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.

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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.

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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.