go live first – letter no. 3

I think it was Hannah Brencher who said that writers aren’t people who are good at writing about life; they’re the people who’ve gotten really good at living. There is a ring of truth to her words. You can’t write if you’re not living anything. We can all see how true it is for non-fiction; you can’t write what you haven’t experienced. But I think it’s true for fiction too. You can’t write about lives in any believable way if you’re not living in the thick of them. How can you create people if you don’t live with people, love people, mingle with them and celebrate with them and mourn and dance and eat and take long walks with them? There is a vibrancy and a grittiness to real life that we can’t ever write if we don’t ever live it first. 

There’s a lot of reasons this is hard, but can we just talk about two of them for a second? 1. It’s easy to get caught up in our own heads, trying to write and stumbling against our own lack of experience without realizing it. 2. It’s also easy to swing the other direction, to get so caught up in trying to live a life we can write about that we forget to just live, to be present and unguarded, to be alive in the moments that will later become the stories we have to tell, without having taken notes on or wondered at them as they happened. 

I’ve done both of those before: lately I’ve been living all in my own head, trying to write about life without sinking my teeth into the meat of it myself. It’s a cyclone of an existence. I think of John Green’s book Turtles All the Way Down where he opens up about his experience of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and how it becomes, for him, a whirlpool of thoughts spiraling tighter and tighter in dangerous directions that feel completely beyond his control. On a very different scale and in a manner very much more IN my control, that is what it’s like to live stuck inside my head, and maybe anyone’s head. When you close the doors and sit down to analyze what you have without letting in light, fresh air or new ideas, you spiral around and around in the same frustrations, fears, and failures. 

I began to come out of that shell late this summer. One day during camp, I walked outside onto the sunlit deck and stood, soaking in the morning warmth for a moment. There were kiddos already running back and forth, but there were also mamas. And they were sitting. There were cups of coffee on the arms of their chairs. They weren’t just wiggling their toes in the sunshine before they walked back inside to do the dishes, they were sitting outside drinking deep from the cup of mountain air and children’s playtime and mama-friendship that life was holding up to them in that moment. And I had almost missed it. I had been missing it most of the summer. I don’t want to miss moments like that for the rest of my life; they’ll be the moments that come back in stories one day too. They’ll be the moments of conversation that inspires me, of wisdom that empowers me, of joy that refreshes me. Maybe quiet moments sipping coffee together won’t come up in dramatic retellings of the stories of my life, but they will influence and shape and nurture me as a writer all the same. 

Learn to live, darling. Learn to look up from your desk in time to see a squirrel leap into the trees, learn to laugh at the weird, new, odd things your toddler does that could, if you’re not careful, drive you crazy. Learn to laugh so hard you pee a little and learn to cry when the people around you – your people – are crying too.

But I have a word of caution for you. As you learn to live, don’t think so deeply about it that you begin to spiral in on yourself again. Life is not a race to collect stories or a contest to acquire the richest material. There’s no prize to the one who’s lived in a tiny home and a mansion and also backpacked through Europe: you can live in a cul-de-sac and vacuum your split-level stairs every week and still be living the life that people need you to write about. Trust me on this.

When I moved to Colorado in my early twenties I believed that adventure was out there and I was going to find it. And I also believed that if I didn’t find it, I’d never be the writer I wanted to be. I’d never have the words or inspiration or opportunities that a writer needs if I wasn’t out there living the adventure that everyone wants to read about. It took me a very long time to realize how wrong I was. Adventure wasn’t just waiting in the wild aspects of a life few people get to live; adventure was waiting in the mundane, belly-laugh moments that everybody gets to live. I was given the adventure of a lifetime – the lifetime of one human being, which is always, always an adventure. I had no idea then how poignant, how rich, how write-able that one wild adventure would be. And wouldn’t you know it, here I am with two children and a tiny cottage where I can sit and watch the squirrels, where my toddler counts to ten and inserts “four” whenever he can’t remember what number comes next. Here I am with my one computer and the under-the-stairs bedroom that makes me feel slightly like Harry Potter, and the gallery wall of art complete with kitchen cooling racks that I use as photo grids. There is more adventure in my three red picket fence gates than in the life I thought I would have when I moved out here, single and hoping that a good story would find me.In all the advice that we give writers to sit down and write the thing, don’t forget to go out and live the thing too. I mean yeah, you won’t get far at all without plunking yourself down and opening a tab to your writing platform of choice, instead of streaming another episode. But you won’t get far streaming another episode anyway. You’ve got to be wildly, vastly, energetically present in this one grand life of yours. You can’t hope to write it if you don’t live it. So go live, darlings. Go live deep and real and hard and beautiful. Then we’ll write.

that summer/winter life

The first time I saw the sign pointing one direction towards private staff housing and another towards Eagle Lake Camp, I felt like a subtle barrier had been thrown up between that place and the rest of the property. It was before I knew anything about camp; at first I just assumed that it was somebody’s house, separate from camp operations. It seemed like the sort of outlet one should tiptoe past in order not to disturb the residents. After we joined the Navigators camp staff ourselves, I learned that that’s where we’d be housed during the summers, and I became grateful for the subtle separation. And now that I do indeed live here three months a year, turning left at the sign that points right down towards camp, that separation has slowly diminished.

The distinction on the sign is important though: it directs the camp staff and camper families in the right direction; away from the private housing of people who live here full time without working here. Towards the business center of camp. Towards the beach and the blob, the cabins and the check-in tables. Away from the two and three year olds who are just trying to nap on a Sunday afternoon, and their mamas who need a few hours of quiet.

There is a similar distinction between the life we live at camp and the live we live away from camp. I never expected quite this level of separation between my off-season community and rhythms, and the changes we make “up the mountain”. Yet they exist. Our first summer, I expected to visit friends in the city rather frequently; if I came down every week to get our mail and we came down on the weekends, surely we’d have plenty of time to join the bar-b-ques, the Bible studies, drink coffee on our back patios of a Saturday morning together? But by the end of the summer, I had only seen one friend with any regularity, and that was because she planned to move across the country at the end of the summer.

Then August came, the tenth and final week of camp rolled around on a Sunday morning and rolled past on a Friday. Campers left, and then counselors, and then program coaches, and then we did. And I realized suddenly that the old wooden sign directing the summer staff in one direction and the families in another had never really kept us apart. The girls I’d discipled over the summer took pieces of my heart back to school all across the country and even straight up into Canada. Some of my friendships would be renewed the next summer and some would not and I realized as we moved back into the range of backyard cookouts and enthusiastic greetings at Sunday School drop-offs that I missed the summer piece of my life as much as I’d missed the winter piece through camp season.

I didn’t know how to reconcile these fragments at first. How could I maintain lasting friendships with people if I was going to be gone all summer? And how could I create real bonds at camp if I was only going to say goodbye – maybe forever – after ten weeks? And yet just like the private driveway up to staff housing that loops back around to form a circle with the road, there are unexpected connections through the pieces of my year that begin to thread them together.

Camp is an undeniable part of our lives and unless my husband wanted to change jobs, there’s no way simply wouldn’t move to camp for a quarter of every year. Yet our friends “down the mountain” have taken an interest in our camp life; they offer to come up for Chapel on Sundays and ask how they can pray for us through the summer. They ask about Grant’s role and my role and they flex their tight schedules to meet me for coffee when I do, finally, come down to collect our mail.

At camp, right when I wonder if I can keep my heart open for another season of loving hard and saying goodbye, I am met by people who have answered this same question with a warm and thorough yes. People I never expected to meet take time to learn my name and greet my toddler with high-fives. Counselors I thought I barely knew are giving me hugs, winning over love I didn’t know I had left to give. I find myself looking up strange combinations of names and numbers that make up Instagram usernames so that I can follow this one to Alaska and that one to Wisconsin through their long winters until I maybe see them in the spring.

Camp will always be seven miles from home as the crow flies and remain an hour’s drive on a good day. There will never be a complete reconciliation between these two halves of life. But the way I treat the distance matters. It makes a difference that I remain open to the love these separate communities have to give – to me and to each other. Perhaps they will always seem farther apart than they truly are, but it will always be up to me to see past the dividing ridges, to recognize how close and even intersecting these two sides of the same mountain are.

beauty will save the world

I have always loved this quote, even before I knew where it was from, but I have not always believed it. Even when I heard it perfectly illustrated at a conference about the arts – about the necessity of beauty – even then I didn’t believe it. There was a seed of Midwestern Baptist doubt that nothing, not even the beauty I crave like living water, could be so instrumental in saving the world. But yesterday I found a new layer of understanding.

I wish I could say it was a new understanding altogether but my spirit has rarely learned like that, in leaps and bounds. I grow slowly and deeply and my roots have to push deeper into a thing, a truth or a season or a reality, before I can see it slowly growing in my own life. The thing about beauty is it’s been growing on my heart for the past year and a half and only now can I shape into words how this belief is changing me.

But I don’t have to just believe that beauty will save the world anymore. I’ve heard stories so blatant they spell it out nice and slow for even those as stupid as me. The story I heard this spring was the story of a woman in a choral group that sang old latin hymns. She loved them for their beauty even though she didn’t believe the truth of them. And yet gradually, that beauty became so rooted in her heart that she began to wonder if these words about Christ and saving and hope could actually be true. There were other influences in the gradual renewal of her beliefs, but it began with the hymns of a dead language whose words were very much alive.

Yesterday it came home to me in my own way: I had tucked my toddler in for bed and stepped outside for a walk. We live in the woods, at camp, with other families: there were people who’d hear him if he cried, and I only wanted to walk the quarter-mile loop of the driveway a few times. There were birds singing. A sunset glow was gathering on the opposite hill. Wildflowers were blooming – some I know, like shooting stars and blue flags and golden smoke and alpine bluebells. Even more that I want to learn were pushing their blossoms up in places I didn’t expect, catching me off-guard with perfect tiny white blossoms and surprising fragrances. Last year’s rose hips marked the places where this year’s roses will bloom.

I walked in that wide loop for a long time, just savoring the freshness of the air and the presence of the flowers and the singing of the wind on the tops of the hills. It’s moments like that which give me the ability to go back to being a mama with more gentleness. Walking and solitude and beauty give me the chance to be restored. They save the way I talk to my toddler, or my husband or my friends. They change the way I write, process, imagine. They save the way I see the world, the way I understand beauty and its small saving graces. Yes, beauty will save the world, one wildflower, one tired mama at a time.

There’s hope in this knowledge; when I can’t find or get to beauty, I can know it still exists. It still changes things. It still saves in it’s own small God-made ways. And when I can, it saves me, sends me back to God again in ways that don’t quite happen in a church. Yes, beauty will save the world, sometimes whether we realize it or not.

your story

I have had a head cold for three weeks and counting now. I’m not even disgusted by going around the house, picking up my used tissues, or scooping up the pile of snotty toilet paper that’s inevitably accrued next to my bed each morning. I just do it. I’m tired of it, sure, and I cry with frustration sometimes when I just want to take a short walk without feeling exhausted or blowing my nose in the cold again, but whatever. I’ll get better eventually. (I’ve been to a doctor and there really is nothing serious wrong with me. Don’t worry.)

In an attempt to self-medicate against the discouragement of feeling like crap all the time, I’ve been binging good books, listening to all the podcasts, and enjoying conversations even though they kill my already-sore throat. But none of those things have had the substance I’m looking for. No matter which encouraging thing I listen to or what lovely ideas and lives I read about, they don’t really cheer me up. Because I start to get jealous. Even in the little conversations, envy of my friends’ non-congested voices and un-achy throats starts to creep in. I don’t like jealousy, and here it is even in the moments when I’m just trying to find a little courage.

I’ve never cemented the habit of simply not comparing myself to others. It’s ugly, written that bald-faced and plain, but it’s true. I compare my voice, my figure, my writing style, my perceived success to how I perceive theirs. I even compare the things I like doing to the things others like doing. Do I host like she does, do I have a vision like that, have I written anything that motivating, will I ever be able to publish as much as her?

I could, and should, ruminate instead on how full and beautiful my own life really is. I tend to forget that my own story is the one that matters most to me – not in a selfish way, but in a centering way, a way that recognizes the influence each of us has and uses it. I think when we pay too much attention to the stories we aren’t living, we make our own lives less effective, less deep and true. It’s like cleaning your house while you’re mentally planning a menu, and interrupting yourself to add to the grocery list. Nothing will get done the same way it will if, while you clean, you plan and focus and strategize how you intend to clean the house to your best ability. Not that our lives are really much like a house, but I think you can picture the difference between a clean house with the dishes drying on the counter, and a clean house with the counters bare and flowers arranged on the kitchen table.

We’ve got to come back to our own stories. I am realizing how imperative it is to really see our own lives, begin to recount the story of ourselves. Knowing where we are and where we came from is crucial if we want to see the beauty in where we are going. I know this all sounds vague, but I think acting on it is simple. Start noticing. See the people in your life, see the patterns, see the joy and the pain. Some of it needs changing, sure, but a lot of it is just good stuff, even if it’s hard good stuff. And be thankful, too. Recognize what is good and cling to that – write it down or photograph it or get a tattoo or throw a dinner party. Remind yourself where you fit in the grand scheme of humanity, of the Church; in your community, your family, your own house. Give yourself an orientation tour of this life you live, and then use your one sweet life to make that space beautiful.

And sure, it’s good to draw inspiration from the stories other people are living. Perhaps they’ve had ideas that sparked your own. Perhaps their story was the courage you needed one day. But don’t settle into comparison. Take that courage and turn it into something difference-making.

I’ve never experienced the spring rush of allergies like so many others, but that’s what the doctor thought my head cold was. I protested, informed him I wasn’t allergic to anything. He smiled, and reiterated, “We see a lot of allergy cases this time of year. You’re not alone; you’re in good company.” That statement somehow gave me a bit of hope, even though it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Allergies, good company – hearing that give me the framework in which to set the story of being sick for three whole weeks. It’s a grounding piece of information. And even if I still think that the snotty nose my toddler had three weeks ago is part of this, or the sinus infection I just fought off, or the lowered immune system that pregnancy brings – at least I have a framework.

On my way home from urgent care, I was listening to a podcast by Christie Purifoy and Lisa-Jo Baker. The more I listen to their podcast, the more I usually compare – the more I wish my story was similar to one of theirs. But today even while I listened, I came to a reminder: my story is my own. I can’t exchange it for Lisa Jo’s or Christie’s, but I shouldn’t want to either. If I could, I’d miss out on all that was meant for me. Allergies or no allergies, I don’t want to go along so envious that I miss my own life; do you?

songbirds

It can be hard to figure out what to write in this space some days. I’m not always a thinker of deep thoughts, a studious philosopher-type.

Some days I just take long walks with the wind a little too cold on my ears and the stroller bumping against my palms and I look for reasons to be grateful. These days the reasons come in the form of songbirds. They sing brazenly from the tops of pines, invisible but vibrantly present. They warm me to my core, ears and all, somehow. I think maybe it’s not even just the birds; maybe it’s the reminder that the long migration of winter will end.

I hear the songbirds and I think of blooming crabapple trees, of smelly Bradford Pears that look like white mist. I think of flowers; some bloom in orderly beds and some grow riotously beyond their own borders and some just pop up wild, like the pink wild roses in tangled hedges at camp. I think of sunshine that feels warm on bare skin. I think of the hours we spend with friends, finally outside again after months of playing indoors, meeting in coffee shops or bundling up for short walks to the park.

Summer feels like freedom until it’s here and then it brings the same regularity of discipline and cultivated habits that I’ve had all year. It’s a strange life to see summers as free time all our growing up years until one day we’re grown up and summers are still work time. But in the middle of the work time that used to be free, I realize again and again that moments of free-heartedness never really left. Because there were songbirds singing here in the middle of winter.

There are belly-laughs in the longest days of parenting. There are breakthroughs in the most drudging hours of writing. The sun breaks through the sky for a sunset glow on the gloomiest cloudy days. There’s always something.

So hang in there. Raise your eyes above the snow drifts and look at the wild blue sky. Even on the darkest night, the stars are still shining above the clouds. Remember the songbirds, because they remember you.

what can I do to help?

The best way I know how to describe my community is that they are helpers. When people have babies, they bring meals. When somebody’s sick, there are offers to babysit, bring over a stash of chocolate or cup of coffee. When it’s just a long day and the kids are, well, kids, somebody’s ready to listen. They just help.

Last Saturday I stood in the kitchen adding one dash of almond milk after another to a batter that still looked too dry. S finished chopping the strawberries. “Anything else I can do?” W heard her ask and turned towards me too; “Yeah, what can we help with? You look busy.” So the strawberries got mixed into the slightly-less-crumbly batter and the teapot was pulled off the shelf I couldn’t reach and we all settled into the living room to enjoy our Christmas brunch.

I would love to summarize our year with pretty thoughts tied in a bow for your advent admiration, tucked under a perfectly-tapered, not-shedding-needles tree. But, life.

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We moved, wholly or partially, four times this year. Some of our things are still tucked in the back of a garage, cringing as passing time lessens the possibility that I will label them “necessities”. I was lucky just to find the Christmas lights. Also, please somebody explain the mystery of perfectly operational, gently packed Christmas lights that mysteriously just die in the year between. But we have two working strands and they wrap halfway around the living room and my point is really just that our year was unsettled.

In May we moved up to Eagle Lake Camp for Grant’s job. In August we moved back, and packed up our home. In September we moved out of our house and into flux, and in October we moved into the cottage. I still don’t know where our large skillet is, but the lights are stretched above the windows and the throw blankets are on every piece of furniture and it’s feeling like home now.

But our friends have been even more comforting than the cheery yellow throw blankets we tuck around our feet on cold evenings. They brought us meals when I was sick this Spring. They shared their coffee when we all moved up to camp this summer. They gave a lot in the give-and-take of monitoring our collective kiddos at the staff housing lodge. They loved us and supported us and when I try to think of this year as a whole, they’re in it one way or another.

So, thank you, friends. Thank you for memories, thank you for friendship. Thank you for putting down roots with us, sharing meals with us, wiping up spilled milk and consoling unhappy babies and drinking a quiet cup of coffee with us. Here’s to next year. Here’s to community. Here’s to crumbly scones and hot coffee.

memory

Today I made raspberry cobbler in a jar. They were the raspberries I picked at Eagle Lake this summer. I wanted to remember.

I picked those raspberries, picked through the rain and the scratches on my calves and the mud. Washed the bugs and the dirt off the berries and learned how to flash freeze them so they wouldn’t stick together all tumbled up in a container later. I learned where the best picking was; behind staff housing, up by Raven’s Craig, down on The Darn, along the road towards the dining hall.

We stopped our strollers along that road, picking two or three berries before we turned around and offered them to the babes. I held them up for Erik strapped on my back, handed them to Addison in her stroller, Abby and Alice running back and forth looking for their own berries. We left staff housing early for lunch, allowing ourselves to get distracted with the picking, offering, savoring. We talked and planned about how we should make jam together. We could get little labels printed with Eagle Lake 2018 and each of us keep a jar.

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In eleven minutes the steaming scent of fresh raspberry cobbler will probably tempt my husband away from his audiobook to ask what I made, what smells so good. Remember those wild raspberries, I will say, how bittersweet they were? Taste this.

That’s how I want to remember our summer. I want to take the bittersweet and bring out the wild flavor. I want to transform the memories into happy recollections; there’s no way to erase how hard the summer was but that’s not what I want to do. I just want to frame the memories in the best way; serve them up gently with our thoughts heavy on all the goodness. We need good memories like we need good food.

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cliff jumping

There is a cliche I’m tempted to use when I try to describe the passing summer: harder than I thought but better than I expected. I think cliches are better expressed in stories. After all, aren’t cliches just familiar sentiments that we’ve chosen the same, typical ways of expressing? But our stories are all different.

I was the girl who camped with her friends instead of going to parties with them. Once we all slept on the lakeshore after gazing in awe at a meteor shower. It rained on us around midnight but we just ducked under our covers and laughed it off the next day when we shook the sand out of our blankets. One July we packed up and drove to the north shore of Lake Superior. We left at 3 am because we didn’t have reservations and we were banking on being there in time to get two non-reservable campsites. It was a gamble, but we were all together in a too-loud pickup truck eating fresh donuts and trying to keep each other awake and we were willing to take the risk.

The nights were cold and the days were foggy and even so the next morning we girls walked up to the boys campsite to see Caleb striding confidently out of the tent in a swimsuit. The rest of the boys trickled out after him, swaggering a bit with their damp towels over their shoulders. The river we camped on was horribly cold for July and even so there was a definite wall of colder water where the river met Lake Superior and somehow all the same, Caleb planned to go cliff jumping.

Sheri calmly declined. There may be a moment when peer pressure has caused Sheri to cave but I have not seen it. Anni and I looked at each other with wide eager eyes. We had no resistance. It was cliff jumping or a slow death of shameful cowardice. We got our swimsuits and followed the boys. We could hear our hearts pounding over the crunch of our flip-flops on gravel so we sang Dive by Steven Curtis Chapman to pump ourselves up and drown our fear.

We hovered on the edge of the gravely ledge while the boys jumped in line. Once, twice each. I looked down; I shook; I wavered. I thought of how cold the water would be. Worth it? And I imagined the adrenaline-filled glory of coming up the steps to my friends cheers. Worth it?

And then I jumped.

The water was harder than I pictured. It stabbed the soles of my feet and stung the undersides of my outflung arms. I fell farther than I imagined: There were deep heavy layers of water above me when I tried to swim back up. The breath I couldn’t breathe in caught in my throat as I tried to push the waves aside, to resurface. But the glory overwhelmed me. When my feet left the rocky soil I felt the wind in my hair. I felt myself falling with helpless joy. I scrambled onto the rough shore visibly trembling; there was an overwhelm of laughing courage inside so strong I barely heard the offered cheers.

Our feet squeaked against our wet flip-flops as we walked back to our tents. We were cliff jumpers.

That is how I would describe this summer. The long, arduous hours I expected were longer, more painful than I thought. They built resentment and frustration. I’m exhausted when I wake up every morning at 6. The weeks of E teething have been impossible. The times I spend with Grant have been rare, interrupted, disconnected, frustrating.

But the beauty has been overwhelming. Our marriage is stronger. We learned that “being in love” can’t carry us; we learned how to fight for each other in cups of coffee and spontaneous sushi dates and saying I’m sorry. I learned to play with Erik more; we read books and play chase and sometimes seek out the other littles to give me a break. The woods that looked like nothing but a dead burn scar this spring have been washed with the magic of wildflower meadows and red raspberries and baby Aspens like a thick green blanket. The close community has shocked and warmed me like the adrenaline and applause when I climbed out of Lake Superior four years ago.

This summer has stung me like hard cold water on my skin and emboldened me like laughing courage shared with old friends. Here’s to the life we create at camp. Here’s to the hard things we couldn’t imagine and the glory we feel and cannot fathom. Here’s to being cliff jumpers.

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^ Anni and I, at Lake Superior. 2014.

wild raspberries

It was mid-July when I first learned about wild raspberries. We were camping, camping all together on our summer family trip to Bemidji State Park. The hot afternoons we spent out in the boat together, whipping the intertubes in circles and pulling the skiers in straight lines. Cool mornings Mom liked to get us out biking. There were mixed feelings about hopping on our bikes in the midwest humidity, but our motto was “Everybody gets a turn doing what they want.” Mom, Josh, me and sometimes Josiah all wanted to bike.

My parents took the lead and the tail. Mom biked ahead with Josh, competitive nature in full force. I did my best to keep up despite a slight nagging sympathy for Josiah and Kiara, younger legs biking slowly in the back with Dad. We went single-file down the winding paved path; Josh and I weaving side to side and attempting to break each other’s records of Distance Ridden With No Hands. Eventually our family caught up with us, all but Dad and Kiara. I turned around, volunteering to find where they’d gotten hung up. Sitting still at a junction in the trail galled me when we ought to be moving.

Dad was stopped by the side of the trail. Kiara struggled up a hill behind him.

“Dad! What happened?”

“Wild Raspberries,” he said with a sly smile, and popped a red berry in his mouth. His knowledge of the outdoors had identified for him a treasure we all missed; his voice identified the warm pleasure that filled him whenever he spent time in the woods.

“Really? Are they good?” I’d never harvested any fruit out of the wild before.

“Try some.” He handed me one, and bent over to pick more. They were good. I began to pick them with Dad, leaning over with my bike held upright between my legs, the front wheel turning heavily towards the trees. Kiara caught up and sat beside the road, eating the berries we shared with her. Soon the rest of the family trickled back and called us sly names for not telling them about the sweet gems we’d stumbled across.

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Every year after that, I paid attention to what month it was when we camped at Bemidji. I found ways to quiz Dad quietly, asking him whether the raspberries would be ripe yet. If they were I hung back from my usual fast-paced riding. I’d race Josh across the bridge, attempt to ride with no hands between the vehicle-prohibiting metal gates on the trail, hold my breath to keep from panting while I tried to be the first one up the hills. But when we came to the large aspen grove, white trees in their haze of golden-green light stretching out between the ferns, I’d drop back – “to check on Dad and Kiara,” I’d explain with a shrug, perhaps just a little too innocent.

We’d spend a few minutes eating all the tangy plump raspberries we could reach from the trail, scheming quietly how long we could stay before the others would turn around to find us and deplete the amount of berries we could each eat.

Grant and I walked around the lake at camp one evening when we first moved up here. He told me again the story of how he and his co-counselors were told to weed the areas between the boulders of the damn, and then suddenly chided when the property manager discovered they’d pulled up not just the weeds, but all the wild raspberries. We laughed together comfortably. I looked down the sides of the damn at the small stiff bushes poking up between stones. The raspberries were certainly coming back well.

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The longer I live at camp, the more raspberries I discover. They grow along the trail up to Raven’s Craig, they grow between the boulders that pile high beside the road. Raspberries bloomed in springtime along the walk down to the dining hall and behind staff housing and on the trail that led back to Halfway Meadow. Now they’re ripening.

We walk around the lake again, this time with little Erik on Grant’s back. I linger, slowing down Grant’s long strides across the open back of the damn. There are raspberries to pick. Nostalgia warms me; I put a raspberry in Erik’s mouth. He grimaces with the burst of tang, and then smiles widely around the sweetness. I shape a memory in the sunshine, saving it for us to taste again next summer.

Every time I find a dark red raspberry, ripe and ready to eat, I remember eating those first wild berries with Dad. I hear the excitement that crept into his voice when he taught us about the woods he loved. I remember learning about the trees from him. Mom quizzed us on our trees by tickling our noses with their leaves, making our homeschool learning fun. Dad taught us from the heart of him; there was no tickling, only a deep love of all things wild that made his knowledge gold and transformed the woods into holy ground.

It is mid-July. I try to remember all the places I’ve noticed the rough shapes of raspberry leaves over the spring. I wander back quietly, hoping to find and collect the sweet red memories before everyone else catches up.

breaking days

For nearly a week now I’ve been clinging to five-minute increments of quiet while E plays flips the stiff pages of a board book or gnaws contentedly on a toy. And in between those five minute spaces I’ve tried everything.

“Are you still hungry? Is it your teeth? Do you need tylenol again? You can’t be tired already… Shall we go outside for a bit?” Anything. Anything to stop the grunting, the whining. Camp is flexing its muscles, rejoicing as a strong man to run a race. The woods are wearing their Sunday best. Ocean Spray like lace spills from rocky outcroppings, Showy Daisies and Black-eyed Susans pin an emerald cape to the shoulders of the hills. The meadows wear lavender flowers of Columbine in their hair. And for a week I struggled every day; just don’t cry, just don’t cry.

I cry anyway. By the time he goes down for his morning nap I have been tempted to pull my hair out so often that if I had any follow-through, I’d be bald. When he wakes up, too early and still cranky, the angst has scarcely had time to settle. I try to remind myself of all that is lovely.

“You’re a sweet boy, and we adore you,” I whisper. He stares blankly while I spoon up more applesauce and attempt to smile around the despair I feel. I try to play with him. He only wants to be held. I try to let him play in the other room; maybe if I am out of sight he will be content. I only get one dish washed before he is crawling across the kitchen, wailing heartily with real tears in his hazel eyes. Forget the dishes. Maybe he needs another nap. Ten minutes of “cry-it-out” later, I reluctantly admit this is not the solution either.

All the camp is blossoming, all the hearts are reveling in discipleship and the study of God together. These are glory days, and these are breaking days.

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Yet somehow, these days drive me deeper into faith, deeper into marriage, deeper into parenting. I pray nearly constantly, and God begins to answer. After nearly a week, the teething abates slightly, the smiling boy is back, recommencing his giggles. Grant digs in, buying me chocolate, telling me to set aside the dishes for when he’s home, changing the diapers. I get down on the floor instead of cleaning or scrolling or reading, and we play tag, tackle, chase. The beauty begins to shape out of the frustration. The glory of life grows slowly back up beside the brokenness. I take time to look at the hard edges of parenting a 1 year old and I ask God for eyes to see what he would show me; ears to hear what he would tell me, a heart to receive what he would give.

When we walk down to dinner, I point out the way bushes bloom out of rocky crevices. I chatter back to E’s cooing and we discuss all things wide and wonderful. I breathe deep and smile at the wriggling boy, and count the stars in the waving grass with the few minutes I’ve been given.

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embrace your dreams

“What do you want to do?” Grant asked. He meant for myself; did I want a job, a hobby, more education? We were walking slowly back from the park, me with the hole in my jeans, him carrying our tiny boy in the baby carrier. He asked me again sitting in the oversized blue chair in the corner of the living room, again in the kitchen when we did the dishes together and I wondered about what the fall would bring. He kept asking, sometimes months apart, because I kept not knowing. How long had it been since I knew what I wanted?

“No stretch marks, that would be nice,” I’d joke decrepitating. “To sleep through the night,” with a quiet sigh about waking up to nurse the wee one. “To not wrestle with my insecurity anymore.” “To have the space to think.” “A few hours by myself, no dirty diapers or wiping baby cereal off his chin.” I honestly didn’t know what to dream for, how to dream, what my dreams were. I only knew what they had been once, before I gave up on them and moved on.

We haven’t had that conversation for a few months now. Perhaps we haven’t had the time; Grant is working twelve and fourteen hour days lately since camp is up and running. There are counselors to be trained, schedules to deconflict. And I am happy. I watch the sun creep slowly up over the pines in the morning; I walk up the road to see Pikes Peak dozing in the noon sun; the alpenglow on Raven’s Craig casts the evening in gold before the night moves in like a whisper.

I have space; time. I can breathe again. The dreams are coming back.

“I want to [be] curious. I want to notice things. I want to be creative and resilient. I want to become better and better forever at what I love; parenting, writing, spending time in the outdoors, investing in relationships. I want to follow Jesus well. I want to think original thoughts. I want to work hard, and I want to know how to stop working completely and just play. I want to keep discovering the wildness and beauty God put in me. I also want to eat dinner.”

I wrote those words this afternoon, sipping too-bitter cocoa and staring at the aspens quaking in the gusty wind. I know what I want.

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I found this photograph a few hours later on Facebook, popping up in the memories that I looked at on a whim. I remember that photograph. The sun was beaming brilliant and the lilac blooms had given way to full-green waxy leaves. I settled onto the culvert rocks with no flowers to look at, determined to just put down my phone and be for a few minutes. And then this call snagged my attention; I started writing things on my little phone screen, thinking again of all the writing dreams that I had slowly given up on.

Two years ago was not much a time of dreaming. I was sliding into a hard season that would open with the uncontained joy of my wedding. But the seed of dreams was planted. Maybe it took all these two years to poke above the soil. Today feels softly significant for all the joy of this small realization. I know what I want.