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.

 

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motherhood: when I just want to give up.

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This morning I posted a picture from last night on my instagram – it describes the magical feeling we had while sitting on our neighborhood beach with our littles watching the fireworks all around the Sound as we nestled into each other in a peaceful spot.

Ah.

We walked back late in the night with tired kids who wanted nothing more than to be home snuggled in their beds.  As I tucked them in and hugged and we smiled content smiles, my son informed me he would most likely sleep in very late.

Then morning came and the sleeping in did not materialize and I have not dealt kindly with any situation that has come up.  I have snapped, shouted, and said things I immediately regretted.

This is not the graceful, peaceful way of being a mama I want.

This is not the tone I want vibrating through my home.

This is not who I have been in the past.

I used to be so. much. more. calm.

So what do you do when everyone is screaming and crying and you are pretty sure you have made things escalate more than necessary and it seems like you can’t come back?

You come back.

You stop.

You breathe.

You keep people safe.

You hug.

You calm your voice.

You start over.

You say you’re sorry and ask for forgiveness and start over and come back to love.

You ask for help.

Whether thats from them or someone else or in a prayer.

And you try again.

Something I tell myself very often is that just because I made one (or two or five or twenty) wrong choices in a day, does not mean my day is doomed down a bad path. My next choice does not have to also be a bad one.  You ate two pieces of cake, you don’t have to eat a third (or in Jim Gaffigan’s case, the entire cake). Maybe – OF COURSE – it could have been better if I had made better choices, but the fact that I didn’t does not disqualify me from future better choices.  I can reclaim my day.  I can reclaim the peace and the love and use it to patch up the tears.

Mothering is hard.

It takes a lot of surrender. It takes giving up and trying things and energy and some times you want to just quit, but you can’t really. And I think there will always be gaps, because how can we be so much to so many people in so many different capacities?  Some of us work or are trying to bring in some income to survive, or going to school to make things better but in the meantime, it’s a struggle.  Or we feel stuck at home with young kids and barely know what to do to get through each day, just waiting for our spouse to get home, and each day feels so similar.  And at times it can be hard to see what other families are able to give their kids and we want to be so much more.

And it can just kill our joy, and we in turn can suppress and strangle the joy out of those around us.

But.  I think more important than focusing on what our life situation is or what we have or don’t have is remembering that our kids are watching us.

They are watching the grace with which we live in this world.

And mornings like this, I shake my head, because I have not displayed grace.  I have not displayed an ease in accepting others (their) flaws, I have not been generous with my kindness, I have not shown them that being unselfish is worth the effort and a good thing to do.

I admit it and know it is true – sometimes I am not a pleasant person and my standards are higher for others than what I hold myself to, and my kids and husband see the worst version of me that exists.

And it is very easy to get fixated on the negative moments and forget the many times that as siblings they worked things out between each other, or the times when they do make good choices and show kindness and compassion to others, the times when I know I am doing my best and being a solid and safe place for them to land when they are struggling with something or bubbling with an abundance of happiness.

Today is not my everyday, but I don’t ever want it to become that.  This is just a real and honest struggle, but many times, it is hidden within our home.  Although, I am certain we have all seen struggling moms and dads at parks and stores when we and our kids are at our best, and we are thankful it is not us in that moment, or perhaps a little too judgmental about their lack of grace.  So many times I have been that parent, but many times I have been the other, also. Isn’t that just all part of it?

But, grace. Whether tantrums are being thrown or no major event is happening, displaying and being a person who lives out grace is what I am longing for these days.

I love my kids, I am glad I get to be with them as much as I do, and I want so desperately to continue to grow as a person and a parent.

-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.

before they fade away

It was quiet in the house.  Son in the office listening to an audio book. Myself taking a moment to sit and rest in the living room. Daughter upstairs being unusually still.  She doesn’t actually sleep much during our sacred still space in the middle of the day, so I was curious to see if she was indeed asleep.

I crept up the stairs and found her lying flat on her stomach at the top of the stairs, breathing and sleeping deep.

There was something about the way she was laying there, as the sun filtered through the window and warmed her little spot, golden curls highlighted in the bright rays and softly falling across her face.
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I lingered a moment and watched.  Watched her breath. Looked at her small features and rosy skin. Things I couldn’t stop myself from doing when she had hardly been outside the womb a few days, but now it was harder to slow and just look.DSC_0006_01

Life speeds by so fast. There are so many things we can think about wanting to do or places we want to go, and so often, those things just end up passing us by.  Or we can become so consumed in achieving our goals that what is already around us fades into the background and we forget what we already have.

I find myself wanting to be more present and more realistic. As mothers, we can feel pressed to prove our worth and the value of what we are accomplishing on a daily basis.  It is so easy to look at our friends without children or those who continued with their careers or developing other hobbies and talents into something that seems so much more exciting than what we are doing. Or perhaps you are on the other side, waiting for those precious little ones to call your own, to nurture and care for and fulfill a deep longing in your own heart.

It is good to pursue your callings.

But oh dear mothers, how I wish I could look you in the eye and tell you that you are doing so much.

If there is a calling on your heart and it is the season, pursue it.  But also,

soak in these warm sunshine filled moments.

Maybe right now they feel few and far apart,

but when they are there, grasp them for just a little while longer before they fade.

I remember reading in a gardening book about waiting a full season in a new house before planting your garden. During this time, record how the sun falls, the water drains, the vegetation grows so you can be the most prepared when you finally begin to lay seed into the ground.

Maybe we need to do this more with our children. Watching and paying attention to who they are and then carefully considering what seeds we will plant in their lives.

Some times we simply have to linger longer and wait, faithfully, consistently, lovingly.

stop our feet for a moment or two

breath

and just watch.
DSC_0012_01– b.e.

these words are hope for a mommy who needed a break

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I have been enjoying summer and love being out with friends and doing things as a family. Beaches and parks and day trips and so much more.  But there has been a lot of stressful moments and pinging feelings of failure as a mom.

This week so much has adjusted.  Not just by itself like I hoped it might.  No.  It took conviction and thought and intention and planning and work.  And it may not look like a big deal or anything, but it is movement in a better direction, and after 5 days, I see small progress.

We have slowly stumbled into some sort of a cadence for our daily life, and fine tuning happens each day, but everything has slowed down and become simpler, less rushed, better.

I have almost finished the book, “More Than Happy: The Wisdom of Amish Parenting” by Serena Miller.  It has impacted me more than I thought, as I didn’t even expect to want to read the entire book. For the past few years, I have tried to embrace more of a simplistic lifestyle.  We have come a far way, but we have also gone back to the way things were many times.  With each new stage my children enter into, I see new needs – or old ones I have stopped paying attention to.  I have noticed more of my ill modeled actions being echoed in these little mirrors, actions I chose in desperation to make things better when I had no idea of what to do.

Consistency failing because I never had the answers and my husband and I  didn’t always see eye to eye on how we should respond.

One thing we have decided to do is put down our phones. We disconnected our internet at home and haven’t had it for almost a month now.  While we can access it with hotspots on our phone, it is very slow and really only to do things like pay bills, check email, or to blog, etc., and it generally takes place in a condense period of time after the kids are in bed. Not only are we saving money, but so much time.

I started planning and using our days intentionally. I began to think of motherhood as a job – not because I feel like I need some sort of affirmation of the importance of what I do, but rather to raise more of an accountability for how my everyday goes.  If I was at work, I would not be “checking out” on my phone, I would check it only on a break or for important calls.  I wouldn’t leave what I was doing to answer a text or check my email. I realized how much time this adds up to and how belittling it must feel to my children when they are less interesting to me than a text. And how I limit their screen time, but not my own.

It has made our days so much better.  I am learning to watch my children and enjoy them – they are young for so little. I have slowed down my words and looked them in the eye and I am seeing tones change and respect for everyone becoming greater. We are cooking together, creating together and playing wildly together. Shea loves racing on his bike against me on my longboard – today we did it for nearly an hour in an empty parking lot, and didn’t want to stop even then.

We are pursuing interests they have that I never had the energy to teach before, always giving the answer “not today”. Shea has been reading books to me every day. Small, short ones, but he is growing more confident and it has remained fun.  I taught him how to use my sewing machine and he sat there and competently sewed a small dress for his sister’s plush duck with just a little guidance and practice. We find our way into the backyard or a local park and come up with as many variations of hide and seek as we can think of and I am joining instead of trying to read a book or catch up on articles and facebook posts. we are so happy to get in bed and sleep soundly at the end of the day.

We read and read and read.

And some times, I still grow tired and we do put in a short DVD, but it is treated as a reward now and often we just enjoy it as a family rather than as a babysitter.

There is so much joy to be had when we turn off  and limit our access to the screens, because we don’t realize how much time we are wasting until we are sitting there in the void. We become more selective about the information we decide to read and what we do with our screen time and whether it will be a positive addition to our lives or not.

What for a while felt like a daily battle where at the end of the day, bedtime – which had never been hard for so long – began to feel like that last uphill climb at the end of a run that drains every last bit of reserved energy, has now changed so suddenly.

I wonder how children feel when after a day of spending time with them, mom collapses on the couch and of course they come wanting to cuddle and dad says, “mommy needs a break”. What message do they get from that?  Yes, it IS tiring taking care of children.  Yes, some days it feels like I am spending the entire day teaching them something I thought they already knew. Reminding them again and again. YES.  Because this is parenting.  And parenting means making a lot of sacrifices and realizing that many of the things we want to teach our children we never learned to do ourselves.  Slowing down has brought peace back to our household.

It has been a tremendous amount of encouragement for me how one huge desire and a few small steps can create momentum and purpose.

And I write about all of this because I don’t know how many parents I have had to see do and say these things before I tried it. I don’t know how many days I have sat there thinking about how tired I was and how I couldn’t understand how my children could behave the way that they do and how that reflected on me and what an awful parent everyone must think I am and how my life had turned into just waiting for the “break” at the end of the day.

When so many of us are just figuring things out from the pieces we were given from our parents and experiences. It is so easy to judge from one moment.

Or several.

And read into all the things that someone is doing or not doing and not really give any encouragement because we are too busy talking about it to others and justifying the good things we are doing and excusing the areas we are failing, because at least our children “don’t do that”.  (And when I say “we” I am definitely talking about myself). Grace abounds and we can be transmitters of that grace to others.

These words are maybe a mess and spewed out from a jumbled heap of thoughts being processed late at night as my heart has ached and prayed desperately for my children and a change of my own heart. But. They are hope.  And they are tangible and real ways I am seeing my prayers answered. Once change begins, it is hard to go back. It is a constant and moving process, but I no longer feel like a helpless bystander.

I have been given these beautiful children.

I have been given this assignment of raising them.

I am better for it.

And it is a beautiful place to be.

– b.e.

capturing childhood: sprinkler kids

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Oh how I love these two.  Their delight in the simple things like cold hose water spraying and trying to run so fast it can’t catch you, but then laughing like a maniac when you feel the refreshing drops hit against your hot skin.  I love it when these two play so hard together and look out for the other.  Makes up for the times they wear me out with their fighting and I’m trying to remember that I was like that too and some times I still want to fuss and put up a fight for what I think is fair.

At least some times, just turning on the sprinkler and finding that common thing you can enjoy together makes all the difference.  Even as adults, some times we can put aside our differences and have fun together.

– b.e.

falling back in step

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Looking back over these snapshots I have taken on my phone in the past weeks, life is full and happy and I am reminded of all I have. Fresh eggs from our chickens, cookout at our beautiful beach, little ones sleeping soundly, trip to Seattle for the kids’ first ball game, daily mario art, chowing down on bunny pancakes in Easter best, car selfies, silly boy, and afternoon naps in a sun warmed bed.

This week we have been battling a little bit of sickness. Hailey never sleeps well when she is sick, and last night she woke up four times screaming, and at least a few times, I was less than graceful.  Even a poor sick toddler who throws a tantrum when you are very tired can make you crazy,

but every morning brings a new day and I am given grace again to love these little humans who call me mama and feel so much love for me they can’t help themselves from poking and tugging me in all the places I’d rather be left untouched. Who have to get every unfiltered word out they have on their minds before they forget it and want me to share in every experience with them. Who ask me for song after song before bedtime and can’t go to sleep without that final kiss and hug goodnight.

Oh I may be a tired mama who will always want to do more and there will always be busy days and days that seem hard to get through, but every one of these young child days will feel short soon, I know it.

I am reminded again to fall back in step with their pace and live less for myself and more for those around me.

– b.e.