Home

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Last month I went home to New Brunswick for a visit.

I use the term “home” loosely, because even though I grew up there, I couldn’t leave fast enough.

Home was a small town in the middle of nowhere with one grocery store, three stop signs, eight churches, and 918 people. I ducked behind the newspaper office on my walk home from school because my grandma worked in the front office and I knew if she saw me she’d call me in to fix my hair, usually with a paperclip. Most days I would be stopped two or three times by kind neighbours asking me if I wanted a ride up the hill. I usually declined – not because I was afraid of being abducted, but because I genuinely liked the walk.

Everybody knew everybody and the biggest news day of the entire year was when the ice broke up in the spring and started moving beneath our famous covered bridge.   Would it or wouldn’t it knock out a pillar? The tough kids hung out and smoked in the library parking lot on main street in clear view of anybody who walked by, and although I think my cousin once streaked through the courtyard after dark, they never did anything really bad.

My sisters and I played outside in the fields and forest behind our house without a care in the world until darkness fell and my mother called us in for dinner.

But home isn’t home anymore after 15 years away.

It’s still a small town, but now there are two grocery stores, countless stop signs, and even more churches. The newspaper office was torn down years ago to make room for a parking lot, and the beautiful, hundred-plus-year-old heritage houses that stood next to it are slated for the same fate later this fall.

The town has been in the news more often in recent years for break-ins, beatings, and occasionally worse. The library parking lot isn’t the main hangout anymore, since the youth have become interested in things a bit more severe than cigarettes. The inside of our famous kissing bridge is covered with vulgar graffiti in place of love notes signed by tourists.

To an outsider – which is what I felt like, after 15 years away! – my hometown felt like a fallen down ghost town.

My trip last month was my first solo trip back east since Nathan and I started dating, and interestingly enough, it was also the first time I caught myself hesitating before I referred to New Brunswick as home.

See, for the past decade I’ve made my home in Edmonton with Nathan. He certainly considers Edmonton “home”: It’s where he grew up, and most of his family still lives here.   I don’t think I’ll ever consider myself a big city girl, but I’m comfortable here. We live on the outskirts of the city: A ten minute drive in one direction can take us to the downtown core while a five minute drive in the other direction can take me to wheat fields, corn fields, and the barn! I love having choices and easy access to good schools, great hospitals, and all the shopping – but still, Edmonton doesn’t feel like home.

It’s strange, really. When I’m here I long for there, but when I’m there I can’t wait to come back here …

I’ve struggled with the concept of “home” for years.  Whenever somebody asks me where I’m from I still say “New Brunswick” – even though I’ve now lived in Alberta for more than a third of my life. At what point does this become home?

Last month I came to the conclusion that maybe it never will.

Maybe it’s not supposed to.

* * *

While I was on my trip I realized that I need to hold on my idea of home loosely – not only because of the inevitable way places change over time, but because this isn’t my home. Hebrews 13:14 says that “This world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.” (NLT). I’m no theologian, but I’m pretty confident that doesn’t mean a physical home! I like the way Eugene Peterson phrased it in the Message: “He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.” (2 Corinthians 5)

I love New Brunswick and I love Alberta – but neither of them are my true home. I need to focus less on where my home is – and more on the people around me. I am where I am for a reason, and there’s more to it than buying a comfortable couch and painting the walls a nice, neutral shade of gray.

Amy

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“Do you see her?  That girl, the one with the long blonde hair in a ponytail?  That’s who I am.  That’s what I look like.”  I was playing pretend with my sister, and of course I wanted to look different.  Short and thin with mousey brown hair and enormous pink glasses wasn’t who I wanted to be – in real life, or pretend.  Most days I wanted to be tall, thin, and blonde, with my hair pulled back into a bouncy ponytail or a long braid.  Sometimes I would even go the extra mile and put a pair of pantyhose on my head to get the desired effect of long hair!

For whatever reason, I thought that if I looked different, I was different.  As silly as it sounds, pantyhose on my head made me stand taller, be more bold, and act more confident.  When the game ended I went back to being regular old Holly, shy and quiet, afraid of making mistakes.

Not a lot has changed since those days.

Some days I’m happy with who I am:  A wife and mother, writer and business owner.  I have a loving husband and two amazing children. I’m happy with who I am and who where I am.

But then I see Amy, and nothing in my world seems good enough.

I’m not good enough.

* * *

See, Amy is everything I’m not.

She has three children under the age of five, but somehow she never looks less than amazing.  Her Pinterest boards are full of hairstyles and outfit combinations she clearly has the time to try.  Her girls are always dressed beautifully – and fashionably! – with their soft, untangled curls pulled back into perfect, complicated braids.  Her son doesn’t have any unruly cowlicks or dirt under his fingernails. Her children are always spotless and unwrinkled, and they are unfailingly polite.

Amy is never harried, never frantic, and never out of breath.

She’s a stay at home mom just like me, but she runs a direct from home sales business that makes enough money for her and her husband to escape on tropical vacations a couple of times each year.

And she homeschools.

* * *

On the outside, Amy looks like she has it all, and she has it all together – but does she really?

Do any of us?  

Or are we all just wearing pantyhose on our heads, trying to be something we’re not?

* * *

Sometimes I think that if I could be anyone in the entire world, I would be Amy.

But God didn’t make me Amy, he made me me.

Sometimes I wonder why he made me the way he did. Why do I have to be so short? Why doesn’t my hair cooperate when I try anything other than a simple ponytail? Why can’t I be more stylish? More outgoing? More easygoing? More confident?

Why can’t I be anybody but me?

Then I remember that God made “all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13, NLT) He made me short and thin, he made my mousey brown hair, he made the eyes that require enormous glasses. He created me, he knows me – and all of my insecurities.

I am a daughter of the King, and that is enough.

I am enough.

And so are you.

Changing Direction

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Three months ago I made a commitment to write consistently.

Then I learned to crochet.

It’s a fantastic hobby, and I can argue that it’s useful.  I can make things!  I can sell things!  I can be productive!

But then I remember that God doesn’t ask for productivity.  He asks for obedience.

* * * *

In case you hadn’t noticed, I haven’t been blogging lately.

It’s not because I haven’t had things to write about, it’s because I’ve been struggling with how to write about things.

It’s my latest avoidance tactic, I suppose.

See, I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist.  When I do something, I like to do it well – and naturally, that extends to blogging.  I haven’t been working since last fall so I’ve had lots of time to read and research, trying to learn what makes a blog “successful”.

There are lots of opinions out there, but most of what I’ve read points to four key ingredients:

  1. Find your voice.
  2. Find your niche.
  3. Write for your audience.
  4. Be consistent.

It seems simple enough.

But then I started to wonder how to measure “success”.   Was I successful when I doubled my traffic?  Tripled it?  When my twitter or instagram followers reached a specific number?  When I started making money from my blog?

The more articles I read, the more overwhelmed I became.  There are so many rules!  It was enough to turn me off blogging for awhile.

Truth be told, it doesn’t take much to turn me off writing for awhile …

We’re busy with renovating.

I’m working again.

I’m tired.

My brain is fried.

I’m out of ideas.

I don’t know where to begin …

* * * *

I’ve been reading the story of Moses in Exodus lately.

“Master, please, I don’t talk well.  I’ve never been good with words, neither before nor after You spoke to me …”

God’s response?  “Who do you think made the human mouth?  And who makes some mute, some deaf, some sighted, some blind?  Isn’t it I, God?  So get going.  I’ll be right there with you – with your mouth!  I’ll be right there to teach you what to say.”  (Exodus 4:10-12, MSG).

Moses hesitated, begging God to send someone else.

He made excuses, just like I do.

I need to be brave.

* * * *

  1. I’m overwhelmed by the rules of “proper blogging” – so I’m just going to break them.  I’ve spent so much time reading other blogs, trying to uncover their secrets to success, that I lost my voice.  Hence the four month hiatus.  How can I find my voice when my head is full of everybody else’s?
  2. I’ve never been able to pinpoint a real “niche” – and I think that’s okay.  I don’t need a “niche”, I need direction – and I have that now.  Whether or not I have courage is a post for another day!
  3. I’ve never had a huge audience – and I’m okay with that.  Numbers don’t matter.  Jesus only had twelve followers, after all!
  4. I struggle with consistency.  I’m not in a season of life where I can guarantee a new post at a certain time on a specific day of the week – but I’m going to try to drop into this space more regularly!  If I disappear again, feel free to e-mail me.  I need the accountability!

* * * *

As for where to begin –

“Wherever you are is a good and important place.  Start there.”  (Gary Morland)

So I will.

Thanks for sticking with me while my blog changes direction!

Enough

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Ever since I stopped working I’ve struggled with being enough.

I feel like such a hypocrite writing that, since it wasn’t that long ago that I shared this post about my decision to be a stay at home mom – but I want to be honest in this space, so there it is.

I have spent weeks trying to figure out how to make more, do more, and be more.

I explored work at home opportunities.  I researched ways to monetize a blog (ugh!).  I even debated whether or not to become some sort of direct sales consultant (Jamberry, perhaps?)

Then I decided that maybe I would feel better if I did more, so I cleaned our entire house from top to bottom, purging and reorganizing, doing minor repairs, washing walls and windows.

That didn’t help (well – maybe it did a little.  I do love a clean house!) so I volunteered to teach Topher’s Sunday school class.  I’m still debating whether or not to coach his soccer team.

I’ve been writing (and writing and writing and writing!) – building my portfolio and enjoying every second of it –

But nothing I do feels like enough, and I have no idea why I constantly feel like I should be doing something more.

Sometimes I forget how valuable it is that I’m able to be at home for my family right now.

I forget how important it is that I’m available to drive Topher to school – a good school, in a different neighbourhood.  I’m free to volunteer in his class or on field trips if that’s what I want to do.

I forget how important it is that I spend my mornings with Ellie.  Of course most of that time is spent driving her Paw Patrol pups from one room to another, or zipping them down the waterside into her Barbie pool – but we have lots of fun no matter what we’re doing!

I forget how important it is that I’m able to cook for my family every single day – and that we’re able to sit down at the table and eat as a family, without me skipping out early to start work in my corner-of-the-kitchen office.

I forget how important it is that I can coach Topher’s soccer team, if I want to.  Last year I had to book those days off – and almost missed one game because it got switched to a different day.

And I forget how important it is that I read the kids their bedtime stories and tuck them in at the end of the day, after two years of relinquishing the task to my husband.

Why do I need to remind myself what a privilege this is?

This is exactly where I want to be …

And being here is okay.

When I Feel Pretty

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Last Friday I was getting ready for my riding lesson while Topher played with his Leappad in our bed.  “You look pretty, Mommy!” he said, looking up just as I finished pulling my hair into a ponytail.  I was wearing an ancient pair of breeches, boot socks that went up to my knees, and a ratty hoody.  “Thanks, bud!” I said, dismissing the compliment as nothing more than Topher trying to be extra sweet so I would bring him to the barn with me.  I didn’t feel particularly pretty.  Happy, yes – I love going to the barn! – but pretty?  Not so much.

Later that evening – after the kids had been tucked into bed and I had had a rather luxurious shower to warm myself up – Nathan complimented me.  “You look pretty!” he said when I joined him on the couch.  Or maybe he said I smelled pretty? Either way – I immediately dismissed the compliment as nothing more than my husband being nice.  I was wearing Christmas tree pajama pants and a tank top, with my hair in a braid and glasses instead of contacts.  I didn’t feel particularly pretty.  Happy, yes – I was warm and clean! – but pretty?  Not so much.

I’ve been thinking about beauty ever since, trying to remember the last time I felt pretty.

* * * *

I was in my best friend’s wedding earlier this year. It was a fancy affair: She hired a professional hair stylist and a make-up artist for the day, and I spent almost half as much on my bridesmaid dress as I did for my own wedding dress.   When she tagged me in pictures from the wedding that she had posted on Facebook I got dozens of likes within minutes. “You look amazing!” “You look beautiful!” “You’re so pretty!”

I was confused by the response. I don’t get those sorts of comments when I post regular pictures of myself, the everyday “mom” version of me in jeans and a t-shirt and glasses, with my hair pulled back in a ponytail. I don’t wear make-up on a regular basis and if my hair isn’t up it’s probably because my daughter has pulled the elastic out. So many people thought I was pretty at the wedding … Does that mean that I’m not pretty when I’m not all dolled up?

The thing is, I didn’t feel pretty that day. I felt sick. I had been fighting a stomach bug all week and hadn’t had anything to eat or drink all day. My dress was so tight that I couldn’t stand up straight for fear of ripping it, and I was so worried about the kids and how they would behave that apart from the pictures, I don’t think I smiled all day.

* * * *

I’ve spent the past several months learning how to wear make-up. I’ve scoured Pinterest, I’ve watched YouTube videos, I’ve even watched make-over shows!

For my birthday my sister gave me money designated specifically for make-up, directing me to ask the experts at Sephora so I could learn how to apply it properly.

My new make-up kit is almost as big as my son’s backpack.   It’s filled with moisturizer and toner and primers and concealers and foundation and blush and eye liners and eye shadow and lipstick and lip gloss and more tools and brushes than I can remember the proper use for.

I’ve been practicing, and I’m trying to wear make-up on a regular basis.

Friends and family and even other moms in the pick-up line at school compliment me on how I look now.

* * * *

I like wearing make-up. I like the way I look, and I feel more comfortable facing the world without enormous dark circles under my eyes.

I have confidence.

But I’ve learned something more important than contouring techniques; something my husband and my five-year-old son – the two boys whose opinions mean more to me than anybody else’s – already knew:

The packaging doesn’t change who I am on the inside.

Audrey Hepburn put it best:  “Happy girls are the prettiest.”

 

When do you feel pretty?