Chasing Dreams | Personal

Sometimes it takes my breath away and tears fill my eyes to look around and see the changes in my life over the last two and a half years. I’ve written about the struggle over and over again. This entire blog’s concept has always been rooted in the promise I made to myself after Rowan was born to get up and live, to love each step. To engage and find the sparkly edges of life rather than wistfully watching other people do the same.

You may have noticed the header change above. With the beginning of my photography business, I’ve considered a few options for blogging through the process and sharing my work. I have managed two Facebook pages for a few months. I thought about starting a separate blog for photography and keeping this one close for personal and training thoughts like it’s always been. I questioned whether shifting the title for this blog was moving away from the promise to myself.

And then I realized that whether it’s training for races or tackling parenting or marriage questions or finding my writing voice or showcasing photography and the journey that comes with it, all of it still holds fast to the original intent. All of it is still loving each step. A name change that makes it more cohesive, that evolves with me doesn’t forsake anything.

All of it is me. Me chasing dreams and conquering fear. Me setting goals and providing a positive example to my children that you can figure out your life, one step at a time, even though there have been many moments over the years when everything was incredibly hazy and confusing.

You can bring everything into focus (pun intended).

The Love Each Step Facebook page is going to be disabled shortly– two pages are too much to manage. Everything will be posted to my new page. Please join me there if you haven’t already!

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Unpacking the Past

IMG_5834For the last several years, I’ve kept a part of my past fairly quiet. I would determinedly work to pretend it never happened, and in fact, I never shared much of it with Jon. And for no reason other than my issues with it. Recently I found the courage to embrace it, and I found the voice to share it with him. It’s nothing dark and mysterious. Just a little bit of who I was in between my divorce and our relationship that I packed away. I packed it away from just about everyone because of a fear of acceptance and because of the lack of courage to stand firmly in who I am and what I believe.

When we let go of believing that some part of our past shouldn’t have been, when we finally begin to let go of that- without pretending that the painful moments didn’t happen- then we’re open to a creative relationship with the past. We are able to fully embrace everything that ever was. ~Adyashanti

And when I have shared bits of myself, there were always qualifications, discounts, little hedges of rationalization to let me off of the hook if there was any pushback. By timidly putting myself, my beliefs, and my life out there, it was easier to quickly pull it back when things felt unsafe. It allowed me to be more of a chameleon and shift and blend in with the crowd.

In being completely open about who I really am and who I was and how it all got me here today, by unpacking that part of my past, I had to be vulnerable, and I had to remember that our marriage is one of acceptance and love. We are not completely alike; sometimes our beliefs and views of the world are wildly different, and we push back against each other. But we have enough common ground rooted in a safe, loving environment that we are each able to grow in our own ways, shoulder to shoulder, without growing apart.

So I shared and shared. Jon asked questions. I answered without hesitation. When I finished, Jon looked at me amusedly, but lovingly and said, You are such a hippie.

I stopped and thought about that. And then I smiled. I don’t need a label to define myself. I’m not searching for one. But in those five words, I could understand a little more of who I am in an unforced and natural and organic way. I could see the pieces of my whole past coming together to create this picture of me today. It was simply me. What I liked. What I believed. Suddenly none of it felt like something I needed to worry about others judging. I realized that in my conversation with him, there were no buts, no lilted question marks, no caveats. There were only assertive periods and declarative statements that described the me who was lost and who was intent on figuring things out. I wasn’t ready to own my life entirely then. I wasn’t brave enough to boldly step outside the default. Instead I tiptoed around it and sometimes waded through it. Deep in my heart I knew what I believed and loved, but I was too fearful to embrace it and make it my own.

Until now. Unpacking it all, laying it out, it’s what has been missing. It’s why I haven’t been able to be fully rooted in the who question and answer. There is an intense freedom, a sense of finally belonging to myself now that the who question is quieted. There is a courageousness to finally just be.

So who, then?

  • I went to Reiki often, a type of energy healing, and I loved it. I used to hide it from people. I would never fully explain what it was because I was embarrassed. I’d love to go again.
  • At the Buddhist retreat I went to, one night we chanted in a steam hut. It was incredible. We meditated at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and it was the best New Year’s I’ve ever spent. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
  • I spent a weekend at an energy healing workshop, and it was an amazing experience.
  • I once went to a movie about the history of yoga. I totally enjoyed it, which is something I’ve always had a hard time owning. (There’s an unimportant backstory here.)
  • I love my mala beads. As more than a symbol but as a connection with the earth and with my intention to find freedom in being who I am.
  • I love my Catholic faith, and I need some of the parameters of organized religion, but at the same time I love my more open and spiritual belief system (that I’ve tended to hide away). I’m learning that I need both. Without either one, everything falls flat for me. It may seem like a disparate relationship, but it comes together in a beautiful way when I embrace them both.
  • I have always had a hard time with formal prayer. Instead, I find my connection with God and with a greater sense of peace through quiet, through nature, and through meditation.
  • This is my most favorite quote. When I first read it more than seven years ago, everything seemed to make sense. And it still does.

When I was young, I believed that life might unfold in an orderly way, according to my hopes and expectations. But now I understand that the Way winds like a river, always changing, ever onward, following God’s gravity toward the Great Sea of Being. My journeys reveal that the Way itself creates the warrior; that every path leads to peace, every choice to wisdom. And that life has always been, and will always be, arising in Mystery. ~Socrates from The Journeys of Socrates by Dan Millman

Don’t hide yourself away. Unpack. Unburden. Immerse yourself in exactly who you are and want to be without worry. There is such freedom to live moment to moment in the stillness of who you really are.

Rooted in Now

Photo Apr 21, 11 13 18 AMMy friend Kristy and I must share a brain on some level. We sometimes pen similar blog posts on the same day and only after we share them with each other do we realize how closely our thoughts aligned. Or we preview posts before they are published and have conversations that can be extensions of the post. That is what happened today. Kristy published this post about dreaming, about happiness, about the struggle to balance drive with contentment. To yearn but be happy with reality. To plan but know that everything is in perfect order.

In our conversation she suggested that I make my responses a post. My interpretation to her thoughts. And we foresee this being something we do more of, too. My post, her response. Her post, my response. Because it’s from sharing ourselves with others, from being vulnerable and communicating that we grow most deeply. 

The other day on a trail run I glimpsed a bit of yellow along the neutral hues of leaves and pine needles. I passed the first one, immediately wished I had stopped to see just what it was, but kept going ahead. Until I saw another. I crouched and smiled at the single, resting honeysuckle bloom. It was so simple and yet held so much beauty and life. As I moved along the trail, I found more of the blooms, always singular, always brightly yellow.

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I chose the trails that day because I didn’t want to fret about running pace for my long run. It’s no secret that I get consumed by my Garmin, but when I’m on the trails, even if the pace is displayed, I rarely look at it. I think it is partly knowing that I will slow down on the trails and partly simply not caring what my pace is. My feet feel light and happy, my heart soars, my head is clear when I find myself there.

What I realize on those kinds of trail runs, what the honeysuckles made me remember even more acutely is that the only thing we have for sure is now. We have to let go of our ego’s hold on how what we might be or might have one day will define us. It’s when the quietness at our root seeps in beyond the static that we remember: running faster or taking a better picture or writing the perfect essay doesn’t define anything about the real us. It merely strokes the ego. And we do have to find success in this world; goals are important. But we also have to trust in what is now and who we are before and after those achievements, finding a deep and unwavering happiness in who we are at the root of our being, and in the quiet stillness beyond our thoughts is where it is found.

I get glimpses of it during yoga or while on a run when I’m not obsessed with time. Or most often when I simply sit in the sunshine or spy a lone honeysuckle resting on pine straw or chance upon tall trees spiraling out of the water.

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We are the constant light of the sun: always shining and always full of love. If we can remember that, even a just little, if we can be as stalwart as the sun’s rays in maintaining presence and trust, our lives will unfold beautifully before our eyes.

Perspective

Photo Mar 23, 11 34 22 AMYesterday I was scrolling through Training Peaks, the app my coach uses to schedule my workouts, and I saw that next to the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile race for next Sunday was a note that Ironman 70.3 Raleigh was eight weeks away. And my coach, who already knows me so well, also left a comment that the note was intended to excite me and not freak me out.

My impulse was to freak out, and though I almost choked on my coffee, I wasn’t settling in that that anxious place. I’ve been anxious plenty of times about Raleigh. I’ve questioned whether it was a race I wanted to train for or if I really wanted to race it at all. I’ve allowed insecurities to creep in and mangle my confidence to shreds leaving me to gather up the pieces and, with the support of friends, move forward.

But suddenly, I’m realizing it doesn’t feel quite so huge and looming as training for Augusta did last year, and a friend reminded me that my mental space was occupied for that September race in January of last year. For nine months nothing else mattered but September 29, 2013. My world, my thoughts, my time revolved around that ultimate goal and all of the hours and days required to get there.

And maybe that’s what you need to do to get through something so colossal the first time, but looking back, I’m still not sure all of what I was trying to prove (or to whom). It almost felt like a race getting to the race, and I know I was trying to prove to myself that I had it in me to do something big. I know that confidence (or lack of it) was the driving force. And I don’t regret that part. I don’t regret the changes it brought, and the sense of accomplishment I have.

Photo Mar 26, 2 22 05 PMThis spring is about balance, and with it half ironman training is finally falling into a proportional place. It is no longer a defining label I cling to; it is now simply something I love to do. It is part of the whole of me instead of the only thing I held onto in an attempt to find a deeper understanding of myself and my perspective of the world. Because when we cling to one hyper-focused thing, we eliminate so many other factors. We eliminate friends and family; we eliminate other activities we love. I built a wall around myself using the race and training as an excuse, which allowed me to sink back into old protective habits and thought processes. I might have made great strides physically, but in many other ways, life was not about growth last year. It was stunted, and looking back, I wonder if I even felt alive. Did I ever exhale or did I live holding my breath simply hoping I’d find the end of that 70.3 mile course and cross the finish line? Sometimes I’m afraid to look for the answer to that question, but I’d imagine a glance at my Instagram feed from last year would clear it up.

That tension is in stark contrast to this year that has felt alive and pulses with a beating heart and deep, cleansing breaths. It has been organically filled with friends and date nights and girl nights and family time. What felt taxing or too involved or too scary last year has naturally fallen into place. My friend Kristy is focusing on finding breathing room this year, and that is the best way to describe what is happening. There is breathing room and it is not just seeping in around the edges of training and thinking about a race. It cushions me and generates a kinetic energy that flows and connects.

This breathing room gives me the space to add ironman training in to my life as part of the whole. Instead of being the sole thread that bound the days and weeks of last year, the most important keystone that anchored me to myself, it is now something less and more. It is one of the many variegated parts that are coming together to create the brilliant mosaic that is this life. It enhances who I am and provides me with a place to test myself and grow in many ways, but it it is not the only litmus test for growth.

Instead the litmus test for growth is the happy moments that exist alongside and in front of the hard training. It culminates in the date nights and girl nights, the social trail runs and chatty family bike rides. It is noticing that race day is about nine weeks away, choking a little on my coffee, and then smiling and moving on with my day.

Stay the Course

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Before sunrise this morning we headed to the oceanfront for the start of the Shamrock Marathon weekend. Jon was running the 8k: his longest run ever. Gage was running the Operation Smile Final Mile: his first race ever. I was nervous about keeping everyone happy for the day. Jon raced at 7:45, and Gage didn’t run until 11:30. What would we do in between? There would be tens of thousands of people contained in a very small portion of the resort area. How would I wrangle three kids within that chaos? Rowan is just now comfortable with potty training. How would we handle port-a-potties, crowded bathrooms, lines, and the potential for no toilet paper?IMG_1251 copy

As I started worrying about all of these things last night, I reminded myself to stay focused on all of the good. We were supporting each other as a family. Jon and Gage were both doing something they’ve never done before. I got to be crowd support for Jon along a race course for the first time. The weather would be sunny and warm. We would be within sight of the ocean all day. It held tremendous promise, so I packed us a picnic brunch, the running stroller, extra clothes for Rowan and trusted we would be fine.

And we were. We parked quickly, saw Jon off at the starting line, caught my friend, Courtney, the 8k Elite for the Day win, and found Jon easily at the finish line. There was a neighborhood park and picnic area next to our parking spot, so we had a relaxing brunch and some time to play before Gage’s race.IMG_5162

I love that running brings people together– friends, communities, and today, for us, a family. We had so many different opportunities to just be together today, to root for each other, to see that a morning spent together has possibilities for joy and growth that we could have missed out on if we had chosen to make it easier by leaving Rowan with a babysitter or to divide and conquer the races. Instead, we were all in, all together. Photo Mar 15, 11 15 31 AM

And that’s new for us. Over five years in as a blended family, and I feel like we are just reaching some understanding of what it is that works for us. Of a space where we can feel cohesive. And maybe a little of it is finding the courage to step out together instead of finding ways to make it quieter, easier, and smaller. Today, we ventured out as a unit, the five of us, and did much more than run races and cheer. We found joy and happiness and ease with each other in a situation that isn’t vacation. That was fairly simple and everyday. IMG_5155

Tomorrow I am set to run the Shamrock Half and hopefully put to rest a very ancient PR from 2008, which was also my first half-marathon. As I was worrying about goal times and paces and strategies this afternoon, my coach Denise, from Red Hammer Racing, called. We talked about a pacing plan. It’s conservative, but it should lead me to a PR, and it will put me in control of this race. It will teach me how to better pace a race consistently, and it should put me in a place to run the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler very successfully.

My PR stands at 2:14:13, which is a 10:14 average.

My goals:

A: 2:08, 9:46 average
B: 2:10, 9:55 average
C: 2:12, 10:05 average

Based on all of my training runs, my B goal, which is how my pacing strategy is focused, should be within reach. Denise told me today that as I increase my pace over the thirteen miles if any pace begins to feel like a struggle and if I feel like stepping to the next level would create problems, to stay where I was. Hold the pace I was running and fight for it. Tell myself whatever I needed to hear to keep my focus.

When I was talking with Jon about the plan, he reassured me that I’d do great. And told me to stay the course.

Stay the course.

There is so much wisdom in those words. It is ridiculously frustrating to me that my first half-marathon from six years ago is still my fastest. It has been maddening that it can be incredibly hard for us to bond as a family. I question both situations frequently, and with those words, I understand a little more what I need to do, what we as a family need to do.

Stay the course.

For this family and for this race. They are worth fighting for, and this weekend is teaching me to believe in both even more and to remember to trust in race day magic and the magic of a family intent on succeeding.IMG_5163

photowalk wednesday, v. 7: the essential

IMG_4997Wednesday always happens to be a perfect day for our photowalks. Rowan doesn’t have school, and the rest of our schedule is usually light. This week, Wednesday was supposed to be warm, but very windy with a chance of rain most of the day. So we went out on Monday instead to a local park. (Just a little disclaimer. Not that it matters much!)

Rowan ran lightly around the trails, stopping here and there to inspect a pinecone, leaf, or flower. After the first several pictures, I felt a familiar sense of anxiety creep in. The pictures didn’t feel great. The backdrop was pretty and simple, but a little uninspiring and sparse while it straddles the end of winter and beginning of spring. It lacked the vast beauty of the oceanfront, the variety of playthings and books in the library. But for all the lack, I noticed it responded with a quiet brilliance and a profound freedom. It brought to mind one of my favorite Thoreau quotes:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

–Henry David Thoreau

I’m understanding that our photowalks might not always yield stunning pictures. That the landscape might not always be breathtaking, but within the simplicity, is the essential. And that the quiet moments that are the root of this life, that persist in hanging on to hope, that deviate from the default.

These moments, it turns out, are the best ones of all.

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I also played with shutter speeds, fast and slow– something I have been avoiding. A swinging girl is the perfect way to practice!IMG_5073IMG_5060IMG_5083IMG_5098

Hanging on to Hopeful

Photo Feb 28, 11 15 06 AM (1)Beer stresses me out. Which I imagine one could say is a good thing. If beer tends to stress you out, you tend to avoid beer. Or at least in my case. And at least any beer that isn’t normal beer.

Let’s back up just a bit. I am a play it safe kind of girl. I grew up that way. I had a grandmother and parents who taught me by example to stay the line, walk the straight and narrow. Follow the rules and maintain the status quo. Learn from the vast majority what is right and wrong and worth following or not. Live quietly and safely.

So I followed the middle-ground crowd. I listened to music the radio stations played. I dressed in standard style. I would silently scorn things that seemed out of line or on the periphery. I couldn’t understand why someone would choose something that fluctuated from normal.

Sometimes this is good.

I rarely got into trouble.

Sometimes this is bad.

I never knew who I was. I never could commit to a style, an outlook, a philosophy, a story. (And sometimes that is still true.)

And often an intense restlessness surfaces, a persistent need to scratch at the neat and tidy edges of the mainstream for something more. Throughout the years, in desperate attempts to calm these maddening and shifty-eyed moments, I found something to change. And quickly. A new pair of shoes (on a simple level). A new job (on a very complicated level). I haven’t been able to target the source of this restlessness exactly until a few weeks ago when I read this amazing post from my good friend Melissa (excerpted here):

We’re all writing our stories every day. We’re all living our stories every day.

But sometimes… something happens along the way. We grow up, we get busy, and then we look around one day and find that the story we’re living doesn’t match the story in our hearts.

We aren’t living our story. We’re living someone else’s story, we’re living the culture’s default story, we’re living a generic story with fill-in-the-blank details.

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Maybe you’re not sure what your story is anymore. That’s okay. Slow down. Listen for the still small voice in your heart. It’s whispering the way back.

My heart sank and my stomach bottomed as her words sliced through the static and left me feeling desperately sad but at the same time incredibly hopeful.

I realized that for most of my life I’ve defaulted. To what’s easy. To what’s popular. To a fill in the blank, generic existence. Understanding this, the restlessness, the constant and overwhelming need to change things, but not knowing how or why- these hazy edges have finally come into sharp focus.

Sad, but hopeful.

I’m hanging on to hopeful.

Photo Mar 08, 6 41 39 AM (1)So when we had dinner plans recently with a few other couples, stress creeped in: about beer. I knew several of our friends were quite knowledgeable about craft beer. And my go-to is a Blue Moon with an orange. It’s normal; it’s popular. I like it.

Why chance to change?

It’s just beer, my friend jokingly told me in the midst of my fretting.

And it is just beer. But it is so much more than that, too. For me Blue Moon was the default story. It was the generic, fill in the blank choice. I like it, and there is nothing wrong with that, but to never open to other choices and experiences, to never see if just maybe there was something better, well, that’s the default.

Default choices are where life becomes thin, flat, and monotone. In the residual of those choices is where I find myself existing but not living. Breathing but not breathing in. It rises out of fear, out of laziness, out of an inability to pinpoint the source of the restlessness.

I’m learning that breaking out of the default storyline requires more than new shoes, a new job, or even a new beer. It is intentional living and a quiet ear towards the whisperings of the heart.  When restlessness surfaces, I realize now that it is my heart’s song: an urgent call to return to my own story that can be variegated and colorful and layered with choices that reflect its song. Not the default, generic, fill in the blanks choices, but my choices.

My heart is hanging on to hopeful.

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This is part of a link-up I’m hosting. Do you have your own story? Link up here!

photowalk wednesday, v. 3: snow (again)

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Mother nature has certainly given us a beautiful backdrop for the past three Wednesdays. We have had fog and snow, and snow is typically rare around here most of the time. This week was especially fun because the boys were home for snow play, too. A few of these pictures have quickly become favorites already.

I finally decided to shoot in RAW for the first time. I have been apprehensive to switch because I knew I would need to spend extra time processing the images, but now? I’m sold on it! There was so much more flexibility and width of adjustments, even with my limited and novice knowledge. I’ll be taking a photography class with Katrina Kennedy from Capture Your 365 at the end of February, and I’m really excited to see how I will grow more as an everyday photographer.

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Have you entered to win a signed copy of Katrina Kenison’s newest book, Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment? Check out my review and the details for how to enter. (It’s easy!) The deadline to enter is midnight on Monday, February, 3, 2014.

The Path That Appears

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On our recent trip to the mountains, we were jolted out of sleep by Rowan who was overcome by a sudden stomach virus. We were in an unfamiliar place without the comforts of home, without the linen closet of extra towels, the familiar wash cloths, the extra pillows and blankets. Without a fully stocked refrigerator and a nearby convenience store for ginger ale. My impulse was to crumble; my mind scattered to worst case scenarios. To the next day’s check-out time, the four hour drive home, the prospects of the rest of us getting sick. As I tended to a very frightened, very sick little girl, I realized that all of that fretful worrying and future planning wasn’t going to shuttle me to a place of peace. There was no sure answer there in the dimly lit hallway at four in the morning. There was simply me and my little girl, a mother comforting her daughter regardless of the unanswerable questions swirling about.

Things, life rarely go as planned. We all know this. Yet we still frenetically list and outline, bullet and check box. We dream and hope and build a mental vault of wishes and could-bes. We embark on adventures feeling fully equipped only to realize we’ve forgotten our toothbrush or more startlingly see ourselves in the mirror at thirty or thirty-five and wonder how exactly life has become what it is. It’s an exhausting cycle, this one of wanting to control it all to a certain end.

Katrina Kenison states it best:

After a lifetime spent trying to figure out what’s expected of me and then trying to live up to those expectations, to orchestrate outcomes and anticipate what might go wrong, I am coming to trust that the path I’m meant to be on is simply the one that appears at my feet.
from Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment

Katrina has a beautiful way of speaking directly to the universal struggles that face so many. In her newest memoir, Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Content, her sons have grown and left home, her dear friend is lost to cancer, and her marriage and her sense of self have become unsettled now that her home is empty and her once clearly defined purpose as a mother has shifted. Yet as a younger mother of small children still at home, I continually find inspiration, purpose, and direction for how I want to live my life in her words.

The path that appears at my feet, I’m learning, is resplendently full of the opportunity to wholeheartedly live in the moment and to shed the internal and stress laden demands I typically have placed on my life and its intricate blueprint. Whether in the hallway of a ski resort condo with a sick toddler or looking around at my family, I am remembering to embrace what is, rather than what could or should be. And instead to calmly handle the trials of vacation illnesses or blended family adventures. To look around a bit more lovingly and recognize the gifts that come with each experience. To trust the path at my feet.

Would you like to be inspired, too? I am excited and honored to be a part of Katrina’s Magical Journey team in which we are spreading the word about the paperback release of Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment. She has generously offered a signed copy to one of my readers. To enter to win, leave a comment on this post. A winner will be chosen at random after entries close at midnight on Monday, February 3. Good luck!

Grown

I just completed four nights of an incredibly transformative free-writing class with Heather of The Extraordinary Ordinary. This was our one homework assignment. Ten minutes of writing with no editing. Start from a moment: either a current one or a memory. Start with emotion and description without any set theme or focus. And see where it leads. Here is what I found myself understanding from a quiet moment with Rowan yesterday.

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Her head is heavy on my chest. She nursed herself to sleep in that deft way that comes with almost three years of practice. The faint smell of chlorine in her hair creeps into my nose. Dishes clink and clank in the sink downstairs. Outside of this condo countless skiers and snowboarders glide down the mountain. Some carve. Some hesitantly rest back on their heels and inch down bit by bit. Some fall and leave a wake of parted snow.

I should get up and begin gathering belongings strewn through the entryway and dangling from the wooden bench. I should create some order in the rubble of boots and gloves, jackets and helmets.

I should.

But something is holding me here in this moment. Maybe the silence. Maybe the golden hue of vacation.

Maybe.

But maybe it’s the overwhelming sense that I have arrived. I’ve always wondered when I would feel grown up. When it wouldn’t seem that I was playing adult. Suddenly, here I am. In this place with a family that doesn’t always fit the image that used to claim the pedestal in my head but instead is perfectly mine: full of give and take, lessons and challenges, joy and happiness.

It’s taken a while. A little less of a sleek skier’s straight lines and more of a novice boarder’s awkward zig-zag trail.

Maybe more falling than carving.

Maybe.

But what I’ve begun to understand as I’ve started to allow years of perfectionism and ideal images to fall away is we arrive. We arrive at a place of warmth and acceptance for the choices we’ve made– those choices that had us inching down the mountain rather than gliding effortlessly. We arrive at a place where a toddler’s head heavy on our chests is all that we need to feel content in a given moment.

We arrive, finally, at ourselves: rooted in this life. Grown and beautiful and capable.