I was twenty years old, and I was living alone in Kiev, Ukraine.
Not totally alone, of course. I was living with a young, Ukrainian couple who spoke English (but often refused to speak it because they wanted me to become fluent in Russian), but I didn’t have any peers with me on the trip.
I was in Ukraine for two solid months before I even met another American. Looking back, I know this was a good thing. It forced me to adapt to the culture and the language, and it made me brave.
But I was lonely those four months. Trying to communicate in another language is exhausting. In the early days when I was completely alone, my only respite came from 3:00-4:00 in the afternoons after school.
I’d arrive home to an empty apartment and turn on the TV. Beverly Hills 90210 played weekday afternoons, and the translation lagged just enough behind the English that I could tune it out and listen to the show in my native tongue.
I never watched that show as a young girl, but I saw nearly every episode in Ukraine. I became well acquainted with Brandon, and Brenda, and Dillan, and Kelly, and all the others whose names I can’t remember now…
Outside of riveting television, though, I found my greatest comfort inside the pages of my journals. I wrote until my hand hurt, recording everything from the mundane moments of my days to the hysterical gaffes I made (I slipped on ice and fell on my butt more than once rushing to and from school).
After a weekend excursion to Prague, I came home with an English language copy of the book Jane Eyre, which I’d found in a little store near Charles Bridge. I devoured that book twice in my remaining months in Ukraine, and suddenly my journal pages were filled with poetic imagery. I used language like, “the leaves dance to the ground in a silent waltz,” and “the birds soar above my head on wings of freedom.”
WHO TALKS LIKE THAT?!
Twenty-Year-Olds who have too much alone time, that’s who.
It’s been 18 years since that life-changing experience. 18 years since I sat on a bench on a Ukrainian hillside overlooking the Dnieper River, and vowed to become a storyteller.
But what’s even more amazing is that it was just the beginning. That was only the first spark in my creative journey. It’s been a slow burn, sometimes dimmed by the pressures of every day life.
Motherhood slowed down the dream, but in a good way, because motherhood was a dream in and of itself. I’m living both dreams side-by-side, and it’s a messy little blending of the two. But I wouldn’t have it any other way, because this is better than anything I could have imagined 18 years ago as a lonely American student in Ukraine.
It’s also harder than I thought it would be.
Beautiful. Hard. Messy. Dream.
Those words all fit together in this puzzle of life. They’re tangled up, each piece getting its turn to take the spotlight.
Life Creative: Inspiration for Today’s Renaissance Mom releases on September 27. This is a book written for moms who are walking the line between motherhood and art. It’s a book for moms who had dreams long before they had children, and they want to know if it’s possible to blend the two parts of themselves.
[Tweet “Life Creative celebrates moms fitting their inspired lives into the ordinary places of motherhood.”]
Creative moms are coming together and linking arms, all of us agreeing that this life creative is equal parts grand and exhausting. We’d love to have you join us as we bring this encouraging message to all the moms who remember dreaming on a hillside so many years ago.
I didn’t realize how much I loved silence until I didn’t have it.
There is a cacophony of sound that thrums it’s way through the walls of my home from very early until very late. Laughter, whining, shrieks of delight, cries of frustration, music, television, arguing, playing, balls bouncing, and the list could go on. It starts often before the sun rises, and stops long after she tucks back below the horizon.
And I feel like I’m losing my mind.
Summertime means an uptick in the sound, and that’s okay. For the most part, I welcome this noise. It’s all signs of life. I’m not so overwhelmed as to miss the blessing in the messy music of my family, but every once in awhile I dream of running away. Far, far away…
We spent a full week on vacation. Six of us crammed into one small hotel room, one small rental car, one short window of time. It was truly a lovely week. My kids are growing into wonderful people, and I can look back on our week together and think of so much joy, which buried the few moments of stress. Yay us!
But we’re home now, and they’re still on summer break, and it’s just so noisy!
The irony of this is that I am currently sitting at my kitchen table in a completely silent house. Everyone is still asleep, and somehow I’ve been afforded these few solitary moments to myself…and I don’t quite know what to do with all this silence.
Of course these quiet moments came with a price, as I was awakened at 3:30 this morning by a fussy toddler, and I never went back to sleep.
Please send coffee.
As I sit here, I keep hearing little bumps and creaks as the house groans her way into a new day, and each time a noise pops, I look around wildly, waiting for someone to come out and shatter the quiet.
It’s sort of like motherhood PTSD – every little noise makes me cringe.
Maybe I’m not alone in this. Maybe you feel the same way? Perhaps you long for just a few solitary moments of quiet in the midst of bustling, nonstop days. Surely I’m not the only one who finds herself escaping to the closet a few times each day just to block out the noise.
So what do we do? Because the prevailing theme of motherhood is that we should enjoy these fleeting days because they go by fast. I don’t deny that. My oldest is a teenager now. I blinked my eyes, and he was suddenly as tall as me. I know these days are fleeting. But let’s be honest – a day that starts at 3:30 drags on forever. And ever and ever and ever…
And so, I write this one to those of you who are longing for silence amidst the fleeting days of parenting. What can you do?
Not forever, of course. Running away from home would be frowned upon. But you can escape for a few minutes, if not for a few days.
Turn off your phone. Eliminate the noise of the world. Close the door to your bedroom. Close your eyes, and just breath in the silence.
The children will find you, of course. It’s inevitable. But you’d be amazed at the calming power of a few moments of silence.
And when the kids finally go back to bed and you crawl beneath the sheets, embrace the silence for however long it lasts. Because someday, it will last much longer than you like.
I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend in our household as of late.
My children are content with being simply mediocre. When asked to complete a task, they accomplish the bare minimum, pat themselves on the back, then ask if they can turn on the television.
I’d like to blame this on summertime, but I don’t really think I can do that. This was going on before the lazy days of summer vacation settled upon us. Everything from schoolwork to athletics has fallen under the category of mediocre.
A few weeks ago, we had a heart-to-heart, the kids and I, about this particular issue. I made a reasonable request of them – Clean out the minivan. Sounds simple, right?
Only what you must understand is that our minivan is like a tiny, traveling landfill. I think I’m doing okay in parenting until I step into the back seat of the van, and then I realize I’m just raising cave people.
WHY IS THERE A MOLDED SANDWICH BACK THERE?!
So, I asked them to clean it out, and they did. Barely. They cleaned out the obvious, easily visible trash, but never bothered to reach under or between the seats. I kind of didn’t blame them, because I wasn’t entirely sure creatures weren’t living in those dark crevices, but COME ON!
That was our first discussion about accomplishing tasks well. Doing things right the first time, and with excellence applies to everything, even cleaning out the minivan.
Of course, I said this after I had gone into the depths of the van after them and actually cleaned it. In the process I found a missing iPod, seven dollars, and a picture of myself from high school, which was a rather curious find.
It may have been the ghost of my past mocking me.
I realized that day that this life skill of doing things with excellence isn’t going to come naturally. I’m not sure this is a problem unique to our family. It’s something that has to be taught, and I’ve not done them justice.
[Tweet “The pursuit of excellence isn’t natural. It has to be taught with vigilance.”]
I’ve avoided the confrontation, and now I’ve got my work cut out for me. Because this spirit of mediocrity has bled over into other areas of life than just their inability to actually clean a room (or van).
My athletic kids are suddenly less concerned with excelling. They want to win, and they long for the accolades that come with their accomplishments, but they aren’t working for them.
Schoolwork is equally challenging. They are content to do the bare minimum in order to cross things off their list. Going above and beyond what was asked of them provokes looks of confusion when suggested.
And while A’s are nice, B’s and C’s aren’t so bad, either.
Truthfully, I have no problem with a B, or with second place, if I know you put your heart into working for it.
But if you just settled for it? Now we have problem, kids.
In college, I spent a semester studying in Kiev, Ukraine. I was enrolled in a Russian language program at The Institute for Foreign Languages, and my teacher, Olga Yurevna, was one of the most terrifying people I’ve ever met.
The first day of class, I joined seven other students in her beginning Russian class. They were all from China, and I was the token blonde-headed, All American girl. That night, she told us to go home and translate and memorize a passage of text that she had written down on the board.
The next day, when we returned, she pointed to a boy in the corner. He had longer hair, and sat slumped down in his chair. He was begging for her wrath.
“Recite line 8 of the passage for me,” she demanded. He shook his head.
“I don’t know it,” he replied.
She didn’t speak to him the rest of the semester. THE SEMESTER!
That was the day that I learned what it means to do something with excellence. Never before had I been in an environment that demanded perfection. It was slightly terrifying, but after four months I was nearly fluent in Russian because of Olga Yurevna’s high expectations.
Now, I know I can’t freeze my kids out for four months if they don’t meet my expectations, but perhaps there’s something to be learned from my experience in Ukraine. I rose to the occasion because I understood the demands, and because it was obvious that falling short was not an option.
We’ve got our work cut out for us around here, and these kids of mine may be in for a few unpleasant months. But I refuse to raise children who grow into adults who are content with mediocrity.
This year, we are in pursuit of excellence.
So, you know…add us to your prayer list. *wink*
How do you cultivate a spirit of excellence in your home?
My husband and I are both notoriously last minute. Planning ahead is overrated anyway, right? At least it is until you realize that you’ve forgotten to get a gift for a loved one…again.
We may or may not have downloaded gift certificates for people we love ON CHRISTMAS MORNING because we waited juuuuust a scootch too long.
So in an effort to help out anyone who may suffer from the same sickness as me, I’ve put together a last minute gift guide, because we procrastinators need to stick together!!!
I tried to put together a good list of items that you could either get within two days (thank you, Amazon Prime), or that you could print off a lovely picture of and put in a card with a COMING SOON note. So, without further ado, I give you…
The Last Minute Gift Guide for the Last Minute Buyer
*Journaling Bible: Scripting is the hot new thing, and these journaling Bibles make Bible study both fun and inspiring. Combining coloring, creativity, and worship, a journaling Bible allows mom to find rest in the Lord, and to meditate on His Word like never before.
There are a lot of journaling Bibles out there, but this one in particular is lovely, and it’s something that mom will treasure forever, and will someday be able to pass on to her children.
Image Credit: Beth Cupitt Studio
Hymn Art: I can’t even describe how much I love this piece of art. I puffy heart love it with little squiggles all around the sides. This is a gift I might have to buy for myself…unless my husband happens to be reading this and wants to interceded on my behalf.
All of Beth Cupitt’s prints are gorgeous, and every single one of them gives me goosebumps of joy. This is a gift you most likely won’t receive in time for Mother’s Day, but you could print the photo out and put it in a card and give mom the gift of looking forward to its arrival.
I dusted off my Fitbit recently and put it around my wrist, then promptly took it off with a sigh. Is it too much to ask that we create a fitness tracker that looks pretty on a girl’s arm?
Well, apparently it wasn’t too much to ask the innovators at Bellabeat, because they have created just the thing. I LOVE this product, and am excited to start using it. (Disclaimer: I was offered a LEAF in exchange for writing a product review).
It’s functional, and it does everything that a Fitbit does, plus some! This is the perfect gift for the mom on the go who’s striving to make healthy every day choices. And bonus, you just may be able to get it in time for Mother’s Day if you order using their two-day shipping option.
GraceLaced: All of Ruth’s prints are gorgeous. She captures the beauty of the world in the gentle strokes of her paintbrushes, and we all get to enjoy the fruits of her labor!
This print is the perfect gift to frame for mom, but it’s not the only beauty she offers! Visit the GraceLaced Shoppe today for more choices.
Illustrated Faith: This is a quick and easy gift for the journaling/scripting mom! Just pay a minimal fee to download the pdf and voila! You have the perfect pretty gift that you can stick inside a card.
Give mom the gift of creativity this year!
*Looking for Lovely: As if the title of this book alone wasn’t enough to make mom smile, the cover is sure to help. Who isn’t looking for lovely in life, especially the frazzled mom who feels bogged down by all the stuff?
This is a gift for the mom who loves to bury her nose in a good book, who swooned every Sunday night over the Crawley family, and who secretly wishes she could be Jane Austen.
Painted Tin Cans for Mom: Looking to employ the kids and offer mom a sweet, homemade gift for Mother’s Day? This quick and easy tutorial from House by Hoff is the perfect solution!
Moms love homemade gifts, especially when the kids delight in preparing them for you. This one requires minimal artistic ability, and it’s something mom can look at every day and remember the sweet blessings she’s been gifted in life.
So hop to it, all my procrastinating friends! Make this Mother’s Day a day she won’t forget as you celebrate the mom in your life. Take it from this mom – we appreciate being thought of in the big ways and the little.
Last night, I tucked her in and marveled at the way her body stretched the length of her bed. She wrapped her arms around my neck, and I breathed her in, her freshly washed hair sweet and powdery against my cheek.
It wasn’t long ago she was toddling around the house like her little sister. Now she’s a young lady. She’s compassionate and kind. She’s strong, both in character and physically. She doesn’t get caught up in girly pettiness, but rather walks her own line.
I love that about her.
Raising girls in today’s world is an exercise in faith. There’s a lot of talk on what it means to raise strong men, but there’s even more talk about how we’re supposed to be raising strong girls.
Train them to be dragons, to breath fire in this oppressive world. That’s the most common message I hear today, but what does that strength really look like? How’s a fire-breathing girl supposed to behave in this evolving world of ours?
Unless you live under a rock (and sometimes motherhood feels like just such rock), you’ve probably heard that Beyonce just dropped a new album that’s got the world buzzing.
Now, I’ve heard only bits and pieces of the album. I have not listened to every song because, you know, who has time to listen to Beyonce?!
But I’ve listened to a little bit, and I’ve read several of her lyrics, and here is my first impression. Visually, Beyonce’s new videos to go with her songs are appealing. There’s no denying Beyonce can entertain.
The songs are catchy, too. Not in a Hansen’s “Mmm-Bop!” sort of way. Heaven’s, no. They’re catchy in a stop and listen sort of way, because that’s also Beyonce’s skill. She can deliver music that makes you want to stop and listen.
But the message of the album? Well, I’m not a fan.
Clearly there has been some hurt in Beyonce’s home life. Her lyrics about a cheating spouse are not, I believe, merely fictional. I don’t think Beyonce wrote that album as a creative exercise. It came from a place of experience; it came from a woman who walked through the fire of betrayal, and made it through to the other side.
For her strength, I applaud Beyonce. I’ve watched friends walk through the devastation of infidelity. It is a betrayal unlike any other to have your spouse turn away from you, and the only way to recover is to fight: Fight for your marriage, which I’ve seen people do and make it to the other side. Or fight through divorce, a sometimes heartbreakingly inevitable consequence of infidelity.
In a world that sees marriage as a dispensable commodity, I commend Beyonce for (apparently, based on her lyrics) fighting for hers.
Tidal, the production company that dropped Beyonce’s album, has described it as “a conceptual project based on every woman’s journey of self knowledge and healing.”
Really? EVERY WOMAN? That’s a bold claim.
As women we are bombarded with the message that we are good enough and strong enough, and we don’t need any man to “complete” us.
Well, sure. There’s some truth to that statement. I’m raising my daughters to be strong, independent women because marriage isn’t a guarantee. I’m not looking to raise little Stepfords who can only function in the protective arms of a man. I want my girls to know they don’t need to find their self-worth in men.
But they shouldn’t be looking to find their worth in themselves, either. This is where Beyonce’s message of empowerment is not just wrong – it’s dangerous.
Take the following lyrics, for example: “Who the f*** do you think I is/You ain’t married to no average b**** boy/You can watch my fat a**twist boy/As I bounce to the next d*** boy/And keep your money, I got my own.”
Let’s set aside the terrible language for just a second, as if that wasn’t reason enough to caution girls away from Beyonce’s newest album. Let’s ignore that and simply focus on the meaning behind the words.
Is this really the message we’re applauding today? This is the anthem of strength we want our girls to emulate?!
If this is what raising a fire-breathing dragon looks like, then I’m kindly going to step out of the ring, and I’ll bring my girls with me.
[Tweet “Raising empowered girls in a “Lemonade” world is not so simple.”]
Raising girls who can stand strong in a world that tells them they’re nothing but sex symbols, now there’s the challenge. It’s such an oxymoron to listen to Beyonce sing while also watching her gyrate half-clad through most of her music. The message is conflicting: You’re good enough on your own merits, but your empowerment is entirely dependent upon your sex appeal.
Girls, hear me: You are worth far more than simply well-toned bodies.
It is a great honor and privilege to be a wife and a mother, but those things do not a woman make. Equally as important, however, is the understanding that strength isn’t dependent on your ability to wield and lord power over a man. Using sex as a weapon against your man? This is not a message we should be celebrating!
Strength isn’t elevating yourself above everyone else, particularly not over the men in your life. You want to show strength and beauty of character, young ladies?
Learn to let a man lead.
This is the beauty of womanhood. It is kind and compassionate, gentle and, yes, it is very, very strong. A woman’s worth doesn’t lie in her self-knowledge or her sexuality. Her strength does not reside in her ability to make men bow down at her feet and worship the ground she walks on.
Oh, no. A woman’s worth lies in the fact that she was merely created.
This strength is what will walk you through the hardest times of life. Accepting and believing that your worth lies only in who you were created to be by God is the anthem I want women to sing. It is the anthem I want my daughters to hold high.
Believing that they are worth more than they could ever imagine on their own, that “self-knowledge” is actually a myth, is the song I want to dictate their days.
The building was cold. Drafty would be one way to describe it, but the word wouldn’t do it justice. The heat never worked, and the winter months dragged on. We sat at a long, white table, all bundled in our hats and coats, hands tucked into pockets in an effort to stay warm while the teacher drilled us on the Nominative case, the Genitive Case, and everything in between.
It was 1998, and I was a student at The Institute of Foreign Languages in Kiev, Ukraine. There were seven students in my Russian language class – six of them from China, and me, the blond-headed American with a love for languages and a longing for adventure.
After school we’d attempt small talk. Our only common language was Russian, so if we wanted to converse it had to be in the language we’d come there to learn. We did a lot of gesturing, and a lot of laughing. I’m sure we looked quite comical walking down the street, the Chinese and the American charading our way through Kiev.
On the afternoons when I wasn’t hanging out with my classmates, I’d explore the city on my own. My very favorite pastime was getting lost.
I got lost on purpose.
I’d walk in a new direction and take multiple turns until I didn’t quite know where I was, then I’d make myself find a way back. In my self-induced confusion, I found so many great little treasures.
I stumbled upon a tea shop on one of my wanderings. I walked inside and breathed in deep the heady scent of hundreds of different teas. Glass jars lined the wall from floor to ceiling, all of the labels written in Russian so I couldn’t quite make them out. But oh, how I enjoyed the challenge.
The owner of the shop was an older woman with bright grey hair and piercing eyes that probed my face. She found me amusing, maybe even a little annoying, and after a few attempts at speaking and realizing that my language was not strong enough to keep up with her fast speech, she left me to explore the walls on my own.
Another day, I got so turned around I could not find my way back. It was getting dark, and I was freezing cold. I was twenty, and didn’t always make the best decisions, but I did know that getting lost in a big city after dark on a cold night was a bad idea.
So I hailed a cab.
In Kiev, anyone can be a cab. Stick out your hand and anyone looking for money could swing by and pick you up. I decided to wait until I saw an actual cab car before sticking out my hand. You know, for safety.
I ended up in the car with one of the happiest, friendliest men I’ve ever met. His eyes swam with kindness. He spoke no English, but he was fluent in Spanish. My Russian language was stronger at that point, and I had a small cache of Spanish words stored in my memory from high school, so we pieced a conversation together using Russian and a bit of Spanish.
It’s been nearly eighteen years since I spent that semester in Ukraine, and even now I find that I still long for adventure. I crave that feeling of being lost.
Last year just about this time, I jetted off to Munich for a week with my dad, and on my first day there I took a walk. I turned left, then right, the left again until I was significantly turned around, and my heartbeat quickened. I was lost, and I was thrilled.
There’s beauty in wandering, and comfort in adventure. Sometimes it’s scary, not knowing where the next turn will lead you. But if you’re willing to take the ride, to seek out the treasures in the unknown path, you just may find that the unknown is the place where your soul comes alive.
[Tweet “There’s beauty in wandering, and comfort in adventure.”]
Some days, I feel swallowed up by the predictability of my life. Each day, though hectic, is relatively the same. We wake up, we have sports and school and bickering and loving, we go to bed, and we wake up and do it again.
I’m not complaining. I love my life. It’s messy and beautiful, and I wouldn’t want to walk this path with anyone besides the people I’ve been given. So in the moments when I find myself longing for adventure again, I look at the unknown that stands before me.
Though my schedule may be predictable, the truth is I don’t know which direction tomorrow will lead me or my family. It’s always a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, and looking for the adventure that is right now.
Even today, it’s possible to get lost on purpose. The fun lies in exploring each new turn life throws our way.
Are you an adventure seeker? How do you find adventure in the mundane spaces of life?