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Eryn Lynum

Life Seasons Living With Intention

Why My Favorite Part Of The New Year Is Not The New Year At All

January 1, 2017

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We are driving along a road in the Northwoods. We’ve wound our way along Lake Superior, glassy at the edges with ice creeping towards its center. Now a vast expanse of pine trees frame us in on each side. I look out into the depths of the woods, and I wonder just how many there are. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, an eternity of trees all stretching tall and reaching for the sun. As we pass each one, they seem as a blur of pine needle and bark.

They play out before me like one of those flip books I played with as a child. The ones where you place your thumb across the edge of the pages, all stacked side by side, then slowly release them and watch as  each page turned adds a tiny piece to the scene. These pines do the same. And if I look hard, I see the intricate, beautiful details making up their story. I see one felled pine, arching high like a bridge, dipping its tip into the blanket of snow below. And then a white-tailed doe, gently nosing at that same carpet of white, in search of breakfast buried beneath. The pines tell of time’s passing. For years they have stood here doing their job of drinking in the snow melt and sunshine, growing ever so methodically in tune with the passing of hours. They grow slow, we pass fast. And only when I stare deep and focus my attention do I see the beauty of their work, and the treasures lying within their forest.

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I think of these things a week later, as my husband and I sit on our living room floor, surrounded by journals, notebooks, and mugs of hot tea. The steam dances above our mugs and we write, pausing every few moments to think and talk and dream. We do it every year, this planning and goal setting and dreaming of what 365 days can hold.

And although I love the excitement of looking ahead, my favorite part is actually found not at all in the New Year, but the Old Year. Before we look ahead, we first take time to look back. It is another sort of Time Counting, but in retrospect. We think back on twelve months and we pick them apart, searching hard around every corner of them for those treasures within. Just as on that day with snow flakes falling big and pine trees stretched out on either side of me. I had to look hard beyond the eclipsing trees to find the further beauty within them. And now I do the same, looking beyond time’s passing over 365 days, to discover just what they held for us. We start to write.

Moved to Colorado!

Vast mountain explorations

Gray’s smooth transition into a new job

Signed contract for 936 Pennies book

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It begins slowly and then like an avalanche. And as we remember each of these gifts, our hearts lighten. The year behind us takes on a whole new look, one covered in grace and abundance, despite any heartache and struggle.

3 Family vacations

My family came out to Colorado

Paid off loan

Did fine owning only one vehicle, and had no issues with it

Gray built us a beautiful work desk where we can work side by side

Many family picnics

Met new friends

Found a church family

Sold a house

Bought a house

Spoke at a conference

Joined a wonderful Bible study

Good news from doctors

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And of course, this list is one sided. It is supposed to be. It does not tell of the loneliness and struggle woven throughout our move to Colorado. It does not hint at the emotional, exhausting process that buying our house was. It does not tell of our fourth child, lost in a miscarriage. It does not tell of the fear wrapped up in those doctor’s tests, a year after they hinted at cancer. Some of those gifts on our list could have never come to be, had it not been for the hardship.

Three hundred and sixty-five days can hold a lot within them. 

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It is a peculiar thing, looking back and realizing that this was both the most difficult and most wonderful year of my life. Maybe you feel the same way today. Or maybe you look back, and you only see the hard, the hurt, the ugly, the disappointment. Maybe you see very little, and you wonder just what good your 365 days did. Whatever you feel looking back on last year, now is the time to count. Search long and hard and in between every crevice of those days, and find the beauty. Find those moments that redeem the hurt, heal the wounds, and shine brighter than the dark.

Look beyond time’s passing, and find the treasures within. If you struggle hard and come up with five things, cling hard to those five gifts. And give thanks for this New Year in which twelve months lay before us, promising of beauty to be found, if only we’ll open our eyes to it.

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Before beginning our list of 2016 Thanks Givings, I looked back in my journal to find our 2015 list. It was good. But it was short. This year, as we wrote down gifts, the list was over twice as long. Perhaps the blessings were more abundant. God gave us a good year. But also I believe that the length of the list has something to do with our journey of Time Counting.

We are learning to look beyond the pines; beyond the ticking of the clock, and deep within to count those moments. The tree arching over white ground, the doe gracefully walking below the forest canopy. Our boys venturing into the forest in search of adventure, good news from doctors, friendships forged, picnic lunches between mountains towering. This is Time Counting. And perhaps it is the secret. Maybe our greatest chance at our best year yet in 2017 is not found in creating the perfect scenario, but in finding the beauty that is already waiting for us in these next 365 days. May we walk into this year with our eyes open wide to see it.

Motherhood

I Wondered If It Was I Who Had Made Him Sick

November 18, 2016

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I haven’t breastfed for sixteen months. And so when the The Honest Company asked me to share my personal feeding journey, I felt a bit unqualified. Along with their feeding page to help us parents with the options we have for feeding our babies, The Honest Company has collaborated with many moms on this journey to share their real, honest feeding stories. It wasn’t that I felt unqualified for this writing project because I haven’t dealt with the strong emotions tied to feeding my children—but simply because I’m not in that particular phase right now. 

I felt that way until a conversation I had with my husband recently, when I stumbled upon a sentence I had ruled myself guilty of—something I hadn’t known that I was holding against myself.

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My family has been sick lately—a lot sicker than we’ve been in recent years. In the past few months, our three boys have suffered through bouts of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease, a stomach bug, and a respiratory virus. “I just don’t understand it,” I told my husband recently, “Why are they getting so sick? And with all of it, Willy seems to get hit the hardest each time.” Our youngest boy, Willy, is a year and a half. And through every recent illness, he has suffered the worst, and the longest. “Do you think…” I knew it was a bit ridiculous, but it was on my heart, so I went on, “Do you think it’s because he nursed for the least amount of time?” He assured me that there were a lot of factors, and that although nursing could be one factor, we didn’t even need consider it. His face said it all. Let’s not go there.

Our conversation opened my eyes to see that over these past sixteen months since our boy gave up breastfeeding, I have been holding it against myself. There has been a shadow hanging over my motherhood, and I am certain that the same shadow lingers over many mamas today.

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It could be argued that I should have tried harder. Perhaps I should have drank more mother’s milk tea, or ate more lactation cookies. Maybe our life was too stressful—we were in the midst of a move to a new state, and I was trying to run a business and secure a book deal. Maybe those ambitions were partly to blame. But I find that anytime I shift the blame, looking for a spot for it to call home—I am never satisfied. Playing the blame game only leaves me worse off.

Many of us moms are harboring guilt over the choices made around feeding our babies. There is so much out of our control. When our first son was five months old, I became very sick. While in the hospital, I was given medication that I could not nurse my boy on. Laying in that hospital bed, I pumped milk every two hours to encourage my supply. But I still lost my milk. The freezer at home ran empty of backup bags. I arrived home from the hospital to find my infant boy drinking formula from a bottle. It was all we could do–and I felt like a failure.

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Many moms face circumstances out of their control when it comes to feeding their babies. For some, their milk never comes in. For others, their baby never latches. For others, they didn’t meet their child until adoption brought them together, years after those feeding decisions had already been made. In our motherhood, there is so much that we cannot control. But sometimes the deepest peace is found in letting those matters go, giving ourselves grace, and shifting our focus to what we do have a say in.

When our youngest son gave up nursing at three months old, I was determined to find another way to bond with him. I missed his suckle, and the way he would lay pressed up against my skin, feeling nourishment pass from me to him. I missed it bad. And so I began carrying him on our hikes. Whenever we set out on a trail as a family, I volunteered to carry Willy in the hiking pack. As he sat behind me, taking in the wonderful world around him, smiling and chattering to me as we made our way down the path, he and I connected. We shared that experience of awe, adventure, and wonder. We bonded in a way that I will remember for all of my days.

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Whether the circumstances are within our control or not, our job is to look back on that time and remember the sweet cuddles, the middle-of-the-night lullabies, and the way our child rested securely in our love despite their feeding regimen. If you’re in this stage right now—make those moments matter. Weigh them down with your full presence. No matter the pressures, anxieties, and confusion permeating your own journey—rest knowing that the moments you will remember are the ones when you chose to love big despite the circumstances. Remember that your love for your baby is so much more powerful than feeding plans gone awry. And be thankful that even when things don’t go as planned, we still have good, wholesome options to offer our babies.

I am choosing to lay down this burden–the one I’ve been allowing to taint my motherhood for sixteen months. I hope you will do the same. Or if you are currently in the stage of making those decisions, that you’ll offer yourself some grace. With the immense pressure we face when deciding how to feed our babies, I think it would do us all well to step back and remember that what our little ones need most from us is undying, unconditional love. In our presence they find security. In our voice they find belonging. In our caress they find assurance. And in our own acceptance of ourselves as their mother, they find exactly the mom that they need.

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For more encouragement, be sure to read these Honest Feeding Stories over the the Honest Company!

 

Family Parenting

The One Question Us Parents Are Asking But No One Is Talking About

November 11, 2016

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I paused as I considered my next box to pack. Our move date was fast approaching; within a couple of short weeks we would relocate our young family from Missouri to our new home in Colorado. Most of the house was already stuffed and taped into cardboard boxes. But there was still that pile of clothes and a few garments hanging in the closet, the ones with elastic waist bands and stretched out mid-sections.

I could no longer avoid the decision. Do I pack these, or list them on Craigslist? It was crux of the crossroad we couldn’t move beyond. To do so we would have to answer that question us parents seem to encounter around every conversation with a new friend, or a stranger at the library. You know the one—the, “So, are you done?” question.

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I find it ironic that even with the question hovering around our conversations, we’re not actually talking about it. We offer a short, “Oh we’re not sure yet,” or “I think so, but maybe not”. Yet these short, trite answers speak nothing of our heart’s agony over this decision.

We’re not talking about how emotional and heart-wrenching this decision is. We’re not talking about the finality of it that haunts us, freezing us in our tracks.

I listed those clothes. Laid them out piece by piece on our bed, a flood of memories washing over me with each fold. I could picture my hand rubbing the red knit sweater over my belly swollen with our third boy. The electronic shutter of our camera sounded, wiping the memories from my mind as I pulled out the camera card and slipped it into my laptop.

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In the coming weeks, I’d receive a few emails of interest, but no bites. In the rush of last minute packing, I shoved the clothes into a plastic bin and loaded them into our moving trailer. It would be a month later when I would think about that bin of clothes again, and why they had made their way across the vast expanse of Kansas and into our new homeland of the mountains. With a faint second line and a burst of shock and hope, I found the purpose for holding onto that bin of clothing.

We were going to need them again.

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I wondered if that was the plan all along, why the interested emails never turned into a sale. Some divine intervention sparing us from having to purchase a whole new maternity wear wardrobe.

But then two days passed. That faint line grew fainter, and with it my hope. When the blood appeared, I knew that those clothes were not going to get unpacked with the dishes and photo frames. They would remain in their bin. I began to wonder why, again, they had made this trip with us.

Our miscarriage brought everything back into question. All those conversations where we had circled around and around and around again, with no conclusive answer. “Are we done?” We had been, I thought. We were, I thought. But carrying another baby, if only for a couple of weeks, unraveled any previous reasoning.

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And now I don’t know. Do any of us, really? I hear of parents who know for certain when they are done. No questions asked. But I have to wonder, did doubts or questions or uncertainties cloud their decision, if only but for a moment? Was there ever that uncertainty of, “What if we change our minds?”

If there is one thing about parenthood that has completely shocked me it is this:  the decision of when to “be done” having babies is far, far more difficult than I ever anticipated. It’s a question we circle around and around and around again, unwilling to stop at a certain conclusion. Because, “What if?”

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The one thing I do know is this:  We’re not talking about it enough. Just as I discovered with our miscarriage, this is a difficult area of parenthood that many of us are suffocating under the weight of, without leaning on one another.

I’m not saying let’s bring up all of our family planning woes and intimacies at the next church potluck. I am only suggesting that if you’re struggling under the weight of this question, that it’s likely that one of your close friends are, too. And perhaps they just need a hug and a “Hey, me too.”

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Maybe all they need today is a conversation over coffee, and to hear that they’re not the only one who could just keep on having babies, while not knowing if you can handle more kids. Maybe they need to hear that they’re not crazy, and that it’s ok to be in a place where you just can’t make that choice. Not yet. And really-that’s ok.

I don’t have an answer to this one. There’s no equation for determining when to “be done”. But one thing I am certain of is that in the midst of these most difficult and emotional decisions, we need to know that we are neither desolate nor deserted in our struggle.

So if this is you tonight, hemming and hawing and avoiding and discussing and praying and standing paralyzed in your uncertainty—I’m there too. You’re not alone. Neither am I. And often the greatest comfort is found in the realization that you’re not alone.

Anorexia Motherhood

5 Things I Need My Son To Know About My Eating Disorder

October 25, 2016

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Son, I need you to know something. It is something I am not proud of, but it is a part of who I am, and it is important. The chances are, you will encounter it in your life on a personal level. So I need you to know this—there was a time when I hurt my body. I chose to not eat enough food, because I was confused about what is important. I did not understand what it meant to be pretty, and so I chased after a fake kind of pretty.

I wanted people to think that I was strong and beautiful, but I did not understand what it really meant to be strong and beautiful. I thought that by not eating, I could be these things. I was wrong. God is good and kind, and He helped me to heal, and to learn what true beauty and strength look like.

I am telling you this because the chances are that in your life, a woman you know will struggle with eating just like I did. And I want you to know a few very important things, when that time comes.

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 1.   Pay Attention When Your Heart Tells You She May Be In Danger

Your heart as a way of telling you when something is not right. We call these “Red Flags”. They are that small feeling that something is wrong. If you have a girl in your life that you care about and spend a lot of time with, you will see these red flags when they come. 

She might start acting funny when it comes time to eat. She might make many comments about wanting to lose weight, or be prettier. She might talk badly about how she looks. She might push her food around her plate, or make excuses why she’s not eating. She may say things like, “Oh, I ate before I came” every time you hang out. She may seem sad and distracted. My Love, do not ignore these things when they sit heavy on your heart, telling you something is wrong. You are probably right.

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2.    Do Not Talk To Her About It

This may sound strange. Usually when someone is hurting or upset, I tell you that we should help them. But son, when it comes to eating disorders, it is not your place to fix this. In fact, because you are a boy, if you say anything about it to her, it might make matters worse. It is hard for me to explain, but I have been in her shoes. So I know that if you say anything, even if it is to help, it might cause her to skip another meal. Because deep down inside, she wanted you to notice.

3.  Instead, Ask An Older Woman To Help

Although you should not talk with your friend about your worries, you are not powerless. When you see those red flags, there is something you can do, and it could make all of the difference. The chances are that this girl in your life has an older woman that she looks up to. Whether it is a teacher, a youth leader, an aunt, or another woman in her life that she respects—this is the woman you can talk to about your red flags. This woman is in a place to talk to your friend, and get her the help that she needs. This is your most important job in helping your friend.

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4.   Your Words Hold Great Power

Lately I have been teaching you the importance of being a good encourager. You know that you can tell people what they are doing well, and things you like about them, and that it will bring a smile to their face. The power of your words runs even deeper than you think. You tell me at least five times a day that you think I am pretty. My boy, those words are life-giving. Whether it is your cousin, your friend, your aunt, your Grandma, and later on your girlfriend and eventually a wife, your words can give her all of the confidence in the world.

I know you have witnessed this in how your Daddy speaks to me. His words make me feel brave and strong and beautiful. Your words can do the same. But son, the most life-giving words you can speak to a woman are the ones that tell of her inward beauty. That she is brave, that she sings well, that she writes great stories, that she is smart, that she is kind. Everything you see good within her, tell her. Because a strong sense of inner beauty is one of the greatest protections against eating disorders.

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5.  It Is Not Your Fault

Finally, my boy, I need you to know that if a girl in your life is struggling with an eating disorder, it is not your fault. These sicknesses are so very hard to understand. Before and during my sickness, I had strong godly men speaking truth into my life. I felt loved and secure in my family. Sometimes these things just happen, for many various reasons. It is not your fault. It is the same sentence I would speak to any man who was in my life at that time. 

But son, although you were not the cause of her sickness, you can be a part of her healing. By paying attention to the red flags in your heart, by taking those red flags not to her, but to an older woman that she respects, and by always encouraging the women in your life by telling them of their inner beauty. You can make a difference. 

Be brave, my boy.

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Faith

“I’m Writing In My Journey”

October 15, 2016

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I didn’t see it until late that evening; long after his little head had hit the pillow. “What is this?” I fingered the cover, adorned in truck stickers. “You didn’t see that? He made it at camp.” My husband smiled. I read the crooked letters that he’d just learned to put together the week before. “Zeke”. I opened it to the first page to find a heart and a note. “I love you Mom. I made this heart for you.” I could picture his teacher, bending on a knee next to my boy to help him with the letters.

The next morning when he woke, he went straight to the notebook. “Oh Mom, I need to write in my journey.”

I smiled and turned my head slightly. “Your what?”

“My journey.”

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I went to correct him, to teach him the meaning of “Journal”, then I stopped; thinking his title to be more fitting. He pulled a marker out and began stringing together a sequence of letters. In the following days, he would repeat this practice every morning when he woke, and every night before he went to bed. I would offer to help him with words. “No, I can just write whatever letters.” He’d kindly reply, not taking his eyes off the page. “Ok, that’s enough for today.” He would declare before setting the book carefully on his desk, and running off to play with his brother.

I think of this now, each time I open my own leather-bound collection of thoughts, or come to this tiny corner of the internet where we’ve recorded and shared a small smattering of our stories. These are the places I come to write our journey. I look back over the span of our parenthood and I see the big moves, even bigger fears, great triumphs, and magnificent failures that make up our journey. And I am so thankful to have it written down.

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This week I read of another journey. One of 2 million sojourners dragging their feet through a dry land. “The people became impatient with the journey.” Impatient. I read the it and dig deeper to its roots. In its truest form—curtailed. Cut short. Cheated.

They felt ripped-off.

When have I felt ripped-off along my own journey? When have I come with pencil to that paper, and written of great discouragement and letdown? “And the people spoke against God and Moses.” Tummies grumbling, lips parched, hearts hardened, they threw up their arms and tossed in the towel. Why have you even brought us here? Clearly the hopelessness of their recent slavery had slipped their minds, or any thought of the Promised Land that laid ahead. They could only see what was in front of them, dust and discontent.

“There is no food or water, and we loathe this miserable food.” I have to read it twice to make sure this is what they actually said. There is no food….we hate this food. I picture a child complaining of nothing to eat, while standing in a kitchen full of food. I wonder how many times I have stood in the midst of God’s provision, and complained against Him because His gifts do not look like what I had asked for.

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A few days later I read of another sojourner. He sits on the edge of a well, wearied. Who wouldn’t be, after stepping into a new job, and facing immediate accusations and allegations? He’s come for water. A woman approaches, empty bucket in hand. She nears the well, and He startles her with His words. “Give Me a drink.” She looks at Him perplexed. People of her kind and people of His kind, they didn’t associate. I can see Him looking deep into her eyes, making certain that she catches this next part. “If you knew the gift of God, and Who it is that says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

He came wearied. She came empty. Both came for water. But only Living Water would quench. And I wonder, how many times do I come with my empty bucket, looking to fill it with something that will never quench—something that will never satisfy?

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I see these fellow sojourners. A group of grumpy travelers rebelling in their discontent. And the Son of God who took on flesh and suffered the marks of humanity—tired and weary. Much like me on my own journey.

And this is when I pray. I pray that every time I sit to write in my journey, that it will tell the story of girl sojourning with a heart of gratitude, always seeking Living Water. I pray that mine will be a story of giving thanks, even when the provisions are not exactly what I had pictured. And I pray that when my journey grows wearisome and I come to the well, that I will fill up only on that which satisfies for the long haul.

What about you? Your journey is taking on new words today. Everyday our stories go on creating new plots; taking us through dry lands and to wells of water. And how our stories look in the end, when all is said and done, depends so very much on our responses in the desert and at the well.

So let’s write our journeys well today.

936Pennies Family Motherhood

When Parents Turn The Humdrum Ordinary Into Legacy

October 11, 2016

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“Do you have any collections, Hammy?” With uncanny agility, he moved his little body from rock to rock as we made our way down the riverbed. The evening before, when we had picked my mom up from the airport, he counted it of utmost importance to tell her first of his two collections. “I have a roots collection. And I have a dead bug collection. It has three bees in it.” Now as we skipped stones and counted ducks along the river, he asked his grandma of her own collections.

She thought for a few long moments, stringing suspense in the air as he awaited her answer. “I like to collect seeds from my plants.” She told him. I could picture her bending low to gather seeds in one of her many gardens. I could see the large rubber tires she had spray painted in bright colors and turned into raised beds.

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My boy keeps his collections in a place of honor on his desk; mason jars displaying bugs and plants that have caught his fancy. Once in a while he asks me of my own collection jars. Masons sitting side-by-side on a shelf for us to see often, and consider their copper contents. “The pennies remind us to spend our time well with you.” I explain to him. My heart rests at that, knowing that one day he will understand, when he cradles his own babe for the first time.

One day he’ll understand that it’s not about a jar of pennies, but rather a collection of memories. Each coin marking how we’ve invested it in memory making endeavors.

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There’s a song by Leslie Feist with a line that has stuck with me ever since I first heard it. She sings, “We’ll collect the moments one by one, I guess that’s how the future’s done.” I see this collection of memories as so much more than happy moments to look back upon. They serve as building blocks in the foundation that our childrens’ futures rest upon. I want to give my children a storehouse of “Hey, remember when…!” moments that will bring a smile to their face and hope to their hearts years from now; memories to anchor them when the seas of life swell with wild waves.

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Parents face this overwhelming pressure to make every moment matter. To cherish every second of this journey. But I don’t believe that this paints a fair picture of our calling. Rather than trying to force significance or fabricate meaning, I believe that our job is to open our eyes wide and spot it where it already exists. Our job is to put our hands to the plow and unearth the life beneath the soil of normal humdrum days; to discover the roots that dig deep and anchor us to our purpose as parents. Our job is to hold the common experiences with awe, and turn them over as dog ears in our child’s story.

When she interrupts your work and asks you to push her on the swing, or he insists that you come and see his latest block tower construction, or she asks for your opinion on a situation with her friends at school—these are gem moments. They shine brightly out from among the ordinary of life, but only if we give them the attention they’re due. They become beacons of light only when we choose to pick them up from among the rocks, polish them with our affection, and set them in a place of honor by naming them as significant. This is when the ordinary transforms from overlooked, to holy.

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I have a few of these gem moments displayed on my writing desk, between half finished writing projects, half read books, and art projects from our boys. One is from that day at the duck pond when Zeke taught my mom how to rock hop, and asked her of her own collections. They are stones we’ve collected from our explorations. To anyone else, they might still look ordinary, but I know them to be gems.

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They have been carefully chosen from among thousands like them, but then given dignitary treatment. They’re rinsed in the river, marked by permanent marker with a date and a memory—“Hike with Zeke”, “From Ellis on Devil’s Backbone Hike”, “Duck pond with Mom”, and then set in a place of tribute on my desk. Thrown back into the river, they would be just another stone. Yet sitting on my desk, they serve as a collection of memories, ones that stand out along my motherhood journey as those gem moments to carry me through the difficult days, and remind me exactly what this job is about.

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Life Seasons Writing

Will We Bring The Wildflowers With Us?

September 27, 2016

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If I have learned one thing through the process of writing a book, it is the value of time and seasons. This morning I walked through a nature preserve that my boys and I visit often. We spend many mornings here counting frogs among the pond reeds, catching grasshoppers, and watching the bees collect pollen from wild sunflowers. But this morning, I walked along the dirt path alone, winding my way slowly between ponds framed by late summer wildflowers.

As I walked, I thought back to the first time we came here, to that first walk we took along this path, collecting wildflowers of every shade of the rainbow. Months later, those flowers sit dried in a jar that hangs above my desk at home, and these yellow grass fields are dotted by only a few last flowers holding on to summer. The bees busy themselves traveling from bloom to bloom collecting the last of the pollen.

I think back to when the book was a hatchling idea, new and fresh. In the thrill of it all I wanted to sit down and punch the entire thing out in one mega burst of creativity, but I quickly learned that these things don’t work that way. Not well, at least.

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Today as I walked around those glowing fields, watching blades of wheat dance in the gentle breeze, I thought about the seasons that have sown this book together. Without them, the seams of it would lay open and wanting; an unraveled list of ideas and lessons, without the stories and experience to bind them together.

This story needed to see spring’s cultivation, and then the planting, sprouting, budding, blooming, dying, falling, and repeat. It needed to see the cyclical process of rebirth and regeneration, of failure, victory, and harvest. It needed to push through the dark and cold of winter, and witness the mercies that come with each rising of the sun.

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I’m tempted at times to hasten the work. This morning I sat with an agenda, and prayed for the focus to put my head down and get the work done. And I did, until I found myself exhausted of words. That’s when I knew that I needed to come here, and listen to the cadence of gravel crunching beneath my shoes until more words came.

The richest of experiences can be found in the waiting, it seems. At least, that’s what I have found in both book writing and boy raising. The passing of time is an essential ingredient to every story. Stories unfold when we take notice of the seasons, and their transitions from one to the next.

As I walk, I see the bench that the boys sat on a few months back, and the dock that they ran out to as they chattered to one another about fishing. I walk past their favorite spot to stop and watch the dragonflies, and the bridge they lean over to spot the crayfish under the water’s surface. And I see the thread that ties these memories together, the seasons in which they’ve found their place in our story.

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Every one of our stories, they require these seasons. And we get to choose, as we step out of one season and into the next, whether our stories will sour as like milk, or age and mature as like a fine wine. We get to choose, as those wildflowers lose their petals and shrivel up, whether we’ll preserve them in a jar to carry on with us into our next season. We get to choose what we leave behind, and what becomes a part of us.

Seasons are the framework in which our stories exist, and where life’s questions find their answers. What in a previous season seemed terribly obscure, confusing, and frightening, may reveal itself in striking clarity as we walk into a new season.

Our job is this:  in our current season, we must walk slowly enough to notice the right-here right-now lessons; ones that will give us greater understanding for navigating what comes next. Our task is to walk these paths with great attention, collecting wildflowers and time’s gifts– the memories that will serve as an anchor to us wherever we find ourselves next.

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Our job is to stop lingering in a past season, and not to fret the season coming next. Instead, let’s savor the season that we’re standing in right now. Let’s saturate it in joy, attention, laughter, rest, and purpose. Let’s weigh it down with all of our consideration for the small things that are really the big things.

Whatever your season looks like right now—it is yours for the making. Let’s mark it with such extravagant beauty that will impact us, and those closest to us, for every season to come.

936Pennies Motherhood Parenting

I Dont Want To Look Back And Wonder How We Got There

September 14, 2016

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I am not sure how I didn’t notice until then. Why I didn’t see it until that very inconvenient moment when we’re rushing to get all three kids fed and dressed and out the door in time for church. But I did see it, and it stopped me dead in my hustle-bustle tracks.

The tick of the clock ceased to remind me that church would be starting soon, and we best be on our way. Instead, I took in the sight of our oldest boy as he bound through the living room. I studied his shoulders in that button-up. When had they turned from such pre-school round to little boy square?

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His legs looked impossibly long in those dark denim jeans. And as he ran and jumped throughout the living room, his muscles flexed beneath his Sunday’s Best to reveal a budding strength. A young man strength. I bent down and rested a knee on the carpet, and pulled him near. “Just stay,” I told him. “I just want to hold you for a minute.” He leaned back just enough to catch my eyes with his, and then broke into a big grin.

That night I would dream that he was taller than me, and I know some day this will become a realty. My prayer is, that when that day comes, I won’t be asking myself how it happened.

I pray that I’ll know exactly how we got to that point, because I was fully present every step that it takes to get from here to there.

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I did some calculating this week. I unscrewed the tops of those jars that sit on a shelf in our living room, the ones that remind us that time will not stop, so we best learn how to slow it down. I held the copper coins in my hands, counted two by twos. And this is what I found.

Our youngest boy, the one who came on his own timetable through a whirlwind of labor weeks before we expected him. The one born so small I could hold him in one hand. The one who slept swaddled up soundly underneath a sunny window until his skin pinked up. The one who would quickly prove that his big voice and even bigger heart could compensate for his little size. We have spent 74 weeks getting to know him.

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And then our middle guy. The one born with a deep, raspy voice and a contagious giggle. The one who asks to sit and drink a cup of tea with me, and requests to wear a button-up shirt on the most ordinary of outings. The one who forces me to stop and slow our day, because he needs to dance in my arms. We’ve had 173 weeks with this one.

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And then the one who made me a Mama. The one who gave me a crash course in what it means to lose all of myself; to give and give and give some more. And then to receive; to take in all the love and whispers and smiles and moments of grand beauty.

The one whose focus is steadfast and determination is unshaken. The one who gathers paper and markers to make a card for friends when he hears that they are sick. The one who asks the deep questions, and doesn’t settle for shallow answers—and teaches me to do the same. We’ve had 269 weeks with this boy.

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This morning I sat in a room of women. Twelve strangers who are all walking this journey of penny spending; this voyage of time investing. We were gathered for a new Bible study, and took turns sharing our names and the ages of our children. Several talked as they nursed newborn babes. “I have three boys,” I began, “Ages 5, 3, and 1.” One woman sitting the next couch over had three children the same ages.

And I just wonder, what would happen if I had said instead, “My three boys are 74 weeks old, 173 weeks old, and 269 weeks old.” Surely there would have been a few odd glances. It seems as though after the first few months, we transition from counting weeks, to counting months, and then years. But what if we kept tracking these weeks? And what if I had said instead, “I have 862 weeks left with my youngest boy. With my second born, I have 763 weeks remaining. And, well, with my firstborn, I have only 667 weeks left.”

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It’s the same reason some parents say that they can’t do it—this time counting. It’s why for a long time, I didn’t think I could do it either. Sometimes we don’t want this stark reminder. But if we’re not keeping track, I fear we’ll lose track.

I fear we’ll stop noticing the details, and that we might just miss the process of it all. I’m afraid that we’ll get to that last week, when we’re sitting on a bedside helping them pack for college, or watching them drive away to their next adventure, and we’ll wonder how we got there.

I don’t want to wonder how we got there. I want to be able to look back and see a continuous string of moments marked by my full presence, my full attention, my full appreciation. I want to harness the time and engrave it with all of me noticing all of them.

And so I keep counting.

Faith

When Did You Last Feel Small As A Child?

September 6, 2016

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He ran up ahead of me, the sound of gravel crunching under sandals joining in chorus with the water cascading down rocks beside us. “A waterfall! Mom! A waterfall!”

His little brother followed close behind. “Oh!! A waterfall!” his little voice squealed. The baby fidgeted in the hiking pack strapped to my back. I could feel his eagerness to explore as I unstrapped the pack and set him down to his adventures.

I could see it reflected in their eyes within the shapes of mountain peaks and aspen—wonder. I’ve witnessed it more and more since our move to the Rockies. The boys have these certain looks, smiles, a depth in their eyes, reserved for those holy moments when their spirit is overwhelmed by wonder. And as I’ve witnessed these moments of awe pouring forth like a flower at the height of its bloom, I have felt small. Magnificently small.

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“Mom! This is our playground!” Our oldest yells back to me when he spots a meadow of trees rich with just-the-right-climbing-height branches. As I watch them balance across the dark, twisted trunk of a felled pine tree, or observe them scaling boulders six times taller than their tiny frames, I see them beholding something larger than I could ever offer. This is beauty I could never create for them. This is peace I could never devise of my own ideas. This is imagination I could never inspire. This is play I could never coordinate. This is awe I could never script.

I can only bring them to where these things are found, and set them down straight into the midst of God’s glory.

And the more their tiny hearts grasp of this magnificence, the more they want. Mystery, artistry, intrigue, delight– it draws them. The encounter with glory and beauty transcending anything they’ve ever known or seen—these experiences tug at their hearts; tell them this is right. This is good. This is the work of their Creator.

It’s not lost on me that since our recent move, my words have been infused with talk of the mountains. They are kind of my thing. And I’m curious—what is your thing? What is that one piece of creation that, when you encounter it, it steals the breath right out of your lungs?

What is that one thing that makes everything insignificant fade from your thoughts?

What is that one thing that makes you feel small?

I see it as my boy kicks at pebbles next to the stream, towering summits meeting together as his backdrop. He looks tiny. And right there, small in the midst of grand, he is most happy. And I find the same is true of myself.

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In a world that touts largeness and praises grandeur and acclaims loud—I find that true peace is found where I feel smallest. This is where perspective shifts, and anything without lasting value loses its allure.

This is where glory overshadows the distractions that pull me every which way, and shines light on the path to true significance.

This is where we find joy in servanthood, peace in letting go of our expectations, and purpose in making His name known….not ours.

This is where we discover that we don’t have to do it all. He has, and He will.

This is where we find comfort and refuge, knowing the One who commands the wind and waves. The One who feeds the sparrow and clothes the flower. The One who knit us together, and said of us, very good.

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When did you last feel as small as that child lost among the lilies of a vast meadow? When did you last come face to face with your own smallness, and God’s largeness? Perhaps that is where peace awaits, where God’s glory shines light on our own smallness, and we discover relief. Relief from the pressure and push and strive and fear. Maybe this is where we find room to breathe and trust in the only One with power greater than our impossibilities, and love deeper than all of our wanderings.

I suppose, “He must increase but I must decrease” was meant not only as instruction, but also as gift. That as we let go of any boasting or striving of our own accord—when we let go of having big influence, making big money, chasing big dreams, or building a big name—then we discover His big blessing.

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And perhaps we will only begin to discover these things when we find ourselves standing next to a fourteen-thousand foot mountain, or dipping our toes into an ocean with depths beyond our comprehension. Or maybe we’ll sense it as we stare into the eyes of our newborn child, or lay on a bed of pine needles and stare up into the Redwoods, or sit in a graveyard surrounded by headstones telling of unthinkable stories authored by a skilled and gracious Creator.

This place of smallness; this thing that brings you to your knees and in a moment jolts everything back into perspective—chase after it with great abandon. Don’t let it out of your sight. Set your eyes on where you encounter God’s glory, and run straight ahead. Chase this feeling of small. Pursue what makes His name big. And wherever you find it, sit down, settle in, be renewed, and return often.

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936Pennies Motherhood Peace Plan

It’s Time To Reclaim A Peaceful Motherhood

September 2, 2016

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It would be so easy. Convenient, even, which is very rare in a house with three kids ages five and under. The toddler is napping. The older boys are contentedly constructing Lincoln Log houses together in their room. The house is quiet. I could sit and answer a few emails. My boy walks into the kitchen and asks if I can build with him. “I’d like to Buddy, but I need to finish up a little bit of work.” “Ok,” he replies, “maybe later.” 

He turns and walks out of the kitchen, and immediately my Peace Plan comes to mind, and that one line written, “No work between 8 and noon” It’s 11:00. It’s their time.

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I pour another cup of coffee and walk over to my boy. “I changed my mind,” I tell him, “Can I build a house with you?” He smiles and jumps in the air, then rushes off ahead of me to his room. For a while we sit there together, me and my boys. I find it hard; somewhat restless. But with each minute passing, I feel more at ease. This is where I’m supposed to be right now. When we finish our grand construction, I set up their beanbags against the wall, grab a stack of books, and we settle in, each boy on my side. This is where peace is. And today I’ve chosen it.

A Peace Plan is just that—a plan. It is a constant reminder to me of what my heart really desires and needs. It is a reflection of my highest values. It is a warning light when I’m slipping into distraction, or losing sight of what matters most in my life.

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I wrote of this Peace Plan a while back, and how it might just be the most important plan that we can make as parents.

It is a guide for navigating us through every single day, helping us to make the most of them. Peace has so much to do with how we spend our time. This plan is the one thing I have found successful for looking back at the end of the day, and seeing a few highlights; a few strategically chosen moments, a few intentional choices made, a few favorite parts of my day; all structured together by the blueprint of this Peace Plan.

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The plan changes from time to time. It has to, in order to be an effective defense against the ever-changing peace thieves in our lives. As our kids grow and we find ourselves in new seasons of life, we face different threats to our peace. And so this plan must be ever evolving, in tune with our heart and mind.

At the beginning of each month, I evaluate those two all important questions that are the foundation of this plan. What will bring more peace to our days right now? And, What is stealing my peace right now?

And then I begin to write, short and simple.

No work between 8 and 12.

Early morning time alone—before the kids wake.

Slow mornings at home, or at the park.

No running unnecessary last-minute errands.

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It is not a to-do list or a goals list. It’s a focus list. It’s about shining a spotlight on the things that give us peace, and reminding ourselves of them every single day. Just as important, it requires pinpointing the very things that are stealing our peace. Those things that when we succumb to them, our shoulders tense. Our mind tells us to put the phone away. Our heart tells us to stay home and sip coffee, that errand can wait. Our spirit tells us to shut down the laptop and read to our child. Our soul is very good at pointing out where peace is, if we’ll only pay attention. And that is when we can begin drafting our Peace Plan.

It’s not elaborate, but simple and raw. It shows us how we want to spend our time, and how we don’t want to spend it. It identifies weaknesses. It highlights our values.

Go hiking with my husband

Make cards with the boys for family

Write something every day

Read a novel

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I pin the Plan next to my desk, where I can glance at it every day; a regular check-in with my heart to see if I’m where I want to be.

I don’t always get it right. Some days I find myself sucked into the social media vortex, or staying up too late, leaving me too tired in the morning to grab that alone time. But when I miss it—I know right away. I see it staring straight back into my eyes—fear. Stress. Frustration. Discontent. Guilt. I feel it deep within my spirit that I missed out on something better.

But when I do get it right, when I choose Lincoln Logs and books over email because it’s still morning—which means it’s their time—I see something much better staring right back into my eyes. I see their eyes. And that is exactly where peace is found.

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I have a habit of asking my boys at bedtime what the favorite part of their day was. Sometimes their answers surprise me. They’ll mention one little thing that I hardly counted memorable, but it stood out to them. It offers me a priceless glance into their hearts. Lately, when I ask myself the same question, What was my favorite part of the day? Almost always I think back to a moment in the day that my Peace Plan brought me to.

And that is exactly what this plan is for—a guarantee that we’ll catch those moments, and make them matter. The Peace Plan is for creating those favorite moments of the day, and protecting against their extinction. If you were to sit down and do a little bit of introspection; to put a name to the things stealing your peace right now, and if you could make some simple changes to bring more peace to your heart and these days of raising your kids…wouldn’t you? Perhaps it’s time to start writing.

“Those Who Plan Peace Have Joy” Proverbs 12:20

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