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High School

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?

These Christmas stories are supposed to be short on words, as much for my own sake, as for yours. So I'll try.

When we moved to Montreal from the Gaspe peninsula 18 months ago a lot changed. I've chronicled many of those changes here on the blog.

Our life is all about raising teenagers now: socially, spiritually, academically, we are heavily invested in this phase of family life. And for us, that means we no longer have a one day a week practice. It's just not feasible for us at this stage of family life, with homeschool co-op, social engagements (the life of teenagers), and a commitment to and involvement in a church body (something our kids want as much as, if not more, than Damien and I).

I have mourned the loss of this part of our family life and history. We grew our kids up hiking in the woods, summiting mountains all over the east coast, in New England and Quebec. Family life evolves and life in the city is full of good things and bountiful opportunities but I miss this.

Skiing together is something we've managed to hold on to, though it too has evolved over the years.

We started out as backcountry skiers, with a hodge-podge of equipment designed for gentle slopes. The following year we got more serious about climbing mountains (on skis) and we decided to improve our skill and work on technique with a ski pass to our local hill, which we happened to live at. (Yes, we lived at a ski hill). That particular year we did a lot of skiing.

The winter preceding our thru-hike we trained for our hike by regularly climbing up the ski hill (on skis) and skiing down. The winter after our thru-hike we decided we'd stick to the ski resort skiing, a couple people in our family were tired of climbing mountains.

This is our second winter in Montreal. We're currently a crew of 2 snowboarders, 2 telemark skiers, and one alpine skier. We haven't been in the backcountry together as a family for a while. But we still make an effort to ski together. And we juggle homeschool co-op, work (someone has to earn the money to pay for all this), church commitments, and social engagements to make this possible.

This is our sixth year on skis as a family. Because we are self-employed homeschoolers we take advantage of the deeply discounted mid-week seasons pass at Bromont. (And this year we purchased the passes in October to make it even more affordable.)

Depending on Celine's plans for next year this may be the last year we are able to do this once a week, all together. (I don't want to talk about it.) It will be another evolution, another change. I'll face it when the time comes. This winter we're all still together in the outdoors, and hanging out in the ski lodge, one day a 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.

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