Archives for October 2015

Why Making Time For Family Matters

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My brother lives in the country, in an old farmhouse built in 1833. Original, wide-plank wood floors run throughout the house, and the kitchen displays a fireplace I can stand up inside at my full height. At 5’2″, that’s not a huge accomplishment, but it gives you some idea of the scale. Every window in his home offers a view worth capturing–old, paint-chipped barns, stone outhouses, tree-lined country lanes, and corn fields for acres and acres. I have a serious case of old-house envy.

When my sister-in-law gave us a tour of the house, she saved the best for last. We click-clacked up the attic steps, and after warning us that a snake lived up there (Help me Jesus, she wasn’t kidding. A snake skin lay swept into a pile of dust in the corner. This was not the best part), she shut the attic door behind us. While my husband looked for something with which to mimic a snake and frighten me, and I looked for another exit, she pointed to the back of the closed door. Scripted in three shades of paint, and then in black sharpie, were the names and dates of the various people who had a hand in painting the farmhouse over the years. Nicholas Peters 1834. W. Boyd 1886. GWB 1905. Then a gap of 99 years before a long list of modern names written in sharpie. My brother and sister-in-law will add their own names to the back of the door soon. Perhaps another family will add their own signatures, nine or 99 years later.

We gathered at my brother’s–all eight adults and ten kids of us–to celebrate my mom’s 65th birthday. There was pizza and a pink cake and little ones running around with soaked pant legs from creek wading. We didn’t have piles of gifts or scrap books of memories to share. We didn’t even sit around and say nice things about my mother (which in hindsight, sounds a bit anticlimactic). Instead, we sat around and ate together and shared ticking minutes, which stretched into autumn hours. I think it was everything my mother ever wanted.

Spending time together as a family reminded me of all the names painted across my life. All the people who made a difference, who made me who I am. They leave a signature behind, and sometimes they leave a soft imprint and sometimes they leave scars too, but their names have significance and a lasting effect on the life I’m building.

My mom wrote her name across my life before anyone else. CLH 1975. Carefully crafted in permanent ink, she wrote across the foundation, making beautiful the rooms she tended, molding me into something a little more like her, a little more lovely for her having been there.

When the Only Way Out is Through

DSC_8601 via kimberlyanncoyle.com

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” ~Isaiah 43:2

The first time I heard the story We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, our friend stood in the living room and captivated all of the children with his re-enactment of it. He spoke the words from memory, and his exaggerated movements and animated features told me he’d done this before.

On this imaginary bear hunt, the explorers find themselves up against multiple obstacles. They meet with grass, river, mud, forest, snow, and cave before finding the thing they sought all along. They repeat the words, Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, oh no, we’ve got to go through it!, every time they meet an unexpected challenge

While our kids squealed and followed along, I hid in the corner of the room and wondered at his enthusiasm and energy in the face of so many little people. At the time, I sat squarely in the middle of the weeds of motherhood, with three small children and a busy husband. I had just moved from a Victorian brownstone in London to a tiny, fixer-upper in New Jersey , and felt confident I would never grow to love it. I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up while kids clung to my legs. I knew a little something about going “through it”.

Going through it meant not going around the hard moments. It meant not going over the loneliness, or under the exhaustion, or around the pain I felt when I reached my thirties and realized I hadn’t lived up to my potential. Instead, I had supported my husband while he lived up to his. I walked through those years looking for a way out of them, and I never found a way out of the weeds, other than to fight my way through them.

Looking back, the journey of self-discovery and mothering littles in my early thirties feels like a small blip in my timeline. At the time, it felt all consuming, but now, the Through Years are a memory that left behind a defining mark.

Lately, I’ve felt God whisper to me that I’m in the thick of another season of walking through. I find myself waking up with a sore jaw after nights of grinding my teeth through vivid dreams and real-life worries. I tell God I’m through with things. I fling my job or my future goals or my attempts at parenting teenagers in his face and throw my hands up and say I’m through. Done. Fini. And I sense him telling me, “Oh my darling. Buckle up. You’re just getting started, there is no going around this one.”

In this season, there is no around or over or under. There is walking through with the Holy Spirit holding my hand the entire way.  And like muscle memory, my soul remembers what this felt like and how it leaves a mark, but how vibrant and alive and triumphant I will feel on the other side of this adventure. I will walk through, and I will not be consumed.

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Are you going on hunt for something today? If you find yourself in the weeds of vocation or parenting or personal growth or illness or whatever else, know that I’m walking there beside you. Sometimes there is no way around it, we have to walk through it, amen?

 

Encouragement For The Ones Who Think They’re Failing

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I haven’t finished the laundry, and it’s not for a lack of trying. The piles keep piling, despite my best efforts to beat them into submission with a scoopful of Cheer. The refrigerator is appallingly empty. The cupboards lack a certain “fullness” my children have come to appreciate, along with the accompanying fullness of belly. We have clean clothes and stockpiles of food, but never on the exact day or in the exact form we wish for it. We have eggs for dinner more often than I’d like to admit. Cereal with a side of ice cream, anyone?

I haven’t finished my essays for school, or my emails for work, and it’s not for a lack of trying. The deadlines continue arriving, despite my best efforts to pretend time is a flexible thing that stretches and pulls like a rubber band–it is not. Time is a ticking bomb, much like my sanity in these busy days ahead. I bumped into a friend last night, and told her I hope to see her soon–life seems to be settling down. “Just in time for the holidays!” she said, and I felt myself inwardly curl into the fetal position at the mention of it.

I haven’t written much here lately, and it’s not for a lack of trying. I set the alarm in the 5’s or I set aside a specific time during the week or I squeak out a few thoughts in a journal, but actually getting the thoughts into coherent sentences? Not happening. This season of life feels wordless. I feel myself grasping for them, but they play hide and seek with me. I question the wisdom of watching the sun rise from the green chair in the library/office/room where I collect papers upon papers, when a warm bed waits upstairs for me. I question my desires. I question my calling.

I complain about all of this to my husband as I hand him another egg sandwich for dinner. God has called him to be the long-suffering sort, much to his everlasting chagrin. And he says to me, “It’s hard. But you’re doing it. Look at what you set out to do, and look at your life–you’re really doing it.”

It doesn’t feel like it, but I am, in fact, doing it. I’m not doing it well. It doesn’t look pretty. I’m up and down and tired and hungry and falling behind and catching up and too busy and dressed in odd combinations of semi-clean clothes, but I’m doing it.

And so are you.

You are waking up every day to too much. You are waking up to longing or busyness or grief. You’re waking up and finding yourself incapable of stepping into the day, and yet somehow you find yourself twelve hours later on the other side of it. Let’s celebrate these accomplishments. Let’s celebrate the fact that we roll out of bed. We put our pants on. We paint our faces with the war paint of courage, and we do this. Sure, we forget things and we make bad choices and we hang on to life with a slipping grasp on our sanity, but so does everyone else.

We’re all fighting a battle against our own limitations, we suit up against our own humanity. But, I think it’s time we accept “doing it” looks less graceful than we expected, at times, it looks pitiful and sad and so very human. We may as well embrace it.

Garden State: A Lesson in Belonging

DSC_8528 via kimberlyanncoyle.com

The four of us piled into the car, two adults in the front with a camera between us. Two kids in the back, with a bad attitude sitting between them. We drove exactly 2.9 miles to a new-to-us botanical garden. I drive by the entrance regularly, but have never turned into the parking lot, always telling myself, I’ll get to it later. Eight years of driving by, of wondering what lay beyond the gravel drive and the high fence, and telling myself “someday“– I finally turned in.

Just beyond the gate, lay thirty-three acres of lush, natural gardens curated on the remnants of an ancient glacial rock formation. It held all the elements I love: wooden bridges, footpaths climbing through woods, wild things growing in tufts of color, and a lake, still as a mirror, to anchor it in the center. And with the exception of birdsong, it held silence. For eight years, I drove right by, never knowing a open-air house of worship sat right around the corner.

It is a well-known fact that I complain a lot about living in New Jersey. When we first moved here, the decision was entirely against my will, and I set my heart against living and loving it here. It became my own time of wandering in the wilderness, accompanied by enough murmuring and complaining to rival the Jews in Exodus. I, too, have stood at the base of the same mountain and wondered why I was given another trip around it. Examining my heart, I see that complaining only gets you another forty years of circling.

Over the years, I became so pre-occupied with what NJ was not, I refused to embrace it for what it is. While it isn’t the cultural center of London, or the stunning natural landscape of Zurich, it possesses its own quirky brand of beauty. It isn’t refined or cultured or classically beautiful. But, blocking out the highways and the strip malls, New Jersey is a four-season wonderland of everything wild and green, grasping and climbing over itself on its way to greet the ocean.

It is filled with farms and great oaks and maple trees that turn the color of sunshine in autumn. It’s where many of my best memories came to life: where I stood on a beach and said yes to the boy with the ring, where I gave birth to my last baby, where I ran loop upon loop in the neighborhood training for my first marathon, where I gathered stories to scribble on pages, where I flew into and out of my destiny from an airstrip in Newark.

A few days a week on my drive to work, after driving through a natural reserve on ancient Indian grounds, I crest the top of the hill and catch a glimpse of the New York City skyline, glittering like a jewel. New York City. Sometimes I grow giddy just knowing all the art I can consume, all the fancy dinners, and the world’s most fascinating, diverse group of people wait for me on the other side of the Hudson River. Within a thirty-mile drive, I can see it all.

Within my own backyard, I have it all. The birdsong, the garden, the friends gathered around, the kids laughing, poking, fighting in the background. New Jersey is the quiet, unsung hero in the story of my life.

It is the place I call home. Where my kids are becoming, and I am becoming too. Where I laugh and lunch my way into deeper relationships. Where my church chooses to water the soil, and saturate the state with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is where the garden meets the ocean. Where I gather stories and write my way into a lush, overgrown, landscape bursting into life.

Rather than complain and pray for deliverance (after a day on Route 22, strip mall heaven, you would too), I want to grow more deeply rooted in the place God has planted my family. As I stood in the hidden garden a few miles from my home in the Garden State, I whispered to myself, “I love living here.” After I said it, I sucked in my breath quickly, and looked around to see if anyone else heard me. I couldn’t believe those words tumbled from my own lips, but they bubbled up out of the secret place I have yet to explore–the corner of my heart that knows New Jersey and I belong together.

My home was here all along.

Every Little Thing: A Book Review

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Over the last few months, I’ve had a crisis of faith. Not the kind of crisis where I question the veracity of the Bible or the existence of God or the saving power of Jesus. The Gospel is as true to me as ever, to remove the foundation of it from my life would be akin to removing my very bones. I know the gospel is truth, but lately I find myself questioning my place in it. I’ve asked myself repeatedly, what is my place within this truth? Where am I living out the call of God on my life? Is there a call on my life? The questions hang in the empty space between where I thought I was going, and where my feet are actually planted.

As I’ve asked myself these questions, I’ve felt a distinct silence on God’s part. A quiet that causes me to wonder if he’s actually listening. I feel like the kid in the old IKEA commercial “Mom can I have a cookie, Mom can I have a cookie, Mom can I have a cookie?” Only I want more than a cookie, I want clarity. I want conviction. I want answers.

During this time, I’ve had a number of books come my way, many of them offering this simple, but profound message, “Kimberly, embrace your smallness.” Gah. Really? This does not feel like an answer to me. I was hoping for something a little more star-studded.

My friend, Deidra Riggs wrote a new book (with a star-studded cover!) called Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are, and I had the pleasure of underlining the heck out of it, while crying big, fat tears of mutual recognition. So much of Deidra’s story is about learning to follow God into the wilderness, and to stay true to the call God placed on her life, even when that call felt painfully ordinary.

What I mean to say, is that Deidra can relate to every question I’ve ever thrown God’s way, and she answers them with arrows pointing heavenward. She says this,

“The Gospel of Jesus Christ does not need us to make it anything more than it already is. What the gospel of Jesus Christ invites us to do is to be exactly who we are, in the places where we find ourselves, and to be infused with the salty goodness that comes when we surrender our lives and our agendas and our hopes and dreams to the power and the control of the Holy Spirit.”

Deidra puts the gospel where it belongs, and everything else finds a place on the foundation of it. My freedom is found in surrender. In the pages of Every Little Thing, I’m reminded that my job is to be salt and light right where I stand today. I am ordinary. I am small. But the gospel is so much greater, and even in my smallness, God invites me to be a part of his redemptive work right where I my feet are planted.

Maybe you find yourself in a similar place today, wondering if your everyday life makes a real difference. I encourage you to read Every Little Thing to put yourself and your purpose into perspective. Get your copy here.