The Forest For the Trees:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I intended to blog last week. I even had this Instagram photo collage ready. But I had two photography clients that needed sessions edited, and so I was back to the nightly grind of editing and trying to stay on task, and somehow I didn't get time for personal blogging. I think I COULD'VE managed it, if I'd been more efficient with my time.... but efficiency seems nearly impossible in my current life. So I edit, check Facebook, edit, answer an email, edit, get up to get a snack, edit, go tell Lucy to get back in bed, edit, check Facebook again. And a session that should only take a handful of hours takes two or three nights. Times two. 

So. That whole last paragraph was me making excuses for failing to do something that is only an expectation in my own head. Once-a-week blogging. The only person making me feel guilty here is..... myself. I read a quote on Pinterest the other day that said something to the effect of, "The biggest troublemaker you'll ever confront is the one looking at you in the mirror".... And I feel that. A LOT. I create most of the guilt I feel in my life. I like to say I have an overactive "guilt gland". I kind of hate it. I create a lot of unnecessary worry because of it. 

Its a strange place I'm in right now--- this season of life. It's the longest stretch I've been in where I'm not really DOING anything. Not in the sense I used to think about "DOING THINGS". From birth to high school, of course, it is endless progress-- learning and milestones and "becoming" little people.... learning to ride a bike, to play an instrument, to read, to write.... Constant growth. And then from high school to the end of college, it is constant self-searching and self-awareness and academic blossoming. Discovery of SELF and how SELF fits into the world. Experimenting with human relations, feeling emotion acutely, feeling breathless with possibility. 

And the rest of the 20s.... they're a time for most people, myself included, to find someone to marry, to move, to seek real jobs... travel.... settle into truths about likes and dislikes....Then take those likes and explore them further and develop them more. Again, year after year of external growth and change and discovery. Mile markers most everyone can see, and in a lot of instances, celebrate with you. 

And then 30. For me, 30 brought my first baby and another huge learning curve. Seeing him change and develop was life to me. And then doing it all over again with the next baby. And the third. Except by the third, while all the changes with the children were special, they weren't strange and new enough to distract me from the truth that my own life had settled pretty squarely into a rhythm  and consistency and pattern of NON-milestones. A lack of measurable growth. 

Someone dear to me I had lost for a couple of years came back to me (joy!), and in the coming back together, asked me the other week, "So.... tell me about you. What have you been up to for the last couple of years?"

And I sat there. 

I found, to my unsettlement, I was speechless. 

I didn't have, really, any clever accomplishments to describe. No big trips. No new and exciting growth within my business. No big personal goals met, like running a 5K or losing 50 pounds. In fact, I'd gained more than I'd cared to admit over the last two years. I didn't win any awards or change jobs, really. We moved, but not to a new town or anything. I hadn't tried any new and clever hairstyles. I hadn't taken on any new hobbies--- in fact, I'd lost a few over the last two years. The truth was, as I reflected on the last little while, all I could find was a pattern of loss and paring down--- of being humbled by the increasing challenges of life as a mom. I felt like there was nothing of note to report. 

Except the kids. Of course. The kids. In the last two years, there was Lucy and Quinn. And my learning how to be a mom of two. And then of three. My learning how to forgive myself a little better as I continued to make more and more mistakes and live up less and less to my own expectations. My discovery of small ways to find peace amid constant noise and neediness. There was a new calmness in my marriage of late... sort of the calm after the storm of The Year We Had The Third Child-- a new rhythm and wordless synchronicity in how we managed our life together. More forgiveness from him, for my loco times. The last two years had seen a streamlining of a lot of things-- my commitments to the outside world, my "fashion", if you could call the yoga pants/fleece/tshirt/flipflops/messy bun/occasional maxi skirts look  "fashion." A streamlining of how much work I could take on (and still manage to feel like I was failing at). A simplifying of the clutter in our home. A letting go of things I WANTED but didn't NEED--- like sewing time, personal photo editing time, sleep.... 

In short, there was nothing really IMPRESSIVE, by the world's standards, to tell anyone about my current and recent life. 

Yet I didn't FEEL like my life wasn't worth talking about. It was a strange catch 22--- though it felt like my life was the LEAST remarkable it's ever been, I was also the most at peace with it I'd ever been. There wasn't an easy answer to the question, "What have you been up the the last few years?".... But I lived the answer every minute of every day. 

I am in the middle of a thousand trees....And I see those trees and tend to them every single minute of every day. I cherish these trees. But most of the time, I don't see the forest for the trees. A tree, by itself, is pretty unremarkable. But a forest? Well that's something to stand in awe of-- and I'm tending a forest. Growing a vast and lush and beautiful forest. 

My dear friend Julia put it another way--- we're so busy painting individual brush strokes, we don't know how to step back and look at the entire work of art we're creating.

This family of mine--- these three children and my dear husband--- and myself. We're the work of art. Every meal I prepare, every kiss I give, every load of laundry I wash and dry and fold... Every word of praise (and every word of anger) adds to the painting. Every day I show up and do the little things, I am molding my kids (and myself) into better (I hope) human beings. We are in the thick of it. And I don't know what it all really looks like from the vantage point of a few more years or a few steps back... All I can do it keep working on my little life, feeling a bit unremarkable, and have faith that these little "brush strokes" are going to make something unbelievably beautiful. 

The collage of iPhone photos at the beginning of this post: they prove all of this to me. I take these photos all day long, every day. It's almost compulsive--- my need to snap a photo of something maybe only I find to be special.... And more often than not, lately, I don't have time to do anything with the photo once it is snapped. I just collect them. But once in a while, I have time to cull them, to lightly edit them... and then even to order some of them to be printed on lovely little cards of thick, good paper (I love getting Instagrams printed on good paper). And every time I get a set of these daily, nothing-special photos in the mail and into my hands, something magical happens: with the distance of a few months from when those images were shot, and with the tangibility of HOLDING them all at once in my hands, I can see with crystal clarity--- MY LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL. These moments are gorgeous and rare and special and fleeting and so so beautiful. The tiny moments of dailiness, caught with a phone camera, moments that repeat day after day in the same house in the same spot on the couch in the same striped shirt with the same quilt.... but with some hindsight and time to become precious, that dailiness becomes so breathtakingly beautiful. 

So that is what I am up to these days: living moments of breathtaking repetitiveness, being wholly unremarkable by the world's standards... and finding ways to forgive it all and cherish as much of it as I can. I'm painting constant tiny brushstrokes with no clue what the final painting will look like... but with faith that the work is worth it.

In my more perfect life, I'd go back and really edit this entry to feel more cohesive. I'd trim the part about the trees/forest and stick with the painting analogy to tighten it up.. I'd cut that whole first two paragraphs because they are irrelevant to the rest of the post. I'd have someone double check my switches from  past to present tense and tell me if they work or need to be changed... I'd probably trim a lot of words and reshape the whole entry to have a better arc. In my more perfect life, I'd love to write memoir. But for now, this IS my life, so a rambling, messy rough-draft is about all I can ever manage. And I have to forgive myself and let it go. But just know--- somewhere in me there IS a writer, screaming to be given time to hone the craft. But tis not the season.


  1. Love this. I had this whole conversation running through my head yesterday, as I did the exact same things I had done the day before! Thanks Emily.

  2. I remember talking once with a fellow Christian teacher about our lives and journeys, and I think she was the one who made the comment to the effect that our lives may not look very exciting from the outside, but that the internal changes/experience/growth was very exciting. While "exciting" might not quite be the adjective you'd use, I think the idea meshes well with your thoughts in this post.

  3. Oh, Emily... You have done so much this last year. You gave birth to another beautiful human being, you nurtured three little ones without killing or damaging them in any way, you moved a family of five and not only did you maintain ONE business, but you launched another new business, and I might add that you are highly successful at both of your businesses. All the while, you are a visiting teacher, mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend and maintain a church calling? You are AMAZING!!! Please, don't ever forget that!

    You blog post was beautiful and it moved me deeply. I see so much in you... I wish I could share my vision with you...

  4. I love reading your blog posts. You write from the heart and with so much feeling. I recently ran across this and thought you might enjoy it, if you haven't seen it already.

  5. well said, awesome daughter of mine


CopyRight © | Theme Designed By Hello Manhattan