The Romantic Life, The Romantic Mom - Chapter 2 Chasing Dreams
The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Upon my college graduation where, in my mind, I had spent way too many years in the hot and humid Brazos Valley of Texas, and, possessing more ambitions than sense, I jumped into my newly acquired bright blue ‘77 Triumph Spitfire (referred to by my mom as “Deb’s roller skate”). I then journeyed to the West Coast starting in San Diego and eventually winding up in Seattle. Of course this meant driving across the Mojave Desert in a car containing a gas tank too small to make the 100 plus miles between gas stations. It just so happened that I ran out of gas next to an exit that just happened to have a rather steep slope that also just happened to have an old house nearby. I coasted into the driveway desperately hoping they might have some gas.
The couple who lived there informed me that they had no gas. The man did say, though, that there was a gas station at the base of the hill. So without further adieu we pushed the car down the rest of the hill and I neatly pulled up to the gas pump. The old man just looked at me in amazement and said, “Missy, I can’t believe your luck. This is the only gas station within nearly a hundred miles!” If I’d run out any time after that exit, I would’ve really been in some trouble. Although I was aware of that fact, I just chose not to dwell on it too closely. I came by that much easier back then than I do now!
Toward the end of that summer, my job prospects were not promising so I ended up driving all the way to Denver which ultimately landed me in the Vail Valley. A girl that I worked with offered to let me rent with her what she termed as an “earth home” thirty miles out and six miles up built into the side of Belly Ache Ridge. I honestly didn’t have any idea what to expect but what met me at the end of the arduous drive to the top was a multi-million dollar southwest style home with a heated driveway, enclosed garage made of Mexican red tiles which then led down a long narrowing hallway to a thick dark-wood Spanish-style door. I opened this “front door” at the end of this hall/tunnel and walked into the entry. I followed some narrow steps upward and came out to a living room with nearly a 180 degree mountain view. It was literally like being perched on a cliff miles above the world where I felt closer to the moon than the tiny lights below. The sunsets and sunrises were incredible and ever-changing, but it was really at night when I could see the lights glowing from both Beaver Creek and Vail around the bend that was truly a sight to behold. I couldn’t believe my eyes or my fortune, for that matter!
That particular home made a lasting impression on me and I always felt that I needed big views and lots of sky to be really happy. I loved the quality of the light in New Mexico and fell in love with that whole western mountain clime and all it had to offer. A couple of years later, however, my job brought me to New England where I wound up renting a small farmhouse in Bedford, New Hampshire. As I was traveling through the Berkshire mountains I began to feel something twinge inside my heart. These mountains were not as extreme and majestic and they were far from reaching the luminous heights of the Rockies I had just left and still considered very much my home. Yet there was something about their rolling gentleness and the softer quality of color in the sky that drew me in. There was a hominess here rather than ruggedness. It was cute and quaint and inviting as opposed to austere and intimidating and awe-inspiring. My bike rides and runs led me along babbling brooks and voluminous rivers that flowed into tranquil lakes. I came along woods with stone fences and brambles, open meadows, and farm houses with tumbling flower beds. And of course it ultimately brought me to the seashore which thoroughly entranced me. Experiencing the ocean in the dead of winter was fascinating and very invigorating to me. I relished all the changes of the seasons. The aspen trees in Colorado turn a shimmering golden yellow in the fall that’s quite beautiful, but how can they compare to the huge and bright orange, red, and gold leaves of New England?
In the spring, I drove up to Stowe, Vermont where some of my Cady ancestors lived before they made the long trek to Kansas back in the mid-1800’s. I drove up a mountain to a place where the dogwood trees were in full bloom and I still have that picture I took of myself propped up on a rickety fence next to the soft pink blossoms wearing my cream fisherman sweater and a French braid.. The back of my farm house had a screened porch that faced west overlooking a meadow with the hills in the distance. At dusk, against the pink and lavender sky I could see the lights from the distant farms dotting the hillside. It seemed so calm and serene to me that I thought to myself, “If I ever have a family, this would be such an ideal place to raise children.” That thought never left me.
From New Hampshire I moved back to Texas thinking all along that it would just be a pit stop on my way back to Colorado. Little did I know what plans God had in mind for me. I still had not become a Christian and I was 29 years old, ready to settle down in some respects yet not really ready to grow up and let go of my wayward ways, habits, and lifestyle. And I certainly wasn’t alone in my reluctance to let go. Many of my brother’s friends who had settled in Dallas after graduating around the same time I had, were still carousing and carrying on like old college days. No one was really growing up in the true sense of the term. The next decade of my life brought on much growth and much needed humbling and tough lessons for me to learn. Those years also brought me face to face with my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, and the unqualified fulfillment of a devoted, loving husband and four beautiful children. Thirteen years later, we left Texas for Maine and all those dormant dreams have begun to bloom forth in my life and the life of my precious family.
After moving to Maine, we took a drive up north of Desert Island on Highway one toward Machias (pronounced mu-CHI-us). Although this highway is considered the “coastal highway,” much of the truly scenic ocean views are on the smaller roads that extend out along the numerous peninsulas for which Maine is famous. As we ambled along one of those ocean roads I saw for the first time in my life these old massive multi-story barns with their fat, varying-architectural cupolas perched as a crown atop the gambrel roof. Sometimes the barn was all that remained of a once bustling farmstead; this sole remaining remnant being a stoic reminder from a by-gone day. Against the backdrop of this building, statuesque yet humble, lay open green pastures, now abandoned and rocky, sloping gently toward the cliffs plummeting to the crashing ocean below.
It’s amazing to see farm and sea, lighthouse and lobster boat; to hear waves, a distant foghorn, the cow’s moo mingled with the wails of the seagulls. All these elements combined in the landscape before me is the most emotionally evocative image I have yet to encounter. And I’ve certainly encountered some breathtaking places in my life—the Apostle Rocks in Australia, the picturesque towns of Tasmania, and many a majestic sight where I lived around Vail, Colorado amidst the skiing, hiking, and biking I did essentially non-stop whenever I wasn’t working. I’ve taken in the view from the top of a 14,000 foot mountain I climbed once in Telluride—and they’ve all been spectacular views. However, none of these have arrested my imagination or captured my dreams like this scene most undoubtedly has done. The seaside farm by far is the most romantic notion I could ever hope to imagine. The thought-provoking images of my family surrounded by the salt air and woods, the lolling sounds of the seashore, and the gentle life shared with gardens, window boxes, animals large and small, and rambling farm buildings with the cheery farmhouse beckoning to all who come near just tops the proverbial cake in my mind.
So now I’ve begun photographing and “collecting” these images of the seaside farm. There’s another working, family-owned farm where they raise a breed of cow called the Belted Galloway. The place is named Aldemere Farm and is located on the point of the peninsula between Camden and Rockport. This particular type of cow, if you’ve never seen one (which we hadn’t), are all black except for a wide white stripe that circles their middle. We love visiting this farm in the spring when they open the grounds to the public and introduce all the new baby calves. Once again you can look out past the barn and the farmhouse across the green pastures to the ocean spreading in the distance behind. Some of the shops in Camden carry paintings or cards of this lovely farm and their unique cows lazily grazing against the beautiful backdrop of the sea.
These are the images and the thoughts, the ideas or desires that transform our lives. There is much to be said for being content with our present circumstances and there is much character-building that is associated with allowing ourselves to be content with where we are right now at this moment in our lives. However, as I’ve said earlier, I do believe that God does put certain dreams and desires in our hearts and it’s important to develop the discernment to know what desires are right with God and which ones may not be His ultimate best for us (despite our feelings to the contrary). I know from my own experience that it’s quite easy to become emotionally attached to certain ideals or notions and to hang tenaciously to those ideas regardless of what other factors may be entering into the equation at the time. These dreams we look to may not always transpire in the manner we hoped they would, if they even come to pass at all. There is definitely a balance to be walked and it requires our diligently keeping our eyes on God and what He may be attempting to work out for our family or working into certain areas of our lives or personalities. At the same time, however, I think many people are too willing to sacrifice a better quality of life just because of the risks involved in making a substantial change. And there are risks involved for sure. We don’t want to be rash, but we also don’t need to stay stuck or perhaps just a bit too comfortable. What are your dreams? What’s something or some place you’ve longed to think about or perhaps long to be but have buried in the recesses of your mind long ago?
As for our family, we may not end up with a farm by the sea—no one ever really knows what the future holds. But I definitely want to incorporate more of this “farm life” aspect into our lives. From the house where we’re living now we have a lovely view of the low mountains across from us and there’s a lake close by that we can’t quite see, but can definitely see the sea planes landing or taking off. On the closest mountain directly in front of our deck is a charming farmhouse connected to its barn. This is a common type of architecture found in Maine that I’ve come to really adore—especially when it’s done well. Not only that, it was a supremely practical way of dealing with the brutally cold winters. Hanging on each side of the front door of the tall main house, and along the ell attached to the barn, and then on the barn itself are large lantern-type lights that come on at night. So now it has become something the children can conspicuously pick out in the distance and is also the first thing we see light up at dusk. The house and the barn have all been beautifully restored and we’ve ridden our bikes up to it on occasion. There’s an open field in front of it and from the house you can see out across the valley and also see the lake below. It may not be the ocean, but it is still a gorgeous view and a very lovely farm. I would be perfectly happy and content with something like that as well. It may not hold all the lures I’ve come to so love about the seashore, but I’m looking for more than just the ocean experience. If that’s all we really hearkened to then there are ways to capture those things without necessarily doing the whole farm idea. It really just comes down to what are the biggest priorities first and seeing what or how some of those pieces might be able to come together for the family.
We have forty acres now that overlook a small lake on which we’ve begun the process of building a log home. Is this going to look like the quintessential historical New England farm I’ve begun conjuring up in my mind since we’ve been in Maine? I’m not sure at this point, although most likely, it won’t be. Does that mean we can’t have a big barn at some point? Of course not. It’s just not our immediate priority right now. Actually I’ve recently discovered the lovely home of Carl Larsson in Sweden that has the most charming details on a log home. I’m leaning toward incorporating some of those Scandinavian details on our home. But that’s just it—I’m always thinking or looking. I do always try to stay open to all the creative and surprising things or opportunities God may happen to open to us. So much of what we had in mind before we ever left Texas has changed or just been put on hold. We also ended up spending six months in Florida this past year which was never something that had entered our minds or frame of thinking at the time. Life is just unpredictable. As much as we do try to make it more predictable it still has a way of throwing us many a curve ball.
Taking some risks in life or chasing a dream doesn’t only involve some sort of a permanent move, either. Living our lives more fully can encompass making any kind of decision that stretches and grows us on a personal level or as a family. More families are choosing to raise more children and have larger families despite the taboo purported by our culture that more than two children is a waste of time, money, effort and irresponsible for society. Some families or couples have chosen to adopt children from foreign countries who would otherwise languish in over-crowded orphanages. Some families become missionaries and face uncertain conditions in volatile countries or the less than modern comforts and conveniences. Some parents have taken the risks involved in starting their own businesses in an attempt to work from home and free themselves from the excessive travel and/or commutes and stresses of the corporate life.
I love the transformation that takes place most poignantly in the lives of Matthew and Marilla Cuthpert after they (to the shock of the entire village) decide to adopt the vivacious, red-headed Anne (with an ”e” please) Shirley in the delightful classic, Anne of Green Gables. The rather uptight, non-humorous, very pragmatic Marilla finds her mothering urges aroused and also finds herself laughing out loud to her own, and everyone else’s, astonishment. Shy, reserved Matthew continues to surprise everyone, including his sister's, as he finds in this little girl a kindred spirit and innate, unspoken understanding. Anne longed for ‘puffed’ sleeves on her dresses, but leave it to quiet, observant Matthew to be the one to ultimately rescue Anne from Marilla’s severe fashion sensibilities! What an incredible story and illustration of what the ‘bends in the road’ of life may bring when we allow ourselves to take life on with a little more gusto, adventure, or surprise. What usually winds up happening is that we inadvertently end up surprising ourselves.
Linda Eyre who is a mother to nine children has found that taking risks and adding some adventure to our lives is an absolute must in order to truly grow and avoid the all too frequent ruts in which we all can inevitably find ourselves. In her book, A Joyful Mother of Children, she speaks to this subject of risk-taking and the family. First, she examines the various sorts and degrees of risks we take in life and may not even realize these are indeed risks. They may be risks of the heart—allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to others in ways that we find uncomfortable or foreign to our nature or personalities. Yet we know that keeping ourselves closed off, especially to those closest to us, may in some ways be damaging or hurtful. Making an unpopular decision for the benefit of our family after careful prayer and consideration while others view our decision as being foolish, selfish, irresponsible, or outright crazy is also taking a risk.
Linda Eyre makes some of these points in a section called, Exploring Risk:
"There are different degrees of risk. There are the kind that we take purposefully because we want to and because we are exhilarated by the thought of fulfilling a goal. Having a baby, taking a class, organizing an event, taking on new responsibilities at church,…giving more praise, and expressing your love all involve a risk. An even more difficult form of risk involves doing something that you don’t want to do just because you know, in the long run, it will be a learning, growing, expanding experience. Saying ”no” in order to have more time with your family, starting a new diet,…opening up an important relationship with a child or spouse that has been worrisome or stagnant, forgiving someone who has wronged you, changing bad habits, and examining and changing your demands on others are all risks that may bring hard times before the growing starts. But hard times are good for us, in spite of their difficulty.
As mothers, every day is filled with risk, but nothing is quite like the joy that comes from overcoming difficulties, from fighting the good fight, and from being delightfully surprised by the joy that comes from overcoming the hurdles."
Periodically, it’s a good idea to reflect on our life and the lives within our family and ask ourselves if we’re stretching and growing as individuals. Perhaps we might be able to come up with some ideas on how we could add some spice or adventure into our family that could better build our relationships and expand our horizons. Linda goes on to describe one of her family’s solution for a new adventure:
"As our mothering lives go on, it’s easy to get in a rut. Sometimes a tedious schedule seems like a way of life with no way out. One day I realized that it had been a while since I had taken a substantial risk. Adventure is important to me. I had been sucked up in routine for too long.
About that time we had begun talking about the possibilities of going to Africa to do an extended service project. The project involved building a cistern for water storage, making clay bricks for a new room on a schoolhouse, and building desks and helping in a health clinic in a remote village on the east coast of Kenya with an organization called CHOICE. The organization would not only provide our food, shelter, and materials for the project, they would also arrange for a safari after our week in the village. In addition, those who were interested could stay another week and climb Mount Kilimanjaro, which is just over the border from Kenya in Tanzania."
She goes on to describe her sheer excitement over all the prospects of the village life and even a safari. However, the prospects of climbing a mountain didn’t hold quite the same feelings of excitement and elation. Actually, her sentiments were just the opposite as she explains:
"Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro on the other hand sounded like my idea of a nightmare. Totally! The peak is 19,400 feet. We would start at sea level and climb up for five days and down for two. The last day of the ascent, we would need to arise at 11 p.m. and walk all night over a glacier with head flashlights to the summit, where we would arrive at sunrise and where we were assured that the temperature would be below zero. “Who in their right mind would do that?” Granted, may people would wonder what person in their right mind would have nine children, but that was something I had a passion for. This is something that I needed like a smack in the eye with a hard rock! I was a non-sports person, extremely klutzy, and terrified of heights.
With much reluctance and balking, after beginning the training and with the understanding that she could change her mind at the last minute, she did go ahead and climb the mountain with the rest of her family. She goes on to explain her ultimate conquest:
As we reached the gate at the bottom of the mountain that led back to the real world, with both knees and a finger wailing at me, having slid back down a different, more difficult rain forest trail, I knew that I had paid a lot both financially and physically so that I could take a risk. Yet, the long hours on the trail …, watching the kids learn, enjoying the beauty of the earth, and marveling at the strength and limitations of my own body, had made this one of the greatest learning experiences ofmy life.
I still believe that taking risks is one of life’s great teachers. In risk taking there are always hard times. It’s part of the risk package. But win or lose, pass or fail, the learning curve becomes steep, and you learn more in a small amount of time than you may have in years. Of the three amazing weeks that we spent in Africa, the one I personally learned the most from was the one that was by far the hardest and required the greatest personal risk. It was truly a soul-fulfilling, mind-expanding, body-challenging experience.
Please remember that you don’t have to have a baby or climb Mount Kilimanjaro to learn from taking a risk. I challenge you to inventory the risk factor in your life. If you’re going through a hard time, evaluate the risk you’ve taken and figure out what you’re learning Lessons come, insights abound, and growth occurs whether things turn out as you’d like them to or not. The value of life comes in the adventure, the try, and the risk!"
The important thing to consider in all of this is the ability to let life be lived for your family in the fullest and most abundant ways possible given your place or family’s stage at the time. It’s important to be judicious and practical but be just as judicious in preventing all those various aspects to become in large degree a fear of the unknown. Don’t allow too much caution to overshadow a sense of adventure and excitement in your life. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing either. There are gradual or small steps that can be taken without merely leaping off the cliff or taking the full plunge. God gives us certain dreams and desires and then He begins a process of enlarging and expanding us to encompass those dreams. As we patiently yet persistently allow this process to continue we begin to see new ways our dreams and desires begin to materialize and sometimes quite unexpectedly become a reality in our lives. Our family did end up taking more of a headlong plunge when we moved from Texas to Maine although the full picture we had envisioned is quite far from complete at the present. We’re once again having to take some smaller steps in all sorts of areas of our family-life right now and it’s difficult (for me especially) to be patient. This is where I just have to remind myself almost every day “in His time and in His way.” Meanwhile, though, we’ll certainly continue to explore and invent and imagine and play and learn—and above all else continue to have the courage to take a few risks and to chase our dreams. For my part, I encourage, embolden (should I say dare?) every person, every family to do the same.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes
but in having new eyes.
- Marcel Proust
Hope you enjoyed this excerpt from The Romantic Life, The Romantic Mom by Debbie Gallagher