Slow Middles

Winter is getting to me.   So many weeks of below freezing temperatures, weeks of  smog and fog and gray, gray, gray.  Everything gray.  It’s as if the world has been drained of color by this winter.  Last night we had a freezing rain, something I’ve never before experienced.  Nothing wet, everything ice.  If it had a surface, it was covered in the clearest, thinnest, most slippery ice I’ve ever seen.  As in, I couldn’t get up my driveway today and yet nothing looks slick.  Underground, city water lines are freezing all over the place.  City water lines to many homes have frozen, and now the pipes to one of the buildings at the Junior High are frozen as well.  Everywhere I drive, it seems I see city workers trying to thaw underground water meters.  It is COLD.

Yesterday when I was looking around at most of our furniture piled into two rooms for carpet cleaning I wanted to cry.  My children were loving it, climbing, jumping, chasing, playing on all the upturned everything as if we’d just discovered a new playground.  I, on the other hand, felt frustrated.  It was supposed to be done at 9 a.m, but a machine broke so it was done at 7 pm instead, causing me to cancel plans and generally cringe at everything on the verge of breaking.

And then it hit me.

“This is the middle.”

I’m in the middle of a lot of things, things much bigger than a delayed carpet cleaning.  I’m in the middle of raising my family.  All our 8 beautiful beginnings are now treasured memories and we’re in this crazy, cluttered, loud MIDDLE with all of them.   I’m in the middle of cleaning my pantry, something that was paused for this carpet cleaning and which now stares at me when I walk past it.  I’m forever in the middle of laundry, in the middle of cleaning, in the middle of driving and dropping off and picking up.  My projects all feel like “middles” right now, coming together more slowly than I hoped.  Yesterday I texted my sister, “Do you ever feel like if you go another day without really finishing something you’ll go crazy?  That’s how I’ve felt all week.”   I’m also feeling like I’m in the middle of my own life experience, a feeling I’m not at peace with.   At that moment I wanted desperately to snap my fingers and have all the middles disappear.

My experience with middles is that they aren’t very pretty.  There was certainly nothing pretty about my house yesterday, and there’s nothing pretty about this mid-winter blah that makes me want to scream.  Middles are ugly, often broken, pieces everywhere, slow, like cleaning out a closet.   Beginnings are so clear, so full of obvious potential; endings are absolute.  Middles are a different story.  There’s no guarantee, often no road map, and they usually obscure the view of all that was so obvious at the beginning.

I’m not fond of middles, and yet I’m also learning that there’s no way around them.  Some of them are shorter than others, but the things that matter most in life, those things that have the greatest potential, seem to have the longest middles.

In the middle of my carpet cleaning frustrations yesterday another thought came.  “Jennifer, this day is as much a gift as any other.  What you do with your middle is up to you.”


So I started studying middles.

I watched my children jumping on upturned furniture and realized that you make memories in the middle.
Oh, the beginnings and endings have memories of their own, but so much of joy and substance comes in the middle.

I looked at my unfinished lone star quilt block, at the quilt tops hanging until I learn free motion quilting, at the squares waiting to be pieced together and I realized you learn skills in the middle.
I looked at all my responsibilities as a mother, which at the moment felt so much larger than I am.  And I thought, you walk by faith in the middle.  You pray for grace in the middle.
I looked in the mirror and saw a woman who wishes lots of things were different, but who gets up every day and does her best.  And I realized, you become someone real in the middle.
I looked at my pantry, 2/3 organized, with a shelf section still a mess because I have to decide how to use it to better meet our needs right now.  I thought, you make decisions in the middle.
This afternoon I played a few games of Memory with my daughters.  They enjoyed setting it up at the beginning and counting their pieces at the end.  But when we kept turning over the same piece 20 times in a row without finding a match for it, we laughed.  My five year old laughed so hard she gave herself the hiccups and her eyes were watery.  And I thought, you laugh in the middle.  Not the “oh that was great” kind of laughter but the laughter that releases tension and gives you a toehold on joy.
And because of all these things, because of the laughter and the prayers, the decisions you weigh and sometimes agonize over, the skills you have to learn to move forward, the memories you make and the laughter you share, the middle usually slows down.  It’s part of life.  But just like we didn’t quit in the middle of our carpet cleaning, you don’t quit in the middle, either.
I wanted the clean carpet, I just didn’t like the prolonged middle.  I didn’t like having it become complicated.  Yet it worked out.

Last night my sister sent me a picture of a beautiful quilt and asked if I might know the source of the pattern.  I typed out the words.  “No, I don’t.  But it’s beautiful.”  Just before I hit send, I looked at it again and realized that the photography looked very Denyse Schmidt in style.  And then I wondered, “Wait, is it in her new book? (The one you bought but never really read)”  Sure enough, there it was.  I sent the information on, but kept the book out.  After putting the children to bed I decided to slow down and read it, which turned out to be a wonderful experience.   In this new book, Modern Quilts Traditional Inspiration , Denyse  talks about the reality that quilts take time, especially many of the more traditional patterns.  After indicting myself earlier over my lack of finished projects, I appreciated this statement:

“While some projects in this book can be made relatively quickly, this is not a book of ‘fast and easy’ projects you can create in an evening or two.  Quilts are big!  They are labors of love, and require a fairly serious investment of time.  A book of traditional quilt patterns – some of which require cutting out thousands of tiny pieces – seems to go against the grain of most crafting books these days, and is antithetical to our culture which demands instant gratification and ever-faster results.  I hope you can embrace the idea of quilting as a ‘slow craft,’ and enjoy the opportunity to engage in a satisfying, contemplative pastime that offers rewards relative to your efforts.” (p. 13)
She’s talking about middles!  About those thousands of tiny pieces that eventually make a quilt just as thousands of tiny pieces make a life.   It’s ok when projects, like mothering – particularly when you’re trying to instill traditional values in your children,  become a “slow craft.”   And I love the end of Denyse’s invitation to “enjoy the opportunity to engage in a satisfying, contemplative pastime that offers rewards relative to your efforts .”  (emphasis added)  A satisfying, contemplative life will surely offer the same return on investment regardless of how slow the middles were.

I know a man who passed away this week.  He was a good, decent, optimistic man who lived longer than doctors thought he would.  For his family, that long, slow middle of life just became acutely precious because their mortal time with him is gone.  The middle seems slow to me because I’m looking forward, expecting it to last, but when you look at it from the finish line, it’s fleeting.  Middles, therefore, are largely a matter of perspective.

I was right, today is as much a gift as any other.  It’s up to me to do something with it.  It’s up to me to fill my middle with stories, with lessons learned, hugs given, joy felt.

The carpets look better and the couches are back in their places.  The day ended and I felt more humble and also more awake to the fabric of life.  Although quilting and other projects are a diversion from my mothering middle, I’m going to relax when they’re on a “slow craft” setting and remind myself to enjoy the process.  And as for the thousand broken pieces of life that I bump into all too often, well, they’re the material for piecing together a happy middle. Like the scrap quilts I always love looking at, I can trust my slow middles to come together at last in a pattern far more beautiful than anything I pictured in the beginning.


Joy, week 34

It is such a joy to pause here, at the close of my Sabbath day.  My heart is full to overflowing and I echo the psalmist who wrote, “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalms 118:24) What a week we had!  Six children off to school in new grades, with new teachers, one of them at a new school and one of them attending all day for the first time.  We’re not in the groove yet but are well on our way.  We have yet to work through the tired stage when the newness wears off and the exhaustion sets in, but once that is done we should settle in.  It is interesting to watch different children handle the stress and excitement in various ways, a reminder to me as a mother that they need me to respond to each of them differently.  They belong to the same family but are vastly different people.

Thursday night provided an opportunity to be a friend.  I spent an hour visiting with one of the best women I know about some significant challenges she has faced for a long time.  We cried together and I love her so much.

The week flew by and we headed into a weekend which turned out to be so packed with good things that I’ve hardly held still in days.  I am exhausted but so very happy.  Friday my husband and I celebrated 16 years of marriage!  (That number is starting to sound big, and yet I don’t feel old.)  I’ve been smiling to myself all weekend that I’m so lucky to have him.  I can honestly say that in all those years there has never been a moment of doubt; he’s been the right man every single day and I’m so thankful that while life has taken a toll in other areas, it has never come between us.  He is my best friend.

Saturday morning I threw a party for my daughter’s soccer team.  I had 3 days notice to pull it off, and this was a busy week.   No big deal for some people, but it was stressful for me.  The coach ended up leaving town, other parents couldn’t come, and it looked like it would be me and 15 8th grade girls, only 4 whose names I know.  They attend at least 7 different schools and the only thing I know they have in common is soccer, but I had 2 hours to fill with non-soccer activities for them.  I combed the internet for ideas, brainstormed activities, and yes, prayed for help.  I had the idea to call a good friend, took frantic notes while she rattled off several ideas, got off the phone and literally jumped for joy (and relief).  I was able to combine all the ideas, did some hunting at dollar stores to find what I needed and it all came together.  We had an awesome party.  All of the girls were laughing almost the entire time.  They walked away with new memories and better friendships.  The biggest hit of the day?  A game we played with a plastic rat.  Yes, you read that right.  When the party was over they organized a second round and played until their parents dragged them away.

I’ve always stressed over parties.  I’ve never felt as comfortable in a large group as I feel in one-on-one interactions, so I’m intimidated by planning for the big groups because I don’t like them.  This is an area where I’ve known I need to grow, especially for my kids, and I would like to make it a strength instead of a weakness.   Thanks to the help of a friend, many hours of planning, and help from the Lord, I feel like I took a huge step forward in that area.  To my surprise, I’m excited about doing another one, and am considering offering to do one for my younger daughter’s team.  I’m going to start a file and a box of supplies so I can get really good at it.  What a happy blessing!

I came home from the party to rescue the house from a week of wild and my brother and his two boys flew into town.  It was great to see them and fun to watch the boys run like a little wolf pack together.  We also had teenagers and neighbors over, so it was fun to have a couple dozen people running around having fun all day.  They flew out this morning, so it was a quick trip, but we loved having them here.

That brings me to today.  {Happy sigh.}  Have you ever had a great idea, an idea so great it could only come from a loving Heavenly Father, and you knew it was the right thing to do, but you needed a lot of people to buy in to make it work?  Well, I had one of those ideas.  A year ago today, to be exact.  When I wrote down my goals for the year I penciled it in and a couple of weeks ago I crossed my fingers and set the ball rolling.   To my delight, everyone else was as excited about it as I was, and we had a huge surprise birthday party in my backyard tonight for a very special lady.  I’ve been smiling all day.   I watched this sweet lady walk around at church today in her simple way and say “Hello! Today’s my birthday!” and everyone greeted her with a twinkle in their eyes and we all looked at each other with a special smile because we knew something she didn’t.  It worked.  It was like a dream come true.  I got down on my knees and cried tears of joy for a simple idea and for wonderful people who ran with it.  What a lucky girl I am!

So the weekend is over and I’m headed to bed later than I’d like (again).  It occurred to me tonight that there are probably a few unfinished math assignments in backpacks because we’ve ran so crazy all weekend that I never asked or checked.  Such is life.  We’ll do extra work tomorrow and I’m happy with the trade because I’m going to bed with a smile on my face.

And a head full of ideas.  We have more celebrating to do next weekend.

Life is so, so good.

Joy, week 12

*Note:  I started this post on Sunday afternoon and returned to it late Sunday evening, then fell asleep typing.  I’m sorry to be publishing it late!

As I type this post, my two youngest girls are playing together in the kitchen and the room resounds with their laughter.  It reminds me to pause and smile with them, letting their happy moment pull me in and lift me up as well.   I review in my mind all the moments this week when earnest words, big blue eyes and little heads bobbing side to side while they told me all about such-and-such brought joy to my heart.   These little ones are such a blessing!

It was such a joyful week.  Last night was the culmination of weeks of practice and I was thrilled to attend the General Young Women’s Meeting of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.   Watching my daughter sing with all her soul was unforgettable.  The warmth in my heart was equally strong each time I saw a girl I know on camera.  It has been years since I’ve been involved in an experience that has filled my heart with the love of God like this one has.  I am eternally grateful for every minute of it and have a list of things I’m going to do to keep this memory close.

One of the blessings that has come of this choir experience is a closer relationship with my daughter.  She’s been wrapped in the arms of so many wonderful women lately that her tendency to shrug out of my hugs is gone.  She’s learned to want the love that is offered in outstretched arms and even leans into them.   I was amazed when, after the broadcast, she grabbed my arm and pulled me toward a friend of mine so that SHE could get a hug from her! (Thank you, Julene!) I have this desire to hold on and make sure she stays that way.

As I’ve pondered my activities this week, and even the activities of the past few weeks I realize that a larger percentage of my time has gone to my teenagers, meaning that instead of dropping them off and going home to the rest of the family I’ve spent a large number of hours going with them, staying with them.  Their schedules have just worked out in such a way that they’ve had activities where it was appropriate for a parent to attend with them.  I’ve loved it, loved the pace and the fun of keeping up with this incredible, energy-filled stage in life.  It’s been an interesting taste of what will be my daily life in a few short years.

The challenge is that I’ve also had a two year old at home crying for Mommy.  She is so brave, so independent, and yet so totally dependent on me that I often shake my head in wonder.  If she hasn’t had enough of me (meaning undivided attention and arms wrapped firmly around her) she won’t sleep.  I can’t count the number of times recently when I’ve walked in the door and immediately seen a little body running toward me yelling, “Mommy!  I need you!”  Her words do something funny to my heart every time I hear them, expected as they’ve become.   I am amazed and grateful that I could be so necessary to someone, but there’s also a little secret in there:  I know what she means, and that it’s a real need, and that she knows I will do something about it as soon as I can.  I get it, and she gets that I get it.  But she does need it before 11 p.m.!

Because I’ve been running with my big kids and not just running them to and fro, life at home has suffered.  The house isn’t what it should be and the children are up later than I’d like.   I sincerely tried to plan my week wisely to allow time for recovery in these areas, but the way things turned out was nothing like I expected.

Every day
there was a moment when my schedule miraculously cleared a little.  A carpool or a ride worked out, saving me precious minutes in the car.  I would shake my head in surprise then run to the work I was behind on, believing I would get it done.

Without fail
, the phone rang or a knock was heard at the door and I was able to help someone who needed encouragement.  I had some really amazing conversations and felt the love of God in these experiences.  Just as they ended, every time, my life suddenly resumed it’s hectic, noisy pace.  On Wednesday I shook my head in amazement and got down on my knees to acknowledge God’s hand at work.  The timing was too exact to be anything but.

I loved that pace, that feeling of “see a need, meet a need.”  There is a precious feeling that comes with service, one I crave.  I love the rhythm the Lord imposed on my week; I just need to learn to maintain all the other parts of life in a more fluid way so those opportunities don’t trip us up so often.  I know that service comes with some degree of sacrifice, but the basics ought to be covered.  At least a dozen times each day I thought, “I’ve got to write that in my journal!” but there was so much to write, and so much happening, so many things being pushed until late in the evening that much of it remains unwritten.

So, when it’s so obvious that the Lord has something other than housework in mind, you can’t go and judge yourself or your week on that thing alone.   I had a moment of 200% humility when a dear friend knocked on my door unexpectedly and my kitchen looked like a bomb had gone off in it.  I let her in, we sat and talked, and then I let her sweep my floor and clear the kitchen table.  I have NEVER let someone do something like that before.  It was hard to do, but I did it. (Thanks, Aubree!)  On Saturday morning I took a deep breath and walked outside to ask a neighbor for help with one of my children who was struggling with her behavior that morning.  They kindly let her work in their yard with them, giving her the attention she needed while also separating her from the situation she had created inside.  Yes, I had some precious help this week.

We celebrated a birthday this week, the magical #6.   We read books together.  We made an emergency repair on a vehicle and 3 hours later I got rear-ended in that same vehicle.  I sold concessions at a lacrosse tournament.  We celebrated wins and endured losses, prayed and worked.  I met new people and discovered connections with them that surprised me.  The good and the bad were sprinkled liberally among each other throughout the week, but my strongest feeling was one of gratitude for all that could have gone wrong but didn’t.  I met some needs and blew it on others.  I felt broken this week, and weary, but I learned something that I should have learned long ago:

Sometimes life backs us up against a wall, a big, thick wall that is terrifying to stand against as you watch the world approach.  I’ve spent too much time pinned against that wall, part of me wondering if it’s going to kill me one day.  This week, as I stood against that wall (particularly on the day when we had issues with our car) I really worked to be mentally and emotionally tough, to have faith and not fear.  As these feelings of total relief and gratitude filled my heart in the midst of obstacles that cost us precious dollars and even more precious minutes, I felt the wall give way and realized I was falling into the arms of my Savior and experiencing his grace to a degree that I haven’t felt before.  I’m learning that his Atonement is about so much more than sin.

As I said, it was a joyful week.  (Sorry, another travelogue this week!) Honestly, I’m not sure how the week held so much, and there’s much, much more I’m not sharing!

I did work on some goals.  My garden seeds were ordered and have arrived.  I MUST get the seeds started right away, a task I feel a bit intimidated by.  I did some weeding.

Although it doesn’t sound like it, I did a lot of cleaning.  I went through both of my teen-ager’s rooms and closets, organizing, washing, sorting, cleaning.  While I firmly believe that kids should learn to take care of their own spaces, I also look around at my own house and see the effects of being too busy.   They’ve been feeling that same pressure and I enjoyed giving them a calm place to come home to.  I also did a lot of cleaning up after the little ones, like the day when my youngest threw a glass of water across the kitchen in a moment of frustration.  There’s nothing like cleaning up glass and water together!

I did a better job of cooking dinner, washing laundry, etc.  I also did a bit of reading.  No sewing.  I didn’t touch my machine.  I’ve completely blown it on birthdays this month, missing every one so far (except my son, thank goodness!).  I feel badly about that.  I worked for a few minutes on a project for my home but haven’t had the time to return to it.  Still, it was a great week and I feel blessed to have lived it.  I hope to do a better job this week!


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