If you can’t sing, be the song

Hi. I’ve been thinking a lot about you lately. “You” being this side of me, I suppose. Going through old photos and boxes of letters recently we found the letter Aaron wrote to his groomsmen before our wedding. He titled it his Single Man’s Swan Song, it was an ode to a former piece of him, a letting go of the old and an invitation to take on the new alongside of him. In true Aaron-fashion he was the first of his buddies to get married (to have a kid, a business, etc) and he owned it. His place in his story, and his clear decision to add a partner to his life with an invitation extended to his confidants to continue the journey with him … but also with us.

We laugh now when we read his letter to his friends but it really stuck with me. I’ve been wondering if this is my Swan Song to this part of me. A farewell, a goodbye, a letting go. A distance but an invitation to the change. It has long since been my goal to be authored and published. To walk into a book store and see my name on the spine of a book. So, as one does at the end of a year or season or extended period of waiting, I re-evaluated my goals. This entire year has been one evaluation after another.

Do I want this?

Is this for me?

Can I walk in this?

Will this hurt me?

Does this help me?

Where is this moving me?

Am I ready?

Slowly, ever so slowly, I’ve noticed that whatever desire was in me to be known on paper has changed. To see ink printed with my words, as satisfying as that is, hasn’t worked out. I’ve tried and mostly failed. And that’s ok. I’m not sorry I tried, or sad that it didn’t work out, or even hung up on the idea that some day it surely will. Maybe I’ve already written my book. Likely, I’ve written many in these archives. Scores of seasons and transitions and living – all recorded. All ready ordered.

So some of it goes unwritten, who cares. Some of it doesn’t get archived here, but maybe, even better, it gets archived on the hearts of my children. It bubbles up out of the mouths of my dearest friends who walked this road with me, maybe one day they’ll tell part of my story for me when I no longer can.

And maybe, just maybe, I tell my story a little differently from here on out. Maybe I start talking. Maybe I start speaking. Maybe I start sharing. Maybe I start profusely sweating and blacking out on a stage while words fall out of my mouth and instead of carrying these chapters with me, maybe I let them out.

Who knows?

I sure don’t. 12 years ago when we decided I would stay home and be a mom I had no idea that a decade later I would still be writing. That, at one point, this writing would bring in a full time income and a community of complete strangers who got me through some of the hardest seasons to date. For anonymous people to mean so much to a person, it might be borderline, but also? It was a lifeline. It was my lifeline.

I’m plagued with What’s Next lately, not like I have been before. I’m not frantic for something to distract me, I’m curious as to where this is all going. What have I been doing to prepare myself for what’s next all these years? I live on standby right now, with one parent who runs a company the sacrifice to the family is that changes, big or small, need to be leveled at a baseline. Here’s how far we can stretch and still bend, together. But this, this is where we break. We have to know where that point is. And we do, we know that point – so I continue to be a mom. I continue to freelance photography and when I stop being afraid of query letters – it’s how I continue to write outside of this space and flex those muscle’s too.

Should someone get sick, should the kids have a break or vacation from school – I’m on standby to supervise. I’m the constant parent. But I have a constant partner.

Aaron and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary this past August. It was delicious. I wrote (on Facebook) that I finally trust in marriage. God, it’s beautiful. I don’t deserve this life but I get to keep living it. It’s not lost on me that marriages all around me fall down. That friends suffer loss, that my own family suffers loss. I’ve spent the better part of the last thirteen years with my back against the wall waiting for the suffering to befall my house. Surely it was coming, I was due. And if I wasn’t going to suffer loss of love, I was up to bat to lose a life.

Ever so subtly I started backing away from the wall and embracing the vulnerability of stepping in with both feet. I would say something out loud and Aaron wouldn’t shun me. I would stand in front of him, naked in spirit, and ask him if he could see me and he would dance with me. I would sit next to him while he held our babies and I would whisper “is this pretend?” and he would look at me and promise with his eyes that I could trust this. I’ve cried a lot this year (spoiler alert!) because I didn’t know. I had no idea.

How can this be? For me?

It is. IT IS IT IS IT IS IT IS. This is for me. !!!!!!!! HOLY SHIT THIS IS FOR ME.

And I have no more words. I’m not searching for anything, I found it.

xoxo
Jodi

Truth and Dare

I’ve tried to write essay after essay to bridge the gap from the letter I wrote to my kids about politics to the realities of our season. Turns out every time I look at the blank page in front of me I want to explain and suffer through words and slip back into victimization as a way to exploit the negative impacts of a man. I haven’t been able to figure this out. How do I open my mouth and say anything worth while in the middle of this?

Maybe I don’t.

Isn’t that nice? Maybe I don’t have to say anything at all. If I really need to, I can talk to my kids in person or pen the letter quietly and privately. I can write in their journals, the ones I keep specifically for each of them filled with love notes and stories and explanations and apologies and prayers and little victories.

Riley Woods 🙌 Fall 2016

These are my babies.

And this is what I know to be true:

Love matters. Not the empty words of “Love matters, Love wins”, this isn’t a banner I’m wearing, it’s a way of living. And it matters. It’s sacred, to give space to the parts of us that you cannot see. To let the light in, to quiet the darkness of loneliness. Even if it’s a smile, an acknowledgment of someone else’s breath, of their life. Seeing people matters.

Northern Michigan

Art matters. The expression of that space in someone else, their words and stories, their songs, paintings, poems, photographs, designs, gardens, sculptures, dances and battle cries. It’s witnessing someone else hold a mirror up to the vulnerable parts of who they are: and the expression of their heart is essentially their art. Can you see me? Do you hear me? Am I enough? Am I worthy and brave?

This discussion matters. Because our souls are not dead. Because who we present to the whole of the world is often the least of the person we know in the quiet places of our heart, as ourselves. We are wild, we are free.

Weekend on the Lakeshore

Faith matters. There are 3 parts to our heart – like Mind, Body, Soul … our heart has a function, guardian, and emotional aspect. I’m just learning this, or re-learning this as I think most adolescents are taught to unlearn and disconnect their hearts from their mind, from their body. We’re taught, largely on a scale of “fitting in”, to disregard our hearts as a part of our soul. And then we’re taught to hide them. Faith is believing that this trinity in my heart is worth protecting and it’s worth going after with everything I’ve got to keep them connected. I am a girl on fire for keeping my faith alive. I love God and only recently can I say that I see him as a good, good Father.

The Bible is such a wild fairytale some times. It’s radical and unprecedented. It’s a horror story and a birth story and a redeeming love story. It reads like a scifi novel, like a poet in love, like a parent in suffering. It reads like a scientist discovering the wild unknown and it introduces language and words and hidden meanings. It’s one of the oldest recorded histories of our time and it leaves nothing, yet everything, to the imagination. I’m not a scholar of the Bible, but I am a student. If I’m going to say I love God, I want to know who he is. And I have so many questions. They feel provocative, sometimes obscene. But this is faith. And it’s the most daring piece of me. And it matters.

I've never seen a field of sunflowers praying before. I get that they were heavy and this must be what happens before harvesting their seeds but I like to imagine the world a little differently. Not so black and white. Not so either or. Not so afraid of b

Lastly and certainly not least, people matter. Other. Outside, different, margin and fringe. Diversity. If you can see someone, if you can see their eyes or their art, then the rest maybe doesn’t matter. Their eyes and their art are what they are any way. So the color of their skin, their clothes, piercings or tattoos, their hair or the way they wear their past: doesn’t.

These are the simple things I know to be true.

So I’m going to start there.

If my kids could vote, I’d read them these letters first

Here’s what I’ve noticed: people are hurting. We are touchy and a bit prickly. We are scared, mostly afraid of what’s coming next. In this political season I’ve unfollowed so many kind, logical people. It’s ok to disagree. It’s ok to have difference of opinion and to turn off the notifications of support of flawed candidates.

I do not want to write about politics because we aren’t sitting across from each other where I can look you in the eye and hear your heart. Where I might still walk away disagreeing with you but where I’ll meet you with compassion and understanding for being a human. For being charged with this heavy decision. For being alive right this minute, in this season.

I do not believe that this election is tethered on pro-life or pro-choice and I can only say this because of the research I’ve done for myself. But if I were going to talk to my kids about this election, here’s what I would tell them:

To Jessica,

You are worth more than what your body can do. Period. You are not a phrase for anyone to throw around in their mouth like they’re chewing cud. You are not less-than or better-than any of your male counterparts. It’s true that we have two front runners for the presidential office and neither of them look good. I personally cannot vote for Trump because narcissism as a leadership tactic is very disruptive. Because having a leader of the free world who can say he values life and then in the next breath completely disregard it is not the sound mind I feel comfortable signing up with. When we make a habit of coloring the story just enough to fit our agenda, that’s called lying, too. When we only recognize our flaws as a result of being caught, when we point the finger away from ourselves so often that we can no longer distinguish where we’re pointing we start to think we’re untouchable. And being powerful is not being untouchable. Being powerful is being approachable, understandable, it’s having self control and tact. Being powerful looks a lot like being humble. It’s the quiet that will spread, the peace that conquers. It’s not the blood, not the fight. It’s not the battle. Additionally, I cannot vote for Hillary. When you’re so comfortable, so poised in discussion but so two-faced, so unattached from the decisions you make: that’s dangerous. And as a woman, Jessica, you will be expected to understand the difference between Decision and Assumption. You will be asked to constantly judge concession. You will be seen as the legs that you have, you will be treated as the pussy that can get caught in the hands of a man who has “needs”, you will be used and taken advantage of. As a woman – your leaders look a lot like Tellers. You ‘should’ do as you’re told. You are bread to be compliant. To listen, submit, concede. And if there’s one thing I can do that makes it easier for you to vote in 8 years, I hope it’s to empower you to choose.

We look at things through the lens of a loving, spiritual Father. So I’m going to see things a bit differently than some of the other people you’ll come into relationship with – and Jessica, I want you to listen to these other voices. I want you to hear them out. I want you to sit with them and absorb their stories and sorrows. I want you to be awake when you hear something that sounds different, that sounds radical or possibly risky. I want you to open your ears and look through your heart and I want you to wrestle with what it means to say yes to the hard issues or to sit with the people you don’t understand or have been taught to be afraid of.

Here’s where it gets risqué and a bit provocative. I serve a pro-choice God. Who very much is pro-life, just very much. So much pro-life but He can only claim to be pro-life THROUGH being pro-choice. Free will, Jessica. This is not a dictatorship. I think most people are too afraid to choose so they hide. They hide behind misinterpretation or the fears passed down to them by their own fathers and mothers. They hide from being seen as the beautiful mind that they already are. None of us are exempt from making bad and regrettable decisions, none of us are exempt from committing crimes, adultery, fraud. From killing innocent people, or our brothers, mothers, sisters, fathers.

And this is not what an election is about – so don’t get stuck down in the mud. Don’t go there, don’t stand at the doorstep of someone else’s redemption with hatred and condemnation. You don’t know the whole story until you ask, you don’t know the million reasons and excuses, you don’t know what happened. It could have been you.

But Jessica, I hope it never is. I love you so much.

Mom

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To Oliver,

You are kind and gentle. You are beautiful and lovely. You are soft and sweet. AND you are strong and brave. You are smart and helpful. You are resourceful and understanding. You are a warrior who loves well and I can’t explain to you how much it would hurt me (for you) if the leader of this free world was a man whose made his mountain on top of the pain of the people who helped him get there. You’re smarter than that. And I don’t think you’d understand this kind of leadership. You see things so clearly, so innocently. And in 10 years, when you get to vote, I hope you’re still seeing the world as an open book with pages and pages to discover.

We’re trying to teach you how to treat women, while at the same time how to respect yourself. So that the story is not one-sided and “she” becomes the only thing that matters. You have great character that can easily be taken advantage of because you’re willing to give and trust and love. If you’re not careful, there will be someone who latches onto your brand of kindness and saps every bit of life out of you because they’re broken and don’t know how to say it. Guard your heart, Oliver. It’s worth fighting for. And when you’re in the locker room, or at a sleep over, or on the field … and you hear something that sounds counter-intuitive to how you would treat your sister or me, speak up for us. Remember the soft parts of our bodies when we hug you, the gentle way our hands hold you. Remember what love feels like, it’s not sharp.

We’ve tried to teach you to ask questions so when you come up against authority who won’t tolerate a challenge, yell louder. You are not less-than and your values and ideas have merit. Ask again, and again.

Politics are somewhat lost on you still at this age, but you’re starting to follow the leader. And in a stretch of the imagination – that’s a lot of what this is. We’re picking the new leader. What have we taught you about being a leader? Hold everyone who asks you to follow them up to these checks and balances. Your voice is mighty and wise, and your heart is pure. You can trust yourself, too.

I love you so much.

Mom

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I said I wasn’t going to write about politics and then I did. There’s so much out there right now for you to read and watch and picket and claim. I’m not interested in being one of those voices. I meant what I said in the beginning, I want to see your eyes if you want to have this conversation with me. I need to hear the inflection in your voice when it breaks for the issues you cannot stop wrestling with. I will gladly listen to your stories, your points, your ideas. I’ll ask questions, too. And then I’ll leave it alone and I’ll go home and feed my family and support my farmers and get involved in my community. Because where a voice cannot be heard for miles on end, the ripple effect of a healthy community can spread like wildfire. And so can love.

And that’s what I’m interested in.

I love you so much.

xoxo
Jodi

Washington, 2016

This past summer we took off for the PNW taking a week to road trip west, a month to stay in one place, and a week to road trip back east to the midwest. So far, here’s what I’ve documented: Day 1, South Dakota, Custer State Park, etc, Mt Rushmore and the Black Hills, Montana, Day 6, 7 and 8, as well as a few posts about our time in Washington: Home and Like you, Like me.

I haven’t been able to write about our time away yet, I thought it was because there was so much to tell you, to unpack, but I think it’s because I wasn’t ready to share it. It took an entire year of planning to even get there and the year it took was a hard one. There was so much good but so much hard good and getting to the end of the plan and experiencing it first hand was spiritual for me. I needed this summer, those people, my people. I needed that place and the space to unwind, to spread out without anyone watching me. I needed to be a in place where I could blend in and not stand out, where I didn’t recognize faces and wasn’t recognizable. Even though I looked like everyone else, even though I was among people who would know me, who could really see me.

First morning in Washington, Home.

First morning in Washington, Home.

I ran away, to some extent. Far away. The farthest I could go for as long as I could go. I was trying to leave a few things behind and pick up a few more along the way. I had ideas and all kinds of expectations that quickly went to the wayside.

We got to our rental house and unpacked and then I made dinner.

Cooking

Cooking

Cooking

Furiously chopping and pouring, simmering and steaming. The little kitchen didn’t have a chance. I’d like to think of it as a yoga for the mind. I worked so much out in that little kitchen. Without modern tools to help along the way, every batch of cookies or bread I made, I did by hand. No power tools. Just me and a whisk, a wooden spoon. And I counted the minutes it took to knead a loaf of bread and I let the sweat drip down my face as I knit my entire back in knots over countless batches of cookie dough. I let the kids think it was the onions that made me cry, even though the tears didn’t stop well past the chopping.

Home

I accomplished the things I thought I wanted to. I saw and introduced and explored the landscape of my heart and I walked those roads, up and down, back and forth. Disappearing into the pines, letting the rains baptize me in the moment. I was there for guts and glory and I wasn’t going anywhere until I undid myself.

2016-06-23 07.28.48

2016-06-23 07.33.57

Just as soon as we arrived, we quickly began a routine of picking berries with my Aunt. Not just any berries. PNW berries from the very capital of the entire world of berry producing soil. Whatcom County. And it was berry season. And I had arrived.

Picking blueberries

Picking blueberries

A month in Washington

Picking blueberries

Picking blueberries

There was a romance in those fields. Heavy, ripe fruit bending it’s branches. You would touch them and they’d fall into your hands. It never took more than half an hour to fill alllllll our bowls and buckets and we’d laugh and eat so many that our tummies would hurt and we’d guess how long it would take for us to run out and return to the rows.

We’d go in the middle of the day, at the end of the day, just before sunset, at dusk. We’d go mid morning and quick before dinner, right after dessert, and before the movie started. We went and went and went. Back to the field, back to the rows, back to the fertile soil.

Picking blueberries

Picking blueberries

And it became a rhythm for me, a meditation of our time spent there. A place to go, a reason to return. To the fields. To the dirt by the mountains kissed by the misty rain under the sun and the wide open sky and where I found myself. Where I found myself dancing and laughing and eating and being merry and in love and in communion and in relationship and together, with my family.

Picking blueberries

Like I had never not been there in the first place. Like I was always where I belonged. Like I had never left.

Like I never would.

Sentiments

Last week I spent the day with a friend in the kitchen making soups for our freezers. We do this every year, turning one of our kitchens into an assembly line of production. It’s one of my favorite Fall traditions, and while I was chatting with another friend recently I said the only thing I get sentimental about were traditions. Not houses, not really even people … but traditions.

Stick with me, they come together shortly.

I’ve thought a lot about that statement over the course of the last couple weeks asking myself if I really believed that? I don’t get sentimental about houses? Or people? Just traditions? Could I really buy into that? Or did I say that in passing, was it an off-the-cuff quip that I said while saying goodbye. One of those add-ons that comes to you as you’re walking out the door and before you know the words have fallen out of your mouth before you really had a chance to chew on them?

I feel incredibly vulnerable after my last post. Which isn’t new, and I’m ok with feeling this way. I’m trying desperately not to glaze over it and just pump out lighter material to create space between the raw parts of me with the more polished parts I’d prefer you all see me as. Put Together Jodi vs Always Falling Backwards Jodi.

Manistee

When all you have to go on is what I put out there, the picture of who I am can become distorted. Lopsided, even. While my friend and I were making soups I brought up some of my recent past with her, something she’s been walking me through for years, regarding my family. The painful parts, the very dysfunctional parts, the parts of who I am that rock me to the core with indecision and bring up all kinds of loyalty issues and honor issues and boundary issues. For me, so much of the perpetual pain is fed by continuing to take part in the narrative.

When all I have to talk about with my family is my family, there’s a problem with accountability. And I just don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t want to perpetuate these types of relationships or sadness or brokenness in my life. I just don’t want to keep walking this same, very short, path towards more pointing and hurting and more digging and burying. And more pretending.

Which, when I publish parts of my story that only tell the same part of the story over and over again, I’m forgetting that what I haven’t told you yet is how I’m getting through it. How THIS IS MY TRUTH is also THIS IS HOW I GOT TO A NEW TRUTH which is also THIS IS NO LONGER MY TRUTH.

And all of it … is true.

adventures together

I feel old enough to be allowed to make these decisions for myself. But I’m crippled with the weight of these decisions. I remember being 5, 6, and 7 playing in my “peaceful tree” in Texas and knowing, just knowing, that I was meant to be a mom. Family has always meant more to me than myself. Which makes how it all played out for me a little bit cruel.

And yet, this is my chance. I read an article once about how humans create the family they didn’t have, that if (scientifically) a child comes from a broken home they’re more likely to create a “home” or have a family sooner because we are wired to belong somewhere. I read it as an incredibly powerful article, for me, at the time. It skipped all the emotional jargon and spoke to the anthropologist inside of me. Human behavior. As if the author was observing animals in the wild, she made it her work to study humans and the beginning of families.

Apple picking, beginning of fall

I’ve come to realize that my expectations in this realm are extremely high. The expectations I have for myself, the expectations I have for Family. The unicorn in my life is always right there. When Jessica turned seven it was the hardest year to date for me, reliving my own childhood through hers. But also, it was the best hard year to date. Because it was a game changer. I finally understood that I was going to mess this up, too. That like my family, my parents, I would not be perfect either. That I got to keep trying, I could step into the messy and I could GET MESSY and be me and do the human thing and I still got a family.

Junkmail poetry

So do I feel sentimental about people? I feel pretty connected to a handful of people, some who are no longer a part of my life. I have undeniable triggers that I’m still learning to identify so that when I start to reel and the edges go black and all I hear is the deafening silence of being forgotten: I don’t start replacing my identity with the words of my childhood abandonment.

Do I feel sentimental about houses? Nope. I can get worked up about a house, I can assign all kinds of emotions to a place and I can write for days about what different houses or rooms or spaces have meant to me, but I don’t want to collect them. I have a hard time saying I’m sentimental about people because people are not ours to keep. I feel incredibly grateful for the people who have been a part of my story, whether we’re still walking it together or not, I love my love stories. I always will. The friend love and the first love and the instant love and the hurried love and the hard love and the brother love and the sister love and the love that guides and the love that finds me when I’m sure that there’s no more love. I love love.

But traditions … well, traditions are everything.

They’re the Christmas table and the Thanksgiving feast. Traditions are the birthday calls and the hand written letters. The stamps and envelopes. Traditions are the fabric of a family. The blanket that always surrounds us when we’re cold. When we’re standing in the rain looking for some shelter – tradition is the umbrella. And you can be in six different cities, in every other stage of life. You can be on different continents and walking through different fires. You can be broken or happy, you can be celebrating or mourning. You can be as far apart as it gets and tradition is what always brings you together.

The first snow!
Decorating the Christmas tree.
Making hot chocolate and bon-bons.
Sunday dinner.
When a baby is born.
Birthday dinners.
Birthday cakes.
First day of school.
Anniversaries.
Wilderness.
UpNorth weekends.
Dancing in the kitchen to Butterfly Kisses.

Manistee

Manistee

I’m still that little girl daydreaming underneath a tree about her daughter named Jessica (true story), playing make-believe about driving a mini van and making dinner and always, always, playing house. I’m that little girl who is enamored by being kissed, who cannot wait to be loved. Who started writing everything down so she wouldn’t forget what this feels like.

While everything crumbled around her, she kept waiting for her turn.

These little white butterflies follow us everywhere. They're a little reminder from my dad (passed away almost 11 years ago). 👼

And she got it.