Brave this Life

Sometimes we write, sometimes we live until inspiration strikes us.

Yesterday my grandmother came to visit me.

This is something quite special.
For the last seven years she’s been taking care of my ageing grandfather and couldn’t get out much. Grandpa died in June and now, she’s slowly rediscovering her mobility and desire to explore. So at age eighty-five, she got on a seven hour train ride to come visit her family in the South.

We went on a bus tour through the city, let the sun and a warm breeze to kiss our faces and treated ourselves to delicious ice cream. In between there was a lot of laughter and a lot of stories.

My grandmother is a wise lady and in between our conversations, she drops some knowledge that sits with you, long after the talk is over. 

Roll with the punches.
Sleep on the floor.
Try new food.
Open the champagne.
Travel the world.
Get to know people and their opinions.
Accept the course of life and practice gratitude.
Get to know the Giver of all things.
You cannot always change what happens, but it depends how you choose to feel about it. 

When we arrive at my apartment, she gets very still.
“I’m just braving myself to walk up these 70 steps to your apartment.
Let’s go.”

(She made it up there in no time. Impressive.)

Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

A Piece of Home

I just spent a few days with my grandmother.
She lives in a small village, and when I say small I really mean small. About one hundred people live there, only ten of them are below fifty years old.
We used to live there for a year, a very challenging year I have to say. After two years in the African jungle we ended up in this small village with not much to do. The bus runs twice a day – to school in the morning and back in the afternoon. People go to church on Sundays and to the pub on weeknights, that’s it.
I have to be honest, I was quite happy when we moved to a bigger town after a year.

Once in a while, though, I return to visit my grandma and most of the time it’s rather dull. Still the same nothingness. You have to plan your trip carefully if you come by train because the bus doesn’t run very often.
It sometimes feels like traveling into the middle of nowhere.

Entering my grandma’s house is like stepping out of your normal busy life into a quiet zone. It’s like life’s busyness stops all at once, it can’t get through that old wooden door.
I had never been able to define what awaits you inside until now.
There’s a calmness and peace which seems boring on the surface; yet, only when you enter you realize how desperately your soul needs exactly that.

A kitchen with an old oven. The smell of freshly cut wood. A warmth that creates a homely atmosphere immediately.
A table in a sunlit corner of the room, surrounded by an old wooden bench and chairs. Lots of chairs to accommodate the many visitors coming by.
The constant smell of coffee and some cake, which Gran can pull out of the most unexpected corners.

An old wooden staircase whose boards creek unless you know where to step. It leads you to two rooms, both older than everyone in the family. It’s hard to find electric sockets, they just didn’t exist when these rooms were built.
The floor made of old beams shimmering so brightly from decades of cleaning, waxing and trodding on them.
A huge bed made of dark wood with thick down feathers and a large cupboard attached to it. Give me one person who wouldn’t want to jump from the cupboard right into the soft covers. It’s just too tempting and we’ve been scolded way too many times for giving in.

Another small steep staircase takes you to the attic, the best part of the entire house. For years and years it has been the storeroom for whoever doesn’t have any space in their own house.
The perfect treasure hideout for kids.IMAG1294 Old cupboards, chairs, clothes, lamps. Each of them once belonged to uncles and aunts, great cousins and grandfathers. Each of them has a story to tell. Even though I’m all grown up now I still enjoy going up there, taking a trip down memory lane. Looking at the different pieces of furniture or clothing and imagining the story behind them. These dust-covered objects are way more than objects – they are a conduit into sweet memories of the past.

And then there’s grandma, of course.
A small roundish lady with a bun and a colorful apron. Her long black hair is spotted with gray and white streaks; her hands and face are lined with wrinkles.
She looks beautiful.
Beautifully, gracefully old. Immensely alive.
Her eyes are still full of fire and energy, and when she laughs you can see the joy in them.

She used to be a wild girl.
As the second youngest of four children she explored life and rebelled against boundaries to discover more about the world. She married a boy from the next village, she says it was love at first sight. She worked hard, running a farm, cooking for fifteen people every day, and raising seven children. She became a widow far too early at age fifty-four.
Her hands testify to the many hours of work and worry she has gone through.

She has been the good soul of the house ever since.

Despite a lot of hardships she persevered. “I simply had no other choice”, is what she often says when you ask her how she managed all the challenges life threw at her.
“And we survived.”

DSCI0425The kitchen is where most of her life takes place.
You can find her there early in the morning when she has her first cup of coffee before she heads out to feed her cats and chicken.
You always know when she’s busy because you can hear her soft humming – always the same three notes – in the whole house.
You will always find her working in the house or in her beautiful garden, except for an hour in the afternoon when she takes a nap in the giant armchair in the living room.

Life here is quiet. Life here is slow.

There’s a crazy loud world out there – but here there’s peace and quiet.
There are busy agendas and schedules out there – but here there’s only the right now. The work in front of you.
Like cracking walnuts for two hours and peeling the best parts out of the hard shell.
Like baking cake and learning the secrets from the best.
Like sitting down over a delicious meal and sharing what life has been like since we last saw each other.
Like listening to stories of the past and marveling at God’s grace and protection.

Life is good because I finally slow down enough to discover its little blessings in the mundane.

Grandma’s house is always open. There is a bell, but no one ever rings it. You just turn the key and enter.
This house has already seen people from all kinds of countries, continents, and lifestyles. Visitors from overseas and next door. Gran doesn’t speak any English and we have had quite a few interesting ‘lost in translation’ encounters.
Gran has never traveled much except Norway and Israel, but through the many visitors she has seen the world.

Grandma’s house is quite special.
It’s a place where you’ll always find a spare bed to rest your heavy legs.
A place where there’s always food on the table. “And if there’s not we’ll make some”, as my uncle says.
A place where someone will wait with open arms and an open ear to listen.
A place where you’ll meet a messy bunch of people I call my family.

A place you’ll never leave empty-handed, I promise.
You’ll literally have your bags packed with goods Grandma has for you. Instead of money she gives you eggs from her chicken, homemade ham and bread, even entire meals.
“It’s nothing”, she says.

But it is something.

You take a lot more away than a bag of goods. Wherever you go from here, you’ll carry stories with you.
Stories of the past that shape the present and inspire the future.
The big picture that binds us all together.
You treasure the memories for times to come.
Memories of quiet afternoons and walks around the lake in the sun.
The taste of home-cooked meals and sweet fellowship around the table.
The experience that despite all differences and distances family bonds are there to connect us all.

Grandma’s house, tucked away in this small village in the middle of nowhere, is a lot more than an old farmhouse.

It’s a piece of home.

And it will stay home as long as we decide to return and make it home.

[#write31days] Day 22 Boundaries at Home

Welcome to Day 22 of #write31days! 
For more information check out the series’ page

Saying NO to the people closest to you – your family – is probably the hardest. But saying NO doesn’t mean cutting off all ties or breaking off relationships. Setting boundaries means to change relations a little bit for the better.

22aHonor Your Parents but Don’t Be Your Parents
As I grow older I am especially intrigued to see how the relationships to my different family members change. My parents – the heroes who took care of me and my little world – are fellow adults with normal problems, normal jobs, and normal joys. My siblings – little kids I used to read to and feed – are now grown up with own lives, own apartments, own opinions.

Even though we have no problem living and acting as adults every day we seem to undergo a strange transformation as soon as we enter our parents’ house: we once again become children with our specific role within the family. May it be the caring eldest one, the rebellious middle-child, or the spoilt last one. I guess we can never fully escape our roles, but maybe we can learn to break free from certain limitations these roles bring.

Yes, we are supposed to honor our parents. We follow their advice while we live with them, and many times I still appreciate calling my mom about a recipe or relationship advice or doubts in my faith. Does this mean I have to do everything they say and talk to them every night? No.

Yes, we should invest in the relationship with our parents, we have the chance to gain wonderful friends with them. Does this mean I have to listen to every single problem of my parents? No.

Yes, we should love and care for our parents since they have taken care of us for a long time. Does this mean I have to be my parents’ marriage counselor and fix their relationship problems? No.

Honoring your parents can mean to say NO sometimes. Allow yourself to get some distance and love them still. Allow them to take responsibility for their lives and actions. Being there for each other does not mean taking over each other’s lives and problems.

Sometimes we also have to say NO to brothers and sisters, who expect us to solve their problems. We don’t say NO to them or our relationship. We say NO to a certain behavior that renders them helpless and us pressured.

Move Out and Move On
We are all born into families to parents and siblings we can’t choose. For a certain number of years they take care of us and teach us everything we need to know about life. But then it’s time to move out. Part of growing means cutting ties with home and creating your own home. Some can’t wait until they finally have their own place, others really struggle.

Cutting ties with home is far more than just having a new address in a different town. I guess especially as a student you feel like in between as you don’t have your own family yet, but you don’t fully belong with your parents anymore. This in-between stage somehow keeps us from becoming our own people, making our own decisions, even though they might not always be what our parents might envision.
Moving on doesn’t mean cutting all ties. We will always be connected to our family and eventually we’ll just add more people to the family by getting married and having children.
22bNevertheless, we need to create a life of our own. Instead of going home every weekend we need to become comfortable in our own four walls. Make it cozy, decorate the way you want. Make it a home you enjoy coming back to.
We need to make our own decisions. We all appreciate our parents’ advice, but sometimes it’s all on us. Our names on the papers, our money at stake, our final say. Growing up comes with a lot of burdens, but also freedoms. Let’s accept both.
We need to take responsibility. Don’t cry for Mom and Dad as soon as a problem arises. Experience the joy that comes from persevering until the end and growing along the way.
I guess many of us can say that moving out has changed a lot in the relationships with home. Mostly for the better. We meet as fellow adults. Whenever we get together, we focus on the precious time, the important things, the blessings.

Of course it’s not easy saying NO to the people closest to us. We don’t want to insult or upset anyone. Yet love and care do also mean honesty and courage at times. Setting boundaries does not kill relationships, it refines and redefines them. They help us to enjoy our families again.

How about your family? Are there areas where you need to say NO to parents or to siblings? Do you have to cut some ties with your family and actually move on? 

[#write31days] Day 5 Family Ties

Welcome to Day 5 of #write31days! 

For more information check out the series’ page

Ending up completely exhausted and at the verge of burnout does not happen out of the blue or from one day to the next. It is a process with a lot of missing boundaries or missed opportunities to set them. So let’s take a closer look at what kind of boundary issues we can have in our lives.

The people we meet at the earliest stage of our lives is our family. They are closest to us, they love us, but they can also cause us a lot of hurt. Whether it is our parents who call all the time, our siblings who depend on us, or our own inability to let go. Of course, family also includes the extended family and their influence, but for now, let’s focus on the closest family members. 

The Parents
Your mom and dad are the ones who welcome you into this world, they raise you into adulthood, they observe as you take your first steps into your own life – whether you want it or not, you can’t not have parents.
Yet, the relationship is not always ideal.
I guess we all have some image in our minds when we think of the term ‘overbearing mother’ (or maybe smother?). A mom who won’t let her favorite kid go anywhere, who won’t take any risks. A dad who makes all the decisions simply because “he knows best”. Parents who have a really hard time seeing their kid off to university; an own apartment seems to be the same as cutting them off from their lives. As a child (or rather young adult) it’s really hard to explore your new life because you still feel bound and controlled by your home. 
This feeling does not necessarily end after a few years or when you have your own family. The ties of frantic parents calling after you and offering advice on everything and anything can reach way into your adulthood.

While some may complain about too much interference, others might actually appreciate a bit more family in their lives. Family bonds in a child’s life are formed from day one, and they are essential for a healthy emotional and spiritual development. A lack thereof will have longlasting effects on a child that are often underestimated.
Some will grow numb and close themselves off from their families. They set up boundaries to protect themselves from getting hurt – maybe even so far that they really struggle to trust anyone with a deeper relationship. I have talked to quite a few friends about this and it pains me to hear about their broken relationships with their families.
Some will continue to chase the attention they might never get. They change and conform and perform, without any luck. Every attempt will just leave them empty, disappointment, and hopeless.


The Siblings
Unless you’re an only child, you were automatically born into a hierarchy. Oldest child. The one(s) in the middle. The baby. And surprisingly, without ever really choosing it, each position comes with a certain role to fill. The more I think about my own position and talk to others about theirs, the more I am amazed how this is an unspoken fact and people just fall into place!
I am the firstborn in my family with two younger siblings. I have never officially claimed that position, but it does come with responsibilities. When we were younger I was the one to watch my brother and sister when the parents were out. I had to look after the money whenever we went out by ourselves. Until today I am the go-to person for advice or help.
Firstborns are the ones with responsibility, the middle ones are the wild and crazy ones, the youngest are the spoiled babies. So goes the saying.
What does this have to do with boundaries?

There is a time for children to be close to their parents and their siblings. There is a time to stay within the home and maintain that close community. However, there is also a time to leave and build a home of your own. This can get difficult if you’re too attached to your role in the hierarchy without ever setting any boundaries.
Firstborns will always feel responsible for their siblings and never really leave (I don’t mean you should stop caring, but you need to cut a few ties when you move out). Instead of building a life of their own and making new friends they come home often. Instead of stepping onto new grounds they rather hide in the comforts of the familiar.
Younger siblings will never take responsibility for themselves because they’ll always rely on some family member to fix it. They don’t feel confident nor challenge themselves to unleash their potential because they feel smothered by the ‘perfect’ older brothers and sisters. 

If you never step outside the role you occupy within your family, you’ll never discover new facets and depths that are still hidden in your self.

Think about your own family: How is your relationship to your parents? What position do you have in your family? What does your role look like in your family?