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Hospitality

This is the third post in a three part series of year-end reflections.

Growth (in community)

Our family belongs to several communities. We are part of a homeschool co-op on the West Island of Montreal. For those unfamiliar with the area, this is essentially a different town from us. And for our family to participate in that community we must drive, schedule, make arrangements, leave where we actually live and travel to a different place.

But that community is part of our village, committed to helping each other raise and educate our children. It is such a supportive and talented group of families. What we are able to accomplish as a group, and provide for our children, is much bigger than what each of our families could do on our own. And that is the strength of a collective. But to build such a community takes effort. And when you live in a different town, it takes extra effort.

We belong to our actual neighborhood, and we love this neighborhood. We love the city. We have neighbors who share our walls and fences. Neighbors for whom I am building a backyard garden to bring beauty into all our lives. Neighbors who shop at the same hardware store and grocery store we frequent. These neighbors are predominantly francophone and this is a barrier (for me and the kids especially) to building deeper relationships with these people. But it is a barrier that I desperately want to move past, as my heart's desire is to cultivate friendships across fences, to get to know the people in our building and neighborhood.

And we belong to a church community. Our church community is the people we gather with on Sunday mornings and throughout the week to share our lives together. We've got the Sunday morning thing down, but getting together with people throughout the week is trickier for us with our West Island commitment taking us out of the city and into a different town a couple times a week. We can't do everything and Damien and I are careful that our family builds boundaries in our relationships with each other and our relationships within communities, so we keep healthy: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And yet, we feel the tug for more connection, more shared life with our church community.

This has always been our heart's desire. That we would share life with people, not just a religion, or a way of believing, but the activities of our days. We do this as a family of five and the church, the body of Christ, is a family. And we have always been drawn into growing deeper community in the church.

We live in a tension. The desire for more connection and community and the busyness of our lives. And we are always wanting to integrate these two.

My last post was about words, my word for 2017 is Release and one of things I want to be released into is more hospitality, more community building.

We are five, we are a community unto ourselves, and amongst our five we must balance engagement and rest, giving and receiving. And we five then fit into these other communities and we must balance our engagement as one unit within those communities, while still balancing our engagements with each other!

I (and we) want to be a house of hospitality but this has to unfold in a way that will work for our family and work for me. I don't particularly like cooking these days (these days being the last few years). I feel out-of-sync in that realm. Our family differs on how each of us wants to eat and our values around food have shifted. Feeding other people feels complicated to me. I don't feel freedom, I feel stress. And this is not the emotion from which I want to give. Also, I have very real energy limits in my life. Physical, emotional and spiritual needs for rest. I have a full-time job.

I don't know how this will work itself out in our lives, in our year. But like with calling and vocation, I'm not trying to figure out the big, grand picture I'm following the breadcrumb trail of curiosity, step by step by step. There are barriers: time, language, finances, physical space (our dining room table "comfortably" seats 4, yes, we are 5), I'd rather make soap, organize, or pay bills than cook, etc. etc. but I don't have to have that all figured out. I just need to be willing to take the step that is right in front of me, listen for the Spirit, and give from what has been given to me. (And no, I don't know exactly what that looks like.)

This is an area I am seeking to find release into this coming year.

Bullet Journal (for the journey)

Last spring I started a series on how I manage ideas, and my last, and still unpublished post in that series is about using a bullet journal. This is not that post, it's just a brief overview of how this type of journaling system helps me reflect from day to day and month to month, a tool to help me notice and pay attention to what my life is teaching me.

I started using a Bullet Journal at the beginning of 2016. A bullet journal can be whatever kind of planning, recording system you want it to be. A bullet journal is really just a system of keeping a journal, and what you keep in that journal is completely up to you.

(This time of year there is a ton of buzz on these journals.)

I spent months researching bullet journals trying to figure out if it would work for me, and I had a rough idea going into it how I might set things up. But what I did not anticipate is how many spiritual ideas and personal reflections I would keep in this journal.

In the past I've always kept my day planner separate from personal journals. I'm not sure how it evolved into this but in 2016 the planning and the personal merged together. And I like it. It also means I'd be devastated if I lost this book, as I would lose more than just the to-do list but the written record of my inner life through the year.

What is great about the bullet journal concept is that you can weave these two together really well. There's nothing limiting you in a bullet journal. There is no calendar or weekly template you must follow and fill, preventing you from chronicling personal thoughts right alongside the week's tasks.

For me, it seems that using a bullet journal has allowed me to see with more clarity the connection between my growth (the struggle and triumphs) and my responsibilities, tasks, to-do's that facilitate that growth.

I love looking back through this journal, pages thick with writing, key themes and lessons underlined in my seasonal-colored gel pens; week after week the doings of family, home and community life recorded; lists with boxes checked, and pages of plans gone awry; a record of the kids temperatures during our sick season; mantras and truth underlined and starred: this is not going to take me down, the spirit of God lives in me, the world does not have what you seek, it's an inside job, God's got this, and when you only have the energy for one thing: live like you are loved (and so many more); lists of things I'm grateful for; travel logs from our summer trip; pages of frustrated and angry words, sometimes stained with my tears; sketches to communicate where words fail; Examen notes and thoughts quickly written after morning meditation; sermon notes and schedules; a list of blog posts I didn't write and others that I did, etc.

Keeping this kind of journal (you can call it whatever you like but I first learned how to index and organize such disparate ideas under the bullet journal banner so I call it that) has been a helpful tool for gathering the messy parts of my life into a cohesive whole. It helps me secure the perimeter, to gather everything together and make sense of it. And it breaks down the barriers between sacred and profane, because for me that's a false dichotomy.

Every single part of my life is infused by the Spirit, if I open myself to that possibility. The Spirit carries me, works through me, corrects and admonishes me (when my pride doesn't get in the way, which it often does). The Spirit is always present, always moving, always working. And this journal is record of that movement through this past year.

Where do you see yourself growing this coming year? Do you feel scared or excited about that?

Do you use a bullet journal or something similar? What tools do you use to make connections between the day-to-day details and big picture growth?

I love good stories. My favorite books are stories, fiction or non-fiction, though I especially appreciate memoirs and autobiographies.

In my experience of reading stories about both real people and fictional people, I've found the stories and lives of real people are the most fascinating to me. Not that I don't love a well written yarn. I totally do, but you and I are as interesting as any fictional character. And the stories we've lived are worth telling.

Five summers ago was a very significant summer. In May of that year we left Maine to launch our great adventure of Life 3.0. We wanted to build location independent work that would allow us the freedom to have adventures. We wanted to travel and live in beautiful places.

That summer we were living with my parents in Nova Scotia, getting on our feet financially, before moving to the Gaspe peninsula. We had just uprooted our lives in the United States. Damien and I were launching a dream of being self-employed, working together online. In July and August the two of us (our first time away from the kids) traveled out west to Montana, Wyoming and Utah. We celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary in an atmosphere of inspiration and hope; big sky and big ideas.

We had our whole future in front of us. You always have your whole future in front of you but sometimes you are more keenly aware of it, and that was a season for us of great anticipation of the future.

It was during this time that I read the book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. Partly because of where I was at, in the formative stages of a significant life change, and partly because of the zeitgeist of my internet world, I was very inspired by the book. Writing the story of your life, living your life's story, life as story... story, story, story was the message in my wider world and was echoed in other books like Bob Goff's book Love Does, another book I really enjoyed.

I made copious notes at the time. I wrote drafts for posts I never published. I felt I had gained another nugget of wisdom in my insatiable quest to understand myself and to live with intention.

Living a good story became another way to phrase the kind of life I wanted.

That summer I wrote the following in one of my journals:

I have felt the Spirit saying, "I've given you the desires of your heart to build a life at home together. Now open your hands, open your heart to the reason I've placed those desires in your heart. The endpoint is not to bless the Tougas family so we are happy. We are blessed in health, family, talents, gifts, resources, etc to bless others."

This was not a new revelation. This is the ages old story of a life well lived.

Energy and love is to move through us, changing us, making our lives rich with experience, relationships, and resources so we can bless others with the same.

And the ways in which our lives are rich are as varied as people are different.

The story that unfolded from that point in my life was not the story I thought I'd be writing with my life.

I believed if I lived with intention (or if I made all the right choices) I could escape a lot of the struggle, pain, disappointment, and loss that are a necessary part of every good story. Triumph is only triumph because of challenge. Joy is only joy because of pain. Beauty is only beauty because of ugliness. Contentment is only contentment because of disappointment.

I was optimistic, hopeful, perhaps naive. I don't think this is unique to my situation. To embark on any great adventure - marriage, parenting, starting life in a new place - one must possess ridiculous amounts of faith, a simple ignorance, or some combination of both. Most of us have no clue about the heartache we'll encounter in our journey, and it's probably better this way.

That summer I thought we had done the hard work, encountered the worst in the actual uprooting and moving process (which was very hard) and now we "had arrived" even though we hadn't actually "arrived" anywhere.

I hate this part of living a good story. That you must struggle for success and ache before joy; and that the whole thing repeats itself over and over in our lives. Even though I recognize those are the very tensions I find most compelling in the memoirs, biographies and fictional yarns I love to read.

Being back out west this summer I have been reminded of all this. Reminded of how I felt five years ago, the optimism and anticipation. Reminded of the dreams Damien and I shared and how progressing in some of those dreams facilitated amazing experiences in our lives but also painful personal and marital growth. And I am especially reminded of the importance of people in the story of our lives and how it is the connections we share that bring the most satisfaction from living.

Damien and I value travel and adventure. We value going places and having new experiences, and of course we value big nature experiences.

We love to go places but in this life season we don't have a lot of money to do so.

Talking about money always feels a bit awkward but I don't know how you can write about life and travel and adventure without talking about money. I am an intensely practical person and I always want to understand the details of a situation, not just the broad stroke picture.

One of the reasons money talk is awkward is because there is great disparity in the world, disparity in communities and in families. In other words, we all have different means. But we also have different priorities and values. I would actually be ashamed to admit some of the things we don't do and don't buy because we place greater value on experiences together, buying a winter ski pass for example, driving out west for this trip. Those decisions mean we've made sacrifices in other areas, we prioritize.

But some people have so little money to begin with that the budget is not about priorities, it's about survival.

So when I say we don't have a lot of money to travel, it's relative of course. We have a travel budget in the order of hundreds of dollars, not thousands. And for a Canadian family of five wanting to go interesting places it's really not much. In Canada, a full tank of gas for our car costs $50, half a hundred dollars.

The real cost of travel for us though isn't the destination. With good camping equipment and being comfortable with minimalist camping and traveling, it's not the travel costs that are the big expense. The big cost now is that as self-employed people growing a business at the same time we're raising three teenagers, we can't afford the time off. There have been seasons in our life where Damien was able to take a chunk of time off of work and we took trips/holidays/vacations mostly to visit family. But that is not our current life season.

Our restricted travel budget is not really the point of this post but it tells the backdrop against which the real story emerges, the story of people and connections.

Story One:

The summer of 2011 Damien and I were eager to kickstart our online business ventures by going to Outdoor Retailer in Utah. We also wanted to be in the Rockies and see this area of the world. We had a bit more money in those days, we flew out here, but we still wanted to get by with cheap accommodations. Through my years of blogging I had gotten to know people online and I contacted them to see if we could pitch a tent in their yard, stay in a spare room etc.

One of those people was Katie Clemons. Katie had recently launched her online journal business Gadanke. She and her husband Martin were renovating part of an airport hangar into an apartment. I asked her if we could stay a night. She said yes, and we packed a lot into the less-than-24 hour period we camped out at their airport property in the Paradise Valley.

That one night was the start of something unexpected and unknown. It was a real pleasure to meet Katie in person, but the surprise for me was how well our husband's hit it off. An introverted, deep-thinker, engineering geek, Damien truly connects with very few people. But Damien made a connection with Martin, a fellow engineer deep-thinking sort who loves the mountains, and it is that connection, and the business they now share, that brought us back to this location on this trip.

Since meeting Katie & Martin five years ago they have completed their apartment in the hangar and been featured on HGTV. Katie has built a beautiful journal business that includes the kid's journals' Time Capsule and Between Mom and Me. She's given a Tedx talk and been featured in a bunch of press. And they are now proud parents of Niklas, an exuberant and inquisitive tow-headed toddler.

Katie & Martin are big dreamers and big do-ers. And they are generous and hospitable.

They also operate an Airbnb at the airport, one of their many ventures, and we are guests in those accommodations (plus pitching a tent) as homebase for our time in Montana.

All of this is such a gift. The connection and friendship and having a place to stay in one of Montana's most beautiful valleys.

The offer and availability of accommodations when we came to Montana allowed us to do the same with our home in Montreal.

Story Two:

After we left Maine and moved to Quebec I felt socially isolated. I loved the Gaspe Peninsula's beauty but there were very few women like me with which to connect. I was lonely and so I took a chance and reached out to an online friend of mine.

Krista had been reading my blog for years and we had gotten to know each other fairly well through comments and private emails. In the heart of winter, during a difficult spell, I sent her an email "could we chat on the phone?" She said yes and that started a most beautiful and close friendship.

I met Krista in person three summers ago when she and her husband Georges traveled to Quebec City and made the extra long journey to meet me on the peninsula.

Krista is a soul sister of mine. We've only met that once in person, which seems crazy to me because I can't imagine my life now without her friendship. It's an effort to maintain our friendship. We schedule phone calls about once a month and then deep dive into our lives - kids, husbands, vocation, personal growth, faith and spirituality - we share our struggles and joys and say "me too" more than I can count. I love Krista.

And so when I announced to friends on Facebook that I would be traveling this summer and we were looking for housesitters, Krista, an adventurous francophile jumped at the chance. She invited her close friend Anno to join, both of them flying into the city from elsewhere in Canada, to enjoy a Montreal vacation.

I have been following her Facebook feed while I'm here in Montana and it is a pleasure for me to experience her delight in the city and apartment I call home.

Both her and Anno could not have afforded this experience without the option of a free housesitting gig.

Story Three:

One of the dreams Damien and I talked about five years ago in Big Sky Country was doing a thru-hike with our kids, having a grand, life-changing adventure together. The following winter, the same winter I reached out to Krista, we set a date on the calendar for that adventure.

When we announced on my blog that we would be embarking on this journey, blog readers invited us to stay at their home as part of our adventure. People wanted to host us along our way; offering beds, showers, meals and shuttles on our resupply days.

I met Lori, through my blog, a year or two before our hike announcement. We had chatted about homeschooling and she was one of the first people to say, "when you come to Georgia, you have to stay with us. We live very close to the Appalachian Trail."

Lori and Robert Powell were our first hosts. We stayed with their family two nights before our hike began. After returning our rental car, they shuttled us around driving us to the grocery store, outfitters, and post office. They cleared their schedule for us, they helped us with whatever we needed to do. Lori made us a fabulous supper and the next day, loading their family of five and our family of five into two vehicles, they drove us to the start of the trail at Springer Mountain.

When we were hiking the trail we were a family of five without a vehicle, without a home, without a lot of money. It was a vulnerable feeling. We relied on the kindness of strangers all the time. It was incredibly humbling. This dependency, this need, taught me a ton about myself (that I don't have time to explain here). And it taught me about the goodness of people.

I felt like there was no way I could repay the kindness of the families that hosted us on the Appalachian Trail. Some of them were complete strangers to us, friends of Facebook friends. And their hospitality and generosity of spirit is part of what made our hike successful. We couldn't have done it without them.

Early this year as Damien and I strategized this summer trip - how could we possibly afford to do this? what about our cats? what about my needs for a homebase, for routine, structure and some measure of predictability? - the part that was most clear is that we could share our Montreal apartment in our absence. We could make our home a homebase for another family's adventures. Or someone could use it as a personal retreat space.

Sometimes we feel we don't have much to give in this resource-intense season of raising and homeschooling three teenagers on one income. But we have a home.

And when I offered our space on my blog and Lori's was one of the first emails in response, I was so delighted. Finally, a small way to repay her family's hospitality during our hike.

In that last week of June as we got our home ready to host seven different families in our absence, I experienced a deep sense of "this is what I'm meant to do, this is part of my calling, part of my life story"; to prepare a welcoming space for people, to share my home with travelers and strangers.

As we scrubbed the house clean (I have minions to help with my labor), stored personal effects in closets, set out books we're giving away; as I spent hours writing a document of what to do in Montreal, best transit routes, neighborhood recommendations, etc. what I experienced most of all through the process was joy. Even though the weeks were so busy and time was tight as we prepared to leave for 6 weeks, sharing our home with people did not feel like a burden, but a blessing.

This was the living expression, an expression that felt right for me, of what I wrote five years ago, "we are blessed in health, family, talents, gifts, resources, etc to bless others".

Five years ago, when I was reading those books and blog posts about living a good story I could not have anticipated the very painful parts of the past couple years.

We were in Big Sky country, talking big dreams, full of hope for the future.

We were going to live an adventure!!, forgetting (or selectively choosing to ignore, or simply not realizing the extent to which) we would pay a price for that adventure. An ordeal, a death of some sort is always part of the Hero's Journey; always part of a good story.

We thought the hike would be like a Hero's Journey, and it was. We accepted the call, we were given help, we weren't sure we would make it, more help came, we worked harder than we thought was possible, we experienced a transformation, we came home changed.

But the price we had to pay was not what we expected. It was not financial, it was not the investment of everything we had in terms of physical resources or the draining of our bank accounts (which did happen). The price we paid was personal, it was the inner places where the death and rebirth needed to happen. And I had no idea what was coming.

If we are to experience any significant growth in our lives, if we are to become better people (not bitter people) through our experiences, the Hero's Journey is the path we'll take. Sometimes we will make decisions to hasten this growth, sometimes situations will be forced upon us, but we have to accept the challenge again and again if we are to live a good story, which is to live a good life.

Everyone's good story looks different.

For me, building kindred-spirit relationships with people is a good story. Sharing is a good story. Hospitality is a good story.

Everything about this trip is a good story.

I am contented to be writing this story, living this story.

Ironically though, to live and write this story, we had to be in a place of need. I was lonely when I met Krista. We had very little money for this summer's adventure. The families staying in our Montreal home this summer feel likewise.

I am often tempted to believe it would be so great to do things in our own strength, on our own dime. To take vacations in that gorgeous, high priced guest house. To pay for it with our "hard-earned money". To feel impervious to loneliness so we wouldn't have to depend on other people.

But it is our need that drives us to each other, that helps us make the connections that are the life force of any truly great story.

I'll tell you straight up: I don't want to be in financial need and I have a hard time relying on the generosity of other people. But in the same breath I acknowledge that I want to share, I want to love, I want to give. You can't have one without the other. I must receive in order to give.

Returning west to the place Damien and I felt so hopeful all those years ago, full of dreams and aspirations has stirred my soul in ways I hadn't anticipated.

When we got off the trail and I felt so broken and adrift, questioning who I was and what I valued, where I had gone wrong to experience the pain I did while hiking the trail, Damien, trying to helpful, recommended I revisit what I had written before the trail, to remind myself of the hopes, dreams and our aspirations for the experience.

The thought of that actually sickened me. In my deep struggle and my shame at feeling broken I felt like a fraud for having been so hopeful. The last thing I wanted to do was read the optimistic words of my pre-adventure self, it made me feel stupid and naive.

When you're in a state of despondency it's not necessarily the best time to recall your previous ideals, but to simply face forward and hope, beyond hope, that those ideals were not misplaced. Your good intentions, dreams, and aspirations took you on the path you were meant to take and that all will be revealed, in time.

I can go back and read those words now with compassion, affection, and gratitude for who I was then and who I am now.

And I can clearly see this is a good story.

I had forgotten how big and shiny downtown Toronto is. It's been years since my last visit. Montreal feels downright homey, provincial and quaint compared to Toronto's towers, condo highrises and transit infrastructure.

I wasn't overwhelmed but I was a bit awe-struck. Travel and visiting new, or forgotten, places always shifts my perspective, which is traveling's primary selling feature: you see the world through a different lens and discover new stories.

Friday night with Anne and Steve (since I sat in the front row I'm now on a first name basis) was beyond compare. According to the introduction, this was Anne's first talk that she's given in Canada. And I was there! It felt like an historic moment.

I don't very often think of middle aged women as groupies but it feels an accurate description for the crowd gathered that evening.

The average age of the audience was probably 50. There was a large contingent of vivacious-looking women in their sixties. Women that looked like Anne herself, or my mom. There were the forty somethings like myself, and bookending our numbers were white and silver haired elders and a few fresh faces in their twenties and thirties.


my view from the front row!

We were a group of women, and a few men, who shared in common a hungering for spiritual honesty, stories to make us laugh and cry, someone to tell us "me too".

The evening was hosted by the Henri Nouwen society. Henri Nouwen was an internationally renowned priest and author, respected professor and beloved pastor. He was one of the most significant spiritual leaders of the late 20th century and his knowledge, ideas, and way of living (in service to society's marginalized) were instrumental in transforming many people's lives. Anne was speaking to those themes in her lecture.

I believe you can look at solitude, community, and ministry as three disciplines by which we create space for God. If we create space in which God can act and speak, something surprising will happen. You and I are called to these disciplines if we want to be disciples. – Henri J. M. Nouwen

I felt a little silly for how giddy, warm, energized, and understood I felt in that room.

I am fairly certain we all feel like we don't fit the mold; a mothering mold, a marriage/partnership mold, a homeschooling mold. I experience all of that, but I also feel I don't fit into the evangelical Christian mold very well either.

Where I'm at these days, in the expression of my faith, is that my corporate worship looks very contemporary evangelical, that's where I feel most at home in a gathering of believers. I am very expressive in group worship settings, a happy, clappy Jesus follower to the core. While my intimate spiritual practices veer hard towards contemplation, meditation, and solitude. To seek God in quiet and rest and to minister from a place of shared brokenness, not to fix people but to love them.

For these personal spiritual practices I draw a lot from non-evangelical traditions (Quakers and Catholics mostly) and non-Christian philosophies and ideas.

This is why Friday night was so profound for me. Steve Bell is a Christian pilgrim, he defies the mold; his music is rich with truth, beauty, and love that transcend religious affiliation. I feel closer to God every time I listen to his music, which means I listen often. Anne's northern California, left leaning, honest-speaking, social justice expression of loving and being loved by Jesus refreshes me to the core. And the backdrop for all of this is the transformational work of Henri Nouwen, Catholic priest and spiritual thinker.

I felt full of love, full of God's presence. I think I was drunk on the Holy Spirit. My mom, who I was texting during the early part of the evening, "I'm sitting in the same row as ANNE!!", said that she and Dad had prayed that this night would "pour life into my spirit". What a gift to have praying parents who love and understand me.

You can see why I didn't want the evening to end. Just writing about this now, the following Wednesday morning, gives me a sense of peace and wellbeing.

It never even occurred to me to bring my copy of Bird by Bird for Anne to sign, so I missed out on meeting her personally, a moment in which I would have no doubt mumbled something embarrassing in my excitement and adoration.

I suppose I could have stood in the book line, empty-handed and full-hearted, to say, like so many devoted readers, "I love your writing", when what I really wanted to say is "I love you". But that felt foolish, which maybe I am.

After Anne, in my drug-free intoxicated state, I managed to find the subway station to get to Anna's house where I was sleeping for the night.

Saturday morning I had the pleasure of getting to know Anna and to meet her family. There was not enough time to talk about all there was to learn about each other. To share our ideas and experiences on homeschooling, perfectionism, achievement, business and entrepreneurship, raising teens, adventuring and being rooted. The rush of words that we tried to fit in to roughly five hours was almost comical.

Everyone's life is rich with story. We have no idea how interesting our story is to other people because our normal is their uncharted territory and vice versa.

Dropping into someone's life like I did at Anna's house is a gift because like experiencing a new city, your perspective shifts. You see life from a different point of view.

I experienced this on the Appalachian Trail also. When we were hosted by people along the way we dropped into their lives for 24 hours or so. They would meet our very physical needs - feeding us, driving us to the grocery store, offering us a place to sleep and shower. And at every stop I felt there was not enough time to get to know these people, to get to know you.

I always have something in common with blog friends who I meet in person, it might be a shared education philosophy, a spiritual experience or understanding, a love of nature, views on family life, simple living values, etc. There's always a common thread but so much is different.

Years ago I read the following advice given to bloggers who want to grow their audience: create reader profiles or personas for the type of reader you want to attract to your blog. Basically, identity your target "market" and write for them.

As a memoirist it feels like I mostly write for myself, I need to get this stuff out of my head. And I invite, by way of publicly posting, people to share in my story.

In my experience of meeting people who read my blog, having the privilege to stay in their homes and meet their families, the people who read this blog defy reader profiles or personas. I don't think of you that way. I've met you, and you are so beautiful and interesting in your own right, the thought of mixing Lisa's homeschool story, with Melanie's faith, with Krista's homemaking, with Amanda's outdoor experiences feels like a strange game of Mr. Potato Head with people who's individual lives are unique and precious.

You, reading this post, are real, and that you visit occasionally or regularly is such an honor. And that I can sometimes meet you and sleep on your couch is such a gift.

After my too-brief meeting with Anna I was back on the Go Transit system out to Guelph to drop into my brother's life.

My brother and I have both experienced a late thirties/early forties breaking and rebuilding in our personal lives and marriages. We have both experienced pain in the last couple years that we did not see coming. Our stories are different and his is definitely not mine to share but Anne's enduring message of "me too" reverberated through our brief hours together.

I don't get to see Brad very often so we picked up right where we left off with the books we're reading, what we're learning about ourselves, places we're hurting and healing. Brad inspires me with his commitment to personal growth, self-awareness and steadfast love.

Again, so much to say and share and so little time. But a little time is better than no time.

Sunday was a day of transit, back to Toronto, back to Montreal. I slept a bit on the bus and had time to think about the stories of this weekend (and write the bones of this post).

And now I am back to being present in our family story, which is singularly focused on the preparation (rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsals) for next weekend's sold out drama production at co-op.

Celine will turn seventeen in a few days and we are trying to plan a party or casual gathering that we can squeeze into the one free day, which happens to be her actual birthday, between rehearsals.

We embark on adventures and we learn courage as we encounter challenges. We break and we rebuild with a deeper understanding of our true identity and purpose. We mess up and are forgiven. We forgive. We root ourselves in the love of family and friends. We work to put food on the table. We experience God in small (a deep breath) and profound (a night with Anne Lamott) ways. We raise our children. We live more stories.

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