Our Family Travel Groove

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We arrived back in Canada exactly 2 years after we left for Abu Dhabi.  Of the 104 weeks we were gone, we traveled for 18.  Not including the exploring we did around the UAE, we roamed the planet for the equivalent of 4 and a half months.  People often commented on how amazing this must have been for our kids, which is partly true.  Seeing so many countries and people and cultures has definitely impacted them, even if it takes them half a lifetime to recognize it.  And there were countless interesting new experiences and tons of fun activities for them.  But, I’m gonna let y’all in on a little secret, which pretty much every parent actually already knows deep down.

Traveling with kids is about as awesome as living at home with them.

You know what I’m sayin’?  Its full of ups and downs.  Of expectations, frustrations, and complications.  It’s laughs and fights and great stories.  It’s moments of amazing family bonding followed by reaching the end of your rope with family togetherness.

Our kids are truly amazing people.  Honestly, they are incredibly flexible, open-minded, and patient.  In all our travels they handled uncertainty, long waits/rides/flights, and glitches with poise.   They agreed to every tour, day-trip, and itinerary we asked of them.  Watching my little family breeze through airport security like a well-oiled machine made me smile every time.  But they have their limits.

We hit those limits this summer.

After two years of intense travel, they just really didn’t want to see any more cathedrals or pretty views or cool city squares.  Seeing street after street of beautiful European architecture just doesn’t make their soul sing like it does mine.  They’re happy to be out for a few hours every day, but by this summer, that was about all they could handle.  So we embraced that and all found our happy place.  Because you know who’s not tired of cathedrals or views or city squares?  Dwayne and I.  We’d happily spend all day and all night out exploring, but we knew none of us would enjoy ourselves if we asked that of the kids this time around.

So, we found a new family travel groove.  Day time plans, regroup at the apartment, night time plans.  Kids choose one or both outings.  Whenever they opt out, Jen & Dwayne enjoy date time.  WIN-WIN-WIN-WIN!!  Four happy campers.

The last stretch of our trip included 4 amazing European cities: Zagreb, Croatia; Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; and Prague, Czech Republic.  Every day we enjoyed some family time out and about, and almost every day, Dwayne and I got to explore these cities on our own. (This piece of family travel heaven is brought to you by comfortable airbnb apartments, wifi, an almost-teenager, and two family cell phones.)

I had moments of wondering if this meant that all this travel was wasted on our kids, but this is just one issue on a long list of things I’m working on releasing control of.  My kids’ experience of the countries we visited is just that- their own experience.  Me forcing them to participate or berating them for not fully soaking up some amazing venue just isn’t going to help them appreciate it more.  If Abby looks back one day and wishes she’d gone out more in Zagreb, she can choose to go back on her own.  If Josiah wishes he’d said yes to the segway tour in Budapest, he can choose to go back another day and do it.  Or not.  Maybe they’ll never get these opportunities again, but that’s their lesson to learn.  But, more likely than not, they won’t regret these things.  They’re children who will vaguely remember the fun things they did do, the way they felt in each city, and the stories we gathered as a family.

Dwayne and I, however, are grown ups who soaked up all we could of these amazing cities.   Zagreb far exceeded our expectations, Vienna was a bit of a disappointment although we managed to fill it with the Hansen version of family fun, and Budapest and Prague both blew us away.  I could have done a blog post about each stop, but I’m gonna save those endless photos and stories for my photo album, spare you all the details, and share our highlight shots from each city. (Click or hover over any photo for a description.)





20160815_9288This leg of our trip wrapped up 2 years of world traveling adventures.  Individually we all collected new insights and joyful moments, and as a family we made memories I know we’ll cherish and enjoy together for many years.


The Brainstorming Phase

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Sometimes there’s just so much to say about life, it feels impossible to start.  I’m just gonna pick up where I left off with my last post.  Eventually, maybe I’ll get all caught up again.

After 2 weeks on the Croatian coast (aka. God’s sweet gift to us), we spent 10 days in Ljubljana, Slovenia.  We traveled there last year and loved it, so when Dwayne was looking for a spot to take his first level paragliding course, we knew the kids and I could happily spend over a week in that beautiful city.  I call this second phase of our summer trip, the brainstorming phase.  While we spent Croatia grieving and processing and coming around to immense gratitude, we spent Ljubljana investigating and dreaming of life possibilities upon return to Canada.  We knew our goals and priorities for our life upon return, so how could we live those out?  How can we focus on building God’s kingdom instead of our own?  How can we pursue His joy in our life?  How can we live on less than what we earn so that we’re truly free to serve and love and enjoy God’s blessings?

So while Dwayne spent his days sweating and climbing and jumping and flying, I spent my days researching and presenting him with a different idea every day.

We considered a lot of options.  Could we live in an RV?  How about a tiny home?  Or maybe a mobile home?  I have to say, I’m super proud of my family for working through this process.  We were open to every one of these possibilities and we worked through a lot of ideas and clarified what is really important to each of us.

So.  What did we choose?  Now that we’re back in Chilliwack, how did it all unfold?  Which option did we go with?

I’ll keep you posted.

We didn’t know the answer when we left Ljubljana, so I don’t want to get ahead of myself.  We left Ljubljana with our heads swimming with possibilities.  But in the midst of all the processing, we enjoyed the delights of Slovenia in an even deeper way than last summer.  Slovenia is a lot like BC’s Fraser Valley- parks, lakes, rivers, and caves.  But Ljubljana is full of European flair- castles, markets, monuments, and beautiful architecture.  If you didn’t catch my recommendation fully enough last summer, let me reiterate: visit this country if you can.  You won’t be disappointed.

Dwayne’s paragliding bunny hill.  Climb hill loaded with equipment, set up, fly for 30 seconds, repeat.

Skocjan Caves, Slovenia.  We couldn’t take photos in the main caverns, so this is all I’ve got.  Some sights are too amazing for cameras anyway.

At Ljubljana’s annual beach volleyball tournament, under the shadow of the castle.  We happened to be in Ljubljana last year for this tournament too.  Maybe this should be our annual summer tradition.

My camera wasn’t out for most of this leg of our trip.  It was full of regular life family days and down time.  More of what we needed, when we needed it.

Croatian Therapy

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If you need some therapy after a sudden and unexpected life change, I highly recommend a couple of weeks on the coast of Croatia.

If you’ve been reading along lately, you know that we spent three very stressful and emotional weeks packing up our life in the UAE and saying goodbyes.  In the midst of that storm, Dwayne accepted a teaching job back in Chilliwack for the fall and we had to decide what to do for the summer.  Because we had anticipated still being in Al Ain this coming year, we had already planned and booked another 6 week European adventure.  This year’s itinerary included Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic.  Our flights and the deposits on 8 different apartments were non-refundable, so when we found out we wouldn’t be returning to the UAE, we had to decide quite quickly whether we would cut our losses and return to Canada for the summer, or use the money we’d already saved for the trip and carry on as planned.  We figured it was highly unlikely that our family would ever get an opportunity to do this trip again, and hey, we’d need place to stay all summer anyway….so, Europe it is!

And honestly, the reality of our return to Canada was still sinking in, and we really felt we would benefit from some space and time to grieve the life we were leaving behind and prepare for our new life back home.  Europe seemed like a pretty appealing buffer.

So we flew to Croatia and spent five days in Dubrovnik, aka the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” five days in Jelsa on the island of Hvar, and five days in Zadar, voted one of Europe’s best destinations of 2016, for good reason.  We swam, scootered, hiked, ate, and strolled inspiring city streets.  We slept, read, wrote, played, and talked.  We bantered back and forth about what we’ll miss about the UAE, what we’re looking forward to about returning to Canada, and how our new life might look.

I sent a few of my friends a photo of me on the sea wall watching a sunset in Zadar and some of them commented on how relaxed I look.  And that’s exactly how I felt.  Relaxed.  Content.  At peace.  That’s no small matter, all things considered.  I feel blessed to have had the life experience we’ve had the last two years and ready to return, with new perspective and altered priorities.  Croatian therapy.  Worth every penny.




10 Gifts from the UAE

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Life has been sort of a whirlwind lately.  I must admit, it felt like we had the rug pulled out from under us.  We assumed our next year would look a certain way, and then all of a sudden, everything was going to be very different.  Within 9 days we sold our vehicle and all of our furniture, packed our life back into 8 suitcases and 4 carry-on’s, canceled our visas, cleaned and moved out of our apartment, and began the official exit process for leaving ADEC.  The stress and anxiety of those days, along with the nausea, loss of appetite, and “efficient, anxiety-induced” bowel movements turned out to be quite a 10 day cleanse…

There were a lot of complications in that time, but I’ll spare you the details.  Suffice it to say, there were a couple of days where we didn’t see the details coming together in time for us to leave together as a family, but God, who knew this was coming, paved the way for us, and we have been blessed to see how he came through for us.  Two really huge pieces in particular were reminders to us of God’s faithfulness.  First, all of our government paperwork came through before the Eid holiday.  Miracle!  If you live in the UAE especially, you will appreciate that having Etisalat, AADC, and ADCP come through with your promised paperwork BEFORE the day they promised, is an act of God.  And secondly, Dwayne got a job back in Chilliwack less than a week after getting word of the end of his ADEC contract.  I cannot describe the peace this brought to our family during a time of tremendous upheaval.

With those things behind us, we moved into a hotel and phase two of leaving.  We spent our last 6 days saying goodbye to the people who had loved, supported, and accepted us in our new country.  During this process of celebrating and mourning, I spent a lot of time reflecting on what this two year experience has meant to me.  I was leaving sooner than I expected, but I couldn’t deny that my life had been transformed.  And instead of leaving with regrets, I felt I was leaving with a pile of gifts from this beautiful country.  Ten parting gifts from the UAE:

1.  Culture
Travel is an amazing way to see the world, but settling down and making a new country your home is an unparalleled way to expose yourself to a different culture.  The things I’ve learned about Arab culture in general, Emirati culture in particular, and the multitude of other cultures I’ve been exposed to in this unique little country have expanded my understanding, tolerance, and appreciation for different world views.  I’ve come to love different foods, different customs, and different perspectives.
2.  Culture Shock
While this might not sound like a gift, we all know that life difficulties are the things that grow us into more mature and empathetic people.  I have a whole new respect for people who have left their countries behind and forged a new life in a new land.

3.   The Desert
In my first year in the UAE I dabbled in the desert, but in my second year, while preparing for the Women’s Heritage Walk, I had a love affair with that gorgeous terrain.  I spent a lot of time walking dunes, and I will forever be grateful for the life, beauty, friendship, and reflection time that I found there.
Abu Dubai 018
4.   Spiritual Growth
One might not expect that a Christian moving to a Muslim country would list spiritual growth as a highlight of their experience, but this has indeed been like a mountain top in my faith journey.  This was due to a combination of factors for me.  First, I found myself worshiping with the most incredibly diverse church family every weekend and the richness of that is one of the most significant things I will take away with me from this country.  Secondly, I met weekly with a prayer group who loved and challenged me and caused me to go to new depths in my relationship with God.  Third, my whole time in the UAE was like a roller coaster of joys and pains, which caused me to lean into God in a way I never had to before.  And finally, although the Muslim faith is different from my own, there was much about living amongst them that taught me more about what I believe and why it is so dear to me.

5.  Travel
By the time we return to Canada, Inshallah, we will have visited Oman, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Thailand, England, Croatia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, not to mention the multiple stays in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which are amazing cities in their own right.  We did all of this as a foursome, which is a gift I will always treasure.
6.   Slower Pace
I’ve said this in earlier blog posts, but it is one of the big takeaways for me.  Life in Al Ain is the opposite of busy, driven, and hectic.  Leisure time is celebrated.  Relationships are savored.  When you walk up to an Emirati at a place of business, you smile, exchange peace, take a moment to ask how they’re doing.  Nothing is urgent or rushed.  There is always time for courtesy.  I’m less uptight here and I hope to keep that gift with me, wherever I go.
Fort and Al Qattara Souk 031
7.   Smaller Living
This is not a gift specific to the UAE, because, in fact, Emiratis live pretty large.  But, as a benefit of expat life, we discovered how content we were in a small apartment with no garage, no yard, no basement, and no storage room.  Our space was sufficient for us, and although we made it comfortable and homey, we never felt the need to keep buying.  We simply didn’t have the space for more stuff.  This is a gift that has already altered our thoughts on returning to life in Canada.  Stay tuned for more on that this fall.

8.   Spectacular Sites
The UAE is a tiny country that makes a big splash.  The world’s biggest mall, fastest roller coaster, and tallest building are actually some of my favourite things about Dubai.  They are worth the visit.  But my favourite site in the country is, hands down, the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.  I never got tired of seeing these places and I’ll miss driving by these worldwide attractions on a regular basis.
9.   Family Time
Circumstances in this tiny window of time in our lives meant that the four of us got to spend every afternoon, every evening, and every weekend together.  Partly because of the slower pace and smaller living, and partly because of homeschooling and Dwayne’s job, we often found ourselves together, sharing our big and small thoughts, playing and working in the same space.  We had time to talk and look one another in the eye and we never felt like we were running ragged.  One of my favourite gifts.
10.  Friends
We became friends with people from dozens of different countries and learned things from them all.  But it’s not what we learned about them or their cultures that we’ll miss.  It’s just the simple, most beautiful thing about living anywhere: having people to love, who love you back, is the greatest gift in any country.

There are lesser things I’ll miss like fresh dates and hummus, year round sunshine, and regular camel sightings, but these are the big ones.  Ten parting gifts that don’t fit in suitcases, but ones I will carry with me for the rest of my life.


In The Blink Of An Eye

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I wish you could come to the UAE.  I wish you could come and walk through the museums that show the photos of what this barren land looked like only 70 years ago and try to fathom how that could possibly be as you stare out at the skyscrapers and mass development.  In the 1940’s and 50’s this tiny pocket of the Arabian desert was pretty quiet and its people were struggling to survive after the collapse of the pearling industry.  Life was hard and simple and the Bedouin people did what they could to carve out a life for themselves in the desert.

And then, in 1958, they discovered oil.

During my experience preparing for the Women’s Heritage Walk, I saw a video named “In the Blink of an Eye,” which showed the landscape of the UAE and its rapid transformation in such a very short time.  It is the perfect title to express what Emiratis in their 60’s and 70’s have seen in their lifetime.  But countries aren’t the only thing that change in the blink of an eye.  Lives change that quickly too.  Especially in the UAE where over 80% of the population is made up of expats living here on work visas that can come and go as unexpectedly as pearls and oil.

On Friday morning we were at church, only 17 days away from our departure date for Prague where we planned our 6 week European vacation.  I was thinking about the case studies I need to complete for my course before we leave and about a birthday sleepover Abby was having that night to celebrate her 10th birthday with her friends before everyone went their separate ways for the summer.  We had finished our homeschool work for the year and I was percolating on the changes we have been dreaming about for our learning life this fall.

Then we arrived home from church and Dwayne received an email from ADEC saying that his teaching contract was not being renewed.

In the blink of an eye.

Dwayne and I spent the afternoon struggling to process the implications of this news and trying to hold ourselves together enough to prepare for Abby’s party.  We decided not to tell the kids until the next day when the party was over.  My hands were literally shaking as I iced Abby’s cake and I kept going to my room to cry.

We had a lot of questions.  We had to make a lot of decisions.  And we had to act quickly because when your contract is not renewed, your visa is done, and you have to leave the country.  We were not prepared for this.  And we didn’t want this.  Remember?  I wrote about how we wrestled with the decision of whether to stay another year back in the spring, and we felt great peace about the decision to stay one more year.  Peace and joy.  We had much we were looking forward to.  And we had plans for our return to Canada that were going to be possible because of one more year here.  Suddenly it felt like everything we’d been dreaming about for our life was just wiped out.

ADEC is going through big changes and making cuts.  The rumours are out there.  Everyone around here knows a random person or two whose contract was not renewed this year and they are all baffled.  When your initial 2 year contract is up with ADEC, your principal and vice-principal send in a recommendation for you to stay or go, and if they say stay, and you haven’t resigned, it seems that generally, you stay.  Dwayne didn’t resign.  His principal and VP recommended he stay on.  But the decision was made in head office to cut some jobs.  One of them was Dwayne’s.

There are thousands of open positions in private schools around the UAE.  We considered whether or not Dwayne should apply for some of those.  If he was able to get one of those jobs, the hours are a lot longer, the pay is less, and he’d have to sign a 2-3 year contract.  Plus, we’d have to cancel our visas and go through the new visa process this fall and move to a new apartment.  If you’ve never lived in the middle east, you may think those parts are no big deal, but trust me, the whole process of moving our internet service to a new apartment in this country would be enough to make me run for the hills.  Everything is a big deal.  And we knew in our hearts we only wanted one more year, not two or three.

So, on Saturday we told our kids.  They were equally shocked and devastated.  The four of us cuddled on our couch and cried.  The same spot we sat and cried many times less than two years ago when we were struggling to adjust to life here.  We sobbed over leaving when we so wanted to stay.  We cried about the friends we’d made and the home we’d created and the city we loved.  This felt different from our other losses because we’d chosen those things ourselves.  This one was thrust upon us.

On Sunday Dwayne spoke with EMT support and learned that this decision was out of their hands as it came from the top.  His admin at his school tried to help, but it was out of their hands too.  So, after a weekend of praying and crying and questioning and agonizing, the four of us found ourselves sitting quietly on our bed.  We’d explained our options to the kids.  Abby was the first to say it.

“I’d rather move back to Canada now than have daddy go through all that for a new job and have to move to a new apartment and then move to Canada next year.”

Josiah said the same.  Dwayne and I looked at each other.  In my heart I knew I didn’t want to put my family through all that again, only to move to Canada next year.  We both agreed.  This news meant it was time to go.

I have to confess, I’ve been a Christian for 20 years and this was the first time I’d ever wondered if God was real.  It was fleeting, but I said to Dwayne, “Is God even real?”  We had spent months seeking God on the decision of whether to stay or go.  And we had felt such peace about the decision to stay.  And such affirmation from people in our life.  We felt divinely led.

The support we received from our Al Ain community in the first couple of days after receiving this news quite possibly saved my faith.  I can’t even see the screen now through my tears, but I don’t know how to fully explain to you how painful this has been.  But God, in his wisdom, placed us in community because he knows that life is too hard to journey alone.  I received at least 30 different messages with verses, promises of God, and prophetic words from the Lord that bolstered me in a very difficult time.  Many more have come since then.  Nothing trite.  Just real.  They spoke to all the things my heart was feeling.  They ALL spoke to me so powerfully, but I want to share just two with you.

First, one of my friends, who didn’t know the details of our situation yet, said life in Al Ain sometimes reminds her of the Israelites, when they were in the desert, and how God literally led them with a cloud by day and fire by night.  When the cloud would settle in one spot, they would set up camp and stay there.  Sometimes the cloud only stayed for one night, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months.  They never knew how long they would be in one spot. It may sound strange to you if you’ve never lived here, but truly, some times you wake up one morning in Al Ain and the cloud is moving and you weren’t expecting it, and it’s time to move on.  This is how we felt as a family.  We could have fought to find a way to stay longer, and it’s quite possible that would have worked out.  But we truly sensed the cloud of God’s presence was moving us, sooner than we’d expected, but definitely moving.

And then this.  On Saturday my prayer group leader sent me a message saying that someone in our group had a word from God for me on Tuesday night.  She had believed this word was for me, but I was already gone and she didn’t have my number, so she texted it to him.  He had not yet sent it to me, but he thought it might be a good time for me to hear it.  She said she sensed that a storm was going to come up in my life and I should remember I am with Jesus in the boat.  In the boat I ask Jesus if he cares and if it’s going to be alright.  And Jesus says he will take care of it.

Three days before we received this news, God sent a message of comfort through a friend to remind me that though I doubt him momentarily, he is with me and he is taking care of me.  He is real.  He is in control.  He is a good, good Father.  He has our best in mind.  We don’t see the whole, big picture, but he does.

Life changes in the blink of an eye, but I know my Father never stops watching over me.

4 Things I Love About Living in This Muslim Country

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So, it’s Ramadan.  For my readers who don’t really know what Ramadan is, it is the Islamic month of fasting.  It’s about more than just refraining from eating and drinking, but instead is meant to help Muslims focus on God, practice self-discipline and sacrifice, do away with bad habits, strengthen ties with friends and family, be grateful for their blessings, and share with those in need.  Although it sounds at first like a time of deprivation, it is also a month of great celebration.  I have only experienced it here in the UAE, but it is definitely a month like no other and I’ve learned a lot.

Ramadan-Kareem-Images-3In honour of Ramadan, I decided to share the things I most appreciate about living in this Muslim country.  Of course, this is just one small country, and with 1 billion Muslim people in the world, the diversity of how their faith is expressed is obvious.  But, in this tiny little corner of the world, I have come to appreciate a lot of things about this culture and I wanted to share them with you.

When I first considered writing this post I thought, “What are my fellow Christian readers going to think of this post?”  Then I thought, “What are my Muslim readers going to think of this post?”  And then I thought, “What are my non-religious readers going to think of this post?”  All of which led me to think, “Why exactly did I want to write this post again…?”

Why would I open up this can of worms?  I came up with these reasons:

-When you live in a country that is founded on a faith different from your own, you can consider it weird and hostile or you can consider it an opportunity to learn and grow and be challenged and changed.  I think you know where I land when faced with this choice.

-I’m a joy seeker, and looking at the things I love about this culture has helped me find joy and I’d love to spread it around.

-My Muslim friends are delightful people and I want to celebrate them.

-We don’t have to share the same faith to recognize that we all have so, so much in common.  Focusing on the positive things we see in each other and the diverse ways we represent humanity could really change the world.  This is my small world-changing act today.

4 Things I Appreciate About Living In This Muslim Country:

1.  The Call to Prayer.  Five times a day, from the minaret of every mosque, a muezzin calls Muslims to pray.  He begins and ends by calling out that God is the greatest and that there is only one God.  I share this belief with my Muslim friends, and I personally appreciate the regular reminders of this throughout my day.  Whether I’m frustrated, overwhelmed, content, or apathetic, there is never a bad moment to be reminded that God is greater than what I’m facing.

2. Hospitality.  I have seen hospitality extended in many different cultures, but wow, the Arabic folks have really got this nailed.  Such warm embrace and extravagant offerings of food and drinks.  It’s not just what’s offered, it’s how it’s offered.  As if nothing is more important than making you feel welcome.  It’s a gift.

3.  Modesty.  There are a number of reasons why Muslim people cover themselves, and many of them resonate with me.  And contrary to popular belief, it’s not just the women who dress conservatively.  At least in the Emirates, the men also cover their heads and wear long kanduras.  I have never seen an Emirati man’s legs.  In my opinion, it’s not a bad thing when my whole family asks before leaving the house, “Is this appropriate?”  Not because we are worried about judgement, but simply because we are considering other people and our affect on them.

4.  Focus on family/community/leisure.  When work is finished here, work is finished.  Work doesn’t come home.  After work, it’s time for family, friends, and enjoying life.  If you’ve been to the UAE, you will have noticed that folks here like to drive fast. (understatement)  But since we first arrived I noticed that even though they drive fast, they walk slow.  No one is rushing.  They are taking their time, talking to one another, enjoying the person sitting in front of them and relaxing.  It’s a pace and a focus that took time to adjust to, but I’ve learned to slow my driven, efficient, time-manage-y self down, and savor more moments.

These are just a few things I’ve learned from my neighbors on this side of the world, and I’ve been changed.  Ramadan Kareem.

From a Bend Ahead in the Road

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So, I’ve gotten hooked on podcasts.  Has this happened to any of you?  I might be late to this scene, but now I’m totally addicted.  It started a few months ago when I was doing a lot of long walks to train for my desert trek.  I wanted something to listen to, but I was growing tired of music.  Which is weird- how do you grow tired of music?  But I did.  So, I started listening to a podcast that a friend recommended, and now I have so many downloaded on my phone that my phone storage is full.

So, one of the podcasts eating up my storage space these days is called The Simple Show and it’s hosted by Tsh Oxenrieder.  She’s a writer, traveler, entrepreneur, and mom who encourages people to live with intention and purpose, so her topics are right up my alley.  Today I was listening to an episode where she interviews another mom named Maggie.  Maggie mentions in the interview that she just turned 30 and has a two and half year old, a one year old, and is expecting baby number three.  Tsh also has three children, but her youngest is 5.  At one point in the show Tsh said to Maggie that she remembers being at that stage in life, and she points out that she isn’t really that much farther ahead – “just one more bend in the road.”  I thought it was a great expression and it occurred to me as I listened to the interview that I’m really just one more bend in the road ahead of Tsh as my youngest is turning 10 next month.

It’s not like I’m miles and miles ahead of these amazing women – just a few more steps on the motherhood trail – but it was so interesting to listen to them today.  I could hear Maggie in particular, wrestling with the desire to be home with her children and to pursue her passions and find time for being creative and building a business from home.  She was very aware that in life, there are naturally seasons for everything.  She knows that the stage of raising young children is super consuming and doesn’t leave a lot of room for other pursuits, and she is navigating her own path intentionally and beautifully.  But it hit me so hard as I was listening to her internal struggle that I believe some of the issues women in our culture face regarding motherhood and work revolve around our negative outlook on aging.  That might seem like a big, disconnected leap, but stick with me.

It’s so natural for a woman to want to be with her children, but it’s also so natural for her to want to contribute her other gifts to the world.  But why do we feel this urgency to be mastering both of these things by the time we’re 35?  Why do we think we need to peak in our careers, write all our books, or paint all our masterpieces while our kids are still little?  Could it be because we believe that by the time our kids are grown, our best years are behind us?  Ouch.  Is that too touchy?  It’s just that I’m really starting to mull this over now that I’m 40 and my kids are feeling really, really close to being grown.  I know they are so not grown, but heading into the teen years does bring some of the brevity of our kids’ years at home to the surface of my mind, and the truth is I am awakening to the fact that many of my best years are still ahead of me.

Other than 2 years of part-time work outside the home, I have been home full-time with my children for almost 13 years now.  There was some sacrifice involved in that, for sure, but I can also see how that time has allowed me to mature and experience more of life and I am more ready than ever to tackle the dreams I have for my next 40 years.  My gifts and passions, which I’ve used and pursued to some extent for decades, are now more refined and cultivated.  I understand myself so much better.  God has spent decades preparing me for the work I am only just beginning now.  I think ahead to my coming years and I feel myself saying, “Look out world, I’ve got stuff to say and things to do!”

So, with that in mind, I have three things I want to say to the moms who are bend or two back in the road.

#1.  Getting older is awesome.  Our culture does not value aging, and that’s a powerful message to try and ignore, but you can personally choose to embrace and joyfully anticipate the wisdom, perspective, freedom, and peace that comes with years of living intentionally.

2186_IMG_1726#2.  The experiences of life and motherhood are maturing you in beautiful ways and your contributions to the world will be even more rich on the other side of having little ones underfoot than they are now.  Whether you are home full time or working outside the home, every mother is mentally, emotionally, and physically giving valuable years to her children.  But you will have many more valuable years when they are grown to further nurture your gifts and dreams.  And if, God forbid, you don’t, and your life is taken early, you won’t regret investing the best of yourself into your children.

#3.  Give yourself grace with the capacity you have now.  If you have a passion for art and you paint just one canvas this year, then relish those moments you had to enjoy it and be encouraged about how you will watch that gift flourish when the time is right.  If you are building a business and you feel you’re only taking baby steps, appreciate what you’re learning and contributing to the family income for now, and dream about where you can take that business when its season comes.

And I have one thing to ask of the moms who are a bend or two or twenty ahead on the road.

Please keep showing us how much there is to look forward to up ahead.  We need you and value you and every time you use your gifts and pursue your dreams, you show us how it’s done and remind us that there are more incredibly fruitful seasons coming our way too.