our greatest expression & a first-in-twenty-years garden.

tomato-basilthere’s just something about having my hands in the dirt & watching things grow.

peaceful and grounding.

soothing. intentional. life-giving. healing. hopeful.

when i was 12 years old i had surgery, and when i got home after too many days in the hospital, apparently i walked straight through the house to the backyard to check on my vegetable garden.

for our wedding, we got a lemon tree instead of a unity candle. to commemorate our first anniversary we got a fig tree.

to celebrate the birth of our son and my husband’s sweet grandpa’s life-richly-lived, we got a beautiful Charles White peony.

my mother’s day gift this year was a little stunner of a rose bush. as if the sweetly scented, delicate, creamy-apricot-y blossoms weren’t enough, the name is fantastic: Champagne Wishes.

and this spring, i got to build my first garden at our very own house. to say that it’s been a treat to spend mornings and evenings watching things grow is an understatement. for Christmas and my birthday, i asked for a gift certificate for supplies. i poured over catalogues and websites hoping to find just the right mix of trusted, must-grow and fun, new-to-me flower and vegetable varieties to plant in my first-in-twenty-years garden.

as seed-starting and mother nature would have it, there has been plenty of trial & error, anticipation, shriveled seedlings, and excitement woven throughout these past few learning-laden months. i’ve planted & re-planted seeds. some sprouted the first time. some sprouted the second time. some sprouted when i tossed a handful on a patch of bare dirt a few weeks ago. others i’ll try again next year. we had a big storm in the spring with wind that scattered my fledgling vegetable plants, damaging many of them. and as for the raised garden, i planted it late in the season and for sure planted more than i had space for.

we have to start somewhere, right? and sometimes starting is the most important step, even if the rest looks a little more trial & error and a little less polished & perfected. as it turns out, i’m ok with this year being more about simply enjoying that i finally get to have a garden and a yard to experiment in, learning through experience, and tucking observations & tidbits away for next year. i’m a rookie, i tried some things i knew could be challenging, and i often learn best as i go. or maybe i’m just in la-la land since somehow my dahlias & sweet peas are blooming after having absolutely zero success last year. that alone is a gigantic – and beautiful!- win in my book.

florals

as i’ve spent mornings and evenings watering, weeding, and watching our backyard actually turn into something rather pretty, i’ve thought a lot about what it is about gardening that draws me in. because, truth be told, it’s a lot of work. much more work than i anticipated it being back in march/april when my mind was a swirl of idyllic daydreams. it was a fair amount of work & time to build the raised bed. planting took time to plan, prep, and actually do. since our yard was full of random overgrown bushes, digging everything up & preparing the beds was a task and a half. and now the watering, worrying about 90º+ days, and maintaining everything takes time away from other things i’d like to be doing.

but even with all of that, gardening brings me incredible joy & thankfulness, and i’m realizing two things.

dahlias

first, i want to pass gardening on to charlie in some way. not that he’ll want to be in the garden with me all the time or will be a farmer some day…but just the simple joy of watching something grow. the being-together-ness of it. planting seeds with him this spring was an experience i’ll always treasure, and it’s been so fun to see him still get excited to water the plants (tonight’s entertainment: him running back & forth between his water table & a planted container on the patio, watering the rhubarb).

i love that sometimes as he plays in the backyard, he’s running over to me with a bubble wand, as i prune the tomato plants, so that i can blow bubbles with him or with a toy from his water table, as i snip flowers for a bouquet, for me to come splash with him. i’m thankful that he sees and experiences what’s growing around him and that it’s all part of where he lives, plays, and is learning about the world around him.

gardening buddy

second, and probably the most enduring truth in my life about gardening is that it holds immense hope for me. and when so much these days feels uncertain, hard, or discouraging, getting my hands in the dirt, catching a new blossom opening, and watching our vegetables grow feels…healing. it causes me to take a deep breath. to slow down. it restores something that was missing…something that i can’t quite put into words but am deeply grateful for.

floret_truckthe process of creating our little garden began over the winter as i thought ahead to the promise of warmer days. then in march/april when we were all completely over winter, i was able to tuck seeds into their little piles of dirt with hopeful anticipation…waking up each day to see what had sprouted overnight, watching them stretch and grow. once the days were warmer, i nestled the seedlings that had soldiered on through the long, cold winter into the ground, believing that one day, a little bud just might pop out.

then one did! and another. and another! then things started to grow much bigger than i imagined (hello 6 foot tomato plants?!)…some budded but didn’t blossom…a storm/extreme heat left their marks. i know in my head that it’s just a garden/plant/seed, but when those things happened, i felt guilty for having been over-zealous and planting too much, for not planning better, for not thinking of all the random scenarios so that i could have avoided them. and you know what i’m learning (albeit very slowly and with lots of over-thinking)?

sprouts

it’s ok. the plants figure it out. earlier this spring, after a particularly damaging storm hit their farm, our CSA (and favorite) farmer said, “[the plants] mostly just simply re-grow…sometimes even growing back even bigger and more bountiful than before. what a lovely example of resilience for us all as we weather life.” oh my heart, if that it’s so. dang. true.

veggie babes

and i figure it out, too. i trim the squash back to keep them from trampling the carrots. i found 6 foot polls to stake & secure the tomato plants. i let the shallots go & will plant them in a different spot next year. the peony is in the ground now (so its growth won’t be confused by my planting it too late), and i’m guessing it will be just fine. i’ve learned how to prune a rose bush and lemon tree. i’ll try ranunculus again next year.

garden bouquet

while there are things i’ll do differently next year that may result in a few more wins, there will still be lots of learning. and that’s a really good thing. because it means i’m still trying. still hoping. still getting to have these crazy fun, life-giving, special experiences with my boy.

while i have the wonderful gift of gathering little fistfuls of blooms that i grew. watching tiny cantaloupe buds turn into actual growing melons…streaky red-yellow tomatoes grow, slowly but surely…peppers slowly transition from green to bright red.

both/and. the tension of growth & learning, letting go & transitions, holding hope & trusting.

for a seed to achieve its greatest expression,
it must come completely undone. the shell cracks,
its insides come out, and everything changes.
to someone who doesn’t understand growth,
it would look like complete destruction.

~ cynthia occelli

 

this everyday life.

this past monday, one of those completely awesome, out of the blue things happened where i crossed paths in the most unusual of places with a sweet friend i haven’t seen in at least two years. we keep in touch sporadically through texts & instagram, but nothing beats a big hug & getting to catch up ever-so-quickly; it was the greatest surprise.

in the maybe five minutes we had for catching up, i love that as we talked about what our families have been up to, we both mentioned that we’ve been enjoying a slower pace. more home time. more down time. more playing in the backyard & going for walks & finding airplanes in the sky and trucks passing by.

this, mind you, is coming from someone who is wired for productivity & multi-tasking. left to my own devices, i can really kick things in to high gear & make things happen.

however, a few years ago, when i met my husband, for the first time i realized – to my surprise – that i didn’t always miss doing all-the-things…because i was able to really be present when i was hanging out with him. i started saying no to after work groups and coffee with friends so that i could be home with him. a few years into marriage and with our sweet boy now, it’s even more important to not be gone more than one night a week. even that is hard for me sometimes!

although i’m aware of my natural tendency towards productivity, sometimes it still takes a second thought for me to not over-fill our time (even with fun things), be picking up toys when we’re playing with something else, or working on a project while we watch a movie.

but every. single. time., it’s worth it. the unplanned days when we get to wander around the farmer’s market – waving to all the puppies, high-fiving farmers & vendors, and dancing to the local musicians…planting flowers and vegetables in our backyard with our boy – watching him waddle around with his watering can, watering every patio paver and some plants sometimes, too, and teaching him in some tiny way about gardening…walking to the bench at the end of the block to watch the trucks – holding hands with my husband and talking about our days.

the everyday things that so often slip right by.

as laura & i sent devo card drafts back & forth to each other one bazillion times, there were a few cards that struck a chord for one reason or another. this one got me first with it’s whimsical font and unexpected pop of color. it just plain made me smile.

then i read the prompt that laura wrote to go along with the verse…and i have come back to this card every day since, considering this question she posed:

“What does it look like to like to live with [God] in everyday ways?”

i don’t know about you, but there are a number of big things i’m asking God for. trusting Him for. but most of all, i need Him in the everyday ways. i need to slow down my thoughts, my worries, my questions, my schedule so that i can see Him at work in my interactions, my family, and, go figure – my thoughts, my worries, my questions, my schedule. a slower, less full, dare i say less check-things-off-my-to-do-list-productive pace creates space for me to be more present and attentive to noticing the little everyday ways that i sense God’s nearness, see Him at work around me, and rest in Him.

when i am present in the little moments – the, “mama, see?” moments where i am more often smiling & laughing at what he’s pointing at as he’s asking me to look at it than i am asking him to show me again because i was doing something else (which also happens; don’t get me wrong – i’m a work in progress) – i am reminded of how deeply important the everyday things of life and the everyday ways of God are.

IMG_2196

loss, faith, & celebration.

i’m a new year’s girl; there’s no disputing it. it’s not about resolutions (which i love) or being over christmas (impossible), or even the countdown to my impending birthday (christmas + the new year + my birthday = a trifecta of goodness). it’s the fresh canvas…the newness…the hope of what’s to come.

last year was the first year in a long time that the new year came & went, and i didn’t pay it much attention. ditto for my birthday. i actually kind of dreaded both of them; my heart just wasn’t ready to celebrate. when i am most honest, when i looked out to the 2014 that was ahead of us, i was anxious, scared, & desperately wanted to wish it away.

you see, just one week before christmas the year before (2013), we had an appointment that confirmed that the abdominal surgeries i have had in my life have done permanent damage that would not allow us to get pregnant. we were told that IVF would be our only option for trying to have a baby and that there would be a number of things that would need to fall into place in order for that to even be a possibility.

for a girl who had spent most of her childhood boasting that she was going to have 14 kids and most of her adult life thinking there was good reason to scale back just a little but still dreamt of a big family, the news was devastating.

to put it simply, 2014 was not my best year. it started out tough (lots of tears on new year’s day & we went to an IVF info session on my birthday), and it felt pretty awful more often than i’d like to admit. however, for all the hard stuff it brought, 2014 was undeniably a really important year. (do not be fooled – there were no rainbows & sunshine. remember the new year’s & birthday dreading?) in my heart, i knew it would be a long year.

early on i remember admitting that i had a deep sense that it would be a year of mountain-top-highs and deep-valley-lows. that could not have been more true. there was sadness, loss, heartache, and grieving that i still can’t quite put to words, yet there was sweetness, too. it was a year marked throughout with wonderful celebrations of my husband – things he worked incredibly hard for, and celebrating him was wonderful, with our first wedding anniversary, with deepened relationships that brought healing, and with words spoken over me & us by people that have been relentless & intentional about sticking right by our sides through everything.

the Lord is tender like that. He knows about the heartache & loss & sadness, and He carries us through. He gives us strength in ways we never though possible. He brings beauty from ashes.

although i closed the door on 2014 with a bit more gusto than other years and am deeply thankful for a new year, 2014 was – and still is – a formative year for me. in the way that only challenges & grieving do, i was faced with questions, fears, and decisions that helped me dig deeper into my faith, priorities, and dreams. i was invited to sit in hard places with people that love me & know me – people that reminded me i wasn’t alone, encouraged me, and supported me. we have a little tribe of people that continue to pray us through doctor’s appointments, procedures, and decisions…offer to come to doctor’s appointments…and text, call, send cards, and shower us with love – in person & across state lines. through it all, i can honestly look back on 2014 with a thankful heart – holding all of the joys & all of the sorrows – knowing that i & we could not be in this place today without what we came through. i know a greater depth of the strength the Lord through me, i know His character more intimately, our marriage is stronger, and our faith in the Lord’s provision, nearness, and grace is even stronger.

to bring things full circle, 10 days before this past christmas (2014), after a year of appointments, waiting, procedures, and more waiting, we got the news we had been hoping & praying for – one of the biggest pieces in our journey to IVF fell into place. with hopeful anticipation, we scheduled our last two appointments for January 2nd, and got ready to celebrate 2015. this year, i was ready to celebrate again. not because we got good news (although that was certainly a big part of it) but because we had come so far.

and celebrate we did. we even managed an extra fun celebration a few days before my birthday when we officially got our IVF protocol & found out that we could start our first cycle of IVF the next week! i think we both floated out of the doctor’s office that day! then my husband planned the sweetest birthday for me, and we got to sit and revel in the glory & grace of it all.

i wouldn’t have ever willingly chosen the path that we have been on for the past year, but i know that i know that i know that God is with us in it. i know that our babies are being fought for with every shred of our beings & that one day we will tell them the story of how we longed for them & loved them well before we ever knew them.

this isn’t easy to share, but i genuinely believe that each our stories matter. over this past year, it’s been the voices of women & my incredible spiritual dad (who walked this road with his daughter, Nicole) who have been down this awful infertility road that have brought me comfort, relief, and encouragement – blogs, conversations with the dearest friends, and even instagram posts. although each journey is unique and personal, there is a shared ache & hope that knits us all together. for that reason alone, i want to share our experience. because if it offers hope, encouragement, or makes just one person feel a little less alone, that’s all that matters.

[i’ll recount what our first few days have been like & our first check-up (which is tomorrow – Monday – morning) in the next post.]

holding hope

i am.

this. on repeat. since sunday.

wherever you are…whatever you are carrying…He’s with you in the middle of all of it. He’s holding onto you, & you can cling to him.

He will not leave you.
you are not alone.

there’s no space that His love can’t reach
there’s no place where we can’t find peace
there’s no end to Amazing Grace
take me in with your arms spread wide
take me in like an orphan child
Never let go, never leave my side.

i am,
holding on to You.
i am,
holding on to You.
in the middle of the storm,
i am holding on,
i am

i am,
holding on to You.
i am,
holding on to you.
in the middle of the storm,
i am holding on,
i am

Love like this, oh my God to find!
i am overwhelmed what a joy divine!
Love like this sets our hearts on fire!

i am,
holding on to You.
i am,
holding on to You.
in the middle of the storm,
i am holding on,
i am

i am,
holding on to You.
i am,
holding on to You.
in the middle of the storm,
i am holding on,
i am

this is my Resurrection Song
this is my Hallelujah Come
this is why to You i run
this is my Resurrection Song
this is my Hallelujah Come
this is why to You i run
there’s no space that His love can’t reach
there’s no place that we can’t find peace
there’s no end to Amazing Grace

i am,
holding on to You.
i am,
holding on to You.
in the middle of the storm,
i am holding on,
i am

i am,
holding on to You.
i am,
holding on to You.
in the middle of the storm,
i am holding on,
i am

gratitude, day 23.

gratitude_xsgratitude is a miraculous, wonderful thing. it really does turn what we have into enough. sometimes – often, even – it reminds us that what we have is even more than we need. although it’s kind of a “thing” for people to list something they are grateful for each day in november, this isn’t really that. it’s sort of my mash-up of a daily writing exercise i see people do every day in october paired with practicing gratitude. it won’t be the same every day. sometimes it will be a short, quick post, and other times it will be a reflection or recipe. but most importantly, every day there will be gratitude.

today, i am grateful for mentors.

wedding_paschallsthe saying we all know and that i wrote about the other day says, “it takes a village to raise a child.” as an adult, however, i would have to say that it takes a village to raise an adult, too. for far too many years, i didn’t really get that. i thought that at a certain point i should know enough to make big decisions, process experiences, & generally navigate life. i imagine i adopted that line of thinking somewhere around 18 (i was officially an adult, after all) or maybe 22 years old (a college graduate should surely have all of her stuff together).

wr_nicaragua_blacksi was so, so mistaken. by way of doing things wrong (sometimes repeatedly), i learned the hard way that i honestly just plain wasn’t equipped to do everything on my own. don’t get me wrong – i am a strong, competent, intelligent woman. it’s just that in a number of ways i put so much unnecessary stress on myself. looking back, my heart aches for the girl that was trying so hard & working so hard to keep everything together.

wedding_lauraanother key thing i learned is that as incredible as family, friends, & teachers are in our lives, God brings mentors & spiritual parents into each of our tribes. people that love us, see from an outside perspective, call life out of us, speak truth, & guide us. i prayed about finding a mentor for months before gathering up the courage to ask about connecting with women who would be interested in mentoring me. i think i’ll save that specific story for another post, but i mention it now only to say that although there truly are countless people who are passionate about mentoring, we need to first take the step to open ourselves up to the process. however, once i did i was & continue to be blessed ten-fold by the women & men who are now knit deeply in my life & our marriage.

me_joan_2011there are very specific conversations, moments, & experiences that i remember vividly – viscerally even – with each of them. one change in perspective…one truth affirmed…one word spoken over me that i know that i know that i know changed the trajectory of my life. it’s those little decisions, little changes of direction that have such a big impact much farther down the road. my cup runneth over…

gratitude, day 1.  ::  gratitude, day 2.  ::  gratitude, day 3.  ::  gratitude, day 4.  ::  gratitude, day 5.
gratitude, day 6.  ::  gratitude, day 7.  ::  gratitude, day 8.  ::  gratitude, day 9.  ::  gratitude, day 10.
gratitude, day 11. :: gratitude, day 12. :: gratitude, day 13. :: gratitude, day 14. :: gratitude, day 15.
gratitude, day 16. :: gratitude, day 17. :: gratitude, day 18. :: gratitude, day 19. :: gratitude, day 20.
gratitude, day 21. :: gratitude, day 22.

gratitude, day 17.

gratitude_xsgratitude is a miraculous, wonderful thing. it really does turn what we have into enough. sometimes – often, even – it reminds us that what we have is even more than we need. although it’s kind of a “thing” for people to list something they are grateful for each day in november, this isn’t really that. it’s sort of my mash-up of a daily writing exercise i see people do every day in october paired with practicing gratitude. it won’t be the same every day. sometimes it will be a short, quick post, and other times it will be a reflection or recipe. but most importantly, every day there will be gratitude.

today, i am grateful for my health.

first salad 2011

if you could please excuse my very white hot filter & “sweet” frame on the picture above, i would be so grateful. because the truth is, even with as cheesy as it is, it’s truly an image that has been burned into my memory forever. i took this picture on New Year’s Eve 2011 right before settling in with a movie and a simple yet indescribably memorable dinner. that year, as we all ushered in 2012, i was gleefully turning the page from 2011 to 2012 full of hopeful expectation. after a number of years spending far more hours at doctors’ offices & in the hospital, with medications & on restricted diets (gah – no salad!), i had finally been doctor & hospital free for nine straight months, and there was no turning back. this bare bones salad & wine was my stake in the ground: goodness, wholeness, health.

these days, there isn’t a day that goes by on which there isn’t at least one moment of gratitude for my health. dustin’s work reminds me daily of the grueling reality for patients & families dealing with long term health conditions. the friend of a good friend was diagnosed earlier this year with ALS at just 30 years old. another friend’s cousin is walking through the nightmare of cancer & the tidal wave of havoc it is wreaking on her.

every story is unique, and every story both breaks my heart & reminds me of the depth of strength in each of us. i am reminded of this image & quote i found on pinterest two years ago:

the world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places. - ernest hemingway

*image & quote (below) from ohpioneer!

“the world breaks everyone, and afterward,
some are strong at the broken places.”
– ernest hemingway

gratitude, day 1.  ::  gratitude, day 2.  ::  gratitude, day 3.  ::  gratitude, day 4.  ::  gratitude, day 5.
gratitude, day 6.  ::  gratitude, day 7.  ::  gratitude, day 8.  ::  gratitude, day 9.  ::  gratitude, day 10.
gratitude, day 11. :: gratitude, day 12. :: gratitude, day 13. :: gratitude, day 14. :: gratitude, day 15.
gratitude, day 16.

gratitude, day 12.

gratitude_xsgratitude is a miraculous, wonderful thing. it really does turn what we have into enough. sometimes – often, even – it reminds us that what we have is even more than we need. although it’s kind of a “thing” for people to list something they are grateful for each day in november, this isn’t really that. it’s sort of my mash-up of a daily writing exercise i see people do every day in october paired with practicing gratitude. it won’t be the same every day. sometimes it will be a short, quick post, and other times it will be a reflection or recipe. but most importantly, every day there will be gratitude.

today, i am grateful for Hope & Love.

sunset sky

i am thankful beyond explanation for the nearness of God and His tenderness. on my worst & best days, He loves me the same and His presence has been constant. i am thankful that we can trust Him in hard, sad seasons because abiding in His Love & Hope is always enough and will always, always see us through. and i am so, so thankful for days when things that have felt far away & nearly impossible start to fall into place.

He is Hope. He is Love.

gratitude, day 1.
gratitude, day 2.
gratitude, day 3.
gratitude, day 4.
gratitude, day 5.
gratitude, day 6.
gratitude, day 7.
gratitude, day 8.
gratitude, day 9.
gratitude, day 10.
gratitude, day 11.

gratitude, day 6.

gratitude_xsgratitude is a miraculous, wonderful thing. it really does turn what we have into enough. sometimes – often, even – it reminds us that what we have is even more than we need. although it’s kind of a “thing” for people to list something they are grateful for each day in november, this isn’t really that. it’s sort of my mash-up of a daily writing exercise i see people do every day in october paired with practicing gratitude. it won’t be the same every day. sometimes it will be a short, quick post, and other times it will be a reflection or recipe. but most importantly, every day there will be gratitude.

today, i am grateful for our church.

we are incredibly thankful to be a part of a community where sometimes worship looks like this…


gratitude, day 1.
gratitude, day 2.
gratitude, day 3.
gratitude, day 4.
gratitude, day 5.

community, failure, & chocolate chip cookies.

IMG_5670

when dustin and i got engaged, i remember that one of the first things i felt in some of those initial conversations as i shared our exciting news was feeling like i had just gotten invited to a special club. not because of the ring or anything like that, but because as one of the last people to get married in my group of friends, among lots of fun new connections, being engaged allowed me to (finally) be part of the marriage-y conversations. the good, the challenging, the utterly hilarious.

marriage, like all relationships, requires us to be intentional, present, and honest, and having a community to share with and be accountable to has added a richness to our growth as a couple. we are blessed beyond measure to have a community that stretches near and far including friends and groups we meet and share with individually as well as family and friends that we hang out with together. we are also incredibly grateful to have been welcomed together as a couple into a couples small group. we get together monthly at one of our houses for dinner, a considerable amount of laughter, and conversation about marriage, challenges, joys, faith, encouragement.

this month’s dinner was this past weekend, and we had volunteered to bring dessert. i woke up saturday morning super excited to find a new recipe to try, and it didn’t take me long to do so. my search ended when my heart got set on bon appétit’s caramel budinos with salted caramel sauce (“budino” is Italian for “pudding”). they had me at caramel. topped with salted caramel.

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