Mid-Summer and settling in to Montreal

I'd like to see if I can't push through this anxiety. Instead of pulling back, I'm going to lean in.

I'm not going to stand by and watch my passion for writing and the joy I get from this creative pursuit and relationship-building opportunity be ripped out from underneath me. Not on my watch.

I have a lot of drafts of half finished posts. A lot. They are nagging me a little. Let's see if I can publish one of them, if I can publish this one.

As I've mentioned in my last post, I've had a hard time writing.

When we first arrived in Montreal, a little over one month ago, we were in survival mode. No fridge or stove. No curtains. No routine. I don't write in survival mode.

We got through that period, we survived. But life as I know it, or knew it, shifted on its axis with our move to Monteal. And it's a lot to simply process, never mind write about.

There is much I could write about. Our days are full and there is just so much to do in the city. Free public swimming pools (which we visit often), the market, Comic Con, finding a church, walking access to both downtown and our local neighborhood shops selling everything from the obscure to the mundane necessities, connecting with homeschoolers, making new friends, a continuous run of festivals; in just the first month of living here there has been a lot to take in. Not to mention unpacking, shopping, and setting up home.

We are busy, and not just because of moving. That part, at least finding a place for everything and everything in its place, is almost done.

For many years I pushed against busy, set up boundaries to protect my children and myself from doing, doing, doing. I wasn't cut out to be the mother who shuttled three little kids all over the place. Our life ran smoother and I was happier (which means everyone was happier) if we had a fairly routine and quiet-ish quotidian rhythm.

I rail against the North American culture of busy-ness. But a time has come in my life when I am busy, not simply because I have a lot of work to do, I've always had that. I'm busy, because, well, we're busy, out and about, kids going and coming. We chose this busy-ness, or more accurately, as the parents of active, want-to-live-life-to-the-fullest teenagers, it chose us.

This is my season of busy. (I'm still figuring out how to balance this with my need, yes need, for routine, order and regular blocks of rest and downtime.)

I am adapting and adjusting right now, internally and externally, to a barrage of new experiences, adapting to busy. Adjusting to the experience of living in a new city but also the definite shift in family life. It's all my brain can do to simply process the experience in my own body. Putting everything into words is another matter entirely.

Photography presents a similar problem.

Photography is a multi-faceted art for me. One of its roles in my life is to help me remember. That part is not so much creative as it is functional, though I can't help but take those "remembering" pictures with an artistic eye. But the photography I share here is a visual form of story telling and an expression of beauty. Without a lot of conscious awareness on my part (except for when I stop to think about it, like now) I photograph and then publish the things I value and find beautiful. In this way, photography is a form of artistic self-expression.

In this new environment, this new phase of life, the question I am asking myself is: what do I value and find beautiful? There is so much beauty in this city and many things here that I value and appreciate. But almost everywhere I want to take a photograph, is a very public place and people are around. In spite of all the camera-wielding tourists and smartphone picture-takers in my midst, I feel self-conscious pulling out a camera in very public places. It's new for me, and it takes some getting used to.

Not only that but I'm in beautiful-city overload and awe. I want to take photos everywhere I go and yet, even if I can get over my insecurities of taking pictures, I can't capture the images I want. I can't pixelate? digitize? the colors, the vibrancy, the eclectic mix of people, the architecture, the history, the joie de vivre of Montreal in summer.

And the place I would normally feel at-ease taking and sharing photos, my home environment, still feels too new for me to feel completely at-ease sharing online (or even IRL).

The house is coming along. We're nearly all settled in. There are 5 boxes of photo albums waiting to be unpacked, sitting in the living room. We need to get a shelf to put those in and then the unpacking will be done. Five boxes away from done. Yep. I'm feeling pretty good about that.

Like I mentioned in this post, July 1st is Moving Day in Montreal. And as people were preparing to move, or were simply cleaning their spaces with the arrival of summer, treasures could (and still can) be found on the sidewalk. We scored some good finds in this lead up to Moving Day and I was able to set up our shared learning and living space, and my desk, aka "command central", all with found and free objects. That felt good.

The list of things that need doing or need to be purchased is dwindling. I think (cross my fingers) I only have one more trip to make to IKEA. We have the space and tools we need to cook, eat, study, create, relax and hang out together.

It's not magazine perfect, we don't have a couch, and our dining room table is too small to comfortably accommodate guests (my parents are visiting right now and supper is squishy); but it's home, it's tidy and organized (it has to be, it's a relatively small space), and we're comfortable here.

We've done a lot of shopping and household purchasing since moving. We've never bought this much "house stuff" at one time in our entire married lives. There were things we truly needed - like a fridge and stove, and then those things we needed for comfort - like bean bag chairs for the kids. We've dipped into the red a bit and my frugal sensibilities and no-debt ideals feel bruised, but truthfully, it's also been fun to purchase some new things.

Everything we could possibly want to purchase is accessible here. This is a blessing after years of limited access to material things. For example, this past winter we had to drive 4 hours, 2 hours to the nearest Staples and 2 hours back, to buy a new power adapter for our computer. So it's a nice change to have easy access to goods and services. But a dizzying array of shops and the shopping experience itself, is overwhelming to my senses.

The urban milieu in general requires a certain amount of desensitizing oneself. After years of living surrounded mostly by nature, and trying to take it in as much of my physical environment as I possibly could, I am now actively filtering out a lot of physical input, consciously and sub-consciously. I am trying to ignore the people always asking for money, while at the same time having conversations with Damien about our responsibility in these situations. We haven't resolved it.

It's a huge change and a lot to acclimate to. Life in a big city. Living in an apartment. New routines and ways of doing things for our family.

It's been hard to re-establish my writing routine in midst of all of this. And in the midst of this.

I'm frustrated with that situation and, if I'm not careful (and oh, how vigilant I must be), fearful. I'm frustrated that my life has had so many twists and turns and in all that movement, literally, I've lost my writing groove (and my homeschooling groove). I fear I will never be the Writer I want to be. That I will drop off the edge of the blogosphere map, become irrelevant, a has-been blogger.

(And worse than that, I'm not even sure anymore what I want to be and how to define myself. So I've been letting that go - the need to define what I want to be and who I am outside the core of who I am in Jesus Christ - loved, chosen, as is. Loved. Chosen. As is. I'm letting that settle in my spirit.)

In my fear, I want to know the "success" secrets of other people's lives. But another part of me - my older, experienced, perhaps wiser self (or maybe it's just the jaded part) doesn't want to know other people's secrets for how to live a good life, how to write through crisis and transition, how to homeschool through high school, how to eat, drink, sleep, exercise (everyone seems to want to tell you how to live and are usually trying to make money while doing so).

I just want to live without all that for a while. Truthfully, a long while.

I've learned something over the past few years, living through some life-altering, life-jarring, life-twisting experiences.

There are very few principles for living that can be applied to most people. The world is a big place with a vast array of micro and macro cultures. If you've never lived, worked, found food, or parented in a different culture than the one you are most familiar with you will not get this. If you've never truly pushed yourself outside your comfort zone in some way (which by the way, I'm not sure I completely recommend, I'm still bruised from doing so) you will not get this.

When you've lived in one place for a while and found your groove, when you've got a good thing going, whether it's in a city, a suburb, an RV, or a farm, it's natural to think you've got life figured out.

After all, you're doing something that works. For you. And if you're a blogger you're tempted, I know because I've been this blogger in a previous life, to share those systems that work for you. And you may write them in "11 easy steps... or tips... or things I've learned..." or whatever.

But those secrets of success, those "11 tips for..." are rooted in who that person in, her personality, where she lives, her culture, the relationships she's in, the way she views the world.

The only tips for successful living that cross cultural barriers (those ideas that transcend time and space), and that are applicable no matter where you live and who you are, are those pertaining to attitude, outlook, and belief.

Successful living, happy living, passionate living, missional living, intentional living... that thing you are seeking after, that I am seeking after (I'm not entirely clear right now what I'm seeking, but it's wrapped up in there somewhere), is not about being more organized, decluttering and folding your underwear just so, it's not about growing your own food or having a life adventure, it's not about reading all the classics or keeping up with Netflix releases, it's not about eating vegetables or eating meat, it's not about unschooling or Classical Conversations, it's not about shopping at big box stores or from a farmer, it's not about having your clothes chosen by an online stylist or buying them at the mall.

That thing you're after, a hunger for meaning and significance perhaps, is not about what's happening on the outside of your life, it's about what's happening inside. And what's happening inside a person - they ways in which they are breaking and being rebuilt, dying and being reborn, falling and being redeemed - cannot be easily quantified, never mind written up as steps someone else can follow.

And so as much as I want to find the steps, to read about how other bloggers have done this, to read about how I can be an amazing writer through a life-changing experience, through a mid-life crisis, through the raising and educating of teenagers, through a move from mountains to city, through a re-imagining and re-directing of marriage and family life; the fact is, I'm never going to find the answers outside of myself.

I don't mean the answers to life's problems and mysteries lie within me. Good gracious, I'm not God.

What I mean is that other people's answers will not be mine. My answers will not be yours.

I am new to Montreal. I love this city. I don't love everything about it. I don't love getting stuck in traffic on the big highways. I don't love having noisy neighbors. I don't love transition times but the city itself, all the potential that awaits our family here, that, I love.

I can google my way around the city (what did we do before smartphones?), find out which festivals are going on this weekend, and discover taekwondo schools, art-supply stores, and drama classes.

I can search Kijiji for used furniture, drive to big box stores or walk down the street to the mom & pop shops (or whatever the equivalent is in French) to get what we need for the house.

I know how to do all of that. I can find those answers fairly easily. But the other answers in my life don't come so easily.

The answers to how I'm going to get through this mid-life questioning, who I will be on the other side, how to write my way through this, and the biggie, how to have peace and patience with some of things I'm learning about myself through this process, can't google any of that.

And so what I'm learning this summer (I'm skeptical of other people's "what I've learning" blog posts, sorry for the hypocrisy), with the traffic just outside my bedroom window, is the surrender at the end of the struggle.

I don't know if this is the breakthrough I've been seeking, or just a reprieve, but something's mending here.

Something's mending in the evening walks with Damien, in going to the pool with my kids, in finding a church where we can't wait for next Sunday, in the new relationships I'm making (everyone I meet past "hello" knows I'm in/moving-through/coming-out-of a rough time), in buying fruits and vegetables at the market, in seeking and finding homeschool connections, in the humid heat of a languid summer afternoon, in my morning mediation, bible reading, and drawing, in the planting of the Rudbeckia in the backyard.

It's slow, but it's mending.

I am cautiously optimistic. But I am also arms wide open ready to accept God's provision for me at this point of the journey. His healing, His love, and His vision for my future.

I think this is exactly where I'm meant to be, and I don't want to get all woo-woo or cliche about it, "everything happens for a reason", but maybe it's true.

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  • Anna

    Anna on July 25, 2015, 6:03 a.m.

    I don't really believe in "everything happens for a reason," but I do believe God wants to use our brokenness for amazing things.  And by amazing, I don't mean "blog worthy."  But loving, peaceful, joyful, etc.  And I do hope you blog about it!


    • renee

      renee on July 25, 2015, 12:16 p.m.

      I agree with you Anna. I don't believe in that either and I can't stand cliches like that. But sometimes it's hard to find the words to express myself and I fall back on something easy. But what you said, "God wants to use our brokenness for amazing things" I believe also. I am banking on that :) And yes, amazing in the life-giving, life-living sense of the worth. 


  • Amy

    Amy on July 25, 2015, 6:08 p.m.

    I love this post!  So much truth in it about the answer to a fulfilling life being so different for everyone and even different for the same person depending on what stage of life they are in.  I can't wait to see more of Montreal through your writing and camera as you settle in.


  • Joy

    Joy on July 26, 2015, 12:53 p.m.

    "Loved, chosen, as-is..." Yes, yes - a thousand times, yes! You're so right in observing that each journey is unique - and what joy there is in journeying together when our paths intersect and run parallel and intertwine in such bizarre and beautiful ways. Thank you for the privilege of glimpsing bits of the path you're on - it's always so encouraging to hear from those on a similar pilgrimage. 


  • Katie

    Katie on July 27, 2015, 2:44 a.m.


    Your words speak such honesty and freedom to me.  I love to read bloggers' lists and tips, subconsciously searching for the key to success in my own life.  But what you said is so true---nobody else has our same life with all its intricacies.  And so the real searching needs to be going on with me and God, in the deep, slow, raw places.  Your writing is powerful and your photos so vibrant.  Thank you!


  • Laura

    Laura on July 27, 2015, 4:37 a.m.

    I love the yellow flowers in the last photo!  Sounds like you have so much processing going on.  I'm in a slightly similar mode right now, the first time in 12 years that I've successfully been off anti-anxiety medication and I'm trying to process all these sensations and experiences without that filter.  Thanks for sharing what you're going through.


  • Krista

    Krista on July 27, 2015, 10:49 a.m.

    I love people sharing their own "10 steps to..." or "What I've been learning" posts. It is their story, part of their personal journey and I can glean from it even if precise circumstances or life stages are different-as long as they share from a humble place (understanding that what has worked for them is not a magical 'rule' for everyone). The things you shared in the past that worked for you were helpful to many (and not all)  The lessons that you learn at this stage of life, in your unique circumstamces, will be helpful to many (not all). It is all part of your unfolding story. I believe I can speak to others about walking through pain or struggle because I have come through the other side. This doesn't mean I have "the answers" for everyone but can share what I know, and do my best to lift up or encourage others (it is then their responsibility to take what they need and leave the rest).  








  • Janice

    Janice on July 27, 2015, 1:04 p.m.

    I loved this post, so smart and thoughtful.  And city living--such fun, but such a whirlwind!  I think the notion that what crosses all experiences is "attitude, outlook, and belief" is a powerful one.


  • Sharla

    Sharla on July 28, 2015, 3:59 a.m.

    Thanks for sharing!  You are so right that it's not about all the peripheral but about our shared values which can be the same even across cultures.  I made a major move a few years ago and while we've always been city people and moved again to a city (just smaller), we moved to a place where there is an awful lot available and going on constantly---way too much to take in. And after taking it all in (as much as possible, with our particular constraints) for 3 years, I was just feeling tonight like I'd like to try something new and pull back from a lot of it for a season, and from the constant planning I find myself doing, in order to do more hosting of friends and going for walks as a family and playing baseball and soccer just for fun together, and be more spontaneous together.  And so when you described your embracing of the busy fun of city life, it really struck me that it truly is about where we each are at and what God is doing in each of us, and that it will look very different at times and that it's all good as He has us on different paths and will guide us and use us differently.  I needed to remember that.  So thanks for sharing.


  • Jenny

    Jenny on July 28, 2015, 5:11 p.m.


    I've read your blog for a few years now and have never commented before.  First, thank-you for sharing part of your life with us and the journey you have been on.  Your writing and photos are beautiful. 

    I am 42 with 2 teenagers & an 11 year old and I went through a bit of an identity crisis/depression about a year and a half ago.  I resonated with your statement, "(And worse than that, I'm not even sure anymore what I want to be and who I am outside the core of who I am in Jesus Christ - loved, chosen and as is.  Loved, Chosen, As is.  I'm letting that settle in my spirit).    YES!  I have been letting that same truth settle in my spirit as well.  He has been leading me onward!    

    Thanks again for your beautiful, heartfelt, honest blog and no matter how often you write or not - I remember that you are a real person living a full life,  God Bless.



  • Wanda

    Wanda on July 29, 2015, 12:52 a.m.

    Renee,  "That thing you're after, a hunger for meaning and significance perhaps, is not about what's happening on the outside of your life, it's about what's happening inside. And what's happening inside a person - they ways in which they are breaking and being rebuilt, dying and being reborn, falling and being redeemed - cannot be easily quantified, never mind written up as steps someone else can follow."  

    That is my favorite line.  

    I'm in the same "place" as you seasonally but different everything else - kids, location, history etc.  Perhaps it's just nice to know you're not alone in the thing called life especially around the middle ages.  Re-built and re-born.  As you said - mending.  

    One day I'll get to Montreal but for now I'll admire the pictures you post and be thankful for your words that resonate with me.  





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