The House that (re)Built Me

This week we handed the keys of our lake house to a new family.

lakehouse

While I’d cried many times during the process of letting this ‘real estate’ go, I only teared up once during the closing. It was when I looked at the new owners and told them that I’d really hoped a family would buy this home. This house needed a family.

 I choked back the flood of words floating in my throat.

 What I wanted to say was to take walks under the stars at night. To drink coffee on the deck as the birds danced in the trees. To lay on the floor and color with your kids. To pick blackberries on the trail. To hunt for morels. To walk on the trail during a snowstorm. To watch your husband play catch off the deck with your kids. To always have the fixings for s’mores for the fire.

To linger. To listen. To be. 

For about a decade, this house (re)created me. People who know us well often believe this is where my husband healed from too many burdens on his very capable shoulders. And while they would be correct, I also had to find myself in the midst of the many distractions and demands that caused me to lose myself.
I thought I had to please everyone. I even thought I had to be a typical ‘suburban’ woman. Whatever that means! I got better at hearing what I thought everyone else needed than what my soul was screaming for.
living room
So in this place, I found the space to listen to me again. Long walks or grueling runs on the rocky, hilly trail provided the space for the clutter in my heart to settle down. It was somewhere on that 17 mile trail that I got the courage to look for Linda again.
Slowly but surely, our weekends at the lake helped the image I wanted to see in my mirror become clear again. I was graciously accepted by my family as I communicated my need to embrace the country again.  They watched me walk outside without shoes so I could feel life beneath my feet. They listened to my memories as the crops along Galena roads took me home to my roots. They explored the woods, collected wildflowers, and played at the beach with me. They were basically just about perfect for me.

This home provided the background for us to not just love each other, but to know and accept ourselves AND each other. 

No internet, cable, or phones. Just real-time conversation with the people I love more than any others in the world.  Even though we brought a bit of the lake house rhythms back with us, Ron and I grieved a bit every time we had to return to ‘life.’
For Father’s Day one year, I gave Ron a hammock to nestle in our back yard. It hung between two trees and held each of us as we cuddled, read, or watched the shooting stars.
Until a deer tangled up in the rope and destroyed the hammock. When we took it down, we were stunned to see that the tree had continued to grow around the ropes leaving a mark of its presence in the bark.
hammock tree
That’s kind of what this home did for me. As I was soaking in the life of our family at the lake house, I was changed. That mark is still there to remind me of who I really am.
I’ve listened to Miranda Lambert’s song, “The House that Built Me” for years and until today, I visualized the farm where I grew up in as the main character of the song.
But after driving away from the lake house this week, I realized that 234 Jefferson Court also helped build (re)create me.  Some of her lyrics describe the impact of this home on me perfectly.
“You leave home, you move on and you do the best you can.
I got lost in this old world and forgot who I am.
 
I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing.
Out here it’s like I’m someone else,
I thought that maybe I could find myself.
If I could walk around I swear I’ll leave.
Won’t take nothing but a memory
From the house that, (re)built me.”
Yes, I won’t take nothing but a heartful of memories and deep gratitude for the house that (re) built me.
Posted in Encouragement, Formation, Good-byes | 1 Comment

Just an Illinois Girl

Here’s my view right now.

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A warm June breeze waves through the lush green leaves while the red-winged blackbirds argue over territory. A few billowy white clouds float across the blue expanse above me.  The remnants of the cottonwood seeds float a bit closer to the ground.

I’ve wanted to sit in my garden all week to experience the beauty that is Illinois in this late spring season. And I’m grateful to be in it today.

I couldn’t imagine living in any other place in the whole world. While many would argue that Illinois is a boring place to live with no mountains or oceans, that’s actually fine with me. I love living in a place that has subtle, yet familiar changes I can notice each week.

It wasn’t that long ago when the tulips burst out of the ground marking the end of winter and ushering in spring.

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Even the dandelions brighten up the newly thawed soil. What isn’t there to love about the new life that we witness in our own backyard?

In my state’s springtime, I welcome back the robins and cardinals. I feel the new blades of grass under my bare feet. And those goofy daffodils make me smile every time! How in the world do they know when to pop their bright faces above ground?

I don’t mind the muddy muck that marks the end of winter – except that I’m sad when I no longer get to see this out of my kitchen window.

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The hushed majesty of newly fallen snow causes my heart to leap EVERY time I see it! I’m so protective of the ‘snowscape’ that I don’t want anyone to complain about the actual touch of God. Because that’s what snow is to me. God reaching down to remind me that He covers all. With grace and joy and delight.

The winter skies are indescribable in Illinois. Vivid orange, purple, and pinks outdo themselves as they paint the beginning and ending of the shortened days. Because there’s nothing to block the view, I actually can take it all in. It is sheer magnificence.

I caught the love of Illinos from my dad. He verbalized something about the world around us nearly every day. Sure, he had to watch the weather because he was a farmer, but he was the first one to identify a bird or insect or cloud formation. He modeled that there was plenty of beauty to enjoy right around our farm in Millbrook.

I’ve brought that with me. I cringe when people complain about the corn fields.  Or the weather. Those are the very things that are home to me. Familiar. Illinois has been the setting for my entire life.

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The beauty of the harvest in fall. The smell of the corn dust. The crisp morning air that bites, yet invites me outside. The ever changing slant of the sun’s rays  that proclaim fall is here.

Illinois is a magical place to live. Wedged between the seasons of blizzards and heat waves comes new life and harvest.  Connecting deeply to the changing of the seasons is who I am.

Sure, I enjoy seeing new places – even mountains and oceans – but for me, there is no place like home. And for me, Illinois is home.

I’d love to hear what you love about Illinois – or about the place you live. God’s outdone Himself to create beauty – it’s simply our job to notice.

 

 

Posted in Reflections, Seasons | Leave a comment

Squeezing Tight

“Here comes a big one Nana. A REALLY big one! I love you Nana.”

“Look! It’s huge! Oh no! It’s coming! I love you Nana.”

It was like Carter was reading a script as we bounced through the waves on the Fox River. Crisscrossing the wakes following the holiday boaters and crashing through the wind-kissed waters created plenty of times for him to shout, “Look! A BIG ONE!!! We’re going to fly up! I love you.”

While you may think his exuberance was filled with confidence and reckless abandon, it was not. He was on high alert.

Four and a half year old Carter was firmly planted on my lap as we sliced through the river with my husband captaining the boat.

Carter’s just learning how to calculate the impact the waves will have on our new boat. Once we began to go fast, he’s calculated that the best place to sit is one someone’s lap. That’s where he’s learning to be brave. I got to be the lucky one on this boat trip.

Carter taught me something about being afraid, and he’s actually a lot further along in this being brave thing than I am.

Not only did he choose to be in close proximity with someone that he trusted, he verbalized what was going to happen by talking about the waves he could see. More accurately, only the waves he could see – his fears were based on what was real. He didn’t go off the deep end with all of the ‘what ifs’.

He was living in what was real.

I, on the other hand, am tempted to withdraw and go internal when I’m afraid. It’s as if talking about the ‘waves‘ out loud make them too real. I also learned early on that I shouldn’t let anybody know I’m afraid.  And boy do I wish that I could keep my fears to what was real instead of creating this little world of all the horrible possibilities! Old habits die slowly, right?

But Carter did something even more profound.

He followed up his fear with his declaration of love for me. Perhaps he did it to remind himself that love = safety. Or love = trust? Or love does not include fear? “Perfect love casts out fear” made just a little more sense.

His hazel eyes widened whenever he spotted a new cluster of waves, and then he whispered that he loved me. It was only after he said those precious words that he broke out in a huge smile and then giggled with sheer delight as we soared over his ‘fear.’

Something else struck me on our high speed boat ride. Every little part of his feet, legs, arms, and hands were wrapped around me. Our limbs were two little pipe cleaners intertwined. It was more precious than I can explain. Together we felt secure. Little does he know that I’m still a little nervous on the water. But no matter. We were facing his fear together. And I believe that we both felt a little more brave and a lot more loved when we did it together.

Life won’t always look like the peaceful, serene photo my son Josh took after a day of boating. But, we can always choose to live a little more like Carter.

Calm

Photo Credit: Josh Bryant

Posted in Encouragement, Reflections | 1 Comment

What Agenda?

When I was a little girl, I cross-stitched a set of flour sack towels with the following weekly schedule:

Wash on Monday,
Iron on Tuesday,
Mend on Wednesday,
Churn on Thursday,
Clean on Friday,
Bake on Saturday,
Rest on Sunday.

My mom didn’t follow this exactly, but she set up her own schedule that worked for her. (Yes, I even remember her churning) Each day had its own task, and each season had its own necessary work. I caught her mentality as easily as one can catch a cold.

My ‘agenda mode’ comes complete with ‘ear plugs’ and ‘blinders.’ Even when it isn’t necessary, I have my days at home scheduled in my mind to the half hour.

I did it today.

Get up by 6. Get gas for the mower by 6:30. Mow the lawn until 7:30. Clean up the garden ’til 8. Work ’til 9. Buy anuals for my pots. Begin planting said plants by 9:45. Leave by 10:30 to have an early lunch with Debralyn in the city. Work from 2-4. Finish planting pots by 5. Clean up. Dinner. Ron home.

I was on schedule until Ron and I talked about the possibility of me running up to check on our new boat (after the storms and such). I felt a pause. My internal alarm clock beeped to remind me of my schedule. That darn self-imposed scheduled to make me feel necessary.

Fortunately, I’ve been growing in the ‘in the moment presence matters more than staying on schedule‘ mentality, and I honestly was so glad to run up and check on the boat. (She was fine, by the way.)

But, I still was trying to figure out how to accomplish what I wanted to do on my day off.

Then this happened.

Waiting

The rain came too early. My agenda was thrown off. They’ll have to wait. So will I.

And in the waiting, I’m growing. Life is about much more than me and when I get my plants planted. I can choose to be in a hurry to fit something else in, or I can enjoy the drops of water forming on the colorful blooms on my patio.

I spent yesterday helping my dad go to his cardiologist and to his hearing doctor. I’m stunning with the grace he is handling this difficult season of being 94. He could choose to be irritated at the circumstances he finds himself in or he could admit that he needs help and graciously receive it. I’m so proud that he has chosen the latter.

I can’t help but think of him setting aside the way he’d like things to be and instead receive the little joys he gets. I watched him joke with the doctors and bring laughter into the room when he would have every justifiable reason to complain.

So, thanks Dad for showing me that it’s ok to take off my blinders and ear plugs and live in the moments I have been given.

That’s all for now, however, because Waze told me I need to leave by 10:24 to be in the city in time to see Debralyn!

Posted in Encouragement, Gardening | 6 Comments

A Frosty Morning

I decided to wait until all threat of frost was gone to plant my zinnias this year. New growth is tender. Once again, I’m grateful for all that I learn in my garden.

Linda Bryant Online

Every spring, I sound a bit like my dad as he prepared to ‘go to the field.’ I pay attention to the falling rain, the thawing ground, and warming temperatures. I get excited to dig my fingers in the dirt and plant some new life outside. While my livelihood doesn’t depend upon whether my flowers live or die, I baby them as if it did.

Except this year. The weather was just so unseasonably warm; it taunted me. I found myself (well actually, I drove myself) to Goebberts to buy flowers for my pots. While I knew it was too early to plant in the ground (never before Mother’s Day), it was the perfect afternoon to start my pots.

Because my eyes have historically been bigger than my ‘acreage,’ I actually listed each and every pot and then crossed it off my list when I had picked its flowers. Dahlias, lantana, petunias, strawflowers, alyssum. Check. Check. Check. Stay focused. Avoid the vegetables…

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My Treasured Friend – Marilyn Crosland

I’ve decided that it is impossible to say good-bye to a woman who has left such a profound impact upon my life. What began as a ‘business’ agreement to teach piano to Debralyn, and later Josh, turned into a deep connection between two women. And even though her life on earth has ended, her fingerprints in mine will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Wednesdays. 9am. A place for this busy homeschool mom to exhale and listen to the beautiful music Marilyn helped Debralyn and Josh create. Without realizing it, this little space on a couch in her living room began to fill a ‘mom-shaped’ hole in my heart.

She scampered around the room doing all she could to help my kids ‘feel’ the music. I’d never seen such a dedicated and creative teacher. But, I had also never seen a woman who could open her heart to so many people and welcome them inside of it.

Lessons never began at the piano. They began with her pausing long enough to check in with ‘mother.’ She wanted to know what I was teaching the kids. What I was knitting. What I was making for supper. What I had loved about living on the farm. What I was going to do on April Fool’s Day. What were those tears in my eyes?

She just seemed to be able to read the nuances of my life like she could read the nuances of a piece of music.

So each week, Wednesdays at 9, I showed up. The errands that needed to be run during lessons always waited. Why on earth would I miss a chance to ‘be’ in her presence?

Years passed. We marked the seasons together by noticing the fallish breeze as she stood at the door waving good-bye. She entered into my joy anytime a snowstorm was on the horizon. We marveled at the perfect peony bloom that she placed on her coffee table.

More importantly, she asked me how I was handling the changes in our family. As child after child headed off to college or fell in love, she anticipated my heart and knew exactly how to encourage me. She empathized without telling me how to feel. She had the uncanny ability to paint a picture of the beauty that was ahead of me without discounting how I felt in that moment.

And then I became her student. No longer was I sitting on the couch. I was seated on her piano bench. I felt vulnerable and small. She infused me with confidence and together we began to bring out the music that she had seen deep within me. A  part of me came to life again!

She introduced me to Bach in a way that I had never known him. She placed my hands upon hers so I could feel the movement. I ALWAYS left with my spirits high – not just for the music – it was because I had been with her.

It was during one of my private lessons that she brought me deeply into the world that she was living.

Aphasia. A cruel disease that was taking away her ability to find her words. The tears began to flow down my cheeks. She took my face and turned it to gaze outside.

“Look at that magnificent sky. Isn’t it the most beautiful color of blue? The sky will be the sky whether I can say the word or not. Isn’t that amazing? I have so much to be happy about!”

She bravely and enthusiastically jumped into the world of memory care. This brilliant, wise, adventurous woman was doing all she could do to keep exercising her mind. It wasn’t beneath her. It was something else for her to learn. She could have chosen bitterness. She chose gratitude.

Marilyn always loved to play duets with her students – and I was no exception. (We always ended my lesson time with a duet). She had to stop teaching, but I still stopped in to see her from time to time.  Last winter, as I was saying good-bye, she scurried to the piano telling me we had time for a duet. I’m so glad that I realized I could be late for my next appointment because that would turn out to be the last time we played together. She pulled out “Let there be Peace on Earth.” This was the first time that I had to ‘wait’ for her as we played. The tears flowed down my face as we created music because the moment felt so tender. I was looking for something profound to say when we finished, but she beat me to it.

“We’ve got to take this on the road, you know.”

Yep, that’s what she always said. Even now, that makes me smile.

I’ve heard it said that what’s inside of a person comes out more clearly as they age. When I saw Marilyn for the last time this summer, she could no longer find my name. But, no matter. She let me into her heart through her crystal blue eyes. They danced with delight. They knew me. They looked at every picture of my children and grandsons that I could show her.

She mustered up the phrase, “I’ve got so much. I’m so happy.” She was telling the truth. She gave and received love so generously. What more could a person need?

I didn’t want to leave her that day. There was no song for us to play together. But, I still stepped into her living room and looked at the couch where I had received so much.

Then I stood at the bottom of her stairs while she climbed up three so she could reach my face to give me a good-bye kiss.

She’s always been up ahead of me. And she always reached out to give me what I needed. Even then.

Yesterday was her memorial service, and I took this photo earlier that day.

“Look at the sky Marilyn. It’s still the sky whether you are saying it or not. It’s the perfect blue for the fall leaves. You’ve got all your words now. And I’ll keep looking at the sky.”

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Posted in Encouragement, Good-byes | 4 Comments

Writing and Spring Cleaning and Mom

I’m more than a little embarrassed to begin blogging again. It’s been nearly two years since I posted something for people to read. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to. It’s just than I haven’t known what to say. Or how to say it. The proof is in the number of unfinished ‘drafts’ I have.

My inner world has been cluttered and messy. Swirling emotions haven’t found their way  into words, even though I’ve tried to get clarity. I always have and always will engage with my world through words. However,  I must confess that it’s been easier to use a knitting pattern, yarn, and needles to fulfill my creativity streak rather than sift through the disorganized layers in my heart.

Where do I begin? I found myself really wanted to talk to my mom this morning. I’m sure it’s because Mother’s Day is coming – or because sometimes I just need my mom.

I began to do my version of spring cleaning this morning, and my thoughts meandered back in time to the days I helped my mom spring clean. Tagging along, I’m sure I talked nonstop about things that only a mom could care about. We shook out the winter dust and tucked away the quilts. Fresh cotton sheets soon hung in the breeze while the daffodils danced along. We folded, we scrubbed, we tossed, and we dusted. By the time we made supper, the house felt alive.

Mom never told me how to spring clean or even that it was a ‘thing.’  Yet, I found myself this morning, mimicking her steps and wishing we could be together so that I could once again talk about things that only a mom could care about. My mom had a special gift, better than most, where she could enter into my world to cheer me on to be all that I was created to be.

She often told me that I could do anything I set my mind to do. For years, that paralyzed me because I didn’t want to try something that I couldn’t do. I was, and still am,  terrified to fail.

But, this morning, as I scrubbed my kitchen floor, I ‘heard’ her say it again. It was her encouraging me to write. To sift through my heart’s ‘winter dust’ and put away the ‘heavy fear.’ Ok Mom. I’ll try.

Sometimes to write, I just have to do it. Even if everything doesn’t make sense, I have to start. Just like I didn’t spring clean the entire house all at once. It’s a process. Perhaps I need to give myself permission to just begin the process again. Ok Mom. I think I hear you.

This is the last picture I have of my mom – taken on Mother’s Day in 1984. She knew it would be her last one on earth. We all did.

Mom

Today, I’m looking at that smile as if she’s smiling still at me. Her voice of encouragement is speaking loudly to me. Thank you Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.

 

 

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