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.

 

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

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.

fully embracing the moment

My friend pinned this image on pinterest the other day, and I found it to be a simple reminder of living in the present and with intentionality.

I have had so many things on my mind lately – plans, ideas, projects – that  I find myself constantly going over in my head when I will get to the next task and how I will go about getting it done, while only halfheartedly participating in the richness of the moment around me.  

This has been on my mind for a little while now, and I feel challenged this week to make more intentional choices about how my time is spent and where my focus is in every moment, thinking less about myself and more about the broader picture of how my actions effect others.  I want to be fully embracing what I am doing or being a part of and not be constantly worrying about all those other loose-ends and never ending to-dos on my list.

Trying to remember that they will still be there – waiting on my list – for when it is time to focus on them.

– b.e.

some thoughts on simplicity

When I first began to think about reducing the excess in our life in order to embrace simplicity and gain more time for the things that are important, the task seemed daunting and nearly impossible in many ways.

I started by evaluating what in my life was a need and what was a want.  At first, this became an absolute obsession.   I would lay awake at night thinking about these things.  Every time I stepped into an area of my house, I found myself figuring out how to eliminate the unnecessary.

The first things to go were things I bought and disposed of frequently, like disposable diapers and purchasing items that had unnecessary packaging.  I began to make more homemade cleaning solutions and hair products so that I wouldn’t be wasting bottles (or having all those chemicals in our home).  Starting to do these things led me to reduce other areas of over-consumption.   Once you being to question these things, you just find yourself asking harder and harder questions, which at times, you will not have any sort of tangible answer to.  This is where it can get a little tricky and discouraging, because you will contradict yourself.

A lot.

At least, I do all the time.  And then I have to remember that this is all a process.   If I am not afraid of making mistakes or what others may perceive me as and am able to maintain a willingness to learn, then this crazy, never-ending rabbit hole can become a journey full of joy, rather than fear of failing or not doing enough.

So, here are a some things I’ve learned since beginning to de-clutter our life, which helps me to keep things in perspective when circumstances change and the whole pursuit seems too large a task:

1. start where you are

Don’t expect to be able to change your life overnight.  This is a process.  In our culture of fad diets and immediate fixes, taking time and waiting to see change can be a hard discipline to learn.  Learn from others who have gone before you and use their example as inspiration, but don’t try to become exactly like them or expect to accomplish all of the same things in the same way.  What is a big step and challenging for you may be completely different for someone else.  Don’t be disappointed if this whole thing takes time.  I imagine it should take a lifetime.

2. start small

Make little changes at a time.  Slowly adopting new habits and adjusting them is all part of the process.  You may make mistakes, you may learn new and better ways of doing things, but the important thing is that you keep adjusting and don’t allow yourself to become completely overwhelmed.  And if you do – it’s okay!  Take a break and then get back into it when you are ready.  There have been many times when I have “relapsed” so to speak, because I felt like I couldn’t give it ALL up or do it all.  Simplifying does take some work (don’t think that simple means less work – a future post in the making), but it doesn’t have to all happen at once.

3. focus on the positive

I’ll use food as an example.

It seems to me that many diets are about restrictions.  You can’t have carbs.  No gluten.  No fruit after 1pm.  Whatever.  Many times when I talk about the changes we have made in our diet, people respond with, “I could never give up (fill in the blank)!”  This reaction is focused on the negative – on what you are giving up instead of what you are gaining.

The number one question we get asked since we became vegetarians/changed our diet is, “What do you eat, then?”  A lot of food, actually, and a greater variety than before.    I focus more on the delicious, nourishing and healing foods we get to eat, rather than on the stuff we’re “missing out” on because we’re all “crunchy” and “healthy” now.  What we have found in our life to be true is that change can be a much healthier process when you are focusing on who you want to be rather than on who you don’t want to be.

4. find a healthy balance

Balancing is all about making adjustments.  Try to balance on one foot.  You will notice that your body is making tons of little adjustments to stop itself from falling over, and sometimes when you start to fall, you have to “reset” and tap your other foot on the floor to regain your balance.  We have to do the same thing in life.

Living with less has helped us as a family spend more time together and out in our community and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Some of the ways we have simplified have just been a natural outcome of life circumstances, while others have been intentional choices we have made. As these circumstances change, we are constantly discussing and making more adjustments.  When we lose our focus and find ourselves reverting to old habits, we try to “reset”.  We regain our footing and start again.

Sometimes, you just need to take a break.

Take more walks.

Breathe.

Find space to rest and evaluate.  

Do what energizes you.

Have coffee or tea with a friend who will listen and help give you some perspective on the change you have made in you life.  

Reconnect with what you are passionate about.

Make a new plan and start again to take steps toward your goals.

– b.e.

Recommended Reading:

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker (one of the books that disrupted my life unexpectedly)

You Can Buy Happiness (And It’s Cheap) by Tammy Strobel (interesting thoughts on happiness and simplicity)