Restoration

My daughter Susanna and I traveled to the UK in December of 2019. Susanna graduated with her BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) and asked if I would go with her on a celebratory trip. I ensured that my amazing husband would be alright with this first, because there are still six children at home and he would go it alone. He enthusiastically supported the adventure.

I think most Moms underestimate their need for restoration. We manage with the bits of time we get, with our prayer and worship time, but I think most of us run on fumes for extended periods and that is not healthy in the long-run. Over the years I have read books on how to organize and manage life. From corporate experts to Mom-managers no one book held the key. I realized that my strategy necessitated adaption of advice with each child born, with each life change.

Some women scoffed at aspects endorsed by certain published Moms. It was expressed that these authors took too much time for themselves, turned self-care into an excuse to authorize over-indulgence, went back to school at the expense of their family needs, and more. Why do we judge each other? Being a Mom is hard enough without navigating the stormy waters of negativity and criticism. We each have a unique life to be lived and, God-willing, with faith, love and support we will become that “best version of ourselves.” Why seek that version? So that we can live happily ever after? Rather, so that we can make this world a better place by helping others the best we can. In so-doing we find joy.

Part of my “self-care” was happened upon inadvertently. In 2010 I was nursing my youngest baby. I had a cup of tea, Bruce was getting all the bigger ones to bed, and I turned on the television. I saw something on the PBS channel about an Abbey. We lived in a stone house built by Benedictine Monks in the late 19th Century, full of history and stories. I imagined this might be interesting for a few minutes until baby Margaret succumbed to sleep. A few minutes? I was entranced by the art of Julian Fellowes and the world he created. Through the years I have watched and rewatched all six seasons of Downton Abbey and have seen the movie more times than I will admit.

I have never re-watched a show that many times. Not even close. I have always loved period dramas, and I could easily elaborate in a researched essay to prove that Downton Abbey was the finest culmination of its kind, but that is not the point. For some women their favorite escapes are detective mysteries, sci-fi movies, zombie apocalypse shows or “other-world” fantasies. For others, no television is involved. Playing the piano, watching the sunset from the back porch, or taking a long jog could be just what is needed to recharge the batteries of a worn soul.

Susanna and I visited some of the filming locations of the Downton Abbey series and movie. They were beautiful and we learned that some had been used in other films. Highclere Castle was once the filming location of a vampire movie. The village of Lacock, where the movie parade was filmed, was also used in the Harry Potter movies. England is so full of varied and intricate beauty, much like the hidden gems within each woman.

We had a wonderful time and it was surprisingly just what I needed. I feel restored and thankful. Don’t wait thirty years to treat yourself in some way. It may not be as grand as a trip to Europe. Go to a museum, walk in the park, write your story or paint your watercolor. Do it regularly. You are worth it, and those who depend on you need you whole. A psychologist once told me that we often put our cup at the bottom of the fountain, allowing for others to fill first. Yet if we place it just-so in the middle then our cup overflows, filling cups which would otherwise not even reach the waters.

Rediscovery

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I was recently asked to write about a few distinguishing moments in my life. There were indeed a few, but the one that came first to mind was becoming a mother. Perhaps it was because I had wanted to be a mother since I was a little girl. I can articulate the desire better as an adult; our ability to influence others, to inspire, to help and to care is the greatest gift we can give to humanity. Whether biological, adoptive, foster, or spiritual mothers and fathers, it matters not, for it is a generative love.

The early months of pregnancy with my first daughter were some of the happiest in my life, and the day she was born was like no other. I called my own mother, tears welling up, and asked, “Did you really love me this much? Really?” She answered with some surprise, yet affirmatively. Life, for me, was forever changed in the span of one day. I was in love like never before. I asked my mother sincerely, “Then how did you let me grow up?”

At the time, I could not imagine my baby Marie becoming any less important to me. In fact she has not, but she is now nearly the age I called my mother with that incredulous plea. Now I amable to see that one can not hold back the tide of time and of growth. Marie was my world for a while, and that was the way it was supposed to be. She needed me. Her five-and-a-half pounds needed me literally every hour to give her nourishment and strength and protection.

She is off to make an adult life in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I am so proud of her. Her sister Susanna, born two years after her, moved to Baltimore last year. Marie is an artist, and Susanna is a nurse. Susanna is a bit more like me and even resembles me. We are both nurses. In the photo above, I had the pleasure of being her clinical instructor for one day, a few years ago.

Marie and Susanna’s father was my late husband Bob. He was a family practitioner in Maryland. Life changed again in a moment, when he passed away at 42 of a heart attack.

Rediscovery. One reaches deep down and finds strength from the wellspring of creation. Some call it self-will, some call it a life force. I am one of those people who say that it is God.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way believes that we are all creations, and so it follows that the force which created us must imbue us with the ability to create. If he is the great creative force, then his strength is the wellspring which gave life to all, and to which all are connected.

Dr. Ira Progoff developed an intensive journaling method in the latter half of the twentieth century. Like the Redwood forest roots that interconnect with each other in a vast network, he proposed an image of each of us connected to a source, a wellspring of humanity and spiritual strength.

That source got me through tragedy, and on to a new life. A new military life half a continent away in Kansas. I rediscovered myself. I discovered strengths, and joy, and new love. I married Bruce, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army and gained two more beautiful, wonderful daughters, Emily and Sharon. I became another kind of mother: a stepmother. Sharon once finished a sentence of mine. I told her that “I first loved her…” and she added, “when you got to know me.” I corrected her. I loved her from the moment I loved her father, because she was a part of him. Who she is, and who Emily is, and have grown to be, have only deepened that love.

Four years and three more children later, we took on an au pair from Brazil. I clearly needed the help. I was host-mother to Renata. Foreign exchange students YeoJoo, Johanna, Bobby, Beto, and another au pair, Stephania, entered our family as the years went on and as three more children were born. Ten children in all, four exchange students and two au pairs stretched and blessed our family in so many ways. Better mothers may have not needed the help. Some husbands would not have allowed for so many people coming to live with us. But this was us, and we were and are blessed.

We lived on a farm in Atchison, Kansas. The Abbey Farm. I wrote a blog about life on a historic one-time monastery. It was built by Benedictine monks in 1890 and it was home to many families. Somehow I knew that we were another family in it’s history; certainly not the last. We had wonderful years there.

And so we rediscover ourselves once again. I wrote a post on The Abbey Farm about seasons of change. Once again, it is proven that the only thing that is unchangeable is change itself. Perhaps one day, when asked about distinguishing moments in life, I will say that moving away from that wonderful home caused me once again to dig down deep, to gain strength for the change. Strength, from the one who is the wellspring of peace and the miraculous.