Author Archives: Julie

Having and Holding

It’s a golden day. Fifty years ago, my parents said, I do, and have been doing ever since.

Staying married to the same partner for fifty years is a pretty big deal. My mom will chime in that her parents celebrate seventy-two years at the end of the month. In May we celebrated my in-laws’ sixtieth.

That’s a lot of collective marital years.

But today is the day for Nick and Caryn and their decision to make a commitment and stay the course. Together. Fifty years ago.

Earlier this year they took a celebratory trip. The pictures are delightful. Sun and fun and horseback riding along with amazing food dishes testify to a time well-spent together.

There’s nothing quite like the actual day, though.

I texted congratulations to my parents this morning. They were on their daily ritual walk to a downtown coffee shop. It was all low-key and routine. Settled.

That is what I love about these days. They have settled in a good way with each other. I have settled in a good way with them. This may just be the best year I can remember, and I have been told I remember too much.

This year I see more clearly the young college students taking vows. The 20 year old woman and 21 year old man are not enigmatic figments of my imagination but real people with real struggles hoping for the best.

Just shy of two years later, they are handed a newborn daughter with the parting words, Good luck!

Fifty years is so long, and it is not long enough.

I type those words, and tears fill my eyes. I pause to listen to what they tell me, and my shoulders shake with sobs.

Fifty years has given them time to bear seven children, see them marry and grow children of their own.

It has given them a great-grandchild.

It has brought tragedy and loss.

t has brought joy and gain.

It has given me time to grow to be curious, to question, to engage.

It has given them time to grow to be responsive, to answer, to engage.

This fifty year celebration is all about them, and it’s not all about them.

It is about the lives that have come through them. The love that they share. The fierce fighting forward to step into more truth.

That is what brings my tears.

It is the realization of this precious gift that I have been given, that we have been given. This golden light of relationship and love.

This is a picture from my son’s wedding last year. It is by no means representative of everyone in the family. Twelve people are missing (at least!), but it gives you an idea of what 50 years can produce. Quite a harvest.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad! May you feel just how loved you are today and every day.

More and more.

Overgrown

Summer flourishes with overgrown flowerbeds. Weeds crowd corners daring to be pulled.

Black-eyed Susans, Coneflowers, and Lamb’s ears compete for space among the unwanted invaders. Climbing the steps to the porch, I succumb to feelings of hopelessness. Why bother?

Remind me next summer when I think hanging baskets are a good idea, that they are really not. I tell my husband and my youngest daughter. I know one of them will remember. The porch is not my happy place right now. Dry hanging baskets only accentuate that fact.

No longer the flower lady, I am the lady with the overgrown house on the corner. Everything feels a mess, both inside and out, reminding me that when one area flourishes, another often suffers. This year it is the landscaping. The gardens. The unfinished porch.

Still the flowers fight forward. They open and bloom and stand their ground. One day I decide to set a fifteen minute timer in twilight’s glow and pull weeds. A stunning before and after rewards my effort. Never mind the thistles and thorns lurking around the corner.

I choose to celebrate the beauty that is in front of me.

Swept and Scrubbed

No cars line the street alongside my house. It is July’s end in this college town, townie summer, the pause before resume.

Dog barks frantically, running to his post at the window. His paws grasp the ledge, as he pulls himself up to look out at the culprit.

It is a moment of serendipity amidst the incessant barking when I realize the street sweeper is the source of his angst. Secretly delighted, I could not have planned a better time for it to make rounds. The cars are never all gone.

Usually we hear the barking and say, We should have moved the cars! This empty-street moment is brought to you by a last-minute vehicle inspection, a son with a driver’s license, a husband at work, and college kids still at their respective homes for summer break

The street is brushed tidily clean in preparation for August. It is washed down by the torrential rains that fell this afternoon. Swept and scrubbed, it waits in anticipation of what is to come.

I spend time sweeping and scrubbing the underside of the blog. Radically untended, post writing in this space has fallen drastically by the wayside. Though the word flourish adorns its front page, a better description of its current reality reads languish.

All is not lost. Much has been gained in other areas. It will circle back. As August approaches more settles, routine emerges, hope surfaces.

The new month beckons, swept and scrubbed fresh and clean, inviting me into its days. Gingerly, I take the first step.

Recycled Coffee

It was the last time I cared for the cats at my parents’ house. The morning routine of showing up, sprinkling treats, sifting litter, washing out the water bowl, and freshening the food dishes had ended. There was time left to relax with the cats.

I had yet to have a second cup of coffee and thought it the perfect time to fill the eco-friendly Keurig cup with fresh coffee grounds. I had been to my parents’ house countless times and drunk numerous cups of coffee. I knew the routine.

Or so I thought.

There on the counter was an open container filled with coffee grounds and a scoop. I scooped some of the grounds into the refillable Kerurig pod and inserted it into the dispenser. Pressing start, water began filtering through, filling my cup with fresh coffee.

Almost.

I cannot say exactly when I realized what was off about the situation. Maybe it was when I went to close up the coffee grounds and found this.

That is when I realized that I had just drunk a recycled cup of coffee. It had not tasted too bad. Which is also when I realized that in my world, even used coffee grounds make better coffee than some people get to drink in theirs.

First World Problems.

The thing is I know where the fresh grounds are kept. I make coffee from that canister all of the time. I think seeing the open container of used grounds on the counter suggested to me to fill the dispenser from there.

This time when I watch the cats the used coffee grounds container is empty and closed. I took the pictures for this post from that current situation. I still laugh about drinking my recycled coffee, though.

Really, it wasn’t that bad!

Rainbow Weather

Hey, Look! A rainbow!

I’m driving to the store in the early evening with two children in tow. One grabs my phone to take the picture while saying, God’s proooomises! in the special voice used only for her interpretation of my thoughts.

I do love rainbows. Especially unexpected ones like the one arching over stoplights as we head to the store. It’s unexpected, because where I am, it is not raining.

Rainbow weather is rain and sunshine. Light shining through gray producing a spectrum of color.

There is so much color, lately. It has burst from the gray and the rain.

This week is one of my favorites of the year, the one leading up to summer solstice. Days continue to grow longer and longer until they peak and begin to diminish. I try not to think about the diminishing when summer has yet to start.

I just want to be in the moment.

A new moment comes, inviting me to ponder again rainbow weather and to delight in the beauty of surprising color.

I find myself days from that car rainbow. Finishing an early-evening walk with my husband, I am exhausted. My exercise ring has yet to close. Eight grueling minutes remain.

Dropping him at the house to begin the evening routine, I continue around the block and up the hill. Please raise, heart rate, so I can call this a night.

Laughter comes from an open yard at the top of the hill, and a familiar young face smiles and waves. A sibling runs over to update me on her summer. I stop to catch the latest news from a parent and express gratitude for the season we shared together.

Continuing down the hill towards home, four minutes to go, a gentle hint of rain kisses my face. Looking up, I can see individual drops falling.

Rainbow weather.

I turn to scan the sky. My next-door neighbor steps from her house. She is looking for the rainbow, as well. We laugh together about it.

There it is!

I find it and shout excitedly from across the street where I am still walking towards my house. We both stop to look as I cross the street to my house.

I run inside and grab the phone I left behind while walking. A child greets me at the door, the same one who captured the week’s earlier rainbow. She comes out to look with me, echoing once again, God’s prooooooooooomises.

The rainbow remains long enough for a picture.


In case I need a sign to post on my neglected blog, this is it. I carry my laptop to the porch and write as the sun sets. The rainbow is gone, and the clouds roll in. Fireflies dance in the yard, turning on their evening lights.

White house trim glows. I love the gloaming. Hanging baskets on the porch silhouette against a soft gray sky. Birds sing their goodnight songs and a gentle breeze rustles the leaves of the friendship tree.

The colors fade to gray as they, too, sleep for the night and prepare to come back with the morning’s light.

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Art Journaling Sessions

Heart Path Story Coaching is up and running! I have been working hard preparing the space where Art Journaling Sessions begin this Saturday, June 1, and creating content on the website.

To learn more about Heart Path Story Coaching and Art Journaling Sessions, visit the website and sign up to receive email updates. When you do, you will receive an email to click through, making you official. Please click the confirmation link or you will not receive email updates.

I am grateful for blog readers who have encouraged me in my business endeavor! Each of you has been incredibly supportive and kind.

I would love for you to join me sometime to create a page together. Events are listed on the website, and I will try to keep things updated here, as well. Mostly, though, this space will continue to be for my writing.

In this season of transition, which seems to be a universal theme in my story, I am learning to surrender to grace. Thank you for being with me on the journey.

Shattered

An oval platter perches in the drainer, precariously balanced. I notice the carefully arranged pile of clean dishes, resting just so by the one who managed to fit every washed and rinsed piece together like a tower of Jenga blocks.

I lean over the pile to open the cupboard above, the one that holds medicines, vitamins, and the thermometer. My arm bumps the platter which loses its balance on the top of the stack and crashes to the floor, breaking into pieces.

The noise itself is enough to evoke strong response. A child stands near, waiting for me to retrieve cold medicine. I swallow back words rising to the surface, past my chest, into my throat, longing to escape my lips in a fury of noise.

Stand back. A dish just broke. Are you hurt? Watch out for the pieces.

I take care of the medicine and send her upstairs to get ready for bed as I gather the shatter.

I have two other identical platters, left over from days when I was snatching replacements up on Ebay. I am not sad that it is broken as much as I am annoyed that I have to clean the mess.

I want to blame someone for this, for the fact that something fell unexpectedly and broke, even though it was the result of imbalance and gravity. I turn on myself in a familiar pattern. I could have emptied the tower of dishes from the drainer before reaching over to get cold medicine for a child. Does it matter?

There is no fault.

It’s not about the falling or breaking or blaming. It is about what stirs inside. Always the stirring.

Splintered

Going backwards to find myself
Picking up the pieces
Fragments like the broken platter on the kitchen floor.

The large shards are easy to see, to gather
I collect them in a stack and set them aside to glue later
Where are the splinters?

Those are the bits that will surprise out of nowhere
In the middle of the night
Seemingly invisible, yet sharp
Piercing
Unseen by the eye but felt by the skin when inadvertently stepped upon

I trust a well-placed light to illumine the space
Revealing the slivers before they can harm
I’m finding the pieces to put back together

But should one go missing and enter the skin
A light can illumine the bit of the edge
To pull out with tweezers before it goes deep

Large parts of the story
collected in files
In my mind, in my journals, in my heart
They are gathered, assembled
While the splinters remain scattered
Waiting their turn to be collected, too
Just in a different way
Often piercing under the skin
Surfacing
Seen by the light of love
Tended by kindess
To be put back together
Revealing a brand new purpose.


Creating beauty.

Mother’s Day Booty Call

Dark chocolate, wine, nature, invitation to embrace my calling, I am seen by my children this Mother’s Day and every day. I feel loved all year long by the best kids. I do not need a specific day to remind me.

Still, they show up with surprises. Some with their presence, some with a text, some with a call. Loaves of dark chocolate babka (not pictured) draw waves of laughter, because Baab. Of course it is a fitting type of Mother’s Day specialty bread.

We tear into it together with delight. Then bemoan our stomachs being full of chocolate and rich, glutenous bread.

I have learned to rest on Mother’s Day. I have come to a place of deeper healing and kindness in my mothering story. What once was a struggle has become a challenge, an honest one, at that. Engagement with my narrative has brought deeper healing to my heart.

I have learned to repair with my children. They extend grace upon grace upon grace.

We laugh and cry and discover more inside jokes. Older siblings heal through youngers, as they name similar feelings and childhood anxieties and process them together. It is a beautiful mess.

So on this day set aside to honor mothers, which can feel fabricated and false, I marvel at the booty arranged on the table. My people love me well. They love me with their thoughtfulness and presence. They love me by feeling freedom to celebrate with their other mothers. Oh, how I love the others who mother them.

It brings me deep joy to see my adults living their lives in freedom as individuals. Whether with me in person or by text or by call or in spirit, the space we give one another is a gift. There is big space.

Now I do not want Mother’s Day to end. I want it to last and last, and in many ways, it does. Every day feels like Mother’s Day.

I look forward to a card arriving in the mail this week. I anticipate goodness with a son and his girlfriend joining us for a favorite dinner on Wednesday. The sun goes down on the day, and my heart feels full and so very blessed.

That is the greatest gift of all.

Third Person

I became third person. It happened at Walmart. It was the strangest thing to be spoken of as if I were not present. I almost could not believe it, and might have missed it completely, had I not taken a moment to be curious about what was happening around me.

Standing in the checkout line at 10:00pm, putting groceries on the conveyor belt was the icing on the cake of an incredibly long Thursday. My husband was still out working. The least I could do was make sure there was food for breakfast in the morning.

A woman and man stood in front of me, finishing their transaction. I was preparing to unload my full cart onto the empty conveyor belt when I overheard a female voice loudly say, She can wait. She’s got all those groceries to put up on the counter. I’m gonna look for my gum.

I felt a presence walk around me searching the candy rack, still talking. It took a minute to realize that I was the person she was talking about. I was the one who could wait because I had all of those groceries. Her volume and tone felt harsh and dismissive. I was confused by her need to comment at all, since it was obvious that I was not in a hurry and did have a lot of groceries. I would not challenge her need to take extra time making a gum selection.

I proceeded to unload my cart, ignoring the commotion around me. Focusing on minding my own business, I felt something inside of me running for cover. The loud voice began again. I wouldn’t want to be out shopping at this hour and have to unload all those groceries when I got home. The words were directed towards her partner and the cashier, not at me, again at a volume that spoke otherwise. I was being talked about is if I were not there. Words about me were not spoken to me.

Had they been, I would have assured her that I don’t exactly enjoy late night shopping trips myself. This grocery run is happening out of necessity due to unexpected circumstances in my day. I did not plan to be at Walmart at this hour. In fact, every fiber in my body fought the entire trip to stay focused and not flee the task, leaving an empty cart somewhere back among the dairy (something that I have actually done before!)

I wanted to go to my local Food Lion, but it closed early for a remodel. Aldi also closed at 9, leaving Walmart as next on the list. I had actually prayed before I left the house that God would give me strength and help me make wise shopping choices. When Walmart was the option available, I figured that must be the answer.

It helped that when I entered, the jovial young man walking beside me rushed ahead and grabbed two carts. Here, Mrs. McClay! Let me get a cart for you. You probably don’t remember me, but you used to be my teacher! We laughed and chatted and remembered together, and I told him that the joy of seeing his face was one of the things that would keep me going on this late shopping trip. He had the same laughing eyes and smile as when he was small, though a beard now covered his chin.

I was grateful for my teaching practice of always (mostly) treating my students like the adult people they would one day be, with kindness and respect. This was not the first time a lumbering young man has looked down at me as we reminisced about early childhood school days.

Returning to present, my chest felt heavy, like I wanted to cry the giant sobs that had been accumulating throughout the day. The only thing that kept me grounded while checking out was the smiling face of the cashier ringing up and bagging my groceries.

We had nothing in common age, gender, or ethnicity-wise, but he was kind to me, and I was kind back. I was too tired to engage in conversation beyond returning his smile. An understanding smile can cover a multitude of hurt.

Gathering the final bags from the rotating bagging station, I noticed the line behind me had grown longer. I fought against a feeling of shame that it was because I had so many groceries. At this point his line was the only one open. A lady further back begin to complain loudly about it being the only line open before actually asking.

Is this the only line open?

Yes, he said. There is also self-checkout.

I was reminded that as hard as it is to be grateful, as hard as it is to be kind at 10:08 under the fluorescent lights at Walmart, it is worth it to try. We are all people. We are people doing our jobs as best we can. I am trying to get food for my family, this young man is trying to earn a paycheck, and if we could spread a little kindness, a smile, a look into someone’s eyes instead of a loud talking around and about each other, we just might find ourselves in a little bit brighter of a place.

Let’s grab a cart for one another!

Mirroring

While preparing celery to cut into sticks for an afternoon snack one day, I chopped off the end of the bunch with a satisfying slice of the knife. The rounded bottom piece with its protruding curved ends rested on the cutting board.

Preparing to toss it in the compost bin, I looked at the cut end and thought it was perfect for dipping into paint and stamping in my art journal.

So I did just that!

I painted shades of silver, green, pink, and purple on the cut end of the celery and stamped it on the pages. Then I closed the pages together and pressed. When I opened them, I had these pages that mirror each other.

I am not sure if this is finished, yet. For now I am enjoying the colors and shapes and knowing that I was inspired to create while fixing a snack for my kids in the kitchen.