the surface of the water, his body still attached to mine by that pulsing cord, slowly and gently coming closer and settling my heart and loose insides.

I close my eyes now and try not to imagine it too deeply, afraid the true memory will fade.  If there was one thing I wished I had a picture of, it is this.  But also, I’m afraid that if I had an image, the recalling would not be so special.

It is one only I have. A mother’s keepsake, tucked safe within my chest.

– b.e.

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Credit: Photograph of mother and child by Sara Krebsbach Photography | http://www.sarakrebsbach.com

All other photographs by author

Turning Toward Simplicity (again)

A few years ago, I read a book that challenged my way of living and set a fire deep within me to change the way we lived. I was running madly after simplicity – purging, going without or finding alternatives to things we “needed” before – I questioned everything we did and bought and put into our bodies and believed. I often looked like and felt like a hypocrite as I navigated this, I continue to do this unapologetically. I am pretty sure it is impossible to never be a hypocrite if you are committed to change. It is a rabbit hole, and like Alice, you are never too sure what you will find next or if your thoughts or rambling will ever make sense to everyone (hint: they won’t).

Fast forward a few years, and after some burn out, a season of feeling depressed and listless, I am finding my center again and trying to re-visit this balance.  I am compelled and deeply convicted, and I think the best way for me to achieve what I am setting out to do is by writing, sharing, and recording it.

This is not a new idea.  There is a reason there are so many apps for tracking different habits. We love to see progress and the more we see it, the more we want it to happen. Benjamin Franklin was onto something when he set out to develop his own virtuous character and came up with a system to train himself in acquiring what he calls the “13 Virtues“.

It was a pretty simple system. He created a chart for each virtue he wanted to become better at which listed the days of the week. Focusing on one virtue per week, Ben would evaluate at the end of each day how he did.  If anything stood out during the day as a failing in the virtue for that week, he would put a mark on his chart for that day.  Once he went an entire week without any marks on his chart, he felt confident that he could then begin to shift his focus to another virtue, and so on.

You become what you measure.

Besides being a somewhat bookish person who has been journaling and jotting things down since I was 10, I have seen a significant difference in how much I do (or maybe I am just noticing?) when I take the effort to write it down each day and watch for a pattern, telling myself what to do better or not at all. I have had a personal website or blog in some form since I was 12, so this format makes sense for me. Writing is like running for me – more than a hobby, it is an emotional and physical need.

This blog was originally created to focus on finding simplicity and gratitude in my life, but it has shifted over time to more broadened subjects like motherhood, faith, and photography interests.  I am still developing ideas of how I will go about making significant change again, putting on practices and habits that embed themselves in my being and become a way of life.

I have recently been challenging myself to write and read every day, and it has proven to be a sweet spot in my day I am eager to make more and more time for. There isn’t an overwhelming amount of extra time to put toward myself as a mom, but carving out that space is do-able.  I am not 100% sure what I will be writing about all the time or what I will actually share here, but I’m sure this place will also change and evolve as I go deeper into these issues. My hope is to really come up with solutions to help myself and (maybe, possibly, hopefully) other readers make lasting lifestyle changes that match our convictions. So, here’s to maybe being a more regular blogger and sharing more of what is in my heart.

-Bec

An “Unplugged” Summer

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It has been almost two weeks since I posted on my Instagram account.  In fact, I haven’t even scrolled through my feed.  I did log onto Facebook to post something to my business page and check on my notifications, but I didn’t miss much.  I wonder, a little, if anyone has noticed my absence in the vast sea that is social media. I worry if someone thinks I am purposefully distancing myself from them by not engaging with their posts. Funny that this is the reality I live in, people thinking I am angry because I do not respond, our main source of validation coming from a tiny blue icon of a hand gesture.

I haven’t had any very profound moments since I “unplugged” a little, but the margins created in my day-to-day life without checking notifications and mindlessly scrolling feeds have provided much needed space.

Space to sit and listen and think without being prompted by a meme or inspirational quote; to dream and imagine and wonder without comparing myself to the accomplishments of someone else. I have grabbed my “real” camera more in the past two weeks than I have in the past 5 months and have been reading books, rather than stare at a screen.

I am also learning something interesting about myself.  About what it means to do something without the appeal of being able to show it off, without it being a means to an end of praise and approval. Without Instagram on my phone, I can’t simply snap a picture and post with a humble hashtag or two. I know how many times I have raced to finish a product, only because I wanted to be able to post it so my friends could see.

The strange thing about myself is that I crave acknowledgement and admiration (who doesn’t?), but I don’t know what to do with the attention.  I wish I could just stuff it into a little bottle and take a look at it whenever I need it, when I begin to doubt myself and wonder about what I do and why it matters. When I begin to doubt that anyone genuinely likes me.

We want the things that we do to be of importance. We want to share our lives with others.  Yet, what happens after a day or two when we haven’t shared?  We are all but forgotten. The notifications disappear and the images fade from our friend’s daily scroll and that amazing moment or clever post is no longer present in anyone’s mind. We are all too involved in what is happening next.  We are all too concerned with our own search for connection and the next thing to keep our voice in the mix.

So, I’ve committed to going the summer more unplugged.  I deleted my FB and IG apps off of my phone and I have decided to not scroll through my feeds.  I am allowed to log into Facebook to check notifications and perhaps post on my business account when needed, but otherwise, I am checking out.  I find that as more time passes, the less I check or even think to log in.

And, I am hoping to write more again without the anxiety that comes with sharing a post on Facebook, or the obsessive checking if anyone is “liking” it or wanting to delete it if no one does within a couple of hours.

-b.e.

 

the “lost” years

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Are you familiar with the Chinese Bamboo Tree?

Once planted, it doesn’t break through the ground for 4 years.

During this time, gardeners tend to this seemingly bare spot of earth – water it, fertilize it, nurture it – with no visible display of what difference their care has made.

But then, after 4 years of “nothing”, in the 5th year, the shoot bursts through the ground and grows at an amazing pace.  In just over a month, it will tower over you at 90 feet high.

I feel like this relates to so many areas of life.

It resonates so deep within me right now.

Because some times I give up tending to certain things I believe in.

Sometimes we don’t see the outcomes of our kindness, generosity, patience, grace.

Sometimes the grueling, gritty, every day work just doesn’t seem worth it.

Sometimes we fail and instead of learning from our mistakes, give up prematurely.

Sometimes we look crazy devoting so much time to something that gives us so little in return.

Sometimes I look at everyone else’s bamboo trees and instead of enjoying their beauty and celebrating the hard work it took to grow them, I allow envy to settle in my stomach.

Then there are those moments – days, weeks, years – where incredible growth takes place.  It was happening all along, but you didn’t see it.  You couldn’t.  Maybe it is all timing.  Maybe you just weren’t ready.  Maybe someone else came along who believed in you and even did the hard work and tended to your garden for a time when you neglected it.  Maybe there are a slew of reasons.  Maybe you were so busy tending to that barren ground that it just sort of changed overnight and things are suddenly happening at a dizzying pace.

I feel like I have experienced these stages at different times in life.  Some times I give up and move on.  Some times I wonder and doubt and second-guess why I am even doing the things I am.  Or I am just lost and don’t know what is next or what I should be doing at all. And then there are times when I stand back and see the outcome and feel full and satisfied.

But you can’t skip the seasons and you can’t get the lost years back.

There is so much going on below the surface that we don’t see.

As a mother, this feels poignant.

I sense that many of us with young children feel like we are just getting through these early years with our kids.  We have lost ourselves somewhere along the way and feel like every drop of energy is devoted to their care and nothing is left. We just have to get through these years and things will change. Not that we don’t enjoy it.  Being called “momma” and caring for my children is a great joy.  And it is hard and I have never found myself more than through childbearing and child raising.

It has loosened so many lies I believed about myself and others, about where I actually find my value and what is important in life.

Even those formative years in our children’s lives are like tending to a bamboo tree.  You might not see the outcome of what you pour into their every day, the sacrifices you make for them, for years to come.  And we bear the wrinkles and tired eyes from the laughter and frustration and sleepless nights and dim, early mornings.

But when I think about the bamboo tree, and I think about entering my last year in my 20’s, and hear the stories of others’ lives and the abrupt ending we some times have…I also feel a broader call, an urgency.

Not to see change, but to work toward it.

Because some times the work takes years and years and maybe I don’t even get to enjoy the shade that will one day come from the daily tending.

But,

I can imagine who will.

And I wonder, what have I been tending to beneath the surface all this time?

-b.e.

like the ocean

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Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.  – Edna Jaques

Some days just seem to go wrong.  I don’t respond well, I make things harder than need be, I find myself throwing my hands in the air and saying, “PLEASE can’t we just get along??”, fully knowing that things will resolve better with time if I remain patient and calm.

In moments like these, I feel defeated.

As a mother, I want to be a compassionate role model, as a person, I want to show respect and kindness to others.  Many times I need to do the very thing I tell my children:

be still. breathe. calm down. reset. try again.

And I long for the ocean.

A wave.

There I would stand, waist deep, looking out into the horizon and waiting for a glorious, tall wave to rush in and sweep over me. Strong and terrifying, it would knock me over and I would see how truly small I am.

I might stop acting so big.

The water would be cold and salty and my skin would have that beachy freshness to it.  I might be upset for a moment.  But, as my clothes cling tight to my body, I would smile, thank the ocean, and walk back up along the shore.

There are some things in life powerful like the ocean.

Big moments that hit us and pull us down below the sea and push us up again, so we can regain our footing in less certain ground, where we don’t think we know so much.

And small moments, too.  The kind that you don’t even notice, they slowly creep up and splash around your feet, but still, they impact you.

Today we put our books down and allowed ourselves to become intoxicated with sunshine and fresh air. We ran and laughed, marveled at a partially frozen lake, found enjoyment in throwing sticks onto the icy layer and watching to see the outcome.

And like a gentle wave, the wrong words and deeds were swept away and we all stood up feeling refreshed. And my heart feels so very ready to welcome more days like this.

-b.e.

new and beautiful

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Every year for as long as I can remember, has always been better than the proceeding one.

I have a feeling this has a lot more to do with an increasingly positive outlook on life and simply being a year older (and hopefully, wiser) than anything actually more spectacular happening during the course of the year.

LIFE IS GOOD and I feel eager to embrace it and find the beauty in each moment now, rather than whenever the next goal or item on my checklist arrives.  Some times those things don’t come, and when they do, it doesn’t necessarily mean my life will be any better.

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So without getting really all that philosophical or “deep”, I am entering the new year feeling energized, ready to tackle new projects and be more present and accessible to my children, family, friends, and others I encounter.  Some simple goals include reading and writing much more, creating when I feel inspired, and getting my business defined clearly enough to really resemble me and what I have to offer.

I am ready to dream big, give big, simplify and get re-organized in order to make time for the things that really matter.

Part of this has included stepping back from social media and trying to focus more on what is in front of me.  When you disconnect it seems like you will become isolated, but I have already found that it opens up more connection with those closest to me.

Because moments like this one are what I want to be present for:

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This year, I want to live each day as if it were truly the best day and as if a new opportunity could be around every corner.

Wishing you a Happy New Year and hope you are inspired to be the best YOU have ever been.

b.e.

all images created by becca ellis of b.e.

 

when do they see this in me?

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childhood wonder // museum light // new plush brother // window // day at the park // comfort food // the big jump // summer melons // shades // disc // wood // this beauty // skate girl // evening longboarding //

Time speeds by, I cannot believe that August is only two weeks away from ending and we will begin to settle into the swing of a new school year.  My big boy entering Kindergarten and myself entering a new season of guiding young ones and no longer having a baby and a preschooler.  My heart is beginning to yearn for fall, although I am also already feeling sad for the loss of late warm evenings and outdoor adventures the summer brought. Every turn brings newness and the sameness in a new way and I am trying to embrace it.  Letting go of the mistakes and making better choices.  Working for my dreams and working my way there even when self-defeating voices squirm their way into my head. Listening to those who love and support me and trying so hard to find the balance between it all.

I love to write and share images and thoughts and passions.  I love reading others who share their heart and knowledge, also. But there is an inner struggle I have been battling between sharing and simply being.  Social media has a way of killing the joy for me.  Every time I post something on my facebook, I feel remorse and anxiety.  I begin to actually worry about who “likes” me (both literally and based off of the click of a button), and if I am too much for some people.  All of us will always be “too much” of something to someone, though.  Is this normal?  If it is, it is a strange thing to put myself through. I have come close to deleting my social media accounts several times, but there is always a practical reason for not doing it – a conversation with someone not finished, my phone contacts needing to be switched over manually, my photography page and networking sources. Deleting it may not be the answer, but it is difficult to find the balance.  I find nothing added to my life when I log on other than too many opinions and articles, so I haven’t been as much, and I have weeded out many of the people I follow.

I have almost finished a book by Jo Piazza titled, If Nuns Ran the World. The author found modern day nuns living in America and shared their stories, dedicating a chapter each to 10 different radical ladies.  It has profoundly impacted me.  Not in a way that I wish I were a nun, but that I wish I could have that dedication to make a difference in lives without needing any fanfare.  That I would be willing to give the loving embraces these women offer strangers and fight for the marginalized. Of course, I have chosen a family and with that come my first responsibilities, but I have a heavy burden on my heart that my children begin to see compassion and selflessness and the gospel that we believe in lived out.  As their mother, I question….when do they see this in me? There are so many things I long to teach them that I have not yet learned.

The beginning of the school year always seems like a more appropriate time for resolutions than January 1st to me.  Preparing for homeschooling, I have spent plenty of time thinking about academic curriculum and envisioning how our school day will be carried out and what our weeks will look like. But there is another greater, deeper element I want to turn my focus to. This year, I want to find ways to be a part of the lives of those who are hurting. I want my children to look at others and feel the same compassion Jesus felt when he looked out at the crowds gathering at his feet.

Because if there is one thing that this hurting world needs more of, it is compassion and love and mercy.

-b.e.