Tuesday, January 26, 2016

This Life

"Comparison is the thief of joy"

This is a small mantra I often play on repeat in my head. Particularly in this age of Instagram and Facebook and Tumblr and every other kind of media out there...it's hard to remember that someone else's life isn't just one big fun fest while mine isn't. And then, I hit the reality that I'm sure there are days when my life IS one big fun fest and someone else's isn't.

So, hear this...that for all the oversharing I do on social media and over coffee and on the blog, it's still just a snapshot of a moment. So, if you catch me on a good day with make up on and having run a brush through my hair...remember that there are just as many days like today. I'm home. I have a hacking chest cold that has turned me into a big sucky baby that yells "It burnnnnnns" to the dog every time I have a coughing spasm. (As an aside, this supposedly most loyal breed has retired to the top of the stairs, out of my coughing range and barely lifts her head now when I look for sympathy and solidarity in my weakened state.)  My house is half painted, with painting paraphernalia all over the coffee table and kitchen island. Dishes are piled in the sink and the boys are going to come home shortly to complain that there is "nothing to eat" as they rummage the pantry and fridge in their mid day feeding frenzy.

So, yes, enjoy our photos. They are beautiful and they capture our family well. But keep in mind that they don't tell the whole story. That Easton has a broken collarbone in these pics. And our oldest nephew and niece are now at college and away from home...and that means they have their own lives and we don't have many years left where we'll all be able to gather this way. That cancer has had its way with more than one family member in these photos. That we don't get to be together this way on more than a few days a year, though we are lucky enough to recognize that it's precious when we do. That the boys who now tower over our heads are the same ones who have just walked in the door and demand to be fed copious amounts of teen approved snacks...and I'm the one they are looking to to provide them. Our life is incredibly good. It's simply life...with all its ups and downs and mind numbingly mundane in between. And it's ours. Even when the bills pile up. And the boys fight. And I'm sick. And the dang dog barely acknowledges me all day.
Mac and the cousins 

My gorgeous nieces...

Jenessa and Cailey

Kamerin giving it back to Aidan. 

Snowball fight on the lake
Jason and I 

The whole VanBinsbergen clan on the lake

The cousins. They're like a small gang.

The family...I'm definitely the shortest

Easton and Aidan
Oma and Opa

Friday, January 1, 2016


I've been unable to write for a few weeks. I wish I could say that it was because I've been busy and that I have been doing so much for others and being productive, but the truth is...I've been laying kind of low because once again, depression has thrown itself over me like a wet, wool blanket. I'm thankful for a family that generally understands and allows me to figure out what it's going to take to get out from under it. It's not situational, in that I'm not sad over a particular event or loss or subject, but it is heavy just the same and though I may not feel sad, it can be exhausting just trying to corral my thoughts into something worth articulating. Though I slow down exponentially when it hits, I have to continue to slog forward as if wet cement were surrounding my moves and threatening to hold me in place for eternity. I feel like if I allow myself to be immobilized, then I risk staying stuck.

Add to this general malaise, the idea of resolutions and New Year's and instead of being inspiring, it can be daunting and overwhelming at times. I mean, if it were socially acceptable to double a batch of cookie dough just so I can eat half of it uncooked and still have an outcome of at least a dozen cookies, then I believe my issues with resolutions and goals would be solved. But alas, it's frowned upon so I have to set my ideals a little higher. Or do I?

I mean, what on earth do I have to live up to anyway? In fact, the paradox of my life is that I aspire to live down to the level of simplicity and honest generosity that the people I admire most live. I want to live in such a way that selflessness and generosity mark my life the way that it does of Sukai and James, or of Blessings and Prudence, of Elizabeth and Dorothea and Reuben and Joyce. I want to have the kind of joy in my work that I see in Priscilla who comes every day to a care point and embraces the challenges of nearly 150 children that depend on her and her team of volunteers to provide for them - a place to play, a healthy meal, a chance to learn, a chance to be cared for and parented and protected.

Last year, I picked "mindfulness" as a word to focus on for the year. It was meant to invoke focus and attention in areas that matter to me. In some areas, I admit that it worked. I was able to cut through some of the peripheral stuff in my life that draws my attention from the things that really matter to me. It wasn't perfection but it was progress of sorts. I relapsed over the year time and time again to going through the motions in lots of areas of my life, but once in a while, the reminder of "mindfulness" came to me and helped me get back on track.

I've been struggle with the idea of even a word for this coming year. Or a phrase. I guess the gist of it is that I want to keep moving forward and to keep growing, but at the same time, I want to be engaged in the day to day, not just pressing on to the next thing all the time.

So, no word. A blank space on the inspirational wall hanging this year. And yet, there's something about the blank space that says I can fill it in as I go.  Maybe I can't limit myself to one word or one phrase or one resolution at this point in my life because everything is so wide open. It's daunting but it's also exciting, when I have the mindset to be optimistic about it all. I'm watching boys grow up in front of my eyes and I know that time is fleeting. I'm feeling a pull to change some things in my life that would be really crazy, empowering and inspiring but they are tempered by the terrifying nature of change itself.

So today, January 1, 2016. A New Year but the same old me. A blank calendar in front of me but only a pencil to write on it with. There's not much that inked at this time...which I'm learning to embrace.

This afternoon, I took Charlie down to the river for a walk. It's a gorgeous, windless, blue sky prairie kind of day and it is crisp and fresh outside. We wound our way through the peeling birch and red willows of the riverbank and we listened to the sounds of birds above us and water under the ice and our feet crunching the snow beneath us. We wandered for about an hour and then cut up the hill on a deer path and emerged on the track above the river. There were plenty of people and dogs out today and we caught up to a woman who was bent over in two, catching her breath, while her dogs ran in and around with Charlie. She stood up and looked me in the eye and I asked her if she was ok. She nodded and explained that she had some back pain related to dialysis that she was undergoing. We'd never met before but the first question she asked me was "Where are you travelling to this year?" I looked at her again and asked, "Do you mean, like, as in resolutions or where I think this year is going to take me?" She shook her head and said, "No. Where are you really going to travel to this year and why?" I told her that I planned to go to Zimbabwe this year and we began to walk together, slowly, and she asked me questions about our work there and the reason I go and what I do there, etc. She told me about her dialysis and how she was unable to travel. We talked about dictators and governments and our own election results of this past year. We stopped often for her to bend over and get relief from the pain in her back. We talked about walking and dogs and fresh air and mental health. When we parted ways at the road, I walked away thinking that sometimes there are just people around us that ask the right question and are willing to really listen for the answer. I have had encounters with women that make me wonder if they are really angels or messengers or prophets of sorts; the kind of encounters that make you believe that God becomes flesh to point things out to you again for clarity. Maybe it's just me, and the fact that I'm a slow learner, but I feel like when there have been changes afoot and decisions to be made, that there are often strangers with objective opinions that seem to speak into my life in the most mundane and wonderful ways as if to point me in the right direction.

I don't know what the total message was meant for me today, but the bottom line was, she advised me to keep proceeding. Keep walking. For my mental well being and for the greater good of serving others. One foot in front of the other, even if on the way back, you're in pain and bent in two from the exertion, it's better than having missed the journey.