Introspective Insights

Introspective - adj: Examining sensory and perceptual experiences. Insight - n: The capacity to discern the true nature of a situation.

Dare to Reflect – In Reflection is Life

I write out of my weakness, it defines me, the inability to reflect on life. In that weakness I write to discover the divine thread, the God-leading words, the gratitude for the mundane. When I do not write, I am restless and lost, forgetting what I’ve learned, where I’ve been and from where I have come. Despair results and addiction to food, reading, and coloring fill the void, numb the pain.

Coffee flows and steams where I write and obsessive amounts of journals live in jumbled stacks, all written in at one point or another. Coffee paraphernalia, grounds, and mugs strewn all over the kitchen. Pens, pencils, post-it notes, laptop, and lamp.

It is in the reflecting, the looking outside of myself where I find true life. My people busy me with needs, wants, schooling, and general chaos. But it is in the reflection where the purity and beauty of life is lived. The scarlet red cardinal singing on the branch in a background of grey, white, black. The orange pink skies appearing only five minutes at dawn, swept away by the blustering wind. The cherub cheeks of sleeping girl, hair matted, fuzzy sleeper draped. The strong arms of him holding me.

This life also deals its pain, but this reflection is necessary also. Sitting in the chair where my father died, seeing the world he saw in those final moments, leaves swaying and shushing, light fading. Entering in the brokenness of sister standing over infant son’s grave, days marked in black ink that blur as I hang my head. Daughter asking me to read dates on them all as I kneel in damp grass overcome. Friend lost and shattered when brother leaves this world. All life involves loss and each story, experience shines a light warming us to stand and move on, broken, but full of purpose.

I drag myself from warmth in early darkness, stumbling for coffee, shuffling to favorite chair, soft light. I read always, books stacked to my right. I crack open black journal, embossed flowers and words flow from my heart. And when they are typed in, I look back at what I have missed those months. I marvel at the words, the images. Who wrote this? Surely, not me?

Yet, it is only me as I pause in the half-light. I have found and remembered those things I wanted to forget, lost those things that I wanted to remember. They are here, if I have pause to write about them, this scrawl crooked and slashing on page, small and perfectly formed on the next.

My passion rises from this broken down, ugly, stricken world and finding joy, gratitude, divinity as close as my living room, back yard, and across the miles. They are all there if we look, but we must have eyes to see, time to pause, and practice to truly celebrate it. I am not always good at it, but when I make it a habit, I always find it.

My friend, dare to reflect. Even in the pain that we inevitably all must face. And in that pain there is always joy hiding at the next turn.

Michigan, My Michigan

Today I went with my daughter’s class to the Michigan Historical Museum and Capital Dome. I love museums and beautiful architecture, but I had no idea that both places were so spectacular. The museum’s three story tall topographical map of the state and large, native stones as well as a massive piece of copper were awesome. It was interesting to see the lighthouse lens and other artifacts and stories of Michigan through the years. In the one room school house, I found this poem on the wall:

Michigan My Michigan

Michigan My Michigan – Michigan Historical Museum, Lansing, MI

I choked up reading this as it made me think about all of the places I love so much in the state – beaches, forests, and urban centers – Arcadia, Traverse, St. Joseph, South Haven, Frankenmuth, Plymouth, Detroit, nature centers we love – Sarett and Kensington. I’ve been all over the United States and each time I’m away, I’m reminded of how I love to live in Michigan, my chosen home. Today my heart swelled with state pride knowing there is truly no other place I would rather be.

Arcadia Fall Sunset

Fall Sunset – Camp Arcadia

A Piece of Me

This summer we traveled to a family camp up north on the shore of Lake Michigan. While the weather was not perfect, the setting was and having lived by Lake Michigan for many years I have never seen the lake so calm and peaceful. Most days there were hardly waves, incredibly glassy and still. One day I wrote in my journal that we could not see the lake, but we could hear it, the mist and fog hanging low. And isn’t that a metaphor for life? Our sights murky, but yet we hear and see patches of life around us.

I truly left a piece of myself at camp – the serenity and slowness, the majestic splendor of orange and pink sunsets, dunes, multicolored rocks, constant waves lapping. I’ve never had a place tuck its way into my heart as this.

love camp

A friend asked me what it was, the “big thing” that made such an impression. Truth is, there was no breathtaking “ah ha”. Only the quiet, repetition of sun, sky, water, sand, walking, playing and breathing this rarefied air.

One night the rain stopped and as we sat by the fire I heard snapping and cracking sounds in the forest. I realized in the utter stillness and quiet I was hearing for the first time the sounds of rain drops rolling off one leaf to the next in a splash, smack and crack. Utter amazement.
The stars were twinkling lights as densely cluttered as the fake ones on my Christmas tree. Glittering and sparkling, an infinite number. My neck aching, refusing to shift my gaze. Each moment the simple beauty of this place forever weaving it’s way into my DNA.

Now that I am home I know that I must always go back, take every opportunity, reach out and return and embrace that piece of me.

Six Years

To my Zachary on the occasion of his 6th birthday.

Six years ago, he was born – our second child, a son, Zachary John, which means “remembered by a gracious God”. We were in awe of this precious boy – crying softly, hand tightly clenching Jerry’s finger. He cooed and sighed in his sleep foreshadowing the loud, joyous, boyish sounds we now hear every day.


He preferred one of us snuggling him to sleep instead of a lovey, thumb, or pacifier. A whole year of nights he only wanted Jerry. He smiled at everyone, everywhere, always looking for a smile back. Every picture in his baby book is a grin. To my astonishment, he laughed at 10 days old, on Valentine’s Day. A precious love gift for this exhausted mama. I’m still in love with him today.


His first steps were terrifying to him, but that dimpled smirk and sigh of relief boosted his confidence. Now, he never stops running.


When I’m angry and tired, he gently comes to me and says, “I love you, mama.” My heart melts. He likes to listen to us read to him, but yesterday he read his first sentence.


This mama aches for that little baby boy, but loves this delightful, six year old boy in front of me. Time marches forward, ignoring my pain, but gifting me with the joy and discovery of my Zachary.

Stretched Before Us


It is the end of August and we are holding desperately to
the last days of summer.  We sat by the
fire last night and in the twilight and flickering fire, I studied these three
faces of ours.  I couldn’t take my eyes
off Kayla.  Freckled face, long hair
spilling down her shoulders, eyes fixed on a book, legs curled up into the chair.  At eight years old I ponder that in a mere ten
years, she could be spreading her wings for the first time.
  I can’t bear the thought; I look up to the
stars, squinting to see the first ones appear.

I remember my own childhood – it seems – in snapshots…sledding
down a hill in preschool, a yarn and burlap sewing project in kindergarten,
making ice cream in second grade, relearning to hold a pencil in fourth grade, confirmation
class in eighth grade.  In between those
times were summer – somehow rolled together into hours of living outside,
riding my bike, listening to rain under the metal awning.  When I ponder it all, the years mesh together
into this rapid playing silent movie a lifetime ago.
  

Today friends dropped their kids off at college for the
first time – realizing that their years of preparing come down to this moment.
  Letting them go free – hours from home, in undiscovered
places.  I remember leaving home – I recall
the mixed emotions of new found freedom, homesickness, anxiety, and looking
forward to this new, strange life away from home.

Others said good-bye to twenty-something kids, driving cross
country to new homes.  Miles of space and
time opening into a chasm of separation.
 
It seems that as I look through my friends, I see the same road
stretched before me – one that my own children are walking down since they left
my womb – one where they slowly move away from me.  

I glance back at Kayla’s sweet face; she is smiling over her
book – adventures found in her imagination. 
I’m praying that I get this right – that they will remember these days
with me.  I hope that in our hunting for
green things in the spring, and discovering crickets in the summer, reading
books near silent snow falling in winter that I have taught them how to view
the world in wonder.  I’m overwhelmed by
this ache rising in me that somehow grows stronger each year – discomfort
realizing that I have such limited time. 
And how am I using that time?  

I was a terrible babysitter growing up, but despite that, I
had a few regulars.  When I think back to
those days, I remember the kids, but I don’t remember experiences or bonding
with them. I remember watching TV or cleaning the kitchen – I never took the
time to really get to know them.
  In my
early teen mind, I was just there to watch over them, but somehow not become
involved.  I’m sure that I was the sitter
they didn’t like.
 

I can’t help but thinking that there is a little bit of that
teen babysitter left in me…that I don’t cultivate memories, but perform tasks
instead.  This thought tugs at my heart
making me realize that every action I choose while the kids are still with me
is a chance to say yes or no to them.
  I
look at our days and I’m afraid to admit that in saying yes to chores and
checklists that I unwittingly am saying no to them.  

Another day goes by and I see the twisting turning path
leading them away from me and I know that every shred of me wants to do
something drastic, but drastic measures are not needed.  Small, everyday changes need to be embraced…more
yesses and less noes.
  Only one week
until school starts.  What kind of
memories can we create in one week?

The Last Day


Yesterday was the last day of my 30’s.  For months I have thought about this birthday
and what it means for my life.  I’ve
joked with others saying that I’m planning my “mid-life crisis”.  I’ve considered what outlandish thing I could
carry out to celebrate this new phase in my life.  It seems that today was destined for momentous
announcements, fireworks, or some other type of fanfare. 
 

I contemplate everything that has happened in this
decade.  We bought our first home, became
parents three times, witnessed tragedies and joys, experienced unexplainable ups
and downs that made us stronger and enriched our lives for the better.  These were the life-sized, piercing
transitions – signing papers for the house and taking keys in hand, births after
hours of pushing, witnessing a friend’s tragic death, and walking out of my job
for the last time.  When I look at the
timeline of these 10 years, these events stand out screaming loudly, flashing sirens. 
 

But as I sit here in the still early morning a mere hour
away from the time of my birth, I realize that the biggest changes in my life
weren’t shrill or bombastic, but silent and reflective.
  While those significant events were the
catalyst for the changes, the changes themselves happened quietly and
gradually. 
 

As a new parent, I learned each day to lay down self and
serve those wee ones.  Most days I failed
miserably, cried often and as they grew gave myself over to anger and
annoyance.  But I’ve turned the corner
over the last few years by God’s grace. 
He has given me supernatural patience and a servant’s heart. 
 

God began changing my heart towards my job and career months
before I resigned.  While that day
terrified me, I had a great peace in my heart knowing that God was with
me.  Now two years later I can look back
and see how he has provided for us every single day – his faithfulness learned in
minor and immense ways.  
I can truly see
how each incident prepared me and I’m grateful for them.
Each experience has brought me to this moment – even the
daily, repetitive grind – an opportunity to learn and be refreshed and to turn
a different way.  

So as I leave the 30’s and enter the 40’s, I’m looking for
the quiet transitions and seeking the fresh and unique and seeing God’s face in
it all. 

Holding Time


I’ve written before about the fleeting moments of childhood rushing by me.  I was reminded of it
again today as I watched my preschooler almost turned big kid.
 

He’s all boy, my Zachary. 
Always smiling his dimpled grin – big blue eyes sparkling.  Today he was so hungry at the restaurant that
he ate his spaghetti and his two sister’s also – using two forks to shovel
everything in – grinning ear to ear, mouth stuffed.

He took his first shower today and laughed in delight at the
water running down on him – inching further and further under it.  Shaking, wiggling, shimmying around.  

I forget that even at five there is so much for him to
discover.
  Yesterday a neighbor let him
ride his battery powered car with real gear shifter, accelerator and brake.  He hit the accelerator for the first time,
bubbling cackle infectious.  

Preschool is almost over and big kid school looms on the
horizon.  I can’t imagine him not home
with me…can’t imagine him all spiffed up in his school uniform, backpack, and
lunchbox in tow and yet this reality is a few months away.  How can I hold onto this time?  I feel helpless under its ever flowing
current.
  

God puts us here to care for these small ones for such a
short time and yet the day-to-day can swallow us up if we allow it – I have
often and too easily allowed it.  Today I
aim for consistency in capturing the wonder, recording the moments, priceless
memories and gratitude for this gift of motherhood – even if fleeting.

Bread & Wine Book Review


One of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, just wrote a new book – Bread & Wine – A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes.  When I heard that I could get an advanced
copy and write a book review, I was ecstatic and jumped at the chance!
 

My best, brightest, and most positive memories are around
the table.
 While that includes the big
holidays like Easter, Christmas, and Thanksgiving at my Grandparent’s house, it
also includes the simple day-to-day gatherings. 
I remember laughing until I cried many nights at my childhood home over
any typical weeknight dinner – pizza or meatloaf or porcupine meatballs.  Five kids and my parents telling funny
stories and barely resisting spitting out our food or milk in fits of
silliness. 
 

I remember afternoons when a neighbor would show up and
there would inevitably be coffee and a snack – around the common kitchen table
– never in the living room.  I remember holidays
at my husband’s childhood home when we were dating and first married – in-laws
and siblings and nieces and nephews cackling and telling the same stories over
and over – crammed into spaces too small and nobody minding the tables between
us. 
 

I can see the table with splattered food that reached to the
walls, ceiling and floor when our three were little – loud and crying, and
spilling and even in that chaos, I see myself smiling, remembering.  I see Jerry and I at our favorite Italian
restaurant, the elderly waiter singing in Italian, the wine glass in my hand,
smiling and toasting and basking in my wonderful husband’s love. 
 

Around the table I see the people I hold onto and love. Even
when there is illness or pain or confusion or heartbreak or tension in the
everyday, when we are around the table, we can laugh and tell those same
stories – the ones that knit us together in an unbreakable bond. 
 

Shauna’s books have always met me where I am – right in the
midst of the same seasons in my life.  Cold Tangerines met me in the joys of my
life, Bittersweet met me during the
heartache, and Bread & Wine weaves
together all of those good times and bad, highs and lows into this everyday
necessity that is so much more than eating, but nourishment for both the body
and soul.  All of her books have left me
crying at one point and close to throwing them across the room at another – digging
deeply into the wonder and joy and striking the chord of pain and suffering.
Bread & Wine is no exception. 
 

The chapter entitled “Start Where You Are” has become my new
theme.  I’m an all or nothing person, so
I want to immediately start and master the next big thing with gusto –
controlling all its parts and accomplishing remarkable things.  But the truth is that I have to start where I
am – take small steps to move in that direction that results in those
remarkable things – whatever they are.
 
Running starts with walking and jogging and then logging miles – but
never in an instant or even over a single month.  Writing starts with single words strung into
sentences that result in moving thoughts and change producing vision.
    

“Open the Door” is a chapter that reminds me that true
authenticity when opening your home is being who you are in your own space even
if your space is like mine – perma-crumbs on the floor, dishes forever by the sink,
laundry baskets acting as multicolored living room accessories, splatters on
the bathroom mirror.  My mother always
welcomed neighbors and friends in the front door even when she was in her
pajamas, even when the kitchen was undone from the last meal, even when we kids
had left toy after toy strewn in the living room.  The door was always open and I aspire to have
that open door policy, in hopes that people will understand and know that they
can come as they are to this place where I am who I am.

I have a set of Russian dolls – much like the one that
Shauna refers to in the chapter of the same name.  They sit on my mantle – six elegantly
decorated ladies all tucked into each other. 
In this chapter, she brought me to tears with this – looking through
pictures of her Grandparents with her Grandmother.  Her Grandmother said that she remembered just
how that thirteen year old felt and that nineteen year old bride felt and that
thirty year old on the motorcycle felt. 
“She said you carry them inside you, collecting them along the way, more
and more selves inside you with each passing year, like those Russian dolls,
stacking one inside the other, nesting within themselves, waiting to be
discovered, one and then another.”   And in that moment tears welling out of me, I
realized that all of those selves I’ve collected along the way are lost – that
I don’t know them anymore, that I seldom look back and reflect and remember and
reach deeply into myself to stack them all together and come to the full
realization of who I am today because of them.
 
Some of the baggage those selves have collected needs to laid down and
some of that past joy and wonder, and fun-loving personality need to be picked
up.  I sobbed realizing that in doing
this, it will change the person I am today and I so desperately need that.   Whenever I look at my Russian dolls, I will
remember. 
 

The chapter entitled “Take this Bread” brings home to me
what it means to live this life around the table, acknowledging our physical
limitations by taking the time to sit around the table for bodily
nourishment.  But it doesn’t end there –
although our culture pushes us to use mealtimes as quick fuel stops for the
body – it goes much deeper than this. 
The table nourishes our body and soul and brings us together in that
singular place where we are all one.  Shauna’s
friend Shane so eloquently says – “bread is the food of the poor and wine is
the food of the privileged, and that every time we see those two together, we
are reminded of what we share instead of what divides us.” Yes! This physical
and spiritual act of communion – sharing bread and wine is the heart of this
book – the table that brings us together – but only if we fight for it and
cherish it and allow ourselves to be open to it.

The recipes – so fun and delicious!  I made the Basic Vinaigrette and loved the
simplicity of it.  My next go around I
will adjust the acidity using less balsamic vinegar and more olive oil, but I
have tried the original recipe on Greek salad and chicken and potatoes and
enjoyed them immensely.  I will likely
buy a better jar for it – my jelly jar has a high maintenance lid, which
results in more mess than I care for.
 

The Goat Cheese Biscuits were out of this world!  I do not have a cast iron skillet – but now
after making this I am inspired to purchase one.  They were dense and rich without being over
the top.  I gobbled up four in one
evening – I couldn’t resist!  (Looking
forward to eating more with eggs for breakfast!) I ended up making 14 biscuits
with the recipe instead of 12.

Overall, Bread &
Wine
is a real treasure of the mind, heart, and mouth.
  Each chapter weaves together a beautiful
tapestry of how the everyday table is one of the richest and most beautiful
places to be. 

I was given a free, advanced copy of Bread & Wine to review. 
However, my opinions are my own. 

Shauna Niequist is the author of Cold
Tangerines
 and Bittersweet,
and Bread & Wine. Shauna grew up in Barrington, Illinois,
and then studied English and French Literature at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. She
is married to Aaron, who is
a pianist and songwriter. Aaron is a worship leader at Willow Creek and is
recording a project called A New
Liturgy
. Aaron & Shauna live outside Chicago with their sons, Henry
and Mac. Shauna writes about the beautiful and broken moments of everyday
life–friendship, family, faith, food, marriage, love, babies, books,
celebration, heartache, and all the other things that shape us, delight us, and
reveal to us the heart of God.


This Spot


I’m sitting on our small couch, feet up on the ottoman, lights
out, Christmas tree on.  From this spot,
I can see the TV, the fireplace, outside through one of the small windows, the
whole living room – all of those things now quiet and dark.  From this spot I have rested, nursed three
babies, cried, slept, laughed, worked, and watched.
  Gazed out at children running around the
room, the seasons changing outside, and my life passing by faster than I can
imagine.

From this spot I have sat very still with three sleeping
babies in my arms (each at different times), looking down at their cherub
faces, curled up fists, and listening to their sweet sighs.  As I sat here in this spot, I looked outside
and observed every season change.
  Marveling
at bare trees showing fuzzy patches of green, bursting forth in swaying leaves,
turning gold, yellow, red and blowing away. 
Squinting hard to find the first snowflakes of winter silently floating
down.  Gazing down at my youngest child –
messy toddler hair sticking to her sweet cheeks, thumb in her mouth, hard sleep
weighing on my arm. 

In this spot, the moments of my life are performed before me
as I struggle to grasp them.  Snapshots
in my mind play out – if I am still enough to capture them.  Yet I am not usually still.  I spend less and less time here in this spot and
somehow, I am sure that I am missing it all. 
Someone please tell me it is not too late…not too late to sit here
quietly, smiling, holding on to these three.
 
For in this spot – this quiet, comfortable, ordinary spot, I have
experienced more life than I have ever before and wonder if I will ever
again. 

Sibling Surprises

Each child we have had has brought many surprises – things that make us laugh, cry, and just look at each other in wonder. But the most surprising aspect of having more than one child is how they interact as siblings. I am surprised when they hug each other, comfort each other, and find ever new ways to play together. I am in awe of the relationships these little people have with each other and the joy they bring to our home.

But I shouldn’t really be surprised – I’m from a large family – there are 5 of us – 2 boys and 3 girls. Our house was always loud and exciting and there was always someone to play with and something to do. I don’t recall watching much TV growing up and I count that as a huge blessing. These other 4 people – we laughed and cried together, built a whole basement full of tents, dug a swimming pool together (if only for a day), rode bikes, went camping and for better or for worse, always had each other. And now here we are – years later – spread across the country and some of us – on the other side of the world.

This sibling love goes on – but it is different now – richer, more understanding, easily picking up where we left off and always funny.

Twin brother – so far away, but close to my heart – doing the work he was always meant to do…we are both writing, but in such different ways. I knew the day in high school when you left on a trip with a friend that was the beginning of our times apart and I cried.

Little brother – my “partner” when we played – always zany and unique and unexpected. So awesome to see the loving dad you are.

Little sister – the one I waited for, prayed for as a child – holding your little hands in the car squeezed into the seat belt, playing Barbie’s – everything – “just like Jenny”. What kindred spirits we are – having children the same day. I never knew you wanted to be just like me THAT much!

Little bunny – pictures of me holding you – your nose always running – I remember changing your diapers and taking you out of your play pen, silverware families, and lots and lots of beauty pageants watched. You are beautiful inside and out.

The four of you – I admit, I take you for granted (and I don’t mean to), but I can’t imagine this life without you. You are truly my best friends. These sibling surprises – these gifts of who you are that God has given me – I’m so grateful for you.

I have a dream of a day when we all spend a vacation together by a lake just like when we were younger – sunshine and campfires and time spent together. I believe that day is coming soon. Dream with me.

I love you all.