Rising Star

This is now officially my season to freak out. It seems to me, most moms spend so much of their days trying to savor time with their small children, using hashtags like #staylittleforever and #stopgrowing. Although I have buckets of memories with my kids as babies and I’ll never, ever forget the sound of a onesie snapping or the feel of drool-soaked terry cloth bibs…it’s not been a secret that I’ve thought for years that the older stages might be a better mom-fit for me. As Jack is 8 now, it does seem to be true. Our relationship still holds its tension, but it’s so durable now, it has breathing room, and it’s just so much easier. I celebrate this and all of the hard work our family puts in to grow together. Plus, it’s nice that my children can speak cohesively and put on their own socks. But, I can finally say that I’d be okay if the clock stopped ticking. I’m having “Young-5s-versus-Kindergarten” discussions about Oliver and no matter what we decide, he will be in school next year. The days of buddying around with him will be over. He’s headed for the big, wide world and although I’m so excited for him, I am actually fighting back a bit on the inside.

Although age 4 did bring about some attitude changes for Ollie (he can now talk back to me like a sassy, entitled teenager. Who knew?), this boy continues to be the warmth our family needs.

His cuddly kindness goes with him everywhere. And despite that he will always be “Jack’s Little Brother”, he has an identity all his own now. I hope I never forget the first time I realized this. During the summer, I attended a training for another class to teach at MVP called Group Centergy. The culmination of the training involved submitting a videotape of me teaching an hour-long memorized routine of yoga and Pilates movements set to music. In order for me to have the practice time I needed, I put Oliver in an all-day Sports Camp at the gym for a week. Already, this was a big deal. 2-3 hours, sure. But all day? Obviously, that’d be too much.

He thrived. I remember picking him up one day and received a message from his camp counselor that another mom wanted to connect with me because her son (who is a bit older) bonded with Oliver so well. This was a HUGE moment for me. Maybe I’m not alone here…but do you have pivotal moments where you just realize more deeply and truly that your kids are actual people leading their OWN lives? That they have, as Michael W. Smith put it, “a place in this world”? I just couldn’t believe that Ollie was noticed. Our family can so easily be the “Jack Show”. But things were changing and we now had another star to feature.

Not only did Oliver find a wonderful new buddy at Sports Camp, but God was actually up to something even greater. We have found such a wonderful friendship with this family, and it didn’t take long for me and this other mama to deeply trust one another. It’s been so good for Jack to see that Oliver is his own person with his own friends.

I’m not sure exactly what program he will be in next year. But his name will be on some class list, his backpack will include his lunch, and I’ll have to somehow utter the phrase, “I’ll pick you up at 3:30.” (It’s not okay to sit in your car in the school parking lot for 7 hours, is it?) Until that day, I will join the #staylittleforever movement, soaking in every memory and milestone I can with the little man who will truly always be my baby.

Do you want to get well?

Several months ago, in the middle of another snowy Michigan winter, Josh and I joined the millions of people who make a post-holiday switch in their routine toward a healthier lifestyle. It’s been no secret that we have been steadily journeying on the road to wellness for quite some time. After Jack was born, we did the Abs diet together where we both lost loads of weight and realized that healthy eating was not only important to us individually, but also a shared interest and value. Slowly, we began learning and reading about what good nutrition is, trying do demystify so much of the culture’s manipulations and falsehoods around this topic. We’ve tackled the Paleo diet, put in a garden (and, sadly, removed it), read books like In Defense of Foodand we’ve come to believe our table—including everything on it—is one of our most sacred spaces. Almost 7 years later, we still love digging deeper into nourishment together, taking things in and out of our diets for periods of time, and doing our best to take care of both ourselves and the little bodies we’ve been given to protect and strengthen.

This February, when there was nothing better to do and a few Christmas pounds to lose, I suggested to Josh that we try a week-long cleanse. After all the things we’d tried for much longer, 7 days seemed like a piece of cake. Because this was just a week, I did not have huge expectations nor did I take it all that seriously. I knew it would help Josh’s winter weight loss regimen (as a fitness instructor at this point, I realized I didn’t have much—or anything, really—to lose) and it’d give me something to focus on other than the fact that I wanted to pack my bags for Florida. So, I purchased about 6 heads of cabbage, made multiple pots of soup, and posted the simple cleanse schedule on our fridge. No big thing. I had absolutely no idea that the first 3 days of this cleanse would change the course of the next 5 months (and counting!) and possibly the rest of my entire life.

You may recall that a few posts (and many, many months) ago, I wrote about how chronic pain initially drew me to yoga. This all began when Jackson was born. Because God’s greatest blessings usually require major growth and uprooting, becoming a mother turned me inside out.

I’ve known deep down, quite literally in my bones, that things have not been right with me since. But for the better part of a decade, I haven’t been able to piece together all that changed, moved, broke, and shifted in me as I brought Jack into the world. Over the years, I’ve written about how incredibly hard it’s been to give up running because my body isn’t what it used to be and it just can’t handle the impact. I’ve mentioned here and there that I’ve seen physical therapists and my chiropractic adjustments usually get a Facebook “Hallelujah!” all their own because of the (temporary) relief I feel. I’ve raved about my experience of being a Group Ride instructor and then a yoga teacher and how these forms of fitness have lead me not just to a career choice, but a calling. Well before February, it seemed—at least to most people—that I was the picture of healthy.

But underneath it all, I’ve been in pain. No doctor, chiropractor, physical therapist, diet or lifestyle change was truly addressing or correcting the root issue or taking away the hurt. What pain exactly? Since no one can crawl inside my skin and feel what I do, the best way for me describe this pain is a dull ache in the lower back and around my pelvis. I’ve felt pockets of inflammation around my sacrum and my nerves always seem to be achy and disrupted. Obviously it’s been livable because I have (stubbornly and selfishly) put more miles on this body in my running shoes; I had another child; I became a fitness instructor; I learned to pretzel myself and stand on my head. But through the course of all this education and with such improvements in lifestyle choices, the pain never went away. I was hurting everyday. Because I rarely stop moving, many grew concerned that my exercising was perhaps a cause of this pain. But I knew that there was something deeper here that I did not understand. I just had no idea who to ask or where to turn to at this point. I was still paying the bills of the previous medical and alternative specialists I’d seen. And, frankly, there was a part of me that was so used to the pain that I didn’t know what it would be like to live without it.

Backing up a bit, the food struggle greatly precedes having Jackson. I’ve always been an avid exerciser and had a few bouts with worrisome activity like not eating (thank you, high school), over-exercising, or other destructive behavior. I come from a family that has deeply-rooted, generational sin and struggle with food and body image. It’s hard to admit that it’s always been an issue for me, but I grew up with this struggle being not just a part of life, but a big one. Thankfully, I did emerge onto the college scene with a decent self-image and the Lord put several key people in my path to do some healthy correcting in my mind and heart over this issue. And, He continues to do that today (bless you, Holy Yoga). (Side note: The Lord couldn’t have given me a better husband to come alongside me and love me fiercely through every size, battle and season. Love you, Josh.)

Needless to say, this didn’t begin with having children. And, even with my growth and change, it hasn’t totally ended either. But this past February, I was in a good place. Other than being in constant pain, I had grown to love my body and all it can do. I’d matured and healed in many ways on the inside. I was beginning to not only accept the flaws and limitations of my body, but actually appreciate them! The pain was inescapable (and, if I’m honest, this was leading to deep hopelessness), but I could live around it and was so pleased with the many changes my body HAD undergone. Therefore, the cleanse really didn’t seem like a big deal. Until, it was.

The first three days of this cleanse involved removing everything from my plate besides fruits and veggies. Fruits only the first day. Vegetables the second. Fruits AND vegetables on the third day. And day four was the day I may remember for the rest of my life. I had almost NO pain in my body. Anywhere. This was almost confusing and frustrating because I wasn’t in “fix it” mode. I wasn’t seeking treatment. I wasn’t trying to control symptoms or participate in any improvement plan. I just ate fruits and vegetables, and I was nearly liberated.

Considering how healthy our diet already was, I was overwhelmed, stupefied, and amazed that my answer could have been served on a platter all along. It’s worth mentioning here that two of my wonderful friends, Jen and Audrey, became health coaches within the last year while I was learning the techniques of vinyasa flow. I’m blessed with friends who are all on the wellness journey together, each with our own angle using our distinct gifts. And while they were studying at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Jen mentioned to me (more than once), that perhaps my pain could be a gut issue. Considering good nutrition was already such a huge part of my life, I did not have ears to hear what she was suggesting. I let a partition divide us in those conversations, even though she is a person I trust more than anyone.

Once I discovered this freedom, I never wanted to return to feeling achy again. So, I put myself on a directionless elimination diet just to live without the pain. Inspired by my own faulty research, I spent over two months eating only fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds and beans. I leaned on my friends for advice here and there, but I did not have the desire to hire them or any other holistic professional because I thought I could do this on my own. I got as creative as possible with meal planning and didn’t care the my grocery bills sky-rocketed and I spent as much time in the kitchen as before, not expecting my children to always eat like me. For months, I felt FREE. I didn’t care one bit that I was a social difficulty. I didn’t mind that I had to pack my own meals and snacks for any gathering or get-together. And I didn’t miss eating out at restaurants either, which was good because with our grocery bills so high, we couldn’t afford it anyway! Food became my whole life. I didn’t know where I was headed, but I didn’t care. I was so preoccupied with all that I was doing—building into Holy Yoga, sharing Young Living, teaching at MVP, raising my boys—that I didn’t even mind that there was no end in site to this severely strict diet. I just knew I didn’t want to be in pain. Healing is powerful, and I couldn’t believe I had the ability to live inside my own body pain-free. That was all that mattered.

But, like most journeys that lack wisdom, darkness was around the corner. After several months, deprivation began to settle in. Rather than freedom, I increasingly felt restricted and restrained. I started longing for any food other than the loads of produce that packed my fridge. Although my body didn’t hurt, the ache was now within. I began to obsess over food, almost more than ever before but in a uniquely different way. I did crazy things like make unsweetened almond milk chia pudding at midnight. When one meal was done and the kitchen spotless, I began making the next snack or prepare the next meal. I began to unravel. All the while, a new pain was introduced: stomach pain. My system was imbalanced and my body needed more than it was receiving (not in quantity, that’s for sure!). I became not only miserable, but horribly depressed.

I spent the next few weeks sinking into depression, praying myself back out, and dealing with a permanent stomach ache. My thoughts darkened, wanting to escape this whole problem and process. With my disposition, maturity, and faith, I was caught off guard when I considered self-harm as a way to cope with the isolation and misery of this elimination diet. I was in a bad place, and realized yet again that this issue was so much bigger than me and that I needed help to move forward. Every meal was stressful and exhausting, and no matter how I tried to improve my thought life, my mind and heart were battling constantly.

I made an appointment with Grand Rapids Natural Health and decided to begin seeing a Naturopath for this food issue and also a side agenda of discussing sleep patterns and hormone balance.* Audrey had started health coaching there months before and my cousin Stacy also had fallen in love with the place. I prayed it would be a good fit for me and that just getting help would pull me out of the darkness and help me experience freedom and joy again. I sat drinking cucumber water with a doctor who listened to my story for over an hour and rapidly took notes. I shared with her the details of the cleanse and every bit of journey since, and she pricked into some of my past as well. I tried to come across like I’m total normal aside from the chronic pain issue, but she pressed just enough to discover that food and body image for me (as it is for most women, I believe) was complicated and had long, twisted history. I began the process of the Reintroduction Diet which held great promise. I had begun this process with a chart from Jen, but didn’t have much luck with the foods I introduced. Pain came back pretty quickly, and I didn’t want to fill up an entire chart with new foods I only had to reject because I was yet again hurting. Plus, I felt at the time like documenting every evidence of pain required too much self-study for my already-critical self. But, after my visit with the Naturopath, I hung the chart back on my fridge and kept going. I purchased the necessary supplements and, aside from wanting to punch her in the throat for taking coffee from me, I felt empowered and understood. Glory.

I’m still in the reintroduction process today, but it’s been wonderful to discover that I can eat organic chicken, gluten-free grains, and even small amounts of sugar. My menus almost resemble normal now and my emotional health has almost been restored. To be frank, I absolutely hate this reintroduction process because of the nutritional micro-management. This entire journey has gone against my free-spirited personality. I don’t think this critically. I don’t want to be this aware. But, as I have mentioned in a previous blog, I often come back to John 5:6. It’s a peculiar verse to carry around, but I tucked it away a long time ago. It says, “When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?‘”.

What if He asked me this? Was I tired enough of hurting to actually participate in my healing? I can tell you that if I had known how long this road would stretch before me, I absolutely, without-a-doubt never would have begun. I would have said that this was too difficult for this particular season of life when I’m feeding a young family each day (sometimes ALL day!). I would have worried about my own emotional health and my mental capacity to view food more as medicine than as life-giving nourishment (and—let’s be real—mindless comfort). I would have leaned away from the exhaustion of food charts and the toil of saying no to foods every day that I wanted so badly. Apart from pregnancy, this has been the most interesting, challenging, and refining thing I’ve ever gone through.

I’ve been waiting to share the details of this process because I’ve wanted to be sure that I’m speaking from a place of honest reflection and clarity rather than confusion, defeat, or false arrival. Although my reintroduction process isn’t over, I know I’m on the road to healing and am so thankful for all the important little pieces that have contributed to my journey. My biggest reason for sharing is not only so I will remember these details in the long run, but to encourage you to think differently about all the aches, pains, ailments and illnesses that plague us. I’m pretty convinced that what I actually have is Leaky Gut and a slight estrogen imbalance. But, since I was 19, I’ve been told over and over that I have an anxiety disorder. And since Jack was born, there hasn’t been a single doctor or other medical professional that has been even in the ballpark of the root cause of my dysfunction. (But I sure have been offered a variety of pain medications and treatment suggestions.)

I want to help rescue other people from their pain that may seem like a life-sentence. I want to bring others back to the Garden, encourage them toward this natural lifestyle, & help people find answers to long-perplexing conditions. I want to direct them to Jen, Audrey and Naturopaths. I don’t know exactly why or how I ended up with this. I do know my first experience giving birth was beautiful but traumatizing, and my body has been more honest about the trauma than I have. I know that the years after having Jack were emotional tsunamis in my marriage and home. And my body has been more truthful than me or anyone else in trying to piece me together. And I know that God has provided so many resources to help heal, soothe, correct, straighten, and care for us. And yet somehow collectively we’ve grown to trust chemists more than we trust the One who designed the cabbage leaf.

I’m not suggesting that medicine doesn’t have it’s rightful, good place. But I’m certainly living proof that it doesn’t have all the answers. The simple truth is, the closer we live to the way God intended us to, the better off we will be. The implications of this truth stretch across every area of life. And if we move on the continuum toward more holistic thinking and problem-solving, the better off I believe we will be. At the end of all of this, I’m going to give God the glory and thank Him for drawing me to that cleanse. For using my pain to draw me to Holy Yoga. Maybe even for putting it there in the first place. For bringing me to Young Living. For establishing my dear relationship with my chiropractor and his family. For telling my redemption story. For rescuing me, even though it feels like I’m being dragged through the mud on the way to freedom.

This process has been awfully difficult. But I’m grateful for the strength and perseverance I now have because of it. And as I continue to hear Jesus’ question, my answer remains the same.

“Do you want to be well?” Yes. Yes I do. I really want to be well. As wholly and completely as I can on this side of heaven. And I’m willing to do what it takes.

 

 

 

*Another piece to this story is my withdrawal from nightly sleeping medication and removal of all birth control and other medications intended for hormone help. But, this post could only contain so much crazy.

Holding the Baton

It’s Saturday evening and God decided to close yet another day with an unspeakably beautiful sky. Blends of hot pink and orange set the sky ablaze with blue-gray puffy clouds eerily blotted and strung all over it. After being inside for almost 72 hours, I took the boys to a pumpkin patch and stood speechless looking at the sparkling crescent moon, the bumpy rows of pumpkins, and eventually the fiery backdrop of the sunset.

Josh has been hiking in Manistee National Park for three days (he comes home tomorrow, Hallelujah!) and I’ve been within the walls of my home almost that entire time. Jack was diagnosed with strep throat yesterday which kept us home, under blankets and watching movies. Not only have I been single parenting for three days, but I’ve been doing so with strep throat, potty training, re-sleep training (does it ever end for us?) and house arrest. Even as a “stay at home mom”, I rarely have days where I never leave. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a busy body (to a fault!) and often miss sweet opportunities to soak in quality time with my children. The past three days have of course contained neurotic (but so practical, right?) attic organization, washing every surface of our house, sorting and selling toys (let’s try out minimalism, shall we??), and making banana bread and from-scratch chicken noodle soup. And that was just Thursday.

I love being busy and often it’s with the right things. But I toss the baton to Josh too quickly when he gets home from work and start chipping away at the to-do list that is so preciously important and yet no one in the world knows or cares about it but me. The deadlines are in my head, and they both motivate me and crush me. My hands are always folding, chopping, writing, washing, or organizing. My days of carpool, yoga teaching, piano lessons, soccer practice, potty training, and all the other little details of this small life leave me tired at the end of most days which is why I lean on Josh’s valiant return as the day starts its descent. Because I’m blessed with a helpful spouse who is madly in love with his children, and I now have a hands-on, “here-is-my-life-let-me-help-you” aunt in town, I sometimes wonder if I can even do the job of being a mom on my own if I had to. I’ve been in this dance for a while where I do my part and I do my best, but I also bounce between help as much as I can. And the enemy lies to me and tells me that I’m just selfish and I couldn’t really do this alone. I carry the weight of the accusation.

But, I’m so glad these three days gave me the opportunity to rise up. I’ve been holding the baton firmly and independently for three days and running this small stretch of the race as strongly as possible. Side note: Why is it that the moment dad goes away, strep throat (or insert your curveball) arrives? I took help when I needed to teach my yoga classes, but other than that, it’s been only mom on deck. Not a big deal, not a long period of time. Single parents live in this zone. Why write a blog post about something as small as three little on-my-own days?

Because the past three days have liberated me from thinking I can’t do this job on my own. The shift in my confidence as a mother is big enough to share because if you need it, I want you to experience it too.

I talked this morning at Holy Yoga about relying on God’s strength and I have felt my muscles of confidence flexing and growing for three days. I’ve drawn new boundaries (and stuck to them!) all by myself with Oliver’s bedtime. I’ve created more peace and simplicity in our living space not to model a Pinterest-perfect house but rather to create more order. I’ve played “Hi Hi Cherrio” tons of times and carved out two different movie sessions just with Jack to watch The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I’ve done the book-reading, story-telling,  doctor-visiting and imaginative play. I’ve also set boundaries for my own work time and required that boys entertain themselves. For me, this is victorious, because the strength I have to do this job comes from the Lord and the enemy cannot manipulate me into thinking that I don’t have what it takes. I do. And these three days have revealed to me that I’ve got this. He’s tested me and strengthened me and I’m okay.

My question to you is this: What manipulative half-truths are you living into or entertaining? Where does the enemy twist your weakness and turn your response from appropriate conviction to failure and defeat?  And when the load you’ve been given to bear truly feels like it’s too much for you, like God was crazy wrong in choosing your shoulders for the weight, are you going to Him for strength? Or are you tirelessly trying to do this thing on your own and even burying some resentment for this corner you’re in?

This week for me has been so much more than mommy sleepovers (I slept in their room), pumpkin picking and tickle wars. God has reminded me how precious my life is and given my self-talk a necessary adjustment.  And, just as magnificent as the October sunset, He’s reminding me that His design is perfect and beautiful.

I can do this. And so can you.

Blood Moon

I don’t think I can officially be a blogger when, every 3 months or so, I tack up a quarterly post. My Instagram posts are either paragraphs or novellas because they’re not just pictures of my kids or a yoga pose, but also a contribution & a conversation. They’re my way to share my love of words.

But, about once a week, I miss being here. I miss my blog and want to pull myself close to it. I actually journal about how I miss writing and make lists of the blog posts that I hope will see the light of day. (Maybe they will someday). I had so much to say about our trip to Colorado this July. I wanted to capture the summer days at my parents’ new lake house, where dock-jumping was an all-day activity. I missed the birthday posts with the party pictures. I wanted to continue documenting all of the twists and turns that got me to the beauty of today.

It’s not about the writing. It’s about the careful time-carving that I still struggle with. It’s about the quiet, the reflective stillness, the response to the ache to write. I’m terrible at creating that space for myself. I struggle to be the tea-sipping, blanket-cuddling, book-reading person I want to be. I’m still swallowed by the everyday balance of this delicate, challenging life, and the list of things I really want to do grows longer, longer…and longer. Maybe you relate. I’m going to try to come back here more and more. Not really for you, but for me. (For you, I’d recommend more-consistent, wordier, funnier, more creative blogs with charm and flair that my incredible friends faithfully contribute to at least once a week. Let me know if you want those addresses.)

For today, I’m here with a simple reflection that wants to work its way out. Just two days ago, on September 29, a lunar eclipse took place and it left me stunned. Standing beneath it, I felt like I was shrinking and growing at the same time. And it was an experience that no Instagram photo could capture (although the iphone people sure tried). From our deck, right between the triangle of 3 telephone lines, the moon hung, low and orange. The balance of light was steady and the quiet all around was contagiously peaceful. Josh and I watched the eclipse took place, and it was both striking and eery. It made me scared and comforted at the same time. When we realize how small we really are compared to the realities around us, there just isn’t a more appropriate response than worship.

 

 

I love the reminder that we're both small and significant. We should feel that healthy, rightful sense of smallness because the universe is so massively huge. The blood moon is so much more grandiose than anything we could create or form. And I'm merely one person, held to the earth, struggling to live a life of even smaller intention. I can easily feel lost, minor, unsubstantial. This amount of grandeur is so overwhelming. And yet, this smallness becomes great because as breath-taking as that moon is, it wasn't actually made in the image of it's Creator. It isn't a temple of the Holy Spirit. I am.

I made my way back to Bible Study Fellowship this year and just began studying the book of Revelation. For those of you unfamiliar with BSF, this Bible study takes a whole-life commitment with daily homework and applicable, cross-referenced, exhaustive readings of Scripture. They don't mess around. It's a purposely structured format with small group discussion, lecture and prayer. What's most amazing to me is that BSF is international, so not only am I studying Revelation with a multi-generational group of women in West Michigan, but I'm also linking arms with Christians worldwide as we sink our teeth in the most controversial book of the Bible. When I attend BSF, there's this bigger-than-me feeling I get because of the greater global story that's unfolding around me. I'm just a yoga teacher who shows up with a coffee-spilled lesson each week, but I'm a part of this movement across the entire world of Bible-hungry believers wanting to study the word of God and deeply understand the maker of the moon. We haven't read past chapter one and already I feel this growing appetite to truly know God, to believe in Him even more than I already do. I want to understand the dragon, the lampstands, the fire, the warfare. I want to be afraid and aware. But I also long to be prepared, comforted, and anchored.

As you grow, mature, change and move down the continuum of your life...remember what it feels like to be under a blood moon. Come back to that fearful, wonderous awe. Dwell in it and then worship this terrifying and loving God with every bit of energy you've got. And remember that the maker of the moon has love for you that is more powerful and beautiful than a lunar eclipse.

 

 

 

Our Journey of Hope

We’ve almost made it through another Michigan winter. Technically, it’s Spring. But I had to go back into the attic and get out my boots yesterday. My kids are still fighting colds, we see our breath in the air, and there is still snow. Calling this Spring is unfair. But, I have felt sun rays on my face so it means we’re getting closer. And as the last patches of snow make their way into the earth, I’m feeling so grateful for all of the blessing that has taken place in our family during the icy winter months.

Just after Christmas, Josh started a job at Hope College as Web Content Manager. Here’s why this is so fantastic: over a decade ago, when I was a student at Hope College, I met this long-haired boy at Barnes and Noble who was so different from every boy at Hope. He smoked Djarum cigarettes, climbed trees, and opened my world in a magical way that helped me peer over the walls of Hope College. The more I spent time with him, the more I felt whisked away from my world at my school. And even though I loved my world there, escaping it felt exciting, new, and even necessary. Josh challenged everything about the way I lived then. We merged our worlds somehow, but he is a big reason that I felt disconnected from the culture of my college. He liked Hope, enjoyed my friends, attended my events and lectures, and supported me. But, at that time, neither of us really celebrated or identified with the mission of Hope. In fact, in some ways, we tried to push against it.

It’s quite amazing how much can change in ten years. Josh now thrives on notifications from the Facebook group “The Reformed Pub”. The slight rebelliousness of his early twenties has turned into a fervent desire to submit to Lord and His church. He’s even trying to figure out how to be conservative without becoming too cranky. We both have grown and changed, of course, but I believe Josh has been remade. Over the years, he has been given opportunities for professional growth and God has blessed him with jobs that have been building blocks for what He’s doing now. But we have both known that these jobs have not been his calling or fulfilled his ultimate potential or purpose. As the provider of a family, this has a trickle effect and everyone has felt that subtle discontentment. We’ve pushed through, working on loads of issues we both carried into our marriage. And for a long time, we prayed for a job that would satisfy Josh, use his gifts, and ultimately contribute to the health of our entire family. The fact that God has called Josh to Hope College, trusting a piece of their vision to his care, and using his gifts to further their mission…it shows us how wild the ride really is where God is at work. He’s has been at this position for over three months and, let me just say, he’s rockin’ it. He holds his head higher each day and loves the academic environment. The job that provides for our family is also providing Josh with the perfect blend of confidence and challenge. And I couldn’t be more proud.

In the mean time, I’ve been settling in to my new life as a fitness instructor. I’ve been blessed by MVP to be given 2 classes each week, one on the bike and the other on my yoga mat. These are my two happy places where I build relationships, manage stress, and work on parts of myself that need attention and even transformation. I don’t think people realize what I’m actually at the gym to accomplish because so little actually involves the physical workout. And I’m blessed to be able to help others do the same. Holy Yoga at Beechwood continues to go well, and I’m still waiting with great expectation for what God will do with it in the long run. All the the training…the lectures, the millions of beads of sweat, the tests & assessments, interviews…it’s all been worth it.

And yet…

Last week, a dear friend gently approached me with concern. In talking with her about Holy Yoga, I was so greatly focused on the unknown, the questions, the direction…it’s as if I literally lost sight of the fact that I’m teaching Holy Yoga NOW and it’s beautiful. I so quickly can turn a season of blessing into a season of doubt because of the relentless question, “What’s next??” It’s overwhelming to think of where Josh has come, where is IS TODAY, and how grateful I am to watch him actually live out his dream in a surprising way. My friend had to remind me to be overwhelmed with gratitude in the same way for my own life, where I am today, despite the pile of unknowns at my doorstep. And I was reminded that I have a very real Enemy who wants me to always be asking for more, never satisfied with the portion I’ve been given from the Lord.

Psalm 131 says, “God, I’m not trying to rule the roost,
I don’t want to be king of the mountain.
I haven’t meddled where I have no business
or fantasized grandiose plans.

I’ve kept my feet on the ground,
I’ve cultivated a quiet heart.
Like a baby content in its mother’s arms,
my soul is a baby content.

Wait, Israel, for God. Wait with hope.
    Hope now; hope always!”

I wish I could say I didn’t want to be king of the mountain, because almost all of my energy goes into controlling chaos around me. But, as we usher in Spring, I want to cultivate a quiet heart. I want to be more than content with the grandiose blessings that have fallen upon our family. And, especially as I celebrate my husband and all that God is doing with him, I want to wait with hope. Wait for answers, healing, direction. Wait with the knowledge that His timing and design are so much better than my own plans. And at the end of the day, I want to say,

“Hope now. Hope always.”

 

My Yoga Journey

If you’ve known me for the past fifteen years, you know that running is in my blood. My running shoes have never been too far from me. I ran 15-20 miles a week in high school. I got to know my college town by pounding the pavement, exploring new streets and stumbling upon parks and marketplaces. I pack my running shoes for every trip, and have run on Mexican beaches, through the French countryside, and in the slums of the Dominican Republic. I know the cracks on the sidewalk all over my town. I run through stress. I run off anxiety. I run to celebrate. I run to find peace, to pray, to awaken, to shut down. Running has always been an outlet for me and I thought I’d run well into my sixties or as long as my knees could take it.

Then, I had children.

I’m not exactly sure how, but having my boys resulted in a rotated sacrum and therefore, lots of pain in various parts of my lower body. I’ve seen physical therapists and continue to see a wonderful chiropractor, but nothing has put my body permanently back in place. When I run any distance over a mile or two, I have pain for weeks. For the girl that has taken running shoes all over the globe, the stress and pain from no longer being a runner is oftentimes worse than the pulsing physical pain I feel after I run. And for a person who stubbornly loves to venture beyond my limits, I’ve hurt myself more times than I can count.

Thankfully I’ve also loved other forms of exercise like weight training, cycling, stair climbing, swimming and pretty much anything else that keeps me moving. And while all of these things are wonderful and healthy, nothing cures my emotional clutter like going the distance in running shoes. Giving up running has been like giving up a part of myself, and because it’s been so hard, I’ve let it go slowly and begrudgingly. Although I’ve known for years that running should no longer be part of my routine, I occasionally take off for a 2 mile “jog” and come home 7 miles later. #dysfunctionalpatterns

Within the last year, I expanded my exercise routine by trying out a yoga hothouse in Holland, The Funky Buddha. The pain of my running injuries became a daily struggle but, at the same time, it was so common I forgot what it felt like to be pain-free. I’d tried yoga before, but not in a 90 degree setting and with professional teachers. I’d purchased a 30-day package (all I could afford) and went nearly every day the whole month. It’s hard to explain what happened in that month on my mat. The breathing, bending, and twisting was so beautifully intense that every time class ended, I wanted the next one to begin. Through this experience, I not only learned that I carried stress in every part of my body, but I also learned to let it go. And how to do it safely.

Perhaps it’s worth mentioning (again) that this year and a half has been the hardest of my life in every way. I have faced brokenness in myself, my marriage, and my home dead-on, and the Lord has carried our family through it. But it’s been (and still is) so much work. I believe the Lord replaced my running routes with my yoga mat…and I’m just now discovering what He had in mind all along.

Because I decided in August to say “no” to school teaching assignments, I explored yoga certification options because I was hooked. I was encouraged by our gym, MVP, to get certified which was a big factor. Because of yoga’s intertwining history with Hinduism and our culture’s celebration of the self, The Funky Buddha did not seem to be a good fit for me long-term. I’d probably still practice there if I could afford it, but I was very careful when pursuing certification programs. I have found yoga to be so therapeutic and even healing, and I know I’m not alone. And I know who the Healer is.

Someone at MVP encouraged me to check out Holy Yoga and at first, I turned my head away. It was expensive, I didn’t like the name, and I worried that it was another ministry that was ultimately disconnected from truth. But prayer changed my heart. I found the program was biblically solid and the community was beautifully healthy. I had an anchored confidence that this is where the Lord wanted me. After my nine weeks of study, I boarded a plane for Colorado, then continued to Arizona for Holy Yoga’s week-long retreat intensive. In the Denver airport, I noticed other girls with headbands, leggings, water bottles, and organic snacks. I could tell I was in good company. A beautiful soul with red, curly hair came up to say hello, asking me if I was headed to the Holy Yoga retreat. And this was the first of many signs of provision and confirmation that God had for me, telling me He had this experience completely under control. Mindy became an instant friend and my support system throughout the week of long lectures, intense practice, raw emotions, and challenging discipline.

The week at retreat was a highlight of my life and a slight taste of heaven. It felt like I’d met long-lost family. My experiences on my mat that week were my most amazing yet, often including singing, crying, and laughing. I grew in my understanding of Christ and experienced Him deeply while breathing through twists and binds. I’m honestly not sure if I’ll ever again experience that sense of belonging, because it was so irrationally strong. But I’m so grateful for God’s calling, for my obedience, and for the brave and faithful people who started the Holy Yoga ministry. My yoga mat is a place of worship, giving my pain over to the Lord, letting Him stretch me, speak to me, challenge me, change me. I meditate on Christ while letting the power of the breath work with the postures to make me new.

So, where am I now?

I trust God has a plan for me to teach yoga, and I’ve already been blessed to teach classes at MVP for the month of January. I love teaching there and greatly anticipate teaching more classes. Additionally, I’ve had handfuls of people ask me if I’m planning to start Holy Yoga. There a few Holy Yoga places in West Michigan already, and my hands are full with MVP. Plus, balancing my family life continues to be tough. So, I expected to shelve Holy Yoga for a year or so. But then I got an email from someone connected at a local church asking me to consider teaching Holy Yoga there. As more emails were exchanged, more prayers were offered and answered, and more details were falling into place…it seems as though God wants Holy Yoga in Holland. And He’s summoning me to lead it.

At the end of February, I will be teaching an 8-week yoga workshop on Saturday mornings. I’ll pass on more details soon, but what I want to share more than anything is this: God is at work, my friends. He’s at work in your pain, in your struggle, in your questions. He’s at work in your doubt and even in your resistance. And when you follow Him, you may find yourself in an unknown place like me. I have found yoga to be a healing practice because God created breath and movement to work together mysteriously. I’m so excited to teach it, helping people find their pain, work through it with postures and breath, and have an overwhelming experience in God’s presence.

I miss being the girl who runs. But over and over again in my life, I’m learning that what He has in mind for me is infinitely better and more beautiful than anything I could have designed or chosen.

Here’s to 2015 and discovering new territory on your mat, whether it’s in your hips, knees or spine…your heart or your grief…Holy Yoga is a practice that is rooted in Christ. And I’m so thankful I get to share it. May we be made new and transformed to be more like Him.

The Fight

Poor Oliver. Someday, he may come to me and say, “Hey, Mom. I noticed you wrote a really nice blog post for Jack when he turned 6. By my calculations, I turned 2 that same year, and unless there was a technological problem, I don’t see a blog post for my birthday party. You must love Jack more than you love me.”

I can already hear it.

And, no, he won’t appreciate the Facebook photo album, the thread of comments, and my long-winded paragraph about how amazing my little Ollie is and how fun his Mickey party was. Because, let’s be honest, Facebook will be long gone by then. Those posts we find so special and urgent will be cyber history. And I’d like to think these blogs will be saved for their viewing later in life–to have a window into their childhood and also see how wild, real, tired, and lovely their mother really was.

So, it’s almost a month later, but here, Ollie. I love you. You’re amazing. You’re crazy. And we had a blast throwing you a Mickey Mouse birthday party.

On to what is really on my mind tonight…

Around the hour of 4 p.m. each day, my children usually start their descent. That time where as a mom, you start calculating when the precise moment will be that particular night when you put your crazy little darlings to bed. On a good day, I break up about 15 fights each hour from 4-8 p.m. Sometimes Jack’s buddies aren’t sharing so he has to come scream at me and tell me all of the shortcomings and failings of his very best friends. Or even these little friends of his–who I love as much as my own–will come blabbing about how Jack threw a ball at him (“No I didn’t!” “Yes you did!” “No I didn’t!”…x 100). Or they’ll join forces and all tell me how starving they are but my snack offers couldn’t possibly satisfy them in any way.  They fight about sharing. They fight about listening. They fight about territory, boundaries, inferiority, and every other real problem in life that seem ridiculous when they take form in the argument over who has a taller Popsicle. Oliver, too, fights me on what he wears, what he eats, the degrees to which he receives my assistance. It’s like they wake up in the morning and put on emotional boxing gloves, ready to TAKE. ME. OUT. And sometimes, they do.

By 4 p.m., I slowly unravel. And it’s these very hardships, the constant problem-solving and irrational, recurring conflict-resolving, that leaves me feeling like I’m hardly holding it together. And this is the precise moment when your husband comes home and, even though you SWEAR you did finger painting that day and all sorts of attentive, hands-on-mothering things, the only thing you can do to keep the speck of sanity that is left is to either hide from your family with a bag of m&ms OR send them far away for 20 minutes so you can salvage the soon-to-be-rejected dinner that has now already been a bit burned. I hope I’m not the only one here. But it is refreshing, validating, comforting when you catch your husband losing it too. When he shoots you the “HOW are these our own children?!?” look. When his face looks almost as tired as yours. (It’s usually a Saturday). There’s truth in that moment, and the comfort comes from knowing you’re not alone, you will get through the evening in one piece, and maybe this chaos of life is more normal than you even think.

Tonight is a big night around here because our littlest is sleeping in his big bed all by himself! We bought bunk beds from our dear neighborhood friends (whose children I mentioned earlier) which means Josh spent his day moving furniture and running to Menards for me and pretending not to hate it. I escaped the meltdowns to go work for the afternoon, and when I came back at 6 p.m., the children were revving up their evening meltdown routine. The slow cooker rice I’d made wasn’t hot enough. Then not cold enough. Then it was touching the green beans. Then the chicken didn’t look good. Then the rice was too cold again. And THEN, after tears and screaming, dessert wasn’t offered on a silver platter. You’d think I was requiring that they eat a live lobster. Although this is a huge night for Oliver, and his brother received applause, pictures with an actual camera, and probably a blog post all its own…I’m too exhausted with child #2 to bask in the amazement of the crib-removal. It’s precious. I snapped a pic on my phone. I’m proud and semi-nostalgic. Now, go to bed.

It’s a wonderful moment when I’m not the only one losing it. When Josh looks just as tired as I do. When he says in some way, “I can’t handle this.” The reality is, we both can. This are our kids and, despite all of my reasons why I feel SO unqualified for the position of being their mom, I am their mom. Josh is their dad. (And he’s amazing, by the way). And with dark circles under our eyes, we can still fight the good fight.

 

Jack turns 6

One thing every mother needs to do is find the opportunity to listen–really listen–to her child’s heartbeat. Occasionally when Jack is sleeping, after we’ve done the over-the-top, needs-to-be-simplified bedtime routine of books, story-telling, prayers & singing…I lay with him and put my head on his chest. Not for long, but long enough to hear and even feel the strength of every thump of his heart. It’s a beautiful reminder to me how miraculous life is in the first place, how honored I am to be given the gift of children with two healthy, beating hearts and two enormous and full-of-life personalities. And as he breathes on me, I think of a sermon I heard long ago & how our every breath is like saying the name of God. YHWH.

Jack turned six on July 24, and today my house was full rowdy kids, sweaty foreheads, slingshots, ice cream messes, and a cake that weighed more than my newborn babies. Angry birds was the theme of choice this year, and seeing as though we already had an enormous water balloon launcher, we couldn’t have envisioned the party any other way than this:

I love being a mom on birthdays. I love having an excuse to sew a bunting, dip pretzel rods in melting chocolate, make over a dozen felt masks. I love the combination of creativity and challenge, and it helps that my oldest son adores to help me. His love language is at the intersection of “Quality Time” and “Acts of Service” so when I teach him out to use a fabric cutter for the 6 on his Angry Birds birthday shirt, we are both happy and filled up.

This birthday had most of the same little faces as previous ones, and I continue to be amazed at the honor it is to have the friends I have. They are incredible. Their families are precious, solid, and secure. Their children are a delight (most of the time). And they provide such a well-rounded community for Jack. Not to mention the immeasurable support & example they are for me. I would not, could not be the same without Jen. Abbi & Jack have been like siblings since they were in diapers, and Abbi has paved the way for Jack, setting examples of good behavior for over five years now. Jenna’s kids, Maylee and Caven, are life sources for him, and Jenna has become one of my most trusted, dearest friends. Her children are like my own, and vice versa. I change their diapers and throw them in our tub like they are family. It’s a rare, beautiful, and central relationship. And Isaac is such a special friend for Jack. Living just around the corner as well, Isaac and Jack spend time together being wild boys but also exploring the indoors more thoroughly. They do karate together, they build Lego kingdoms, and they delight in each other. And Henry, I believe, will be like the third child I may never have. Jack and Ollie love him like a brother. He nuzzles perfectly in their age gap and, because of this, I’m eager to see if he ends up being closer to Jack or Oliver in the long run. For now, he is in the precious middle and he is adored from every angle. I believe he was meant to be their friend just as strongly as his mommy was meant to be mine. (There isn’t enough time to prove just how true this is). And Sam and Isaac, Jack’s 2nd cousins from Arkansas, were able to join us and ohmygoodness am I glad they did. Those boys continue to inspire me to press on, raise my boys well, and maybe–hopefully–my two will end up to be like the amazing gentlemen that Isaac & Samuel both truly are. (Plus, they let the little kids chase them with silly string. Now *that’s* a party!)




So, with Jack’s closest bunch here, their beloved siblings & the amazing cousins we rarely get to see, we played Live Angry Birds in the front yard. We blindfolded the kids so they could knock the lights out of a bad piggy pinata. We dove into a spectacular, gigantic cake from Second Floor Bakery. We kept the party agenda moving but also let the kids run wild. But, most importantly, we celebrated. We celebrated everything Jack is. As his mother, this celebration always sinks in deeply for me because there hasn’t been a single day where raising this boy has been easy. Sometimes it beats me senseless. But oh do I adore him. And I know the feeling is mutual because he tells me and shows me. We’ve hit a “sweet spot” and our bond is really beyond comprehension. I’m so proud of him. And as he grows, I’m beginning to have a foundational trust in him. I’m also beginning to believe that may be the highest compliment a parent can give a child, particularly a young one.

Surrounded by our bird-masked favorite people, and under a cloudy but thankfully-not-rainy sky*, we flung bean bags with a water balloon launcher across the grass. We showered the backyard with candy from the broken pinata (thank you, Sam). We ate more cake than anyone expected. We jumped. We laughed. We got sticky, hot, sweaty and yucky. And we did so all because God has blessed us with this one special boy, whom I get to call my very own.

I love you, Jack. Happy 6th Birthday.

*It was supposed to rain. Really rain. I was so confident all of today’s chaos would be indoors that I deep cleaned our play room. This took three hours. And as the sun broke through the clouds a few times, I was so grateful I was forced to clean the basement, but also a little ticked that no one saw it’s shining glory.

The Turtle Chair

I’ve got to be honest. I’m barely awake right now and most likely, my writing is going to have huge punctuation errors and it quite possibly may not even be coherent. I’ve become a broken record with the same formulaic complaints: I’m tired, raising boys is hard (especially the toddler!), I wish there were more hours in a day, my passions are on hold, marriage is awesome & difficult, Michigan is way too cold. It’s still all true, folks, and sorry if you’re tired of hearing about the same stuff. But it makes me wonder about change and how slowly it can really happen.

Josh brought home a child’s desk last week from work. A co-worker was getting rid of it and what parent of small children wouldn’t *jump* at the offer of taking home a green turtle-shaped desk with a color-blocked shell? Perhaps it’s hard to picture, but imagine my kids eating their eggs every morning on that thing while watching Power Rangers together. Adorable? I think so.

The presence of this desk–that is, having a ginormous turtle dead-center in my living room–brought me back to Jack’s preschool years at Cherry Lane. Their timeout chair was brilliantly named “The Turtle Chair” because it helped the offending kiddo to “slow down”. Quite soft for punishment, but I love the concept of slowing down and rather than condemnation, alienation & shame, there was first gracious space for reflection.

I could use a turtle chair these days. Josh and I are continuing to build and re-build into marriage, committed to making it stronger than ever. In doing so, we both find so many ways where we still make the same mistakes we’ve been making for over a decade. And Oliver–god bless him–is in so many ways a Jackson clone. We’re back to the body-collapse meltdowns, the screaming fits, the my-way-or-the-highway agendas from a strong-willed little person who can’t even talk. As hard as it is to be here again, when I’m in the thick of the difficulty (and especially after I’ve just lost my temper or over-prioritized myself), I need to sit in my own turtle chair. Because in the rare moment where I actually take it slow, I can honestly see a lot more clearly. And surely, I wouldn’t want moments like these to pass me by.


Dash of Cinnamon

I never want to forget nights like tonight, where I feel an electricity of affection for my children. Sometimes for no reason whatsoever, I just have to squeeze my children just a little too hard. My boys happen to be the hearty type and the older they get, the more deliciously squeezable they become. If you’re around me and my kids for any length of time, odds are I will have interrupted their play or concentration for untimely kisses, hugs, and all-too-real squeezes. (The way I see it, they are only going to be the miniature version of themselves for a short period of time, and as their mother, I have the right to attack, embarrass, kiss, or envelope them at will.) I haven’t exactly been the portrait of positivity this season, and it feels good to experience surges of sheer joy as we near the end of winter’s dreariness. We threw piano lessons into the juggling session last week, so we now are maxed out on commitments. We still manage to gather around the table a few times a week, but admittedly, we inhale & disappear so quickly there may as well be smoke circling our chairs. Like so many families, we’re still trying to strike a balance:

  • How does Dad pursue his passions when they aren’t fed at his job?
  • How do I cook healthily without going over budget?
  • How do we incorporate music into Jack’s world without one more pressure and obligation?
  • How do we make more money?
  • How do we live more simply?
  • How can we serve as a family?
  • How can we actually do family time and also all the other things we want to do?
  • What about all those sports Jack could be doing?
  • How do we even survive Oliver’s toddler years?

And then there are the even bigger questions:

  • How do we raise our children to be honest, Jesus-chasing Christian men?
  • How should our faith impact everything down to the dash of cinnamon I use?
  • Should we have more children?
  • If we care about our children’s education, what do want them to know?
  • How do we protect our kids from culture and prepare them to be in it?

It’s probably not a surprise I still find myself whirl-winded by these questions, but what truly helps get me through are nights like tonight where every single imperfect detail about our life seems perfectly in place. Where all I can do is drop my jaw and marvel at the creation of my boys and the God who is so obviously working through every one of our treacherous steps. He has the answer to each of these questions, and occasionally I’ll actually allow the Spirit’s presence to calm me, reminding me that these days of diapers, wrestling, & peek-a-boo are numbered. That Jack’s first loose teeth will soon become a mouth full of braces asking me for the car keys.

So thankful that I get to be with these boys every day. Hopefully, when they’re older, they will remember all of the pinching, tossing, squeezing & kissing they received because their mother couldn’t handle her outrageous affection.