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Writing

It took me a few years to find the consistency in my writing. To identify the thread or theme that held true as the tapestry of my written work continued to evolve and change.

As much I love the principles and (certain) practices of homemaking, as much as I love homeschooling my children (truly this has been a journey of love and discovery for me, it is one of my passions and callings), as much I love exploring my personality and personal growth, as much as I love being outdoors, traveling and adventuring, etc. the consistency is not in those subjects.

Indeed, I have not been able to build a blog brand in any one of those areas, though they are big parts of my life experience and knowledge.

What I've learned through 12 years of blogging is that the consistency in my writing is not in a topic or genre per se, but in the place my writing grows out of, the zone from which I am inspired to write.

The place where my boundaries are expanding, which I've also described as the edge of my growth curve, is where I write. This zone is both the fertile ground that inspires my writing but is also an inexorable progression, like the leading edge of a hot lava flow, that continues to propel me forward.

This is somewhat problematic for building consistent blog content. Unless the the moving edge of experience is the consistency.

When something related to homeschooling is my dominant growth edge, you'll see that in my writing. And as I cross boundaries in my homeschool journey - the beginning of elementary, elementary to middle, middle to high school - I tend to be inspired to write from those discovery zones. Lots is being stirred up there. I see the same trend in my writing as I've progressed through growth zones in homemaking and adventurous family living.

For the past two years the edge of my growth zone has been deep personal discovery, healing, and a spiritual re-awakening.

The edges of homeschooling, the edges of adventure, the edges of self and faith, the consistent thread through these changes and experiences is that what I write comes from that growth zone.

And now I find myself at another edge.

I am not where I was one year ago, two years ago. I've lived in the same apartment for 20 months (our longest term of residence in the last six years) but I am not the same person I was when I moved here, the summer of 2015, haunted and hounded by anxiety and insecurity.

These two beasts are a recurring theme in my life and my writing but I feel that in the last two years I have turned around and faced them, full-on (in fear and trembling, it's anxiety after all), but I have faced them.

I have named them. I have called them out of the shadows in my relationships. I have identified "the good side" to these tendencies (light and dark, we're all both) and I have grieved the pain and misdirection they have brought into my life.

I have learned so very many things about myself as I've faced these demons. And I've written through some of what I've learned here on the blog. This season of deep self-awareness and a quest for healing has been the edge of my growth.

I haven't arrived. I'm not finished in that healing or in my understanding of self and Spirit. In many ways, I've just begun. I'm so thankful for what I've learned at this early-midlife point about myself and others; for the insight, knowledge, love, and compassion I now carry with me. But I have so much more to learn, so much more to grow. Always.

I feel a shift in the wind, a fresh breeze is blowing. This wind started as a gentle breeze sometime this past year. Not blowing all that much or all that often, but when it did, it was completely invigorating to me. (And just a wee bit baffling. Where is this coming from? Where is this going?)

The further I walked in my journey of personal growth and discovery, listening for my life to speak, the more this wind blew. And now I find myself, set to sail in a slightly different direction, under a new wind.

I thoroughly believe the intimate is the universal. Which is why I love memoirs so much. And why I have courage to write my own story and why I've shared everything I possibly can (with time and privacy constraints) about my journey in the last few years. But to write introspection and personal growth stories is not the "ends" for me. It's been the means for this last part of my journey, but it's not the ends. It's not my long term aim in being a writer. (I will always write introspection and personal growth stories but I want those to be one part of the picture, not the entirety.)

The wind that has been blowing is a dream and an ambition about the writing I want to do, the writer I want to be.

My ambition is to give expression and bring to the light in writing the meeting place of stories of the heart and ideas of the mind. I want to equip myself for this mission by continuing to live wholeheartedly (see Brene Brown's work for a definition of this), training my mind in good books and sound thinking, being actively engaged in ordinary and extraordinary life-changing experiences, and by wrestling with and writing through the intellectual ideas and heart-growth that those experiences teach me.

I want to be a great thinker and communicator because I have immersed myself in Great Ideas and have honed the art and craft of visual and written communication. I want to know so many more things than I currently know. I want my words to be read, shared, savored and be impactful in people's lives because they ring true, speaking to the universal human experience; because they are well written; and because what I write is what I strive to live; an Engaged Life of conscious, kind, examined, truth-seeking, disciplined, and loving actions, regardless of my circumstance or situation.

I have dreams around these ambitions but those dreams are too big to share, too vulnerable. Maybe someday I'll share them but maybe they will always stay private and simply be a guiding light on the journey. A light I may never reach but a light that, nonetheless, gets me further along the path. That's the real gift of a dream anyway. It gets you going in a direction.

I want to write from the place where ideas and engaged living overlap in my life. Where ideas are lived out and the living gives rise to the ideas. But this requires growth in a few areas, chief among them, a more rigorous intellectual discipline, so I can critically examine an Idea, vetting thoughts and experiences with a more robust lens. And I need to have courage as I lean into the opportunities for growth, many of which are hardships, failures, disappointments, set-backs, and misfortunes. This is the soil from which I want to excavate knowledge, truth, beauty and wisdom (I consider writing as my tool), as I engage myself in wholehearted living and loving.

This is where the wind is blowing, this is where I'm growing.


Photos in this post are from our Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2014. If you want to read more about this journey and see more pictures, I am journalling that adventure at Outsideways. Also, our 24 episode video series of that journey is now available for free on You Tube. A new episode is released each week.

This is the sixth and final (phew!) post in a series on vocation, marriage and work.

Just to re-cap where we left off in this story.

One of the four parts of Project Home & Healing was to Craft a Vision, and that piece has remained elusive for me.

Last year I didn't even bother thinking about it because I wanted to build this vision from a solid foundation, but first of all I had to work on that foundation. I knew it had to be a vision for me, not for Us, but of course it had to fit into Us. And I wanted it to be a vocation-related vision.

This year I felt it was time to step back into online work to see if I could figure that out. I didn't have a clear vision but maybe vision is overrated, and it was more important to just "do stuff", or maybe I would find one through bumbling around. Hey, anything's possible, right?


For years I have admired a specific handful of women working online. I am inspired by their quality of work, personal integrity, and success. Each of these women, and what they do, is different, but as I've watched them grow their businesses or grow their blogs over the past couple years, I've experienced two things. I've been inspired to think about how I might do something similar, and I've been discouraged and fearful that I'm washed up, already a has-been, haven't come near my potential and had no idea what my potential was to begin with. I missed the boat. These feelings of discouragement are not a helpful, or even true, mindset.

Then there is the matter of finances. To date, this is our most resource-intense season of raising kids. And it's only going to get "worse" before it gets better. Helping our kids with post-secondary education, perhaps starting businesses, weddings and establishing their own households; these are the investments and expenses that will help launch them into adulthood. Do we feel responsible to provide everything for these needs? Absolutely not, but we live in challenging economic times and where possible we want to help our emerging adults make a successful transition to the next stage of their lives.

So earlier this year I felt I had to "do something".

I needed to do something to "reach my potential". I needed to tackle an online project to help me get back in the game. I needed to help contribute to our finances. I had taken a year off from thinking along these lines, partly by choice, partly by necessity, but at the beginning of this year I decided to move forward, vision or no vision. So I started two projects: a writing project and the creation of an online soap course.

I felt compelled to do both for entirely different reasons. I knew the soap course could make money, the model is fairly clear and I know the market. I get how it works. I have no vision for how the writing project earns money, it's just something I need to write.

I worked at both endeavors through the winter and the spring. I worked some weekends. I worked while Damien took the kids to co-op on Mondays. But when late spring hit and all my energies were consumed by home and homeschooling (my first vocation) I started to get very frustrated and angsty about not moving forward on my projects. I felt like I had to prove to myself that I could do it, by golly, that I had it in me to produce and sell, and to help support our family this way. I needed to push harder.

And yet, I know through painful experience, the answer for me in these situations is not pushing, but pondering. Pushing takes strength and is often necessary in many areas of our lives to do the hard work of living. But stopping to ponder, and to listen, takes courage and is equally as necessary to find discernment into where we should invest our strength, where we should push.

I was very frustrated with my situation (these kids are taking so much of my time!) and with myself, and All. The. Things. I lacked internally and externally to move forward with my ideas.

I was paddling upstream, and I was unsure: was this a situation requiring strength to keep paddling or the courage to re-assess and change course? I do a lot of paddling upstream in my life in terms of society's expectations and values, sometimes it's hard to differentiate when I'm supposed to paddle and when I'm supposed to flow.

And then summer came, and our trip, and though initially I had hoped to find traction on my projects in the change of pace for the summer, I soon resolved myself to a different path. I set my intentions to embrace what was right in front of me. And I had a great summer.

I still hadn't resolved the issue of the stagnating projects and the deeper issue for me of my lack of vision, but I resolved for summer to just stop worrying about it. Our trip out west this summer felt once-in-a-lifetime, the kids hurtling as they are to independence. I didn't want to spend it over-analyzing and working away on a project with the mountains right outside our door.

I talked with friends and family about my frustrated efforts over spring. Conversations with Katie, Krista and my Mom were especially helpful. And then as we were driving home, somewhere in Illinois, I articulated the whole mess to Damien. I explained my frustrations with myself and the situation. Is there a problem with me that I can't progress on my goals? What is wrong with me?

I talked about my motivations to get back in the game and the desire to earn money to alleviate some of our financial strain. We discussed if it was maybe time for me to get a job, instead of trying to produce and sell a product online. And what kinds of income-earning jobs I might be suited for and enjoy doing (after years of being self-directed and independent). Perhaps more to the point, what kind of jobs could I possibly pick-up, without training and experience, that could come close to the remuneration that Damien's work can earn for our family.

We talked about our past experience of working together. We asked ourselves if that was an option we wanted to explore again, without all the emotional insecurities from the first time around.

Then we came back to the reality of the present, which is that I already have a full-time job! Which is why I was finding it so hard to move forward on other projects. This is a time-intense season of homeschooling for our family. It's a time-intense season of raising kids, period. More time-intense than I had anticipated years ago when I envisioned this stage of family life.

And we concluded we'd rather have the stress of home-educating our kids on a single self-employed, middle class income, allowing us to spend our days together and for me to have the time to invest in a community that supports this endeavor, than the stress of me working for an enterprise or a mission outside of family, pulling my energies away from these final years of homeschooling, pulling my energies away from the work I am clearly called to do, and love to do.

What this meant practically, is that I shelved the soap course. Even though I'd already worked many hours on it. I felt the sting of not-good-enough, especially since this is the second time I've shelved that course. I still want to do it, my material is still here but it's not the right timing for family life.

The writing project however, those words I just have to write, it stays. And that block of writing time has been back on the schedule since late summer. I don't know how and when I will publish what I'm writing. It might be my first book, or maybe a course. I'm not hung-up on what it will become. I'm doing the work of getting that Idea into the physical world.

The freedom to make this decision, to say, it's not the right season to pursue income-earning work, is a privilege, I realize. But it's also the result of a long string of choices we've made over the years about how we prioritize our values.

This is what we set out to do, twenty years ago: to make a home together, have a family, support our kids and each other, stay married, build community and relationships, homeschool our kids through high school.

The Big Vision, the Big Goal. I'm doing it, right now. It's hard work. I often feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task (what were we thinking?)

But this is one of the most clear callings in my life. The calling of creating and raising a family, providing a home and an education for our children.

What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been! How often in the process we mask ourselves in faces that are not our own. How much dissolving and shaking of ego we must endure before we discover our deep identity - the true self within every human being that is the seed of authentic vocation.
~ Parker Palmer

In a way, we've arrived. Of course once you arrive at one destination, you're aiming for the next. And that is what I have been trying to craft a vision for, but I'm still so invested in the present work, I don't have a lot of imagination for the time after this. And I'm coming to understand that that's ok.

I've been comparing myself to other women (oh this is such a weak area for me, comparing myself) who build online-based careers and homeschool, and I figured I should be able to do that also. There is still potential for that but I'm not interested in juggling a bunch of jobs, or working evenings and weekends to build a career, a blog, a business. As it is, those hours are already full with the work (& leisure) of homemaking, mothering, marriage, community building, and taking care of myself (which by the way, is not last on the list in terms of priority).

Do I want to earn money? Yes. To be paid for what you do brings a unique satisfaction. Do I want to relieve some of Damien's burden to provide for our family? Definitely yes. But he has a responsibility to fulfill, as do I, and both Damien and I agree that income-earning is not my responsibility at this point of marriage and family life. I don't want that stress, on top of the existing stresses of my life. And Damien doesn't want a stressed-out wife on top of his existing stresses. Because let's be real, it's not like me working a very part-time job, which is all I'd barely have time to do, while sacrificing other things that bring me joy, is going to significantly alleviate financial burdens.

Acknowledging that my full-time work right now is home and family almost feels like a betrayal of previous goals and dreams of mine: to partner with my husband in earning an income, to be a professional blogger (I still want this but I'm not sure the right path for me), to join the ranks of creative entrepreurial moms working online. But it's not a betrayal of course, it's an deepening awareness of self and the evolution of family life.

Looking for a vision and trying to earn money when it's not what I feel called to do for our family right now, divides and diverts my energies from the work I clearly feel called, and equipped, to do.

And so it's back to Let Your Life Speak and asking myself, "Renee, what is your life telling you that you are called to do?"

I am called to build a garden. I am called to contribute to the village of our homeschool co-op. I am called to be a friend and life-partner to Damien. I am called to write. I am called to take care of our home in the way that I do; with good management, attention to order, beauty, and details. I am called to be a mom. I am called to study and learn. I am called to build community and make connections. I am called to do the work of Christ (which is to love), with the body of Christ, in the city of Montreal. I am called to appreciate beauty. I am called to get to know and care for our neighbors. I am called to be still in the presence of the Spirit. I am called to have relationship-building, beauty-questing, and health-supporting adventures with my husband. I am called to speak freedom and courage into people's lives because these are the most hard-won and difficult things for me to live. I am called to read good books and ponder what they say. I am called to share my space, share my life.

Vocation at its deepest level is, "This is something I can't not do, for reasons I'm unable to explain to anyone else and don't fully comprehend myself but that are nonetheless compelling."
~ Parker Palmer

Some of these callings are vocations and others are just such ordinary things I feel they are hardly worth being described as a calling. And yet, I'm coming to see that those things I can't not do, because they are part of my Essence, an expression of true self, which is to say: the Holy Spirit moving through me, working in harmony with how God knit me together, are in fact my callings.

And right now, I have three very clear vocational callings: homemaking, homeschooling, and writing.

I made the mistake of thinking I ought not to write because I wasn’t making money, and therefore in the eyes of many people around me I had not business to spend hours every day at the typewriter… I was looking in the wrong mirrors.
~ Madeline L'Engle

I can't say I've made that mistake, but I have scratched my head raw sometimes thinking about how to earn money from writing. Perhaps I was seeking a validation or justification for something which needs no external reward to begin with. I simply want to write, and continually get better at it.

These days, Damien and I are actively discussing, after a year and a half hiatus on the subject, our vision for the next stage of life. We are listening to each other's hearts and asking ourselves, how do I support my spouse to be everything she/he feels called to be? What was once a wound and a broken place is slowly healing. And I'm finally starting to understand the vision he's had for that last five years (the one I tried to support) is not about a specific product, website, or project, but is about becoming the best of what we can be, together and individually, to build a solid future together. A future we are both excited to walk into. It's about the next Big Thing.

We have a mutual understanding of each other at this point that we did not have before. We don't have all the answers, or even most of the answers, for how we will achieve our desires, but we have self-awareness and an awareness of the other that has been hard-won.

We’ve each disentangled ourselves, bit by bit, from the thicket of couplehood, and have emerged scarred after plucking out thorns of need, resentment, jealousy, and feel equal, and distinct, and secure in ourselves. Still, increasingly, we realize that it’s our love for one another that feeds our separate strengths.
~ Beth Powning

What am I aiming for in a career, a vocation, in my work? What is my vision?

Quite simply to do the work before me, and live the things I'm called to do. And I'm trusting that the work in front of me will evolve into the next stage. I don't need to be frustrated or feel forced. Perhaps instead of paddling upstream I can find a movement in which to flow.

Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice "out there" calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice "in here" calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given to me at birth by God.
~ Parker Palmer

Oddly, what I've learned is that the making of self is more a matter of yielding than forcing, it is like a gradual clarifying, and the slow, surprising emergence of an unexpected shape.
~ Beth Powning

Within the next couple years, as our kids start graduating, I want to start income-earning work. I want to be able to financially help launch our kids into adulthood and to help fund more travel and adventures with my husband. I want to contribute financially to our goals for the future. At least I say that now, maybe our path will take me in another direction, but that's where I'm currently aiming. Maybe it will be a job that builds on my previous career as a homeschooler, maybe it will be something brand new. Maybe I will work with my husband again, joining forces in projects or a business venture. Maybe I will earn income as a writer. Maybe I will tap into my organization, management and administrative skills and join a team of some kind.

I have a lot of competencies, skills, and experience that would make me an asset to many different types of organizations and structures. I see a lot of options in the future. And I see writing, homemaking (I started before the kids came along and I'll continue when they are gone), travel and adventure, beauty seeking, community and relationship-building as integral parts of who I am, regardless of a career path.

Right now, I'm not trying to figure out that future career, instead, I'm putting my efforts into what I'm clearly called to do and I'm playing with the Ideas that spark my curiosity. My chief aim is not to produce a product, find a job, or grow an email subscriber list. My goal right now is to nurture a sense of inner confidence, in all my callings, from a place of deep security and well-being. This is a spiritual path, not an employment one.

High-functioning Sixes are self-confident and self-affirming because they have learned to recognize and trust their own inner guidance. Their faith in themselves often manifests as outstanding courage and leadership. They lead from a deep understanding of people's insecurities and frailties, and others respond to them, seeing their sincerity and willingness to be honest about their own weaknesses. They nurture an egalitarian spirit, a sense that there really are not leaders and followers, just different people with different talents finding ways to combine them for a common good. This desire to engage, to find common ground, and to work for everyone's mutual safety and benefit is a gift that our species needs for survival.
~ Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

A working relationship with Damien, or anyone else for that matter, can't provide what God alone can give. Following, leading, "being good", "doing the right thing", managing well, having success in marriage, mothering, homeschooling, blogging, vocation, career, etc., none of that can secure what can only come from within.

These have been Big Lessons for me. Hard lessons. To be broken, to be in unhealthy places emotionally and mentally and to re-build from those is not how I wanted to find security or freedom.

I thought I had to Craft a Vision to help me find my footing. But the path for me, the way I can step strong and sure, is to walk in the confidence of who I am and whose I am even though I don't have a Big Vision for my post-homeschooling vocation.

Someday, maybe, I'll have a clear income-earning vocation vision. Or maybe, someday, I might just look around and see I'm already doing it.

Some days I wish I had a different art to communicate ideas; hope, joy, beauty, grief, loss and love.

More words, better words, more refined words, more poetic words. I feel at a loss.

I sometimes think that if I possessed a different means to share my heart and mind the excavating process would be easier. That somehow the artists with the abilities, and the discipline, to write a song, or a poem, to paint a picture or choreograph a dance, that they have an easier time of it.

My tools feel crude and blunt-edged. Words. Photos. But they are what I have. They are at hand, they are mine. And with them I dig and bring to the light that which is hidden. What I unearth feels like some precious artifact still caked in dirt, mud, and clay. I am frustrated because I am only able to partially excavate these artifacts, without breaking the whole thing apart. I want my words to shave off the excess soil, to be fine brushes that carefully remove the trivial, leaving the essence intact and exposed, burnished.

There are times, like this, where I feel practically illiterate to communicate those things most important to me.

We often think pain and fear are the most difficult experiences to explain, but equally difficult are the words for beauty and transcendence, connection; the Divine.

I feel unfit for the job of excavating the essence of an experience with words. I feel clumsy. Which is why I reach for my camera so often. Here. This is it. But that tool also is not precise enough. I am not skilled enough.

So I will be as a mother is to her child. Just do your best my dear.


I didn't know there would be a supermoon last night. I don't follow the phases of the moon very closely. I don't have one of these hanging in my home. I'm kind of clueless.

Which is maybe why it was so incredible on Sunday night, leaving Trader Joe's in South Burlington, to see the biggest moon I've probably ever seen rising low and luminous in the eastern sky.


pulled over in the Williston, VT rest stop
attempting to photograph the moon and only succeeding at capturing a hint of the spectacular sunset to the west

It was a privilege to be in a place with some open sky, open time, to bear witness to this phenomenon. If I had been at home, cooking supper in our apartment in Montreal, I probably would not have seen this moon. Except in my Instagram feed the following morning.

But for this moment I was here. I did bear witness. And I so desperately wanted to photograph this beauty, this marvel, that I did not even know had a name (we didn't find out we had seen a supermoon till Damien was scrolling through his RSS later that night).


moonlight at midnight, Vermont woods

It is no wonder to me that people throughout time have bowed down in worship to nature. Have stood in fear, trembling, and awe at the night sky.

I don't worship that which is created. I worship the Creator, but it is the creation that reveals the Creator. And I do look at the moon, and say You are Beautiful and I am speaking to both the object and the artist. And I long to be filled with that beauty.

I want to be filled with the moon. I don't know how else to say it. In my mind I see an artist's rendition of what this looks like, a luminous sphere in the center of my being, arms outspread, in hopes to grab more, to know more. An insatiable desire for the Creator, as revealed in part, by nature.

And so I beheld this light, wordless. Being filled with the glory of the moon. Experiencing a deep ache that I could not be filled with the moon itself. Experiencing the profound joy that I was witness to this beauty, full of awe and wonder and worship. In the passenger seat of the car, having just shopped for our supper in a busy market.

I tried to take pictures. We stopped the car. I didn't have the right tools for the job. I had only my heart, my eyes, my memory.


the summit of Mount Mansfield in the clouds

Earlier in the day we went for a hike up Mount Mansfield, Vermont's highest mountain. We never made it to the top. We didn't make it to the section of the Long Trail we hoped to hike along the ridge. The trail was too icy and we were not prepared.

When we were making our plans for this weekend getaway we had forgotten about ice and snow and New England mountains in November. And so we left our crampons at home, and were unable to summit the mountain as we hoped.

We didn't give a lot of thought and planning to the details of this trip. The efforts were directed towards extricating ourselves from the vortex which is our life with three teenagers, homeschool co-op, work, church commitments, grocery shopping and our malfunctioning fridge (going on four weeks now with three visits so far from the repairman).

It felt like it was all we could do to get out of the city, and remember to pack our passports. We didn't think too much about what we'd need to pack for a day-hike in the mountains and so we forgot our crampons.

There was a lot of ice on the trail, even below tree level, and I felt insecure without my poles, which I also left at home.

And I was frustrated with myself, how could I forget these essentials to November hiking? (I did remember to pack my bright-orange blaze. But in the relative safety of Underhill State Park amongst the company of many other hikers, some in blaze-orange toques and vests, we felt safe enough not to wear them.)

We forget things we know. And then there are the things we never knew and have yet to learn.

And the precious gift of drawing apart for a time, of making the (what feels like a) monumental effort to get away for a day, a weekend, is that you are given a chance to learn things you don't know and remember things you may have forgotten.

Before this weekend I never knew the amazingly mellow and sublime taste of black garlic miso soup, which can be found at Gaku Ramen on Church St. in downtown Burlington, VT. I didn't know what the sun looked like as it set in the west over Lake Champlain. Spectacular.

Before this weekend, I had forgotten for a time, in the busyness of raising our children together, that the longings of my husband's heart are as intense for him as my own heart's desire to find truth and craft the right words to express ideas.

I had forgotten what windblown ice and snow look like on stunted spruce above tree line and that you should pack crampons for hiking 4,000 footers in New England in November.

I am going home today to my apartment, my children, a city I love, a robust schedule and a malfunctioning fridge. How do I live so I don't forget the comforting belly-warmth of a bowl of black miso soup? So I don't forget the hidden contours of my beloved's heart. So I don't forget what the first snows of the season look like on a New England mountain peak. So I don't forget the most luminous moon I've ever seen.

How do we live, in our schedules, in our work, in our cities; and still pay attention, remember, and learn?

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