10 years since that first little “yes” 

February 13th, 2007. He asked me to be his girlfriend that day. He was 20 and I was 22. 

I’ve spent 10 years of my life intimately and intricately linked with someone now not by the fate of family but by one sweeping hope-sprung choice. All of our feverish, tumultuous twenties in step with each other. Life could have been a path forged any which way but we turned to each other instead.

I can’t imagine what my college roommates thought at the onset of our relationship: two fools rushing in (and rush we did—engaged after two months). I was no more equipped to be a girlfriend —or a wife all the more— than properly skin a deer.  But here I sit in a home we’ve made, three kids’ beds in a room painted blue. It’s all so real, so good, so normal, and yet still a surprise when I remember I was young and tumbled into something that required moment after moment, year after year of—- building, trying, listening, working, serving, forging, forgiving, folding towels, stacking plates, and putting on love once again. 

He was a safe harbor first. Fireworks later. 

 

Marriage is a goodness dressed up in ordinary clothes. Hidden in coffee cups and tucked in sheets. The work of two opposites drawing nearer is of endless fascination to me. A wave crashing rapturously on the solid shore, each unapologetically forces their own. 

In these ten years, I’ve gained so much. Little things not too little when I think how they could have been things that never were. Not to gossip. How to welcome people in. Saying plainly what I mean. How to fight in a way where nothing and no one walks away broken. 

The greatest lesson I’ve learned in our 1st 10 years together is that very little (if anything) is impossible where kindness comes first. I am not in competition with him. I am in communion with him.  He does not take from me unless I surrender something by measures of falsehoods.

Kindness means shaking off fear and rebuking manipulation. Kindness means grace. Kindness means generosity, abundance. Kindness means pausing, listening, being comfortable with moments of discomfort. Saying, showing, that is is all okay.

Oh, I’ve gotten this wrong so many times. Thousands of times. But I always come back to this one answer for how to live and lead. Kindness.

For me, I’ve picked up how to be direct and gentle because this is how he is with me. To go to him simply and to say what I need without faltering. Then to go about my day focused on the task in front of me (wiping sticky hands, explaining pronouns, and sweeping up crumbs), trusting he will do his best to meet my needs the best he can and we will keep moving forward. Mostly, remembering that marriage is a radical act of showing up more for the other person than caring how they are showing up for you. In the end, it is our own body we answer for. It is our words, our service, our respect—not our ability to maintain control or strike fear into someone as a means of self-preservation.  

Loving someone for 10 years—yet they be simply steady, solid, good—means nothing less than brave vulnerability however much family portraits and daily rituals make us comfortable or, worse, sleepy.  It takes one match to start a forest fire, one malformed branch to bring down a tree. Which one of us can reach out our hands without touching someone who has hurt or is hurting from divorce, the affair, abandonment, the insincerity of someone else’s yes? 

I speak of these things because I want to stay awake—-fully, happily, brightly awake. To keep in perspective that I am unfairly blessed in that I am still here reaping the fruit of a marriage to a man who is good. I reject the luke warm waters of familiarity, of busy-bodying through our thirties. Instead, I want to keep risking myself to the man who risked it all. I fix my gaze steady, to look at him lingeringly, with a smile tucked up in my eyes.  This love, this work, is still the most important thing I will ever do with my life, but it is by my nature and empowerment as a woman that it is not without excitement, warmth, color, complexity, and life. 

I look at Paul and I remember him 20. I remember times when I was too harsh, when I didn’t listen, when he took care of me, when he held our babies on their first day, all the times he used self-control as if a faucet pouring out love. I try sometimes to remember to look at him with his mother’s eyes—a boy who played with the stereo system and did what he was told when his parents needed him, a boy who once learned how to kick out his feet to swing. 

And when looking at him I know painfully that 20 or even 40 years may not be enough for me to uncover all there is in that man. I may never have enough to time to get the words right or the timing perfect, to let him know adequately what he has meant to me or that, even simpler, that I can see him just as he is. 

I still believe, 10 years after that quick yes, in the abandonment of what I know for the knows-no-bounds call of my vocation. That falling into something so much larger than the small of me ( no matter how big I feel I am ) is a work worthy of the whole of my life. 

 

 

My Anxiety & Depression Toolbox

I’m no stranger to anxiety or depression. Two years ago I was having intense albeit brief panic attacks every few weeks. In college, I would shift in and out of mild depression. And between these small burdens, normalcy. Lots of ordinary, happy days with strokes or dips of anxieties and depression scattered here and there. And so, I’ve built my own toolbox of sorts over the years to fix and bounce back. 

Last year was a wonderful year for me for a number of reasons but the main one being the workout program I was on (still am--yay!) with my sisters. 1 sole tiny panic attack the entire year and other than the downer that was the fall back time change, I would say depression was very, very far from my mind. 

Winter is a tough one for some of us.  Depression & anxiety can catch us off guard when we least expect it. And so it makes sense to share these things with you now. 

Sharing with you about these personal tricks I use feels like slippery vulnerability—one of those posts I’m praying finds itself in front of the right person (please) because I wouldn’t be writing this out unless I thought it had a fighting chance at helping. 

And of course I have to put that very necessary disclaimer here that I am no one’s doctor. I can’t speak to clinical anxiety and depression or how to treat it except to say that my words won’t suffice. However, if like me, you know what you need is just a little tweak or boost — I genuinely hope there is something new or old here for you!

  1. Baby steps in the moment. 

As soon as I recognize that I’m anxious (overreacting to things) or depressed (numb to things), I tell myself that. It may sound silly, but it’s super important. If I notice I’m indecisive or foggy, yep. Noted. If I start getting restless, I almost tap myself on the shoulder to say so.  Additionally, if I know why I’m feeling that way I make it clear to myself, “I feel anxious because I’ve never been here before” or “I feel depressed because it’s the 4th dreary day in a row and I need some sunshine.” 

Next, I figure out the action step for the moment. Not for tomorrow. Not for next week. For the next five minutes.  These widely vary, so more on them in a bit.  But here’s what the point of this is. Both anxiety and depression sever us from fully engaging in the moment. So, essentially, I tie myself back into the reality things. Draw a line from point A (here—literally A for Ashley) to point B.  Clean 1 room. Just breathe. Sit in quiet for a minute.  Listen to the person in front of me. Fill out the forms at the doctor’s office. 

2. Step back & recognize patterns. 

I can’t drink anything with aspartame in it because aspartame makes me cray. If people stay at my house for more than a day, I have to get up and get moving, maybe go for a long walk or a little exclusion or do a small project while they are with me or I’ll get very anxious.  I know that I don’t do well having visitors over (except for just a very, very small number of people really close to me) while Paul is gone for a travel week—the stress is simply just not worth it. More than a few days without exercise and I’m a hot mess internally. 

“Why did I do that?” is a great question to think about 1 day or 1 week after something happens where I know I was not bringing my best self forward. It’s not easy in the moment to see what set us off or sent us under.  For example, I mentioned how I was having panic attacks 2 years ago. I didn’t realize why at the time, but it makes 1000% sense to me now. That was when the twins were toddlers and kept hurting themselves while their hemophilia diagnosis was still fresh. The procedures for care and payment and everything was still getting sorted out amidst visit after visit to the ER and doctor. The boys are very physical and every time they would fall or run my blood pressure would soar like my heart would burst out of my chest. Whew. I don’t know how I managed all that.  Of course my body went haywire. I don’t know how it wouldn’t have. (Things are much, much calmer now. By leaps and bounds. Ha! Unintended pun.)

The problem is that we can’t always recognize prolonged stress on our bodies. But we can take note once things go haywire, that our body is sending up white flags and it is time to listen. And that’s fine too.

3. Nuts & bolts. 

Here are the specific action steps I turn to when I’m feeling out of sorts. And remember, anxiety and depression are on a very wide spectrum.  Even small anxieties rob us, so it’s ok to ward off those too. 

  1. drop everything and play (or laugh or smile) 
  2. clean 1 room
  3. decide on the 1 action step I can take even if the thing making me anxious is otherwise largely out of my control
  4. get my heart rate up
  5. “ground” myself—go weed, rake leaves, work in the yard, etc. (it’s a real thing. yes, it works)
  6. do an act of kindness for someone else
  7. write a prayer list for all the people I know of in just the last week or two that or hurting, healing, hoping
  8. write a gratitude list
  9. offer it up specifically by moving your feet when you don’t feel like it and offering it up in someone’s name while you do
  10. spread the love on social media by giving very specific and/or genuine comments
  11. or, if you can, do it in real life
  12. drink water, eat a salad, and otherwise go find some seriously needed fuel

These are just some examples. Getting my heart rate up and having quiet time are my rock solid go to options, but everyone will have their own individual things.  

And one more thing, I believe we were all made to be creative.  I say let those funky feelings of being tightly wound, about to scream, or sucked undertow create some beautiful art. It’s energy or the need for it in the end that sends us forth to paint, write, mince peppers, and press seeds into dirt. So, if all else falls, go play artist and let your fog, fears, or otherwise play in the driver’s seat with an outlet that’s totally safe… and maybe even life-giving. 

4. Shake off the shame. 

One of my favorite truisms is that the devil delights in our hiding.  When we hide in our sin or our pain. Stepping out in faith may mean just saying to your spouse “I don’t know that I feel quite right. Can you help me think through this?”. Or it can be as simple as matter-of-factly saying “I’m feeling a little anxious right now but I’m listening”.  The reason we feel shame is that depression & anxiety can bring out the worst in us, but working through that with the people close to us, who love us deeply, can be the most liberating, humbling, beautiful experience ever.  

If you right now feel a little lump in your throat because little pieces of what I’m sharing resonates I just want to say this to you:  

The people close to you want one thing more than anything else, or above all else, for you—for you to walk in freedom. For you to be completely whole.  For you to feel peace.  

If you feel broken up, busted, swept under, or out of control—know that it is okay.  You are good. You will feel better soon. Reach out and take just 1 step today.  Keep your head up. Fake it until you make it. Put on joy. And be totally okay with a little bit of a hot mess while you work out some kinks in your otherwise glorious, wonderful you. 

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I wouldn't be writing to you today about this unless I myself was on solid ground.  I hope this feels like an arm pulling you up.  Or if you are also on solid ground but have also tripped up in the messiness of anxieties or depression, you now know you and I have a little more in common.  

Life is good, but it can definitely slam us down in the ring from time to time too.  Here's to dusting ourselves off and getting back in there.

 

Love you all,

Ash

What's giving me life this winter

If I can make it through winter, I’m gold. I’ve noticed a pattern the past few years in that the 2nd half of winter drags on, for me, mercilessly. And that’s difficult to picture right now because winter has already been whammy after whammy after whammy—to the point where it nearly feels funny. Nearly. . . 

We've had sickness after sickness and then the audacity of the cub scouts to not award Thomas a trophy at his first pinewood derby race. He took it well though . . . 

(He is on the far left in case you weren't sure.)

 

But there are some good things I think that will get me through to the other side of the Easter eggs.  I’m tagging along with Modern Mrs. Darcy in sharing some of those gems. 

1. My pregnant peoples.  Winter feels like an enduring wait, a heavy stretch of quiet and hope for spring’s dotted green buds. And so it feels perfect, on dreary days or just because I can, to think about and pray for the women I know who are beautifully pregnant right now and doing their own quiet waiting. Some of these ladies are ready to be handed their babies within this next month. Others… haven’t made their pregnancies public yet, and I relish in knowing their sweet secrets. I love all of you ladies (if any of you happen to be reading here) & I’m so excited for you to meet your littles soon—-ish.

One of these beautiful mothers is my sister, Amanda, who is pregnant with her first child,          Amelia.  We celebrated her this weekend at my house. Amanda and Jesse have been so helpful with the whole gaggle of nieces and nephews who “came before”, so to speak, and I think I speak for all my siblings when I say that I’m excited it’s her turn to be doted on and cared for, even if it is mostly in extension by way of our snuggling with and affection for her baby. 

2.  Saturday morning Adoration appointment.  Our parish, Holy Trinity, kicked off perpetual     adoration at the start of this year. I go at 6 am Saturday morning and it is absolutely, hands down the highlight of my week.  I can’t imagine a better way to start the  weekend than to sit with Jesus and say hello. I had forgotten how much the act of Adoration allows for deep digging and sole searching in a way that just isn’t accessible from the comfort of the couch or at mass among my squirrelly children. 

If I can pray for you and your intentions, I would be honored. Comment below or private message me and I will take your intention with me each Saturday until I hear otherwise from you. 

3.  Tickle My France-y O.P.I. nail polish. I love this ashy pinky purple-y (making this description up as I go) nude shade. Taking a few minutes out of my day to steal away and paint my nails feels like the biggest bang for my buck in terms of self-care. I showed Paul my new obsession, even I think declaring that I was just going to wear this for all of winter and he said, “But isn’t that just how your nails looked before.” I was in feigned shock, but it’s not entirely untrue. Women are a  mystery and I’m just playing my part well. 

4. The “Know Who You Are” song on the Moana soundtrack.  

"I have crossed the horizon to find you.

I know your name.

They have stolen the heart from inside you,

but this does not define you.

This is not who you are.

  You know who you are." 

I find solace in these words.  I keep repeating them to myself as if a key, singing them over and over into the grip on my steering wheel. Solitary acts of love where we recognizes the pain in others and work to help restore, protect, and make whole—my heart cries out, YES! It’s my belief we are good, but there are things in life’s journey that dam up our rivers so that we stop watering others or scorch us so that when others come across us they are met with an ashen mess. But it doesn’t have to be like this. We can seek to understand more than to be understood. This is good work. It’s everything I’ve ever learned in the parameters of my vocation as wife and mother, and one I need to start practicing a heck of a lot more in my relationships outside of that commitment. 

5. More of the stuff I enjoy about homeschooling. February is widely feared as the soul crushing (dramatic?) month for homeschoolers. Ok, yes. Soul crushing is a bit melodramatic, but February is definitely rough.  So my attack plan is to do more of the things that I love about homeschooling than I normally would. It’s like a double down approach instead of folding when things get tough.  So I’m doing more art with the kids and reading tons of poetry right now.  The twins are right at the age that Thomas was when we read TONS of poetry, and it is so fun to circle back. 

6. Taking back the dinner table. Confession. I had gotten into a nasty habit of not having sit down family dinners with the kids.  It snuck up on me.  Since Paul travels quite a bit, there was a mix of “gosh, just getting dinner in front of the kids is hard enough” and “I can't bear to see Paul’s empty spot at the table” that had me unconsciously serving the kids almost all meals at the kitchen counter while I hunkered over at the table on my own praying they wouldn’t bother me for a solid five minutes so I could just enjoy hot food sometime this decade. And what do you know but I would pull out my phone because… no one is at the table anyway, so what does that rule really matter? So yeah. I’m in the process of reclaiming the family meals. Asking the kids about their day. Having the kids really pray rather than rush out the words like I’m trying to say it faster than the burger meeting their little mouths. As it always shamefully turns out in this parenting stuff, a little bit more intentionality shockingly makes things more enjoyable and fun. 

7. High-waisted jeans. No explanation needed. It’s winter. My brain is telling me to consume rolls pasta cookies stews steak potatoes second helpings cheap t.v. while eating all this stuff snacks creamer that I had successfully turned my back on for almost all of last year and anything that’s clearly not salad. It’s a struggle. 

Ok. That’s a wrap. What’s giving you life this winter? 

And don’t forget that I said I would carry your intentions with me when I go say hello to Jesus. So let me know. 

 

Work work work work work, kids!

Yesterday, an unseasonably warm day, Alistair and I washed my car. Paul and I both own white cars, mine a great deal dirtier than his — on the outside because I leave more often than he does and on the inside because children are animals. Cute ones.  Honestly, we came by white cars as unexpectedly as stopping at the grocery store end caps to grab several cans of beans on sale. Not on your list but what a great find. White was there, both times, ready for the high stakes game of grab-and-go purchase at our local car lots. 

Have you watched a three year old wash a car? Oh my. It is absolutely everything. Their blissful ineptitude and beaming enthusiasm. What’s not to love?

I like white. White gets dirty fast and even when it appears minimally grungy, the small effort of wiping suds on and off with a happily soppy rag yields the most satisfying clean in an instant.  We’ll steer clear of the detail work needed on a white car in what is the front face and under belly of the car, still satisfying but five times the elbow grease required. 

Every morning I clean the living room first for the same reason I like a white car. It’s a quick win. I fold a couple blankets, rearrange the pillows, and stack up a few books neatly. The blinds have already been opened by Thomas, a habit of his I see no need in obstructing.  My brain is like a child’s. See. Not so hard. Let’s clean more things. 

I love a clean home, a clean room, a clean kitchen. Workplace zero. That’s what they call it. The people who name such things because it fits into our hustle for an ever-fiercer grip on productivity. What I know is that I’m still astounded after all these years how much a clean kitchen inspires a new recipe, a clean sunroom a fit of chasing the kids, a clean bedroom an earlier bedtime which always can only mean good things. 

The clean is so we can make the mess. And so the dog chases its tail. As soon as I clean something up, I’ve got an urge to go on and shoot it all to hell—let’s pull out those puzzles I put high up in the closet or make bread from scratch or do something with the glue gun and those beady eyes I bought from Hobby Lobby two years ago. 

This year, the kids are being invited (against their will) to partake tenfold more than before in the “cleaning up” part of this creative process: clean then messy then back to clean again.  Sure, they’ve been expected to pick up their toys and then some, do what we ask and them some, and then some more of little bits and things from time to time. “Look, Paul. Don’t they look so cute hauling those logs?”

But no. We’re headed to destination Roll Up Your Sleeves, Kids where there’s always a toilet to clean and you are old enough to yield the brush.  Where the intricacies of laundry are important and you are smart enough to get it. Where you are never too short to reach because we’ve got step stools and are eager to oblige. 

Already, Thomas <totally shocked> turned to me and said, “THIS is what you’ve been cleaning up this whole time??!!” Yes, son. Very much. Yes.

The Anderson boys are in for a real treat, and so am I. I’m sure teaching them how to pull weeds and scrub the tub will look oddly similar to me lounging on the patio with a cool drink. I KID! C’MON. You know how this is gonna go down. I’ll be right in there with them, eye-twitching at their feigning incompetence and reminding myself why we decided to rope the kids into more work.  

I think that whole “happiness is all that matters” fad is fading… right? Simple living—pretty sure that’s cool still, and I’m ok with that. Decluttering by the bag loads and cute green plants set against a white wall for the win! (I don’t have white walls, but I still like all of yours on Instagram) But all the noise and books and podcasts and promoting of happiness as our essential objective is such a crock.  Happiness with a capital H. Yeah, okay. That’s just so not honest about real life and what’s truly good. 

My primary goal as a parent is not to make my kids happy. I’ll be glad when they are and I’ll help play a part surely in making some of those wonderful, warm memories bloom. However, what I really strive for is opening up the door to goodness for them.  A good life.  Just like my blog name suggests. Hard work is good for you. It builds confidence. Giving to others is good for you. It builds brick-by-brick empathy and open-mindedness, gratitude, humility. Screen free time is not always fun. Boredom sits beside you, sometimes, but then other times new ideas saddle up too. And so I don’t choose things to see them happy now, I choose things to hopefully give them a shot at becoming their best self later —and maybe even five minutes later… as was the case last night when Thomas beamed at the dinner table like he was playing the part in a 1950’s tv show, “Gosh, I feel really great about the work I did in the bathroom today!”

This is all to say we are in another new parenting season. They come at you fast, don’t they. We are a bit beyond sleep-deprived days of treading water, also known as “Where do all these toys keep coming from and will somebody SOMEBODY help me put them back???”.  Last year ushered in more and more routine and order. And here we are with our boys sudsing the car, picking up sticks, learning where to put the detergent in the washing machine and “Yes, you have to re-sanitize that whole counter. You just put the plunger there.” 

Our kids are very capable. I imagine a lot more capable than I know. This year I intend on doing a little “research” to see just how capable they really are. 

“See! Not so hard. Let’s clean more things!”

 

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2016 reads + 2017 bookscape

Wanna chat about books with me? I love seeing what other people have read and what they plan on reading, so that’s what I’m doing today.

Reading is so important in my life. I can feel my cup of happiness fill up even reading 10 pages. Things can come and go in my life, but reading will always be a pillar for me. 

Ok. Book chat. Last year first. I grabbed screenshots from my Goodreads page and plopped them here. I set out to read 50 books. Actually read 23. Whoops. 

Books that made me cry: (one) The Nightingale

Books that made me laugh: (three) Naked, I Feel Bad About My Neck, The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Septic Tank

Novel I’m still thinking about: Peace Like a River

Books worthy of a standing ovation: All The Light We Cannot See & The Kite Runner

Surprisingly good: Scott Adams’s (creator of Dilbert) book 

Surprisingly great: Lord of the Flies (for that feeling when you know you’ve just read a perfectly crafted story)

Enjoyable page turners: Big Magic & Ready Player One 

Books that made me say “meh”: In This House of Brede, You are a Badass, and Jesus 

Great book, wrong reader: Present Over Perfect

Most helpful due to expertise: The Power of Habit

This stays here (books I will keep on my shelves): For the Children’s Sake

I read pretty regularly this year until we kicked off the school year. It’s been random bursts of reading since then but not nearly as much as what I would have liked.  My reading typically picks up this time of year again. No doubt in part due to my enthusiasm to reignite all interests with guns blazing January 1st. 

Looking back through these titles I can recall times I woke early in the morning to catch a few pages, when I texted friends or my mom with my thoughts, when I propped my feet up on the patio furniture, pausing from time to time to watch the breeze weave through the green leaves overhead. 

It’s a chapter of reading closed. And now it’s time for a new one.  Each years means a little bit more intentionality in my reading. It means new opportunities to discover new ideas, new characters, new settings to contrast and complement my own. 

So, 2017.  How’s the reading landscape shaping up? 

Well, for starters, a good chunk of my reading will be determined by my participation in the Book of the Month Club. Yay! Paul bought it for me for a Christmas gift. I was really, really happy. My 1st box should be coming in soon.  I can’t manage a face to face book club during this season of life, so this feels like the very next best thing.

Another big difference I’m making is setting up most of my non-fiction reading, in part, by the quarters. So, each quarter (quarter 1 = January, February, March) I’m choosing a book in each category:

Spiritual  *   Homeschooling  *  Self-Improvement   *  Poetry

**These were the four types of books that I wished I would have focused more on last year. 

I did fill out Modern Mrs. Darcy’s book challenges & spent too much time one night when I was sick digging into blog lists and Amazon reviews for book I could possibly, potentially read.  I’m not dead set on completing these challenges but I’ll pick a book or two from time to time throughout the year. You can check out the not one, but two challenges here

I plan to do more reading books with friends & family this year.  I dabbled in that last year & I really loved it.  Paul and I have set a goal of reading one book a quarter with each other too.  And my mom and I chatted about that with spiritual reads… need to check in with her to see if she is still up for it! If any of you want to read a book with me, let me know! I will absolutely take you up on the offer!!

Last year I used 1 trick that helped me fit more reading into my schedule and that was setting the timer for 20 minutes of reading as part of my morning routine.  This year, I want to do a better job of putting away my phone when I get to bed and reaching for a book more often...as well as getting to bed earlier so I have more time to enjoy.

aaaaaannd I've got 81 books on my "to read" list in my phone, so that should serve me well. 

Enough about my reading life. What about yours? 

Did you read any great books this past year? Do you have any you are excited to dig into this year? Do you have any book recommendations for me?

I hope you are having a great start to the new year! xoxox, Ash