Tis The Season!

11.24.2018


Whether you spread your jolly all month long or scrooge your way through, Happy Christmas time from the Spragues!

In the void of tradition :: a surprise in the folds of loneliness

11.05.2018




   We moved to Finland while our daughter was 20 months old. Both the youngest in the family, Ben and I had, until then, been faithful to be a part of the holiday festivities of our parents. We participated in the traditions as our familiar roles required and we didn’t think anything of it. Sure, we talked about how someday our family would have its own traditions, but what that really meant was maintaining the ones built for us in tandem.

   That first November overseas, I remember glancing at the calendar. When was Thanksgiving? Christmas in Helsinki starts Nov 1st. Since they obviously don’t share our history, there isn’t any seasonal ‘thanksgiving things’ to find (at least not back in 2014.) It caused an ache in me that, while typical for expats, was one I didn’t expect. We anticipated that we may experience it alone and a quick talk to the relatives confirmed it. Our first Thanksgiving as just nuclear family unit was on the horizon without any thanksgiving things to buy… Would we even bother making anything?

   Perhaps it was an act of desperation (two extreme introverts pulling a wild card for sure!) but we decided to medicate our loneliness by inviting all the people we could fit into our 89m2 flat. We moved in May and if we had met you between then and now, you were invited. Bring your friends! Bring your neighbors!  Bring your foldable chairs!

   There were things we didn’t anticipate when the invite sent out. We didn’t anticipate how well received the invite would be, for starters. So, when we looked up how many pounds of turkey you need to feed 30 people, we realized we might have overextended ourselves. We searched all of Finland for that turkey. Or at least it felt like that by shop number 8.

  The turkey was found in a clear act of divine intervention (at stockmann, where else...) ,and it then proceeded to hardly fit in the stove. Other than that, everything went without a major hitch. We found a homemade recipe for cream of mushroom soup and substitute ingredients for Ben’s side of the family’s  ‘orange fluff.’ This dish provided a lot more humor than we expected.  We watched as every guest eyed it suspiciously. Is it dessert? Is it part of the main course? Yes, but what IS IT?! Only the kids were brave enough to consume the brightly colored mass of whipped fruit.  

  Nothing was burnt and we all had our fill. People sat on the floor and yet we had enough food to send left overs home with people whom we knew it would benefit.

  That was the first (and last) from scratch thanksgiving I have ever attended. A few friends brought some of their favorite dishes and one acquaintance who had just flown in brought Latvian beer. We sat around the table and each of us said one thing we were thankful for. I heard the most varied and sincere answers I ever have heard. Tears were shed. Mine included.

  Having so many people in our home, celebrating their first thanksgiving felt deeply sacred. We had everyone sign the bottom of our table leaf after that day (it pulled out to make a longer table) and as they wrote with that permanent marker something set inside me permanently as well. All this striving? All this fretting? All this running about and creating a timetable and inviting people in to our baby-food-smeared home. All of it. It’s worth it. It became part of who we are.

That will always be my favorite thanksgiving.

  That first Christmas without visitors was a similar story. We had a small group of people over for Boxing Day and it’ll be one of my favorite memories yet. Everyone bringing their leftovers, convincing someone else’s parents to play board games. It lacked the stress of cooking, the tension of hoping you got the right present for that special someone and for us at least, the anxiety of familiar family stress… We were just together. Eating day old food, sharing stories. Perhaps the food was tastier because it sat for the day, but I suspect it was the company. I felt a deep peace I hadn’t felt before.

  I had never shared holidays outside of my family unit before Finland. Not really, at least not like it was a tradition. I began to wonder how much we had missed from not inviting our community into the more intimate space of our homes. When did holidays become a time to guard? When did we decide the invitations were limited? Not in an obligatory sense, but, what if we invited in the people who could become like family?

  When our time came to return back to the motherland, I was giddy at the idea of not having to carry the weight of ‘making traditions.’ I’d bring the pie, just like I always did and I’d sit back and enjoy the show. That first Thanksgiving, we stepped right back into our old form. Except, we didn’t. The anticipation quickly waned when I remembered just what we had built over that sea.  We caught ourselves reminiscing when everyone else had gone to bed. “Oh! What I would do to get some of Hanna’s quark!” “remember how he always brought his house slippers over?” “Remember how they dressed up like Pilgrims!” We ached for the people who were tethered to those tender memories.
I think it was then that I knew we lost something, or gained something, depending on how we look at it. I knew then that every holiday would be bittersweet and that it would have to be, from this time forward, entirely different.

Perhaps this is what they mean when “you’ll make your own traditions.”

  We now have three kids and a few more thanksgivings of making our own turkey and inviting others in. As we approach our second thanksgiving since we moved back, I had a lot of thoughts whirling. The anxiety started to build when I tried to anticipate maintaining everyone’s traditions. “How am I going to make so and so’s specialty?” “What if someone’s disappointed we don’t do X”

  Until I realized how beautiful an opportunity this could be.  When we were invited into someone else’s home-be it family or otherwise-they offered up themselves. That favorite dish, that story we’ve all heard a million times; The traditions are tethered to the walls just as much as to the people who made them.

  So then, it is entirely rational to embrace the idea that these four walls get to have traditions of their  own. We, in this house, get to invite other people-be it family or otherwise-into our culture. They get to experience our traditions.

 When we make blueberry quark for dessert on Thanksgiving (though it’ll never ever be as good as Hanna’s) and play board games instead of hitting up the movie theaters?   That’ll be ours. When we have clotted cream and English scones for breakfast on Christmas Morning (because our very best friends decided to share their special imported jar with us one rainy Saturday) that’ll be ours. And when we say that only the stockings are from Santa and that we know where he lives (Lapland, Obviously.) That’ll be for us too.  And the next Christmas when we find ourselves at home, we’ll do just as we did and invite people near and far on Boxing Day to bring their leftovers for an exhale-the final end to Christmas season. These are ours, but they can be yours too.

  In the void of tradition, we realize how much we’re made by it. When we repeat something year after year we find it weaved into our identity. It can feel absolutely jarring to not have those traditions available to us when we ache for them most.

   If you ever get the chance to lose out on your traditions, even once, I think it’ll reveal itself as a gift. In the void, we pick up something new. If it proves meaningful and enjoyable, please keep doing it. Year after year. Remember why you started it in the first place and tell your people about it. I think there in lies the joy of tradition making.

  Someday my kids will have traditions of their own. An eclectic dish their roommate taught them how to make, a silly game the new husband brings in, a treasured movie…. And my job will be to make room. Not to mourn that they want their newfound homemade cinnamon rolls instead of what we’ve done for years. Why? Because this is an invitation I don’t want to miss. A tradition grown. It’ll be an honor to have them share with me what they think is worth repeating. Year after year. I’ll be happy to show up in their four walls. When we're with our family? We'll celebrate the amalgamation of traditions with them.

  And while we're in this space and time, we’ll have friends over for feasting and we’ll be thankful for the loneliness of that first year in Finland. It taught us how to never be without tradition or family again.


Chewacla State Park :: Sprague Adventures

11.03.2018


Now that reverse winter is over, we're soaking up as much of this autumn as we can get.  We wanted to head over to Auburn to go to Chewacla State Park and it did not disappoint. It's just a quick 45 minute drive from our house, and the kids had a blast pulling their shoes off and wading around in the waterfall.

We've been learning about mushrooms and seeds and a whole host of interesting aspects of autumn, so to have the kids be my little nature guide was pretty fun. We even found two poisonous mushrooms and a spider with perfect camouflage.

I commented to Ben how, yet another way, homeschooling has changed my perspective on parenting overall. More or less, I've embraced a long game. Before, I would have calculated the 'worthiness' of an outing based on the probability that everyone would have a consistently good time. If there was a good chance we would need a lot of band aids or if they would be put in more strenuous positions, I'd probably hold off until a different time.

These days I intentionally calculate all the risks, (kids might fall in the water, scrape toes, bug bites etc.) and I grab the band aids and head out the door. I want my kids to test their limits at 4 and 6 so that come 14 and 16, they know what to do with themselves in other situations. Giving them a thousand opportunities to do their own risk management and often times manage poorly (I WON'T FALL IN MOM! and splash) means they begin to realize they're not infallible, but it also allows them to engage in their natural world and set their own realistic limits.

My long game goal is that when they engage in risk assessment as young adults, those muscles will have been flexing for a long time. They'll make more worth while risks and will get the reward of pushing themselves towards things they actually care about, not just for the thrill they finally push the limits.

Eowyn had a few limit pushes today (including getting her behind wet by freezing cold water.) Elias felt the thrill of coming a little too close to a spider. Rowan licked a few things too, so he's living wild in his own way.

And we didn't even have to bust out the bandaids!

Eowyn Grows :: The First Lost Tooth!

11.02.2018


It's an exciting day in the Sprague house. Eowyn lost her first 'wiggly tooth!' We had to have an emergency extraction this past year when her top tooth (which fell out as a wee baby, was placed back in, and then grew with her skull rather than stay in place...) but this is the real deal.

Somewhere in the journey Eowyn set her sights on the idea that the tooth fairy brings a "giant golden chocolate coin!" Back when we had a tooth extraction, the tooth fairy (he's bearded and sleeps in my room) delivered.

She expects the tooth fairy to arrive again tonight. Making this weekend very exciting.

" Look Mom! Now it's like a little WINDOW! I am so proud of myself for waiting."


The Threads of a Decade

11.01.2018


I read somewhere recently an observation. She commented 'the years ending in -9' are often filled with much more angst than those ending in -0. While it's anecdotal at best, I resonate. This year has been a bit more angsty, for sure.

Perhaps as we close out our decades, something in us feels the pressure to examine and reexamine if we've done all we hoped for in the past 10 years we've lived. Saying goodbye is almost always harder than saying hello.

When I consider who I was as a 19 year old (oh precious one!) compared to now, the comparison feels borderline ridiculous. So much has changed, one can hardly even compare the two.

As I was processing it all recently, one thing continued to stand out to me. This decade has not been without constants. There have remained, throughout a decade of this 'life tapestry,' fibers woven  through each season.  I sense these are the markers which define the life I'm living.

Here are a few I've seen most clearly:

This all anchoring, surprisingly hopeful faith:

I've held on to a faith for the past nearly 20 years of my life. The faith has looked different in seasons, for sure, and it has become more emboldened and more convinced as the years progress. In tandem it has grown softer, and less eager to prove itself.

There was a social media study done examining couples and their online presence, Those whom broadcasted their affection for their significant others more frequently and with stronger language showed a correlation with  greater signs of insecurities within the actual relationship.

I assume my relationship with God shows a similar correlation in its early years. Fortunately,  the more I grow convinced of this faith, the more I grow convinced of its value. Thus the steady need to prove something has quieted. I'm quite confident in the One who holds me and this narrative. He doesn't need to prove Himself... because He already has a million times over.

I never thought I could be an evangelist. The people-pleaser in me squirms at making anyone uncomfortable with such hard conversations of eternity and purpose in life....but I now think I didn't truly experience the good news in the first place.

When one has never faced despair, 'good news' doesn't feel quite so necessary, does it? As a wee one, I was swimming in good news. A daughter of privilege, growing up in the quiet Midwest. I lived a variation of the 'good news' lived out by the kind people who prescribed to the faith..

It wasn't until death invaded. It wasn't until sin laid gripping claim, it wasn't until we met the end of our reason.

Then, what a beautiful thing it is to be told of the one who conquered the grave. Who took all authority from the accuser. Who brought freedom to the captives and is a Counselor, a friend. To be told of someone who knows how this story ends, who gives wisdom to those who seek it, who is not afraid of the future....

Good. news. indeed.

This well-fitted, deeply treasured,  well-weathered love:

 The handsome fella you see on the top right of this blog has journeyed with me for the past decade and then some. We began dating when I was 19 (!!!) and were married at 20 (nearly 21.) He's journeyed through this entire decade with me and seen more raw and profound change in me than anyone else. I'd say the same of him.

It's unfortunate it's taken a little less than a decade, but the solidifying of our love has definitely been a slow one. We did not love well for many, many years. We struggled deeply those first several years as so much came our way, the deepest being our selfishness. It feels significant to be closing out this decade feeling quite certain we can weather storms of great magnitude and still assume the best of each other. This is a long fought for reflex. Our 'marriage oak' (always a girl for analogies) has weathered a few storms, and is still standing.  I'm deeply grateful.  It's testament to a God who showed up, not to the two people standing here.

These three exceptional human beings:

The little three acorns who have sprouted up (couldn't help it) and are growing strong, they're something. Those three kids are another beautiful thread to this past decade. What a gift to have been shaped by them, through them, growing them. They are the call to joy on my darkest days. They're a chance to push past my own insecurities and make a life I hope for with them.

They're all entirely different. This makes parenting totally challenging in the best of ways (and the most exhausting of ways.) They all have had their fair share of nighttime screaming and we feel like parenting them has built up a selflessness, a setting down of self, more than anything else. To physically reach ones end and then lay it down too.... It's a mercy to experience God's sustaining in times of complete emptiness. I'm grateful for it, but goodness has it been trying.

We're in a season of homeschooling now. It is such a vulnerable precious season....a hard one. I'm discovering my teaching styles and strengths and I'm seeing where they thrive as well. This inherently carries with it lots and lots of error. We're building a little space which feels sacred and I'm grateful for this mostly joyful, overwhelming work.

Those Precious "Divine Appointments:" 

We've become friends. To each other, to others, and in many ways to our children. This past half decade we've learned what it truly means to be good friends. Mostly, people have demonstrated for us in our great need. These 'divine appointments' -as a dear woman in my first church used to say - have weathered so many storms with us. They've been tangible signs of miraculous intervention. This decade has been marked by friendships leaving us changed. Our friends come from different faith backgrounds, political affiliations, countries of origins, and I feel so deeply humbled they've chosen to spend their time in our company. We're awkward mostly, but they loved on us anyways.

We've learned to keep trying to love others well because of their selfless attempts at loving us often hard-to-love people.

______________________________________


There's been seasons of church planting, overseas living, of giving away everything we owned (minus the arts and crafts no one wanted,) and seasons of buying things again. We've had seasons of extreme financial struggle, and financial calm. We've dealt with mental health and illness, accidents and anxieties. We've changed our politics and our thoughts on religion. Everything, everything, everything, has found itself a new place to land, except those few threads.


I think my greatest personal accomplishment (if one can call it such) from the past decade is reaching a point of feeling rest.

deep down in my bones. The place where I like my own company and I treasure it enough to not spend it with others who don't value it. Not in a selfish way (well, at least not intentionally,) but in recognition that "even if you're the ripest peach, there's someone who doesn't like peaches." If you know me, you'd know how absolutely revolutionary this is for this kid who has always always always had the fear of man/parents/in-laws/friends/coworkers.

This radical rest means giving my husband and my kids freedom to be kind of weird. I approach them with curiosity and seeking to understand rather than pressure to conformity (which is my fail safe.)

An amazing thing happened one day when my kids were being all wild in a totally appropriate manner. A beautiful woman cast her disapproving gaze at me and let it rest there. I remember my throat tightening and the preparation for some words to be harpooned to my children. "Conform! Lest they disapprove of your mother!" And then...that kind voice reminding me "She doesn't get to decide if you're approved."

What a gift to already be approved (and to let the kids be silly.)

I think our greatest family accomplishment of the past decade is figuring out who we really are as a unit and making decisions based on it. Basically owning the weird bits, and the bits that seem to be God dreams. Our second (or equally) greatest striving (not an accomplishment) is working really, really hard  (and stumbling, and calling each other into) forgiveness in our relationships. This is particular to those outside of the family unit (we've had lots of practice within, we're extending out.) Goodness, the more we mingle with others, the more we get hurt. Embracing an attitude that defaults to release...it's the one area I'm excited (in that achy way) to see growth in Ben and I and our kids as we lead.

We're calling each other up into the better thing. And it's been...a really hopeful place to be.

___________________________________

When I write my next near decade post, Lord willing, I'll have a 16 year old, a fourteen year old and an eleven year old. We'll have been married for 18 years.

There will be more moves to different states (countries?) more books read, more fights had, and more hobbies pursued. There will be nights relying on the almighty in lightness and in heavy. 

There will be a great deal of Legos acquired, I'm certain. A bit of complicated theology discussed. A mother load of emotions worked through.

There will be a good deal of getting after our kids hearts (and trying again when we fail) and traveling to work and paying medical bills (ahem, america....)

It'll be humanity. A perpetual relinquishing of control to the Almighty. Of owning where he has us. Learning how the loosened fist makes room for joy. Exploring how beautiful he's made the walk home-the place he's been preparing all along.

I have a lot of hopes for the next decade. I have goals for my creative passions and homeschooling, for health and wellness, for growing in skills I've dreamed about for...well a decade. Goals for our family, and our 401K and all the little bits that weave an adulthood.

But I also have a pencil put down, a check list not written. A reality embraced. These days have already been written by the one who is much kinder than I could have ever hoped for and I'm expectant.

"The real problem of the Christian Life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings coming in and out of the wind."  -C.S.Lewis, Mere Christianity
I'm learning how to listen. and forgive. and how to show up to a quieter life flowing in.

Dream Field Farms

10.23.2018



This is our second year going to Dream Field Farms. It's about a thirty minute drive from our place, and it feels like such a perfect way to usher in autumn. We always wait till the temperatures are properly fitting.

Favorite Memories:

When we arrived, Elias started running through an open field. He suddenly let out a screech and hollered "I'm SO HAPPY!"

Eowyn walking through looking at each pumpkin meticulously.

Elias disappearing out of site in the pumpkin patch and then him reappearing with a wheel barrow perfectly his size.

All the cute southern kids dressed in their fancy pumpkin patch clothes, and our kids still wearing pajamas. The sudden downpour we experienced acted as the great divide, for our kids it was an invitation, for theirs they needed to take cover. Elias and Eowyn, dancing in the rain, reminding me that experiences are what I'm really wanting rather than just the photo op (and all of you know how much I love a good photo-op.)

Rowan being mesmerized by the animals, Elias being fearless and sneaking his little hands to pet the piglets.

That last picture on the right. Those quick seconds when I can see into the future of what will be-my girl all grown-and the gift of the reminder to take it all in.

Eowyn's Pure joy at getting to hold that baby goat.

All the monarch butterflies. We must have picked the weekend they arrived in Alabama. There were hundreds of them.

The end of reverse winter.

10.12.2018

It's no real secret that we're midwesterners through and through. If anything sealed our fate, it was when we realized, much to our surprise-that we missed our snow and cold temperatures last winter. Our girl withers like a flower out of water when she enters into 90 degree heat, so we've been anticipating the day that the high is in the 70s rather than the 80-100 that it's been. We jokingly call it our 'reverse winter.' and we keep waiting for the day for it to end.

Today was that day.


These next few months will be spent mostly outside absorbing as much as sun as we can. With those kind, cool breezes, we'll be soaking up every last once of it.

E I G H T

6.26.2018



Today we celebrate eight years of marriage. EIGHT! It feels miniscule and significant, all in the same instant. Our dear friends used to joke that they feel like they've 'lived a thousand lifetimes,' and I resonate with that.

I have a tenderness towards our first year, everything so novel and feeling so very significant. It was in that first year I began to discover just how selfish I really was (and am,) realizing why we make a covenant in front of God and man to stay faithful. A steadfast anchor, without which, we'd have more reason to go our separate ways, in the more brutal of seasons.

These past eight years has often felt like one furnace or another. The embers have at times cooled considerably, but there seems to be always a work at hand, a stripping away, a forming and welding.... We've faced grief and mental illness, financial insecurity and financial triumph, disapointment and unfaithfulness, heartbreak and restoration. We've struggled through culture shock and loneliness, misunderstand after misunderstanding, we've watched our childrens hearts beat wildly, and we've watched them lifeless, we've seen our own marriage seem lifeless-begging God to breath it back to life.

"God, if you don't do something..."

The subtitle to our marriage movie.

Many moons ago I felt equipped to offer up wisdom on how to keep a marriage thriving. I dont think it was totally misinformed, but it certainly lacked the depth of a seasoned marriage. I still lack the depth of a seasoned marriage and have since come into a deep understanding of how little I know.

But if I can offer up one bit, just one, it's this:

The gospel of Jesus is the only truth I've found to face all of lifes circumstances.

In our broken down moments, He was there. In bitterness and resentment, it was that Holy Spirit that moved my feet towards my spouse. It was His work in my heart to remind me that the covenant I made isn't just to a man, but to my God. I promised fidelity, even in heartbreak. I promised love, even in ache. I promised tenderness even in tension, I promised God that through his help, I would be this mans helper. Sickness and health, forsaking all others.

And so, year by year, I learn a little bit more where I can lay down my life for my friend.

And year by year, my friend has laid his life down for me. And bit by bit I see it, the sanctified human that will someday be glorified. I cannot wait, as Tim Keller writes, to look at my husband and exclaim:

"I saw glimpses of it then, but LOOK AT YOU NOW!"

If this side of heaven is any indication of it, Ben Sprague, you are going to be GLORIOUS.

I love him, more than I can verbalize. I love who he has become and respect the way he leads and loves and pours into his family. He is a father to more than just his sons and daughter. He is a lighthouse, holding fast to truth even when the waves threathen to overwhelm. He is a storyteller, a creative with mathematical precision. I know I'm his wife, but I swear he borders genius. He is steadfast, clever and wise. and so deeply funny. Also. Goodness, Ben, you're gorgeous.

I am thoroughly convinced, without a shadow of doubt, that God gave me the very best he had in  this century, perhaps ever. I feel deep down in my bones and even when (as we, with mercy, call our failures) 'our humanness shows through,' what a wonderful human man that husband of mine is. I understand with each year how much 'the furnace is for gold.'

You're pure gold, Ben Sprague.

Till the end of the line.

On Bodies and Wildflowers

5.15.2018



"Mom, who's prettier, me or isabelle*?"

The question came innocently enough.

Perhaps it was because it came during a day when my own perception of beauty felt vulnerable, but this question made my eyes close on command. As if the darkness of my eyelids held the words- scribbled on them like chalkboards holding the answers.

I took a deep breath, trying to figure out the way to navigate this all too familiar road.

Would I walk her down the path I had grown on? It was at this very age that I  became first aware of a measure of beauty I failed to meet.

Would I go for the defeatist route? What was once said to me by well meaning church-members echoing in my head,
 "Hunny, there's always be people prettier than you and smarter than you. You might as well not compete." 

Perhaps I'd swing far to the other end, make sure she knows that SHE wins.  Shower her from head to toe on all the reasons she is and will forever be exceptional. Not answering plainly, but hinting that YES, YES, YES she's prettier (because isn't that what moms are for? To always see you as the best?)

None sat well in my mouth.

These quick fixes never vanquish the ache, do they? Once we begin the race, we crave its finish. Thinking it's a minor competition, only to find that these micro-comparisons accumulate into a weight that sinks into our souls. Did you know I can list off at least 10 people I perceive better (in varying capacities) than I? At the slightest of effort.

If each provide a path (that I am all too familiar),  and none lead anywhere good. Perhaps no path should be chosen.

The free-bird in me led. We head to the wildflowers. I pulled out a quote from pinterest (Perhaps the only time it's proved immediately useful!) jumbled as my memory had stored it.

"Do you think when a flower blooms it tries to decide who's prettier? Certainly not." All the wildflowers are beautiful. Aren't they? All created by a good God who loves beauty!"

I waited.

Was it too metaphorical for her five year old mind to grasp? Was it too....well...pinteresty?

In the silence I felt it.

Her calculating, searching in between the subtext.

It wasn't enough. I knew what she was searching for.

"One things for sure. Your blooming beautifully. You're radiant, baby girl. We don't compare beauty, though. You both are absolutely beautiful." 

Relief swept her face.  I see the smile curve upward as she rests.  She looks out the window-perhaps at wildflowers in that moment?  We begin to share her favorite differences about her dear friend. How she has lighter hair, blue eyes. Contrasting without ache. Celebratory at last.

 ____

I find myself in a target dressing room with three kids and four shirts that are certain to look awesome on me.

It turns out exactly how four shirts and three children in a target dressing room always turnout.

As I hastily put on number four- a last stand for dignity- my daughter, facing the mirror looked up and locked onto me. She grimaced and said "eh."

Was I being sensitive? Did she just say EW?

Feeling my own grimace in my soul- was I transferring my own emotions on my child?

I paused, her face reflecting my heart. Or did it? I couldn't be sure. Was she sighing at yet another piece of clothing? probably. But what if it as about me? I must address it. I must. As the lies seeped in "Wow, britt even your own daughter is ashamed of your body."

I looked at her and mustered up everything in me to challenge her.

" Hey now, whats that about?" The conversation ensued. I defended my body in gentleness. I showed her scars and strong thighs and breasts that nourish. I didn't back down on this. Gently pushing back the darkness in my own narrative. By the end she sat with a silly grin (as she saw my body wiggle in front of her.) Silly grins I'm okay with.

The way our bodies slowly wear away is a bit silly. isn't it? Silly it may be, but it will be treated tenderly.

________


She may not know it now, but this body of mine might someday be similar to hers. The freckles are already forming. And as I look back into my own memories, I see the way my body has shaped similar to my own mother.

My mother jokingly apologizes when I mention this-a product of the same culture we all are- She must know I mean it as a compliment. She must know.

Boy, did she fight to teach us what our bodies could do.  Boy, did she fight for truth for her daughters. Perhaps it is because of her relentless fight for truth, I am emboldened in mine. And so, I'll keep reminding her how wonderful she is. We need each other.

My mothers body represents womanhood to me. I remember even young, my fathers doting glances. Yes, that body-with its scars and great legs. With its 'pretty eyes' (my dad always says) and wild curly hair.  With its great skin and laugh lines. That's a body I celebrate. Because it's hers. And now it's becoming mine.

 For the longest time, I perceived that the insecurities of this culture were just mine to bear. "there's always someone prettier, eh?" Perhaps it was due to the goodness of my husband, choosing me in a million ways over a decade,  or perhaps it was because the burden just grew too heavy, but I decided along the way (and with much reminding) that this body is good. When I say "you might grow to look like me." I'll choose to use it as a compliment. I'll build her up with it. It is not a curse.

This body has brought such joy. How could it be anything but a blessing?

---

She's sitting flipping through a magazine. Five and three quarters. I glimpse her future self. She's always calculating, analyzing, trying to figure out who she'll be.

 She gazes, mesmerized at the cover. Four young women sprawled lazily in a convertible. Free. Beautiful. She points to one and says "SHE'S my favorite!" and turns to me and starts "Who do YOU think is the pretti....oh, never mind. They're all different pretty."

I agree. And then point to the gal with the wild hair and say she's my favorite-because after all, us Sprague girls have some wild hair and I like it. She grins. She decides she likes her too.

I feel a sense of accomplishment rise up. Could it be? A girl knowing her beauty, running free?

"They're all different pretty."

Could my daughter rise up and see her body as a creation of the almighty? And her friends too? Could she see herself and her fellow women strong, and good, and absolutely beautiful?

---

My body has been breaking on me as of late. a list of issues reoccurring. Texts to my mom, confirmation of doctor visits. Being faced with the human condition in more than just its fleshy surface; I'm becoming familiar with its inner workings and misalignment.

This dialogue, the one of sickness and malady, is now on the table as well.

This is new territory for me. One that I'm wading through. But the path we're choosing is this:

Even this is beautiful. It serves a purpose.  It reminds of us what is coming.

When I ache in my fleshy canvas and she sees it, she asks me tough questions. When I grieve at miscarriages and intolerance, and chronic pain, and torn ligaments, she asks me harder questions.

Right now shes quite fatalistic.  Everything a death sentence.

"Don't drop that bowl please,"
"Yeah! or it'll break and you'll DIE!"

This means mortality, too, is on the table.

These hundred conversations are weaving. Short and long dialogues about body and function. About beauty and heavenward glances. Death and glory and purpose. Joy and Sorrow. Bodies as gifts. Bodies as responsibilities. Bodies as GOOD, yet fallen.

As we talk about beauty and death and bodies and abilities over and over and over again, a tenderness is growing in me.

I know she will have to navigate the first time someone tells her that she's not enough. Then she will navigate it a second time. She will have to navigate the day she meets her limits and will have to decide if she wants to find a way around them or accept them for what they are. She will meet the day when her own body, fallen, reveals itself as not all that is good and perfect as it was designed to be. And she will wrestle with brokenness and lies and ache in due time.

My hope is that I will show her the moves. That I will teach her how to know when to pin an idea to the ground and beat it down, and when to raise it up. When to push through and when to rest. Compassion and Confidence and Boldness, not to parade her own beauty (because goodness me, she is beautiful.) but to glorify His design. To be tender with it, but smart. To care for it, but not to worship it.

The only way I can fathom that my daughter will look into a target mirror after three kids and a rough bout of situations and smile with tenderness and confidence is by showing her how.

The only way I can fathom my daughter moving towards another woman whom she feels threatened by in some capacity, is by loving and moving towards my own women who are placed in my life.

The only way I can fathom my daughter being confident when she falls outside of the moving target of commercial beauty is by rooting her in solid explanations of who she is and what her body is for.

If we're to return to the wildflower analogy,  I resonate with the peony. Wouldn't I make a good peony? I know it might not be 'wild' but it is full and lush. Lots to it.  I joke with her dad "don't hate the shake" and praise the Lord, he doesn't. She sees this before her. This tender back and forth of treasuring. Marriage has been a soft place to land with my collections of rejections.

He reminds me our weary bodies not made to be kept in perfect condition. He is a lighthouse to me, reminding me of the way back to shore, reminding me that bodies were given so that we may live. glory given so Glory we might give.

Whether she grows as a dainty as Queen Anne's lace or as fierce as a Snapdragon, or if she finds herself looking at similar peony lushness.  May my girl smile with tenderness and confidence and tell her own people,

"Look at all the beauty that has come from this."

May she not fear the decay of her fleshly body, and may she recognize who made her. May she marvel. May she gather all her understanding of her worth by looking at the ability and genius of her creator. May she know he dances over what he's made.

May she bloom.

Ten Months! :: Rowan Grows

NOLA :: Sprague Adventures



We've had all sorts of excitement over the past three months. We had the opportunity to visit New Orleans back in late Feb/Early March, We came home to pack up and moved to a new place and We just began gardening! While there will be more on the move and garden later, I wanted to take some time to post a few of my favorite pictures from our trip to NOLA. If you follow me on Instagram, you've  seen a few taken with my phone. Here are a few treasures I captured with my camera.

Ben had a work trip in NOLA for two days,  and since we are 6 hours away, he asked if he could bring us along and extend the trip a bit. We're so glad he brought us! It was a wonderful time. We asked just about everyone what they recommended and received great tips. Donuts, Beignets, Po-Boys, Jambalaya, we ate our way through this city.

While Ben's company put us right on Canal Street, if you're planning a trip I'd recommend going a bit farther away from the French Quarter. It gets noisy. We stayed at the SpringHill Suites, and deeply enjoyed it. The rooms were large enough for all five of us. Obviously they were more affordable than staying on the strip, and we were still within walking distance all while it being much quieter. We brought our stroller, which is always a question I have when going to a new city. It was a very easy to navigate place. While we didn't go down Bourbon street, so I suppose I can't attest to that, the rest of the french quarter was fine to navigate along.

Food we'd Recommend:
Sucréamazing Macaroons, and other deserts. We maybe went here multiple times.
District Donuts :We had to take a bus to get there, but the public transit is pretty great there. Amazing breakfast donuts and sandwiches. Top notch Chai as well.
New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood Co.: We grabbed lunch here while walking around the French Quarter and it was quick, and wonderful. Had some Jambalaya that was delicious.
Parkway Bakery & Tavern:  Where we were introduced to the Po'Boy. and I tried Alligator for the first time! It was a laid back place that was very fun.
Midway Pizza: Fantastic Pizza. and the kids can color on the table.

Cafe du Monde was an obvious place to visit. We showed up by 8 and the line to sit down was already too long for us, so we went ahead and went to the grab and go line. To be honest, I'm glad we did. We went over to Jackson Square and ate on the bench, which gave our kids freedom to run a bit of that powdered sugar off.

The Saint Louis Cathedral is one of the oldest cathedrals in the U.S. Built in the 1700's it was beautiful to visit. We then caught a street performer on our way out that was fantastic. Magician on a Motorcycle was his street act. It was kid-friendly and Eowyn got to be in the show.

We bought some art from the square and we went to the Aquarium, while we're big into aquariums, perhaps because we had recently gone to the Aquarium in Atlanta, but it was a bit underwhelming for the cost. We enjoyed walking along the river afterward and it was a nice place to hide away from the heat (AND a gal was proposed to by her boyfriend in the underwater tunnel with the help of a scuba diver. So that was fun.)

We took a 30 minute horse carriage ride with the kids. I think Eowyn's favorite part was actually feeding and petting the horse, but it was a nice way to get an idea of any cute places we wouldn't normally think of visiting. We found a family friendly one (some tours are more tailored for adult audiences.)


We really loved this city. We went in with expectations of having to potentially shelter our little ones, perhaps because we were back inside by 6-7 every night, but we found the whole city bright.

Thanks NOLA, we really love you.

9 Months :: Rowan Grows

Eight Months :: Rowan Grows

Three Foot Point of View

2.14.2018

My middle boy has been wildly fascinated with anything I find myself doing. Since we cook quite often, we've recently stumbled on a pretty decent helper in Eli. Lately, because of a month long photo project I've been doing with, He's been asking to take photos. I recently dug out my old coolpix camera (a cute 10 year old point and shoot) and let him carry it about his days. He's had it for a week, so I thought it would be fun to upload it and see what we have.



He's something.

Excited to see if his love for photography will grow. at the very least, it gives me a glimpse into his point of view.


Creativity Centered vs. Centrifuged :: Some thoughts on where we're going.

2.10.2018



When this blog was first formed, it was made out of boredom and hype. A lot of people were creating blogs and it was the currency of the time. We wrote our thoughts and then added pictures (or horrible pixelated graphics) to commemorate the season. I'm not sure if longevity was the goal, or not, but it was the birth of the social media realm for me.

This blog was the first place I began to grow more vulnerable. Embracing the large screen as a friend,  when the positive feedback rolled in (oh the glory of having a small group of real friends to read your blog.) it in many ways emboldened me to live out my life with the same honest vulnerability I typed out on a keyboard.

This blog was the first place I wrote about our marriage, our children, our miscarriages, our travels. Desperation and hope are held within these online posts. Culture shock and being a misfit, thinking I'm much more informed than I am, and being humbled at the realities I'm presented. Found. Here.

So in a lot of ways, a lack of posting feels similar to the way I feel when I haven't called the friend whom has been on my mind. That lingering anxiousness. The need to say something, but the deep desire for it to be meaningful.

I think I had a large amount of creative juices that needed somewhere to go, some 9 years ago when this blog was birthed. It comforts me that those creative juices are still on this side of the screen somewhere.  No longer in a centrifuge, they're centralizing in the four walls of my home. Getting spent on fort building and tender word choice to explain sin in a way that speaks truth and yet leaves my kids free from fear.

I think those creative juices are now being poured into the unique styles of teaching my children the ways they most need. In being critical thinkers on if a curriculum is suiting our family; In forcing my heart into a place of grace and hope and finding creative ways to let go of silly things that need not define me.

Yes, it is weaving its way into complicated conversations with my husband, dancing in the tenderness of dreams and aches and evaluation. Time and again we circle. Is this what we're wanting? Is this life we're creating what we're feeling called to? How do we hope this will look in a year, five?

I'm comforted that the cleverness (because goodness, did I think I was clever when we started this all!) isn't all gone-although for a while I wasn't sure. No, it has just had a chance to simmer- an aromatic presence in my home. Now my kids can laugh at my lame jokes. A kind audience, once again.

If you're wondering if I actually think I'm clever, the answer is a resounding YES. But fear not, I have an acute social-anxiety to go with it so I ask my husband regularly "you think I'm funny, RIGHT?!"

Side tangent. In the little prince movie on amazon, there's a scene where a man has a top hat and is on his own world. Top-hat man announces he's the 'most clever and most handsome on the planet,' to which little prince replies something along the lines of "but you're the only one on the planet" and then top-hat-man responds "well, do me this kindness, admire me just the same."

I quote that to Ben on a weekly basis. I am top-hat man when it comes to cleverness in my house.

end tangent.

...that creativity has moved into the hours when my daughter feels compelled to rush to the table to journal out some image she has in her mind. Into the seconds my kids join me to 'help' at dinner.

I hear it in my terrible aussie accent, while we're studying kangaroos and in the perpetual attempts of intentionality on walks. (goodness, being "ON"  for small people is an incredible challenge for me, and yet one of the best I've challenged myself with.)

This desire to create content, a life of beauty, for many years was confined to this blog.

But now?

It's leaked into the crevices of what matter most. Spent up on the small souls I am undeservingly privileged to serve.

I've been processing the purpose of this space for a few months now. I haven't arrived yet. Attention is the new currency, I'm reading. I've plenty of presence online through Instagram and otherwise so I'm trying to decide just how much this space deserves your and my attention.

The question begs to be answered.

So, how is this blog useful in the realm of allll the other social media?

I think I'm in a place again of needing to flush things out. To visually see sentences of concepts we've been processing. Perhaps they may prove useful to you as well.

So, to set some expectations, You'll see a lot more journalesque type posts. Sorting through this season, working out how we're going about our living. The ethos of what we're aiming for.

You'll be seeing it in the form of Life Lately, as before because my love for photography is never ending, but a bit more heavy on the external influences (what we are reading, adventures that are shaping us, plans etc.) Essentially, my hope is to make this space less and less about just baby faces (goodness me, do I love baby spaces) and more about working through how a human lives in this tension of being intentional in her home, in her community, and in her unique design.

Hopefully this will serve more as a resource and less of a monthly newsletter. I know you have plenty of resources out there (pinterest, etc) but I'm starting to begin to chase after my individual friends and ask them what THEY'RE reading. Not the big names, but the quiet humans that are living their days.

hope some of you quiet humans hang around, so I can hear you. I want to know what you're doing and reading and finding useful for your lives. hopefully we can carve something out of this.

If you've made it all the way to this end, Is there anything you love reading? I almost never answer these questions. But if we were in real life and we were going to talk about something. What would it be?

I'm eager to know.

Cheers and as always, Thanks for reading.


THREE! :: Elias Grows

1.29.2018


Our first born son is now THREE! Ben had to work on his birthday in the morning, so as soon as he got home we drove out to the science museum up in Birmingham. It was an absolute blast. We were deeply impressed. Elias is such an easy to please little man, it made celebrating him all the more joyful.

So grateful you're ours, Eli.


7 Months :: Rowan Grows

Highlight Reel :: 2017

1.01.2018

While I often joke to Ben that Instagram ate my blog, I still feel a bit tender towards this space. While it's been quiet these days (pretty sure this is most quiet year we've had in some time!) I'm still quite grateful this exists. Thanks for following along through these years!

We've started this new year with influenza, so we're feeling a bit ragged. What a gift to scroll through old photos and remember all the wonderful things that have happened in the past 365 days. This year was mostly about keeping our head above water. We joked that we just had to get to christmas and things would begin to feel easy. Perhaps thats why we're sick! we let our guards down! ha. Well, we're grateful to have arrived in this place, with a soon-to-be healthy brood of kids, a warm place to lay our head and a community we are treasuring.

AND dear friends, here it is. My favorite post of the year!

If you want to see previous years, click here 
\\January// 
You came in a blur and ended just as swiftly. We celebrated our sons second year of life while growing his brother. We savored every second we could with our dear Helsinki friends and purged and packed our minutes away. 

\\February//
You were all hustle as well. Trying to carve out time to rest in the midst of packing and gearing up to move overseas. You were a blur. We were exhausted by the end of this month.

\\March//
Right when we were sure rest would never come, you showed up and allowed us to catch our breath (and get a little wet.) We moved into our new place and hibernated a bit as we set up shop back in the states. 

\\April//
You brought family to visit and sweet reminders of why we chose to come back to the states. Right at a pretty tender time of needing to be reminded.

\\May//
You blessed us with seriously fun warm weather and an anticipation for our baby coming.


\\June//
You rattled us a bit by having Rowan come a month early! Praise God for family who drove all day and all night to watch the kids while we lived at the NICU for a week.

\\July//
You were kind to us. Family visiting, being surrounded by friends. Being a family of five felt pretty great this month.

\\August//
We started homeschooling this month. I'm so glad we decided to take the plunge.

\\September//
You brought a lot of feels. The church we had found closed its doors, so we sorted through the emotions of that process. We persued adventure in the gap and continued finding our groove. Life began to feel a wee-bit-normal and we started to branch out from our little montgomery home.

\\October//
You were fantastic. We began attending a new church we now love, went trick-or-treating, celebrated our favorite man and went on lots of mini adventures.

\\November//
Eowyn began dance classes after finishing up a semester in homeschool co-op and  we as a family ended the month basking in the joy of being with Ben's side of the family for the first thanksgiving in several years!

\\December//
We ended this year with all our favorite things. Family, visiting new places and SNOW. What a wonderful way to close out 2017.

This year has been an absolute whirlwind. While we worked hard at being intentional and tender and attentive, goodness this year left us tired. We feel a bit weary. Culture shock, sorting out next steps, new dreams, new family dynamics, new friends....our introverted + planner hearts learned a thing or two about trusting an all-knowing God when it felt like most of the year was a free-fall.

Perhaps because we couldn't really anticipate what was coming, we just lived with eyes-wide open? I feel like this was such a tender year because of it. 
(but now our eyes are burning a bit and we're ready for a nap. :P)


2018, we're not really ready for you...but you're here! So we'll do how we do and enjoy you!

This is celebrating daily after all. ;)

Cheers to a new year, and all the joy and hope and opportunities for God to show his goodness.
We've been deeply blessed by his goodness through you all.

Thank you for making 2017 something so beautiful.